Little Dorrit 090


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‘As to how it happened, it’s not so easy to relate: because you must have the unfortunate temperament of the poor impetuous girl herself, before you can fully understand it. But it came about in this way. Pet and Mother and I have been having a good deal of talk together of late. I’ll not disguise from you, Clennam, that those conversations have not been of as bright a kind as I could wish; they have referred to our going away again. In proposing to do which, I have had, in fact, an object.’

Nobody’s heart beat quickly.

‘An object,’ said Mr Meagles, after a moment’s pause, ‘that I will not disguise from you, either, Clennam. There’s an inclination on the part of my dear child which I am sorry for. Perhaps you guess the person. Henry Gowan.’

‘I was not unprepared to hear it.’

‘Well!’ said Mr Meagles, with a heavy sigh, ‘I wish to God you had never had to hear it. However, so it is. Mother and I have done all we could to get the better of it, Clennam. We have tried tender advice, we have tried time, we have tried absence. As yet, of no use. Our late conversations have been upon the subject of going away for another year at least, in order that there might be an entire separation and breaking off for that term. Upon that question, Pet has been unhappy, and therefore Mother and I have been unhappy.’

Clennam said that he could easily believe it.

‘Well!’ continued Mr Meagles in an apologetic way, ‘I admit as a practical man, and I am sure Mother would admit as a practical woman, that we do, in families, magnify our troubles and make mountains of our molehills in a way that is calculated to be rather trying to people who look on–to mere outsiders, you know, Clennam. Still, Pet’s happiness or unhappiness is quite a life or death question with us; and we may be excused, I hope, for making much of it. At all events, it might have been borne by Tattycoram. Now, don’t you think so?’

‘I do indeed think so,’ returned Clennam, in most emphatic recognition of this very moderate expectation.

‘No, sir,’ said Mr Meagles, shaking his head ruefully. ‘She couldn’t stand it. The chafing and firing of that girl, the wearing and tearing of that girl within her own breast, has been such that I have softly said to her again and again in passing her, “Five-and-twenty, Tattycoram, five-and-twenty!” I heartily wish she could have gone on counting five-and-twenty day and night, and then it wouldn’t have happened.’

Mr Meagles with a despondent countenance in which the goodness of his heart was even more expressed than in his times of cheerfulness and gaiety, stroked his face down from his forehead to his chin, and shook his head again.

‘I said to Mother (not that it was necessary, for she would have thought it all for herself), we are practical people, my dear, and we know her story; we see in this unhappy girl some reflection of what was raging in her mother’s heart before ever such a creature as this poor thing was in the world; we’ll gloss her temper over, Mother, we won’t notice it at present, my dear, we’ll take advantage of some better disposition in her another time. So we said nothing. But, do what we would, it seems as if it was to be; she broke out violently one night.’

‘How, and why?’

‘If you ask me Why,’ said Mr Meagles, a little disturbed by the question, for he was far more intent on softening her case than the family’s, ‘I can only refer you to what I have just repeated as having been pretty near my words to Mother. As to How, we had said Good night to Pet in her presence (very affectionately, I must allow), and she had attended Pet up-stairs–you remember she was her maid. Perhaps Pet, having been out of sorts, may have been a little more inconsiderate than usual in requiring services of her: but I don’t know that I have any right to say so; she was always thoughtful and gentle.’

‘The gentlest mistress in the world.’

‘Thank you, Clennam,’ said Mr Meagles, shaking him by the hand; ‘you have often seen them together. Well! We presently heard this unfortunate Tattycoram loud and angry, and before we could ask what was the matter, Pet came back in a tremble, saying she was frightened of her. Close after her came Tattycoram in a flaming rage. “I hate you all three,” says she, stamping her foot at us. “I am bursting with hate of the whole house.”’

‘Upon which you–?’

‘I?’ said Mr Meagles, with a plain good faith that might have commanded the belief of Mrs Gowan herself. ‘I said, count five-and-twenty, Tattycoram.’

Mr Meagles again stroked his face and shook his head, with an air of profound regret.

‘She was so used to do it, Clennam, that even then, such a picture of passion as you never saw, she stopped short, looked me full in the face, and counted (as I made out) to eight. But she couldn’t control herself to go any further. There she broke down, poor thing, and gave the other seventeen to the four winds. Then it all burst out. She detested us, she was miserable with us, she couldn’t bear it, she wouldn’t bear it, she was determined to go away. She was younger than her young mistress, and would she remain to see her always held up as the only creature who was young and interesting, and to be cherished and loved? No. She wouldn’t, she wouldn’t, she wouldn’t! What did we think she, Tattycoram, might have been if she had been caressed and cared for in her childhood, like her young mistress? As good as her? Ah! Perhaps fifty times as good. When we pretended to be so fond of one another, we exulted over her; that was what we did; we exulted over her and shamed her. And all in the house did the same. They talked about their fathers and mothers, and brothers and sisters; they liked to drag them up before her face. There was Mrs Tickit, only yesterday, when her little grandchild was with her, had been amused by the child’s trying to call her (Tattycoram) by the wretched name we gave her; and had laughed at the name. Why, who didn’t; and who were we that we should have a right to name her like a dog or a cat? But she didn’t care. She would take no more benefits from us; she would fling us her name back again, and she would go. She would leave us that minute, nobody should stop her, and we should never hear of her again.’

Mr Meagles had recited all this with such a vivid remembrance of his original, that he was almost as flushed and hot by this time as he described her to have been.

‘Ah, well!’ he said, wiping his face. ‘It was of no use trying reason then, with that vehement panting creature (Heaven knows what her mother’s story must have been); so I quietly told her that she should not go at that late hour of night, and I gave her my hand and took her to her room, and locked the house doors. But she was gone this morning.’

‘And you know no more of her?’

‘No more,’ returned Mr Meagles. ‘I have been hunting about all day. She must have gone very early and very silently. I have found no trace of her down about us.’

‘Stay! You want,’ said Clennam, after a moment’s reflection, ‘to see her? I assume that?’

‘Yes, assuredly; I want to give her another chance; Mother and Pet want to give her another chance; come! You yourself,’ said Mr Meagles, persuasively, as if the provocation to be angry were not his own at all, ‘want to give the poor passionate girl another chance, I know, Clennam.’

‘It would be strange and hard indeed if I did not,’ said Clennam, ‘when you are all so forgiving. What I was going to ask you was, have you thought of that Miss Wade?’

‘I have. I did not think of her until I had pervaded the whole of our neighbourhood, and I don’t know that I should have done so then but for finding Mother and Pet, when I went home, full of the idea that Tattycoram must have gone to her. Then, of course, I recalled what she said that day at dinner when you were first with us.’

‘Have you any idea where Miss Wade is to be found?’

‘To tell you the truth,’ returned Mr Meagles, ‘it’s because I have an addled jumble of a notion on that subject that you found me waiting here. There is one of those odd impressions in my house, which do mysteriously get into houses sometimes, which nobody seems to have picked up in a distinct form from anybody, and yet which everybody seems to have got hold of loosely from somebody and let go again, that she lives, or was living, thereabouts.’ Mr Meagles handed him a slip of paper, on which was written the name of one of the dull by-streets in the Grosvenor region, near Park Lane.

‘Here is no number,’ said Arthur looking over it.


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