Little dorrit, p.14

Little Dorrit, page 14

 

Little Dorrit
 



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  CHAPTER 13. Patriarchal

  The mention of Mr Casby again revived in Clennam's memory thesmouldering embers of curiosity and interest which Mrs Flintwinch hadfanned on the night of his arrival. Flora Casby had been the beloved ofhis boyhood; and Flora was the daughter and only child of wooden-headedold Christopher (so he was still occasionally spoken of by someirreverent spirits who had had dealings with him, and in whomfamiliarity had bred its proverbial result perhaps), who was reputed tobe rich in weekly tenants, and to get a good quantity of blood out ofthe stones of several unpromising courts and alleys.

  After some days of inquiry and research, Arthur Clennam became convincedthat the case of the Father of the Marshalsea was indeed a hopeless one,and sorrowfully resigned the idea of helping him to freedom again. Hehad no hopeful inquiry to make at present, concerning Little Dorriteither; but he argued with himself that it might--for anything heknew--it might be serviceable to the poor child, if he renewed thisacquaintance. It is hardly necessary to add that beyond all doubt hewould have presented himself at Mr Casby's door, if there had been noLittle Dorrit in existence; for we all know how we all deceiveourselves--that is to say, how people in general, our profounder selvesexcepted, deceive themselves--as to motives of action.

  With a comfortable impression upon him, and quite an honest one in itsway, that he was still patronising Little Dorrit in doing what had noreference to her, he found himself one afternoon at the corner of MrCasby's street. Mr Casby lived in a street in the Gray's Inn Road, whichhad set off from that thoroughfare with the intention of running at oneheat down into the valley, and up again to the top of Pentonville Hill;but which had run itself out of breath in twenty yards, and had stoodstill ever since. There is no such place in that part now; but itremained there for many years, looking with a baulked countenance atthe wilderness patched with unfruitful gardens and pimpled with eruptivesummerhouses, that it had meant to run over in no time.

  'The house,' thought Clennam, as he crossed to the door, 'is as littlechanged as my mother's, and looks almost as gloomy. But the likenessends outside. I know its staid repose within. The smell of its jars ofold rose-leaves and lavender seems to come upon me even here.'

  When his knock at the bright brass knocker of obsolete shape brought awoman-servant to the door, those faded scents in truth saluted him likewintry breath that had a faint remembrance in it of the bygone spring.He stepped into the sober, silent, air-tight house--one might havefancied it to have been stifled by Mutes in the Eastern manner--and thedoor, closing again, seemed to shut out sound and motion. Thefurniture was formal, grave, and quaker-like, but well-kept; and had asprepossessing an aspect as anything, from a human creature to a woodenstool, that is meant for much use and is preserved for little, can everwear. There was a grave clock, ticking somewhere up the staircase; andthere was a songless bird in the same direction, pecking at his cage, asif he were ticking too. The parlour-fire ticked in the grate. There wasonly one person on the parlour-hearth, and the loud watch in his pocketticked audibly.

  The servant-maid had ticked the two words 'Mr Clennam' so softly thatshe had not been heard; and he consequently stood, within the doorshe had closed, unnoticed. The figure of a man advanced in life, whosesmooth grey eyebrows seemed to move to the ticking as the fire-lightflickered on them, sat in an arm-chair, with his list shoes on therug, and his thumbs slowly revolving over one another. This was oldChristopher Casby--recognisable at a glance--as unchanged in twentyyears and upward as his own solid furniture--as little touched by theinfluence of the varying seasons as the old rose-leaves and old lavenderin his porcelain jars.

  Perhaps there never was a man, in this troublesome world, so troublesomefor the imagination to picture as a boy. And yet he had changed verylittle in his progress through life. Confronting him, in the room inwhich he sat, was a boy's portrait, which anybody seeing him would haveidentified as Master Christopher Casby, aged ten: though disguised witha haymaking rake, for which he had had, at any time, as much taste oruse as for a diving-bell; and sitting (on one of his own legs) upon abank of violets, moved to precocious contemplation by the spire of avillage church. There was the same smooth face and forehead, the samecalm blue eye, the same placid air. The shining bald head, which lookedso very large because it shone so much; and the long grey hair at itssides and back, like floss silk or spun glass, which looked so verybenevolent because it was never cut; were not, of course, to be seen inthe boy as in the old man. Nevertheless, in the Seraphic creature withthe haymaking rake, were clearly to be discerned the rudiments of thePatriarch with the list shoes.

  Patriarch was the name which many people delighted to give him.Various old ladies in the neighbourhood spoke of him as The Last of thePatriarchs. So grey, so slow, so quiet, so impassionate, so very bumpyin the head, Patriarch was the word for him. He had been accosted in thestreets, and respectfully solicited to become a Patriarch for paintersand for sculptors; with so much importunity, in sooth, that it wouldappear to be beyond the Fine Arts to remember the points of a Patriarch,or to invent one. Philanthropists of both sexes had asked who he was,and on being informed, 'Old Christopher Casby, formerly Town-agent toLord Decimus Tite Barnacle,' had cried in a rapture of disappointment,'Oh! why, with that head, is he not a benefactor to his species! Oh!why, with that head, is he not a father to the orphan and a friend tothe friendless!' With that head, however, he remained old ChristopherCasby, proclaimed by common report rich in house property; and with thathead, he now sat in his silent parlour. Indeed it would be the height ofunreason to expect him to be sitting there without that head.

  Arthur Clennam moved to attract his attention, and the grey eyebrowsturned towards him.

  'I beg your pardon,' said Clennam, 'I fear you did not hear meannounced?'

  'No, sir, I did not. Did you wish to see me, sir?'

  'I wished to pay my respects.'

  Mr Casby seemed a feather's weight disappointed by the last words,having perhaps prepared himself for the visitor's wishing to paysomething else. 'Have I the pleasure, sir,' he proceeded--'take a chair,if you please--have I the pleasure of knowing--? Ah! truly, yes, I thinkI have! I believe I am not mistaken in supposing that I am acquaintedwith those features? I think I address a gentleman of whose return tothis country I was informed by Mr Flintwinch?'

  'That is your present visitor.'

  'Really! Mr Clennam?'

  'No other, Mr Casby.'

  'Mr Clennam, I am glad to see you. How have you been since we met?'

  Without thinking it worth while to explain that in the course of somequarter of a century he had experienced occasional slight fluctuationsin his health and spirits, Clennam answered generally that he had neverbeen better, or something equally to the purpose; and shook hands withthe possessor of 'that head' as it shed its patriarchal light upon him.

  'We are older, Mr Clennam,' said Christopher Casby.

  'We are--not younger,' said Clennam. After this wise remark he felt thathe was scarcely shining with brilliancy, and became aware that he wasnervous.

  'And your respected father,' said Mr Casby, 'is no more! I was grievedto hear it, Mr Clennam, I was grieved.'

  Arthur replied in the usual way that he felt infinitely obliged to him.

  'There was a time,' said Mr Casby, 'when your parents and myself werenot on friendly terms. There was a little family misunderstanding amongus. Your respected mother was rather jealous of her son, maybe; when Isay her son, I mean your worthy self, your worthy self.'

  His smooth face had a bloom upon it like ripe wall-fruit. What withhis blooming face, and that head, and his blue eyes, he seemed to bedelivering sentiments of rare wisdom and virtue. In like manner, hisphysiognomical expression seemed to teem with benignity. Nobody couldhave said where the wisdom was, or where the virtue was, or where thebenignity was; but they all seemed to be somewhere about him.

  'Those times, however,' pursued Mr Casby, 'are past and gone, past andgone. I do myself the pleasure of making a visit to your respectedmother
occasionally, and of admiring the fortitude and strength of mindwith which she bears her trials, bears her trials.'

  When he made one of these little repetitions, sitting with his handscrossed before him, he did it with his head on one side, and a gentlesmile, as if he had something in his thoughts too sweetly profound to beput into words. As if he denied himself the pleasure of uttering it,lest he should soar too high; and his meekness therefore preferred to beunmeaning.

  'I have heard that you were kind enough on one of those occasions,' saidArthur, catching at the opportunity as it drifted past him, 'to mentionLittle Dorrit to my mother.'

  'Little--? Dorrit? That's the seamstress who was mentioned to me by asmall tenant of mine? Yes, yes. Dorrit? That's the name. Ah, yes, yes!You call her Little Dorrit?'

  No road in that direction. Nothing came of the cross-cut. It led nofurther.

  'My daughter Flora,' said Mr Casby, 'as you may have heard probably, MrClennam, was married and established in life, several years ago. Shehad the misfortune to lose her husband when she had been married a fewmonths. She resides with me again. She will be glad to see you, if youwill permit me to let her know that you are here.'

  'By all means,' returned Clennam. 'I should have preferred the request,if your kindness had not anticipated me.'

  Upon this Mr Casby rose up in his list shoes, and with a slow, heavystep (he was of an elephantine build), made for the door. He had a longwide-skirted bottle-green coat on, and a bottle-green pair of trousers,and a bottle-green waistcoat. The Patriarchs were not dressed inbottle-green broadcloth, and yet his clothes looked patriarchal.

  He had scarcely left the room, and allowed the ticking to become audibleagain, when a quick hand turned a latchkey in the house-door, opened it,and shut it. Immediately afterwards, a quick and eager short dark mancame into the room with so much way upon him that he was within a footof Clennam before he could stop.

  'Halloa!' he said.

  Clennam saw no reason why he should not say 'Halloa!' too.

  'What's the matter?' said the short dark man.

  'I have not heard that anything is the matter,' returned Clennam.

  'Where's Mr Casby?' asked the short dark man, looking about.

  'He will be here directly, if you want him.'

  '_I_ want him?' said the short dark man. 'Don't you?'

  This elicited a word or two of explanation from Clennam, during thedelivery of which the short dark man held his breath and looked at him.He was dressed in black and rusty iron grey; had jet black beads ofeyes; a scrubby little black chin; wiry black hair striking out from hishead in prongs, like forks or hair-pins; and a complexion that was verydingy by nature, or very dirty by art, or a compound of nature and art.He had dirty hands and dirty broken nails, and looked as if he had beenin the coals; he was in a perspiration, and snorted and sniffed andpuffed and blew, like a little labouring steam-engine.

  'Oh!' said he, when Arthur told him how he came to be there. 'Very well.That's right. If he should ask for Pancks, will you be so good as to saythat Pancks is come in?' And so, with a snort and a puff, he worked outby another door.

  Now, in the old days at home, certain audacious doubts respecting thelast of the Patriarchs, which were afloat in the air, had, by someforgotten means, come in contact with Arthur's sensorium. He was awareof motes and specks of suspicion in the atmosphere of that time; seenthrough which medium, Christopher Casby was a mere Inn signpost, withoutany Inn--an invitation to rest and be thankful, when there was no placeto put up at, and nothing whatever to be thankful for. He knew that someof these specks even represented Christopher as capable of harbouringdesigns in 'that head,' and as being a crafty impostor. Other motesthere were which showed him as a heavy, selfish, drifting Booby, who,having stumbled, in the course of his unwieldy jostlings against othermen, on the discovery that to get through life with ease and credit,he had but to hold his tongue, keep the bald part of his head wellpolished, and leave his hair alone, had had just cunning enough to seizethe idea and stick to it. It was said that his being town-agent toLord Decimus Tite Barnacle was referable, not to his having the leastbusiness capacity, but to his looking so supremely benignant that nobodycould suppose the property screwed or jobbed under such a man; also,that for similar reasons he now got more money out of his own wretchedlettings, unquestioned, than anybody with a less nobby and less shiningcrown could possibly have done. In a word, it was represented (Clennamcalled to mind, alone in the ticking parlour) that many people selecttheir models, much as the painters, just now mentioned, select theirs;and that, whereas in the Royal Academy some evil old ruffian of aDog-stealer will annually be found embodying all the cardinal virtues,on account of his eyelashes, or his chin, or his legs (thereby plantingthorns of confusion in the breasts of the more observant students ofnature), so, in the great social Exhibition, accessories are oftenaccepted in lieu of the internal character.

  Calling these things to mind, and ranging Mr Pancks in a row with them,Arthur Clennam leaned this day to the opinion, without quite decidingon it, that the last of the Patriarchs was the drifting Booby aforesaid,with the one idea of keeping the bald part of his head highly polished:and that, much as an unwieldy ship in the Thames river may sometimes beseen heavily driving with the tide, broadside on, stern first, in itsown way and in the way of everything else, though making a great showof navigation, when all of a sudden, a little coaly steam-tug will beardown upon it, take it in tow, and bustle off with it; similarly thecumbrous Patriarch had been taken in tow by the snorting Pancks, and wasnow following in the wake of that dingy little craft.

  The return of Mr Casby with his daughter Flora, put an end to thesemeditations. Clennam's eyes no sooner fell upon the subject of his oldpassion than it shivered and broke to pieces.

  Most men will be found sufficiently true to themselves to be true toan old idea. It is no proof of an inconstant mind, but exactly theopposite, when the idea will not bear close comparison with the reality,and the contrast is a fatal shock to it. Such was Clennam's case. In hisyouth he had ardently loved this woman, and had heaped upon her all thelocked-up wealth of his affection and imagination. That wealth had been,in his desert home, like Robinson Crusoe's money; exchangeable with noone, lying idle in the dark to rust, until he poured it out for her.Ever since that memorable time, though he had, until the night of hisarrival, as completely dismissed her from any association with hisPresent or Future as if she had been dead (which she might easilyhave been for anything he knew), he had kept the old fancy of the Pastunchanged, in its old sacred place. And now, after all, the last of thePatriarchs coolly walked into the parlour, saying in effect, 'Be goodenough to throw it down and dance upon it. This is Flora.'

  Flora, always tall, had grown to be very broad too, and short of breath;but that was not much. Flora, whom he had left a lily, had become apeony; but that was not much. Flora, who had seemed enchanting in allshe said and thought, was diffuse and silly. That was much. Flora, whohad been spoiled and artless long ago, was determined to be spoiled andartless now. That was a fatal blow.

  This is Flora!

  'I am sure,' giggled Flora, tossing her head with a caricature ofher girlish manner, such as a mummer might have presented at her ownfuneral, if she had lived and died in classical antiquity, 'I am ashamedto see Mr Clennam, I am a mere fright, I know he'll find me fearfullychanged, I am actually an old woman, it's shocking to be found out, it'sreally shocking!'

  He assured her that she was just what he had expected and that time hadnot stood still with himself.

  'Oh! But with a gentleman it's so different and really you look soamazingly well that you have no right to say anything of the kind,while, as to me, you know--oh!' cried Flora with a little scream, 'I amdreadful!'

  The Patriarch, apparently not yet understanding his own part in thedrama under representation, glowed with vacant serenity.

  'But if we talk of not having changed,' said Flora, who, whatevershe said, never once came to a full stop, 'look at Papa, is not Papapr
ecisely what he was when you went away, isn't it cruel and unnaturalof Papa to be such a reproach to his own child, if we go on in this waymuch longer people who don't know us will begin to suppose that I amPapa's Mama!'

  That must be a long time hence, Arthur considered.

  'Oh Mr Clennam you insincerest of creatures,' said Flora, 'I perceivealready you have not lost your old way of paying compliments, your oldway when you used to pretend to be so sentimentally struck you know--atleast I don't mean that, I--oh I don't know what I mean!' Here Floratittered confusedly, and gave him one of her old glances.

  The Patriarch, as if he now began to perceive that his part in the piecewas to get off the stage as soon as might be, rose, and went to the doorby which Pancks had worked out, hailing that Tug by name. He receivedan answer from some little Dock beyond, and was towed out of sightdirectly.

  'You mustn't think of going yet,' said Flora--Arthur had looked at hishat, being in a ludicrous dismay, and not knowing what to do: 'you couldnever be so unkind as to think of going, Arthur--I mean Mr Arthur--or Isuppose Mr Clennam would be far more proper--but I am sure I don't knowwhat I am saying--without a word about the dear old days gone for ever,when I come to think of it I dare say it would be much better not tospeak of them and it's highly probable that you have some much moreagreeable engagement and pray let Me be the last person in the worldto interfere with it though there _was_ a time, but I am running intononsense again.'

  Was it possible that Flora could have been such a chatterer in thedays she referred to? Could there have been anything like her presentdisjointed volubility in the fascinations that had captivated him?

  'Indeed I have little doubt,' said Flora, running on with astonishingspeed, and pointing her conversation with nothing but commas, and veryfew of them, 'that you are married to some Chinese lady, being in Chinaso long and being in business and naturally desirous to settle andextend your connection nothing was more likely than that you shouldpropose to a Chinese lady and nothing was more natural I am sure thanthat the Chinese lady should accept you and think herself very well offtoo, I only hope she's not a Pagodian dissenter.'

  'I am not,' returned Arthur, smiling in spite of himself, 'married toany lady, Flora.'

  'Oh good gracious me I hope you never kept yourself a bachelor so longon my account!' tittered Flora; 'but of course you never did why shouldyou, pray don't answer, I don't know where I'm running to, oh do tell mesomething about the Chinese ladies whether their eyes are really so longand narrow always putting me in mind of mother-of-pearl fish at cardsand do they really wear tails down their back and plaited too or isit only the men, and when they pull their hair so very tight off theirforeheads don't they hurt themselves, and why do they stick little bellsall over their bridges and temples and hats and things or don't theyreally do it?' Flora gave him another of her old glances. Instantly shewent on again, as if he had spoken in reply for some time.

  'Then it's all true and they really do! good gracious Arthur!--prayexcuse me--old habit--Mr Clennam far more proper--what a country to livein for so long a time, and with so many lanterns and umbrellas too howvery dark and wet the climate ought to be and no doubt actually is, andthe sums of money that must be made by those two trades where everybodycarries them and hangs them everywhere, the little shoes too and thefeet screwed back in infancy is quite surprising, what a traveller youare!'

  In his ridiculous distress, Clennam received another of the old glanceswithout in the least knowing what to do with it.

  'Dear dear,' said Flora, 'only to think of the changes at homeArthur--cannot overcome it, and seems so natural, Mr Clennam far moreproper--since you became familiar with the Chinese customs and languagewhich I am persuaded you speak like a Native if not better for you werealways quick and clever though immensely difficult no doubt, I am surethe tea chests alone would kill me if I tried, such changes Arthur--Iam doing it again, seems so natural, most improper--as no one could havebelieved, who could have ever imagined Mrs Finching when I can't imagineit myself!'

  'Is that your married name?' asked Arthur, struck, in the midst of allthis, by a certain warmth of heart that expressed itself in her tonewhen she referred, however oddly, to the youthful relation in which theyhad stood to one another. 'Finching?'

  'Finching oh yes isn't it a dreadful name, but as Mr F. said when heproposed to me which he did seven times and handsomely consented I mustsay to be what he used to call on liking twelve months, after all, hewasn't answerable for it and couldn't help it could he, Excellent man,not at all like you but excellent man!'

  Flora had at last talked herself out of breath for one moment. Onemoment; for she recovered breath in the act of raising a minute cornerof her pocket-handkerchief to her eye, as a tribute to the ghost of thedeparted Mr F., and began again.

  'No one could dispute, Arthur--Mr Clennam--that it's quite right youshould be formally friendly to me under the altered circumstances andindeed you couldn't be anything else, at least I suppose not you oughtto know, but I can't help recalling that there _was_ a time when thingswere very different.'

  'My dear Mrs Finching,' Arthur began, struck by the good tone again.

  'Oh not that nasty ugly name, say Flora!'

  'Flora. I assure you, Flora, I am happy in seeing you once more, and infinding that, like me, you have not forgotten the old foolish dreams,when we saw all before us in the light of our youth and hope.'

  'You don't seem so,' pouted Flora, 'you take it very coolly, buthowever I know you are disappointed in me, I suppose the Chineseladies--Mandarinesses if you call them so--are the cause or perhaps I amthe cause myself, it's just as likely.'

  'No, no,' Clennam entreated, 'don't say that.'

  'Oh I must you know,' said Flora, in a positive tone, 'what nonsense notto, I know I am not what you expected, I know that very well.'

  In the midst of her rapidity, she had found that out with the quickperception of a cleverer woman. The inconsistent and profoundlyunreasonable way in which she instantly went on, nevertheless, tointerweave their long-abandoned boy and girl relations with theirpresent interview, made Clennam feel as if he were light-headed.

  'One remark,' said Flora, giving their conversation, without theslightest notice and to the great terror of Clennam, the tone of alove-quarrel, 'I wish to make, one explanation I wish to offer, whenyour Mama came and made a scene of it with my Papa and when I was calleddown into the little breakfast-room where they were looking at oneanother with your Mama's parasol between them seated on two chairs likemad bulls what was I to do?'

  'My dear Mrs Finching,' urged Clennam--'all so long ago and so longconcluded, is it worth while seriously to--'

  'I can't Arthur,' returned Flora, 'be denounced as heartless by thewhole society of China without setting myself right when I have theopportunity of doing so, and you must be very well aware that therewas Paul and Virginia which had to be returned and which was returnedwithout note or comment, not that I mean to say you could have writtento me watched as I was but if it had only come back with a red wafer onthe cover I should have known that it meant Come to Pekin Nankeen andWhat's the third place, barefoot.'

  'My dear Mrs Finching, you were not to blame, and I never blamed you.We were both too young, too dependent and helpless, to do anything butaccept our separation.--Pray think how long ago,' gently remonstratedArthur.

  'One more remark,' proceeded Flora with unslackened volubility, 'I wishto make, one more explanation I wish to offer, for five days I had acold in the head from crying which I passed entirely in the backdrawing-room--there is the back drawing-room still on the first floorand still at the back of the house to confirm my words--when that drearyperiod had passed a lull succeeded years rolled on and Mr F. becameacquainted with us at a mutual friend's, he was all attention he callednext day he soon began to call three evenings a week and to sendin little things for supper it was not love on Mr F.'s part it wasadoration, Mr F. proposed with the full approval of Papa and what couldI do?'

  'Nothing whatever,' said
Arthur, with the cheerfulest readiness, 'butwhat you did. Let an old friend assure you of his full conviction thatyou did quite right.'

  'One last remark,' proceeded Flora, rejecting commonplace life with awave of her hand, 'I wish to make, one last explanation I wish to offer,there _was_ a time ere Mr F. first paid attentions incapable of beingmistaken, but that is past and was not to be, dear Mr Clennam you nolonger wear a golden chain you are free I trust you may be happy, hereis Papa who is always tiresome and putting in his nose everywhere wherehe is not wanted.'

  With these words, and with a hasty gesture fraught with timidcaution--such a gesture had Clennam's eyes been familiar with in the oldtime--poor Flora left herself at eighteen years of age, a long long waybehind again; and came to a full stop at last.

  Or rather, she left about half of herself at eighteen years of agebehind, and grafted the rest on to the relict of the late Mr F.; thusmaking a moral mermaid of herself, which her once boy-lover contemplatedwith feelings wherein his sense of the sorrowful and his sense of thecomical were curiously blended.

  For example. As if there were a secret understanding between herselfand Clennam of the most thrilling nature; as if the first of a train ofpost-chaises and four, extending all the way to Scotland, were at thatmoment round the corner; and as if she couldn't (and wouldn't) havewalked into the Parish Church with him, under the shade of the familyumbrella, with the Patriarchal blessing on her head, and the perfectconcurrence of all mankind; Flora comforted her soul with agonies ofmysterious signalling, expressing dread of discovery. With the sensationof becoming more and more light-headed every minute, Clennam saw therelict of the late Mr F. enjoying herself in the most wonderful manner,by putting herself and him in their old places, and going through allthe old performances--now, when the stage was dusty, when the scenerywas faded, when the youthful actors were dead, when the orchestra wasempty, when the lights were out. And still, through all this grotesquerevival of what he remembered as having once been prettily natural toher, he could not but feel that it revived at sight of him, and thatthere was a tender memory in it.

  The Patriarch insisted on his staying to dinner, and Flora signalled'Yes!' Clennam so wished he could have done more than stay to dinner--soheartily wished he could have found the Flora that had been, or thatnever had been--that he thought the least atonement he could make forthe disappointment he almost felt ashamed of, was to give himself up tothe family desire. Therefore, he stayed to dinner.

  Pancks dined with them. Pancks steamed out of his little dock at aquarter before six, and bore straight down for the Patriarch, whohappened to be then driving, in an inane manner, through a stagnantaccount of Bleeding Heart Yard. Pancks instantly made fast to him andhauled him out.

  'Bleeding Heart Yard?' said Pancks, with a puff and a snort. 'It's atroublesome property. Don't pay you badly, but rents are very hard toget there. You have more trouble with that one place than with all theplaces belonging to you.'

  Just as the big ship in tow gets the credit, with most spectators, ofbeing the powerful object, so the Patriarch usually seemed to have saidhimself whatever Pancks said for him.

  'Indeed?' returned Clennam, upon whom this impression was so efficientlymade by a mere gleam of the polished head that he spoke the ship insteadof the Tug. 'The people are so poor there?'

  '_You_ can't say, you know,' snorted Pancks, taking one of his dirty handsout of his rusty iron-grey pockets to bite his nails, if he could findany, and turning his beads of eyes upon his employer, 'whether they'repoor or not. They say they are, but they all say that. When a man sayshe's rich, you're generally sure he isn't. Besides, if they _are_ poor,you can't help it. You'd be poor yourself if you didn't get your rents.'

  'True enough,' said Arthur.

  'You're not going to keep open house for all the poor of London,'pursued Pancks. 'You're not going to lodge 'em for nothing. You're notgoing to open your gates wide and let 'em come free. Not if you know it,you ain't.'

  Mr Casby shook his head, in Placid and benignant generality.

  'If a man takes a room of you at half-a-crown a week, and when the weekcomes round hasn't got the half-crown, you say to that man, Why have yougot the room, then? If you haven't got the one thing, why have you gotthe other? What have you been and done with your money? What do you meanby it? What are you up to? That's what _you_ say to a man of that sort;and if you didn't say it, more shame for you!' Mr Pancks here made asingular and startling noise, produced by a strong blowing effort in theregion of the nose, unattended by any result but that acoustic one.

  'You have some extent of such property about the east and north-easthere, I believe?' said Clennam, doubtful which of the two to address.

  'Oh, pretty well,' said Pancks. 'You're not particular to east ornorth-east, any point of the compass will do for you. What you want isa good investment and a quick return. You take it where you can find it.You ain't nice as to situation--not you.'

  There was a fourth and most original figure in the Patriarchal tent, whoalso appeared before dinner. This was an amazing little old woman, witha face like a staring wooden doll too cheap for expression, and a stiffyellow wig perched unevenly on the top of her head, as if the child whoowned the doll had driven a tack through it anywhere, so that it onlygot fastened on. Another remarkable thing in this little old woman was,that the same child seemed to have damaged her face in two or threeplaces with some blunt instrument in the nature of a spoon; hercountenance, and particularly the tip of her nose, presenting thephenomena of several dints, generally answering to the bowl of thatarticle. A further remarkable thing in this little old woman was, thatshe had no name but Mr F.'s Aunt.

  She broke upon the visitor's view under the following circumstances:Flora said when the first dish was being put on the table, perhaps MrClennam might not have heard that Mr F. had left her a legacy? Clennamin return implied his hope that Mr F. had endowed the wife whom headored, with the greater part of his worldly substance, if not with all.Flora said, oh yes, she didn't mean that, Mr F. had made a beautifulwill, but he had left her as a separate legacy, his Aunt. She thenwent out of the room to fetch the legacy, and, on her return, rathertriumphantly presented 'Mr F.'s Aunt.'

  The major characteristics discoverable by the stranger in Mr F.'s Aunt,were extreme severity and grim taciturnity; sometimes interrupted bya propensity to offer remarks in a deep warning voice, which, beingtotally uncalled for by anything said by anybody, and traceable to noassociation of ideas, confounded and terrified the Mind. Mr F.'s Auntmay have thrown in these observations on some system of her own, and itmay have been ingenious, or even subtle: but the key to it was wanted.

  The neatly-served and well-cooked dinner (for everything about thePatriarchal household promoted quiet digestion) began with some soup,some fried soles, a butter-boat of shrimp sauce, and a dish of potatoes.The conversation still turned on the receipt of rents. Mr F.'s Aunt,after regarding the company for ten minutes with a malevolent gaze,delivered the following fearful remark:

  'When we lived at Henley, Barnes's gander was stole by tinkers.'

  Mr Pancks courageously nodded his head and said, 'All right, ma'am.' Butthe effect of this mysterious communication upon Clennam was absolutelyto frighten him. And another circumstance invested this old lady withpeculiar terrors. Though she was always staring, she never acknowledgedthat she saw any individual. The polite and attentive stranger woulddesire, say, to consult her inclinations on the subject of potatoes. Hisexpressive action would be hopelessly lost upon her, and what could hedo? No man could say, 'Mr F.'s Aunt, will you permit me?' Every manretired from the spoon, as Clennam did, cowed and baffled.

  There was mutton, a steak, and an apple-pie--nothing in the remotestway connected with ganders--and the dinner went on like a disenchantedfeast, as it truly was. Once upon a time Clennam had sat at that tabletaking no heed of anything but Flora; now the principal heed he tookof Flora was to observe, against his will, that she was very fond ofporter, that she combined a great deal of sherry w
ith sentiment, andthat if she were a little overgrown, it was upon substantial grounds.The last of the Patriarchs had always been a mighty eater, and hedisposed of an immense quantity of solid food with the benignity of agood soul who was feeding some one else. Mr Pancks, who was always in ahurry, and who referred at intervals to a little dirty notebook which hekept beside him (perhaps containing the names of the defaulters he meantto look up by way of dessert), took in his victuals much as if he werecoaling; with a good deal of noise, a good deal of dropping about, and apuff and a snort occasionally, as if he were nearly ready to steam away.

  All through dinner, Flora combined her present appetite for eating anddrinking with her past appetite for romantic love, in a way that madeClennam afraid to lift his eyes from his plate; since he could notlook towards her without receiving some glance of mysterious meaning orwarning, as if they were engaged in a plot. Mr F.'s Aunt sat silentlydefying him with an aspect of the greatest bitterness, until the removalof the cloth and the appearance of the decanters, when she originatedanother observation--struck into the conversation like a clock, withoutconsulting anybody.

  Flora had just said, 'Mr Clennam, will you give me a glass of port forMr F.'s Aunt?'

  'The Monument near London Bridge,' that lady instantly proclaimed, 'wasput up arter the Great Fire of London; and the Great Fire of London wasnot the fire in which your uncle George's workshops was burned down.'

  Mr Pancks, with his former courage, said, 'Indeed, ma'am? All right!'But appearing to be incensed by imaginary contradiction, or otherill-usage, Mr F.'s Aunt, instead of relapsing into silence, made thefollowing additional proclamation:

  'I hate a fool!'

  She imparted to this sentiment, in itself almost Solomonic, so extremelyinjurious and personal a character by levelling it straight at thevisitor's head, that it became necessary to lead Mr F.'s Aunt fromthe room. This was quietly done by Flora; Mr F.'s Aunt offering noresistance, but inquiring on her way out, 'What he come there for,then?' with implacable animosity.

  When Flora returned, she explained that her legacy was a cleverold lady, but was sometimes a little singular, and 'tookdislikes'--peculiarities of which Flora seemed to be proud rather thanotherwise. As Flora's good nature shone in the case, Clennam had nofault to find with the old lady for eliciting it, now that he wasrelieved from the terrors of her presence; and they took a glass ortwo of wine in peace. Foreseeing then that the Pancks would shortly getunder weigh, and that the Patriarch would go to sleep, he pleaded thenecessity of visiting his mother, and asked Mr Pancks in which directionhe was going?

  'Citywards, sir,' said Pancks.

  'Shall we walk together?' said Arthur.

  'Quite agreeable,' said Pancks.

  Meanwhile Flora was murmuring in rapid snatches for his ear, that therewas a time and that the past was a yawning gulf however and that agolden chain no longer bound him and that she revered the memory of thelate Mr F. and that she should be at home to-morrow at half-past oneand that the decrees of Fate were beyond recall and that she considerednothing so improbable as that he ever walked on the north-west side ofGray's-Inn Gardens at exactly four o'clock in the afternoon. He triedat parting to give his hand in frankness to the existing Flora--not thevanished Flora, or the mermaid--but Flora wouldn't have it, couldn'thave it, was wholly destitute of the power of separating herself and himfrom their bygone characters. He left the house miserably enough; andso much more light-headed than ever, that if it had not been his goodfortune to be towed away, he might, for the first quarter of an hour,have drifted anywhere.

  When he began to come to himself, in the cooler air and the absence ofFlora, he found Pancks at full speed, cropping such scanty pasturage ofnails as he could find, and snorting at intervals. These, in conjunctionwith one hand in his pocket and his roughened hat hind side before, wereevidently the conditions under which he reflected.

  'A fresh night!' said Arthur.

  'Yes, it's pretty fresh,' assented Pancks. 'As a stranger you feel theclimate more than I do, I dare say. Indeed I haven't got time to feelit.'

  'You lead such a busy life?'

  'Yes, I have always some of 'em to look up, or something to look after.But I like business,' said Pancks, getting on a little faster. 'What's aman made for?'

  'For nothing else?' said Clennam.

  Pancks put the counter question, 'What else?' It packed up, in thesmallest compass, a weight that had rested on Clennam's life; and hemade no answer.

  'That's what I ask our weekly tenants,' said Pancks. 'Some of 'em willpull long faces to me, and say, Poor as you see us, master, we're alwaysgrinding, drudging, toiling, every minute we're awake. I say to them,What else are you made for? It shuts them up. They haven't a word toanswer. What else are you made for? That clinches it.'

  'Ah dear, dear, dear!' sighed Clennam.

  'Here am I,' said Pancks, pursuing his argument with the weekly tenant.'What else do you suppose I think I am made for? Nothing. Rattle me outof bed early, set me going, give me as short a time as you like to boltmy meals in, and keep me at it. Keep me always at it, and I'll keep youalways at it, you keep somebody else always at it. There you are withthe Whole Duty of Man in a commercial country.'

  When they had walked a little further in silence, Clennam said: 'Haveyou no taste for anything, Mr Pancks?'

  'What's taste?' drily retorted Pancks.

  'Let us say inclination.'

  'I have an inclination to get money, sir,' said Pancks, 'if you willshow me how.' He blew off that sound again, and it occurred to hiscompanion for the first time that it was his way of laughing. He was asingular man in all respects; he might not have been quite in earnest,but that the short, hard, rapid manner in which he shot out thesecinders of principles, as if it were done by mechanical revolvency,seemed irreconcilable with banter.

  'You are no great reader, I suppose?' said Clennam.

  'Never read anything but letters and accounts. Never collect anythingbut advertisements relative to next of kin. If _that's_ a taste, I havegot that. You're not of the Clennams of Cornwall, Mr Clennam?'

  'Not that I ever heard of.'

  'I know you're not. I asked your mother, sir. She has too much characterto let a chance escape her.'

  'Supposing I had been of the Clennams of Cornwall?'

  'You'd have heard of something to your advantage.'

  'Indeed! I have heard of little enough to my advantage for some time.'

  'There's a Cornish property going a begging, sir, and not a CornishClennam to have it for the asking,' said Pancks, taking his note-bookfrom his breast pocket and putting it in again. 'I turn off here. I wishyou good night.'

  'Good night!' said Clennam. But the Tug, suddenly lightened, anduntrammelled by having any weight in tow, was already puffing away intothe distance.

  They had crossed Smithfield together, and Clennam was left alone at thecorner of Barbican. He had no intention of presenting himself in hismother's dismal room that night, and could not have felt more depressedand cast away if he had been in a wilderness. He turned slowly downAldersgate Street, and was pondering his way along towards Saint Paul's,purposing to come into one of the great thoroughfares for the sake oftheir light and life, when a crowd of people flocked towards him on thesame pavement, and he stood aside against a shop to let them pass. Asthey came up, he made out that they were gathered around a somethingthat was carried on men's shoulders. He soon saw that it was a litter,hastily made of a shutter or some such thing; and a recumbent figureupon it, and the scraps of conversation in the crowd, and a muddy bundlecarried by one man, and a muddy hat carried by another, informed himthat an accident had occurred. The litter stopped under a lamp before ithad passed him half-a-dozen paces, for some readjustment of the burden;and, the crowd stopping too, he found himself in the midst of the array.

  'An accident going to the Hospital?' he asked an old man beside him, whostood shaking his head, inviting conversation.

  'Yes,' said the man, 'along of them Mails. They ought to be prose
cutedand fined, them Mails. They come a racing out of Lad Lane and WoodStreet at twelve or fourteen mile a hour, them Mails do. The only wonderis, that people ain't killed oftener by them Mails.'

  'This person is not killed, I hope?'

  'I don't know!' said the man, 'it an't for the want of a will in themMails, if he an't.' The speaker having folded his arms, and set incomfortably to address his depreciation of them Mails to any of thebystanders who would listen, several voices, out of pure sympathy withthe sufferer, confirmed him; one voice saying to Clennam, 'They're apublic nuisance, them Mails, sir;' another, '_I_ see one on 'em pull upwithin half a inch of a boy, last night;' another, '_I_ see one on 'emgo over a cat, sir--and it might have been your own mother;' and allrepresenting, by implication, that if he happened to possess any publicinfluence, he could not use it better than against them Mails.

  'Why, a native Englishman is put to it every night of his life, to savehis life from them Mails,' argued the first old man; 'and _he_ knows whenthey're a coming round the corner, to tear him limb from limb. What canyou expect from a poor foreigner who don't know nothing about 'em!'

  'Is this a foreigner?' said Clennam, leaning forward to look.

  In the midst of such replies as 'Frenchman, sir,' 'Porteghee, sir,''Dutchman, sir,' 'Prooshan, sir,' and other conflicting testimony, henow heard a feeble voice asking, both in Italian and in French, forwater. A general remark going round, in reply, of 'Ah, poor fellow,he says he'll never get over it; and no wonder!' Clennam begged to beallowed to pass, as he understood the poor creature. He was immediatelyhanded to the front, to speak to him.

  'First, he wants some water,' said he, looking round. (A dozen goodfellows dispersed to get it.) 'Are you badly hurt, my friend?' he askedthe man on the litter, in Italian.

  'Yes, sir; yes, yes, yes. It's my leg, it's my leg. But it pleases me tohear the old music, though I am very bad.'

  'You are a traveller! Stay! See, the water! Let me give you some.'

  They had rested the litter on a pile of paving stones. It was at aconvenient height from the ground, and by stooping he could lightlyraise the head with one hand and hold the glass to his lips with theother. A little, muscular, brown man, with black hair and white teeth. Alively face, apparently. Earrings in his ears.

  'That's well. You are a traveller?'

  'Surely, sir.'

  'A stranger in this city?'

  'Surely, surely, altogether. I am arrived this unhappy evening.'

  'From what country?'

  'Marseilles.'

  'Why, see there! I also! Almost as much a stranger here as you, thoughborn here, I came from Marseilles a little while ago. Don't be castdown.' The face looked up at him imploringly, as he rose from wiping it,and gently replaced the coat that covered the writhing figure. 'I won'tleave you till you shall be well taken care of. Courage! You will bevery much better half an hour hence.'

  'Ah! Altro, Altro!' cried the poor little man, in a faintly increduloustone; and as they took him up, hung out his right hand to give theforefinger a back-handed shake in the air.

  Arthur Clennam turned; and walking beside the litter, and saying anencouraging word now and then, accompanied it to the neighbouringhospital of Saint Bartholomew. None of the crowd but the bearers andhe being admitted, the disabled man was soon laid on a table in a cool,methodical way, and carefully examined by a surgeon who was as near athand, and as ready to appear as Calamity herself. 'He hardly knows anEnglish word,' said Clennam; 'is he badly hurt?'

  'Let us know all about it first,' said the surgeon, continuing hisexamination with a businesslike delight in it, 'before we pronounce.'

  After trying the leg with a finger, and two fingers, and one hand andtwo hands, and over and under, and up and down, and in this directionand in that, and approvingly remarking on the points of interest toanother gentleman who joined him, the surgeon at last clapped thepatient on the shoulder, and said, 'He won't hurt. He'll do very well.It's difficult enough, but we shall not want him to part with his legthis time.' Which Clennam interpreted to the patient, who was full ofgratitude, and, in his demonstrative way, kissed both the interpreter'shand and the surgeon's several times.

  'It's a serious injury, I suppose?' said Clennam.

  'Ye-es,' replied the surgeon, with the thoughtful pleasure of an artistcontemplating the work upon his easel. 'Yes, it's enough. There's acompound fracture above the knee, and a dislocation below. They areboth of a beautiful kind.' He gave the patient a friendly clap on theshoulder again, as if he really felt that he was a very good fellowindeed, and worthy of all commendation for having broken his leg in amanner interesting to science.

  'He speaks French?' said the surgeon.

  'Oh yes, he speaks French.'

  'He'll be at no loss here, then.--You have only to bear a little painlike a brave fellow, my friend, and to be thankful that all goes aswell as it does,' he added, in that tongue, 'and you'll walk again toa marvel. Now, let us see whether there's anything else the matter, andhow our ribs are?'

  There was nothing else the matter, and our ribs were sound. Clennamremained until everything possible to be done had been skilfully andpromptly done--the poor belated wanderer in a strange land movinglybesought that favour of him--and lingered by the bed to which he was indue time removed, until he had fallen into a doze. Even then he wrote afew words for him on his card, with a promise to return to-morrow, andleft it to be given to him when he should awake.

  All these proceedings occupied so long that it struck eleven o'clock atnight as he came out at the Hospital Gate. He had hired a lodging forthe present in Covent Garden, and he took the nearest way to thatquarter, by Snow Hill and Holborn.

  Left to himself again, after the solicitude and compassion of his lastadventure, he was naturally in a thoughtful mood. As naturally, hecould not walk on thinking for ten minutes without recalling Flora.She necessarily recalled to him his life, with all its misdirection andlittle happiness.

  When he got to his lodging, he sat down before the dying fire, as hehad stood at the window of his old room looking out upon the blackenedforest of chimneys, and turned his gaze back upon the gloomy vista bywhich he had come to that stage in his existence. So long, so bare,so blank. No childhood; no youth, except for one remembrance; that oneremembrance proved, only that day, to be a piece of folly.

  It was a misfortune to him, trifle as it might have been to another.For, while all that was hard and stern in his recollection, remainedReality on being proved--was obdurate to the sight and touch, andrelaxed nothing of its old indomitable grimness--the one tenderrecollection of his experience would not bear the same test, and meltedaway. He had foreseen this, on the former night, when he had dreamedwith waking eyes, but he had not felt it then; and he had now.

  He was a dreamer in such wise, because he was a man who had, deep-rootedin his nature, a belief in all the gentle and good things his life hadbeen without. Bred in meanness and hard dealing, this had rescued himto be a man of honourable mind and open hand. Bred in coldness andseverity, this had rescued him to have a warm and sympathetic heart.Bred in a creed too darkly audacious to pursue, through its process ofreserving the making of man in the image of his Creator to the making ofhis Creator in the image of an erring man, this had rescued him to judgenot, and in humility to be merciful, and have hope and charity.

  And this saved him still from the whimpering weakness and cruelselfishness of holding that because such a happiness or such a virtuehad not come into his little path, or worked well for him, thereforeit was not in the great scheme, but was reducible, when found inappearance, to the basest elements. A disappointed mind he had, but amind too firm and healthy for such unwholesome air. Leaving himself inthe dark, it could rise into the light, seeing it shine on others andhailing it.

  Therefore, he sat before his dying fire, sorrowful to think upon the wayby which he had come to that night, yet not strewing poison on the wayby which other men had come to it. That he should have missed so much,and at his time of life shou
ld look so far about him for any staff tobear him company upon his downward journey and cheer it, was a justregret. He looked at the fire from which the blaze departed, from whichthe afterglow subsided, in which the ashes turned grey, from which theydropped to dust, and thought, 'How soon I too shall pass through suchchanges, and be gone!'

  To review his life was like descending a green tree in fruit and flower,and seeing all the branches wither and drop off, one by one, as he camedown towards them.

  'From the unhappy suppression of my youngest days, through the rigid andunloving home that followed them, through my departure, my long exile,my return, my mother's welcome, my intercourse with her since, down tothe afternoon of this day with poor Flora,' said Arthur Clennam, 'whathave I found!'

  His door was softly opened, and these spoken words startled him, andcame as if they were an answer:

  'Little Dorrit.'

 

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