Little Dorrit

Little Dorrit

Little Dorrit/49

CHAPTER 11. A Letter from Little Dorrit

Dear Mr Clennam,

As I said in my last that it was best for nobody to write to me, andas my sending you another little letter can therefore give you no othertrouble than the trouble of reading it (perhaps you may not find leisurefor even that, though I hope you will some day), I am now going todevote an hour to writing to you again. This time, I write from Rome.

We left Venice before Mr and Mrs Gowan did, but they were not so longupon the road as we were, and did not travel by the same way, and sowhen we arrived we found them in a lodging here, in a place called theVia Gregoriana. I dare say you know it.

Now I am going to tell you all I can about them, because I know that iswhat you most want to hear. Theirs is not a very comfortable lodging,but perhaps I thought it less so when I first saw it than you would havedone, because you have been in many different countries and haveseen many different customs. Of course it is a far, far betterplace--millions of times--than any I have ever been used to untillately; and I fancy I don't look at it with my own eyes, but with hers.For it would be easy to see that she has always been brought up in atender and happy home, even if she had not told me so with great lovefor it.

Well, it is a rather bare lodging up a rather dark common staircase, andit is nearly all a large dull room, where Mr Gowan paints. The windowsare blocked up where any one could look out, and the walls have beenall drawn over with chalk and charcoal by others who have lived therebefore--oh,--I should think, for years! There is a curtain moredust-coloured than red, which divides it, and the part behind thecurtain makes the private sitting-room. When I first saw her there shewas alone, and her work had fallen out of her hand, and she was lookingup at the sky shining through the tops of the windows. Pray do not beuneasy when I tell you, but it was not quite so airy, nor so bright, norso cheerful, nor so happy and youthful altogether as I should have likedit to be.

On account of Mr Gowan's painting Papa's picture (which I am not quiteconvinced I should have known from the likeness if I had not seen himdoing it), I have had more opportunities of being with her since thenthan I might have had without this fortunate chance. She is very muchalone. Very much alone indeed.

Shall I tell you about the second time I saw her? I went one day, whenit happened that I could run round by myself, at four or five o'clockin the afternoon. She was then dining alone, and her solitary dinner hadbeen brought in from somewhere, over a kind of brazier with a fire init, and she had no company or prospect of company, that I could see,but the old man who had brought it. He was telling her a long story (ofrobbers outside the walls being taken up by a stone statue of a Saint),to entertain her--as he said to me when I came out, 'because he had adaughter of his own, though she was not so pretty.'

I ought now to mention Mr Gowan, before I say what little more I have tosay about her. He must admire her beauty, and he must be proud of her,for everybody praises it, and he must be fond of her, and I do notdoubt that he is--but in his way. You know his way, and if it appearsas careless and discontented in your eyes as it does in mine, I am notwrong in thinking that it might be better suited to her. If it does notseem so to you, I am quite sure I am wholly mistaken; for your unchangedpoor child confides in your knowledge and goodness more than she couldever tell you if she was to try. But don't be frightened, I am not goingto try.

Owing (as I think, if you think so too) to Mr Gowan's unsettledand dissatisfied way, he applies himself to his profession very little.He does nothing steadily or patiently; but equally takes things up andthrows them down, and does them, or leaves them undone, without caringabout them. When I have heard him talking to Papa during the sittingsfor the picture, I have sat wondering whether it could be that he has nobelief in anybody else, because he has no belief in himself. Is it so?I wonder what you will say when you come to this! I know how you willlook, and I can almost hear the voice in which you would tell me on theIron Bridge.

Mr Gowan goes out a good deal among what is considered the best companyhere--though he does not look as if he enjoyed it or liked it when he iswith it--and she sometimes accompanies him, but lately she has gone outvery little. I think I have noticed that they have an inconsistent wayof speaking about her, as if she had made some great self-interestedsuccess in marrying Mr Gowan, though, at the same time, the very samepeople, would not have dreamed of taking him for themselves or theirdaughters. Then he goes into the country besides, to think about makingsketches; and in all places where there are visitors, he has a largeacquaintance and is very well known. Besides all this, he has a friendwho is much in his society both at home and away from home, though hetreats this friend very coolly and is very uncertain in his behaviourto him. I am quite sure (because she has told me so), that she does notlike this friend. He is so revolting to me, too, that his being awayfrom here, at present, is quite a relief to my mind. How much more tohers!

But what I particularly want you to know, and why I have resolvedto tell you so much while I am afraid it may make you a littleuncomfortable without occasion, is this. She is so true and so devoted,and knows so completely that all her love and duty are his for ever,that you may be certain she will love him, admire him, praise him, andconceal all his faults, until she dies. I believe she conceals them, andalways will conceal them, even from herself. She has given him a heartthat can never be taken back; and however much he may try it, he willnever wear out its affection. You know the truth of this, as you knoweverything, far far better than I; but I cannot help telling you what anature she shows, and that you can never think too well of her.

I have not yet called her by her name in this letter, but we are suchfriends now that I do so when we are quietly together, and she speaks tome by my name--I mean, not my Christian name, but the name you gave me.When she began to call me Amy, I told her my short story, and that youhad always called me Little Dorrit. I told her that the name was muchdearer to me than any other, and so she calls me Little Dorrit too.

Perhaps you have not heard from her father or mother yet, and may notknow that she has a baby son. He was born only two days ago, and just aweek after they came. It has made them very happy. However, I must tellyou, as I am to tell you all, that I fancy they are under a constraintwith Mr Gowan, and that they feel as if his mocking way with them wassometimes a slight given to their love for her. It was but yesterday,when I was there, that I saw Mr Meagles change colour, and get up andgo out, as if he was afraid that he might say so, unless he preventedhimself by that means. Yet I am sure they are both so considerate,good-humoured, and reasonable, that he might spare them. It is hard inhim not to think of them a little more.

I stopped at the last full stop to read all this over. It looked atfirst as if I was taking on myself to understand and explain so much,that I was half inclined not to send it. But when I thought it over alittle, I felt more hopeful for your knowing at once that I had onlybeen watchful for you, and had only noticed what I think I have noticed,because I was quickened by your interest in it. Indeed, you may be surethat is the truth.

And now I have done with the subject in the present letter, and havelittle left to say.

We are all quite well, and Fanny improves every day. You can hardlythink how kind she is to me, and what pains she takes with me. She hasa lover, who has followed her, first all the way from Switzerland, andthen all the way from Venice, and who has just confided to me that hemeans to follow her everywhere. I was much confused by his speaking tome about it, but he would. I did not know what to say, but at last Itold him that I thought he had better not. For Fanny (but I did not tellhim this) is much too spirited and clever to suit him. Still, he said hewould, all the same. I have no lover, of course.

If you should ever get so far as this in this long letter, you willperhaps say, Surely Little Dorrit will not leave off without telling mesomething about her travels, and surely it is time she did. I think itis indeed, but I don't know what to tell you. Since we left Venice wehave been in a great many wonderful places, Genoa and Florence amongthem, and have seen so many wonderful sights, that I am almost giddywhen I think what a crowd they make. But you can tell me so much moreabout them than I can tell you, that why should I tire you with myaccounts and descriptions?

Dear Mr Clennam, as I had the courage to tell you what the familiardifficulties in my travelling mind were before, I will not be a cowardnow. One of my frequent thoughts is this:--Old as these cities are,their age itself is hardly so curious, to my reflections, as that theyshould have been in their places all through those days when I did noteven know of the existence of more than two or three of them, and whenI scarcely knew of anything outside our old walls. There is somethingmelancholy in it, and I don't know why. When we went to see the famousleaning tower at Pisa, it was a bright sunny day, and it and thebuildings near it looked so old, and the earth and the sky looked soyoung, and its shadow on the ground was so soft and retired! I could notat first think how beautiful it was, or how curious, but I thought, 'Ohow many times when the shadow of the wall was falling on our room, andwhen that weary tread of feet was going up and down the yard--O how manytimes this place was just as quiet and lovely as it is to-day!' It quiteoverpowered me. My heart was so full that tears burst out of my eyes,though I did what I could to restrain them. And I have the same feelingoften--often.

Do you know that since the change in our fortunes, though I appear tomyself to have dreamed more than before, I have always dreamed of myselfas very young indeed! I am not very old, you may say. No, but that isnot what I mean. I have always dreamed of myself as a child learningto do needlework. I have often dreamed of myself as back there, seeingfaces in the yard little known, and which I should have thought I hadquite forgotten; but, as often as not, I have been abroad here--inSwitzerland, or France, or Italy--somewhere where we have been--yetalways as that little child. I have dreamed of going down to MrsGeneral, with the patches on my clothes in which I can first remembermyself. I have over and over again dreamed of taking my place at dinnerat Venice when we have had a large company, in the mourning for my poormother which I wore when I was eight years old, and wore long after itwas threadbare and would mend no more. It has been a great distress tome to think how irreconcilable the company would consider it with myfather's wealth, and how I should displease and disgrace him and Fannyand Edward by so plainly disclosing what they wished to keep secret. ButI have not grown out of the little child in thinking of it; and at theself-same moment I have dreamed that I have sat with the heart-ache attable, calculating the expenses of the dinner, and quite distractingmyself with thinking how they were ever to be made good. I have neverdreamed of the change in our fortunes itself; I have never dreamed ofyour coming back with me that memorable morning to break it; I havenever even dreamed of you.

Dear Mr Clennam, it is possible that I have thought of you--andothers--so much by day, that I have no thoughts left to wander roundyou by night. For I must now confess to you that I suffer fromhome-sickness--that I long so ardently and earnestly for home, assometimes, when no one sees me, to pine for it. I cannot bear to turn myface further away from it. My heart is a little lightened when we turntowards it, even for a few miles, and with the knowledge that we aresoon to turn away again. So dearly do I love the scene of my poverty andyour kindness. O so dearly, O so dearly!

Heaven knows when your poor child will see England again. We are allfond of the life here (except me), and there are no plans for ourreturn. My dear father talks of a visit to London late in this nextspring, on some affairs connected with the property, but I have no hopethat he will bring me with him.

I have tried to get on a little better under Mrs General's instruction,and I hope I am not quite so dull as I used to be. I have begun to speakand understand, almost easily, the hard languages I told you about. Idid not remember, at the moment when I wrote last, that you knew themboth; but I remembered it afterwards, and it helped me on. God blessyou, dear Mr Clennam. Do not forget

Your ever grateful and affectionate


P.S.--Particularly remember that Minnie Gowan deserves the bestremembrance in which you can hold her. You cannot think too generouslyor too highly of her. I forgot Mr Pancks last time. Please, if youshould see him, give him your Little Dorrit's kind regard. He was verygood to Little D.