Part 2 out of 20
'O' course,' said Mrs Flintwinch. 'It was no doing o' mine. I'D
never thought of it. I'd got something to do, without thinking,
indeed! She kept me to it (as well as he) when she could go about,
and she could go about then.'
'Well?' echoed Mrs Flintwinch. 'That's what I said myself. Well!
What's the use of considering? If them two clever ones have made
up their minds to it, what's left for me to do? Nothing.'
'Was it my mother's project, then?'
'The Lord bless you, Arthur, and forgive me the wish!' cried
Affery, speaking always in a low tone. 'If they hadn't been both
of a mind in it, how could it ever have been? Jeremiah never
courted me; t'ant likely that he would, after living in the house
with me and ordering me about for as many years as he'd done. He
said to me one day, he said, "Affery," he said, "now I am going to
tell you something. What do you think of the name of Flintwinch?"
"What do I think of it?" I says. "Yes," he said, "because you're
going to take it," he said. "Take it?" I says. "Jere-MI-ah?" Oh!
he's a clever one!'
Mrs Flintwinch went on to spread the upper sheet over the bed, and
the blanket over that, and the counterpane over that, as if she had
quite concluded her story.
'Well?' said Arthur again.
'Well?' echoed Mrs Flintwinch again. 'How could I help myself? He
said to me, "Affery, you and me must be married, and I'll tell you
why. She's failing in health, and she'll want pretty constant
attendance up in her room, and we shall have to be much with her,
and there'll be nobody about now but ourselves when we're away from
her, and altogether it will be more convenient. She's of my
opinion," he said, "so if you'll put your bonnet on next Monday
morning at eight, we'll get it over."' Mrs Flintwinch tucked up the
'Well?' repeated Mrs Flintwinch, 'I think so! I sits me down and
says it. Well!--Jeremiah then says to me, "As to banns, next
Sunday being the third time of asking (for I've put 'em up a
fortnight), is my reason for naming Monday. She'll speak to you
about it herself, and now she'll find you prepared, Affery." That
same day she spoke to me, and she said, "So, Affery, I understand
that you and Jeremiah are going to be married. I am glad of it,
and so are you, with reason. It is a very good thing for you, and
very welcome under the circumstances to me. He is a sensible man,
and a trustworthy man, and a persevering man, and a pious man."
What could I say when it had come to that? Why, if it had been--a
smothering instead of a wedding,' Mrs Flintwinch cast about in her
mind with great pains for this form of expression, 'I couldn't have
said a word upon it, against them two clever ones.'
'In good faith, I believe so.'
'And so you may, Arthur.'
'Affery, what girl was that in my mother's room just now?'
'Girl?' said Mrs Flintwinch in a rather sharp key.
'It was a girl, surely, whom I saw near you--almost hidden in the
'Oh! She? Little Dorrit? She's nothing; she's a whim of--hers.'
It was a peculiarity of Affery Flintwinch that she never spoke of
Mrs Clennam by name. 'But there's another sort of girls than that
about. Have you forgot your old sweetheart? Long and long ago,
I'll be bound.'
'I suffered enough from my mother's separating us, to remember her.
I recollect her very well.'
'Have you got another?'
'Here's news for you, then. She's well to do now, and a widow.
And if you like to have her, why you can.'
'And how do you know that, Affery?'
'Them two clever ones have been speaking about it.--There's
Jeremiah on the stairs!' She was gone in a moment.
Mrs Flintwinch had introduced into the web that his mind was busily
weaving, in that old workshop where the loom of his youth had
stood, the last thread wanting to the pattern. The airy folly of
a boy's love had found its way even into that house, and he had
been as wretched under its hopelessness as if the house had been a
castle of romance. Little more than a week ago at Marseilles, the
face of the pretty girl from whom he had parted with regret, had
had an unusual interest for him, and a tender hold upon him,
because of some resemblance, real or imagined, to this first face
that had soared out of his gloomy life into the bright glories of
fancy. He leaned upon the sill of the long low window, and looking
out upon the blackened forest of chimneys again, began to dream;
for it had been the uniform tendency of this man's life--so much
was wanting in it to think about, so much that might have been
better directed and happier to speculate upon--to make him a
dreamer, after all.
Mrs Flintwinch has a Dream
When Mrs Flintwinch dreamed, she usually dreamed, unlike the son of
her old mistress, with her eyes shut. She had a curiously vivid
dream that night, and before she had left the son of her old
mistress many hours. In fact it was not at all like a dream; it
was so very real in every respect. It happened in this wise.
The bed-chamber occupied by Mr and Mrs Flintwinch was within a few
paces of that to which Mrs Clennam had been so long confined. It
was not on the same floor, for it was a room at the side of the
house, which was approached by a steep descent of a few odd steps,
diverging from the main staircase nearly opposite to Mrs Clennam's
door. It could scarcely be said to be within call, the walls,
doors, and panelling of the old place were so cumbrous; but it was
within easy reach, in any undress, at any hour of the night, in any
temperature. At the head of the bed and within a foot of Mrs
Flintwinch's ear, was a bell, the line of which hung ready to Mrs
Clennam's hand. Whenever this bell rang, up started Affery, and
was in the sick room before she was awake.
Having got her mistress into bed, lighted her lamp, and given her
good night, Mrs Flintwinch went to roost as usual, saving that her
lord had not yet appeared. It was her lord himself who became--
unlike the last theme in the mind, according to the observation of
most philosophers--the subject of Mrs Flintwinch's dream.
It seemed to her that she awoke after sleeping some hours, and
found Jeremiah not yet abed. That she looked at the candle she had
left burning, and, measuring the time like King Alfred the Great,
was confirmed by its wasted state in her belief that she had been
asleep for some considerable period. That she arose thereupon,
muffled herself up in a wrapper, put on her shoes, and went out on
the staircase, much surprised, to look for Jeremiah.
The staircase was as wooden and solid as need be, and Affery went
straight down it without any of those deviations peculiar to
dreams. She did not skim over it, but walked down it, and guided
herself by the banisters on account of her candle having died out.
In one corner of the hall, behind the house-door, there was a
little waiting-room, like a well-shaft, with a long narrow window
in it as if it had been ripped up. In this room, which was never
used, a light was burning.
Mrs Flintwinch crossed the hall, feeling its pavement cold to her
stockingless feet, and peeped in between the rusty hinges on the
door, which stood a little open. She expected to see Jeremiah fast
asleep or in a fit, but he was calmly seated in a chair, awake, and
in his usual health. But what--hey?--Lord forgive us!--Mrs
Flintwinch muttered some ejaculation to this effect, and turned
For, Mr Flintwinch awake, was watching Mr Flintwinch asleep. He
sat on one side of the small table, looking keenly at himself on
the other side with his chin sunk on his breast, snoring. The
waking Flintwinch had his full front face presented to his wife;
the sleeping Flintwinch was in profile. The waking Flintwinch was
the old original; the sleeping Flintwinch was the double. just as
she might have distinguished between a tangible object and its
reflection in a glass, Affery made out this difference with her
head going round and round.
If she had had any doubt which was her own Jeremiah, it would have
been resolved by his impatience. He looked about him for an
offensive weapon, caught up the snuffers, and, before applying them
to the cabbage-headed candle, lunged at the sleeper as though he
would have run him through the body.
'Who's that? What's the matter?' cried the sleeper, starting.
Mr Flintwinch made a movement with the snuffers, as if he would
have enforced silence on his companion by putting them down his
throat; the companion, coming to himself, said, rubbing his eyes,
'I forgot where I was.'
'You have been asleep,' snarled Jeremiah, referring to his watch,
'two hours. You said you would be rested enough if you had a short
'I have had a short nap,' said Double.
'Half-past two o'clock in the morning,' muttered Jeremiah.
'Where's your hat? Where's your coat? Where's the box?'
'All here,' said Double, tying up his throat with sleepy
carefulness in a shawl. 'Stop a minute. Now give me the sleeve--
not that sleeve, the other one. Ha! I'm not as young as I was.'
Mr Flintwinch had pulled him into his coat with vehement energy.
'You promised me a second glass after I was rested.'
'Drink it!' returned Jeremiah, 'and--choke yourself, I was going to
say--but go, I mean.'At the same time he produced the identical
port-wine bottle, and filled a wine-glass.
'Her port-wine, I believe?' said Double, tasting it as if he were
in the Docks, with hours to spare. 'Her health.'
He took a sip.
He took another sip.
He took another sip.
'And all friends round St Paul's.' He emptied and put down the
wine-glass half-way through this ancient civic toast, and took up
the box. It was an iron box some two feet square, which he carried
under his arms pretty easily. Jeremiah watched his manner of
adjusting it, with jealous eyes; tried it with his hands, to be
sure that he had a firm hold of it; bade him for his life be
careful what he was about; and then stole out on tiptoe to open the
door for him. Affery, anticipating the last movement, was on the
staircase. The sequence of things was so ordinary and natural,
that, standing there, she could hear the door open, feel the night
air, and see the stars outside.
But now came the most remarkable part of the dream. She felt so
afraid of her husband, that being on the staircase, she had not the
power to retreat to her room (which she might easily have done
before he had fastened the door), but stood there staring.
Consequently when he came up the staircase to bed, candle in hand,
he came full upon her. He looked astonished, but said not a word.
He kept his eyes upon her, and kept advancing; and she, completely
under his influence, kept retiring before him. Thus, she walking
backward and he walking forward, they came into their own room.
They were no sooner shut in there, than Mr Flintwinch took her by
the throat, and shook her until she was black in the face.
'Why, Affery, woman--Affery!' said Mr Flintwinch. 'What have you
been dreaming of? Wake up, wake up! What's the matter?'
'The--the matter, Jeremiah?' gasped Mrs Flintwinch, rolling her
'Why, Affery, woman--Affery! You have been getting out of bed in
your sleep, my dear! I come up, after having fallen asleep myself,
below, and find you in your wrapper here, with the nightmare.
Affery, woman,' said Mr Flintwinch, with a friendly grin on his
expressive countenance, 'if you ever have a dream of this sort
again, it'll be a sign of your being in want of physic. And I'll
give you such a dose, old woman--such a dose!'
Mrs Flintwinch thanked him and crept into bed.
As the city clocks struck nine on Monday morning, Mrs Clennam was
wheeled by Jeremiah Flintwinch of the cut-down aspect to her tall
cabinet. When she had unlocked and opened it, and had settled
herself at its desk, Jeremiah withdrew--as it might be, to hang
himself more effectually--and her son appeared.
'Are you any better this morning, mother?'
She shook her head, with the same austere air of luxuriousness that
she had shown over-night when speaking of the weather.
'I shall never be better any more. It is well for me, Arthur, that
I know it and can bear it.'
Sitting with her hands laid separately upon the desk, and the tall
cabinet towering before her, she looked as if she were performing
on a dumb church organ. Her son thought so (it was an old thought
with him), while he took his seat beside it.
She opened a drawer or two, looked over some business papers, and
put them back again. Her severe face had no thread of relaxation
in it, by which any explorer could have been guided to the gloomy
labyrinth of her thoughts.
'Shall I speak of our affairs, mother? Are you inclined to enter
'Am I inclined, Arthur? Rather, are you? Your father has been
dead a year and more. I have been at your disposal, and waiting
your pleasure, ever since.'
'There was much to arrange before I could leave; and when I did
leave, I travelled a little for rest and relief.'
She turned her face towards him, as not having heard or understood
his last words.
'For rest and relief.'
She glanced round the sombre room, and appeared from the motion of
her lips to repeat the words to herself, as calling it to witness
how little of either it afforded her.
'Besides, mother, you being sole executrix, and having the
direction and management of the estate, there remained little
business, or I might say none, that I could transact, until you had
had time to arrange matters to your satisfaction.'
'The accounts are made out,' she returned. 'I have them here. The
vouchers have all been examined and passed. You can inspect them
when you like, Arthur; now, if you please.'
'It is quite enough, mother, to know that the business is
completed. Shall I proceed then?'
'Why not?' she said, in her frozen way.
'Mother, our House has done less and less for some years past, and
our dealings have been progressively on the decline. We have never
shown much confidence, or invited much; we have attached no people
to us; the track we have kept is not the track of the time; and we
have been left far behind. I need not dwell on this to you,
mother. You know it necessarily.'
'I know what you mean,' she answered, in a qualified tone.
'Even this old house in which we speak,' pursued her son, 'is an
instance of what I say. In my father's earlier time, and in his
uncle's time before him, it was a place of business--really a place
of business, and business resort. Now, it is a mere anomaly and
incongruity here, out of date and out of purpose. All our
consignments have long been made to Rovinghams' the commission-
merchants; and although, as a check upon them, and in the
stewardship of my father's resources, your judgment and
watchfulness have been actively exerted, still those qualities
would have influenced my father's fortunes equally, if you had
lived in any private dwelling: would they not?'
'Do you consider,' she returned, without answering his question,
'that a house serves no purpose, Arthur, in sheltering your infirm
and afflicted--justly infirm and righteously afflicted--mother?'
'I was speaking only of business purposes.'
'With what object?'
'I am coming to it.'
'I foresee,' she returned, fixing her eyes upon him, 'what it is.
But the Lord forbid that I should repine under any visitation. In
my sinfulness I merit bitter disappointment, and I accept it.'
'Mother, I grieve to hear you speak like this, though I have had my
apprehensions that you would--'
'You knew I would. You knew ME,' she interrupted.
Her son paused for a moment. He had struck fire out of her, and
'Well!' she said, relapsing into stone. 'Go on. Let me hear.'
'You have anticipated, mother, that I decide for my part, to
abandon the business. I have done with it. I will not take upon
myself to advise you; you will continue it, I see. If I had any
influence with you, I would simply use it to soften your judgment
of me in causing you this disappointment: to represent to you that
I have lived the half of a long term of life, and have never before
set my own will against yours. I cannot say that I have been able
to conform myself, in heart and spirit, to your rules; I cannot say
that I believe my forty years have been profitable or pleasant to
myself, or any one; but I have habitually submitted, and I only ask
you to remember it.'
Woe to the suppliant, if such a one there were or ever had been,
who had any concession to look for in the inexorable face at the
cabinet. Woe to the defaulter whose appeal lay to the tribunal
where those severe eyes presided. Great need had the rigid woman
of her mystical religion, veiled in gloom and darkness, with
lightnings of cursing, vengeance, and destruction, flashing through
the sable clouds. Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors,
was a prayer too poor in spirit for her. Smite Thou my debtors,
Lord, wither them, crush them; do Thou as I would do, and Thou
shalt have my worship: this was the impious tower of stone she
built up to scale Heaven.
'Have you finished, Arthur, or have you anything more to say to me?
I think there can be nothing else. You have been short, but full
'Mother, I have yet something more to say. It has been upon my
mind, night and day, this long time. It is far more difficult to
say than what I have said. That concerned myself; this concerns us
'Us all! Who are us all?'
'Yourself, myself, my dead father.'
She took her hands from the desk; folded them in her lap; and sat
looking towards the fire, with the impenetrability of an old
'You knew my father infinitely better than I ever knew him; and his
reserve with me yielded to you. You were much the stronger,
mother, and directed him. As a child, I knew it as well as I know
it now. I knew that your ascendancy over him was the cause of his
going to China to take care of the business there, while you took
care of it here (though I do not even now know whether these were
really terms of separation that you agreed upon); and that it was
your will that I should remain with you until I was twenty, and
then go to him as I did. You will not be offended by my recalling
this, after twenty years?'
'I am waiting to hear why you recall it.'
He lowered his voice, and said, with manifest reluctance, and
against his will:
'I want to ask you, mother, whether it ever occurred to you to
At the word Suspect, she turned her eyes momentarily upon her son,
with a dark frown. She then suffered them to seek the fire, as
before; but with the frown fixed above them, as if the sculptor of
old Egypt had indented it in the hard granite face, to frown for
'--that he had any secret remembrance which caused him trouble of
mind--remorse? Whether you ever observed anything in his conduct
suggesting that; or ever spoke to him upon it, or ever heard him
hint at such a thing?'
'I do not understand what kind of secret remembrance you mean to
infer that your father was a prey to,' she returned, after a
silence. 'You speak so mysteriously.'
'Is it possible, mother,' her son leaned forward to be the nearer
to her while he whispered it, and laid his hand nervously upon her
desk, 'is it possible, mother, that he had unhappily wronged any
one, and made no reparation?'
Looking at him wrathfully, she bent herself back in her chair to
keep him further off, but gave him no reply.
'I am deeply sensible, mother, that if this thought has never at
any time flashed upon you, it must seem cruel and unnatural in me,
even in this confidence, to breathe it. But I cannot shake it off.
Time and change (I have tried both before breaking silence) do
nothing to wear it out. Remember, I was with my father. Remember,
I saw his face when he gave the watch into my keeping, and
struggled to express that he sent it as a token you would
understand, to you. Remember, I saw him at the last with the
pencil in his failing hand, trying to write some word for you to
read, but to which he could give no shape. The more remote and
cruel this vague suspicion that I have, the stronger the
circumstances that could give it any semblance of probability to
me. For Heaven's sake, let us examine sacredly whether there is
any wrong entrusted to us to set right. No one can help towards
it, mother, but you. '
Still so recoiling in her chair that her overpoised weight moved
it, from time to time, a little on its wheels, and gave her the
appearance of a phantom of fierce aspect gliding away from him, she
interposed her left arm, bent at the elbow with the back of her
hand towards her face, between herself and him, and looked at him
in a fixed silence.
'In grasping at money and in driving hard bargains--I have begun,
and I must speak of such things now, mother--some one may have been
grievously deceived, injured, ruined. You were the moving power of
all this machinery before my birth; your stronger spirit has been
infused into all my father's dealings for more than two score
years. You can set these doubts at rest, I think, if you will
really help me to discover the truth. Will you, mother?'
He stopped in the hope that she would speak. But her grey hair was
not more immovable in its two folds, than were her firm lips.
'If reparation can be made to any one, if restitution can be made
to any one, let us know it and make it. Nay, mother, if within my
means, let ME make it. I have seen so little happiness come of
money; it has brought within my knowledge so little peace to this
house, or to any one belonging to it, that it is worth less to me
than to another. It can buy me nothing that will not be a reproach
and misery to me, if I am haunted by a suspicion that it darkened
my father's last hours with remorse, and that it is not honestly
and justly mine.'
There was a bell-rope hanging on the panelled wall, some two or
three yards from the cabinet. By a swift and sudden action of her
foot, she drove her wheeled chair rapidly back to it and pulled it
violently--still holding her arm up in its shield-like posture, as
if he were striking at her, and she warding off the blow.
A girl came hurrying in, frightened.
'Send Flintwinch here!'
In a moment the girl had withdrawn, and the old man stood within
the door. 'What! You're hammer and tongs, already, you two?' he
said, coolly stroking his face. 'I thought you would be. I was
pretty sure of it.'
'Flintwinch!' said the mother, 'look at my son. Look at him!'
'Well, I AM looking at him,' said Flintwinch.
She stretched out the arm with which she had shielded herself, and
as she went on, pointed at the object of her anger.
'In the very hour of his return almost--before the shoe upon his
foot is dry--he asperses his father's memory to his mother! Asks
his mother to become, with him, a spy upon his father's
transactions through a lifetime! Has misgivings that the goods of
this world which we have painfully got together early and late,
with wear and tear and toil and self-denial, are so much plunder;
and asks to whom they shall be given up, as reparation and
Although she said this raging, she said it in a voice so far from
being beyond her control that it was even lower than her usual
tone. She also spoke with great distinctness.
'Reparation!' said she. 'Yes, truly! It is easy for him to talk
of reparation, fresh from journeying and junketing in foreign
lands, and living a life of vanity and pleasure. But let him look
at me, in prison, and in bonds here. I endure without murmuring,
because it is appointed that I shall so make reparation for my
sins. Reparation! Is there none in this room? Has there been
none here this fifteen years?'
Thus was she always balancing her bargains with the Majesty of
heaven, posting up the entries to her credit, strictly keeping her
set-off, and claiming her due. She was only remarkable in this,
for the force and emphasis with which she did it. Thousands upon
thousands do it, according to their varying manner, every day.
'Flintwinch, give me that book!'
The old man handed it to her from the table. She put two fingers
between the leaves, closed the book upon them, and held it up to
her son in a threatening way.
' In the days of old, Arthur, treated of in this commentary, there
were pious men, beloved of the Lord, who would have cursed their
sons for less than this: who would have sent them forth, and sent
whole nations forth, if such had supported them, to be avoided of
God and man, and perish, down to the baby at the breast. But I
only tell you that if you ever renew that theme with me, I will
renounce you; I will so dismiss you through that doorway, that you
had better have been motherless from your cradle. I will never see
or know you more. And if, after all, you were to come into this
darkened room to look upon me lying dead, my body should bleed, if
I could make it, when you came near me.'
In part relieved by the intensity of this threat, and in part
(monstrous as the fact is) by a general impression that it was in
some sort a religious proceeding, she handed back the book to the
old man, and was silent.
'Now,' said Jeremiah; 'premising that I'm not going to stand
between you two, will you let me ask (as I have been called in, and
made a third) what is all this about?'
'Take your version of it,' returned Arthur, finding it left to him
to speak, 'from my mother. Let it rest there. What I have said,
was said to my mother only.'
'Oh!' returned the old man. 'From your mother? Take it from your
mother? Well! But your mother mentioned that you had been
suspecting your father. That's not dutiful, Mr Arthur. Who will
you be suspecting next?'
'Enough,' said Mrs Clennam, turning her face so that it was
addressed for the moment to the old man only. 'Let no more be said
'Yes, but stop a bit, stop a bit,' the old man persisted. 'Let us
see how we stand. Have you told Mr Arthur that he mustn't lay
offences at his father's door? That he has no right to do it?
That he has no ground to go upon?'
'I tell him so now.'
'Ah! Exactly,' said the old man. 'You tell him so now. You
hadn't told him so before, and you tell him so now. Ay, ay!
That's right! You know I stood between you and his father so long,
that it seems as if death had made no difference, and I was still
standing between you. So I will, and so in fairness I require to
have that plainly put forward. Arthur, you please to hear that you
have no right to mistrust your father, and have no ground to go
He put his hands to the back of the wheeled chair, and muttering to
himself, slowly wheeled his mistress back to her cabinet. 'Now,'
he resumed, standing behind her: 'in case I should go away leaving
things half done, and so should be wanted again when you come to
the other half and get into one of your flights, has Arthur told
you what he means to do about the business?'
'He has relinquished it.'
'In favour of nobody, I suppose?'
Mrs Clennam glanced at her son, leaning against one of the windows.
He observed the look and said, 'To my mother, of course. She does
what she pleases.'
'And if any pleasure,' she said after a short pause, 'could arise
for me out of the disappointment of my expectations that my son, in
the prime of his life, would infuse new youth and strength into it,
and make it of great profit and power, it would be in advancing an
old and faithful servant. Jeremiah, the captain deserts the ship,
but you and I will sink or float with it.'
Jeremiah, whose eyes glistened as if they saw money, darted a
sudden look at the son, which seemed to say, 'I owe YOU no thanks
for this; YOU have done nothing towards it!' and then told the
mother that he thanked her, and that Affery thanked her, and that
he would never desert her, and that Affery would never desert her.
Finally, he hauled up his watch from its depths, and said, 'Eleven.
Time for your oysters!' and with that change of subject, which
involved no change of expression or manner, rang the bell.
But Mrs Clennam, resolved to treat herself with the greater rigour
for having been supposed to be unacquainted with reparation,
refused to eat her oysters when they were brought. They looked
tempting; eight in number, circularly set out on a white plate on
a tray covered with a white napkin, flanked by a slice of buttered
French roll, and a little compact glass of cool wine and water; but
she resisted all persuasions, and sent them down again--placing the
act to her credit, no doubt, in her Eternal Day-Book.
This refection of oysters was not presided over by Affery, but by
the girl who had appeared when the bell was rung; the same who had
been in the dimly-lighted room last night. Now that he had an
opportunity of observing her, Arthur found that her diminutive
figure, small features, and slight spare dress, gave her the
appearance of being much younger than she was. A woman, probably
of not less than two-and-twenty, she might have been passed in the
street for little more than half that age. Not that her face was
very youthful, for in truth there was more consideration and care
in it than naturally belonged to her utmost years; but she was so
little and light, so noiseless and shy, and appeared so conscious
of being out of place among the three hard elders, that she had all
the manner and much of the appearance of a subdued child.
In a hard way, and in an uncertain way that fluctuated between
patronage and putting down, the sprinkling from a watering-pot and
hydraulic pressure, Mrs Clennam showed an interest in this
dependent. Even in the moment of her entrance, upon the violent
ringing of the bell, when the mother shielded herself with that
singular action from the son, Mrs Clennam's eyes had had some
individual recognition in them, which seemed reserved for her. As
there are degrees of hardness in the hardest metal, and shades of
colour in black itself, so, even in the asperity of Mrs Clennam's
demeanour towards all the rest of humanity and towards Little
Dorrit, there was a fine gradation.
Little Dorrit let herself out to do needlework. At so much a day--
or at so little--from eight to eight, Little Dorrit was to be
hired. Punctual to the moment, Little Dorrit appeared; punctual to
the moment, Little Dorrit vanished. What became of Little Dorrit
between the two eights was a mystery.
Another of the moral phenomena of Little Dorrit. Besides her
consideration money, her daily contract included meals. She had an
extraordinary repugnance to dining in company; would never do so,
if it were possible to escape. Would always plead that she had
this bit of work to begin first, or that bit of work to finish
first; and would, of a certainty, scheme and plan--not very
cunningly, it would seem, for she deceived no one--to dine alone.
Successful in this, happy in carrying off her plate anywhere, to
make a table of her lap, or a box, or the ground, or even as was
supposed, to stand on tip-toe, dining moderately at a mantel-shelf;
the great anxiety of Little Dorrit's day was set at rest.
It was not easy to make out Little Dorrit's face; she was so
retiring, plied her needle in such removed corners, and started
away so scared if encountered on the stairs. But it seemed to be
a pale transparent face, quick in expression, though not beautiful
in feature, its soft hazel eyes excepted. A delicately bent head,
a tiny form, a quick little pair of busy hands, and a shabby
dress--it must needs have been very shabby to look at all so, being
so neat--were Little Dorrit as she sat at work.
For these particulars or generalities concerning Little Dorrit, Mr
Arthur was indebted in the course of the day to his own eyes and to
Mrs Affery's tongue. If Mrs Affery had had any will or way of her
own, it would probably have been unfavourable to Little Dorrit.
But as 'them two clever ones'--Mrs Affery's perpetual reference, in
whom her personality was swallowed up--were agreed to accept Little
Dorrit as a matter of course, she had nothing for it but to follow
suit. Similarly, if the two clever ones had agreed to murder
Little Dorrit by candlelight, Mrs Affery, being required to hold
the candle, would no doubt have done it.
In the intervals of roasting the partridge for the invalid chamber,
and preparing a baking-dish of beef and pudding for the dining-
room, Mrs Affery made the communications above set forth;
invariably putting her head in at the door again after she had
taken it out, to enforce resistance to the two clever ones. It
appeared to have become a perfect passion with Mrs Flintwinch, that
the only son should be pitted against them.
In the course of the day, too, Arthur looked through the whole
house. Dull and dark he found it. The gaunt rooms, deserted for
years upon years, seemed to have settled down into a gloomy
lethargy from which nothing could rouse them again. The furniture,
at once spare and lumbering, hid in the rooms rather than furnished
them, and there was no colour in all the house; such colour as had
ever been there, had long ago started away on lost sunbeams--got
itself absorbed, perhaps, into flowers, butterflies, plumage of
birds, precious stones, what not. There was not one straight floor
from the foundation to the roof; the ceilings were so fantastically
clouded by smoke and dust, that old women might have told fortunes
in them better than in grouts of tea; the dead-cold hearths showed
no traces of having ever been warmed but in heaps of soot that had
tumbled down the chimneys, and eddied about in little dusky
whirlwinds when the doors were opened. In what had once been a
drawing-room, there were a pair of meagre mirrors, with dismal
processions of black figures carrying black garlands, walking round
the frames; but even these were short of heads and legs, and one
undertaker-like Cupid had swung round on its own axis and got
upside down, and another had fallen off altogether. The room
Arthur Clennam's deceased father had occupied for business
purposes, when he first remembered him, was so unaltered that he
might have been imagined still to keep it invisibly, as his visible
relict kept her room up-stairs; Jeremiah Flintwinch still going
between them negotiating. His picture, dark and gloomy, earnestly
speechless on the wall, with the eyes intently looking at his son
as they had looked when life departed from them, seemed to urge him
awfully to the task he had attempted; but as to any yielding on the
part of his mother, he had now no hope, and as to any other means
of setting his distrust at rest, he had abandoned hope a long time.
Down in the cellars, as up in the bed-chambers, old objects that he
well remembered were changed by age and decay, but were still in
their old places; even to empty beer-casks hoary with cobwebs, and
empty wine-bottles with fur and fungus choking up their throats.
There, too, among unusual bottle-racks and pale slants of light
from the yard above, was the strong room stored with old ledgers,
which had as musty and corrupt a smell as if they were regularly
balanced, in the dead small hours, by a nightly resurrection of old
The baking-dish was served up in a penitential manner on a shrunken
cloth at an end of the dining-table, at two o'clock, when he dined
with Mr Flintwinch, the new partner. Mr Flintwinch informed him
that his mother had recovered her equanimity now, and that he need
not fear her again alluding to what had passed in the morning.
'And don't you lay offences at your father's door, Mr Arthur,'
added Jeremiah, 'once for all, don't do it! Now, we have done with
Mr Flintwinch had been already rearranging and dusting his own
particular little office, as if to do honour to his accession to
new dignity. He resumed this occupation when he was replete with
beef, had sucked up all the gravy in the baking-dish with the flat
of his knife, and had drawn liberally on a barrel of small beer in
the scullery. Thus refreshed, he tucked up his shirt-sleeves and
went to work again; and Mr Arthur, watching him as he set about it,
plainly saw that his father's picture, or his father's grave, would
be as communicative with him as this old man.
'Now, Affery, woman,' said Mr Flintwinch, as she crossed the hall.
'You hadn't made Mr Arthur's bed when I was up there last. Stir
But Mr Arthur found the house so blank and dreary, and was so
unwilling to assist at another implacable consignment of his
mother's enemies (perhaps himself among them) to mortal
disfigurement and immortal ruin, that he announced his intention of
lodging at the coffee-house where he had left his luggage. Mr
Flintwinch taking kindly to the idea of getting rid of him, and his
mother being indifferent, beyond considerations of saving, to most
domestic arrangements that were not bounded by the walls of her own
chamber, he easily carried this point without new offence. Daily
business hours were agreed upon, which his mother, Mr Flintwinch,
and he, were to devote together to a necessary checking of books
and papers; and he left the home he had so lately found, with
But Little Dorrit?
The business hours, allowing for intervals of invalid regimen of
oysters and partridges, during which Clennam refreshed himself with
a walk, were from ten to six for about a fortnight. Sometimes
Little Dorrit was employed at her needle, sometimes not, sometimes
appeared as a humble visitor: which must have been her character on
the occasion of his arrival. His original curiosity augmented
every day, as he watched for her, saw or did not see her, and
speculated about her. Influenced by his predominant idea, he even
fell into a habit of discussing with himself the possibility of her
being in some way associated with it. At last he resolved to watch
Little Dorrit and know more of her story.
The Father of the Marshalsea
Thirty years ago there stood, a few doors short of the church of
Saint George, in the borough of Southwark, on the left-hand side of
the way going southward, the Marshalsea Prison. It had stood there
many years before, and it remained there some years afterwards; but
it is gone now, and the world is none the worse without it.
It was an oblong pile of barrack building, partitioned into squalid
houses standing back to back, so that there were no back rooms;
environed by a narrow paved yard, hemmed in by high walls duly
spiked at top. Itself a close and confined prison for debtors, it
contained within it a much closer and more confined jail for
smugglers. Offenders against the revenue laws, and defaulters to
excise or customs who had incurred fines which they were unable to
pay, were supposed to be incarcerated behind an iron-plated door
closing up a second prison, consisting of a strong cell or two, and
a blind alley some yard and a half wide, which formed the
mysterious termination of the very limited skittle-ground in which
the Marshalsea debtors bowled down their troubles.
Supposed to be incarcerated there, because the time had rather
outgrown the strong cells and the blind alley. In practice they
had come to be considered a little too bad, though in theory they
were quite as good as ever; which may be observed to be the case at
the present day with other cells that are not at all strong, and
with other blind alleys that are stone-blind. Hence the smugglers
habitually consorted with the debtors (who received them with open
arms), except at certain constitutional moments when somebody came
from some Office, to go through some form of overlooking something
which neither he nor anybody else knew anything about. On these
truly British occasions, the smugglers, if any, made a feint of
walking into the strong cells and the blind alley, while this
somebody pretended to do his something: and made a reality of
walking out again as soon as he hadn't done it--neatly epitomising
the administration of most of the public affairs in our right
little, tight little, island.
There had been taken to the Marshalsea Prison, long before the day
when the sun shone on Marseilles and on the opening of this
narrative, a debtor with whom this narrative has some concern.
He was, at that time, a very amiable and very helpless middle-aged
gentleman, who was going out again directly. Necessarily, he was
going out again directly, because the Marshalsea lock never turned
upon a debtor who was not. He brought in a portmanteau with him,
which he doubted its being worth while to unpack; he was so
perfectly clear--like all the rest of them, the turnkey on the lock
said--that he was going out again directly.
He was a shy, retiring man; well-looking, though in an effeminate
style; with a mild voice, curling hair, and irresolute hands--rings
upon the fingers in those days--which nervously wandered to his
trembling lip a hundred times in the first half-hour of his
acquaintance with the jail. His principal anxiety was about his
'Do you think, sir,' he asked the turnkey, 'that she will be very
much shocked, if she should come to the gate to-morrow morning?'
The turnkey gave it as the result of his experience that some of
'em was and some of 'em wasn't. In general, more no than yes.
'What like is she, you see?' he philosophically asked: 'that's what
it hinges on.'
'She is very delicate and inexperienced indeed.'
'That,' said the turnkey, 'is agen her.'
'She is so little used to go out alone,' said the debtor, 'that I
am at a loss to think how she will ever make her way here, if she
'P'raps,' quoth the turnkey, 'she'll take a ackney coach.'
'Perhaps.' The irresolute fingers went to the trembling lip. 'I
hope she will. She may not think of it.'
'Or p'raps,' said the turnkey, offering his suggestions from the
the top of his well-worn wooden stool, as he might have offered
them to a child for whose weakness he felt a compassion, 'p'raps
she'll get her brother, or her sister, to come along with her.'
'She has no brother or sister.'
'Niece, nevy, cousin, serwant, young 'ooman, greengrocer.--Dash it!
One or another on 'em,' said the turnkey, repudiating beforehand
the refusal of all his suggestions.
'I fear--I hope it is not against the rules--that she will bring
'The children?' said the turnkey. 'And the rules? Why, lord set
you up like a corner pin, we've a reg'lar playground o' children
here. Children! Why we swarm with 'em. How many a you got?'
'Two,' said the debtor, lifting his irresolute hand to his lip
again, and turning into the prison.
The turnkey followed him with his eyes. 'And you another,' he
observed to himself, 'which makes three on you. And your wife
another, I'll lay a crown. Which makes four on you. And another
coming, I'll lay half-a-crown. Which'll make five on you. And
I'll go another seven and sixpence to name which is the
helplessest, the unborn baby or you!'
He was right in all his particulars. She came next day with a
little boy of three years old, and a little girl of two, and he
stood entirely corroborated.
'Got a room now; haven't you?' the turnkey asked the debtor after
a week or two.
'Yes, I have got a very good room.'
'Any little sticks a coming to furnish it?' said the turnkey.
'I expect a few necessary articles of furniture to be delivered by
the carrier, this afternoon.'
'Missis and little 'uns a coming to keep you company?' asked the
'Why, yes, we think it better that we should not be scattered, even
for a few weeks.'
'Even for a few weeks, OF course,' replied the turnkey. And he
followed him again with his eyes, and nodded his head seven times
when he was gone.
The affairs of this debtor were perplexed by a partnership, of
which he knew no more than that he had invested money in it; by
legal matters of assignment and settlement, conveyance here and
conveyance there, suspicion of unlawful preference of creditors in
this direction, and of mysterious spiriting away of property in
that; and as nobody on the face of the earth could be more
incapable of explaining any single item in the heap of confusion
than the debtor himself, nothing comprehensible could be made of
his case. To question him in detail, and endeavour to reconcile
his answers; to closet him with accountants and sharp
practitioners, learned in the wiles of insolvency and bankruptcy;
was only to put the case out at compound interest and
incomprehensibility. The irresolute fingers fluttered more and
more ineffectually about the trembling lip on every such occasion,
and the sharpest practitioners gave him up as a hopeless job.
'Out?' said the turnkey, 'he'll never get out, unless his creditors
take him by the shoulders and shove him out.'
He had been there five or six months, when he came running to this
turnkey one forenoon to tell him, breathless and pale, that his
wife was ill.
'As anybody might a known she would be,' said the turnkey.
'We intended,' he returned, 'that she should go to a country
lodging only to-morrow. What am I to do! Oh, good heaven, what am
I to do!'
'Don't waste your time in clasping your hands and biting your
fingers,' responded the practical turnkey, taking him by the elbow,
'but come along with me.'
The turnkey conducted him--trembling from head to foot, and
constantly crying under his breath, What was he to do! while his
irresolute fingers bedabbled the tears upon his face--up one of the
common staircases in the prison to a door on the garret story.
Upon which door the turnkey knocked with the handle of his key.
'Come in!' cried a voice inside.
The turnkey, opening the door, disclosed in a wretched, ill-
smelling little room, two hoarse, puffy, red-faced personages
seated at a rickety table, playing at all-fours, smoking pipes, and
'Doctor,' said the turnkey, 'here's a gentleman's wife in want of
you without a minute's loss of time!'
The doctor's friend was in the positive degree of hoarseness,
puffiness, red-facedness, all-fours, tobacco, dirt, and brandy; the
doctor in the comparative--hoarser, puffier, more red-faced, more
all-fourey, tobaccoer, dirtier, and brandier. The doctor was
amazingly shabby, in a torn and darned rough-weather sea-jacket,
out at elbows and eminently short of buttons (he had been in his
time the experienced surgeon carried by a passenger ship), the
dirtiest white trousers conceivable by mortal man, carpet slippers,
and no visible linen. 'Childbed?' said the doctor. 'I'm the boy!'
With that the doctor took a comb from the chimney-piece and stuck
his hair upright--which appeared to be his way of washing himself--
produced a professional chest or case, of most abject appearance,
from the cupboard where his cup and saucer and coals were, settled
his chin in the frowsy wrapper round his neck, and became a ghastly
The doctor and the debtor ran down-stairs, leaving the turnkey to
return to the lock, and made for the debtor's room. All the ladies
in the prison had got hold of the news, and were in the yard. Some
of them had already taken possession of the two children, and were
hospitably carrying them off; others were offering loans of little
comforts from their own scanty store; others were sympathising with
the greatest volubility. The gentlemen prisoners, feeling
themselves at a disadvantage, had for the most part retired, not to
say sneaked, to their rooms; from the open windows of which some of
them now complimented the doctor with whistles as he passed below,
while others, with several stories between them, interchanged
sarcastic references to the prevalent excitement.
It was a hot summer day, and the prison rooms were baking between
the high walls. In the debtor's confined chamber, Mrs Bangham,
charwoman and messenger, who was not a prisoner (though she had
been once), but was the popular medium of communication with the
outer world, had volunteered her services as fly-catcher and
general attendant. The walls and ceiling were blackened with
flies. Mrs Bangham, expert in sudden device, with one hand fanned
the patient with a cabbage leaf, and with the other set traps of
vinegar and sugar in gallipots; at the same time enunciating
sentiments of an encouraging and congratulatory nature, adapted to
'The flies trouble you, don't they, my dear?' said Mrs Bangham.
'But p'raps they'll take your mind off of it, and do you good.
What between the buryin ground, the grocer's, the waggon-stables,
and the paunch trade, the Marshalsea flies gets very large. P'raps
they're sent as a consolation, if we only know'd it. How are you
now, my dear? No better? No, my dear, it ain't to be expected;
you'll be worse before you're better, and you know it, don't you?
Yes. That's right! And to think of a sweet little cherub being
born inside the lock! Now ain't it pretty, ain't THAT something to
carry you through it pleasant? Why, we ain't had such a thing
happen here, my dear, not for I couldn't name the time when. And
you a crying too?' said Mrs Bangham, to rally the patient more and
more. 'You! Making yourself so famous! With the flies a falling
into the gallipots by fifties! And everything a going on so well!
And here if there ain't,' said Mrs Bangham as the door opened, 'if
there ain't your dear gentleman along with Dr Haggage! And now
indeed we ARE complete, I THINK!'
The doctor was scarcely the kind of apparition to inspire a patient
with a sense of absolute completeness, but as he presently
delivered the opinion, 'We are as right as we can be, Mrs Bangham,
and we shall come out of this like a house afire;' and as he and
Mrs Bangham took possession of the poor helpless pair, as everybody
else and anybody else had always done, the means at hand were as
good on the whole as better would have been. The special feature
in Dr Haggage's treatment of the case, was his determination to
keep Mrs Bangham up to the mark. As thus:
'Mrs Bangham,' said the doctor, before he had been there twenty
minutes, 'go outside and fetch a little brandy, or we shall have
you giving in.'
'Thank you, sir. But none on my accounts,' said Mrs Bangham.
'Mrs Bangham,' returned the doctor, 'I am in professional
attendance on this lady, and don't choose to allow any discussion
on your part. Go outside and fetch a little brandy, or I foresee
that you'll break down.'
'You're to be obeyed, sir,' said Mrs Bangham, rising. 'If you was
to put your own lips to it, I think you wouldn't be the worse, for
you look but poorly, sir.'
'Mrs Bangham,' returned the doctor, 'I am not your business, thank
you, but you are mine. Never you mind ME, if you please. What you
have got to do, is, to do as you are told, and to go and get what
I bid you.'
Mrs Bangham submitted; and the doctor, having administered her
potion, took his own. He repeated the treatment every hour, being
very determined with Mrs Bangham. Three or four hours passed; the
flies fell into the traps by hundreds; and at length one little
life, hardly stronger than theirs, appeared among the multitude of
'A very nice little girl indeed,' said the doctor; 'little, but
well-formed. Halloa, Mrs Bangham! You're looking queer! You be
off, ma'am, this minute, and fetch a little more brandy, or we
shall have you in hysterics.'
By this time, the rings had begun to fall from the debtor's
irresolute hands, like leaves from a wintry tree. Not one was left
upon them that night, when he put something that chinked into the
doctor's greasy palm. In the meantime Mrs Bangham had been out on
an errand to a neighbouring establishment decorated with three
golden balls, where she was very well known.
'Thank you,' said the doctor, 'thank you. Your good lady is quite
composed. Doing charmingly.'
'I am very happy and very thankful to know it,' said the debtor,
'though I little thought once, that--'
'That a child would be born to you in a place like this?' said the
doctor. 'Bah, bah, sir, what does it signify? A little more
elbow-room is all we want here. We are quiet here; we don't get
badgered here; there's no knocker here, sir, to be hammered at by
creditors and bring a man's heart into his mouth. Nobody comes
here to ask if a man's at home, and to say he'll stand on the door
mat till he is. Nobody writes threatening letters about money to
this place. It's freedom, sir, it's freedom! I have had to-day's
practice at home and abroad, on a march, and aboard ship, and I'll
tell you this: I don't know that I have ever pursued it under such
quiet circumstances as here this day. Elsewhere, people are
restless, worried, hurried about, anxious respecting one thing,
anxious respecting another. Nothing of the kind here, sir. We
have done all that--we know the worst of it; we have got to the
bottom, we can't fall, and what have we found? Peace. That's the
word for it. Peace.' With this profession of faith, the doctor,
who was an old jail-bird, and was more sodden than usual, and had
the additional and unusual stimulus of money in his pocket,
returned to his associate and chum in hoarseness, puffiness, red-
facedness, all-fours, tobacco, dirt, and brandy.
Now, the debtor was a very different man from the doctor, but he
had already begun to travel, by his opposite segment of the circle,
to the same point. Crushed at first by his imprisonment, he had
soon found a dull relief in it. He was under lock and key; but the
lock and key that kept him in, kept numbers of his troubles out.
If he had been a man with strength of purpose to face those
troubles and fight them, he might have broken the net that held
him, or broken his heart; but being what he was, he languidly
slipped into this smooth descent, and never more took one step
When he was relieved of the perplexed affairs that nothing would
make plain, through having them returned upon his hands by a dozen
agents in succession who could make neither beginning, middle, nor
end of them or him, he found his miserable place of refuge a
quieter refuge than it had been before. He had unpacked the
portmanteau long ago; and his elder children now played regularly
about the yard, and everybody knew the baby, and claimed a kind of
proprietorship in her.
'Why, I'm getting proud of you,' said his friend the turnkey, one
day. 'You'll be the oldest inhabitant soon. The Marshalsea
wouldn't be like the Marshalsea now, without you and your family.'
The turnkey really was proud of him. He would mention him in
laudatory terms to new-comers, when his back was turned. 'You took
notice of him,' he would say, 'that went out of the lodge just
New-comer would probably answer Yes.
'Brought up as a gentleman, he was, if ever a man was. Ed'cated at
no end of expense. Went into the Marshal's house once to try a new
piano for him. Played it, I understand, like one o'clock--
beautiful! As to languages--speaks anything. We've had a
Frenchman here in his time, and it's my opinion he knowed more
French than the Frenchman did. We've had an Italian here in his
time, and he shut him up in about half a minute. You'll find some
characters behind other locks, I don't say you won't; but if you
want the top sawyer in such respects as I've mentioned, you must
come to the Marshalsea.'
When his youngest child was eight years old, his wife, who had long
been languishing away--of her own inherent weakness, not that she
retained any greater sensitiveness as to her place of abode than he
did--went upon a visit to a poor friend and old nurse in the
country, and died there. He remained shut up in his room for a
fortnight afterwards; and an attorney's clerk, who was going
through the Insolvent Court, engrossed an address of condolence to
him, which looked like a Lease, and which all the prisoners signed.
When he appeared again he was greyer (he had soon begun to turn
grey); and the turnkey noticed that his hands went often to his
trembling lips again, as they had used to do when he first came in.
But he got pretty well over it in a month or two; and in the
meantime the children played about the yard as regularly as ever,
but in black.
Then Mrs Bangham, long popular medium of communication with the
outer world, began to be infirm, and to be found oftener than usual
comatose on pavements, with her basket of purchases spilt, and the
change of her clients ninepence short. His son began to supersede
Mrs Bangham, and to execute commissions in a knowing manner, and to
be of the prison prisonous, of the streets streety.
Time went on, and the turnkey began to fail. His chest swelled,
and his legs got weak, and he was short of breath. The well-worn
wooden stool was 'beyond him,' he complained. He sat in an arm-
chair with a cushion, and sometimes wheezed so, for minutes
together, that he couldn't turn the key. When he was overpowered
by these fits, the debtor often turned it for him.
'You and me,' said the turnkey, one snowy winter's night when the
lodge, with a bright fire in it, was pretty full of company, 'is
the oldest inhabitants. I wasn't here myself above seven year
before you. I shan't last long. When I'm off the lock for good
and all, you'll be the Father of the Marshalsea.'
The turnkey went off the lock of this world next day. His words
were remembered and repeated; and tradition afterwards handed down
from generation to generation--a Marshalsea generation might be
calculated as about three months--that the shabby old debtor with
the soft manner and the white hair, was the Father of the
And he grew to be proud of the title. If any impostor had arisen
to claim it, he would have shed tears in resentment of the attempt
to deprive him of his rights. A disposition began to be perceived
in him to exaggerate the number of years he had been there; it was
generally understood that you must deduct a few from his account;
he was vain, the fleeting generations of debtors said.
All new-comers were presented to him. He was punctilious in the
exaction of this ceremony. The wits would perform the office of
introduction with overcharged pomp and politeness, but they could
not easily overstep his sense of its gravity. He received them in
his poor room (he disliked an introduction in the mere yard, as
informal--a thing that might happen to anybody), with a kind of
bowed-down beneficence. They were welcome to the Marshalsea, he
would tell them. Yes, he was the Father of the place. So the
world was kind enough to call him; and so he was, if more than
twenty years of residence gave him a claim to the title. It looked
small at first, but there was very good company there--among a
mixture--necessarily a mixture--and very good air.
It became a not unusual circumstance for letters to be put under
his door at night, enclosing half-a-crown, two half-crowns, now and
then at long intervals even half-a-sovereign, for the Father of the
Marshalsea. 'With the compliments of a collegian taking leave.'
He received the gifts as tributes, from admirers, to a public
character. Sometimes these correspondents assumed facetious names,
as the Brick, Bellows, Old Gooseberry, Wideawake, Snooks, Mops,
Cutaway, the Dogs-meat Man; but he considered this in bad taste,
and was always a little hurt by it.
In the fulness of time, this correspondence showing signs of
wearing out, and seeming to require an effort on the part of the
correspondents to which in the hurried circumstances of departure
many of them might not be equal, he established the custom of
attending collegians of a certain standing, to the gate, and taking
leave of them there. The collegian under treatment, after shaking
hands, would occasionally stop to wrap up something in a bit of
paper, and would come back again calling 'Hi!'
He would look round surprised.'Me?' he would say, with a smile.
By this time the collegian would be up with him, and he would
paternally add,'What have you forgotten? What can I do for you?'
'I forgot to leave this,' the collegian would usually return, 'for
the Father of the Marshalsea.'
'My good sir,' he would rejoin, 'he is infinitely obliged to you.'
But, to the last, the irresolute hand of old would remain in the
pocket into which he had slipped the money during two or three
turns about the yard, lest the transaction should be too
conspicuous to the general body of collegians.
One afternoon he had been doing the honours of the place to a
rather large party of collegians, who happened to be going out,
when, as he was coming back, he encountered one from the poor side
who had been taken in execution for a small sum a week before, had
'settled' in the course of that afternoon, and was going out too.
The man was a mere Plasterer in his working dress; had his wife
with him, and a bundle; and was in high spirits.
'God bless you, sir,' he said in passing.
'And you,' benignantly returned the Father of the Marshalsea.
They were pretty far divided, going their several ways, when the
Plasterer called out, 'I say!--sir!' and came back to him.
'It ain't much,' said the Plasterer, putting a little pile of
halfpence in his hand, 'but it's well meant.'
The Father of the Marshalsea had never been offered tribute in
copper yet. His children often had, and with his perfect
acquiescence it had gone into the common purse to buy meat that he
had eaten, and drink that he had drunk; but fustian splashed with
white lime, bestowing halfpence on him, front to front, was new.
'How dare you!' he said to the man, and feebly burst into tears.
The Plasterer turned him towards the wall, that his face might not
be seen; and the action was so delicate, and the man was so
penetrated with repentance, and asked pardon so honestly, that he
could make him no less acknowledgment than, 'I know you meant it
kindly. Say no more.'
'Bless your soul, sir,' urged the Plasterer, 'I did indeed. I'd do
more by you than the rest of 'em do, I fancy.'
'What would you do?' he asked.
'I'd come back to see you, after I was let out.'
'Give me the money again,' said the other, eagerly, 'and I'll keep
it, and never spend it. Thank you for it, thank you! I shall see
'If I live a week you shall.'
They shook hands and parted. The collegians, assembled in
Symposium in the Snuggery that night, marvelled what had happened
to their Father; he walked so late in the shadows of the yard, and
seemed so downcast.
The Child of the Marshalsea
The baby whose first draught of air had been tinctured with Doctor
Haggage's brandy, was handed down among the generations of
collegians, like the tradition of their common parent. In the
earlier stages of her existence, she was handed down in a literal
and prosaic sense; it being almost a part of the entrance footing
of every new collegian to nurse the child who had been born in the
'By rights,' remarked the turnkey when she was first shown to him,
'I ought to be her godfather.'
The debtor irresolutely thought of it for a minute, and said,
'Perhaps you wouldn't object to really being her godfather?'
'Oh! _I_ don't object,' replied the turnkey, 'if you don't.'
Thus it came to pass that she was christened one Sunday afternoon,
when the turnkey, being relieved, was off the lock; and that the
turnkey went up to the font of Saint George's Church, and promised
and vowed and renounced on her behalf, as he himself related when
he came back, 'like a good 'un.'
This invested the turnkey with a new proprietary share in the
child, over and above his former official one. When she began to
walk and talk, he became fond of her; bought a little arm-chair and
stood it by the high fender of the lodge fire-place; liked to have
her company when he was on the lock; and used to bribe her with
cheap toys to come and talk to him. The child, for her part, soon
grew so fond of the turnkey that she would come climbing up the
lodge-steps of her own accord at all hours of the day. When she
fell asleep in the little armchair by the high fender, the turnkey
would cover her with his pocket-handkerchief; and when she sat in
it dressing and undressing a doll which soon came to be unlike
dolls on the other side of the lock, and to bear a horrible family
resemblance to Mrs Bangham--he would contemplate her from the top
of his stool with exceeding gentleness. Witnessing these things,
the collegians would express an opinion that the turnkey, who was
a bachelor, had been cut out by nature for a family man. But the
turnkey thanked them, and said, 'No, on the whole it was enough to
see other people's children there.'
At what period of her early life the little creature began to
perceive that it was not the habit of all the world to live locked
up in narrow yards surrounded by high walls with spikes at the top,
would be a difficult question to settle. But she was a very, very
little creature indeed, when she had somehow gained the knowledge
that her clasp of her father's hand was to be always loosened at
the door which the great key opened; and that while her own light
steps were free to pass beyond it, his feet must never cross that
line. A pitiful and plaintive look, with which she had begun to
regard him when she was still extremely young, was perhaps a part
of this discovery.
With a pitiful and plaintive look for everything, indeed, but with
something in it for only him that was like protection, this Child
of the Marshalsea and the child of the Father of the Marshalsea,
sat by her friend the turnkey in the lodge, kept the family room,
or wandered about the prison-yard, for the first eight years of her
life. With a pitiful and plaintive look for her wayward sister;
for her idle brother; for the high blank walls; for the faded crowd
they shut in; for the games of the prison children as they whooped
and ran, and played at hide-and-seek, and made the iron bars of the
inner gateway 'Home.'
Wistful and wondering, she would sit in summer weather by the high
fender in the lodge, looking up at the sky through the barred
window, until, when she turned her eyes away, bars of light would
arise between her and her friend, and she would see him through a
'Thinking of the fields,' the turnkey said once, after watching
her, 'ain't you?'
'Where are they?' she inquired.
'Why, they're--over there, my dear,' said the turnkey, with a vague
flourish of his key. 'Just about there.'
'Does anybody open them, and shut them? Are they locked?'
The turnkey was discomfited. 'Well,' he said. 'Not in general.'
'Are they very pretty, Bob?' She called him Bob, by his own
particular request and instruction.
'Lovely. Full of flowers. There's buttercups, and there's
daisies, and there's'--the turnkey hesitated, being short of floral
nomenclature--'there's dandelions, and all manner of games.'
'Is it very pleasant to be there, Bob?'
'Prime,' said the turnkey.
'Was father ever there?'
'Hem!' coughed the turnkey. 'O yes, he was there, sometimes.'
'Is he sorry not to be there now?'
'N-not particular,' said the turnkey.
'Nor any of the people?' she asked, glancing at the listless crowd
within. 'O are you quite sure and certain, Bob?'
At this difficult point of the conversation Bob gave in, and
changed the subject to hard-bake: always his last resource when he
found his little friend getting him into a political, social, or
theological corner. But this was the origin of a series of Sunday
excursions that these two curious companions made together. They
used to issue from the lodge on alternate Sunday afternoons with
great gravity, bound for some meadows or green lanes that had been
elaborately appointed by the turnkey in the course of the week; and
there she picked grass and flowers to bring home, while he smoked
his pipe. Afterwards, there were tea-gardens, shrimps, ale, and
other delicacies; and then they would come back hand in hand,
unless she was more than usually tired, and had fallen asleep on
In those early days, the turnkey first began profoundly to consider
a question which cost him so much mental labour, that it remained
undetermined on the day of his death. He decided to will and
bequeath his little property of savings to his godchild, and the
point arose how could it be so 'tied up' as that only she should
have the benefit of it? His experience on the lock gave him such
an acute perception of the enormous difficulty of 'tying up' money
with any approach to tightness, and contrariwise of the remarkable
ease with which it got loose, that through a series of years he
regularly propounded this knotty point to every new insolvent agent
and other professional gentleman who passed in and out.
'Supposing,' he would say, stating the case with his key on the
professional gentleman's waistcoat; 'supposing a man wanted to
leave his property to a young female, and wanted to tie it up so
that nobody else should ever be able to make a grab at it; how
would you tie up that property?'
'Settle it strictly on herself,' the professional gentleman would
'But look here,' quoth the turnkey. 'Supposing she had, say a
brother, say a father, say a husband, who would be likely to make
a grab at that property when she came into it--how about that?'
'It would be settled on herself, and they would have no more legal
claim on it than you,' would be the professional answer.
'Stop a bit,' said the turnkey. 'Supposing she was tender-hearted,
and they came over her. Where's your law for tying it up then?'
The deepest character whom the turnkey sounded, was unable to
produce his law for tying such a knot as that. So, the turnkey
thought about it all his life, and died intestate after all.
But that was long afterwards, when his god-daughter was past
sixteen. The first half of that space of her life was only just
accomplished, when her pitiful and plaintive look saw her father a
widower. From that time the protection that her wondering eyes had
expressed towards him, became embodied in action, and the Child of
the Marshalsea took upon herself a new relation towards the Father.
At first, such a baby could do little more than sit with him,
deserting her livelier place by the high fender, and quietly
watching him. But this made her so far necessary to him that he
became accustomed to her, and began to be sensible of missing her
when she was not there. Through this little gate, she passed out
of childhood into the care-laden world.
What her pitiful look saw, at that early time, in her father, in
her sister, in her brother, in the jail; how much, or how little of
the wretched truth it pleased God to make visible to her; lies
hidden with many mysteries. It is enough that she was inspired to
be something which was not what the rest were, and to be that
something, different and laborious, for the sake of the rest.
Inspired? Yes. Shall we speak of the inspiration of a poet or a
priest, and not of the heart impelled by love and self-devotion to
the lowliest work in the lowliest way of life!
With no earthly friend to help her, or so much as to see her, but
the one so strangely assorted; with no knowledge even of the common
daily tone and habits of the common members of the free community
who are not shut up in prisons; born and bred in a social
condition, false even with a reference to the falsest condition
outside the walls; drinking from infancy of a well whose waters had
their own peculiar stain, their own unwholesome and unnatural
taste; the Child of the Marshalsea began her womanly life.
No matter through what mistakes and discouragements, what ridicule
(not unkindly meant, but deeply felt) of her youth and little
figure, what humble consciousness of her own babyhood and want of
strength, even in the matter of lifting and carrying; through how
much weariness and hopelessness, and how many secret tears; she
drudged on, until recognised as useful, even indispensable. That
time came. She took the place of eldest of the three, in all
things but precedence; was the head of the fallen family; and bore,
in her own heart, its anxieties and shames.
At thirteen, she could read and keep accounts, that is, could put
down in words and figures how much the bare necessaries that they
wanted would cost, and how much less they had to buy them with.
She had been, by snatches of a few weeks at a time, to an evening
school outside, and got her sister and brother sent to day-schools
by desultory starts, during three or four years. There was no
instruction for any of them at home; but she knew well--no one
better--that a man so broken as to be the Father of the Marshalsea,
could be no father to his own children.
To these scanty means of improvement, she added another of her own
contriving. Once, among the heterogeneous crowd of inmates there
appeared a dancing-master. Her sister had a great desire to learn
the dancing-master's art, and seemed to have a taste that way. At
thirteen years old, the Child of the Marshalsea presented herself
to the dancing-master, with a little bag in her hand, and preferred
her humble petition.
'If you please, I was born here, sir.'
'Oh! You are the young lady, are you?' said the dancing-master,
surveying the small figure and uplifted face.
'And what can I do for you?' said the dancing-master.
'Nothing for me, sir, thank you,' anxiously undrawing the strings
of the little bag; 'but if, while you stay here, you could be so
kind as to teach my sister cheap--'
'My child, I'll teach her for nothing,' said the dancing-master,
shutting up the bag. He was as good-natured a dancing-master as
ever danced to the Insolvent Court, and he kept his word. The
sister was so apt a pupil, and the dancing-master had such abundant
leisure to bestow upon her (for it took him a matter of ten weeks
to set to his creditors, lead off, turn the Commissioners, and
right and left back to his professional pursuits), that wonderful
progress was made. Indeed the dancing-master was so proud of it,
and so wishful to display it before he left to a few select friends
among the collegians, that at six o'clock on a certain fine
morning, a minuet de la cour came off in the yard--the college-
rooms being of too confined proportions for the purpose--in which
so much ground was covered, and the steps were so conscientiously
executed, that the dancing-master, having to play the kit besides,
was thoroughly blown.
The success of this beginning, which led to the dancing-master's
continuing his instruction after his release, emboldened the poor
child to try again. She watched and waited months for a
seamstress. In the fulness of time a milliner came in, and to her
she repaired on her own behalf.
'I beg your pardon, ma'am,' she said, looking timidly round the
door of the milliner, whom she found in tears and in bed: 'but I
was born here.'
Everybody seemed to hear of her as soon as they arrived; for the
milliner sat up in bed, drying her eyes, and said, just as the
dancing-master had said:
'Oh! You are the child, are you?'
'I am sorry I haven't got anything for you,' said the milliner,
shaking her head.
'It's not that, ma'am. If you please I want to learn needle-work.'
'Why should you do that,' returned the milliner, 'with me before
you? It has not done me much good.'
'Nothing--whatever it is--seems to have done anybody much good who
comes here,' she returned in all simplicity; 'but I want to learn
just the same.'
'I am afraid you are so weak, you see,' the milliner objected.
'I don't think I am weak, ma'am.'
'And you are so very, very little, you see,' the milliner objected.
'Yes, I am afraid I am very little indeed,' returned the Child of
the Marshalsea; and so began to sob over that unfortunate defect of
hers, which came so often in her way. The milliner--who was not
morose or hard-hearted, only newly insolvent--was touched, took her
in hand with goodwill, found her the most patient and earnest of
pupils, and made her a cunning work-woman in course of time.
In course of time, and in the very self-same course of time, the
Father of the Marshalsea gradually developed a new flower of
character. The more Fatherly he grew as to the Marshalsea, and the
more dependent he became on the contributions of his changing
family, the greater stand he made by his forlorn gentility. With
the same hand that he pocketed a collegian's half-crown half an
hour ago, he would wipe away the tears that streamed over his
cheeks if any reference were made to his daughters' earning their
bread. So, over and above other daily cares, the Child of the
Marshalsea had always upon her the care of preserving the genteel
fiction that they were all idle beggars together.
The sister became a dancer. There was a ruined uncle in the family
group--ruined by his brother, the Father of the Marshalsea, and
knowing no more how than his ruiner did, but accepting the fact as
an inevitable certainty--on whom her protection devolved.
Naturally a retired and simple man, he had shown no particular
sense of being ruined at the time when that calamity fell upon him,
further than that he left off washing himself when the shock was
announced, and never took to that luxury any more. He had been a
very indifferent musical amateur in his better days; and when he
fell with his brother, resorted for support to playing a clarionet
as dirty as himself in a small Theatre Orchestra. It was the
theatre in which his niece became a dancer; he had been a fixture
there a long time when she took her poor station in it; and he
accepted the task of serving as her escort and guardian, just as he
would have accepted an illness, a legacy, a feast, starvation--
anything but soap.
To enable this girl to earn her few weekly shillings, it was
necessary for the Child of the Marshalsea to go through an
elaborate form with the Father.
'Fanny is not going to live with us just now, father. She will be
here a good deal in the day, but she is going to live outside with
'You surprise me. Why?'
'I think uncle wants a companion, father. He should be attended
to, and looked after.'
'A companion? He passes much of his time here. And you attend to
him and look after him, Amy, a great deal more than ever your
sister will. You all go out so much; you all go out so much.'
This was to keep up the ceremony and pretence of his having no idea
that Amy herself went out by the day to work.
'But we are always glad to come home, father; now, are we not? And
as to Fanny, perhaps besides keeping uncle company and taking care
of him, it may be as well for her not quite to live here, always.
She was not born here as I was, you know, father.'
'Well, Amy, well. I don't quite follow you, but it's natural I
suppose that Fanny should prefer to be outside, and even that you
often should, too. So, you and Fanny and your uncle, my dear,
shall have your own way. Good, good. I'll not meddle; don't mind
To get her brother out of the prison; out of the succession to Mrs
Bangham in executing commissions, and out of the slang interchange
with very doubtful companions consequent upon both; was her hardest
task. At eighteen he would have dragged on from hand to mouth,
from hour to hour, from penny to penny, until eighty. Nobody got
into the prison from whom he derived anything useful or good, and
she could find no patron for him but her old friend and godfather.
'Dear Bob,' said she, 'what is to become of poor Tip?' His name
was Edward, and Ted had been transformed into Tip, within the
The turnkey had strong private opinions as to what would become of
poor Tip, and had even gone so far with the view of averting their
fulfilment, as to sound Tip in reference to the expediency of
running away and going to serve his country. But Tip had thanked
him, and said he didn't seem to care for his country.
'Well, my dear,' said the turnkey, 'something ought to be done with
him. Suppose I try and get him into the law?'
'That would be so good of you, Bob!'
The turnkey had now two points to put to the professional gentlemen
as they passed in and out. He put this second one so perseveringly
that a stool and twelve shillings a week were at last found for Tip
in the office of an attorney in a great National Palladium called
the Palace Court; at that time one of a considerable list of
everlasting bulwarks to the dignity and safety of Albion, whose
places know them no more.
Tip languished in Clifford's Inns for six months, and at the
expiration of that term sauntered back one evening with his hands
in his pockets, and incidentally observed to his sister that he was
not going back again.
'Not going back again?' said the poor little anxious Child of the
Marshalsea, always calculating and planning for Tip, in the front
rank of her charges.
'I am so tired of it,' said Tip, 'that I have cut it.'
Tip tired of everything. With intervals of Marshalsea lounging,
and Mrs Bangham succession, his small second mother, aided by her
trusty friend, got him into a warehouse, into a market garden, into
the hop trade, into the law again, into an auctioneers, into a
brewery, into a stockbroker's, into the law again, into a coach
office, into a waggon office, into the law again, into a general
dealer's, into a distillery, into the law again, into a wool house,
into a dry goods house, into the Billingsgate trade, into the
foreign fruit trade, and into the docks. But whatever Tip went
into, he came out of tired, announcing that he had cut it.
Wherever he went, this foredoomed Tip appeared to take the prison
walls with him, and to set them up in such trade or calling; and to
prowl about within their narrow limits in the old slip-shod,
purposeless, down-at-heel way; until the real immovable Marshalsea
walls asserted their fascination over him, and brought him back.
Nevertheless, the brave little creature did so fix her heart on her
brother's rescue, that while he was ringing out these doleful
changes, she pinched and scraped enough together to ship him for
Canada. When he was tired of nothing to do, and disposed in its
turn to cut even that, he graciously consented to go to Canada.
And there was grief in her bosom over parting with him, and joy in
the hope of his being put in a straight course at last.
'God bless you, dear Tip. Don't be too proud to come and see us,
when you have made your fortune.'
'All right!' said Tip, and went.
But not all the way to Canada; in fact, not further than Liverpool.
After making the voyage to that port from London, he found himself
so strongly impelled to cut the vessel, that he resolved to walk
back again. Carrying out which intention, he presented himself
before her at the expiration of a month, in rags, without shoes,
and much more tired than ever.
At length, after another interval of successorship to Mrs Bangham,
he found a pursuit for himself, and announced it.
'Amy, I have got a situation.'
'Have you really and truly, Tip?'
'All right. I shall do now. You needn't look anxious about me any
more, old girl.'
'What is it, Tip?'
'Why, you know Slingo by sight?'
'Not the man they call the dealer?'
'That's the chap. He'll be out on Monday, and he's going to give
me a berth.'
'What is he a dealer in, Tip?'
'Horses. All right! I shall do now, Amy.'
She lost sight of him for months afterwards, and only heard from
him once. A whisper passed among the elder collegians that he had
been seen at a mock auction in Moorfields, pretending to buy plated
articles for massive silver, and paying for them with the greatest
liberality in bank notes; but it never reached her ears. One
evening she was alone at work--standing up at the window, to save
the twilight lingering above the wall--when he opened the door and
She kissed and welcomed him; but was afraid to ask him any
questions. He saw how anxious and timid she was, and appeared
'I am afraid, Amy, you'll be vexed this time. Upon my life I am!'
'I am very sorry to hear you say so, Tip. Have you come back?'
'Not expecting this time that what you had found would answer very
well, I am less surprised and sorry than I might have been, Tip.'
'Ah! But that's not the worst of it.'
'Not the worst of it?'
'Don't look so startled. No, Amy, not the worst of it. I have
come back, you see; but--DON'T look so startled--I have come back
in what I may call a new way. I am off the volunteer list
altogether. I am in now, as one of the regulars.'
'Oh! Don't say you are a prisoner, Tip! Don't, don't!'
'Well, I don't want to say it,' he returned in a reluctant tone;
'but if you can't understand me without my saying it, what am I to
do? I am in for forty pound odd.'
For the first time in all those years, she sunk under her cares.
She cried, with her clasped hands lifted above her head, that it
would kill their father if he ever knew it; and fell down at Tip's
It was easier for Tip to bring her to her senses than for her to
bring him to understand that the Father of the Marshalsea would be
beside himself if he knew the truth. The thing was
incomprehensible to Tip, and altogether a fanciful notion. He
yielded to it in that light only, when he submitted to her
entreaties, backed by those of his uncle and sister. There was no
want of precedent for his return; it was accounted for to the
father in the usual way; and the collegians, with a better
comprehension of the pious fraud than Tip, supported it loyally.
This was the life, and this the history, of the child of the
Marshalsea at twenty-two. With a still surviving attachment to the
one miserable yard and block of houses as her birthplace and home,
she passed to and fro in it shrinkingly now, with a womanly
consciousness that she was pointed out to every one. Since she had
begun to work beyond the walls, she had found it necessary to
conceal where she lived, and to come and go as secretly as she
could, between the free city and the iron gates, outside of which
she had never slept in her life. Her original timidity had grown
with this concealment, and her light step and her little figure
shunned the thronged streets while they passed along them.
Worldly wise in hard and poor necessities, she was innocent in all
things else. Innocent, in the mist through which she saw her
father, and the prison, and the turbid living river that flowed
through it and flowed on.
This was the life, and this the history, of Little Dorrit; now
going home upon a dull September evening, observed at a distance by
Arthur Clennam. This was the life, and this the history, of Little
Dorrit; turning at the end of London Bridge, recrossing it, going
back again, passing on to Saint George's Church, turning back
suddenly once more, and flitting in at the open outer gate and
little court-yard of the Marshalsea.
Arthur Clennam stood in the street, waiting to ask some passer-by
what place that was. He suffered a few people to pass him in whose
face there was no encouragement to make the inquiry, and still
stood pausing in the street, when an old man came up and turned
into the courtyard.
He stooped a good deal, and plodded along in a slow pre-occupied
manner, which made the bustling London thoroughfares no very safe
resort for him. He was dirtily and meanly dressed, in a threadbare
coat, once blue, reaching to his ankles and buttoned to his chin,
where it vanished in the pale ghost of a velvet collar. A piece of
red cloth with which that phantom had been stiffened in its
lifetime was now laid bare, and poked itself up, at the back of the
old man's neck, into a confusion of grey hair and rusty stock and
buckle which altogether nearly poked his hat off. A greasy hat it
was, and a napless; impending over his eyes, cracked and crumpled
at the brim, and with a wisp of pocket-handkerchief dangling out
below it. His trousers were so long and loose, and his shoes so
clumsy and large, that he shuffled like an elephant; though how
much of this was gait, and how much trailing cloth and leather, no
one could have told. Under one arm he carried a limp and worn-out
case, containing some wind instrument; in the same hand he had a
pennyworth of snuff in a little packet of whitey-brown paper, from
which he slowly comforted his poor blue old nose with a lengthened-
out pinch, as Arthur Clennam looked at him.
To this old man crossing the court-yard, he preferred his inquiry,
touching him on the shoulder. The old man stopped and looked
round, with the expression in his weak grey eyes of one whose
thoughts had been far off, and who was a little dull of hearing
'Pray, sir,' said Arthur, repeating his question, 'what is this
'Ay! This place?' returned the old man, staying his pinch of snuff
on its road, and pointing at the place without looking at it.
'This is the Marshalsea, sir.'
'The debtors' prison?'
'Sir,' said the old man, with the air of deeming it not quite
necessary to insist upon that designation, 'the debtors' prison.'
He turned himself about, and went on.
'I beg your pardon,' said Arthur, stopping him once more, 'but will
you allow me to ask you another question? Can any one go in here?'
'Any one can go IN,' replied the old man; plainly adding by the
significance of his emphasis, 'but it is not every one who can go
'Pardon me once more. Are you familiar with the place?'
'Sir,' returned the old man, squeezing his little packet of snuff
in his hand, and turning upon his interrogator as if such questions
hurt him. 'I am.'
'I beg you to excuse me. I am not impertinently curious, but have
a good object. Do you know the name of Dorrit here?'
'My name, sir,' replied the old man most unexpectedly, 'is Dorrit.'
Arthur pulled off his hat to him. 'Grant me the favour of half-a-
dozen words. I was wholly unprepared for your announcement, and
hope that assurance is my sufficient apology for having taken the
liberty of addressing you. I have recently come home to England
after a long absence. I have seen at my mother's--Mrs Clennam in
the city--a young woman working at her needle, whom I have only
heard addressed or spoken of as Little Dorrit. I have felt
sincerely interested in her, and have had a great desire to know
something more about her. I saw her, not a minute before you came
up, pass in at that door.'
The old man looked at him attentively. 'Are you a sailor, sir?' he
asked. He seemed a little disappointed by the shake of the head
that replied to him. 'Not a sailor? I judged from your sunburnt
face that you might be. Are you in earnest, sir?'
'I do assure you that I am, and do entreat you to believe that I
am, in plain earnest.'
'I know very little of the world, sir,' returned the other, who had
a weak and quavering voice. 'I am merely passing on, like the
shadow over the sun-dial. It would be worth no man's while to
mislead me; it would really be too easy--too poor a success, to
yield any satisfaction. The young woman whom you saw go in here is
my brother's child. My brother is William Dorrit; I am Frederick.
You say you have seen her at your mother's (I know your mother
befriends her), you have felt an interest in her, and you wish to
know what she does here. Come and see.'
He went on again, and Arthur accompanied him.
'My brother,' said the old man, pausing on the step and slowly
facing round again, 'has been here many years; and much that
happens even among ourselves, out of doors, is kept from him for
reasons that I needn't enter upon now. Be so good as to say
nothing of my niece's working at her needle. Be so good as to say
nothing that goes beyond what is said among us. If you keep within
our bounds, you cannot well be wrong. Now! Come and see.'
Arthur followed him down a narrow entry, at the end of which a key
was turned, and a strong door was opened from within. It admitted
them into a lodge or lobby, across which they passed, and so
through another door and a grating into the prison. The old man
always plodding on before, turned round, in his slow, stiff,
stooping manner, when they came to the turnkey on duty, as if to
present his companion. The turnkey nodded; and the companion
passed in without being asked whom he wanted.
The night was dark; and the prison lamps in the yard, and the
candles in the prison windows faintly shining behind many sorts of
wry old curtain and blind, had not the air of making it lighter.
A few people loitered about, but the greater part of the population
was within doors. The old man, taking the right-hand side of the
yard, turned in at the third or fourth doorway, and began to ascend
the stairs. 'They are rather dark, sir, but you will not find
anything in the way.'
He paused for a moment before opening a door on the second story.
He had no sooner turned the handle than the visitor saw Little
Dorrit, and saw the reason of her setting so much store by dining
She had brought the meat home that she should have eaten herself,
and was already warming it on a gridiron over the fire for her
father, clad in an old grey gown and a black cap, awaiting his
supper at the table. A clean cloth was spread before him, with
knife, fork, and spoon, salt-cellar, pepper-box, glass, and pewter
ale-pot. Such zests as his particular little phial of cayenne
pepper and his pennyworth of pickles in a saucer, were not wanting.
She started, coloured deeply, and turned white. The visitor, more
with his eyes than by the slight impulsive motion of his hand,
entreated her to be reassured and to trust him.
'I found this gentleman,' said the uncle--'Mr Clennam, William, son
of Amy's friend--at the outer gate, wishful, as he was going by, of
paying his respects, but hesitating whether to come in or not.
This is my brother William, sir.'
'I hope,' said Arthur, very doubtful what to say, 'that my respect
for your daughter may explain and justify my desire to be presented
to you, sir.'
'Mr Clennam,' returned the other, rising, taking his cap off in the
flat of his hand, and so holding it, ready to put on again, 'you do
me honour. You are welcome, sir;' with a low bow. 'Frederick, a
chair. Pray sit down, Mr Clennam.'
He put his black cap on again as he had taken it off, and resumed
his own seat. There was a wonderful air of benignity and patronage
in his manner. These were the ceremonies with which he received