Little Dorrit 058


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‘I have acted on your advice; and having disembarrassed myself of an occupation that was painful to me for many reasons, wish to devote myself and what means I have, to another pursuit.’

‘Right! You can’t do it too soon,’ said Mr Meagles.

‘Now, as I came down to-day, I found that your friend, Mr Doyce, is looking for a partner in his business–not a partner in his mechanical knowledge, but in the ways and means of turning the business arising from it to the best account.’

‘Just so,’ said Mr Meagles, with his hands in his pockets, and with the old business expression of face that had belonged to the scales and scoop.

‘Mr Doyce mentioned incidentally, in the course of our conversation, that he was going to take your valuable advice on the subject of finding such a partner. If you should think our views and opportunities at all likely to coincide, perhaps you will let him know my available position. I speak, of course, in ignorance of the details, and they may be unsuitable on both sides.’

‘No doubt, no doubt,’ said Mr Meagles, with the caution belonging to the scales and scoop.

‘But they will be a question of figures and accounts–’

‘Just so, just so,’ said Mr Meagles, with arithmetical solidity belonging to the scales and scoop.

‘–And I shall be glad to enter into the subject, provided Mr Doyce responds, and you think well of it. If you will at present, therefore, allow me to place it in your hands, you will much oblige me.’

‘Clennam, I accept the trust with readiness,’ said Mr Meagles. ‘And without anticipating any of the points which you, as a man of business, have of course reserved, I am free to say to you that I think something may come of this. Of one thing you may be perfectly certain. Daniel is an honest man.’

‘I am so sure of it that I have promptly made up my mind to speak to you.’

‘You must guide him, you know; you must steer him; you must direct him; he is one of a crotchety sort,’ said Mr Meagles, evidently meaning nothing more than that he did new things and went new ways; ‘but he is as honest as the sun, and so good night!’

Clennam went back to his room, sat down again before his fire, and made up his mind that he was glad he had resolved not to fall in love with Pet. She was so beautiful, so amiable, so apt to receive any true impression given to her gentle nature and her innocent heart, and make the man who should be so happy as to communicate it, the most fortunate and enviable of all men, that he was very glad indeed he had come to that conclusion.

But, as this might have been a reason for coming to the opposite conclusion, he followed out the theme again a little way in his mind; to justify himself, perhaps.

‘Suppose that a man,’ so his thoughts ran, ‘who had been of age some twenty years or so; who was a diffident man, from the circumstances of his youth; who was rather a grave man, from the tenor of his life; who knew himself to be deficient in many little engaging qualities which he admired in others, from having been long in a distant region, with nothing softening near him; who had no kind sisters to present to her; who had no congenial home to make her known in; who was a stranger in the land; who had not a fortune to compensate, in any measure, for these defects; who had nothing in his favour but his honest love and his general wish to do right–suppose such a man were to come to this house, and were to yield to the captivation of this charming girl, and were to persuade himself that he could hope to win her; what a weakness it would be!’

He softly opened his window, and looked out upon the serene river. Year after year so much allowance for the drifting of the ferry-boat, so many miles an hour the flowing of the stream, here the rushes, there the lilies, nothing uncertain or unquiet.

Why should he be vexed or sore at heart? It was not his weakness that he had imagined. It was nobody’s, nobody’s within his knowledge; why should it trouble him? And yet it did trouble him. And he thought–who has not thought for a moment, sometimes?–that it might be better to flow away monotonously, like the river, and to compound for its insensibility to happiness with its insensibility to pain.

CHAPTER 17. Nobody’s Rival

Before breakfast in the morning, Arthur walked out to look about him. As the morning was fine and he had an hour on his hands, he crossed the river by the ferry, and strolled along a footpath through some meadows. When he came back to the towing-path, he found the ferry-boat on the opposite side, and a gentleman hailing it and waiting to be taken over.

This gentleman looked barely thirty. He was well dressed, of a sprightly and gay appearance, a well-knit figure, and a rich dark complexion. As Arthur came over the stile and down to the water’s edge, the lounger glanced at him for a moment, and then resumed his occupation of idly tossing stones into the water with his foot. There was something in his way of spurning them out of their places with his heel, and getting them into the required position, that Clennam thought had an air of cruelty in it. Most of us have more or less frequently derived a similar impression from a man’s manner of doing some very little thing: plucking a flower, clearing away an obstacle, or even destroying an insentient object.

The gentleman’s thoughts were preoccupied, as his face showed, and he took no notice of a fine Newfoundland dog, who watched him attentively, and watched every stone too, in its turn, eager to spring into the river on receiving his master’s sign. The ferry-boat came over, however, without his receiving any sign, and when it grounded his master took him by the collar and walked him into it.

‘Not this morning,’ he said to the dog. ‘You won’t do for ladies’ company, dripping wet. Lie down.’

Clennam followed the man and the dog into the boat, and took his seat. The dog did as he was ordered. The man remained standing, with his hands in his pockets, and towered between Clennam and the prospect. Man and dog both jumped lightly out as soon as they touched the other side, and went away. Clennam was glad to be rid of them.

The church clock struck the breakfast hour as he walked up the little lane by which the garden-gate was approached. The moment he pulled the bell a deep loud barking assailed him from within the wall.

‘I heard no dog last night,’ thought Clennam. The gate was opened by one of the rosy maids, and on the lawn were the Newfoundland dog and the man.

‘Miss Minnie is not down yet, gentlemen,’ said the blushing portress, as they all came together in the garden. Then she said to the master of the dog, ‘Mr Clennam, sir,’ and tripped away.

‘Odd enough, Mr Clennam, that we should have met just now,’ said the man. Upon which the dog became mute. ‘Allow me to introduce myself–Henry Gowan. A pretty place this, and looks wonderfully well this morning!’

The manner was easy, and the voice agreeable; but still Clennam thought, that if he had not made that decided resolution to avoid falling in love with Pet, he would have taken a dislike to this Henry Gowan.

‘It’s new to you, I believe?’ said this Gowan, when Arthur had extolled the place.

‘Quite new. I made acquaintance with it only yesterday afternoon.’


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