Little Dorrit 078


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‘Ay, ay. You do take a reference sometimes, I see?’ said Clennam.

‘When he can pay, sir,’ replied Pancks. ‘Take all you can get, and keep back all you can’t be forced to give up. That’s business. The lame foreigner with the stick wants a top room down the Yard. Is he good for it?’

‘I am,’ said Clennam, ‘and I will answer for him.’

‘That’s enough. What I must have of Bleeding Heart Yard,’ said Pancks, making a note of the case in his book, ‘is my bond. I want my bond, you see. Pay up, or produce your property! That’s the watchword down the Yard. The lame foreigner with the stick represented that you sent him; but he could represent (as far as that goes) that the Great Mogul sent him. He has been in the hospital, I believe?’

‘Yes. Through having met with an accident. He is only just now discharged.’

‘It’s pauperising a man, sir, I have been shown, to let him into a hospital?’ said Pancks. And again blew off that remarkable sound.

‘I have been shown so too,’ said Clennam, coldly.

Mr Pancks, being by that time quite ready for a start, got under steam in a moment, and, without any other signal or ceremony, was snorting down the step-ladder and working into Bleeding Heart Yard, before he seemed to be well out of the counting-house.

Throughout the remainder of the day, Bleeding Heart Yard was in consternation, as the grim Pancks cruised in it; haranguing the inhabitants on their backslidings in respect of payment, demanding his bond, breathing notices to quit and executions, running down defaulters, sending a swell of terror on before him, and leaving it in his wake. Knots of people, impelled by a fatal attraction, lurked outside any house in which he was known to be, listening for fragments of his discourses to the inmates; and, when he was rumoured to be coming down the stairs, often could not disperse so quickly but that he would be prematurely in among them, demanding their own arrears, and rooting them to the spot. Throughout the remainder of the day, Mr Pancks’s What were they up to? and What did they mean by it? sounded all over the Yard. Mr Pancks wouldn’t hear of excuses, wouldn’t hear of complaints, wouldn’t hear of repairs, wouldn’t hear of anything but unconditional money down. Perspiring and puffing and darting about in eccentric directions, and becoming hotter and dingier every moment, he lashed the tide of the yard into a most agitated and turbid state. It had not settled down into calm water again full two hours after he had been seen fuming away on the horizon at the top of the steps.

There were several small assemblages of the Bleeding Hearts at the popular points of meeting in the Yard that night, among whom it was universally agreed that Mr Pancks was a hard man to have to do with; and that it was much to be regretted, so it was, that a gentleman like Mr Casby should put his rents in his hands, and never know him in his true light. For (said the Bleeding Hearts), if a gentleman with that head of hair and them eyes took his rents into his own hands, ma’am, there would be none of this worriting and wearing, and things would be very different.

At which identical evening hour and minute, the Patriarch–who had floated serenely through the Yard in the forenoon before the harrying began, with the express design of getting up this trustfulness in his shining bumps and silken locks–at which identical hour and minute, that first-rate humbug of a thousand guns was heavily floundering in the little Dock of his exhausted Tug at home, and was saying, as he turned his thumbs:

‘A very bad day’s work, Pancks, very bad day’s work. It seems to me, sir, and I must insist on making this observation forcibly in justice to myself, that you ought to have got much more money, much more money.’

CHAPTER 24. Fortune-Telling

Little Dorrit received a call that same evening from Mr Plornish, who, having intimated that he wished to speak to her privately, in a series of coughs so very noticeable as to favour the idea that her father, as regarded her seamstress occupation, was an illustration of the axiom that there are no such stone-blind men as those who will not see, obtained an audience with her on the common staircase outside the door.

‘There’s been a lady at our place to-day, Miss Dorrit,’ Plornish growled, ‘and another one along with her as is a old wixen if ever I met with such. The way she snapped a person’s head off, dear me!’

The mild Plornish was at first quite unable to get his mind away from Mr F.’s Aunt. ‘For,’ said he, to excuse himself, ‘she is, I do assure you, the winegariest party.’

At length, by a great effort, he detached himself from the subject sufficiently to observe:

‘But she’s neither here nor there just at present. The other lady, she’s Mr Casby’s daughter; and if Mr Casby an’t well off, none better, it an’t through any fault of Pancks. For, as to Pancks, he does, he really does, he does indeed!’

Mr Plornish, after his usual manner, was a little obscure, but conscientiously emphatic.

‘And what she come to our place for,’ he pursued, ‘was to leave word that if Miss Dorrit would step up to that card–which it’s Mr Casby’s house that is, and Pancks he has a office at the back, where he really does, beyond belief–she would be glad for to engage her. She was a old and a dear friend, she said particular, of Mr Clennam, and hoped for to prove herself a useful friend to _his_ friend. Them was her words. Wishing to know whether Miss Dorrit could come to-morrow morning, I said I would see you, Miss, and inquire, and look round there to-night, to say yes, or, if you was engaged to-morrow, when?’

‘I can go to-morrow, thank you,’ said Little Dorrit. ‘This is very kind of you, but you are always kind.’

Mr Plornish, with a modest disavowal of his merits, opened the room door for her readmission, and followed her in with such an exceedingly bald pretence of not having been out at all, that her father might have observed it without being very suspicious. In his affable unconsciousness, however, he took no heed. Plornish, after a little conversation, in which he blended his former duty as a Collegian with his present privilege as a humble outside friend, qualified again by his low estate as a plasterer, took his leave; making the tour of the prison before he left, and looking on at a game of skittles with the mixed feelings of an old inhabitant who had his private reasons for believing that it might be his destiny to come back again.

Early in the morning, Little Dorrit, leaving Maggy in high domestic trust, set off for the Patriarchal tent. She went by the Iron Bridge, though it cost her a penny, and walked more slowly in that part of her journey than in any other. At five minutes before eight her hand was on the Patriarchal knocker, which was quite as high as she could reach.

She gave Mrs Finching’s card to the young woman who opened the door, and the young woman told her that ‘Miss Flora’–Flora having, on her return to the parental roof, reinvested herself with the title under which she had lived there–was not yet out of her bedroom, but she was to please to walk up into Miss Flora’s sitting-room. She walked up into Miss Flora’s sitting-room, as in duty bound, and there found a breakfast-table comfortably laid for two, with a supplementary tray upon it laid for one. The young woman, disappearing for a few moments, returned to say that she was to please to take a chair by the fire, and to take off her bonnet and make herself at home. But Little Dorrit, being bashful, and not used to make herself at home on such occasions, felt at a loss how to do it; so she was still sitting near the door with her bonnet on, when Flora came in in a hurry half an hour afterwards.

Flora was so sorry to have kept her waiting, and good gracious why did she sit out there in the cold when she had expected to find her by the fire reading the paper, and hadn’t that heedless girl given her the message then, and had she really been in her bonnet all this time, and pray for goodness sake let Flora take it off! Flora taking it off in the best-natured manner in the world, was so struck with the face disclosed, that she said, ‘Why, what a good little thing you are, my dear!’ and pressed her face between her hands like the gentlest of women.

It was the word and the action of a moment. Little Dorrit had hardly time to think how kind it was, when Flora dashed at the breakfast-table full of business, and plunged over head and ears into loquacity.

‘Really so sorry that I should happen to be late on this morning of all mornings because my intention and my wish was to be ready to meet you when you came in and to say that any one that interested Arthur Clennam half so much must interest me and that I gave you the heartiest welcome and was so glad, instead of which they never called me and there I still am snoring I dare say if the truth was known and if you don’t like either cold fowl or hot boiled ham which many people don’t I dare say besides Jews and theirs are scruples of conscience which we must all respect though I must say I wish they had them equally strong when they sell us false articles for real that certainly ain’t worth the money I shall be quite vexed,’ said Flora.

Little Dorrit thanked her, and said, shyly, bread-and-butter and tea was all she usually–

‘Oh nonsense my dear child I can never hear of that,’ said Flora, turning on the urn in the most reckless manner, and making herself wink by splashing hot water into her eyes as she bent down to look into the teapot. ‘You are coming here on the footing of a friend and companion you know if you will let me take that liberty and I should be ashamed of myself indeed if you could come here upon any other, besides which Arthur Clennam spoke in such terms–you are tired my dear.’

‘No, ma’am.’


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