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The Father of the Marshalsea glanced at a passing Collegian with whom he was on friendly terms, as who should say, ‘An enfeebled old man, this; but he is my brother, sir, my brother, and the voice of Nature is potent!’ and steered his brother clear of the handle of the pump by the threadbare sleeve.

What does the term "as who should say" mean? What does "clear of the handle of the pump by the threadbare sleeve" mean?

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  • (Converted from an answer. Others have explained what the words mean, but don't appear to be familiar with the book.) Mr Dorrit, as you know, is a poor prisoner but likes to think he is of higher status than the other prisoners ('collegians') and wants to appear kind and gracious by patronising the even poorer Mr Nandy. Jun 1 at 16:52

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My reading (and it gave me no trouble) was...

The Father of the Marshalsea glanced at a passing Collegian with whom he was on friendly terms. Had the Father and the Collegian spoken, the Master might have said "an enfeebled old man, this..."

He pulled his brother by the (brother's) threadbare sleeve to keep him away from the pump handle.

There is no pump by the threadbare sleeve. It's like answering the door in your pyjamas: the door is not in your pyjamas.

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"As one should say" is an old phrase meaning "as if one should say", "so to say", "as if to say". It means he looked in a manner that conveyed "An enfeebled old man...". Or it occurred to him as he looked.

"steered his brother clear of the handle of the pump by the threadbare sleeve":

He steered someone clear of the handle of the pump. He did this by his sleeve (grabbing hold of it). The sleeve was "threadbare" (old, thin and worn).

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