'Why, of course,' said she. 'Just what I mean.'
Arthur watched her face for some explanation of what she did mean.
'Are you really serious, Mr Clennam? Don't you see?'
Arthur did not see; and said so.
'Why, don't I know my son, and don't I know that this is exactly the way to hold him?' said Mrs Gowan, contemptuously; 'and do not these Miggles people know it, at least as well as I? Oh, shrewd people, Mr Clennam: evidently people of business! I believe Miggles belonged to a Bank. It ought to have been a very profitable Bank, if he had much to do with its management. This is very well done, indeed.'
'I beg and entreat you, ma'am--' Arthur interposed.
'Oh, Mr Clennam, can you really be so credulous?'
It made such a painful impression upon him to hear her talking in this haughty tone, and to see her patting her contemptuous lips with her fan, that he said very earnestly, 'Believe me, ma'am, this is unjust, a perfectly groundless suspicion.'
'Suspicion?' repeated Mrs Gowan. 'Not suspicion, Mr Clennam, Certainty. It is very knowingly done indeed, and seems to have taken YOU in completely.' She laughed; and again sat tapping her lips with her fan, and tossing her head, as if she added, 'Don't tell me. I know such people will do anything for the honour of such an alliance.'
At this opportune moment, the cards were thrown up, and Mr Henry Gowan came across the room saying, 'Mother, if you can spare Mr Clennam for this time, we have a long way to go, and it's getting late.' Mr Clennam thereupon rose, as he had no choice but to do; and Mrs Gowan showed him, to the last, the same look and the same tapped contemptuous lips.
'You have had a portentously long audience of my mother,' said Gowan, as the door closed upon them. 'I fervently hope she has not bored you?'
'Not at all,' said Clennam.
They had a little open phaeton for the journey, and were soon in it on the road home. Gowan, driving, lighted a cigar; Clennam declined one. Do what he would, he fell into such a mood of abstraction that Gowan said again, 'I am very much afraid my mother has bored you?' To which he roused himself to answer, 'Not at all!' and soon relapsed again.
In that state of mind which rendered nobody uneasy, his thoughtfulness would have turned principally on the man at his side. He would have thought of the morning when he first saw him rooting out the stones with his heel, and would have asked himself, 'Does he jerk me out of the path in the same careless, cruel way?' He would have thought, had this introduction to his mother been brought about by him because he knew what she would say, and that he could thus place his position before a rival and loftily warn him off, without himself reposing a word of confidence in him? He would have thought, even if there were no such design as that, had he brought him there to play with his repressed emotions, and torment him? The current of these meditations would have been stayed sometimes by a rush of shame, bearing a remonstrance to himself from his own open nature, representing that to shelter such suspicions, even for the passing moment, was not to hold the high, unenvious course he had resolved to keep. At those times, the striving within him would have been hardest; and looking up and catching Gowan's eyes, he would have started as if he had done him an injury.
Then, looking at the dark road and its uncertain objects, he would have gradually trailed off again into thinking, 'Where are we driving, he and I, I wonder, on the darker road of life? How will it be with us, and with her, in the obscure distance?' Thinking of her, he would have been troubled anew with a reproachful misgiving that it was not even loyal to her to dislike him, and that in being so easily prejudiced against him he was less deserving of her than at first.
'You are evidently out of spirits,' said Gowan; 'I am very much afraid my mother must have bored you dreadfully.' 'Believe me, not at all,' said Clennam. 'It's nothing--nothing!'
A frequently recurring doubt, whether Mr Pancks's desire to collect information relative to the Dorrit family could have any possible bearing on the misgivings he had imparted to his mother on his return from his long exile, caused Arthur Clennam much uneasiness at this period.