An Appearance in the Marshalsea

The opinion of the community outside the prison gates bore hard on Clennam as time went on, and he made no friends among the community within. Too depressed to associate with the herd in the yard, who got together to forget their cares; too retiring and too unhappy to join in the poor socialities of the tavern; he kept his own room, and was held in distrust. Some said he was proud; some objected that he was sullen and reserved; some were contemptuous of him, for that he was a poor-spirited dog who pined under his debts. The whole population were shy of him on these various counts of indictment, but especially the last, which involved a species of domestic treason; and he soon became so confirmed in his seclusion, that his only time for walking up and down was when the evening Club were assembled at their songs and toasts and sentiments, and when the yard was nearly left to the women and children.

Imprisonment began to tell upon him. He knew that he idled and moped. After what he had known of the influences of imprisonment within the four small walls of the very room he occupied, this consciousness made him afraid of himself. Shrinking from the observation of other men, and shrinking from his own, he began to change very sensibly. Anybody might see that the shadow of the wall was dark upon him.

One day when he might have been some ten or twelve weeks in jail, and when he had been trying to read and had not been able to release even the imaginary people of the book from the Marshalsea, a footstep stopped at his door, and a hand tapped at it. He arose and opened it, and an agreeable voice accosted him with ‘How do you do, Mr Clennam? I hope I am not unwelcome in calling to see you.’

It was the sprightly young Barnacle, Ferdinand. He looked very good-natured and prepossessing, though overpoweringly gay and free, in contrast with the squalid prison.

‘You are surprised to see me, Mr Clennam,’ he said, taking the seat which Clennam offered him.

‘I must confess to being much surprised.’

‘Not disagreeably, I hope?’

‘By no means.’

‘Thank you. Frankly,’ said the engaging young Barnacle, ‘I have been excessively sorry to hear that you were under the necessity of a temporary retirement here, and I hope (of course as between two private gentlemen) that our place has had nothing to do with it?’

‘Your office?’

‘Our Circumlocution place.’

‘I cannot charge any part of my reverses upon that remarkable establishment.’

Upon my life,’ said the vivacious young Barnacle, ‘I am heartily glad to know it. It is quite a relief to me to hear you say it. I should have so exceedingly regretted our place having had anything to do with your difficulties.’

Clennam again assured him that he absolved it of the responsibility.

‘That’s right,’ said Ferdinand. ‘I am very happy to hear it. I was rather afraid in my own mind that we might have helped to floor you, because there is no doubt that it is our misfortune to do that kind of thing now and then. We don’t want to do it; but if men will be gravelled, why—we can’t help it.’

‘Without giving an unqualified assent to what you say,’ returned Arthur, gloomily, ‘I am much obliged to you for your interest in me.’

  By PanEris using Melati.

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