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Actions & Adventure
History & Fiction
Thrillers & Crime
Romance & Love
Mystery & Detective
Time News Roman
CHAPTER 28. An Appearance in the Marshalsea
The opinion of the community outside the prison gates bore hard onClennam as time went on, and he made no friends among the communitywithin. Too depressed to associate with the herd in the yard, who gottogether to forget their cares; too retiring and too unhappy to join inthe poor socialities of the tavern; he kept his own room, and was heldin distrust. Some said he was proud; some objected that he wassullen and reserved; some were contemptuous of him, for that he was apoor-spirited dog who pined under his debts. The whole population wereshy of him on these various counts of indictment, but especially thelast, which involved a species of domestic treason; and he soon becameso confirmed in his seclusion, that his only time for walking up anddown was when the evening Club were assembled at their songs and toastsand sentiments, and when the yard was nearly left to the women andchildren.
Imprisonment began to tell upon him. He knew that he idled and moped.After what he had known of the influences of imprisonment within thefour small walls of the very room he occupied, this consciousness madehim afraid of himself. Shrinking from the observation of other men, andshrinking from his own, he began to change very sensibly. Anybody mightsee that the shadow of the wall was dark upon him.
One day when he might have been some ten or twelve weeks in jail, andwhen he had been trying to read and had not been able to release eventhe imaginary people of the book from the Marshalsea, a footstep stoppedat his door, and a hand tapped at it. He arose and opened it, and anagreeable voice accosted him with 'How do you do, Mr Clennam? I hope Iam not unwelcome in calling to see you.'
It was the sprightly young Barnacle, Ferdinand. He looked verygood-natured and prepossessing, though overpoweringly gay and free, incontrast with the squalid prison.
'You are surprised to see me, Mr Clennam,' he said, taking the seatwhich Clennam offered him.
'I must confess to being much surprised.'
'Not disagreeably, I hope?'
'By no means.'
'Thank you. Frankly,' said the engaging young Barnacle, 'I have beenexcessively sorry to hear that you were under the necessity of atemporary retirement here, and I hope (of course as between two privategentlemen) that our place has had nothing to do with it?'
'Our Circumlocution place.'
'I cannot charge any part of my reverses upon that remarkableestablishment.'
'Upon my life,' said the vivacious young Barnacle, 'I am heartily glad toknow it. It is quite a relief to me to hear you say it. I should haveso exceedingly regretted our place having had anything to do with yourdifficulties.'
Clennam again assured him that he absolved it of the responsibility.
'That's right,' said Ferdinand. 'I am very happy to hear it. I wasrather afraid in my own mind that we might have helped to floor you,because there is no doubt that it is our misfortune to do that kindof thing now and then. We don't want to do it; but if men will begravelled, why--we can't help it.'
'Without giving an unqualified assent to what you say,' returned Arthur,gloomily, 'I am much obliged to you for your interest in me.'
'No, but really! Our place is,' said the easy young Barnacle, 'the mostinoffensive place possible. You'll say we are a humbug. I won't saywe are not; but all that sort of thing is intended to be, and must be.Don't you see?'
'I do not,' said Clennam.
'You don't regard it from the right point of view. It is the point ofview that is the essential thing. Regard our place from the point ofview that we only ask you to leave us alone, and we are as capital aDepartment as you'll find anywhere.'
'Is your place there to be left alone?' asked Clennam.
'You exactly hit it,' returned Ferdinand. 'It is there with the expressintention that everything shall be left alone. That is what it means.That is what it's for. No doubt there's a certain form to be kept upthat it's for something else, but it's only a form. Why, good Heaven,we are nothing but forms! Think what a lot of our forms you have gonethrough. And you have never got any nearer to an end?'
'Never,' said Clennam.
'Look at it from the right point of view, and there you haveus--official and effectual. It's like a limited game of cricket. A fieldof outsiders are always going in to bowl at the Public Service, and weblock the balls.'
Clennam asked what became of the bowlers? The airy young Barnaclereplied that they grew tired, got dead beat, got lamed, got their backsbroken, died off, gave it up, went in for other games.
'And this occasions me to congratulate myself again,' he pursued,'on the circumstance that our place has had nothing to do with yourtemporary retirement. It very easily might have had a hand in it;because it is undeniable that we are sometimes a most unlucky place, inour effects upon people who will not leave us alone. Mr Clennam, I amquite unreserved with you. As between yourself and myself, I know I maybe. I was so, when I first saw you making the mistake of not leaving usalone; because I perceived that you were inexperienced and sanguine, andhad--I hope you'll not object to my saying--some simplicity?'
'Not at all.'
'Some simplicity. Therefore I felt what a pity it was, and I went outof my way to hint to you (which really was not official, but I never amofficial when I can help it) something to the effect that if I were you,I wouldn't bother myself. However, you did bother yourself, and you havesince bothered yourself. Now, don't do it any more.'
'I am not likely to have the opportunity,' said Clennam.
'Oh yes, you are! You'll leave here. Everybody leaves here. There are noends of ways of leaving here. Now, don't come back to us. That entreatyis the second object of my call. Pray, don't come back to us. Upon myhonour,' said Ferdinand in a very friendly and confiding way, 'I shallbe greatly vexed if you don't take warning by the past and keep awayfrom us.'
'And the invention?' said Clennam.
'My good fellow,' returned Ferdinand, 'if you'll excuse the freedom ofthat form of address, nobody wants to know of the invention, and nobodycares twopence-halfpenny about it.'
'Nobody in the Office, that is to say?'
'Nor out of it. Everybody is ready to dislike and ridicule anyinvention. You have no idea how many people want to be left alone.You have no idea how the Genius of the country (overlook theParliamentary nature of the phrase, and don't be bored by it) tendsto being left alone. Believe me, Mr Clennam,' said the sprightly youngBarnacle in his pleasantest manner, 'our place is not a wicked Giant tobe charged at full tilt; but only a windmill showing you, as it grindsimmense quantities of chaff, which way the country wind blows.'
'If I could believe that,' said Clennam, 'it would be a dismal prospectfor all of us.'
'Oh! Don't say so!' returned Ferdinand. 'It's all right. We must havehumbug, we all like humbug, we couldn't get on without humbug. A littlehumbug, and a groove, and everything goes on admirably, if you leave italone.'
With this hopeful confession of his faith as the head of the risingBarnacles who were born of woman, to be followed under a variety ofwatchwords which they utterly repudiated and disbelieved, Ferdinandrose. Nothing could be more agreeable than his frank and courteousbearing, or adapted with a more gentlemanly instinct to thecircumstances of his visit.
'Is it fair to ask,' he said, as Clennam gave him his hand with a realfeeling of thankfulness for his candour and good-humour, 'whether itis true that our late lamented Merdle is the cause of this passinginconvenience?'
'I am one of the many he has ruined. Yes.'
'He must have been an exceedingly clever fellow,' said FerdinandBarnacle.
Arthur, not being in the mood to extol the memory of the deceased, wassilent.
'A consummate rascal, of course,' said Ferdinand, 'but remarkablyclever! One cannot help admiring the fellow. Must have been such amaster of humbug. Knew people so well--got over them so completely--didso much with them!'
In his easy way, he was really moved to genuine admiration.
'I hope,' said Arthur, 'that he and his dupes may be a warning to peoplenot to have so much done with them again.'
'My dear Mr Clennam,' returned Ferdinand, laughing, 'have you reallysuch a verdant hope? The next man who has as large a capacity and asgenuine a taste for swindling, will succeed as well. Pardon me, butI think you really have no idea how the human bees will swarm to thebeating of any old tin kettle; in that fact lies the complete manual ofgoverning them. When they can be got to believe that the kettle is madeof the precious metals, in that fact lies the whole power of men likeour late lamented. No doubt there are here and there,' said Ferdinandpolitely, 'exceptional cases, where people have been taken in for whatappeared to them to be much better reasons; and I need not go far tofind such a case; but they don't invalidate the rule. Good day! I hopethat when I have the pleasure of seeing you, next, this passing cloudwill have given place to sunshine. Don't come a step beyond the door. Iknow the way out perfectly. Good day!'
With those words, the best and brightest of the Barnacles wentdown-stairs, hummed his way through the Lodge, mounted his horse in thefront court-yard, and rode off to keep an appointment with his noblekinsman, who wanted a little coaching before he could triumphantlyanswer certain infidel Snobs who were going to question the Nobs abouttheir statesmanship.
He must have passed Mr Rugg on his way out, for, a minute or twoafterwards, that ruddy-headed gentleman shone in at the door, like anelderly Phoebus.
'How do you do to-day, sir?' said Mr Rugg. 'Is there any little thing Ican do for you to-day, sir?'
'No, I thank you.'
Mr Rugg's enjoyment of embarrassed affairs was like a housekeeper'senjoyment in pickling and preserving, or a washerwoman's enjoyment of aheavy wash, or a dustman's enjoyment of an overflowing dust-bin, or anyother professional enjoyment of a mess in the way of business.
'I still look round, from time to time, sir,' said Mr Rugg, cheerfully,'to see whether any lingering Detainers are accumulating at the gate.They have fallen in pretty thick, sir; as thick as we could haveexpected.'
He remarked upon the circumstance as if it were matter ofcongratulation: rubbing his hands briskly, and rolling his head alittle.
'As thick,' repeated Mr Rugg, 'as we could reasonably have expected.Quite a shower-bath of 'em. I don't often intrude upon you now, when Ilook round, because I know you are not inclined for company, and that ifyou wished to see me, you would leave word in the Lodge. But I am herepretty well every day, sir. Would this be an unseasonable time, sir,'asked Mr Rugg, coaxingly, 'for me to offer an observation?'
'As seasonable a time as any other.'
'Hum! Public opinion, sir,' said Mr Rugg, 'has been busy with you.'
'I don't doubt it.'
'Might it not be advisable, sir,' said Mr Rugg, more coaxingly yet, 'nowto make, at last and after all, a trifling concession to public opinion?We all do it in one way or another. The fact is, we must do it.'
'I cannot set myself right with it, Mr Rugg, and have no business toexpect that I ever shall.'
'Don't say that, sir, don't say that. The cost of being moved to theBench is almost insignificant, and if the general feeling is strong thatyou ought to be there, why--really--'
'I thought you had settled, Mr Rugg,' said Arthur, 'that mydetermination to remain here was a matter of taste.'
'Well, sir, well! But is it good taste, is it good taste? That's theQuestion.' Mr Rugg was so soothingly persuasive as to be quite pathetic.'I was almost going to say, is it good feeling? This is an extensiveaffair of yours; and your remaining here where a man can come for apound or two, is remarked upon as not in keeping. It is not in keeping.I can't tell you, sir, in how many quarters I heard it mentioned. Iheard comments made upon it last night in a Parlour frequented by whatI should call, if I did not look in there now and then myself, the bestlegal company--I heard, there, comments on it that I was sorry to hear.They hurt me on your account. Again, only this morning at breakfast. Mydaughter (but a woman, you'll say: yet still with a feeling for thesethings, and even with some little personal experience, as the plaintiffin Rugg and Bawkins) was expressing her great surprise; her greatsurprise. Now under these circumstances, and considering that none ofus can quite set ourselves above public opinion, wouldn't a triflingconcession to that opinion be--Come, sir,' said Rugg, 'I will put it onthe lowest ground of argument, and say, Amiable?'
Arthur's thoughts had once more wandered away to Little Dorrit, and thequestion remained unanswered.
'As to myself, sir,' said Mr Rugg, hoping that his eloquence had reducedhim to a state of indecision, 'it is a principle of mine not to considermyself when a client's inclinations are in the scale. But, knowing yourconsiderate character and general wish to oblige, I will repeat that Ishould prefer your being in the Bench. Your case has made a noise; itis a creditable case to be professionally concerned in; I should feel ona better standing with my connection, if you went to the Bench. Don'tlet that influence you, sir. I merely state the fact.'
So errant had the prisoner's attention already grown in solitude anddejection, and so accustomed had it become to commune with only onesilent figure within the ever-frowning walls, that Clennam had to shakeoff a kind of stupor before he could look at Mr Rugg, recall the threadof his talk, and hurriedly say, 'I am unchanged, and unchangeable, in mydecision. Pray, let it be; let it be!' Mr Rugg, without concealing thathe was nettled and mortified, replied:
'Oh! Beyond a doubt, sir. I have travelled out of the record, sir, I amaware, in putting the point to you. But really, when I hear it remarkedin several companies, and in very good company, that however worthy of aforeigner, it is not worthy of the spirit of an Englishman to remain inthe Marshalsea when the glorious liberties of his island home admitof his removal to the Bench, I thought I would depart from the narrowprofessional line marked out to me, and mention it. Personally,' said MrRugg, 'I have no opinion on the topic.'
'That's well,' returned Arthur.
'Oh! None at all, sir!' said Mr Rugg. 'If I had, I should have beenunwilling, some minutes ago, to see a client of mine visited in thisplace by a gentleman of a high family riding a saddle-horse. But it wasnot my business. If I had, I might have wished to be now empowered tomention to another gentleman, a gentleman of military exterior atpresent waiting in the Lodge, that my client had never intended toremain here, and was on the eve of removal to a superior abode. But mycourse as a professional machine is clear; I have nothing to do with it.Is it your good pleasure to see the gentleman, sir?'
'Who is waiting to see me, did you say?'
'I did take that unprofessional liberty, sir. Hearing that I was yourprofessional adviser, he declined to interpose before my very limitedfunction was performed. Happily,' said Mr Rugg, with sarcasm, 'I did notso far travel out of the record as to ask the gentleman for his name.'
'I suppose I have no resource but to see him,' sighed Clennam, wearily.
'Then it _is_ your good pleasure, sir?' retorted Rugg. 'Am I honoured byyour instructions to mention as much to the gentleman, as I pass out? Iam? Thank you, sir. I take my leave.' His leave he took accordingly, indudgeon.
The gentleman of military exterior had so imperfectly awakened Clennam'scuriosity, in the existing state of his mind, that a half-forgetfulnessof such a visitor's having been referred to, was already creeping overit as a part of the sombre veil which almost always dimmed it now, whena heavy footstep on the stairs aroused him. It appeared to ascend them,not very promptly or spontaneously, yet with a display of stride andclatter meant to be insulting. As it paused for a moment on thelanding outside his door, he could not recall his association with thepeculiarity of its sound, though he thought he had one. Only a momentwas given him for consideration. His door was immediately swung openby a thump, and in the doorway stood the missing Blandois, the cause ofmany anxieties.
'Salve, fellow jail-bird!' said he. 'You want me, it seems. Here I am!'
Before Arthur could speak to him in his indignant wonder, Cavallettofollowed him into the room. Mr Pancks followed Cavalletto. Neither ofthe two had been there since its present occupant had had possession ofit. Mr Pancks, breathing hard, sidled near the window, put his hat onthe ground, stirred his hair up with both hands, and folded his arms,like a man who had come to a pause in a hard day's work. Mr Baptist,never taking his eyes from his dreaded chum of old, softly sat down onthe floor with his back against the door and one of his ankles ineach hand: resuming the attitude (except that it was now expressive ofunwinking watchfulness) in which he had sat before the same man in thedeeper shade of another prison, one hot morning at Marseilles.
'I have it on the witnessing of these two madmen,' said MonsieurBlandois, otherwise Lagnier, otherwise Rigaud, 'that you want me,brother-bird. Here I am!'
Glancing round contemptuously at the bedstead, which wasturned up by day, he leaned his back against it as a resting-place,without removing his hat from his head, and stood defiantly loungingwith his hands in his pockets.
'You villain of ill-omen!' said Arthur. 'You have purposely cast adreadful suspicion upon my mother's house. Why have you done it?What prompted you to the devilish invention?'
Monsieur Rigaud, after frowning at him for a moment, laughed. 'Hear thisnoble gentleman! Listen, all the world, to this creature of Virtue! Buttake care, take care. It is possible, my friend, that your ardour is alittle compromising. Holy Blue! It is possible.'
'Signore!' interposed Cavalletto, also addressing Arthur: 'for tocommence, hear me! I received your instructions to find him, Rigaud; isit not?'
'It is the truth.'
'I go, consequentementally,'--it would have given Mrs Plornish greatconcern if she could have been persuaded that his occasional lengtheningof an adverb in this way, was the chief fault of his English,--'firstamong my countrymen. I ask them what news in Londra, of foreignersarrived. Then I go among the French. Then I go among the Germans. Theyall tell me. The great part of us know well the other, and they all tellme. But!--no person can tell me nothing of him, Rigaud. Fifteen times,'said Cavalletto, thrice throwing out his left hand with all its fingersspread, and doing it so rapidly that the sense of sight could hardlyfollow the action, 'I ask of him in every place where go the foreigners;and fifteen times,' repeating the same swift performance, 'they knownothing. But!--'
At this significant Italian rest on the word 'But,' his backhanded shakeof his right forefinger came into play; a very little, and verycautiously.
'But!--After a long time when I have not been able to find that heis here in Londra, some one tells me of a soldier with whitehair--hey?--not hair like this that he carries--white--who lives retiredsecrettementally, in a certain place. But!--' with another rest uponthe word, 'who sometimes in the after-dinner, walks, and smokes. It isnecessary, as they say in Italy (and as they know, poor people), tohave patience. I have patience. I ask where is this certain place. One.believes it is here, one believes it is there. Eh well! It is not here,it is not there. I wait patientissamentally. At last I find it. Then Iwatch; then I hide, until he walks and smokes. He is a soldier with greyhair--But!--' a very decided rest indeed, and a very vigorous play fromside to side of the back-handed forefinger--'he is also this man thatyou see.'
It was noticeable, that, in his old habit of submission to one who hadbeen at the trouble of asserting superiority over him, he even thenbestowed upon Rigaud a confused bend of his head, after thus pointinghim out.
'Eh well, Signore!' he cried in conclusion, addressing Arthur again. 'Iwaited for a good opportunity. I writed some words to Signor Panco,' anair of novelty came over Mr Pancks with this designation, 'to come andhelp. I showed him, Rigaud, at his window, to Signor Panco, who wasoften the spy in the day. I slept at night near the door of the house.At last we entered, only this to-day, and now you see him! As he wouldnot come up in presence of the illustrious Advocate,' such was MrBaptist's honourable mention of Mr Rugg, 'we waited down below there,together, and Signor Panco guarded the street.'
At the close of this recital, Arthur turned his eyes upon the impudentand wicked face. As it met his, the nose came down over the moustacheand the moustache went up under the nose. When nose and moustache hadsettled into their places again, Monsieur Rigaud loudly snapped hisfingers half-a-dozen times; bending forward to jerk the snaps at Arthur,as if they were palpable missiles which he jerked into his face.
'Now, Philosopher!' said Rigaud. 'What do you want with me?'
'I want to know,' returned Arthur, without disguising his abhorrence,'how you dare direct a suspicion of murder against my mother's house?'
'Dare!' cried Rigaud. 'Ho, ho! Hear him! Dare? Is it dare? By Heaven, mysmall boy, but you are a little imprudent!'
'I want that suspicion to be cleared away,' said Arthur. 'You shallbe taken there, and be publicly seen. I want to know, moreover,what business you had there when I had a burning desire to fling youdown-stairs. Don't frown at me, man! I have seen enough of you to knowthat you are a bully and coward. I need no revival of my spirits fromthe effects of this wretched place to tell you so plain a fact, and onethat you know so well.'
White to the lips, Rigaud stroked his moustache, muttering, 'By Heaven,my small boy, but you are a little compromising of my lady, yourrespectable mother'--and seemed for a minute undecided how to act.His indecision was soon gone. He sat himself down with a threateningswagger, and said:
'Give me a bottle of wine. You can buy wine here. Send one of yourmadmen to get me a bottle of wine. I won't talk to you without wine.Come! Yes or no?'
'Fetch him what he wants, Cavalletto,' said Arthur, scornfully,producing the money.
'Contraband beast,' added Rigaud, 'bring Port wine! I'll drink nothingbut Porto-Porto.'
The contraband beast, however, assuring all present, with hissignificant finger, that he peremptorily declined to leave his post atthe door, Signor Panco offered his services. He soon returned with thebottle of wine: which, according to the custom of the place, originatingin a scarcity of corkscrews among the Collegians (in common with ascarcity of much else), was already opened for use.
'Madman! A large glass,' said Rigaud.
Signor Panco put a tumbler before him; not without a visible conflict offeeling on the question of throwing it at his head.
'Haha!' boasted Rigaud. 'Once a gentleman, and always a gentleman.A gentleman from the beginning, and a gentleman to the end. Whatthe Devil! A gentleman must be waited on, I hope? It's a part of mycharacter to be waited on!'
He half filled the tumbler as he said it, and drank off the contentswhen he had done saying it.
'Hah!' smacking his lips. 'Not a very old prisoner _that_! I judge byyour looks, brave sir, that imprisonment will subdue your blood muchsooner than it softens this hot wine. You are mellowing--losing bodyand colour already. I salute you!'
He tossed off another half glass: holding it up both before andafterwards, so as to display his small, white hand.
'To business,' he then continued. 'To conversation. You have shownyourself more free of speech than body, sir.'
'I have used the freedom of telling you what you know yourself to be.You know yourself, as we all know you, to be far worse than that.'
'Add, always a gentleman, and it's no matter. Except in that regard, weare all alike. For example: you couldn't for your life be a gentleman;I couldn't for my life be otherwise. How great the difference! Let us goon. Words, sir, never influence the course of the cards, or the courseof the dice. Do you know that? You do? I also play a game, and words arewithout power over it.'
Now that he was confronted with Cavalletto, and knew that his story wasknown--whatever thin disguise he had worn, he dropped; and faced it out,with a bare face, as the infamous wretch he was.
'No, my son,' he resumed, with a snap of his fingers. 'I play my gameto the end in spite of words; and Death of my Body and Death of my Soul!I'll win it. You want to know why I played this little trick thatyou have interrupted? Know then that I had, and that I have--do youunderstand me? have--a commodity to sell to my lady your respectablemother. I described my precious commodity, and fixed my price. Touchingthe bargain, your admirable mother was a little too calm, too stolid,too immovable and statue-like. In fine, your admirable mother vexed me.To make variety in my position, and to amuse myself--what! a gentlemanmust be amused at somebody's expense!--I conceived the happy idea ofdisappearing. An idea, see you, that your characteristic mother and myFlintwinch would have been well enough pleased to execute. Ah! Bah,bah, bah, don't look as from high to low at me! I repeat it. Well enoughpleased, excessively enchanted, and with all their hearts ravished. Howstrongly will you have it?'
He threw out the lees of his glass on the ground, so that they nearlyspattered Cavalletto. This seemed to draw his attention to him anew. Heset down his glass and said:
'I'll not fill it. What! I am born to be served. Come then, youCavalletto, and fill!'
The little man looked at Clennam, whose eyes were occupied with Rigaud,and, seeing no prohibition, got up from the ground, and poured outfrom the bottle into the glass. The blending, as he did so, of his oldsubmission with a sense of something humorous; the striving of thatwith a certain smouldering ferocity, which might have flashed fire inan instant (as the born gentleman seemed to think, for he had a waryeye upon him); and the easy yielding of all to a good-natured, careless,predominant propensity to sit down on the ground again: formed a veryremarkable combination of character.
'This happy idea, brave sir,' Rigaud resumed after drinking, 'was ahappy idea for several reasons. It amused me, it worried your dearmama and my Flintwinch, it caused you agonies (my terms for a lessonin politeness towards a gentleman), and it suggested to all the amiablepersons interested that your entirely devoted is a man to fear. ByHeaven, he is a man to fear! Beyond this; it might have restored her witto my lady your mother--might, under the pressing little suspicion yourwisdom has recognised, have persuaded her at last to announce, covertly,in the journals, that the difficulties of a certain contract would beremoved by the appearance of a certain important party to it. Perhapsyes, perhaps no. But that, you have interrupted. Now, what is it yousay? What is it you want?'
Never had Clennam felt more acutely that he was a prisoner in bonds,than when he saw this man before him, and could not accompany him to hismother's house. All the undiscernible difficulties and dangers he hadever feared were closing in, when he could not stir hand or foot.
'Perhaps, my friend, philosopher, man of virtue, Imbecile, what youwill; perhaps,' said Rigaud, pausing in his drink to look out of hisglass with his horrible smile, 'you would have done better to leave mealone?'
'No! At least,' said Clennam, 'you are known to be alive and unharmed.At least you cannot escape from these two witnesses; and they canproduce you before any public authorities, or before hundreds ofpeople!'
'But will not produce me before one,' said Rigaud, snapping hisfingers again with an air of triumphant menace. 'To the Devil with yourwitnesses! To the Devil with your produced! To the Devil with yourself!What! Do I know what I know, for that? Have I my commodity on sale, forthat? Bah, poor debtor! You have interrupted my little project. Let itpass. How then? What remains? To you, nothing; to me, all. Produce_me_! Is that what you want? I will produce myself, only too quickly.Contrabandist! Give me pen, ink, and paper.'
Cavalletto got up again as before, and laid them before him in hisformer manner. Rigaud, after some villainous thinking and smiling,wrote, and read aloud, as follows:
'To MRS CLENNAM.
'Prison of the Marshalsea.'At the apartment of your son.
'Dear Madam,'I am in despair to be informed to-day by our prisoner here(who has had the goodness to employ spies to seek me, living for politicreasons in retirement), that you have had fears for my safety.
'Reassure yourself, dear madam. I am well, I am strong and constant.
'With the greatest impatience I should fly to your house, but that Iforesee it to be possible, under the circumstances, that you will notyet have quite definitively arranged the little proposition I have hadthe honour to submit to you. I name one week from this day, for a lastfinal visit on my part; when you will unconditionally accept it orreject it, with its train of consequences.
'I suppress my ardour to embrace you and achieve this interestingbusiness, in order that you may have leisure to adjust its details toour perfect mutual satisfaction.
'In the meanwhile, it is not too much to propose (our prisoner havingderanged my housekeeping), that my expenses of lodging and nourishmentat an hotel shall be paid by you.
'Receive, dear madam, the assurance of my highest and most distinguishedconsideration,
'A thousand friendships to that dear Flintwinch.
'I kiss the hands of Madame F.'
When he had finished this epistle, Rigaud folded it and tossed it witha flourish at Clennam's feet. 'Hola you! Apropos of producing, letsomebody produce that at its address, and produce the answer here.'
'Cavalletto,' said Arthur. 'Will you take this fellow's letter?'
But, Cavalletto's significant finger again expressing that his post wasat the door to keep watch over Rigaud, now he had found him with so muchtrouble, and that the duty of his post was to sit on the floor backed upby the door, looking at Rigaud and holding his own ankles,--Signor Pancoonce more volunteered. His services being accepted, Cavalletto sufferedthe door to open barely wide enough to admit of his squeezing himselfout, and immediately shut it on him.
'Touch me with a finger, touch me with an epithet, question mysuperiority as I sit here drinking my wine at my pleasure,' said Rigaud,'and I follow the letter and cancel my week's grace. _You_ wanted me? Youhave got me! How do you like me?'
'You know,' returned Clennam, with a bitter sense of his helplessness,'that when I sought you, I was not a prisoner.'
'To the Devil with you and your prison,' retorted Rigaud, leisurely,as he took from his pocket a case containing the materials for makingcigarettes, and employed his facile hands in folding a few for presentuse; 'I care for neither of you. Contrabandist! A light.'
Again Cavalletto got up, and gave him what he wanted. There had beensomething dreadful in the noiseless skill of his cold, white hands, withthe fingers lithely twisting about and twining one over another likeserpents. Clennam could not prevent himself from shuddering inwardly, asif he had been looking on at a nest of those creatures.
'Hola, Pig!' cried Rigaud, with a noisy stimulating cry, as ifCavalletto were an Italian horse or mule. 'What! The infernal old jailwas a respectable one to this. There was dignity in the bars and stonesof that place. It was a prison for men. But this? Bah! A hospital forimbeciles!'
He smoked his cigarette out, with his ugly smile so fixed upon his facethat he looked as though he were smoking with his drooping beak of anose, rather than with his mouth; like a fancy in a weird picture. Whenhe had lighted a second cigarette at the still burning end of the first,he said to Clennam:
'One must pass the time in the madman's absence. One must talk. Onecan't drink strong wine all day long, or I would have another bottle.She's handsome, sir. Though not exactly to my taste, still, bythe Thunder and the Lightning! handsome. I felicitate you on youradmiration.'
'I neither know nor ask,' said Clennam, 'of whom you speak.'
'Della bella Gowana, sir, as they say in Italy. Of the Gowan, the fairGowan.'
'Of whose husband you were the--follower, I think?'
'Sir? Follower? You are insolent. The friend.'
'Do you sell all your friends?'
Rigaud took his cigarette from his mouth, and eyed him with a momentaryrevelation of surprise. But he put it between his lips again, as heanswered with coolness:
'I sell anything that commands a price. How do your lawyers live, yourpoliticians, your intriguers, your men of the Exchange? How do you live?How do you come here? Have you sold no friend? Lady of mine! I ratherthink, yes!'
Clennam turned away from him towards the window, and sat looking out atthe wall.
'Effectively, sir,' said Rigaud, 'Society sells itself and sells me: andI sell Society. I perceive you have acquaintance with another lady. Alsohandsome. A strong spirit. Let us see. How do they call her? Wade.'
He received no answer, but could easily discern that he had hit themark.
'Yes,' he went on, 'that handsome lady and strong spirit addresses me inthe street, and I am not insensible. I respond. That handsome lady andstrong spirit does me the favour to remark, in full confidence, I havemy curiosity, and I have my chagrins. You are not more than ordinarilyhonourable, perhaps? I announce myself, Madame, a gentleman fromthe birth, and a gentleman to the death; but _not_ more than ordinarilyhonourable. I despise such a weak fantasy. Thereupon she is pleased tocompliment. The difference between you and the rest is, she answers,that you say so. For she knows Society. I accept her congratulationswith gallantry and politeness. Politeness and little gallantries areinseparable from my character. She then makes a proposition, which is,in effect, that she has seen us much together; that it appears to herthat I am for the passing time the cat of the house, the friend ofthe family; that her curiosity and her chagrins awaken the fancy to beacquainted with their movements, to know the manner of their life, howthe fair Gowana is beloved, how the fair Gowana is cherished, and soon. She is not rich, but offers such and such little recompenses for thelittle cares and derangements of such services; and I graciously--to doeverything graciously is a part of my character--consent to accept them.O yes! So goes the world. It is the mode.'
Though Clennam's back was turned while he spoke, and thenceforth to theend of the interview, he kept those glittering eyes of his that were toonear together, upon him, and evidently saw in the very carriage of thehead, as he passed with his braggart recklessness from clause to clauseof what he said, that he was saying nothing which Clennam did notalready know.
'Whoof! The fair Gowana!' he said, lighting a third cigarette with asound as if his lightest breath could blow her away. 'Charming, butimprudent! For it was not well of the fair Gowana to make mysteries ofletters from old lovers, in her bedchamber on the mountain, that herhusband might not see them. No, no. That was not well. Whoof! The Gowanawas mistaken there.'
'I earnestly hope,' cried Arthur aloud, 'that Pancks may not be longgone, for this man's presence pollutes the room.'
'Ah! But he'll flourish here, and everywhere,' said Rigaud, with anexulting look and snap of his fingers. 'He always has; he always will!'Stretching his body out on the only three chairs in the room besidesthat on which Clennam sat, he sang, smiting himself on the breast as thegallant personage of the song.
'Who passes by this road so late? Compagnon de la Majolaine! Who passes by this road so late? Always gay!
'Sing the Refrain, pig! You could sing it once, in another jail. Singit! Or, by every Saint who was stoned to death, I'll be affronted andcompromising; and then some people who are not dead yet, had better havebeen stoned along with them!'
'Of all the king's knights 'tis the flower, Compagnon de la Majolaine! Of all the king's knights 'tis the flower, Always gay!'
Partly in his old habit of submission, partly because his not doing itmight injure his benefactor, and partly because he would as soon doit as anything else, Cavalletto took up the Refrain this time. Rigaudlaughed, and fell to smoking with his eyes shut.
Possibly another quarter of an hour elapsed before Mr Pancks's step washeard upon the stairs, but the interval seemed to Clennam insupportablylong. His step was attended by another step; and when Cavalletto openedthe door, he admitted Mr Pancks and Mr Flintwinch. The latter was nosooner visible, than Rigaud rushed at him and embraced him boisterously.
'How do you find yourself, sir?' said Mr Flintwinch, as soon as he coulddisengage himself, which he struggled to do with very little ceremony.'Thank you, no; I don't want any more.' This was in reference to anothermenace of attention from his recovered friend. 'Well, Arthur. Youremember what I said to you about sleeping dogs and missing ones. It'scome true, you see.'
He was as imperturbable as ever, to all appearance, and nodded his headin a moralising way as he looked round the room.
'And this is the Marshalsea prison for debt!' said Mr Flintwinch. 'Hah!you have brought your pigs to a very indifferent market, Arthur.'
If Arthur had patience, Rigaud had not. He took his little Flintwinch,with fierce playfulness, by the two lapels of his coat, and cried:
'To the Devil with the Market, to the Devil with the Pigs, and to theDevil with the Pig-Driver! Now! Give me the answer to my letter.'
'If you can make it convenient to let go a moment, sir,' returned MrFlintwinch, 'I'll first hand Mr Arthur a little note that I have forhim.'
He did so. It was in his mother's maimed writing, on a slip of paper,and contained only these words:
'I hope it is enough that you have ruined yourself. Rest contentedwithout more ruin. Jeremiah Flintwinch is my messenger andrepresentative. Your affectionate M. C.'
Clennam read this twice, in silence, and then tore it to pieces. Rigaudin the meanwhile stepped into a chair, and sat himself on the back withhis feet upon the seat.
'Now, Beau Flintwinch,' he said, when he had closely watched the note toits destruction, 'the answer to my letter?'
'Mrs Clennam did not write, Mr Blandois, her hands being cramped,and she thinking it as well to send it verbally by me.' Mr Flintwinchscrewed this out of himself, unwillingly and rustily. 'She sendsher compliments, and says she doesn't on the whole wish to termyou unreasonable, and that she agrees. But without prejudicing theappointment that stands for this day week.'
Monsieur Rigaud, after indulging in a fit of laughter, descended fromhis throne, saying, 'Good! I go to seek an hotel!' But, there his eyesencountered Cavalletto, who was still at his post.
'Come, Pig,' he added, 'I have had you for a follower against my will;now, I'll have you against yours. I tell you, my little reptiles, Iam born to be served. I demand the service of this contrabandist as mydomestic until this day week.'
In answer to Cavalletto's look of inquiry, Clennam made him a signto go; but he added aloud, 'unless you are afraid of him.' Cavallettoreplied with a very emphatic finger-negative.'No, master, I am notafraid of him, when I no more keep it secrettementally that he was oncemy comrade.' Rigaud took no notice of either remark until he had lightedhis last cigarette and was quite ready for walking.
'Afraid of him,' he said then, looking round upon them all. 'Whoof! Mychildren, my babies, my little dolls, you are all afraid of him. Yougive him his bottle of wine here; you give him meat, drink, and lodgingthere; you dare not touch him with a finger or an epithet. No. It is hischaracter to triumph! Whoof!
'Of all the king's knights he's the flower, And he's always gay!'
With this adaptation of the Refrain to himself, he stalked out of theroom closely followed by Cavalletto, whom perhaps he had pressed intohis service because he tolerably well knew it would not be easy to getrid of him. Mr Flintwinch, after scraping his chin, and looking aboutwith caustic disparagement of the Pig-Market, nodded to Arthur, andfollowed. Mr Pancks, still penitent and depressed, followed too; afterreceiving with great attention a secret word or two of instructions fromArthur, and whispering back that he would see this affair out, and standby it to the end. The prisoner, with the feeling that he was moredespised, more scorned and repudiated, more helpless, altogether moremiserable and fallen than before, was left alone again.