Reaping the Whirlwind
With a precursory sound of hurried breath and hurried feet, Mr Pancks rushed into Arthur Clennam's Counting-house. The Inquest was over, the letter was public, the Bank was broken, the other model structures of straw had taken fire and were turned to smoke.
The admired piratical ship had blown up, in the midst of a vast fleet of ships of all rates, and boats of all sizes; and on the deep was nothing but ruin; nothing but burning hulls, bursting magazines, great guns self-exploded tearing friends and neighbours to pieces, drowning men clinging to unseaworthy spars and going down every minute, spent swimmers floating dead, and sharks.
The usual diligence and order of the Counting-house at the Works were overthrown. Unopened letters and unsorted papers lay strewn about the desk. In the midst of these tokens of prostrated energy and dismissed hope, the master of the Counting-house stood idle in his usual place, with his arms crossed on the desk, and his head bowed down upon them.
Mr Pancks rushed in and saw him, and stood still. In another minute, Mr Pancks's arms were on the desk, and Mr Pancks's head was bowed down upon them; and for some time they remained in these attitudes, idle and silent, with the width of the little room between them. Mr Pancks was the first to lift up his head and speak.
'I persuaded you to it, Mr Clennam. I know it. Say what you will.
You can't say more to me than I say to myself. You can't say more than I deserve.'
'O, Pancks, Pancks!' returned Clennam, 'don't speak of deserving.
What do I myself deserve!'
'Better luck,' said Pancks.
'I,' pursued Clennam, without attending to him, 'who have ruined my partner! Pancks, Pancks, I have ruined Doyce! The honest, self- helpful, indefatigable old man who has worked his way all through his life; the man who has contended against so much disappointment, and who has brought out of it such a good and hopeful nature; the man I have felt so much for, and meant to be so true and useful to; I have ruined him--brought him to shame and disgrace--ruined him, ruined him!'
The agony into which the reflection wrought his mind was so distressing to see, that Mr Pancks took hold of himself by the hair of his head, and tore it in desperation at the spectacle.
'Reproach me!' cried Pancks. 'Reproach me, sir, or I'll do myself an injury. Say,--You fool, you villain. Say,--Ass, how could you do it; Beast, what did you mean by it! Catch hold of me somewhere.
Say something abusive to me!' All the time, Mr Pancks was tearing at his tough hair in a most pitiless and cruel manner.
'If you had never yielded to this fatal mania, Pancks,' said Clennam, more in commiseration than retaliation, 'it would have been how much better for you, and how much better for me!'
'At me again, sir!' cried Pancks, grinding his teeth in remorse.
'At me again!' 'If you had never gone into those accursed calculations, and brought out your results with such abominable clearness,' groaned Clennam, 'it would have been how much better for you, Pancks, and how much better for me!'
'At me again, sir!' exclaimed Pancks, loosening his hold of his hair; 'at me again, and again!'
Clennam, however, finding him already beginning to be pacified, had said all he wanted to say, and more. He wrung his hand, only adding, 'Blind leaders of the blind, Pancks! Blind leaders of the blind! But Doyce, Doyce, Doyce; my injured partner!' That brought his head down on the desk once more.
Their former attitudes and their former silence were once more first encroached upon by Pancks.
'Not been to bed, sir, since it began to get about. Been high and low, on the chance of finding some hope of saving any cinders from the fire. All in vain. All gone. All vanished.'
'I know it,' returned Clennam, 'too well.'
Mr Pancks filled up a pause with a groan that came out of the very depths of his soul.
'Only yesterday, Pancks,' said Arthur; 'only yesterday, Monday, I had the fixed intention of selling, realising, and making an end of it.'
'I can't say as much for myself, sir,' returned Pancks. 'Though it's wonderful how many people I've heard of, who were going to realise yesterday, of all days in the three hundred and sixty-five, if it hadn't been too late!'
His steam-like breathings, usually droll in their effect, were more tragic than so many groans: while from head to foot, he was in that begrimed, besmeared, neglected state, that he might have been an authentic portrait of Misfortune which could scarcely be discerned through its want of cleaning.
'Mr Clennam, had you laid out--everything?' He got over the break before the last word, and also brought out the last word itself with great difficulty.
Mr Pancks took hold of his tough hair again, and gave it such a wrench that he pulled out several prongs of it. After looking at these with an eye of wild hatred, he put them in his pocket.
'My course,' said Clennam, brushing away some tears that had been silently dropping down his face, 'must be taken at once. What wretched amends I can make must be made. I must clear my unfortunate partner's reputation. I must retain nothing for myself. I must resign to our creditors the power of management I have so much abused, and I must work out as much of my fault--or crime--as is susceptible of being worked out in the rest of my days.'
'Is it impossible, sir, to tide over the present?'
'Out of the question. Nothing can be tided over now, Pancks. The sooner the business can pass out of my hands, the better for it.
There are engagements to be met, this week, which would bring the catastrophe before many days were over, even if I would postpone it for a single day by going on for that space, secretly knowing what I know. All last night I thought of what I would do; what remains is to do it.'
'Not entirely of yourself?' said Pancks, whose face was as damp as if his steam were turning into water as fast as he dismally blew it off. 'Have some legal help.'
'Perhaps I had better.'
'There is not much to do. He will do it as well as another.'
'Shall I fetch Rugg, Mr Clennam?'
'If you could spare the time, I should be much obliged to you.'
Mr Pancks put on his hat that moment, and steamed away to Pentonville. While he was gone Arthur never raised his head from the desk, but remained in that one position.
Mr Pancks brought his friend and professional adviser, Mr Rugg, back with him. Mr Rugg had had such ample experience, on the road, of Mr Pancks's being at that present in an irrational state of mind, that he opened his professional mediation by requesting that gentleman to take himself out of the way. Mr Pancks, crushed and submissive, obeyed.
'He is not unlike what my daughter was, sir, when we began the Breach of Promise action of Rugg and Bawkins, in which she was Plaintiff,' said Mr Rugg. 'He takes too strong and direct an interest in the case. His feelings are worked upon. There is no getting on, in our profession, with feelings worked upon, sir.'
As he pulled off his gloves and put them in his hat, he saw, in a side glance or two, that a great change had come over his client.
'I am sorry to perceive, sir,' said Mr Rugg, 'that you have been allowing your own feelings to be worked upon. Now, pray don't, pray don't. These losses are much to be deplored, sir, but we must look 'em in the face.' 'If the money I have sacrificed had been all my own, Mr Rugg,' sighed Mr Clennam, 'I should have cared far less.'
'Indeed, sir?' said Mr Rugg, rubbing his hands with a cheerful air.
'You surprise me. That's singular, sir. I have generally found, in my experience, that it's their own money people are most particular about. I have seen people get rid of a good deal of other people's money, and bear it very well: very well indeed.'
With these comforting remarks, Mr Rugg seated himself on an office- stool at the desk and proceeded to business.
'Now, Mr Clennam, by your leave, let us go into the matter. Let us see the state of the case. The question is simple. The question is the usual plain, straightforward, common-sense question. What can we do for ourself? What can we do for ourself?'
'This is not the question with me, Mr Rugg,' said Arthur. 'You mistake it in the beginning. It is, what can I do for my partner, how can I best make reparation to him?'
'I am afraid, sir, do you know,' argued Mr Rugg persuasively, 'that you are still allowing your feeling to be worked upon. I don't like the term "reparation," sir, except as a lever in the hands of counsel. Will you excuse my saying that I feel it my duty to offer you the caution, that you really must not allow your feelings to be worked upon?'
'Mr Rugg,' said Clennam, nerving himself to go through with what he had resolved upon, and surprising that gentleman by appearing, in his despondency, to have a settled determination of purpose; 'you give me the impression that you will not be much disposed to adopt the course I have made up my mind to take. If your disapproval of it should render you unwilling to discharge such business as it necessitates, I am sorry for it, and must seek other aid. But I will represent to you at once, that to argue against it with me is useless.'
'Good, sir,' answered Mr Rugg, shrugging his shoulders.'Good, sir.
Since the business is to be done by some hands, let it be done by mine. Such was my principle in the case of Rugg and Bawkins. Such is my principle in most cases. '
Clennam then proceeded to state to Mr Rugg his fixed resolution.
He told Mr Rugg that his partner was a man of great simplicity and integrity, and that in all he meant to do, he was guided above all things by a knowledge of his partner's character, and a respect for his feelings. He explained that his partner was then absent on an enterprise of importance, and that it particularly behoved himself publicly to accept the blame of what he had rashly done, and publicly to exonerate his partner from all participation in the responsibility of it, lest the successful conduct of that enterprise should be endangered by the slightest suspicion wrongly attaching to his partner's honour and credit in another country.
He told Mr Rugg that to clear his partner morally, to the fullest extent, and publicly and unreservedly to declare that he, Arthur Clennam, of that Firm, had of his own sole act, and even expressly against his partner's caution, embarked its resources in the swindles that had lately perished, was the only real atonement within his power; was a better atonement to the particular man than it would be to many men; and was therefore the atonement he had first to make. With this view, his intention was to print a declaration to the foregoing effect, which he had already drawn up; and, besides circulating it among all who had dealings with the House, to advertise it in the public papers. Concurrently with this measure (the description of which cost Mr Rugg innumerable wry faces and great uneasiness in his limbs), he would address a letter to all the creditors, exonerating his partner in a solemn manner, informing them of the stoppage of the House until their pleasure could be known and his partner communicated with, and humbly submitting himself to their direction. If, through their consideration for his partner's innocence, the affairs could ever be got into such train as that the business could be profitably resumed, and its present downfall overcome, then his own share in it should revert to his partner, as the only reparation he could make to him in money value for the distress and loss he had unhappily brought upon him, and he himself, at as mall a salary as he could live upon, would ask to be allowed to serve the business as a faithful clerk.
Though Mr Rugg saw plainly there was no preventing this from being done, still the wryness of his face and the uneasiness of his limbs so sorely required the propitiation of a Protest, that he made one.
'I offer no objection, sir,' said he, 'I argue no point with you.
I will carry out your views, sir; but, under protest.' Mr Rugg then stated, not without prolixity, the heads of his protest.
These were, in effect, because the whole town, or he might say the whole country, was in the first madness of the late discovery, and the resentment against the victims would be very strong: those who had not been deluded being certain to wax exceedingly wroth with them for not having been as wise as they were: and those who had been deluded being certain to find excuses and reasons for themselves, of which they were equally certain to see that other sufferers were wholly devoid: not to mention the great probability of every individual sufferer persuading himself, to his violent indignation, that but for the example of all the other sufferers he never would have put himself in the way of suffering. Because such a declaration as Clennam's, made at such a time, would certainly draw down upon him a storm of animosity, rendering it impossible to calculate on forbearance in the creditors, or on unanimity among them; and exposing him a solitary target to a straggling cross- fire, which might bring him down from half-a-dozen quarters at once.
To all this Clennam merely replied that, granting the whole protest, nothing in it lessened the force, or could lessen the force, of the voluntary and public exoneration of his partner. He therefore, once and for all, requested Mr Rugg's immediate aid in getting the business despatched. Upon that, Mr Rugg fell to work; and Arthur, retaining no property to himself but his clothes and books, and a little loose money, placed his small private banker's- account with the papers of the business.
The disclosure was made, and the storm raged fearfully. Thousands of people were wildly staring about for somebody alive to heap reproaches on; and this notable case, courting publicity, set the living somebody so much wanted, on a scaffold. When people who had nothing to do with the case were so sensible of its flagrancy, people who lost money by it could scarcely be expected to deal mildly with it. Letters of reproach and invective showered in from the creditors; and Mr Rugg, who sat upon the high stool every day and read them all, informed his client within a week that he feared there were writs out.
'I must take the consequences of what I have done,' said Clennam.
'The writs will find me here.'
On the very next morning, as he was turning in Bleeding Heart Yard by Mrs Plornish's corner, Mrs Plornish stood at the door waiting for him, and mysteriously besought him to step into Happy Cottage.
There he found Mr Rugg.
'I thought I'd wait for you here. I wouldn't go on to the Counting-house this morning if I was you, sir.'
'Why not, Mr Rugg?'
'There are as many as five out, to my knowledge.'
'It cannot be too soon over,' said Clennam. 'Let them take me at once.'
'Yes, but,' said Mr Rugg, getting between him and the door, 'hear reason, hear reason. They'll take you soon enough, Mr Clennam, I don't doubt; but, hear reason. It almost always happens, in these cases, that some insignificant matter pushes itself in front and makes much of itself. Now, I find there's a little one out--a mere Palace Court jurisdiction--and I have reason to believe that a caption may be made upon that. I wouldn't be taken upon that.'
'Why not?' asked Clennam.
'I'd be taken on a full-grown one, sir,' said Mr Rugg. 'It's as well to keep up appearances. As your professional adviser, I should prefer your being taken on a writ from one of the Superior Courts, if you have no objection to do me that favour. It looks better.'
'Mr Rugg,' said Arthur, in his dejection, 'my only wish is, that it should be over. I will go on, and take my chance.'
'Another word of reason, sir!' cried Mr Rugg. 'Now, this is reason. The other may be taste; but this is reason. If you should be taken on a little one, sir, you would go to the Marshalsea.
Now, you know what the Marshalsea is. Very close. Excessively confined. Whereas in the King's Bench--' Mr Rugg waved his right hand freely, as expressing abundance of space. 'I would rather,' said Clennam, 'be taken to the Marshalsea than to any other prison.'
'Do you say so indeed, sir?' returned Mr Rugg. 'Then this is taste, too, and we may be walking.'
He was a little offended at first, but he soon overlooked it. They walked through the Yard to the other end. The Bleeding Hearts were more interested in Arthur since his reverses than formerly; now regarding him as one who was true to the place and had taken up his freedom. Many of them came out to look after him, and to observe to one another, with great unctuousness, that he was 'pulled down by it.' Mrs Plornish and her father stood at the top of the steps at their own end, much depressed and shaking their heads.
There was nobody visibly in waiting when Arthur and Mr Rugg arrived at the Counting-house. But an elderly member of the Jewish persuasion, preserved in rum, followed them close, and looked in at the glass before Mr Rugg had opened one of the day's letters.
'Oh!' said Mr Rugg, looking up. 'How do you do? Step in--Mr Clennam, I think this is the gentleman I was mentioning.'
This gentleman explained the object of his visit to be 'a tyfling madder ob bithznithz,' and executed his legal function.
'Shall I accompany you, Mr Clennam?' asked Mr Rugg politely, rubbing his hands.
'I would rather go alone, thank you. Be so good as send me my clothes.' Mr Rugg in a light airy way replied in the affirmative, and shook hands with him. He and his attendant then went down- stairs, got into the first conveyance they found, and drove to the old gates.
'Where I little thought, Heaven forgive me,' said Clennam to himself, 'that I should ever enter thus!'
Mr Chivery was on the Lock, and Young John was in the Lodge: either newly released from it, or waiting to take his own spell of duty.
Both were more astonished on seeing who the prisoner was, than one might have thought turnkeys would have been. The elder Mr Chivery shook hands with him in a shame-faced kind of way, and said, 'I don't call to mind, sir, as I was ever less glad to see you.' The younger Mr Chivery, more distant, did not shake hands with him at all; he stood looking at him in a state of indecision so observable that it even came within the observation of Clennam with his heavy eyes and heavy heart. Presently afterwards, Young John disappeared into the jail.
As Clennam knew enough of the place to know that he was required to remain in the Lodge a certain time, he took a seat in a corner, and feigned to be occupied with the perusal of letters from his pocket.
They did not so engross his attention, but that he saw, with gratitude, how the elder Mr Chivery kept the Lodge clear of prisoners; how he signed to some, with his keys, not to come in, how he nudged others with his elbows to go out, and how he made his misery as easy to him as he could.
Arthur was sitting with his eyes fixed on the floor, recalling the past, brooding over the present, and not attending to either, when he felt himself touched upon the shoulder. It was by Young John; and he said, 'You can come now.'
He got up and followed Young John. When they had gone a step or two within the inner iron-gate, Young John turned and said to him:
'You want a room. I have got you one.'
'I thank you heartily.'
Young John turned again, and took him in at the old doorway, up the old staircase, into the old room. Arthur stretched out his hand.
Young John looked at it, looked at him--sternly--swelled, choked, and said:
'I don't know as I can. No, I find I can't. But I thought you'd like the room, and here it is for you.'
Surprise at this inconsistent behaviour yielded when he was gone (he went away directly) to the feelings which the empty room awakened in Clennam's wounded breast, and to the crowding associations with the one good and gentle creature who had sanctified it. Her absence in his altered fortunes made it, and him in it, so very desolate and so much in need of such a face of love and truth, that he turned against the wall to weep, sobbing out, as his heart relieved itself, 'O my Little Dorrit!'
The Pupil of the Marshalsea
The day was sunny, and the Marshalsea, with the hot noon striking upon it, was unwontedly quiet. Arthur Clennam dropped into a solitary arm-chair, itself as faded as any debtor in the jail, and yielded himself to his thoughts.
In the unnatural peace of having gone through the dreaded arrest, and got there,--the first change of feeling which the prison most commonly induced, and from which dangerous resting-place so many men had slipped down to the depths of degradation and disgrace by so many ways,--he could think of some passages in his life, almost as if he were removed from them into another state of existence.
Taking into account where he was, the interest that had first brought him there when he had been free to keep away, and the gentle presence that was equally inseparable from the walls and bars about him and from the impalpable remembrances of his later life which no walls or bars could imprison, it was not remarkable that everything his memory turned upon should bring him round again to Little Dorrit. Yet it was remarkable to him; not because of the fact itself, but because of the reminder it brought with it, how much the dear little creature had influenced his better resolutions.
None of us clearly know to whom or to what we are indebted in this wise, until some marked stop in the whirling wheel of life brings the right perception with it. It comes with sickness, it comes with sorrow, it comes with the loss of the dearly loved, it is one of the most frequent uses of adversity. It came to Clennam in his adversity, strongly and tenderly. 'When I first gathered myself together,' he thought, 'and set something like purpose before my jaded eyes, whom had I before me, toiling on, for a good object's sake, without encouragement, without notice, against ignoble obstacles that would have turned an army of received heroes and heroines? One weak girl! When I tried to conquer my misplaced love, and to be generous to the man who was more fortunate than I, though he should never know it or repay me with a gracious word, in whom had I watched patience, self-denial, self-subdual, charitable construction, the noblest generosity of the affections? In the same poor girl! If I, a man, with a man's advantages and means and energies, had slighted the whisper in my heart, that if my father had erred, it was my first duty to conceal the fault and to repair it, what youthful figure with tender feet going almost bare on the damp ground, with spare hands ever working, with its slight shape but half protected from the sharp weather, would have stood before me to put me to shame? Little Dorrit's.' So always as he sat alone in the faded chair, thinking. Always, Little Dorrit. Until it seemed to him as if he met the reward of having wandered away from her, and suffered anything to pass between him and his remembrance of her virtues.
His door was opened, and the head of the elder Chivery was put in a very little way, without being turned towards him.
'I am off the Lock, Mr Clennam, and going out. Can I do anything for you?'
'Many thanks. Nothing.'
'You'll excuse me opening the door,' said Mr Chivery; 'but I couldn't make you hear.'
'Did you knock?' 'Half-a-dozen times.'
Rousing himself, Clennam observed that the prison had awakened from its noontide doze, that the inmates were loitering about the shady yard, and that it was late in the afternoon. He had been thinking for hours. 'Your things is come,' said Mr Chivery, 'and my son is going to carry 'em up. I should have sent 'em up but for his wishing to carry 'em himself. Indeed he would have 'em himself, and so I couldn't send 'em up. Mr Clennam, could I say a word to you?'
'Pray come in,' said Arthur; for Mr Chivery's head was still put in at the door a very little way, and Mr Chivery had but one ear upon him, instead of both eyes. This was native delicacy in Mr Chivery --true politeness; though his exterior had very much of a turnkey about it, and not the least of a gentleman.
'Thank you, sir,' said Mr Chivery, without advancing; 'it's no odds me coming in. Mr Clennam, don't you take no notice of my son (if you'll be so good) in case you find him cut up anyways difficult.
My son has a 'art, and my son's 'art is in the right place. Me and his mother knows where to find it, and we find it sitiwated correct.'
With this mysterious speech, Mr Chivery took his ear away and shut the door. He might have been gone ten minutes, when his son succeeded him.
'Here's your portmanteau,' he said to Arthur, putting it carefully down.
'It's very kind of you. I am ashamed that you should have the trouble.'
He was gone before it came to that; but soon returned, saying exactly as before, 'Here's your black box:' which he also put down with care.
'I am very sensible of this attention. I hope we may shake hands now, Mr John.'
Young John, however, drew back, turning his right wrist in a socket made of his left thumb and middle-finger and said as he had said at first, 'I don't know as I can. No; I find I can't!' He then stood regarding the prisoner sternly, though with a swelling humour in his eyes that looked like pity.
'Why are you angry with me,' said Clennam, 'and yet so ready to do me these kind services? There must be some mistake between us. If I have done anything to occasion it I am sorry.'
'No mistake, sir,' returned John, turning the wrist backwards and forwards in the socket, for which it was rather tight. 'No mistake, sir, in the feelings with which my eyes behold you at the present moment! If I was at all fairly equal to your weight, Mr Clennam--which I am not; and if you weren't under a cloud--which you are; and if it wasn't against all rules of the Marshalsea-- which it is; those feelings are such, that they would stimulate me, more to having it out with you in a Round on the present spot than to anything else I could name.' Arthur looked at him for a moment in some wonder, and some little anger. 'Well, well!' he said. 'A mistake, a mistake!' Turning away, he sat down with a heavy sigh in the faded chair again.
Young John followed him with his eyes, and, after a short pause, cried out, 'I beg your pardon!'
'Freely granted,' said Clennam, waving his hand without raising his sunken head. 'Say no more. I am not worth it.'
'This furniture, sir,' said Young John in a voice of mild and soft explanation, 'belongs to me. I am in the habit of letting it out to parties without furniture, that have the room. It an't much, but it's at your service. Free, I mean. I could not think of letting you have it on any other terms. You're welcome to it for nothing.'
Arthur raised his head again to thank him, and to say he could not accept the favour. John was still turning his wrist, and still contending with himself in his former divided manner.
'What is the matter between us?' said Arthur.
'I decline to name it, sir,' returned Young John, suddenly turning loud and sharp. 'Nothing's the matter.'
Arthur looked at him again, in vain, for an explanation of his behaviour. After a while, Arthur turned away his head again.
Young John said, presently afterwards, with the utmost mildness:
'The little round table, sir, that's nigh your elbow, was--you know whose--I needn't mention him--he died a great gentleman. I bought it of an individual that he gave it to, and that lived here after him. But the individual wasn't any ways equal to him. Most individuals would find it hard to come up to his level.'
Arthur drew the little table nearer, rested his arm upon it, and kept it there.
'Perhaps you may not be aware, sir,' said Young John, 'that I intruded upon him when he was over here in London. On the whole he was of opinion that it WAS an intrusion, though he was so good as to ask me to sit down and to inquire after father and all other old friends. Leastways humblest acquaintances. He looked, to me, a good deal changed, and I said so when I came back. I asked him if Miss Amy was well--'
'And she was?'
'I should have thought you would have known without putting the question to such as me,' returned Young John, after appearing to take a large invisible pill. 'Since you do put me the question, I am sorry I can't answer it. But the truth is, he looked upon the inquiry as a liberty, and said, "What was that to me?" It was then I became quite aware I was intruding: of which I had been fearful before. However, he spoke very handsome afterwards; very handsome.'
They were both silent for several minutes: except that Young John remarked, at about the middle of the pause, 'He both spoke and acted very handsome.'
It was again Young John who broke the silence by inquiring:
'If it's not a liberty, how long may it be your intentions, sir, to go without eating and drinking?'
'I have not felt the want of anything yet,' returned Clennam. 'I have no appetite just now.'
'The more reason why you should take some support, sir,' urged Young John. 'If you find yourself going on sitting here for hours and hours partaking of no refreshment because you have no appetite, why then you should and must partake of refreshment without an appetite. I'm going to have tea in my own apartment. If it's not a liberty, please to come and take a cup. Or I can bring a tray here in two minutes.'
Feeling that Young John would impose that trouble on himself if he refused, and also feeling anxious to show that he bore in mind both the elder Mr Chivery's entreaty, and the younger Mr Chivery's apology, Arthur rose and expressed his willingness to take a cup of tea in Mr john's apartment. Young John locked his door for him as they went out, slided the key into his pocket with great dexterity, and led the way to his own residence.
It was at the top of the house nearest to the gateway. It was the room to which Clennam had hurried on the day when the enriched family had left the prison for ever, and where he had lifted her insensible from the floor. He foresaw where they were going as soon as their feet touched the staircase. The room was so far changed that it was papered now, and had been repainted, and was far more comfortably furnished; but he could recall it just as he had seen it in that single glance, when he raised her from the ground and carried her down to the carriage.
Young John looked hard at him, biting his fingers.
'I see you recollect the room, Mr Clennam?' 'I recollect it well, Heaven bless her!'
Oblivious of the tea, Young John continued to bite his fingers and to look at his visitor, as long as his visitor continued to glance about the room. Finally, he made a start at the teapot, gustily rattled a quantity of tea into it from a canister, and set off for the common kitchen to fill it with hot water.
The room was so eloquent to Clennam in the changed circumstances of his return to the miserable Marshalsea; it spoke to him so mournfully of her, and of his loss of her; that it would have gone hard with him to resist it, even though he had not been alone.
Alone, he did not try. He had his hand on the insensible wall as tenderly as if it had been herself that he touched, and pronounced her name in a low voice. He stood at the window, looking over the prison-parapet with its grim spiked border, and breathed a benediction through the summer haze towards the distant land where she was rich and prosperous.
Young John was some time absent, and, when he came back, showed that he had been outside by bringing with him fresh butter in a cabbage leaf, some thin slices of boiled ham in another cabbage leaf, and a little basket of water-cresses and salad herbs. When these were arranged upon the table to his satisfaction, they sat down to tea.
Clennam tried to do honour to the meal, but unavailingly. The ham sickened him, the bread seemed to turn to sand in his mouth. He could force nothing upon himself but a cup of tea.
'Try a little something green,' said Young John, handing him the basket.
He took a sprig or so of water-cress, and tried again; but the bread turned to a heavier sand than before, and the ham (though it was good enough of itself) seemed to blow a faint simoom of ham through the whole Marshalsea.
'Try a little more something green, sir,' said Young John; and again handed the basket.
It was so like handing green meat into the cage of a dull imprisoned bird, and John had so evidently brought the little basket as a handful of fresh relief from the stale hot paving- stones and bricks of the jail, that Clennam said, with a smile, 'It was very kind of you to think of putting this between the wires; but I cannot even get this down to-day.'
As if the difficulty were contagious, Young John soon pushed away his own plate, and fell to folding the cabbage-leaf that had contained the ham. When he had folded it into a number of layers, one over another, so that it was small in the palm of his hand, he began to flatten it between both his hands, and to eye Clennam attentively. 'I wonder,' he at length said, compressing his green packet with some force, 'that if it's not worth your while to take care of yourself for your own sake, it's not worth doing for some one else's.'
'Truly,' returned Arthur, with a sigh and a smile, 'I don't know for whose.'
'Mr Clennam,' said John, warmly, 'I am surprised that a gentleman who is capable of the straightforwardness that you are capable of, should be capable of the mean action of making me such an answer.
Mr Clennam, I am surprised that a gentleman who is capable of having a heart of his own, should be capable of the heartlessness of treating mine in that way. I am astonished at it, sir. Really and truly I am astonished!'
Having got upon his feet to emphasise his concluding words, Young John sat down again, and fell to rolling his green packet on his right leg; never taking his eyes off Clennam, but surveying him with a fixed look of indignant reproach.
'I had got over it, sir,' said John. 'I had conquered it, knowing that it must be conquered, and had come to the resolution to think no more about it. I shouldn't have given my mind to it again, I hope, if to this prison you had not been brought, and in an hour unfortunate for me, this day!' (In his agitation Young John adopted his mother's powerful construction of sentences.) 'When you first came upon me, sir, in the Lodge, this day, more as if a Upas tree had been made a capture of than a private defendant, such mingled streams of feelings broke loose again within me, that everything was for the first few minutes swept away before them, and I was going round and round in a vortex. I got out of it. I struggled, and got out of it. If it was the last word I had to speak, against that vortex with my utmost powers I strove, and out of it I came. I argued that if I had been rude, apologies was due, and those apologies without a question of demeaning, I did make.
And now, when I've been so wishful to show that one thought is next to being a holy one with me and goes before all others--now, after all, you dodge me when I ever so gently hint at it, and throw me back upon myself. For, do not, sir,' said Young John, 'do not be so base as to deny that dodge you do, and thrown me back upon myself you have!'
All amazement, Arthur gazed at him like one lost, only saying, 'What is it? What do you mean, John?' But, John, being in that state of mind in which nothing would seem to be more impossible to a certain class of people than the giving of an answer, went ahead blindly.
'I hadn't,' John declared, 'no, I hadn't, and I never had the audaciousness to think, I am sure, that all was anything but lost.
I hadn't, no, why should I say I hadn't if I ever had, any hope that it was possible to be so blest, not after the words that passed, not even if barriers insurmountable had not been raised!
But is that a reason why I am to have no memory, why I am to have no thoughts, why I am to have no sacred spots, nor anything?'
'What can you mean?' cried Arthur.
'It's all very well to trample on it, sir,' John went on, scouring a very prairie of wild words, 'if a person can make up his mind to be guilty of the action. It's all very well to trample on it, but it's there. It may be that it couldn't be trampled upon if it wasn't there. But that doesn't make it gentlemanly, that doesn't make it honourable, that doesn't justify throwing a person back upon himself after he has struggled and strived out of himself like a butterfly. The world may sneer at a turnkey, but he's a man-- when he isn't a woman, which among female criminals he's expected to be.'
Ridiculous as the incoherence of his talk was, there was yet a truthfulness in Young john's simple, sentimental character, and a sense of being wounded in some very tender respect, expressed in his burning face and in the agitation of his voice and manner, which Arthur must have been cruel to disregard. He turned his thoughts back to the starting-point of this unknown injury; and in the meantime Young John, having rolled his green packet pretty round, cut it carefully into three pieces, and laid it on a plate as if it were some particular delicacy.
'It seems to me just possible,' said Arthur, when he had retraced the conversation to the water-cresses and back again, 'that you have made some reference to Miss Dorrit.'
'It is just possible, sir,' returned John Chivery.
'I don't understand it. I hope I may not be so unlucky as to make you think I mean to offend you again, for I never have meant to offend you yet, when I say I don't understand it.'
'Sir,' said Young John, 'will you have the perfidy to deny that you know and long have known that I felt towards Miss Dorrit, call it not the presumption of love, but adoration and sacrifice ?'
'Indeed, John, I will not have any perfidy if I know it; why you should suspect me of it I am at a loss to think. Did you ever hear from Mrs Chivery, your mother, that I went to see her once?'
'No, sir,' returned John, shortly. 'Never heard of such a thing.'
'But I did. Can you imagine why?'
'No, sir,' returned John, shortly. 'I can't imagine why.'
'I will tell you. I was solicitous to promote Miss Dorrit's happiness; and if I could have supposed that Miss Dorrit returned your affection--'
Poor John Chivery turned crimson to the tips of his ears. 'Miss Dorrit never did, sir. I wish to be honourable and true, so far as in my humble way I can, and I would scorn to pretend for a moment that she ever did, or that she ever led me to believe she did; no, nor even that it was ever to be expected in any cool reason that she would or could. She was far above me in all respects at all times. As likewise,' added John, 'similarly was her gen-teel family.' His chivalrous feeling towards all that belonged to her made him so very respectable, in spite of his small stature and his rather weak legs, and his very weak hair, and his poetical temperament, that a Goliath might have sat in his place demanding less consideration at Arthur's hands.
'You speak, john,' he said, with cordial admiration, 'like a Man.'
'Well, sir,' returned John, brushing his hand across his eyes,
'then I wish you'd do the same.'
He was quick with this unexpected retort, and it again made Arthur regard him with a wondering expression of face.
'Leastways,' said John, stretching his hand across the tea-tray, 'if too strong a remark, withdrawn! But, why not, why not? When I say to you, Mr Clennam, take care of yourself for some one else's sake, why not be open, though a turnkey? Why did I get you the room which I knew you'd like best? Why did I carry up your things?
Not that I found 'em heavy; I don't mention 'em on that accounts; far from it. Why have I cultivated you in the manner I have done since the morning? On the ground of your own merits? No. They're very great, I've no doubt at all; but not on the ground of them.
Another's merits have had their weight, and have had far more weight with Me. Then why not speak free?'
'Unaffectedly, John,' said Clennam, 'you are so good a fellow and I have so true a respect for your character, that if I have appeared to be less sensible than I really am of the fact that the kind services you have rendered me to-day are attributable to my having been trusted by Miss Dorrit as her friend--I confess it to be a fault, and I ask your forgiveness.'
'Oh! why not,' John repeated with returning scorn, 'why not speak free!'
'I declare to you,' returned Arthur, 'that I do not understand you.
Look at me. Consider the trouble I have been in. Is it likely that I would wilfully add to my other self-reproaches, that of being ungrateful or treacherous to you. I do not understand you.'
john's incredulous face slowly softened into a face of doubt. He rose, backed into the garret-window of the room, beckoned Arthur to come there, and stood looking at him thoughtfully. 'Mr Clennam, do you mean to say that you don't know?'
'Lord,' said Young John, appealing with a gasp to the spikes on the wall. 'He says, What!'
Clennam looked at the spikes, and looked at John; and looked at the spikes, and looked at John.
'He says What! And what is more,' exclaimed Young John, surveying him in a doleful maze, 'he appears to mean it! Do you see this window, sir?'
'Of course I see this window.'
'See this room?'
'Why, of course I see this room.'
'That wall opposite, and that yard down below? They have all been witnesses of it, from day to day, from night to night, from week to week, from month to month. For how often have I seen Miss Dorrit here when she has not seen me!'
'Witnesses of what?' said Clennam.
'Of Miss Dorrit's love.'
'You,' said John. And touched him with the back of his hand upon the breast, and backed to his chair, and sat down on it with a pale face, holding the arms, and shaking his head at him.
If he had dealt Clennam a heavy blow, instead of laying that light touch upon him, its effect could not have been to shake him more.
He stood amazed; his eyes looking at John; his lips parted, and seeming now and then to form the word 'Me!' without uttering it; his hands dropped at his sides; his whole appearance that of a man who has been awakened from sleep, and stupefied by intelligence beyond his full comprehension.
'Me!' he at length said aloud.
'Ah!' groaned Young John. 'You!'
He did what he could to muster a smile, and returned, 'Your fancy.
You are completely mistaken.'
'I mistaken, sir!' said Young John. '_I_ completely mistaken on that subject! No, Mr Clennam, don't tell me so. On any other, if you like, for I don't set up to be a penetrating character, and am well aware of my own deficiencies. But, _I_ mistaken on a point that has caused me more smart in my breast than a flight of savages' arrows could have done! _I_ mistaken on a point that almost sent me into my grave, as I sometimes wished it would, if the grave could only have been made compatible with the tobacco- business and father and mother's feelings! I mistaken on a point that, even at the present moment, makes me take out my pocket- handkercher like a great girl, as people say: though I am sure I don't know why a great girl should be a term of reproach, for every rightly constituted male mind loves 'em great and small. Don't tell me so, don't tell me so!'
Still highly respectable at bottom, though absurd enough upon the surface, Young John took out his pocket-handkerchief with a genuine absence both of display and concealment, which is only to be seen in a man with a great deal of good in him, when he takes out his pocket-handkerchief for the purpose of wiping his eyes. Having dried them, and indulged in the harmless luxury of a sob and a sniff, he put it up again.
The touch was still in its influence so like a blow that Arthur could not get many words together to close the subject with. He assured John Chivery when he had returned his handkerchief to his pocket, that he did all honour to his disinterestedness and to the fidelity of his remembrance of Miss Dorrit. As to the impression on his mind, of which he had just relieved it--here John interposed, and said, 'No impression! Certainty!'--as to that, they might perhaps speak of it at another time, but would say no more now. Feeling low-spirited and weary, he would go back to his room, with john's leave, and come out no more that night. John assented, and he crept back in the shadow of the wall to his own lodging.
The feeling of the blow was still so strong upon him that, when the dirty old woman was gone whom he found sitting on the stairs outside his door, waiting to make his bed, and who gave him to understand while doing it, that she had received her instructions from Mr Chivery, 'not the old 'un but the young 'un,' he sat down in the faded arm-chair, pressing his head between his hands, as if he had been stunned. Little Dorrit love him! More bewildering to him than his misery, far.
Consider the improbability. He had been accustomed to call her his child, and his dear child, and to invite her confidence by dwelling upon the difference in their respective ages, and to speak of himself as one who was turning old. Yet she might not have thought him old. Something reminded him that he had not thought himself so, until the roses had floated away upon the river.
He had her two letters among other papers in his box, and he took them out and read them. There seemed to be a sound in them like the sound of her sweet voice. It fell upon his ear with many tones of tenderness, that were not insusceptible of the new meaning. Now it was that the quiet desolation of her answer,'No, No, No,' made to him that night in that very room--that night when he had been shown the dawn of her altered fortune, and when other words had passed between them which he had been destined to remember in humiliation and a prisoner, rushed into his mind.
Consider the improbability.
But it had a preponderating tendency, when considered, to become fainter. There was another and a curious inquiry of his own heart's that concurrently became stronger. In the reluctance he had felt to believe that she loved any one; in his desire to set that question at rest; in a half-formed consciousness he had had that there would be a kind of nobleness in his helping her love for any one, was there no suppressed something on his own side that he had hushed as it arose? Had he ever whispered to himself that he must not think of such a thing as her loving him, that he must not take advantage of her gratitude, that he must keep his experience in remembrance as a warning and reproof; that he must regard such youthful hopes as having passed away, as his friend's dead daughter had passed away; that he must be steady in saying to himself that the time had gone by him, and he was too saddened and old?
He had kissed her when he raised her from the ground on the day when she had been so consistently and expressively forgotten.
Quite as he might have kissed her, if she had been conscious? No difference?
The darkness found him occupied with these thoughts. The darkness also found Mr and Mrs Plornish knocking at his door. They brought with them a basket, filled with choice selections from that stock in trade which met with such a quick sale and produced such a slow return. Mrs Plornish was affected to tears. Mr Plornish amiably growled, in his philosophical but not lucid manner, that there was ups you see, and there was downs. It was in vain to ask why ups, why downs; there they was, you know. He had heerd it given for a truth that accordin' as the world went round, which round it did rewolve undoubted, even the best of gentlemen must take his turn of standing with his ed upside down and all his air a flying the wrong way into what you might call Space. Wery well then. What Mr Plornish said was, wery well then. That gentleman's ed would come up-ards when his turn come, that gentleman's air would be a pleasure to look upon being all smooth again, and wery well then!
It has been already stated that Mrs Plornish, not being philosophical, wept. It further happened that Mrs Plornish, not being philosophical, was intelligible. It may have arisen out of her softened state of mind, out of her sex's wit, out of a woman's quick association of ideas, or out of a woman's no association of ideas, but it further happened somehow that Mrs Plornish's intelligibility displayed itself upon the very subject of Arthur's meditations.
'The way father has been talking about you, Mr Clennam,' said Mrs Plornish, 'you hardly would believe. It's made him quite poorly.
As to his voice, this misfortune has took it away. You know what a sweet singer father is; but he couldn't get a note out for the children at tea, if you'll credit what I tell you.'
While speaking, Mrs Plornish shook her head, and wiped her eyes, and looked retrospectively about the room.
'As to Mr Baptist,' pursued Mrs Plornish, 'whatever he'll do when he comes to know of it, I can't conceive nor yet imagine. He'd have been here before now, you may be sure, but that he's away on confidential business of your own. The persevering manner in which he follows up that business, and gives himself no rest from it--it really do,' said Mrs Plornish, winding up in the Italian manner, 'as I say to him, Mooshattonisha padrona.'
Though not conceited, Mrs Plornish felt that she had turned this Tuscan sentence with peculiar elegance. Mr Plornish could not conceal his exultation in her accomplishments as a linguist.
'But what I say is, Mr Clennam,' the good woman went on, 'there's always something to be thankful for, as I am sure you will yourself admit. Speaking in this room, it's not hard to think what the present something is. It's a thing to be thankful for, indeed, that Miss Dorrit is not here to know it.'
Arthur thought she looked at him with particular expression.
'It's a thing,' reiterated Mrs Plornish, 'to be thankful for, indeed, that Miss Dorrit is far away. It's to be hoped she is not likely to hear of it. If she had been here to see it, sir, it's not to be doubted that the sight of you,' Mrs Plornish repeated those words--'not to be doubted, that the sight of you--in misfortune and trouble, would have been almost too much for her affectionate heart. There's nothing I can think of, that would have touched Miss Dorrit so bad as that.'
Of a certainty Mrs Plornish did look at him now, with a sort of quivering defiance in her friendly emotion.
'Yes!' said she. 'And it shows what notice father takes, though at his time of life, that he says to me this afternoon, which Happy Cottage knows I neither make it up nor any ways enlarge, "Mary, it's much to be rejoiced in that Miss Dorrit is not on the spot to behold it." Those were father's words. Father's own words was, "Much to be rejoiced in, Mary, that Miss Dorrit is not on the spot to behold it." I says to father then, I says to him, "Father, you are right!" That,' Mrs Plornish concluded, with the air of a very precise legal witness, 'is what passed betwixt father and me. And I tell you nothing but what did pass betwixt me and father.'
Mr Plornish, as being of a more laconic temperament, embraced this opportunity of interposing with the suggestion that she should now leave Mr Clennam to himself. 'For, you see,' said Mr Plornish, gravely, 'I know what it is, old gal;' repeating that valuable remark several times, as if it appeared to him to include some great moral secret. Finally, the worthy couple went away arm in arm.
Little Dorrit, Little Dorrit. Again, for hours. Always Little Dorrit!
Happily, if it ever had been so, it was over, and better over.
Granted that she had loved him, and he had known it and had suffered himself to love her, what a road to have led her away upon--the road that would have brought her back to this miserable place! He ought to be much comforted by the reflection that she was quit of it forever; that she was, or would soon be, married (vague rumours of her father's projects in that direction had reached Bleeding Heart Yard, with the news of her sister's marriage); and that the Marshalsea gate had shut for ever on all those perplexed possibilities of a time that was gone.
Dear Little Dorrit.
Looking back upon his own poor story, she was its vanishing-point.
Every thing in its perspective led to her innocent figure. He had travelled thousands of miles towards it; previous unquiet hopes and doubts had worked themselves out before it; it was the centre of the interest of his life; it was the termination of everything that was good and pleasant in it; beyond, there was nothing but mere waste and darkened sky.
As ill at ease as on the first night of his lying down to sleep within those dreary walls, he wore the night out with such thoughts. What time Young John lay wrapt in peaceful slumber, after composing and arranging the following monumental inscription on his pillow--
RESPECT THE TOMB OF
JOHN CHIVERY, JUNIOR,
WHO DIED AT AN ADVANCED AGE
NOT NECESSARY TO MENTION.
HE ENCOUNTERED HIS RIVAL IN A DISTRESSED STATE,
AND FELT INCLINED
TO HAVE A ROUND WITH HIM;
BUT, FOR THE SAKE OF THE LOVED ONE, CONQUERED THOSE FEELINGS
OF BITTERNESS, AND BECAME
An Appearance in the Marshalsea
The opinion of the community outside the prison gates bore hard on Clennam as time went on, and he made no friends among the community within. Too depressed to associate with the herd in the yard, who got together to forget their cares; too retiring and too unhappy to join in the poor socialities of the tavern; he kept his own room, and was held in distrust. Some said he was proud; some objected that he was sullen and reserved; some were contemptuous of him, for that he was a poor-spirited dog who pined under his debts. The whole population were shy of him on these various counts of indictment, but especially the last, which involved a species of domestic treason; and he soon became so confirmed in his seclusion, that his only time for walking up and down was when the evening Club were assembled at their songs and toasts and sentiments, and when the yard was nearly left to the women and children.
Imprisonment began to tell upon him. He knew that he idled and moped. After what he had known of the influences of imprisonment within the four small walls of the very room he occupied, this consciousness made him afraid of himself. Shrinking from the observation of other men, and shrinking from his own, he began to change very sensibly. Anybody might see that the shadow of the wall was dark upon him.
One day when he might have been some ten or twelve weeks in jail, and when he had been trying to read and had not been able to release even the imaginary people of the book from the Marshalsea, a footstep stopped at his door, and a hand tapped at it. He arose and opened it, and an agreeable voice accosted him with 'How do you do, Mr Clennam? I hope I am not unwelcome in calling to see you.'
It was the sprightly young Barnacle, Ferdinand. He looked very good-natured and prepossessing, though overpoweringly gay and free, in contrast with the squalid prison.
'You are surprised to see me, Mr Clennam,' he said, taking the seat which Clennam offered him.
'I must confess to being much surprised.'
'Not disagreeably, I hope?'
'By no means.'
'Thank you. Frankly,' said the engaging young Barnacle, 'I have been excessively sorry to hear that you were under the necessity of a temporary retirement here, and I hope (of course as between two private gentlemen) that our place has had nothing to do with it?'
'Our Circumlocution place.'
'I cannot charge any part of my reverses upon that remarkable establishment.'
Upon my life,' said the vivacious young Barnacle, 'I am heartily glad to know it. It is quite a relief to me to hear you say it.
I should have so exceedingly regretted our place having had anything to do with your difficulties.'
Clennam again assured him that he absolved it of the responsibility.
'That's right,' said Ferdinand. 'I am very happy to hear it. I was rather afraid in my own mind that we might have helped to floor you, because there is no doubt that it is our misfortune to do that kind of thing now and then. We don't want to do it; but if men will be gravelled, why--we can't help it.'
'Without giving an unqualified assent to what you say,' returned Arthur, gloomily, 'I am much obliged to you for your interest in me.'
'No, but really! Our place is,' said the easy young Barnacle, 'the most inoffensive place possible. You'll say we are a humbug. I won't say we are not; but all that sort of thing is intended to be, and must be. Don't you see?'
'I do not,' said Clennam.
'You don't regard it from the right point of view. It is the point of view that is the essential thing. Regard our place from the point of view that we only ask you to leave us alone, and we are as capital a Department as you'll find anywhere.'
'Is your place there to be left alone?' asked Clennam.
'You exactly hit it,' returned Ferdinand. 'It is there with the express intention that everything shall be left alone. That is what it means. That is what it's for. No doubt there's a certain form to be kept up that it's for something else, but it's only a form. Why, good Heaven, we are nothing but forms! Think what a lot of our forms you have gone through. And you have never got any nearer to an end?'
'Never,' said Clennam.
'Look at it from the right point of view, and there you have us-- official and effectual. It's like a limited game of cricket. A field of outsiders are always going in to bowl at the Public Service, and we block the balls.'
Clennam asked what became of the bowlers? The airy young Barnacle replied that they grew tired, got dead beat, got lamed, got their backs broken, died off, gave it up, went in for other games.
'And this occasions me to congratulate myself again,' he pursued, 'on the circumstance that our place has had nothing to do with your temporary retirement. It very easily might have had a hand in it; because it is undeniable that we are sometimes a most unlucky place, in our effects upon people who will not leave us alone. Mr Clennam, I am quite unreserved with you. As between yourself and myself, I know I may be. I was so, when I first saw you making the mistake of not leaving us alone; because I perceived that you were inexperienced and sanguine, and had--I hope you'll not object to my saying--some simplicity.'
'Not at all.'
'Some simplicity. Therefore I felt what a pity it was, and I went out of my way to hint to you (which really was not official, but I never am official when I can help it) something to the effect that if I were you, I wouldn't bother myself. However, you did bother yourself, and you have since bothered yourself. Now, don't do it any more.'
'I am not likely to have the opportunity,' said Clennam.
'Oh yes, you are! You'll leave here. Everybody leaves here.
There are no ends of ways of leaving here. Now, don't come back to us. That entreaty is the second object of my call. Pray, don't come back to us. Upon my honour,' said Ferdinand in a very friendly and confiding way, 'I shall be greatly vexed if you don't take warning by the past and keep away from us.'
'And the invention?' said Clennam.
'My good fellow,' returned Ferdinand, 'if you'll excuse the freedom of that form of address, nobody wants to know of the invention, and nobody cares twopence-halfpenny about it.'
'Nobody in the Office, that is to say?'
'Nor out of it. Everybody is ready to dislike and ridicule any invention. You have no idea how many people want to be left alone.
You have no idea how the Genius of the country (overlook the Parliamentary nature of the phrase, and don't be bored by it) tends to being left alone. Believe me, Mr Clennam,' said the sprightly young Barnacle in his pleasantest manner, 'our place is not a wicked Giant to be charged at full tilt; but only a windmill showing you, as it grinds immense quantities of chaff, which way the country wind blows.'
'If I could believe that,' said Clennam, 'it would be a dismal prospect for all of us.'
'Oh! Don't say so!' returned Ferdinand. 'It's all right. We must have humbug, we all like humbug, we couldn't get on without humbug.
A little humbug, and a groove, and everything goes on admirably, if you leave it alone.'
With this hopeful confession of his faith as the head of the rising Barnacles who were born of woman, to be followed under a variety of watchwords which they utterly repudiated and disbelieved, Ferdinand rose. Nothing could be more agreeable than his frank and courteous bearing, or adapted with a more gentlemanly instinct to the circumstances of his visit.
'Is it fair to ask,' he said, as Clennam gave him his hand with a real feeling of thankfulness for his candour and good-humour, 'whether it is true that our late lamented Merdle is the cause of this passing inconvenience?'
'I am one of the many he has ruined. Yes.'
'He must have been an exceedingly clever fellow,' said Ferdinand Barnacle.
Arthur, not being in the mood to extol the memory of the deceased, was silent.
'A consummate rascal, of course,' said Ferdinand, 'but remarkably clever! One cannot help admiring the fellow. Must have been such a master of humbug. Knew people so well--got over them so completely--did so much with them!' In his easy way, he was really moved to genuine admiration.
'I hope,' said Arthur, 'that he and his dupes may be a warning to people not to have so much done with them again.'
'My dear Mr Clennam,' returned Ferdinand, laughing, 'have you really such a verdant hope? The next man who has as large a capacity and as genuine a taste for swindling, will succeed as well. Pardon me, but I think you really have no idea how the human bees will swarm to the beating of any old tin kettle; in that fact lies the complete manual of governing them. When they can be got to believe that the kettle is made of the precious metals, in that fact lies the whole power of men like our late lamented. No doubt there are here and there,' said Ferdinand politely, 'exceptional cases, where people have been taken in for what appeared to them to be much better reasons; and I need not go far to find such a case; but they don't invalidate the rule. Good day! I hope that when I have the pleasure of seeing you, next, this passing cloud will have given place to sunshine. Don't come a step beyond the door. I know the way out perfectly. Good day!'
With those words, the best and brightest of the Barnacles went down-stairs, hummed his way through the Lodge, mounted his horse in the front court-yard, and rode off to keep an appointment with his noble kinsman, who wanted a little coaching before he could triumphantly answer certain infidel Snobs who were going to question the Nobs about their statesmanship.
He must have passed Mr Rugg on his way out, for, a minute or two afterwards, that ruddy-headed gentleman shone in at the door, like an elderly Phoebus.
'How do you do to-day, sir?' said Mr Rugg. 'Is there any little thing I can do for you to-day, sir?'
'No, I thank you.'
Mr Rugg's enjoyment of embarrassed affairs was like a housekeeper's enjoyment in pickling and preserving, or a washerwoman's enjoyment of a heavy wash, or a dustman's enjoyment of an overflowing dust- bin, or any other professional enjoyment of a mess in the way of business.
'I still look round, from time to time, sir,' said Mr Rugg, cheerfully, 'to see whether any lingering Detainers are accumulating at the gate. They have fallen in pretty thick, sir; as thick as we could have expected.'
He remarked upon the circumstance as if it were matter of congratulation: rubbing his hands briskly, and rolling his head a little.
'As thick,' repeated Mr Rugg, 'as we could reasonably have expected. Quite a shower-bath of 'em. I don't often intrude upon you now, when I look round, because I know you are not inclined for company, and that if you wished to see me, you would leave word in the Lodge. But I am here pretty well every day, sir. Would this be an unseasonable time, sir,' asked Mr Rugg, coaxingly, 'for me to offer an observation?'
'As seasonable a time as any other.'
'Hum! Public opinion, sir,' said Mr Rugg, 'has been busy with you.'
'I don't doubt it.'
'Might it not be advisable, sir,' said Mr Rugg, more coaxingly yet, 'now to make, at last and after all, a trifling concession to public opinion? We all do it in one way or another. The fact is, we must do it.'
'I cannot set myself right with it, Mr Rugg, and have no business to expect that I ever shall.'
'Don't say that, sir, don't say that. The cost of being moved to the Bench is almost insignificant, and if the general feeling is strong that you ought to be there, why--really--'
'I thought you had settled, Mr Rugg,' said Arthur, 'that my determination to remain here was a matter of taste.'
'Well, sir, well! But is it good taste, is it good taste? That's the Question.' Mr Rugg was so soothingly persuasive as to be quite pathetic. 'I was almost going to say, is it good feeling? This is an extensive affair of yours; and your remaining here where a man can come for a pound or two, is remarked upon as not in keeping.
It is not in keeping. I can't tell you, sir, in how many quarters I heard it mentioned. I heard comments made upon it last night in a Parlour frequented by what I should call, if I did not look in there now and then myself, the best legal company--I heard, there, comments on it that I was sorry to hear. They hurt me on your account. Again, only this morning at breakfast. My daughter (but a woman, you'll say: yet still with a feeling for these things, and even with some little personal experience, as the plaintiff in Rugg and Bawkins) was expressing her great surprise; her great surprise.
Now under these circumstances, and considering that none of us can quite set ourselves above public opinion, wouldn't a trifling concession to that opinion be-- Come, sir,' said Rugg, 'I will put it on the lowest ground of argument, and say, amiable?'
Arthur's thoughts had once more wandered away to Little Dorrit, and the question remained unanswered.
'As to myself, sir,' said Mr Rugg, hoping that his eloquence had reduced him to a state of indecision, 'it is a principle of mine not to consider myself when a client's inclinations are in the scale. But, knowing your considerate character and general wish to oblige, I will repeat that I should prefer your being in the Bench.
Your case has made a noise; it is a creditable case to be professionally concerned in; I should feel on a better standing with my connection, if you went to the Bench. Don't let that influence you, sir. I merely state the fact.'
So errant had the prisoner's attention already grown in solitude and dejection, and so accustomed had it become to commune with only one silent figure within the ever-frowning walls, that Clennam had to shake off a kind of stupor before he could look at Mr Rugg, recall the thread of his talk, and hurriedly say, 'I am unchanged, and unchangeable, in my decision. Pray, let it be; let it be!' Mr Rugg, without concealing that he was nettled and mortified, replied:
'Oh! Beyond a doubt, sir. I have travelled out of the record, sir, I am aware, in putting the point to you. But really, when I herd it remarked in several companies, and in very good company, that however worthy of a foreigner, it is not worthy of the spirit of an Englishman to remain in the Marshalsea when the glorious liberties of his island home admit of his removal to the Bench, I thought I would depart from the narrow professional line marked out to me, and mention it. Personally,' said Mr Rugg, 'I have no opinion on the topic.'
'That's well,' returned Arthur.
'Oh! None at all, sir!' said Mr Rugg. 'If I had, I should have been
unwilling, some minutes ago, to see a client of mine visited in this place by a gentleman of a high family riding a saddle-horse.
But it was not my business. If I had, I might have wished to be now empowered to mention to another gentleman, a gentleman of military
exterior at present waiting in the Lodge, that my client had never intended to remain here, and was on the eve of removal to a superior abode. But my course as a professional machine is clear; I have nothing to do with it. Is it your good pleasure to see the gentleman, sir?'
'Who is waiting to see me, did you say?'
'I did take that unprofessional liberty, sir. Hearing that I was your professional adviser, he declined to interpose before my very limited function was performed. Happily,' said Mr Rugg, with sarcasm, 'I did not so far travel out of the record as to ask the gentleman for his name.'
'I suppose I have no resource but to see him,' sighed Clennam, wearily.
'Then it IS your good pleasure, sir?' retorted Rugg. 'Am I honoured by your instructions to mention as much to the gentleman, as I pass out? I am? Thank you, sir. I take my leave.' His leave he took accordingly, in dudgeon.
The gentleman of military exterior had so imperfectly awakened Clennam's curiosity, in the existing state of his mind, that a half-forgetfulness of such a visitor's having been referred to, was already creeping over it as a part of the sombre veil which almost always dimmed it now, when a heavy footstep on the stairs aroused him. It appeared to ascend them, not very promptly or spontaneously, yet with a display of stride and clatter meant to be insulting. As it paused for a moment on the landing outside his door, he could not recall his association with the peculiarity of its sound, though he thought he had one. Only a moment was given him for consideration. His door was immediately swung open by a thump, and in the doorway stood the missing Blandois, the cause of many anxieties.
'Salve, fellow jail-bird !' said he. 'You want me, it seems. Here I am!'
Before Arthur could speak to him in his indignant wonder, Cavalletto followed him into the room. Mr Pancks followed Cavalletto. Neither of the two had been there since its present occupant had had possession of it. Mr Pancks, breathing hard, sidled near the window, put his hat on the ground, stirred his hair up with both hands, and folded his arms, like a man who had come to a pause in a hard day's work. Mr Baptist, never taking his eyes from his dreaded chum of old, softly sat down on the floor with his back against the door and one of his ankles in each hand: resuming the attitude (except that it was now expressive of unwinking watchfulness) in which he had sat before the same man in the deeper shade of another prison, one hot morning at Marseilles. 'I have it on the witnessing of these two madmen,' said Monsieur Blandois, otherwise Lagnier, otherwise Rigaud, 'that you want me, brother-bird. Here I am!' Glancing round contemptuously at the bedstead, which was turned up by day, he leaned his back against it as a resting-place, without removing his hat from his head, and stood defiantly lounging with his hands in his pockets.
'You villain of ill-omen!' said Arthur. 'You have purposely cast a dreadful suspicion upon my mother's house. Why have you done it?
What prompted you to the devilish invention?'
Monsieur Rigaud, after frowning at him for a moment, laughed.
'Hear this noble gentleman! Listen, all the world, to this creature of Virtue! But take care, take care. It is possible, my friend, that your ardour is a little compromising. Holy Blue! It is possible.'
'Signore!' interposed Cavalletto, also addressing Arthur: 'for to commence, hear me! I received your instructions to find him, Rigaud; is it not?'
'It is the truth.'
'I go, consequentementally,'--it would have given Mrs Plornish great concern if she could have been persuaded that his occasional lengthening of an adverb in this way, was the chief fault of his English,--'first among my countrymen. I ask them what news in Londra, of foreigners arrived. Then I go among the French. Then I go among the Germans. They all tell me. The great part of us know well the other, and they all tell me. But!--no person can tell me nothing of him, Rigaud. Fifteen times,' said Cavalletto, thrice throwing out his left hand with all its fingers spread, and doing it so rapidly that the sense of sight could hardly follow the action, 'I ask of him in every place where go the foreigners; and fifteen times,' repeating the same swift performance, 'they know nothing. But!--' At this significant Italian rest on the word 'But,' his backhanded shake of his right forefinger came into play; a very little, and very cautiously.
'But!--After a long time when I have not been able to find that he is here in Londra, some one tells me of a soldier with white hair-- hey?--not hair like this that he carries--white--who lives retired secrettementally, in a certain place. But!--' with another rest upon the word, 'who sometimes in the after-dinner, walks, and smokes. It is necessary, as they say in Italy (and as they know, poor people), to have patience. I have patience. I ask where is this certain place. One. believes it is here, one believes it is there. Eh well! It is not here, it is not there. I wait patientissamentally. At last I find it. Then I watch; then I hide, until he walks and smokes. He is a soldier with grey hair-- But!--' a very decided rest indeed, and a very vigorous play from side to side of the back-handed forefinger--'he is also this man that you see.'
It was noticeable, that, in his old habit of submission to one who had been at the trouble of asserting superiority over him, he even then bestowed upon Rigaud a confused bend of his head, after thus pointing him out.
'Eh well, Signore!' he cried in conclusion, addressing Arthur again. 'I waited for a good opportunity. I writed some words to Signor Panco,' an air of novelty came over Mr Pancks with this designation, 'to come and help. I showed him, Rigaud, at his window, to Signor Panco, who was often the spy in the day. I slept at night near the door of the house. At last we entered, only this to-day, and now you see him! As he would not come up in presence of the illustrious Advocate,' such was Mr Baptist's honourable mention of Mr Rugg, 'we waited down below there, together, and Signor Panco guarded the street.'
At the close of this recital, Arthur turned his eyes upon the impudent and wicked face. As it met his, the nose came down over the moustache and the moustache went up under the nose. When nose and moustache had settled into their places again, Monsieur Rigaud loudly snapped his fingers half-a-dozen times; bending forward to jerk the snaps at Arthur, as if they were palpable missiles which he jerked into his face.
'Now, Philosopher!' said Rigaud.'What do you want with me?'
'I want to know,' returned Arthur, without disguising his abhorrence, 'how you dare direct a suspicion of murder against my mother's house?'
'Dare!' cried Rigaud. 'Ho, ho! Hear him! Dare? Is it dare? By Heaven, my small boy, but you are a little imprudent!'
'I want that suspicion to be cleared away,' said Arthur. 'You shall be taken there, and be publicly seen. I want to know, moreover, what business you had there when I had a burning desire to fling you down-stairs. Don't frown at me, man! I have seen enough of you to know that you are a bully and coward. I need no revival of my spirits from the effects of this wretched place to tell you so plain a fact, and one that you know so well.'
White to the lips, Rigaud stroked his moustache, muttering, 'By Heaven, my small boy, but you are a little compromising of my lady, your respectable mother'--and seemed for a minute undecided how to act. His indecision was soon gone. He sat himself down with a threatening swagger, and said:
'Give me a bottle of wine. You can buy wine here. Send one of your madmen to get me a bottle of wine. I won't talk to you without wine. Come! Yes or no?'
'Fetch him what he wants, Cavalletto,' said Arthur, scornfully, producing the money.
'Contraband beast,' added Rigaud, 'bring Port wine! I'll drink nothing but Porto-Porto.'
The contraband beast, however, assuring all present, with his significant finger, that he peremptorily declined to leave his post at the door, Signor Panco offered his services. He soon returned with the bottle of wine: which, according to the custom of the place, originating in a scarcity of corkscrews among the Collegians (in common with a scarcity of much else), was already opened for use.
'Madman! A large glass,' said Rigaud.
Signor Panco put a tumbler before him; not without a visible conflict of feeling on the question of throwing it at his head.
'Haha!' boasted Rigaud. 'Once a gentleman, and always a gentleman.
A gentleman from the beginning, and a gentleman to the end. What the Devil! A gentleman must be waited on, I hope? It's a part of my character to be waited on!'
He half filled the tumbler as he said it, and drank off the contents when he had done saying it.
'Hah!' smacking his lips. 'Not a very old prisoner that! I judge by your looks, brave sir, that imprisonment will subdue your blood much sooner than it softens this hot wine. You are mellowing-- losing body and colour already. I salute you!'
He tossed off another half glass: holding it up both before and afterwards, so as to display his small, white hand.
'To business,' he then continued. 'To conversation. You have shown yourself more free of speech than body, sir.'
'I have used the freedom of telling you what you know yourself to be. You know yourself, as we all know you, to be far worse than that.'
'Add, always a gentleman, and it's no matter. Except in that regard, we are all alike. For example: you couldn't for your life be a gentleman; I couldn't for my life be otherwise. How great the difference! Let us go on. Words, sir, never influence the course of the cards, or the course of the dice. Do you know that? You do? I also play a game, and words are without power over it.'
Now that he was confronted with Cavalletto, and knew that his story was known--whatever thin disguise he had worn, he dropped; and faced it out, with a bare face, as the infamous wretch he was.
'No, my son,' he resumed, with a snap of his fingers. 'I play my game to the end in spite of words; and Death of my Body and Death of my Soul! I'll win it. You want to know why I played this little trick that you have interrupted? Know then that I had, and that I have--do you understand me? have--a commodity to sell to my lady your respectable mother. I described my precious commodity, and fixed my price. Touching the bargain, your admirable mother was a little too calm, too stolid, too immovable and statue-like.
In fine, your admirable mother vexed me. To make variety in my position, and to amuse myself--what! a gentleman must be amused at somebody's expense!--I conceived the happy idea of disappearing.
An idea, see you, that your characteristic mother and my Flintwinch would have been well enough pleased to execute. Ah! Bah, bah, bah, don't look as from high to low at me! I repeat it. Well enough pleased, excessively enchanted, and with all their hearts ravished. How strongly will you have it?'
He threw out the lees of his glass on the ground, so that they nearly spattered Cavalletto. This seemed to draw his attention to him anew. He set down his glass and said:
'I'll not fill it. What! I am born to be served. Come then, you Cavalletto, and fill!'
The little man looked at Clennam, whose eyes were occupied with Rigaud, and, seeing no prohibition, got up from the ground, and poured out from the bottle into the glass. The blending, as he did so, of his old submission with a sense of something humorous; the striving of that with a certain smouldering ferocity, which might have flashed fire in an instant (as the born gentleman seemed to think, for he had a wary eye upon him); and the easy yielding of all to a good-natured, careless, predominant propensity to sit down on the ground again: formed a very remarkable combination of character.
'This happy idea, brave sir,' Rigaud resumed after drinking, 'was a happy idea for several reasons. It amused me, it worried your dear mama and my Flintwinch, it caused you agonies (my terms for a lesson in politeness towards a gentleman), and it suggested to all the amiable persons interested that your entirely devoted is a man to fear. By Heaven, he is a man to fear! Beyond this; it might have restored her wit to my lady your mother--might, under the pressing little suspicion your wisdom has recognised, have persuaded her at last to announce, covertly, in the journals, that the difficulties of a certain contract would be removed by the appearance of a certain important party to it. Perhaps yes, perhaps no. But that, you have interrupted. Now, what is it you say? What is it you want?'
Never had Clennam felt more acutely that he was a prisoner in bonds, than when he saw this man before him, and could not accompany him to his mother's house. All the undiscernible difficulties and dangers he had ever feared were closing in, when he could not stir hand or foot.
'Perhaps, my friend, philosopher, man of virtue, Imbecile, what you will; perhaps,' said Rigaud, pausing in his drink to look out of his glass with his horrible smile, 'you would have done better to leave me alone?'
'No! At least,' said Clennam, 'you are known to be alive and unharmed. At least you cannot escape from these two witnesses; and they can produce you before any public authorities, or before hundreds of people!'
'But will not produce me before one,' said Rigaud, snapping his fingers again with an air of triumphant menace. 'To the Devil with your witnesses! To the Devil with your produced! To the Devil with yourself! What! Do I know what I know, for that? Have I my commodity on sale, for that? Bah, poor debtor! You have interrupted my little project. Let it pass. How then? What remains? To you, nothing; to me, all. Produce me! Is that what you want? I will produce myself, only too quickly. Contrabandist!
Give me pen, ink, and paper.'
Cavalletto got up again as before, and laid them before him in his former manner. Rigaud, after some villainous thinking and smiling, wrote, and read aloud, as follows:
'To MRS CLENNAM.
'Prison of the Marshalsea. 'At the apartment of your son.
'Dear Madam,--I am in despair to be informed to-day by our prisoner here (who has had the goodness to employ spies to seek me, living for politic reasons in retirement), that you have had fears for my safety.
'Reassure yourself, dear madam. I am well, I am strong and constant.
'With the greatest impatience I should fly to your house, but that I foresee it to be possible, under the circumstances, that you will not yet have quite definitively arranged the little proposition I have had the honour to submit to you. I name one week from this day, for a last final visit on my part; when you will unconditionally accept it or reject it, with its train of consequences.
'I suppress my ardour to embrace you and achieve this interesting business, in order that you may have leisure to adjust its details to our perfect mutual satisfaction.
'In the meanwhile, it is not too much to propose (our prisoner having deranged my housekeeping), that my expenses of lodging and nourishment at an hotel shall be paid by you. 'Receive, dear madam, the assurance of my highest and most distinguished consideration,
'A thousand friendships to that dear Flintwinch.
'I kiss the hands of Madame F.'
When he had finished this epistle, Rigaud folded it and tossed it with a flourish at Clennam's feet. 'Hola you! Apropos of producing, let somebody produce that at its address, and produce the answer here.'
'Cavalletto,' said Arthur. 'Will you take this fellow's letter?'
But, Cavalletto's significant finger again expressing that his post was at the door to keep watch over Rigaud, now he had found him with so much trouble, and that the duty of his post was to sit on the floor backed up by the door, looking at Rigaud and holding his own ankles,--Signor Panco once more volunteered. His services being accepted, Cavalletto suffered the door to open barely wide enough to admit of his squeezing himself out, and immediately shut it on him.
'Touch me with a finger, touch me with an epithet, question my superiority as I sit here drinking my wine at my pleasure,' said Rigaud, 'and I follow the letter and cancel my week's grace. You wanted me? You have got me! How do you like me?'
'You know,' returned Clennam, with a bitter sense of his helplessness, 'that when I sought you, I was not a prisoner.'
'To the Devil with you and your prison,' retorted Rigaud, leisurely, as he took from his pocket a case containing the materials for making cigarettes, and employed his facile hands in folding a few for present use; 'I care for neither of you.
Contrabandist! A light.'
Again Cavalletto got up, and gave him what he wanted. There had been something dreadful in the noiseless skill of his cold, white hands, with the fingers lithely twisting about and twining one over another like serpents. Clennam could not prevent himself from shuddering inwardly, as if he had been looking on at a nest of those creatures.
'Hola, Pig!' cried Rigaud, with a noisy stimulating cry, as if Cavalletto were an Italian horse or mule. 'What! The infernal old jail was a respectable one to this. There was dignity in the bars and stones of that place. It was a prison for men. But this?
Bah! A hospital for imbeciles!'
He smoked his cigarette out, with his ugly smile so fixed upon his face that he looked as though he were smoking with his drooping beak of a nose, rather than with his mouth; like a fancy in a weird picture. When he had lighted a second cigarette at the still burning end of the first, he said to Clennam:
'One must pass the time in the madman's absence. One must talk.
One can't drink strong wine all day long, or I would have another bottle. She's handsome, sir. Though not exactly to my taste, still, by the Thunder and the Lightning! handsome. I felicitate you on your admiration.'
'I neither know nor ask,' said Clennam, 'of whom you speak.'
'Della bella Gowana, sir, as they say in Italy. Of the Gowan, the fair Gowan.'
'Of whose husband you were the--follower, I think?'
'Sir? Follower? You are insolent. The friend.'
'Do you sell all your friends?'
Rigaud took his cigarette from his mouth, and eyed him with a momentary revelation of surprise. But he put it between his lips again, as he answered with coolness:
'I sell anything that commands a price. How do your lawyers live, your politicians, your intriguers, your men of the Exchange? How do you live? How do you come here? Have you sold no friend? Lady of mine! I rather think, yes!'
Clennam turned away from him towards the window, and sat looking out at the wall.
'Effectively, sir,' said Rigaud, 'Society sells itself and sells me: and I sell Society. I perceive you have acquaintance with another lady. Also handsome. A strong spirit. Let us see. How do they call her? Wade.'
He received no answer, but could easily discern that he had hit the mark.
'Yes,' he went on, 'that handsome lady and strong spirit addresses me in the street, and I am not insensible. I respond. That handsome lady and strong spirit does me the favour to remark, in full confidence, "I have my curiosity, and I have my chagrins. You are not more than ordinarily honourable, perhaps?" I announce myself, "Madame, a gentleman from the birth, and a gentleman to the death; but NOT more than ordinarily honourable. I despise such a weak fantasy." Thereupon she is pleased to compliment. "The difference between you and the rest is," she answers, "that you say so." For she knows Society. I accept her congratulations with gallantry and politeness. Politeness and little gallantries are inseparable from my character. She then makes a proposition, which is, in effect, that she has seen us much together; that it appears to her that I am for the passing time the cat of the house, the friend of the family; that her curiosity and her chagrins awaken the fancy to be acquainted with their movements, to know the manner of their life, how the fair Gowana is beloved, how the fair Gowana is cherished, and so on. She is not rich, but offers such and such little recompenses for the little cares and derangements of such services; and I graciously--to do everything graciously is a part of my character--consent to accept them. O yes! So goes the world. It is the mode.'
Though Clennam's back was turned while he spoke, and thenceforth to the end of the interview, he kept those glittering eyes of his that were too near together, upon him, and evidently saw in the very carriage of the head, as he passed with his braggart recklessness from clause to clause of what he said, that he was saying nothing which Clennam did not already know.
'Whoof! The fair Gowana!' he said, lighting a third cigarette with a sound as if his lightest breath could blow her away. 'Charming, but imprudent! For it was not well of the fair Gowana to make mysteries of letters from old lovers, in her bedchamber on the mountain, that her husband might not see them. No, no. That was not well. Whoof! The Gowana was mistaken there.'
'I earnestly hope,' cried Arthur aloud, 'that Pancks may not be long gone, for this man's presence pollutes the room.'
'Ah! But he'll flourish here, and everywhere,' said Rigaud, with an exulting look and snap of his fingers. 'He always has; he always will!' Stretching his body out on the only three chairs in the room besides that on which Clennam sat, he sang, smiting himself on the breast as the gallant personage of the song.
'Who passes by this road so late?
Compagnon de la Majolaine!
Who passes by this road so late?
'Sing the Refrain, pig! You could sing it once, in another jail.
Sing it! Or, by every Saint who was stoned to death, I'll be affronted and compromising; and then some people who are not dead yet, had better have been stoned along with them!'
'Of all the king's knights 'tis the flower,
Compagnon de la Majolaine!
Of all the king's knights 'tis the flower,
Partly in his old habit of submission, partly because his not doing it might injure his benefactor, and partly because he would as soon do it as anything else, Cavalletto took up the Refrain this time.
Rigaud laughed, and fell to smoking with his eyes shut.
Possibly another quarter of an hour elapsed before Mr Pancks's step was heard upon the stairs, but the interval seemed to Clennam insupportably long. His step was attended by another step; and when Cavalletto opened the door, he admitted Mr Pancks and Mr Flintwinch. The latter was no sooner visible, than Rigaud rushed at him and embraced him boisterously.
'How do you find yourself, sir?' said Mr Flintwinch, as soon as he could disengage himself, which he struggled to do with very little ceremony. 'Thank you, no; I don't want any more.' This was in reference to another menace of attention from his recovered friend.
'Well, Arthur. You remember what I said to you about sleeping dogs and missing ones. It's come true, you see.'
He was as imperturbable as ever, to all appearance, and nodded his head in a moralising way as he looked round the room.
'And this is the Marshalsea prison for debt!' said Mr Flintwinch.
'Hah! you have brought your pigs to a very indifferent market, Arthur.'
If Arthur had patience, Rigaud had not. He took his little Flintwinch, with fierce playfulness, by the two lapels of his coat, and cried:
'To the Devil with the Market, to the Devil with the Pigs, and to the Devil with the Pig-Driver! Now! Give me the answer to my letter.'
'If you can make it convenient to let go a moment, sir,' returned Mr Flintwinch, 'I'll first hand Mr Arthur a little note that I have for him.'
He did so. It was in his mother's maimed writing, on a slip of paper, and contained only these words:
'I hope it is enough that you have ruined yourself. Rest contented without more ruin. Jeremiah Flintwinch is my messenger and representative. Your affectionate M. C.'
Clennam read this twice, in silence, and then tore it to pieces.
Rigaud in the meanwhile stepped into a chair, and sat himself on the back with his feet upon the seat.
'Now, Beau Flintwinch,' he said, when he had closely watched the note to its destruction, 'the answer to my letter?'
'Mrs Clennam did not write, Mr Blandois, her hands being cramped, and she thinking it as well to send it verbally by me.' Mr Flintwinch screwed this out of himself, unwillingly and rustily.
'She sends her compliments, and says she doesn't on the whole wish to term you unreasonable, and that she agrees. But without prejudicing the appointment that stands for this day week.'
Monsieur Rigaud, after indulging in a fit of laughter, descended from his throne, saying, 'Good! I go to seek an hotel!' But, there his eyes encountered Cavalletto, who was still at his post.
'Come, Pig,' he added, 'I have had you for a follower against my will; now, I'll have you against yours. I tell you, my little reptiles, I am born to be served. I demand the service of this contrabandist as my domestic until this day week.'
In answer to Cavalletto's look of inquiry, Clennam made him a sign to go; but he added aloud, 'unless you are afraid of him.'
Cavalletto replied with a very emphatic finger-negative.'No, master, I am not afraid of him, when I no more keep it secrettementally that he was once my comrade.' Rigaud took no notice of either remark until he had lighted his last cigarette and was quite ready for walking.
'Afraid of him,' he said then, looking round upon them all.
'Whoof! My children, my babies, my little dolls, you are all afraid of him. You give him his bottle of wine here; you give him meat, drink, and lodging there; you dare not touch him with a finger or an epithet. No. It is his character to triumph! Whoof!
'Of all the king's knights he's the flower, And he's always gay!'
With this adaptation of the Refrain to himself, he stalked out of the room closely followed by Cavalletto, whom perhaps he had pressed into his service because he tolerably well knew it would not be easy to get rid of him. Mr Flintwinch, after scraping his chin, and looking about with caustic disparagement of the Pig- Market, nodded to Arthur, and followed. Mr Pancks, still penitent and depressed, followed too; after receiving with great attention a secret word or two of instructions from Arthur, and whispering back that he would see this affair out, and stand by it to the end.
The prisoner, with the feeling that he was more despised, more scorned and repudiated, more helpless, altogether more miserable and fallen than before, was left alone again.
A Plea in the Marshalsea
Haggard anxiety and remorse are bad companions to be barred up with. Brooding all day, and resting very little indeed at night, t will not arm a man against misery. Next morning, Clennam felt that his health was sinking, as his spirits had already sunk and that the weight under which he bent was bearing him down.
Night after night he had risen from his bed of wretchedness at twelve or one o'clock, and had sat at his window watching the sickly lamps in the yard, and looking upward for the first wan trace of day, hours before it was possible that the sky could show it to him. Now when the night came, he could not even persuade himself to undress.
For a burning restlessness set in, an agonised impatience of the prison, and a conviction that he was going to break his heart and die there, which caused him indescribable suffering. His dread and hatred of the place became so intense that he felt it a labour to draw his breath in it. The sensation of being stifled sometimes so overpowered him, that he would stand at the window holding his throat and gasping. At the same time a longing for other air, and a yearning to be beyond the blind blank wall, made him feel as if he must go mad with the ardour of the desire.
Many other prisoners had had experience of this condition before him, and its violence and continuity had worn themselves out in their cases, as they did in his. Two nights and a day exhausted it. It came back by fits, but those grew fainter and returned at lengthening intervals. A desolate calm succeeded; and the middle of the week found him settled down in the despondency of low, slow fever.
With Cavalletto and Pancks away, he had no visitors to fear but Mr and Mrs Plornish. His anxiety, in reference to that worthy pair, was that they should not come near him; for, in the morbid state of his nerves, he sought to be left alone, and spared the being seen so subdued and weak. He wrote a note to Mrs Plornish representing himself as occupied with his affairs, and bound by the necessity of devoting himself to them, to remain for a time even without the pleasant interruption of a sight of her kind face. As to Young John, who looked in daily at a certain hour, when the turnkeys were relieved, to ask if he could do anything for him; he always made a pretence of being engaged in writing, and to answer cheerfully in the negative. The subject of their only long conversation had never been revived between them. Through all these changes of unhappiness, however, it had never lost its hold on Clennam's mind.
The sixth day of the appointed week was a moist, hot, misty day.
It seemed as though the prison's poverty, and shabbiness, and dirt, were growing in the sultry atmosphere. With an aching head and a weary heart, Clennam had watched the miserable night out, listening to the fall of rain on the yard pavement, thinking of its softer fall upon the country earth. A blurred circle of yellow haze had risen up in the sky in lieu of sun, and he had watched the patch it put upon his wall, like a bit of the prison's raggedness. He had heard the gates open; and the badly shod feet that waited outside shuffle in; and the sweeping, and pumping, and moving about, begin, which commenced the prison morning. So ill and faint that he was obliged to rest many times in the process of getting himself washed, he had at length crept to his chair by the open window. In it he sat dozing, while the old woman who arranged his room went through her morning's work.
Light of head with want of sleep and want of food (his appetite, and even his sense of taste, having forsaken him), he had been two or three times conscious, in the night, of going astray. He had heard fragments of tunes and songs in the warm wind, which he knew had no existence. Now that he began to doze in exhaustion, he heard them again; and voices seemed to address him, and he answered, and started.
Dozing and dreaming, without the power of reckoning time, so that a minute might have been an hour and an hour a minute, some abiding impression of a garden stole over him--a garden of flowers, with a damp warm wind gently stirring their scents. It required such a painful effort to lift his head for the purpose of inquiring into this, or inquiring into anything, that the impression appeared to have become quite an old and importunate one when he looked round.
Beside the tea-cup on his table he saw, then, a blooming nosegay: a wonderful handful of the choicest and most lovely flowers.
Nothing had ever appeared so beautiful in his sight. He took them up and inhaled their fragrance, and he lifted them to his hot head, and he put them down and opened his parched hands to them, as cold hands are opened to receive the cheering of a fire. It was not until he had delighted in them for some time, that he wondered who had sent them; and opened his door to ask the woman who must have put them there, how they had come into her hands. But she was gone, and seemed to have been long gone; for the tea she had left for him on the table was cold. He tried to drink some, but could not bear the odour of it: so he crept back to his chair by the open window, and put the flowers on the little round table of old.
When the first faintness consequent on having moved about had left him, he subsided into his former state. One of the night-tunes was playing in the wind, when the door of his room seemed to open to a light touch, and, after a moment's pause, a quiet figure seemed to stand there, with a black mantle on it. It seemed to draw the mantle off and drop it on the ground, and then it seemed to be his Little Dorrit in her old, worn dress. It seemed to tremble, and to clasp its hands, and to smile, and to burst into tears.
He roused himself, and cried out. And then he saw, in the loving, pitying, sorrowing, dear face, as in a mirror, how changed he was; and she came towards him; and with her hands laid on his breast to keep him in his chair, and with her knees upon the floor at his feet, and with her lips raised up to kiss him, and with her tears dropping on him as the rain from Heaven had dropped upon the flowers, Little Dorrit, a living presence, called him by his name.
'O, my best friend! Dear Mr Clennam, don't let me see you weep!
Unless you weep with pleasure to see me. I hope you do. Your own poor child come back!' So faithful, tender, and unspoiled by Fortune. In the sound of her voice, in the light of her eyes, in the touch of her hands, so Angelically comforting and true!
As he embraced her, she said to him, 'They never told me you were ill,' and drawing an arm softly round his neck, laid his head upon her bosom, put a hand upon his head, and resting her cheek upon that hand, nursed him as lovingly, and GOD knows as innocently, as she had nursed her father in that room when she had been but a baby, needing all the care from others that she took of them.
When he could speak, he said, 'Is it possible that you have come to me? And in this dress?'
'I hoped you would like me better in this dress than any other. I have always kept it by me, to remind me: though I wanted no reminding. I am not alone, you see. I have brought an old friend with me.'
Looking round, he saw Maggy in her big cap which had been long abandoned, with a basket on her arm as in the bygone days, chuckling rapturously.
'It was only yesterday evening that I came to London with my brother. I sent round to Mrs Plornish almost as soon as we arrived, that I might hear of you and let you know I had come.
Then I heard that you were here. Did you happen to think of me in the night? I almost believe you must have thought of me a little.
I thought of you so anxiously, and it appeared so long to morning.'
'I have thought of you--' he hesitated what to call her. She perceived it in an instant.
'You have not spoken to me by my right name yet. You know what my right name always is with you.'
'I have thought of you, Little Dorrit, every day, every hour, every minute, since I have been here.'
'Have you? Have you?'
He saw the bright delight of her face, and the flush that kindled in it, with a feeling of shame. He, a broken, bankrupt, sick, dishonoured prisoner.
'I was here before the gates were opened, but I was afraid to come straight to you. I should have done you more harm than good, at first; for the prison was so familiar and yet so strange, and it brought back so many remembrances of my poor father, and of you too, that at first it overpowered me. But we went to Mr Chivery before we came to the gate, and he brought us in, and got john's room for us--my poor old room, you know--and we waited there a little. I brought the flowers to the door, but you didn't hear me.' She looked something more womanly than when she had gone away, and the ripening touch of the Italian sun was visible upon her face.
But, otherwise, she was quite unchanged. The same deep, timid earnestness that he had always seen in her, and never without emotion, he saw still. If it had a new meaning that smote him to the heart, the change was in his perception, not in her.
She took off her old bonnet, hung it in the old place, and noiselessly began, with Maggy's help, to make his room as fresh and neat as it could be made, and to sprinkle it with a pleasant- smelling water. When that was done, the basket, which was filled with grapes and other fruit, was unpacked, and all its contents were quietly put away. When that was done, a moment's whisper despatched Maggy to despatch somebody else to fill the basket again; which soon came back replenished with new stores, from which a present provision of cooling drink and jelly, and a prospective supply of roast chicken and wine and water, were the first extracts. These various arrangements completed, she took out her old needle-case to make him a curtain for his window; and thus, with a quiet reigning in the room, that seemed to diffuse itself through the else noisy prison, he found himself composed in his chair, with Little Dorrit working at his side.
To see the modest head again bent down over its task, and the nimble fingers busy at their old work--though she was not so absorbed in it, but that her compassionate eyes were often raised to his face, and, when they drooped again had tears in them--to be so consoled and comforted, and to believe that all the devotion of this great nature was turned to him in his adversity to pour out its inexhaustible wealth of goodness upon him, did not steady Clennam's trembling voice or hand, or strengthen him in his weakness. Yet it inspired him with an inward fortitude, that rose with his love. And how dearly he loved her now, what words can tell!
As they sat side by side in the shadow of the wall, the shadow fell like light upon him. She would not let him speak much, and he lay back in his chair, looking at her. Now and again she would rise and give him the glass that he might drink, or would smooth the resting-place of his head; then she would gently resume her seat by him, and bend over her work again.
The shadow moved with the sun, but she never moved from his side, except to wait upon him. The sun went down and she was still there. She had done her work now, and her hand, faltering on the arm of his chair since its last tending of him, was hesitating there yet. He laid his hand upon it, and it clasped him with a trembling supplication.
'Dear Mr Clennam, I must say something to you before I go. I have put it off from hour to hour, but I must say it.'
'I too, dear Little Dorrit. I have put off what I must say.' She nervously moved her hand towards his lips as if to stop him; then it dropped, trembling, into its former place.
'I am not going abroad again. My brother is, but I am not. He was always attached to me, and he is so grateful to me now--so much too grateful, for it is only because I happened to be with him in his illness--that he says I shall be free to stay where I like best, and to do what I like best. He only wishes me to be happy, he says.'
There was one bright star shining in the sky. She looked up at it While she spoke, as if it were the fervent purpose of her own heart shining above her.
'You will understand, I dare say, without my telling you, that my brother has come home to find my dear father's will, and to take possession of his property. He says, if there is a will, he is sure i shall be left rich; and if there is none, that he will make me so.'
He would have spoken; but she put up her trembling hand again, and he stopped.
'I have no use for money, I have no wish for it. It would be of no value at all to me but for your sake. I could not be rich, and you here. I must always be much worse than poor, with you distressed.
Will you let me lend you all I have? Will you let me give it you?
Will you let me show you that I have never forgotten, that I never can forget, your protection of me when this was my home? Dear Mr Clennam, make me of all the world the happiest, by saying Yes.
Make me as happy as I can be in leaving you here, by saying nothing to-night, and letting me go away with the hope that you will think of it kindly; and that for my sake--not for yours, for mine, for nobody's but mine!--you will give me the greatest joy I can experience on earth, the joy of knowing that I have been serviceable to you, and that I have paid some little of the great debt of my affection and gratitude. I can't say what I wish to say. I can't visit you here where I have lived so long, I can't think of you here where I have seen so much, and be as calm and comforting as I ought. My tears will make their way. I cannot keep them back. But pray, pray, pray, do not turn from your Little Dorrit, now, in your affliction! Pray, pray, pray, I beg you and implore you with all my grieving heart, my friend--my dear!--take all I have, and make it a Blessing to me!'
The star had shone on her face until now, when her face sank upon his hand and her own.
It had grown darker when he raised her in his encircling arm, and softly answered her.
'No, darling Little Dorrit. No, my child. I must not hear of such a sacrifice. Liberty and hope would be so dear, bought at such a price, that I could never support their weight, never bear the reproach of possessing them. But with what ardent thankfulness and love I say this, I may call Heaven to witness!'
'And yet you will not let me be faithful to you in your affliction?'
'Say, dearest Little Dorrit, and yet I will try to be faithful to you. If, in the bygone days when this was your home and when this was your dress, I had understood myself (I speak only of myself) better, and had read the secrets of my own breast more distinctly; if, through my reserve and self-mistrust, I had discerned a light that I see brightly now when it has passed far away, and my weak footsteps can never overtake it; if I had then known, and told you that I loved and honoured you, not as the poor child I used to call you, but as a woman whose true hand would raise me high above myself and make me a far happier and better man; if I had so used the opportunity there is no recalling--as I wish I had, O I wish I had!--and if something had kept us apart then, when I was moderately thriving, and when you were poor; I might have met your noble offer of your fortune, dearest girl, with other words than these, and still have blushed to touch it. But, as it is, I must never touch it, never!'
She besought him, more pathetically and earnestly, with her little supplicatory hand, than she could have done in any words.
'I am disgraced enough, my Little Dorrit. I must not descend so low as that, and carry you--so dear, so generous, so good--down with me. GOD bless you, GOD reward you! It is past.' He took her in his arms, as if she had been his daughter.
'Always so much older, so much rougher, and so much less worthy, even what I was must be dismissed by both of us, and you must see me only as I am. I put this parting kiss upon your cheek, my child--who might have been more near to me, who never could have been more dear--a ruined man far removed from you, for ever separated from you, whose course is run while yours is but beginning. I have not the courage to ask to be forgotten by you in my humiliation; but I ask to be remembered only as I am.'
The bell began to ring, warning visitors to depart. He took her mantle from the wall, and tenderly wrapped it round her.
'One other word, my Little Dorrit. A hard one to me, but it is a necessary one. The time when you and this prison had anything in common has long gone by. Do you understand?'
'O! you will never say to me,' she cried, weeping bitterly, and holding up her clasped hands in entreaty, 'that I am not to come back any more! You will surely not desert me so!'
'I would say it, if I could; but I have not the courage quite to shut out this dear face, and abandon all hope of its return. But do not come soon, do not come often! This is now a tainted place, and I well know the taint of it clings to me. You belong to much brighter and better scenes. You are not to look back here, my Little Dorrit; you are to look away to very different and much happier paths. Again, GOD bless you in them! GOD reward you!'
Maggy, who had fallen into very low spirits, here cried, 'Oh get him into a hospital; do get him into a hospital, Mother! He'll never look like hisself again, if he an't got into a hospital. And then the little woman as was always a spinning at her wheel, she can go to the cupboard with the Princess, and say, what do you keep the Chicking there for? and then they can take it out and give it to him, and then all be happy!'
The interruption was seasonable, for the bell had nearly rung itself out. Again tenderly wrapping her mantle about her, and taking her on his arm (though, but for her visit, he was almost too weak to walk), Arthur led Little Dorrit down-stairs. She was the last visitor to pass out at the Lodge, and the gate jarred heavily and hopelessly upon her.
With the funeral clang that it sounded into Arthur's heart, his sense of weakness returned. It was a toilsome journey up-stairs to his room, and he re-entered its dark solitary precincts in unutterable misery.
When it was almost midnight, and the prison had long been quiet, a cautious creak came up the stairs, and a cautious tap of a key was given at his door. It was Young John. He glided in, in his stockings, and held the door closed, while he spoke in a whisper.
'It's against all rules, but I don't mind. I was determined to come through, and come to you.'
'What is the matter?'
'Nothing's the matter, sir. I was waiting in the court-yard for Miss Dorrit when she came out. I thought you'd like some one to see that she was safe.'
'Thank you, thank you! You took her home, John?'
'I saw her to her hotel. The same that Mr Dorrit was at. Miss Dorrit walked all the way, and talked to me so kind, it quite knocked me over. Why do you think she walked instead of riding?'
'I don't know, John.'
'To talk about you. She said to me, "John, you was always honourable, and if you'll promise me that you will take care of him, and never let him want for help and comfort when I am not there, my mind will be at rest so far." I promised her. And I'll stand by you,' said John Chivery, 'for ever!'
Clennam, much affected, stretched out his hand to this honest spirit.
'Before I take it,' said John, looking at it, without coming from the door, 'guess what message Miss Dorrit gave me.'
Clennam shook his head.
'"Tell him,"' repeated John, in a distinct, though quavering voice, '"that his Little Dorrit sent him her undying love." Now it's delivered. Have I been honourable, sir?'
'Will you tell Miss Dorrit I've been honourable, sir?'
'I will indeed.'
'There's my hand, sir,' said john, 'and I'll stand by you forever!'
After a hearty squeeze, he disappeared with the same cautious creak upon the stair, crept shoeless over the pavement of the yard, and, locking the gates behind him, passed out into the front where he had left his shoes. If the same way had been paved with burning ploughshares, it is not at all improbable that John would have traversed it with the same devotion, for the same purpose.
The last day of the appointed week touched the bars of the Marshalsea gate. Black, all night, since the gate had clashed upon Little Dorrit, its iron stripes were turned by the early-glowing sun into stripes of gold. Far aslant across the city, over its jumbled roofs, and through the open tracery of its church towers, struck the long bright rays, bars of the prison of this lower world.
Throughout the day the old house within the gateway remained untroubled by any visitors. But, when the sun was low, three men turned in at the gateway and made for the dilapidated house.
Rigaud was the first, and walked by himself smoking. Mr Baptist was the second, and jogged close after him, looking at no other object. Mr Pancks was the third, and carried his hat under his arm for the liberation of his restive hair; the weather being extremely hot. They all came together at the door-steps.
'You pair of madmen!' said Rigaud, facing about. 'Don't go yet!'
'We don't mean to,' said Mr Pancks. Giving him a dark glance in acknowledgment of his answer, Rigaud knocked loudly. He had charged himself with drink, for the playing out of his game, and was impatient to begin. He had hardly finished one long resounding knock, when he turned to the knocker again and began another. That was not yet finished when Jeremiah Flintwinch opened the door, and they all clanked into the stone hall. Rigaud, thrusting Mr Flintwinch aside, proceeded straight up-stairs. His two attendants followed him, Mr Flintwinch followed them, and they all came trooping into Mrs Clennam's quiet room. It was in its usual state; except that one of the windows was wide open, and Affery sat on its old-fashioned window-seat, mending a stocking. The usual articles were on the little table; the usual deadened fire was in the grate; the bed had its usual pall upon it; and the mistress of all sat on her black bier-like sofa, propped up by her black angular bolster that was like the headsman's block.
Yet there was a nameless air of preparation in the room, as if it were strung up for an occasion. From what the room derived it-- every one of its small variety of objects being in the fixed spot it had occupied for years--no one could have said without looking attentively at its mistress, and that, too, with a previous knowledge of her face. Although her unchanging black dress was in every plait precisely as of old, and her unchanging attitude was rigidly preserved, a very slight additional setting of her features and contraction of her gloomy forehead was so powerfully marked, that it marked everything about her.
'Who are these?' she said, wonderingly, as the two attendants entered. 'What do these people want here?'
'Who are these, dear madame, is it?' returned Rigaud. 'Faith, they are friends of your son the prisoner. And what do they want here, is it? Death, madame, I don't know. You will do well to ask them.'
'You know you told us at the door, not to go yet,' said Pancks.
'And you know you told me at the door, you didn't mean to go,' retorted Rigaud. 'In a word, madame, permit me to present two spies of the prisoner's--madmen, but spies. If you wish them to remain here during our little conversation, say the word. It is nothing to me.'
'Why should I wish them to remain here?' said Mrs Clennam. 'What have I to do with them?'
'Then, dearest madame,' said Rigaud, throwing himself into an arm- chair so heavily that the old room trembled, 'you will do well to dismiss them. It is your affair. They are not my spies, not my rascals.'
'Hark! You Pancks,' said Mrs Clennam, bending her brows upon him angrily, 'you Casby's clerk! Attend to your employer's business and your own. Go. And take that other man with you.' 'Thank you, ma'am,' returned Mr Pancks, 'I am glad to say I see no objection to our both retiring. We have done all we undertook to do for Mr Clennam. His constant anxiety has been (and it grew worse upon him when he became a prisoner), that this agreeable gentleman should be brought back here to the place from which he slipped away. Here he is--brought back. And I will say,' added Mr Pancks, 'to his ill-looking face, that in my opinion the world would be no worse for his slipping out of it altogether.'
'Your opinion is not asked,' answered Mrs Clennam. 'Go.'
'I am sorry not to leave you in better company, ma'am,' said Pancks; 'and sorry, too, that Mr Clennam can't be present. It's my fault, that is.'
'You mean his own,' she returned.
'No, I mean mine, ma'am,' said Pancks,'for it was my misfortune to lead him into a ruinous investment.' (Mr Pancks still clung to that word, and never said speculation.) 'Though I can prove by figures,' added Mr Pancks, with an anxious countenance, 'that it ought to have been a good investment. I have gone over it since it failed, every day of my life, and it comes out--regarded as a question of figures--triumphant. The present is not a time or place,' Mr Pancks pursued, with a longing glance into his hat, where he kept his calculations, 'for entering upon the figures; but the figures are not to be disputed. Mr Clennam ought to have been at this moment in his carriage and pair, and I ought to have been worth from three to five thousand pound.'
Mr Pancks put his hair erect with a general aspect of confidence that could hardly have been surpassed, if he had had the amount in his pocket. These incontrovertible figures had been the occupation of every moment of his leisure since he had lost his money, and were destined to afford him consolation to the end of his days.
'However,' said Mr Pancks, 'enough of that. Altro, old boy, you have seen the figures, and you know how they come out.' Mr Baptist, who had not the slightest arithmetical power of compensating himself in this way, nodded, with a fine display of bright teeth.
At whom Mr Flintwinch had been looking, and to whom he then said:
'Oh! it's you, is it? I thought I remembered your face, but I wasn't certain till I saw your teeth. Ah! yes, to be sure. It was this officious refugee,' said Jeremiah to Mrs Clennam, 'who came knocking at the door on the night when Arthur and Chatterbox were here, and who asked me a whole Catechism of questions about Mr Blandois.'
'It is true,' Mr Baptist cheerfully admitted. 'And behold him, padrone! I have found him consequentementally.'
'I shouldn't have objected,' returned Mr Flintwinch, 'to your having broken your neck consequentementally.'
'And now,' said Mr Pancks, whose eye had often stealthily wandered to the window-seat and the stocking that was being mended there, 'I've only one other word to say before I go. If Mr Clennam was here--but unfortunately, though he has so far got the better of this fine gentleman as to return him to this place against his will, he is ill and in prison--ill and in prison, poor fellow--if he was here,' said Mr Pancks, taking one step aside towards the window-seat, and laying his right hand upon the stocking; 'he would say, "Affery, tell your dreams!"'
Mr Pancks held up his right forefinger between his nose and the stocking with a ghostly air of warning, turned, steamed out and towed Mr Baptist after him. The house-door was heard to close upon them, their steps were heard passing over the dull pavement of the echoing court-yard, and still nobody had added a word. Mrs Clennam and Jeremiah had exchanged a look; and had then looked, and looked still, at Affery, who sat mending the stocking with great assiduity.
'Come!' said Mr Flintwinch at length, screwing himself a curve or two in the direction of the window-seat, and rubbing the palms of his hands on his coat-tail as if he were preparing them to do something: 'Whatever has to be said among us had better be begun to be said without more loss of time.--So, Affery, my woman, take yourself away!'
In a moment Affery had thrown the stocking down, started up, caught hold of the windowsill with her right hand, lodged herself upon the window-seat with her right knee, and was flourishing her left hand, beating expected assailants off.
'No, I won't, Jeremiah--no, I won't--no, I won't! I won't go!
I'll stay here. I'll hear all I don't know, and say all I know.
I will, at last, if I die for it. I will, I will, I will, I will!'
Mr Flintwinch, stiffening with indignation and amazement, moistened the fingers of one hand at his lips, softly described a circle with them in the palm of the other hand, and continued with a menacing grin to screw himself in the direction of his wife; gasping some remark as he advanced, of which, in his choking anger, only the words, 'Such a dose!' were audible.
'Not a bit nearer, Jeremiah!' cried Affery, never ceasing to beat the air. 'Don't come a bit nearer to me, or I'll rouse the neighbourhood! I'll throw myself out of window. I'll scream Fire and Murder! I'll wake the dead! Stop where you are, or I'll make shrieks enough to wake the dead!'
The determined voice of Mrs Clennam echoed 'Stop!' Jeremiah had stopped already. 'It is closing in, Flintwinch. Let her alone. Affery, do you turn against me after these many years?'
'I do, if it's turning against you to hear what I don't know, and say what I know. I have broke out now, and I can't go back. I am determined to do it. I will do it, I will, I will, I will! If that's turning against you, yes, I turn against both of you two clever ones. I told Arthur when he first come home to stand up against you. I told him it was no reason, because I was afeard of my life of you, that he should be. All manner of things have been a-going on since then, and I won't be run up by Jeremiah, nor yet I won't be dazed and scared, nor made a party to I don't know what, no more. I won't, I won't, I won't! I'll up for Arthur when he has nothing left, and is ill, and in prison, and can't up for himself. I will, I will, I will, I will!'
'How do you know, you heap of confusion,' asked Mrs Clennam sternly, 'that in doing what you are doing now, you are even serving Arthur?'
'I don't know nothing rightly about anything,' said Affery; 'and if ever you said a true word in your life, it's when you call me a heap of confusion, for you two clever ones have done your most to make me such. You married me whether I liked it or not, and you've led me, pretty well ever since, such a life of dreaming and frightening as never was known, and what do you expect me to be but a heap of confusion? You wanted to make me such, and I am such; but I won't submit no longer; no, I won't, I won't, I won't, I won't!' She was still beating the air against all comers.
After gazing at her in silence, Mrs Clennam turned to Rigaud. 'You see and hear this foolish creature. Do you object to such a piece of distraction remaining where she is?'
'I, madame,' he replied, 'do I? That's a question for you.'
'I do not,' she said, gloomily. 'There is little left to choose now. Flintwinch, it is closing in.'
Mr Flintwinch replied by directing a look of red vengeance at his wife, and then, as if to pinion himself from falling upon her, screwed his crossed arms into the breast of his waistcoat, and with his chin very near one of his elbows stood in a corner, watching Rigaud in the oddest attitude. Rigaud, for his part, arose from his chair, and seated himself on the table with his legs dangling.
In this easy attitude, he met Mrs Clennam's set face, with his moustache going up and his nose coming down.
'Madame, I am a gentleman--'
'Of whom,' she interrupted in her steady tones, 'I have heard disparagement, in connection with a French jail and an accusation of murder.'
He kissed his hand to her with his exaggerated gallantry.
'Perfectly. Exactly. Of a lady too! What absurdity! How incredible! I had the honour of making a great success then; I hope to have the honour of making a great success now. I kiss your hands. Madame, I am a gentleman (I was going to observe), who when he says, "I will definitely finish this or that affair at the present sitting," does definitely finish it. I announce to you that we are arrived at our last sitting on our little business.
You do me the favour to follow, and to comprehend?'
She kept her eyes fixed upon him with a frown. 'Yes.'
'Further, I am a gentleman to whom mere mercenary trade-bargains are unknown, but to whom money is always acceptable as the means of pursuing his pleasures. You do me the favour to follow, and to comprehend?'
'Scarcely necessary to ask, one would say. Yes.'
'Further, I am a gentleman of the softest and sweetest disposition, but who, if trifled with, becomes enraged. Noble natures under such circumstances become enraged. I possess a noble nature. When the lion is awakened--that is to say, when I enrage--the satisfaction of my animosity is as acceptable to me as money. You always do me the favour to follow, and to comprehend?'
'Yes,' she answered, somewhat louder than before.
'Do not let me derange you; pray be tranquil. I have said we are now arrived at our last sitting. Allow me to recall the two sittings we have held.'
'It is not necessary.'
'Death, madame,' he burst out, 'it's my fancy! Besides, it clears the way. The first sitting was limited. I had the honour of making your acquaintance--of presenting my letter; I am a Knight of Industry, at your service, madame, but my polished manners had won me so much of success, as a master of languages, among your compatriots who are as stiff as their own starch is to one another, but are ready to relax to a foreign gentleman of polished manners-- and of observing one or two little things,' he glanced around the room and smiled, 'about this honourable house, to know which was necessary to assure me, and to convince me that I had the distinguished pleasure of making the acquaintance of the lady I sought. I achieved this. I gave my word of honour to our dear Flintwinch that I would return. I gracefully departed.'
Her face neither acquiesced nor demurred. The same when he paused, and when he spoke, it as yet showed him always the one attentive frown, and the dark revelation before mentioned of her being nerved for the occasion.
'I say, gracefully departed, because it was graceful to retire without alarming a lady. To be morally graceful, not less than physically, is a part of the character of Rigaud Blandois. It was also politic, as leaving you with something overhanging you, to expect me again with a little anxiety on a day not named. But your slave is politic. By Heaven, madame, politic! Let us return. On the day not named, I have again the honour to render myself at your house. I intimate that I have something to sell, which, if not bought, will compromise madame whom I highly esteem. I explain myself generally. I demand--I think it was a thousand pounds.
Will you correct me?'
Thus forced to speak, she replied with constraint, 'You demanded as much as a thousand pounds.'
'I demand at present, Two. Such are the evils of delay. But to return once more. We are not accordant; we differ on that occasion. I am playful; playfulness is a part of my amiable character. Playfully, I become as one slain and hidden. For, it may alone be worth half the sum to madame, to be freed from the suspicions that my droll idea awakens. Accident and spies intermix themselves against my playfulness, and spoil the fruit, perhaps-- who knows? only you and Flintwinch--when it is just ripe. Thus, madame, I am here for the last time. Listen! Definitely the last.'
As he struck his straggling boot-heels against the flap of the table, meeting her frown with an insolent gaze, he began to change his tone for a fierce one.
'Bah! Stop an instant! Let us advance by steps. Here is my Hotel-note to be paid, according to contract. Five minutes hence we may be at daggers' points. I'll not leave it till then, or you'll cheat me. Pay it! Count me the money!'
'Take it from his hand and pay it, Flintwinch,' said Mrs Clennam.
He spirted it into Mr Flintwinch's face when the old man advanced to take it, and held forth his hand, repeating noisily, 'Pay it!
Count it out! Good money!' Jeremiah picked the bill up, looked at the total with a bloodshot eye, took a small canvas bag from his pocket, and told the amount into his hand.
Rigaud chinked the money, weighed it in his hand, threw it up a little way and caught it, chinked it again.
'The sound of it, to the bold Rigaud Blandois, is like the taste of fresh meat to the tiger. Say, then, madame. How much?'
He turned upon her suddenly with a menacing gesture of the weighted hand that clenched the money, as if he were going to strike her with it.
'I tell you again, as I told you before, that we are not rich here, as you suppose us to be, and that your demand is excessive. I have not the present means of complying with such a demand, if I had ever so great an inclination.'
'If!' cried Rigaud. 'Hear this lady with her If! Will you say that you have not the inclination?'
'I will say what presents itself to me, and not what presents itself to you.'
'Say it then. As to the inclination. Quick! Come to the inclination, and I know what to do.'
She was no quicker, and no slower, in her reply. 'It would seem that you have obtained possession of a paper--or of papers--which I assuredly have the inclination to recover.'
Rigaud, with a loud laugh, drummed his heels against the table, and chinked his money. 'I think so! I believe you there!'
'The paper might be worth, to me, a sum of money. I cannot say how much, or how little.'
'What the Devil!' he asked savagely.'Not after a week's grace to consider?'
'No! I will not out of my scanty means--for I tell you again, we are poor here, and not rich--I will not offer any price for a power that I do not know the worst and the fullest extent of. This is the third time of your hinting and threatening. You must speak explicitly, or you may go where you will, and do what you will. It is better to be torn to pieces at a spring, than to be a mouse at the caprice of such a cat.'
He looked at her so hard with those eyes too near together that the sinister sight of each, crossing that of the other, seemed to make the bridge of his hooked nose crooked. After a long survey, he said, with the further setting off of his internal smile:
'You are a bold woman!'
'I am a resolved woman.'
'You always were. What? She always was; is it not so, my little Flintwinch?'
'Flintwinch, say nothing to him. It is for him to say, here and now, all he can; or to go hence, and do all he can. You know this to be our determination. Leave him to his action on it.'
She did not shrink under his evil leer, or avoid it. He turned it upon her again, but she remained steady at the point to which she had fixed herself. He got off the table, placed a chair near the sofa, sat down in it, and leaned an arm upon the sofa close to her own, which he touched with his hand. Her face was ever frowning, attentive, and settled.
'It is your pleasure then, madame, that I shall relate a morsel of family history in this little family society,' said Rigaud, with a warning play of his lithe fingers on her arm. 'I am something of a doctor. Let me touch your pulse.'
She suffered him to take her wrist in his hand. Holding it, he proceeded to say:
'A history of a strange marriage, and a strange mother, and a revenge, and a suppression.--Aye, aye, aye? this pulse is beating curiously! It appears to me that it doubles while I touch it. Are these the usual changes of your malady, madame?'
There was a struggle in her maimed arm as she twisted it away, but there was none in her face. On his face there was his own smile.
'I have lived an adventurous life. I am an adventurous character.
I have known many adventurers; interesting spirits--amiable society! To one of them I owe my knowledge and my proofs--I repeat it, estimable lady--proofs--of the ravishing little family history I go to commence. You will be charmed with it. But, bah! I forget. One should name a history. Shall I name it the history of a house? But, bah, again. There are so many houses. Shall I name it the history of this house?'
Leaning over the sofa, poised on two legs of his chair and his left elbow; that hand often tapping her arm to beat his words home; his legs crossed; his right hand sometimes arranging his hair, sometimes smoothing his moustache, sometimes striking his nose, always threatening her whatever it did; coarse, insolent, rapacious, cruel, and powerful, he pursued his narrative at his ease.
'In fine, then, I name it the history of this house. I commence it. There live here, let us suppose, an uncle and nephew. The uncle, a rigid old gentleman of strong force of character; the nephew, habitually timid, repressed, and under constraint.'
Mistress Affery, fixedly attentive in the window-seat, biting the rolled up end of her apron, and trembling from head to foot, here cried out,'Jeremiah, keep off from me! I've heerd, in my dreams, of Arthur's father and his uncle. He's a talking of them. It was before my time here; but I've heerd in my dreams that Arthur's father was a poor, irresolute, frightened chap, who had had everything but his orphan life scared out of him when he was young, and that he had no voice in the choice of his wife even, but his uncle chose her. There she sits! I heerd it in my dreams, and you said it to her own self.'
As Mr Flintwinch shook his fist at her, and as Mrs Clennam gazed upon her, Rigaud kissed his hand to her. 'Perfectly right, dear Madame Flintwinch. You have a genius for dreaming.'
'I don't want none of your praises,' returned Affery. 'I don't want to have nothing at all to say to you. But Jeremiah said they was dreams, and I'll tell 'em as such!' Here she put her apron in her mouth again, as if she were stopping somebody else's mouth-- perhaps jeremiah's, which was chattering with threats as if he were grimly cold.
'Our beloved Madame Flintwinch,' said Rigaud, 'developing all of a sudden a fine susceptibility and spirituality, is right to a marvel. Yes. So runs the history. Monsieur, the uncle, commands the nephew to marry. Monsieur says to him in effect, "My nephew, I introduce to you a lady of strong force of character, like myself--a resolved lady, a stern lady, a lady who has a will that can break the weak to powder: a lady without pity, without love, implacable, revengeful, cold as the stone, but raging as the fire."
Ah! what fortitude! Ah, what superiority of intellectual strength! Truly, a proud and noble character that I describe in the supposed words of Monsieur, the uncle. Ha, ha, ha! Death of my soul, I love the sweet lady!'
Mrs Clennam's face had changed. There was a remarkable darkness of colour on it, and the brow was more contracted. 'Madame, madame,' said Rigaud, tapping her on the arm, as if his cruel hand were sounding a musical instrument, 'I perceive I interest you. I perceive I awaken your sympathy. Let us go on.'
The drooping nose and the ascending moustache had, however, to be hidden for a moment with the white hand, before he could go on; he enjoyed the effect he made so much.
'The nephew, being, as the lucid Madame Flintwinch has remarked, a poor devil who has had everything but his orphan life frightened and famished out of him--the nephew abases his head, and makes response: "My uncle, it is to you to command. Do as you will!" Monsieur, the uncle, does as he will. It is what he always does.
The auspicious nuptials take place; the newly married come home to this charming mansion; the lady is received, let us suppose, by Flintwinch. Hey, old intriguer?'
Jeremiah, with his eyes upon his mistress, made no reply. Rigaud looked from one to the other, struck his ugly nose, and made a clucking with his tongue.
'Soon the lady makes a singular and exciting discovery. Thereupon, full of anger, full of jealousy, full of vengeance, she forms--see you, madame!--a scheme of retribution, the weight of which she ingeniously forces her crushed husband to bear himself, as well as execute upon her enemy. What superior intelligence!'
'Keep off, Jeremiah!' cried the palpitating Affery, taking her apron from her mouth again. 'But it was one of my dreams, that you told her, when you quarrelled with her one winter evening at dusk-- there she sits and you looking at her--that she oughtn't to have let Arthur when he come home, suspect his father only; that she had always had the strength and the power; and that she ought to have stood up more to Arthur, for his father. It was in the same dream where you said to her that she was not--not something, but I don't know what, for she burst out tremendous and stopped you. You know the dream as well as I do. When you come down-stairs into the kitchen with the candle in your hand, and hitched my apron off my head. When you told me I had been dreaming. When you wouldn't believe the noises.' After this explosion Affery put her apron into her mouth again; always keeping her hand on the window-sill and her knee on the window-seat, ready to cry out or jump out if her lord and master approached.
Rigaud had not lost a word of this.
'Haha!' he cried, lifting his eyebrows, folding his arms, and leaning back in his chair. 'Assuredly, Madame Flintwinch is an oracle! How shall we interpret the oracle, you and I and the old intriguer? He said that you were not--? And you burst out and stopped him! What was it you were not? What is it you are not?
Say then, madame!'
Under this ferocious banter, she sat breathing harder, and her mouth was disturbed. Her lips quivered and opened, in spite of her utmost efforts to keep them still.
'Come then, madame! Speak, then! Our old intriguer said that you were not-- and you stopped him. He was going to say that you were not--what? I know already, but I want a little confidence from you. How, then? You are not what?'
She tried again to repress herself, but broke out vehemently, 'Not Arthur's mother!'
'Good,' said Rigaud. 'You are amenable.'
With the set expression of her face all torn away by the explosion of her passion, and with a bursting, from every rent feature, of the smouldering fire so long pent up, she cried out: 'I will tell it myself! I will not hear it from your lips, and with the taint of your wickedness upon it. Since it must be seen, I will have it seen by the light I stood in. Not another word. Hear me!'
'Unless you are a more obstinate and more persisting woman than even I know you to be,' Mr Flintwinch interposed, 'you had better leave Mr Rigaud, Mr Blandois, Mr Beelzebub, to tell it in his own way. What does it signify when he knows all about it?'
'He does not know all about it.'
'He knows all he cares about it,' Mr Flintwinch testily urged. 'He does not know me.'
'What do you suppose he cares for you, you conceited woman?' said Mr Flintwinch.
'I tell you, Flintwinch, I will speak. I tell you when it has come to this, I will tell it with my own lips, and will express myself throughout it. What! Have I suffered nothing in this room, no deprivation, no imprisonment, that I should condescend at last to contemplate myself in such a glass as that. Can you see him? Can you hear him? If your wife were a hundred times the ingrate that she is, and if I were a thousand times more hopeless than I am of inducing her to be silent if this man is silenced, I would tell it myself, before I would bear the torment of the hearing it from him.'
Rigaud pushed his chair a little back; pushed his legs out straight before him; and sat with his arms folded over against her.
'You do not know what it is,' she went on addressing him, 'to be brought up strictly and straitly. I was so brought up. Mine was no light youth of sinful gaiety and pleasure. Mine were days of wholesome repression, punishment, and fear. The corruption of our hearts, the evil of our ways, the curse that is upon us, the terrors that surround us--these were the themes of my childhood.
They formed my character, and filled me with an abhorrence of evil- doers. When old Mr Gilbert Clennam proposed his orphan nephew to my father for my husband, my father impressed upon me that his bringing-up had been, like mine, one of severe restraint. He told me, that besides the discipline his spirit had undergone, he had lived in a starved house, where rioting and gaiety were unknown, and where every day was a day of toil and trial like the last. He told me that he had been a man in years long before his uncle had acknowledged him as one; and that from his school-days to that hour, his uncle's roof has been a sanctuary to him from the contagion of the irreligious and dissolute. When, within a twelvemonth of our marriage, I found my husband, at that time when my father spoke of him, to have sinned against the Lord and outraged me by holding a guilty creature in my place, was I to doubt that it had been appointed to me to make the discovery, and that it was appointed to me to lay the hand of punishment upon that creature of perdition? Was I to dismiss in a moment--not my own wrongs--what was I! but all the rejection of sin, and all the war against it, in which I had been bred?' She laid her wrathful hand upon the watch on the table.
'No! "Do not forget." The initials of those words are within here now, and were within here then. I was appointed to find the old letter that referred to them, and that told me what they meant, and whose work they were, and why they were worked, lying with this watch in his secret drawer. But for that appointment there would have been no discovery. "Do not forget." It spoke to me like a voice from an angry cloud. Do not forget the deadly sin, do not forget the appointed discovery, do not forget the appointed suffering. I did not forget. Was it my own wrong I remembered?
Mine! I was but a servant and a minister. What power could I have over them, but that they were bound in the bonds of their sin, and delivered to me!'
More than forty years had passed over the grey head of this determined woman, since the time she recalled. More than forty years of strife and struggle with the whisper that, by whatever name she called her vindictive pride and rage, nothing through all eternity could change their nature. Yet, gone those more than forty years, and come this Nemesis now looking her in the face, she still abided by her old impiety--still reversed the order of Creation, and breathed her own breath into a clay image of her Creator. Verily, verily, travellers have seen many monstrous idols in many countries; but no human eyes have ever seen more daring, gross, and shocking images of the Divine nature than we creatures of the dust make in our own likenesses, of our own bad passions.
'When I forced him to give her up to me, by her name and place of abode,' she went on in her torrent of indignation and defence; 'when I accused her, and she fell hiding her face at my feet, was it my injury that I asserted, were they my reproaches that I poured upon her? Those who were appointed of old to go to wicked kings and accuse them--were they not ministers and servants? And had not I, unworthy and far-removed from them, sin to denounce? When she pleaded to me her youth, and his wretched and hard life (that was her phrase for the virtuous training he had belied), and the desecrated ceremony of marriage there had secretly been between them, and the terrors of want and shame that had overwhelmed them both when I was first appointed to be the instrument of their punishment, and the love (for she said the word to me, down at my feet) in which she had abandoned him and left him to me, was it my enemy that became my footstool, were they the words of my wrath that made her shrink and quiver! Not unto me the strength be ascribed; not unto me the wringing of the expiation!'
Many years had come and gone since she had had the free use even of her fingers; but it was noticeable that she had already more than once struck her clenched hand vigorously upon the table, and that when she said these words she raised her whole arm in the air, as though it had been a common action with her.
'And what was the repentance that was extorted from the hardness of her heart and the blackness of her depravity? I, vindictive and implacable? It may be so, to such as you who know no righteousness, and no appointment except Satan's. Laugh; but I will be known as I know myself, and as Flintwinch knows me, though it is only to you and this half-witted woman.'
'Add, to yourself, madame,' said Rigaud. 'I have my little suspicions that madame is rather solicitous to be justified to herself.'
'It is false. It is not so. I have no need to be,' she said, with great energy and anger.
'Truly?' retorted Rigaud. 'Hah!'
'I ask, what was the penitence, in works, that was demanded of her?
"You have a child; I have none. You love that child. Give him to me. He shall believe himself to be my son, and he shall be believed by every one to be my son. To save you from exposure, his father shall swear never to see or communicate with you more; equally to save him from being stripped by his uncle, and to save your child from being a beggar, you shall swear never to see or communicate with either of them more. That done, and your present means, derived from my husband, renounced, I charge myself with your support. You may, with your place of retreat unknown, then leave, if you please, uncontradicted by me, the lie that when you passed out of all knowledge but mine, you merited a good name."
That was all. She had to sacrifice her sinful and shameful affections; no more. She was then free to bear her load of guilt in secret, and to break her heart in secret; and through such present misery (light enough for her, I think!) to purchase her redemption from endless misery, if she could. If, in this, I punished her here, did I not open to her a way hereafter? If she knew herself to be surrounded by insatiable vengeance and unquenchable fires, were they mine? If I threatened her, then and afterwards, with the terrors that encompassed her, did I hold them in my right hand?'
She turned the watch upon the table, and opened it, and, with an unsoftening face, looked at the worked letters within.
'They did not forget. It is appointed against such offences that the offenders shall not be able to forget. If the presence of Arthur was a daily reproach to his father, and if the absence of Arthur was a daily agony to his mother, that was the just dispensation of Jehovah. As well might it be charged upon me, that the stings of an awakened conscience drove her mad, and that it was the will of the Disposer of all things that she should live so, many years. I devoted myself to reclaim the otherwise predestined and lost boy; to give him the reputation of an honest origin; to bring him up in fear and trembling, and in a life of practical contrition for the sins that were heavy on his head before his entrance into this condemned world. Was that a cruelty? Was I, too, not visited with consequences of the original offence in which I had no complicity? Arthur's father and I lived no further apart, with half the globe between us, than when we were together in this house. He died, and sent this watch back to me, with its Do not forget. I do NOT forget, though I do not read it as he did. I read in it, that I was appointed to do these things. I have so read these three letters since I have had them lying on this table, and I did so read them, with equal distinctness, when they were thousands of miles away.'
As she took the watch-case in her hand, with that new freedom in the use of her hand of which she showed no consciousness whatever, bending her eyes upon it as if she were defying it to move her, Rigaud cried with a loud and contemptuous snapping of his fingers.
'Come, madame! Time runs out. Come, lady of piety, it must be!
You can tell nothing I don't know. Come to the money stolen, or I will! Death of my soul, I have had enough of your other jargon.
Come straight to the stolen money!'
'Wretch that you are,' she answered, and now her hands clasped her head: 'through what fatal error of Flintwinch's, through what incompleteness on his part, who was the only other person helping in these things and trusted with them, through whose and what bringing together of the ashes of a burnt paper, you have become possessed of that codicil, I know no more than how you acquired the rest of your power here--'
'And yet,' interrupted Rigaud, 'it is my odd fortune to have by me, in a convenient place that I know of, that same short little addition to the will of Monsieur Gilbert Clennam, written by a lady and witnessed by the same lady and our old intriguer! Ah, bah, old intriguer, crooked little puppet! Madame, let us go on. Time presses. You or I to finish?'
'I!' she answered, with increased determination, if it were possible. 'I, because I will not endure to be shown myself, and have myself shown to any one, with your horrible distortion upon me. You, with your practices of infamous foreign prisons and galleys would make it the money that impelled me. It was not the money.'
'Bah, bah, bah! I repudiate, for the moment, my politeness, and say, Lies, lies, lies. You know you suppressed the deed and kept the money.'
'Not for the money's sake, wretch!' She made a struggle as if she were starting up; even as if, in her vehemence, she had almost risen on her disabled feet. 'If Gilbert Clennam, reduced to imbecility, at the point of death, and labouring under the delusion of some imaginary relenting towards a girl of whom he had heard that his nephew had once had a fancy for her which he had crushed out of him, and that she afterwards drooped away into melancholy and withdrawal from all who knew her--if, in that state of weakness, he dictated to me, whose life she had darkened with her sin, and who had been appointed to know her wickedness from her own hand and her own lips, a bequest meant as a recompense to her for supposed unmerited suffering; was there no difference between my spurning that injustice, and coveting mere money--a thing which you, and your comrades in the prisons, may steal from anyone?'
'Time presses, madame. Take care!'
'If this house was blazing from the roof to the ground,' she returned, 'I would stay in it to justify myself against my righteous motives being classed with those of stabbers and thieves.'
Rigaud snapped his fingers tauntingly in her face. 'One thousand guineas to the little beauty you slowly hunted to death. One thousand guineas to the youngest daughter her patron might have at fifty, or (if he had none) brother's youngest daughter, on her coming of age, "as the remembrance his disinterestedness may like best, of his protection of a friendless young orphan girl." Two thousand guineas. What! You will never come to the money?'
'That patron,' she was vehemently proceeding, when he checked her.
'Names! Call him Mr Frederick Dorrit. No more evasions.'
'That Frederick Dorrit was the beginning of it all. If he had not been a player of music, and had not kept, in those days of his youth and prosperity, an idle house where singers, and players, and such-like children of Evil turned their backs on the Light and their faces to the Darkness, she might have remained in her lowly station, and might not have been raised out of it to be cast down.
But, no. Satan entered into that Frederick Dorrit, and counselled him that he was a man of innocent and laudable tastes who did kind actions, and that here was a poor girl with a voice for singing music with. Then he is to have her taught. Then Arthur's father, who has all along been secretly pining in the ways of virtuous ruggedness for those accursed snares which are called the Arts, becomes acquainted with her. And so, a graceless orphan, training to be a singing girl, carries it, by that Frederick Dorrit's agency, against me, and I am humbled and deceived!--Not I, that is to say,' she added quickly, as colour flushed into her face; 'a greater than I. What am I?'
Jeremiah Flintwinch, who had been gradually screwing himself towards her, and who was now very near her elbow without her knowing it, made a specially wry face of objection when she said these words, and moreover twitched his gaiters, as if such pretensions were equivalent to little barbs in his legs.
'Lastly,' she continued, 'for I am at the end of these things, and I will say no more of them, and you shall say no more of them, and all that remains will be to determine whether the knowledge of them can be kept among us who are here present; lastly, when I suppressed that paper, with the knowledge of Arthur's father--'
'But not with his consent, you know,' said Mr Flintwinch.
'Who said with his consent?' She started to find Jeremiah so near her, and drew back her head, looking at him with some rising distrust. 'You were often enough between us when he would have had me produce it and I would not, to have contradicted me if I had said, with his consent. I say, when I suppressed that paper, I made no effort to destroy it, but kept it by me, here in this house, many years. The rest of the Gilbert property being left to Arthur's father, I could at any time, without unsettling more than the two sums, have made a pretence of finding it. But, besides that I must have supported such pretence by a direct falsehood (a great responsibility), I have seen no new reason, in all the time I have been tried here, to bring it to light. It was a rewarding of sin; the wrong result of a delusion. I did what I was appointed to do, and I have undergone, within these four walls, what I was appointed to undergo. When the paper was at last destroyed--as I thought--in my presence, she had long been dead, and her patron, Frederick Dorrit, had long been deservedly ruined and imbecile. He had no daughter. I had found the niece before then; and what I did for her, was better for her far than the money of which she would have had no good.' She added, after a moment, as though she addressed the watch: 'She herself was innocent, and I might not have forgotten to relinquish it to her at my death:' and sat looking at it.
'Shall I recall something to you, worthy madame?' said Rigaud.
'The little paper was in this house on the night when our friend the prisoner--jail-comrade of my soul--came home from foreign countries. Shall I recall yet something more to you? The little singing-bird that never was fledged, was long kept in a cage by a guardian of your appointing, well enough known to our old intriguer here. Shall we coax our old intriguer to tell us when he saw him last?'
'I'll tell you!' cried Affery, unstopping her mouth. 'I dreamed it, first of all my dreams. Jeremiah, if you come a-nigh me now, I'll scream to be heard at St Paul's! The person as this man has spoken of, was jeremiah's own twin brother; and he was here in the dead of the night, on the night when Arthur come home, and Jeremiah with his own hands give him this paper, along with I don't know what more, and he took it away in an iron box--Help! Murder! Save me from Jere-mi-ah!'
Mr Flintwinch had made a run at her, but Rigaud had caught him in his arms midway. After a moment's wrestle with him, Flintwinch gave up, and put his hands in his pockets.
'What!' cried Rigaud, rallying him as he poked and jerked him back with his elbows, 'assault a lady with such a genius for dreaming!
Ha, ha, ha! Why, she'll be a fortune to you as an exhibition. All that she dreams comes true. Ha, ha, ha! You're so like him, Little Flintwinch. So like him, as I knew him (when I first spoke English for him to the host) in the Cabaret of the Three Billiard Tables, in the little street of the high roofs, by the wharf at Antwerp! Ah, but he was a brave boy to drink. Ah, but he was a brave boy to smoke! Ah, but he lived in a sweet bachelor- apartment--furnished, on the fifth floor, above the wood and charcoal merchant's, and the dress-maker's, and the chair-maker's, and the maker of tubs--where I knew him too, and wherewith his cognac and tobacco, he had twelve sleeps a day and one fit, until he had a fit too much, and ascended to the skies. Ha, ha, ha!
What does it matter how I took possession of the papers in his iron box? Perhaps he confided it to my hands for you, perhaps it was locked and my curiosity was piqued, perhaps I suppressed it. Ha, ha, ha! What does it matter, so that I have it safe? We are not particular here; hey, Flintwinch? We are not particular here; is it not so, madame?'
Retiring before him with vicious counter-jerks of his own elbows, Mr Flintwinch had got back into his corner, where he now stood with his hands in his pockets, taking breath, and returning Mrs Clennam's stare. 'Ha, ha, ha! But what's this?' cried Rigaud.
'It appears as if you don't know, one the other. Permit me, Madame Clennam who suppresses, to present Monsieur Flintwinch who intrigues.'
Mr Flintwinch, unpocketing one of his hands to scrape his jaw, advanced a step or so in that attitude, still returning Mrs Clennam's look, and thus addressed her:
'Now, I know what you mean by opening your eyes so wide at me, but you needn't take the trouble, because I don't care for it. I've been telling you for how many years that you're one of the most opinionated and obstinate of women. That's what YOU are. You call yourself humble and sinful, but you are the most Bumptious of your sex. That's what YOU are. I have told you, over and over again when we have had a tiff, that you wanted to make everything go down before you, but I wouldn't go down before you--that you wanted to swallow up everybody alive, but I wouldn't be swallowed up alive.
Why didn't you destroy the paper when you first laid hands upon it?
I advised you to; but no, it's not your way to take advice. You must keep it forsooth. Perhaps you may carry it out at some other time, forsooth. As if I didn't know better than that! I think I see your pride carrying it out, with a chance of being suspected of having kept it by you. But that's the way you cheat yourself.
just as you cheat yourself into making out that you didn't do all this business because you were a rigorous woman, all slight, and spite, and power, and unforgiveness, but because you were a servant and a minister, and were appointed to do it. Who are you, that you should be appointed to do it? That may be your religion, but it's my gammon. And to tell you all the truth while I am about it,' said Mr Flintwinch, crossing his arms, and becoming the express image of irascible doggedness, 'I have been rasped--rasped these forty years--by your taking such high ground even with me, who knows better; the effect of it being coolly to put me on low ground. I admire you very much; you are a woman of strong head and great talent; but the strongest head, and the greatest talent, can't rasp a man for forty years without making him sore. So I don't care for your present eyes. Now, I am coming to the paper, and mark what I say. You put it away somewhere, and you kept your own counsel where. You're an active woman at that time, and if you want to get that paper, you can get it. But, mark. There comes a time when you are struck into what you are now, and then if you want to get that paper, you can't get it. So it lies, long years, in its hiding-place. At last, when we are expecting Arthur home every day, and when any day may bring him home, and it's impossible to say what rummaging he may make about the house, I recommend you five thousand times, if you can't get at it, to let me get at it, that it may be put in the fire. But no--no one but you knows where it is, and that's power; and, call yourself whatever humble names you will, I call you a female Lucifer in appetite for power! On a Sunday night, Arthur comes home. He has not been in this room ten minutes, when he speaks of his father's watch. You know very well that the Do Not Forget, at the time when his father sent that watch to you, could only mean, the rest of the story being then all dead and over, Do Not Forget the suppression. Make restitution!
Arthur's ways have frightened you a bit, and the paper shall be burnt after all. So, before that jumping jade and Jezebel,' Mr Flintwinch grinned at his wife, 'has got you into bed, you at last tell me where you have put the paper, among the old ledgers in the cellars, where Arthur himself went prowling the very next morning.
But it's not to be burnt on a Sunday night. No; you are strict, you are; we must wait over twelve o'clock, and get into Monday.
Now, all this is a swallowing of me up alive that rasps me; so, feeling a little out of temper, and not being as strict as yourself, I take a look at the document before twelve o'clock to refresh my memory as to its appearance--fold up one of the many yellow old papers in the cellars like it--and afterwards, when we have got into Monday morning, and I have, by the light of your lamp, to walk from you, lying on that bed, to this grate, make a little exchange like the conjuror, and burn accordingly. My brother Ephraim, the lunatic-keeper (I wish he had had himself to keep in a strait-waistcoat), had had many jobs since the close of the long job he got from you, but had not done well. His wife died (not that that was much; mine might have died instead, and welcome), he speculated unsuccessfully in lunatics, he got into difficulty about over-roasting a patient to bring him to reason, and he got into debt. He was going out of the way, on what he had been able to scrape up, and a trifle from me. He was here that early Monday morning, waiting for the tide; in short, he was going to Antwerp, where (I am afraid you'll be shocked at my saying, And be damned to him!) he made the acquaintance of this gentleman. He had come a long way, and, I thought then, was only sleepy; but, I suppose now, was drunk. When Arthur's mother had been under the care of him and his wife, she had been always writing, incessantly writing,--mostly letters of confession to you, and Prayers for forgiveness. My brother had handed, from time to time, lots of these sheets to me. I thought I might as well keep them to myself as have them swallowed up alive too; so I kept them in a box, looking over them when I felt in the humour. Convinced that it was advisable to get the paper out of the place, with Arthur coming about it, I put it into this same box, and I locked the whole up with two locks, and I trusted it to my brother to take away and keep, till I should write about it. I did write about it, and never got an answer. I didn't know what to make of it, till this gentleman favoured us with his first visit. Of course, I began to suspect how it was, then; and I don't want his word for it now to understand how he gets his knowledge from my papers, and your paper, and my brother's cognac and tobacco talk (I wish he'd had to gag himself). Now, I have only one thing more to say, you hammer- headed woman, and that is, that I haven't altogether made up my mind whether I might, or might not, have ever given you any trouble about the codicil. I think not; and that I should have been quite satisfied with knowing I had got the better of you, and that I held the power over you. In the present state of circumstances, I have no more explanation to give you till this time to-morrow night. So you may as well,' said Mr Flintwinch, terminating his oration with a screw, 'keep your eyes open at somebody else, for it's no use keeping 'em open at me.'
She slowly withdrew them when he had ceased, and dropped her forehead on her hand. Her other hand pressed hard upon the table, and again the curious stir was observable in her, as if she were going to rise.
'This box can never bring, elsewhere, the price it will bring here.
This knowledge can never be of the same profit to you, sold to any other person, as sold to me. But I have not the present means of raising the sum you have demanded. I have not prospered. What will you take now, and what at another time, and how am I to be assured of your silence?'
'My angel,' said Rigaud, 'I have said what I will take, and time presses. Before coming here, I placed copies of the most important of these papers in another hand. Put off the time till the Marshalsea gate shall be shut for the night, and it will be too late to treat. The prisoner will have read them.'
She put her two hands to her head again, uttered a loud exclamation, and started to her feet. She staggered for a moment, as if she would have fallen; then stood firm.
'Say what you mean. Say what you mean, man!'
Before her ghostly figure, so long unused to its erect attitude, and so stiffened in it, Rigaud fell back and dropped his voice. It was, to all the three, almost as if a dead woman had risen.
'Miss Dorrit,' answered Rigaud, 'the little niece of Monsieur Frederick, whom I have known across the water, is attached to the prisoner. Miss Dorrit, little niece of Monsieur Frederick, watches at this moment over the prisoner, who is ill. For her I with my own hands left a packet at the prison, on my way here, with a letter of instructions, "FOR HIS SAKE"--she will do anything for his sake--to keep it without breaking the seal, in case of its being reclaimed before the hour of shutting up to-night--if it should not be reclaimed before the ringing of the prison bell, to give it to him; and it encloses a second copy for herself, which he must give to her. What! I don't trust myself among you, now we have got so far, without giving my secret a second life. And as to its not bringing me, elsewhere, the price it will bring here, say then, madame, have you limited and settled the price the little niece will give--for his sake--to hush it up? Once more I say, time presses. The packet not reclaimed before the ringing of the bell to-night, you cannot buy. I sell, then, to the little girl!'
Once more the stir and struggle in her, and she ran to a closet, tore the door open, took down a hood or shawl, and wrapped it over her head. Affery, who had watched her in terror, darted to her in the middle of the room, caught hold of her dress, and went on her knees to her.
'Don't, don't, don't! What are you doing? Where are you going?
You're a fearful woman, but I don't bear you no ill-will. I can do poor Arthur no good now, that I see; and you needn't be afraid of me. I'll keep your secret. Don't go out, you'll fall dead in the street. Only promise me, that, if it's the poor thing that's kept here secretly, you'll let me take charge of her and be her nurse.
Only promise me that, and never be afraid of me.'
Mrs Clennam stood still for an instant, at the height of her rapid haste, saying in stern amazement:
'Kept here? She has been dead a score of years or more. Ask Flintwinch--ask HIM. They can both tell you that she died when Arthur went abroad.'
'So much the worse,' said Affery, with a shiver, 'for she haunts the house, then. Who else rustles about it, making signals by dropping dust so softly? Who else comes and goes, and marks the walls with long crooked touches when we are all a-bed? Who else holds the door sometimes? But don't go out--don't go out!
Mistress, you'll die in the street!'
Her mistress only disengaged her dress from the beseeching hands, said to Rigaud, 'Wait here till I come back!' and ran out of the room. They saw her, from the window, run wildly through the court- yard and out at the gateway.
For a few moments they stood motionless. Affery was the first to move, and she, wringing her hands, pursued her mistress. Next, Jeremiah Flintwinch, slowly backing to the door, with one hand in a pocket, and the other rubbing his chin, twisted himself out in his reticent way, speechlessly. Rigaud, left alone, composed himself upon the window-seat of the open window, in the old Marseilles-jail attitude. He laid his cigarettes and fire-box ready to his hand, and fell to smoking.
'Whoof! Almost as dull as the infernal old jail. Warmer, but almost as dismal. Wait till she comes back? Yes, certainly; but where is she gone, and how long will she be gone? No matter!
Rigaud Lagnier Blandois, my amiable subject, you will get your money. You will enrich yourself. You have lived a gentleman; you will die a gentleman. You triumph, my little boy; but it is your character to triumph. Whoof!' In the hour of his triumph, his moustache went up and his nose came down, as he ogled a great beam over his head with particular satisfaction.