V.—The End of Dombey and Son
The stonemason to whom Mr. Dombey gave his order for a tablet in the church, in memory of little Paul, called his attention to the inscription "Beloved and only child," and said, "It should be 'son,' I think, sir?"
"You are right, of course. Make the correction."
And there came a time when it was to Florence, and Florence only, that Mr. Dombey turned. For the great house of Dombey and Son fell, and in the crash its proud head became a ruined man, ruined beyond recovery.
Bankrupt in purse, his personal pride was yet further humbled. For Mr. Dombey had married again, a loveless match, and his wife deserted him. In the hour when he discovered that desertion he had driven his daughter Florence from the house.
He was fallen now never to be raised up any more. For the night of his worldly ruin there was no to-morrow's sun, for the stain of his domestic shame there was no purification.
In his pride—for he was proud yet—he let the world go from him freely. As it fell away, he shook it off. He knew, now, what it was to be rejected and deserted. Dombey and Son was no more—his children no more.
His daughter Florence had married—married a young sailor once a boy in the office of Dombey and Son—and thinking of her, Dombey, in the solitude of his dismantled home, remembered that she had never changed to him through all those years; and the mist through which he had seen her, cleared, and showed him her true self.
He wandered through the rooms, and thought of suicide; a guilty hand was grasping what was in his breast.
It was arrested by a cry—a wild, loud, loving, rapturous cry, and he saw his daughter.
"Papa! Dearest papa!"
Unchanged still. Of all the world unchanged.
He tottered to his chair. He felt her draw his arms about her neck. He felt her kisses on his face, he felt—oh, how deeply!—all that he had done.
She laid his face, now covered with his hands, against the heart that he had almost broken, and said, sobbing, "Papa, love, I am a mother. Papa, dear, oh, say God bless me and my little child!"
His head, now grey, was encircled by her arm, and he groaned to think that never, never had it rested so before.
"My little child was born at sea, papa. I prayed to God to spare me that I might come. The moment I could land I came to you. Never let us be parted any more, papa!"
He kissed her on the lips, and lifting up his eyes, said, "Oh, my God, forgive me, for I need it very much!"
* * * * *
"Great Expectations," first published as a serial in "All the Year Round," in 1861, is one of Dickens's finest works. It is rounded off so completely and the characters are so admirably drawn that, as a finished work of art, it is hard to say where the genius of its author has surpassed it. If there is less of the exuberance of "Pickwick," there is also less of the characteristic exaggeration of Dickens; and the pathos of the ex-convict's return is far deeper than the pathos of children's death-beds, so frequently exhibited by the author. "Great Expectations," for all its rare qualities, has never achieved the wide popularity of the novels of Charles Dickens that preceded it. We are not generally familiar with any name in the story, as we are with at least one name in all the other novels. Yet, Pip, as a study of child-life, youth, and early manhood, is as excellent as anything in the whole range of English fiction.
I.—In the Marshes
My father's family name being Pirrip, and my Christian name Philip, I called myself with my infant tongue Pip, and came to be called Pip.
My first most vivid impression of things seems to me to have been gained on a memorable raw afternoon, one Christmas Eve. Ours was the marsh country, down the river, within twenty miles of the sea; and I had wandered into a bleak place overgrown with nettles called a churchyard.
"Hold your noise," cried a terrible voice, as a man started up from among the graves at the side of the church porch. "Keep still, you little devil, or I'll cut your throat!"
A fearful man, all in coarse grey, with a great iron on his leg. A man who had been soaked in water, and smothered in mud, and cut by stones; who limped and shivered, and glared and growled.
"Oh! don't cut my throat, sir," I pleaded in terror. "Pray don't do it, sir."
"Tell us your name! quick!"
"Show us where you live," said the man. "P'int out the place. Who d'ye live with?"
I pointed to where our village was, and said, "With my sister, sir—Mrs. Joe Gargery—wife of Joe Gargery, the blacksmith, sir."
"Blacksmith, eh?" said he, and looked down at his leg. Then he took me by the arms. "Now lookee here. You know what a file is?"
"And you know what wittles is?"
"You get me a file, and you get me wittles. You bring 'em both to me, or I'll have your heart and liver out. You bring the lot to me, to-morrow morning early, that file and them wittles you bring the lot to me at that old battery over yonder. You do it, and you never dare to say a word concerning your having seen me, and you shall be let to live. You fail, or you go from my words in any partickler, no matter how small it is, and your heart and your liver shall be tore out, roasted, and ate. Now what do you say?"
I said that I would get him the file, and I would get him what broken bits of food I could, and I would come to him at the Battery, early in the morning.
As soon as the darkness outside my little window was shot with grey, I got up and went downstairs. I stole some bread, some rind of cheese, about half a jar of mincemeat (which I tied up in my pocket handkerchief), some brandy from a stone bottle (which I decanted into a glass bottle I had used for Spanish liquorice water up in my room), a meat bone with very little on it, and a beautiful round pork pie.
There was a door in the kitchen communicating with the forge; I unlocked and unbolted that door, got a file from among Joe's tools, put the fastenings as I had found them, and ran for the marshes.
It was a rainy morning, and very damp. I knew my way to the Battery, for I had been down there on a Sunday with Joe, and had just scrambled up the mound beyond the ditch when I saw the man sitting before me—with his back toward me.
I touched him on the shoulder, and he instantly jumped up, and it was not the same man, but another man—dressed in coarse grey, too, with a great iron on his leg.
He aimed a blow at me, and then ran into the mist, stumbling as he went, and I lost him.
I was soon at the Battery after that, and there was the right man waiting for me. He was awfully cold. And his eyes looked awfully hungry.
He devoured the food, mincemeat, meatbone, bread, cheese, and pork pie, all at once—more like a man who was putting it away somewhere in a violent hurry, than a man who was eating it, only stopping from time to time to listen.
"You're not a deceiving imp? You brought no one with you?"
"No, sir! No!"
"Well," said he, "I believe you. You'd be but a fierce young hound indeed if at your time of life you could help to hunt a wretched varmint, hunted as near death and dunghill as this poor wretched varmint is."
While he was eating I mentioned that I had just seen another man dressed like him, and with a badly bruised face.
"Not here?" he exclaimed, striking his left cheek.
He swore he would pull him down like a bloodhound, and then crammed what little food was left into the breast of his grey jacket, and began to file at his iron like a madman; so I thought the best thing that I could do was to slip off home.
II.—I Meet Estella
I must have been about ten years old when I went to Miss Havisham's, and first met Estella.
My uncle Pumblechook, who kept a cornchandler's shop in the high-street of the town, took me to the large old, dismal house, which had all its windows barred. For miles round everybody had heard of Miss Havisham as an immensely rich and grim lady who led a life of seclusion; and everybody soon knew that Mr. Pumblechook had been commissioned to bring her a boy.
He left me at the courtyard, and a young lady, who was very pretty and seemed very proud, let me in, and I noticed that the passages were all dark, and that there was a candle burning. My guide, who called me "boy," but was really about my own age, was as scornful of me as if she had been one-and-twenty, and a queen. She led me to Miss Havisham's room, and there, in an armchair, with her elbow resting on the table, sat the strangest lady I have ever seen, or shall ever see.
She was dressed in rich materials—satins and lace and silks—all of white—or rather, which had been white, but, like all else in the room, were now faded yellow. Her shoes were white, and she had a long white veil dependent from her hair, and bridal flowers in her hair; but her hair was white. I saw that the bride within the bridal dress had withered like the dress.
"Who is it?" said the lady at the table.
"Pip, ma'am. Mr. Pumblechook's boy."
"Come nearer; let me look at you; come close. You are not afraid of a woman who has never seen the sun since you were born?"
"Do you know what I touch here?" she said, laying her hands, one upon the other, on her left side.
"Yes, ma'am; your heart."
"Broken!" She was silent for a little while, and then added, "I am tired; I want diversion. Play, play, play!"
What was an unfortunate boy to do? I didn't know how to play.
"Call Estella," said the lady. "Call Estella, at the door."
It was a dreadful thing to be bawling "Estella" to a scornful young lady in a mysterious passage in an unknown house, but I had to do it. And Estella came, and I heard her say, in answer to Miss Havisham, "Play with this boy! Why, he is a common labouring boy!"
I thought I overheard Miss Havisham answer, "Well? You can break his heart."
We played at beggar my neighbour, and before the game was out Estella said disdainfully, "He calls the knaves Jacks, this boy! And what coarse hands he has! And what thick boots!"
I was very glad to get away. My coarse hands and my common boots had never troubled me before; but they troubled me now, and I determined to ask Joe why he had taught me to call those picture cards Jacks which ought to be called knaves.
For a long time I went once a week to this strange, gloomy house—it was called Satis House—and once Estella told me I might kiss her.
And then Miss Havisham decided I was to be apprenticed to Joe, and gave him L25 for the purpose; and I left off going to see her, and helped Joe in the forge. But I didn't like Joe's trade, and I was afflicted by that most miserable thing—to feel ashamed of home.
I couldn't resist paying Miss Havisham a visit; and, not seeing Estella, stammered that I hoped she was well.
"Abroad," said Miss Havisham; "educating for a lady; far out of reach; prettier than ever; admired by all who see her. Do you feel that you have lost her?"
I was spared the trouble of answering by being dismissed, and went home dissatisfied and uncomfortable, thinking myself coarse and common, and wanting to be a gentleman.
It was in the fourth year of my apprenticeship when, one Saturday night, Joe and I were up at the Three Jolly Bargemen, according to our custom.
A stranger, who did not recognise me, but whom I recognised as a gentleman I had met on the stairs at Miss Havisham's, was in the room; and on his asking for a blacksmith named Gargery and his apprentice named Pip, and, being answered, said he wanted to have a private conference with us two.
Joe took him home, and the stranger told us his name was Jaggers, and that he was a lawyer in London.
"Now, Joseph Gargery, I am the bearer of an offer to relieve you of this young fellow, your apprentice. You would not object to cancel his indentures at his request and for his good?"
"No," said Joe.
"The communication I have got to make to this young fellow is that he has great expectations."
Joe and I gasped, and looked at one another.
"I am instructed to tell him," said Mr. Jaggers, "that he will come into a handsome property. Further, it is the desire of the present possessor of that property that he be immediately removed from his present sphere of life and be brought up as a gentleman, and that he always bear the name of Pip. Now, you are to understand that the name of the person who is your liberal benefactor remains a profound secret until the person chooses to reveal it, and you are most positively prohibited from making any inquiry on this head. If you have a suspicion, keep it in your own breast."
Mr. Jaggers went on to say that if I accepted the expectations on these terms, there was already money in hand for my education and maintenance, and that one Mr. Matthew Pocket, in London (whom I knew to be a relation of Miss Havisham's), could be my tutor if I was willing to go to him, say in a week's time. Of course I accepted this wonderful good fortune, and had no doubt in my own mind that Miss Havisham was my benefactress.
When Mr. Jaggers asked Joe whether he desired any compensation, Joe laid his hand upon my shoulder with the touch of a woman. "Pip is that hearty welcome," said Joe, "to go free with his services, to honour and fortun', as no words can tell him. But if you think as money can make compensation to me for the loss of the little child—what come to the forge—and ever the best of friends!" He scooped his eyes with his disengaged hand, but said not another word.
III.—I Know My Benefactor
I went to London, and studied with Mr. Matthew Pocket, and shared rooms with his son Herbert (who, knowing my earlier life, decided to call me Handel), first in Barnard's Inn and later in the Temple.
On my twenty-first birthday I received L500, and this (unknown to Herbert) I managed to make over to my friend in order to secure him a managership in a business house.
My studies were not directed in any professional channel, but were pursued with a view to my being equal to any emergency when my expectations, which I had been told to look forward to, were fulfilled.
Estella was often in London, and I met her at many houses, and was desperately in love with her. But though she treated me with friendship, she was proud and capricious as ever, and a few years later married a man whom I knew and detested—a Mr. Bentley Drummle, a bully and a scoundrel.
When I was three-and-twenty I happened to be alone one night in our chambers reading, for I had a taste for books. Herbert was away at Marseilles on a business journey.
The clocks had struck eleven, and I closed my books. I was still listening to the clocks, when I heard a footstep on the staircase, and started. The staircase lights were blown out by the wind, and I took my reading-lamp and went out to see who it was.
"There is someone there, is there not?" I called out. "What floor do you want?"
"The top—Mr. Pip."
"That is my name. There is nothing the matter?"
"Nothing the matter," returned the voice. And the man came on.
I made out that the man was roughly but substantially dressed; that he had iron-grey hair; that his age was about sixty; that he was a muscular man, hardened by exposure to weather. I saw nothing that in the least explained him, but I saw that he was holding out both his hands to me.
I could not recall a single feature, but I knew him. No need to take a file from his pocket and show it to me. I knew my convict, in spite of the intervening years, as distinctly as I knew him in the churchyard when we first stood face to face.
He sat down on a chair that stood before the fire, and covered his forehead with his large brown hands.
"You acted nobly, my boy," said he.
I told him that I hoped he had mended his way of life, and was doing well.
"I've done wonderful well," he said. And then he asked me if I was doing well. And when I mentioned that I had been chosen to succeed to some property, he asked whose property? And, after that, if my lawyer-guardian's name began with "J."
All the truth of my position came flashing on me, and quickly I understood that Miss Havisham's intentions towards me were all a mere dream.
"Yes, Pip, dear boy, I've made a gentleman on you. It's me wot has done it! I swore that time, sure as ever I earned a guinea, that guinea should go to you. I swore afterwards, sure as ever I spec'lated and got rich, that you should get rich. Look 'ee here, Pip. I'm your second father. You're my son—more to me nor any son. I've put away money, only for you to spend. You ain't looked slowly forward to this as I have. You wasn't prepared for this as I wos. It warn't easy, Pip, for me to leave them parts, nor it wasn't safe. Look 'ee here, dear boy; caution is necessary."
"How do you mean?" I said. "Caution?"
"I was sent for life. It's death to come back. There's been overmuch coming back of late years, and I should of a certainty be hanged if took."
As Herbert was away, I put the man in the spare room, and gave out that he was my uncle.
He told me something of his story next day, and when Herbert came back and we had found a bed-room for our visitor in Essex Street, he told us all of it. His name was Magwitch—Abel Magwitch—he called himself Provis now—and he had been left by a travelling tinker to grow up alone. "In jail and out of jail, in jail and out of jail—that's my life pretty much, down to such times as I got shipped off, arter Pip stood my friend." But there was a man who "set up fur a gentleman, named Compeyson," and this Compeyson's business was swindling, forging, and stolen banknote passing. Magwitch became his servant, and when both men were arrested, Compeyson turned round on the man whom he had employed, and got off with seven years to Magwitch's fourteen. Compeyson was the second convict of my childhood.
On consideration of the case, and after consultation with Mr. Jaggers, who corroborated the statement that a colonist named Abel Magwitch, of New South Wales, was my benefactor, and admitted that a Mr. Provis had written to him on behalf of Magwitch, concerning my address, we decided that the best thing to be done was to take a lodging for Mr. Provis on the riverside below the Pool, at Mill Pond Bank. It was out of the way, and in case of danger it would be easy to get away by a packet steamer.
The only danger was from Compeyson—for he had gone in terror of his life, and feared the vengeance of the man he had betrayed.
We were soon warned that Compeyson was aware of the return of his enemy, and that flight was necessary. Both Herbert and I noticed how quickly Provis had become softened, and on the night when we were to take him on board a Hamburg steamer he was very gentle.
We were out in mid-stream in a small rowing boat, moving quietly with the tide, when, just as the Hamburg steamer came in sight, a four-oared galley ran aboard of us, and the man who held the lines in it called out, "You have a returned transport there. That's the man wrapped in the cloak. His name is Abel Magwitch—otherwise Provis. I call upon him to surrender, and you to assist."
At once there was great confusion. The steamer was right upon us, and I heard the order given to stop the paddles. In the same moment I saw the steersman of the galley lay his hand on the prisoner's shoulder, and the prisoner start up, lean across his captor, and pull the cloak from the neck of a shrinking man in the galley. Still in the same moment I saw that the face disclosed was the face of the other convict of long ago, and white terror was on it. Then I heard a cry, and a loud splash in the water, and for an instant I seemed to struggle with a thousand mill weirs; the instant past, I was taken on board the galley. Herbert was there, but our boat was gone, and the two convicts were gone. Presently we saw a man swimming, but not swimming easily, and knew him to be Magwitch. He was taken on board, and instantly menacled at the wrists and ankles.
It was not till we had pulled up, and had landed at the riverside, that I could get some comforts for Magwitch, who had received injury in the chest, and a deep cut in the head. He told me that he believed himself to have gone under the keel of the steamer, and to have been struck on the head in rising. The injury to his chest he thought he had received against the side of the galley. He added that Compeyson, in the moment of his laying his hand on his cloak to identify him, had staggered up, and back, and they had both gone overboard together, locked in each other's arms. He had disengaged himself under water, and swam away.
He was taken to the police-court next day, and committed for trial at the, next session, which would come on in a month.
"Dear boy," he said. "Look 'ee, here. It's best as a gentleman should not be knowed to belong to me now."
"I will never stir from your side," said I, "when I am suffered to be near you. Please God, I will be as true to you as you have been to me!"
When the sessions came round, the trial was very short and very clear, and the capital sentence was pronounced. But the prisoner was very ill. Two of his ribs had been broken, and one of his lungs seriously injured, and ten days before the date fixed for his execution death set him free.
"Dear boy," he said, as I sat down by his bed on that last day. "I thought you was late. But I knowed you couldn't be that. You've never deserted me, dear boy."
I pressed his hand in silence.
"And what's the best of all," he said, "you've been more comfortable along of me since I was under a dark cloud than when the sun shone. That's best of all."
He had spoken his last words, and, holding my hand in his, passed away.
And with his death ended my expectations, for the pocket-book containing his wealth went to the Crown.
Herbert took me into his business, and I became a clerk, and afterwards went abroad to take charge of the eastern branch, and when many a year had gone round, became a partner.
It was eleven years later when I was down in the marshes again. I had been to see Joe Gargery, who was as friendly as ever, and had strolled on to where Satis House once stood. I had been told of Miss Havisham's death, and also of the death of Estella's husband.
Nothing was left of the old house but the garden wall, and as I stood looking along the desolate garden walk a solitary figure came up. I saw it stop, and half turn away, and then let me come up to it. It faltered as if much surprised, and uttered my name, and I cried out, "Estella!"
I took her hand in mine, and we went out of the ruined place; and as the morning mists had risen long ago when I first left the forge, so the evening mists were rising now, and in all the broad expanse of tranquil light they showed to me I saw no shadow of another parting from her.
* * * * *
"Hard Times" is not one of the longest, but it is one of the most powerful of Dickens's works. John Ruskin went so far as to call it "in several respects the greatest" book Dickens had written. It is, of course, a fierce attack on the early Victorian school of political economists. The Bounderbys and Gradgrinds are typical of certain characters, and, though they change their form of speech, are still recognisable to-day. As a study of social and industrial life in England in the manufacturing districts fifty years ago, "Hard Times" will always be valuable, though allowance must be made here as elsewhere for the novelist's tendency to exaggeration—exaggeration of virtue no less than of vice or weakness. In Josiah Bounderby and Stephen Blackpool this characteristic is pronounced. The first, according to John Ruskin, being a dramatic monster, and the second a dramatic perfection. The story first appeared serially in "Household Words" between April 1 and August 12, 1854.
I.—Mr. Thomas Gradgrind
"Thomas Gradgrind, sir. A man of facts and calculations. With a rule and a pair of scales, and the multiplication table always in his pocket, sir, ready to weigh and measure any parcel of human nature, and tell you exactly what it comes to."
In such terms Mr. Gradgrind always mentally introduced himself, whether to his private circle of acquaintance or to the public in general. In such terms Thomas Gradgrind presented himself to the schoolmaster and children before him. It was his school, and he intended it to be a model.
"Now, what I want is facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but facts. Facts alone are wanted in life. You can only form the minds of reasoning animals upon facts. This is the principle on which I bring up my own children, and this is the principle on which I bring up these children. Stick to facts, sir."
Mr. Gradgrind, having waited to hear a model lesson delivered by the school master, walked home in a considerable state of satisfaction.
There were five young Gradgrinds, and they were models every one. They had been lectured at from their tenderest years; coursed, like little hares, almost as soon as they could run, they had been made to run to the lecture-room.
To his matter-of-fact home, which was called Stone Lodge, Mr. Gradgrind directed his steps. The house was situated on a moor, within a mile or two of a great town, called Coketown.
On the outskirts of this town a travelling circus ("Sleary's Horse-riding") had pitched its tent, and, to his amazement, Mr. Gradgrind observed his two eldest children trying to obtain a peep, at the back of the booth, of the hidden glories within.
Mr. Gradgrind laid his hand upon the shoulder of each erring child, and said, "Louisa! Thomas!"
"I wanted to see what it was like," said Louisa shortly. "I brought him, I was tired, father. I have been tired a long time."
"Tired? Of what?" asked the astonished father.
"I don't know of what—of everything, I think."
They walked on in silence for some half a mile before Mr. Gradgrind gravely broke out with, "What would your best friends say, Louisa? What would Mr. Bounderby say?"
All the way to Stone Lodge he repeated at intervals, "What would Mr. Bounderby say?"
At the first mention of the name his daughter, a child of fifteen or sixteen now, but at no distant day to become a woman, all at once, stole a look at him, remarkable for its intense and searching character. He saw nothing of it, for before he looked at her, she had again cast down her eyes.
Mr. Bounderby was at Stone Lodge when they arrived. He stood before the fire on the hearth rug, delivering some observations to Mrs. Gradgrind on the circumstance of its being his birthday. It was a commanding position from which to subdue Mrs. Gradgrind.
He stopped in his harangue, which was entirely concerned with the story of his early disadvantages, at the entrance of his eminently practical friend and the two young culprits.
"Well!" blustered Mr. Bounderby, "what's the matter? What is young Thomas in the dumps about?"
He spoke of young Thomas, but he looked at Louisa.
"We were peeping at the circus," muttered Louisa haughtily; "and father caught us."
"And, Mrs. Gradgrind," said her husband, in a lofty manner, "I should as soon have expected to find my children reading poetry."
"Dear me!" whimpered Mrs. Gradgrind. "How can you, Louisa and Thomas? I wonder at you. I declare you're enough to make one regret ever having had a family at all. I have a great mind to say I wish I hadn't. Then what would you have done, I should like to know? As if, with my head in its present throbbing state, you couldn't go and look at the shells and minerals and things provided for you, instead of circuses. I'm sure you have enough to do if that's what you want. With my head in its present state I couldn't remember the mere names of half the facts you have got to attend to."
"That's the reason," pouted Louisa.
"Don't tell me that's the reason, because it can be nothing of the sort," said Mrs. Gradgrind. "Go and be something logical directly."
Mrs. Gradgrind, not being a scientific character, usually dismissed her children to their studies with the general injunction that they were to choose their own pursuit.
II.—Mr. Bounderby of Coketown
Mr. Josiah Bounderby was as near being Mr. Gradgrind's bosom friend as a man perfectly devoid of sentiment can be to another man perfectly devoid of sentiment.
He was a rich man—banker, merchant, manufacturer, and what not. A big, loud man, with a stare and a metallic laugh. A man who could never sufficiently vaunt himself—a self-made man. A man who was always proclaiming, through that brassy speaking-trumpet of a voice of his, his early ignorance and poverty. A man who was the bully of humility.
He was fond of telling, was Mr. Bounderby, how he was born in a ditch, and, abandoned by his mother, how he ran away from his grandmother, who starved and ill-used him, and so became a vagabond. "I pulled through it," he would say, "though nobody threw me out a rope. Vagabond, errand-boy, labourer, porter, clerk, chief manager, small partner—Josiah Bounderby, of Coketown."
This myth of his early life was dissipated later; and it turned out that his mother, a respectable old woman, whom Bounderby pensioned off with thirty pounds a year on condition she never came near him, had pinched herself to help him out in life, and put him as apprentice to a trade. From this apprenticeship he had steadily risen to riches.
Mr. Bounderby held strong views about the people who worked for him, the "hands" he called them; and found, whenever they complained of anything, that they always expected to be set up in a coach and six, and to be fed on turtle soup and venison, with a gold spoon.
As time went on, and young Thomas Gradgrind became old enough to go into Bounderby's Bank, Bounderby decided that Louisa was old enough to be married.
Mr. Gradgrind, now member of parliament for Coketown, mentioned the matter to his daughter.
"Louisa, my dear, you are the subject of a proposal of marriage that has been made to me."
He waited, as if he would have been glad that she said something. Strange to relate Mr. Gradgrind was not so collected at this moment as his daughter was.
"I have undertaken to let you know that—in short, that Mr. Bounderby has long hoped that the time might arrive when he should offer you his hand in marriage. That time has now come, and Mr. Bounderby has made his proposal to me, and has entreated me to make it known to you."
"Father," said Louisa, "do you think I love Mr. Bounderby?"
Mr. Gradgrind was extremely discomforted by this unexpected question. "Well, my child," he returned, "I—really—cannot take upon myself to say."
"Father," pursued Louisa, in exactly the same voice as before, "do you ask me to love Mr. Bounderby?"
"My dear Louisa, no. No, I ask nothing."
"Father, does Mr. Bounderby ask me to love him?"
"Really, my dear, it is difficult to answer your question. Because the reply depends so materially, Louisa, on the sense in which we use the expression. Mr. Bounderby does not pretend to anything sentimental. Now, I should advise you to consider this question simply as one of fact. Now, what are the facts of this case? You are, we will say in round numbers, twenty years of age. Mr. Bounderby is, we will say in round numbers, fifty. There is some disparity in your respective years, but in your means and position there is none; on the contrary, there is a great suitability. Confining yourself rigidly to fact, the questions of fact are: 'Does Mr. Bounderby ask me to marry him?' 'Yes, he does.' And, 'Shall I marry him?'"
"Shall I marry him?" repeated Louisa, with great deliberation.
There was silence between the two before Louisa spoke again. She thought of the shortness of life, of how her brother Tom had said it would be a good thing for him if she made up her mind to do—she knew what.
"While it lasts," she said aloud, "I would like to do the little I can, and the little I am fit for. What does it matter? Mr. Bounderby asks me to marry him. Let it be so. Since Mr. Bounderby likes to take me thus, I am satisfied to accept his proposal. Tell him, father, as soon as you please, that this was my answer. Repeat it, word for word, if you can, because I should wish him to know what I said."
"It is quite right, my dear," retorted her father approvingly, "to be exact I will observe your very proper request. Have you any wish in reference to the period of your marriage, my child?"
"None, father. What does it matter?"
They went into the drawing-room, and Mr. Gradgrind presented Louisa to his wife as Mrs. Bounderby.
"Oh!" said Mrs. Gradgrind. "So you have settled it. I am sure I give you joy, my dear, and I hope you may turn all your ological studies to good account. And now, you see, I shall be worrying myself morning, noon, and night, to know what I am to call him!"
"Mrs. Gradgrind," said her husband solemnly, "what do you mean?"
"Whatever am I to call him when he is married to Louisa? I must call him something. It's impossible to be constantly addressing him, and never giving him a name. I cannot call him Josiah, for the name is insupportable to me. You yourself wouldn't hear of Joe, you very well know. Am I to call my own son-in-law 'Mister?' I believe not, unless the time has arrived when I am to be trampled upon by my relations. Then, what am I to call him?"
There being no answer to this conundrum, Mrs. Gradgrind retired to bed.
The day of the marriage came, and after the wedding-breakfast the bridegroom addressed the company—an improving party, there was no nonsense about any of them—in the following terms.
"Ladies and gentlemen, I am Josiah Bounderby, of Coketown. Since you have done my wife and myself the honour of drinking our healths and happiness, I suppose I must acknowledge the same. If you want a speech, my friend and father-in-law, Tom Gradgrind, is a member of parliament, and you know where to get it. Now, you have mentioned that I am this day married to Tom Gradgrind's daughter. I am very glad to be so. It has long been my wish to be so. I have watched her bringing up, and I believe she is worthy of me. At the same time, I believe I am worthy of her. So I thank you for the goodwill you have shown towards us."
Shortly after which oration, as they were going on a nuptial trip to Lyons, in order that Mr. Bounderby might see how the hands got on in those parts, and whether they, too, required to be fed with gold spoons, the happy pair departed for the railroad. As the bride passed downstairs her brother Tom whispered to her. "What a game girl you are, to be such a first-rate sister, too!"
She clung to him as she would have clung to some far better nature that day, and was shaken in her composure for the first time.
III.—Mr. James Harthouse
The Gradgrind party wanting assistance in the House of Commons, Mr. James Harthouse, who was of good family and appearance, and had tried most things and found them a bore, was sent down to Coketown to study the neighbourhood with a view to entering Parliament.
Mr. Bounderby at once pounced upon him, and James Harthouse was introduced to Mrs. Bounderby and her brother. Tom Gradgrind, junior, brought up under a continuous system of restraint, was a hypocrite, a thief, and, to Mr. James Harthouse, a whelp.
Yet the visitor saw at once that the whelp was the only creature Mrs. Bounderby cared for, and it occurred to him, as time went on, that to win Mrs. Bounderby's affection (for he made no secret of his contempt for politics), he must devote himself to the whelp.
Mr. Bounderby was proud to have Mr. James Harthouse under his roof, proud to show off his greatness and self-importance to this gentleman from London.
"You're a gentleman, and I don't pretend to be one. You're a man of family. I am a bit of dirty riff-raff, and a genuine scrap of rag, tag, and bobtail," said Mr. Bounderby.
At the same time Mr. Bounderby blustered at his wife and bullied his hands, so that Mr. Harthouse might understand his independence.
One of these hands, Stephen Blackpool, an old, steady, faithful workman, who had been boycotted by his fellows for refusing to join a trade union, was summoned to Mr. Bounderby's presence in order that Harthouse might see a specimen of the people that had to be dealt with.
Blackpool said he had nought to say about the trade union business; he had given a promise not to join, that was all.
"Not to me, you know!" said Bounderby.
"Oh, no sir; not to you!"
"Here's a gentleman from London present," Mr. Bounderby said, pointing at Harthouse. "A Parliament gentleman. Now, what do you complain of?"
"I ha' not come here, sir, to complain. I were sent for. Indeed, we are in a muddle, sir. Look round town—so rich as 'tis. Look how we live, and where we live, an' in what numbers; and look how the mills is always a-goin', and how they never works us no nigher to any distant object, 'cepting always, death. Sir, I cannot, wi' my little learning, tell the gentleman what will better this; though some working men o' this town could. But the strong hand will never do't; nor yet lettin' alone will never do't. Ratin' us as so much power and reg'latin' us as if we was figures in a sum, will never do't."
"Now, it's clear to me," said Mr. Bounderby, "that you are one of those chaps who have always got a grievance. And you are such a raspish, ill-conditioned chap that even your own union—the men who know you best—will have nothing to do with you. And I tell you what, I go so far along with them for a novelty, that I'll have nothing to do with you either. You can finish off what you're at, and then go elsewhere."
Thus James Harthouse learnt how Mr. Bounderby dealt with hands.
Mr. Harthouse, however, only felt bored, and took the earliest opportunity to explain to Mrs. Bounderby that he really had no opinions, and that he was going in for her father's opinions, because he might as well back them as anything else.
"The side that can prove anything in a line of units, tens, hundreds, and thousands, Mrs. Bounderby, seems to me to afford the most fun and to give a man the best chance. I am quite ready to go in for it to the same extent as if I believed it. And what more could I possibly do if I did believe it?".
"You are a singular politician," said Louisa.
"Pardon me; I have not even that merit. We are the largest party in the state, I assure you, if we all fell out of our adopted ranks and were reviewed together."
The more Mr. Harthouse's interest waned in politics the greater became his interest in Mrs. Bounderby. And he cultivated the whelp, cultivated him earnestly, and by so doing learnt from the graceless youth that "Loo never cared anything for old Bounderby," and had married him to please her brother.
Gradually, bit by bit, James Harthouse established a confidence with the whelp's sister from which her husband was excluded. He established a confidence with her that absolutely turned upon her indifference towards her husband, and the absence at all times of any congeniality between them. He had artfully, but plainly, assured her that he knew her heart in its last most delicate recesses, and the barrier behind which she lived had melted away.
And yet he had not, even now, any earnest wickedness of purpose in him. So drifting icebergs, setting with a current, wreck the ships.
IV.—Mr. Gradgrind and His Daughter
Mrs. Gradgrind died while her husband was up in London, and Louisa was with her mother when death came.
"You learnt a great deal, Louisa, and so did your brother," said Mrs. Gradgrind, when she was dying. "Ologies of all kinds from morning to night. But there is something—not an ology at all—that your father has missed, or forgotten. I don't know what it is; I shall never get its name now. But your father may. It makes me restless. I want to write to him to find out, for God's sake, what it is."
It was shortly after Mrs. Gradgrind's death that Mr. Bounderby was called away from home on business for a few days; and Mr. James Harthouse, still not sure at times of his purpose, found himself alone with Mrs. Bounderby.
They were in the garden, and Harthouse implored her to accept him as her lover. She urged him to go away, she commanded him to go away; but she neither turned her face to him nor raised it, but sat as still as though she were a statue.
Harthouse declared that she was the stake for which he ardently desired to play away all that he had in life; that the objects he had lately pursued turned worthless beside her; the success that was almost within his grasp he flung away from him, like the dirt it was, compared with her.
All this, and more, he said, and pleaded for a further meeting.
"Not here," Louisa said calmly.
They parted at the beginning of a heavy shower of rain, and the fall James Harthouse had ridden for was averted.
Mrs. Bounderby left her husband's house, left it for good; not to share Mr. Harthouse's life, but to return to her father.
Mr. Gradgrind, released from parliament for a time, was alone in his study, when his eldest daughter entered.
"What is the matter, Louisa?"
"Father, I want to speak to you. You have trained me from my cradle?"
"I curse the hour in which I was born to such a destiny. How could you give me life, and take from me all the things that raise it from the state of conscious death? Now, hear what I have come to say. With a hunger and a thirst upon me, father, which have never been for a moment appeased, in a condition where it seemed nothing could be worth the pain and trouble of a contest, you proposed my husband to me."
"I never knew you were unhappy, my child!"
"I took him. I never made a pretence to him or you that I loved him. I knew, and, father you knew, and he knew, that I never did. I was not wholly indifferent, for I had a hope of being pleasant and useful to Tom. But Tom had been the subject of all the little tenderness of my life, perhaps he became so because I knew so well how to pity him. It matters little now, except as it may dispose you to think more leniently of his errors."
"What can I do, child? Ask me what you will."
"I am coming to it. Father, chance has thrown into my way a new acquaintance; a man such as I had had no experience of—light, polished, easy. I only wondered it should be worth his while, who cared for nothing else, to care so much for me. It matters little how he gained my confidence. Father, he did gain it. What you know of the story of my marriage he soon knew just as well."
Her father's face was ashy white.
"I have done no worse; I have not disgraced you. This night, my husband being away, he has been with me. This minute he expects me, for I could release myself of his presence by no other means. I do not know that I am sorry or ashamed. All that I know is, your philosophy and your teaching will not save me. Father, you have brought me to this. Save me by some other means?"
She fell insensible, and he saw the pride of his heart and the triumph of his system lying at his feet. And it came to Thomas Gradgrind that night and on the morrow when he sat beside his daughter's bed, that there was a wisdom of the heart no less than a wisdom of the head; and that in supposing the latter to be all sufficient, he had erred.
But no such change of mind took place in Mr. Bounderby. Finding his wife absent, he went at once to Stone Lodge, and blustered in his usual way.
Mr. Gradgrind tried to make him understand that the best thing to do was to leave things as they were for a time, and that Louisa, who had been so tried, should stay on a visit to her father, and be treated with tenderness and consideration. It was all wasted on Blunderby.
"Now, I don't want to quarrel with you, Tom Gradgrind!" he retorted. "If your daughter, whom I made Loo Bounderby, and might have done better by leaving Loo Gradgrind, don't come home at noon to-morrow, I shall understand that she prefers to stay away, and you'll take charge of her in future. What I shall say to people in general of the incompatibility that led to my so laying down the law will be this: I am Josiah Bounderby, she's the daughter of Tom Gradgrind; and the two horses wouldn't pull together. I am pretty well known to be rather an uncommon man, and most people will understand that it must be a woman rather out of the common who would come up to my mark. I have got no more to say. Good-night!"
At five minutes past twelve next day, Mr. Bounderby directed his wife's property to be carefully packed up and sent to Tom Gradgrind's, and then resumed a bachelor's life.
Mr. James Harthouse, learning from Louisa's maid—a young woman greatly attached to her mistress—that his attentions were altogether undesirable, and that he would never see Mrs. Bounderby again, decided to throw up politics and leave Coketown at once. Which he did.
Into how much of futurity did Mr. Bounderby see as he sat alone? Had he any prescience of the day, five years to come, when Josiah Bounderby, of Coketown, was to die in a fit in the Coketown street? Could he foresee Mr. Gradgrind, a white-haired man, making his facts and figures subservient to Faith, Hope, and Charity, and no longer trying to grind that Heavenly trio in his dusty little mills? These things were to be.
Could Louisa, sitting alone in her father's house and gazing into the fire, foresee the childless years before her? Could she picture a lonely brother, flying from England after robbery, and dying in a strange land, conscious of his want of love and penitent? These things were to be. Herself again a wife—a mother—lovingly watchful of her children, ever careful that they should have a childhood of the mind no less than a childhood of the body, as knowing it to be an even more beautiful thing, and a possession any hoarded scrap of which is a blessing and happiness to the wisest? Such a thing was never to be.
* * * * *
"Little Dorrit" was written at a time when the author was busying himself not only with other literary work, but also with semi-private theatricals. John Forster, Charles Dickens's biographer and friend, even had some sort of fear at that time that Dickens was in danger of adopting the stage as a profession. Domestic troubles, culminating a year later in the separation from his wife, also explain the restlessness and general dissatisfaction which affected the great novelist in the years 1855-57, when this story appeared. Hence there is no surprise that "Little Dorrit" added but little to its author's reputation. It is a very long book, but it will never take a front-rank place. The story, however, on its appearance in monthly parts, the first of which was published in January 1856, and the completed work in 1857, was enormously successful, beating, in Dickens's own words, "'Bleak House' out of the field." Popular with the public, it has never won the critics.
I.—The Father of the Marshalsea
Thirty years ago there stood, a few doors short of the church of Saint George, in the Borough of Southwark, on the left-hand side of the way going southward, the Marshalsea Prison. It had stood there many years before, and it remained there some years afterwards; but it is gone now, and the world is none the worse without it.
A debtor had been taken to the Marshalsea Prison, a very amiable and very helpless middle-aged gentleman who was perfectly clear—"like all the rest of them," the turnkey on the lock said—that he was going out again directly.
The affairs of this debtor, a shy, retiring man, with a mild voice and irresolute hands, were perplexed by a partnership, of which he knew no more than that he had invested money in it.
"Out?" said the turnkey. "He'll never get out unless his creditors take him by the shoulders and shove him out!"
The next day the debtor's wife came to the Marshalsea, bringing with her a little boy of three, and a little girl of two.
"Two children," the turnkey observed to himself. "And you another, which makes three; and your wife another, which makes four."
Six months later a little girl was born to the debtor, and when this child was eight years old, her mother, who had long been languishing, died.
The debtor had long grown accustomed to the place. Crushed at first by his imprisonment, he had soon found a dull relief in it. His elder children played regularly about the yard. If he had been a man with strength of purpose, he might have broken the net that held him, or broken his heart; but being what he was, he slipped easily into this smooth descent, and never more took one step upward.
The shabby old debtor with the soft manners and the white hair became the Father of the Marshalsea. And he grew to be proud of the title. All newcomers were presented to him. He was punctilious in the exaction of this ceremony. They were welcome to the Marshalsea, he would tell them.
It became a not unusual circumstance for letters to be put under his door at night enclosing half-a-crown, two half-crowns, now and then, at long intervals, even half a sovereign, for the Father of the Marshalsea, "With the compliments of a collegian taking leave." He received the gifts as tributes to a public character.
Later he established the custom of attending collegians of a certain standing to the gate, and taking leave of them there. The collegian under treatment would often wrap up something in a paper and give it to him, "For the Father of the Marshalsea."
II.—The Child of the Marshalsea
The youngest child of the Father of the Marshalsea, born within the jail, was a very, very little creature indeed when she gained the knowledge that while her own light steps were free to pass beyond the prison gate, her father's feet must never cross that line.
At thirteen she could read and keep accounts—that is, could put down in words and figures how much the bare necessaries they needed would cost, and how much less they had to buy them with. From the first she was inspired to be something which was not what the rest were, and to be that something for the sake of the rest. Recognised as useful, even indispensable, she took the place of eldest of the three in all but precedence; was the head of the fallen family, and bore, in her own heart, its anxieties and shames. She had been, by snatches of a few weeks at a time, to an evening school outside, and got her sister and brother sent to day schools by desultory starts, during three or four years. There was no instruction for any of them at home; but she knew well—no one better—that a man so broken as to be the Father of the Marshalsea could be no father to his own children.
To these scanty means of improvement she added others. Her sister Fanny, having a great desire to learn dancing, the Child of the Marshalsea persuaded a dancing-master, detained for a short time, to teach her. And Fanny became a dancer.
There was a ruined uncle in the family group, ruined by his brother, the Father of the Marshalsea, and knowing no more how than his ruiner did, on whom Fanny's protection devolved. Naturally a retired and simple man, he had shown no particular sense of being ruined, further than that he left off washing when the shock was announced, and never took to that luxury any more. Having been a very indifferent musical amateur in his better days, when he fell with his brother he resorted for support to playing a clarionet in a small theatre orchestra. It was the theatre in which his niece became a dancer, and he accepted the task of serving as her escort and guardian.
To get her brother—christened Edward, but called Tip—out of the prison was a more difficult task. Every post she obtained for him he always gave up, returning with the announcement that he was tired of it, and had cut it.
One day he came back, and said he was in for good, that he had been taken for forty pounds odd. For the first time in all those years, she sank under her cares. It was so hard to make Tip understand that the Father of the Marshalsea must not know the truth about his son.
For, the Father of the Marshalsea, as he grew more dependent on the contributions of his changing family, made the greater stand by his forlorn gentility. So the pretence had to be kept up that neither of his daughters earned their bread.
The Child of the Marshalsea learned needlework of an insolvent milliner, and went out daily to work for a Mrs. Clennam.
This was the life and this the history of the Child of the Marshalsea at twenty-two. Worldly wise in hard and poor necessities, she was innocent in all things else. This was the life, and this the history of Little Dorrit, now going home upon a dull September evening, and observed at a distance by Arthur Clennam. Arthur Clennam had returned to his mother's house—a dark and gloomy place—from the Far East. He had noticed that Little Dorrit appeared at eight, and left at eight. She let herself out to do needlework, he was told. What became of her between the two eights was a mystery.
It was not easy for Arthur Clennam to make out Little Dorrit's face; she plied her needle in such retired corners. But it seemed to be a pale, transparent face, quick in expression, though not beautiful in feature. A delicately bent head, a tiny form, a quick little pair of busy hands, and a shabby dress—shabby but very neat—were Little Dorrit as she sat at work.
Arthur Clennam watched Little Dorrit disappear within the outer gate of the Marshalsea, and presently stopped an old man to ask what place it was.
"This is the Marshalsea, sir."
"Can anyone go in here?"
"Anyone can go in," replied the old man, plainly implying, "but it is not everyone who can go out."
"Pardon me once more. I am not impertinently curious. But are you familiar with the place? Do you know the name of Dorrit here?"
"My name, sir," replied the old man, "is Dorrit."
Clennam explained that he had seen a young woman working at his mother's, spoken of as Little Dorrit, and had noticed her come in here, and that he was sincerely interested in her, and wanted to know something about her.
"I know very little of the world, sir," replied the old man, "it would not be worth while to mislead me. The young woman whom you saw go in is my brother's child. You say you have seen her at your mother's, and have felt an interest in her, and wish to know what she does here. Come and see."
Arthur Clennam followed his guide to the room of the Father of the Marshalsea.
"I found this gentleman," said the uncle—"Mr. Clennam, William, son of Amy's friend—at the outer gate, wishful, as he was going by, of paying his respects. This is my brother William, sir."
"Mr. Clennam," said William Dorrit, "you are welcome, sir; pray sit down. I have welcomed many visitors here."
The Father of the Marshalsea went on to mention that he had been gratified by the testimonials of his visitors—the "very acceptable testimonials."
When Clennam left he presented his testimonial, and the next morning found him there again. He went out with Little Dorrit alone; asked her if she had ever heard his mother's name before.
"I am not asking from any reason that can cause you anxiety. You think that at no time of your father's life was my name of Clennam ever familiar to him?"
"No, sir. And, oh, I hope you will not misunderstand my father! Don't judge him, sir, as you would judge others outside the gates. He has been there so long."
They had walked some way before they returned. She was not working at Mrs. Clennam's that day.
The courtyard received them at last, and there he said good-bye to Little Dorrit. Little as she had always looked, she looked less than ever when he saw her going into the Marshalsea Lodge passage.
Aware that his mother might have once averted the ruin of the Dorrit family, Clennam returned more than once to the Marshalsea. No word of love crossed his lips; he told Little Dorrit to think of him as an old man, old enough to be her father, and he besought her only to let him know if at any time he could do her service. "I press for no confidence now. I only ask you to repose unhesitating trust in me," he said.
"Can I do less than that when you are so good?"
"Then you will trust me fully? Will have no secret unhappiness or anxiety concealed from me?"
But if Arthur Clennam kept silent, Little Dorrit was not without a lover. Years ago young John Chivery, the sentimental son of the turnkey, had eyed her with admiring wonder. There seemed to young John a fitness in the attachment. She, the Child of the Marshalsea; he, the lock-keeper. Every Sunday young John presented cigars to the Father of the Marshalsea—who was glad to get them—and one particular Sunday afternoon he mustered up courage to urge his suit.
Little Dorrit was out, walking on the Iron Bridge, when young John found her.
"Miss Amy," he stammered, "I have had for a long time—ages they seem to me—a heart-cherished wish to say something to you. May I say it? May I, Miss Amy? I but ask the question humbly—may I say it? I know very well your family is far above mine. It were vain to conceal it. I know very well that your high-souled brother, and likewise your spirited sister, spurn me from a height."
"If you please, John Chivery," Little Dorrit answered, in a quiet way, "since you are so considerate as to ask me whether you shall say any more—if you please, no."
"Never, Miss Amy?"
"No, if you please. Never."
"Oh, Lord!" gasped young John.
"When you think of us, John—I mean, my brother and sister and me—don't think of us as being any different from the rest; for whatever we once were we ceased to be long ago, and never can be any more. And, good-bye, John. And I hope you will have a good wife one day, and be a happy man. I am sure you will deserve to be happy, and you will be, John."
"Good-bye, Miss Amy. Good-bye!"
III.—The Marshalsea Becomes an Orphan
It turned out that Mr. Dorrit, being of the Dorrits of Dorsetshire, was heir-at-law to a great fortune. Inquiries and investigations confirmed it.
Arthur Clennam broke the news to Little Dorrit, and together they went to the, Marshalsea. William Dorrit was sitting in his old grey gown and his old black cap in the sunlight by the window when they entered. "Father, Mr. Clennam has brought me such joyful and wonderful intelligence about you!"
Her agitation was great, and the old man put his hand suddenly to his heart, and looked at Clennam.
"Tell me, Mr. Dorrit, what surprise would be the most unlocked for and the most acceptable to you. Do not be afraid to imagine it, or to say what it would be."
He looked steadfastly at Clennam, and, so looking at him, seemed to change into a very old, haggard man. The sun was bright upon the wall beyond the window, and on the spikes at the top. He slowly stretched out the hand that had been upon his heart, and pointed at the wall.
"It is down," said Clennam. "Gone! And in its place are the means to possess and enjoy the utmost that they have so long shut out. Mr. Dorrit, there is not the smallest doubt that within a few days you will be free and highly prosperous."
They had to fetch wine for the old man, and when he had swallowed a little he leaned back in his chair and cried. But he quickly recovered, and announced that everybody concerned should be nobly rewarded.
"No one, my dear sir, shall say that he has an unsatisfied claim against me. Everybody shall be remembered. I will not go away from here in anybody's debt. I particularly wish to act munificently, Mr. Clennam."
Clennam's offer of money for present contingencies was at once accepted.
"I am obliged to you for the temporary accommodation, sir. Exceedingly temporary, but well timed—well timed. Be so kind, sir, as to add the amount to former advances."
He grew more composed presently, and then when he seemed to be falling asleep unexpectedly sat up and said, "Mr. Clennam, am I to understand, my dear sir, that I could pass through the lodge at this moment, and take a walk?"
"I think not, Mr. Dorrit," was the unwilling reply. "There are certain forms to be completed. It is but a few hours now."
"A few hours, sir!" he returned in a sudden passion. "You talk very easily of hours, sir! How long do you suppose, sir, that an hour is to a man who is choking; for want of air?"
It was his last demonstration for that time, but in the interval before the day of his departure he was very imperious with the lawyers concerned in his release, and a good deal of business was transacted.
Mr. Arthur Clennam received a cheque for L24 93. 8d. from the solicitors of Edward Dorrit, Esq.—once "Tip"—with a note that the favour of the advance now repaid had not been asked of him.
To the applications made by collegians within the so-soon-to-be-orphaned Marshalsea for small sums of money, Mr. Dorrit responded with the greatest liberality. He also invited the whole College to a comprehensive entertainment in the yard, and went about among the company on that occasion, and took notice of individuals, like a baron of the olden time, in a rare good humour.
And now the final hour arrived when he and his family were to leave the prison for ever. The carriage was reported ready in the outer courtyard. Mr. Dorrit and his brother proceeded arm in arm, Edward Dorrit, Esq., and his sister Fanny followed, also arm in arm.
There was not a collegian within doors, nor a turnkey absent, as they crossed the yard. Mr. Dorrit—whose meat and drink had many a time been bought with money presented by some of those who stood to watch him go—yielding to the vast speculation how the poor creatures were to get on without him, was great, and sad, but not absorbed. He patted children on the head like Sir Roger de Coverley going to church, spoke to people in the background by their Christian names, and condescended to all present.
At last three honest cheers announced that he had passed the gate, and that the Marshalsea was an orphan.
Only when the family had got into their carriage, and not before, Miss Fanny exclaimed, "Good gracious I Where's Amy?"
Her father had thought she was with her sister. Her sister had thought she was somewhere or other. They had all trusted to find her, as they had always done, quietly in the right place at the right moment. This going away was, perhaps, the very first action of their joint lives that they had got through without her.
"Now I do say, Pa," cried Miss Fanny, flushed and indignant, "that this is disgraceful! Here is that child, Amy, in her ugly old shabby dress. Disgracing us at the last moment by being carried out in that dress after all. And by that Mr. Clennam too!"
Clennam appeared at the carriage-door, bearing the little insensible figure in his arms.
"She has been forgotten," he said. "I ran up to her room, and found the door open, and that she had fainted on the floor."
They received her in the carriage, and the attendant, getting between Clennam and the carriage-door, with a sharp "By your leave, sir!" bundled up the steps, and drove away.
IV.—Another Prisoner in the Marshalsea
The Dorrit family travelled abroad in handsome style, and in due time Miss Fanny married.
A sudden seizure carried off old Mr. Dorrit, and he died thinking himself back in the Marshalsea. His brother Frederick, stricken with grief, did not long survive him.
Arthur Clennam, who had gone into partnership with a friend named Doyce, unfortunately invested his money in the financial schemes of Mr. Merdle, the greatest swindler of the day, and when the crash came and Merdle committed suicide, Clennam with hundreds of other innocent persons was involved in the general ruin.
Doyce was working at the time in Germany, and it was some weeks before he could be found; in the meantime, Clennam, being insolvent, was taken to the Marshalsea.
Mr. Chivery was on the lock and young John was in the lodge when the Marshalsea was reached. The elder Mr. Chivery shook hands with him in a shamefaced kind of way, and said, "I don't call to mind, sir, as I was ever less glad to see you."
The prisoner followed young John up the old staircase into the old room. "I thought you'd like the room, and here it is for you," said young John.
Young John waited upon him; and it was young John who explained that he did this not on the ground of the prisoner's merits, but because of the merits of another, of one who loved the prisoner. Clennam tried to argue to himself the improbability of Little Dorrit loving him, but he wasn't altogether successful.
He fell ill, and it was Little Dorrit whose living presence first cheered him when he returned from the world of feverish dreams and shadows.
He did his best to dissuade her from coming. He was a ruined man, and the time when Little Dorrit and the prison had anything in common had long gone by.
But still she came and often read to him. And one day she told him that all her money had gone as his had gone, lost in the Merdle whirlpool, and that her sister Fanny's was lost, too, in the same way.
"I have nothing in the world. I am as poor as when I lived here. When papa came over to England, just before his death, he confided everything he had to the same hands, and it is all swept away. Oh, my dearest and best, are you quite sure you will not share my fortune with me?"
Locked in his arms, held to his heart, she drew the slight hand round his neck, and clasped it in its fellow-hand.
Of course, when Doyce, who was a thoroughly good fellow, and successful to boot, found out his partner's plight, he came back and put things right, and the business was soon set going again.
And on the very day of his release, Arthur Clennam and Little Dorrit went into the neighbouring church of St. George, and were married, Doyce giving the bride away.
Little Dorrit and her husband walked out of the church alone when the signing of the register was done.
They paused for a moment on the steps of the portico, and then went down into the roaring streets, inseparable and blessed.
* * * * *
On its monthly publication, in 1843-44, "Martin Chuzzlewit" was, pecuniarily, the least successful of Dickens's serials, though popular as a book. It was his first novel after his American tour, and the storm of resentment that had hailed the appearance of "American Notes," in 1842, was intensified by his merciless satire of American characteristics and institutions in "Martin Chuzzlewit." Despite all adverse criticism, however, "Chuzzlewit" is worthy to rank with anything that ever came from the pen of the great Victorian novelist. It is a very long story, and a very full one; the canvas is crowded with a gallery of typical Dickensian people. Through Mrs. Gamp, Dickens dealt a death-blow to the drunken nurse of the period. The name Pecksniff has become synonymous with a certain type of hypocrite, and the adjective Pecksniffian is in common use wherever the English language is spoken. Charged with exaggeration regarding Mr. Pecksniff, Dickens wrote in the preface to "Martin Chuzzlewit," "All the Pecksniff family upon earth are quite agreed, I believe, that no such character ever existed. I will not offer any plea on his behalf to so powerful and genteel a body." Mrs. Gamp, though one of the humorous types that have, perhaps, contributed most largely to the fame of Dickens, does not appear in this epitome, the character being a minor one in the development of the story.
I.—Mr. Pecksniff's New Pupil
Mr. Pecksniff lived in a little Wiltshire village within an easy journey of Salisbury.
The brazen plate upon his door bore the inscription, "Pecksniff, Architect," to which Mr. Pecksniff, on his cards of business, added, "and Land Surveyor." Of his architectural doings nothing was clearly known, except that he had never designed or built anything.
Mr. Pecksniff's professional engagements, indeed, were almost, if not entirely, confined to the reception of pupils. His genius lay in ensnaring parents and guardians and pocketing premiums.
Mr. Pecksniff was a moral man. Perhaps there never was a more moral man than Mr. Pecksniff, especially in his conversation and correspondence. Some people likened him to a direction-post, which is always telling the way to a place, and never goes there; but these were his enemies.
Into Mr. Pecksniff's house came young Martin Chuzzlewit, a relation of the architect's. Tom Pinch, Mr. Pecksniff's assistant, had driven over to Salisbury for the new pupil, and had already discoursed to Martin on Mr. Pecksniff and his family (for Mr. Pecksniff had two daughters—Mercy, and Charity), in whose good qualities he had a profound and pathetic belief.
Festive preparations on a rather extensive scale were already completed for Martin's benefit on the night of his arrival. There were two bottles of currant wine, white and red; a dish of sandwiches, very long, and very slim; another of apples; another of captain's biscuits; a plate of oranges cut up small and gritty with powdered sugar; and a highly geological home-made cake. The magnitude of these preparations quite took away Tom Pinch's breath, for though the new pupils were usually let down softly, particularly in the wine department, still this was a banquet, a sort of lord mayor's feast in private life, a something to think of, and hold on by afterwards.
To this entertainment Mr. Pecksniff besought the company to do full justice.
"Martin," he said, addressing his daughters, "will seat himself between you two, my dears, and Mr. Pinch will come by me. This is a mingling that repays one for much disappointment and vexation. Let us be merry." Here he took a captain's biscuit. "It is a poor heart that never rejoices; and our hearts are not poor. No!"
The following morning Mr. Pecksniff announced that he must go to London. "On professional business, my dear Martin; strictly on professional business; and I promised my girls long ago that they should accompany me. We shall go forth to-night by the heavy coach—like the dove of old, my dear Martin—and it will be a week before we again deposit, our olive-branches in the passage. When I say olive branches," observed Mr. Pecksniff, in explanation, "I mean our unpretending luggage."
"And now let me see," said Mr. Pecksniff presently, "how can you best employ yourself, Martin, while I am absent. Suppose you were to give me your idea of a monument to a Lord Mayor of London, or a tomb for a sheriff, or your notion of a cow-house to be erected in a nobleman's park. A pump is a very chaste practice. I have found that a lamp-post is calculated to refine the mind and give it a classical tendency. An ornamental turnpike has a remarkable effect upon the imagination. What do you say to beginning with an ornamental turnpike?"
"Whatever Mr. Pecksniff pleased," said Martin doubtfully.
"Stay," said that gentleman. "Come! as you're ambitious, and are a very neat draughtsman, you shall try your hand on these proposals for a grammar-school. When your mind requires to be refreshed by change of occupation, Thomas Pinch will instruct you in the art of surveying the back-garden, or in ascertaining the dead level of the road between this house and the finger-post, or in any other practical and pleasing pursuit. There is a cart-load of loose bricks, and a score or two of old flower-pots in the back-yard. If you could pile them up, my dear Martin, into any form which would remind me on my return, say, of St. Peter's at Rome, or the Mosque of St. Sophia at Constantinople, it would be at once improving to you and agreeable to my feelings."
The coach having rolled away, with the olive-branches in the boot and the family of doves inside, Martin Chuzzlewit and Tom Pinch were left together. Now, there was something in the very simplicity of Pinch that invited confidences, and young Martin could not refrain from telling his story.
"I must talk openly to somebody," he began, "I'll talk openly to you. You must know, then, that I have been bred up from childhood with great expectations, and have always been taught to believe that one day I should be very rich. Certain things, however, have led to my being disinherited."
"By your father?" inquired Tom.
"By my grandfather. I have had no parents these many years. Now, my grandfather has a great many good points, but he has two very great faults, which are the staple of his bad side. He has the most confirmed obstinacy of character, and he is most abominably selfish; I have heard that these are failings of our family, and I have to be very thankful that they haven't descended to me. Now I come to the cream of my story, and the occasion of my being here. I am in love, Pinch. I am in love with one of the most beautiful girls the sun ever shone upon. But she is wholly and entirely dependent upon the pleasure of my grandfather; and if he were to know that she favoured my passion, she would lose her home and everything she possesses in the world. My grandfather, although I had conducted myself from the first with the utmost circumspection, is full of jealousy and mistrust, and suspected me of loving her. He said nothing to her, but attacked me in private, and charged me with designing to corrupt the fidelity to himself—observe his selfishness— of a young creature who was his only disinterested and faithful companion. The upshot of it was that I was to renounce her or be renounced by him. Of course, I was not going to yield to him, and here I am!"
Mr. Pinch, after staring at the fire, said, "Pecksniff, of course, you knew before?"
"Only by name. My grandfather kept not only himself, but me, aloof from all his relations. But our separation took place in a town in the neighbouring county. I saw Pecksniff's advertisement in the paper when I was at Salisbury, and answered it, having always had some natural taste in the matters to which it referred. I was doubly bent on coming to him if possible, on account of his being—"
"Such an excellent man," interposed Tom, rubbing his hands.
"Why, not so much on that account," returned Martin, "as because my grandfather has an inveterate dislike to him, and after the old man's arbitrary treatment of me, I had a natural desire to run as directly counter to all his opinions as I could."
II.—Mr. Pecksniff Discharges His Duty
Mr. Pecksniff and his daughters took up their lodging in London at Mrs. Todgers's Commercial Boarding House, and it was at that favoured abode that old Martin Chuzzlewit, whose grandson had just entered Mr. Pecksniff's house, sought him out.
"I very much regret," said old Martin, "that you and I held such a conversation as we did when we met awhile since. The intentions that I bear towards you now are of another kind. Deserted by all in whom I have ever trusted; hoodwinked and beset by all who should help and sustain me, I fly to you for refuge. I confide in you to be my ally; to attach yourself to me by ties of interest and expectations. I regret having been severed from you so long."
Mr. Pecksniff looked up to the ceiling, and clasped his hands in rapture.
"I fear you don't know what an old man's humours are," resumed old Martin. "You don't know what it is to be required to court his likings and dislikings; to do his bidding, be it what it may. You have a new inmate in your house. He must quit it."
"For—for yours?" asked Mr. Pecksniff.
"For any shelter he can find. He has deceived you."
"I hope not," said Mr. Pecksniff eagerly, "I trust not. I have been extremely well disposed towards that young man. Deceit—deceit, my dear Mr. Chuzzlewit, would be final. I should hold myself bound, on proof of deceit, to renounce him instantly."
"Of course, you know that he has made his matrimonial choice?"
"Surely not without his grandfather's consent and approbation, my dear sir?" cried Mr. Pecksniff. "Don't tell me that. For the honour of human nature say you're not about to tell me that!"
"I thought he had suppressed it."
The indignation felt by Mr. Pecksniff at this terrible disclosure was only to be equalled by the kindling anger of his daughters. What, had they taken to their hearth and home a secretely contracted serpent? Horrible!
Old Martin then went on to inquire when they would be returning home; and, after relieving Mr. Pecksniff's unexpressed anxiety by mentioning that Mary Graham, the young lady whom the old man had adopted, would receive nothing at his death, announced that they might expect to see him before long.
With a hasty farewell, the old man left the house, followed to the door by Mr. Pecksniff and his daughters. A few days later the Pecksniffs set out for home.
Tom Pinch and Martin were both out in the lane to meet the coach, but Mr. Pecksniff pointedly ignored Martin's presence, even when the house had been reached; and it was not till Martin sharply demanded an explanation that he addressed him.
"You have deceived me," said Mr. Pecksniff. "You have imposed upon a nature which you knew to be confiding and unsuspicious. This lowly roof, sir, must not be contaminated by the presence of one who has, further, deceived—and cruelly deceived—an honourable and venerable gentleman, and who wisely suppressed that deceit from me when he sought my protection. I weep for your depravity. I mourn over your corruption, but I cannot have a leper and a serpent for an inmate! Go forth," said Mr. Pecksniff, stretching out his hand, "go forth, young man! Like all who know you, I renounce you!"
Martin made a stride forward at these words, and Mr. Pecksniff stepped back so hastily that he missed his footing, tumbled over a chair, and fell in a sitting posture on the ground, where he remained, perhaps considering it the safest place.
"Look at him, Pinch," said Martin, "as he lies there—a cloth for dirty hands, a mat for dirty feet, a lying, fawning, servile hound! And, mark me, Pinch, the day will come when even you will find him out!"
He pointed at him as he spoke with unutterable contempt, and flinging his hat upon his head, walked from the house. He went on so rapidly that he was clear of the village before Tom Pinch overtook him.
"Are you going?" cried Tom.
"Yes," he answered sternly, "I am."
"Where?" asked Tom.
"I don't know. Yes, I do—to America."
Martin did not go to America alone, for Mark Tapley, formerly of the Blue Dragon, an inn in the village where Mr. Pecksniff resided, insisted on accompanying him.
"Now, sir, here am I, without a sitiwation," Mr. Tapley put it, "without any want of wages for a year to come—for I saved up (I didn't mean to do it, but I couldn't help it) at the Dragon; here am I with a liking for what's wentersome, and a liking for you, and a wish to come out strong under circumstances as would keep other men down—and will you take me, or will you leave me?"
Once landed in the United States, the question of what to do arose, and Martin decided to invest his savings in buying land in the rising township of New Eden.
"Mark, you shall be a partner in the business," said Martin (Mark having invested L37 to Martin's L8); "an equal partner with myself. We are no longer master and servant. I will put in, as my additional capital, my professional knowledge, and half the annual profits, as long as it is carried on, shall be yours. Our business shall be commenced, as soon as we get to New Eden, under the name of Chuzzlewit and Tapley."
"Lord love you, sir," cried Mark, "don't have my name in it! I must be 'Co.,' I must."
"You shall have your own way, Mark."
"Thank 'ee sir! If any country gentleman thereabouts in the public way wanted such a thing as a skittle-ground made, I could take that part of the bis'ness, sir."
It was a long steamboat journey, but at last they stopped at Eden. The waters of the Deluge might have left it but a week ago, so choked with slime and matted growth was the hideous swamp which bore that name.
A man advanced towards them when they landed, walking slowly, leaning on a stick.
"Strangers!" he exclaimed.
"The very same," said Mark. "How are you, sir?"
"I've had the fever very bad," he answered faintly. "I haven't stood upright these many weeks. My eldest son has a chill upon him. My youngest died last week."
"I'm sorry for it, governor, with all my heart!" said Mark. "The goods is safe enough," he added, turning to Martin, and pointing to their boxes. "There ain't many people about to make away with 'em. What a comfort that is!"
"No," cried the man; "we've buried most of 'em. The rest have gone away. Them that we have here don't come out at night."
"The night air ain't quite wholesome, I suppose?" said Mark.
"It's deadly poison," was the answer.
Mark showed no more uneasiness than if it had been commended to him as ambrosia; but he gave the man his arm, and as they went along explained the nature of their purchase, and inquired where it lay. Close to his own log-house, he said.
It was a miserable cabin, rudely constructed of the trunks of trees, the door of which had either fallen down or been carried away. When they had brought up their chest, Martin gave way, and lay down on the ground, and wept aloud.
"Lord love you, sir," cried Mr. Tapley. "Don't do that. Anything but that! It never helped man, woman, or child over the lowest fence yet, sir, and it never will."
Mark stole out gently in the morning while his companion slept, and took a rough survey of the settlement. There were not above a score of cabins in the whole, and half of these appeared untenanted. Their own land was mere forest. He went down to the landing-place, where they had left their goods, and there he found some half a dozen men, wan and forlorn, who helped him to carry them to the log-house.
Martin was by this time stirring, but he had greatly changed, even in one night. He was very pale and languid, and spoke of pains and weakness.
"Don't give in, sir," said Mr. Tapley. "Why, you must be ill. Wait half a minute, till I run up to one of our neighbours and find out what's best to be took."
Martin was soon dangerously ill, very near his death. Mark, fatigued in mind and body, working all the day and sitting up at night, worn by hard living, surrounded by dismal and discouraging circumstances, never complained or yielded in the least degree. And then, when Martin was better, Mark was taken ill. He fought against it; but the malady fought harder, and his efforts were vain.
"Floored for the present, sir," he said one morning, sinking back upon his bed, "but jolly."
And now it was Martin's turn to work and sit beside the bed and watch, and listen through the long, long nights to every sound in the gloomy wilderness.
Martin's reflections in those days slowly showed him his own selfishness, and when Mark Tapley recovered, he found a singular alteration in his companion.
"I don't know what to make of him," he thought one night. "He don't think of himself half as much as he did. It's a swindle. There'll be no credit in being jolly with him!"
The settlement was deserted. The only thing to be done was to return to England.
IV.—The Downfall of Pecksniff
Old Martin Chuzzlewit had for some time taken up his residence at Mr. Pecksniff's, and Martin and Mark Tapley went to the Blue Dragon on their return.
Martin at once sought out his grandfather, and marched into the house resolved on reconciliation. The old man listened to his appeal in silence; but Mr. Pecksniff spoke for him, and bade the young man begone.
But old Martin was awake to Pecksniff's character, and resolved to set Mr. Pecksniff right, and Mr. Pecksniff's victims, too.
Mark Tapley was the first person old Martin invited to see him. The old man had gone to London, and his grandson, Mary Graham, and Tom Pinch were all summoned to wait on him at a certain hour.
From Mark, old Martin learnt that his grandson was an altered man.
"There was always a deal of good in him," said Mr. Tapley, "but a little of it got crusted over somehow. I can't say who rolled the paste of that 'ere paste, but—well, I think it may have been you, sir."
"So you think," said Martin, "that his old faults are in some degree of my creation?"
"Well, sir, I'm very sorry, but I can't unsay it. I don't believe that neither of you ever gave the other a fair chance."
Presently came a knock at the door, and young Martin entered. The old man pointed to a distant chair. Then came Tom Pinch and his sister, Ruth; and Mary Graham; and Mrs. Lupin, the landlady of the Blue Dragon; and John Westlock, an old friend of Tom Pinch's.
"Set the door open, Mark!" said Mr. Chuzzlewit.
The last appointed footstep sounded now upon the stairs. They all knew it. It was Mr. Pecksniff's; and Mr. Pecksniff was in a hurry, too, for he came bounding up with such uncommon expedition that he stumbled once or twice.
"Where is my venerable friend?" he cried upon the upper landing. And then, darting in and catching sight of old Martin, "My venerable friend is well?"
Mr. Pecksniff looked round upon the assembled group, and shook his head reproachfully.
"Oh, vermin!" said Mr. Pecksniff. "Oh bloodsuckers! Horde of unnatural plunderers and robbers! Leave him! Leave him, I say! Begone! Abscond! You had better be off! Wander over the face of the earth, young sirs, and do not presume to remain in a spot which is hallowed by the grey hairs of the patriarchal gentleman to whose tottering limbs I have the honour to act as an unworthy, but I hope an unassuming, prop and staff."