Little Dorrit 057


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‘I have,’ said Tattycoram.

She had brought a little mantle which her young mistress had sent for, and was bending over her, putting it on, when she lifted up her dark eyes and made this unexpected answer.

‘Tatty!’ her young mistress exclaimed. ‘You seen Miss Wade?–where?’

‘Here, miss,’ said Tattycoram.

‘How?’

An impatient glance from Tattycoram seemed, as Clennam saw it, to answer ‘With my eyes!’ But her only answer in words was: ‘I met her near the church.’

‘What was she doing there I wonder!’ said Mr Meagles. ‘Not going to it, I should think.’

‘She had written to me first,’ said Tattycoram.

‘Oh, Tatty!’ murmured her mistress, ‘take your hands away. I feel as if some one else was touching me!’

She said it in a quick involuntary way, but half playfully, and not more petulantly or disagreeably than a favourite child might have done, who laughed next moment. Tattycoram set her full red lips together, and crossed her arms upon her bosom.

‘Did you wish to know, sir,’ she said, looking at Mr Meagles, ‘what Miss Wade wrote to me about?’

‘Well, Tattycoram,’ returned Mr Meagles, ‘since you ask the question, and we are all friends here, perhaps you may as well mention it, if you are so inclined.’

‘She knew, when we were travelling, where you lived,’ said Tattycoram, ‘and she had seen me not quite–not quite–’

‘Not quite in a good temper, Tattycoram?’ suggested Mr Meagles, shaking his head at the dark eyes with a quiet caution. ‘Take a little time–count five-and-twenty, Tattycoram.’

She pressed her lips together again, and took a long deep breath.

‘So she wrote to me to say that if I ever felt myself hurt,’ she looked down at her young mistress, ‘or found myself worried,’ she looked down at her again, ‘I might go to her, and be considerately treated. I was to think of it, and could speak to her by the church. So I went there to thank her.’

‘Tatty,’ said her young mistress, putting her hand up over her shoulder that the other might take it, ‘Miss Wade almost frightened me when we parted, and I scarcely like to think of her just now as having been so near me without my knowing it. Tatty dear!’

Tatty stood for a moment, immovable.

‘Hey?’ cried Mr Meagles. ‘Count another five-and-twenty, Tattycoram.’

She might have counted a dozen, when she bent and put her lips to the caressing hand. It patted her cheek, as it touched the owner’s beautiful curls, and Tattycoram went away.

‘Now there,’ said Mr Meagles softly, as he gave a turn to the dumb-waiter on his right hand to twirl the sugar towards himself. ‘There’s a girl who might be lost and ruined, if she wasn’t among practical people. Mother and I know, solely from being practical, that there are times when that girl’s whole nature seems to roughen itself against seeing us so bound up in Pet. No father and mother were bound up in her, poor soul. I don’t like to think of the way in which that unfortunate child, with all that passion and protest in her, feels when she hears the Fifth Commandment on a Sunday. I am always inclined to call out, Church, Count five-and-twenty, Tattycoram.’

Besides his dumb-waiter, Mr Meagles had two other not dumb waiters in the persons of two parlour-maids with rosy faces and bright eyes, who were a highly ornamental part of the table decoration. ‘And why not, you see?’ said Mr Meagles on this head. ‘As I always say to Mother, why not have something pretty to look at, if you have anything at all?’

A certain Mrs Tickit, who was Cook and Housekeeper when the family were at home, and Housekeeper only when the family were away, completed the establishment. Mr Meagles regretted that the nature of the duties in which she was engaged, rendered Mrs Tickit unpresentable at present, but hoped to introduce her to the new visitor to-morrow. She was an important part of the Cottage, he said, and all his friends knew her. That was her picture up in the corner. When they went away, she always put on the silk-gown and the jet-black row of curls represented in that portrait (her hair was reddish-grey in the kitchen), established herself in the breakfast-room, put her spectacles between two particular leaves of Doctor Buchan’s Domestic Medicine, and sat looking over the blind all day until they came back again. It was supposed that no persuasion could be invented which would induce Mrs Tickit to abandon her post at the blind, however long their absence, or to dispense with the attendance of Dr Buchan; the lucubrations of which learned practitioner, Mr Meagles implicitly believed she had never yet consulted to the extent of one word in her life.

In the evening they played an old-fashioned rubber; and Pet sat looking over her father’s hand, or singing to herself by fits and starts at the piano. She was a spoilt child; but how could she be otherwise? Who could be much with so pliable and beautiful a creature, and not yield to her endearing influence? Who could pass an evening in the house, and not love her for the grace and charm of her very presence in the room? This was Clennam’s reflection, notwithstanding the final conclusion at which he had arrived up-stairs.

In making it, he revoked. ‘Why, what are you thinking of, my good sir?’ asked the astonished Mr Meagles, who was his partner. ‘I beg your pardon. Nothing,’ returned Clennam. ‘Think of something, next time; that’s a dear fellow,’ said Mr Meagles. Pet laughingly believed he had been thinking of Miss Wade. ‘Why of Miss Wade, Pet?’ asked her father. ‘Why, indeed!’ said Arthur Clennam. Pet coloured a little, and went to the piano again.

As they broke up for the night, Arthur overheard Doyce ask his host if he could give him half an hour’s conversation before breakfast in the morning? The host replying willingly, Arthur lingered behind a moment, having his own word to add to that topic.

‘Mr Meagles,’ he said, on their being left alone, ‘do you remember when you advised me to go straight to London?’

‘Perfectly well.’

‘And when you gave me some other good advice which I needed at that time?’

‘I won’t say what it was worth,’ answered Mr Meagles: ‘but of course I remember our being very pleasant and confidential together.’


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