Part 14 out of 20
though, at the same time, the very same people, would not have
dreamed of taking him for themselves or their daughters. Then he
goes into the country besides, to think about making sketches; and
in all places where there are visitors, he has a large acquaintance
and is very well known. Besides all this, he has a friend who is
much in his society both at home and away from home, though he
treats this friend very coolly and is very uncertain in his
behaviour to him. I am quite sure (because she has told me so),
that she does not like this friend. He is so revolting to me, too,
that his being away from here, at present, is quite a relief to my
mind. How much more to hers!
But what I particularly want you to know, and why I have resolved
to tell you so much while I am afraid it may make you a little
uncomfortable without occasion, is this. She is so true and so
devoted, and knows so completely that all her love and duty are his
for ever, that you may be certain she will love him, admire him,
praise him, and conceal all his faults, until she dies. I believe
she conceals them, and always will conceal them, even from herself.
She has given him a heart that can never be taken back; and however
much he may try it, he will never wear out its affection. You know
the truth of this, as you know everything, far far better than I;
but I cannot help telling you what a nature she shows, and that you
can never think too well of her.
I have not yet called her by her name in this letter, but we are
such friends now that I do so when we are quietly together, and she
speaks to me by my name--I mean, not my Christian name, but the
name you gave me. When she began to call me Amy, I told her my
short story, and that you had always called me Little Dorrit. I
told her that the name was much dearer to me than any other, and so
she calls me Little Dorrit too.
Perhaps you have not heard from her father or mother yet, and may
not know that she has a baby son. He was born only two days ago,
and just a week after they came. It has made them very happy.
However, I must tell you, as I am to tell you all, that I fancy
they are under a constraint with Mr Gowan, and that they feel as if
his mocking way with them was sometimes a slight given to their
love for her. It was but yesterday, when I was there, that I saw
Mr Meagles change colour, and get up and go out, as if he was
afraid that he might say so, unless he prevented himself by that
means. Yet I am sure they are both so considerate, good-humoured,
and reasonable, that he might spare them. It is hard in him not to
think of them a little more.
I stopped at the last full stop to read all this over. It looked
at first as if I was taking on myself to understand and explain so
much, that I was half inclined not to send it. But when I thought
it over a little, I felt more hopeful for your knowing at once that
I had only been watchful for you, and had only noticed what I think
I have noticed, because I was quickened by your interest in it.
Indeed, you may be sure that is the truth.
And now I have done with the subject in the present letter, and
have little left to say.
We are all quite well, and Fanny improves every day. You can
hardly think how kind she is to me, and what pains she takes with
me. She has a lover, who has followed her, first all the way from
Switzerland, and then all the way from Venice, and who has just
confided to me that he means to follow her everywhere. I was much
confused by his speaking to me about it, but he would. I did not
know what to say, but at last I told him that I thought he had
better not. For Fanny (but I did not tell him this) is much too
spirited and clever to suit him. Still, he said he would, all the
same. I have no lover, of course.
If you should ever get so far as this in this long letter, you will
perhaps say, Surely Little Dorrit will not leave off without
telling me something about her travels, and surely it is time she
did. I think it is indeed, but I don't know what to tell you.
Since we left Venice we have been in a great many wonderful places,
Genoa and Florence among them, and have seen so many wonderful
sights, that I am almost giddy when I think what a crowd they make.
But you can tell me so much more about them than I can tell you,
that why should I tire you with my accounts and descriptions?
Dear Mr Clennam, as I had the courage to tell you what the familiar
difficulties in my travelling mind were before, I will not be a
coward now. One of my frequent thoughts is this:-- Old as these
cities are, their age itself is hardly so curious, to my
reflections, as that they should have been in their places all
through those days when I did not even know of the existence of
more than two or three of them, and when I scarcely knew of
anything outside our old walls. There is something melancholy in
it, and I don't know why. When we went to see the famous leaning
tower at Pisa, it was a bright sunny day, and it and the buildings
near it looked so old, and the earth and the sky looked so young,
and its shadow on the ground was so soft and retired! I could not
at first think how beautiful it was, or how curious, but I thought,
'O how many times when the shadow of the wall was falling on our
room, and when that weary tread of feet was going up and down the
yard--O how many times this place was just as quiet and lovely as
it is to-day!' It quite overpowered me. My heart was so full that
tears burst out of my eyes, though I did what I could to restrain
them. And I have the same feeling often--often.
Do you know that since the change in our fortunes, though I appear
to myself to have dreamed more than before, I have always dreamed
of myself as very young indeed! I am not very old, you may say.
No, but that is not what I mean. I have always dreamed of myself
as a child learning to do needlework. I have often dreamed of
myself as back there, seeing faces in the yard little known, and
which I should have thought I had quite forgotten; but, as often as
not, I have been abroad here--in Switzerland, or France, or Italy--
somewhere where we have been--yet always as that little child. I
have dreamed of going down to Mrs General, with the patches on my
clothes in which I can first remember myself. I have over and over
again dreamed of taking my place at dinner at Venice when we have
had a large company, in the mourning for my poor mother which I
wore when I was eight years old, and wore long after it was
threadbare and would mend no more. It has been a great distress to
me to think how irreconcilable the company would consider it with
my father's wealth, and how I should displease and disgrace him and
Fanny and Edward by so plainly disclosing what they wished to keep
secret. But I have not grown out of the little child in thinking
of it; and at the self-same moment I have dreamed that I have sat
with the heart-ache at table, calculating the expenses of the
dinner, and quite distracting myself with thinking how they were
ever to be made good. I have never dreamed of the change in our
fortunes itself; I have never dreamed of your coming back with me
that memorable morning to break it; I have never even dreamed of
Dear Mr Clennam, it is possible that I have thought of you--and
others--so much by day, that I have no thoughts left to wander
round you by night. For I must now confess to you that I suffer
from home-sickness--that I long so ardently and earnestly for home,
as sometimes, when no one sees me, to pine for it. I cannot bear
to turn my face further away from it. My heart is a little
lightened when we turn towards it, even for a few miles, and with
the knowledge that we are soon to turn away again. So dearly do I
love the scene of my poverty and your kindness. O so dearly, O so
Heaven knows when your poor child will see England again. We are
all fond of the life here (except me), and there are no plans for
our return. My dear father talks of a visit to London late in this
next spring, on some affairs connected with the property, but I
have no hope that he will bring me with him.
I have tried to get on a little better under Mrs General's
instruction, and I hope I am not quite so dull as I used to be. I
have begun to speak and understand, almost easily, the hard
languages I told you about. I did not remember, at the moment when
I wrote last, that you knew them both; but I remembered it
afterwards, and it helped me on. God bless you, dear Mr Clennam.
Do not forget your ever grateful and affectionate
P.S.--Particularly remember that Minnie Gowan deserves the best
remembrance in which you can hold her. You cannot think too
generously or too highly of her. I forgot Mr Pancks last time.
Please, if you should see him, give him your Little Dorrit's kind
regard. He was very good to Little D.
In which a Great Patriotic Conference is holden
The famous name of Merdle became, every day, more famous in the
land. Nobody knew that the Merdle of such high renown had ever
done any good to any one, alive or dead, or to any earthly thing;
nobody knew that he had any capacity or utterance of any sort in
him, which had ever thrown, for any creature, the feeblest
farthing-candle ray of light on any path of duty or diversion, pain
or pleasure, toil or rest, fact or fancy, among the multiplicity of
paths in the labyrinth trodden by the sons of Adam; nobody had the
smallest reason for supposing the clay of which this object of
worship was made, to be other than the commonest clay, with as
clogged a wick smouldering inside of it as ever kept an image of
humanity from tumbling to pieces. All people knew (or thought they
knew) that he had made himself immensely rich; and, for that reason
alone, prostrated themselves before him, more degradedly and less
excusably than the darkest savage creeps out of his hole in the
ground to propitiate, in some log or reptile, the Deity of his
Nay, the high priests of this worship had the man before them as a
protest against their meanness. The multitude worshipped on
trust--though always distinctly knowing why--but the officiators at
the altar had the man habitually in their view. They sat at his
feasts, and he sat at theirs. There was a spectre always attendant
on him, saying to these high priests, 'Are such the signs you
trust, and love to honour; this head, these eyes, this mode of
speech, the tone and manner of this man? You are the levers of the
Circumlocution Office, and the rulers of men. When half-a-dozen of
you fall out by the ears, it seems that mother earth can give birth
to no other rulers. Does your qualification lie in the superior
knowledge of men which accepts, courts, and puffs this man? Or, if
you are competent to judge aright the signs I never fail to show
you when he appears among you, is your superior honesty your
qualification?' Two rather ugly questions these, always going
about town with Mr Merdle; and there was a tacit agreement that
they must be stifled. In Mrs Merdle's absence abroad, Mr Merdle
still kept the great house open for the passage through it of a
stream Of visitors. A few of these took affable possession of the
establishment. Three or four ladies of distinction and liveliness
used to say to one another, 'Let us dine at our dear Merdle's next
Thursday. Whom shall we have?' Our dear Merdle would then receive
his instructions; and would sit heavily among the company at table
and wander lumpishly about his drawing-rooms afterwards, only
remarkable for appearing to have nothing to do with the
entertainment beyond being in its way.
The Chief Butler, the Avenging Spirit of this great man's life,
relaxed nothing of his severity. He looked on at these dinners
when the bosom was not there, as he looked on at other dinners when
the bosom was there; and his eye was a basilisk to Mr Merdle. He
was a hard man, and would never bate an ounce of plate or a bottle
of wine. He would not allow a dinner to be given, unless it was up
to his mark. He set forth the table for his own dignity. If the
guests chose to partake of what was served, he saw no objection;
but it was served for the maintenance of his rank. As he stood by
the sideboard he seemed to announce, 'I have accepted office to
look at this which is now before me, and to look at nothing less
than this.' If he missed the presiding bosom, it was as a part of
his own state of which he was, from unavoidable circumstances,
temporarily deprived. just as he might have missed a centre-piece,
or a choice wine-cooler, which had been sent to the Banker's.
Mr Merdle issued invitations for a Barnacle dinner. Lord Decimus
was to be there, Mr Tite Barnacle was to be there, the pleasant
young Barnacle was to be there; and the Chorus of Parliamentary
Barnacles who went about the provinces when the House was up,
warbling the praises of their Chief, were to be represented there.
It was understood to be a great occasion. Mr Merdle was going to
take up the Barnacles. Some delicate little negotiations had
occurred between him and the noble Decimus--the young Barnacle of
engaging manners acting as negotiator--and Mr Merdle had decided to
cast the weight of his great probity and great riches into the
Barnacle scale. jobbery was suspected by the malicious; perhaps
because it was indisputable that if the adherence of the immortal
Enemy of Mankind could have been secured by a job, the Barnacles
would have jobbed him--for the good of the country, for the good of
Mrs Merdle had written to this magnificent spouse of hers, whom it
was heresy to regard as anything less than all the British
Merchants since the days of Whittington rolled into one, and gilded
three feet deep all over--had written to this spouse of hers,
several letters from Rome, in quick succession, urging upon him
with importunity that now or never was the time to provide for
Edmund Sparkler. Mrs Merdle had shown him that the case of Edmund
was urgent, and that infinite advantages might result from his
having some good thing directly. In the grammar of Mrs Merdle's
verbs on this momentous subject, there was only one mood, the
Imperative; and that Mood had only one Tense, the Present. Mrs
Merdle's verbs were so pressingly presented to Mr Merdle to
conjugate, that his sluggish blood and his long coat-cuffs became
In which state of agitation, Mr Merdle, evasively rolling his eyes
round the Chief Butler's shoes without raising them to the index of
that stupendous creature's thoughts, had signified to him his
intention of giving a special dinner: not a very large dinner, but
a very special dinner. The Chief Butler had signified, in return,
that he had no objection to look on at the most expensive thing in
that way that could be done; and the day of the dinner was now
Mr Merdle stood in one of his drawing-rooms, with his back to the
fire, waiting for the arrival of his important guests. He seldom
or never took the liberty of standing with his back to the fire
unless he was quite alone. In the presence of the Chief Butler, he
could not have done such a deed. He would have clasped himself by
the wrists in that constabulary manner of his, and have paced up
and down the hearthrug, or gone creeping about among the rich
objects of furniture, if his oppressive retainer had appeared in
the room at that very moment. The sly shadows which seemed to dart
out of hiding when the fire rose, and to dart back into it when the
fire fell, were sufficient witnesses of his making himself so easy.
They were even more than sufficient, if his uncomfortable glances
at them might be taken to mean anything.
Mr Merdle's right hand was filled with the evening paper, and the
evening paper was full of Mr Merdle. His wonderful enterprise, his
wonderful wealth, his wonderful Bank, were the fattening food of
the evening paper that night. The wonderful Bank, of which he was
the chief projector, establisher, and manager, was the latest of
the many Merdle wonders. So modest was Mr Merdle withal, in the
midst of these splendid achievements, that he looked far more like
a man in possession of his house under a distraint, than a
commercial Colossus bestriding his own hearthrug, while the little
ships were sailing into dinner.
Behold the vessels coming into port! The engaging young Barnacle
was the first arrival; but Bar overtook him on the staircase. Bar,
strengthened as usual with his double eye-glass and his little jury
droop, was overjoyed to see the engaging young Barnacle; and opined
that we were going to sit in Banco, as we lawyers called it, to
take a special argument?
'Indeed,' said the sprightly young Barnacle, whose name was
Ferdinand; 'how so?'
'Nay,' smiled Bar. 'If you don't know, how can I know? You are in
the innermost sanctuary of the temple; I am one of the admiring
concourse on the plain without.'
Bar could be light in hand, or heavy in hand, according to the
customer he had to deal with. With Ferdinand Barnacle he was
gossamer. Bar was likewise always modest and self-depreciatory--in
his way. Bar was a man of great variety; but one leading thread
ran through the woof of all his patterns. Every man with whom he
had to do was in his eyes a jury-man; and he must get that jury-man
over, if he could.
'Our illustrious host and friend,' said Bar; 'our shining
mercantile star;--going into politics?'
'Going? He has been in Parliament some time, you know,' returned
the engaging young Barnacle.
'True,' said Bar, with his light-comedy laugh for special jury-men,
which was a very different thing from his low-comedy laugh for
comic tradesmen on common juries: 'he has been in Parliament for
some time. Yet hitherto our star has been a vacillating and
wavering star? Humph?'
An average witness would have been seduced by the Humph? into an
affirmative answer, But Ferdinand Barnacle looked knowingly at Bar
as he strolled up-stairs, and gave him no answer at all.
'Just so, just so,' said Bar, nodding his head, for he was not to
be put off in that way, 'and therefore I spoke of our sitting in
Banco to take a special argument--meaning this to be a high and
solemn occasion, when, as Captain Macheath says, "the judges are
met: a terrible show!" We lawyers are sufficiently liberal, you
see, to quote the Captain, though the Captain is severe upon us.
Nevertheless, I think I could put in evidence an admission of the
Captain's,' said Bar, with a little jocose roll of his head; for,
in his legal current of speech, he always assumed the air of
rallying himself with the best grace in the world; 'an admission of
the Captain's that Law, in the gross, is at least intended to be
impartial. For what says the Captain, if I quote him correctly--
and if not,' with a light-comedy touch of his double eye-glass on
his companion's shoulder, 'my learned friend will set me right:
"Since laws were made for every degree,
To curb vice in others as well as in me,
I wonder we ha'n't better company
Upon Tyburn Tree!"'
These words brought them to the drawing-room, where Mr Merdle stood
before the fire. So immensely astounded was Mr Merdle by the
entrance of Bar with such a reference in his mouth, that Bar
explained himself to have been quoting Gay. 'Assuredly not one of
our Westminster Hall authorities,' said he, 'but still no
despicable one to a man possessing the largely-practical Mr
Merdle's knowledge of the world.'
Mr Merdle looked as if he thought he would say something, but
subsequently looked as if he thought he wouldn't. The interval
afforded time for Bishop to be announced.
Bishop came in with meekness, and yet with a strong and rapid step
as if he wanted to get his seven-league dress-shoes on, and go
round the world to see that everybody was in a satisfactory state.
Bishop had no idea that there was anything significant in the
occasion. That was the most remarkable trait in his demeanour. He
was crisp, fresh, cheerful, affable, bland; but so surprisingly
Bar sidled up to prefer his politest inquiries in reference to the
health of Mrs Bishop. Mrs Bishop had been a little unfortunate in
the article of taking cold at a Confirmation, but otherwise was
well. Young Mr Bishop was also well. He was down, with his young
wife and little family, at his Cure of Souls. The representatives
of the Barnacle Chorus dropped in next, and Mr Merdle's physician
dropped in next. Bar, who had a bit of one eye and a bit of his
double eye-glass for every one who came in at the door, no matter
with whom he was conversing or what he was talking about, got among
them all by some skilful means, without being seen to get at them,
and touched each individual gentleman of the jury on his own
individual favourite spot. With some of the Chorus, he laughed
about the sleepy member who had gone out into the lobby the other
night, and voted the wrong way: with others, he deplored that
innovating spirit in the time which could not even be prevented
from taking an unnatural interest in the public service and the
public money: with the physician he had a word to say about the
general health; he had also a little information to ask him for,
concerning a professional man of unquestioned erudition and
polished manners--but those credentials in their highest
development he believed were the possession of other professors of
the healing art (jury droop)--whom he had happened to have in the
witness-box the day before yesterday, and from whom he had elicited
in cross-examination that he claimed to be one of the exponents of
this new mode of treatment which appeared to Bar to--eh?--well, Bar
thought so; Bar had thought, and hoped, Physician would tell him
so. Without presuming to decide where doctors disagreed, it did
appear to Bar, viewing it as a question of common sense and not of
so-called legal penetration, that this new system was--might be, in
the presence of so great an authority--say, Humbug? Ah! Fortified
by such encouragement, he could venture to say Humbug; and now
Bar's mind was relieved.
Mr Tite Barnacle, who, like Dr johnson's celebrated acquaintance,
had only one idea in his head and that was a wrong one, had
appeared by this time. This eminent gentleman and Mr Merdle,
seated diverse ways and with ruminating aspects on a yellow ottoman
in the light of the fire, holding no verbal communication with each
other, bore a strong general resemblance to the two cows in the
Cuyp picture over against them.
But now, Lord Decimus arrived. The Chief Butler, who up to this
time had limited himself to a branch of his usual function by
looking at the company as they entered (and that, with more of
defiance than favour), put himself so far out of his way as to come
up-stairs with him and announce him. Lord Decimus being an
overpowering peer, a bashful young member of the Lower House who
was the last fish but one caught by the Barnacles, and who had been
invited on this occasion to commemorate his capture, shut his eyes
when his Lordship came in.
Lord Decimus, nevertheless, was glad to see the Member. He was
also glad to see Mr Merdle, glad to see Bishop, glad to see Bar,
glad to see Physician, glad to see Tite Barnacle, glad to see
Chorus, glad to see Ferdinand his private secretary. Lord Decimus,
though one of the greatest of the earth, was not remarkable for
ingratiatory manners, and Ferdinand had coached him up to the point
of noticing all the fellows he might find there, and saying he was
glad to see them. When he had achieved this rush of vivacity and
condescension, his Lordship composed himself into the picture after
Cuyp, and made a third cow in the group.
Bar, who felt that he had got all the rest of the jury and must now
lay hold of the Foreman, soon came sidling up, double eye-glass in
hand. Bar tendered the weather, as a subject neatly aloof from
official reserve, for the Foreman's consideration. Bar said that
he was told (as everybody always is told, though who tells them,
and why, will ever remain a mystery), that there was to be no wall-
fruit this year. Lord Decimus had not heard anything amiss of his
peaches, but rather believed, if his people were correct, he was to
have no apples. No apples? Bar was lost in astonishment and
concern. It would have been all one to him, in reality, if there
had not been a pippin on the surface of the earth, but his show of
interest in this apple question was positively painful. Now, to
what, Lord Decimus--for we troublesome lawyers loved to gather
information, and could never tell how useful it might prove to us--
to what, Lord Decimus, was this to be attributed? Lord Decimus
could not undertake to propound any theory about it. This might
have stopped another man; but Bar, sticking to him fresh as ever,
said, 'As to pears, now?'
Long after Bar got made Attorney-General, this was told of him as
a master-stroke. Lord Decimus had a reminiscence about a pear-tree
formerly growing in a garden near the back of his dame's house at
Eton, upon which pear-tree the only joke of his life perennially
bloomed. It was a joke of a compact and portable nature, turning
on the difference between Eton pears and Parliamentary pairs; but
it was a joke, a refined relish of which would seem to have
appeared to Lord Decimus impossible to be had without a thorough
and intimate acquaintance with the tree. Therefore, the story at
first had no idea of such a tree, sir, then gradually found it in
winter, carried it through the changing season, saw it bud, saw it
blossom, saw it bear fruit, saw the fruit ripen; in short,
cultivated the tree in that diligent and minute manner before it
got out of the bed-room window to steal the fruit, that many thanks
had been offered up by belated listeners for the trees having been
planted and grafted prior to Lord Decimus's time. Bar's interest
in apples was so overtopped by the wrapt suspense in which he
pursued the changes of these pears, from the moment when Lord
Decimus solemnly opened with 'Your mentioning pears recalls to my
remembrance a pear-tree,' down to the rich conclusion, 'And so we
pass, through the various changes of life, from Eton pears to
Parliamentary pairs,' that he had to go down-stairs with Lord
Decimus, and even then to be seated next to him at table in order
that he might hear the anecdote out. By that time, Bar felt that
he had secured the Foreman, and might go to dinner with a good
It was a dinner to provoke an appetite, though he had not had one.
The rarest dishes, sumptuously cooked and sumptuously served; the
choicest fruits; the most exquisite wines; marvels of workmanship
in gold and silver, china and glass; innumerable things delicious
to the senses of taste, smell, and sight, were insinuated into its
composition. O, what a wonderful man this Merdle, what a great
man, what a master man, how blessedly and enviably endowed--in one
word, what a rich man!
He took his usual poor eighteenpennyworth of food in his usual
indigestive way, and had as little to say for himself as ever a
wonderful man had. Fortunately Lord Decimus was one of those
sublimities who have no occasion to be talked to, for they can be
at any time sufficiently occupied with the contemplation of their
own greatness. This enabled the bashful young Member to keep his
eyes open long enough at a time to see his dinner. But, whenever
Lord Decimus spoke, he shut them again.
The agreeable young Barnacle, and Bar, were the talkers of the
party. Bishop would have been exceedingly agreeable also, but that
his innocence stood in his way. He was so soon left behind. When
there was any little hint of anything being in the wind, he got
lost directly. Worldly affairs were too much for him; he couldn't
make them out at all.
This was observable when Bar said, incidentally, that he was happy
to have heard that we were soon to have the advantage of enlisting
on the good side, the sound and plain sagacity--not demonstrative
or ostentatious, but thoroughly sound and practical--of our friend
Ferdinand Barnacle laughed, and said oh yes, he believed so. A
vote was a vote, and always acceptable.
Bar was sorry to miss our good friend Mr Sparkler to-day, Mr
'He is away with Mrs Merdle,' returned that gentleman, slowly
coming out of a long abstraction, in the course of which he had
been fitting a tablespoon up his sleeve. 'It is not indispensable
for him to be on the spot.'
'The magic name of Merdle,' said Bar, with the jury droop, 'no
doubt will suffice for all.'
'Why--yes--I believe so,' assented Mr Merdle, putting the spoon
aside, and clumsily hiding each of his hands in the coat-cuff of
the other hand. 'I believe the people in my interest down there
will not make any difficulty.'
'Model people!' said Bar.
'I am glad you approve of them,' said Mr Merdle.
'And the people of those other two places, now,' pursued Bar, with
a bright twinkle in his keen eye, as it slightly turned in the
direction of his magnificent neighbour; 'we lawyers are always
curious, always inquisitive, always picking up odds and ends for
our patchwork minds, since there is no knowing when and where they
may fit into some corner;--the people of those other two places
now? Do they yield so laudably to the vast and cumulative
influence of such enterprise and such renown; do those little rills
become absorbed so quietly and easily, and, as it were by the
influence of natural laws, so beautifully, in the swoop of the
majestic stream as it flows upon its wondrous way enriching the
surrounding lands; that their course is perfectly to be calculated,
and distinctly to be predicated?'
Mr Merdle, a little troubled by Bar's eloquence, looked fitfully
about the nearest salt-cellar for some moments, and then said
'They are perfectly aware, sir, of their duty to Society. They
will return anybody I send to them for that purpose.'
'Cheering to know,' said Bar. 'Cheering to know.'
The three places in question were three little rotten holes in this
Island, containing three little ignorant, drunken, guzzling, dirty,
out-of-the-way constituencies, that had reeled into Mr Merdle's
pocket. Ferdinand Barnacle laughed in his easy way, and airily
said they were a nice set of fellows. Bishop, mentally
perambulating among paths of peace, was altogether swallowed up in
absence of mind.
'Pray,' asked Lord Decimus, casting his eyes around the table,
'what is this story I have heard of a gentleman long confined in a
debtors' prison proving to be of a wealthy family, and having come
into the inheritance of a large sum of money? I have met with a
variety of allusions to it. Do you know anything of it,
'I only know this much,' said Ferdinand, 'that he has given the
Department with which I have the honour to be associated;' this
sparkling young Barnacle threw off the phrase sportively, as who
should say, We know all about these forms of speech, but we must
keep it up, we must keep the game alive; 'no end of trouble, and
has put us into innumerable fixes.'
'Fixes?' repeated Lord Decimus, with a majestic pausing and
pondering on the word that made the bashful Member shut his eyes
quite tight. 'Fixes?'
'A very perplexing business indeed,' observed Mr Tite Barnacle,
with an air of grave resentment.
'What,' said Lord Decimus, 'was the character of his business; what
was the nature of these--a--Fixes, Ferdinand?'
'Oh, it's a good story, as a story,' returned that gentleman; 'as
good a thing of its kind as need be. This Mr Dorrit (his name is
Dorrit) had incurred a responsibility to us, ages before the fairy
came out of the Bank and gave him his fortune, under a bond he had
signed for the performance of a contract which was not at all
performed. He was a partner in a house in some large way--spirits,
or buttons, or wine, or blacking, or oatmeal, or woollen, or pork,
or hooks and eyes, or iron, or treacle, or shoes, or something or
other that was wanted for troops, or seamen, or somebody--and the
house burst, and we being among the creditors, detainees were
lodged on the part of the Crown in a scientific manner, and all the
rest Of it. When the fairy had appeared and he wanted to pay us
off, Egad we had got into such an exemplary state of checking and
counter-checking, signing and counter-signing, that it was six
months before we knew how to take the money, or how to give a
receipt for it. It was a triumph of public business,' said this
handsome young Barnacle, laughing heartily, 'You never saw such a
lot of forms in your life. "Why," the attorney said to me one day,
"if I wanted this office to give me two or three thousand pounds
instead of take it, I couldn't have more trouble about it." "You
are right, old fellow," I told him, "and in future you'll know that
we have something to do here."' The pleasant young Barnacle
finished by once more laughing heartily. He was a very easy,
pleasant fellow indeed, and his manners were exceedingly winning.
Mr Tite Barnacle's view of the business was of a less airy
character. He took it ill that Mr Dorrit had troubled the
Department by wanting to pay the money, and considered it a grossly
informal thing to do after so many years. But Mr Tite Barnacle was
a buttoned-up man, and consequently a weighty one. All buttoned-up
men are weighty. All buttoned-up men are believed in. Whether or
no the reserved and never-exercised power of unbuttoning,
fascinates mankind; whether or no wisdom is supposed to condense
and augment when buttoned up, and to evaporate when unbuttoned; it
is certain that the man to whom importance is accorded is the
buttoned-up man. Mr Tite Barnacle never would have passed for half
his current value, unless his coat had been always buttoned-up to
his white cravat.
'May I ask,' said Lord Decimus, 'if Mr Darrit--or Dorrit--has any
Nobody else replying, the host said, 'He has two daughters, my
'Oh! you are acquainted with him?' asked Lord Decimus.
'Mrs Merdle is. Mr Sparkler is, too. In fact,' said Mr Merdle, 'I
rather believe that one of the young ladies has made an impression
on Edmund Sparkler. He is susceptible, and--I--think--the
conquest--' Here Mr Merdle stopped, and looked at the table-cloth,
as he usually did when he found himself observed or listened to.
Bar was uncommonly pleased to find that the Merdle family, and this
family, had already been brought into contact. He submitted, in a
low voice across the table to Bishop, that it was a kind of
analogical illustration of those physical laws, in virtue of which
Like flies to Like. He regarded this power of attraction in wealth
to draw wealth to it, as something remarkably interesting and
curious--something indefinably allied to the loadstone and
gravitation. Bishop, who had ambled back to earth again when the
present theme was broached, acquiesced. He said it was indeed
highly important to Society that one in the trying situation of
unexpectedly finding himself invested with a power for good or for
evil in Society, should become, as it were, merged in the superior
power of a more legitimate and more gigantic growth, the influence
of which (as in the case of our friend at whose board we sat) was
habitually exercised in harmony with the best interests of Society.
Thus, instead of two rival and contending flames, a larger and a
lesser, each burning with a lurid and uncertain glare, we had a
blended and a softened light whose genial ray diffused an equable
warmth throughout the land. Bishop seemed to like his own way of
putting the case very much, and rather dwelt upon it; Bar,
meanwhile (not to throw away a jury-man), making a show of sitting
at his feet and feeding on his precepts.
The dinner and dessert being three hours long, the bashful Member
cooled in the shadow of Lord Decimus faster than he warmed with
food and drink, and had but a chilly time of it. Lord Decimus,
like a tall tower in a flat country, seemed to project himself
across the table-cloth, hide the light from the honourable Member,
cool the honourable Member's marrow, and give him a woeful idea of
distance. When he asked this unfortunate traveller to take wine,
he encompassed his faltering steps with the gloomiest of shades;
and when he said, 'Your health sir!' all around him was barrenness
At length Lord Decimus, with a coffee-cup in his hand, began to
hover about among the pictures, and to cause an interesting
speculation to arise in all minds as to the probabilities of his
ceasing to hover, and enabling the smaller birds to flutter up-
stairs; which could not be done until he had urged his noble
pinions in that direction. After some delay, and several stretches
of his wings which came to nothing, he soared to the drawing-rooms.
And here a difficulty arose, which always does arise when two
people are specially brought together at a dinner to confer with
one another. Everybody (except Bishop, who had no suspicion of it)
knew perfectly well that this dinner had been eaten and drunk,
specifically to the end that Lord Decimus and Mr Merdle should have
five minutes' conversation together. The opportunity so
elaborately prepared was now arrived, and it seemed from that
moment that no mere human ingenuity could so much as get the two
chieftains into the same room. Mr Merdle and his noble guest
persisted in prowling about at opposite ends of the perspective.
It was in vain for the engaging Ferdinand to bring Lord Decimus to
look at the bronze horses near Mr Merdle. Then Mr Merdle evaded,
and wandered away. It was in vain for him to bring Mr Merdle to
Lord Decimus to tell him the history of the unique Dresden vases.
Then Lord Decimus evaded and wandered away, while he was getting
his man up to the mark.
'Did you ever see such a thing as this?' said Ferdinand to Bar when
he had been baffled twenty times.
'Often,' returned Bar.
'Unless I butt one of them into an appointed corner, and you butt
the other,' said Ferdinand,'it will not come off after all.'
'Very good,' said Bar. 'I'll butt Merdle, if you like; but not my
Ferdinand laughed, in the midst of his vexation. 'Confound them
both!' said he, looking at his watch. 'I want to get away. Why
the deuce can't they come together! They both know what they want
and mean to do. Look at them!'
They were still looming at opposite ends of the perspective, each
with an absurd pretence of not having the other on his mind, which
could not have been more transparently ridiculous though his real
mind had been chalked on his back. Bishop, who had just now made
a third with Bar and Ferdinand, but whose innocence had again cut
him out of the subject and washed him in sweet oil, was seen to
approach Lord Decimus and glide into conversation.
'I must get Merdle's doctor to catch and secure him, I suppose,'
said Ferdinand; 'and then I must lay hold of my illustrious
kinsman, and decoy him if I can--drag him if I can't--to the
'Since you do me the honour,' said Bar, with his slyest smile, to
ask for my poor aid, it shall be yours with the greatest pleasure.
I don't think this is to be done by one man. But if you will
undertake to pen my lord into that furthest drawing-room where he
is now so profoundly engaged, I will undertake to bring our dear
Merdle into the presence, without the possibility of getting away.'
'Done!' said Ferdinand.
'Done!' said Bar.
Bar was a sight wondrous to behold, and full of matter, when,
jauntily waving his double eye-glass by its ribbon, and jauntily
drooping to an Universe of jurymen, he, in the most accidental
manner ever seen, found himself at Mr Merdle's shoulder, and
embraced that opportunity of mentioning a little point to him, on
which he particularly wished to be guided by the light of his
practical knowledge. (Here he took Mr Merdle's arm and walked him
gently away.) A banker, whom we would call A. B., advanced a
considerable sum of money, which we would call fifteen thousand
pounds, to a client or customer of his, whom he would call P. q.
(Here, as they were getting towards Lord Decimus, he held Mr Merdle
tight.) As a security for the repayment of this advance to P. Q.
whom we would call a widow lady, there were placed in A. B.'s hands
the title-deeds of a freehold estate, which we would call Blinkiter
Doddles. Now, the point was this. A limited right of felling and
lopping in the woods of Blinkiter Doddles, lay in the son of P. Q.
then past his majority, and whom we would call X. Y.--but really
this was too bad! In the presence of Lord Decimus, to detain the
host with chopping our dry chaff of law, was really too bad!
Another time! Bar was truly repentant, and would not say another
syllable. Would Bishop favour him with half-a-dozen words? (He
had now set Mr Merdle down on a couch, side by side with Lord
Decimus, and to it they must go, now or never.)
And now the rest of the company, highly excited and interested,
always excepting Bishop, who had not the slightest idea that
anything was going on, formed in one group round the fire in the
next drawing-room, and pretended to be chatting easily on the
infinite variety of small topics, while everybody's thoughts and
eyes were secretly straying towards the secluded pair. The Chorus
were excessively nervous, perhaps as labouring under the dreadful
apprehension that some good thing was going to be diverted from
them! Bishop alone talked steadily and evenly. He conversed with
the great Physician on that relaxation of the throat with which
young curates were too frequently afflicted, and on the means of
lessening the great prevalence of that disorder in the church.
Physician, as a general rule, was of opinion that the best way to
avoid it was to know how to read, before you made a profession of
reading. Bishop said dubiously, did he really think so? And
Physician said, decidedly, yes he did.
Ferdinand, meanwhile, was the only one of the party who skirmished
on the outside of the circle; he kept about mid-way between it and
the two, as if some sort of surgical operation were being performed
by Lord Decimus on Mr Merdle, or by Mr Merdle on Lord Decimus, and
his services might at any moment be required as Dresser. In fact,
within a quarter of an hour Lord Decimus called to him 'Ferdinand!'
and he went, and took his place in the conference for some five
minutes more. Then a half-suppressed gasp broke out among the
Chorus; for Lord Decimus rose to take his leave. Again coached up
by Ferdinand to the point of making himself popular, he shook hands
in the most brilliant manner with the whole company, and even said
to Bar, 'I hope you were not bored by my pears?' To which Bar
retorted, 'Eton, my lord, or Parliamentary?' neatly showing that he
had mastered the joke, and delicately insinuating that he could
never forget it while his life remained.
All the grave importance that was buttoned up in Mr Tite Barnacle,
took itself away next; and Ferdinand took himself away next, to the
opera. Some of the rest lingered a little, marrying golden liqueur
glasses to Buhl tables with sticky rings; on the desperate chance
of Mr Merdle's saying something. But Merdle, as usual, oozed
sluggishly and muddily about his drawing-room, saying never a word.
In a day or two it was announced to all the town, that Edmund
Sparkler, Esquire, son-in-law of the eminent Mr Merdle of worldwide
renown, was made one of the Lords of the Circumlocution Office; and
proclamation was issued, to all true believers, that this admirable
appointment was to be hailed as a graceful and gracious mark of
homage, rendered by the graceful and gracious Decimus, to that
commercial interest which must ever in a great commercial country--
and all the rest of it, with blast of trumpet. So, bolstered by
this mark of Government homage, the wonderful Bank and all the
other wonderful undertakings went on and went up; and gapers came
to Harley Street, Cavendish Square, only to look at the house where
the golden wonder lived.
And when they saw the Chief Butler looking out at the hall-door in
his moments of condescension, the gapers said how rich he looked,
and wondered how much money he had in the wonderful Bank. But, if
they had known that respectable Nemesis better, they would not have
wondered about it, and might have stated the amount with the utmost
The Progress of an Epidemic
That it is at least as difficult to stay a moral infection as a
physical one; that such a disease will spread with the malignity
and rapidity of the Plague; that the contagion, when it has once
made head, will spare no pursuit or condition, but will lay hold on
people in the soundest health, and become developed in the most
unlikely constitutions: is a fact as firmly established by
experience as that we human creatures breathe an atmosphere. A
blessing beyond appreciation would be conferred upon mankind, if
the tainted, in whose weakness or wickedness these virulent
disorders are bred, could be instantly seized and placed in close
confinement (not to say summarily smothered) before the poison is
As a vast fire will fill the air to a great distance with its roar,
so the sacred flame which the mighty Barnacles had fanned caused
the air to resound more and more with the name of Merdle. It was
deposited on every lip, and carried into every ear. There never
was, there never had been, there never again should be, such a man
as Mr Merdle. Nobody, as aforesaid, knew what he had done; but
everybody knew him to be the greatest that had appeared.
Down in Bleeding Heart Yard, where there was not one unappropriated
halfpenny, as lively an interest was taken in this paragon of men
as on the Stock Exchange. Mrs Plornish, now established in the
small grocery and general trade in a snug little shop at the crack
end of the Yard, at the top of the steps, with her little old
father and Maggy acting as assistants, habitually held forth about
him over the counter in conversation with her customers. Mr
Plornish, who had a small share in a small builder's business in
the neighbourhood, said, trowel in hand, on the tops of scaffolds
and on the tiles of houses, that people did tell him as Mr Merdle
was the one, mind you, to put us all to rights in respects of that
which all on us looked to, and to bring us all safe home as much as
we needed, mind you, fur toe be brought. Mr Baptist, sole lodger
of Mr and Mrs Plornish was reputed in whispers to lay by the
savings which were the result of his simple and moderate life, for
investment in one of Mr Merdle's certain enterprises. The female
Bleeding Hearts, when they came for ounces of tea, and
hundredweights of talk, gave Mrs Plornish to understand, That how,
ma'am, they had heard from their cousin Mary Anne, which worked in
the line, that his lady's dresses would fill three waggons. That
how she was as handsome a lady, ma'am, as lived, no matter wheres,
and a busk like marble itself. That how, according to what they
was told, ma'am, it was her son by a former husband as was took
into the Government; and a General he had been, and armies he had
marched again and victory crowned, if all you heard was to be
believed. That how it was reported that Mr Merdle's words had
been, that if they could have made it worth his while to take the
whole Government he would have took it without a profit, but that
take it he could not and stand a loss. That how it was not to be
expected, ma'am, that he should lose by it, his ways being, as you
might say and utter no falsehood, paved with gold; but that how it
was much to be regretted that something handsome hadn't been got up
to make it worth his while; for it was such and only such that
knowed the heighth to which the bread and butchers' meat had rose,
and it was such and only such that both could and would bring that
So rife and potent was the fever in Bleeding Heart Yard, that Mr
Pancks's rent-days caused no interval in the patients. The disease
took the singular form, on those occasions, of causing the infected
to find an unfathomable excuse and consolation in allusions to the
'Now, then!' Mr Pancks would say, to a defaulting lodger. 'Pay up!
'I haven't got it, Mr Pancks,' Defaulter would reply. 'I tell you
the truth, sir, when I say I haven't got so much as a single
sixpence of it to bless myself with.'
'This won't do, you know,' Mr Pancks would retort. 'You don't
expect it will do; do you?'
Defaulter would admit, with a low-spirited 'No, sir,' having no
'My proprietor isn't going to stand this, you know,' Mr Pancks
would proceed. 'He don't send me here for this. Pay up! Come!'
The Defaulter would make answer, 'Ah, Mr Pancks. If I was the rich
gentleman whose name is in everybody's mouth--if my name was
Merdle, sir--I'd soon pay up, and be glad to do it.'
Dialogues on the rent-question usually took place at the house-
doors or in the entries, and in the presence of several deeply
interested Bleeding Hearts. They always received a reference of
this kind with a low murmur of response, as if it were convincing;
and the Defaulter, however black and discomfited before, always
cheered up a little in making it.
'If I was Mr Merdle, sir, you wouldn't have cause to complain of me
then. No, believe me!' the Defaulter would proceed with a shake of
the head. 'I'd pay up so quick then, Mr Pancks, that you shouldn't
have to ask me.'
The response would be heard again here, implying that it was
impossible to say anything fairer, and that this was the next thing
to paying the money down.
Mr Pancks would be now reduced to saying as he booked the case,
'Well! You'll have the broker in, and be turned out; that's
what'll happen to you. It's no use talking to me about Mr Merdle.
You are not Mr Merdle, any more than I am.'
'No, sir,' the Defaulter would reply. 'I only wish you were him,
The response would take this up quickly; replying with great
feeling, 'Only wish you were him, sir.'
'You'd be easier with us if you were Mr Merdle, sir,' the Defaulter
would go on with rising spirits, 'and it would be better for all
parties. Better for our sakes, and better for yours, too. You
wouldn't have to worry no one, then, sir. You wouldn't have to
worry us, and you wouldn't have to worry yourself. You'd be easier
in your own mind, sir, and you'd leave others easier, too, you
would, if you were Mr Merdle.'
Mr Pancks, in whom these impersonal compliments produced an
irresistible sheepishness, never rallied after such a charge. He
could only bite his nails and puff away to the next Defaulter. The
responsive Bleeding Hearts would then gather round the Defaulter
whom he had just abandoned, and the most extravagant rumours would
circulate among them, to their great comfort, touching the amount
of Mr Merdle's ready money.
From one of the many such defeats of one of many rent-days, Mr
Pancks, having finished his day's collection, repaired with his
note-book under his arm to Mrs Plornish's corner. Mr Pancks's
object was not professional, but social. He had had a trying day,
and wanted a little brightening. By this time he was on friendly
terms with the Plornish family, having often looked in upon them at
similar seasons, and borne his part in recollections of Miss
Mrs Plornish's shop-parlour had been decorated under her own eye,
and presented, on the side towards the shop, a little fiction in
which Mrs Plornish unspeakably rejoiced. This poetical heightening
of the parlour consisted in the wall being painted to represent the
exterior of a thatched cottage; the artist having introduced (in as
effective a manner as he found compatible with their highly
disproportionate dimensions) the real door and window. The modest
sunflower and hollyhock were depicted as flourishing with great
luxuriance on this rustic dwelling, while a quantity of dense smoke
issuing from the chimney indicated good cheer within, and also,
perhaps, that it had not been lately swept. A faithful dog was
represented as flying at the legs of the friendly visitor, from the
threshold; and a circular pigeon-house, enveloped in a cloud of
pigeons, arose from behind the garden-paling. On the door (when it
was shut), appeared the semblance of a brass-plate, presenting the
inscription, Happy Cottage, T. and M. Plornish; the partnership
expressing man and wife. No Poetry and no Art ever charmed the
imagination more than the union of the two in this counterfeit
cottage charmed Mrs Plornish. It was nothing to her that Plornish
had a habit of leaning against it as he smoked his pipe after work,
when his hat blotted out the pigeon-house and all the pigeons, when
his back swallowed up the dwelling, when his hands in his pockets
uprooted the blooming garden and laid waste the adjacent country.
To Mrs Plornish, it was still a most beautiful cottage, a most
wonderful deception; and it made no difference that Mr Plornish's
eye was some inches above the level of the gable bed-room in the
thatch. To come out into the shop after it was shut, and hear her
father sing a song inside this cottage, was a perfect Pastoral to
Mrs Plornish, the Golden Age revived. And truly if that famous
period had been revived, or had ever been at all, it may be doubted
whether it would have produced many more heartily admiring
daughters than the poor woman.
Warned of a visitor by the tinkling bell at the shop-door, Mrs
Plornish came out of Happy Cottage to see who it might be. 'I
guessed it was you, Mr Pancks,' said she, 'for it's quite your
regular night; ain't it? Here's father, you see, come out to serve
at the sound of the bell, like a brisk young shopman. Ain't he
looking well? Father's more pleased to see you than if you was a
customer, for he dearly loves a gossip; and when it turns upon Miss
Dorrit, he loves it all the more. You never heard father in such
voice as he is at present,' said Mrs Plornish, her own voice
quavering, she was so proud and pleased. 'He gave us Strephon last
night to that degree that Plornish gets up and makes him this
speech across the table. "John Edward Nandy," says Plornish to
father, "I never heard you come the warbles as I have heard you
come the warbles this night." An't it gratifying, Mr Pancks,
Mr Pancks, who had snorted at the old man in his friendliest
manner, replied in the affirmative, and casually asked whether that
lively Altro chap had come in yet? Mrs Plornish answered no, not
yet, though he had gone to the West-End with some work, and had
said he should be back by tea-time. Mr Pancks was then hospitably
pressed into Happy Cottage, where he encountered the elder Master
Plornish just come home from school. Examining that young student,
lightly, on the educational proceedings of the day, he found that
the more advanced pupils who were in the large text and the letter
M, had been set the copy 'Merdle, Millions.'
'And how are you getting on, Mrs Plornish,' said Pancks, 'since
we're mentioning millions?'
'Very steady, indeed, sir,' returned Mrs Plornish. 'Father, dear,
would you go into the shop and tidy the window a little bit before
tea, your taste being so beautiful?'
John Edward Nandy trotted away, much gratified, to comply with his
daughter's request. Mrs Plornish, who was always in mortal terror
of mentioning pecuniary affairs before the old gentleman, lest any
disclosure she made might rouse his spirit and induce him to run
away to the workhouse, was thus left free to be confidential with
'It's quite true that the business is very steady indeed,' said Mrs
Plornish, lowering her voice; 'and has a excellent connection. The
only thing that stands in its way, sir, is the Credit.'
This drawback, rather severely felt by most people who engaged in
commercial transactions with the inhabitants of Bleeding Heart
Yard, was a large stumbling-block in Mrs Plornish's trade. When Mr
Dorrit had established her in the business, the Bleeding Hearts had
shown an amount of emotion and a determination to support her in
it, that did honour to human nature. Recognising her claim upon
their generous feelings as one who had long been a member of their
community, they pledged themselves, with great feeling, to deal
with Mrs Plornish, come what would and bestow their patronage on no
other establishment. Influenced by these noble sentiments, they
had even gone out of their way to purchase little luxuries in the
grocery and butter line to which they were unaccustomed; saying to
one another, that if they did stretch a point, was it not for a
neighbour and a friend, and for whom ought a point to be stretched
if not for such? So stimulated, the business was extremely brisk,
and the articles in stock went off with the greatest celerity. In
short, if the Bleeding Hearts had but paid, the undertaking would
have been a complete success; whereas, by reason of their
exclusively confining themselves to owing, the profits actually
realised had not yet begun to appear in the books.
Mr Pancks was making a very porcupine of himself by sticking his
hair up in the contemplation of this state of accounts, when old Mr
Nandy, re-entering the cottage with an air of mystery, entreated
them to come and look at the strange behaviour of Mr Baptist, who
seemed to have met with something that had scared him. All three
going into the shop, and watching through the window, then saw Mr
Baptist, pale and agitated, go through the following extraordinary
performances. First, he was observed hiding at the top of the
steps leading down into the Yard, and peeping up and down the
street with his head cautiously thrust out close to the side of the
shop-door. After very anxious scrutiny, he came out of his
retreat, and went briskly down the street as if he were going away
altogether; then, suddenly turned about, and went, at the same
pace, and with the same feint, up the street. He had gone no
further up the street than he had gone down, when he crossed the
road and disappeared. The object of this last manoeuvre was only
apparent, when his entering the shop with a sudden twist, from the
steps again, explained that he had made a wide and obscure circuit
round to the other, or Doyce and Clennam, end of the Yard, and had
come through the Yard and bolted in. He was out of breath by that
time, as he might well be, and his heart seemed to jerk faster than
the little shop-bell, as it quivered and jingled behind him with
his hasty shutting of the door.
'Hallo, old chap!' said Mr Pancks. 'Altro, old boy! What's the
Mr Baptist, or Signor Cavalletto, understood English now almost as
well as Mr Pancks himself, and could speak it very well too.
Nevertheless, Mrs Plornish, with a pardonable vanity in that
accomplishment of hers which made her all but Italian, stepped in
'E ask know,' said Mrs Plornish, 'What go wrong?'
'Come into the happy little cottage, Padrona,' returned Mr Baptist,
imparting great stealthiness to his flurried back-handed shake of
his right forefinger. 'Come there!'
Mrs Plornish was proud of the title Padrona, which she regarded as
signifying: not so much Mistress of the house, as Mistress of the
Italian tongue. She immediately complied with Mr Baptist's
request, and they all went into the cottage.
'E ope you no fright,' said Mrs Plornish then, interpreting Mr
Pancks in a new way with her usual fertility of resource. 'What
appen? Peaka Padrona!'
'I have seen some one,' returned Baptist. 'I have rincontrato
'Im? Oo him?' asked Mrs Plornish.
'A bad man. A baddest man. I have hoped that I should never see
'Ow you know him bad?' asked Mrs Plornish.
'It does not matter, Padrona. I know it too well.'
''E see you?' asked Mrs Plornish.
'No. I hope not. I believe not.'
'He says,' Mrs Plornish then interpreted, addressing her father and
Pancks with mild condescension, 'that he has met a bad man, but he
hopes the bad man didn't see him--Why,' inquired Mrs Plornish,
reverting to the Italian language, 'why ope bad man no see?'
'Padrona, dearest,' returned the little foreigner whom she so
considerately protected, 'do not ask, I pray. Once again I say it
matters not. I have fear of this man. I do not wish to see him,
I do not wish to be known of him--never again! Enough, most
beautiful. Leave it.'
The topic was so disagreeable to him, and so put his usual
liveliness to the rout, that Mrs Plornish forbore to press him
further: the rather as the tea had been drawing for some time on
the hob. But she was not the less surprised and curious for asking
no more questions; neither was Mr Pancks, whose expressive
breathing had been labouring hard since the entrance of the little
man, like a locomotive engine with a great load getting up a steep
incline. Maggy, now better dressed than of yore, though still
faithful to the monstrous character of her cap, had been in the
background from the first with open mouth and eyes, which staring
and gaping features were not diminished in breadth by the untimely
suppression of the subject. However, no more was said about it,
though much appeared to be thought on all sides: by no means
excepting the two young Plornishes, who partook of the evening meal
as if their eating the bread and butter were rendered almost
superfluous by the painful probability of the worst of men shortly
presenting himself for the purpose of eating them. Mr Baptist, by
degrees began to chirp a little; but never stirred from the seat he
had taken behind the door and close to the window, though it was
not his usual place. As often as the little bell rang, he started
and peeped out secretly, with the end of the little curtain in his
hand and the rest before his face; evidently not at all satisfied
but that the man he dreaded had tracked him through all his
doublings and turnings, with the certainty of a terrible
The entrance, at various times, of two or three customers and of Mr
Plornish, gave Mr Baptist just enough of this employment to keep
the attention of the company fixed upon him. Tea was over, and the
children were abed, and Mrs Plornish was feeling her way to the
dutiful proposal that her father should favour them with Chloe,
when the bell rang again, and Mr Clennam came in.
Clennam had been poring late over his books and letters; for the
waiting-rooms of the Circumlocution Office ravaged his time sorely.
Over and above that, he was depressed and made uneasy by the late
occurrence at his mother's. He looked worn and solitary. He felt
so, too; but, nevertheless, was returning home from his counting-
house by that end of the Yard to give them the intelligence that he
had received another letter from Miss Dorrit.
The news made a sensation in the cottage which drew off the general
attention from Mr Baptist. Maggy, who pushed her way into the
foreground immediately, would have seemed to draw in the tidings of
her Little Mother equally at her ears, nose, mouth, and eyes, but
that the last were obstructed by tears. She was particularly
delighted when Clennam assured her that there were hospitals, and
very kindly conducted hospitals, in Rome. Mr Pancks rose into new
distinction in virtue of being specially remembered in the letter.
Everybody was pleased and interested, and Clennam was well repaid
for his trouble.
'But you are tired, sir. Let me make you a cup of tea,' said Mrs
Plornish, 'if you'd condescend to take such a thing in the cottage;
and many thanks to you, too, I am sure, for bearing us in mind so
Mr Plornish deeming it incumbent on him, as host, to add his
personal acknowledgments, tendered them in the form which always
expressed his highest ideal of a combination of ceremony with
'John Edward Nandy,' said Mr Plornish, addressing the old
gentleman. 'Sir. It's not too often that you see unpretending
actions without a spark of pride, and therefore when you see them
give grateful honour unto the same, being that if you don't, and
live to want 'em, it follows serve you right.'
To which Mr Nandy replied:
'I am heartily of your opinion, Thomas, and which your opinion is
the same as mine, and therefore no more words and not being
backwards with that opinion, which opinion giving it as yes,
Thomas, yes, is the opinion in which yourself and me must ever be
unanimously jined by all, and where there is not difference of
opinion there can be none but one opinion, which fully no, Thomas,
Thomas, no !'
Arthur, with less formality, expressed himself gratified by their
high appreciation of so very slight an attention on his part; and
explained as to the tea that he had not yet dined, and was going
straight home to refresh after a long day's labour, or he would
have readily accepted the hospitable offer. As Mr Pancks was
somewhat noisily getting his steam up for departure, he concluded
by asking that gentleman if he would walk with him? Mr Pancks said
he desired no better engagement, and the two took leave of Happy
'If you will come home with me, Pancks,' said Arthur, when they got
into the street, 'and will share what dinner or supper there is, it
will be next door to an act of charity; for I am weary and out of
'Ask me to do a greater thing than that,' said Pancks, 'when you
want it done, and I'll do it.'
Between this eccentric personage and Clennam, a tacit understanding
and accord had been always improving since Mr Pancks flew over Mr
Rugg's back in the Marshalsea Yard. When the carriage drove away
on the memorable day of the family's departure, these two had
looked after it together, and had walked slowly away together.
When the first letter came from little Dorrit, nobody was more
interested in hearing of her than Mr Pancks. The second letter, at
that moment in Clennam's breast-pocket, particularly remembered him
by name. Though he had never before made any profession or
protestation to Clennam, and though what he had just said was
little enough as to the words in which it was expressed, Clennam
had long had a growing belief that Mr Pancks, in his own odd way,
was becoming attached to him. All these strings intertwining made
Pancks a very cable of anchorage that night.
'I am quite alone,' Arthur explained as they walked on. 'My
partner is away, busily engaged at a distance on his branch of our
business, and you shall do just as you like.'
'Thank you. You didn't take particular notice of little Altro just
now; did you?' said Pancks.
'He's a bright fellow, and I like him,' said Pancks. 'Something
has gone amiss with him to-day. Have you any idea of any cause
that can have overset him?'
'You surprise me! None whatever.'
Mr Pancks gave his reasons for the inquiry. Arthur was quite
unprepared for them, and quite unable to suggest an explanation of
'Perhaps you'll ask him,' said Pancks, 'as he's a stranger?'
'Ask him what?' returned Clennam.
'What he has on his mind.'
'I ought first to see for myself that he has something on his mind,
I think,' said Clennam. 'I have found him in every way so
diligent, so grateful (for little enough), and so trustworthy, that
it might look like suspecting him. And that would be very unjust.'
'True,' said Pancks. 'But, I say! You oughtn't to be anybody's
proprietor, Mr Clennam. You're much too delicate.'
'For the matter of that,' returned Clennam laughing, 'I have not a
large proprietary share in Cavalletto. His carving is his
livelihood. He keeps the keys of the Factory, watches it every
alternate night, and acts as a sort of housekeeper to it generally;
but we have little work in the way of his ingenuity, though we give
him what we have. No! I am rather his adviser than his
proprietor. To call me his standing counsel and his banker would
be nearer the fact. Speaking of being his banker, is it not
curious, Pancks, that the ventures which run just now in so many
people's heads, should run even in little Cavalletto's?'
'Ventures?' retorted Pancks, with a snort. 'What ventures?'
'These Merdle enterprises.'
'Oh! Investments,' said Pancks. 'Ay, ay! I didn't know you were
speaking of investments.'
His quick way of replying caused Clennam to look at him, with a
doubt whether he meant more than he said. As it was accompanied,
however, with a quickening of his pace and a corresponding increase
in the labouring of his machinery, Arthur did not pursue the
matter, and they soon arrived at his house.
A dinner of soup and a pigeon-pie, served on a little round table
before the fire, and flavoured with a bottle of good wine, oiled Mr
Pancks's works in a highly effective manner; so that when Clennam
produced his Eastern pipe, and handed Mr Pancks another Eastern
pipe, the latter gentleman was perfectly comfortable.
They puffed for a while in silence, Mr Pancks like a steam-vessel
with wind, tide, calm water, and all other sea-going conditions in
her favour. He was the first to speak, and he spoke thus:
'Yes. Investments is the word.'
Clennam, with his former look, said 'Ah!'
'I am going back to it, you see,' said Pancks.
'Yes. I see you are going back to it,' returned Clennam, wondering
'Wasn't it a curious thing that they should run in little Altro's
head? Eh?' said Pancks as he smoked. 'Wasn't that how you put
'That was what I said.'
'Ay! But think of the whole Yard having got it. Think of their
all meeting me with it, on my collecting days, here and there and
everywhere. Whether they pay, or whether they don't pay. Merdle,
Merdle, Merdle. Always Merdle.'
'Very strange how these runs on an infatuation prevail,' said
'An't it?' returned Pancks. After smoking for a minute or so, more
drily than comported with his recent oiling, he added: 'Because you
see these people don't understand the subject.'
'Not a bit,' assented Clennam.
'Not a bit,' cried Pancks. 'Know nothing of figures. Know nothing
of money questions. Never made a calculation. Never worked it,
'If they had--' Clennam was going on to say; when Mr Pancks,
without change of countenance, produced a sound so far surpassing
all his usual efforts, nasal or bronchial, that he stopped.
'If they had?' repeated Pancks in an inquiring tone.
'I thought you--spoke,' said Arthur, hesitating what name to give
'Not at all,' said Pancks. 'Not yet. I may in a minute. If they
'If they had,' observed Clennam, who was a little at a loss how to
take his friend, 'why, I suppose they would have known better.'
'How so, Mr Clennam?' Pancks asked quickly, and with an odd effect
of having been from the commencement of the conversation loaded
with the heavy charge he now fired off. 'They're right, you know.
They don't mean to be, but they're right.'
'Right in sharing Cavalletto's inclination to speculate with Mr
'Per-fectly, sir,' said Pancks. 'I've gone into it. I've made the
calculations. I've worked it. They're safe and genuine.'
Relieved by having got to this, Mr Pancks took as long a pull as
his lungs would permit at his Eastern pipe, and looked sagaciously
and steadily at Clennam while inhaling and exhaling too.
In those moments, Mr Pancks began to give out the dangerous
infection with which he was laden. It is the manner of
communicating these diseases; it is the subtle way in which they go
'Do you mean, my good Pancks,' asked Clennam emphatically, 'that
you would put that thousand pounds of yours, let us say, for
instance, out at this kind of interest?'
'Certainly,' said Pancks. 'Already done it, sir.'
Mr Pancks took another long inhalation, another long exhalation,
another long sagacious look at Clennam.
'I tell you, Mr Clennam, I've gone into it,' said Pancks. 'He's a
man of immense resources--enormous capital--government influence.
They're the best schemes afloat. They're safe. They're certain.'
'Well!' returned Clennam, looking first at him gravely and then at
the fire gravely. 'You surprise me!'
'Bah!' Pancks retorted. 'Don't say that, sir. It's what you ought
to do yourself! Why don't you do as I do?'
Of whom Mr Pancks had taken the prevalent disease, he could no more
have told than if he had unconsciously taken a fever. Bred at
first, as many physical diseases are, in the wickedness of men, and
then disseminated in their ignorance, these epidemics, after a
period, get communicated to many sufferers who are neither ignorant
nor wicked. Mr Pancks might, or might not, have caught the illness
himself from a subject of this class; but in this category he
appeared before Clennam, and the infection he threw off was all the
'And you have really invested,' Clennam had already passed to that
word, 'your thousand pounds, Pancks?'
'To be sure, sir!' replied Pancks boldly, with a puff of smoke.
'And only wish it ten!'
Now, Clennam had two subjects lying heavy on his lonely mind that
night; the one, his partner's long-deferred hope; the other, what
he had seen and heard at his mother's. In the relief of having
this companion, and of feeling that he could trust him, he passed
on to both, and both brought him round again, with an increase and
acceleration of force, to his point of departure.
It came about in the simplest manner. Quitting the investment
subject, after an interval of silent looking at the fire through
the smoke of his pipe, he told Pancks how and why he was occupied
with the great National Department. 'A hard case it has been, and
a hard case it is on Doyce,' he finished by saying, with all the
honest feeling the topic roused in him.
'Hard indeed,' Pancks acquiesced. 'But you manage for him, Mr
'How do you mean ?'
'Manage the money part of the business?'
'Yes. As well as I can.'
'Manage it better, sir,' said Pancks. 'Recompense him for his
toils and disappointments. Give him the chances of the time.
He'll never benefit himself in that way, patient and preoccupied
workman. He looks to you, sir.'
'I do my best, Pancks,' returned Clennam, uneasily. 'As to duly
weighing and considering these new enterprises of which I have had
no experience, I doubt if I am fit for it, I am growing old.'
'Growing old?' cried Pancks. 'Ha, ha!'
There was something so indubitably genuine in the wonderful laugh,
and series of snorts and puffs, engendered in Mr Pancks's
astonishment at, and utter rejection of, the idea, that his being
quite in earnest could not be questioned.
'Growing old?' cried Pancks. 'Hear, hear, hear! Old? Hear him,
The positive refusal expressed in Mr Pancks's continued snorts, no
less than in these exclamations, to entertain the sentiment for a
single instant, drove Arthur away from it. Indeed, he was fearful
of something happening to Mr Pancks in the violent conflict that
took place between the breath he jerked out of himself and the
smoke he jerked into himself. This abandonment of the second topic
threw him on the third.
'Young, old, or middle-aged, Pancks,' he said, when there was a
favourable pause, 'I am in a very anxious and uncertain state; a
state that even leads me to doubt whether anything now seeming to
belong to me, may be really mine. Shall I tell you how this is?
Shall I put a great trust in you?'
'You shall, sir,' said Pancks, 'if you believe me worthy of it.'
'You may!' Mr Pancks's short and sharp rejoinder, confirmed by the
sudden outstretching of his coaly hand, was most expressive and
convincing. Arthur shook the hand warmly.
He then, softening the nature of his old apprehensions as much as
was possible consistently with their being made intelligible and
never alluding to his mother by name, but speaking vaguely of a
relation of his, confided to Mr Pancks a broad outline of the
misgivings he entertained, and of the interview he had witnessed.
Mr Pancks listened with such interest that, regardless of the
charms of the Eastern pipe, he put it in the grate among the fire-
irons, and occupied his hands during the whole recital in so
erecting the loops and hooks of hair all over his head, that he
looked, when it came to a conclusion, like a journeyman Hamlet in
conversation with his father's spirit.
'Brings me back, sir,' was his exclamation then, with a startling
touch on Clennam's knee, 'brings me back, sir, to the Investments!
I don't say anything of your making yourself poor to repair a wrong
you never committed. That's you. A man must be himself. But I
say this, fearing you may want money to save your own blood from
exposure and disgrace--make as much as you can!'
Arthur shook his head, but looked at him thoughtfully too.
'Be as rich as you can, sir,' Pancks adjured him with a powerful
concentration of all his energies on the advice. 'Be as rich as
you honestly can. It's your duty. Not for your sake, but for the
sake of others. Take time by the forelock. Poor Mr Doyce (who
really is growing old) depends upon you. Your relative depends
upon you. You don't know what depends upon you.'
'Well, well, well!' returned Arthur. 'Enough for to-night.'
'One word more, Mr Clennam,' retorted Pancks, 'and then enough for
to-night. Why should you leave all the gains to the gluttons,
knaves, and impostors? Why should you leave all the gains that are
to be got to my proprietor and the like of him? Yet you're always
doing it. When I say you, I mean such men as you. You know you
are. Why, I see it every day of my life. I see nothing else.
It's my business to see it. Therefore I say,' urged Pancks, 'Go in
'But what of Go in and lose?' said Arthur.
'Can't be done, sir,' returned Pancks. 'I have looked into it.
Name up everywhere--immense resources--enormous capital--great
position--high connection--government influence. Can't be done!'
Gradually, after this closing exposition, Mr Pancks subsided;
allowed his hair to droop as much as it ever would droop on the
utmost persuasion; reclaimed the pipe from the fire-irons, filled
it anew, and smoked it out. They said little more; but were
company to one another in silently pursuing the same subjects, and
did not part until midnight. On taking his leave, Mr Pancks, when
he had shaken hands with Clennam, worked completely round him
before he steamed out at the door. This, Arthur received as an
assurance that he might implicitly rely on Pancks, if he ever
should come to need assistance; either in any of the matters of
which they had spoken that night, or any other subject that could
in any way affect himself.
At intervals all next day, and even while his attention was fixed
on other things, he thought of Mr Pancks's investment of his
thousand pounds, and of his having 'looked into it.' He thought of
Mr Pancks's being so sanguine in this matter, and of his not being
usually of a sanguine character. He thought of the great National
Department, and of the delight it would be to him to see Doyce
better off. He thought of the darkly threatening place that went
by the name of Home in his remembrance, and of the gathering
shadows which made it yet more darkly threatening than of old. He
observed anew that wherever he went, he saw, or heard, or touched,
the celebrated name of Merdle; he found it difficult even to remain
at his desk a couple of hours, without having it presented to one
of his bodily senses through some agency or other. He began to
think it was curious too that it should be everywhere, and that
nobody but he should seem to have any mistrust of it. Though
indeed he began to remember, when he got to this, even he did not
mistrust it; he had only happened to keep aloof from it.
Such symptoms, when a disease of the kind is rife, are usually the
signs of sickening.
When it became known to the Britons on the shore of the yellow
Tiber that their intelligent compatriot, Mr Sparkler, was made one
of the Lords of their Circumlocution Office, they took it as a
piece of news with which they had no nearer concern than with any
other piece of news--any other Accident or Offence--in the English
papers. Some laughed; some said, by way of complete excuse, that
the post was virtually a sinecure, and any fool who could spell his
name was good enough for it; some, and these the more solemn
political oracles, said that Decimus did wisely to strengthen
himself, and that the sole constitutional purpose of all places
within the gift of Decimus, was, that Decimus should strengthen
himself. A few bilious Britons there were who would not subscribe
to this article of faith; but their objection was purely
theoretical. In a practical point of view, they listlessly
abandoned the matter, as being the business of some other Britons
unknown, somewhere, or nowhere. In like manner, at home, great
numbers of Britons maintained, for as long as four-and-twenty
consecutive hours, that those invisible and anonymous Britons
'ought to take it up;' and that if they quietly acquiesced in it,
they deserved it. But of what class the remiss Britons were
composed, and where the unlucky creatures hid themselves, and why
they hid themselves, and how it constantly happened that they
neglected their interests, when so many other Britons were quite at
a loss to account for their not looking after those interests, was
not, either upon the shore of the yellow Tiber or the shore of the
black Thames, made apparent to men.
Mrs Merdle circulated the news, as she received congratulations on
it, with a careless grace that displayed it to advantage, as the
setting displays the jewel. Yes, she said, Edmund had taken the
place. Mr Merdle wished him to take it, and he had taken it. She
hoped Edmund might like it, but really she didn't know. It would
keep him in town a good deal, and he preferred the country. Still,
it was not a disagreeable position--and it was a position. There
was no denying that the thing was a compliment to Mr Merdle, and
was not a bad thing for Edmund if he liked it. It was just as well
that he should have something to do, and it was just as well that
he should have something for doing it. Whether it would be more
agreeable to Edmund than the army, remained to be seen.
Thus the Bosom; accomplished in the art of seeming to make things
of small account, and really enhancing them in the process. While
Henry Gowan, whom Decimus had thrown away, went through the whole
round of his acquaintance between the Gate of the People and the
town of Albano, vowing, almost (but not quite) with tears in his
eyes, that Sparkler was the sweetest-tempered, simplest-hearted,
altogether most lovable jackass that ever grazed on the public
common; and that only one circumstance could have delighted him
(Gowan) more, than his (the beloved jackass's) getting this post,
and that would have been his (Gowan's) getting it himself. He said
it was the very thing for Sparkler. There was nothing to do, and
he would do it charmingly; there was a handsome salary to draw, and
he would draw it charmingly; it was a delightful, appropriate,
capital appointment; and he almost forgave the donor his slight of
himself, in his joy that the dear donkey for whom he had so great
an affection was so admirably stabled. Nor did his benevolence
stop here. He took pains, on all social occasions, to draw Mr
Sparkler out, and make him conspicuous before the company; and,
although the considerate action always resulted in that young
gentleman's making a dreary and forlorn mental spectacle of
himself, the friendly intention was not to be doubted.
Unless, indeed, it chanced to be doubted by the object of Mr
Sparkler's affections. Miss Fanny was now in the difficult
situation of being universally known in that light, and of not
having dismissed Mr Sparkler, however capriciously she used him.
Hence, she was sufficiently identified with the gentleman to feel
compromised by his being more than usually ridiculous; and hence,
being by no means deficient in quickness, she sometimes came to his
rescue against Gowan, and did him very good service. But, while
doing this, she was ashamed of him, undetermined whether to get rid
of him or more decidedly encourage him, distracted with
apprehensions that she was every day becoming more and more
immeshed in her uncertainties, and tortured by misgivings that Mrs
Merdle triumphed in her distress. With this tumult in her mind, it
is no subject for surprise that Miss Fanny came home one night in
a state of agitation from a concert and ball at Mrs Merdle's house,
and on her sister affectionately trying to soothe her, pushed that
sister away from the toilette-table at which she sat angrily trying
to cry, and declared with a heaving bosom that she detested
everybody, and she wished she was dead.
'Dear Fanny, what is the matter? Tell me.'
'Matter, you little Mole,' said Fanny. 'If you were not the
blindest of the blind, you would have no occasion to ask me. The
idea of daring to pretend to assert that you have eyes in your
head, and yet ask me what's the matter!'
'Is it Mr Sparkler, dear?'
'Mis-ter Spark-ler!' repeated Fanny, with unbounded scorn, as if he
were the last subject in the Solar system that could possibly be
near her mind. 'No, Miss Bat, it is not.'
Immediately afterwards, she became remorseful for having called her
sister names; declaring with sobs that she knew she made herself
hateful, but that everybody drove her to it.
'I don't think you are well to-night, dear Fanny.'
'Stuff and nonsense!' replied the young lady, turning angry again;
'I am as well as you are. Perhaps I might say better, and yet make
no boast of it.'
Poor Little Dorrit, not seeing her way to the offering of any
soothing words that would escape repudiation, deemed it best to
remain quiet. At first, Fanny took this ill, too; protesting to
her looking-glass, that of all the trying sisters a girl could
have, she did think the most trying sister was a flat sister. That
she knew she was at times a wretched temper; that she knew she made
herself hateful; that when she made herself hateful, nothing would
do her half the good as being told so; but that, being afflicted
with a flat sister, she never WAS told so, and the consequence
resulted that she was absolutely tempted and goaded into making
herself disagreeable. Besides (she angrily told her looking-
glass), she didn't want to be forgiven. It was not a right
example, that she should be constantly stooping to be forgiven by
a younger sister. And this was the Art of it--that she was always
being placed in the position of being forgiven, whether she liked
it or not. Finally she burst into violent weeping, and, when her
sister came and sat close at her side to comfort her, said, 'Amy,
you're an Angel!'
'But, I tell you what, my Pet,' said Fanny, when her sister's
gentleness had calmed her, 'it now comes to this; that things
cannot and shall not go on as they are at present going on, and
that there must be an end of this, one way or another.'
As the announcement was vague, though very peremptory, Little
Dorrit returned, 'Let us talk about it.'
'Quite so, my dear,' assented Fanny, as she dried her eyes. 'Let
us talk about it. I am rational again now, and you shall advise
me. Will you advise me, my sweet child?'
Even Amy smiled at this notion, but she said, 'I will, Fanny, as
well as I can.'
'Thank you, dearest Amy,' returned Fanny, kissing her. 'You are my
Having embraced her Anchor with great affection, Fanny took a
bottle of sweet toilette water from the table, and called to her
maid for a fine handkerchief. She then dismissed that attendant
for the night, and went on to be advised; dabbing her eyes and
forehead from time to time to cool them.
'My love,' Fanny began, 'our characters and points of view are
sufficiently different (kiss me again, my darling), to make it very
probable that I shall surprise you by what I am going to say. What
I am going to say, my dear, is, that notwithstanding our property,
we labour, socially speaking, under disadvantages. You don't quite
understand what I mean, Amy?'
'I have no doubt I shall,' said Amy, mildly, 'after a few words
'Well, my dear, what I mean is, that we are, after all, newcomers
into fashionable life.'
'I am sure, Fanny,' Little Dorrit interposed in her zealous
admiration, 'no one need find that out in you.'
'Well, my dear child, perhaps not,' said Fanny, 'though it's most
kind and most affectionate in you, you precious girl, to say so.'
Here she dabbed her sister's forehead, and blew upon it a little.
'But you are,' resumed Fanny, 'as is well known, the dearest little
thing that ever was! To resume, my child. Pa is extremely
gentlemanly and extremely well informed, but he is, in some
trifling respects, a little different from other gentlemen of his
fortune: partly on account of what he has gone through, poor dear:
partly, I fancy, on account of its often running in his mind that
other people are thinking about that, while he is talking to them.
Uncle, my love, is altogether unpresentable. Though a dear
creature to whom I am tenderly attached, he is, socially speaking,
shocking. Edward is frightfully expensive and dissipated. I don't
mean that there is anything ungenteel in that itself--far from it--
but I do mean that he doesn't do it well, and that he doesn't, if
I may so express myself, get the money's-worth in the sort of
dissipated reputation that attaches to him.'
'Poor Edward!' sighed Little Dorrit, with the whole family history
in the sigh.
'Yes. And poor you and me, too,' returned Fanny, rather sharply.
'Very true! Then, my dear, we have no mother, and we have a Mrs
General. And I tell you again, darling, that Mrs General, if I may
reverse a common proverb and adapt it to her, is a cat in gloves
who WILL catch mice. That woman, I am quite sure and confident,
will be our mother-in-law.'
'I can hardly think, Fanny-' Fanny stopped her.
'Now, don't argue with me about it, Amy,' said she, 'because I know
better.' Feeling that she had been sharp again, she dabbed her
sister's forehead again, and blew upon it again. 'To resume once
more, my dear. It then becomes a question with me (I am proud and
spirited, Amy, as you very well know: too much so, I dare say)
whether I shall make up my mind to take it upon myself to carry the
'How?' asked her sister, anxiously.
'I will not,' said Fanny, without answering the question, 'submit
to be mother-in-lawed by Mrs General; and I will not submit to be,
in any respect whatever, either patronised or tormented by Mrs
Little Dorrit laid her hand upon the hand that held the bottle of
sweet water, with a still more anxious look. Fanny, quite
punishing her own forehead with the vehement dabs she now began to
give it, fitfully went on.
'That he has somehow or other, and how is of no consequence,
attained a very good position, no one can deny. That it is a very
good connection, no one can deny. And as to the question of clever
or not clever, I doubt very much whether a clever husband would be
suitable to me. I cannot submit. I should not be able to defer to
'O, my dear Fanny!' expostulated Little Dorrit, upon whom a kind of
terror had been stealing as she perceived what her sister meant.
'If you loved any one, all this feeling would change. If you loved
any one, you would no more be yourself, but you would quite lose
and forget yourself in your devotion to him. If you loved him,
Fanny--' Fanny had stopped the dabbing hand, and was looking at her
'O, indeed!' cried Fanny. 'Really? Bless me, how much some people
know of some subjects! They say every one has a subject, and I
certainly seem to have hit upon yours, Amy. There, you little
thing, I was only in fun,' dabbing her sister's forehead; 'but
don't you be a silly puss, and don't you think flightily and
eloquently about degenerate impossibilities. There! Now, I'll go
back to myself.'
'Dear Fanny, let me say first, that I would far rather we worked
for a scanty living again than I would see you rich and married to
'Let you say, my dear?' retorted Fanny. 'Why, of course, I will
let you say anything. There is no constraint upon you, I hope. We
are together to talk it over. And as to marrying Mr Sparkler, I
have not the slightest intention of doing so to-night, my dear, or
to-morrow morning either.'
'But at some time?'
'At no time, for anything I know at present,' answered Fanny, with
indifference. Then, suddenly changing her indifference into a
burning restlessness, she added, 'You talk about the clever men,
you little thing! It's all very fine and easy to talk about the
clever men; but where are they? I don't see them anywhere near
'My dear Fanny, so short a time--'
'Short time or long time,' interrupted Fanny. 'I am impatient of
our situation. I don't like our situation, and very little would
induce me to change it. Other girls, differently reared and
differently circumstanced altogether, might wonder at what I say or
may do. Let them. They are driven by their lives and characters;
I am driven by mine.'
'Fanny, my dear Fanny, you know that you have qualities to make you
the wife of one very superior to Mr Sparkler.'
'Amy, my dear Amy,' retorted Fanny, parodying her words, 'I know
that I wish to have a more defined and distinct position, in which
I can assert myself with greater effect against that insolent
'Would you therefore--forgive my asking, Fanny--therefore marry her
'Why, perhaps,' said Fanny, with a triumphant smile. 'There may be
many less promising ways of arriving at an end than that, MY dear.
That piece of insolence may think, now, that it would be a great
success to get her son off upon me, and shelve me. But, perhaps,
she little thinks how I would retort upon her if I married her son.
I would oppose her in everything, and compete with her. I would
make it the business of my life.'
Fanny set down the bottle when she came to this, and walked about
the room; always stopping and standing still while she spoke.
'One thing I could certainly do, my child: I could make her older.
And I would!'
This was followed by another walk.
'I would talk of her as an old woman. I would pretend to know --if
I didn't, but I should from her son--all about her age. And she
should hear me say, Amy: affectionately, quite dutifully and
affectionately: how well she looked, considering her time of life.
I could make her seem older at once, by being myself so much
younger. I may not be as handsome as she is; I am not a fair judge
of that question, I suppose; but I know I am handsome enough to be
a thorn in her side. And I would be!'
'My dear sister, would you condemn yourself to an unhappy life for
'It wouldn't be an unhappy life, Amy. It would be the life I am
fitted for. Whether by disposition, or whether by circumstances,
is no matter; I am better fitted for such a life than for almost
There was something of a desolate tone in those words; but, with a
short proud laugh she took another walk, and after passing a great
looking-glass came to another stop.
'Figure! Figure, Amy! Well. The woman has a good figure. I will
give her her due, and not deny it. But is it so far beyond all
others that it is altogether unapproachable? Upon my word, I am
not so sure of it. Give some much younger woman the latitude as to
dress that she has, being married; and we would see about that, my
Something in the thought that was agreeable and flattering, brought
her back to her seat in a gayer temper. She took her sister's
hands in hers, and clapped all four hands above her head as she
looked in her sister's face laughing:
'And the dancer, Amy, that she has quite forgotten--the dancer who
bore no sort of resemblance to me, and of whom I never remind her,
oh dear no!--should dance through her life, and dance in her way,
to such a tune as would disturb her insolent placidity a little.
just a little, my dear Amy, just a little!'
Meeting an earnest and imploring look in Amy's face, she brought
the four hands down, and laid only one on Amy's lips.
'Now, don't argue with me, child,' she said in a sterner way,
'because it is of no use. I understand these subjects much better
than you do. I have not nearly made up my mind, but it may be.
Now we have talked this over comfortably, and may go to bed. You
best and dearest little mouse, Good night!' With those words Fanny
weighed her Anchor, and--having taken so much advice--left off
being advised for that occasion.
Thenceforward, Amy observed Mr Sparkler's treatment by his
enslaver, with new reasons for attaching importance to all that
passed between them. There were times when Fanny appeared quite
unable to endure his mental feebleness, and when she became so
sharply impatient of it that she would all but dismiss him for
good. There were other times when she got on much better with him;
when he amused her, and when her sense of superiority seemed to
counterbalance that opposite side of the scale. If Mr Sparkler had
been other than the faithfullest and most submissive of swains, he
was sufficiently hard pressed to have fled from the scene of his
trials, and have set at least the whole distance from Rome to
London between himself and his enchantress. But he had no greater
will of his own than a boat has when it is towed by a steam-ship;
and he followed his cruel mistress through rough and smooth, on
equally strong compulsion.
Mrs Merdle, during these passages, said little to Fanny, but said
more about her. She was, as it were, forced to look at her through
her eye-glass, and in general conversation to allow commendations
of her beauty to be wrung from her by its irresistible demands.
The defiant character it assumed when Fanny heard these extollings
(as it generally happened that she did), was not expressive of
concessions to the impartial bosom; but the utmost revenge the
bosom took was, to say audibly, 'A spoilt beauty--but with that
face and shape, who could wonder?'
It might have been about a month or six weeks after the night of
the new advice, when Little Dorrit began to think she detected some
new understanding between Mr Sparkler and Fanny. Mr Sparkler, as
if in attendance to some compact, scarcely ever spoke without first
looking towards Fanny for leave. That young lady was too discreet
ever to look back again; but, if Mr Sparkler had permission to
speak, she remained silent; if he had not, she herself spoke.
Moreover, it became plain whenever Henry Gowan attempted to perform
the friendly office of drawing him out, that he was not to be
drawn. And not only that, but Fanny would presently, without any
pointed application in the world, chance to say something with such
a sting in it that Gowan would draw back as if he had put his hand
into a bee-hive.
There was yet another circumstance which went a long way to confirm
Little Dorrit in her fears, though it was not a great circumstance
in itself. Mr Sparkler's demeanour towards herself changed. It
became fraternal. Sometimes, when she was in the outer circle of
assemblies--at their own residence, at Mrs Merdle's, or elsewhere--
she would find herself stealthily supported round the waist by Mr
Sparkler's arm. Mr Sparkler never offered the slightest
explanation of this attention; but merely smiled with an air of
blundering, contented, good-natured proprietorship, which, in so
heavy a gentleman, was ominously expressive.
Little Dorrit was at home one day, thinking about Fanny with a
heavy heart. They had a room at one end of their drawing-room
suite, nearly all irregular bay-window, projecting over the street,
and commanding all the picturesque life and variety of the Corso,
both up and down. At three or four o'clock in the afternoon,
English time, the view from this window was very bright and
peculiar; and Little Dorrit used to sit and muse here, much as she
had been used to while away the time in her balcony at Venice.
Seated thus one day, she was softly touched on the shoulder, and
Fanny said, 'Well, Amy dear,' and took her seat at her side. Their
seat was a part of the window; when there was anything in the way
of a procession going on, they used to have bright draperies hung
out of the window, and used to kneel or sit on this seat, and look
out at it, leaning on the brilliant colour. But there was no
procession that day, and Little Dorrit was rather surprised by
Fanny's being at home at that hour, as she was generally out on
'Well, Amy,' said Fanny, 'what are you thinking of, little one?'
'I was thinking of you, Fanny.'
'No? What a coincidence! I declare here's some one else. You
were not thinking of this some one else too; were you, Amy?'
Amy HAD been thinking of this some one else too; for it was Mr
Sparkler. She did not say so, however, as she gave him her hand.
Mr Sparkler came and sat down on the other side of her, and she
felt the fraternal railing come behind her, and apparently stretch
on to include Fanny.
'Well, my little sister,' said Fanny with a sigh, 'I suppose you