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Charles Dickens > Little Dorrit > Chapter 11

Little Dorrit

Chapter 11

Let Loose

A late, dull autumn night was closing in upon the river Saone. The
stream, like a sullied looking-glass in a gloomy place, reflected
the clouds heavily; and the low banks leaned over here and there,
as if they were half curious, and half afraid, to see their
darkening pictures in the water. The flat expanse of country about
Chalons lay a long heavy streak, occasionally made a little ragged
by a row of poplar trees against the wrathful sunset. On the banks
of the river Saone it was wet, depressing, solitary; and the night
deepened fast.

One man slowly moving on towards Chalons was the only visible
figure in the landscape. Cain might have looked as lonely and
avoided. With an old sheepskin knapsack at his back, and a rough,
unbarked stick cut out of some wood in his hand; miry, footsore,
his shoes and gaiters trodden out, his hair and beard untrimmed;
the cloak he carried over his shoulder, and the clothes he wore,
sodden with wet; limping along in pain and difficulty; he looked as
if the clouds were hurrying from him, as if the wail of the wind
and the shuddering of the grass were directed against him, as if
the low mysterious plashing of the water murmured at him, as if the
fitful autumn night were disturbed by him.

He glanced here, and he glanced there, sullenly but shrinkingly;
and sometimes stopped and turned about, and looked all round him.
Then he limped on again, toiling and muttering.

'To the devil with this plain that has no end! To the devil with
these stones that cut like knives! To the devil with this dismal
darkness, wrapping itself about one with a chill! I hate you!'

And he would have visited his hatred upon it all with the scowl he
threw about him, if he could. He trudged a little further; and
looking into the distance before him, stopped again.
'I, hungry, thirsty, weary. You, imbeciles, where the lights are
yonder, eating and drinking, and warming yourselves at fires! I
wish I had the sacking of your town; I would repay you, my

But the teeth he set at the town, and the hand he shook at the
town, brought the town no nearer; and the man was yet hungrier, and
thirstier, and wearier, when his feet were on its jagged pavement,
and he stood looking about him.

There was the hotel with its gateway, and its savoury smell of
cooking; there was the cafe with its bright windows, and its
rattling of dominoes; there was the dyer's with its strips of red
cloth on the doorposts; there was the silversmith's with its
earrings, and its offerings for altars; there was the tobacco
dealer's with its lively group of soldier customers coming out pipe
in mouth; there were the bad odours of the town, and the rain and
the refuse in the kennels, and the faint lamps slung across the
road, and the huge Diligence, and its mountain of luggage, and its
six grey horses with their tails tied up, getting under weigh at
the coach office. But no small cabaret for a straitened traveller
being within sight, he had to seek one round the dark corner, where
the cabbage leaves lay thickest, trodden about the public cistern
at which women had not yet left off drawing water. There, in the
back street he found one, the Break of Day. The curtained windows
clouded the Break of Day, but it seemed light and warm, and it
announced in legible inscriptions with appropriate pictorial
embellishment of billiard cue and ball, that at the Break of Day
one could play billiards; that there one could find meat, drink,
and lodgings, whether one came on horseback, or came on foot; and
that it kept good wines, liqueurs, and brandy. The man turned the
handle of the Break of Day door, and limped in.

He touched his discoloured slouched hat, as he came in at the door,
to a few men who occupied the room. Two were playing dominoes at
one of the little tables; three or four were seated round the
stove, conversing as they smoked; the billiard-table in the centre
was left alone for the time; the landlady of the Daybreak sat
behind her little counter among her cloudy bottles of syrups,
baskets of cakes, and leaden drainage for glasses, working at her

Making his way to an empty little table in a corner of the room
behind the stove, he put down his knapsack and his cloak upon the
ground. As he raised his head from stooping to do so, he found the
landlady beside him.

'One can lodge here to-night, madame?'

'Perfectly!' said the landlady in a high, sing-song, cheery voice.

'Good. One can dine--sup--what you please to call it?'

'Ah, perfectly!' cried the landlady as before.
'Dispatch then, madame, if you please. Something to eat, as
quickly as you can; and some wine at once. I am exhausted.'

'It is very bad weather, monsieur,' said the landlady.

'Cursed weather.'

'And a very long road.'

'A cursed road.'

His hoarse voice failed him, and he rested his head upon his hands
until a bottle of wine was brought from the counter. Having filled
and emptied his little tumbler twice, and having broken off an end
from the great loaf that was set before him with his cloth and
napkin, soup-plate, salt, pepper, and oil, he rested his back
against the corner of the wall, made a couch of the bench on which
he sat, and began to chew crust, until such time as his repast
should be ready.
There had been that momentary interruption of the talk about the
stove, and that temporary inattention to and distraction from one
another, which is usually inseparable in such a company from the
arrival of a stranger. It had passed over by this time; and the
men had done glancing at him, and were talking again.

'That's the true reason,' said one of them, bringing a story he had
been telling, to a close, 'that's the true reason why they said
that the devil was let loose.' The speaker was the tall Swiss
belonging to the church, and he brought something of the authority
of the church into the discussion--especially as the devil was in

The landlady having given her directions for the new guest's
entertainment to her husband, who acted as cook to the Break of
Day, had resumed her needlework behind her counter. She was a
smart, neat, bright little woman, with a good deal of cap and a
good deal of stocking, and she struck into the conversation with
several laughing nods of her head, but without looking up from her

'Ah Heaven, then,' said she. 'When the boat came up from Lyons,
and brought the news that the devil was actually let loose at
Marseilles, some fly-catchers swallowed it. But I? No, not I.'

'Madame, you are always right,' returned the tall Swiss.
'Doubtless you were enraged against that man, madame?'

'Ay, yes, then!' cried the landlady, raising her eyes from her
work, opening them very wide, and tossing her head on one side.
'Naturally, yes.'

'He was a bad subject.'

'He was a wicked wretch,' said the landlady, 'and well merited what
he had the good fortune to escape. So much the worse.'

'Stay, madame! Let us see,' returned the Swiss, argumentatively
turning his cigar between his lips. 'It may have been his
unfortunate destiny. He may have been the child of circumstances.
It is always possible that he had, and has, good in him if one did
but know how to find it out. Philosophical philanthropy teaches--'

The rest of the little knot about the stove murmured an objection
to the introduction of that threatening expression. Even the two
players at dominoes glanced up from their game, as if to protest
against philosophical philanthropy being brought by name into the
Break of Day.

'Hold there, you and your philanthropy,' cried the smiling
landlady, nodding her head more than ever. 'Listen then. I am a
woman, I. I know nothing of philosophical philanthropy. But I
know what I have seen, and what I have looked in the face in this
world here, where I find myself. And I tell you this, my friend,
that there are people (men and women both, unfortunately) who have
no good in them--none. That there are people whom it is necessary
to detest without compromise. That there are people who must be
dealt with as enemies of the human race. That there are people who
have no human heart, and who must be crushed like savage beasts and
cleared out of the way. They are but few, I hope; but I have seen
(in this world here where I find myself, and even at the little
Break of Day) that there are such people. And I do not doubt that
this man--whatever they call him, I forget his name--is one of

The landlady's lively speech was received with greater favour at
the Break of Day, than it would have elicited from certain amiable
whitewashers of the class she so unreasonably objected to, nearer
Great Britain.

'My faith! If your philosophical philanthropy,' said the landlady,
putting down her work, and rising to take the stranger's soup from
her husband, who appeared with it at a side door, 'puts anybody at
the mercy of such people by holding terms with them at all, in
words or deeds, or both, take it away from the Break of Day, for it
isn't worth a sou.'

As she placed the soup before the guest, who changed his attitude
to a sitting one, he looked her full in the face, and his moustache
went up under his nose, and his nose came down over his moustache.

'Well!' said the previous speaker, 'let us come back to our
subject. Leaving all that aside, gentlemen, it was because the man
was acquitted on his trial that people said at Marseilles that the
devil was let loose. That was how the phrase began to circulate,
and what it meant; nothing more.'

'How do they call him?' said the landlady. 'Biraud, is it not?'

'Rigaud, madame,' returned the tall Swiss.

'Rigaud! To be sure.'

The traveller's soup was succeeded by a dish of meat, and that by
a dish of vegetables. He ate all that was placed before him,
emptied his bottle of wine, called for a glass of rum, and smoked
his cigarette with his cup of coffee. As he became refreshed, he
became overbearing; and patronised the company at the Daybreak in
certain small talk at which he assisted, as if his condition were
far above his appearance.

The company might have had other engagements, or they might have
felt their inferiority, but in any case they dispersed by degrees,
and not being replaced by other company, left their new patron in
possession of the Break of Day. The landlord was clinking about in
his kitchen; the landlady was quiet at her work; and the refreshed
traveller sat smoking by the stove, warming his ragged feet.

'Pardon me, madame--that Biraud.'

'Rigaud, monsieur.'

'Rigaud. Pardon me again--has contracted your displeasure, how?'

The landlady, who had been at one moment thinking within herself
that this was a handsome man, at another moment that this was an
ill-looking man, observed the nose coming down and the moustache
going up, and strongly inclined to the latter decision. Rigaud was
a criminal, she said, who had killed his wife.

'Ay, ay? Death of my life, that's a criminal indeed. But how do
you know it?'

'All the world knows it.'

'Hah! And yet he escaped justice?'

'Monsieur, the law could not prove it against him to its
satisfaction. So the law says. Nevertheless, all the world knows
he did it. The people knew it so well, that they tried to tear him
to pieces.'

'Being all in perfect accord with their own wives?' said the guest.


The landlady of the Break of Day looked at him again, and felt
almost confirmed in her last decision. He had a fine hand, though,
and he turned it with a great show. She began once more to think
that he was not ill-looking after all.

'Did you mention, madame--or was it mentioned among the gentlemen--
what became of him?'
The landlady shook her head; it being the first conversational
stage at which her vivacious earnestness had ceased to nod it,
keeping time to what she said. It had been mentioned at the
Daybreak, she remarked, on the authority of the journals, that he
had been kept in prison for his own safety. However that might be,
he had escaped his deserts; so much the worse.

The guest sat looking at her as he smoked out his final cigarette,
and as she sat with her head bent over her work, with an expression
that might have resolved her doubts, and brought her to a lasting
conclusion on the subject of his good or bad looks if she had seen
it. When she did look up, the expression was not there. The hand
was smoothing his shaggy moustache.
'May one ask to be shown to bed, madame?'

Very willingly, monsieur. Hola, my husband! My husband would
conduct him up-stairs. There was one traveller there, asleep, who
had gone to bed very early indeed, being overpowered by fatigue;
but it was a large chamber with two beds in it, and space enough
for twenty. This the landlady of the Break of Day chirpingly
explained, calling between whiles, 'Hola, my husband!' out at the
side door.

My husband answered at length, 'It is I, my wife!' and presenting
himself in his cook's cap, lighted the traveller up a steep and
narrow staircase; the traveller carrying his own cloak and
knapsack, and bidding the landlady good night with a complimentary
reference to the pleasure of seeing her again to-morrow. It was a
large room, with a rough splintery floor, unplastered rafters
overhead, and two bedsteads on opposite sides. Here 'my husband'
put down the candle he carried, and with a sidelong look at his
guest stooping over his knapsack, gruffly gave him the instruction,
'The bed to the right!' and left him to his repose. The landlord,
whether he was a good or a bad physiognomist, had fully made up his
mind that the guest was an ill-looking fellow.

The guest looked contemptuously at the clean coarse bedding
prepared for him, and, sitting down on the rush chair at the
bedside, drew his money out of his pocket, and told it over in his
hand. 'One must eat,' he muttered to himself, 'but by Heaven I
must eat at the cost of some other man to-morrow!'

As he sat pondering, and mechanically weighing his money in his
palm, the deep breathing of the traveller in the other bed fell so
regularly upon his hearing that it attracted his eyes in that
direction. The man was covered up warm, and had drawn the white
curtain at his head, so that he could be only heard, not seen. But
the deep regular breathing, still going on while the other was
taking off his worn shoes and gaiters, and still continuing when he
had laid aside his coat and cravat, became at length a strong
provocative to curiosity, and incentive to get a glimpse of the
sleeper's face.

The waking traveller, therefore, stole a little nearer, and yet a
little nearer, and a little nearer to the sleeping traveller's bed,
until he stood close beside it. Even then he could not see his
face, for he had drawn the sheet over it. The regular breathing
still continuing, he put his smooth white hand (such a treacherous
hand it looked, as it went creeping from him!) to the sheet, and
gently lifted it away.

'Death of my soul!' he whispered, falling back, 'here's

The little Italian, previously influenced in his sleep, perhaps, by
the stealthy presence at his bedside, stopped in his regular
breathing, and with a long deep respiration opened his eyes. At
first they were not awake, though open. He lay for some seconds
looking placidly at his old prison companion, and then, all at
once, with a cry of surprise and alarm, sprang out of bed.

'Hush! What's the matter? Keep quiet! It's I. You know me?'
cried the other, in a suppressed voice.

But John Baptist, widely staring, muttering a number of invocations
and ejaculations, tremblingly backing into a corner, slipping on
his trousers, and tying his coat by the two sleeves round his neck,
manifested an unmistakable desire to escape by the door rather than
renew the acquaintance. Seeing this, his old prison comrade fell
back upon the door, and set his shoulders against it.

'Cavalletto! Wake, boy! Rub your eyes and look at me. Not the
name you used to call me--don't use that--Lagnier, say Lagnier!'

John Baptist, staring at him with eyes opened to their utmost
width, made a number of those national, backhanded shakes of the
right forefinger in the air, as if he were resolved on negativing
beforehand everything that the other could possibly advance during
the whole term of his life.

'Cavalletto! Give me your hand. You know Lagnier, the gentleman.
Touch the hand of a gentleman!'

Submitting himself to the old tone of condescending authority, John
Baptist, not at all steady on his legs as yet, advanced and put his
hand in his patron's. Monsieur Lagnier laughed; and having given
it a squeeze, tossed it up and let it go.

'Then you were--' faltered John Baptist.

'Not shaved? No. See here!' cried Lagnier, giving his head a
twirl; 'as tight on as your own.'

John Baptist, with a slight shiver, looked all round the room as if
to recall where he was. His patron took that opportunity of
turning the key in the door, and then sat down upon his bed.

'Look!' he said, holding up his shoes and gaiters. 'That's a poor
trim for a gentleman, you'll say. No matter, you shall see how
Soon I'll mend it. Come and sit down. Take your old place!'

John Baptist, looking anything but reassured, sat down on the floor
at the bedside, keeping his eyes upon his patron all the time.

'That's well!' cried Lagnier. 'Now we might be in the old infernal
hole again, hey? How long have you been out?'

'Two days after you, my master.'

'How do you come here?'

'I was cautioned not to stay there, and so I left the town at once,
and since then I have changed about. I have been doing odds and
ends at Avignon, at Pont Esprit, at Lyons; upon the Rhone, upon the
Saone.' As he spoke, he rapidly mapped the places out with his
sunburnt hand upon the floor.
'And where are you going?'

'Going, my master?'


John Baptist seemed to desire to evade the question without knowing
how. 'By Bacchus!' he said at last, as if he were forced to the
admission, 'I have sometimes had a thought of going to Paris, and
perhaps to England.'

'Cavalletto. This is in confidence. I also am going to Paris and
perhaps to England. We'll go together.'

The little man nodded his head, and showed his teeth; and yet
seemed not quite convinced that it was a surpassingly desirable

'We'll go together,' repeated Lagnier. 'You shall see how soon I
will force myself to be recognised as a gentleman, and you shall
profit by it. It is agreed? Are we one?'

'Oh, surely, surely!' said the little man.

'Then you shall hear before I sleep--and in six words, for I want
sleep--how I appear before you, I, Lagnier. Remember that. Not
the other.'

'Altro, altro! Not Ri--' Before John Baptist could finish the
name, his comrade had got his hand under his chin and fiercely shut
up his mouth.

'Death! what are you doing? Do you want me to be trampled upon
and stoned? Do YOU want to be trampled upon and stoned? You would
be. You don't imagine that they would set upon me, and let my
prison chum go? Don't think it!'
There was an expression in his face as he released his grip of his
friend's jaw, from which his friend inferred that if the course of
events really came to any stoning and trampling, Monsieur Lagnier
would so distinguish him with his notice as to ensure his having
his full share of it. He remembered what a cosmopolitan gentleman
Monsieur Lagnier was, and how few weak distinctions he made.

'I am a man,' said Monsieur Lagnier, 'whom society has deeply
wronged since you last saw me. You know that I am sensitive and
brave, and that it is my character to govern. How has society
respected those qualities in me? I have been shrieked at through
the streets. I have been guarded through the streets against men,
and especially women, running at me armed with any weapons they
could lay their hands on. I have lain in prison for security, with
the place of my confinement kept a secret, lest I should be torn
out of it and felled by a hundred blows. I have been carted out of
Marseilles in the dead of night, and carried leagues away from it
packed in straw. It has not been safe for me to go near my house;
and, with a beggar's pittance in my pocket, I have walked through
vile mud and weather ever since, until my feet are crippled--look
at them! Such are the humiliations that society has inflicted upon
me, possessing the qualities I have mentioned, and which you know
me to possess. But society shall pay for it.'

All this he said in his companion's ear, and with his hand before
his lips.

'Even here,' he went on in the same way, 'even in this mean
drinking-shop, society pursues me. Madame defames me, and her
guests defame me. I, too, a gentleman with manners and
accomplishments to strike them dead! But the wrongs society has
heaped upon me are treasured in this breast.'

To all of which John Baptist, listening attentively to the
suppressed hoarse voice, said from time to time, 'Surely, surely!'
tossing his head and shutting his eyes, as if there were the
clearest case against society that perfect candour could make out.

'Put my shoes there,' continued Lagnier. 'Hang my cloak to dry
there by the door. Take my hat.' He obeyed each instruction, as
it was given. 'And this is the bed to which society consigns me,
is it? Hah. Very well!'

As he stretched out his length upon it, with a ragged handkerchief
bound round his wicked head, and only his wicked head showing above
the bedclothes, John Baptist was rather strongly reminded of what
had so very nearly happened to prevent the moustache from any more
going up as it did, and the nose from any more coming down as it

'Shaken out of destiny's dice-box again into your company, eh? By
Heaven! So much the better for you. You'll profit by it. I shall
need a long rest. Let me sleep in the morning.'

John Baptist replied that he should sleep as long as he would, and
wishing him a happy night, put out the candle. One might have
Supposed that the next proceeding of the Italian would have been to
undress; but he did exactly the reverse, and dressed himself from
head to foot, saving his shoes. When he had so done, he lay down
upon his bed with some of its coverings over him, and his coat
still tied round his neck, to get through the night.

When he started up, the Godfather Break of Day was peeping at its
namesake. He rose, took his shoes in his hand, turned the key in
the door with great caution, and crept downstairs. Nothing was
astir there but the smell of coffee, wine, tobacco, and syrups; and
madame's little counter looked ghastly enough. But he had paid
madame his little note at it over night, and wanted to see nobody--
wanted nothing but to get on his shoes and his knapsack, open the
door, and run away.

He prospered in his object. No movement or voice was heard when he
opened the door; no wicked head tied up in a ragged handkerchief
looked out of the upper window. When the sun had raised his full
disc above the flat line of the horizon, and was striking fire out
of the long muddy vista of paved road with its weary avenue of
little trees, a black speck moved along the road and splashed among
the flaming pools of rain-water, which black speck was John Baptist
Cavalletto running away from his patron.

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