The newly married pair, on their arrival in Harley Street, Cavendish Square, London, were received by the Chief Butler. That great man was not interested in them, but on the whole endured them. People must continue to be married and given in marriage, or Chief Butlers would not be wanted. As nations are made to be taxed, so families are made to be butlered. The Chief Butler, no doubt, reflected that the course of nature required the wealthy population to be kept up, on his account.
He therefore condescended to look at the carriage from the Hall- door without frowning at it, and said, in a very handsome way, to one of his men, 'Thomas, help with the luggage.' He even escorted the Bride up-stairs into Mr Merdle's presence; but this must be considered as an act of homage to the sex (of which he was an admirer, being notoriously captivated by the charms of a certain Duchess), and not as a committal of himself with the family.
Mr Merdle was slinking about the hearthrug, waiting to welcome Mrs Sparkler. His hand seemed to retreat up his sleeve as he advanced to do so, and he gave her such a superfluity of coat-cuff that it was like being received by the popular conception of Guy Fawkes.
When he put his lips to hers, besides, he took himself into custody by the wrists, and backed himself among the ottomans and chairs and tables as if he were his own Police officer, saying to himself, 'Now, none of that! Come! I've got you, you know, and you go quietly along with me!'
Mrs Sparkler, installed in the rooms of state--the innermost sanctuary of down, silk, chintz, and fine linen--felt that so far her triumph was good, and her way made, step by step. On the day before her marriage, she had bestowed on Mrs Merdle's maid with an air of gracious indifference, in Mrs Merdle's presence, a trifling little keepsake (bracelet, bonnet, and two dresses, all new) about four times as valuable as the present formerly made by Mrs Merdle to her. She was now established in Mrs Merdle's own rooms, to which some extra touches had been given to render them more worthy of her occupation. In her mind's eye, as she lounged there, surrounded by every luxurious accessory that wealth could obtain or invention devise, she saw the fair bosom that beat in unison with the exultation of her thoughts, competing with the bosom that had been famous so long, outshining it, and deposing it. Happy? Fanny must have been happy. No more wishing one's self dead now.
The Courier had not approved of Mr Dorrit's staying in the house of a friend, and had preferred to take him to an hotel in Brook Street, Grosvenor Square. Mr Merdle ordered his carriage to be ready early in the morning that he might wait upon Mr Dorrit immediately after breakfast. Bright the carriage looked, sleek the horses looked, gleaming the harness looked, luscious and lasting the liveries looked. A rich, responsible turn-out. An equipage for a Merdle. Early people looked after it as it rattled along the streets, and said, with awe in their breath, 'There he goes!'
There he went, until Brook Street stopped him. Then, forth from its magnificent case came the jewel; not lustrous in itself, but quite the contrary.
Commotion in the office of the hotel. Merdle! The landlord, though a gentleman of a haughty spirit who had just driven a pair of thorough-bred horses into town, turned out to show him up- stairs. The clerks and servants cut him off by back-passages, and were found accidentally hovering in doorways and angles, that they might look upon him. Merdle! O ye sun, moon, and stars, the great man! The rich man, who had in a manner revised the New Testament, and already entered into the kingdom of Heaven. The man who could have any one he chose to dine with him, and who had made the money!
As he went up the stairs, people were already posted on the lower stairs, that his shadow might fall upon them when he came down. So were the sick brought out and laid in the track of the Apostle--who had NOT got into the good society, and had NOT made the money.
Mr Dorrit, dressing-gowned and newspapered, was at his breakfast.
The Courier, with agitation in his voice, announced 'Miss Mairdale!' Mr Dorrit's overwrought heart bounded as he leaped up.
'Mr Merdle, this is--ha--indeed an honour. Permit me to express the--hum--sense, the high sense, I entertain of this--ha hum-- highly gratifying act of attention. I am well aware, sir, of the many demands upon your time, and its--ha--enormous value,' Mr Dorrit could not say enormous roundly enough for his own satisfaction. 'That you should--ha--at this early hour, bestow any of your priceless time upon me, is--ha--a compliment that I acknowledge with the greatest esteem.' Mr Dorrit positively trembled in addressing the great man.
Mr Merdle uttered, in his subdued, inward, hesitating voice, a few sounds that were to no purpose whatever; and finally said, 'I am glad to see you, sir.'
'You are very kind,' said Mr Dorrit. 'Truly kind.' By this time the visitor was seated, and was passing his great hand over his exhausted forehead. 'You are well, I hope, Mr Merdle?'
'I am as well as I--yes, I am as well as I usually am,' said Mr Merdle.
'Your occupations must be immense.'
'Tolerably so. But--Oh dear no, there's not much the matter with me,' said Mr Merdle, looking round the room.
'A little dyspeptic?' Mr Dorrit hinted.
'Very likely. But I--Oh, I am well enough,' said Mr Merdle.
There were black traces on his lips where they met, as if a little train of gunpowder had been fired there; and he looked like a man who, if his natural temperament had been quicker, would have been very feverish that morning. This, and his heavy way of passing his hand over his forehead, had prompted Mr Dorrit's solicitous inquiries.
'Mrs Merdle,' Mr Dorrit insinuatingly pursued, 'I left, as you will be prepared to hear, the--ha--observed of all observers, the--hum-- admired of all admirers, the leading fascination and charm of Society in Rome. She was looking wonderfully well when I quitted it.'
'Mrs Merdle,' said Mr Merdle, 'is generally considered a very attractive woman. And she is, no doubt. I am sensible of her being SO.'
'Who can be otherwise?' responded Mr Dorrit.
Mr Merdle turned his tongue in his closed mouth--it seemed rather a stiff and unmanageable tongue--moistened his lips, passed his hand over his forehead again, and looked all round the room again, principally under the chairs.
'But,' he said, looking Mr Dorrit in the face for the first time, and immediately afterwards dropping his eyes to the buttons of Mr Dorrit's waistcoat; 'if we speak of attractions, your daughter ought to be the subject of our conversation. She is extremely beautiful. Both in face and figure, she is quite uncommon. When the young people arrived last night, I was really surprised to see such charms.'
Mr Dorrit's gratification was such that he said--ha--he could not refrain from telling Mr Merdle verbally, as he had already done by letter, what honour and happiness he felt in this union of their families. And he offered his hand. Mr Merdle looked at the hand for a little while, took it on his for a moment as if his were a yellow salver or fish-slice, and then returned it to Mr Dorrit.
'I thought I would drive round the first thing,' said Mr Merdle, 'to offer my services, in case I can do anything for you; and to say that I hope you will at least do me the honour of dining with me to-day, and every day when you are not better engaged during your stay in town.'
Mr Dorrit was enraptured by these attentions.
'Do you stay long, sir?'
'I have not at present the intention,' said Mr Dorrit, 'of --ha-- exceeding a fortnight.'
'That's a very short stay, after so long a journey,' returned Mr Merdle.
'Hum. Yes,' said Mr Dorrit. 'But the truth is--ha--my dear Mr Merdle, that I find a foreign life so well suited to my health and taste, that I--hum--have but two objects in my present visit to London. First, the--ha--the distinguished happiness and--ha -- privilege which I now enjoy and appreciate; secondly, the arrangement--hum--the laying out, that is to say, in the best way, of--ha, hum--my money.'
'Well, sir,' said Mr Merdle, after turning his tongue again, 'if I can be of any use to you in that respect, you may command me.'
Mr Dorrit's speech had had more hesitation in it than usual, as he approached the ticklish topic, for he was not perfectly clear how so exalted a potentate might take it. He had doubts whether reference to any individual capital, or fortune, might not seem a wretchedly retail affair to so wholesale a dealer. Greatly relieved by Mr Merdle's affable offer of assistance, he caught at it directly, and heaped acknowledgments upon him.
'I scarcely--ha--dared,' said Mr Dorrit, 'I assure you, to hope for so--hum--vast an advantage as your direct advice and assistance.
Though of course I should, under any circumstances, like the--ha, hum--rest of the civilised world, have followed in Mr Merdle's train.'
'You know we may almost say we are related, sir,' said Mr Merdle, curiously interested in the pattern of the carpet, 'and, therefore, you may consider me at your service.'
'Ha. Very handsome, indeed!' cried Mr Dorrit. 'Ha. Most handsome!'
'it would not,' said Mr Merdle, 'be at the present moment easy for what I may call a mere outsider to come into any of the good things--of course I speak of my own good things--'
'Of course, of course!' cried Mr Dorrit, in a tone implying that there were no other good things.
'--Unless at a high price. At what we are accustomed to term a very long figure.'
Mr Dorrit laughed in the buoyancy of his spirit. Ha, ha, ha! Long figure. Good. Ha. Very expressive to be sure!
'However,' said Mr Merdle, 'I do generally retain in my own hands the power of exercising some preference--people in general would be pleased to call it favour--as a sort of compliment for my care and trouble.' 'And public spirit and genius,' Mr Dorrit suggested.
Mr Merdle, with a dry, swallowing action, seemed to dispose of those qualities like a bolus; then added, 'As a sort of return for it. I will see, if you please, how I can exert this limited power (for people are jealous, and it is limited), to your advantage.' 'You are very good,' replied Mr Dorrit. 'You are very good.'
'Of course,' said Mr Merdle, 'there must be the strictest integrity and uprightness in these transactions; there must be the purest faith between man and man; there must be unimpeached and unimpeachable confidence; or business could not be carried on.'
Mr Dorrit hailed these generous sentiments with fervour.
'Therefore,' said Mr Merdle, 'I can only give you a preference to a certain extent.'
'I perceive. To a defined extent,' observed Mr Dorrit.
'Defined extent. And perfectly above-board. As to my advice, however,' said Mr Merdle, 'that is another matter. That, such as it is--'
Oh! Such as it was! (Mr Dorrit could not bear the faintest appearance of its being depreciated, even by Mr Merdle himself.)
'--That, there is nothing in the bonds of spotless honour between myself and my fellow-man to prevent my parting with, if I choose.
And that,' said Mr Merdle, now deeply intent upon a dust-cart that was passing the windows, 'shall be at your command whenever you think proper.'
New acknowledgments from Mr Dorrit. New passages of Mr Merdle's hand over his forehead. Calm and silence. Contemplation of Mr Dorrit's waistcoat buttons by Mr Merdle.
'My time being rather precious,' said Mr Merdle, suddenly getting up, as if he had been waiting in the interval for his legs and they had just come, 'I must be moving towards the City. Can I take you anywhere, sir? I shall be happy to set you down, or send you on.
My carriage is at your disposal.'
Mr Dorrit bethought himself that he had business at his banker's.
His banker's was in the City. That was fortunate; Mr Merdle would take him into the City. But, surely, he might not detain Mr Merdle while he assumed his coat? Yes, he might and must; Mr Merdle insisted on it. So Mr Dorrit, retiring into the next room, put himself under the hands of his valet, and in five minutes came back glorious.
Then said Mr Merdle, 'Allow me, sir. Take my arm!' Then leaning on Mr Merdle's arm, did Mr Dorrit descend the staircase, seeing the worshippers on the steps, and feeling that the light of Mr Merdle shone by reflection in himself. Then the carriage, and the ride into the City; and the people who looked at them; and the hats that flew off grey heads; and the general bowing and crouching before this wonderful mortal the like of which prostration of spirit was not to be seen--no, by high Heaven, no! It may be worth thinking of by Fawners of all denominations--in Westminster Abbey and Saint Paul's Cathedral put together, on any Sunday in the year. It was a rapturous dream to Mr Dorrit to find himself set aloft in this public car of triumph, making a magnificent progress to that befitting destination, the golden Street of the Lombards.
There Mr Merdle insisted on alighting and going his way a-foot, and leaving his poor equipage at Mr Dorrit's disposition. So the dream increased in rapture when Mr Dorrit came out of the bank alone, and people looked at him in default of Mr Merdle, and when, with the ears of his mind, he heard the frequent exclamation as he rolled glibly along, 'A wonderful man to be Mr Merdle's friend!'
At dinner that day, although the occasion was not foreseen and provided for, a brilliant company of such as are not made of the dust of the earth, but of some superior article for the present unknown, shed their lustrous benediction upon Mr Dorrit's daughter's marriage. And Mr Dorrit's daughter that day began, in earnest, her competition with that woman not present; and began it so well that Mr Dorrit could all but have taken his affidavit, if required, that Mrs Sparkler had all her life been lying at full length in the lap of luxury, and had never heard of such a rough word in the English tongue as Marshalsea.
Next day, and the day after, and every day, all graced by more dinner company, cards descended on Mr Dorrit like theatrical snow.
As the friend and relative by marriage of the illustrious Merdle, Bar, Bishop, Treasury, Chorus, Everybody, wanted to make or improve Mr Dorrit's acquaintance. In Mr Merdle's heap of offices in the City, when Mr Dorrit appeared at any of them on his business taking him Eastward (which it frequently did, for it throve amazingly), the name of Dorrit was always a passport to the great presence of Merdle. So the dream increased in rapture every hour, as Mr Dorrit felt increasingly sensible that this connection had brought him forward indeed.
Only one thing sat otherwise than auriferously, and at the same time lightly, on Mr Dorrit's mind. It was the Chief Butler. That stupendous character looked at him, in the course of his official looking at the dinners, in a manner that Mr Dorrit considered questionable. He looked at him, as he passed through the hall and up the staircase, going to dinner, with a glazed fixedness that Mr Dorrit did not like. Seated at table in the act of drinking, Mr Dorrit still saw him through his wine-glass, regarding him with a cold and ghostly eye. It misgave him that the Chief Butler must have known a Collegian, and must have seen him in the College-- perhaps had been presented to him. He looked as closely at the Chief Butler as such a man could be looked at, and yet he did not recall that he had ever seen him elsewhere. Ultimately he was inclined to think that there was no reverence in the man, no sentiment in the great creature. But he was not relieved by that; for, let him think what he would, the Chief Butler had him in his supercilious eye, even when that eye was on the plate and other table-garniture; and he never let him out of it. To hint to him that this confinement in his eye was disagreeable, or to ask him what he meant, was an act too daring to venture upon; his severity with his employers and their visitors being terrific, and he never permitting himself to be approached with the slightest liberty.
The term of Mr Dorrit's visit was within two days of being out, and he was about to dress for another inspection by the Chief Butler (whose victims were always dressed expressly for him), when one of the servants of the hotel presented himself bearing a card. Mr Dorrit, taking it, read:
The servant waited in speechless deference.
'Man, man,' said Mr Dorrit, turning upon him with grievous indignation, 'explain your motive in bringing me this ridiculous name. I am wholly unacquainted with it. Finching, sir?' said Mr Dorrit, perhaps avenging himself on the Chief Butler by Substitute.
'ha! What do you mean by Finching?'
The man, man, seemed to mean Flinching as much as anything else, for he backed away from Mr Dorrit's severe regard, as he replied, 'A lady, sir.'
'I know no such lady, sir,' said Mr Dorrit. 'Take this card away.
I know no Finching of either sex.'
'Ask your pardon, sir. The lady said she was aware she might be unknown by name. But she begged me to say, sir, that she had formerly the honour of being acquainted with Miss Dorrit. The lady said, sir, the youngest Miss Dorrit.'
Mr Dorrit knitted his brows and rejoined, after a moment or two, 'Inform Mrs Finching, sir,' emphasising the name as if the innocent man were solely responsible for it, 'that she can come up.'
He had reflected, in his momentary pause, that unless she were admitted she might leave some message, or might say something below, having a disgraceful reference to that former state of existence. Hence the concession, and hence the appearance of Flora, piloted in by the man, man.
'I have not the pleasure,' said Mr Dorrit, standing with the card in his hand, and with an air which imported that it would scarcely have been a first-class pleasure if he had had it, 'of knowing either this name, or yourself, madam. Place a chair, sir.' The responsible man, with a start, obeyed, and went out on tiptoe.
Flora, putting aside her veil with a bashful tremor upon her, proceeded to introduce herself. At the same time a singular combination of perfumes was diffused through the room, as if some brandy had been put by mistake in a lavender-water bottle, or as if some lavender-water had been put by mistake in a brandy-bottle.
'I beg Mr Dorrit to offer a thousand apologies and indeed they would be far too few for such an intrusion which I know must appear extremely bold in a lady and alone too, but I thought it best upon the whole however difficult and even apparently improper though Mr F.'s Aunt would have willingly accompanied me and as a character of great force and spirit would probably have struck one possessed of such a knowledge of life as no doubt with so many changes must have been acquired, for Mr F. himself said frequently that although well educated in the neighbourhood of Blackheath at as high as eighty guineas which is a good deal for parents and the plate kept back too on going away but that is more a meanness than its value that he had learnt more in his first years as a commercial traveller with a large commission on the sale of an article that nobody would hear of much less buy which preceded the wine trade a long time than in the whole six years in that academy conducted by a college Bachelor, though why a Bachelor more clever than a married man I do not see and never did but pray excuse me that is not the point.'
Mr Dorrit stood rooted to the carpet, a statue of mystification.
'I must openly admit that I have no pretensions,' said Flora, 'but having known the dear little thing which under altered circumstances appears a liberty but is not so intended and Goodness knows there was no favour in half-a-crown a-day to such a needle as herself but quite the other way and as to anything lowering in it far from it the labourer is worthy of his hire and I am sure I only wish he got it oftener and more animal food and less rheumatism in the back and legs poor soul.'
'Madam,' said Mr Dorrit, recovering his breath by a great effort, as the relict of the late Mr Finching stopped to take hers; 'madam,' said Mr Dorrit, very red in the face, 'if I understand you to refer to--ha--to anything in the antecedents of--hum--a daughter of mine, involving--ha hum--daily compensation, madam, I beg to observe that the--ha--fact, assuming it--ha--to be fact, never was within my knowledge. Hum. I should not have permitted it. Ha.
'Unnecessary to pursue the subject,' returned Flora, 'and would not have mentioned it on any account except as supposing it a favourable and only letter of introduction but as to being fact no doubt whatever and you may set your mind at rest for the very dress I have on now can prove it and sweetly made though there is no denying that it would tell better on a better figure for my own is much too fat though how to bring it down I know not, pray excuse me I am roving off again.' Mr Dorrit backed to his chair in a stony way, and seated himself, as Flora gave him a softening look and played with her parasol.
'The dear little thing,' said Flora, 'having gone off perfectly limp and white and cold in my own house or at least papa's for though not a freehold still a long lease at a peppercorn on the morning when Arthur--foolish habit of our youthful days and Mr Clennam far more adapted to existing circumstances particularly addressing a stranger and that stranger a gentleman in an elevated station--communicated the glad tidings imparted by a person of name of Pancks emboldens me.'
At the mention of these two names, Mr Dorrit frowned, stared, frowned again, hesitated with his fingers at his lips, as he had hesitated long ago, and said, 'Do me the favour to--ha--state your pleasure, madam.'
'Mr Dorrit,' said Flora, 'you are very kind in giving me permission and highly natural it seems to me that you should be kind for though more stately I perceive a likeness filled out of course but a likeness still, the object of my intruding is my own without the slightest consultation with any human being and most decidedly not with Arthur--pray excuse me Doyce and Clennam I don't know what I am saying Mr Clennam solus--for to put that individual linked by a golden chain to a purple time when all was ethereal out of any anxiety would be worth to me the ransom of a monarch not that I have the least idea how much that would come to but using it as the total of all I have in the world and more.'
Mr Dorrit, without greatly regarding the earnestness of these latter words, repeated, 'State your pleasure, madam.'
'It's not likely I well know,' said Flora, 'but it's possible and being possible when I had the gratification of reading in the papers that you had arrived from Italy and were going back I made up my mind to try it for you might come across him or hear something of him and if so what a blessing and relief to all!'
'Allow me to ask, madam,' said Mr Dorrit, with his ideas in wild confusion, 'to whom--ha--To whom,' he repeated it with a raised voice in mere desperation, 'you at present allude?'
'To the foreigner from Italy who disappeared in the City as no doubt you have read in the papers equally with myself,' said Flora, 'not referring to private sources by the name of Pancks from which one gathers what dreadfully ill-natured things some people are wicked enough to whisper most likely judging others by themselves and what the uneasiness and indignation of Arthur--quite unable to overcome it Doyce and Clennam--cannot fail to be.'
It happened, fortunately for the elucidation of any intelligible result, that Mr Dorrit had heard or read nothing about the matter.
This caused Mrs Finching, with many apologies for being in great practical difficulties as to finding the way to her pocket among the stripes of her dress at length to produce a police handbill, setting forth that a foreign gentleman of the name of Blandois, last from Venice, had unaccountably disappeared on such a night in such a part of the city of London; that he was known to have entered such a house, at such an hour; that he was stated by the inmates of that house to have left it, about so many minutes before midnight; and that he had never been beheld since. This, with exact particulars of time and locality, and with a good detailed description of the foreign gentleman who had so mysteriously vanished, Mr Dorrit read at large.
'Blandois!' said Mr Dorrit. 'Venice! And this description! I know this gentleman. He has been in my house. He is intimately acquainted with a gentleman of good family (but in indifferent circumstances), of whom I am a--hum--patron.'
'Then my humble and pressing entreaty is the more,' said Flora, 'that in travelling back you will have the kindness to look for this foreign gentleman along all the roads and up and down all the turnings and to make inquiries for him at all the hotels and orange-trees and vineyards and volcanoes and places for he must be somewhere and why doesn't he come forward and say he's there and clear all parties up?'
'Pray, madam,' said Mr Dorrit, referring to the handbill again, 'who is Clennam and Co.? Ha. I see the name mentioned here, in connection with the occupation of the house which Monsieur Blandois was seen to enter: who is Clennam and Co.? Is it the individual of whom I had formerly--hum--some--ha--slight transitory knowledge, and to whom I believe you have referred? Is it--ha--that person?'
'It's a very different person indeed,' replied Flora, 'with no limbs and wheels instead and the grimmest of women though his mother.'
'Clennam and Co. a--hum--a mother!' exclaimed Mr Dorrit.
'And an old man besides,' said Flora.
Mr Dorrit looked as if he must immediately be driven out of his mind by this account. Neither was it rendered more favourable to sanity by Flora's dashing into a rapid analysis of Mr Flintwinch's cravat, and describing him, without the lightest boundary line of separation between his identity and Mrs Clennam's, as a rusty screw in gaiters. Which compound of man and woman, no limbs, wheels, rusty screw, grimness, and gaiters, so completely stupefied Mr Dorrit, that he was a spectacle to be pitied. 'But I would not detain you one moment longer,' said Flora, upon whom his condition wrought its effect, though she was quite unconscious of having produced it, 'if you would have the goodness to give your promise as a gentleman that both in going back to Italy and in Italy too you would look for this Mr Blandois high and low and if you found or heard of him make him come forward for the clearing of all parties.' By that time Mr Dorrit had so far recovered from his bewilderment, as to be able to say, in a tolerably connected manner, that he should consider that his duty. Flora was delighted with her success, and rose to take her leave.
'With a million thanks,' said she, 'and my address upon my card in case of anything to be communicated personally, I will not send my love to the dear little thing for it might not be acceptable, and indeed there is no dear little thing left in the transformation so why do it but both myself and Mr F.'s Aunt ever wish her well and lay no claim to any favour on our side you may be sure of that but quite the other way for what she undertook to do she did and that is more than a great many of us do, not to say anything of her doing it as Well as it could be done and I myself am one of them for I have said ever since I began to recover the blow of Mr F's death that I would learn the Organ of which I am extremely fond but of which I am ashamed to say I do not yet know a note, good evening!'
When Mr Dorrit, who attended her to the room-door, had had a little time to collect his senses, he found that the interview had summoned back discarded reminiscences which jarred with the Merdle dinner-table. He wrote and sent off a brief note excusing himself for that day, and ordered dinner presently in his own rooms at the hotel. He had another reason for this. His time in London was very nearly out, and was anticipated by engagements; his plans were made for returning; and he thought it behoved his importance to pursue some direct inquiry into the Blandois disappearance, and be in a condition to carry back to Mr Henry Gowan the result of his own personal investigation. He therefore resolved that he would take advantage of that evening's freedom to go down to Clennam and Co.'s, easily to be found by the direction set forth in the handbill; and see the place, and ask a question or two there himself.
Having dined as plainly as the establishment and the Courier would let him, and having taken a short sleep by the fire for his better recovery from Mrs Finching, he set out in a hackney-cabriolet alone. The deep bell of St Paul's was striking nine as he passed under the shadow of Temple Bar, headless and forlorn in these degenerate days.
As he approached his destination through the by-streets and water- side ways, that part of London seemed to him an uglier spot at such an hour than he had ever supposed it to be. Many long years had passed since he had seen it; he had never known much of it; and it wore a mysterious and dismal aspect in his eyes. So powerfully was his imagination impressed by it, that when his driver stopped, after having asked the way more than once, and said to the best of his belief this was the gateway they wanted, Mr Dorrit stood hesitating, with the coach-door in his hand, half afraid of the dark look of the place.
Truly, it looked as gloomy that night as even it had ever looked.
Two of the handbills were posted on the entrance wall, one on either side, and as the lamp flickered in the night air, shadows passed over them, not unlike the shadows of fingers following the lines. A watch was evidently kept upon the place. As Mr Dorrit paused, a man passed in from over the way, and another man passed out from some dark corner within; and both looked at him in passing, and both remained standing about.
As there was only one house in the enclosure, there was no room for uncertainty, so he went up the steps of that house and knocked.
There was a dim light in two windows on the first-floor. The door gave back a dreary, vacant sound, as though the house were empty; but it was not, for a light was visible, and a step was audible, almost directly. They both came to the door, and a chain grated, and a woman with her apron thrown over her face and head stood in the aperture.
'Who is it?' said the woman.
Mr Dorrit, much amazed by this appearance, replied that he was from Italy, and that he wished to ask a question relative to the missing person, whom he knew.
'Hi!' cried the woman, raising a cracked voice. 'Jeremiah!'
Upon this, a dry old man appeared, whom Mr Dorrit thought he identified by his gaiters, as the rusty screw. The woman was Under apprehensions of the dry old man, for she whisked her apron away as he approached, and disclosed a pale affrighted face. 'Open the door, you fool,' said the old man; 'and let the gentleman in.'
Mr Dorrit, not without a glance over his shoulder towards his driver and the cabriolet, walked into the dim hall. 'Now, sir,' said Mr Flintwinch, 'you can ask anything here you think proper; there are no secrets here, sir.'
Before a reply could be made, a strong stern voice, though a woman's, called from above, 'Who is it?'
'Who is it?' returned Jeremiah. 'More inquiries. A gentleman from Italy.'
'Bring him up here!'
Mr Flintwinch muttered, as if he deemed that unnecessary; but, turning to Mr Dorrit, said, 'Mrs Clennam. She will do as she likes. I'll show you the way.' He then preceded Mr Dorrit up the blackened staircase; that gentleman, not unnaturally looking behind him on the road, saw the woman following, with her apron thrown over her head again in her former ghastly manner.
Mrs Clennam had her books open on her little table. 'Oh!' said she abruptly, as she eyed her visitor with a steady look. 'You are from Italy, sir, are you. Well?' Mr Dorrit was at a loss for any more distinct rejoinder at the moment than 'Ha--well?'
'Where is this missing man? Have you come to give us information where he is? I hope you have?'
'So far from it, I--hum--have come to seek information.' 'Unfortunately for us, there is none to be got here. Flintwinch, show the gentleman the handbill. Give him several to take away.
Hold the light for him to read it.'
Mr Flintwinch did as he was directed, and Mr Dorrit read it through, as if he had not previously seen it; glad enough of the opportunity of collecting his presence of mind, which the air of the house and of the people in it had a little disturbed. While his eyes were on the paper, he felt that the eyes of Mr Flintwinch and of Mrs Clennam were on him. He found, when he looked up, that this sensation was not a fanciful one.
'Now you know as much,' said Mrs Clennam, 'as we know, sir. Is Mr Blandois a friend of yours?'
'No--a--hum--an acquaintance,' answered Mr Dorrit.
'You have no commission from him, perhaps?'
'I? Ha. Certainly not.'
The searching look turned gradually to the floor, after taking Mr Flintwinch's face in its way. Mr Dorrit, discomfited by finding that he was the questioned instead of the questioner, applied himself to the reversal of that unexpected order of things.
'I am--ha--a gentleman of property, at present residing in Italy with my family, my servants, and--hum--my rather large establishment. Being in London for a short time on affairs connected with--ha--my estate, and hearing of this strange disappearance, I wished to make myself acquainted with the circumstances at first-hand, because there is--ha hum--an English gentleman in Italy whom I shall no doubt see on my return, who has been in habits of close and daily intimacy with Monsieur Blandois.
Mr Henry Gowan. You may know the name.'
'Never heard of it.' Mrs Clennam said it, and Mr Flintwinch echoed it.
'Wishing to--ha--make the narrative coherent and consecutive to him,' said Mr Dorrit, 'may I ask--say, three questions?'
'Thirty, if you choose.'
'Have you known Monsieur Blandois long?'
'Not a twelvemonth. Mr Flintwinch here, will refer to the books and tell you when, and by whom at Paris he was introduced to us.
If that,' Mrs Clennam added, 'should be any satisfaction to you.
It is poor satisfaction to us.'
'Have you seen him often?'
'No. Twice. Once before, and--' 'That once,' suggested Mr Flintwinch.
'And that once.'
'Pray, madam,' said Mr Dorrit, with a growing fancy upon him as he recovered his importance, that he was in some superior way in the Commission of the Peace; 'pray, madam, may I inquire, for the greater satisfaction of the gentleman whom I have the honour to-- ha--retain, or protect or let me say to--hum--know--to know--Was Monsieur Blandois here on business on the night indicated in this present sheet?'
'On what he called business,' returned Mrs Clennam.
'Is--ha--excuse me--is its nature to be communicated?'
It was evidently impracticable to pass the barrier of that reply.
'The question has been asked before,' said Mrs Clennam, 'and the answer has been, No. We don't choose to publish our transactions, however unimportant, to all the town. We say, No.'
'I mean, he took away no money with him, for example,' said Mr Dorrit.
'He took away none of ours, sir, and got none here.'
'I suppose,' observed Mr Dorrit, glancing from Mrs Clennam to Mr Flintwinch, and from Mr Flintwinch to Mrs Clennam, 'you have no way of accounting to yourself for this mystery?'
'Why do you suppose so?' rejoined Mrs Clennam.
Disconcerted by the cold and hard inquiry, Mr Dorrit was unable to assign any reason for his supposing so.
'I account for it, sir,' she pursued after an awkward silence on Mr Dorrit's part, 'by having no doubt that he is travelling somewhere, or hiding somewhere.'
'Do you know--ha--why he should hide anywhere?'
It was exactly the same No as before, and put another barrier up. 'You asked me if I accounted for the disappearance to myself,' Mrs Clennam sternly reminded him, 'not if I accounted for it to you.
I do not pretend to account for it to you, sir. I understand it to be no more my business to do that, than it is yours to require that.'
Mr Dorrit answered with an apologetic bend of his head. As he stepped back, preparatory to saying he had no more to ask, he could not but observe how gloomily and fixedly she sat with her eyes fastened on the ground, and a certain air upon her of resolute waiting; also, how exactly the self-same expression was reflected in Mr Flintwinch, standing at a little distance from her chair, with his eyes also on the ground, and his right hand softly rubbing his chin.
At that moment, Mistress Affery (of course, the woman with the apron) dropped the candlestick she held, and cried out, 'There! O good Lord! there it is again. Hark, Jeremiah! Now!'
If there were any sound at all, it was so slight that she must have fallen into a confirmed habit of listening for sounds; but Mr Dorrit believed he did hear a something, like the falling of dry leaves. The woman's terror, for a very short space, seemed to touch the three; and they all listened.
Mr Flintwinch was the first to stir. 'Affery, my woman,' said he, sidling at her with his fists clenched, and his elbows quivering with impatience to shake her, 'you are at your old tricks. You'll be walking in your sleep next, my woman, and playing the whole round of your distempered antics. You must have some physic. When I have shown this gentleman out, I'll make you up such a comfortable dose, my woman; such a comfortable dose!'
It did not appear altogether comfortable in expectation to Mistress Affery; but Jeremiah, without further reference to his healing medicine, took another candle from Mrs Clennam's table, and said, 'Now, sir; shall I light you down?'
Mr Dorrit professed himself obliged, and went down. Mr Flintwinch shut him out, and chained him out, without a moment's loss of time.
He was again passed by the two men, one going out and the other coming in; got into the vehicle he had left waiting, and was driven away.
Before he had gone far, the driver stopped to let him know that he had given his name, number, and address to the two men, on their joint requisition; and also the address at which he had taken Mr Dorrit up, the hour at which he had been called from his stand and the way by which he had come. This did not make the night's adventure run any less hotly in Mr Dorrit's mind, either when he sat down by his fire again, or when he went to bed. All night he haunted the dismal house, saw the two people resolutely waiting, heard the woman with her apron over her face cry out about the noise, and found the body of the missing Blandois, now buried in the cellar, and now bricked up in a wall.
A Castle in the Air
Manifold are the cares of wealth and state. Mr Dorrit's satisfaction in remembering that it had not been necessary for him to announce himself to Clennam and Co., or to make an allusion to his having had any knowledge of the intrusive person of that name, had been damped over-night, while it was still fresh, by a debate that arose within him whether or no he should take the Marshalsea in his way back, and look at the old gate. He had decided not to do so; and had astonished the coachman by being very fierce with him for proposing to go over London Bridge and recross the river by Waterloo Bridge--a course which would have taken him almost within sight of his old quarters. Still, for all that, the question had raised a conflict in his breast; and, for some odd reason or no reason, he was vaguely dissatisfied. Even at the Merdle dinner- table next day, he was so out of sorts about it that he continued at intervals to turn it over and over, in a manner frightfully inconsistent with the good society surrounding him. It made him hot to think what the Chief Butler's opinion of him would have been, if that illustrious personage could have plumbed with that heavy eye of his the stream of his meditations.
The farewell banquet was of a gorgeous nature, and wound up his visit in a most brilliant manner. Fanny combined with the attractions of her youth and beauty, a certain weight of self- sustainment as if she had been married twenty years. He felt that he could leave her with a quiet mind to tread the paths of distinction, and wished--but without abatement of patronage, and without prejudice to the retiring virtues of his favourite child-- that he had such another daughter.
'My dear,' he told her at parting, 'our family looks to you to--ha--assert its dignity and--hum--maintain its importance. I know you will never disappoint it.'
'No, papa,' said Fanny, 'you may rely upon that, I think. My best love to dearest Amy, and I will write to her very soon.'
'Shall I convey any message to--ha--anybody else?' asked Mr Dorrit, in an insinuating manner.
'Papa,' said Fanny, before whom Mrs General instantly loomed, 'no, I thank you. You are very kind, Pa, but I must beg to be excused.
There is no other message to send, I thank you, dear papa, that it would be at all agreeable to you to take.'
They parted in an outer drawing-room, where only Mr Sparkler waited on his lady, and dutifully bided his time for shaking hands. When Mr Sparkler was admitted to this closing audience, Mr Merdle came creeping in with not much more appearance of arms in his sleeves than if he had been the twin brother of Miss Biffin, and insisted on escorting Mr Dorrit down-stairs. All Mr Dorrit's protestations being in vain, he enjoyed the honour of being accompanied to the hall-door by this distinguished man, who (as Mr Dorrit told him in shaking hands on the step) had really overwhelmed him with attentions and services during this memorable visit. Thus they parted; Mr Dorrit entering his carriage with a swelling breast, not at all sorry that his Courier, who had come to take leave in the lower regions, should have an opportunity of beholding the grandeur of his departure.
The aforesaid grandeur was yet full upon Mr Dorrit when he alighted at his hotel. Helped out by the Courier and some half-dozen of the hotel servants, he was passing through the hall with a serene magnificence, when lo! a sight presented itself that struck him dumb and motionless. John Chivery, in his best clothes, with his tall hat under his arm, his ivory-handled cane genteelly embarrassing his deportment, and a bundle of cigars in his hand!
'Now, young man,' said the porter. 'This is the gentleman. This young man has persisted in waiting, sir, saying you would be glad to see him.'
Mr Dorrit glared on the young man, choked, and said, in the mildest of tones, 'Ah! Young John! It is Young John, I think; is it not?'
'Yes, sir,' returned Young John.
'I--ha--thought it was Young john!' said Mr Dorrit. 'The young man may come up,' turning to the attendants, as he passed on: 'oh yes, he may come up. Let Young John follow. I will speak to him above.'
Young John followed, smiling and much gratified. Mr Dorrit's rooms were reached. Candles were lighted. The attendants withdrew.
'Now, sir,' said Mr Dorrit, turning round upon him and seizing him by the collar when they were safely alone. 'What do you mean by this?'
The amazement and horror depicted in the unfortunate john's face-- for he had rather expected to be embraced next--were of that powerfully expressive nature that Mr Dorrit withdrew his hand and merely glared at him.
'How dare you do this?' said Mr Dorrit. 'How do you presume to come here? How dare you insult me?'
'I insult you, sir?' cried Young John. 'Oh!'
'Yes, sir,' returned Mr Dorrit. 'Insult me. Your coming here is an affront, an impertinence, an audacity. You are not wanted here.
Who sent you here? What--ha--the Devil do you do here?'
'I thought, sir,' said Young John, with as pale and shocked a face as ever had been turned to Mr Dorrit's in his life--even in his College life: 'I thought, sir, you mightn't object to have the goodness to accept a bundle--'
'Damn your bundle, sir!' cried Mr Dorrit, in irrepressible rage.
'I humbly beg your pardon, sir. You used to.'
'Tell me that again,' cried Mr Dorrit, quite beside himself, 'and I'll take the poker to you!'
John Chivery backed to the door.
'Stop, sir!' cried Mr Dorrit. 'Stop! Sit down. Confound you,
John Chivery dropped into the chair nearest the door, and Mr Dorrit walked up and down the room; rapidly at first; then, more slowly.
Once, he went to the window, and stood there with his forehead against the glass. All of a sudden, he turned and said:
'What else did you come for, Sir?'
'Nothing else in the world, sir. Oh dear me! Only to say, Sir, that I hoped you was well, and only to ask if Miss Amy was Well?'
'What's that to you, sir?' retorted Mr Dorrit.
'It's nothing to me, sir, by rights. I never thought of lessening the distance betwixt us, I am sure. I know it's a liberty, sir, but I never thought you'd have taken it ill. Upon my word and honour, sir,' said Young John, with emotion, 'in my poor way, I am too proud to have come, I assure you, if I had thought so.'
Mr Dorrit was ashamed. He went back to the window, and leaned his forehead against the glass for some time. When he turned, he had his handkerchief in his hand, and he had been wiping his eyes with it, and he looked tired and ill.
'Young John, I am very sorry to have been hasty with you, but--ha-- some remembrances are not happy remembrances, and--hum--you shouldn't have come.'
'I feel that now, sir,' returned John Chivery; 'but I didn't before, and Heaven knows I meant no harm, sir.'
'No. No,' said Mr Dorrit. 'I am--hum--sure of that. Ha. Give me your hand, Young John, give me your hand.'
Young John gave it; but Mr Dorrit had driven his heart out of it, and nothing could change his face now, from its white, shocked look.
'There!' said Mr Dorrit, slowly shaking hands with him. 'Sit down again, Young John.'
'Thank you, sir--but I'd rather stand.'
Mr Dorrit sat down instead. After painfully holding his head a little while, he turned it to his visitor, and said, with an effort to be easy:
'And how is your father, Young John? How--ha--how are they all, Young John?'
'Thank you, sir, They're all pretty well, sir. They're not any ways complaining.'
'Hum. You are in your--ha--old business I see, John?' said Mr Dorrit, with a glance at the offending bundle he had anathematised.
'Partly, sir. I am in my'--John hesitated a little--'father's business likewise.'
'Oh indeed!' said Mr Dorrit. 'Do you--ha hum--go upon the ha--'
'Lock, sir? Yes, sir.'
'Much to do, John?'
'Yes, sir; we're pretty heavy at present. I don't know how it is, but we generally ARE pretty heavy.'
'At this time of the year, Young John?'
'Mostly at all times of the year, sir. I don't know the time that makes much difference to us. I wish you good night, sir.'
'Stay a moment, John--ha--stay a moment. Hum. Leave me the cigars, John, I--ha--beg.'
'Certainly, sir.' John put them, with a trembling hand, on the table.
'Stay a moment, Young John; stay another moment. It would be a--ha--a gratification to me to send a little--hum--Testimonial, by such a trusty messenger, to be divided among--ha hum--them--them-- according to their wants. Would you object to take
'Not in any ways, sir. There's many of them, I'm sure, that would be the better for it.'
'Thank you, John. I--ha--I'll write it, John.'
His hand shook so that he was a long time writing it, and wrote it in a tremulous scrawl at last. It was a cheque for one hundred pounds. He folded it up, put it in Young john's hand, and pressed the hand in his.
'I hope you'll--ha--overlook--hum--what has passed, John.'
'Don't speak of it, sir, on any accounts. I don't in any ways bear malice, I'm sure.'
But nothing while John was there could change John's face to its natural colour and expression, or restore John's natural manner.
'And, John,' said Mr Dorrit, giving his hand a final pressure, and releasing it, 'I hope we--ha--agree that we have spoken together in confidence; and that you will abstain, in going out, from saying anything to any one that might--hum--suggest that--ha--once I--'
'Oh! I assure you, sir,' returned John Chivery, 'in my poor humble way, sir, I'm too proud and honourable to do it, sir.'
Mr Dorrit was not too proud and honourable to listen at the door that he might ascertain for himself whether John really went straight out, or lingered to have any talk with any one. There was no doubt that he went direct out at the door, and away down the street with a quick step. After remaining alone for an hour, Mr Dorrit rang for the Courier, who found him with his chair on the hearth-rug, sitting with his back towards him and his face to the fire. 'You can take that bundle of cigars to smoke on the journey, if you like,' said Mr Dorrit, with a careless wave of his hand.
'Ha--brought by--hum--little offering from--ha--son of old tenant of mine.'
Next morning's sun saw Mr Dorrit's equipage upon the Dover road, where every red-jacketed postilion was the sign of a cruel house, established for the unmerciful plundering of travellers. The whole business of the human race, between London and Dover, being spoliation, Mr Dorrit was waylaid at Dartford, pillaged at Gravesend, rifled at Rochester, fleeced at Sittingbourne, and sacked at Canterbury. However, it being the Courier's business to get him out of the hands of the banditti, the Courier brought him off at every stage; and so the red-jackets went gleaming merrily along the spring landscape, rising and falling to a regular measure, between Mr Dorrit in his snug corner and the next chalky rise in the dusty highway.
Another day's sun saw him at Calais. And having now got the Channel between himself and John Chivery, he began to feel safe, and to find that the foreign air was lighter to breathe than the air of England.
On again by the heavy French roads for Paris. Having now quite recovered his equanimity, Mr Dorrit, in his snug corner, fell to castle-building as he rode along. It was evident that he had a very large castle in hand. All day long he was running towers up, taking towers down, adding a wing here, putting on a battlement there, looking to the walls, strengthening the defences, giving ornamental touches to the interior, making in all respects a superb castle of it. His preoccupied face so clearly denoted the pursuit in which he was engaged, that every cripple at the post-houses, not blind, who shoved his little battered tin-box in at the carriage window for Charity in the name of Heaven, Charity in the name of our Lady, Charity in the name of all the Saints, knew as well what work he was at, as their countryman Le Brun could have known it himself, though he had made that English traveller the subject of a special physiognomical treatise.
Arrived at Paris, and resting there three days, Mr Dorrit strolled much about the streets alone, looking in at the shop-windows, and particularly the jewellers' windows. Ultimately, he went into the most famous jeweller's, and said he wanted to buy a little gift for a lady.
It was a charming little woman to whom he said it--a sprightly little woman, dressed in perfect taste, who came out of a green velvet bower to attend upon him, from posting up some dainty little books of account which one could hardly suppose to be ruled for the entry of any articles more commercial than kisses, at a dainty little shining desk which looked in itself like a sweetmeat.
For example, then, said the little woman, what species of gift did Monsieur desire? A love-gift?
Mr Dorrit smiled, and said, Eh, well! Perhaps. What did he know?
It was always possible; the sex being so charming. Would she show him some?
Most willingly, said the little woman. Flattered and enchanted to show him many. But pardon! To begin with, he would have the great goodness to observe that there were love-gifts, and there were nuptial gifts. For example, these ravishing ear-rings and this necklace so superb to correspond, were what one called a love- gift. These brooches and these rings, of a beauty so gracious and celestial, were what one called, with the permission of Monsieur, nuptial gifts.
Perhaps it would be a good arrangement, Mr Dorrit hinted, smiling, to purchase both, and to present the love-gift first, and to finish with the nuptial offering?
Ah Heaven! said the little woman, laying the tips of the fingers of her two little hands against each other, that would be generous indeed, that would be a special gallantry! And without doubt the lady so crushed with gifts would find them irresistible.
Mr Dorrit was not sure of that. But, for example, the sprightly little woman was very sure of it, she said. So Mr Dorrit bought a gift of each sort, and paid handsomely for it. As he strolled back to his hotel afterwards, he carried his head high: having plainly got up his castle now to a much loftier altitude than the two square towers of Notre Dame.
Building away with all his might, but reserving the plans of his castle exclusively for his own eye, Mr Dorrit posted away for Marseilles. Building on, building on, busily, busily, from morning to night. Falling asleep, and leaving great blocks of building materials dangling in the air; waking again, to resume work and get them into their places. What time the Courier in the rumble, smoking Young john's best cigars, left a little thread of thin light smoke behind--perhaps as he built a castle or two with stray pieces of Mr Dorrit's money.
Not a fortified town that they passed in all their journey was as strong, not a Cathedral summit was as high, as Mr Dorrit's castle.
Neither the Saone nor the Rhone sped with the swiftness of that peerless building; nor was the Mediterranean deeper than its foundations; nor were the distant landscapes on the Cornice road, nor the hills and bay of Genoa the Superb, more beautiful. Mr Dorrit and his matchless castle were disembarked among the dirty white houses and dirtier felons of Civita Vecchia, and thence scrambled on to Rome as they could, through the filth that festered on the way.
The Storming of the Castle in the Air
The sun had gone down full four hours, and it was later than most travellers would like it to be for finding themselves outside the walls of Rome, when Mr Dorrit's carriage, still on its last wearisome stage, rattled over the solitary Campagna. The savage herdsmen and the fierce-looking peasants who had chequered the way while the light lasted, had all gone down with the sun, and left the wilderness blank. At some turns of the road, a pale flare on the horizon, like an exhalation from the ruin-sown land, showed that the city was yet far off; but this poor relief was rare and short-lived. The carriage dipped down again into a hollow of the black dry sea, and for a long time there was nothing visible save its petrified swell and the gloomy sky.
Mr Dorrit, though he had his castle-building to engage his mind, could not be quite easy in that desolate place. He was far more curious, in every swerve of the carriage, and every cry of the postilions, than he had been since he quitted London. The valet on the box evidently quaked. The Courier in the rumble was not altogether comfortable in his mind. As often as Mr Dorrit let down the glass and looked back at him (which was very often), he saw him smoking John Chivery out, it is true, but still generally standing up the while and looking about him, like a man who had his suspicions, and kept upon his guard. Then would Mr Dorrit, pulling up the glass again, reflect that those postilions were cut-throat looking fellows, and that he would have done better to have slept at Civita Vecchia, and have started betimes in the morning. But, for all this, he worked at his castle in the intervals.
And now, fragments of ruinous enclosure, yawning window-gap and crazy wall, deserted houses, leaking wells, broken water-tanks, spectral cypress-trees, patches of tangled vine, and the changing of the track to a long, irregular, disordered lane where everything was crumbling away, from the unsightly buildings to the jolting road--now, these objects showed that they were nearing Rome. And now, a sudden twist and stoppage of the carriage inspired Mr Dorrit with the mistrust that the brigand moment was come for twisting him into a ditch and robbing him; until, letting down the glass again and looking out, he perceived himself assailed by nothing worse than a funeral procession, which came mechanically chaunting by, with an indistinct show of dirty vestments, lurid torches, swinging censers, and a great cross borne before a priest. He was an ugly priest by torchlight; of a lowering aspect, with an overhanging brow; and as his eyes met those of Mr Dorrit, looking bareheaded out of the carriage, his lips, moving as they chaunted, seemed to threaten that important traveller; likewise the action of his hand, which was in fact his manner of returning the traveller's salutation, seemed to come in aid of that menace. So thought Mr Dorrit, made fanciful by the weariness of building and travelling, as the priest drifted past him, and the procession straggled away, taking its dead along with it. Upon their so-different way went Mr Dorrit's company too; and soon, with their coach load of luxuries from the two great capitals of Europe, they were (like the Goths reversed) beating at the gates of Rome.
Mr Dorrit was not expected by his own people that night. He had been; but they had given him up until to-morrow, not doubting that it was later than he would care, in those parts, to be out. Thus, when his equipage stopped at his own gate, no one but the porter appeared to receive him. Was Miss Dorrit from home? he asked.
No. She was within. Good, said Mr Dorrit to the assembling servants; let them keep where they were; let them help to unload the carriage; he would find Miss Dorrit for himself. So he went up his grand staircase, slowly, and tired, and looked into various chambers which were empty, until he saw a light in a small ante-room. It was a curtained nook, like a tent, within two other rooms; and it looked warm and bright in colour, as he approached it through the dark avenue they made.
There was a draped doorway, but no door; and as he stopped here, looking in unseen, he felt a pang. Surely not like jealousy? For why like jealousy? There was only his daughter and his brother there: he, with his chair drawn to the hearth, enjoying the warmth of the evening wood fire; she seated at a little table, busied with some embroidery work. Allowing for the great difference in the still-life of the picture, the figures were much the same as of old; his brother being sufficiently like himself to represent himself, for a moment, in the composition. So had he sat many a night, over a coal fire far away; so had she sat, devoted to him.
Yet surely there was nothing to be jealous of in the old miserable poverty. Whence, then, the pang in his heart?
'Do you know, uncle, I think you are growing young again?'
Her uncle shook his head and said, 'Since when, my dear; since when?'
'I think,' returned Little Dorrit, plying her needle, 'that you have been growing younger for weeks past. So cheerful, uncle, and so ready, and so interested.'
'My dear child--all you.'
'All me, uncle!'
'Yes, yes. You have done me a world of good. You have been so considerate of me, and so tender with me, and so delicate in trying to hide your attentions from me, that I--well, well, well! It's treasured up, my darling, treasured up.'
'There is nothing in it but your own fresh fancy, uncle,' said Little Dorrit, cheerfully.
'Well, well, well!' murmured the old man. 'Thank God!'
She paused for an instant in her work to look at him, and her look revived that former pain in her father's breast; in his poor weak breast, so full of contradictions, vacillations, inconsistencies, the little peevish perplexities of this ignorant life, mists which the morning without a night only can clear away.
'I have been freer with you, you see, my dove,' said the old man, 'since we have been alone. I say, alone, for I don't count Mrs General; I don't care for her; she has nothing to do with me. But I know Fanny was impatient of me. And I don't wonder at it, or complain of it, for I am sensible that I must be in the way, though I try to keep out of it as well as I can. I know I am not fit company for our company. My brother William,' said the old man admiringly, 'is fit company for monarchs; but not so your uncle, my dear. Frederick Dorrit is no credit to William Dorrit, and he knows it quite well. Ah! Why, here's your father, Amy! My dear William, welcome back! My beloved brother, I am rejoiced to see you!'
(Turning his head in speaking, he had caught sight of him as he stood in the doorway.)
Little Dorrit with a cry of pleasure put her arms about her father's neck, and kissed him again and again. Her father was a little impatient, and a little querulous. 'I am glad to find you at last, Amy,' he said. 'Ha. Really I am glad to find--hum--any one to receive me at last. I appear to have been--ha--so little expected, that upon my word I began--ha hum--to think it might be right to offer an apology for--ha--taking the liberty of coming back at all.'
'It was so late, my dear William,' said his brother, 'that we had given you up for to-night.'
'I am stronger than you, dear Frederick,' returned his brother with an elaboration of fraternity in which there was severity; 'and I hope I can travel without detriment at--ha--any hour I choose.'
'Surely, surely,' returned the other, with a misgiving that he had given offence. 'Surely, William.'
'Thank you, Amy,' pursued Mr Dorrit, as she helped him to put off his wrappers. 'I can do it without assistance. I--ha--need not trouble you, Amy. Could I have a morsel of bread and a glass of wine, or--hum--would it cause too much inconvenience?'
'Dear father, you shall have supper in a very few minutes.'
'Thank you, my love,' said Mr Dorrit, with a reproachful frost upon him; 'I--ha--am afraid I am causing inconvenience. Hum. Mrs General pretty well?'
'Mrs General complained of a headache, and of being fatigued; and so, when we gave you up, she went to bed, dear.'
Perhaps Mr Dorrit thought that Mrs General had done well in being overcome by the disappointment of his not arriving. At any rate, his face relaxed, and he said with obvious satisfaction, 'Extremely sorry to hear that Mrs General is not well.'
During this short dialogue, his daughter had been observant of him, with something more than her usual interest. It would seem as though he had a changed or worn appearance in her eyes, and he perceived and resented it; for he said with renewed peevishness, when he had divested himself of his travelling-cloak, and had come to the fire: 'Amy, what are you looking at? What do you see in me that causes you to--ha--concentrate your solicitude on me in that--hum--very particular manner?'
'I did not know it, father; I beg your pardon. It gladdens my eyes to see you again; that's all.'
'Don't say that's all, because--ha--that's not all. You--hum--you think,' said Mr Dorrit, with an accusatory emphasis, 'that I am not looking well.' 'I thought you looked a little tired, love.'
'Then you are mistaken,' said Mr Dorrit. 'Ha, I am not tired. Ha, hum. I am very much fresher than I was when I went away.'
He was so inclined to be angry that she said nothing more in her justification, but remained quietly beside him embracing his arm.
As he stood thus, with his brother on the other side, he fell into a heavy doze, of not a minute's duration, and awoke with a start.
'Frederick,' he said, turning to his brother: 'I recommend you to go to bed immediately.'
'No, William. I'll wait and see you sup.'
'Frederick,' he retorted, 'I beg you to go to bed. I--ha--make it a personal request that you go to bed. You ought to have been in bed long ago. You are very feeble.'
'Hah!' said the old man, who had no wish but to please him. 'Well, well, well! I dare say I am.'
'My dear Frederick,' returned Mr Dorrit, with an astonishing superiority to his brother's failing powers, 'there can be no doubt of it. It is painful to me to see you so weak. Ha. It distresses me. Hum. I don't find you looking at all well. You are not fit for this sort of thing. You should be more careful, you should be very careful.'
'Shall I go to bed?' asked Frederick.
'Dear Frederick,' said Mr Dorrit, 'do, I adjure you! Good night, brother. I hope you will be stronger to-morrow. I am not at all pleased with your looks. Good night, dear fellow.' After dismissing his brother in this gracious way, he fell into a doze again before the old man was well out of the room: and he would have stumbled forward upon the logs, but for his daughter's restraining hold.
'Your uncle wanders very much, Amy,' he said, when he was thus roused. 'He is less--ha--coherent, and his conversation is more-- hum--broken, than I have--ha, hum--ever known. Has he had any illness since I have been gone?' 'No, father.'
'You--ha--see a great change in him, Amy?'
'I have not observed it, dear.'
'Greatly broken,' said Mr Dorrit. 'Greatly broken. My poor, affectionate, failing Frederick! Ha. Even taking into account what he was before, he is--hum--sadly broken!'
His supper, which was brought to him there, and spread upon the little table where he had seen her working, diverted his attention.
She sat at his side as in the days that were gone, for the first time since those days ended. They were alone, and she helped him to his meat and poured out his drink for him, as she had been used to do in the prison. All this happened now, for the first time since their accession to wealth. She was afraid to look at him much, after the offence he had taken; but she noticed two occasions in the course of his meal, when he all of a sudden looked at her, and looked about him, as if the association were so strong that he needed assurance from his sense of sight that they were not in the old prison-room. Both times, he put his hand to his head as if he missed his old black cap--though it had been ignominiously given away in the Marshalsea, and had never got free to that hour, but still hovered about the yards on the head of his successor.
He took very little supper, but was a long time over it, and often reverted to his brother's declining state. Though he expressed the greatest pity for him, he was almost bitter upon him. He said that poor Frederick--ha hum--drivelled. There was no other word to express it; drivelled. Poor fellow! It was melancholy to reflect what Amy must have undergone from the excessive tediousness of his Society--wandering and babbling on, poor dear estimable creature, wandering and babbling on--if it had not been for the relief she had had in Mrs General. Extremely sorry, he then repeated with his former satisfaction, that that--ha--superior woman was poorly.
Little Dorrit, in her watchful love, would have remembered the lightest thing he said or did that night, though she had had no subsequent reason to recall that night. She always remembered that, when he looked about him under the strong influence of the old association, he tried to keep it out of her mind, and perhaps out of his own too, by immediately expatiating on the great riches and great company that had encompassed him in his absence, and on the lofty position he and his family had to sustain. Nor did she fail to recall that there were two under-currents, side by side, pervading all his discourse and all his manner; one showing her how well he had got on without her, and how independent he was of her; the other, in a fitful and unintelligible way almost complaining of her, as if it had been possible that she had neglected him while he was away.
His telling her of the glorious state that Mr Merdle kept, and of the court that bowed before him, naturally brought him to Mrs Merdle. So naturally indeed, that although there was an unusual want of sequence in the greater part of his remarks, he passed to her at once, and asked how she was.
'She is very well. She is going away next week.'
'Home?' asked Mr Dorrit.
'After a few weeks' stay upon the road.'
'She will be a vast loss here,' said Mr Dorrit. 'A vast--ha-- acquisition at home. To Fanny, and to--hum--the rest of the--ha-- great world.'
Little Dorrit thought of the competition that was to be entered upon, and assented very softly.
'Mrs Merdle is going to have a great farewell Assembly, dear, and a dinner before it. She has been expressing her anxiety that you should return in time. She has invited both you and me to her dinner.'
'She is--ha--very kind. When is the day?'
'The day after to-morrow.'
'Write round in the morning, and say that I have returned, and shall--hum--be delighted.'
'May I walk with you up the stairs to your room, dear?'
'No!' he answered, looking angrily round; for he was moving away, as if forgetful of leave-taking. 'You may not, Amy. I want no help. I am your father, not your infirm uncle!' He checked himself, as abruptly as he had broken into this reply, and said, 'You have not kissed me, Amy. Good night, my dear! We must marry--ha--we must marry YOU, now.' With that he went, more slowly and more tired, up the staircase to his rooms, and, almost as soon as he got there, dismissed his valet. His next care was to look about him for his Paris purchases, and, after opening their cases and carefully surveying them, to put them away under lock and key.
After that, what with dozing and what with castle-building, he lost himself for a long time, so that there was a touch of morning on the eastward rim of the desolate Campagna when he crept to bed.
Mrs General sent up her compliments in good time next day, and hoped he had rested well after this fatiguing journey. He sent down his compliments, and begged to inform Mrs General that he had rested very well indeed, and was in high condition. Nevertheless, he did not come forth from his own rooms until late in the afternoon; and, although he then caused himself to be magnificently arrayed for a drive with Mrs General and his daughter, his appearance was scarcely up to his description of himself. As the family had no visitors that day, its four members dined alone together. He conducted Mrs General to the seat at his right hand with immense ceremony; and Little Dorrit could not but notice as she followed with her uncle, both that he was again elaborately dressed, and that his manner towards Mrs General was very particular. The perfect formation of that accomplished lady's surface rendered it difficult to displace an atom of its genteel glaze, but Little Dorrit thought she descried a slight thaw of triumph in a corner of her frosty eye.
Notwithstanding what may be called in these pages the Pruney and Prismatic nature of the family banquet, Mr Dorrit several times fell asleep while it was in progress. His fits of dozing were as sudden as they had been overnight, and were as short and profound.
When the first of these slumberings seized him, Mrs General looked almost amazed: but, on each recurrence of the symptoms, she told her polite beads, Papa, Potatoes, Poultry, Prunes, and Prism; and, by dint of going through that infallible performance very slowly, appeared to finish her rosary at about the same time as Mr Dorrit started from his sleep.
He was again painfully aware of a somnolent tendency in Frederick (which had no existence out of his own imagination), and after dinner, when Frederick had withdrawn, privately apologised to Mrs General for the poor man. 'The most estimable and affectionate of brothers,' he said, 'but--ha, hum--broken up altogether.
Unhappily, declining fast.'
'Mr Frederick, sir,' quoth Mrs General, 'is habitually absent and drooping, but let us hope it is not so bad as that.'
Mr Dorrit, however, was determined not to let him off. 'Fast declining, madam. A wreck. A ruin. Mouldering away before our eyes. Hum. Good Frederick!'
'You left Mrs Sparkler quite well and happy, I trust?' said Mrs General, after heaving a cool sigh for Frederick.
'Surrounded,' replied Mr Dorrit, 'by--ha--all that can charm the taste, and--hum--elevate the mind. Happy, my dear madam, in a--hum--husband.'
Mrs General was a little fluttered; seeming delicately to put the word away with her gloves, as if there were no knowing what it might lead to.
'Fanny,' Mr Dorrit continued. 'Fanny, Mrs General, has high qualities. Ha. Ambition--hum--purpose, consciousness of--ha-- position, determination to support that position--ha, hum--grace, beauty, and native nobility.'
'No doubt,' said Mrs General (with a little extra stiffness).
'Combined with these qualities, madam,' said Mr Dorrit, 'Fanny has--ha--manifested one blemish which has made me--hum--made me uneasy, and--ha--I must add, angry; but which I trust may now be considered at an end, even as to herself, and which is undoubtedly at an end as to--ha--others.'
'To what, Mr Dorrit,' returned Mrs General, with her gloves again somewhat excited, 'can you allude? I am at a loss to--'
'Do not say that, my dear madam,' interrupted Mr Dorrit.
Mrs General's voice, as it died away, pronounced the words, 'at a loss to imagine.'
After which Mr Dorrit was seized with a doze for about a minute, out of which he sprang with spasmodic nimbleness.
'I refer, Mrs General, to that--ha--strong spirit of opposition, or--hum--I might say--ha--jealousy in Fanny, which has occasionally risen against the--ha--sense I entertain of--hum--the claims of-- ha--the lady with whom I have now the honour of communing.'
'Mr Dorrit,' returned Mrs General, 'is ever but too obliging, ever but too appreciative. If there have been moments when I have imagined that Miss Dorrit has indeed resented the favourable opinion Mr Dorrit has formed of my services, I have found, in that only too high opinion, my consolation and recompense.'
'Opinion of your services, madam?' said Mr Dorrit.
'Of,' Mrs General repeated, in an elegantly impressive manner, 'my services.'
'Of your services alone, dear madam?' said Mr Dorrit.
'I presume,' retorted Mrs General, in her former impressive manner, 'of my services alone. For, to what else,' said Mrs General, with a slightly interrogative action of her gloves, 'could I impute--'
'To--ha--yourself, Mrs General. Ha, hum. To yourself and your merits,' was Mr Dorrit's rejoinder.
'Mr Dorrit will pardon me,' said Mrs General, 'if I remark that this is not a time or place for the pursuit of the present conversation. Mr Dorrit will excuse me if I remind him that Miss Dorrit is in the adjoining room, and is visible to myself while I utter her name. Mr Dorrit will forgive me if I observe that I am agitated, and that I find there are moments when weaknesses I supposed myself to have subdued, return with redoubled power. Mr Dorrit will allow me to withdraw.'
'Hum. Perhaps we may resume this--ha--interesting conversation,' said Mr Dorrit, 'at another time; unless it should be, what I hope it is not--hum--in any way disagreeable to--ah--Mrs General.' 'Mr Dorrit,' said Mrs General, casting down her eyes as she rose with a bend, 'must ever claim my homage and obedience.'
Mrs General then took herself off in a stately way, and not with that amount of trepidation upon her which might have been expected in a less remarkable woman. Mr Dorrit, who had conducted his part of the dialogue with a certain majestic and admiring condescension --much as some people may be seen to conduct themselves in Church, and to perform their part in the service--appeared, on the whole, very well satisfied with himself and with Mrs General too. On the return of that lady to tea, she had touched herself up with a little powder and pomatum, and was not without moral enchantment likewise: the latter showing itself in much sweet patronage of manner towards Miss Dorrit, and in an air of as tender interest in Mr Dorrit as was consistent with rigid propriety. At the close of the evening, when she rose to retire, Mr Dorrit took her by the hand as if he were going to lead her out into the Piazza of the people to walk a minuet by moonlight, and with great solemnity conducted her to the room door, where he raised her knuckles to his lips. Having parted from her with what may be conjectured to have been a rather bony kiss of a cosmetic flavour, he gave his daughter his blessing, graciously. And having thus hinted that there was something remarkable in the wind, he again went to bed.
He remained in the seclusion of his own chamber next morning; but, early in the afternoon, sent down his best compliments to Mrs General, by Mr Tinkler, and begged she would accompany Miss Dorrit on an airing without him. His daughter was dressed for Mrs Merdle's dinner before he appeared. He then presented himself in a refulgent condition as to his attire, but looking indefinably shrunken and old. However, as he was plainly determined to be angry with her if she so much as asked him how he was, she only ventured to kiss his cheek, before accompanying him to Mrs Merdle's with an anxious heart.
The distance that they had to go was very short, but he was at his building work again before the carriage had half traversed it. Mrs Merdle received him with great distinction; the bosom was in admirable preservation, and on the best terms with itself; the dinner was very choice; and the company was very select.
It was principally English; saving that it comprised the usual French Count and the usual Italian Marchese--decorative social milestones, always to be found in certain places, and varying very little in appearance. The table was long, and the dinner was long; and Little Dorrit, overshadowed by a large pair of black whiskers and a large white cravat, lost sight of her father altogether, until a servant put a scrap of paper in her hand, with a whispered request from Mrs Merdle that she would read it directly. Mrs Merdle had written on it in pencil, 'Pray come and speak to Mr Dorrit, I doubt if he is well.'
She was hurrying to him, unobserved, when he got up out of his chair, and leaning over the table called to her, supposing her to be still in her place:
'Amy, Amy, my child!'
The action was so unusual, to say nothing of his strange eager appearance and strange eager voice, that it instantaneously caused a profound silence.
' Amy, my dear,' he repeated. 'Will you go and see if Bob is on the lock?'
She was at his side, and touching him, but he still perversely supposed her to be in her seat, and called out, still leaning over the table, 'Amy, Amy. I don't feel quite myself. Ha. I don't know what's the matter with me. I particularly wish to see Bob.
Ha. Of all the turnkeys, he's as much my friend as yours. See if Bob is in the lodge, and beg him to come to me.'
All the guests were now in consternation, and everybody rose.
'Dear father, I am not there; I am here, by you.'
'Oh! You are here, Amy! Good. Hum. Good. Ha. Call Bob. If he has been relieved, and is not on the lock, tell Mrs Bangham to go and fetch him.'
She was gently trying to get him away; but he resisted, and would not go.
'I tell you, child,' he said petulantly, 'I can't be got up the narrow stairs without Bob. Ha. Send for Bob. Hum. Send for Bob--best of all the turnkeys--send for Bob!'
He looked confusedly about him, and, becoming conscious of the number of faces by which he was surrounded, addressed them:
'Ladies and gentlemen, the duty--ha--devolves upon me of--hum-- welcoming you to the Marshalsea! Welcome to the Marshalsea! The space is--ha--limited--limited--the parade might be wider; but you will find it apparently grow larger after a time--a time, ladies and gentlemen--and the air is, all things considered, very good.
It blows over the--ha--Surrey hills. Blows over the Surrey hills.
This is the Snuggery. Hum. Supported by a small subscription of the--ha--Collegiate body. In return for which--hot water--general kitchen--and little domestic advantages. Those who are habituated to the--ha--Marshalsea, are pleased to call me its father. I am accustomed to be complimented by strangers as the--ha--Father of the Marshalsea. Certainly, if years of residence may establish a claim to so--ha--honourable a title, I may accept the--hum-- conferred distinction. My child, ladies and gentlemen. My daughter. Born here!'
She was not ashamed of it, or ashamed of him. She was pale and frightened; but she had no other care than to soothe him and get him away, for his own dear sake. She was between him and the wondering faces, turned round upon his breast with her own face raised to his. He held her clasped in his left arm, and between whiles her low voice was heard tenderly imploring him to go away with her.
'Born here,' he repeated, shedding tears. 'Bred here. Ladies and gentlemen, my daughter. Child of an unfortunate father, but--ha-- always a gentleman. Poor, no doubt, but--hum--proud. Always proud. It has become a--hum--not infrequent custom for my--ha-- personal admirers--personal admirers solely--to be pleased to express their desire to acknowledge my semi-official position here, by offering--ha--little tributes, which usually take the form of-- ha--voluntary recognitions of my humble endeavours to--hum--to uphold a Tone here--a Tone--I beg it to be understood that I do not consider myself compromised. Ha. Not compromised. Ha. Not a beggar. No; I repudiate the title! At the same time far be it from me to--hum--to put upon the fine feelings by which my partial friends are actuated, the slight of scrupling to admit that those offerings are--hum--highly acceptable. On the contrary, they are most acceptable. In my child's name, if not in my own, I make the admission in the fullest manner, at the same time reserving--ha-- shall I say my personal dignity? Ladies and gentlemen, God bless you all!'
By this time, the exceeding mortification undergone by the Bosom had occasioned the withdrawal of the greater part of the company into other rooms. The few who had lingered thus long followed the rest, and Little Dorrit and her father were left to the servants and themselves. Dearest and most precious to her, he would come with her now, would he not? He replied to her fervid entreaties, that he would never be able to get up the narrow stairs without Bob; where was Bob, would nobody fetch Bob? Under pretence of looking for Bob, she got him out against the stream of gay company now pouring in for the evening assembly, and got him into a coach that had just set down its load, and got him home.
The broad stairs of his Roman palace were contracted in his failing sight to the narrow stairs of his London prison; and he would suffer no one but her to touch him, his brother excepted. They got him up to his room without help, and laid him down on his bed. And from that hour his poor maimed spirit, only remembering the place where it had broken its wings, cancelled the dream through which it had since groped, and knew of nothing beyond the Marshalsea. When he heard footsteps in the street, he took them for the old weary tread in the yards. When the hour came for locking up, he supposed all strangers to be excluded for the night. When the time for opening came again, he was so anxious to see Bob, that they were fain to patch up a narrative how that Bob--many a year dead then, gentle turnkey--had taken cold, but hoped to be out to-morrow, or the next day, or the next at furthest.
He fell away into a weakness so extreme that he could not raise his hand. But he still protected his brother according to his long usage; and would say with some complacency, fifty times a day, when he saw him standing by his bed, 'My good Frederick, sit down. You are very feeble indeed.'
They tried him with Mrs General, but he had not the faintest knowledge of her. Some injurious suspicion lodged itself in his brain, that she wanted to supplant Mrs Bangham, and that she was given to drinking. He charged her with it in no measured terms; and was so urgent with his daughter to go round to the Marshal and entreat him to turn her out, that she was never reproduced after the first failure. Saving that he once asked 'if Tip had gone outside?' the remembrance of his two children not present seemed to have departed from him. But the child who had done so much for him and had been so poorly repaid, was never out of his mind. Not that he spared her, or was fearful of her being spent by watching and fatigue; he was not more troubled on that score than he had usually been. No; he loved her in his old way. They were in the jail again, and she tended him, and he had constant need of her, and could not turn without her; and he even told her, sometimes, that he was content to have undergone a great deal for her sake. As to her, she bent over his bed with her quiet face against his, and would have laid down her own life to restore him.
When he had been sinking in this painless way for two or three days, she observed him to be troubled by the ticking of his watch-- a pompous gold watch that made as great a to-do about its going as if nothing else went but itself and Time. She suffered it to run down; but he was still uneasy, and showed that was not what he wanted. At length he roused himself to explain that he wanted money to be raised on this watch. He was quite pleased when she pretended to take it away for the purpose, and afterwards had a relish for his little tastes of wine and jelly, that he had not had before.
He soon made it plain that this was so; for, in another day or two he sent off his sleeve-buttons and finger-rings. He had an amazing satisfaction in entrusting her with these errands, and appeared to consider it equivalent to making the most methodical and provident arrangements. After his trinkets, or such of them as he had been able to see about him, were gone, his clothes engaged his attention; and it is as likely as not that he was kept alive for some days by the satisfaction of sending them, piece by piece, to an imaginary pawnbroker's.
Thus for ten days Little Dorrit bent over his pillow, laying her cheek against his. Sometimes she was so worn out that for a few minutes they would slumber together. Then she would awake; to recollect with fast-flowing silent tears what it was that touched her face, and to see, stealing over the cherished face upon the pillow, a deeper shadow than the shadow of the Marshalsea Wall.
Quietly, quietly, all the lines of the plan of the great Castle melted one after another. Quietly, quietly, the ruled and cross- ruled countenance on which they were traced, became fair and blank.
Quietly, quietly, the reflected marks of the prison bars and of the zig-zag iron on the wall-top, faded away. Quietly, quietly, the face subsided into a far younger likeness of her own than she had ever seen under the grey hair, and sank to rest.
At first her uncle was stark distracted. 'O my brother! O William, William! You to go before me; you to go alone; you to go, and I to remain! You, so far superior, so distinguished, so noble; I, a poor useless creature fit for nothing, and whom no one would have missed!'
It did her, for the time, the good of having him to think of and to succour.
'Uncle, dear uncle, spare yourself, spare me!'
The old man was not deaf to the last words. When he did begin to restrain himself, it was that he might spare her. He had no care for himself; but, with all the remaining power of the honest heart, stunned so long and now awaking to be broken, he honoured and blessed her.
'O God,' he cried, before they left the room, with his wrinkled hands clasped over her. 'Thou seest this daughter of my dear dead brother! All that I have looked upon, with my half-blind and sinful eyes, Thou hast discerned clearly, brightly. Not a hair of her head shall be harmed before Thee. Thou wilt uphold her here to her last hour. And I know Thou wilt reward her hereafter!'
They remained in a dim room near, until it was almost midnight, quiet and sad together. At times his grief would seek relief in a burst like that in which it had found its earliest expression; but, besides that his little strength would soon have been unequal to such strains, he never failed to recall her words, and to reproach himself and calm himself. The only utterance with which he indulged his sorrow, was the frequent exclamation that his brother was gone, alone; that they had been together in the outset of their lives, that they had fallen into misfortune together, that they had kept together through their many years of poverty, that they had remained together to that day; and that his brother was gone alone, alone!
They parted, heavy and sorrowful. She would not consent to leave him anywhere but in his own room, and she saw him lie down in his clothes upon his bed, and covered him with her own hands. Then she sank upon her own bed, and fell into a deep sleep: the sleep of exhaustion and rest, though not of complete release from a pervading consciousness of affliction. Sleep, good Little Dorrit.
Sleep through the night!
It was a moonlight night; but the moon rose late, being long past the full. When it was high in the peaceful firmament, it shone through half-closed lattice blinds into the solemn room where the stumblings and wanderings of a life had so lately ended. Two quiet figures were within the room; two figures, equally still and impassive, equally removed by an untraversable distance from the teeming earth and all that it contains, though soon to lie in it.
One figure reposed upon the bed. The other, kneeling on the floor, drooped over it; the arms easily and peacefully resting on the coverlet; the face bowed down, so that the lips touched the hand over which with its last breath it had bent. The two brothers were before their Father; far beyond the twilight judgment of this world; high above its mists and obscurities.
Introduces the next
The passengers were landing from the packet on the pier at Calais.
A low-lying place and a low-spirited place Calais was, with the tide ebbing out towards low water-mark. There had been no more water on the bar than had sufficed to float the packet in; and now the bar itself, with a shallow break of sea over it, looked like a lazy marine monster just risen to the surface, whose form was indistinctly shown as it lay asleep. The meagre lighthouse all in white, haunting the seaboard as if it were the ghost of an edifice that had once had colour and rotundity, dropped melancholy tears after its late buffeting by the waves. The long rows of gaunt black piles, slimy and wet and weather-worn, with funeral garlands of seaweed twisted about them by the late tide, might have represented an unsightly marine cemetery. Every wave-dashed, storm-beaten object, was so low and so little, under the broad grey sky, in the noise of the wind and sea, and before the curling lines of surf, making at it ferociously, that the wonder was there was any Calais left, and that its low gates and low wall and low roofs and low ditches and low sand-hills and low ramparts and flat streets, had not yielded long ago to the undermining and besieging sea, like the fortifications children make on the sea-shore.
After slipping among oozy piles and planks, stumbling up wet steps and encountering many salt difficulties, the passengers entered on their comfortless peregrination along the pier; where all the French vagabonds and English outlaws in the town (half the population) attended to prevent their recovery from bewilderment.
After being minutely inspected by all the English, and claimed and reclaimed and counter-claimed as prizes by all the French in a hand-to-hand scuffle three quarters of a mile long, they were at last free to enter the streets, and to make off in their various directions, hotly pursued.
Clennam, harassed by more anxieties than one, was among this devoted band. Having rescued the most defenceless of his compatriots from situations of great extremity, he now went his way alone, or as nearly alone as he could be, with a native gentleman in a suit of grease and a cap of the same material, giving chase at a distance of some fifty yards, and continually calling after him, 'Hi! Ice-say! You! Seer! Ice-say! Nice Oatel!'
Even this hospitable person, however, was left behind at last, and Clennam pursued his way, unmolested. There was a tranquil air in the town after the turbulence of the Channel and the beach, and its dulness in that comparison was agreeable. He met new groups of his countrymen, who had all a straggling air of having at one time overblown themselves, like certain uncomfortable kinds of flowers, and of being now mere weeds. They had all an air, too, of lounging out a limited round, day after day, which strongly reminded him of the Marshalsea. But, taking no further note of them than was sufficient to give birth to the reflection, he sought out a certain street and number which he kept in his mind.
'So Pancks said,' he murmured to himself, as he stopped before a dull house answering to the address. 'I suppose his information to be correct and his discovery, among Mr Casby's loose papers, indisputable; but, without it, I should hardly have supposed this to be a likely place.'
A dead sort of house, with a dead wall over the way and a dead gateway at the side, where a pendant bell-handle produced two dead tinkles, and a knocker produced a dead, flat, surface-tapping, that seemed not to have depth enough in it to penetrate even the cracked door. However, the door jarred open on a dead sort of spring; and he closed it behind him as he entered a dull yard, soon brought to a close by another dead wall, where an attempt had been made to train some creeping shrubs, which were dead; and to make a little fountain in a grotto, which was dry; and to decorate that with a little statue, which was gone.
The entry to the house was on the left, and it was garnished as the outer gateway was, with two printed bills in French and English, announcing Furnished Apartments to let, with immediate possession.
A strong cheerful peasant woman, all stocking, petticoat, white cap, and ear-ring, stood here in a dark doorway, and said with a pleasant show of teeth, 'Ice-say! Seer! Who?'
Clennam, replying in French, said the English lady; he wished to see the English lady. 'Enter then and ascend, if you please,' returned the peasant woman, in French likewise. He did both, and followed her up a dark bare staircase to a back room on the first- floor. Hence, there was a gloomy view of the yard that was dull, and of the shrubs that were dead, and of the fountain that was dry, and of the pedestal of the statue that was gone.
'Monsieur Blandois,' said Clennam.
'With pleasure, Monsieur.'
Thereupon the woman withdrew and left him to look at the room. It was the pattern of room always to be found in such a house. Cool, dull, and dark. Waxed floor very slippery. A room not large enough to skate in; nor adapted to the easy pursuit of any other occupation. Red and white curtained windows, little straw mat, little round table with a tumultuous assemblage of legs underneath, clumsy rush-bottomed chairs, two great red velvet arm-chairs affording plenty of space to be uncomfortable in, bureau, chimney- glass in several pieces pretending to be in one piece, pair of gaudy vases of very artificial flowers; between them a Greek warrior with his helmet off, sacrificing a clock to the Genius of France.
After some pause, a door of communication with another room was opened, and a lady entered. She manifested great surprise on seeing Clennam, and her glance went round the room in search of some one else.
'Pardon me, Miss Wade. I am alone.'
'It was not your name that was brought to me.'
'No; I know that. Excuse me. I have already had experience that my name does not predispose you to an interview; and I ventured to mention the name of one I am in search of.'
'Pray,' she returned, motioning him to a chair so coldly that he remained standing, 'what name was it that you gave?'
'I mentioned the name of Blandois.'
'A name you are acquainted with.'
'It is strange,' she said, frowning, 'that you should still press an undesired interest in me and my acquaintances, in me and my affairs, Mr Clennam. I don't know what you mean.'
'Pardon me. You know the name?'
'What can you have to do with the name? What can I have to do with the name? What can you have to do with my knowing or not knowing any name? I know many names and I have forgotten many more. This may be in the one class, or it may be in the other, or I may never have heard it. I am acquainted with no reason for examining myself, or for being examined, about it.'
'If you will allow me,' said Clennam, 'I will tell you my reason for pressing the subject. I admit that I do press it, and I must beg you to forgive me if I do so, very earnestly. The reason is all mine, I do not insinuate that it is in any way yours.'
'Well, sir,' she returned, repeating a little less haughtily than before her former invitation to him to be seated: to which he now deferred, as she seated herself. 'I am at least glad to know that this is not another bondswoman of some friend of yours, who is bereft of free choice, and whom I have spirited away. I will hear your reason, if you please.'
'First, to identify the person of whom we speak,' said Clennam, 'let me observe that it is the person you met in London some time back. You will remember meeting him near the river--in the Adelphi!'
'You mix yourself most unaccountably with my business,' she replied, looking full at him with stern displeasure. 'How do you know that?'
'I entreat you not to take it ill. By mere accident.' 'What accident?'
'Solely the accident of coming upon you in the street and seeing the meeting.'
'Do you speak of yourself, or of some one else?'
'Of myself. I saw it.'
'To be sure it was in the open street,' she observed, after a few moments of less and less angry reflection. 'Fifty people might have seen it. It would have signified nothing if they had.'
'Nor do I make my having seen it of any moment, nor (otherwise than as an explanation of my coming here) do I connect my visit with it or the favour that I have to ask.'
'Oh! You have to ask a favour! It occurred to me,' and the handsome face looked bitterly at him, 'that your manner was softened, Mr Clennam.'
He was content to protest against this by a slight action without contesting it in words. He then referred to Blandois' disappearance, of which it was probable she had heard? However probable it was to him, she had heard of no such thing. Let him look round him (she said) and judge for himself what general intelligence was likely to reach the ears of a woman who had been shut up there while it was rife, devouring her own heart. When she had uttered this denial, which he believed to be true, she asked him what he meant by disappearance? That led to his narrating the circumstances in detail, and expressing something of his anxiety to discover what had really become of the man, and to repel the dark suspicions that clouded about his mother's house. She heard him with evident surprise, and with more marks of suppressed interest than he had seen in her; still they did not overcome her distant, proud, and self-secluded manner. When he had finished, she said nothing but these words:
'You have not yet told me, sir, what I have to do with it, or what the favour is? Will you be so good as come to that?'
'I assume,' said Arthur, persevering, in his endeavour to soften her scornful demeanour, 'that being in communication--may I say, confidential communication?--with this person--'
'You may say, of course, whatever you like,' she remarked; 'but I do not subscribe to your assumptions, Mr Clennam, or to any one's.'
'--that being, at least in personal communication with him,' said Clennam, changing the form of his position in the hope of making it unobjectionable, 'you can tell me something of his antecedents, pursuits, habits, usual place of residence. Can give me some little clue by which to seek him out in the likeliest manner, and either produce him, or establish what has become of him. This is the favour I ask, and I ask it in a distress of mind for which I hope you will feel some consideration. If you should have any reason for imposing conditions upon me, I will respect it without asking what it is.'
'You chanced to see me in the street with the man,' she observed, after being, to his mortification, evidently more occupied with her own reflections on the matter than with his appeal. 'Then you knew the man before?'
'Not before; afterwards. I never saw him before, but I saw him again on this very night of his disappearance. In my mother's room, in fact. I left him there. You will read in this paper all that is known of him.'
He handed her one of the printed bills, which she read with a steady and attentive face.
'This is more than I knew of him,' she said, giving it back.
Clennam's looks expressed his heavy disappointment, perhaps his incredulity; for she added in the same unsympathetic tone: 'You don't believe it. Still, it is so. As to personal communication: it seems that there was personal communication between him and your mother. And yet you say you believe her declaration that she knows no more of him!'
A sufficiently expressive hint of suspicion was conveyed in these words, and in the smile by which they were accompanied, to bring the blood into Clennam's cheeks.
'Come, sir,' she said, with a cruel pleasure in repeating the stab, 'I will be as open with you as you can desire. I will confess that if I cared for my credit (which I do not), or had a good name to preserve (which I have not, for I am utterly indifferent to its being considered good or bad), I should regard myself as heavily compromised by having had anything to do with this fellow. Yet he never passed in at MY door--never sat in colloquy with ME until midnight.'
She took her revenge for her old grudge in thus turning his subject against him. Hers was not the nature to spare him, and she had no compunction.
'That he is a low, mercenary wretch; that I first saw him prowling about Italy (where I was, not long ago), and that I hired him there, as the suitable instrument of a purpose I happened to have; I have no objection to tell you. In short, it was worth my while, for my own pleasure--the gratification of a strong feeling--to pay a spy who would fetch and carry for money. I paid this creature.
And I dare say that if I had wanted to make such a bargain, and if I could have paid him enough, and if he could have done it in the dark, free from all risk, he would have taken any life with as little scruple as he took my money. That, at least, is my opinion of him; and I see it is not very far removed from yours. Your mother's opinion of him, I am to assume (following your example of assuming this and that), was vastly different.'
'My mother, let me remind you,' said Clennam, 'was first brought into communication with him in the unlucky course of business.'
'It appears to have been an unlucky course of business that last brought her into communication with him,' returned Miss Wade; 'and business hours on that occasion were late.'
'You imply,' said Arthur, smarting under these cool-handed thrusts, of which he had deeply felt the force already, 'that there was something--'
'Mr Clennam,' she composedly interrupted, 'recollect that I do not speak by implication about the man. He is, I say again without disguise, a low mercenary wretch. I suppose such a creature goes where there is occasion for him. If I had not had occasion for him, you would not have seen him and me together.'
Wrung by her persistence in keeping that dark side of the case before him, of which there was a half-hidden shadow in his own breast, Clennam was silent.
'I have spoken of him as still living,' she added, 'but he may have been put out of the way for anything I know. For anything I care, also. I have no further occasion for him.'
With a heavy sigh and a despondent air, Arthur Clennam slowly rose.
She did not rise also, but said, having looked at him in the meanwhile with a fixed look of suspicion, and lips angrily compressed:
'He was the chosen associate of your dear friend, Mr Gowan, was he not? Why don't you ask your dear friend to help you?'
The denial that he was a dear friend rose to Arthur's lips; but he repressed it, remembering his old struggles and resolutions, and said:
'Further than that he has never seen Blandois since Blandois set out for England, Mr Gowan knows nothing additional about him. He was a chance acquaintance, made abroad.'
'A chance acquaintance made abroad!' she repeated. 'Yes. Your dear friend has need to divert himself with all the acquaintances he can make, seeing what a wife he has. I hate his wife, sir.'
The anger with which she said it, the more remarkable for being so much under her restraint, fixed Clennam's attention, and kept him on the spot. It flashed out of her dark eyes as they regarded him, quivered in her nostrils, and fired the very breath she exhaled; but her face was otherwise composed into a disdainful serenity; and her attitude was as calmly and haughtily graceful as if she had been in a mood of complete indifference.
'All I will say is, Miss Wade,' he remarked, 'that you can have received no provocation to a feeling in which I believe you have no sharer.'
'You may ask your dear friend, if you choose,' she returned, 'for his opinion upon that subject.'
'I am scarcely on those intimate terms with my dear friend,' said Arthur, in spite of his resolutions, 'that would render my approaching the subject very probable, Miss Wade.'
'I hate him,' she returned. 'Worse than his wife, because I was once dupe enough, and false enough to myself, almost to love him.
You have seen me, sir, only on common-place occasions, when I dare say you have thought me a common-place woman, a little more self- willed than the generality. You don't know what I mean by hating, if you know me no better than that; you can't know, without knowing with what care I have studied myself and people about me. For this reason I have for some time inclined to tell you what my life has been--not to propitiate your opinion, for I set no value on it; but that you may comprehend, when you think of your dear friend and his dear wife, what I mean by hating. Shall I give you something I have written and put by for your perusal, or shall I hold my hand?'
Arthur begged her to give it to him. She went to the bureau, unlocked it, and took from an inner drawer a few folded sheets of paper. Without any conciliation of him, scarcely addressing him, rather speaking as if she were speaking to her own looking-glass for the justification of her own stubbornness, she said, as she gave them to him:
'Now you may know what I mean by hating! No more of that. Sir, whether you find me temporarily and cheaply lodging in an empty London house, or in a Calais apartment, you find Harriet with me.
You may like to see her before you leave. Harriet, come in!' She called Harriet again. The second call produced Harriet, once Tattycoram.
'Here is Mr Clennam,' said Miss Wade; 'not come for you; he has given you up,--I suppose you have, by this time?'
'Having no authority, or influence--yes,' assented Clennam.
'Not come in search of you, you see; but still seeking some one.
He wants that Blandois man.'
'With whom I saw you in the Strand in London,' hinted Arthur. 'If you know anything of him, Harriet, except that he came from Venice--which we all know--tell it to Mr Clennam freely.' 'I know nothing more about him,' said the girl.
'Are you satisfied?' Miss Wade inquired of Arthur.
He had no reason to disbelieve them; the girl's manner being so natural as to be almost convincing, if he had had any previous doubts. He replied, 'I must seek for intelligence elsewhere.'
He was not going in the same breath; but he had risen before the girl entered, and she evidently thought he was. She looked quickly at him, and said:
'Are they well, sir?'
She stopped herself in saying what would have been 'all of them;' glanced at Miss Wade; and said 'Mr and Mrs Meagles.'
'They were, when I last heard of them. They are not at home. By the way, let me ask you. Is it true that you were seen there?'
'Where? Where does any one say I was seen?' returned the girl, sullenly casting down her eyes.
'Looking in at the garden gate of the cottage.'
'No,' said Miss Wade. 'She has never been near it.'
'You are wrong, then,' said the girl. 'I went down there the last time we were in London. I went one afternoon when you left me alone. And I did look in.'
'You poor-spirited girl,' returned Miss Wade with infinite contempt; 'does all our companionship, do all our conversations, do all your old complainings, tell for so little as that?'
'There was no harm in looking in at the gate for an instant,' said the girl. 'I saw by the windows that the family were not there.'
'Why should you go near the place?'
'Because I wanted to see it. Because I felt that I should like to look at it again.'
As each of the two handsome faces looked at the other, Clennam felt how each of the two natures must be constantly tearing the other to pieces.
'Oh!' said Miss Wade, coldly subduing and removing her glance; 'if you had any desire to see the place where you led the life from which I rescued you because you had found out what it was, that is another thing. But is that your truth to me? Is that your fidelity to me? Is that the common cause I make with you? You are not worth the confidence I have placed in you. You are not worth the favour I have shown you. You are no higher than a spaniel, and had better go back to the people who did worse than whip you.'
'If you speak so of them with any one else by to hear, you'll provoke me to take their part,' said the girl.
'Go back to them,' Miss Wade retorted. 'Go back to them.'
'You know very well,' retorted Harriet in her turn, 'that I won't go back to them. You know very well that I have thrown them off, and never can, never shall, never will, go back to them. Let them alone, then, Miss Wade.'
'You prefer their plenty to your less fat living here,' she rejoined. 'You exalt them, and slight me. What else should I have expected? I ought to have known it.'
'It's not so,' said the girl, flushing high, 'and you don't say what you mean. I know what you mean. You are reproaching me, underhanded, with having nobody but you to look to. And because I have nobody but you to look to, you think you are to make me do, or not do, everything you please, and are to put any affront upon me.
You are as bad as they were, every bit. But I will not be quite tamed, and made submissive. I will say again that I went to look at the house, because I had often thought that I should like to see it once more. I will ask again how they are, because I once liked them and at times thought they were kind to me.'
Hereupon Clennam said that he was sure they would still receive her kindly, if she should ever desire to return.
'Never!' said the girl passionately. 'I shall never do that.
Nobody knows that better than Miss Wade, though she taunts me because she has made me her dependent. And I know I am so; and I know she is overjoyed when she can bring it to my mind.'
'A good pretence!' said Miss Wade, with no less anger, haughtiness, and bitterness; 'but too threadbare to cover what I plainly see in this. My poverty will not bear competition with their money.
Better go back at once, better go back at once, and have done with it!'
Arthur Clennam looked at them, standing a little distance asunder in the dull confined room, each proudly cherishing her own anger; each, with a fixed determination, torturing her own breast, and torturing the other's. He said a word or two of leave-taking; but Miss Wade barely inclined her head, and Harriet, with the assumed humiliation of an abject dependent and serf (but not without defiance for all that), made as if she were too low to notice or to be noticed.
He came down the dark winding stairs into the yard with an increased sense upon him of the gloom of the wall that was dead, and of the shrubs that were dead, and of the fountain that was dry, and of the statue that was gone. Pondering much on what he had seen and heard in that house, as well as on the failure of all his efforts to trace the suspicious character who was lost, he returned to London and to England by the packet that had taken him over. On the way he unfolded the sheets of paper, and read in them what is reproduced in the next chapter.