Little dorrit, p.47

Little Dorrit, page 47

 

Little Dorrit
 



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  CHAPTER 9. Appearance and Disappearance

  'Arthur, my dear boy,' said Mr Meagles, on the evening of the followingday, 'Mother and I have been talking this over, and we don't feelcomfortable in remaining as we are. That elegant connection ofours--that dear lady who was here yesterday--'

  'I understand,' said Arthur.

  'Even that affable and condescending ornament of society,' pursued MrMeagles, 'may misrepresent us, we are afraid. We could bear a greatdeal, Arthur, for her sake; but we think we would rather not bear that,if it was all the same to her.'

  'Good,' said Arthur. 'Go on.'

  'You see,' proceeded Mr Meagles 'it might put us wrong with ourson-in-law, it might even put us wrong with our daughter, and it mightlead to a great deal of domestic trouble. You see, don't you?'

  'Yes, indeed,' returned Arthur, 'there is much reason in what you say.'He had glanced at Mrs Meagles, who was always on the good and sensibleside; and a petition had shone out of her honest face that he wouldsupport Mr Meagles in his present inclinings.

  'So we are very much disposed, are Mother and I,' said Mr Meagles, 'topack up bags and baggage and go among the Allongers and Marshongers oncemore. I mean, we are very much disposed to be off, strike right throughFrance into Italy, and see our Pet.'

  'And I don't think,' replied Arthur, touched by the motherlyanticipation in the bright face of Mrs Meagles (she must have been verylike her daughter, once), 'that you could do better. And if you ask mefor my advice, it is that you set off to-morrow.'

  'Is it really, though?' said Mr Meagles. 'Mother, this is being backedin an idea!'

  Mother, with a look which thanked Clennam in a manner very agreeable tohim, answered that it was indeed.

  'The fact is, besides, Arthur,' said Mr Meagles, the old cloud comingover his face, 'that my son-in-law is already in debt again, and that Isuppose I must clear him again. It may be as well, even on this account,that I should step over there, and look him up in a friendly way. Thenagain, here's Mother foolishly anxious (and yet naturally too) aboutPet's state of health, and that she should not be left to feel lonesomeat the present time. It's undeniably a long way off, Arthur, and astrange place for the poor love under all the circumstances. Let her beas well cared for as any lady in that land, still it is a long way off.just as Home is Home though it's never so Homely, why you see,' said MrMeagles, adding a new version to the proverb, 'Rome is Rome, though it'snever so Romely.'

  'All perfectly true,' observed Arthur, 'and all sufficient reasons forgoing.'

  'I am glad you think so; it decides me. Mother, my dear, you may getready. We have lost our pleasant interpreter (she spoke three foreignlanguages beautifully, Arthur; you have heard her many a time), and youmust pull me through it, Mother, as well as you can. I require a dealof pulling through, Arthur,' said Mr Meagles, shaking his head, 'a dealof pulling through. I stick at everything beyond a noun-substantive--andI stick at him, if he's at all a tight one.'

  'Now I think of it,' returned Clennam, 'there's Cavalletto. He shallgo with you, if you like. I could not afford to lose him, but you willbring him safe back.'

  'Well! I am much obliged to you, my boy,' said Mr Meagles, turning itover, 'but I think not. No, I think I'll be pulled through by Mother.Cavallooro (I stick at his very name to start with, and it sounds likethe chorus to a comic song) is so necessary to you, that I don't likethe thought of taking him away. More than that, there's no saying whenwe may come home again; and it would never do to take him away foran indefinite time. The cottage is not what it was. It only holds twolittle people less than it ever did, Pet, and her poor unfortunate maidTattycoram; but it seems empty now. Once out of it, there's no knowingwhen we may come back to it. No, Arthur, I'll be pulled through byMother.'

  They would do best by themselves perhaps, after all, Clennam thought;therefore did not press his proposal.

  'If you would come down and stay here for a change, when it wouldn'ttrouble you,' Mr Meagles resumed, 'I should be glad to think--and sowould Mother too, I know--that you were brightening up the old placewith a bit of life it was used to when it was full, and that the Babieson the wall there had a kind eye upon them sometimes. You so belong tothe spot, and to them, Arthur, and we should every one of us have beenso happy if it had fallen out--but, let us see--how's the weather fortravelling now?' Mr Meagles broke off, cleared his throat, and got up tolook out of the window.

  They agreed that the weather was of high promise; and Clennam kept thetalk in that safe direction until it had become easy again, when hegently diverted it to Henry Gowan and his quick sense and agreeablequalities when he was delicately dealt with; he likewise dwelt on theindisputable affection he entertained for his wife. Clennam did not failof his effect upon good Mr Meagles, whom these commendations greatlycheered; and who took Mother to witness that the single and cordialdesire of his heart in reference to their daughter's husband, washarmoniously to exchange friendship for friendship, and confidence forconfidence. Within a few hours the cottage furniture began to be wrappedup for preservation in the family absence--or, as Mr Meagles expressedit, the house began to put its hair in papers--and within a few daysFather and Mother were gone, Mrs Tickit and Dr Buchan were posted, as ofyore, behind the parlour blind, and Arthur's solitary feet were rustlingamong the dry fallen leaves in the garden walks.

  As he had a liking for the spot, he seldom let a week pass withoutpaying a visit. Sometimes, he went down alone from Saturday to Monday;sometimes his partner accompanied him; sometimes, he merely strolled foran hour or two about the house and garden, saw that all was right, andreturned to London again. At all times, and under all circumstances, MrsTickit, with her dark row of curls, and Dr Buchan, sat in the parlourwindow, looking out for the family return.

  On one of his visits Mrs Tickit received him with the words, 'Ihave something to tell you, Mr Clennam, that will surprise you.' Sosurprising was the something in question, that it actually brought MrsTickit out of the parlour window and produced her in the garden walk,when Clennam went in at the gate on its being opened for him.

  'What is it, Mrs Tickit?' said he.

  'Sir,' returned that faithful housekeeper, having taken him into theparlour and closed the door; 'if ever I saw the led away and deludedchild in my life, I saw her identically in the dusk of yesterdayevening.'

  'You don't mean Tatty--'

  'Coram yes I do!' quoth Mrs Tickit, clearing the disclosure at a leap.

  'Where?'

  'Mr Clennam,' returned Mrs Tickit, 'I was a little heavy in my eyes,being that I was waiting longer than customary for my cup of tea whichwas then preparing by Mary Jane. I was not sleeping, nor what a personwould term correctly, dozing. I was more what a person would strictlycall watching with my eyes closed.'

  Without entering upon an inquiry into this curious abnormal condition,Clennam said, 'Exactly. Well?'

  'Well, sir,' proceeded Mrs Tickit, 'I was thinking of one thing andthinking of another, just as you yourself might. Just as anybody might.'

  'Precisely so,' said Clennam. 'Well?'

  'And when I do think of one thing and do think of another,' pursuedMrs Tickit, 'I hardly need to tell you, Mr Clennam, that I think of thefamily. Because, dear me! a person's thoughts,' Mrs Tickit said thiswith an argumentative and philosophic air, 'however they may stray, willgo more or less on what is uppermost in their minds. They _will_ do it,sir, and a person can't prevent them.'

  Arthur subscribed to this discovery with a nod.

  'You find it so yourself, sir, I'll be bold to say,' said Mrs Tickit,'and we all find it so. It an't our stations in life that changes us, MrClennam; thoughts is free!--As I was saying, I was thinking of one thingand thinking of another, and thinking very much of the family. Not ofthe family in the present times only, but in the past times too. Forwhen a person does begin thinking of one thing and thinking of anotherin that manner, as it's getting dark, what I say is, that all timesseem to be present, and a person must get out of that state and considerbefore they can say whic
h is which.'

  He nodded again; afraid to utter a word, lest it should present any newopening to Mrs Tickit's conversational powers.

  'In consequence of which,' said Mrs Tickit, 'when I quivered my eyes andsaw her actual form and figure looking in at the gate, I let them closeagain without so much as starting, for that actual form and figure cameso pat to the time when it belonged to the house as much as mine or yourown, that I never thought at the moment of its having gone away. But,sir, when I quivered my eyes again, and saw that it wasn't there, thenit all flooded upon me with a fright, and I jumped up.'

  'You ran out directly?' said Clennam.

  'I ran out,' assented Mrs Tickit, 'as fast as ever my feet would carryme; and if you'll credit it, Mr Clennam, there wasn't in the wholeshining Heavens, no not so much as a finger of that young woman.'

  Passing over the absence from the firmament of this novel constellation,Arthur inquired of Mrs Tickit if she herself went beyond the gate?

  'Went to and fro, and high and low,' said Mrs Tickit, 'and saw no signof her!'

  He then asked Mrs Tickit how long a space of time she supposed theremight have been between the two sets of ocular quiverings she hadexperienced? Mrs Tickit, though minutely circumstantial in her reply,had no settled opinion between five seconds and ten minutes. She was soplainly at sea on this part of the case, and had so clearly beenstartled out of slumber, that Clennam was much disposed to regard theappearance as a dream. Without hurting Mrs Tickit's feelings with thatinfidel solution of her mystery, he took it away from the cottage withhim; and probably would have retained it ever afterwards if acircumstance had not soon happened to change his opinion.

  He was passing at nightfall along the Strand, and the lamp-lighter wasgoing on before him, under whose hand the street-lamps, blurred by thefoggy air, burst out one after another, like so many blazing sunflowerscoming into full-blow all at once,--when a stoppage on the pavement,caused by a train of coal-waggons toiling up from the wharves at theriver-side, brought him to a stand-still. He had been walking quickly,and going with some current of thought, and the sudden check given toboth operations caused him to look freshly about him, as people undersuch circumstances usually do.

  Immediately, he saw in advance--a few people intervening, but stillso near to him that he could have touched them by stretching outhis arm--Tattycoram and a strange man of a remarkable appearance: aswaggering man, with a high nose, and a black moustache as false in itscolour as his eyes were false in their expression, who wore his heavycloak with the air of a foreigner. His dress and general appearance werethose of a man on travel, and he seemed to have very recently joinedthe girl. In bending down (being much taller than she was), listeningto whatever she said to him, he looked over his shoulder with thesuspicious glance of one who was not unused to be mistrustful that hisfootsteps might be dogged. It was then that Clennam saw his face; ashis eyes lowered on the people behind him in the aggregate, withoutparticularly resting upon Clennam's face or any other.

  He had scarcely turned his head about again, and it was still bent down,listening to the girl, when the stoppage ceased, and the obstructedstream of people flowed on. Still bending his head and listening to thegirl, he went on at her side, and Clennam followed them, resolved toplay this unexpected play out, and see where they went.

  He had hardly made the determination (though he was not long about it),when he was again as suddenly brought up as he had been by the stoppage.They turned short into the Adelphi,--the girl evidently leading,--andwent straight on, as if they were going to the Terrace which overhangsthe river.

  There is always, to this day, a sudden pause in that place to the roarof the great thoroughfare. The many sounds become so deadened that thechange is like putting cotton in the ears, or having the head thicklymuffled. At that time the contrast was far greater; there being no smallsteam-boats on the river, no landing places but slippery wooden stairsand foot-causeways, no railroad on the opposite bank, no hanging bridgeor fish-market near at hand, no traffic on the nearest bridge of stone,nothing moving on the stream but watermen's wherries and coal-lighters.Long and broad black tiers of the latter, moored fast in the mud as ifthey were never to move again, made the shore funereal and silent afterdark; and kept what little water-movement there was, far out towardsmid-stream. At any hour later than sunset, and not least at that hourwhen most of the people who have anything to eat at home are going hometo eat it, and when most of those who have nothing have hardly yet slunkout to beg or steal, it was a deserted place and looked on a desertedscene.

  Such was the hour when Clennam stopped at the corner, observing the girland the strange man as they went down the street. The man's footstepswere so noisy on the echoing stones that he was unwilling to add thesound of his own. But when they had passed the turning and were in thedarkness of the dark corner leading to the terrace, he made after themwith such indifferent appearance of being a casual passenger on his way,as he could assume.

  When he rounded the dark corner, they were walking along the terracetowards a figure which was coming towards them. If he had seen it byitself, under such conditions of gas-lamp, mist, and distance, he mightnot have known it at first sight, but with the figure of the girl toprompt him, he at once recognised Miss Wade.

  He stopped at the corner, seeming to look back expectantly up the streetas if he had made an appointment with some one to meet him there; but hekept a careful eye on the three. When they came together, the man tookoff his hat, and made Miss Wade a bow. The girl appeared to say a fewwords as though she presented him, or accounted for his being late, orearly, or what not; and then fell a pace or so behind, by herself. MissWade and the man then began to walk up and down; the man having theappearance of being extremely courteous and complimentary in manner;Miss Wade having the appearance of being extremely haughty.

  When they came down to the corner and turned, she was saying, 'If Ipinch myself for it, sir, that is my business. Confine yourself toyours, and ask me no question.'

  'By Heaven, ma'am!' he replied, making her another bow. 'It was myprofound respect for the strength of your character, and my admirationof your beauty.'

  'I want neither the one nor the other from any one,' said she, 'andcertainly not from you of all creatures. Go on with your report.'

  'Am I pardoned?' he asked, with an air of half abashed gallantry.

  'You are paid,' she said, 'and that is all you want.'

  Whether the girl hung behind because she was not to hear the business,or as already knowing enough about it, Clennam could not determine. Theyturned and she turned. She looked away at the river, as she walkedwith her hands folded before her; and that was all he could make ofher without showing his face. There happened, by good fortune, to be alounger really waiting for some one; and he sometimes looked over therailing at the water, and sometimes came to the dark corner and lookedup the street, rendering Arthur less conspicuous.

  When Miss Wade and the man came back again, she was saying, 'You mustwait until to-morrow.'

  'A thousand pardons?' he returned. 'My faith! Then it's not convenientto-night?'

  'No. I tell you I must get it before I can give it to you.'

  She stopped in the roadway, as if to put an end to the conference. He ofcourse stopped too. And the girl stopped.

  'It's a little inconvenient,' said the man. 'A little. But, Holy Blue!that's nothing in such a service. I am without money to-night, bychance. I have a good banker in this city, but I would not wish to drawupon the house until the time when I shall draw for a round sum.'

  'Harriet,' said Miss Wade, 'arrange with him--this gentleman here--forsending him some money to-morrow.' She said it with a slur of the wordgentleman which was more contemptuous than any emphasis, and walkedslowly on.

  The man bent his head again, and the girl spoke to him as they bothfollowed her. Clennam ventured to look at the girl as they moved away.He could note that her rich black eyes were fastened upon the man with ascrutinising expression, and that she kept at a little d
istance fromhim, as they walked side by side to the further end of the terrace.

  A loud and altered clank upon the pavement warned him, before he coulddiscern what was passing there, that the man was coming back alone.Clennam lounged into the road, towards the railing; and the man passedat a quick swing, with the end of his cloak thrown over his shoulder,singing a scrap of a French song.

  The whole vista had no one in it now but himself. The lounger hadlounged out of view, and Miss Wade and Tattycoram were gone. More thanever bent on seeing what became of them, and on having some informationto give his good friend, Mr Meagles, he went out at the further end ofthe terrace, looking cautiously about him. He rightly judged that, atfirst at all events, they would go in a contrary direction from theirlate companion. He soon saw them in a neighbouring bye-street, which wasnot a thoroughfare, evidently allowing time for the man to get wellout of their way. They walked leisurely arm-in-arm down one side of thestreet, and returned on the opposite side. When they came back to thestreet-corner, they changed their pace for the pace of people with anobject and a distance before them, and walked steadily away. Clennam, noless steadily, kept them in sight.

  They crossed the Strand, and passed through Covent Garden (under thewindows of his old lodging where dear Little Dorrit had come thatnight), and slanted away north-east, until they passed the greatbuilding whence Tattycoram derived her name, and turned into the Gray'sInn Road. Clennam was quite at home here, in right of Flora, not tomention the Patriarch and Pancks, and kept them in view with ease. Hewas beginning to wonder where they might be going next, when that wonderwas lost in the greater wonder with which he saw them turn into thePatriarchal street. That wonder was in its turn swallowed up on thegreater wonder with which he saw them stop at the Patriarchal door. Alow double knock at the bright brass knocker, a gleam of light into theroad from the opened door, a brief pause for inquiry and answer and thedoor was shut, and they were housed.

  After looking at the surrounding objects for assurance that he wasnot in an odd dream, and after pacing a little while before the house,Arthur knocked at the door. It was opened by the usual maid-servant,and she showed him up at once, with her usual alacrity, to Flora'ssitting-room.

  There was no one with Flora but Mr F.'s Aunt, which respectablegentlewoman, basking in a balmy atmosphere of tea and toast, wasensconced in an easy-chair by the fireside, with a little table at herelbow, and a clean white handkerchief spread over her lap on whichtwo pieces of toast at that moment awaited consumption. Bending overa steaming vessel of tea, and looking through the steam, and breathingforth the steam, like a malignant Chinese enchantress engaged in theperformance of unholy rites, Mr F.'s Aunt put down her great teacup andexclaimed, 'Drat him, if he an't come back again!'

  It would seem from the foregoing exclamation that this uncompromisingrelative of the lamented Mr F., measuring time by the acuteness of hersensations and not by the clock, supposed Clennam to have lately goneaway; whereas at least a quarter of a year had elapsed since he had hadthe temerity to present himself before her.

  'My goodness Arthur!' cried Flora, rising to give him a cordialreception, 'Doyce and Clennam what a start and a surprise for though notfar from the machinery and foundry business and surely might be takensometimes if at no other time about mid-day when a glass of sherry and ahumble sandwich of whatever cold meat in the larder might not come amissnor taste the worse for being friendly for you know you buy it somewhereand wherever bought a profit must be made or they would never keep theplace it stands to reason without a motive still never seen and learntnow not to be expected, for as Mr F. himself said if seeing is believingnot seeing is believing too and when you don't see you may fully believeyou're not remembered not that I expect you Arthur Doyce and Clennam toremember me why should I for the days are gone but bring another teacuphere directly and tell her fresh toast and pray sit near the fire.'

  Arthur was in the greatest anxiety to explain the object of hisvisit; but was put off for the moment, in spite of himself, by what heunderstood of the reproachful purport of these words, and by the genuinepleasure she testified in seeing him.

  'And now pray tell me something all you know,' said Flora, drawing herchair near to his, 'about the good dear quiet little thing and all thechanges of her fortunes carriage people now no doubt and horses withoutnumber most romantic, a coat of arms of course and wild beasts on theirhind legs showing it as if it was a copy they had done with mouths fromear to ear good gracious, and has she her health which is the firstconsideration after all for what is wealth without it Mr F. himself sooften saying when his twinges came that sixpence a day and find yourselfand no gout so much preferable, not that he could have lived on anythinglike it being the last man or that the previous little thing though fartoo familiar an expression now had any tendency of that sort much tooslight and small but looked so fragile bless her?'

  Mr F.'s Aunt, who had eaten a piece of toast down to the crust, heresolemnly handed the crust to Flora, who ate it for her as a matter ofbusiness. Mr F.'s Aunt then moistened her ten fingers in slow successionat her lips, and wiped them in exactly the same order on the whitehandkerchief; then took the other piece of toast, and fell to workupon it. While pursuing this routine, she looked at Clennam with anexpression of such intense severity that he felt obliged to look at herin return, against his personal inclinations.

  'She is in Italy, with all her family, Flora,' he said, when the dreadedlady was occupied again.

  'In Italy is she really?' said Flora, 'with the grapes growingeverywhere and lava necklaces and bracelets too that land of poetry withburning mountains picturesque beyond belief though if the organ-boyscome away from the neighbourhood not to be scorched nobody can wonderbeing so young and bringing their white mice with them most humane, andis she really in that favoured land with nothing but blue about her anddying gladiators and Belvederes though Mr F. himself did not believefor his objection when in spirits was that the images could not be truethere being no medium between expensive quantities of linen badly gotup and all in creases and none whatever, which certainly does not seemprobable though perhaps in consequence of the extremes of rich and poorwhich may account for it.'

  Arthur tried to edge a word in, but Flora hurried on again.

  'Venice Preserved too,' said she, 'I think you have been there is itwell or ill preserved for people differ so and Maccaroni if they reallyeat it like the conjurors why not cut it shorter, you are acquaintedArthur--dear Doyce and Clennam at least not dear and most assuredlynot Doyce for I have not the pleasure but pray excuse me--acquainted Ibelieve with Mantua what _has_ it got to do with Mantua-making for I neverhave been able to conceive?'

  'I believe there is no connection, Flora, between the two,' Arthur wasbeginning, when she caught him up again.

  'Upon your word no isn't there I never did but that's like me I run awaywith an idea and having none to spare I keep it, alas there was a timedear Arthur that is to say decidedly not dear nor Arthur neither but youunderstand me when one bright idea gilded the what's-his-name horizon ofet cetera but it is darkly clouded now and all is over.'

  Arthur's increasing wish to speak of something very different was bythis time so plainly written on his face, that Flora stopped in a tenderlook, and asked him what it was?

  'I have the greatest desire, Flora, to speak to some one who is now inthis house--with Mr Casby no doubt. Some one whom I saw come in, andwho, in a misguided and deplorable way, has deserted the house of afriend of mine.'

  'Papa sees so many and such odd people,' said Flora, rising, 'that Ishouldn't venture to go down for any one but you Arthur but for you Iwould willingly go down in a diving-bell much more a dining-room andwill come back directly if you'll mind and at the same time not mind MrF.'s Aunt while I'm gone.'

  With those words and a parting glance, Flora bustled out, leavingClennam under dreadful apprehension of this terrible charge.

  The first variation which manifested itself in Mr F.'s Aunt's demeanourwhen she had finished her piece of to
ast, was a loud and prolongedsniff. Finding it impossible to avoid construing this demonstrationinto a defiance of himself, its gloomy significance being unmistakable,Clennam looked plaintively at the excellent though prejudiced ladyfrom whom it emanated, in the hope that she might be disarmed by a meeksubmission.

  'None of your eyes at me,' said Mr F.'s Aunt, shivering with hostility.'Take that.'

  'That' was the crust of the piece of toast. Clennam accepted the boonwith a look of gratitude, and held it in his hand under the pressureof a little embarrassment, which was not relieved when Mr F.'s Aunt,elevating her voice into a cry of considerable power, exclaimed, 'Hehas a proud stomach, this chap! He's too proud a chap to eat it!' and,coming out of her chair, shook her venerable fist so very close to hisnose as to tickle the surface. But for the timely return of Flora, tofind him in this difficult situation, further consequences mighthave ensued. Flora, without the least discomposure or surprise, butcongratulating the old lady in an approving manner on being 'very livelyto-night', handed her back to her chair.

  'He has a proud stomach, this chap,' said Mr F.'s relation, on beingreseated. 'Give him a meal of chaff!'

  'Oh! I don't think he would like that, aunt,' returned Flora.

  'Give him a meal of chaff, I tell you,' said Mr F.'s Aunt, glaring roundFlora on her enemy. 'It's the only thing for a proud stomach. Let himeat up every morsel. Drat him, give him a meal of chaff!'

  Under a general pretence of helping him to this refreshment, Flora gothim out on the staircase; Mr F.'s Aunt even then constantly reiterating,with inexpressible bitterness, that he was 'a chap,' and had a 'proudstomach,' and over and over again insisting on that equine provisionbeing made for him which she had already so strongly prescribed.

  'Such an inconvenient staircase and so many corner-stairs Arthur,'whispered Flora, 'would you object to putting your arm round me under mypelerine?'

  With a sense of going down-stairs in a highly-ridiculous manner, Clennamdescended in the required attitude, and only released his fair burden atthe dining-room door; indeed, even there she was rather difficult tobe got rid of, remaining in his embrace to murmur, 'Arthur, for mercy'ssake, don't breathe it to papa!'

  She accompanied Arthur into the room, where the Patriarch sat alone,with his list shoes on the fender, twirling his thumbs as if he hadnever left off. The youthful Patriarch, aged ten, looked out of hispicture-frame above him with no calmer air than he. Both smooth headswere alike beaming, blundering, and bumpy.

  'Mr Clennam, I am glad to see you. I hope you are well, sir, I hope youare well. Please to sit down, please to sit down.'

  'I had hoped, sir,' said Clennam, doing so, and looking round with aface of blank disappointment, 'not to find you alone.'

  'Ah, indeed?' said the Patriarch, sweetly. 'Ah, indeed?'

  'I told you so you know papa,' cried Flora.

  'Ah, to be sure!' returned the Patriarch. 'Yes, just so. Ah, to besure!'

  'Pray, sir,'demanded Clennam, anxiously, 'is Miss Wade gone?'

  'Miss--? Oh, you call her Wade,' returned Mr Casby. 'Highly proper.'

  Arthur quickly returned, 'What do you call her?'

  'Wade,' said Mr Casby. 'Oh, always Wade.'

  After looking at the philanthropic visage and the long silky white hairfor a few seconds, during which Mr Casby twirled his thumbs, and smiledat the fire as if he were benevolently wishing it to burn him that hemight forgive it, Arthur began:

  'I beg your pardon, Mr Casby--'

  'Not so, not so,' said the Patriarch, 'not so.'

  '--But, Miss Wade had an attendant with her--a young woman brought upby friends of mine, over whom her influence is not considered verysalutary, and to whom I should be glad to have the opportunity of givingthe assurance that she has not yet forfeited the interest of thoseprotectors.'

  'Really, really?' returned the Patriarch.

  'Will you therefore be so good as to give me the address of Miss Wade?'

  'Dear, dear, dear!' said the Patriarch, 'how very unfortunate! If youhad only sent in to me when they were here! I observed the young woman,Mr Clennam. A fine full-coloured young woman, Mr Clennam, with very darkhair and very dark eyes. If I mistake not, if I mistake not?'

  Arthur assented, and said once more with new expression, 'If you wouldbe so good as to give me the address.'

  'Dear, dear, dear!' exclaimed the Patriarch in sweet regret. 'Tut, tut,tut! what a pity, what a pity! I have no address, sir. Miss Wade mostlylives abroad, Mr Clennam. She has done so for some years, and she is (ifI may say so of a fellow-creature and a lady) fitful and uncertain to afault, Mr Clennam. I may not see her again for a long, long time. I maynever see her again. What a pity, what a pity!'

  Clennam saw now, that he had as much hope of getting assistance out ofthe Portrait as out of the Patriarch; but he said nevertheless:

  'Mr Casby, could you, for the satisfaction of the friends I havementioned, and under any obligation of secrecy that you may consider ityour duty to impose, give me any information at all touching Miss Wade?I have seen her abroad, and I have seen her at home, but I know nothingof her. Could you give me any account of her whatever?'

  'None,' returned the Patriarch, shaking his big head with his utmostbenevolence. 'None at all. Dear, dear, dear! What a real pity thatshe stayed so short a time, and you delayed! As confidential agencybusiness, agency business, I have occasionally paid this lady money; butwhat satisfaction is it to you, sir, to know that?'

  'Truly, none at all,' said Clennam.

  'Truly,' assented the Patriarch, with a shining face as hephilanthropically smiled at the fire, 'none at all, sir. You hit thewise answer, Mr Clennam. Truly, none at all, sir.'

  His turning of his smooth thumbs over one another as he sat there, wasso typical to Clennam of the way in which he would make the subjectrevolve if it were pursued, never showing any new part of it norallowing it to make the smallest advance, that it did much to help toconvince him of his labour having been in vain. He might have taken anytime to think about it, for Mr Casby, well accustomed to get on anywhereby leaving everything to his bumps and his white hair, knew his strengthto lie in silence. So there Casby sat, twirling and twirling, and makinghis polished head and forehead look largely benevolent in every knob.

  With this spectacle before him, Arthur had risen to go, when from theinner Dock where the good ship Pancks was hove down when out in nocruising ground, the noise was heard of that steamer labouring towardshim. It struck Arthur that the noise began demonstratively far off, asthough Mr Pancks sought to impress on any one who might happen to thinkabout it, that he was working on from out of hearing.

  Mr Pancks and he shook hands, and the former brought his employer aletter or two to sign. Mr Pancks in shaking hands merely scratched hiseyebrow with his left forefinger and snorted once, but Clennam, whounderstood him better now than of old, comprehended that he had almostdone for the evening and wished to say a word to him outside. Therefore,when he had taken his leave of Mr Casby, and (which was a more difficultprocess) of Flora, he sauntered in the neighbourhood on Mr Pancks's lineof road.

  He had waited but a short time when Mr Pancks appeared. Mr Pancksshaking hands again with another expressive snort, and taking off hishat to put his hair up, Arthur thought he received his cue to speak tohim as one who knew pretty well what had just now passed. Therefore hesaid, without any preface:

  'I suppose they were really gone, Pancks?'

  'Yes,' replied Pancks. 'They were really gone.'

  'Does he know where to find that lady?'

  'Can't say. I should think so.'

  Mr Pancks did not? No, Mr Pancks did not. Did Mr Pancks know anythingabout her?

  'I expect,' rejoined that worthy, 'I know as much about her as she knowsabout herself. She is somebody's child--anybody's, nobody's. Put her ina room in London here with any six people old enough to be her parents,and her parents may be there for anything she knows. They may be in anyhouse she sees, they may be in any churchyard she passes, she may runagains
t 'em in any street, she may make chance acquaintance of 'em atany time; and never know it. She knows nothing about 'em. She knowsnothing about any relative whatever. Never did. Never will.'

  'Mr Casby could enlighten her, perhaps?'

  'May be,' said Pancks. 'I expect so, but don't know. He has long hadmoney (not overmuch as I make out) in trust to dole out to her whenshe can't do without it. Sometimes she's proud and won't touch it fora length of time; sometimes she's so poor that she must have it. Shewrithes under her life. A woman more angry, passionate, reckless,and revengeful never lived. She came for money to-night. Said she hadpeculiar occasion for it.'

  'I think,' observed Clennam musing, 'I by chance know what occasion--Imean into whose pocket the money is to go.'

  'Indeed?' said Pancks. 'If it's a compact, I recommend that party to beexact in it. I wouldn't trust myself to that woman, young and handsomeas she is, if I had wronged her; no, not for twice my proprietor'smoney! Unless,' Pancks added as a saving clause, 'I had a lingeringillness on me, and wanted to get it over.'

  Arthur, hurriedly reviewing his own observation of her, found it totally pretty nearly with Mr Pancks's view.

  'The wonder is to me,' pursued Pancks, 'that she has never done for myproprietor, as the only person connected with her story she can layhold of. Mentioning that, I may tell you, between ourselves, that I amsometimes tempted to do for him myself.'

  Arthur started and said, 'Dear me, Pancks, don't say that!'

  'Understand me,' said Pancks, extending five cropped coaly finger-nailson Arthur's arm; 'I don't mean, cut his throat. But by all that'sprecious, if he goes too far, I'll cut his hair!'

  Having exhibited himself in the new light of enunciating this tremendousthreat, Mr Pancks, with a countenance of grave import, snorted severaltimes and steamed away.

 

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