'Yes, Clennam,' said Mr Meagles, in a lower voice. 'There they both are. It was taken some seventeen years ago. As I often say to Mother, they were babies then.'
'Their names?' said Arthur.
'Ah, to be sure! You have never heard any name but Pet. Pet's name is Minnie; her sister's Lillie.'
'Should you have known, Mr Clennam, that one of them was meant for me?' asked Pet herself, now standing in the doorway.
'I might have thought that both of them were meant for you, both are still so like you. Indeed,' said Clennam, glancing from the fair original to the picture and back, 'I cannot even now say which is not your portrait.' 'D'ye hear that, Mother?' cried Mr Meagles to his wife, who had followed her daughter. 'It's always the same, Clennam; nobody can decide. The child to your left is Pet.'
The picture happened to be near a looking-glass. As Arthur looked at it again, he saw, by the reflection of the mirror, Tattycoram stop in passing outside the door, listen to what was going on, and pass away with an angry and contemptuous frown upon her face, that changed its beauty into ugliness.
'But come!' said Mr Meagles. 'You have had a long walk, and will be glad to get your boots off. As to Daniel here, I suppose he'd never think of taking his boots off, unless we showed him a boot- jack.'
'Why not?' asked Daniel, with a significant smile at Clennam.
'Oh! You have so many things to think about,' returned Mr Meagles, clapping him on the shoulder, as if his weakness must not be left to itself on any account. 'Figures, and wheels, and cogs, and levers, and screws, and cylinders, and a thousand things.'
'In my calling,' said Daniel, amused, 'the greater usually includes the less. But never mind, never mind! Whatever pleases you, pleases me.'
Clennam could not help speculating, as he seated himself in his room by the fire, whether there might be in the breast of this honest, affectionate, and cordial Mr Meagles, any microscopic portion of the mustard-seed that had sprung up into the great tree of the Circumlocution Office. His curious sense of a general superiority to Daniel Doyce, which seemed to be founded, not so much on anything in Doyce's personal character as on the mere fact of his being an originator and a man out of the beaten track of other men, suggested the idea. It might have occupied him until he went down to dinner an hour afterwards, if he had not had another question to consider, which had been in his mind so long ago as before he was in quarantine at Marseilles, and which had now returned to it, and was very urgent with it. No less a question than this: Whether he should allow himself to fall in love with Pet?
He was twice her age. (He changed the leg he had crossed over the other, and tried the calculation again, but could not bring out the total at less.) He was twice her age. Well! He was young in appearance, young in health and strength, young in heart. A man was certainly not old at forty; and many men were not in circumstances to marry, or did not marry, until they had attained that time of life. On the other hand, the question was, not what he thought of the point, but what she thought of it.
He believed that Mr Meagles was disposed to entertain a ripe regard for him, and he knew that he had a sincere regard for Mr Meagles and his good wife. He could foresee that to relinquish this beautiful only child, of whom they were so fond, to any husband, would be a trial of their love which perhaps they never yet had had the fortitude to contemplate. But the more beautiful and winning and charming she, the nearer they must always be to the necessity of approaching it. And why not in his favour, as well as in another's?
When he had got so far, it came again into his head that the question was, not what they thought of it, but what she thought of it.
Arthur Clennam was a retiring man, with a sense of many deficiencies; and he so exalted the merits of the beautiful Minnie in his mind, and depressed his own, that when he pinned himself to this point, his hopes began to fail him.