The time being come for the renewal of his acquaintance with the Meagles family, Clennam, pursuant to contract made between himself and Mr Meagles within the precincts of Bleeding Heart Yard, turned his face on a certain Saturday towards Twickenham, where Mr Meagles had a cottage-residence of his own. The weather being fine and dry, and any English road abounding in interest for him who had been so long away, he sent his valise on by the coach, and set out to walk. A walk was in itself a new enjoyment to him, and one that had rarely diversified his life afar off.
He went by Fulham and Putney, for the pleasure of strolling over the heath. It was bright and shining there; and when he found himself so far on his road to Twickenham, he found himself a long way on his road to a number of airier and less substantial destinations. They had risen before him fast, in the healthful exercise and the pleasant road. It is not easy to walk alone in the country without musing upon something. And he had plenty of unsettled subjects to meditate upon, though he had been walking to the Land's End.
First, there was the subject seldom absent from his mind, the question, what he was to do henceforth in life; to what occupation he should devote himself, and in what direction he had best seek it. He was far from rich, and every day of indecision and inaction made his inheritance a source of greater anxiety to him. As often as he began to consider how to increase this inheritance, or to lay it by, so often his misgiving that there was some one with an unsatisfied claim upon his justice, returned; and that alone was a subject to outlast the longest walk. Again, there was the subject of his relations with his mother, which were now upon an equable and peaceful but never confidential footing, and whom he saw several times a week. Little Dorrit was a leading and a constant subject: for the circumstances of his life, united to those of her own story, presented the little creature to him as the only person between whom and himself there were ties of innocent reliance on one hand, and affectionate protection on the other; ties of compassion, respect, unselfish interest, gratitude, and pity.
Thinking of her, and of the possibility of her father's release from prison by the unbarring hand of death--the only change of circumstance he could foresee that might enable him to be such a friend to her as he wished to be, by altering her whole manner of life, smoothing her rough road, and giving her a home--he regarded her, in that perspective, as his adopted daughter, his poor child of the Marshalsea hushed to rest. If there were a last subject in his thoughts, and it lay towards Twickenham, its form was so indefinite that it was little more than the pervading atmosphere in which these other subjects floated before him.
He had crossed the heath and was leaving it behind when he gained upon a figure which had been in advance of him for some time, and which, as he gained upon it, he thought he knew. He derived this impression from something in the turn of the head, and in the figure's action of consideration, as it went on at a sufficiently sturdy walk. But when the man--for it was a man's figure--pushed his hat up at the back of his head, and stopped to consider some object before him, he knew it to be Daniel Doyce.
'How do you do, Mr Doyce?' said Clennam, overtaking him. 'I am glad to see you again, and in a healthier place than the Circumlocution Office.'
'Ha! Mr Meagles's friend!' exclaimed that public criminal, coming out of some mental combinations he had been making, and offering his hand. 'I am glad to see you, sir. Will you excuse me if I forget your name?'
'Readily. It's not a celebrated name. It's not Barnacle.' 'No, no,' said Daniel, laughing. 'And now I know what it is. It's Clennam. How do you do, Mr Clennam?'
'I have some hope,' said Arthur, as they walked on together, 'that we may be going to the same place, Mr Doyce.'
'Meaning Twickenham?' returned Daniel. 'I am glad to hear it.'
They were soon quite intimate, and lightened the way with a variety of conversation. The ingenious culprit was a man of great modesty and good sense; and, though a plain man, had been too much accustomed to combine what was original and daring in conception with what was patient and minute in execution, to be by any means an ordinary man. It was at first difficult to lead him to speak about himself, and he put off Arthur's advances in that direction by admitting slightly, oh yes, he had done this, and he had done that, and such a thing was of his making, and such another thing was his discovery, but it was his trade, you see, his trade; until, as he gradually became assured that his companion had a real interest in his account of himself, he frankly yielded to it. Then it appeared that he was the son of a north-country blacksmith, and had originally been apprenticed by his widowed mother to a lock- maker; that he had 'struck out a few little things' at the lock- maker's, which had led to his being released from his indentures with a present, which present had enabled him to gratify his ardent wish to bind himself to a working engineer, under whom he had laboured hard, learned hard, and lived hard, seven years. His time being out, he had 'worked in the shop' at weekly wages seven or eight years more; and had then betaken himself to the banks of the Clyde, where he had studied, and filed, and hammered, and improved his knowledge, theoretical and practical, for six or seven years more. There he had had an offer to go to Lyons, which he had accepted; and from Lyons had been engaged to go to Germany, and in Germany had had an offer to go to St Petersburg, and there had done very well indeed--never better. However, he had naturally felt a preference for his own country, and a wish to gain distinction there, and to do whatever service he could do, there rather than elsewhere. And so he had come home. And so at home he had established himself in business, and had invented and executed, and worked his way on, until, after a dozen years of constant suit and service, he had been enrolled in the Great British Legion of Honour, the Legion of the Rebuffed of the Circumlocution Office, and had been decorated with the Great British Order of Merit, the Order of the Disorder of the Barnacles and Stiltstalkings.
'it is much to be regretted,' said Clennam, 'that you ever turned your thoughts that way, Mr Doyce.'
'True, sir, true to a certain extent. But what is a man to do? if he has the misfortune to strike out something serviceable to the nation, he must follow where it leads him.' 'Hadn't he better let it go?' said Clennam.
'He can't do it,' said Doyce, shaking his head with a thoughtful smile. 'It's not put into his head to be buried. It's put into his head to be made useful. You hold your life on the condition that to the last you shall struggle hard for it. Every man holds a discovery on the same terms.'
'That is to say,' said Arthur, with a growing admiration of his quiet companion, 'you are not finally discouraged even now?'
'I have no right to be, if I am,' returned the other. 'The thing is as true as it ever was.'
When they had walked a little way in silence, Clennam, at once to change the direct point of their conversation and not to change it too abruptly, asked Mr Doyce if he had any partner in his business to relieve him of a portion of its anxieties?
'No,' he returned, 'not at present. I had when I first entered on it, and a good man he was. But he has been dead some years; and as I could not easily take to the notion of another when I lost him, I bought his share for myself and have gone on by myself ever since. And here's another thing,' he said, stopping for a moment with a good-humoured laugh in his eyes, and laying his closed right hand, with its peculiar suppleness of thumb, on Clennam's arm, 'no inventor can be a man of business, you know.'
'No?' said Clennam.
'Why, so the men of business say,' he answered, resuming the walk and laughing outright. 'I don't know why we unfortunate creatures should be supposed to want common sense, but it is generally taken for granted that we do. Even the best friend I have in the world, our excellent friend over yonder,' said Doyce, nodding towards Twickenham, 'extends a sort of protection to me, don't you know, as a man not quite able to take care of himself?'
Arthur Clennam could not help joining in the good-humoured laugh, for he recognised the truth of the description.
'So I find that I must have a partner who is a man of business and not guilty of any inventions,' said Daniel Doyce, taking off his hat to pass his hand over his forehead, 'if it's only in deference to the current opinion, and to uphold the credit of the Works. I don't think he'll find that I have been very remiss or confused in my way of conducting them; but that's for him to say--whoever he is--not for me.' 'You have not chosen him yet, then?'
'No, sir, no. I have only just come to a decision to take one.
The fact is, there's more to do than there used to be, and the Works are enough for me as I grow older. What with the books and correspondence, and foreign journeys for which a Principal is necessary, I can't do all. I am going to talk over the best way of negotiating the matter, if I find a spare half-hour between this and Monday morning, with my--my Nurse and protector,' said Doyce, with laughing eyes again. 'He is a sagacious man in business, and has had a good apprenticeship to it.'
After this, they conversed on different subjects until they arrived at their journey's end. A composed and unobtrusive self- sustainment was noticeable in Daniel Doyce--a calm knowledge that what was true must remain true, in spite of all the Barnacles in the family ocean, and would be just the truth, and neither more nor less when even that sea had run dry--which had a kind of greatness in it, though not of the official quality.
As he knew the house well, he conducted Arthur to it by the way that showed it to the best advantage. It was a charming place (none the worse for being a little eccentric), on the road by the river, and just what the residence of the Meagles family ought to be. It stood in a garden, no doubt as fresh and beautiful in the May of the Year as Pet now was in the May of her life; and it was defended by a goodly show of handsome trees and spreading evergreens, as Pet was by Mr and Mrs Meagles. It was made out of an old brick house, of which a part had been altogether pulled down, and another part had been changed into the present cottage; so there was a hale elderly portion, to represent Mr and Mrs Meagles, and a young picturesque, very pretty portion to represent Pet. There was even the later addition of a conservatory sheltering itself against it, uncertain of hue in its deep-stained glass, and in its more transparent portions flashing to the sun's rays, now like fire and now like harmless water drops; which might have stood for Tattycoram. Within view was the peaceful river and the ferry-boat, to moralise to all the inmates saying: Young or old, passionate or tranquil, chafing or content, you, thus runs the current always. Let the heart swell into what discord it will, thus plays the rippling water on the prow of the ferry-boat ever the same tune. Year after year, so much allowance for the drifting of the boat, so many miles an hour the flowing of the stream, here the rushes, there the lilies, nothing uncertain or unquiet, upon this road that steadily runs away; while you, upon your flowing road of time, are so capricious and distracted.
The bell at the gate had scarcely sounded when Mr Meagles came out to receive them. Mr Meagles had scarcely come out, when Mrs Meagles came out. Mrs Meagles had scarcely come out, when Pet came out. Pet scarcely had come out, when Tattycoram came out. Never had visitors a more hospitable reception.
'Here we are, you see,' said Mr Meagles, 'boxed up, Mr Clennam, within our own home-limits, as if we were never going to expand-- that is, travel--again. Not like Marseilles, eh? No allonging and marshonging here!'
'A different kind of beauty, indeed!' said Clennam, looking about him.
'But, Lord bless me!' cried Mr Meagles, rubbing his hands with a relish, 'it was an uncommonly pleasant thing being in quarantine, wasn't it? Do you know, I have often wished myself back again? We were a capital party.'
This was Mr Meagles's invariable habit. Always to object to everything while he was travelling, and always to want to get back to it when he was not travelling.
'If it was summer-time,' said Mr Meagles, 'which I wish it was on your account, and in order that you might see the place at its best, you would hardly be able to hear yourself speak for birds.
Being practical people, we never allow anybody to scare the birds; and the birds, being practical people too, come about us in myriads. We are delighted to see you, Clennam (if you'll allow me, I shall drop the Mister); I heartily assure you, we are delighted.'
'I have not had so pleasant a greeting,' said Clennam--then he recalled what Little Dorrit had said to him in his own room, and faithfully added 'except once--since we last walked to and fro, looking down at the Mediterranean.'
'Ah!' returned Mr Meagles. 'Something like a look out, that was, wasn't it? I don't want a military government, but I shouldn't mind a little allonging and marshonging--just a dash of it--in this neighbourhood sometimes. It's Devilish still.'
Bestowing this eulogium on the retired character of his retreat with a dubious shake of the head, Mr Meagles led the way into the house. It was just large enough, and no more; was as pretty within as it was without, and was perfectly well-arranged and comfortable.
Some traces of the migratory habits of the family were to be observed in the covered frames and furniture, and wrapped-up hangings; but it was easy to see that it was one of Mr Meagles's whims to have the cottage always kept, in their absence, as if they were always coming back the day after to-morrow. Of articles collected on his various expeditions, there was such a vast miscellany that it was like the dwelling of an amiable Corsair.
There were antiquities from Central Italy, made by the best modern houses in that department of industry; bits of mummy from Egypt (and perhaps Birmingham); model gondolas from Venice; model villages from Switzerland; morsels of tesselated pavement from Herculaneum and Pompeii, like petrified minced veal; ashes out of tombs, and lava out of Vesuvius; Spanish fans, Spezzian straw hats, Moorish slippers, Tuscan hairpins, Carrara sculpture, Trastaverini scarves, Genoese velvets and filigree, Neapolitan coral, Roman cameos, Geneva jewellery, Arab lanterns, rosaries blest all round by the Pope himself, and an infinite variety of lumber. There were views, like and unlike, of a multitude of places; and there was one little picture-room devoted to a few of the regular sticky old Saints, with sinews like whipcord, hair like Neptune's, wrinkles like tattooing, and such coats of varnish that every holy personage served for a fly-trap, and became what is now called in the vulgar tongue a Catch-em-alive O. Of these pictorial acquisitions Mr Meagles spoke in the usual manner. He was no judge, he said, except of what pleased himself; he had picked them up, dirt-cheap, and people had considered them rather fine. One man, who at any rate ought to know something of the subject, had declared that 'Sage, Reading' (a specially oily old gentleman in a blanket, with a swan's-down tippet for a beard, and a web of cracks all over him like rich pie-crust), to be a fine Guercino. As for Sebastian del Piombo there, you would judge for yourself; if it were not his later manner, the question was, Who was it? Titian, that might or might not be--perhaps he had only touched it. Daniel Doyce said perhaps he hadn't touched it, but Mr Meagles rather declined to overhear the remark.
When he had shown all his spoils, Mr Meagles took them into his own snug room overlooking the lawn, which was fitted up in part like a dressing-room and in part like an office, and in which, upon a kind of counter-desk, were a pair of brass scales for weighing gold, and a scoop for shovelling out money.
'Here they are, you see,' said Mr Meagles. 'I stood behind these two articles five-and-thirty years running, when I no more thought of gadding about than I now think of--staying at home. When I left the Bank for good, I asked for them, and brought them away with me.
I mention it at once, or you might suppose that I sit in my counting-house (as Pet says I do), like the king in the poem of the four-and-twenty blackbirds, counting out my money.'
Clennam's eyes had strayed to a natural picture on the wall, of two pretty little girls with their arms entwined. 'Yes, Clennam,' said Mr Meagles, in a lower voice. 'There they both are. It was taken some seventeen years ago. As I often say to Mother, they were babies then.'
'Their names?' said Arthur.
'Ah, to be sure! You have never heard any name but Pet. Pet's name is Minnie; her sister's Lillie.'
'Should you have known, Mr Clennam, that one of them was meant for me?' asked Pet herself, now standing in the doorway.
'I might have thought that both of them were meant for you, both are still so like you. Indeed,' said Clennam, glancing from the fair original to the picture and back, 'I cannot even now say which is not your portrait.' 'D'ye hear that, Mother?' cried Mr Meagles to his wife, who had followed her daughter. 'It's always the same, Clennam; nobody can decide. The child to your left is Pet.'
The picture happened to be near a looking-glass. As Arthur looked at it again, he saw, by the reflection of the mirror, Tattycoram stop in passing outside the door, listen to what was going on, and pass away with an angry and contemptuous frown upon her face, that changed its beauty into ugliness.
'But come!' said Mr Meagles. 'You have had a long walk, and will be glad to get your boots off. As to Daniel here, I suppose he'd never think of taking his boots off, unless we showed him a boot- jack.'
'Why not?' asked Daniel, with a significant smile at Clennam.
'Oh! You have so many things to think about,' returned Mr Meagles, clapping him on the shoulder, as if his weakness must not be left to itself on any account. 'Figures, and wheels, and cogs, and levers, and screws, and cylinders, and a thousand things.'
'In my calling,' said Daniel, amused, 'the greater usually includes the less. But never mind, never mind! Whatever pleases you, pleases me.'
Clennam could not help speculating, as he seated himself in his room by the fire, whether there might be in the breast of this honest, affectionate, and cordial Mr Meagles, any microscopic portion of the mustard-seed that had sprung up into the great tree of the Circumlocution Office. His curious sense of a general superiority to Daniel Doyce, which seemed to be founded, not so much on anything in Doyce's personal character as on the mere fact of his being an originator and a man out of the beaten track of other men, suggested the idea. It might have occupied him until he went down to dinner an hour afterwards, if he had not had another question to consider, which had been in his mind so long ago as before he was in quarantine at Marseilles, and which had now returned to it, and was very urgent with it. No less a question than this: Whether he should allow himself to fall in love with Pet?
He was twice her age. (He changed the leg he had crossed over the other, and tried the calculation again, but could not bring out the total at less.) He was twice her age. Well! He was young in appearance, young in health and strength, young in heart. A man was certainly not old at forty; and many men were not in circumstances to marry, or did not marry, until they had attained that time of life. On the other hand, the question was, not what he thought of the point, but what she thought of it.
He believed that Mr Meagles was disposed to entertain a ripe regard for him, and he knew that he had a sincere regard for Mr Meagles and his good wife. He could foresee that to relinquish this beautiful only child, of whom they were so fond, to any husband, would be a trial of their love which perhaps they never yet had had the fortitude to contemplate. But the more beautiful and winning and charming she, the nearer they must always be to the necessity of approaching it. And why not in his favour, as well as in another's?
When he had got so far, it came again into his head that the question was, not what they thought of it, but what she thought of it.
Arthur Clennam was a retiring man, with a sense of many deficiencies; and he so exalted the merits of the beautiful Minnie in his mind, and depressed his own, that when he pinned himself to this point, his hopes began to fail him. He came to the final resolution, as he made himself ready for dinner, that he would not allow himself to fall in love with Pet.
There were only five, at a round table, and it was very pleasant indeed. They had so many places and people to recall, and they were all so easy and cheerful together (Daniel Doyce either sitting out like an amused spectator at cards, or coming in with some shrewd little experiences of his own, when it happened to be to the purpose), that they might have been together twenty times, and not have known so much of one another.
'And Miss Wade,' said Mr Meagles, after they had recalled a number of fellow-travellers. 'Has anybody seen Miss Wade?'
'I have,' said Tattycoram.
She had brought a little mantle which her young mistress had sent for, and was bending over her, putting it on, when she lifted up her dark eyes and made this unexpected answer.
'Tatty!' her young mistress exclaimed. 'You seen Miss Wade?-- where?'
'Here, miss,' said Tattycoram.
An impatient glance from Tattycoram seemed, as Clennam saw it, to answer 'With my eyes!' But her only answer in words was: 'I met her near the church.'
'What was she doing there I wonder!' said Mr Meagles. 'Not going to it, I should think.'
'She had written to me first,' said Tattycoram.
'Oh, Tatty!' murmured her mistress, 'take your hands away. I feel as if some one else was touching me!'
She said it in a quick involuntary way, but half playfully, and not more petulantly or disagreeably than a favourite child might have done, who laughed next moment. Tattycoram set her full red lips together, and crossed her arms upon her bosom. 'Did you wish to know, sir,' she said, looking at Mr Meagles, 'what Miss Wade wrote to me about?'
'Well, Tattycoram,' returned Mr Meagles, 'since you ask the question, and we are all friends here, perhaps you may as well mention it, if you are so inclined.'
'She knew, when we were travelling, where you lived,' said Tattycoram, 'and she had seen me not quite--not quite--'
'Not quite in a good temper, Tattycoram?' suggested Mr Meagles, shaking his head at the dark eyes with a quiet caution. 'Take a little time--count five-and-twenty, Tattycoram.'
She pressed her lips together again, and took a long deep breath.
'So she wrote to me to say that if I ever felt myself hurt,' she looked down at her young mistress, 'or found myself worried,' she looked down at her again, 'I might go to her, and be considerately treated. I was to think of it, and could speak to her by the church. So I went there to thank her.'
'Tatty,' said her young mistress, putting her hand up over her shoulder that the other might take it, 'Miss Wade almost frightened me when we parted, and I scarcely like to think of her just now as having been so near me without my knowing it. Tatty dear!'
Tatty stood for a moment, immovable.
'Hey?' cried Mr Meagles. 'Count another five-and-twenty, Tattycoram.'
She might have counted a dozen, when she bent and put her lips to the caressing hand. It patted her cheek, as it touched the owner's beautiful curls, and Tattycoram went away.
'Now there,' said Mr Meagles softly, as he gave a turn to the dumb- waiter on his right hand to twirl the sugar towards himself.
'There's a girl who might be lost and ruined, if she wasn't among practical people. Mother and I know, solely from being practical, that there are times when that girl's whole nature seems to roughen itself against seeing us so bound up in Pet. No father and mother were bound up in her, poor soul. I don't like to think of the way in which that unfortunate child, with all that passion and protest in her, feels when she hears the Fifth Commandment on a Sunday. I am always inclined to call out, Church, Count five-and-twenty, Tattycoram.'
Besides his dumb-waiter, Mr Meagles had two other not dumb waiters in the persons of two parlour-maids with rosy faces and bright eyes, who were a highly ornamental part of the table decoration.
'And why not, you see?' said Mr Meagles on this head. 'As I always say to Mother, why not have something pretty to look at, if you have anything at all?' A certain Mrs Tickit, who was Cook and Housekeeper when the family were at home, and Housekeeper only when the family were away, completed the establishment. Mr Meagles regretted that the nature of the duties in which she was engaged, rendered Mrs Tickit unpresentable at present, but hoped to introduce her to the new visitor to-morrow. She was an important part of the Cottage, he said, and all his friends knew her. That was her picture up in the corner. When they went away, she always put on the silk-gown and the jet-black row of curls represented in that portrait (her hair was reddish-grey in the kitchen), established herself in the breakfast-room, put her spectacles between two particular leaves of Doctor Buchan's Domestic Medicine, and sat looking over the blind all day until they came back again. It was supposed that no persuasion could be invented which would induce Mrs Tickit to abandon her post at the blind, however long their absence, or to dispense with the attendance of Dr Buchan; the lucubrations of which learned practitioner, Mr Meagles implicitly believed she had never yet consulted to the extent of one word in her life.
In the evening they played an old-fashioned rubber; and Pet sat looking over her father's hand, or singing to herself by fits and starts at the piano. She was a spoilt child; but how could she be otherwise? Who could be much with so pliable and beautiful a creature, and not yield to her endearing influence? Who could pass an evening in the house, and not love her for the grace and charm of her very presence in the room? This was Clennam's reflection, notwithstanding the final conclusion at which he had arrived up- stairs.
In making it, he revoked. 'Why, what are you thinking of, my good sir?' asked the astonished Mr Meagles, who was his partner.
'I beg your pardon. Nothing,' returned Clennam.
'Think of something, next time; that's a dear fellow,' said Mr Meagles.
Pet laughingly believed he had been thinking of Miss Wade.
'Why of Miss Wade, Pet?' asked her father.
'Why, indeed!' said Arthur Clennam.
Pet coloured a little, and went to the piano again.
As they broke up for the night, Arthur overheard Doyce ask his host if he could give him half an hour's conversation before breakfast in the morning? The host replying willingly, Arthur lingered behind a moment, having his own word to add to that topic.
'Mr Meagles,' he said, on their being left alone, 'do you remember when you advised me to go straight to London?'
'Perfectly well.' 'And when you gave me some other good advice which I needed at that time?'
'I won't say what it was worth,' answered Mr Meagles: 'but of course I remember our being very pleasant and confidential together.'
'I have acted on your advice; and having disembarrassed myself of an occupation that was painful to me for many reasons, wish to devote myself and what means I have, to another pursuit.'
'Right! You can't do it too soon,' said Mr Meagles.
'Now, as I came down to-day, I found that your friend, Mr Doyce, is looking for a partner in his business--not a partner in his mechanical knowledge, but in the ways and means of turning the business arising from it to the best account.'
'Just so,' said Mr Meagles, with his hands in his pockets, and with the old business expression of face that had belonged to the scales and scoop.
'Mr Doyce mentioned incidentally, in the course of our conversation, that he was going to take your valuable advice on the subject of finding such a partner. If you should think our views and opportunities at all likely to coincide, perhaps you will let him know my available position. I speak, of course, in ignorance of the details, and they may be unsuitable on both sides.'
'No doubt, no doubt,' said Mr Meagles, with the caution belonging to the scales and scoop.
'But they will be a question of figures and accounts--'
'Just so, just so,' said Mr Meagles, with arithmetical solidity belonging to the scales and scoop.
'--And I shall be glad to enter into the subject, provided Mr Doyce responds, and you think well of it. If you will at present, therefore, allow me to place it in your hands, you will much oblige me.'
'Clennam, I accept the trust with readiness,' said Mr Meagles.
'And without anticipating any of the points which you, as a man of business, have of course reserved, I am free to say to you that I think something may come of this. Of one thing you may be perfectly certain. Daniel is an honest man.'
'I am so sure of it that I have promptly made up my mind to speak to you.' 'You must guide him, you know; you must steer him; you must direct him; he is one of a crotchety sort,' said Mr Meagles, evidently meaning nothing more than that he did new things and went new ways; 'but he is as honest as the sun, and so good night!' Clennam went back to his room, sat down again before his fire, and made up his mind that he was glad he had resolved not to fall in love with Pet. She was so beautiful, so amiable, so apt to receive any true impression given to her gentle nature and her innocent heart, and make the man who should be so happy as to communicate it, the most fortunate and enviable of all men, that he was very glad indeed he had come to that conclusion.
But, as this might have been a reason for coming to the opposite conclusion, he followed out the theme again a little way in his mind; to justify himself, perhaps.
'Suppose that a man,' so his thoughts ran, 'who had been of age some twenty years or so; who was a diffident man, from the circumstances of his youth; who was rather a grave man, from the tenor of his life; who knew himself to be deficient in many little engaging qualities which he admired in others, from having been long in a distant region, with nothing softening near him; who had no kind sisters to present to her; who had no congenial home to make her known in; who was a stranger in the land; who had not a fortune to compensate, in any measure, for these defects; who had nothing in his favour but his honest love and his general wish to do right--suppose such a man were to come to this house, and were to yield to the captivation of this charming girl, and were to persuade himself that he could hope to win her; what a weakness it would be!'
He softly opened his window, and looked out upon the serene river.
Year after year so much allowance for the drifting of the ferry- boat, so many miles an hour the flowing of the stream, here the rushes, there the lilies, nothing uncertain or unquiet.
Why should he be vexed or sore at heart? It was not his weakness that he had imagined. It was nobody's, nobody's within his knowledge; why should it trouble him? And yet it did trouble him.
And he thought--who has not thought for a moment, sometimes?--that it might be better to flow away monotonously, like the river, and to compound for its insensibility to happiness with its insensibility to pain.
Before breakfast in the morning, Arthur walked out to look about him. As the morning was fine and he had an hour on his hands, he crossed the river by the ferry, and strolled along a footpath through some meadows. When he came back to the towing-path, he found the ferry-boat on the opposite side, and a gentleman hailing it and waiting to be taken over.
This gentleman looked barely thirty. He was well dressed, of a sprightly and gay appearance, a well-knit figure, and a rich dark complexion. As Arthur came over the stile and down to the water's edge, the lounger glanced at him for a moment, and then resumed his occupation of idly tossing stones into the water with his foot.
There was something in his way of spurning them out of their places with his heel, and getting them into the required position, that Clennam thought had an air of cruelty in it. Most of us have more or less frequently derived a similar impression from a man's manner of doing some very little thing: plucking a flower, clearing away an obstacle, or even destroying an insentient object.
The gentleman's thoughts were preoccupied, as his face showed, and he took no notice of a fine Newfoundland dog, who watched him attentively, and watched every stone too, in its turn, eager to spring into the river on receiving his master's sign. The ferry- boat came over, however, without his receiving any sign, and when it grounded his master took him by the collar and walked him into it.
'Not this morning,' he said to the dog. 'You won't do for ladies' company, dripping wet. Lie down.'
Clennam followed the man and the dog into the boat, and took his seat. The dog did as he was ordered. The man remained standing, with his hands in his pockets, and towered between Clennam and the prospect. Man and dog both jumped lightly out as soon as they touched the other side, and went away. Clennam was glad to be rid of them.
The church clock struck the breakfast hour as he walked up the little lane by which the garden-gate was approached. The moment he pulled the bell a deep loud barking assailed him from within the wall.
'I heard no dog last night,' thought Clennam. The gate was opened by one of the rosy maids, and on the lawn were the Newfoundland dog and the man.
'Miss Minnie is not down yet, gentlemen,' said the blushing portress, as they all came together in the garden. Then she said to the master of the dog, 'Mr Clennam, sir,' and tripped away.
'Odd enough, Mr Clennam, that we should have met just now,' said the man. Upon which the dog became mute. 'Allow me to introduce myself--Henry Gowan. A pretty place this, and looks wonderfully well this morning!'
The manner was easy, and the voice agreeable; but still Clennam thought, that if he had not made that decided resolution to avoid falling in love with Pet, he would have taken a dislike to this Henry Gowan.
'It's new to you, I believe?' said this Gowan, when Arthur had extolled the place. 'Quite new. I made acquaintance with it only yesterday afternoon.'
'Ah! Of course this is not its best aspect. It used to look charming in the spring, before they went away last time. I should like you to have seen it then.'
But for that resolution so often recalled, Clennam might have wished him in the crater of Mount Etna, in return for this civility.
'I have had the pleasure of seeing it under many circumstances during the last three years, and it's--a Paradise.'
It was (at least it might have been, always excepting for that wise resolution) like his dexterous impudence to call it a Paradise. He only called it a Paradise because he first saw her coming, and so made her out within her hearing to be an angel, Confusion to him!
And ah! how beaming she looked, and how glad! How she caressed the dog, and how the dog knew her! How expressive that heightened colour in her face, that fluttered manner, her downcast eyes, her irresolute happiness! When had Clennam seen her look like this?
Not that there was any reason why he might, could, would, or should have ever seen her look like this, or that he had ever hoped for himself to see her look like this; but still--when had he ever known her do it!
He stood at a little distance from them. This Gowan when he had talked about a Paradise, had gone up to her and taken her hand.
The dog had put his great paws on her arm and laid his head against her dear bosom. She had laughed and welcomed them, and made far too much of the dog, far, far, too much--that is to say, supposing there had been any third person looking on who loved her.
She disengaged herself now, and came to Clennam, and put her hand in his and wished him good morning, and gracefully made as if she would take his arm and be escorted into the house. To this Gowan had no objection. No, he knew he was too safe.
There was a passing cloud on Mr Meagles's good-humoured face when they all three (four, counting the dog, and he was the most objectionable but one of the party) came in to breakfast. Neither it, nor the touch of uneasiness on Mrs Meagles as she directed her eyes towards it, was unobserved by Clennam.
'Well, Gowan,' said Mr Meagles, even suppressing a sigh; 'how goes the world with you this morning?'
'Much as usual, sir. Lion and I being determined not to waste anything of our weekly visit, turned out early, and came over from Kingston, my present headquarters, where I am making a sketch or two.' Then he told how he had met Mr Clennam at the ferry, and they had come over together.
'Mrs Gowan is well, Henry?' said Mrs Meagles. (Clennam became attentive.)
'My mother is quite well, thank you.' (Clennam became inattentive.) 'I have taken the liberty of making an addition to your family dinner-party to-day, which I hope will not be inconvenient to you or to Mr Meagles. I couldn't very well get out of it,' he explained, turning to the latter. 'The young fellow wrote to propose himself to me; and as he is well connected, I thought you would not object to my transferring him here.'
'Who is the young fellow?' asked Mr Meagles with peculiar complacency.
'He is one of the Barnacles. Tite Barnacle's son, Clarence Barnacle, who is in his father's Department. I can at least guarantee that the river shall not suffer from his visit. He won't set it on fire.'
'Aye, aye?' said Meagles. 'A Barnacle is he? We know something of that family, eh, Dan? By George, they are at the top of the tree, though! Let me see. What relation will this young fellow be to Lord Decimus now? His Lordship married, in seventeen ninety-seven, Lady Jemima Bilberry, who was the second daughter by the third marriage--no! There I am wrong! That was Lady Seraphina--Lady Jemima was the first daughter by the second marriage of the fifteenth Earl of Stiltstalking with the Honourable Clementina Toozellem. Very well. Now this young fellow's father married a Stiltstalking and his father married his cousin who was a Barnacle.
The father of that father who married a Barnacle, married a Joddleby.--I am getting a little too far back, Gowan; I want to make out what relation this young fellow is to Lord Decimus.'
'That's easily stated. His father is nephew to Lord Decimus.'
'Nephew--to--Lord--Decimus,' Mr Meagles luxuriously repeated with his eyes shut, that he might have nothing to distract him from the full flavour of the genealogical tree. 'By George, you are right, Gowan. So he is.'
'Consequently, Lord Decimus is his great uncle.'
'But stop a bit!' said Mr Meagles, opening his eyes with a fresh discovery. 'Then on the mother's side, Lady Stiltstalking is his great aunt.'
'Of course she is.'
'Aye, aye, aye?' said Mr Meagles with much interest. 'Indeed, indeed? We shall be glad to see him. We'll entertain him as well as we can, in our humble way; and we shall not starve him, I hope, at all events.'
In the beginning of this dialogue, Clennam had expected some great harmless outburst from Mr Meagles, like that which had made him burst out of the Circumlocution Office, holding Doyce by the collar. But his good friend had a weakness which none of us need go into the next street to find, and which no amount of Circumlocution experience could long subdue in him. Clennam looked at Doyce; but Doyce knew all about it beforehand, and looked at his plate, and made no sign, and said no word.
'I am much obliged to you,' said Gowan, to conclude the subject.
'Clarence is a great ass, but he is one of the dearest and best fellows that ever lived!'
It appeared, before the breakfast was over, that everybody whom this Gowan knew was either more or less of an ass, or more or less of a knave; but was, notwithstanding, the most lovable, the most engaging, the simplest, truest, kindest, dearest, best fellow that ever lived. The process by which this unvarying result was attained, whatever the premises, might have been stated by Mr Henry Gowan thus: 'I claim to be always book-keeping, with a peculiar nicety, in every man's case, and posting up a careful little account of Good and Evil with him. I do this so conscientiously, that I am happy to tell you I find the most worthless of men to be the dearest old fellow too: and am in a condition to make the gratifying report, that there is much less difference than you are inclined to suppose between an honest man and a scoundrel.' The effect of this cheering discovery happened to be, that while he seemed to be scrupulously finding good in most men, he did in reality lower it where it was, and set it up where it was not; but that was its only disagreeable or dangerous feature.
It scarcely seemed, however, to afford Mr Meagles as much satisfaction as the Barnacle genealogy had done. The cloud that Clennam had never seen upon his face before that morning, frequently overcast it again; and there was the same shadow of uneasy observation of him on the comely face of his wife. More than once or twice when Pet caressed the dog, it appeared to Clennam that her father was unhappy in seeing her do it; and, in one particular instance when Gowan stood on the other side of the dog, and bent his head at the same time, Arthur fancied that he saw tears rise to Mr Meagles's eyes as he hurried out of the room. It was either the fact too, or he fancied further, that Pet herself was not insensible to these little incidents; that she tried, with a more delicate affection than usual, to express to her good father how much she loved him; that it was on this account that she fell behind the rest, both as they went to church and as they returned from it, and took his arm. He could not have sworn but that as he walked alone in the garden afterwards, he had an instantaneous glimpse of her in her father's room, clinging to both her parents with the greatest tenderness, and weeping on her father's shoulder.
The latter part of the day turning out wet, they were fain to keep the house, look over Mr Meagles's collection, and beguile the time with conversation. This Gowan had plenty to say for himself, and said it in an off-hand and amusing manner. He appeared to be an artist by profession, and to have been at Rome some time; yet he had a slight, careless, amateur way with him--a perceptible limp, both in his devotion to art and his attainments--which Clennam could scarcely understand.
He applied to Daniel Doyce for help, as they stood together, looking out of window.
'You know Mr Gowan?' he said in a low voice.
'I have seen him here. Comes here every Sunday when they are at home.'
'An artist, I infer from what he says?'
'A sort of a one,' said Daniel Doyce, in a surly tone.
'What sort of a one?' asked Clennam, with a smile.
'Why, he has sauntered into the Arts at a leisurely Pall-Mall pace,' said Doyce, 'and I doubt if they care to be taken quite so coolly.'
Pursuing his inquiries, Clennam found that the Gowan family were a very distant ramification of the Barnacles; and that the paternal Gowan, originally attached to a legation abroad, had been pensioned off as a Commissioner of nothing particular somewhere or other, and had died at his post with his drawn salary in his hand, nobly defending it to the last extremity. In consideration of this eminent public service, the Barnacle then in power had recommended the Crown to bestow a pension of two or three hundred a-year on his widow; to which the next Barnacle in power had added certain shady and sedate apartments in the Palaces at Hampton Court, where the old lady still lived, deploring the degeneracy of the times in company with several other old ladies of both sexes. Her son, Mr Henry Gowan, inheriting from his father, the Commissioner, that very questionable help in life, a very small independence, had been difficult to settle; the rather, as public appointments chanced to be scarce, and his genius, during his earlier manhood, was of that exclusively agricultural character which applies itself to the cultivation of wild oats. At last he had declared that he would become a Painter; partly because he had always had an idle knack that way, and partly to grieve the souls of the Barnacles-in-chief who had not provided for him. So it had come to pass successively, first, that several distinguished ladies had been frightfully shocked; then, that portfolios of his performances had been handed about o' nights, and declared with ecstasy to be perfect Claudes, perfect Cuyps, perfect phaenomena; then, that Lord Decimus had bought his picture, and had asked the President and Council to dinner at a blow, and had said, with his own magnificent gravity, 'Do you know, there appears to me to be really immense merit in that work?' and, in short, that people of condition had absolutely taken pains to bring him into fashion. But, somehow, it had all failed. The prejudiced public had stood out against it obstinately. They had determined not to admire Lord Decimus's picture. They had determined to believe that in every service, except their own, a man must qualify himself, by striving early and late, and by working heart and soul, might and main. So now Mr Gowan, like that worn-out old coffin which never was Mahomet's nor anybody else's, hung midway between two points: jaundiced and jealous as to the one he had left: jaundiced and jealous as to the other that he couldn't reach.
Such was the substance of Clennam's discoveries concerning him, made that rainy Sunday afternoon and afterwards.
About an hour or so after dinner time, Young Barnacle appeared, attended by his eye-glass; in honour of whose family connections, Mr Meagles had cashiered the pretty parlour-maids for the day, and had placed on duty in their stead two dingy men. Young Barnacle was in the last degree amazed and disconcerted at sight of Arthur, and had murmured involuntarily, 'Look here! upon my soul, you know!' before his presence of mind returned.
Even then, he was obliged to embrace the earliest opportunity of taking his friend into a window, and saying, in a nasal way that was a part of his general debility:
'I want to speak to you, Gowan. I say. Look here. Who is that fellow?'
'A friend of our host's. None of mine.'
'He's a most ferocious Radical, you know,' said Young Barnacle.
'Is he? How do you know?'
'Ecod, sir, he was Pitching into our people the other day in the most tremendous manner. Went up to our place and Pitched into my father to that extent that it was necessary to order him out. Came back to our Department, and Pitched into me. Look here. You never saw such a fellow.'
'What did he want?'
'Ecod, sir,' returned Young Barnacle, 'he said he wanted to know, you know! Pervaded our Department--without an appointment--and said he wanted to know!'
The stare of indignant wonder with which Young Barnacle accompanied this disclosure, would have strained his eyes injuriously but for the opportune relief of dinner. Mr Meagles (who had been extremely solicitous to know how his uncle and aunt were) begged him to conduct Mrs Meagles to the dining-room. And when he sat on Mrs Meagles's right hand, Mr Meagles looked as gratified as if his whole family were there.
All the natural charm of the previous day was gone. The eaters of the dinner, like the dinner itself, were lukewarm, insipid, overdone--and all owing to this poor little dull Young Barnacle.
Conversationless at any time, he was now the victim of a weakness special to the occasion, and solely referable to Clennam. He was under a pressing and continual necessity of looking at that gentleman, which occasioned his eye-glass to get into his soup, into his wine-glass, into Mrs Meagles's plate, to hang down his back like a bell-rope, and be several times disgracefully restored to his bosom by one of the dingy men. Weakened in mind by his frequent losses of this instrument, and its determination not to stick in his eye, and more and more enfeebled in intellect every time he looked at the mysterious Clennam, he applied spoons to his eyes, forks, and other foreign matters connected with the furniture of the dinner-table. His discovery of these mistakes greatly increased his difficulties, but never released him from the necessity of looking at Clennam. And whenever Clennam spoke, this ill-starred young man was clearly seized with a dread that he was coming, by some artful device, round to that point of wanting to know, you know.
It may be questioned, therefore, whether any one but Mr Meagles had much enjoyment of the time. Mr Meagles, however, thoroughly enjoyed Young Barnacle. As a mere flask of the golden water in the tale became a full fountain when it was poured out, so Mr Meagles seemed to feel that this small spice of Barnacle imparted to his table the flavour of the whole family-tree. In its presence, his frank, fine, genuine qualities paled; he was not so easy, he was not so natural, he was striving after something that did not belong to him, he was not himself. What a strange peculiarity on the part of Mr Meagles, and where should we find another such case!
At last the wet Sunday wore itself out in a wet night; and Young Barnacle went home in a cab, feebly smoking; and the objectionable Gowan went away on foot, accompanied by the objectionable dog. Pet had taken the most amiable pains all day to be friendly with Clennam, but Clennam had been a little reserved since breakfast-- that is to say, would have been, if he had loved her.
When he had gone to his own room, and had again thrown himself into the chair by the fire, Mr Doyce knocked at the door, candle in hand, to ask him how and at what hour he proposed returning on the morrow? After settling this question, he said a word to Mr Doyce about this Gowan--who would have run in his head a good deal, if he had been his rival.
'Those are not good prospects for a painter,' said Clennam.
'No,' returned Doyce.
Mr Doyce stood, chamber-candlestick in hand, the other hand in his pocket, looking hard at the flame of his candle, with a certain quiet perception in his face that they were going to say something more. 'I thought our good friend a little changed, and out of spirits, after he came this morning?' said Clennam.
'Yes,' returned Doyce.
'But not his daughter?' said Clennam.
'No,' said Doyce.
There was a pause on both sides. Mr Doyce, still looking at the flame of his candle, slowly resumed:
'The truth is, he has twice taken his daughter abroad in the hope of separating her from Mr Gowan. He rather thinks she is disposed to like him, and he has painful doubts (I quite agree with him, as I dare say you do) of the hopefulness of such a marriage.'
'There--' Clennam choked, and coughed, and stopped.
'Yes, you have taken cold,' said Daniel Doyce. But without looking at him.
'There is an engagement between them, of course?' said Clennam airily.
'No. As I am told, certainly not. It has been solicited on the gentleman's part, but none has been made. Since their recent return, our friend has yielded to a weekly visit, but that is the utmost. Minnie would not deceive her father and mother. You have travelled with them, and I believe you know what a bond there is among them, extending even beyond this present life. All that there is between Miss Minnie and Mr Gowan, I have no doubt we see.'
'Ah! We see enough!' cried Arthur.
Mr Doyce wished him Good Night in the tone of a man who had heard a mournful, not to say despairing, exclamation, and who sought to infuse some encouragement and hope into the mind of the person by whom it had been uttered. Such tone was probably a part of his oddity, as one of a crotchety band; for how could he have heard anything of that kind, without Clennam's hearing it too?
The rain fell heavily on the roof, and pattered on the ground, and dripped among the evergreens and the leafless branches of the trees. The rain fell heavily, drearily. It was a night of tears.
If Clennam had not decided against falling in love with Pet; if he had had the weakness to do it; if he had, little by little, persuaded himself to set all the earnestness of his nature, all the might of his hope, and all the wealth of his matured character, on that cast; if he had done this and found that all was lost; he would have been, that night, unutterably miserable. As it was-- As it was, the rain fell heavily, drearily.
Little Dorrit's Lover
Little Dorrit had not attained her twenty-second birthday without finding a lover. Even in the shallow Marshalsea, the ever young Archer shot off a few featherless arrows now and then from a mouldy bow, and winged a Collegian or two.
Little Dorrit's lover, however, was not a Collegian. He was the sentimental son of a turnkey. His father hoped, in the fulness of time, to leave him the inheritance of an unstained key; and had from his early youth familiarised him with the duties of his office, and with an ambition to retain the prison-lock in the family. While the succession was yet in abeyance, he assisted his mother in the conduct of a snug tobacco business round the corner of Horsemonger Lane (his father being a non-resident turnkey), which could usually command a neat connection within the College walls.
Years agone, when the object of his affections was wont to sit in her little arm-chair by the high Lodge-fender, Young John (family name, Chivery), a year older than herself, had eyed her with admiring wonder. When he had played with her in the yard, his favourite game had been to counterfeit locking her up in corners, and to counterfeit letting her out for real kisses. When he grew tall enough to peep through the keyhole of the great lock of the main door, he had divers times set down his father's dinner, or supper, to get on as it might on the outer side thereof, while he stood taking cold in one eye by dint of peeping at her through that airy perspective.
If Young John had ever slackened in his truth in the less penetrable days of his boyhood, when youth is prone to wear its boots unlaced and is happily unconscious of digestive organs, he had soon strung it up again and screwed it tight. At nineteen, his hand had inscribed in chalk on that part of the wall which fronted her lodgings, on the occasion of her birthday, 'Welcome sweet nursling of the Fairies!' At twenty-three, the same hand falteringly presented cigars on Sundays to the Father of the Marshalsea, and Father of the queen of his soul.
Young John was small of stature, with rather weak legs and very weak light hair. One of his eyes (perhaps the eye that used to peep through the keyhole) was also weak, and looked larger than the other, as if it couldn't collect itself. Young John was gentle likewise. But he was great of soul. Poetical, expansive, faithful.
Though too humble before the ruler of his heart to be sanguine, Young John had considered the object of his attachment in all its lights and shades. Following it out to blissful results, he had descried, without self-commendation, a fitness in it. Say things prospered, and they were united. She, the child of the Marshalsea; he, the lock-keeper. There was a fitness in that. Say he became a resident turnkey. She would officially succeed to the chamber she had rented so long. There was a beautiful propriety in that.
It looked over the wall, if you stood on tip-toe; and, with a trellis-work of scarlet beans and a canary or so, would become a very Arbour. There was a charming idea in that. Then, being all in all to one another, there was even an appropriate grace in the lock. With the world shut out (except that part of it which would be shut in); with its troubles and disturbances only known to them by hearsay, as they would be described by the pilgrims tarrying with them on their way to the Insolvent Shrine; with the Arbour above, and the Lodge below; they would glide down the stream of time, in pastoral domestic happiness. Young John drew tears from his eyes by finishing the picture with a tombstone in the adjoining churchyard, close against the prison wall, bearing the following touching inscription: 'Sacred to the Memory Of JOHN CHIVERY, Sixty years Turnkey, and fifty years Head Turnkey, Of the neighbouring Marshalsea, Who departed this life, universally respected, on the thirty-first of December, One thousand eight hundred and eighty- six, Aged eighty-three years. Also of his truly beloved and truly loving wife, AMY, whose maiden name was DORRIT, Who survived his loss not quite forty-eight hours, And who breathed her last in the Marshalsea aforesaid. There she was born, There she lived, There she died.'
The Chivery parents were not ignorant of their son's attachment -- indeed it had, on some exceptional occasions, thrown him into a state of mind that had impelled him to conduct himself with irascibility towards the customers, and damage the business--but they, in their turns, had worked it out to desirable conclusions.
Mrs Chivery, a prudent woman, had desired her husband to take notice that their john's prospects of the Lock would certainly be strengthened by an alliance with Miss Dorrit, who had herself a kind of claim upon the College and was much respected there. Mrs Chivery had desired her husband to take notice that if, on the one hand, their John had means and a post of trust, on the other hand, Miss Dorrit had family; and that her (Mrs Chivery's) sentiment was, that two halves made a whole. Mrs Chivery, speaking as a mother and not as a diplomatist, had then, from a different point of view, desired her husband to recollect that their John had never been strong, and that his love had fretted and worrited him enough as it was, without his being driven to do himself a mischief, as nobody couldn't say he wouldn't be if he was crossed. These arguments had so powerfully influenced the mind of Mr Chivery, who was a man of few words, that he had on sundry Sunday mornings, given his boy what he termed 'a lucky touch,' signifying that he considered such commendation of him to Good Fortune, preparatory to his that day declaring his passion and becoming triumphant. But Young John had never taken courage to make the declaration; and it was principally on these occasions that he had returned excited to the tobacco shop, and flown at the customers. In this affair, as in every other, Little Dorrit herself was the last person considered. Her brother and sister were aware of it, and attained a sort of station by making a peg of it on which to air the miserably ragged old fiction of the family gentility. Her sister asserted the family gentility by flouting the poor swain as he loitered about the prison for glimpses of his dear. Tip asserted the family gentility, and his own, by coming out in the character of the aristocratic brother, and loftily swaggering in the little skittle ground respecting seizures by the scruff of the neck, which there were looming probabilities of some gentleman unknown executing on some little puppy not mentioned. These were not the only members of the Dorrit family who turned it to account.
No, no. The Father of the Marshalsea was supposed to know nothing about the matter, of course: his poor dignity could not see so low.
But he took the cigars, on Sundays, and was glad to get them; and sometimes even condescended to walk up and down the yard with the donor (who was proud and hopeful then), and benignantly to smoke one in his society. With no less readiness and condescension did he receive attentions from Chivery Senior, who always relinquished his arm-chair and newspaper to him, when he came into the Lodge during one of his spells of duty; and who had even mentioned to him, that, if he would like at any time after dusk quietly to step out into the fore-court and take a look at the street, there was not much to prevent him. If he did not avail himself of this latter civility, it was only because he had lost the relish for it; inasmuch as he took everything else he could get, and would say at times, 'Extremely civil person, Chivery; very attentive man and very respectful. Young Chivery, too; really almost with a delicate perception of one's position here. A very well conducted family indeed, the Chiveries. Their behaviour gratifies me.'
The devoted Young John all this time regarded the family with reverence. He never dreamed of disputing their pretensions, but did homage to the miserable Mumbo jumbo they paraded. As to resenting any affront from her brother, he would have felt, even if he had not naturally been of a most pacific disposition, that to wag his tongue or lift his hand against that sacred gentleman would be an unhallowed act. He was sorry that his noble mind should take offence; still, he felt the fact to be not incompatible with its nobility, and sought to propitiate and conciliate that gallant soul. Her father, a gentleman in misfortune--a gentleman of a fine spirit and courtly manners, who always bore with him--he deeply honoured. Her sister he considered somewhat vain and proud, but a young lady of infinite accomplishments, who could not forget the past. It was an instinctive testimony to Little Dorrit's worth and difference from all the rest, that the poor young fellow honoured and loved her for being simply what she was.
The tobacco business round the corner of Horsemonger Lane was carried out in a rural establishment one story high, which had the benefit of the air from the yards of Horsemonger Lane jail, and the advantage of a retired walk under the wall of that pleasant establishment. The business was of too modest a character to support a life-size Highlander, but it maintained a little one on a bracket on the door-post, who looked like a fallen Cherub that had found it necessary to take to a kilt. From the portal thus decorated, one Sunday after an early dinner of baked viands, Young John issued forth on his usual Sunday errand; not empty-handed, but with his offering of cigars. He was neatly attired in a plum-coloured coat, with as large a collar of black velvet as his figure could carry; a silken waistcoat, bedecked with golden sprigs; a chaste neckerchief much in vogue at that day, representing a preserve of lilac pheasants on a buff ground; pantaloons so highly decorated with side-stripes that each leg was a three-stringed lute; and a hat of state very high and hard. When the prudent Mrs Chivery perceived that in addition to these adornments her John carried a pair of white kid gloves, and a cane like a little finger-post, surmounted by an ivory hand marshalling him the way that he should go; and when she saw him, in this heavy marching order, turn the corner to the right; she remarked to Mr Chivery, who was at home at the time, that she thought she knew which way the wind blew.
The Collegians were entertaining a considerable number of visitors that Sunday afternoon, and their Father kept his room for the purpose of receiving presentations. After making the tour of the yard, Little Dorrit's lover with a hurried heart went up-stairs, and knocked with his knuckles at the Father's door.
'Come in, come in!' said a gracious voice. The Father's voice, her father's, the Marshalsea's father's. He was seated in his black velvet cap, with his newspaper, three-and-sixpence accidentally left on the table, and two chairs arranged. Everything prepared for holding his Court.
'Ah, Young John! How do you do, how do you do!'
'Pretty well, I thank you, sir. I hope you are the same.'
'Yes, John Chivery; yes. Nothing to complain of.'
'I have taken the liberty, sir, of--'
'Eh?' The Father of the Marshalsea always lifted up his eyebrows at this point, and became amiably distraught and smilingly absent in mind.
'--A few cigars, sir.'
'Oh!' (For the moment, excessively surprised.) 'Thank you, Young John, thank you. But really, I am afraid I am too-- No? Well then, I will say no more about it. Put them on the mantelshelf, if you please, Young John. And sit down, sit down. You are not a stranger, John.'
'Thank you, sir, I am sure-- Miss;' here Young John turned the great hat round and round upon his left-hand, like a slowly twirling mouse-cage; 'Miss Amy quite well, sir?' 'Yes, John, yes; very well. She is out.' 'Indeed, sir?'
'Yes, John. Miss Amy is gone for an airing. My young people all go out a good deal. But at their time of life, it's natural, John.'
'Very much so, I am sure, sir.'
'An airing. An airing. Yes.' He was blandly tapping his fingers on the table, and casting his eyes up at the window. 'Amy has gone for an airing on the Iron Bridge. She has become quite partial to the Iron Bridge of late, and seems to like to walk there better than anywhere.' He returned to conversation. 'Your father is not on duty at present, I think, John?'
'No, sir, he comes on later in the afternoon.' Another twirl of the great hat, and then Young John said, rising, 'I am afraid I must wish you good day, sir.'
'So soon? Good day, Young John. Nay, nay,' with the utmost condescension, 'never mind your glove, John. Shake hands with it on. You are no stranger here, you know.'
Highly gratified by the kindness of his reception, Young John descended the staircase. On his way down he met some Collegians bringing up visitors to be presented, and at that moment Mr Dorrit happened to call over the banisters with particular distinctness, 'Much obliged to you for your little testimonial, John!'
Little Dorrit's lover very soon laid down his penny on the tollplate of the Iron Bridge, and came upon it looking about him for the well-known and well-beloved figure. At first he feared she was not there; but as he walked on towards the Middlesex side, he saw her standing still, looking at the water. She was absorbed in thought, and he wondered what she might be thinking about. There were the piles of city roofs and chimneys, more free from smoke than on week-days; and there were the distant masts and steeples.
Perhaps she was thinking about them.
Little Dorrit mused so long, and was so entirely preoccupied, that although her lover stood quiet for what he thought was a long time, and twice or thrice retired and came back again to the former spot, still she did not move. So, in the end, he made up his mind to go on, and seem to come upon her casually in passing, and speak to her. The place was quiet, and now or never was the time to speak to her.
He walked on, and she did not appear to hear his steps until he was close upon her. When he said 'Miss Dorrit!' she started and fell back from him, with an expression in her face of fright and something like dislike that caused him unutterable dismay. She had often avoided him before--always, indeed, for a long, long while.
She had turned away and glided off so often when she had seen him coming toward her, that the unfortunate Young John could not think it accidental. But he had hoped that it might be shyness, her retiring character, her foreknowledge of the state of his heart, anything short of aversion. Now, that momentary look had said, 'You, of all people! I would rather have seen any one on earth than you!'
It was but a momentary look, inasmuch as she checked it, and said in her soft little voice, 'Oh, Mr John! Is it you?' But she felt what it had been, as he felt what it had been; and they stood looking at one another equally confused.
'Miss Amy, I am afraid I disturbed you by speaking to you.'
'Yes, rather. I--I came here to be alone, and I thought I was.'
'Miss Amy, I took the liberty of walking this way, because Mr Dorrit chanced to mention, when I called upon him just now, that you--'
She caused him more dismay than before by suddenly murmuring, 'O father, father!' in a heartrending tone, and turning her face away.
'Miss Amy, I hope I don't give you any uneasiness by naming Mr Dorrit. I assure you I found him very well and in the best of Spirits, and he showed me even more than his usual kindness; being so very kind as to say that I was not a stranger there, and in all ways gratifying me very much.'
To the inexpressible consternation of her lover, Little Dorrit, with her hands to her averted face, and rocking herself where she stood as if she were in pain, murmured, 'O father, how can you! O dear, dear father, how can you, can you, do it!'
The poor fellow stood gazing at her, overflowing with sympathy, but not knowing what to make of this, until, having taken out her handkerchief and put it to her still averted face, she hurried away. At first he remained stock still; then hurried after her.
'Miss Amy, pray! Will you have the goodness to stop a moment?
Miss Amy, if it comes to that, let ME go. I shall go out of my senses, if I have to think that I have driven you away like this.'
His trembling voice and unfeigned earnestness brought Little Dorrit to a stop. 'Oh, I don't know what to do,' she cried, 'I don't know what to do!'
To Young John, who had never seen her bereft of her quiet self- command, who had seen her from her infancy ever so reliable and self-suppressed, there was a shock in her distress, and in having to associate himself with it as its cause, that shook him from his great hat to the pavement. He felt it necessary to explain himself. He might be misunderstood--supposed to mean something, or to have done something, that had never entered into his imagination. He begged her to hear him explain himself, as the greatest favour she could show him.
'Miss Amy, I know very well that your family is far above mine. It were vain to conceal it. There never was a Chivery a gentleman that ever I heard of, and I will not commit the meanness of making a false representation on a subject so momentous. Miss Amy, I know very well that your high-souled brother, and likewise your spirited sister, spurn me from a height. What I have to do is to respect them, to wish to be admitted to their friendship, to look up at the eminence on which they are placed from my lowlier station--for, whether viewed as tobacco or viewed as the lock, I well know it is lowly--and ever wish them well and happy.'
There really was a genuineness in the poor fellow, and a contrast between the hardness of his hat and the softness of his heart (albeit, perhaps, of his head, too), that was moving. Little Dorrit entreated him to disparage neither himself nor his station, and, above all things, to divest himself of any idea that she supposed hers to be superior. This gave him a little comfort.
'Miss Amy,' he then stammered, 'I have had for a long time --ages they seem to me--Revolving ages--a heart-cherished wish to say something to you. May I say it?'
Little Dorrit involuntarily started from his side again, with the faintest shadow of her former look; conquering that, she went on at great speed half across the Bridge without replying!
'May I--Miss Amy, I but ask the question humbly--may I say it? I have been so unlucky already in giving you pain without having any such intentions, before the holy Heavens! that there is no fear of my saying it unless I have your leave. I can be miserable alone, I can be cut up by myself, why should I also make miserable and cut up one that I would fling myself off that parapet to give half a moment's joy to! Not that that's much to do, for I'd do it for twopence.'
The mournfulness of his spirits, and the gorgeousness of his appearance, might have made him ridiculous, but that his delicacy made him respectable. Little Dorrit learnt from it what to do.
'If you please, John Chivery,' she returned, trembling, but in a quiet way, 'since you are so considerate as to ask me whether you shall say any more--if you please, no.'
'Never, Miss Amy?'
'No, if you please. Never.'
'O Lord!' gasped Young John.
'But perhaps you will let me, instead, say something to you. I want to say it earnestly, and with as plain a meaning as it is possible to express. When you think of us, John--I mean my brother, and sister, and me--don't think of us as being any different from the rest; for, whatever we once were (which I hardly know) we ceased to be long ago, and never can be any more. It will be much better for you, and much better for others, if you will do that instead of what you are doing now.'
Young John dolefully protested that he would try to bear it in mind, and would be heartily glad to do anything she wished.
'As to me,' said Little Dorrit, 'think as little of me as you can; the less, the better. When you think of me at all, John, let it only be as the child you have seen grow up in the prison with one set of duties always occupying her; as a weak, retired, contented, unprotected girl. I particularly want you to remember, that when I come outside the gate, I am unprotected and solitary.'
He would try to do anything she wished. But why did Miss Amy so much want him to remember that?
'Because,' returned Little Dorrit, 'I know I can then quite trust you not to forget to-day, and not to say any more to me. You are so generous that I know I can trust to you for that; and I do and I always will. I am going to show you, at once, that I fully trust you. I like this place where we are speaking better than any place I know;' her slight colour had faded, but her lover thought he saw it coming back just then; 'and I may be often here. I know it is only necessary for me to tell you so, to be quite sure that you will never come here again in search of me. And I am--quite sure!'
She might rely upon it, said Young John. He was a miserable wretch, but her word was more than a law for him.
'And good-bye, John,' said Little Dorrit. 'And I hope you will have a good wife one day, and be a happy man. I am sure you will deserve to be happy, and you will be, John.'
As she held out her hand to him with these words, the heart that was under the waistcoat of sprigs--mere slop-work, if the truth must be known--swelled to the size of the heart of a gentleman; and the poor common little fellow, having no room to hold it, burst into tears.
'Oh, don't cry,' said Little Dorrit piteously. 'Don't, don't!
Good-bye, John. God bless you!'
'Good-bye, Miss Amy. Good-bye!'
And so he left her: first observing that she sat down on the corner of a seat, and not only rested her little hand upon the rough wall, but laid her face against it too, as if her head were heavy, and her mind were sad. It was an affecting illustration of the fallacy of human projects, to behold her lover, with the great hat pulled over his eyes, the velvet collar turned up as if it rained, the plum-coloured coat buttoned to conceal the silken waistcoat of golden sprigs, and the little direction-post pointing inexorably home, creeping along by the worst back-streets, and composing, as he went, the following new inscription for a tombstone in St George's Churchyard:
'Here lie the mortal remains Of JOHN CHIVERY, Never anything worth mentioning, Who died about the end of the year one thousand eight hundred and twenty-six, Of a broken heart, Requesting with his last breath that the word AMY might be inscribed over his ashes, which was accordingly directed to be done, By his afflicted Parents.'
The Father of the Marshalsea in two or three Relations
The brothers William and Frederick Dorrit, walking up and down the College-yard--of course on the aristocratic or Pump side, for the Father made it a point of his state to be chary of going among his children on the Poor side, except on Sunday mornings, Christmas Days, and other occasions of ceremony, in the observance whereof he was very punctual, and at which times he laid his hand upon the heads of their infants, and blessed those young insolvents with a benignity that was highly edifying--the brothers, walking up and down the College-yard together, were a memorable sight. Frederick the free, was so humbled, bowed, withered, and faded; William the bond, was so courtly, condescending, and benevolently conscious of a position; that in this regard only, if in no other, the brothers were a spectacle to wonder at.
They walked up and down the yard on the evening of Little Dorrit's Sunday interview with her lover on the Iron Bridge. The cares of state were over for that day, the Drawing Room had been well attended, several new presentations had taken place, the three-and- sixpence accidentally left on the table had accidentally increased to twelve shillings, and the Father of the Marshalsea refreshed himself with a whiff of cigar. As he walked up and down, affably accommodating his step to the shuffle of his brother, not proud in his superiority, but considerate of that poor creature, bearing with him, and breathing toleration of his infirmities in every little puff of smoke that issued from his lips and aspired to get over the spiked wall, he was a sight to wonder at.
His brother Frederick of the dim eye, palsied hand, bent form, and groping mind, submissively shuffled at his side, accepting his patronage as he accepted every incident of the labyrinthian world in which he had got lost. He held the usual screwed bit of whitey- brown paper in his hand, from which he ever and again unscrewed a spare pinch of snuff. That falteringly taken, he would glance at his brother not unadmiringly, put his hands behind him, and shuffle on so at his side until he took another pinch, or stood still to look about him--perchance suddenly missing his clarionet. The College visitors were melting away as the shades of night drew on, but the yard was still pretty full, the Collegians being mostly out, seeing their friends to the Lodge. As the brothers paced the yard, William the bond looked about him to receive salutes, returned them by graciously lifting off his hat, and, with an engaging air, prevented Frederick the free from running against the company, or being jostled against the wall. The Collegians as a body were not easily impressible, but even they, according to their various ways of wondering, appeared to find in the two brothers a sight to wonder at.
'You are a little low this evening, Frederick,' said the Father of the Marshalsea. 'Anything the matter?'
'The matter?' He stared for a moment, and then dropped his head and eyes again. 'No, William, no. Nothing is the matter.'
'If you could be persuaded to smarten yourself up a little, Frederick--'
'Aye, aye!' said the old man hurriedly. 'But I can't be. I can't be. Don't talk so. That's all over.'
The Father of the Marshalsea glanced at a passing Collegian with whom he was on friendly terms, as who should say, 'An enfeebled old man, this; but he is my brother, sir, my brother, and the voice of Nature is potent!' and steered his brother clear of the handle of the pump by the threadbare sleeve. Nothing would have been wanting to the perfection of his character as a fraternal guide, philosopher and friend, if he had only steered his brother clear of ruin, instead of bringing it upon him.
'I think, William,' said the object of his affectionate consideration, 'that I am tired, and will go home to bed.'
'My dear Frederick,' returned the other, 'don't let me detain you; don't sacrifice your inclination to me.'
'Late hours, and a heated atmosphere, and years, I suppose,' said Frederick, 'weaken me.'
'My dear Frederick,' returned the Father of the Marshalsea, 'do you think you are sufficiently careful of yourself? Do you think your habits are as precise and methodical as--shall I say as mine are?
Not to revert again to that little eccentricity which I mentioned just now, I doubt if you take air and exercise enough, Frederick.
Here is the parade, always at your service. Why not use it more regularly than you do?'
'Hah!' sighed the other. 'Yes, yes, yes, yes.'
'But it is of no use saying yes, yes, my dear Frederick,' the Father of the Marshalsea in his mild wisdom persisted, 'unless you act on that assent. Consider my case, Frederick. I am a kind of example. Necessity and time have taught me what to do. At certain stated hours of the day, you will find me on the parade, in my room, in the Lodge, reading the paper, receiving company, eating and drinking. I have impressed upon Amy during many years, that I must have my meals (for instance) punctually. Amy has grown up in a sense of the importance of these arrangements, and you know what a good girl she is.'
The brother only sighed again, as he plodded dreamily along, 'Hah!
Yes, yes, yes, yes.'
'My dear fellow,' said the Father of the Marshalsea, laying his hand upon his shoulder, and mildly rallying him--mildly, because of his weakness, poor dear soul; 'you said that before, and it does not express much, Frederick, even if it means much. I wish I could rouse you, my good Frederick; you want to be roused.'
'Yes, William, yes. No doubt,' returned the other, lifting his dim eyes to his face. 'But I am not like you.'
The Father of the Marshalsea said, with a shrug of modest self- depreciation, 'Oh! You might be like me, my dear Frederick; you might be, if you chose!' and forbore, in the magnanimity of his strength, to press his fallen brother further.
There was a great deal of leave-taking going on in corners, as was usual on Sunday nights; and here and there in the dark, some poor woman, wife or mother, was weeping with a new Collegian. The time had been when the Father himself had wept, in the shades of that yard, as his own poor wife had wept. But it was many years ago; and now he was like a passenger aboard ship in a long voyage, who has recovered from sea-sickness, and is impatient of that weakness in the fresher passengers taken aboard at the last port. He was inclined to remonstrate, and to express his opinion that people who couldn't get on without crying, had no business there. In manner, if not in words, he always testified his displeasure at these interruptions of the general harmony; and it was so well understood, that delinquents usually withdrew if they were aware of him.
On this Sunday evening, he accompanied his brother to the gate with an air of endurance and clemency; being in a bland temper and graciously disposed to overlook the tears. In the flaring gaslight of the Lodge, several Collegians were basking; some taking leave of visitors, and some who had no visitors, watching the frequent turning of the key, and conversing with one another and with Mr Chivery. The paternal entrance made a sensation of course; and Mr Chivery, touching his hat (in a short manner though) with his key, hoped he found himself tolerable.
'Thank you, Chivery, quite well. And you?'
Mr Chivery said in a low growl, 'Oh! he was all right.' Which was his general way of acknowledging inquiries after his health when a little sullen.
'I had a visit from Young John to-day, Chivery. And very smart he looked, I assure you.'
So Mr Chivery had heard. Mr Chivery must confess, however, that his wish was that the boy didn't lay out so much money upon it.
For what did it bring him in? It only brought him in wexation.
And he could get that anywhere for nothing.
'How vexation, Chivery?' asked the benignant father.
'No odds,' returned Mr Chivery. 'Never mind. Mr Frederick going out?'
'Yes, Chivery, my brother is going home to bed. He is tired, and not quite well. Take care, Frederick, take care. Good night, my dear Frederick!'
Shaking hands with his brother, and touching his greasy hat to the company in the Lodge, Frederick slowly shuffled out of the door which Mr Chivery unlocked for him. The Father of the Marshalsea showed the amiable solicitude of a superior being that he should come to no harm.
'Be so kind as to keep the door open a moment, Chivery, that I may see him go along the passage and down the steps. Take care, Frederick! (He is very infirm.) Mind the steps! (He is so very absent.) Be careful how you cross, Frederick. (I really don't like the notion of his going wandering at large, he is so extremely liable to be run over.)'
With these words, and with a face expressive of many uneasy doubts and much anxious guardianship, he turned his regards upon the assembled company in the Lodge: so plainly indicating that his brother was to be pitied for not being under lock and key, that an opinion to that effect went round among the Collegians assembled.
But he did not receive it with unqualified assent; on the contrary, he said, No, gentlemen, no; let them not misunderstand him. His brother Frederick was much broken, no doubt, and it might be more comfortable to himself (the Father of the Marshalsea) to know that he was safe within the walls. Still, it must be remembered that to support an existence there during many years, required a certain combination of qualities--he did not say high qualities, but qualities--moral qualities. Now, had his brother Frederick that peculiar union of qualities? Gentlemen, he was a most excellent man, a most gentle, tender, and estimable man, with the simplicity of a child; but would he, though unsuited for most other places, do for that place? No; he said confidently, no! And, he said, Heaven forbid that Frederick should be there in any other character than in his present voluntary character! Gentlemen, whoever came to that College, to remain there a length of time, must have strength of character to go through a good deal and to come out of a good deal. Was his beloved brother Frederick that man? No. They saw him, even as it was, crushed. Misfortune crushed him. He had not power of recoil enough, not elasticity enough, to be a long time in such a place, and yet preserve his self-respect and feel conscious that he was a gentleman. Frederick had not (if he might use the expression) Power enough to see in any delicate little attentions and--and --Testimonials that he might under such circumstances receive, the goodness of human nature, the fine spirit animating the Collegians as a community, and at the same time no degradation to himself, and no depreciation of his claims as a gentleman.
Gentlemen, God bless you!
Such was the homily with which he improved and pointed the occasion to the company in the Lodge before turning into the sallow yard again, and going with his own poor shabby dignity past the Collegian in the dressing-gown who had no coat, and past the Collegian in the sea-side slippers who had no shoes, and past the stout greengrocer Collegian in the corduroy knee-breeches who had no cares, and past the lean clerk Collegian in buttonless black who had no hopes, up his own poor shabby staircase to his own poor shabby room.
There, the table was laid for his supper, and his old grey gown was ready for him on his chair-back at the fire. His daughter put her little prayer-book in her pocket--had she been praying for pity on all prisoners and captives!--and rose to welcome him.
Uncle had gone home, then? she asked @ as she changed his coat and gave him his black velvet cap. Yes, uncle had gone home. Had her father enjoyed his walk? Why, not much, Amy; not much. No! Did he not feel quite well?
As she stood behind him, leaning over his chair so lovingly, he looked with downcast eyes at the fire. An uneasiness stole over him that was like a touch of shame; and when he spoke, as he presently did, it was in an unconnected and embarrassed manner.
'Something, I--hem!--I don't know what, has gone wrong with Chivery. He is not--ha!--not nearly so obliging and attentive as usual to-night. It--hem!--it's a little thing, but it puts me out, my love. It's impossible to forget,' turning his hands over and over and looking closely at them, 'that--hem!--that in such a life as mine, I am unfortunately dependent on these men for something every hour in the day.'
Her arm was on his shoulder, but she did not look in his face while he spoke. Bending her head she looked another way.
'I--hem!--I can't think, Amy, what has given Chivery offence. He is generally so--so very attentive and respectful. And to-night he was quite--quite short with me. Other people there too! Why, good Heaven! if I was to lose the support and recognition of Chivery and his brother officers, I might starve to death here.' While he spoke, he was opening and shutting his hands like valves; so conscious all the time of that touch of shame, that he shrunk before his own knowledge of his meaning.
'I--ha!--I can't think what it's owing to. I am sure I cannot imagine what the cause of it is. There was a certain Jackson here once, a turnkey of the name of Jackson (I don't think you can remember him, my dear, you were very young), and--hem!--and he had a--brother, and this--young brother paid his addresses to--at least, did not go so far as to pay his addresses to--but admired-- respectfully admired--the--not daughter, the sister--of one of us; a rather distinguished Collegian; I may say, very much so. His name was Captain Martin; and he consulted me on the question whether It was necessary that his daughter--sister--should hazard offending the turnkey brother by being too--ha!--too plain with the other brother. Captain Martin was a gentleman and a man of honour, and I put it to him first to give me his--his own opinion. Captain Martin (highly respected in the army) then unhesitatingly said that it appeared to him that his--hem!--sister was not called upon to understand the young man too distinctly, and that she might lead him on--I am doubtful whether "lead him on" was Captain Martin's exact expression: indeed I think he said tolerate him--on her father's--I should say, brother's--account. I hardly know how I have strayed into this story. I suppose it has been through being unable to account for Chivery; but as to the connection between the two, I don't see--'
His voice died away, as if she could not bear the pain of hearing him, and her hand had gradually crept to his lips. For a little while there was a dead silence and stillness; and he remained shrunk in his chair, and she remained with her arm round his neck and her head bowed down upon his shoulder.
His supper was cooking in a saucepan on the fire, and, when she moved, it was to make it ready for him on the table. He took his usual seat, she took hers, and he began his meal. They did not, as yet, look at one another. By little and little he began; laying down his knife and fork with a noise, taking things up sharply, biting at his bread as if he were offended with it, and in other similar ways showing that he was out of sorts. At length he pushed his plate from him, and spoke aloud; with the strangest inconsistency.
'What does it matter whether I eat or starve? What does it matter whether such a blighted life as mine comes to an end, now, next week, or next year? What am I worth to anyone? A poor prisoner, fed on alms and broken victuals; a squalid, disgraced wretch!'
'Father, father!' As he rose she went on her knees to him, and held up her hands to him.
'Amy,' he went on in a suppressed voice, trembling violently, and looking at her as wildly as if he had gone mad. 'I tell you, if you could see me as your mother saw me, you wouldn't believe it to be the creature you have only looked at through the bars of this cage. I was young, I was accomplished, I was good-looking, I was independent--by God I was, child!--and people sought me out, and envied me. Envied me!'
'Dear father!' She tried to take down the shaking arm that he flourished in the air, but he resisted, and put her hand away.
'If I had but a picture of myself in those days, though it was ever so ill done, you would be proud of it, you would be proud of it.
But I have no such thing. Now, let me be a warning! Let no man,' he cried, looking haggardly about, 'fail to preserve at least that little of the times of his prosperity and respect. Let his children have that clue to what he was. Unless my face, when I am dead, subsides into the long departed look--they say such things happen, I don't know--my children will have never seen me.'
'O despise me, despise me! Look away from me, don't listen to me, stop me, blush for me, cry for me--even you, Amy! Do it, do it!
I do it to myself! I am hardened now, I have sunk too low to care long even for that.'
'Dear father, loved father, darling of my heart!' She was clinging to him with her arms, and she got him to drop into his chair again, and caught at the raised arm, and tried to put it round her neck.
'Let it lie there, father. Look at me, father, kiss me, father!
Only think of me, father, for one little moment!'
Still he went on in the same wild way, though it was gradually breaking down into a miserable whining.
'And yet I have some respect here. I have made some stand against it. I am not quite trodden down. Go out and ask who is the chief person in the place. They'll tell you it's your father. Go out and ask who is never trifled with, and who is always treated with some delicacy. They'll say, your father. Go out and ask what funeral here (it must be here, I know it can be nowhere else) will make more talk, and perhaps more grief, than any that has ever gone out at the gate. They'll say your father's. Well then. Amy!
Amy! Is your father so universally despised? Is there nothing to redeem him? Will you have nothing to remember him by but his ruin and decay? Will you be able to have no affection for him when he is gone, poor castaway, gone?'
He burst into tears of maudlin pity for himself, and at length suffering her to embrace him and take charge of him, let his grey head rest against her cheek, and bewailed his wretchedness.
Presently he changed the subject of his lamentations, and clasping his hands about her as she embraced him, cried, O Amy, his motherless, forlorn child! O the days that he had seen her careful and laborious for him! Then he reverted to himself, and weakly told her how much better she would have loved him if she had known him in his vanished character, and how he would have married her to a gentleman who should have been proud of her as his daughter, and how (at which he cried again) she should first have ridden at his fatherly side on her own horse, and how the crowd (by which he meant in effect the people who had given him the twelve shillings he then had in his pocket) should have trudged the dusty roads respectfully.
Thus, now boasting, now despairing, in either fit a captive with the jail-rot upon him, and the impurity of his prison worn into the grain of his soul, he revealed his degenerate state to his affectionate child. No one else ever beheld him in the details of his humiliation. Little recked the Collegians who were laughing in their rooms over his late address in the Lodge, what a serious picture they had in their obscure gallery of the Marshalsea that Sunday night.
There was a classical daughter once--perhaps--who ministered to her father in his prison as her mother had ministered to her. Little Dorrit, though of the unheroic modern stock and mere English, did much more, in comforting her father's wasted heart upon her innocent breast, and turning to it a fountain of love and fidelity that never ran dry or waned through all his years of famine.
She soothed him; asked him for his forgiveness if she had been, or seemed to have been, undutiful; told him, Heaven knows truly, that she could not honour him more if he were the favourite of Fortune and the whole world acknowledged him. When his tears were dried, and he sobbed in his weakness no longer, and was free from that touch of shame, and had recovered his usual bearing, she prepared the remains of his supper afresh, and, sitting by his side, rejoiced to see him eat and drink. For now he sat in his black velvet cap and old grey gown, magnanimous again; and would have comported himself towards any Collegian who might have looked in to ask his advice, like a great moral Lord Chesterfield, or Master of the ethical ceremonies of the Marshalsea.
To keep his attention engaged, she talked with him about his wardrobe; when he was pleased to say, that Yes, indeed, those shirts she proposed would be exceedingly acceptable, for those he had were worn out, and, being ready-made, had never fitted him.
Being conversational, and in a reasonable flow of spirits, he then invited her attention to his coat as it hung behind the door: remarking that the Father of the place would set an indifferent example to his children, already disposed to be slovenly, if he went among them out at elbows. He was jocular, too, as to the heeling of his shoes; but became grave on the subject of his cravat, and promised her that, when she could afford it, she should buy him a new one.
While he smoked out his cigar in peace, she made his bed, and put the small room in order for his repose. Being weary then, owing to the advanced hour and his emotions, he came out of his chair to bless her and wish her Good night. All this time he had never once thought of HER dress, her shoes, her need of anything. No other person upon earth, save herself, could have been so unmindful of her wants.
He kissed her many times with 'Bless you, my love. Good night, MY dear!'
But her gentle breast had been so deeply wounded by what she had seen of him that she was unwilling to leave him alone, lest he should lament and despair again. 'Father, dear, I am not tired; let me come back presently, when you are in bed, and sit by you.'
He asked her, with an air of protection, if she felt solitary?
'Then come back by all means, my love.'
'I shall be very quiet, father.'
'Don't think of me, my dear,' he said, giving her his kind permission fully. 'Come back by all means.'
He seemed to be dozing when she returned, and she put the low fire together very softly lest she should awake him. But he overheard her, and called out who was that?
'Only Amy, father.'
'Amy, my child, come here. I want to say a word to you.' He raised himself a little in his low bed, as she kneeled beside it to bring her face near him; and put his hand between hers. O! Both the private father and the Father of the Marshalsea were strong within him then.
'My love, you have had a life of hardship here. No companions, no recreations, many cares I am afraid?'
'Don't think of that, dear. I never do.'
'You know my position, Amy. I have not been able to do much for you; but all I have been able to do, I have done.'
'Yes, my dear father,' she rejoined, kissing him. 'I know, I know.'
'I am in the twenty-third year of my life here,' he said, with a catch in his breath that was not so much a sob as an irrepressible sound of self-approval, the momentary outburst of a noble consciousness. 'It is all I could do for my children--I have done it. Amy, my love, you are by far the best loved of the three; I have had you principally in my mind--whatever I have done for your sake, my dear child, I have done freely and without murmuring.'
Only the wisdom that holds the clue to all hearts and all mysteries, can surely know to what extent a man, especially a man brought down as this man had been, can impose upon himself.
Enough, for the present place, that he lay down with wet eyelashes, serene, in a manner majestic, after bestowing his life of degradation as a sort of portion on the devoted child upon whom its miseries had fallen so heavily, and whose love alone had saved him to be even what he was.
That child had no doubts, asked herself no question, for she was but too content to see him with a lustre round his head. Poor dear, good dear, truest, kindest, dearest, were the only words she had for him, as she hushed him to rest.
She never left him all that night. As if she had done him a wrong which her tenderness could hardly repair, she sat by him in his sleep, at times softly kissing him with suspended breath, and calling him in a whisper by some endearing name. At times she stood aside so as not to intercept the low fire-light, and, watching him when it fell upon his sleeping face, wondered did he look now at all as he had looked when he was prosperous and happy; as he had so touched her by imagining that he might look once more in that awful time. At the thought of that time, she kneeled beside his bed again, and prayed, 'O spare his life! O save him to me! O look down upon my dear, long-suffering, unfortunate, much- changed, dear dear father!'
Not until the morning came to protect him and encourage him, did she give him a last kiss and leave the small room. When she had stolen down-stairs, and along the empty yard, and had crept up to her own high garret, the smokeless housetops and the distant country hills were discernible over the wall in the clear morning.
As she gently opened the window, and looked eastward down the prison yard, the spikes upon the wall were tipped with red, then made a sullen purple pattern on the sun as it came flaming up into the heavens. The spikes had never looked so sharp and cruel, nor the bars so heavy, nor the prison space so gloomy and contracted.
She thought of the sunrise on rolling rivers, of the sunrise on wide seas, of the sunrise on rich landscapes, of the sunrise on great forests where the birds were waking and the trees were rustling; and she looked down into the living grave on which the sun had risen, with her father in it three-and-twenty years, and said, in a burst of sorrow and compassion, 'No, no, I have never seen him in my life!'
Moving in Society
If Young John Chivery had had the inclination and the power to write a satire on family pride, he would have had no need to go for an avenging illustration out of the family of his beloved. He would have found it amply in that gallant brother and that dainty sister, so steeped in mean experiences, and so loftily conscious of the family name; so ready to beg or borrow from the poorest, to eat of anybody's bread, spend anybody's money, drink from anybody's cup and break it afterwards. To have painted the sordid facts of their lives, and they throughout invoking the death's head apparition of the family gentility to come and scare their benefactors, would have made Young John a satirist of the first water.
Tip had turned his liberty to hopeful account by becoming a billiard-marker. He had troubled himself so little as to the means of his release, that Clennam scarcely needed to have been at the pains of impressing the mind of Mr Plornish on that subject.
Whoever had paid him the compliment, he very readily accepted the compliment with HIS compliments, and there was an end of it.
Issuing forth from the gate on these easy terms, he became a billiard-marker; and now occasionally looked in at the little skittle-ground in a green Newmarket coat (second-hand), with a shining collar and bright buttons (new), and drank the beer of the Collegians.
One solid stationary point in the looseness of this gentleman's character was, that he respected and admired his sister Amy. The feeling had never induced him to spare her a moment's uneasiness, or to put himself to any restraint or inconvenience on her account; but with that Marshalsea taint upon his love, he loved her. The same rank Marshalsea flavour was to be recognised in his distinctly perceiving that she sacrificed her life to her father, and in his having no idea that she had done anything for himself.
When this spirited young man and his sister had begun systematically to produce the family skeleton for the overawing of the College, this narrative cannot precisely state. Probably at about the period when they began to dine on the College charity.
It is certain that the more reduced and necessitous they were, the more pompously the skeleton emerged from its tomb; and that when there was anything particularly shabby in the wind, the skeleton always came out with the ghastliest flourish.
Little Dorrit was late on the Monday morning, for her father slept late, and afterwards there was his breakfast to prepare and his room to arrange. She had no engagement to go out to work, however, and therefore stayed with him until, with Maggy's help, she had put everything right about him, and had seen him off upon his morning walk (of twenty yards or so) to the coffee-house to read the paper.
She then got on her bonnet and went out, having been anxious to get out much sooner. There was, as usual, a cessation of the small- talk in the Lodge as she passed through it; and a Collegian who had come in on Saturday night, received the intimation from the elbow of a more seasoned Collegian, 'Look out. Here she is!' She wanted to see her sister, but when she got round to Mr Cripples's, she found that both her sister and her uncle had gone to the theatre where they were engaged. Having taken thought of this probability by the way, and having settled that in such case she would follow them, she set off afresh for the theatre, which was on that side of the river, and not very far away.
Little Dorrit was almost as ignorant of the ways of theatres as of the ways of gold mines, and when she was directed to a furtive sort of door, with a curious up-all-night air about it, that appeared to be ashamed of itself and to be hiding in an alley, she hesitated to approach it; being further deterred by the sight of some half-dozen close-shaved gentlemen with their hats very strangely on, who were lounging about the door, looking not at all unlike Collegians. On her applying to them, reassured by this resemblance, for a direction to Miss Dorrit, they made way for her to enter a dark hall--it was more like a great grim lamp gone out than anything else--where she could hear the distant playing of music and the sound of dancing feet. A man so much in want of airing that he had a blue mould upon him, sat watching this dark place from a hole in a corner, like a spider; and he told her that he would send a message up to Miss Dorrit by the first lady or gentleman who went through. The first lady who went through had a roll of music, half in her muff and half out of it, and was in such a tumbled condition altogether, that it seemed as if it would be an act of kindness to iron her. But as she was very good-natured, and said, 'Come with me; I'll soon find Miss Dorrit for you,' Miss Dorrit's sister went with her, drawing nearer and nearer at every step she took in the darkness to the sound of music and the sound of dancing feet.
At last they came into a maze of dust, where a quantity of people were tumbling over one another, and where there was such a confusion of unaccountable shapes of beams, bulkheads, brick walls, ropes, and rollers, and such a mixing of gaslight and daylight, that they seemed to have got on the wrong side of the pattern of the universe. Little Dorrit, left to herself, and knocked against by somebody every moment, was quite bewildered, when she heard her sister's voice.
'Why, good gracious, Amy, what ever brought you here?'
'I wanted to see you, Fanny dear; and as I am going out all day to- morrow, and knew you might be engaged all day to-day, I thought--'
'But the idea, Amy, of YOU coming behind! I never did!' As her sister said this in no very cordial tone of welcome, she conducted her to a more open part of the maze, where various golden chairs and tables were heaped together, and where a number of young ladies were sitting on anything they could find, chattering. All these young ladies wanted ironing, and all had a curious way of looking everywhere while they chattered.
just as the sisters arrived here, a monotonous boy in a Scotch cap put his head round a beam on the left, and said, 'Less noise there, ladies!' and disappeared. Immediately after which, a sprightly gentleman with a quantity of long black hair looked round a beam on the right, and said, 'Less noise there, darlings!' and also disappeared.
'The notion of you among professionals, Amy, is really the last thing I could have conceived!' said her sister. 'Why, how did you ever get here?'
'I don't know. The lady who told you I was here, was so good as to bring me in.'
'Like you quiet little things! You can make your way anywhere, I believe. I couldn't have managed it, Amy, though I know so much more of the world.'
It was the family custom to lay it down as family law, that she was a plain domestic little creature, without the great and sage experience of the rest. This family fiction was the family assertion of itself against her services. Not to make too much of them.
'Well! And what have you got on your mind, Amy? Of course you have got something on your mind about me?' said Fanny. She spoke as if her sister, between two and three years her junior, were her prejudiced grandmother.
'It is not much; but since you told me of the lady who gave you the bracelet, Fanny--'
The monotonous boy put his head round the beam on the left, and said, 'Look out there, ladies!' and disappeared. The sprightly gentleman with the black hair as suddenly put his head round the beam on the right, and said, 'Look out there, darlings!' and also disappeared. Thereupon all the young ladies rose and began shaking their skirts out behind.
'Well, Amy?' said Fanny, doing as the rest did; 'what were you going to say?'
'Since you told me a lady had given you the bracelet you showed me, Fanny, I have not been quite easy on your account, and indeed want to know a little more if you will confide more to me.'
'Now, ladies!' said the boy in the Scotch cap. 'Now, darlings!' said the gentleman with the black hair. They were every one gone in a moment, and the music and the dancing feet were heard again.
Little Dorrit sat down in a golden chair, made quite giddy by these rapid interruptions. Her sister and the rest were a long time gone; and during their absence a voice (it appeared to be that of the gentleman with the black hair) was continually calling out through the music, 'One, two, three, four, five, six--go! One, two, three, four, five, six--go! Steady, darlings! One, two, three, four, five, six--go!' Ultimately the voice stopped, and they all came back again, more or less out of breath, folding themselves in their shawls, and making ready for the streets.
'Stop a moment, Amy, and let them get away before us,' whispered Fanny. They were soon left alone; nothing more important happening, in the meantime, than the boy looking round his old beam, and saying, 'Everybody at eleven to-morrow, ladies!' and the gentleman with the black hair looking round his old beam, and saying, 'Everybody at eleven to-morrow, darlings!' each in his own accustomed manner.
When they were alone, something was rolled up or by other means got out of the way, and there was a great empty well before them, looking down into the depths of which Fanny said, 'Now, uncle!' Little Dorrit, as her eyes became used to the darkness, faintly made him out at the bottom of the well, in an obscure corner by himself, with his instrument in its ragged case under his arm.
The old man looked as if the remote high gallery windows, with their little strip of sky, might have been the point of his better fortunes, from which he had descended, until he had gradually sunk down below there to the bottom. He had been in that place six nights a week for many years, but had never been observed to raise his eyes above his music-book, and was confidently believed to have never seen a play. There were legends in the place that he did not so much as know the popular heroes and heroines by sight, and that the low comedian had 'mugged' at him in his richest manner fifty nights for a wager, and he had shown no trace of consciousness.
The carpenters had a joke to the effect that he was dead without being aware of it; and the frequenters of the pit supposed him to pass his whole life, night and day, and Sunday and all, in the orchestra. They had tried him a few times with pinches of snuff offered over the rails, and he had always responded to this attention with a momentary waking up of manner that had the pale phantom of a gentleman in it: beyond this he never, on any occasion, had any other part in what was going on than the part written out for the clarionet; in private life, where there was no part for the clarionet, he had no part at all. Some said he was poor, some said he was a wealthy miser; but he said nothing, never lifted up his bowed head, never varied his shuffling gait by getting his springless foot from the ground. Though expecting now to be summoned by his niece, he did not hear her until she had spoken to him three or four times; nor was he at all surprised by the presence of two nieces instead of one, but merely said in his tremulous voice, 'I am coming, I am coming!' and crept forth by some underground way which emitted a cellarous smell.
'And so, Amy,' said her sister, when the three together passed out at the door that had such a shame-faced consciousness of being different from other doors: the uncle instinctively taking Amy's arm as the arm to be relied on: 'so, Amy, you are curious about me?'
She was pretty, and conscious, and rather flaunting; and the condescension with which she put aside the superiority of her charms, and of her worldly experience, and addressed her sister on almost equal terms, had a vast deal of the family in it.
'I am interested, Fanny, and concerned in anything that concerns you.'
'So you are, so you are, and you are the best of Amys. If I am ever a little provoking, I am sure you'll consider what a thing it is to occupy my position and feel a consciousness of being superior to it. I shouldn't care,' said the Daughter of the Father of the Marshalsea, 'if the others were not so common. None of them have come down in the world as we have. They are all on their own level. Common.'
Little Dorrit mildly looked at the speaker, but did not interrupt her. Fanny took out her handkerchief, and rather angrily wiped her eyes. 'I was not born where you were, you know, Amy, and perhaps that makes a difference. My dear child, when we get rid of Uncle, you shall know all about it. We'll drop him at the cook's shop where he is going to dine.'
They walked on with him until they came to a dirty shop window in a dirty street, which was made almost opaque by the steam of hot meats, vegetables, and puddings. But glimpses were to be caught of a roast leg of pork bursting into tears of sage and onion in a metal reservoir full of gravy, of an unctuous piece of roast beef and blisterous Yorkshire pudding, bubbling hot in a similar receptacle, of a stuffed fillet of veal in rapid cut, of a ham in a perspiration with the pace it was going at, of a shallow tank of baked potatoes glued together by their own richness, of a truss or two of boiled greens, and other substantial delicacies. Within, were a few wooden partitions, behind which such customers as found it more convenient to take away their dinners in stomachs than in their hands, Packed their purchases in solitude. Fanny opening her reticule, as they surveyed these things, produced from that repository a shilling and handed it to Uncle. Uncle, after not looking at it a little while, divined its object, and muttering 'Dinner? Ha! Yes, yes, yes!' slowly vanished from them into the mist.
'Now, Amy,' said her sister, 'come with me, if you are not too tired to walk to Harley Street, Cavendish Square.'
The air with which she threw off this distinguished address and the toss she gave to her new bonnet (which was more gauzy than serviceable), made her sister wonder; however, she expressed her readiness to go to Harley Street, and thither they directed their steps. Arrived at that grand destination, Fanny singled out the handsomest house, and knocking at the door, inquired for Mrs Merdle. The footman who opened the door, although he had powder on his head and was backed up by two other footmen likewise powdered, not only admitted Mrs Merdle to be at home, but asked Fanny to walk in. Fanny walked in, taking her sister with her; and they went up- stairs with powder going before and powder stopping behind, and were left in a spacious semicircular drawing-room, one of several drawing-rooms, where there was a parrot on the outside of a golden cage holding on by its beak, with its scaly legs in the air, and putting itself into many strange upside-down postures. This peculiarity has been observed in birds of quite another feather, climbing upon golden wires.
The room was far more splendid than anything Little Dorrit had ever imagined, and would have been splendid and costly in any eyes. She looked in amazement at her sister and would have asked a question, but that Fanny with a warning frown pointed to a curtained doorway of communication with another room. The curtain shook next moment, and a lady, raising it with a heavily ringed hand, dropped it behind her again as she entered.
The lady was not young and fresh from the hand of Nature, but was young and fresh from the hand of her maid. She had large unfeeling handsome eyes, and dark unfeeling handsome hair, and a broad unfeeling handsome bosom, and was made the most of in every particular. Either because she had a cold, or because it suited her face, she wore a rich white fillet tied over her head and under her chin. And if ever there were an unfeeling handsome chin that looked as if, for certain, it had never been, in familiar parlance, 'chucked' by the hand of man, it was the chin curbed up so tight and close by that laced bridle.
'Mrs Merdle,' said Fanny. 'My sister, ma'am.'
'I am glad to see your sister, Miss Dorrit. I did not remember that you had a sister.'
'I did not mention that I had,' said Fanny.
'Ah!' Mrs Merdle curled the little finger of her left hand as who should say, 'I have caught you. I know you didn't!' All her action was usually with her left hand because her hands were not a pair; and left being much the whiter and plumper of the two. Then she added: 'Sit down,' and composed herself voluptuously, in a nest of crimson and gold cushions, on an ottoman near the parrot.
'Also professional?' said Mrs Merdle, looking at Little Dorrit through an eye-glass.
Fanny answered No. 'No,' said Mrs Merdle, dropping her glass.
'Has not a professional air. Very pleasant; but not professional.'
'My sister, ma'am,' said Fanny, in whom there was a singular mixture of deference and hardihood, 'has been asking me to tell her, as between sisters, how I came to have the honour of knowing you. And as I had engaged to call upon you once more, I thought I might take the liberty of bringing her with me, when perhaps you would tell her. I wish her to know, and perhaps you will tell her?' 'Do you think, at your sister's age--' hinted Mrs Merdle.
'She is much older than she looks,' said Fanny; 'almost as old as I am.'
'Society,' said Mrs Merdle, with another curve of her little finger, 'is so difficult to explain to young persons (indeed is so difficult to explain to most persons), that I am glad to hear that.
I wish Society was not so arbitrary, I wish it was not so exacting -- Bird, be quiet!'
The parrot had given a most piercing shriek, as if its name were Society and it asserted its right to its exactions.
'But,' resumed Mrs Merdle, 'we must take it as we find it. We know it is hollow and conventional and worldly and very shocking, but unless we are Savages in the Tropical seas (I should have been charmed to be one myself--most delightful life and perfect climate, I am told), we must consult it. It is the common lot. Mr Merdle is a most extensive merchant, his transactions are on the vastest scale, his wealth and influence are very great, but even he-- Bird, be quiet!'
The parrot had shrieked another shriek; and it filled up the sentence so expressively that Mrs Merdle was under no necessity to end it.
'Since your sister begs that I would terminate our personal acquaintance,' she began again, addressing Little Dorrit, 'by relating the circumstances that are much to her credit, I cannot object to comply with her request, I am sure. I have a son (I was first married extremely young) of two or three-and-twenty.'
Fanny set her lips, and her eyes looked half triumphantly at her sister.
'A son of two or three-and-twenty. He is a little gay, a thing Society is accustomed to in young men, and he is very impressible.
Perhaps he inherits that misfortune. I am very impressible myself, by nature. The weakest of creatures--my feelings are touched in a moment.'
She said all this, and everything else, as coldly as a woman of snow; quite forgetting the sisters except at odd times, and apparently addressing some abstraction of Society; for whose behoof, too, she occasionally arranged her dress, or the composition of her figure upon the ottoman.
'So he is very impressible. Not a misfortune in our natural state I dare say, but we are not in a natural state. Much to be lamented, no doubt, particularly by myself, who am a child of nature if I could but show it; but so it is. Society suppresses us and dominates us-- Bird, be quiet!' The parrot had broken into a violent fit of laughter, after twisting divers bars of his cage with his crooked bill, and licking them with his black tongue.
'It is quite unnecessary to say to a person of your good sense, wide range of experience, and cultivated feeling,' said Mrs Merdle from her nest of crimson and gold--and there put up her glass to refresh her memory as to whom she was addressing,--'that the stage sometimes has a fascination for young men of that class of character. In saying the stage, I mean the people on it of the female sex. Therefore, when I heard that my son was supposed to be fascinated by a dancer, I knew what that usually meant in Society, and confided in her being a dancer at the Opera, where young men moving in Society are usually fascinated.'
She passed her white hands over one another, observant of the sisters now; and the rings upon her fingers grated against each other with a hard sound.
'As your sister will tell you, when I found what the theatre was I was much surprised and much distressed. But when I found that your sister, by rejecting my son's advances (I must add, in an unexpected manner), had brought him to the point of proposing marriage, my feelings were of the profoundest anguish--acute.' She traced the outline of her left eyebrow, and put it right.
'In a distracted condition, which only a mother--moving in Society--can be susceptible of, I determined to go myself to the theatre, and represent my state of mind to the dancer. I made myself known to your sister. I found her, to my surprise, in many respects different from my expectations; and certainly in none more so, than in meeting me with--what shall I say--a sort of family assertion on her own part?' Mrs Merdle smiled.
'I told you, ma'am,' said Fanny, with a heightening colour, 'that although you found me in that situation, I was so far above the rest, that I considered my family as good as your son's; and that I had a brother who, knowing the circumstances, would be of the same opinion, and would not consider such a connection any honour.'
'Miss Dorrit,' said Mrs Merdle, after frostily looking at her through her glass, 'precisely what I was on the point of telling your sister, in pursuance of your request. Much obliged to you for recalling it so accurately and anticipating me. I immediately,' addressing Little Dorrit, '(for I am the creature of impulse), took a bracelet from my arm, and begged your sister to let me clasp it on hers, in token of the delight I had in our being able to approach the subject so far on a common footing.' (This was perfectly true, the lady having bought a cheap and showy article on her way to the interview, with a general eye to bribery.)
'And I told you, Mrs Merdle,' said Fanny, 'that we might be unfortunate, but we are not common.'
'I think, the very words, Miss Dorrit,' assented Mrs Merdle.
'And I told you, Mrs Merdle,' said Fanny, 'that if you spoke to me of the superiority of your son's standing in Society, it was barely possible that you rather deceived yourself in your suppositions about my origin; and that my father's standing, even in the Society in which he now moved (what that was, was best known to myself), was eminently superior, and was acknowledged by every one.'
'Quite accurate,' rejoined Mrs Merdle. 'A most admirable memory.'
'Thank you, ma'am. Perhaps you will be so kind as to tell my sister the rest.'
'There is very little to tell,' said Mrs Merdle, reviewing the breadth of bosom which seemed essential to her having room enough to be unfeeling in, 'but it is to your sister's credit. I pointed out to your sister the plain state of the case; the impossibility of the Society in which we moved recognising the Society in which she moved--though charming, I have no doubt; the immense disadvantage at which she would consequently place the family she had so high an opinion of, upon which we should find ourselves compelled to look down with contempt, and from which (socially speaking) we should feel obliged to recoil with abhorrence. In short, I made an appeal to that laudable pride in your sister.'
'Let my sister know, if you please, Mrs Merdle,' Fanny pouted, with a toss of her gauzy bonnet, 'that I had already had the honour of telling your son that I wished to have nothing whatever to say to him.'
'Well, Miss Dorrit,' assented Mrs Merdle, 'perhaps I might have mentioned that before. If I did not think of it, perhaps it was because my mind reverted to the apprehensions I had at the time that he might persevere and you might have something to say to him.
I also mentioned to your sister--I again address the non- professional Miss Dorrit--that my son would have nothing in the event of such a marriage, and would be an absolute beggar. (I mention that merely as a fact which is part of the narrative, and not as supposing it to have influenced your sister, except in the prudent and legitimate way in which, constituted as our artificial system is, we must all be influenced by such considerations.) Finally, after some high words and high spirit on the part of your sister, we came to the complete understanding that there was no danger; and your sister was so obliging as to allow me to present her with a mark or two of my appreciation at my dressmaker's.'
Little Dorrit looked sorry, and glanced at Fanny with a troubled face.
'Also,' said Mrs Merdle, 'as to promise to give me the present pleasure of a closing interview, and of parting with her on the best of terms. On which occasion,' added Mrs Merdle, quitting her nest, and putting something in Fanny's hand, 'Miss Dorrit will permit me to say Farewell with best wishes in my own dull manner.'
The sisters rose at the same time, and they all stood near the cage of the parrot, as he tore at a claw-full of biscuit and spat it out, seemed to mock them with a pompous dance of his body without moving his feet, and suddenly turned himself upside down and trailed himself all over the outside of his golden cage, with the aid of his cruel beak and black tongue.
'Adieu, Miss Dorrit, with best wishes,' said Mrs Merdle. 'If we could only come to a Millennium, or something of that sort, I for one might have the pleasure of knowing a number of charming and talented persons from whom I am at present excluded. A more primitive state of society would be delicious to me. There used to be a poem when I learnt lessons, something about Lo the poor Indians whose something mind! If a few thousand persons moving in Society, could only go and be Indians, I would put my name down directly; but as, moving in Society, we can't be Indians, unfortunately--Good morning!'
They came down-stairs with powder before them and powder behind, the elder sister haughty and the younger sister humbled, and were shut out into unpowdered Harley Street, Cavendish Square.
'Well?' said Fanny, when they had gone a little way without speaking. 'Have you nothing to say, Amy?'
'Oh, I don't know what to say!' she answered, distressed. 'You didn't like this young man, Fanny?'
'Like him? He is almost an idiot.'
'I am so sorry--don't be hurt--but, since you ask me what I have to say, I am so very sorry, Fanny, that you suffered this lady to give you anything.'
'You little Fool!' returned her sister, shaking her with the sharp pull she gave her arm. 'Have you no spirit at all? But that's just the way! You have no self-respect, you have no becoming pride. just as you allow yourself to be followed about by a contemptible little Chivery of a thing,' with the scornfullest emphasis, 'you would let your family be trodden on, and never turn.'
'Don't say that, dear Fanny. I do what I can for them.'
'You do what you can for them!' repeated Fanny, walking her on very fast. 'Would you let a woman like this, whom you could see, if you had any experience of anything, to be as false and insolent as a woman can be--would you let her put her foot upon your family, and thank her for it?'
'No, Fanny, I am sure.' 'Then make her pay for it, you mean little thing. What else can you make her do? Make her pay for it, you stupid child; and do your family some credit with the money!'
They spoke no more all the way back to the lodging where Fanny and her uncle lived. When they arrived there, they found the old man practising his clarionet in the dolefullest manner in a corner of the room. Fanny had a composite meal to make, of chops, and porter, and tea; and indignantly pretended to prepare it for herself, though her sister did all that in quiet reality. When at last Fanny sat down to eat and drink, she threw the table implements about and was angry with her bread, much as her father had been last night.
'If you despise me,' she said, bursting into vehement tears, 'because I am a dancer, why did you put me in the way of being one?
It was your doing. You would have me stoop as low as the ground before this Mrs Merdle, and let her say what she liked and do what she liked, and hold us all in contempt, and tell me so to my face.
Because I am a dancer!'
'And Tip, too, poor fellow. She is to disparage him just as much as she likes, without any check--I suppose because he has been in the law, and the docks, and different things. Why, it was your doing, Amy. You might at least approve of his being defended.'
All this time the uncle was dolefully blowing his clarionet in the corner, sometimes taking it an inch or so from his mouth for a moment while he stopped to gaze at them, with a vague impression that somebody had said something.
'And your father, your poor father, Amy. Because he is not free to show himself and to speak for himself, you would let such people insult him with impunity. If you don't feel for yourself because you go out to work, you might at least feel for him, I should think, knowing what he has undergone so long.'
Poor Little Dorrit felt the injustice of this taunt rather sharply.
The remembrance of last night added a barbed point to it. She said nothing in reply, but turned her chair from the table towards the fire. Uncle, after making one more pause, blew a dismal wail and went on again.
Fanny was passionate with the tea-cups and the bread as long as her passion lasted, and then protested that she was the wretchedest girl in the world, and she wished she was dead. After that, her crying became remorseful, and she got up and put her arms round her sister. Little Dorrit tried to stop her from saying anything, but she answered that she would, she must! Thereupon she said again, and again, 'I beg your pardon, Amy,' and 'Forgive me, Amy,' almost as passionately as she had said what she regretted.
'But indeed, indeed, Amy,' she resumed when they were seated in sisterly accord side by side, 'I hope and I think you would have seen this differently, if you had known a little more of Society.'
'Perhaps I might, Fanny,' said the mild Little Dorrit.
'You see, while you have been domestic and resignedly shut up there, Amy,' pursued her sister, gradually beginning to patronise, 'I have been out, moving more in Society, and may have been getting proud and spirited--more than I ought to be, perhaps?'
Little Dorrit answered 'Yes. O yes!'
'And while you have been thinking of the dinner or the clothes, I may have been thinking, you know, of the family. Now, may it not be so, Amy?'
Little Dorrit again nodded 'Yes,' with a more cheerful face than heart.
'Especially as we know,' said Fanny, 'that there certainly is a tone in the place to which you have been so true, which does belong to it, and which does make it different from other aspects of Society. So kiss me once again, Amy dear, and we will agree that we may both be right, and that you are a tranquil, domestic, home- loving, good girl.'
The clarionet had been lamenting most pathetically during this dialogue, but was cut short now by Fanny's announcement that it was time to go; which she conveyed to her uncle by shutting up his scrap of music, and taking the clarionet out of his mouth.
Little Dorrit parted from them at the door, and hastened back to the Marshalsea. It fell dark there sooner than elsewhere, and going into it that evening was like going into a deep trench. The shadow of the wall was on every object. Not least upon the figure in the old grey gown and the black velvet cap, as it turned towards her when she opened the door of the dim room.
'Why not upon me too!' thought Little Dorrit, with the door Yet in her hand. 'It was not unreasonable in Fanny.'