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Little Dorrit

Little Dorrit

Little Dorrit/64

CHAPTER 26. Reaping the Whirlwind

With a precursory sound of hurried breath and hurried feet, Mr Pancksrushed into Arthur Clennam's Counting-house. The Inquest was over, theletter was public, the Bank was broken, the other model structures ofstraw had taken fire and were turned to smoke. The admired piraticalship had blown up, in the midst of a vast fleet of ships of all rates,and boats of all sizes; and on the deep was nothing but ruin; nothingbut burning hulls, bursting magazines, great guns self-exploded tearingfriends and neighbours to pieces, drowning men clinging to unseaworthyspars and going down every minute, spent swimmers, floating dead, andsharks.

The usual diligence and order of the Counting-house at the Works wereoverthrown. Unopened letters and unsorted papers lay strewn about thedesk. In the midst of these tokens of prostrated energy and dismissedhope, the master of the Counting-house stood idle in his usual place,with his arms crossed on the desk, and his head bowed down upon them.

Mr Pancks rushed in and saw him, and stood still. In another minute, MrPancks's arms were on the desk, and Mr Pancks's head was bowed downupon them; and for some time they remained in these attitudes, idle andsilent, with the width of the little room between them.

Mr Pancks was the first to lift up his head and speak.

'I persuaded you to it, Mr Clennam. I know it. Say what you will. Youcan't say more to me than I say to myself. You can't say more than Ideserve.'

'O, Pancks, Pancks!' returned Clennam, 'don't speak of deserving. Whatdo I myself deserve!'

'Better luck,' said Pancks.

'I,' pursued Clennam, without attending to him, 'who have ruined mypartner! Pancks, Pancks, I have ruined Doyce! The honest, self-helpful,indefatigable old man who has worked his way all through his life;the man who has contended against so much disappointment, and who hasbrought out of it such a good and hopeful nature; the man I have feltso much for, and meant to be so true and useful to; I have ruinedhim--brought him to shame and disgrace--ruined him, ruined him!'

The agony into which the reflection wrought his mind was so distressingto see, that Mr Pancks took hold of himself by the hair of his head, andtore it in desperation at the spectacle.

'Reproach me!' cried Pancks. 'Reproach me, sir, or I'll do myself aninjury. Say,--You fool, you villain. Say,--Ass, how could you do it;Beast, what did you mean by it! Catch hold of me somewhere. Saysomething abusive to me!' All the time, Mr Pancks was tearing at histough hair in a most pitiless and cruel manner.

'If you had never yielded to this fatal mania, Pancks,' said Clennam,more in commiseration than retaliation, 'it would have been how muchbetter for you, and how much better for me!'

'At me again, sir!' cried Pancks, grinding his teeth in remorse. 'Atme again!'

'If you had never gone into those accursed calculations, and brought outyour results with such abominable clearness,' groaned Clennam, 'it wouldhave been how much better for you, Pancks, and how much better for me!'

'At me again, sir!' exclaimed Pancks, loosening his hold of his hair;'at me again, and again!'

Clennam, however, finding him already beginning to be pacified, had saidall he wanted to say, and more. He wrung his hand, only adding, 'Blindleaders of the blind, Pancks! Blind leaders of the blind! But Doyce,Doyce, Doyce; my injured partner!' That brought his head down on thedesk once more.

Their former attitudes and their former silence were once more firstencroached upon by Pancks.

'Not been to bed, sir, since it began to get about. Been high and low,on the chance of finding some hope of saving any cinders from the fire.All in vain. All gone. All vanished.'

'I know it,' returned Clennam, 'too well.'

Mr Pancks filled up a pause with a groan that came out of the verydepths of his soul.

'Only yesterday, Pancks,' said Arthur; 'only yesterday, Monday, I hadthe fixed intention of selling, realising, and making an end of it.'

'I can't say as much for myself, sir,' returned Pancks. 'Though it'swonderful how many people I've heard of, who were going to realiseyesterday, of all days in the three hundred and sixty-five, if it hadn'tbeen too late!'

His steam-like breathings, usually droll in their effect, were moretragic than so many groans: while from head to foot, he was in thatbegrimed, besmeared, neglected state, that he might have been anauthentic portrait of Misfortune which could scarcely be discernedthrough its want of cleaning.

'Mr Clennam, had you laid out--everything?' He got over the break beforethe last word, and also brought out the last word itself with greatdifficulty.

'Everything.'

Mr Pancks took hold of his tough hair again, and gave it such a wrenchthat he pulled out several prongs of it. After looking at these with aneye of wild hatred, he put them in his pocket.

'My course,' said Clennam, brushing away some tears that had beensilently dropping down his face, 'must be taken at once. What wretchedamends I can make must be made. I must clear my unfortunate partner'sreputation. I must retain nothing for myself. I must resign to ourcreditors the power of management I have so much abused, and I must workout as much of my fault--or crime--as is susceptible of being worked outin the rest of my days.'

'Is it impossible, sir, to tide over the present?'

'Out of the question. Nothing can be tided over now, Pancks. The soonerthe business can pass out of my hands, the better for it. There areengagements to be met, this week, which would bring the catastrophebefore many days were over, even if I would postpone it for a single dayby going on for that space, secretly knowing what I know. All last nightI thought of what I would do; what remains is to do it.'

'Not entirely of yourself?' said Pancks, whose face was as damp as ifhis steam were turning into water as fast as he dismally blew it off.'Have some legal help.'

'Perhaps I had better.'

'Have Rugg.'

'There is not much to do. He will do it as well as another.'

'Shall I fetch Rugg, Mr Clennam?'

'If you could spare the time, I should be much obliged to you.'

Mr Pancks put on his hat that moment, and steamed away to Pentonville.While he was gone Arthur never raised his head from the desk, butremained in that one position.

Mr Pancks brought his friend and professional adviser, Mr Rugg, backwith him. Mr Rugg had had such ample experience, on the road, of MrPancks's being at that present in an irrational state of mind, that heopened his professional mediation by requesting that gentleman to takehimself out of the way. Mr Pancks, crushed and submissive, obeyed.

'He is not unlike what my daughter was, sir, when we began the Breach ofPromise action of Rugg and Bawkins, in which she was Plaintiff,' saidMr Rugg. 'He takes too strong and direct an interest in the case. Hisfeelings are worked upon. There is no getting on, in our profession,with feelings worked upon, sir.'

As he pulled off his gloves and put them in his hat, he saw, in a sideglance or two, that a great change had come over his client.

'I am sorry to perceive, sir,' said Mr Rugg, 'that you have beenallowing your own feelings to be worked upon. Now, pray don't, praydon't. These losses are much to be deplored, sir, but we must look 'emin the face.'

'If the money I have sacrificed had been all my own, Mr Rugg,' sighed MrClennam, 'I should have cared far less.'

'Indeed, sir?' said Mr Rugg, rubbing his hands with a cheerful air.'You surprise me. That's singular, sir. I have generally found, in myexperience, that it's their own money people are most particular about.I have seen people get rid of a good deal of other people's money, andbear it very well: very well indeed.'

With these comforting remarks, Mr Rugg seated himself on an office-stoolat the desk and proceeded to business.

'Now, Mr Clennam, by your leave, let us go into the matter. Let us seethe state of the case. The question is simple. The question is theusual plain, straightforward, common-sense question. What can we do forourself? What can we do for ourself?'

'This is not the question with me, Mr Rugg,' said Arthur. 'You mistakeit in the beginning. It is, what can I do for my partner, how can I bestmake reparation to him?'

'I am afraid, sir, do you know,' argued Mr Rugg persuasively, 'that youare still allowing your feeling to be worked upon. I _don't_ like the term”reparation,” sir, except as a lever in the hands of counsel. Will youexcuse my saying that I feel it my duty to offer you the caution, thatyou really must not allow your feelings to be worked upon?'

'Mr Rugg,' said Clennam, nerving himself to go through with what hehad resolved upon, and surprising that gentleman by appearing, in hisdespondency, to have a settled determination of purpose; 'you give methe impression that you will not be much disposed to adopt the courseI have made up my mind to take. If your disapproval of it should renderyou unwilling to discharge such business as it necessitates, I am sorryfor it, and must seek other aid. But I will represent to you at once,that to argue against it with me is useless.'

'Good, sir,' answered Mr Rugg, shrugging his shoulders. 'Good, sir. Sincethe business is to be done by some hands, let it be done by mine. Suchwas my principle in the case of Rugg and Bawkins. Such is my principlein most cases.'

Clennam then proceeded to state to Mr Rugg his fixed resolution. He toldMr Rugg that his partner was a man of great simplicity and integrity,and that in all he meant to do, he was guided above all things by aknowledge of his partner's character, and a respect for his feelings.He explained that his partner was then absent on an enterprise ofimportance, and that it particularly behoved himself publicly to acceptthe blame of what he had rashly done, and publicly to exonerate hispartner from all participation in the responsibility of it, lest thesuccessful conduct of that enterprise should be endangered by theslightest suspicion wrongly attaching to his partner's honour and creditin another country. He told Mr Rugg that to clear his partner morally,to the fullest extent, and publicly and unreservedly to declare thathe, Arthur Clennam, of that Firm, had of his own sole act, and evenexpressly against his partner's caution, embarked its resources in theswindles that had lately perished, was the only real atonement withinhis power; was a better atonement to the particular man than it would beto many men; and was therefore the atonement he had first to make. Withthis view, his intention was to print a declaration to the foregoingeffect, which he had already drawn up; and, besides circulating itamong all who had dealings with the House, to advertise it in the publicpapers. Concurrently with this measure (the description of which cost MrRugg innumerable wry faces and great uneasiness in his limbs), he wouldaddress a letter to all the creditors, exonerating his partner in asolemn manner, informing them of the stoppage of the House until theirpleasure could be known and his partner communicated with, and humblysubmitting himself to their direction. If, through their considerationfor his partner's innocence, the affairs could ever be got into suchtrain as that the business could be profitably resumed, and its presentdownfall overcome, then his own share in it should revert to hispartner, as the only reparation he could make to him in money value forthe distress and loss he had unhappily brought upon him, and he himself,at as small a salary as he could live upon, would ask to be allowed toserve the business as a faithful clerk.

Though Mr Rugg saw plainly there was no preventing this from being done,still the wryness of his face and the uneasiness of his limbs so sorelyrequired the propitiation of a Protest, that he made one. 'I offer noobjection, sir,' said he, 'I argue no point with you. I will carry outyour views, sir; but, under protest.' Mr Rugg then stated, not withoutprolixity, the heads of his protest. These were, in effect, because thewhole town, or he might say the whole country, was in the first madnessof the late discovery, and the resentment against the victims would bevery strong: those who had not been deluded being certain to waxexceedingly wroth with them for not having been as wise as they were:and those who had been deluded being certain to find excuses and reasonsfor themselves, of which they were equally certain to see that othersufferers were wholly devoid: not to mention the great probability ofevery individual sufferer persuading himself, to his violentindignation, that but for the example of all the other sufferers henever would have put himself in the way of suffering. Because such adeclaration as Clennam's, made at such a time, would certainly draw downupon him a storm of animosity, rendering it impossible to calculate onforbearance in the creditors, or on unanimity among them; and exposinghim a solitary target to a straggling cross-fire, which might bring himdown from half-a-dozen quarters at once.

To all this Clennam merely replied that, granting the whole protest,nothing in it lessened the force, or could lessen the force, of thevoluntary and public exoneration of his partner. He therefore, onceand for all, requested Mr Rugg's immediate aid in getting the businessdespatched. Upon that, Mr Rugg fell to work; and Arthur, retaining noproperty to himself but his clothes and books, and a little loosemoney, placed his small private banker's-account with the papers of thebusiness.

The disclosure was made, and the storm raged fearfully. Thousands ofpeople were wildly staring about for somebody alive to heap reproacheson; and this notable case, courting publicity, set the living somebodyso much wanted, on a scaffold. When people who had nothing to do withthe case were so sensible of its flagrancy, people who lost money by itcould scarcely be expected to deal mildly with it. Letters of reproachand invective showered in from the creditors; and Mr Rugg, who sat uponthe high stool every day and read them all, informed his client within aweek that he feared there were writs out.

'I must take the consequences of what I have done,' said Clennam. 'Thewrits will find me here.'

On the very next morning, as he was turning in Bleeding Heart Yard byMrs Plornish's corner, Mrs Plornish stood at the door waiting for him,and mysteriously besought him to step into Happy Cottage. There he foundMr Rugg.

'I thought I'd wait for you here. I wouldn't go on to the Counting-housethis morning if I was you, sir.'

'Why not, Mr Rugg?'

'There are as many as five out, to my knowledge.'

'It cannot be too soon over,' said Clennam. 'Let them take me at once.'

'Yes, but,' said Mr Rugg, getting between him and the door, 'hearreason, hear reason. They'll take you soon enough, Mr Clennam, I don'tdoubt; but, hear reason. It almost always happens, in these cases,that some insignificant matter pushes itself in front and makes muchof itself. Now, I find there's a little one out--a mere Palace Courtjurisdiction--and I have reason to believe that a caption may be madeupon that. I wouldn't be taken upon that.'

'Why not?' asked Clennam.

'I'd be taken on a full-grown one, sir,' said Mr Rugg. 'It's as well tokeep up appearances. As your professional adviser, I should prefer yourbeing taken on a writ from one of the Superior Courts, if you have noobjection to do me that favour. It looks better.'

'Mr Rugg,' said Arthur, in his dejection, 'my only wish is, that itshould be over. I will go on, and take my chance.'

'Another word of reason, sir!' cried Mr Rugg. 'Now, this _is_ reason.The other may be taste; but this is reason. If you should be taken on alittle one, sir, you would go to the Marshalsea. Now, you know what theMarshalsea is. Very close. Excessively confined. Whereas in the King'sBench--' Mr Rugg waved his right hand freely, as expressing abundance ofspace.

'I would rather,' said Clennam, 'be taken to the Marshalsea than to anyother prison.'

'Do you say so indeed, sir?' returned Mr Rugg. 'Then this is taste, too,and we may be walking.'

He was a little offended at first, but he soon overlooked it. Theywalked through the Yard to the other end. The Bleeding Hearts were moreinterested in Arthur since his reverses than formerly; now regarding himas one who was true to the place and had taken up his freedom. Many ofthem came out to look after him, and to observe to one another, withgreat unctuousness, that he was 'pulled down by it.' Mrs Plornishand her father stood at the top of the steps at their own end, muchdepressed and shaking their heads.

There was nobody visibly in waiting when Arthur and Mr Rugg arrivedat the Counting-house. But an elderly member of the Jewish persuasion,preserved in rum, followed them close, and looked in at the glass beforeMr Rugg had opened one of the day's letters. 'Oh!' said Mr Rugg,looking up. 'How do you do? Step in--Mr Clennam, I think this is thegentleman I was mentioning.'

This gentleman explained the object of his visit to be 'a tyfling madderob bithznithz,' and executed his legal function.

'Shall I accompany you, Mr Clennam?' asked Mr Rugg politely, rubbing hishands.

'I would rather go alone, thank you. Be so good as send me my clothes.'Mr Rugg in a light airy way replied in the affirmative, and shook handswith him. He and his attendant then went down-stairs, got into the firstconveyance they found, and drove to the old gates.

'Where I little thought, Heaven forgive me,' said Clennam to himself,'that I should ever enter thus!'

Mr Chivery was on the Lock, and Young John was in the Lodge: eithernewly released from it, or waiting to take his own spell of duty. Bothwere more astonished on seeing who the prisoner was, than one might havethought turnkeys would have been. The elder Mr Chivery shook hands withhim in a shame-faced kind of way, and said, 'I don't call to mind,sir, as I was ever less glad to see you.' The younger Mr Chivery, moredistant, did not shake hands with him at all; he stood looking at himin a state of indecision so observable that it even came within theobservation of Clennam with his heavy eyes and heavy heart. Presentlyafterwards, Young John disappeared into the jail.

As Clennam knew enough of the place to know that he was required toremain in the Lodge a certain time, he took a seat in a corner, andfeigned to be occupied with the perusal of letters from his pocket.They did not so engross his attention, but that he saw, with gratitude,how the elder Mr Chivery kept the Lodge clear of prisoners; how hesigned to some, with his keys, not to come in, how he nudged others withhis elbows to go out, and how he made his misery as easy to him as hecould.

Arthur was sitting with his eyes fixed on the floor, recalling the past,brooding over the present, and not attending to either, when he felthimself touched upon the shoulder. It was by Young John; and he said,'You can come now.'

He got up and followed Young John. When they had gone a step or twowithin the inner iron-gate, Young John turned and said to him:

'You want a room. I have got you one.'

'I thank you heartily.'

Young John turned again, and took him in at the old doorway, up the oldstaircase, into the old room. Arthur stretched out his hand. Young Johnlooked at it, looked at him--sternly--swelled, choked, and said:

'I don't know as I can. No, I find I can't. But I thought you'd like theroom, and here it is for you.'

Surprise at this inconsistent behaviour yielded when he was gone (hewent away directly) to the feelings which the empty room awakened inClennam's wounded breast, and to the crowding associations with theone good and gentle creature who had sanctified it. Her absence in hisaltered fortunes made it, and him in it, so very desolate and so much inneed of such a face of love and truth, that he turned against thewall to weep, sobbing out, as his heart relieved itself, 'O my LittleDorrit!'