Little Dorrit 041


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‘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 problem between the bars of the grate; ‘nor yet for want of working at them when they are to be got. No one ever heard my husband complain of work.’

Somehow or other, this was the general misfortune of Bleeding Heart Yard. From time to time there were public complaints, pathetically going about, of labour being scarce–which certain people seemed to take extraordinarily ill, as though they had an absolute right to it on their own terms–but Bleeding Heart Yard, though as willing a Yard as any in Britain, was never the better for the demand. That high old family, the Barnacles, had long been too busy with their great principle to look into the matter; and indeed the matter had nothing to do with their watchfulness in out-generalling all other high old families except the Stiltstalkings.

While Mrs Plornish spoke in these words of her absent lord, her lord returned. A smooth-cheeked, fresh-coloured, sandy-whiskered man of thirty. 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 little conversation 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 pleasure of being acquainted with the gentleman, neither.

‘No,’ said Arthur, ‘I know your kind offices at second hand, but on the best authority; through Little Dorrit.–I mean,’ he explained, ‘Miss Dorrit.’

‘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 upon his knee, that he might have the moral support of speaking to a stranger over his head, ‘I have been on the wrong side of the Lock myself, and in that way we come to know Miss Dorrit. Me and my wife, we are well acquainted with Miss Dorrit.’

‘Intimate!’ cried Mrs Plornish. Indeed, she was so proud of the acquaintance, that she had awakened some bitterness of spirit in the Yard by magnifying to an enormous amount the sum for which Miss Dorrit’s father had become insolvent. The Bleeding Hearts resented her claiming to know people of such distinction.

‘It was her father that I got acquainted with first. And through getting acquainted with him, you see–why–I got acquainted with her,’ said Plornish tautologically.

‘I see.’

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

‘Without admiring him for that,’ Clennam quietly observed, ‘I am very sorry for him.’ The remark appeared to suggest to Plornish, for the first time, that it might not be a very fine trait of character after all. He pondered about it for a moment, and gave it up.

‘As to me,’ he resumed, ‘certainly Mr Dorrit is as affable with me, I am sure, as I can possibly expect. Considering the differences and distances betwixt us, more so. But it’s Miss Dorrit that we were speaking 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 his lips, turned it with his tongue like a sugar-plum, considered, found himself unequal to the task of lucid explanation, and appealing to his wife, said, ‘Sally, _you_ may as well mention how it was, old woman.’

‘Miss Dorrit,’ said Sally, hushing the baby from side to side, and laying her chin upon the little hand as it tried to disarrange the gown again, ‘came here one afternoon with a bit of writing, telling that how she wished for needlework, and asked if it would be considered any ill-conwenience in case she was to give her address here.’ (Plornish repeated, her address here, in a low voice, as if he were making responses at church.) ‘Me and Plornish says, No, Miss Dorrit, no ill-conwenience,’ (Plornish repeated, no ill-conwenience,) ‘and she wrote it in, according. Which then me and Plornish says, Ho Miss Dorrit!’ (Plornish repeated, Ho Miss Dorrit.) ‘Have you thought of copying it three or four times, as the way to make it known in more places than one? No, says Miss Dorrit, I have not, but I will. She copied it out according, on this table, in a sweet writing, and Plornish, he took it where he worked, having a job just then,’ (Plornish repeated job just then,) ‘and likewise to the landlord of the Yard; through which it was that Mrs Clennam first happened to employ Miss Dorrit.’ Plornish repeated, employ Miss Dorrit; and Mrs Plornish having come to an end, feigned to bite the fingers of the little hand as she kissed it.

‘The landlord of the Yard,’ said Arthur Clennam, ‘is–’

‘He is Mr Casby, by name, he is,’ said Plornish, ‘and Pancks, he collects the rents. That,’ added Mr Plornish, dwelling on the subject with a slow thoughtfulness that appeared to have no connection with any specific 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 old acquaintance of mine, long ago!’

Mr Plornish did not see his road to any comment on this fact, and made none. As there truly was no reason why he should have the least interest in 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 and self-helpfulness of the young man, supposing him to possess any remnant of those qualities: without doubt a very wide stretch of supposition. Plornish, having been made acquainted with the cause of action from the Defendant’s own mouth, gave Arthur to understand that the Plaintiff was a ‘Chaunter’–meaning, not a singer of anthems, but a seller of horses–and that he (Plornish) considered that ten shillings in the pound ‘would settle handsome,’ and that more would be a waste of money. The Principal and instrument soon drove off together to a stable-yard in High Holborn, where a remarkably fine grey gelding, worth, at the lowest figure, seventy-five guineas (not taking into account the value of the shot he had been made to swallow for the improvement of his form), was to be parted with for a twenty-pound note, in consequence of his having run away last week with Mrs Captain Barbary of Cheltenham, who wasn’t up to a horse of his courage, and who, in mere spite, insisted on selling him 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 little hooked stick, and a blue neckerchief (Captain Maroon of Gloucestershire, a private friend of Captain Barbary); who happened to be there, in a friendly way, to mention these little circumstances concerning the remarkably fine grey gelding to any real judge of a horse and quick snapper-up of a good thing, who might look in at that address as per advertisement. This gentleman, happening also to be the Plaintiff in the Tip case, referred Mr Plornish to his solicitor, and declined to treat with Mr Plornish, or even to endure his presence in the yard, unless he appeared there with a twenty-pound note: in which case only, the gentleman would augur from appearances that he meant business, and might be induced to talk to him. On this hint, Mr Plornish retired to communicate with his Principal, and presently came back with the required credentials. Then said Captain Maroon, ‘Now, how much time do you want to make the other twenty in? Now, I’ll give you a month.’ Then said Captain Maroon, when that wouldn’t suit, ‘Now, I’ll tell what I’ll do with you. You shall get me a good bill at four months, made payable at 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 say to you. You shall give me another ten down, and I’ll run my pen clean through 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, but I’ll let him off for another five down and a bottle of wine; and if you mean done, say done, and if you don’t like it, leave it.’ Finally said Captain Maroon, when _that_ wouldn’t suit either, ‘Hand over, then!’–And in consideration of the first offer, gave a receipt in full and discharged the prisoner.

‘Mr Plornish,’ said Arthur, ‘I trust to you, if you please, to keep my secret. 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 by some one whom you are not at liberty to name, you will not only do me a service, but may do him one, and his sister also.’

‘The last reason, sir,’ said Plornish, ‘would be quite sufficient. Your wishes shall be attended to.’

‘A Friend has obtained his discharge, you can say if you please. A Friend who hopes that for his sister’s sake, if for no one else’s, he will 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, as to communicate freely with me, and to point out to me any means by which you think I may be delicately and really useful to Little Dorrit, I shall feel under an obligation to you.’


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