Little Dorrit

Page 07

Death of my soul, I play it out wherever I go!'

He changed his posture to a sitting one, crying with a triumphant air:

'Here I am! See me! Shaken out of destiny's dice-box into the company of a mere smuggler;--shut up with a poor little contraband trader, whose papers are wrong, and whom the police lay hold of besides, for placing his boat (as a means of getting beyond the frontier) at the disposition of other little people whose papers are wrong; and he instinctively recognises my position, even by this light and in this place. It's well done! By Heaven! I win, however the game goes.'

Again his moustache went up, and his nose came down.

'What's the hour now?' he asked, with a dry hot pallor upon him, rather difficult of association with merriment.

'A little half-hour after mid-day.'

'Good! The President will have a gentleman before him soon. Come!

Shall I tell you on what accusation? It must be now, or never, for I shall not return here. Either I shall go free, or I shall go to be made ready for shaving. You know where they keep the razor.'

Signor Cavalletto took his cigarette from between his parted lips, and showed more momentary discomfiture than might have been expected.

'I am a'--Monsieur Rigaud stood up to say it--'I am a cosmopolitan gentleman. I own no particular country. My father was Swiss-- Canton de Vaud. My mother was French by blood, English by birth. I myself was born in Belgium. I am a citizen of the world.'

His theatrical air, as he stood with one arm on his hip within the folds of his cloak, together with his manner of disregarding his companion and addressing the opposite wall instead, seemed to intimate that he was rehearsing for the President, whose examination he was shortly to undergo, rather than troubling himself merely to enlighten so small a person as John Baptist Cavalletto.

'Call me five-and-thirty years of age. I have seen the world. I have lived here, and lived there, and lived like a gentleman everywhere. I have been treated and respected as a gentleman universally. If you try to prejudice me by making out that I have lived by my wits--how do your lawyers live--your politicians--your intriguers--your men of the Exchange?'

He kept his small smooth hand in constant requisition, as if it were a witness to his gentility that had often done him good service before.

'Two years ago I came to Marseilles. I admit that I was poor; I had been ill. When your lawyers, your politicians, your intriguers, your men of the Exchange fall ill, and have not scraped money together, they become poor. I put up at the Cross of Gold,-- kept then by Monsieur Henri Barronneau--sixty-five at least, and in a failing state of health. I had lived in the house some four months when Monsieur Henri Barronneau had the misfortune to die;-- at any rate, not a rare misfortune, that. It happens without any aid of mine, pretty often.'

John Baptist having smoked his cigarette down to his fingers' ends, Monsieur Rigaud had the magnanimity to throw him another. He lighted the second at the ashes of the first, and smoked on, looking sideways at his companion, who, preoccupied with his own case, hardly looked at him.

'Monsieur Barronneau left a widow. She was two-and-twenty. She had gained a reputation for beauty, and (which is often another thing) was beautiful. I continued to live at the Cross of Gold. I married Madame Barronneau. It is not for me to say whether there was any great disparity in such a match. Here I stand, with the contamination of a jail upon me; but it is possible that you may think me better suited to her than her former husband was.'

He had a certain air of being a handsome man--which he was not; and a certain air of being a well-bred man--which he was not. It was mere swagger and challenge; but in this particular, as in many others, blustering assertion goes for proof, half over the world.

'Be it as it may, Madame Barronneau approved of me. That is not to prejudice me, I hope?'

His eye happening to light upon John Baptist with this inquiry, that little man briskly shook his head in the negative, and repeated in an argumentative tone under his breath, altro, altro, altro, altro--an infinite number of times.

Charles Dickens
Classic Literature Library
Classic Authors

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