John Baptist runs away from his Patron
14.2 x 9.3 cm framed
Dickens's Little Dorrit, Vol. 12 of Charles Dickens Library Edition, Book the First, "Poverty"; Chapter 11, "Let Loose," facing p. 129.
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"Put my shoes there," continued Lagnier. "Hang my cloak to dry there by the door. Take my hat." He obeyed each instruction, as it was given. "And this is the bed to which society consigns me, is it? Hah. Very well!"
As he stretched out his length upon it, with a ragged handkerchief bound round his wicked head, and only his wicked head showing above the bedclothes, John Baptist was rather strongly reminded of what had so very nearly happened to prevent the moustache from any more going up as it did, and the nose from any more coming down as it did.
"Shaken out of destiny's dice-box again into your company, eh? By Heaven! So much the better for you. You'll profit by it. I shall need a long rest. Let me sleep in the morning."
John Baptist replied that he should sleep as long as he would, and wishing him a happy night, put out the candle. One might have supposed that the next proceeding of the Italian would have been to undress; but he did exactly the reverse, and dressed himself from head to foot, saving his shoes. When he had so done, he lay down upon his bed with some of its coverings over him, and his coat still tied round his neck, to get through the night.
When he started up, the Godfather Break of Day was peeping at its namesake. He rose, took his shoes in his hand, turned the key in the door with great caution, and crept downstairs. Nothing was astir there but the smell of coffee, wine, tobacco, and syrups; and madame's little counter looked ghastly enough. But he had paid madame his little note at it over night, and wanted to see nobody — wanted nothing but to get on his shoes and his knapsack, open the door, and run away. — Book the First, "Poverty," Chapter 11, "Let Loose," p. 138.
Furniss's handling of this situation in the inn at Chalons is a direct response to the original serial illustration for this chapter by Phiz, Making Off, Part Three (February 1856). Although Rigaud has put a great deal of distance between himself and the prison at Marseilles, his evil reputation as the murderer of his wife has preceded him, as the landlady at the backstreet inn where Rigaud has taken refuge curses him as the Devil incarnate. Thus, Rigaud instructs his former cellmate, Giovanni Battiste Cavaletto ("John Baptist"), whom he meets by coincidence at Chalons, that henceforth he will be known as "Lagnier" — a nom-de-guerre made necessary by word of his crime and "unproven" verdict having reached this part of France by the country's canal system. However, the alias is not the only aspect of their renewed relationship that the former Genoese smuggler finds disconcerting since Monsieur Lagnier has taken it into his head to treat John Baptist as his servant. Better, he decides, to make off as soon as possible, and escape from his "Patron" while he is still asleep at the Break of Day, rather than get caught up in Rigaud's confidence schemes. Furniss's John Baptist looks terrified at the prospect of awkening the vengeful Frenchman as he tries to make good his escape by turning the key in the lock, but the oblivious sleeper does not wake.
Whereas Phiz in the original serial illustration for this chapter, Making Off, focusses on the escaping John Baptist (the description of his flight from Chalons appears on the facing page, clarifying the identity of the figure fleeing along the tree-lined avenue) at the close of "Let Loose," James Mahoney instead depicts the disgruntled, inwardly cursing traveller who by his nose, moustache, and nutcracker chin must be Rigaud, the former Marseilles prisoner. Both of Harry Furniss's predecessors give the reader a sense of the French landscape, but Furniss instead sets the scene in the room at the Chalons backstreet inn the Break of Day to focus in close-up on the nervous John Baptist in the very act of turning the key in the lock as Rigaud (now, "Lagnier") sleeps in the foreground.
The scene is animated by the contrasting expressions of the two figures, and by the kinetic sense of energy with which Furniss embues the entire composition.
Rigaud and John Baptist in other early editions, 1856 to 1910
Left: The initial frontispiece in the New York "Household Edition" volumes, Darley's engraving of the Marseilles cellmates, Feeding the Birds (1863). Centre: The Household Edition characterisation of Rigaud's approaching Chalons along the canal at dusk, One man slowly moving on towards Chalons (1873). Right: Sol Eytinge, Junior's study of the little smuggler and the wife-killer, Rigaud and Cavalletto. [Click on images to enlarge them.]
Above: Phiz's February 1856 dark plate of the escape of John Baptist from Chalons, Making Off [Click on the image to enlarge it.]
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Last modified 12 May 2016