Little Dorrit

Little Dorrit

Little Dorrit/29

CHAPTER 28. Nobody's Disappearance

Not resting satisfied with the endeavours he had made to recover hislost charge, Mr Meagles addressed a letter of remonstrance, breathingnothing but goodwill, not only to her, but to Miss Wade too. No answercoming to these epistles, or to another written to the stubborn girlby the hand of her late young mistress, which might have melted herif anything could (all three letters were returned weeks afterwards ashaving been refused at the house-door), he deputed Mrs Meagles to makethe experiment of a personal interview. That worthy lady being unable toobtain one, and being steadfastly denied admission, Mr Meagles besoughtArthur to essay once more what he could do. All that came of hiscompliance was, his discovery that the empty house was left in chargeof the old woman, that Miss Wade was gone, that the waifs and strays offurniture were gone, and that the old woman would accept any number ofhalf-crowns and thank the donor kindly, but had no information whateverto exchange for those coins, beyond constantly offering for perusal amemorandum relative to fixtures, which the house-agent's young man hadleft in the hall.

Unwilling, even under this discomfiture, to resign the ingrate and leaveher hopeless, in case of her better dispositions obtaining the masteryover the darker side of her character, Mr Meagles, for six successivedays, published a discreetly covert advertisement in the morning papers,to the effect that if a certain young person who had lately lefthome without reflection, would at any time apply to his address atTwickenham, everything would be as it had been before, and no reproachesneed be apprehended. The unexpected consequences of this notificationsuggested to the dismayed Mr Meagles for the first time that somehundreds of young persons must be leaving their homes without reflectionevery day; for shoals of wrong young people came down to Twickenham,who, not finding themselves received with enthusiasm, generally demandedcompensation by way of damages, in addition to coach-hire there andback. Nor were these the only uninvited clients whom the advertisementproduced. The swarm of begging-letter writers, who would seem to bealways watching eagerly for any hook, however small, to hang a letterupon, wrote to say that having seen the advertisement, they were inducedto apply with confidence for various sums, ranging from ten shillings tofifty pounds: not because they knew anything about the young person,but because they felt that to part with those donations would greatlyrelieve the advertiser's mind. Several projectors, likewise, availedthemselves of the same opportunity to correspond with Mr Meagles; as,for example, to apprise him that their attention having been called tothe advertisement by a friend, they begged to state that if they shouldever hear anything of the young person, they would not fail to make itknown to him immediately, and that in the meantime if he would obligethem with the funds necessary for bringing to perfection a certainentirely novel description of Pump, the happiest results would ensue tomankind.

Mr Meagles and his family, under these combined discouragements, hadbegun reluctantly to give up Tattycoram as irrecoverable, when the newand active firm of Doyce and Clennam, in their private capacities,went down on a Saturday to stay at the cottage until Monday. The seniorpartner took the coach, and the junior partner took his walking-stick.

A tranquil summer sunset shone upon him as he approached the end ofhis walk, and passed through the meadows by the river side. He hadthat sense of peace, and of being lightened of a weight of care, whichcountry quiet awakens in the breasts of dwellers in towns. Everythingwithin his view was lovely and placid. The rich foliage of the trees,the luxuriant grass diversified with wild flowers, the little greenislands in the river, the beds of rushes, the water-lilies floating onthe surface of the stream, the distant voices in boats borne musicallytowards him on the ripple of the water and the evening air, were allexpressive of rest. In the occasional leap of a fish, or dip of an oar,or twittering of a bird not yet at roost, or distant barking of a dog,or lowing of a cow--in all such sounds, there was the prevailing breathof rest, which seemed to encompass him in every scent that sweetenedthe fragrant air. The long lines of red and gold in the sky, and theglorious track of the descending sun, were all divinely calm. Upon thepurple tree-tops far away, and on the green height near at hand up whichthe shades were slowly creeping, there was an equal hush. Between thereal landscape and its shadow in the water, there was no division; bothwere so untroubled and clear, and, while so fraught with solemn mysteryof life and death, so hopefully reassuring to the gazer's soothed heart,because so tenderly and mercifully beautiful.

Clennam had stopped, not for the first time by many times, to look abouthim and suffer what he saw to sink into his soul, as the shadows, lookedat, seemed to sink deeper and deeper into the water. He was slowlyresuming his way, when he saw a figure in the path before him which hehad, perhaps, already associated with the evening and its impressions.

Minnie was there, alone. She had some roses in her hand, and seemed tohave stood still on seeing him, waiting for him. Her face was towardshim, and she appeared to have been coming from the opposite direction.There was a flutter in her manner, which Clennam had never seen in itbefore; and as he came near her, it entered his mind all at once thatshe was there of a set purpose to speak to him.

She gave him her hand, and said, 'You wonder to see me here by myself?But the evening is so lovely, I have strolled further than I meantat first. I thought it likely I might meet you, and that made me moreconfident. You always come this way, do you not?'

As Clennam said that it was his favourite way, he felt her hand falteron his arm, and saw the roses shake.

'Will you let me give you one, Mr Clennam? I gathered them as I came outof the garden. Indeed, I almost gathered them for you, thinking it solikely I might meet you. Mr Doyce arrived more than an hour ago, andtold us you were walking down.'

His own hand shook, as he accepted a rose or two from hers and thankedher. They were now by an avenue of trees. Whether they turned into it onhis movement or on hers matters little. He never knew how that was.

'It is very grave here,' said Clennam, 'but very pleasant at this hour.Passing along this deep shade, and out at that arch of light at theother end, we come upon the ferry and the cottage by the best approach,I think.'

In her simple garden-hat and her light summer dress, with her rich brownhair naturally clustering about her, and her wonderful eyes raised tohis for a moment with a look in which regard for him and trustfulness inhim were strikingly blended with a kind of timid sorrow for him, she wasso beautiful that it was well for his peace--or ill for his peace, hedid not quite know which--that he had made that vigorous resolution hehad so often thought about.

She broke a momentary silence by inquiring if he knew that papa had beenthinking of another tour abroad? He said he had heard it mentioned. Shebroke another momentary silence by adding, with some hesitation, thatpapa had abandoned the idea.

At this, he thought directly, 'they are to be married.'

'Mr Clennam,' she said, hesitating more timidly yet, and speaking so lowthat he bent his head to hear her. 'I should very much like to give youmy confidence, if you would not mind having the goodness to receiveit. I should have very much liked to have given it to you long ago,because--I felt that you were becoming so much our friend.'

'How can I be otherwise than proud of it at any time! Pray give it tome. Pray trust me.'

'I could never have been afraid of trusting you,' she returned, raisingher eyes frankly to his face. 'I think I would have done so some timeago, if I had known how. But I scarcely know how, even now.'

'Mr Gowan,' said Arthur Clennam, 'has reason to be very happy. God blesshis wife and him!'

She wept, as she tried to thank him. He reassured her, took her handas it lay with the trembling roses in it on his arm, took the remainingroses from it, and put it to his lips. At that time, it seemed to him,he first finally resigned the dying hope that had flickered in nobody'sheart so much to its pain and trouble; and from that time he became inhis own eyes, as to any similar hope or prospect, a very much older manwho had done with that part of life.

He put the roses in his breast and they walked on for a little while,slowly and silently, under the umbrageous trees. Then he asked her, ina voice of cheerful kindness, was there anything else that she wouldsay to him as her friend and her father's friend, many years older thanherself; was there any trust she would repose in him, any service shewould ask of him, any little aid to her happiness that she could givehim the lasting gratification of believing it was in his power torender?

She was going to answer, when she was so touched by some little hiddensorrow or sympathy--what could it have been?--that she said, burstinginto tears again: 'O Mr Clennam! Good, generous, Mr Clennam, pray tellme you do not blame me.'

'I blame you?' said Clennam. 'My dearest girl! I blame you? No!'

After clasping both her hands upon his arm, and looking confidentiallyup into his face, with some hurried words to the effect that she thankedhim from her heart (as she did, if it be the source of earnestness), shegradually composed herself, with now and then a word of encouragementfrom him, as they walked on slowly and almost silently under thedarkening trees.

'And, now, Minnie Gowan,' at length said Clennam, smiling; 'will you askme nothing?'

'Oh! I have very much to ask of you.'

'That's well! I hope so; I am not disappointed.'

'You know how I am loved at home, and how I love home. You can hardlythink it perhaps, dear Mr Clennam,' she spoke with great agitation,'seeing me going from it of my own free will and choice, but I do sodearly love it!'

'I am sure of that,' said Clennam. 'Can you suppose I doubt it?'

'No, no. But it is strange, even to me, that loving it so much andbeing so much beloved in it, I can bear to cast it away. It seems soneglectful of it, so unthankful.'

'My dear girl,' said Clennam, 'it is in the natural progress and changeof time. All homes are left so.'

'Yes, I know; but all homes are not left with such a blank in them asthere will be in mine when I am gone. Not that there is any scarcity offar better and more endearing and more accomplished girls than I am; notthat I am much, but that they have made so much of me!'

Pet's affectionate heart was overcharged, and she sobbed while shepictured what would happen.

'I know what a change papa will feel at first, and I know that at firstI cannot be to him anything like what I have been these many years.And it is then, Mr Clennam, then more than at any time, that I beg andentreat you to remember him, and sometimes to keep him company when youcan spare a little while; and to tell him that you know I was fonderof him when I left him, than I ever was in all my life. For there isnobody--he told me so himself when he talked to me this very day--thereis nobody he likes so well as you, or trusts so much.'

A clue to what had passed between the father and daughter dropped likea heavy stone into the well of Clennam's heart, and swelled the waterto his eyes. He said, cheerily, but not quite so cheerily as he tried tosay, that it should be done--that he gave her his faithful promise.

'If I do not speak of mama,' said Pet, more moved by, and more prettyin, her innocent grief, than Clennam could trust himself even toconsider--for which reason he counted the trees between them and thefading light as they slowly diminished in number--'it is because mamawill understand me better in this action, and will feel my loss in adifferent way, and will look forward in a different manner. But you knowwhat a dear, devoted mother she is, and you will remember her too; willyou not?'

Let Minnie trust him, Clennam said, let Minnie trust him to do all shewished.

'And, dear Mr Clennam,' said Minnie, 'because papa and one whom I neednot name, do not fully appreciate and understand one another yet, asthey will by-and-by; and because it will be the duty, and the pride,and pleasure of my new life, to draw them to a better knowledge of oneanother, and to be a happiness to one another, and to be proud of oneanother, and to love one another, both loving me so dearly; oh, as youare a kind, true man! when I am first separated from home (I am going along distance away), try to reconcile papa to him a little more, and useyour great influence to keep him before papa's mind free fromprejudice and in his real form. Will you do this for me, as you are anoble-hearted friend?'

Poor Pet! Self-deceived, mistaken child! When were such changesever made in men's natural relations to one another: when was suchreconcilement of ingrain differences ever effected! It has been triedmany times by other daughters, Minnie; it has never succeeded; nothinghas ever come of it but failure.

So Clennam thought. So he did not say; it was too late. He bound himselfto do all she asked, and she knew full well that he would do it.

They were now at the last tree in the avenue. She stopped, and withdrewher arm. Speaking to him with her eyes lifted up to his, and with thehand that had lately rested on his sleeve trembling by touching one ofthe roses in his breast as an additional appeal to him, she said:

'Dear Mr Clennam, in my happiness--for I am happy, though you have seenme crying--I cannot bear to leave any cloud between us. If you haveanything to forgive me (not anything that I have wilfully done, but anytrouble I may have caused you without meaning it, or having it in mypower to help it), forgive me to-night out of your noble heart!'

He stooped to meet the guileless face that met his without shrinking. Hekissed it, and answered, Heaven knew that he had nothing to forgive.As he stooped to meet the innocent face once again, she whispered,'Good-bye!' and he repeated it. It was taking leave of all his oldhopes--all nobody's old restless doubts. They came out of the avenuenext moment, arm-in-arm as they had entered it: and the trees seemed toclose up behind them in the darkness, like their own perspective of thepast.

The voices of Mr and Mrs Meagles and Doyce were audible directly,speaking near the garden gate. Hearing Pet's name among them, Clennamcalled out, 'She is here, with me.' There was some little wondering andlaughing until they came up; but as soon as they had all come together,it ceased, and Pet glided away.

Mr Meagles, Doyce, and Clennam, without speaking, walked up and downon the brink of the river, in the light of the rising moon, for a fewminutes; and then Doyce lingered behind, and went into the house. MrMeagles and Clennam walked up and down together for a few minutes morewithout speaking, until at length the former broke silence.

'Arthur,' said he, using that familiar address for the first time intheir communication, 'do you remember my telling you, as we walked upand down one hot morning, looking over the harbour at Marseilles, thatPet's baby sister who was dead seemed to Mother and me to have grown asshe had grown, and changed as she had changed?'

'Very well.'

'You remember my saying that our thoughts had never been able toseparate those twin sisters, and that, in our fancy, whatever Pet was,the other was?'

'Yes, very well.'

'Arthur,' said Mr Meagles, much subdued, 'I carry that fancy furtherto-night. I feel to-night, my dear fellow, as if you had loved my deadchild very tenderly, and had lost her when she was like what Pet isnow.'

'Thank you!' murmured Clennam, 'thank you!' And pressed his hand.

'Will you come in?' said Mr Meagles, presently.

'In a little while.'

Mr Meagles fell away, and he was left alone. When he had walked on theriver's brink in the peaceful moonlight for some half an hour, he puthis hand in his breast and tenderly took out the handful of roses.Perhaps he put them to his heart, perhaps he put them to his lips, butcertainly he bent down on the shore and gently launched them on theflowing river. Pale and unreal in the moonlight, the river floated themaway.

The lights were bright within doors when he entered, and the faces onwhich they shone, his own face not excepted, were soon quietly cheerful.They talked of many subjects (his partner never had had such a readystore to draw upon for the beguiling of the time), and so to bed, and tosleep. While the flowers, pale and unreal in the moonlight, floated awayupon the river; and thus do greater things that once were in ourbreasts, and near our hearts, flow from us to the eternal seas.