Little Dorrit 033


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‘May I inquire how I can obtain official information as to the real state of the case?’

‘It is competent,’ said Mr Barnacle, ‘to any member of the–Public,’ mentioning that obscure body with reluctance, as his natural enemy, ‘to memorialise the Circumlocution Department. Such formalities as are required to be observed in so doing, may be known on application to the proper branch of that Department.’

‘Which is the proper branch?’

‘I must refer you,’ returned Mr Barnacle, ringing the bell, ‘to the Department itself for a formal answer to that inquiry.’

‘Excuse my mentioning–’

‘The Department is accessible to the–Public,’ Mr Barnacle was always checked a little by that word of impertinent signification, ‘if the–Public approaches it according to the official forms; if the–Public does not approach it according to the official forms, the–Public has itself to blame.’

Mr Barnacle made him a severe bow, as a wounded man of family, a wounded man of place, and a wounded man of a gentlemanly residence, all rolled into one; and he made Mr Barnacle a bow, and was shut out into Mews Street by the flabby footman.

Having got to this pass, he resolved as an exercise in perseverance, to betake himself again to the Circumlocution Office, and try what satisfaction he could get there. So he went back to the Circumlocution Office, and once more sent up his card to Barnacle junior by a messenger who took it very ill indeed that he should come back again, and who was eating mashed potatoes and gravy behind a partition by the hall fire.

He was readmitted to the presence of Barnacle junior, and found that young gentleman singeing his knees now, and gaping his weary way on to four o’clock.

‘I say. Look here. You stick to us in a devil of a manner,’ Said Barnacle junior, looking over his shoulder.

‘I want to know–’

‘Look here. Upon my soul you mustn’t come into the place saying you want to know, you know,’ remonstrated Barnacle junior, turning about and putting up the eye-glass.

‘I want to know,’ said Arthur Clennam, who had made up his mind to persistence in one short form of words, ‘the precise nature of the claim of the Crown against a prisoner for debt, named Dorrit.’

‘I say. Look here. You really are going it at a great pace, you know. Egad, you haven’t got an appointment,’ said Barnacle junior, as if the thing were growing serious.

‘I want to know,’ said Arthur, and repeated his case.

Barnacle junior stared at him until his eye-glass fell out, and then put it in again and stared at him until it fell out again. ‘You have no right to come this sort of move,’ he then observed with the greatest weakness. ‘Look here. What do you mean? You told me you didn’t know whether it was public business or not.’

‘I have now ascertained that it is public business,’ returned the suitor, ‘and I want to know’–and again repeated his monotonous inquiry.

Its effect upon young Barnacle was to make him repeat in a defenceless way, ‘Look here! Upon my SOUL you mustn’t come into the place saying you want to know, you know!’ The effect of that upon Arthur Clennam was to make him repeat his inquiry in exactly the same words and tone as before. The effect of that upon young Barnacle was to make him a wonderful spectacle of failure and helplessness.

‘Well, I tell you what. Look here. You had better try the Secretarial Department,’ he said at last, sidling to the bell and ringing it. ‘Jenkinson,’ to the mashed potatoes messenger, ‘Mr Wobbler!’

Arthur Clennam, who now felt that he had devoted himself to the storming of the Circumlocution Office, and must go through with it, accompanied the messenger to another floor of the building, where that functionary pointed out Mr Wobbler’s room. He entered that apartment, and found two gentlemen sitting face to face at a large and easy desk, one of whom was polishing a gun-barrel on his pocket-handkerchief, while the other was spreading marmalade on bread with a paper-knife.

‘Mr Wobbler?’ inquired the suitor.

Both gentlemen glanced at him, and seemed surprised at his assurance.

‘So he went,’ said the gentleman with the gun-barrel, who was an extremely deliberate speaker, ‘down to his cousin’s place, and took the Dog with him by rail. Inestimable Dog. Flew at the porter fellow when he was put into the dog-box, and flew at the guard when he was taken out. He got half-a-dozen fellows into a Barn, and a good supply of Rats, and timed the Dog. Finding the Dog able to do it immensely, made the match, and heavily backed the Dog. When the match came off, some devil of a fellow was bought over, Sir, Dog was made drunk, Dog’s master was cleaned out.’

‘Mr Wobbler?’ inquired the suitor.

The gentleman who was spreading the marmalade returned, without looking up from that occupation, ‘What did he call the Dog?’

‘Called him Lovely,’ said the other gentleman. ‘Said the Dog was the perfect picture of the old aunt from whom he had expectations. Found him particularly like her when hocussed.’

‘Mr Wobbler?’ said the suitor.

Both gentlemen laughed for some time. The gentleman with the gun-barrel, considering it, on inspection, in a satisfactory state, referred it to the other; receiving confirmation of his views, he fitted it into its place in the case before him, and took out the stock and polished that, softly whistling.

‘Mr Wobbler?’ said the suitor.

‘What’s the matter?’ then said Mr Wobbler, with his mouth full.


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