Little Dorrit 047


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‘Yes, sir; yes, yes, yes. It’s my leg, it’s my leg. But it pleases me to hear the old music, though I am very bad.’

‘You are a traveller! Stay! See, the water! Let me give you some.’

They had rested the litter on a pile of paving stones. It was at a convenient height from the ground, and by stooping he could lightly raise the head with one hand and hold the glass to his lips with the other. A little, muscular, brown man, with black hair and white teeth. A lively face, apparently. Earrings in his ears.

‘That’s well. You are a traveller?’

‘Surely, sir.’

‘A stranger in this city?’

‘Surely, surely, altogether. I am arrived this unhappy evening.’

‘From what country?’

‘Marseilles.’

‘Why, see there! I also! Almost as much a stranger here as you, though born here, I came from Marseilles a little while ago. Don’t be cast down.’ The face looked up at him imploringly, as he rose from wiping it, and gently replaced the coat that covered the writhing figure. ‘I won’t leave you till you shall be well taken care of. Courage! You will be very much better half an hour hence.’

‘Ah! Altro, Altro!’ cried the poor little man, in a faintly incredulous tone; and as they took him up, hung out his right hand to give the forefinger a back-handed shake in the air.

Arthur Clennam turned; and walking beside the litter, and saying an encouraging word now and then, accompanied it to the neighbouring hospital of Saint Bartholomew. None of the crowd but the bearers and he being admitted, the disabled man was soon laid on a table in a cool, methodical way, and carefully examined by a surgeon who was as near at hand, and as ready to appear as Calamity herself. ‘He hardly knows an English word,’ said Clennam; ‘is he badly hurt?’

‘Let us know all about it first,’ said the surgeon, continuing his examination with a businesslike delight in it, ‘before we pronounce.’

After trying the leg with a finger, and two fingers, and one hand and two hands, and over and under, and up and down, and in this direction and in that, and approvingly remarking on the points of interest to another gentleman who joined him, the surgeon at last clapped the patient on the shoulder, and said, ‘He won’t hurt. He’ll do very well. It’s difficult enough, but we shall not want him to part with his leg this time.’ Which Clennam interpreted to the patient, who was full of gratitude, and, in his demonstrative way, kissed both the interpreter’s hand and the surgeon’s several times.

‘It’s a serious injury, I suppose?’ said Clennam.

‘Ye-es,’ replied the surgeon, with the thoughtful pleasure of an artist contemplating the work upon his easel. ‘Yes, it’s enough. There’s a compound fracture above the knee, and a dislocation below. They are both of a beautiful kind.’ He gave the patient a friendly clap on the shoulder again, as if he really felt that he was a very good fellow indeed, and worthy of all commendation for having broken his leg in a manner interesting to science.

‘He speaks French?’ said the surgeon.

‘Oh yes, he speaks French.’

‘He’ll be at no loss here, then.–You have only to bear a little pain like a brave fellow, my friend, and to be thankful that all goes as well as it does,’ he added, in that tongue, ‘and you’ll walk again to a marvel. Now, let us see whether there’s anything else the matter, and how our ribs are?’

There was nothing else the matter, and our ribs were sound. Clennam remained until everything possible to be done had been skilfully and promptly done–the poor belated wanderer in a strange land movingly besought that favour of him–and lingered by the bed to which he was in due time removed, until he had fallen into a doze. Even then he wrote a few words for him on his card, with a promise to return to-morrow, and left it to be given to him when he should awake.

All these proceedings occupied so long that it struck eleven o’clock at night as he came out at the Hospital Gate. He had hired a lodging for the present in Covent Garden, and he took the nearest way to that quarter, by Snow Hill and Holborn.

Left to himself again, after the solicitude and compassion of his last adventure, he was naturally in a thoughtful mood. As naturally, he could not walk on thinking for ten minutes without recalling Flora. She necessarily recalled to him his life, with all its misdirection and little happiness.

When he got to his lodging, he sat down before the dying fire, as he had stood at the window of his old room looking out upon the blackened forest of chimneys, and turned his gaze back upon the gloomy vista by which he had come to that stage in his existence. So long, so bare, so blank. No childhood; no youth, except for one remembrance; that one remembrance proved, only that day, to be a piece of folly.

It was a misfortune to him, trifle as it might have been to another. For, while all that was hard and stern in his recollection, remained Reality on being proved–was obdurate to the sight and touch, and relaxed nothing of its old indomitable grimness–the one tender recollection of his experience would not bear the same test, and melted away. He had foreseen this, on the former night, when he had dreamed with waking eyes, but he had not felt it then; and he had now.

He was a dreamer in such wise, because he was a man who had, deep-rooted in his nature, a belief in all the gentle and good things his life had been without. Bred in meanness and hard dealing, this had rescued him to be a man of honourable mind and open hand. Bred in coldness and severity, this had rescued him to have a warm and sympathetic heart. Bred in a creed too darkly audacious to pursue, through its process of reserving the making of man in the image of his Creator to the making of his Creator in the image of an erring man, this had rescued him to judge not, and in humility to be merciful, and have hope and charity.

And this saved him still from the whimpering weakness and cruel selfishness of holding that because such a happiness or such a virtue had not come into his little path, or worked well for him, therefore it was not in the great scheme, but was reducible, when found in appearance, to the basest elements. A disappointed mind he had, but a mind too firm and healthy for such unwholesome air. Leaving himself in the dark, it could rise into the light, seeing it shine on others and hailing it.

Therefore, he sat before his dying fire, sorrowful to think upon the way by which he had come to that night, yet not strewing poison on the way by which other men had come to it. That he should have missed so much, and at his time of life should look so far about him for any staff to bear him company upon his downward journey and cheer it, was a just regret. He looked at the fire from which the blaze departed, from which the afterglow subsided, in which the ashes turned grey, from which they dropped to dust, and thought, ‘How soon I too shall pass through such changes, and be gone!’

To review his life was like descending a green tree in fruit and flower, and seeing all the branches wither and drop off, one by one, as he came down towards them.

‘From the unhappy suppression of my youngest days, through the rigid and unloving home that followed them, through my departure, my long exile, my return, my mother’s welcome, my intercourse with her since, down to the afternoon of this day with poor Flora,’ said Arthur Clennam, ‘what have I found!’

His door was softly opened, and these spoken words startled him, and came as if they were an answer:


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