Maggy counted as nobody, and she was by.
Maggy sat at her work in her great white cap with its quantity of opaque frilling hiding what profile she had (she had none to spare), and her serviceable eye brought to bear upon her occupation, on the window side of the room. What with her flapping cap, and what with her unserviceable eye, she was quite partitioned off from her Little Mother, whose seat was opposite the window. The tread and shuffle of feet on the pavement of the yard had much diminished since the taking of the Chair, the tide of Collegians having set strongly in the direction of Harmony. Some few who had no music in their souls, or no money in their pockets, dawdled about; and the old spectacle of the visitor-wife and the depressed unseasoned prisoner still lingered in corners, as broken cobwebs and such unsightly discomforts draggle in corners of other places. It was the quietest time the College knew, saving the night hours when the Collegians took the benefit of the act of sleep. The occasional rattle of applause upon the tables of the Snuggery, denoted the successful termination of a morsel of Harmony; or the responsive acceptance, by the united children, of some toast or sentiment offered to them by their Father. Occasionally, a vocal strain more sonorous than the generality informed the listener that some boastful bass was in blue water, or in the hunting field, or with the reindeer, or on the mountain, or among the heather; but the Marshal of the Marshalsea knew better, and had got him hard and fast.
As Arthur Clennam moved to sit down by the side of Little Dorrit, she trembled so that she had much ado to hold her needle. Clennam gently put his hand upon her work, and said, 'Dear Little Dorrit, let me lay it down.'
She yielded it to him, and he put it aside. Her hands were then nervously clasping together, but he took one of them. 'How seldom I have seen you lately, Little Dorrit!'
'I have been busy, sir.'
'But I heard only to-day,' said Clennam, 'by mere accident, of your having been with those good people close by me. Why not come to me, then?'
'I--I don't know. Or rather, I thought you might be busy too. You generally are now, are you not?'
He saw her trembling little form and her downcast face, and the eyes that drooped the moment they were raised to his--he saw them almost with as much concern as tenderness.
'My child, your manner is so changed!'
The trembling was now quite beyond her control. Softly withdrawing her hand, and laying it in her other hand, she sat before him with her head bent and her whole form trembling.
'My own Little Dorrit,' said Clennam, compassionately.
She burst into tears. Maggy looked round of a sudden, and stared for at least a minute; but did not interpose. Clennam waited some little while before he spoke again.
'I cannot bear,' he said then, 'to see you weep; but I hope this is a relief to an overcharged heart.'
'Yes it is, sir. Nothing but that.'
'Well, well! I feared you would think too much of what passed here just now. It is of no moment; not the least. I am only unfortunate to have come in the way. Let it go by with these tears. It is not worth one of them. One of them? Such an idle thing should be repeated, with my glad consent, fifty times a day, to save you a moment's heart-ache, Little Dorrit.'
She had taken courage now, and answered, far more in her usual manner, 'You are so good! But even if there was nothing else in it to be sorry for and ashamed of, it is such a bad return to you--'
'Hush!' said Clennam, smiling and touching her lips with his hand. 'Forgetfulness in you who remember so many and so much, would be new indeed. Shall I remind you that I am not, and that I never was, anything but the friend whom you agreed to trust? No. You remember it, don't you?'
'I try to do so, or I should have broken the promise just now, when my mistaken brother was here. You will consider his bringing-up in this place, and will not judge him hardly, poor fellow, I know!' In raising her eyes with these words, she observed his face more nearly than she had done yet, and said, with a quick change of tone, 'You have not been ill, Mr Clennam?'
'Nor tried? Nor hurt?' she asked him, anxiously.