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    Chapter 21

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    Chapter 22
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    CHAPTER 21

    Mr Merdle's Complaint

    Upon that establishment of state, the Merdle establishment in
    Harley Street, Cavendish Square, there was the shadow of no more
    common wall than the fronts of other establishments of state on the
    opposite side of the street. Like unexceptionable Society, the
    opposing rows of houses in Harley Street were very grim with one
    another. Indeed, the mansions and their inhabitants were so much
    alike in that respect, that the people were often to be found drawn
    up on opposite sides of dinner-tables, in the shade of their own
    loftiness, staring at the other side of the way with the dullness
    of the houses.

    Everybody knows how like the street the two dinner-rows of people
    who take their stand by the street will be. The expressionless
    uniform twenty houses, all to be knocked at and rung at in the same
    form, all approachable by the same dull steps, all fended off by
    the same pattern of railing, all with the same impracticable fire-
    escapes, the same inconvenient fixtures in their heads, and
    everything without exception to be taken at a high valuation--who
    has not dined with these? The house so drearily out of repair, the
    occasional bow-window, the stuccoed house, the newly-fronted house,
    the corner house with nothing but angular rooms, the house with the
    blinds always down, the house with the hatchment always up, the
    house where the collector has called for one quarter of an Idea,
    and found nobody at home--who has not dined with these? The house
    that nobody will take, and is to be had a bargain--who does not
    know her? The showy house that was taken for life by the
    disappointed gentleman, and which does not suit him at all--who is
    unacquainted with that haunted habitation?

    Harley Street, Cavendish Square, was more than aware of Mr and Mrs
    Merdle. Intruders there were in Harley Street, of whom it was not
    aware; but Mr and Mrs Merdle it delighted to honour. Society was
    aware of Mr and Mrs Merdle. Society had said 'Let us license them;
    let us know them.'

    Mr Merdle was immensely rich; a man of prodigious enterprise; a
    Midas without the ears, who turned all he touched to gold. He was
    in everything good, from banking to building. He was in
    Parliament, of course. He was in the City, necessarily. He was
    Chairman of this, Trustee of that, President of the other. The
    weightiest of men had said to projectors, 'Now, what name have you
    got? Have you got Merdle?' And, the reply being in the negative,
    had said, 'Then I won't look at you.'

    This great and fortunate man had provided that extensive bosom
    which required so much room to be unfeeling enough in, with a nest
    of crimson and gold some fifteen years before. It was not a bosom
    to repose upon, but it was a capital bosom to hang jewels upon. Mr
    Merdle wanted something to hang jewels upon, and he bought it for
    the purpose. Storr and Mortimer might have married on the same
    speculation.

    Like all his other speculations, it was sound and successful. The
    jewels showed to the richest advantage. The bosom moving in
    Society with the jewels displayed upon it, attracted general
    admiration. Society approving, Mr Merdle was satisfied. He was
    the most disinterested of men,--did everything for Society, and got
    as little for himself out of all his gain and care, as a man might.

    That is to say, it may be supposed that he got all he wanted,
    otherwise with unlimited wealth he would have got it. But his
    desire was to the utmost to satisfy Society (whatever that was),
    and take up all its drafts upon him for tribute. He did not shine
    in company; he had not very much to say for himself; he was a
    reserved man, with a broad, overhanging, watchful head, that
    particular kind of dull red colour in his cheeks which is rather
    stale than fresh, and a somewhat uneasy expression about his coat-
    cuffs, as if they were in his confidence, and had reasons for being
    anxious to hide his hands. In the little he said, he was a
    pleasant man enough; plain, emphatic about public and private
    confidence, and tenacious of the utmost deference being shown by
    every one, in all things, to Society. In this same Society (if
    that were it which came to his dinners, and to Mrs Merdle's
    receptions and concerts), he hardly seemed to enjoy himself much,
    and was mostly to be found against walls and behind doors. Also
    when he went out to it, instead of its coming home to him, he
    seemed a little fatigued, and upon the whole rather more disposed
    for bed; but he was always cultivating it nevertheless, and always
    moving in it--and always laying out money on it with the greatest
    liberality.

    Mrs Merdle's first husband had been a colonel, under whose auspices
    the bosom had entered into competition with the snows of North
    America, and had come off at little disadvantage in point of
    whiteness, and at none in point of coldness. The colonel's son was
    Mrs Merdle's only child. He was of a chuckle-headed, high-
    shouldered make, with a general appearance of being, not so much a
    young man as a swelled boy. He had given so few signs of reason,
    that a by-word went among his companions that his brain had been
    frozen up in a mighty frost which prevailed at St john's, New
    Brunswick, at the period of his birth there, and had never thawed
    from that hour. Another by-word represented him as having in his
    infancy, through the negligence of a nurse, fallen out of a high
    window on his head, which had been heard by responsible witnesses
    to crack. It is probable that both these representations were of
    ex post facto origin; the young gentleman (whose expressive name
    was Sparkler) being monomaniacal in offering marriage to all manner
    of undesirable young ladies, and in remarking of every successive
    young lady to whom he tendered a matrimonial proposal that she was
    'a doosed fine gal--well educated too--with no biggodd nonsense
    about her.'

    A son-in-law with these limited talents, might have been a clog
    upon another man; but Mr Merdle did not want a son-in-law for
    himself; he wanted a son-in-law for Society. Mr Sparkler having
    been in the Guards, and being in the habit of frequenting all the
    races, and all the lounges, and all the parties, and being well
    known, Society was satisfied with its son-in-law. This happy
    result Mr Merdle would have considered well attained, though Mr
    Sparkler had been a more expensive article. And he did not get Mr
    Sparkler by any means cheap for Society, even as it was.
    There was a dinner giving in the Harley Street establishment, while
    Little Dorrit was stitching at her father's new shirts by his side
    that night; and there were magnates from the Court and magnates
    from the City, magnates from the Commons and magnates from the
    Lords, magnates from the bench and magnates from the bar, Bishop
    magnates, Treasury magnates, Horse Guard magnates, Admiralty
    magnates,--all the magnates that keep us going, and sometimes trip
    us up.

    'I am told,' said Bishop magnate to Horse Guards, 'that Mr Merdle
    has made another enormous hit. They say a hundred thousand
    pounds.'

    Horse Guards had heard two.

    Treasury had heard three.

    Bar, handling his persuasive double eye-glass, was by no means
    clear but that it might be four. It was one of those happy strokes
    of calculation and combination, the result of which it was
    difficult to estimate. It was one of those instances of a
    comprehensive grasp, associated with habitual luck and
    characteristic boldness, of which an age presented us but few. But
    here was Brother Bellows, who had been in the great Bank case, and
    who could probably tell us more. What did Brother Bellows put this
    new success at?

    Brother Bellows was on his way to make his bow to the bosom, and
    could only tell them in passing that he had heard it stated, with
    great appearance of truth, as being worth, from first to last,
    half-a-million of money.

    Admiralty said Mr Merdle was a wonderful man, Treasury said he was
    a new power in the country, and would be able to buy up the whole
    House of Commons. Bishop said he was glad to think that this
    wealth flowed into the coffers of a gentleman who was always
    disposed to maintain the best interests of Society.

    Mr Merdle himself was usually late on these occasions, as a man
    still detained in the clutch of giant enterprises when other men
    had shaken off their dwarfs for the day. On this occasion, he was
    the last arrival. Treasury said Merdle's work punished him a
    little. Bishop said he was glad to think that this wealth flowed
    into the coffers of a gentleman who accepted it with meekness.

    Powder! There was so much Powder in waiting, that it flavoured the
    dinner. Pulverous particles got into the dishes, and Society's
    meats had a seasoning of first-rate footmen. Mr Merdle took down
    a countess who was secluded somewhere in the core of an immense
    dress, to which she was in the proportion of the heart to the
    overgrown cabbage. If so low a simile may be admitted, the dress
    went down the staircase like a richly brocaded Jack in the Green,
    and nobody knew what sort of small person carried it.

    Society had everything it could want, and could not want, for
    dinner. It had everything to look at, and everything to eat, and
    everything to drink. It is to be hoped it enjoyed itself; for Mr
    Merdle's own share of the repast might have been paid for with
    eighteenpence. Mrs Merdle was magnificent. The chief butler was
    the next magnificent institution of the day. He was the stateliest
    man in the company. He did nothing, but he looked on as few other
    men could have done. He was Mr Merdle's last gift to Society. Mr
    Merdle didn't want him, and was put out of countenance when the
    great creature looked at him; but inappeasable Society would have
    him--and had got him.

    The invisible countess carried out the Green at the usual stage of
    the entertainment, and the file of beauty was closed up by the
    bosom. Treasury said, Juno. Bishop said, Judith.

    Bar fell into discussion with Horse Guards concerning courts-
    martial. Brothers Bellows and Bench struck in. Other magnates
    paired off. Mr Merdle sat silent, and looked at the table-cloth.
    Sometimes a magnate addressed him, to turn the stream of his own
    particular discussion towards him; but Mr Merdle seldom gave much
    attention to it, or did more than rouse himself from his
    calculations and pass the wine.

    When they rose, so many of the magnates had something to say to Mr
    Merdle individually that he held little levees by the sideboard,
    and checked them off as they went out at the door.

    Treasury hoped he might venture to congratulate one of England's
    world-famed capitalists and merchant-princes (he had turned that
    original sentiment in the house a few times, and it came easy to
    him) on a new achievement. To extend the triumphs of such men was
    to extend the triumphs and resources of the nation; and Treasury
    felt--he gave Mr Merdle to understand--patriotic on the subject.

    'Thank you, my lord,' said Mr Merdle; 'thank you. I accept your
    congratulations with pride, and I am glad you approve.'

    'Why, I don't unreservedly approve, my dear Mr Merdle. Because,'
    smiling Treasury turned him by the arm towards the sideboard and
    spoke banteringly, 'it never can be worth your while to come among
    us and help us.'

    Mr Merdle felt honoured by the--

    'No, no,' said Treasury, 'that is not the light in which one so
    distinguished for practical knowledge and great foresight, can be
    expected to regard it. If we should ever be happily enabled, by
    accidentally possessing the control over circumstances, to propose
    to one so eminent to--to come among us, and give us the weight of
    his influence, knowledge, and character, we could only propose it
    to him as a duty. In fact, as a duty that he owed to Society.'

    Mr Merdle intimated that Society was the apple of his eye, and that
    its claims were paramount to every other consideration. Treasury
    moved on, and Bar came up.
    Bar, with his little insinuating jury droop, and fingering his
    persuasive double eye-glass, hoped he might be excused if he
    mentioned to one of the greatest converters of the root of all evil
    into the root of all good, who had for a long time reflected a
    shining lustre on the annals even of our commercial country--if he
    mentioned, disinterestedly, and as, what we lawyers called in our
    pedantic way, amicus curiae, a fact that had come by accident
    within his knowledge. He had been required to look over the title
    of a very considerable estate in one of the eastern counties--
    lying, in fact, for Mr Merdle knew we lawyers loved to be
    particular, on the borders of two of the eastern counties. Now,
    the title was perfectly sound, and the estate was to be purchased
    by one who had the command of--Money (jury droop and persuasive
    eye-glass), on remarkably advantageous terms. This had come to
    Bar's knowledge only that day, and it had occurred to him, 'I shall
    have the honour of dining with my esteemed friend Mr Merdle this
    evening, and, strictly between ourselves, I will mention the
    opportunity.' Such a purchase would involve not only a great
    legitimate political influence, but some half-dozen church
    presentations of considerable annual value. Now, that Mr Merdle
    was already at no loss to discover means of occupying even his
    capital, and of fully employing even his active and vigorous
    intellect, Bar well knew: but he would venture to suggest that the
    question arose in his mind, whether one who had deservedly gained
    so high a position and so European a reputation did not owe it--we
    would not say to himself, but we would say to Society, to possess
    himself of such influences as these; and to exercise them--we would
    not say for his own, or for his party's, but we would say for
    Society's--benefit.

    Mr Merdle again expressed himself as wholly devoted to that object
    of his constant consideration, and Bar took his persuasive eye-
    glass up the grand staircase. Bishop then came undesignedly
    sidling in the direction of the sideboard.

    Surely the goods of this world, it occurred in an accidental way to
    Bishop to remark, could scarcely be directed into happier channels
    than when they accumulated under the magic touch of the wise and
    sagacious, who, while they knew the just value of riches (Bishop
    tried here to look as if he were rather poor himself), were aware
    of their importance, judiciously governed and rightly distributed,
    to the welfare of our brethren at large.

    Mr Merdle with humility expressed his conviction that Bishop
    couldn't mean him, and with inconsistency expressed his high
    gratification in Bishop's good opinion.

    Bishop then--jauntily stepping out a little with his well-shaped
    right leg, as though he said to Mr Merdle 'don't mind the apron; a
    mere form!' put this case to his good friend:

    Whether it had occurred to his good friend, that Society might not
    unreasonably hope that one so blest in his undertakings, and whose
    example on his pedestal was so influential with it, would shed a
    little money in the direction of a mission or so to Africa?

    Mr Merdle signifying that the idea should have his best attention,
    Bishop put another case:

    Whether his good friend had at all interested himself in the
    proceedings of our Combined Additional Endowed Dignitaries
    Committee, and whether it had occurred to him that to shed a little
    money in that direction might be a great conception finely
    executed?

    Mr Merdle made a similar reply, and Bishop explained his reason for
    inquiring.

    Society looked to such men as his good friend to do such things.
    It was not that HE looked to them, but that Society looked to them.

    just as it was not Our Committee who wanted the Additional Endowed
    Dignitaries, but it was Society that was in a state of the most
    agonising uneasiness of mind until it got them. He begged to
    assure his good friend that he was extremely sensible of his good
    friend's regard on all occasions for the best interests of Society;
    and he considered that he was at once consulting those interests
    and expressing the feeling of Society, when he wished him continued
    prosperity, continued increase of riches, and continued things in
    general.

    Bishop then betook himself up-stairs, and the other magnates
    gradually floated up after him until there was no one left below
    but Mr Merdle. That gentleman, after looking at the table-cloth
    until the soul of the chief butler glowed with a noble resentment,
    went slowly up after the rest, and became of no account in the
    stream of people on the grand staircase. Mrs Merdle was at home,
    the best of the jewels were hung out to be seen, Society got what
    it came for, Mr Merdle drank twopennyworth of tea in a corner and
    got more than he wanted.

    Among the evening magnates was a famous physician, who knew
    everybody, and whom everybody knew. On entering at the door, he
    came upon Mr Merdle drinking his tea in a corner, and touched him
    on the arm.

    Mr Merdle started. 'Oh! It's you!'

    'Any better to-day?'

    'No,' said Mr Merdle, 'I am no better.'

    'A pity I didn't see you this morning. Pray come to me to-morrow,
    or let me come to you. '

    'Well!' he replied. 'I will come to-morrow as I drive by.'
    Bar and Bishop had both been bystanders during this short dialogue,
    and as Mr Merdle was swept away by the crowd, they made their
    remarks upon it to the Physician. Bar said, there was a certain
    point of mental strain beyond which no man could go; that the point
    varied with various textures of brain and peculiarities of
    constitution, as he had had occasion to notice in several of his
    learned brothers; but the point of endurance passed by a line's
    breadth, depression and dyspepsia ensued. Not to intrude on the
    sacred mysteries of medicine, he took it, now (with the jury droop
    and persuasive eye-glass), that this was Merdle's case? Bishop
    said that when he was a young man, and had fallen for a brief space
    into the habit of writing sermons on Saturdays, a habit which all
    young sons of the church should sedulously avoid, he had frequently
    been sensible of a depression, arising as he supposed from an over-
    taxed intellect, upon which the yolk of a new-laid egg, beaten up
    by the good woman in whose house he at that time lodged, with a
    glass of sound sherry, nutmeg, and powdered sugar acted like a
    charm. Without presuming to offer so simple a remedy to the
    consideration of so profound a professor of the great healing art,
    he would venture to inquire whether the strain, being by way of
    intricate calculations, the spirits might not (humanly speaking) be
    restored to their tone by a gentle and yet generous stimulant?

    'Yes,' said the physician, 'yes, you are both right. But I may as
    well tell you that I can find nothing the matter with Mr Merdle.
    He has the constitution of a rhinoceros, the digestion of an
    ostrich, and the concentration of an oyster. As to nerves, Mr
    Merdle is of a cool temperament, and not a sensitive man: is about
    as invulnerable, I should say, as Achilles. How such a man should
    suppose himself unwell without reason, you may think strange. But
    I have found nothing the matter with him. He may have some deep-
    seated recondite complaint. I can't say. I only say, that at
    present I have not found it out.'

    There was no shadow of Mr Merdle's complaint on the bosom now
    displaying precious stones in rivalry with many similar superb
    jewel-stands; there was no shadow of Mr Merdle's complaint on young
    Sparkler hovering about the rooms, monomaniacally seeking any
    sufficiently ineligible young lady with no nonsense about her;
    there was no shadow of Mr Merdle's complaint on the Barnacles and
    Stiltstalkings, of whom whole colonies were present; or on any of
    the company. Even on himself, its shadow was faint enough as he
    moved about among the throng, receiving homage.

    Mr Merdle's complaint. Society and he had so much to do with one
    another in all things else, that it is hard to imagine his
    complaint, if he had one, being solely his own affair. Had he that
    deep-seated recondite complaint, and did any doctor find it out?
    Patience. in the meantime, the shadow of the Marshalsea wall was
    a real darkening influence, and could be seen on the Dorrit Family
    at any stage of the sun's course.
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    Chapter 22
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