Little Dorrit 046


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‘Yes, it’s pretty fresh,’ assented Pancks. ‘As a stranger you feel the climate more than I do, I dare say. Indeed I haven’t got time to feel it.’

‘You lead such a busy life?’

‘Yes, I have always some of ‘em to look up, or something to look after. But I like business,’ said Pancks, getting on a little faster. ‘What’s a man made for?’

‘For nothing else?’ said Clennam.

Pancks put the counter question, ‘What else?’ It packed up, in the smallest compass, a weight that had rested on Clennam’s life; and he made no answer.

‘That’s what I ask our weekly tenants,’ said Pancks. ‘Some of ‘em will pull long faces to me, and say, Poor as you see us, master, we’re always grinding, drudging, toiling, every minute we’re awake. I say to them, What else are you made for? It shuts them up. They haven’t a word to answer. What else are you made for? That clinches it.’

‘Ah dear, dear, dear!’ sighed Clennam.

‘Here am I,’ said Pancks, pursuing his argument with the weekly tenant. ‘What else do you suppose I think I am made for? Nothing. Rattle me out of bed early, set me going, give me as short a time as you like to bolt my meals in, and keep me at it. Keep me always at it, and I’ll keep you always at it, you keep somebody else always at it. There you are with the Whole Duty of Man in a commercial country.’

When they had walked a little further in silence, Clennam said: ‘Have you no taste for anything, Mr Pancks?’

‘What’s taste?’ drily retorted Pancks.

‘Let us say inclination.’

‘I have an inclination to get money, sir,’ said Pancks, ‘if you will show me how.’ He blew off that sound again, and it occurred to his companion for the first time that it was his way of laughing. He was a singular man in all respects; he might not have been quite in earnest, but that the short, hard, rapid manner in which he shot out these cinders of principles, as if it were done by mechanical revolvency, seemed irreconcilable with banter.

‘You are no great reader, I suppose?’ said Clennam.

‘Never read anything but letters and accounts. Never collect anything but advertisements relative to next of kin. If _that’s_ a taste, I have got that. You’re not of the Clennams of Cornwall, Mr Clennam?’

‘Not that I ever heard of.’

‘I know you’re not. I asked your mother, sir. She has too much character to let a chance escape her.’

‘Supposing I had been of the Clennams of Cornwall?’

‘You’d have heard of something to your advantage.’

‘Indeed! I have heard of little enough to my advantage for some time.’

‘There’s a Cornish property going a begging, sir, and not a Cornish Clennam to have it for the asking,’ said Pancks, taking his note-book from his breast pocket and putting it in again. ‘I turn off here. I wish you good night.’

‘Good night!’ said Clennam. But the Tug, suddenly lightened, and untrammelled by having any weight in tow, was already puffing away into the distance.

They had crossed Smithfield together, and Clennam was left alone at the corner of Barbican. He had no intention of presenting himself in his mother’s dismal room that night, and could not have felt more depressed and cast away if he had been in a wilderness. He turned slowly down Aldersgate Street, and was pondering his way along towards Saint Paul’s, purposing to come into one of the great thoroughfares for the sake of their light and life, when a crowd of people flocked towards him on the same pavement, and he stood aside against a shop to let them pass. As they came up, he made out that they were gathered around a something that was carried on men’s shoulders. He soon saw that it was a litter, hastily made of a shutter or some such thing; and a recumbent figure upon it, and the scraps of conversation in the crowd, and a muddy bundle carried by one man, and a muddy hat carried by another, informed him that an accident had occurred. The litter stopped under a lamp before it had passed him half-a-dozen paces, for some readjustment of the burden; and, the crowd stopping too, he found himself in the midst of the array.

‘An accident going to the Hospital?’ he asked an old man beside him, who stood shaking his head, inviting conversation.

‘Yes,’ said the man, ‘along of them Mails. They ought to be prosecuted and fined, them Mails. They come a racing out of Lad Lane and Wood Street at twelve or fourteen mile a hour, them Mails do. The only wonder is, that people ain’t killed oftener by them Mails.’

‘This person is not killed, I hope?’

‘I don’t know!’ said the man, ‘it an’t for the want of a will in them Mails, if he an’t.’ The speaker having folded his arms, and set in comfortably to address his depreciation of them Mails to any of the bystanders who would listen, several voices, out of pure sympathy with the sufferer, confirmed him; one voice saying to Clennam, ‘They’re a public nuisance, them Mails, sir;’ another, ‘_I_ see one on ‘em pull up within half a inch of a boy, last night;’ another, ‘_I_ see one on ‘em go over a cat, sir–and it might have been your own mother;’ and all representing, by implication, that if he happened to possess any public influence, he could not use it better than against them Mails.

‘Why, a native Englishman is put to it every night of his life, to save his life from them Mails,’ argued the first old man; ‘and _he_ knows when they’re a coming round the corner, to tear him limb from limb. What can you expect from a poor foreigner who don’t know nothing about ‘em!’

‘Is this a foreigner?’ said Clennam, leaning forward to look.

In the midst of such replies as ‘Frenchman, sir,’ ‘Porteghee, sir,’ ‘Dutchman, sir,’ ‘Prooshan, sir,’ and other conflicting testimony, he now heard a feeble voice asking, both in Italian and in French, for water. A general remark going round, in reply, of ‘Ah, poor fellow, he says he’ll never get over it; and no wonder!’ Clennam begged to be allowed to pass, as he understood the poor creature. He was immediately handed to the front, to speak to him.

‘First, he wants some water,’ said he, looking round. (A dozen good fellows dispersed to get it.) ‘Are you badly hurt, my friend?’ he asked the man on the litter, in Italian.


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