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Charles Dickens > Little Dorrit > Chapter 27

Little Dorrit

Chapter 27


A frequently recurring doubt, whether Mr Pancks's desire to collect
information relative to the Dorrit family could have any possible
bearing on the misgivings he had imparted to his mother on his
return from his long exile, caused Arthur Clennam much uneasiness
at this period. What Mr Pancks already knew about the Dorrit
family, what more he really wanted to find out, and why he should
trouble his busy head about them at all, were questions that often
perplexed him. Mr Pancks was not a man to waste his time and
trouble in researches prompted by idle curiosity. That he had a
specific object Clennam could not doubt. And whether the
attainment of that object by Mr Pancks's industry might bring to
light, in some untimely way, secret reasons which had induced his
mother to take Little Dorrit by the hand, was a serious

Not that he ever wavered either in his desire or his determination
to repair a wrong that had been done in his father's time, should
a wrong come to light, and be reparable. The shadow of a supposed
act of injustice, which had hung over him since his father's death,
was so vague and formless that it might be the result of a reality
widely remote from his idea of it. But, if his apprehensions
should prove to be well founded, he was ready at any moment to lay
down all he had, and begin the world anew. As the fierce dark
teaching of his childhood had never sunk into his heart, so that
first article in his code of morals was, that he must begin, in
practical humility, with looking well to his feet on Earth, and
that he could never mount on wings of words to Heaven. Duty on
earth, restitution on earth, action on earth; these first, as the
first steep steps upward. Strait was the gate and narrow was the
way; far straiter and narrower than the broad high road paved with
vain professions and vain repetitions, motes from other men's eyes
and liberal delivery of others to the judgment--all cheap materials
costing absolutely nothing.

No. It was not a selfish fear or hesitation that rendered him
uneasy, but a mistrust lest Pancks might not observe his part of
the understanding between them, and, making any discovery, might
take some course upon it without imparting it to him. On the other
hand, when he recalled his conversation with Pancks, and the little
reason he had to suppose that there was any likelihood of that
strange personage being on that track at all, there were times when
he wondered that he made so much of it. Labouring in this sea, as
all barks labour in cross seas, he tossed about and came to no

The removal of Little Dorrit herself from their customary
association, did not mend the matter. She was so much out, and so
much in her own room, that he began to miss her and to find a blank
in her place. He had written to her to inquire if she were better,
and she had written back, very gratefully and earnestly telling him
not to be uneasy on her behalf, for she was quite well; but he had
not seen her, for what, in their intercourse, was a long time.

He returned home one evening from an interview with her father, who
had mentioned that she was out visiting--which was what he always
said when she was hard at work to buy his supper--and found Mr
Meagles in an excited state walking up and down his room. On his
opening the door, Mr Meagles stopped, faced round, and said:


'What's the matter?'


'Why, bless my heart alive!' cried Clennam in amazement. 'What do
you mean?'

'Wouldn't count five-and-twenty, sir; couldn't be got to do it;
stopped at eight, and took herself off.'

'Left your house?'

'Never to come back,' said Mr Meagles, shaking his head. 'You
don't know that girl's passionate and proud character. A team of
horses couldn't draw her back now; the bolts and bars of the old
Bastille couldn't keep her.'

'How did it happen? Pray sit down and tell me.'

'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.

'No number, my dear Clennam?' returned his friend. 'No anything!
The very name of the street may have been floating in the air; for,
as I tell you, none of my people can say where they got it from.
However, it's worth an inquiry; and as I would rather make it in
company than alone, and as you too were a fellow-traveller of that
immovable woman's, I thought perhaps--' Clennam finished the
sentence for him by taking up his hat again, and saying he was

It was now summer-time; a grey, hot, dusty evening. They rode to
the top of Oxford Street, and there alighting, dived in among the
great streets of melancholy stateliness, and the little streets
that try to be as stately and succeed in being more melancholy, of
which there is a labyrinth near Park Lane. Wildernesses of corner
houses, with barbarous old porticoes and appurtenances; horrors
that came into existence under some wrong-headed person in some
wrong-headed time, still demanding the blind admiration of all
ensuing generations and determined to do so until they tumbled
down; frowned upon the twilight. Parasite little tenements, with
the cramp in their whole frame, from the dwarf hall-door on the
giant model of His Grace's in the Square to the squeezed window of
the boudoir commanding the dunghills in the Mews, made the evening
doleful. Rickety dwellings of undoubted fashion, but of a capacity
to hold nothing comfortably except a dismal smell, looked like the
last result of the great mansions' breeding in-and-in; and, where
their little supplementary bows and balconies were supported on
thin iron columns, seemed to be scrofulously resting upon crutches.

Here and there a Hatchment, with the whole science of Heraldry in
it, loomed down upon the street, like an Archbishop discoursing on
Vanity. The shops, few in number, made no show; for popular
opinion was as nothing to them. The pastrycook knew who was on his
books, and in that knowledge could be calm, with a few glass
cylinders of dowager peppermint-drops in his window, and half-a-
dozen ancient specimens of currant-jelly. A few oranges formed the
greengrocer's whole concession to the vulgar mind. A single basket
made of moss, once containing plovers' eggs, held all that the
poulterer had to say to the rabble. Everybody in those streets
seemed (which is always the case at that hour and season) to be
gone out to dinner, and nobody seemed to be giving the dinners they
had gone to. On the doorsteps there were lounging footmen with
bright parti-coloured plumage and white polls, like an extinct race
of monstrous birds; and butlers, solitary men of recluse demeanour,
each of whom appeared distrustful of all other butlers. The roll
of carriages in the Park was done for the day; the street lamps
were lighting; and wicked little grooms in the tightest fitting
garments, with twists in their legs answering to the twists in
their minds, hung about in pairs, chewing straws and exchanging
fraudulent secrets. The spotted dogs who went out with the
carriages, and who were so associated with splendid equipages that
it looked like a condescension in those animals to come out without
them, accompanied helpers to and fro on messages. Here and there
was a retiring public-house which did not require to be supported
on the shoulders of the people, and where gentlemen out of livery
were not much wanted.

This last discovery was made by the two friends in pursuing their
inquiries. Nothing was there, or anywhere, known of such a person
as Miss Wade, in connection with the street they sought. It was
one of the parasite streets; long, regular, narrow, dull and
gloomy; like a brick and mortar funeral. They inquired at several
little area gates, where a dejected youth stood spiking his chin on
the summit of a precipitous little shoot of wooden steps, but could
gain no information. They walked up the street on one side of the
way, and down it on the other, what time two vociferous news-
sellers, announcing an extraordinary event that had never happened
and never would happen, pitched their hoarse voices into the secret
chambers; but nothing came of it. At length they stood at the
corner from which they had begun, and it had fallen quite dark, and
they were no wiser.

It happened that in the street they had several times passed a
dingy house, apparently empty, with bills in the windows,
announcing that it was to let. The bills, as a variety in the
funeral procession, almost amounted to a decoration. Perhaps
because they kept the house separated in his mind, or perhaps
because Mr Meagles and himself had twice agreed in passing, 'It is
clear she don't live there,' Clennam now proposed that they should
go back and try that house before finally going away. Mr Meagles
agreed, and back they went.

They knocked once, and they rang once, without any response.

'Empty,' said Mr Meagles, listening. 'Once more,' said Clennam,
and knocked again. After that knock they heard a movement below,
and somebody shuffling up towards the door.

The confined entrance was so dark that it was impossible to make
out distinctly what kind of person opened the door; but it appeared
to be an old woman. 'Excuse our troubling you,' said Clennam.
'Pray can you tell us where Miss Wade lives?' The voice in the
darkness unexpectedly replied, 'Lives here.'

'Is she at home?'

No answer coming, Mr Meagles asked again. 'Pray is she at home?'

After another delay, 'I suppose she is,' said the voice abruptly;
'you had better come in, and I'll ask.'

They 'were summarily shut into the close black house; and the
figure rustling away, and speaking from a higher level, said, 'Come
up, if you please; you can't tumble over anything.' They groped
their way up-stairs towards a faint light, which proved to be the
light of the street shining through a window; and the figure left
them shut in an airless room.

'This is odd, Clennam,' said Mr Meagles, softly.

'Odd enough,' assented Clennam in the same tone, 'but we have
succeeded; that's the main point. Here's a light coming!'

The light was a lamp, and the bearer was an old woman: very dirty,
very wrinkled and dry. 'She's at home,' she said (and the voice
was the same that had spoken before); 'she'll come directly.'
Having set the lamp down on the table, the old woman dusted her
hands on her apron, which she might have done for ever without
cleaning them, looked at the visitors with a dim pair of eyes, and
backed out.

The lady whom they had come to see, if she were the present
occupant of the house, appeared to have taken up her quarters there
as she might have established herself in an Eastern caravanserai.
A small square of carpet in the middle of the room, a few articles
of furniture that evidently did not belong to the room, and a
disorder of trunks and travelling articles, formed the whole of her
surroundings. Under some former regular inhabitant, the stifling
little apartment had broken out into a pier-glass and a gilt table;
but the gilding was as faded as last year's flowers, and the glass
was so clouded that it seemed to hold in magic preservation all the
fogs and bad weather it had ever reflected. The visitors had had
a minute or two to look about them, when the door opened and Miss
Wade came in.

She was exactly the same as when they had parted. just as
handsome, just as scornful, just as repressed. She manifested no
surprise in seeing them, nor any other emotion. She requested them
to be seated; and declining to take a seat herself, at once
anticipated any introduction of their business.

'I apprehend,' she said, 'that I know the cause of your favouring
me with this visit. We may come to it at once.'

'The cause then, ma'am,' said Mr Meagles, 'is Tattycoram.'

'So I supposed.'

'Miss Wade,' said Mr Meagles, 'will you be so kind as to say
whether you know anything of her?'

'Surely. I know she is here with me.'

'Then, ma'am,' said Mr Meagles, 'allow me to make known to you that
I shall be happy to have her back, and that my wife and daughter
will be happy to have her back. She has been with us a long time:
we don't forget her claims upon us, and I hope we know how to make

'You hope to know how to make allowances?' she returned, in a
level, measured voice. 'For what?'

'I think my friend would say, Miss Wade,' Arthur Clennam
interposed, seeing Mr Meagles rather at a loss, 'for the passionate
sense that sometimes comes upon the poor girl, of being at a
disadvantage. Which occasionally gets the better of better

The lady broke into a smile as she turned her eyes upon him.
'Indeed?' was all she answered.

She stood by the table so perfectly composed and still after this
acknowledgment of his remark that Mr Meagles stared at her under a
sort of fascination, and could not even look to Clennam to make
another move. After waiting, awkwardly enough, for some moments,
Arthur said:
'Perhaps it would be well if Mr Meagles could see her, Miss Wade?'

'That is easily done,' said she. 'Come here, child.' She had
opened a door while saying this, and now led the girl in by the
hand. It was very curious to see them standing together: the girl
with her disengaged fingers plaiting the bosom of her dress, half
irresolutely, half passionately; Miss Wade with her composed face
attentively regarding her, and suggesting to an observer, with
extraordinary force, in her composure itself (as a veil will
suggest the form it covers), the unquenchable passion of her own

'See here,' she said, in the same level way as before. 'Here is
your patron, your master. He is willing to take you back, my dear,
if you are sensible of the favour and choose to go. You can be,
again, a foil to his pretty daughter, a slave to her pleasant
wilfulness, and a toy in the house showing the goodness of the
family. You can have your droll name again, playfully pointing you
out and setting you apart, as it is right that you should be
pointed out and set apart. (Your birth, you know; you must not
forget your birth.) You can again be shown to this gentleman's
daughter, Harriet, and kept before her, as a living reminder of her
own superiority and her gracious condescension. You can recover
all these advantages and many more of the same kind which I dare
say start up in your memory while I speak, and which you lose in
taking refuge with me--you can recover them all by telling these
gentlemen how humbled and penitent you are, and by going back to
them to be forgiven. What do you say, Harriet? Will you go?'

The girl who, under the influence of these words, had gradually
risen in anger and heightened in colour, answered, raising her
lustrous black eyes for the moment, and clenching her hand upon the
folds it had been puckering up, 'I'd die sooner!'

Miss Wade, still standing at her side holding her hand, looked
quietly round and said with a smile, 'Gentlemen! What do you do
upon that?'

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

'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,

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.'

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