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Actions & Adventure
History & Fiction
Thrillers & Crime
Romance & Love
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CHAPTER 19. The Storming of the Castle in the Air
The sun had gone down full four hours, and it was later than mosttravellers would like it to be for finding themselves outside the wallsof Rome, when Mr Dorrit's carriage, still on its last wearisomestage, rattled over the solitary Campagna. The savage herdsmen andthe fierce-looking peasants who had chequered the way while the lightlasted, had all gone down with the sun, and left the wildernessblank. At some turns of the road, a pale flare on the horizon, like anexhalation from the ruin-sown land, showed that the city was yet faroff; but this poor relief was rare and short-lived. The carriage dippeddown again into a hollow of the black dry sea, and for a long time therewas nothing visible save its petrified swell and the gloomy sky.
Mr Dorrit, though he had his castle-building to engage his mind, couldnot be quite easy in that desolate place. He was far more curious, inevery swerve of the carriage, and every cry of the postilions, than hehad been since he quitted London. The valet on the box evidently quaked.The Courier in the rumble was not altogether comfortable in his mind. Asoften as Mr Dorrit let down the glass and looked back at him (which wasvery often), he saw him smoking John Chivery out, it is true, but stillgenerally standing up the while and looking about him, like a man whohad his suspicions, and kept upon his guard. Then would Mr Dorrit,pulling up the glass again, reflect that those postilions werecut-throat looking fellows, and that he would have done better to haveslept at Civita Vecchia, and have started betimes in the morning. But,for all this, he worked at his castle in the intervals.
And now, fragments of ruinous enclosure, yawning window-gap and crazywall, deserted houses, leaking wells, broken water-tanks, spectralcypress-trees, patches of tangled vine, and the changing of the track toa long, irregular, disordered lane where everything was crumbling away,from the unsightly buildings to the jolting road--now, these objectsshowed that they were nearing Rome. And now, a sudden twist and stoppageof the carriage inspired Mr Dorrit with the mistrust that the brigandmoment was come for twisting him into a ditch and robbing him; until,letting down the glass again and looking out, he perceived himselfassailed by nothing worse than a funeral procession, which camemechanically chaunting by, with an indistinct show of dirty vestments,lurid torches, swinging censers, and a great cross borne before apriest. He was an ugly priest by torchlight; of a lowering aspect, withan overhanging brow; and as his eyes met those of Mr Dorrit, lookingbareheaded out of the carriage, his lips, moving as they chaunted,seemed to threaten that important traveller; likewise the action ofhis hand, which was in fact his manner of returning the traveller'ssalutation, seemed to come in aid of that menace. So thought Mr Dorrit,made fanciful by the weariness of building and travelling, as the priestdrifted past him, and the procession straggled away, taking its deadalong with it. Upon their so-different way went Mr Dorrit's company too;and soon, with their coach load of luxuries from the two great capitalsof Europe, they were (like the Goths reversed) beating at the gates ofRome.
Mr Dorrit was not expected by his own people that night. He had been;but they had given him up until to-morrow, not doubting that it waslater than he would care, in those parts, to be out. Thus, when hisequipage stopped at his own gate, no one but the porter appeared toreceive him. Was Miss Dorrit from home? he asked. No. She was within.Good, said Mr Dorrit to the assembling servants; let them keep wherethey were; let them help to unload the carriage; he would find MissDorrit for himself.
So he went up his grand staircase, slowly, and tired, and looked intovarious chambers which were empty, until he saw a light in a smallante-room. It was a curtained nook, like a tent, within two other rooms;and it looked warm and bright in colour, as he approached it through thedark avenue they made.
There was a draped doorway, but no door; and as he stopped here, lookingin unseen, he felt a pang. Surely not like jealousy? For why likejealousy? There was only his daughter and his brother there: he, withhis chair drawn to the hearth, enjoying the warmth of the evening woodfire; she seated at a little table, busied with some embroidery work.Allowing for the great difference in the still-life of the picture, thefigures were much the same as of old; his brother being sufficientlylike himself to represent himself, for a moment, in the composition.So had he sat many a night, over a coal fire far away; so had she sat,devoted to him. Yet surely there was nothing to be jealous of in the oldmiserable poverty. Whence, then, the pang in his heart?
'Do you know, uncle, I think you are growing young again?'
Her uncle shook his head and said, 'Since when, my dear; since when?'
'I think,' returned Little Dorrit, plying her needle, 'that you havebeen growing younger for weeks past. So cheerful, uncle, and so ready,and so interested.'
'My dear child--all you.'
'All me, uncle!'
'Yes, yes. You have done me a world of good. You have been soconsiderate of me, and so tender with me, and so delicate in trying tohide your attentions from me, that I--well, well, well! It's treasuredup, my darling, treasured up.'
'There is nothing in it but your own fresh fancy, uncle,' said LittleDorrit, cheerfully.
'Well, well, well!' murmured the old man. 'Thank God!'
She paused for an instant in her work to look at him, and her lookrevived that former pain in her father's breast; in his poor weakbreast, so full of contradictions, vacillations, inconsistencies, thelittle peevish perplexities of this ignorant life, mists which themorning without a night only can clear away.
'I have been freer with you, you see, my dove,' said the old man, 'sincewe have been alone. I say, alone, for I don't count Mrs General; Idon't care for her; she has nothing to do with me. But I know Fanny wasimpatient of me. And I don't wonder at it, or complain of it, for I amsensible that I must be in the way, though I try to keep out of it aswell as I can. I know I am not fit company for our company. My brotherWilliam,' said the old man admiringly, 'is fit company for monarchs;but not so your uncle, my dear. Frederick Dorrit is no credit to WilliamDorrit, and he knows it quite well. Ah! Why, here's your father, Amy!My dear William, welcome back! My beloved brother, I am rejoiced to seeyou!'
(Turning his head in speaking, he had caught sight of him as he stood inthe doorway.)
Little Dorrit with a cry of pleasure put her arms about her father'sneck, and kissed him again and again. Her father was a little impatient,and a little querulous. 'I am glad to find you at last, Amy,' he said.'Ha. Really I am glad to find--hum--any one to receive me at last.I appear to have been--ha--so little expected, that upon my wordI began--ha hum--to think it might be right to offer an apologyfor--ha--taking the liberty of coming back at all.'
'It was so late, my dear William,' said his brother, 'that we had givenyou up for to-night.'
'I am stronger than you, dear Frederick,' returned his brother with anelaboration of fraternity in which there was severity; 'and I hope I cantravel without detriment at--ha--any hour I choose.'
'Surely, surely,' returned the other, with a misgiving that he had givenoffence. 'Surely, William.'
'Thank you, Amy,' pursued Mr Dorrit, as she helped him to put off hiswrappers. 'I can do it without assistance. I--ha--need not trouble you,Amy. Could I have a morsel of bread and a glass of wine, or--hum--wouldit cause too much inconvenience?'
'Dear father, you shall have supper in a very few minutes.'
'Thank you, my love,' said Mr Dorrit, with a reproachful frost upon him;'I--ha--am afraid I am causing inconvenience. Hum. Mrs General prettywell?'
'Mrs General complained of a headache, and of being fatigued; and so,when we gave you up, she went to bed, dear.'
Perhaps Mr Dorrit thought that Mrs General had done well in beingovercome by the disappointment of his not arriving. At any rate, hisface relaxed, and he said with obvious satisfaction, 'Extremely sorry tohear that Mrs General is not well.'
During this short dialogue, his daughter had been observant of him, withsomething more than her usual interest. It would seem as though he hada changed or worn appearance in her eyes, and he perceived and resentedit; for he said with renewed peevishness, when he had divested himselfof his travelling-cloak, and had come to the fire:
'Amy, what are you looking at? What do you see in me that causes youto--ha--concentrate your solicitude on me in that--hum--very particularmanner?'
'I did not know it, father; I beg your pardon. It gladdens my eyes tosee you again; that's all.'
'Don't say that's all, because--ha--that's not all. You--hum--youthink,' said Mr Dorrit, with an accusatory emphasis, 'that I am notlooking well.'
'I thought you looked a little tired, love.'
'Then you are mistaken,' said Mr Dorrit. 'Ha, I am _not_ tired. Ha, hum. Iam very much fresher than I was when I went away.'
He was so inclined to be angry that she said nothing more in herjustification, but remained quietly beside him embracing his arm. Ashe stood thus, with his brother on the other side, he fell into a heavydoze, of not a minute's duration, and awoke with a start.
'Frederick,' he said, turning to his brother: 'I recommend you to go tobed immediately.'
'No, William. I'll wait and see you sup.'
'Frederick,' he retorted, 'I beg you to go to bed. I--ha--make it apersonal request that you go to bed. You ought to have been in bed longago. You are very feeble.'
'Hah!' said the old man, who had no wish but to please him. 'Well, well,well! I dare say I am.'
'My dear Frederick,' returned Mr Dorrit, with an astonishing superiorityto his brother's failing powers, 'there can be no doubt of it. It ispainful to me to see you so weak. Ha. It distresses me. Hum. I don'tfind you looking at all well. You are not fit for this sort of thing.You should be more careful, you should be very careful.'
'Shall I go to bed?' asked Frederick.
'Dear Frederick,' said Mr Dorrit, 'do, I adjure you! Good night,brother. I hope you will be stronger to-morrow. I am not at all pleasedwith your looks. Good night, dear fellow.' After dismissing his brotherin this gracious way, he fell into a doze again before the old man waswell out of the room: and he would have stumbled forward upon the logs,but for his daughter's restraining hold.
'Your uncle wanders very much, Amy,' he said, when he was thus roused.'He is less--ha--coherent, and his conversation is more--hum--broken,than I have--ha, hum--ever known. Has he had any illness since I havebeen gone?'
'You--ha--see a great change in him, Amy?'
'I have not observed it, dear.'
'Greatly broken,' said Mr Dorrit. 'Greatly broken. My poor,affectionate, failing Frederick! Ha. Even taking into account what hewas before, he is--hum--sadly broken!'
His supper, which was brought to him there, and spread upon the littletable where he had seen her working, diverted his attention. She sat athis side as in the days that were gone, for the first time since thosedays ended. They were alone, and she helped him to his meat and pouredout his drink for him, as she had been used to do in the prison. Allthis happened now, for the first time since their accession to wealth.She was afraid to look at him much, after the offence he had taken; butshe noticed two occasions in the course of his meal, when he all of asudden looked at her, and looked about him, as if the association wereso strong that he needed assurance from his sense of sight that theywere not in the old prison-room. Both times, he put his hand to his headas if he missed his old black cap--though it had been ignominiouslygiven away in the Marshalsea, and had never got free to that hour, butstill hovered about the yards on the head of his successor.
He took very little supper, but was a long time over it, and oftenreverted to his brother's declining state. Though he expressed thegreatest pity for him, he was almost bitter upon him. He said that poorFrederick--ha hum--drivelled. There was no other word to express it;drivelled. Poor fellow! It was melancholy to reflect what Amy must haveundergone from the excessive tediousness of his Society--wandering andbabbling on, poor dear estimable creature, wandering and babbling on--ifit had not been for the relief she had had in Mrs General.Extremely sorry, he then repeated with his former satisfaction, thatthat--ha--superior woman was poorly.
Little Dorrit, in her watchful love, would have remembered the lightestthing he said or did that night, though she had had no subsequent reasonto recall that night. She always remembered that, when he looked abouthim under the strong influence of the old association, he tried tokeep it out of her mind, and perhaps out of his own too, by immediatelyexpatiating on the great riches and great company that had encompassedhim in his absence, and on the lofty position he and his family had tosustain. Nor did she fail to recall that there were two under-currents,side by side, pervading all his discourse and all his manner; oneshowing her how well he had got on without her, and how independenthe was of her; the other, in a fitful and unintelligible way almostcomplaining of her, as if it had been possible that she had neglectedhim while he was away.
His telling her of the glorious state that Mr Merdle kept, and of thecourt that bowed before him, naturally brought him to Mrs Merdle. Sonaturally indeed, that although there was an unusual want of sequence inthe greater part of his remarks, he passed to her at once, and asked howshe was.
'She is very well. She is going away next week.'
'Home?' asked Mr Dorrit.
'After a few weeks' stay upon the road.'
'She will be a vast loss here,' said Mr Dorrit. 'A vast--ha--acquisitionat home. To Fanny, and to--hum--the rest of the--ha--great world.'
Little Dorrit thought of the competition that was to be entered upon,and assented very softly.
'Mrs Merdle is going to have a great farewell Assembly, dear, and adinner before it. She has been expressing her anxiety that you shouldreturn in time. She has invited both you and me to her dinner.'
'She is--ha--very kind. When is the day?'
'The day after to-morrow.'
'Write round in the morning, and say that I have returned, andshall--hum--be delighted.'
'May I walk with you up the stairs to your room, dear?'
'No!' he answered, looking angrily round; for he was moving away, as ifforgetful of leave-taking. 'You may not, Amy. I want no help. I am yourfather, not your infirm uncle!' He checked himself, as abruptly as hehad broken into this reply, and said, 'You have not kissed me, Amy. Goodnight, my dear! We must marry--ha--we must marry _you_, now.' With thathe went, more slowly and more tired, up the staircase to his rooms, and,almost as soon as he got there, dismissed his valet. His next care wasto look about him for his Paris purchases, and, after opening theircases and carefully surveying them, to put them away under lock andkey. After that, what with dozing and what with castle-building, he losthimself for a long time, so that there was a touch of morning on theeastward rim of the desolate Campagna when he crept to bed.
Mrs General sent up her compliments in good time next day, and hopedhe had rested well after this fatiguing journey. He sent down hiscompliments, and begged to inform Mrs General that he had rested verywell indeed, and was in high condition. Nevertheless, he did not comeforth from his own rooms until late in the afternoon; and, although hethen caused himself to be magnificently arrayed for a drive withMrs General and his daughter, his appearance was scarcely up to hisdescription of himself.
As the family had no visitors that day, its four members dined alonetogether. He conducted Mrs General to the seat at his right hand withimmense ceremony; and Little Dorrit could not but notice as she followedwith her uncle, both that he was again elaborately dressed, and that hismanner towards Mrs General was very particular. The perfect formation ofthat accomplished lady's surface rendered it difficult to displace anatom of its genteel glaze, but Little Dorrit thought she descried aslight thaw of triumph in a corner of her frosty eye.
Notwithstanding what may be called in these pages the Pruney andPrismatic nature of the family banquet, Mr Dorrit several times fellasleep while it was in progress. His fits of dozing were as sudden asthey had been overnight, and were as short and profound. When the firstof these slumberings seized him, Mrs General looked almost amazed: but,on each recurrence of the symptoms, she told her polite beads, Papa,Potatoes, Poultry, Prunes, and Prism; and, by dint of going through thatinfallible performance very slowly, appeared to finish her rosary atabout the same time as Mr Dorrit started from his sleep.
He was again painfully aware of a somnolent tendency in Frederick (whichhad no existence out of his own imagination), and after dinner, whenFrederick had withdrawn, privately apologised to Mrs General for thepoor man. 'The most estimable and affectionate of brothers,' he said,'but--ha, hum--broken up altogether. Unhappily, declining fast.'
'Mr Frederick, sir,' quoth Mrs General, 'is habitually absent anddrooping, but let us hope it is not so bad as that.'
Mr Dorrit, however, was determined not to let him off. 'Fast declining,madam. A wreck. A ruin. Mouldering away before our eyes. Hum. GoodFrederick!'
'You left Mrs Sparkler quite well and happy, I trust?' said Mrs General,after heaving a cool sigh for Frederick.
'Surrounded,' replied Mr Dorrit, 'by--ha--all that can charm the taste,and--hum--elevate the mind. Happy, my dear madam, in a--hum--husband.'
Mrs General was a little fluttered; seeming delicately to put the wordaway with her gloves, as if there were no knowing what it might lead to.
'Fanny,' Mr Dorrit continued. 'Fanny, Mrs General, has highqualities. Ha. Ambition--hum--purpose, consciousness of--ha--position,determination to support that position--ha, hum--grace, beauty, andnative nobility.'
'No doubt,' said Mrs General (with a little extra stiffness).
'Combined with these qualities, madam,' said Mr Dorrit, 'Fannyhas--ha--manifested one blemish which has made me--hum--made me uneasy,and--ha--I must add, angry; but which I trust may now be consideredat an end, even as to herself, and which is undoubtedly at an end asto--ha--others.'
'To what, Mr Dorrit,' returned Mrs General, with her gloves againsomewhat excited, 'can you allude? I am at a loss to--'
'Do not say that, my dear madam,' interrupted Mr Dorrit.
Mrs General's voice, as it died away, pronounced the words, 'at a lossto imagine.'
After which Mr Dorrit was seized with a doze for about a minute, out ofwhich he sprang with spasmodic nimbleness.
'I refer, Mrs General, to that--ha--strong spirit of opposition,or--hum--I might say--ha--jealousy in Fanny, which has occasionallyrisen against the--ha--sense I entertain of--hum--the claims of--ha--thelady with whom I have now the honour of communing.'
'Mr Dorrit,' returned Mrs General, 'is ever but too obliging, ever buttoo appreciative. If there have been moments when I have imagined thatMiss Dorrit has indeed resented the favourable opinion Mr Dorrit hasformed of my services, I have found, in that only too high opinion, myconsolation and recompense.'
'Opinion of your services, madam?' said Mr Dorrit.
'Of,' Mrs General repeated, in an elegantly impressive manner, 'myservices.'
'Of your services alone, dear madam?' said Mr Dorrit.
'I presume,' retorted Mrs General, in her former impressive manner, 'ofmy services alone. For, to what else,' said Mrs General, with a slightlyinterrogative action of her gloves, 'could I impute--'
'To--ha--yourself, Mrs General. Ha, hum. To yourself and your merits,'was Mr Dorrit's rejoinder.
'Mr Dorrit will pardon me,' said Mrs General, 'if I remark that thisis not a time or place for the pursuit of the present conversation.Mr Dorrit will excuse me if I remind him that Miss Dorrit is in theadjoining room, and is visible to myself while I utter her name. MrDorrit will forgive me if I observe that I am agitated, and that I findthere are moments when weaknesses I supposed myself to have subdued,return with redoubled power. Mr Dorrit will allow me to withdraw.'
'Hum. Perhaps we may resume this--ha--interesting conversation,' saidMr Dorrit, 'at another time; unless it should be, what I hope it isnot--hum--in any way disagreeable to--ah--Mrs General.'
'Mr Dorrit,' said Mrs General, casting down her eyes as she rose with abend, 'must ever claim my homage and obedience.'
Mrs General then took herself off in a stately way, and not with thatamount of trepidation upon her which might have been expected in a lessremarkable woman. Mr Dorrit, who had conducted his part of the dialoguewith a certain majestic and admiring condescension--much as some peoplemay be seen to conduct themselves in Church, and to perform their partin the service--appeared, on the whole, very well satisfied with himselfand with Mrs General too. On the return of that lady to tea, she hadtouched herself up with a little powder and pomatum, and was not withoutmoral enchantment likewise: the latter showing itself in much sweetpatronage of manner towards Miss Dorrit, and in an air of as tenderinterest in Mr Dorrit as was consistent with rigid propriety. At theclose of the evening, when she rose to retire, Mr Dorrit took her by thehand as if he were going to lead her out into the Piazza of the peopleto walk a minuet by moonlight, and with great solemnity conducted her tothe room door, where he raised her knuckles to his lips. Having partedfrom her with what may be conjectured to have been a rather bony kiss ofa cosmetic flavour, he gave his daughter his blessing, graciously. Andhaving thus hinted that there was something remarkable in the wind, heagain went to bed.
He remained in the seclusion of his own chamber next morning; but, earlyin the afternoon, sent down his best compliments to Mrs General, by MrTinkler, and begged she would accompany Miss Dorrit on an airingwithout him. His daughter was dressed for Mrs Merdle's dinner before heappeared. He then presented himself in a refulgent condition as to hisattire, but looking indefinably shrunken and old. However, as he wasplainly determined to be angry with her if she so much as asked him howhe was, she only ventured to kiss his cheek, before accompanying him toMrs Merdle's with an anxious heart.
The distance that they had to go was very short, but he was at hisbuilding work again before the carriage had half traversed it. MrsMerdle received him with great distinction; the bosom was in admirablepreservation, and on the best terms with itself; the dinner was verychoice; and the company was very select.
It was principally English; saving that it comprised the usual FrenchCount and the usual Italian Marchese--decorative social milestones,always to be found in certain places, and varying very little inappearance. The table was long, and the dinner was long; and LittleDorrit, overshadowed by a large pair of black whiskers and a large whitecravat, lost sight of her father altogether, until a servant put a scrapof paper in her hand, with a whispered request from Mrs Merdle that shewould read it directly. Mrs Merdle had written on it in pencil, 'Praycome and speak to Mr Dorrit, I doubt if he is well.'
She was hurrying to him, unobserved, when he got up out of his chair,and leaning over the table called to her, supposing her to be still inher place:
'Amy, Amy, my child!'
The action was so unusual, to say nothing of his strange eagerappearance and strange eager voice, that it instantaneously caused aprofound silence.
'Amy, my dear,' he repeated. 'Will you go and see if Bob is on thelock?'
She was at his side, and touching him, but he still perversely supposedher to be in her seat, and called out, still leaning over the table,'Amy, Amy. I don't feel quite myself. Ha. I don't know what's the matterwith me. I particularly wish to see Bob. Ha. Of all the turnkeys, he'sas much my friend as yours. See if Bob is in the lodge, and beg him tocome to me.'
All the guests were now in consternation, and everybody rose.
'Dear father, I am not there; I am here, by you.'
'Oh! You are here, Amy! Good. Hum. Good. Ha. Call Bob. If he has beenrelieved, and is not on the lock, tell Mrs Bangham to go and fetch him.'
She was gently trying to get him away; but he resisted, and would notgo.
'I tell you, child,' he said petulantly, 'I can't be got up the narrowstairs without Bob. Ha. Send for Bob. Hum. Send for Bob--best of all theturnkeys--send for Bob!'
He looked confusedly about him, and, becoming conscious of the number offaces by which he was surrounded, addressed them:
'Ladies and gentlemen, the duty--ha--devolves upon me of--hum--welcomingyou to the Marshalsea! Welcome to the Marshalsea! The spaceis--ha--limited--limited--the parade might be wider; but you willfind it apparently grow larger after a time--a time, ladies andgentlemen--and the air is, all things considered, very good. It blowsover the--ha--Surrey hills. Blows over the Surrey hills. This is theSnuggery. Hum. Supported by a small subscription of the--ha--Collegiatebody. In return for which--hot water--general kitchen--and littledomestic advantages. Those who are habituated to the--ha--Marshalsea,are pleased to call me its father. I am accustomed to be complimented bystrangers as the--ha--Father of the Marshalsea. Certainly, if years ofresidence may establish a claim to so--ha--honourable a title, I mayaccept the--hum--conferred distinction. My child, ladies and gentlemen.My daughter. Born here!'
She was not ashamed of it, or ashamed of him. She was pale andfrightened; but she had no other care than to soothe him and get himaway, for his own dear sake. She was between him and the wonderingfaces, turned round upon his breast with her own face raised to his. Heheld her clasped in his left arm, and between whiles her low voice washeard tenderly imploring him to go away with her.
'Born here,' he repeated, shedding tears. 'Bred here. Ladies andgentlemen, my daughter. Child of an unfortunate father, but--ha--alwaysa gentleman. Poor, no doubt, but--hum--proud. Always proud. Ithas become a--hum--not infrequent custom for my--ha--personaladmirers--personal admirers solely--to be pleased to expresstheir desire to acknowledge my semi-official position here,by offering--ha--little tributes, which usually take the formof--ha--voluntary recognitions of my humble endeavours to--hum--touphold a Tone here--a Tone--I beg it to be understood that I do notconsider myself compromised. Ha. Not compromised. Ha. Not a beggar. No;I repudiate the title! At the same time far be it from me to--hum--toput upon the fine feelings by which my partial friends are actuated,the slight of scrupling to admit that those offerings are--hum--highlyacceptable. On the contrary, they are most acceptable. In my child'sname, if not in my own, I make the admission in the fullest manner, atthe same time reserving--ha--shall I say my personal dignity? Ladies andgentlemen, God bless you all!'
By this time, the exceeding mortification undergone by the Bosom hadoccasioned the withdrawal of the greater part of the company into otherrooms. The few who had lingered thus long followed the rest, and LittleDorrit and her father were left to the servants and themselves. Dearestand most precious to her, he would come with her now, would he not? Hereplied to her fervid entreaties, that he would never be able to get upthe narrow stairs without Bob; where was Bob, would nobody fetch Bob?Under pretence of looking for Bob, she got him out against the stream ofgay company now pouring in for the evening assembly, and got him into acoach that had just set down its load, and got him home.
The broad stairs of his Roman palace were contracted in his failingsight to the narrow stairs of his London prison; and he would suffer noone but her to touch him, his brother excepted. They got him up to hisroom without help, and laid him down on his bed. And from that hour hispoor maimed spirit, only remembering the place where it had broken itswings, cancelled the dream through which it had since groped, and knewof nothing beyond the Marshalsea. When he heard footsteps in the street,he took them for the old weary tread in the yards. When the hour camefor locking up, he supposed all strangers to be excluded for the night.When the time for opening came again, he was so anxious to see Bob, thatthey were fain to patch up a narrative how that Bob--many a year deadthen, gentle turnkey--had taken cold, but hoped to be out to-morrow, orthe next day, or the next at furthest.
He fell away into a weakness so extreme that he could not raise hishand. But he still protected his brother according to his long usage;and would say with some complacency, fifty times a day, when he saw himstanding by his bed, 'My good Frederick, sit down. You are very feebleindeed.'
They tried him with Mrs General, but he had not the faintest knowledgeof her. Some injurious suspicion lodged itself in his brain, that shewanted to supplant Mrs Bangham, and that she was given to drinking. Hecharged her with it in no measured terms; and was so urgent with hisdaughter to go round to the Marshal and entreat him to turn her out,that she was never reproduced after the first failure.
Saving that he once asked 'if Tip had gone outside?' the remembrance ofhis two children not present seemed to have departed from him. But thechild who had done so much for him and had been so poorly repaid, wasnever out of his mind. Not that he spared her, or was fearful of herbeing spent by watching and fatigue; he was not more troubled on thatscore than he had usually been. No; he loved her in his old way. Theywere in the jail again, and she tended him, and he had constant need ofher, and could not turn without her; and he even told her, sometimes,that he was content to have undergone a great deal for her sake. As toher, she bent over his bed with her quiet face against his, and wouldhave laid down her own life to restore him.
When he had been sinking in this painless way for two or three days, sheobserved him to be troubled by the ticking of his watch--a pompous goldwatch that made as great a to-do about its going as if nothing elsewent but itself and Time. She suffered it to run down; but he was stilluneasy, and showed that was not what he wanted. At length he rousedhimself to explain that he wanted money to be raised on this watch. Hewas quite pleased when she pretended to take it away for the purpose,and afterwards had a relish for his little tastes of wine and jelly,that he had not had before.
He soon made it plain that this was so; for, in another day or twohe sent off his sleeve-buttons and finger-rings. He had an amazingsatisfaction in entrusting her with these errands, and appeared toconsider it equivalent to making the most methodical and providentarrangements. After his trinkets, or such of them as he had been able tosee about him, were gone, his clothes engaged his attention; and itis as likely as not that he was kept alive for some days by thesatisfaction of sending them, piece by piece, to an imaginarypawnbroker's.
Thus for ten days Little Dorrit bent over his pillow, laying her cheekagainst his. Sometimes she was so worn out that for a few minutesthey would slumber together. Then she would awake; to recollect withfast-flowing silent tears what it was that touched her face, and to see,stealing over the cherished face upon the pillow, a deeper shadow thanthe shadow of the Marshalsea Wall.
Quietly, quietly, all the lines of the plan of the great Castlemelted one after another. Quietly, quietly, the ruled and cross-ruledcountenance on which they were traced, became fair and blank.Quietly, quietly, the reflected marks of the prison bars and of thezig-zag iron on the wall-top, faded away. Quietly, quietly, the facesubsided into a far younger likeness of her own than she had ever seenunder the grey hair, and sank to rest.
At first her uncle was stark distracted. 'O my brother! O William,William! You to go before me; you to go alone; you to go, and I toremain! You, so far superior, so distinguished, so noble; I, a pooruseless creature fit for nothing, and whom no one would have missed!'
It did her, for the time, the good of having him to think of and tosuccour.
'Uncle, dear uncle, spare yourself, spare me!'
The old man was not deaf to the last words. When he did begin torestrain himself, it was that he might spare her. He had no care forhimself; but, with all the remaining power of the honest heart, stunnedso long and now awaking to be broken, he honoured and blessed her.
'O God,' he cried, before they left the room, with his wrinkled handsclasped over her. 'Thou seest this daughter of my dear dead brother! Allthat I have looked upon, with my half-blind and sinful eyes, Thou hastdiscerned clearly, brightly. Not a hair of her head shall be harmedbefore Thee. Thou wilt uphold her here to her last hour. And I know Thouwilt reward her hereafter!'
They remained in a dim room near, until it was almost midnight, quietand sad together. At times his grief would seek relief in a burst likethat in which it had found its earliest expression; but, besides thathis little strength would soon have been unequal to such strains, henever failed to recall her words, and to reproach himself and calmhimself. The only utterance with which he indulged his sorrow, was thefrequent exclamation that his brother was gone, alone; that they hadbeen together in the outset of their lives, that they had fallen intomisfortune together, that they had kept together through their manyyears of poverty, that they had remained together to that day; and thathis brother was gone alone, alone!
They parted, heavy and sorrowful. She would not consent to leave himanywhere but in his own room, and she saw him lie down in his clothesupon his bed, and covered him with her own hands. Then she sank upon herown bed, and fell into a deep sleep: the sleep of exhaustion andrest, though not of complete release from a pervading consciousness ofaffliction. Sleep, good Little Dorrit. Sleep through the night!
It was a moonlight night; but the moon rose late, being long past thefull. When it was high in the peaceful firmament, it shone throughhalf-closed lattice blinds into the solemn room where the stumblings andwanderings of a life had so lately ended. Two quiet figures were withinthe room; two figures, equally still and impassive, equally removedby an untraversable distance from the teeming earth and all that itcontains, though soon to lie in it.
One figure reposed upon the bed. The other, kneeling on the floor,drooped over it; the arms easily and peacefully resting on the coverlet;the face bowed down, so that the lips touched the hand over which withits last breath it had bent. The two brothers were before their Father;far beyond the twilight judgment of this world; high above its mists andobscurities.