The sun had set, and the streets were dim in the dusty twilight, when the figure so long unused to them hurried on its way. In the immediate neighbourhood of the old house it attracted little attention, for there were only a few straggling people to notice it; but, ascending from the river by the crooked ways that led to London Bridge, and passing into the great main road, it became surrounded by astonishment.
Resolute and wild of look, rapid of foot and yet weak and uncertain, conspicuously dressed in its black garments and with its hurried head-covering, gaunt and of an unearthly paleness, it pressed forward, taking no more heed of the throng than a sleep- walker. More remarkable by being so removed from the crowd it was among than if it had been lifted on a pedestal to be seen, the figure attracted all eyes. Saunterers pricked up their attention to observe it; busy people, crossing it, slackened their pace and turned their heads; companions pausing and standing aside, whispered one another to look at this spectral woman who was coming by; and the sweep of the figure as it passed seemed to create a vortex, drawing the most idle and most curious after it.
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 youre 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 its 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? Im 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, maam?
Miss Dorrit. Is she here?
The young man became more interested. Yes, she is here. What might your name be?
Mr Clennams mother? asked the young man.
She pressed her lips together, and hesitated. Yes. She had better be told it is his mother.
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