With A to Z Classics, discover or rediscover all the classics of literature.Contains Active Table of Contents (HTML)Upon its publication in 1857, Little Dorrit immediately outsold any of Dickens’s previous books. The story of William Dorrit, imprisoned for debt in Marshalsea Prison, and his daughter and helpmate, Amy, or Little Dorrit, the novel charts the progress of the Dorrit family from poverty to riches. In his Introduction, David Gates argues that “intensity of imagination is the gift from which Dickens’s other great attributes derive: his eye and ear, his near-universal empathy, his ability to entertain both a sense of the ridiculous and a sense of ultimate significance.”
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I have been occupied with this story, during many working hours of two years. I must have been very ill employed, if I could not leave its merits and demerits as a whole, to express themselves on its being read as a whole. But, as it is not unreasonable to suppose that I may have held its threads with a more continuous attention than anyone else can have given them during its desultory publication, it is not unreasonable to ask that the weaving may be looked at in its completed state, and with the pattern finished.
If I might offer any apology for so exaggerated a fiction as the Barnacles and the Circumlocution Office, I would seek it in the common experience of an Englishman, without presuming to mention the unimportant fact of my having done that violence to good manners, in the days of a Russian war, and of a Court of Inquiry at Chelsea. If I might make so bold as to defend that extravagant conception, Mr Merdle, I would hint that it originated after the Railroad-share epoch, in the times of a certain Irish bank, and of one or two other equally laudable enterprises. If I were to plead anything in mitigation of the preposterous fancy that a bad design will sometimes claim to be a good and an expressly religious design, it would be the curious coincidence that it has been brought to its climax in these pages, in the days of the public examination of late Directors of a Royal British Bank. But, I submit myself to suffer judgment to go by default on all these counts, if need be, and to accept the assurance (on good authority) that nothing like them was ever known in this land. Some of my readers may have an interest in being informed whether or no any portions of the Marshalsea Prison are yet standing. I did not know, myself, until the sixth of this present month, when I went to look. I found the outer front courtyard, often mentioned here, metamorphosed into a butter shop; and I then almost gave up every brick of the jail for lost. Wandering, however, down a certain adjacent ‘Angel Court, leading to Bermondsey’, I came to ‘Marshalsea Place:’ the houses in which I recognised, not only as the great block of the former prison, but as preserving the rooms that arose in my mind’s-eye when I became Little Dorrit’s biographer. The smallest boy I ever conversed with, carrying the largest baby I ever saw, offered a supernaturally intelligent explanation of the locality in its old uses, and was very nearly correct. How this young Newton (for such I judge him to be) came by his information, I don’t know; he was a quarter of a century too young to know anything about it of himself. I pointed to the window of the room where Little Dorrit was born, and where her father lived so long, and asked him what was the name of the lodger who tenanted that apartment at present? He said, ‘Tom Pythick.’ I asked him who was Tom Pythick? and he said, ‘Joe Pythick’s uncle.’
A little further on, I found the older and smaller wall, which used to enclose the pent-up inner prison where nobody was put, except for ceremony. But, whosoever goes into Marshalsea Place, turning out of Angel Court, leading to Bermondsey, will find his feet on the very paving-stones of the extinct Marshalsea jail; will see its narrow yard to the right and to the left, very little altered if at all, except that the walls were lowered when the place got free; will look upon rooms in which the debtors lived; and will stand among the crowding ghosts of many miserable years.
In the Preface to Bleak House I remarked that I had never had so many readers. In the Preface to its next successor, Little Dorrit, I have still to repeat the same words. Deeply sensible of the affection and confidence that have grown up between us, I add to this Preface, as I added to that, May we meet again!
London May 1857
THIRTY YEARS AGO, Marseilles lay burning in the sun, one day.
A blazing sun upon a fierce August day was no greater rarity in southern France then, than at any other time, before or since. Everything in Marseilles, and about Marseilles, had stared at the fervid sky, and been stared at in return, until a staring habit had become universal there. Strangers were stared out of countenance by staring white houses, staring white walls, staring white streets, staring tracts of arid road, staring hills from which verdure was burnt away. The only things to be seen not fixedly staring and glaring were the vines drooping under their load of grapes. These did occasionally wink a little, as the hot air barely moved their faint leaves.
There was no wind to make a ripple on the foul water within the harbour, or on the beautiful sea without. The line of demarcation between the two colours, black and blue, showed the point which the pure sea would not pass; but it lay as quiet as the abominable pool, with which it never mixed. Boats without awnings were too hot to touch; ships blistered at their moorings; the stones of the quays had not cooled, night or day, for months. Hindoos, Russians, Chinese, Spaniards, Portuguese, Englishmen, Frenchmen, Genoese, Neapolitans, Venetians, Greeks, Turks, descendants from all the builders of Babel, come to trade at Marseilles, sought the shade alike—taking refuge in any hiding-place from a sea too intensely blue to be looked at, and a sky of purple, set with one great flaming jewel of fire.
The universal stare made the eyes ache. Towards the distant line of Italian coast, indeed, it was a little relieved by light clouds of mist, slowly rising from the evaporation of the sea, but it softened nowhere else. Far away the staring roads, deep in dust, stared from the hill-side, stared from the hollow, stared from the interminable plain. Far away the dusty vines overhanging wayside cottages, and the monotonous wayside avenues of parched trees without shade, drooped beneath the stare of earth and sky. So did the horses with drowsy bells, in long files of carts, creeping slowly towards the interior; so did their recumbent drivers, when they were awake, which rarely happened; so did the exhausted labourers in the fields. Everything that lived or grew, was oppressed by the glare; except the lizard, passing swiftly over rough stone walls, and the cicada, chirping his dry hot chirp, like a rattle. The very dust was scorched brown, and something quivered in the atmosphere as if the air itself were panting.
Blinds, shutters, curtains, awnings, were all closed and drawn to keep out the stare. Grant it but a chink or keyhole, and it shot in like a white-hot arrow. The churches were the freest from it. To come out of the twilight of pillars and arches—dreamily dotted with winking lamps, dreamily peopled with ugly old shadows piously dozing, spitting, and begging—was to plunge into a fiery river, and swim for life to the nearest strip of shade. So, with people lounging and lying wherever shade was, with but little hum of tongues or barking of dogs, with occasional jangling of discordant church bells and rattling of vicious drums, Marseilles, a fact to be strongly smelt and tasted, lay broiling in the sun one day. In Marseilles that day there was a villainous prison. In one of its chambers, so repulsive a place that even the obtrusive stare blinked at it, and left it to such refuse of reflected light as it could find for itself, were two men. Besides the two men, a notched and disfigured bench, immovable from the wall, with a draught-board rudely hacked upon it with a knife, a set of draughts, made of old buttons and soup bones, a set of dominoes, two mats, and two or three wine bottles. That was all the chamber held, exclusive of rats and other unseen vermin, in addition to the seen vermin, the two men.
It received such light as it got through a grating of iron bars fashioned like a pretty large window, by means of which it could be always inspected from the gloomy staircase on which the grating gave. There was a broad strong ledge of stone to this grating where the bottom of it was let into the masonry, three or four feet above the ground. Upon it, one of the two men lolled, half sitting and half lying, with his knees drawn up, and his feet and shoulders planted against the opposite sides of the aperture. The bars were wide enough apart to admit of his thrusting his arm through to the elbow; and so he held on negligently, for his greater ease.
A prison taint was on everything there. The imprisoned air, the imprisoned light, the imprisoned damps, the imprisoned men, were all deteriorated by confinement. As the captive men were faded and haggard, so the iron was rusty, the stone was slimy, the wood was rotten, the air was faint, the light was dim. Like a well, like a vault, like a tomb, the prison had no knowledge of the brightness outside, and would have kept its polluted atmosphere intact in one of the spice islands of the Indian ocean.
The man who lay on the ledge of the grating was even chilled. He jerked his great cloak more heavily upon him by an impatient movement of one shoulder, and growled, ‘To the devil with this Brigand of a Sun that never shines in here!’
He was waiting to be fed, looking sideways through the bars that he might see the further down the stairs, with much of the expression of a wild beast in similar expectation. But his eyes, too close together, were not so nobly set in his head as those of the king of beasts are in his, and they were sharp rather than bright—pointed weapons with little surface to betray them. They had no depth or change; they glittered, and they opened and shut. So far, and waiving their use to himself, a clockmaker could have made a better pair. He had a hook nose, handsome after its kind, but too high between the eyes by probably just as much as his eyes were too near to one another. For the rest, he was large and tall in frame, had thin lips, where his thick moustache showed them at all, and a quantity of dry hair, of no definable colour in its shaggy state, but shot with red. The hand with which he held the grating (seamed all over the back with ugly scratches newly healed), was unusually small and plump; would have been unusually white but for the prison grime. The other man was lying on the stone floor, covered with a coarse brown coat.
‘Get up, pig!’ growled the first. ‘Don’t sleep when I am hungry.’
‘It’s all one, master,’ said the pig, in a submissive manner, and not without cheerfulness; ‘I can wake when I will, I can sleep when I will. It’s all the same.’
As he said it, he rose, shook himself, scratched himself, tied his brown coat loosely round his neck by the sleeves (he had previously used it as a coverlet), and sat down upon the pavement yawning, with his back against the wall opposite to the grating.
‘Say what the hour is,’ grumbled the first man.
‘The mid-day bells will ring—in forty minutes.’ When he made the little pause, he had looked round the prison-room, as if for certain information.
‘You are a clock. How is it that you always know?’
‘How can I say? I always know what the hour is, and where I am. I was brought in here at night, and out of a boat, but I know where I am. See here! Marseilles Harbour;’ on his knees on the pavement, mapping it all out with a swarthy forefinger; ‘Toulon (where the galleys are), Spain over there, Algiers over there. Creeping away to the left here, Nice. Round by the Cornice to Genoa. Genoa Mole and Harbour: Quarantine Ground. City there; terrace gardens blushing with the bella donna. Here, Porto Fino. Stand out for Leghorn. Out again for Civita Vecchia. so away to—hey! there’s no room for Naples;’ he had got to the wall by this time; ‘but it’s all one; it’s in there!’
He remained on his knees, looking up at his fellow-prisoner with a lively look for a prison. A sunburnt, quick, lithe, little man, though rather thickset. Earrings in his brown ears, white teeth lighting up his grotesque brown face, intensely black hair clustering about his brown throat, a ragged red shirt open at his brown breast. Loose, seaman-like trousers, decent shoes, a long red cap, a red sash round his waist, and a knife in it.
‘Judge if I come back from Naples as I went! See here, my master! Civita Vecchia, Leghorn, Porto Fino, Genoa, Cornice, Off Nice (which is in there), Marseilles, you and me. The apartment of the jailer and his keys is where I put this thumb; and here at my wrist they keep the national razor in its case—the guillotine locked up.’
The other man spat suddenly on the pavement, and gurgled in his throat.
Some lock below gurgled in its throat immediately afterwards, and then a door crashed. Slow steps began ascending the stairs; the prattle of a sweet little voice mingled with the noise they made; and the prison-keeper appeared carrying his daughter, three or four years old, and a basket.
‘How goes the world this forenoon, gentlemen? My little one, you see, going round with me to have a peep at her father’s birds. Fie, then! Look at the birds, my pretty, look at the birds.’
He looked sharply at the birds himself, as he held the child up at the grate, especially at the little bird, whose activity he seemed to mistrust. ‘I have brought your bread, Signor John Baptist,’ said he (they all spoke in French, but the little man was an Italian); ‘and if I might recommend you not to game—’
‘You don’t recommend the master!’ said John Baptist, showing his teeth as he smiled.
‘Oh! but the master wins,’ returned the jailer, with a passing look of no particular liking at the other man, ‘and you lose. It’s quite another thing. You get husky bread and sour drink by it; and he gets sausage of Lyons, veal in savoury jelly, white bread, strachino cheese, and good wine by it. Look at the birds, my pretty!’
‘Poor birds!’ said the child.
The fair little face, touched with divine compassion, as it peeped shrinkingly through the grate, was like an angel’s in the prison. John Baptist rose and moved towards it, as if it had a good attraction for him. The other bird remained as before, except for an impatient glance at the basket.
‘Stay!’ said the jailer, putting his little daughter on the outer ledge of the grate, ‘she shall feed the birds. This big loaf is for Signor John Baptist. We must break it to get it through into the cage. So, there’s a tame bird to kiss the little hand! This sausage in a vine leaf is for Monsieur Rigaud. Again—this veal in savoury jelly is for Monsieur Rigaud. Again—these three white little loaves are for Monsieur Rigaud. Again, this cheese—again, this wine—again, this tobacco—all for Monsieur Rigaud. Lucky bird!’
The child put all these things between the bars into the soft, Smooth, well-shaped hand, with evident dread—more than once drawing back her own and looking at the man with her fair brow roughened into an expression half of fright and half of anger. Whereas she had put the lump of coarse bread into the swart, scaled, knotted hands of John Baptist (who had scarcely as much nail on his eight fingers and two thumbs as would have made out one for Monsieur Rigaud) with ready confidence; and, when he kissed her hand, had herself passed it caressingly over his face. Monsieur Rigaud, indifferent to this distinction, propitiated the father by laughing and nodding at the daughter as often as she gave him anything; and, so soon as he had all his viands about him in convenient nooks of the ledge on which he rested, began to eat with an appetite.
When Monsieur Rigaud laughed, a change took place in his face, that was more remarkable than prepossessing. His moustache went up under his nose, and his nose came down over his moustache, in a very sinister and cruel manner.
‘There!’ said the jailer, turning his basket upside down to beat the crumbs out, ‘I have expended all the money I received; here is the note of it, and that’s a thing accomplished. Monsieur Rigaud, as I expected yesterday, the President will look for the pleasure of your society at an hour after mid-day, to-day.’
‘To try me, eh?’ said Rigaud, pausing, knife in hand and morsel in mouth.
‘You have said it. To try you.’
‘There is no news for me?’ asked John Baptist, who had begun, contentedly, to munch his bread.
The jailer shrugged his shoulders.
‘Lady of mine! Am I to lie here all my life, my father?’
‘What do I know!’ cried the jailer, turning upon him with southern quickness, and gesticulating with both his hands and all his fingers, as if he were threatening to tear him to pieces. ‘My friend, how is it possible for me to tell how long you are to lie here? What do I know, John Baptist Cavalletto? Death of my life! There are prisoners here sometimes, who are not in such a devil of a hurry to be tried.’ He seemed to glance obliquely at Monsieur Rigaud in this remark; but Monsieur Rigaud had already resumed his meal, though not with quite so quick an appetite as before.
‘Adieu, my birds!’ said the keeper of the prison, taking his pretty child in his arms, and dictating the words with a kiss.
‘Adieu, my birds!’ the pretty child repeated.
Her innocent face looked back so brightly over his shoulder, as he walked away with her, singing her the song of the child’s game:
‘Who passes by this road so late?
Compagnon de la Majolaine!
Who passes by this road so late?
that John Baptist felt it a point of honour to reply at the grate, and in good time and tune, though a little hoarsely:
‘Of all the king’s knights ’tis the flower,
Compagnon de la Majolaine!
Of all the king’s knights ’tis the flower,
which accompanied them so far down the few steep stairs, that the prison-keeper had to stop at last for his little daughter to hear the song out, and repeat the Refrain while they were yet in sight. Then the child’s head disappeared, and the prison-keeper’s head disappeared, but the little voice prolonged the strain until the door clashed.
Monsieur Rigaud, finding the listening John Baptist in his way before the echoes had ceased (even the echoes were the weaker for imprisonment, and seemed to lag), reminded him with a push of his foot that he had better resume his own darker place. The little man sat down again upon the pavement with the negligent ease of one who was thoroughly accustomed to pavements; and placing three hunks of coarse bread before himself, and falling to upon a fourth, began contentedly to work his way through them as if to clear them off were a sort of game.
Perhaps he glanced at the Lyons sausage, and perhaps he glanced at the veal in savoury jelly, but they were not there long, to make his mouth water; Monsieur Rigaud soon dispatched them, in spite of the president and tribunal, and proceeded to suck his fingers as clean as he could, and to wipe them on his vine leaves. Then, as he paused in his drink to contemplate his fellow-prisoner, his moustache went up, and his nose came down.
‘How do you find the bread?’
‘A little dry, but I have my old sauce here,’ returned John Baptist, holding up his knife. ‘How sauce?’
‘I can cut my bread so—like a melon. Or so—like an omelette. Or so—like a fried fish. Or so—like Lyons sausage,’ said John Baptist, demonstrating the various cuts on the bread he held, and soberly chewing what he had in his mouth.
‘Here!’ cried Monsieur Rigaud. ‘You may drink. You may finish this.’
It was no great gift, for there was mighty little wine left; but Signor Cavalletto, jumping to his feet, received the bottle gratefully, turned it upside down at his mouth, and smacked his lips.
‘Put the bottle by with the rest,’ said Rigaud.
The little man obeyed his orders, and stood ready to give him a lighted match; for he was now rolling his tobacco into cigarettes by the aid of little squares of paper which had been brought in with it.
‘Here! You may have one.’
‘A thousand thanks, my master!’ John Baptist said in his own language, and with the quick conciliatory manner of his own countrymen.
Monsieur Rigaud arose, lighted a cigarette, put the rest of his stock into a breast-pocket, and stretched himself out at full length upon the bench. Cavalletto sat down on the pavement, holding one of his ankles in each hand, and smoking peacefully. There seemed to be some uncomfortable attraction of Monsieur Rigaud’s eyes to the immediate neighbourhood of that part of the pavement where the thumb had been in the plan. They were so drawn in that direction, that the Italian more than once followed them to and back from the pavement in some surprise.
‘What an infernal hole this is!’ said Monsieur Rigaud, breaking a long pause. ‘Look at the light of day. Day? the light of yesterday week, the light of six months ago, the light of six years ago. So slack and dead!’
It came languishing down a square funnel that blinded a window in the staircase wall, through which the sky was never seen—nor anything else.
‘Cavalletto,’ said Monsieur Rigaud, suddenly withdrawing his gaze from this funnel to which they had both involuntarily turned their eyes, ‘you know me for a gentleman?’
‘How long have we been here?’
‘I, eleven weeks, to-morrow night at midnight. You, nine weeks and three days, at five this afternoon.’
‘Have I ever done anything here? Ever touched the broom, or spread the mats, or rolled them up, or found the draughts, or collected the dominoes, or put my hand to any kind of work?’
‘Have you ever thought of looking to me to do any kind of work?’
John Baptist answered with that peculiar back-handed shake of the right forefinger which is the most expressive negative in the Italian language.
‘No! You knew from the first moment when you saw me here, that I was a gentleman?’
‘ALTRO!’ returned John Baptist, closing his eyes and giving his head a most vehement toss. The word being, according to its Genoese emphasis, a confirmation, a contradiction, an assertion, a denial, a taunt, a compliment, a joke, and fifty other things, became in the present instance, with a significance beyond all power of written expression, our familiar English ‘I believe you!’
‘Haha! You are right! A gentleman I am! And a gentleman I’ll live, and a gentleman I’ll die! It’s my intent to be a gentleman. It’s my game. Death of my soul, I play it out wherever I go!’
He changed his posture to a sitting one, crying with a triumphant air:
‘Here I am! See me! Shaken out of destiny’s dice-box into the company of a mere smuggler;—shut up with a poor little contraband trader, whose papers are wrong, and whom the police lay hold of besides, for placing his boat (as a means of getting beyond the frontier) at the disposition of other little people whose papers are wrong; and he instinctively recognises my position, even by this light and in this place. It’s well done! By Heaven! I win, however the game goes.’
Again his moustache went up, and his nose came down.
‘What’s the hour now?’ he asked, with a dry hot pallor upon him, rather difficult of association with merriment.
‘A little half-hour after mid-day.’
‘Good! The President will have a gentleman before him soon. Come!
Shall I tell you on what accusation? It must be now, or never, for I shall not return here. Either I shall go free, or I shall go to be made ready for shaving. You know where they keep the razor.’
Signor Cavalletto took his cigarette from between his parted lips, and showed more momentary discomfiture than might have been expected.
‘I am a’—Monsieur Rigaud stood up to say it—‘I am a cosmopolitan gentleman. I own no particular country. My father was Swiss—Canton de Vaud. My mother was French by blood, English by birth. I myself was born in Belgium. I am a citizen of the world.’
His theatrical air, as he stood with one arm on his hip within the folds of his cloak, together with his manner of disregarding his companion and addressing the opposite wall instead, seemed to intimate that he was rehearsing for the President, whose examination he was shortly to undergo, rather than troubling himself merely to enlighten so small a person as John Baptist Cavalletto.
‘Call me five-and-thirty years of age. I have seen the world. I have lived here, and lived there, and lived like a gentleman everywhere. I have been treated and respected as a gentleman universally. If you try to prejudice me by making out that I have lived by my wits—how do your lawyers live—your politicians—your intriguers—your men of the Exchange?’
He kept his small smooth hand in constant requisition, as if it were a witness to his gentility that had often done him good service before.
‘Two years ago I came to Marseilles. I admit that I was poor; I had been ill. When your lawyers, your politicians, your intriguers, your men of the Exchange fall ill, and have not scraped money together, they become poor. I put up at the Cross of Gold,—kept then by Monsieur Henri Barronneau—sixty-five at least, and in a failing state of health. I had lived in the house some four months when Monsieur Henri Barronneau had the misfortune to die;—at any rate, not a rare misfortune, that. It happens without any aid of mine, pretty often.’
John Baptist having smoked his cigarette down to his fingers’ ends, Monsieur Rigaud had the magnanimity to throw him another. He lighted the second at the ashes of the first, and smoked on, looking sideways at his companion, who, preoccupied with his own case, hardly looked at him.
‘Monsieur Barronneau left a widow. She was two-and-twenty. She had gained a reputation for beauty, and (which is often another thing) was beautiful. I continued to live at the Cross of Gold. I married Madame Barronneau. It is not for me to say whether there was any great disparity in such a match. Here I stand, with the contamination of a jail upon me; but it is possible that you may think me better suited to her than her former husband was.’
He had a certain air of being a handsome man—which he was not; and a certain air of being a well-bred man—which he was not. It was mere swagger and challenge; but in this particular, as in many others, blustering assertion goes for proof, half over the world.
‘Be it as it may, Madame Barronneau approved of me. That is not to prejudice me, I hope?’
His eye happening to light upon John Baptist with this inquiry, that little man briskly shook his head in the negative, and repeated in an argumentative tone under his breath, altro, altro, altro, altro—an infinite number of times.
‘Now came the difficulties of our position. I am proud. I say nothing in defence of pride, but I am proud. It is also my character to govern. I can’t submit; I must govern. Unfortunately, the property of Madame Rigaud was settled upon herself. Such was the insane act of her late husband. More unfortunately still, she had relations. When a wife’s relations interpose against a husband who is a gentleman, who is proud, and who must govern, the consequences are inimical to peace. There was yet another source of difference between us. Madame Rigaud was unfortunately a little vulgar. I sought to improve her manners and ameliorate her general tone; she (supported in this likewise by her relations) resented my endeavours. Quarrels began to arise between us; and, propagated and exaggerated by the slanders of the relations of Madame Rigaud, to become notorious to the neighbours. It has been said that I treated Madame Rigaud with cruelty. I may have been seen to slap her face—nothing more. I have a light hand; and if I have been seen apparently to correct Madame Rigaud in that manner, I have done it almost playfully.’
If the playfulness of Monsieur Rigaud were at all expressed by his smile at this point, the relations of Madame Rigaud might have said that they would have much preferred his correcting that unfortunate woman seriously.
‘I am sensitive and brave. I do not advance it as a merit to be sensitive and brave, but it is my character. If the male relations of Madame Rigaud had put themselves forward openly, I should have known how to deal with them. They knew that, and their machinations were conducted in secret; consequently, Madame Rigaud and I were brought into frequent and unfortunate collision. Even when I wanted any little sum of money for my personal expenses, I could not obtain it without collision—and I, too, a man whose character it is to govern! One night, Madame Rigaud and myself were walking amicably—I may say like lovers—on a height overhanging the sea. An evil star occasioned Madame Rigaud to advert to her relations; I reasoned with her on that subject, and remonstrated on the want of duty and devotion manifested in her allowing herself to be influenced by their jealous animosity towards her husband. Madame Rigaud retorted; I retorted; Madame Rigaud grew warm; I grew warm, and provoked her. I admit it. Frankness is a part of my character. At length, Madame Rigaud, in an access of fury that I must ever deplore, threw herself upon me with screams of passion (no doubt those that were overheard at some distance), tore my clothes, tore my hair, lacerated my hands, trampled and trod the dust, and finally leaped over, dashing herself to death upon the rocks below. Such is the train of incidents which malice has perverted into my endeavouring to force from Madame Rigaud a relinquishment of her rights; and, on her persistence in a refusal to make the concession I required, struggling with her—assassinating her!’
He stepped aside to the ledge where the vine leaves yet lay strewn about, collected two or three, and stood wiping his hands upon them, with his back to the light.
‘Well,’ he demanded after a silence, ‘have you nothing to say to all that?’
‘It’s ugly,’ returned the little man, who had risen, and was brightening his knife upon his shoe, as he leaned an arm against the wall.
‘What do you mean?’ John Baptist polished his knife in silence.
‘Do you mean that I have not represented the case correctly?’
‘Al-tro!’ returned John Baptist. The word was an apology now, and stood for ‘Oh, by no means!’
‘Presidents and tribunals are so prejudiced.’
‘Well,’ cried the other, uneasily flinging the end of his cloak over his shoulder with an oath, ‘let them do their worst!’
‘Truly I think they will,’ murmured John Baptist to himself, as he bent his head to put his knife in his sash.
Nothing more was said on either side, though they both began walking to and fro, and necessarily crossed at every turn. Monsieur Rigaud sometimes stopped, as if he were going to put his case in a new light, or make some irate remonstrance; but Signor Cavalletto continuing to go slowly to and fro at a grotesque kind of jog-trot pace with his eyes turned downward, nothing came of these inclinings.
By-and-by the noise of the key in the lock arrested them both. The sound of voices succeeded, and the tread of feet. The door clashed, the voices and the feet came on, and the prison-keeper slowly ascended the stairs, followed by a guard of soldiers.
‘Now, Monsieur Rigaud,’ said he, pausing for a moment at the grate, with his keys in his hands, ‘have the goodness to come out.’
‘I am to depart in state, I see?’
‘Why, unless you did,’ returned the jailer, ‘you might depart in so many pieces that it would be difficult to get you together again. There’s a crowd, Monsieur Rigaud, and it doesn’t love you.’
He passed on out of sight, and unlocked and unbarred a low door in the corner of the chamber. ‘Now,’ said he, as he opened it and appeared within, ‘come out.’
There is no sort of whiteness in all the hues under the sun at all like the whiteness of Monsieur Rigaud’s face as it was then. Neither is there any expression of the human countenance at all like that expression in every little line of which the frightened heart is seen to beat. Both are conventionally compared with death; but the difference is the whole deep gulf between the struggle done, and the fight at its most desperate extremity.
He lighted another of his paper cigars at his companion’s; put it tightly between his teeth; covered his head with a soft slouched hat; threw the end of his cloak over his shoulder again; and walked out into the side gallery on which the door opened, without taking any further notice of Signor Cavalletto. As to that little man himself, his whole attention had become absorbed in getting near the door and looking out at it. Precisely as a beast might approach the opened gate of his den and eye the freedom beyond, he passed those few moments in watching and peering, until the door was closed upon him.
There was an officer in command of the soldiers; a stout, serviceable, profoundly calm man, with his drawn sword in his hand, smoking a cigar. He very briefly directed the placing of Monsieur Rigaud in the midst of the party, put himself with consummate indifference at their head, gave the word ‘march!’ and so they all went jingling down the staircase. The door clashed—the key turned—and a ray of unusual light, and a breath of unusual air, seemed to have passed through the jail, vanishing in a tiny wreath of smoke from the cigar.
Still, in his captivity, like a lower animal—like some impatient ape, or roused bear of the smaller species—the prisoner, now left solitary, had jumped upon the ledge, to lose no glimpse of this departure. As he yet stood clasping the grate with both hands, an uproar broke upon his hearing; yells, shrieks, oaths, threats, execrations, all comprehended in it, though (as in a storm) nothing but a raging swell of sound distinctly heard.
Excited into a still greater resemblance to a caged wild animal by his anxiety to know more, the prisoner leaped nimbly down, ran round the chamber, leaped nimbly up again, clasped the grate and tried to shake it, leaped down and ran, leaped up and listened, and never rested until the noise, becoming more and more distant, had died away. How many better prisoners have worn their noble hearts out so; no man thinking of it; not even the beloved of their souls realising it; great kings and governors, who had made them captive, careering in the sunlight jauntily, and men cheering them on. Even the said great personages dying in bed, making exemplary ends and sounding speeches; and polite history, more servile than their instruments, embalming them!
At last, John Baptist, now able to choose his own spot within the compass of those walls for the exercise of his faculty of going to sleep when he would, lay down upon the bench, with his face turned over on his crossed arms, and slumbered. In his submission, in his lightness, in his good-humour, in his short-lived passion, in his easy contentment with hard bread and hard stones, in his ready sleep, in his fits and starts, altogether a true son of the land that gave him birth.
The wide stare stared itself out for one while; the Sun went down in a red, green, golden glory; the stars came out in the heavens, and the fire-flies mimicked them in the lower air, as men may feebly imitate the goodness of a better order of beings; the long dusty roads and the interminable plains were in repose—and so deep a hush was on the sea, that it scarcely whispered of the time when it shall give up its dead.
‘NO MORE OF YESTERDAY’S howling over yonder to-day, Sir; is there?’
‘I have heard none.’
‘Then you may be sure there is none. When these people howl, they howl to be heard.’
‘Most people do, I suppose.’
‘Ah! but these people are always howling. Never happy otherwise.’
‘Do you mean the Marseilles people?’
‘I mean the French people. They’re always at it. As to Marseilles, we know what Marseilles is. It sent the most insurrectionary tune into the world that was ever composed. It couldn’t exist without allonging and marshonging to something or other—victory or death, or blazes, or something.’
The speaker, with a whimsical good-humour upon him all the time, looked over the parapet-wall with the greatest disparagement of Marseilles; and taking up a determined position by putting his hands in his pockets and rattling his money at it, apostrophised it with a short laugh.
‘Allong and marshong, indeed. It would be more creditable to you, I think, to let other people allong and marshong about their lawful business, instead of shutting ’em up in quarantine!’
‘Tiresome enough,’ said the other. ‘But we shall be out to-day.’
‘Out to-day!’ repeated the first. ‘It’s almost an aggravation of the enormity, that we shall be out to-day. Out! What have we ever been in for?’
‘For no very strong reason, I must say. But as we come from the East, and as the East is the country of the plague—’
‘The plague!’ repeated the other. ‘That’s my grievance. I have had the plague continually, ever since I have been here. I am like a sane man shut up in a madhouse; I can’t stand the suspicion of the thing. I came here as well as ever I was in my life; but to suspect me of the plague is to give me the plague. And I have had it—and I have got it.’
‘You bear it very well, Mr Meagles,’ said the second speaker, smiling.
‘No. If you knew the real state of the case, that’s the last observation you would think of making. I have been waking up night after night, and saying, now I have got it, now it has developed itself, now I am in for it, now these fellows are making out their case for their precautions. Why, I’d as soon have a spit put through me, and be stuck upon a card in a collection of beetles, as lead the life I have been leading here.’
‘Well, Mr Meagles, say no more about it now it’s over,’ urged a cheerful feminine voice.
‘Over!’ repeated Mr Meagles, who appeared (though without any ill-nature) to be in that peculiar state of mind in which the last word spoken by anybody else is a new injury. ‘Over! and why should I say no more about it because it’s over?’
It was Mrs Meagles who had spoken to Mr Meagles; and Mrs Meagles was, like Mr Meagles, comely and healthy, with a pleasant English face which had been looking at homely things for five-and-fifty years or more, and shone with a bright reflection of them.
‘There! Never mind, Father, never mind!’ said Mrs Meagles. ‘For goodness sake content yourself with Pet.’
‘With Pet?’ repeated Mr Meagles in his injured vein. Pet, however, being close behind him, touched him on the shoulder, and Mr Meagles immediately forgave Marseilles from the bottom of his heart.
Pet was about twenty. A fair girl with rich brown hair hanging free in natural ringlets. A lovely girl, with a frank face, and wonderful eyes; so large, so soft, so bright, set to such perfection in her kind good head. She was round and fresh and dimpled and spoilt, and there was in Pet an air of timidity and dependence which was the best weakness in the world, and gave her the only crowning charm a girl so pretty and pleasant could have been without.
‘Now, I ask you,’ said Mr Meagles in the blandest confidence, falling back a step himself, and handing his daughter a step forward to illustrate his question: ‘I ask you simply, as between man and man, you know, DID you ever hear of such damned nonsense as putting Pet in quarantine?’
‘It has had the result of making even quarantine enjoyable.’
‘Come!’ said Mr Meagles, ‘that’s something to be sure. I am obliged to you for that remark. Now, Pet, my darling, you had better go along with Mother and get ready for the boat. The officer of health, and a variety of humbugs in cocked hats, are coming off to let us out of this at last: and all we jail-birds are to breakfast together in something approaching to a Christian style again, before we take wing for our different destinations. Tattycoram, stick you close to your young mistress.’
He spoke to a handsome girl with lustrous dark hair and eyes, and very neatly dressed, who replied with a half-curtsy as she passed off in the train of Mrs Meagles and Pet. They crossed the bare scorched terrace all three together, and disappeared through a staring white archway. Mr Meagles’s companion, a grave dark man of forty, still stood looking towards this archway after they were gone; until Mr Meagles tapped him on the arm.
‘I beg your pardon,’ said he, starting.
‘Not at all,’ said Mr Meagles.
They took one silent turn backward and forward in the shade of the wall, getting, at the height on which the quarantine barracks are placed, what cool refreshment of sea breeze there was at seven in the morning. Mr Meagles’s companion resumed the conversation.
‘May I ask you,’ he said, ‘what is the name of—’
‘Tattycoram?’ Mr Meagles struck in. ‘I have not the least idea.’
‘I thought,’ said the other, ‘that—’
‘Tattycoram?’ suggested Mr Meagles again.
‘Thank you—that Tattycoram was a name; and I have several times wondered at the oddity of it.’
‘Why, the fact is,’ said Mr Meagles, ‘Mrs Meagles and myself are, you see, practical people.’
‘That you have frequently mentioned in the course of the agreeable and interesting conversations we have had together, walking up and down on these stones,’ said the other, with a half smile breaking through the gravity of his dark face.
‘Practical people. So one day, five or six years ago now, when we took Pet to church at the Foundling—you have heard of the Foundling Hospital in London? Similar to the Institution for the Found Children in Paris?’
‘I have seen it.’
‘Well! One day when we took Pet to church there to hear the music—because, as practical people, it is the business of our lives to show her everything that we think can please her—Mother (my usual name for Mrs Meagles) began to cry so, that it was necessary to take her out. “What’s the matter, Mother?” said I, when we had brought her a little round: “you are frightening Pet, my dear.” “Yes, I know that, Father,” says Mother, “but I think it’s through my loving her so much, that it ever came into my head.” “That ever what came into your head, Mother?” “O dear, dear!” cried Mother, breaking out again, “when I saw all those children ranged tier above tier, and appealing from the father none of them has ever known on earth, to the great Father of us all in Heaven, I thought, does any wretched mother ever come here, and look among those young faces, wondering which is the poor child she brought into this forlorn world, never through all its life to know her love, her kiss, her face, her voice, even her name!” Now that was practical in Mother, and I told her so. I said, “Mother, that’s what I call practical in you, my dear.”’
The other, not unmoved, assented.
‘So I said next day: Now, Mother, I have a proposition to make that I think you’ll approve of. Let us take one of those same little children to be a little maid to Pet. We are practical people. So if we should find her temper a little defective, or any of her ways a little wide of ours, we shall know what we have to take into account. We shall know what an immense deduction must be made from all the influences and experiences that have formed us—no parents, no child-brother or sister, no individuality of home, no Glass Slipper, or Fairy Godmother. And that’s the way we came by Tattycoram.’
‘And the name itself—’
‘By George!’ said Mr Meagles, ‘I was forgetting the name itself. Why, she was called in the Institution, Harriet Beadle—an arbitrary name, of course. Now, Harriet we changed into Hatty, and then into Tatty, because, as practical people, we thought even a playful name might be a new thing to her, and might have a softening and affectionate kind of effect, don’t you see? As to Beadle, that I needn’t say was wholly out of the question. If there is anything that is not to be tolerated on any terms, anything that is a type of Jack-in-office insolence and absurdity, anything that represents in coats, waistcoats, and big sticks our English holding on by nonsense after every one has found it out, it is a beadle. You haven’t seen a beadle lately?’
‘As an Englishman who has been more than twenty years in China, no.’
‘Then,’ said Mr Meagles, laying his forefinger on his companion’s breast with great animation, ‘don’t you see a beadle, now, if you can help it. Whenever I see a beadle in full fig, coming down a street on a Sunday at the head of a charity school, I am obliged to turn and run away, or I should hit him. The name of Beadle being out of the question, and the originator of the Institution for these poor foundlings having been a blessed creature of the name of Coram, we gave that name to Pet’s little maid. At one time she was Tatty, and at one time she was Coram, until we got into a way of mixing the two names together, and now she is always Tattycoram.’
‘Your daughter,’ said the other, when they had taken another silent turn to and fro, and, after standing for a moment at the wall glancing down at the sea, had resumed their walk, ‘is your only child, I know, Mr Meagles. May I ask you—in no impertinent curiosity, but because I have had so much pleasure in your society, may never in this labyrinth of a world exchange a quiet word with you again, and wish to preserve an accurate remembrance of you and yours—may I ask you, if I have not gathered from your good wife that you have had other children?’
‘No. No,’ said Mr Meagles. ‘Not exactly other children. One other child.’
‘I am afraid I have inadvertently touched upon a tender theme.’
‘Never mind,’ said Mr Meagles. ‘If I am grave about it, I am not at all sorrowful. It quiets me for a moment, but does not make me unhappy. Pet had a twin sister who died when we could just see her eyes—exactly like Pet’s—above the table, as she stood on tiptoe holding by it.’
‘Ah! indeed, indeed!’
‘Yes, and being practical people, a result has gradually sprung up in the minds of Mrs Meagles and myself which perhaps you may—or perhaps you may not—understand. Pet and her baby sister were so exactly alike, and so completely one, that in our thoughts we have never been able to separate them since. It would be of no use to tell us that our dead child was a mere infant. We have changed that child according to the changes in the child spared to us and always with us. As Pet has grown, that child has grown; as Pet has become more sensible and womanly, her sister has become more sensible and womanly by just the same degrees. It would be as hard to convince me that if I was to pass into the other world to-morrow, I should not, through the mercy of God, be received there by a daughter, just like Pet, as to persuade me that Pet herself is not a reality at my side.’
‘I understand you,’ said the other, gently.
‘As to her,’ pursued her father, ‘the sudden loss of her little picture and playfellow, and her early association with that mystery in which we all have our equal share, but which is not often so forcibly presented to a child, has necessarily had some influence on her character. Then, her mother and I were not young when we married, and Pet has always had a sort of grown-up life with us, though we have tried to adapt ourselves to her. We have been advised more than once when she has been a little ailing, to change climate and air for her as often as we could—especially at about this time of her life—and to keep her amused. So, as I have no need to stick at a bank-desk now (though I have been poor enough in my time I assure you, or I should have married Mrs Meagles long before), we go trotting about the world. This is how you found us staring at the Nile, and the Pyramids, and the Sphinxes, and the Desert, and all the rest of it; and this is how Tattycoram will be a greater traveller in course of time than Captain Cook.’
‘I thank you,’ said the other, ‘very heartily for your confidence.’
‘Don’t mention it,’ returned Mr Meagles; ‘I am sure you are quite welcome. And now, Mr Clennam, perhaps I may ask you whether you have yet come to a decision where to go next?’
‘Indeed, no. I am such a waif and stray everywhere, that I am liable to be drifted where any current may set.’
‘It’s extraordinary to me—if you’ll excuse my freedom in saying so—that you don’t go straight to London,’ said Mr Meagles in the tone of a confidential adviser.
‘Perhaps I shall.’
‘Ay! But I mean with a will.’
‘I have no will. That is to say,’—he coloured a little,—‘next to none that I can put in action now. Trained by main force; broken, not bent; heavily ironed with an object on which I was never consulted and which was never mine; shipped away to the other end of the world before I was of age, and exiled there until my father’s death there, a year ago; always grinding in a mill I always hated; what is to be expected from me in middle life? Will, purpose, hope? All those lights were extinguished before I could sound the words.’
‘Light ’em up again!’ said Mr Meagles.
‘Ah! Easily said. I am the son, Mr Meagles, of a hard father and mother. I am the only child of parents who weighed, measured, and priced everything; for whom what could not be weighed, measured, and priced, had no existence. Strict people as the phrase is, professors of a stern religion, their very religion was a gloomy sacrifice of tastes and sympathies that were never their own, offered up as a part of a bargain for the security of their possessions. Austere faces, inexorable discipline, penance in this world and terror in the next—nothing graceful or gentle anywhere, and the void in my cowed heart everywhere—this was my childhood, if I may so misuse the word as to apply it to such a beginning of life.’
‘Really though?’ said Mr Meagles, made very uncomfortable by the picture offered to his imagination. ‘That was a tough commencement. But come! You must now study, and profit by, all that lies beyond it, like a practical man.’
‘If the people who are usually called practical, were practical in your direction—’
‘Why, so they are!’ said Mr Meagles.
‘Are they indeed?’
‘Well, I suppose so,’ returned Mr Meagles, thinking about it. ‘Eh?
One can but be practical, and Mrs Meagles and myself are nothing else.’
‘My unknown course is easier and more helpful than I had expected to find it, then,’ said Clennam, shaking his head with his grave smile. ‘Enough of me. Here is the boat.’
The boat was filled with the cocked hats to which Mr Meagles entertained a national objection; and the wearers of those cocked hats landed and came up the steps, and all the impounded travellers congregated together. There was then a mighty production of papers on the part of the cocked hats, and a calling over of names, and great work of signing, sealing, stamping, inking, and sanding, with exceedingly blurred, gritty, and undecipherable results. Finally, everything was done according to rule, and the travellers were at liberty to depart whithersoever they would.
They made little account of stare and glare, in the new pleasure of recovering their freedom, but flitted across the harbour in gay boats, and reassembled at a great hotel, whence the sun was excluded by closed lattices, and where bare paved floors, lofty ceilings, and resounding corridors tempered the intense heat. There, a great table in a great room was soon profusely covered with a superb repast; and the quarantine quarters became bare indeed, remembered among dainty dishes, southern fruits, cooled wines, flowers from Genoa, snow from the mountain tops, and all the colours of the rainbow flashing in the mirrors.
‘But I bear those monotonous walls no ill-will now,’ said Mr Meagles. ‘One always begins to forgive a place as soon as it’s left behind; I dare say a prisoner begins to relent towards his prison, after he is let out.’
They were about thirty in company, and all talking; but necessarily in groups. Father and Mother Meagles sat with their daughter between them, the last three on one side of the table: on the opposite side sat Mr Clennam; a tall French gentleman with raven hair and beard, of a swart and terrible, not to say genteelly diabolical aspect, but who had shown himself the mildest of men; and a handsome young Englishwoman, travelling quite alone, who had a proud observant face, and had either withdrawn herself from the rest or been avoided by the rest—nobody, herself excepted, perhaps, could have quite decided which. The rest of the party were of the usual materials: travellers on business, and travellers for pleasure; officers from India on leave; merchants in the Greek and Turkey trades; a clerical English husband in a meek strait-waistcoat, on a wedding trip with his young wife; a majestic English mama and papa, of the patrician order, with a family of three growing-up daughters, who were keeping a journal for the confusion of their fellow-creatures; and a deaf old English mother, tough in travel, with a very decidedly grown-up daughter indeed, which daughter went sketching about the universe in the expectation of ultimately toning herself off into the married state.
The reserved Englishwoman took up Mr Meagles in his last remark. ‘Do you mean that a prisoner forgives his prison?’ said she, slowly and with emphasis.
‘That was my speculation, Miss Wade. I don’t pretend to know positively how a prisoner might feel. I never was one before.’
‘Mademoiselle doubts,’ said the French gentleman in his own language, ‘it’s being so easy to forgive?’
Pet had to translate this passage to Mr Meagles, who never by any accident acquired any knowledge whatever of the language of any country into which he travelled. ‘Oh!’ said he. ‘Dear me! But that’s a pity, isn’t it?’
‘That I am not credulous?’ said Miss Wade.
‘Not exactly that. Put it another way. That you can’t believe it easy to forgive.’
‘My experience,’ she quietly returned, ‘has been correcting my belief in many respects, for some years. It is our natural progress, I have heard.’
‘Well, well! But it’s not natural to bear malice, I hope?’ said Mr Meagles cheerily.
‘If I had been shut up in any place to pine and suffer, I should always hate that place and wish to burn it down, or raze it to the ground. I know no more.’
‘Strong, sir?’ said Mr Meagles to the Frenchman; it being another of his habits to address individuals of all nations in idiomatic English, with a perfect conviction that they were bound to understand it somehow. ‘Rather forcible in our fair friend, you’ll agree with me, I think?’
The French gentleman courteously replied, ‘Plait-il?’ To which Mr Meagles returned, with much satisfaction, ‘You are right. My opinion.’
The breakfast beginning by-and-by to languish, Mr Meagles made the company a speech. It was short enough and sensible enough, considering that it was a speech at all, and hearty. It merely went to the effect that as they had all been thrown together by chance, and had all preserved a good understanding together, and were now about to disperse, and were not likely ever to find themselves all together again, what could they do better than bid farewell to one another, and give one another good-speed in a simultaneous glass of cool champagne all round the table? It was done, and with a general shaking of hands the assembly broke up for ever.
The solitary young lady all this time had said no more. She rose with the rest, and silently withdrew to a remote corner of the great room, where she sat herself on a couch in a window, seeming to watch the reflection of the water as it made a silver quivering on the bars of the lattice. She sat, turned away from the whole length of the apartment, as if she were lonely of her own haughty choice. And yet it would have been as difficult as ever to say, positively, whether she avoided the rest, or was avoided.
The shadow in which she sat, falling like a gloomy veil across her forehead, accorded very well with the character of her beauty. One could hardly see the face, so still and scornful, set off by the arched dark eyebrows, and the folds of dark hair, without wondering what its expression would be if a change came over it. That it could soften or relent, appeared next to impossible. That it could deepen into anger or any extreme of defiance, and that it must change in that direction when it changed at all, would have been its peculiar impression upon most observers. It was dressed and trimmed into no ceremony of expression. Although not an open face, there was no pretence in it. ‘I am self-contained and self-reliant; your opinion is nothing to me; I have no interest in you, care nothing for you, and see and hear you with indifference’—this it said plainly. It said so in the proud eyes, in the lifted nostril, in the handsome but compressed and even cruel mouth. Cover either two of those channels of expression, and the third would have said so still. Mask them all, and the mere turn of the head would have shown an unsubduable nature.
Pet had moved up to her (she had been the subject of remark among her family and Mr Clennam, who were now the only other occupants of the room), and was standing at her side.
‘Are you’—she turned her eyes, and Pet faltered—‘expecting any one to meet you here, Miss Wade?’
‘Father is sending to the Poste Restante. Shall he have the pleasure of directing the messenger to ask if there are any letters for you?’
‘I thank him, but I know there can be none.’
‘We are afraid,’ said Pet, sitting down beside her, shyly and half tenderly, ‘that you will feel quite deserted when we are all gone.’
‘Not,’ said Pet, apologetically and embarrassed by her eyes, ‘not, of course, that we are any company to you, or that we have been able to be so, or that we thought you wished it.’
‘I have not intended to make it understood that I did wish it.’
‘No. Of course. But—in short,’ said Pet, timidly touching her hand as it lay impassive on the sofa between them, ‘will you not allow Father to tender you any slight assistance or service? He will be very glad.’
‘Very glad,’ said Mr Meagles, coming forward with his wife and Clennam. ‘Anything short of speaking the language, I shall be delighted to undertake, I am sure.’
‘I am obliged to you,’ she returned, ‘but my arrangements are made, and I prefer to go my own way in my own manner.’
‘Do you?’ said Mr Meagles to himself, as he surveyed her with a puzzled look. ‘Well! There’s character in that, too.’
‘I am not much used to the society of young ladies, and I am afraid I may not show my appreciation of it as others might. A pleasant journey to you. Good-bye!’
She would not have put out her hand, it seemed, but that Mr Meagles put out his so straight before her that she could not pass it. She put hers in it, and it lay there just as it had lain upon the couch.
‘Good-bye!’ said Mr Meagles. ‘This is the last good-bye upon the list, for Mother and I have just said it to Mr Clennam here, and he only waits to say it to Pet. Good-bye! We may never meet again.’
‘In our course through life we shall meet the people who are coming to meet us, from many strange places and by many strange roads,’ was the composed reply; ‘and what it is set to us to do to them, and what it is set to them to do to us, will all be done.’ There was something in the manner of these words that jarred upon Pet’s ear. It implied that what was to be done was necessarily evil, and it caused her to say in a whisper, ‘O Father!’ and to shrink childishly, in her spoilt way, a little closer to him. This was not lost on the speaker.
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