Little dorrit, p.54

Little Dorrit, page 54

 

Little Dorrit
 



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  CHAPTER 16. Getting on

  The newly married pair, on their arrival in Harley Street, CavendishSquare, London, were received by the Chief Butler. That great man wasnot interested in them, but on the whole endured them. People mustcontinue to be married and given in marriage, or Chief Butlers would notbe wanted. As nations are made to be taxed, so families are made tobe butlered. The Chief Butler, no doubt, reflected that the course ofnature required the wealthy population to be kept up, on his account.

  He therefore condescended to look at the carriage from the Hall-doorwithout frowning at it, and said, in a very handsome way, to one ofhis men, 'Thomas, help with the luggage.' He even escorted the Brideup-stairs into Mr Merdle's presence; but this must be considered as anact of homage to the sex (of which he was an admirer, being notoriouslycaptivated by the charms of a certain Duchess), and not as a committalof himself with the family.

  Mr Merdle was slinking about the hearthrug, waiting to welcome MrsSparkler. His hand seemed to retreat up his sleeve as he advanced todo so, and he gave her such a superfluity of coat-cuff that it was likebeing received by the popular conception of Guy Fawkes. When he put hislips to hers, besides, he took himself into custody by the wrists, andbacked himself among the ottomans and chairs and tables as if he werehis own Police officer, saying to himself, 'Now, none of that! Come!I've got you, you know, and you go quietly along with me!'

  Mrs Sparkler, installed in the rooms of state--the innermost sanctuaryof down, silk, chintz, and fine linen--felt that so far her triumph wasgood, and her way made, step by step. On the day before her marriage,she had bestowed on Mrs Merdle's maid with an air of graciousindifference, in Mrs Merdle's presence, a trifling little keepsake(bracelet, bonnet, and two dresses, all new) about four times asvaluable as the present formerly made by Mrs Merdle to her. She was nowestablished in Mrs Merdle's own rooms, to which some extra touches hadbeen given to render them more worthy of her occupation. In her mind'seye, as she lounged there, surrounded by every luxurious accessory thatwealth could obtain or invention devise, she saw the fair bosom thatbeat in unison with the exultation of her thoughts, competing with thebosom that had been famous so long, outshining it, and deposing it.Happy? Fanny must have been happy. No more wishing one's self dead now.

  The Courier had not approved of Mr Dorrit's staying in the house ofa friend, and had preferred to take him to an hotel in Brook Street,Grosvenor Square. Mr Merdle ordered his carriage to be ready earlyin the morning that he might wait upon Mr Dorrit immediately afterbreakfast.

  Bright the carriage looked, sleek the horses looked, gleaming theharness looked, luscious and lasting the liveries looked. A rich,responsible turn-out. An equipage for a Merdle. Early people lookedafter it as it rattled along the streets, and said, with awe in theirbreath, 'There he goes!'

  There he went, until Brook Street stopped him. Then, forth from itsmagnificent case came the jewel; not lustrous in itself, but quite thecontrary.

  Commotion in the office of the hotel. Merdle! The landlord, thougha gentleman of a haughty spirit who had just driven a pair ofthorough-bred horses into town, turned out to show him up-stairs.The clerks and servants cut him off by back-passages, and were foundaccidentally hovering in doorways and angles, that they might look uponhim. Merdle! O ye sun, moon, and stars, the great man! The rich man, whohad in a manner revised the New Testament, and already entered into thekingdom of Heaven. The man who could have any one he chose to dine withhim, and who had made the money! As he went up the stairs, people werealready posted on the lower stairs, that his shadow might fall upon themwhen he came down. So were the sick brought out and laid in the track ofthe Apostle--who had _not_ got into the good society, and had _not_ madethe money.

  Mr Dorrit, dressing-gowned and newspapered, was at his breakfast. TheCourier, with agitation in his voice, announced 'Miss Mairdale!' MrDorrit's overwrought heart bounded as he leaped up.

  'Mr Merdle, this is--ha--indeed an honour. Permit me to expressthe--hum--sense, the high sense, I entertain of this--ha hum--highlygratifying act of attention. I am well aware, sir, of the many demandsupon your time, and its--ha--enormous value,' Mr Dorrit could notsay enormous roundly enough for his own satisfaction. 'That youshould--ha--at this early hour, bestow any of your priceless time uponme, is--ha--a compliment that I acknowledge with the greatest esteem.'Mr Dorrit positively trembled in addressing the great man.

  Mr Merdle uttered, in his subdued, inward, hesitating voice, a fewsounds that were to no purpose whatever; and finally said, 'I am glad tosee you, sir.'

  'You are very kind,' said Mr Dorrit. 'Truly kind.' By this time thevisitor was seated, and was passing his great hand over his exhaustedforehead. 'You are well, I hope, Mr Merdle?'

  'I am as well as I--yes, I am as well as I usually am,' said Mr Merdle.

  'Your occupations must be immense.'

  'Tolerably so. But--Oh dear no, there's not much the matter with _me_,'said Mr Merdle, looking round the room.

  'A little dyspeptic?' Mr Dorrit hinted.

  'Very likely. But I--Oh, I am well enough,' said Mr Merdle.

  There were black traces on his lips where they met, as if a little trainof gunpowder had been fired there; and he looked like a man who, if hisnatural temperament had been quicker, would have been very feverish thatmorning. This, and his heavy way of passing his hand over his forehead,had prompted Mr Dorrit's solicitous inquiries.

  'Mrs Merdle,' Mr Dorrit insinuatingly pursued, 'I left, as you will beprepared to hear, the--ha--observed of all observers, the--hum--admiredof all admirers, the leading fascination and charm of Society in Rome.She was looking wonderfully well when I quitted it.'

  'Mrs Merdle,' said Mr Merdle, 'is generally considered a very attractivewoman. And she is, no doubt. I am sensible of her being so.'

  'Who can be otherwise?' responded Mr Dorrit.

  Mr Merdle turned his tongue in his closed mouth--it seemed rather astiff and unmanageable tongue--moistened his lips, passed his hand overhis forehead again, and looked all round the room again, principallyunder the chairs.

  'But,' he said, looking Mr Dorrit in the face for the first time, andimmediately afterwards dropping his eyes to the buttons of Mr Dorrit'swaistcoat; 'if we speak of attractions, your daughter ought to be thesubject of our conversation. She is extremely beautiful. Both in faceand figure, she is quite uncommon. When the young people arrived lastnight, I was really surprised to see such charms.'

  Mr Dorrit's gratification was such that he said--ha--he could notrefrain from telling Mr Merdle verbally, as he had already done byletter, what honour and happiness he felt in this union of theirfamilies. And he offered his hand. Mr Merdle looked at the hand for alittle while, took it on his for a moment as if his were a yellow salveror fish-slice, and then returned it to Mr Dorrit.

  'I thought I would drive round the first thing,' said Mr Merdle, 'tooffer my services, in case I can do anything for you; and to say thatI hope you will at least do me the honour of dining with me to-day, andevery day when you are not better engaged during your stay in town.'

  Mr Dorrit was enraptured by these attentions.

  'Do you stay long, sir?'

  'I have not at present the intention,' said Mr Dorrit,'of--ha--exceeding a fortnight.'

  'That's a very short stay, after so long a journey,' returned Mr Merdle.

  'Hum. Yes,' said Mr Dorrit. 'But the truth is--ha--my dear Mr Merdle,that I find a foreign life so well suited to my health and taste, thatI--hum--have but two objects in my present visit to London. First,the--ha--the distinguished happiness and--ha--privilege which I nowenjoy and appreciate; secondly, the arrangement--hum--the laying out,that is to say, in the best way, of--ha, hum--my money.'

  'Well, sir,' said Mr Merdle, after turning his tongue again, 'if I canbe of any use to you in that respect, you may command me.'

  Mr Dorrit's speech had had more hesitation in it than usual, as heapproached the ticklish topic, for he was not perfectly clear how soexalted a potentate might take it. He had doub
ts whether reference toany individual capital, or fortune, might not seem a wretchedly retailaffair to so wholesale a dealer. Greatly relieved by Mr Merdle'saffable offer of assistance, he caught at it directly, and heapedacknowledgments upon him.

  'I scarcely--ha--dared,' said Mr Dorrit, 'I assure you, to hope forso--hum--vast an advantage as your direct advice and assistance. Thoughof course I should, under any circumstances, like the--ha, hum--rest ofthe civilised world, have followed in Mr Merdle's train.'

  'You know we may almost say we are related, sir,' said Mr Merdle,curiously interested in the pattern of the carpet, 'and, therefore, youmay consider me at your service.'

  'Ha. Very handsome, indeed!' cried Mr Dorrit. 'Ha. Most handsome!'

  'It would not,' said Mr Merdle, 'be at the present moment easy forwhat I may call a mere outsider to come into any of the good things--ofcourse I speak of my own good things--'

  'Of course, of course!' cried Mr Dorrit, in a tone implying that therewere no other good things.

  '--Unless at a high price. At what we are accustomed to term a very longfigure.'

  Mr Dorrit laughed in the buoyancy of his spirit. Ha, ha, ha! Longfigure. Good. Ha. Very expressive to be sure!

  'However,' said Mr Merdle, 'I do generally retain in my own hands thepower of exercising some preference--people in general would be pleasedto call it favour--as a sort of compliment for my care and trouble.'

  'And public spirit and genius,' Mr Dorrit suggested.

  Mr Merdle, with a dry, swallowing action, seemed to dispose of thosequalities like a bolus; then added, 'As a sort of return for it. I willsee, if you please, how I can exert this limited power (for people arejealous, and it is limited), to your advantage.'

  'You are very good,' replied Mr Dorrit. 'You are _very_ good.'

  'Of course,' said Mr Merdle, 'there must be the strictest integrityand uprightness in these transactions; there must be the purest faithbetween man and man; there must be unimpeached and unimpeachableconfidence; or business could not be carried on.'

  Mr Dorrit hailed these generous sentiments with fervour.

  'Therefore,' said Mr Merdle, 'I can only give you a preference to acertain extent.'

  'I perceive. To a defined extent,' observed Mr Dorrit.

  'Defined extent. And perfectly above-board. As to my advice, however,'said Mr Merdle, 'that is another matter. That, such as it is--'

  Oh! Such as it was! (Mr Dorrit could not bear the faintest appearance ofits being depreciated, even by Mr Merdle himself.)

  '--That, there is nothing in the bonds of spotless honour between myselfand my fellow-man to prevent my parting with, if I choose. And that,'said Mr Merdle, now deeply intent upon a dust-cart that was passing thewindows, 'shall be at your command whenever you think proper.'

  New acknowledgments from Mr Dorrit. New passages of Mr Merdle's handover his forehead. Calm and silence. Contemplation of Mr Dorrit'swaistcoat buttons by Mr Merdle.

  'My time being rather precious,' said Mr Merdle, suddenly getting up,as if he had been waiting in the interval for his legs and they had justcome, 'I must be moving towards the City. Can I take you anywhere, sir?I shall be happy to set you down, or send you on. My carriage is at yourdisposal.'

  Mr Dorrit bethought himself that he had business at his banker's. Hisbanker's was in the City. That was fortunate; Mr Merdle would takehim into the City. But, surely, he might not detain Mr Merdle while heassumed his coat? Yes, he might and must; Mr Merdle insisted on it. SoMr Dorrit, retiring into the next room, put himself under the hands ofhis valet, and in five minutes came back glorious.

  Then said Mr Merdle, 'Allow me, sir. Take my arm!' Then leaning onMr Merdle's arm, did Mr Dorrit descend the staircase, seeing theworshippers on the steps, and feeling that the light of Mr Merdle shoneby reflection in himself. Then the carriage, and the ride into theCity; and the people who looked at them; and the hats that flew off greyheads; and the general bowing and crouching before this wonderful mortalthe like of which prostration of spirit was not to be seen--no, byhigh Heaven, no! It may be worth thinking of by Fawners of alldenominations--in Westminster Abbey and Saint Paul's Cathedral puttogether, on any Sunday in the year. It was a rapturous dream to MrDorrit to find himself set aloft in this public car of triumph, making amagnificent progress to that befitting destination, the golden Street ofthe Lombards.

  There Mr Merdle insisted on alighting and going his way a-foot, andleaving his poor equipage at Mr Dorrit's disposition. So the dreamincreased in rapture when Mr Dorrit came out of the bank alone, andpeople looked at _him_ in default of Mr Merdle, and when, with the ears ofhis mind, he heard the frequent exclamation as he rolled glibly along,'A wonderful man to be Mr Merdle's friend!'

  At dinner that day, although the occasion was not foreseen and providedfor, a brilliant company of such as are not made of the dust of theearth, but of some superior article for the present unknown, shedtheir lustrous benediction upon Mr Dorrit's daughter's marriage. And MrDorrit's daughter that day began, in earnest, her competition with thatwoman not present; and began it so well that Mr Dorrit could all buthave taken his affidavit, if required, that Mrs Sparkler had all herlife been lying at full length in the lap of luxury, and had never heardof such a rough word in the English tongue as Marshalsea.

  Next day, and the day after, and every day, all graced by more dinnercompany, cards descended on Mr Dorrit like theatrical snow. As thefriend and relative by marriage of the illustrious Merdle, Bar, Bishop,Treasury, Chorus, Everybody, wanted to make or improve Mr Dorrit'sacquaintance. In Mr Merdle's heap of offices in the City, when Mr Dorritappeared at any of them on his business taking him Eastward (which itfrequently did, for it throve amazingly), the name of Dorrit was alwaysa passport to the great presence of Merdle. So the dream increased inrapture every hour, as Mr Dorrit felt increasingly sensible that thisconnection had brought him forward indeed.

  Only one thing sat otherwise than auriferously, and at the same timelightly, on Mr Dorrit's mind. It was the Chief Butler. That stupendouscharacter looked at him, in the course of his official looking at thedinners, in a manner that Mr Dorrit considered questionable. He lookedat him, as he passed through the hall and up the staircase, going todinner, with a glazed fixedness that Mr Dorrit did not like. Seatedat table in the act of drinking, Mr Dorrit still saw him through hiswine-glass, regarding him with a cold and ghostly eye. It misgave himthat the Chief Butler must have known a Collegian, and must have seenhim in the College--perhaps had been presented to him. He looked asclosely at the Chief Butler as such a man could be looked at, and yethe did not recall that he had ever seen him elsewhere. Ultimately he wasinclined to think that there was no reverence in the man, no sentimentin the great creature. But he was not relieved by that; for, let himthink what he would, the Chief Butler had him in his supercilious eye,even when that eye was on the plate and other table-garniture; and henever let him out of it. To hint to him that this confinement in his eyewas disagreeable, or to ask him what he meant, was an act too daring toventure upon; his severity with his employers and their visitors beingterrific, and he never permitting himself to be approached with theslightest liberty.

 

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