< BackForward >
The Storming of the Castle in the Air
The sun had gone down full four hours, and it was later than most
travellers would like it to be for finding themselves outside the
walls of Rome, when Mr Dorrit's carriage, still on its last
wearisome stage, rattled over the solitary Campagna. The savage
herdsmen and the fierce-looking peasants who had chequered the way
while the light lasted, had all gone down with the sun, and left
the wilderness blank. At some turns of the road, a pale flare on
the horizon, like an exhalation from the ruin-sown land, showed
that the city was yet far off; but this poor relief was rare and
short-lived. The carriage dipped down again into a hollow of the
black dry sea, and for a long time there was nothing visible save
its petrified swell and the gloomy sky.
Mr Dorrit, though he had his castle-building to engage his mind,
could not be quite easy in that desolate place. He was far more
curious, in every swerve of the carriage, and every cry of the
postilions, than he had been since he quitted London. The valet on
the box evidently quaked. The Courier in the rumble was not
altogether comfortable in his mind. As often as Mr Dorrit let down
the glass and looked back at him (which was very often), he saw him
smoking John Chivery out, it is true, but still generally standing
up the while and looking about him, like a man who had his
suspicions, and kept upon his guard. Then would Mr Dorrit, pulling
up the glass again, reflect that those postilions were cut-throat
looking fellows, and that he would have done better to have slept
at Civita Vecchia, and have started betimes in the morning. But,
for all this, he worked at his castle in the intervals.
And now, fragments of ruinous enclosure, yawning window-gap and
crazy wall, deserted houses, leaking wells, broken water-tanks,
spectral cypress-trees, patches of tangled vine, and the changing
of the track to a long, irregular, disordered lane where everything
was crumbling away, from the unsightly buildings to the jolting
road--now, these objects showed that they were nearing Rome. And
now, a sudden twist and stoppage of the carriage inspired Mr Dorrit
with the mistrust that the brigand moment was come for twisting him
into a ditch and robbing him; until, letting down the glass again
and looking out, he perceived himself assailed by nothing worse
than a funeral procession, which came mechanically chaunting by,
with an indistinct show of dirty vestments, lurid torches, swinging
censers, and a great cross borne before a priest. He was an ugly
priest by torchlight; of a lowering aspect, with an overhanging
brow; and as his eyes met those of Mr Dorrit, looking bareheaded
out of the carriage, his lips, moving as they chaunted, seemed to
threaten that important traveller; likewise the action of his hand,
which was in fact his manner of returning the traveller's
salutation, seemed to come in aid of that menace. So thought Mr
Dorrit, made fanciful by the weariness of building and travelling,
as the priest drifted past him, and the procession straggled away,
taking its dead along with it. Upon their so-different way went Mr
Dorrit's company too; and soon, with their coach load of luxuries
from the two great capitals of Europe, they were (like the Goths
reversed) beating at the gates of Rome.
Mr Dorrit was not expected by his own people that night. He had
been; but they had given him up until to-morrow, not doubting that
it was later than he would care, in those parts, to be out. Thus,
when his equipage stopped at his own gate, no one but the porter
appeared to receive him. Was Miss Dorrit from home? he asked.
No. She was within. Good, said Mr Dorrit to the assembling
servants; let them keep where they were; let them help to unload
the carriage; he would find Miss Dorrit for himself.
So he went up his grand staircase, slowly, and tired, and looked
into various chambers which were empty, until he saw a light in a
small ante-room. It was a curtained nook, like a tent, within two
other rooms; and it looked warm and bright in colour, as he
approached it through the dark avenue they made.
There was a draped doorway, but no door; and as he stopped here,
looking in unseen, he felt a pang. Surely not like jealousy? For
why like jealousy? There was only his daughter and his brother
there: he, with his chair drawn to the hearth, enjoying the warmth
of the evening wood fire; she seated at a little table, busied with
some embroidery work. Allowing for the great difference in the
still-life of the picture, the figures were much the same as of
old; his brother being sufficiently like himself to represent
himself, for a moment, in the composition. So had he sat many a
night, over a coal fire far away; so had she sat, devoted to him.
Yet surely there was nothing to be jealous of in the old miserable
poverty. Whence, then, the pang in his heart?
'Do you know, uncle, I think you are growing young again?'
Her uncle shook his head and said, 'Since when, my dear; since
'I think,' returned Little Dorrit, plying her needle, 'that you
have been growing younger for weeks past. So cheerful, uncle, and
so ready, and so interested.'
'My dear child--all you.'
'All me, uncle!'
'Yes, yes. You have done me a world of good. You have been so
considerate of me, and so tender with me, and so delicate in trying
to hide your attentions from me, that I--well, well, well! It's
treasured up, my darling, treasured up.'
'There is nothing in it but your own fresh fancy, uncle,' said
Little Dorrit, cheerfully.
'Well, well, well!' murmured the old man. 'Thank God!'
She paused for an instant in her work to look at him, and her look
revived that former pain in her father's breast; in his poor weak
breast, so full of contradictions, vacillations, inconsistencies,
the little peevish perplexities of this ignorant life, mists which
the morning without a night only can clear away.
'I have been freer with you, you see, my dove,' said the old man,
'since we have been alone. I say, alone, for I don't count Mrs
General; I don't care for her; she has nothing to do with me. But
I know Fanny was impatient of me. And I don't wonder at it, or
complain of it, for I am sensible that I must be in the way, though
I try to keep out of it as well as I can. I know I am not fit
company for our company. My brother William,' said the old man
admiringly, 'is fit company for monarchs; but not so your uncle, my
dear. Frederick Dorrit is no credit to William Dorrit, and he
knows it quite well. Ah! Why, here's your father, Amy! My dear
William, welcome back! My beloved brother, I am rejoiced to see
(Turning his head in speaking, he had caught sight of him as he
stood in the doorway.)
Little Dorrit with a cry of pleasure put her arms about her
father's neck, and kissed him again and again. Her father was a
little impatient, and a little querulous. 'I am glad to find you
at last, Amy,' he said. 'Ha. Really I am glad to find--hum--any
one to receive me at last. I appear to have been--ha--so little
expected, that upon my word I began--ha hum--to think it might be
right to offer an apology for--ha--taking the liberty of coming
back at all.'
'It was so late, my dear William,' said his brother, 'that we had
given you up for to-night.'
'I am stronger than you, dear Frederick,' returned his brother with
an elaboration of fraternity in which there was severity; 'and I
hope I can travel without detriment at--ha--any hour I choose.'
'Surely, surely,' returned the other, with a misgiving that he had
given offence. 'Surely, William.'
'Thank you, Amy,' pursued Mr Dorrit, as she helped him to put off
his wrappers. 'I can do it without assistance. I--ha--need not
trouble you, Amy. Could I have a morsel of bread and a glass of
wine, or--hum--would it cause too much inconvenience?'
'Dear father, you shall have supper in a very few minutes.'
'Thank you, my love,' said Mr Dorrit, with a reproachful frost upon
him; 'I--ha--am afraid I am causing inconvenience. Hum. Mrs
General pretty well?'
'Mrs General complained of a headache, and of being fatigued; and
so, when we gave you up, she went to bed, dear.'
Perhaps Mr Dorrit thought that Mrs General had done well in being
overcome by the disappointment of his not arriving. At any rate,
his face relaxed, and he said with obvious satisfaction, 'Extremely
sorry to hear that Mrs General is not well.'
During this short dialogue, his daughter had been observant of him,
with something more than her usual interest. It would seem as
though he had a changed or worn appearance in her eyes, and he
perceived and resented it; for he said with renewed peevishness,
when he had divested himself of his travelling-cloak, and had come
to the fire:
'Amy, what are you looking at? What do you see in me that causes
you to--ha--concentrate your solicitude on me in that--hum--very
'I did not know it, father; I beg your pardon. It gladdens my eyes
to see you again; that's all.'
'Don't say that's all, because--ha--that's not all. You--hum--you
think,' said Mr Dorrit, with an accusatory emphasis, 'that I am not
'I thought you looked a little tired, love.'
'Then you are mistaken,' said Mr Dorrit. 'Ha, I am not tired. Ha,
hum. I am very much fresher than I was when I went away.'
He was so inclined to be angry that she said nothing more in her
justification, but remained quietly beside him embracing his arm.
As he stood thus, with his brother on the other side, he fell into
a heavy doze, of not a minute's duration, and awoke with a start.
'Frederick,' he said, turning to his brother: 'I recommend you to
go to bed immediately.'
'No, William. I'll wait and see you sup.'
'Frederick,' he retorted, 'I beg you to go to bed. I--ha--make it
a personal request that you go to bed. You ought to have been in
bed long ago. You are very feeble.'
'Hah!' said the old man, who had no wish but to please him. 'Well,
well, well! I dare say I am.'
'My dear Frederick,' returned Mr Dorrit, with an astonishing
superiority to his brother's failing powers, 'there can be no doubt
of it. It is painful to me to see you so weak. Ha. It distresses
me. Hum. I don't find you looking at all well. You are not fit
for this sort of thing. You should be more careful, you should be
'Shall I go to bed?' asked Frederick.
'Dear Frederick,' said Mr Dorrit, 'do, I adjure you! Good night,
brother. I hope you will be stronger to-morrow. I am not at all
pleased with your looks. Good night, dear fellow.' After
dismissing his brother in this gracious way, he fell into a doze
again before the old man was well out of the room: and he would
have stumbled forward upon the logs, but for his daughter's
'Your uncle wanders very much, Amy,' he said, when he was thus
roused. 'He is less--ha--coherent, and his conversation is more--
hum--broken, than I have--ha, hum--ever known. Has he had any
illness since I have been gone?'
'You--ha--see a great change in him, Amy?'
'I have not observed it, dear.'
'Greatly broken,' said Mr Dorrit. 'Greatly broken. My poor,
affectionate, failing Frederick! Ha. Even taking into account
what he was before, he is--hum--sadly broken!'
His supper, which was brought to him there, and spread upon the
little table where he had seen her working, diverted his attention.
She sat at his side as in the days that were gone, for the first
time since those days ended. They were alone, and she helped him
to his meat and poured out his drink for him, as she had been used
to do in the prison. All this happened now, for the first time
since their accession to wealth. She was afraid to look at him
much, after the offence he had taken; but she noticed two occasions
in the course of his meal, when he all of a sudden looked at her,
and looked about him, as if the association were so strong that he
needed assurance from his sense of sight that they were not in the
old prison-room. Both times, he put his hand to his head as if he
missed his old black cap--though it had been ignominiously given
away in the Marshalsea, and had never got free to that hour, but
still hovered about the yards on the head of his successor.
He took very little supper, but was a long time over it, and often
reverted to his brother's declining state. Though he expressed the
greatest pity for him, he was almost bitter upon him. He said that
poor Frederick--ha hum--drivelled. There was no other word to
express it; drivelled. Poor fellow! It was melancholy to reflect
what Amy must have undergone from the excessive tediousness of his
Society--wandering and babbling on, poor dear estimable creature,
wandering and babbling on--if it had not been for the relief she
had had in Mrs General. Extremely sorry, he then repeated with his
former satisfaction, that that--ha--superior woman was poorly.
Little Dorrit, in her watchful love, would have remembered the
lightest thing he said or did that night, though she had had no
subsequent reason to recall that night. She always remembered
that, when he looked about him under the strong influence of the
old association, he tried to keep it out of her mind, and perhaps
out of his own too, by immediately expatiating on the great riches
and great company that had encompassed him in his absence, and on
the lofty position he and his family had to sustain. Nor did she
fail to recall that there were two under-currents, side by side,
pervading all his discourse and all his manner; one showing her how
well he had got on without her, and how independent he was of her;
the other, in a fitful and unintelligible way almost complaining of
her, as if it had been possible that she had neglected him while he
His telling her of the glorious state that Mr Merdle kept, and of
the court that bowed before him, naturally brought him to Mrs
Merdle. So naturally indeed, that although there was an unusual
want of sequence in the greater part of his remarks, he passed to
her at once, and asked how she was.
'She is very well. She is going away next week.'
'Home?' asked Mr Dorrit.
'After a few weeks' stay upon the road.'
'She will be a vast loss here,' said Mr Dorrit. 'A vast--ha--
acquisition at home. To Fanny, and to--hum--the rest of the--ha--
Little Dorrit thought of the competition that was to be entered
upon, and assented very softly.
'Mrs Merdle is going to have a great farewell Assembly, dear, and
a dinner before it. She has been expressing her anxiety that you
should return in time. She has invited both you and me to her
'She is--ha--very kind. When is the day?'
'The day after to-morrow.'
'Write round in the morning, and say that I have returned, and
'May I walk with you up the stairs to your room, dear?'
'No!' he answered, looking angrily round; for he was moving away,
as if forgetful of leave-taking. 'You may not, Amy. I want no
help. I am your father, not your infirm uncle!' He checked
himself, as abruptly as he had broken into this reply, and said,
'You have not kissed me, Amy. Good night, my dear! We must
marry--ha--we must marry YOU, now.' With that he went, more slowly
and more tired, up the staircase to his rooms, and, almost as soon
as he got there, dismissed his valet. His next care was to look
about him for his Paris purchases, and, after opening their cases
and carefully surveying them, to put them away under lock and key.
After that, what with dozing and what with castle-building, he lost
himself for a long time, so that there was a touch of morning on
the eastward rim of the desolate Campagna when he crept to bed.
Mrs General sent up her compliments in good time next day, and
hoped he had rested well after this fatiguing journey. He sent
down his compliments, and begged to inform Mrs General that he had
rested very well indeed, and was in high condition. Nevertheless,
he did not come forth from his own rooms until late in the
afternoon; and, although he then caused himself to be magnificently
arrayed for a drive with Mrs General and his daughter, his
appearance was scarcely up to his description of himself.
As the family had no visitors that day, its four members dined
alone together. He conducted Mrs General to the seat at his right
hand with immense ceremony; and Little Dorrit could not but notice
as she followed with her uncle, both that he was again elaborately
dressed, and that his manner towards Mrs General was very
particular. The perfect formation of that accomplished lady's
surface rendered it difficult to displace an atom of its genteel
glaze, but Little Dorrit thought she descried a slight thaw of
triumph in a corner of her frosty eye.
Notwithstanding what may be called in these pages the Pruney and
Prismatic nature of the family banquet, Mr Dorrit several times
fell asleep while it was in progress. His fits of dozing were as
sudden as they had been overnight, and were as short and profound.
When the first of these slumberings seized him, Mrs General looked
almost amazed: but, on each recurrence of the symptoms, she told
her polite beads, Papa, Potatoes, Poultry, Prunes, and Prism; and,
by dint of going through that infallible performance very slowly,
appeared to finish her rosary at about the same time as Mr Dorrit
started from his sleep.
He was again painfully aware of a somnolent tendency in Frederick
(which had no existence out of his own imagination), and after
dinner, when Frederick had withdrawn, privately apologised to Mrs
General for the poor man. 'The most estimable and affectionate of
brothers,' he said, 'but--ha, hum--broken up altogether.
Unhappily, declining fast.'
'Mr Frederick, sir,' quoth Mrs General, 'is habitually absent and
drooping, but let us hope it is not so bad as that.'
Mr Dorrit, however, was determined not to let him off. 'Fast
declining, madam. A wreck. A ruin. Mouldering away before our
eyes. Hum. Good Frederick!'
'You left Mrs Sparkler quite well and happy, I trust?' said Mrs
General, after heaving a cool sigh for Frederick.
'Surrounded,' replied Mr Dorrit, 'by--ha--all that can charm the
taste, and--hum--elevate the mind. Happy, my dear madam, in
Mrs General was a little fluttered; seeming delicately to put the
word away with her gloves, as if there were no knowing what it
might lead to.
'Fanny,' Mr Dorrit continued. 'Fanny, Mrs General, has high
qualities. Ha. Ambition--hum--purpose, consciousness of--ha--
position, determination to support that position--ha, hum--grace,
beauty, and native nobility.'
'No doubt,' said Mrs General (with a little extra stiffness).
'Combined with these qualities, madam,' said Mr Dorrit, 'Fanny
has--ha--manifested one blemish which has made me--hum--made me
uneasy, and--ha--I must add, angry; but which I trust may now be
considered at an end, even as to herself, and which is undoubtedly
at an end as to--ha--others.'
'To what, Mr Dorrit,' returned Mrs General, with her gloves again
somewhat excited, 'can you allude? I am at a loss to--'
'Do not say that, my dear madam,' interrupted Mr Dorrit.
Mrs General's voice, as it died away, pronounced the words, 'at a
loss to imagine.'
After which Mr Dorrit was seized with a doze for about a minute,
out of which he sprang with spasmodic nimbleness.
'I refer, Mrs General, to that--ha--strong spirit of opposition,
or--hum--I might say--ha--jealousy in Fanny, which has occasionally
risen against the--ha--sense I entertain of--hum--the claims of--
ha--the lady with whom I have now the honour of communing.'
'Mr Dorrit,' returned Mrs General, 'is ever but too obliging, ever
but too appreciative. If there have been moments when I have
imagined that Miss Dorrit has indeed resented the favourable
opinion Mr Dorrit has formed of my services, I have found, in that
only too high opinion, my consolation and recompense.'
'Opinion of your services, madam?' said Mr Dorrit.
'Of,' Mrs General repeated, in an elegantly impressive manner, 'my
'Of your services alone, dear madam?' said Mr Dorrit.
'I presume,' retorted Mrs General, in her former impressive manner,
'of my services alone. For, to what else,' said Mrs General, with
a slightly interrogative action of her gloves, 'could I impute--'
'To--ha--yourself, Mrs General. Ha, hum. To yourself and your
merits,' was Mr Dorrit's rejoinder.
'Mr Dorrit will pardon me,' said Mrs General, 'if I remark that
this is not a time or place for the pursuit of the present
conversation. Mr Dorrit will excuse me if I remind him that Miss
Dorrit is in the adjoining room, and is visible to myself while I
utter her name. Mr Dorrit will forgive me if I observe that I am
agitated, and that I find there are moments when weaknesses I
supposed myself to have subdued, return with redoubled power. Mr
Dorrit will allow me to withdraw.'
'Hum. Perhaps we may resume this--ha--interesting conversation,'
said Mr Dorrit, 'at another time; unless it should be, what I hope
it is not--hum--in any way disagreeable to--ah--Mrs General.'
'Mr Dorrit,' said Mrs General, casting down her eyes as she rose
with a bend, 'must ever claim my homage and obedience.'
Mrs General then took herself off in a stately way, and not with
that amount of trepidation upon her which might have been expected
in a less remarkable woman. Mr Dorrit, who had conducted his part
of the dialogue with a certain majestic and admiring condescension
--much as some people may be seen to conduct themselves in Church,
and to perform their part in the service--appeared, on the whole,
very well satisfied with himself and with Mrs General too. On the
return of that lady to tea, she had touched herself up with a
little powder and pomatum, and was not without moral enchantment
likewise: the latter showing itself in much sweet patronage of
manner towards Miss Dorrit, and in an air of as tender interest in
Mr Dorrit as was consistent with rigid propriety. At the close of
the evening, when she rose to retire, Mr Dorrit took her by the
hand as if he were going to lead her out into the Piazza of the
people to walk a minuet by moonlight, and with great solemnity
conducted her to the room door, where he raised her knuckles to his
lips. Having parted from her with what may be conjectured to have
been a rather bony kiss of a cosmetic flavour, he gave his daughter
his blessing, graciously. And having thus hinted that there was
something remarkable in the wind, he again went to bed.
He remained in the seclusion of his own chamber next morning; but,
early in the afternoon, sent down his best compliments to Mrs
General, by Mr Tinkler, and begged she would accompany Miss Dorrit
on an airing without him. His daughter was dressed for Mrs
Merdle's dinner before he appeared. He then presented himself in
a refulgent condition as to his attire, but looking indefinably
shrunken and old. However, as he was plainly determined to be
angry with her if she so much as asked him how he was, she only
ventured to kiss his cheek, before accompanying him to Mrs Merdle's
with an anxious heart.
The distance that they had to go was very short, but he was at his
building work again before the carriage had half traversed it. Mrs
Merdle received him with great distinction; the bosom was in
admirable preservation, and on the best terms with itself; the
dinner was very choice; and the company was very select.
It was principally English; saving that it comprised the usual
French Count and the usual Italian Marchese--decorative social
milestones, always to be found in certain places, and varying very
little in appearance. The table was long, and the dinner was long;
and Little Dorrit, overshadowed by a large pair of black whiskers
and a large white cravat, lost sight of her father altogether,
until a servant put a scrap of paper in her hand, with a whispered
request from Mrs Merdle that she would read it directly. Mrs
Merdle had written on it in pencil, 'Pray come and speak to Mr
Dorrit, I doubt if he is well.'
She was hurrying to him, unobserved, when he got up out of his
chair, and leaning over the table called to her, supposing her to
be still in her place:
'Amy, Amy, my child!'
The action was so unusual, to say nothing of his strange eager
appearance and strange eager voice, that it instantaneously caused
a profound silence.
' Amy, my dear,' he repeated. 'Will you go and see if Bob is on
She was at his side, and touching him, but he still perversely
supposed her to be in her seat, and called out, still leaning over
the table, 'Amy, Amy. I don't feel quite myself. Ha. I don't
know what's the matter with me. I particularly wish to see Bob.
Ha. Of all the turnkeys, he's as much my friend as yours. See if
Bob is in the lodge, and beg him to come to me.'
All the guests were now in consternation, and everybody rose.
'Dear father, I am not there; I am here, by you.'
'Oh! You are here, Amy! Good. Hum. Good. Ha. Call Bob. If he
has been relieved, and is not on the lock, tell Mrs Bangham to go
and fetch him.'
She was gently trying to get him away; but he resisted, and would
'I tell you, child,' he said petulantly, 'I can't be got up the
narrow stairs without Bob. Ha. Send for Bob. Hum. Send for
Bob--best of all the turnkeys--send for Bob!'
He looked confusedly about him, and, becoming conscious of the
number of faces by which he was surrounded, addressed them:
'Ladies and gentlemen, the duty--ha--devolves upon me of--hum--
welcoming you to the Marshalsea! Welcome to the Marshalsea! The
space is--ha--limited--limited--the parade might be wider; but you
will find it apparently grow larger after a time--a time, ladies
and gentlemen--and the air is, all things considered, very good.
It blows over the--ha--Surrey hills. Blows over the Surrey hills.
This is the Snuggery. Hum. Supported by a small subscription of
the--ha--Collegiate body. In return for which--hot water--general
kitchen--and little domestic advantages. Those who are habituated
to the--ha--Marshalsea, are pleased to call me its father. I am
accustomed to be complimented by strangers as the--ha--Father of
the Marshalsea. Certainly, if years of residence may establish a
claim to so--ha--honourable a title, I may accept the--hum--
conferred distinction. My child, ladies and gentlemen. My
daughter. Born here!'
She was not ashamed of it, or ashamed of him. She was pale and
frightened; but she had no other care than to soothe him and get
him away, for his own dear sake. She was between him and the
wondering faces, turned round upon his breast with her own face
raised to his. He held her clasped in his left arm, and between
whiles her low voice was heard tenderly imploring him to go away
'Born here,' he repeated, shedding tears. 'Bred here. Ladies and
gentlemen, my daughter. Child of an unfortunate father, but--ha--
always a gentleman. Poor, no doubt, but--hum--proud. Always
proud. It has become a--hum--not infrequent custom for my--ha--
personal admirers--personal admirers solely--to be pleased to
express their desire to acknowledge my semi-official position here,
by offering--ha--little tributes, which usually take the form of--
ha--voluntary recognitions of my humble endeavours to--hum--to
uphold a Tone here--a Tone--I beg it to be understood that I do not
consider myself compromised. Ha. Not compromised. Ha. Not a
beggar. No; I repudiate the title! At the same time far be it
from me to--hum--to put upon the fine feelings by which my partial
friends are actuated, the slight of scrupling to admit that those
offerings are--hum--highly acceptable. On the contrary, they are
most acceptable. In my child's name, if not in my own, I make the
admission in the fullest manner, at the same time reserving--ha--
shall I say my personal dignity? Ladies and gentlemen, God bless
By this time, the exceeding mortification undergone by the Bosom
had occasioned the withdrawal of the greater part of the company
into other rooms. The few who had lingered thus long followed the
rest, and Little Dorrit and her father were left to the servants
and themselves. Dearest and most precious to her, he would come
with her now, would he not? He replied to her fervid entreaties,
that he would never be able to get up the narrow stairs without
Bob; where was Bob, would nobody fetch Bob? Under pretence of
looking for Bob, she got him out against the stream of gay company
now pouring in for the evening assembly, and got him into a coach
that had just set down its load, and got him home.
The broad stairs of his Roman palace were contracted in his failing
sight to the narrow stairs of his London prison; and he would
suffer no one but her to touch him, his brother excepted. They got
him up to his room without help, and laid him down on his bed. And
from that hour his poor maimed spirit, only remembering the place
where it had broken its wings, cancelled the dream through which it
had since groped, and knew of nothing beyond the Marshalsea. When
he heard footsteps in the street, he took them for the old weary
tread in the yards. When the hour came for locking up, he supposed
all strangers to be excluded for the night. When the time for
opening came again, he was so anxious to see Bob, that they were
fain to patch up a narrative how that Bob--many a year dead then,
gentle turnkey--had taken cold, but hoped to be out to-morrow, or
the next day, or the next at furthest.
He fell away into a weakness so extreme that he could not raise his
hand. But he still protected his brother according to his long
usage; and would say with some complacency, fifty times a day, when
he saw him standing by his bed, 'My good Frederick, sit down. You
are very feeble indeed.'
They tried him with Mrs General, but he had not the faintest
knowledge of her. Some injurious suspicion lodged itself in his
brain, that she wanted to supplant Mrs Bangham, and that she was
given to drinking. He charged her with it in no measured terms;
and was so urgent with his daughter to go round to the Marshal and
entreat him to turn her out, that she was never reproduced after
the first failure.
Saving that he once asked 'if Tip had gone outside?' the
remembrance of his two children not present seemed to have departed
from him. But the child who had done so much for him and had been
so poorly repaid, was never out of his mind. Not that he spared
her, or was fearful of her being spent by watching and fatigue; he
was not more troubled on that score than he had usually been. No;
he loved her in his old way. They were in the jail again, and she
tended him, and he had constant need of her, and could not turn
without her; and he even told her, sometimes, that he was content
to have undergone a great deal for her sake. As to her, she bent
over his bed with her quiet face against his, and would have laid
down her own life to restore him.
When he had been sinking in this painless way for two or three
days, she observed him to be troubled by the ticking of his watch--
a pompous gold watch that made as great a to-do about its going as
if nothing else went but itself and Time. She suffered it to run
down; but he was still uneasy, and showed that was not what he
wanted. At length he roused himself to explain that he wanted
money to be raised on this watch. He was quite pleased when she
pretended to take it away for the purpose, and afterwards had a
relish for his little tastes of wine and jelly, that he had not had
He soon made it plain that this was so; for, in another day or two
he sent off his sleeve-buttons and finger-rings. He had an amazing
satisfaction in entrusting her with these errands, and appeared to
consider it equivalent to making the most methodical and provident
arrangements. After his trinkets, or such of them as he had been
able to see about him, were gone, his clothes engaged his
attention; and it is as likely as not that he was kept alive for
some days by the satisfaction of sending them, piece by piece, to
an imaginary pawnbroker's.
Thus for ten days Little Dorrit bent over his pillow, laying her
cheek against his. Sometimes she was so worn out that for a few
minutes they would slumber together. Then she would awake; to
recollect with fast-flowing silent tears what it was that touched
her face, and to see, stealing over the cherished face upon the
pillow, a deeper shadow than the shadow of the Marshalsea Wall.
Quietly, quietly, all the lines of the plan of the great Castle
melted one after another. Quietly, quietly, the ruled and cross-
ruled countenance on which they were traced, became fair and blank.
Quietly, quietly, the reflected marks of the prison bars and of the
zig-zag iron on the wall-top, faded away. Quietly, quietly, the
face subsided into a far younger likeness of her own than she had
ever seen under the grey hair, and sank to rest.
At first her uncle was stark distracted. 'O my brother! O
William, William! You to go before me; you to go alone; you to go,
and I to remain! You, so far superior, so distinguished, so noble;
I, a poor useless creature fit for nothing, and whom no one would
It did her, for the time, the good of having him to think of and to
'Uncle, dear uncle, spare yourself, spare me!'
The old man was not deaf to the last words. When he did begin to
restrain himself, it was that he might spare her. He had no care
for himself; but, with all the remaining power of the honest heart,
stunned so long and now awaking to be broken, he honoured and
'O God,' he cried, before they left the room, with his wrinkled
hands clasped over her. 'Thou seest this daughter of my dear dead
brother! All that I have looked upon, with my half-blind and
sinful eyes, Thou hast discerned clearly, brightly. Not a hair of
her head shall be harmed before Thee. Thou wilt uphold her here to
her last hour. And I know Thou wilt reward her hereafter!'
They remained in a dim room near, until it was almost midnight,
quiet and sad together. At times his grief would seek relief in a
burst like that in which it had found its earliest expression; but,
besides that his little strength would soon have been unequal to
such strains, he never failed to recall her words, and to reproach
himself and calm himself. The only utterance with which he
indulged his sorrow, was the frequent exclamation that his brother
was gone, alone; that they had been together in the outset of their
lives, that they had fallen into misfortune together, that they had
kept together through their many years of poverty, that they had
remained together to that day; and that his brother was gone alone,
They parted, heavy and sorrowful. She would not consent to leave
him anywhere but in his own room, and she saw him lie down in his
clothes upon his bed, and covered him with her own hands. Then she
sank upon her own bed, and fell into a deep sleep: the sleep of
exhaustion and rest, though not of complete release from a
pervading consciousness of affliction. Sleep, good Little Dorrit.
Sleep through the night!
It was a moonlight night; but the moon rose late, being long past
the full. When it was high in the peaceful firmament, it shone
through half-closed lattice blinds into the solemn room where the
stumblings and wanderings of a life had so lately ended. Two quiet
figures were within the room; two figures, equally still and
impassive, equally removed by an untraversable distance from the
teeming earth and all that it contains, though soon to lie in it.
One figure reposed upon the bed. The other, kneeling on the floor,
drooped over it; the arms easily and peacefully resting on the
coverlet; the face bowed down, so that the lips touched the hand
over which with its last breath it had bent. The two brothers were
before their Father; far beyond the twilight judgment of this
world; high above its mists and obscurities.