Otherwise, Affery never said or did anything to attract the attention of the two clever ones towards her in any marked degree, except on certain occasions, generally at about the quiet hour towards bed-time, when she would suddenly dart out of her dim corner, and whisper with a face of terror to Mr Flintwinch, reading the paper near Mrs Clennam’s little table:
‘There, Jeremiah! Now! What’s that noise?’
Then the noise, if there were any, would have ceased, and Mr Flintwinch would snarl, turning upon her as if she had cut him down that moment against his will, ‘Affery, old woman, you shall have a dose, old woman, such a dose! You have been dreaming again!’
CHAPTER 16. Nobody’s Weakness
The time being come for the renewal of his acquaintance with the Meagles family, Clennam, pursuant to contract made between himself and Mr Meagles within the precincts of Bleeding Heart Yard, turned his face on a certain Saturday towards Twickenham, where Mr Meagles had a cottage-residence of his own. The weather being fine and dry, and any English road abounding in interest for him who had been so long away, he sent his valise on by the coach, and set out to walk. A walk was in itself a new enjoyment to him, and one that had rarely diversified his life afar off.
He went by Fulham and Putney, for the pleasure of strolling over the heath. It was bright and shining there; and when he found himself so far on his road to Twickenham, he found himself a long way on his road to a number of airier and less substantial destinations. They had risen before him fast, in the healthful exercise and the pleasant road. It is not easy to walk alone in the country without musing upon something. And he had plenty of unsettled subjects to meditate upon, though he had been walking to the Land’s End.
First, there was the subject seldom absent from his mind, the question, what he was to do henceforth in life; to what occupation he should devote himself, and in what direction he had best seek it. He was far from rich, and every day of indecision and inaction made his inheritance a source of greater anxiety to him. As often as he began to consider how to increase this inheritance, or to lay it by, so often his misgiving that there was some one with an unsatisfied claim upon his justice, returned; and that alone was a subject to outlast the longest walk. Again, there was the subject of his relations with his mother, which were now upon an equable and peaceful but never confidential footing, and whom he saw several times a week. Little Dorrit was a leading and a constant subject: for the circumstances of his life, united to those of her own story, presented the little creature to him as the only person between whom and himself there were ties of innocent reliance on one hand, and affectionate protection on the other; ties of compassion, respect, unselfish interest, gratitude, and pity. Thinking of her, and of the possibility of her father’s release from prison by the unbarring hand of death–the only change of circumstance he could foresee that might enable him to be such a friend to her as he wished to be, by altering her whole manner of life, smoothing her rough road, and giving her a home–he regarded her, in that perspective, as his adopted daughter, his poor child of the Marshalsea hushed to rest. If there were a last subject in his thoughts, and it lay towards Twickenham, its form was so indefinite that it was little more than the pervading atmosphere in which these other subjects floated before him.
He had crossed the heath and was leaving it behind when he gained upon a figure which had been in advance of him for some time, and which, as he gained upon it, he thought he knew. He derived this impression from something in the turn of the head, and in the figure’s action of consideration, as it went on at a sufficiently sturdy walk. But when the man–for it was a man’s figure–pushed his hat up at the back of his head, and stopped to consider some object before him, he knew it to be Daniel Doyce.
‘How do you do, Mr Doyce?’ said Clennam, overtaking him. ‘I am glad to see you again, and in a healthier place than the Circumlocution Office.’
‘Ha! Mr Meagles’s friend!’ exclaimed that public criminal, coming out of some mental combinations he had been making, and offering his hand. ‘I am glad to see you, sir. Will you excuse me if I forget your name?’
‘Readily. It’s not a celebrated name. It’s not Barnacle.’
‘No, no,’ said Daniel, laughing. ‘And now I know what it is. It’s Clennam. How do you do, Mr Clennam?’
‘I have some hope,’ said Arthur, as they walked on together, ‘that we may be going to the same place, Mr Doyce.’
‘Meaning Twickenham?’ returned Daniel. ‘I am glad to hear it.’
They were soon quite intimate, and lightened the way with a variety of conversation. The ingenious culprit was a man of great modesty and good sense; and, though a plain man, had been too much accustomed to combine what was original and daring in conception with what was patient and minute in execution, to be by any means an ordinary man. It was at first difficult to lead him to speak about himself, and he put off Arthur’s advances in that direction by admitting slightly, oh yes, he had done this, and he had done that, and such a thing was of his making, and such another thing was his discovery, but it was his trade, you see, his trade; until, as he gradually became assured that his companion had a real interest in his account of himself, he frankly yielded to it. Then it appeared that he was the son of a north-country blacksmith, and had originally been apprenticed by his widowed mother to a lock-maker; that he had ‘struck out a few little things’ at the lock-maker’s, which had led to his being released from his indentures with a present, which present had enabled him to gratify his ardent wish to bind himself to a working engineer, under whom he had laboured hard, learned hard, and lived hard, seven years. His time being out, he had ‘worked in the shop’ at weekly wages seven or eight years more; and had then betaken himself to the banks of the Clyde, where he had studied, and filed, and hammered, and improved his knowledge, theoretical and practical, for six or seven years more. There he had had an offer to go to Lyons, which he had accepted; and from Lyons had been engaged to go to Germany, and in Germany had had an offer to go to St Petersburg, and there had done very well indeed–never better. However, he had naturally felt a preference for his own country, and a wish to gain distinction there, and to do whatever service he could do, there rather than elsewhere. And so he had come home. And so at home he had established himself in business, and had invented and executed, and worked his way on, until, after a dozen years of constant suit and service, he had been enrolled in the Great British Legion of Honour, the Legion of the Rebuffed of the Circumlocution Office, and had been decorated with the Great British Order of Merit, the Order of the Disorder of the Barnacles and Stiltstalkings.
‘It is much to be regretted,’ said Clennam, ‘that you ever turned your thoughts that way, Mr Doyce.’
‘True, sir, true to a certain extent. But what is a man to do? if he has the misfortune to strike out something serviceable to the nation, he must follow where it leads him.’
‘Hadn’t he better let it go?’ said Clennam.
‘He can’t do it,’ said Doyce, shaking his head with a thoughtful smile. ‘It’s not put into his head to be buried. It’s put into his head to be made useful. You hold your life on the condition that to the last you shall struggle hard for it. Every man holds a discovery on the same terms.’
‘That is to say,’ said Arthur, with a growing admiration of his quiet companion, ‘you are not finally discouraged even now?’
‘I have no right to be, if I am,’ returned the other. ‘The thing is as true as it ever was.’
When they had walked a little way in silence, Clennam, at once to change the direct point of their conversation and not to change it too abruptly, asked Mr Doyce if he had any partner in his business to relieve him of a portion of its anxieties?
‘No,’ he returned, ‘not at present. I had when I first entered on it, and a good man he was. But he has been dead some years; and as I could not easily take to the notion of another when I lost him, I bought his share for myself and have gone on by myself ever since. And here’s another thing,’ he said, stopping for a moment with a good-humoured laugh in his eyes, and laying his closed right hand, with its peculiar suppleness of thumb, on Clennam’s arm, ‘no inventor can be a man of business, you know.’
‘No?’ said Clennam.
‘Why, so the men of business say,’ he answered, resuming the walk and laughing outright. ‘I don’t know why we unfortunate creatures should be supposed to want common sense, but it is generally taken for granted that we do. Even the best friend I have in the world, our excellent friend over yonder,’ said Doyce, nodding towards Twickenham, ‘extends a sort of protection to me, don’t you know, as a man not quite able to take care of himself?’
Arthur Clennam could not help joining in the good-humoured laugh, for he recognised the truth of the description.
‘So I find that I must have a partner who is a man of business and not guilty of any inventions,’ said Daniel Doyce, taking off his hat to pass his hand over his forehead, ‘if it’s only in deference to the current opinion, and to uphold the credit of the Works. I don’t think he’ll find that I have been very remiss or confused in my way of conducting them; but that’s for him to say–whoever he is–not for me.’
‘You have not chosen him yet, then?’
‘No, sir, no. I have only just come to a decision to take one. The fact is, there’s more to do than there used to be, and the Works are enough for me as I grow older. What with the books and correspondence, and foreign journeys for which a Principal is necessary, I can’t do all. I am going to talk over the best way of negotiating the matter, if I find a spare half-hour between this and Monday morning, with my–my Nurse and protector,’ said Doyce, with laughing eyes again. ‘He is a sagacious man in business, and has had a good apprenticeship to it.’
After this, they conversed on different subjects until they arrived at their journey’s end. A composed and unobtrusive self-sustainment was noticeable in Daniel Doyce–a calm knowledge that what was true must remain true, in spite of all the Barnacles in the family ocean, and would be just the truth, and neither more nor less when even that sea had run dry–which had a kind of greatness in it, though not of the official quality.