He had a spectacle-case in his hand, which he turned over and over while he was thus in question, with a certain free use of the thumb that is never seen but in a hand accustomed to tools.
'You keep with us,' said Mr Meagles, in a threatening kind of Way, 'and I'll introduce you presently. Now then!'
Clennam wondered within himself, as they took the nearest way to the Park, what this unknown (who complied in the gentlest manner) could have been doing. His appearance did not at all justify the suspicion that he had been detected in designs on Mr Meagles's pocket-handkerchief; nor had he any appearance of being quarrelsome or violent. He was a quiet, plain, steady man; made no attempt to escape; and seemed a little depressed, but neither ashamed nor repentant. If he were a criminal offender, he must surely be an incorrigible hypocrite; and if he were no offender, why should Mr Meagles have collared him in the Circumlocution Office? He perceived that the man was not a difficulty in his own mind alone, but in Mr Meagles's too; for such conversation as they had together on the short way to the Park was by no means well sustained, and Mr Meagles's eye always wandered back to the man, even when he spoke of something very different.
At length they being among the trees, Mr Meagles stopped short, and said:
'Mr Clennam, will you do me the favour to look at this man? His name is Doyce, Daniel Doyce. You wouldn't suppose this man to be a notorious rascal; would you?'
'I certainly should not.' It was really a disconcerting question, with the man there.
'No. You would not. I know you would not. You wouldn't suppose him to be a public offender; would you?'
'No. But he is. He is a public offender. What has he been guilty of? Murder, manslaughter, arson, forgery, swindling, house- breaking, highway robbery, larceny, conspiracy, fraud? Which should you say, now?'
'I should say,' returned Arthur Clennam, observing a faint smile in Daniel Doyce's face, 'not one of them.'
'You are right,' said Mr Meagles. 'But he has been ingenious, and he has been trying to turn his ingenuity to his country's service. That makes him a public offender directly, sir.'
Arthur looked at the man himself, who only shook his head.
'This Doyce,' said Mr Meagles, 'is a smith and engineer. He is not in a large way, but he is well known as a very ingenious man. A dozen years ago, he perfects an invention (involving a very curious secret process) of great importance to his country and his fellow- creatures. I won't say how much money it cost him, or how many years of his life he had been about it, but he brought it to perfection a dozen years ago. Wasn't it a dozen?' said Mr Meagles, addressing Doyce. 'He is the most exasperating man in the world; he never complains!'
'Yes. Rather better than twelve years ago.'
'Rather better?' said Mr Meagles, 'you mean rather worse. Well, Mr Clennam, he addresses himself to the Government. The moment he addresses himself to the Government, he becomes a public offender! Sir,' said Mr Meagles, in danger of making himself excessively hot again, 'he ceases to be an innocent citizen, and becomes a culprit.
He is treated from that instant as a man who has done some infernal action. He is a man to be shirked, put off, brow-beaten, sneered at, handed over by this highly-connected young or old gentleman, to that highly-connected young or old gentleman, and dodged back again; he is a man with no rights in his own time, or his own property; a mere outlaw, whom it is justifiable to get rid of anyhow; a man to be worn out by all possible means.'
It was not so difficult to believe, after the morning's experience, as Mr Meagles supposed.
'Don't stand there, Doyce, turning your spectacle-case over and over,' cried Mr Meagles, 'but tell Mr Clennam what you confessed to me.'
'I undoubtedly was made to feel,' said the inventor, 'as if I had committed an offence. In dancing attendance at the various offices, I was always treated, more or less, as if it was a very bad offence.