Little Dorrit HTML version

Mrs Flintwinch has another Dream
The debilitated old house in the city, wrapped in its mantle of soot, and leaning
heavily on the crutches that had partaken of its decay and worn out with it, never
knew a healthy or a cheerful interval, let what would betide. If the sun ever
touched it, it was but with a ray, and that was gone in half an hour; if the
moonlight ever fell upon it, it was only to put a few patches on its doleful cloak,
and make it look more wretched. The stars, to be sure, coldly watched it when
the nights and the smoke were clear enough; and all bad weather stood by it with
a rare fidelity. You should alike find rain, hail, frost, and thaw lingering in that
dismal enclosure when they had vanished from other places; and as to snow,
you should see it there for weeks, long after it had changed from yellow to black,
slowly weeping away its grimy life. The place had no other adherents. As to
street noises, the rumbling of wheels in the lane merely rushed in at the gateway
in going past, and rushed out again: making the listening Mistress Affery feel as if
she were deaf, and recovered the sense of hearing by instantaneous flashes. So
with whistling, singing, talking, laughing, and all pleasant human sounds. They
leaped the gap in a moment, and went upon their way. The varying light of fire
and candle in Mrs Clennam's room made the greatest change that ever broke the
dead monotony of the spot. In her two long narrow windows, the fire shone
sullenly all day, and sullenly all night. On rare occasions it flashed up
passionately, as she did; but for the most part it was suppressed, like her, and
preyed upon itself evenly and slowly. During many hours of the short winter days,
however, when it was dusk there early in the afternoon, changing distortions of
herself in her wheeled chair, of Mr Flintwinch with his wry neck, of Mistress Affery
coming and going, would be thrown upon the house wall that was over the
gateway, and would hover there like shadows from a great magic lantern. As the
room-ridden invalid settled for the night, these would gradually disappear:
Mistress Affery's magnified shadow always flitting about, last, until it finally glided
away into the air, as though she were off upon a witch excursion. Then the
solitary light would burn unchangingly, until it burned pale before the dawn, and
at last died under the breath of Mrs Affery, as her shadow descended on it from
the witch-region of sleep.
Strange, if the little sick-room fire were in effect a beacon fire, summoning some
one, and that the most unlikely some one in the world, to the spot that MUST be
come to. Strange, if the little sick-room light were in effect a watch-light, burning
in that place every night until an appointed event should be watched out! Which
of the vast multitude of travellers, under the sun and the stars, climbing the dusty
hills and toiling along the weary plains, journeying by land and journeying by sea,
coming and going so strangely, to meet and to act and react on one another;
which of the host may, with no suspicion of the journey's end, be travelling surely
Time shall show us. The post of honour and the post of shame, the general's
station and the drummer's, a peer's statue in Westminster Abbey and a seaman's
hammock in the bosom of the deep, the mitre and the workhouse, the woolsack