|Back||1 2 3 4 5||Next|
The day was sunny, and the Marshalsea, with the hot noon striking upon it, was unwontedly quiet. Arthur Clennam dropped into a solitary arm-chair, itself as faded as any debtor in the jail, and yielded himself to his thoughts.
In the unnatural peace of having gone through the dreaded arrest, and got there,--the first change of feeling which the prison most commonly induced, and from which dangerous resting-place so many men had slipped down to the depths of degradation and disgrace by so many ways,--he could think of some passages in his life, almost as if he were removed from them into another state of existence. Taking into account where he was, the interest that had first brought him there when he had been free to keep away, and the gentle presence that was equally inseparable from the walls and bars about him and from the impalpable remembrances of his later life which no walls or bars could imprison, it was not remarkable that everything his memory turned upon should bring him round again to Little Dorrit. Yet it was remarkable to him; not because of the fact itself, but because of the reminder it brought with it, how much the dear little creature had influenced his better resolutions.
None of us clearly know to whom or to what we are indebted in this wise, until some marked stop in the whirling wheel of life brings the right perception with it. It comes with sickness, it comes with sorrow, it comes with the loss of the dearly loved, it is one of the most frequent uses of adversity. It came to Clennam in his adversity, strongly and tenderly. 'When I first gathered myself together,' he thought, 'and set something like purpose before my jaded eyes, whom had I before me, toiling on, for a good object's sake, without encouragement, without notice, against ignoble obstacles that would have turned an army of received heroes and heroines? One weak girl! When I tried to conquer my misplaced love, and to be generous to the man who was more fortunate than I, though he should never know it or repay me with a gracious word, in whom had I watched patience, self-denial, self-subdual, charitable construction, the noblest generosity of the affections? In the same poor girl! If I, a man, with a man's advantages and means and energies, had slighted the whisper in my heart, that if my father had erred, it was my first duty to conceal the fault and to repair it, what youthful figure with tender feet going almost bare on the damp ground, with spare hands ever working, with its slight shape but half protected from the sharp weather, would have stood before me to put me to shame? Little Dorrit's.' So always as he sat alone in the faded chair, thinking. Always, Little Dorrit. Until it seemed to him as if he met the reward of having wandered away from her, and suffered anything to pass between him and his remembrance of her virtues.
His door was opened, and the head of the elder Chivery was put in a very little way, without being turned towards him.
'I am off the Lock, Mr Clennam, and going out. Can I do anything for you?'
'Many thanks. Nothing.'
'You'll excuse me opening the door,' said Mr Chivery; 'but I couldn't make you hear.'
'Did you knock?' 'Half-a-dozen times.'
Rousing himself, Clennam observed that the prison had awakened from its noontide doze, that the inmates were loitering about the shady yard, and that it was late in the afternoon. He had been thinking for hours. 'Your things is come,' said Mr Chivery, 'and my son is going to carry 'em up. I should have sent 'em up but for his wishing to carry 'em himself. Indeed he would have 'em himself, and so I couldn't send 'em up. Mr Clennam, could I say a word to you?'
'Pray come in,' said Arthur; for Mr Chivery's head was still put in at the door a very little way, and Mr Chivery had but one ear upon him, instead of both eyes. This was native delicacy in Mr Chivery --true politeness; though his exterior had very much of a turnkey about it, and not the least of a gentleman.
'Thank you, sir,' said Mr Chivery, without advancing; 'it's no odds me coming in. Mr Clennam, don't you take no notice of my son (if you'll be so good) in case you find him cut up anyways difficult. My son has a 'art, and my son's 'art is in the right place. Me and his mother knows where to find it, and we find it sitiwated correct.'
With this mysterious speech, Mr Chivery took his ear away and shut the door. He might have been gone ten minutes, when his son succeeded him.
'Here's your portmanteau,' he said to Arthur, putting it carefully down.
'It's very kind of you. I am ashamed that you should have the trouble.'
He was gone before it came to that; but soon returned, saying exactly as before, 'Here's your black box:' which he also put down with care.
'I am very sensible of this attention. I hope we may shake hands now, Mr John.'
Young John, however, drew back, turning his right wrist in a socket made of his left thumb and middle-finger and said as he had said at first, 'I don't know as I can. No; I find I can't!' He then stood regarding the prisoner sternly, though with a swelling humour in his eyes that looked like pity.
'Why are you angry with me,' said Clennam, 'and yet so ready to do me these kind services? There must be some mistake between us. If I have done anything to occasion it I am sorry.'
'No mistake, sir,' returned John, turning the wrist backwards and forwards in the socket, for which it was rather tight. 'No mistake, sir, in the feelings with which my eyes behold you at the present moment! If I was at all fairly equal to your weight, Mr Clennam--which I am not; and if you weren't under a cloud--which you are; and if it wasn't against all rules of the Marshalsea-- which it is; those feelings are such, that they would stimulate me, more to having it out with you in a Round on the present spot than to anything else I could name.' Arthur looked at him for a moment in some wonder, and some little anger. 'Well, well!' he said. 'A mistake, a mistake!' Turning away, he sat down with a heavy sigh in the faded chair again.
Young John followed him with his eyes, and, after a short pause, cried out, 'I beg your pardon!'
'Freely granted,' said Clennam, waving his hand without raising his sunken head. 'Say no more. I am not worth it.'
'This furniture, sir,' said Young John in a voice of mild and soft explanation, 'belongs to me. I am in the habit of letting it out to parties without furniture, that have the room. It an't much, but it's at your service. Free, I mean. I could not think of letting you have it on any other terms. You're welcome to it for nothing.'
Arthur raised his head again to thank him, and to say he could not accept the favour. John was still turning his wrist, and still contending with himself in his former divided manner.
|Back||1 2 3 4 5||Next|
Little Dorrit -- by Charles Dickens