Little Dorrit HTML version

9. Little Mother
The morning light was in no hurry to climb the prison wall and look in at the
Snuggery windows; and when it did come, it would have been more welcome if it
had come alone, instead of bringing a rush of rain with it. But the equinoctial
gales were blowing out at sea, and the impartial south-west wind, in its flight,
would not neglect even the narrow Marshalsea. While it roared through the
steeple of St George's Church, and twirled all the cowls in the neighbourhood, it
made a swoop to beat the Southwark smoke into the jail; and, plunging down the
chimneys of the few early collegians who were yet lighting their fires, half
suffocated them. Arthur Clennam would have been little disposed to linger in bed,
though his bed had been in a more private situation, and less affected by the
raking out of yesterday's fire, the kindling of to- day's under the collegiate boiler,
the filling of that Spartan vessel at the pump, the sweeping and sawdusting of the
common room, and other such preparations. Heartily glad to see the morning,
though little rested by the night, he turned out as soon as he could distinguish
objects about him, and paced the yard for two heavy hours before the gate was
The walls were so near to one another, and the wild clouds hurried over them so
fast, that it gave him a sensation like the beginning of sea-sickness to look up at
the gusty sky. The rain, carried aslant by flaws of wind, blackened that side of the
central building which he had visited last night, but left a narrow dry trough under
the lee of the wall, where he walked up and down among the waits of straw and
dust and paper, the waste droppings of the pump, and the stray leaves of
yesterday's greens. It was as haggard a view of life as a man need look upon.
Nor was it relieved by any glimpse of the little creature who had brought him
there. Perhaps she glided out of her doorway and in at that where her father
lived, while his face was turned from both; but he saw nothing of her. It was too
early for her brother; to have seen him once, was to have seen enough of him to
know that he would be sluggish to leave whatever frowsy bed he occupied at
night; so, as Arthur Clennam walked up and down, waiting for the gate to open,
he cast about in his mind for future rather than for present means of pursuing his
At last the lodge-gate turned, and the turnkey, standing on the step, taking an
early comb at his hair, was ready to let him out. With a joyful sense of release he
passed through the lodge, and found himself again in the little outer court-yard
where he had spoken to the brother last night.
There was a string of people already straggling in, whom it was not difficult to
identify as the nondescript messengers, go-betweens, and errand-bearers of the
place. Some of them had been lounging in the rain until the gate should open;
others, who had timed their arrival with greater nicety, were coming up now, and
passing in with damp whitey-brown paper bags from the grocers, loaves of
bread, lumps of butter, eggs, milk, and the like. The shabbiness of these
attendants upon shabbiness, the poverty of these insolvent waiters upon
insolvency, was a sight to see. Such threadbare coats and trousers, such fusty