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It happened, fortunately for the elucidation of any intelligible result, that Mr Dorrit had heard or read nothing about the matter. This caused Mrs Finching, with many apologies for being in great practical difficulties as to finding the way to her pocket among the stripes of her dress at length to produce a police handbill, setting forth that a foreign gentleman of the name of Blandois, last from Venice, had unaccountably disappeared on such a night in such a part of the city of London; that he was known to have entered such a house, at such an hour; that he was stated by the inmates of that house to have left it, about so many minutes before midnight; and that he had never been beheld since. This, with exact particulars of time and locality, and with a good detailed description of the foreign gentleman who had so mysteriously vanished, Mr Dorrit read at large.
'Blandois!' said Mr Dorrit. 'Venice! And this description! I know this gentleman. He has been in my house. He is intimately acquainted with a gentleman of good family (but in indifferent circumstances), of whom I am a--hum--patron.'
'Then my humble and pressing entreaty is the more,' said Flora, 'that in travelling back you will have the kindness to look for this foreign gentleman along all the roads and up and down all the turnings and to make inquiries for him at all the hotels and orange-trees and vineyards and volcanoes and places for he must be somewhere and why doesn't he come forward and say he's there and clear all parties up?'
'Pray, madam,' said Mr Dorrit, referring to the handbill again, 'who is Clennam and Co.? Ha. I see the name mentioned here, in connection with the occupation of the house which Monsieur Blandois was seen to enter: who is Clennam and Co.? Is it the individual of whom I had formerly--hum--some--ha--slight transitory knowledge, and to whom I believe you have referred? Is it--ha--that person?'
'It's a very different person indeed,' replied Flora, 'with no limbs and wheels instead and the grimmest of women though his mother.'
'Clennam and Co. a--hum--a mother!' exclaimed Mr Dorrit.
'And an old man besides,' said Flora.
Mr Dorrit looked as if he must immediately be driven out of his mind by this account. Neither was it rendered more favourable to sanity by Flora's dashing into a rapid analysis of Mr Flintwinch's cravat, and describing him, without the lightest boundary line of separation between his identity and Mrs Clennam's, as a rusty screw in gaiters. Which compound of man and woman, no limbs, wheels, rusty screw, grimness, and gaiters, so completely stupefied Mr Dorrit, that he was a spectacle to be pitied. 'But I would not detain you one moment longer,' said Flora, upon whom his condition wrought its effect, though she was quite unconscious of having produced it, 'if you would have the goodness to give your promise as a gentleman that both in going back to Italy and in Italy too you would look for this Mr Blandois high and low and if you found or heard of him make him come forward for the clearing of all parties.' By that time Mr Dorrit had so far recovered from his bewilderment, as to be able to say, in a tolerably connected manner, that he should consider that his duty. Flora was delighted with her success, and rose to take her leave.
'With a million thanks,' said she, 'and my address upon my card in case of anything to be communicated personally, I will not send my love to the dear little thing for it might not be acceptable, and indeed there is no dear little thing left in the transformation so why do it but both myself and Mr F.'s Aunt ever wish her well and lay no claim to any favour on our side you may be sure of that but quite the other way for what she undertook to do she did and that is more than a great many of us do, not to say anything of her doing it as Well as it could be done and I myself am one of them for I have said ever since I began to recover the blow of Mr F's death that I would learn the Organ of which I am extremely fond but of which I am ashamed to say I do not yet know a note, good evening!'
When Mr Dorrit, who attended her to the room-door, had had a little time to collect his senses, he found that the interview had summoned back discarded reminiscences which jarred with the Merdle dinner-table. He wrote and sent off a brief note excusing himself for that day, and ordered dinner presently in his own rooms at the hotel. He had another reason for this. His time in London was very nearly out, and was anticipated by engagements; his plans were made for returning; and he thought it behoved his importance to pursue some direct inquiry into the Blandois disappearance, and be in a condition to carry back to Mr Henry Gowan the result of his own personal investigation. He therefore resolved that he would take advantage of that evening's freedom to go down to Clennam and Co.'s, easily to be found by the direction set forth in the handbill; and see the place, and ask a question or two there himself.
Having dined as plainly as the establishment and the Courier would let him, and having taken a short sleep by the fire for his better recovery from Mrs Finching, he set out in a hackney-cabriolet alone. The deep bell of St Paul's was striking nine as he passed under the shadow of Temple Bar, headless and forlorn in these degenerate days.
As he approached his destination through the by-streets and water- side ways, that part of London seemed to him an uglier spot at such an hour than he had ever supposed it to be. Many long years had passed since he had seen it; he had never known much of it; and it wore a mysterious and dismal aspect in his eyes. So powerfully was his imagination impressed by it, that when his driver stopped, after having asked the way more than once, and said to the best of his belief this was the gateway they wanted, Mr Dorrit stood hesitating, with the coach-door in his hand, half afraid of the dark look of the place.
Truly, it looked as gloomy that night as even it had ever looked. Two of the handbills were posted on the entrance wall, one on either side, and as the lamp flickered in the night air, shadows passed over them, not unlike the shadows of fingers following the lines. A watch was evidently kept upon the place. As Mr Dorrit paused, a man passed in from over the way, and another man passed out from some dark corner within; and both looked at him in passing, and both remained standing about.
As there was only one house in the enclosure, there was no room for uncertainty, so he went up the steps of that house and knocked. There was a dim light in two windows on the first-floor. The door gave back a dreary, vacant sound, as though the house were empty; but it was not, for a light was visible, and a step was audible, almost directly. They both came to the door, and a chain grated, and a woman with her apron thrown over her face and head stood in the aperture.
'Who is it?' said the woman.
Mr Dorrit, much amazed by this appearance, replied that he was from Italy, and that he wished to ask a question relative to the missing person, whom he knew.
'Hi!' cried the woman, raising a cracked voice. 'Jeremiah!'
Upon this, a dry old man appeared, whom Mr Dorrit thought he identified by his gaiters, as the rusty screw. The woman was Under apprehensions of the dry old man, for she whisked her apron away as he approached, and disclosed a pale affrighted face. 'Open the door, you fool,' said the old man; 'and let the gentleman in.'
Mr Dorrit, not without a glance over his shoulder towards his driver and the cabriolet, walked into the dim hall. 'Now, sir,' said Mr Flintwinch, 'you can ask anything here you think proper; there are no secrets here, sir.'
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Little Dorrit -- by Charles Dickens