Little dorrit, p.72

Little Dorrit, page 72

 

Little Dorrit
 



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  CHAPTER 34. Gone

  On a healthy autumn day, the Marshalsea prisoner, weak but otherwiserestored, sat listening to a voice that read to him. On a healthy autumnday; when the golden fields had been reaped and ploughed again, when thesummer fruits had ripened and waned, when the green perspectives of hopshad been laid low by the busy pickers, when the apples clustering in theorchards were russet, and the berries of the mountain ash were crimsonamong the yellowing foliage. Already in the woods, glimpses of the hardywinter that was coming were to be caught through unaccustomed openingsamong the boughs where the prospect shone defined and clear, free fromthe bloom of the drowsy summer weather, which had rested on it as thebloom lies on the plum. So, from the seashore the ocean was no longer tobe seen lying asleep in the heat, but its thousand sparkling eyes wereopen, and its whole breadth was in joyful animation, from the cool sandon the beach to the little sails on the horizon, drifting away likeautumn-tinted leaves that had drifted from the trees.

  Changeless and barren, looking ignorantly at all the seasons with itsfixed, pinched face of poverty and care, the prison had not a touch ofany of these beauties on it. Blossom what would, its bricks and barsbore uniformly the same dead crop. Yet Clennam, listening to the voiceas it read to him, heard in it all that great Nature was doing, heard init all the soothing songs she sings to man. At no Mother's knee but hershad he ever dwelt in his youth on hopeful promises, on playful fancies,on the harvests of tenderness and humility that lie hidden in theearly-fostered seeds of the imagination; on the oaks of retreat fromblighting winds, that have the germs of their strong roots in nurseryacorns. But, in the tones of the voice that read to him, there werememories of an old feeling of such things, and echoes of every mercifuland loving whisper that had ever stolen to him in his life.

  When the voice stopped, he put his hand over his eyes, murmuring thatthe light was strong upon them.

  Little Dorrit put the book by, and presently arose quietly to shadethe window. Maggy sat at her needlework in her old place. The lightsoftened, Little Dorrit brought her chair closer to his side.

  'This will soon be over now, dear Mr Clennam. Not only are Mr Doyce'sletters to you so full of friendship and encouragement, but Mr Rugg sayshis letters to him are so full of help, and that everybody (now a littleanger is past) is so considerate, and speaks so well of you, that itwill soon be over now.'

  'Dear girl. Dear heart. Good angel!'

  'You praise me far too much. And yet it is such an exquisite pleasureto me to hear you speak so feelingly, and to--and to see,' said LittleDorrit, raising her eyes to his, 'how deeply you mean it, that I cannotsay Don't.'

  He lifted her hand to his lips.

  'You have been here many, many times, when I have not seen you, LittleDorrit?'

  'Yes, I have been here sometimes when I have not come into the room.'

  'Very often?'

  'Rather often,' said Little Dorrit, timidly.

  'Every day?'

  'I think,' said Little Dorrit, after hesitating, 'that I have been hereat least twice every day.'

  He might have released the little light hand after fervently kissing itagain; but that, with a very gentle lingering where it was, it seemed tocourt being retained. He took it in both of his, and it lay softly on hisbreast.

  'Dear Little Dorrit, it is not my imprisonment only that will soon beover. This sacrifice of you must be ended. We must learn to part again,and to take our different ways so wide asunder. You have not forgottenwhat we said together, when you came back?'

  'O no, I have not forgotten it. But something has been--You feel quitestrong to-day, don't you?'

  'Quite strong.'

  The hand he held crept up a little nearer his face.

  'Do you feel quite strong enough to know what a great fortune I havegot?'

  'I shall be very glad to be told. No fortune can be too great or goodfor Little Dorrit.'

  'I have been anxiously waiting to tell you. I have been longing andlonging to tell you. You are sure you will not take it?'

  'Never!'

  'You are quite sure you will not take half of it?'

  'Never, dear Little Dorrit!'

  As she looked at him silently, there was something in her affectionateface that he did not quite comprehend: something that could have brokeninto tears in a moment, and yet that was happy and proud.

  'You will be sorry to hear what I have to tell you about Fanny. PoorFanny has lost everything. She has nothing left but her husband'sincome. All that papa gave her when she married was lost as your moneywas lost. It was in the same hands, and it is all gone.'

  Arthur was more shocked than surprised to hear it. 'I had hoped it mightnot be so bad,' he said: 'but I had feared a heavy loss there, knowingthe connection between her husband and the defaulter.'

  'Yes. It is all gone. I am very sorry for Fanny; very, very, very sorryfor poor Fanny. My poor brother too!'

  'Had _he_ property in the same hands?'

  'Yes! And it's all gone.--How much do you think my own great fortuneis?'

  As Arthur looked at her inquiringly, with a new apprehension on him,she withdrew her hand, and laid her face down on the spot where it hadrested.

  'I have nothing in the world. I am as poor as when I lived here. Whenpapa came over to England, he confided everything he had to the samehands, and it is all swept away. O my dearest and best, are you quitesure you will not share my fortune with me now?'

  Locked in his arms, held to his heart, with his manly tears upon her owncheek, she drew the slight hand round his neck, and clasped it in itsfellow-hand.

  'Never to part, my dearest Arthur; never any more, until the last!I never was rich before, I never was proud before, I never was happybefore, I am rich in being taken by you, I am proud in having beenresigned by you, I am happy in being with you in this prison, as Ishould be happy in coming back to it with you, if it should be the willof GOD, and comforting and serving you with all my love and truth. I amyours anywhere, everywhere! I love you dearly! I would rather pass mylife here with you, and go out daily, working for our bread, than Iwould have the greatest fortune that ever was told, and be the greatestlady that ever was honoured. O, if poor papa may only know how blest atlast my heart is, in this room where he suffered for so many years!'

  Maggy had of course been staring from the first, and had of course beencrying her eyes out long before this. Maggy was now so overjoyed that,after hugging her little mother with all her might, she went down-stairslike a clog-hornpipe to find somebody or other to whom to impart hergladness. Whom should Maggy meet but Flora and Mr F.'s Aunt opportunelycoming in? And whom else, as a consequence of that meeting, shouldLittle Dorrit find waiting for herself, when, a good two or three hoursafterwards, she went out?

  Flora's eyes were a little red, and she seemed rather out of spirits.Mr F.'s Aunt was so stiffened that she had the appearance of being pastbending by any means short of powerful mechanical pressure. Her bonnetwas cocked up behind in a terrific manner; and her stony reticule was asrigid as if it had been petrified by the Gorgon's head, and had got itat that moment inside. With these imposing attributes, Mr F.'s Aunt,publicly seated on the steps of the Marshal's official residence, hadbeen for the two or three hours in question a great boon to the youngerinhabitants of the Borough, whose sallies of humour she had considerablyflushed herself by resenting at the point of her umbrella, from time totime.

  'Painfully aware, Miss Dorrit, I am sure,' said Flora, 'that to proposean adjournment to any place to one so far removed by fortune and socourted and caressed by the best society must ever appear intrudingeven if not a pie-shop far below your present sphere and a back-parlourthough a civil man but if for the sake of Arthur--cannot overcome itmore improper now than ever late Doyce and Clennam--one last remark Imight wish to make one last explanation I might wish to offer perhapsyour good nature might excuse under pretence of three kidney ones thehumble place of conversation.'

  Rightly interpreting this rather obscure speech, Little Dorrit re
turnedthat she was quite at Flora's disposition. Flora accordingly led theway across the road to the pie-shop in question: Mr F.'s Aunt stalkingacross in the rear, and putting herself in the way of being run over,with a perseverance worthy of a better cause.

  When the 'three kidney ones,' which were to be a blind to theconversation, were set before them on three little tin platters, eachkidney one ornamented with a hole at the top, into which the civil manpoured hot gravy out of a spouted can as if he were feeding three lamps,Flora took out her pocket-handkerchief.

  'If Fancy's fair dreams,' she began, 'have ever pictured that whenArthur--cannot overcome it pray excuse me--was restored to freedom evena pie as far from flaky as the present and so deficient in kidney as tobe in that respect like a minced nutmeg might not prove unacceptable ifoffered by the hand of true regard such visions have for ever fledand all is cancelled but being aware that tender relations are incontemplation beg to state that I heartily wish well to both and findno fault with either not the least, it may be withering to know that erethe hand of Time had made me much less slim than formerly and dreadfullyred on the slightest exertion particularly after eating I well know whenit takes the form of a rash, it might have been and was not through theinterruption of parents and mental torpor succeeded until the mysteriousclue was held by Mr F. still I would not be ungenerous to either and Iheartily wish well to both.'

  Little Dorrit took her hand, and thanked her for all her old kindness.

  'Call it not kindness,' returned Flora, giving her an honest kiss, 'foryou always were the best and dearest little thing that ever was if Imay take the liberty and even in a money point of view a saving beingConscience itself though I must add much more agreeable than mine everwas to me for though not I hope more burdened than other people's yetI have always found it far readier to make one uncomfortable thancomfortable and evidently taking a greater pleasure in doing it but I amwandering, one hope I wish to express ere yet the closing scene drawsin and it is that I do trust for the sake of old times and old sinceritythat Arthur will know that I didn't desert him in his misfortunes butthat I came backwards and forwards constantly to ask if I could doanything for him and that I sat in the pie-shop where they very civillyfetched something warm in a tumbler from the hotel and really very nicehours after hours to keep him company over the way without his knowingit.'

  Flora really had tears in her eyes now, and they showed her to greatadvantage.

  'Over and above which,' said Flora, 'I earnestly beg you as the dearestthing that ever was if you'll still excuse the familiarity from one whomoves in very different circles to let Arthur understand that I don'tknow after all whether it wasn't all nonsense between us though pleasantat the time and trying too and certainly Mr F. did work a change andthe spell being broken nothing could be expected to take place withoutweaving it afresh which various circumstances have combined to preventof which perhaps not the least powerful was that it was not to be, Iam not prepared to say that if it had been agreeable to Arthur and hadbrought itself about naturally in the first instance I should not havebeen very glad being of a lively disposition and moped at home wherepapa undoubtedly is the most aggravating of his sex and not improvedsince having been cut down by the hand of the Incendiary into somethingof which I never saw the counterpart in all my life but jealousy is notmy character nor ill-will though many faults.'

  Without having been able closely to follow Mrs Finching through thislabyrinth, Little Dorrit understood its purpose, and cordially acceptedthe trust.

  'The withered chaplet my dear,' said Flora, with great enjoyment, 'isthen perished the column is crumbled and the pyramid is standing upsidedown upon its what's-his-name call it not giddiness call it not weaknesscall it not folly I must now retire into privacy and look upon the ashesof departed joys no more but taking a further liberty of paying for thepastry which has formed the humble pretext of our interview will forever say Adieu!'

  Mr F.'s Aunt, who had eaten her pie with great solemnity, and who hadbeen elaborating some grievous scheme of injury in her mind since herfirst assumption of that public position on the Marshal's steps, tookthe present opportunity of addressing the following Sibyllic apostropheto the relict of her late nephew.

  'Bring him for'ard, and I'll chuck him out o' winder!'

  Flora tried in vain to soothe the excellent woman by explaining thatthey were going home to dinner. Mr F.'s Aunt persisted in replying,'Bring him for'ard and I'll chuck him out o' winder!' Having reiteratedthis demand an immense number of times, with a sustained glare ofdefiance at Little Dorrit, Mr F.'s Aunt folded her arms, and sat down inthe corner of the pie-shop parlour; steadfastly refusing to budge untilsuch time as 'he' should have been 'brought for'ard,' and the chuckingportion of his destiny accomplished.

  In this condition of things, Flora confided to Little Dorrit that shehad not seen Mr F.'s Aunt so full of life and character for weeks; thatshe would find it necessary to remain there 'hours perhaps,' until theinexorable old lady could be softened; and that she could manage herbest alone. They parted, therefore, in the friendliest manner, and withthe kindest feeling on both sides.

  Mr F.'s Aunt holding out like a grim fortress, and Flora becoming inneed of refreshment, a messenger was despatched to the hotel for thetumbler already glanced at, which was afterwards replenished. With theaid of its content, a newspaper, and some skimming of the cream of thepie-stock, Flora got through the remainder of the day in perfect goodhumour; though occasionally embarrassed by the consequences of anidle rumour which circulated among the credulous infants of theneighbourhood, to the effect that an old lady had sold herself to thepie-shop to be made up, and was then sitting in the pie-shop parlour,declining to complete her contract. This attracted so many young personsof both sexes, and, when the shades of evening began to fall, occasionedso much interruption to the business, that the merchant became verypressing in his proposals that Mr F.'s Aunt should be removed. Aconveyance was accordingly brought to the door, which, by the jointefforts of the merchant and Flora, this remarkable woman was at lastinduced to enter; though not without even then putting her head out ofthe window, and demanding to have him 'brought for'ard' for the purposeoriginally mentioned. As she was observed at this time to direct balefulglances towards the Marshalsea, it has been supposed that this admirablyconsistent female intended by 'him,' Arthur Clennam. This, however, ismere speculation; who the person was, who, for the satisfaction of MrF.'s Aunt's mind, ought to have been brought forward and never wasbrought forward, will never be positively known.

  The autumn days went on, and Little Dorrit never came to the Marshalseanow and went away without seeing him. No, no, no.

  One morning, as Arthur listened for the light feet that every morningascended winged to his heart, bringing the heavenly brightness of a newlove into the room where the old love had wrought so hard and been sotrue; one morning, as he listened, he heard her coming, not alone.

  'Dear Arthur,' said her delighted voice outside the door, 'I have someone here. May I bring some one in?'

  He had thought from the tread there were two with her. He answered'Yes,' and she came in with Mr Meagles. Sun-browned and jolly MrMeagles looked, and he opened his arms and folded Arthur in them, like asun-browned and jolly father.

  'Now I am all right,' said Mr Meagles, after a minute or so. 'Now it'sover. Arthur, my dear fellow, confess at once that you expected mebefore.'

  'I did,' said Arthur; 'but Amy told me--'

  'Little Dorrit. Never any other name.' (It was she who whispered it.)

  '--But my Little Dorrit told me that, without asking for any furtherexplanation, I was not to expect you until I saw you.'

  'And now you see me, my boy,' said Mr Meagles, shaking him by the handstoutly; 'and now you shall have any explanation and every explanation.The fact is, I _was_ here--came straight to you from the Allongersand Marshongers, or I should be ashamed to look you in the face thisday,--but you were not in company trim at the moment, and I had to startoff again to catch Doyce.'


  'Poor Doyce!' sighed Arthur.

  'Don't call him names that he don't deserve,' said Mr Meagles. '_He's_not poor; _he's_ doing well enough. Doyce is a wonderful fellow overthere. I assure you he is making out his case like a house a-fire. Hehas fallen on his legs, has Dan. Where they don't want things done andfind a man to do 'em, that man's off his legs; but where they do wantthings done and find a man to do 'em, that man's on his legs. You won'thave occasion to trouble the Circumlocution Office any more. Let me tellyou, Dan has done without 'em!'

  'What a load you take from my mind!' cried Arthur. 'What happiness yougive me!'

  'Happiness?' retorted Mr Meagles. 'Don't talk about happiness till yousee Dan. I assure you Dan is directing works and executing labours overyonder, that it would make your hair stand on end to look at. He's nopublic offender, bless you, now! He's medalled and ribboned, and starredand crossed, and I don't-know-what all'd, like a born nobleman. But wemustn't talk about that over here.'

  'Why not?'

  'Oh, egad!' said Mr Meagles, shaking his head very seriously, 'he musthide all those things under lock and key when he comes over here. Theywon't do over here. In that particular, Britannia is a Britannia in theManger--won't give her children such distinctions herself, and won'tallow them to be seen when they are given by other countries. No, no,Dan!' said Mr Meagles, shaking his head again. 'That won't do here!'

  'If you had brought me (except for Doyce's sake) twice what I havelost,' cried Arthur, 'you would not have given me the pleasure that yougive me in this news.'

  'Why, of course, of course,' assented Mr Meagles. 'Of course I knowthat, my good fellow, and therefore I come out with it in the firstburst. Now, to go back, about catching Doyce. I caught Doyce. Ranagainst him among a lot of those dirty brown dogs in women's nightcaps agreat deal too big for 'em, calling themselves Arabs and all sorts ofincoherent races. _You_ know 'em! Well! He was coming straight to me,and I was going to him, and so we came back together.'

  'Doyce in England!' exclaimed Arthur.

  'There!' said Mr Meagles, throwing open his arms. 'I am the worst manin the world to manage a thing of this sort. I don't know what I shouldhave done if I had been in the diplomatic line--right, perhaps! The longand short of it is, Arthur, we have both been in England this fortnight.And if you go on to ask where Doyce is at the present moment, why, myplain answer is--here he is! And now I can breathe again at last!'

  Doyce darted in from behind the door, caught Arthur by both hands, andsaid the rest for himself.

  'There are only three branches of my subject, my dear Clennam,' saidDoyce, proceeding to mould them severally, with his plastic thumb, onthe palm of his hand, 'and they're soon disposed of. First, not a wordmore from you about the past. There was an error in your calculations.I know what that is. It affects the whole machine, and failure is theconsequence. You will profit by the failure, and will avoid it anothertime. I have done a similar thing myself, in construction, often. Everyfailure teaches a man something, if he will learn; and you are toosensible a man not to learn from this failure. So much for firstly.Secondly. I was sorry you should have taken it so heavily to heart, andreproached yourself so severely; I was travelling home night and dayto put matters right, with the assistance of our friend, when I fell inwith our friend as he has informed you. Thirdly. We two agreed, that,after what you had undergone, after your distress of mind, and afteryour illness, it would be a pleasant surprise if we could so far keepquiet as to get things perfectly arranged without your knowledge, andthen come and say that all the affairs were smooth, that everything wasright, that the business stood in greater want of you than ever it did,and that a new and prosperous career was opened before you and me aspartners. That's thirdly. But you know we always make an allowance forfriction, and so I have reserved space to close in. My dear Clennam,I thoroughly confide in you; you have it in your power to be quite asuseful to me as I have, or have had, it in my power to be useful to you;your old place awaits you, and wants you very much; there is nothing todetain you here one half-hour longer.'

  There was silence, which was not broken until Arthur had stood for sometime at the window with his back towards them, and until his little wifethat was to be had gone to him and stayed by him.

  'I made a remark a little while ago,' said Daniel Doyce then, 'which Iam inclined to think was an incorrect one. I said there was nothingto detain you here, Clennam, half an hour longer. Am I mistaken insupposing that you would rather not leave here till to-morrow morning?Do I know, without being very wise, where you would like to go, directfrom these walls and from this room?'

  'You do,' returned Arthur. 'It has been our cherished purpose.'

  'Very well!' said Doyce. 'Then, if this young lady will do me the honourof regarding me for four-and-twenty hours in the light of a father, andwill take a ride with me now towards Saint Paul's Churchyard, I dare sayI know what we want to get there.'

  Little Dorrit and he went out together soon afterwards, and Mr Meagleslingered behind to say a word to his friend.

  'I think, Arthur, you will not want Mother and me in the morning andwe will keep away. It might set Mother thinking about Pet; she's asoft-hearted woman. She's best at the Cottage, and I'll stay there andkeep her company.'

  With that they parted for the time. And the day ended, and the nightended, and the morning came, and Little Dorrit, simply dressed as usualand having no one with her but Maggy, came into the prison with thesunshine. The poor room was a happy room that morning. Where in theworld was there a room so full of quiet joy!

  'My dear love,' said Arthur. 'Why does Maggy light the fire? We shall begone directly.'

  'I asked her to do it. I have taken such an odd fancy. I want you toburn something for me.'

  'What?'

  'Only this folded paper. If you will put it in the fire with your ownhand, just as it is, my fancy will be gratified.'

  'Superstitious, darling Little Dorrit? Is it a charm?'

  'It is anything you like best, my own,' she answered, laughing withglistening eyes and standing on tiptoe to kiss him, 'if you will onlyhumour me when the fire burns up.'

  So they stood before the fire, waiting: Clennam with his arm about herwaist, and the fire shining, as fire in that same place had often shone,in Little Dorrit's eyes. 'Is it bright enough now?' said Arthur. 'Quitebright enough now,' said Little Dorrit. 'Does the charm want any wordsto be said?' asked Arthur, as he held the paper over the flame. 'You cansay (if you don't mind) "I love you!"' answered Little Dorrit. So he saidit, and the paper burned away.

  They passed very quietly along the yard; for no one was there, thoughmany heads were stealthily peeping from the windows. Only one face,familiar of old, was in the Lodge. When they had both accosted it, andspoken many kind words, Little Dorrit turned back one last time with herhand stretched out, saying, 'Good-bye, good John! I hope you will livevery happy, dear!'

  Then they went up the steps of the neighbouring Saint George's Church,and went up to the altar, where Daniel Doyce was waiting in his paternalcharacter. And there was Little Dorrit's old friend who had given herthe Burial Register for a pillow; full of admiration that she shouldcome back to them to be married, after all.

  And they were married with the sun shining on them through the paintedfigure of Our Saviour on the window. And they went into the very roomwhere Little Dorrit had slumbered after her party, to sign the MarriageRegister. And there, Mr Pancks, (destined to be chief clerk to Doyce andClennam, and afterwards partner in the house), sinking the Incendiaryin the peaceful friend, looked in at the door to see it done, with Floragallantly supported on one arm and Maggy on the other, and a back-groundof John Chivery and father and other turnkeys who had run round for themoment, deserting the parent Marshalsea for its happy child. Nor hadFlora the least signs of seclusion upon her, notwithstanding her recentdeclaration; but, on the contrary, was wonderfully smart, and enjoyedthe ceremonies mightily, though in a fluttered way.

  Little Dorrit's old friend held the inkstand as she signed he
r name, andthe clerk paused in taking off the good clergyman's surplice, and allthe witnesses looked on with special interest. 'For, you see,' saidLittle Dorrit's old friend, 'this young lady is one of our curiosities,and has come now to the third volume of our Registers. Her birth is inwhat I call the first volume; she lay asleep, on this very floor,with her pretty head on what I call the second volume; and she's nowa-writing her little name as a bride in what I call the third volume.'

  They all gave place when the signing was done, and Little Dorrit and herhusband walked out of the church alone. They paused for a moment on thesteps of the portico, looking at the fresh perspective of the street inthe autumn morning sun's bright rays, and then went down.

  Went down into a modest life of usefulness and happiness. Went downto give a mother's care, in the fulness of time, to Fanny's neglectedchildren no less than to their own, and to leave that lady going intoSociety for ever and a day. Went down to give a tender nurse and friendto Tip for some few years, who was never vexed by the great exactions hemade of her in return for the riches he might have given her if he hadever had them, and who lovingly closed his eyes upon the Marshalseaand all its blighted fruits. They went quietly down into the roaringstreets, inseparable and blessed; and as they passed along in sunshineand shade, the noisy and the eager, and the arrogant and the froward andthe vain, fretted and chafed, and made their usual uproar.

 
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