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The last day of the appointed week touched the bars of the
Marshalsea gate. Black, all night, since the gate had clashed upon
Little Dorrit, its iron stripes were turned by the early-glowing
sun into stripes of gold. Far aslant across the city, over its
jumbled roofs, and through the open tracery of its church towers,
struck the long bright rays, bars of the prison of this lower
Throughout the day the old house within the gateway remained
untroubled by any visitors. But, when the sun was low, three men
turned in at the gateway and made for the dilapidated house.
Rigaud was the first, and walked by himself smoking. Mr Baptist
was the second, and jogged close after him, looking at no other
object. Mr Pancks was the third, and carried his hat under his arm
for the liberation of his restive hair; the weather being extremely
hot. They all came together at the door-steps.
'You pair of madmen!' said Rigaud, facing about. 'Don't go yet!'
'We don't mean to,' said Mr Pancks.
Giving him a dark glance in acknowledgment of his answer, Rigaud
knocked loudly. He had charged himself with drink, for the playing
out of his game, and was impatient to begin. He had hardly
finished one long resounding knock, when he turned to the knocker
again and began another. That was not yet finished when Jeremiah
Flintwinch opened the door, and they all clanked into the stone
hall. Rigaud, thrusting Mr Flintwinch aside, proceeded straight
up-stairs. His two attendants followed him, Mr Flintwinch followed
them, and they all came trooping into Mrs Clennam's quiet room. It
was in its usual state; except that one of the windows was wide
open, and Affery sat on its old-fashioned window-seat, mending a
stocking. The usual articles were on the little table; the usual
deadened fire was in the grate; the bed had its usual pall upon it;
and the mistress of all sat on her black bier-like sofa, propped up
by her black angular bolster that was like the headsman's block.
Yet there was a nameless air of preparation in the room, as if it
were strung up for an occasion. From what the room derived it--
every one of its small variety of objects being in the fixed spot
it had occupied for years--no one could have said without looking
attentively at its mistress, and that, too, with a previous
knowledge of her face. Although her unchanging black dress was in
every plait precisely as of old, and her unchanging attitude was
rigidly preserved, a very slight additional setting of her features
and contraction of her gloomy forehead was so powerfully marked,
that it marked everything about her.
'Who are these?' she said, wonderingly, as the two attendants
entered. 'What do these people want here?'
'Who are these, dear madame, is it?' returned Rigaud. 'Faith, they
are friends of your son the prisoner. And what do they want here,
is it? Death, madame, I don't know. You will do well to ask
'You know you told us at the door, not to go yet,' said Pancks.
'And you know you told me at the door, you didn't mean to go,'
retorted Rigaud. 'In a word, madame, permit me to present two
spies of the prisoner's--madmen, but spies. If you wish them to
remain here during our little conversation, say the word. It is
nothing to me.'
'Why should I wish them to remain here?' said Mrs Clennam. 'What
have I to do with them?'
'Then, dearest madame,' said Rigaud, throwing himself into an arm-
chair so heavily that the old room trembled, 'you will do well to
dismiss them. It is your affair. They are not my spies, not my
'Hark! You Pancks,' said Mrs Clennam, bending her brows upon him
angrily, 'you Casby's clerk! Attend to your employer's business
and your own. Go. And take that other man with you.'
'Thank you, ma'am,' returned Mr Pancks, 'I am glad to say I see no
objection to our both retiring. We have done all we undertook to
do for Mr Clennam. His constant anxiety has been (and it grew
worse upon him when he became a prisoner), that this agreeable
gentleman should be brought back here to the place from which he
slipped away. Here he is--brought back. And I will say,' added Mr
Pancks, 'to his ill-looking face, that in my opinion the world
would be no worse for his slipping out of it altogether.'
'Your opinion is not asked,' answered Mrs Clennam. 'Go.'
'I am sorry not to leave you in better company, ma'am,' said
Pancks; 'and sorry, too, that Mr Clennam can't be present. It's my
fault, that is.'
'You mean his own,' she returned.
'No, I mean mine, ma'am,' said Pancks,'for it was my misfortune to
lead him into a ruinous investment.' (Mr Pancks still clung to
that word, and never said speculation.) 'Though I can prove by
figures,' added Mr Pancks, with an anxious countenance, 'that it
ought to have been a good investment. I have gone over it since it
failed, every day of my life, and it comes out--regarded as a
question of figures--triumphant. The present is not a time or
place,' Mr Pancks pursued, with a longing glance into his hat,
where he kept his calculations, 'for entering upon the figures; but
the figures are not to be disputed. Mr Clennam ought to have been
at this moment in his carriage and pair, and I ought to have been
worth from three to five thousand pound.'
Mr Pancks put his hair erect with a general aspect of confidence
that could hardly have been surpassed, if he had had the amount in
his pocket. These incontrovertible figures had been the occupation
of every moment of his leisure since he had lost his money, and
were destined to afford him consolation to the end of his days.
'However,' said Mr Pancks, 'enough of that. Altro, old boy, you
have seen the figures, and you know how they come out.' Mr
Baptist, who had not the slightest arithmetical power of
compensating himself in this way, nodded, with a fine display of
At whom Mr Flintwinch had been looking, and to whom he then said:
'Oh! it's you, is it? I thought I remembered your face, but I
wasn't certain till I saw your teeth. Ah! yes, to be sure. It
was this officious refugee,' said Jeremiah to Mrs Clennam, 'who
came knocking at the door on the night when Arthur and Chatterbox
were here, and who asked me a whole Catechism of questions about Mr
'It is true,' Mr Baptist cheerfully admitted. 'And behold him,
padrone! I have found him consequentementally.'
'I shouldn't have objected,' returned Mr Flintwinch, 'to your
having broken your neck consequentementally.'
'And now,' said Mr Pancks, whose eye had often stealthily wandered
to the window-seat and the stocking that was being mended there,
'I've only one other word to say before I go. If Mr Clennam was
here--but unfortunately, though he has so far got the better of
this fine gentleman as to return him to this place against his
will, he is ill and in prison--ill and in prison, poor fellow--if
he was here,' said Mr Pancks, taking one step aside towards the
window-seat, and laying his right hand upon the stocking; 'he would
say, "Affery, tell your dreams!"'
Mr Pancks held up his right forefinger between his nose and the
stocking with a ghostly air of warning, turned, steamed out and
towed Mr Baptist after him. The house-door was heard to close upon
them, their steps were heard passing over the dull pavement of the
echoing court-yard, and still nobody had added a word. Mrs Clennam
and Jeremiah had exchanged a look; and had then looked, and looked
still, at Affery, who sat mending the stocking with great
'Come!' said Mr Flintwinch at length, screwing himself a curve or
two in the direction of the window-seat, and rubbing the palms of
his hands on his coat-tail as if he were preparing them to do
something: 'Whatever has to be said among us had better be begun to
be said without more loss of time.--So, Affery, my woman, take
In a moment Affery had thrown the stocking down, started up, caught
hold of the windowsill with her right hand, lodged herself upon the
window-seat with her right knee, and was flourishing her left hand,
beating expected assailants off.
'No, I won't, Jeremiah--no, I won't--no, I won't! I won't go!
I'll stay here. I'll hear all I don't know, and say all I know.
I will, at last, if I die for it. I will, I will, I will, I will!'
Mr Flintwinch, stiffening with indignation and amazement, moistened
the fingers of one hand at his lips, softly described a circle with
them in the palm of the other hand, and continued with a menacing
grin to screw himself in the direction of his wife; gasping some
remark as he advanced, of which, in his choking anger, only the
words, 'Such a dose!' were audible.
'Not a bit nearer, Jeremiah!' cried Affery, never ceasing to beat
the air. 'Don't come a bit nearer to me, or I'll rouse the
neighbourhood! I'll throw myself out of window. I'll scream Fire
and Murder! I'll wake the dead! Stop where you are, or I'll make
shrieks enough to wake the dead!'
The determined voice of Mrs Clennam echoed 'Stop!' Jeremiah had
'It is closing in, Flintwinch. Let her alone. Affery, do you turn
against me after these many years?'
'I do, if it's turning against you to hear what I don't know, and
say what I know. I have broke out now, and I can't go back. I am
determined to do it. I will do it, I will, I will, I will! If
that's turning against you, yes, I turn against both of you two
clever ones. I told Arthur when he first come home to stand up
against you. I told him it was no reason, because I was afeard of
my life of you, that he should be. All manner of things have been
a-going on since then, and I won't be run up by Jeremiah, nor yet
I won't be dazed and scared, nor made a party to I don't know what,
no more. I won't, I won't, I won't! I'll up for Arthur when he
has nothing left, and is ill, and in prison, and can't up for
himself. I will, I will, I will, I will!'
'How do you know, you heap of confusion,' asked Mrs Clennam
sternly, 'that in doing what you are doing now, you are even
'I don't know nothing rightly about anything,' said Affery; 'and if
ever you said a true word in your life, it's when you call me a
heap of confusion, for you two clever ones have done your most to
make me such. You married me whether I liked it or not, and you've
led me, pretty well ever since, such a life of dreaming and
frightening as never was known, and what do you expect me to be but
a heap of confusion? You wanted to make me such, and I am such;
but I won't submit no longer; no, I won't, I won't, I won't, I
won't!' She was still beating the air against all comers.
After gazing at her in silence, Mrs Clennam turned to Rigaud. 'You
see and hear this foolish creature. Do you object to such a piece
of distraction remaining where she is?'
'I, madame,' he replied, 'do I? That's a question for you.'
'I do not,' she said, gloomily. 'There is little left to choose
now. Flintwinch, it is closing in.'
Mr Flintwinch replied by directing a look of red vengeance at his
wife, and then, as if to pinion himself from falling upon her,
screwed his crossed arms into the breast of his waistcoat, and with
his chin very near one of his elbows stood in a corner, watching
Rigaud in the oddest attitude. Rigaud, for his part, arose from
his chair, and seated himself on the table with his legs dangling.
In this easy attitude, he met Mrs Clennam's set face, with his
moustache going up and his nose coming down.
'Madame, I am a gentleman--'
'Of whom,' she interrupted in her steady tones, 'I have heard
disparagement, in connection with a French jail and an accusation
He kissed his hand to her with his exaggerated gallantry.
'Perfectly. Exactly. Of a lady too! What absurdity! How
incredible! I had the honour of making a great success then; I
hope to have the honour of making a great success now. I kiss your
hands. Madame, I am a gentleman (I was going to observe), who when
he says, "I will definitely finish this or that affair at the
present sitting," does definitely finish it. I announce to you
that we are arrived at our last sitting on our little business.
You do me the favour to follow, and to comprehend?'
She kept her eyes fixed upon him with a frown. 'Yes.'
'Further, I am a gentleman to whom mere mercenary trade-bargains
are unknown, but to whom money is always acceptable as the means of
pursuing his pleasures. You do me the favour to follow, and to
'Scarcely necessary to ask, one would say. Yes.'
'Further, I am a gentleman of the softest and sweetest disposition,
but who, if trifled with, becomes enraged. Noble natures under
such circumstances become enraged. I possess a noble nature. When
the lion is awakened--that is to say, when I enrage--the
satisfaction of my animosity is as acceptable to me as money. You
always do me the favour to follow, and to comprehend?'
'Yes,' she answered, somewhat louder than before.
'Do not let me derange you; pray be tranquil. I have said we are
now arrived at our last sitting. Allow me to recall the two
sittings we have held.'
'It is not necessary.'
'Death, madame,' he burst out, 'it's my fancy! Besides, it clears
the way. The first sitting was limited. I had the honour of
making your acquaintance--of presenting my letter; I am a Knight of
Industry, at your service, madame, but my polished manners had won
me so much of success, as a master of languages, among your
compatriots who are as stiff as their own starch is to one another,
but are ready to relax to a foreign gentleman of polished manners--
and of observing one or two little things,' he glanced around the
room and smiled, 'about this honourable house, to know which was
necessary to assure me, and to convince me that I had the
distinguished pleasure of making the acquaintance of the lady I
sought. I achieved this. I gave my word of honour to our dear
Flintwinch that I would return. I gracefully departed.'
Her face neither acquiesced nor demurred. The same when he paused,
and when he spoke, it as yet showed him always the one attentive
frown, and the dark revelation before mentioned of her being nerved
for the occasion.
'I say, gracefully departed, because it was graceful to retire
without alarming a lady. To be morally graceful, not less than
physically, is a part of the character of Rigaud Blandois. It was
also politic, as leaving you with something overhanging you, to
expect me again with a little anxiety on a day not named. But your
slave is politic. By Heaven, madame, politic! Let us return. On
the day not named, I have again the honour to render myself at your
house. I intimate that I have something to sell, which, if not
bought, will compromise madame whom I highly esteem. I explain
myself generally. I demand--I think it was a thousand pounds.
Will you correct me?'
Thus forced to speak, she replied with constraint, 'You demanded as
much as a thousand pounds.'
'I demand at present, Two. Such are the evils of delay. But to
return once more. We are not accordant; we differ on that
occasion. I am playful; playfulness is a part of my amiable
character. Playfully, I become as one slain and hidden. For, it
may alone be worth half the sum to madame, to be freed from the
suspicions that my droll idea awakens. Accident and spies intermix
themselves against my playfulness, and spoil the fruit, perhaps--
who knows? only you and Flintwinch--when it is just ripe. Thus,
madame, I am here for the last time. Listen! Definitely the
As he struck his straggling boot-heels against the flap of the
table, meeting her frown with an insolent gaze, he began to change
his tone for a fierce one.
'Bah! Stop an instant! Let us advance by steps. Here is my
Hotel-note to be paid, according to contract. Five minutes hence
we may be at daggers' points. I'll not leave it till then, or
you'll cheat me. Pay it! Count me the money!'
'Take it from his hand and pay it, Flintwinch,' said Mrs Clennam.
He spirted it into Mr Flintwinch's face when the old man advanced
to take it, and held forth his hand, repeating noisily, 'Pay it!
Count it out! Good money!' Jeremiah picked the bill up, looked at
the total with a bloodshot eye, took a small canvas bag from his
pocket, and told the amount into his hand.
Rigaud chinked the money, weighed it in his hand, threw it up a
little way and caught it, chinked it again.
'The sound of it, to the bold Rigaud Blandois, is like the taste of
fresh meat to the tiger. Say, then, madame. How much?'
He turned upon her suddenly with a menacing gesture of the weighted
hand that clenched the money, as if he were going to strike her
'I tell you again, as I told you before, that we are not rich here,
as you suppose us to be, and that your demand is excessive. I have
not the present means of complying with such a demand, if I had
ever so great an inclination.'
'If!' cried Rigaud. 'Hear this lady with her If! Will you say
that you have not the inclination?'
'I will say what presents itself to me, and not what presents
itself to you.'
'Say it then. As to the inclination. Quick! Come to the
inclination, and I know what to do.'
She was no quicker, and no slower, in her reply. 'It would seem
that you have obtained possession of a paper--or of papers--which
I assuredly have the inclination to recover.'
Rigaud, with a loud laugh, drummed his heels against the table, and
chinked his money. 'I think so! I believe you there!'
'The paper might be worth, to me, a sum of money. I cannot say how
much, or how little.'
'What the Devil!' he asked savagely.'Not after a week's grace to
'No! I will not out of my scanty means--for I tell you again, we
are poor here, and not rich--I will not offer any price for a power
that I do not know the worst and the fullest extent of. This is
the third time of your hinting and threatening. You must speak
explicitly, or you may go where you will, and do what you will. It
is better to be torn to pieces at a spring, than to be a mouse at
the caprice of such a cat.'
He looked at her so hard with those eyes too near together that the
sinister sight of each, crossing that of the other, seemed to make
the bridge of his hooked nose crooked. After a long survey, he
said, with the further setting off of his internal smile:
'You are a bold woman!'
'I am a resolved woman.'
'You always were. What? She always was; is it not so, my little
'Flintwinch, say nothing to him. It is for him to say, here and
now, all he can; or to go hence, and do all he can. You know this
to be our determination. Leave him to his action on it.'
She did not shrink under his evil leer, or avoid it. He turned it
upon her again, but she remained steady at the point to which she
had fixed herself. He got off the table, placed a chair near the
sofa, sat down in it, and leaned an arm upon the sofa close to her
own, which he touched with his hand. Her face was ever frowning,
attentive, and settled.
'It is your pleasure then, madame, that I shall relate a morsel of
family history in this little family society,' said Rigaud, with a
warning play of his lithe fingers on her arm. 'I am something of
a doctor. Let me touch your pulse.'
She suffered him to take her wrist in his hand. Holding it, he
proceeded to say:
'A history of a strange marriage, and a strange mother, and a
revenge, and a suppression.--Aye, aye, aye? this pulse is beating
curiously! It appears to me that it doubles while I touch it. Are
these the usual changes of your malady, madame?'
There was a struggle in her maimed arm as she twisted it away, but
there was none in her face. On his face there was his own smile.
'I have lived an adventurous life. I am an adventurous character.
I have known many adventurers; interesting spirits--amiable
society! To one of them I owe my knowledge and my proofs--I repeat
it, estimable lady--proofs--of the ravishing little family history
I go to commence. You will be charmed with it. But, bah! I
forget. One should name a history. Shall I name it the history of
a house? But, bah, again. There are so many houses. Shall I name
it the history of this house?'
Leaning over the sofa, poised on two legs of his chair and his left
elbow; that hand often tapping her arm to beat his words home; his
legs crossed; his right hand sometimes arranging his hair,
sometimes smoothing his moustache, sometimes striking his nose,
always threatening her whatever it did; coarse, insolent,
rapacious, cruel, and powerful, he pursued his narrative at his
'In fine, then, I name it the history of this house. I commence
it. There live here, let us suppose, an uncle and nephew. The
uncle, a rigid old gentleman of strong force of character; the
nephew, habitually timid, repressed, and under constraint.'
Mistress Affery, fixedly attentive in the window-seat, biting the
rolled up end of her apron, and trembling from head to foot, here
cried out,'Jeremiah, keep off from me! I've heerd, in my dreams,
of Arthur's father and his uncle. He's a talking of them. It was
before my time here; but I've heerd in my dreams that Arthur's
father was a poor, irresolute, frightened chap, who had had
everything but his orphan life scared out of him when he was young,
and that he had no voice in the choice of his wife even, but his
uncle chose her. There she sits! I heerd it in my dreams, and you
said it to her own self.'
As Mr Flintwinch shook his fist at her, and as Mrs Clennam gazed
upon her, Rigaud kissed his hand to her.
'Perfectly right, dear Madame Flintwinch. You have a genius for
'I don't want none of your praises,' returned Affery. 'I don't
want to have nothing at all to say to you. But Jeremiah said they
was dreams, and I'll tell 'em as such!' Here she put her apron in
her mouth again, as if she were stopping somebody else's mouth--
perhaps jeremiah's, which was chattering with threats as if he were
'Our beloved Madame Flintwinch,' said Rigaud, 'developing all of a
sudden a fine susceptibility and spirituality, is right to a
marvel. Yes. So runs the history. Monsieur, the uncle, commands
the nephew to marry. Monsieur says to him in effect, "My nephew,
I introduce to you a lady of strong force of character, like
myself--a resolved lady, a stern lady, a lady who has a will that
can break the weak to powder: a lady without pity, without love,
implacable, revengeful, cold as the stone, but raging as the fire."
Ah! what fortitude! Ah, what superiority of intellectual
strength! Truly, a proud and noble character that I describe in
the supposed words of Monsieur, the uncle. Ha, ha, ha! Death of
my soul, I love the sweet lady!'
Mrs Clennam's face had changed. There was a remarkable darkness of
colour on it, and the brow was more contracted. 'Madame, madame,'
said Rigaud, tapping her on the arm, as if his cruel hand were
sounding a musical instrument, 'I perceive I interest you. I
perceive I awaken your sympathy. Let us go on.'
The drooping nose and the ascending moustache had, however, to be
hidden for a moment with the white hand, before he could go on; he
enjoyed the effect he made so much.
'The nephew, being, as the lucid Madame Flintwinch has remarked, a
poor devil who has had everything but his orphan life frightened
and famished out of him--the nephew abases his head, and makes
response: "My uncle, it is to you to command. Do as you will!"
Monsieur, the uncle, does as he will. It is what he always does.
The auspicious nuptials take place; the newly married come home to
this charming mansion; the lady is received, let us suppose, by
Flintwinch. Hey, old intriguer?'
Jeremiah, with his eyes upon his mistress, made no reply. Rigaud
looked from one to the other, struck his ugly nose, and made a
clucking with his tongue.
'Soon the lady makes a singular and exciting discovery. Thereupon,
full of anger, full of jealousy, full of vengeance, she forms--see
you, madame!--a scheme of retribution, the weight of which she
ingeniously forces her crushed husband to bear himself, as well as
execute upon her enemy. What superior intelligence!'
'Keep off, Jeremiah!' cried the palpitating Affery, taking her
apron from her mouth again. 'But it was one of my dreams, that you
told her, when you quarrelled with her one winter evening at dusk--
there she sits and you looking at her--that she oughtn't to have
let Arthur when he come home, suspect his father only; that she had
always had the strength and the power; and that she ought to have
stood up more to Arthur, for his father. It was in the same dream
where you said to her that she was not--not something, but I don't
know what, for she burst out tremendous and stopped you. You know
the dream as well as I do. When you come down-stairs into the
kitchen with the candle in your hand, and hitched my apron off my
head. When you told me I had been dreaming. When you wouldn't
believe the noises.' After this explosion Affery put her apron
into her mouth again; always keeping her hand on the window-sill
and her knee on the window-seat, ready to cry out or jump out if
her lord and master approached.
Rigaud had not lost a word of this.
'Haha!' he cried, lifting his eyebrows, folding his arms, and
leaning back in his chair. 'Assuredly, Madame Flintwinch is an
oracle! How shall we interpret the oracle, you and I and the old
intriguer? He said that you were not--? And you burst out and
stopped him! What was it you were not? What is it you are not?
Say then, madame!'
Under this ferocious banter, she sat breathing harder, and her
mouth was disturbed. Her lips quivered and opened, in spite of her
utmost efforts to keep them still.
'Come then, madame! Speak, then! Our old intriguer said that you
were not-- and you stopped him. He was going to say that you were
not--what? I know already, but I want a little confidence from
you. How, then? You are not what?'
She tried again to repress herself, but broke out vehemently, 'Not
'Good,' said Rigaud. 'You are amenable.'
With the set expression of her face all torn away by the explosion
of her passion, and with a bursting, from every rent feature, of
the smouldering fire so long pent up, she cried out: 'I will tell
it myself! I will not hear it from your lips, and with the taint
of your wickedness upon it. Since it must be seen, I will have it
seen by the light I stood in. Not another word. Hear me!'
'Unless you are a more obstinate and more persisting woman than
even I know you to be,' Mr Flintwinch interposed, 'you had better
leave Mr Rigaud, Mr Blandois, Mr Beelzebub, to tell it in his own
way. What does it signify when he knows all about it?'
'He does not know all about it.'
'He knows all he cares about it,' Mr Flintwinch testily urged.
'He does not know me.'
'What do you suppose he cares for you, you conceited woman?' said
'I tell you, Flintwinch, I will speak. I tell you when it has come
to this, I will tell it with my own lips, and will express myself
throughout it. What! Have I suffered nothing in this room, no
deprivation, no imprisonment, that I should condescend at last to
contemplate myself in such a glass as that. Can you see him? Can
you hear him? If your wife were a hundred times the ingrate that
she is, and if I were a thousand times more hopeless than I am of
inducing her to be silent if this man is silenced, I would tell it
myself, before I would bear the torment of the hearing it from
Rigaud pushed his chair a little back; pushed his legs out straight
before him; and sat with his arms folded over against her.
'You do not know what it is,' she went on addressing him, 'to be
brought up strictly and straitly. I was so brought up. Mine was
no light youth of sinful gaiety and pleasure. Mine were days of
wholesome repression, punishment, and fear. The corruption of our
hearts, the evil of our ways, the curse that is upon us, the
terrors that surround us--these were the themes of my childhood.
They formed my character, and filled me with an abhorrence of evil-
doers. When old Mr Gilbert Clennam proposed his orphan nephew to
my father for my husband, my father impressed upon me that his
bringing-up had been, like mine, one of severe restraint. He told
me, that besides the discipline his spirit had undergone, he had
lived in a starved house, where rioting and gaiety were unknown,
and where every day was a day of toil and trial like the last. He
told me that he had been a man in years long before his uncle had
acknowledged him as one; and that from his school-days to that
hour, his uncle's roof has been a sanctuary to him from the
contagion of the irreligious and dissolute. When, within a
twelvemonth of our marriage, I found my husband, at that time when
my father spoke of him, to have sinned against the Lord and
outraged me by holding a guilty creature in my place, was I to
doubt that it had been appointed to me to make the discovery, and
that it was appointed to me to lay the hand of punishment upon that
creature of perdition? Was I to dismiss in a moment--not my own
wrongs--what was I! but all the rejection of sin, and all the war
against it, in which I had been bred?' She laid her wrathful hand
upon the watch on the table.
'No! "Do not forget." The initials of those words are within here
now, and were within here then. I was appointed to find the old
letter that referred to them, and that told me what they meant, and
whose work they were, and why they were worked, lying with this
watch in his secret drawer. But for that appointment there would
have been no discovery. "Do not forget." It spoke to me like a
voice from an angry cloud. Do not forget the deadly sin, do not
forget the appointed discovery, do not forget the appointed
suffering. I did not forget. Was it my own wrong I remembered?
Mine! I was but a servant and a minister. What power could I have
over them, but that they were bound in the bonds of their sin, and
delivered to me!'
More than forty years had passed over the grey head of this
determined woman, since the time she recalled. More than forty
years of strife and struggle with the whisper that, by whatever
name she called her vindictive pride and rage, nothing through all
eternity could change their nature. Yet, gone those more than
forty years, and come this Nemesis now looking her in the face, she
still abided by her old impiety--still reversed the order of
Creation, and breathed her own breath into a clay image of her
Creator. Verily, verily, travellers have seen many monstrous idols
in many countries; but no human eyes have ever seen more daring,
gross, and shocking images of the Divine nature than we creatures
of the dust make in our own likenesses, of our own bad passions.
'When I forced him to give her up to me, by her name and place of
abode,' she went on in her torrent of indignation and defence;
'when I accused her, and she fell hiding her face at my feet, was
it my injury that I asserted, were they my reproaches that I poured
upon her? Those who were appointed of old to go to wicked kings
and accuse them--were they not ministers and servants? And had not
I, unworthy and far-removed from them, sin to denounce? When she
pleaded to me her youth, and his wretched and hard life (that was
her phrase for the virtuous training he had belied), and the
desecrated ceremony of marriage there had secretly been between
them, and the terrors of want and shame that had overwhelmed them
both when I was first appointed to be the instrument of their
punishment, and the love (for she said the word to me, down at my
feet) in which she had abandoned him and left him to me, was it my
enemy that became my footstool, were they the words of my wrath
that made her shrink and quiver! Not unto me the strength be
ascribed; not unto me the wringing of the expiation!'
Many years had come and gone since she had had the free use even of
her fingers; but it was noticeable that she had already more than
once struck her clenched hand vigorously upon the table, and that
when she said these words she raised her whole arm in the air, as
though it had been a common action with her.
'And what was the repentance that was extorted from the hardness of
her heart and the blackness of her depravity? I, vindictive and
implacable? It may be so, to such as you who know no
righteousness, and no appointment except Satan's. Laugh; but I
will be known as I know myself, and as Flintwinch knows me, though
it is only to you and this half-witted woman.'
'Add, to yourself, madame,' said Rigaud. 'I have my little
suspicions that madame is rather solicitous to be justified to
'It is false. It is not so. I have no need to be,' she said, with
great energy and anger.
'Truly?' retorted Rigaud. 'Hah!'
'I ask, what was the penitence, in works, that was demanded of her?
"You have a child; I have none. You love that child. Give him to
me. He shall believe himself to be my son, and he shall be
believed by every one to be my son. To save you from exposure, his
father shall swear never to see or communicate with you more;
equally to save him from being stripped by his uncle, and to save
your child from being a beggar, you shall swear never to see or
communicate with either of them more. That done, and your present
means, derived from my husband, renounced, I charge myself with
your support. You may, with your place of retreat unknown, then
leave, if you please, uncontradicted by me, the lie that when you
passed out of all knowledge but mine, you merited a good name."
That was all. She had to sacrifice her sinful and shameful
affections; no more. She was then free to bear her load of guilt
in secret, and to break her heart in secret; and through such
present misery (light enough for her, I think!) to purchase her
redemption from endless misery, if she could. If, in this, I
punished her here, did I not open to her a way hereafter? If she
knew herself to be surrounded by insatiable vengeance and
unquenchable fires, were they mine? If I threatened her, then and
afterwards, with the terrors that encompassed her, did I hold them
in my right hand?'
She turned the watch upon the table, and opened it, and, with an
unsoftening face, looked at the worked letters within.
'They did not forget. It is appointed against such offences that
the offenders shall not be able to forget. If the presence of
Arthur was a daily reproach to his father, and if the absence of
Arthur was a daily agony to his mother, that was the just
dispensation of Jehovah. As well might it be charged upon me, that
the stings of an awakened conscience drove her mad, and that it was
the will of the Disposer of all things that she should live so,
many years. I devoted myself to reclaim the otherwise predestined
and lost boy; to give him the reputation of an honest origin; to
bring him up in fear and trembling, and in a life of practical
contrition for the sins that were heavy on his head before his
entrance into this condemned world. Was that a cruelty? Was I,
too, not visited with consequences of the original offence in which
I had no complicity? Arthur's father and I lived no further apart,
with half the globe between us, than when we were together in this
house. He died, and sent this watch back to me, with its Do not
forget. I do NOT forget, though I do not read it as he did. I
read in it, that I was appointed to do these things. I have so
read these three letters since I have had them lying on this table,
and I did so read them, with equal distinctness, when they were
thousands of miles away.'
As she took the watch-case in her hand, with that new freedom in
the use of her hand of which she showed no consciousness whatever,
bending her eyes upon it as if she were defying it to move her,
Rigaud cried with a loud and contemptuous snapping of his fingers.
'Come, madame! Time runs out. Come, lady of piety, it must be!
You can tell nothing I don't know. Come to the money stolen, or I
will! Death of my soul, I have had enough of your other jargon.
Come straight to the stolen money!'
'Wretch that you are,' she answered, and now her hands clasped her
head: 'through what fatal error of Flintwinch's, through what
incompleteness on his part, who was the only other person helping
in these things and trusted with them, through whose and what
bringing together of the ashes of a burnt paper, you have become
possessed of that codicil, I know no more than how you acquired the
rest of your power here--'
'And yet,' interrupted Rigaud, 'it is my odd fortune to have by me,
in a convenient place that I know of, that same short little
addition to the will of Monsieur Gilbert Clennam, written by a lady
and witnessed by the same lady and our old intriguer! Ah, bah, old
intriguer, crooked little puppet! Madame, let us go on. Time
presses. You or I to finish?'
'I!' she answered, with increased determination, if it were
possible. 'I, because I will not endure to be shown myself, and
have myself shown to any one, with your horrible distortion upon
me. You, with your practices of infamous foreign prisons and
galleys would make it the money that impelled me. It was not the
'Bah, bah, bah! I repudiate, for the moment, my politeness, and
say, Lies, lies, lies. You know you suppressed the deed and kept
'Not for the money's sake, wretch!' She made a struggle as if she
were starting up; even as if, in her vehemence, she had almost
risen on her disabled feet. 'If Gilbert Clennam, reduced to
imbecility, at the point of death, and labouring under the delusion
of some imaginary relenting towards a girl of whom he had heard
that his nephew had once had a fancy for her which he had crushed
out of him, and that she afterwards drooped away into melancholy
and withdrawal from all who knew her--if, in that state of
weakness, he dictated to me, whose life she had darkened with her
sin, and who had been appointed to know her wickedness from her own
hand and her own lips, a bequest meant as a recompense to her for
supposed unmerited suffering; was there no difference between my
spurning that injustice, and coveting mere money--a thing which
you, and your comrades in the prisons, may steal from anyone?'
'Time presses, madame. Take care!'
'If this house was blazing from the roof to the ground,' she
returned, 'I would stay in it to justify myself against my
righteous motives being classed with those of stabbers and
Rigaud snapped his fingers tauntingly in her face. 'One thousand
guineas to the little beauty you slowly hunted to death. One
thousand guineas to the youngest daughter her patron might have at
fifty, or (if he had none) brother's youngest daughter, on her
coming of age, "as the remembrance his disinterestedness may like
best, of his protection of a friendless young orphan girl." Two
thousand guineas. What! You will never come to the money?'
'That patron,' she was vehemently proceeding, when he checked her.
'Names! Call him Mr Frederick Dorrit. No more evasions.'
'That Frederick Dorrit was the beginning of it all. If he had not
been a player of music, and had not kept, in those days of his
youth and prosperity, an idle house where singers, and players, and
such-like children of Evil turned their backs on the Light and
their faces to the Darkness, she might have remained in her lowly
station, and might not have been raised out of it to be cast down.
But, no. Satan entered into that Frederick Dorrit, and counselled
him that he was a man of innocent and laudable tastes who did kind
actions, and that here was a poor girl with a voice for singing
music with. Then he is to have her taught. Then Arthur's father,
who has all along been secretly pining in the ways of virtuous
ruggedness for those accursed snares which are called the Arts,
becomes acquainted with her. And so, a graceless orphan, training
to be a singing girl, carries it, by that Frederick Dorrit's
agency, against me, and I am humbled and deceived!--Not I, that is
to say,' she added quickly, as colour flushed into her face; 'a
greater than I. What am I?'
Jeremiah Flintwinch, who had been gradually screwing himself
towards her, and who was now very near her elbow without her
knowing it, made a specially wry face of objection when she said
these words, and moreover twitched his gaiters, as if such
pretensions were equivalent to little barbs in his legs.
'Lastly,' she continued, 'for I am at the end of these things, and
I will say no more of them, and you shall say no more of them, and
all that remains will be to determine whether the knowledge of them
can be kept among us who are here present; lastly, when I
suppressed that paper, with the knowledge of Arthur's father--'
'But not with his consent, you know,' said Mr Flintwinch.
'Who said with his consent?' She started to find Jeremiah so near
her, and drew back her head, looking at him with some rising
distrust. 'You were often enough between us when he would have had
me produce it and I would not, to have contradicted me if I had
said, with his consent. I say, when I suppressed that paper, I
made no effort to destroy it, but kept it by me, here in this
house, many years. The rest of the Gilbert property being left to
Arthur's father, I could at any time, without unsettling more than
the two sums, have made a pretence of finding it. But, besides
that I must have supported such pretence by a direct falsehood (a
great responsibility), I have seen no new reason, in all the time
I have been tried here, to bring it to light. It was a rewarding
of sin; the wrong result of a delusion. I did what I was appointed
to do, and I have undergone, within these four walls, what I was
appointed to undergo. When the paper was at last destroyed--as I
thought--in my presence, she had long been dead, and her patron,
Frederick Dorrit, had long been deservedly ruined and imbecile. He
had no daughter. I had found the niece before then; and what I did
for her, was better for her far than the money of which she would
have had no good.' She added, after a moment, as though she
addressed the watch: 'She herself was innocent, and I might not
have forgotten to relinquish it to her at my death:' and sat
looking at it.
'Shall I recall something to you, worthy madame?' said Rigaud.
'The little paper was in this house on the night when our friend
the prisoner--jail-comrade of my soul--came home from foreign
countries. Shall I recall yet something more to you? The little
singing-bird that never was fledged, was long kept in a cage by a
guardian of your appointing, well enough known to our old intriguer
here. Shall we coax our old intriguer to tell us when he saw him
'I'll tell you!' cried Affery, unstopping her mouth. 'I dreamed
it, first of all my dreams. Jeremiah, if you come a-nigh me now,
I'll scream to be heard at St Paul's! The person as this man has
spoken of, was jeremiah's own twin brother; and he was here in the
dead of the night, on the night when Arthur come home, and Jeremiah
with his own hands give him this paper, along with I don't know
what more, and he took it away in an iron box--Help! Murder! Save
me from Jere-mi-ah!'
Mr Flintwinch had made a run at her, but Rigaud had caught him in
his arms midway. After a moment's wrestle with him, Flintwinch
gave up, and put his hands in his pockets.
'What!' cried Rigaud, rallying him as he poked and jerked him back
with his elbows, 'assault a lady with such a genius for dreaming!
Ha, ha, ha! Why, she'll be a fortune to you as an exhibition. All
that she dreams comes true. Ha, ha, ha! You're so like him,
Little Flintwinch. So like him, as I knew him (when I first spoke
English for him to the host) in the Cabaret of the Three Billiard
Tables, in the little street of the high roofs, by the wharf at
Antwerp! Ah, but he was a brave boy to drink. Ah, but he was a
brave boy to smoke! Ah, but he lived in a sweet bachelor-
apartment--furnished, on the fifth floor, above the wood and
charcoal merchant's, and the dress-maker's, and the chair-maker's,
and the maker of tubs--where I knew him too, and wherewith his
cognac and tobacco, he had twelve sleeps a day and one fit, until
he had a fit too much, and ascended to the skies. Ha, ha, ha!
What does it matter how I took possession of the papers in his iron
box? Perhaps he confided it to my hands for you, perhaps it was
locked and my curiosity was piqued, perhaps I suppressed it. Ha,
ha, ha! What does it matter, so that I have it safe? We are not
particular here; hey, Flintwinch? We are not particular here; is
it not so, madame?'
Retiring before him with vicious counter-jerks of his own elbows,
Mr Flintwinch had got back into his corner, where he now stood with
his hands in his pockets, taking breath, and returning Mrs
Clennam's stare. 'Ha, ha, ha! But what's this?' cried Rigaud.
'It appears as if you don't know, one the other. Permit me, Madame
Clennam who suppresses, to present Monsieur Flintwinch who
Mr Flintwinch, unpocketing one of his hands to scrape his jaw,
advanced a step or so in that attitude, still returning Mrs
Clennam's look, and thus addressed her:
'Now, I know what you mean by opening your eyes so wide at me, but
you needn't take the trouble, because I don't care for it. I've
been telling you for how many years that you're one of the most
opinionated and obstinate of women. That's what YOU are. You call
yourself humble and sinful, but you are the most Bumptious of your
sex. That's what YOU are. I have told you, over and over again
when we have had a tiff, that you wanted to make everything go down
before you, but I wouldn't go down before you--that you wanted to
swallow up everybody alive, but I wouldn't be swallowed up alive.
Why didn't you destroy the paper when you first laid hands upon it?
I advised you to; but no, it's not your way to take advice. You
must keep it forsooth. Perhaps you may carry it out at some other
time, forsooth. As if I didn't know better than that! I think I
see your pride carrying it out, with a chance of being suspected of
having kept it by you. But that's the way you cheat yourself.
just as you cheat yourself into making out that you didn't do all
this business because you were a rigorous woman, all slight, and
spite, and power, and unforgiveness, but because you were a servant
and a minister, and were appointed to do it. Who are you, that you
should be appointed to do it? That may be your religion, but it's
my gammon. And to tell you all the truth while I am about it,'
said Mr Flintwinch, crossing his arms, and becoming the express
image of irascible doggedness, 'I have been rasped--rasped these
forty years--by your taking such high ground even with me, who
knows better; the effect of it being coolly to put me on low
ground. I admire you very much; you are a woman of strong head and
great talent; but the strongest head, and the greatest talent,
can't rasp a man for forty years without making him sore. So I
don't care for your present eyes. Now, I am coming to the paper,
and mark what I say. You put it away somewhere, and you kept your
own counsel where. You're an active woman at that time, and if you
want to get that paper, you can get it. But, mark. There comes a
time when you are struck into what you are now, and then if you
want to get that paper, you can't get it. So it lies, long years,
in its hiding-place. At last, when we are expecting Arthur home
every day, and when any day may bring him home, and it's impossible
to say what rummaging he may make about the house, I recommend you
five thousand times, if you can't get at it, to let me get at it,
that it may be put in the fire. But no--no one but you knows where
it is, and that's power; and, call yourself whatever humble names
you will, I call you a female Lucifer in appetite for power! On a
Sunday night, Arthur comes home. He has not been in this room ten
minutes, when he speaks of his father's watch. You know very well
that the Do Not Forget, at the time when his father sent that watch
to you, could only mean, the rest of the story being then all dead
and over, Do Not Forget the suppression. Make restitution!
Arthur's ways have frightened you a bit, and the paper shall be
burnt after all. So, before that jumping jade and Jezebel,' Mr
Flintwinch grinned at his wife, 'has got you into bed, you at last
tell me where you have put the paper, among the old ledgers in the
cellars, where Arthur himself went prowling the very next morning.
But it's not to be burnt on a Sunday night. No; you are strict,
you are; we must wait over twelve o'clock, and get into Monday.
Now, all this is a swallowing of me up alive that rasps me; so,
feeling a little out of temper, and not being as strict as
yourself, I take a look at the document before twelve o'clock to
refresh my memory as to its appearance--fold up one of the many
yellow old papers in the cellars like it--and afterwards, when we
have got into Monday morning, and I have, by the light of your
lamp, to walk from you, lying on that bed, to this grate, make a
little exchange like the conjuror, and burn accordingly. My
brother Ephraim, the lunatic-keeper (I wish he had had himself to
keep in a strait-waistcoat), had had many jobs since the close of
the long job he got from you, but had not done well. His wife died
(not that that was much; mine might have died instead, and
welcome), he speculated unsuccessfully in lunatics, he got into
difficulty about over-roasting a patient to bring him to reason,
and he got into debt. He was going out of the way, on what he had
been able to scrape up, and a trifle from me. He was here that
early Monday morning, waiting for the tide; in short, he was going
to Antwerp, where (I am afraid you'll be shocked at my saying, And
be damned to him!) he made the acquaintance of this gentleman. He
had come a long way, and, I thought then, was only sleepy; but, I
suppose now, was drunk. When Arthur's mother had been under the
care of him and his wife, she had been always writing, incessantly
writing,--mostly letters of confession to you, and Prayers for
forgiveness. My brother had handed, from time to time, lots of
these sheets to me. I thought I might as well keep them to myself
as have them swallowed up alive too; so I kept them in a box,
looking over them when I felt in the humour. Convinced that it was
advisable to get the paper out of the place, with Arthur coming
about it, I put it into this same box, and I locked the whole up
with two locks, and I trusted it to my brother to take away and
keep, till I should write about it. I did write about it, and
never got an answer. I didn't know what to make of it, till this
gentleman favoured us with his first visit. Of course, I began to
suspect how it was, then; and I don't want his word for it now to
understand how he gets his knowledge from my papers, and your
paper, and my brother's cognac and tobacco talk (I wish he'd had to
gag himself). Now, I have only one thing more to say, you hammer-
headed woman, and that is, that I haven't altogether made up my
mind whether I might, or might not, have ever given you any trouble
about the codicil. I think not; and that I should have been quite
satisfied with knowing I had got the better of you, and that I held
the power over you. In the present state of circumstances, I have
no more explanation to give you till this time to-morrow night. So
you may as well,' said Mr Flintwinch, terminating his oration with
a screw, 'keep your eyes open at somebody else, for it's no use
keeping 'em open at me.'
She slowly withdrew them when he had ceased, and dropped her
forehead on her hand. Her other hand pressed hard upon the table,
and again the curious stir was observable in her, as if she were
going to rise.
'This box can never bring, elsewhere, the price it will bring here.
This knowledge can never be of the same profit to you, sold to any
other person, as sold to me. But I have not the present means of
raising the sum you have demanded. I have not prospered. What
will you take now, and what at another time, and how am I to be
assured of your silence?'
'My angel,' said Rigaud, 'I have said what I will take, and time
presses. Before coming here, I placed copies of the most important
of these papers in another hand. Put off the time till the
Marshalsea gate shall be shut for the night, and it will be too
late to treat. The prisoner will have read them.'
She put her two hands to her head again, uttered a loud
exclamation, and started to her feet. She staggered for a moment,
as if she would have fallen; then stood firm.
'Say what you mean. Say what you mean, man!'
Before her ghostly figure, so long unused to its erect attitude,
and so stiffened in it, Rigaud fell back and dropped his voice. It
was, to all the three, almost as if a dead woman had risen.
'Miss Dorrit,' answered Rigaud, 'the little niece of Monsieur
Frederick, whom I have known across the water, is attached to the
prisoner. Miss Dorrit, little niece of Monsieur Frederick, watches
at this moment over the prisoner, who is ill. For her I with my
own hands left a packet at the prison, on my way here, with a
letter of instructions, "FOR HIS SAKE"--she will do anything for
his sake--to keep it without breaking the seal, in case of its
being reclaimed before the hour of shutting up to-night--if it
should not be reclaimed before the ringing of the prison bell, to
give it to him; and it encloses a second copy for herself, which he
must give to her. What! I don't trust myself among you, now we
have got so far, without giving my secret a second life. And as to
its not bringing me, elsewhere, the price it will bring here, say
then, madame, have you limited and settled the price the little
niece will give--for his sake--to hush it up? Once more I say,
time presses. The packet not reclaimed before the ringing of the
bell to-night, you cannot buy. I sell, then, to the little girl!'
Once more the stir and struggle in her, and she ran to a closet,
tore the door open, took down a hood or shawl, and wrapped it over
her head. Affery, who had watched her in terror, darted to her in
the middle of the room, caught hold of her dress, and went on her
knees to her.
'Don't, don't, don't! What are you doing? Where are you going?
You're a fearful woman, but I don't bear you no ill-will. I can do
poor Arthur no good now, that I see; and you needn't be afraid of
me. I'll keep your secret. Don't go out, you'll fall dead in the
street. Only promise me, that, if it's the poor thing that's kept
here secretly, you'll let me take charge of her and be her nurse.
Only promise me that, and never be afraid of me.'
Mrs Clennam stood still for an instant, at the height of her rapid
haste, saying in stern amazement:
'Kept here? She has been dead a score of years or more. Ask
Flintwinch--ask HIM. They can both tell you that she died when
Arthur went abroad.'
'So much the worse,' said Affery, with a shiver, 'for she haunts
the house, then. Who else rustles about it, making signals by
dropping dust so softly? Who else comes and goes, and marks the
walls with long crooked touches when we are all a-bed? Who else
holds the door sometimes? But don't go out--don't go out!
Mistress, you'll die in the street!'
Her mistress only disengaged her dress from the beseeching hands,
said to Rigaud, 'Wait here till I come back!' and ran out of the
room. They saw her, from the window, run wildly through the court-
yard and out at the gateway.
For a few moments they stood motionless. Affery was the first to
move, and she, wringing her hands, pursued her mistress. Next,
Jeremiah Flintwinch, slowly backing to the door, with one hand in
a pocket, and the other rubbing his chin, twisted himself out in
his reticent way, speechlessly. Rigaud, left alone, composed
himself upon the window-seat of the open window, in the old
Marseilles-jail attitude. He laid his cigarettes and fire-box
ready to his hand, and fell to smoking.
'Whoof! Almost as dull as the infernal old jail. Warmer, but
almost as dismal. Wait till she comes back? Yes, certainly; but
where is she gone, and how long will she be gone? No matter!
Rigaud Lagnier Blandois, my amiable subject, you will get your
money. You will enrich yourself. You have lived a gentleman; you
will die a gentleman. You triumph, my little boy; but it is your
character to triumph. Whoof!'
In the hour of his triumph, his moustache went up and his nose came
down, as he ogled a great beam over his head with particular