We don't want to do it; but if men will be gravelled, why--we can't help it.'
'Without giving an unqualified assent to what you say,' returned Arthur, gloomily, 'I am much obliged to you for your interest in me.'
'No, but really! Our place is,' said the easy young Barnacle, 'the most inoffensive place possible. You'll say we are a humbug. I won't say we are not; but all that sort of thing is intended to be, and must be. Don't you see?'
'I do not,' said Clennam.
'You don't regard it from the right point of view. It is the point of view that is the essential thing. Regard our place from the point of view that we only ask you to leave us alone, and we are as capital a Department as you'll find anywhere.'
'Is your place there to be left alone?' asked Clennam.
'You exactly hit it,' returned Ferdinand. 'It is there with the express intention that everything shall be left alone. That is what it means. That is what it's for. No doubt there's a certain form to be kept up that it's for something else, but it's only a form. Why, good Heaven, we are nothing but forms! Think what a lot of our forms you have gone through. And you have never got any nearer to an end?'
'Never,' said Clennam.
'Look at it from the right point of view, and there you have us-- official and effectual. It's like a limited game of cricket. A field of outsiders are always going in to bowl at the Public Service, and we block the balls.'
Clennam asked what became of the bowlers? The airy young Barnacle replied that they grew tired, got dead beat, got lamed, got their backs broken, died off, gave it up, went in for other games.
'And this occasions me to congratulate myself again,' he pursued, 'on the circumstance that our place has had nothing to do with your temporary retirement. It very easily might have had a hand in it; because it is undeniable that we are sometimes a most unlucky place, in our effects upon people who will not leave us alone. Mr Clennam, I am quite unreserved with you. As between yourself and myself, I know I may be. I was so, when I first saw you making the mistake of not leaving us alone; because I perceived that you were inexperienced and sanguine, and had--I hope you'll not object to my saying--some simplicity.'
'Not at all.'
'Some simplicity. Therefore I felt what a pity it was, and I went out of my way to hint to you (which really was not official, but I never am official when I can help it) something to the effect that if I were you, I wouldn't bother myself. However, you did bother yourself, and you have since bothered yourself. Now, don't do it any more.'
'I am not likely to have the opportunity,' said Clennam.
'Oh yes, you are! You'll leave here. Everybody leaves here. There are no ends of ways of leaving here. Now, don't come back to us. That entreaty is the second object of my call. Pray, don't come back to us. Upon my honour,' said Ferdinand in a very friendly and confiding way, 'I shall be greatly vexed if you don't take warning by the past and keep away from us.'
'And the invention?' said Clennam.
'My good fellow,' returned Ferdinand, 'if you'll excuse the freedom of that form of address, nobody wants to know of the invention, and nobody cares twopence-halfpenny about it.'
'Nobody in the Office, that is to say?'
'Nor out of it. Everybody is ready to dislike and ridicule any invention. You have no idea how many people want to be left alone.
You have no idea how the Genius of the country (overlook the Parliamentary nature of the phrase, and don't be bored by it) tends to being left alone. Believe me, Mr Clennam,' said the sprightly young Barnacle in his pleasantest manner, 'our place is not a wicked Giant to be charged at full tilt; but only a windmill showing you, as it grinds immense quantities of chaff, which way the country wind blows.'
'If I could believe that,' said Clennam, 'it would be a dismal prospect for all of us.'
'Oh! Don't say so!' returned Ferdinand. 'It's all right. We must have humbug, we all like humbug, we couldn't get on without humbug.