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Little Dorrit

Little Dorrit

Little Dorrit/36

CHAPTER 35. What was behind Mr Pancks on Little Dorrit's Hand

It was at this time that Mr Pancks, in discharge of his compact withClennam, revealed to him the whole of his gipsy story, and told himLittle Dorrit's fortune. Her father was heir-at-law to a great estatethat had long lain unknown of, unclaimed, and accumulating. His rightwas now clear, nothing interposed in his way, the Marshalsea gates stoodopen, the Marshalsea walls were down, a few flourishes of his pen, andhe was extremely rich.

In his tracking out of the claim to its complete establishment, MrPancks had shown a sagacity that nothing could baffle, and a patienceand secrecy that nothing could tire. 'I little thought, sir,' saidPancks, 'when you and I crossed Smithfield that night, and I told youwhat sort of a Collector I was, that this would come of it. I littlethought, sir, when I told you you were not of the Clennams ofCornwall, that I was ever going to tell you who were of the Dorrits ofDorsetshire.' He then went on to detail. How, having that name recordedin his note-book, he was first attracted by the name alone. How, havingoften found two exactly similar names, even belonging to the same place,to involve no traceable consanguinity, near or distant, he did not atfirst give much heed to this, except in the way of speculation as towhat a surprising change would be made in the condition of a littleseamstress, if she could be shown to have any interest in so large aproperty. How he rather supposed himself to have pursued the idea intoits next degree, because there was something uncommon in the quietlittle seamstress, which pleased him and provoked his curiosity.How he had felt his way inch by inch, and 'Moled it out, sir' (that wasMr Pancks's expression), grain by grain. How, in the beginning ofthe labour described by this new verb, and to render which the moreexpressive Mr Pancks shut his eyes in pronouncing it and shook his hairover them, he had alternated from sudden lights and hopes to suddendarkness and no hopes, and back again, and back again. How he had madeacquaintances in the Prison, expressly that he might come and go thereas all other comers and goers did; and how his first ray of light wasunconsciously given him by Mr Dorrit himself and by his son; to both ofwhom he easily became known; with both of whom he talked much, casually('but always Moleing you'll observe,' said Mr Pancks): and from whom hederived, without being at all suspected, two or three little points offamily history which, as he began to hold clues of his own, suggestedothers. How it had at length become plain to Mr Pancks that he had madea real discovery of the heir-at-law to a great fortune, and that hisdiscovery had but to be ripened to legal fulness and perfection. Howhe had, thereupon, sworn his landlord, Mr Rugg, to secrecy in a solemnmanner, and taken him into Moleing partnership. How they had employedJohn Chivery as their sole clerk and agent, seeing to whom he wasdevoted. And how, until the present hour, when authorities mighty in theBank and learned in the law declared their successful labours ended,they had confided in no other human being.

'So if the whole thing had broken down, sir,' concluded Pancks, 'at thevery last, say the day before the other day when I showed you our papersin the Prison yard, or say that very day, nobody but ourselves wouldhave been cruelly disappointed, or a penny the worse.'

Clennam, who had been almost incessantly shaking hands with himthroughout the narrative, was reminded by this to say, in an amazementwhich even the preparation he had had for the main disclosure smootheddown, 'My dear Mr Pancks, this must have cost you a great sum of money.'

'Pretty well, sir,' said the triumphant Pancks. 'No trifle, though wedid it as cheap as it could be done. And the outlay was a difficulty,let me tell you.'

'A difficulty!' repeated Clennam. 'But the difficulties you have sowonderfully conquered in the whole business!' shaking his hand again.

'I'll tell you how I did it,' said the delighted Pancks, putting hishair into a condition as elevated as himself. 'First, I spent all I hadof my own. That wasn't much.'

'I am sorry for it,' said Clennam: 'not that it matters now, though.Then, what did you do?'

'Then,' answered Pancks, 'I borrowed a sum of my proprietor.'

'Of Mr Casby?' said Clennam. 'He's a fine old fellow.'

'Noble old boy; an't he?' said Mr Pancks, entering on a series of thedryest snorts. 'Generous old buck. Confiding old boy. Philanthropic oldbuck. Benevolent old boy! Twenty per cent. I engaged to pay him, sir.But we never do business for less at our shop.'

Arthur felt an awkward consciousness of having, in his exultantcondition, been a little premature.

'I said to that boiling-over old Christian,' Mr Pancks pursued,appearing greatly to relish this descriptive epithet, 'that I had got alittle project on hand; a hopeful one; I told him a hopeful one; whichwanted a certain small capital. I proposed to him to lend me themoney on my note. Which he did, at twenty; sticking the twenty on in abusiness-like way, and putting it into the note, to look like a part ofthe principal. If I had broken down after that, I should have been hisgrubber for the next seven years at half wages and double grind. Buthe's a perfect Patriarch; and it would do a man good to serve him onsuch terms--on any terms.'

Arthur for his life could not have said with confidence whether Pancksreally thought so or not.

'When that was gone, sir,' resumed Pancks, 'and it did go, though Idribbled it out like so much blood, I had taken Mr Rugg into the secret.I proposed to borrow of Mr Rugg (or of Miss Rugg; it's the same thing;she made a little money by a speculation in the Common Pleas once). Helent it at ten, and thought that pretty high. But Mr Rugg's a red-hairedman, sir, and gets his hair cut. And as to the crown of his hat, it'shigh. And as to the brim of his hat, it's narrow. And there's no morebenevolence bubbling out of him, than out of a ninepin.'

'Your own recompense for all this, Mr Pancks,' said Clennam, 'ought tobe a large one.'

'I don't mistrust getting it, sir,' said Pancks. 'I have made nobargain. I owed you one on that score; now I have paid it. Money out ofpocket made good, time fairly allowed for, and Mr Rugg's bill settled,a thousand pounds would be a fortune to me. That matter I place in yourhands. I authorize you now to break all this to the family in any wayyou think best. Miss Amy Dorrit will be with Mrs Finching this morning.The sooner done the better. Can't be done too soon.'

This conversation took place in Clennam's bed-room, while he was yet inbed. For Mr Pancks had knocked up the house and made his way in, veryearly in the morning; and, without once sitting down or standing still,had delivered himself of the whole of his details (illustrated with avariety of documents) at the bedside. He now said he would 'go and lookup Mr Rugg', from whom his excited state of mind appeared to requireanother back; and bundling up his papers, and exchanging one more heartyshake of the hand with Clennam, he went at full speed down-stairs, andsteamed off.

Clennam, of course, resolved to go direct to Mr Casby's. He dressedand got out so quickly that he found himself at the corner of thepatriarchal street nearly an hour before her time; but he was not sorryto have the opportunity of calming himself with a leisurely walk.

When he returned to the street, and had knocked at the bright brassknocker, he was informed that she had come, and was shown up-stairs toFlora's breakfast-room. Little Dorrit was not there herself, but Florawas, and testified the greatest amazement at seeing him.

'Good gracious, Arthur--Doyce and Clennam!' cried that lady, 'who wouldhave ever thought of seeing such a sight as this and pray excuse awrapper for upon my word I really never and a faded check too whichis worse but our little friend is making me, not that I need mindmentioning it to you for you must know that there are such things askirt, and having arranged that a trying on should take place afterbreakfast is the reason though I wish not so badly starched.'

'I ought to make an apology,' said Arthur, 'for so early and abrupt avisit; but you will excuse it when I tell you the cause.'

'In times for ever fled Arthur,' returned Mrs Finching, 'pray excuseme Doyce and Clennam infinitely more correct and though unquestionablydistant still 'tis distance lends enchantment to the view, at least Idon't mean that and if I did I suppose it would depend considerably onthe nature of the view, but I'm running on again and you put it all outof my head.'

She glanced at him tenderly, and resumed:

'In times for ever fled I was going to say it would have soundedstrange indeed for Arthur Clennam--Doyce and Clennam naturally quitedifferent--to make apologies for coming here at any time, but that ispast and what is past can never be recalled except in his own case aspoor Mr F. said when he was in spirits Cucumber and therefore never ateit.'

She was making the tea when Arthur came in, and now hastily finishedthat operation.

'Papa,' she said, all mystery and whisper, as she shut down the tea-potlid, 'is sitting prosingly breaking his new laid egg in the back parlourover the City article exactly like the Woodpecker Tapping and need neverknow that you are here, and our little friend you are well aware may befully trusted when she comes down from cutting out on the large tableoverhead.'

Arthur then told her, in the fewest words, that it was their littlefriend he came to see; and what he had to announce to their littlefriend. At which astounding intelligence, Flora clasped her hands,fell into a tremble, and shed tears of sympathy and pleasure, like thegood-natured creature she really was.

'For gracious sake let me get out of the way first,' said Flora, puttingher hands to her ears and moving towards the door, 'or I know I shallgo off dead and screaming and make everybody worse, and the dear littlething only this morning looking so nice and neat and good and yet sopoor and now a fortune is she really and deserves it too! and might Imention it to Mr F.'s Aunt Arthur not Doyce and Clennam for this once orif objectionable not on any account.'

Arthur nodded his free permission, since Flora shut out all verbalcommunication. Flora nodded in return to thank him, and hurried out ofthe room.

Little Dorrit's step was already on the stairs, and in another momentshe was at the door. Do what he could to compose his face, he could notconvey so much of an ordinary expression into it, but that the momentshe saw it she dropped her work, and cried, 'Mr Clennam! What's thematter?'

'Nothing, nothing. That is, no misfortune has happened. I have cometo tell you something, but it is a piece of great good-fortune.'

'Good-fortune?'

'Wonderful fortune!'

They stood in a window, and her eyes, full of light, were fixed upon hisface. He put an arm about her, seeing her likely to sink down. She puta hand upon that arm, partly to rest upon it, and partly so to preservetheir relative positions as that her intent look at him should be shakenby no change of attitude in either of them. Her lips seemed to repeat'Wonderful fortune?' He repeated it again, aloud.

'Dear Little Dorrit! Your father.'

The ice of the pale face broke at the word, and little lights and shootsof expression passed all over it. They were all expressions of pain. Herbreath was faint and hurried. Her heart beat fast. He would have claspedthe little figure closer, but he saw that the eyes appealed to him notto be moved.

'Your father can be free within this week. He does not know it; we mustgo to him from here, to tell him of it. Your father will be free withina few days. Your father will be free within a few hours. Remember wemust go to him from here, to tell him of it!'

That brought her back. Her eyes were closing, but they opened again.

'This is not all the good-fortune. This is not all the wonderfulgood-fortune, my dear Little Dorrit. Shall I tell you more?'

Her lips shaped 'Yes.'

'Your father will be no beggar when he is free. He will want fornothing. Shall I tell you more? Remember! He knows nothing of it; wemust go to him, from here, to tell him of it!'

She seemed to entreat him for a little time. He held her in his arm,and, after a pause, bent down his ear to listen.

'Did you ask me to go on?'

'Yes.'

'He will be a rich man. He is a rich man. A great sum of moneyis waiting to be paid over to him as his inheritance; you are allhenceforth very wealthy. Bravest and best of children, I thank Heaventhat you are rewarded!'

As he kissed her, she turned her head towards his shoulder, and raisedher arm towards his neck; cried out 'Father! Father! Father!' andswooned away.

Upon which Flora returned to take care of her, and hovered about her ona sofa, intermingling kind offices and incoherent scraps of conversationin a manner so confounding, that whether she pressed the Marshalsea totake a spoonful of unclaimed dividends, for it would do her good;or whether she congratulated Little Dorrit's father on coming intopossession of a hundred thousand smelling-bottles; or whether sheexplained that she put seventy-five thousand drops of spirits oflavender on fifty thousand pounds of lump sugar, and that she entreatedLittle Dorrit to take that gentle restorative; or whether she bathed theforeheads of Doyce and Clennam in vinegar, and gave the late Mr F. moreair; no one with any sense of responsibility could have undertaken todecide. A tributary stream of confusion, moreover, poured in from anadjoining bedroom, where Mr F.'s Aunt appeared, from the sound of hervoice, to be in a horizontal posture, awaiting her breakfast; and fromwhich bower that inexorable lady snapped off short taunts, whenever shecould get a hearing, as, 'Don't believe it's his doing!' and 'He needn'ttake no credit to himself for it!' and 'It'll be long enough, I expect,afore he'll give up any of his own money!' all designed to disparageClennam's share in the discovery, and to relieve those inveteratefeelings with which Mr F.'s Aunt regarded him.

But Little Dorrit's solicitude to get to her father, and to carry thejoyful tidings to him, and not to leave him in his jail a moment withthis happiness in store for him and still unknown to him, did more forher speedy restoration than all the skill and attention on earth couldhave done. 'Come with me to my dear father. Pray come and tell my dearfather!' were the first words she said. Her father, her father. Shespoke of nothing but him, thought of nothing but him. Kneeling down andpouring out her thankfulness with uplifted hands, her thanks were forher father.

Flora's tenderness was quite overcome by this, and she launched outamong the cups and saucers into a wonderful flow of tears and speech.

'I declare,' she sobbed, 'I never was so cut up since your mama and mypapa not Doyce and Clennam for this once but give the precious littlething a cup of tea and make her put it to her lips at least pray Arthurdo, not even Mr F.'s last illness for that was of another kind and goutis not a child's affection though very painful for all parties and MrF. a martyr with his leg upon a rest and the wine trade in itselfinflammatory for they will do it more or less among themselves and whocan wonder, it seems like a dream I am sure to think of nothing at allthis morning and now Mines of money is it really, but you must know mydarling love because you never will be strong enough to tell him allabout it upon teaspoons, mightn't it be even best to try the directionsof my own medical man for though the flavour is anything but agreeablestill I force myself to do it as a prescription and find the benefit,you'd rather not why no my dear I'd rather not but still I do it as aduty, everybody will congratulate you some in earnest and some not andmany will congratulate you with all their hearts but none more so Ido assure you from the bottom of my own I do myself though sensible ofblundering and being stupid, and will be judged by Arthur not Doyce andClennam for this once so good-bye darling and God bless you and may yoube very happy and excuse the liberty, vowing that the dress shall neverbe finished by anybody else but shall be laid by for a keepsake justas it is and called Little Dorrit though why that strangest ofdenominations at any time I never did myself and now I never shall!'