Something Right Somewhere
To be in the halting state of Mr Henry Gowan; to have left one of two powers in disgust; to want the necessary qualifications for finding promotion with another, and to be loitering moodily about on neutral ground, cursing both; is to be in a situation unwholesome for the mind, which time is not likely to improve. The worst class of sum worked in the every-day world is cyphered by the diseased arithmeticians who are always in the rule of Subtraction as to the merits and successes of others, and never in Addition as to their own.
The habit, too, of seeking some sort of recompense in the discontented boast of being disappointed, is a habit fraught with degeneracy. A certain idle carelessness and recklessness of consistency soon comes of it. To bring deserving things down by setting undeserving things up is one of its perverted delights; and there is no playing fast and loose with the truth, in any game, without growing the worse for it.
In his expressed opinions of all performances in the Art of painting that were completely destitute of merit, Gowan was the most liberal fellow on earth. He would declare such a man to have more power in his little finger (provided he had none), than such another had (provided he had much) in his whole mind and body. If the objection were taken that the thing commended was trash, he would reply, on behalf of his art, 'My good fellow, what do we all turn out but trash? I turn out nothing else, and I make you a present of the confession.'
To make a vaunt of being poor was another of the incidents of his splenetic state, though this may have had the design in it of showing that he ought to be rich; just as he would publicly laud and decry the Barnacles, lest it should be forgotten that he belonged to the family. Howbeit, these two subjects were very often on his lips; and he managed them so well that he might have praised himself by the month together, and not have made himself out half so important a man as he did by his light disparagement of his claims on anybody's consideration.
Out of this same airy talk of his, it always soon came to be understood, wherever he and his wife went, that he had married against the wishes of his exalted relations, and had had much ado to prevail on them to countenance her. He never made the representation, on the contrary seemed to laugh the idea to scorn; but it did happen that, with all his pains to depreciate himself, he was always in the superior position. From the days of their honeymoon, Minnie Gowan felt sensible of being usually regarded as the wife of a man who had made a descent in marrying her, but whose chivalrous love for her had cancelled that inequality.
To Venice they had been accompanied by Monsieur Blandois of Paris, and at Venice Monsieur Blandois of Paris was very much in the society of Gowan. When they had first met this gallant gentleman at Geneva, Gowan had been undecided whether to kick him or encourage him; and had remained for about four-and-twenty hours, so troubled to settle the point to his satisfaction, that he had thought of tossing up a five-franc piece on the terms, 'Tails, kick; heads, encourage,' and abiding by the voice of the oracle.
It chanced, however, that his wife expressed a dislike to the engaging Blandois, and that the balance of feeling in the hotel was against him. Upon it, Gowan resolved to encourage him.
Why this perversity, if it were not in a generous fit?--which it was not. Why should Gowan, very much the superior of Blandois of Paris, and very well able to pull that prepossessing gentleman to pieces and find out the stuff he was made of, take up with such a man? In the first place, he opposed the first separate wish he observed in his wife, because her father had paid his debts and it was desirable to take an early opportunity of asserting his independence. In the second place, he opposed the prevalent feeling, because with many capacities of being otherwise, he was an ill-conditioned man. He found a pleasure in declaring that a courtier with the refined manners of Blandois ought to rise to the greatest distinction in any polished country. He found a pleasure in setting up Blandois as the type of elegance, and making him a satire upon others who piqued themselves on personal graces. He seriously protested that the bow of Blandois was perfect, that the address of Blandois was irresistible, and that the picturesque ease of Blandois would be cheaply purchased (if it were not a gift, and unpurchasable) for a hundred thousand francs. That exaggeration in the manner of the man which has been noticed as appertaining to him and to every such man, whatever his original breeding, as certainly as the sun belongs to this system, was acceptable to Gowan as a caricature, which he found it a humorous resource to have at hand for the ridiculing of numbers of people who necessarily did more or less of what Blandois overdid. Thus he had taken up with him; and thus, negligently strengthening these inclinations with habit, and idly deriving some amusement from his talk, he had glided into a way of having him for a companion. This, though he supposed him to live by his wits at play-tables and the like; though he suspected him to be a coward, while he himself was daring and courageous; though he thoroughly knew him to be disliked by Minnie; and though he cared so little for him, after all, that if he had given her any tangible personal cause to regard him with aversion, he would have had no compunction whatever in flinging him out of the highest window in Venice into the deepest water of the city.
Little Dorrit would have been glad to make her visit to Mrs Gowan, alone; but as Fanny, who had not yet recovered from her Uncle's protest, though it was four-and-twenty hours of age, pressingly offered her company, the two sisters stepped together into one of the gondolas under Mr Dorrit's window, and, with the courier in attendance, were taken in high state to Mrs Gowan's lodging. In truth, their state was rather too high for the lodging, which was, as Fanny complained, 'fearfully out of the way,' and which took them through a complexity of narrow streets of water, which the same lady disparaged as 'mere ditches.'
The house, on a little desert island, looked as if it had broken away from somewhere else, and had floated by chance into its present anchorage in company with a vine almost as much in want of training as the poor wretches who were lying under its leaves. The features of the surrounding picture were, a church with hoarding and scaffolding about it, which had been under suppositious repair so long that the means of repair looked a hundred years old, and had themselves fallen into decay; a quantity of washed linen, spread to dry in the sun; a number of houses at odds with one another and grotesquely out of the perpendicular, like rotten pre- Adamite cheeses cut into fantastic shapes and full of mites; and a feverish bewilderment of windows, with their lattice-blinds all hanging askew, and something draggled and dirty dangling out of most of them.
On the first-floor of the house was a Bank--a surprising experience for any gentleman of commercial pursuits bringing laws for all mankind from a British city--where two spare clerks, like dried dragoons, in green velvet caps adorned with golden tassels, stood, bearded, behind a small counter in a small room, containing no other visible objects than an empty iron-safe with the door open, a jug of water, and a papering of garland of roses; but who, on lawful requisition, by merely dipping their hands out of sight, could produce exhaustless mounds of five-franc pieces. Below the Bank was a suite of three or four rooms with barred windows, which had the appearance of a jail for criminal rats. Above the Bank was Mrs Gowan's residence.
Notwithstanding that its walls were blotched, as if missionary maps were bursting out of them to impart geographical knowledge; notwithstanding that its weird furniture was forlornly faded and musty, and that the prevailing Venetian odour of bilge water and an ebb tide on a weedy shore was very strong; the place was better within, than it promised. The door was opened by a smiling man like a reformed assassin--a temporary servant--who ushered them into the room where Mrs Gowan sat, with the announcement that two beautiful English ladies were come to see the mistress.
Mrs Gowan, who was engaged in needlework, put her work aside in a covered basket, and rose, a little hurriedly. Miss Fanny was excessively courteous to her, and said the usual nothings with the skill of a veteran.
'Papa was extremely sorry,' proceeded Fanny, 'to be engaged to-day (he is so much engaged here, our acquaintance being so wretchedly large!); and particularly requested me to bring his card for Mr Gowan. That I may be sure to acquit myself of a commission which he impressed upon me at least a dozen times, allow me to relieve my conscience by placing it on the table at once.'
Which she did with veteran ease.
'We have been,' said Fanny, 'charmed to understand that you know the Merdles. We hope it may be another means of bringing us together.'
'They are friends,' said Mrs Gowan, 'of Mr Gowan's family. I have not yet had the pleasure of a personal introduction to Mrs Merdle, but I suppose I shall be presented to her at Rome.'
'Indeed?' returned Fanny, with an appearance of amiably quenching her own superiority. 'I think you'll like her.'
'You know her very well?'
'Why, you see,' said Fanny, with a frank action of her pretty shoulders, 'in London one knows every one. We met her on our way here, and, to say the truth, papa was at first rather cross with her for taking one of the rooms that our people had ordered for us.
However, of course, that soon blew over, and we were all good friends again.'
Although the visit had as yet given Little Dorrit no opportunity of conversing with Mrs Gowan, there was a silent understanding between them, which did as well. She looked at Mrs Gowan with keen and unabated interest; the sound of her voice was thrilling to her; nothing that was near her, or about her, or at all concerned her, escaped Little Dorrit. She was quicker to perceive the slightest matter here, than in any other case--but one.
'You have been quite well,' she now said, 'since that night?'
'Quite, my dear. And you?' 'Oh! I am always well,' said Little Dorrit, timidly. 'I--yes, thank you.'
There was no reason for her faltering and breaking off, other than that Mrs Gowan had touched her hand in speaking to her, and their looks had met. Something thoughtfully apprehensive in the large, soft eyes, had checked Little Dorrit in an instant.
'You don't know that you are a favourite of my husband's, and that I am almost bound to be jealous of you?' said Mrs Gowan.
Little Dorrit, blushing, shook her head.
'He will tell you, if he tells you what he tells me, that you are quieter and quicker of resource than any one he ever saw.'
'He speaks far too well of me,' said Little Dorrit.
'I doubt that; but I don't at all doubt that I must tell him you are here. I should never be forgiven, if I were to let you--and Miss Dorrit--go, without doing so. May I? You can excuse the disorder and discomfort of a painter's studio?'
The inquiries were addressed to Miss Fanny, who graciously replied that she would be beyond anything interested and enchanted. Mrs Gowan went to a door, looked in beyond it, and came back. 'Do Henry the favour to come in,' said she, 'I knew he would be pleased!'
The first object that confronted Little Dorrit, entering first, was Blandois of Paris in a great cloak and a furtive slouched hat, standing on a throne platform in a corner, as he had stood on the Great Saint Bernard, when the warning arms seemed to be all pointing up at him. She recoiled from this figure, as it smiled at her.
'Don't be alarmed,' said Gowan, coming from his easel behind the door. 'It's only Blandois. He is doing duty as a model to-day.
I am making a study of him. It saves me money to turn him to some use. We poor painters have none to spare.'
Blandois of Paris pulled off his slouched hat, and saluted the ladies without coming out of his corner.
'A thousand pardons!' said he. 'But the Professore here is so inexorable with me, that I am afraid to stir.'
'Don't stir, then,' said Gowan coolly, as the sisters approached the easel. 'Let the ladies at least see the original of the daub, that they may know what it's meant for. There he stands, you see.
A bravo waiting for his prey, a distinguished noble waiting to save his country, the common enemy waiting to do somebody a bad turn, an angelic messenger waiting to do somebody a good turn--whatever you think he looks most like!' 'Say, Professore Mio, a poor gentleman waiting to do homage to elegance and beauty,' remarked Blandois.
'Or say, Cattivo Soggetto Mio,' returned Gowan, touching the painted face with his brush in the part where the real face had moved, 'a murderer after the fact. Show that white hand of yours, Blandois. Put it outside the cloak. Keep it still.'
Blandois' hand was unsteady; but he laughed, and that would naturally shake it.
'He was formerly in some scuffle with another murderer, or with a victim, you observe,' said Gowan, putting in the markings of the hand with a quick, impatient, unskilful touch, 'and these are the tokens of it. Outside the cloak, man!--Corpo di San Marco, what are you thinking of?'
Blandois of Paris shook with a laugh again, so that his hand shook more; now he raised it to twist his moustache, which had a damp appearance; and now he stood in the required position, with a little new swagger.
His face was so directed in reference to the spot where Little Dorrit stood by the easel, that throughout he looked at her. Once attracted by his peculiar eyes, she could not remove her own, and they had looked at each other all the time. She trembled now; Gowan, feeling it, and supposing her to be alarmed by the large dog beside him, whose head she caressed in her hand, and who had just uttered a low growl, glanced at her to say, 'He won't hurt you, Miss Dorrit.'
'I am not afraid of him,' she returned in the same breath; 'but will you look at him?'
In a moment Gowan had thrown down his brush, and seized the dog with both hands by the collar.
'Blandois! How can you be such a fool as to provoke him! By Heaven, and the other place too, he'll tear you to bits! Lie down!
Lion! Do you hear my voice, you rebel!
'The great dog, regardless of being half-choked by his collar, was obdurately pulling with his dead weight against his master, resolved to get across the room. He had been crouching for a spring at the moment when his master caught him.
'Lion! Lion!' He was up on his hind legs, and it was a wrestle between master and dog. 'Get back! Down, Lion! Get out of his sight, Blandois! What devil have you conjured into the dog?'
'I have done nothing to him.'
'Get out of his sight or I can't hold the wild beast! Get out of the room! By my soul, he'll kill you!'
The dog, with a ferocious bark, made one other struggle as Blandois vanished; then, in the moment of the dog's submission, the master, little less angry than the dog, felled him with a blow on the head, and standing over him, struck him many times severely with the heel of his boot, so that his mouth was presently bloody.
'Now get you into that corner and lie down,' said Gowan, 'or I'll take you out and shoot you.'
Lion did as he was ordered, and lay down licking his mouth and chest. Lion's master stopped for a moment to take breath, and then, recovering his usual coolness of manner, turned to speak to his frightened wife and her visitors. Probably the whole occurrence had not occupied two minutes.
'Come, come, Minnie! You know he is always good-humoured and tractable. Blandois must have irritated him,--made faces at him.
The dog has his likings and dislikings, and Blandois is no great favourite of his; but I am sure you will give him a character, Minnie, for never having been like this before.'
Minnie was too much disturbed to say anything connected in reply; Little Dorrit was already occupied in soothing her; Fanny, who had cried out twice or thrice, held Gowan's arm for protection; Lion, deeply ashamed of having caused them this alarm, came trailing himself along the ground to the feet of his mistress.
'You furious brute,' said Gowan, striking him with his foot again.
'You shall do penance for this.' And he struck him again, and yet again.
'O, pray don't punish him any more,' cried Little Dorrit. 'Don't hurt him. See how gentle he is!' At her entreaty, Gowan spared him; and he deserved her intercession, for truly he was as submissive, and as sorry, and as wretched as a dog could be.
It was not easy to recover this shock and make the visit unrestrained, even though Fanny had not been, under the best of circumstances, the least trifle in the way. In such further communication as passed among them before the sisters took their departure, Little Dorrit fancied it was revealed to her that Mr Gowan treated his wife, even in his very fondness, too much like a beautiful child. He seemed so unsuspicious of the depths of feeling which she knew must lie below that surface, that she doubted if there could be any such depths in himself. She wondered whether his want of earnestness might be the natural result of his want of such qualities, and whether it was with people as with ships, that, in too shallow and rocky waters, their anchors had no hold, and they drifted anywhere.
He attended them down the staircase, jocosely apologising for the poor quarters to which such poor fellows as himself were limited, and remarking that when the high and mighty Barnacles, his relatives, who would be dreadfully ashamed of them, presented him with better, he would live in better to oblige them. At the water's edge they were saluted by Blandois, who looked white enough after his late adventure, but who made very light of it notwithstanding,--laughing at the mention of Lion.
Leaving the two together under the scrap of vine upon the causeway, Gowan idly scattering the leaves from it into the water, and Blandois lighting a cigarette, the sisters were paddled away in state as they had come. They had not glided on for many minutes, when Little Dorrit became aware that Fanny was more showy in manner than the occasion appeared to require, and, looking about for the cause through the window and through the open door, saw another gondola evidently in waiting on them.
As this gondola attended their progress in various artful ways; sometimes shooting on a-head, and stopping to let them pass; sometimes, when the way was broad enough, skimming along side by side with them; and sometimes following close astern; and as Fanny gradually made no disguise that she was playing off graces upon somebody within it, of whom she at the same time feigned to be unconscious; Little Dorrit at length asked who it was?
To which Fanny made the short answer, 'That gaby.'
'Who?' said Little Dorrit.
'My dear child,' returned Fanny (in a tone suggesting that before her Uncle's protest she might have said, You little fool, instead), 'how slow you are! Young Sparkler.'
She lowered the window on her side, and, leaning back and resting her elbow on it negligently, fanned herself with a rich Spanish fan of black and gold. The attendant gondola, having skimmed forward again, with some swift trace of an eye in the
window, Fanny laughed coquettishly and said, 'Did you ever see such a fool, my love?'
'Do you think he means to follow you all the way?' asked Little Dorrit.
'My precious child,' returned Fanny, 'I can't possibly answer for what an idiot in a state of desperation may do, but I should think it highly probable. It's not such an enormous distance. All Venice would scarcely be that, I imagine, if he's dying for a glimpse of me.'
'And is he?' asked Little Dorrit in perfect simplicity.
'Well, my love, that really is an awkward question for me to answer,' said her sister. 'I believe he is. You had better ask Edward. He tells Edward he is, I believe. I understand he makes a perfect spectacle of himself at the Casino, and that sort of places, by going on about me. But you had better ask Edward if you want to know.'
'I wonder he doesn't call,' said Little Dorrit after thinking a moment.
'My dear Amy, your wonder will soon cease, if I am rightly informed. I should not be at all surprised if he called to-day.
The creature has only been waiting to get his courage up, I suspect.'
'Will you see him?'
'Indeed, my darling,' said Fanny, 'that's just as it may happen.
Here he is again. Look at him. O, you simpleton!'
Mr Sparkler had, undeniably, a weak appearance; with his eye in the window like a knot in the glass, and no reason on earth for stopping his bark suddenly, except the real reason.
'When you asked me if I will see him, my dear,' said Fanny, almost as well composed in the graceful indifference of her attitude as Mrs Merdle herself, 'what do you mean?' 'I mean,' said Little Dorrit--'I think I rather mean what do you mean, dear Fanny?'
Fanny laughed again, in a manner at once condescending, arch, and affable; and said, putting her arm round her sister in a playfully affectionate way:
'Now tell me, my little pet. When we saw that woman at Martigny, how did you think she carried it off? Did you see what she decided on in a moment?'
'Then I'll tell you, Amy. She settled with herself, now I'll never refer to that meeting under such different circumstances, and I'll never pretend to have any idea that these are the same girls.
That's her way out of a difficulty. What did I tell you when we came away from Harley Street that time? She is as insolent and false as any woman in the world. But in the first capacity, my love, she may find people who can match her.'
A significant turn of the Spanish fan towards Fanny's bosom, indicated with great expression where one of these people was to be found.
'Not only that,' pursued Fanny, 'but she gives the same charge to Young Sparkler; and doesn't let him come after me until she has got it thoroughly into his most ridiculous of all ridiculous noddles (for one really can't call it a head), that he is to pretend to have been first struck with me in that Inn Yard.'
'Why?' asked Little Dorrit.
'Why? Good gracious, my love!' (again very much in the tone of You stupid little creature) 'how can you ask? Don't you see that I may have become a rather desirable match for a noddle? And don't you see that she puts the deception upon us, and makes a pretence, while she shifts it from her own shoulders (very good shoulders they are too, I must say),' observed Miss Fanny, glancing complacently at herself, 'of considering our feelings?'
'But we can always go back to the plain truth.'
'Yes, but if you please we won't,' retorted Fanny. 'No; I am not going to have that done, Amy. The pretext is none of mine; it's hers, and she shall have enough of it.'
In the triumphant exaltation of her feelings, Miss Fanny, using her Spanish fan with one hand, squeezed her sister's waist with the other, as if she were crushing Mrs Merdle.
'No,' repeated Fanny. 'She shall find me go her way. She took it, and I'll follow it. And, with the blessing of fate and fortune, I'll go on improving that woman's acquaintance until I have given her maid, before her eyes, things from my dressmaker's ten times as handsome and expensive as she once gave me from hers!'
Little Dorrit was silent; sensible that she was not to be heard on any question affecting the family dignity, and unwilling to lose to no purpose her sister's newly and unexpectedly restored favour.
She could not concur, but she was silent. Fanny well knew what she was thinking of; so well, that she soon asked her.
Her reply was, 'Do you mean to encourage Mr Sparkler, Fanny?'
'Encourage him, my dear?' said her sister, smiling contemptuously, 'that depends upon what you call encourage. No, I don't mean to encourage him. But I'll make a slave of him.'
Little Dorrit glanced seriously and doubtfully in her face, but Fanny was not to be so brought to a check. She furled her fan of black and gold, and used it to tap her sister's nose; with the air of a proud beauty and a great spirit, who toyed with and playfully instructed a homely companion.
'I shall make him fetch and carry, my dear, and I shall make him subject to me. And if I don't make his mother subject to me, too, it shall not be my fault.'
'Do you think--dear Fanny, don't be offended, we are so comfortable together now--that you can quite see the end of that course?'
'I can't say I have so much as looked for it yet, my dear,' answered Fanny, with supreme indifference; 'all in good time. Such are my intentions. And really they have taken me so long to develop, that here we are at home. And Young Sparkler at the door, inquiring who is within. By the merest accident, of course!'
In effect, the swain was standing up in his gondola, card-case in hand, affecting to put the question to a servant. This conjunction of circumstances led to his immediately afterwards presenting himself before the young ladies in a posture, which in ancient times would not have been considered one of favourable augury for his suit; since the gondoliers of the young ladies, having been put to some inconvenience by the chase, so neatly brought their own boat in the gentlest collision with the bark of Mr Sparkler, as to tip that gentleman over like a larger species of ninepin, and cause him to exhibit the soles of his shoes to the object of his dearest wishes: while the nobler portions of his anatomy struggled at the bottom of his boat in the arms of one of his men.
However, as Miss Fanny called out with much concern, Was the gentleman hurt, Mr Sparkler rose more restored than might have been expected, and stammered for himself with blushes, 'Not at all so.'
Miss Fanny had no recollection of having ever seen him before, and was passing on, with a distant inclination of her head, when he announced himself by name. Even then she was in a difficulty from being unable to call it to mind, until he explained that he had had the honour of seeing her at Martigny. Then she remembered him, and hoped his lady-mother was well.
'Thank you,' stammered Mr Sparkler, 'she's uncommonly well--at least, poorly.'
'In Venice?' said Miss Fanny.
'In Rome,' Mr Sparkler answered. 'I am here by myself, myself. I came to call upon Mr Edward Dorrit myself. Indeed, upon Mr Dorrit likewise. In fact, upon the family.'
Turning graciously to the attendants, Miss Fanny inquired whether her papa or brother was within? The reply being that they were both within, Mr Sparkler humbly offered his arm. Miss Fanny accepting it, was squired up the great staircase by Mr Sparkler, who, if he still believed (which there is not any reason to doubt) that she had no nonsense about her, rather deceived himself.
Arrived in a mouldering reception-room, where the faded hangings, of a sad sea-green, had worn and withered until they looked as if they might have claimed kindred with the waifs of seaweed drifting under the windows, or clinging to the walls and weeping for their imprisoned relations, Miss Fanny despatched emissaries for her father and brother. Pending whose appearance, she showed to great advantage on a sofa, completing Mr Sparkler's conquest with some remarks upon Dante--known to that gentleman as an eccentric man in the nature of an Old File, who used to put leaves round his head, and sit upon a stool for some unaccountable purpose, outside the cathedral at Florence.
Mr Dorrit welcomed the visitor with the highest urbanity, and most courtly manners. He inquired particularly after Mrs Merdle. He inquired particularly after Mr Merdle. Mr Sparkler said, or rather twitched out of himself in small pieces by the shirt-collar, that Mrs Merdle having completely used up her place in the country, and also her house at Brighton, and being, of course, unable, don't you see, to remain in London when there wasn't a soul there, and not feeling herself this year quite up to visiting about at people's places, had resolved to have a touch at Rome, where a woman like herself, with a proverbially fine appearance, and with no nonsense about her, couldn't fail to be a great acquisition. As to Mr Merdle, he was so much wanted by the men in the City and the rest of those places, and was such a doosed extraordinary phenomenon in Buying and Banking and that, that Mr Sparkler doubted if the monetary system of the country would be able to spare him; though that his work was occasionally one too many for him, and that he would be all the better for a temporary shy at an entirely new scene and climate, Mr Sparkler did not conceal. As to himself, Mr Sparkler conveyed to the Dorrit family that he was going, on rather particular business, wherever they were going.
This immense conversational achievement required time, but was effected. Being effected, Mr Dorrit expressed his hope that Mr Sparkler would shortly dine with them. Mr Sparkler received the idea so kindly that Mr Dorrit asked what he was going to do that day, for instance? As he was going to do nothing that day (his usual occupation, and one for which he was particularly qualified), he was secured without postponement; being further bound over to accompany the ladies to the Opera in the evening.
At dinner-time Mr Sparkler rose out of the sea, like Venus's son taking after his mother, and made a splendid appearance ascending the great staircase. If Fanny had been charming in the morning, she was now thrice charming, very becomingly dressed in her most suitable colours, and with an air of negligence upon her that doubled Mr Sparkler's fetters, and riveted them.
'I hear you are acquainted, Mr Sparkler,' said his host at dinner, 'with--ha--Mr Gowan. Mr Henry Gowan?'
'Perfectly, sir,' returned Mr Sparkler. 'His mother and my mother are cronies in fact.'
'If I had thought of it, Amy,' said Mr Dorrit, with a patronage as magnificent as that of Lord Decimus himself, 'you should have despatched a note to them, asking them to dine to-day. Some of our people could have--ha--fetched them, and taken them home. We could have spared a--hum--gondola for that purpose. I am sorry to have forgotten this. Pray remind me of them to-morrow.'
Little Dorrit was not without doubts how Mr Henry Gowan might take their patronage; but she promised not to fail in the reminder.
'Pray, does Mr Henry Gowan paint--ha--Portraits?' inquired Mr Dorrit.
Mr Sparkler opined that he painted anything, if he could get the job.
'He has no particular walk?' said Mr Dorrit.
Mr Sparkler, stimulated by Love to brilliancy, replied that for a particular walk a man ought to have a particular pair of shoes; as, for example, shooting, shooting-shoes; cricket, cricket-shoes.
Whereas, he believed that Henry Gowan had no particular pair of shoes.
'No speciality?' said Mr Dorrit.
This being a very long word for Mr Sparkler, and his mind being exhausted by his late effort, he replied, 'No, thank you. I seldom take it.'
'Well!' said Mr Dorrit. 'It would be very agreeable to me to present a gentleman so connected, with some--ha--Testimonial of my desire to further his interests, and develop the--hum--germs of his genius. I think I must engage Mr Gowan to paint my picture. If the result should be--ha--mutually satisfactory, I might afterwards engage him to try his hand upon my family.'
The exquisitely bold and original thought presented itself to Mr Sparkler, that there was an opening here for saying there were some of the family (emphasising 'some' in a marked manner) to whom no painter could render justice. But, for want of a form of words in which to express the idea, it returned to the skies.
This was the more to be regretted as Miss Fanny greatly applauded the notion of the portrait, and urged her papa to act upon it. She surmised, she said, that Mr Gowan had lost better and higher opportunities by marrying his pretty wife; and Love in a cottage, painting pictures for dinner, was so delightfully interesting, that she begged her papa to give him the commission whether he could paint a likeness or not: though indeed both she and Amy knew he could, from having seen a speaking likeness on his easel that day, and having had the opportunity of comparing it with the original.
These remarks made Mr Sparkler (as perhaps they were intended to do) nearly distracted; for while on the one hand they expressed Miss Fanny's susceptibility of the tender passion, she herself showed such an innocent unconsciousness of his admiration that his eyes goggled in his head with jealousy of an unknown rival.
Descending into the sea again after dinner, and ascending out of it at the Opera staircase, preceded by one of their gondoliers, like an attendant Merman, with a great linen lantern, they entered their box, and Mr Sparkler entered on an evening of agony. The theatre being dark, and the box light, several visitors lounged in during the representation; in whom Fanny was so interested, and in conversation with whom she fell into such charming attitudes, as she had little confidences with them, and little disputes concerning the identity of people in distant boxes, that the wretched Sparkler hated all mankind. But he had two consolations at the close of the performance. She gave him her fan to hold while she adjusted her cloak, and it was his blessed privilege to give her his arm down-stairs again. These crumbs of encouragement, Mr Sparkler thought, would just keep him going; and it is not impossible that Miss Dorrit thought so too.
The Merman with his light was ready at the box-door, and other Mermen with other lights were ready at many of the doors. The Dorrit Merman held his lantern low, to show the steps, and Mr Sparkler put on another heavy set of fetters over his former set, as he watched her radiant feet twinkling down the stairs beside him. Among the loiterers here, was Blandois of Paris. He spoke, and moved forward beside Fanny.
Little Dorrit was in front with her brother and Mrs General (Mr Dorrit had remained at home), but on the brink of the quay they all came together. She started again to find Blandois close to her, handing Fanny into the boat.
'Gowan has had a loss,' he said, 'since he was made happy to-day by a visit from fair ladies.'
'A loss?' repeated Fanny, relinquished by the bereaved Sparkler, and taking her seat.
'A loss,' said Blandois. 'His dog Lion.'
Little Dorrit's hand was in his, as he spoke.
'He is dead,' said Blandois.
'Dead?' echoed Little Dorrit. 'That noble dog?'
'Faith, dear ladies!' said Blandois, smiling and shrugging his shoulders, 'somebody has poisoned that noble dog. He is as dead as the Doges!'
Mostly, Prunes and Prism
Mrs General, always on her coach-box keeping the proprieties well together, took pains to form a surface on her very dear young friend, and Mrs General's very dear young friend tried hard to receive it. Hard as she had tried in her laborious life to attain many ends, she had never tried harder than she did now, to be varnished by Mrs General. It made her anxious and ill at ease to be operated upon by that smoothing hand, it is true; but she submitted herself to the family want in its greatness as she had submitted herself to the family want in its littleness, and yielded to her own inclinations in this thing no more than she had yielded to her hunger itself, in the days when she had saved her dinner that her father might have his supper.
One comfort that she had under the Ordeal by General was more sustaining to her, and made her more grateful than to a less devoted and affectionate spirit, not habituated to her struggles and sacrifices, might appear quite reasonable; and, indeed, it may often be observed in life, that spirits like Little Dorrit do not appear to reason half as carefully as the folks who get the better of them. The continued kindness of her sister was this comfort to Little Dorrit. It was nothing to her that the kindness took the form of tolerant patronage; she was used to that. It was nothing to her that it kept her in a tributary position, and showed her in attendance on the flaming car in which Miss Fanny sat on an elevated seat, exacting homage; she sought no better place. Always admiring Fanny's beauty, and grace, and readiness, and not now asking herself how much of her disposition to be strongly attached to Fanny was due to her own heart, and how much to Fanny's, she gave her all the sisterly fondness her great heart contained.
The wholesale amount of Prunes and Prism which Mrs General infused into the family life, combined with the perpetual plunges made by Fanny into society, left but a very small residue of any natural deposit at the bottom of the mixture. This rendered confidences with Fanny doubly precious to Little Dorrit, and heightened the relief they afforded her.
'Amy,' said Fanny to her one night when they were alone, after a day so tiring that Little Dorrit was quite worn out, though Fanny would have taken another dip into society with the greatest pleasure in life, 'I am going to put something into your little head. You won't guess what it is, I suspect.'
'I don't think that's likely, dear,' said Little Dorrit.
'Come, I'll give you a clue, child,' said Fanny. 'Mrs General.'
Prunes and Prism, in a thousand combinations, having been wearily in the ascendant all day--everything having been surface and varnish and show without substance--Little Dorrit looked as if she had hoped that Mrs General was safely tucked up in bed for some hours.
'Now, can you guess, Amy?' said Fanny.
'No, dear. Unless I have done anything,' said Little Dorrit, rather alarmed, and meaning anything calculated to crack varnish and ruffle surface.
Fanny was so very much amused by the misgiving, that she took up her favourite fan (being then seated at her dressing-table with her armoury of cruel instruments about her, most of them reeking from the heart of Sparkler), and tapped her sister frequently on the nose with it, laughing all the time.
'Oh, our Amy, our Amy!' said Fanny. 'What a timid little goose our Amy is! But this is nothing to laugh at. On the contrary, I am very cross, my dear.'
'As it is not with me, Fanny, I don't mind,' returned her sister, smiling.
'Ah! But I do mind,' said Fanny, 'and so will you, Pet, when I enlighten you. Amy, has it never struck you that somebody is monstrously polite to Mrs General?'
'Everybody is polite to Mrs General,' said Little Dorrit. 'Because--'
'Because she freezes them into it?' interrupted Fanny. 'I don't mean that; quite different from that. Come! Has it never struck you, Amy, that Pa is monstrously polite to Mrs General.'
Amy, murmuring 'No,' looked quite confounded. 'No; I dare say not. But he is,' said Fanny. 'He is, Amy. And remember my words. Mrs General has designs on Pa!'
'Dear Fanny, do you think it possible that Mrs General has designs on any one?'
'Do I think it possible?' retorted Fanny. 'My love, I know it. I tell you she has designs on Pa. And more than that, I tell you Pa considers her such a wonder, such a paragon of accomplishment, and such an acquisition to our family, that he is ready to get himself into a state of perfect infatuation with her at any moment. And that opens a pretty picture of things, I hope? Think of me with Mrs General for a Mama!'
Little Dorrit did not reply, 'Think of me with Mrs General for a Mama;' but she looked anxious, and seriously inquired what had led Fanny to these conclusions.
'Lord, my darling,' said Fanny, tartly. 'You might as well ask me how I know when a man is struck with myself! But, of course I do know. It happens pretty often: but I always know it. I know this in much the same way, I suppose. At all events, I know it.'
'You never heard Papa say anything?'
'Say anything?' repeated Fanny. 'My dearest, darling child, what necessity has he had, yet awhile, to say anything?'
'And you have never heard Mrs General say anything?' 'My goodness me, Amy,' returned Fanny, 'is she the sort of woman to say anything? Isn't it perfectly plain and clear that she has nothing to do at present but to hold herself upright, keep her aggravating gloves on, and go sweeping about? Say anything! If she had the ace of trumps in her hand at whist, she wouldn't say anything, child. It would come out when she played it.'
'At least, you may be mistaken, Fanny. Now, may you not?'
'O yes, I MAY be,' said Fanny, 'but I am not. However, I am glad you can contemplate such an escape, my dear, and I am glad that you can take this for the present with sufficient coolness to think of such a chance. It makes me hope that you may be able to bear the connection. I should not be able to bear it, and I should not try.
I'd marry young Sparkler first.'
'O, you would never marry him, Fanny, under any circumstances.'
'Upon my word, my dear,' rejoined that young lady with exceeding indifference, 'I wouldn't positively answer even for that. There's no knowing what might happen. Especially as I should have many opportunities, afterwards, of treating that woman, his mother, in her own style. Which I most decidedly should not be slow to avail myself of, Amy.'
No more passed between the sisters then; but what had passed gave the two subjects of Mrs General and Mr Sparkler great prominence in Little Dorrit's mind, and thenceforth she thought very much of both.
Mrs General, having long ago formed her own surface to such perfection that it hid whatever was below it (if anything), no observation was to be made in that quarter. Mr Dorrit was undeniably very polite to her and had a high opinion of her; but Fanny, impetuous at most times, might easily be wrong for all that.
Whereas, the Sparkler question was on the different footing that any one could see what was going on there, and Little Dorrit saw it and pondered on it with many doubts and wonderings.
The devotion of Mr Sparkler was only to be equalled by the caprice and cruelty of his enslaver. Sometimes she would prefer him to such distinction of notice, that he would chuckle aloud with joy; next day, or next hour, she would overlook him so completely, and drop him into such an abyss of obscurity, that he would groan under a weak pretence of coughing. The constancy of his attendance never touched Fanny: though he was so inseparable from Edward, that, when that gentleman wished for a change of society, he was under the irksome necessity of gliding out like a conspirator in disguised boats and by secret doors and back ways; though he was so solicitous to know how Mr Dorrit was, that he called every other day to inquire, as if Mr Dorrit were the prey of an intermittent fever; though he was so constantly being paddled up and down before the principal windows, that he might have been supposed to have made a wager for a large stake to be paddled a thousand miles in a thousand hours; though whenever the gondola of his mistress left the gate, the gondola of Mr Sparkler shot out from some watery ambush and gave chase, as if she were a fair smuggler and he a custom-house officer. It was probably owing to this fortification of the natural strength of his constitution with so much exposure to the air, and the salt sea, that Mr Sparkler did not pine outwardly; but, whatever the cause, he was so far from having any prospect of moving his mistress by a languishing state of health, that he grew bluffer every day, and that peculiarity in his appearance of seeming rather a swelled boy than a young man, became developed to an extraordinary degree of ruddy puffiness.
Blandois calling to pay his respects, Mr Dorrit received him with affability as the friend of Mr Gowan, and mentioned to him his idea of commissioning Mr Gowan to transmit him to posterity. Blandois highly extolling it, it occurred to Mr Dorrit that it might be agreeable to Blandois to communicate to his friend the great opportunity reserved for him. Blandois accepted the commission with his own free elegance of manner, and swore he would discharge it before he was an hour older. On his imparting the news to Gowan, that Master gave Mr Dorrit to the Devil with great liberality some round dozen of times (for he resented patronage almost as much as he resented the want of it), and was inclined to quarrel with his friend for bringing him the message.
'It may be a defect in my mental vision, Blandois,' said he, 'but may I die if I see what you have to do with this.'
'Death of my life,' replied Blandois, 'nor I neither, except that I thought I was serving my friend.'
'By putting an upstart's hire in his pocket?' said Gowan, frowning.
'Do you mean that? Tell your other friend to get his head painted for the sign of some public-house, and to get it done by a sign- painter. Who am I, and who is he?'
'Professore,' returned the ambassador, 'and who is Blandois?'
Without appearing at all interested in the latter question, Gowan angrily whistled Mr Dorrit away. But, next day, he resumed the subject by saying in his off-hand manner and with a slighting laugh, 'Well, Blandois, when shall we go to this Maecenas of yours?
We journeymen must take jobs when we can get them. When shall we go and look after this job?' 'When you will,' said the injured Blandois, 'as you please. What have I to do with it? What is it to me?'
'I can tell you what it is to me,' said Gowan. 'Bread and cheese.
One must eat! So come along, my Blandois.'
Mr Dorrit received them in the presence of his daughters and of Mr Sparkler, who happened, by some surprising accident, to be calling there. 'How are you, Sparkler?' said Gowan carelessly. 'When you have to live by your mother wit, old boy, I hope you may get on better than I do.'
Mr Dorrit then mentioned his proposal. 'Sir,' said Gowan, laughing, after receiving it gracefully enough, 'I am new to the trade, and not expert at its mysteries. I believe I ought to look at you in various lights, tell you you are a capital subject, and consider when I shall be sufficiently disengaged to devote myself with the necessary enthusiasm to the fine picture I mean to make of you. I assure you,' and he laughed again, 'I feel quite a traitor in the camp of those dear, gifted, good, noble fellows, my brother artists, by not doing the hocus-pocus better. But I have not been brought up to it, and it's too late to learn it. Now, the fact is, I am a very bad painter, but not much worse than the generality.
If you are going to throw away a hundred guineas or so, I am as poor as a poor relation of great people usually is, and I shall be very much obliged to you, if you'll throw them away upon me. I'll do the best I can for the money; and if the best should be bad, why even then, you may probably have a bad picture with a small name to it, instead of a bad picture with a large name to it.'
This tone, though not what he had expected, on the whole suited Mr Dorrit remarkably well. It showed that the gentleman, highly connected, and not a mere workman, would be under an obligation to him. He expressed his satisfaction in placing himself in Mr Gowan's hands, and trusted that he would have the pleasure, in their characters of private gentlemen, of improving his acquaintance.
'You are very good,' said Gowan. 'I have not forsworn society since I joined the brotherhood of the brush (the most delightful fellows on the face of the earth), and am glad enough to smell the old fine gunpowder now and then, though it did blow me into mid-air and my present calling. You'll not think, Mr Dorrit,' and here he laughed again in the easiest way, 'that I am lapsing into the freemasonry of the craft--for it's not so; upon my life I can't help betraying it wherever I go, though, by Jupiter, I love and honour the craft with all my might--if I propose a stipulation as to time and place?'
Ha! Mr Dorrit could erect no--hum--suspicion of that kind on Mr Gowan's frankness.
'Again you are very good,' said Gowan. 'Mr Dorrit, I hear you are going to Rome. I am going to Rome, having friends there. Let me begin to do you the injustice I have conspired to do you, there-- not here. We shall all be hurried during the rest of our stay here; and though there's not a poorer man with whole elbows in Venice, than myself, I have not quite got all the Amateur out of me yet--comprising the trade again, you see!--and can't fall on to order, in a hurry, for the mere sake of the sixpences.' These remarks were not less favourably received by Mr Dorrit than their predecessors. They were the prelude to the first reception of Mr and Mrs Gowan at dinner, and they skilfully placed Gowan on his usual ground in the new family.
His wife, too, they placed on her usual ground. Miss Fanny understood, with particular distinctness, that Mrs Gowan's good looks had cost her husband very dear; that there had been a great disturbance about her in the Barnacle family; and that the Dowager Mrs Gowan, nearly heart-broken, had resolutely set her face against the marriage until overpowered by her maternal feelings. Mrs General likewise clearly understood that the attachment had occasioned much family grief and dissension. Of honest Mr Meagles no mention was made; except that it was natural enough that a person of that sort should wish to raise his daughter out of his own obscurity, and that no one could blame him for trying his best to do so.
Little Dorrit's interest in the fair subject of this easily accepted belief was too earnest and watchful to fail in accurate observation. She could see that it had its part in throwing upon Mrs Gowan the touch of a shadow under which she lived, and she even had an instinctive knowledge that there was not the least truth in it. But it had an influence in placing obstacles in the way of her association with Mrs Gowan by making the Prunes and Prism school excessively polite to her, but not very intimate with her; and Little Dorrit, as an enforced sizar of that college, was obliged to submit herself humbly to its ordinances.
Nevertheless, there was a sympathetic understanding already established between the two, which would have carried them over greater difficulties, and made a friendship out of a more restricted intercourse. As though accidents were determined to be favourable to it, they had a new assurance of congeniality in the aversion which each perceived that the other felt towards Blandois of Paris; an aversion amounting to the repugnance and horror of a natural antipathy towards an odious creature of the reptile kind.
And there was a passive congeniality between them, besides this active one. To both of them, Blandois behaved in exactly the same manner; and to both of them his manner had uniformly something in it, which they both knew to be different from his bearing towards others. The difference was too minute in its expression to be perceived by others, but they knew it to be there. A mere trick of his evil eyes, a mere turn of his smooth white hand, a mere hair's- breadth of addition to the fall of his nose and the rise of the moustache in the most frequent movement of his face, conveyed to both of them, equally, a swagger personal to themselves. It was as if he had said, 'I have a secret power in this quarter. I know what I know.'
This had never been felt by them both in so great a degree, and never by each so perfectly to the knowledge of the other, as on a day when he came to Mr Dorrit's to take his leave before quitting Venice. Mrs Gowan was herself there for the same purpose, and he came upon the two together; the rest of the family being out. The two had not been together five minutes, and the peculiar manner seemed to convey to them, 'You were going to talk about me. Ha!
Behold me here to prevent it!'
'Gowan is coming here?' said Blandois, with a smile.
Mrs Gowan replied he was not coming.
'Not coming!' said Blandois. 'Permit your devoted servant, when you leave here, to escort you home.'
'Thank you: I am not going home.'
'Not going home!' said Blandois. 'Then I am forlorn.'
That he might be; but he was not so forlorn as to roam away and leave them together. He sat entertaining them with his finest compliments, and his choicest conversation; but he conveyed to them, all the time, 'No, no, no, dear ladies. Behold me here expressly to prevent it!'
He conveyed it to them with so much meaning, and he had such a diabolical persistency in him, that at length, Mrs Gowan rose to depart. On his offering his hand to Mrs Gowan to lead her down the staircase, she retained Little Dorrit's hand in hers, with a cautious pressure, and said, 'No, thank you. But, if you will please to see if my boatman is there, I shall be obliged to you.'
It left him no choice but to go down before them. As he did so, hat in hand, Mrs Gowan whispered:
'He killed the dog.'
'Does Mr Gowan know it?' Little Dorrit whispered.
'No one knows it. Don't look towards me; look towards him. He will turn his face in a moment. No one knows it, but I am sure he did. You are?'
'I--I think so,' Little Dorrit answered.
'Henry likes him, and he will not think ill of him; he is so generous and open himself. But you and I feel sure that we think of him as he deserves. He argued with Henry that the dog had been already poisoned when he changed so, and sprang at him. Henry believes it, but we do not. I see he is listening, but can't hear.
Good-bye, my love! Good-bye!'
The last words were spoken aloud, as the vigilant Blandois stopped, turned his head, and looked at them from the bottom of the staircase. Assuredly he did look then, though he looked his politest, as if any real philanthropist could have desired no better employment than to lash a great stone to his neck, and drop him into the water flowing beyond the dark arched gateway in which he stood. No such benefactor to mankind being on the spot, he handed Mrs Gowan to her boat, and stood there until it had shot out of the narrow view; when he handed himself into his own boat and followed.
Little Dorrit had sometimes thought, and now thought again as she retraced her steps up the staircase, that he had made his way too easily into her father's house. But so many and such varieties of people did the same, through Mr Dorrit's participation in his elder daughter's society mania, that it was hardly an exceptional case.
A perfect fury for making acquaintances on whom to impress their riches and importance, had seized the House of Dorrit.
It appeared on the whole, to Little Dorrit herself, that this same society in which they lived, greatly resembled a superior sort of Marshalsea. Numbers of people seemed to come abroad, pretty much as people had come into the prison; through debt, through idleness, relationship, curiosity, and general unfitness for getting on at home. They were brought into these foreign towns in the custody of couriers and local followers, just as the debtors had been brought into the prison. They prowled about the churches and picture- galleries, much in the old, dreary, prison-yard manner. They were usually going away again to-morrow or next week, and rarely knew their own minds, and seldom did what they said they would do, or went where they said they would go: in all this again, very like the prison debtors. They paid high for poor accommodation, and disparaged a place while they pretended to like it: which was exactly the Marshalsea custom. They were envied when they went away by people left behind, feigning not to want to go: and that again was the Marshalsea habit invariably. A certain set of words and phrases, as much belonging to tourists as the College and the Snuggery belonged to the jail, was always in their mouths. They had precisely the same incapacity for settling down to anything, as the prisoners used to have; they rather deteriorated one another, as the prisoners used to do; and they wore untidy dresses, and fell into a slouching way of life: still, always like the people in the Marshalsea.
The period of the family's stay at Venice came, in its course, to an end, and they moved, with their retinue, to Rome. Through a repetition of the former Italian scenes, growing more dirty and more haggard as they went on, and bringing them at length to where the very air was diseased, they passed to their destination. A fine residence had been taken for them on the Corso, and there they took up their abode, in a city where everything seemed to be trying to stand still for ever on the ruins of something else--except the water, which, following eternal laws, tumbled and rolled from its glorious multitude of fountains.
Here it seemed to Little Dorrit that a change came over the Marshalsea spirit of their society, and that Prunes and Prism got the upper hand. Everybody was walking about St Peter's and the Vatican on somebody else's cork legs, and straining every visible object through somebody else's sieve. Nobody said what anything was, but everybody said what the Mrs Generals, Mr Eustace, or somebody else said it was. The whole body of travellers seemed to be a collection of voluntary human sacrifices, bound hand and foot, and delivered over to Mr Eustace and his attendants, to have the entrails of their intellects arranged according to the taste of that sacred priesthood. Through the rugged remains of temples and tombs and palaces and senate halls and theatres and amphitheatres of ancient days, hosts of tongue-tied and blindfolded moderns were carefully feeling their way, incessantly repeating Prunes and Prism in the endeavour to set their lips according to the received form.
Mrs General was in her pure element. Nobody had an opinion. There was a formation of surface going on around her on an amazing scale, and it had not a flaw of courage or honest free speech in it.
Another modification of Prunes and Prism insinuated itself on Little Dorrit's notice very shortly after their arrival. They received an early visit from Mrs Merdle, who led that extensive department of life in the Eternal City that winter; and the skilful manner in which she and Fanny fenced with one another on the occasion, almost made her quiet sister wink, like the glittering of small-swords.
'So delighted,' said Mrs Merdle, 'to resume an acquaintance so inauspiciously begun at Martigny.'
'At Martigny, of course,' said Fanny. 'Charmed, I am sure!'
'I understand,' said Mrs Merdle, 'from my son Edmund Sparkler, that he has already improved that chance occasion. He has returned quite transported with Venice.'
'Indeed?' returned the careless Fanny. 'Was he there long?'
'I might refer that question to Mr Dorrit,' said Mrs Merdle, turning the bosom towards that gentleman; 'Edmund having been so much indebted to him for rendering his stay agreeable.'
'Oh, pray don't speak of it,' returned Fanny. 'I believe Papa had the pleasure of inviting Mr Sparkler twice or thrice,--but it was nothing. We had so many people about us, and kept such open house, that if he had that pleasure, it was less than nothing.'
'Except, my dear,' said Mr Dorrit, 'except--ha--as it afforded me unusual gratification to--hum--show by any means, however slight and worthless, the--ha, hum--high estimation in which, in--ha-- common with the rest of the world, I hold so distinguished and princely a character as Mr Merdle's.'
The bosom received this tribute in its most engaging manner. 'Mr Merdle,' observed Fanny, as a means of dismissing Mr Sparkler into the background, 'is quite a theme of Papa's, you must know, Mrs Merdle.'
'I have been--ha--disappointed, madam,' said Mr Dorrit, 'to understand from Mr Sparkler that there is no great--hum-- probability of Mr Merdle's coming abroad.'
'Why, indeed,' said Mrs Merdle, 'he is so much engaged and in such request, that I fear not. He has not been able to get abroad for years. You, Miss Dorrit, I believe have been almost continually abroad for a long time.'
'Oh dear yes,' drawled Fanny, with the greatest hardihood. 'An immense number of years.'
'So I should have inferred,' said Mrs Merdle.
'Exactly,' said Fanny.
'I trust, however,' resumed Mr Dorrit, 'that if I have not the-- hum--great advantage of becoming known to Mr Merdle on this side of the Alps or Mediterranean, I shall have that honour on returning to England. It is an honour I particularly desire and shall particularly esteem.' 'Mr Merdle,' said Mrs Merdle, who had been looking admiringly at Fanny through her eye-glass, 'will esteem it, I am sure, no less.'
Little Dorrit, still habitually thoughtful and solitary though no longer alone, at first supposed this to be mere Prunes and Prism.
But as her father when they had been to a brilliant reception at Mrs Merdle's, harped at their own family breakfast-table on his wish to know Mr Merdle, with the contingent view of benefiting by the advice of that wonderful man in the disposal of his fortune, she began to think it had a real meaning, and to entertain a curiosity on her own part to see the shining light of the time.
The Dowager Mrs Gowan is reminded that
'It Never Does'
While the waters of Venice and the ruins of Rome were sunning themselves for the pleasure of the Dorrit family, and were daily being sketched out of all earthly proportion, lineament, and likeness, by travelling pencils innumerable, the firm of Doyce and Clennam hammered away in Bleeding Heart Yard, and the vigorous clink of iron upon iron was heard there through the working hours.
The younger partner had, by this time, brought the business into sound trim; and the elder, left free to follow his own ingenious devices, had done much to enhance the character of the factory. As an ingenious man, he had necessarily to encounter every discouragement that the ruling powers for a length of time had been able by any means to put in the way of this class of culprits; but that was only reasonable self-defence in the powers, since How to do it must obviously be regarded as the natural and mortal enemy of How not to do it. In this was to be found the basis of the wise system, by tooth and nail upheld by the Circumlocution Office, of warning every ingenious British subject to be ingenious at his peril: of harassing him, obstructing him, inviting robbers (by making his remedy uncertain, and expensive) to plunder him, and at the best of confiscating his property after a short term of enjoyment, as though invention were on a par with felony. The system had uniformly found great favour with the Barnacles, and that was only reasonable, too; for one who worthily invents must be in earnest, and the Barnacles abhorred and dreaded nothing half so much. That again was very reasonable; since in a country suffering under the affliction of a great amount of earnestness, there might, in an exceeding short space of time, be not a single Barnacle left sticking to a post.
Daniel Doyce faced his condition with its pains and penalties attached to it, and soberly worked on for the work's sake. Clennam cheering him with a hearty co-operation, was a moral support to him, besides doing good service in his business relation. The concern prospered, and the partners were fast friends. But Daniel could not forget the old design of so many years. It was not in reason to be expected that he should; if he could have lightly forgotten it, he could never have conceived it, or had the patience and perseverance to work it out. So Clennam thought, when he sometimes observed him of an evening looking over the models and drawings, and consoling himself by muttering with a sigh as he put them away again, that the thing was as true as it ever was.
To show no sympathy with so much endeavour, and so much disappointment, would have been to fail in what Clennam regarded as among the implied obligations of his partnership. A revival of the passing interest in the subject which had been by chance awakened at the door of the Circumlocution Office, originated in this feeling. He asked his partner to explain the invention to him; 'having a lenient consideration,' he stipulated, 'for my being no workman, Doyce.'
'No workman?' said Doyce. 'You would have been a thorough workman if you had given yourself to it. You have as good a head for understanding such things as I have met with.'
'A totally uneducated one, I am sorry to add,' said Clennam.
'I don't know that,' returned Doyce, 'and I wouldn't have you say that. No man of sense who has been generally improved, and has improved himself, can be called quite uneducated as to anything.
I don't particularly favour mysteries. I would as soon, on a fair and clear explanation, be judged by one class of man as another, provided he had the qualification I have named.'
'At all events,' said Clennam--'this sounds as if we were exchanging compliments, but we know we are not--I shall have the advantage of as plain an explanation as can be given.'
'Well!' said Daniel, in his steady even way,'I'll try to make it so.'
He had the power, often to be found in union with such a character, of explaining what he himself perceived, and meant, with the direct force and distinctness with which it struck his own mind. His manner of demonstration was so orderly and neat and simple, that it was not easy to mistake him. There was something almost ludicrous in the complete irreconcilability of a vague conventional notion that he must be a visionary man, with the precise, sagacious travelling of his eye and thumb over the plans, their patient stoppages at particular points, their careful returns to other points whence little channels of explanation had to be traced up, and his steady manner of making everything good and everything sound at each important stage, before taking his hearer on a line's-breadth further. His dismissal of himself from his description, was hardly less remarkable. He never said, I discovered this adaptation or invented that combination; but showed the whole thing as if the Divine artificer had made it, and he had happened to find it; so modest he was about it, such a pleasant touch of respect was mingled with his quiet admiration of it, and so calmly convinced he was that it was established on irrefragable laws.
Not only that evening, but for several succeeding evenings, Clennam was quite charmed by this investigation. The more he pursued it, and the oftener he glanced at the grey head bending over it, and the shrewd eye kindling with pleasure in it and love of it-- instrument for probing his heart though it had been made for twelve long years--the less he could reconcile it to his younger energy to let it go without one effort more. At length he said:
'Doyce, it came to this at last--that the business was to be sunk with Heaven knows how many more wrecks, or begun all over again?'
'Yes,' returned Doyce, 'that's what the noblemen and gentlemen made of it after a dozen years.'
'And pretty fellows too!' said Clennam, bitterly.
'The usual thing!' observed Doyce. 'I must not make a martyr of myself, when I am one of so large a company.'
'Relinquish it, or begin it all over again?' mused Clennam.
'That was exactly the long and the short of it,' said Doyce.
'Then, my friend,' cried Clennam, starting up and taking his work- roughened hand, 'it shall be begun all over again!'
Doyce looked alarmed, and replied in a hurry--for him, 'No, no.
Better put it by. Far better put it by. It will be heard of, one day. I can put it by. You forget, my good Clennam; I HAVE put it by. It's all at an end.'
'Yes, Doyce,' returned Clennam, 'at an end as far as your efforts and rebuffs are concerned, I admit, but not as far as mine are. I am younger than you: I have only once set foot in that precious office, and I am fresh game for them. Come! I'll try them. You shall do exactly as you have been doing since we have been together. I will add (as I easily can) to what I have been doing, the attempt to get public justice done to you; and, unless I have some success to report, you shall hear no more of it.'
Daniel Doyce was still reluctant to consent, and again and again urged that they had better put it by. But it was natural that he should gradually allow himself to be over-persuaded by Clennam, and should yield. Yield he did. So Arthur resumed the long and hopeless labour of striving to make way with the Circumlocution Office.
The waiting-rooms of that Department soon began to be familiar with his presence, and he was generally ushered into them by its janitors much as a pickpocket might be shown into a police-office; the principal difference being that the object of the latter class of public business is to keep the pickpocket, while the Circumlocution object was to get rid of Clennam. However, he was resolved to stick to the Great Department; and so the work of form- filling, corresponding, minuting, memorandum-making, signing, counter-signing, counter-counter-signing, referring backwards and forwards, and referring sideways, crosswise, and zig-zag, recommenced.
Here arises a feature of the Circumlocution Office, not previously mentioned in the present record. When that admirable Department got into trouble, and was, by some infuriated members of Parliament whom the smaller Barnacles almost suspected of labouring under diabolic possession, attacked on the merits of no individual case, but as an Institution wholly abominable and Bedlamite; then the noble or right honourable Barnacle who represented it in the House, would smite that member and cleave him asunder, with a statement of the quantity of business (for the prevention of business) done by the Circumlocution Office. Then would that noble or right honourable Barnacle hold in his hand a paper containing a few figures, to which, with the permission of the House, he would entreat its attention. Then would the inferior Barnacles exclaim, obeying orders,'Hear, Hear, Hear!' and 'Read!' Then would the noble or right honourable Barnacle perceive, sir, from this little document, which he thought might carry conviction even to the perversest mind (Derisive laughter and cheering from the Barnacle fry), that within the short compass of the last financial half- year, this much-maligned Department (Cheers) had written and received fifteen thousand letters (Loud cheers), had written twenty-four thousand minutes (Louder cheers), and thirty-two thousand five hundred and seventeen memoranda (Vehement cheering).
Nay, an ingenious gentleman connected with the Department, and himself a valuable public servant, had done him the favour to make a curious calculation of the amount of stationery consumed in it during the same period. It formed a part of this same short document; and he derived from it the remarkable fact that the sheets of foolscap paper it had devoted to the public service would pave the footways on both sides of Oxford Street from end to end, and leave nearly a quarter of a mile to spare for the park (Immense cheering and laughter); while of tape--red tape--it had used enough to stretch, in graceful festoons, from Hyde Park Corner to the General Post Office. Then, amidst a burst of official exultation, would the noble or right honourable Barnacle sit down, leaving the mutilated fragments of the Member on the field. No one, after that exemplary demolition of him, would have the hardihood to hint that the more the Circumlocution Office did, the less was done, and that the greatest blessing it could confer on an unhappy public would be to do nothing.
With sufficient occupation on his hands, now that he had this additional task--such a task had many and many a serviceable man died of before his day--Arthur Clennam led a life of slight variety. Regular visits to his mother's dull sick room, and visits scarcely less regular to Mr Meagles at Twickenham, were its only changes during many months.
He sadly and sorely missed Little Dorrit. He had been prepared to miss her very much, but not so much. He knew to the full extent only through experience, what a large place in his life was left blank when her familiar little figure went out of it. He felt, too, that he must relinquish the hope of its return, understanding the family character sufficiently well to be assured that he and she were divided by a broad ground of separation. The old interest he had had in her, and her old trusting reliance on him, were tinged with melancholy in his mind: so soon had change stolen over them, and so soon had they glided into the past with other secret tendernesses.
When he received her letter he was greatly moved, but did not the less sensibly feel that she was far divided from him by more than distance. It helped him to a clearer and keener perception of the place assigned him by the family. He saw that he was cherished in her grateful remembrance secretly, and that they resented him with the jail and the rest of its belongings.
Through all these meditations which every day of his life crowded about her, he thought of her otherwise in the old way. She was his innocent friend, his delicate child, his dear Little Dorrit. This very change of circumstances fitted curiously in with the habit, begun on the night when the roses floated away, of considering himself as a much older man than his years really made him. He regarded her from a point of view which in its remoteness, tender as it was, he little thought would have been unspeakable agony to her. He speculated about her future destiny, and about the husband she might have, with an affection for her which would have drained her heart of its dearest drop of hope, and broken it.
Everything about him tended to confirm him in the custom of looking on himself as an elderly man, from whom such aspirations as he had combated in the case of Minnie Gowan (though that was not so long ago either, reckoning by months and seasons), were finally departed. His relations with her father and mother were like those on which a widower son-in-law might have stood. If the twin sister who was dead had lived to pass away in the bloom of womanhood, and he had been her husband, the nature of his intercourse with Mr and Mrs Meagles would probably have been just what it was. This imperceptibly helped to render habitual the impression within him, that he had done with, and dismissed that part of life.
He invariably heard of Minnie from them, as telling them in her letters how happy she was, and how she loved her husband; but inseparable from that subject, he invariably saw the old cloud on Mr Meagles's face. Mr Meagles had never been quite so radiant since the marriage as before. He had never quite recovered the separation from Pet. He was the same good-humoured, open creature; but as if his face, from being much turned towards the pictures of his two children which could show him only one look, unconsciously adopted a characteristic from them, it always had now, through all its changes of expression, a look of loss in it.
One wintry Saturday when Clennam was at the cottage, the Dowager Mrs Gowan drove up, in the Hampton Court equipage which pretended to be the exclusive equipage of so many individual proprietors.
She descended, in her shady ambuscade of green fan, to favour Mr and Mrs Meagles with a call.
'And how do you both do, Papa and Mama Meagles?' said she, encouraging her humble connections. 'And when did you last hear from or about my poor fellow?'
My poor fellow was her son; and this mode of speaking of him politely kept alive, without any offence in the world, the pretence that he had fallen a victim to the Meagles' wiles.
'And the dear pretty one?' said Mrs Gowan. 'Have you later news of her than I have?'
Which also delicately implied that her son had been captured by mere beauty, and under its fascination had forgone all sorts of worldly advantages.
' I am sure,' said Mrs Gowan, without straining her attention on the answers she received, 'it's an unspeakable comfort to know they continue happy. My poor fellow is of such a restless disposition, and has been so used to roving about, and to being inconstant and popular among all manner of people, that it's the greatest comfort in life. I suppose they're as poor as mice, Papa Meagles?'
Mr Meagles, fidgety under the question, replied, 'I hope not, ma'am. I hope they will manage their little income.'
'Oh! my dearest Meagles!' returned the lady, tapping him on the arm with the green fan and then adroitly interposing it between a yawn and the company, 'how can you, as a man of the world and one of the most business-like of human beings--for you know you are business-like, and a great deal too much for us who are not--'
(Which went to the former purpose, by making Mr Meagles out to be an artful schemer.)
'--How can you talk about their managing their little means? My poor dear fellow! The idea of his managing hundreds! And the sweet pretty creature too. The notion of her managing! Papa Meagles! Don't!'
'Well, ma'am,' said Mr Meagles, gravely, 'I am sorry to admit, then, that Henry certainly does anticipate his means.'
'My dear good man--I use no ceremony with you, because we are a kind of relations;--positively, Mama Meagles,' exclaimed Mrs Gowan cheerfully, as if the absurd coincidence then flashed upon her for the first time, 'a kind of relations! My dear good man, in this world none of us can have everything our own way.'
This again went to the former point, and showed Mr Meagles with all good breeding that, so far, he had been brilliantly successful in his deep designs. Mrs Gowan thought the hit so good a one, that she dwelt upon it; repeating 'Not everything. No, no; in this world we must not expect everything, Papa Meagles.'
'And may I ask, ma'am,' retorted Mr Meagles, a little heightened in colour, 'who does expect everything?'
'Oh, nobody, nobody!' said Mrs Gowan. 'I was going to say--but you put me out. You interrupting Papa, what was I going to say?'
Drooping her large green fan, she looked musingly at Mr Meagles while she thought about it; a performance not tending to the cooling of that gentleman's rather heated spirits.
'Ah! Yes, to be sure!' said Mrs Gowan. 'You must remember that my poor fellow has always been accustomed to expectations. They may have been realised, or they may not have been realised--'
'Let us say, then, may not have been realised,' observed Mr Meagles.
The Dowager for a moment gave him an angry look; but tossed it off with her head and her fan, and pursued the tenor of her way in her former manner.
'It makes no difference. My poor fellow has been accustomed to that sort of thing, and of course you knew it, and were prepared for the consequences. I myself always clearly foresaw the consequences, and am not surprised. And you must not be surprised.
In fact, can't be surprised. Must have been prepared for it.'
Mr Meagles looked at his wife and at Clennam; bit his lip; and coughed.
'And now here's my poor fellow,' Mrs Gowan pursued, 'receiving notice that he is to hold himself in expectation of a baby, and all the expenses attendant on such an addition to his family! Poor Henry! But it can't be helped now; it's too late to help it now.
Only don't talk of anticipating means, Papa Meagles, as a discovery; because that would be too much.'
'Too much, ma'am?' said Mr Meagles, as seeking an explanation.
'There, there!' said Mrs Gowan, putting him in his inferior place with an expressive action of her hand. 'Too much for my poor fellow's mother to bear at this time of day. They are fast married, and can't be unmarried. There, there! I know that! You needn't tell me that, Papa Meagles. I know it very well. What was it I said just now? That it was a great comfort they continued happy. It is to be hoped they will still continue happy. It is to be hoped Pretty One will do everything she can to make my poor fellow happy, and keep him contented. Papa and Mama Meagles, we had better say no more about it. We never did look at this subject from the same side, and we never shall. There, there! Now I am good.'
Truly, having by this time said everything she could say in maintenance of her wonderfully mythical position, and in admonition to Mr Meagles that he must not expect to bear his honours of alliance too cheaply, Mrs Gowan was disposed to forgo the rest. If Mr Meagles had submitted to a glance of entreaty from Mrs Meagles, and an expressive gesture from Clennam, he would have left her in the undisturbed enjoyment of this state of mind. But Pet was the darling and pride of his heart; and if he could ever have championed her more devotedly, or loved her better, than in the days when she was the sunlight of his house, it would have been now, when, as its daily grace and delight, she was lost to it.
'Mrs Gowan, ma'am,' said Mr Meagles, 'I have been a plain man all my life. If I was to try--no matter whether on myself, on somebody else, or both--any genteel mystifications, I should probably not succeed in them.'
'Papa Meagles,' returned the Dowager, with an affable smile, but with the bloom on her cheeks standing out a little more vividly than usual as the neighbouring surface became paler,'probably not.'
'Therefore, my good madam,' said Mr Meagles, at great pains to restrain himself, 'I hope I may, without offence, ask to have no such mystification played off upon me.' 'Mama Meagles,' observed Mrs Gowan, 'your good man is incomprehensible.'
Her turning to that worthy lady was an artifice to bring her into the discussion, quarrel with her, and vanquish her. Mr Meagles interposed to prevent that consummation.
'Mother,' said he, 'you are inexpert, my dear, and it is not a fair match. Let me beg of you to remain quiet. Come, Mrs Gowan, come!
Let us try to be sensible; let us try to be good-natured; let us try to be fair. Don't you pity Henry, and I won't pity Pet. And don't be one-sided, my dear madam; it's not considerate, it's not kind. Don't let us say that we hope Pet will make Henry happy, or even that we hope Henry will make Pet happy,' (Mr Meagles himself did not look happy as he spoke the words,) 'but let us hope they will make each other happy.'
'Yes, sure, and there leave it, father,' said Mrs Meagles the kind- hearted and comfortable.
'Why, mother, no,' returned Mr Meagles, 'not exactly there. I can't quite leave it there; I must say just half-a-dozen words more. Mrs Gowan, I hope I am not over-sensitive. I believe I don't look it.'
'Indeed you do not,' said Mrs Gowan, shaking her head and the great green fan together, for emphasis.
'Thank you, ma'am; that's well. Notwithstanding which, I feel a little--I don't want to use a strong word--now shall I say hurt?' asked Mr Meagles at once with frankness and moderation, and with a conciliatory appeal in his tone.
'Say what you like,' answered Mrs Gowan. 'It is perfectly indifferent to me.'
'No, no, don't say that,' urged Mr Meagles, 'because that's not responding amiably. I feel a little hurt when I hear references made to consequences having been foreseen, and to its being too late now, and so forth.'
'Do you, Papa Meagles?' said Mrs Gowan. 'I am not surprised.'
'Well, ma'am,' reasoned Mr Meagles, 'I was in hopes you would have been at least surprised, because to hurt me wilfully on so tender a subject is surely not generous.' 'I am not responsible,' said Mrs Gowan, 'for your conscience, you know.'
Poor Mr Meagles looked aghast with astonishment.
'If I am unluckily obliged to carry a cap about with me, which is yours and fits you,' pursued Mrs Gowan, 'don't blame me for its pattern, Papa Meagles, I beg!' 'Why, good Lord, ma'am!' Mr Meagles broke out, 'that's as much as to state--'
'Now, Papa Meagles, Papa Meagles,' said Mrs Gowan, who became extremely deliberate and prepossessing in manner whenever that gentleman became at all warm, 'perhaps to prevent confusion, I had better speak for myself than trouble your kindness to speak for me.
It's as much as to state, you begin. If you please, I will finish the sentence. It is as much as to state--not that I wish to press it or even recall it, for it is of no use now, and my only wish is to make the best of existing circumstances--that from the first to the last I always objected to this match of yours, and at a very late period yielded a most unwilling consent to it.'
'Mother!' cried Mr Meagles. 'Do you hear this! Arthur! Do you hear this!'
'The room being of a convenient size,' said Mrs Gowan, looking about as she fanned herself, 'and quite charmingly adapted in all respects to conversation, I should imagine I am audible in any part of it.'
Some moments passed in silence, before Mr Meagles could hold himself in his chair with sufficient security to prevent his breaking out of it at the next word he spoke. At last he said: 'Ma'am, I am very unwilling to revive them, but I must remind you what my opinions and my course were, all along, on that unfortunate subject.'
'O, my dear sir!' said Mrs Gowan, smiling and shaking her head with accusatory intelligence, 'they were well understood by me, I assure you.'
'I never, ma'am,' said Mr Meagles, 'knew unhappiness before that time, I never knew anxiety before that time. It was a time of such distress to me that--' That Mr Meagles could really say no more about it, in short, but passed his handkerchief before his Face.
'I understood the whole affair,' said Mrs Gowan, composedly looking over her fan. 'As you have appealed to Mr Clennam, I may appeal to Mr Clennam, too. He knows whether I did or not.'
'I am very unwilling,' said Clennam, looked to by all parties, 'to take any share in this discussion, more especially because I wish to preserve the best understanding and the clearest relations with Mr Henry Gowan. I have very strong reasons indeed, for entertaining that wish. Mrs Gowan attributed certain views of furthering the marriage to my friend here, in conversation with me before it took place; and I endeavoured to undeceive her. I represented that I knew him (as I did and do) to be strenuously opposed to it, both in opinion and action.'
'You see?' said Mrs Gowan, turning the palms of her hands towards Mr Meagles, as if she were Justice herself, representing to him that he had better confess, for he had not a leg to stand on. 'You see? Very good! Now Papa and Mama Meagles both!' here she rose; 'allow me to take the liberty of putting an end to this rather formidable controversy. I will not say another word upon its merits. I will only say that it is an additional proof of what one knows from all experience; that this kind of thing never answers-- as my poor fellow himself would say, that it never pays--in one word, that it never does.'
Mr Meagles asked, What kind of thing?
'It is in vain,' said Mrs Gowan, 'for people to attempt to get on together who have such extremely different antecedents; who are jumbled against each other in this accidental, matrimonial sort of way; and who cannot look at the untoward circumstance which has shaken them together in the same light. It never does.'
Mr Meagles was beginning, 'Permit me to say, ma'am--'
'No, don't,' returned Mrs Gowan. 'Why should you! It is an ascertained fact. It never does. I will therefore, if you please, go my way, leaving you to yours. I shall at all times be happy to receive my poor fellow's pretty wife, and I shall always make a point of being on the most affectionate terms with her. But as to these terms, semi-family and semi-stranger, semi-goring and semi- boring, they form a state of things quite amusing in its impracticability. I assure you it never does.'
The Dowager here made a smiling obeisance, rather to the room than to any one in it, and therewith took a final farewell of Papa and Mama Meagles. Clennam stepped forward to hand her to the Pill-Box which was at the service of all the Pills in Hampton Court Palace; and she got into that vehicle with distinguished serenity, and was driven away.
Thenceforth the Dowager, with a light and careless humour, often recounted to her particular acquaintance how, after a hard trial, she had found it impossible to know those people who belonged to Henry's wife, and who had made that desperate set to catch him.
Whether she had come to the conclusion beforehand, that to get rid of them would give her favourite pretence a better air, might save her some occasional inconvenience, and could risk no loss (the pretty creature being fast married, and her father devoted to her), was best known to herself. Though this history has its opinion on that point too, and decidedly in the affirmative.
Appearance and Disappearance
'Arthur, my dear boy,' said Mr Meagles, on the evening of the following day, 'Mother and I have been talking this over, and we don't feel comfortable in remaining as we are. That elegant connection of ours--that dear lady who was here yesterday--'
'I understand,' said Arthur.
'Even that affable and condescending ornament of society,' pursued Mr Meagles, 'may misrepresent us, we are afraid. We could bear a great deal, Arthur, for her sake; but we think we would rather not bear that, if it was all the same to her.'
'Good,' said Arthur. 'Go on.'
'You see,' proceeded Mr Meagles 'it might put us wrong with our son-in-law, it might even put us wrong with our daughter, and it might lead to a great deal of domestic trouble. You see, don't you?'
'Yes, indeed,' returned Arthur, 'there is much reason in what you say.' He had glanced at Mrs Meagles, who was always on the good and sensible side; and a petition had shone out of her honest face that he would support Mr Meagles in his present inclinings.
'So we are very much disposed, are Mother and I,' said Mr Meagles, 'to pack up bags and baggage and go among the Allongers and Marshongers once more. I mean, we are very much disposed to be off, strike right through France into Italy, and see our Pet.'
'And I don't think,' replied Arthur, touched by the motherly anticipation in the bright face of Mrs Meagles (she must have been very like her daughter, once), 'that you could do better. And if you ask me for my advice, it is that you set off to-morrow.'
'Is it really, though?' said Mr Meagles. 'Mother, this is being backed in an idea!'
Mother, with a look which thanked Clennam in a manner very agreeable to him, answered that it was indeed.
'The fact is, besides, Arthur,' said Mr Meagles, the old cloud coming over his face, 'that my son-in-law is already in debt again, and that I suppose I must clear him again. It may be as well, even on this account, that I should step over there, and look him up in a friendly way. Then again, here's Mother foolishly anxious (and yet naturally too) about Pet's state of health, and that she should not be left to feel lonesome at the present time. It's undeniably a long way off, Arthur, and a strange place for the poor love under all the circumstances. Let her be as well cared for as any lady in that land, still it is a long way off. just as Home is Home though it's never so Homely, why you see,' said Mr Meagles, adding a new version to the proverb, 'Rome is Rome, though it's never so Romely.'
'All perfectly true,' observed Arthur, 'and all sufficient reasons for going.'
'I am glad you think so; it decides me. Mother, my dear, you may get ready. We have lost our pleasant interpreter (she spoke three foreign languages beautifully, Arthur; you have heard her many a time), and you must pull me through it, Mother, as well as you can.
I require a deal of pulling through, Arthur,' said Mr Meagles, shaking his head, 'a deal of pulling through. I stick at everything beyond a noun-substantive--and I stick at him, if he's at all a tight one.'
'Now I think of it,' returned Clennam, 'there's Cavalletto. He shall go with you, if you like. I could not afford to lose him, but you will bring him safe back.'
'Well! I am much obliged to you, my boy,' said Mr Meagles, turning it over, 'but I think not. No, I think I'll be pulled through by Mother. Cavallooro (I stick at his very name to start with, and it sounds like the chorus to a comic song) is so necessary to you, that I don't like the thought of taking him away. More than that, there's no saying when we may come home again; and it would never do to take him away for an indefinite time. The cottage is not what it was. It only holds two little people less than it ever did, Pet, and her poor unfortunate maid Tattycoram; but it seems empty now. Once out of it, there's no knowing when we may come back to it. No, Arthur, I'll be pulled through by Mother.'
They would do best by themselves perhaps, after all, Clennam thought; therefore did not press his proposal.
'If you would come down and stay here for a change, when it wouldn't trouble you,' Mr Meagles resumed, 'I should be glad to think--and so would Mother too, I know--that you were brightening up the old place with a bit of life it was used to when it was full, and that the Babies on the wall there had a kind eye upon them sometimes. You so belong to the spot, and to them, Arthur, and we should every one of us have been so happy if it had fallen out--but, let us see--how's the weather for travelling now?' Mr Meagles broke off, cleared his throat, and got up to look out of the window.
They agreed that the weather was of high promise; and Clennam kept the talk in that safe direction until it had become easy again, when he gently diverted it to Henry Gowan and his quick sense and agreeable qualities when he was delicately dealt With; he likewise dwelt on the indisputable affection he entertained for his wife.
Clennam did not fail of his effect upon good Mr Meagles, whom these commendations greatly cheered; and who took Mother to witness that the single and cordial desire of his heart in reference to their daughter's husband, was harmoniously to exchange friendship for friendship, and confidence for confidence. Within a few hours the cottage furniture began to be wrapped up for preservation in the family absence--or, as Mr Meagles expressed it, the house began to put its hair in papers--and within a few days Father and Mother were gone, Mrs Tickit and Dr Buchan were posted, as of yore, behind the parlour blind, and Arthur's solitary feet were rustling among the dry fallen leaves in the garden walks.
As he had a liking for the spot, he seldom let a week pass without paying a visit. Sometimes, he went down alone from Saturday to Monday; sometimes his partner accompanied him; sometimes, he merely strolled for an hour or two about the house and garden, saw that all was right, and returned to London again. At all times, and under all circumstances, Mrs Tickit, with her dark row of curls, and Dr Buchan, sat in the parlour window, looking out for the family return.
On one of his visits Mrs Tickit received him with the words, 'I have something to tell you, Mr Clennam, that will surprise you.'
So surprising was the something in question, that it actually brought Mrs Tickit out of the parlour window and produced her in the garden walk, when Clennam went in at the gate on its being opened for him.
'What is it, Mrs Tickit?' said he.
'Sir,' returned that faithful housekeeper, having taken him into the parlour and closed the door; 'if ever I saw the led away and deluded child in my life, I saw her identically in the dusk of yesterday evening.'
'You don't mean Tatty--'
'Coram yes I do!' quoth Mrs Tickit, clearing the disclosure at a leap.
'Mr Clennam,' returned Mrs Tickit, 'I was a little heavy in my eyes, being that I was waiting longer than customary for my cup of tea which was then preparing by Mary Jane. I was not sleeping, nor what a person would term correctly, dozing. I was more what a person would strictly call watching with my eyes closed.'
Without entering upon an inquiry into this curious abnormal condition, Clennam said, 'Exactly. Well?'
'Well, sir,' proceeded Mrs Tickit, 'I was thinking of one thing and thinking of another. just as you yourself might. just as anybody might.' 'Precisely so,' said Clennam. 'Well?'
'And when I do think of one thing and do think of another,' pursued Mrs Tickit, 'I hardly need to tell you, Mr Clennam, that I think of the family. Because, dear me! a person's thoughts,' Mrs Tickit said this with an argumentative and philosophic air, 'however they may stray, will go more or less on what is uppermost in their minds. They will do it, sir, and a person can't prevent them.'
Arthur subscribed to this discovery with a nod.
'You find it so yourself, sir, I'll be bold to say,' said Mrs Tickit, 'and we all find it so. It an't our stations in life that changes us, Mr Clennam; thoughts is free!--As I was saying, I was thinking of one thing and thinking of another, and thinking very much of the family. Not of the family in the present times only, but in the past times too. For when a person does begin thinking of one thing and thinking of another in that manner, as it's getting dark, what I say is, that all times seem to be present, and a person must get out of that state and consider before they can say which is which.'
He nodded again; afraid to utter a word, lest it should present any new opening to Mrs Tickit's conversational powers.
'In consequence of which,' said Mrs Tickit, 'when I quivered my eyes and saw her actual form and figure looking in at the gate, I let them close again without so much as starting, for that actual form and figure came so pat to the time when it belonged to the house as much as mine or your own, that I never thought at the moment of its having gone away. But, sir, when I quivered my eyes again, and saw that it wasn't there, then it all flooded upon me with a fright, and I jumped up.'
'You ran out directly?' said Clennam.
'I ran out,' assented Mrs Tickit, 'as fast as ever my feet would carry me; and if you'll credit it, Mr Clennam, there wasn't in the whole shining Heavens, no not so much as a finger of that young woman.'
Passing over the absence from the firmament of this novel constellation, Arthur inquired of Mrs Tickit if she herself went beyond the gate?
'Went to and fro, and high and low,' said Mrs Tickit, 'and saw no sign of her!'
He then asked Mrs Tickit how long a space of time she supposed there might have been between the two sets of ocular quiverings she had experienced? Mrs Tickit, though minutely circumstantial in her reply, had no settled opinion between five seconds and ten minutes.
She was so plainly at sea on this part of the case, and had so clearly been startled out of slumber, that Clennam was much disposed to regard the appearance as a dream. Without hurting Mrs Tickit's feelings with that infidel solution of her mystery, he took it away from the cottage with him; and probably would have retained it ever afterwards if a circumstance had not soon happened to change his opinion. He was passing at nightfall along the Strand, and the lamp-lighter was going on before him, under whose hand the street-lamps, blurred by the foggy air, burst out one after another, like so many blazing sunflowers coming into full-blow all at once,--when a stoppage on the pavement, caused by a train of coal-waggons toiling up from the wharves at the river-side, brought him to a stand-still. He had been walking quickly, and going with some current of thought, and the sudden check given to both operations caused him to look freshly about him, as people under such circumstances usually do.
Immediately, he saw in advance--a few people intervening, but still so near to him that he could have touched them by stretching out his arm--Tattycoram and a strange man of a remarkable appearance: a swaggering man, with a high nose, and a black moustache as false in its colour as his eyes were false in their expression, who wore his heavy cloak with the air of a foreigner. His dress and general appearance were those of a man on travel, and he seemed to have very recently joined the girl. In bending down (being much taller than she was), listening to whatever she said to him, he looked over his shoulder with the suspicious glance of one who was not unused to be mistrustful that his footsteps might be dogged. It was then that Clennam saw his face; as his eyes lowered on the people behind him in the aggregate, without particularly resting upon Clennam's face or any other.
He had scarcely turned his head about again, and it was still bent down, listening to the girl, when the stoppage ceased, and the obstructed stream of people flowed on. Still bending his head and listening to the girl, he went on at her side, and Clennam followed them, resolved to play this unexpected play out, and see where they went.
He had hardly made the determination (though he was not long about it), when he was again as suddenly brought up as he had been by the stoppage. They turned short into the Adelphi,--the girl evidently leading,--and went straight on, as if they were going to the Terrace which overhangs the river.
There is always, to this day, a sudden pause in that place to the roar of the great thoroughfare. The many sounds become so deadened that the change is like putting cotton in the ears, or having the head thickly muffled. At that time the contrast was far greater; there being no small steam-boats on the river, no landing places but slippery wooden stairs and foot-causeways, no railroad on the opposite bank, no hanging bridge or fish-market near at hand, no traffic on the nearest bridge of stone, nothing moving on the stream but watermen's wherries and coal-lighters. Long and broad black tiers of the latter, moored fast in the mud as if they were never to move again, made the shore funereal and silent after dark; and kept what little water-movement there was, far out towards mid- stream. At any hour later than sunset, and not least at that hour when most of the people who have anything to eat at home are going home to eat it, and when most of those who have nothing have hardly yet slunk out to beg or steal, it was a deserted place and looked on a deserted scene.
Such was the hour when Clennam stopped at the corner, observing the girl and the strange man as they went down the street. The man's footsteps were so noisy on the echoing stones that he was unwilling to add the sound of his own. But when they had passed the turning and were in the darkness of the dark corner leading to the terrace, he made after them with such indifferent appearance of being a casual passenger on his way, as he could assume.
When he rounded the dark corner, they were walking along the terrace towards a figure which was coming towards them. If he had seen it by itself, under such conditions of gas-lamp, mist, and distance, he might not have known it at first sight, but with the figure of the girl to prompt him, he at once recognised Miss Wade.
He stopped at the corner, seeming to look back expectantly up the street as if he had made an appointment with some one to meet him there; but he kept a careful eye on the three. When they came together, the man took off his hat, and made Miss Wade a bow. The girl appeared to say a few words as though she presented him, or accounted for his being late, or early, or what not; and then fell a pace or so behind, by herself. Miss Wade and the man then began to walk up and down; the man having the appearance of being extremely courteous and complimentary in manner; Miss Wade having the appearance of being extremely haughty.
When they came down to the corner and turned, she was saying,
'If I pinch myself for it, sir, that is my business. Confine yourself to yours, and ask me no question.'
'By Heaven, ma'am!' he replied, making her another bow. 'It was my profound respect for the strength of your character, and my admiration of your beauty.'
'I want neither the one nor the other from any one,' said she, 'and certainly not from you of all creatures. Go on with your report.'
'Am I pardoned?' he asked, with an air of half abashed gallantry.
'You are paid,' she said, 'and that is all you want.'
Whether the girl hung behind because she was not to hear the business, or as already knowing enough about it, Clennam could not determine. They turned and she turned. She looked away at the river, as she walked with her hands folded before her; and that was all he could make of her without showing his face. There happened, by good fortune, to be a lounger really waiting for some one; and he sometimes looked over the railing at the water, and sometimes came to the dark corner and looked up the street, rendering Arthur less conspicuous.
When Miss Wade and the man came back again, she was saying, 'You must wait until to-morrow.'
'A thousand pardons?' he returned. 'My faith! Then it's not convenient to-night?'
'No. I tell you I must get it before I can give it to you.'
She stopped in the roadway, as if to put an end to the conference.
He of course stopped too. And the girl stopped.
'It's a little inconvenient,' said the man. 'A little. But, Holy Blue! that's nothing in such a service. I am without money to- night, by chance. I have a good banker in this city, but I would not wish to draw upon the house until the time when I shall draw for a round sum.'
'Harriet,' said Miss Wade, 'arrange with him--this gentleman here-- for sending him some money to-morrow.' She said it with a slur of the word gentleman which was more contemptuous than any emphasis, and walked slowly on. The man bent his head again, and the girl spoke to him as they both followed her. Clennam ventured to look at the girl as they Moved away. He could note that her rich black eyes were fastened upon the man with a scrutinising expression, and that she kept at a little distance from him, as they walked side by side to the further end of the terrace.
A loud and altered clank upon the pavement warned him, before he could discern what was passing there, that the man was coming back alone. Clennam lounged into the road, towards the railing; and the man passed at a quick swing, with the end of his cloak thrown over his shoulder, singing a scrap of a French song.
The whole vista had no one in it now but himself. The lounger had lounged out of view, and Miss Wade and Tattycoram were gone. More than ever bent on seeing what became of them, and on having some information to give his good friend, Mr Meagles, he went out at the further end of the terrace, looking cautiously about him. He rightly judged that, at first at all events, they would go in a contrary direction from their late companion. He soon saw them in a neighbouring bye-street, which was not a thoroughfare, evidently allowing time for the man to get well out of their way. They walked leisurely arm-in-arm down one side of the street, and returned on the opposite side. When they came back to the street- corner, they changed their pace for the pace of people with an object and a distance before them, and walked steadily away.
Clennam, no less steadily, kept them in sight.
They crossed the Strand, and passed through Covent Garden (under the windows of his old lodging where dear Little Dorrit had come that night), and slanted away north-east, until they passed the great building whence Tattycoram derived her name, and turned into the Gray's Inn Road. Clennam was quite at home here, in right of Flora, not to mention the Patriarch and Pancks, and kept them in view with ease. He was beginning to wonder where they might be going next, when that wonder was lost in the greater wonder with which he saw them turn into the Patriarchal street. That wonder was in its turn swallowed up on the greater wonder with which he saw them stop at the Patriarchal door. A low double knock at the bright brass knocker, a gleam of light into the road from the opened door, a brief pause for inquiry and answer and the door was shut, and they were housed.
After looking at the surrounding objects for assurance that he was not in an odd dream, and after pacing a little while before the house, Arthur knocked at the door. It was opened by the usual maid-servant, and she showed him up at once, with her usual alacrity, to Flora's sitting-room.
There was no one with Flora but Mr F.'s Aunt, which respectable gentlewoman, basking in a balmy atmosphere of tea and toast, was ensconced in an easy-chair by the fireside, with a little table at her elbow, and a clean white handkerchief spread over her lap on which two pieces of toast at that moment awaited consumption.
Bending over a steaming vessel of tea, and looking through the steam, and breathing forth the steam, like a malignant Chinese enchantress engaged in the performance of unholy rites, Mr F.'s Aunt put down her great teacup and exclaimed, 'Drat him, if he an't come back again!'
It would seem from the foregoing exclamation that this uncompromising relative of the lamented Mr F., measuring time by the acuteness of her sensations and not by the clock, supposed Clennam to have lately gone away; whereas at least a quarter of a year had elapsed since he had had the temerity to present himself before her.
'My goodness Arthur!' cried Flora, rising to give him a cordial reception, 'Doyce and Clennam what a start and a surprise for though not far from the machinery and foundry business and surely might be taken sometimes if at no other time about mid-day when a glass of sherry and a humble sandwich of whatever cold meat in the larder might not come amiss nor taste the worse for being friendly for you know you buy it somewhere and wherever bought a profit must be made or they would never keep the place it stands to reason without a motive still never seen and learnt now not to be expected, for as Mr F. himself said if seeing is believing not seeing is believing too and when you don't see you may fully believe you're not remembered not that I expect you Arthur Doyce and Clennam to remember me why should I for the days are gone but bring another teacup here directly and tell her fresh toast and pray sit near the fire.'
Arthur was in the greatest anxiety to explain the object of his visit; but was put off for the moment, in spite of himself, by what he understood of the reproachful purport of these words, and by the genuine pleasure she testified in seeing him. 'And now pray tell me something all you know,' said Flora, drawing her chair near to his, 'about the good dear quiet little thing and all the changes of her fortunes carriage people now no doubt and horses without number most romantic, a coat of arms of course and wild beasts on their hind legs showing it as if it was a copy they had done with mouths from ear to ear good gracious, and has she her health which is the first consideration after all for what is wealth without it Mr F. himself so often saying when his twinges came that sixpence a day and find yourself and no gout so much preferable, not that he could have lived on anything like it being the last man or that the previous little thing though far too familiar an expression now had any tendency of that sort much too slight and small but looked so fragile bless her?'
Mr F.'s Aunt, who had eaten a piece of toast down to the crust, here solemnly handed the crust to Flora, who ate it for her as a matter of business. Mr F.'s Aunt then moistened her ten fingers in slow succession at her lips, and wiped them in exactly the same order on the white handkerchief; then took the other piece of toast, and fell to work upon it. While pursuing this routine, she looked at Clennam with an expression of such intense severity that he felt obliged to look at her in return, against his personal inclinations.
'She is in Italy, with all her family, Flora,' he said, when the dreaded lady was occupied again.
'In Italy is she really?' said Flora, 'with the grapes growing everywhere and lava necklaces and bracelets too that land of poetry with burning mountains picturesque beyond belief though if the organ-boys come away from the neighbourhood not to be scorched nobody can wonder being so young and bringing their white mice with them most humane, and is she really in that favoured land with nothing but blue about her and dying gladiators and Belvederes though Mr F. himself did not believe for his objection when in spirits was that the images could not be true there being no medium between expensive quantities of linen badly got up and all in creases and none whatever, which certainly does not seem probable though perhaps in consequence of the extremes of rich and poor which may account for it.'
Arthur tried to edge a word in, but Flora hurried on again.
'Venice Preserved too,' said she, 'I think you have been there is it well or ill preserved for people differ so and Maccaroni if they really eat it like the conjurors why not cut it shorter, you are acquainted Arthur--dear Doyce and Clennam at least not dear and most assuredly not Doyce for I have not the pleasure but pray excuse me--acquainted I believe with Mantua what has it got to do with Mantua-making for I never have been able to conceive?'
'I believe there is no connection, Flora, between the two,' Arthur was beginning, when she caught him up again.
'Upon your word no isn't there I never did but that's like me I run away with an idea and having none to spare I keep it, alas there was a time dear Arthur that is to say decidedly not dear nor Arthur neither but you understand me when one bright idea gilded the what's-his-name horizon of et cetera but it is darkly clouded now and all is over.'
Arthur's increasing wish to speak of something very different was by this time so plainly written on his face, that Flora stopped in a tender look, and asked him what it was?
'I have the greatest desire, Flora, to speak to some one who is now in this house--with Mr Casby no doubt. Some one whom I saw come in, and who, in a misguided and deplorable way, has deserted the house of a friend of mine.'
'Papa sees so many and such odd people,' said Flora, rising, 'that I shouldn't venture to go down for any one but you Arthur but for you I would willingly go down in a diving-bell much more a dining- room and will come back directly if you'll mind and at the same time not mind Mr F.'s Aunt while I'm gone.'
With those words and a parting glance, Flora bustled out, leaving Clennam under dreadful apprehension of this terrible charge.
The first variation which manifested itself in Mr F.'s Aunt's demeanour when she had finished her piece of toast, was a loud and prolonged sniff. Finding it impossible to avoid construing this demonstration into a defiance of himself, its gloomy significance being unmistakable, Clennam looked plaintively at the excellent though prejudiced lady from whom it emanated, in the hope that she might be disarmed by a meek submission.
'None of your eyes at me,' said Mr F.'s Aunt, shivering with hostility. 'Take that.'
'That' was the crust of the piece of toast. Clennam accepted the boon with a look of gratitude, and held it in his hand under the pressure of a little embarrassment, which was not relieved when Mr F.'s Aunt, elevating her voice into a cry of considerable power, exclaimed, 'He has a proud stomach, this chap! He's too proud a chap to eat it!' and, coming out of her chair, shook her venerable fist so very close to his nose as to tickle the surface. But for the timely return of Flora, to find him in this difficult situation, further consequences might have ensued. Flora, without the least discomposure or surprise, but congratulating the old lady in an approving manner on being 'very lively to-night', handed her back to her chair.
'He has a proud stomach, this chap,' said Mr F.'s relation, on being reseated. 'Give him a meal of chaff!'
'Oh! I don't think he would like that, aunt,' returned Flora.
'Give him a meal of chaff, I tell you,' said Mr F.'s Aunt, glaring round Flora on her enemy. 'It's the only thing for a proud stomach. Let him eat up every morsel. Drat him, give him a meal of chaff!'
Under a general pretence of helping him to this refreshment, Flora got him out on the staircase; Mr F.'s Aunt even then constantly reiterating, with inexpressible bitterness, that he was 'a chap,' and had a 'proud stomach,' and over and over again insisting on that equine provision being made for him which she had already so strongly prescribed.
'Such an inconvenient staircase and so many corner-stairs Arthur,' whispered Flora, 'would you object to putting your arm round me under my pelerine?'
With a sense of going down-stairs in a highly-ridiculous manner, Clennam descended in the required attitude, and only released his fair burden at the dining-room door; indeed, even there she was rather difficult to be got rid of, remaining in his embrace to murmur, 'Arthur, for mercy's sake, don't breathe it to papa!'
She accompanied Arthur into the room, where the Patriarch sat alone, with his list shoes on the fender, twirling his thumbs as if he had never left off. The youthful Patriarch, aged ten, looked out of his picture-frame above him with no calmer air than he.
Both smooth heads were alike beaming, blundering, and bumpy.
'Mr Clennam, I am glad to see you. I hope you are well, sir, I hope you are well. Please to sit down, please to sit down.'
'I had hoped, sir,' said Clennam, doing so, and looking round with a face of blank disappointment, 'not to find you alone.'
'Ah, indeed?' said the Patriarch, sweetly. 'Ah, indeed?'
'I told you so you know papa,' cried Flora.
'Ah, to be sure!' returned the Patriarch. 'Yes, just so. Ah, to be sure!'
'Pray, sir,'demanded Clennam, anxiously, 'is Miss Wade gone?'
'Miss--? Oh, you call her Wade,' returned Mr Casby. 'Highly proper.' Arthur quickly returned, 'What do you call her?'
'Wade,' said Mr Casby. 'Oh, always Wade.'
After looking at the philanthropic visage and the long silky white hair for a few seconds, during which Mr Casby twirled his thumbs, and smiled at the fire as if he were benevolently wishing it to burn him that he might forgive it, Arthur began:
'I beg your pardon, Mr Casby--'
'Not so, not so,' said the Patriarch, 'not so.'
'--But, Miss Wade had an attendant with her--a young woman brought up by friends of mine, over whom her influence is not considered very salutary, and to whom I should be glad to have the opportunity of giving the assurance that she has not yet forfeited the interest of those protectors.'
'Really, really?' returned the Patriarch.
'Will you therefore be so good as to give me the address of Miss Wade?'
'Dear, dear, dear!' said the Patriarch, 'how very unfortunate! If you had only sent in to me when they were here! I observed the young woman, Mr Clennam. A fine full-coloured young woman, Mr Clennam, with very dark hair and very dark eyes. If I mistake not, if I mistake not?'
Arthur assented, and said once more with new expression, 'If you would be so good as to give me the address.'
'Dear, dear, dear!' exclaimed the Patriarch in sweet regret. 'Tut, tut, tut! what a pity, what a pity! I have no address, sir. Miss Wade mostly lives abroad, Mr Clennam. She has done so for some years, and she is (if I may say so of a fellow-creature and a lady) fitful and uncertain to a fault, Mr Clennam. I may not see her again for a long, long time. I may never see her again. What a pity, what a pity!'
Clennam saw now, that he had as much hope of getting assistance out of the Portrait as out of the Patriarch; but he said nevertheless:
'Mr Casby, could you, for the satisfaction of the friends I have mentioned, and under any obligation of secrecy that you may consider it your duty to impose, give me any information at all touching Miss Wade? I have seen her abroad, and I have seen her at home, but I know nothing of her. Could you give me any account of her whatever?'
'None,' returned the Patriarch, shaking his big head with his utmost benevolence. 'None at all. Dear, dear, dear! What a real pity that she stayed so short a time, and you delayed! As confidential agency business, agency business, I have occasionally paid this lady money; but what satisfaction is it to you, sir, to know that?'
'Truly, none at all,' said Clennam.
'Truly,' assented the Patriarch, with a shining face as he philanthropically smiled at the fire, 'none at all, sir. You hit the wise answer, Mr Clennam. Truly, none at all, sir.' His turning of his smooth thumbs over one another as he sat there, was so typical to Clennam of the way in which he would make the subject revolve if it were pursued, never showing any new part of it nor allowing it to make the smallest advance, that it did much to help to convince him of his labour having been in vain. He might have taken any time to think about it, for Mr Casby, well accustomed to get on anywhere by leaving everything to his bumps and his white hair, knew his strength to lie in silence. So there Casby sat, twirling and twirling, and making his polished head and forehead look largely benevolent in every knob.
With this spectacle before him, Arthur had risen to go, when from the inner Dock where the good ship Pancks was hove down when out in no cruising ground, the noise was heard of that steamer labouring towards him. It struck Arthur that the noise began demonstratively far off, as though Mr Pancks sought to impress on any one who might happen to think about it, that he was working on from out of hearing. Mr Pancks and he shook hands, and the former brought his employer a letter or two to sign. Mr Pancks in shaking hands merely scratched his eyebrow with his left forefinger and snorted once, but Clennam, who understood him better now than of old, comprehended that he had almost done for the evening and wished to say a word to him outside. Therefore, when he had taken his leave of Mr Casby, and (which was a more difficult process) of Flora, he sauntered in the neighbourhood on Mr Pancks's line of road.
He had waited but a short time when Mr Pancks appeared. Mr Pancks shaking hands again with another expressive snort, and taking off his hat to put his hair up, Arthur thought he received his cue to speak to him as one who knew pretty well what had just now passed.
Therefore he said, without any preface:
'I suppose they were really gone, Pancks?'
'Yes,' replied Pancks. 'They were really gone.'
'Does he know where to find that lady?'
'Can't say. I should think so.'
Mr Pancks did not? No, Mr Pancks did not. Did Mr Pancks know anything about her? 'I expect,' rejoined that worthy, 'I know as much about her as she knows about herself. She is somebody's child--anybody's--nobody's.
Put her in a room in London here with any six people old enough to be her parents, and her parents may be there for anything she knows. They may be in any house she sees, they may be in any churchyard she passes, she may run against 'em in any street, she may make chance acquaintance of 'em at any time; and never know it.
She knows nothing about 'em. She knows nothing about any relative whatever. Never did. Never will.' 'Mr Casby could enlighten her, perhaps?'
'May be,' said Pancks. 'I expect so, but don't know. He has long had money (not overmuch as I make out) in trust to dole out to her when she can't do without it. Sometimes she's proud and won't touch it for a length of time; sometimes she's so poor that she must have it. She writhes under her life. A woman more angry, passionate, reckless, and revengeful never lived. She came for money to-night. Said she had peculiar occasion for it.'
'I think,' observed Clennam musing, 'I by chance know what occasion--I mean into whose pocket the money is to go.'
'Indeed?' said Pancks. 'If it's a compact, I recommend that party to be exact in it. I wouldn't trust myself to that woman, young and handsome as she is, if I had wronged her; no, not for twice my proprietor's money! Unless,' Pancks added as a saving clause, 'I had a lingering illness on me, and wanted to get it over.'
Arthur, hurriedly reviewing his own observation of her, found it to tally pretty nearly with Mr Pancks's view.
'The wonder is to me,' pursued Pancks, 'that she has never done for my proprietor, as the only person connected with her story she can lay hold of. Mentioning that, I may tell you, between ourselves, that I am sometimes tempted to do for him myself.'
Arthur started and said, 'Dear me, Pancks, don't say that!'
'Understand me,' said Pancks, extending five cropped coaly finger- nails on Arthur's arm; 'I don't mean, cut his throat. But by all that's precious, if he goes too far, I'll cut his hair!'
Having exhibited himself in the new light of enunciating this tremendous threat, Mr Pancks, with a countenance of grave import, snorted several times and steamed away.
The Dreams of Mrs Flintwinch thicken
The shady waiting-rooms of the Circumlocution Office, where he passed a good deal of time in company with various troublesome Convicts who were under sentence to be broken alive on that wheel, had afforded Arthur Clennam ample leisure, in three or four successive days, to exhaust the subject of his late glimpse of Miss Wade and Tattycoram. He had been able to make no more of it and no less of it, and in this unsatisfactory condition he was fain to leave it.
During this space he had not been to his mother's dismal old house.
One of his customary evenings for repairing thither now coming round, he left his dwelling and his partner at nearly nine o'clock, and slowly walked in the direction of that grim home of his youth.
It always affected his imagination as wrathful, mysterious, and sad; and his imagination was sufficiently impressible to see the whole neighbourhood under some tinge of its dark shadow. As he went along, upon a dreary night, the dim streets by which he went, seemed all depositories of oppressive secrets. The deserted counting-houses, with their secrets of books and papers locked up in chests and safes; the banking-houses, with their secrets of strong rooms and wells, the keys of which were in a very few secret pockets and a very few secret breasts; the secrets of all the dispersed grinders in the vast mill, among whom there were doubtless plunderers, forgers, and trust-betrayers of many sorts, whom the light of any day that dawned might reveal; he could have fancied that these things, in hiding, imparted a heaviness to the air. The shadow thickening and thickening as he approached its source, he thought of the secrets of the lonely church-vaults, where the people who had hoarded and secreted in iron coffers were in their turn similarly hoarded, not yet at rest from doing harm; and then of the secrets of the river, as it rolled its turbid tide between two frowning wildernesses of secrets, extending, thick and dense, for many miles, and warding off the free air and the free country swept by winds and wings of birds.
The shadow still darkening as he drew near the house, the melancholy room which his father had once occupied, haunted by the appealing face he had himself seen fade away with him when there was no other watcher by the bed, arose before his mind. Its close air was secret. The gloom, and must, and dust of the whole tenement, were secret. At the heart of it his mother presided, inflexible of face, indomitable of will, firmly holding all the secrets of her own and his father's life, and austerely opposing herself, front to front, to the great final secret of all life.
He had turned into the narrow and steep street from which the court of enclosure wherein the house stood opened, when another footstep turned into it behind him, and so close upon his own that he was jostled to the wall. As his mind was teeming with these thoughts, the encounter took him altogether unprepared, so that the other passenger had had time to say, boisterously, 'Pardon! Not my fault!' and to pass on before the instant had elapsed which was requisite to his recovery of the realities about him.
When that moment had flashed away, he saw that the man striding on before him was the man who had been so much in his mind during the last few days. It was no casual resemblance, helped out by the force of the impression the man made upon him. It was the man; the man he had followed in company with the girl, and whom he had overheard talking to Miss Wade.
The street was a sharp descent and was crooked too, and the man (who although not drunk had the air of being flushed with some strong drink) went down it so fast that Clennam lost him as he looked at him. With no defined intention of following him, but with an impulse to keep the figure in view a little longer, Clennam quickened his pace to pass the twist in the street which hid him from his sight. On turning it, he saw the man no more.
Standing now, close to the gateway of his mother's house, he looked down the street: but it was empty. There was no projecting shadow large enough to obscure the man; there was no turning near that he could have taken; nor had there been any audible sound of the opening and closing of a door. Nevertheless, he concluded that the man must have had a key in his hand, and must have opened one of the many house-doors and gone in.
Ruminating on this strange chance and strange glimpse, he turned into the court-yard. As he looked, by mere habit, towards the feebly lighted windows of his mother's room, his eyes encountered the figure he had just lost, standing against the iron railings of the little waste enclosure looking up at those windows and laughing to himself. Some of the many vagrant cats who were always prowling about there by night, and who had taken fright at him, appeared to have stopped when he had stopped, and were looking at him with eyes by no means unlike his own from tops of walls and porches, and other safe points of pause. He had only halted for a moment to entertain himself thus; he immediately went forward, throwing the end of his cloak off his shoulder as he went, ascended the unevenly sunken steps, and knocked a sounding knock at the door.
Clennam's surprise was not so absorbing but that he took his resolution without any incertitude. He went up to the door too, and ascended the steps too. His friend looked at him with a braggart air, and sang to himself.
'Who passes by this road so late?
Compagnon de la Majolaine;
Who passes by this road so late?
After which he knocked again.
'You are impatient, sir,' said Arthur.
'I am, sir. Death of my life, sir,' returned the stranger, 'it's my character to be impatient!' The sound of Mistress Affery cautiously chaining the door before she opened it, caused them both to look that way. Affery opened it a very little, with a flaring candle in her hands and asked who was that, at that time of night, with that knock! 'Why, Arthur!' she added with astonishment, seeing him first. 'Not you sure? Ah, Lord save us! No,' she cried out, seeing the other. 'Him again!'
'It's true! Him again, dear Mrs Flintwinch,' cried the stranger.
'Open the door, and let me take my dear friend Jeremiah to my arms! Open the door, and let me hasten myself to embrace my Flintwinch!'
'He's not at home,' cried Affery.
'Fetch him!' cried the stranger. 'Fetch my Flintwinch! Tell him that it is his old Blandois, who comes from arriving in England; tell him that it is his little boy who is here, his cabbage, his well-beloved! Open the door, beautiful Mrs Flintwinch, and in the meantime let me to pass upstairs, to present my compliments-- homage of Blandois--to my lady! My lady lives always? It is well.
To Arthur's increased surprise, Mistress Affery, stretching her eyes wide at himself, as if in warning that this was not a gentleman for him to interfere with, drew back the chain, and opened the door. The stranger, without ceremony, walked into the hall, leaving Arthur to follow him.
'Despatch then! Achieve then! Bring my Flintwinch! Announce me to my lady!' cried the stranger, clanking about the stone floor.
'Pray tell me, Affery,' said Arthur aloud and sternly, as he surveyed him from head to foot with indignation; 'who is this gentleman?'
'Pray tell me, Affery,' the stranger repeated in his turn, 'who-- ha, ha, ha!--who is this gentleman?'
The voice of Mrs Clennam opportunely called from her chamber above, 'Affery, let them both come up. Arthur, come straight to me!'
'Arthur?' exclaimed Blandois, taking off his hat at arm's length, and bringing his heels together from a great stride in making him a flourishing bow. 'The son of my lady? I am the all-devoted of the son of my lady!'
Arthur looked at him again in no more flattering manner than before, and, turning on his heel without acknowledgment, went up- stairs. The visitor followed him up-stairs. Mistress Affery took the key from behind the door, and deftly slipped out to fetch her lord.
A bystander, informed of the previous appearance of Monsieur Blandois in that room, would have observed a difference in Mrs Clennam's present reception of him. Her face was not one to betray it; and her suppressed manner, and her set voice, were equally under her control. It wholly consisted in her never taking her eyes off his face from the moment of his entrance, and in her twice or thrice, when he was becoming noisy, swaying herself a very little forward in the chair in which she sat upright, with her hands immovable upon its elbows; as if she gave him the assurance that he should be presently heard at any length he would. Arthur did not fail to observe this; though the difference between the present occasion and the former was not within his power of observation.
'Madame,' said Blandois, 'do me the honour to present me to Monsieur, your son. It appears to me, madame, that Monsieur, your son, is disposed to complain of me. He is not polite.'
'Sir,' said Arthur, striking in expeditiously, 'whoever you are, and however you come to be here, if I were the master of this house I would lose no time in placing you on the outside of it.'
'But you are not,' said his mother, without looking at him.
'Unfortunately for the gratification of your unreasonable temper, you are not the master, Arthur.'
'I make no claim to be, mother. If I object to this person's manner of conducting himself here, and object to it so much, that if I had any authority here I certainly would not suffer him to remain a minute, I object on your account.'
'In the case of objection being necessary,' she returned, 'I could object for myself. And of course I should.'
The subject of their dispute, who had seated himself, laughed aloud, and rapped his legs with his hand.
'You have no right,' said Mrs Clennam, always intent on Blandois, however directly she addressed her son, 'to speak to the prejudice of any gentleman (least of all a gentleman from another country), because he does not conform to your standard, or square his behaviour by your rules. It is possible that the gentleman may, on similar grounds, object to you.'
'I hope so,' returned Arthur.
'The gentleman,' pursued Mrs Clennam, 'on a former occasion brought a letter of recommendation to us from highly esteemed and responsible correspondents. I am perfectly unacquainted with the gentleman's object in coming here at present. I am entirely ignorant of it, and cannot be supposed likely to be able to form the remotest guess at its nature;' her habitual frown became stronger, as she very slowly and weightily emphasised those words; 'but, when the gentleman proceeds to explain his object, as I shall beg him to have the goodness to do to myself and Flintwinch, when Flintwinch returns, it will prove, no doubt, to be one more or less in the usual way of our business, which it will be both our business and our pleasure to advance. It can be nothing else.'
'We shall see, madame!' said the man of business.
'We shall see,' she assented. 'The gentleman is acquainted with Flintwinch; and when the gentleman was in London last, I remember to have heard that he and Flintwinch had some entertainment or good-fellowship together. I am not in the way of knowing much that passes outside this room, and the jingle of little worldly things beyond it does not much interest me; but I remember to have heard that.'
'Right, madame. It is true.' He laughed again, and whistled the burden of the tune he had sung at the door.
'Therefore, Arthur,' said his mother, 'the gentleman comes here as an acquaintance, and no stranger; and it is much to be regretted that your unreasonable temper should have found offence in him. I regret it. I say so to the gentleman. You will not say so, I know; therefore I say it for myself and Flintwinch, since with us two the gentleman's business lies.'
The key of the door below was now heard in the lock, and the door was heard to open and close. In due sequence Mr Flintwinch appeared; on whose entrance the visitor rose from his chair, laughing loud, and folded him in a close embrace.
'How goes it, my cherished friend!' said he. 'How goes the world, my Flintwinch? Rose-coloured? So much the better, so much the better! Ah, but you look charming! Ah, but you look young and fresh as the flowers of Spring! Ah, good little boy! Brave child, brave child!'
While heaping these compliments on Mr Flintwinch, he rolled him about with a hand on each of his shoulders, until the staggerings of that gentleman, who under the circumstances was dryer and more twisted than ever, were like those of a teetotum nearly spent.
'I had a presentiment, last time, that we should be better and more intimately acquainted. Is it coming on you, Flintwinch? Is it yet coming on?'
'Why, no, sir,' retorted Mr Flintwinch. 'Not unusually. Hadn't you better be seated? You have been calling for some more of that port, sir, I guess?'
'Ah, Little joker! Little pig!' cried the visitor. 'Ha ha ha ha!' And throwing Mr Flintwinch away, as a closing piece of raillery, he sat down again.
The amazement, suspicion, resentment, and shame, with which Arthur looked on at all this, struck him dumb. Mr Flintwinch, who had spun backward some two or three yards under the impetus last given to him, brought himself up with a face completely unchanged in its stolidity except as it was affected by shortness of breath, and looked hard at Arthur. Not a whit less reticent and wooden was Mr Flintwinch outwardly, than in the usual course of things: the only perceptible difference in him being that the knot of cravat which was generally under his ear, had worked round to the back of his head: where it formed an ornamental appendage not unlike a bagwig, and gave him something of a courtly appearance. As Mrs Clennam never removed her eyes from Blandois (on whom they had some effect, as a steady look has on a lower sort of dog), so Jeremiah never removed his from Arthur. It was as if they had tacitly agreed to take their different provinces. Thus, in the ensuing silence, Jeremiah stood scraping his chin and looking at Arthur as though he were trying to screw his thoughts out of him with an instrument.
After a little, the visitor, as if he felt the silence irksome, rose, and impatiently put himself with his back to the sacred fire which had burned through so many years. Thereupon Mrs Clennam said, moving one of her hands for the first time, and moving it very slightly with an action of dismissal:
'Please to leave us to our business, Arthur.' 'Mother, I do so with reluctance.'
'Never mind with what,' she returned, 'or with what not. Please to leave us. Come back at any other time when you may consider it a duty to bury half an hour wearily here. Good night.'
She held up her muffled fingers that he might touch them with his, according to their usual custom, and he stood over her wheeled chair to touch her face with his lips. He thought, then, that her cheek was more strained than usual, and that it was colder. As he followed the direction of her eyes, in rising again, towards Mr Flintwinch's good friend, Mr Blandois, Mr Blandois snapped his finger and thumb with one loud contemptuous snap.
'I leave your--your business acquaintance in my mother's room, Mr Flintwinch,' said Clennam, 'with a great deal of surprise and a great deal of unwillingness.'
The person referred to snapped his finger and thumb again.
'Good night, mother.'
'I had a friend once, my good comrade Flintwinch,' said Blandois, standing astride before the fire, and so evidently saying it to arrest Clennam's retreating steps, that he lingered near the door; 'I had a friend once, who had heard so much of the dark side of this city and its ways, that he wouldn't have confided himself alone by night with two people who had an interest in getting him under the ground--my faith! not even in a respectable house like this--unless he was bodily too strong for them. Bah! What a poltroon, my Flintwinch! Eh?'
'A cur, sir.'
'Agreed! A cur. But he wouldn't have done it, my Flintwinch, unless he had known them to have the will to silence him, without the power. He wouldn't have drunk from a glass of water under such circumstances--not even in a respectable house like this, my Flintwinch--unless he had seen one of them drink first, and swallow too!'
Disdaining to speak, and indeed not very well able, for he was half-choking, Clennam only glanced at the visitor as he passed out.
The visitor saluted him with another parting snap, and his nose came down over his moustache and his moustache went up under his nose, in an ominous and ugly smile.
'For Heaven's sake, Affery,' whispered Clennam, as she opened the door for him in the dark hall, and he groped his way to the sight of the night-sky, 'what is going on here?'
Her own appearance was sufficiently ghastly, standing in the dark with her apron thrown over her head, and speaking behind it in a low, deadened voice.
'Don't ask me anything, Arthur. I've been in a dream for ever so long. Go away!'
He went out, and she shut the door upon him. He looked up at the windows of his mother's room, and the dim light, deadened by the yellow blinds, seemed to say a response after Affery, and to mutter, 'Don't ask me anything. Go away!'