Little dorrit, p.39

Little Dorrit, page 39

 

Little Dorrit
 



Larger Font   Reset Font Size   Smaller Font   Night Mode Off   Night Mode


  BOOK THE SECOND: RICHES

  CHAPTER 1. Fellow Travellers

  In the autumn of the year, Darkness and Night were creeping up to thehighest ridges of the Alps.

  It was vintage time in the valleys on the Swiss side of the Pass of theGreat Saint Bernard, and along the banks of the Lake of Geneva.The air there was charged with the scent of gathered grapes. Baskets,troughs, and tubs of grapes stood in the dim village doorways, stoppedthe steep and narrow village streets, and had been carrying all dayalong the roads and lanes. Grapes, split and crushed under foot, layabout everywhere. The child carried in a sling by the laden peasantwoman toiling home, was quieted with picked-up grapes; the idiot sunninghis big goitre under the leaves of the wooden chalet by the way to theWaterfall, sat munching grapes; the breath of the cows and goats wasredolent of leaves and stalks of grapes; the company in every littlecabaret were eating, drinking, talking grapes. A pity that no ripe touchof this generous abundance could be given to the thin, hard, stony wine,which after all was made from the grapes!

  The air had been warm and transparent through the whole of the brightday. Shining metal spires and church-roofs, distant and rarely seen, hadsparkled in the view; and the snowy mountain-tops had been so clear thatunaccustomed eyes, cancelling the intervening country, and slightingtheir rugged heights for something fabulous, would have measured them aswithin a few hours easy reach. Mountain-peaks of great celebrity in thevalleys, whence no trace of their existence was visible sometimes formonths together, had been since morning plain and near in the blue sky.And now, when it was dark below, though they seemed solemnly to recede,like spectres who were going to vanish, as the red dye of the sunsetfaded out of them and left them coldly white, they were yet distinctlydefined in their loneliness above the mists and shadows.

  Seen from these solitudes, and from the Pass of the Great Saint Bernard,which was one of them, the ascending Night came up the mountain like arising water. When it at last rose to the walls of the convent of theGreat Saint Bernard, it was as if that weather-beaten structure wereanother Ark, and floated on the shadowy waves.

  Darkness, outstripping some visitors on mules, had risen thus tothe rough convent walls, when those travellers were yet climbing themountain. As the heat of the glowing day when they had stopped to drinkat the streams of melted ice and snow, was changed to the searching coldof the frosty rarefied night air at a great height, so the fresh beautyof the lower journey had yielded to barrenness and desolation. A craggytrack, up which the mules in single file scrambled and turned fromblock to block, as though they were ascending the broken staircase ofa gigantic ruin, was their way now. No trees were to be seen, nor anyvegetable growth save a poor brown scrubby moss, freezing in the chinksof rock. Blackened skeleton arms of wood by the wayside pointed upwardto the convent as if the ghosts of former travellers overwhelmed by thesnow haunted the scene of their distress. Icicle-hung caves and cellarsbuilt for refuges from sudden storms, were like so many whispers of theperils of the place; never-resting wreaths and mazes of mist wanderedabout, hunted by a moaning wind; and snow, the besetting danger of themountain, against which all its defences were taken, drifted sharplydown.

  The file of mules, jaded by their day's work, turned and wound slowlyup the deep ascent; the foremost led by a guide on foot, in hisbroad-brimmed hat and round jacket, carrying a mountain staff or twoupon his shoulder, with whom another guide conversed. There was nospeaking among the string of riders. The sharp cold, the fatigue of thejourney, and a new sensation of a catching in the breath, partly as ifthey had just emerged from very clear crisp water, and partly as if theyhad been sobbing, kept them silent.

  At length, a light on the summit of the rocky staircase gleamed throughthe snow and mist. The guides called to the mules, the mules pricked uptheir drooping heads, the travellers' tongues were loosened, and in asudden burst of slipping, climbing, jingling, clinking, and talking,they arrived at the convent door.

  Other mules had arrived not long before, some with peasant riders andsome with goods, and had trodden the snow about the door into a poolof mud. Riding-saddles and bridles, pack-saddles and strings of bells,mules and men, lanterns, torches, sacks, provender, barrels, cheeses,kegs of honey and butter, straw bundles and packages of many shapes,were crowded confusedly together in this thawed quagmire and about thesteps. Up here in the clouds, everything was seen through cloud, andseemed dissolving into cloud. The breath of the men was cloud, thebreath of the mules was cloud, the lights were encircled by cloud,speakers close at hand were not seen for cloud, though their voices andall other sounds were surprisingly clear. Of the cloudy line of muleshastily tied to rings in the wall, one would bite another, or kickanother, and then the whole mist would be disturbed: with men divinginto it, and cries of men and beasts coming out of it, and no bystanderdiscerning what was wrong. In the midst of this, the great stable of theconvent, occupying the basement story and entered by the basement door,outside which all the disorder was, poured forth its contribution ofcloud, as if the whole rugged edifice were filled with nothing else,and would collapse as soon as it had emptied itself, leaving the snow tofall upon the bare mountain summit.

  While all this noise and hurry were rife among the living travellers,there, too, silently assembled in a grated house half-a-dozen pacesremoved, with the same cloud enfolding them and the same snow flakesdrifting in upon them, were the dead travellers found upon the mountain.The mother, storm-belated many winters ago, still standing in the cornerwith her baby at her breast; the man who had frozen with his arm raisedto his mouth in fear or hunger, still pressing it with his dry lipsafter years and years. An awful company, mysteriously come together! Awild destiny for that mother to have foreseen! 'Surrounded by so manyand such companions upon whom I never looked, and never shall look,I and my child will dwell together inseparable, on the Great SaintBernard, outlasting generations who will come to see us, and will neverknow our name, or one word of our story but the end.'

  The living travellers thought little or nothing of the dead just then.They thought much more of alighting at the convent door, and warmingthemselves at the convent fire. Disengaged from the turmoil, which wasalready calming down as the crowd of mules began to be bestowed in thestable, they hurried shivering up the steps and into the building. Therewas a smell within, coming up from the floor, of tethered beasts, likethe smell of a menagerie of wild animals. There were strong archedgalleries within, huge stone piers, great staircases, and thick wallspierced with small sunken windows--fortifications against the mountainstorms, as if they had been human enemies. There were gloomy vaultedsleeping-rooms within, intensely cold, but clean and hospitably preparedfor guests. Finally, there was a parlour for guests to sit in and supin, where a table was already laid, and where a blazing fire shone redand high.

  In this room, after having had their quarters for the night allottedto them by two young Fathers, the travellers presently drew round thehearth. They were in three parties; of whom the first, as the mostnumerous and important, was the slowest, and had been overtaken byone of the others on the way up. It consisted of an elderly lady, twogrey-haired gentlemen, two young ladies, and their brother. These wereattended (not to mention four guides), by a courier, two footmen, andtwo waiting-maids: which strong body of inconvenience was accommodatedelsewhere under the same roof. The party that had overtaken them, andfollowed in their train, consisted of only three members: one lady andtwo gentlemen. The third party, which had ascended from the valleyon the Italian side of the Pass, and had arrived first, were four innumber: a plethoric, hungry, and silent German tutor in spectacles, ona tour with three young men, his pupils, all plethoric, hungry, andsilent, and all in spectacles.

  These three groups sat round the fire eyeing each other drily, andwaiting for supper. Only one among them, one of the gentlemen belongingto the party of three, made advances towards conversation. Throwing outhis lines for the Chief of the important tribe, while addressing himselfto his own companions, he remarked, in a tone of voice which
includedall the company if they chose to be included, that it had been a longday, and that he felt for the ladies. That he feared one of theyoung ladies was not a strong or accustomed traveller, and had beenover-fatigued two or three hours ago. That he had observed, from hisstation in the rear, that she sat her mule as if she were exhausted.That he had, twice or thrice afterwards, done himself the honour ofinquiring of one of the guides, when he fell behind, how the lady did.That he had been enchanted to learn that she had recovered her spirits,and that it had been but a passing discomfort. That he trusted (by thistime he had secured the eyes of the Chief, and addressed him) he mightbe permitted to express his hope that she was now none the worse, andthat she would not regret having made the journey.

  'My daughter, I am obliged to you, sir,' returned the Chief, 'is quiterestored, and has been greatly interested.'

  'New to mountains, perhaps?' said the insinuating traveller.

  'New to--ha--to mountains,' said the Chief.

  'But you are familiar with them, sir?' the insinuating travellerassumed.

  'I am--hum--tolerably familiar. Not of late years. Not of late years,'replied the Chief, with a flourish of his hand.

  The insinuating traveller, acknowledging the flourish with aninclination of his head, passed from the Chief to the second young lady,who had not yet been referred to otherwise than as one of the ladies inwhose behalf he felt so sensitive an interest.

  He hoped she was not incommoded by the fatigues of the day.

  'Incommoded, certainly,' returned the young lady, 'but not tired.'

  The insinuating traveller complimented her on the justice of thedistinction. It was what he had meant to say. Every lady must doubtlessbe incommoded by having to do with that proverbially unaccommodatinganimal, the mule.

  'We have had, of course,' said the young lady, who was rather reservedand haughty, 'to leave the carriages and fourgon at Martigny. And theimpossibility of bringing anything that one wants to this inaccessibleplace, and the necessity of leaving every comfort behind, is notconvenient.'

  'A savage place indeed,' said the insinuating traveller.

  The elderly lady, who was a model of accurate dressing, and whose mannerwas perfect, considered as a piece of machinery, here interposed aremark in a low soft voice.

  'But, like other inconvenient places,' she observed, 'it must be seen.As a place much spoken of, it is necessary to see it.'

  'O! I have not the least objection to seeing it, I assure you, MrsGeneral,' returned the other, carelessly.

  'You, madam,' said the insinuating traveller, 'have visited this spotbefore?'

  'Yes,' returned Mrs General. 'I have been here before. Let mecommend you, my dear,' to the former young lady, 'to shade your facefrom the hot wood, after exposure to the mountain air and snow. You,too, my dear,' to the other and younger lady, who immediately did so;while the former merely said, 'Thank you, Mrs General, I am Perfectlycomfortable, and prefer remaining as I am.'

  The brother, who had left his chair to open a piano that stood inthe room, and who had whistled into it and shut it up again, now camestrolling back to the fire with his glass in his eye. He was dressed inthe very fullest and completest travelling trim. The world seemed hardlylarge enough to yield him an amount of travel proportionate to hisequipment.

  'These fellows are an immense time with supper,' he drawled. 'I wonderwhat they'll give us! Has anybody any idea?'

  'Not roast man, I believe,' replied the voice of the second gentleman ofthe party of three.

  'I suppose not. What d'ye mean?' he inquired.

  'That, as you are not to be served for the general supper, perhaps youwill do us the favour of not cooking yourself at the general fire,'returned the other.

  The young gentleman who was standing in an easy attitude on the hearth,cocking his glass at the company, with his back to the blaze and hiscoat tucked under his arms, something as if he were Of the Poultryspecies and were trussed for roasting, lost countenance at thisreply; he seemed about to demand further explanation, when it wasdiscovered--through all eyes turning on the speaker--that the lady withhim, who was young and beautiful, had not heard what had passed throughhaving fainted with her head upon his shoulder.

  'I think,' said the gentleman in a subdued tone, 'I had best carryher straight to her room. Will you call to some one to bring a light?'addressing his companion, 'and to show the way? In this strange ramblingplace I don't know that I could find it.'

  'Pray, let me call my maid,' cried the taller of the young ladies.

  'Pray, let me put this water to her lips,' said the shorter, who had notspoken yet.

  Each doing what she suggested, there was no want of assistance. Indeed,when the two maids came in (escorted by the courier, lest any one shouldstrike them dumb by addressing a foreign language to them on the road),there was a prospect of too much assistance. Seeing this, and saying asmuch in a few words to the slighter and younger of the two ladies,the gentleman put his wife's arm over his shoulder, lifted her up, andcarried her away.

  His friend, being left alone with the other visitors, walked slowly upand down the room without coming to the fire again, pulling his blackmoustache in a contemplative manner, as if he felt himself committedto the late retort. While the subject of it was breathing injury in acorner, the Chief loftily addressed this gentleman.

  'Your friend, sir,' said he, 'is--ha--is a little impatient; and, inhis impatience, is not perhaps fully sensible of what he owesto--hum--to--but we will waive that, we will waive that. Your friend isa little impatient, sir.'

  'It may be so, sir,' returned the other. 'But having had the honour ofmaking that gentleman's acquaintance at the hotel at Geneva, where weand much good company met some time ago, and having had the honourof exchanging company and conversation with that gentleman on severalsubsequent excursions, I can hear nothing--no, not even from one of yourappearance and station, sir--detrimental to that gentleman.'

  'You are in no danger, sir, of hearing any such thing from me. Inremarking that your friend has shown impatience, I say no such thing. Imake that remark, because it is not to be doubted that my son, being bybirth and by--ha--by education a--hum--a gentleman, would have readilyadapted himself to any obligingly expressed wish on the subject of thefire being equally accessible to the whole of the present circle. Which,in principle, I--ha--for all are--hum--equal on these occasions--Iconsider right.'

  'Good,' was the reply. 'And there it ends! I am your son's obedientservant. I beg your son to receive the assurance of my profoundconsideration. And now, sir, I may admit, freely admit, that my friendis sometimes of a sarcastic temper.'

  'The lady is your friend's wife, sir?'

  'The lady is my friend's wife, sir.'

  'She is very handsome.'

  'Sir, she is peerless. They are still in the first year of theirmarriage. They are still partly on a marriage, and partly on anartistic, tour.'

  'Your friend is an artist, sir?'

  The gentleman replied by kissing the fingers of his right hand, andwafting the kiss the length of his arm towards Heaven. As who shouldsay, I devote him to the celestial Powers as an immortal artist!

  'But he is a man of family,' he added. 'His connections are of the best.He is more than an artist: he is highly connected. He may, in effect,have repudiated his connections, proudly, impatiently, sarcastically (Imake the concession of both words); but he has them. Sparks that havebeen struck out during our intercourse have shown me this.'

  'Well! I hope,' said the lofty gentleman, with the air of finallydisposing of the subject, 'that the lady's indisposition may be onlytemporary.'

  'Sir, I hope so.'

  'Mere fatigue, I dare say.'

  'Not altogether mere fatigue, sir, for her mule stumbled to-day, andshe fell from the saddle. She fell lightly, and was up again withoutassistance, and rode from us laughing; but she complained towardsevening of a slight bruise in the side. She spoke of it more than once,as we followed your party up the mountain.'

  The head of
the large retinue, who was gracious but not familiar,appeared by this time to think that he had condescended more thanenough. He said no more, and there was silence for some quarter of anhour until supper appeared.

  With the supper came one of the young Fathers (there seemed to be noold Fathers) to take the head of the table. It was like the supper ofan ordinary Swiss hotel, and good red wine grown by the convent in moregenial air was not wanting. The artist traveller calmly came and tookhis place at table when the rest sat down, with no apparent sense uponhim of his late skirmish with the completely dressed traveller.

  'Pray,' he inquired of the host, over his soup, 'has your convent manyof its famous dogs now?'

  'Monsieur, it has three.'

  'I saw three in the gallery below. Doubtless the three in question.'

  The host, a slender, bright-eyed, dark young man of polite manners,whose garment was a black gown with strips of white crossed over it likebraces, and who no more resembled the conventional breed of SaintBernard monks than he resembled the conventional breed of Saint Bernarddogs, replied, doubtless those were the three in question.

  'And I think,' said the artist traveller, 'I have seen one of thembefore.'

  It was possible. He was a dog sufficiently well known. Monsieur mighthave easily seen him in the valley or somewhere on the lake, when he(the dog) had gone down with one of the order to solicit aid for theconvent.

  'Which is done in its regular season of the year, I think?'

  Monsieur was right.

  'And never without a dog. The dog is very important.'

  Again Monsieur was right. The dog was very important. People were justlyinterested in the dog. As one of the dogs celebrated everywhere,Ma'amselle would observe.

  Ma'amselle was a little slow to observe it, as though she were not yetwell accustomed to the French tongue. Mrs General, however, observed itfor her.

  'Ask him if he has saved many lives?' said, in his native English, theyoung man who had been put out of countenance.

  The host needed no translation of the question. He promptly replied inFrench, 'No. Not this one.'

  'Why not?' the same gentleman asked.

  'Pardon,' returned the host composedly, 'give him the opportunity andhe will do it without doubt. For example, I am well convinced,' smilingsedately, as he cut up the dish of veal to be handed round, on the youngman who had been put out of countenance, 'that if you, Monsieur, wouldgive him the opportunity, he would hasten with great ardour to fulfilhis duty.'

  The artist traveller laughed. The insinuating traveller (who evinceda provident anxiety to get his full share of the supper), wiping somedrops of wine from his moustache with a piece of bread, joined theconversation.

  'It is becoming late in the year, my Father,' said he, 'fortourist-travellers, is it not?'

  'Yes, it is late. Yet two or three weeks, at most, and we shall be leftto the winter snows.'

  'And then,' said the insinuating traveller, 'for the scratching dogs andthe buried children, according to the pictures!'

  'Pardon,' said the host, not quite understanding the allusion. 'How,then the scratching dogs and the buried children according to thepictures?'

  The artist traveller struck in again before an answer could be given.

  'Don't you know,' he coldly inquired across the table of his companion,'that none but smugglers come this way in the winter or can have anypossible business this way?'

  'Holy blue! No; never heard of it.'

  'So it is, I believe. And as they know the signs of the weathertolerably well, they don't give much employment to the dogs--who haveconsequently died out rather--though this house of entertainment isconveniently situated for themselves. Their young families, I am told,they usually leave at home. But it's a grand idea!' cried the artisttraveller, unexpectedly rising into a tone of enthusiasm. 'It's asublime idea. It's the finest idea in the world, and brings tears intoa man's eyes, by Jupiter!' He then went on eating his veal with greatcomposure.

  There was enough of mocking inconsistency at the bottom of this speechto make it rather discordant, though the manner was refined and theperson well-favoured, and though the depreciatory part of it was soskilfully thrown off as to be very difficult for one not perfectlyacquainted with the English language to understand, or, evenunderstanding, to take offence at: so simple and dispassionate was itstone. After finishing his veal in the midst of silence, the speakeragain addressed his friend.

  'Look,' said he, in his former tone, 'at this gentleman our host, notyet in the prime of life, who in so graceful a way and with such courtlyurbanity and modesty presides over us! Manners fit for a crown! Dinewith the Lord Mayor of London (if you can get an invitation) and observethe contrast. This dear fellow, with the finest cut face I ever saw, aface in perfect drawing, leaves some laborious life and comes up hereI don't know how many feet above the level of the sea, for no otherpurpose on earth (except enjoying himself, I hope, in a capitalrefectory) than to keep an hotel for idle poor devils like you andme, and leave the bill to our consciences! Why, isn't it a beautifulsacrifice? What do we want more to touch us? Because rescued people ofinteresting appearance are not, for eight or nine months out of everytwelve, holding on here round the necks of the most sagacious of dogscarrying wooden bottles, shall we disparage the place? No! Bless theplace. It's a great place, a glorious place!'

  The chest of the grey-haired gentleman who was the Chief of theimportant party, had swelled as if with a protest against his beingnumbered among poor devils. No sooner had the artist traveller ceasedspeaking than he himself spoke with great dignity, as having itincumbent on him to take the lead in most places, and having desertedthat duty for a little while.

  He weightily communicated his opinion to their host, that his life mustbe a very dreary life here in the winter.

  The host allowed to Monsieur that it was a little monotonous. The airwas difficult to breathe for a length of time consecutively. The coldwas very severe. One needed youth and strength to bear it. However,having them and the blessing of Heaven--

  Yes, that was very good. 'But the confinement,' said the grey-hairedgentleman.

  There were many days, even in bad weather, when it was possible towalk about outside. It was the custom to beat a little track, and takeexercise there.

  'But the space,' urged the grey-haired gentleman. 'So small.So--ha--very limited.'

  Monsieur would recall to himself that there were the refuges to visit,and that tracks had to be made to them also.

  Monsieur still urged, on the other hand, that the space wasso--ha--hum--so very contracted. More than that, it was always the same,always the same.

  With a deprecating smile, the host gently raised and gently lowered hisshoulders. That was true, he remarked, but permit him to say that almostall objects had their various points of view. Monsieur and he did notsee this poor life of his from the same point of view. Monsieur was notused to confinement.

  'I--ha--yes, very true,' said the grey-haired gentleman. He seemed toreceive quite a shock from the force of the argument.

  Monsieur, as an English traveller, surrounded by all means of travellingpleasantly; doubtless possessing fortune, carriages, and servants--

  'Perfectly, perfectly. Without doubt,' said the gentleman.

  Monsieur could not easily place himself in the position of a person whohad not the power to choose, I will go here to-morrow, or there nextday; I will pass these barriers, I will enlarge those bounds. Monsieurcould not realise, perhaps, how the mind accommodated itself in suchthings to the force of necessity.

  'It is true,' said Monsieur. 'We will--ha--not pursue the subject.You are--hum--quite accurate, I have no doubt. We will say no more.'

  The supper having come to a close, he drew his chair away as he spoke,and moved back to his former place by the fire. As it was very coldat the greater part of the table, the other guests also resumed theirformer seats by the fire, designing to toast themselves well beforegoing to bed. The host, when they rose from the table, bowed to all
present, wished them good night, and withdrew. But first the insinuatingtraveller had asked him if they could have some wine made hot; and ashe had answered Yes, and had presently afterwards sent it in, thattraveller, seated in the centre of the group, and in the full heat ofthe fire, was soon engaged in serving it out to the rest.

  At this time, the younger of the two young ladies, who had been silentlyattentive in her dark corner (the fire-light was the chief light in thesombre room, the lamp being smoky and dull) to what had been said of theabsent lady, glided out. She was at a loss which way to turn when shehad softly closed the door; but, after a little hesitation among thesounding passages and the many ways, came to a room in a corner of themain gallery, where the servants were at their supper. From these sheobtained a lamp, and a direction to the lady's room.

  It was up the great staircase on the story above. Here and there, thebare white walls were broken by an iron grate, and she thought as shewent along that the place was something like a prison. The arched doorof the lady's room, or cell, was not quite shut. After knocking at ittwo or three times without receiving an answer, she pushed it gentlyopen, and looked in.

  The lady lay with closed eyes on the outside of the bed, protected fromthe cold by the blankets and wrappers with which she had been coveredwhen she revived from her fainting fit. A dull light placed in the deeprecess of the window, made little impression on the arched room. Thevisitor timidly stepped to the bed, and said, in a soft whisper, 'Areyou better?'

  The lady had fallen into a slumber, and the whisper was too low to awakeher. Her visitor, standing quite still, looked at her attentively.

  'She is very pretty,' she said to herself. 'I never saw so beautiful aface. O how unlike me!'

  It was a curious thing to say, but it had some hidden meaning, for itfilled her eyes with tears.

  'I know I must be right. I know he spoke of her that evening. I couldvery easily be wrong on any other subject, but not on this, not onthis!'

  With a quiet and tender hand she put aside a straying fold of thesleeper's hair, and then touched the hand that lay outside the covering.

  'I like to look at her,' she breathed to herself. 'I like to see whathas affected him so much.'

  She had not withdrawn her hand, when the sleeper opened her eyes andstarted.

  'Pray don't be alarmed. I am only one of the travellers fromdown-stairs. I came to ask if you were better, and if I could doanything for you.'

  'I think you have already been so kind as to send your servants to myassistance?'

  'No, not I; that was my sister. Are you better?'

  'Much better. It is only a slight bruise, and has been well looked to,and is almost easy now. It made me giddy and faint in a moment. It hadhurt me before; but at last it overpowered me all at once.'

  'May I stay with you until some one comes? Would you like it?'

  'I should like it, for it is lonely here; but I am afraid you will feelthe cold too much.'

  'I don't mind cold. I am not delicate, if I look so.' She quickly movedone of the two rough chairs to the bedside, and sat down. The other asquickly moved a part of some travelling wrapper from herself, and drewit over her, so that her arm, in keeping it about her, rested on hershoulder.

  'You have so much the air of a kind nurse,' said the lady, smiling onher, 'that you seem as if you had come to me from home.'

  'I am very glad of it.'

  'I was dreaming of home when I woke just now. Of my old home, I mean,before I was married.'

  'And before you were so far away from it.'

  'I have been much farther away from it than this; but then I tookthe best part of it with me, and missed nothing. I felt solitary as Idropped asleep here, and, missing it a little, wandered back to it.'

  There was a sorrowfully affectionate and regretful sound in her voice,which made her visitor refrain from looking at her for the moment.

  'It is a curious chance which at last brings us together, under thiscovering in which you have wrapped me,' said the visitor after apause; 'for do you know, I think I have been looking for you some time.'

  'Looking for me?'

  'I believe I have a little note here, which I was to give to youwhenever I found you. This is it. Unless I greatly mistake, it isaddressed to you? Is it not?'

  The lady took it, and said yes, and read it. Her visitor watched her asshe did so. It was very short. She flushed a little as she put her lipsto her visitor's cheek, and pressed her hand.

  'The dear young friend to whom he presents me, may be a comfort to meat some time, he says. She is truly a comfort to me the first time I seeher.'

  'Perhaps you don't,' said the visitor, hesitating--'perhaps you don'tknow my story? Perhaps he never told you my story?'

  'No.'

  'Oh no, why should he! I have scarcely the right to tell it myself atpresent, because I have been entreated not to do so. There is not muchin it, but it might account to you for my asking you not to say anythingabout the letter here. You saw my family with me, perhaps? Some ofthem--I only say this to you--are a little proud, a little prejudiced.'

  'You shall take it back again,' said the other; 'and then my husband issure not to see it. He might see it and speak of it, otherwise, by someaccident. Will you put it in your bosom again, to be certain?'

  She did so with great care. Her small, slight hand was still upon theletter, when they heard some one in the gallery outside.

  'I promised,' said the visitor, rising, 'that I would write to him afterseeing you (I could hardly fail to see you sooner or later), and tellhim if you were well and happy. I had better say you were well andhappy.'

  'Yes, yes, yes! Say I was very well and very happy. And that I thankedhim affectionately, and would never forget him.'

  'I shall see you in the morning. After that we are sure to meet againbefore very long. Good night!'

  'Good night. Thank you, thank you. Good night, my dear!'

  Both of them were hurried and fluttered as they exchanged this parting,and as the visitor came out of the door. She had expected to meet thelady's husband approaching it; but the person in the gallery was nothe: it was the traveller who had wiped the wine-drops from his moustachewith the piece of bread. When he heard the step behind him, he turnedround--for he was walking away in the dark.

  His politeness, which was extreme, would not allow of the young lady'slighting herself down-stairs, or going down alone. He took her lamp,held it so as to throw the best light on the stone steps, and followedher all the way to the supper-room. She went down, not easily hiding howmuch she was inclined to shrink and tremble; for the appearance of thistraveller was particularly disagreeable to her. She had sat in her quietcorner before supper imagining what he would have been in the scenes andplaces within her experience, until he inspired her with an aversionthat made him little less than terrific.

  He followed her down with his smiling politeness, followed her in,and resumed his seat in the best place in the hearth. There with thewood-fire, which was beginning to burn low, rising and falling upon himin the dark room, he sat with his legs thrust out to warm, drinking thehot wine down to the lees, with a monstrous shadow imitating him on thewall and ceiling.

  The tired company had broken up, and all the rest were gone to bedexcept the young lady's father, who dozed in his chair by the fire.The traveller had been at the pains of going a long way up-stairs to hissleeping-room to fetch his pocket-flask of brandy. He told them so, ashe poured its contents into what was left of the wine, and drank with anew relish.

  'May I ask, sir, if you are on your way to Italy?'

  The grey-haired gentleman had roused himself, and was preparing towithdraw. He answered in the affirmative.

  'I also!' said the traveller. 'I shall hope to have the honourof offering my compliments in fairer scenes, and under softercircumstances, than on this dismal mountain.'

  The gentleman bowed, distantly enough, and said he was obliged to him.

  'We poor gentlemen, sir,' said the traveller, pulling his mous
tache drywith his hand, for he had dipped it in the wine and brandy; 'we poorgentlemen do not travel like princes, but the courtesies and graces oflife are precious to us. To your health, sir!'

  'Sir, I thank you.'

  'To the health of your distinguished family--of the fair ladies, yourdaughters!'

  'Sir, I thank you again, I wish you good night. My dear, areour--ha--our people in attendance?'

  'They are close by, father.'

  'Permit me!' said the traveller, rising and holding the door open, asthe gentleman crossed the room towards it with his arm drawn through hisdaughter's. 'Good repose! To the pleasure of seeing you once more! Toto-morrow!'

  As he kissed his hand, with his best manner and his daintiest smile,the young lady drew a little nearer to her father, and passed him with adread of touching him.

  'Humph!' said the insinuating traveller, whose manner shrunk, and whosevoice dropped when he was left alone. 'If they all go to bed, why I mustgo. They are in a devil of a hurry. One would think the night would belong enough, in this freezing silence and solitude, if one went to bedtwo hours hence.'

  Throwing back his head in emptying his glass, he cast his eyes upon thetravellers' book, which lay on the piano, open, with pens and ink besideit, as if the night's names had been registered when he was absent.Taking it in his hand, he read these entries.

  William Dorrit, Esquire Frederick Dorrit, Esquire Edward Dorrit, Esquire Miss Dorrit Miss Amy Dorrit Mrs General and Suite. From France to Italy.

  Mr and Mrs Henry Gowan. From France to Italy.

  To which he added, in a small complicated hand, ending with a long leanflourish, not unlike a lasso thrown at all the rest of the names:

  Blandois. Paris. From France to Italy.

  And then, with his nose coming down over his moustache and his moustachegoing up and under his nose, repaired to his allotted cell.

 

Turn Navi Off
Turn Navi On
Scroll Up
Scroll