Part 6 out of 20
gentleman, which occasioned his eye-glass to get into his soup,
into his wine-glass, into Mrs Meagles's plate, to hang down his
back like a bell-rope, and be several times disgracefully restored
to his bosom by one of the dingy men. Weakened in mind by his
frequent losses of this instrument, and its determination not to
stick in his eye, and more and more enfeebled in intellect every
time he looked at the mysterious Clennam, he applied spoons to his
eyes, forks, and other foreign matters connected with the furniture
of the dinner-table. His discovery of these mistakes greatly
increased his difficulties, but never released him from the
necessity of looking at Clennam. And whenever Clennam spoke, this
ill-starred young man was clearly seized with a dread that he was
coming, by some artful device, round to that point of wanting to
know, you know.
It may be questioned, therefore, whether any one but Mr Meagles had
much enjoyment of the time. Mr Meagles, however, thoroughly
enjoyed Young Barnacle. As a mere flask of the golden water in the
tale became a full fountain when it was poured out, so Mr Meagles
seemed to feel that this small spice of Barnacle imparted to his
table the flavour of the whole family-tree. In its presence, his
frank, fine, genuine qualities paled; he was not so easy, he was
not so natural, he was striving after something that did not belong
to him, he was not himself. What a strange peculiarity on the part
of Mr Meagles, and where should we find another such case!
At last the wet Sunday wore itself out in a wet night; and Young
Barnacle went home in a cab, feebly smoking; and the objectionable
Gowan went away on foot, accompanied by the objectionable dog. Pet
had taken the most amiable pains all day to be friendly with
Clennam, but Clennam had been a little reserved since breakfast--
that is to say, would have been, if he had loved her.
When he had gone to his own room, and had again thrown himself into
the chair by the fire, Mr Doyce knocked at the door, candle in
hand, to ask him how and at what hour he proposed returning on the
morrow? After settling this question, he said a word to Mr Doyce
about this Gowan--who would have run in his head a good deal, if he
had been his rival.
'Those are not good prospects for a painter,' said Clennam.
'No,' returned Doyce.
Mr Doyce stood, chamber-candlestick in hand, the other hand in his
pocket, looking hard at the flame of his candle, with a certain
quiet perception in his face that they were going to say something
'I thought our good friend a little changed, and out of spirits,
after he came this morning?' said Clennam.
'Yes,' returned Doyce.
'But not his daughter?' said Clennam.
'No,' said Doyce.
There was a pause on both sides. Mr Doyce, still looking at the
flame of his candle, slowly resumed:
'The truth is, he has twice taken his daughter abroad in the hope
of separating her from Mr Gowan. He rather thinks she is disposed
to like him, and he has painful doubts (I quite agree with him, as
I dare say you do) of the hopefulness of such a marriage.'
'There--' Clennam choked, and coughed, and stopped.
'Yes, you have taken cold,' said Daniel Doyce. But without looking
'There is an engagement between them, of course?' said Clennam
'No. As I am told, certainly not. It has been solicited on the
gentleman's part, but none has been made. Since their recent
return, our friend has yielded to a weekly visit, but that is the
utmost. Minnie would not deceive her father and mother. You have
travelled with them, and I believe you know what a bond there is
among them, extending even beyond this present life. All that
there is between Miss Minnie and Mr Gowan, I have no doubt we see.'
'Ah! We see enough!' cried Arthur.
Mr Doyce wished him Good Night in the tone of a man who had heard
a mournful, not to say despairing, exclamation, and who sought to
infuse some encouragement and hope into the mind of the person by
whom it had been uttered. Such tone was probably a part of his
oddity, as one of a crotchety band; for how could he have heard
anything of that kind, without Clennam's hearing it too?
The rain fell heavily on the roof, and pattered on the ground, and
dripped among the evergreens and the leafless branches of the
trees. The rain fell heavily, drearily. It was a night of tears.
If Clennam had not decided against falling in love with Pet; if he
had had the weakness to do it; if he had, little by little,
persuaded himself to set all the earnestness of his nature, all the
might of his hope, and all the wealth of his matured character, on
that cast; if he had done this and found that all was lost; he
would have been, that night, unutterably miserable. As it was-- As
it was, the rain fell heavily, drearily.
Little Dorrit's Lover
Little Dorrit had not attained her twenty-second birthday without
finding a lover. Even in the shallow Marshalsea, the ever young
Archer shot off a few featherless arrows now and then from a mouldy
bow, and winged a Collegian or two.
Little Dorrit's lover, however, was not a Collegian. He was the
sentimental son of a turnkey. His father hoped, in the fulness of
time, to leave him the inheritance of an unstained key; and had
from his early youth familiarised him with the duties of his
office, and with an ambition to retain the prison-lock in the
family. While the succession was yet in abeyance, he assisted his
mother in the conduct of a snug tobacco business round the corner
of Horsemonger Lane (his father being a non-resident turnkey),
which could usually command a neat connection within the College
Years agone, when the object of his affections was wont to sit in
her little arm-chair by the high Lodge-fender, Young John (family
name, Chivery), a year older than herself, had eyed her with
admiring wonder. When he had played with her in the yard, his
favourite game had been to counterfeit locking her up in corners,
and to counterfeit letting her out for real kisses. When he grew
tall enough to peep through the keyhole of the great lock of the
main door, he had divers times set down his father's dinner, or
supper, to get on as it might on the outer side thereof, while he
stood taking cold in one eye by dint of peeping at her through that
If Young John had ever slackened in his truth in the less
penetrable days of his boyhood, when youth is prone to wear its
boots unlaced and is happily unconscious of digestive organs, he
had soon strung it up again and screwed it tight. At nineteen, his
hand had inscribed in chalk on that part of the wall which fronted
her lodgings, on the occasion of her birthday, 'Welcome sweet
nursling of the Fairies!' At twenty-three, the same hand
falteringly presented cigars on Sundays to the Father of the
Marshalsea, and Father of the queen of his soul.
Young John was small of stature, with rather weak legs and very
weak light hair. One of his eyes (perhaps the eye that used to
peep through the keyhole) was also weak, and looked larger than the
other, as if it couldn't collect itself. Young John was gentle
likewise. But he was great of soul. Poetical, expansive,
Though too humble before the ruler of his heart to be sanguine,
Young John had considered the object of his attachment in all its
lights and shades. Following it out to blissful results, he had
descried, without self-commendation, a fitness in it. Say things
prospered, and they were united. She, the child of the Marshalsea;
he, the lock-keeper. There was a fitness in that. Say he became
a resident turnkey. She would officially succeed to the chamber
she had rented so long. There was a beautiful propriety in that.
It looked over the wall, if you stood on tip-toe; and, with a
trellis-work of scarlet beans and a canary or so, would become a
very Arbour. There was a charming idea in that. Then, being all
in all to one another, there was even an appropriate grace in the
lock. With the world shut out (except that part of it which would
be shut in); with its troubles and disturbances only known to them
by hearsay, as they would be described by the pilgrims tarrying
with them on their way to the Insolvent Shrine; with the Arbour
above, and the Lodge below; they would glide down the stream of
time, in pastoral domestic happiness. Young John drew tears from
his eyes by finishing the picture with a tombstone in the adjoining
churchyard, close against the prison wall, bearing the following
touching inscription: 'Sacred to the Memory Of JOHN CHIVERY, Sixty
years Turnkey, and fifty years Head Turnkey, Of the neighbouring
Marshalsea, Who departed this life, universally respected, on the
thirty-first of December, One thousand eight hundred and eighty-
six, Aged eighty-three years. Also of his truly beloved and truly
loving wife, AMY, whose maiden name was DORRIT, Who survived his
loss not quite forty-eight hours, And who breathed her last in the
Marshalsea aforesaid. There she was born, There she lived, There
The Chivery parents were not ignorant of their son's attachment --
indeed it had, on some exceptional occasions, thrown him into a
state of mind that had impelled him to conduct himself with
irascibility towards the customers, and damage the business--but
they, in their turns, had worked it out to desirable conclusions.
Mrs Chivery, a prudent woman, had desired her husband to take
notice that their john's prospects of the Lock would certainly be
strengthened by an alliance with Miss Dorrit, who had herself a
kind of claim upon the College and was much respected there. Mrs
Chivery had desired her husband to take notice that if, on the one
hand, their John had means and a post of trust, on the other hand,
Miss Dorrit had family; and that her (Mrs Chivery's) sentiment was,
that two halves made a whole. Mrs Chivery, speaking as a mother
and not as a diplomatist, had then, from a different point of view,
desired her husband to recollect that their John had never been
strong, and that his love had fretted and worrited him enough as it
was, without his being driven to do himself a mischief, as nobody
couldn't say he wouldn't be if he was crossed. These arguments had
so powerfully influenced the mind of Mr Chivery, who was a man of
few words, that he had on sundry Sunday mornings, given his boy
what he termed 'a lucky touch,' signifying that he considered such
commendation of him to Good Fortune, preparatory to his that day
declaring his passion and becoming triumphant. But Young John had
never taken courage to make the declaration; and it was principally
on these occasions that he had returned excited to the tobacco
shop, and flown at the customers.
In this affair, as in every other, Little Dorrit herself was the
last person considered. Her brother and sister were aware of it,
and attained a sort of station by making a peg of it on which to
air the miserably ragged old fiction of the family gentility. Her
sister asserted the family gentility by flouting the poor swain as
he loitered about the prison for glimpses of his dear. Tip
asserted the family gentility, and his own, by coming out in the
character of the aristocratic brother, and loftily swaggering in
the little skittle ground respecting seizures by the scruff of the
neck, which there were looming probabilities of some gentleman
unknown executing on some little puppy not mentioned. These were
not the only members of the Dorrit family who turned it to account.
No, no. The Father of the Marshalsea was supposed to know nothing
about the matter, of course: his poor dignity could not see so low.
But he took the cigars, on Sundays, and was glad to get them; and
sometimes even condescended to walk up and down the yard with the
donor (who was proud and hopeful then), and benignantly to smoke
one in his society. With no less readiness and condescension did
he receive attentions from Chivery Senior, who always relinquished
his arm-chair and newspaper to him, when he came into the Lodge
during one of his spells of duty; and who had even mentioned to
him, that, if he would like at any time after dusk quietly to step
out into the fore-court and take a look at the street, there was
not much to prevent him. If he did not avail himself of this
latter civility, it was only because he had lost the relish for it;
inasmuch as he took everything else he could get, and would say at
times, 'Extremely civil person, Chivery; very attentive man and
very respectful. Young Chivery, too; really almost with a delicate
perception of one's position here. A very well conducted family
indeed, the Chiveries. Their behaviour gratifies me.'
The devoted Young John all this time regarded the family with
reverence. He never dreamed of disputing their pretensions, but
did homage to the miserable Mumbo jumbo they paraded. As to
resenting any affront from her brother, he would have felt, even if
he had not naturally been of a most pacific disposition, that to
wag his tongue or lift his hand against that sacred gentleman would
be an unhallowed act. He was sorry that his noble mind should take
offence; still, he felt the fact to be not incompatible with its
nobility, and sought to propitiate and conciliate that gallant
soul. Her father, a gentleman in misfortune--a gentleman of a fine
spirit and courtly manners, who always bore with him--he deeply
honoured. Her sister he considered somewhat vain and proud, but a
young lady of infinite accomplishments, who could not forget the
past. It was an instinctive testimony to Little Dorrit's worth and
difference from all the rest, that the poor young fellow honoured
and loved her for being simply what she was.
The tobacco business round the corner of Horsemonger Lane was
carried out in a rural establishment one story high, which had the
benefit of the air from the yards of Horsemonger Lane jail, and the
advantage of a retired walk under the wall of that pleasant
establishment. The business was of too modest a character to
support a life-size Highlander, but it maintained a little one on
a bracket on the door-post, who looked like a fallen Cherub that
had found it necessary to take to a kilt.
From the portal thus decorated, one Sunday after an early dinner of
baked viands, Young John issued forth on his usual Sunday errand;
not empty-handed, but with his offering of cigars. He was neatly
attired in a plum-coloured coat, with as large a collar of black
velvet as his figure could carry; a silken waistcoat, bedecked with
golden sprigs; a chaste neckerchief much in vogue at that day,
representing a preserve of lilac pheasants on a buff ground;
pantaloons so highly decorated with side-stripes that each leg was
a three-stringed lute; and a hat of state very high and hard. When
the prudent Mrs Chivery perceived that in addition to these
adornments her John carried a pair of white kid gloves, and a cane
like a little finger-post, surmounted by an ivory hand marshalling
him the way that he should go; and when she saw him, in this heavy
marching order, turn the corner to the right; she remarked to Mr
Chivery, who was at home at the time, that she thought she knew
which way the wind blew.
The Collegians were entertaining a considerable number of visitors
that Sunday afternoon, and their Father kept his room for the
purpose of receiving presentations. After making the tour of the
yard, Little Dorrit's lover with a hurried heart went up-stairs,
and knocked with his knuckles at the Father's door.
'Come in, come in!' said a gracious voice. The Father's voice, her
father's, the Marshalsea's father's. He was seated in his black
velvet cap, with his newspaper, three-and-sixpence accidentally
left on the table, and two chairs arranged. Everything prepared
for holding his Court.
'Ah, Young John! How do you do, how do you do!'
'Pretty well, I thank you, sir. I hope you are the same.'
'Yes, John Chivery; yes. Nothing to complain of.'
'I have taken the liberty, sir, of--'
'Eh?' The Father of the Marshalsea always lifted up his eyebrows
at this point, and became amiably distraught and smilingly absent
'--A few cigars, sir.'
'Oh!' (For the moment, excessively surprised.) 'Thank you, Young
John, thank you. But really, I am afraid I am too-- No? Well
then, I will say no more about it. Put them on the mantelshelf, if
you please, Young John. And sit down, sit down. You are not a
'Thank you, sir, I am sure-- Miss;' here Young John turned the
great hat round and round upon his left-hand, like a slowly
twirling mouse-cage; 'Miss Amy quite well, sir?'
'Yes, John, yes; very well. She is out.'
'Yes, John. Miss Amy is gone for an airing. My young people all
go out a good deal. But at their time of life, it's natural,
'Very much so, I am sure, sir.'
'An airing. An airing. Yes.' He was blandly tapping his fingers
on the table, and casting his eyes up at the window. 'Amy has gone
for an airing on the Iron Bridge. She has become quite partial to
the Iron Bridge of late, and seems to like to walk there better
than anywhere.' He returned to conversation. 'Your father is not
on duty at present, I think, John?'
'No, sir, he comes on later in the afternoon.' Another twirl of
the great hat, and then Young John said, rising, 'I am afraid I
must wish you good day, sir.'
'So soon? Good day, Young John. Nay, nay,' with the utmost
condescension, 'never mind your glove, John. Shake hands with it
on. You are no stranger here, you know.'
Highly gratified by the kindness of his reception, Young John
descended the staircase. On his way down he met some Collegians
bringing up visitors to be presented, and at that moment Mr Dorrit
happened to call over the banisters with particular distinctness,
'Much obliged to you for your little testimonial, John!'
Little Dorrit's lover very soon laid down his penny on the
tollplate of the Iron Bridge, and came upon it looking about him
for the well-known and well-beloved figure. At first he feared she
was not there; but as he walked on towards the Middlesex side, he
saw her standing still, looking at the water. She was absorbed in
thought, and he wondered what she might be thinking about. There
were the piles of city roofs and chimneys, more free from smoke
than on week-days; and there were the distant masts and steeples.
Perhaps she was thinking about them.
Little Dorrit mused so long, and was so entirely preoccupied, that
although her lover stood quiet for what he thought was a long time,
and twice or thrice retired and came back again to the former spot,
still she did not move. So, in the end, he made up his mind to go
on, and seem to come upon her casually in passing, and speak to
her. The place was quiet, and now or never was the time to speak
He walked on, and she did not appear to hear his steps until he was
close upon her. When he said 'Miss Dorrit!' she started and fell
back from him, with an expression in her face of fright and
something like dislike that caused him unutterable dismay. She had
often avoided him before--always, indeed, for a long, long while.
She had turned away and glided off so often when she had seen him
coming toward her, that the unfortunate Young John could not think
it accidental. But he had hoped that it might be shyness, her
retiring character, her foreknowledge of the state of his heart,
anything short of aversion. Now, that momentary look had said,
'You, of all people! I would rather have seen any one on earth
It was but a momentary look, inasmuch as she checked it, and said
in her soft little voice, 'Oh, Mr John! Is it you?' But she felt
what it had been, as he felt what it had been; and they stood
looking at one another equally confused.
'Miss Amy, I am afraid I disturbed you by speaking to you.'
'Yes, rather. I--I came here to be alone, and I thought I was.'
'Miss Amy, I took the liberty of walking this way, because Mr
Dorrit chanced to mention, when I called upon him just now, that
She caused him more dismay than before by suddenly murmuring, 'O
father, father!' in a heartrending tone, and turning her face away.
'Miss Amy, I hope I don't give you any uneasiness by naming Mr
Dorrit. I assure you I found him very well and in the best of
Spirits, and he showed me even more than his usual kindness; being
so very kind as to say that I was not a stranger there, and in all
ways gratifying me very much.'
To the inexpressible consternation of her lover, Little Dorrit,
with her hands to her averted face, and rocking herself where she
stood as if she were in pain, murmured, 'O father, how can you! O
dear, dear father, how can you, can you, do it!'
The poor fellow stood gazing at her, overflowing with sympathy, but
not knowing what to make of this, until, having taken out her
handkerchief and put it to her still averted face, she hurried
away. At first he remained stock still; then hurried after her.
'Miss Amy, pray! Will you have the goodness to stop a moment?
Miss Amy, if it comes to that, let ME go. I shall go out of my
senses, if I have to think that I have driven you away like this.'
His trembling voice and unfeigned earnestness brought Little Dorrit
to a stop. 'Oh, I don't know what to do,' she cried, 'I don't know
what to do!'
To Young John, who had never seen her bereft of her quiet self-
command, who had seen her from her infancy ever so reliable and
self-suppressed, there was a shock in her distress, and in having
to associate himself with it as its cause, that shook him from his
great hat to the pavement. He felt it necessary to explain
himself. He might be misunderstood--supposed to mean something, or
to have done something, that had never entered into his
imagination. He begged her to hear him explain himself, as the
greatest favour she could show him.
'Miss Amy, I know very well that your family is far above mine. It
were vain to conceal it. There never was a Chivery a gentleman
that ever I heard of, and I will not commit the meanness of making
a false representation on a subject so momentous. Miss Amy, I know
very well that your high-souled brother, and likewise your spirited
sister, spurn me from a height. What I have to do is to respect
them, to wish to be admitted to their friendship, to look up at the
eminence on which they are placed from my lowlier station--for,
whether viewed as tobacco or viewed as the lock, I well know it is
lowly--and ever wish them well and happy.'
There really was a genuineness in the poor fellow, and a contrast
between the hardness of his hat and the softness of his heart
(albeit, perhaps, of his head, too), that was moving. Little
Dorrit entreated him to disparage neither himself nor his station,
and, above all things, to divest himself of any idea that she
supposed hers to be superior. This gave him a little comfort.
'Miss Amy,' he then stammered, 'I have had for a long time --ages
they seem to me--Revolving ages--a heart-cherished wish to say
something to you. May I say it?'
Little Dorrit involuntarily started from his side again, with the
faintest shadow of her former look; conquering that, she went on at
great speed half across the Bridge without replying!
'May I--Miss Amy, I but ask the question humbly--may I say it? I
have been so unlucky already in giving you pain without having any
such intentions, before the holy Heavens! that there is no fear of
my saying it unless I have your leave. I can be miserable alone,
I can be cut up by myself, why should I also make miserable and cut
up one that I would fling myself off that parapet to give half a
moment's joy to! Not that that's much to do, for I'd do it for
The mournfulness of his spirits, and the gorgeousness of his
appearance, might have made him ridiculous, but that his delicacy
made him respectable. Little Dorrit learnt from it what to do.
'If you please, John Chivery,' she returned, trembling, but in a
quiet way, 'since you are so considerate as to ask me whether you
shall say any more--if you please, no.'
'Never, Miss Amy?'
'No, if you please. Never.'
'O Lord!' gasped Young John.
'But perhaps you will let me, instead, say something to you. I
want to say it earnestly, and with as plain a meaning as it is
possible to express. When you think of us, John--I mean my
brother, and sister, and me--don't think of us as being any
different from the rest; for, whatever we once were (which I hardly
know) we ceased to be long ago, and never can be any more. It will
be much better for you, and much better for others, if you will do
that instead of what you are doing now.'
Young John dolefully protested that he would try to bear it in
mind, and would be heartily glad to do anything she wished.
'As to me,' said Little Dorrit, 'think as little of me as you can;
the less, the better. When you think of me at all, John, let it
only be as the child you have seen grow up in the prison with one
set of duties always occupying her; as a weak, retired, contented,
unprotected girl. I particularly want you to remember, that when
I come outside the gate, I am unprotected and solitary.'
He would try to do anything she wished. But why did Miss Amy so
much want him to remember that?
'Because,' returned Little Dorrit, 'I know I can then quite trust
you not to forget to-day, and not to say any more to me. You are
so generous that I know I can trust to you for that; and I do and
I always will. I am going to show you, at once, that I fully trust
you. I like this place where we are speaking better than any place
I know;' her slight colour had faded, but her lover thought he saw
it coming back just then; 'and I may be often here. I know it is
only necessary for me to tell you so, to be quite sure that you
will never come here again in search of me. And I am--quite sure!'
She might rely upon it, said Young John. He was a miserable
wretch, but her word was more than a law for him.
'And good-bye, John,' said Little Dorrit. 'And I hope you will
have a good wife one day, and be a happy man. I am sure you will
deserve to be happy, and you will be, John.'
As she held out her hand to him with these words, the heart that
was under the waistcoat of sprigs--mere slop-work, if the truth
must be known--swelled to the size of the heart of a gentleman; and
the poor common little fellow, having no room to hold it, burst
'Oh, don't cry,' said Little Dorrit piteously. 'Don't, don't!
Good-bye, John. God bless you!'
'Good-bye, Miss Amy. Good-bye!'
And so he left her: first observing that she sat down on the corner
of a seat, and not only rested her little hand upon the rough wall,
but laid her face against it too, as if her head were heavy, and
her mind were sad.
It was an affecting illustration of the fallacy of human projects,
to behold her lover, with the great hat pulled over his eyes, the
velvet collar turned up as if it rained, the plum-coloured coat
buttoned to conceal the silken waistcoat of golden sprigs, and the
little direction-post pointing inexorably home, creeping along by
the worst back-streets, and composing, as he went, the following
new inscription for a tombstone in St George's Churchyard:
'Here lie the mortal remains Of JOHN CHIVERY, Never anything worth
mentioning, Who died about the end of the year one thousand eight
hundred and twenty-six, Of a broken heart, Requesting with his last
breath that the word AMY might be inscribed over his ashes, which
was accordingly directed to be done, By his afflicted Parents.'
The Father of the Marshalsea in two or three Relations
The brothers William and Frederick Dorrit, walking up and down the
College-yard--of course on the aristocratic or Pump side, for the
Father made it a point of his state to be chary of going among his
children on the Poor side, except on Sunday mornings, Christmas
Days, and other occasions of ceremony, in the observance whereof he
was very punctual, and at which times he laid his hand upon the
heads of their infants, and blessed those young insolvents with a
benignity that was highly edifying--the brothers, walking up and
down the College-yard together, were a memorable sight. Frederick
the free, was so humbled, bowed, withered, and faded; William the
bond, was so courtly, condescending, and benevolently conscious of
a position; that in this regard only, if in no other, the brothers
were a spectacle to wonder at.
They walked up and down the yard on the evening of Little Dorrit's
Sunday interview with her lover on the Iron Bridge. The cares of
state were over for that day, the Drawing Room had been well
attended, several new presentations had taken place, the three-and-
sixpence accidentally left on the table had accidentally increased
to twelve shillings, and the Father of the Marshalsea refreshed
himself with a whiff of cigar. As he walked up and down, affably
accommodating his step to the shuffle of his brother, not proud in
his superiority, but considerate of that poor creature, bearing
with him, and breathing toleration of his infirmities in every
little puff of smoke that issued from his lips and aspired to get
over the spiked wall, he was a sight to wonder at.
His brother Frederick of the dim eye, palsied hand, bent form, and
groping mind, submissively shuffled at his side, accepting his
patronage as he accepted every incident of the labyrinthian world
in which he had got lost. He held the usual screwed bit of whitey-
brown paper in his hand, from which he ever and again unscrewed a
spare pinch of snuff. That falteringly taken, he would glance at
his brother not unadmiringly, put his hands behind him, and shuffle
on so at his side until he took another pinch, or stood still to
look about him--perchance suddenly missing his clarionet.
The College visitors were melting away as the shades of night drew
on, but the yard was still pretty full, the Collegians being mostly
out, seeing their friends to the Lodge. As the brothers paced the
yard, William the bond looked about him to receive salutes,
returned them by graciously lifting off his hat, and, with an
engaging air, prevented Frederick the free from running against the
company, or being jostled against the wall. The Collegians as a
body were not easily impressible, but even they, according to their
various ways of wondering, appeared to find in the two brothers a
sight to wonder at.
'You are a little low this evening, Frederick,' said the Father of
the Marshalsea. 'Anything the matter?'
'The matter?' He stared for a moment, and then dropped his head
and eyes again. 'No, William, no. Nothing is the matter.'
'If you could be persuaded to smarten yourself up a little,
'Aye, aye!' said the old man hurriedly. 'But I can't be. I can't
be. Don't talk so. That's all over.'
The Father of the Marshalsea glanced at a passing Collegian with
whom he was on friendly terms, as who should say, 'An enfeebled old
man, this; but he is my brother, sir, my brother, and the voice of
Nature is potent!' and steered his brother clear of the handle of
the pump by the threadbare sleeve. Nothing would have been wanting
to the perfection of his character as a fraternal guide,
philosopher and friend, if he had only steered his brother clear of
ruin, instead of bringing it upon him.
'I think, William,' said the object of his affectionate
consideration, 'that I am tired, and will go home to bed.'
'My dear Frederick,' returned the other, 'don't let me detain you;
don't sacrifice your inclination to me.'
'Late hours, and a heated atmosphere, and years, I suppose,' said
Frederick, 'weaken me.'
'My dear Frederick,' returned the Father of the Marshalsea, 'do you
think you are sufficiently careful of yourself? Do you think your
habits are as precise and methodical as--shall I say as mine are?
Not to revert again to that little eccentricity which I mentioned
just now, I doubt if you take air and exercise enough, Frederick.
Here is the parade, always at your service. Why not use it more
regularly than you do?'
'Hah!' sighed the other. 'Yes, yes, yes, yes.'
'But it is of no use saying yes, yes, my dear Frederick,' the
Father of the Marshalsea in his mild wisdom persisted, 'unless you
act on that assent. Consider my case, Frederick. I am a kind of
example. Necessity and time have taught me what to do. At certain
stated hours of the day, you will find me on the parade, in my
room, in the Lodge, reading the paper, receiving company, eating
and drinking. I have impressed upon Amy during many years, that I
must have my meals (for instance) punctually. Amy has grown up in
a sense of the importance of these arrangements, and you know what
a good girl she is.'
The brother only sighed again, as he plodded dreamily along, 'Hah!
Yes, yes, yes, yes.'
'My dear fellow,' said the Father of the Marshalsea, laying his
hand upon his shoulder, and mildly rallying him--mildly, because of
his weakness, poor dear soul; 'you said that before, and it does
not express much, Frederick, even if it means much. I wish I could
rouse you, my good Frederick; you want to be roused.'
'Yes, William, yes. No doubt,' returned the other, lifting his dim
eyes to his face. 'But I am not like you.'
The Father of the Marshalsea said, with a shrug of modest self-
depreciation, 'Oh! You might be like me, my dear Frederick; you
might be, if you chose!' and forbore, in the magnanimity of his
strength, to press his fallen brother further.
There was a great deal of leave-taking going on in corners, as was
usual on Sunday nights; and here and there in the dark, some poor
woman, wife or mother, was weeping with a new Collegian. The time
had been when the Father himself had wept, in the shades of that
yard, as his own poor wife had wept. But it was many years ago;
and now he was like a passenger aboard ship in a long voyage, who
has recovered from sea-sickness, and is impatient of that weakness
in the fresher passengers taken aboard at the last port. He was
inclined to remonstrate, and to express his opinion that people who
couldn't get on without crying, had no business there. In manner,
if not in words, he always testified his displeasure at these
interruptions of the general harmony; and it was so well
understood, that delinquents usually withdrew if they were aware of
On this Sunday evening, he accompanied his brother to the gate with
an air of endurance and clemency; being in a bland temper and
graciously disposed to overlook the tears. In the flaring gaslight
of the Lodge, several Collegians were basking; some taking leave of
visitors, and some who had no visitors, watching the frequent
turning of the key, and conversing with one another and with Mr
Chivery. The paternal entrance made a sensation of course; and Mr
Chivery, touching his hat (in a short manner though) with his key,
hoped he found himself tolerable.
'Thank you, Chivery, quite well. And you?'
Mr Chivery said in a low growl, 'Oh! he was all right.' Which was
his general way of acknowledging inquiries after his health when a
'I had a visit from Young John to-day, Chivery. And very smart he
looked, I assure you.'
So Mr Chivery had heard. Mr Chivery must confess, however, that
his wish was that the boy didn't lay out so much money upon it.
For what did it bring him in? It only brought him in wexation.
And he could get that anywhere for nothing.
'How vexation, Chivery?' asked the benignant father.
'No odds,' returned Mr Chivery. 'Never mind. Mr Frederick going
'Yes, Chivery, my brother is going home to bed. He is tired, and
not quite well. Take care, Frederick, take care. Good night, my
Shaking hands with his brother, and touching his greasy hat to the
company in the Lodge, Frederick slowly shuffled out of the door
which Mr Chivery unlocked for him. The Father of the Marshalsea
showed the amiable solicitude of a superior being that he should
come to no harm.
'Be so kind as to keep the door open a moment, Chivery, that I may
see him go along the passage and down the steps. Take care,
Frederick! (He is very infirm.) Mind the steps! (He is so very
absent.) Be careful how you cross, Frederick. (I really don't like
the notion of his going wandering at large, he is so extremely
liable to be run over.)'
With these words, and with a face expressive of many uneasy doubts
and much anxious guardianship, he turned his regards upon the
assembled company in the Lodge: so plainly indicating that his
brother was to be pitied for not being under lock and key, that an
opinion to that effect went round among the Collegians assembled.
But he did not receive it with unqualified assent; on the contrary,
he said, No, gentlemen, no; let them not misunderstand him. His
brother Frederick was much broken, no doubt, and it might be more
comfortable to himself (the Father of the Marshalsea) to know that
he was safe within the walls. Still, it must be remembered that to
support an existence there during many years, required a certain
combination of qualities--he did not say high qualities, but
qualities--moral qualities. Now, had his brother Frederick that
peculiar union of qualities? Gentlemen, he was a most excellent
man, a most gentle, tender, and estimable man, with the simplicity
of a child; but would he, though unsuited for most other places, do
for that place? No; he said confidently, no! And, he said, Heaven
forbid that Frederick should be there in any other character than
in his present voluntary character! Gentlemen, whoever came to
that College, to remain there a length of time, must have strength
of character to go through a good deal and to come out of a good
deal. Was his beloved brother Frederick that man? No. They saw
him, even as it was, crushed. Misfortune crushed him. He had not
power of recoil enough, not elasticity enough, to be a long time in
such a place, and yet preserve his self-respect and feel conscious
that he was a gentleman. Frederick had not (if he might use the
expression) Power enough to see in any delicate little attentions
and--and --Testimonials that he might under such circumstances
receive, the goodness of human nature, the fine spirit animating
the Collegians as a community, and at the same time no degradation
to himself, and no depreciation of his claims as a gentleman.
Gentlemen, God bless you!
Such was the homily with which he improved and pointed the occasion
to the company in the Lodge before turning into the sallow yard
again, and going with his own poor shabby dignity past the
Collegian in the dressing-gown who had no coat, and past the
Collegian in the sea-side slippers who had no shoes, and past the
stout greengrocer Collegian in the corduroy knee-breeches who had
no cares, and past the lean clerk Collegian in buttonless black who
had no hopes, up his own poor shabby staircase to his own poor
There, the table was laid for his supper, and his old grey gown was
ready for him on his chair-back at the fire. His daughter put her
little prayer-book in her pocket--had she been praying for pity on
all prisoners and captives!--and rose to welcome him.
Uncle had gone home, then? she asked @ as she changed his coat and
gave him his black velvet cap. Yes, uncle had gone home. Had her
father enjoyed his walk? Why, not much, Amy; not much. No! Did
he not feel quite well?
As she stood behind him, leaning over his chair so lovingly, he
looked with downcast eyes at the fire. An uneasiness stole over
him that was like a touch of shame; and when he spoke, as he
presently did, it was in an unconnected and embarrassed manner.
'Something, I--hem!--I don't know what, has gone wrong with
Chivery. He is not--ha!--not nearly so obliging and attentive as
usual to-night. It--hem!--it's a little thing, but it puts me out,
my love. It's impossible to forget,' turning his hands over and
over and looking closely at them, 'that--hem!--that in such a life
as mine, I am unfortunately dependent on these men for something
every hour in the day.'
Her arm was on his shoulder, but she did not look in his face while
he spoke. Bending her head she looked another way.
'I--hem!--I can't think, Amy, what has given Chivery offence. He
is generally so--so very attentive and respectful. And to-night he
was quite--quite short with me. Other people there too! Why, good
Heaven! if I was to lose the support and recognition of Chivery
and his brother officers, I might starve to death here.' While he
spoke, he was opening and shutting his hands like valves; so
conscious all the time of that touch of shame, that he shrunk
before his own knowledge of his meaning.
'I--ha!--I can't think what it's owing to. I am sure I cannot
imagine what the cause of it is. There was a certain Jackson here
once, a turnkey of the name of Jackson (I don't think you can
remember him, my dear, you were very young), and--hem!--and he had
a--brother, and this--young brother paid his addresses to--at
least, did not go so far as to pay his addresses to--but admired--
respectfully admired--the--not daughter, the sister--of one of us;
a rather distinguished Collegian; I may say, very much so. His
name was Captain Martin; and he consulted me on the question
whether It was necessary that his daughter--sister--should hazard
offending the turnkey brother by being too--ha!--too plain with the
other brother. Captain Martin was a gentleman and a man of honour,
and I put it to him first to give me his--his own opinion. Captain
Martin (highly respected in the army) then unhesitatingly said that
it appeared to him that his--hem!--sister was not called upon to
understand the young man too distinctly, and that she might lead
him on--I am doubtful whether "lead him on" was Captain Martin's
exact expression: indeed I think he said tolerate him--on her
father's--I should say, brother's--account. I hardly know how I
have strayed into this story. I suppose it has been through being
unable to account for Chivery; but as to the connection between the
two, I don't see--'
His voice died away, as if she could not bear the pain of hearing
him, and her hand had gradually crept to his lips. For a little
while there was a dead silence and stillness; and he remained
shrunk in his chair, and she remained with her arm round his neck
and her head bowed down upon his shoulder.
His supper was cooking in a saucepan on the fire, and, when she
moved, it was to make it ready for him on the table. He took his
usual seat, she took hers, and he began his meal. They did not, as
yet, look at one another. By little and little he began; laying
down his knife and fork with a noise, taking things up sharply,
biting at his bread as if he were offended with it, and in other
similar ways showing that he was out of sorts. At length he pushed
his plate from him, and spoke aloud; with the strangest
'What does it matter whether I eat or starve? What does it matter
whether such a blighted life as mine comes to an end, now, next
week, or next year? What am I worth to anyone? A poor prisoner,
fed on alms and broken victuals; a squalid, disgraced wretch!'
'Father, father!' As he rose she went on her knees to him, and held
up her hands to him.
'Amy,' he went on in a suppressed voice, trembling violently, and
looking at her as wildly as if he had gone mad. 'I tell you, if
you could see me as your mother saw me, you wouldn't believe it to
be the creature you have only looked at through the bars of this
cage. I was young, I was accomplished, I was good-looking, I was
independent--by God I was, child!--and people sought me out, and
envied me. Envied me!'
'Dear father!' She tried to take down the shaking arm that he
flourished in the air, but he resisted, and put her hand away.
'If I had but a picture of myself in those days, though it was ever
so ill done, you would be proud of it, you would be proud of it.
But I have no such thing. Now, let me be a warning! Let no man,'
he cried, looking haggardly about, 'fail to preserve at least that
little of the times of his prosperity and respect. Let his
children have that clue to what he was. Unless my face, when I am
dead, subsides into the long departed look--they say such things
happen, I don't know--my children will have never seen me.'
'O despise me, despise me! Look away from me, don't listen to me,
stop me, blush for me, cry for me--even you, Amy! Do it, do it!
I do it to myself! I am hardened now, I have sunk too low to care
long even for that.'
'Dear father, loved father, darling of my heart!' She was clinging
to him with her arms, and she got him to drop into his chair again,
and caught at the raised arm, and tried to put it round her neck.
'Let it lie there, father. Look at me, father, kiss me, father!
Only think of me, father, for one little moment!'
Still he went on in the same wild way, though it was gradually
breaking down into a miserable whining.
'And yet I have some respect here. I have made some stand against
it. I am not quite trodden down. Go out and ask who is the chief
person in the place. They'll tell you it's your father. Go out
and ask who is never trifled with, and who is always treated with
some delicacy. They'll say, your father. Go out and ask what
funeral here (it must be here, I know it can be nowhere else) will
make more talk, and perhaps more grief, than any that has ever gone
out at the gate. They'll say your father's. Well then. Amy!
Amy! Is your father so universally despised? Is there nothing to
redeem him? Will you have nothing to remember him by but his ruin
and decay? Will you be able to have no affection for him when he
is gone, poor castaway, gone?'
He burst into tears of maudlin pity for himself, and at length
suffering her to embrace him and take charge of him, let his grey
head rest against her cheek, and bewailed his wretchedness.
Presently he changed the subject of his lamentations, and clasping
his hands about her as she embraced him, cried, O Amy, his
motherless, forlorn child! O the days that he had seen her careful
and laborious for him! Then he reverted to himself, and weakly
told her how much better she would have loved him if she had known
him in his vanished character, and how he would have married her to
a gentleman who should have been proud of her as his daughter, and
how (at which he cried again) she should first have ridden at his
fatherly side on her own horse, and how the crowd (by which he
meant in effect the people who had given him the twelve shillings
he then had in his pocket) should have trudged the dusty roads
Thus, now boasting, now despairing, in either fit a captive with
the jail-rot upon him, and the impurity of his prison worn into the
grain of his soul, he revealed his degenerate state to his
affectionate child. No one else ever beheld him in the details of
his humiliation. Little recked the Collegians who were laughing in
their rooms over his late address in the Lodge, what a serious
picture they had in their obscure gallery of the Marshalsea that
There was a classical daughter once--perhaps--who ministered to her
father in his prison as her mother had ministered to her. Little
Dorrit, though of the unheroic modern stock and mere English, did
much more, in comforting her father's wasted heart upon her
innocent breast, and turning to it a fountain of love and fidelity
that never ran dry or waned through all his years of famine.
She soothed him; asked him for his forgiveness if she had been, or
seemed to have been, undutiful; told him, Heaven knows truly, that
she could not honour him more if he were the favourite of Fortune
and the whole world acknowledged him. When his tears were dried,
and he sobbed in his weakness no longer, and was free from that
touch of shame, and had recovered his usual bearing, she prepared
the remains of his supper afresh, and, sitting by his side,
rejoiced to see him eat and drink. For now he sat in his black
velvet cap and old grey gown, magnanimous again; and would have
comported himself towards any Collegian who might have looked in to
ask his advice, like a great moral Lord Chesterfield, or Master of
the ethical ceremonies of the Marshalsea.
To keep his attention engaged, she talked with him about his
wardrobe; when he was pleased to say, that Yes, indeed, those
shirts she proposed would be exceedingly acceptable, for those he
had were worn out, and, being ready-made, had never fitted him.
Being conversational, and in a reasonable flow of spirits, he then
invited her attention to his coat as it hung behind the door:
remarking that the Father of the place would set an indifferent
example to his children, already disposed to be slovenly, if he
went among them out at elbows. He was jocular, too, as to the
heeling of his shoes; but became grave on the subject of his
cravat, and promised her that, when she could afford it, she should
buy him a new one.
While he smoked out his cigar in peace, she made his bed, and put
the small room in order for his repose. Being weary then, owing to
the advanced hour and his emotions, he came out of his chair to
bless her and wish her Good night. All this time he had never once
thought of HER dress, her shoes, her need of anything. No other
person upon earth, save herself, could have been so unmindful of
He kissed her many times with 'Bless you, my love. Good night, MY
But her gentle breast had been so deeply wounded by what she had
seen of him that she was unwilling to leave him alone, lest he
should lament and despair again. 'Father, dear, I am not tired;
let me come back presently, when you are in bed, and sit by you.'
He asked her, with an air of protection, if she felt solitary?
'Then come back by all means, my love.'
'I shall be very quiet, father.'
'Don't think of me, my dear,' he said, giving her his kind
permission fully. 'Come back by all means.'
He seemed to be dozing when she returned, and she put the low fire
together very softly lest she should awake him. But he overheard
her, and called out who was that?
'Only Amy, father.'
'Amy, my child, come here. I want to say a word to you.' He
raised himself a little in his low bed, as she kneeled beside it to
bring her face near him; and put his hand between hers. O! Both
the private father and the Father of the Marshalsea were strong
within him then.
'My love, you have had a life of hardship here. No companions, no
recreations, many cares I am afraid?'
'Don't think of that, dear. I never do.'
'You know my position, Amy. I have not been able to do much for
you; but all I have been able to do, I have done.'
'Yes, my dear father,' she rejoined, kissing him. 'I know, I
'I am in the twenty-third year of my life here,' he said, with a
catch in his breath that was not so much a sob as an irrepressible
sound of self-approval, the momentary outburst of a noble
consciousness. 'It is all I could do for my children--I have done
it. Amy, my love, you are by far the best loved of the three; I
have had you principally in my mind--whatever I have done for your
sake, my dear child, I have done freely and without murmuring.'
Only the wisdom that holds the clue to all hearts and all
mysteries, can surely know to what extent a man, especially a man
brought down as this man had been, can impose upon himself.
Enough, for the present place, that he lay down with wet eyelashes,
serene, in a manner majestic, after bestowing his life of
degradation as a sort of portion on the devoted child upon whom its
miseries had fallen so heavily, and whose love alone had saved him
to be even what he was.
That child had no doubts, asked herself no question, for she was
but too content to see him with a lustre round his head. Poor
dear, good dear, truest, kindest, dearest, were the only words she
had for him, as she hushed him to rest.
She never left him all that night. As if she had done him a wrong
which her tenderness could hardly repair, she sat by him in his
sleep, at times softly kissing him with suspended breath, and
calling him in a whisper by some endearing name. At times she
stood aside so as not to intercept the low fire-light, and,
watching him when it fell upon his sleeping face, wondered did he
look now at all as he had looked when he was prosperous and happy;
as he had so touched her by imagining that he might look once more
in that awful time. At the thought of that time, she kneeled
beside his bed again, and prayed, 'O spare his life! O save him to
me! O look down upon my dear, long-suffering, unfortunate, much-
changed, dear dear father!'
Not until the morning came to protect him and encourage him, did
she give him a last kiss and leave the small room. When she had
stolen down-stairs, and along the empty yard, and had crept up to
her own high garret, the smokeless housetops and the distant
country hills were discernible over the wall in the clear morning.
As she gently opened the window, and looked eastward down the
prison yard, the spikes upon the wall were tipped with red, then
made a sullen purple pattern on the sun as it came flaming up into
the heavens. The spikes had never looked so sharp and cruel, nor
the bars so heavy, nor the prison space so gloomy and contracted.
She thought of the sunrise on rolling rivers, of the sunrise on
wide seas, of the sunrise on rich landscapes, of the sunrise on
great forests where the birds were waking and the trees were
rustling; and she looked down into the living grave on which the
sun had risen, with her father in it three-and-twenty years, and
said, in a burst of sorrow and compassion, 'No, no, I have never
seen him in my life!'
Moving in Society
If Young John Chivery had had the inclination and the power to
write a satire on family pride, he would have had no need to go for
an avenging illustration out of the family of his beloved. He
would have found it amply in that gallant brother and that dainty
sister, so steeped in mean experiences, and so loftily conscious of
the family name; so ready to beg or borrow from the poorest, to eat
of anybody's bread, spend anybody's money, drink from anybody's cup
and break it afterwards. To have painted the sordid facts of their
lives, and they throughout invoking the death's head apparition of
the family gentility to come and scare their benefactors, would
have made Young John a satirist of the first water.
Tip had turned his liberty to hopeful account by becoming a
billiard-marker. He had troubled himself so little as to the means
of his release, that Clennam scarcely needed to have been at the
pains of impressing the mind of Mr Plornish on that subject.
Whoever had paid him the compliment, he very readily accepted the
compliment with HIS compliments, and there was an end of it.
Issuing forth from the gate on these easy terms, he became a
billiard-marker; and now occasionally looked in at the little
skittle-ground in a green Newmarket coat (second-hand), with a
shining collar and bright buttons (new), and drank the beer of the
One solid stationary point in the looseness of this gentleman's
character was, that he respected and admired his sister Amy. The
feeling had never induced him to spare her a moment's uneasiness,
or to put himself to any restraint or inconvenience on her account;
but with that Marshalsea taint upon his love, he loved her. The
same rank Marshalsea flavour was to be recognised in his distinctly
perceiving that she sacrificed her life to her father, and in his
having no idea that she had done anything for himself.
When this spirited young man and his sister had begun
systematically to produce the family skeleton for the overawing of
the College, this narrative cannot precisely state. Probably at
about the period when they began to dine on the College charity.
It is certain that the more reduced and necessitous they were, the
more pompously the skeleton emerged from its tomb; and that when
there was anything particularly shabby in the wind, the skeleton
always came out with the ghastliest flourish.
Little Dorrit was late on the Monday morning, for her father slept
late, and afterwards there was his breakfast to prepare and his
room to arrange. She had no engagement to go out to work, however,
and therefore stayed with him until, with Maggy's help, she had put
everything right about him, and had seen him off upon his morning
walk (of twenty yards or so) to the coffee-house to read the paper.
She then got on her bonnet and went out, having been anxious to get
out much sooner. There was, as usual, a cessation of the small-
talk in the Lodge as she passed through it; and a Collegian who had
come in on Saturday night, received the intimation from the elbow
of a more seasoned Collegian, 'Look out. Here she is!'
She wanted to see her sister, but when she got round to Mr
Cripples's, she found that both her sister and her uncle had gone
to the theatre where they were engaged. Having taken thought of
this probability by the way, and having settled that in such case
she would follow them, she set off afresh for the theatre, which
was on that side of the river, and not very far away.
Little Dorrit was almost as ignorant of the ways of theatres as of
the ways of gold mines, and when she was directed to a furtive sort
of door, with a curious up-all-night air about it, that appeared to
be ashamed of itself and to be hiding in an alley, she hesitated to
approach it; being further deterred by the sight of some half-dozen
close-shaved gentlemen with their hats very strangely on, who were
lounging about the door, looking not at all unlike Collegians. On
her applying to them, reassured by this resemblance, for a
direction to Miss Dorrit, they made way for her to enter a dark
hall--it was more like a great grim lamp gone out than anything
else--where she could hear the distant playing of music and the
sound of dancing feet. A man so much in want of airing that he had
a blue mould upon him, sat watching this dark place from a hole in
a corner, like a spider; and he told her that he would send a
message up to Miss Dorrit by the first lady or gentleman who went
through. The first lady who went through had a roll of music, half
in her muff and half out of it, and was in such a tumbled condition
altogether, that it seemed as if it would be an act of kindness to
iron her. But as she was very good-natured, and said, 'Come with
me; I'll soon find Miss Dorrit for you,' Miss Dorrit's sister went
with her, drawing nearer and nearer at every step she took in the
darkness to the sound of music and the sound of dancing feet.
At last they came into a maze of dust, where a quantity of people
were tumbling over one another, and where there was such a
confusion of unaccountable shapes of beams, bulkheads, brick walls,
ropes, and rollers, and such a mixing of gaslight and daylight,
that they seemed to have got on the wrong side of the pattern of
the universe. Little Dorrit, left to herself, and knocked against
by somebody every moment, was quite bewildered, when she heard her
'Why, good gracious, Amy, what ever brought you here?'
'I wanted to see you, Fanny dear; and as I am going out all day to-
morrow, and knew you might be engaged all day to-day, I thought--'
'But the idea, Amy, of YOU coming behind! I never did!' As her
sister said this in no very cordial tone of welcome, she conducted
her to a more open part of the maze, where various golden chairs
and tables were heaped together, and where a number of young ladies
were sitting on anything they could find, chattering. All these
young ladies wanted ironing, and all had a curious way of looking
everywhere while they chattered.
just as the sisters arrived here, a monotonous boy in a Scotch cap
put his head round a beam on the left, and said, 'Less noise there,
ladies!' and disappeared. Immediately after which, a sprightly
gentleman with a quantity of long black hair looked round a beam on
the right, and said, 'Less noise there, darlings!' and also
'The notion of you among professionals, Amy, is really the last
thing I could have conceived!' said her sister. 'Why, how did you
ever get here?'
'I don't know. The lady who told you I was here, was so good as to
bring me in.'
'Like you quiet little things! You can make your way anywhere, I
believe. I couldn't have managed it, Amy, though I know so much
more of the world.'
It was the family custom to lay it down as family law, that she was
a plain domestic little creature, without the great and sage
experience of the rest. This family fiction was the family
assertion of itself against her services. Not to make too much of
'Well! And what have you got on your mind, Amy? Of course you
have got something on your mind about me?' said Fanny. She spoke
as if her sister, between two and three years her junior, were her
'It is not much; but since you told me of the lady who gave you the
The monotonous boy put his head round the beam on the left, and
said, 'Look out there, ladies!' and disappeared. The sprightly
gentleman with the black hair as suddenly put his head round the
beam on the right, and said, 'Look out there, darlings!' and also
disappeared. Thereupon all the young ladies rose and began shaking
their skirts out behind.
'Well, Amy?' said Fanny, doing as the rest did; 'what were you
going to say?'
'Since you told me a lady had given you the bracelet you showed me,
Fanny, I have not been quite easy on your account, and indeed want
to know a little more if you will confide more to me.'
'Now, ladies!' said the boy in the Scotch cap. 'Now, darlings!'
said the gentleman with the black hair. They were every one gone
in a moment, and the music and the dancing feet were heard again.
Little Dorrit sat down in a golden chair, made quite giddy by these
rapid interruptions. Her sister and the rest were a long time
gone; and during their absence a voice (it appeared to be that of
the gentleman with the black hair) was continually calling out
through the music, 'One, two, three, four, five, six--go! One,
two, three, four, five, six--go! Steady, darlings! One, two,
three, four, five, six--go!' Ultimately the voice stopped, and
they all came back again, more or less out of breath, folding
themselves in their shawls, and making ready for the streets.
'Stop a moment, Amy, and let them get away before us,' whispered
Fanny. They were soon left alone; nothing more important
happening, in the meantime, than the boy looking round his old
beam, and saying, 'Everybody at eleven to-morrow, ladies!' and the
gentleman with the black hair looking round his old beam, and
saying, 'Everybody at eleven to-morrow, darlings!' each in his own
When they were alone, something was rolled up or by other means got
out of the way, and there was a great empty well before them,
looking down into the depths of which Fanny said, 'Now, uncle!'
Little Dorrit, as her eyes became used to the darkness, faintly
made him out at the bottom of the well, in an obscure corner by
himself, with his instrument in its ragged case under his arm.
The old man looked as if the remote high gallery windows, with
their little strip of sky, might have been the point of his better
fortunes, from which he had descended, until he had gradually sunk
down below there to the bottom. He had been in that place six
nights a week for many years, but had never been observed to raise
his eyes above his music-book, and was confidently believed to have
never seen a play. There were legends in the place that he did not
so much as know the popular heroes and heroines by sight, and that
the low comedian had 'mugged' at him in his richest manner fifty
nights for a wager, and he had shown no trace of consciousness.
The carpenters had a joke to the effect that he was dead without
being aware of it; and the frequenters of the pit supposed him to
pass his whole life, night and day, and Sunday and all, in the
orchestra. They had tried him a few times with pinches of snuff
offered over the rails, and he had always responded to this
attention with a momentary waking up of manner that had the pale
phantom of a gentleman in it: beyond this he never, on any
occasion, had any other part in what was going on than the part
written out for the clarionet; in private life, where there was no
part for the clarionet, he had no part at all. Some said he was
poor, some said he was a wealthy miser; but he said nothing, never
lifted up his bowed head, never varied his shuffling gait by
getting his springless foot from the ground. Though expecting now
to be summoned by his niece, he did not hear her until she had
spoken to him three or four times; nor was he at all surprised by
the presence of two nieces instead of one, but merely said in his
tremulous voice, 'I am coming, I am coming!' and crept forth by
some underground way which emitted a cellarous smell.
'And so, Amy,' said her sister, when the three together passed out
at the door that had such a shame-faced consciousness of being
different from other doors: the uncle instinctively taking Amy's
arm as the arm to be relied on: 'so, Amy, you are curious about
She was pretty, and conscious, and rather flaunting; and the
condescension with which she put aside the superiority of her
charms, and of her worldly experience, and addressed her sister on
almost equal terms, had a vast deal of the family in it.
'I am interested, Fanny, and concerned in anything that concerns
'So you are, so you are, and you are the best of Amys. If I am
ever a little provoking, I am sure you'll consider what a thing it
is to occupy my position and feel a consciousness of being superior
to it. I shouldn't care,' said the Daughter of the Father of the
Marshalsea, 'if the others were not so common. None of them have
come down in the world as we have. They are all on their own
Little Dorrit mildly looked at the speaker, but did not interrupt
her. Fanny took out her handkerchief, and rather angrily wiped her
eyes. 'I was not born where you were, you know, Amy, and perhaps
that makes a difference. My dear child, when we get rid of Uncle,
you shall know all about it. We'll drop him at the cook's shop
where he is going to dine.'
They walked on with him until they came to a dirty shop window in
a dirty street, which was made almost opaque by the steam of hot
meats, vegetables, and puddings. But glimpses were to be caught of
a roast leg of pork bursting into tears of sage and onion in a
metal reservoir full of gravy, of an unctuous piece of roast beef
and blisterous Yorkshire pudding, bubbling hot in a similar
receptacle, of a stuffed fillet of veal in rapid cut, of a ham in
a perspiration with the pace it was going at, of a shallow tank of
baked potatoes glued together by their own richness, of a truss or
two of boiled greens, and other substantial delicacies. Within,
were a few wooden partitions, behind which such customers as found
it more convenient to take away their dinners in stomachs than in
their hands, Packed their purchases in solitude. Fanny opening her
reticule, as they surveyed these things, produced from that
repository a shilling and handed it to Uncle. Uncle, after not
looking at it a little while, divined its object, and muttering
'Dinner? Ha! Yes, yes, yes!' slowly vanished from them into the
'Now, Amy,' said her sister, 'come with me, if you are not too
tired to walk to Harley Street, Cavendish Square.'
The air with which she threw off this distinguished address and the
toss she gave to her new bonnet (which was more gauzy than
serviceable), made her sister wonder; however, she expressed her
readiness to go to Harley Street, and thither they directed their
steps. Arrived at that grand destination, Fanny singled out the
handsomest house, and knocking at the door, inquired for Mrs
Merdle. The footman who opened the door, although he had powder on
his head and was backed up by two other footmen likewise powdered,
not only admitted Mrs Merdle to be at home, but asked Fanny to walk
in. Fanny walked in, taking her sister with her; and they went up-
stairs with powder going before and powder stopping behind, and
were left in a spacious semicircular drawing-room, one of several
drawing-rooms, where there was a parrot on the outside of a golden
cage holding on by its beak, with its scaly legs in the air, and
putting itself into many strange upside-down postures. This
peculiarity has been observed in birds of quite another feather,
climbing upon golden wires.
The room was far more splendid than anything Little Dorrit had ever
imagined, and would have been splendid and costly in any eyes. She
looked in amazement at her sister and would have asked a question,
but that Fanny with a warning frown pointed to a curtained doorway
of communication with another room. The curtain shook next moment,
and a lady, raising it with a heavily ringed hand, dropped it
behind her again as she entered.
The lady was not young and fresh from the hand of Nature, but was
young and fresh from the hand of her maid. She had large unfeeling
handsome eyes, and dark unfeeling handsome hair, and a broad
unfeeling handsome bosom, and was made the most of in every
particular. Either because she had a cold, or because it suited
her face, she wore a rich white fillet tied over her head and under
her chin. And if ever there were an unfeeling handsome chin that
looked as if, for certain, it had never been, in familiar parlance,
'chucked' by the hand of man, it was the chin curbed up so tight
and close by that laced bridle.
'Mrs Merdle,' said Fanny. 'My sister, ma'am.'
'I am glad to see your sister, Miss Dorrit. I did not remember
that you had a sister.'
'I did not mention that I had,' said Fanny.
'Ah!' Mrs Merdle curled the little finger of her left hand as who
should say, 'I have caught you. I know you didn't!' All her
action was usually with her left hand because her hands were not a
pair; and left being much the whiter and plumper of the two. Then
she added: 'Sit down,' and composed herself voluptuously, in a nest
of crimson and gold cushions, on an ottoman near the parrot.
'Also professional?' said Mrs Merdle, looking at Little Dorrit
through an eye-glass.
Fanny answered No. 'No,' said Mrs Merdle, dropping her glass.
'Has not a professional air. Very pleasant; but not professional.'
'My sister, ma'am,' said Fanny, in whom there was a singular
mixture of deference and hardihood, 'has been asking me to tell
her, as between sisters, how I came to have the honour of knowing
you. And as I had engaged to call upon you once more, I thought I
might take the liberty of bringing her with me, when perhaps you
would tell her. I wish her to know, and perhaps you will tell
'Do you think, at your sister's age--' hinted Mrs Merdle.
'She is much older than she looks,' said Fanny; 'almost as old as
'Society,' said Mrs Merdle, with another curve of her little
finger, 'is so difficult to explain to young persons (indeed is so
difficult to explain to most persons), that I am glad to hear that.
I wish Society was not so arbitrary, I wish it was not so exacting
-- Bird, be quiet!'
The parrot had given a most piercing shriek, as if its name were
Society and it asserted its right to its exactions.
'But,' resumed Mrs Merdle, 'we must take it as we find it. We know
it is hollow and conventional and worldly and very shocking, but
unless we are Savages in the Tropical seas (I should have been
charmed to be one myself--most delightful life and perfect climate,
I am told), we must consult it. It is the common lot. Mr Merdle
is a most extensive merchant, his transactions are on the vastest
scale, his wealth and influence are very great, but even he-- Bird,
The parrot had shrieked another shriek; and it filled up the
sentence so expressively that Mrs Merdle was under no necessity to
'Since your sister begs that I would terminate our personal
acquaintance,' she began again, addressing Little Dorrit, 'by
relating the circumstances that are much to her credit, I cannot
object to comply with her request, I am sure. I have a son (I was
first married extremely young) of two or three-and-twenty.'
Fanny set her lips, and her eyes looked half triumphantly at her
'A son of two or three-and-twenty. He is a little gay, a thing
Society is accustomed to in young men, and he is very impressible.
Perhaps he inherits that misfortune. I am very impressible myself,
by nature. The weakest of creatures--my feelings are touched in a
She said all this, and everything else, as coldly as a woman of
snow; quite forgetting the sisters except at odd times, and
apparently addressing some abstraction of Society; for whose
behoof, too, she occasionally arranged her dress, or the
composition of her figure upon the ottoman.
'So he is very impressible. Not a misfortune in our natural state
I dare say, but we are not in a natural state. Much to be
lamented, no doubt, particularly by myself, who am a child of
nature if I could but show it; but so it is. Society suppresses us
and dominates us-- Bird, be quiet!'
The parrot had broken into a violent fit of laughter, after
twisting divers bars of his cage with his crooked bill, and licking
them with his black tongue.
'It is quite unnecessary to say to a person of your good sense,
wide range of experience, and cultivated feeling,' said Mrs Merdle
from her nest of crimson and gold--and there put up her glass to
refresh her memory as to whom she was addressing,--'that the stage
sometimes has a fascination for young men of that class of
character. In saying the stage, I mean the people on it of the
female sex. Therefore, when I heard that my son was supposed to be
fascinated by a dancer, I knew what that usually meant in Society,
and confided in her being a dancer at the Opera, where young men
moving in Society are usually fascinated.'
She passed her white hands over one another, observant of the
sisters now; and the rings upon her fingers grated against each
other with a hard sound.
'As your sister will tell you, when I found what the theatre was I
was much surprised and much distressed. But when I found that your
sister, by rejecting my son's advances (I must add, in an
unexpected manner), had brought him to the point of proposing
marriage, my feelings were of the profoundest anguish--acute.' She
traced the outline of her left eyebrow, and put it right.
'In a distracted condition, which only a mother--moving in
Society--can be susceptible of, I determined to go myself to the
theatre, and represent my state of mind to the dancer. I made
myself known to your sister. I found her, to my surprise, in many
respects different from my expectations; and certainly in none more
so, than in meeting me with--what shall I say--a sort of family
assertion on her own part?' Mrs Merdle smiled.
'I told you, ma'am,' said Fanny, with a heightening colour, 'that
although you found me in that situation, I was so far above the
rest, that I considered my family as good as your son's; and that
I had a brother who, knowing the circumstances, would be of the
same opinion, and would not consider such a connection any honour.'
'Miss Dorrit,' said Mrs Merdle, after frostily looking at her
through her glass, 'precisely what I was on the point of telling
your sister, in pursuance of your request. Much obliged to you for
recalling it so accurately and anticipating me. I immediately,'
addressing Little Dorrit, '(for I am the creature of impulse), took
a bracelet from my arm, and begged your sister to let me clasp it
on hers, in token of the delight I had in our being able to
approach the subject so far on a common footing.' (This was
perfectly true, the lady having bought a cheap and showy article on
her way to the interview, with a general eye to bribery.)
'And I told you, Mrs Merdle,' said Fanny, 'that we might be
unfortunate, but we are not common.'
'I think, the very words, Miss Dorrit,' assented Mrs Merdle.
'And I told you, Mrs Merdle,' said Fanny, 'that if you spoke to me
of the superiority of your son's standing in Society, it was barely
possible that you rather deceived yourself in your suppositions
about my origin; and that my father's standing, even in the Society
in which he now moved (what that was, was best known to myself),
was eminently superior, and was acknowledged by every one.'
'Quite accurate,' rejoined Mrs Merdle. 'A most admirable memory.'
'Thank you, ma'am. Perhaps you will be so kind as to tell my
sister the rest.'
'There is very little to tell,' said Mrs Merdle, reviewing the
breadth of bosom which seemed essential to her having room enough
to be unfeeling in, 'but it is to your sister's credit. I pointed
out to your sister the plain state of the case; the impossibility
of the Society in which we moved recognising the Society in which
she moved--though charming, I have no doubt; the immense
disadvantage at which she would consequently place the family she
had so high an opinion of, upon which we should find ourselves
compelled to look down with contempt, and from which (socially
speaking) we should feel obliged to recoil with abhorrence. In
short, I made an appeal to that laudable pride in your sister.'
'Let my sister know, if you please, Mrs Merdle,' Fanny pouted, with
a toss of her gauzy bonnet, 'that I had already had the honour of
telling your son that I wished to have nothing whatever to say to
'Well, Miss Dorrit,' assented Mrs Merdle, 'perhaps I might have
mentioned that before. If I did not think of it, perhaps it was
because my mind reverted to the apprehensions I had at the time
that he might persevere and you might have something to say to him.
I also mentioned to your sister--I again address the non-
professional Miss Dorrit--that my son would have nothing in the
event of such a marriage, and would be an absolute beggar. (I
mention that merely as a fact which is part of the narrative, and
not as supposing it to have influenced your sister, except in the
prudent and legitimate way in which, constituted as our artificial
system is, we must all be influenced by such considerations.)
Finally, after some high words and high spirit on the part of your
sister, we came to the complete understanding that there was no
danger; and your sister was so obliging as to allow me to present
her with a mark or two of my appreciation at my dressmaker's.'
Little Dorrit looked sorry, and glanced at Fanny with a troubled
'Also,' said Mrs Merdle, 'as to promise to give me the present
pleasure of a closing interview, and of parting with her on the
best of terms. On which occasion,' added Mrs Merdle, quitting her
nest, and putting something in Fanny's hand, 'Miss Dorrit will
permit me to say Farewell with best wishes in my own dull manner.'
The sisters rose at the same time, and they all stood near the cage
of the parrot, as he tore at a claw-full of biscuit and spat it
out, seemed to mock them with a pompous dance of his body without
moving his feet, and suddenly turned himself upside down and
trailed himself all over the outside of his golden cage, with the
aid of his cruel beak and black tongue.
'Adieu, Miss Dorrit, with best wishes,' said Mrs Merdle. 'If we
could only come to a Millennium, or something of that sort, I for
one might have the pleasure of knowing a number of charming and
talented persons from whom I am at present excluded. A more
primitive state of society would be delicious to me. There used to
be a poem when I learnt lessons, something about Lo the poor
Indians whose something mind! If a few thousand persons moving in
Society, could only go and be Indians, I would put my name down
directly; but as, moving in Society, we can't be Indians,
They came down-stairs with powder before them and powder behind,
the elder sister haughty and the younger sister humbled, and were
shut out into unpowdered Harley Street, Cavendish Square.
'Well?' said Fanny, when they had gone a little way without
speaking. 'Have you nothing to say, Amy?'
'Oh, I don't know what to say!' she answered, distressed. 'You
didn't like this young man, Fanny?'
'Like him? He is almost an idiot.'
'I am so sorry--don't be hurt--but, since you ask me what I have to
say, I am so very sorry, Fanny, that you suffered this lady to give
'You little Fool!' returned her sister, shaking her with the sharp
pull she gave her arm. 'Have you no spirit at all? But that's
just the way! You have no self-respect, you have no becoming
pride. just as you allow yourself to be followed about by a
contemptible little Chivery of a thing,' with the scornfullest
emphasis, 'you would let your family be trodden on, and never
'Don't say that, dear Fanny. I do what I can for them.'
'You do what you can for them!' repeated Fanny, walking her on very
fast. 'Would you let a woman like this, whom you could see, if you
had any experience of anything, to be as false and insolent as a
woman can be--would you let her put her foot upon your family, and
thank her for it?'
'No, Fanny, I am sure.'
'Then make her pay for it, you mean little thing. What else can
you make her do? Make her pay for it, you stupid child; and do
your family some credit with the money!'
They spoke no more all the way back to the lodging where Fanny and
her uncle lived. When they arrived there, they found the old man
practising his clarionet in the dolefullest manner in a corner of
the room. Fanny had a composite meal to make, of chops, and
porter, and tea; and indignantly pretended to prepare it for
herself, though her sister did all that in quiet reality. When at
last Fanny sat down to eat and drink, she threw the table
implements about and was angry with her bread, much as her father
had been last night.
'If you despise me,' she said, bursting into vehement tears,
'because I am a dancer, why did you put me in the way of being one?
It was your doing. You would have me stoop as low as the ground
before this Mrs Merdle, and let her say what she liked and do what
she liked, and hold us all in contempt, and tell me so to my face.
Because I am a dancer!'
'And Tip, too, poor fellow. She is to disparage him just as much
as she likes, without any check--I suppose because he has been in
the law, and the docks, and different things. Why, it was your
doing, Amy. You might at least approve of his being defended.'
All this time the uncle was dolefully blowing his clarionet in the
corner, sometimes taking it an inch or so from his mouth for a
moment while he stopped to gaze at them, with a vague impression
that somebody had said something.
'And your father, your poor father, Amy. Because he is not free to
show himself and to speak for himself, you would let such people
insult him with impunity. If you don't feel for yourself because
you go out to work, you might at least feel for him, I should
think, knowing what he has undergone so long.'
Poor Little Dorrit felt the injustice of this taunt rather sharply.
The remembrance of last night added a barbed point to it. She said
nothing in reply, but turned her chair from the table towards the
fire. Uncle, after making one more pause, blew a dismal wail and
went on again.
Fanny was passionate with the tea-cups and the bread as long as her
passion lasted, and then protested that she was the wretchedest
girl in the world, and she wished she was dead. After that, her
crying became remorseful, and she got up and put her arms round her
sister. Little Dorrit tried to stop her from saying anything, but
she answered that she would, she must! Thereupon she said again,
and again, 'I beg your pardon, Amy,' and 'Forgive me, Amy,' almost
as passionately as she had said what she regretted.
'But indeed, indeed, Amy,' she resumed when they were seated in
sisterly accord side by side, 'I hope and I think you would have
seen this differently, if you had known a little more of Society.'
'Perhaps I might, Fanny,' said the mild Little Dorrit.
'You see, while you have been domestic and resignedly shut up
there, Amy,' pursued her sister, gradually beginning to patronise,
'I have been out, moving more in Society, and may have been getting
proud and spirited--more than I ought to be, perhaps?'
Little Dorrit answered 'Yes. O yes!'
'And while you have been thinking of the dinner or the clothes, I
may have been thinking, you know, of the family. Now, may it not
be so, Amy?'
Little Dorrit again nodded 'Yes,' with a more cheerful face than
'Especially as we know,' said Fanny, 'that there certainly is a
tone in the place to which you have been so true, which does belong
to it, and which does make it different from other aspects of
Society. So kiss me once again, Amy dear, and we will agree that
we may both be right, and that you are a tranquil, domestic, home-
loving, good girl.'
The clarionet had been lamenting most pathetically during this
dialogue, but was cut short now by Fanny's announcement that it was
time to go; which she conveyed to her uncle by shutting up his
scrap of music, and taking the clarionet out of his mouth.
Little Dorrit parted from them at the door, and hastened back to
the Marshalsea. It fell dark there sooner than elsewhere, and
going into it that evening was like going into a deep trench. The
shadow of the wall was on every object. Not least upon the figure
in the old grey gown and the black velvet cap, as it turned towards
her when she opened the door of the dim room.
'Why not upon me too!' thought Little Dorrit, with the door Yet in
her hand. 'It was not unreasonable in Fanny.'
Mr Merdle's Complaint
Upon that establishment of state, the Merdle establishment in
Harley Street, Cavendish Square, there was the shadow of no more
common wall than the fronts of other establishments of state on the
opposite side of the street. Like unexceptionable Society, the
opposing rows of houses in Harley Street were very grim with one
another. Indeed, the mansions and their inhabitants were so much
alike in that respect, that the people were often to be found drawn
up on opposite sides of dinner-tables, in the shade of their own
loftiness, staring at the other side of the way with the dullness
of the houses.
Everybody knows how like the street the two dinner-rows of people
who take their stand by the street will be. The expressionless
uniform twenty houses, all to be knocked at and rung at in the same
form, all approachable by the same dull steps, all fended off by
the same pattern of railing, all with the same impracticable fire-
escapes, the same inconvenient fixtures in their heads, and
everything without exception to be taken at a high valuation--who
has not dined with these? The house so drearily out of repair, the
occasional bow-window, the stuccoed house, the newly-fronted house,
the corner house with nothing but angular rooms, the house with the
blinds always down, the house with the hatchment always up, the
house where the collector has called for one quarter of an Idea,
and found nobody at home--who has not dined with these? The house
that nobody will take, and is to be had a bargain--who does not
know her? The showy house that was taken for life by the
disappointed gentleman, and which does not suit him at all--who is
unacquainted with that haunted habitation?
Harley Street, Cavendish Square, was more than aware of Mr and Mrs
Merdle. Intruders there were in Harley Street, of whom it was not
aware; but Mr and Mrs Merdle it delighted to honour. Society was
aware of Mr and Mrs Merdle. Society had said 'Let us license them;
let us know them.'
Mr Merdle was immensely rich; a man of prodigious enterprise; a
Midas without the ears, who turned all he touched to gold. He was
in everything good, from banking to building. He was in
Parliament, of course. He was in the City, necessarily. He was
Chairman of this, Trustee of that, President of the other. The
weightiest of men had said to projectors, 'Now, what name have you
got? Have you got Merdle?' And, the reply being in the negative,
had said, 'Then I won't look at you.'
This great and fortunate man had provided that extensive bosom
which required so much room to be unfeeling enough in, with a nest
of crimson and gold some fifteen years before. It was not a bosom
to repose upon, but it was a capital bosom to hang jewels upon. Mr
Merdle wanted something to hang jewels upon, and he bought it for
the purpose. Storr and Mortimer might have married on the same
Like all his other speculations, it was sound and successful. The
jewels showed to the richest advantage. The bosom moving in
Society with the jewels displayed upon it, attracted general
admiration. Society approving, Mr Merdle was satisfied. He was
the most disinterested of men,--did everything for Society, and got
as little for himself out of all his gain and care, as a man might.
That is to say, it may be supposed that he got all he wanted,
otherwise with unlimited wealth he would have got it. But his
desire was to the utmost to satisfy Society (whatever that was),
and take up all its drafts upon him for tribute. He did not shine
in company; he had not very much to say for himself; he was a
reserved man, with a broad, overhanging, watchful head, that
particular kind of dull red colour in his cheeks which is rather
stale than fresh, and a somewhat uneasy expression about his coat-
cuffs, as if they were in his confidence, and had reasons for being
anxious to hide his hands. In the little he said, he was a
pleasant man enough; plain, emphatic about public and private
confidence, and tenacious of the utmost deference being shown by
every one, in all things, to Society. In this same Society (if
that were it which came to his dinners, and to Mrs Merdle's
receptions and concerts), he hardly seemed to enjoy himself much,
and was mostly to be found against walls and behind doors. Also
when he went out to it, instead of its coming home to him, he
seemed a little fatigued, and upon the whole rather more disposed
for bed; but he was always cultivating it nevertheless, and always
moving in it--and always laying out money on it with the greatest
Mrs Merdle's first husband had been a colonel, under whose auspices
the bosom had entered into competition with the snows of North
America, and had come off at little disadvantage in point of
whiteness, and at none in point of coldness. The colonel's son was
Mrs Merdle's only child. He was of a chuckle-headed, high-
shouldered make, with a general appearance of being, not so much a
young man as a swelled boy. He had given so few signs of reason,
that a by-word went among his companions that his brain had been
frozen up in a mighty frost which prevailed at St john's, New
Brunswick, at the period of his birth there, and had never thawed
from that hour. Another by-word represented him as having in his
infancy, through the negligence of a nurse, fallen out of a high
window on his head, which had been heard by responsible witnesses
to crack. It is probable that both these representations were of
ex post facto origin; the young gentleman (whose expressive name
was Sparkler) being monomaniacal in offering marriage to all manner
of undesirable young ladies, and in remarking of every successive
young lady to whom he tendered a matrimonial proposal that she was
'a doosed fine gal--well educated too--with no biggodd nonsense
A son-in-law with these limited talents, might have been a clog
upon another man; but Mr Merdle did not want a son-in-law for
himself; he wanted a son-in-law for Society. Mr Sparkler having
been in the Guards, and being in the habit of frequenting all the
races, and all the lounges, and all the parties, and being well
known, Society was satisfied with its son-in-law. This happy
result Mr Merdle would have considered well attained, though Mr
Sparkler had been a more expensive article. And he did not get Mr
Sparkler by any means cheap for Society, even as it was.
There was a dinner giving in the Harley Street establishment, while
Little Dorrit was stitching at her father's new shirts by his side
that night; and there were magnates from the Court and magnates
from the City, magnates from the Commons and magnates from the
Lords, magnates from the bench and magnates from the bar, Bishop
magnates, Treasury magnates, Horse Guard magnates, Admiralty
magnates,--all the magnates that keep us going, and sometimes trip
'I am told,' said Bishop magnate to Horse Guards, 'that Mr Merdle
has made another enormous hit. They say a hundred thousand
Horse Guards had heard two.
Treasury had heard three.
Bar, handling his persuasive double eye-glass, was by no means
clear but that it might be four. It was one of those happy strokes
of calculation and combination, the result of which it was
difficult to estimate. It was one of those instances of a
comprehensive grasp, associated with habitual luck and
characteristic boldness, of which an age presented us but few. But
here was Brother Bellows, who had been in the great Bank case, and
who could probably tell us more. What did Brother Bellows put this
new success at?
Brother Bellows was on his way to make his bow to the bosom, and
could only tell them in passing that he had heard it stated, with
great appearance of truth, as being worth, from first to last,
half-a-million of money.
Admiralty said Mr Merdle was a wonderful man, Treasury said he was
a new power in the country, and would be able to buy up the whole
House of Commons. Bishop said he was glad to think that this
wealth flowed into the coffers of a gentleman who was always
disposed to maintain the best interests of Society.
Mr Merdle himself was usually late on these occasions, as a man
still detained in the clutch of giant enterprises when other men
had shaken off their dwarfs for the day. On this occasion, he was
the last arrival. Treasury said Merdle's work punished him a
little. Bishop said he was glad to think that this wealth flowed
into the coffers of a gentleman who accepted it with meekness.
Powder! There was so much Powder in waiting, that it flavoured the
dinner. Pulverous particles got into the dishes, and Society's
meats had a seasoning of first-rate footmen. Mr Merdle took down
a countess who was secluded somewhere in the core of an immense
dress, to which she was in the proportion of the heart to the
overgrown cabbage. If so low a simile may be admitted, the dress
went down the staircase like a richly brocaded Jack in the Green,
and nobody knew what sort of small person carried it.
Society had everything it could want, and could not want, for
dinner. It had everything to look at, and everything to eat, and
everything to drink. It is to be hoped it enjoyed itself; for Mr
Merdle's own share of the repast might have been paid for with
eighteenpence. Mrs Merdle was magnificent. The chief butler was
the next magnificent institution of the day. He was the stateliest
man in the company. He did nothing, but he looked on as few other
men could have done. He was Mr Merdle's last gift to Society. Mr
Merdle didn't want him, and was put out of countenance when the
great creature looked at him; but inappeasable Society would have
him--and had got him.
The invisible countess carried out the Green at the usual stage of
the entertainment, and the file of beauty was closed up by the
bosom. Treasury said, Juno. Bishop said, Judith.
Bar fell into discussion with Horse Guards concerning courts-
martial. Brothers Bellows and Bench struck in. Other magnates
paired off. Mr Merdle sat silent, and looked at the table-cloth.
Sometimes a magnate addressed him, to turn the stream of his own
particular discussion towards him; but Mr Merdle seldom gave much
attention to it, or did more than rouse himself from his
calculations and pass the wine.
When they rose, so many of the magnates had something to say to Mr
Merdle individually that he held little levees by the sideboard,
and checked them off as they went out at the door.
Treasury hoped he might venture to congratulate one of England's
world-famed capitalists and merchant-princes (he had turned that
original sentiment in the house a few times, and it came easy to
him) on a new achievement. To extend the triumphs of such men was
to extend the triumphs and resources of the nation; and Treasury
felt--he gave Mr Merdle to understand--patriotic on the subject.
'Thank you, my lord,' said Mr Merdle; 'thank you. I accept your
congratulations with pride, and I am glad you approve.'
'Why, I don't unreservedly approve, my dear Mr Merdle. Because,'
smiling Treasury turned him by the arm towards the sideboard and
spoke banteringly, 'it never can be worth your while to come among
us and help us.'
Mr Merdle felt honoured by the--
'No, no,' said Treasury, 'that is not the light in which one so
distinguished for practical knowledge and great foresight, can be
expected to regard it. If we should ever be happily enabled, by
accidentally possessing the control over circumstances, to propose
to one so eminent to--to come among us, and give us the weight of
his influence, knowledge, and character, we could only propose it
to him as a duty. In fact, as a duty that he owed to Society.'
Mr Merdle intimated that Society was the apple of his eye, and that
its claims were paramount to every other consideration. Treasury
moved on, and Bar came up.
Bar, with his little insinuating jury droop, and fingering his
persuasive double eye-glass, hoped he might be excused if he
mentioned to one of the greatest converters of the root of all evil
into the root of all good, who had for a long time reflected a
shining lustre on the annals even of our commercial country--if he
mentioned, disinterestedly, and as, what we lawyers called in our
pedantic way, amicus curiae, a fact that had come by accident
within his knowledge. He had been required to look over the title
of a very considerable estate in one of the eastern counties--
lying, in fact, for Mr Merdle knew we lawyers loved to be
particular, on the borders of two of the eastern counties. Now,
the title was perfectly sound, and the estate was to be purchased
by one who had the command of--Money (jury droop and persuasive
eye-glass), on remarkably advantageous terms. This had come to
Bar's knowledge only that day, and it had occurred to him, 'I shall
have the honour of dining with my esteemed friend Mr Merdle this
evening, and, strictly between ourselves, I will mention the
opportunity.' Such a purchase would involve not only a great
legitimate political influence, but some half-dozen church
presentations of considerable annual value. Now, that Mr Merdle
was already at no loss to discover means of occupying even his
capital, and of fully employing even his active and vigorous
intellect, Bar well knew: but he would venture to suggest that the
question arose in his mind, whether one who had deservedly gained
so high a position and so European a reputation did not owe it--we
would not say to himself, but we would say to Society, to possess
himself of such influences as these; and to exercise them--we would
not say for his own, or for his party's, but we would say for
Mr Merdle again expressed himself as wholly devoted to that object
of his constant consideration, and Bar took his persuasive eye-
glass up the grand staircase. Bishop then came undesignedly
sidling in the direction of the sideboard.
Surely the goods of this world, it occurred in an accidental way to
Bishop to remark, could scarcely be directed into happier channels
than when they accumulated under the magic touch of the wise and
sagacious, who, while they knew the just value of riches (Bishop
tried here to look as if he were rather poor himself), were aware
of their importance, judiciously governed and rightly distributed,
to the welfare of our brethren at large.
Mr Merdle with humility expressed his conviction that Bishop
couldn't mean him, and with inconsistency expressed his high
gratification in Bishop's good opinion.
Bishop then--jauntily stepping out a little with his well-shaped
right leg, as though he said to Mr Merdle 'don't mind the apron; a
mere form!' put this case to his good friend:
Whether it had occurred to his good friend, that Society might not
unreasonably hope that one so blest in his undertakings, and whose