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Little Dorrit

34.
A Shoal of Barnacles
Mr Henry Gowan and the dog were established frequenters of the cottage, and
the day was fixed for the wedding. There was to be a convocation of Barnacles
on the occasion, in order that that very high and very large family might shed as
much lustre on the marriage as so dim an event was capable of receiving.
To have got the whole Barnacle family together would have been impossible for
two reasons. Firstly, because no building could have held all the members and
connections of that illustrious house. Secondly, because wherever there was a
square yard of ground in British occupation under the sun or moon, with a public
post upon it, sticking to that post was a Barnacle. No intrepid navigator could
plant a flag-staff upon any spot of earth, and take possession of it in the British
name, but to that spot of earth, so soon as the discovery was known, the
Circumlocution Office sent out a Barnacle and a despatch-box. Thus the
Barnacles were all over the world, in every direction--despatch-boxing the
compass.
But, while the so-potent art of Prospero himself would have failed in summoning
the Barnacles from every speck of ocean and dry land on which there was
nothing (except mischief) to be done and anything to be pocketed, it was
perfectly feasible to assemble a good many Barnacles. This Mrs Gowan applied
herself to do; calling on Mr Meagles frequently with new additions to the list, and
holding conferences with that gentleman when he was not engaged (as he
generally was at this period) in examining and paying the debts of his future son-
in-law, in the apartment of scales and scoops.
One marriage guest there was, in reference to whose presence Mr Meagles felt a
nearer interest and concern than in the attendance of the most elevated Barnacle
expected; though he was far from insensible of the honour of having such
company. This guest was Clennam. But Clennam had made a promise he held
sacred, among the trees that summer night, and, in the chivalry of his heart,
regarded it as binding him to many implied obligations. In forgetfulness of
himself, and delicate service to her on all occasions, he was never to fail; to
begin it, he answered Mr Meagles cheerfully, 'I shall come, of course.'
His partner, Daniel Doyce, was something of a stumbling-block in Mr Meagles's
way, the worthy gentleman being not at all clear in his own anxious mind but that
the mingling of Daniel with official Barnacleism might produce some explosive
combination, even at a marriage breakfast. The national offender, however,
lightened him of his uneasiness by coming down to Twickenham to represent
that he begged, with the freedom of an old friend, and as a favour to one, that he
might not be invited. 'For,' said he, 'as my business with this set of gentlemen
was to do a public duty and a public service, and as their business with me was
to prevent it by wearing my soul out, I think we had better not eat and drink
together with a show of being of one mind.' Mr Meagles was much amused by his
friend's oddity; and patronised him with a more protecting air of allowance than
usual, when he rejoined: 'Well, well, Dan, you shall have your own crotchety
way.'
 
 
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