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Little Dorrit

Little Dorrit

Little Dorrit/37

Thus Flora, in taking leave of her favourite. Little Dorrit thanked her,and embraced her, over and over again; and finally came out of the housewith Clennam, and took coach for the Marshalsea.

It was a strangely unreal ride through the old squalid streets, with asensation of being raised out of them into an airy world of wealthand grandeur. When Arthur told her that she would soon ride in herown carriage through very different scenes, when all the familiarexperiences would have vanished away, she looked frightened. But whenhe substituted her father for herself, and told her how he would ride inhis carriage, and how great and grand he would be, her tears of joyand innocent pride fell fast. Seeing that the happiness her mind couldrealise was all shining upon him, Arthur kept that single figure beforeher; and so they rode brightly through the poor streets in the prisonneighbourhood to carry him the great news.

When Mr Chivery, who was on duty, admitted them into the Lodge, he sawsomething in their faces which filled him with astonishment. He stoodlooking after them, when they hurried into the prison, as though heperceived that they had come back accompanied by a ghost a-piece. Two orthree Collegians whom they passed, looked after them too, and presentlyjoining Mr Chivery, formed a little group on the Lodge steps, in themidst of which there spontaneously originated a whisper that the Fatherwas going to get his discharge. Within a few minutes, it was heard inthe remotest room in the College.

Little Dorrit opened the door from without, and they both entered. Hewas sitting in his old grey gown and his old black cap, in the sunlightby the window, reading his newspaper. His glasses were in his hand, andhe had just looked round; surprised at first, no doubt, by her step uponthe stairs, not expecting her until night; surprised again, by seeingArthur Clennam in her company. As they came in, the same unwonted lookin both of them which had already caught attention in the yard below,struck him. He did not rise or speak, but laid down his glasses and hisnewspaper on the table beside him, and looked at them with his moutha little open and his lips trembling. When Arthur put out his hand,he touched it, but not with his usual state; and then he turned to hisdaughter, who had sat down close beside him with her hands upon hisshoulder, and looked attentively in her face.

'Father! I have been made so happy this morning!'

'You have been made so happy, my dear?'

'By Mr Clennam, father. He brought me such joyful and wonderfulintelligence about you! If he had not with his great kindness andgentleness, prepared me for it, father--prepared me for it, father--Ithink I could not have borne it.'

Her agitation was exceedingly great, and the tears rolled down her face.He put his hand suddenly to his heart, and looked at Clennam.

'Compose yourself, sir,' said Clennam, 'and take a little time to think.To think of the brightest and most fortunate accidents of life. We haveall heard of great surprises of joy. They are not at an end, sir. Theyare rare, but not at an end.'

'Mr Clennam? Not at an end? Not at an end for--' He touched himself uponthe breast, instead of saying 'me.'

'No,' returned Clennam.

'What surprise,' he asked, keeping his left hand over his heart, andthere stopping in his speech, while with his right hand he put hisglasses exactly level on the table: 'what such surprise can be in storefor me?'

'Let me answer with another question. Tell me, Mr Dorrit, what surprisewould be the most unlooked for and the most acceptable to you. Do not beafraid to imagine it, or to say what it would be.'

He looked steadfastly at Clennam, and, so looking at him, seemed tochange into a very old haggard man. The sun was bright upon the wallbeyond the window, and on the spikes at top. He slowly stretched out thehand that had been upon his heart, and pointed at the wall.

'It is down,' said Clennam. 'Gone!'

He remained in the same attitude, looking steadfastly at him.

'And in its place,' said Clennam, slowly and distinctly, 'are the meansto possess and enjoy the utmost that they have so long shut out. MrDorrit, there is not the smallest doubt that within a few days you willbe free, and highly prosperous. I congratulate you with all my soul onthis change of fortune, and on the happy future into which you are soonto carry the treasure you have been blest with here--the best of all theriches you can have elsewhere--the treasure at your side.'

With those words, he pressed his hand and released it; and his daughter,laying her face against his, encircled him in the hour of his prosperitywith her arms, as she had in the long years of his adversity encircledhim with her love and toil and truth; and poured out her full heart ingratitude, hope, joy, blissful ecstasy, and all for him.

'I shall see him as I never saw him yet. I shall see my dear love, withthe dark cloud cleared away. I shall see him, as my poor mother saw himlong ago. O my dear, my dear! O father, father! O thank God, thank God!'

He yielded himself to her kisses and caresses, but did not return them,except that he put an arm about her. Neither did he say one word. Hissteadfast look was now divided between her and Clennam, and he began toshake as if he were very cold. Explaining to Little Dorrit that he wouldrun to the coffee-house for a bottle of wine, Arthur fetched it with allthe haste he could use. While it was being brought from the cellar tothe bar, a number of excited people asked him what had happened; when hehurriedly informed them that Mr Dorrit had succeeded to a fortune.

On coming back with the wine in his hand, he found that she had placedher father in his easy chair, and had loosened his shirt and neckcloth.They filled a tumbler with wine, and held it to his lips. When he hadswallowed a little, he took the glass himself and emptied it. Soonafter that, he leaned back in his chair and cried, with his handkerchiefbefore his face.

After this had lasted a while Clennam thought it a good season fordiverting his attention from the main surprise, by relating its details.Slowly, therefore, and in a quiet tone of voice, he explained them asbest he could, and enlarged on the nature of Pancks's service.

'He shall be--ha--he shall be handsomely recompensed, sir,' saidthe Father, starting up and moving hurriedly about the room. 'Assureyourself, Mr Clennam, that everybody concerned shall be--ha--shallbe nobly rewarded. No one, my dear sir, shall say that he has anunsatisfied claim against me. I shall repay the--hum--the advances Ihave had from you, sir, with peculiar pleasure. I beg to be informed atyour earliest convenience, what advances you have made my son.'

He had no purpose in going about the room, but he was not still amoment.

'Everybody,' he said, 'shall be remembered. I will not go away fromhere in anybody's debt. All the people who have been--ha--well behavedtowards myself and my family, shall be rewarded. Chivery shall berewarded. Young John shall be rewarded. I particularly wish, and intend,to act munificently, Mr Clennam.'

'Will you allow me,' said Arthur, laying his purse on the table, 'tosupply any present contingencies, Mr Dorrit? I thought it best to bringa sum of money for the purpose.'

'Thank you, sir, thank you. I accept with readiness, at the presentmoment, what I could not an hour ago have conscientiously taken. I amobliged to you for the temporary accommodation. Exceedingly temporary,but well timed--well timed.' His hand had closed upon the money, andhe carried it about with him. 'Be so kind, sir, as to add the amount tothose former advances to which I have already referred; being careful,if you please, not to omit advances made to my son. A mere verbalstatement of the gross amount is all I shall--ha--all I shall require.'

His eye fell upon his daughter at this point, and he stopped for amoment to kiss her, and to pat her head.

'It will be necessary to find a milliner, my love, and to make a speedyand complete change in your very plain dress. Something must be donewith Maggy too, who at present is--ha--barely respectable, barelyrespectable. And your sister, Amy, and your brother. And _my_ brother,your uncle--poor soul, I trust this will rouse him--messengers must bedespatched to fetch them. They must be informed of this. We must breakit to them cautiously, but they must be informed directly. We owe itas a duty to them and to ourselves, from this moment, not to letthem--hum--not to let them do anything.'

This was the first intimation he had ever given, that he was privy tothe fact that they did something for a livelihood.

He was still jogging about the room, with the purse clutched in hishand, when a great cheering arose in the yard. 'The news has spreadalready,' said Clennam, looking down from the window. 'Will you showyourself to them, Mr Dorrit? They are very earnest, and they evidentlywish it.'

'I--hum--ha--I confess I could have desired, Amy my dear,' he said,jogging about in a more feverish flutter than before, 'to have made somechange in my dress first, and to have bought a--hum--a watch and chain.But if it must be done as it is, it--ha--it must be done. Fasten thecollar of my shirt, my dear. Mr Clennam, would you oblige me--hum--witha blue neckcloth you will find in that drawer at your elbow. Buttonmy coat across at the chest, my love. It looks--ha--it looks broader,buttoned.'

With his trembling hand he pushed his grey hair up, and then, takingClennam and his daughter for supporters, appeared at the window leaningon an arm of each. The Collegians cheered him very heartily, and hekissed his hand to them with great urbanity and protection. When hewithdrew into the room again, he said 'Poor creatures!' in a tone ofmuch pity for their miserable condition.

Little Dorrit was deeply anxious that he should lie down to composehimself. On Arthur's speaking to her of his going to inform Pancks thathe might now appear as soon as he would, and pursue the joyful businessto its close, she entreated him in a whisper to stay with her until herfather should be quite calm and at rest. He needed no second entreaty;and she prepared her father's bed, and begged him to lie down. Foranother half-hour or more he would be persuaded to do nothing butgo about the room, discussing with himself the probabilities for andagainst the Marshal's allowing the whole of the prisoners to go to thewindows of the official residence which commanded the street, to seehimself and family depart for ever in a carriage--which, he said, hethought would be a Sight for them. But gradually he began to droop andtire, and at last stretched himself upon the bed.

She took her faithful place beside him, fanning him and cooling hisforehead; and he seemed to be falling asleep (always with the money inhis hand), when he unexpectedly sat up and said:

'Mr Clennam, I beg your pardon. Am I to understand, my dear sir, that Icould--ha--could pass through the Lodge at this moment, and--hum--take awalk?'

'I think not, Mr Dorrit,' was the unwilling reply. 'There are certainforms to be completed; and although your detention here is now in itselfa form, I fear it is one that for a little longer has to be observedtoo.'

At this he shed tears again.

'It is but a few hours, sir,' Clennam cheerfully urged upon him.

'A few hours, sir,' he returned in a sudden passion. 'You talk veryeasily of hours, sir! How long do you suppose, sir, that an hour is to aman who is choking for want of air?'

It was his last demonstration for that time; as, after shedding somemore tears and querulously complaining that he couldn't breathe, heslowly fell into a slumber. Clennam had abundant occupation for histhoughts, as he sat in the quiet room watching the father on his bed,and the daughter fanning his face.

Little Dorrit had been thinking too. After softly putting his grey hairaside, and touching his forehead with her lips, she looked towardsArthur, who came nearer to her, and pursued in a low whisper the subjectof her thoughts.

'Mr Clennam, will he pay all his debts before he leaves here?'

'No doubt. All.'

'All the debts for which he had been imprisoned here, all my life andlonger?'

'No doubt.'

There was something of uncertainty and remonstrance in her look;something that was not all satisfaction. He wondered to detect it, andsaid:

'You are glad that he should do so?'

'Are you?' asked Little Dorrit, wistfully.

'Am I? Most heartily glad!'

'Then I know I ought to be.'

'And are you not?'

'It seems to me hard,' said Little Dorrit, 'that he should have lost somany years and suffered so much, and at last pay all the debts as well.It seems to me hard that he should pay in life and money both.'

'My dear child--' Clennam was beginning.

'Yes, I know I am wrong,' she pleaded timidly, 'don't think any worse ofme; it has grown up with me here.'

The prison, which could spoil so many things, had tainted LittleDorrit's mind no more than this. Engendered as the confusion was, incompassion for the poor prisoner, her father, it was the first speckClennam had ever seen, it was the last speck Clennam ever saw, of theprison atmosphere upon her.

He thought this, and forbore to say another word. With the thought, herpurity and goodness came before him in their brightest light. The littlespot made them the more beautiful.

Worn out with her own emotions, and yielding to the silence of the room,her hand slowly slackened and failed in its fanning movement, and herhead dropped down on the pillow at her father's side. Clennam rosesoftly, opened and closed the door without a sound, and passed from theprison, carrying the quiet with him into the turbulent streets.