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Charles Dickens > Little Dorrit > Chapter 22

Little Dorrit

Chapter 22

A Puzzle

Mr Clennam did not increase in favour with the Father of the
Marshalsea in the ratio of his increasing visits. His obtuseness
on the great Testimonial question was not calculated to awaken
admiration in the paternal breast, but had rather a tendency to
give offence in that sensitive quarter, and to be regarded as a
positive shortcoming in point of gentlemanly feeling. An
impression of disappointment, occasioned by the discovery that Mr
Clennam scarcely possessed that delicacy for which, in the
confidence of his nature, he had been inclined to give him credit,
began to darken the fatherly mind in connection with that
gentleman. The father went so far as to say, in his private family
circle, that he feared Mr Clennam was not a man of high instincts.
He was happy, he observed, in his public capacity as leader and
representative of the College, to receive Mr Clennam when he called
to pay his respects; but he didn't find that he got on with him
personally. There appeared to be something (he didn't know what it
was) wanting in him. Howbeit, the father did not fail in any
outward show of politeness, but, on the contrary, honoured him with
much attention; perhaps cherishing the hope that, although not a
man of a sufficiently brilliant and spontaneous turn of mind to
repeat his former testimonial unsolicited, it might still be within
the compass of his nature to bear the part of a responsive
gentleman, in any correspondence that way tending.

In the threefold capacity, of the gentleman from outside who had
been accidentally locked in on the night of his first appearance,
of the gentleman from outside who had inquired into the affairs of
the Father of the Marshalsea with the stupendous idea of getting
him out, and of the gentleman from outside who took an interest in
the child of the Marshalsea, Clennam soon became a visitor of mark.

He was not surprised by the attentions he received from Mr Chivery
when that officer was on the lock, for he made little distinction
between Mr Chivery's politeness and that of the other turnkeys. It
was on one particular afternoon that Mr Chivery surprised him all
at once, and stood forth from his companions in bold relief.

Mr Chivery, by some artful exercise of his power of clearing the
Lodge, had contrived to rid it of all sauntering Collegians; so
that Clennam, coming out of the prison, should find him on duty

'(Private) I ask your pardon, sir,' said Mr Chivery in a secret
manner; 'but which way might you be going?'

'I am going over the Bridge.' He saw in Mr Chivery, with some
astonishment, quite an Allegory of Silence, as he stood with his
key on his lips.

'(Private) I ask your pardon again,' said Mr Chivery, 'but could
you go round by Horsemonger Lane? Could you by any means find time
to look in at that address?' handing him a little card, printed for
circulation among the connection of Chivery and Co., Tobacconists,
Importers of pure Havannah Cigars, Bengal Cheroots, and fine-
flavoured Cubas, Dealers in Fancy Snuffs, &C. &C.

'(Private) It an't tobacco business,' said Mr Chivery. 'The truth
is, it's my wife. She's wishful to say a word to you, sir, upon a
point respecting--yes,' said Mr Chivery, answering Clennam's look
of apprehension with a nod, 'respecting her.'

'I will make a point of seeing your wife directly.'

'Thank you, sir. Much obliged. It an't above ten minutes out of
your way. Please to ask for Mrs Chivery!' These instructions, Mr
Chivery, who had already let him out, cautiously called through a
little slide in the outer door, which he could draw back from
within for the inspection of visitors when it pleased him.

Arthur Clennam, with the card in his hand, betook himself to the
address set forth upon it, and speedily arrived there. It was a
very small establishment, wherein a decent woman sat behind the
counter working at her needle. Little jars of tobacco, little
boxes of cigars, a little assortment of pipes, a little jar or two
of snuff, and a little instrument like a shoeing horn for serving
it out, composed the retail stock in trade.

Arthur mentioned his name, and his having promised to call, on the
solicitation of Mr Chivery. About something relating to Miss
Dorrit, he believed. Mrs Chivery at once laid aside her work, rose
up from her seat behind the counter, and deploringly shook her

'You may see him now,' said she, 'if you'll condescend to take a

With these mysterious words, she preceded the visitor into a little
parlour behind the shop, with a little window in it commanding a
very little dull back-yard. In this yard a wash of sheets and
table-cloths tried (in vain, for want of air) to get itself dried
on a line or two; and among those flapping articles was sitting in
a chair, like the last mariner left alive on the deck of a damp
ship without the power of furling the sails, a little woe-begone
young man.

'Our John,' said Mrs Chivery.

Not to be deficient in interest, Clennam asked what he might be
doing there?

'It's the only change he takes,' said Mrs Chivery, shaking her head
afresh. 'He won't go out, even in the back-yard, when there's no
linen; but when there's linen to keep the neighbours' eyes off,
he'll sit there, hours. Hours he will. Says he feels as if it was
groves!' Mrs Chivery shook her head again, put her apron in a
motherly way to her eyes, and reconducted her visitor into the
regions of the business.

'Please to take a seat, sir,' said Mrs Chivery. 'Miss Dorrit is
the matter with Our John, sir; he's a breaking his heart for her,
and I would wish to take the liberty to ask how it's to be made
good to his parents when bust?'

Mrs Chivery, who was a comfortable-looking woman much respected
about Horsemonger Lane for her feelings and her conversation,
uttered this speech with fell composure, and immediately afterwards
began again to shake her head and dry her eyes.

'Sir,' said she in continuation, 'you are acquainted with the
family, and have interested yourself with the family, and are
influential with the family. If you can promote views calculated
to make two young people happy, let me, for Our john's sake, and
for both their sakes, implore you so to do!'

'I have been so habituated,' returned Arthur, at a loss, 'during
the short time I have known her, to consider Little-- I have been
so habituated to consider Miss Dorrit in a light altogether removed
from that in which you present her to me, that you quite take me by
surprise. Does she know your son?'

'Brought up together, sir,' said Mrs Chivery. 'Played together.'

'Does she know your son as her admirer?'

'Oh! bless you, sir,' said Mrs Chivery, with a sort of triumphant
shiver, 'she never could have seen him on a Sunday without knowing
he was that. His cane alone would have told it long ago, if
nothing else had. Young men like John don't take to ivory hands a
pinting, for nothing. How did I first know it myself? Similarly.'

'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

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 her 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


'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.

'I'm a going So and So. There! That's where I am a going to,'
said Maggy. 'I'm a going So and So. It ain't you, Little Mother,
that's got anything to do with it--it's you, you know,' said Maggy,
addressing Arthur. 'You'd better come, So and So, and let me take
and give 'em to you.'

'We will not be so particular as that, Maggy. Give them me here,'
said Clennam in a low voice.

'Well, then, come across the road,' answered Maggy in a very loud
whisper. 'Little Mother wasn't to know nothing of it, and she
would never have known nothing of it if you had only gone So and
So, instead of bothering and loitering about. It ain't my fault.
I must do what I am told. They ought to be ashamed of themselves
for telling me.'

Clennam crossed to the other side, and hurriedly opened the
letters. That from the father mentioned that most unexpectedly
finding himself in the novel position of having been disappointed
of a remittance from the City on which he had confidently counted,
he took up his pen, being restrained by the unhappy circumstance of
his incarceration during three-and-twenty years (doubly
underlined), from coming himself, as he would otherwise certainly
have done--took up his pen to entreat Mr Clennam to advance him the
sum of Three Pounds Ten Shillings upon his I.O.U., which he begged
to enclose. That from the son set forth that Mr Clennam would, he
knew, be gratified to hear that he had at length obtained permanent
employment of a highly satisfactory nature, accompanied with every
prospect of complete success in life; but that the temporary
inability of his employer to pay him his arrears of salary to that
date (in which condition said employer had appealed to that
generous forbearance in which he trusted he should never be wanting
towards a fellow-creature), combined with the fraudulent conduct of
a false friend and the present high price of provisions, had
reduced him to the verge of ruin, unless he could by a quarter
before six that evening raise the sum of eight pounds. This sum,
Mr Clennam would be happy to learn, he had, through the promptitude
of several friends who had a lively confidence in his probity,
already raised, with the exception of a trifling balance of one
pound seventeen and fourpence; the loan of which balance, for the
period of one month, would be fraught with the usual beneficent

These letters Clennam answered with the aid of his pencil and
pocket-book, on the spot; sending the father what he asked for, and
excusing himself from compliance with the demand of the son. He
then commissioned Maggy to return with his replies, and gave her
the shilling of which the failure of her supplemental enterprise
would have disappointed her otherwise.

When he rejoined Little Dorrit, and they had begun walking as
before, she said all at once:

'I think I had better go. I had better go home.'

'Don't be distressed,' said Clennam, 'I have answered the letters.
They were nothing. You know what they were. They were nothing.'

'But I am afraid,' she returned, 'to leave him, I am afraid to
leave any of them. When I am gone, they pervert--but they don't
mean it--even Maggy.'

'It was a very innocent commission that she undertook, poor thing.
And in keeping it secret from you, she supposed, no doubt, that she
was only saving you uneasiness.'

'Yes, I hope so, I hope so. But I had better go home! It was but
the other day that my sister told me I had become so used to the
prison that I had its tone and character. It must be so. I am
sure it must be when I see these things. My place is there. I am
better there. it is unfeeling in me to be here, when I can do the
least thing there. Good-bye. I had far better stay at home!'

The agonised way in which she poured this out, as if it burst of
itself from her suppressed heart, made it difficult for Clennam to
keep the tears from his eyes as he saw and heard her.

'Don't call it home, my child!' he entreated. 'It is always
painful to me to hear you call it home.'

'But it is home! What else can I call home? Why should I ever
forget it for a single moment?'

'You never do, dear Little Dorrit, in any good and true service.'

'I hope not, O I hope not! But it is better for me to stay there;
much better, much more dutiful, much happier. Please don't go with
me, let me go by myself. Good-bye, God bless you. Thank you,
thank you.'

He felt that it was better to respect her entreaty, and did not
move while her slight form went quickly away from him. When it had
fluttered out of sight, he turned his face towards the water and
stood thinking.

She would have been distressed at any time by this discovery of the
letters; but so much so, and in that unrestrainable way?


When she had seen her father begging with his threadbare disguise
on, when she had entreated him not to give her father money, she
had been distressed, but not like this. Something had made her
keenly and additionally sensitive just now. Now, was there some
one in the hopeless unattainable distance? Or had the suspicion
been brought into his mind, by his own associations of the troubled
river running beneath the bridge with the same river higher up, its
changeless tune upon the prow of the ferry-boat, so many miles an
hour the peaceful flowing of the stream, here the rushes, there the
lilies, nothing uncertain or unquiet?

He thought of his poor child, Little Dorrit, for a long time there;
he thought of her going home; he thought of her in the night; he
thought of her when the day came round again. And the poor child
Little Dorrit thought of him--too faithfully, ah, too faithfully!--
in the shadow of the Marshalsea wall.

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