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Actions & Adventure
History & Fiction
Thrillers & Crime
Romance & Love
Mystery & Detective
Time News Roman
CHAPTER 13. The Progress of an Epidemic
That it is at least as difficult to stay a moral infection as a physicalone; that such a disease will spread with the malignity and rapidity ofthe Plague; that the contagion, when it has once made head, will spareno pursuit or condition, but will lay hold on people in the soundesthealth, and become developed in the most unlikely constitutions: isa fact as firmly established by experience as that we human creaturesbreathe an atmosphere. A blessing beyond appreciation would be conferredupon mankind, if the tainted, in whose weakness or wickedness thesevirulent disorders are bred, could be instantly seized and placed inclose confinement (not to say summarily smothered) before the poison iscommunicable.
As a vast fire will fill the air to a great distance with its roar, sothe sacred flame which the mighty Barnacles had fanned caused the air toresound more and more with the name of Merdle. It was deposited on everylip, and carried into every ear. There never was, there never hadbeen, there never again should be, such a man as Mr Merdle. Nobody,as aforesaid, knew what he had done; but everybody knew him to be thegreatest that had appeared.
Down in Bleeding Heart Yard, where there was not one unappropriatedhalfpenny, as lively an interest was taken in this paragon of men as onthe Stock Exchange. Mrs Plornish, now established in the small groceryand general trade in a snug little shop at the crack end of the Yard,at the top of the steps, with her little old father and Maggy actingas assistants, habitually held forth about him over the counter inconversation with her customers. Mr Plornish, who had a small share in asmall builder's business in the neighbourhood, said, trowel in hand, onthe tops of scaffolds and on the tiles of houses, that people did tellhim as Mr Merdle was _the_ one, mind you, to put us all to rights inrespects of that which all on us looked to, and to bring us all safehome as much as we needed, mind you, fur toe be brought. Mr Baptist,sole lodger of Mr and Mrs Plornish was reputed in whispers to lay bythe savings which were the result of his simple and moderate life,for investment in one of Mr Merdle's certain enterprises. The femaleBleeding Hearts, when they came for ounces of tea, and hundredweights oftalk, gave Mrs Plornish to understand, That how, ma'am, they had heardfrom their cousin Mary Anne, which worked in the line, that his lady'sdresses would fill three waggons. That how she was as handsome a lady,ma'am, as lived, no matter wheres, and a busk like marble itself. Thathow, according to what they was told, ma'am, it was her son by a formerhusband as was took into the Government; and a General he had been, andarmies he had marched again and victory crowned, if all you heard was tobe believed. That how it was reported that Mr Merdle's words had been,that if they could have made it worth his while to take the wholeGovernment he would have took it without a profit, but that take it hecould not and stand a loss. That how it was not to be expected, ma'am,that he should lose by it, his ways being, as you might say and utterno falsehood, paved with gold; but that how it was much to be regrettedthat something handsome hadn't been got up to make it worth his while;for it was such and only such that knowed the heighth to which the breadand butchers' meat had rose, and it was such and only such that bothcould and would bring that heighth down.
So rife and potent was the fever in Bleeding Heart Yard, that MrPancks's rent-days caused no interval in the patients. The disease tookthe singular form, on those occasions, of causing the infected to findan unfathomable excuse and consolation in allusions to the magic name.
'Now, then!' Mr Pancks would say, to a defaulting lodger. 'Pay up!Come on!'
'I haven't got it, Mr Pancks,' Defaulter would reply. 'I tell you thetruth, sir, when I say I haven't got so much as a single sixpence of itto bless myself with.'
'This won't do, you know,' Mr Pancks would retort. 'You don't expect it_will_ do; do you?'
Defaulter would admit, with a low-spirited 'No, sir,' having no suchexpectation.
'My proprietor isn't going to stand this, you know,' Mr Pancks wouldproceed. 'He don't send me here for this. Pay up! Come!'
The Defaulter would make answer, 'Ah, Mr Pancks. If I was the richgentleman whose name is in everybody's mouth--if my name was Merdle,sir--I'd soon pay up, and be glad to do it.'
Dialogues on the rent-question usually took place at the house-doorsor in the entries, and in the presence of several deeply interestedBleeding Hearts. They always received a reference of this kind with alow murmur of response, as if it were convincing; and the Defaulter,however black and discomfited before, always cheered up a little inmaking it.
'If I was Mr Merdle, sir, you wouldn't have cause to complain of methen. No, believe me!' the Defaulter would proceed with a shake of thehead. 'I'd pay up so quick then, Mr Pancks, that you shouldn't have toask me.'
The response would be heard again here, implying that it was impossibleto say anything fairer, and that this was the next thing to paying themoney down.
Mr Pancks would be now reduced to saying as he booked the case, 'Well!You'll have the broker in, and be turned out; that's what'll happen toyou. It's no use talking to me about Mr Merdle. You are not Mr Merdle,any more than I am.'
'No, sir,' the Defaulter would reply. 'I only wish you _were_ him, sir.'
The response would take this up quickly; replying with great feeling,'Only wish you _were_ him, sir.'
'You'd be easier with us if you were Mr Merdle, sir,' the Defaulterwould go on with rising spirits, 'and it would be better for allparties. Better for our sakes, and better for yours, too. You wouldn'thave to worry no one, then, sir. You wouldn't have to worry us, and youwouldn't have to worry yourself. You'd be easier in your own mind, sir,and you'd leave others easier, too, you would, if you were Mr Merdle.'
Mr Pancks, in whom these impersonal compliments produced an irresistiblesheepishness, never rallied after such a charge. He could only bitehis nails and puff away to the next Defaulter. The responsive BleedingHearts would then gather round the Defaulter whom he had just abandoned,and the most extravagant rumours would circulate among them, to theirgreat comfort, touching the amount of Mr Merdle's ready money.
From one of the many such defeats of one of many rent-days, Mr Pancks,having finished his day's collection, repaired with his note-bookunder his arm to Mrs Plornish's corner. Mr Pancks's object was notprofessional, but social. He had had a trying day, and wanted a littlebrightening. By this time he was on friendly terms with the Plornishfamily, having often looked in upon them at similar seasons, and bornehis part in recollections of Miss Dorrit.
Mrs Plornish's shop-parlour had been decorated under her own eye, andpresented, on the side towards the shop, a little fiction in which MrsPlornish unspeakably rejoiced. This poetical heightening of the parlourconsisted in the wall being painted to represent the exterior of athatched cottage; the artist having introduced (in as effective a manneras he found compatible with their highly disproportionate dimensions)the real door and window. The modest sunflower and hollyhock weredepicted as flourishing with great luxuriance on this rustic dwelling,while a quantity of dense smoke issuing from the chimney indicated goodcheer within, and also, perhaps, that it had not been lately swept.A faithful dog was represented as flying at the legs of the friendlyvisitor, from the threshold; and a circular pigeon-house, enveloped in acloud of pigeons, arose from behind the garden-paling. On the door (whenit was shut), appeared the semblance of a brass-plate, presentingthe inscription, Happy Cottage, T. and M. Plornish; the partnershipexpressing man and wife. No Poetry and no Art ever charmed theimagination more than the union of the two in this counterfeit cottagecharmed Mrs Plornish. It was nothing to her that Plornish had a habitof leaning against it as he smoked his pipe after work, when hishat blotted out the pigeon-house and all the pigeons, when his backswallowed up the dwelling, when his hands in his pockets uprooted theblooming garden and laid waste the adjacent country. To Mrs Plornish, itwas still a most beautiful cottage, a most wonderful deception; andit made no difference that Mr Plornish's eye was some inches above thelevel of the gable bed-room in the thatch. To come out into the shopafter it was shut, and hear her father sing a song inside this cottage,was a perfect Pastoral to Mrs Plornish, the Golden Age revived. Andtruly if that famous period had been revived, or had ever been at all,it may be doubted whether it would have produced many more heartilyadmiring daughters than the poor woman.
Warned of a visitor by the tinkling bell at the shop-door, Mrs Plornishcame out of Happy Cottage to see who it might be. 'I guessed it wasyou, Mr Pancks,' said she, 'for it's quite your regular night; ain't it?Here's father, you see, come out to serve at the sound of the bell, likea brisk young shopman. Ain't he looking well? Father's more pleased tosee you than if you was a customer, for he dearly loves a gossip; andwhen it turns upon Miss Dorrit, he loves it all the more. You neverheard father in such voice as he is at present,' said Mrs Plornish, herown voice quavering, she was so proud and pleased. 'He gave us Strephonlast night to that degree that Plornish gets up and makes him thisspeech across the table. John Edward Nandy, says Plornish to father,I never heard you come the warbles as I have heard you come the warblesthis night. An't it gratifying, Mr Pancks, though; really?'
Mr Pancks, who had snorted at the old man in his friendliest manner,replied in the affirmative, and casually asked whether that lively Altrochap had come in yet? Mrs Plornish answered no, not yet, though he hadgone to the West-End with some work, and had said he should be backby tea-time. Mr Pancks was then hospitably pressed into Happy Cottage,where he encountered the elder Master Plornish just come home fromschool. Examining that young student, lightly, on the educationalproceedings of the day, he found that the more advanced pupils whowere in the large text and the letter M, had been set the copy 'Merdle,Millions.'
'And how are _you_ getting on, Mrs Plornish,' said Pancks, 'since we'rementioning millions?'
'Very steady, indeed, sir,' returned Mrs Plornish. 'Father, dear, wouldyou go into the shop and tidy the window a little bit before tea, yourtaste being so beautiful?'
John Edward Nandy trotted away, much gratified, to comply with hisdaughter's request. Mrs Plornish, who was always in mortal terrorof mentioning pecuniary affairs before the old gentleman, lest anydisclosure she made might rouse his spirit and induce him to run away tothe workhouse, was thus left free to be confidential with Mr Pancks.
'It's quite true that the business is very steady indeed,' said MrsPlornish, lowering her voice; 'and has a excellent connection. The onlything that stands in its way, sir, is the Credit.'
This drawback, rather severely felt by most people who engaged incommercial transactions with the inhabitants of Bleeding Heart Yard,was a large stumbling-block in Mrs Plornish's trade. When Mr Dorrit hadestablished her in the business, the Bleeding Hearts had shown an amountof emotion and a determination to support her in it, that did honour tohuman nature. Recognising her claim upon their generous feelings as onewho had long been a member of their community, they pledged themselves,with great feeling, to deal with Mrs Plornish, come what would andbestow their patronage on no other establishment. Influenced by thesenoble sentiments, they had even gone out of their way to purchase littleluxuries in the grocery and butter line to which they were unaccustomed;saying to one another, that if they did stretch a point, was it not fora neighbour and a friend, and for whom ought a point to be stretched ifnot for such? So stimulated, the business was extremely brisk, and thearticles in stock went off with the greatest celerity. In short, if the
Bleeding Hearts had but paid, the undertaking would have been a completesuccess; whereas, by reason of their exclusively confining themselves toowing, the profits actually realised had not yet begun to appear in thebooks.
Mr Pancks was making a very porcupine of himself by sticking his hairup in the contemplation of this state of accounts, when old Mr Nandy,re-entering the cottage with an air of mystery, entreated them to comeand look at the strange behaviour of Mr Baptist, who seemed to have metwith something that had scared him. All three going into the shop, andwatching through the window, then saw Mr Baptist, pale and agitated, gothrough the following extraordinary performances. First, he was observedhiding at the top of the steps leading down into the Yard, and peepingup and down the street with his head cautiously thrust out close to theside of the shop-door. After very anxious scrutiny, he came out ofhis retreat, and went briskly down the street as if he were going awayaltogether; then, suddenly turned about, and went, at the same pace, andwith the same feint, up the street. He had gone no further up the streetthan he had gone down, when he crossed the road and disappeared. Theobject of this last manoeuvre was only apparent, when his entering theshop with a sudden twist, from the steps again, explained that hehad made a wide and obscure circuit round to the other, or Doyce andClennam, end of the Yard, and had come through the Yard and bolted in.He was out of breath by that time, as he might well be, and his heartseemed to jerk faster than the little shop-bell, as it quivered andjingled behind him with his hasty shutting of the door.
'Hallo, old chap!' said Mr Pancks. 'Altro, old boy! What's the matter?'
Mr Baptist, or Signor Cavalletto, understood English now almost as wellas Mr Pancks himself, and could speak it very well too. Nevertheless,Mrs Plornish, with a pardonable vanity in that accomplishment of herswhich made her all but Italian, stepped in as interpreter.
'E ask know,' said Mrs Plornish, 'what go wrong?'
'Come into the happy little cottage, Padrona,' returned Mr Baptist,imparting great stealthiness to his flurried back-handed shake of hisright forefinger. 'Come there!'
Mrs Plornish was proud of the title Padrona, which she regarded assignifying: not so much Mistress of the house, as Mistress of theItalian tongue. She immediately complied with Mr Baptist's request, andthey all went into the cottage.
'E ope you no fright,' said Mrs Plornish then, interpreting Mr Pancksin a new way with her usual fertility of resource. 'What appen? PeakaPadrona!'
'I have seen some one,' returned Baptist. 'I have rincontrato him.'
'Im? Oo him?' asked Mrs Plornish.
'A bad man. A baddest man. I have hoped that I should never see himagain.'
'Ow you know him bad?' asked Mrs Plornish.
'It does not matter, Padrona. I know it too well.'
'E see you?' asked Mrs Plornish.
'No. I hope not. I believe not.'
'He says,' Mrs Plornish then interpreted, addressing her father andPancks with mild condescension, 'that he has met a bad man, but he hopesthe bad man didn't see him--Why,' inquired Mrs Plornish, reverting tothe Italian language, 'why ope bad man no see?'
'Padrona, dearest,' returned the little foreigner whom she soconsiderately protected, 'do not ask, I pray. Once again I say itmatters not. I have fear of this man. I do not wish to see him, I do notwish to be known of him--never again! Enough, most beautiful. Leave it.'
The topic was so disagreeable to him, and so put his usual liveliness tothe rout, that Mrs Plornish forbore to press him further: the rather asthe tea had been drawing for some time on the hob. But she was not theless surprised and curious for asking no more questions; neither wasMr Pancks, whose expressive breathing had been labouring hard since theentrance of the little man, like a locomotive engine with a great loadgetting up a steep incline. Maggy, now better dressed than of yore,though still faithful to the monstrous character of her cap, had beenin the background from the first with open mouth and eyes, which staringand gaping features were not diminished in breadth by the untimelysuppression of the subject. However, no more was said about it, thoughmuch appeared to be thought on all sides: by no means excepting the twoyoung Plornishes, who partook of the evening meal as if their eatingthe bread and butter were rendered almost superfluous by the painfulprobability of the worst of men shortly presenting himself for thepurpose of eating them. Mr Baptist, by degrees began to chirp a little;but never stirred from the seat he had taken behind the door and closeto the window, though it was not his usual place. As often as the littlebell rang, he started and peeped out secretly, with the end of thelittle curtain in his hand and the rest before his face; evidently notat all satisfied but that the man he dreaded had tracked him through allhis doublings and turnings, with the certainty of a terrible bloodhound.
The entrance, at various times, of two or three customers and of MrPlornish, gave Mr Baptist just enough of this employment to keep theattention of the company fixed upon him. Tea was over, and the childrenwere abed, and Mrs Plornish was feeling her way to the dutiful proposalthat her father should favour them with Chloe, when the bell rang again,and Mr Clennam came in.
Clennam had been poring late over his books and letters; for thewaiting-rooms of the Circumlocution Office ravaged his time sorely.Over and above that, he was depressed and made uneasy by the lateoccurrence at his mother's. He looked worn and solitary. He felt so,too; but, nevertheless, was returning home from his counting-house bythat end of the Yard to give them the intelligence that he had receivedanother letter from Miss Dorrit.
The news made a sensation in the cottage which drew off the generalattention from Mr Baptist. Maggy, who pushed her way into the foregroundimmediately, would have seemed to draw in the tidings of her LittleMother equally at her ears, nose, mouth, and eyes, but that the lastwere obstructed by tears. She was particularly delighted when Clennamassured her that there were hospitals, and very kindly conductedhospitals, in Rome. Mr Pancks rose into new distinction in virtue ofbeing specially remembered in the letter. Everybody was pleased andinterested, and Clennam was well repaid for his trouble.
'But you are tired, sir. Let me make you a cup of tea,' said MrsPlornish, 'if you'd condescend to take such a thing in the cottage; andmany thanks to you, too, I am sure, for bearing us in mind so kindly.'
Mr Plornish deeming it incumbent on him, as host, to add his personalacknowledgments, tendered them in the form which always expressed hishighest ideal of a combination of ceremony with sincerity.
'John Edward Nandy,' said Mr Plornish, addressing the old gentleman.'Sir. It's not too often that you see unpretending actions without aspark of pride, and therefore when you see them give grateful honourunto the same, being that if you don't, and live to want 'em, it followsserve you right.'
To which Mr Nandy replied:
'I am heartily of your opinion, Thomas, and which your opinion is thesame as mine, and therefore no more words and not being backwardswith that opinion, which opinion giving it as yes, Thomas, yes, is theopinion in which yourself and me must ever be unanimously jined by all,and where there is not difference of opinion there can be none but oneopinion, which fully no, Thomas, Thomas, no!'
Arthur, with less formality, expressed himself gratified by their highappreciation of so very slight an attention on his part; and explainedas to the tea that he had not yet dined, and was going straight home torefresh after a long day's labour, or he would have readily accepted thehospitable offer. As Mr Pancks was somewhat noisily getting his steamup for departure, he concluded by asking that gentleman if he would walkwith him? Mr Pancks said he desired no better engagement, and the twotook leave of Happy Cottage.
'If you will come home with me, Pancks,' said Arthur, when they got intothe street, 'and will share what dinner or supper there is, it willbe next door to an act of charity; for I am weary and out of sortsto-night.'
'Ask me to do a greater thing than that,' said Pancks, 'when you want itdone, and I'll do it.'
Between this eccentric personage and Clennam, a tacit understanding andaccord had been always improving since Mr Pancks flew over Mr Rugg'sback in the Marshalsea Yard. When the carriage drove away on thememorable day of the family's departure, these two had looked after ittogether, and had walked slowly away together. When the first lettercame from little Dorrit, nobody was more interested in hearing ofher than Mr Pancks. The second letter, at that moment in Clennam'sbreast-pocket, particularly remembered him by name. Though he had neverbefore made any profession or protestation to Clennam, and though whathe had just said was little enough as to the words in which it wasexpressed, Clennam had long had a growing belief that Mr Pancks, inhis own odd way, was becoming attached to him. All these stringsintertwining made Pancks a very cable of anchorage that night.
'I am quite alone,' Arthur explained as they walked on. 'My partner isaway, busily engaged at a distance on his branch of our business, andyou shall do just as you like.'
'Thank you. You didn't take particular notice of little Altro just now;did you?' said Pancks.
'He's a bright fellow, and I like him,' said Pancks. 'Something hasgone amiss with him to-day. Have you any idea of any cause that can haveoverset him?'
'You surprise me! None whatever.'
Mr Pancks gave his reasons for the inquiry. Arthur was quite unpreparedfor them, and quite unable to suggest an explanation of them.
'Perhaps you'll ask him,' said Pancks, 'as he's a stranger?'
'Ask him what?' returned Clennam.
'What he has on his mind.'
'I ought first to see for myself that he has something on his mind, Ithink,' said Clennam. 'I have found him in every way so diligent, sograteful (for little enough), and so trustworthy, that it might looklike suspecting him. And that would be very unjust.'
'True,' said Pancks. 'But, I say! You oughtn't to be anybody'sproprietor, Mr Clennam. You're much too delicate.'
'For the matter of that,' returned Clennam laughing, 'I have not a largeproprietary share in Cavalletto. His carving is his livelihood. He keepsthe keys of the Factory, watches it every alternate night, and acts as asort of housekeeper to it generally; but we have little work in the wayof his ingenuity, though we give him what we have. No! I am rather hisadviser than his proprietor. To call me his standing counsel and hisbanker would be nearer the fact. Speaking of being his banker, is it notcurious, Pancks, that the ventures which run just now in so manypeople's heads, should run even in little Cavalletto's?'
'Ventures?' retorted Pancks, with a snort. 'What ventures?'
'These Merdle enterprises.'
'Oh! Investments,' said Pancks. 'Ay, ay! I didn't know you were speakingof investments.'
His quick way of replying caused Clennam to look at him, with a doubtwhether he meant more than he said. As it was accompanied, however, witha quickening of his pace and a corresponding increase in the labouringof his machinery, Arthur did not pursue the matter, and they soonarrived at his house.
A dinner of soup and a pigeon-pie, served on a little round table beforethe fire, and flavoured with a bottle of good wine, oiled Mr Pancks'sworks in a highly effective manner; so that when Clennam produced hisEastern pipe, and handed Mr Pancks another Eastern pipe, the lattergentleman was perfectly comfortable.
They puffed for a while in silence, Mr Pancks like a steam-vesselwith wind, tide, calm water, and all other sea-going conditions in herfavour. He was the first to speak, and he spoke thus:
'Yes. Investments is the word.'
Clennam, with his former look, said 'Ah!'
'I am going back to it, you see,' said Pancks.
'Yes. I see you are going back to it,' returned Clennam, wondering why.
'Wasn't it a curious thing that they should run in little Altro's head?Eh?' said Pancks as he smoked. 'Wasn't that how you put it?'
'That was what I said.'
'Ay! But think of the whole Yard having got it. Think of theirall meeting me with it, on my collecting days, here and there andeverywhere. Whether they pay, or whether they don't pay. Merdle, Merdle,Merdle. Always Merdle.'
'Very strange how these runs on an infatuation prevail,' said Arthur.
'An't it?' returned Pancks. After smoking for a minute or so, more drilythan comported with his recent oiling, he added: 'Because you see thesepeople don't understand the subject.'
'Not a bit,' assented Clennam.
'Not a bit,' cried Pancks. 'Know nothing of figures. Know nothing ofmoney questions. Never made a calculation. Never worked it, sir!'
'If they had--' Clennam was going on to say; when Mr Pancks, withoutchange of countenance, produced a sound so far surpassing all his usualefforts, nasal or bronchial, that he stopped.
'If they had?' repeated Pancks in an inquiring tone.
'I thought you--spoke,' said Arthur, hesitating what name to give theinterruption.
'Not at all,' said Pancks. 'Not yet. I may in a minute. If they had?'
'If they had,' observed Clennam, who was a little at a loss how to takehis friend, 'why, I suppose they would have known better.'
'How so, Mr Clennam?' Pancks asked quickly, and with an odd effect ofhaving been from the commencement of the conversation loaded with theheavy charge he now fired off. 'They're right, you know. They don't meanto be, but they're right.'
'Right in sharing Cavalletto's inclination to speculate with Mr Merdle?'
'Per-fectly, sir,' said Pancks. 'I've gone into it. I've made thecalculations. I've worked it. They're safe and genuine.' Relieved byhaving got to this, Mr Pancks took as long a pull as his lungs wouldpermit at his Eastern pipe, and looked sagaciously and steadily atClennam while inhaling and exhaling too.
In those moments, Mr Pancks began to give out the dangerous infectionwith which he was laden. It is the manner of communicating thesediseases; it is the subtle way in which they go about.
'Do you mean, my good Pancks,' asked Clennam emphatically, 'that youwould put that thousand pounds of yours, let us say, for instance, outat this kind of interest?'
'Certainly,' said Pancks. 'Already done it, sir.'
Mr Pancks took another long inhalation, another long exhalation, anotherlong sagacious look at Clennam.
'I tell you, Mr Clennam, I've gone into it,' said Pancks. 'He's a man ofimmense resources--enormous capital--government influence. They're thebest schemes afloat. They're safe. They're certain.'
'Well!' returned Clennam, looking first at him gravely and then at thefire gravely. 'You surprise me!'
'Bah!' Pancks retorted. 'Don't say that, sir. It's what you ought to doyourself! Why don't you do as I do?'
Of whom Mr Pancks had taken the prevalent disease, he could no more havetold than if he had unconsciously taken a fever. Bred at first, as manyphysical diseases are, in the wickedness of men, and then disseminatedin their ignorance, these epidemics, after a period, get communicated tomany sufferers who are neither ignorant nor wicked. Mr Pancks might, ormight not, have caught the illness himself from a subject of this class;but in this category he appeared before Clennam, and the infection hethrew off was all the more virulent.
'And you have really invested,' Clennam had already passed to that word,'your thousand pounds, Pancks?'
'To be sure, sir!' replied Pancks boldly, with a puff of smoke. 'Andonly wish it ten!'
Now, Clennam had two subjects lying heavy on his lonely mind that night;the one, his partner's long-deferred hope; the other, what he had seenand heard at his mother's. In the relief of having this companion,and of feeling that he could trust him, he passed on to both, and bothbrought him round again, with an increase and acceleration of force, tohis point of departure.
It came about in the simplest manner. Quitting the investment subject,after an interval of silent looking at the fire through the smoke of hispipe, he told Pancks how and why he was occupied with the great NationalDepartment. 'A hard case it has been, and a hard case it is on Doyce,'he finished by saying, with all the honest feeling the topic roused inhim.
'Hard indeed,' Pancks acquiesced. 'But you manage for him, Mr Clennam?'
'How do you mean?'
'Manage the money part of the business?'
'Yes. As well as I can.'
'Manage it better, sir,' said Pancks. 'Recompense him for his toils anddisappointments. Give him the chances of the time. He'll never benefithimself in that way, patient and preoccupied workman. He looks to you,sir.'
'I do my best, Pancks,' returned Clennam, uneasily. 'As to duly weighingand considering these new enterprises of which I have had no experience,I doubt if I am fit for it, I am growing old.'
'Growing old?' cried Pancks. 'Ha, ha!'
There was something so indubitably genuine in the wonderful laugh, andseries of snorts and puffs, engendered in Mr Pancks's astonishment at,and utter rejection of, the idea, that his being quite in earnest couldnot be questioned.
'Growing old?' cried Pancks. 'Hear, hear, hear! Old? Hear him, hearhim!'
The positive refusal expressed in Mr Pancks's continued snorts, no lessthan in these exclamations, to entertain the sentiment for a singleinstant, drove Arthur away from it. Indeed, he was fearful of somethinghappening to Mr Pancks in the violent conflict that took place betweenthe breath he jerked out of himself and the smoke he jerked intohimself. This abandonment of the second topic threw him on the third.
'Young, old, or middle-aged, Pancks,' he said, when there was afavourable pause, 'I am in a very anxious and uncertain state; a statethat even leads me to doubt whether anything now seeming to belong tome, may be really mine. Shall I tell you how this is? Shall I put agreat trust in you?'
'You shall, sir,' said Pancks, 'if you believe me worthy of it.'
'You may!' Mr Pancks's short and sharp rejoinder, confirmed by thesudden outstretching of his coaly hand, was most expressive andconvincing. Arthur shook the hand warmly.
He then, softening the nature of his old apprehensions as much as waspossible consistently with their being made intelligible and neveralluding to his mother by name, but speaking vaguely of a relationof his, confided to Mr Pancks a broad outline of the misgivings heentertained, and of the interview he had witnessed. Mr Pancks listenedwith such interest that, regardless of the charms of the Eastern pipe,he put it in the grate among the fire-irons, and occupied his handsduring the whole recital in so erecting the loops and hooks of hairall over his head, that he looked, when it came to a conclusion, like ajourneyman Hamlet in conversation with his father's spirit.
'Brings me back, sir,' was his exclamation then, with a startling touchon Clennam's knee, 'brings me back, sir, to the Investments! I don'tsay anything of your making yourself poor to repair a wrong you nevercommitted. That's you. A man must be himself. But I say this,fearing you may want money to save your own blood from exposure anddisgrace--make as much as you can!'
Arthur shook his head, but looked at him thoughtfully too.
'Be as rich as you can, sir,' Pancks adjured him with a powerfulconcentration of all his energies on the advice. 'Be as rich as youhonestly can. It's your duty. Not for your sake, but for the sake ofothers. Take time by the forelock. Poor Mr Doyce (who really _is_ growingold) depends upon you. Your relative depends upon you. You don't knowwhat depends upon you.'
'Well, well, well!' returned Arthur. 'Enough for to-night.'
'One word more, Mr Clennam,' retorted Pancks, 'and then enough forto-night. Why should you leave all the gains to the gluttons, knaves,and impostors? Why should you leave all the gains that are to be got tomy proprietor and the like of him? Yet you're always doing it. When Isay you, I mean such men as you. You know you are. Why, I see itevery day of my life. I see nothing else. It's my business to see it.Therefore I say,' urged Pancks, 'Go in and win!'
'But what of Go in and lose?' said Arthur.
'Can't be done, sir,' returned Pancks. 'I have looked into it. Name upeverywhere--immense resources--enormous capital--great position--highconnection--government influence. Can't be done!'
Gradually, after this closing exposition, Mr Pancks subsided; allowedhis hair to droop as much as it ever would droop on the utmostpersuasion; reclaimed the pipe from the fire-irons, filled it anew, andsmoked it out. They said little more; but were company to one another insilently pursuing the same subjects, and did not part until midnight.On taking his leave, Mr Pancks, when he had shaken hands with Clennam,worked completely round him before he steamed out at the door. This,Arthur received as an assurance that he might implicitly rely on Pancks,if he ever should come to need assistance; either in any of the mattersof which they had spoken that night, or any other subject that could inany way affect himself.
At intervals all next day, and even while his attention was fixed onother things, he thought of Mr Pancks's investment of his thousandpounds, and of his having 'looked into it.' He thought of Mr Pancks'sbeing so sanguine in this matter, and of his not being usually of asanguine character. He thought of the great National Department, and ofthe delight it would be to him to see Doyce better off. He thoughtof the darkly threatening place that went by the name of Home in hisremembrance, and of the gathering shadows which made it yet more darklythreatening than of old. He observed anew that wherever he went, hesaw, or heard, or touched, the celebrated name of Merdle; he found itdifficult even to remain at his desk a couple of hours, without havingit presented to one of his bodily senses through some agency or other.He began to think it was curious too that it should be everywhere, andthat nobody but he should seem to have any mistrust of it. Though indeedhe began to remember, when he got to this, even _he_ did not mistrust it;he had only happened to keep aloof from it.
Such symptoms, when a disease of the kind is rife, are usually the signsof sickening.