A little humbug, and a groove, and everything goes on admirably, if you leave it alone.'
With this hopeful confession of his faith as the head of the rising Barnacles who were born of woman, to be followed under a variety of watchwords which they utterly repudiated and disbelieved, Ferdinand rose. Nothing could be more agreeable than his frank and courteous bearing, or adapted with a more gentlemanly instinct to the circumstances of his visit.
'Is it fair to ask,' he said, as Clennam gave him his hand with a real feeling of thankfulness for his candour and good-humour, 'whether it is true that our late lamented Merdle is the cause of this passing inconvenience?'
'I am one of the many he has ruined. Yes.'
'He must have been an exceedingly clever fellow,' said Ferdinand Barnacle.
Arthur, not being in the mood to extol the memory of the deceased, was silent.
'A consummate rascal, of course,' said Ferdinand, 'but remarkably clever! One cannot help admiring the fellow. Must have been such a master of humbug. Knew people so well--got over them so completely--did so much with them!' In his easy way, he was really moved to genuine admiration.
'I hope,' said Arthur, 'that he and his dupes may be a warning to people not to have so much done with them again.'
'My dear Mr Clennam,' returned Ferdinand, laughing, 'have you really such a verdant hope? The next man who has as large a capacity and as genuine a taste for swindling, will succeed as well. Pardon me, but I think you really have no idea how the human bees will swarm to the beating of any old tin kettle; in that fact lies the complete manual of governing them. When they can be got to believe that the kettle is made of the precious metals, in that fact lies the whole power of men like our late lamented. No doubt there are here and there,' said Ferdinand politely, 'exceptional cases, where people have been taken in for what appeared to them to be much better reasons; and I need not go far to find such a case; but they don't invalidate the rule. Good day! I hope that when I have the pleasure of seeing you, next, this passing cloud will have given place to sunshine. Don't come a step beyond the door. I know the way out perfectly. Good day!'
With those words, the best and brightest of the Barnacles went down-stairs, hummed his way through the Lodge, mounted his horse in the front court-yard, and rode off to keep an appointment with his noble kinsman, who wanted a little coaching before he could triumphantly answer certain infidel Snobs who were going to question the Nobs about their statesmanship.
He must have passed Mr Rugg on his way out, for, a minute or two afterwards, that ruddy-headed gentleman shone in at the door, like an elderly Phoebus.
'How do you do to-day, sir?' said Mr Rugg. 'Is there any little thing I can do for you to-day, sir?'
'No, I thank you.'
Mr Rugg's enjoyment of embarrassed affairs was like a housekeeper's enjoyment in pickling and preserving, or a washerwoman's enjoyment of a heavy wash, or a dustman's enjoyment of an overflowing dust- bin, or any other professional enjoyment of a mess in the way of business.
'I still look round, from time to time, sir,' said Mr Rugg, cheerfully, 'to see whether any lingering Detainers are accumulating at the gate. They have fallen in pretty thick, sir; as thick as we could have expected.'
He remarked upon the circumstance as if it were matter of congratulation: rubbing his hands briskly, and rolling his head a little.
'As thick,' repeated Mr Rugg, 'as we could reasonably have expected. Quite a shower-bath of 'em. I don't often intrude upon you now, when I look round, because I know you are not inclined for company, and that if you wished to see me, you would leave word in the Lodge. But I am here pretty well every day, sir. Would this be an unseasonable time, sir,' asked Mr Rugg, coaxingly, 'for me to offer an observation?'
'As seasonable a time as any other.'
'Hum! Public opinion, sir,' said Mr Rugg, 'has been busy with you.'
'I don't doubt it.'
'Might it not be advisable, sir,' said Mr Rugg, more coaxingly yet, 'now to make, at last and after all, a trifling concession to public opinion? We all do it in one way or another.