Part 12 out of 20
Again, there would be places where they stayed the week together in
splendid rooms, had banquets every day, rode out among heaps of
wonders, walked through miles of palaces, and rested in dark
corners of great churches; where there were winking lamps of gold
and silver among pillars and arches, kneeling figures dotted about
at confessionals and on the pavements; where there was the mist and
scent of incense; where there were pictures, fantastic images,
gaudy altars, great heights and distances, all softly lighted
through stained glass, and the massive curtains that hung in the
doorways. From these cities they would go on again, by the roads
of vines and olives, through squalid villages, where there was not
a hovel without a gap in its filthy walls, not a window with a
whole inch of glass or paper; where there seemed to be nothing to
support life, nothing to eat, nothing to make, nothing to grow,
nothing to hope, nothing to do but die.
Again they would come to whole towns of palaces, whose proper
inmates were all banished, and which were all changed into
barracks: troops of idle soldiers leaning out of the state windows,
where their accoutrements hung drying on the marble architecture,
and showing to the mind like hosts of rats who were (happily)
eating away the props of the edifices that supported them, and must
soon, with them, be smashed on the heads of the other swarms of
soldiers and the swarms of priests, and the swarms of spies, who
were all the ill-looking population left to be ruined, in the
Through such scenes, the family procession moved on to Venice. And
here it dispersed for a time, as they were to live in Venice some
few months in a palace (itself six times as big as the whole
Marshalsea) on the Grand Canal.
In this crowning unreality, where all the streets were paved with
water, and where the deathlike stillness of the days and nights was
broken by no sound but the softened ringing of church-bells, the
rippling of the current, and the cry of the gondoliers turning the
corners of the flowing streets, Little Dorrit, quite lost by her
task being done, sat down to muse. The family began a gay life,
went here and there, and turned night into day; but she was timid
of joining in their gaieties, and only asked leave to be left
Sometimes she would step into one of the gondolas that were always
kept in waiting, moored to painted posts at the door--when she
could escape from the attendance of that oppressive maid, who was
her mistress, and a very hard one--and would be taken all over the
strange city. Social people in other gondolas began to ask each
other who the little solitary girl was whom they passed, sitting in
her boat with folded hands, looking so pensively and wonderingly
about her. Never thinking that it would be worth anybody's while
to notice her or her doings, Little Dorrit, in her quiet, scared,
lost manner, went about the city none the less.
But her favourite station was the balcony of her own room,
overhanging the canal, with other balconies below, and none above.
It was of massive stone darkened by ages, built in a wild fancy
which came from the East to that collection of wild fancies; and
Little Dorrit was little indeed, leaning on the broad-cushioned
ledge, and looking over. As she liked no place of an evening half
so well, she soon began to be watched for, and many eyes in passing
gondolas were raised, and many people said, There was the little
figure of the English girl who was always alone.
Such people were not realities to the little figure of the English
girl; such people were all unknown to her. She would watch the
sunset, in its long low lines of purple and red, and its burning
flush high up into the sky: so glowing on the buildings, and so
lightening their structure, that it made them look as if their
strong walls were transparent, and they shone from within. She
would watch those glories expire; and then, after looking at the
black gondolas underneath, taking guests to music and dancing,
would raise her eyes to the shining stars. Was there no party of
her own, in other times, on which the stars had shone? To think of
that old gate now! She would think of that old gate, and of
herself sitting at it in the dead of the night, pillowing Maggy's
head; and of other places and of other scenes associated with those
different times. And then she would lean upon her balcony, and
look over at the water, as though they all lay underneath it. When
she got to that, she would musingly watch its running, as if, in
the general vision, it might run dry, and show her the prison
again, and herself, and the old room , and the old inmates, and the
old visitors: all lasting realities that had never changed.
A Letter from Little Dorrit
Dear Mr Clennam,
I write to you from my own room at Venice, thinking you will be
glad to hear from me. But I know you cannot be so glad to hear
from me as I am to write to you; for everything about you is as you
have been accustomed to see it, and you miss nothing--unless it
should be me, which can only be for a very little while together
and very seldom--while everything in my life is so strange, and I
miss so much.
When we were in Switzerland, which appears to have been years ago,
though it was only weeks, I met young Mrs Gowan, who was on a
mountain excursion like ourselves. She told me she was very well
and very happy. She sent you the message, by me, that she thanked
you affectionately and would never forget you. She was quite
confiding with me, and I loved her almost as soon as I spoke to
her. But there is nothing singular in that; who could help loving
so beautiful and winning a creature! I could not wonder at any one
loving her. No indeed.
It will not make you uneasy on Mrs Gowan's account, I hope--for I
remember that you said you had the interest of a true friend in
her--if I tell you that I wish she could have married some one
better suited to her. Mr Gowan seems fond of her, and of course
she is very fond of him, but I thought he was not earnest enough--I
don't mean in that respect--I mean in anything. I could not keep
it out of my mind that if I was Mrs Gowan (what a change that would
be, and how I must alter to become like her!) I should feel that I
was rather lonely and lost, for the want of some one who was
steadfast and firm in purpose. I even thought she felt this want
a little, almost without knowing it. But mind you are not made
uneasy by this, for she was 'very well and very happy.' And she
looked most beautiful.
I expect to meet her again before long, and indeed have been
expecting for some days past to see her here. I will ever be as
good a friend to her as I can for your sake. Dear Mr Clennam, I
dare say you think little of having been a friend to me when I had
no other (not that I have any other now, for I have made no new
friends), but I think much of it, and I never can forget it.
I wish I knew--but it is best for no one to write to me--how Mr and
Mrs Plornish prosper in the business which my dear father bought
for them, and that old Mr Nandy lives happily with them and his two
grandchildren, and sings all his songs over and over again. I
cannot quite keep back the tears from my eyes when I think of my
poor Maggy, and of the blank she must have felt at first, however
kind they all are to her, without her Little Mother. Will you go
and tell her, as a strict secret, with my love, that she never can
have regretted our separation more than I have regretted it? And
will you tell them all that I have thought of them every day, and
that my heart is faithful to them everywhere? O, if you could know
how faithful, you would almost pity me for being so far away and
being so grand!
You will be glad, I am sure, to know that my dear father is very
well in health, and that all these changes are highly beneficial to
him, and that he is very different indeed from what he used to be
when you used to see him. There is an improvement in my uncle too,
I think, though he never complained of old, and never exults now.
Fanny is very graceful, quick, and clever. It is natural to her to
be a lady; she has adapted herself to our new fortunes with
This reminds me that I have not been able to do so, and that I
sometimes almost despair of ever being able to do so. I find that
I cannot learn. Mrs General is always with us, and we speak French
and speak Italian, and she takes pains to form us in many ways.
When I say we speak French and Italian, I mean they do. As for me,
I am so slow that I scarcely get on at all. As soon as I begin to
plan, and think, and try, all my planning, thinking, and trying go
in old directions, and I begin to feel careful again about the
expenses of the day, and about my dear father, and about my work,
and then I remember with a start that there are no such cares left,
and that in itself is so new and improbable that it sets me
wandering again. I should not have the courage to mention this to
any one but you.
It is the same with all these new countries and wonderful sights.
They are very beautiful, and they astonish me, but I am not
collected enough--not familiar enough with myself, if you can quite
understand what I mean--to have all the pleasure in them that I
might have. What I knew before them, blends with them, too, so
curiously. For instance, when we were among the mountains, I often
felt (I hesitate to tell such an idle thing, dear Mr Clennam, even
to you) as if the Marshalsea must be behind that great rock; or as
if Mrs Clennam's room where I have worked so many days, and where
I first saw you, must be just beyond that snow. Do you remember
one night when I came with Maggy to your lodging in Covent Garden?
That room I have often and often fancied I have seen before me,
travelling along for miles by the side of our carriage, when I have
looked out of the carriage-window after dark. We were shut out
that night, and sat at the iron gate, and walked about till
morning. I often look up at the stars, even from the balcony of
this room, and believe that I am in the street again, shut out with
Maggy. It is the same with people that I left in England.
When I go about here in a gondola, I surprise myself looking into
other gondolas as if I hoped to see them. It would overcome me
with joy to see them, but I don't think it would surprise me much,
at first. In my fanciful times, I fancy that they might be
anywhere; and I almost expect to see their dear faces on the
bridges or the quays.
Another difficulty that I have will seem very strange to you. It
must seem very strange to any one but me, and does even to me: I
often feel the old sad pity for--I need not write the word--for
him. Changed as he is, and inexpressibly blest and thankful as I
always am to know it, the old sorrowful feeling of compassion comes
upon me sometimes with such strength that I want to put my arms
round his neck, tell him how I love him, and cry a little on his
breast. I should be glad after that, and proud and happy. But I
know that I must not do this; that he would not like it, that Fanny
would be angry, that Mrs General would be amazed; and so I quiet
myself. Yet in doing so, I struggle with the feeling that I have
come to be at a distance from him; and that even in the midst of
all the servants and attendants, he is deserted, and in want of me.
Dear Mr Clennam, I have written a great deal about myself, but I
must write a little more still, or what I wanted most of all to say
in this weak letter would be left out of it. In all these foolish
thoughts of mine, which I have been so hardy as to confess to you
because I know you will understand me if anybody can, and will make
more allowance for me than anybody else would if you cannot--in all
these thoughts, there is one thought scarcely ever--never--out of
my memory, and that is that I hope you sometimes, in a quiet
moment, have a thought for me. I must tell you that as to this, I
have felt, ever since I have been away, an anxiety which I am very
anxious to relieve. I have been afraid that you may think of me in
a new light, or a new character. Don't do that, I could not bear
that--it would make me more unhappy than you can suppose. It would
break my heart to believe that you thought of me in any way that
would make me stranger to you than I was when you were so good to
me. What I have to pray and entreat of you is, that you will never
think of me as the daughter of a rich person; that you will never
think of me as dressing any better, or living any better, than when
you first knew me. That you will remember me only as the little
shabby girl you protected with so much tenderness, from whose
threadbare dress you have kept away the rain, and whose wet feet
you have dried at your fire. That you will think of me (when you
think of me at all), and of my true affection and devoted
gratitude, always without change, as of your poor child,
P.S.--Particularly remember that you are not to be uneasy about Mrs
Gowan. Her words were, 'Very well and very happy.' And she looked
Something Wrong Somewhere
The family had been a month or two at Venice, when Mr Dorrit, who
was much among Counts and Marquises, and had but scant leisure, set
an hour of one day apart, beforehand, for the purpose of holding
some conference with Mrs General.
The time he had reserved in his mind arriving, he sent Mr Tinkler,
his valet, to Mrs General's apartment (which would have absorbed
about a third of the area of the Marshalsea), to present his
compliments to that lady, and represent him as desiring the favour
of an interview. It being that period of the forenoon when the
various members of the family had coffee in their own chambers,
some couple of hours before assembling at breakfast in a faded hall
which had once been sumptuous, but was now the prey of watery
vapours and a settled melancholy, Mrs General was accessible to the
valet. That envoy found her on a little square of carpet, so
extremely diminutive in reference to the size of her stone and
marble floor that she looked as if she might have had it spread for
the trying on of a ready-made pair of shoes; or as if she had come
into possession of the enchanted piece of carpet, bought for forty
purses by one of the three princes in the Arabian Nights, and had
that moment been transported on it, at a wish, into a palatial
saloon with which it had no connection.
Mrs General, replying to the envoy, as she set down her empty
coffee-cup, that she was willing at once to proceed to Mr Dorrit's
apartment, and spare him the trouble of coming to her (which, in
his gallantry, he had proposed), the envoy threw open the door, and
escorted Mrs General to the presence. It was quite a walk, by
mysterious staircases and corridors, from Mrs General's apartment,
--hoodwinked by a narrow side street with a low gloomy bridge in
it, and dungeon-like opposite tenements, their walls besmeared with
a thousand downward stains and streaks, as if every crazy aperture
in them had been weeping tears of rust into the Adriatic for
centuries--to Mr Dorrit's apartment: with a whole English house-
front of window, a prospect of beautiful church-domes rising into
the blue sky sheer out of the water which reflected them, and a
hushed murmur of the Grand Canal laving the doorways below, where
his gondolas and gondoliers attended his pleasure, drowsily
swinging in a little forest of piles.
Mr Dorrit, in a resplendent dressing-gown and cap--the dormant grub
that had so long bided its time among the Collegians had burst into
a rare butterfly--rose to receive Mrs General. A chair to Mrs
General. An easier chair, sir; what are you doing, what are you
about, what do you mean? Now, leave us!
'Mrs General,' said Mr Dorrit, 'I took the liberty--'
'By no means,' Mrs General interposed. 'I was quite at your
disposition. I had had my coffee.'
'--I took the liberty,' said Mr Dorrit again, with the magnificent
placidity of one who was above correction, 'to solicit the favour
of a little private conversation with you, because I feel rather
worried respecting my--ha--my younger daughter. You will have
observed a great difference of temperament, madam, between my two
Said Mrs General in response, crossing her gloved hands (she was
never without gloves, and they never creased and always fitted),
'There is a great difference.'
'May I ask to be favoured with your view of it?' said Mr Dorrit,
with a deference not incompatible with majestic serenity.
'Fanny,' returned Mrs General, 'has force of character and self-
reliance. Amy, none.'
None? O Mrs General, ask the Marshalsea stones and bars. O Mrs
General, ask the milliner who taught her to work, and the dancing-
master who taught her sister to dance. O Mrs General, Mrs General,
ask me, her father, what I owe her; and hear my testimony touching
the life of this slighted little creature from her childhood up!
No such adjuration entered Mr. Dorrit's head. He looked at Mrs
General, seated in her usual erect attitude on her coach-box behind
the proprieties, and he said in a thoughtful manner, 'True, madam.'
'I would not,' said Mrs General, 'be understood to say, observe,
that there is nothing to improve in Fanny. But there is material
there--perhaps, indeed, a little too much.'
'Will you be kind enough, madam,' said Mr Dorrit, 'to be--ha--more
explicit? I do not quite understand my elder daughter's having--
hum--too much material. What material?'
'Fanny,' returned Mrs General, 'at present forms too many opinions.
Perfect breeding forms none, and is never demonstrative.'
Lest he himself should be found deficient in perfect breeding, Mr
Dorrit hastened to reply, 'Unquestionably, madam, you are right.'
Mrs General returned, in her emotionless and expressionless manner,
'I believe so.'
'But you are aware, my dear madam,' said Mr Dorrit, 'that my
daughters had the misfortune to lose their lamented mother when
they were very young; and that, in consequence of my not having
been until lately the recognised heir to my property, they have
lived with me as a comparatively poor, though always proud,
gentleman, in--ha hum--retirement!'
'I do not,' said Mrs General, 'lose sight of the circumstance.'
'Madam,'pursued Mr Dorrit, 'of my daughter Fanny, under her present
guidance and with such an example constantly before her--'
(Mrs General shut her eyes.)
--'I have no misgivings. There is adaptability of character in
Fanny. But my younger daughter, Mrs General, rather worries and
vexes my thoughts. I must inform you that she has always been my
'There is no accounting,' said Mrs General, 'for these
'Ha--no,' assented Mr Dorrit. 'No. Now, madam, I am troubled by
noticing that Amy is not, so to speak, one of ourselves. She does
not Care to go about with us; she is lost in the society we have
here; our tastes are evidently not her tastes. Which,' said Mr
Dorrit, summing up with judicial gravity, 'is to say, in other
words, that there is something wrong in--ha--Amy.'
'May we incline to the supposition,' said Mrs General, with a
little touch of varnish, 'that something is referable to the
novelty of the position?'
'Excuse me, madam,' observed Mr Dorrit, rather quickly. 'The
daughter of a gentleman, though--ha--himself at one time
comparatively far from affluent--comparatively--and herself reared
in--hum--retirement, need not of necessity find this position so
'True,' said Mrs General, 'true.'
'Therefore, madam,' said Mr Dorrit, 'I took the liberty' (he laid
an emphasis on the phrase and repeated it, as though he stipulated,
with urbane firmness, that he must not be contradicted again), 'I
took the liberty of requesting this interview, in order that I
might mention the topic to you, and inquire how you would advise
'Mr Dorrit,' returned Mrs General, 'I have conversed with Amy
several times since we have been residing here, on the general
subject of the formation of a demeanour. She has expressed herself
to me as wondering exceedingly at Venice. I have mentioned to her
that it is better not to wonder. I have pointed out to her that
the celebrated Mr Eustace, the classical tourist, did not think
much of it; and that he compared the Rialto, greatly to its
disadvantage, with Westminster and Blackfriars Bridges. I need not
add, after what you have said, that I have not yet found my
arguments successful. You do me the honour to ask me what to
advise. It always appears to me (if this should prove to be a
baseless assumption, I shall be pardoned), that Mr Dorrit has been
accustomed to exercise influence over the minds of others.'
'Hum--madam,' said Mr Dorrit, 'I have been at the head of--ha of a
considerable community. You are right in supposing that I am not
unaccustomed to--an influential position.'
'I am happy,' returned Mrs General, 'to be so corroborated. I
would therefore the more confidently recommend that Mr Dorrit
should speak to Amy himself, and make his observations and wishes
known to her. Being his favourite, besides, and no doubt attached
to him, she is all the more likely to yield to his influence.'
'I had anticipated your suggestion, madam,' said Mr Dorrit, 'but--
ha--was not sure that I might--hum--not encroach on--'
'On my province, Mr Dorrit?' said Mrs General, graciously. 'Do not
'Then, with your leave, madam,' resumed Mr Dorrit, ringing his
little bell to summon his valet, 'I will send for her at once.'
'Does Mr Dorrit wish me to remain?'
'Perhaps, if you have no other engagement, you would not object for
a minute or two--'
'Not at all.'
So, Tinkler the valet was instructed to find Miss Amy's maid, and
to request that subordinate to inform Miss Amy that Mr Dorrit
wished to see her in his own room. In delivering this charge to
Tinkler, Mr Dorrit looked severely at him, and also kept a jealous
eye upon him until he went out at the door, mistrusting that he
might have something in his mind prejudicial to the family dignity;
that he might have even got wind of some Collegiate joke before he
came into the service, and might be derisively reviving its
remembrance at the present moment. If Tinkler had happened to
smile, however faintly and innocently, nothing would have persuaded
Mr Dorrit, to the hour of his death, but that this was the case.
As Tinkler happened, however, very fortunately for himself, to be
of a serious and composed countenance, he escaped the secret danger
that threatened him. And as on his return--when Mr Dorrit eyed him
again--he announced Miss Amy as if she had come to a funeral, he
left a vague impression on Mr Dorrit's mind that he was a well-
conducted young fellow, who had been brought up in the study of his
Catechism by a widowed mother.
'Amy,' said Mr Dorrit, 'you have just now been the subject of some
conversation between myself and Mrs General. We agree that you
scarcely seem at home here. Ha--how is this?'
'I think, father, I require a little time.'
'Papa is a preferable mode of address,' observed Mrs General.
'Father is rather vulgar, my dear. The word Papa, besides, gives
a pretty form to the lips. Papa, potatoes, poultry, prunes, and
prism are all very good words for the lips: especially prunes and
prism. You will find it serviceable, in the formation of a
demeanour, if you sometimes say to yourself in company--on entering
a room, for instance--Papa, potatoes, poultry, prunes and prism,
prunes and prism.'
'Pray, my child,' said Mr Dorrit, 'attend to the--hum--precepts of
Poor Little Dorrit, with a rather forlorn glance at that eminent
varnisher, promised to try.
'You say, Amy,' pursued Mr Dorrit, 'that you think you require
time. Time for what?'
'To become accustomed to the novelty of my life, was all I meant,'
said Little Dorrit, with her loving eyes upon her father; whom she
had very nearly addressed as poultry, if not prunes and prism too,
in her desire to submit herself to Mrs General and please him.
Mr Dorrit frowned, and looked anything but pleased. 'Amy,' he
returned, 'it appears to me, I must say, that you have had
abundance of time for that. Ha--you surprise me. You disappoint
me. Fanny has conquered any such little difficulties, and--hum--
why not you?'
'I hope I shall do better soon,' said Little Dorrit.
'I hope so,' returned her father. 'I--ha--I most devoutly hope so,
Amy. I sent for you, in order that I might say--hum--impressively
say, in the presence of Mrs General, to whom we are all so much
indebted for obligingly being present among us, on--ha--on this or
any other occasion,' Mrs General shut her eyes, 'that I--ha hum--am
not pleased with you. You make Mrs General's a thankless task.
You--ha--embarrass me very much. You have always (as I have
informed Mrs General) been my favourite child; I have always made
you a--hum--a friend and companion; in return, I beg--I--ha--I do
beg, that you accommodate yourself better to --hum--circumstances,
and dutifully do what becomes your--your station.'
Mr Dorrit was even a little more fragmentary than usual, being
excited on the subject and anxious to make himself particularly
'I do beg,' he repeated, 'that this may be attended to, and that
you will seriously take pains and try to conduct yourself in a
manner both becoming your position as--ha--Miss Amy Dorrit, and
satisfactory to myself and Mrs General.'
That lady shut her eyes again, on being again referred to; then,
slowly opening them and rising, added these words:
'If Miss Amy Dorrit will direct her own attention to, and will
accept of my poor assistance in, the formation of a surface, Mr.
Dorrit will have no further cause of anxiety. May I take this
opportunity of remarking, as an instance in point, that it is
scarcely delicate to look at vagrants with the attention which I
have seen bestowed upon them by a very dear young friend of mine?
They should not be looked at. Nothing disagreeable should ever be
looked at. Apart from such a habit standing in the way of that
graceful equanimity of surface which is so expressive of good
breeding, it hardly seems compatible with refinement of mind. A
truly refined mind will seem to be ignorant of the existence of
anything that is not perfectly proper, placid, and pleasant.'
Having delivered this exalted sentiment, Mrs General made a
sweeping obeisance, and retired with an expression of mouth
indicative of Prunes and Prism.
Little Dorrit, whether speaking or silent, had preserved her quiet
earnestness and her loving look. It had not been clouded, except
for a passing moment, until now. But now that she was left alone
with him the fingers of her lightly folded hands were agitated, and
there was repressed emotion in her face.
Not for herself. She might feel a little wounded, but her care was
not for herself. Her thoughts still turned, as they always had
turned, to him. A faint misgiving, which had hung about her since
their accession to fortune, that even now she could never see him
as he used to be before the prison days, had gradually begun to
assume form in her mind. She felt that, in what he had just now
said to her and in his whole bearing towards her, there was the
well-known shadow of the Marshalsea wall. It took a new shape, but
it was the old sad shadow. She began with sorrowful unwillingness
to acknowledge to herself that she was not strong enough to keep
off the fear that no space in the life of man could overcome that
quarter of a century behind the prison bars. She had no blame to
bestow upon him, therefore: nothing to reproach him with, no
emotions in her faithful heart but great compassion and unbounded
This is why it was, that, even as he sat before her on his sofa, in
the brilliant light of a bright Italian day, the wonderful city
without and the splendours of an old palace within, she saw him at
the moment in the long-familiar gloom of his Marshalsea lodging,
and wished to take her seat beside him, and comfort him, and be
again full of confidence with him, and of usefulness to him. If he
divined what was in her thoughts, his own were not in tune with it.
After some uneasy moving in his seat, he got up and walked about,
looking very much dissatisfied.
'Is there anything else you wish to say to me, dear father?'
'No, no. Nothing else.'
'I am sorry you have not been pleased with me, dear. I hope you
will not think of me with displeasure now. I am going to try, more
than ever, to adapt myself as you wish to what surrounds me --for
indeed I have tried all along, though I have failed, I know.'
'Amy,' he returned, turning short upon her. 'You--ha--habitually
'Hurt you, father! I!'
'There is a--hum--a topic,' said Mr Dorrit, looking all about the
ceiling of the room, and never at the attentive, uncomplainingly
shocked face, 'a painful topic, a series of events which I wish --
ha--altogether to obliterate. This is understood by your sister,
who has already remonstrated with you in my presence; it is
understood by your brother; it is understood by--ha hum--by every
one of delicacy and sensitiveness except yourself--ha--I am sorry
to say, except yourself. You, Amy--hum--you alone and only you --
constantly revive the topic, though not in words.'
She laid her hand on his arm. She did nothing more. She gently
touched him. The trembling hand may have said, with some
expression, 'Think of me, think how I have worked, think of my many
cares!' But she said not a syllable herself.
There was a reproach in the touch so addressed to him that she had
not foreseen, or she would have withheld her hand. He began to
justify himself in a heated, stumbling, angry manner, which made
nothing of it.
'I was there all those years. I was--ha--universally acknowledged
as the head of the place. I--hum--I caused you to be respected
there, Amy. I--ha hum--I gave my family a position there. I
deserve a return. I claim a return. I say, sweep it off the face
of the earth and begin afresh. Is that much? I ask, is that
much?' He did not once look at her, as he rambled on in this way;
but gesticulated at, and appealed to, the empty air.
'I have suffered. Probably I know how much I have suffered better
than any one--ha--I say than any one! If I can put that aside, if
I can eradicate the marks of what I have endured, and can emerge
before the world--a--ha--gentleman unspoiled, unspotted --is it a
great deal to expect--I say again, is it a great deal to expect--
that my children should--hum--do the same and sweep that accursed
experience off the face of the earth?'
In spite of his flustered state, he made all these exclamations in
a carefully suppressed voice, lest the valet should overhear
'Accordingly, they do it. Your sister does it. Your brother does
it. You alone, my favourite child, whom I made the friend and
companion of my life when you were a mere--hum--Baby, do not do it.
You alone say you can't do it. I provide you with valuable
assistance to do it. I attach an accomplished and highly bred lady
--ha--Mrs General, to you, for the purpose of doing it. Is it
surprising that I should be displeased? Is it necessary that I
should defend myself for expressing my displeasure? No!'
Notwithstanding which, he continued to defend himself, without any
abatement of his flushed mood.
'I am careful to appeal to that lady for confirmation, before I
express any displeasure at all. I--hum--I necessarily make that
appeal within limited bounds, or I--ha--should render legible, by
that lady, what I desire to be blotted out. Am I selfish? Do I
complain for my own sake? No. No. Principally for--ha hum--your
This last consideration plainly appeared, from his manner of
pursuing it, to have just that instant come into his head.
'I said I was hurt. So I am. So I--ha--am determined to be,
whatever is advanced to the contrary. I am hurt that my daughter,
seated in the--hum--lap of fortune, should mope and retire and
proclaim herself unequal to her destiny. I am hurt that she should
--ha--systematically reproduce what the rest of us blot out; and
seem--hum--I had almost said positively anxious--to announce to
wealthy and distinguished society that she was born and bred in--ha
hum--a place that I myself decline to name. But there is no
inconsistency--ha--not the least, in my feeling hurt, and yet
complaining principally for your sake, Amy. I do; I say again, I
do. It is for your sake that I wish you, under the auspices of Mrs
General, to form a--hum--a surface. It is for your sake that I
wish you to have a--ha--truly refined mind, and (in the striking
words of Mrs General) to be ignorant of everything that is not
perfectly proper, placid, and pleasant.'
He had been running down by jerks, during his last speech, like a
sort of ill-adjusted alarum. The touch was still upon his arm. He
fell silent; and after looking about the ceiling again for a little
while, looked down at her. Her head drooped, and he could not see
her face; but her touch was tender and quiet, and in the expression
of her dejected figure there was no blame--nothing but love. He
began to whimper, just as he had done that night in the prison when
she afterwards sat at his bedside till morning; exclaimed that he
was a poor ruin and a poor wretch in the midst of his wealth; and
clasped her in his arms. 'Hush, hush, my own dear! Kiss me!' was
all she said to him. His tears were soon dried, much sooner than
on the former occasion; and he was presently afterwards very high
with his valet, as a way of righting himself for having shed any.
With one remarkable exception, to be recorded in its place, this
was the only time, in his life of freedom and fortune, when he
spoke to his daughter Amy of the old days.
But, now, the breakfast hour arrived; and with it Miss Fanny from
her apartment, and Mr Edward from his apartment. Both these young
persons of distinction were something the worse for late hours. As
to Miss Fanny, she had become the victim of an insatiate mania for
what she called 'going into society;'and would have gone into it
head-foremost fifty times between sunset and sunrise, if so many
opportunities had been at her disposal. As to Mr Edward, he, too,
had a large acquaintance, and was generally engaged (for the most
part, in diceing circles, or others of a kindred nature), during
the greater part of every night. For this gentleman, when his
fortunes changed, had stood at the great advantage of being already
prepared for the highest associates, and having little to learn: so
much was he indebted to the happy accidents which had made him
acquainted with horse-dealing and billiard-marking.
At breakfast, Mr Frederick Dorrit likewise appeared. As the old
gentleman inhabited the highest story of the palace, where he might
have practised pistol-shooting without much chance of discovery by
the other inmates, his younger niece had taken courage to propose
the restoration to him of his clarionet, which Mr Dorrit had
ordered to be confiscated, but which she had ventured to preserve.
Notwithstanding some objections from Miss Fanny, that it was a low
instrument, and that she detested the sound of it, the concession
had been made. But it was then discovered that he had had enough
of it, and never played it, now that it was no longer his means of
getting bread. He had insensibly acquired a new habit of shuffling
into the picture-galleries, always with his twisted paper of snuff
in his hand (much to the indignation of Miss Fanny, who had
proposed the purchase of a gold box for him that the family might
not be discredited, which he had absolutely refused to carry when
it was bought); and of passing hours and hours before the portraits
of renowned Venetians. It was never made out what his dazed eyes
saw in them; whether he had an interest in them merely as pictures,
or whether he confusedly identified them with a glory that was
departed, like the strength of his own mind. But he paid his court
to them with great exactness, and clearly derived pleasure from the
pursuit. After the first few days, Little Dorrit happened one
morning to assist at these attentions. It so evidently heightened
his gratification that she often accompanied him afterwards, and
the greatest delight of which the old man had shown himself
susceptible since his ruin, arose out of these excursions, when he
would carry a chair about for her from picture to picture, and
stand behind it, in spite of all her remonstrances, silently
presenting her to the noble Venetians.
It fell out that, at this family breakfast, he referred to their
having seen in a gallery, on the previous day, the lady and
gentleman whom they had encountered on the Great Saint Bernard, 'I
forget the name,' said he. 'I dare say you remember them, William?
I dare say you do, Edward?'
'_I_ remember 'em well enough,' said the latter.
'I should think so,' observed Miss Fanny, with a toss of her head
and a glance at her sister. 'But they would not have been recalled
to our remembrance, I suspect, if Uncle hadn't tumbled over the
'My dear, what a curious phrase,' said Mrs General. 'Would not
inadvertently lighted upon, or accidentally referred to, be
'Thank you very much, Mrs General,' returned the young lady, no )
I think not. On the whole I prefer my own expression.' This was
always Miss Fanny's way of receiving a suggestion from Mrs General.
But she always stored it up in her mind, and adopted it at another
'I should have mentioned our having met Mr and Mrs Gowan, Fanny,'
said Little Dorrit, 'even if Uncle had not. I have scarcely seen
you since, you know. I meant to have spoken of it at breakfast;
because I should like to pay a visit to Mrs Gowan, and to become
better acquainted with her, if Papa and Mrs General do not object.'
'Well, Amy,' said Fanny, 'I am sure I am glad to find you at last
expressing a wish to become better acquainted with anybody in
Venice. Though whether Mr and Mrs Gowan are desirable
acquaintances, remains to be determined.'
'Mrs Gowan I spoke of, dear.'
'No doubt,' said Fanny. 'But you can't separate her from her
husband, I believe, without an Act of Parliament.'
'Do you think, Papa,' inquired Little Dorrit, with diffidence and
hesitation, 'there is any objection to my making this visit?'
'Really,' he replied, 'I--ha--what is Mrs General's view?'
Mrs General's view was, that not having the honour of any
acquaintance with the lady and gentleman referred to, she was not
in a position to varnish the present article. She could only
remark, as a general principle observed in the varnishing trade,
that much depended on the quarter from which the lady under
consideration was accredited to a family so conspicuously niched in
the social temple as the family of Dorrit.
At this remark the face of Mr Dorrit gloomed considerably. He was
about (connecting the accrediting with an obtrusive person of the
name of Clennam, whom he imperfectly remembered in some former
state of existence) to black-ball the name of Gowan finally, when
Edward Dorrit, Esquire, came into the conversation, with his glass
in his eye, and the preliminary remark of 'I say--you there! Go
out, will you!'--which was addressed to a couple of men who were
handing the dishes round, as a courteous intimation that their
services could be temporarily dispensed with.
Those menials having obeyed the mandate, Edward Dorrit, Esquire,
'Perhaps it's a matter of policy to let you all know that these
Gowans--in whose favour, or at least the gentleman's, I can't be
supposed to be much prepossessed myself--are known to people
of importance, if that makes any difference.'
'That, I would say,' observed the fair varnisher, 'Makes the
greatest difference. The connection in question, being really
people of importance and consideration--'
'As to that,' said Edward Dorrit, Esquire, 'I'll give you the means
of judging for yourself. You are acquainted, perhaps, with the
famous name of Merdle?'
'The great Merdle!' exclaimed Mrs General.
'THE Merdle,' said Edward Dorrit, Esquire. 'They are known to him.
Mrs Gowan--I mean the dowager, my polite friend's mother --is
intimate with Mrs Merdle, and I know these two to be on their
'If so, a more undeniable guarantee could not be given,' said Mrs
General to Mr Dorrit, raising her gloves and bowing her head, as if
she were doing homage to some visible graven image.
'I beg to ask my son, from motives of--ah--curiosity,' Mr Dorrit
observed, with a decided change in his manner, 'how he becomes
possessed of this--hum--timely information?'
'It's not a long story, sir,' returned Edward Dorrit, Esquire, 'and
you shall have it out of hand. To begin with, Mrs Merdle is the
lady you had the parley with at what's-his-name place.'
'Martigny,' interposed Miss Fanny with an air of infinite languor.
'Martigny,' assented her brother, with a slight nod and a slight
wink; in acknowledgment of which, Miss Fanny looked surprised, and
laughed and reddened.
'How can that be, Edward?' said Mr Dorrit. 'You informed me that
the name of the gentleman with whom you conferred was--ha--
Sparkler. Indeed, you showed me his card. Hum. Sparkler.'
'No doubt of it, father; but it doesn't follow that his mother's
name must be the same. Mrs Merdle was married before, and he is
her son. She is in Rome now; where probably we shall know more of
her, as you decide to winter there. Sparkler is just come here.
I passed last evening in company with Sparkler. Sparkler is a very
good fellow on the whole, though rather a bore on one subject, in
consequence of being tremendously smitten with a certain young
lady.' Here Edward Dorrit, Esquire, eyed Miss Fanny through his
glass across the table. 'We happened last night to compare notes
about our travels, and I had the information I have given you from
Sparkler himself.' Here he ceased; continuing to eye Miss Fanny
through his glass, with a face much twisted, and not ornamentally
so, in part by the action of keeping his glass in his eye, and in
part by the great subtlety of his smile.
'Under these circumstances,' said Mr Dorrit, 'I believe I express
the sentiments of--ha--Mrs General, no less than my own, when I say
that there is no objection, but--ha hum--quite the contrary--to
your gratifying your desire, Amy. I trust I may--ha--hail--this
desire,' said Mr Dorrit, in an encouraging and forgiving manner,
'as an auspicious omen. It is quite right to know these people.
It is a very proper thing. Mr Merdle's is a name of--ha--world-
wide repute. Mr Merdle's undertakings are immense. They bring him
in such vast sums of money that they are regarded as--hum--national
benefits. Mr Merdle is the man of this time. The name of Merdle
is the name of the age. Pray do everything on my behalf that is
civil to Mr and Mrs Gowan, for we will--ha--we will certainly
This magnificent accordance of Mr Dorrit's recognition settled the
matter. It was not observed that Uncle had pushed away his plate,
and forgotten his breakfast; but he was not much observed at any
time, except by Little Dorrit. The servants were recalled, and the
meal proceeded to its conclusion. Mrs General rose and left the
table. Little Dorrit rose and left the table. When Edward and
Fanny remained whispering together across it, and when Mr Dorrit
remained eating figs and reading a French newspaper, Uncle suddenly
fixed the attention of all three by rising out of his chair,
striking his hand upon the table, and saying, 'Brother! I protest
If he had made a proclamation in an unknown tongue, and given up
the ghost immediately afterwards, he could not have astounded his
audience more. The paper fell from Mr Dorrit's hand, and he sat
petrified, with a fig half way to his mouth.
'Brother!' said the old man, conveying a surprising energy into his
trembling voice, 'I protest against it! I love you; you know I
love you dearly. In these many years I have never been untrue to
you in a single thought. Weak as I am, I would at any time have
struck any man who spoke ill of you. But, brother, brother,
brother, I protest against it!'
It was extraordinary to see of what a burst of earnestness such a
decrepit man was capable. His eyes became bright, his grey hair
rose on his head, markings of purpose on his brow and face which
had faded from them for five-and-twenty years, started out again,
and there was an energy in his hand that made its action nervous
'My dear Frederick!' exclaimed Mr Dorrit faintly. 'What is wrong?
What is the matter?'
'How dare you,' said the old man, turning round on Fanny, 'how dare
you do it? Have you no memory? Have you no heart?'
'Uncle?' cried Fanny, affrighted and bursting into tears, 'why do
you attack me in this cruel manner? What have I done?'
'Done?' returned the old man, pointing to her sister's place,
'where's your affectionate invaluable friend? Where's your devoted
guardian? Where's your more than mother? How dare you set up
superiorities against all these characters combined in your sister?
For shame, you false girl, for shame!'
'I love Amy,' cried Miss Fanny, sobbing and weeping, 'as well as I
love my life--better than I love my life. I don't deserve to be so
treated. I am as grateful to Amy, and as fond of Amy, as it's
possible for any human being to be. I wish I was dead. I never
was so wickedly wronged. And only because I am anxious for the
'To the winds with the family credit!' cried the old man, with
great scorn and indignation. 'Brother, I protest against pride.
I protest against ingratitude. I protest against any one of us
here who have known what we have known, and have seen what we have
seen, setting up any pretension that puts Amy at a moment's
disadvantage, or to the cost of a moment's pain. We may know that
it's a base pretension by its having that effect. It ought to
bring a judgment on us. Brother, I protest against it in the sight
As his hand went up above his head and came down on the table, it
might have been a blacksmith's. After a few moments' silence, it
had relaxed into its usual weak condition. He went round to his
brother with his ordinary shuffling step, put the hand on his
shoulder, and said, in a softened voice, 'William, my dear, I felt
obliged to say it; forgive me, for I felt obliged to say it!' and
then went, in his bowed way, out of the palace hall, just as he
might have gone out of the Marshalsea room.
All this time Fanny had been sobbing and crying, and still
continued to do so. Edward, beyond opening his mouth in amazement,
had not opened his lips, and had done nothing but stare. Mr Dorrit
also had been utterly discomfited, and quite unable to assert
himself in any way. Fanny was now the first to speak.
'I never, never, never was so used!' she sobbed. 'There never was
anything so harsh and unjustifiable, so disgracefully violent and
cruel! Dear, kind, quiet little Amy, too, what would she feel if
she could know that she had been innocently the means of exposing
me to such treatment! But I'll never tell her! No, good darling,
I'll never tell her!'
This helped Mr Dorrit to break his silence.
'My dear,' said he, 'I--ha--approve of your resolution. It will
be--ha hum--much better not to speak of this to Amy. It might--
hum--it might distress her. Ha. No doubt it would distress her
greatly. It is considerate and right to avoid doing so. We will--
ha--keep this to ourselves.'
'But the cruelty of Uncle!' cried Miss Fanny. 'O, I never can
forgive the wanton cruelty of Uncle!'
'My dear,' said Mr Dorrit, recovering his tone, though he remained
unusually pale, 'I must request you not to say so. You must
remember that your uncle is--ha--not what he formerly was. You
must remember that your uncle's state requires--hum--great
forbearance from us, great forbearance.'
'I am sure,' cried Fanny, piteously, 'it is only charitable to
suppose that there Must be something wrong in him somewhere, or he
never could have so attacked Me, of all the people in the world.'
'Fanny,' returned Mr Dorrit in a deeply fraternal tone, 'you know,
with his innumerable good points, what a--hum--wreck your uncle is;
an(] I entreat you by the fondness that I have for him, and by the
fidelity that you know I have always shown him, to--ha--to draw
your own conclusions, and to spare my brotherly feelings.'
This ended the scene; Edward Dorrit, Esquire, saying nothing
throughout, but looking, to the last, perplexed and doubtful. Miss
Fanny awakened much affectionate uneasiness in her sister's mind
that day by passing the greater part of it in violent fits of
embracing her, and in alternately giving her brooches, and wishing
Something Right Somewhere
To be in the halting state of Mr Henry Gowan; to have left one of
two powers in disgust; to want the necessary qualifications for
finding promotion with another, and to be loitering moodily about
on neutral ground, cursing both; is to be in a situation
unwholesome for the mind, which time is not likely to improve. The
worst class of sum worked in the every-day world is cyphered by the
diseased arithmeticians who are always in the rule of Subtraction
as to the merits and successes of others, and never in Addition as
to their own.
The habit, too, of seeking some sort of recompense in the
discontented boast of being disappointed, is a habit fraught with
degeneracy. A certain idle carelessness and recklessness of
consistency soon comes of it. To bring deserving things down by
setting undeserving things up is one of its perverted delights; and
there is no playing fast and loose with the truth, in any game,
without growing the worse for it.
In his expressed opinions of all performances in the Art of
painting that were completely destitute of merit, Gowan was the
most liberal fellow on earth. He would declare such a man to have
more power in his little finger (provided he had none), than such
another had (provided he had much) in his whole mind and body. If
the objection were taken that the thing commended was trash, he
would reply, on behalf of his art, 'My good fellow, what do we all
turn out but trash? I turn out nothing else, and I make you a
present of the confession.'
To make a vaunt of being poor was another of the incidents of his
splenetic state, though this may have had the design in it of
showing that he ought to be rich; just as he would publicly laud
and decry the Barnacles, lest it should be forgotten that he
belonged to the family. Howbeit, these two subjects were very
often on his lips; and he managed them so well that he might have
praised himself by the month together, and not have made himself
out half so important a man as he did by his light disparagement of
his claims on anybody's consideration.
Out of this same airy talk of his, it always soon came to be
understood, wherever he and his wife went, that he had married
against the wishes of his exalted relations, and had had much ado
to prevail on them to countenance her. He never made the
representation, on the contrary seemed to laugh the idea to scorn;
but it did happen that, with all his pains to depreciate himself,
he was always in the superior position. From the days of their
honeymoon, Minnie Gowan felt sensible of being usually regarded as
the wife of a man who had made a descent in marrying her, but whose
chivalrous love for her had cancelled that inequality.
To Venice they had been accompanied by Monsieur Blandois of Paris,
and at Venice Monsieur Blandois of Paris was very much in the
society of Gowan. When they had first met this gallant gentleman
at Geneva, Gowan had been undecided whether to kick him or
encourage him; and had remained for about four-and-twenty hours, so
troubled to settle the point to his satisfaction, that he had
thought of tossing up a five-franc piece on the terms, 'Tails,
kick; heads, encourage,' and abiding by the voice of the oracle.
It chanced, however, that his wife expressed a dislike to the
engaging Blandois, and that the balance of feeling in the hotel was
against him. Upon it, Gowan resolved to encourage him.
Why this perversity, if it were not in a generous fit?--which it
was not. Why should Gowan, very much the superior of Blandois of
Paris, and very well able to pull that prepossessing gentleman to
pieces and find out the stuff he was made of, take up with such a
man? In the first place, he opposed the first separate wish he
observed in his wife, because her father had paid his debts and it
was desirable to take an early opportunity of asserting his
independence. In the second place, he opposed the prevalent
feeling, because with many capacities of being otherwise, he was an
ill-conditioned man. He found a pleasure in declaring that a
courtier with the refined manners of Blandois ought to rise to the
greatest distinction in any polished country. He found a pleasure
in setting up Blandois as the type of elegance, and making him a
satire upon others who piqued themselves on personal graces. He
seriously protested that the bow of Blandois was perfect, that the
address of Blandois was irresistible, and that the picturesque ease
of Blandois would be cheaply purchased (if it were not a gift, and
unpurchasable) for a hundred thousand francs. That exaggeration in
the manner of the man which has been noticed as appertaining to him
and to every such man, whatever his original breeding, as certainly
as the sun belongs to this system, was acceptable to Gowan as a
caricature, which he found it a humorous resource to have at hand
for the ridiculing of numbers of people who necessarily did more or
less of what Blandois overdid. Thus he had taken up with him; and
thus, negligently strengthening these inclinations with habit, and
idly deriving some amusement from his talk, he had glided into a
way of having him for a companion. This, though he supposed him to
live by his wits at play-tables and the like; though he suspected
him to be a coward, while he himself was daring and courageous;
though he thoroughly knew him to be disliked by Minnie; and though
he cared so little for him, after all, that if he had given her any
tangible personal cause to regard him with aversion, he would have
had no compunction whatever in flinging him out of the highest
window in Venice into the deepest water of the city.
Little Dorrit would have been glad to make her visit to Mrs Gowan,
alone; but as Fanny, who had not yet recovered from her Uncle's
protest, though it was four-and-twenty hours of age, pressingly
offered her company, the two sisters stepped together into one of
the gondolas under Mr Dorrit's window, and, with the courier in
attendance, were taken in high state to Mrs Gowan's lodging. In
truth, their state was rather too high for the lodging, which was,
as Fanny complained, 'fearfully out of the way,' and which took
them through a complexity of narrow streets of water, which the
same lady disparaged as 'mere ditches.'
The house, on a little desert island, looked as if it had broken
away from somewhere else, and had floated by chance into its
present anchorage in company with a vine almost as much in want of
training as the poor wretches who were lying under its leaves. The
features of the surrounding picture were, a church with hoarding
and scaffolding about it, which had been under suppositious repair
so long that the means of repair looked a hundred years old, and
had themselves fallen into decay; a quantity of washed linen,
spread to dry in the sun; a number of houses at odds with one
another and grotesquely out of the perpendicular, like rotten pre-
Adamite cheeses cut into fantastic shapes and full of mites; and a
feverish bewilderment of windows, with their lattice-blinds all
hanging askew, and something draggled and dirty dangling out of
most of them.
On the first-floor of the house was a Bank--a surprising experience
for any gentleman of commercial pursuits bringing laws for all
mankind from a British city--where two spare clerks, like dried
dragoons, in green velvet caps adorned with golden tassels, stood,
bearded, behind a small counter in a small room, containing no
other visible objects than an empty iron-safe with the door open,
a jug of water, and a papering of garland of roses; but who, on
lawful requisition, by merely dipping their hands out of sight,
could produce exhaustless mounds of five-franc pieces. Below the
Bank was a suite of three or four rooms with barred windows, which
had the appearance of a jail for criminal rats. Above the Bank was
Mrs Gowan's residence.
Notwithstanding that its walls were blotched, as if missionary maps
were bursting out of them to impart geographical knowledge;
notwithstanding that its weird furniture was forlornly faded and
musty, and that the prevailing Venetian odour of bilge water and an
ebb tide on a weedy shore was very strong; the place was better
within, than it promised. The door was opened by a smiling man
like a reformed assassin--a temporary servant--who ushered them
into the room where Mrs Gowan sat, with the announcement that two
beautiful English ladies were come to see the mistress.
Mrs Gowan, who was engaged in needlework, put her work aside in a
covered basket, and rose, a little hurriedly. Miss Fanny was
excessively courteous to her, and said the usual nothings with the
skill of a veteran.
'Papa was extremely sorry,' proceeded Fanny, 'to be engaged to-day
(he is so much engaged here, our acquaintance being so wretchedly
large!); and particularly requested me to bring his card for Mr
Gowan. That I may be sure to acquit myself of a commission which
he impressed upon me at least a dozen times, allow me to relieve my
conscience by placing it on the table at once.'
Which she did with veteran ease.
'We have been,' said Fanny, 'charmed to understand that you know
the Merdles. We hope it may be another means of bringing us
'They are friends,' said Mrs Gowan, 'of Mr Gowan's family. I have
not yet had the pleasure of a personal introduction to Mrs Merdle,
but I suppose I shall be presented to her at Rome.'
'Indeed?' returned Fanny, with an appearance of amiably quenching
her own superiority. 'I think you'll like her.'
'You know her very well?'
'Why, you see,' said Fanny, with a frank action of her pretty
shoulders, 'in London one knows every one. We met her on our way
here, and, to say the truth, papa was at first rather cross with
her for taking one of the rooms that our people had ordered for us.
However, of course, that soon blew over, and we were all good
Although the visit had as yet given Little Dorrit no opportunity of
conversing with Mrs Gowan, there was a silent understanding between
them, which did as well. She looked at Mrs Gowan with keen and
unabated interest; the sound of her voice was thrilling to her;
nothing that was near her, or about her, or at all concerned her,
escaped Little Dorrit. She was quicker to perceive the slightest
matter here, than in any other case--but one.
'You have been quite well,' she now said, 'since that night?'
'Quite, my dear. And you?'
'Oh! I am always well,' said Little Dorrit, timidly. 'I--yes,
There was no reason for her faltering and breaking off, other than
that Mrs Gowan had touched her hand in speaking to her, and their
looks had met. Something thoughtfully apprehensive in the large,
soft eyes, had checked Little Dorrit in an instant.
'You don't know that you are a favourite of my husband's, and that
I am almost bound to be jealous of you?' said Mrs Gowan.
Little Dorrit, blushing, shook her head.
'He will tell you, if he tells you what he tells me, that you are
quieter and quicker of resource than any one he ever saw.'
'He speaks far too well of me,' said Little Dorrit.
'I doubt that; but I don't at all doubt that I must tell him you
are here. I should never be forgiven, if I were to let you--and
Miss Dorrit--go, without doing so. May I? You can excuse the
disorder and discomfort of a painter's studio?'
The inquiries were addressed to Miss Fanny, who graciously replied
that she would be beyond anything interested and enchanted. Mrs
Gowan went to a door, looked in beyond it, and came back. 'Do
Henry the favour to come in,' said she, 'I knew he would be
The first object that confronted Little Dorrit, entering first, was
Blandois of Paris in a great cloak and a furtive slouched hat,
standing on a throne platform in a corner, as he had stood on the
Great Saint Bernard, when the warning arms seemed to be all
pointing up at him. She recoiled from this figure, as it smiled at
'Don't be alarmed,' said Gowan, coming from his easel behind the
door. 'It's only Blandois. He is doing duty as a model to-day.
I am making a study of him. It saves me money to turn him to some
use. We poor painters have none to spare.'
Blandois of Paris pulled off his slouched hat, and saluted the
ladies without coming out of his corner.
'A thousand pardons!' said he. 'But the Professore here is so
inexorable with me, that I am afraid to stir.'
'Don't stir, then,' said Gowan coolly, as the sisters approached
the easel. 'Let the ladies at least see the original of the daub,
that they may know what it's meant for. There he stands, you see.
A bravo waiting for his prey, a distinguished noble waiting to save
his country, the common enemy waiting to do somebody a bad turn, an
angelic messenger waiting to do somebody a good turn--whatever you
think he looks most like!'
'Say, Professore Mio, a poor gentleman waiting to do homage to
elegance and beauty,' remarked Blandois.
'Or say, Cattivo Soggetto Mio,' returned Gowan, touching the
painted face with his brush in the part where the real face had
moved, 'a murderer after the fact. Show that white hand of yours,
Blandois. Put it outside the cloak. Keep it still.'
Blandois' hand was unsteady; but he laughed, and that would
naturally shake it.
'He was formerly in some scuffle with another murderer, or with a
victim, you observe,' said Gowan, putting in the markings of the
hand with a quick, impatient, unskilful touch, 'and these are the
tokens of it. Outside the cloak, man!--Corpo di San Marco, what
are you thinking of?'
Blandois of Paris shook with a laugh again, so that his hand shook
more; now he raised it to twist his moustache, which had a damp
appearance; and now he stood in the required position, with a
little new swagger.
His face was so directed in reference to the spot where Little
Dorrit stood by the easel, that throughout he looked at her. Once
attracted by his peculiar eyes, she could not remove her own, and
they had looked at each other all the time. She trembled now;
Gowan, feeling it, and supposing her to be alarmed by the large dog
beside him, whose head she caressed in her hand, and who had just
uttered a low growl, glanced at her to say, 'He won't hurt you,
'I am not afraid of him,' she returned in the same breath; 'but
will you look at him?'
In a moment Gowan had thrown down his brush, and seized the dog
with both hands by the collar.
'Blandois! How can you be such a fool as to provoke him! By
Heaven, and the other place too, he'll tear you to bits! Lie down!
Lion! Do you hear my voice, you rebel!
'The great dog, regardless of being half-choked by his collar, was
obdurately pulling with his dead weight against his master,
resolved to get across the room. He had been crouching for a
spring at the moment when his master caught him.
'Lion! Lion!' He was up on his hind legs, and it was a wrestle
between master and dog. 'Get back! Down, Lion! Get out of his
sight, Blandois! What devil have you conjured into the dog?'
'I have done nothing to him.'
'Get out of his sight or I can't hold the wild beast! Get out of
the room! By my soul, he'll kill you!'
The dog, with a ferocious bark, made one other struggle as Blandois
vanished; then, in the moment of the dog's submission, the master,
little less angry than the dog, felled him with a blow on the head,
and standing over him, struck him many times severely with the heel
of his boot, so that his mouth was presently bloody.
'Now get you into that corner and lie down,' said Gowan, 'or I'll
take you out and shoot you.'
Lion did as he was ordered, and lay down licking his mouth and
chest. Lion's master stopped for a moment to take breath, and
then, recovering his usual coolness of manner, turned to speak to
his frightened wife and her visitors. Probably the whole
occurrence had not occupied two minutes.
'Come, come, Minnie! You know he is always good-humoured and
tractable. Blandois must have irritated him,--made faces at him.
The dog has his likings and dislikings, and Blandois is no great
favourite of his; but I am sure you will give him a character,
Minnie, for never having been like this before.'
Minnie was too much disturbed to say anything connected in reply;
Little Dorrit was already occupied in soothing her; Fanny, who had
cried out twice or thrice, held Gowan's arm for protection; Lion,
deeply ashamed of having caused them this alarm, came trailing
himself along the ground to the feet of his mistress.
'You furious brute,' said Gowan, striking him with his foot again.
'You shall do penance for this.' And he struck him again, and yet
'O, pray don't punish him any more,' cried Little Dorrit. 'Don't
hurt him. See how gentle he is!' At her entreaty, Gowan spared
him; and he deserved her intercession, for truly he was as
submissive, and as sorry, and as wretched as a dog could be.
It was not easy to recover this shock and make the visit
unrestrained, even though Fanny had not been, under the best of
circumstances, the least trifle in the way. In such further
communication as passed among them before the sisters took their
departure, Little Dorrit fancied it was revealed to her that Mr
Gowan treated his wife, even in his very fondness, too much like a
beautiful child. He seemed so unsuspicious of the depths of
feeling which she knew must lie below that surface, that she
doubted if there could be any such depths in himself. She wondered
whether his want of earnestness might be the natural result of his
want of such qualities, and whether it was with people as with
ships, that, in too shallow and rocky waters, their anchors had no
hold, and they drifted anywhere.
He attended them down the staircase, jocosely apologising for the
poor quarters to which such poor fellows as himself were limited,
and remarking that when the high and mighty Barnacles, his
relatives, who would be dreadfully ashamed of them, presented him
with better, he would live in better to oblige them. At the
water's edge they were saluted by Blandois, who looked white enough
after his late adventure, but who made very light of it
notwithstanding,--laughing at the mention of Lion.
Leaving the two together under the scrap of vine upon the causeway,
Gowan idly scattering the leaves from it into the water, and
Blandois lighting a cigarette, the sisters were paddled away in
state as they had come. They had not glided on for many minutes,
when Little Dorrit became aware that Fanny was more showy in manner
than the occasion appeared to require, and, looking about for the
cause through the window and through the open door, saw another
gondola evidently in waiting on them.
As this gondola attended their progress in various artful ways;
sometimes shooting on a-head, and stopping to let them pass;
sometimes, when the way was broad enough, skimming along side by
side with them; and sometimes following close astern; and as Fanny
gradually made no disguise that she was playing off graces upon
somebody within it, of whom she at the same time feigned to be
unconscious; Little Dorrit at length asked who it was?
To which Fanny made the short answer, 'That gaby.'
'Who?' said Little Dorrit.
'My dear child,' returned Fanny (in a tone suggesting that before
her Uncle's protest she might have said, You little fool, instead),
'how slow you are! Young Sparkler.'
She lowered the window on her side, and, leaning back and resting
her elbow on it negligently, fanned herself with a rich Spanish fan
of black and gold. The attendant gondola, having skimmed forward
again, with some swift trace of an eye in the
window, Fanny laughed coquettishly and said, 'Did you ever see such
a fool, my love?'
'Do you think he means to follow you all the way?' asked Little
'My precious child,' returned Fanny, 'I can't possibly answer for
what an idiot in a state of desperation may do, but I should think
it highly probable. It's not such an enormous distance. All
Venice would scarcely be that, I imagine, if he's dying for a
glimpse of me.'
'And is he?' asked Little Dorrit in perfect simplicity.
'Well, my love, that really is an awkward question for me to
answer,' said her sister. 'I believe he is. You had better ask
Edward. He tells Edward he is, I believe. I understand he makes
a perfect spectacle of himself at the Casino, and that sort of
places, by going on about me. But you had better ask Edward if you
want to know.'
'I wonder he doesn't call,' said Little Dorrit after thinking a
'My dear Amy, your wonder will soon cease, if I am rightly
informed. I should not be at all surprised if he called to-day.
The creature has only been waiting to get his courage up, I
'Will you see him?'
'Indeed, my darling,' said Fanny, 'that's just as it may happen.
Here he is again. Look at him. O, you simpleton!'
Mr Sparkler had, undeniably, a weak appearance; with his eye in the
window like a knot in the glass, and no reason on earth for
stopping his bark suddenly, except the real reason.
'When you asked me if I will see him, my dear,' said Fanny, almost
as well composed in the graceful indifference of her attitude as
Mrs Merdle herself, 'what do you mean?'
'I mean,' said Little Dorrit--'I think I rather mean what do you
mean, dear Fanny?'
Fanny laughed again, in a manner at once condescending, arch, and
affable; and said, putting her arm round her sister in a playfully
'Now tell me, my little pet. When we saw that woman at Martigny,
how did you think she carried it off? Did you see what she decided
on in a moment?'
'Then I'll tell you, Amy. She settled with herself, now I'll never
refer to that meeting under such different circumstances, and I'll
never pretend to have any idea that these are the same girls.
That's her way out of a difficulty. What did I tell you when we
came away from Harley Street that time? She is as insolent and
false as any woman in the world. But in the first capacity, my
love, she may find people who can match her.'
A significant turn of the Spanish fan towards Fanny's bosom,
indicated with great expression where one of these people was to be
'Not only that,' pursued Fanny, 'but she gives the same charge to
Young Sparkler; and doesn't let him come after me until she has got
it thoroughly into his most ridiculous of all ridiculous noddles
(for one really can't call it a head), that he is to pretend to
have been first struck with me in that Inn Yard.'
'Why?' asked Little Dorrit.
'Why? Good gracious, my love!' (again very much in the tone of You
stupid little creature) 'how can you ask? Don't you see that I may
have become a rather desirable match for a noddle? And don't you
see that she puts the deception upon us, and makes a pretence,
while she shifts it from her own shoulders (very good shoulders
they are too, I must say),' observed Miss Fanny, glancing
complacently at herself, 'of considering our feelings?'
'But we can always go back to the plain truth.'
'Yes, but if you please we won't,' retorted Fanny. 'No; I am not
going to have that done, Amy. The pretext is none of mine; it's
hers, and she shall have enough of it.'
In the triumphant exaltation of her feelings, Miss Fanny, using her
Spanish fan with one hand, squeezed her sister's waist with the
other, as if she were crushing Mrs Merdle.
'No,' repeated Fanny. 'She shall find me go her way. She took it,
and I'll follow it. And, with the blessing of fate and fortune,
I'll go on improving that woman's acquaintance until I have given
her maid, before her eyes, things from my dressmaker's ten times as
handsome and expensive as she once gave me from hers!'
Little Dorrit was silent; sensible that she was not to be heard on
any question affecting the family dignity, and unwilling to lose to
no purpose her sister's newly and unexpectedly restored favour.
She could not concur, but she was silent. Fanny well knew what she
was thinking of; so well, that she soon asked her.
Her reply was, 'Do you mean to encourage Mr Sparkler, Fanny?'
'Encourage him, my dear?' said her sister, smiling contemptuously,
'that depends upon what you call encourage. No, I don't mean to
encourage him. But I'll make a slave of him.'
Little Dorrit glanced seriously and doubtfully in her face, but
Fanny was not to be so brought to a check. She furled her fan of
black and gold, and used it to tap her sister's nose; with the air
of a proud beauty and a great spirit, who toyed with and playfully
instructed a homely companion.
'I shall make him fetch and carry, my dear, and I shall make him
subject to me. And if I don't make his mother subject to me, too,
it shall not be my fault.'
'Do you think--dear Fanny, don't be offended, we are so comfortable
together now--that you can quite see the end of that course?'
'I can't say I have so much as looked for it yet, my dear,'
answered Fanny, with supreme indifference; 'all in good time. Such
are my intentions. And really they have taken me so long to
develop, that here we are at home. And Young Sparkler at the door,
inquiring who is within. By the merest accident, of course!'
In effect, the swain was standing up in his gondola, card-case in
hand, affecting to put the question to a servant. This conjunction
of circumstances led to his immediately afterwards presenting
himself before the young ladies in a posture, which in ancient
times would not have been considered one of favourable augury for
his suit; since the gondoliers of the young ladies, having been put
to some inconvenience by the chase, so neatly brought their own
boat in the gentlest collision with the bark of Mr Sparkler, as to
tip that gentleman over like a larger species of ninepin, and cause
him to exhibit the soles of his shoes to the object of his dearest
wishes: while the nobler portions of his anatomy struggled at the
bottom of his boat in the arms of one of his men.
However, as Miss Fanny called out with much concern, Was the
gentleman hurt, Mr Sparkler rose more restored than might have been
expected, and stammered for himself with blushes, 'Not at all so.'
Miss Fanny had no recollection of having ever seen him before, and
was passing on, with a distant inclination of her head, when he
announced himself by name. Even then she was in a difficulty from
being unable to call it to mind, until he explained that he had had
the honour of seeing her at Martigny. Then she remembered him, and
hoped his lady-mother was well.
'Thank you,' stammered Mr Sparkler, 'she's uncommonly well--at
'In Venice?' said Miss Fanny.
'In Rome,' Mr Sparkler answered. 'I am here by myself, myself. I
came to call upon Mr Edward Dorrit myself. Indeed, upon Mr Dorrit
likewise. In fact, upon the family.'
Turning graciously to the attendants, Miss Fanny inquired whether
her papa or brother was within? The reply being that they were
both within, Mr Sparkler humbly offered his arm. Miss Fanny
accepting it, was squired up the great staircase by Mr Sparkler,
who, if he still believed (which there is not any reason to doubt)
that she had no nonsense about her, rather deceived himself.
Arrived in a mouldering reception-room, where the faded hangings,
of a sad sea-green, had worn and withered until they looked as if
they might have claimed kindred with the waifs of seaweed drifting
under the windows, or clinging to the walls and weeping for their
imprisoned relations, Miss Fanny despatched emissaries for her
father and brother. Pending whose appearance, she showed to great
advantage on a sofa, completing Mr Sparkler's conquest with some
remarks upon Dante--known to that gentleman as an eccentric man in
the nature of an Old File, who used to put leaves round his head,
and sit upon a stool for some unaccountable purpose, outside the
cathedral at Florence.
Mr Dorrit welcomed the visitor with the highest urbanity, and most
courtly manners. He inquired particularly after Mrs Merdle. He
inquired particularly after Mr Merdle. Mr Sparkler said, or rather
twitched out of himself in small pieces by the shirt-collar, that
Mrs Merdle having completely used up her place in the country, and
also her house at Brighton, and being, of course, unable, don't you
see, to remain in London when there wasn't a soul there, and not
feeling herself this year quite up to visiting about at people's
places, had resolved to have a touch at Rome, where a woman like
herself, with a proverbially fine appearance, and with no nonsense
about her, couldn't fail to be a great acquisition. As to Mr
Merdle, he was so much wanted by the men in the City and the rest
of those places, and was such a doosed extraordinary phenomenon in
Buying and Banking and that, that Mr Sparkler doubted if the
monetary system of the country would be able to spare him; though
that his work was occasionally one too many for him, and that he
would be all the better for a temporary shy at an entirely new
scene and climate, Mr Sparkler did not conceal. As to himself, Mr
Sparkler conveyed to the Dorrit family that he was going, on rather
particular business, wherever they were going.
This immense conversational achievement required time, but was
effected. Being effected, Mr Dorrit expressed his hope that Mr
Sparkler would shortly dine with them. Mr Sparkler received the
idea so kindly that Mr Dorrit asked what he was going to do that
day, for instance? As he was going to do nothing that day (his
usual occupation, and one for which he was particularly qualified),
he was secured without postponement; being further bound over to
accompany the ladies to the Opera in the evening.
At dinner-time Mr Sparkler rose out of the sea, like Venus's son
taking after his mother, and made a splendid appearance ascending
the great staircase. If Fanny had been charming in the morning,
she was now thrice charming, very becomingly dressed in her most
suitable colours, and with an air of negligence upon her that
doubled Mr Sparkler's fetters, and riveted them.
'I hear you are acquainted, Mr Sparkler,' said his host at dinner,
'with--ha--Mr Gowan. Mr Henry Gowan?'
'Perfectly, sir,' returned Mr Sparkler. 'His mother and my mother
are cronies in fact.'
'If I had thought of it, Amy,' said Mr Dorrit, with a patronage as
magnificent as that of Lord Decimus himself, 'you should have
despatched a note to them, asking them to dine to-day. Some of our
people could have--ha--fetched them, and taken them home. We could
have spared a--hum--gondola for that purpose. I am sorry to have
forgotten this. Pray remind me of them to-morrow.'
Little Dorrit was not without doubts how Mr Henry Gowan might take
their patronage; but she promised not to fail in the reminder.
'Pray, does Mr Henry Gowan paint--ha--Portraits?' inquired Mr
Mr Sparkler opined that he painted anything, if he could get the
'He has no particular walk?' said Mr Dorrit.
Mr Sparkler, stimulated by Love to brilliancy, replied that for a
particular walk a man ought to have a particular pair of shoes; as,
for example, shooting, shooting-shoes; cricket, cricket-shoes.
Whereas, he believed that Henry Gowan had no particular pair of
'No speciality?' said Mr Dorrit.
This being a very long word for Mr Sparkler, and his mind being
exhausted by his late effort, he replied, 'No, thank you. I seldom
'Well!' said Mr Dorrit. 'It would be very agreeable to me to
present a gentleman so connected, with some--ha--Testimonial of my
desire to further his interests, and develop the--hum--germs of his
genius. I think I must engage Mr Gowan to paint my picture. If
the result should be--ha--mutually satisfactory, I might afterwards
engage him to try his hand upon my family.'
The exquisitely bold and original thought presented itself to Mr
Sparkler, that there was an opening here for saying there were some
of the family (emphasising 'some' in a marked manner) to whom no
painter could render justice. But, for want of a form of words in
which to express the idea, it returned to the skies.
This was the more to be regretted as Miss Fanny greatly applauded
the notion of the portrait, and urged her papa to act upon it. She
surmised, she said, that Mr Gowan had lost better and higher
opportunities by marrying his pretty wife; and Love in a cottage,
painting pictures for dinner, was so delightfully interesting, that
she begged her papa to give him the commission whether he could
paint a likeness or not: though indeed both she and Amy knew he
could, from having seen a speaking likeness on his easel that day,
and having had the opportunity of comparing it with the original.
These remarks made Mr Sparkler (as perhaps they were intended to
do) nearly distracted; for while on the one hand they expressed
Miss Fanny's susceptibility of the tender passion, she herself
showed such an innocent unconsciousness of his admiration that his
eyes goggled in his head with jealousy of an unknown rival.
Descending into the sea again after dinner, and ascending out of it
at the Opera staircase, preceded by one of their gondoliers, like
an attendant Merman, with a great linen lantern, they entered their
box, and Mr Sparkler entered on an evening of agony. The theatre
being dark, and the box light, several visitors lounged in during
the representation; in whom Fanny was so interested, and in
conversation with whom she fell into such charming attitudes, as
she had little confidences with them, and little disputes
concerning the identity of people in distant boxes, that the
wretched Sparkler hated all mankind. But he had two consolations
at the close of the performance. She gave him her fan to hold
while she adjusted her cloak, and it was his blessed privilege to
give her his arm down-stairs again. These crumbs of encouragement,
Mr Sparkler thought, would just keep him going; and it is not
impossible that Miss Dorrit thought so too.
The Merman with his light was ready at the box-door, and other
Mermen with other lights were ready at many of the doors. The
Dorrit Merman held his lantern low, to show the steps, and Mr
Sparkler put on another heavy set of fetters over his former set,
as he watched her radiant feet twinkling down the stairs beside
him. Among the loiterers here, was Blandois of Paris. He spoke,
and moved forward beside Fanny.
Little Dorrit was in front with her brother and Mrs General (Mr
Dorrit had remained at home), but on the brink of the quay they all
came together. She started again to find Blandois close to her,
handing Fanny into the boat.
'Gowan has had a loss,' he said, 'since he was made happy to-day by
a visit from fair ladies.'
'A loss?' repeated Fanny, relinquished by the bereaved Sparkler,
and taking her seat.
'A loss,' said Blandois. 'His dog Lion.'
Little Dorrit's hand was in his, as he spoke.
'He is dead,' said Blandois.
'Dead?' echoed Little Dorrit. 'That noble dog?'
'Faith, dear ladies!' said Blandois, smiling and shrugging his
shoulders, 'somebody has poisoned that noble dog. He is as dead as
Mostly, Prunes and Prism
Mrs General, always on her coach-box keeping the proprieties well
together, took pains to form a surface on her very dear young
friend, and Mrs General's very dear young friend tried hard to
receive it. Hard as she had tried in her laborious life to attain
many ends, she had never tried harder than she did now, to be
varnished by Mrs General. It made her anxious and ill at ease to
be operated upon by that smoothing hand, it is true; but she
submitted herself to the family want in its greatness as she had
submitted herself to the family want in its littleness, and yielded
to her own inclinations in this thing no more than she had yielded
to her hunger itself, in the days when she had saved her dinner
that her father might have his supper.
One comfort that she had under the Ordeal by General was more
sustaining to her, and made her more grateful than to a less
devoted and affectionate spirit, not habituated to her struggles
and sacrifices, might appear quite reasonable; and, indeed, it may
often be observed in life, that spirits like Little Dorrit do not
appear to reason half as carefully as the folks who get the better
of them. The continued kindness of her sister was this comfort to
Little Dorrit. It was nothing to her that the kindness took the
form of tolerant patronage; she was used to that. It was nothing
to her that it kept her in a tributary position, and showed her in
attendance on the flaming car in which Miss Fanny sat on an
elevated seat, exacting homage; she sought no better place. Always
admiring Fanny's beauty, and grace, and readiness, and not now
asking herself how much of her disposition to be strongly attached
to Fanny was due to her own heart, and how much to Fanny's, she
gave her all the sisterly fondness her great heart contained.
The wholesale amount of Prunes and Prism which Mrs General infused
into the family life, combined with the perpetual plunges made by
Fanny into society, left but a very small residue of any natural
deposit at the bottom of the mixture. This rendered confidences
with Fanny doubly precious to Little Dorrit, and heightened the
relief they afforded her.
'Amy,' said Fanny to her one night when they were alone, after a
day so tiring that Little Dorrit was quite worn out, though Fanny
would have taken another dip into society with the greatest
pleasure in life, 'I am going to put something into your little
head. You won't guess what it is, I suspect.'
'I don't think that's likely, dear,' said Little Dorrit.
'Come, I'll give you a clue, child,' said Fanny. 'Mrs General.'
Prunes and Prism, in a thousand combinations, having been wearily
in the ascendant all day--everything having been surface and
varnish and show without substance--Little Dorrit looked as if she
had hoped that Mrs General was safely tucked up in bed for some
'Now, can you guess, Amy?' said Fanny.
'No, dear. Unless I have done anything,' said Little Dorrit,
rather alarmed, and meaning anything calculated to crack varnish
and ruffle surface.
Fanny was so very much amused by the misgiving, that she took up
her favourite fan (being then seated at her dressing-table with her
armoury of cruel instruments about her, most of them reeking from
the heart of Sparkler), and tapped her sister frequently on the
nose with it, laughing all the time.
'Oh, our Amy, our Amy!' said Fanny. 'What a timid little goose our
Amy is! But this is nothing to laugh at. On the contrary, I am
very cross, my dear.'
'As it is not with me, Fanny, I don't mind,' returned her sister,
'Ah! But I do mind,' said Fanny, 'and so will you, Pet, when I
enlighten you. Amy, has it never struck you that somebody is
monstrously polite to Mrs General?'
'Everybody is polite to Mrs General,' said Little Dorrit.
'Because she freezes them into it?' interrupted Fanny. 'I don't
mean that; quite different from that. Come! Has it never struck
you, Amy, that Pa is monstrously polite to Mrs General.'
Amy, murmuring 'No,' looked quite confounded.
'No; I dare say not. But he is,' said Fanny. 'He is, Amy. And
remember my words. Mrs General has designs on Pa!'
'Dear Fanny, do you think it possible that Mrs General has designs
on any one?'
'Do I think it possible?' retorted Fanny. 'My love, I know it. I
tell you she has designs on Pa. And more than that, I tell you Pa
considers her such a wonder, such a paragon of accomplishment, and
such an acquisition to our family, that he is ready to get himself
into a state of perfect infatuation with her at any moment. And
that opens a pretty picture of things, I hope? Think of me with
Mrs General for a Mama!'
Little Dorrit did not reply, 'Think of me with Mrs General for a
Mama;' but she looked anxious, and seriously inquired what had led
Fanny to these conclusions.
'Lord, my darling,' said Fanny, tartly. 'You might as well ask me
how I know when a man is struck with myself! But, of course I do
know. It happens pretty often: but I always know it. I know this
in much the same way, I suppose. At all events, I know it.'
'You never heard Papa say anything?'
'Say anything?' repeated Fanny. 'My dearest, darling child, what
necessity has he had, yet awhile, to say anything?'
'And you have never heard Mrs General say anything?'
'My goodness me, Amy,' returned Fanny, 'is she the sort of woman to
say anything? Isn't it perfectly plain and clear that she has
nothing to do at present but to hold herself upright, keep her
aggravating gloves on, and go sweeping about? Say anything! If
she had the ace of trumps in her hand at whist, she wouldn't say
anything, child. It would come out when she played it.'
'At least, you may be mistaken, Fanny. Now, may you not?'
'O yes, I MAY be,' said Fanny, 'but I am not. However, I am glad
you can contemplate such an escape, my dear, and I am glad that you
can take this for the present with sufficient coolness to think of
such a chance. It makes me hope that you may be able to bear the
connection. I should not be able to bear it, and I should not try.
I'd marry young Sparkler first.'
'O, you would never marry him, Fanny, under any circumstances.'
'Upon my word, my dear,' rejoined that young lady with exceeding
indifference, 'I wouldn't positively answer even for that. There's
no knowing what might happen. Especially as I should have many
opportunities, afterwards, of treating that woman, his mother, in
her own style. Which I most decidedly should not be slow to avail
myself of, Amy.'
No more passed between the sisters then; but what had passed gave
the two subjects of Mrs General and Mr Sparkler great prominence in
Little Dorrit's mind, and thenceforth she thought very much of
Mrs General, having long ago formed her own surface to such
perfection that it hid whatever was below it (if anything), no
observation was to be made in that quarter. Mr Dorrit was
undeniably very polite to her and had a high opinion of her; but
Fanny, impetuous at most times, might easily be wrong for all that.
Whereas, the Sparkler question was on the different footing that
any one could see what was going on there, and Little Dorrit saw it
and pondered on it with many doubts and wonderings.
The devotion of Mr Sparkler was only to be equalled by the caprice
and cruelty of his enslaver. Sometimes she would prefer him to
such distinction of notice, that he would chuckle aloud with joy;
next day, or next hour, she would overlook him so completely, and
drop him into such an abyss of obscurity, that he would groan under
a weak pretence of coughing. The constancy of his attendance never
touched Fanny: though he was so inseparable from Edward, that, when
that gentleman wished for a change of society, he was under the
irksome necessity of gliding out like a conspirator in disguised
boats and by secret doors and back ways; though he was so
solicitous to know how Mr Dorrit was, that he called every other
day to inquire, as if Mr Dorrit were the prey of an intermittent
fever; though he was so constantly being paddled up and down before
the principal windows, that he might have been supposed to have
made a wager for a large stake to be paddled a thousand miles in a
thousand hours; though whenever the gondola of his mistress left
the gate, the gondola of Mr Sparkler shot out from some watery
ambush and gave chase, as if she were a fair smuggler and he a
custom-house officer. It was probably owing to this fortification
of the natural strength of his constitution with so much exposure
to the air, and the salt sea, that Mr Sparkler did not pine
outwardly; but, whatever the cause, he was so far from having any
prospect of moving his mistress by a languishing state of health,
that he grew bluffer every day, and that peculiarity in his
appearance of seeming rather a swelled boy than a young man, became
developed to an extraordinary degree of ruddy puffiness.
Blandois calling to pay his respects, Mr Dorrit received him with
affability as the friend of Mr Gowan, and mentioned to him his idea
of commissioning Mr Gowan to transmit him to posterity. Blandois
highly extolling it, it occurred to Mr Dorrit that it might be
agreeable to Blandois to communicate to his friend the great
opportunity reserved for him. Blandois accepted the commission
with his own free elegance of manner, and swore he would discharge
it before he was an hour older. On his imparting the news to
Gowan, that Master gave Mr Dorrit to the Devil with great
liberality some round dozen of times (for he resented patronage
almost as much as he resented the want of it), and was inclined to
quarrel with his friend for bringing him the message.
'It may be a defect in my mental vision, Blandois,' said he, 'but
may I die if I see what you have to do with this.'
'Death of my life,' replied Blandois, 'nor I neither, except that
I thought I was serving my friend.'
'By putting an upstart's hire in his pocket?' said Gowan, frowning.
'Do you mean that? Tell your other friend to get his head painted
for the sign of some public-house, and to get it done by a sign-
painter. Who am I, and who is he?'
'Professore,' returned the ambassador, 'and who is Blandois?'
Without appearing at all interested in the latter question, Gowan
angrily whistled Mr Dorrit away. But, next day, he resumed the
subject by saying in his off-hand manner and with a slighting
laugh, 'Well, Blandois, when shall we go to this Maecenas of yours?
We journeymen must take jobs when we can get them. When shall we
go and look after this job?'
'When you will,' said the injured Blandois, 'as you please. What
have I to do with it? What is it to me?'
'I can tell you what it is to me,' said Gowan. 'Bread and cheese.
One must eat! So come along, my Blandois.'
Mr Dorrit received them in the presence of his daughters and of Mr
Sparkler, who happened, by some surprising accident, to be calling
there. 'How are you, Sparkler?' said Gowan carelessly. 'When you
have to live by your mother wit, old boy, I hope you may get on
better than I do.'
Mr Dorrit then mentioned his proposal. 'Sir,' said Gowan,
laughing, after receiving it gracefully enough, 'I am new to the
trade, and not expert at its mysteries. I believe I ought to look
at you in various lights, tell you you are a capital subject, and
consider when I shall be sufficiently disengaged to devote myself
with the necessary enthusiasm to the fine picture I mean to make of
you. I assure you,' and he laughed again, 'I feel quite a traitor
in the camp of those dear, gifted, good, noble fellows, my brother
artists, by not doing the hocus-pocus better. But I have not been
brought up to it, and it's too late to learn it. Now, the fact is,
I am a very bad painter, but not much worse than the generality.
If you are going to throw away a hundred guineas or so, I am as
poor as a poor relation of great people usually is, and I shall be
very much obliged to you, if you'll throw them away upon me. I'll
do the best I can for the money; and if the best should be bad, why
even then, you may probably have a bad picture with a small name to
it, instead of a bad picture with a large name to it.'
This tone, though not what he had expected, on the whole suited Mr
Dorrit remarkably well. It showed that the gentleman, highly
connected, and not a mere workman, would be under an obligation to
him. He expressed his satisfaction in placing himself in Mr
Gowan's hands, and trusted that he would have the pleasure, in
their characters of private gentlemen, of improving his
'You are very good,' said Gowan. 'I have not forsworn society
since I joined the brotherhood of the brush (the most delightful
fellows on the face of the earth), and am glad enough to smell the
old fine gunpowder now and then, though it did blow me into mid-air
and my present calling. You'll not think, Mr Dorrit,' and here he
laughed again in the easiest way, 'that I am lapsing into the
freemasonry of the craft--for it's not so; upon my life I can't
help betraying it wherever I go, though, by Jupiter, I love and
honour the craft with all my might--if I propose a stipulation as
to time and place?'
Ha! Mr Dorrit could erect no--hum--suspicion of that kind on Mr
'Again you are very good,' said Gowan. 'Mr Dorrit, I hear you are
going to Rome. I am going to Rome, having friends there. Let me
begin to do you the injustice I have conspired to do you, there--
not here. We shall all be hurried during the rest of our stay
here; and though there's not a poorer man with whole elbows in
Venice, than myself, I have not quite got all the Amateur out of me
yet--comprising the trade again, you see!--and can't fall on to
order, in a hurry, for the mere sake of the sixpences.'
These remarks were not less favourably received by Mr Dorrit than
their predecessors. They were the prelude to the first reception
of Mr and Mrs Gowan at dinner, and they skilfully placed Gowan on
his usual ground in the new family.
His wife, too, they placed on her usual ground. Miss Fanny
understood, with particular distinctness, that Mrs Gowan's good
looks had cost her husband very dear; that there had been a great
disturbance about her in the Barnacle family; and that the Dowager
Mrs Gowan, nearly heart-broken, had resolutely set her face against
the marriage until overpowered by her maternal feelings. Mrs
General likewise clearly understood that the attachment had
occasioned much family grief and dissension. Of honest Mr Meagles
no mention was made; except that it was natural enough that a
person of that sort should wish to raise his daughter out of his
own obscurity, and that no one could blame him for trying his best