Little Dorrit 008


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The breakfast beginning by-and-by to languish, Mr Meagles made the company a speech. It was short enough and sensible enough, considering that it was a speech at all, and hearty. It merely went to the effect that as they had all been thrown together by chance, and had all preserved a good understanding together, and were now about to disperse, and were not likely ever to find themselves all together again, what could they do better than bid farewell to one another, and give one another good-speed in a simultaneous glass of cool champagne all round the table? It was done, and with a general shaking of hands the assembly broke up for ever.

The solitary young lady all this time had said no more. She rose with the rest, and silently withdrew to a remote corner of the great room, where she sat herself on a couch in a window, seeming to watch the reflection of the water as it made a silver quivering on the bars of the lattice. She sat, turned away from the whole length of the apartment, as if she were lonely of her own haughty choice. And yet it would have been as difficult as ever to say, positively, whether she avoided the rest, or was avoided.

The shadow in which she sat, falling like a gloomy veil across her forehead, accorded very well with the character of her beauty. One could hardly see the face, so still and scornful, set off by the arched dark eyebrows, and the folds of dark hair, without wondering what its expression would be if a change came over it. That it could soften or relent, appeared next to impossible. That it could deepen into anger or any extreme of defiance, and that it must change in that direction when it changed at all, would have been its peculiar impression upon most observers. It was dressed and trimmed into no ceremony of expression. Although not an open face, there was no pretence in it. ‘I am self-contained and self-reliant; your opinion is nothing to me; I have no interest in you, care nothing for you, and see and hear you with indifference’–this it said plainly. It said so in the proud eyes, in the lifted nostril, in the handsome but compressed and even cruel mouth. Cover either two of those channels of expression, and the third would have said so still. Mask them all, and the mere turn of the head would have shown an unsubduable nature.

Pet had moved up to her (she had been the subject of remark among her family and Mr Clennam, who were now the only other occupants of the room), and was standing at her side.

‘Are you’–she turned her eyes, and Pet faltered–‘expecting any one to meet you here, Miss Wade?’

‘I? No.’

‘Father is sending to the Poste Restante. Shall he have the pleasure of directing the messenger to ask if there are any letters for you?’

‘I thank him, but I know there can be none.’

‘We are afraid,’ said Pet, sitting down beside her, shyly and half tenderly, ‘that you will feel quite deserted when we are all gone.’

‘Indeed!’

‘Not,’ said Pet, apologetically and embarrassed by her eyes, ‘not, of course, that we are any company to you, or that we have been able to be so, or that we thought you wished it.’

‘I have not intended to make it understood that I did wish it.’

‘No. Of course. But–in short,’ said Pet, timidly touching her hand as it lay impassive on the sofa between them, ‘will you not allow Father to tender you any slight assistance or service? He will be very glad.’

‘Very glad,’ said Mr Meagles, coming forward with his wife and Clennam. ‘Anything short of speaking the language, I shall be delighted to undertake, I am sure.’

‘I am obliged to you,’ she returned, ‘but my arrangements are made, and I prefer to go my own way in my own manner.’

‘_Do_ you?’ said Mr Meagles to himself, as he surveyed her with a puzzled look. ‘Well! There’s character in that, too.’

‘I am not much used to the society of young ladies, and I am afraid I may not show my appreciation of it as others might. A pleasant journey to you. Good-bye!’

She would not have put out her hand, it seemed, but that Mr Meagles put out his so straight before her that she could not pass it. She put hers in it, and it lay there just as it had lain upon the couch.

‘Good-bye!’ said Mr Meagles. ‘This is the last good-bye upon the list, for Mother and I have just said it to Mr Clennam here, and he only waits to say it to Pet. Good-bye! We may never meet again.’

‘In our course through life we shall meet the people who are coming to meet _us_, from many strange places and by many strange roads,’ was the composed reply; ‘and what it is set to us to do to them, and what it is set to them to do to us, will all be done.’

There was something in the manner of these words that jarred upon Pet’s ear. It implied that what was to be done was necessarily evil, and it caused her to say in a whisper, ‘O Father!’ and to shrink childishly, in her spoilt way, a little closer to him. This was not lost on the speaker.

‘Your pretty daughter,’ she said, ‘starts to think of such things. Yet,’ looking full upon her, ‘you may be sure that there are men and women already on their road, who have their business to do with _you_, and who will do it. Of a certainty they will do it. They may be coming hundreds, thousands, of miles over the sea there; they may be close at hand now; they may be coming, for anything you know or anything you can do to prevent it, from the vilest sweepings of this very town.’

With the coldest of farewells, and with a certain worn expression on her beauty that gave it, though scarcely yet in its prime, a wasted look, she left the room.

Now, there were many stairs and passages that she had to traverse in passing from that part of the spacious house to the chamber she had secured for her own occupation. When she had almost completed the journey, and was passing along the gallery in which her room was, she heard an angry sound of muttering and sobbing. A door stood open, and within she saw the attendant upon the girl she had just left; the maid with the curious name.

She stood still, to look at this maid. A sullen, passionate girl! Her rich black hair was all about her face, her face was flushed and hot, and as she sobbed and raged, she plucked at her lips with an unsparing hand.

‘Selfish brutes!’ said the girl, sobbing and heaving between whiles. ‘Not caring what becomes of me! Leaving me here hungry and thirsty and tired, to starve, for anything they care! Beasts! Devils! Wretches!’

‘My poor girl, what is the matter?’

She looked up suddenly, with reddened eyes, and with her hands suspended, in the act of pinching her neck, freshly disfigured with great scarlet blots. ‘It’s nothing to you what’s the matter. It don’t signify to any one.’

‘O yes it does; I am sorry to see you so.’

‘You are not sorry,’ said the girl. ‘You are glad. You know you are glad. I never was like this but twice over in the quarantine yonder; and both times you found me. I am afraid of you.’


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