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Charles Dickens > Little Dorrit > Chapter 70

Little Dorrit

Chapter 70


On a healthy autumn day, the Marshalsea prisoner, weak but
otherwise restored, sat listening to a voice that read to him. On
a healthy autumn day; when the golden fields had been reaped and
ploughed again, when the summer fruits had ripened and waned, when
the green perspectives of hops had been laid low by the busy
pickers, when the apples clustering in the orchards were russet,
and the berries of the mountain ash were crimson among the
yellowing foliage. Already in the woods, glimpses of the hardy
winter that was coming were to be caught through unaccustomed
openings among the boughs where the prospect shone defined and
clear, free from the bloom of the drowsy summer weather, which had
rested on it as the bloom lies on the plum. So, from the seashore
the ocean was no longer to be seen lying asleep in the heat, but
its thousand sparkling eyes were open, and its whole breadth was in
joyful animation, from the cool sand on the beach to the little
sails on the horizon, drifting away like autumn-tinted leaves that
had drifted from the trees.
Changeless and barren, looking ignorantly at all the seasons with
its fixed, pinched face of poverty and care, the prison had not a
touch of any of these beauties on it. Blossom what would, its
bricks and bars bore uniformly the same dead crop. Yet Clennam,
listening to the voice as it read to him, heard in it all that
great Nature was doing, heard in it all the soothing songs she
sings to man. At no Mother's knee but hers had he ever dwelt in
his youth on hopeful promises, on playful fancies, on the harvests
of tenderness and humility that lie hidden in the early-fostered
seeds of the imagination; on the oaks of retreat from blighting
winds, that have the germs of their strong roots in nursery acorns.

But, in the tones of the voice that read to him, there were
memories of an old feeling of such things, and echoes of every
merciful and loving whisper that had ever stolen to him in his

When the voice stopped, he put his hand over his eyes, murmuring
that the light was strong upon them.

Little Dorrit put the book by, and presently arose quietly to shade
the window. Maggy sat at her needlework in her old place. The
light softened, Little Dorrit brought her chair closer to his side.

'This will soon be over now, dear Mr Clennam. Not only are Mr
Doyce's letters to you so full of friendship and encouragement, but
Mr Rugg says his letters to him are so full of help, and that
everybody (now a little anger is past) is so considerate, and
speaks so well of you, that it will soon be over now.'

'Dear girl. Dear heart. Good angel!'

'You praise me far too much. And yet it is such an exquisite
pleasure to me to hear you speak so feelingly, and to--and to see,'
said Little Dorrit, raising her eyes to his, 'how deeply you mean
it, that I cannot say Don't.'

He lifted her hand to his lips.

'You have been here many, many times, when I have not seen you,
Little Dorrit?'

'Yes, I have been here sometimes when I have not come into the

'Very often?'

'Rather often,' said Little Dorrit, timidly.

'Every day?'

'I think,' said Little Dorrit, after hesitating, 'that I have been
here at least twice every day.'
He might have released the little light hand after fervently
kissing it again; but that, with a very gentle lingering where it
was, it seemed to court being retained. He took it in both of his,
and it lay softly on his breast.

'Dear Little Dorrit, it is not my imprisonment only that will soon
be over. This sacrifice of you must be ended. We must learn to
part again, and to take our different ways so wide asunder. You
have not forgotten what we said together, when you came back?'

'O no, I have not forgotten it. But something has been--You feel
quite strong to-day, don't you?'

'Quite strong.'

The hand he held crept up a little nearer his face.

'Do you feel quite strong enough to know what a great fortune I
have got?'

'I shall be very glad to be told. No fortune can be too great or
good for Little Dorrit.'

'I have been anxiously waiting to tell you. I have been longing
and longing to tell you. You are sure you will not take it?'


'You are quite sure you will not take half of it?'

'Never, dear Little Dorrit!'

As she looked at him silently, there was something in her
affectionate face that he did not quite comprehend: something that
could have broken into tears in a moment, and yet that was happy
and proud.

'You will be sorry to hear what I have to tell you about Fanny.
Poor Fanny has lost everything. She has nothing left but her
husband's income. All that papa gave her when she married was lost
as your money was lost. It was in the same hands, and it is all

Arthur was more shocked than surprised to hear it. 'I had hoped it
might not be so bad,' he said: 'but I had feared a heavy loss
there, knowing the connection between her husband and the

'Yes. It is all gone. I am very sorry for Fanny; very, very, very
sorry for poor Fanny. My poor brother too!'
'Had he property in the same hands?'

'Yes! And it's all gone.--How much do you think my own great
fortune is?'

As Arthur looked at her inquiringly, with a new apprehension on
him, she withdrew her hand, and laid her face down on the spot
where it had rested.

'I have nothing in the world. I am as poor as when I lived here.
When papa came over to England, he confided everything he had to
the same hands, and it is all swept away. O my dearest and best,
are you quite sure you will not share my fortune with me now?'

Locked in his arms, held to his heart, with his manly tears upon
her own cheek, she drew the slight hand round his neck, and clasped
it in its fellow-hand.

' Never to part, my dearest Arthur; never any more, until the last!

I never was rich before, I never was proud before, I never was
happy before, I am rich in being taken by you, I am proud in having
been resigned by you, I am happy in being with you in this prison,
as I should be happy in coming back to it with you, if it should be
the will of GOD, and comforting and serving you with all my love
and truth. I am yours anywhere, everywhere! I love you dearly!
I would rather pass my life here with you, and go out daily,
working for our bread, than I would have the greatest fortune that
ever was told, and be the greatest lady that ever was honoured. O,
if poor papa may only know how blest at last my heart is, in this
room where he suffered for so many years!'

Maggy had of course been staring from the first, and had of course
been crying her eyes out long before this. Maggy was now so
overjoyed that, after hugging her little mother with all her might,
she went down-stairs like a clog-hornpipe to find somebody or other
to whom to impart her gladness. Whom should Maggy meet but Flora
and Mr F.'s Aunt opportunely coming in? And whom else, as a
consequence of that meeting, should Little Dorrit find waiting for
herself, when, a good two or three hours afterwards, she went out?

Flora's eyes were a little red, and she seemed rather out of
spirits. Mr F.'s Aunt was so stiffened that she had the appearance
of being past bending by any means short of powerful mechanical
pressure. Her bonnet was cocked up behind in a terrific manner;
and her stony reticule was as rigid as if it had been petrified by
the Gorgon's head, and had got it at that moment inside. With
these imposing attributes, Mr F.'s Aunt, publicly seated on the
steps of the Marshal's official residence, had been for the two or
three hours in question a great boon to the younger inhabitants of
the Borough, whose sallies of humour she had considerably flushed
herself by resenting at the point of her umbrella, from time to

'Painfully aware, Miss Dorrit, I am sure,' said Flora, 'that to
propose an adjournment to any place to one so far removed by
fortune and so courted and caressed by the best society must ever
appear intruding even if not a pie-shop far below your present
sphere and a back-parlour though a civil man but if for the sake of
Arthur--cannot overcome it more improper now than ever late Doyce
and Clennam--one last remark I might wish to make one last
explanation I might wish to offer perhaps your good nature might
excuse under pretence of three kidney ones the humble place of

Rightly interpreting this rather obscure speech, Little Dorrit
returned that she was quite at Flora's disposition. Flora
accordingly led the way across the road to the pie-shop in
question: Mr F.'s Aunt stalking across in the rear, and putting
herself in the way of being run over, with a perseverance worthy of
a better cause.

When the 'three kidney ones,' which were to be a blind to the
conversation, were set before them on three little tin platters,
each kidney one ornamented with a hole at the top, into which the
civil man poured hot gravy out of a spouted can as if he were
feeding three lamps, Flora took out her pocket-handkerchief.

'If Fancy's fair dreams,' she began, 'have ever pictured that when
Arthur--cannot overcome it pray excuse me--was restored to freedom
even a pie as far from flaky as the present and so deficient in
kidney as to be in that respect like a minced nutmeg might not
prove unacceptable if offered by the hand of true regard such
visions have for ever fled and all is cancelled but being aware
that tender relations are in contemplation beg to state that I
heartily wish well to both and find no fault with either not the
least, it may be withering to know that ere the hand of Time had
made me much less slim than formerly and dreadfully red on the
slightest exertion particularly after eating I well know when it
takes the form of a rash, it might have been and was not through
the interruption of parents and mental torpor succeeded until the
mysterious clue was held by Mr F. still I would not be ungenerous
to either and I heartily wish well to both.'

Little Dorrit took her hand, and thanked her for all her old

'Call it not kindness,' returned Flora, giving her an honest kiss,
'for you always were the best and dearest little thing that ever
was if I may take the liberty and even in a money point of view a
saving being Conscience itself though I must add much more
agreeable than mine ever was to me for though not I hope more
burdened than other people's yet I have always found it far readier
to make one uncomfortable than comfortable and evidently taking a
greater pleasure in doing it but I am wandering, one hope I wish to
express ere yet the closing scene draws in and it is that I do
trust for the sake of old times and old sincerity that Arthur will
know that I didn't desert him in his misfortunes but that I came
backwards and forwards constantly to ask if I could do anything for
him and that I sat in the pie-shop where they very civilly fetched
something warm in a tumbler from the hotel and really very nice
hours after hours to keep him company over the way without his
knowing it.'

Flora really had tears in her eyes now, and they showed her to
great advantage.

'Over and above which,' said Flora, 'I earnestly beg you as the
dearest thing that ever was if you'll still excuse the familiarity
from one who moves in very different circles to let Arthur
understand that I don't know after all whether it wasn't all
nonsense between us though pleasant at the time and trying too and
certainly Mr F. did work a change and the spell being broken
nothing could be expected to take place without weaving it afresh
which various circumstances have combined to prevent of which
perhaps not the least powerful was that it was not to be, I am not
prepared to say that if it had been agreeable to Arthur and had
brought itself about naturally in the first instance I should not
have been very glad being of a lively disposition and moped at home
where papa undoubtedly is the most aggravating of his sex and not
improved since having been cut down by the hand of the Incendiary
into something of which I never saw the counterpart in all my life
but jealousy is not my character nor ill-will though many faults.'

Without having been able closely to follow Mrs Finching through
this labyrinth, Little Dorrit understood its purpose, and cordially
accepted the trust.

'The withered chaplet my dear,' said Flora, with great enjoyment,
'is then perished the column is crumbled and the pyramid is
standing upside down upon its what's-his-name call it not giddiness
call it not weakness call it not folly I must now retire into
privacy and look upon the ashes of departed joys no more but taking
a further liberty of paying for the pastry which has formed the
humble pretext of our interview will for ever say Adieu!'

Mr F.'s Aunt, who had eaten her pie with great solemnity, and who
had been elaborating some grievous scheme of injury in her mind
since her first assumption of that public position on the Marshal's
steps, took the present opportunity of addressing the following
Sibyllic apostrophe to the relict of her late nephew.

'Bring him for'ard, and I'll chuck him out o' winder!'

Flora tried in vain to soothe the excellent woman by explaining
that they were going home to dinner. Mr F.'s Aunt persisted in
replying, 'Bring him for'ard and I'll chuck him out o' winder!'
Having reiterated this demand an immense number of times, with a
sustained glare of defiance at Little Dorrit, Mr F.'s Aunt folded
her arms, and sat down in the corner of the pie-shop parlour;
steadfastly refusing to budge until such time as 'he' should have
been 'brought for'ard,' and the chucking portion of his destiny

In this condition of things, Flora confided to Little Dorrit that
she had not seen Mr F.'s Aunt so full of life and character for
weeks; that she would find it necessary to remain there 'hours
perhaps,' until the inexorable old lady could be softened; and that
she could manage her best alone. They parted, therefore, in the
friendliest manner, and with the kindest feeling on both sides.

Mr F.'s Aunt holding out like a grim fortress, and Flora becoming
in need of refreshment, a messenger was despatched to the hotel for
the tumbler already glanced at, which was afterwards replenished.
With the aid of its content, a newspaper, and some skimming of the
cream of the pie-stock, Flora got through the remainder of the day
in perfect good humour; though occasionally embarrassed by the
consequences of an idle rumour which circulated among the credulous
infants of the neighbourhood, to the effect that an old lady had
sold herself to the pie-shop to be made up, and was then sitting in
the pie-shop parlour, declining to complete her contract. This
attracted so many young persons of both sexes, and, when the shades
of evening began to fall, occasioned so much interruption to the
business, that the merchant became very pressing in his proposals
that Mr F.'s Aunt should be removed. A conveyance was accordingly
brought to the door, which, by the joint efforts of the merchant
and Flora, this remarkable woman was at last induced to enter;
though not without even then putting her head out of the window,
and demanding to have him 'brought for'ard' for the purpose
originally mentioned. As she was observed at this time to direct
baleful glances towards the Marshalsea, it has been supposed that
this admirably consistent female intended by 'him,' Arthur Clennam.

This, however, is mere speculation; who the person was, who, for
the satisfaction of Mr F.'s Aunt's mind, ought to have been brought
forward and never was brought forward, will never be positively

The autumn days went on, and Little Dorrit never came to the
Marshalsea now and went away without seeing him. No, no, no.

One morning, as Arthur listened for the light feet that every
morning ascended winged to his heart, bringing the heavenly
brightness of a new love into the room where the old love had
wrought so hard and been so true; one morning, as he listened, he
heard her coming, not alone.

'Dear Arthur,' said her delighted voice outside the door, 'I have
some one here. May I bring some one in?'

He had thought from the tread there were two with her. He answered
'Yes,' and she came in with Mr Meagles. Sun-browned and jolly Mr
Meagles looked, and he opened his arms and folded Arthur in them,
like a sun-browned and jolly father.

'Now I am all right,' said Mr Meagles, after a minute or so. 'Now
it's over. Arthur, my dear fellow, confess at once that you
expected me before.'
'I did,' said Arthur; 'but Amy told me--'
'Little Dorrit. Never any other name.' (It was she who whispered

'--But my Little Dorrit told me that, without asking for any
further explanation, I was not to expect you until I saw you.'

'And now you see me, my boy,' said Mr Meagles, shaking him by the
hand stoutly; 'and now you shall have any explanation and every
explanation. The fact is, I was here--came straight to you from
the Allongers and Marshongers, or I should be ashamed to look you
in the face this day,--but you were not in company trim at the
moment, and I had to start off again to catch Doyce.'

'Poor Doyce!' sighed Arthur.

'Don't call him names that he don't deserve,' said Mr Meagles.

'He's not poor; he's doing well enough. Doyce is a wonderful
fellow over there. I assure you he is making out his case like a
house a-fire. He has fallen on his legs, has Dan. Where they
don't want things done and find a man to do 'em, that man's off his
legs; but where they do want things done and find a man to do 'em,
that man's on his legs. You won't have occasion to trouble the
Circumlocution Office any more. Let me tell you, Dan has done
without 'em!'

'What a load you take from my mind!' cried Arthur. 'What happiness
you give me!'

'Happiness?' retorted Mr Meagles. 'Don't talk about happiness till
you see Dan. I assure you Dan is directing works and executing
labours over yonder, that it would make your hair stand on end to
look at. He's no public offender, bless you, now! He's medalled
and ribboned, and starred and crossed, and I don't-know-what all'd,
like a born nobleman. But we mustn't talk about that over here.'

'Why not?'

'Oh, egad!' said Mr Meagles, shaking his head very seriously, 'he
must hide all those things under lock and key when he comes over
here. They won't do over here. In that particular, Britannia is
a Britannia in the Manger--won't give her children such
distinctions herself, and won't allow them to be seen when they are
given by other countries. No, no, Dan!' said Mr Meagles, shaking
his head again. 'That won't do here!'

'If you had brought me (except for Doyce's sake) twice what I have
lost,' cried Arthur, 'you would not have given me the pleasure that
you give me in this news.'
'Why, of course, of course,' assented Mr Meagles. 'Of course I
know that, my good fellow, and therefore I come out with it in the
first burst. Now, to go back, about catching Doyce. I caught
Doyce. Ran against him among a lot of those dirty brown dogs in
women's nightcaps a great deal too big for 'em, calling themselves
Arabs and all sorts of incoherent races. YOU know 'em! Well! He
was coming straight to me, and I was going to him, and so we came
back together.'

'Doyce in England!' exclaimed Arthur.

'There!' said Mr Meagles, throwing open his arms. 'I am the worst
man in the world to manage a thing of this sort. I don't know what
I should have done if I had been in the diplomatic line--right,
perhaps! The long and short of it is, Arthur, we have both been in
England this fortnight. And if you go on to ask where Doyce is at
the present moment, why, my plain answer is--here he is! And now
I can breathe again at last!'

Doyce darted in from behind the door, caught Arthur by both hands,
and said the rest for himself.

'There are only three branches of my subject, my dear Clennam,'
said Doyce, proceeding to mould them severally, with his plastic
thumb, on the palm of his hand, 'and they're soon disposed of.
First, not a word more from you about the past. There was an error
in your calculations. I know what that is. It affects the whole
machine, and failure is the consequence. You will profit by the
failure, and will avoid it another time. I have done a similar
thing myself, in construction, often. Every failure teaches a man
something, if he will learn; and you are too sensible a man not to
learn from this failure. So much for firstly. Secondly. I was
sorry you should have taken it so heavily to heart, and reproached
yourself so severely; I was travelling home night and day to put
matters right, with the assistance of our friend, when I fell in
with our friend as he has informed you. Thirdly. We two agreed,
that, after what you had undergone, after your distress of mind,
and after your illness, it would be a pleasant surprise if we could
so far keep quiet as to get things perfectly arranged without your
knowledge, and then come and say that all the affairs were smooth,
that everything was right, that the business stood in greater want
of you than ever it did, and that a new and prosperous career was
opened before you and me as partners. That's thirdly. But you
know we always make an allowance for friction, and so I have
reserved space to close in. My dear Clennam, I thoroughly confide
in you; you have it in your power to be quite as useful to me as I
have, or have had, it in my power to be useful to you; your old
place awaits you, and wants you very much; there is nothing to
detain you here one half-hour longer.'

There was silence, which was not broken until Arthur had stood for
some time at the window with his back towards them, and until his
little wife that was to be had gone to him and stayed by him.

'I made a remark a little while ago,' said Daniel Doyce then,
'which I am inclined to think was an incorrect one. I said there
was nothing to detain you here, Clennam, half an hour longer. Am
I mistaken in supposing that you would rather not leave here till
to-morrow morning? Do I know, without being very wise, where you
would like to go, direct from these walls and from this room?'

'You do,' returned Arthur. 'It has been our cherished purpose.'

'Very well!' said Doyce. 'Then, if this young lady will do me the
honour of regarding me for four-and-twenty hours in the light of a
father, and will take a ride with me now towards Saint Paul's
Churchyard, I dare say I know what we want to get there.'

Little Dorrit and he went out together soon afterwards, and Mr
Meagles lingered behind to say a word to his friend.

'I think, Arthur, you will not want Mother and me in the morning
and we will keep away. It might set Mother thinking about Pet;
she's a soft-hearted woman. She's best at the Cottage, and I'll
stay there and keep her company.'

With that they parted for the time. And the day ended, and the
night ended, and the morning came, and Little Dorrit, simply
dressed as usual and having no one with her but Maggy, came into
the prison with the sunshine. The poor room was a happy room that
morning. Where in the world was there a room so full of quiet joy!

'My dear love,' said Arthur. 'Why does Maggy light the fire? We
shall be gone directly.'

'I asked her to do it. I have taken such an odd fancy. I want you
to burn something for me.'


'Only this folded paper. If you will put it in the fire with your
own hand, just as it is, my fancy will be gratified.'

'Superstitious, darling Little Dorrit? Is it a charm?'

'It is anything you like best, my own,' she answered, laughing with
glistening eyes and standing on tiptoe to kiss him, 'if you will
only humour me when the fire burns up.'

So they stood before the fire, waiting: Clennam with his arm about
her waist, and the fire shining, as fire in that same place had
often shone, in Little Dorrit's eyes. 'Is it bright enough now?'
said Arthur. 'Quite bright enough now,' said Little Dorrit. 'Does
the charm want any words to be said?' asked Arthur, as he held the
paper over the flame. 'You can say (if you don't mind) "I love
you!' answered Little Dorrit. So he said it, and the paper burned

They passed very quietly along the yard; for no one was there,
though many heads were stealthily peeping from the windows.

Only one face, familiar of old, was in the Lodge. When they had
both accosted it, and spoken many kind words, Little Dorrit turned
back one last time with her hand stretched out, saying, 'Good-bye,
good John! I hope you will live very happy, dear!'

Then they went up the steps of the neighbouring Saint George's
Church, and went up to the altar, where Daniel Doyce was waiting in
his paternal character. And there was Little Dorrit's old friend
who had given her the Burial Register for a pillow; full of
admiration that she should come back to them to be married, after

And they were married with the sun shining on them through the
painted figure of Our Saviour on the window. And they went into
the very room where Little Dorrit had slumbered after her party, to
sign the Marriage Register. And there, Mr Pancks, (destined to be
chief clerk to Doyce and Clennam, and afterwards partner in the
house), sinking the Incendiary in the peaceful friend, looked in at
the door to see it done, with Flora gallantly supported on one arm
and Maggy on the other, and a back-ground of John Chivery and
father and other turnkeys who had run round for the moment,
deserting the parent Marshalsea for its happy child. Nor had Flora
the least signs of seclusion upon her, notwithstanding her recent
declaration; but, on the contrary, was wonderfully smart, and
enjoyed the ceremonies mightily, though in a fluttered way.

Little Dorrit's old friend held the inkstand as she signed her
name, and the clerk paused in taking off the good clergyman's
surplice, and all the witnesses looked on with special interest.
'For, you see,' said Little Dorrit's old friend, 'this young lady
is one of our curiosities, and has come now to the third volume of
our Registers. Her birth is in what I call the first volume; she
lay asleep, on this very floor, with her pretty head on what I call
the second volume; and she's now a-writing her little name as a
bride in what I call the third volume.'

They all gave place when the signing was done, and Little Dorrit
and her husband walked out of the church alone. They paused for a
moment on the steps of the portico, looking at the fresh
perspective of the street in the autumn morning sun's bright rays,
and then went down.

Went down into a modest life of usefulness and happiness. Went
down to give a mother's care, in the fulness of time, to Fanny's
neglected children no less than to their own, and to leave that
lady going into Society for ever and a day. Went down to give a
tender nurse and friend to Tip for some few years, who was never
vexed by the great exactions he made of her in return for the
riches he might have given her if he had ever had them, and who
lovingly closed his eyes upon the Marshalsea and all its blighted
fruits. They went quietly down into the roaring streets,
inseparable and blessed; and as they passed along in sunshine and
shade, the noisy and the eager, and the arrogant and the froward
and the vain, fretted and chafed, and made their usual uproar.

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