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Little Dorrit by Charles Dickens

Part 17 out of 20

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'I know it. If you could find this man, or discover what has
become of him, or gain any later intelligence whatever of him, you
would render me a service above any other service I could receive
in the world, and would make me (with far greater reason) as
grateful to you as you are to me.'
'I know not where to look,' cried the little man, kissing Arthur's
hand in a transport. 'I know not where to begin. I know not where
to go. But, courage! Enough! It matters not! I go, in this
instant of time!'

'Not a word to any one but me, Cavalletto.'

'Al-tro!' cried Cavalletto. And was gone with great speed.

CHAPTER 23

Mistress Affery makes a Conditional Promise,
respecting her Dreams

Left alone, with the expressive looks and gestures of Mr Baptist,
otherwise Giovanni Baptista Cavalletto, vividly before him, Clennam
entered on a weary day. It was in vain that he tried to control
his attention by directing it to any business occupation or train
of thought; it rode at anchor by the haunting topic, and would hold
to no other idea. As though a criminal should be chained in a
stationary boat on a deep clear river, condemned, whatever
countless leagues of water flowed past him, always to see the body
of the fellow-creature he had drowned lying at the bottom,
immovable, and unchangeable, except as the eddies made it broad or
long, now expanding, now contracting its terrible lineaments; so
Arthur, below the shifting current of transparent thoughts and
fancies which were gone and succeeded by others as soon as come,
saw, steady and dark, and not to be stirred from its place, the one
subject that he endeavoured with all his might to rid himself of,
and that he could not fly from. The assurance he now had, that
Blandois, whatever his right name, was one of the worst of
characters, greatly augmented the burden of his anxieties. Though
the disappearance should be accounted for to-morrow, the fact that
his mother had been in communication with such a man, would remain
unalterable. That the communication had been of a secret kind, and
that she had been submissive to him and afraid of him, he hoped
might be known to no one beyond himself; yet, knowing it, how could
he separate it from his old vague fears, and how believe that there
was nothing evil in such relations?
Her resolution not to enter on the question with him, and his
knowledge of her indomitable character, enhanced his sense of
helplessness. It was like the oppression of a dream to believe
that shame and exposure were impending over her and his father's
memory, and to be shut out, as by a brazen wall, from the
possibility of coming to their aid. The purpose he had brought
home to his native country, and had ever since kept in view, was,
with her greatest determination, defeated by his mother herself, at
the time of all others when he feared that it pressed most. His
advice, energy, activity, money, credit, all his resources
whatsoever, were all made useless. If she had been possessed of
the old fabled influence, and had turned those who looked upon her
into stone, she could not have rendered him more completely
powerless (so it seemed to him in his distress of mind) than she
did, when she turned her unyielding face to his in her gloomy room.

But the light of that day's discovery, shining on these
considerations, roused him to take a more decided course of action.

Confident in the rectitude of his purpose, and impelled by a sense
of overhanging danger closing in around, he resolved, if his mother
would still admit of no approach, to make a desperate appeal to
Affery. If she could be brought to become communicative, and to do
what lay in her to break the spell of secrecy that enshrouded the
house, he might shake off the paralysis of which every hour that
passed over his head made him more acutely sensible. This was the
result of his day's anxiety, and this was the decision he put in
practice when the day closed in.

His first disappointment, on arriving at the house, was to find the
door open, and Mr Flintwinch smoking a pipe on the steps. If
circumstances had been commonly favourable, Mistress Affery would
have opened the door to his knock. Circumstances being uncommonly
unfavourable, the door stood open, and Mr Flintwinch was smoking
his pipe on the steps.

'Good evening,' said Arthur.

'Good evening,' said Mr Flintwinch.

The smoke came crookedly out of Mr Flintwinch's mouth, as if it
circulated through the whole of his wry figure and came back by his
wry throat, before coming forth to mingle with the smoke from the
crooked chimneys and the mists from the crooked river.

'Have you any news?' said Arthur.

'We have no news,' said Jeremiah.

'I mean of the foreign man,' Arthur explained.

_'I_ mean of the foreign man,' said Jeremiah.

He looked so grim, as he stood askew, with the knot of his cravat
under his ear, that the thought passed into Clennam's mind, and not
for the first time by many, could Flintwinch for a purpose of his
own have got rid of Blandois? Could it have been his secret, and
his safety, that were at issue? He was small and bent, and perhaps
not actively strong; yet he was as tough as an old yew-tree, and as
crusty as an old jackdaw. Such a man, coming behind a much younger
and more vigorous man, and having the will to put an end to him and
no relenting, might do it pretty surely in that solitary place at
a late hour.

While, in the morbid condition of his thoughts, these thoughts
drifted over the main one that was always in Clennam's mind, Mr
Flintwinch, regarding the opposite house over the gateway with his
neck twisted and one eye shut up, stood smoking with a vicious
expression upon him; more as if he were trying to bite off the stem
of his pipe, than as if he were enjoying it. Yet he was enjoying
it in his own way.

'You'll be able to take my likeness, the next time you call,
Arthur, I should think,' said Mr Flintwinch, drily, as he stooped
to knock the ashes out.

Rather conscious and confused, Arthur asked his pardon, if he had
stared at him unpolitely. 'But my mind runs so much upon this
matter,' he said, 'that I lose myself.'

'Hah! Yet I don't see,' returned Mr Flintwinch, quite at his
leisure, 'why it should trouble YOU, Arthur.'

'No?'

'No,' said Mr Flintwinch, very shortly and decidedly: much as if he
were of the canine race, and snapped at Arthur's hand.

'Is it nothing to see those placards about? Is it nothing to me to
see my mother's name and residence hawked up and down in such an
association?'

'I don't see,' returned Mr Flintwinch, scraping his horny cheek,
'that it need signify much to you. But I'll tell you what I do
see, Arthur,' glancing up at the windows; 'I see the light of fire
and candle in your mother's room!'

'And what has that to do with it?'

'Why, sir, I read by it,' said Mr Flintwinch, screwing himself at
him, 'that if it's advisable (as the proverb says it is) to let
sleeping dogs lie, it's just as advisable, perhaps, to let missing
dogs lie. Let 'em be. They generally turn up soon enough.'

Mr Flintwinch turned short round when he had made this remark, and
went into the dark hall. Clennam stood there, following him with
his eyes, as he dipped for a light in the phosphorus-box in the
little room at the side, got one after three or four dips, and
lighted the dim lamp against the wall. All the while, Clennam was
pursuing the probabilities--rather as if they were being shown to
him by an invisible hand than as if he himself were conjuring them
up--of Mr Flintwinch's ways and means of doing that darker deed,
and removing its traces by any of the black avenues of shadow that
lay around them.

'Now, sir,' said the testy Jeremiah; 'will it be agreeable to walk
up-stairs?'

'My mother is alone, I suppose?'

'Not alone,' said Mr Flintwinch. 'Mr Casby and his daughter are
with her. They came in while I was smoking, and I stayed behind to
have my smoke out.'

This was the second disappointment. Arthur made no remark upon it,
and repaired to his mother's room, where Mr Casby and Flora had
been taking tea, anchovy paste, and hot buttered toast. The relics
of those delicacies were not yet removed, either from the table or
from the scorched countenance of Affery, who, with the kitchen
toasting-fork still in her hand, looked like a sort of allegorical
personage; except that she had a considerable advantage over the
general run of such personages in point of significant emblematical
purpose.

Flora had spread her bonnet and shawl upon the bed, with a care
indicative of an intention to stay some time. Mr Casby, too, was
beaming near the hob, with his benevolent knobs shining as if the
warm butter of the toast were exuding through the patriarchal
skull, and with his face as ruddy as if the colouring matter of the
anchovy paste were mantling in the patriarchal visage. Seeing
this, as he exchanged the usual salutations, Clennam decided to
speak to his mother without postponement.

It had long been customary, as she never changed her room, for
those who had anything to say to her apart, to wheel her to her
desk; where she sat, usually with the back of her chair turned
towards the rest of the room, and the person who talked with her
seated in a corner, on a stool which was always set in that place
for that purpose. Except that it was long since the mother and son
had spoken together without the intervention of a third person, it
was an ordinary matter of course within the experience of visitors
for Mrs Clennam to be asked, with a word of apology for the
interruption, if she could be spoken with on a matter of business,
and, on her replying in the affirmative, to be wheeled into the
position described.

Therefore, when Arthur now made such an apology, and such a
request, and moved her to her desk and seated himself on the stool,
Mrs Finching merely began to talk louder and faster, as a delicate
hint that she could overhear nothing, and Mr Casby stroked his long
white locks with sleepy calmness.

'Mother, I have heard something to-day which I feel persuaded you
don't know, and which I think you should know, of the antecedents
of that man I saw here.'

'I know nothing of the antecedents of the man you saw here,
Arthur.'

She spoke aloud. He had lowered his own voice; but she rejected
that advance towards confidence as she rejected every other, and
spoke in her usual key and in her usual stern voice.

'I have received it on no circuitous information; it has come to me
direct.'
She asked him, exactly as before, if he were there to tell her what
it was?

'I thought it right that you should know it.'

'And what is it?'

'He has been a prisoner in a French gaol.'

She answered with composure, 'I should think that very likely.'

' But in a gaol for criminals, mother. On an accusation of
murder.'

She started at the word, and her looks expressed her natural
horror. Yet she still spoke aloud, when she demanded:--

'Who told you so?'

'A man who was his fellow-prisoner.'

'That man's antecedents, I suppose, were not known to you, before
he told you?'

'No.'

'Though the man himself was?'

'Yes.'

'My case and Flintwinch's, in respect of this other man! I dare
say the resemblance is not so exact, though, as that your informant
became known to you through a letter from a correspondent with whom
he had deposited money? How does that part of the parallel stand?'

Arthur had no choice but to say that his informant had not become
known to him through the agency of any such credentials, or indeed
of any credentials at all. Mrs Clennam's attentive frown expanded
by degrees into a severe look of triumph, and she retorted with
emphasis, 'Take care how you judge others, then. I say to you,
Arthur, for your good, take care how you judge!'
Her emphasis had been derived from her eyes quite as much as from
the stress she laid upon her words. She continued to look at him;
and if, when he entered the house, he had had any latent hope of
prevailing in the least with her, she now looked it out of his
heart.

'Mother, shall I do nothing to assist you?'

'Nothing.'

'Will you entrust me with no confidence, no charge, no explanation?

Will you take no counsel with me? Will you not let me come near
you?'

'How can you ask me? You separated yourself from my affairs. It
was not my act; it was yours. How can you consistently ask me such
a question? You know that you left me to Flintwinch, and that he
occupies your place.'

Glancing at Jeremiah, Clennam saw in his very gaiters that his
attention was closely directed to them, though he stood leaning
against the wall scraping his jaw, and pretended to listen to Flora
as she held forth in a most distracting manner on a chaos of
subjects, in which mackerel, and Mr F.'s Aunt in a swing, had
become entangled with cockchafers and the wine trade.

'A prisoner, in a French gaol, on an accusation of murder,'
repeated Mrs Clennam, steadily going over what her son had said.
'That is all you know of him from the fellow-prisoner?'

'In substance, all.'

'And was the fellow-prisoner his accomplice and a murderer, too?
But, of course, he gives a better account of himself than of his
friend; it is needless to ask. This will supply the rest of them
here with something new to talk about. Casby, Arthur tells me--'

'Stay, mother! Stay, stay!' He interrupted her hastily, for it
had not entered his imagination that she would openly proclaim what
he had told her.

'What now?' she said with displeasure. 'What more?'

'I beg you to excuse me, Mr Casby--and you, too, Mrs Finching--for
one other moment with my mother--'

He had laid his hand upon her chair, or she would otherwise have
wheeled it round with the touch of her foot upon the ground. They
were still face to face. She looked at him, as he ran over the
possibilities of some result he had not intended, and could not
foresee, being influenced by Cavalletto's disclosure becoming a
matter of notoriety, and hurriedly arrived at the conclusion that
it had best not be talked about; though perhaps he was guided by no
more distinct reason than that he had taken it for granted that his
mother would reserve it to herself and her partner.

'What now?' she said again, impatiently. 'What is it?'

'I did not mean, mother, that you should repeat what I have
communicated. I think you had better not repeat it.'

'Do you make that a condition with me?'

'Well! Yes.'

'Observe, then! It is you who make this a secret,' said she,
holding up her hand, 'and not I. It is you, Arthur, who bring here
doubts and suspicions and entreaties for explanations, and it is
you, Arthur, who bring secrets here. What is it to me, do you
think, where the man has been, or what he has been? What can it be
to me? The whole world may know it, if they care to know it; it is
nothing to me. Now, let me go.'

He yielded to her imperious but elated look, and turned her chair
back to the place from which he had wheeled it. In doing so he saw
elation in the face of Mr Flintwinch, which most assuredly was not
inspired by Flora. this turning of his intelligence and of his
whole attempt and design against himself, did even more than his
mother's fixedness and firmness to convince him that his efforts
with her were idle. Nothing remained but the appeal to his old
friend Affery.

But even to get the very doubtful and preliminary stage of making
the appeal, seemed one of the least promising of human
undertakings. She was so completely under the thrall of the two
clever ones, was so systematically kept in sight by one or other of
them, and was so afraid to go about the house besides, that every
opportunity of speaking to her alone appeared to be forestalled.
Over and above that, Mistress Affery, by some means (it was not
very difficult to guess, through the sharp arguments of her liege
lord), had acquired such a lively conviction of the hazard of
saying anything under any circumstances, that she had remained all
this time in a corner guarding herself from approach with that
symbolical instrument of hers; so that, when a word or two had been
addressed to her by Flora, or even by the bottle-green patriarch
himself, she had warded off conversation with the toasting-fork
like a dumb woman.

After several abortive attempts to get Affery to look at him while
she cleared the table and washed the tea-service, Arthur thought of
an expedient which Flora might originate. To whom he therefore
whispered, 'Could you say you would like to go through the house?'

Now, poor Flora, being always in fluctuating expectation of the
time when Clennam would renew his boyhood and be madly in love with
her again, received the whisper with the utmost delight; not only
as rendered precious by its mysterious character, but as preparing
the way for a tender interview in which he would declare the state
of his affections. She immediately began to work out the hint.

'Ah dear me the poor old room,' said Flora, glancing round, 'looks
just as ever Mrs Clennam I am touched to see except for being
smokier which was to be expected with time and which we must all
expect and reconcile ourselves to being whether we like it or not
as I am sure I have had to do myself if not exactly smokier
dreadfully stouter which is the same or worse, to think of the days
when papa used to bring me here the least of girls a perfect mass
of chilblains to be stuck upon a chair with my feet on the rails
and stare at Arthur--pray excuse me--Mr Clennam--the least of boys
in the frightfullest of frills and jackets ere yet Mr F. appeared
a misty shadow on the horizon paying attentions like the well-known
spectre of some place in Germany beginning with a B is a moral
lesson inculcating that all the paths in life are similar to the
paths down in the North of England where they get the coals and
make the iron and things gravelled with ashes!'

Having paid the tribute of a sigh to the instability of human
existence, Flora hurried on with her purpose.

'Not that at any time,' she proceeded, 'its worst enemy could have
said it was a cheerful house for that it was never made to be but
always highly impressive, fond memory recalls an occasion in youth
ere yet the judgment was mature when Arthur--confirmed habit--Mr
Clennam--took me down into an unused kitchen eminent for mouldiness
and proposed to secrete me there for life and feed me on what he
could hide from his meals when he was not at home for the holidays
and on dry bread in disgrace which at that halcyon period too
frequently occurred, would it be inconvenient or asking too much to
beg to be permitted to revive those scenes and walk through the
house?'

Mrs Clennam, who responded with a constrained grace to Mrs
Finching's good nature in being there at all, though her visit
(before Arthur's unexpected arrival) was undoubtedly an act of pure
good nature and no self-gratification, intimated that all the house
was open to her. Flora rose and looked to Arthur for his escort.
'Certainly,' said he, aloud; 'and Affery will light us, I dare
say.'

Affery was excusing herself with 'Don't ask nothing of me, Arthur!'
when Mr Flintwinch stopped her with 'Why not? Affery, what's the
matter with you, woman? Why not, jade!' Thus expostulated with,
she came unwillingly out of her corner, resigned the toasting-fork
into one of her husband's hands, and took the candlestick he
offered from the other.

'Go before, you fool!' said Jeremiah. 'Are you going up, or down,
Mrs Finching?'

Flora answered, 'Down.'

'Then go before, and down, you Affery,' said Jeremiah. 'And do it
properly, or I'll come rolling down the banisters, and tumbling
over you!'

Affery headed the exploring party; Jeremiah closed it. He had no
intention of leaving them. Clennam looking back, and seeing him
following three stairs behind, in the coolest and most methodical
manner exclaimed in a low voice, 'Is there no getting rid of him!'
Flora reassured his mind by replying promptly, 'Why though not
exactly proper Arthur and a thing I couldn't think of before a
younger man or a stranger still I don't mind him if you so
particularly wish it and provided you'll have the goodness not to
take me too tight.'

Wanting the heart to explain that this was not at all what he
meant, Arthur extended his supporting arm round Flora's figure.
'Oh my goodness me,' said she. 'You are very obedient indeed
really and it's extremely honourable and gentlemanly in you I am
sure but still at the same time if you would like to be a little
tighter than that I shouldn't consider it intruding.'

In this preposterous attitude, unspeakably at variance with his
anxious mind, Clennam descended to the basement of the house;
finding that wherever it became darker than elsewhere, Flora became
heavier, and that when the house was lightest she was too.
Returning from the dismal kitchen regions, which were as dreary as
they could be, Mistress Affery passed with the light into his
father's old room, and then into the old dining-room; always
passing on before like a phantom that was not to be overtaken, and
neither turning nor answering when he whispered, 'Affery! I want
to speak to you!'

In the dining-room, a sentimental desire came over Flora to look
into the dragon closet which had so often swallowed Arthur in the
days of his boyhood--not improbably because, as a very dark closet,
it was a likely place to be heavy in. Arthur, fast subsiding into
despair, had opened it, when a knock was heard at the outer door.

Mistress Affery, with a suppressed cry, threw her apron over her
head.

'What? You want another dose!' said Mr Flintwinch. 'You shall
have it, my woman, you shall have a good one! Oh! You shall have
a sneezer, you shall have a teaser!'

'In the meantime is anybody going to the door?' said Arthur.

'In the meantime, I am going to the door, sir,' returned the old
man so savagely, as to render it clear that in a choice of
difficulties he felt he must go, though he would have preferred not
to go. 'Stay here the while, all! Affery, my woman, move an inch,
or speak a word in your foolishness, and I'll treble your dose!'

The moment he was gone, Arthur released Mrs Finching: with some
difficulty, by reason of that lady misunderstanding his intentions,
and making arrangements with a view to tightening instead of
slackening.

'Affery, speak to me now!'

'Don't touch me, Arthur!' she cried, shrinking from him. 'Don't
come near me. He'll see you. Jeremiah will. Don't.'

'He can't see me,' returned Arthur, suiting the action to the word,
'if I blow the candle out.'

'He'll hear you,' cried Affery.

'He can't hear me,' returned Arthur, suiting the action to the
words again, 'if I draw you into this black closet, and speak here.

Why do you hide your face?'

'Because I am afraid of seeing something.'

'You can't be afraid of seeing anything in this darkness, Affery.'

'Yes I am. Much more than if it was light.'

'Why are you afraid?'

'Because the house is full of mysteries and secrets; because it's
full of whisperings and counsellings; because it's full of noises.
There never was such a house for noises. I shall die of 'em, if
Jeremiah don't strangle me first. As I expect he will.'

'I have never heard any noises here, worth speaking of.'

'Ah! But you would, though, if you lived in the house, and was
obliged to go about it as I am,' said Affery; 'and you'd feel that
they was so well worth speaking of, that you'd feel you was nigh
bursting through not being allowed to speak of 'em. Here's
Jeremiah! You'll get me killed.'

'My good Affery, I solemnly declare to you that I can see the light
of the open door on the pavement of the hall, and so could you if
you would uncover your face and look.'

'I durstn't do it,' said Affery, 'I durstn't never, Arthur. I'm
always blind-folded when Jeremiah an't a looking, and sometimes
even when he is.'

'He cannot shut the door without my seeing him,' said Arthur. 'You
are as safe with me as if he was fifty miles away.'

('I wish he was!' cried Affery.)

'Affery, I want to know what is amiss here; I want some light
thrown on the secrets of this house.'
'I tell you, Arthur,' she interrupted, 'noises is the secrets,
rustlings and stealings about, tremblings, treads overhead and
treads underneath.'

'But those are not all the secrets.'

'I don't know,' said Affery. 'Don't ask me no more. Your old
sweetheart an't far off, and she's a blabber.'

His old sweetheart, being in fact so near at hand that she was then
reclining against him in a flutter, a very substantial angle of
forty-five degrees, here interposed to assure Mistress Affery with
greater earnestness than directness of asseveration, that what she
heard should go no further, but should be kept inviolate, 'if on no
other account on Arthur's--sensible of intruding in being too
familiar Doyce and Clennam's.'

'I make an imploring appeal to you, Affery, to you, one of the few
agreeable early remembrances I have, for my mother's sake, for your
husband's sake, for my own, for all our sakes. I am sure you can
tell me something connected with the coming here of this man, if
you will.'

'Why, then I'll tell you, Arthur,' returned Affery--'Jeremiah's
coming!'

'No, indeed he is not. The door is open, and he is standing
outside, talking.'

'I'll tell you then,' said Affery, after listening, 'that the first
time he ever come he heard the noises his own self. "What's that?"
he said to me. "I don't know what it is," I says to him, catching
hold of him, "but I have heard it over and over again." While I
says it, he stands a looking at me, all of a shake, he do.'

'Has he been here often?'

'Only that night, and the last night.'

'What did you see of him on the last night, after I was gone?'

'Them two clever ones had him all alone to themselves. Jeremiah
come a dancing at me sideways, after I had let you out (he always
comes a dancing at me sideways when he's going to hurt me), and he
said to me, "Now, Affery," he said, "I am a coming behind you, my
woman, and a going to run you up." So he took and squeezed the
back of my neck in his hand, till it made me open MY mouth, and
then he pushed me before him to bed, squeezing all the way. That's
what he calls running me up, he do. Oh, he's a wicked one!'

'And did you hear or see no more, Affery?'

'Don't I tell you I was sent to bed, Arthur! Here he is!'

'I assure you he is still at the door. Those whisperings and
counsellings, Affery, that you have spoken of. What are they?'

'How should I know? Don't ask me nothing about 'em, Arthur. Get
away!'

'But my dear Affery; unless I can gain some insight into these
hidden things, in spite of your husband and in spite of my mother,
ruin will come of it.'

'Don't ask me nothing,' repeated Affery. 'I have been in a dream
for ever so long. Go away, go away!'

'You said that before,' returned Arthur. 'You used the same
expression that night, at the door, when I asked you what was going
on here. What do you mean by being in a dream?'

'I an't a going to tell you. Get away! I shouldn't tell you, if
you was by yourself; much less with your old sweetheart here.'

It was equally vain for Arthur to entreat, and for Flora to
protest. Affery, who had been trembling and struggling the whole
time, turned a deaf ear to all adjuration, and was bent on forcing
herself out of the closet.

'I'd sooner scream to Jeremiah than say another word! I'll call
out to him, Arthur, if you don't give over speaking to me. Now
here's the very last word I'll say afore I call to him--If ever you
begin to get the better of them two clever ones your own self (you
ought to it, as I told you when you first come home, for you
haven't been a living here long years, to be made afeared of your
life as I have), then do you get the better of 'em afore my face;
and then do you say to me, Affery tell your dreams! Maybe, then
I'll tell 'em!'

The shutting of the door stopped Arthur from replying. They glided
into the places where Jeremiah had left them; and Clennam, stepping
forward as that old gentleman returned, informed him that he had
accidentally extinguished the candle. Mr Flintwinch looked on as
he re-lighted it at the lamp in the hall, and preserved a profound
taciturnity respecting the person who had been holding him in
conversation. Perhaps his irascibility demanded compensation for
some tediousness that the visitor had expended on him; however that
was, he took such umbrage at seeing his wife with her apron over
her head, that he charged at her, and taking her veiled nose
between his thumb and finger, appeared to throw the whole screw-
power of his person into the wring he gave it.

Flora, now permanently heavy, did not release Arthur from the
survey of the house, until it had extended even to his old garret
bedchamber. His thoughts were otherwise occupied than with the
tour of inspection; yet he took particular notice at the time, as
he afterwards had occasion to remember, of the airlessness and
closeness of the house; that they left the track of their footsteps
in the dust on the upper floors; and that there was a resistance to
the opening of one room door, which occasioned Affery to cry out
that somebody was hiding inside, and to continue to believe so,
though somebody was sought and not discovered. When they at last
returned to his mother's room, they found her shading her face with
her muffled hand, and talking in a low voice to the Patriarch as he
stood before the fire, whose blue eyes, polished head, and silken
locks, turning towards them as they came in, imparted an
inestimable value and inexhaustible love of his species to his
remark:

'So you have been seeing the premises, seeing the premises--
premises--seeing the premises!'

it was not in itself a jewel of benevolence or wisdom, yet he made
it an exemplar of both that one would have liked to have a copy of.

CHAPTER 24

The Evening of a Long Day

That illustrious man and great national ornament, Mr Merdle,
continued his shining course. It began to be widely understood
that one who had done society the admirable service of making so
much money out of it, could not be suffered to remain a commoner.
A baronetcy was spoken of with confidence; a peerage was frequently
mentioned. Rumour had it that Mr Merdle had set his golden face
against a baronetcy; that he had plainly intimated to Lord Decimus
that a baronetcy was not enough for him; that he had said, 'No--a
Peerage, or plain Merdle.' This was reported to have plunged Lord
Decimus as nigh to his noble chin in a slough of doubts as so lofty
a person could be sunk. For the Barnacles, as a group of
themselves in creation, had an idea that such distinctions belonged
to them; and that when a soldier, sailor, or lawyer became
ennobled, they let him in, as it were, by an act of condescension,
at the family door, and immediately shut it again. Not only (said
Rumour) had the troubled Decimus his own hereditary part in this
impression, but he also knew of several Barnacle claims already on
the file, which came into collision with that of the master spirit.

Right or wrong, Rumour was very busy; and Lord Decimus, while he
was, or was supposed to be, in stately excogitation of the
difficulty, lent her some countenance by taking, on several public
occasions, one of those elephantine trots of his through a jungle
of overgrown sentences, waving Mr Merdle about on his trunk as
Gigantic Enterprise, The Wealth of England, Elasticity, Credit,
Capital, Prosperity, and all manner of blessings.

So quietly did the mowing of the old scythe go on, that fully three
months had passed unnoticed since the two English brothers had been
laid in one tomb in the strangers' cemetery at Rome. Mr and Mrs
Sparkler were established in their own house: a little manSion,
rather of the Tite Barnacle class, quite a triumph of
inconvenience, with a perpetual smell in it of the day before
yesterday's soup and coach-horses, but extremely dear, as being
exactly in the centre of the habitable globe. In this enviable
abode (and envied it really was by many people), Mrs Sparkler had
intended to proceed at once to the demolition of the Bosom, when
active hostilities had been suspended by the arrival of the Courier
with his tidings of death. Mrs Sparkler, who was not unfeeling,
had received them with a violent burst of grief, which had lasted
twelve hours; after which, she had arisen to see about her
mourning, and to take every precaution that could ensure its being
as becoming as Mrs Merdle's. A gloom was then cast over more than
one distinguished family (according to the politest sources of
intelligence), and the Courier went back again.

Mr and Mrs Sparkler had been dining alone, with their gloom cast
over them, and Mrs Sparkler reclined on a drawing-room sofa. It
was a hot summer Sunday evening. The residence in the centre of
the habitable globe, at all times stuffed and close as if it had an
incurable cold in its head, was that evening particularly stifling.

The bells of the churches had done their worst in the way of
clanging among the unmelodious echoes of the streets, and the
lighted windows of the churches had ceased to be yellow in the grey
dusk, and had died out opaque black. Mrs Sparkler, lying on her
sofa, looking through an open window at the opposite side of a
narrow street over boxes of mignonette and flowers, was tired of
the view. Mrs Sparkler, looking at another window where her
husband stood in the balcony, was tired of that view. Mrs
Sparkler, looking at herself in her mourning, was even tired of
that view: though, naturally, not so tired of that as of the other
two.

'It's like lying in a well,' said Mrs Sparkler, changing her
position fretfully. 'Dear me, Edmund, if you have anything to say,
why don't you say it?'

Mr Sparkler might have replied with ingenuousness, 'My life, I have
nothing to say.' But, as the repartee did not occur to him, he
contented himself with coming in from the balcony and standing at
the side of his wife's couch.

'Good gracious, Edmund!' said Mrs Sparkler more fretfully still,
you are absolutely putting mignonette up your nose! Pray don't!'

Mr Sparkler, in absence of mind--perhaps in a more literal absence
of mind than is usually understood by the phrase--had smelt so hard
at a sprig in his hand as to be on the verge of the offence in
question. He smiled, said, 'I ask your pardon, my dear,' and threw
it out of window.

'You make my head ache by remaining in that position, Edmund,' said
Mrs Sparkler, raising her eyes to him after another minute; 'you
look so aggravatingly large by this light. Do sit down.'

'Certainly, my dear,' said Mr Sparkler, and took a chair on the
same spot.

'If I didn't know that the longest day was past,' said Fanny,
yawning in a dreary manner, 'I should have felt certain this was
the longest day. I never did experience such a day.'

'Is that your fan, my love?' asked Mr Sparkler, picking up one and
presenting it.

'Edmund,' returned his wife, more wearily yet, 'don't ask weak
questions, I entreat you not. Whose can it be but mine?'

'Yes, I thought it was yours,' said Mr Sparkler.

'Then you shouldn't ask,' retorted Fanny. After a little while she
turned on her sofa and exclaimed, 'Dear me, dear me, there never
was such a long day as this!' After another little while, she got
up slowly, walked about, and came back again.

'My dear,' said Mr Sparkler, flashing with an original conception,
'I think you must have got the fidgets.'

'Oh, Fidgets!' repeated Mrs Sparkler. 'Don't.'

'My adorable girl,' urged Mr Sparkler, 'try your aromatic vinegar.
I have often seen my mother try it, and it seemingly refreshed her.

And she is, as I believe you are aware, a remarkably fine woman,
with no non--'

'Good Gracious!' exclaimed Fanny, starting up again. 'It's beyond
all patience! This is the most wearisome day that ever did dawn
upon the world, I am certain.'

Mr Sparkler looked meekly after her as she lounged about the room,
and he appeared to be a little frightened. When she had tossed a
few trifles about, and had looked down into the darkening street
out of all the three windows, she returned to her sofa, and threw
herself among its pillows.

'Now Edmund, come here! Come a little nearer, because I want to be
able to touch you with my fan, that I may impress you very much
with what I am going to say. That will do. Quite close enough.
Oh, you do look so big!'

Mr Sparkler apologised for the circumstance, pleaded that he
couldn't help it, and said that 'our fellows,' without more
particularly indicating whose fellows, used to call him by the name
of Quinbus Flestrin, Junior, or the Young Man Mountain.

'You ought to have told me so before,' Fanny complained.

'My dear,' returned Mr Sparkler, rather gratified, 'I didn't know
It would interest you, or I would have made a point of telling
you.'
'There! For goodness sake, don't talk,' said Fanny; 'I want to
talk, myself. Edmund, we must not be alone any more. I must take
such precautions as will prevent my being ever again reduced to the
state of dreadful depression in which I am this evening.'

'My dear,' answered Mr Sparkler; 'being as you are well known to
be, a remarkably fine woman with no--'

'Oh, good GRACIOUS!' cried Fanny.

Mr Sparkler was so discomposed by the energy of this exclamation,
accompanied with a flouncing up from the sofa and a flouncing down
again, that a minute or two elapsed before he felt himself equal to
saying in explanation:

'I mean, my dear, that everybody knows you are calculated to shine
in society.'

'Calculated to shine in society,' retorted Fanny with great
irritability; 'yes, indeed! And then what happens? I no sooner
recover, in a visiting point of view, the shock of poor dear papa's
death, and my poor uncle's--though I do not disguise from myself
that the last was a happy release, for, if you are not presentable
you had much better die--'

'You are not referring to me, my love, I hope?' Mr Sparkler humbly
interrupted.

'Edmund, Edmund, you would wear out a Saint. Am I not expressly
speaking of my poor uncle?'

'You looked with so much expression at myself, my dear girl,' said
Mr Sparkler, 'that I felt a little uncomfortable. Thank you, my
love.'

'Now you have put me out,' observed Fanny with a resigned toss of
her fan, 'and I had better go to bed.'

'Don't do that, my love,' urged Mr Sparkler. 'Take time.'

Fanny took a good deal of time: lying back with her eyes shut, and
her eyebrows raised with a hopeless expression as if she had
utterly given up all terrestrial affairs. At length, without the
slightest notice, she opened her eyes again, and recommenced in a
short, sharp manner:

'What happens then, I ask! What happens? Why, I find myself at
the very period when I might shine most in society, and should most
like for very momentous reasons to shine in society--I find myself
in a situation which to a certain extent disqualifies me for going
into society. it's too bad, really!'

'My dear,' said Mr Sparkler. 'I don't think it need keep you at
home.'
'Edmund, you ridiculous creature,' returned Fanny, with great
indignation; 'do you suppose that a woman in the bloom of youth and
not wholly devoid of personal attractions, can put herself, at such
a time, in competition as to figure with a woman in every other way
her inferior? If you do suppose such a thing, your folly is
boundless.'

Mr Sparkler submitted that he had thought 'it might be got over.'
'Got over!' repeated Fanny, with immeasurable scorn.

'For a time,' Mr Sparkler submitted.

Honouring the last feeble suggestion with no notice, Mrs Sparkler
declared with bitterness that it really was too bad, and that
positively it was enough to make one wish one was dead!

'However,' she said, when she had in some measure recovered from
her sense of personal ill-usage; 'provoking as it is, and cruel as
it seems, I suppose it must be submitted to.'

'Especially as it was to be expected,' said Mr Sparkler.

'Edmund,' returned his wife, 'if you have nothing more becoming to
do than to attempt to insult the woman who has honoured you with
her hand, when she finds herself in adversity, I think YOU had
better go to bed!'

Mr Sparkler was much afflicted by the charge, and offered a most
tender and earnest apology. His apology was accepted; but Mrs
Sparkler requested him to go round to the other side of the sofa
and sit in the window-curtain, to tone himself down.

'Now, Edmund,' she said, stretching out her fan, and touching him
with it at arm's length, 'what I was going to say to you when you
began as usual to prose and worry, is, that I shall guard against
our being alone any more, and that when circumstances prevent my
going out to my own satisfaction, I must arrange to have some
people or other always here; for I really cannot, and will not,
have another such day as this has been.'

Mr Sparkler's sentiments as to the plan were, in brief, that it had
no nonsense about it. He added, 'And besides, you know it's likely
that you'll soon have your sister--'

'Dearest Amy, yes!' cried Mrs Sparkler with a sigh of affection.
'Darling little thing! Not, however, that Amy would do here
alone.'

Mr Sparkler was going to say 'No?' interrogatively, but he saw his
danger and said it assentingly, 'No, Oh dear no; she wouldn't do
here alone.'

'No, Edmund. For not only are the virtues of the precious child of
that still character that they require a contrast--require life and
movement around them to bring them out in their right colours and
make one love them of all things; but she will require to be
roused, on more accounts than one.'

'That's it,' said Mr Sparkler. 'Roused.'

'Pray don't, Edmund! Your habit of interrupting without having the
least thing in the world to say, distracts one. You must be broken
of it. Speaking of Amy;--my poor little pet was devotedly attached
to poor papa, and no doubt will have lamented his loss exceedingly,
and grieved very much. I have done so myself. I have felt it
dreadfully. But Amy will no doubt have felt it even more, from
having been on the spot the whole time, and having been with poor
dear papa at the last; which I unhappily was not.'

Here Fanny stopped to weep, and to say, 'Dear, dear, beloved papa!
How truly gentlemanly he was! What a contrast to poor uncle!'

'From the effects of that trying time,' she pursued, 'my good
little Mouse will have to be roused. Also, from the effects of
this long attendance upon Edward in his illness; an attendance
which is not yet over, which may even go on for some time longer,
and which in the meanwhile unsettles us all by keeping poor dear
papa's affairs from being wound up. Fortunately, however, the
papers with his agents here being all sealed up and locked up, as
he left them when he providentially came to England, the affairs
are in that state of order that they can wait until my brother
Edward recovers his health in Sicily, sufficiently to come over,
and administer, or execute, or whatever it may be that will have to
be done.'

'He couldn't have a better nurse to bring him round,' Mr Sparkler
made bold to opine.

'For a wonder, I can agree with you,' returned his wife, languidly
turning her eyelids a little in his direction (she held forth, in
general, as if to the drawing-room furniture), 'and can adopt your
words. He couldn't have a better nurse to bring him round. There
are times when my dear child is a little wearing to an active mind;
but, as a nurse, she is Perfection. Best of Amys!'

Mr Sparkler, growing rash on his late success, observed that Edward
had had, biggodd, a long bout of it, my dear girl.

'If Bout, Edmund,' returned Mrs Sparkler, 'is the slang term for
indisposition, he has. If it is not, I am unable to give an
opinion on the barbarous language you address to Edward's sister.
That he contracted Malaria Fever somewhere, either by travelling
day and night to Rome, where, after all, he arrived too late to see
poor dear papa before his death--or under some other unwholesome
circumstances--is indubitable, if that is what you mean. Likewise
that his extremely careless life has made him a very bad subject
for it indeed.'

Mr Sparkler considered it a parallel case to that of some of our
fellows in the West Indies with Yellow Jack. Mrs Sparkler closed
her eyes again, and refused to have any consciousness of our
fellows of the West Indies, or of Yellow Jack.

'So, Amy,' she pursued, when she reopened her eyelids, 'will
require to be roused from the effects of many tedious and anxious
weeks. And lastly, she will require to be roused from a low
tendency which I know very well to be at the bottom of her heart.
Don't ask me what it is, Edmund, because I must decline to tell
you.'

'I am not going to, my dear,' said Mr Sparkler.

'I shall thus have much improvement to effect in my sweet child,'
Mrs Sparkler continued, 'and cannot have her near me too soon.
Amiable and dear little Twoshoes! As to the settlement of poor
papa's affairs, my interest in that is not very selfish. Papa
behaved very generously to me when I was married, and I have little
or nothing to expect. Provided he had made no will that can come
into force, leaving a legacy to Mrs General, I am contented. Dear
papa, dear papa.'

She wept again, but Mrs General was the best of restoratives. The
name soon stimulated her to dry her eyes and say:

'It is a highly encouraging circumstance in Edward's illness, I am
thankful to think, and gives one the greatest confidence in his
sense not being impaired, or his proper spirit weakened--down to
the time of poor dear papa's death at all events--that he paid off
Mrs General instantly, and sent her out of the house. I applaud
him for it. I could forgive him a great deal for doing, with such
promptitude, so exactly what I would have done myself!'

Mrs Sparkler was in the full glow of her gratification, when a
double knock was heard at the door. A very odd knock. Low, as if
to avoid making a noise and attracting attention. Long, as if the
person knocking were preoccupied in mind, and forgot to leave off.

'Halloa!' said Mr Sparkler. 'Who's this?'

'Not Amy and Edward without notice and without a carriage!' said
Mrs Sparkler. 'Look out.'

The room was dark, but the street was lighter, because of its
lamps. Mr Sparkler's head peeping over the balcony looked so very
bulky and heavy that it seemed on the point of overbalancing him
and flattening the unknown below.

'It's one fellow,' said Mr Sparkler. 'I can't see who--stop
though!'
On this second thought he went out into the balcony again and had
another look. He came back as the door was opened, and announced
that he believed he had identified 'his governor's tile.' He was
not mistaken, for his governor, with his tile in his hand, was
introduced immediately afterwards.

'Candles!' said Mrs Sparkler, with a word of excuse for the
darkness.

'It's light enough for me,' said Mr Merdle.

When the candles were brought in, Mr Merdle was discovered standing
behind the door, picking his lips. 'I thought I'd give you a
call,' he said. 'I am rather particularly occupied just now; and,
as I happened to be out for a stroll, I thought I'd give you a
call.'

As he was in dinner dress, Fanny asked him where he had been
dining?

'Well,' said Mr Merdle, 'I haven't been dining anywhere,
particularly.'

'Of course you have dined?' said Fanny.

'Why--no, I haven't exactly dined,' said Mr Merdle.

He had passed his hand over his yellow forehead and considered, as
if he were not sure about it. Something to eat was proposed. 'No,
thank you,' said Mr Merdle, 'I don't feel inclined for it. I was
to have dined out along with Mrs Merdle. But as I didn't feel
inclined for dinner, I let Mrs Merdle go by herself just as we were
getting into the carriage, and thought I'd take a stroll instead.'

Would he have tea or coffee? 'No, thank you,' said Mr Merdle. 'I
looked in at the Club, and got a bottle of wine.'

At this period of his visit, Mr Merdle took the chair.which Edmund
Sparkler had offered him, and which he had hitherto been pushing
slowly about before him, like a dull man with a pair of skates on
for the first time, who could not make up his mind to start. He
now put his hat upon another chair beside him, and, looking down
into it as if it were some twenty feet deep, said again: 'You see
I thought I'd give you a call.'

'Flattering to us,' said Fanny, 'for you are not a calling man.'

'No--no,' returned Mr Merdle, who was by this time taking himself
into custody under both coat-sleeves. 'No, I am not a calling
man.'

'You have too much to do for that,' said Fanny. 'Having so much to
do, Mr Merdle, loss of appetite is a serious thing with you, and
you must have it seen to. You must not be ill.'
'Oh! I am very well,' replied Mr Merdle, after deliberating about
it. 'I am as well as I usually am. I am well enough. I am as
well as I want to be.'

The master-mind of the age, true to its characteristic of being at
all times a mind that had as little as possible to say for itself
and great difficulty in saying it, became mute again. Mrs Sparkler
began to wonder how long the master-mind meant to stay.

'I was speaking of poor papa when you came in, sir.'

'Aye! Quite a coincidence,' said Mr Merdle.

Fanny did not see that; but felt it incumbent on her to continue
talking. 'I was saying,' she pursued, 'that my brother's illness
has occasioned a delay in examining and arranging papa's property.'

'Yes,' said Mr Merdle; 'yes. There has been a delay.'

'Not that it is of consequence,' said Fanny.

'Not,' assented Mr Merdle, after having examined the cornice of all
that part of the room which was within his range: 'not that it is
of any consequence.'

'My only anxiety is,' said Fanny, 'that Mrs General should not get
anything.'

'She won't get anything,' said Mr Merdle.

Fanny was delighted to hear him express the opinion. Mr Merdle,
after taking another gaze into the depths of his hat as if he
thought he saw something at the bottom, rubbed his hair and slowly
appended to his last remark the confirmatory words, 'Oh dear no.
No. Not she. Not likely.'

As the topic seemed exhausted, and Mr Merdle too, Fanny inquired if
he were going to take up Mrs Merdle and the carriage in his way
home?

'No,' he answered; 'I shall go by the shortest way, and leave Mrs
Merdle to--' here he looked all over the palms of both his hands as
if he were telling his own fortune--'to take care of herself. I
dare say she'll manage to do it.'

'Probably,' said Fanny.

There was then a long silence; during which, Mrs Sparkler, lying
back on her sofa again, shut her eyes and raised her eyebrows in
her former retirement from mundane affairs.

'But, however,' said Mr Merdle, 'I am equally detaining you and
myself. I thought I'd give you a call, you know.'

'Charmed, I am sure,' said Fanny.

'So I am off,' added Mr Merdle, getting up. 'Could you lend me a
penknife?'

It was an odd thing, Fanny smilingly observed, for her who could
seldom prevail upon herself even to write a letter, to lend to a
man of such vast business as Mr Merdle. 'Isn't it?' Mr Merdle
acquiesced; 'but I want one; and I know you have got several little
wedding keepsakes about, with scissors and tweezers and such things
in them. You shall have it back to-morrow.'

'Edmund,' said Mrs Sparkler, 'open (now, very carefully, I beg
and beseech, for you are so very awkward) the mother of pearl box
on my little table there, and give Mr Merdle the mother of pearl
penknife.'

'Thank you,' said Mr Merdle; 'but if you have got one with a darker
handle, I think I should prefer one with a darker handle.'

'Tortoise-shell?'

'Thank you,' said Mr Merdle; 'yes. I think I should prefer
tortoise-shell.'

Edmund accordingly received instructions to open the tortoise-shell
box, and give Mr Merdle the tortoise-shell knife. On his doing so,
his wife said to the master-spirit graciously:

'I will forgive you, if you ink it.'

'I'll undertake not to ink it,' said Mr Merdle.

The illustrious visitor then put out his coat-cuff, and for a
moment entombed Mrs Sparkler's hand: wrist, bracelet, and all.
Where his own hand had shrunk to, was not made manifest, but it was
as remote from Mrs Sparkler's sense of touch as if he had been a
highly meritorious Chelsea Veteran or Greenwich Pensioner.

Thoroughly convinced, as he went out of the room, that it was the
longest day that ever did come to an end at last, and that there
never was a woman, not wholly devoid of personal attractions, so
worn out by idiotic and lumpish people, Fanny passed into the
balcony for a breath of air. Waters of vexation filled her eyes;
and they had the effect of making the famous Mr Merdle, in going
down the street, appear to leap, and waltz, and gyrate, as if he
were possessed of several Devils.

CHAPTER 25

The Chief Butler Resigns the Seals of Office

The dinner-party was at the great Physician's. Bar was there, and
in full force. Ferdinand Barnacle was there, and in his most
engaging state. Few ways of life were hidden from Physician, and
he was oftener in its darkest places than even Bishop. There were
brilliant ladies about London who perfectly doted on him, my dear,
as the most charming creature and the most delightful person, who
would have been shocked to find themselves so close to him if they
could have known on what sights those thoughtful eyes of his had
rested within an hour or two, and near to whose beds, and under
what roofs, his composed figure had stood. But Physician was a
composed man, who performed neither on his own trumpet, nor on the
trumpets of other people. Many wonderful things did he see and
hear, and much irreconcilable moral contradiction did he pass his
life among; yet his equality of compassion was no more disturbed
than the Divine Master's of all healing was. He went, like the
rain, among the just and unjust, doing all the good he could, and
neither proclaiming it in the synagogues nor at the corner of
streets.

As no man of large experience of humanity, however quietly carried
it may be, can fail to be invested with an interest peculiar to the
possession of such knowledge, Physician was an attractive man.
Even the daintier gentlemen and ladies who had no idea of his
secret, and who would have been startled out of more wits than they
had, by the monstrous impropriety of his proposing to them 'Come
and see what I see!' confessed his attraction. Where he was,
something real was. And half a grain of reality, like the smallest
portion of some other scarce natural productions, will flavour an
enormous quantity of diluent.

It came to pass, therefore, that Physician's little dinners always
presented people in their least conventional lights. The guests
said to themselves, whether they were conscious of it or no, 'Here
is a man who really has an acquaintance with us as we are, who is
admitted to some of us every day with our wigs and paint off, who
hears the wanderings of our minds, and sees the undisguised
expression of our faces, when both are past our control; we may as
well make an approach to reality with him, for the man has got the
better of us and is too strong for us.' Therefore, Physician's
guests came out so surprisingly at his round table that they were
almost natural.

Bar's knowledge of that agglomeration of jurymen which is called
humanity was as sharp as a razor; yet a razor is not a generally
convenient instrument, and Physician's plain bright scalpel, though
far less keen, was adaptable to far wider purposes. Bar knew all
about the gullibility and knavery of people; but Physician could
have given him a better insight into their tendernesses and
affections, in one week of his rounds, than Westminster Hall and
all the circuits put together, in threescore years and ten. Bar
always had a suspicion of this, and perhaps was glad to encourage
it (for, if the world were really a great Law Court, one would
think that the last day of Term could not too soon arrive); and so
he liked and respected Physician quite as much as any other kind of
man did.

Mr Merdle's default left a Banquo's chair at the table; but, if he
had been there, he would have merely made the difference of Banquo
in it, and consequently he was no loss. Bar, who picked up all
sorts of odds and ends about Westminster Hall, much as a raven
would have done if he had passed as much of his time there, had
been picking up a great many straws lately and tossing them about,
to try which way the Merdle wind blew. He now had a little talk on
the subject with Mrs Merdle herself; sidling up to that lady, of
course, with his double eye-glass and his jury droop.

'A certain bird,' said Bar; and he looked as if it could have been
no other bird than a magpie; 'has been whispering among us lawyers
lately, that there is to be an addition to the titled personages of
this realm.'

'Really?' said Mrs Merdle.

'Yes,' said Bar. 'Has not the bird been whispering in very
different ears from ours--in lovely ears?' He looked expressively
at Mrs Merdle's nearest ear-ring.

'Do you mean mine?' asked Mrs Merdle.

'When I say lovely,' said Bar, 'I always mean you.'

'You never mean anything, I think,' returned Mrs Merdle (not
displeased).

'Oh, cruelly unjust!' said Bar. 'But, the bird.'

'I am the last person in the world to hear news,' observed Mrs
Merdle, carelessly arranging her stronghold. 'Who is it?'

'What an admirable witness you would make!' said Bar. 'No jury
(unless we could empanel one of blind men) could resist you, if you
were ever so bad a one; but you would be such a good one!'

'Why, you ridiculous man?' asked Mrs Merdle, laughing.

Bar waved his double eye-glass three or four times between himself
and the Bosom, as a rallying answer, and inquired in his most
insinuating accents:

'What am I to call the most elegant, accomplished and charming of
women, a few weeks, or it may be a few days, hence?'

'Didn't your bird tell you what to call her?' answered Mrs Merdle.
'Do ask it to-morrow, and tell me the next time you see me what it
says.'

This led to further passages of similar pleasantry between the two;
but Bar, with all his sharpness, got nothing out of them.
Physician, on the other hand, taking Mrs Merdle down to her
carriage and attending on her as she put on her cloak, inquired
into the symptoms with his usual calm directness.

'May I ask,' he said, 'is this true about Merdle?'

'My dear doctor,' she returned, 'you ask me the very question that
I was half disposed to ask you.'
'To ask me! Why me?'

'Upon my honour, I think Mr Merdle reposes greater confidence in
you than in any one.'

'On the contrary, he tells me absolutely nothing, even
professionally. You have heard the talk, of course?'

' Of course I have. But you know what Mr Merdle is; you know how
taciturn and reserved he is. I assure you I have no idea what
foundation for it there may be. I should like it to be true; why
should I deny that to you? You would know better, if I did!'

'Just so,' said Physician.

'But whether it is all true, or partly true, or entirely false, I
am wholly unable to say. It is a most provoking situation, a most
absurd situation; but you know Mr Merdle, and are not surprised.'

Physician was not surprised, handed her into her carriage, and bade
her Good Night. He stood for a moment at his own hall door,
looking sedately at the elegant equipage as it rattled away. On
his return up-stairs, the rest of the guests soon dispersed, and he
was left alone. Being a great reader of all kinds of literature
(and never at all apologetic for that weakness), he sat down
comfortably to read.

The clock upon his study table pointed to a few minutes short of
twelve, when his attention was called to it by a ringing at the
door bell. A man of plain habits, he had sent his servants to bed
and must needs go down to open the door. He went down, and there
found a man without hat or coat, whose shirt sleeves were rolled up
tight to his shoulders. For a moment, he thought the man had been
fighting: the rather, as he was much agitated and out of breath.
A second look, however, showed him that the man was particularly
clean, and not otherwise discomposed as to his dress than as it
answered this description.

'I come from the warm-baths, sir, round in the neighbouring
street.'

'And what is the matter at the warm-baths?'

'Would you please to come directly, sir. We found that, lying on
the table.'

He put into the physician's hand a scrap of paper. Physician
looked at it, and read his own name and address written in pencil;
nothing more. He looked closer at the writing, looked at the man,
took his hat from its peg, put the key of his door in his pocket,
and they hurried away together.

When they came to the warm-baths, all the other people belonging to
that establishment were looking out for them at the door, and
running up and down the passages. 'Request everybody else to keep
back, if you please,' said the physician aloud to the master; 'and
do you take me straight to the place, my friend,' to the messenger.

The messenger hurried before him, along a grove of little rooms,
and turning into one at the end of the grove, looked round the
door. Physician was close upon him, and looked round the door too.

There was a bath in that corner, from which the water had been
hastily drained off. Lying in it, as in a grave or sarcophagus,
with a hurried drapery of sheet and blanket thrown across it, was
the body of a heavily-made man, with an obtuse head, and coarse,
mean, common features. A sky-light had been opened to release the
steam with which the room had been filled; but it hung, condensed
into water-drops, heavily upon the walls, and heavily upon the face
and figure in the bath. The room was still hot, and the marble of
the bath still warm; but the face and figure were clammy to the
touch. The white marble at the bottom of the bath was veined with
a dreadful red. On the ledge at the side, were an empty laudanum-
bottle and a tortoise-shell handled penknife--soiled, but not with
ink.

'Separation of jugular vein--death rapid--been dead at least half
an hour.' This echo of the physician's words ran through the
passages and little rooms, and through the house while he was yet
straightening himself from having bent down to reach to the bottom
of the bath, and while he was yet dabbling his hands in water;
redly veining it as the marble was veined, before it mingled into
one tint.

He turned his eyes to the dress upon the sofa, and to the watch,
money, and pocket-book on the table. A folded note half buckled up
in the pocket-book, and half protruding from it, caught his
observant glance. He looked at it, touched it, pulled it a little
further out from among the leaves, said quietly, 'This is addressed
to me,' and opened and read it.

There were no directions for him to give. The people of the house
knew what to do; the proper authorities were soon brought; and they
took an equable business-like possession of the deceased, and of
what had been his property, with no greater disturbance of manner
or countenance than usually attends the winding-up of a clock.
Physician was glad to walk out into the night air--was even glad,
in spite of his great experience, to sit down upon a door-step for
a little while: feeling sick and faint.

Bar was a near neighbour of his, and, when he came to the house, he
saw a light in the room where he knew his friend often sat late
getting up his work. As the light was never there when Bar was
not, it gave him assurance that Bar was not yet in bed. In fact,
this busy bee had a verdict to get to-morrow, against evidence, and
was improving the shining hours in setting snares for the gentlemen
of the jury.

Physician's knock astonished Bar; but, as he immediately suspected
that somebody had come to tell him that somebody else was robbing
him, or otherwise trying to get the better of him, he came down
promptly and softly. He had been clearing his head with a lotion
of cold water, as a good preparative to providing hot water for the
heads of the jury, and had been reading with the neck of his shirt
thrown wide open that he might the more freely choke the opposite
witnesses. In consequence, he came down, looking rather wild.
Seeing Physician, the least expected of men, he looked wilder and
said, 'What's the matter?'

'You asked me once what Merdle's complaint was.'

'Extraordinary answer! I know I did.'

'I told you I had not found out.'

'Yes. I know you did.'

'I have found it out.'

'My God!' said Bar, starting back, and clapping his hand upon the
other's breast. 'And so have I! I see it in your face.'

They went into the nearest room, where Physician gave him the
letter to read. He read it through half-a-dozen times. There was
not much in it as to quantity; but it made a great demand on his
close and continuous attention. He could not sufficiently give
utterance to his regret that he had not himself found a clue to
this. The smallest clue, he said, would have made him master of
the case, and what a case it would have been to have got to the
bottom of!

Physician had engaged to break the intelligence in Harley Street.
Bar could not at once return to his inveiglements of the most
enlightened and remarkable jury he had ever seen in that box, with
whom, he could tell his learned friend, no shallow sophistry would
go down, and no unhappily abused professional tact and skill
prevail (this was the way he meant to begin with them); so he said
he would go too, and would loiter to and fro near the house while
his friend was inside. They walked there, the better to recover
self-possession in the air; and the wings of day were fluttering
the night when Physician knocked at the door.

A footman of rainbow hues, in the public eye, was sitting up for
his master--that is to say, was fast asleep in the kitchen over a
couple of candles and a newspaper, demonstrating the great
accumulation of mathematical odds against the probabilities of a
house being set on fire by accident When this serving man was
roused, Physician had still to await the rousing of the Chief
Butler. At last that noble creature came into the dining-room in
a flannel gown and list shoes; but with his cravat on, and a Chief
Butler all over. It was morning now. Physician had opened the
shutters of one window while waiting, that he might see the light.
'Mrs Merdle's maid must be called, and told to get Mrs Merdle up,
and prepare her as gently as she can to see me. I have dreadful
news to break to her.'

Thus Physician to the Chief Butler. The latter, who had a candle
in his hand, called his man to take it away. Then he approached
the window with dignity; looking on at Physician's news exactly as
he had looked on at the dinners in that very room.

'Mr Merdle is dead.'

'I should wish,' said the Chief Butler, 'to give a month's notice.'

'Mr Merdle has destroyed himself.'

'Sir,' said the Chief Butler, 'that is very unpleasant to the
feelings of one in my position, as calculated to awaken prejudice;
and I should wish to leave immediately.'

'If you are not shocked, are you not surprised, man?' demanded the
Physician, warmly.

The Chief Butler, erect and calm, replied in these memorable words.

'Sir, Mr Merdle never was the gentleman, and no ungentlemanly act
on Mr Merdle's part would surprise me. Is there anybody else I can
send to you, or any other directions I can give before I leave,
respecting what you would wish to be done?'

When Physician, after discharging himself of his trust up-stairs,
rejoined Bar in the street, he said no more of his interview with
Mrs Merdle than that he had not yet told her all, but that what he
had told her she had borne pretty well. Bar had devoted his
leisure in the street to the construction of a most ingenious man-
trap for catching the whole of his jury at a blow; having got that
matter settled in his mind, it was lucid on the late catastrophe,
and they walked home slowly, discussing it in every bearing.
Before parting at the Physician's door, they both looked up at the
sunny morning sky, into which the smoke of a few early fires and
the breath and voices of a few early stirrers were peacefully
rising, and then looked round upon the immense city, and said, if
all those hundreds and thousands of beggared people who were yet
asleep could only know, as they two spoke, the ruin that impended
over them, what a fearful cry against one miserable soul would go
up to Heaven!

The report that the great man was dead, got about with astonishing
rapidity. At first, he was dead of all the diseases that ever were
known, and of several bran-new maladies invented with the speed of
Light to meet the demand of the occasion. He had concealed a
dropsy from infancy, he had inherited a large estate of water on
the chest from his grandfather, he had had an operation performed
upon him every morning of his life for eighteen years, he had been
subject to the explosion of important veins in his body after the
manner of fireworks, he had had something the matter with his
lungs, he had had something the matter with his heart, he had had
something the matter with his brain. Five hundred people who sat
down to breakfast entirely uninformed on the whole subject,
believed before they had done breakfast, that they privately and
personally knew Physician to have said to Mr Merdle, 'You must
expect to go out, some day, like the snuff of a candle;' and that
they knew Mr Merdle to have said to Physician, 'A man can die but
once.' By about eleven o'clock in the forenoon, something the
matter with the brain, became the favourite theory against the
field; and by twelve the something had been distinctly ascertained
to be 'Pressure.'

Pressure was so entirely satisfactory to the public mind, and
seemed to make everybody so comfortable, that it might have lasted
all day but for Bar's having taken the real state of the case into
Court at half-past nine. This led to its beginning to be currently
whispered all over London by about one, that Mr Merdle had killed
himself. Pressure, however, so far from being overthrown by the
discovery, became a greater favourite than ever. There was a
general moralising upon Pressure, in every street. All the people
who had tried to make money and had not been able to do it, said,
There you were! You no sooner began to devote yourself to the
pursuit of wealth than you got Pressure. The idle people improved
the occasion in a similar manner. See, said they, what you brought
yourself to by work, work, work! You persisted in working, you
overdid it. Pressure came on, and you were done for! This
consideration was very potent in many quarters, but nowhere more so
than among the young clerks and partners who had never been in the
slightest danger of overdoing it. These, one and all, declared,
quite piously, that they hoped they would never forget the warning
as long as they lived, and that their conduct might be so regulated
as to keep off Pressure, and preserve them, a comfort to their
friends, for many years.

But, at about the time of High 'Change, Pressure began to wane, and
appalling whispers to circulate, east, west, north, and south. At
first they were faint, and went no further than a doubt whether Mr
Merdle's wealth would be found to be as vast as had been supposed;
whether there might not be a temporary difficulty in 'realising'
it; whether there might not even be a temporary suspension (say a
month or so), on the part of the wonderful Bank. As the whispers
became louder, which they did from that time every minute, they
became more threatening. He had sprung from nothing, by no natural
growth or process that any one could account for; he had been,
after all, a low, ignorant fellow; he had been a down-looking man,
and no one had ever been able to catch his eye; he had been taken
up by all sorts of people in quite an unaccountable manner; he had
never had any money of his own, his ventures had been utterly
reckless, and his expenditure had been most enormous. In steady
progression, as the day declined, the talk rose in sound and
purpose. He had left a letter at the Baths addressed to his
physician, and his physician had got the letter, and the letter
would be produced at the Inquest on the morrow, and it would fall
like a thunderbolt upon the multitude he had deluded. Numbers of
men in every profession and trade would be blighted by his
insolvency; old people who had been in easy circumstances all their
lives would have no place of repentance for their trust in him but
the workhouse; legions of women and children would have their whole
future desolated by the hand of this mighty scoundrel. Every
partaker of his magnificent feasts would be seen to have been a
sharer in the plunder of innumerable homes; every servile
worshipper of riches who had helped to set him on his pedestal,
would have done better to worship the Devil point-blank. So, the
talk, lashed louder and higher by confirmation on confirmation, and
by edition after edition of the evening papers, swelled into such
a roar when night came, as might have brought one to believe that
a solitary watcher on the gallery above the Dome of St Paul's would
have perceived the night air to be laden with a heavy muttering of
the name of Merdle, coupled with every form of execration.

For by that time it was known that the late Mr Merdle's complaint
had been simply Forgery and Robbery. He, the uncouth object of
such wide-spread adulation, the sitter at great men's feasts, the
roc's egg of great ladies' assemblies, the subduer of
exclusiveness, the leveller of pride, the patron of patrons, the
bargain-driver with a Minister for Lordships of the Circumlocution
Office, the recipient of more acknowledgment within some ten or
fifteen years, at most, than had been bestowed in England upon all
peaceful public benefactors, and upon all the leaders of all the
Arts and Sciences, with all their works to testify for them, during
two centuries at least--he, the shining wonder, the new
constellation to be followed by the wise men bringing gifts, until
it stopped over a certain carrion at the bottom of a bath and
disappeared--was simply the greatest Forger and the greatest Thief
that ever cheated the gallows.

CHAPTER 26

Reaping the Whirlwind

With a precursory sound of hurried breath and hurried feet, Mr
Pancks rushed into Arthur Clennam's Counting-house. The Inquest
was over, the letter was public, the Bank was broken, the other
model structures of straw had taken fire and were turned to smoke.
The admired piratical ship had blown up, in the midst of a vast
fleet of ships of all rates, and boats of all sizes; and on the
deep was nothing but ruin; nothing but burning hulls, bursting
magazines, great guns self-exploded tearing friends and neighbours
to pieces, drowning men clinging to unseaworthy spars and going
down every minute, spent swimmers floating dead, and sharks.

The usual diligence and order of the Counting-house at the Works
were overthrown. Unopened letters and unsorted papers lay strewn
about the desk. In the midst of these tokens of prostrated energy
and dismissed hope, the master of the Counting-house stood idle in
his usual place, with his arms crossed on the desk, and his head
bowed down upon them.

Mr Pancks rushed in and saw him, and stood still. In another
minute, Mr Pancks's arms were on the desk, and Mr Pancks's head was
bowed down upon them; and for some time they remained in these
attitudes, idle and silent, with the width of the little room
between them. Mr Pancks was the first to lift up his head and
speak.

'I persuaded you to it, Mr Clennam. I know it. Say what you will.

You can't say more to me than I say to myself. You can't say more
than I deserve.'

'O, Pancks, Pancks!' returned Clennam, 'don't speak of deserving.
What do I myself deserve!'

'Better luck,' said Pancks.

'I,' pursued Clennam, without attending to him, 'who have ruined my
partner! Pancks, Pancks, I have ruined Doyce! The honest, self-
helpful, indefatigable old man who has worked his way all through
his life; the man who has contended against so much disappointment,
and who has brought out of it such a good and hopeful nature; the
man I have felt so much for, and meant to be so true and useful to;
I have ruined him--brought him to shame and disgrace--ruined him,
ruined him!'

The agony into which the reflection wrought his mind was so
distressing to see, that Mr Pancks took hold of himself by the hair
of his head, and tore it in desperation at the spectacle.

'Reproach me!' cried Pancks. 'Reproach me, sir, or I'll do myself
an injury. Say,--You fool, you villain. Say,--Ass, how could you
do it; Beast, what did you mean by it! Catch hold of me somewhere.

Say something abusive to me!' All the time, Mr Pancks was tearing
at his tough hair in a most pitiless and cruel manner.

'If you had never yielded to this fatal mania, Pancks,' said
Clennam, more in commiseration than retaliation, 'it would have
been how much better for you, and how much better for me!'

'At me again, sir!' cried Pancks, grinding his teeth in remorse.
'At me again!'
'If you had never gone into those accursed calculations, and
brought out your results with such abominable clearness,' groaned
Clennam, 'it would have been how much better for you, Pancks, and
how much better for me!'

'At me again, sir!' exclaimed Pancks, loosening his hold of his
hair; 'at me again, and again!'

Clennam, however, finding him already beginning to be pacified, had
said all he wanted to say, and more. He wrung his hand, only
adding, 'Blind leaders of the blind, Pancks! Blind leaders of the
blind! But Doyce, Doyce, Doyce; my injured partner!' That brought
his head down on the desk once more.

Their former attitudes and their former silence were once more
first encroached upon by Pancks.

'Not been to bed, sir, since it began to get about. Been high and
low, on the chance of finding some hope of saving any cinders from
the fire. All in vain. All gone. All vanished.'

'I know it,' returned Clennam, 'too well.'

Mr Pancks filled up a pause with a groan that came out of the very
depths of his soul.

'Only yesterday, Pancks,' said Arthur; 'only yesterday, Monday, I
had the fixed intention of selling, realising, and making an end of
it.'

'I can't say as much for myself, sir,' returned Pancks. 'Though
it's wonderful how many people I've heard of, who were going to
realise yesterday, of all days in the three hundred and sixty-five,
if it hadn't been too late!'

His steam-like breathings, usually droll in their effect, were more
tragic than so many groans: while from head to foot, he was in that
begrimed, besmeared, neglected state, that he might have been an
authentic portrait of Misfortune which could scarcely be discerned
through its want of cleaning.

'Mr Clennam, had you laid out--everything?' He got over the break
before the last word, and also brought out the last word itself
with great difficulty.

'Everything.'

Mr Pancks took hold of his tough hair again, and gave it such a
wrench that he pulled out several prongs of it. After looking at
these with an eye of wild hatred, he put them in his pocket.

'My course,' said Clennam, brushing away some tears that had been
silently dropping down his face, 'must be taken at once. What
wretched amends I can make must be made. I must clear my
unfortunate partner's reputation. I must retain nothing for
myself. I must resign to our creditors the power of management I
have so much abused, and I must work out as much of my fault--or
crime--as is susceptible of being worked out in the rest of my
days.'

'Is it impossible, sir, to tide over the present?'

'Out of the question. Nothing can be tided over now, Pancks. The
sooner the business can pass out of my hands, the better for it.
There are engagements to be met, this week, which would bring the
catastrophe before many days were over, even if I would postpone it
for a single day by going on for that space, secretly knowing what
I know. All last night I thought of what I would do; what remains
is to do it.'

'Not entirely of yourself?' said Pancks, whose face was as damp as
if his steam were turning into water as fast as he dismally blew it
off. 'Have some legal help.'

'Perhaps I had better.'

'Have Rugg.'

'There is not much to do. He will do it as well as another.'

'Shall I fetch Rugg, Mr Clennam?'

'If you could spare the time, I should be much obliged to you.'

Mr Pancks put on his hat that moment, and steamed away to
Pentonville. While he was gone Arthur never raised his head from
the desk, but remained in that one position.

Mr Pancks brought his friend and professional adviser, Mr Rugg,
back with him. Mr Rugg had had such ample experience, on the road,
of Mr Pancks's being at that present in an irrational state of
mind, that he opened his professional mediation by requesting that
gentleman to take himself out of the way. Mr Pancks, crushed and
submissive, obeyed.

'He is not unlike what my daughter was, sir, when we began the
Breach of Promise action of Rugg and Bawkins, in which she was
Plaintiff,' said Mr Rugg. 'He takes too strong and direct an
interest in the case. His feelings are worked upon. There is no
getting on, in our profession, with feelings worked upon, sir.'

As he pulled off his gloves and put them in his hat, he saw, in a
side glance or two, that a great change had come over his client.

'I am sorry to perceive, sir,' said Mr Rugg, 'that you have been
allowing your own feelings to be worked upon. Now, pray don't,
pray don't. These losses are much to be deplored, sir, but we must
look 'em in the face.'
'If the money I have sacrificed had been all my own, Mr Rugg,'
sighed Mr Clennam, 'I should have cared far less.'

'Indeed, sir?' said Mr Rugg, rubbing his hands with a cheerful air.

'You surprise me. That's singular, sir. I have generally found,
in my experience, that it's their own money people are most
particular about. I have seen people get rid of a good deal of
other people's money, and bear it very well: very well indeed.'

With these comforting remarks, Mr Rugg seated himself on an office-
stool at the desk and proceeded to business.

'Now, Mr Clennam, by your leave, let us go into the matter. Let us
see the state of the case. The question is simple. The question
is the usual plain, straightforward, common-sense question. What
can we do for ourself? What can we do for ourself?'

'This is not the question with me, Mr Rugg,' said Arthur. 'You
mistake it in the beginning. It is, what can I do for my partner,
how can I best make reparation to him?'

'I am afraid, sir, do you know,' argued Mr Rugg persuasively, 'that
you are still allowing your feeling to be worked upon. I don't
like the term "reparation," sir, except as a lever in the hands of
counsel. Will you excuse my saying that I feel it my duty to offer
you the caution, that you really must not allow your feelings to be
worked upon?'

'Mr Rugg,' said Clennam, nerving himself to go through with what he
had resolved upon, and surprising that gentleman by appearing, in
his despondency, to have a settled determination of purpose; 'you
give me the impression that you will not be much disposed to adopt
the course I have made up my mind to take. If your disapproval of
it should render you unwilling to discharge such business as it
necessitates, I am sorry for it, and must seek other aid. But I
will represent to you at once, that to argue against it with me is
useless.'

'Good, sir,' answered Mr Rugg, shrugging his shoulders.'Good, sir.
Since the business is to be done by some hands, let it be done by
mine. Such was my principle in the case of Rugg and Bawkins. Such
is my principle in most cases. '

Clennam then proceeded to state to Mr Rugg his fixed resolution.
He told Mr Rugg that his partner was a man of great simplicity and
integrity, and that in all he meant to do, he was guided above all
things by a knowledge of his partner's character, and a respect for
his feelings. He explained that his partner was then absent on an
enterprise of importance, and that it particularly behoved himself
publicly to accept the blame of what he had rashly done, and
publicly to exonerate his partner from all participation in the
responsibility of it, lest the successful conduct of that
enterprise should be endangered by the slightest suspicion wrongly
attaching to his partner's honour and credit in another country.
He told Mr Rugg that to clear his partner morally, to the fullest
extent, and publicly and unreservedly to declare that he, Arthur
Clennam, of that Firm, had of his own sole act, and even expressly
against his partner's caution, embarked its resources in the
swindles that had lately perished, was the only real atonement
within his power; was a better atonement to the particular man than
it would be to many men; and was therefore the atonement he had
first to make. With this view, his intention was to print a
declaration to the foregoing effect, which he had already drawn up;
and, besides circulating it among all who had dealings with the
House, to advertise it in the public papers. Concurrently with
this measure (the description of which cost Mr Rugg innumerable wry
faces and great uneasiness in his limbs), he would address a letter
to all the creditors, exonerating his partner in a solemn manner,
informing them of the stoppage of the House until their pleasure
could be known and his partner communicated with, and humbly
submitting himself to their direction. If, through their
consideration for his partner's innocence, the affairs could ever
be got into such train as that the business could be profitably
resumed, and its present downfall overcome, then his own share in
it should revert to his partner, as the only reparation he could
make to him in money value for the distress and loss he had
unhappily brought upon him, and he himself, at as mall a salary as
he could live upon, would ask to be allowed to serve the business
as a faithful clerk.

Though Mr Rugg saw plainly there was no preventing this from being
done, still the wryness of his face and the uneasiness of his limbs
so sorely required the propitiation of a Protest, that he made one.

'I offer no objection, sir,' said he, 'I argue no point with you.
I will carry out your views, sir; but, under protest.' Mr Rugg
then stated, not without prolixity, the heads of his protest.
These were, in effect, because the whole town, or he might say the
whole country, was in the first madness of the late discovery, and
the resentment against the victims would be very strong: those who
had not been deluded being certain to wax exceedingly wroth with
them for not having been as wise as they were: and those who had
been deluded being certain to find excuses and reasons for
themselves, of which they were equally certain to see that other
sufferers were wholly devoid: not to mention the great probability
of every individual sufferer persuading himself, to his violent
indignation, that but for the example of all the other sufferers he
never would have put himself in the way of suffering. Because such
a declaration as Clennam's, made at such a time, would certainly
draw down upon him a storm of animosity, rendering it impossible to
calculate on forbearance in the creditors, or on unanimity among
them; and exposing him a solitary target to a straggling cross-
fire, which might bring him down from half-a-dozen quarters at
once.

To all this Clennam merely replied that, granting the whole
protest, nothing in it lessened the force, or could lessen the
force, of the voluntary and public exoneration of his partner. He
therefore, once and for all, requested Mr Rugg's immediate aid in
getting the business despatched. Upon that, Mr Rugg fell to work;
and Arthur, retaining no property to himself but his clothes and
books, and a little loose money, placed his small private banker's-
account with the papers of the business.

The disclosure was made, and the storm raged fearfully. Thousands
of people were wildly staring about for somebody alive to heap
reproaches on; and this notable case, courting publicity, set the
living somebody so much wanted, on a scaffold. When people who had
nothing to do with the case were so sensible of its flagrancy,
people who lost money by it could scarcely be expected to deal
mildly with it. Letters of reproach and invective showered in from
the creditors; and Mr Rugg, who sat upon the high stool every day
and read them all, informed his client within a week that he feared
there were writs out.

'I must take the consequences of what I have done,' said Clennam.
'The writs will find me here.'

On the very next morning, as he was turning in Bleeding Heart Yard
by Mrs Plornish's corner, Mrs Plornish stood at the door waiting
for him, and mysteriously besought him to step into Happy Cottage.
There he found Mr Rugg.

'I thought I'd wait for you here. I wouldn't go on to the
Counting-house this morning if I was you, sir.'

'Why not, Mr Rugg?'

'There are as many as five out, to my knowledge.'

'It cannot be too soon over,' said Clennam. 'Let them take me at
once.'

'Yes, but,' said Mr Rugg, getting between him and the door, 'hear
reason, hear reason. They'll take you soon enough, Mr Clennam, I
don't doubt; but, hear reason. It almost always happens, in these
cases, that some insignificant matter pushes itself in front and
makes much of itself. Now, I find there's a little one out--a mere
Palace Court jurisdiction--and I have reason to believe that a
caption may be made upon that. I wouldn't be taken upon that.'

'Why not?' asked Clennam.

'I'd be taken on a full-grown one, sir,' said Mr Rugg. 'It's as
well to keep up appearances. As your professional adviser, I
should prefer your being taken on a writ from one of the Superior
Courts, if you have no objection to do me that favour. It looks
better.'

'Mr Rugg,' said Arthur, in his dejection, 'my only wish is, that it
should be over. I will go on, and take my chance.'

'Another word of reason, sir!' cried Mr Rugg. 'Now, this is
reason. The other may be taste; but this is reason. If you should
be taken on a little one, sir, you would go to the Marshalsea.
Now, you know what the Marshalsea is. Very close. Excessively
confined. Whereas in the King's Bench--' Mr Rugg waved his right
hand freely, as expressing abundance of space.
'I would rather,' said Clennam, 'be taken to the Marshalsea than to
any other prison.'

'Do you say so indeed, sir?' returned Mr Rugg. 'Then this is
taste, too, and we may be walking.'

He was a little offended at first, but he soon overlooked it. They
walked through the Yard to the other end. The Bleeding Hearts were
more interested in Arthur since his reverses than formerly; now
regarding him as one who was true to the place and had taken up his
freedom. Many of them came out to look after him, and to observe
to one another, with great unctuousness, that he was 'pulled down
by it.' Mrs Plornish and her father stood at the top of the steps
at their own end, much depressed and shaking their heads.

There was nobody visibly in waiting when Arthur and Mr Rugg arrived
at the Counting-house. But an elderly member of the Jewish
persuasion, preserved in rum, followed them close, and looked in at
the glass before Mr Rugg had opened one of the day's letters.

'Oh!' said Mr Rugg, looking up. 'How do you do? Step in--Mr
Clennam, I think this is the gentleman I was mentioning.'

This gentleman explained the object of his visit to be 'a tyfling
madder ob bithznithz,' and executed his legal function.

'Shall I accompany you, Mr Clennam?' asked Mr Rugg politely,
rubbing his hands.

'I would rather go alone, thank you. Be so good as send me my
clothes.' Mr Rugg in a light airy way replied in the affirmative,
and shook hands with him. He and his attendant then went down-
stairs, got into the first conveyance they found, and drove to the
old gates.

'Where I little thought, Heaven forgive me,' said Clennam to
himself, 'that I should ever enter thus!'

Mr Chivery was on the Lock, and Young John was in the Lodge: either
newly released from it, or waiting to take his own spell of duty.
Both were more astonished on seeing who the prisoner was, than one
might have thought turnkeys would have been. The elder Mr Chivery

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