Little Dorrit



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CHAPTER 1. Fellow Travellers

In the autumn of the year, Darkness and Night were creeping up to the highest ridges of the Alps.

It was vintage time in the valleys on the Swiss side of the Pass of the Great Saint Bernard, and along the banks of the Lake of Geneva. The air there was charged with the scent of gathered grapes. Baskets, troughs, and tubs of grapes stood in the dim village doorways, stopped the steep and narrow village streets, and had been carrying all day along the roads and lanes. Grapes, split and crushed under foot, lay about everywhere. The child carried in a sling by the laden peasant woman toiling home, was quieted with picked-up grapes; the idiot sunning his big goitre under the leaves of the wooden chalet by the way to the Waterfall, sat munching grapes; the breath of the cows and goats was redolent of leaves and stalks of grapes; the company in every little cabaret were eating, drinking, talking grapes. A pity that no ripe touch of this generous abundance could be given to the thin, hard, stony wine, which after all was made from the grapes!

The air had been warm and transparent through the whole of the bright day. Shining metal spires and church-roofs, distant and rarely seen, had sparkled in the view; and the snowy mountain-tops had been so clear that unaccustomed eyes, cancelling the intervening country, and slighting their rugged heights for something fabulous, would have measured them as within a few hours easy reach. Mountain-peaks of great celebrity in the valleys, whence no trace of their existence was visible sometimes for months together, had been since morning plain and near in the blue sky. And now, when it was dark below, though they seemed solemnly to recede, like spectres who were going to vanish, as the red dye of the sunset faded out of them and left them coldly white, they were yet distinctly defined in their loneliness above the mists and shadows.

Seen from these solitudes, and from the Pass of the Great Saint Bernard, which was one of them, the ascending Night came up the mountain like a rising water. When it at last rose to the walls of the convent of the Great Saint Bernard, it was as if that weather-beaten structure were another Ark, and floated on the shadowy waves.

Darkness, outstripping some visitors on mules, had risen thus to the rough convent walls, when those travellers were yet climbing the mountain. As the heat of the glowing day when they had stopped to drink at the streams of melted ice and snow, was changed to the searching cold of the frosty rarefied night air at a great height, so the fresh beauty of the lower journey had yielded to barrenness and desolation. A craggy track, up which the mules in single file scrambled and turned from block to block, as though they were ascending the broken staircase of a gigantic ruin, was their way now. No trees were to be seen, nor any vegetable growth save a poor brown scrubby moss, freezing in the chinks of rock. Blackened skeleton arms of wood by the wayside pointed upward to the convent as if the ghosts of former travellers overwhelmed by the snow haunted the scene of their distress. Icicle-hung caves and cellars built for refuges from sudden storms, were like so many whispers of the perils of the place; never-resting wreaths and mazes of mist wandered about, hunted by a moaning wind; and snow, the besetting danger of the mountain, against which all its defences were taken, drifted sharply down.

The file of mules, jaded by their day’s work, turned and wound slowly up the deep ascent; the foremost led by a guide on foot, in his broad-brimmed hat and round jacket, carrying a mountain staff or two upon his shoulder, with whom another guide conversed. There was no speaking among the string of riders. The sharp cold, the fatigue of the journey, and a new sensation of a catching in the breath, partly as if they had just emerged from very clear crisp water, and partly as if they had been sobbing, kept them silent.

At length, a light on the summit of the rocky staircase gleamed through the snow and mist. The guides called to the mules, the mules pricked up their drooping heads, the travellers’ tongues were loosened, and in a sudden burst of slipping, climbing, jingling, clinking, and talking, they arrived at the convent door.

Other mules had arrived not long before, some with peasant riders and some with goods, and had trodden the snow about the door into a pool of mud. Riding-saddles and bridles, pack-saddles and strings of bells, mules and men, lanterns, torches, sacks, provender, barrels, cheeses, kegs of honey and butter, straw bundles and packages of many shapes, were crowded confusedly together in this thawed quagmire and about the steps. Up here in the clouds, everything was seen through cloud, and seemed dissolving into cloud. The breath of the men was cloud, the breath of the mules was cloud, the lights were encircled by cloud, speakers close at hand were not seen for cloud, though their voices and all other sounds were surprisingly clear. Of the cloudy line of mules hastily tied to rings in the wall, one would bite another, or kick another, and then the whole mist would be disturbed: with men diving into it, and cries of men and beasts coming out of it, and no bystander discerning what was wrong. In the midst of this, the great stable of the convent, occupying the basement story and entered by the basement door, outside which all the disorder was, poured forth its contribution of cloud, as if the whole rugged edifice were filled with nothing else, and would collapse as soon as it had emptied itself, leaving the snow to fall upon the bare mountain summit.

While all this noise and hurry were rife among the living travellers, there, too, silently assembled in a grated house half-a-dozen paces removed, with the same cloud enfolding them and the same snow flakes drifting in upon them, were the dead travellers found upon the mountain. The mother, storm-belated many winters ago, still standing in the corner with her baby at her breast; the man who had frozen with his arm raised to his mouth in fear or hunger, still pressing it with his dry lips after years and years. An awful company, mysteriously come together! A wild destiny for that mother to have foreseen! ‘Surrounded by so many and such companions upon whom I never looked, and never shall look, I and my child will dwell together inseparable, on the Great Saint Bernard, outlasting generations who will come to see us, and will never know our name, or one word of our story but the end.’

The living travellers thought little or nothing of the dead just then. They thought much more of alighting at the convent door, and warming themselves at the convent fire. Disengaged from the turmoil, which was already calming down as the crowd of mules began to be bestowed in the stable, they hurried shivering up the steps and into the building. There was a smell within, coming up from the floor, of tethered beasts, like the smell of a menagerie of wild animals. There were strong arched galleries within, huge stone piers, great staircases, and thick walls pierced with small sunken windows—fortifications against the mountain storms, as if they had been human enemies. There were gloomy vaulted sleeping-rooms within, intensely cold, but clean and hospitably prepared for guests. Finally, there was a parlour for guests to sit in and sup in, where a table was already laid, and where a blazing fire shone red and high.

In this room, after having had their quarters for the night allotted to them by two young Fathers, the travellers presently drew round the hearth. They were in three parties; of whom the first, as the most numerous and important, was the slowest, and had been overtaken by one of the others on the way up. It consisted of an elderly lady, two grey-haired gentlemen, two young ladies, and their brother. These were attended (not to mention four guides), by a courier, two footmen, and two waiting-maids: which strong body of inconvenience was accommodated elsewhere under the same roof. The party that had overtaken them, and followed in their train, consisted of only three members: one lady and two gentlemen. The third party, which had ascended from the valley on the Italian side of the Pass, and had arrived first, were four in number: a plethoric, hungry, and silent German tutor in spectacles, on a tour with three young men, his pupils, all plethoric, hungry, and silent, and all in spectacles.

These three groups sat round the fire eyeing each other drily, and waiting for supper. Only one among them, one of the gentlemen belonging to the party of three, made advances towards conversation. Throwing out his lines for the Chief of the important tribe, while addressing himself to his own companions, he remarked, in a tone of voice which included all the company if they chose to be included, that it had been a long day, and that he felt for the ladies. That he feared one of the young ladies was not a strong or accustomed traveller, and had been over-fatigued two or three hours ago. That he had observed, from his station in the rear, that she sat her mule as if she were exhausted. That he had, twice or thrice afterwards, done himself the honour of inquiring of one of the guides, when he fell behind, how the lady did. That he had been enchanted to learn that she had recovered her spirits, and that it had been but a passing discomfort. That he trusted (by this time he had secured the eyes of the Chief, and addressed him) he might be permitted to express his hope that she was now none the worse, and that she would not regret having made the journey.

‘My daughter, I am obliged to you, sir,’ returned the Chief, ‘is quite restored, and has been greatly interested.’

‘New to mountains, perhaps?’ said the insinuating traveller.

‘New to—ha—to mountains,’ said the Chief.

‘But you are familiar with them, sir?’ the insinuating traveller assumed.

‘I am—hum—tolerably familiar. Not of late years. Not of late years,’ replied the Chief, with a flourish of his hand.

The insinuating traveller, acknowledging the flourish with an inclination of his head, passed from the Chief to the second young lady, who had not yet been referred to otherwise than as one of the ladies in whose behalf he felt so sensitive an interest.

He hoped she was not incommoded by the fatigues of the day.

‘Incommoded, certainly,’ returned the young lady, ‘but not tired.’

The insinuating traveller complimented her on the justice of the distinction. It was what he had meant to say. Every lady must doubtless be incommoded by having to do with that proverbially unaccommodating animal, the mule.

‘We have had, of course,’ said the young lady, who was rather reserved and haughty, ‘to leave the carriages and fourgon at Martigny. And the impossibility of bringing anything that one wants to this inaccessible place, and the necessity of leaving every comfort behind, is not convenient.’

‘A savage place indeed,’ said the insinuating traveller.

The elderly lady, who was a model of accurate dressing, and whose manner was perfect, considered as a piece of machinery, here interposed a remark in a low soft voice.

‘But, like other inconvenient places,’ she observed, ‘it must be seen. As a place much spoken of, it is necessary to see it.’

‘O! I have not the least objection to seeing it, I assure you, Mrs General,’ returned the other, carelessly.

‘You, madam,’ said the insinuating traveller, ‘have visited this spot before?’

‘Yes,’ returned Mrs General. ‘I have been here before. Let me commend you, my dear,’ to the former young lady, ‘to shade your face from the hot wood, after exposure to the mountain air and snow. You, too, my dear,’ to the other and younger lady, who immediately did so; while the former merely said, ‘Thank you, Mrs General, I am Perfectly comfortable, and prefer remaining as I am.’

The brother, who had left his chair to open a piano that stood in the room, and who had whistled into it and shut it up again, now came strolling back to the fire with his glass in his eye. He was dressed in the very fullest and completest travelling trim. The world seemed hardly large enough to yield him an amount of travel proportionate to his equipment.

‘These fellows are an immense time with supper,’ he drawled. ‘I wonder what they’ll give us! Has anybody any idea?’

‘Not roast man, I believe,’ replied the voice of the second gentleman of the party of three.

‘I suppose not. What d’ye mean?’ he inquired.

‘That, as you are not to be served for the general supper, perhaps you will do us the favour of not cooking yourself at the general fire,’ returned the other.

The young gentleman who was standing in an easy attitude on the hearth, cocking his glass at the company, with his back to the blaze and his coat tucked under his arms, something as if he were Of the Poultry species and were trussed for roasting, lost countenance at this reply; he seemed about to demand further explanation, when it was discovered—through all eyes turning on the speaker—that the lady with him, who was young and beautiful, had not heard what had passed through having fainted with her head upon his shoulder.

‘I think,’ said the gentleman in a subdued tone, ‘I had best carry her straight to her room. Will you call to some one to bring a light?’ addressing his companion, ‘and to show the way? In this strange rambling place I don’t know that I could find it.’

‘Pray, let me call my maid,’ cried the taller of the young ladies.

‘Pray, let me put this water to her lips,’ said the shorter, who had not spoken yet.

Each doing what she suggested, there was no want of assistance. Indeed, when the two maids came in (escorted by the courier, lest any one should strike them dumb by addressing a foreign language to them on the road), there was a prospect of too much assistance. Seeing this, and saying as much in a few words to the slighter and younger of the two ladies, the gentleman put his wife’s arm over his shoulder, lifted her up, and carried her away.

His friend, being left alone with the other visitors, walked slowly up and down the room without coming to the fire again, pulling his black moustache in a contemplative manner, as if he felt himself committed to the late retort. While the subject of it was breathing injury in a corner, the Chief loftily addressed this gentleman.

‘Your friend, sir,’ said he, ‘is—ha—is a little impatient; and, in his impatience, is not perhaps fully sensible of what he owes to—hum—to—but we will waive that, we will waive that. Your friend is a little impatient, sir.’

‘It may be so, sir,’ returned the other. ‘But having had the honour of making that gentleman’s acquaintance at the hotel at Geneva, where we and much good company met some time ago, and having had the honour of exchanging company and conversation with that gentleman on several subsequent excursions, I can hear nothing—no, not even from one of your appearance and station, sir—detrimental to that gentleman.’

‘You are in no danger, sir, of hearing any such thing from me. In remarking that your friend has shown impatience, I say no such thing. I make that remark, because it is not to be doubted that my son, being by birth and by—ha—by education a—hum—a gentleman, would have readily adapted himself to any obligingly expressed wish on the subject of the fire being equally accessible to the whole of the present circle. Which, in principle, I—ha—for all are—hum—equal on these occasions—I consider right.’

‘Good,’ was the reply. ‘And there it ends! I am your son’s obedient servant. I beg your son to receive the assurance of my profound consideration. And now, sir, I may admit, freely admit, that my friend is sometimes of a sarcastic temper.’

‘The lady is your friend’s wife, sir?’

‘The lady is my friend’s wife, sir.’

‘She is very handsome.’

‘Sir, she is peerless. They are still in the first year of their marriage. They are still partly on a marriage, and partly on an artistic, tour.’

‘Your friend is an artist, sir?’

The gentleman replied by kissing the fingers of his right hand, and wafting the kiss the length of his arm towards Heaven. As who should say, I devote him to the celestial Powers as an immortal artist!

‘But he is a man of family,’ he added. ‘His connections are of the best. He is more than an artist: he is highly connected. He may, in effect, have repudiated his connections, proudly, impatiently, sarcastically (I make the concession of both words); but he has them. Sparks that have been struck out during our intercourse have shown me this.’

‘Well! I hope,’ said the lofty gentleman, with the air of finally disposing of the subject, ‘that the lady’s indisposition may be only temporary.’

‘Sir, I hope so.’

‘Mere fatigue, I dare say.’

‘Not altogether mere fatigue, sir, for her mule stumbled to-day, and she fell from the saddle. She fell lightly, and was up again without assistance, and rode from us laughing; but she complained towards evening of a slight bruise in the side. She spoke of it more than once, as we followed your party up the mountain.’

The head of the large retinue, who was gracious but not familiar, appeared by this time to think that he had condescended more than enough. He said no more, and there was silence for some quarter of an hour until supper appeared.

With the supper came one of the young Fathers (there seemed to be no old Fathers) to take the head of the table. It was like the supper of an ordinary Swiss hotel, and good red wine grown by the convent in more genial air was not wanting. The artist traveller calmly came and took his place at table when the rest sat down, with no apparent sense upon him of his late skirmish with the completely dressed traveller.

‘Pray,’ he inquired of the host, over his soup, ‘has your convent many of its famous dogs now?’

‘Monsieur, it has three.’

‘I saw three in the gallery below. Doubtless the three in question.’

The host, a slender, bright-eyed, dark young man of polite manners, whose garment was a black gown with strips of white crossed over it like braces, and who no more resembled the conventional breed of Saint Bernard monks than he resembled the conventional breed of Saint Bernard dogs, replied, doubtless those were the three in question.

‘And I think,’ said the artist traveller, ‘I have seen one of them before.’

It was possible. He was a dog sufficiently well known. Monsieur might have easily seen him in the valley or somewhere on the lake, when he (the dog) had gone down with one of the order to solicit aid for the convent.

‘Which is done in its regular season of the year, I think?’

Monsieur was right.

‘And never without a dog. The dog is very important.’

Again Monsieur was right. The dog was very important. People were justly interested in the dog. As one of the dogs celebrated everywhere, Ma’amselle would observe.

Ma’amselle was a little slow to observe it, as though she were not yet well accustomed to the French tongue. Mrs General, however, observed it for her.

‘Ask him if he has saved many lives?’ said, in his native English, the young man who had been put out of countenance.

The host needed no translation of the question. He promptly replied in French, ‘No. Not this one.’

‘Why not?’ the same gentleman asked.

‘Pardon,’ returned the host composedly, ‘give him the opportunity and he will do it without doubt. For example, I am well convinced,’ smiling sedately, as he cut up the dish of veal to be handed round, on the young man who had been put out of countenance, ‘that if you, Monsieur, would give him the opportunity, he would hasten with great ardour to fulfil his duty.’

The artist traveller laughed. The insinuating traveller (who evinced a provident anxiety to get his full share of the supper), wiping some drops of wine from his moustache with a piece of bread, joined the conversation.

‘It is becoming late in the year, my Father,’ said he, ‘for tourist-travellers, is it not?’

‘Yes, it is late. Yet two or three weeks, at most, and we shall be left to the winter snows.’

‘And then,’ said the insinuating traveller, ‘for the scratching dogs and the buried children, according to the pictures!’

‘Pardon,’ said the host, not quite understanding the allusion. ‘How, then the scratching dogs and the buried children according to the pictures?’

The artist traveller struck in again before an answer could be given.

‘Don’t you know,’ he coldly inquired across the table of his companion, ‘that none but smugglers come this way in the winter or can have any possible business this way?’

‘Holy blue! No; never heard of it.’

‘So it is, I believe. And as they know the signs of the weather tolerably well, they don’t give much employment to the dogs—who have consequently died out rather—though this house of entertainment is conveniently situated for themselves. Their young families, I am told, they usually leave at home. But it’s a grand idea!’ cried the artist traveller, unexpectedly rising into a tone of enthusiasm. ‘It’s a sublime idea. It’s the finest idea in the world, and brings tears into a man’s eyes, by Jupiter!’ He then went on eating his veal with great composure.

There was enough of mocking inconsistency at the bottom of this speech to make it rather discordant, though the manner was refined and the person well-favoured, and though the depreciatory part of it was so skilfully thrown off as to be very difficult for one not perfectly acquainted with the English language to understand, or, even understanding, to take offence at: so simple and dispassionate was its tone. After finishing his veal in the midst of silence, the speaker again addressed his friend.

‘Look,’ said he, in his former tone, ‘at this gentleman our host, not yet in the prime of life, who in so graceful a way and with such courtly urbanity and modesty presides over us! Manners fit for a crown! Dine with the Lord Mayor of London (if you can get an invitation) and observe the contrast. This dear fellow, with the finest cut face I ever saw, a face in perfect drawing, leaves some laborious life and comes up here I don’t know how many feet above the level of the sea, for no other purpose on earth (except enjoying himself, I hope, in a capital refectory) than to keep an hotel for idle poor devils like you and me, and leave the bill to our consciences! Why, isn’t it a beautiful sacrifice? What do we want more to touch us? Because rescued people of interesting appearance are not, for eight or nine months out of every twelve, holding on here round the necks of the most sagacious of dogs carrying wooden bottles, shall we disparage the place? No! Bless the place. It’s a great place, a glorious place!’

The chest of the grey-haired gentleman who was the Chief of the important party, had swelled as if with a protest against his being numbered among poor devils. No sooner had the artist traveller ceased speaking than he himself spoke with great dignity, as having it incumbent on him to take the lead in most places, and having deserted that duty for a little while.

He weightily communicated his opinion to their host, that his life must be a very dreary life here in the winter.

The host allowed to Monsieur that it was a little monotonous. The air was difficult to breathe for a length of time consecutively. The cold was very severe. One needed youth and strength to bear it. However, having them and the blessing of Heaven—

Yes, that was very good. ‘But the confinement,’ said the grey-haired gentleman.

There were many days, even in bad weather, when it was possible to walk about outside. It was the custom to beat a little track, and take exercise there.

‘But the space,’ urged the grey-haired gentleman. ‘So small. So—ha—very limited.’

Monsieur would recall to himself that there were the refuges to visit, and that tracks had to be made to them also.

Monsieur still urged, on the other hand, that the space was so—ha—hum—so very contracted. More than that, it was always the same, always the same.

With a deprecating smile, the host gently raised and gently lowered his shoulders. That was true, he remarked, but permit him to say that almost all objects had their various points of view. Monsieur and he did not see this poor life of his from the same point of view. Monsieur was not used to confinement.

‘I—ha—yes, very true,’ said the grey-haired gentleman. He seemed to receive quite a shock from the force of the argument.

Monsieur, as an English traveller, surrounded by all means of travelling pleasantly; doubtless possessing fortune, carriages, and servants—

‘Perfectly, perfectly. Without doubt,’ said the gentleman.

Monsieur could not easily place himself in the position of a person who had not the power to choose, I will go here to-morrow, or there next day; I will pass these barriers, I will enlarge those bounds. Monsieur could not realise, perhaps, how the mind accommodated itself in such things to the force of necessity.

‘It is true,’ said Monsieur. ‘We will—ha—not pursue the subject. You are—hum—quite accurate, I have no doubt. We will say no more.’

The supper having come to a close, he drew his chair away as he spoke, and moved back to his former place by the fire. As it was very cold at the greater part of the table, the other guests also resumed their former seats by the fire, designing to toast themselves well before going to bed. The host, when they rose from the table, bowed to all present, wished them good night, and withdrew. But first the insinuating traveller had asked him if they could have some wine made hot; and as he had answered Yes, and had presently afterwards sent it in, that traveller, seated in the centre of the group, and in the full heat of the fire, was soon engaged in serving it out to the rest.

At this time, the younger of the two young ladies, who had been silently attentive in her dark corner (the fire-light was the chief light in the sombre room, the lamp being smoky and dull) to what had been said of the absent lady, glided out. She was at a loss which way to turn when she had softly closed the door; but, after a little hesitation among the sounding passages and the many ways, came to a room in a corner of the main gallery, where the servants were at their supper. From these she obtained a lamp, and a direction to the lady’s room.

It was up the great staircase on the story above. Here and there, the bare white walls were broken by an iron grate, and she thought as she went along that the place was something like a prison. The arched door of the lady’s room, or cell, was not quite shut. After knocking at it two or three times without receiving an answer, she pushed it gently open, and looked in.

The lady lay with closed eyes on the outside of the bed, protected from the cold by the blankets and wrappers with which she had been covered when she revived from her fainting fit. A dull light placed in the deep recess of the window, made little impression on the arched room. The visitor timidly stepped to the bed, and said, in a soft whisper, ‘Are you better?’

The lady had fallen into a slumber, and the whisper was too low to awake her. Her visitor, standing quite still, looked at her attentively.

‘She is very pretty,’ she said to herself. ‘I never saw so beautiful a face. O how unlike me!’

It was a curious thing to say, but it had some hidden meaning, for it filled her eyes with tears.

‘I know I must be right. I know he spoke of her that evening. I could very easily be wrong on any other subject, but not on this, not on this!’

With a quiet and tender hand she put aside a straying fold of the sleeper’s hair, and then touched the hand that lay outside the covering.

‘I like to look at her,’ she breathed to herself. ‘I like to see what has affected him so much.’

She had not withdrawn her hand, when the sleeper opened her eyes and started.

‘Pray don’t be alarmed. I am only one of the travellers from down-stairs. I came to ask if you were better, and if I could do anything for you.’

‘I think you have already been so kind as to send your servants to my assistance?’

‘No, not I; that was my sister. Are you better?’

‘Much better. It is only a slight bruise, and has been well looked to, and is almost easy now. It made me giddy and faint in a moment. It had hurt me before; but at last it overpowered me all at once.’

‘May I stay with you until some one comes? Would you like it?’

‘I should like it, for it is lonely here; but I am afraid you will feel the cold too much.’

‘I don’t mind cold. I am not delicate, if I look so.’ She quickly moved one of the two rough chairs to the bedside, and sat down. The other as quickly moved a part of some travelling wrapper from herself, and drew it over her, so that her arm, in keeping it about her, rested on her shoulder.

‘You have so much the air of a kind nurse,’ said the lady, smiling on her, ‘that you seem as if you had come to me from home.’

‘I am very glad of it.’

‘I was dreaming of home when I woke just now. Of my old home, I mean, before I was married.’

‘And before you were so far away from it.’

‘I have been much farther away from it than this; but then I took the best part of it with me, and missed nothing. I felt solitary as I dropped asleep here, and, missing it a little, wandered back to it.’

There was a sorrowfully affectionate and regretful sound in her voice, which made her visitor refrain from looking at her for the moment.

‘It is a curious chance which at last brings us together, under this covering in which you have wrapped me,’ said the visitor after a pause; ‘for do you know, I think I have been looking for you some time.’

‘Looking for me?’

‘I believe I have a little note here, which I was to give to you whenever I found you. This is it. Unless I greatly mistake, it is addressed to you? Is it not?’

The lady took it, and said yes, and read it. Her visitor watched her as she did so. It was very short. She flushed a little as she put her lips to her visitor’s cheek, and pressed her hand.

‘The dear young friend to whom he presents me, may be a comfort to me at some time, he says. She is truly a comfort to me the first time I see her.’

‘Perhaps you don’t,’ said the visitor, hesitating—‘perhaps you don’t know my story? Perhaps he never told you my story?’


‘Oh no, why should he! I have scarcely the right to tell it myself at present, because I have been entreated not to do so. There is not much in it, but it might account to you for my asking you not to say anything about the letter here. You saw my family with me, perhaps? Some of them—I only say this to you—are a little proud, a little prejudiced.’

‘You shall take it back again,’ said the other; ‘and then my husband is sure not to see it. He might see it and speak of it, otherwise, by some accident. Will you put it in your bosom again, to be certain?’

She did so with great care. Her small, slight hand was still upon the letter, when they heard some one in the gallery outside.

‘I promised,’ said the visitor, rising, ‘that I would write to him after seeing you (I could hardly fail to see you sooner or later), and tell him if you were well and happy. I had better say you were well and happy.’

‘Yes, yes, yes! Say I was very well and very happy. And that I thanked him affectionately, and would never forget him.’

‘I shall see you in the morning. After that we are sure to meet again before very long. Good night!’

‘Good night. Thank you, thank you. Good night, my dear!’

Both of them were hurried and fluttered as they exchanged this parting, and as the visitor came out of the door. She had expected to meet the lady’s husband approaching it; but the person in the gallery was not he: it was the traveller who had wiped the wine-drops from his moustache with the piece of bread. When he heard the step behind him, he turned round—for he was walking away in the dark.

His politeness, which was extreme, would not allow of the young lady’s lighting herself down-stairs, or going down alone. He took her lamp, held it so as to throw the best light on the stone steps, and followed her all the way to the supper-room. She went down, not easily hiding how much she was inclined to shrink and tremble; for the appearance of this traveller was particularly disagreeable to her. She had sat in her quiet corner before supper imagining what he would have been in the scenes and places within her experience, until he inspired her with an aversion that made him little less than terrific.

He followed her down with his smiling politeness, followed her in, and resumed his seat in the best place in the hearth. There with the wood-fire, which was beginning to burn low, rising and falling upon him in the dark room, he sat with his legs thrust out to warm, drinking the hot wine down to the lees, with a monstrous shadow imitating him on the wall and ceiling.

The tired company had broken up, and all the rest were gone to bed except the young lady’s father, who dozed in his chair by the fire. The traveller had been at the pains of going a long way up-stairs to his sleeping-room to fetch his pocket-flask of brandy. He told them so, as he poured its contents into what was left of the wine, and drank with a new relish.

‘May I ask, sir, if you are on your way to Italy?’

The grey-haired gentleman had roused himself, and was preparing to withdraw. He answered in the affirmative.

‘I also!’ said the traveller. ‘I shall hope to have the honour of offering my compliments in fairer scenes, and under softer circumstances, than on this dismal mountain.’

The gentleman bowed, distantly enough, and said he was obliged to him.

‘We poor gentlemen, sir,’ said the traveller, pulling his moustache dry with his hand, for he had dipped it in the wine and brandy; ‘we poor gentlemen do not travel like princes, but the courtesies and graces of life are precious to us. To your health, sir!’

‘Sir, I thank you.’

‘To the health of your distinguished family—of the fair ladies, your daughters!’

‘Sir, I thank you again, I wish you good night. My dear, are our—ha—our people in attendance?’

‘They are close by, father.’

‘Permit me!’ said the traveller, rising and holding the door open, as the gentleman crossed the room towards it with his arm drawn through his daughter’s. ‘Good repose! To the pleasure of seeing you once more! To to-morrow!’

As he kissed his hand, with his best manner and his daintiest smile, the young lady drew a little nearer to her father, and passed him with a dread of touching him.

‘Humph!’ said the insinuating traveller, whose manner shrunk, and whose voice dropped when he was left alone. ‘If they all go to bed, why I must go. They are in a devil of a hurry. One would think the night would be long enough, in this freezing silence and solitude, if one went to bed two hours hence.’

Throwing back his head in emptying his glass, he cast his eyes upon the travellers’ book, which lay on the piano, open, with pens and ink beside it, as if the night’s names had been registered when he was absent. Taking it in his hand, he read these entries.

William Dorrit, Esquire
Frederick Dorrit, Esquire
Edward Dorrit, Esquire
Miss Dorrit
Miss Amy Dorrit
Mrs General
and Suite.
From France to Italy.
Mr and Mrs Henry Gowan.
From France to Italy.

To which he added, in a small complicated hand, ending with a long lean flourish, not unlike a lasso thrown at all the rest of the names:

Blandois. Paris.
From France to Italy.

And then, with his nose coming down over his moustache and his moustache going up and under his nose, repaired to his allotted cell.

CHAPTER 2. Mrs General

It is indispensable to present the accomplished lady who was of sufficient importance in the suite of the Dorrit Family to have a line to herself in the Travellers’ Book.

Mrs General was the daughter of a clerical dignitary in a cathedral town, where she had led the fashion until she was as near forty-five as a single lady can be. A stiff commissariat officer of sixty, famous as a martinet, had then become enamoured of the gravity with which she drove the proprieties four-in-hand through the cathedral town society, and had solicited to be taken beside her on the box of the cool coach of ceremony to which that team was harnessed. His proposal of marriage being accepted by the lady, the commissary took his seat behind the proprieties with great decorum, and Mrs General drove until the commissary died. In the course of their united journey, they ran over several people who came in the way of the proprieties; but always in a high style and with composure.

The commissary having been buried with all the decorations suitable to the service (the whole team of proprieties were harnessed to his hearse, and they all had feathers and black velvet housings with his coat of arms in the corner), Mrs General began to inquire what quantity of dust and ashes was deposited at the bankers’. It then transpired that the commissary had so far stolen a march on Mrs General as to have bought himself an annuity some years before his marriage, and to have reserved that circumstance in mentioning, at the period of his proposal, that his income was derived from the interest of his money. Mrs General consequently found her means so much diminished, that, but for the perfect regulation of her mind, she might have felt disposed to question the accuracy of that portion of the late service which had declared that the commissary could take nothing away with him.

In this state of affairs it occurred to Mrs General, that she might ‘form the mind,’ and eke the manners of some young lady of distinction. Or, that she might harness the proprieties to the carriage of some rich young heiress or widow, and become at once the driver and guard of such vehicle through the social mazes. Mrs General’s communication of this idea to her clerical and commissariat connection was so warmly applauded that, but for the lady’s undoubted merit, it might have appeared as though they wanted to get rid of her. Testimonials representing Mrs General as a prodigy of piety, learning, virtue, and gentility, were lavishly contributed from influential quarters; and one venerable archdeacon even shed tears in recording his testimony to her perfections (described to him by persons on whom he could rely), though he had never had the honour and moral gratification of setting eyes on Mrs General in all his life.

Thus delegated on her mission, as it were by Church and State, Mrs General, who had always occupied high ground, felt in a condition to keep it, and began by putting herself up at a very high figure. An interval of some duration elapsed, in which there was no bid for Mrs General. At length a county-widower, with a daughter of fourteen, opened negotiations with the lady; and as it was a part either of the native dignity or of the artificial policy of Mrs General (but certainly one or the other) to comport herself as if she were much more sought than seeking, the widower pursued Mrs General until he prevailed upon her to form his daughter’s mind and manners.

The execution of this trust occupied Mrs General about seven years, in the course of which time she made the tour of Europe, and saw most of that extensive miscellany of objects which it is essential that all persons of polite cultivation should see with other people’s eyes, and never with their own. When her charge was at length formed, the marriage, not only of the young lady, but likewise of her father, the widower, was resolved on. The widower then finding Mrs General both inconvenient and expensive, became of a sudden almost as much affected by her merits as the archdeacon had been, and circulated such praises of her surpassing worth, in all quarters where he thought an opportunity might arise of transferring the blessing to somebody else, that Mrs General was a name more honourable than ever.

The phoenix was to let, on this elevated perch, when Mr Dorrit, who had lately succeeded to his property, mentioned to his bankers that he wished to discover a lady, well-bred, accomplished, well connected, well accustomed to good society, who was qualified at once to complete the education of his daughters, and to be their matron or chaperon. Mr Dorrit’s bankers, as bankers of the county-widower, instantly said, ‘Mrs General.’

Pursuing the light so fortunately hit upon, and finding the concurrent testimony of the whole of Mrs General’s acquaintance to be of the pathetic nature already recorded, Mr Dorrit took the trouble of going down to the county of the county-widower to see Mrs General, in whom he found a lady of a quality superior to his highest expectations.

‘Might I be excused,’ said Mr Dorrit, ‘if I inquired—ha—what remune—’

‘Why, indeed,’ returned Mrs General, stopping the word, ‘it is a subject on which I prefer to avoid entering. I have never entered on it with my friends here; and I cannot overcome the delicacy, Mr Dorrit, with which I have always regarded it. I am not, as I hope you are aware, a governess—’

‘O dear no!’ said Mr Dorrit. ‘Pray, madam, do not imagine for a moment that I think so.’ He really blushed to be suspected of it.

Mrs General gravely inclined her head. ‘I cannot, therefore, put a price upon services which it is a pleasure to me to render if I can render them spontaneously, but which I could not render in mere return for any consideration. Neither do I know how, or where, to find a case parallel to my own. It is peculiar.’

No doubt. But how then (Mr Dorrit not unnaturally hinted) could the subject be approached?

‘I cannot object,’ said Mrs General—‘though even that is disagreeable to me—to Mr Dorrit’s inquiring, in confidence of my friends here, what amount they have been accustomed, at quarterly intervals, to pay to my credit at my bankers’.’

Mr Dorrit bowed his acknowledgements.

‘Permit me to add,’ said Mrs General, ‘that beyond this, I can never resume the topic. Also that I can accept no second or inferior position. If the honour were proposed to me of becoming known to Mr Dorrit’s family—I think two daughters were mentioned?—’

‘Two daughters.’

‘I could only accept it on terms of perfect equality, as a companion, protector, Mentor, and friend.’

Mr Dorrit, in spite of his sense of his importance, felt as if it would be quite a kindness in her to accept it on any conditions. He almost said as much.

‘I think,’ repeated Mrs General, ‘two daughters were mentioned?’

‘Two daughters,’ said Mr Dorrit again.

‘It would therefore,’ said Mrs General, ‘be necessary to add a third more to the payment (whatever its amount may prove to be), which my friends here have been accustomed to make to my bankers’.’

Mr Dorrit lost no time in referring the delicate question to the county-widower, and finding that he had been accustomed to pay three hundred pounds a-year to the credit of Mrs General, arrived, without any severe strain on his arithmetic, at the conclusion that he himself must pay four. Mrs General being an article of that lustrous surface which suggests that it is worth any money, he made a formal proposal to be allowed to have the honour and pleasure of regarding her as a member of his family. Mrs General conceded that high privilege, and here she was.

In person, Mrs General, including her skirts which had much to do with it, was of a dignified and imposing appearance; ample, rustling, gravely voluminous; always upright behind the proprieties. She might have been taken—had been taken—to the top of the Alps and the bottom of Herculaneum, without disarranging a fold in her dress, or displacing a pin. If her countenance and hair had rather a floury appearance, as though from living in some transcendently genteel Mill, it was rather because she was a chalky creation altogether, than because she mended her complexion with violet powder, or had turned grey. If her eyes had no expression, it was probably because they had nothing to express. If she had few wrinkles, it was because her mind had never traced its name or any other inscription on her face. A cool, waxy, blown-out woman, who had never lighted well.

Mrs General had no opinions. Her way of forming a mind was to prevent it from forming opinions. She had a little circular set of mental grooves or rails on which she started little trains of other people’s opinions, which never overtook one another, and never got anywhere. Even her propriety could not dispute that there was impropriety in the world; but Mrs General’s way of getting rid of it was to put it out of sight, and make believe that there was no such thing. This was another of her ways of forming a mind—to cram all articles of difficulty into cupboards, lock them up, and say they had no existence. It was the easiest way, and, beyond all comparison, the properest.

Mrs General was not to be told of anything shocking. Accidents, miseries, and offences, were never to be mentioned before her. Passion was to go to sleep in the presence of Mrs General, and blood was to change to milk and water. The little that was left in the world, when all these deductions were made, it was Mrs General’s province to varnish. In that formation process of hers, she dipped the smallest of brushes into the largest of pots, and varnished the surface of every object that came under consideration. The more cracked it was, the more Mrs General varnished it.

There was varnish in Mrs General’s voice, varnish in Mrs General’s touch, an atmosphere of varnish round Mrs General’s figure. Mrs General’s dreams ought to have been varnished—if she had any—lying asleep in the arms of the good Saint Bernard, with the feathery snow falling on his house-top.

CHAPTER 3. On the Road

The bright morning sun dazzled the eyes, the snow had ceased, the mists had vanished, the mountain air was so clear and light that the new sensation of breathing it was like the having entered on a new existence. To help the delusion, the solid ground itself seemed gone, and the mountain, a shining waste of immense white heaps and masses, to be a region of cloud floating between the blue sky above and the earth far below.

Some dark specks in the snow, like knots upon a little thread, beginning at the convent door and winding away down the descent in broken lengths which were not yet pieced together, showed where the Brethren were at work in several places clearing the track. Already the snow had begun to be foot-thawed again about the door. Mules were busily brought out, tied to the rings in the wall, and laden; strings of bells were buckled on, burdens were adjusted, the voices of drivers and riders sounded musically. Some of the earliest had even already resumed their journey; and, both on the level summit by the dark water near the convent, and on the downward way of yesterday’s ascent, little moving figures of men and mules, reduced to miniatures by the immensity around, went with a clear tinkling of bells and a pleasant harmony of tongues.

In the supper-room of last night, a new fire, piled upon the feathery ashes 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 tea for his party from a supply he had brought up with him, together with several other small stores which were chiefly laid in for the use of the strong body of inconvenience. Mr Gowan and Blandois of Paris had already breakfasted, and were walking up and down by the lake, smoking their cigars.

‘Gowan, eh?’ muttered Tip, otherwise Edward Dorrit, Esquire, turning over the leaves of the book, when the courier had left them to breakfast. ‘Then Gowan is the name of a puppy, that’s all I have got to say! If it was worth my while, I’d pull his nose. But it isn’t worth my while—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,’ said Tip, ‘or he and I might have come into collision.’

‘It is thought better here that she should lie quiet to-day, and not be fatigued and shaken by the ride down until to-morrow.’

‘With all my heart. But you talk as if you had been nursing her. You haven’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 Miss Fanny, 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 gentleman with a frown; ‘because that’s an old habit, and one you may as well lay aside.’

‘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, and all the rest of it! Nonsense, you little thing! I know perfectly well why you have been taking such an interest in this Mrs Gowan. You can’t blind me.’

‘I will not try to, Fanny. Don’t be angry.’

‘Oh! angry!’ returned that young lady with a flounce. ‘I have no patience’ (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 before yesterday, and she may as well admit that she did.’

‘My child,’ said Mr Dorrit, turning to his younger daughter, ‘has your sister—any—ha—authority for this curious statement?’

‘However meek we are,’ Miss Fanny struck in before she could answer, ‘we don’t go creeping into people’s rooms on the tops of cold mountains, and sitting perishing in the frost with people, unless we know something about them beforehand. It’s not very hard to divine whose friend Mrs Gowan is.’

‘Whose friend?’ inquired her father.

‘Pa, I am sorry to say,’ returned Miss Fanny, who had by this time succeeded in goading herself into a state of much ill-usage and grievance, which she was often at great pains to do: ‘that I believe her to be a friend of that very objectionable and unpleasant person, who, with a total absence of all delicacy, which our experience might have led us to expect from him, insulted us and outraged our feelings in so public and wilful a manner on an occasion to which it is understood among us that we will not more pointedly allude.’

‘Amy, my child,’ said Mr Dorrit, tempering a bland severity with a dignified 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 do declare once for all’—this young lady was in the habit of declaring the same thing once for all every day of her life, and even several times in a day—‘that this is shameful! I do declare once for all that it ought to be put a stop to. Is it not enough that we have gone through what is only known to ourselves, but are we to have it thrown in our faces, perseveringly and systematically, by the very person who should spare our feelings most? Are we to be exposed to this unnatural conduct every moment of our lives? Are we never to be permitted to forget? I say again, it is absolutely infamous!’

‘Well, Amy,’ observed her brother, shaking his head, ‘you know I stand by you whenever I can, and on most occasions. But I must say, that, upon my soul, I do consider it rather an unaccountable mode of showing your sisterly affection, that you should back up a man who treated me in the most ungentlemanly way in which one man can treat another. And who,’ he added convincingly, ‘must be a low-minded thief, you know, or he never could have conducted himself as he did.’

‘And see,’ said Miss Fanny, ‘see what is involved in this! Can we ever hope to be respected by our servants? Never. Here are our two women, and Pa’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 rushing about 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 go plunging about with tumblers, as this very Amy did in this very room before our very eyes last night!’

‘I don’t so much mind that, once in a way,’ remarked Mr Edward; ‘but your Clennam, as he thinks proper to call himself, is another thing.’

‘He is part of the same thing,’ returned Miss Fanny, ‘and of a piece with all the rest. He obtruded himself upon us in the first instance. We never wanted him. I always showed him, for one, that I could have dispensed with his company with the greatest pleasure. He then commits that gross outrage upon our feelings, which he never could or would have committed but for the delight he took in exposing us; 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 was to be expected when he was enjoying our past misfortunes—gloating over them at the moment!’

‘Father—Edward—no indeed!’ pleaded Little Dorrit. ‘Neither Mr nor Mrs Gowan had ever heard our name. They were, and they are, quite ignorant of our history.’

‘So much the worse,’ retorted Fanny, determined not to admit anything in extenuation, ‘for then you have no excuse. If they had known about us, you might have felt yourself called upon to conciliate them. That would have been a weak and ridiculous mistake, but I can respect a mistake, whereas I can’t respect a wilful and deliberate abasing of those who should be nearest and dearest to us. No. I can’t respect that. I can do nothing but denounce that.’

‘I never offend you wilfully, Fanny,’ said Little Dorrit, ‘though you are so hard with me.’

‘Then you should be more careful, Amy,’ returned her sister. ‘If you do such things by accident, you should be more careful. If I happened to have been born in a peculiar place, and under peculiar circumstances that blunted my knowledge of propriety, I fancy I should think myself bound to consider at every step, “Am I going, ignorantly, to compromise any near and dear relations?” That is what I fancy I should do, if it was my case.’

Mr Dorrit now interposed, at once to stop these painful subjects by his authority, and to point their moral by his wisdom.

‘My dear,’ said he to his younger daughter, ‘I beg you to—ha—to say no more. Your sister Fanny expresses herself strongly, but not without considerable reason. You have now a—hum—a great position to support. That great position is not occupied by yourself alone, but by—ha—by me, and—ha hum—by us. Us. Now, it is incumbent upon all people in an exalted position, but it is particularly so on this family, for reasons which I—ha—will not dwell upon, to make themselves respected. To be vigilant in making themselves respected. Dependants, to respect us, must be—ha—kept at a distance and—hum—kept down. Down. Therefore, your not exposing yourself to the remarks of our attendants by appearing to have at any time dispensed with their services and performed them for yourself, is—ha—highly important.’

‘Why, who can doubt it?’ cried Miss Fanny. ‘It’s the essence of everything.’

‘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 that individual in the light of—ha—generally—a well-behaved person. Hum. A well-behaved person. Nor will I inquire whether Mr Clennam did, at any time, obtrude himself on—ha—my society. He knew my society to be—hum—sought, and his plea might be that he regarded me in the light of a public character. But there were circumstances attending my—ha—slight knowledge of Mr Clennam (it was very slight), which,’ here Mr Dorrit became extremely grave and impressive, ‘would render it highly indelicate in Mr Clennam to—ha—to seek to renew communication with me or with any member of my family under existing circumstances. If Mr Clennam has sufficient delicacy to perceive the impropriety of any such attempt, I am bound as a responsible gentleman to—ha—defer to that delicacy on his part. If, on the other hand, Mr Clennam has not that delicacy, I cannot for a moment—ha—hold any correspondence with so—hum—coarse a mind. In either case, it would appear that Mr Clennam is put altogether out of the question, and that we have nothing to do with him or he with us. Ha—Mrs General!’

The entrance of the lady whom he announced, to take her place at the breakfast-table, terminated the discussion. Shortly afterwards, the courier announced that the valet, and the footman, and the two maids, and the four guides, and the fourteen mules, were in readiness; so the breakfast party went out to the convent door to join the cavalcade.

Mr Gowan stood aloof with his cigar and pencil, but Mr Blandois was on the spot to pay his respects to the ladies. When he gallantly pulled off his slouched hat to Little Dorrit, she thought he had even a more sinister look, standing swart and cloaked in the snow, than he had in the fire-light over-night. But, as both her father and her sister received his homage with some favour, she refrained from expressing any distrust of him, lest it should prove to be a new blemish derived from her prison birth.

Nevertheless, as they wound down the rugged way while the convent was yet in sight, she more than once looked round, and descried Mr Blandois, backed by the convent smoke which rose straight and high from the chimneys in a golden film, always standing on one jutting point looking down after them. Long after he was a mere black stick in the snow, she felt as though she could yet see that smile of his, that high nose, and those eyes that were too near it. And even after that, when the convent was gone and some light morning clouds veiled the pass below it, the ghastly skeleton arms by the wayside seemed to be all pointing up at him.

More treacherous than snow, perhaps, colder at heart, and harder to melt, Blandois of Paris by degrees passed out of her mind, as they came down into the softer regions. Again the sun was warm, again the streams descending from glaciers and snowy caverns were refreshing to drink at, again they came among the pine-trees, the rocky rivulets, the verdant heights and dales, the wooden chalets and rough zigzag fences of Swiss country. Sometimes the way so widened that she and her father could ride abreast. And then to look at him, handsomely clothed in his fur and broadcloths, rich, free, numerously served and attended, his eyes roving far away among the glories of the landscape, no miserable screen before them 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 the clothes they gave him, and performed some ablutions as a sacrifice to the family credit, and went where he was taken, with a certain patient animal enjoyment, which seemed to express that the air and change did him good. In all other respects, save one, he shone with no light but such 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 his brother speak; no desire to be waited on, so that the servants devoted themselves to his brother. The only noticeable change he originated in himself, was an alteration in his manner to his younger niece. Every day it refined more and more into a marked respect, very rarely shown by age to youth, and still more rarely susceptible, one would have said, of the fitness with which he invested it. On those occasions when Miss Fanny did declare once for all, he would take the next opportunity of baring his grey head before his younger niece, and of helping her to alight, or handing her to the carriage, or showing her any other attention, with the profoundest deference. Yet it never appeared misplaced or forced, being always heartily simple, spontaneous, and genuine. Neither would he ever consent, even at his brother’s request, to be helped to any place before her, or to take precedence of her in anything. So jealous was he of her being respected, that, on this very journey down from the Great Saint Bernard, he took sudden and violent umbrage at the footman’s being remiss to hold her stirrup, though standing near when she dismounted; and unspeakably astonished the whole retinue by charging at him on a hard-headed mule, riding him into a corner, and threatening to trample him 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 the courier riding before, to see that the rooms of state were ready. He was the herald of the family procession. The great travelling-carriage came next: 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 came the chariot containing Frederick Dorrit, Esquire, and an empty place occupied by Edward Dorrit, Esquire, in wet weather. Then came the fourgon with the rest of the retainers, the heavy baggage, and as much as it could carry of the mud and dust which the other vehicles left behind.

These equipages adorned the yard of the hotel at Martigny, on the return of the family from their mountain excursion. Other vehicles were there, much company being on the road, from the patched Italian Vettura—like the body of a swing from an English fair put upon a wooden tray on wheels, and having another wooden tray without wheels put atop of it—to the trim English carriage. But there was another adornment of the hotel which Mr Dorrit had not bargained for. Two strange travellers embellished one of his rooms.

The Innkeeper, hat in hand in the yard, swore to the courier that he was blighted, that he was desolated, that he was profoundly afflicted, that he was the most miserable and unfortunate of beasts, that he had the head of a wooden pig. He ought never to have made the concession, he said, but the very genteel lady had so passionately prayed him for the accommodation of that room to dine in, only for a little half-hour, that he had been vanquished. The little half-hour was expired, the lady and gentleman were taking their little dessert and half-cup of coffee, the note was paid, the horses were ordered, they would depart immediately; but, owing to an unhappy destiny and the curse of Heaven, they were not yet gone.

Nothing could exceed Mr Dorrit’s indignation, as he turned at the foot of the staircase on hearing these apologies. He felt that the family dignity was struck at by an assassin’s hand. He had a sense of his dignity, which was of the most exquisite nature. He could detect a design upon it when nobody else had any perception of the fact. His life was made an agony by the number of fine scalpels that he felt to be incessantly engaged in dissecting his dignity.

‘Is it possible, sir,’ said Mr Dorrit, reddening excessively, ‘that you have—ha—had the audacity to place one of my rooms at the disposition of any other person?’

Thousands of pardons! It was the host’s profound misfortune to have been overcome by that too genteel lady. He besought Monseigneur not to enrage himself. He threw himself on Monseigneur for clemency. If Monseigneur would have the distinguished goodness to occupy the other salon especially reserved for him, for but five minutes, all would go well.

‘No, sir,’ said Mr Dorrit. ‘I will not occupy any salon. I will leave your house without eating or drinking, or setting foot in it. How do you dare to act like this? Who am I that you—ha—separate me from other gentlemen?’

Alas! The host called all the universe to witness that Monseigneur was the most amiable of the whole body of nobility, the most important, the most estimable, the most honoured. If he separated Monseigneur from others, 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 have affronted me. You have heaped insults upon me. How dare you? Explain yourself.’

Ah, just Heaven, then, how could the host explain himself when he had nothing more to explain; when he had only to apologise, and confide himself to the so well-known magnanimity of Monseigneur!

‘I tell you, sir,’ said Mr Dorrit, panting with anger, ‘that you separate me—ha—from other gentlemen; that you make distinctions between me and other gentlemen of fortune and station. I demand of you, why? I wish to know on—ha—what authority, on whose authority. Reply sir. Explain. Answer why.’

Permit the landlord humbly to submit to Monsieur the Courier then, that Monseigneur, 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 the why 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 more of the very genteel lady; I will hear no more of you. Look at this family—my family—a family more genteel than any lady. You have treated this family with disrespect; you have been insolent to this family. I’ll ruin you. Ha—send for the horses, pack the carriages, I’ll not set foot in this man’s house again!’

No one had interfered in the dispute, which was beyond the French colloquial powers of Edward Dorrit, Esquire, and scarcely within the province of the ladies. Miss Fanny, however, now supported her father with great bitterness; declaring, in her native tongue, that it was quite 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 that family and other wealthy families. What the reasons of his presumption could be, she was at a loss to imagine; but reasons he must have, and they ought to be torn from him.

All the guides, mule-drivers, and idlers in the yard, had made themselves parties to the angry conference, and were much impressed by the courier’s now bestirring himself to get the carriages out. With the aid of some dozen people to each wheel, this was done at a great cost of noise; and then the loading was proceeded with, pending the arrival of the horses from the post-house.

But the very genteel lady’s English chariot being already horsed and at the inn-door, the landlord had slipped up-stairs to represent his hard case. This was notified to the yard by his now coming down the staircase in attendance on the gentleman and the lady, and by his pointing out the offended majesty of Mr Dorrit to them with a significant motion of his hand.

‘Beg your pardon,’ said the gentleman, detaching himself from the lady, and coming forward. ‘I am a man of few words and a bad hand at an explanation—but lady here is extremely anxious that there should be no Row. Lady—a mother of mine, in point of fact—wishes me to say that she hopes no Row.’

Mr Dorrit, still panting under his injury, saluted the gentleman, and saluted the lady, in a distant, final, and invincible manner.

‘No, but really—here, old feller; you!’ This was the gentleman’s way of appealing to Edward Dorrit, Esquire, on whom he pounced as a great and providential relief. ‘Let you and I try to make this all right. Lady so very much wishes no Row.’

Edward Dorrit, Esquire, led a little apart by the button, assumed a diplomatic 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 I try to make it all right, and avoid Row. The fault is not this chap’s at all, but my mother’s. Being a remarkably fine woman with no bigodd nonsense 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 other gentleman, 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 family that the civil landlord is not to blame?’

‘Assure you, ma’am,’ returned Edmund, ‘perfectly paralysing myself with trying it on.’ He then looked steadfastly at Edward Dorrit, Esquire, for some 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 or two 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 of occupying one of a stranger’s suite of rooms during his absence, for just as much (or as little) time as I could dine in. I had no idea the rightful owner would come back so soon, nor had I any idea that he had come back, or I should have hastened to make restoration of my ill-gotten chamber, and to have offered my explanation and apology. I trust in saying this—’

For a moment the lady, with a glass at her eye, stood transfixed and speechless before the two Miss Dorrits. At the same moment, Miss Fanny, in the foreground of a grand pictorial composition, formed by the family, the family equipages, and the family servants, held her sister tight under one arm to detain her on the spot, and with the other arm fanned herself with a distinguished air, and negligently surveyed the lady from head to foot.

The lady, recovering herself quickly—for it was Mrs Merdle and she was not easily dashed—went on to add that she trusted in saying this, she apologised for her boldness, and restored this well-behaved landlord to the favour that was so very valuable to him. Mr Dorrit, on the altar of whose dignity all this was incense, made a gracious reply; and said that his people should—ha—countermand his horses, and he would—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 its owner, with a wonderful command of feature, addressed a winning smile of adieu to the two sisters, as young ladies of fortune in whose favour she was much prepossessed, and whom she had never had the gratification of seeing before.

Not so, however, Mr Sparkler. This gentleman, becoming transfixed at the same moment as his lady-mother, could not by any means unfix himself again, but stood stiffly staring at the whole composition with Miss Fanny in the Foreground. On his mother saying, ‘Edmund, we are quite ready; 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 his shining talents found the most frequent utterance, but he relaxed no muscle. So fixed was his figure, that it would have been matter of some difficulty to bend him sufficiently to get him in the carriage-door, if he had not received the timely assistance of a maternal pull from within. He was no sooner within than the pad of the little window in the back of the chariot disappeared, and his eye usurped its place. There it remained as long as so small an object was discernible, and probably much longer, staring (as though something inexpressibly surprising should happen to a codfish) like an ill-executed eye in a large locket.

This encounter was so highly agreeable to Miss Fanny, and gave her so much to think of with triumph afterwards, that it softened her asperities exceedingly. When the procession was again in motion next day, she occupied her place in it with a new gaiety; and showed such a flow of spirits indeed, that Mrs General looked rather surprised.

Little Dorrit was glad to be found no fault with, and to see that Fanny was pleased; but her part in the procession was a musing part, and a quiet one. Sitting opposite her father in the travelling-carriage, and recalling the old Marshalsea room, her present existence was a dream. All that she saw was new and wonderful, but it was not real; it seemed to her as if those visions of mountains and picturesque countries might melt 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 having glided into a corner where she had no one to think for, nothing to plan and contrive, no cares of others to load herself with. Strange as that was, it was far stranger yet to find a space between herself and her father, where others occupied themselves in taking care of him, and where she was never expected to be. At first, this was so much more unlike her old experience than even the mountains themselves, that she had been unable to resign herself to it, and had tried to retain her old place about him. But he had spoken to her alone, and had said that people—ha—people in an exalted position, my dear, must scrupulously exact respect from their dependents; and that for her, his daughter, Miss Amy Dorrit, of the sole remaining branch of the Dorrits of Dorsetshire, to be known to—hum—to occupy herself in fulfilling the functions of—ha hum—a valet, would be incompatible with that respect. Therefore, my dear, he—ha—he laid his parental injunctions upon her, to remember that she was a lady, who had now to conduct herself with—hum—a proper pride, and to preserve the rank of a lady; and consequently he requested her to abstain from doing what would occasion—ha—unpleasant and derogatory remarks. She had obeyed without a murmur. Thus it had been brought about that she now sat in her corner of the luxurious carriage with her little patient hands folded before her, quite displaced even from the last point of the old standing ground in life on which her feet had lingered.

It was from this position that all she saw appeared unreal; the more surprising the scenes, the more they resembled the unreality of her own inner life as she went through its vacant places all day long. The gorges of the Simplon, its enormous depths and thundering waterfalls, the wonderful road, the points of danger where a loose wheel or a faltering horse would have been destruction, the descent into Italy, the opening of that beautiful land as the rugged mountain-chasm widened and let them out from a gloomy and dark imprisonment—all a dream—only the old mean Marshalsea a reality. Nay, even the old mean Marshalsea was shaken to its foundations when she pictured it without her father. She could scarcely believe that the prisoners were still lingering in the close yard, that the mean rooms were still every one tenanted, and that the turnkey still stood in the Lodge letting people in and out, all just as she well knew it to be.

With a remembrance of her father’s old life in prison hanging about her like the burden of a sorrowful tune, Little Dorrit would wake from a dream of her birth-place into a whole day’s dream. The painted room in which she awoke, often a humbled state-chamber in a dilapidated palace, would begin it; with its wild red autumnal vine-leaves overhanging the glass, its orange-trees on the cracked white terrace outside the window, a group of monks and peasants in the little street below, misery and magnificence wrestling with each other upon every rood of ground in the prospect, no matter how widely diversified, and misery throwing magnificence with the strength of fate. To this would succeed a labyrinth of bare passages and pillared galleries, with the family procession already preparing in the quadrangle below, through the carriages and luggage being brought together by the servants for the day’s journey. Then breakfast in another painted chamber, damp-stained and of desolate proportions; and then the departure, which, to her timidity and sense of not being grand enough for her place in the ceremonies, was always an uneasy thing. For then the courier (who himself would have been a foreign gentleman of high mark in the Marshalsea) would present himself to report that all was ready; and then her 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 Little Dorrit’s mind—absolutely made her cry at first, she knew so little what to do with her), would be in attendance; and then her brother’s man would complete his master’s equipment; and then her father would give his 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, and clattering, they would do; and so they would be driven madly through narrow unsavoury streets, and jerked out at the town gate.

Among the day’s unrealities would be roads where the bright red vines were looped and garlanded together on trees for many miles; woods of olives; white villages and towns on hill-sides, lovely without, but frightful in their dirt and poverty within; crosses by the way; deep blue lakes with fairy islands, and clustering boats with awnings of bright colours and sails of beautiful forms; vast piles of building mouldering to dust; hanging-gardens where the weeds had grown so strong that their stems, like wedges driven home, had split the arch and rent the wall; stone-terraced lanes, with the lizards running into and out of every chink; beggars of all sorts everywhere: pitiful, picturesque, hungry, merry; children beggars and aged beggars. Often at posting-houses and other halting places, these miserable creatures would appear to her the only realities of the day; and many a time, when the money she had brought to give them was all given away, she would sit with her folded hands, thoughtfully looking after some diminutive girl leading her grey father, as if the sight reminded her of something in the days that were gone.

Again, there would be places where they stayed the week together in splendid rooms, had banquets every day, rode out among heaps of wonders, walked through miles of palaces, and rested in dark corners of great churches; where there were winking lamps of gold and silver among pillars and arches, kneeling figures dotted about at confessionals and on the pavements; where there was the mist and scent of incense; where there were pictures, fantastic images, gaudy altars, great heights and distances, all softly lighted through stained glass, and the massive curtains that hung in the doorways. From these cities they would go on again, by the roads of vines and olives, through squalid villages, where there was not a hovel without a gap in its filthy walls, not a window with a whole inch of glass or paper; where there seemed to be nothing to support life, nothing to eat, nothing to make, nothing to grow, nothing to hope, nothing to do but die.

Again they would come to whole towns of palaces, whose proper inmates were all banished, and which were all changed into barracks: troops of idle soldiers leaning out of the state windows, where their accoutrements hung drying on the marble architecture, and showing to the mind like hosts of rats who were (happily) eating away the props of the edifices that supported them, and must soon, with them, be smashed on the heads of the other swarms of soldiers and the swarms of priests, and the swarms of spies, who were all the ill-looking population left to be ruined, in the streets below.

Through such scenes, the family procession moved on to Venice. And here it dispersed for a time, as they were to live in Venice some few months in a palace (itself six times as big as the whole Marshalsea) on the Grand 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 by no sound but the softened ringing of church-bells, the rippling of the current, and the cry of the gondoliers turning the corners of the flowing streets, Little Dorrit, quite lost by her task being done, sat down to muse. The family began a gay life, went here and there, and turned 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 kept in waiting, moored to painted posts at the door—when she could escape from the attendance of that oppressive maid, who was her mistress, and a very hard one—and would be taken all over the strange city. Social people in other gondolas began to ask each other who the little solitary girl was whom they passed, sitting in her boat with folded hands, looking so pensively and wonderingly about her. Never thinking that it would be worth anybody’s while to notice her or her doings, Little Dorrit, in her quiet, scared, lost manner, went about the city none the less.

But her favourite station was the balcony of her own room, overhanging the canal, with other balconies below, and none above. It was of massive stone darkened by ages, built in a wild fancy which came from the East to that collection of wild fancies; and Little Dorrit was little indeed, leaning on the broad-cushioned ledge, and looking over. As she liked no place of an evening half so well, she soon began to be watched for, and many eyes in passing gondolas were raised, and many people said, There was 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 its long low lines of purple and red, and its burning flush high up into the sky: so glowing on the buildings, and so lightening their structure, that it made them look as if their strong walls were transparent, and they shone from within. She would watch those glories expire; and then, after looking at the black gondolas underneath, taking guests to music and dancing, would raise her eyes to the shining stars. Was there no party of her own, in other times, on which the stars had shone? To think of that old gate now!

She would think of that old gate, and of herself sitting at it in the dead of the night, pillowing Maggy’s head; and of other places and of other scenes associated with those different times. And then she would lean upon her balcony, and look over at the water, as though they all lay underneath it. When she got to that, she would musingly watch its running, as if, in the general vision, it might run dry, and show her the prison again, and herself, and the old room, and the old inmates, and the old visitors: all lasting realities that had never changed.

CHAPTER 4. A Letter from Little Dorrit

Dear Mr Clennam,

I write to you from my own room at Venice, thinking you will be glad to hear from me. But I know you cannot be so glad to hear from me as I am to write to you; for everything about you is as you have been accustomed to see it, and you miss nothing—unless it should be me, which can only be for a very little while together and very seldom—while everything in my life is so strange, and I miss so much.

When we were in Switzerland, which appears to have been years ago, though it was only weeks, I met young Mrs Gowan, who was on a mountain excursion like ourselves. She told me she was very well and very happy. She sent you the message, by me, that she thanked you affectionately and would never forget you. She was quite confiding with me, and I loved her almost as soon as I spoke to her. But there is nothing singular in that; who could help loving so beautiful and winning a creature! I could not wonder at any one loving her. No indeed.

It will not make you uneasy on Mrs Gowan’s account, I hope—for I remember that you said you had the interest of a true friend in her—if I tell you that I wish she could have married some one better suited to her. Mr Gowan seems fond of her, and of course she is very fond of him, but I thought he was not earnest enough—I don’t mean in that respect—I mean in anything. I could not keep it out of my mind that if I was Mrs Gowan (what a change that would be, and how I must alter to become like her!) I should feel that I was rather lonely and lost, for the want of some one who was steadfast and firm in purpose. I even thought she felt this want a little, almost without knowing it. But mind you are not made uneasy by this, for she was ‘very well and very happy.’ And she looked most beautiful.

I expect to meet her again before long, and indeed have been expecting for some days past to see her here. I will ever be as good a friend to her as I can for your sake. Dear Mr Clennam, I dare say you think little of having been a friend to me when I had no other (not that I have any other now, for I have made no new friends), but I think much of it, and I never can forget it.

I wish I knew—but it is best for no one to write to me—how Mr and Mrs Plornish prosper in the business which my dear father bought for them, and that old Mr Nandy lives happily with them and his two grandchildren, and sings all his songs over and over again. I cannot quite keep back the tears from my eyes when I think of my poor Maggy, and of the blank she must have felt at first, however kind they all are to her, without her Little Mother. Will you go and tell her, as a strict secret, with my love, that she never can have regretted our separation more than I have regretted it? And will you tell them all that I have thought of them every day, and that my heart is faithful to them everywhere? O, if you could know how faithful, you would almost pity me for being so far away and being so grand!

You will be glad, I am sure, to know that my dear father is very well in health, and that all these changes are highly beneficial to him, and that he is very different indeed from what he used to be when you used to see him. There is an improvement in my uncle too, I think, though he never complained of old, and never exults now. Fanny is very graceful, quick, and clever. It is natural to her to be a lady; she has adapted herself to our new fortunes with wonderful ease.

This reminds me that I have not been able to do so, and that I sometimes almost despair of ever being able to do so. I find that I cannot learn. Mrs General is always with us, and we speak French and speak Italian, and she takes pains to form us in many ways. When I say we speak French and Italian, I mean they do. As for me, I am so slow that I scarcely get on at all. As soon as I begin to plan, and think, and try, all my planning, thinking, and trying go in old directions, and I begin to feel careful again about the expenses of the day, and about my dear father, and about my work, and then I remember with a start that there are no such cares left, and that in itself is so new and improbable that it sets me wandering again. I should not have the courage to mention this to any one but you.

It is the same with all these new countries and wonderful sights. They are very beautiful, and they astonish me, but I am not collected enough—not familiar enough with myself, if you can quite understand what I mean—to have all the pleasure in them that I might have. What I knew before them, blends with them, too, so curiously. For instance, when we were among the mountains, I often felt (I hesitate to tell such an idle thing, dear Mr Clennam, even to you) as if the Marshalsea must be behind that great rock; or as if Mrs Clennam’s room where I have worked so many days, and where I first saw you, must be just beyond that snow. Do you remember one night when I came with Maggy to your lodging in Covent Garden? That room I have often and often fancied I have seen before me, travelling along for miles by the side of our carriage, when I have looked out of the carriage-window after dark. We were shut out that night, and sat at the iron gate, and walked about till morning. I often look up at the stars, even from the balcony of this room, and believe that I am in the street again, shut out with Maggy. It is the same with people that I left in England.

When I go about here in a gondola, I surprise myself looking into other gondolas as if I hoped to see them. It would overcome me with joy to see them, but I don’t think it would surprise me much, at first. In my fanciful times, I fancy that they might be anywhere; and I almost expect to see their dear faces on the bridges or the quays.

Another difficulty that I have will seem very strange to you. It must seem very strange to any one but me, and does even to me: I often feel the old sad pity for—I need not write the word—for him. Changed as he is, and inexpressibly blest and thankful as I always am to know it, the old sorrowful feeling of compassion comes upon me sometimes with such strength that I want to put my arms round his neck, tell him how I love him, and cry a little on his breast. I should be glad after that, and proud and happy. But I know that I must not do this; that he would not like it, that Fanny would be angry, that Mrs General would be amazed; and so I quiet myself. Yet in doing so, I struggle with the feeling that I have come to be at a distance from him; and that even in the midst of all the servants and attendants, he is deserted, and in want of me.

Dear Mr Clennam, I have written a great deal about myself, but I must write a little more still, or what I wanted most of all to say in this weak letter would be left out of it. In all these foolish thoughts of mine, which I have been so hardy as to confess to you because I know you will understand me if anybody can, and will make more allowance for me than anybody else would if you cannot—in all these thoughts, there is one thought scarcely ever—never—out of my memory, and that is that I hope you sometimes, in a quiet moment, have a thought for me. I must tell you that as to this, I have felt, ever since I have been away, an anxiety which I am very anxious to relieve. I have been afraid that you may think of me in a new light, or a new character. Don’t do that, I could not bear that—it would make me more unhappy than you can suppose. It would break my heart to believe that you thought of me in any way that would make me stranger to you than I was when you were so good to me. What I have to pray and entreat of you is, that you will never think of me as the daughter of a rich person; that you will never think of me as dressing any better, or living any better, than when you first knew me. That you will remember me only as the little shabby girl you protected with so much tenderness, from whose threadbare dress you have kept away the rain, and whose wet feet you have dried at your fire. That you will think of me (when you think of me at all), and of my true affection and devoted gratitude, always without change, as of
Your poor child,

P.S.—Particularly remember that you are not to be uneasy about Mrs Gowan. Her words were, ‘Very well and very happy.’ And she looked most beautiful.

CHAPTER 5. Something Wrong Somewhere

The family had been a month or two at Venice, when Mr Dorrit, who was much among Counts and Marquises, and had but scant leisure, set an hour of one day apart, beforehand, for the purpose of holding some conference with Mrs General.

The time he had reserved in his mind arriving, he sent Mr Tinkler, his valet, to Mrs General’s apartment (which would have absorbed about a third of the area of the Marshalsea), to present his compliments to that lady, and represent him as desiring the favour of an interview. It being that period of the forenoon when the various members of the family had coffee in their own chambers, some couple of hours before assembling at breakfast in a faded hall which had once been sumptuous, but was now the prey of watery vapours and a settled melancholy, Mrs General was accessible to the valet. That envoy found her on a little square of carpet, so extremely diminutive in reference to the size of her stone and marble floor that she looked as if she might have had it spread for the trying on of a ready-made pair of shoes; or as if she had come into possession of the enchanted piece of carpet, bought for forty purses by one of the three princes in the Arabian Nights, and had that moment been transported on it, at a wish, into a palatial saloon with which it had no connection.

Mrs General, replying to the envoy, as she set down her empty coffee-cup, that she was willing at once to proceed to Mr Dorrit’s apartment, and spare him the trouble of coming to her (which, in his gallantry, he had proposed), the envoy threw open the door, and escorted Mrs General to the presence. It was quite a walk, by mysterious staircases and corridors, from Mrs General’s apartment,—hoodwinked by a narrow side street with a low gloomy bridge in it, and dungeon-like opposite tenements, their walls besmeared with a thousand downward stains and streaks, as if every crazy aperture in them had been weeping tears of rust into the Adriatic for centuries—to Mr Dorrit’s apartment: with a whole English house-front of window, a prospect of beautiful church-domes rising into the blue sky sheer out of the water which reflected them, and a hushed murmur of the Grand Canal laving the doorways below, where his gondolas and gondoliers attended his pleasure, drowsily swinging in a little forest of piles.

Mr Dorrit, in a resplendent dressing-gown and cap—the dormant grub that had so long bided its time among the Collegians had burst into a rare butterfly—rose to receive Mrs General. A chair to Mrs General. An easier chair, sir; what are you doing, what are you about, what do you mean? Now, leave us!

‘Mrs General,’ said Mr Dorrit, ‘I took the liberty—’

‘By no means,’ Mrs General interposed. ‘I was quite at your disposition. I had had my coffee.’

‘—I took the liberty,’ said Mr Dorrit again, with the magnificent placidity of one who was above correction, ‘to solicit the favour of a little private conversation with you, because I feel rather worried respecting my—ha—my younger daughter. You will have observed a great difference of temperament, madam, between my two daughters?’

Said Mrs General in response, crossing her gloved hands (she was never without gloves, and they never creased and always fitted), ‘There is a great difference.’

‘May I ask to be favoured with your view of it?’ said Mr Dorrit, with a deference not incompatible with majestic serenity.

‘Fanny,’ returned Mrs General, ‘has force of character and self-reliance. Amy, none.’

None? O Mrs General, ask the Marshalsea stones and bars. O Mrs General, ask the milliner who taught her to work, and the dancing-master who taught her sister to dance. O Mrs General, Mrs General, ask me, her father, what I owe her; and hear my testimony touching the life of this slighted little creature from her childhood up!

No such adjuration entered Mr. Dorrit’s head. He looked at Mrs General, seated in her usual erect attitude on her coach-box behind the proprieties, and he said in a thoughtful manner, ‘True, madam.’

‘I would not,’ said Mrs General, ‘be understood to say, observe, that there is nothing to improve in Fanny. But there is material there—perhaps, indeed, a little too much.’

‘Will you be kind enough, madam,’ said Mr Dorrit, ‘to be—ha—more explicit? I do not quite understand my elder daughter’s having—hum—too much material. What material?’

‘Fanny,’ returned Mrs General, ‘at present forms too many opinions. Perfect breeding forms none, and is never demonstrative.’

Lest he himself should be found deficient in perfect breeding, Mr Dorrit hastened to reply, ‘Unquestionably, madam, you are right.’ Mrs General returned, in her emotionless and expressionless manner, ‘I believe so.’

‘But you are aware, my dear madam,’ said Mr Dorrit, ‘that my daughters had the misfortune to lose their lamented mother when they were very young; and that, in consequence of my not having been until lately the recognised heir to my property, they have lived with me as a comparatively poor, though always proud, gentleman, in—ha hum—retirement!’

‘I do not,’ said Mrs General, ‘lose sight of the circumstance.’

‘Madam,’ pursued Mr Dorrit, ‘of my daughter Fanny, under her present guidance and with such an example constantly before her—’

(Mrs General shut her eyes.)

—‘I have no misgivings. There is adaptability of character in Fanny. But my younger daughter, Mrs General, rather worries and vexes my thoughts. I must inform you that she has always been my favourite.’

‘There is no accounting,’ said Mrs General, ‘for these partialities.’

‘Ha—no,’ assented Mr Dorrit. ‘No. Now, madam, I am troubled by noticing that Amy is not, so to speak, one of ourselves. She does not care to go about with us; she is lost in the society we have here; our tastes are evidently not her tastes. Which,’ said Mr Dorrit, summing up with judicial gravity, ‘is to say, in other words, that there is something wrong in—ha—Amy.’

‘May we incline to the supposition,’ said Mrs General, with a little touch of varnish, ‘that something is referable to the novelty of the position?’

‘Excuse me, madam,’ observed Mr Dorrit, rather quickly. ‘The daughter of a gentleman, though—ha—himself at one time comparatively far from affluent—comparatively—and herself reared in—hum—retirement, need not of necessity find this position so very novel.’

‘True,’ said Mrs General, ‘true.’

‘Therefore, madam,’ said Mr Dorrit, ‘I took the liberty’ (he laid an emphasis on the phrase and repeated it, as though he stipulated, with urbane firmness, that he must not be contradicted again), ‘I took the liberty of requesting this interview, in order that I might mention the topic to you, and inquire how you would advise me?’

‘Mr Dorrit,’ returned Mrs General, ‘I have conversed with Amy several times since we have been residing here, on the general subject of the formation of a demeanour. She has expressed herself to me as wondering exceedingly at Venice. I have mentioned to her that it is better not to wonder. I have pointed out to her that the celebrated Mr Eustace, the classical tourist, did not think much of it; and that he compared the Rialto, greatly to its disadvantage, with Westminster and Blackfriars Bridges. I need not add, after what you have said, that I have not yet found my arguments successful. You do me the honour to ask me what to advise. It always appears to me (if this should prove to be a baseless assumption, I shall be pardoned), that Mr Dorrit has been accustomed to exercise influence over the minds of others.’

‘Hum—madam,’ said Mr Dorrit, ‘I have been at the head of—ha of a considerable community. You are right in supposing that I am not unaccustomed to—an influential position.’

‘I am happy,’ returned Mrs General, ‘to be so corroborated. I would therefore the more confidently recommend that Mr Dorrit should speak to Amy himself, and make his observations and wishes known to her. Being his favourite, besides, and no doubt attached to him, she is all the more likely to yield to his influence.’

‘I had anticipated your suggestion, madam,’ said Mr Dorrit, ‘but—ha—was not sure that I might—hum—not encroach on—’

‘On my province, Mr Dorrit?’ said Mrs General, graciously. ‘Do not mention it.’

‘Then, with your leave, madam,’ resumed Mr Dorrit, ringing his little bell to summon his valet, ‘I will send for her at once.’

‘Does Mr Dorrit wish me to remain?’

‘Perhaps, if you have no other engagement, you would not object for a minute or two—’

‘Not at all.’

So, Tinkler the valet was instructed to find Miss Amy’s maid, and to request that subordinate to inform Miss Amy that Mr Dorrit wished to see her in his own room. In delivering this charge to Tinkler, Mr Dorrit looked severely at him, and also kept a jealous eye upon him until he went out at the door, mistrusting that he might have something in his mind prejudicial to the family dignity; that he might have even got wind of some Collegiate joke before he came into the service, and might be derisively reviving its remembrance at the present moment. If Tinkler had happened to smile, however faintly and innocently, nothing would have persuaded Mr Dorrit, to the hour of his death, but that this was the case. As Tinkler happened, however, very fortunately for himself, to be of a serious and composed countenance, he escaped the secret danger that threatened him. And as on his return—when Mr Dorrit eyed him again—he announced Miss Amy as if she had come to a funeral, he left a vague impression on Mr Dorrit’s mind that he was a well-conducted young fellow, who had been brought up in the study of his Catechism by a widowed mother.

‘Amy,’ said Mr Dorrit, ‘you have just now been the subject of some conversation between myself and Mrs General. We agree that you scarcely seem at home here. Ha—how is this?’

A pause.

‘I think, father, I require a little time.’

‘Papa is a preferable mode of address,’ observed Mrs General. ‘Father is rather vulgar, my dear. The word Papa, besides, gives a pretty form to the lips. Papa, potatoes, poultry, prunes, and prism are all very good words for the lips: especially prunes and prism. You will find it serviceable, in the formation of a demeanour, if you sometimes say to yourself in company—on entering a room, for instance—Papa, potatoes, poultry, prunes and prism, prunes and prism.’

‘Pray, my child,’ said Mr Dorrit, ‘attend to the—hum—precepts of Mrs General.’

Poor Little Dorrit, with a rather forlorn glance at that eminent varnisher, promised to try.

‘You say, Amy,’ pursued Mr Dorrit, ‘that you think you require time. Time for what?’

Another pause.

‘To become accustomed to the novelty of my life, was all I meant,’ said Little Dorrit, with her loving eyes upon her father; whom she had very nearly addressed as poultry, if not prunes and prism too, in her desire to submit herself to Mrs General and please him.

Mr Dorrit frowned, and looked anything but pleased. ‘Amy,’ he returned, ‘it appears to me, I must say, that you have had abundance of time for that. Ha—you surprise me. You disappoint me. Fanny has conquered any such little difficulties, and—hum—why not you?’

‘I hope I shall do better soon,’ said Little Dorrit.

‘I hope so,’ returned her father. ‘I—ha—I most devoutly hope so, Amy. I sent for you, in order that I might say—hum—impressively say, in the presence of Mrs General, to whom we are all so much indebted for obligingly being present among us, on—ha—on this or any other occasion,’ Mrs General shut her eyes, ‘that I—ha hum—am not pleased with you. You make Mrs General’s a thankless task. You—ha—embarrass me very much. You have always (as I have informed Mrs General) been my favourite child; I have always made you a—hum—a friend and companion; in return, I beg—I—ha—I do beg, that you accommodate yourself better to—hum—circumstances, and dutifully do what becomes your—your station.’

Mr Dorrit was even a little more fragmentary than usual, being excited on the subject and anxious to make himself particularly emphatic.

‘I do beg,’ he repeated, ‘that this may be attended to, and that you will seriously take pains and try to conduct yourself in a manner both becoming your position as—ha—Miss Amy Dorrit, and satisfactory to myself and Mrs General.’

That lady shut her eyes again, on being again referred to; then, slowly opening them and rising, added these words:

‘If Miss Amy Dorrit will direct her own attention to, and will accept of my poor assistance in, the formation of a surface, Mr. Dorrit will have no further cause of anxiety. May I take this opportunity of remarking, as an instance in point, that it is scarcely delicate to look at vagrants with the attention which I have seen bestowed upon them by a very dear young friend of mine? They should not be looked at. Nothing disagreeable should ever be looked at. Apart from such a habit standing in the way of that graceful equanimity of surface which is so expressive of good breeding, it hardly seems compatible with refinement of mind. A truly refined mind will seem to be ignorant of the existence of anything that is not perfectly proper, placid, and pleasant.’ Having delivered this exalted sentiment, Mrs General made a sweeping obeisance, and retired with an expression of mouth indicative of Prunes and Prism.

Little Dorrit, whether speaking or silent, had preserved her quiet earnestness and her loving look. It had not been clouded, except for a passing moment, until now. But now that she was left alone with him the fingers of her lightly folded hands were agitated, and there was repressed emotion in her face.

Not for herself. She might feel a little wounded, but her care was not for herself. Her thoughts still turned, as they always had turned, to him. A faint misgiving, which had hung about her since their accession to fortune, that even now she could never see him as he used to be before the prison days, had gradually begun to assume form in her mind. She felt that, in what he had just now said to her and in his whole bearing towards her, there was the well-known shadow of the Marshalsea wall. It took a new shape, but it was the old sad shadow. She began with sorrowful unwillingness to acknowledge to herself that she was not strong enough to keep off the fear that no space in the life of man could overcome that quarter of a century behind the prison bars. She had no blame to bestow upon him, therefore: nothing to reproach him with, no emotions in her faithful heart but great compassion and unbounded tenderness.

This is why it was, that, even as he sat before her on his sofa, in the brilliant light of a bright Italian day, the wonderful city without and the splendours of an old palace within, she saw him at the moment in the long-familiar gloom of his Marshalsea lodging, and wished to take her seat beside him, and comfort him, and be again full of confidence with him, and of usefulness to him. If he divined what was in her thoughts, his own were not in tune with it. After some uneasy moving in his seat, he got up and walked about, looking very much dissatisfied.

‘Is there anything else you wish to say to me, dear father?’

‘No, no. Nothing else.’

‘I am sorry you have not been pleased with me, dear. I hope you will not think of me with displeasure now. I am going to try, more than ever, to adapt myself as you wish to what surrounds me—for indeed I have tried all along, though I have failed, I know.’

‘Amy,’ he returned, turning short upon her. ‘You—ha—habitually hurt me.’

‘Hurt you, father! I!’

‘There is a—hum—a topic,’ said Mr Dorrit, looking all about the ceiling of the room, and never at the attentive, uncomplainingly shocked face, ‘a painful topic, a series of events which I wish—ha—altogether to obliterate. This is understood by your sister, who has already remonstrated with you in my presence; it is understood by your brother; it is understood by—ha hum—by every one of delicacy and sensitiveness except yourself—ha—I am sorry to say, except yourself. You, Amy—hum—you alone and only you—constantly revive the topic, though not in words.’

She laid her hand on his arm. She did nothing more. She gently touched him. The trembling hand may have said, with some expression, ‘Think of me, think how I have worked, think of my many cares!’ But she said not a syllable herself.

There was a reproach in the touch so addressed to him that she had not foreseen, or she would have withheld her hand. He began to justify himself in a heated, stumbling, angry manner, which made nothing of it.

‘I was there all those years. I was—ha—universally acknowledged as the head of the place. I—hum—I caused you to be respected there, Amy. I—ha hum—I gave my family a position there. I deserve a return. I claim a return. I say, sweep it off the face of the earth and begin afresh. Is that much? I ask, is that much?’

He did not once look at her, as he rambled on in this way; but gesticulated at, and appealed to, the empty air.

‘I have suffered. Probably I know how much I have suffered better than any one—ha—I say than any one! If I can put that aside, if I can eradicate the marks of what I have endured, and can emerge before the world—a—ha—gentleman unspoiled, unspotted—is it a great deal to expect—I say again, is it a great deal to expect—that my children should—hum—do the same and sweep that accursed experience off the face of the earth?’

In spite of his flustered state, he made all these exclamations in a carefully suppressed voice, lest the valet should overhear anything.

‘Accordingly, they do it. Your sister does it. Your brother does it. You alone, my favourite child, whom I made the friend and companion of my life when you were a mere—hum—Baby, do not do it. You alone say you can’t do it. I provide you with valuable assistance to do it. I attach an accomplished and highly bred lady—ha—Mrs General, to you, for the purpose of doing it. Is it surprising that I should be displeased? Is it necessary that I should defend myself for expressing my displeasure? No!’

Notwithstanding which, he continued to defend himself, without any abatement of his flushed mood.

‘I am careful to appeal to that lady for confirmation, before I express any displeasure at all. I—hum—I necessarily make that appeal within limited bounds, or I—ha—should render legible, by that lady, what I desire to be blotted out. Am I selfish? Do I complain for my own sake? No. No. Principally for—ha hum—your sake, Amy.’

This last consideration plainly appeared, from his manner of pursuing it, to have just that instant come into his head.

‘I said I was hurt. So I am. So I—ha—am determined to be, whatever is advanced to the contrary. I am hurt that my daughter, seated in the—hum—lap of fortune, should mope and retire and proclaim herself unequal to her destiny. I am hurt that she should—ha—systematically reproduce what the rest of us blot out; and seem—hum—I had almost said positively anxious—to announce to wealthy and distinguished society that she was born and bred in—ha hum—a place that I myself decline to name. But there is no inconsistency—ha—not the least, in my feeling hurt, and yet complaining principally for your sake, Amy. I do; I say again, I do. It is for your sake that I wish you, under the auspices of Mrs General, to form a—hum—a surface. It is for your sake that I wish you to have a—ha—truly refined mind, and (in the striking words of Mrs General) to be ignorant of everything that is not perfectly proper, placid, and pleasant.’

He had been running down by jerks, during his last speech, like a sort of ill-adjusted alarum. The touch was still upon his arm. He fell silent; and after looking about the ceiling again for a little while, looked down at her. Her head drooped, and he could not see her face; but her touch was tender and quiet, and in the expression of her dejected figure there was no blame—nothing but love. He began to whimper, just as he had done that night in the prison when she afterwards sat at his bedside till morning; exclaimed that he was a poor ruin and a poor wretch in the midst of his wealth; and clasped her in his arms. ‘Hush, hush, my own dear! Kiss me!’ was all she said to him. His tears were soon dried, much sooner than on the former occasion; and he was presently afterwards very high with his valet, as a way of righting himself for having shed any.

With one remarkable exception, to be recorded in its place, this was the only time, in his life of freedom and fortune, when he spoke to his daughter Amy of the old days.

But, now, the breakfast hour arrived; and with it Miss Fanny from her apartment, and Mr Edward from his apartment. Both these young persons of distinction were something the worse for late hours. As to Miss Fanny, she had become the victim of an insatiate mania for what she called ‘going into society;’ and would have gone into it head-foremost fifty times between sunset and sunrise, if so many opportunities had been at her disposal. As to Mr Edward, he, too, had a large acquaintance, and was generally engaged (for the most part, in diceing circles, or others of a kindred nature), during the greater part of every night. For this gentleman, when his fortunes changed, had stood at the great advantage of being already prepared for the highest associates, and having little to learn: so much was he indebted to the happy accidents which had made him acquainted with horse-dealing and billiard-marking.

At breakfast, Mr Frederick Dorrit likewise appeared. As the old gentleman inhabited the highest story of the palace, where he might have practised pistol-shooting without much chance of discovery by the other inmates, his younger niece had taken courage to propose the restoration to him of his clarionet, which Mr Dorrit had ordered to be confiscated, but which she had ventured to preserve. Notwithstanding some objections from Miss Fanny, that it was a low instrument, and that she detested the sound of it, the concession had been made. But it was then discovered that he had had enough of it, and never played it, now that it was no longer his means of getting bread. He had insensibly acquired a new habit of shuffling into the picture-galleries, always with his twisted paper of snuff in his hand (much to the indignation of Miss Fanny, who had proposed the purchase of a gold box for him that the family might not be discredited, which he had absolutely refused to carry when it was bought); and of passing hours and hours before the portraits of renowned Venetians. It was never made out what his dazed eyes saw in them; whether he had an interest in them merely as pictures, or whether he confusedly identified them with a glory that was departed, like the strength of his own mind. But he paid his court to them with great exactness, and clearly derived pleasure from the pursuit. After the first few days, Little Dorrit happened one morning to assist at these attentions. It so evidently heightened his gratification that she often accompanied him afterwards, and the greatest delight of which the old man had shown himself susceptible since his ruin, arose out of these excursions, when he would carry a chair about for her from picture to picture, and stand behind it, in spite of all her remonstrances, silently presenting her to the noble Venetians.

It fell out that, at this family breakfast, he referred to their having seen in a gallery, on the previous day, the lady and gentleman whom they had encountered on the Great Saint Bernard, ‘I forget the name,’ said he. ‘I dare say you remember them, William? I dare say you do, Edward?’

‘I remember ‘em well enough,’ said the latter.

‘I should think so,’ observed Miss Fanny, with a toss of her head and a glance at her sister. ‘But they would not have been recalled to our remembrance, I suspect, if Uncle hadn’t tumbled over the subject.’

‘My dear, what a curious phrase,’ said Mrs General. ‘Would not inadvertently lighted upon, or accidentally referred to, be better?’

‘Thank you very much, Mrs General,’ returned the young lady, ‘no, I think not. On the whole I prefer my own expression.’

This was always Miss Fanny’s way of receiving a suggestion from Mrs General. But she always stored it up in her mind, and adopted it at another time.

‘I should have mentioned our having met Mr and Mrs Gowan, Fanny,’ said Little Dorrit, ‘even if Uncle had not. I have scarcely seen you since, you know. I meant to have spoken of it at breakfast; because I should like to pay a visit to Mrs Gowan, and to become better acquainted with her, if Papa and Mrs General do not object.’

‘Well, Amy,’ said Fanny, ‘I am sure I am glad to find you at last expressing a wish to become better acquainted with anybody in Venice. Though whether Mr and Mrs Gowan are desirable acquaintances, remains to be determined.’

‘Mrs Gowan I spoke of, dear.’

‘No doubt,’ said Fanny. ‘But you can’t separate her from her husband, I believe, without an Act of Parliament.’

‘Do you think, Papa,’ inquired Little Dorrit, with diffidence and hesitation, ‘there is any objection to my making this visit?’

‘Really,’ he replied, ‘I—ha—what is Mrs General’s view?’

Mrs General’s view was, that not having the honour of any acquaintance with the lady and gentleman referred to, she was not in a position to varnish the present article. She could only remark, as a general principle observed in the varnishing trade, that much depended on the quarter from which the lady under consideration was accredited to a family so conspicuously niched in the social temple as the family of Dorrit.

At this remark the face of Mr Dorrit gloomed considerably. He was about (connecting the accrediting with an obtrusive person of the name of Clennam, whom he imperfectly remembered in some former state of existence) to black-ball the name of Gowan finally, when Edward Dorrit, Esquire, came into the conversation, with his glass in his eye, and the preliminary remark of ‘I say—you there! Go out, will you!’—which was addressed to a couple of men who were handing the dishes round, as a courteous intimation that their services could be temporarily dispensed with.

Those menials having obeyed the mandate, Edward Dorrit, Esquire, proceeded.

‘Perhaps it’s a matter of policy to let you all know that these Gowans—in whose favour, or at least the gentleman’s, I can’t be supposed to be much prepossessed myself—are known to people of importance, if that makes any difference.’

‘That, I would say,’ observed the fair varnisher, ‘Makes the greatest difference. The connection in question, being really people of importance and consideration—’

‘As to that,’ said Edward Dorrit, Esquire, ‘I’ll give you the means of judging for yourself. You are acquainted, perhaps, with the famous name of Merdle?’

‘The great Merdle!’ exclaimed Mrs General.

‘The Merdle,’ said Edward Dorrit, Esquire. ‘They are known to him. Mrs Gowan—I mean the dowager, my polite friend’s mother—is intimate with Mrs Merdle, and I know these two to be on their visiting list.’

‘If so, a more undeniable guarantee could not be given,’ said Mrs General to Mr Dorrit, raising her gloves and bowing her head, as if she were doing homage to some visible graven image.

‘I beg to ask my son, from motives of—ah—curiosity,’ Mr Dorrit observed, with a decided change in his manner, ‘how he becomes possessed of this—hum—timely information?’

‘It’s not a long story, sir,’ returned Edward Dorrit, Esquire, ‘and you shall have it out of hand. To begin with, Mrs Merdle is the lady you had the parley with at what’s-his-name place.’

‘Martigny,’ interposed Miss Fanny with an air of infinite languor.

‘Martigny,’ assented her brother, with a slight nod and a slight wink; in acknowledgment of which, Miss Fanny looked surprised, and laughed and reddened.

‘How can that be, Edward?’ said Mr Dorrit. ‘You informed me that the name of the gentleman with whom you conferred was—ha—Sparkler. Indeed, you showed me his card. Hum. Sparkler.’

‘No doubt of it, father; but it doesn’t follow that his mother’s name must be the same. Mrs Merdle was married before, and he is her son. She is in Rome now; where probably we shall know more of her, as you decide to winter there. Sparkler is just come here. I passed last evening in company with Sparkler. Sparkler is a very good fellow on the whole, though rather a bore on one subject, in consequence of being tremendously smitten with a certain young lady.’ Here Edward Dorrit, Esquire, eyed Miss Fanny through his glass across the table. ‘We happened last night to compare notes about our travels, and I had the information I have given you from Sparkler himself.’ Here he ceased; continuing to eye Miss Fanny through his glass, with a face much twisted, and not ornamentally so, in part by the action of keeping his glass in his eye, and in part by the great subtlety of his smile.

‘Under these circumstances,’ said Mr Dorrit, ‘I believe I express the sentiments of—ha—Mrs General, no less than my own, when I say that there is no objection, but—ha hum—quite the contrary—to your gratifying your desire, Amy. I trust I may—ha—hail—this desire,’ said Mr Dorrit, in an encouraging and forgiving manner, ‘as an auspicious omen. It is quite right to know these people. It is a very proper thing. Mr Merdle’s is a name of—ha—world-wide repute. Mr Merdle’s undertakings are immense. They bring him in such vast sums of money that they are regarded as—hum—national benefits. Mr Merdle is the man of this time. The name of Merdle is the name of the age. Pray do everything on my behalf that is civil to Mr and Mrs Gowan, for we will—ha—we will certainly notice them.’

This magnificent accordance of Mr Dorrit’s recognition settled the matter. It was not observed that Uncle had pushed away his plate, and forgotten his breakfast; but he was not much observed at any time, except by Little Dorrit. The servants were recalled, and the meal proceeded to its conclusion. Mrs General rose and left the table. Little Dorrit rose and left the table. When Edward and Fanny remained whispering together across it, and when Mr Dorrit remained eating figs and reading a French newspaper, Uncle suddenly fixed the attention of all three by rising out of his chair, striking his hand upon the table, and saying, ‘Brother! I protest against it!’

If he had made a proclamation in an unknown tongue, and given up the ghost immediately afterwards, he could not have astounded his audience more. The paper fell from Mr Dorrit’s hand, and he sat petrified, with a fig half way to his mouth.

‘Brother!’ said the old man, conveying a surprising energy into his trembling voice, ‘I protest against it! I love you; you know I love you dearly. In these many years I have never been untrue to you in a single thought. Weak as I am, I would at any time have struck any man who spoke ill of you. But, brother, brother, brother, I protest against it!’

It was extraordinary to see of what a burst of earnestness such a decrepit man was capable. His eyes became bright, his grey hair rose on his head, markings of purpose on his brow and face which had faded from them for five-and-twenty years, started out again, and there was an energy in his hand that made its action nervous once more.

‘My dear Frederick!’ exclaimed Mr Dorrit faintly. ‘What is wrong? What is the matter?’

‘How dare you,’ said the old man, turning round on Fanny, ‘how dare you do it? Have you no memory? Have you no heart?’

‘Uncle?’ cried Fanny, affrighted and bursting into tears, ‘why do you attack me in this cruel manner? What have I done?’

‘Done?’ returned the old man, pointing to her sister’s place, ‘where’s your affectionate invaluable friend? Where’s your devoted guardian? Where’s your more than mother? How dare you set up superiorities against all these characters combined in your sister? For shame, you false girl, for shame!’

‘I love Amy,’ cried Miss Fanny, sobbing and weeping, ‘as well as I love my life—better than I love my life. I don’t deserve to be so treated. I am as grateful to Amy, and as fond of Amy, as it’s possible for any human being to be. I wish I was dead. I never was so wickedly wronged. And only because I am anxious for the family credit.’

‘To the winds with the family credit!’ cried the old man, with great scorn and indignation. ‘Brother, I protest against pride. I protest against ingratitude. I protest against any one of us here who have known what we have known, and have seen what we have seen, setting up any pretension that puts Amy at a moment’s disadvantage, or to the cost of a moment’s pain. We may know that it’s a base pretension by its having that effect. It ought to bring a judgment on us. Brother, I protest against it in the sight of God!’

As his hand went up above his head and came down on the table, it might have been a blacksmith’s. After a few moments’ silence, it had relaxed into its usual weak condition. He went round to his brother with his ordinary shuffling step, put the hand on his shoulder, and said, in a softened voice, ‘William, my dear, I felt obliged to say it; forgive me, for I felt obliged to say it!’ and then went, in his bowed way, out of the palace hall, just as he might have gone out of the Marshalsea room.

All this time Fanny had been sobbing and crying, and still continued to do so. Edward, beyond opening his mouth in amazement, had not opened his lips, and had done nothing but stare. Mr Dorrit also had been utterly discomfited, and quite unable to assert himself in any way. Fanny was now the first to speak.

‘I never, never, never was so used!’ she sobbed. ‘There never was anything so harsh and unjustifiable, so disgracefully violent and cruel! Dear, kind, quiet little Amy, too, what would she feel if she could know that she had been innocently the means of exposing me to such treatment! But I’ll never tell her! No, good darling, I’ll never tell her!’

This helped Mr Dorrit to break his silence.

‘My dear,’ said he, ‘I—ha—approve of your resolution. It will be—ha hum—much better not to speak of this to Amy. It might—hum—it might distress her. Ha. No doubt it would distress her greatly. It is considerate and right to avoid doing so. We will—ha—keep this to ourselves.’

‘But the cruelty of Uncle!’ cried Miss Fanny. ‘O, I never can forgive the wanton cruelty of Uncle!’

‘My dear,’ said Mr Dorrit, recovering his tone, though he remained unusually pale, ‘I must request you not to say so. You must remember that your uncle is—ha—not what he formerly was. You must remember that your uncle’s state requires—hum—great forbearance from us, great forbearance.’

‘I am sure,’ cried Fanny, piteously, ‘it is only charitable to suppose that there must be something wrong in him somewhere, or he never could have so attacked Me, of all the people in the world.’

‘Fanny,’ returned Mr Dorrit in a deeply fraternal tone, ‘you know, with his innumerable good points, what a—hum—wreck your uncle is; and, I entreat you by the fondness that I have for him, and by the fidelity that you know I have always shown him, to—ha—to draw your own conclusions, and to spare my brotherly feelings.’

This ended the scene; Edward Dorrit, Esquire, saying nothing throughout, but looking, to the last, perplexed and doubtful. Miss Fanny awakened much affectionate uneasiness in her sister’s mind that day by passing the greater part of it in violent fits of embracing her, and in alternately giving her brooches, and wishing herself dead.