Little dorrit, p.13

Little Dorrit, page 13

 

Little Dorrit
 



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  CHAPTER 12. Bleeding Heart Yard

  In London itself, though in the old rustic road towards a suburb of notewhere in the days of William Shakespeare, author and stage-player, therewere Royal hunting-seats--howbeit no sport is left there now but forhunters of men--Bleeding Heart Yard was to be found; a place muchchanged in feature and in fortune, yet with some relish of ancientgreatness about it. Two or three mighty stacks of chimneys, and a fewlarge dark rooms which had escaped being walled and subdivided out ofthe recognition of their old proportions, gave the Yard a character.It was inhabited by poor people, who set up their rest among its fadedglories, as Arabs of the desert pitch their tents among the fallenstones of the Pyramids; but there was a family sentimental feelingprevalent in the Yard, that it had a character.

  As if the aspiring city had become puffed up in the very ground on whichit stood, the ground had so risen about Bleeding Heart Yard that yougot into it down a flight of steps which formed no part of the originalapproach, and got out of it by a low gateway into a maze of shabbystreets, which went about and about, tortuously ascending to the levelagain. At this end of the Yard and over the gateway, was the factory ofDaniel Doyce, often heavily beating like a bleeding heart of iron,with the clink of metal upon metal.

  The opinion of the Yard was divided respecting the derivation of itsname. The more practical of its inmates abided by the tradition of amurder; the gentler and more imaginative inhabitants, including thewhole of the tender sex, were loyal to the legend of a young lady offormer times closely imprisoned in her chamber by a cruel father forremaining true to her own true love, and refusing to marry the suitor hechose for her. The legend related how that the young lady used to beseen up at her window behind the bars, murmuring a love-lorn song ofwhich the burden was, 'Bleeding Heart, Bleeding Heart, bleeding away,'until she died. It was objected by the murderous party that this Refrainwas notoriously the invention of a tambour-worker, a spinster andromantic, still lodging in the Yard. But, forasmuch as all favouritelegends must be associated with the affections, and as many more peoplefall in love than commit murder--which it may be hoped, howsoever bad weare, will continue until the end of the world to be the dispensationunder which we shall live--the Bleeding Heart, Bleeding Heart, bleedingaway story, carried the day by a great majority. Neither party wouldlisten to the antiquaries who delivered learned lectures in theneighbourhood, showing the Bleeding Heart to have been the heraldiccognisance of the old family to whom the property had once belonged.And, considering that the hour-glass they turned from year to year wasfilled with the earthiest and coarsest sand, the Bleeding Heart Yardershad reason enough for objecting to be despoiled of the one little goldengrain of poetry that sparkled in it.

  Down in to the Yard, by way of the steps, came Daniel Doyce, Mr Meagles,and Clennam. Passing along the Yard, and between the open doors oneither hand, all abundantly garnished with light children nursing heavyones, they arrived at its opposite boundary, the gateway. Here ArthurClennam stopped to look about him for the domicile of Plornish,plasterer, whose name, according to the custom of Londoners, DanielDoyce had never seen or heard of to that hour.

  It was plain enough, nevertheless, as Little Dorrit had said; over alime-splashed gateway in the corner, within which Plornish kept a ladderand a barrel or two. The last house in Bleeding Heart Yard which shehad described as his place of habitation, was a large house, let off tovarious tenants; but Plornish ingeniously hinted that he lived in theparlour, by means of a painted hand under his name, the forefinger ofwhich hand (on which the artist had depicted a ring and a most elaboratenail of the genteelest form) referred all inquirers to that apartment.

  Parting from his companions, after arranging another meeting withMr Meagles, Clennam went alone into the entry, and knocked with hisknuckles at the parlour-door. It was opened presently by a woman witha child in her arms, whose unoccupied hand was hastily rearranging theupper part of her dress. This was Mrs Plornish, and this maternalaction was the action of Mrs Plornish during a large part of her wakingexistence.

  Was Mr Plornish at home? 'Well, sir,' said Mrs Plornish, a civil woman,'not to deceive you, he's gone to look for a job.'

  'Not to deceive you' was a method of speech with Mrs Plornish. She woulddeceive you, under any circumstances, as little as might be; but she hada trick of answering in this provisional form.

  'Do you think he will be back soon, if I wait for him?'

  'I have been expecting him,' said Mrs Plornish, 'this half an hour, atany minute of time. Walk in, sir.'

  Arthur entered the rather dark and close parlour (though it was lofty too),and sat down in the chair she placed for him.

  'Not to deceive you, sir, I notice it,' said Mrs Plornish, 'and I takeit kind of you.'

  He was at a loss to understand what she meant; and by expressing as muchin his looks, elicited her explanation.

  'It ain't many that comes into a poor place, that deems it worth theirwhile to move their hats,' said Mrs Plornish. 'But people think more ofit than people think.'

  Clennam returned, with an uncomfortable feeling in so very slight acourtesy being unusual, Was that all! And stooping down to pinch thecheek of another young child who was sitting on the floor, staring athim, asked Mrs Plornish how old that fine boy was?

  'Four year just turned, sir,' said Mrs Plornish. 'He _is_ a fine littlefellow, ain't he, sir? But this one is rather sickly.' She tenderlyhushed the baby in her arms, as she said it. 'You wouldn't mind myasking if it happened to be a job as you was come about, sir, wouldyou?' asked Mrs Plornish wistfully.

  She asked it so anxiously, that if he had been in possession of anykind of tenement, he would have had it plastered a foot deep ratherthan answer No. But he was obliged to answer No; and he saw a shade ofdisappointment on her face, as she checked a sigh, and looked at thelow fire. Then he saw, also, that Mrs Plornish was a young woman, madesomewhat slatternly in herself and her belongings by poverty; and sodragged at by poverty and the children together, that their unitedforces had already dragged her face into wrinkles.

  'All such things as jobs,' said Mrs Plornish, 'seems to me to have goneunderground, they do indeed.' (Herein Mrs Plornish limited her remark tothe plastering trade, and spoke without reference to the CircumlocutionOffice and the Barnacle Family.)

  'Is it so difficult to get work?' asked Arthur Clennam.

  'Plornish finds it so,' she returned. 'He is quite unfortunate. Reallyhe is.'

  Really he was. He was one of those many wayfarers on the road of life,who seem to be afflicted with supernatural corns, rendering itimpossible for them to keep up even with their lame competitors. Awilling, working, soft hearted, not hard-headed fellow, Plornish tookhis fortune as smoothly as could be expected; but it was a rough one. Itso rarely happened that anybody seemed to want him, it was such anexceptional case when his powers were in any request, that his mistymind could not make out how it happened. He took it as it came,therefore; he tumbled into all kinds of difficulties, and tumbled out ofthem; and, by tumbling through life, got himself considerably bruised.

  'It's not for want of looking after jobs, I am sure,' said Mrs Plornish,lifting up her eyebrows, and searching for a solution of the problembetween the bars of the grate; 'nor yet for want of working at them whenthey are to be got. No one ever heard my husband complain of work.'

  Somehow or other, this was the general misfortune of Bleeding HeartYard. From time to time there were public complaints, patheticallygoing about, of labour being scarce--which certain people seemed to takeextraordinarily ill, as though they had an absolute right to it on theirown terms--but Bleeding Heart Yard, though as willing a Yard as any inBritain, was never the better for the demand. That high old family, theBarnacles, had long been too busy with their great principle to lookinto the matter; and indeed the matter had nothing to do with theirwatchfulness in out-generalling all other high old families except theStiltstalkings.

  While Mrs Plornish spoke in these words of her absent lord, her lordreturned. A smooth-cheeked
, fresh-coloured, sandy-whiskered man ofthirty. Long in the legs, yielding at the knees, foolish in the face,flannel-jacketed, lime-whitened.

  'This is Plornish, sir.'

  'I came,' said Clennam, rising, 'to beg the favour of a littleconversation with you on the subject of the Dorrit family.'

  Plornish became suspicious. Seemed to scent a creditor. Said, 'Ah, yes.Well. He didn't know what satisfaction _he_ could give any gentleman,respecting that family. What might it be about, now?'

  'I know you better,' said Clennam, smiling, 'than you suppose.'

  Plornish observed, not smiling in return, And yet he hadn't the pleasureof being acquainted with the gentleman, neither.

  'No,' said Arthur, 'I know your kind offices at second hand, but on thebest authority; through Little Dorrit.--I mean,' he explained, 'MissDorrit.'

  'Mr Clennam, is it? Oh! I've heard of you, Sir.'

  'And I of you,' said Arthur.

  'Please to sit down again, Sir, and consider yourself welcome.--Why,yes,' said Plornish, taking a chair, and lifting the elder child uponhis knee, that he might have the moral support of speaking to a strangerover his head, 'I have been on the wrong side of the Lock myself, andin that way we come to know Miss Dorrit. Me and my wife, we are wellacquainted with Miss Dorrit.'

  'Intimate!' cried Mrs Plornish. Indeed, she was so proud of theacquaintance, that she had awakened some bitterness of spirit in theYard by magnifying to an enormous amount the sum for which Miss Dorrit'sfather had become insolvent. The Bleeding Hearts resented her claimingto know people of such distinction.

  'It was her father that I got acquainted with first. And through gettingacquainted with him, you see--why--I got acquainted with her,' saidPlornish tautologically.

  'I see.'

  'Ah! And there's manners! There's polish! There's a gentleman to haverun to seed in the Marshalsea jail! Why, perhaps you are not aware,'said Plornish, lowering his voice, and speaking with a perverseadmiration of what he ought to have pitied or despised, 'not aware thatMiss Dorrit and her sister dursn't let him know that they work for aliving. No!' said Plornish, looking with a ridiculous triumph first athis wife, and then all round the room. 'Dursn't let him know it, theydursn't!'

  'Without admiring him for that,' Clennam quietly observed, 'I am verysorry for him.' The remark appeared to suggest to Plornish, for thefirst time, that it might not be a very fine trait of character afterall. He pondered about it for a moment, and gave it up.

  'As to me,' he resumed, 'certainly Mr Dorrit is as affable with me, Iam sure, as I can possibly expect. Considering the differences anddistances betwixt us, more so. But it's Miss Dorrit that we werespeaking of.'

  'True. Pray how did you introduce her at my mother's!'

  Mr Plornish picked a bit of lime out of his whisker, put it between hislips, turned it with his tongue like a sugar-plum, considered, foundhimself unequal to the task of lucid explanation, and appealing to hiswife, said, 'Sally, _you_ may as well mention how it was, old woman.'

  'Miss Dorrit,' said Sally, hushing the baby from side to side, andlaying her chin upon the little hand as it tried to disarrange the gownagain, 'came here one afternoon with a bit of writing, telling thathow she wished for needlework, and asked if it would be considered anyill-conwenience in case she was to give her address here.' (Plornishrepeated, her address here, in a low voice, as if he were makingresponses at church.) 'Me and Plornish says, No, Miss Dorrit, noill-conwenience,' (Plornish repeated, no ill-conwenience,) 'and shewrote it in, according. Which then me and Plornish says, Ho MissDorrit!' (Plornish repeated, Ho Miss Dorrit.) 'Have you thought ofcopying it three or four times, as the way to make it known in moreplaces than one? No, says Miss Dorrit, I have not, but I will. Shecopied it out according, on this table, in a sweet writing, andPlornish, he took it where he worked, having a job just then,' (Plornishrepeated job just then,) 'and likewise to the landlord of the Yard;through which it was that Mrs Clennam first happened to employ MissDorrit.' Plornish repeated, employ Miss Dorrit; and Mrs Plornish havingcome to an end, feigned to bite the fingers of the little hand as shekissed it.

  'The landlord of the Yard,' said Arthur Clennam, 'is--'

  'He is Mr Casby, by name, he is,' said Plornish, 'and Pancks, hecollects the rents. That,' added Mr Plornish, dwelling on the subjectwith a slow thoughtfulness that appeared to have no connection with anyspecific object, and to lead him nowhere, 'that is about what _they_ are,you may believe me or not, as you think proper.'

  'Ay?' returned Clennam, thoughtful in his turn. 'Mr Casby, too! An oldacquaintance of mine, long ago!'

  Mr Plornish did not see his road to any comment on this fact, and madenone. As there truly was no reason why he should have the least interestin it, Arthur Clennam went on to the present purport of his visit;namely, to make Plornish the instrument of effecting Tip's release,with as little detriment as possible to the self-reliance andself-helpfulness of the young man, supposing him to possess any remnantof those qualities: without doubt a very wide stretch of supposition.Plornish, having been made acquainted with the cause of action from theDefendant's own mouth, gave Arthur to understand that the Plaintiffwas a 'Chaunter'--meaning, not a singer of anthems, but a seller ofhorses--and that he (Plornish) considered that ten shillings in thepound 'would settle handsome,' and that more would be a waste of money.The Principal and instrument soon drove off together to a stable-yard inHigh Holborn, where a remarkably fine grey gelding, worth, at the lowestfigure, seventy-five guineas (not taking into account the value of theshot he had been made to swallow for the improvement of his form), wasto be parted with for a twenty-pound note, in consequence of his havingrun away last week with Mrs Captain Barbary of Cheltenham, who wasn't upto a horse of his courage, and who, in mere spite, insisted on sellinghim for that ridiculous sum: or, in other words, on giving him away.Plornish, going up this yard alone and leaving his Principal outside,found a gentleman with tight drab legs, a rather old hat, a littlehooked stick, and a blue neckerchief (Captain Maroon of Gloucestershire,a private friend of Captain Barbary); who happened to be there, ina friendly way, to mention these little circumstances concerning theremarkably fine grey gelding to any real judge of a horse and quicksnapper-up of a good thing, who might look in at that address as peradvertisement. This gentleman, happening also to be the Plaintiff in theTip case, referred Mr Plornish to his solicitor, and declined to treatwith Mr Plornish, or even to endure his presence in the yard, unlesshe appeared there with a twenty-pound note: in which case only, thegentleman would augur from appearances that he meant business, andmight be induced to talk to him. On this hint, Mr Plornish retiredto communicate with his Principal, and presently came back with therequired credentials. Then said Captain Maroon, 'Now, how much time doyou want to make the other twenty in? Now, I'll give you a month.' Thensaid Captain Maroon, when that wouldn't suit, 'Now, I'll tell what I'lldo with you. You shall get me a good bill at four months, made payableat a banking-house, for the other twenty!' Then said Captain Maroon,when _that_ wouldn't suit, 'Now, come; Here's the last I've got to sayto you. You shall give me another ten down, and I'll run my pen cleanthrough it.' Then said Captain Maroon when _that_ wouldn't suit, 'Now,I'll tell you what it is, and this shuts it up; he has used me bad, butI'll let him off for another five down and a bottle of wine; and if youmean done, say done, and if you don't like it, leave it.' Finally saidCaptain Maroon, when _that_ wouldn't suit either, 'Hand over, then!'--Andin consideration of the first offer, gave a receipt in full anddischarged the prisoner.

  'Mr Plornish,' said Arthur, 'I trust to you, if you please, to keep mysecret. If you will undertake to let the young man know that he is free,and to tell him that you were employed to compound for the debt bysome one whom you are not at liberty to name, you will not only do me aservice, but may do him one, and his sister also.'

  'The last reason, sir,' said Plornish, 'would be quite sufficient. Yourwishes shall be attended to.'

  'A Friend has obtained his discharge, you can say if you please. AFriend
who hopes that for his sister's sake, if for no one else's, hewill make good use of his liberty.'

  'Your wishes, sir, shall be attended to.'

  'And if you will be so good, in your better knowledge of the family, asto communicate freely with me, and to point out to me any means by whichyou think I may be delicately and really useful to Little Dorrit, Ishall feel under an obligation to you.'

  'Don't name it, sir,' returned Plornish, 'it'll be ekally a pleasure ana--it'l be ekally a pleasure and a--' Finding himself unable to balancehis sentence after two efforts, Mr Plornish wisely dropped it. He tookClennam's card and appropriate pecuniary compliment.

  He was earnest to finish his commission at once, and his Principalwas in the same mind. So his Principal offered to set him down at theMarshalsea Gate, and they drove in that direction over BlackfriarsBridge. On the way, Arthur elicited from his new friend a confusedsummary of the interior life of Bleeding Heart Yard. They was all hardup there, Mr Plornish said, uncommon hard up, to be sure. Well, hecouldn't say how it was; he didn't know as anybody _could_ say how itwas; all he know'd was, that so it was. When a man felt, on his ownback and in his own belly, that poor he was, that man (Mr Plornish gaveit as his decided belief) know'd well that he was poor somehow oranother, and you couldn't talk it out of him, no more than you couldtalk Beef into him. Then you see, some people as was better off said,and a good many such people lived pretty close up to the mark themselvesif not beyond it so he'd heerd, that they was 'improvident' (that wasthe favourite word) down the Yard. For instance, if they see a man withhis wife and children going to Hampton Court in a Wan, perhaps once in ayear, they says, 'Hallo! I thought you was poor, my improvident friend!'Why, Lord, how hard it was upon a man! What was a man to do? He couldn'tgo mollancholy mad, and even if he did, you wouldn't be the better forit. In Mr Plornish's judgment you would be the worse for it. Yet youseemed to want to make a man mollancholy mad. You was always at it--ifnot with your right hand, with your left. What was they a doing in theYard? Why, take a look at 'em and see. There was the girls and theirmothers a working at their sewing, or their shoe-binding, or theirtrimming, or their waistcoat making, day and night and night and day,and not more than able to keep body and soul together after all--oftennot so much. There was people of pretty well all sorts of trades youcould name, all wanting to work, and yet not able to get it. There wasold people, after working all their lives, going and being shut up inthe workhouse, much worse fed and lodged and treated altogether,than--Mr Plornish said manufacturers, but appeared to mean malefactors.Why, a man didn't know where to turn himself for a crumb of comfort. Asto who was to blame for it, Mr Plornish didn't know who was to blame forit. He could tell you who suffered, but he couldn't tell you whose faultit was. It wasn't _his_ place to find out, and who'd mind what he said,if he did find out? He only know'd that it wasn't put right by them whatundertook that line of business, and that it didn't come right ofitself. And, in brief, his illogical opinion was, that if you couldn'tdo nothing for him, you had better take nothing from him for doing ofit; so far as he could make out, that was about what it come to. Thus,in a prolix, gently-growling, foolish way, did Plornish turn the tangledskein of his estate about and about, like a blind man who was trying tofind some beginning or end to it; until they reached the prison gate.There, he left his Principal alone; to wonder, as he rode away, how manythousand Plornishes there might be within a day or two's journey of theCircumlocution Office, playing sundry curious variations on the sametune, which were not known by ear in that glorious institution.

 

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