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Charles Dickens > Little Dorrit > Chapter 12

Little Dorrit

Chapter 12

Bleeding Heart Yard

In London itself, though in the old rustic road towards a suburb of
note where in the days of William Shakespeare, author and stage-
player, there were Royal hunting-seats--howbeit no sport is left
there now but for hunters of men--Bleeding Heart Yard was to be
found; a place much changed in feature and in fortune, yet with
some relish of ancient greatness about it. Two or three mighty
stacks of chimneys, and a few large dark rooms which had escaped
being walled and subdivided out of the recognition of their old
proportions, gave the Yard a character. It was inhabited by poor
people, who set up their rest among its faded glories, as Arabs of
the desert pitch their tents among the fallen stones of the
Pyramids; but there was a family sentimental feeling prevalent in
the Yard, that it had a character.

As if the aspiring city had become puffed up in the very ground on
which it stood, the ground had so risen about Bleeding Heart Yard
that you got into it down a flight of steps which formed no part of
the original approach, and got out of it by a low gateway into a
maze of shabby streets, which went about and about, tortuously
ascending to the level again. At this end of the Yard and over the
gateway, was the factory of Daniel 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
its name. The more practical of its inmates abided by the
tradition of a murder; the gentler and more imaginative
inhabitants, including the whole of the tender sex, were loyal to
the legend of a young lady of former times closely imprisoned in
her chamber by a cruel father for remaining true to her own true
love, and refusing to marry the suitor he chose for her. The
legend related how that the young lady used to be seen up at her
window behind the bars, murmuring a love-lorn song of which the
burden was, 'Bleeding Heart, Bleeding Heart, bleeding away,' until
she died. It was objected by the murderous party that this Refrain
was notoriously the invention of a tambour-worker, a spinster and
romantic, still lodging in the Yard. But, forasmuch as all
favourite legends must be associated with the affections, and as
many more people fall in love than commit murder--which it may be
hoped, howsoever bad we are, will continue until the end of the
world to be the dispensation under which we shall live--the
Bleeding Heart, Bleeding Heart, bleeding away story, carried the
day by a great majority. Neither party would listen to the
antiquaries who delivered learned lectures in the neighbourhood,
showing the Bleeding Heart to have been the heraldic cognisance of
the old family to whom the property had once belonged. And,
considering that the hour-glass they turned from year to year was
filled with the earthiest and coarsest sand, the Bleeding Heart
Yarders had reason enough for objecting to be despoiled of the one
little golden grain 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 on either hand, all abundantly garnished with light children
nursing heavy ones, they arrived at its opposite boundary, the
gateway. Here Arthur Clennam stopped to look about him for the
domicile of Plornish, plasterer, whose name, according to the
custom of Londoners, Daniel Doyce had never seen or heard of to
that hour.

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

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

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
would deceive you, under any circumstances, as little as might be;
but she had a 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,
at any 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
take it kind of you.'

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

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

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

'Four year just turned, sir,' said Mrs Plornish. 'He IS a fine
little fellow, ain't he, sir? But this one is rather sickly.' She
tenderly hushed the baby in her arms, as she said it. 'You
wouldn't mind my asking if it happened to be a job as you was come
about, sir, would you?' asked Mrs Plornish wistfully.

She asked it so anxiously, that if he had been in possession of any
kind of tenement, he would have had it plastered a foot deep rather
than answer No. But he was obliged to answer No; and he saw a
shade of disappointment on her face, as she checked a sigh, and
looked at the low fire. Then he saw, also, that Mrs Plornish was
a young woman, made somewhat slatternly in herself and her
belongings by poverty; and so dragged at by poverty and the
children together, that their united forces had already dragged her
face into wrinkles.

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

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

'Plornish finds it so,' she returned. 'He is quite unfortunate.
Really he 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
it impossible for them to keep up even with their lame competitors.

A willing, working, soft hearted, not hard-headed fellow, Plornish
took his fortune as smoothly as could be expected; but it was a
rough one. It so rarely happened that anybody seemed to want him,
it was such an exceptional case when his powers were in any
request, that his misty mind could not make out how it happened.
He took it as it came, therefore; he tumbled into all kinds of
difficulties, and tumbled out of them; 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 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,

'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

'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

'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

'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.'

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

He was earnest to finish his commission at once, and his Principal
was in the same mind. So his Principal offered to set him down at
the Marshalsea Gate, and they drove in that direction over
Blackfriars Bridge. On the way, Arthur elicited from his new
friend a confused summary of the interior life of Bleeding Heart
Yard. They was all hard up there, Mr Plornish said, uncommon hard
up, to be sure. Well, he couldn't say how it was; he didn't know
as anybody could say how it was; all he know'd was, that so it was.

When a man felt, on his own back and in his own belly, that poor he
was, that man (Mr Plornish gave it as his decided belief) know'd
well that he was poor somehow or another, and you couldn't talk it
out of him, no more than you could talk 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 themselves if not beyond
it so he'd heerd, that they was 'improvident' (that was the
favourite word) down the Yard. For instance, if they see a man
with his wife and children going to Hampton Court in a Wan, perhaps
once in a year, 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't go mollancholy mad, and even if he
did, you wouldn't be the better for it. In Mr Plornish's judgment
you would be the worse for it. Yet you seemed to want to make a
man mollancholy mad. You was always at it--if not with your right
hand, with your left. What was they a doing in the Yard? Why,
take a look at 'em and see. There was the girls and their mothers
a working at their sewing, or their shoe-binding, or their
trimming, or their waistcoat making, day and night and night and
day, and not more than able to keep body and soul together after
all--often not so much. There was people of pretty well all sorts
of trades you could name, all wanting to work, and yet not able to
get it. There was old people, after working all their lives, going
and being shut up in the 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. As to who was to blame for it, Mr
Plornish didn't know who was to blame for it. He could tell you
who suffered, but he couldn't tell you whose fault it 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 what
undertook that line of business, and that it didn't come right of
itself. And, in brief, his illogical opinion was, that if you
couldn't do nothing for him, you had better take nothing from him
for doing of it; 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 tangled skein of his estate about and about, like
a blind man who was trying to find 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 many thousand Plornishes
there might be within a day or two's journey of the Circumlocution
Office, playing sundry curious variations on the same tune, which
were not known by ear in that glorious institution.

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