|Scene:||London and Various Places on the Continent|
|Time:||1827 to 1830|
|Mr. Dorrit||An inmate of the debtors' prison|
|Known as "The Father of the Marshalsea." Later a|
wealthy man of the world
|"Little Dorrit"||His daughter Amy|
|Fanny||His older daughter|
|Mrs. General||His daughters' chaperon|
|Arthur Clennam||Little Dorrit's champion|
|Mr. Clennam||His father|
|Mrs. Clennam||His supposed mother|
|Flintwinch||A family servant|
|Later Mrs. Clennam's partner in business|
|Affery||His wife, and Mrs. Clennam's servant|
|Pancks||A rent collector. Little Dorrit's friend|
|John Chivery||The son of one of the prison turnkeys|
|Little Dorrit's suitor|
|Maggy||A half-witted woman|
|Doyce||An inventor. Arthur's partner in business|
|Rigaud||A blackmailing adventurer and jailbird|
|Mr. Tite Barnacle||A self-important official in the|
|Mr. Merdle||A supposedly wealthy man of affairs in|
|Mrs. Merdle||His wife|
|Mr. Meagles||A business man. Arthur's friend|
|Mrs. Meagles||His wife|
HOW ARTHUR CAME HOME FROM CHINA
A long, long time ago there lived in London a young man named Clennam. He was an orphan, and was brought up by a stern uncle, who crushed and repressed his youth and finally forced him to marry a cold, unfeeling, stubborn woman whom he did not in the least love.
Some time before this marriage, the nephew had met a beautiful young woman, also an orphan, whom a rich man named Dorrit was educating to be a singer, since she had a remarkable voice. Clennam had fallen in love with her and had persuaded her to give him all her love in return. There had even been a kind of ceremony of marriage between them.
But they were both very poor and could not really marry for fear of the anger of Clennam's cruel uncle, who finally compelled his nephew to marry the other woman, whom he had picked out for him. And the singer, because she loved him and could not bear to see him made a beggar, gave him up. So Clennam married one woman while loving another, and this, as all wrong things must do, resulted in unhappiness for them both.[Pg 262]
The singer had given him a little silk watch-paper worked in beads with the initials D. N. F. These letters stood for the words, "Do Not Forget."
The wife saw the paper with her husband's watch in his secret drawer and wondered what it meant. One day she found an old letter, that had passed between her husband and the singer, which explained the initials and betrayed the secret of their love.
She was hard and unforgiving. Though she had never loved Clennam herself, her anger was terrible. She went to the singer, and under threat of for ever disgracing her in the eyes of the world, she made her give up to her her baby boy, Arthur, to rear as her own. She promised, in return, that the little Arthur should be provided for and should never know the real history of his parentage. She also compelled her husband and the singer to take an oath that neither would ever see or communicate with the other again.
Mrs. Clennam, in taking this terrible revenge, cheated herself into believing that she was only the instrument of God, carrying out His will and punishment. But in reality she was satisfying the rage and hatred of her own heart. Year by year she nursed this rage in the gloomy house in which Clennam lived and where he carried on the London branch of his business.
It was an old brick house separated from the[Pg 263] street by a rusty courtyard. It seemed to have once been about to slide down sidewise, but had been propped up as though it leaned on some half-dozen gigantic crutches. Inside it was dark and miserable, with sunken floors and blackened furniture. In a corner of the sitting-room was an ugly old clock that was wound once a week with an iron handle, and on the walls were pictures showing the "Plagues of Egypt." The only pleasure the grim woman enjoyed was reading aloud from those parts of the Old Testament which call for dreadful punishments to fall upon all the enemies of the righteous, and in these passages she gloried.
In this melancholy place the boy Arthur Clennam grew up in silence and in dread, wondering much why they lived so lonely and why his father and mother (for so he thought Mrs. Clennam to be) sat always so silent with faces turned from each other.
There were but two servants, an old woman named Affery, and Flintwinch, her husband, a short, bald man, who was both clerk and footman, and who carried his head awry and walked in a one-sided crab-like way, as though he were falling and needed propping up like the house. Flintwinch was cunning and without conscience. Very few secrets his mistress had which he did not know, and they often quarreled.
At length the uncle, who had compelled the unhappy[Pg 264] marriage of Arthur's father, died. Feeling sorry at the last for the wretched singer, whose life had been ruined, he left her in his will a sum of money, and another sum to the youngest niece of the man who had befriended and educated her—Mr. Dorrit.
This money, however, Mrs. Clennam did not intend either the woman she hated or the niece of her patron should get. She hid the part of the will which referred to it, and made Flintwinch (who, beside her husband, was the only one who knew of it) promise not to tell. Arthur's father she compelled to sail to China, to take charge of the branch of his business in that country, and when Arthur was old enough, she sent him there also.
For twenty years, while Arthur stayed with his father on the other side of the world, Mrs. Clennam, cold and unforgiving as ever, lived on in the old, tumbling house, carrying on the London business with the aid of Flintwinch.
The poor, forsaken singer lost her mind and at last died. Mr. Dorrit, of course, knowing nothing about the hidden will, could not claim his share, and the guilty secret remained (except for Arthur's unhappy father) in possession of only Mrs. Clennam and the crafty Flintwinch.
So the years rolled by, and Mrs. Clennam's cold gray eyes grew colder, her gray hair grayer and her face more hard and stony. She went out less[Pg 265] and less, and finally paralysis made her keep to her room and her chair.
The time came when Arthur's father lay dying with his son beside him. On his death-bed he did not forget the money which had never been restored. He had not strength to write, but with his dying hand he gave Arthur his watch, making him promise to take it back to England to the wife whose anger and hatred still lived. The watch still held the little paper with the bead initials that stood for "Do not forget," and he meant thus to remind her of the wrong which was still unrighted.
Many times thereafter, on his way back to London, Arthur thought of his father's strange manner and wondered if it could be that some wrong deed lay on his conscience. This idea clung to him, so that when he saw Mrs. Clennam again on his arrival, and spoke to her of his father's last hours, he asked her if she thought this might be so. But at this her anger rose; she upbraided him and declared if he ever referred again to the subject she would renounce him as her son and cast him off for ever.
It was her guilty conscience, of course, that caused this burst of rage. And yet, just because it was not for the money's sake that she had done that evil act, but because she so hated the woman to whom it should have been given, she tried to convince herself that she had acted rightly, as[Pg 266] the instrument of God, to punish wickedness. She had told herself this falsehood over and over again so often that she had ended by quite believing it to be the truth.
Arthur said no more to her about the matter. He was a man now, and his father's death had made him master of a very considerable fortune. He decided that he would not carry on the business, but would make a new one for himself. This resolution angered Mrs. Clennam greatly, but she grimly determined to carry it on herself, and in Arthur's place took the wily Flintwinch as her partner and told Arthur coldly to go his own way.
Thank you for reading!