Part 7 out of 20
example on his pedestal was so influential with it, would shed a
little money in the direction of a mission or so to Africa?
Mr Merdle signifying that the idea should have his best attention,
Bishop put another case:
Whether his good friend had at all interested himself in the
proceedings of our Combined Additional Endowed Dignitaries
Committee, and whether it had occurred to him that to shed a little
money in that direction might be a great conception finely
Mr Merdle made a similar reply, and Bishop explained his reason for
Society looked to such men as his good friend to do such things.
It was not that HE looked to them, but that Society looked to them.
just as it was not Our Committee who wanted the Additional Endowed
Dignitaries, but it was Society that was in a state of the most
agonising uneasiness of mind until it got them. He begged to
assure his good friend that he was extremely sensible of his good
friend's regard on all occasions for the best interests of Society;
and he considered that he was at once consulting those interests
and expressing the feeling of Society, when he wished him continued
prosperity, continued increase of riches, and continued things in
Bishop then betook himself up-stairs, and the other magnates
gradually floated up after him until there was no one left below
but Mr Merdle. That gentleman, after looking at the table-cloth
until the soul of the chief butler glowed with a noble resentment,
went slowly up after the rest, and became of no account in the
stream of people on the grand staircase. Mrs Merdle was at home,
the best of the jewels were hung out to be seen, Society got what
it came for, Mr Merdle drank twopennyworth of tea in a corner and
got more than he wanted.
Among the evening magnates was a famous physician, who knew
everybody, and whom everybody knew. On entering at the door, he
came upon Mr Merdle drinking his tea in a corner, and touched him
on the arm.
Mr Merdle started. 'Oh! It's you!'
'Any better to-day?'
'No,' said Mr Merdle, 'I am no better.'
'A pity I didn't see you this morning. Pray come to me to-morrow,
or let me come to you. '
'Well!' he replied. 'I will come to-morrow as I drive by.'
Bar and Bishop had both been bystanders during this short dialogue,
and as Mr Merdle was swept away by the crowd, they made their
remarks upon it to the Physician. Bar said, there was a certain
point of mental strain beyond which no man could go; that the point
varied with various textures of brain and peculiarities of
constitution, as he had had occasion to notice in several of his
learned brothers; but the point of endurance passed by a line's
breadth, depression and dyspepsia ensued. Not to intrude on the
sacred mysteries of medicine, he took it, now (with the jury droop
and persuasive eye-glass), that this was Merdle's case? Bishop
said that when he was a young man, and had fallen for a brief space
into the habit of writing sermons on Saturdays, a habit which all
young sons of the church should sedulously avoid, he had frequently
been sensible of a depression, arising as he supposed from an over-
taxed intellect, upon which the yolk of a new-laid egg, beaten up
by the good woman in whose house he at that time lodged, with a
glass of sound sherry, nutmeg, and powdered sugar acted like a
charm. Without presuming to offer so simple a remedy to the
consideration of so profound a professor of the great healing art,
he would venture to inquire whether the strain, being by way of
intricate calculations, the spirits might not (humanly speaking) be
restored to their tone by a gentle and yet generous stimulant?
'Yes,' said the physician, 'yes, you are both right. But I may as
well tell you that I can find nothing the matter with Mr Merdle.
He has the constitution of a rhinoceros, the digestion of an
ostrich, and the concentration of an oyster. As to nerves, Mr
Merdle is of a cool temperament, and not a sensitive man: is about
as invulnerable, I should say, as Achilles. How such a man should
suppose himself unwell without reason, you may think strange. But
I have found nothing the matter with him. He may have some deep-
seated recondite complaint. I can't say. I only say, that at
present I have not found it out.'
There was no shadow of Mr Merdle's complaint on the bosom now
displaying precious stones in rivalry with many similar superb
jewel-stands; there was no shadow of Mr Merdle's complaint on young
Sparkler hovering about the rooms, monomaniacally seeking any
sufficiently ineligible young lady with no nonsense about her;
there was no shadow of Mr Merdle's complaint on the Barnacles and
Stiltstalkings, of whom whole colonies were present; or on any of
the company. Even on himself, its shadow was faint enough as he
moved about among the throng, receiving homage.
Mr Merdle's complaint. Society and he had so much to do with one
another in all things else, that it is hard to imagine his
complaint, if he had one, being solely his own affair. Had he that
deep-seated recondite complaint, and did any doctor find it out?
Patience. in the meantime, the shadow of the Marshalsea wall was
a real darkening influence, and could be seen on the Dorrit Family
at any stage of the sun's course.
Mr Clennam did not increase in favour with the Father of the
Marshalsea in the ratio of his increasing visits. His obtuseness
on the great Testimonial question was not calculated to awaken
admiration in the paternal breast, but had rather a tendency to
give offence in that sensitive quarter, and to be regarded as a
positive shortcoming in point of gentlemanly feeling. An
impression of disappointment, occasioned by the discovery that Mr
Clennam scarcely possessed that delicacy for which, in the
confidence of his nature, he had been inclined to give him credit,
began to darken the fatherly mind in connection with that
gentleman. The father went so far as to say, in his private family
circle, that he feared Mr Clennam was not a man of high instincts.
He was happy, he observed, in his public capacity as leader and
representative of the College, to receive Mr Clennam when he called
to pay his respects; but he didn't find that he got on with him
personally. There appeared to be something (he didn't know what it
was) wanting in him. Howbeit, the father did not fail in any
outward show of politeness, but, on the contrary, honoured him with
much attention; perhaps cherishing the hope that, although not a
man of a sufficiently brilliant and spontaneous turn of mind to
repeat his former testimonial unsolicited, it might still be within
the compass of his nature to bear the part of a responsive
gentleman, in any correspondence that way tending.
In the threefold capacity, of the gentleman from outside who had
been accidentally locked in on the night of his first appearance,
of the gentleman from outside who had inquired into the affairs of
the Father of the Marshalsea with the stupendous idea of getting
him out, and of the gentleman from outside who took an interest in
the child of the Marshalsea, Clennam soon became a visitor of mark.
He was not surprised by the attentions he received from Mr Chivery
when that officer was on the lock, for he made little distinction
between Mr Chivery's politeness and that of the other turnkeys. It
was on one particular afternoon that Mr Chivery surprised him all
at once, and stood forth from his companions in bold relief.
Mr Chivery, by some artful exercise of his power of clearing the
Lodge, had contrived to rid it of all sauntering Collegians; so
that Clennam, coming out of the prison, should find him on duty
'(Private) I ask your pardon, sir,' said Mr Chivery in a secret
manner; 'but which way might you be going?'
'I am going over the Bridge.' He saw in Mr Chivery, with some
astonishment, quite an Allegory of Silence, as he stood with his
key on his lips.
'(Private) I ask your pardon again,' said Mr Chivery, 'but could
you go round by Horsemonger Lane? Could you by any means find time
to look in at that address?' handing him a little card, printed for
circulation among the connection of Chivery and Co., Tobacconists,
Importers of pure Havannah Cigars, Bengal Cheroots, and fine-
flavoured Cubas, Dealers in Fancy Snuffs, &C. &c.
'(Private) It an't tobacco business,' said Mr Chivery. 'The truth
is, it's my wife. She's wishful to say a word to you, sir, upon a
point respecting--yes,' said Mr Chivery, answering Clennam's look
of apprehension with a nod, 'respecting her.'
'I will make a point of seeing your wife directly.'
'Thank you, sir. Much obliged. It an't above ten minutes out of
your way. Please to ask for Mrs Chivery!' These instructions, Mr
Chivery, who had already let him out, cautiously called through a
little slide in the outer door, which he could draw back from
within for the inspection of visitors when it pleased him.
Arthur Clennam, with the card in his hand, betook himself to the
address set forth upon it, and speedily arrived there. It was a
very small establishment, wherein a decent woman sat behind the
counter working at her needle. Little jars of tobacco, little
boxes of cigars, a little assortment of pipes, a little jar or two
of snuff, and a little instrument like a shoeing horn for serving
it out, composed the retail stock in trade.
Arthur mentioned his name, and his having promised to call, on the
solicitation of Mr Chivery. About something relating to Miss
Dorrit, he believed. Mrs Chivery at once laid aside her work, rose
up from her seat behind the counter, and deploringly shook her
'You may see him now,' said she, 'if you'll condescend to take a
With these mysterious words, she preceded the visitor into a little
parlour behind the shop, with a little window in it commanding a
very little dull back-yard. In this yard a wash of sheets and
table-cloths tried (in vain, for want of air) to get itself dried
on a line or two; and among those flapping articles was sitting in
a chair, like the last mariner left alive on the deck of a damp
ship without the power of furling the sails, a little woe-begone
'Our John,' said Mrs Chivery.
Not to be deficient in interest, Clennam asked what he might be
'It's the only change he takes,' said Mrs Chivery, shaking her head
afresh. 'He won't go out, even in the back-yard, when there's no
linen; but when there's linen to keep the neighbours' eyes off,
he'll sit there, hours. Hours he will. Says he feels as if it was
groves!' Mrs Chivery shook her head again, put her apron in a
motherly way to her eyes, and reconducted her visitor into the
regions of the business.
'Please to take a seat, sir,' said Mrs Chivery. 'Miss Dorrit is
the matter with Our John, sir; he's a breaking his heart for her,
and I would wish to take the liberty to ask how it's to be made
good to his parents when bust?'
Mrs Chivery, who was a comfortable-looking woman much respected
about Horsemonger Lane for her feelings and her conversation,
uttered this speech with fell composure, and immediately afterwards
began again to shake her head and dry her eyes.
'Sir,' said she in continuation, 'you are acquainted with the
family, and have interested yourself with the family, and are
influential with the family. If you can promote views calculated
to make two young people happy, let me, for Our john's sake, and
for both their sakes, implore you so to do!'
'I have been so habituated,' returned Arthur, at a loss, 'during
the short time I have known her, to consider Little-- I have been
so habituated to consider Miss Dorrit in a light altogether removed
from that in which you present her to me, that you quite take me by
surprise. Does she know your son?'
'Brought up together, sir,' said Mrs Chivery. 'Played together.'
'Does she know your son as her admirer?'
'Oh! bless you, sir,' said Mrs Chivery, with a sort of triumphant
shiver, 'she never could have seen him on a Sunday without knowing
he was that. His cane alone would have told it long ago, if
nothing else had. Young men like John don't take to ivory hands a
pinting, for nothing. How did I first know it myself? Similarly.'
'Perhaps Miss Dorrit may not be so ready as you, you see.'
'Then she knows it, sir,' said Mrs Chivery, 'by word of mouth.'
'Are you sure?'
'Sir,' said Mrs Chivery, 'sure and certain as in this house I am.
I see my son go out with my own eyes when in this house I was, and
I see my son come in with my own eyes when in this house I was, and
I know he done it!' Mrs Chivery derived a surprising force of
emphasis from the foregoing circumstantiality and repetition.
'May I ask you how he came to fall into the desponding state which
causes you so much uneasiness?'
'That,' said Mrs Chivery, 'took place on that same day when to this
house I see that John with these eyes return. Never been himself
in this house since. Never was like what he has been since, not
from the hour when to this house seven year ago me and his father,
as tenants by the quarter, came!' An effect in the nature of an
affidavit was gained from this speech by Mrs Chivery's peculiar
power of construction.
'May I venture to inquire what is your version of the matter?'
'You may,' said Mrs Chivery, 'and I will give it to you in honour
and in word as true as in this shop I stand. Our John has every
one's good word and every one's good wish. He played with her as
a child when in that yard a child she played. He has known her
ever since. He went out upon the Sunday afternoon when in this
very parlour he had dined, and met her, with appointment or without
appointment; which, I do not pretend to say. He made his offer to
her. Her brother and sister is high in their views, and against
Our John. Her father is all for himself in his views and against
sharing her with any one. Under which circumstances she has
answered Our John, "No, John, I cannot have you, I cannot have any
husband, it is not my intentions ever to become a wife, it is my
intentions to be always a sacrifice, farewell, find another worthy
of you, and forget me!" This is the way in which she is doomed to
be a constant slave to them that are not worthy that a constant
slave she unto them should be. This is the way in which Our John
has come to find no pleasure but in taking cold among the linen,
and in showing in that yard, as in that yard I have myself shown
you, a broken-down ruin that goes home to his mother's heart!'
Here the good woman pointed to the little window, whence her son
might be seen sitting disconsolate in the tuneless groves; and
again shook her head and wiped her eyes, and besought him, for the
united sakes of both the young people, to exercise his influence
towards the bright reversal of these dismal events.
She was so confident in her exposition of the case, and it was so
undeniably founded on correct premises in so far as the relative
positions of Little Dorrit and her family were concerned, that
Clennam could not feel positive on the other side. He had come to
attach to Little Dorrit an interest so peculiar--an interest that
removed her from, while it grew out of, the common and coarse
things surrounding her--that he found it disappointing,
disagreeable, almost painful, to suppose her in love with young Mr
Chivery in the back-yard, or any such person. On the other hand,
he reasoned with himself that she was just as good and just as true
in love with him, as not in love with him; and that to make a kind
of domesticated fairy of her, on the penalty of isolation at heart
from the only people she knew, would be but a weakness of his own
fancy, and not a kind one. Still, her youthful and ethereal
appearance, her timid manner, the charm of her sensitive voice and
eyes, the very many respects in which she had interested him out of
her own individuality, and the strong difference between herself
and those about her, were not in unison, and were determined not to
be in unison, with this newly presented idea.
He told the worthy Mrs Chivery, after turning these things over in
his mind--he did that, indeed, while she was yet speaking--that he
might be relied upon to do his utmost at all times to promote the
happiness of Miss Dorrit, and to further the wishes of her heart if
it were in his power to do so, and if he could discover what they
were. At the same time he cautioned her against assumptions and
appearances; enjoined strict silence and secrecy, lest Miss Dorrit
should be made unhappy; and particularly advised her to endeavour
to win her son's confidence and so to make quite sure of the state
of the case. Mrs Chivery considered the latter precaution
superfluous, but said she would try. She shook her head as if she
had not derived all the comfort she had fondly expected from this
interview, but thanked him nevertheless for the trouble he had
kindly taken. They then parted good friends, and Arthur walked
The crowd in the street jostling the crowd in his mind, and the two
crowds making a confusion, he avoided London Bridge, and turned off
in the quieter direction of the Iron Bridge. He had scarcely set
foot upon it, when he saw Little Dorrit walking on before him. It
was a pleasant day, with a light breeze blowing, and she seemed to
have that minute come there for air. He had left her in her
father's room within an hour.
It was a timely chance, favourable to his wish of observing her
face and manner when no one else was by. He quickened his pace;
but before he reached her, she turned her head.
'Have I startled you?' he asked.
'I thought I knew the step,' she answered, hesitating.
'And did you know it, Little Dorrit? You could hardly have
'I did not expect any. But when I heard a step, I thought it--
sounded like yours.'
'Are you going further?'
'No, sir, I am only walking her for a little change.'
They walked together, and she recovered her confiding manner with
him, and looked up in his face as she said, after glancing around:
'It is so strange. Perhaps you can hardly understand it. I
sometimes have a sensation as if it was almost unfeeling to walk
'To see the river, and so much sky, and so many objects, and such
change and motion. Then to go back, you know, and find him in the
same cramped place.'
'Ah yes! But going back, you must remember that you take with you
the spirit and influence of such things to cheer him.'
'Do I? I hope I may! I am afraid you fancy too much, sir, and
make me out too powerful. If you were in prison, could I bring
such comfort to you?'
'Yes, Little Dorrit, I am sure of it.'
He gathered from a tremor on her lip, and a passing shadow of great
agitation on her face, that her mind was with her father. He
remained silent for a few moments, that she might regain her
composure. The Little Dorrit, trembling on his arm, was less in
unison than ever with Mrs Chivery's theory, and yet was not
irreconcilable with a new fancy which sprung up within him, that
there might be some one else in the hopeless--newer fancy still--in
the hopeless unattainable distance.
They turned, and Clennam said, Here was Maggy coming! Little
Dorrit looked up, surprised, and they confronted Maggy, who brought
herself at sight of them to a dead stop. She had been trotting
along, so preoccupied and busy that she had not recognised them
until they turned upon her. She was now in a moment so conscience-
stricken that her very basket partook of the change.
'Maggy, you promised me to stop near father.'
'So I would, Little Mother, only he wouldn't let me. If he takes
and sends me out I must go. If he takes and says, "Maggy, you
hurry away and back with that letter, and you shall have a sixpence
if the answer's a good 'un," I must take it. Lor, Little Mother,
what's a poor thing of ten year old to do? And if Mr Tip--if he
happens to be a coming in as I come out, and if he says "Where are
you going, Maggy?" and if I says, "I'm a going So and So," and if
he says, "I'll have a Try too," and if he goes into the George and
writes a letter and if he gives it me and says, "Take that one to
the same place, and if the answer's a good 'un I'll give you a
shilling," it ain't my fault, mother!'
Arthur read, in Little Dorrit's downcast eyes, to whom she foresaw
that the letters were addressed.
'I'm a going So and So. There! That's where I am a going to,'
said Maggy. 'I'm a going So and So. It ain't you, Little Mother,
that's got anything to do with it--it's you, you know,' said Maggy,
addressing Arthur. 'You'd better come, So and So, and let me take
and give 'em to you.'
'We will not be so particular as that, Maggy. Give them me here,'
said Clennam in a low voice.
'Well, then, come across the road,' answered Maggy in a very loud
whisper. 'Little Mother wasn't to know nothing of it, and she
would never have known nothing of it if you had only gone So and
So, instead of bothering and loitering about. It ain't my fault.
I must do what I am told. They ought to be ashamed of themselves
for telling me.'
Clennam crossed to the other side, and hurriedly opened the
letters. That from the father mentioned that most unexpectedly
finding himself in the novel position of having been disappointed
of a remittance from the City on which he had confidently counted,
he took up his pen, being restrained by the unhappy circumstance of
his incarceration during three-and-twenty years (doubly
underlined), from coming himself, as he would otherwise certainly
have done--took up his pen to entreat Mr Clennam to advance him the
sum of Three Pounds Ten Shillings upon his I.O.U., which he begged
to enclose. That from the son set forth that Mr Clennam would, he
knew, be gratified to hear that he had at length obtained permanent
employment of a highly satisfactory nature, accompanied with every
prospect of complete success in life; but that the temporary
inability of his employer to pay him his arrears of salary to that
date (in which condition said employer had appealed to that
generous forbearance in which he trusted he should never be wanting
towards a fellow-creature), combined with the fraudulent conduct of
a false friend and the present high price of provisions, had
reduced him to the verge of ruin, unless he could by a quarter
before six that evening raise the sum of eight pounds. This sum,
Mr Clennam would be happy to learn, he had, through the promptitude
of several friends who had a lively confidence in his probity,
already raised, with the exception of a trifling balance of one
pound seventeen and fourpence; the loan of which balance, for the
period of one month, would be fraught with the usual beneficent
These letters Clennam answered with the aid of his pencil and
pocket-book, on the spot; sending the father what he asked for, and
excusing himself from compliance with the demand of the son. He
then commissioned Maggy to return with his replies, and gave her
the shilling of which the failure of her supplemental enterprise
would have disappointed her otherwise.
When he rejoined Little Dorrit, and they had begun walking as
before, she said all at once:
'I think I had better go. I had better go home.'
'Don't be distressed,' said Clennam, 'I have answered the letters.
They were nothing. You know what they were. They were nothing.'
'But I am afraid,' she returned, 'to leave him, I am afraid to
leave any of them. When I am gone, they pervert--but they don't
mean it--even Maggy.'
'It was a very innocent commission that she undertook, poor thing.
And in keeping it secret from you, she supposed, no doubt, that she
was only saving you uneasiness.'
'Yes, I hope so, I hope so. But I had better go home! It was but
the other day that my sister told me I had become so used to the
prison that I had its tone and character. It must be so. I am
sure it must be when I see these things. My place is there. I am
better there. it is unfeeling in me to be here, when I can do the
least thing there. Good-bye. I had far better stay at home!'
The agonised way in which she poured this out, as if it burst of
itself from her suppressed heart, made it difficult for Clennam to
keep the tears from his eyes as he saw and heard her.
'Don't call it home, my child!' he entreated. 'It is always
painful to me to hear you call it home.'
'But it is home! What else can I call home? Why should I ever
forget it for a single moment?'
'You never do, dear Little Dorrit, in any good and true service.'
'I hope not, O I hope not! But it is better for me to stay there;
much better, much more dutiful, much happier. Please don't go with
me, let me go by myself. Good-bye, God bless you. Thank you,
He felt that it was better to respect her entreaty, and did not
move while her slight form went quickly away from him. When it had
fluttered out of sight, he turned his face towards the water and
She would have been distressed at any time by this discovery of the
letters; but so much so, and in that unrestrainable way?
When she had seen her father begging with his threadbare disguise
on, when she had entreated him not to give her father money, she
had been distressed, but not like this. Something had made her
keenly and additionally sensitive just now. Now, was there some
one in the hopeless unattainable distance? Or had the suspicion
been brought into his mind, by his own associations of the troubled
river running beneath the bridge with the same river higher up, its
changeless tune upon the prow of the ferry-boat, so many miles an
hour the peaceful flowing of the stream, here the rushes, there the
lilies, nothing uncertain or unquiet?
He thought of his poor child, Little Dorrit, for a long time there;
he thought of her going home; he thought of her in the night; he
thought of her when the day came round again. And the poor child
Little Dorrit thought of him--too faithfully, ah, too faithfully!--
in the shadow of the Marshalsea wall.
Machinery in Motion
Mr Meagles bestirred himself with such prompt activity in the
matter of the negotiation with Daniel Doyce which Clennam had
entrusted to him, that he soon brought it into business train, and
called on Clennam at nine o'clock one morning to make his report.
'Doyce is highly gratified by your good opinion,' he opened the
business by saying, 'and desires nothing so much as that you should
examine the affairs of the Works for yourself, and entirely
understand them. He has handed me the keys of all his books and
papers--here they are jingling in this pocket--and the only charge
he has given me is "Let Mr Clennam have the means of putting
himself on a perfect equality with me as to knowing whatever I
know. If it should come to nothing after all, he will respect my
confidence. Unless I was sure of that to begin with, I should have
nothing to do with him." And there, you see,' said Mr Meagles,
'you have Daniel Doyce all over.'
'A very honourable character.'
'Oh, yes, to be sure. Not a doubt of it. Odd, but very
honourable. Very odd though. Now, would you believe, Clennam,'
said Mr Meagles, with a hearty enjoyment of his friend's
eccentricity, 'that I had a whole morning in What's-his-name Yard--
'A whole morning in Bleeding Heart Yard, before I could induce him
to pursue the subject at all?'
'How was that?'
'How was that, my friend? I no sooner mentioned your name in
connection with it than he declared off.'
'Declared off on my account?'
'I no sooner mentioned your name, Clennam, than he said, "That will
never do!" What did he mean by that? I asked him. No matter,
Meagles; that would never do. Why would it never do? You'll
hardly believe it, Clennam,' said Mr Meagles, laughing within
himself, 'but it came out that it would never do, because you and
he, walking down to Twickenham together, had glided into a friendly
conversation in the course of which he had referred to his
intention of taking a partner, supposing at the time that you were
as firmly and finally settled as St Paul's Cathedral. "Whereas,"
says he, "Mr Clennam might now believe, if I entertained his
proposition, that I had a sinister and designing motive in what was
open free speech. Which I can't bear," says he, "which I really
am too proud to bear."'
'I should as soon suspect--'
'Of course you would,' interrupted Mr Meagles, 'and so I told him.
But it took a morning to scale that wall; and I doubt if any other
man than myself (he likes me of old) could have got his leg over
it. Well, Clennam. This business-like obstacle surmounted, he
then stipulated that before resuming with you I should look over
the books and form my own opinion. I looked over the books, and
formed my own opinion. "Is it, on the whole, for, or against?"
says he. "For," says I. "Then," says he, "you may now, my good
friend, give Mr Clennam the means of forming his opinion. To
enable him to do which, without bias and with perfect freedom, I
shall go out of town for a week." And he's gone,' said Mr Meagles;
that's the rich conclusion of the thing.'
'Leaving me,' said Clennam, 'with a high sense, I must say, of his
candour and his--'
'Oddity,' Mr Meagles struck in. 'I should think so!'
It was not exactly the word on Clennam's lips, but he forbore to
interrupt his good-humoured friend.
'And now,' added Mr Meagles, 'you can begin to look into matters as
soon as you think proper. I have undertaken to explain where you
may want explanation, but to be strictly impartial, and to do
They began their perquisitions in Bleeding Heart Yard that same
forenoon. Little peculiarities were easily to be detected by
experienced eyes in Mr Doyce's way of managing his affairs, but
they almost always involved some ingenious simplification of a
difficulty, and some plain road to the desired end. That his
papers were in arrear, and that he stood in need of assistance to
develop the capacity of his business, was clear enough; but all the
results of his undertakings during many years were distinctly set
forth, and were ascertainable with ease. Nothing had been done for
the purposes of the pending investigation; everything was in its
genuine working dress, and in a certain honest rugged order. The
calculations and entries, in his own hand, of which there were
many, were bluntly written, and with no very neat precision; but
were always plain and directed straight to the purpose. It
occurred to Arthur that a far more elaborate and taking show of
business--such as the records of the Circumlocution Office made
perhaps--might be far less serviceable, as being meant to be far
Three or four days of steady application tendered him master of all
the facts it was essential to become acquainted with. Mr Meagles
was at hand the whole time, always ready to illuminate any dim
place with the bright little safety-lamp belonging to the scales
and scoop. Between them they agreed upon the sum it would be fair
to offer for the purchase of a half-share in the business, and then
Mr Meagles unsealed a paper in which Daniel Doyce had noted the
amount at which he valued it; which was even something less. Thus,
when Daniel came back, he found the affair as good as concluded.
'And I may now avow, Mr Clennam,' said he, with a cordial shake of
the hand, 'that if I had looked high and low for a partner, I
believe I could not have found one more to my mind.'
'I say the same,' said Clennam.
'And I say of both of you,' added Mr Meagles, 'that you are well
matched. You keep him in check, Clennam, with your common sense,
and you stick to the Works, Dan, with your--'
'Uncommon sense?' suggested Daniel, with his quiet smile.
'You may call it so, if you like--and each of you will be a right
hand to the other. Here's my own right hand upon it, as a
practical man, to both of you.'
The purchase was completed within a month. It left Arthur in
possession of private personal means not exceeding a few hundred
pounds; but it opened to him an active and promising career. The
three friends dined together on the auspicious occasion; the
factory and the factory wives and children made holiday and dined
too; even Bleeding Heart Yard dined and was full of meat. Two
months had barely gone by in all, when Bleeding Heart Yard had
become so familiar with short-commons again, that the treat was
forgotten there; when nothing seemed new in the partnership but the
paint of the inscription on the door-posts, DOYCE AND CLENNAM; when
it appeared even to Clennam himself, that he had had the affairs of
the firm in his mind for years.
The little counting-house reserved for his own occupation, was a
room of wood and glass at the end of a long low workshop, filled
with benches, and vices, and tools, and straps, and wheels; which,
when they were in gear with the steam-engine, went tearing round as
though they had a suicidal mission to grind the business to dust
and tear the factory to pieces. A communication of great trap-
doors in the floor and roof with the workshop above and the
workshop below, made a shaft of light in this perspective, which
brought to Clennam's mind the child's old picture-book, where
similar rays were the witnesses of Abel's murder. The noises were
sufficiently removed and shut out from the counting-house to blend
into a busy hum, interspersed with periodical clinks and thumps.
The patient figures at work were swarthy with the filings of iron
and steel that danced on every bench and bubbled up through every
chink in the planking. The workshop was arrived at by a step-
ladder from the outer yard below, where it served as a shelter for
the large grindstone where tools were sharpened. The whole had at
once a fanciful and practical air in Clennam's eyes, which was a
welcome change; and, as often as he raised them from his first work
of getting the array of business documents into perfect order, he
glanced at these things with a feeling of pleasure in his pursuit
that was new to him.
Raising his eyes thus one day, he was surprised to see a bonnet
labouring up the step-ladder. The unusual apparition was followed
by another bonnet. He then perceived that the first bonnet was on
the head of Mr F.'s Aunt, and that the second bonnet was on the
head of Flora, who seemed to have propelled her legacy up the steep
ascent with considerable difficulty.
Though not altogether enraptured at the sight of these visitors,
Clennam lost no time in opening the counting-house door, and
extricating them from the workshop; a rescue which was rendered the
more necessary by Mr F.'s Aunt already stumbling over some
impediment, and menacing steam power as an Institution with a stony
reticule she carried.
'Good gracious, Arthur,--I should say Mr Clennam, far more proper--
the climb we have had to get up here and how ever to get down again
without a fire-escape and Mr F.'s Aunt slipping through the steps
and bruised all over and you in the machinery and foundry way too
only think, and never told us!'
Thus, Flora, out of breath. Meanwhile, Mr F.'s Aunt rubbed her
esteemed insteps with her umbrella, and vindictively glared.
'Most unkind never to have come back to see us since that day,
though naturally it was not to be expected that there should be any
attraction at our house and you were much more pleasantly engaged,
that's pretty certain, and is she fair or dark blue eyes or black
I wonder, not that I expect that she should be anything but a
perfect contrast to me in all particulars for I am a disappointment
as I very well know and you are quite right to be devoted no doubt
though what I am saying Arthur never mind I hardly know myself Good
By this time he had placed chairs for them in the counting-house.
As Flora dropped into hers, she bestowed the old look upon him.
'And to think of Doyce and Clennam, and who Doyce can be,' said
Flora; 'delightful man no doubt and married perhaps or perhaps a
daughter, now has he really? then one understands the partnership
and sees it all, don't tell me anything about it for I know I have
no claim to ask the question the golden chain that once was forged
being snapped and very proper.'
Flora put her hand tenderly on his, and gave him another of the
'Dear Arthur--force of habit, Mr Clennam every way more delicate
and adapted to existing circumstances--I must beg to be excused for
taking the liberty of this intrusion but I thought I might so far
presume upon old times for ever faded never more to bloom as to
call with Mr F.'s Aunt to congratulate and offer best wishes, A
great deal superior to China not to be denied and much nearer
though higher up!'
'I am very happy to see you,' said Clennam, 'and I thank you,
Flora, very much for your kind remembrance.'
'More than I can say myself at any rate,' returned Flora, 'for I
might have been dead and buried twenty distinct times over and no
doubt whatever should have been before you had genuinely remembered
Me or anything like it in spite of which one last remark I wish to
make, one last explanation I wish to offer--'
'My dear Mrs Finching,' Arthur remonstrated in alarm.
'Oh not that disagreeable name, say Flora!'
'Flora, is it worth troubling yourself afresh to enter into
explanations? I assure you none are needed. I am satisfied--I am
A diversion was occasioned here, by Mr F.'s Aunt making the
following inexorable and awful statement:
'There's mile-stones on the Dover road!'
With such mortal hostility towards the human race did she discharge
this missile, that Clennam was quite at a loss how to defend
himself; the rather as he had been already perplexed in his mind by
the honour of a visit from this venerable lady, when it was plain
she held him in the utmost abhorrence. He could not but look at
her with disconcertment, as she sat breathing bitterness and scorn,
and staring leagues away. Flora, however, received the remark as
if it had been of a most apposite and agreeable nature; approvingly
observing aloud that Mr F.'s Aunt had a great deal of spirit.
Stimulated either by this compliment, or by her burning
indignation, that illustrious woman then added, 'Let him meet it if
he can!' And, with a rigid movement of her stony reticule (an
appendage of great size and of a fossil appearance), indicated that
Clennam was the unfortunate person at whom the challenge was
'One last remark,' resumed Flora, 'I was going to say I wish to
make one last explanation I wish to offer, Mr F.'s Aunt and myself
would not have intruded on business hours Mr F. having been in
business and though the wine trade still business is equally
business call it what you will and business habits are just the
same as witness Mr F. himself who had his slippers always on the
mat at ten minutes before six in the afternoon and his boots inside
the fender at ten minutes before eight in the morning to the moment
in all weathers light or dark--would not therefore have intruded
without a motive which being kindly meant it may be hoped will be
kindly taken Arthur, Mr Clennam far more proper, even Doyce and
Clennam probably more business-like.'
'Pray say nothing in the way of apology,' Arthur entreated. 'You
are always welcome.'
'Very polite of you to say so Arthur--cannot remember Mr Clennam
until the word is out, such is the habit of times for ever fled,
and so true it is that oft in the stilly night ere slumber's chain
has bound people, fond memory brings the light of other days around
people--very polite but more polite than true I am afraid, for to
go into the machinery business without so much as sending a line or
a card to papa--I don't say me though there was a time but that is
past and stern reality has now my gracious never mind--does not
look like it you must confess.'
Even Flora's commas seemed to have fled on this occasion; she was
so much more disjointed and voluble than in the preceding
'Though indeed,' she hurried on, 'nothing else is to be expected
and why should it be expected and if it's not to be expected why
should it be, and I am far from blaming you or any one, When your
mama and my papa worried us to death and severed the golden bowl--I
mean bond but I dare say you know what I mean and if you don't you
don't lose much and care just as little I will venture to add--when
they severed the golden bond that bound us and threw us into fits
of crying on the sofa nearly choked at least myself everything was
changed and in giving my hand to Mr F. I know I did so with my eyes
open but he was so very unsettled and in such low spirits that he
had distractedly alluded to the river if not oil of something from
the chemist's and I did it for the best.'
'My good Flora, we settled that before. It was all quite right.'
'It's perfectly clear you think so,' returned Flora, 'for you take
it very coolly, if I hadn't known it to be China I should have
guessed myself the Polar regions, dear Mr Clennam you are right
however and I cannot blame you but as to Doyce and Clennam papa's
property being about here we heard it from Pancks and but for him
we never should have heard one word about it I am satisfied.'
'No, no, don't say that.'
'What nonsense not to say it Arthur--Doyce and Clennam--easier and
less trying to me than Mr Clennam--when I know it and you know it
too and can't deny it.'
'But I do deny it, Flora. I should soon have made you a friendly
'Ah!' said Flora, tossing her head. 'I dare say!' and she gave him
another of the old looks. 'However when Pancks told us I made up
my mind that Mr F.'s Aunt and I would come and call because when
papa--which was before that--happened to mention her name to me and
to say that you were interested in her I said at the moment Good
gracious why not have her here then when there's anything to do
instead of putting it out.'
'When you say Her,' observed Clennam, by this time pretty well
bewildered, 'do you mean Mr F.'s--'
'My goodness, Arthur--Doyce and Clennam really easier to me with
old remembrances--who ever heard of Mr F.'s Aunt doing needlework
and going out by the day?'
'Going out by the day! Do you speak of Little Dorrit?'
'Why yes of course,' returned Flora; 'and of all the strangest
names I ever heard the strangest, like a place down in the country
with a turnpike, or a favourite pony or a puppy or a bird or
something from a seed-shop to be put in a garden or a flower-pot
and come up speckled.'
'Then, Flora,' said Arthur, with a sudden interest in the
conversation, 'Mr Casby was so kind as to mention Little Dorrit to
you, was he? What did he say?'
'Oh you know what papa is,' rejoined Flora, 'and how aggravatingly
he sits looking beautiful and turning his thumbs over and over one
another till he makes one giddy if one keeps one's eyes upon him,
he said when we were talking of you--I don't know who began the
subject Arthur (Doyce and Clennam) but I am sure it wasn't me, at
least I hope not but you really must excuse my confessing more on
'Certainly,' said Arthur. 'By all means.'
'You are very ready,' pouted Flora, coming to a sudden stop in a
captivating bashfulness, 'that I must admit, Papa said you had
spoken of her in an earnest way and I said what I have told you and
'That's all?' said Arthur, a little disappointed.
'Except that when Pancks told us of your having embarked in this
business and with difficulty persuaded us that it was really you I
said to Mr F.'s Aunt then we would come and ask you if it would be
agreeable to all parties that she should be engaged at our house
when required for I know she often goes to your mama's and I know
that your mama has a very touchy temper Arthur--Doyce and Clennam--
or I never might have married Mr F. and might have been at this
hour but I am running into nonsense.'
'It was very kind of you, Flora, to think of this.'
Poor Flora rejoined with a plain sincerity which became her better
than her youngest glances, that she was glad he thought so. She
said it with so much heart that Clennam would have given a great
deal to buy his old character of her on the spot, and throw it and
the mermaid away for ever.
'I think, Flora,' he said, 'that the employment you can give Little
Dorrit, and the kindness you can show her--'
'Yes and I will,' said Flora, quickly.
'I am sure of it--will be a great assistance and support to her.
I do not feel that I have the right to tell you what I know of her,
for I acquired the knowledge confidentially, and under
circumstances that bind me to silence. But I have an interest in
the little creature, and a respect for her that I cannot express to
you. Her life has been one of such trial and devotion, and such
quiet goodness, as you can scarcely imagine. I can hardly think of
her, far less speak of her, without feeling moved. Let that
feeling represent what I could tell you, and commit her to your
friendliness with my thanks.'
Once more he put out his hand frankly to poor Flora; once more poor
Flora couldn't accept it frankly, found it worth nothing openly,
must make the old intrigue and mystery of it. As much to her own
enjoyment as to his dismay, she covered it with a corner of her
shawl as she took it. Then, looking towards the glass front of the
counting-house, and seeing two figures approaching, she cried with
infinite relish, 'Papa! Hush, Arthur, for Mercy's sake!' and
tottered back to her chair with an amazing imitation of being in
danger of swooning, in the dread surprise and maidenly flutter of
The Patriarch, meanwhile, came inanely beaming towards the
counting-house in the wake of Pancks. Pancks opened the door for
him, towed him in, and retired to his own moorings in a corner.
'I heard from Flora,' said the Patriarch with his benevolent smile,
'that she was coming to call, coming to call. And being out, I
thought I'd come also, thought I'd come also.'
The benign wisdom he infused into this declaration (not of itself
profound), by means of his blue eyes, his shining head, and his
long white hair, was most impressive. It seemed worth putting down
among the noblest sentiments enunciated by the best of men. Also,
when he said to Clennam, seating himself in the proffered chair,
'And you are in a new business, Mr Clennam? I wish you well, sir,
I wish you well!' he seemed to have done benevolent wonders.
'Mrs Finching has been telling me, sir,' said Arthur, after making
his acknowledgments; the relict of the late Mr F. meanwhile
protesting, with a gesture, against his use of that respectable
name; 'that she hopes occasionally to employ the young needlewoman
you recommended to my mother. For which I have been thanking her.'
The Patriarch turning his head in a lumbering way towards Pancks,
that assistant put up the note-book in which he had been absorbed,
and took him in tow.
'You didn't recommend her, you know,' said Pancks; 'how could you?
You knew nothing about her, you didn't. The name was mentioned to
you, and you passed it on. That's what YOU did.'
'Well!' said Clennam. 'As she justifies any recommendation, it is
much the same thing.'
'You are glad she turns out well,' said Pancks, 'but it wouldn't
have been your fault if she had turned out ill. The credit's not
yours as it is, and the blame wouldn't have been yours as it might
have been. You gave no guarantee. You knew nothing about her.'
'You are not acquainted, then,' said Arthur, hazarding a random
question, 'with any of her family?'
'Acquainted with any of her family?' returned Pancks. 'How should
you be acquainted with any of her family? You never heard of 'em.
You can't be acquainted with people you never heard of, can you?
You should think not!'
All this time the Patriarch sat serenely smiling; nodding or
shaking his head benevolently, as the case required.
'As to being a reference,' said Pancks, 'you know, in a general
way, what being a reference means. It's all your eye, that is!
Look at your tenants down the Yard here. They'd all be references
for one another, if you'd let 'em. What would be the good of
letting 'em? It's no satisfaction to be done by two men instead of
one. One's enough. A person who can't pay, gets another person
who can't pay, to guarantee that he can pay. Like a person with
two wooden legs getting another person with two wooden legs, to
guarantee that he has got two natural legs. It don't make either
of them able to do a walking match. And four wooden legs are more
troublesome to you than two, when you don't want any.' Mr Pancks
concluded by blowing off that steam of his.
A momentary silence that ensued was broken by Mr F.'s Aunt, who had
been sitting upright in a cataleptic state since her last public
remark. She now underwent a violent twitch, calculated to produce
a startling effect on the nerves of the uninitiated, and with the
deadliest animosity observed:
'You can't make a head and brains out of a brass knob with nothing
in it. You couldn't do it when your Uncle George was living; much
less when he's dead.'
Mr Pancks was not slow to reply, with his usual calmness, 'Indeed,
ma'am! Bless my soul! I'm surprised to hear it.' Despite his
presence of mind, however, the speech of Mr F.'s Aunt produced a
depressing effect on the little assembly; firstly, because it was
impossible to disguise that Clennam's unoffending head was the
particular temple of reason depreciated; and secondly, because
nobody ever knew on these occasions whose Uncle George was referred
to, or what spectral presence might be invoked under that
Therefore Flora said, though still not without a certain
boastfulness and triumph in her legacy, that Mr F.'s Aunt was 'very
lively to-day, and she thought they had better go.' But Mr F.'s
Aunt proved so lively as to take the suggestion in unexpected
dudgeon and declare that she would not go; adding, with several
injurious expressions, that if 'He'--too evidently meaning
Clennam--wanted to get rid of her, 'let him chuck her out of
winder;' and urgently expressing her desire to see 'Him' perform
In this dilemma, Mr Pancks, whose resources appeared equal to any
emergency in the Patriarchal waters, slipped on his hat, slipped
out at the counting-house door, and slipped in again a moment
afterwards with an artificial freshness upon him, as if he had been
in the country for some weeks. 'Why, bless my heart, ma'am!' said
Mr Pancks, rubbing up his hair in great astonishment, 'is that you?
How do you do, ma'am? You are looking charming to-day! I am
delighted to see you. Favour me with your arm, ma'am; we'll have
a little walk together, you and me, if you'll honour me with your
company.' And so escorted Mr F.'s Aunt down the private staircase
of the counting-house with great gallantry and success. The
patriarchal Mr Casby then rose with the air of having done it
himself, and blandly followed: leaving his daughter, as she
followed in her turn, to remark to her former lover in a distracted
whisper (which she very much enjoyed), that they had drained the
cup of life to the dregs; and further to hint mysteriously that the
late Mr F. was at the bottom of it.
Alone again, Clennam became a prey to his old doubts in reference
to his mother and Little Dorrit, and revolved the old thoughts and
suspicions. They were all in his mind, blending themselves with
the duties he was mechanically discharging, when a shadow on his
papers caused him to look up for the cause. The cause was Mr
Pancks. With his hat thrown back upon his ears as if his wiry
prongs of hair had darted up like springs and cast it off, with his
jet-black beads of eyes inquisitively sharp, with the fingers of
his right hand in his mouth that he might bite the nails, and with
the fingers of his left hand in reserve in his pocket for another
course, Mr Pancks cast his shadow through the glass upon the books
Mr Pancks asked, with a little inquiring twist of his head, if he
might come in again? Clennam replied with a nod of his head in the
affirmative. Mr Pancks worked his way in, came alongside the desk,
made himself fast by leaning his arms upon it, and started
conversation with a puff and a snort.
'Mr F.'s Aunt is appeased, I hope?' said Clennam.
'All right, sir,' said Pancks.
'I am so unfortunate as to have awakened a strong animosity in the
breast of that lady,' said Clennam. 'Do you know why?'
'Does SHE know why?' said Pancks.
'I suppose not.'
'_I_ suppose not,' said Pancks.
He took out his note-book, opened it, shut it, dropped it into his
hat, which was beside him on the desk, and looked in at it as it
lay at the bottom of the hat: all with a great appearance of
'Mr Clennam,' he then began, 'I am in want of information, sir.'
'Connected with this firm?' asked Clennam.
'No,' said Pancks.
'With what then, Mr Pancks? That is to say, assuming that you want
it of me.'
'Yes, sir; yes, I want it of you,' said Pancks, 'if I can persuade
you to furnish it. A, B, C, D. DA, DE, DI, DO. Dictionary order.
Dorrit. That's the name, sir?'
Mr Pancks blew off his peculiar noise again, and fell to at his
right-hand nails. Arthur looked searchingly at him; he returned
'I don't understand you, Mr Pancks.'
'That's the name that I want to know about.'
'And what do you want to know?'
'Whatever you can and will tell me.' This comprehensive summary of
his desires was not discharged without some heavy labouring on the
part of Mr Pancks's machinery.
'This is a singular visit, Mr Pancks. It strikes me as rather
extraordinary that you should come, with such an object, to me.'
'It may be all extraordinary together,' returned Pancks. 'It may
be out of the ordinary course, and yet be business. In short, it
is business. I am a man of business. What business have I in this
present world, except to stick to business? No business.'
With his former doubt whether this dry hard personage were quite in
earnest, Clennam again turned his eyes attentively upon his face.
It was as scrubby and dingy as ever, and as eager and quick as
ever, and he could see nothing lurking in it that was at all
expressive of a latent mockery that had seemed to strike upon his
ear in the voice.
'Now,' said Pancks, 'to put this business on its own footing, it's
not my proprietor's.'
'Do you refer to Mr Casby as your proprietor?'
Pancks nodded. 'My proprietor. Put a case. Say, at my
proprietor's I hear name--name of young person Mr Clennam wants to
serve. Say, name first mentioned to my proprietor by Plornish in
the Yard. Say, I go to Plornish. Say, I ask Plornish as a matter
of business for information. Say, Plornish, though six weeks in
arrear to my proprietor, declines. Say, Mrs Plornish declines.
Say, both refer to Mr Clennam. Put the case.'
'Well, sir,' returned Pancks, 'say, I come to him. Say, here I
With those prongs of hair sticking up all over his head, and his
breath coming and going very hard and short, the busy Pancks fell
back a step (in Tug metaphor, took half a turn astern) as if to
show his dingy hull complete, then forged a-head again, and
directed his quick glance by turns into his hat where his note-book
was, and into Clennam's face.
'Mr Pancks, not to trespass on your grounds of mystery, I will be
as plain with you as I can. Let me ask two questions. First--'
'All right!' said Pancks, holding up his dirty forefinger with his
broken nail. 'I see! "What's your motive?"'
'Motive,' said Pancks, 'good. Nothing to do with my proprietor;
not stateable at present, ridiculous to state at present; but good.
Desiring to serve young person, name of Dorrit,' said Pancks, with
his forefinger still up as a caution. 'Better admit motive to be
'Secondly, and lastly, what do you want to know?'
Mr Pancks fished up his note-book before the question was put, and
buttoning it with care in an inner breast-pocket, and looking
straight at Clennam all the time, replied with a pause and a puff,
'I want supplementary information of any sort.'
Clennam could not withhold a smile, as the panting little steam-
tug, so useful to that unwieldy ship, the Casby, waited on and
watched him as if it were seeking an opportunity of running in and
rifling him of all he wanted before he could resist its manoeuvres;
though there was that in Mr Pancks's eagerness, too, which awakened
many wondering speculations in his mind. After a little
consideration, he resolved to supply Mr Pancks with such leading
information as it was in his power to impart him; well knowing that
Mr Pancks, if he failed in his present research, was pretty sure to
find other means of getting it.
He, therefore, first requesting Mr Pancks to remember his voluntary
declaration that his proprietor had no part in the disclosure, and
that his own intentions were good (two declarations which that
coaly little gentleman with the greatest ardour repeated), openly
told him that as to the Dorrit lineage or former place of
habitation, he had no information to communicate, and that his
knowledge of the family did not extend beyond the fact that it
appeared to be now reduced to five members; namely, to two
brothers, of whom one was single, and one a widower with three
children. The ages of the whole family he made known to Mr Pancks,
as nearly as he could guess at them; and finally he described to
him the position of the Father of the Marshalsea, and the course of
time and events through which he had become invested with that
character. To all this, Mr Pancks, snorting and blowing in a more
and more portentous manner as he became more interested, listened
with great attention; appearing to derive the most agreeable
sensations from the painfullest parts of the narrative, and
particularly to be quite charmed by the account of William Dorrit's
'In conclusion, Mr Pancks,' said Arthur, 'I have but to say this.
I have reasons beyond a personal regard for speaking as little as
I can of the Dorrit family, particularly at my mother's house' (Mr
Pancks nodded), 'and for knowing as much as I can. So devoted a
man of business as you are--eh?'
For Mr Pancks had suddenly made that blowing effort with unusual
'It's nothing,' said Pancks.
'So devoted a man of business as yourself has a perfect
understanding of a fair bargain. I wish to make a fair bargain
with you, that you shall enlighten me concerning the Dorrit family
when you have it in your power, as I have enlightened you. It may
not give you a very flattering idea of my business habits, that I
failed to make my terms beforehand,' continued Clennam; 'but I
prefer to make them a point of honour. I have seen so much
business done on sharp principles that, to tell you the truth, Mr
Pancks, I am tired of them.'
Mr Pancks laughed. 'It's a bargain, sir,' said he. 'You shall
find me stick to it.'
After that, he stood a little while looking at Clennam, and biting
his ten nails all round; evidently while he fixed in his mind what
he had been told, and went over it carefully, before the means of
supplying a gap in his memory should be no longer at hand. 'It's
all right,' he said at last, 'and now I'll wish you good day, as
it's collecting day in the Yard. By-the-bye, though. A lame
foreigner with a stick.'
'Ay, ay. You do take a reference sometimes, I see?' said Clennam.
'When he can pay, sir,' replied Pancks. 'Take all you can get, and
keep back all you can't be forced to give up. That's business.
The lame foreigner with the stick wants a top room down the Yard.
Is he good for it?'
'I am,' said Clennam, 'and I will answer for him.'
'That's enough. What I must have of Bleeding Heart Yard,' said
Pancks, making a note of the case in his book, 'is my bond. I want
my bond, you see. Pay up, or produce your property! That's the
watchword down the Yard. The lame foreigner with the stick
represented that you sent him; but he could represent (as far as
that goes) that the Great Mogul sent him. He has been in the
hospital, I believe?'
'Yes. Through having met with an accident. He is only just now
'It's pauperising a man, sir, I have been shown, to let him into a
hospital?' said Pancks. And again blew off that remarkable sound.
'I have been shown so too,' said Clennam, coldly.
Mr Pancks, being by that time quite ready for a start, got under
steam in a moment, and, without any other signal or ceremony, was
snorting down the step-ladder and working into Bleeding Heart Yard,
before he seemed to be well out of the counting-house.
Throughout the remainder of the day, Bleeding Heart Yard was in
consternation, as the grim Pancks cruised in it; haranguing the
inhabitants on their backslidings in respect of payment, demanding
his bond, breathing notices to quit and executions, running down
defaulters, sending a swell of terror on before him, and leaving it
in his wake. Knots of people, impelled by a fatal attraction,
lurked outside any house in which he was known to be, listening for
fragments of his discourses to the inmates; and, when he was
rumoured to be coming down the stairs, often could not disperse so
quickly but that he would be prematurely in among them, demanding
their own arrears, and rooting them to the spot. Throughout the
remainder of the day, Mr Pancks's What were they up to? and What
did they mean by it? sounded all over the Yard. Mr Pancks
wouldn't hear of excuses, wouldn't hear of complaints, wouldn't
hear of repairs, wouldn't hear of anything but unconditional money
down. Perspiring and puffing and darting about in eccentric
directions, and becoming hotter and dingier every moment, he lashed
the tide of the yard into a most agitated and turbid state. It had
not settled down into calm water again full two hours after he had
been seen fuming away on the horizon at the top of the steps.
There were several small assemblages of the Bleeding Hearts at the
popular points of meeting in the Yard that night, among whom it was
universally agreed that Mr Pancks was a hard man to have to do
with; and that it was much to be regretted, so it was, that a
gentleman like Mr Casby should put his rents in his hands, and
never know him in his true light. For (said the Bleeding Hearts),
if a gentleman with that head of hair and them eyes took his rents
into his own hands, ma'am, there would be none of this worriting
and wearing, and things would be very different.
At which identical evening hour and minute, the Patriarch--who had
floated serenely through the Yard in the forenoon before the
harrying began, with the express design of getting up this
trustfulness in his shining bumps and silken locks--at which
identical hour and minute, that first-rate humbug of a thousand
guns was heavily floundering in the little Dock of his exhausted
Tug at home, and was saying, as he turned his thumbs:
'A very bad day's work, Pancks, very bad day's work. It seems to
me, sir, and I must insist on making this observation forcibly in
justice to myself, that you ought to have got much more money, much
Little Dorrit received a call that same evening from Mr Plornish,
who, having intimated that he wished to speak to her privately, in
a series of coughs so very noticeable as to favour the idea that
her father, as regarded her seamstress occupation, was an
illustration of the axiom that there are no such stone-blind men as
those who will not see, obtained an audience with her on the common
staircase outside the door.
'There's been a lady at our place to-day, Miss Dorrit,' Plornish
growled, 'and another one along with her as is a old wixen if ever
I met with such. The way she snapped a person's head off, dear
The mild Plornish was at first quite unable to get his mind away
from Mr F.'s Aunt. 'For,' said he, to excuse himself, 'she is, I
do assure you, the winegariest party.'
At length, by a great effort, he detached himself from the subject
sufficiently to observe:
'But she's neither here nor there just at present. The other lady,
she's Mr Casby's daughter; and if Mr Casby an't well off, none
better, it an't through any fault of Pancks. For, as to Pancks, he
does, he really does, he does indeed!'
Mr Plornish, after his usual manner, was a little obscure, but
'And what she come to our place for,' he pursued, 'was to leave
word that if Miss Dorrit would step up to that card--which it's Mr
Casby's house that is, and Pancks he has a office at the back,
where he really does, beyond belief--she would be glad for to
engage her. She was a old and a dear friend, she said particular,
of Mr Clennam, and hoped for to prove herself a useful friend to
his friend. Them was her words. Wishing to know whether Miss
Dorrit could come to-morrow morning, I said I would see you, Miss,
and inquire, and look round there to-night, to say yes, or, if you
was engaged to-morrow, when.'
'I can go to-morrow, thank you,' said Little Dorrit. 'This is very
kind of you, but you are always kind.'
Mr Plornish, with a modest disavowal of his merits, opened the room
door for her readmission, and followed her in with such an
exceedingly bald pretence of not having been out at all, that her
father might have observed it without being very suspicious. In
his affable unconsciousness, however, he took no heed. Plornish,
after a little conversation, in which he blended his former duty as
a Collegian with his present privilege as a humble outside friend,
qualified again by his low estate as a plasterer, took his leave;
making the tour of the prison before he left, and looking on at a
game of skittles with the mixed feelings of an old inhabitant who
had his private reasons for believing that it might be his destiny
to come back again.
Early in the morning, Little Dorrit, leaving Maggy in high domestic
trust, set off for the Patriarchal tent. She went by the Iron
Bridge, though it cost her a penny, and walked more slowly in that
part of her journey than in any other. At five minutes before
eight her hand was on the Patriarchal knocker, which was quite as
high as she could reach.
She gave Mrs Finching's card to the young woman who opened the
door, and the young woman told her that 'Miss Flora'--Flora having,
on her return to the parental roof, reinvested herself with the
title under which she had lived there--was not yet out of her
bedroom, but she was to please to walk up into Miss Flora's
sitting-room. She walked up into Miss Flora's sitting-room, as in
duty bound, and there found a breakfast-table comfortably laid for
two, with a supplementary tray upon it laid for one. The young
woman, disappearing for a few moments, returned to say that she was
to please to take a chair by the fire, and to take off her bonnet
and make herself at home. But Little Dorrit, being bashful, and
not used to make herself at home on such occasions, felt at a loss
how to do it; so she was still sitting near the door with her
bonnet on, when Flora came in in a hurry half an hour afterwards.
Flora was so sorry to have kept her waiting, and good gracious why
did she sit out there in the cold when she had expected to find her
by the fire reading the paper, and hadn't that heedless girl given
her the message then, and had she really been in her bonnet all
this time, and pray for goodness sake let Flora take it off! Flora
taking it off in the best-natured manner in the world, was so
struck with the face disclosed, that she said, 'Why, what a good
little thing you are, my dear!' and pressed her face between her
hands like the gentlest of women.
It was the word and the action of a moment. Little Dorrit had
hardly time to think how kind it was, when Flora dashed at the
breakfast-table full of business, and plunged over head and ears
'Really so sorry that I should happen to be late on this morning of
all mornings because my intention and my wish was to be ready to
meet you when you came in and to say that any one that interested
Arthur Clennam half so much must interest me and that I gave you
the heartiest welcome and was so glad, instead of which they never
called me and there I still am snoring I dare say if the truth was
known and if you don't like either cold fowl or hot boiled ham
which many people don't I dare say besides Jews and theirs are
scruples of conscience which we must all respect though I must say
I wish they had them equally strong when they sell us false
articles for real that certainly ain't worth the money I shall be
quite vexed,' said Flora.
Little Dorrit thanked her, and said, shyly, bread-and-butter and
tea was all she usually--
'Oh nonsense my dear child I can never hear of that,' said Flora,
turning on the urn in the most reckless manner, and making herself
wink by splashing hot water into her eyes as she bent down to look
into the teapot. 'You are coming here on the footing of a friend
and companion you know if you will let me take that liberty and I
should be ashamed of myself indeed if you could come here upon any
other, besides which Arthur Clennam spoke in such terms--you are
tired my dear.'
'You turn so pale you have walked too far before breakfast and I
dare say live a great way off and ought to have had a ride,' said
Flora, 'dear dear is there anything that would do you good?'
'Indeed I am quite well, ma'am. I thank you again and again, but
I am quite well.'
'Then take your tea at once I beg,' said Flora, 'and this wing of
fowl and bit of ham, don't mind me or wait for me, because I always
carry in this tray myself to Mr F.'s Aunt who breakfasts in bed and
a charming old lady too and very clever, Portrait of Mr F. behind
the door and very like though too much forehead and as to a pillar
with a marble pavement and balustrades and a mountain, I never saw
him near it nor not likely in the wine trade, excellent man but not
at all in that way.'
Little Dorrit glanced at the portrait, very imperfectly following
the references to that work of art.
'Mr F. was so devoted to me that he never could bear me out of his
sight,' said Flora, 'though of course I am unable to say how long
that might have lasted if he hadn't been cut short while I was a
new broom, worthy man but not poetical manly prose but not
Little Dorrit glanced at the portrait again. The artist had given
it a head that would have been, in an intellectual point of view,
top-heavy for Shakespeare.
'Romance, however,' Flora went on, busily arranging Mr F.'s Aunt's
toast, 'as I openly said to Mr F. when he proposed to me and you
will be surprised to hear that he proposed seven times once in a
hackney-coach once in a boat once in a pew once on a donkey at
Tunbridge Wells and the rest on his knees, Romance was fled with
the early days of Arthur Clennam, our parents tore us asunder we
became marble and stern reality usurped the throne, Mr F. said very
much to his credit that he was perfectly aware of it and even
preferred that state of things accordingly the word was spoken the
fiat went forth and such is life you see my dear and yet we do not
break but bend, pray make a good breakfast while I go in with the
She disappeared, leaving Little Dorrit to ponder over the meaning
of her scattered words. She soon came back again; and at last
began to take her own breakfast, talking all the while.
'You see, my dear,' said Flora, measuring out a spoonful or two of
some brown liquid that smelt like brandy, and putting it into her
tea, 'I am obliged to be careful to follow the directions of my
medical man though the flavour is anything but agreeable being a
poor creature and it may be have never recovered the shock received
in youth from too much giving way to crying in the next room when
separated from Arthur, have you known him long?'
As soon as Little Dorrit comprehended that she had been asked this
question--for which time was necessary, the galloping pace of her
new patroness having left her far behind--she answered that she had
known Mr Clennam ever since his return.
'To be sure you couldn't have known him before unless you had been
in China or had corresponded neither of which is likely,' returned
Flora, 'for travelling-people usually get more or less mahogany and
you are not at all so and as to corresponding what about? that's
very true unless tea, so it was at his mother's was it really that
you knew him first, highly sensible and firm but dreadfully
severe--ought to be the mother of the man in the iron mask."
'Mrs Clennam has been kind to me,' said Little Dorrit.
'Really? I am sure I am glad to hear it because as Arthur's mother
it's naturally pleasant to my feelings to have a better opinion of
her than I had before, though what she thinks of me when I run on
as I am certain to do and she sits glowering at me like Fate in a
go-cart--shocking comparison really--invalid and not her fault--I
never know or can imagine.'
'Shall I find my work anywhere, ma'am?' asked Little Dorrit,
looking timidly about; 'can I get it?'
'You industrious little fairy,' returned Flora, taking, in another
cup of tea, another of the doses prescribed by her medical man,
'there's not the slightest hurry and it's better that we should
begin by being confidential about our mutual friend--too cold a
word for me at least I don't mean that, very proper expression
mutual friend--than become through mere formalities not you but me
like the Spartan boy with the fox biting him, which I hope you'll
excuse my bringing up for of all the tiresome boys that will go
tumbling into every sort of company that boy's the tiresomest.'
Little Dorrit, her face very pale, sat down again to listen.
'Hadn't I better work the while?' she asked. 'I can work and
attend too. I would rather, if I may.'
Her earnestness was so expressive of her being uneasy without her
work, that Flora answered, 'Well my dear whatever you like best,'
and produced a basket of white handkerchiefs. Little Dorrit gladly
put it by her side, took out her little pocket-housewife, threaded
the needle, and began to hem.
'What nimble fingers you have,' said Flora, 'but are you sure you
'Oh yes, indeed!'
Flora put her feet upon the fender, and settled herself for a
thorough good romantic disclosure. She started off at score,
tossing her head, sighing in the most demonstrative manner, making
a great deal of use of her eyebrows, and occasionally, but not
often, glancing at the quiet face that bent over the work.
'You must know my dear,' said Flora, 'but that I have no doubt you
know already not only because I have already thrown it out in a
general way but because I feel I carry it stamped in burning what's
his names upon my brow that before I was introduced to the late Mr
F. I had been engaged to Arthur Clennam--Mr Clennam in public where
reserve is necessary Arthur here--we were all in all to one another
it was the morning of life it was bliss it was frenzy it was
everything else of that sort in the highest degree, when rent
asunder we turned to stone in which capacity Arthur went to China
and I became the statue bride of the late Mr F.'
Flora, uttering these words in a deep voice, enjoyed herself
'To paint,' said she, 'the emotions of that morning when all was
marble within and Mr F.'s Aunt followed in a glass-coach which it
stands to reason must have been in shameful repair or it never
could have broken down two streets from the house and Mr F.'s Aunt
brought home like the fifth of November in a rush-bottomed chair I
will not attempt, suffice it to say that the hollow form of
breakfast took place in the dining-room downstairs that papa
partaking too freely of pickled salmon was ill for weeks and that
Mr F. and myself went upon a continental tour to Calais where the
people fought for us on the pier until they separated us though not
for ever that was not yet to be.'
The statue bride, hardly pausing for breath, went on, with the
greatest complacency, in a rambling manner sometimes incidental to
flesh and blood.
'I will draw a veil over that dreamy life, Mr F. was in good
spirits his appetite was good he liked the cookery he considered
the wine weak but palatable and all was well, we returned to the
immediate neighbourhood of Number Thirty Little Gosling Street
London Docks and settled down, ere we had yet fully detected the
housemaid in selling the feathers out of the spare bed Gout flying
upwards soared with Mr F. to another sphere.'
His relict, with a glance at his portrait, shook her head and wiped
'I revere the memory of Mr F. as an estimable man and most
indulgent husband, only necessary to mention Asparagus and it
appeared or to hint at any little delicate thing to drink and it
came like magic in a pint bottle it was not ecstasy but it was
comfort, I returned to papa's roof and lived secluded if not happy
during some years until one day papa came smoothly blundering in
and said that Arthur Clennam awaited me below, I went below and
found him ask me not what I found him except that he was still
unmarried still unchanged!'
The dark mystery with which Flora now enshrouded herself might have
stopped other fingers than the nimble fingers that worked near her.
They worked on without pause, and the busy head bent over them
watching the stitches.
'Ask me not,' said Flora, 'if I love him still or if he still loves
me or what the end is to be or when, we are surrounded by watchful
eyes and it may be that we are destined to pine asunder it may be
never more to be reunited not a word not a breath not a look to
betray us all must be secret as the tomb wonder not therefore that
even if I should seem comparatively cold to Arthur or Arthur should
seem comparatively cold to me we have fatal reasons it is enough if
we understand them hush!'
All of which Flora said with so much headlong vehemence as if she
really believed it. There is not much doubt that when she worked
herself into full mermaid condition, she did actually believe
whatever she said in it.
'Hush!' repeated Flora, 'I have now told you all, confidence is
established between us hush, for Arthur's sake I will always be a
friend to you my dear girl and in Arthur's name you may always rely
The nimble fingers laid aside the work, and the little figure rose
and kissed her hand. 'You are very cold,' said Flora, changing to
her own natural kind-hearted manner, and gaining greatly by the
change. 'Don't work to-day. I am sure you are not well I am sure
you are not strong.'
'It is only that I feel a little overcome by your kindness, and by
Mr Clennam's kindness in confiding me to one he has known and loved
'Well really my dear,' said Flora, who had a decided tendency to be
always honest when she gave herself time to think about it, 'it's
as well to leave that alone now, for I couldn't undertake to say
after all, but it doesn't signify lie down a little!'
'I have always been strong enough to do what I want to do, and I
shall be quite well directly,' returned Little Dorrit, with a faint
smile. 'You have overpowered me with gratitude, that's all. If I
keep near the window for a moment I shall be quite myself.'
Flora opened a window, sat her in a chair by it, and considerately
retired to her former place. It was a windy day, and the air
stirring on Little Dorrit's face soon brightened it. In a very few
minutes she returned to her basket of work, and her nimble fingers
were as nimble as ever.
Quietly pursuing her task, she asked Flora if Mr Clennam had told
her where she lived? When Flora replied in the negative, Little
Dorrit said that she understood why he had been so delicate, but
that she felt sure he would approve of her confiding her secret to
Flora, and that she would therefore do so now with Flora's
permission. Receiving an encouraging answer, she condensed the
narrative of her life into a few scanty words about herself and a
glowing eulogy upon her father; and Flora took it all in with a
natural tenderness that quite understood it, and in which there was
When dinner-time came, Flora drew the arm of her new charge through
hers, and led her down-stairs, and presented her to the Patriarch
and Mr Pancks, who were already in the dining-room waiting to
begin. (Mr F.'s Aunt was, for the time, laid up in ordinary in her
chamber.) By those gentlemen she was received according to their
characters; the Patriarch appearing to do her some inestimable
service in saying that he was glad to see her, glad to see her; and
Mr Pancks blowing off his favourite sound as a salute.
In that new presence she would have been bashful enough under any
circumstances, and particularly under Flora's insisting on her
drinking a glass of wine and eating of the best that was there; but
her constraint was greatly increased by Mr Pancks. The demeanour
of that gentleman at first suggested to her mind that he might be
a taker of likenesses, so intently did he look at her, and so
frequently did he glance at the little note-book by his side.
Observing that he made no sketch, however, and that he talked about
business only, she began to have suspicions that he represented
some creditor of her father's, the balance due to whom was noted in
that pocket volume. Regarded from this point of view Mr Pancks's
puffings expressed injury and impatience, and each of his louder
snorts became a demand for payment.
But here again she was undeceived by anomalous and incongruous
conduct on the part of Mr Pancks himself. She had left the table
half an hour, and was at work alone. Flora had 'gone to lie down'
in the next room, concurrently with which retirement a smell of
something to drink had broken out in the house. The Patriarch was
fast asleep, with his philanthropic mouth open under a yellow
pocket-handkerchief in the dining-room. At this quiet time, Mr
Pancks softly appeared before her, urbanely nodding.
'Find it a little dull, Miss Dorrit?' inquired Pancks in a low
'No, thank you, sir,' said Little Dorrit.
'Busy, I see,' observed Mr Pancks, stealing into the room by
inches. 'What are those now, Miss Dorrit?'
'Are they, though!' said Pancks. 'I shouldn't have thought it.'
Not in the least looking at them, but looking at Little Dorrit.
'Perhaps you wonder who I am. Shall I tell you? I am a fortune-
Little Dorrit now began to think he was mad.
'I belong body and soul to my proprietor,' said Pancks; 'you saw my
proprietor having his dinner below. But I do a little in the other
way, sometimes; privately, very privately, Miss Dorrit.'
Little Dorrit looked at him doubtfully, and not without alarm.
'I wish you'd show me the palm of your hand,' said Pancks. 'I
should like to have a look at it. Don't let me be troublesome.'
He was so far troublesome that he was not at all wanted there, but
she laid her work in her lap for a moment, and held out her left
hand with her thimble on it.
'Years of toil, eh?' said Pancks, softly, touching it with his
blunt forefinger. 'But what else are we made for? Nothing.
Hallo!' looking into the lines. 'What's this with bars? It's a
College! And what's this with a grey gown and a black velvet cap?
it's a father! And what's this with a clarionet? It's an uncle!
And what's this in dancing-shoes? It's a sister! And what's this
straggling about in an idle sort of a way? It's a brother! And
what's this thinking for 'em all? Why, this is you, Miss Dorrit!'
Her eyes met his as she looked up wonderingly into his face, and
she thought that although his were sharp eyes, he was a brighter
and gentler-looking man than she had supposed at dinner. His eyes
were on her hand again directly, and her opportunity of confirming
or correcting the impression was gone.
'Now, the deuce is in it,' muttered Pancks, tracing out a line in
her hand with his clumsy finger, 'if this isn't me in the corner
here! What do I want here? What's behind me?'
He carried his finger slowly down to the wrist, and round the
wrist, and affected to look at the back of the hand for what was
'Is it any harm?' asked Little Dorrit, smiling.
'Deuce a bit!' said Pancks. 'What do you think it's worth?'
'I ought to ask you that. I am not the fortune-teller.'
'True,' said Pancks. 'What's it worth? You shall live to see,
Releasing the hand by slow degrees, he drew all his fingers through
his prongs of hair, so that they stood up in their most portentous
manner; and repeated slowly, 'Remember what I say, Miss Dorrit.
You shall live to see.'
She could not help showing that she was much surprised, if it were
only by his knowing so much about her.
'Ah! That's it!' said Pancks, pointing at her. 'Miss Dorrit, not
More surprised than before, and a little more frightened, she
looked to him for an explanation of his last words.
'Not that,' said Pancks, making, with great seriousness, an
imitation of a surprised look and manner that appeared to be
unintentionally grotesque. 'Don't do that. Never on seeing me, no
matter when, no matter where. I am nobody. Don't take on to mind
me. Don't mention me. Take no notice. Will you agree, Miss
'I hardly know what to say,' returned Little Dorrit, quite
'Because I am a fortune-teller. Pancks the gipsy. I haven't told
you so much of your fortune yet, Miss Dorrit, as to tell you what's
behind me on that little hand. I have told you you shall live to
see. Is it agreed, Miss Dorrit?'
'Agreed that I--am--to--'
'To take no notice of me away from here, unless I take on first.
Not to mind me when I come and go. It's very easy. I am no loss,
I am not handsome, I am not good company, I am only my proprietors
grubber. You need do no more than think, "Ah! Pancks the gipsy at
his fortune-telling--he'll tell the rest of my fortune one day--I
shall live to know it." Is it agreed, Miss Dorrit?'
'Ye-es,' faltered Little Dorrit, whom he greatly confused, 'I
suppose so, while you do no harm.'
'Good!' Mr Pancks glanced at the wall of the adjoining room, and
stooped forward. 'Honest creature, woman of capital points, but
heedless and a loose talker, Miss Dorrit.' With that he rubbed his
hands as if the interview had been very satisfactory to him, panted
away to the door, and urbanely nodded himself out again.
If Little Dorrit were beyond measure perplexed by this curious
conduct on the part of her new acquaintance, and by finding herself
involved in this singular treaty, her perplexity was not diminished
by ensuing circumstances. Besides that Mr Pancks took every
opportunity afforded him in Mr Casby's house of significantly
glancing at her and snorting at her--which was not much, after what
he had done already--he began to pervade her daily life. She saw
him in the street, constantly. When she went to Mr Casby's, he was
always there. When she went to Mrs Clennam's, he came there on any
pretence, as if to keep her in his sight. A week had not gone by,
when she found him to her astonishment in the Lodge one night,
conversing with the turnkey on duty, and to all appearance one of
his familiar companions. Her next surprise was to find him equally
at his ease within the prison; to hear of his presenting himself
among the visitors at her father's Sunday levee; to see him arm in
arm with a Collegiate friend about the yard; to learn, from Fame,
that he had greatly distinguished himself one evening at the social
club that held its meetings in the Snuggery, by addressing a speech
to the members of the institution, singing a song, and treating the
company to five gallons of ale--report madly added a bushel of
shrimps. The effect on Mr Plornish of such of these phenomena as
he became an eye-witness of in his faithful visits, made an
impression on Little Dorrit only second to that produced by the
phenomena themselves. They seemed to gag and bind him. He could
only stare, and sometimes weakly mutter that it wouldn't be
believed down Bleeding Heart Yard that this was Pancks; but he
never said a word more, or made a sign more, even to Little Dorrit.
Mr Pancks crowned his mysteries by making himself acquainted with
Tip in some unknown manner, and taking a Sunday saunter into the
College on that gentleman's arm. Throughout he never took any
notice of Little Dorrit, save once or twice when he happened to
come close to her and there was no one very near; on which
occasions, he said in passing, with a friendly look and a puff of
encouragement, 'Pancks the gipsy--fortune-telling.'
Little Dorrit worked and strove as usual, wondering at all this,
but keeping her wonder, as she had from her earliest years kept
many heavier loads, in her own breast. A change had stolen, and
was stealing yet, over the patient heart. Every day found her
something more retiring than the day before. To pass in and out of
the prison unnoticed, and elsewhere to be overlooked and forgotten,
were, for herself, her chief desires.
To her own room too, strangely assorted room for her delicate youth
and character, she was glad to retreat as often as she could
without desertion of any duty. There were afternoon times when she
was unemployed, when visitors dropped in to play a hand at cards
with her father, when she could be spared and was better away.
Then she would flit along the yard, climb the scores of stairs that
led to her room, and take her seat at the window. Many
combinations did those spikes upon the wall assume, many light
shapes did the strong iron weave itself into, many golden touches
fell upon the rust, while Little Dorrit sat there musing. New zig-
zags sprung into the cruel pattern sometimes, when she saw it
through a burst of tears; but beautified or hardened still, always
over it and under it and through it, she was fain to look in her
solitude, seeing everything with that ineffaceable brand.
A garret, and a Marshalsea garret without compromise, was Little
Dorrit's room. Beautifully kept, it was ugly in itself, and had
little but cleanliness and air to set it off; for what
embellishment she had ever been able to buy, had gone to her
father's room. Howbeit, for this poor place she showed an
increasing love; and to sit in it alone became her favourite rest.
Insomuch, that on a certain afternoon during the Pancks mysteries,
when she was seated at her window, and heard Maggy's well-known
step coming up the stairs, she was very much disturbed by the
apprehension of being summoned away. As Maggy's step came higher
up and nearer, she trembled and faltered; and it was as much as she
could do to speak, when Maggy at length appeared.
'Please, Little Mother,' said Maggy, panting for breath, 'you must
come down and see him. He's here.'
'Who, o' course Mr Clennam. He's in your father's room, and he
says to me, Maggy, will you be so kind and go and say it's only
'I am not very well, Maggy. I had better not go. I am going to
lie down. See! I lie down now, to ease my head. Say, with my
grateful regard, that you left me so, or I would have come.'
'Well, it an't very polite though, Little Mother,' said the staring
Maggy, 'to turn your face away, neither!'
Maggy was very susceptible to personal slights, and very ingenious
in inventing them. 'Putting both your hands afore your face too!'
she went on. 'If you can't bear the looks of a poor thing, it
would be better to tell her so at once, and not go and shut her out
like that, hurting her feelings and breaking her heart at ten year
old, poor thing!'
'It's to ease my head, Maggy.'
'Well, and if you cry to ease your head, Little Mother, let me cry
too. Don't go and have all the crying to yourself,' expostulated
Maggy, 'that an't not being greedy.' And immediately began to
It was with some difficulty that she could be induced to go back
with the excuse; but the promise of being told a story--of old her
great delight--on condition that she concentrated her faculties
upon the errand and left her little mistress to herself for an hour
longer, combined with a misgiving on Maggy's part that she had left
her good temper at the bottom of the staircase, prevailed. So away
she went, muttering her message all the way to keep it in her mind,
and, at the appointed time, came back.
'He was very sorry, I can tell you,' she announced, 'and wanted to
send a doctor. And he's coming again to-morrow he is and I don't
think he'll have a good sleep to-night along o' hearing about your
head, Little Mother. Oh my! Ain't you been a-crying!'
'I think I have, a little, Maggy.'
'A little! Oh!'
'But it's all over now--all over for good, Maggy. And my head is
much better and cooler, and I am quite comfortable. I am very glad
I did not go down.'
Her great staring child tenderly embraced her; and having smoothed
her hair, and bathed her forehead and eyes with cold water (offices
in which her awkward hands became skilful), hugged her again,
exulted in her brighter looks, and stationed her in her chair by
the window. Over against this chair, Maggy, with apoplectic
exertions that were not at all required, dragged the box which was
her seat on story-telling occasions, sat down upon it, hugged her
own knees, and said, with a voracious appetite for stories, and
with widely-opened eyes:
'Now, Little Mother, let's have a good 'un!'
'What shall it be about, Maggy?'
'Oh, let's have a princess,' said Maggy, 'and let her be a reg'lar
one. Beyond all belief, you know!'
Little Dorrit considered for a moment; and with a rather sad smile
upon her face, which was flushed by the sunset, began:
'Maggy, there was once upon a time a fine King, and he had
everything he could wish for, and a great deal more. He had gold
and silver, diamonds and rubies, riches of every kind. He had
palaces, and he had--'
'Hospitals,' interposed Maggy, still nursing her knees. 'Let him
have hospitals, because they're so comfortable. Hospitals with
lots of Chicking.'
'Yes, he had plenty of them, and he had plenty of everything.'
'Plenty of baked potatoes, for instance?' said Maggy.
'Plenty of everything.'
'Lor!' chuckled Maggy, giving her knees a hug. 'Wasn't it prime!'
'This King had a daughter, who was the wisest and most beautiful
Princess that ever was seen. When she was a child she understood
all her lessons before her masters taught them to her; and when she
was grown up, she was the wonder of the world. Now, near the
Palace where this Princess lived, there was a cottage in which
there was a poor little tiny woman, who lived all alone by
'An old woman,' said Maggy, with an unctuous smack of her lips.
'No, not an old woman. Quite a young one.'
'I wonder she warn't afraid,' said Maggy. 'Go on, please.'
'The Princess passed the cottage nearly every day, and whenever she
went by in her beautiful carriage, she saw the poor tiny woman
spinning at her wheel, and she looked at the tiny woman, and the
tiny woman looked at her. So, one day she stopped the coachman a
little way from the cottage, and got out and walked on and peeped
in at the door, and there, as usual, was the tiny woman spinning at
her wheel, and she looked at the Princess, and the Princess looked
'Like trying to stare one another out,' said Maggy. 'Please go on,
'The Princess was such a wonderful Princess that she had the power
of knowing secrets, and she said to the tiny woman, Why do you keep
it there? This showed her directly that the Princess knew why she
lived all alone by herself spinning at her wheel, and she kneeled
down at the Princess's feet, and asked her never to betray her. So
the Princess said, I never will betray you. Let me see it. So the
tiny woman closed the shutter of the cottage window and fastened
the door, and trembling from head to foot for fear that any one