‘With what then, Mr Pancks? That is to say, assuming that you want it of me.’
‘Yes, sir; yes, I want it of you,’ said Pancks, ‘if I can persuade you to furnish it. A, B, C, D. DA, DE, DI, DO. Dictionary order. Dorrit. That’s the name, sir?’
Mr Pancks blew off his peculiar noise again, and fell to at his right-hand nails. Arthur looked searchingly at him; he returned the look.
‘I don’t understand you, Mr Pancks.’
‘That’s the name that I want to know about.’
‘And what do you want to know?’
‘Whatever you can and will tell me.’ This comprehensive summary of his desires was not discharged without some heavy labouring on the part of Mr Pancks’s machinery.
‘This is a singular visit, Mr Pancks. It strikes me as rather extraordinary that you should come, with such an object, to me.’
‘It may be all extraordinary together,’ returned Pancks. ‘It may be out of the ordinary course, and yet be business. In short, it is business. I am a man of business. What business have I in this present world, except to stick to business? No business.’
With his former doubt whether this dry hard personage were quite in earnest, Clennam again turned his eyes attentively upon his face. It was as scrubby and dingy as ever, and as eager and quick as ever, and he could see nothing lurking in it that was at all expressive of a latent mockery that had seemed to strike upon his ear in the voice.
‘Now,’ said Pancks, ‘to put this business on its own footing, it’s not my proprietor’s.’
‘Do you refer to Mr Casby as your proprietor?’
Pancks nodded. ‘My proprietor. Put a case. Say, at my proprietor’s I hear name–name of young person Mr Clennam wants to serve. Say, name first mentioned to my proprietor by Plornish in the Yard. Say, I go to Plornish. Say, I ask Plornish as a matter of business for information. Say, Plornish, though six weeks in arrear to my proprietor, declines. Say, Mrs Plornish declines. Say, both refer to Mr Clennam. Put the case.’
‘Well, sir,’ returned Pancks, ‘say, I come to him. Say, here I am.’
With those prongs of hair sticking up all over his head, and his breath coming and going very hard and short, the busy Pancks fell back a step (in Tug metaphor, took half a turn astern) as if to show his dingy hull complete, then forged a-head again, and directed his quick glance by turns into his hat where his note-book was, and into Clennam’s face.
‘Mr Pancks, not to trespass on your grounds of mystery, I will be as plain with you as I can. Let me ask two questions. First–’
‘All right!’ said Pancks, holding up his dirty forefinger with his broken nail. ‘I see! “What’s your motive?”’
‘Motive,’ said Pancks, ‘good. Nothing to do with my proprietor; not stateable at present, ridiculous to state at present; but good. Desiring to serve young person, name of Dorrit,’ said Pancks, with his forefinger still up as a caution. ‘Better admit motive to be good.’
‘Secondly, and lastly, what do you want to know?’
Mr Pancks fished up his note-book before the question was put, and buttoning it with care in an inner breast-pocket, and looking straight at Clennam all the time, replied with a pause and a puff, ‘I want supplementary information of any sort.’
Clennam could not withhold a smile, as the panting little steam-tug, so useful to that unwieldy ship, the Casby, waited on and watched him as if it were seeking an opportunity of running in and rifling him of all he wanted before he could resist its manoeuvres; though there was that in Mr Pancks’s eagerness, too, which awakened many wondering speculations in his mind. After a little consideration, he resolved to supply Mr Pancks with such leading information as it was in his power to impart him; well knowing that Mr Pancks, if he failed in his present research, was pretty sure to find other means of getting it.
He, therefore, first requesting Mr Pancks to remember his voluntary declaration that his proprietor had no part in the disclosure, and that his own intentions were good (two declarations which that coaly little gentleman with the greatest ardour repeated), openly told him that as to the Dorrit lineage or former place of habitation, he had no information to communicate, and that his knowledge of the family did not extend beyond the fact that it appeared to be now reduced to five members; namely, to two brothers, of whom one was single, and one a widower with three children. The ages of the whole family he made known to Mr Pancks, as nearly as he could guess at them; and finally he described to him the position of the Father of the Marshalsea, and the course of time and events through which he had become invested with that character. To all this, Mr Pancks, snorting and blowing in a more and more portentous manner as he became more interested, listened with great attention; appearing to derive the most agreeable sensations from the painfullest parts of the narrative, and particularly to be quite charmed by the account of William Dorrit’s long imprisonment.
‘In conclusion, Mr Pancks,’ said Arthur, ‘I have but to say this. I have reasons beyond a personal regard for speaking as little as I can of the Dorrit family, particularly at my mother’s house’ (Mr Pancks nodded), ‘and for knowing as much as I can. So devoted a man of business as you are–eh?’
For Mr Pancks had suddenly made that blowing effort with unusual force.
‘It’s nothing,’ said Pancks.
‘So devoted a man of business as yourself has a perfect understanding of a fair bargain. I wish to make a fair bargain with you, that you shall enlighten me concerning the Dorrit family when you have it in your power, as I have enlightened you. It may not give you a very flattering idea of my business habits, that I failed to make my terms beforehand,’ continued Clennam; ‘but I prefer to make them a point of honour. I have seen so much business done on sharp principles that, to tell you the truth, Mr Pancks, I am tired of them.’
Mr Pancks laughed. ‘It’s a bargain, sir,’ said he. ‘You shall find me stick to it.’
After that, he stood a little while looking at Clennam, and biting his ten nails all round; evidently while he fixed in his mind what he had been told, and went over it carefully, before the means of supplying a gap in his memory should be no longer at hand. ‘It’s all right,’ he said at last, ‘and now I’ll wish you good day, as it’s collecting day in the Yard. By-the-bye, though. A lame foreigner with a stick.’