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On the Road
The bright morning sun dazzled the eyes, the snow had ceased, the
mists had vanished, the mountain air was so clear and light that
the new sensation of breathing it was like the having entered on a
new existence. To help the delusion, the solid ground itself
seemed gone, and the mountain, a shining waste of immense white
heaps and masses, to be a region of cloud floating between the blue
sky above and the earth far below.
Some dark specks in the snow, like knots upon a little thread,
beginning at the convent door and winding away down the descent in
broken lengths which were not yet pieced together, showed where the
Brethren were at work in several places clearing the track.
Already the snow had begun to be foot-thawed again about the door.
Mules were busily brought out, tied to the rings in the wall, and
laden; strings of bells were buckled on, burdens were adjusted, the
voices of drivers and riders sounded musically. Some of the
earliest had even already resumed their journey; and, both on the
level summit by the dark water near the convent, and on the
downward way of yesterday's ascent, little moving figures of men
and mules, reduced to miniatures by the immensity around, went with
a clear tinkling of bells and a pleasant harmony of tongues.
In the supper-room of last night, a new fire, piled upon the
feathery ashes of the old one, shone upon a homely breakfast of
loaves, butter, and milk. It also shone on the courier of the
Dorrit family, making tea for his party from a supply he had
brought up with him, together with several other small stores which
were chiefly laid in for the use of the strong body of
inconvenience. Mr Gowan and Blandois of Paris had already
breakfasted, and were walking up and down by the lake, smoking
'Gowan, eh?' muttered Tip, otherwise Edward Dorrit, Esquire,
turning over the leaves of the book, when the courier had left them
to breakfast. 'Then Gowan is the name of a puppy, that's all I
have got to say! If it was worth my while, I'd pull his nose. But
it isn't worth my while--fortunately for him. How's his wife, Amy?
I suppose you know. You generally know things of that sort.'
'She is better, Edward. But they are not going to-day.'
'Oh! They are not going to-day! Fortunately for that fellow too,'
said Tip, 'or he and I might have come into collision.'
'It is thought better here that she should lie quiet to-day, and
not be fatigued and shaken by the ride down until to-morrow.'
'With all my heart. But you talk as if you had been nursing her.
You haven't been relapsing into (Mrs General is not here) into old
habits, have you, Amy?'
He asked her the question with a sly glance of observation at Miss
Fanny, and at his father too.
'I have only been in to ask her if I could do anything for her,
Tip,' said Little Dorrit.
'You needn't call me Tip, Amy child,' returned that young gentleman
with a frown; 'because that's an old habit, and one you may as well
'I didn't mean to say so, Edward dear. I forgot. It was so
natural once, that it seemed at the moment the right word.'
'Oh yes!' Miss Fanny struck in. 'Natural, and right word, and
once, and all the rest of it! Nonsense, you little thing! I know
perfectly well why you have been taking such an interest in this
Mrs Gowan. You can't blind me.'
'I will not try to, Fanny. Don't be angry.'
'Oh! angry!' returned that young lady with a flounce. 'I have no
patience' (which indeed was the truth).
'Pray, Fanny,' said Mr Dorrit, raising his eyebrows, 'what do you
mean? Explain yourself.'
'Oh! Never mind, Pa,' replied Miss Fanny, 'it's no great matter.
Amy will understand me. She knew, or knew of, this Mrs Gowan
before yesterday, and she may as well admit that she did.'
'My child,' said Mr Dorrit, turning to his younger daughter, 'has
your sister--any--ha--authority for this curious statement?'
'However meek we are,' Miss Fanny struck in before she could
answer, 'we don't go creeping into people's rooms on the tops of
cold mountains, and sitting perishing in the frost with people,
unless we know something about them beforehand. It's not very hard
to divine whose friend Mrs Gowan is.'
'Whose friend?' inquired her father.
'Pa, I am sorry to say,' returned Miss Fanny, who had by this time
succeeded in goading herself into a state of much ill-usage and
grievance, which she was often at great pains to do: 'that I
believe her to be a friend of that very objectionable and
unpleasant person, who, with a total absence of all delicacy, which
our experience might have led us to expect from him, insulted us
and outraged our feelings in so public and wilful a manner on an
occasion to which it is understood among us that we will not more
'Amy, my child,' said Mr Dorrit, tempering a bland severity with a
dignified affection, 'is this the case?'
Little Dorrit mildly answered, yes it was.
'Yes it is!' cried Miss Fanny. 'Of course! I said so! And now,
Pa, I do declare once for all'--this young lady was in the habit of
declaring the same thing once for all every day of her life, and
even several times in a day--'that this is shameful! I do declare
once for all that it ought to be put a stop to. Is it not enough
that we have gone through what is only known to ourselves, but are
we to have it thrown in our faces, perseveringly and
systematically, by the very person who should spare our feelings
most? Are we to be exposed to this unnatural conduct every moment
of our lives? Are we never to be permitted to forget? I say
again, it is absolutely infamous!'
'Well, Amy,' observed her brother, shaking his head, 'you know I
stand by you whenever I can, and on most occasions. But I must
say, that, upon my soul, I do consider it rather an unaccountable
mode of showing your sisterly affection, that you should back up a
man who treated me in the most ungentlemanly way in which one man
can treat another. And who,' he added convincingly, must be a low-
minded thief, you know, or he never could have conducted himself as
'And see,' said Miss Fanny, 'see what is involved in this! Can we
ever hope to be respected by our servants? Never. Here are our
two women, and Pa's valet, and a footman, and a courier, and all
sorts of dependents, and yet in the midst of these, we are to have
one of ourselves rushing about with tumblers of cold water, like a
menial! Why, a policeman,' said Miss Fanny, 'if a beggar had a fit
in the street, could but go plunging about with tumblers, as this
very Amy did in this very room before our very eyes last night!'
'I don't so much mind that, once in a way,' remarked Mr Edward;
'but your Clennam, as he thinks proper to call himself, is another
'He is part of the same thing,' returned Miss Fanny, 'and of a
piece with all the rest. He obtruded himself upon us in the first
instance. We never wanted him. I always showed him, for one, that
I could have dispensed with his company with the greatest pleasure.
He then commits that gross outrage upon our feelings, which he
never could or would have committed but for the delight he took in
exposing us; and then we are to be demeaned for the service of his
friends! Why, I don't wonder at this Mr Gowan's conduct towards
you. What else was to be expected when he was enjoying our past
misfortunes--gloating over them at the moment!'
'Father--Edward--no indeed!' pleaded Little Dorrit. 'Neither Mr
nor Mrs Gowan had ever heard our name. They were, and they are,
quite ignorant of our history.'
'So much the worse,' retorted Fanny, determined not to admit
anything in extenuation, 'for then you have no excuse. If they had
known about us, you might have felt yourself called upon to
conciliate them. That would have been a weak and ridiculous
mistake, but I can respect a mistake, whereas I can't respect a
wilful and deliberate abasing of those who should be nearest and
dearest to us. No. I can't respect that. I can do nothing but
'I never offend you wilfully, Fanny,' said Little Dorrit, 'though
you are so hard with me.'
'Then you should be more careful, Amy,' returned her sister. 'If
you do such things by accident, you should be more careful. If I
happened to have been born in a peculiar place, and under peculiar
circumstances that blunted my knowledge of propriety, I fancy I
should think myself bound to consider at every step, "Am I going,
ignorantly, to compromise any near and dear relations?" That is
what I fancy I should do, if it was my case.'
Mr Dorrit now interposed, at once to stop these painful subjects by
his authority, and to point their moral by his wisdom.
'My dear,' said he to his younger daughter, 'I beg you to--ha--to
say no more. Your sister Fanny expresses herself strongly, but not
without considerable reason. You have now a--hum--a great position
to support. That great position is not occupied by yourself alone,
but by--ha--by me, and--ha hum--by us. Us. Now, it is incumbent
upon all people in an exalted position, but it is particularly so
on this family, for reasons which I--ha--will not dwell upon, to
make themselves respected. To be vigilant in making themselves
respected. Dependants, to respect us, must be--ha--kept at a
distance and--hum--kept down. Down. Therefore, your not exposing
yourself to the remarks of our attendants by appearing to have at
any time dispensed with their services and performed them for
yourself, is--ha--highly important.'
'Why, who can doubt it?' cried Miss Fanny. 'It's the essence of
'Fanny,' returned her father, grandiloquently, 'give me leave, my
dear. We then come to--ha--to Mr Clennam. I am free to say that
I do not, Amy, share your sister's sentiments--that is to say
altogether--hum--altogether--in reference to Mr Clennam. I am
content to regard that individual in the light of--ha--generally--
a well-behaved person. Hum. A well-behaved person. Nor will I
inquire whether Mr Clennam did, at any time, obtrude himself on--
ha--my society. He knew my society to be--hum--sought, and his
plea might be that he regarded me in the light of a public
character. But there were circumstances attending my--ha--slight
knowledge of Mr Clennam (it was very slight), which,' here Mr
Dorrit became extremely grave and impressive, 'would render it
highly indelicate in Mr Clennam to--ha--to seek to renew
communication with me or with any member of my family under
existing circumstances. If Mr Clennam has sufficient delicacy to
perceive the impropriety of any such attempt, I am bound as a
responsible gentleman to--ha--defer to that delicacy on his part.
If, on the other hand, Mr Clennam has not that delicacy, I cannot
for a moment--ha--hold any correspondence with so--hum--coarse a
mind. In either case, it would appear that Mr Clennam is put
altogether out of the question, and that we have nothing to do with
him or he with us. Ha--Mrs General!'
The entrance of the lady whom he announced, to take her place at
the breakfast-table, terminated the discussion. Shortly
afterwards, the courier announced that the valet, and the footman,
and the two maids, and the four guides, and the fourteen mules,
were in readiness; so the breakfast party went out to the convent
door to join the cavalcade.
Mr Gowan stood aloof with his cigar and pencil, but Mr Blandois was
on the spot to pay his respects to the ladies. When he gallantly
pulled off his slouched hat to Little Dorrit, she thought he had
even a more sinister look, standing swart and cloaked in the snow,
than he had in the fire-light over-night. But, as both her father
and her sister received his homage with some favour, she refrained
from expressing any distrust of him, lest it should prove to be a
new blemish derived from her prison birth.
Nevertheless, as they wound down the rugged way while the convent
was yet in sight, she more than once looked round, and descried Mr
Blandois, backed by the convent smoke which rose straight and high
from the chimneys in a golden film, always standing on one jutting
point looking down after them. Long after he was a mere black
stick in the snow, she felt as though she could yet see that smile
of his, that high nose, and those eyes that were too near it. And
even after that, when the convent was gone and some light morning
clouds veiled the pass below it, the ghastly skeleton arms by the
wayside seemed to be all pointing up at him.
More treacherous than snow, perhaps, colder at heart, and harder to
melt, Blandois of Paris by degrees passed out of her mind, as they
came down into the softer regions. Again the sun was warm, again
the streams descending from glaciers and snowy caverns were
refreshing to drink at, again they came among the pine-trees, the
rocky rivulets, the verdant heights and dales, the wooden chalets
and rough zigzag fences of Swiss country. Sometimes the way so
widened that she and her father could ride abreast. And then to
look at him, handsomely clothed in his fur and broadcloths, rich,
free, numerously served and attended, his eyes roving far away
among the glories of the landscape, no miserable screen before them
to darken his sight and cast its shadow on him, was enough.
Her uncle was so far rescued from that shadow of old, that he wore
the clothes they gave him, and performed some ablutions as a
sacrifice to the family credit, and went where he was taken, with
a certain patient animal enjoyment, which seemed to express that
the air and change did him good. In all other respects, save one,
he shone with no light but such as was reflected from his brother.
His brother's greatness, wealth, freedom, and grandeur, pleased him
without any reference to himself. Silent and retiring, he had no
use for speech when he could hear his brother speak; no desire to
be waited on, so that the servants devoted themselves to his
brother. The only noticeable change he originated in himself, was
an alteration in his manner to his younger niece. Every day it
refined more and more into a marked respect, very rarely shown by
age to youth, and still more rarely susceptible, one would have
said, of the fitness with which he invested it. On those occasions
when Miss Fanny did declare once for all, he would take the next
opportunity of baring his grey head before his younger niece, and
of helping her to alight, or handing her to the carriage, or
showing her any other attention, with the profoundest deference.
Yet it never appeared misplaced or forced, being always heartily
simple, spontaneous, and genuine. Neither would he ever consent,
even at his brother's request, to be helped to any place before
her, or to take precedence of her in anything. So jealous was he
of her being respected, that, on this very journey down from the
Great Saint Bernard, he took sudden and violent umbrage at the
footman's being remiss to hold her stirrup, though standing near
when she dismounted; and unspeakably astonished the whole retinue
by charging at him on a hard-headed mule, riding him into a corner,
and threatening to trample him to death.
They were a goodly company, and the Innkeepers all but worshipped
them. Wherever they went, their importance preceded them in the
person of the courier riding before, to see that the rooms of state
were ready. He was the herald of the family procession. The great
travelling-carriage came next: containing, inside, Mr Dorrit, Miss
Dorrit, Miss Amy Dorrit, and Mrs General; outside, some of the
retainers, and (in fine weather) Edward Dorrit, Esquire, for whom
the box was reserved. Then came the chariot containing Frederick
Dorrit, Esquire, and an empty place occupied by Edward Dorrit,
Esquire, in wet weather. Then came the fourgon with the rest of
the retainers, the heavy baggage, and as much as it could carry of
the mud and dust which the other vehicles left behind.
These equipages adorned the yard of the hotel at Martigny, on the
return of the family from their mountain excursion. Other vehicles
were there, much company being on the road, from the patched
Italian Vettura--like the body of a swing from an English fair put
upon a wooden tray on wheels, and having another wooden tray
without wheels put atop of it--to the trim English carriage. But
there was another adornment of the hotel which Mr Dorrit had not
bargained for. Two strange travellers embellished one of his
The Innkeeper, hat in hand in the yard, swore to the courier that
he was blighted, that he was desolated, that he was profoundly
afflicted, that he was the most miserable and unfortunate of
beasts, that he had the head of a wooden pig. He ought never to
have made the concession, he said, but the very genteel lady had so
passionately prayed him for the accommodation of that room to dine
in, only for a little half-hour, that he had been vanquished. The
little half-hour was expired, the lady and gentleman were taking
their little dessert and half-cup of coffee, the note was paid, the
horses were ordered, they would depart immediately; but, owing to
an unhappy destiny and the curse of Heaven, they were not yet gone.
Nothing could exceed Mr Dorrit's indignation, as he turned at the
foot of the staircase on hearing these apologies. He felt that the
family dignity was struck at by an assassin's hand. He had a sense
of his dignity, which was of the most exquisite nature. He could
detect a design upon it when nobody else had any perception of the
fact. His life was made an agony by the number of fine scalpels
that he felt to be incessantly engaged in dissecting his dignity.
'Is it possible, sir,' said Mr Dorrit, reddening excessively, 'that
you have--ha--had the audacity to place one of my rooms at the
disposition of any other person?'
Thousands of pardons! It was the host's profound misfortune to
have been overcome by that too genteel lady. He besought
Monseigneur not to enrage himself. He threw himself on Monseigneur
for clemency. If Monseigneur would have the distinguished goodness
to occupy the other salon especially reserved for him, for but five
minutes, all would go well.
'No, sir,' said Mr Dorrit. 'I will not occupy any salon. I will
leave your house without eating or drinking, or setting foot in it.
How do you dare to act like this? Who am I that you--ha--separate
me from other gentlemen?'
Alas! The host called all the universe to witness that Monseigneur
was the most amiable of the whole body of nobility, the most
important, the most estimable, the most honoured. If he separated
Monseigneur from others, it was only because he was more
distinguished, more cherished, more generous, more renowned.
'Don't tell me so, sir,' returned Mr Dorrit, in a mighty heat.
'You have affronted me. You have heaped insults upon me. How dare
you? Explain yourself.'
Ah, just Heaven, then, how could the host explain himself when he
had nothing more to explain; when he had only to apologise, and
confide himself to the so well-known magnanimity of Monseigneur!
'I tell you, sir,' said Mr Dorrit, panting with anger, 'that you
separate me--ha--from other gentlemen; that you make distinctions
between me and other gentlemen of fortune and station. I demand of
you, why? I wish to know on--ha--what authority, on whose
authority. Reply sir. Explain. Answer why.'
Permit the landlord humbly to submit to Monsieur the Courier then,
that Monseigneur, ordinarily so gracious, enraged himself without
cause. There was no why. Monsieur the Courier would represent to
Monseigneur, that he deceived himself in suspecting that there was
any why, but the why his devoted servant had already had the honour
to present to him. The very genteel lady--
'Silence!' cried Mr Dorrit. 'Hold your tongue! I will hear no
more of the very genteel lady; I will hear no more of you. Look at
this family--my family--a family more genteel than any lady. You
have treated this family with disrespect; you have been insolent to
this family. I'll ruin you. Ha--send for the horses, pack the
carriages, I'll not set foot in this man's house again!'
No one had interfered in the dispute, which was beyond the French
colloquial powers of Edward Dorrit, Esquire, and scarcely within
the province of the ladies. Miss Fanny, however, now supported her
father with great bitterness; declaring, in her native tongue, that
it was quite clear there was something special in this man's
impertinence; and that she considered it important that he should
be, by some means, forced to give up his authority for making
distinctions between that family and other wealthy families. What
the reasons of his presumption could be, she was at a loss to
imagine; but reasons he must have, and they ought to be torn from
All the guides, mule-drivers, and idlers in the yard, had made
themselves parties to the angry conference, and were much impressed
by the courier's now bestirring himself to get the carriages out.
With the aid of some dozen people to each wheel, this was done at
a great cost of noise; and then the loading was proceeded with,
pending the arrival of the horses from the post-house.
But the very genteel lady's English chariot being already horsed
and at the inn-door, the landlord had slipped up-stairs to
represent his hard case. This was notified to the yard by his now
coming down the staircase in attendance on the gentleman and the
lady, and by his pointing out the offended majesty of Mr Dorrit to
them with a significant motion of his hand.
'Beg your pardon,' said the gentleman, detaching himself from the
lady, and coming forward. 'I am a man of few words and a bad hand
at an explanation--but lady here is extremely anxious that there
should be no Row. Lady--a mother of mine, in point of fact--wishes
me to say that she hopes no Row.'
Mr Dorrit, still panting under his injury, saluted the gentleman,
and saluted the lady, in a distant, final, and invincible manner.
'No, but really--here, old feller; you!' This was the gentleman's
way of appealing to Edward Dorrit, Esquire, on whom he pounced as
a great and providential relief. 'Let you and I try to make this
all right. Lady so very much wishes no Row.'
Edward Dorrit, Esquire, led a little apart by the button, assumed
a diplomatic expression of countenance in replying, 'Why you must
confess, that when you bespeak a lot of rooms beforehand, and they
belong to you, it's not pleasant to find other people in 'em.'
'No,' said the other, 'I know it isn't. I admit it. Still, let
you and I try to make it all right, and avoid Row. The fault is
not this chap's at all, but my mother's. Being a remarkably fine
woman with no bigodd nonsense about her--well educated, too--she
was too many for this chap. Regularly pocketed him.'
'If that's the case--' Edward Dorrit, Esquire, began.
'Assure you 'pon my soul 'tis the case. Consequently,' said the
other gentleman, retiring on his main position, 'why Row?'
'Edmund,' said the lady from the doorway, 'I hope you have
explained, or are explaining, to the satisfaction of this gentleman
and his family that the civil landlord is not to blame?'
'Assure you, ma'am,' returned Edmund, 'perfectly paralysing myself
with trying it on.' He then looked steadfastly at Edward Dorrit,
Esquire, for some seconds, and suddenly added, in a burst of
confidence, 'Old feller! Is it all right?'
'I don't know, after all,' said the lady, gracefully advancing a
step or two towards Mr Dorrit, 'but that I had better say myself,
at once, that I assured this good man I took all the consequences
on myself of occupying one of a stranger's suite of rooms during
his absence, for just as much (or as little) time as I could dine
in. I had no idea the rightful owner would come back so soon, nor
had I any idea that he had come back, or I should have hastened to
make restoration of my ill-gotten chamber, and to have offered my
explanation and apology. I trust in saying this--'
For a moment the lady, with a glass at her eye, stood transfixed
and speechless before the two Miss Dorrits. At the same moment,
Miss Fanny, in the foreground of a grand pictorial composition,
formed by the family, the family equipages, and the family
servants, held her sister tight under one arm to detain her on the
spot, and with the other arm fanned herself with a distinguished
air, and negligently surveyed the lady from head to foot.
The lady, recovering herself quickly--for it was Mrs Merdle and she
was not easily dashed--went on to add that she trusted in saying
this, she apologised for her boldness, and restored this well-
behaved landlord to the favour that was so very valuable to him.
Mr Dorrit, on the altar of whose dignity all this was incense, made
a gracious reply; and said that his people should--ha--countermand
his horses, and he would--hum--overlook what he had at first
supposed to be an affront, but now regarded as an honour. Upon
this the bosom bent to him; and its owner, with a wonderful command
of feature, addressed a winning smile of adieu to the two sisters,
as young ladies of fortune in whose favour she was much
prepossessed, and whom she had never had the gratification of
Not so, however, Mr Sparkler. This gentleman, becoming transfixed
at the same moment as his lady-mother, could not by any means unfix
himself again, but stood stiffly staring at the whole composition
with Miss Fanny in the Foreground. On his mother saying, 'Edmund,
we are quite ready; will you give me your arm?' he seemed, by the
motion of his lips, to reply with some remark comprehending the
form of words in which his shining talents found the most frequent
utterance, but he relaxed no muscle. So fixed was his figure, that
it would have been matter of some difficulty to bend him
sufficiently to get him in the carriage-door, if he had not
received the timely assistance of a maternal pull from within. He
was no sooner within than the pad of the little window in the back
of the chariot disappeared, and his eye usurped its place. There
it remained as long as so small an object was discernible, and
probably much longer, staring (as though something inexpressibly
surprising should happen to a codfish) like an ill-executed eye in
a large locket.
This encounter was so highly agreeable to Miss Fanny, and gave her
so much to think of with triumph afterwards, that it softened her
asperities exceedingly. When the procession was again in motion
next day, she occupied her place in it with a new gaiety; and
showed such a flow of spirits indeed, that Mrs General looked
Little Dorrit was glad to be found no fault with, and to see that
Fanny was pleased; but her part in the procession was a musing
part, and a quiet one. Sitting opposite her father in the
travelling-carriage, and recalling the old Marshalsea room, her
present existence was a dream. All that she saw was new and
wonderful, but it was not real; it seemed to her as if those
visions of mountains and picturesque countries might melt away at
any moment, and the carriage, turning some abrupt corner, bring up
with a jolt at the old Marshalsea gate.
To have no work to do was strange, but not half so strange as
having glided into a corner where she had no one to think for,
nothing to plan and contrive, no cares of others to load herself
with. Strange as that was, it was far stranger yet to find a space
between herself and her father, where others occupied themselves in
taking care of him, and where she was never expected to be. At
first, this was so much more unlike her old experience than even
the mountains themselves, that she had been unable to resign
herself to it, and had tried to retain her old place about him.
But he had spoken to her alone, and had said that people--ha--
people in an exalted position, my dear, must scrupulously exact
respect from their dependents; and that for her, his daughter, Miss
Amy Dorrit, of the sole remaining branch of the Dorrits of
Dorsetshire, to be known to--hum--to occupy herself in fulfilling
the functions of--ha hum--a valet, would be incompatible with that
respect. Therefore, my dear, he--ha--he laid his parental
injunctions upon her, to remember that she was a lady, who had now
to conduct herself with--hum--a proper pride, and to preserve the
rank of a lady; and consequently he requested her to abstain from
doing what would occasion--ha--unpleasant and derogatory remarks.
She had obeyed without a murmur. Thus it had been brought about
that she now sat in her corner of the luxurious carriage with her
little patient hands folded before her, quite displaced even from
the last point of the old standing ground in life on which her feet
It was from this position that all she saw appeared unreal; the
more surprising the scenes, the more they resembled the unreality
of her own inner life as she went through its vacant places all day
long. The gorges of the Simplon, its enormous depths and
thundering waterfalls, the wonderful road, the points of danger
where a loose wheel or a faltering horse would have been
destruction, the descent into Italy, the opening of that beautiful
land as the rugged mountain-chasm widened and let them out from a
gloomy and dark imprisonment--all a dream--only the old mean
Marshalsea a reality. Nay, even the old mean Marshalsea was shaken
to its foundations when she pictured it without her father. She
could scarcely believe that the prisoners were still lingering in
the close yard, that the mean rooms were still every one tenanted,
and that the turnkey still stood in the Lodge letting people in and
out, all just as she well knew it to be.
With a remembrance of her father's old life in prison hanging about
her like the burden of a sorrowful tune, Little Dorrit would wake
from a dream of her birth-place into a whole day's dream. The
painted room in which she awoke, often a humbled state-chamber in
a dilapidated palace, would begin it; with its wild red autumnal
vine-leaves overhanging the glass, its orange-trees on the cracked
white terrace outside the window, a group of monks and peasants in
the little street below, misery and magnificence wrestling with
each other upon every rood of ground in the prospect, no matter how
widely diversified, and misery throwing magnificence with the
strength of fate. To this would succeed a labyrinth of bare
passages and pillared galleries, with the family procession already
preparing in the quadrangle below, through the carriages and
luggage being brought together by the servants for the day's
journey. Then breakfast in another painted chamber, damp-stained
and of desolate proportions; and then the departure, which, to her
timidity and sense of not being grand enough for her place in the
ceremonies, was always an uneasy thing. For then the courier (who
himself would have been a foreign gentleman of high mark in the
Marshalsea) would present himself to report that all was ready; and
then her father's valet would pompously induct him into his
travelling-cloak; and then Fanny's maid, and her own maid (who was
a weight on Little Dorrit's mind--absolutely made her cry at first,
she knew so little what to do with her), would be in attendance;
and then her brother's man would complete his master's equipment;
and then her father would give his arm to Mrs General, and her
uncle would give his to her, and, escorted by the landlord and Inn
servants, they would swoop down-stairs. There, a crowd would be
collected to see them enter their carriages, which, amidst much
bowing, and begging, and prancing, and lashing, and clattering,
they would do; and so they would be driven madly through narrow
unsavoury streets, and jerked out at the town gate.
Among the day's unrealities would be roads where the bright red
vines were looped and garlanded together on trees for many miles;
woods of olives; white villages and towns on hill-sides, lovely
without, but frightful in their dirt and poverty within; crosses by
the way; deep blue lakes with fairy islands, and clustering boats
with awnings of bright colours and sails of beautiful forms; vast
piles of building mouldering to dust; hanging-gardens where the
weeds had grown so strong that their stems, like wedges driven
home, had split the arch and rent the wall; stone-terraced lanes,
with the lizards running into and out of every chink; beggars of
all sorts everywhere: pitiful, picturesque, hungry, merry; children
beggars and aged beggars. Often at posting-houses and other
halting places, these miserable creatures would appear to her the
only realities of the day; and many a time, when the money she had
brought to give them was all given away, she would sit with her
folded hands, thoughtfully looking after some diminutive girl
leading her grey father, as if the sight reminded her of something
in the days that were gone.
Again, there would be places where they stayed the week together in
splendid rooms, had banquets every day, rode out among heaps of
wonders, walked through miles of palaces, and rested in dark
corners of great churches; where there were winking lamps of gold
and silver among pillars and arches, kneeling figures dotted about
at confessionals and on the pavements; where there was the mist and
scent of incense; where there were pictures, fantastic images,
gaudy altars, great heights and distances, all softly lighted
through stained glass, and the massive curtains that hung in the
doorways. From these cities they would go on again, by the roads
of vines and olives, through squalid villages, where there was not
a hovel without a gap in its filthy walls, not a window with a
whole inch of glass or paper; where there seemed to be nothing to
support life, nothing to eat, nothing to make, nothing to grow,
nothing to hope, nothing to do but die.
Again they would come to whole towns of palaces, whose proper
inmates were all banished, and which were all changed into
barracks: troops of idle soldiers leaning out of the state windows,
where their accoutrements hung drying on the marble architecture,
and showing to the mind like hosts of rats who were (happily)
eating away the props of the edifices that supported them, and must
soon, with them, be smashed on the heads of the other swarms of
soldiers and the swarms of priests, and the swarms of spies, who
were all the ill-looking population left to be ruined, in the
Through such scenes, the family procession moved on to Venice. And
here it dispersed for a time, as they were to live in Venice some
few months in a palace (itself six times as big as the whole
Marshalsea) on the Grand Canal.
In this crowning unreality, where all the streets were paved with
water, and where the deathlike stillness of the days and nights was
broken by no sound but the softened ringing of church-bells, the
rippling of the current, and the cry of the gondoliers turning the
corners of the flowing streets, Little Dorrit, quite lost by her
task being done, sat down to muse. The family began a gay life,
went here and there, and turned night into day; but she was timid
of joining in their gaieties, and only asked leave to be left
Sometimes she would step into one of the gondolas that were always
kept in waiting, moored to painted posts at the door--when she
could escape from the attendance of that oppressive maid, who was
her mistress, and a very hard one--and would be taken all over the
strange city. Social people in other gondolas began to ask each
other who the little solitary girl was whom they passed, sitting in
her boat with folded hands, looking so pensively and wonderingly
about her. Never thinking that it would be worth anybody's while
to notice her or her doings, Little Dorrit, in her quiet, scared,
lost manner, went about the city none the less.
But her favourite station was the balcony of her own room,
overhanging the canal, with other balconies below, and none above.
It was of massive stone darkened by ages, built in a wild fancy
which came from the East to that collection of wild fancies; and
Little Dorrit was little indeed, leaning on the broad-cushioned
ledge, and looking over. As she liked no place of an evening half
so well, she soon began to be watched for, and many eyes in passing
gondolas were raised, and many people said, There was the little
figure of the English girl who was always alone.
Such people were not realities to the little figure of the English
girl; such people were all unknown to her. She would watch the
sunset, in its long low lines of purple and red, and its burning
flush high up into the sky: so glowing on the buildings, and so
lightening their structure, that it made them look as if their
strong walls were transparent, and they shone from within. She
would watch those glories expire; and then, after looking at the
black gondolas underneath, taking guests to music and dancing,
would raise her eyes to the shining stars. Was there no party of
her own, in other times, on which the stars had shone? To think of
that old gate now! She would think of that old gate, and of
herself sitting at it in the dead of the night, pillowing Maggy's
head; and of other places and of other scenes associated with those
different times. And then she would lean upon her balcony, and
look over at the water, as though they all lay underneath it. When
she got to that, she would musingly watch its running, as if, in
the general vision, it might run dry, and show her the prison
again, and herself, and the old room , and the old inmates, and the
old visitors: all lasting realities that had never changed.