Made giddy by the turbulent irruption of this multitude of staring faces into her cell of years, by the confusing sensation of being in the air, and the yet more confusing sensation of being afoot, by the unexpected changes in half-remembered objects, and the want of likeness between the controllable pictures her imagination had often drawn of the life from which she was secluded and the overwhelming rush of the reality, she held her way as if she were environed by distracting thoughts, rather than by external humanity and observation. But, having crossed the bridge and gone some distance straight onward, she remembered that she must ask for a direction; and it was only then, when she stopped and turned to look about her for a promising place of inquiry, that she found herself surrounded by an eager glare of faces.
'Why are you encircling me?' she asked, trembling.
None of those who were nearest answered; but from the outer ring there arose a shrill cry of ''Cause you're mad!'
'I am sure as sane as any one here. I want to find the Marshalsea prison.'
The shrill outer circle again retorted, 'Then that 'ud show you was mad if nothing else did, 'cause it's right opposite!'
A short, mild, quiet-looking young man made his way through to her, as a whooping ensued on this reply, and said: 'Was it the Marshalsea you wanted? I'm going on duty there. Come across with me.'
She laid her hand upon his arm, and he took her over the way; the crowd, rather injured by the near prospect of losing her, pressing before and behind and on either side, and recommending an adjournment to Bedlam. After a momentary whirl in the outer court- yard, the prison-door opened, and shut upon them. In the Lodge, which seemed by contrast with the outer noise a place of refuge and peace, a yellow lamp was already striving with the prison shadows.
'Why, John!' said the turnkey who admitted them. 'What is it?'
'Nothing, father; only this lady not knowing her way, and being badgered by the boys. Who did you want, ma'am?'
'Miss Dorrit. Is she here?'
The young man became more interested. 'Yes, she is here. What might your name be?'
'Mr Clennam's mother?' asked the young man.
She pressed her lips together, and hesitated. 'Yes. She had better be told it is his mother.'
'You see,' said the young man,'the Marshal's family living in the country at present, the Marshal has given Miss Dorrit one of the rooms in his house to use when she likes. Don't you think you had better come up there, and let me bring Miss Dorrit?'
She signified her assent, and he unlocked a door and conducted her up a side staircase into a dwelling-house above. He showed her into a darkening room, and left her. The room looked down into the darkening prison-yard, with its inmates strolling here and there, leaning out of windows communing as much apart as they could with friends who were going away, and generally wearing out their imprisonment as they best might that summer evening. The air was heavy and hot; the closeness of the place, oppressive; and from without there arose a rush of free sounds, like the jarring memory of such things in a headache and heartache. She stood at the window, bewildered, looking down into this prison as it were out of her own different prison, when a soft word or two of surprise made her start, and Little Dorrit stood before her.
'Is it possible, Mrs Clennam, that you are so happily recovered as--'
Little Dorrit stopped, for there was neither happiness nor health in the face that turned to her. 'This is not recovery; it is not strength; I don't know what it is.' With an agitated wave of her hand, she put all that aside. 'You have a packet left with you which you were to give to Arthur, if it was not reclaimed before this place closed to-night.'
'I reclaim it.'
Little Dorrit took it from her bosom, and gave it into her hand, which remained stretched out after receiving it.
'Have you any idea of its contents?'
Frightened by her being there with that new power Of Movement in her, which, as she said herself, was not strength, and which was unreal to look upon, as though a picture or statue had been animated, Little Dorrit answered 'No.'
Little Dorrit took the packet from the still outstretched hand, and broke the seal.