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Little Dorrit

Little Dorrit

Little Dorrit/50

CHAPTER 12. 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 goodto any one, alive or dead, or to any earthly thing; nobody knew that hehad 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 pathof duty or diversion, pain or pleasure, toil or rest, fact or fancy,among the multiplicity of paths in the labyrinth trodden by the sonsof Adam; nobody had the smallest reason for supposing the clay of whichthis 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 ofhumanity 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 excusablythan the darkest savage creeps out of his hole in the ground topropitiate, in some log or reptile, the Deity of his benighted soul.

Nay, the high priests of this worship had the man before them asa protest against their meanness. The multitude worshipped ontrust--though always distinctly knowing why--but the officiators at thealtar had the man habitually in their view. They sat at his feasts, andhe sat at theirs. There was a spectre always attendant on him, saying tothese 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 thisman? You are the levers of the Circumlocution Office, and the rulers ofmen. When half-a-dozen of you fall out by the ears, it seems that motherearth can give birth to no other rulers. Does your qualification lie inthe superior knowledge of men which accepts, courts, and puffs this man?Or, if you are competent to judge aright the signs I never fail toshow you when he appears among you, is your superior honesty yourqualification?' Two rather ugly questions these, always going abouttown with Mr Merdle; and there was a tacit agreement that they must bestifled.

In Mrs Merdle's absence abroad, Mr Merdle still kept the great houseopen for the passage through it of a stream Of visitors. A few of thesetook affable possession of the establishment. Three or four ladies ofdistinction and liveliness used to say to one another, 'Let us dine atour dear Merdle's next Thursday. Whom shall we have?' Our dear Merdlewould then receive his instructions; and would sit heavily among thecompany at table and wander lumpishly about his drawing-roomsafterwards, only remarkable for appearing to have nothing to do with theentertainment beyond being in its way.

The Chief Butler, the Avenging Spirit of this great man's life, relaxednothing of his severity. He looked on at these dinners when the bosomwas not there, as he looked on at other dinners when the bosom wasthere; and his eye was a basilisk to Mr Merdle. He was a hard man, andwould never bate an ounce of plate or a bottle of wine. He would notallow a dinner to be given, unless it was up to his mark. He set forththe table for his own dignity. If the guests chose to partake of whatwas served, he saw no objection; but it was served for the maintenanceof his rank. As he stood by the sideboard he seemed to announce, 'I haveaccepted office to look at this which is now before me, and to look atnothing less than this.' If he missed the presiding bosom, it was as apart of his own state of which he was, from unavoidable circumstances,temporarily deprived, just as he might have missed a centre-piece, or achoice wine-cooler, which had been sent to the Banker's.

Mr Merdle issued invitations for a Barnacle dinner. Lord Decimus was tobe there, Mr Tite Barnacle was to be there, the pleasant young Barnaclewas to be there; and the Chorus of Parliamentary Barnacles who wentabout the provinces when the House was up, warbling the praises of theirChief, were to be represented there. It was understood to be a greatoccasion. Mr Merdle was going to take up the Barnacles. Some delicatelittle negotiations had occurred between him and the noble Decimus--theyoung Barnacle of engaging manners acting as negotiator--and Mr Merdlehad decided to cast the weight of his great probity and great richesinto the Barnacle scale. Jobbery was suspected by the malicious; perhapsbecause it was indisputable that if the adherence of the immortal Enemyof Mankind could have been secured by a job, the Barnacles would havejobbed him--for the good of the country, for the good of the country.

Mrs Merdle had written to this magnificent spouse of hers, whom it washeresy to regard as anything less than all the British Merchants sincethe days of Whittington rolled into one, and gilded three feet deep allover--had written to this spouse of hers, several letters from Rome, inquick succession, urging upon him with importunity that now or never wasthe time to provide for Edmund Sparkler. Mrs Merdle had shown him thatthe case of Edmund was urgent, and that infinite advantages might resultfrom his having some good thing directly. In the grammar of MrsMerdle's verbs on this momentous subject, there was only one mood, theImperative; and that Mood had only one Tense, the Present. Mrs Merdle'sverbs were so pressingly presented to Mr Merdle to conjugate, that hissluggish blood and his long coat-cuffs became quite agitated.

In which state of agitation, Mr Merdle, evasively rolling his eyesround the Chief Butler's shoes without raising them to the index of thatstupendous creature's thoughts, had signified to him his intention ofgiving a special dinner: not a very large dinner, but a very specialdinner. The Chief Butler had signified, in return, that he had noobjection to look on at the most expensive thing in that way that couldbe done; and the day of the dinner was now come.

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 tookthe liberty of standing with his back to the fire unless he was quitealone. In the presence of the Chief Butler, he could not have done sucha deed. He would have clasped himself by the wrists in that constabularymanner of his, and have paced up and down the hearthrug, or gonecreeping about among the rich objects of furniture, if his oppressiveretainer had appeared in the room at that very moment. The sly shadowswhich seemed to dart out of hiding when the fire rose, and to dart backinto it when the fire fell, were sufficient witnesses of his makinghimself so easy. They were even more than sufficient, if hisuncomfortable glances at them might be taken to mean anything.

Mr Merdle's right hand was filled with the evening paper, and theevening paper was full of Mr Merdle. His wonderful enterprise, hiswonderful wealth, his wonderful Bank, were the fattening food of theevening paper that night. The wonderful Bank, of which he was the chiefprojector, establisher, and manager, was the latest of the many Merdlewonders. So modest was Mr Merdle withal, in the midst of these splendidachievements, that he looked far more like a man in possession of hishouse under a distraint, than a commercial Colossus bestriding his ownhearthrug, while the little ships were sailing into dinner.

Behold the vessels coming into port! The engaging young Barnacle was thefirst arrival; but Bar overtook him on the staircase. Bar, strengthenedas usual with his double eye-glass and his little jury droop, wasoverjoyed to see the engaging young Barnacle; and opined that we weregoing to sit in Banco, as we lawyers called it, to take a specialargument?

'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 theinnermost sanctuary of the temple; I am one of the admiring concourse onthe plain without.'

Bar could be light in hand, or heavy in hand, according to the customerhe had to deal with. With Ferdinand Barnacle he was gossamer. Bar waslikewise always modest and self-depreciatory--in his way. Bar was a manof great variety; but one leading thread ran through the woof of all hispatterns. 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 mercantilestar;--going into politics?'

'Going? He has been in Parliament some time, you know,' returned theengaging 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 comictradesmen 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 anaffirmative answer, But Ferdinand Barnacle looked knowingly at Bar as hestrolled up-stairs, and gave him no answer at all.

'Just so, just so,' said Bar, nodding his head, for he was not to be putoff in that way, 'and therefore I spoke of our sitting _in Banco_ to takea special argument--meaning this to be a high and solemn occasion, when,as Captain Macheath says, ”the judges are met: a terrible show!” Welawyers are sufficiently liberal, you see, to quote the Captain, thoughthe Captain is severe upon us. Nevertheless, I think I could put inevidence an admission of the Captain's,' said Bar, with a little jocoseroll of his head; for, in his legal current of speech, he always assumedthe air of rallying himself with the best grace in the world; 'anadmission of the Captain's that Law, in the gross, is at leastintended to be impartial. For what says the Captain, if I quotehim correctly--and if not,' with a light-comedy touch of his doubleeye-glass on his companion's shoulder, 'my learned friend will set meright:

”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 stoodbefore the fire. So immensely astounded was Mr Merdle by the entranceof Bar with such a reference in his mouth, that Bar explained himselfto have been quoting Gay. 'Assuredly not one of our Westminster Hallauthorities,' said he, 'but still no despicable one to a man possessingthe largely-practical Mr Merdle's knowledge of the world.'

Mr Merdle looked as if he thought he would say something, butsubsequently looked as if he thought he wouldn't. The interval affordedtime for Bishop to be announced.

Bishop came in with meekness, and yet with a strong and rapid step as ifhe wanted to get his seven-league dress-shoes on, and go round the worldto see that everybody was in a satisfactory state. Bishop had no ideathat there was anything significant in the occasion. That was the mostremarkable trait in his demeanour. He was crisp, fresh, cheerful,affable, bland; but so surprisingly innocent.

Bar sidled up to prefer his politest inquiries in reference to thehealth of Mrs Bishop. Mrs Bishop had been a little unfortunate in thearticle of taking cold at a Confirmation, but otherwise was well. YoungMr Bishop was also well. He was down, with his young wife and littlefamily, at his Cure of Souls.

The representatives of the Barnacle Chorus dropped in next, and MrMerdle's physician dropped in next. Bar, who had a bit of one eye and abit of his double eye-glass for every one who came in at the door, nomatter with whom he was conversing or what he was talking about, gotamong them all by some skilful means, without being seen to get at them,and touched each individual gentleman of the jury on his own individualfavourite spot. With some of the Chorus, he laughed about the sleepymember who had gone out into the lobby the other night, and voted thewrong way: with others, he deplored that innovating spirit in the timewhich could not even be prevented from taking an unnatural interest inthe public service and the public money: with the physician he had aword to say about the general health; he had also a little informationto ask him for, concerning a professional man of unquestioned eruditionand polished manners--but those credentials in their highest developmenthe believed were the possession of other professors of the healing art(jury droop)--whom he had happened to have in the witness-box the daybefore yesterday, and from whom he had elicited in cross-examinationthat he claimed to be one of the exponents of this new mode of treatmentwhich appeared to Bar to--eh?--well, Bar thought so; Bar had thought,and hoped, Physician would tell him so. Without presuming to decidewhere doctors disagreed, it did appear to Bar, viewing it as a questionof common sense and not of so-called legal penetration, that this newsystem was--might be, in the presence of so great an authority--say,Humbug? Ah! Fortified by such encouragement, he could venture to sayHumbug; and now Bar's mind was relieved.

Mr Tite Barnacle, who, like Dr Johnson's celebrated acquaintance, hadonly one idea in his head and that was a wrong one, had appeared by thistime. This eminent gentleman and Mr Merdle, seated diverse ways and withruminating aspects on a yellow ottoman in the light of the fire,holding no verbal communication with each other, bore a strong generalresemblance to the two cows in the Cuyp picture over against them.

But now, Lord Decimus arrived. The Chief Butler, who up to this timehad limited himself to a branch of his usual function by looking at thecompany 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 andannounce him. Lord Decimus being an overpowering peer, a bashful youngmember of the Lower House who was the last fish but one caught by theBarnacles, and who had been invited on this occasion to commemorate hiscapture, shut his eyes when his Lordship came in.

Lord Decimus, nevertheless, was glad to see the Member. He was alsoglad to see Mr Merdle, glad to see Bishop, glad to see Bar, glad to seePhysician, glad to see Tite Barnacle, glad to see Chorus, glad tosee Ferdinand his private secretary. Lord Decimus, though one of thegreatest of the earth, was not remarkable for ingratiatory manners, andFerdinand had coached him up to the point of noticing all the fellowshe might find there, and saying he was glad to see them. When he hadachieved this rush of vivacity and condescension, his Lordship composedhimself 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 layhold of the Foreman, soon came sidling up, double eye-glass in hand. Bartendered the weather, as a subject neatly aloof from official reserve,for the Foreman's consideration. Bar said that he was told (as everybodyalways is told, though who tells them, and why, will ever remain amystery), that there was to be no wall-fruit this year. Lord Decimushad not heard anything amiss of his peaches, but rather believed, if hispeople were correct, he was to have no apples. No apples? Bar was lostin astonishment and concern. It would have been all one to him, inreality, if there had not been a pippin on the surface of the earth, buthis show of interest in this apple question was positively painful.Now, to what, Lord Decimus--for we troublesome lawyers loved to gatherinformation, and could never tell how useful it might prove to us--towhat, Lord Decimus, was this to be attributed? Lord Decimus could notundertake to propound any theory about it. This might have stoppedanother 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 asa master-stroke. Lord Decimus had a reminiscence about a pear-treeformerly 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. Itwas a joke of a compact and portable nature, turning on the differencebetween Eton pears and Parliamentary pairs; but it was a joke, a refinedrelish of which would seem to have appeared to Lord Decimus impossibleto be had without a thorough and intimate acquaintance with the tree.Therefore, the story at first had no idea of such a tree, sir, thengradually found it in winter, carried it through the changing season,saw it bud, saw it blossom, saw it bear fruit, saw the fruit ripen; inshort, cultivated the tree in that diligent and minute manner before itgot out of the bed-room window to steal the fruit, that many thanks hadbeen offered up by belated listeners for the trees having been plantedand grafted prior to Lord Decimus's time. Bar's interest in apples wasso overtopped by the wrapt suspense in which he pursued the changesof these pears, from the moment when Lord Decimus solemnly opened with'Your mentioning pears recalls to my remembrance a pear-tree,' down tothe rich conclusion, 'And so we pass, through the various changesof life, from Eton pears to Parliamentary pairs,' that he had to godown-stairs with Lord Decimus, and even then to be seated next to himat table in order that he might hear the anecdote out. By that time, Barfelt that he had secured the Foreman, and might go to dinner with a goodappetite.

It was a dinner to provoke an appetite, though he had not had one. Therarest dishes, sumptuously cooked and sumptuously served; the choicestfruits; the most exquisite wines; marvels of workmanship in gold andsilver, china and glass; innumerable things delicious to the senses oftaste, smell, and sight, were insinuated into its composition. O, whata wonderful man this Merdle, what a great man, what a master man, howblessedly and enviably endowed--in one word, what a rich man!

He took his usual poor eighteenpennyworth of food in his usualindigestive way, and had as little to say for himself as ever awonderful man had. Fortunately Lord Decimus was one of those sublimitieswho have no occasion to be talked to, for they can be at any timesufficiently occupied with the contemplation of their own greatness.This enabled the bashful young Member to keep his eyes open long enoughat a time to see his dinner. But, whenever Lord Decimus spoke, he shutthem again.

The agreeable young Barnacle, and Bar, were the talkers of the party.Bishop would have been exceedingly agreeable also, but that hisinnocence stood in his way. He was so soon left behind. When there wasany 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 tohave heard that we were soon to have the advantage of enlisting onthe good side, the sound and plain sagacity--not demonstrative orostentatious, but thoroughly sound and practical--of our friend MrSparkler.

Ferdinand Barnacle laughed, and said oh yes, he believed so. A vote wasa vote, and always acceptable.

Bar was sorry to miss our good friend Mr Sparkler to-day, Mr Merdle.

'He is away with Mrs Merdle,' returned that gentleman, slowly comingout of a long abstraction, in the course of which he had been fitting atablespoon up his sleeve. 'It is not indispensable for him to be on thespot.'

'The magic name of Merdle,' said Bar, with the jury droop, 'no doubtwill 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 otherhand. 'I believe the people in my interest down there will not make anydifficulty.'

'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 abright twinkle in his keen eye, as it slightly turned in the directionof his magnificent neighbour; 'we lawyers are always curious, alwaysinquisitive, always picking up odds and ends for our patchwork minds,since there is no knowing when and where they may fit into somecorner;--the people of those other two places now? Do they yield solaudably to the vast and cumulative influence of such enterprise andsuch renown; do those little rills become absorbed so quietlyand easily, and, as it were by the influence of natural laws, sobeautifully, in the swoop of the majestic stream as it flows upon itswondrous way enriching the surrounding lands; that their course isperfectly to be calculated, and distinctly to be predicated?'

Mr Merdle, a little troubled by Bar's eloquence, looked fitfully aboutthe nearest salt-cellar for some moments, and then said hesitating:

'They are perfectly aware, sir, of their duty to Society. They willreturn 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 thisIsland, 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 werea nice set of fellows. Bishop, mentally perambulating among paths ofpeace, was altogether swallowed up in absence of mind.

'Pray,' asked Lord Decimus, casting his eyes around the table, 'whatis 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 theinheritance of a large sum of money? I have met with a variety ofallusions to it. Do you know anything of it, Ferdinand?'

'I only know this much,' said Ferdinand, 'that he has given theDepartment with which I have the honour to be associated;' thissparkling young Barnacle threw off the phrase sportively, as who shouldsay, 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 intoinnumerable fixes.'

'Fixes?' repeated Lord Decimus, with a majestic pausing and ponderingon the word that made the bashful Member shut his eyes quite tight.'Fixes?'

'A very perplexing business indeed,' observed Mr Tite Barnacle, with anair of grave resentment.

'What,' said Lord Decimus, 'was the character of his business; what wasthe nature of these--a--Fixes, Ferdinand?'

'Oh, it's a good story, as a story,' returned that gentleman; 'as gooda thing of its kind as need be. This Mr Dorrit (his name is Dorrit) hadincurred a responsibility to us, ages before the fairy came out ofthe Bank and gave him his fortune, under a bond he had signed for theperformance of a contract which was not at all performed. He was apartner in a house in some large way--spirits, or buttons, or wine, orblacking, 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 amongthe creditors, detainees were lodged on the part of the Crown in ascientific manner, and all the rest of it. When the fairy had appearedand he wanted to pay us off, Egad we had got into such an exemplarystate of checking and counter-checking, signing and counter-signing,that it was six months before we knew how to take the money, or how togive a receipt for it. It was a triumph of public business,' said thishandsome young Barnacle, laughing heartily, 'You never saw such a lot offorms in your life. ”Why,” the attorney said to me one day, ”if I wantedthis 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 dohere.”' The pleasant young Barnacle finished by once more laughingheartily. He was a very easy, pleasant fellow indeed, and his mannerswere exceedingly winning.

Mr Tite Barnacle's view of the business was of a less airy character. Hetook it ill that Mr Dorrit had troubled the Department by wanting topay the money, and considered it a grossly informal thing to do after somany years. But Mr Tite Barnacle was a buttoned-up man, and consequentlya weighty one. All buttoned-up men are weighty. All buttoned-up men arebelieved in. Whether or no the reserved and never-exercised power ofunbuttoning, fascinates mankind; whether or no wisdom is supposed tocondense and augment when buttoned up, and to evaporate when unbuttoned;it is certain that the man to whom importance is accorded is thebuttoned-up man. Mr Tite Barnacle never would have passed for half hiscurrent value, unless his coat had been always buttoned-up to his whitecravat.

'May I ask,' said Lord Decimus, 'if Mr Darrit--or Dorrit--has anyfamily?'

Nobody else replying, the host said, 'He has two daughters, my lord.'

'Oh! you are acquainted with him?' asked Lord Decimus.

'Mrs Merdle is. Mr Sparkler is, too. In fact,' said Mr Merdle, 'I ratherbelieve that one of the young ladies has made an impression on EdmundSparkler. He is susceptible, and--I--think--the conquest--' Here MrMerdle stopped, and looked at the table-cloth, as he usually did when hefound himself observed or listened to.

Bar was uncommonly pleased to find that the Merdle family, and thisfamily, had already been brought into contact. He submitted, in a lowvoice across the table to Bishop, that it was a kind of analogicalillustration of those physical laws, in virtue of which Like flies toLike. He regarded this power of attraction in wealth to draw wealthto it, as something remarkably interesting and curious--somethingindefinably allied to the loadstone and gravitation. Bishop, whohad ambled back to earth again when the present theme was broached,acquiesced. He said it was indeed highly important to Society that onein the trying situation of unexpectedly finding himself invested with apower for good or for evil in Society, should become, as it were, mergedin the superior power of a more legitimate and more gigantic growth, theinfluence 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 asoftened light whose genial ray diffused an equable warmth throughoutthe land. Bishop seemed to like his own way of putting the case verymuch, and rather dwelt upon it; Bar, meanwhile (not to throw away ajury-man), making a show of sitting at his feet and feeding on hisprecepts.

The dinner and dessert being three hours long, the bashful Member cooledin 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 aflat country, seemed to project himself across the table-cloth, hide thelight from the honourable Member, cool the honourable Member's marrow,and give him a woeful idea of distance. When he asked this unfortunatetraveller to take wine, he encompassed his faltering steps with thegloomiest of shades; and when he said, 'Your health sir!' all around himwas barrenness and desolation.

At length Lord Decimus, with a coffee-cup in his hand, began to hoverabout among the pictures, and to cause an interesting speculation toarise in all minds as to the probabilities of his ceasing to hover, andenabling the smaller birds to flutter up-stairs; which could not bedone until he had urged his noble pinions in that direction. After somedelay, and several stretches of his wings which came to nothing, hesoared to the drawing-rooms.

And here a difficulty arose, which always does arise when two peopleare specially brought together at a dinner to confer with one another.Everybody (except Bishop, who had no suspicion of it) knew perfectlywell that this dinner had been eaten and drunk, specifically to the endthat Lord Decimus and Mr Merdle should have five minutes' conversationtogether. The opportunity so elaborately prepared was now arrived, andit seemed from that moment that no mere human ingenuity could so much asget the two chieftains into the same room. Mr Merdle and his noble guestpersisted in prowling about at opposite ends of the perspective. It wasin vain for the engaging Ferdinand to bring Lord Decimus to look at thebronze 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 himthe history of the unique Dresden vases. Then Lord Decimus evaded andwandered 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 hehad been baffled twenty times.

'Often,' returned Bar.

'Unless I butt one of them into an appointed corner, and you butt theother,' said Ferdinand,'it will not come off after all.'

'Very good,' said Bar. 'I'll butt Merdle, if you like; but not my lord.'

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'tthey come together! They both know what they want and mean to do. Lookat them!'

They were still looming at opposite ends of the perspective, each withan absurd pretence of not having the other on his mind, which could nothave been more transparently ridiculous though his real mind had beenchalked on his back. Bishop, who had just now made a third with Bar andFerdinand, but whose innocence had again cut him out of the subject andwashed him in sweet oil, was seen to approach Lord Decimus and glideinto conversation.

'I must get Merdle's doctor to catch and secure him, I suppose,' saidFerdinand; 'and then I must lay hold of my illustrious kinsman, anddecoy him if I can--drag him if I can't--to the conference.'

'Since you do me the honour,' said Bar, with his slyest smile, to askfor my poor aid, it shall be yours with the greatest pleasure. I don'tthink this is to be done by one man. But if you will undertake to penmy lord into that furthest drawing-room where he is now so profoundlyengaged, 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, jauntilywaving his double eye-glass by its ribbon, and jauntily drooping to anUniverse of Jurymen, he, in the most accidental manner ever seen,found himself at Mr Merdle's shoulder, and embraced that opportunity ofmentioning a little point to him, on which he particularly wished tobe guided by the light of his practical knowledge. (Here he took MrMerdle's arm and walked him gently away.) A banker, whom we would callA. B., advanced a considerable sum of money, which we would call fifteenthousand 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 Merdletight.) As a security for the repayment of this advance to P. Q. whomwe would call a widow lady, there were placed in A. B.'s hands thetitle-deeds of a freehold estate, which we would call Blinkiter Doddles.Now, the point was this. A limited right of felling and lopping inthe woods of Blinkiter Doddles, lay in the son of P. Q. then past hismajority, and whom we would call X. Y.--but really this was too bad! Inthe presence of Lord Decimus, to detain the host with chopping our drychaff of law, was really too bad! Another time! Bar was truly repentant,and would not say another syllable. Would Bishop favour him withhalf-a-dozen words? (He had now set Mr Merdle down on a couch, side byside with Lord Decimus, and to it they must go, now or never.)

And now the rest of the company, highly excited and interested, alwaysexcepting Bishop, who had not the slightest idea that anything was goingon, formed in one group round the fire in the next drawing-room, andpretended to be chatting easily on the infinite variety of small topics,while everybody's thoughts and eyes were secretly straying towards thesecluded pair. The Chorus were excessively nervous, perhaps as labouringunder the dreadful apprehension that some good thing was going tobe diverted from them! Bishop alone talked steadily and evenly. Heconversed with the great Physician on that relaxation of the throat withwhich young curates were too frequently afflicted, and on the meansof lessening the great prevalence of that disorder in the church.Physician, as a general rule, was of opinion that the best way to avoidit 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 onthe outside of the circle; he kept about mid-way between it and thetwo, as if some sort of surgical operation were being performed by LordDecimus on Mr Merdle, or by Mr Merdle on Lord Decimus, and his servicesmight at any moment be required as Dresser. In fact, within a quarterof an hour Lord Decimus called to him 'Ferdinand!' and he went, andtook his place in the conference for some five minutes more. Then ahalf-suppressed gasp broke out among the Chorus; for Lord Decimus roseto take his leave. Again coached up by Ferdinand to the point of makinghimself popular, he shook hands in the most brilliant manner with thewhole company, and even said to Bar, 'I hope you were not bored by mypears?' To which Bar retorted, 'Eton, my lord, or Parliamentary?' neatlyshowing that he had mastered the joke, and delicately insinuating thathe could never forget it while his life remained.

All the grave importance that was buttoned up in Mr Tite Barnacle, tookitself away next; and Ferdinand took himself away next, to the opera.Some of the rest lingered a little, marrying golden liqueur glasses toBuhl tables with sticky rings; on the desperate chance of Mr Merdle'ssaying something. But Merdle, as usual, oozed sluggishly and muddilyabout 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, wasmade one of the Lords of the Circumlocution Office; and proclamation wasissued, to all true believers, that this admirable appointment was tobe hailed as a graceful and gracious mark of homage, rendered by thegraceful and gracious Decimus, to that commercial interest which mustever in a great commercial country--and all the rest of it, withblast of trumpet. So, bolstered by this mark of Government homage, thewonderful Bank and all the other wonderful undertakings went on and wentup; and gapers came to Harley Street, Cavendish Square, only to look atthe house where the golden wonder lived.

And when they saw the Chief Butler looking out at the hall-door inhis moments of condescension, the gapers said how rich he looked, andwondered how much money he had in the wonderful Bank. But, if they hadknown that respectable Nemesis better, they would not have wonderedabout it, and might have stated the amount with the utmost precision.