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    Chapter 33

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    Chapter 34
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    CHAPTER 33

    Mrs Merdle's Complaint

    Resigning herself to inevitable fate by making the best of those
    people, the Miggleses, and submitting her philosophy to the draught
    upon it, of which she had foreseen the likelihood in her interview
    with Arthur, Mrs Gowan handsomely resolved not to oppose her son's
    marriage. In her progress to, and happy arrival at, this
    resolution, she was possibly influenced, not only by her maternal
    affections but by three politic considerations.

    Of these, the first may have been that her son had never signified
    the smallest intention to ask her consent, or any mistrust of his
    ability to dispense with it; the second, that the pension bestowed
    upon her by a grateful country (and a Barnacle) would be freed from
    any little filial inroads, when her Henry should be married to the
    darling only child of a man in very easy circumstances; the third,
    that Henry's debts must clearly be paid down upon the altar-railing
    by his father-in-law. When, to these three-fold points of prudence
    there is added the fact that Mrs Gowan yielded her consent the
    moment she knew of Mr Meagles having yielded his, and that Mr
    Meagles's objection to the marriage had been the sole obstacle in
    its way all along, it becomes the height of probability that the
    relict of the deceased Commissioner of nothing particular, turned
    these ideas in her sagacious mind.

    Among her connections and acquaintances, however, she maintained
    her individual dignity and the dignity of the blood of the
    Barnacles, by diligently nursing the pretence that it was a most
    unfortunate business; that she was sadly cut up by it; that this
    was a perfect fascination under which Henry laboured; that she had
    opposed it for a long time, but what could a mother do; and the
    like. She had already called Arthur Clennam to bear witness to
    this fable, as a friend of the Meagles family; and she followed up
    the move by now impounding the family itself for the same purpose.
    In the first interview she accorded to Mr Meagles, she slided
    herself into the position of disconsolately but gracefully yielding
    to irresistible pressure. With the utmost politeness and good-
    breeding, she feigned that it was she--not he--who had made the
    difficulty, and who at length gave way; and that the sacrifice was
    hers--not his. The same feint, with the same polite dexterity, she
    foisted on Mrs Meagles, as a conjuror might have forced a card on
    that innocent lady; and, when her future daughter-in-law was
    presented to her by her son, she said on embracing her, 'My dear,
    what have you done to Henry that has bewitched him so!' at the same
    time allowing a few tears to carry before them, in little pills,
    the cosmetic powder on her nose; as a delicate but touching signal
    that she suffered much inwardly for the show of composure with
    which she bore her misfortune.

    Among the friends of Mrs Gowan (who piqued herself at once on being
    Society, and on maintaining intimate and easy relations with that
    Power), Mrs Merdle occupied a front row. True, the Hampton Court
    Bohemians, without exception, turned up their noses at Merdle as an
    upstart; but they turned them down again, by falling flat on their
    faces to worship his wealth. In which compensating adjustment of
    their noses, they were pretty much like Treasury, Bar, and Bishop,
    and all the rest of them.

    To Mrs Merdle, Mrs Gowan repaired on a visit of self-condolence,
    after having given the gracious consent aforesaid. She drove into
    town for the purpose in a one-horse carriage irreverently called at
    that period of English history, a pill-box. It belonged to a job-
    master in a small way, who drove it himself, and who jobbed it by
    the day, or hour, to most of the old ladies in Hampton Court
    Palace; but it was a point of ceremony, in that encampment, that
    the whole equipage should be tacitly regarded as the private
    property of the jobber for the time being, and that the job-master
    should betray personal knowledge of nobody but the jobber in
    possession. So the Circumlocution Barnacles, who were the largest
    job-masters in the universe, always pretended to know of no other
    job but the job immediately in hand.

    Mrs Merdle was at home, and was in her nest of crimson and gold,
    with the parrot on a neighbouring stem watching her with his head
    on one side, as if he took her for another splendid parrot of a
    larger species. To whom entered Mrs Gowan, with her favourite
    green fan, which softened the light on the spots of bloom.

    'My dear soul,' said Mrs Gowan, tapping the back of her friend's
    hand with this fan after a little indifferent conversation, 'you
    are my only comfort. That affair of Henry's that I told you of, is
    to take place. Now, how does it strike you? I am dying to know,
    because you represent and express Society so well.'

    Mrs Merdle reviewed the bosom which Society was accustomed to
    review; and having ascertained that show-window of Mr Merdle's and
    the London jewellers' to be in good order, replied:

    'As to marriage on the part of a man, my dear, Society requires
    that he should retrieve his fortunes by marriage. Society requires
    that he should gain by marriage. Society requires that he should
    found a handsome establishment by marriage. Society does not see,
    otherwise, what he has to do with marriage. Bird, be quiet!'

    For the parrot on his cage above them, presiding over the
    conference as if he were a judge (and indeed he looked rather like
    one), had wound up the exposition with a shriek.

    'Cases there are,' said Mrs Merdle, delicately crooking the little
    finger of her favourite hand, and making her remarks neater by that
    neat action; 'cases there are where a man is not young or elegant,
    and is rich, and has a handsome establishment already. Those are
    of a different kind. In such cases--'

    Mrs Merdle shrugged her snowy shoulders and put her hand upon the
    jewel-stand, checking a little cough, as though to add, 'why, a man
    looks out for this sort of thing, my dear.' Then the parrot
    shrieked again, and she put up her glass to look at him, and said,
    'Bird! Do be quiet!'
    'But, young men,' resumed Mrs Merdle, 'and by young men you know
    what I mean, my love--I mean people's sons who have the world
    before them--they must place themselves in a better position
    towards Society by marriage, or Society really will not have any
    patience with their making fools of themselves. Dreadfully worldly
    all this sounds,' said Mrs Merdle, leaning back in her nest and
    putting up her glass again, 'does it not?'

    'But it is true,' said Mrs Gowan, with a highly moral air.

    'My dear, it is not to be disputed for a moment,' returned Mrs
    Merdle; 'because Society has made up its mind on the subject, and
    there is nothing more to be said. If we were in a more primitive
    state, if we lived under roofs of leaves, and kept cows and sheep
    and creatures instead of banker's accounts (which would be
    delicious; my dear, I am pastoral to a degree, by nature), well and
    good. But we don't live under leaves, and keep cows and sheep and
    creatures. I perfectly exhaust myself sometimes, in pointing out
    the distinction to Edmund Sparkler.'

    Mrs Gowan, looking over her green fan when this young gentleman's
    name was mentioned, replied as follows:

    'My love, you know the wretched state of the country--those
    unfortunate concessions of John Barnacle's!--and you therefore know
    the reasons for my being as poor as Thingummy.'

    'A church mouse?' Mrs Merdle suggested with a smile.

    'I was thinking of the other proverbial church person--Job,' said
    Mrs Gowan. 'Either will do. It would be idle to disguise,
    consequently, that there is a wide difference between the position
    of your son and mine. I may add, too, that Henry has talent--'

    'Which Edmund certainly has not,' said Mrs Merdle, with the
    greatest suavity.

    '--and that his talent, combined with disappointment,' Mrs Gowan
    went on, 'has led him into a pursuit which--ah dear me! You know,
    my dear. Such being Henry's different position, the question is
    what is the most inferior class of marriage to which I can
    reconcile myself.'

    Mrs Merdle was so much engaged with the contemplation of her arms
    (beautiful-formed arms, and the very thing for bracelets), that she
    omitted to reply for a while. Roused at length by the silence, she
    folded the arms, and with admirable presence of mind looked her
    friend full in the face, and said interrogatively, 'Ye-es? And

    'And then, my dear,' said Mrs Gowan not quite so sweetly as before,
    'I should be glad to hear what you have to say to it.'

    Here the parrot, who had been standing on one leg since he screamed
    last, burst into a fit of laughter, bobbed himself derisively up
    and down on both legs, and finished by standing on one leg again,
    and pausing for a reply, with his head as much awry as he could
    possibly twist it.

    'Sounds mercenary to ask what the gentleman is to get with the
    lady,' said Mrs Merdle; 'but Society is perhaps a little mercenary,
    you know, my dear.'

    'From what I can make out,' said Mrs Gowan, 'I believe I may say
    that Henry will be relieved from debt--'

    'Much in debt?' asked Mrs Merdle through her eyeglass.

    'Why tolerably, I should think,' said Mrs Gowan.

    'Meaning the usual thing; I understand; just so,' Mrs Merdle
    observed in a comfortable sort of way.

    'And that the father will make them an allowance of three hundred
    a-year, or perhaps altogether something more, which, in Italy-'

    'Oh! Going to Italy?' said Mrs Merdle.

    'For Henry to study. You need be at no loss to guess why, my dear.

    That dreadful Art--'

    True. Mrs Merdle hastened to spare the feelings of her afflicted
    friend. She understood. Say no more!

    'And that,' said Mrs Gowan, shaking her despondent head, 'that's
    all. That,' repeated Mrs Gowan, furling her green fan for the
    moment, and tapping her chin with it (it was on the way to being a
    double chin; might be called a chin and a half at present), 'that's
    all! On the death of the old people, I suppose there will be more
    to come; but how it may be restricted or locked up, I don't know.
    And as to that, they may live for ever. My dear, they are just the
    kind of people to do it.'

    Now, Mrs Merdle, who really knew her friend Society pretty well,
    and who knew what Society's mothers were, and what Society's
    daughters were, and what Society's matrimonial market was, and how
    prices ruled in it, and what scheming and counter-scheming took
    place for the high buyers, and what bargaining and huckstering went
    on, thought in the depths of her capacious bosom that this was a
    sufficiently good catch. Knowing, however, what was expected of
    her, and perceiving the exact nature of the fiction to be nursed,
    she took it delicately in her arms, and put her required
    contribution of gloss upon it.

    'And that is all, my dear?' said she, heaving a friendly sigh.
    'Well, well! The fault is not yours. You have nothing to reproach
    yourself with. You must exercise the strength of mind for which
    you are renowned, and make the best of it.'
    'The girl's family have made,' said Mrs Gowan, 'of course, the most
    strenuous endeavours to--as the lawyers say--to have and to hold

    'Of course they have, my dear,' said Mrs Merdle.

    'I have persisted in every possible objection, and have worried
    myself morning, noon, and night, for means to detach Henry from the

    'No doubt you have, my dear,' said Mrs Merdle.

    'And all of no use. All has broken down beneath me. Now tell me,
    my love. Am I justified in at last yielding my most reluctant
    consent to Henry's marrying among people not in Society; or, have
    I acted with inexcusable weakness?'

    In answer to this direct appeal, Mrs Merdle assured Mrs Gowan
    (speaking as a Priestess of Society) that she was highly to be
    commended, that she was much to be sympathised with, that she had
    taken the highest of parts, and had come out of the furnace
    refined. And Mrs Gowan, who of course saw through her own
    threadbare blind perfectly, and who knew that Mrs Merdle saw
    through it perfectly, and who knew that Society would see through
    it perfectly, came out of this form, notwithstanding, as she had
    gone into it, with immense complacency and gravity.

    The conference was held at four or five o'clock in the afternoon,
    when all the region of Harley Street, Cavendish Square, was
    resonant of carriage-wheels and double-knocks. It had reached this
    point when Mr Merdle came home from his daily occupation of causing
    the British name to be more and more respected in all parts of the
    civilised globe capable of the appreciation of world-wide
    commercial enterprise and gigantic combinations of skill and
    capital. For, though nobody knew with the least precision what Mr
    Merdle's business was, except that it was to coin money, these were
    the terms in which everybody defined it on all ceremonious
    occasions, and which it was the last new polite reading of the
    parable of the camel and the needle's eye to accept without

    For a gentleman who had this splendid work cut out for him, Mr
    Merdle looked a little common, and rather as if, in the course of
    his vast transactions, he had accidentally made an interchange of
    heads with some inferior spirit. He presented himself before the
    two ladies in the course of a dismal stroll through his mansion,
    which had no apparent object but escape from the presence of the
    chief butler.

    'I beg your pardon,' he said, stopping short in confusion; 'I
    didn't know there was anybody here but the parrot.'

    However, as Mrs Merdle said, 'You can come in!' and as Mrs Gowan
    said she was just going, and had already risen to take her leave,
    he came in, and stood looking out at a distant window, with his
    hands crossed under his uneasy coat-cuffs, clasping his wrists as
    if he were taking himself into custody. In this attitude he fell
    directly into a reverie from which he was only aroused by his
    wife's calling to him from her ottoman, when they had been for some
    quarter of an hour alone.

    'Eh? Yes?' said Mr Merdle, turning towards her. 'What is it?'

    'What is it?' repeated Mrs Merdle. 'It is, I suppose, that you
    have not heard a word of my complaint.'

    'Your complaint, Mrs Merdle?' said Mr Merdle. 'I didn't know that
    you were suffering from a complaint. What complaint?'

    'A complaint of you,' said Mrs Merdle.

    'Oh! A complaint of me,' said Mr Merdle. 'What is the--what have
    I--what may you have to complain of in me, Mrs Merdle?' In his
    withdrawing, abstracted, pondering way, it took him some time to
    shape this question. As a kind of faint attempt to convince
    himself that he was the master of the house, he concluded by
    presenting his forefinger to the parrot, who expressed his opinion
    on that subject by instantly driving his bill into it.

    'You were saying, Mrs Merdle,' said Mr Merdle, with his wounded
    finger in his mouth, 'that you had a complaint against me?'

    'A complaint which I could scarcely show the justice of more
    emphatically, than by having to repeat it,' said Mrs Merdle. 'I
    might as well have stated it to the wall. I had far better have
    stated it to the bird. He would at least have screamed.'

    'You don't want me to scream, Mrs Merdle, I suppose,' said Mr
    Merdle, taking a chair.

    'Indeed I don't know,' retorted Mrs Merdle, 'but that you had
    better do that, than be so moody and distraught. One would at
    least know that you were sensible of what was going on around you.'

    'A man might scream, and yet not be that, Mrs Merdle,' said Mr
    Merdle, heavily.

    'And might be dogged, as you are at present, without screaming,'
    returned Mrs Merdle. 'That's very true. If you wish to know the
    complaint I make against you, it is, in so many plain words, that
    you really ought not to go into Society unless you can accommodate
    yourself to Society.'

    Mr Merdle, so twisting his hands into what hair he had upon his
    head that he seemed to lift himself up by it as he started out of
    his chair, cried:
    'Why, in the name of all the infernal powers, Mrs Merdle, who does
    more for Society than I do? Do you see these premises, Mrs Merdle?

    Do you see this furniture, Mrs Merdle? Do you look in the glass
    and see yourself, Mrs Merdle? Do you know the cost of all this,
    and who it's all provided for? And yet will you tell me that I
    oughtn't to go into Society? I, who shower money upon it in this
    way? I, who might always be said--to--to--to harness myself to a
    watering-cart full of money, and go about saturating Society every
    day of my life.'

    'Pray, don't be violent, Mr Merdle,' said Mrs Merdle.

    'Violent?' said Mr Merdle. 'You are enough to make me desperate.
    You don't know half of what I do to accommodate Society. You don't
    know anything of the sacrifices I make for it.'

    'I know,' returned Mrs Merdle, 'that you receive the best in the
    land. I know that you move in the whole Society of the country.
    And I believe I know (indeed, not to make any ridiculous pretence
    about it, I know I know) who sustains you in it, Mr Merdle.'

    'Mrs Merdle,' retorted that gentleman, wiping his dull red and
    yellow face, 'I know that as well as you do. If you were not an
    ornament to Society, and if I was not a benefactor to Society, you
    and I would never have come together. When I say a benefactor to
    it, I mean a person who provides it with all sorts of expensive
    things to eat and drink and look at. But, to tell me that I am not
    fit for it after all I have done for it--after all I have done for
    it,' repeated Mr Merdle, with a wild emphasis that made his wife
    lift up her eyelids, 'after all--all!--to tell me I have no right
    to mix with it after all, is a pretty reward.'

    'I say,' answered Mrs Merdle composedly, 'that you ought to make
    yourself fit for it by being more degage, and less preoccupied.
    There is a positive vulgarity in carrying your business affairs
    about with you as you do.'
    'How do I carry them about, Mrs Merdle?' asked Mr Merdle.

    'How do you carry them about?' said Mrs Merdle. 'Look at yourself
    in the glass.'

    Mr Merdle involuntarily turned his eyes in the direction of the
    nearest mirror, and asked, with a slow determination of his turbid
    blood to his temples, whether a man was to be called to account for
    his digestion?

    'You have a physician,' said Mrs Merdle.

    'He does me no good,' said Mr Merdle.

    Mrs Merdle changed her ground.

    'Besides,' said she, 'your digestion is nonsense. I don't speak of
    your digestion. I speak of your manner.'
    'Mrs Merdle,' returned her husband, 'I look to you for that. You
    supply manner, and I supply money.'

    'I don't expect you,' said Mrs Merdle, reposing easily among her
    cushions, 'to captivate people. I don't want you to take any
    trouble upon yourself, or to try to be fascinating. I simply
    request you to care about nothing--or seem to care about nothing--
    as everybody else does.'

    'Do I ever say I care about anything?' asked Mr Merdle.

    'Say? No! Nobody would attend to you if you did. But you show

    'Show what? What do I show?' demanded Mr Merdle hurriedly.

    'I have already told you. You show that you carry your business
    cares an projects about, instead of leaving them in the City, or
    wherever else they belong to,' said Mrs Merdle. 'Or seeming to.
    Seeming would be quite enough: I ask no more. Whereas you couldn't
    be more occupied with your day's calculations and combinations than
    you habitually show yourself to be, if you were a carpenter.'

    'A carpenter!' repeated Mr Merdle, checking something like a groan.

    'I shouldn't so much mind being a carpenter, Mrs Merdle.'

    'And my complaint is,' pursued the lady, disregarding the low
    remark, 'that it is not the tone of Society, and that you ought to
    correct it, Mr Merdle. If you have any doubt of my judgment, ask
    even Edmund Sparkler.' The door of the room had opened, and Mrs
    Merdle now surveyed the head of her son through her glass.
    'Edmund; we want you here.'

    Mr Sparkler, who had merely put in his head and looked round the
    room without entering (as if he were searching the house for that
    young lady with no nonsense about her), upon this followed up his
    head with his body, and stood before them. To whom, in a few easy
    words adapted to his capacity, Mrs Merdle stated the question at

    The young gentleman, after anxiously feeling his shirt-collar as if
    it were his pulse and he were hypochondriacal, observed, 'That he
    had heard it noticed by fellers.'

    'Edmund Sparkler has heard it noticed,' said Mrs Merdle, with
    languid triumph. 'Why, no doubt everybody has heard it noticed!'
    Which in truth was no unreasonable inference; seeing that Mr
    Sparkler would probably be the last person, in any assemblage of
    the human species, to receive an impression from anything that
    passed in his presence.

    'And Edmund Sparkler will tell you, I dare say,' said Mrs Merdle,
    waving her favourite hand towards her husband, 'how he has heard it
    'I couldn't,' said Mr Sparkler, after feeling his pulse as before,
    'couldn't undertake to say what led to it--'cause memory desperate
    loose. But being in company with the brother of a doosed fine
    gal--well educated too--with no biggodd nonsense about her--at the
    period alluded to--'

    'There! Never mind the sister,' remarked Mrs Merdle, a little
    impatiently. 'What did the brother say?'

    'Didn't say a word, ma'am,' answered Mr Sparkler. 'As silent a
    feller as myself. Equally hard up for a remark.'

    'Somebody said something,' returned Mrs Merdle. 'Never mind who it

    ('Assure you I don't in the least,' said Mr Sparkler.)

    'But tell us what it was.'

    Mr Sparkler referred to his pulse again, and put himself through
    some severe mental discipline before he replied:

    'Fellers referring to my Governor--expression not my own--
    occasionally compliment my Governor in a very handsome way on being
    immensely rich and knowing--perfect phenomenon of Buyer and Banker
    and that--but say the Shop sits heavily on him. Say he carried the
    Shop about, on his back rather--like Jew clothesmen with too much

    'Which,' said Mrs Merdle, rising, with her floating drapery about
    her, 'is exactly my complaint. Edmund, give me your arm up-

    Mr Merdle, left alone to meditate on a better conformation of
    himself to Society, looked out of nine windows in succession, and
    appeared to see nine wastes of space. When he had thus entertained
    himself he went down-stairs, and looked intently at all the carpets
    on the ground-floor; and then came up-stairs again, and looked
    intently at all the carpets on the first-floor; as if they were
    gloomy depths, in unison with his oppressed soul. Through all the
    rooms he wandered, as he always did, like the last person on earth
    who had any business to approach them. Let Mrs Merdle announce,
    with all her might, that she was at Home ever so many nights in a
    season, she could not announce more widely and unmistakably than Mr
    Merdle did that he was never at home.

    At last he met the chief butler, the sight of which splendid
    retainer always finished him. Extinguished by this great creature,
    he sneaked to his dressing-room, and there remained shut up until
    he rode out to dinner, with Mrs Merdle, in her own handsome
    chariot. At dinner, he was envied and flattered as a being of
    might, was Treasuried, Barred, and Bishoped, as much as he would;
    and an hour after midnight came home alone, and being instantly put
    out again in his own hall, like a rushlight, by the chief butler,
    went sighing to bed.
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