Little Dorrit 059


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‘Ah! Of course this is not its best aspect. It used to look charming in the spring, before they went away last time. I should like you to have seen it then.’

But for that resolution so often recalled, Clennam might have wished him in the crater of Mount Etna, in return for this civility.

‘I have had the pleasure of seeing it under many circumstances during the last three years, and it’s–a Paradise.’

It was (at least it might have been, always excepting for that wise resolution) like his dexterous impudence to call it a Paradise. He only called it a Paradise because he first saw her coming, and so made her out within her hearing to be an angel, Confusion to him!

And ah! how beaming she looked, and how glad! How she caressed the dog, and how the dog knew her! How expressive that heightened colour in her face, that fluttered manner, her downcast eyes, her irresolute happiness! When had Clennam seen her look like this? Not that there was any reason why he might, could, would, or should have ever seen her look like this, or that he had ever hoped for himself to see her look like this; but still–when had he ever known her do it!

He stood at a little distance from them. This Gowan when he had talked about a Paradise, had gone up to her and taken her hand. The dog had put his great paws on her arm and laid his head against her dear bosom. She had laughed and welcomed them, and made far too much of the dog, far, far, too much–that is to say, supposing there had been any third person looking on who loved her.

She disengaged herself now, and came to Clennam, and put her hand in his and wished him good morning, and gracefully made as if she would take his arm and be escorted into the house. To this Gowan had no objection. No, he knew he was too safe.

There was a passing cloud on Mr Meagles’s good-humoured face when they all three (four, counting the dog, and he was the most objectionable but one of the party) came in to breakfast. Neither it, nor the touch of uneasiness on Mrs Meagles as she directed her eyes towards it, was unobserved by Clennam.

‘Well, Gowan,’ said Mr Meagles, even suppressing a sigh; ‘how goes the world with you this morning?’

‘Much as usual, sir. Lion and I being determined not to waste anything of our weekly visit, turned out early, and came over from Kingston, my present headquarters, where I am making a sketch or two.’ Then he told how he had met Mr Clennam at the ferry, and they had come over together.

‘Mrs Gowan is well, Henry?’ said Mrs Meagles. (Clennam became attentive.)

‘My mother is quite well, thank you.’ (Clennam became inattentive.) ‘I have taken the liberty of making an addition to your family dinner-party to-day, which I hope will not be inconvenient to you or to Mr Meagles. I couldn’t very well get out of it,’ he explained, turning to the latter. ‘The young fellow wrote to propose himself to me; and as he is well connected, I thought you would not object to my transferring him here.’

‘Who _is_ the young fellow?’ asked Mr Meagles with peculiar complacency.

‘He is one of the Barnacles. Tite Barnacle’s son, Clarence Barnacle, who is in his father’s Department. I can at least guarantee that the river shall not suffer from his visit. He won’t set it on fire.’

‘Aye, aye?’ said Meagles. ‘A Barnacle is he? _We_ know something of that family, eh, Dan? By George, they are at the top of the tree, though! Let me see. What relation will this young fellow be to Lord Decimus now? His Lordship married, in seventeen ninety-seven, Lady Jemima Bilberry, who was the second daughter by the third marriage–no! There I am wrong! That was Lady Seraphina–Lady Jemima was the first daughter by the second marriage of the fifteenth Earl of Stiltstalking with the Honourable Clementina Toozellem. Very well. Now this young fellow’s father married a Stiltstalking and _his_ father married his cousin who was a Barnacle. The father of that father who married a Barnacle, married a Joddleby.–I am getting a little too far back, Gowan; I want to make out what relation this young fellow is to Lord Decimus.’

‘That’s easily stated. His father is nephew to Lord Decimus.’

‘Nephew–to–Lord–Decimus,’ Mr Meagles luxuriously repeated with his eyes shut, that he might have nothing to distract him from the full flavour of the genealogical tree. ‘By George, you are right, Gowan. So he is.’

‘Consequently, Lord Decimus is his great uncle.’

‘But stop a bit!’ said Mr Meagles, opening his eyes with a fresh discovery. ‘Then on the mother’s side, Lady Stiltstalking is his great aunt.’

‘Of course she is.’

‘Aye, aye, aye?’ said Mr Meagles with much interest. ‘Indeed, indeed? We shall be glad to see him. We’ll entertain him as well as we can, in our humble way; and we shall not starve him, I hope, at all events.’

In the beginning of this dialogue, Clennam had expected some great harmless outburst from Mr Meagles, like that which had made him burst out of the Circumlocution Office, holding Doyce by the collar. But his good friend had a weakness which none of us need go into the next street to find, and which no amount of Circumlocution experience could long subdue in him. Clennam looked at Doyce; but Doyce knew all about it beforehand, and looked at his plate, and made no sign, and said no word.

‘I am much obliged to you,’ said Gowan, to conclude the subject. ‘Clarence is a great ass, but he is one of the dearest and best fellows that ever lived!’

It appeared, before the breakfast was over, that everybody whom this Gowan knew was either more or less of an ass, or more or less of a knave; but was, notwithstanding, the most lovable, the most engaging, the simplest, truest, kindest, dearest, best fellow that ever lived. The process by which this unvarying result was attained, whatever the premises, might have been stated by Mr Henry Gowan thus: ‘I claim to be always book-keeping, with a peculiar nicety, in every man’s case, and posting up a careful little account of Good and Evil with him. I do this so conscientiously, that I am happy to tell you I find the most worthless of men to be the dearest old fellow too: and am in a condition to make the gratifying report, that there is much less difference than you are inclined to suppose between an honest man and a scoundrel.’ The effect of this cheering discovery happened to be, that while he seemed to be scrupulously finding good in most men, he did in reality lower it where it was, and set it up where it was not; but that was its only disagreeable or dangerous feature.

It scarcely seemed, however, to afford Mr Meagles as much satisfaction as the Barnacle genealogy had done. The cloud that Clennam had never seen upon his face before that morning, frequently overcast it again; and there was the same shadow of uneasy observation of him on the comely face of his wife. More than once or twice when Pet caressed the dog, it appeared to Clennam that her father was unhappy in seeing her do it; and, in one particular instance when Gowan stood on the other side of the dog, and bent his head at the same time, Arthur fancied that he saw tears rise to Mr Meagles’s eyes as he hurried out of the room. It was either the fact too, or he fancied further, that Pet herself was not insensible to these little incidents; that she tried, with a more delicate affection than usual, to express to her good father how much she loved him; that it was on this account that she fell behind the rest, both as they went to church and as they returned from it, and took his arm. He could not have sworn but that as he walked alone in the garden afterwards, he had an instantaneous glimpse of her in her father’s room, clinging to both her parents with the greatest tenderness, and weeping on her father’s shoulder.

The latter part of the day turning out wet, they were fain to keep the house, look over Mr Meagles’s collection, and beguile the time with conversation. This Gowan had plenty to say for himself, and said it in an off-hand and amusing manner. He appeared to be an artist by profession, and to have been at Rome some time; yet he had a slight, careless, amateur way with him–a perceptible limp, both in his devotion to art and his attainments–which Clennam could scarcely understand.

He applied to Daniel Doyce for help, as they stood together, looking out of window.

‘You know Mr Gowan?’ he said in a low voice.

‘I have seen him here. Comes here every Sunday when they are at home.’

‘An artist, I infer from what he says?’


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