On a healthy autumn day; when the golden fields had been reaped and ploughed again, when the summer fruits had ripened and waned, when the green perspectives of hops had been laid low by the busy pickers, when the apples clustering in the orchards were russet, and the berries of the mountain ash were crimson among the yellowing foliage. Already in the woods, glimpses of the hardy winter that was coming were to be caught through unaccustomed openings among the boughs where the prospect shone defined and clear, free from the bloom of the drowsy summer weather, which had rested on it as the bloom lies on the plum. So, from the seashore the ocean was no longer to be seen lying asleep in the heat, but its thousand sparkling eyes were open, and its whole breadth was in joyful animation, from the cool sand on the beach to the little sails on the horizon, drifting away like autumn-tinted leaves that had drifted from the trees. Changeless and barren, looking ignorantly at all the seasons with its fixed, pinched face of poverty and care, the prison had not a touch of any of these beauties on it. Blossom what would, its bricks and bars bore uniformly the same dead crop. Yet Clennam, listening to the voice as it read to him, heard in it all that great Nature was doing, heard in it all the soothing songs she sings to man. At no Mother's knee but hers had he ever dwelt in his youth on hopeful promises, on playful fancies, on the harvests of tenderness and humility that lie hidden in the early-fostered seeds of the imagination; on the oaks of retreat from blighting winds, that have the germs of their strong roots in nursery acorns.
But, in the tones of the voice that read to him, there were memories of an old feeling of such things, and echoes of every merciful and loving whisper that had ever stolen to him in his life.
When the voice stopped, he put his hand over his eyes, murmuring that the light was strong upon them.
Little Dorrit put the book by, and presently arose quietly to shade the window. Maggy sat at her needlework in her old place. The light softened, Little Dorrit brought her chair closer to his side.
'This will soon be over now, dear Mr Clennam. Not only are Mr Doyce's letters to you so full of friendship and encouragement, but Mr Rugg says his letters to him are so full of help, and that everybody (now a little anger is past) is so considerate, and speaks so well of you, that it will soon be over now.'
'Dear girl. Dear heart. Good angel!'
'You praise me far too much. And yet it is such an exquisite pleasure to me to hear you speak so feelingly, and to--and to see,' said Little Dorrit, raising her eyes to his, 'how deeply you mean it, that I cannot say Don't.'
He lifted her hand to his lips.
'You have been here many, many times, when I have not seen you, Little Dorrit?'
'Yes, I have been here sometimes when I have not come into the room.'
'Rather often,' said Little Dorrit, timidly.
'I think,' said Little Dorrit, after hesitating, 'that I have been here at least twice every day.' He might have released the little light hand after fervently kissing it again; but that, with a very gentle lingering where it was, it seemed to court being retained. He took it in both of his, and it lay softly on his breast.
'Dear Little Dorrit, it is not my imprisonment only that will soon be over. This sacrifice of you must be ended. We must learn to part again, and to take our different ways so wide asunder. You have not forgotten what we said together, when you came back?'
'O no, I have not forgotten it. But something has been--You feel quite strong to-day, don't you?'
The hand he held crept up a little nearer his face.
'Do you feel quite strong enough to know what a great fortune I have got?'
'I shall be very glad to be told. No fortune can be too great or good for Little Dorrit.'
'I have been anxiously waiting to tell you. I have been longing and longing to tell you.