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Charles Dickens > Little Dorrit > Chapter 28

Little Dorrit

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.'

His own hand shook, as he accepted a rose or two from hers and
thanked her. They were now by an avenue of trees. Whether they
turned into it on his movement or on hers matters little. He never
knew how that was.

'It is very grave here,' said Clennam, 'but very pleasant at this
hour. Passing along this deep shade, and out at that arch of light
at the other end, we come upon the ferry and the cottage by the
best approach, I think.'
In her simple garden-hat and her light summer dress, with her rich
brown hair naturally clustering about her, and her wonderful eyes
raised to his for a moment with a look in which regard for him and
trustfulness in him were strikingly blended with a kind of timid
sorrow for him, she was so beautiful that it was well for his
peace--or ill for his peace, he did not quite know which--that he
had made that vigorous resolution he had so often thought about.

She broke a momentary silence by inquiring if he knew that papa had
been thinking of another tour abroad? He said he had heard it
mentioned. She broke another momentary silence by adding, with
some hesitation, that papa had abandoned the idea.

At this, he thought directly, 'they are to be married.'

'Mr Clennam,' she said, hesitating more timidly yet, and speaking
so low that he bent his head to hear her. 'I should very much like
to give you my confidence, if you would not mind having the
goodness to receive it. I should have very much liked to have
given it to you long ago, because--I felt that you were becoming so
much our friend.'

'How can I be otherwise than proud of it at any time! Pray give it
to me. Pray trust me.'

'I could never have been afraid of trusting you,' she returned,
raising her eyes frankly to his face. 'I think I would have done
so some time ago, if I had known how. But I scarcely know how,
even now.'

'Mr Gowan,' said Arthur Clennam, 'has reason to be very happy. God
bless his wife and him!'

She wept, as she tried to thank him. He reassured her, took her
hand as it lay with the trembling roses in it on his arm, took the
remaining roses from it, and put it to his lips. At that time, it
seemed to him, he first finally resigned the dying hope that had
flickered in nobody's heart so much to its pain and trouble; and
from that time he became in his own eyes, as to any similar hope or
prospect, a very much older man who had done with that part of

He put the roses in his breast and they walked on for a little
while, slowly and silently, under the umbrageous trees. Then he
asked her, in a voice of cheerful kindness, was there anything else
that she would say to him as her friend and her father's friend,
many years older than herself; was there any trust she would repose
in him, any service she would ask of him, any little aid to her
happiness that she could give him the lasting gratification of
believing it was in his power to render?

She was going to answer, when she was so touched by some little
hidden sorrow or sympathy--what could it have been?--that she said,
bursting into tears again: 'O Mr Clennam! Good, generous, Mr
Clennam, pray tell me you do not blame me.'

'I blame you?' said Clennam. 'My dearest girl! I blame you? No!'

After clasping both her hands upon his arm, and looking
confidentially up into his face, with some hurried words to the
effect that she thanked him from her heart (as she did, if it be
the source of earnestness), she gradually composed herself, with
now and then a word of encouragement from him, as they walked on
slowly and almost silently under the darkening trees.

'And, now, Minnie Gowan,' at length said Clennam, smiling; 'will
you ask me nothing?'

'Oh! I have very much to ask of you.'

'That's well! I hope so; I am not disappointed.'

'You know how I am loved at home, and how I love home. You can
hardly think it perhaps, dear Mr Clennam,' she spoke with great
agitation, 'seeing me going from it of my own free will and choice,
but I do so dearly love it!'

'I am sure of that,' said Clennam. 'Can you suppose I doubt it?'

'No, no. But it is strange, even to me, that loving it so much and
being so much beloved in it, I can bear to cast it away. It seems
so neglectful of it, so unthankful.'

'My dear girl,' said Clennam, 'it is in the natural progress and
change of time. All homes are left so.'

'Yes, I know; but all homes are not left with such a blank in them
as there will be in mine when I am gone. Not that there is any
scarcity of far better and more endearing and more accomplished
girls than I am; not that I am much, but that they have made so
much of me!'

Pet's affectionate heart was overcharged, and she sobbed while she
pictured what would happen.

'I know what a change papa will feel at first, and I know that at
first I cannot be to him anything like what I have been these many
years. And it is then, Mr Clennam, then more than at any time,
that I beg and entreat you to remember him, and sometimes to keep
him company when you can spare a little while; and to tell him that
you know I was fonder of him when I left him, than I ever was in
all my life. For there is nobody--he told me so himself when he
talked to me this very day--there is nobody he likes so well as
you, or trusts so much.'

A clue to what had passed between the father and daughter dropped
like a heavy stone into the well of Clennam's heart, and swelled
the water to his eyes. He said, cheerily, but not quite so
cheerily as he tried to say, that it should be done--that he gave
her his faithful promise.

'If I do not speak of mama,' said Pet, more moved by, and more
pretty in, her innocent grief, than Clennam could trust himself
even to consider--for which reason he counted the trees between
them and the fading light as they slowly diminished in number--'it
is because mama will understand me better in this action, and will
feel my loss in a different way, and will look forward in a
different manner. But you know what a dear, devoted mother she is,
and you will remember her too; will you not?'

Let Minnie trust him, Clennam said, let Minnie trust him to do all
she wished.

'And, dear Mr Clennam,' said Minnie, 'because papa and one whom I
need not name, do not fully appreciate and understand one another
yet, as they will by-and-by; and because it will be the duty, and
the pride, and pleasure of my new life, to draw them to a better
knowledge of one another, and to be a happiness to one another, and
to be proud of one another, and to love one another, both loving me
so dearly; oh, as you are a kind, true man! when I am first
separated from home (I am going a long distance away), try to
reconcile papa to him a little more, and use your great influence
to keep him before papa's mind free from prejudice and in his real
form. Will you do this for me, as you are a noble-hearted friend?'

Poor Pet! Self-deceived, mistaken child! When were such changes
ever made in men's natural relations to one another: when was such
reconcilement of ingrain differences ever effected! It has been
tried many times by other daughters, Minnie; it has never
succeeded; nothing has ever come of it but failure.

So Clennam thought. So he did not say; it was too late. He bound
himself to do all she asked, and she knew full well that he would
do it.

They were now at the last tree in the avenue. She stopped, and
withdrew her arm. Speaking to him with her eyes lifted up to his,
and with the hand that had lately rested on his sleeve trembling by
touching one of the roses in his breast as an additional appeal to
him, she said:

'Dear Mr Clennam, in my happiness--for I am happy, though you have
seen me crying--I cannot bear to leave any cloud between us. If
you have anything to forgive me (not anything that I have wilfully
done, but any trouble I may have caused you without meaning it, or
having it in my power to help it), forgive me to-night out of your
noble heart!'

He stooped to meet the guileless face that met his without
shrinking. He kissed it, and answered, Heaven knew that he had
nothing to forgive. As he stooped to meet the innocent face once
again, she whispered, 'Good-bye!' and he repeated it. It was
taking leave of all his old hopes--all nobody's old restless
doubts. They came out of the avenue next moment, arm-in-arm as
they had entered it: and the trees seemed to close up behind them
in the darkness, like their own perspective of the past.

The voices of Mr and Mrs Meagles and Doyce were audible directly,
speaking near the garden gate. Hearing Pet's name among them,
Clennam called out, 'She is here, with me.' There was some little
wondering and laughing until they came up; but as soon as they had
all come together, it ceased, and Pet glided away.

Mr Meagles, Doyce, and Clennam, without speaking, walked up and
down on the brink of the river, in the light of the rising moon,
for a few minutes; and then Doyce lingered behind, and went into
the house. Mr Meagles and Clennam walked up and down together for
a few minutes more without speaking, until at length the former
broke silence.

'Arthur,' said he, using that familiar address for the first time
in their communication, 'do you remember my telling you, as we
walked up and down one hot morning, looking over the harbour at
Marseilles, that Pet's baby sister who was dead seemed to Mother
and me to have grown as she had grown, and changed as she had

'Very well.'

'You remember my saying that our thoughts had never been able to
separate those twin sisters, and that, in our fancy, whatever Pet
was, the other was?'

'Yes, very well.'

'Arthur,' said Mr Meagles, much subdued, 'I carry that fancy
further to-night. I feel to-night, my dear fellow, as if you had
loved my dead child very tenderly, and had lost her when she was
like what Pet is now.'

'Thank you!' murmured Clennam, 'thank you!' And pressed his hand.

'Will you come in?' said Mr Meagles, presently.

'In a little while.'

Mr Meagles fell away, and he was left alone. When he had walked on
the river's brink in the peaceful moonlight for some half an hour,
he put his hand in his breast and tenderly took out the handful of
roses. Perhaps he put them to his heart, perhaps he put them to
his lips, but certainly he bent down on the shore and gently
launched them on the flowing river. Pale and unreal in the
moonlight, the river floated them away.
The lights were bright within doors when he entered, and the faces
on which they shone, his own face not excepted, were soon quietly
cheerful. They talked of many subjects (his partner never had had
such a ready store to draw upon for the beguiling of the time), and
so to bed, and to sleep. While the flowers, pale and unreal in the
moonlight, floated away upon the river; and thus do greater things
that once were in our breasts, and near our hearts, flow from us to
the eternal seas.

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