Little Dorrit 072


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‘Perhaps Miss Dorrit may not be so ready as you, you see.’

‘Then she knows it, sir,’ said Mrs Chivery, ‘by word of mouth.’

‘Are you sure?’

‘Sir,’ said Mrs Chivery, ‘sure and certain as in this house I am. I see my son go out with my own eyes when in this house I was, and I see my son come in with my own eyes when in this house I was, and I know he done it!’ Mrs Chivery derived a surprising force of emphasis from the foregoing circumstantiality and repetition.

‘May I ask you how he came to fall into the desponding state which causes you so much uneasiness?’

‘That,’ said Mrs Chivery, ‘took place on that same day when to this house I see that John with these eyes return. Never been himself in this house since. Never was like what he has been since, not from the hour when to this house seven year ago me and his father, as tenants by the quarter, came!’ An effect in the nature of an affidavit was gained from this speech by Mrs Chivery’s peculiar power of construction.

‘May I venture to inquire what is your version of the matter?’

‘You may,’ said Mrs Chivery, ‘and I will give it to you in honour and in word as true as in this shop I stand. Our John has every one’s good word and every one’s good wish. He played with her as a child when in that yard a child she played. He has known her ever since. He went out upon the Sunday afternoon when in this very parlour he had dined, and met her, with appointment or without appointment; which, I do not pretend to say. He made his offer to her. Her brother and sister is high in their views, and against Our John. Her father is all for himself in his views and against sharing her with any one. Under which circumstances she has answered Our John, “No, John, I cannot have you, I cannot have any husband, it is not my intentions ever to become a wife, it is my intentions to be always a sacrifice, farewell, find another worthy of you, and forget me!” This is the way in which she is doomed to be a constant slave to them that are not worthy that a constant slave she unto them should be. This is the way in which Our John has come to find no pleasure but in taking cold among the linen, and in showing in that yard, as in that yard I have myself shown you, a broken-down ruin that goes home to his mother’s heart!’ Here the good woman pointed to the little window, whence her son might be seen sitting disconsolate in the tuneless groves; and again shook her head and wiped her eyes, and besought him, for the united sakes of both the young people, to exercise his influence towards the bright reversal of these dismal events.

She was so confident in her exposition of the case, and it was so undeniably founded on correct premises in so far as the relative positions of Little Dorrit and her family were concerned, that Clennam could not feel positive on the other side. He had come to attach to Little Dorrit an interest so peculiar–an interest that removed her from, while it grew out of, the common and coarse things surrounding her–that he found it disappointing, disagreeable, almost painful, to suppose her in love with young Mr Chivery in the back-yard, or any such person. On the other hand, he reasoned with himself that she was just as good and just as true in love with him, as not in love with him; and that to make a kind of domesticated fairy of her, on the penalty of isolation at heart from the only people she knew, would be but a weakness of his own fancy, and not a kind one. Still, her youthful and ethereal appearance, her timid manner, the charm of her sensitive voice and eyes, the very many respects in which she had interested him out of her own individuality, and the strong difference between herself and those about her, were not in unison, and were determined not to be in unison, with this newly presented idea.

He told the worthy Mrs Chivery, after turning these things over in his mind–he did that, indeed, while she was yet speaking–that he might be relied upon to do his utmost at all times to promote the happiness of Miss Dorrit, and to further the wishes of her heart if it were in his power to do so, and if he could discover what they were. At the same time he cautioned her against assumptions and appearances; enjoined strict silence and secrecy, lest Miss Dorrit should be made unhappy; and particularly advised her to endeavour to win her son’s confidence and so to make quite sure of the state of the case. Mrs Chivery considered the latter precaution superfluous, but said she would try. She shook her head as if she had not derived all the comfort she had fondly expected from this interview, but thanked him nevertheless for the trouble he had kindly taken. They then parted good friends, and Arthur walked away.

The crowd in the street jostling the crowd in his mind, and the two crowds making a confusion, he avoided London Bridge, and turned off in the quieter direction of the Iron Bridge. He had scarcely set foot upon it, when he saw Little Dorrit walking on before him. It was a pleasant day, with a light breeze blowing, and she seemed to have that minute come there for air. He had left her in her father’s room within an hour.

It was a timely chance, favourable to his wish of observing her face and manner when no one else was by. He quickened his pace; but before he reached her, she turned her head.

‘Have I startled you?’ he asked.

‘I thought I knew the step,’ she answered, hesitating.

‘And did you know it, Little Dorrit? You could hardly have expected mine.’

‘I did not expect any. But when I heard a step, I thought it–sounded like yours.’

‘Are you going further?’

‘No, sir, I am only walking here for a little change.’

They walked together, and she recovered her confiding manner with him, and looked up in his face as she said, after glancing around:

‘It is so strange. Perhaps you can hardly understand it. I sometimes have a sensation as if it was almost unfeeling to walk here.’

‘Unfeeling?’

‘To see the river, and so much sky, and so many objects, and such change and motion. Then to go back, you know, and find him in the same cramped place.’

‘Ah yes! But going back, you must remember that you take with you the spirit and influence of such things to cheer him.’

‘Do I? I hope I may! I am afraid you fancy too much, sir, and make me out too powerful. If you were in prison, could I bring such comfort to you?’

‘Yes, Little Dorrit, I am sure of it.’

He gathered from a tremor on her lip, and a passing shadow of great agitation on her face, that her mind was with her father. He remained silent for a few moments, that she might regain her composure. The Little Dorrit, trembling on his arm, was less in unison than ever with Mrs Chivery’s theory, and yet was not irreconcilable with a new fancy which sprung up within him, that there might be some one else in the hopeless–newer fancy still–in the hopeless unattainable distance.

They turned, and Clennam said, Here was Maggy coming! Little Dorrit looked up, surprised, and they confronted Maggy, who brought herself at sight of them to a dead stop. She had been trotting along, so preoccupied and busy that she had not recognised them until they turned upon her. She was now in a moment so conscience-stricken that her very basket partook of the change.

‘Maggy, you promised me to stop near father.’

‘So I would, Little Mother, only he wouldn’t let me. If he takes and sends me out I must go. If he takes and says, “Maggy, you hurry away and back with that letter, and you shall have a sixpence if the answer’s a good ‘un,” I must take it. Lor, Little Mother, what’s a poor thing of ten year old to do? And if Mr Tip–if he happens to be a coming in as I come out, and if he says “Where are you going, Maggy?” and if I says, “I’m a going So and So,” and if he says, “I’ll have a Try too,” and if he goes into the George and writes a letter and if he gives it me and says, “Take that one to the same place, and if the answer’s a good ‘un I’ll give you a shilling,” it ain’t my fault, mother!’

Arthur read, in Little Dorrit’s downcast eyes, to whom she foresaw that the letters were addressed.


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