‘I’m a going So and So. There! That’s where I am a going to,’ said Maggy. ‘I’m a going So and So. It ain’t you, Little Mother, that’s got anything to do with it–it’s you, you know,’ said Maggy, addressing Arthur. ‘You’d better come, So and So, and let me take and give ‘em to you.’
‘We will not be so particular as that, Maggy. Give them me here,’ said Clennam in a low voice.
‘Well, then, come across the road,’ answered Maggy in a very loud whisper. ‘Little Mother wasn’t to know nothing of it, and she would never have known nothing of it if you had only gone So and So, instead of bothering and loitering about. It ain’t my fault. I must do what I am told. They ought to be ashamed of themselves for telling me.’
Clennam crossed to the other side, and hurriedly opened the letters. That from the father mentioned that most unexpectedly finding himself in the novel position of having been disappointed of a remittance from the City on which he had confidently counted, he took up his pen, being restrained by the unhappy circumstance of his incarceration during three-and-twenty years (doubly underlined), from coming himself, as he would otherwise certainly have done–took up his pen to entreat Mr Clennam to advance him the sum of Three Pounds Ten Shillings upon his I.O.U., which he begged to enclose. That from the son set forth that Mr Clennam would, he knew, be gratified to hear that he had at length obtained permanent employment of a highly satisfactory nature, accompanied with every prospect of complete success in life; but that the temporary inability of his employer to pay him his arrears of salary to that date (in which condition said employer had appealed to that generous forbearance in which he trusted he should never be wanting towards a fellow-creature), combined with the fraudulent conduct of a false friend and the present high price of provisions, had reduced him to the verge of ruin, unless he could by a quarter before six that evening raise the sum of eight pounds. This sum, Mr Clennam would be happy to learn, he had, through the promptitude of several friends who had a lively confidence in his probity, already raised, with the exception of a trifling balance of one pound seventeen and fourpence; the loan of which balance, for the period of one month, would be fraught with the usual beneficent consequences.
These letters Clennam answered with the aid of his pencil and pocket-book, on the spot; sending the father what he asked for, and excusing himself from compliance with the demand of the son. He then commissioned Maggy to return with his replies, and gave her the shilling of which the failure of her supplemental enterprise would have disappointed her otherwise.
When he rejoined Little Dorrit, and they had begun walking as before, she said all at once:
‘I think I had better go. I had better go home.’
‘Don’t be distressed,’ said Clennam, ‘I have answered the letters. They were nothing. You know what they were. They were nothing.’
‘But I am afraid,’ she returned, ‘to leave him, I am afraid to leave any of them. When I am gone, they pervert–but they don’t mean it–even Maggy.’
‘It was a very innocent commission that she undertook, poor thing. And in keeping it secret from you, she supposed, no doubt, that she was only saving you uneasiness.’
‘Yes, I hope so, I hope so. But I had better go home! It was but the other day that my sister told me I had become so used to the prison that I had its tone and character. It must be so. I am sure it must be when I see these things. My place is there. I am better there, it is unfeeling in me to be here, when I can do the least thing there. Good-bye. I had far better stay at home!’
The agonised way in which she poured this out, as if it burst of itself from her suppressed heart, made it difficult for Clennam to keep the tears from his eyes as he saw and heard her.
‘Don’t call it home, my child!’ he entreated. ‘It is always painful to me to hear you call it home.’
‘But it is home! What else can I call home? Why should I ever forget it for a single moment?’
‘You never do, dear Little Dorrit, in any good and true service.’
‘I hope not, O I hope not! But it is better for me to stay there; much better, much more dutiful, much happier. Please don’t go with me, let me go by myself. Good-bye, God bless you. Thank you, thank you.’
He felt that it was better to respect her entreaty, and did not move while her slight form went quickly away from him. When it had fluttered out of sight, he turned his face towards the water and stood thinking.
She would have been distressed at any time by this discovery of the letters; but so much so, and in that unrestrainable way?
When she had seen her father begging with his threadbare disguise on, when she had entreated him not to give her father money, she had been distressed, but not like this. Something had made her keenly and additionally sensitive just now. Now, was there some one in the hopeless unattainable distance? Or had the suspicion been brought into his mind, by his own associations of the troubled river running beneath the bridge with the same river higher up, its changeless tune upon the prow of the ferry-boat, so many miles an hour the peaceful flowing of the stream, here the rushes, there the lilies, nothing uncertain or unquiet?
He thought of his poor child, Little Dorrit, for a long time there; he thought of her going home; he thought of her in the night; he thought of her when the day came round again. And the poor child Little Dorrit thought of him–too faithfully, ah, too faithfully!–in the shadow of the Marshalsea wall.
CHAPTER 23. Machinery in Motion
Mr Meagles bestirred himself with such prompt activity in the matter of the negotiation with Daniel Doyce which Clennam had entrusted to him, that he soon brought it into business train, and called on Clennam at nine o’clock one morning to make his report.
‘Doyce is highly gratified by your good opinion,’ he opened the business by saying, ‘and desires nothing so much as that you should examine the affairs of the Works for yourself, and entirely understand them. He has handed me the keys of all his books and papers–here they are jingling in this pocket–and the only charge he has given me is “Let Mr Clennam have the means of putting himself on a perfect equality with me as to knowing whatever I know. If it should come to nothing after all, he will respect my confidence. Unless I was sure of that to begin with, I should have nothing to do with him.” And there, you see,’ said Mr Meagles, ‘you have Daniel Doyce all over.’
‘A very honourable character.’
‘Oh, yes, to be sure. Not a doubt of it. Odd, but very honourable. Very odd though. Now, would you believe, Clennam,’ said Mr Meagles, with a hearty enjoyment of his friend’s eccentricity, ‘that I had a whole morning in What’s-his-name Yard–’
‘A whole morning in Bleeding Heart Yard, before I could induce him to pursue the subject at all?’
‘How was that?’
‘How was that, my friend? I no sooner mentioned your name in connection with it than he declared off.’