‘I want to know–’ and Arthur Clennam again mechanically set forth what he wanted to know.
‘Can’t inform you,’ observed Mr Wobbler, apparently to his lunch. ‘Never heard of it. Nothing at all to do with it. Better try Mr Clive, second door on the left in the next passage.’
‘Perhaps he will give me the same answer.’
‘Very likely. Don’t know anything about it,’ said Mr Wobbler.
The suitor turned away and had left the room, when the gentleman with the gun called out ‘Mister! Hallo!’
He looked in again.
‘Shut the door after you. You’re letting in a devil of a draught here!’
A few steps brought him to the second door on the left in the next passage. In that room he found three gentlemen; number one doing nothing particular, number two doing nothing particular, number three doing nothing particular. They seemed, however, to be more directly concerned than the others had been in the effective execution of the great principle of the office, as there was an awful inner apartment with a double door, in which the Circumlocution Sages appeared to be assembled in council, and out of which there was an imposing coming of papers, and into which there was an imposing going of papers, almost constantly; wherein another gentleman, number four, was the active instrument.
‘I want to know,’ said Arthur Clennam,–and again stated his case in the same barrel-organ way. As number one referred him to number two, and as number two referred him to number three, he had occasion to state it three times before they all referred him to number four, to whom he stated it again.
Number four was a vivacious, well-looking, well-dressed, agreeable young fellow–he was a Barnacle, but on the more sprightly side of the family–and he said in an easy way, ‘Oh! you had better not bother yourself about it, I think.’
‘Not bother myself about it?’
‘No! I recommend you not to bother yourself about it.’
This was such a new point of view that Arthur Clennam found himself at a loss how to receive it.
‘You can if you like. I can give you plenty of forms to fill up. Lots of ‘em here. You can have a dozen if you like. But you’ll never go on with it,’ said number four.
‘Would it be such hopeless work? Excuse me; I am a stranger in England.’
‘_I_ don’t say it would be hopeless,’ returned number four, with a frank smile. ‘I don’t express an opinion about that; I only express an opinion about you. _I_ don’t think you’d go on with it. However, of course, you can do as you like. I suppose there was a failure in the performance of a contract, or something of that kind, was there?’
‘I really don’t know.’
‘Well! That you can find out. Then you’ll find out what Department the contract was in, and then you’ll find out all about it there.’
‘I beg your pardon. How shall I find out?’
‘Why, you’ll–you’ll ask till they tell you. Then you’ll memorialise that Department (according to regular forms which you’ll find out) for leave to memorialise this Department. If you get it (which you may after a time), that memorial must be entered in that Department, sent to be registered in this Department, sent back to be signed by that Department, sent back to be countersigned by this Department, and then it will begin to be regularly before that Department. You’ll find out when the business passes through each of these stages by asking at both Departments till they tell you.’
‘But surely this is not the way to do the business,’ Arthur Clennam could not help saying.
This airy young Barnacle was quite entertained by his simplicity in supposing for a moment that it was. This light in hand young Barnacle knew perfectly that it was not. This touch and go young Barnacle had ‘got up’ the Department in a private secretaryship, that he might be ready for any little bit of fat that came to hand; and he fully understood the Department to be a politico-diplomatic hocus pocus piece of machinery for the assistance of the nobs in keeping off the snobs. This dashing young Barnacle, in a word, was likely to become a statesman, and to make a figure.
‘When the business is regularly before that Department, whatever it is,’ pursued this bright young Barnacle, ‘then you can watch it from time to time through that Department. When it comes regularly before this Department, then you must watch it from time to time through this Department. We shall have to refer it right and left; and when we refer it anywhere, then you’ll have to look it up. When it comes back to us at any time, then you had better look _us_ up. When it sticks anywhere, you’ll have to try to give it a jog. When you write to another Department about it, and then to this Department about it, and don’t hear anything satisfactory about it, why then you had better–keep on writing.’
Arthur Clennam looked very doubtful indeed. ‘But I am obliged to you at any rate,’ said he, ‘for your politeness.’
‘Not at all,’ replied this engaging young Barnacle. ‘Try the thing, and see how you like it. It will be in your power to give it up at any time, if you don’t like it. You had better take a lot of forms away with you. Give him a lot of forms!’ With which instruction to number two, this sparkling young Barnacle took a fresh handful of papers from numbers one and three, and carried them into the sanctuary to offer to the presiding Idol of the Circumlocution Office.
Arthur Clennam put his forms in his pocket gloomily enough, and went his way down the long stone passage and the long stone staircase. He had come to the swing doors leading into the street, and was waiting, not over patiently, for two people who were between him and them to pass out and let him follow, when the voice of one of them struck familiarly on his ear. He looked at the speaker and recognised Mr Meagles. Mr Meagles was very red in the face–redder than travel could have made him–and collaring a short man who was with him, said, ‘come out, you rascal, come Out!’
It was such an unexpected hearing, and it was also such an unexpected sight to see Mr Meagles burst the swing doors open, and emerge into the street with the short man, who was of an unoffending appearance, that Clennam stood still for the moment exchanging looks of surprise with the porter. He followed, however, quickly; and saw Mr Meagles going down the street with his enemy at his side. He soon came up with his old travelling companion, and touched him on the back. The choleric face which Mr Meagles turned upon him smoothed when he saw who it was, and he put out his friendly hand.
‘How are you?’ said Mr Meagles. ‘How d’ye _do?_ I have only just come over from abroad. I am glad to see you.’
‘And I am rejoiced to see you.’