The Patriarch, meanwhile, came inanely beaming towards the counting-house in the wake of Pancks. Pancks opened the door for him, towed him in, and retired to his own moorings in a corner.
'I heard from Flora,' said the Patriarch with his benevolent smile, 'that she was coming to call, coming to call. And being out, I thought I'd come also, thought I'd come also.'
The benign wisdom he infused into this declaration (not of itself profound), by means of his blue eyes, his shining head, and his long white hair, was most impressive. It seemed worth putting down among the noblest sentiments enunciated by the best of men. Also, when he said to Clennam, seating himself in the proffered chair, 'And you are in a new business, Mr Clennam? I wish you well, sir, I wish you well!' he seemed to have done benevolent wonders.
'Mrs Finching has been telling me, sir,' said Arthur, after making his acknowledgments; the relict of the late Mr F. meanwhile protesting, with a gesture, against his use of that respectable name; 'that she hopes occasionally to employ the young needlewoman you recommended to my mother. For which I have been thanking her.'
The Patriarch turning his head in a lumbering way towards Pancks, that assistant put up the note-book in which he had been absorbed, and took him in tow.
'You didn't recommend her, you know,' said Pancks; 'how could you? You knew nothing about her, you didn't. The name was mentioned to you, and you passed it on. That's what YOU did.'
'Well!' said Clennam. 'As she justifies any recommendation, it is much the same thing.'
'You are glad she turns out well,' said Pancks, 'but it wouldn't have been your fault if she had turned out ill. The credit's not yours as it is, and the blame wouldn't have been yours as it might have been. You gave no guarantee. You knew nothing about her.' 'You are not acquainted, then,' said Arthur, hazarding a random question, 'with any of her family?'
'Acquainted with any of her family?' returned Pancks. 'How should you be acquainted with any of her family? You never heard of 'em. You can't be acquainted with people you never heard of, can you? You should think not!'
All this time the Patriarch sat serenely smiling; nodding or shaking his head benevolently, as the case required.
'As to being a reference,' said Pancks, 'you know, in a general way, what being a reference means. It's all your eye, that is! Look at your tenants down the Yard here. They'd all be references for one another, if you'd let 'em. What would be the good of letting 'em? It's no satisfaction to be done by two men instead of one. One's enough. A person who can't pay, gets another person who can't pay, to guarantee that he can pay. Like a person with two wooden legs getting another person with two wooden legs, to guarantee that he has got two natural legs. It don't make either of them able to do a walking match. And four wooden legs are more troublesome to you than two, when you don't want any.' Mr Pancks concluded by blowing off that steam of his.
A momentary silence that ensued was broken by Mr F.'s Aunt, who had been sitting upright in a cataleptic state since her last public remark. She now underwent a violent twitch, calculated to produce a startling effect on the nerves of the uninitiated, and with the deadliest animosity observed:
'You can't make a head and brains out of a brass knob with nothing in it. You couldn't do it when your Uncle George was living; much less when he's dead.'
Mr Pancks was not slow to reply, with his usual calmness, 'Indeed, ma'am! Bless my soul! I'm surprised to hear it.' Despite his presence of mind, however, the speech of Mr F.'s Aunt produced a depressing effect on the little assembly; firstly, because it was impossible to disguise that Clennam's unoffending head was the particular temple of reason depreciated; and secondly, because nobody ever knew on these occasions whose Uncle George was referred to, or what spectral presence might be invoked under that appellation.