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Little Dorrit

Little Dorrit

Little Dorrit/33

CHAPTER 32. More Fortune-Telling

Maggy sat at her work in her great white cap with its quantity of opaquefrilling hiding what profile she had (she had none to spare), and herserviceable eye brought to bear upon her occupation, on the window sideof the room. What with her flapping cap, and what with her unserviceableeye, she was quite partitioned off from her Little Mother, whose seatwas opposite the window. The tread and shuffle of feet on the pavementof the yard had much diminished since the taking of the Chair, the tideof Collegians having set strongly in the direction of Harmony. Some fewwho had no music in their souls, or no money in their pockets, dawdledabout; and the old spectacle of the visitor-wife and the depressedunseasoned prisoner still lingered in corners, as broken cobwebs andsuch unsightly discomforts draggle in corners of other places. It wasthe quietest time the College knew, saving the night hours when theCollegians took the benefit of the act of sleep. The occasional rattleof applause upon the tables of the Snuggery, denoted the successfultermination of a morsel of Harmony; or the responsive acceptance, bythe united children, of some toast or sentiment offered to them by theirFather. Occasionally, a vocal strain more sonorous than the generalityinformed the listener that some boastful bass was in blue water, or inthe hunting field, or with the reindeer, or on the mountain, or amongthe heather; but the Marshal of the Marshalsea knew better, and had gothim hard and fast.

As Arthur Clennam moved to sit down by the side of Little Dorrit, shetrembled so that she had much ado to hold her needle. Clennam gentlyput his hand upon her work, and said, 'Dear Little Dorrit, let me lay itdown.'

She yielded it to him, and he put it aside. Her hands were thennervously clasping together, but he took one of them.

'How seldom I have seen you lately, Little Dorrit!'

'I have been busy, sir.'

'But I heard only to-day,' said Clennam, 'by mere accident, of yourhaving been with those good people close by me. Why not come to me,then?'

'I--I don't know. Or rather, I thought you might be busy too. Yougenerally are now, are you not?'

He saw her trembling little form and her downcast face, and the eyesthat drooped the moment they were raised to his--he saw them almost withas much concern as tenderness.

'My child, your manner is so changed!'

The trembling was now quite beyond her control. Softly withdrawing herhand, and laying it in her other hand, she sat before him with her headbent and her whole form trembling.

'My own Little Dorrit,' said Clennam, compassionately.

She burst into tears. Maggy looked round of a sudden, and stared for atleast a minute; but did not interpose. Clennam waited some little whilebefore he spoke again.

'I cannot bear,' he said then, 'to see you weep; but I hope this is arelief to an overcharged heart.'

'Yes it is, sir. Nothing but that.'

'Well, well! I feared you would think too much of what passed here justnow. It is of no moment; not the least. I am only unfortunate to havecome in the way. Let it go by with these tears. It is not worth one ofthem. One of them? Such an idle thing should be repeated, with my gladconsent, fifty times a day, to save you a moment's heart-ache, LittleDorrit.'

She had taken courage now, and answered, far more in her usual manner,'You are so good! But even if there was nothing else in it to be sorryfor and ashamed of, it is such a bad return to you--'

'Hush!' said Clennam, smiling and touching her lips with his hand.'Forgetfulness in you who remember so many and so much, would be newindeed. Shall I remind you that I am not, and that I never was, anythingbut the friend whom you agreed to trust? No. You remember it, don'tyou?'

'I try to do so, or I should have broken the promise just now, when mymistaken brother was here. You will consider his bringing-up in thisplace, and will not judge him hardly, poor fellow, I know!' In raisingher eyes with these words, she observed his face more nearly than shehad done yet, and said, with a quick change of tone, 'You have not beenill, Mr Clennam?'

'No.'

'Nor tried? Nor hurt?' she asked him, anxiously.

It fell to Clennam now, to be not quite certain how to answer. He saidin reply:

'To speak the truth, I have been a little troubled, but it is over.Do I show it so plainly? I ought to have more fortitude and self-commandthan that. I thought I had. I must learn them of you. Who could teach mebetter!'

He never thought that she saw in him what no one else could see. Henever thought that in the whole world there were no other eyes thatlooked upon him with the same light and strength as hers.

'But it brings me to something that I wish to say,' he continued, 'andtherefore I will not quarrel even with my own face for telling talesand being unfaithful to me. Besides, it is a privilege and pleasure toconfide in my Little Dorrit. Let me confess then, that, forgetting howgrave I was, and how old I was, and how the time for such things hadgone by me with the many years of sameness and little happiness thatmade up my long life far away, without marking it--that, forgetting allthis, I fancied I loved some one.'

'Do I know her, sir?' asked Little Dorrit.

'No, my child.'

'Not the lady who has been kind to me for your sake?'

'Flora. No, no. Do you think--'

'I never quite thought so,' said Little Dorrit, more to herself thanhim. 'I did wonder at it a little.'

'Well!' said Clennam, abiding by the feeling that had fallen on him inthe avenue on the night of the roses, the feeling that he was anolder man, who had done with that tender part of life, 'I found out mymistake, and I thought about it a little--in short, a good deal--and gotwiser. Being wiser, I counted up my years and considered what I am, andlooked back, and looked forward, and found that I should soon be grey. Ifound that I had climbed the hill, and passed the level ground upon thetop, and was descending quickly.'

If he had known the sharpness of the pain he caused the patient heart,in speaking thus! While doing it, too, with the purpose of easing andserving her.

'I found that the day when any such thing would have been graceful inme, or good in me, or hopeful or happy for me or any one in connectionwith me, was gone, and would never shine again.'

O! If he had known, if he had known! If he could have seen the dagger inhis hand, and the cruel wounds it struck in the faithful bleeding breastof his Little Dorrit!

'All that is over, and I have turned my face from it. Why do I speak ofthis to Little Dorrit? Why do I show you, my child, the space of yearsthat there is between us, and recall to you that I have passed, by theamount of your whole life, the time that is present to you?'

'Because you trust me, I hope. Because you know that nothing can touchyou without touching me; that nothing can make you happy or unhappy, butit must make me, who am so grateful to you, the same.'

He heard the thrill in her voice, he saw her earnest face, he saw herclear true eyes, he saw the quickened bosom that would have joyfullythrown itself before him to receive a mortal wound directed at hisbreast, with the dying cry, 'I love him!' and the remotest suspicionof the truth never dawned upon his mind. No. He saw the devoted littlecreature with her worn shoes, in her common dress, in her jail-home; aslender child in body, a strong heroine in soul; and the light of herdomestic story made all else dark to him.

'For those reasons assuredly, Little Dorrit, but for another too. Sofar removed, so different, and so much older, I am the better fitted foryour friend and adviser. I mean, I am the more easily to be trusted;and any little constraint that you might feel with another, may vanishbefore me. Why have you kept so retired from me? Tell me.'

'I am better here. My place and use are here. I am much better here,'said Little Dorrit, faintly.

'So you said that day upon the bridge. I thought of it much afterwards.Have you no secret you could entrust to me, with hope and comfort, ifyou would!'

'Secret? No, I have no secret,' said Little Dorrit in some trouble.

They had been speaking in low voices; more because it was natural towhat they said to adopt that tone, than with any care to reserve it fromMaggy at her work. All of a sudden Maggy stared again, and this timespoke:

'I say! Little Mother!'

'Yes, Maggy.'

'If you an't got no secret of your own to tell him, tell him that aboutthe Princess. _She_ had a secret, you know.'

'The Princess had a secret?' said Clennam, in some surprise. 'WhatPrincess was that, Maggy?'

'Lor! How you do go and bother a gal of ten,' said Maggy, 'catching thepoor thing up in that way. Whoever said the Princess had a secret? _I_never said so.'

'I beg your pardon. I thought you did.'

'No, I didn't. How could I, when it was her as wanted to find it out? Itwas the little woman as had the secret, and she was always a spinning ather wheel. And so she says to her, why do you keep it there? And so thet'other one says to her, no I don't; and so the t'other one says to her,yes you do; and then they both goes to the cupboard, and there it is.And she wouldn't go into the Hospital, and so she died. _You_ know, LittleMother; tell him that. For it was a reg'lar good secret, that was!' criedMaggy, hugging herself.

Arthur looked at Little Dorrit for help to comprehend this, and wasstruck by seeing her so timid and red. But, when she told him that itwas only a Fairy Tale she had one day made up for Maggy, and that therewas nothing in it which she wouldn't be ashamed to tell again to anybodyelse, even if she could remember it, he left the subject where it was.

However, he returned to his own subject by first entreating her to seehim oftener, and to remember that it was impossible to have a strongerinterest in her welfare than he had, or to be more set upon promoting itthan he was. When she answered fervently, she well knew that, she neverforgot it, he touched upon his second and more delicate point--thesuspicion he had formed.

'Little Dorrit,' he said, taking her hand again, and speaking lower thanhe had spoken yet, so that even Maggy in the small room could not hearhim, 'another word. I have wanted very much to say this to you; I havetried for opportunities. Don't mind me, who, for the matter of years,might be your father or your uncle. Always think of me as quite anold man. I know that all your devotion centres in this room, andthat nothing to the last will ever tempt you away from the duties youdischarge here. If I were not sure of it, I should, before now, haveimplored you, and implored your father, to let me make some provisionfor you in a more suitable place. But you may have an interest--I willnot say, now, though even that might be--may have, at another time,an interest in some one else; an interest not incompatible with youraffection here.'

She was very, very pale, and silently shook her head.

'It may be, dear Little Dorrit.'

'No. No. No.' She shook her head, after each slow repetition ofthe word, with an air of quiet desolation that he remembered longafterwards. The time came when he remembered it well, long afterwards,within those prison walls; within that very room.

'But, if it ever should be, tell me so, my dear child. Entrust the truthto me, point out the object of such an interest to me, and I will trywith all the zeal, and honour, and friendship and respect that I feelfor you, good Little Dorrit of my heart, to do you a lasting service.'

'O thank you, thank you! But, O no, O no, O no!' She said this, lookingat him with her work-worn hands folded together, and in the sameresigned accents as before.

'I press for no confidence now. I only ask you to repose unhesitatingtrust in me.'

'Can I do less than that, when you are so good!'

'Then you will trust me fully? Will have no secret unhappiness, oranxiety, concealed from me?'

'Almost none.'

'And you have none now?'

She shook her head. But she was very pale.

'When I lie down to-night, and my thoughts come back--as they will, forthey do every night, even when I have not seen you--to this sad place, Imay believe that there is no grief beyond this room, now, and its usualoccupants, which preys on Little Dorrit's mind?'

She seemed to catch at these words--that he remembered, too, longafterwards--and said, more brightly, 'Yes, Mr Clennam; yes, you may!'

The crazy staircase, usually not slow to give notice when any one wascoming up or down, here creaked under a quick tread, and a further soundwas heard upon it, as if a little steam-engine with more steam than itknew what to do with, were working towards the room. As it approached,which it did very rapidly, it laboured with increased energy; and,after knocking at the door, it sounded as if it were stooping down andsnorting in at the keyhole.

Before Maggy could open the door, Mr Pancks, opening it from without,stood without a hat and with his bare head in the wildest condition,looking at Clennam and Little Dorrit, over her shoulder. He had alighted cigar in his hand, and brought with him airs of ale and tobaccosmoke.

'Pancks the gipsy,' he observed out of breath, 'fortune-telling.'

He stood dingily smiling, and breathing hard at them, with a mostcurious air; as if, instead of being his proprietor's grubber, he werethe triumphant proprietor of the Marshalsea, the Marshal, all theturnkeys, and all the Collegians. In his great self-satisfaction he puthis cigar to his lips (being evidently no smoker), and took such a pullat it, with his right eye shut up tight for the purpose, that heunderwent a convulsion of shuddering and choking. But even in the midstof that paroxysm, he still essayed to repeat his favourite introductionof himself, 'Pa-ancks the gi-ipsy, fortune-telling.'

'I am spending the evening with the rest of 'em,' said Pancks. 'I'vebeen singing. I've been taking a part in White sand and grey sand._I_ don't know anything about it. Never mind. I'll take any part inanything. It's all the same, if you're loud enough.'

At first Clennam supposed him to be intoxicated. But he soon perceivedthat though he might be a little the worse (or better) for ale, thestaple of his excitement was not brewed from malt, or distilled from anygrain or berry.

'How d'ye do, Miss Dorrit?' said Pancks. 'I thought you wouldn't mind myrunning round, and looking in for a moment. Mr Clennam I heard was here,from Mr Dorrit. How are you, Sir?'

Clennam thanked him, and said he was glad to see him so gay.

'Gay!' said Pancks. 'I'm in wonderful feather, sir. I can't stop aminute, or I shall be missed, and I don't want 'em to miss me.--Eh, MissDorrit?'

He seemed to have an insatiate delight in appealing to her and lookingat her; excitedly sticking his hair up at the same moment, like a darkspecies of cockatoo.

'I haven't been here half an hour. I knew Mr Dorrit was in the chair,and I said, ”I'll go and support him!” I ought to be down in BleedingHeart Yard by rights; but I can worry them to-morrow.--Eh, Miss Dorrit?'

His little black eyes sparkled electrically. His very hair seemed tosparkle as he roughened it. He was in that highly-charged state that onemight have expected to draw sparks and snaps from him by presenting aknuckle to any part of his figure.

'Capital company here,' said Pancks.--'Eh, Miss Dorrit?'

She was half afraid of him, and irresolute what to say. He laughed, witha nod towards Clennam.

'Don't mind him, Miss Dorrit. He's one of us. We agreed that youshouldn't take on to mind me before people, but we didn't mean MrClennam. He's one of us. He's in it. An't you, Mr Clennam?--Eh, MissDorrit?'

The excitement of this strange creature was fast communicating itself toClennam. Little Dorrit with amazement, saw this, and observed that theyexchanged quick looks.

'I was making a remark,' said Pancks, 'but I declare I forget whatit was. Oh, I know! Capital company here. I've been treating 'em allround.--Eh, Miss Dorrit?'

'Very generous of you,' she returned, noticing another of the quicklooks between the two.

'Not at all,' said Pancks. 'Don't mention it. I'm coming into myproperty, that's the fact. I can afford to be liberal. I think I'll give'em a treat here. Tables laid in the yard. Bread in stacks. Pipes infaggots. Tobacco in hayloads. Roast beef and plum-pudding for every one.Quart of double stout a head. Pint of wine too, if they like it, and theauthorities give permission.--Eh, Miss Dorrit?'

She was thrown into such a confusion by his manner, or rather byClennam's growing understanding of his manner (for she looked to himafter every fresh appeal and cockatoo demonstration on the part of MrPancks), that she only moved her lips in answer, without forming anyword.

'And oh, by-the-bye!' said Pancks, 'you were to live to know what wasbehind us on that little hand of yours. And so you shall, you shall, mydarling.--Eh, Miss Dorrit?'

He had suddenly checked himself. Where he got all the additional blackprongs from, that now flew up all over his head like the myriads ofpoints that break out in the large change of a great firework, was awonderful mystery.

'But I shall be missed;' he came back to that; 'and I don't want 'em tomiss me. Mr Clennam, you and I made a bargain. I said you should find mestick to it. You shall find me stick to it now, sir, if you'll step outof the room a moment. Miss Dorrit, I wish you good night. Miss Dorrit, Iwish you good fortune.'

He rapidly shook her by both hands, and puffed down stairs. Arthurfollowed him with such a hurried step, that he had very nearly tumbledover him on the last landing, and rolled him down into the yard.

'What is it, for Heaven's sake!' Arthur demanded, when they burst outthere both together.

'Stop a moment, sir. Mr Rugg. Let me introduce him.'

With those words he presented another man without a hat, and also with acigar, and also surrounded with a halo of ale and tobacco smoke, whichman, though not so excited as himself, was in a state which would havebeen akin to lunacy but for its fading into sober method when comparedwith the rampancy of Mr Pancks.

'Mr Clennam, Mr Rugg,' said Pancks. 'Stop a moment. Come to the pump.'

They adjourned to the pump. Mr Pancks, instantly putting his head underthe spout, requested Mr Rugg to take a good strong turn at the handle.Mr Rugg complying to the letter, Mr Pancks came forth snorting andblowing to some purpose, and dried himself on his handkerchief.

'I am the clearer for that,' he gasped to Clennam standing astonished.'But upon my soul, to hear her father making speeches in that chair,knowing what we know, and to see her up in that room in that dress,knowing what we know, is enough to--give me a back, Mr Rugg--a littlehigher, sir,--that'll do!'

Then and there, on that Marshalsea pavement, in the shades of evening,did Mr Pancks, of all mankind, fly over the head and shoulders of MrRugg of Pentonville, General Agent, Accountant, and Recoverer of Debts.Alighting on his feet, he took Clennam by the button-hole, led himbehind the pump, and pantingly produced from his pocket a bundle ofpapers.

Mr Rugg, also, pantingly produced from his pocket a bundle of papers.

'Stay!' said Clennam in a whisper.'You have made a discovery.'

Mr Pancks answered, with an unction which there is no language toconvey, 'We rather think so.'

'Does it implicate any one?'

'How implicate, sir?'

'In any suppression or wrong dealing of any kind?'

'Not a bit of it.'

'Thank God!' said Clennam to himself. 'Now show me.'

'You are to understand'--snorted Pancks, feverishly unfolding papers,and speaking in short high-pressure blasts of sentences, 'Where's thePedigree? Where's Schedule number four, Mr Rugg? Oh! all right! Here weare.--You are to understand that we are this very day virtuallycomplete. We shan't be legally for a day or two. Call it at the outsidea week. We've been at it night and day for I don't know how long. MrRugg, you know how long? Never mind. Don't say. You'll only confuse me.You shall tell her, Mr Clennam. Not till we give you leave. Where's thatrough total, Mr Rugg? Oh! Here we are! There sir! That's what you'llhave to break to her. That man's your Father of the Marshalsea!'