Little Dorrit, page 71
CHAPTER 33. Going!
The changes of a fevered room are slow and fluctuating; but the changesof the fevered world are rapid and irrevocable.
It was Little Dorrit's lot to wait upon both kinds of change. TheMarshalsea walls, during a portion of every day, again embraced her intheir shadows as their child, while she thought for Clennam, worked forhim, watched him, and only left him, still to devote her utmost love andcare to him. Her part in the life outside the gate urged its pressingclaims upon her too, and her patience untiringly responded to them.Here was Fanny, proud, fitful, whimsical, further advanced in thatdisqualified state for going into society which had so much frettedher on the evening of the tortoise-shell knife, resolved always to wantcomfort, resolved not to be comforted, resolved to be deeply wronged,and resolved that nobody should have the audacity to think her so. Herewas her brother, a weak, proud, tipsy, young old man, shaking fromhead to foot, talking as indistinctly as if some of the money he plumedhimself upon had got into his mouth and couldn't be got out, unable towalk alone in any act of his life, and patronising the sister whom heselfishly loved (he always had that negative merit, ill-starred andill-launched Tip!) because he suffered her to lead him. Here was MrsMerdle in gauzy mourning--the original cap whereof had possibly beenrent to pieces in a fit of grief, but had certainly yielded to a highlybecoming article from the Parisian market--warring with Fanny foot tofoot, and breasting her with her desolate bosom every hour in the day.Here was poor Mr Sparkler, not knowing how to keep the peace betweenthem, but humbly inclining to the opinion that they could do no betterthan agree that they were both remarkably fine women, and that there wasno nonsense about either of them--for which gentle recommendation theyunited in falling upon him frightfully. Then, too, here was Mrs General,got home from foreign parts, sending a Prune and a Prism by post everyother day, demanding a new Testimonial by way of recommendation to somevacant appointment or other. Of which remarkable gentlewoman it may befinally observed, that there surely never was a gentlewoman of whosetranscendent fitness for any vacant appointment on the face of thisearth, so many people were (as the warmth of her Testimonials evinced)so perfectly satisfied--or who was so very unfortunate in having alarge circle of ardent and distinguished admirers, who never themselveshappened to want her in any capacity.
On the first crash of the eminent Mr Merdle's decease, many importantpersons had been unable to determine whether they should cut Mrs Merdle,or comfort her. As it seemed, however, essential to the strength oftheir own case that they should admit her to have been cruelly deceived,they graciously made the admission, and continued to know her. Itfollowed that Mrs Merdle, as a woman of fashion and good breeding whohad been sacrificed to the wiles of a vulgar barbarian (for Mr Merdlewas found out from the crown of his head to the sole of his foot, themoment he was found out in his pocket), must be actively championed byher order for her order's sake. She returned this fealty by causing itto be understood that she was even more incensed against the feloniousshade of the deceased than anybody else was; thus, on the whole, shecame out of her furnace like a wise woman, and did exceedingly well.
Mr Sparkler's lordship was fortunately one of those shelves on which agentleman is considered to be put away for life, unless there should bereasons for hoisting him up with the Barnacle crane to a more lucrativeheight. That patriotic servant accordingly stuck to his colours (theStandard of four Quarterings), and was a perfect Nelson in respectof nailing them to the mast. On the profits of his intrepidity, MrsSparkler and Mrs Merdle, inhabiting different floors of the genteellittle temple of inconvenience to which the smell of the day beforeyesterday's soup and coach-horses was as constant as Death to man,arrayed themselves to fight it out in the lists of Society, swornrivals. And Little Dorrit, seeing all these things as they developedthemselves, could not but wonder, anxiously, into what back corner ofthe genteel establishment Fanny's children would be poked by-and-by, andwho would take care of those unborn little victims.
Arthur being far too ill to be spoken with on subjects of emotion oranxiety, and his recovery greatly depending on the repose into whichhis weakness could be hushed, Little Dorrit's sole reliance during thisheavy period was on Mr Meagles. He was still abroad; but she had writtento him through his daughter, immediately after first seeing Arthur inthe Marshalsea and since, confiding her uneasiness to him on the pointson which she was most anxious, but especially on one. To that one,the continued absence of Mr Meagles abroad, instead of his comfortingpresence in the Marshalsea, was referable.
Without disclosing the precise nature of the documents that had falleninto Rigaud's hands, Little Dorrit had confided the general outline ofthat story to Mr Meagles, to whom she had also recounted his fate. Theold cautious habits of the scales and scoop at once showed Mr Meaglesthe importance of recovering the original papers; wherefore he wroteback to Little Dorrit, strongly confirming her in the solicitude sheexpressed on that head, and adding that he would not come over toEngland 'without making some attempt to trace them out.'
By this time Mr Henry Gowan had made up his mind that it would beagreeable to him not to know the Meagleses. He was so considerate as tolay no injunctions on his wife in that particular; but he mentionedto Mr Meagles that personally they did not appear to him to get ontogether, and that he thought it would be a good thing if--politely, andwithout any scene, or anything of that sort--they agreed that they werethe best fellows in the world, but were best apart. Poor Mr Meagles, whowas already sensible that he did not advance his daughter's happiness bybeing constantly slighted in her presence, said 'Good, Henry! You aremy Pet's husband; you have displaced me, in the course of nature; ifyou wish it, good!' This arrangement involved the contingent advantage,which perhaps Henry Gowan had not foreseen, that both Mr and MrsMeagles were more liberal than before to their daughter, when theircommunication was only with her and her young child: and that his highspirit found itself better provided with money, without being under thedegrading necessity of knowing whence it came.
Mr Meagles, at such a period, naturally seized an occupation with greatardour. He knew from his daughter the various towns which Rigaud hadbeen haunting, and the various hotels at which he had been living forsome time back. The occupation he set himself was to visit these withall discretion and speed, and, in the event of finding anywhere that hehad left a bill unpaid, and a box or parcel behind, to pay such bill,and bring away such box or parcel.
With no other attendant than Mother, Mr Meagles went upon hispilgrimage, and encountered a number of adventures. Not the least of hisdifficulties was, that he never knew what was said to him, and that hepursued his inquiries among people who never knew what he said to them.Still, with an unshaken confidence that the English tongue was somehowthe mother tongue of the whole world, only the people were too stupidto know it, Mr Meagles harangued innkeepers in the most voluble manner,entered into loud explanations of the most complicated sort, and utterlyrenounced replies in the native language of the respondents, on theground that they were 'all bosh.' Sometimes interpreters were calledin; whom Mr Meagles addressed in such idiomatic terms of speech, asinstantly to extinguish and shut up--which made the matter worse. On abalance of the account, however, it may be doubted whether he lost much;for, although he found no property, he found so many debts and variousassociations of discredit with the proper name, which was the only wordhe made intelligible, that he was almost everywhere overwhelmed withinjurious accusations. On no fewer than four occasions the policewere called in to receive denunciations of Mr Meagles as a Knight ofIndustry, a good-for-nothing, and a thief, all of which opprobriouslanguage he bore with the best temper (having no idea what it meant),and was in the most ignominious manner escorted to steam-boats andpublic carriages, to be got rid of, talking all the while, like acheerful and fluent Briton as he was, with Mother under his arm.
But, in his own tongue, and in his own head, Mr Meagles was a clear,shrewd, persevering man. When he had 'worked round,' as he called it, toParis in his pilgrimage, and had wholly f
At Paris Mr Meagles found a letter from Little Dorrit, lying waiting forhim; in which she mentioned that she had been able to talk for a minuteor two with Mr Clennam about this man who was no more; and that when shetold Mr Clennam that his friend Mr Meagles, who was on his way to seehim, had an interest in ascertaining something about the man if hecould, he had asked her to tell Mr Meagles that he had been knownto Miss Wade, then living in such a street at Calais. 'Oho!' said MrMeagles.
As soon afterwards as might be in those Diligence days, Mr Meaglesrang the cracked bell at the cracked gate, and it jarred open, and thepeasant-woman stood in the dark doorway, saying, 'Ice-say! Seer! Who?'In acknowledgment of whose address, Mr Meagles murmured to himself thatthere was some sense about these Calais people, who really did knowsomething of what you and themselves were up to; and returned, 'MissWade, my dear.' He was then shown into the presence of Miss Wade.
'It's some time since we met,' said Mr Meagles, clearing his throat; 'Ihope you have been pretty well, Miss Wade?'
Without hoping that he or anybody else had been pretty well, Miss Wadeasked him to what she was indebted for the honour of seeing him again?Mr Meagles, in the meanwhile, glanced all round the room withoutobserving anything in the shape of a box.
'Why, the truth is, Miss Wade,' said Mr Meagles, in a comfortable,managing, not to say coaxing voice, 'it is possible that you may be ableto throw a light upon a little something that is at present dark. Anyunpleasant bygones between us are bygones, I hope. Can't be helped now.You recollect my daughter? Time changes so! A mother!'
In his innocence, Mr Meagles could not have struck a worse key-note. Hepaused for any expression of interest, but paused in vain.
'That is not the subject you wished to enter on?' she said, after a coldsilence.
'No, no,' returned Mr Meagles. 'No. I thought your good nature might--'
'I thought you knew,' she interrupted, with a smile, 'that my goodnature is not to be calculated upon?'
'Don't say so,' said Mr Meagles; 'you do yourself an injustice. However,to come to the point.' For he was sensible of having gained nothingby approaching it in a roundabout way. 'I have heard from my friendClennam, who, you will be sorry to hear, has been and still is veryill--'
He paused again, and again she was silent.
'--that you had some knowledge of one Blandois, lately killed in Londonby a violent accident. Now, don't mistake me! I know it was a slightknowledge,' said Mr Meagles, dexterously forestalling an angryinterruption which he saw about to break. 'I am fully aware of that. Itwas a slight knowledge, I know. But the question is,' Mr Meagles's voicehere became comfortable again, 'did he, on his way to England last time,leave a box of papers, or a bundle of papers, or some papers or other insome receptacle or other--any papers--with you: begging you to allow himto leave them here for a short time, until he wanted them?'
'The question is?' she repeated. 'Whose question is?'
'Mine,' said Mr Meagles. 'And not only mine but Clennam's question, andother people's question. Now, I am sure,' continued Mr Meagles, whoseheart was overflowing with Pet, 'that you can't have any unkind feelingtowards my daughter; it's impossible. Well! It's her question, too;being one in which a particular friend of hers is nearly interested.So here I am, frankly to say that is the question, and to ask, Now, didhe?'
'Upon my word,' she returned, 'I seem to be a mark for everybody whoknew anything of a man I once in my life hired, and paid, and dismissed,to aim their questions at!'
'Now, don't,' remonstrated Mr Meagles, 'don't! Don't take offence,because it's the plainest question in the world, and might be askedof any one. The documents I refer to were not his own, were wrongfullyobtained, might at some time or other be troublesome to an innocentperson to have in keeping, and are sought by the people to whom theyreally belong. He passed through Calais going to London, and there werereasons why he should not take them with him then, why he should wishto be able to put his hand upon them readily, and why he should distrustleaving them with people of his own sort. Did he leave them here? Ideclare if I knew how to avoid giving you offence, I would take anypains to do it. I put the question personally, but there's nothingpersonal in it. I might put it to any one; I have put it already to manypeople. Did he leave them here? Did he leave anything here?'
'Then unfortunately, Miss Wade, you know nothing about them?'
'I know nothing about them. I have now answered your unaccountablequestion. He did not leave them here, and I know nothing about them.'
'There!' said Mr Meagles rising. 'I am sorry for it; that's over; and Ihope there is not much harm done.--Tattycoram well, Miss Wade?'
'Harriet well? O yes!'
'I have put my foot in it again,' said Mr Meagles, thus corrected. 'Ican't keep my foot out of it here, it seems. Perhaps, if I had thoughttwice about it, I might never have given her the jingling name. But,when one means to be good-natured and sportive with young people, onedoesn't think twice. Her old friend leaves a kind word for her, MissWade, if you should think proper to deliver it.'
She said nothing as to that; and Mr Meagles, taking his honest face outof the dull room, where it shone like a sun, took it to the Hotel wherehe had left Mrs Meagles, and where he made the Report: 'Beaten, Mother;no effects!' He took it next to the London Steam Packet, which sailed inthe night; and next to the Marshalsea.
The faithful John was on duty when Father and Mother Meagles presentedthemselves at the wicket towards nightfall. Miss Dorrit was not therethen, he said; but she had been there in the morning, and invariablycame in the evening. Mr Clennam was slowly mending; and Maggy and MrsPlornish and Mr Baptist took care of him by turns. Miss Dorrit was sureto come back that evening before the bell rang. There was the room theMarshal had lent her, up-stairs, in which they could wait for her, ifthey pleased. Mistrustful that it might be hazardous to Arthur to seehim without preparation, Mr Meagles accepted the offer; and they wereleft shut up in the room, looking down through its barred window intothe jail.
The cramped area of the prison had such an effect on Mrs Meagles thatshe began to weep, and such an effect on Mr Meagles that he began togasp for air. He was walking up and down the room, panting, and makinghimself worse by laboriously fanning himself with her handkerchief, whenhe turned towards the opening door.
'Eh? Good gracious!' said Mr Meagles, 'this is not Miss Dorrit! Why,Mother, look! Tattycoram!'
No other. And in Tattycoram's arms was an iron box some two feet square.Such a box had Affery Flintwinch seen, in the first of her dreams, goingout of the old house in the dead of the night under Double's arm. This,Tattycoram put on the ground at her old master's feet: this, Tattycoramfell on her knees by, and beat her hands upon, crying half in exultationand half in despair, half in laughter and half in tears, 'Pardon, dearMaster; take me back, dear Mistress; here it is!'
'Tatty!' exclaimed Mr Meagles.
'What you wanted!' said Tattycoram. 'Here it is! I was put in the nextroom not to see you. I heard you ask her about it, I heard her say shehadn't got it, I was there when he left it, and I took it at bedtime andbrought it away. Here it is!'
'Why, my girl,' cried Mr Meagles, more breathless than before, 'how didyou come over?'
'I came in the boat with you. I was sitting wrapped up at the other end.When you took a coach at the wharf, I took another coach and followedyou here. She never would have given it up after what you had said toher about its being wanted; she would sooner have sunk it in the sea, orburnt it. But, here it is!'
The glow and rapture that the girl was in, with her 'Here it is!'
'She never wanted it to be left, I must say that for her;
Father and Mother Meagles never deserved their names better than whenthey took the headstrong foundling-girl into their protection again.
'Oh! I have been so wretched,' cried Tattycoram, weeping much more,'always so unhappy, and so repentant! I was afraid of her from the firsttime I saw her. I knew she had got a power over me through understandingwhat was bad in me so well. It was a madness in me, and she could raiseit whenever she liked. I used to think, when I got into that state, thatpeople were all against me because of my first beginning; and the kinderthey were to me, the worse fault I found in them. I made it out thatthey triumphed above me, and that they wanted to make me envy them, whenI know--when I even knew then--that they never thought of such a thing.And my beautiful young mistress not so happy as she ought to have been,and I gone away from her! Such a brute and a wretch as she must thinkme! But you'll say a word to her for me, and ask her to be as forgivingas you two are? For I am not so bad as I was,' pleaded Tattycoram; 'I ambad enough, but not so bad as I was, indeed. I have had Miss Wadebefore me all this time, as if it was my own self grown ripe--turningeverything the wrong way, and twisting all good into evil. I have hadher before me all this time, finding no pleasure in anything but keepingme as miserable, suspicious, and tormenting as herself. Not that she hadmuch to do, to do that,' cried Tattycoram, in a closing great burst ofdistress, 'for I was as bad as bad could be. I only mean to say, that,after what I have gone through, I hope I shall never be quite so badagain, and that I shall get better by very slow degrees. I'll try veryhard. I won't stop at five-and-twenty, sir, I'll count five-and-twentyhundred, five-and-twenty thousand!'
Another opening of the door, and Tattycoram subsided, and Little Dorritcame in, and Mr Meagles with pride and joy produced the box, and hergentle face was lighted up with grateful happiness and joy. The secretwas safe now! She could keep her own part of it from him; he shouldnever know of her loss; in time to come he should know all that was ofimport to himself; but he should never know what concerned her only.That was all passed, all forgiven, all forgotten.
'Now, my dear Miss Dorrit,' said Mr Meagles; 'I am a man of business--orat least was--and I am going to take my measures promptly, in thatcharacter. Had I better see Arthur to-night?'
'I think not to-night. I will go to his room and ascertain how he is.But I think it will be better not to see him to-night.'
'I am much of your opinion, my dear,' said Mr Meagles, 'and thereforeI have not been any nearer to him than this dismal room. Then I shallprobably not see him for some little time to come. But I'll explain whatI mean when you come back.'
She left the room. Mr Meagles, looking through the bars of the window,saw her pass out of the Lodge below him into the prison-yard. He saidgently, 'Tattycoram, come to me a moment, my good girl.'
She went up to the window.
'You see that young lady who was here just now--that little, quiet,fragile figure passing along there, Tatty? Look. The people stand outof the way to let her go by. The men--see the poor, shabby fellows--pulloff their hats to her quite politely, and now she glides in at thatdoorway. See her, Tattycoram?'
'I have heard tell, Tatty, that she was once regularly called the childof this place. She was born here, and lived here many years. I can'tbreathe here. A doleful place to be born and bred in, Tattycoram?'
'Yes indeed, sir!'
'If she had constantly thought of herself, and settled with herself thateverybody visited this place upon her, turned it against her, and castit at her, she would have led an irritable and probably an uselessexistence. Yet I have heard tell, Tattycoram, that her young life hasbeen one of active resignation, goodness, and noble service. Shall Itell you what I consider those eyes of hers, that were here just now, tohave always looked at, to get that expression?'
'Yes, if you please, sir.'
'Duty, Tattycoram. Begin it early, and do it well; and there is noantecedent to it, in any origin or station, that will tell against uswith the Almighty, or with ourselves.'
They remained at the window, Mother joining them and pitying theprisoners, until she was seen coming back. She was soon in the room, andrecommended that Arthur, whom she had left calm and composed, should notbe visited that night.
'Good!' said Mr Meagles, cheerily. 'I have not a doubt that's best. Ishall trust my remembrances then, my sweet nurse, in your hands, and Iwell know they couldn't be in better. I am off again to-morrow morning.'
Little Dorrit, surprised, asked him where?
'My dear,' said Mr Meagles, 'I can't live without breathing. This placehas taken my breath away, and I shall never get it back again untilArthur is out of this place.'
'How is that a reason for going off again to-morrow morning?'
'You shall understand,' said Mr Meagles. 'To-night we three will put upat a City Hotel. To-morrow morning, Mother and Tattycoram will go downto Twickenham, where Mrs Tickit, sitting attended by Dr Buchan in theparlour-window, will think them a couple of ghosts; and I shall goabroad again for Doyce. We must have Dan here. Now, I tell you, my love,it's of no use writing and planning and conditionally speculating uponthis and that and the other, at uncertain intervals and distances; wemust have Doyce here. I devote myself at daybreak to-morrow morning, tobringing Doyce here. It's nothing to me to go and find him. I'm an oldtraveller, and all foreign languages and customs are alike to me--Inever understand anything about any of 'em. Therefore I can't be putto any inconvenience. Go at once I must, it stands to reason; becauseI can't live without breathing freely; and I can't breathe freely untilArthur is out of this Marshalsea. I am stifled at the present moment,and have scarcely breath enough to say this much, and to carry thisprecious box down-stairs for you.'
They got into the street as the bell began to ring, Mr Meagles carryingthe box. Little Dorrit had no conveyance there: which rather surprisedhim. He called a coach for her and she got into it, and he placed thebox beside her when she was seated. In her joy and gratitude she kissedhis hand.
'I don't like that, my dear,' said Mr Meagles. 'It goes against myfeeling of what's right, that _you_ should do homage to _me_--at theMarshalsea Gate.'
She bent forward, and kissed his cheek.
'You remind me of the days,' said Mr Meagles, suddenly drooping--'butshe's very fond of him, and hides his faults, and thinks that noone sees them--and he certainly is well connected and of a very goodfamily!'
It was the only comfort he had in the loss of his daughter, and if hemade the most of it, who could blame him?