Poor Mr Meagles’s inexpressible consternation in hearing his motives and actions so perverted, had prevented him from interposing any word until now; but now he regained the power of speech.
‘Tattycoram,’ said he, ‘for I’ll call you by that name still, my good girl, conscious that I meant nothing but kindness when I gave it to you, and conscious that you know it–’
‘I don’t!’ said she, looking up again, and almost rending herself with the same busy hand.
‘No, not now, perhaps,’ said Mr Meagles; ‘not with that lady’s eyes so intent upon you, Tattycoram,’ she glanced at them for a moment, ‘and that power over you, which we see she exercises; not now, perhaps, but at another time. Tattycoram, I’ll not ask that lady whether she believes what she has said, even in the anger and ill blood in which I and my friend here equally know she has spoken, though she subdues herself, with a determination that any one who has once seen her is not likely to forget. I’ll not ask you, with your remembrance of my house and all belonging to it, whether you believe it. I’ll only say that you have no profession to make to me or mine, and no forgiveness to entreat; and that all in the world that I ask you to do, is, to count five-and-twenty, Tattycoram.’
She looked at him for an instant, and then said frowningly, ‘I won’t. Miss Wade, take me away, please.’
The contention that raged within her had no softening in it now; it was wholly between passionate defiance and stubborn defiance. Her rich colour, her quick blood, her rapid breath, were all setting themselves against the opportunity of retracing their steps. ‘I won’t. I won’t. I won’t!’ she repeated in a low, thick voice. ‘I’d be torn to pieces first. I’d tear myself to pieces first!’
Miss Wade, who had released her hold, laid her hand protectingly on the girl’s neck for a moment, and then said, looking round with her former smile and speaking exactly in her former tone, ‘Gentlemen! What do you do upon that?’
‘Oh, Tattycoram, Tattycoram!’ cried Mr Meagles, adjuring her besides with an earnest hand. ‘Hear that lady’s voice, look at that lady’s face, consider what is in that lady’s heart, and think what a future lies before you. My child, whatever you may think, that lady’s influence over you–astonishing to us, and I should hardly go too far in saying terrible to us to see–is founded in passion fiercer than yours, and temper more violent than yours. What can you two be together? What can come of it?’
‘I am alone here, gentlemen,’ observed Miss Wade, with no change of voice or manner. ‘Say anything you will.’
‘Politeness must yield to this misguided girl, ma’am,’ said Mr Meagles, ‘at her present pass; though I hope not altogether to dismiss it, even with the injury you do her so strongly before me. Excuse me for reminding you in her hearing–I must say it–that you were a mystery to all of us, and had nothing in common with any of us when she unfortunately fell in your way. I don’t know what you are, but you don’t hide, can’t hide, what a dark spirit you have within you. If it should happen that you are a woman, who, from whatever cause, has a perverted delight in making a sister-woman as wretched as she is (I am old enough to have heard of such), I warn her against you, and I warn you against yourself.’
‘Gentlemen!’ said Miss Wade, calmly. ‘When you have concluded–Mr Clennam, perhaps you will induce your friend–’
‘Not without another effort,’ said Mr Meagles, stoutly. ‘Tattycoram, my poor dear girl, count five-and-twenty.’
‘Do not reject the hope, the certainty, this kind man offers you,’ said Clennam in a low emphatic voice. ‘Turn to the friends you have not forgotten. Think once more!’
‘I won’t! Miss Wade,’ said the girl, with her bosom swelling high, and speaking with her hand held to her throat, ‘take me away!’
‘Tattycoram,’ said Mr Meagles. ‘Once more yet! The only thing I ask of you in the world, my child! Count five-and-twenty!’
She put her hands tightly over her ears, confusedly tumbling down her bright black hair in the vehemence of the action, and turned her face resolutely to the wall. Miss Wade, who had watched her under this final appeal with that strange attentive smile, and that repressing hand upon her own bosom with which she had watched her in her struggle at Marseilles, then put her arm about her waist as if she took possession of her for evermore.
And there was a visible triumph in her face when she turned it to dismiss the visitors.
‘As it is the last time I shall have the honour,’ she said, ‘and as you have spoken of not knowing what I am, and also of the foundation of my influence here, you may now know that it is founded in a common cause. What your broken plaything is as to birth, I am. She has no name, I have no name. Her wrong is my wrong. I have nothing more to say to you.’
This was addressed to Mr Meagles, who sorrowfully went out. As Clennam followed, she said to him, with the same external composure and in the same level voice, but with a smile that is only seen on cruel faces: a very faint smile, lifting the nostril, scarcely touching the lips, and not breaking away gradually, but instantly dismissed when done with:
‘I hope the wife of your dear friend Mr Gowan, may be happy in the contrast of her extraction to this girl’s and mine, and in the high good fortune that awaits her.’
CHAPTER 28. Nobody’s Disappearance
Not resting satisfied with the endeavours he had made to recover his lost charge, Mr Meagles addressed a letter of remonstrance, breathing nothing but goodwill, not only to her, but to Miss Wade too. No answer coming to these epistles, or to another written to the stubborn girl by the hand of her late young mistress, which might have melted her if anything could (all three letters were returned weeks afterwards as having been refused at the house-door), he deputed Mrs Meagles to make the experiment of a personal interview. That worthy lady being unable to obtain one, and being steadfastly denied admission, Mr Meagles besought Arthur to essay once more what he could do. All that came of his compliance was, his discovery that the empty house was left in charge of the old woman, that Miss Wade was gone, that the waifs and strays of furniture were gone, and that the old woman would accept any number of half-crowns and thank the donor kindly, but had no information whatever to exchange for those coins, beyond constantly offering for perusal a memorandum relative to fixtures, which the house-agent’s young man had left in the hall.
Unwilling, even under this discomfiture, to resign the ingrate and leave her hopeless, in case of her better dispositions obtaining the mastery over the darker side of her character, Mr Meagles, for six successive days, published a discreetly covert advertisement in the morning papers, to the effect that if a certain young person who had lately left home without reflection, would at any time apply to his address at Twickenham, everything would be as it had been before, and no reproaches need be apprehended. The unexpected consequences of this notification suggested to the dismayed Mr Meagles for the first time that some hundreds of young persons must be leaving their homes without reflection every day; for shoals of wrong young people came down to Twickenham, who, not finding themselves received with enthusiasm, generally demanded compensation by way of damages, in addition to coach-hire there and back. Nor were these the only uninvited clients whom the advertisement produced. The swarm of begging-letter writers, who would seem to be always watching eagerly for any hook, however small, to hang a letter upon, wrote to say that having seen the advertisement, they were induced to apply with confidence for various sums, ranging from ten shillings to fifty pounds: not because they knew anything about the young person, but because they felt that to part with those donations would greatly relieve the advertiser’s mind. Several projectors, likewise, availed themselves of the same opportunity to correspond with Mr Meagles; as, for example, to apprise him that their attention having been called to the advertisement by a friend, they begged to state that if they should ever hear anything of the young person, they would not fail to make it known to him immediately, and that in the meantime if he would oblige them with the funds necessary for bringing to perfection a certain entirely novel description of Pump, the happiest results would ensue to mankind.
Mr Meagles and his family, under these combined discouragements, had begun reluctantly to give up Tattycoram as irrecoverable, when the new and active firm of Doyce and Clennam, in their private capacities, went down on a Saturday to stay at the cottage until Monday. The senior partner took the coach, and the junior partner took his walking-stick.
A tranquil summer sunset shone upon him as he approached the end of his walk, and passed through the meadows by the river side. He had that sense of peace, and of being lightened of a weight of care, which country quiet awakens in the breasts of dwellers in towns. Everything within his view was lovely and placid. The rich foliage of the trees, the luxuriant grass diversified with wild flowers, the little green islands in the river, the beds of rushes, the water-lilies floating on the surface of the stream, the distant voices in boats borne musically towards him on the ripple of the water and the evening air, were all expressive of rest. In the occasional leap of a fish, or dip of an oar, or twittering of a bird not yet at roost, or distant barking of a dog, or lowing of a cow–in all such sounds, there was the prevailing breath of rest, which seemed to encompass him in every scent that sweetened the fragrant air. The long lines of red and gold in the sky, and the glorious track of the descending sun, were all divinely calm. Upon the purple tree-tops far away, and on the green height near at hand up which the shades were slowly creeping, there was an equal hush. Between the real landscape and its shadow in the water, there was no division; both were so untroubled and clear, and, while so fraught with solemn mystery of life and death, so hopefully reassuring to the gazer’s soothed heart, because so tenderly and mercifully beautiful.
Clennam had stopped, not for the first time by many times, to look about him and suffer what he saw to sink into his soul, as the shadows, looked at, seemed to sink deeper and deeper into the water. He was slowly resuming his way, when he saw a figure in the path before him which he had, perhaps, already associated with the evening and its impressions.
Minnie was there, alone. She had some roses in her hand, and seemed to have stood still on seeing him, waiting for him. Her face was towards him, and she appeared to have been coming from the opposite direction. There was a flutter in her manner, which Clennam had never seen in it before; and as he came near her, it entered his mind all at once that she was there of a set purpose to speak to him.
She gave him her hand, and said, ‘You wonder to see me here by myself? But the evening is so lovely, I have strolled further than I meant at first. I thought it likely I might meet you, and that made me more confident. You always come this way, do you not?’
As Clennam said that it was his favourite way, he felt her hand falter on his arm, and saw the roses shake.
‘Will you let me give you one, Mr Clennam? I gathered them as I came out of the garden. Indeed, I almost gathered them for you, thinking it so likely I might meet you. Mr Doyce arrived more than an hour ago, and told us you were walking down.’