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CHAPTER 3. On the Road
The bright morning sun dazzled the eyes, the snow had ceased, the mistshad vanished, the mountain air was so clear and light that thenew sensation of breathing it was like the having entered on a newexistence. To help the delusion, the solid ground itself seemed gone,and the mountain, a shining waste of immense white heaps and masses, tobe a region of cloud floating between the blue sky above and the earthfar below.
Some dark specks in the snow, like knots upon a little thread, beginningat the convent door and winding away down the descent in broken lengthswhich were not yet pieced together, showed where the Brethren were atwork in several places clearing the track. Already the snow had begun tobe foot-thawed again about the door. Mules were busily brought out, tiedto the rings in the wall, and laden; strings of bells were buckledon, burdens were adjusted, the voices of drivers and riders soundedmusically. Some of the earliest had even already resumed their journey;and, both on the level summit by the dark water near the convent, and onthe downward way of yesterday's ascent, little moving figures of men andmules, reduced to miniatures by the immensity around, went with a cleartinkling of bells and a pleasant harmony of tongues.
In the supper-room of last night, a new fire, piled upon the featheryashes of the old one, shone upon a homely breakfast of loaves, butter,and milk. It also shone on the courier of the Dorrit family, making teafor his party from a supply he had brought up with him, together withseveral other small stores which were chiefly laid in for the use of thestrong body of inconvenience. Mr Gowan and Blandois of Paris had alreadybreakfasted, and were walking up and down by the lake, smoking theircigars.
'Gowan, eh?' muttered Tip, otherwise Edward Dorrit, Esquire, turningover the leaves of the book, when the courier had left them tobreakfast. 'Then Gowan is the name of a puppy, that's all I have got tosay! If it was worth my while, I'd pull his nose. But it isn't worth mywhile--fortunately for him. How's his wife, Amy? I suppose you know.You generally know things of that sort.'
'She is better, Edward. But they are not going to-day.'
'Oh! They are not going to-day! Fortunately for that fellow too,' saidTip, 'or he and I might have come into collision.'
'It is thought better here that she should lie quiet to-day, and not befatigued and shaken by the ride down until to-morrow.'
'With all my heart. But you talk as if you had been nursing her. Youhaven't been relapsing into (Mrs General is not here) into old habits,have you, Amy?'
He asked her the question with a sly glance of observation at MissFanny, and at his father too.
'I have only been in to ask her if I could do anything for her, Tip,'said Little Dorrit.
'You needn't call me Tip, Amy child,' returned that young gentlemanwith a frown; 'because that's an old habit, and one you may as well layaside.'
'I didn't mean to say so, Edward dear. I forgot. It was so natural once,that it seemed at the moment the right word.'
'Oh yes!' Miss Fanny struck in. 'Natural, and right word, and once, andall the rest of it! Nonsense, you little thing! I know perfectly wellwhy you have been taking such an interest in this Mrs Gowan. You can'tblind _me_.'
'I will not try to, Fanny. Don't be angry.'
'Oh! angry!' returned that young lady with a flounce. 'I have nopatience' (which indeed was the truth).
'Pray, Fanny,' said Mr Dorrit, raising his eyebrows, 'what do you mean?Explain yourself.'
'Oh! Never mind, Pa,' replied Miss Fanny, 'it's no great matter.Amy will understand me. She knew, or knew of, this Mrs Gowan beforeyesterday, and she may as well admit that she did.'
'My child,' said Mr Dorrit, turning to his younger daughter, 'has yoursister--any--ha--authority for this curious statement?'
'However meek we are,' Miss Fanny struck in before she could answer, 'wedon't go creeping into people's rooms on the tops of cold mountains,and sitting perishing in the frost with people, unless we know somethingabout them beforehand. It's not very hard to divine whose friend MrsGowan is.'
'Whose friend?' inquired her father.
'Pa, I am sorry to say,' returned Miss Fanny, who had by this timesucceeded in goading herself into a state of much ill-usage andgrievance, which she was often at great pains to do: 'that I believe herto be a friend of that very objectionable and unpleasant person, who,with a total absence of all delicacy, which our experience might haveled us to expect from him, insulted us and outraged our feelings inso public and wilful a manner on an occasion to which it is understoodamong us that we will not more pointedly allude.'
'Amy, my child,' said Mr Dorrit, tempering a bland severity with adignified affection, 'is this the case?'
Little Dorrit mildly answered, yes it was.
'Yes it is!' cried Miss Fanny. 'Of course! I said so! And now, Pa, I dodeclare once for all'--this young lady was in the habit of declaring thesame thing once for all every day of her life, and even several times ina day--'that this is shameful! I do declare once for all that it oughtto be put a stop to. Is it not enough that we have gone through whatis only known to ourselves, but are we to have it thrown in our faces,perseveringly and systematically, by the very person who should spareour feelings most? Are we to be exposed to this unnatural conduct everymoment of our lives? Are we never to be permitted to forget? I sayagain, it is absolutely infamous!'
'Well, Amy,' observed her brother, shaking his head, 'you know I standby you whenever I can, and on most occasions. But I must say, that, uponmy soul, I do consider it rather an unaccountable mode of showing yoursisterly affection, that you should back up a man who treated me in themost ungentlemanly way in which one man can treat another. And who,' headded convincingly, 'must be a low-minded thief, you know, or he nevercould have conducted himself as he did.'
'And see,' said Miss Fanny, 'see what is involved in this! Can we everhope to be respected by our servants? Never. Here are our two women, andPa's valet, and a footman, and a courier, and all sorts of dependents,and yet in the midst of these, we are to have one of ourselves rushingabout with tumblers of cold water, like a menial! Why, a policeman,'said Miss Fanny, 'if a beggar had a fit in the street, could but goplunging about with tumblers, as this very Amy did in this very roombefore our very eyes last night!'
'I don't so much mind that, once in a way,' remarked Mr Edward; 'butyour Clennam, as he thinks proper to call himself, is another thing.'
'He is part of the same thing,' returned Miss Fanny, 'and of a piecewith all the rest. He obtruded himself upon us in the first instance.We never wanted him. I always showed him, for one, that I couldhave dispensed with his company with the greatest pleasure.He then commits that gross outrage upon our feelings, which he nevercould or would have committed but for the delight he took in exposingus; and then we are to be demeaned for the service of his friends! Why,I don't wonder at this Mr Gowan's conduct towards you. What else wasto be expected when he was enjoying our past misfortunes--gloating overthem at the moment!'
'Father--Edward--no indeed!' pleaded Little Dorrit. 'Neither Mr nor MrsGowan had ever heard our name. They were, and they are, quite ignorantof our history.'
'So much the worse,' retorted Fanny, determined not to admit anything inextenuation, 'for then you have no excuse. If they had known about us,you might have felt yourself called upon to conciliate them. That wouldhave been a weak and ridiculous mistake, but I can respect a mistake,whereas I can't respect a wilful and deliberate abasing of those whoshould be nearest and dearest to us. No. I can't respect that. I can donothing but denounce that.'
'I never offend you wilfully, Fanny,' said Little Dorrit, 'though youare so hard with me.'
'Then you should be more careful, Amy,' returned her sister. 'If you dosuch things by accident, you should be more careful. If I happened tohave been born in a peculiar place, and under peculiar circumstancesthat blunted my knowledge of propriety, I fancy I should think myselfbound to consider at every step, Am I going, ignorantly, to compromiseany near and dear relations? That is what I fancy _I_ should do, if itwas _my_ case.'
Mr Dorrit now interposed, at once to stop these painful subjects by hisauthority, and to point their moral by his wisdom.
'My dear,' said he to his younger daughter, 'I beg you to--ha--to sayno more. Your sister Fanny expresses herself strongly, but not withoutconsiderable reason. You have now a--hum--a great position to support.That great position is not occupied by yourself alone, but by--ha--byme, and--ha hum--by us. Us. Now, it is incumbent upon all people in anexalted position, but it is particularly so on this family, for reasonswhich I--ha--will not dwell upon, to make themselves respected. To bevigilant in making themselves respected. Dependants, to respect us, mustbe--ha--kept at a distance and--hum--kept down. Down. Therefore, yournot exposing yourself to the remarks of our attendants by appearing tohave at any time dispensed with their services and performed them foryourself, is--ha--highly important.'
'Why, who can doubt it?' cried Miss Fanny. 'It's the essence ofeverything.'
'Fanny,' returned her father, grandiloquently, 'give me leave, my dear.We then come to--ha--to Mr Clennam. I am free to say that I do not, Amy,share your sister's sentiments--that is to say altogether--hum--altogether--in reference to Mr Clennam. I am content to regard thatindividual in the light of--ha--generally--a well-behaved person. Hum.A well-behaved person. Nor will I inquire whether Mr Clennam did, at anytime, obtrude himself on--ha--my society. He knew my society tobe--hum--sought, and his plea might be that he regarded me in the lightof a public character. But there were circumstances attendingmy--ha--slight knowledge of Mr Clennam (it was very slight), which,'here Mr Dorrit became extremely grave and impressive, 'would render ithighly indelicate in Mr Clennam to--ha--to seek to renew communicationwith me or with any member of my family under existing circumstances.If Mr Clennam has sufficient delicacy to perceive the impropriety ofany such attempt, I am bound as a responsible gentleman to--ha--deferto that delicacy on his part. If, on the other hand, Mr Clennam has notthat delicacy, I cannot for a moment--ha--hold any correspondence withso--hum--coarse a mind. In either case, it would appear that Mr Clennamis put altogether out of the question, and that we have nothing to dowith him or he with us. Ha--Mrs General!'
The entrance of the lady whom he announced, to take her place at thebreakfast-table, terminated the discussion. Shortly afterwards, thecourier announced that the valet, and the footman, and the two maids,and the four guides, and the fourteen mules, were in readiness; so thebreakfast party went out to the convent door to join the cavalcade.
Mr Gowan stood aloof with his cigar and pencil, but Mr Blandois was onthe spot to pay his respects to the ladies. When he gallantly pulledoff his slouched hat to Little Dorrit, she thought he had even a moresinister look, standing swart and cloaked in the snow, than he hadin the fire-light over-night. But, as both her father and her sisterreceived his homage with some favour, she refrained from expressing anydistrust of him, lest it should prove to be a new blemish derived fromher prison birth.
Nevertheless, as they wound down the rugged way while the convent wasyet in sight, she more than once looked round, and descried Mr Blandois,backed by the convent smoke which rose straight and high from thechimneys in a golden film, always standing on one jutting point lookingdown after them. Long after he was a mere black stick in the snow, shefelt as though she could yet see that smile of his, that high nose, andthose eyes that were too near it. And even after that, when the conventwas gone and some light morning clouds veiled the pass below it, theghastly skeleton arms by the wayside seemed to be all pointing up athim.
More treacherous than snow, perhaps, colder at heart, and harder tomelt, Blandois of Paris by degrees passed out of her mind, as they camedown into the softer regions. Again the sun was warm, again the streamsdescending from glaciers and snowy caverns were refreshing to drink at,again they came among the pine-trees, the rocky rivulets, the verdantheights and dales, the wooden chalets and rough zigzag fences of Swisscountry. Sometimes the way so widened that she and her father couldride abreast. And then to look at him, handsomely clothed in his fur andbroadcloths, rich, free, numerously served and attended, his eyes rovingfar away among the glories of the landscape, no miserable screen beforethem to darken his sight and cast its shadow on him, was enough.
Her uncle was so far rescued from that shadow of old, that he wore theclothes they gave him, and performed some ablutions as a sacrifice tothe family credit, and went where he was taken, with a certain patientanimal enjoyment, which seemed to express that the air and change didhim good. In all other respects, save one, he shone with no light butsuch as was reflected from his brother. His brother's greatness, wealth,freedom, and grandeur, pleased him without any reference to himself.Silent and retiring, he had no use for speech when he could hear hisbrother speak; no desire to be waited on, so that the servants devotedthemselves to his brother. The only noticeable change he originated inhimself, was an alteration in his manner to his younger niece. Every dayit refined more and more into a marked respect, very rarely shown by ageto youth, and still more rarely susceptible, one would have said, of thefitness with which he invested it. On those occasions when Miss Fannydid declare once for all, he would take the next opportunity of baringhis grey head before his younger niece, and of helping her to alight,or handing her to the carriage, or showing her any other attention, withthe profoundest deference. Yet it never appeared misplaced or forced,being always heartily simple, spontaneous, and genuine. Neither would heever consent, even at his brother's request, to be helped to any placebefore her, or to take precedence of her in anything. So jealous was heof her being respected, that, on this very journey down from the GreatSaint Bernard, he took sudden and violent umbrage at the footman's beingremiss to hold her stirrup, though standing near when she dismounted;and unspeakably astonished the whole retinue by charging at him on ahard-headed mule, riding him into a corner, and threatening to tramplehim to death.
They were a goodly company, and the Innkeepers all but worshipped them.Wherever they went, their importance preceded them in the person of thecourier riding before, to see that the rooms of state were ready. He wasthe herald of the family procession. The great travelling-carriage camenext: containing, inside, Mr Dorrit, Miss Dorrit, Miss Amy Dorrit,and Mrs General; outside, some of the retainers, and (in fine weather)Edward Dorrit, Esquire, for whom the box was reserved. Then camethe chariot containing Frederick Dorrit, Esquire, and an empty placeoccupied by Edward Dorrit, Esquire, in wet weather. Then came thefourgon with the rest of the retainers, the heavy baggage, and as muchas it could carry of the mud and dust which the other vehicles leftbehind.
These equipages adorned the yard of the hotel at Martigny, on the returnof the family from their mountain excursion. Other vehicles were there,much company being on the road, from the patched Italian Vettura--likethe body of a swing from an English fair put upon a wooden tray onwheels, and having another wooden tray without wheels put atop of it--tothe trim English carriage. But there was another adornment of thehotel which Mr Dorrit had not bargained for. Two strange travellersembellished one of his rooms.
The Innkeeper, hat in hand in the yard, swore to the courier that he wasblighted, that he was desolated, that he was profoundly afflicted, thathe was the most miserable and unfortunate of beasts, that he had thehead of a wooden pig. He ought never to have made the concession, hesaid, but the very genteel lady had so passionately prayed him for theaccommodation of that room to dine in, only for a little half-hour, thathe had been vanquished. The little half-hour was expired, the lady andgentleman were taking their little dessert and half-cup of coffee, thenote was paid, the horses were ordered, they would depart immediately;but, owing to an unhappy destiny and the curse of Heaven, they were notyet gone.
Nothing could exceed Mr Dorrit's indignation, as he turned at the footof the staircase on hearing these apologies. He felt that the familydignity was struck at by an assassin's hand. He had a sense of hisdignity, which was of the most exquisite nature. He could detect adesign upon it when nobody else had any perception of the fact. Hislife was made an agony by the number of fine scalpels that he felt to beincessantly engaged in dissecting his dignity.
'Is it possible, sir,' said Mr Dorrit, reddening excessively, 'that youhave--ha--had the audacity to place one of my rooms at the dispositionof any other person?'
Thousands of pardons! It was the host's profound misfortune to have beenovercome by that too genteel lady. He besought Monseigneur not to enragehimself. He threw himself on Monseigneur for clemency. If Monseigneurwould have the distinguished goodness to occupy the other salonespecially reserved for him, for but five minutes, all would go well.
'No, sir,' said Mr Dorrit. 'I will not occupy any salon. I will leaveyour house without eating or drinking, or setting foot in it. How doyou dare to act like this? Who am I that you--ha--separate me from othergentlemen?'
Alas! The host called all the universe to witness that Monseigneur wasthe most amiable of the whole body of nobility, the most important,the most estimable, the most honoured. If he separated Monseigneur fromothers, it was only because he was more distinguished, more cherished,more generous, more renowned.
'Don't tell me so, sir,' returned Mr Dorrit, in a mighty heat. 'You haveaffronted me. You have heaped insults upon me. How dare you? Explainyourself.'
Ah, just Heaven, then, how could the host explain himself when he hadnothing more to explain; when he had only to apologise, and confidehimself to the so well-known magnanimity of Monseigneur!
'I tell you, sir,' said Mr Dorrit, panting with anger, 'that youseparate me--ha--from other gentlemen; that you make distinctionsbetween me and other gentlemen of fortune and station. I demand of you,why? I wish to know on--ha--what authority, on whose authority. Replysir. Explain. Answer why.'
Permit the landlord humbly to submit to Monsieur the Courier then, thatMonseigneur, ordinarily so gracious, enraged himself without cause.There was no why. Monsieur the Courier would represent to Monseigneur,that he deceived himself in suspecting that there was any why, but thewhy his devoted servant had already had the honour to present to him.The very genteel lady--
'Silence!' cried Mr Dorrit. 'Hold your tongue! I will hear no moreof the very genteel lady; I will hear no more of you. Look at thisfamily--my family--a family more genteel than any lady. You have treatedthis family with disrespect; you have been insolent to this family. I'llruin you. Ha--send for the horses, pack the carriages, I'll not set footin this man's house again!'
No one had interfered in the dispute, which was beyond the Frenchcolloquial powers of Edward Dorrit, Esquire, and scarcely within theprovince of the ladies. Miss Fanny, however, now supported her fatherwith great bitterness; declaring, in her native tongue, that it wasquite clear there was something special in this man's impertinence;and that she considered it important that he should be, by some means,forced to give up his authority for making distinctions between thatfamily and other wealthy families. What the reasons of his presumptioncould be, she was at a loss to imagine; but reasons he must have, andthey ought to be torn from him.
All the guides, mule-drivers, and idlers in the yard, had madethemselves parties to the angry conference, and were much impressed bythe courier's now bestirring himself to get the carriages out. With theaid of some dozen people to each wheel, this was done at a great cost ofnoise; and then the loading was proceeded with, pending the arrival ofthe horses from the post-house.
But the very genteel lady's English chariot being already horsed and atthe inn-door, the landlord had slipped up-stairs to represent his hardcase. This was notified to the yard by his now coming down the staircasein attendance on the gentleman and the lady, and by his pointing out theoffended majesty of Mr Dorrit to them with a significant motion of hishand.
'Beg your pardon,' said the gentleman, detaching himself from thelady, and coming forward. 'I am a man of few words and a bad hand at anexplanation--but lady here is extremely anxious that there should be noRow. Lady--a mother of mine, in point of fact--wishes me to say that shehopes no Row.'
Mr Dorrit, still panting under his injury, saluted the gentleman, andsaluted the lady, in a distant, final, and invincible manner.
'No, but really--here, old feller; you!' This was the gentleman's way ofappealing to Edward Dorrit, Esquire, on whom he pounced as a great andprovidential relief. 'Let you and I try to make this all right. Lady sovery much wishes no Row.'
Edward Dorrit, Esquire, led a little apart by the button, assumed adiplomatic expression of countenance in replying, 'Why you must confess,that when you bespeak a lot of rooms beforehand, and they belong to you,it's not pleasant to find other people in 'em.'
'No,' said the other, 'I know it isn't. I admit it. Still, let you and Itry to make it all right, and avoid Row. The fault is not this chap'sat all, but my mother's. Being a remarkably fine woman with no bigoddnonsense about her--well educated, too--she was too many for this chap.Regularly pocketed him.'
'If that's the case--' Edward Dorrit, Esquire, began.
'Assure you 'pon my soul 'tis the case. Consequently,' said the othergentleman, retiring on his main position, 'why Row?'
'Edmund,' said the lady from the doorway, 'I hope you have explained,or are explaining, to the satisfaction of this gentleman and his familythat the civil landlord is not to blame?'
'Assure you, ma'am,' returned Edmund, 'perfectly paralysing myself withtrying it on.' He then looked steadfastly at Edward Dorrit, Esquire, forsome seconds, and suddenly added, in a burst of confidence, 'Old feller!_Is_ it all right?'
'I don't know, after all,' said the lady, gracefully advancing a step ortwo towards Mr Dorrit, 'but that I had better say myself, at once,that I assured this good man I took all the consequences on myself ofoccupying one of a stranger's suite of rooms during his absence, forjust as much (or as little) time as I could dine in. I had no idea therightful owner would come back so soon, nor had I any idea that hehad come back, or I should have hastened to make restoration of myill-gotten chamber, and to have offered my explanation and apology. Itrust in saying this--'
For a moment the lady, with a glass at her eye, stood transfixed andspeechless before the two Miss Dorrits. At the same moment, Miss Fanny,in the foreground of a grand pictorial composition, formed by thefamily, the family equipages, and the family servants, held her sistertight under one arm to detain her on the spot, and with the other armfanned herself with a distinguished air, and negligently surveyed thelady from head to foot.
The lady, recovering herself quickly--for it was Mrs Merdle and she wasnot easily dashed--went on to add that she trusted in saying this, sheapologised for her boldness, and restored this well-behaved landlord tothe favour that was so very valuable to him. Mr Dorrit, on the altar ofwhose dignity all this was incense, made a gracious reply; and saidthat his people should--ha--countermand his horses, and hewould--hum--overlook what he had at first supposed to be an affront,but now regarded as an honour. Upon this the bosom bent to him; and itsowner, with a wonderful command of feature, addressed a winning smile ofadieu to the two sisters, as young ladies of fortune in whose favour shewas much prepossessed, and whom she had never had the gratification ofseeing before.
Not so, however, Mr Sparkler. This gentleman, becoming transfixed atthe same moment as his lady-mother, could not by any means unfix himselfagain, but stood stiffly staring at the whole composition with MissFanny in the Foreground. On his mother saying, 'Edmund, we are quiteready; will you give me your arm?' he seemed, by the motion of his lips,to reply with some remark comprehending the form of words in which hisshining talents found the most frequent utterance, but he relaxed nomuscle. So fixed was his figure, that it would have been matter of somedifficulty to bend him sufficiently to get him in the carriage-door,if he had not received the timely assistance of a maternal pull fromwithin. He was no sooner within than the pad of the little window in theback of the chariot disappeared, and his eye usurped its place. Thereit remained as long as so small an object was discernible, and probablymuch longer, staring (as though something inexpressibly surprisingshould happen to a codfish) like an ill-executed eye in a large locket.
This encounter was so highly agreeable to Miss Fanny, and gave herso much to think of with triumph afterwards, that it softened herasperities exceedingly. When the procession was again in motion nextday, she occupied her place in it with a new gaiety; and showed such aflow of spirits indeed, that Mrs General looked rather surprised.
Little Dorrit was glad to be found no fault with, and to see that Fannywas pleased; but her part in the procession was a musing part, and aquiet one. Sitting opposite her father in the travelling-carriage, andrecalling the old Marshalsea room, her present existence was a dream.All that she saw was new and wonderful, but it was not real; it seemedto her as if those visions of mountains and picturesque countries mightmelt away at any moment, and the carriage, turning some abrupt corner,bring up with a jolt at the old Marshalsea gate.
To have no work to do was strange, but not half so strange as havingglided into a corner where she had no one to think for, nothing to planand contrive, no cares of others to load herself with. Strange as thatwas, it was far stranger yet to find a space between herself and herfather, where others occupied themselves in taking care of him, andwhere she was never expected to be. At first, this was so much moreunlike her old experience than even the mountains themselves, that shehad been unable to resign herself to it, and had tried to retain herold place about him. But he had spoken to her alone, and had said thatpeople--ha--people in an exalted position, my dear, must scrupulouslyexact respect from their dependents; and that for her, his daughter,Miss Amy Dorrit, of the sole remaining branch of the Dorrits ofDorsetshire, to be known to--hum--to occupy herself in fulfilling thefunctions of--ha hum--a valet, would be incompatible with that respect.Therefore, my dear, he--ha--he laid his parental injunctions uponher, to remember that she was a lady, who had now to conduct herselfwith--hum--a proper pride, and to preserve the rank of a lady;and consequently he requested her to abstain from doing what wouldoccasion--ha--unpleasant and derogatory remarks. She had obeyed withouta murmur. Thus it had been brought about that she now sat in her cornerof the luxurious carriage with her little patient hands folded beforeher, quite displaced even from the last point of the old standing groundin life on which her feet had lingered.
It was from this position that all she saw appeared unreal; the moresurprising the scenes, the more they resembled the unreality of herown inner life as she went through its vacant places all day long. Thegorges of the Simplon, its enormous depths and thundering waterfalls,the wonderful road, the points of danger where a loose wheel or afaltering horse would have been destruction, the descent into Italy, theopening of that beautiful land as the rugged mountain-chasm widened andlet them out from a gloomy and dark imprisonment--all a dream--only theold mean Marshalsea a reality. Nay, even the old mean Marshalsea wasshaken to its foundations when she pictured it without her father. Shecould scarcely believe that the prisoners were still lingering in theclose yard, that the mean rooms were still every one tenanted, and thatthe turnkey still stood in the Lodge letting people in and out, all justas she well knew it to be.
With a remembrance of her father's old life in prison hanging about herlike the burden of a sorrowful tune, Little Dorrit would wake from adream of her birth-place into a whole day's dream. The painted room inwhich she awoke, often a humbled state-chamber in a dilapidated palace,would begin it; with its wild red autumnal vine-leaves overhanging theglass, its orange-trees on the cracked white terrace outside the window,a group of monks and peasants in the little street below, misery andmagnificence wrestling with each other upon every rood of ground inthe prospect, no matter how widely diversified, and misery throwingmagnificence with the strength of fate. To this would succeed alabyrinth of bare passages and pillared galleries, with the familyprocession already preparing in the quadrangle below, through thecarriages and luggage being brought together by the servants for theday's journey. Then breakfast in another painted chamber, damp-stainedand of desolate proportions; and then the departure, which, to hertimidity and sense of not being grand enough for her place in theceremonies, was always an uneasy thing. For then the courier (whohimself would have been a foreign gentleman of high mark in theMarshalsea) would present himself to report that all was ready; and thenher father's valet would pompously induct him into his travelling-cloak;and then Fanny's maid, and her own maid (who was a weight on LittleDorrit's mind--absolutely made her cry at first, she knew so littlewhat to do with her), would be in attendance; and then her brother's manwould complete his master's equipment; and then her father would givehis arm to Mrs General, and her uncle would give his to her, and,escorted by the landlord and Inn servants, they would swoop down-stairs.There, a crowd would be collected to see them enter their carriages,which, amidst much bowing, and begging, and prancing, and lashing, andclattering, they would do; and so they would be driven madly throughnarrow unsavoury streets, and jerked out at the town gate.
Among the day's unrealities would be roads where the bright red vineswere looped and garlanded together on trees for many miles; woods ofolives; white villages and towns on hill-sides, lovely without, butfrightful in their dirt and poverty within; crosses by the way; deepblue lakes with fairy islands, and clustering boats with awnings ofbright colours and sails of beautiful forms; vast piles of buildingmouldering to dust; hanging-gardens where the weeds had grown so strongthat their stems, like wedges driven home, had split the arch and rentthe wall; stone-terraced lanes, with the lizards running into and outof every chink; beggars of all sorts everywhere: pitiful, picturesque,hungry, merry; children beggars and aged beggars. Often atposting-houses and other halting places, these miserable creatures wouldappear to her the only realities of the day; and many a time, when themoney she had brought to give them was all given away, she would sitwith her folded hands, thoughtfully looking after some diminutive girlleading her grey father, as if the sight reminded her of something inthe days that were gone.
Again, there would be places where they stayed the week together insplendid rooms, had banquets every day, rode out among heaps of wonders,walked through miles of palaces, and rested in dark corners of greatchurches; where there were winking lamps of gold and silver amongpillars and arches, kneeling figures dotted about at confessionals andon the pavements; where there was the mist and scent of incense; wherethere were pictures, fantastic images, gaudy altars, great heights anddistances, all softly lighted through stained glass, and the massivecurtains that hung in the doorways. From these cities they would go onagain, by the roads of vines and olives, through squalid villages, wherethere was not a hovel without a gap in its filthy walls, not a windowwith a whole inch of glass or paper; where there seemed to be nothing tosupport life, nothing to eat, nothing to make, nothing to grow, nothingto hope, nothing to do but die.
Again they would come to whole towns of palaces, whose proper inmateswere all banished, and which were all changed into barracks: troopsof idle soldiers leaning out of the state windows, where theiraccoutrements hung drying on the marble architecture, and showing to themind like hosts of rats who were (happily) eating away the props of theedifices that supported them, and must soon, with them, be smashed onthe heads of the other swarms of soldiers and the swarms of priests, andthe swarms of spies, who were all the ill-looking population left to beruined, in the streets below.
Through such scenes, the family procession moved on to Venice. And hereit dispersed for a time, as they were to live in Venice some few monthsin a palace (itself six times as big as the whole Marshalsea) on theGrand 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 byno sound but the softened ringing of church-bells, the rippling ofthe current, and the cry of the gondoliers turning the corners of theflowing streets, Little Dorrit, quite lost by her task being done, satdown to muse. The family began a gay life, went here and there, andturned night into day; but she was timid of joining in their gaieties,and only asked leave to be left alone.
Sometimes she would step into one of the gondolas that were always keptin waiting, moored to painted posts at the door--when she could escapefrom the attendance of that oppressive maid, who was her mistress, anda very hard one--and would be taken all over the strange city. Socialpeople in other gondolas began to ask each other who the little solitarygirl was whom they passed, sitting in her boat with folded hands,looking so pensively and wonderingly about her. Never thinking thatit would be worth anybody's while to notice her or her doings, LittleDorrit, in her quiet, scared, lost manner, went about the city none theless.
But her favourite station was the balcony of her own room, overhangingthe canal, with other balconies below, and none above. It was of massivestone darkened by ages, built in a wild fancy which came from the Eastto that collection of wild fancies; and Little Dorrit was little indeed,leaning on the broad-cushioned ledge, and looking over. As she liked noplace of an evening half so well, she soon began to be watched for, andmany eyes in passing gondolas were raised, and many people said, Therewas 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 itslong low lines of purple and red, and its burning flush high up intothe sky: so glowing on the buildings, and so lightening their structure,that it made them look as if their strong walls were transparent, andthey shone from within. She would watch those glories expire; and then,after looking at the black gondolas underneath, taking guests to musicand dancing, would raise her eyes to the shining stars. Was there noparty of her own, in other times, on which the stars had shone? To thinkof that old gate now!
She would think of that old gate, and of herself sitting at it in thedead of the night, pillowing Maggy's head; and of other places and ofother scenes associated with those different times. And then she wouldlean upon her balcony, and look over at the water, as though they alllay underneath it. When she got to that, she would musingly watch itsrunning, as if, in the general vision, it might run dry, and show herthe prison again, and herself, and the old room, and the old inmates,and the old visitors: all lasting realities that had never changed.