Little Dorrit

Little Dorrit

Little Dorrit/38

CHAPTER 36. The Marshalsea becomes an Orphan

And now the day arrived when Mr Dorrit and his family were to leave theprison for ever, and the stones of its much-trodden pavement were toknow them no more.

The interval had been short, but he had greatly complained of itslength, and had been imperious with Mr Rugg touching the delay. He hadbeen high with Mr Rugg, and had threatened to employ some one else. Hehad requested Mr Rugg not to presume upon the place in which he foundhim, but to do his duty, sir, and to do it with promptitude. He had toldMr Rugg that he knew what lawyers and agents were, and that he would notsubmit to imposition. On that gentleman's humbly representing thathe exerted himself to the utmost, Miss Fanny was very short with him;desiring to know what less he could do, when he had been told a dozentimes that money was no object, and expressing her suspicion that heforgot whom he talked to.

Towards the Marshal, who was a Marshal of many years' standing, andwith whom he had never had any previous difference, Mr Dorrit comportedhimself with severity. That officer, on personally tendering hiscongratulations, offered the free use of two rooms in his house for MrDorrit's occupation until his departure. Mr Dorrit thanked him at themoment, and replied that he would think of it; but the Marshal was nosooner gone than he sat down and wrote him a cutting note, in whichhe remarked that he had never on any former occasion had the honour ofreceiving his congratulations (which was true, though indeed there hadnot been anything particular to congratulate him upon), and that hebegged, on behalf of himself and family, to repudiate the Marshal'soffer, with all those thanks which its disinterested character and itsperfect independence of all worldly considerations demanded.

Although his brother showed so dim a glimmering of interest in theiraltered fortunes that it was very doubtful whether he understood them,Mr Dorrit caused him to be measured for new raiment by the hosiers,tailors, hatters, and bootmakers whom he called in for himself; andordered that his old clothes should be taken from him and burned. MissFanny and Mr Tip required no direction in making an appearance of greatfashion and elegance; and the three passed this interval together at thebest hotel in the neighbourhood--though truly, as Miss Fanny said, thebest was very indifferent. In connection with that establishment, MrTip hired a cabriolet, horse, and groom, a very neat turn out, whichwas usually to be observed for two or three hours at a time gracing theBorough High Street, outside the Marshalsea court-yard. A modestlittle hired chariot and pair was also frequently to be seen there;in alighting from and entering which vehicle, Miss Fanny fluttered theMarshal's daughters by the display of inaccessible bonnets.

A great deal of business was transacted in this short period. Amongother items, Messrs Peddle and Pool, solicitors, of Monument Yard, wereinstructed by their client Edward Dorrit, Esquire, to address a letterto Mr Arthur Clennam, enclosing the sum of twenty-four pounds nineshillings and eightpence, being the amount of principal and interestcomputed at the rate of five per cent. per annum, in which theirclient believed himself to be indebted to Mr Clennam. In making thiscommunication and remittance, Messrs Peddle and Pool were furtherinstructed by their client to remind Mr Clennam that the favour of theadvance now repaid (including gate-fees) had not been asked of him, andto inform him that it would not have been accepted if it had been openlyproffered in his name. With which they requested a stamped receipt, andremained his obedient servants. A great deal of business had likewise tobe done, within the so-soon-to-be-orphaned Marshalsea, by Mr Dorritso long its Father, chiefly arising out of applications made to himby Collegians for small sums of money. To these he responded with thegreatest liberality, and with no lack of formality; always first writingto appoint a time at which the applicant might wait upon him in hisroom, and then receiving him in the midst of a vast accumulation ofdocuments, and accompanying his donation (for he said in every suchcase, 'it is a donation, not a loan') with a great deal of good counsel:to the effect that he, the expiring Father of the Marshalsea, hoped tobe long remembered, as an example that a man might preserve his own andthe general respect even there.

The Collegians were not envious. Besides that they had a personal andtraditional regard for a Collegian of so many years' standing, the eventwas creditable to the College, and made it famous in the newspapers.Perhaps more of them thought, too, than were quite aware of it, that thething might in the lottery of chances have happened to themselves, orthat something of the sort might yet happen to themselves some day orother. They took it very well. A few were low at the thought of beingleft behind, and being left poor; but even these did not grudge thefamily their brilliant reverse. There might have been much more envy inpoliter places. It seems probable that mediocrity of fortune would havebeen disposed to be less magnanimous than the Collegians, who lived fromhand to mouth--from the pawnbroker's hand to the day's dinner.

They got up an address to him, which they presented in a neat frame andglass (though it was not afterwards displayed in the family mansion orpreserved among the family papers); and to which he returned a graciousanswer. In that document he assured them, in a Royal manner, that hereceived the profession of their attachment with a full convictionof its sincerity; and again generally exhorted them to follow hisexample--which, at least in so far as coming into a great property wasconcerned, there is no doubt they would have gladly imitated. He tookthe same occasion of inviting them to a comprehensive entertainment, tobe given to the whole College in the yard, and at which he signifiedhe would have the honour of taking a parting glass to the health andhappiness of all those whom he was about to leave behind.

He did not in person dine at this public repast (it took place at two inthe afternoon, and his dinners now came in from the hotel at six), buthis son was so good as to take the head of the principal table, and tobe very free and engaging. He himself went about among the company, andtook notice of individuals, and saw that the viands were of the qualityhe had ordered, and that all were served. On the whole, he was like abaron of the olden time in a rare good humour. At the conclusion of therepast, he pledged his guests in a bumper of old Madeira; and told themthat he hoped they had enjoyed themselves, and what was more, that theywould enjoy themselves for the rest of the evening; that he wished themwell; and that he bade them welcome. His health being drunk withacclamations, he was not so baronial after all but that in trying toreturn thanks he broke down, in the manner of a mere serf with a heartin his breast, and wept before them all. After this great success, whichhe supposed to be a failure, he gave them 'Mr Chivery and his brotherofficers;' whom he had beforehand presented with ten pounds each, andwho were all in attendance. Mr Chivery spoke to the toast, saying, Whatyou undertake to lock up, lock up; but remember that you are, in thewords of the fettered African, a man and a brother ever. The list oftoasts disposed of, Mr Dorrit urbanely went through the motions ofplaying a game of skittles with the Collegian who was the next oldestinhabitant to himself; and left the tenantry to their diversions.

But all these occurrences preceded the final day. And now the dayarrived when he and his family were to leave the prison for ever, andwhen the stones of its much-trodden pavement were to know them no more.

Noon was the hour appointed for the departure. As it approached, therewas not a Collegian within doors, nor a turnkey absent. The latter classof gentlemen appeared in their Sunday clothes, and the greater part ofthe Collegians were brightened up as much as circumstances allowed. Twoor three flags were even displayed, and the children put on odds andends of ribbon. Mr Dorrit himself, at this trying time, preserved aserious but graceful dignity. Much of his great attention was given tohis brother, as to whose bearing on the great occasion he felt anxious.

'My dear Frederick,' said he, 'if you will give me your arm we will passamong our friends together. I think it is right that we should go outarm in arm, my dear Frederick.'

'Hah!' said Frederick. 'Yes, yes, yes, yes.'

'And if, my dear Frederick--if you could, without putting any greatconstraint upon yourself, throw a little (pray excuse me, Frederick), alittle polish into your usual demeanour--'

'William, William,' said the other, shaking his head, 'it's for you todo all that. I don't know how. All forgotten, forgotten!'

'But, my dear fellow,' returned William, 'for that very reason, iffor no other, you must positively try to rouse yourself. What youhave forgotten you must now begin to recall, my dear Frederick. Yourposition--'

'Eh?' said Frederick.

'Your position, my dear Frederick.'

'Mine?' He looked first at his own figure, and then at his brother's,and then, drawing a long breath, cried, 'Hah, to be sure! Yes, yes,yes.'

'Your position, my dear Frederick, is now a fine one. Your position, asmy brother, is a very fine one. And I know that it belongs to yourconscientious nature to try to become worthy of it, my dear Frederick,and to try to adorn it. To be no discredit to it, but to adorn it.'

'William,' said the other weakly, and with a sigh, 'I will do anythingyou wish, my brother, provided it lies in my power. Pray be so kind asto recollect what a limited power mine is. What would you wish me to doto-day, brother? Say what it is, only say what it is.'

'My dearest Frederick, nothing. It is not worth troubling so good aheart as yours with.'

'Pray trouble it,' returned the other. 'It finds it no trouble, William,to do anything it can for you.'

William passed his hand across his eyes, and murmured with augustsatisfaction, 'Blessings on your attachment, my poor dear fellow!' Thenhe said aloud, 'Well, my dear Frederick, if you will only try, as wewalk out, to show that you are alive to the occasion--that you thinkabout it--'

'What would you advise me to think about it?' returned his submissivebrother.

'Oh! my dear Frederick, how can I answer you? I can only say what, inleaving these good people, I think myself.'

'That's it!' cried his brother. 'That will help me.'

'I find that I think, my dear Frederick, and with mixed emotions inwhich a softened compassion predominates, What will they do without me!'

'True,' returned his brother. 'Yes, yes, yes, yes. I'll think that as wego, What will they do without my brother! Poor things! What will they dowithout him!'

Twelve o'clock having just struck, and the carriage being reported readyin the outer court-yard, the brothers proceeded down-stairs arm-in-arm.Edward Dorrit, Esquire (once Tip), and his sister Fanny followed,also arm-in-arm; Mr Plornish and Maggy, to whom had been entrusted theremoval of such of the family effects as were considered worth removing,followed, bearing bundles and burdens to be packed in a cart.

In the yard, were the Collegians and turnkeys. In the yard, were MrPancks and Mr Rugg, come to see the last touch given to their work.In the yard, was Young John making a new epitaph for himself, onthe occasion of his dying of a broken heart. In the yard, was thePatriarchal Casby, looking so tremendously benevolent that manyenthusiastic Collegians grasped him fervently by the hand, and the wivesand female relatives of many more Collegians kissed his hand, nothingdoubting that he had done it all. In the yard, was the man with theshadowy grievance respecting the Fund which the Marshal embezzled, whohad got up at five in the morning to complete the copying of a perfectlyunintelligible history of that transaction, which he had committed to MrDorrit's care, as a document of the last importance, calculated to stunthe Government and effect the Marshal's downfall. In the yard, was theinsolvent whose utmost energies were always set on getting into debt,who broke into prison with as much pains as other men have broken outof it, and who was always being cleared and complimented; while theinsolvent at his elbow--a mere little, snivelling, striving tradesman,half dead of anxious efforts to keep out of debt--found it a hardmatter, indeed, to get a Commissioner to release him with much reproofand reproach. In the yard, was the man of many children and manyburdens, whose failure astonished everybody; in the yard, was the man ofno children and large resources, whose failure astonished nobody. There,were the people who were always going out to-morrow, and always puttingit off; there, were the people who had come in yesterday, and whowere much more jealous and resentful of this freak of fortune thanthe seasoned birds. There, were some who, in pure meanness of spirit,cringed and bowed before the enriched Collegian and his family; there,were others who did so really because their eyes, accustomed to thegloom of their imprisonment and poverty, could not support the light ofsuch bright sunshine. There, were many whose shillings had gone into hispocket to buy him meat and drink; but none who were now obtrusively Hailfellow well met! with him, on the strength of that assistance. It wasrather to be remarked of the caged birds, that they were a little shyof the bird about to be so grandly free, and that they had a tendency towithdraw themselves towards the bars, and seem a little fluttered as hepassed.

Through these spectators the little procession, headed by the twobrothers, moved slowly to the gate. Mr Dorrit, yielding to the vastspeculation how the poor creatures were to get on without him, wasgreat, and sad, but not absorbed. He patted children on the headlike Sir Roger de Coverley going to church, he spoke to people in thebackground by their Christian names, he condescended to all present, andseemed for their consolation to walk encircled by the legend in goldencharacters, 'Be comforted, my people! Bear it!'

At last three honest cheers announced that he had passed the gate, andthat the Marshalsea was an orphan. Before they had ceased to ring in theechoes of the prison walls, the family had got into their carriage, andthe attendant had the steps in his hand.

Then, and not before, 'Good Gracious!' cried Miss Fanny all at once,'Where's Amy!'

Her father had thought she was with her sister. Her sister had thoughtshe was 'somewhere or other.' They had all trusted to finding her, asthey had always done, quietly in the right place at the right moment.This going away was perhaps the very first action of their joint livesthat they had got through without her.

A minute might have been consumed in the ascertaining of these points,when Miss Fanny, who, from her seat in the carriage, commanded the longnarrow passage leading to the Lodge, flushed indignantly.

'Now I do say, Pa,' cried she, 'that this is disgraceful!'

'What is disgraceful, Fanny?'

'I do say,' she repeated, 'this is perfectly infamous! Really almostenough, even at such a time as this, to make one wish one was dead!Here is that child Amy, in her ugly old shabby dress, which she was soobstinate about, Pa, which I over and over again begged and prayed herto change, and which she over and over again objected to, and promisedto change to-day, saying she wished to wear it as long as ever sheremained in there with you--which was absolutely romantic nonsense ofthe lowest kind--here is that child Amy disgracing us to the last momentand at the last moment, by being carried out in that dress after all.And by that Mr Clennam too!'

The offence was proved, as she delivered the indictment. Clennamappeared at the carriage-door, bearing the little insensible figure inhis arms.

'She has been forgotten,' he said, in a tone of pity not free fromreproach. 'I ran up to her room (which Mr Chivery showed me) and foundthe door open, and that she had fainted on the floor, dear child.She appeared to have gone to change her dress, and to have sunk downoverpowered. It may have been the cheering, or it may have happenedsooner. Take care of this poor cold hand, Miss Dorrit. Don't let itfall.'

'Thank you, sir,' returned Miss Dorrit, bursting into tears. 'I believeI know what to do, if you will give me leave. Dear Amy, open your eyes,that's a love! Oh, Amy, Amy, I really am so vexed and ashamed! Do rouseyourself, darling! Oh, why are they not driving on! Pray, Pa, do driveon!'

The attendant, getting between Clennam and the carriage-door, with asharp 'By your leave, sir!' bundled up the steps, and they drove away.