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Little Dorrit

Little Dorrit

Little Dorrit/10

CHAPTER 9. Little Mother

The morning light was in no hurry to climb the prison wall and look inat the Snuggery windows; and when it did come, it would have been morewelcome if it had come alone, instead of bringing a rush of rain withit. But the equinoctial gales were blowing out at sea, and the impartialsouth-west wind, in its flight, would not neglect even the narrowMarshalsea. While it roared through the steeple of St George's Church,and twirled all the cowls in the neighbourhood, it made a swoop to beatthe Southwark smoke into the jail; and, plunging down the chimneysof the few early collegians who were yet lighting their fires, halfsuffocated them.

Arthur Clennam would have been little disposed to linger in bed, thoughhis bed had been in a more private situation, and less affected by theraking out of yesterday's fire, the kindling of to-day's under thecollegiate boiler, the filling of that Spartan vessel at the pump, thesweeping and sawdusting of the common room, and other such preparations.Heartily glad to see the morning, though little rested by the night, heturned out as soon as he could distinguish objects about him, and pacedthe yard for two heavy hours before the gate was opened.

The walls were so near to one another, and the wild clouds hurriedover them so fast, that it gave him a sensation like the beginning ofsea-sickness to look up at the gusty sky. The rain, carried aslant byflaws of wind, blackened that side of the central building which he hadvisited last night, but left a narrow dry trough under the lee of thewall, where he walked up and down among the waits of straw and dustand paper, the waste droppings of the pump, and the stray leaves ofyesterday's greens. It was as haggard a view of life as a man need lookupon.

Nor was it relieved by any glimpse of the little creature who hadbrought him there. Perhaps she glided out of her doorway and in at thatwhere her father lived, while his face was turned from both; but he sawnothing of her. It was too early for her brother; to have seen him once,was to have seen enough of him to know that he would be sluggish toleave whatever frowsy bed he occupied at night; so, as Arthur Clennamwalked up and down, waiting for the gate to open, he cast about inhis mind for future rather than for present means of pursuing hisdiscoveries.

At last the lodge-gate turned, and the turnkey, standing on the step,taking an early comb at his hair, was ready to let him out. With ajoyful sense of release he passed through the lodge, and found himselfagain in the little outer court-yard where he had spoken to the brotherlast night.

There was a string of people already straggling in, whom it was notdifficult to identify as the nondescript messengers, go-betweens, anderrand-bearers of the place. Some of them had been lounging in the rainuntil the gate should open; others, who had timed their arrivalwith greater nicety, were coming up now, and passing in with dampwhitey-brown paper bags from the grocers, loaves of bread, lumps ofbutter, eggs, milk, and the like. The shabbiness of these attendantsupon shabbiness, the poverty of these insolvent waiters upon insolvency,was a sight to see. Such threadbare coats and trousers, such fusty gownsand shawls, such squashed hats and bonnets, such boots and shoes, suchumbrellas and walking-sticks, never were seen in Rag Fair. All ofthem wore the cast-off clothes of other men and women, were made up ofpatches and pieces of other people's individuality, and had no sartorialexistence of their own proper. Their walk was the walk of a race apart.They had a peculiar way of doggedly slinking round the corner, as ifthey were eternally going to the pawnbroker's. When they coughed, theycoughed like people accustomed to be forgotten on doorsteps and indraughty passages, waiting for answers to letters in faded ink, whichgave the recipients of those manuscripts great mental disturbance and nosatisfaction. As they eyed the stranger in passing, they eyed him withborrowing eyes--hungry, sharp, speculative as to his softness if theywere accredited to him, and the likelihood of his standing somethinghandsome. Mendicity on commission stooped in their high shoulders,shambled in their unsteady legs, buttoned and pinned and darned anddragged their clothes, frayed their button-holes, leaked out of theirfigures in dirty little ends of tape, and issued from their mouths inalcoholic breathings.

As these people passed him standing still in the court-yard, and one ofthem turned back to inquire if he could assist him with his services,it came into Arthur Clennam's mind that he would speak to Little Dorritagain before he went away. She would have recovered her first surprise,and might feel easier with him. He asked this member of the fraternity(who had two red herrings in his hand, and a loaf and a blacking brushunder his arm), where was the nearest place to get a cup of coffeeat. The nondescript replied in encouraging terms, and brought him to acoffee-shop in the street within a stone's throw.

'Do you know Miss Dorrit?' asked the new client.

The nondescript knew two Miss Dorrits; one who was born inside--That wasthe one! That was the one? The nondescript had known her many years.In regard of the other Miss Dorrit, the nondescript lodged in the samehouse with herself and uncle.

This changed the client's half-formed design of remaining at thecoffee-shop until the nondescript should bring him word that Dorrithad issued forth into the street. He entrusted the nondescript with aconfidential message to her, importing that the visitor who had waitedon her father last night, begged the favour of a few words with her ather uncle's lodging; he obtained from the same source full directions tothe house, which was very near; dismissed the nondescript gratified withhalf-a-crown; and having hastily refreshed himself at the coffee-shop,repaired with all speed to the clarionet-player's dwelling.

There were so many lodgers in this house that the doorpost seemed to beas full of bell-handles as a cathedral organ is of stops. Doubtfulwhich might be the clarionet-stop, he was considering the point, when ashuttlecock flew out of the parlour window, and alighted on his hat.He then observed that in the parlour window was a blind with theinscription, MR CRIPPLES's ACADEMY; also in another line, EVENINGTUITION; and behind the blind was a little white-faced boy, with a sliceof bread-and-butter and a battledore. The window being accessible fromthe footway, he looked in over the blind, returned the shuttlecock, andput his question.

'Dorrit?' said the little white-faced boy (Master Cripples in fact).'_Mr_ Dorrit? Third bell and one knock.'

The pupils of Mr Cripples appeared to have been making a copy-book ofthe street-door, it was so extensively scribbled over in pencil. Thefrequency of the inscriptions, 'Old Dorrit,' and 'Dirty Dick,' incombination, suggested intentions of personality on the part Of MrCripples's pupils. There was ample time to make these observationsbefore the door was opened by the poor old man himself.

'Ha!' said he, very slowly remembering Arthur, 'you were shut in lastnight?'

'Yes, Mr Dorrit. I hope to meet your niece here presently.'

'Oh!' said he, pondering. 'Out of my brother's way? True. Would you comeup-stairs and wait for her?'

'Thank you.'

Turning himself as slowly as he turned in his mind whatever he heard orsaid, he led the way up the narrow stairs. The house was very close, andhad an unwholesome smell. The little staircase windows looked in at theback windows of other houses as unwholesome as itself, with poles andlines thrust out of them, on which unsightly linen hung; as if theinhabitants were angling for clothes, and had had some wretched bitesnot worth attending to. In the back garret--a sickly room, with aturn-up bedstead in it, so hastily and recently turned up that theblankets were boiling over, as it were, and keeping the lid open--ahalf-finished breakfast of coffee and toast for two persons was jumbleddown anyhow on a rickety table.

There was no one there. The old man mumbling to himself, after someconsideration, that Fanny had run away, went to the next room to fetchher back. The visitor, observing that she held the door on the inside,and that, when the uncle tried to open it, there was a sharp adjurationof 'Don't, stupid!' and an appearance of loose stocking and flannel,concluded that the young lady was in an undress. The uncle, withoutappearing to come to any conclusion, shuffled in again, sat down in hischair, and began warming his hands at the fire; not that it was cold, orthat he had any waking idea whether it was or not.

'What did you think of my brother, sir?' he asked, when he by-and-bydiscovered what he was doing, left off, reached over to thechimney-piece, and took his clarionet case down.

'I was glad,' said Arthur, very much at a loss, for his thoughts wereon the brother before him; 'to find him so well and cheerful.'

'Ha!' muttered the old man, 'yes, yes, yes, yes, yes!'

Arthur wondered what he could possibly want with the clarionet case. Hedid not want it at all. He discovered, in due time, that it was not thelittle paper of snuff (which was also on the chimney-piece), put it backagain, took down the snuff instead, and solaced himself with a pinch. Hewas as feeble, spare, and slow in his pinches as in everything else, buta certain little trickling of enjoyment of them played in the poor wornnerves about the corners of his eyes and mouth.

'Amy, Mr Clennam. What do you think of her?'

'I am much impressed, Mr Dorrit, by all that I have seen of her andthought of her.'

'My brother would have been quite lost without Amy,' he returned. 'Weshould all have been lost without Amy. She is a very good girl, Amy. Shedoes her duty.'

Arthur fancied that he heard in these praises a certain tone of custom,which he had heard from the father last night with an inward protest andfeeling of antagonism. It was not that they stinted her praises, orwere insensible to what she did for them; but that they were lazilyhabituated to her, as they were to all the rest of their condition.He fancied that although they had before them, every day, the means ofcomparison between her and one another and themselves, they regarded heras being in her necessary place; as holding a position towards them allwhich belonged to her, like her name or her age. He fancied that theyviewed her, not as having risen away from the prison atmosphere, but asappertaining to it; as being vaguely what they had a right to expect,and nothing more.

Her uncle resumed his breakfast, and was munching toast sopped incoffee, oblivious of his guest, when the third bell rang. That was Amy,he said, and went down to let her in; leaving the visitor with as vivida picture on his mind of his begrimed hands, dirt-worn face, and decayedfigure, as if he were still drooping in his chair.

She came up after him, in the usual plain dress, and with the usualtimid manner. Her lips were a little parted, as if her heart beat fasterthan usual.

'Mr Clennam, Amy,' said her uncle, 'has been expecting you some time.'

'I took the liberty of sending you a message.'

'I received the message, sir.'

'Are you going to my mother's this morning? I think not, for it is pastyour usual hour.'

'Not to-day, sir. I am not wanted to-day.'

'Will you allow Me to walk a little way in whatever direction you maybe going? I can then speak to you as we walk, both without detaining youhere, and without intruding longer here myself.'

She looked embarrassed, but said, if he pleased. He made a pretence ofhaving mislaid his walking-stick, to give her time to set the bedsteadright, to answer her sister's impatient knock at the wall, and to say aword softly to her uncle. Then he found it, and they went down-stairs;she first, he following; the uncle standing at the stair-head, andprobably forgetting them before they had reached the ground floor.

Mr Cripples's pupils, who were by this time coming to school, desistedfrom their morning recreation of cuffing one another with bags andbooks, to stare with all the eyes they had at a stranger who had beento see Dirty Dick. They bore the trying spectacle in silence, until themysterious visitor was at a safe distance; when they burst into pebblesand yells, and likewise into reviling dances, and in all respects buriedthe pipe of peace with so many savage ceremonies, that, if Mr Crippleshad been the chief of the Cripplewayboo tribe with his war-paint on,they could scarcely have done greater justice to their education.

In the midst of this homage, Mr Arthur Clennam offered his arm to LittleDorrit, and Little Dorrit took it. 'Will you go by the Iron Bridge,'said he, 'where there is an escape from the noise of the street?' LittleDorrit answered, if he pleased, and presently ventured to hope that hewould 'not mind' Mr Cripples's boys, for she had herself receivedher education, such as it was, in Mr Cripples's evening academy. Hereturned, with the best will in the world, that Mr Cripples's boys wereforgiven out of the bottom of his soul. Thus did Cripples unconsciouslybecome a master of the ceremonies between them, and bring them morenaturally together than Beau Nash might have done if they had livedin his golden days, and he had alighted from his coach and six for thepurpose.

The morning remained squally, and the streets were miserably muddy, butno rain fell as they walked towards the Iron Bridge. The little creatureseemed so young in his eyes, that there were moments when he foundhimself thinking of her, if not speaking to her, as if she were a child.Perhaps he seemed as old in her eyes as she seemed young in his.

'I am sorry to hear you were so inconvenienced last night, sir, as to belocked in. It was very unfortunate.'

It was nothing, he returned. He had had a very good bed.

'Oh yes!' she said quickly; 'she believed there were excellent beds atthe coffee-house.' He noticed that the coffee-house was quite a majestichotel to her, and that she treasured its reputation.

'I believe it is very expensive,' said Little Dorrit, 'but my father hastold me that quite beautiful dinners may be got there. And wine,' sheadded timidly.

'Were you ever there?'

'Oh no! Only into the kitchen to fetch hot water.'

To think of growing up with a kind of awe upon one as to the luxuries ofthat superb establishment, the Marshalsea Hotel!

'I asked you last night,' said Clennam, 'how you had become acquaintedwith my mother. Did you ever hear her name before she sent for you?'

'No, sir.'

'Do you think your father ever did?'

'No, sir.'

He met her eyes raised to his with so much wonder in them (she wasscared when the encounter took place, and shrunk away again), that hefelt it necessary to say:

'I have a reason for asking, which I cannot very well explain; but youmust, on no account, suppose it to be of a nature to cause you the leastalarm or anxiety. Quite the reverse. And you think that at no time ofyour father's life was my name of Clennam ever familiar to him?'

'No, sir.'

He felt, from the tone in which she spoke, that she was glancing up athim with those parted lips; therefore he looked before him, rather thanmake her heart beat quicker still by embarrassing her afresh.

Thus they emerged upon the Iron Bridge, which was as quiet after theroaring streets as though it had been open country. The wind blewroughly, the wet squalls came rattling past them, skimming the pools onthe road and pavement, and raining them down into the river. The cloudsraced on furiously in the lead-coloured sky, the smoke and mist racedafter them, the dark tide ran fierce and strong in the same direction.Little Dorrit seemed the least, the quietest, and weakest of Heaven'screatures.

'Let me put you in a coach,' said Clennam, very nearly adding 'my poorchild.'

She hurriedly declined, saying that wet or dry made little difference toher; she was used to go about in all weathers. He knew it to be so, andwas touched with more pity; thinking of the slight figure at his side,making its nightly way through the damp dark boisterous streets to sucha place of rest.

'You spoke so feelingly to me last night, sir, and I found afterwardsthat you had been so generous to my father, that I could not resist yourmessage, if it was only to thank you; especially as I wished very muchto say to you--' she hesitated and trembled, and tears rose in her eyes,but did not fall.

'To say to me--?'

'That I hope you will not misunderstand my father. Don't judge him, sir,as you would judge others outside the gates. He has been there so long!I never saw him outside, but I can understand that he must have growndifferent in some things since.'

'My thoughts will never be unjust or harsh towards him, believe me.'

'Not,' she said, with a prouder air, as the misgiving evidently creptupon her that she might seem to be abandoning him, 'not that he hasanything to be ashamed of for himself, or that I have anything to beashamed of for him. He only requires to be understood. I only ask forhim that his life may be fairly remembered. All that he said was quitetrue. It all happened just as he related it. He is very much respected.Everybody who comes in, is glad to know him. He is more courted thananyone else. He is far more thought of than the Marshal is.'

If ever pride were innocent, it was innocent in Little Dorrit when shegrew boastful of her father.

'It is often said that his manners are a true gentleman's, and quitea study. I see none like them in that place, but he is admitted tobe superior to all the rest. This is quite as much why they make himpresents, as because they know him to be needy. He is not to be blamedfor being in need, poor love. Who could be in prison a quarter of acentury, and be prosperous!'

What affection in her words, what compassion in her repressed tears,what a great soul of fidelity within her, how true the light that shedfalse brightness round him!

'If I have found it best to conceal where my home is, it is not becauseI am ashamed of him. God forbid! Nor am I so much ashamed of the placeitself as might be supposed. People are not bad because they come there.I have known numbers of good, persevering, honest people come therethrough misfortune. They are almost all kind-hearted to one another.And it would be ungrateful indeed in me, to forget that I have had manyquiet, comfortable hours there; that I had an excellent friend therewhen I was quite a baby, who was very very fond of me; that I have beentaught there, and have worked there, and have slept soundly there. Ithink it would be almost cowardly and cruel not to have some littleattachment for it, after all this.'

She had relieved the faithful fulness of her heart, and modestly said,raising her eyes appealingly to her new friend's, 'I did not mean to sayso much, nor have I ever but once spoken about this before. But it seemsto set it more right than it was last night. I said I wished you hadnot followed me, sir. I don't wish it so much now, unless you shouldthink--indeed I don't wish it at all, unless I should have spoken soconfusedly, that--that you can scarcely understand me, which I am afraidmay be the case.'

He told her with perfect truth that it was not the case; and puttinghimself between her and the sharp wind and rain, sheltered her as wellas he could.

'I feel permitted now,' he said, 'to ask you a little more concerningyour father. Has he many creditors?'

'Oh! a great number.'

'I mean detaining creditors, who keep him where he is?'

'Oh yes! a great number.'

'Can you tell me--I can get the information, no doubt, elsewhere, if youcannot--who is the most influential of them?'

Little Dorrit said, after considering a little, that she used tohear long ago of Mr Tite Barnacle as a man of great power. He was acommissioner, or a board, or a trustee, 'or something.' He livedin Grosvenor Square, she thought, or very near it. He was underGovernment--high in the Circumlocution Office. She appeared to haveacquired, in her infancy, some awful impression of the might of thisformidable Mr Tite Barnacle of Grosvenor Square, or very near it, andthe Circumlocution Office, which quite crushed her when she mentionedhim.

'It can do no harm,' thought Arthur, 'if I see this Mr Tite Barnacle.'

The thought did not present itself so quietly but that her quicknessintercepted it. 'Ah!' said Little Dorrit, shaking her head with the milddespair of a lifetime. 'Many people used to think once of getting mypoor father out, but you don't know how hopeless it is.'

She forgot to be shy at the moment, in honestly warning him away fromthe sunken wreck he had a dream of raising; and looked at him witheyes which assuredly, in association with her patient face, her fragilefigure, her spare dress, and the wind and rain, did not turn him fromhis purpose of helping her.

'Even if it could be done,' said she--'and it never can be donenow--where could father live, or how could he live? I have often thoughtthat if such a change could come, it might be anything but a service tohim now. People might not think so well of him outside as they do there.He might not be so gently dealt with outside as he is there. He mightnot be so fit himself for the life outside as he is for that.'

Here for the first time she could not restrain her tears from falling;and the little thin hands he had watched when they were so busy,trembled as they clasped each other.

'It would be a new distress to him even to know that I earn a littlemoney, and that Fanny earns a little money. He is so anxious about us,you see, feeling helplessly shut up there. Such a good, good father!'

He let the little burst of feeling go by before he spoke. It was soongone. She was not accustomed to think of herself, or to trouble any onewith her emotions. He had but glanced away at the piles of city roofsand chimneys among which the smoke was rolling heavily, and at thewilderness of masts on the river, and the wilderness of steeples onthe shore, indistinctly mixed together in the stormy haze, when shewas again as quiet as if she had been plying her needle in his mother'sroom.

'You would be glad to have your brother set at liberty?'

'Oh very, very glad, sir!'

'Well, we will hope for him at least. You told me last night of a friendyou had?'

His name was Plornish, Little Dorrit said.

And where did Plornish live? Plornish lived in Bleeding Heart Yard. Hewas 'only a plasterer,' Little Dorrit said, as a caution to him not toform high social expectations of Plornish. He lived at the last house inBleeding Heart Yard, and his name was over a little gateway.

Arthur took down the address and gave her his. He had now done all hesought to do for the present, except that he wished to leave her with areliance upon him, and to have something like a promise from her thatshe would cherish it.

'There is one friend!' he said, putting up his pocketbook. 'As I takeyou back--you are going back?'

'Oh yes! going straight home.'

'--As I take you back,' the word home jarred upon him, 'let me ask you topersuade yourself that you have another friend. I make no professions,and say no more.'

'You are truly kind to me, sir. I am sure I need no more.'

They walked back through the miserable muddy streets, and among thepoor, mean shops, and were jostled by the crowds of dirty huckstersusual to a poor neighbourhood. There was nothing, by the short way, thatwas pleasant to any of the five senses. Yet it was not a common passagethrough common rain, and mire, and noise, to Clennam, having thislittle, slender, careful creature on his arm. How young she seemed tohim, or how old he to her; or what a secret either to the other, in thatbeginning of the destined interweaving of their stories, matters nothere. He thought of her having been born and bred among these scenes,and shrinking through them now, familiar yet misplaced; he thoughtof her long acquaintance with the squalid needs of life, and of herinnocence; of her solicitude for others, and her few years, and herchildish aspect.

They were come into the High Street, where the prison stood, when avoice cried, 'Little mother, little mother!' Little Dorrit stopping andlooking back, an excited figure of a strange kind bounced against them(still crying 'little mother'), fell down, and scattered the contents ofa large basket, filled with potatoes, in the mud.

'Oh, Maggy,' said Little Dorrit, 'what a clumsy child you are!'

Maggy was not hurt, but picked herself up immediately, and then beganto pick up the potatoes, in which both Little Dorrit and Arthur Clennamhelped. Maggy picked up very few potatoes and a great quantity of mud;but they were all recovered, and deposited in the basket. Maggy thensmeared her muddy face with her shawl, and presenting it to Mr Clennamas a type of purity, enabled him to see what she was like.

She was about eight-and-twenty, with large bones, large features, largefeet and hands, large eyes and no hair. Her large eyes were limpid andalmost colourless; they seemed to be very little affected by light,and to stand unnaturally still. There was also that attentive listeningexpression in her face, which is seen in the faces of the blind; but shewas not blind, having one tolerably serviceable eye. Her face was notexceedingly ugly, though it was only redeemed from being so by a smile;a good-humoured smile, and pleasant in itself, but rendered pitiableby being constantly there. A great white cap, with a quantity ofopaque frilling that was always flapping about, apologised for Maggy'sbaldness, and made it so very difficult for her old black bonnet toretain its place upon her head, that it held on round her neck like agipsy's baby. A commission of haberdashers could alone have reportedwhat the rest of her poor dress was made of, but it had a strong generalresemblance to seaweed, with here and there a gigantic tea-leaf. Hershawl looked particularly like a tea-leaf after long infusion.

Arthur Clennam looked at Little Dorrit with the expression of onesaying, 'May I ask who this is?' Little Dorrit, whose hand this Maggy,still calling her little mother, had begun to fondle, answered in words(they were under a gateway into which the majority of the potatoes hadrolled).

'This is Maggy, sir.'

'Maggy, sir,' echoed the personage presented. 'Little mother!'

'She is the grand-daughter--' said Little Dorrit.

'Grand-daughter,' echoed Maggy.

'Of my old nurse, who has been dead a long time. Maggy, how old areyou?'

'Ten, mother,' said Maggy.

'You can't think how good she is, sir,' said Little Dorrit, withinfinite tenderness.

'Good _she_ is,' echoed Maggy, transferring the pronoun in a mostexpressive way from herself to her little mother.

'Or how clever,' said Little Dorrit. 'She goes on errands as well asany one.' Maggy laughed. 'And is as trustworthy as the Bank of England.'Maggy laughed. 'She earns her own living entirely. Entirely, sir!' saidLittle Dorrit, in a lower and triumphant tone. 'Really does!'

'What is her history?' asked Clennam.

'Think of that, Maggy?' said Little Dorrit, taking her two large handsand clapping them together. 'A gentleman from thousands of miles away,wanting to know your history!'

'_My_ history?' cried Maggy. 'Little mother.'

'She means me,' said Little Dorrit, rather confused; 'she is very muchattached to me. Her old grandmother was not so kind to her as she shouldhave been; was she, Maggy?'

Maggy shook her head, made a drinking vessel of her clenched left hand,drank out of it, and said, 'Gin.' Then beat an imaginary child, and said,'Broom-handles and pokers.'

'When Maggy was ten years old,' said Little Dorrit, watching her facewhile she spoke, 'she had a bad fever, sir, and she has never grown anyolder ever since.'

'Ten years old,' said Maggy, nodding her head. 'But what a nicehospital! So comfortable, wasn't it? Oh so nice it was. Such a Ev'nlyplace!'

'She had never been at peace before, sir,' said Little Dorrit, turningtowards Arthur for an instant and speaking low, 'and she always runs offupon that.'

'Such beds there is there!' cried Maggy. 'Such lemonades! Such oranges!Such d'licious broth and wine! Such Chicking! Oh, AIN'T it a delightfulplace to go and stop at!'

'So Maggy stopped there as long as she could,' said Little Dorrit,in her former tone of telling a child's story; the tone designed forMaggy's ear, 'and at last, when she could stop there no longer, she cameout. Then, because she was never to be more than ten years old, howeverlong she lived--'

'However long she lived,' echoed Maggy.

'--And because she was very weak; indeed was so weak that when she beganto laugh she couldn't stop herself--which was a great pity--'

(Maggy mighty grave of a sudden.)

'--Her grandmother did not know what to do with her, and for some yearswas very unkind to her indeed. At length, in course of time, Maggy beganto take pains to improve herself, and to be very attentive and veryindustrious; and by degrees was allowed to come in and out as often asshe liked, and got enough to do to support herself, and does supportherself. And that,' said Little Dorrit, clapping the two great handstogether again, 'is Maggy's history, as Maggy knows!'

Ah! But Arthur would have known what was wanting to its completeness,though he had never heard of the words Little mother; though he hadnever seen the fondling of the small spare hand; though he had had nosight for the tears now standing in the colourless eyes; though he hadhad no hearing for the sob that checked the clumsy laugh. The dirtygateway with the wind and rain whistling through it, and the basket ofmuddy potatoes waiting to be spilt again or taken up, never seemed thecommon hole it really was, when he looked back to it by these lights.Never, never!

They were very near the end of their walk, and they now came out of thegateway to finish it. Nothing would serve Maggy but that they must stopat a grocer's window, short of their destination, for her to show herlearning. She could read after a sort; and picked out the fat figures inthe tickets of prices, for the most part correctly. She also stumbled,with a large balance of success against her failures, through variousphilanthropic recommendations to Try our Mixture, Try our Family Black,Try our Orange-flavoured Pekoe, challenging competition at the headof Flowery Teas; and various cautions to the public against spuriousestablishments and adulterated articles. When he saw how pleasurebrought a rosy tint into Little Dorrit's face when Maggy made a hit,he felt that he could have stood there making a library of the grocer'swindow until the rain and wind were tired.

The court-yard received them at last, and there he said goodbye toLittle Dorrit. Little as she had always looked, she looked less thanever when he saw her going into the Marshalsea lodge passage, the littlemother attended by her big child.

The cage door opened, and when the small bird, reared in captivity, hadtamely fluttered in, he saw it shut again; and then he came away.