Little dorrit, p.65

Little Dorrit, page 65

 

Little Dorrit
 



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  CHAPTER 27. The Pupil of the Marshalsea

  The day was sunny, and the Marshalsea, with the hot noon strikingupon it, was unwontedly quiet. Arthur Clennam dropped into a solitaryarm-chair, itself as faded as any debtor in the jail, and yieldedhimself to his thoughts.

  In the unnatural peace of having gone through the dreaded arrest, andgot there,--the first change of feeling which the prison most commonlyinduced, and from which dangerous resting-place so many men had slippeddown to the depths of degradation and disgrace by so many ways,--hecould think of some passages in his life, almost as if he were removedfrom them into another state of existence. Taking into account where hewas, the interest that had first brought him there when he had been freeto keep away, and the gentle presence that was equally inseparable fromthe walls and bars about him and from the impalpable remembrances of hislater life which no walls or bars could imprison, it was not remarkablethat everything his memory turned upon should bring him round again toLittle Dorrit. Yet it was remarkable to him; not because of the factitself, but because of the reminder it brought with it, how much thedear 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 rightperception with it. It comes with sickness, it comes with sorrow, itcomes with the loss of the dearly loved, it is one of the most frequentuses of adversity. It came to Clennam in his adversity, strongly andtenderly. 'When I first gathered myself together,' he thought, 'andset something like purpose before my jaded eyes, whom had I before me,toiling on, for a good object's sake, without encouragement, withoutnotice, against ignoble obstacles that would have turned an army ofreceived heroes and heroines? One weak girl! When I tried to conquermy misplaced love, and to be generous to the man who was more fortunatethan I, though he should never know it or repay me with a gracious word,in whom had I watched patience, self-denial, self-subdual, charitableconstruction, the noblest generosity of the affections? In the same poorgirl! If I, a man, with a man's advantages and means and energies, hadslighted the whisper in my heart, that if my father had erred, it was myfirst duty to conceal the fault and to repair it, what youthful figurewith tender feet going almost bare on the damp ground, with spare handsever working, with its slight shape but half protected from thesharp weather, would have stood before me to put me to shame? LittleDorrit'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 ofhaving wandered away from her, and suffered anything to pass between himand his remembrance of her virtues.

  His door was opened, and the head of the elder Chivery was put in a verylittle way, without being turned towards him.

  'I am off the Lock, Mr Clennam, and going out. Can I do anything foryou?'

  'Many thanks. Nothing.'

  'You'll excuse me opening the door,' said Mr Chivery; 'but I couldn'tmake you hear.'

  'Did you knock?' 'Half-a-dozen times.'

  Rousing himself, Clennam observed that the prison had awakened from itsnoontide doze, that the inmates were loitering about the shady yard, andthat 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 'emhimself. Indeed he would have 'em himself, and so I couldn't send 'emup. Mr Clennam, could I say a word to you?'

  'Pray come in,' said Arthur; for Mr Chivery's head was still put in atthe 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--truepoliteness; though his exterior had very much of a turnkey about it, andnot the least of a gentleman.

  'Thank you, sir,' said Mr Chivery, without advancing; 'it's no odds mecoming in. Mr Clennam, don't you take no notice of my son (if you'llbe 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 knowswhere to find it, and we find it sitiwated correct.'

  With this mysterious speech, Mr Chivery took his ear away and shut thedoor. 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 asbefore, '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, MrJohn.'

  Young John, however, drew back, turning his right wrist in a socket madeof 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 theprisoner sternly, though with a swelling humour in his eyes that lookedlike pity.

  'Why are you angry with me,' said Clennam, 'and yet so ready to do methese kind services? There must be some mistake between us. If I havedone anything to occasion it I am sorry.'

  'No mistake, sir,' returned John, turning the wrist backwards andforwards 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! IfI 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'tagainst all rules of the Marshalsea--which it is; those feelings aresuch, that they would stimulate me, more to having it out with you ina 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 downwith a heavy sigh in the faded chair again.

  Young John followed him with his eyes, and, after a short pause, criedout, 'I beg your pardon!'

  'Freely granted,' said Clennam, waving his hand without raising hissunken head. 'Say no more. I am not worth it.'

  'This furniture, sir,' said Young John in a voice of mild and softexplanation, 'belongs to me. I am in the habit of letting it out toparties without furniture, that have the room. It an't much, but it's atyour service. Free, I mean. I could not think of letting you have it onany other terms. You're welcome to it for nothing.'

  Arthur raised his head again to thank him, and to say he couldnot accept the favour. John was still turning his wrist, and stillcontending 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 loudand sharp. 'Nothing's the matter.'

  Arthur looked at him again, in vain, for an explanation of hisbehaviour. After a while, Arthur turned away his head again. Young Johnsaid, presently afterwards, with the utmost mildness:

  'The little round table, sir, that's nigh your elbow, was--you knowwhose--I needn't mention him--he died a great gentleman. I bought it ofan individual that he gave it to, and that lived here after him. But theindividual wasn't any ways equal to him. Most individuals would find ithard to come up to his level.'

  Arthur drew the little table nearer, rested his arm upon it, and kept itthere.

  'Perhaps you may not be aware, sir,' said Young John, 'that I intrudedupon him when he was over here in London. On the whole he was of opinionthat it _was_ an intrusion, though he was so good as to ask me to sitdown and to inquire after father and all other old friends. Leastwayshumblest acquaintances. He looked, to me, a good deal changed, and Isaid 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 questionto such as me,' returned Young John, after appearing to take a largeinvisible pill. 'Since you do put me the question, I am sorry I can'tanswer 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 wasintruding: of which I had been fearful before. However, he spoke veryhandsome afterwards; very handsome.'

>   They were both silent for several minutes: except that Young Johnremarked, at about the middle of the pause, 'He both spoke and actedvery 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 gowithout eating and drinking?'

  'I have not felt the want of anything yet,' returned Clennam. 'I have noappetite just now.'

  'The more reason why you should take some support, sir,' urged YoungJohn. 'If you find yourself going on sitting here for hours and hourspartaking of no refreshment because you have no appetite, why then youshould and must partake of refreshment without an appetite. I'm going tohave tea in my own apartment. If it's not a liberty, please to come andtake a cup. Or I can bring a tray here in two minutes.'

  Feeling that Young John would impose that trouble on himself if herefused, and also feeling anxious to show that he bore in mind boththe 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 MrJohn'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 tohis own residence.

  It was at the top of the house nearest to the gateway. It was the roomto which Clennam had hurried on the day when the enriched family hadleft the prison for ever, and where he had lifted her insensible fromthe floor. He foresaw where they were going as soon as their feettouched the staircase. The room was so far changed that it was paperednow, and had been repainted, and was far more comfortably furnished; buthe could recall it just as he had seen it in that single glance, when heraised 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 tolook at his visitor, as long as his visitor continued to glance aboutthe room. Finally, he made a start at the teapot, gustily rattled aquantity of tea into it from a canister, and set off for the commonkitchen to fill it with hot water.

  The room was so eloquent to Clennam in the changed circumstances of hisreturn to the miserable Marshalsea; it spoke to him so mournfully ofher, and of his loss of her; that it would have gone hard with him toresist 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 beenherself that he touched, and pronounced her name in a low voice. Hestood at the window, looking over the prison-parapet with its grimspiked border, and breathed a benediction through the summer hazetowards the distant land where she was rich and prosperous.

  Young John was some time absent, and, when he came back, showed that hehad been outside by bringing with him fresh butter in a cabbage leaf,some thin slices of boiled ham in another cabbage leaf, and a littlebasket of water-cresses and salad herbs. When these were arranged uponthe table to his satisfaction, they sat down to tea.

  Clennam tried to do honour to the meal, but unavailingly. The hamsickened him, the bread seemed to turn to sand in his mouth. He couldforce 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 breadturned to a heavier sand than before, and the ham (though it was goodenough of itself) seemed to blow a faint simoom of ham through the wholeMarshalsea.

  'Try a little more something green, sir,' said Young John; and againhanded the basket.

  It was so like handing green meat into the cage of a dull imprisonedbird, and John had so evidently brought the little basket as a handfulof 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 ofputting this between the wires; but I cannot even get this down to-day.'

  As if the difficulty were contagious, Young John soon pushed away hisown plate, and fell to folding the cabbage-leaf that had contained theham. 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 itbetween both his hands, and to eye Clennam attentively.

  'I wonder,' he at length said, compressing his green packet with someforce, 'that if it's not worth your while to take care of yourself foryour 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 forwhose.'

  'Mr Clennam,' said John, warmly, 'I am surprised that a gentleman whois capable of the straightforwardness that you are capable of, should becapable of the mean action of making me such an answer. Mr Clennam, I amsurprised 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. Iam astonished at it, sir. Really and truly I am astonished!'

  Having got upon his feet to emphasise his concluding words, Young Johnsat 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 lookof indignant reproach.

  'I had got over it, sir,' said John. 'I had conquered it, knowing thatit _must_ be conquered, and had come to the resolution to think no moreabout it. I shouldn't have given my mind to it again, I hope, if to thisprison you had not been brought, and in an hour unfortunate for me,this day!' (In his agitation Young John adopted his mother's powerfulconstruction of sentences.) 'When you first came upon me, sir, in theLodge, this day, more as if a Upas tree had been made a capture of thana private defendant, such mingled streams of feelings broke loose againwithin me, that everything was for the first few minutes swept awaybefore them, and I was going round and round in a vortex. I got out ofit. I struggled, and got out of it. If it was the last word I had tospeak, against that vortex with my utmost powers I strove, and out of itI came. I argued that if I had been rude, apologies was due, and thoseapologies without a question of demeaning, I did make. And now, whenI've been so wishful to show that one thought is next to being a holyone with me and goes before all others--now, after all, you dodge mewhen I ever so gently hint at it, and throw me back upon myself. For, donot, sir,' said Young John, 'do not be so base as to deny that dodge youdo, and thrown me back upon myself you have!'

  All amazement, Arthur gazed at him like one lost, only saying, 'What isit? What do you mean, John?' But, John, being in that state of mind inwhich nothing would seem to be more impossible to a certain class ofpeople than the giving of an answer, went ahead blindly.

  'I hadn't,' John declared, 'no, I hadn't, and I never had theaudaciousness to think, I am sure, that all was anything but lost. Ihadn't, no, why should I say I hadn't if I ever had, any hope that itwas possible to be so blest, not after the words that passed, not evenif barriers insurmountable had not been raised! But is that a reason whyI am to have no memory, why I am to have no thoughts, why I am to haveno sacred spots, nor anything?'

  'What can you mean?' cried Arthur.

  'It's all very well to trample on it, sir,' John went on, scouring avery prairie of wild words, 'if a person can make up his mind to beguilty of the action. It's all very well to trample on it, but it'sthere. 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 hasstruggled and strived out of himself like a butterfly. The world maysneer at a turnkey, but he's a man--when he isn't a woman, which amongfemale criminals he's expected to be.'

  Ridiculous as the incoherence of his talk was, there was yet atruthfulness in Young John's simple, sentimental character, and a senseof being wounded in some very tender respect, expressed in his burningface and in the agitation of his voice and manner, which Arthur musthave been cruel to disregard. He turned his thoughts back to thestarting-point of this unknown injury; and in the meantime Young John,having rolled his green packet pretty round, cut it carefully into threepieces, 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 theconversation to the water-cresses and back again, 'that you have madesome 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 youthink I mean to offend you again, for I never have meant to offend youyet, when I say I don't understand it.'

  'Sir,' said Young John, 'will you have the perfidy to deny that you knowand long have known that I felt towards Miss Dorrit, call it not thepresumption of love, but adoration and sacrifice?'

  'Indeed, John, I will not have any perfidy if I know it; why you shouldsuspect me of it I am at a loss to think. Did you ever hear from MrsChivery, 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 Dorritnever did, sir. I wish to be honourable and true, so far as in my humbleway 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 wasever to be expected in any cool reason that she would or could. She wasfar 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 veryrespectable, in spite of his small stature and his rather weak legs, andhis very weak hair, and his poetical temperament, that a Goliath mighthave 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 Iwish you'd do the same.'

  He was quick with this unexpected retort, and it again made Arthurregard him with a wondering expression of face.

  'Leastways,' said John, stretching his hand across the tea-tray, 'if toostrong 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 beopen, though a turnkey? Why did I get you the room which I knew you'dlike 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 cultivatedyou in the manner I have done since the morning? On the ground of yourown merits? No. They're very great, I've no doubt at all; but not on theground of them. Another's merits have had their weight, and have had farmore weight with Me. Then why not speak free?'

  'Unaffectedly, John,' said Clennam, 'you are so good a fellow and I haveso true a respect for your character, that if I have appeared to be lesssensible than I really am of the fact that the kind services you haverendered me to-day are attributable to my having been trusted byMiss Dorrit as her friend--I confess it to be a fault, and I ask yourforgiveness.'

  '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 Iwould wilfully add to my other self-reproaches, that of being ungratefulor 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 comethere, and stood looking at him thoughtfully.

  'Mr Clennam, do you mean to say that you don't know?'

  'What, John?'

  'Lord,' said Young John, appealing with a gasp to the spikes on thewall. 'He says, What!'

  Clennam looked at the spikes, and looked at John; and looked at thespikes, and looked at John.

  'He says What! And what is more,' exclaimed Young John, surveying him ina 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 beenwitnesses of it, from day to day, from night to night, from week toweek, from month to month. For how often have I seen Miss Dorrit herewhen she has not seen me!'

  'Witnesses of what?' said Clennam.

  'Of Miss Dorrit's love.'

  'For whom?'

  'You,' said John. And touched him with the back of his hand upon thebreast, 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 touchupon him, its effect could not have been to shake him more. He stoodamazed; his eyes looking at John; his lips parted, and seeming now andthen to form the word 'Me!' without uttering it; his hands dropped athis sides; his whole appearance that of a man who has been awakened fromsleep, 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. Youare completely mistaken.'

  'I mistaken, sir!' said Young John. '_I_ completely mistaken on thatsubject! 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 ofmy own deficiencies. But, _I_ mistaken on a point that has caused memore smart in my breast than a flight of savages' arrows could havedone! _I_ mistaken on a point that almost sent me into my grave, asI sometimes wished it would, if the grave could only have been madecompatible with the tobacco-business and father and mother's feelings! Imistaken on a point that, even at the present moment, makes me take outmy pocket-handkerchief like a great girl, as people say: though I am sureI don't know why a great girl should be a term of reproach, for everyrightly constituted male mind loves 'em great and small. Don't tell meso, don't tell me so!'

  Still highly respectable at bottom, though absurd enough upon thesurface, Young John took out his pocket-handkerchief with a genuineabsence both of display and concealment, which is only to be seen ina man with a great deal of good in him, when he takes out hispocket-handkerchief for the purpose of wiping his eyes. Having driedthem, and indulged in the harmless luxury of a sob and a sniff, he putit up again.

  The touch was still in its influence so like a blow that Arthur couldnot get many words together to close the subject with. He assured JohnChivery when he had returned his handkerchief to his pocket, that hedid all honour to his disinterestedness and to the fidelity of hisremembrance of Miss Dorrit. As to the impression on his mind, of whichhe 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 goback 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 ownlodging.

  The feeling of the blow was still so strong upon him that, when thedirty old woman was gone whom he found sitting on the stairs outsidehis door, waiting to make his bed, and who gave him to understand whiledoing it, that she had received her instructions from Mr Chivery, 'notthe 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. LittleDorrit love him! More bewildering to him than his misery, far.

  Consider the improbability. He had been accustomed to call her hischild, and his dear child, and to invite her confidence by dwelling uponthe difference in their respective ages, and to speak of himself as onewho was turning old. Yet she might not have thought him old. Somethingreminded him that he had not thought himself so, until the roses hadfloated away upon the river.

  He had her two letters among other papers in his box, and he took themout and read them. There seemed to be a sound in them like the s
oundof 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 thequiet desolation of her answer,'No, No, No,' made to him that nightin that very room--that night when he had been shown the dawn of heraltered fortune, and when other words had passed between them which hehad been destined to remember in humiliation and a prisoner, rushed intohis mind.

  Consider the improbability.

  But it had a preponderating tendency, when considered, to becomefainter. There was another and a curious inquiry of his own heart's thatconcurrently became stronger. In the reluctance he had felt to believethat she loved any one; in his desire to set that question at rest; ina half-formed consciousness he had had that there would be a kind ofnobleness in his helping her love for any one, was there no suppressedsomething on his own side that he had hushed as it arose? Had he everwhispered to himself that he must not think of such a thing as herloving him, that he must not take advantage of her gratitude, that hemust keep his experience in remembrance as a warning and reproof;that he must regard such youthful hopes as having passed away, as hisfriend's dead daughter had passed away; that he must be steady in sayingto himself that the time had gone by him, and he was too saddened andold?

  He had kissed her when he raised her from the ground on the day when shehad been so consistently and expressively forgotten. Quite as he mighthave kissed her, if she had been conscious? No difference?

  The darkness found him occupied with these thoughts. The darkness alsofound Mr and Mrs Plornish knocking at his door. They brought with them abasket, filled with choice selections from that stock in trade which metwith such a quick sale and produced such a slow return. Mrs Plornish wasaffected to tears. Mr Plornish amiably growled, in his philosophical butnot lucid manner, that there was ups you see, and there was downs. Itwas in vain to ask why ups, why downs; there they was, you know. He hadheerd it given for a truth that accordin' as the world went round, whichround it did rewolve undoubted, even the best of gentlemen must take histurn of standing with his ed upside down and all his air a flyingthe wrong way into what you might call Space. Wery well then. WhatMr Plornish said was, wery well then. That gentleman's ed would comeup-ards when his turn come, that gentleman's air would be a pleasure tolook 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 happenedsomehow that Mrs Plornish's intelligibility displayed itself upon thevery subject of Arthur's meditations.

  'The way father has been talking about you, Mr Clennam,' said MrsPlornish, 'you hardly would believe. It's made him quite poorly. Asto his voice, this misfortune has took it away. You know what a sweetsinger father is; but he couldn't get a note out for the children attea, if you'll credit what I tell you.'

  While speaking, Mrs Plornish shook her head, and wiped her eyes, andlooked retrospectively about the room.

  'As to Mr Baptist,' pursued Mrs Plornish, 'whatever he'll do when hecomes to know of it, I can't conceive nor yet imagine. He'd have beenhere before now, you may be sure, but that he's away on confidentialbusiness of your own. The persevering manner in which he follows up thatbusiness, and gives himself no rest from it--it really do,' saidMrs 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 Tuscansentence with peculiar elegance. Mr Plornish could not conceal hisexultation in her accomplishments as a linguist.

  'But what I say is, Mr Clennam,' the good woman went on, 'there's alwayssomething 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 somethingis. It's a thing to be thankful for, indeed, that Miss Dorrit is nothere 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 hearof it. If she had been here to see it, sir, it's not to be doubtedthat the sight of you,' Mrs Plornish repeated those words--'not to bedoubted, that the sight of you--in misfortune and trouble, would havebeen almost too much for her affectionate heart. There's nothing I canthink of, that would have touched Miss Dorrit so bad as that.'

  Of a certainty Mrs Plornish did look at him now, with a sort ofquivering defiance in her friendly emotion.

  'Yes!' said she. 'And it shows what notice father takes, though at histime of life, that he says to me this afternoon, which Happy Cottageknows I neither make it up nor any ways enlarge, "Mary, it's much tobe rejoiced in that Miss Dorrit is not on the spot to behold it." Thosewere 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 tofather then, I says to him, "Father, you are right!" That,' Mrs Plornishconcluded, with the air of a very precise legal witness, 'is what passedbetwixt father and me. And I tell you nothing but what did pass betwixtme and father.'

  Mr Plornish, as being of a more laconic temperament, embraced thisopportunity of interposing with the suggestion that she should now leaveMr Clennam to himself. 'For, you see,' said Mr Plornish, gravely, 'Iknow 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. Grantedthat she had loved him, and he had known it and had suffered himselfto love her, what a road to have led her away upon--the road that wouldhave brought her back to this miserable place! He ought to be muchcomforted by the reflection that she was quit of it forever; that shewas, or would soon be, married (vague rumours of her father's projectsin that direction had reached Bleeding Heart Yard, with the news of hersister's marriage); and that the Marshalsea gate had shut for ever onall those perplexed possibilities of a time that was gone.

  Dear Little Dorrit.

  Looking back upon his own poor story, she was its vanishing-point. Everything in its perspective led to her innocent figure. He had travelledthousands of miles towards it; previous unquiet hopes and doubts hadworked themselves out before it; it was the centre of the interestof his life; it was the termination of everything that was good andpleasant in it; beyond, there was nothing but mere waste and darkenedsky.

  As ill at ease as on the first night of his lying down to sleep withinthose dreary walls, he wore the night out with such thoughts. What timeYoung John lay wrapt in peaceful slumber, after composing and arrangingthe following monumental inscription on his pillow--

  STRANGER! 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 MAGNANIMOUS.

 

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