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    Chapter 25

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    Chapter 60
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    CHAPTER 25

    The Chief Butler Resigns the Seals of Office

    The dinner-party was at the great Physician's. Bar was there, and
    in full force. Ferdinand Barnacle was there, and in his most
    engaging state. Few ways of life were hidden from Physician, and
    he was oftener in its darkest places than even Bishop. There were
    brilliant ladies about London who perfectly doted on him, my dear,
    as the most charming creature and the most delightful person, who
    would have been shocked to find themselves so close to him if they
    could have known on what sights those thoughtful eyes of his had
    rested within an hour or two, and near to whose beds, and under
    what roofs, his composed figure had stood. But Physician was a
    composed man, who performed neither on his own trumpet, nor on the
    trumpets of other people. Many wonderful things did he see and
    hear, and much irreconcilable moral contradiction did he pass his
    life among; yet his equality of compassion was no more disturbed
    than the Divine Master's of all healing was. He went, like the
    rain, among the just and unjust, doing all the good he could, and
    neither proclaiming it in the synagogues nor at the corner of
    streets.

    As no man of large experience of humanity, however quietly carried
    it may be, can fail to be invested with an interest peculiar to the
    possession of such knowledge, Physician was an attractive man.
    Even the daintier gentlemen and ladies who had no idea of his
    secret, and who would have been startled out of more wits than they
    had, by the monstrous impropriety of his proposing to them 'Come
    and see what I see!' confessed his attraction. Where he was,
    something real was. And half a grain of reality, like the smallest
    portion of some other scarce natural productions, will flavour an
    enormous quantity of diluent.

    It came to pass, therefore, that Physician's little dinners always
    presented people in their least conventional lights. The guests
    said to themselves, whether they were conscious of it or no, 'Here
    is a man who really has an acquaintance with us as we are, who is
    admitted to some of us every day with our wigs and paint off, who
    hears the wanderings of our minds, and sees the undisguised
    expression of our faces, when both are past our control; we may as
    well make an approach to reality with him, for the man has got the
    better of us and is too strong for us.' Therefore, Physician's
    guests came out so surprisingly at his round table that they were
    almost natural.

    Bar's knowledge of that agglomeration of jurymen which is called
    humanity was as sharp as a razor; yet a razor is not a generally
    convenient instrument, and Physician's plain bright scalpel, though
    far less keen, was adaptable to far wider purposes. Bar knew all
    about the gullibility and knavery of people; but Physician could
    have given him a better insight into their tendernesses and
    affections, in one week of his rounds, than Westminster Hall and
    all the circuits put together, in threescore years and ten. Bar
    always had a suspicion of this, and perhaps was glad to encourage
    it (for, if the world were really a great Law Court, one would
    think that the last day of Term could not too soon arrive); and so
    he liked and respected Physician quite as much as any other kind of
    man did.

    Mr Merdle's default left a Banquo's chair at the table; but, if he
    had been there, he would have merely made the difference of Banquo
    in it, and consequently he was no loss. Bar, who picked up all
    sorts of odds and ends about Westminster Hall, much as a raven
    would have done if he had passed as much of his time there, had
    been picking up a great many straws lately and tossing them about,
    to try which way the Merdle wind blew. He now had a little talk on
    the subject with Mrs Merdle herself; sidling up to that lady, of
    course, with his double eye-glass and his jury droop.

    'A certain bird,' said Bar; and he looked as if it could have been
    no other bird than a magpie; 'has been whispering among us lawyers
    lately, that there is to be an addition to the titled personages of
    this realm.'

    'Really?' said Mrs Merdle.

    'Yes,' said Bar. 'Has not the bird been whispering in very
    different ears from ours--in lovely ears?' He looked expressively
    at Mrs Merdle's nearest ear-ring.

    'Do you mean mine?' asked Mrs Merdle.

    'When I say lovely,' said Bar, 'I always mean you.'

    'You never mean anything, I think,' returned Mrs Merdle (not
    displeased).

    'Oh, cruelly unjust!' said Bar. 'But, the bird.'

    'I am the last person in the world to hear news,' observed Mrs
    Merdle, carelessly arranging her stronghold. 'Who is it?'

    'What an admirable witness you would make!' said Bar. 'No jury
    (unless we could empanel one of blind men) could resist you, if you
    were ever so bad a one; but you would be such a good one!'

    'Why, you ridiculous man?' asked Mrs Merdle, laughing.

    Bar waved his double eye-glass three or four times between himself
    and the Bosom, as a rallying answer, and inquired in his most
    insinuating accents:

    'What am I to call the most elegant, accomplished and charming of
    women, a few weeks, or it may be a few days, hence?'

    'Didn't your bird tell you what to call her?' answered Mrs Merdle.
    'Do ask it to-morrow, and tell me the next time you see me what it
    says.'

    This led to further passages of similar pleasantry between the two;
    but Bar, with all his sharpness, got nothing out of them.
    Physician, on the other hand, taking Mrs Merdle down to her
    carriage and attending on her as she put on her cloak, inquired
    into the symptoms with his usual calm directness.

    'May I ask,' he said, 'is this true about Merdle?'

    'My dear doctor,' she returned, 'you ask me the very question that
    I was half disposed to ask you.'
    'To ask me! Why me?'

    'Upon my honour, I think Mr Merdle reposes greater confidence in
    you than in any one.'

    'On the contrary, he tells me absolutely nothing, even
    professionally. You have heard the talk, of course?'

    ' Of course I have. But you know what Mr Merdle is; you know how
    taciturn and reserved he is. I assure you I have no idea what
    foundation for it there may be. I should like it to be true; why
    should I deny that to you? You would know better, if I did!'

    'Just so,' said Physician.

    'But whether it is all true, or partly true, or entirely false, I
    am wholly unable to say. It is a most provoking situation, a most
    absurd situation; but you know Mr Merdle, and are not surprised.'

    Physician was not surprised, handed her into her carriage, and bade
    her Good Night. He stood for a moment at his own hall door,
    looking sedately at the elegant equipage as it rattled away. On
    his return up-stairs, the rest of the guests soon dispersed, and he
    was left alone. Being a great reader of all kinds of literature
    (and never at all apologetic for that weakness), he sat down
    comfortably to read.

    The clock upon his study table pointed to a few minutes short of
    twelve, when his attention was called to it by a ringing at the
    door bell. A man of plain habits, he had sent his servants to bed
    and must needs go down to open the door. He went down, and there
    found a man without hat or coat, whose shirt sleeves were rolled up
    tight to his shoulders. For a moment, he thought the man had been
    fighting: the rather, as he was much agitated and out of breath.
    A second look, however, showed him that the man was particularly
    clean, and not otherwise discomposed as to his dress than as it
    answered this description.

    'I come from the warm-baths, sir, round in the neighbouring
    street.'

    'And what is the matter at the warm-baths?'

    'Would you please to come directly, sir. We found that, lying on
    the table.'

    He put into the physician's hand a scrap of paper. Physician
    looked at it, and read his own name and address written in pencil;
    nothing more. He looked closer at the writing, looked at the man,
    took his hat from its peg, put the key of his door in his pocket,
    and they hurried away together.

    When they came to the warm-baths, all the other people belonging to
    that establishment were looking out for them at the door, and
    running up and down the passages. 'Request everybody else to keep
    back, if you please,' said the physician aloud to the master; 'and
    do you take me straight to the place, my friend,' to the messenger.

    The messenger hurried before him, along a grove of little rooms,
    and turning into one at the end of the grove, looked round the
    door. Physician was close upon him, and looked round the door too.

    There was a bath in that corner, from which the water had been
    hastily drained off. Lying in it, as in a grave or sarcophagus,
    with a hurried drapery of sheet and blanket thrown across it, was
    the body of a heavily-made man, with an obtuse head, and coarse,
    mean, common features. A sky-light had been opened to release the
    steam with which the room had been filled; but it hung, condensed
    into water-drops, heavily upon the walls, and heavily upon the face
    and figure in the bath. The room was still hot, and the marble of
    the bath still warm; but the face and figure were clammy to the
    touch. The white marble at the bottom of the bath was veined with
    a dreadful red. On the ledge at the side, were an empty laudanum-
    bottle and a tortoise-shell handled penknife--soiled, but not with
    ink.

    'Separation of jugular vein--death rapid--been dead at least half
    an hour.' This echo of the physician's words ran through the
    passages and little rooms, and through the house while he was yet
    straightening himself from having bent down to reach to the bottom
    of the bath, and while he was yet dabbling his hands in water;
    redly veining it as the marble was veined, before it mingled into
    one tint.

    He turned his eyes to the dress upon the sofa, and to the watch,
    money, and pocket-book on the table. A folded note half buckled up
    in the pocket-book, and half protruding from it, caught his
    observant glance. He looked at it, touched it, pulled it a little
    further out from among the leaves, said quietly, 'This is addressed
    to me,' and opened and read it.

    There were no directions for him to give. The people of the house
    knew what to do; the proper authorities were soon brought; and they
    took an equable business-like possession of the deceased, and of
    what had been his property, with no greater disturbance of manner
    or countenance than usually attends the winding-up of a clock.
    Physician was glad to walk out into the night air--was even glad,
    in spite of his great experience, to sit down upon a door-step for
    a little while: feeling sick and faint.

    Bar was a near neighbour of his, and, when he came to the house, he
    saw a light in the room where he knew his friend often sat late
    getting up his work. As the light was never there when Bar was
    not, it gave him assurance that Bar was not yet in bed. In fact,
    this busy bee had a verdict to get to-morrow, against evidence, and
    was improving the shining hours in setting snares for the gentlemen
    of the jury.

    Physician's knock astonished Bar; but, as he immediately suspected
    that somebody had come to tell him that somebody else was robbing
    him, or otherwise trying to get the better of him, he came down
    promptly and softly. He had been clearing his head with a lotion
    of cold water, as a good preparative to providing hot water for the
    heads of the jury, and had been reading with the neck of his shirt
    thrown wide open that he might the more freely choke the opposite
    witnesses. In consequence, he came down, looking rather wild.
    Seeing Physician, the least expected of men, he looked wilder and
    said, 'What's the matter?'

    'You asked me once what Merdle's complaint was.'

    'Extraordinary answer! I know I did.'

    'I told you I had not found out.'

    'Yes. I know you did.'

    'I have found it out.'

    'My God!' said Bar, starting back, and clapping his hand upon the
    other's breast. 'And so have I! I see it in your face.'

    They went into the nearest room, where Physician gave him the
    letter to read. He read it through half-a-dozen times. There was
    not much in it as to quantity; but it made a great demand on his
    close and continuous attention. He could not sufficiently give
    utterance to his regret that he had not himself found a clue to
    this. The smallest clue, he said, would have made him master of
    the case, and what a case it would have been to have got to the
    bottom of!

    Physician had engaged to break the intelligence in Harley Street.
    Bar could not at once return to his inveiglements of the most
    enlightened and remarkable jury he had ever seen in that box, with
    whom, he could tell his learned friend, no shallow sophistry would
    go down, and no unhappily abused professional tact and skill
    prevail (this was the way he meant to begin with them); so he said
    he would go too, and would loiter to and fro near the house while
    his friend was inside. They walked there, the better to recover
    self-possession in the air; and the wings of day were fluttering
    the night when Physician knocked at the door.

    A footman of rainbow hues, in the public eye, was sitting up for
    his master--that is to say, was fast asleep in the kitchen over a
    couple of candles and a newspaper, demonstrating the great
    accumulation of mathematical odds against the probabilities of a
    house being set on fire by accident When this serving man was
    roused, Physician had still to await the rousing of the Chief
    Butler. At last that noble creature came into the dining-room in
    a flannel gown and list shoes; but with his cravat on, and a Chief
    Butler all over. It was morning now. Physician had opened the
    shutters of one window while waiting, that he might see the light.
    'Mrs Merdle's maid must be called, and told to get Mrs Merdle up,
    and prepare her as gently as she can to see me. I have dreadful
    news to break to her.'

    Thus Physician to the Chief Butler. The latter, who had a candle
    in his hand, called his man to take it away. Then he approached
    the window with dignity; looking on at Physician's news exactly as
    he had looked on at the dinners in that very room.

    'Mr Merdle is dead.'

    'I should wish,' said the Chief Butler, 'to give a month's notice.'

    'Mr Merdle has destroyed himself.'

    'Sir,' said the Chief Butler, 'that is very unpleasant to the
    feelings of one in my position, as calculated to awaken prejudice;
    and I should wish to leave immediately.'

    'If you are not shocked, are you not surprised, man?' demanded the
    Physician, warmly.

    The Chief Butler, erect and calm, replied in these memorable words.

    'Sir, Mr Merdle never was the gentleman, and no ungentlemanly act
    on Mr Merdle's part would surprise me. Is there anybody else I can
    send to you, or any other directions I can give before I leave,
    respecting what you would wish to be done?'

    When Physician, after discharging himself of his trust up-stairs,
    rejoined Bar in the street, he said no more of his interview with
    Mrs Merdle than that he had not yet told her all, but that what he
    had told her she had borne pretty well. Bar had devoted his
    leisure in the street to the construction of a most ingenious man-
    trap for catching the whole of his jury at a blow; having got that
    matter settled in his mind, it was lucid on the late catastrophe,
    and they walked home slowly, discussing it in every bearing.
    Before parting at the Physician's door, they both looked up at the
    sunny morning sky, into which the smoke of a few early fires and
    the breath and voices of a few early stirrers were peacefully
    rising, and then looked round upon the immense city, and said, if
    all those hundreds and thousands of beggared people who were yet
    asleep could only know, as they two spoke, the ruin that impended
    over them, what a fearful cry against one miserable soul would go
    up to Heaven!

    The report that the great man was dead, got about with astonishing
    rapidity. At first, he was dead of all the diseases that ever were
    known, and of several bran-new maladies invented with the speed of
    Light to meet the demand of the occasion. He had concealed a
    dropsy from infancy, he had inherited a large estate of water on
    the chest from his grandfather, he had had an operation performed
    upon him every morning of his life for eighteen years, he had been
    subject to the explosion of important veins in his body after the
    manner of fireworks, he had had something the matter with his
    lungs, he had had something the matter with his heart, he had had
    something the matter with his brain. Five hundred people who sat
    down to breakfast entirely uninformed on the whole subject,
    believed before they had done breakfast, that they privately and
    personally knew Physician to have said to Mr Merdle, 'You must
    expect to go out, some day, like the snuff of a candle;' and that
    they knew Mr Merdle to have said to Physician, 'A man can die but
    once.' By about eleven o'clock in the forenoon, something the
    matter with the brain, became the favourite theory against the
    field; and by twelve the something had been distinctly ascertained
    to be 'Pressure.'

    Pressure was so entirely satisfactory to the public mind, and
    seemed to make everybody so comfortable, that it might have lasted
    all day but for Bar's having taken the real state of the case into
    Court at half-past nine. This led to its beginning to be currently
    whispered all over London by about one, that Mr Merdle had killed
    himself. Pressure, however, so far from being overthrown by the
    discovery, became a greater favourite than ever. There was a
    general moralising upon Pressure, in every street. All the people
    who had tried to make money and had not been able to do it, said,
    There you were! You no sooner began to devote yourself to the
    pursuit of wealth than you got Pressure. The idle people improved
    the occasion in a similar manner. See, said they, what you brought
    yourself to by work, work, work! You persisted in working, you
    overdid it. Pressure came on, and you were done for! This
    consideration was very potent in many quarters, but nowhere more so
    than among the young clerks and partners who had never been in the
    slightest danger of overdoing it. These, one and all, declared,
    quite piously, that they hoped they would never forget the warning
    as long as they lived, and that their conduct might be so regulated
    as to keep off Pressure, and preserve them, a comfort to their
    friends, for many years.

    But, at about the time of High 'Change, Pressure began to wane, and
    appalling whispers to circulate, east, west, north, and south. At
    first they were faint, and went no further than a doubt whether Mr
    Merdle's wealth would be found to be as vast as had been supposed;
    whether there might not be a temporary difficulty in 'realising'
    it; whether there might not even be a temporary suspension (say a
    month or so), on the part of the wonderful Bank. As the whispers
    became louder, which they did from that time every minute, they
    became more threatening. He had sprung from nothing, by no natural
    growth or process that any one could account for; he had been,
    after all, a low, ignorant fellow; he had been a down-looking man,
    and no one had ever been able to catch his eye; he had been taken
    up by all sorts of people in quite an unaccountable manner; he had
    never had any money of his own, his ventures had been utterly
    reckless, and his expenditure had been most enormous. In steady
    progression, as the day declined, the talk rose in sound and
    purpose. He had left a letter at the Baths addressed to his
    physician, and his physician had got the letter, and the letter
    would be produced at the Inquest on the morrow, and it would fall
    like a thunderbolt upon the multitude he had deluded. Numbers of
    men in every profession and trade would be blighted by his
    insolvency; old people who had been in easy circumstances all their
    lives would have no place of repentance for their trust in him but
    the workhouse; legions of women and children would have their whole
    future desolated by the hand of this mighty scoundrel. Every
    partaker of his magnificent feasts would be seen to have been a
    sharer in the plunder of innumerable homes; every servile
    worshipper of riches who had helped to set him on his pedestal,
    would have done better to worship the Devil point-blank. So, the
    talk, lashed louder and higher by confirmation on confirmation, and
    by edition after edition of the evening papers, swelled into such
    a roar when night came, as might have brought one to believe that
    a solitary watcher on the gallery above the Dome of St Paul's would
    have perceived the night air to be laden with a heavy muttering of
    the name of Merdle, coupled with every form of execration.

    For by that time it was known that the late Mr Merdle's complaint
    had been simply Forgery and Robbery. He, the uncouth object of
    such wide-spread adulation, the sitter at great men's feasts, the
    roc's egg of great ladies' assemblies, the subduer of
    exclusiveness, the leveller of pride, the patron of patrons, the
    bargain-driver with a Minister for Lordships of the Circumlocution
    Office, the recipient of more acknowledgment within some ten or
    fifteen years, at most, than had been bestowed in England upon all
    peaceful public benefactors, and upon all the leaders of all the
    Arts and Sciences, with all their works to testify for them, during
    two centuries at least--he, the shining wonder, the new
    constellation to be followed by the wise men bringing gifts, until
    it stopped over a certain carrion at the bottom of a bath and
    disappeared--was simply the greatest Forger and the greatest Thief
    that ever cheated the gallows.
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