Actions & Adventure
History & Fiction
Thrillers & Crime
Romance & Love
Mystery & Detective
Actions & Adventure
History & Fiction
Thrillers & Crime
Romance & Love
Mystery & Detective
Time News Roman
CHAPTER 6. Something Right Somewhere
To be in the halting state of Mr Henry Gowan; to have left one of twopowers in disgust; to want the necessary qualifications for findingpromotion with another, and to be loitering moodily about on neutralground, cursing both; is to be in a situation unwholesome for the mind,which time is not likely to improve. The worst class of sum worked inthe every-day world is cyphered by the diseased arithmeticians who arealways in the rule of Subtraction as to the merits and successes ofothers, and never in Addition as to their own.
The habit, too, of seeking some sort of recompense in the discontentedboast of being disappointed, is a habit fraught with degeneracy. Acertain idle carelessness and recklessness of consistency soon comes ofit. To bring deserving things down by setting undeserving things up isone of its perverted delights; and there is no playing fast and loosewith the truth, in any game, without growing the worse for it.
In his expressed opinions of all performances in the Art of paintingthat were completely destitute of merit, Gowan was the most liberalfellow on earth. He would declare such a man to have more power in hislittle finger (provided he had none), than such another had (provided hehad much) in his whole mind and body. If the objection were taken thatthe thing commended was trash, he would reply, on behalf of his art, 'Mygood fellow, what do we all turn out but trash? _I_ turn out nothing else,and I make you a present of the confession.'
To make a vaunt of being poor was another of the incidents of hissplenetic state, though this may have had the design in it of showingthat he ought to be rich; just as he would publicly laud and decry theBarnacles, lest it should be forgotten that he belonged to the family.Howbeit, these two subjects were very often on his lips; and he managedthem so well that he might have praised himself by the month together,and not have made himself out half so important a man as he did by hislight disparagement of his claims on anybody's consideration.
Out of this same airy talk of his, it always soon came to be understood,wherever he and his wife went, that he had married against the wishesof his exalted relations, and had had much ado to prevail on them tocountenance her. He never made the representation, on the contraryseemed to laugh the idea to scorn; but it did happen that, with all hispains to depreciate himself, he was always in the superior position.From the days of their honeymoon, Minnie Gowan felt sensible of beingusually regarded as the wife of a man who had made a descent in marryingher, but whose chivalrous love for her had cancelled that inequality.
To Venice they had been accompanied by Monsieur Blandois of Paris, andat Venice Monsieur Blandois of Paris was very much in the society ofGowan. When they had first met this gallant gentleman at Geneva,Gowan had been undecided whether to kick him or encourage him; and hadremained for about four-and-twenty hours, so troubled to settlethe point to his satisfaction, that he had thought of tossing up afive-franc piece on the terms, 'Tails, kick; heads, encourage,' andabiding by the voice of the oracle. It chanced, however, that his wifeexpressed a dislike to the engaging Blandois, and that the balanceof feeling in the hotel was against him. Upon it, Gowan resolved toencourage him.
Why this perversity, if it were not in a generous fit?--which it wasnot. Why should Gowan, very much the superior of Blandois of Paris, andvery well able to pull that prepossessing gentleman to pieces and findout the stuff he was made of, take up with such a man? In the firstplace, he opposed the first separate wish he observed in his wife,because her father had paid his debts and it was desirable to take anearly opportunity of asserting his independence. In the second place,he opposed the prevalent feeling, because with many capacities ofbeing otherwise, he was an ill-conditioned man. He found a pleasure indeclaring that a courtier with the refined manners of Blandois oughtto rise to the greatest distinction in any polished country. He found apleasure in setting up Blandois as the type of elegance, and makinghim a satire upon others who piqued themselves on personal graces.He seriously protested that the bow of Blandois was perfect, that theaddress of Blandois was irresistible, and that the picturesque easeof Blandois would be cheaply purchased (if it were not a gift, andunpurchasable) for a hundred thousand francs. That exaggeration in themanner of the man which has been noticed as appertaining to him and toevery such man, whatever his original breeding, as certainly as the sunbelongs to this system, was acceptable to Gowan as a caricature, whichhe found it a humorous resource to have at hand for the ridiculing ofnumbers of people who necessarily did more or less of what Blandoisoverdid. Thus he had taken up with him; and thus, negligentlystrengthening these inclinations with habit, and idly deriving someamusement from his talk, he had glided into a way of having him fora companion. This, though he supposed him to live by his wits atplay-tables and the like; though he suspected him to be a coward, whilehe himself was daring and courageous; though he thoroughly knew him tobe disliked by Minnie; and though he cared so little for him, after all,that if he had given her any tangible personal cause to regard him withaversion, he would have had no compunction whatever in flinging him outof the highest window in Venice into the deepest water of the city.
Little Dorrit would have been glad to make her visit to Mrs Gowan,alone; but as Fanny, who had not yet recovered from her Uncle's protest,though it was four-and-twenty hours of age, pressingly offered hercompany, the two sisters stepped together into one of the gondolas underMr Dorrit's window, and, with the courier in attendance, were taken inhigh state to Mrs Gowan's lodging. In truth, their state was rather toohigh for the lodging, which was, as Fanny complained, 'fearfully out ofthe way,' and which took them through a complexity of narrow streets ofwater, which the same lady disparaged as 'mere ditches.'
The house, on a little desert island, looked as if it had brokenaway from somewhere else, and had floated by chance into its presentanchorage in company with a vine almost as much in want of training asthe poor wretches who were lying under its leaves. The features of thesurrounding picture were, a church with hoarding and scaffolding aboutit, which had been under suppositious repair so long that the means ofrepair looked a hundred years old, and had themselves fallen into decay;a quantity of washed linen, spread to dry in the sun; a number of housesat odds with one another and grotesquely out of the perpendicular, likerotten pre-Adamite cheeses cut into fantastic shapes and full of mites;and a feverish bewilderment of windows, with their lattice-blinds allhanging askew, and something draggled and dirty dangling out of most ofthem.
On the first-floor of the house was a Bank--a surprising experience forany gentleman of commercial pursuits bringing laws for all mankind froma British city--where two spare clerks, like dried dragoons, in greenvelvet caps adorned with golden tassels, stood, bearded, behind a smallcounter in a small room, containing no other visible objects than anempty iron-safe with the door open, a jug of water, and a papering ofgarland of roses; but who, on lawful requisition, by merely dippingtheir hands out of sight, could produce exhaustless mounds of five-francpieces. Below the Bank was a suite of three or four rooms with barredwindows, which had the appearance of a jail for criminal rats. Above theBank was Mrs Gowan's residence.
Notwithstanding that its walls were blotched, as if missionary maps werebursting out of them to impart geographical knowledge; notwithstandingthat its weird furniture was forlornly faded and musty, and that theprevailing Venetian odour of bilge water and an ebb tide on a weedyshore was very strong; the place was better within, than it promised.The door was opened by a smiling man like a reformed assassin--atemporary servant--who ushered them into the room where Mrs Gowan sat,with the announcement that two beautiful English ladies were come to seethe mistress.
Mrs Gowan, who was engaged in needlework, put her work aside in acovered basket, and rose, a little hurriedly. Miss Fanny was excessivelycourteous to her, and said the usual nothings with the skill of aveteran.
'Papa was extremely sorry,' proceeded Fanny, 'to be engaged to-day (heis so much engaged here, our acquaintance being so wretchedly large!);and particularly requested me to bring his card for Mr Gowan. That I maybe sure to acquit myself of a commission which he impressed upon me atleast a dozen times, allow me to relieve my conscience by placing it onthe table at once.'
Which she did with veteran ease.
'We have been,' said Fanny, 'charmed to understand that you know theMerdles. We hope it may be another means of bringing us together.'
'They are friends,' said Mrs Gowan, 'of Mr Gowan's family. I have notyet had the pleasure of a personal introduction to Mrs Merdle, but Isuppose I shall be presented to her at Rome.'
'Indeed?' returned Fanny, with an appearance of amiably quenching herown superiority. 'I think you'll like her.'
'You know her very well?'
'Why, you see,' said Fanny, with a frank action of her pretty shoulders,'in London one knows every one. We met her on our way here, and, to saythe truth, papa was at first rather cross with her for taking one of therooms that our people had ordered for us. However, of course, that soonblew over, and we were all good friends again.'
Although the visit had as yet given Little Dorrit no opportunity ofconversing with Mrs Gowan, there was a silent understanding betweenthem, which did as well. She looked at Mrs Gowan with keen and unabatedinterest; the sound of her voice was thrilling to her; nothing that wasnear her, or about her, or at all concerned her, escaped Little Dorrit.She was quicker to perceive the slightest matter here, than in any othercase--but one.
'You have been quite well,' she now said, 'since that night?'
'Quite, my dear. And you?'
'Oh! I am always well,' said Little Dorrit, timidly. 'I--yes, thank you.'
There was no reason for her faltering and breaking off, other than thatMrs Gowan had touched her hand in speaking to her, and their looks hadmet. Something thoughtfully apprehensive in the large, soft eyes, hadchecked Little Dorrit in an instant.
'You don't know that you are a favourite of my husband's, and that I amalmost bound to be jealous of you?' said Mrs Gowan.
Little Dorrit, blushing, shook her head.
'He will tell you, if he tells you what he tells me, that you arequieter and quicker of resource than any one he ever saw.'
'He speaks far too well of me,' said Little Dorrit.
'I doubt that; but I don't at all doubt that I must tell him youare here. I should never be forgiven, if I were to let you--and MissDorrit--go, without doing so. May I? You can excuse the disorder anddiscomfort of a painter's studio?'
The inquiries were addressed to Miss Fanny, who graciously replied thatshe would be beyond anything interested and enchanted. Mrs Gowan went toa door, looked in beyond it, and came back. 'Do Henry the favour to comein,' said she, 'I knew he would be pleased!'
The first object that confronted Little Dorrit, entering first, wasBlandois of Paris in a great cloak and a furtive slouched hat, standingon a throne platform in a corner, as he had stood on the Great SaintBernard, when the warning arms seemed to be all pointing up at him. Sherecoiled from this figure, as it smiled at her.
'Don't be alarmed,' said Gowan, coming from his easel behind the door.'It's only Blandois. He is doing duty as a model to-day. I am makinga study of him. It saves me money to turn him to some use. We poorpainters have none to spare.'
Blandois of Paris pulled off his slouched hat, and saluted the ladieswithout coming out of his corner.
'A thousand pardons!' said he. 'But the Professore here is so inexorablewith me, that I am afraid to stir.'
'Don't stir, then,' said Gowan coolly, as the sisters approached theeasel. 'Let the ladies at least see the original of the daub, that theymay know what it's meant for. There he stands, you see. A bravo waitingfor his prey, a distinguished noble waiting to save his country, thecommon enemy waiting to do somebody a bad turn, an angelic messengerwaiting to do somebody a good turn--whatever you think he looks mostlike!'
'Say, Professore Mio, a poor gentleman waiting to do homage toelegance and beauty,' remarked Blandois.
'Or say, Cattivo Soggetto Mio,' returned Gowan, touching the paintedface with his brush in the part where the real face had moved, 'amurderer after the fact. Show that white hand of yours, Blandois. Put itoutside the cloak. Keep it still.'
Blandois' hand was unsteady; but he laughed, and that would naturallyshake it.
'He was formerly in some scuffle with another murderer, or with avictim, you observe,' said Gowan, putting in the markings of the handwith a quick, impatient, unskilful touch, 'and these are the tokens ofit. Outside the cloak, man!--Corpo di San Marco, what are you thinkingof?'
Blandois of Paris shook with a laugh again, so that his hand shook more;now he raised it to twist his moustache, which had a damp appearance;and now he stood in the required position, with a little new swagger.
His face was so directed in reference to the spot where Little Dorritstood by the easel, that throughout he looked at her. Once attracted byhis peculiar eyes, she could not remove her own, and they had lookedat each other all the time. She trembled now; Gowan, feeling it, andsupposing her to be alarmed by the large dog beside him, whose head shecaressed in her hand, and who had just uttered a low growl, glanced ather to say, 'He won't hurt you, Miss Dorrit.'
'I am not afraid of him,' she returned in the same breath; 'but will youlook at him?'
In a moment Gowan had thrown down his brush, and seized the dog withboth hands by the collar.
'Blandois! How can you be such a fool as to provoke him! By Heaven, andthe other place too, he'll tear you to bits! Lie down! Lion! Do you hearmy voice, you rebel!'
The great dog, regardless of being half-choked by his collar, wasobdurately pulling with his dead weight against his master, resolved toget across the room. He had been crouching for a spring at the momentwhen his master caught him.
'Lion! Lion!' He was up on his hind legs, and it was a wrestle betweenmaster and dog. 'Get back! Down, Lion! Get out of his sight, Blandois!What devil have you conjured into the dog?'
'I have done nothing to him.'
'Get out of his sight or I can't hold the wild beast! Get out of theroom! By my soul, he'll kill you!'
The dog, with a ferocious bark, made one other struggle as Blandoisvanished; then, in the moment of the dog's submission, the master,little less angry than the dog, felled him with a blow on the head, andstanding over him, struck him many times severely with the heel of hisboot, so that his mouth was presently bloody.
'Now get you into that corner and lie down,' said Gowan, 'or I'll takeyou out and shoot you.'
Lion did as he was ordered, and lay down licking his mouth and chest.Lion's master stopped for a moment to take breath, and then, recoveringhis usual coolness of manner, turned to speak to his frightened wifeand her visitors. Probably the whole occurrence had not occupied twominutes.
'Come, come, Minnie! You know he is always good-humoured and tractable.Blandois must have irritated him,--made faces at him. The dog has hislikings and dislikings, and Blandois is no great favourite of his; butI am sure you will give him a character, Minnie, for never having beenlike this before.'
Minnie was too much disturbed to say anything connected in reply; LittleDorrit was already occupied in soothing her; Fanny, who had cried outtwice or thrice, held Gowan's arm for protection; Lion, deeply ashamedof having caused them this alarm, came trailing himself along the groundto the feet of his mistress.
'You furious brute,' said Gowan, striking him with his foot again. 'Youshall do penance for this.' And he struck him again, and yet again.
'O, pray don't punish him any more,' cried Little Dorrit. 'Don't hurthim. See how gentle he is!' At her entreaty, Gowan spared him; and hedeserved her intercession, for truly he was as submissive, and as sorry,and as wretched as a dog could be.
It was not easy to recover this shock and make the visit unrestrained,even though Fanny had not been, under the best of circumstances, theleast trifle in the way. In such further communication as passed amongthem before the sisters took their departure, Little Dorrit fancied itwas revealed to her that Mr Gowan treated his wife, even in his veryfondness, too much like a beautiful child. He seemed so unsuspicious ofthe depths of feeling which she knew must lie below that surface, thatshe doubted if there could be any such depths in himself. She wonderedwhether his want of earnestness might be the natural result of his wantof such qualities, and whether it was with people as with ships, that,in too shallow and rocky waters, their anchors had no hold, and theydrifted anywhere.
He attended them down the staircase, jocosely apologising for thepoor quarters to which such poor fellows as himself were limited, andremarking that when the high and mighty Barnacles, his relatives, whowould be dreadfully ashamed of them, presented him with better, he wouldlive in better to oblige them. At the water's edge they were saluted byBlandois, who looked white enough after his late adventure, but who madevery light of it notwithstanding,--laughing at the mention of Lion.
Leaving the two together under the scrap of vine upon the causeway,Gowan idly scattering the leaves from it into the water, and Blandoislighting a cigarette, the sisters were paddled away in state as they hadcome. They had not glided on for many minutes, when Little Dorrit becameaware that Fanny was more showy in manner than the occasion appeared torequire, and, looking about for the cause through the window and throughthe open door, saw another gondola evidently in waiting on them.
As this gondola attended their progress in various artful ways;sometimes shooting on a-head, and stopping to let them pass; sometimes,when the way was broad enough, skimming along side by side with them;and sometimes following close astern; and as Fanny gradually made nodisguise that she was playing off graces upon somebody within it, ofwhom she at the same time feigned to be unconscious; Little Dorrit atlength asked who it was?
To which Fanny made the short answer, 'That gaby.'
'Who?' said Little Dorrit.
'My dear child,' returned Fanny (in a tone suggesting that before herUncle's protest she might have said, You little fool, instead), 'howslow you are! Young Sparkler.'
She lowered the window on her side, and, leaning back and resting herelbow on it negligently, fanned herself with a rich Spanish fan of blackand gold. The attendant gondola, having skimmed forward again, with someswift trace of an eye in the window, Fanny laughed coquettishly andsaid, 'Did you ever see such a fool, my love?'
'Do you think he means to follow you all the way?' asked Little Dorrit.
'My precious child,' returned Fanny, 'I can't possibly answer for whatan idiot in a state of desperation may do, but I should think it highlyprobable. It's not such an enormous distance. All Venice would scarcelybe that, I imagine, if he's dying for a glimpse of me.'
'And is he?' asked Little Dorrit in perfect simplicity.
'Well, my love, that really is an awkward question for me to answer,'said her sister. 'I believe he is. You had better ask Edward. He tellsEdward he is, I believe. I understand he makes a perfect spectacle ofhimself at the Casino, and that sort of places, by going on about me.But you had better ask Edward if you want to know.'
'I wonder he doesn't call,' said Little Dorrit after thinking a moment.
'My dear Amy, your wonder will soon cease, if I am rightly informed.I should not be at all surprised if he called to-day. The creature hasonly been waiting to get his courage up, I suspect.'
'Will you see him?'
'Indeed, my darling,' said Fanny, 'that's just as it may happen. Here heis again. Look at him. O, you simpleton!'
Mr Sparkler had, undeniably, a weak appearance; with his eye in thewindow like a knot in the glass, and no reason on earth for stopping hisbark suddenly, except the real reason.
'When you asked me if I will see him, my dear,' said Fanny, almost aswell composed in the graceful indifference of her attitude as Mrs Merdleherself, 'what do you mean?'
'I mean,' said Little Dorrit--'I think I rather mean what do you mean,dear Fanny?'
Fanny laughed again, in a manner at once condescending, arch, andaffable; and said, putting her arm round her sister in a playfullyaffectionate way:
'Now tell me, my little pet. When we saw that woman at Martigny, howdid you think she carried it off? Did you see what she decided on in amoment?'
'Then I'll tell you, Amy. She settled with herself, now I'll neverrefer to that meeting under such different circumstances, and I'll neverpretend to have any idea that these are the same girls. That's _her_ wayout of a difficulty. What did I tell you when we came away from HarleyStreet that time? She is as insolent and false as any woman in theworld. But in the first capacity, my love, she may find people who canmatch her.'
A significant turn of the Spanish fan towards Fanny's bosom, indicatedwith great expression where one of these people was to be found.
'Not only that,' pursued Fanny, 'but she gives the same charge toYoung Sparkler; and doesn't let him come after me until she has got itthoroughly into his most ridiculous of all ridiculous noddles (for onereally can't call it a head), that he is to pretend to have been firststruck with me in that Inn Yard.'
'Why?' asked Little Dorrit.
'Why? Good gracious, my love!' (again very much in the tone of Youstupid little creature) 'how can you ask? Don't you see that I may havebecome a rather desirable match for a noddle? And don't you see that sheputs the deception upon us, and makes a pretence, while she shifts itfrom her own shoulders (very good shoulders they are too, I must say),'observed Miss Fanny, glancing complacently at herself, 'of consideringour feelings?'
'But we can always go back to the plain truth.'
'Yes, but if you please we won't,' retorted Fanny. 'No; I am not goingto have that done, Amy. The pretext is none of mine; it's hers, and sheshall have enough of it.'
In the triumphant exaltation of her feelings, Miss Fanny, using herSpanish fan with one hand, squeezed her sister's waist with the other,as if she were crushing Mrs Merdle.
'No,' repeated Fanny. 'She shall find me go her way. She took it, andI'll follow it. And, with the blessing of fate and fortune, I'll go onimproving that woman's acquaintance until I have given her maid,before her eyes, things from my dressmaker's ten times as handsome andexpensive as she once gave me from hers!'
Little Dorrit was silent; sensible that she was not to be heard onany question affecting the family dignity, and unwilling to lose to nopurpose her sister's newly and unexpectedly restored favour. She couldnot concur, but she was silent. Fanny well knew what she was thinkingof; so well, that she soon asked her.
Her reply was, 'Do you mean to encourage Mr Sparkler, Fanny?'
'Encourage him, my dear?' said her sister, smiling contemptuously, 'thatdepends upon what you call encourage. No, I don't mean to encourage him.But I'll make a slave of him.'
Little Dorrit glanced seriously and doubtfully in her face, but Fannywas not to be so brought to a check. She furled her fan of black andgold, and used it to tap her sister's nose; with the air of a proudbeauty and a great spirit, who toyed with and playfully instructed ahomely companion.
'I shall make him fetch and carry, my dear, and I shall make him subjectto me. And if I don't make his mother subject to me, too, it shall notbe my fault.'
'Do you think--dear Fanny, don't be offended, we are so comfortabletogether now--that you can quite see the end of that course?'
'I can't say I have so much as looked for it yet, my dear,' answeredFanny, with supreme indifference; 'all in good time. Such are myintentions. And really they have taken me so long to develop, that herewe are at home. And Young Sparkler at the door, inquiring who is within.By the merest accident, of course!'
In effect, the swain was standing up in his gondola, card-case inhand, affecting to put the question to a servant. This conjunctionof circumstances led to his immediately afterwards presenting himselfbefore the young ladies in a posture, which in ancient times would nothave been considered one of favourable augury for his suit; since thegondoliers of the young ladies, having been put to some inconvenienceby the chase, so neatly brought their own boat in the gentlest collisionwith the bark of Mr Sparkler, as to tip that gentleman over like alarger species of ninepin, and cause him to exhibit the soles of hisshoes to the object of his dearest wishes: while the nobler portions ofhis anatomy struggled at the bottom of his boat in the arms of one ofhis men.
However, as Miss Fanny called out with much concern, Was the gentlemanhurt, Mr Sparkler rose more restored than might have been expected, andstammered for himself with blushes, 'Not at all so.' Miss Fanny had norecollection of having ever seen him before, and was passing on, with adistant inclination of her head, when he announced himself by name. Eventhen she was in a difficulty from being unable to call it to mind, untilhe explained that he had had the honour of seeing her at Martigny. Thenshe remembered him, and hoped his lady-mother was well.
'Thank you,' stammered Mr Sparkler, 'she's uncommonly well--at least,poorly.'
'In Venice?' said Miss Fanny.
'In Rome,' Mr Sparkler answered. 'I am here by myself, myself. I came tocall upon Mr Edward Dorrit myself. Indeed, upon Mr Dorrit likewise. Infact, upon the family.'
Turning graciously to the attendants, Miss Fanny inquired whether herpapa or brother was within? The reply being that they were both within,Mr Sparkler humbly offered his arm. Miss Fanny accepting it, was squiredup the great staircase by Mr Sparkler, who, if he still believed (whichthere is not any reason to doubt) that she had no nonsense about her,rather deceived himself.
Arrived in a mouldering reception-room, where the faded hangings, of asad sea-green, had worn and withered until they looked as if theymight have claimed kindred with the waifs of seaweed drifting underthe windows, or clinging to the walls and weeping for their imprisonedrelations, Miss Fanny despatched emissaries for her father and brother.Pending whose appearance, she showed to great advantage on a sofa,completing Mr Sparkler's conquest with some remarks upon Dante--knownto that gentleman as an eccentric man in the nature of an Old File,who used to put leaves round his head, and sit upon a stool for someunaccountable purpose, outside the cathedral at Florence.
Mr Dorrit welcomed the visitor with the highest urbanity, and mostcourtly manners. He inquired particularly after Mrs Merdle. He inquiredparticularly after Mr Merdle. Mr Sparkler said, or rather twitched outof himself in small pieces by the shirt-collar, that Mrs Merdle havingcompletely used up her place in the country, and also her house atBrighton, and being, of course, unable, don't you see, to remain inLondon when there wasn't a soul there, and not feeling herself this yearquite up to visiting about at people's places, had resolved to havea touch at Rome, where a woman like herself, with a proverbially fineappearance, and with no nonsense about her, couldn't fail to be a greatacquisition. As to Mr Merdle, he was so much wanted by the men in theCity and the rest of those places, and was such a doosed extraordinaryphenomenon in Buying and Banking and that, that Mr Sparkler doubted ifthe monetary system of the country would be able to spare him; thoughthat his work was occasionally one too many for him, and that he wouldbe all the better for a temporary shy at an entirely new scene andclimate, Mr Sparkler did not conceal. As to himself, Mr Sparklerconveyed to the Dorrit family that he was going, on rather particularbusiness, wherever they were going.
This immense conversational achievement required time, but was effected.Being effected, Mr Dorrit expressed his hope that Mr Sparkler wouldshortly dine with them. Mr Sparkler received the idea so kindly that MrDorrit asked what he was going to do that day, for instance? As he wasgoing to do nothing that day (his usual occupation, and one for which hewas particularly qualified), he was secured without postponement; beingfurther bound over to accompany the ladies to the Opera in the evening.
At dinner-time Mr Sparkler rose out of the sea, like Venus's son takingafter his mother, and made a splendid appearance ascending the greatstaircase. If Fanny had been charming in the morning, she was now thricecharming, very becomingly dressed in her most suitable colours, and withan air of negligence upon her that doubled Mr Sparkler's fetters, andriveted them.
'I hear you are acquainted, Mr Sparkler,' said his host at dinner,'with--ha--Mr Gowan. Mr Henry Gowan?'
'Perfectly, sir,' returned Mr Sparkler. 'His mother and my mother arecronies in fact.'
'If I had thought of it, Amy,' said Mr Dorrit, with a patronage asmagnificent as that of Lord Decimus himself, 'you should have despatcheda note to them, asking them to dine to-day. Some of our people couldhave--ha--fetched them, and taken them home. We could have spareda--hum--gondola for that purpose. I am sorry to have forgotten this.Pray remind me of them to-morrow.'
Little Dorrit was not without doubts how Mr Henry Gowan might take theirpatronage; but she promised not to fail in the reminder.
'Pray, does Mr Henry Gowan paint--ha--Portraits?' inquired Mr Dorrit.
Mr Sparkler opined that he painted anything, if he could get the job.
'He has no particular walk?' said Mr Dorrit.
Mr Sparkler, stimulated by Love to brilliancy, replied that for aparticular walk a man ought to have a particular pair of shoes; as, forexample, shooting, shooting-shoes; cricket, cricket-shoes. Whereas, hebelieved that Henry Gowan had no particular pair of shoes.
'No speciality?' said Mr Dorrit.
This being a very long word for Mr Sparkler, and his mind beingexhausted by his late effort, he replied, 'No, thank you. I seldom takeit.'
'Well!' said Mr Dorrit. 'It would be very agreeable to me to presenta gentleman so connected, with some--ha--Testimonial of my desire tofurther his interests, and develop the--hum--germs of his genius. Ithink I must engage Mr Gowan to paint my picture. If the result shouldbe--ha--mutually satisfactory, I might afterwards engage him to try hishand upon my family.'
The exquisitely bold and original thought presented itself to MrSparkler, that there was an opening here for saying there were some ofthe family (emphasising 'some' in a marked manner) to whom no paintercould render justice. But, for want of a form of words in which toexpress the idea, it returned to the skies.
This was the more to be regretted as Miss Fanny greatly applauded thenotion of the portrait, and urged her papa to act upon it. She surmised,she said, that Mr Gowan had lost better and higher opportunities bymarrying his pretty wife; and Love in a cottage, painting pictures fordinner, was so delightfully interesting, that she begged her papa togive him the commission whether he could paint a likeness or not: thoughindeed both she and Amy knew he could, from having seen a speakinglikeness on his easel that day, and having had the opportunity ofcomparing it with the original. These remarks made Mr Sparkler (asperhaps they were intended to do) nearly distracted; for while onthe one hand they expressed Miss Fanny's susceptibility of the tenderpassion, she herself showed such an innocent unconsciousness of hisadmiration that his eyes goggled in his head with jealousy of an unknownrival.
Descending into the sea again after dinner, and ascending out of itat the Opera staircase, preceded by one of their gondoliers, like anattendant Merman, with a great linen lantern, they entered their box,and Mr Sparkler entered on an evening of agony. The theatre beingdark, and the box light, several visitors lounged in during therepresentation; in whom Fanny was so interested, and in conversationwith whom she fell into such charming attitudes, as she had littleconfidences with them, and little disputes concerning the identity ofpeople in distant boxes, that the wretched Sparkler hated all mankind.But he had two consolations at the close of the performance. She gavehim her fan to hold while she adjusted her cloak, and it was hisblessed privilege to give her his arm down-stairs again. These crumbs ofencouragement, Mr Sparkler thought, would just keep him going; and it isnot impossible that Miss Dorrit thought so too.
The Merman with his light was ready at the box-door, and other Mermenwith other lights were ready at many of the doors. The Dorrit Mermanheld his lantern low, to show the steps, and Mr Sparkler put on anotherheavy set of fetters over his former set, as he watched her radiantfeet twinkling down the stairs beside him. Among the loiterers here, wasBlandois of Paris. He spoke, and moved forward beside Fanny.
Little Dorrit was in front with her brother and Mrs General (Mr Dorrithad remained at home), but on the brink of the quay they all cametogether. She started again to find Blandois close to her, handing Fannyinto the boat.
'Gowan has had a loss,' he said, 'since he was made happy to-day by avisit from fair ladies.'
'A loss?' repeated Fanny, relinquished by the bereaved Sparkler, andtaking her seat.
'A loss,' said Blandois. 'His dog Lion.'
Little Dorrit's hand was in his, as he spoke.
'He is dead,' said Blandois.
'Dead?' echoed Little Dorrit. 'That noble dog?'
'Faith, dear ladies!' said Blandois, smiling and shrugging hisshoulders, 'somebody has poisoned that noble dog. He is as dead as theDoges!'