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Charles Dickens > Little Dorrit > Chapter 49

Little Dorrit

Chapter 49

The Progress of an Epidemic

That it is at least as difficult to stay a moral infection as a
physical one; that such a disease will spread with the malignity
and rapidity of the Plague; that the contagion, when it has once
made head, will spare no pursuit or condition, but will lay hold on
people in the soundest health, and become developed in the most
unlikely constitutions: is a fact as firmly established by
experience as that we human creatures breathe an atmosphere. A
blessing beyond appreciation would be conferred upon mankind, if
the tainted, in whose weakness or wickedness these virulent
disorders are bred, could be instantly seized and placed in close
confinement (not to say summarily smothered) before the poison is

As a vast fire will fill the air to a great distance with its roar,
so the sacred flame which the mighty Barnacles had fanned caused
the air to resound more and more with the name of Merdle. It was
deposited on every lip, and carried into every ear. There never
was, there never had been, there never again should be, such a man
as Mr Merdle. Nobody, as aforesaid, knew what he had done; but
everybody knew him to be the greatest that had appeared.

Down in Bleeding Heart Yard, where there was not one unappropriated
halfpenny, as lively an interest was taken in this paragon of men
as on the Stock Exchange. Mrs Plornish, now established in the
small grocery and general trade in a snug little shop at the crack
end of the Yard, at the top of the steps, with her little old
father and Maggy acting as assistants, habitually held forth about
him over the counter in conversation with her customers. Mr
Plornish, who had a small share in a small builder's business in
the neighbourhood, said, trowel in hand, on the tops of scaffolds
and on the tiles of houses, that people did tell him as Mr Merdle
was the one, mind you, to put us all to rights in respects of that
which all on us looked to, and to bring us all safe home as much as
we needed, mind you, fur toe be brought. Mr Baptist, sole lodger
of Mr and Mrs Plornish was reputed in whispers to lay by the
savings which were the result of his simple and moderate life, for
investment in one of Mr Merdle's certain enterprises. The female
Bleeding Hearts, when they came for ounces of tea, and
hundredweights of talk, gave Mrs Plornish to understand, That how,
ma'am, they had heard from their cousin Mary Anne, which worked in
the line, that his lady's dresses would fill three waggons. That
how she was as handsome a lady, ma'am, as lived, no matter wheres,
and a busk like marble itself. That how, according to what they
was told, ma'am, it was her son by a former husband as was took
into the Government; and a General he had been, and armies he had
marched again and victory crowned, if all you heard was to be
believed. That how it was reported that Mr Merdle's words had
been, that if they could have made it worth his while to take the
whole Government he would have took it without a profit, but that
take it he could not and stand a loss. That how it was not to be
expected, ma'am, that he should lose by it, his ways being, as you
might say and utter no falsehood, paved with gold; but that how it
was much to be regretted that something handsome hadn't been got up
to make it worth his while; for it was such and only such that
knowed the heighth to which the bread and butchers' meat had rose,
and it was such and only such that both could and would bring that
heighth down.

So rife and potent was the fever in Bleeding Heart Yard, that Mr
Pancks's rent-days caused no interval in the patients. The disease
took the singular form, on those occasions, of causing the infected
to find an unfathomable excuse and consolation in allusions to the
magic name.

'Now, then!' Mr Pancks would say, to a defaulting lodger. 'Pay up!

Come on!'

'I haven't got it, Mr Pancks,' Defaulter would reply. 'I tell you
the truth, sir, when I say I haven't got so much as a single
sixpence of it to bless myself with.'

'This won't do, you know,' Mr Pancks would retort. 'You don't
expect it will do; do you?'
Defaulter would admit, with a low-spirited 'No, sir,' having no
such expectation.

'My proprietor isn't going to stand this, you know,' Mr Pancks
would proceed. 'He don't send me here for this. Pay up! Come!'

The Defaulter would make answer, 'Ah, Mr Pancks. If I was the rich
gentleman whose name is in everybody's mouth--if my name was
Merdle, sir--I'd soon pay up, and be glad to do it.'

Dialogues on the rent-question usually took place at the house-
doors or in the entries, and in the presence of several deeply
interested Bleeding Hearts. They always received a reference of
this kind with a low murmur of response, as if it were convincing;
and the Defaulter, however black and discomfited before, always
cheered up a little in making it.

'If I was Mr Merdle, sir, you wouldn't have cause to complain of me
then. No, believe me!' the Defaulter would proceed with a shake of
the head. 'I'd pay up so quick then, Mr Pancks, that you shouldn't
have to ask me.'

The response would be heard again here, implying that it was
impossible to say anything fairer, and that this was the next thing
to paying the money down.

Mr Pancks would be now reduced to saying as he booked the case,
'Well! You'll have the broker in, and be turned out; that's
what'll happen to you. It's no use talking to me about Mr Merdle.
You are not Mr Merdle, any more than I am.'

'No, sir,' the Defaulter would reply. 'I only wish you were him,

The response would take this up quickly; replying with great
feeling, 'Only wish you were him, sir.'

'You'd be easier with us if you were Mr Merdle, sir,' the Defaulter
would go on with rising spirits, 'and it would be better for all
parties. Better for our sakes, and better for yours, too. You
wouldn't have to worry no one, then, sir. You wouldn't have to
worry us, and you wouldn't have to worry yourself. You'd be easier
in your own mind, sir, and you'd leave others easier, too, you
would, if you were Mr Merdle.'

Mr Pancks, in whom these impersonal compliments produced an
irresistible sheepishness, never rallied after such a charge. He
could only bite his nails and puff away to the next Defaulter. The
responsive Bleeding Hearts would then gather round the Defaulter
whom he had just abandoned, and the most extravagant rumours would
circulate among them, to their great comfort, touching the amount
of Mr Merdle's ready money.

From one of the many such defeats of one of many rent-days, Mr
Pancks, having finished his day's collection, repaired with his
note-book under his arm to Mrs Plornish's corner. Mr Pancks's
object was not professional, but social. He had had a trying day,
and wanted a little brightening. By this time he was on friendly
terms with the Plornish family, having often looked in upon them at
similar seasons, and borne his part in recollections of Miss

Mrs Plornish's shop-parlour had been decorated under her own eye,
and presented, on the side towards the shop, a little fiction in
which Mrs Plornish unspeakably rejoiced. This poetical heightening
of the parlour consisted in the wall being painted to represent the
exterior of a thatched cottage; the artist having introduced (in as
effective a manner as he found compatible with their highly
disproportionate dimensions) the real door and window. The modest
sunflower and hollyhock were depicted as flourishing with great
luxuriance on this rustic dwelling, while a quantity of dense smoke
issuing from the chimney indicated good cheer within, and also,
perhaps, that it had not been lately swept. A faithful dog was
represented as flying at the legs of the friendly visitor, from the
threshold; and a circular pigeon-house, enveloped in a cloud of
pigeons, arose from behind the garden-paling. On the door (when it
was shut), appeared the semblance of a brass-plate, presenting the
inscription, Happy Cottage, T. and M. Plornish; the partnership
expressing man and wife. No Poetry and no Art ever charmed the
imagination more than the union of the two in this counterfeit
cottage charmed Mrs Plornish. It was nothing to her that Plornish
had a habit of leaning against it as he smoked his pipe after work,
when his hat blotted out the pigeon-house and all the pigeons, when
his back swallowed up the dwelling, when his hands in his pockets
uprooted the blooming garden and laid waste the adjacent country.
To Mrs Plornish, it was still a most beautiful cottage, a most
wonderful deception; and it made no difference that Mr Plornish's
eye was some inches above the level of the gable bed-room in the
thatch. To come out into the shop after it was shut, and hear her
father sing a song inside this cottage, was a perfect Pastoral to
Mrs Plornish, the Golden Age revived. And truly if that famous
period had been revived, or had ever been at all, it may be doubted
whether it would have produced many more heartily admiring
daughters than the poor woman.

Warned of a visitor by the tinkling bell at the shop-door, Mrs
Plornish came out of Happy Cottage to see who it might be. 'I
guessed it was you, Mr Pancks,' said she, 'for it's quite your
regular night; ain't it? Here's father, you see, come out to serve
at the sound of the bell, like a brisk young shopman. Ain't he
looking well? Father's more pleased to see you than if you was a
customer, for he dearly loves a gossip; and when it turns upon Miss
Dorrit, he loves it all the more. You never heard father in such
voice as he is at present,' said Mrs Plornish, her own voice
quavering, she was so proud and pleased. 'He gave us Strephon last
night to that degree that Plornish gets up and makes him this
speech across the table. "John Edward Nandy," says Plornish to
father, "I never heard you come the warbles as I have heard you
come the warbles this night." An't it gratifying, Mr Pancks,
though; really?'

Mr Pancks, who had snorted at the old man in his friendliest
manner, replied in the affirmative, and casually asked whether that
lively Altro chap had come in yet? Mrs Plornish answered no, not
yet, though he had gone to the West-End with some work, and had
said he should be back by tea-time. Mr Pancks was then hospitably
pressed into Happy Cottage, where he encountered the elder Master
Plornish just come home from school. Examining that young student,
lightly, on the educational proceedings of the day, he found that
the more advanced pupils who were in the large text and the letter
M, had been set the copy 'Merdle, Millions.'

'And how are you getting on, Mrs Plornish,' said Pancks, 'since
we're mentioning millions?'

'Very steady, indeed, sir,' returned Mrs Plornish. 'Father, dear,
would you go into the shop and tidy the window a little bit before
tea, your taste being so beautiful?'

John Edward Nandy trotted away, much gratified, to comply with his
daughter's request. Mrs Plornish, who was always in mortal terror
of mentioning pecuniary affairs before the old gentleman, lest any
disclosure she made might rouse his spirit and induce him to run
away to the workhouse, was thus left free to be confidential with
Mr Pancks.

'It's quite true that the business is very steady indeed,' said Mrs
Plornish, lowering her voice; 'and has a excellent connection. The
only thing that stands in its way, sir, is the Credit.'

This drawback, rather severely felt by most people who engaged in
commercial transactions with the inhabitants of Bleeding Heart
Yard, was a large stumbling-block in Mrs Plornish's trade. When Mr
Dorrit had established her in the business, the Bleeding Hearts had
shown an amount of emotion and a determination to support her in
it, that did honour to human nature. Recognising her claim upon
their generous feelings as one who had long been a member of their
community, they pledged themselves, with great feeling, to deal
with Mrs Plornish, come what would and bestow their patronage on no
other establishment. Influenced by these noble sentiments, they
had even gone out of their way to purchase little luxuries in the
grocery and butter line to which they were unaccustomed; saying to
one another, that if they did stretch a point, was it not for a
neighbour and a friend, and for whom ought a point to be stretched
if not for such? So stimulated, the business was extremely brisk,
and the articles in stock went off with the greatest celerity. In
short, if the Bleeding Hearts had but paid, the undertaking would
have been a complete success; whereas, by reason of their
exclusively confining themselves to owing, the profits actually
realised had not yet begun to appear in the books.

Mr Pancks was making a very porcupine of himself by sticking his
hair up in the contemplation of this state of accounts, when old Mr
Nandy, re-entering the cottage with an air of mystery, entreated
them to come and look at the strange behaviour of Mr Baptist, who
seemed to have met with something that had scared him. All three
going into the shop, and watching through the window, then saw Mr
Baptist, pale and agitated, go through the following extraordinary
performances. First, he was observed hiding at the top of the
steps leading down into the Yard, and peeping up and down the
street with his head cautiously thrust out close to the side of the
shop-door. After very anxious scrutiny, he came out of his
retreat, and went briskly down the street as if he were going away
altogether; then, suddenly turned about, and went, at the same
pace, and with the same feint, up the street. He had gone no
further up the street than he had gone down, when he crossed the
road and disappeared. The object of this last manoeuvre was only
apparent, when his entering the shop with a sudden twist, from the
steps again, explained that he had made a wide and obscure circuit
round to the other, or Doyce and Clennam, end of the Yard, and had
come through the Yard and bolted in. He was out of breath by that
time, as he might well be, and his heart seemed to jerk faster than
the little shop-bell, as it quivered and jingled behind him with
his hasty shutting of the door.

'Hallo, old chap!' said Mr Pancks. 'Altro, old boy! What's the

Mr Baptist, or Signor Cavalletto, understood English now almost as
well as Mr Pancks himself, and could speak it very well too.
Nevertheless, Mrs Plornish, with a pardonable vanity in that
accomplishment of hers which made her all but Italian, stepped in
as interpreter.

'E ask know,' said Mrs Plornish, 'What go wrong?'

'Come into the happy little cottage, Padrona,' returned Mr Baptist,
imparting great stealthiness to his flurried back-handed shake of
his right forefinger. 'Come there!'

Mrs Plornish was proud of the title Padrona, which she regarded as
signifying: not so much Mistress of the house, as Mistress of the
Italian tongue. She immediately complied with Mr Baptist's
request, and they all went into the cottage.

'E ope you no fright,' said Mrs Plornish then, interpreting Mr
Pancks in a new way with her usual fertility of resource. 'What
appen? Peaka Padrona!'

'I have seen some one,' returned Baptist. 'I have rincontrato

'Im? Oo him?' asked Mrs Plornish.

'A bad man. A baddest man. I have hoped that I should never see
him again.'
'Ow you know him bad?' asked Mrs Plornish.

'It does not matter, Padrona. I know it too well.'

''E see you?' asked Mrs Plornish.

'No. I hope not. I believe not.'

'He says,' Mrs Plornish then interpreted, addressing her father and
Pancks with mild condescension, 'that he has met a bad man, but he
hopes the bad man didn't see him--Why,' inquired Mrs Plornish,
reverting to the Italian language, 'why ope bad man no see?'

'Padrona, dearest,' returned the little foreigner whom she so
considerately protected, 'do not ask, I pray. Once again I say it
matters not. I have fear of this man. I do not wish to see him,
I do not wish to be known of him--never again! Enough, most
beautiful. Leave it.'

The topic was so disagreeable to him, and so put his usual
liveliness to the rout, that Mrs Plornish forbore to press him
further: the rather as the tea had been drawing for some time on
the hob. But she was not the less surprised and curious for asking
no more questions; neither was Mr Pancks, whose expressive
breathing had been labouring hard since the entrance of the little
man, like a locomotive engine with a great load getting up a steep
incline. Maggy, now better dressed than of yore, though still
faithful to the monstrous character of her cap, had been in the
background from the first with open mouth and eyes, which staring
and gaping features were not diminished in breadth by the untimely
suppression of the subject. However, no more was said about it,
though much appeared to be thought on all sides: by no means
excepting the two young Plornishes, who partook of the evening meal
as if their eating the bread and butter were rendered almost
superfluous by the painful probability of the worst of men shortly
presenting himself for the purpose of eating them. Mr Baptist, by
degrees began to chirp a little; but never stirred from the seat he
had taken behind the door and close to the window, though it was
not his usual place. As often as the little bell rang, he started
and peeped out secretly, with the end of the little curtain in his
hand and the rest before his face; evidently not at all satisfied
but that the man he dreaded had tracked him through all his
doublings and turnings, with the certainty of a terrible

The entrance, at various times, of two or three customers and of Mr
Plornish, gave Mr Baptist just enough of this employment to keep
the attention of the company fixed upon him. Tea was over, and the
children were abed, and Mrs Plornish was feeling her way to the
dutiful proposal that her father should favour them with Chloe,
when the bell rang again, and Mr Clennam came in.

Clennam had been poring late over his books and letters; for the
waiting-rooms of the Circumlocution Office ravaged his time sorely.

Over and above that, he was depressed and made uneasy by the late
occurrence at his mother's. He looked worn and solitary. He felt
so, too; but, nevertheless, was returning home from his counting-
house by that end of the Yard to give them the intelligence that he
had received another letter from Miss Dorrit.

The news made a sensation in the cottage which drew off the general
attention from Mr Baptist. Maggy, who pushed her way into the
foreground immediately, would have seemed to draw in the tidings of
her Little Mother equally at her ears, nose, mouth, and eyes, but
that the last were obstructed by tears. She was particularly
delighted when Clennam assured her that there were hospitals, and
very kindly conducted hospitals, in Rome. Mr Pancks rose into new
distinction in virtue of being specially remembered in the letter.
Everybody was pleased and interested, and Clennam was well repaid
for his trouble.
'But you are tired, sir. Let me make you a cup of tea,' said Mrs
Plornish, 'if you'd condescend to take such a thing in the cottage;
and many thanks to you, too, I am sure, for bearing us in mind so

Mr Plornish deeming it incumbent on him, as host, to add his
personal acknowledgments, tendered them in the form which always
expressed his highest ideal of a combination of ceremony with

'John Edward Nandy,' said Mr Plornish, addressing the old
gentleman. 'Sir. It's not too often that you see unpretending
actions without a spark of pride, and therefore when you see them
give grateful honour unto the same, being that if you don't, and
live to want 'em, it follows serve you right.'

To which Mr Nandy replied:

'I am heartily of your opinion, Thomas, and which your opinion is
the same as mine, and therefore no more words and not being
backwards with that opinion, which opinion giving it as yes,
Thomas, yes, is the opinion in which yourself and me must ever be
unanimously jined by all, and where there is not difference of
opinion there can be none but one opinion, which fully no, Thomas,
Thomas, no !'

Arthur, with less formality, expressed himself gratified by their
high appreciation of so very slight an attention on his part; and
explained as to the tea that he had not yet dined, and was going
straight home to refresh after a long day's labour, or he would
have readily accepted the hospitable offer. As Mr Pancks was
somewhat noisily getting his steam up for departure, he concluded
by asking that gentleman if he would walk with him? Mr Pancks said
he desired no better engagement, and the two took leave of Happy

'If you will come home with me, Pancks,' said Arthur, when they got
into the street, 'and will share what dinner or supper there is, it
will be next door to an act of charity; for I am weary and out of
sorts to-night.'

'Ask me to do a greater thing than that,' said Pancks, 'when you
want it done, and I'll do it.'

Between this eccentric personage and Clennam, a tacit understanding
and accord had been always improving since Mr Pancks flew over Mr
Rugg's back in the Marshalsea Yard. When the carriage drove away
on the memorable day of the family's departure, these two had
looked after it together, and had walked slowly away together.
When the first letter came from little Dorrit, nobody was more
interested in hearing of her than Mr Pancks. The second letter, at
that moment in Clennam's breast-pocket, particularly remembered him
by name. Though he had never before made any profession or
protestation to Clennam, and though what he had just said was
little enough as to the words in which it was expressed, Clennam
had long had a growing belief that Mr Pancks, in his own odd way,
was becoming attached to him. All these strings intertwining made
Pancks a very cable of anchorage that night.

'I am quite alone,' Arthur explained as they walked on. 'My
partner is away, busily engaged at a distance on his branch of our
business, and you shall do just as you like.'

'Thank you. You didn't take particular notice of little Altro just
now; did you?' said Pancks.

'No. Why?'

'He's a bright fellow, and I like him,' said Pancks. 'Something
has gone amiss with him to-day. Have you any idea of any cause
that can have overset him?'

'You surprise me! None whatever.'

Mr Pancks gave his reasons for the inquiry. Arthur was quite
unprepared for them, and quite unable to suggest an explanation of

'Perhaps you'll ask him,' said Pancks, 'as he's a stranger?'

'Ask him what?' returned Clennam.

'What he has on his mind.'

'I ought first to see for myself that he has something on his mind,
I think,' said Clennam. 'I have found him in every way so
diligent, so grateful (for little enough), and so trustworthy, that
it might look like suspecting him. And that would be very unjust.'

'True,' said Pancks. 'But, I say! You oughtn't to be anybody's
proprietor, Mr Clennam. You're much too delicate.'
'For the matter of that,' returned Clennam laughing, 'I have not a
large proprietary share in Cavalletto. His carving is his
livelihood. He keeps the keys of the Factory, watches it every
alternate night, and acts as a sort of housekeeper to it generally;
but we have little work in the way of his ingenuity, though we give
him what we have. No! I am rather his adviser than his
proprietor. To call me his standing counsel and his banker would
be nearer the fact. Speaking of being his banker, is it not
curious, Pancks, that the ventures which run just now in so many
people's heads, should run even in little Cavalletto's?'

'Ventures?' retorted Pancks, with a snort. 'What ventures?'

'These Merdle enterprises.'

'Oh! Investments,' said Pancks. 'Ay, ay! I didn't know you were
speaking of investments.'
His quick way of replying caused Clennam to look at him, with a
doubt whether he meant more than he said. As it was accompanied,
however, with a quickening of his pace and a corresponding increase
in the labouring of his machinery, Arthur did not pursue the
matter, and they soon arrived at his house.

A dinner of soup and a pigeon-pie, served on a little round table
before the fire, and flavoured with a bottle of good wine, oiled Mr
Pancks's works in a highly effective manner; so that when Clennam
produced his Eastern pipe, and handed Mr Pancks another Eastern
pipe, the latter gentleman was perfectly comfortable.

They puffed for a while in silence, Mr Pancks like a steam-vessel
with wind, tide, calm water, and all other sea-going conditions in
her favour. He was the first to speak, and he spoke thus:

'Yes. Investments is the word.'

Clennam, with his former look, said 'Ah!'

'I am going back to it, you see,' said Pancks.

'Yes. I see you are going back to it,' returned Clennam, wondering

'Wasn't it a curious thing that they should run in little Altro's
head? Eh?' said Pancks as he smoked. 'Wasn't that how you put

'That was what I said.'

'Ay! But think of the whole Yard having got it. Think of their
all meeting me with it, on my collecting days, here and there and
everywhere. Whether they pay, or whether they don't pay. Merdle,
Merdle, Merdle. Always Merdle.'

'Very strange how these runs on an infatuation prevail,' said

'An't it?' returned Pancks. After smoking for a minute or so, more
drily than comported with his recent oiling, he added: 'Because you
see these people don't understand the subject.'

'Not a bit,' assented Clennam.

'Not a bit,' cried Pancks. 'Know nothing of figures. Know nothing
of money questions. Never made a calculation. Never worked it,

'If they had--' Clennam was going on to say; when Mr Pancks,
without change of countenance, produced a sound so far surpassing
all his usual efforts, nasal or bronchial, that he stopped.

'If they had?' repeated Pancks in an inquiring tone.

'I thought you--spoke,' said Arthur, hesitating what name to give
the interruption.

'Not at all,' said Pancks. 'Not yet. I may in a minute. If they

'If they had,' observed Clennam, who was a little at a loss how to
take his friend, 'why, I suppose they would have known better.'

'How so, Mr Clennam?' Pancks asked quickly, and with an odd effect
of having been from the commencement of the conversation loaded
with the heavy charge he now fired off. 'They're right, you know.
They don't mean to be, but they're right.'

'Right in sharing Cavalletto's inclination to speculate with Mr

'Per-fectly, sir,' said Pancks. 'I've gone into it. I've made the
calculations. I've worked it. They're safe and genuine.'
Relieved by having got to this, Mr Pancks took as long a pull as
his lungs would permit at his Eastern pipe, and looked sagaciously
and steadily at Clennam while inhaling and exhaling too.

In those moments, Mr Pancks began to give out the dangerous
infection with which he was laden. It is the manner of
communicating these diseases; it is the subtle way in which they go

'Do you mean, my good Pancks,' asked Clennam emphatically, 'that
you would put that thousand pounds of yours, let us say, for
instance, out at this kind of interest?'

'Certainly,' said Pancks. 'Already done it, sir.'

Mr Pancks took another long inhalation, another long exhalation,
another long sagacious look at Clennam.

'I tell you, Mr Clennam, I've gone into it,' said Pancks. 'He's a
man of immense resources--enormous capital--government influence.
They're the best schemes afloat. They're safe. They're certain.'

'Well!' returned Clennam, looking first at him gravely and then at
the fire gravely. 'You surprise me!'

'Bah!' Pancks retorted. 'Don't say that, sir. It's what you ought
to do yourself! Why don't you do as I do?'

Of whom Mr Pancks had taken the prevalent disease, he could no more
have told than if he had unconsciously taken a fever. Bred at
first, as many physical diseases are, in the wickedness of men, and
then disseminated in their ignorance, these epidemics, after a
period, get communicated to many sufferers who are neither ignorant
nor wicked. Mr Pancks might, or might not, have caught the illness
himself from a subject of this class; but in this category he
appeared before Clennam, and the infection he threw off was all the
more virulent.

'And you have really invested,' Clennam had already passed to that
word, 'your thousand pounds, Pancks?'

'To be sure, sir!' replied Pancks boldly, with a puff of smoke.
'And only wish it ten!'

Now, Clennam had two subjects lying heavy on his lonely mind that
night; the one, his partner's long-deferred hope; the other, what
he had seen and heard at his mother's. In the relief of having
this companion, and of feeling that he could trust him, he passed
on to both, and both brought him round again, with an increase and
acceleration of force, to his point of departure.

It came about in the simplest manner. Quitting the investment
subject, after an interval of silent looking at the fire through
the smoke of his pipe, he told Pancks how and why he was occupied
with the great National Department. 'A hard case it has been, and
a hard case it is on Doyce,' he finished by saying, with all the
honest feeling the topic roused in him.

'Hard indeed,' Pancks acquiesced. 'But you manage for him, Mr

'How do you mean ?'

'Manage the money part of the business?'

'Yes. As well as I can.'

'Manage it better, sir,' said Pancks. 'Recompense him for his
toils and disappointments. Give him the chances of the time.
He'll never benefit himself in that way, patient and preoccupied
workman. He looks to you, sir.'

'I do my best, Pancks,' returned Clennam, uneasily. 'As to duly
weighing and considering these new enterprises of which I have had
no experience, I doubt if I am fit for it, I am growing old.'

'Growing old?' cried Pancks. 'Ha, ha!'

There was something so indubitably genuine in the wonderful laugh,
and series of snorts and puffs, engendered in Mr Pancks's
astonishment at, and utter rejection of, the idea, that his being
quite in earnest could not be questioned.

'Growing old?' cried Pancks. 'Hear, hear, hear! Old? Hear him,
hear him!'

The positive refusal expressed in Mr Pancks's continued snorts, no
less than in these exclamations, to entertain the sentiment for a
single instant, drove Arthur away from it. Indeed, he was fearful
of something happening to Mr Pancks in the violent conflict that
took place between the breath he jerked out of himself and the
smoke he jerked into himself. This abandonment of the second topic
threw him on the third.

'Young, old, or middle-aged, Pancks,' he said, when there was a
favourable pause, 'I am in a very anxious and uncertain state; a
state that even leads me to doubt whether anything now seeming to
belong to me, may be really mine. Shall I tell you how this is?
Shall I put a great trust in you?'

'You shall, sir,' said Pancks, 'if you believe me worthy of it.'

'I do.'

'You may!' Mr Pancks's short and sharp rejoinder, confirmed by the
sudden outstretching of his coaly hand, was most expressive and
convincing. Arthur shook the hand warmly.

He then, softening the nature of his old apprehensions as much as
was possible consistently with their being made intelligible and
never alluding to his mother by name, but speaking vaguely of a
relation of his, confided to Mr Pancks a broad outline of the
misgivings he entertained, and of the interview he had witnessed.
Mr Pancks listened with such interest that, regardless of the
charms of the Eastern pipe, he put it in the grate among the fire-
irons, and occupied his hands during the whole recital in so
erecting the loops and hooks of hair all over his head, that he
looked, when it came to a conclusion, like a journeyman Hamlet in
conversation with his father's spirit.

'Brings me back, sir,' was his exclamation then, with a startling
touch on Clennam's knee, 'brings me back, sir, to the Investments!
I don't say anything of your making yourself poor to repair a wrong
you never committed. That's you. A man must be himself. But I
say this, fearing you may want money to save your own blood from
exposure and disgrace--make as much as you can!'

Arthur shook his head, but looked at him thoughtfully too.

'Be as rich as you can, sir,' Pancks adjured him with a powerful
concentration of all his energies on the advice. 'Be as rich as
you honestly can. It's your duty. Not for your sake, but for the
sake of others. Take time by the forelock. Poor Mr Doyce (who
really is growing old) depends upon you. Your relative depends
upon you. You don't know what depends upon you.'

'Well, well, well!' returned Arthur. 'Enough for to-night.'

'One word more, Mr Clennam,' retorted Pancks, 'and then enough for
to-night. Why should you leave all the gains to the gluttons,
knaves, and impostors? Why should you leave all the gains that are
to be got to my proprietor and the like of him? Yet you're always
doing it. When I say you, I mean such men as you. You know you
are. Why, I see it every day of my life. I see nothing else.
It's my business to see it. Therefore I say,' urged Pancks, 'Go in
and win!'

'But what of Go in and lose?' said Arthur.

'Can't be done, sir,' returned Pancks. 'I have looked into it.
Name up everywhere--immense resources--enormous capital--great
position--high connection--government influence. Can't be done!'

Gradually, after this closing exposition, Mr Pancks subsided;
allowed his hair to droop as much as it ever would droop on the
utmost persuasion; reclaimed the pipe from the fire-irons, filled
it anew, and smoked it out. They said little more; but were
company to one another in silently pursuing the same subjects, and
did not part until midnight. On taking his leave, Mr Pancks, when
he had shaken hands with Clennam, worked completely round him
before he steamed out at the door. This, Arthur received as an
assurance that he might implicitly rely on Pancks, if he ever
should come to need assistance; either in any of the matters of
which they had spoken that night, or any other subject that could
in any way affect himself.

At intervals all next day, and even while his attention was fixed
on other things, he thought of Mr Pancks's investment of his
thousand pounds, and of his having 'looked into it.' He thought of
Mr Pancks's being so sanguine in this matter, and of his not being
usually of a sanguine character. He thought of the great National
Department, and of the delight it would be to him to see Doyce
better off. He thought of the darkly threatening place that went
by the name of Home in his remembrance, and of the gathering
shadows which made it yet more darkly threatening than of old. He
observed anew that wherever he went, he saw, or heard, or touched,
the celebrated name of Merdle; he found it difficult even to remain
at his desk a couple of hours, without having it presented to one
of his bodily senses through some agency or other. He began to
think it was curious too that it should be everywhere, and that
nobody but he should seem to have any mistrust of it. Though
indeed he began to remember, when he got to this, even he did not
mistrust it; he had only happened to keep aloof from it.

Such symptoms, when a disease of the kind is rife, are usually the
signs of sickening.

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