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Charles Dickens > Little Dorrit > Chapter 54

Little Dorrit

Chapter 54

A Castle in the Air

Manifold are the cares of wealth and state. Mr Dorrit's
satisfaction in remembering that it had not been necessary for him
to announce himself to Clennam and Co., or to make an allusion to
his having had any knowledge of the intrusive person of that name,
had been damped over-night, while it was still fresh, by a debate
that arose within him whether or no he should take the Marshalsea
in his way back, and look at the old gate. He had decided not to
do so; and had astonished the coachman by being very fierce with
him for proposing to go over London Bridge and recross the river by
Waterloo Bridge--a course which would have taken him almost within
sight of his old quarters. Still, for all that, the question had
raised a conflict in his breast; and, for some odd reason or no
reason, he was vaguely dissatisfied. Even at the Merdle dinner-
table next day, he was so out of sorts about it that he continued
at intervals to turn it over and over, in a manner frightfully
inconsistent with the good society surrounding him. It made him
hot to think what the Chief Butler's opinion of him would have
been, if that illustrious personage could have plumbed with that
heavy eye of his the stream of his meditations.

The farewell banquet was of a gorgeous nature, and wound up his
visit in a most brilliant manner. Fanny combined with the
attractions of her youth and beauty, a certain weight of self-
sustainment as if she had been married twenty years. He felt that
he could leave her with a quiet mind to tread the paths of
distinction, and wished--but without abatement of patronage, and
without prejudice to the retiring virtues of his favourite child--
that he had such another daughter.

'My dear,' he told her at parting, 'our family looks to you
to--ha--assert its dignity and--hum--maintain its importance. I
know you will never disappoint it.'

'No, papa,' said Fanny, 'you may rely upon that, I think. My best
love to dearest Amy, and I will write to her very soon.'

'Shall I convey any message to--ha--anybody else?' asked Mr Dorrit,
in an insinuating manner.

'Papa,' said Fanny, before whom Mrs General instantly loomed, 'no,
I thank you. You are very kind, Pa, but I must beg to be excused.
There is no other message to send, I thank you, dear papa, that it
would be at all agreeable to you to take.'

They parted in an outer drawing-room, where only Mr Sparkler waited
on his lady, and dutifully bided his time for shaking hands. When
Mr Sparkler was admitted to this closing audience, Mr Merdle came
creeping in with not much more appearance of arms in his sleeves
than if he had been the twin brother of Miss Biffin, and insisted
on escorting Mr Dorrit down-stairs. All Mr Dorrit's protestations
being in vain, he enjoyed the honour of being accompanied to the
hall-door by this distinguished man, who (as Mr Dorrit told him in
shaking hands on the step) had really overwhelmed him with
attentions and services during this memorable visit. Thus they
parted; Mr Dorrit entering his carriage with a swelling breast, not
at all sorry that his Courier, who had come to take leave in the
lower regions, should have an opportunity of beholding the grandeur
of his departure.

The aforesaid grandeur was yet full upon Mr Dorrit when he alighted
at his hotel. Helped out by the Courier and some half-dozen of the
hotel servants, he was passing through the hall with a serene
magnificence, when lo! a sight presented itself that struck him
dumb and motionless. John Chivery, in his best clothes, with his
tall hat under his arm, his ivory-handled cane genteelly
embarrassing his deportment, and a bundle of cigars in his hand!

'Now, young man,' said the porter. 'This is the gentleman. This
young man has persisted in waiting, sir, saying you would be glad
to see him.'

Mr Dorrit glared on the young man, choked, and said, in the mildest
of tones, 'Ah! Young John! It is Young John, I think; is it not?'

'Yes, sir,' returned Young John.

'I--ha--thought it was Young john!' said Mr Dorrit. 'The young man
may come up,' turning to the attendants, as he passed on: 'oh yes,
he may come up. Let Young John follow. I will speak to him

Young John followed, smiling and much gratified. Mr Dorrit's rooms
were reached. Candles were lighted. The attendants withdrew.

'Now, sir,' said Mr Dorrit, turning round upon him and seizing him
by the collar when they were safely alone. 'What do you mean by

The amazement and horror depicted in the unfortunate john's face--
for he had rather expected to be embraced next--were of that
powerfully expressive nature that Mr Dorrit withdrew his hand and
merely glared at him.

'How dare you do this?' said Mr Dorrit. 'How do you presume to
come here? How dare you insult me?'

'I insult you, sir?' cried Young John. 'Oh!'

'Yes, sir,' returned Mr Dorrit. 'Insult me. Your coming here is
an affront, an impertinence, an audacity. You are not wanted here.

Who sent you here? What--ha--the Devil do you do here?'

'I thought, sir,' said Young John, with as pale and shocked a face
as ever had been turned to Mr Dorrit's in his life--even in his
College life: 'I thought, sir, you mightn't object to have the
goodness to accept a bundle--'

'Damn your bundle, sir!' cried Mr Dorrit, in irrepressible rage.
'I--hum--don't smoke.'

'I humbly beg your pardon, sir. You used to.'

'Tell me that again,' cried Mr Dorrit, quite beside himself, 'and
I'll take the poker to you!'

John Chivery backed to the door.

'Stop, sir!' cried Mr Dorrit. 'Stop! Sit down. Confound you,

sit down!'

John Chivery dropped into the chair nearest the door, and Mr Dorrit
walked up and down the room; rapidly at first; then, more slowly.
Once, he went to the window, and stood there with his forehead
against the glass. All of a sudden, he turned and said:

'What else did you come for, Sir?'

'Nothing else in the world, sir. Oh dear me! Only to say, Sir,
that I hoped you was well, and only to ask if Miss Amy was Well?'

'What's that to you, sir?' retorted Mr Dorrit.

'It's nothing to me, sir, by rights. I never thought of lessening
the distance betwixt us, I am sure. I know it's a liberty, sir,
but I never thought you'd have taken it ill. Upon my word and
honour, sir,' said Young John, with emotion, 'in my poor way, I am
too proud to have come, I assure you, if I had thought so.'

Mr Dorrit was ashamed. He went back to the window, and leaned his
forehead against the glass for some time. When he turned, he had
his handkerchief in his hand, and he had been wiping his eyes with
it, and he looked tired and ill.

'Young John, I am very sorry to have been hasty with you, but--ha--
some remembrances are not happy remembrances, and--hum--you
shouldn't have come.'

'I feel that now, sir,' returned John Chivery; 'but I didn't
before, and Heaven knows I meant no harm, sir.'

'No. No,' said Mr Dorrit. 'I am--hum--sure of that. Ha. Give me
your hand, Young John, give me your hand.'

Young John gave it; but Mr Dorrit had driven his heart out of it,
and nothing could change his face now, from its white, shocked

'There!' said Mr Dorrit, slowly shaking hands with him. 'Sit down
again, Young John.'

'Thank you, sir--but I'd rather stand.'

Mr Dorrit sat down instead. After painfully holding his head a
little while, he turned it to his visitor, and said, with an effort
to be easy:

'And how is your father, Young John? How--ha--how are they all,
Young John?'

'Thank you, sir, They're all pretty well, sir. They're not any
ways complaining.'

'Hum. You are in your--ha--old business I see, John?' said Mr
Dorrit, with a glance at the offending bundle he had anathematised.

'Partly, sir. I am in my'--John hesitated a little--'father's
business likewise.'

'Oh indeed!' said Mr Dorrit. 'Do you--ha hum--go upon the ha--'

'Lock, sir? Yes, sir.'

'Much to do, John?'

'Yes, sir; we're pretty heavy at present. I don't know how it is,
but we generally ARE pretty heavy.'

'At this time of the year, Young John?'

'Mostly at all times of the year, sir. I don't know the time that
makes much difference to us. I wish you good night, sir.'

'Stay a moment, John--ha--stay a moment. Hum. Leave me the
cigars, John, I--ha--beg.'

'Certainly, sir.' John put them, with a trembling hand, on the

'Stay a moment, Young John; stay another moment. It would be
a--ha--a gratification to me to send a little--hum--Testimonial, by
such a trusty messenger, to be divided among--ha hum--them--them--
according to their wants. Would you object to take

it, John?'

'Not in any ways, sir. There's many of them, I'm sure, that would
be the better for it.'

'Thank you, John. I--ha--I'll write it, John.'

His hand shook so that he was a long time writing it, and wrote it
in a tremulous scrawl at last. It was a cheque for one hundred
pounds. He folded it up, put it in Young john's hand, and pressed
the hand in his.

'I hope you'll--ha--overlook--hum--what has passed, John.'

'Don't speak of it, sir, on any accounts. I don't in any ways bear
malice, I'm sure.'

But nothing while John was there could change John's face to its
natural colour and expression, or restore John's natural manner.

'And, John,' said Mr Dorrit, giving his hand a final pressure, and
releasing it, 'I hope we--ha--agree that we have spoken together in
confidence; and that you will abstain, in going out, from saying
anything to any one that might--hum--suggest that--ha--once I--'

'Oh! I assure you, sir,' returned John Chivery, 'in my poor humble
way, sir, I'm too proud and honourable to do it, sir.'

Mr Dorrit was not too proud and honourable to listen at the door
that he might ascertain for himself whether John really went
straight out, or lingered to have any talk with any one. There was
no doubt that he went direct out at the door, and away down the
street with a quick step. After remaining alone for an hour, Mr
Dorrit rang for the Courier, who found him with his chair on the
hearth-rug, sitting with his back towards him and his face to the
fire. 'You can take that bundle of cigars to smoke on the journey,
if you like,' said Mr Dorrit, with a careless wave of his hand.
'Ha--brought by--hum--little offering from--ha--son of old tenant
of mine.'

Next morning's sun saw Mr Dorrit's equipage upon the Dover road,
where every red-jacketed postilion was the sign of a cruel house,
established for the unmerciful plundering of travellers. The whole
business of the human race, between London and Dover, being
spoliation, Mr Dorrit was waylaid at Dartford, pillaged at
Gravesend, rifled at Rochester, fleeced at Sittingbourne, and
sacked at Canterbury. However, it being the Courier's business to
get him out of the hands of the banditti, the Courier brought him
off at every stage; and so the red-jackets went gleaming merrily
along the spring landscape, rising and falling to a regular
measure, between Mr Dorrit in his snug corner and the next chalky
rise in the dusty highway.

Another day's sun saw him at Calais. And having now got the
Channel between himself and John Chivery, he began to feel safe,
and to find that the foreign air was lighter to breathe than the
air of England.

On again by the heavy French roads for Paris. Having now quite
recovered his equanimity, Mr Dorrit, in his snug corner, fell to
castle-building as he rode along. It was evident that he had a
very large castle in hand. All day long he was running towers up,
taking towers down, adding a wing here, putting on a battlement
there, looking to the walls, strengthening the defences, giving
ornamental touches to the interior, making in all respects a superb
castle of it. His preoccupied face so clearly denoted the pursuit
in which he was engaged, that every cripple at the post-houses, not
blind, who shoved his little battered tin-box in at the carriage
window for Charity in the name of Heaven, Charity in the name of
our Lady, Charity in the name of all the Saints, knew as well what
work he was at, as their countryman Le Brun could have known it
himself, though he had made that English traveller the subject of
a special physiognomical treatise.

Arrived at Paris, and resting there three days, Mr Dorrit strolled
much about the streets alone, looking in at the shop-windows, and
particularly the jewellers' windows. Ultimately, he went into the
most famous jeweller's, and said he wanted to buy a little gift for
a lady.

It was a charming little woman to whom he said it--a sprightly
little woman, dressed in perfect taste, who came out of a green
velvet bower to attend upon him, from posting up some dainty little
books of account which one could hardly suppose to be ruled for the
entry of any articles more commercial than kisses, at a dainty
little shining desk which looked in itself like a sweetmeat.

For example, then, said the little woman, what species of gift did
Monsieur desire? A love-gift?

Mr Dorrit smiled, and said, Eh, well! Perhaps. What did he know?
It was always possible; the sex being so charming. Would she show
him some?

Most willingly, said the little woman. Flattered and enchanted to
show him many. But pardon! To begin with, he would have the great
goodness to observe that there were love-gifts, and there were
nuptial gifts. For example, these ravishing ear-rings and this
necklace so superb to correspond, were what one called a love-
gift. These brooches and these rings, of a beauty so gracious and
celestial, were what one called, with the permission of Monsieur,
nuptial gifts.

Perhaps it would be a good arrangement, Mr Dorrit hinted, smiling,
to purchase both, and to present the love-gift first, and to finish
with the nuptial offering?

Ah Heaven! said the little woman, laying the tips of the fingers
of her two little hands against each other, that would be generous
indeed, that would be a special gallantry! And without doubt the
lady so crushed with gifts would find them irresistible.

Mr Dorrit was not sure of that. But, for example, the sprightly
little woman was very sure of it, she said. So Mr Dorrit bought a
gift of each sort, and paid handsomely for it. As he strolled back
to his hotel afterwards, he carried his head high: having plainly
got up his castle now to a much loftier altitude than the two
square towers of Notre Dame.

Building away with all his might, but reserving the plans of his
castle exclusively for his own eye, Mr Dorrit posted away for
Marseilles. Building on, building on, busily, busily, from morning
to night. Falling asleep, and leaving great blocks of building
materials dangling in the air; waking again, to resume work and get
them into their places. What time the Courier in the rumble,
smoking Young john's best cigars, left a little thread of thin
light smoke behind--perhaps as he built a castle or two with stray
pieces of Mr Dorrit's money.

Not a fortified town that they passed in all their journey was as
strong, not a Cathedral summit was as high, as Mr Dorrit's castle.
Neither the Saone nor the Rhone sped with the swiftness of that
peerless building; nor was the Mediterranean deeper than its
foundations; nor were the distant landscapes on the Cornice road,
nor the hills and bay of Genoa the Superb, more beautiful. Mr
Dorrit and his matchless castle were disembarked among the dirty
white houses and dirtier felons of Civita Vecchia, and thence
scrambled on to Rome as they could, through the filth that festered
on the way.

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