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Charles Dickens > Little Dorrit > Chapter 32

Little Dorrit

Chapter 32

More Fortune-Telling

Maggy sat at her work in her great white cap with its quantity of
opaque frilling hiding what profile she had (she had none to
spare), and her serviceable eye brought to bear upon her
occupation, on the window side of the room. What with her flapping
cap, and what with her unserviceable eye, she was quite partitioned
off from her Little Mother, whose seat was opposite the window.
The tread and shuffle of feet on the pavement of the yard had much
diminished since the taking of the Chair, the tide of Collegians
having set strongly in the direction of Harmony. Some few who had
no music in their souls, or no money in their pockets, dawdled
about; and the old spectacle of the visitor-wife and the depressed
unseasoned prisoner still lingered in corners, as broken cobwebs
and such unsightly discomforts draggle in corners of other places.
It was the quietest time the College knew, saving the night hours
when the Collegians took the benefit of the act of sleep. The
occasional rattle of applause upon the tables of the Snuggery,
denoted the successful termination of a morsel of Harmony; or the
responsive acceptance, by the united children, of some toast or
sentiment offered to them by their Father. Occasionally, a vocal
strain more sonorous than the generality informed the listener that
some boastful bass was in blue water, or in the hunting field, or
with the reindeer, or on the mountain, or among the heather; but
the Marshal of the Marshalsea knew better, and had got him hard and

As Arthur Clennam moved to sit down by the side of Little Dorrit,
she trembled so that she had much ado to hold her needle. Clennam
gently put his hand upon her work, and said, 'Dear Little Dorrit,
let me lay it down.'

She yielded it to him, and he put it aside. Her hands were then
nervously clasping together, but he took one of them.
'How seldom I have seen you lately, Little Dorrit!'

'I have been busy, sir.'

'But I heard only to-day,' said Clennam, 'by mere accident, of your
having been with those good people close by me. Why not come to
me, then?'

'I--I don't know. Or rather, I thought you might be busy too. You
generally are now, are you not?'

He saw her trembling little form and her downcast face, and the
eyes that drooped the moment they were raised to his--he saw them
almost with as much concern as tenderness.

'My child, your manner is so changed!'

The trembling was now quite beyond her control. Softly withdrawing
her hand, and laying it in her other hand, she sat before him with
her head bent and her whole form trembling.

'My own Little Dorrit,' said Clennam, compassionately.

She burst into tears. Maggy looked round of a sudden, and stared
for at least a minute; but did not interpose. Clennam waited some
little while before he spoke again.

'I cannot bear,' he said then, 'to see you weep; but I hope this is
a relief to an overcharged heart.'

'Yes it is, sir. Nothing but that.'

'Well, well! I feared you would think too much of what passed here
just now. It is of no moment; not the least. I am only
unfortunate to have come in the way. Let it go by with these
tears. It is not worth one of them. One of them? Such an idle
thing should be repeated, with my glad consent, fifty times a day,
to save you a moment's heart-ache, Little Dorrit.'

She had taken courage now, and answered, far more in her usual
manner, 'You are so good! But even if there was nothing else in it
to be sorry for and ashamed of, it is such a bad return to you--'

'Hush!' said Clennam, smiling and touching her lips with his hand.
'Forgetfulness in you who remember so many and so much, would be
new indeed. Shall I remind you that I am not, and that I never
was, anything but the friend whom you agreed to trust? No. You
remember it, don't you?'

'I try to do so, or I should have broken the promise just now, when
my mistaken brother was here. You will consider his bringing-up in
this place, and will not judge him hardly, poor fellow, I know!'
In raising her eyes with these words, she observed his face more
nearly than she had done yet, and said, with a quick change of
tone, 'You have not been ill, Mr Clennam?'


'Nor tried? Nor hurt?' she asked him, anxiously.

It fell to Clennam now, to be not quite certain how to answer. He
said in reply:

'To speak the truth, I have been a little troubled, but it is over.

Do I show it so plainly? I ought to have more fortitude and self-
command than that. I thought I had. I must learn them of you.
Who could teach me better!'

He never thought that she saw in him what no one else could see.
He never thought that in the whole world there were no other eyes
that looked upon him with the same light and strength as hers.

'But it brings me to something that I wish to say,' he continued,
'and therefore I will not quarrel even with my own face for telling
tales and being unfaithful to me. Besides, it is a privilege and
pleasure to confide in my Little Dorrit. Let me confess then,
that, forgetting how grave I was, and how old I was, and how the
time for such things had gone by me with the many years of sameness
and little happiness that made up my long life far away, without
marking it--that, forgetting all this, I fancied I loved some one.'

'Do I know her, sir?' asked Little Dorrit.

'No, my child.'

'Not the lady who has been kind to me for your sake?'

'Flora. No, no. Do you think--'

'I never quite thought so,' said Little Dorrit, more to herself
than him. 'I did wonder at it a little.'

'Well!' said Clennam, abiding by the feeling that had fallen on him
in the avenue on the night of the roses, the feeling that he was an
older man, who had done with that tender part of life, 'I found out
my mistake, and I thought about it a little--in short, a good
deal--and got wiser. Being wiser, I counted up my years and
considered what I am, and looked back, and looked forward, and
found that I should soon be grey. I found that I had climbed the
hill, and passed the level ground upon the top, and was descending

If he had known the sharpness of the pain he caused the patient
heart, in speaking thus! While doing it, too, with the purpose of
easing and serving her.

'I found that the day when any such thing would have been graceful
in me, or good in me, or hopeful or happy for me or any one in
connection with me, was gone, and would never shine again.'

O! If he had known, if he had known! If he could have seen the
dagger in his hand, and the cruel wounds it struck in the faithful
bleeding breast of his Little Dorrit!

'All that is over, and I have turned my face from it. Why do I
speak of this to Little Dorrit? Why do I show you, my child, the
space of years that there is between us, and recall to you that I
have passed, by the amount of your whole life, the time that is
present to you?'

'Because you trust me, I hope. Because you know that nothing can
touch you without touching me; that nothing can make you happy or
unhappy, but it must make me, who am so grateful to you, the same.'

He heard the thrill in her voice, he saw her earnest face, he saw
her clear true eyes, he saw the quickened bosom that would have
joyfully thrown itself before him to receive a mortal wound
directed at his breast, with the dying cry, 'I love him!' and the
remotest suspicion of the truth never dawned upon his mind. No.
He saw the devoted little creature with her worn shoes, in her
common dress, in her jail-home; a slender child in body, a strong
heroine in soul; and the light of her domestic story made all else
dark to him.

'For those reasons assuredly, Little Dorrit, but for another too.
So far removed, so different, and so much older, I am the better
fitted for your friend and adviser. I mean, I am the more easily
to be trusted; and any little constraint that you might feel with
another, may vanish before me. Why have you kept so retired from
me? Tell me.'

'I am better here. My place and use are here. I am much better
here,' said Little Dorrit, faintly.

'So you said that day upon the bridge. I thought of it much
afterwards. Have you no secret you could entrust to me, with hope
and comfort, if you would!'

'Secret? No, I have no secret,' said Little Dorrit in some

They had been speaking in low voices; more because it was natural
to what they said to adopt that tone, than with any care to reserve
it from Maggy at her work. All of a sudden Maggy stared again, and
this time spoke:

'I say! Little Mother!'

'Yes, Maggy.'

'If you an't got no secret of your own to tell him, tell him that
about the Princess. She had a secret, you know.'

'The Princess had a secret?' said Clennam, in some surprise. 'What
Princess was that, Maggy?'

'Lor! How you do go and bother a gal of ten,' said Maggy,
'catching the poor thing up in that way. Whoever said the Princess
had a secret? _I_ never said so.'

'I beg your pardon. I thought you did.'

'No, I didn't. How could I, when it was her as wanted to find it
out? It was the little woman as had the secret, and she was always
a spinning at her wheel. And so she says to her, why do you keep
it there? And so the t'other one says to her, no I don't; and so
the t'other one says to her, yes you do; and then they both goes to
the cupboard, and there it is. And she wouldn't go into the
Hospital, and so she died. You know, Little Mother; tell him that.

For it was a reg'lar good secret, that was!' cried Maggy, hugging

Arthur looked at Little Dorrit for help to comprehend this, and was
struck by seeing her so timid and red. But, when she told him that
it was only a Fairy Tale she had one day made up for Maggy, and
that there was nothing in it which she wouldn't be ashamed to tell
again to anybody else, even if she could remember it, he left the
subject where it was.

However, he returned to his own subject by first entreating her to
see him oftener, and to remember that it was impossible to have a
stronger interest in her welfare than he had, or to be more set
upon promoting it than he was. When she answered fervently, she
well knew that, she never forgot it, he touched upon his second and
more delicate point--the suspicion he had formed.

'Little Dorrit,' he said, taking her hand again, and speaking lower
than he had spoken yet, so that even Maggy in the small room could
not hear him, 'another word. I have wanted very much to say this
to you; I have tried for opportunities. Don't mind me, who, for
the matter of years, might be your father or your uncle. Always
think of me as quite an old man. I know that all your devotion
centres in this room, and that nothing to the last will ever tempt
you away from the duties you discharge here. If I were not sure of
it, I should, before now, have implored you, and implored your
father, to let me make some provision for you in a more suitable
place. But you may have an interest--I will not say, now, though
even that might be--may have, at another time, an interest in some
one else; an interest not incompatible with your affection here.'

She was very, very pale, and silently shook her head.

'It may be, dear Little Dorrit.'

'No. No. No.' She shook her head, after each slow repetition of
the word, with an air of quiet desolation that he remembered long
afterwards. The time came when he remembered it well, long
afterwards, within those prison walls; within that very room.

'But, if it ever should be, tell me so, my dear child. Entrust the
truth to me, point out the object of such an interest to me, and I
will try with all the zeal, and honour, and friendship and respect
that I feel for you, good Little Dorrit of my heart, to do you a
lasting service.'

'O thank you, thank you! But, O no, O no, O no!' She said this,
looking at him with her work-worn hands folded together, and in the
same resigned accents as before.

'I press for no confidence now. I only ask you to repose
unhesitating trust in me.'

'Can I do less than that, when you are so good!'

'Then you will trust me fully? Will have no secret unhappiness, or
anxiety, concealed from me?'

'Almost none.'

'And you have none now?'

She shook her head. But she was very pale.

'When I lie down to-night, and my thoughts come back--as they will,
for they do every night, even when I have not seen you--to this sad
place, I may believe that there is no grief beyond this room, now,
and its usual occupants, which preys on Little Dorrit's mind?'

She seemed to catch at these words--that he remembered, too, long
afterwards--and said, more brightly, 'Yes, Mr Clennam; yes, you

The crazy staircase, usually not slow to give notice when any one
was coming up or down, here creaked under a quick tread, and a
further sound was heard upon it, as if a little steam-engine with
more steam than it knew what to do with, were working towards the
room. As it approached, which it did very rapidly, it laboured
with increased energy; and, after knocking at the door, it sounded
as if it were stooping down and snorting in at the keyhole.

Before Maggy could open the door, Mr Pancks, opening it from
without, stood without a hat and with his bare head in the wildest
condition, looking at Clennam and Little Dorrit, over her shoulder.

He had a lighted cigar in his hand, and brought with him airs of
ale and tobacco smoke.

'Pancks the gipsy,' he observed out of breath, 'fortune-telling.'
He stood dingily smiling, and breathing hard at them, with a most
curious air; as if, instead of being his proprietor's grubber, he
were the triumphant proprietor of the Marshalsea, the Marshal, all
the turnkeys, and all the Collegians. In his great self-
satisfaction he put his cigar to his lips (being evidently no
smoker), and took such a pull at it, with his right eye shut up
tight for the purpose, that he underwent a convulsion of shuddering
and choking. But even in the midst of that paroxysm, he still
essayed to repeat his favourite introduction of himself, 'Pa-ancks
the gi-ipsy, fortune-telling.'

'I am spending the evening with the rest of 'em,' said Pancks.
'I've been singing. I've been taking a part in White sand and grey
sand. I don't know anything about it. Never mind. I'll take any
part in anything. It's all the same, if you're loud enough.'

At first Clennam supposed him to be intoxicated. But he soon
perceived that though he might be a little the worse (or better)
for ale, the staple of his excitement was not brewed from malt, or
distilled from any grain or berry.

'How d'ye do, Miss Dorrit?' said Pancks. 'I thought you wouldn't
mind my running round, and looking in for a moment. Mr Clennam I
heard was here, from Mr Dorrit. How are you, Sir?'

Clennam thanked him, and said he was glad to see him so gay.

'Gay!' said Pancks. 'I'm in wonderful feather, sir. I can't stop
a minute, or I shall be missed, and I don't want 'em to miss me.--
Eh, Miss Dorrit?'

He seemed to have an insatiate delight in appealing to her and
looking at her; excitedly sticking his hair up at the same moment,
like a dark species of cockatoo.

'I haven't been here half an hour. I knew Mr Dorrit was in the
chair, and I said, "I'll go and support him!" I ought to be down in
Bleeding Heart Yard by rights; but I can worry them to-morrow.--Eh,
Miss Dorrit?'

His little black eyes sparkled electrically. His very hair seemed
to sparkle as he roughened it. He was in that highly-charged state
that one might have expected to draw sparks and snaps from him by
presenting a knuckle to any part of his figure.

'Capital company here,' said Pancks.--'Eh, Miss Dorrit?'

She was half afraid of him, and irresolute what to say. He
laughed, with a nod towards Clennam.

'Don't mind him, Miss Dorrit. He's one of us. We agreed that you
shouldn't take on to mind me before people, but we didn't mean Mr
Clennam. He's one of us. He's in it. An't you, Mr Clennam?--Eh,
Miss Dorrit?'
The excitement of this strange creature was fast communicating
itself to Clennam. Little Dorrit with amazement, saw this, and
observed that they exchanged quick looks.

'I was making a remark,' said Pancks, 'but I declare I forget what
it was. Oh, I know! Capital company here. I've been treating 'em
all round.--Eh, Miss Dorrit?'

'Very generous of you,' she returned, noticing another of the quick
looks between the two.

'Not at all,' said Pancks. 'Don't mention it. I'm coming into my
property, that's the fact. I can afford to be liberal. I think
I'll give 'em a treat here. Tables laid in the yard. Bread in
stacks. Pipes in faggots. Tobacco in hayloads. Roast beef and
plum-pudding for every one. Quart of double stout a head. Pint of
wine too, if they like it, and the authorities give permission.--
Eh, Miss Dorrit?'

She was thrown into such a confusion by his manner, or rather by
Clennam's growing understanding of his manner (for she looked to
him after every fresh appeal and cockatoo demonstration on the part
of Mr Pancks), that she only moved her lips in answer, without
forming any word.

'And oh, by-the-bye!' said Pancks, 'you were to live to know what
was behind us on that little hand of yours. And so you shall, you
shall, my darling.--Eh, Miss Dorrit?'

He had suddenly checked himself. Where he got all the additional
black prongs from, that now flew up all over his head like the
myriads of points that break out in the large change of a great
firework, was a wonderful mystery.

'But I shall be missed;' he came back to that; 'and I don't want
'em to miss me. Mr Clennam, you and I made a bargain. I said you
should find me stick to it. You shall find me stick to it now,
sir, if you'll step out of the room a moment. Miss Dorrit, I wish
you good night. Miss Dorrit, I wish you good fortune.'

He rapidly shook her by both hands, and puffed down stairs. Arthur
followed him with such a hurried step, that he had very nearly
tumbled over him on the last landing, and rolled him down into the

'What is it, for Heaven's sake!' Arthur demanded, when they burst
out there both together.

'Stop a moment, sir. Mr Rugg. Let me introduce him.' With those
words he presented another man without a hat, and also with a
cigar, and also surrounded with a halo of ale and tobacco smoke,
which man, though not so excited as himself, was in a state which
would have been akin to lunacy but for its fading into sober method
when compared with the rampancy of Mr Pancks.
'Mr Clennam, Mr Rugg,' said Pancks. 'Stop a moment. Come to the

They adjourned to the pump. Mr Pancks, instantly putting his head
under the spout, requested Mr Rugg to take a good strong turn at
the handle. Mr Rugg complying to the letter, Mr Pancks came forth
snorting and blowing to some purpose, and dried himself on his

'I am the clearer for that,' he gasped to Clennam standing
astonished. 'But upon my soul, to hear her father making speeches
in that chair, knowing what we know, and to see her up in that room
in that dress, knowing what we know, is enough to--give me a back,
Mr Rugg--a little higher, sir,--that'll do!'

Then and there, on that Marshalsea pavement, in the shades of
evening, did Mr Pancks, of all mankind, fly over the head and
shoulders of Mr Rugg of Pentonville, General Agent, Accountant, and
Recoverer of Debts. Alighting on his feet, he took Clennam by the
button-hole, led him behind the pump, and pantingly produced from
his pocket a bundle of papers. Mr Rugg, also, pantingly produced
from his pocket a bundle of papers.

'Stay!' said Clennam in a whisper.'You have made a discovery.'

Mr Pancks answered, with an unction which there is no language to
convey, 'We rather think so.'

'Does it implicate any one?'

'How implicate, sir?'

'In any suppression or wrong dealing of any kind?'

'Not a bit of it.'

'Thank God!' said Clennam to himself. 'Now show me.'
'You are to understand'--snorted Pancks, feverishly unfolding
papers, and speaking in short high-pressure blasts of sentences,
'Where's the Pedigree? Where's Schedule number four, Mr Rugg? Oh!

all right! Here we are.--You are to understand that we are this
very day virtually complete. We shan't be legally for a day or
two. Call it at the outside a week. We've been at it night and
day for I don't know how long. Mr Rugg, you know how long? Never
mind. Don't say. You'll only confuse me. You shall tell her, Mr
Clennam. Not till we give you leave. Where's that rough total, Mr
Rugg? Oh! Here we are! There sir! That's what you'll have to
break to her. That man's your Father of the Marshalsea!'

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