Little Dorrit, page 11
CHAPTER 10. Containing the whole Science of Government
The Circumlocution Office was (as everybody knows without being told)the most important Department under Government. No public business ofany kind could possibly be done at any time without the acquiescence ofthe Circumlocution Office. Its finger was in the largest public pie,and in the smallest public tart. It was equally impossible to do theplainest right and to undo the plainest wrong without the expressauthority of the Circumlocution Office. If another Gunpowder Plot hadbeen discovered half an hour before the lighting of the match, nobodywould have been justified in saving the parliament until there hadbeen half a score of boards, half a bushel of minutes, several sacksof official memoranda, and a family-vault full of ungrammaticalcorrespondence, on the part of the Circumlocution Office.
This glorious establishment had been early in the field, when the onesublime principle involving the difficult art of governing a country,was first distinctly revealed to statesmen. It had been foremost tostudy that bright revelation and to carry its shining influence throughthe whole of the official proceedings. Whatever was required to be done,the Circumlocution Office was beforehand with all the public departmentsin the art of perceiving--HOW NOT TO DO IT.
Through this delicate perception, through the tact with which itinvariably seized it, and through the genius with which it always actedon it, the Circumlocution Office had risen to overtop all the publicdepartments; and the public condition had risen to be--what it was.
It is true that How not to do it was the great study and object ofall public departments and professional politicians all round theCircumlocution Office. It is true that every new premier and everynew government, coming in because they had upheld a certain thing asnecessary to be done, were no sooner come in than they applied theirutmost faculties to discovering How not to do it. It is true that fromthe moment when a general election was over, every returned man who hadbeen raving on hustings because it hadn't been done, and who had beenasking the friends of the honourable gentleman in the opposite intereston pain of impeachment to tell him why it hadn't been done, and who hadbeen asserting that it must be done, and who had been pledging himselfthat it should be done, began to devise, How it was not to be done. Itis true that the debates of both Houses of Parliament the whole sessionthrough, uniformly tended to the protracted deliberation, How not todo it. It is true that the royal speech at the opening of such sessionvirtually said, My lords and gentlemen, you have a considerablestroke of work to do, and you will please to retire to your respectivechambers, and discuss, How not to do it. It is true that the royalspeech, at the close of such session, virtually said, My lords andgentlemen, you have through several laborious months been consideringwith great loyalty and patriotism, How not to do it, and you have foundout; and with the blessing of Providence upon the harvest (natural, notpolitical), I now dismiss you. All this is true, but the CircumlocutionOffice went beyond it.
Because the Circumlocution Office went on mechanically, every day,keeping this wonderful, all-sufficient wheel of statesmanship, How notto do it, in motion. Because the Circumlocution Office was down upon anyill-advised public servant who was going to do it, or who appeared to beby any surprising accident in remote danger of doing it, with a minute,and a memorandum, and a letter of instructions that extinguished him. Itwas this spirit of national efficiency in the Circumlocution Officethat had gradually led to its having something to do with everything.Mechanicians, natural philosophers, soldiers, sailors, petitioners,memorialists, people with grievances, people who wanted to preventgrievances, people who wanted to redress grievances, jobbing people,jobbed people, people who couldn't get rewarded for merit, and peoplewho couldn't get punished for demerit, were all indiscriminately tuckedup under the foolscap paper of the Circumlocution Office.
Numbers of people were lost in the Circumlocution Office. Unfortunateswith wrongs, or with projects for the general welfare (and they hadbetter have had wrongs at first, than have taken that bitter Englishrecipe for certainly getting them), who in slow lapse of time and agonyhad passed safely through other public departments; who, according torule, had been bullied in this, over-reached by that, and evaded bythe other; got referred at last to the Circumlocution Office, andnever reappeared in the light of day. Boards sat upon them, secretariesminuted upon them, commissioners gabbled about them, clerks registered,entered, checked, and ticked them off, and they melted away. In short,all the business of the country went through the Circumlocution Office,except the business that never came out of it; and _its_ name was Legion.
Sometimes, angry spirits attacked the Circumlocution Office. Sometimes,parliamentary questions were asked about it, and even parliamentarymotions made or threatened about it by demagogues so low and ignorant asto hold that the real recipe of government was, How to do it. Then wouldthe noble lord, or right honourable gentleman, in whose department itwas to defend the Circumlocution Office, put an orange in his pocket,and make a regular field-day of the occasion. Then would he come down tothat house with a slap upon the table, and meet the honourable gentlemanfoot to foot. Then would he be there to tell that honourable gentlemanthat the Circumlocution Office not only was blameless in this matter,but was commendable in this matter, was extollable to the skies in thismatter. Then would he be there to tell that honourable gentleman that,although the Circumlocution Office was invariably right and whollyright, it never was so right as in this matter. Then would he be thereto tell that honourable gentleman that it would have been more to hishonour, more to his credit, more to his good taste, more to his goodsense, more to half the dictionary of commonplaces, if he had left theCircumlocution Office alone, and never approached this matter. Thenwould he keep one eye upon a coach or crammer from the CircumlocutionOffice sitting below the bar, and smash the honourable gentleman withthe Circumlocution Office account of this matter. And although oneof two things always happened; namely, either that the CircumlocutionOffice had nothing to say and said it, or that it had something to sayof which the noble lord, or right honourable gentleman, blundered onehalf and forgot the other; the Circumlocution Office was always votedimmaculate by an accommodating majority.
Such a nursery of statesmen had the Department become in virtue of along career of this nature, that several solemn lords had attained thereputation of being quite unearthly prodigies of business, solely fromhaving practised, How not to do it, as the head of the CircumlocutionOffice. As to the minor priests and acolytes of that temple, the resultof all this was that they stood divided into two classes, and, down tothe junior messenger, either believed in the Circumlocution Office asa heaven-born institution that had an absolute right to do whatever itliked; or took refuge in total infidelity, and considered it a flagrantnuisance.
The Barnacle family had for some time helped to administer theCircumlocution Office. The Tite Barnacle Branch, indeed, consideredthemselves in a general way as having vested rights in that direction,and took it ill if any other family had much to say to it. The Barnacleswere a very high family, and a very large family. They were dispersedall over the public offices, and held all sorts of public places. Eitherthe nation was under a load of obligation to the Barnacles, or theBarnacles were under a load of obligation to the nation. It was notquite unanimously settled which; the Barnacles having their opinion, thenation theirs.
The Mr Tite Barnacle who at the period now in question usually coachedor crammed the statesman at the head of the Circumlocution Office, whenthat noble or right honourable individual sat a little uneasily in hissaddle by reason of some vagabond making a tilt at him in a newspaper,was more flush of blood than money. As a Barnacle he had his place,which was a snug thing enough; and as a Barnacle he had of course putin his son Barnacle Junior in the office. But he had intermarried witha branch of the Stiltstalkings, who were also better endowed in asanguineous point of view than with real or personal property, and ofthis marriage there had been issue, Barnacle junior and three youngladies. What with the patrician requirements of Barnacle junior, th
For Mr Tite Barnacle, Mr Arthur Clennam made his fifth inquiry one dayat the Circumlocution Office; having on previous occasions awaited thatgentleman successively in a hall, a glass case, a waiting room, and afire-proof passage where the Department seemed to keep its wind. On thisoccasion Mr Barnacle was not engaged, as he had been before, with thenoble prodigy at the head of the Department; but was absent. BarnacleJunior, however, was announced as a lesser star, yet visible above theoffice horizon.
With Barnacle junior, he signified his desire to confer; and found thatyoung gentleman singeing the calves of his legs at the parental fire,and supporting his spine against the mantel-shelf. It was a comfortableroom, handsomely furnished in the higher official manner; an presentingstately suggestions of the absent Barnacle, in the thick carpet, theleather-covered desk to sit at, the leather-covered desk to stand at,the formidable easy-chair and hearth-rug, the interposed screen, thetorn-up papers, the dispatch-boxes with little labels sticking out ofthem, like medicine bottles or dead game, the pervading smell of leatherand mahogany, and a general bamboozling air of How not to do it.
The present Barnacle, holding Mr Clennam's card in his hand, had ayouthful aspect, and the fluffiest little whisker, perhaps, that everwas seen. Such a downy tip was on his callow chin, that he seemed halffledged like a young bird; and a compassionate observer might have urgedthat, if he had not singed the calves of his legs, he would have diedof cold. He had a superior eye-glass dangling round his neck, butunfortunately had such flat orbits to his eyes and such limp littleeyelids that it wouldn't stick in when he put it up, but kept tumblingout against his waistcoat buttons with a click that discomposed him verymuch.
'Oh, I say. Look here! My father's not in the way, and won't be in theway to-day,' said Barnacle Junior. 'Is this anything that I can do?'
(Click! Eye-glass down. Barnacle Junior quite frightened and feeling allround himself, but not able to find it.)
'You are very good,' said Arthur Clennam. 'I wish however to see MrBarnacle.'
'But I say. Look here! You haven't got any appointment, you know,' saidBarnacle Junior.
(By this time he had found the eye-glass, and put it up again.)
'No,' said Arthur Clennam. 'That is what I wish to have.'
'But I say. Look here! Is this public business?' asked Barnacle junior.
(Click! Eye-glass down again. Barnacle Junior in that state of searchafter it that Mr Clennam felt it useless to reply at present.)
'Is it,' said Barnacle junior, taking heed of his visitor's brown face,'anything about--Tonnage--or that sort of thing?'
(Pausing for a reply, he opened his right eye with his hand, and stuckhis glass in it, in that inflammatory manner that his eye began wateringdreadfully.)
'No,' said Arthur, 'it is nothing about tonnage.'
'Then look here. Is it private business?'
'I really am not sure. It relates to a Mr Dorrit.'
'Look here, I tell you what! You had better call at our house, if youare going that way. Twenty-four, Mews Street, Grosvenor Square. Myfather's got a slight touch of the gout, and is kept at home by it.'
(The misguided young Barnacle evidently going blind on his eye-glassside, but ashamed to make any further alteration in his painfularrangements.)
'Thank you. I will call there now. Good morning.' Young Barnacle seemeddiscomfited at this, as not having at all expected him to go.
'You are quite sure,' said Barnacle junior, calling after him when hegot to the door, unwilling wholly to relinquish the bright business ideahe had conceived; 'that it's nothing about Tonnage?'
With such assurance, and rather wondering what might have taken placeif it _had_ been anything about tonnage, Mr Clennam withdrew to pursue hisinquiries.
Mews Street, Grosvenor Square, was not absolutely Grosvenor Squareitself, but it was very near it. It was a hideous little street of deadwall, stables, and dunghills, with lofts over coach-houses inhabited bycoachmen's families, who had a passion for drying clothes and decoratingtheir window-sills with miniature turnpike-gates. The principalchimney-sweep of that fashionable quarter lived at the blind end of MewsStreet; and the same corner contained an establishment much frequentedabout early morning and twilight for the purchase of wine-bottles andkitchen-stuff. Punch's shows used to lean against the dead wall in MewsStreet, while their proprietors were dining elsewhere; and the dogs ofthe neighbourhood made appointments to meet in the same locality. Yetthere were two or three small airless houses at the entrance end of MewsStreet, which went at enormous rents on account of their being abjecthangers-on to a fashionable situation; and whenever one of these fearfullittle coops was to be let (which seldom happened, for they were ingreat request), the house agent advertised it as a gentlemanly residencein the most aristocratic part of town, inhabited solely by the elite ofthe beau monde.
If a gentlemanly residence coming strictly within this narrow margin hadnot been essential to the blood of the Barnacles, this particular branchwould have had a pretty wide selection among, let us say, ten thousandhouses, offering fifty times the accommodation for a third of the money.As it was, Mr Barnacle, finding his gentlemanly residence extremelyinconvenient and extremely dear, always laid it, as a public servant,at the door of the country, and adduced it as another instance of thecountry's parsimony.
Arthur Clennam came to a squeezed house, with a ramshackle bowedfront, little dingy windows, and a little dark area like a dampwaistcoat-pocket, which he found to be number twenty-four, Mews Street,Grosvenor Square. To the sense of smell the house was like a sort ofbottle filled with a strong distillation of Mews; and when the footmanopened the door, he seemed to take the stopper out.
The footman was to the Grosvenor Square footmen, what the house was tothe Grosvenor Square houses. Admirable in his way, his way was a backand a bye way. His gorgeousness was not unmixed with dirt; and both incomplexion and consistency he had suffered from the closeness of hispantry. A sallow flabbiness was upon him when he took the stopper out,and presented the bottle to Mr Clennam's nose.
'Be so good as to give that card to Mr Tite Barnacle, and to say that Ihave just now seen the younger Mr Barnacle, who recommended me to callhere.'
The footman (who had as many large buttons with the Barnacle crest uponthem on the flaps of his pockets, as if he were the family strong box,and carried the plate and jewels about with him buttoned up) ponderedover the card a little; then said, 'Walk in.' It required some judgmentto do it without butting the inner hall-door open, and in the consequentmental confusion and physical darkness slipping down the kitchen stairs.The visitor, however, brought himself up safely on the door-mat.
Still the footman said 'Walk in,' so the visitor followed him. At theinner hall-door, another bottle seemed to be presented and anotherstopper taken out. This second vial appeared to be filled withconcentrated provisions and extract of Sink from the pantry. After askirmish in the narrow passage, occasioned by the footman's opening thedoor of the dismal dining-room with confidence, finding some one therewith consternation, and backing on the visitor with disorder, thevisitor was shut up, pending his announcement, in a close back parlour.There he had an opportunity of refreshing himself with both thebottles at once, looking out at a low blinding wall three feet off,and speculating on the number of Barnacle families within the bills ofmortality who lived in such hutches of their own free flunkey choice.
Mr Barnacle would see him. Would he walk up-stairs? He would, andhe did; and in the drawing-room, with his leg on a rest, he found MrBarnacle himself, the express image and presentment of How not to do it.
Mr Barnacle dated from a better time, when the country was not soparsimonious and the Circumlocution Office was not so badgered. He woundand wound folds of white cravat rou
'Mr Clennam?' said Mr Barnacle. 'Be seated.'
Mr Clennam became seated.
'You have called on me, I believe,' said Mr Barnacle, 'at theCircumlocution--' giving it the air of a word of about five-and-twentysyllables--'Office.'
'I have taken that liberty.'
Mr Barnacle solemnly bent his head as who should say, 'I do not denythat it is a liberty; proceed to take another liberty, and let me knowyour business.'
'Allow me to observe that I have been for some years in China, am quitea stranger at home, and have no personal motive or interest in theinquiry I am about to make.'
Mr Barnacle tapped his fingers on the table, and, as if he were nowsitting for his portrait to a new and strange artist, appeared to sayto his visitor, 'If you will be good enough to take me with my presentlofty expression, I shall feel obliged.'
'I have found a debtor in the Marshalsea Prison of the name of Dorrit,who has been there many years. I wish to investigate his confusedaffairs so far as to ascertain whether it may not be possible, afterthis lapse of time, to ameliorate his unhappy condition. The name ofMr Tite Barnacle has been mentioned to me as representing some highlyinfluential interest among his creditors. Am I correctly informed?'
It being one of the principles of the Circumlocution Office never, onany account whatever, to give a straightforward answer, Mr Barnaclesaid, 'Possibly.'
'On behalf of the Crown, may I ask, or as private individual?'
'The Circumlocution Department, sir,' Mr Barnacle replied, 'may havepossibly recommended--possibly--I cannot say--that some public claimagainst the insolvent estate of a firm or copartnership to which thisperson may have belonged, should be enforced. The question may havebeen, in the course of official business, referred to the CircumlocutionDepartment for its consideration. The Department may have eitheroriginated, or confirmed, a Minute making that recommendation.'
'I assume this to be the case, then.'
'The Circumlocution Department,' said Mr Barnacle, 'is not responsiblefor any gentleman's assumptions.'
'May I inquire how I can obtain official information as to the realstate of the case?'
'It is competent,' said Mr Barnacle, 'to any member of the--Public,'mentioning that obscure body with reluctance, as his natural enemy,'to memorialise the Circumlocution Department. Such formalities as arerequired to be observed in so doing, may be known on application to theproper branch of that Department.'
'Which is the proper branch?'
'I must refer you,' returned Mr Barnacle, ringing the bell, 'to theDepartment itself for a formal answer to that inquiry.'
'Excuse my mentioning--'
'The Department is accessible to the--Public,' Mr Barnacle was alwayschecked a little by that word of impertinent signification, 'ifthe--Public approaches it according to the official forms; ifthe--Public does not approach it according to the official forms,the--Public has itself to blame.'
Mr Barnacle made him a severe bow, as a wounded man of family, a woundedman of place, and a wounded man of a gentlemanly residence, all rolledinto one; and he made Mr Barnacle a bow, and was shut out into MewsStreet by the flabby footman.
Having got to this pass, he resolved as an exercise in perseverance,to betake himself again to the Circumlocution Office, and try whatsatisfaction he could get there. So he went back to the CircumlocutionOffice, and once more sent up his card to Barnacle junior by a messengerwho took it very ill indeed that he should come back again, and who waseating mashed potatoes and gravy behind a partition by the hall fire.
He was readmitted to the presence of Barnacle junior, and found thatyoung gentleman singeing his knees now, and gaping his weary way onto four o'clock.
'I say. Look here. You stick to us in a devil of a manner,' SaidBarnacle junior, looking over his shoulder.
'I want to know--'
'Look here. Upon my soul you mustn't come into the place saying youwant to know, you know,' remonstrated Barnacle junior, turning about andputting up the eye-glass.
'I want to know,' said Arthur Clennam, who had made up his mind topersistence in one short form of words, 'the precise nature of the claimof the Crown against a prisoner for debt, named Dorrit.'
'I say. Look here. You really are going it at a great pace, you know.Egad, you haven't got an appointment,' said Barnacle junior, as if thething were growing serious.
'I want to know,' said Arthur, and repeated his case.
Barnacle junior stared at him until his eye-glass fell out, and thenput it in again and stared at him until it fell out again. 'You haveno right to come this sort of move,' he then observed with the greatestweakness. 'Look here. What do you mean? You told me you didn't knowwhether it was public business or not.'
'I have now ascertained that it is public business,' returned thesuitor, 'and I want to know'--and again repeated his monotonous inquiry.
Its effect upon young Barnacle was to make him repeat in a defencelessway, 'Look here! Upon my SOUL you mustn't come into the place saying youwant to know, you know!' The effect of that upon Arthur Clennam wasto make him repeat his inquiry in exactly the same words and toneas before. The effect of that upon young Barnacle was to make him awonderful spectacle of failure and helplessness.
'Well, I tell you what. Look here. You had better try the SecretarialDepartment,' he said at last, sidling to the bell and ringing it.'Jenkinson,' to the mashed potatoes messenger, 'Mr Wobbler!'
Arthur Clennam, who now felt that he had devoted himself to the stormingof the Circumlocution Office, and must go through with it, accompaniedthe messenger to another floor of the building, where that functionarypointed out Mr Wobbler's room. He entered that apartment, and found twogentlemen sitting face to face at a large and easy desk, one of whom waspolishing a gun-barrel on his pocket-handkerchief, while the other wasspreading marmalade on bread with a paper-knife.
'Mr Wobbler?' inquired the suitor.
Both gentlemen glanced at him, and seemed surprised at his assurance.
'So he went,' said the gentleman with the gun-barrel, who was anextremely deliberate speaker, 'down to his cousin's place, and took theDog with him by rail. Inestimable Dog. Flew at the porter fellow when hewas put into the dog-box, and flew at the guard when he was taken out.He got half-a-dozen fellows into a Barn, and a good supply of Rats, andtimed the Dog. Finding the Dog able to do it immensely, made the match,and heavily backed the Dog. When the match came off, some devil ofa fellow was bought over, Sir, Dog was made drunk, Dog's master wascleaned out.'
'Mr Wobbler?' inquired the suitor.
The gentleman who was spreading the marmalade returned, without lookingup from that occupation, 'What did he call the Dog?'
'Called him Lovely,' said the other gentleman. 'Said the Dog was theperfect picture of the old aunt from whom he had expectations. Found himparticularly like her when hocussed.'
'Mr Wobbler?' said the suitor.
Both gentlemen laughed for some time. The gentleman with the gun-barrel,considering it, on inspection, in a satisfactory state, referred it tothe other; receiving confirmation of his views, he fitted it into itsplace in the case before him, and took out the stock and polished that,softly whistling.
'Mr Wobbler?' said the suitor.
'What's the matter?' then said Mr Wobbler, with his mouth full.
'I want to know--' and Arthur Clennam again mechanically set forth whathe wanted to know.
'Can't inform you,' observed Mr Wobbler, apparently to his lunch. 'Neverheard of it. Nothing at all to do with it. Better try Mr Clive, seconddoor on the le
'Perhaps he will give me the same answer.'
'Very likely. Don't know anything about it,' said Mr Wobbler.
The suitor turned away and had left the room, when the gentleman withthe gun called out 'Mister! Hallo!'
He looked in again.
'Shut the door after you. You're letting in a devil of a draught here!'
A few steps brought him to the second door on the left in the nextpassage. In that room he found three gentlemen; number one doing nothingparticular, number two doing nothing particular, number three doingnothing particular. They seemed, however, to be more directly concernedthan the others had been in the effective execution of the greatprinciple of the office, as there was an awful inner apartment with adouble door, in which the Circumlocution Sages appeared to be assembledin council, and out of which there was an imposing coming of papers,and into which there was an imposing going of papers, almost constantly;wherein another gentleman, number four, was the active instrument.
'I want to know,' said Arthur Clennam,--and again stated his case in thesame barrel-organ way. As number one referred him to number two, andas number two referred him to number three, he had occasion to stateit three times before they all referred him to number four, to whom hestated it again.
Number four was a vivacious, well-looking, well-dressed, agreeableyoung fellow--he was a Barnacle, but on the more sprightly side ofthe family--and he said in an easy way, 'Oh! you had better not botheryourself about it, I think.'
'Not bother myself about it?'
'No! I recommend you not to bother yourself about it.'
This was such a new point of view that Arthur Clennam found himself at aloss how to receive it.
'You can if you like. I can give you plenty of forms to fill up. Lots of'em here. You can have a dozen if you like. But you'll never go on withit,' said number four.
'Would it be such hopeless work? Excuse me; I am a stranger in England.'
'_I_ don't say it would be hopeless,' returned number four, with a franksmile. 'I don't express an opinion about that; I only express an opinionabout you. _I_ don't think you'd go on with it. However, of course, youcan do as you like. I suppose there was a failure in the performance ofa contract, or something of that kind, was there?'
'I really don't know.'
'Well! That you can find out. Then you'll find out what Department thecontract was in, and then you'll find out all about it there.'
'I beg your pardon. How shall I find out?'
'Why, you'll--you'll ask till they tell you. Then you'll memorialisethat Department (according to regular forms which you'll find out) forleave to memorialise this Department. If you get it (which you may aftera time), that memorial must be entered in that Department, sent tobe registered in this Department, sent back to be signed by thatDepartment, sent back to be countersigned by this Department, and thenit will begin to be regularly before that Department. You'll find outwhen the business passes through each of these stages by asking at bothDepartments till they tell you.'
'But surely this is not the way to do the business,' Arthur Clennamcould not help saying.
This airy young Barnacle was quite entertained by his simplicity insupposing for a moment that it was. This light in hand young Barnacleknew perfectly that it was not. This touch and go young Barnacle had'got up' the Department in a private secretaryship, that he mightbe ready for any little bit of fat that came to hand; and he fullyunderstood the Department to be a politico-diplomatic hocus pocus pieceof machinery for the assistance of the nobs in keeping off thesnobs. This dashing young Barnacle, in a word, was likely to become astatesman, and to make a figure.
'When the business is regularly before that Department, whatever it is,'pursued this bright young Barnacle, 'then you can watch it from timeto time through that Department. When it comes regularly before thisDepartment, then you must watch it from time to time through thisDepartment. We shall have to refer it right and left; and when we referit anywhere, then you'll have to look it up. When it comes back to usat any time, then you had better look _us_ up. When it sticks anywhere,you'll have to try to give it a jog. When you write to anotherDepartment about it, and then to this Department about it, and don'thear anything satisfactory about it, why then you had better--keep onwriting.'
Arthur Clennam looked very doubtful indeed. 'But I am obliged to you atany rate,' said he, 'for your politeness.'
'Not at all,' replied this engaging young Barnacle. 'Try the thing, andsee how you like it. It will be in your power to give it up at any time,if you don't like it. You had better take a lot of forms away with you.Give him a lot of forms!' With which instruction to number two, thissparkling young Barnacle took a fresh handful of papers from numbers oneand three, and carried them into the sanctuary to offer to the presidingIdol of the Circumlocution Office.
Arthur Clennam put his forms in his pocket gloomily enough, and wenthis way down the long stone passage and the long stone staircase. He hadcome to the swing doors leading into the street, and was waiting, notover patiently, for two people who were between him and them to pass outand let him follow, when the voice of one of them struck familiarly onhis ear. He looked at the speaker and recognised Mr Meagles. Mr Meagleswas very red in the face--redder than travel could have made him--andcollaring a short man who was with him, said, 'come out, you rascal,come Out!'
It was such an unexpected hearing, and it was also such an unexpectedsight to see Mr Meagles burst the swing doors open, and emerge into thestreet with the short man, who was of an unoffending appearance, thatClennam stood still for the moment exchanging looks of surprise with theporter. He followed, however, quickly; and saw Mr Meagles going downthe street with his enemy at his side. He soon came up with his oldtravelling companion, and touched him on the back. The choleric facewhich Mr Meagles turned upon him smoothed when he saw who it was, and heput out his friendly hand.
'How are you?' said Mr Meagles. 'How d'ye _do?_ I have only just come overfrom abroad. I am glad to see you.'
'And I am rejoiced to see you.'
'Mrs Meagles and your daughter--?'
'Are as well as possible,' said Mr Meagles. 'I only wish you had comeupon me in a more prepossessing condition as to coolness.'
Though it was anything but a hot day, Mr Meagles was in a heated statethat attracted the attention of the passersby; more particularly ashe leaned his back against a railing, took off his hat and cravat, andheartily rubbed his steaming head and face, and his reddened ears andneck, without the least regard for public opinion.
'Whew!' said Mr Meagles, dressing again. 'That's comfortable. Now I amcooler.'
'You have been ruffled, Mr Meagles. What is the matter?'
'Wait a bit, and I'll tell you. Have you leisure for a turn in thePark?'
'As much as you please.'
'Come along then. Ah! you may well look at him.' He happened to haveturned his eyes towards the offender whom Mr Meagles had so angrilycollared. 'He's something to look at, that fellow is.'
He was not much to look at, either in point of size or in point ofdress; being merely a short, square, practical looking man, whose hairhad turned grey, and in whose face and forehead there were deep lines ofcogitation, which looked as though they were carved in hard wood. Hewas dressed in decent black, a little rusty, and had the appearance ofa sagacious master in some handicraft. He had a spectacle-case in hishand, which he turned over and over while he was thus in question,with a certain free use of the thumb that is never seen but in a handaccustomed to tools.
'You keep with us,' said Mr Meagles, in a threatening kind of Way, 'andI'll introduce you presently. Now then!'
Clennam wondered within himself, as they took the nearest way to thePark, what this unknown (who complied in the gentlest manner) could havebeen doing. His appearance did not at all justify the suspicion that hehad been detected in designs on Mr Meagles's pocket-handkerchief; norhad he any appearance of being quarrelsome or violent. He
At length they being among the trees, Mr Meagles stopped short, andsaid:
'Mr Clennam, will you do me the favour to look at this man? His nameis Doyce, Daniel Doyce. You wouldn't suppose this man to be a notoriousrascal; would you?'
'I certainly should not.' It was really a disconcerting question, withthe man there.
'No. You would not. I know you would not. You wouldn't suppose him to bea public offender; would you?'
'No. But he is. He is a public offender. What has he been guilty of?Murder, manslaughter, arson, forgery, swindling, house-breaking, highwayrobbery, larceny, conspiracy, fraud? Which should you say, now?'
'I should say,' returned Arthur Clennam, observing a faint smile inDaniel Doyce's face, 'not one of them.'
'You are right,' said Mr Meagles. 'But he has been ingenious, and he hasbeen trying to turn his ingenuity to his country's service. That makeshim a public offender directly, sir.'
Arthur looked at the man himself, who only shook his head.
'This Doyce,' said Mr Meagles, 'is a smith and engineer. He is not in alarge way, but he is well known as a very ingenious man. A dozen yearsago, he perfects an invention (involving a very curious secret process)of great importance to his country and his fellow-creatures. I won't sayhow much money it cost him, or how many years of his life he had beenabout it, but he brought it to perfection a dozen years ago. Wasn't it adozen?' said Mr Meagles, addressing Doyce. 'He is the most exasperatingman in the world; he never complains!'
'Yes. Rather better than twelve years ago.'
'Rather better?' said Mr Meagles, 'you mean rather worse. Well, MrClennam, he addresses himself to the Government. The moment he addresseshimself to the Government, he becomes a public offender! Sir,' said MrMeagles, in danger of making himself excessively hot again, 'he ceasesto be an innocent citizen, and becomes a culprit. He is treated fromthat instant as a man who has done some infernal action. He is a man tobe shirked, put off, brow-beaten, sneered at, handed over by thishighly-connected young or old gentleman, to that highly-connected youngor old gentleman, and dodged back again; he is a man with no rights inhis own time, or his own property; a mere outlaw, whom it is justifiableto get rid of anyhow; a man to be worn out by all possible means.'
It was not so difficult to believe, after the morning's experience, asMr Meagles supposed.
'Don't stand there, Doyce, turning your spectacle-case over and over,'cried Mr Meagles, 'but tell Mr Clennam what you confessed to me.'
'I undoubtedly was made to feel,' said the inventor, 'as if I hadcommitted an offence. In dancing attendance at the various offices, Iwas always treated, more or less, as if it was a very bad offence. Ihave frequently found it necessary to reflect, for my own self-support,that I really had not done anything to bring myself into the NewgateCalendar, but only wanted to effect a great saving and a greatimprovement.'
'There!' said Mr Meagles. 'Judge whether I exaggerate. Now you'll beable to believe me when I tell you the rest of the case.'
With this prelude, Mr Meagles went through the narrative; theestablished narrative, which has become tiresome; the matter-of-coursenarrative which we all know by heart. How, after interminable attendanceand correspondence, after infinite impertinences, ignorances, andinsults, my lords made a Minute, number three thousand four hundredand seventy-two, allowing the culprit to make certain trials of hisinvention at his own expense. How the trials were made in the presenceof a board of six, of whom two ancient members were too blind to see it,two other ancient members were too deaf to hear it, one other ancientmember was too lame to get near it, and the final ancient member was toopig-headed to look at it. How there were more years; more impertinences,ignorances, and insults. How my lords then made a Minute, number fivethousand one hundred and three, whereby they resigned the business tothe Circumlocution Office. How the Circumlocution Office, in course oftime, took up the business as if it were a bran new thing of yesterday,which had never been heard of before; muddled the business, addled thebusiness, tossed the business in a wet blanket. How the impertinences,ignorances, and insults went through the multiplication table. How therewas a reference of the invention to three Barnacles and a Stiltstalking,who knew nothing about it; into whose heads nothing could be hammeredabout it; who got bored about it, and reported physical impossibilitiesabout it. How the Circumlocution Office, in a Minute, number eightthousand seven hundred and forty, 'saw no reason to reverse the decisionat which my lords had arrived.' How the Circumlocution Office, beingreminded that my lords had arrived at no decision, shelved the business.How there had been a final interview with the head of the CircumlocutionOffice that very morning, and how the Brazen Head had spoken, and hadbeen, upon the whole, and under all the circumstances, and looking at itfrom the various points of view, of opinion that one of two courses wasto be pursued in respect of the business: that was to say, either toleave it alone for evermore, or to begin it all over again.
'Upon which,' said Mr Meagles, 'as a practical man, I then and there, inthat presence, took Doyce by the collar, and told him it was plain tome that he was an infamous rascal and treasonable disturber of thegovernment peace, and took him away. I brought him out of the officedoor by the collar, that the very porter might know I was a practicalman who appreciated the official estimate of such characters; and herewe are!'
If that airy young Barnacle had been there, he would have frankly toldthem perhaps that the Circumlocution Office had achieved its function.That what the Barnacles had to do, was to stick on to the national shipas long as they could. That to trim the ship, lighten the ship, cleanthe ship, would be to knock them off; that they could but be knocked offonce; and that if the ship went down with them yet sticking to it, thatwas the ship's look out, and not theirs.
'There!' said Mr Meagles, 'now you know all about Doyce. Except, which Iown does not improve my state of mind, that even now you don't hear himcomplain.'
'You must have great patience,' said Arthur Clennam, looking at him withsome wonder, 'great forbearance.'
'No,' he returned, 'I don't know that I have more than another man.'
'By the Lord, you have more than I have, though!' cried Mr Meagles.
Doyce smiled, as he said to Clennam, 'You see, my experience of thesethings does not begin with myself. It has been in my way to know alittle about them from time to time. Mine is not a particular case. I amnot worse used than a hundred others who have put themselves in the sameposition--than all the others, I was going to say.'
'I don't know that I should find that a consolation, if it were my case;but I am very glad that you do.'
'Understand me! I don't say,' he replied in his steady, planningway, and looking into the distance before him as if his grey eye weremeasuring it, 'that it's recompense for a man's toil and hope; but it'sa certain sort of relief to know that I might have counted on this.'
He spoke in that quiet deliberate manner, and in that undertone, whichis often observable in mechanics who consider and adjust with greatnicety. It belonged to him like his suppleness of thumb, or his peculiarway of tilting up his hat at the back every now and then, as if he werecontemplating some half-finished work of his hand and thinking about it.
'Disappointed?' he went on, as he walked between them under the trees.'Yes. No doubt I am disappointed. Hurt? Yes. No doubt I am hurt. That'sonly natural. But what I mean when I say that people who put themselvesin the same position are mostly used in the same way--'
'Oh! of course I mean in England. When they take their inventions intoforeign countries, that's quite different. And that's the reason why somany go there.'
Mr Meagles very hot indeed again.
'What I mean is, that however this comes to be the regular way of ourgovernment, it is its regular way. Have you ever heard of any projectoror inventor who failed to find it all but inaccessible, and whom it didnot discourage and ill-treat?'
'I cannot say that I ever have.'
'Have you ever known it to be beforehand in the adoption of any usefulthing? Ever known it to set an example of any useful kind?'
'I am a good deal older than my friend here,' said Mr Meagles, 'and I'llanswer that. Never.'
'But we all three have known, I expect,' said the inventor, 'a prettymany cases of its fixed determination to be miles upon miles, and yearsupon years, behind the rest of us; and of its being found out persistingin the use of things long superseded, even after the better things werewell known and generally taken up?'
They all agreed upon that.
'Well then,' said Doyce, with a sigh, 'as I know what such a metal willdo at such a temperature, and such a body under such a pressure, so Imay know (if I will only consider), how these great lords and gentlemenwill certainly deal with such a matter as mine. I have no right to besurprised, with a head upon my shoulders, and memory in it, that I fallinto the ranks with all who came before me. I ought to have let italone. I have had warning enough, I am sure.'
With that he put up his spectacle-case, and said to Arthur, 'If I don'tcomplain, Mr Clennam, I can feel gratitude; and I assure you that Ifeel it towards our mutual friend. Many's the day, and many's the way inwhich he has backed me.'
'Stuff and nonsense,' said Mr Meagles.
Arthur could not but glance at Daniel Doyce in the ensuing silence.Though it was evidently in the grain of his character, and of hisrespect for his own case, that he should abstain from idle murmuring,it was evident that he had grown the older, the sterner, and the poorer,for his long endeavour. He could not but think what a blessed thingit would have been for this man, if he had taken a lesson from thegentlemen who were so kind as to take a nation's affairs in charge, andhad learnt How not to do it.
Mr Meagles was hot and despondent for about five minutes, and then beganto cool and clear up.
'Come, come!' said he. 'We shall not make this the better by being grim.Where do you think of going, Dan?'
'I shall go back to the factory,' said Dan.
'Why then, we'll all go back to the factory, or walk in that direction,'returned Mr Meagles cheerfully. 'Mr Clennam won't be deterred by itsbeing in Bleeding Heart Yard.'
'Bleeding Heart Yard?' said Clennam. 'I want to go there.'
'So much the better,' cried Mr Meagles. 'Come along!'
As they went along, certainly one of the party, and probably more thanone, thought that Bleeding Heart Yard was no inappropriate destinationfor a man who had been in official correspondence with my lords and theBarnacles--and perhaps had a misgiving also that Britannia herself mightcome to look for lodgings in Bleeding Heart Yard some ugly day or other,if she over-did the Circumlocution Office.
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