Little Dorrit 074


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‘Declared off on my account?’

‘I no sooner mentioned your name, Clennam, than he said, “That will never do!” What did he mean by that? I asked him. No matter, Meagles; that would never do. Why would it never do? You’ll hardly believe it, Clennam,’ said Mr Meagles, laughing within himself, ‘but it came out that it would never do, because you and he, walking down to Twickenham together, had glided into a friendly conversation in the course of which he had referred to his intention of taking a partner, supposing at the time that you were as firmly and finally settled as St Paul’s Cathedral. “Whereas,” says he, “Mr Clennam might now believe, if I entertained his proposition, that I had a sinister and designing motive in what was open free speech. Which I can’t bear,” says he, “which I really am too proud to bear.”’

‘I should as soon suspect–’

‘Of course you would,’ interrupted Mr Meagles, ‘and so I told him. But it took a morning to scale that wall; and I doubt if any other man than myself (he likes me of old) could have got his leg over it. Well, Clennam. This business-like obstacle surmounted, he then stipulated that before resuming with you I should look over the books and form my own opinion. I looked over the books, and formed my own opinion. “Is it, on the whole, for, or against?” says he. “For,” says I. “Then,” says he, “you may now, my good friend, give Mr Clennam the means of forming his opinion. To enable him to do which, without bias and with perfect freedom, I shall go out of town for a week.” And he’s gone,’ said Mr Meagles; ‘that’s the rich conclusion of the thing.’

‘Leaving me,’ said Clennam, ‘with a high sense, I must say, of his candour and his–’

‘Oddity,’ Mr Meagles struck in. ‘I should think so!’

It was not exactly the word on Clennam’s lips, but he forbore to interrupt his good-humoured friend.

‘And now,’ added Mr Meagles, ‘you can begin to look into matters as soon as you think proper. I have undertaken to explain where you may want explanation, but to be strictly impartial, and to do nothing more.’

They began their perquisitions in Bleeding Heart Yard that same forenoon. Little peculiarities were easily to be detected by experienced eyes in Mr Doyce’s way of managing his affairs, but they almost always involved some ingenious simplification of a difficulty, and some plain road to the desired end. That his papers were in arrear, and that he stood in need of assistance to develop the capacity of his business, was clear enough; but all the results of his undertakings during many years were distinctly set forth, and were ascertainable with ease. Nothing had been done for the purposes of the pending investigation; everything was in its genuine working dress, and in a certain honest rugged order. The calculations and entries, in his own hand, of which there were many, were bluntly written, and with no very neat precision; but were always plain and directed straight to the purpose. It occurred to Arthur that a far more elaborate and taking show of business–such as the records of the Circumlocution Office made perhaps–might be far less serviceable, as being meant to be far less intelligible.

Three or four days of steady application tendered him master of all the facts it was essential to become acquainted with. Mr Meagles was at hand the whole time, always ready to illuminate any dim place with the bright little safety-lamp belonging to the scales and scoop. Between them they agreed upon the sum it would be fair to offer for the purchase of a half-share in the business, and then Mr Meagles unsealed a paper in which Daniel Doyce had noted the amount at which he valued it; which was even something less. Thus, when Daniel came back, he found the affair as good as concluded.

‘And I may now avow, Mr Clennam,’ said he, with a cordial shake of the hand, ‘that if I had looked high and low for a partner, I believe I could not have found one more to my mind.’

‘I say the same,’ said Clennam.

‘And I say of both of you,’ added Mr Meagles, ‘that you are well matched. You keep him in check, Clennam, with your common sense, and you stick to the Works, Dan, with your–’

‘Uncommon sense?’ suggested Daniel, with his quiet smile.

‘You may call it so, if you like–and each of you will be a right hand to the other. Here’s my own right hand upon it, as a practical man, to both of you.’

The purchase was completed within a month. It left Arthur in possession of private personal means not exceeding a few hundred pounds; but it opened to him an active and promising career. The three friends dined together on the auspicious occasion; the factory and the factory wives and children made holiday and dined too; even Bleeding Heart Yard dined and was full of meat. Two months had barely gone by in all, when Bleeding Heart Yard had become so familiar with short-commons again, that the treat was forgotten there; when nothing seemed new in the partnership but the paint of the inscription on the door-posts, DOYCE AND CLENNAM; when it appeared even to Clennam himself, that he had had the affairs of the firm in his mind for years.

The little counting-house reserved for his own occupation, was a room of wood and glass at the end of a long low workshop, filled with benches, and vices, and tools, and straps, and wheels; which, when they were in gear with the steam-engine, went tearing round as though they had a suicidal mission to grind the business to dust and tear the factory to pieces. A communication of great trap-doors in the floor and roof with the workshop above and the workshop below, made a shaft of light in this perspective, which brought to Clennam’s mind the child’s old picture-book, where similar rays were the witnesses of Abel’s murder. The noises were sufficiently removed and shut out from the counting-house to blend into a busy hum, interspersed with periodical clinks and thumps. The patient figures at work were swarthy with the filings of iron and steel that danced on every bench and bubbled up through every chink in the planking. The workshop was arrived at by a step-ladder from the outer yard below, where it served as a shelter for the large grindstone where tools were sharpened. The whole had at once a fanciful and practical air in Clennam’s eyes, which was a welcome change; and, as often as he raised them from his first work of getting the array of business documents into perfect order, he glanced at these things with a feeling of pleasure in his pursuit that was new to him.

Raising his eyes thus one day, he was surprised to see a bonnet labouring up the step-ladder. The unusual apparition was followed by another bonnet. He then perceived that the first bonnet was on the head of Mr F.’s Aunt, and that the second bonnet was on the head of Flora, who seemed to have propelled her legacy up the steep ascent with considerable difficulty.

Though not altogether enraptured at the sight of these visitors, Clennam lost no time in opening the counting-house door, and extricating them from the workshop; a rescue which was rendered the more necessary by Mr F.’s Aunt already stumbling over some impediment, and menacing steam power as an Institution with a stony reticule she carried.

‘Good gracious, Arthur,–I should say Mr Clennam, far more proper–the climb we have had to get up here and how ever to get down again without a fire-escape and Mr F.’s Aunt slipping through the steps and bruised all over and you in the machinery and foundry way too only think, and never told us!’

Thus, Flora, out of breath. Meanwhile, Mr F.’s Aunt rubbed her esteemed insteps with her umbrella, and vindictively glared.

‘Most unkind never to have come back to see us since that day, though naturally it was not to be expected that there should be any attraction at _our_ house and you were much more pleasantly engaged, that’s pretty certain, and is she fair or dark blue eyes or black I wonder, not that I expect that she should be anything but a perfect contrast to me in all particulars for I am a disappointment as I very well know and you are quite right to be devoted no doubt though what I am saying Arthur never mind I hardly know myself Good gracious!’

By this time he had placed chairs for them in the counting-house. As Flora dropped into hers, she bestowed the old look upon him.

‘And to think of Doyce and Clennam, and who Doyce can be,’ said Flora; ‘delightful man no doubt and married perhaps or perhaps a daughter, now has he really? then one understands the partnership and sees it all, don’t tell me anything about it for I know I have no claim to ask the question the golden chain that once was forged being snapped and very proper.’

Flora put her hand tenderly on his, and gave him another of the youthful glances.

‘Dear Arthur–force of habit, Mr Clennam every way more delicate and adapted to existing circumstances–I must beg to be excused for taking the liberty of this intrusion but I thought I might so far presume upon old times for ever faded never more to bloom as to call with Mr F.’s Aunt to congratulate and offer best wishes, A great deal superior to China not to be denied and much nearer though higher up!’

‘I am very happy to see you,’ said Clennam, ‘and I thank you, Flora, very much for your kind remembrance.’

‘More than I can say myself at any rate,’ returned Flora, ‘for I might have been dead and buried twenty distinct times over and no doubt whatever should have been before you had genuinely remembered Me or anything like it in spite of which one last remark I wish to make, one last explanation I wish to offer–’

‘My dear Mrs Finching,’ Arthur remonstrated in alarm.

‘Oh not that disagreeable name, say Flora!’


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