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Charles Dickens > Little Dorrit > Chapter 48

Little Dorrit

Chapter 48

In which a Great Patriotic Conference is holden

The famous name of Merdle became, every day, more famous in the
land. Nobody knew that the Merdle of such high renown had ever
done any good to any one, alive or dead, or to any earthly thing;
nobody knew that he had any capacity or utterance of any sort in
him, which had ever thrown, for any creature, the feeblest
farthing-candle ray of light on any path of duty or diversion, pain
or pleasure, toil or rest, fact or fancy, among the multiplicity of
paths in the labyrinth trodden by the sons of Adam; nobody had the
smallest reason for supposing the clay of which this object of
worship was made, to be other than the commonest clay, with as
clogged a wick smouldering inside of it as ever kept an image of
humanity from tumbling to pieces. All people knew (or thought they
knew) that he had made himself immensely rich; and, for that reason
alone, prostrated themselves before him, more degradedly and less
excusably than the darkest savage creeps out of his hole in the
ground to propitiate, in some log or reptile, the Deity of his
benighted soul.

Nay, the high priests of this worship had the man before them as a
protest against their meanness. The multitude worshipped on
trust--though always distinctly knowing why--but the officiators at
the altar had the man habitually in their view. They sat at his
feasts, and he sat at theirs. There was a spectre always attendant
on him, saying to these high priests, 'Are such the signs you
trust, and love to honour; this head, these eyes, this mode of
speech, the tone and manner of this man? You are the levers of the
Circumlocution Office, and the rulers of men. When half-a-dozen of
you fall out by the ears, it seems that mother earth can give birth
to no other rulers. Does your qualification lie in the superior
knowledge of men which accepts, courts, and puffs this man? Or, if
you are competent to judge aright the signs I never fail to show
you when he appears among you, is your superior honesty your
qualification?' Two rather ugly questions these, always going
about town with Mr Merdle; and there was a tacit agreement that
they must be stifled. In Mrs Merdle's absence abroad, Mr Merdle
still kept the great house open for the passage through it of a
stream Of visitors. A few of these took affable possession of the
establishment. Three or four ladies of distinction and liveliness
used to say to one another, 'Let us dine at our dear Merdle's next
Thursday. Whom shall we have?' Our dear Merdle would then receive
his instructions; and would sit heavily among the company at table
and wander lumpishly about his drawing-rooms afterwards, only
remarkable for appearing to have nothing to do with the
entertainment beyond being in its way.

The Chief Butler, the Avenging Spirit of this great man's life,
relaxed nothing of his severity. He looked on at these dinners
when the bosom was not there, as he looked on at other dinners when
the bosom was there; and his eye was a basilisk to Mr Merdle. He
was a hard man, and would never bate an ounce of plate or a bottle
of wine. He would not allow a dinner to be given, unless it was up
to his mark. He set forth the table for his own dignity. If the
guests chose to partake of what was served, he saw no objection;
but it was served for the maintenance of his rank. As he stood by
the sideboard he seemed to announce, 'I have accepted office to
look at this which is now before me, and to look at nothing less
than this.' If he missed the presiding bosom, it was as a part of
his own state of which he was, from unavoidable circumstances,
temporarily deprived. just as he might have missed a centre-piece,
or a choice wine-cooler, which had been sent to the Banker's.

Mr Merdle issued invitations for a Barnacle dinner. Lord Decimus
was to be there, Mr Tite Barnacle was to be there, the pleasant
young Barnacle was to be there; and the Chorus of Parliamentary
Barnacles who went about the provinces when the House was up,
warbling the praises of their Chief, were to be represented there.
It was understood to be a great occasion. Mr Merdle was going to
take up the Barnacles. Some delicate little negotiations had
occurred between him and the noble Decimus--the young Barnacle of
engaging manners acting as negotiator--and Mr Merdle had decided to
cast the weight of his great probity and great riches into the
Barnacle scale. jobbery was suspected by the malicious; perhaps
because it was indisputable that if the adherence of the immortal
Enemy of Mankind could have been secured by a job, the Barnacles
would have jobbed him--for the good of the country, for the good of
the country.

Mrs Merdle had written to this magnificent spouse of hers, whom it
was heresy to regard as anything less than all the British
Merchants since the days of Whittington rolled into one, and gilded
three feet deep all over--had written to this spouse of hers,
several letters from Rome, in quick succession, urging upon him
with importunity that now or never was the time to provide for
Edmund Sparkler. Mrs Merdle had shown him that the case of Edmund
was urgent, and that infinite advantages might result from his
having some good thing directly. In the grammar of Mrs Merdle's
verbs on this momentous subject, there was only one mood, the
Imperative; and that Mood had only one Tense, the Present. Mrs
Merdle's verbs were so pressingly presented to Mr Merdle to
conjugate, that his sluggish blood and his long coat-cuffs became
quite agitated.

In which state of agitation, Mr Merdle, evasively rolling his eyes
round the Chief Butler's shoes without raising them to the index of
that stupendous creature's thoughts, had signified to him his
intention of giving a special dinner: not a very large dinner, but
a very special dinner. The Chief Butler had signified, in return,
that he had no objection to look on at the most expensive thing in
that way that could be done; and the day of the dinner was now

Mr Merdle stood in one of his drawing-rooms, with his back to the
fire, waiting for the arrival of his important guests. He seldom
or never took the liberty of standing with his back to the fire
unless he was quite alone. In the presence of the Chief Butler, he
could not have done such a deed. He would have clasped himself by
the wrists in that constabulary manner of his, and have paced up
and down the hearthrug, or gone creeping about among the rich
objects of furniture, if his oppressive retainer had appeared in
the room at that very moment. The sly shadows which seemed to dart
out of hiding when the fire rose, and to dart back into it when the
fire fell, were sufficient witnesses of his making himself so easy.

They were even more than sufficient, if his uncomfortable glances
at them might be taken to mean anything.

Mr Merdle's right hand was filled with the evening paper, and the
evening paper was full of Mr Merdle. His wonderful enterprise, his
wonderful wealth, his wonderful Bank, were the fattening food of
the evening paper that night. The wonderful Bank, of which he was
the chief projector, establisher, and manager, was the latest of
the many Merdle wonders. So modest was Mr Merdle withal, in the
midst of these splendid achievements, that he looked far more like
a man in possession of his house under a distraint, than a
commercial Colossus bestriding his own hearthrug, while the little
ships were sailing into dinner.

Behold the vessels coming into port! The engaging young Barnacle
was the first arrival; but Bar overtook him on the staircase. Bar,
strengthened as usual with his double eye-glass and his little jury
droop, was overjoyed to see the engaging young Barnacle; and opined
that we were going to sit in Banco, as we lawyers called it, to
take a special argument?

'Indeed,' said the sprightly young Barnacle, whose name was
Ferdinand; 'how so?'

'Nay,' smiled Bar. 'If you don't know, how can I know? You are in
the innermost sanctuary of the temple; I am one of the admiring
concourse on the plain without.'

Bar could be light in hand, or heavy in hand, according to the
customer he had to deal with. With Ferdinand Barnacle he was
gossamer. Bar was likewise always modest and self-depreciatory--in
his way. Bar was a man of great variety; but one leading thread
ran through the woof of all his patterns. Every man with whom he
had to do was in his eyes a jury-man; and he must get that jury-man
over, if he could.

'Our illustrious host and friend,' said Bar; 'our shining
mercantile star;--going into politics?'

'Going? He has been in Parliament some time, you know,' returned
the engaging young Barnacle.

'True,' said Bar, with his light-comedy laugh for special jury-men,
which was a very different thing from his low-comedy laugh for
comic tradesmen on common juries: 'he has been in Parliament for
some time. Yet hitherto our star has been a vacillating and
wavering star? Humph?'

An average witness would have been seduced by the Humph? into an
affirmative answer, But Ferdinand Barnacle looked knowingly at Bar
as he strolled up-stairs, and gave him no answer at all.

'Just so, just so,' said Bar, nodding his head, for he was not to
be put off in that way, 'and therefore I spoke of our sitting in
Banco to take a special argument--meaning this to be a high and
solemn occasion, when, as Captain Macheath says, "the judges are
met: a terrible show!" We lawyers are sufficiently liberal, you
see, to quote the Captain, though the Captain is severe upon us.
Nevertheless, I think I could put in evidence an admission of the
Captain's,' said Bar, with a little jocose roll of his head; for,
in his legal current of speech, he always assumed the air of
rallying himself with the best grace in the world; 'an admission of
the Captain's that Law, in the gross, is at least intended to be
impartial. For what says the Captain, if I quote him correctly--
and if not,' with a light-comedy touch of his double eye-glass on
his companion's shoulder, 'my learned friend will set me right:

     "Since laws were made for every degree,
     To curb vice in others as well as in me,
     I wonder we ha'n't better company
     Upon Tyburn Tree!"'

These words brought them to the drawing-room, where Mr Merdle stood
before the fire. So immensely astounded was Mr Merdle by the
entrance of Bar with such a reference in his mouth, that Bar
explained himself to have been quoting Gay. 'Assuredly not one of
our Westminster Hall authorities,' said he, 'but still no
despicable one to a man possessing the largely-practical Mr
Merdle's knowledge of the world.'

Mr Merdle looked as if he thought he would say something, but
subsequently looked as if he thought he wouldn't. The interval
afforded time for Bishop to be announced.
Bishop came in with meekness, and yet with a strong and rapid step
as if he wanted to get his seven-league dress-shoes on, and go
round the world to see that everybody was in a satisfactory state.
Bishop had no idea that there was anything significant in the
occasion. That was the most remarkable trait in his demeanour. He
was crisp, fresh, cheerful, affable, bland; but so surprisingly

Bar sidled up to prefer his politest inquiries in reference to the
health of Mrs Bishop. Mrs Bishop had been a little unfortunate in
the article of taking cold at a Confirmation, but otherwise was
well. Young Mr Bishop was also well. He was down, with his young
wife and little family, at his Cure of Souls. The representatives
of the Barnacle Chorus dropped in next, and Mr Merdle's physician
dropped in next. Bar, who had a bit of one eye and a bit of his
double eye-glass for every one who came in at the door, no matter
with whom he was conversing or what he was talking about, got among
them all by some skilful means, without being seen to get at them,
and touched each individual gentleman of the jury on his own
individual favourite spot. With some of the Chorus, he laughed
about the sleepy member who had gone out into the lobby the other
night, and voted the wrong way: with others, he deplored that
innovating spirit in the time which could not even be prevented
from taking an unnatural interest in the public service and the
public money: with the physician he had a word to say about the
general health; he had also a little information to ask him for,
concerning a professional man of unquestioned erudition and
polished manners--but those credentials in their highest
development he believed were the possession of other professors of
the healing art (jury droop)--whom he had happened to have in the
witness-box the day before yesterday, and from whom he had elicited
in cross-examination that he claimed to be one of the exponents of
this new mode of treatment which appeared to Bar to--eh?--well, Bar
thought so; Bar had thought, and hoped, Physician would tell him
so. Without presuming to decide where doctors disagreed, it did
appear to Bar, viewing it as a question of common sense and not of
so-called legal penetration, that this new system was--might be, in
the presence of so great an authority--say, Humbug? Ah! Fortified
by such encouragement, he could venture to say Humbug; and now
Bar's mind was relieved.

Mr Tite Barnacle, who, like Dr johnson's celebrated acquaintance,
had only one idea in his head and that was a wrong one, had
appeared by this time. This eminent gentleman and Mr Merdle,
seated diverse ways and with ruminating aspects on a yellow ottoman
in the light of the fire, holding no verbal communication with each
other, bore a strong general resemblance to the two cows in the
Cuyp picture over against them.

But now, Lord Decimus arrived. The Chief Butler, who up to this
time had limited himself to a branch of his usual function by
looking at the company as they entered (and that, with more of
defiance than favour), put himself so far out of his way as to come
up-stairs with him and announce him. Lord Decimus being an
overpowering peer, a bashful young member of the Lower House who
was the last fish but one caught by the Barnacles, and who had been
invited on this occasion to commemorate his capture, shut his eyes
when his Lordship came in.

Lord Decimus, nevertheless, was glad to see the Member. He was
also glad to see Mr Merdle, glad to see Bishop, glad to see Bar,
glad to see Physician, glad to see Tite Barnacle, glad to see
Chorus, glad to see Ferdinand his private secretary. Lord Decimus,
though one of the greatest of the earth, was not remarkable for
ingratiatory manners, and Ferdinand had coached him up to the point
of noticing all the fellows he might find there, and saying he was
glad to see them. When he had achieved this rush of vivacity and
condescension, his Lordship composed himself into the picture after
Cuyp, and made a third cow in the group.

Bar, who felt that he had got all the rest of the jury and must now
lay hold of the Foreman, soon came sidling up, double eye-glass in
hand. Bar tendered the weather, as a subject neatly aloof from
official reserve, for the Foreman's consideration. Bar said that
he was told (as everybody always is told, though who tells them,
and why, will ever remain a mystery), that there was to be no wall-
fruit this year. Lord Decimus had not heard anything amiss of his
peaches, but rather believed, if his people were correct, he was to
have no apples. No apples? Bar was lost in astonishment and
concern. It would have been all one to him, in reality, if there
had not been a pippin on the surface of the earth, but his show of
interest in this apple question was positively painful. Now, to
what, Lord Decimus--for we troublesome lawyers loved to gather
information, and could never tell how useful it might prove to us--
to what, Lord Decimus, was this to be attributed? Lord Decimus
could not undertake to propound any theory about it. This might
have stopped another man; but Bar, sticking to him fresh as ever,
said, 'As to pears, now?'

Long after Bar got made Attorney-General, this was told of him as
a master-stroke. Lord Decimus had a reminiscence about a pear-tree
formerly growing in a garden near the back of his dame's house at
Eton, upon which pear-tree the only joke of his life perennially
bloomed. It was a joke of a compact and portable nature, turning
on the difference between Eton pears and Parliamentary pairs; but
it was a joke, a refined relish of which would seem to have
appeared to Lord Decimus impossible to be had without a thorough
and intimate acquaintance with the tree. Therefore, the story at
first had no idea of such a tree, sir, then gradually found it in
winter, carried it through the changing season, saw it bud, saw it
blossom, saw it bear fruit, saw the fruit ripen; in short,
cultivated the tree in that diligent and minute manner before it
got out of the bed-room window to steal the fruit, that many thanks
had been offered up by belated listeners for the trees having been
planted and grafted prior to Lord Decimus's time. Bar's interest
in apples was so overtopped by the wrapt suspense in which he
pursued the changes of these pears, from the moment when Lord
Decimus solemnly opened with 'Your mentioning pears recalls to my
remembrance a pear-tree,' down to the rich conclusion, 'And so we
pass, through the various changes of life, from Eton pears to
Parliamentary pairs,' that he had to go down-stairs with Lord
Decimus, and even then to be seated next to him at table in order
that he might hear the anecdote out. By that time, Bar felt that
he had secured the Foreman, and might go to dinner with a good

It was a dinner to provoke an appetite, though he had not had one.
The rarest dishes, sumptuously cooked and sumptuously served; the
choicest fruits; the most exquisite wines; marvels of workmanship
in gold and silver, china and glass; innumerable things delicious
to the senses of taste, smell, and sight, were insinuated into its
composition. O, what a wonderful man this Merdle, what a great
man, what a master man, how blessedly and enviably endowed--in one
word, what a rich man!

He took his usual poor eighteenpennyworth of food in his usual
indigestive way, and had as little to say for himself as ever a
wonderful man had. Fortunately Lord Decimus was one of those
sublimities who have no occasion to be talked to, for they can be
at any time sufficiently occupied with the contemplation of their
own greatness. This enabled the bashful young Member to keep his
eyes open long enough at a time to see his dinner. But, whenever
Lord Decimus spoke, he shut them again.

The agreeable young Barnacle, and Bar, were the talkers of the
party. Bishop would have been exceedingly agreeable also, but that
his innocence stood in his way. He was so soon left behind. When
there was any little hint of anything being in the wind, he got
lost directly. Worldly affairs were too much for him; he couldn't
make them out at all.

This was observable when Bar said, incidentally, that he was happy
to have heard that we were soon to have the advantage of enlisting
on the good side, the sound and plain sagacity--not demonstrative
or ostentatious, but thoroughly sound and practical--of our friend
Mr Sparkler.

Ferdinand Barnacle laughed, and said oh yes, he believed so. A
vote was a vote, and always acceptable.

Bar was sorry to miss our good friend Mr Sparkler to-day, Mr

'He is away with Mrs Merdle,' returned that gentleman, slowly
coming out of a long abstraction, in the course of which he had
been fitting a tablespoon up his sleeve. 'It is not indispensable
for him to be on the spot.'

'The magic name of Merdle,' said Bar, with the jury droop, 'no
doubt will suffice for all.'

'Why--yes--I believe so,' assented Mr Merdle, putting the spoon
aside, and clumsily hiding each of his hands in the coat-cuff of
the other hand. 'I believe the people in my interest down there
will not make any difficulty.'

'Model people!' said Bar.
'I am glad you approve of them,' said Mr Merdle.

'And the people of those other two places, now,' pursued Bar, with
a bright twinkle in his keen eye, as it slightly turned in the
direction of his magnificent neighbour; 'we lawyers are always
curious, always inquisitive, always picking up odds and ends for
our patchwork minds, since there is no knowing when and where they
may fit into some corner;--the people of those other two places
now? Do they yield so laudably to the vast and cumulative
influence of such enterprise and such renown; do those little rills
become absorbed so quietly and easily, and, as it were by the
influence of natural laws, so beautifully, in the swoop of the
majestic stream as it flows upon its wondrous way enriching the
surrounding lands; that their course is perfectly to be calculated,
and distinctly to be predicated?'

Mr Merdle, a little troubled by Bar's eloquence, looked fitfully
about the nearest salt-cellar for some moments, and then said

'They are perfectly aware, sir, of their duty to Society. They
will return anybody I send to them for that purpose.'

'Cheering to know,' said Bar. 'Cheering to know.'

The three places in question were three little rotten holes in this
Island, containing three little ignorant, drunken, guzzling, dirty,
out-of-the-way constituencies, that had reeled into Mr Merdle's
pocket. Ferdinand Barnacle laughed in his easy way, and airily
said they were a nice set of fellows. Bishop, mentally
perambulating among paths of peace, was altogether swallowed up in
absence of mind.

'Pray,' asked Lord Decimus, casting his eyes around the table,
'what is this story I have heard of a gentleman long confined in a
debtors' prison proving to be of a wealthy family, and having come
into the inheritance of a large sum of money? I have met with a
variety of allusions to it. Do you know anything of it,

'I only know this much,' said Ferdinand, 'that he has given the
Department with which I have the honour to be associated;' this
sparkling young Barnacle threw off the phrase sportively, as who
should say, We know all about these forms of speech, but we must
keep it up, we must keep the game alive; 'no end of trouble, and
has put us into innumerable fixes.'

'Fixes?' repeated Lord Decimus, with a majestic pausing and
pondering on the word that made the bashful Member shut his eyes
quite tight. 'Fixes?'

'A very perplexing business indeed,' observed Mr Tite Barnacle,
with an air of grave resentment.

'What,' said Lord Decimus, 'was the character of his business; what
was the nature of these--a--Fixes, Ferdinand?'

'Oh, it's a good story, as a story,' returned that gentleman; 'as
good a thing of its kind as need be. This Mr Dorrit (his name is
Dorrit) had incurred a responsibility to us, ages before the fairy
came out of the Bank and gave him his fortune, under a bond he had
signed for the performance of a contract which was not at all
performed. He was a partner in a house in some large way--spirits,
or buttons, or wine, or blacking, or oatmeal, or woollen, or pork,
or hooks and eyes, or iron, or treacle, or shoes, or something or
other that was wanted for troops, or seamen, or somebody--and the
house burst, and we being among the creditors, detainees were
lodged on the part of the Crown in a scientific manner, and all the
rest Of it. When the fairy had appeared and he wanted to pay us
off, Egad we had got into such an exemplary state of checking and
counter-checking, signing and counter-signing, that it was six
months before we knew how to take the money, or how to give a
receipt for it. It was a triumph of public business,' said this
handsome young Barnacle, laughing heartily, 'You never saw such a
lot of forms in your life. "Why," the attorney said to me one day,
"if I wanted this office to give me two or three thousand pounds
instead of take it, I couldn't have more trouble about it." "You
are right, old fellow," I told him, "and in future you'll know that
we have something to do here."' The pleasant young Barnacle
finished by once more laughing heartily. He was a very easy,
pleasant fellow indeed, and his manners were exceedingly winning.

Mr Tite Barnacle's view of the business was of a less airy
character. He took it ill that Mr Dorrit had troubled the
Department by wanting to pay the money, and considered it a grossly
informal thing to do after so many years. But Mr Tite Barnacle was
a buttoned-up man, and consequently a weighty one. All buttoned-up
men are weighty. All buttoned-up men are believed in. Whether or
no the reserved and never-exercised power of unbuttoning,
fascinates mankind; whether or no wisdom is supposed to condense
and augment when buttoned up, and to evaporate when unbuttoned; it
is certain that the man to whom importance is accorded is the
buttoned-up man. Mr Tite Barnacle never would have passed for half
his current value, unless his coat had been always buttoned-up to
his white cravat.

'May I ask,' said Lord Decimus, 'if Mr Darrit--or Dorrit--has any

Nobody else replying, the host said, 'He has two daughters, my

'Oh! you are acquainted with him?' asked Lord Decimus.

'Mrs Merdle is. Mr Sparkler is, too. In fact,' said Mr Merdle, 'I
rather believe that one of the young ladies has made an impression
on Edmund Sparkler. He is susceptible, and--I--think--the
conquest--' Here Mr Merdle stopped, and looked at the table-cloth,
as he usually did when he found himself observed or listened to.

Bar was uncommonly pleased to find that the Merdle family, and this
family, had already been brought into contact. He submitted, in a
low voice across the table to Bishop, that it was a kind of
analogical illustration of those physical laws, in virtue of which
Like flies to Like. He regarded this power of attraction in wealth
to draw wealth to it, as something remarkably interesting and
curious--something indefinably allied to the loadstone and
gravitation. Bishop, who had ambled back to earth again when the
present theme was broached, acquiesced. He said it was indeed
highly important to Society that one in the trying situation of
unexpectedly finding himself invested with a power for good or for
evil in Society, should become, as it were, merged in the superior
power of a more legitimate and more gigantic growth, the influence
of which (as in the case of our friend at whose board we sat) was
habitually exercised in harmony with the best interests of Society.

Thus, instead of two rival and contending flames, a larger and a
lesser, each burning with a lurid and uncertain glare, we had a
blended and a softened light whose genial ray diffused an equable
warmth throughout the land. Bishop seemed to like his own way of
putting the case very much, and rather dwelt upon it; Bar,
meanwhile (not to throw away a jury-man), making a show of sitting
at his feet and feeding on his precepts.

The dinner and dessert being three hours long, the bashful Member
cooled in the shadow of Lord Decimus faster than he warmed with
food and drink, and had but a chilly time of it. Lord Decimus,
like a tall tower in a flat country, seemed to project himself
across the table-cloth, hide the light from the honourable Member,
cool the honourable Member's marrow, and give him a woeful idea of
distance. When he asked this unfortunate traveller to take wine,
he encompassed his faltering steps with the gloomiest of shades;
and when he said, 'Your health sir!' all around him was barrenness
and desolation.

At length Lord Decimus, with a coffee-cup in his hand, began to
hover about among the pictures, and to cause an interesting
speculation to arise in all minds as to the probabilities of his
ceasing to hover, and enabling the smaller birds to flutter up-
stairs; which could not be done until he had urged his noble
pinions in that direction. After some delay, and several stretches
of his wings which came to nothing, he soared to the drawing-rooms.

And here a difficulty arose, which always does arise when two
people are specially brought together at a dinner to confer with
one another. Everybody (except Bishop, who had no suspicion of it)
knew perfectly well that this dinner had been eaten and drunk,
specifically to the end that Lord Decimus and Mr Merdle should have
five minutes' conversation together. The opportunity so
elaborately prepared was now arrived, and it seemed from that
moment that no mere human ingenuity could so much as get the two
chieftains into the same room. Mr Merdle and his noble guest
persisted in prowling about at opposite ends of the perspective.
It was in vain for the engaging Ferdinand to bring Lord Decimus to
look at the bronze horses near Mr Merdle. Then Mr Merdle evaded,
and wandered away. It was in vain for him to bring Mr Merdle to
Lord Decimus to tell him the history of the unique Dresden vases.
Then Lord Decimus evaded and wandered away, while he was getting
his man up to the mark.

'Did you ever see such a thing as this?' said Ferdinand to Bar when
he had been baffled twenty times.

'Often,' returned Bar.

'Unless I butt one of them into an appointed corner, and you butt
the other,' said Ferdinand,'it will not come off after all.'

'Very good,' said Bar. 'I'll butt Merdle, if you like; but not my

Ferdinand laughed, in the midst of his vexation. 'Confound them
both!' said he, looking at his watch. 'I want to get away. Why
the deuce can't they come together! They both know what they want
and mean to do. Look at them!'

They were still looming at opposite ends of the perspective, each
with an absurd pretence of not having the other on his mind, which
could not have been more transparently ridiculous though his real
mind had been chalked on his back. Bishop, who had just now made
a third with Bar and Ferdinand, but whose innocence had again cut
him out of the subject and washed him in sweet oil, was seen to
approach Lord Decimus and glide into conversation.

'I must get Merdle's doctor to catch and secure him, I suppose,'
said Ferdinand; 'and then I must lay hold of my illustrious
kinsman, and decoy him if I can--drag him if I can't--to the

'Since you do me the honour,' said Bar, with his slyest smile, to
ask for my poor aid, it shall be yours with the greatest pleasure.
I don't think this is to be done by one man. But if you will
undertake to pen my lord into that furthest drawing-room where he
is now so profoundly engaged, I will undertake to bring our dear
Merdle into the presence, without the possibility of getting away.'

'Done!' said Ferdinand.

'Done!' said Bar.

Bar was a sight wondrous to behold, and full of matter, when,
jauntily waving his double eye-glass by its ribbon, and jauntily
drooping to an Universe of jurymen, he, in the most accidental
manner ever seen, found himself at Mr Merdle's shoulder, and
embraced that opportunity of mentioning a little point to him, on
which he particularly wished to be guided by the light of his
practical knowledge. (Here he took Mr Merdle's arm and walked him
gently away.) A banker, whom we would call A. B., advanced a
considerable sum of money, which we would call fifteen thousand
pounds, to a client or customer of his, whom he would call P. q.
(Here, as they were getting towards Lord Decimus, he held Mr Merdle
tight.) As a security for the repayment of this advance to P. Q.
whom we would call a widow lady, there were placed in A. B.'s hands
the title-deeds of a freehold estate, which we would call Blinkiter
Doddles. Now, the point was this. A limited right of felling and
lopping in the woods of Blinkiter Doddles, lay in the son of P. Q.
then past his majority, and whom we would call X. Y.--but really
this was too bad! In the presence of Lord Decimus, to detain the
host with chopping our dry chaff of law, was really too bad!
Another time! Bar was truly repentant, and would not say another
syllable. Would Bishop favour him with half-a-dozen words? (He
had now set Mr Merdle down on a couch, side by side with Lord
Decimus, and to it they must go, now or never.)

And now the rest of the company, highly excited and interested,
always excepting Bishop, who had not the slightest idea that
anything was going on, formed in one group round the fire in the
next drawing-room, and pretended to be chatting easily on the
infinite variety of small topics, while everybody's thoughts and
eyes were secretly straying towards the secluded pair. The Chorus
were excessively nervous, perhaps as labouring under the dreadful
apprehension that some good thing was going to be diverted from
them! Bishop alone talked steadily and evenly. He conversed with
the great Physician on that relaxation of the throat with which
young curates were too frequently afflicted, and on the means of
lessening the great prevalence of that disorder in the church.
Physician, as a general rule, was of opinion that the best way to
avoid it was to know how to read, before you made a profession of
reading. Bishop said dubiously, did he really think so? And
Physician said, decidedly, yes he did.

Ferdinand, meanwhile, was the only one of the party who skirmished
on the outside of the circle; he kept about mid-way between it and
the two, as if some sort of surgical operation were being performed
by Lord Decimus on Mr Merdle, or by Mr Merdle on Lord Decimus, and
his services might at any moment be required as Dresser. In fact,
within a quarter of an hour Lord Decimus called to him 'Ferdinand!'
and he went, and took his place in the conference for some five
minutes more. Then a half-suppressed gasp broke out among the
Chorus; for Lord Decimus rose to take his leave. Again coached up
by Ferdinand to the point of making himself popular, he shook hands
in the most brilliant manner with the whole company, and even said
to Bar, 'I hope you were not bored by my pears?' To which Bar
retorted, 'Eton, my lord, or Parliamentary?' neatly showing that he
had mastered the joke, and delicately insinuating that he could
never forget it while his life remained.

All the grave importance that was buttoned up in Mr Tite Barnacle,
took itself away next; and Ferdinand took himself away next, to the
opera. Some of the rest lingered a little, marrying golden liqueur
glasses to Buhl tables with sticky rings; on the desperate chance
of Mr Merdle's saying something. But Merdle, as usual, oozed
sluggishly and muddily about his drawing-room, saying never a word.

In a day or two it was announced to all the town, that Edmund
Sparkler, Esquire, son-in-law of the eminent Mr Merdle of worldwide
renown, was made one of the Lords of the Circumlocution Office; and
proclamation was issued, to all true believers, that this admirable
appointment was to be hailed as a graceful and gracious mark of
homage, rendered by the graceful and gracious Decimus, to that
commercial interest which must ever in a great commercial country--
and all the rest of it, with blast of trumpet. So, bolstered by
this mark of Government homage, the wonderful Bank and all the
other wonderful undertakings went on and went up; and gapers came
to Harley Street, Cavendish Square, only to look at the house where
the golden wonder lived.

And when they saw the Chief Butler looking out at the hall-door in
his moments of condescension, the gapers said how rich he looked,
and wondered how much money he had in the wonderful Bank. But, if
they had known that respectable Nemesis better, they would not have
wondered about it, and might have stated the amount with the utmost

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