Little Dorrit 081

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More surprised than before, and a little more frightened, she looked to him for an explanation of his last words.

‘Not that,’ said Pancks, making, with great seriousness, an imitation of a surprised look and manner that appeared to be unintentionally grotesque. ‘Don’t do that. Never on seeing me, no matter when, no matter where. I am nobody. Don’t take on to mind me. Don’t mention me. Take no notice. Will you agree, Miss Dorrit?’

‘I hardly know what to say,’ returned Little Dorrit, quite astounded. ‘Why?’

‘Because I am a fortune-teller. Pancks the gipsy. I haven’t told you so much of your fortune yet, Miss Dorrit, as to tell you what’s behind me on that little hand. I have told you you shall live to see. Is it agreed, Miss Dorrit?’

‘Agreed that I–am–to–’

‘To take no notice of me away from here, unless I take on first. Not to mind me when I come and go. It’s very easy. I am no loss, I am not handsome, I am not good company, I am only my proprietors grubber. You need do no more than think, “Ah! Pancks the gipsy at his fortune-telling–he’ll tell the rest of my fortune one day–I shall live to know it.” Is it agreed, Miss Dorrit?’

‘Ye-es,’ faltered Little Dorrit, whom he greatly confused, ‘I suppose so, while you do no harm.’

‘Good!’ Mr Pancks glanced at the wall of the adjoining room, and stooped forward. ‘Honest creature, woman of capital points, but heedless and a loose talker, Miss Dorrit.’ With that he rubbed his hands as if the interview had been very satisfactory to him, panted away to the door, and urbanely nodded himself out again.

If Little Dorrit were beyond measure perplexed by this curious conduct on the part of her new acquaintance, and by finding herself involved in this singular treaty, her perplexity was not diminished by ensuing circumstances. Besides that Mr Pancks took every opportunity afforded him in Mr Casby’s house of significantly glancing at her and snorting at her–which was not much, after what he had done already–he began to pervade her daily life. She saw him in the street, constantly. When she went to Mr Casby’s, he was always there. When she went to Mrs Clennam’s, he came there on any pretence, as if to keep her in his sight. A week had not gone by, when she found him to her astonishment in the Lodge one night, conversing with the turnkey on duty, and to all appearance one of his familiar companions. Her next surprise was to find him equally at his ease within the prison; to hear of his presenting himself among the visitors at her father’s Sunday levee; to see him arm in arm with a Collegiate friend about the yard; to learn, from Fame, that he had greatly distinguished himself one evening at the social club that held its meetings in the Snuggery, by addressing a speech to the members of the institution, singing a song, and treating the company to five gallons of ale–report madly added a bushel of shrimps. The effect on Mr Plornish of such of these phenomena as he became an eye-witness of in his faithful visits, made an impression on Little Dorrit only second to that produced by the phenomena themselves. They seemed to gag and bind him. He could only stare, and sometimes weakly mutter that it wouldn’t be believed down Bleeding Heart Yard that this was Pancks; but he never said a word more, or made a sign more, even to Little Dorrit. Mr Pancks crowned his mysteries by making himself acquainted with Tip in some unknown manner, and taking a Sunday saunter into the College on that gentleman’s arm. Throughout he never took any notice of Little Dorrit, save once or twice when he happened to come close to her and there was no one very near; on which occasions, he said in passing, with a friendly look and a puff of encouragement, ‘Pancks the gipsy–fortune-telling.’

Little Dorrit worked and strove as usual, wondering at all this, but keeping her wonder, as she had from her earliest years kept many heavier loads, in her own breast. A change had stolen, and was stealing yet, over the patient heart. Every day found her something more retiring than the day before. To pass in and out of the prison unnoticed, and elsewhere to be overlooked and forgotten, were, for herself, her chief desires.

To her own room too, strangely assorted room for her delicate youth and character, she was glad to retreat as often as she could without desertion of any duty. There were afternoon times when she was unemployed, when visitors dropped in to play a hand at cards with her father, when she could be spared and was better away. Then she would flit along the yard, climb the scores of stairs that led to her room, and take her seat at the window. Many combinations did those spikes upon the wall assume, many light shapes did the strong iron weave itself into, many golden touches fell upon the rust, while Little Dorrit sat there musing. New zig-zags sprung into the cruel pattern sometimes, when she saw it through a burst of tears; but beautified or hardened still, always over it and under it and through it, she was fain to look in her solitude, seeing everything with that ineffaceable brand.

A garret, and a Marshalsea garret without compromise, was Little Dorrit’s room. Beautifully kept, it was ugly in itself, and had little but cleanliness and air to set it off; for what embellishment she had ever been able to buy, had gone to her father’s room. Howbeit, for this poor place she showed an increasing love; and to sit in it alone became her favourite rest.

Insomuch, that on a certain afternoon during the Pancks mysteries, when she was seated at her window, and heard Maggy’s well-known step coming up the stairs, she was very much disturbed by the apprehension of being summoned away. As Maggy’s step came higher up and nearer, she trembled and faltered; and it was as much as she could do to speak, when Maggy at length appeared.

‘Please, Little Mother,’ said Maggy, panting for breath, ‘you must come down and see him. He’s here.’

‘Who, Maggy?’

‘Who, o’ course Mr Clennam. He’s in your father’s room, and he says to me, Maggy, will you be so kind and go and say it’s only me.’

‘I am not very well, Maggy. I had better not go. I am going to lie down. See! I lie down now, to ease my head. Say, with my grateful regard, that you left me so, or I would have come.’

‘Well, it an’t very polite though, Little Mother,’ said the staring Maggy, ‘to turn your face away, neither!’

Maggy was very susceptible to personal slights, and very ingenious in inventing them. ‘Putting both your hands afore your face too!’ she went on. ‘If you can’t bear the looks of a poor thing, it would be better to tell her so at once, and not go and shut her out like that, hurting her feelings and breaking her heart at ten year old, poor thing!’

‘It’s to ease my head, Maggy.’

‘Well, and if you cry to ease your head, Little Mother, let me cry too. Don’t go and have all the crying to yourself,’ expostulated Maggy, ‘that an’t not being greedy.’ And immediately began to blubber.

It was with some difficulty that she could be induced to go back with the excuse; but the promise of being told a story–of old her great delight–on condition that she concentrated her faculties upon the errand and left her little mistress to herself for an hour longer, combined with a misgiving on Maggy’s part that she had left her good temper at the bottom of the staircase, prevailed. So away she went, muttering her message all the way to keep it in her mind, and, at the appointed time, came back.

‘He was very sorry, I can tell you,’ she announced, ‘and wanted to send a doctor. And he’s coming again to-morrow he is and I don’t think he’ll have a good sleep to-night along o’ hearing about your head, Little Mother. Oh my! Ain’t you been a-crying!’

‘I think I have, a little, Maggy.’

‘A little! Oh!’

‘But it’s all over now–all over for good, Maggy. And my head is much better and cooler, and I am quite comfortable. I am very glad I did not go down.’

Her great staring child tenderly embraced her; and having smoothed her hair, and bathed her forehead and eyes with cold water (offices in which her awkward hands became skilful), hugged her again, exulted in her brighter looks, and stationed her in her chair by the window. Over against this chair, Maggy, with apoplectic exertions that were not at all required, dragged the box which was her seat on story-telling occasions, sat down upon it, hugged her own knees, and said, with a voracious appetite for stories, and with widely-opened eyes:

‘Now, Little Mother, let’s have a good ‘un!’

‘What shall it be about, Maggy?’

‘Oh, let’s have a princess,’ said Maggy, ‘and let her be a reg’lar one. Beyond all belief, you know!’

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