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Little Dorrit by Charles Dickens

Part 13 out of 20

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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.

CHAPTER 8

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.

CHAPTER 9

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.

'Where?'

'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.

CHAPTER 10

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?
Always gay!'

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.

Open then!'

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.'

'Good night.'

'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!'

CHAPTER 11

A Letter from Little Dorrit

Dear Mr Clennam,

As I said in my last that it was best for nobody to write to me,
and as my sending you another little letter can therefore give you
no other trouble than the trouble of reading it (perhaps you may
not find leisure for even that, though I hope you will some day),
I am now going to devote an hour to writing to you again. This
time, I write from Rome.

We left Venice before Mr and Mrs Gowan did, but they were not so
long upon the road as we were, and did not travel by the same way,
and so when we arrived we found them in a lodging here, in a place
called the Via Gregoriana. I dare say you know it.

Now I am going to tell you all I can about them, because I know
that is what you most want to hear. Theirs is not a very
comfortable lodging, but perhaps I thought it less so when I first
saw it than you would have done, because you have been in many
different countries and have seen many different customs. Of
course it is a far, far better place--millions of times--than any
I have ever been used to until lately; and I fancy I don't look at
it with my own eyes, but with hers. For it would be easy to see
that she has always been brought up in a tender and happy home,
even if she had not told me so with great love for it.

Well, it is a rather bare lodging up a rather dark common
staircase, and it is nearly all a large dull room, where Mr Gowan
paints. The windows are blocked up where any one could look out,
and the walls have been all drawn over with chalk and charcoal by
others who have lived there before--oh,--I should think, for years!

There is a curtain more dust-coloured than red, which divides it,
and the part behind the curtain makes the private sitting-room.

When I first saw her there she was alone, and her work had fallen
out of her hand, and she was looking up at the sky shining through
the tops of the windows. Pray do not be uneasy when I tell you,
but it was not quite so airy, nor so bright, nor so cheerful, nor
so happy and youthful altogether as I should have liked it to be.

On account of Mr Gowan's painting Papa's picture (which I am not
quite convinced I should have known from the likeness if I had not
seen him doing it), I have had more opportunities of being with her
since then than I might have had without this fortunate chance.
She is very much alone. Very much alone indeed.

Shall I tell you about the second time I saw her? I went one day,
when it happened that I could run round by myself, at four or five
o'clock in the afternoon. She was then dining alone, and her
solitary dinner had been brought in from somewhere, over a kind of
brazier with a fire in it, and she had no company or prospect of
company, that I could see, but the old man who had brought it. He
was telling her a long story (of robbers outside the walls being
taken up by a stone statue of a Saint), to entertain her--as he
said to me when I came out, 'because he had a daughter of his own,
though she was not so pretty.'

I ought now to mention Mr Gowan, before I say what little more I
have to say about her. He must admire her beauty, and he must be
proud of her, for everybody praises it, and he must be fond of her,
and I do not doubt that he is--but in his way. You know his way,
and if it appears as careless and discontented in your eyes as it
does in mine, I am not wrong in thinking that it might be better
suited to her. If it does not seem so to you, I am quite sure I am
wholly mistaken; for your unchanged poor child confides in your
knowledge and goodness more than she could ever tell you if she was
to try. But don't be frightened, I am not going to try.
Owing (as I think, if you think so too) to Mr Gowan's unsettled and
dissatisfied way, he applies himself to his profession very little.

He does nothing steadily or patiently; but equally takes things up
and throws them down, and does them, or leaves them undone, without
caring about them. When I have heard him talking to Papa during
the sittings for the picture, I have sat wondering whether it could
be that he has no belief in anybody else, because he has no belief
in himself. Is it so? I wonder what you will say when you come to
this! I know how you will look, and I can almost hear the voice in
which you would tell me on the Iron Bridge.

Mr Gowan goes out a good deal among what is considered the best
company here--though he does not look as if he enjoyed it or liked
it when he is with it--and she sometimes accompanies him, but
lately she has gone out very little. I think I have noticed that
they have an inconsistent way of speaking about her, as if she had
made some great self-interested success in marrying Mr Gowan,

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