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Charles Dickens > Little Dorrit > Chapter 58

Little Dorrit

Chapter 58

Who passes by this Road so late?

Arthur Clennam had made his unavailing expedition to Calais in the
midst of a great pressure of business. A certain barbaric Power
with valuable possessions on the map of the world, had occasion for
the services of one or two engineers, quick in invention and
determined in execution: practical men, who could make the men and
means their ingenuity perceived to be wanted out of the best
materials they could find at hand; and who were as bold and fertile
in the adaptation of such materials to their purpose, as in the
conception of their purpose itself. This Power, being a barbaric
one, had no idea of stowing away a great national object in a
Circumlocution Office, as strong wine is hidden from the light in
a cellar until its fire and youth are gone, and the labourers who
worked in the vineyard and pressed the grapes are dust. With
characteristic ignorance, it acted on the most decided and
energetic notions of How to do it; and never showed the least
respect for, or gave any quarter to, the great political science,
How not to do it. Indeed it had a barbarous way of striking the
latter art and mystery dead, in the person of any enlightened
subject who practised it.

Accordingly, the men who were wanted were sought out and found;
which was in itself a most uncivilised and irregular way of
proceeding. Being found, they were treated with great confidence
and honour (which again showed dense political ignorance), and were
invited to come at once and do what they had to do. In short, they
were regarded as men who meant to do it, engaging with other men
who meant it to be done.

Daniel Doyce was one of the chosen. There was no foreseeing at
that time whether he would be absent months or years. The
preparations for his departure, and the conscientious arrangement
for him of all the details and results of their joint business, had
necessitated labour within a short compass of time, which had
occupied Clennam day and night. He had slipped across the water in
his first leisure, and had slipped as quickly back again for his
farewell interview with Doyce.

Him Arthur now showed, with pains and care, the state of their
gains and losses, responsibilities and prospects. Daniel went
through it all in his patient manner, and admired it all
exceedingly. He audited the accounts, as if they were a far more
ingenious piece of mechanism than he had ever constructed, and
afterwards stood looking at them, weighing his hat over his head by
the brims, as if he were absorbed in the contemplation of some
wonderful engine.

'It's all beautiful, Clennam, in its regularity and order. Nothing
can be plainer. Nothing can be better.'

'I am glad you approve, Doyce. Now, as to the management of your
capital while you are away, and as to the conversion of so much of
it as the business may need from time to time--' His partner
stopped him.

'As to that, and as to everything else of that kind, all rests with
you. You will continue in all such matters to act for both of us,
as you have done hitherto, and to lighten my mind of a load it is
much relieved from.'

'Though, as I often tell you,' returned Clennam, 'you unreasonably
depreciate your business qualities.'

'Perhaps so,' said Doyce, smiling. 'And perhaps not. Anyhow, I
have a calling that I have studied more than such matters, and that
I am better fitted for. I have perfect confidence in my partner,
and I am satisfied that he will do what is best. If I have a
prejudice connected with money and money figures,' continued Doyce,
laying that plastic workman's thumb of his on the lapel of his
partner's coat, 'it is against speculating. I don't think I have
any other. I dare say I entertain that prejudice, only because I
have never given my mind fully to the subject.'

'But you shouldn't call it a prejudice,' said Clennam. 'My dear
Doyce, it is the soundest sense.'

'I am glad you think so,' returned Doyce, with his grey eye looking
kind and bright.

'It so happens,' said Clennam, 'that just now, not half an hour
before you came down, I was saying the same thing to Pancks, who
looked in here. We both agreed that to travel out of safe
investments is one of the most dangerous, as it is one of the most
common, of those follies which often deserve the name of vices.'

'Pancks?' said Doyce, tilting up his hat at the back, and nodding
with an air of confidence. 'Aye, aye, aye! That's a cautious

'He is a very cautious fellow indeed,' returned Arthur. 'Quite a
specimen of caution.'

They both appeared to derive a larger amount of satisfaction from
the cautious character of Mr Pancks, than was quite intelligible,
judged by the surface of their conversation.

'And now,' said Daniel, looking at his watch, 'as time and tide
wait for no man, my trusty partner, and as I am ready for starting,
bag and baggage, at the gate below, let me say a last word. I want
you to grant a request of mine.'

'Any request you can make--Except,' Clennam was quick with his
exception, for his partner's face was quick in suggesting it,
'except that I will abandon your invention.'

'That's the request, and you know it is,' said Doyce.

'I say, No, then. I say positively, No. Now that I have begun, I
will have some definite reason, some responsible statement,
something in the nature of a real answer, from those people.'

'You will not,' returned Doyce, shaking his head. 'Take my word
for it, you never will.'

'At least, I'll try,' said Clennam. 'It will do me no harm to

'I am not certain of that,' rejoined Doyce, laying his hand
persuasively on his shoulder. 'It has done me harm, my friend. It
has aged me, tired me, vexed me, disappointed me. It does no man
any good to have his patience worn out, and to think himself ill-
used. I fancy, even already, that unavailing attendance on delays
and evasions has made you something less elastic than you used to

'Private anxieties may have done that for the moment,' said
Clennam, 'but not official harrying. Not yet. I am not hurt yet.'

'Then you won't grant my request?'

'Decidedly, No,' said Clennam. 'I should be ashamed if I submitted
to be so soon driven out of the field, where a much older and a
much more sensitively interested man contended with fortitude so

As there was no moving him, Daniel Doyce returned the grasp of his
hand, and, casting a farewell look round the counting-house, went
down-stairs with him. Doyce was to go to Southampton to join the
small staff of his fellow-travellers; and a coach was at the gate,
well furnished and packed, and ready to take him there. The
workmen were at the gate to see him off, and were mightily proud of
him. 'Good luck to you, Mr Doyce!' said one of the number.
'Wherever you go, they'll find as they've got a man among 'em) a
man as knows his tools and as his tools knows, a man as is willing
and a man as is able, and if that's not a man, where is a man!'
This oration from a gruff volunteer in the back-ground, not
previously suspected of any powers in that way, was received with
three loud cheers; and the speaker became a distinguished character
for ever afterwards. In the midst of the three loud cheers, Daniel
gave them all a hearty 'Good Bye, Men!' and the coach disappeared
from sight, as if the concussion of the air had blown it out of
Bleeding Heart Yard.

Mr Baptist, as a grateful little fellow in a position of trust, was
among the workmen, and had done as much towards the cheering as a
mere foreigner could. In truth, no men on earth can cheer like
Englishmen, who do so rally one another's blood and spirit when
they cheer in earnest, that the stir is like the rush of their
whole history, with all its standards waving at once, from Saxon
Alfred's downwards. Mr Baptist had been in a manner whirled away
before the onset, and was taking his breath in quite a scared
condition when Clennam beckoned him to follow up-stairs, and return
the books and papers to their places.

In the lull consequent on the departure--in that first vacuity
which ensues on every separation, foreshadowing the great
separation that is always overhanging all mankind--Arthur stood at
his desk, looking dreamily out at a gleam of sun. But his
liberated attention soon reverted to the theme that was foremost in
his thoughts, and began, for the hundredth time, to dwell upon
every circumstance that had impressed itself upon his mind on the
mysterious night when he had seen the man at his mother's. Again
the man jostled him in the crooked street, again he followed the
man and lost him, again he came upon the man in the court-yard
looking at the house, again he followed the man and stood beside
him on the door-steps.

     'Who passes by this road so late?
         Compagnon de la Majolaine;
     Who passes by this road so late?
         Always gay!'

It was not the first time, by many, that he had recalled the song
of the child's game, of which the fellow had hummed @ verse while
they stood side by side; but he was so unconscious of having
repeated it audibly, that he started to hear the next verse.

     'Of all the king's knights 'tis the flower,
         Compagnon de la Majolaine;
     Of all the king's knights 'tis the flower,
         Always gay!'

Cavalletto had deferentially suggested the words and tune,
supposing him to have stopped short for want of more.

'Ah! You know the song, Cavalletto?'

'By Bacchus, yes, sir! They all know it in France. I have heard
it many times, sung by the little children. The last time when it
I have heard,' said Mr Baptist, formerly Cavalletto, who usually
went back to his native construction of sentences when his memory
went near home, 'is from a sweet little voice. A little voice,
very pretty, very innocent. Altro!'

'The last time I heard it,' returned Arthur, 'was in a voice quite
the reverse of pretty, and quite the reverse of innocent.' He said
it more to himself than to his companion, and added to himself,
repeating the man's next words. 'Death of my life, sir, it's my
character to be impatient!'

'EH!' cried Cavalletto, astounded, and with all his colour gone in
a moment.

'What is the matter?'

'Sir! You know where I have heard that song the last time?'

With his rapid native action, his hands made the outline of a high
hook nose, pushed his eyes near together, dishevelled his hair,
puffed out his upper lip to represent a thick moustache, and threw
the heavy end of an ideal cloak over his shoulder. While doing
this, with a swiftness incredible to one who has not watched an
Italian peasant, he indicated a very remarkable and sinister smile.

The whole change passed over him like a flash of light, and he
stood in the same instant, pale and astonished, before his patron.

'In the name of Fate and wonder,' said Clennam, 'what do you mean?
Do you know a man of the name of Blandois?'

'No!' said Mr Baptist, shaking his head.

'You have just now described a man who was by when you heard that
song; have you not?'

'Yes!' said Mr Baptist, nodding fifty times.

'And was he not called Blandois?'

'No!' said Mr Baptist. 'Altro, Altro, Altro, Altro!' He could not
reject the name sufficiently, with his head and his right
forefinger going at once.

'Stay!' cried Clennam, spreading out the handbill on his desk.
'Was this the man? You can understand what I read aloud?'

'Altogether. Perfectly.'

'But look at it, too. Come here and look over me, while I read.'

Mr Baptist approached, followed every word with his quick eyes, saw
and heard it all out with the greatest impatience, then clapped his
two hands flat upon the bill as if he had fiercely caught some
noxious creature, and cried, looking eagerly at Clennam, 'It is the
man! Behold him!'

'This is of far greater moment to me' said Clennam, in great
agitation, 'than you can imagine. Tell me where you knew the man.'

Mr Baptist, releasing the paper very slowly and with much
discomfiture, and drawing himself back two or three paces, and
making as though he dusted his hands, returned, very much against
his will:

'At Marsiglia--Marseilles.'

'What was he?'

'A prisoner, and--Altro! I believe yes!--an,' Mr Baptist crept
closer again to whisper it, 'Assassin!'

Clennam fell back as if the word had struck him a blow: so terrible
did it make his mother's communication with the man appear.
Cavalletto dropped on one knee, and implored him, with a redundancy
of gesticulation, to hear what had brought himself into such foul

He told with perfect truth how it had come of a little contraband
trading, and how he had in time been released from prison, and how
he had gone away from those antecedents. How, at the house of
entertainment called the Break of Day at Chalons on the Saone, he
had been awakened in his bed at night by the same assassin, then
assuming the name of Lagnier, though his name had formerly been
Rigaud; how the assassin had proposed that they should join their
fortunes together; how he held the assassin in such dread and
aversion that he had fled from him at daylight, and how he had ever
since been haunted by the fear of seeing the assassin again and
being claimed by him as an acquaintance. When he had related this,
with an emphasis and poise on the word, 'assassin,' peculiarly
belonging to his own language, and which did not serve to render it
less terrible to Clennam, he suddenly sprang to his feet, pounced
upon the bill again, and with a vehemence that would have been
absolute madness in any man of Northern origin, cried 'Behold the
same assassin! Here he is!'

In his passionate raptures, he at first forgot the fact that he had
lately seen the assassin in London. On his remembering it, it
suggested hope to Clennam that the recognition might be of later
date than the night of the visit at his mother's; but Cavalletto
was too exact and clear about time and place, to leave any opening
for doubt that it had preceded that occasion.

'Listen,' said Arthur, very seriously. 'This man, as we have read
here, has wholly disappeared.'

'Of it I am well content!' said Cavalletto, raising his eyes
piously. 'A thousand thanks to Heaven! Accursed assassin!'

'Not so,' returned Clennam; 'for until something more is heard of
him, I can never know an hour's peace.'

'Enough, Benefactor; that is quite another thing. A million of

'Now, Cavalletto,' said Clennam, gently turning him by the arm, so
that they looked into each other's eyes. 'I am certain that for
the little I have been able to do for you, you are the most
sincerely grateful of men.'

'I swear it!' cried the other.

'I know it. If you could find this man, or discover what has
become of him, or gain any later intelligence whatever of him, you
would render me a service above any other service I could receive
in the world, and would make me (with far greater reason) as
grateful to you as you are to me.'
'I know not where to look,' cried the little man, kissing Arthur's
hand in a transport. 'I know not where to begin. I know not where
to go. But, courage! Enough! It matters not! I go, in this
instant of time!'

'Not a word to any one but me, Cavalletto.'

'Al-tro!' cried Cavalletto. And was gone with great speed.

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