Little Dorrit 023


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‘Amy, I have got a situation.’

‘Have you really and truly, Tip?’

‘All right. I shall do now. You needn’t look anxious about me any more, old girl.’

‘What is it, Tip?’

‘Why, you know Slingo by sight?’

‘Not the man they call the dealer?’

‘That’s the chap. He’ll be out on Monday, and he’s going to give me a berth.’

‘What is he a dealer in, Tip?’

‘Horses. All right! I shall do now, Amy.’

She lost sight of him for months afterwards, and only heard from him once. A whisper passed among the elder collegians that he had been seen at a mock auction in Moorfields, pretending to buy plated articles for massive silver, and paying for them with the greatest liberality in bank notes; but it never reached her ears. One evening she was alone at work–standing up at the window, to save the twilight lingering above the wall–when he opened the door and walked in.

She kissed and welcomed him; but was afraid to ask him any questions. He saw how anxious and timid she was, and appeared sorry.

‘I am afraid, Amy, you’ll be vexed this time. Upon my life I am!’

‘I am very sorry to hear you say so, Tip. Have you come back?’

‘Why–yes.’

‘Not expecting this time that what you had found would answer very well, I am less surprised and sorry than I might have been, Tip.’

‘Ah! But that’s not the worst of it.’

‘Not the worst of it?’

‘Don’t look so startled. No, Amy, not the worst of it. I have come back, you see; but–_don’t_ look so startled–I have come back in what I may call a new way. I am off the volunteer list altogether. I am in now, as one of the regulars.’

‘Oh! Don’t say you are a prisoner, Tip! Don’t, don’t!’

‘Well, I don’t want to say it,’ he returned in a reluctant tone; ‘but if you can’t understand me without my saying it, what am I to do? I am in for forty pound odd.’

For the first time in all those years, she sunk under her cares. She cried, with her clasped hands lifted above her head, that it would kill their father if he ever knew it; and fell down at Tip’s graceless feet.

It was easier for Tip to bring her to her senses than for her to bring _him_ to understand that the Father of the Marshalsea would be beside himself if he knew the truth. The thing was incomprehensible to Tip, and altogether a fanciful notion. He yielded to it in that light only, when he submitted to her entreaties, backed by those of his uncle and sister. There was no want of precedent for his return; it was accounted for to the father in the usual way; and the collegians, with a better comprehension of the pious fraud than Tip, supported it loyally.

This was the life, and this the history, of the child of the Marshalsea at twenty-two. With a still surviving attachment to the one miserable yard and block of houses as her birthplace and home, she passed to and fro in it shrinkingly now, with a womanly consciousness that she was pointed out to every one. Since she had begun to work beyond the walls, she had found it necessary to conceal where she lived, and to come and go as secretly as she could, between the free city and the iron gates, outside of which she had never slept in her life. Her original timidity had grown with this concealment, and her light step and her little figure shunned the thronged streets while they passed along them.

Worldly wise in hard and poor necessities, she was innocent in all things else. Innocent, in the mist through which she saw her father, and the prison, and the turbid living river that flowed through it and flowed on.

This was the life, and this the history, of Little Dorrit; now going home upon a dull September evening, observed at a distance by Arthur Clennam. This was the life, and this the history, of Little Dorrit; turning at the end of London Bridge, recrossing it, going back again, passing on to Saint George’s Church, turning back suddenly once more, and flitting in at the open outer gate and little court-yard of the Marshalsea.

CHAPTER 8. The Lock

Arthur Clennam stood in the street, waiting to ask some passer-by what place that was. He suffered a few people to pass him in whose face there was no encouragement to make the inquiry, and still stood pausing in the street, when an old man came up and turned into the courtyard.

He stooped a good deal, and plodded along in a slow pre-occupied manner, which made the bustling London thoroughfares no very safe resort for him. He was dirtily and meanly dressed, in a threadbare coat, once blue, reaching to his ankles and buttoned to his chin, where it vanished in the pale ghost of a velvet collar. A piece of red cloth with which that phantom had been stiffened in its lifetime was now laid bare, and poked itself up, at the back of the old man’s neck, into a confusion of grey hair and rusty stock and buckle which altogether nearly poked his hat off. A greasy hat it was, and a napless; impending over his eyes, cracked and crumpled at the brim, and with a wisp of pocket-handkerchief dangling out below it. His trousers were so long and loose, and his shoes so clumsy and large, that he shuffled like an elephant; though how much of this was gait, and how much trailing cloth and leather, no one could have told. Under one arm he carried a limp and worn-out case, containing some wind instrument; in the same hand he had a pennyworth of snuff in a little packet of whitey-brown paper, from which he slowly comforted his poor blue old nose with a lengthened-out pinch, as Arthur Clennam looked at him.

To this old man crossing the court-yard, he preferred his inquiry, touching him on the shoulder. The old man stopped and looked round, with the expression in his weak grey eyes of one whose thoughts had been far off, and who was a little dull of hearing also.

‘Pray, sir,’ said Arthur, repeating his question, ‘what is this place?’


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