The Complete Works of



Charles Dickens > Little Dorrit > Chapter 44

Little Dorrit

Chapter 44

The Dowager Mrs Gowan is reminded that
     'It Never Does'

While the waters of Venice and the ruins of Rome were sunning
themselves for the pleasure of the Dorrit family, and were daily
being sketched out of all earthly proportion, lineament, and
likeness, by travelling pencils innumerable, the firm of Doyce and
Clennam hammered away in Bleeding Heart Yard, and the vigorous
clink of iron upon iron was heard there through the working hours.

The younger partner had, by this time, brought the business into
sound trim; and the elder, left free to follow his own ingenious
devices, had done much to enhance the character of the factory. As
an ingenious man, he had necessarily to encounter every
discouragement that the ruling powers for a length of time had been
able by any means to put in the way of this class of culprits; but
that was only reasonable self-defence in the powers, since How to
do it must obviously be regarded as the natural and mortal enemy of
How not to do it. In this was to be found the basis of the wise
system, by tooth and nail upheld by the Circumlocution Office, of
warning every ingenious British subject to be ingenious at his
peril: of harassing him, obstructing him, inviting robbers (by
making his remedy uncertain, and expensive) to plunder him, and at
the best of confiscating his property after a short term of
enjoyment, as though invention were on a par with felony. The
system had uniformly found great favour with the Barnacles, and
that was only reasonable, too; for one who worthily invents must be
in earnest, and the Barnacles abhorred and dreaded nothing half so
much. That again was very reasonable; since in a country suffering
under the affliction of a great amount of earnestness, there might,
in an exceeding short space of time, be not a single Barnacle left
sticking to a post.

Daniel Doyce faced his condition with its pains and penalties
attached to it, and soberly worked on for the work's sake. Clennam
cheering him with a hearty co-operation, was a moral support to
him, besides doing good service in his business relation. The
concern prospered, and the partners were fast friends.
But Daniel could not forget the old design of so many years. It
was not in reason to be expected that he should; if he could have
lightly forgotten it, he could never have conceived it, or had the
patience and perseverance to work it out. So Clennam thought, when
he sometimes observed him of an evening looking over the models and
drawings, and consoling himself by muttering with a sigh as he put
them away again, that the thing was as true as it ever was.

To show no sympathy with so much endeavour, and so much
disappointment, would have been to fail in what Clennam regarded as
among the implied obligations of his partnership. A revival of the
passing interest in the subject which had been by chance awakened
at the door of the Circumlocution Office, originated in this
feeling. He asked his partner to explain the invention to him;
'having a lenient consideration,' he stipulated, 'for my being no
workman, Doyce.'

'No workman?' said Doyce. 'You would have been a thorough workman
if you had given yourself to it. You have as good a head for
understanding such things as I have met with.'

'A totally uneducated one, I am sorry to add,' said Clennam.

'I don't know that,' returned Doyce, 'and I wouldn't have you say
that. No man of sense who has been generally improved, and has
improved himself, can be called quite uneducated as to anything.
I don't particularly favour mysteries. I would as soon, on a fair
and clear explanation, be judged by one class of man as another,
provided he had the qualification I have named.'

'At all events,' said Clennam--'this sounds as if we were
exchanging compliments, but we know we are not--I shall have the
advantage of as plain an explanation as can be given.'

'Well!' said Daniel, in his steady even way,'I'll try to make it

He had the power, often to be found in union with such a character,
of explaining what he himself perceived, and meant, with the direct
force and distinctness with which it struck his own mind. His
manner of demonstration was so orderly and neat and simple, that it
was not easy to mistake him. There was something almost ludicrous
in the complete irreconcilability of a vague conventional notion
that he must be a visionary man, with the precise, sagacious
travelling of his eye and thumb over the plans, their patient
stoppages at particular points, their careful returns to other
points whence little channels of explanation had to be traced up,
and his steady manner of making everything good and everything
sound at each important stage, before taking his hearer on a
line's-breadth further. His dismissal of himself from his
description, was hardly less remarkable. He never said, I
discovered this adaptation or invented that combination; but showed
the whole thing as if the Divine artificer had made it, and he had
happened to find it; so modest he was about it, such a pleasant
touch of respect was mingled with his quiet admiration of it, and
so calmly convinced he was that it was established on irrefragable

Not only that evening, but for several succeeding evenings, Clennam
was quite charmed by this investigation. The more he pursued it,
and the oftener he glanced at the grey head bending over it, and
the shrewd eye kindling with pleasure in it and love of it--
instrument for probing his heart though it had been made for twelve
long years--the less he could reconcile it to his younger energy to
let it go without one effort more. At length he said:

'Doyce, it came to this at last--that the business was to be sunk
with Heaven knows how many more wrecks, or begun all over again?'

'Yes,' returned Doyce, 'that's what the noblemen and gentlemen made
of it after a dozen years.'

'And pretty fellows too!' said Clennam, bitterly.

'The usual thing!' observed Doyce. 'I must not make a martyr of
myself, when I am one of so large a company.'

'Relinquish it, or begin it all over again?' mused Clennam.

'That was exactly the long and the short of it,' said Doyce.

'Then, my friend,' cried Clennam, starting up and taking his work-
roughened hand, 'it shall be begun all over again!'

Doyce looked alarmed, and replied in a hurry--for him, 'No, no.
Better put it by. Far better put it by. It will be heard of, one
day. I can put it by. You forget, my good Clennam; I HAVE put it
by. It's all at an end.'

'Yes, Doyce,' returned Clennam, 'at an end as far as your efforts
and rebuffs are concerned, I admit, but not as far as mine are. I
am younger than you: I have only once set foot in that precious
office, and I am fresh game for them. Come! I'll try them. You
shall do exactly as you have been doing since we have been
together. I will add (as I easily can) to what I have been doing,
the attempt to get public justice done to you; and, unless I have
some success to report, you shall hear no more of it.'

Daniel Doyce was still reluctant to consent, and again and again
urged that they had better put it by. But it was natural that he
should gradually allow himself to be over-persuaded by Clennam, and
should yield. Yield he did. So Arthur resumed the long and
hopeless labour of striving to make way with the Circumlocution

The waiting-rooms of that Department soon began to be familiar with
his presence, and he was generally ushered into them by its
janitors much as a pickpocket might be shown into a police-office;
the principal difference being that the object of the latter class
of public business is to keep the pickpocket, while the
Circumlocution object was to get rid of Clennam. However, he was
resolved to stick to the Great Department; and so the work of form-
filling, corresponding, minuting, memorandum-making, signing,
counter-signing, counter-counter-signing, referring backwards and
forwards, and referring sideways, crosswise, and zig-zag,

Here arises a feature of the Circumlocution Office, not previously
mentioned in the present record. When that admirable Department
got into trouble, and was, by some infuriated members of Parliament
whom the smaller Barnacles almost suspected of labouring under
diabolic possession, attacked on the merits of no individual case,
but as an Institution wholly abominable and Bedlamite; then the
noble or right honourable Barnacle who represented it in the House,
would smite that member and cleave him asunder, with a statement of
the quantity of business (for the prevention of business) done by
the Circumlocution Office. Then would that noble or right
honourable Barnacle hold in his hand a paper containing a few
figures, to which, with the permission of the House, he would
entreat its attention. Then would the inferior Barnacles exclaim,
obeying orders,'Hear, Hear, Hear!' and 'Read!' Then would the
noble or right honourable Barnacle perceive, sir, from this little
document, which he thought might carry conviction even to the
perversest mind (Derisive laughter and cheering from the Barnacle
fry), that within the short compass of the last financial half-
year, this much-maligned Department (Cheers) had written and
received fifteen thousand letters (Loud cheers), had written
twenty-four thousand minutes (Louder cheers), and thirty-two
thousand five hundred and seventeen memoranda (Vehement cheering).
Nay, an ingenious gentleman connected with the Department, and
himself a valuable public servant, had done him the favour to make
a curious calculation of the amount of stationery consumed in it
during the same period. It formed a part of this same short
document; and he derived from it the remarkable fact that the
sheets of foolscap paper it had devoted to the public service would
pave the footways on both sides of Oxford Street from end to end,
and leave nearly a quarter of a mile to spare for the park (Immense
cheering and laughter); while of tape--red tape--it had used enough
to stretch, in graceful festoons, from Hyde Park Corner to the
General Post Office. Then, amidst a burst of official exultation,
would the noble or right honourable Barnacle sit down, leaving the
mutilated fragments of the Member on the field. No one, after that
exemplary demolition of him, would have the hardihood to hint that
the more the Circumlocution Office did, the less was done, and that
the greatest blessing it could confer on an unhappy public would be
to do nothing.

With sufficient occupation on his hands, now that he had this
additional task--such a task had many and many a serviceable man
died of before his day--Arthur Clennam led a life of slight
variety. Regular visits to his mother's dull sick room, and visits
scarcely less regular to Mr Meagles at Twickenham, were its only
changes during many months.

He sadly and sorely missed Little Dorrit. He had been prepared to
miss her very much, but not so much. He knew to the full extent
only through experience, what a large place in his life was left
blank when her familiar little figure went out of it. He felt,
too, that he must relinquish the hope of its return, understanding
the family character sufficiently well to be assured that he and
she were divided by a broad ground of separation. The old interest
he had had in her, and her old trusting reliance on him, were
tinged with melancholy in his mind: so soon had change stolen over
them, and so soon had they glided into the past with other secret

When he received her letter he was greatly moved, but did not the
less sensibly feel that she was far divided from him by more than
distance. It helped him to a clearer and keener perception of the
place assigned him by the family. He saw that he was cherished in
her grateful remembrance secretly, and that they resented him with
the jail and the rest of its belongings.

Through all these meditations which every day of his life crowded
about her, he thought of her otherwise in the old way. She was his
innocent friend, his delicate child, his dear Little Dorrit. This
very change of circumstances fitted curiously in with the habit,
begun on the night when the roses floated away, of considering
himself as a much older man than his years really made him. He
regarded her from a point of view which in its remoteness, tender
as it was, he little thought would have been unspeakable agony to
her. He speculated about her future destiny, and about the husband
she might have, with an affection for her which would have drained
her heart of its dearest drop of hope, and broken it.

Everything about him tended to confirm him in the custom of looking
on himself as an elderly man, from whom such aspirations as he had
combated in the case of Minnie Gowan (though that was not so long
ago either, reckoning by months and seasons), were finally
departed. His relations with her father and mother were like those
on which a widower son-in-law might have stood. If the twin sister
who was dead had lived to pass away in the bloom of womanhood, and
he had been her husband, the nature of his intercourse with Mr and
Mrs Meagles would probably have been just what it was. This
imperceptibly helped to render habitual the impression within him,
that he had done with, and dismissed that part of life.

He invariably heard of Minnie from them, as telling them in her
letters how happy she was, and how she loved her husband; but
inseparable from that subject, he invariably saw the old cloud on
Mr Meagles's face. Mr Meagles had never been quite so radiant
since the marriage as before. He had never quite recovered the
separation from Pet. He was the same good-humoured, open creature;
but as if his face, from being much turned towards the pictures of
his two children which could show him only one look, unconsciously
adopted a characteristic from them, it always had now, through all
its changes of expression, a look of loss in it.

One wintry Saturday when Clennam was at the cottage, the Dowager
Mrs Gowan drove up, in the Hampton Court equipage which pretended
to be the exclusive equipage of so many individual proprietors.
She descended, in her shady ambuscade of green fan, to favour Mr
and Mrs Meagles with a call.

'And how do you both do, Papa and Mama Meagles?' said she,
encouraging her humble connections. 'And when did you last hear
from or about my poor fellow?'

My poor fellow was her son; and this mode of speaking of him
politely kept alive, without any offence in the world, the pretence
that he had fallen a victim to the Meagles' wiles.

'And the dear pretty one?' said Mrs Gowan. 'Have you later news of
her than I have?'

Which also delicately implied that her son had been captured by
mere beauty, and under its fascination had forgone all sorts of
worldly advantages.

' I am sure,' said Mrs Gowan, without straining her attention on
the answers she received, 'it's an unspeakable comfort to know they
continue happy. My poor fellow is of such a restless disposition,
and has been so used to roving about, and to being inconstant and
popular among all manner of people, that it's the greatest comfort
in life. I suppose they're as poor as mice, Papa Meagles?'

Mr Meagles, fidgety under the question, replied, 'I hope not,
ma'am. I hope they will manage their little income.'

'Oh! my dearest Meagles!' returned the lady, tapping him on the
arm with the green fan and then adroitly interposing it between a
yawn and the company, 'how can you, as a man of the world and one
of the most business-like of human beings--for you know you are
business-like, and a great deal too much for us who are not--'

(Which went to the former purpose, by making Mr Meagles out to be
an artful schemer.)

'--How can you talk about their managing their little means? My
poor dear fellow! The idea of his managing hundreds! And the
sweet pretty creature too. The notion of her managing! Papa
Meagles! Don't!'

'Well, ma'am,' said Mr Meagles, gravely, 'I am sorry to admit,
then, that Henry certainly does anticipate his means.'

'My dear good man--I use no ceremony with you, because we are a
kind of relations;--positively, Mama Meagles,' exclaimed Mrs Gowan
cheerfully, as if the absurd coincidence then flashed upon her for
the first time, 'a kind of relations! My dear good man, in this
world none of us can have everything our own way.'

This again went to the former point, and showed Mr Meagles with all
good breeding that, so far, he had been brilliantly successful in
his deep designs. Mrs Gowan thought the hit so good a one, that
she dwelt upon it; repeating 'Not everything. No, no; in this
world we must not expect everything, Papa Meagles.'

'And may I ask, ma'am,' retorted Mr Meagles, a little heightened in
colour, 'who does expect everything?'

'Oh, nobody, nobody!' said Mrs Gowan. 'I was going to say--but you
put me out. You interrupting Papa, what was I going to say?'

Drooping her large green fan, she looked musingly at Mr Meagles
while she thought about it; a performance not tending to the
cooling of that gentleman's rather heated spirits.

'Ah! Yes, to be sure!' said Mrs Gowan. 'You must remember that my
poor fellow has always been accustomed to expectations. They may
have been realised, or they may not have been realised--'

'Let us say, then, may not have been realised,' observed Mr

The Dowager for a moment gave him an angry look; but tossed it off
with her head and her fan, and pursued the tenor of her way in her
former manner.

'It makes no difference. My poor fellow has been accustomed to
that sort of thing, and of course you knew it, and were prepared
for the consequences. I myself always clearly foresaw the
consequences, and am not surprised. And you must not be surprised.

In fact, can't be surprised. Must have been prepared for it.'

Mr Meagles looked at his wife and at Clennam; bit his lip; and

'And now here's my poor fellow,' Mrs Gowan pursued, 'receiving
notice that he is to hold himself in expectation of a baby, and all
the expenses attendant on such an addition to his family! Poor
Henry! But it can't be helped now; it's too late to help it now.
Only don't talk of anticipating means, Papa Meagles, as a
discovery; because that would be too much.'

'Too much, ma'am?' said Mr Meagles, as seeking an explanation.

'There, there!' said Mrs Gowan, putting him in his inferior place
with an expressive action of her hand. 'Too much for my poor
fellow's mother to bear at this time of day. They are fast
married, and can't be unmarried. There, there! I know that! You
needn't tell me that, Papa Meagles. I know it very well. What was
it I said just now? That it was a great comfort they continued
happy. It is to be hoped they will still continue happy. It is to
be hoped Pretty One will do everything she can to make my poor
fellow happy, and keep him contented. Papa and Mama Meagles, we
had better say no more about it. We never did look at this subject
from the same side, and we never shall. There, there! Now I am

Truly, having by this time said everything she could say in
maintenance of her wonderfully mythical position, and in admonition
to Mr Meagles that he must not expect to bear his honours of
alliance too cheaply, Mrs Gowan was disposed to forgo the rest. If
Mr Meagles had submitted to a glance of entreaty from Mrs Meagles,
and an expressive gesture from Clennam, he would have left her in
the undisturbed enjoyment of this state of mind. But Pet was the
darling and pride of his heart; and if he could ever have
championed her more devotedly, or loved her better, than in the
days when she was the sunlight of his house, it would have been
now, when, as its daily grace and delight, she was lost to it.

'Mrs Gowan, ma'am,' said Mr Meagles, 'I have been a plain man all
my life. If I was to try--no matter whether on myself, on somebody
else, or both--any genteel mystifications, I should probably not
succeed in them.'

'Papa Meagles,' returned the Dowager, with an affable smile, but
with the bloom on her cheeks standing out a little more vividly
than usual as the neighbouring surface became paler,'probably not.'

'Therefore, my good madam,' said Mr Meagles, at great pains to
restrain himself, 'I hope I may, without offence, ask to have no
such mystification played off upon me.'
'Mama Meagles,' observed Mrs Gowan, 'your good man is

Her turning to that worthy lady was an artifice to bring her into
the discussion, quarrel with her, and vanquish her. Mr Meagles
interposed to prevent that consummation.

'Mother,' said he, 'you are inexpert, my dear, and it is not a fair
match. Let me beg of you to remain quiet. Come, Mrs Gowan, come!
Let us try to be sensible; let us try to be good-natured; let us
try to be fair. Don't you pity Henry, and I won't pity Pet. And
don't be one-sided, my dear madam; it's not considerate, it's not
kind. Don't let us say that we hope Pet will make Henry happy, or
even that we hope Henry will make Pet happy,' (Mr Meagles himself
did not look happy as he spoke the words,) 'but let us hope they
will make each other happy.'

'Yes, sure, and there leave it, father,' said Mrs Meagles the kind-
hearted and comfortable.

'Why, mother, no,' returned Mr Meagles, 'not exactly there. I
can't quite leave it there; I must say just half-a-dozen words
more. Mrs Gowan, I hope I am not over-sensitive. I believe I
don't look it.'

'Indeed you do not,' said Mrs Gowan, shaking her head and the great
green fan together, for emphasis.

'Thank you, ma'am; that's well. Notwithstanding which, I feel a
little--I don't want to use a strong word--now shall I say hurt?'
asked Mr Meagles at once with frankness and moderation, and with a
conciliatory appeal in his tone.

'Say what you like,' answered Mrs Gowan. 'It is perfectly
indifferent to me.'

'No, no, don't say that,' urged Mr Meagles, 'because that's not
responding amiably. I feel a little hurt when I hear references
made to consequences having been foreseen, and to its being too
late now, and so forth.'

'Do you, Papa Meagles?' said Mrs Gowan. 'I am not surprised.'

'Well, ma'am,' reasoned Mr Meagles, 'I was in hopes you would have
been at least surprised, because to hurt me wilfully on so tender
a subject is surely not generous.'
'I am not responsible,' said Mrs Gowan, 'for your conscience, you

Poor Mr Meagles looked aghast with astonishment.

'If I am unluckily obliged to carry a cap about with me, which is
yours and fits you,' pursued Mrs Gowan, 'don't blame me for its
pattern, Papa Meagles, I beg!'
'Why, good Lord, ma'am!' Mr Meagles broke out, 'that's as much as
to state--'

'Now, Papa Meagles, Papa Meagles,' said Mrs Gowan, who became
extremely deliberate and prepossessing in manner whenever that
gentleman became at all warm, 'perhaps to prevent confusion, I had
better speak for myself than trouble your kindness to speak for me.

It's as much as to state, you begin. If you please, I will finish
the sentence. It is as much as to state--not that I wish to press
it or even recall it, for it is of no use now, and my only wish is
to make the best of existing circumstances--that from the first to
the last I always objected to this match of yours, and at a very
late period yielded a most unwilling consent to it.'

'Mother!' cried Mr Meagles. 'Do you hear this! Arthur! Do you
hear this!'

'The room being of a convenient size,' said Mrs Gowan, looking
about as she fanned herself, 'and quite charmingly adapted in all
respects to conversation, I should imagine I am audible in any part
of it.'

Some moments passed in silence, before Mr Meagles could hold
himself in his chair with sufficient security to prevent his
breaking out of it at the next word he spoke. At last he said:
'Ma'am, I am very unwilling to revive them, but I must remind you
what my opinions and my course were, all along, on that unfortunate

'O, my dear sir!' said Mrs Gowan, smiling and shaking her head with
accusatory intelligence, 'they were well understood by me, I assure

'I never, ma'am,' said Mr Meagles, 'knew unhappiness before that
time, I never knew anxiety before that time. It was a time of such
distress to me that--' That Mr Meagles could really say no more
about it, in short, but passed his handkerchief before his Face.

'I understood the whole affair,' said Mrs Gowan, composedly looking
over her fan. 'As you have appealed to Mr Clennam, I may appeal to
Mr Clennam, too. He knows whether I did or not.'

'I am very unwilling,' said Clennam, looked to by all parties, 'to
take any share in this discussion, more especially because I wish
to preserve the best understanding and the clearest relations with
Mr Henry Gowan. I have very strong reasons indeed, for
entertaining that wish. Mrs Gowan attributed certain views of
furthering the marriage to my friend here, in conversation with me
before it took place; and I endeavoured to undeceive her. I
represented that I knew him (as I did and do) to be strenuously
opposed to it, both in opinion and action.'

'You see?' said Mrs Gowan, turning the palms of her hands towards
Mr Meagles, as if she were Justice herself, representing to him
that he had better confess, for he had not a leg to stand on. 'You
see? Very good! Now Papa and Mama Meagles both!' here she rose;
'allow me to take the liberty of putting an end to this rather
formidable controversy. I will not say another word upon its
merits. I will only say that it is an additional proof of what one
knows from all experience; that this kind of thing never answers--
as my poor fellow himself would say, that it never pays--in one
word, that it never does.'

Mr Meagles asked, What kind of thing?

'It is in vain,' said Mrs Gowan, 'for people to attempt to get on
together who have such extremely different antecedents; who are
jumbled against each other in this accidental, matrimonial sort of
way; and who cannot look at the untoward circumstance which has
shaken them together in the same light. It never does.'

Mr Meagles was beginning, 'Permit me to say, ma'am--'

'No, don't,' returned Mrs Gowan. 'Why should you! It is an
ascertained fact. It never does. I will therefore, if you please,
go my way, leaving you to yours. I shall at all times be happy to
receive my poor fellow's pretty wife, and I shall always make a
point of being on the most affectionate terms with her. But as to
these terms, semi-family and semi-stranger, semi-goring and semi-
boring, they form a state of things quite amusing in its
impracticability. I assure you it never does.'

The Dowager here made a smiling obeisance, rather to the room than
to any one in it, and therewith took a final farewell of Papa and
Mama Meagles. Clennam stepped forward to hand her to the Pill-Box
which was at the service of all the Pills in Hampton Court Palace;
and she got into that vehicle with distinguished serenity, and was
driven away.

Thenceforth the Dowager, with a light and careless humour, often
recounted to her particular acquaintance how, after a hard trial,
she had found it impossible to know those people who belonged to
Henry's wife, and who had made that desperate set to catch him.
Whether she had come to the conclusion beforehand, that to get rid
of them would give her favourite pretence a better air, might save
her some occasional inconvenience, and could risk no loss (the
pretty creature being fast married, and her father devoted to her),
was best known to herself. Though this history has its opinion on
that point too, and decidedly in the affirmative.

< Back
Forward >

Index Index

Other Authors Other Authors

Charles Dickens. Copyright © 2022,
Contact the webmaster
Disclaimer here. Privacy Policy here.