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Home -> Charles Dickens -> Little Dorrit -> Chapter 25

Little Dorrit - Chapter 25

1. Contents and Preface

2. Book First, Chapter 1

3. Chapter 2

4. Chapter 3

5. Chapter 4

6. Chapter 5

7. Chapter 6

8. Chapter 7

9. Chapter 8

10. Chapter 9

11. Chapter 10

12. Chapter 11

13. Chapter 12

14. Chapter 13

15. Chapter 14

16. Chapter 15

17. Chapter 16

18. Chapter 17

19. Chapter 18

20. Chapter 19

21. Chapter 20

22. Chapter 21

23. Chapter 22

24. Chapter 23

25. Chapter 24

26. Chapter 25

27. Chapter 26

28. Chapter 27

29. Chapter 28

30. Chapter 29

31. Chapter 30

32. Chapter 31

33. Chapter 32

34. Chapter 33

35. Chapter 34

36. Chapter 35

37. Chapter 36

38. Book Second Chapter 1

39. Chapter 2

40. Chapter 3

41. Chapter 4

42. Chapter 5

43. Chapter 6

44. Chapter 7

45. Chapter 8

46. Chapter 9

47. Chapter 10

48. Chapter 11

49. Chapter 12

50. Chapter 13

51. Chapter 14

52. Chapter 15

53. Chapter 16

54. Chapter 17

55. Chapter 18

56. Chapter 19

57. Chapter 20

58. Chapter 21

59. Chapter 22

60. Chapter 23

61. Chapter 24

62. Chapter 25

63. Chapter 26

64. Chapter 27

65. Chapter 28

66. Chapter 29

67. Chapter 30

68. Chapter 31

69. Chapter 32

70. Chapter 33

71. Chapter 34


Conspirators and Others

The private residence of Mr Pancks was in Pentonville, where he
lodged on the second-floor of a professional gentleman in an
extremely small way, who had an inner-door within the street door,
poised on a spring and starting open with a click like a trap; and
who wrote up in the fan-light, RUGG, GENERAL AGENT, ACCOUNTANT,

This scroll, majestic in its severe simplicity, illuminated a
little slip of front garden abutting on the thirsty high-road,
where a few of the dustiest of leaves hung their dismal heads and
led a life of choking. A professor of writing occupied the first-
floor, and enlivened the garden railings with glass-cases
containing choice examples of what his pupils had been before six
lessons and while the whole of his young family shook the table,
and what they had become after six lessons when the young family
was under restraint. The tenancy of Mr Pancks was limited to one
airy bedroom; he covenanting and agreeing with Mr Rugg his
landlord, that in consideration of a certain scale of payments
accurately defined, and on certain verbal notice duly given, he
should be at liberty to elect to share the Sunday breakfast,
dinner, tea, or supper, or each or any or all of those repasts or
meals of Mr and Miss Rugg (his daughter) in the back-parlour.

Miss Rugg was a lady of a little property which she had acquired,
together with much distinction in the neighbourhood, by having her
heart severely lacerated and her feelings mangled by a middle-aged
baker resident in the vicinity, against whom she had, by the agency
of Mr Rugg, found it necessary to proceed at law to recover damages
for a breach of promise of marriage. The baker having been, by the
counsel for Miss Rugg, witheringly denounced on that occasion up to
the full amount of twenty guineas, at the rate of about eighteen-
pence an epithet, and having been cast in corresponding damages,
still suffered occasional persecution from the youth of
Pentonville. But Miss Rugg, environed by the majesty of the law,
and having her damages invested in the public securities, was
regarded with consideration.

In the society of Mr Rugg, who had a round white visage, as if all
his blushes had been drawn out of him long ago, and who had a
ragged yellow head like a worn-out hearth broom; and in the society
of Miss Rugg, who had little nankeen spots, like shirt buttons, all
over her face, and whose own yellow tresses were rather scrubby
than luxuriant; Mr Pancks had usually dined on Sundays for some few
years, and had twice a week, or so, enjoyed an evening collation of
bread, Dutch cheese, and porter. Mr Pancks was one of the very few
marriageable men for whom Miss Rugg had no terrors, the argument
with which he reassured himself being twofold; that is to say,
firstly, 'that it wouldn't do twice,' and secondly, 'that he wasn't
worth it.' Fortified within this double armour, Mr Pancks snorted
at Miss Rugg on easy terms.

Up to this time, Mr Pancks had transacted little or no business at
his quarters in Pentonville, except in the sleeping line; but now
that he had become a fortune-teller, he was often closeted after
midnight with Mr Rugg in his little front-parlour office, and even
after those untimely hours, burnt tallow in his bed-room. Though
his duties as his proprietor's grubber were in no wise lessened;
and though that service bore no greater resemblance to a bed of
roses than was to be discovered in its many thorns; some new branch
of industry made a constant demand upon him. When he cast off the
Patriarch at night, it was only to take an anonymous craft in tow,
and labour away afresh in other waters.

The advance from a personal acquaintance with the elder Mr Chivery
to an introduction to his amiable wife and disconsolate son, may
have been easy; but easy or not, Mr Pancks soon made it. He
nestled in the bosom of the tobacco business within a week or two
after his first appearance in the College, and particularly
addressed himself to the cultivation of a good understanding with
Young John. In this endeavour he so prospered as to lure that
pining shepherd forth from the groves, and tempt him to undertake
mysterious missions; on which he began to disappear at uncertain
intervals for as long a space as two or three days together. The
prudent Mrs Chivery, who wondered greatly at this change, would
have protested against it as detrimental to the Highland
typification on the doorpost but for two forcible reasons; one,
that her John was roused to take strong interest in the business
which these starts were supposed to advance--and this she held to
be good for his drooping spirits; the other, that Mr Pancks
confidentially agreed to pay her, for the occupation of her son's
time, at the handsome rate of seven and sixpence per day. The
proposal originated with himself, and was couched in the pithy
terms, 'If your John is weak enough, ma'am, not to take it, that is
no reason why you should be, don't you see? So, quite between
ourselves, ma'am, business being business, here it is!'

What Mr Chivery thought of these things, or how much or how little
he knew about them, was never gathered from himself. It has been
already remarked that he was a man of few words; and it may be here
observed that he had imbibed a professional habit of locking
everything up. He locked himself up as carefully as he locked up
the Marshalsea debtors. Even his custom of bolting his meals may
have been a part of an uniform whole; but there is no question,
that, as to all other purposes, he kept his mouth as he kept the
Marshalsea door. He never opened it without occasion. When it was
necessary to let anything out, he opened it a little way, held it
open just as long as sufficed for the purpose, and locked it again.

Even as he would be sparing of his trouble at the Marshalsea door,
and would keep a visitor who wanted to go out, waiting for a few
moments if he saw another visitor coming down the yard, so that one
turn of the key should suffice for both, similarly he would often
reserve a remark if he perceived another on its way to his lips,
and would deliver himself of the two together. As to any key to
his inner knowledge being to be found in his face, the Marshalsea
key was as legible as an index to the individual characters and
histories upon which it was turned.

That Mr Pancks should be moved to invite any one to dinner at
Pentonville, was an unprecedented fact in his calendar. But he
invited Young John to dinner, and even brought him within range of
the dangerous (because expensive) fascinations of Miss Rugg. The
banquet was appointed for a Sunday, and Miss Rugg with her own
hands stuffed a leg of mutton with oysters on the occasion, and
sent it to the baker's--not THE baker's but an opposition
establishment. Provision of oranges, apples, and nuts was also
made. And rum was brought home by Mr Pancks on Saturday night, to
gladden the visitor's heart.
The store of creature comforts was not the chief part of the
visitor's reception. Its special feature was a foregone family
confidence and sympathy. When Young John appeared at half-past one
without the ivory hand and waistcoat of golden sprigs, the sun
shorn of his beams by disastrous clouds, Mr Pancks presented him to
the yellow-haired Ruggs as the young man he had so often mentioned
who loved Miss Dorrit.
'I am glad,' said Mr Rugg, challenging him specially in that
character, 'to have the distinguished gratification of making your
acquaintance, sir. Your feelings do you honour. You are young;
may you never outlive your feelings! If I was to outlive my own
feelings, sir,' said Mr Rugg, who was a man of many words, and was
considered to possess a remarkably good address; 'if I was to
outlive my own feelings, I'd leave fifty pound in my will to the
man who would put me out of existence.'

Miss Rugg heaved a sigh.

'My daughter, sir,' said Mr Rugg. 'Anastatia, you are no stranger
to the state of this young man's affections. My daughter has had
her trials, sir'--Mr Rugg might have used the word more pointedly
in the singular number--'and she can feel for you.'

Young John, almost overwhelmed by the touching nature of this
greeting, professed himself to that effect.

'What I envy you, sir, is,' said Mr Rugg, 'allow me to take your
hat--we are rather short of pegs--I'll put it in the corner, nobody
will tread on it there--What I envy you, sir, is the luxury of your
own feelings. I belong to a profession in which that luxury is
sometimes denied us.'

Young John replied, with acknowledgments, that he only hoped he did
what was right, and what showed how entirely he was devoted to Miss
Dorrit. He wished to be unselfish; and he hoped he was. He wished
to do anything as laid in his power to serve Miss Dorrit,
altogether putting himself out of sight; and he hoped he did. It
was but little that he could do, but he hoped he did it.

'Sir,' said Mr Rugg, taking him by the hand, 'you are a young man
that it does one good to come across. You are a young man that I
should like to put in the witness-box, to humanise the minds of the
legal profession. I hope you have brought your appetite with you,
and intend to play a good knife and fork?'

'Thank you, sir,' returned Young John, 'I don't eat much at

Mr Rugg drew him a little apart. 'My daughter's case, sir,' said
he, 'at the time when, in vindication of her outraged feelings and
her sex, she became the plaintiff in Rugg and Bawkins. I suppose
I could have put it in evidence, Mr Chivery, if I had thought it
worth my while, that the amount of solid sustenance my daughter
consumed at that period did not exceed ten ounces per week.'
'I think I go a little beyond that, sir,' returned the other,
hesitating, as if he confessed it with some shame.

'But in your case there's no fiend in human form,' said Mr Rugg,
with argumentative smile and action of hand. 'Observe, Mr Chivery!

No fiend in human form!'
'No, sir, certainly,' Young John added with simplicity, 'I should
be very sorry if there was.'

'The sentiment,' said Mr Rugg, 'is what I should have expected from
your known principles. It would affect my daughter greatly, sir,
if she heard it. As I perceive the mutton, I am glad she didn't
hear it. Mr Pancks, on this occasion, pray face me. My dear, face
Mr Chivery. For what we are going to receive, may we (and Miss
Dorrit) be truly thankful!'

But for a grave waggishness in Mr Rugg's manner of delivering this
introduction to the feast, it might have appeared that Miss Dorrit
was expected to be one of the company. Pancks recognised the sally
in his usual way, and took in his provender in his usual way. Miss
Rugg, perhaps making up some of her arrears, likewise took very
kindly to the mutton, and it rapidly diminished to the bone. A
bread-and-butter pudding entirely disappeared, and a considerable
amount of cheese and radishes vanished by the same means. Then
came the dessert.

Then also, and before the broaching of the rum and water, came Mr
Pancks's note-book. The ensuing business proceedings were brief
but curious, and rather in the nature of a conspiracy. Mr Pancks
looked over his note-book, which was now getting full, studiously;
and picked out little extracts, which he wrote on separate slips of
paper on the table; Mr Rugg, in the meanwhile, looking at him with
close attention, and Young John losing his uncollected eye in mists
of meditation. When Mr Pancks, who supported the character of
chief conspirator, had completed his extracts, he looked them over,
corrected them, put up his note-book, and held them like a hand at

'Now, there's a churchyard in Bedfordshire,' said Pancks. 'Who
takes it?'

'I'll take it, sir,' returned Mr Rugg, 'if no one bids.'

Mr Pancks dealt him his card, and looked at his hand again.

'Now, there's an Enquiry in York,' said Pancks. 'Who takes it?'

'I'm not good for York,' said Mr Rugg.

'Then perhaps,' pursued Pancks, 'you'll be so obliging, John
Chivery?' Young John assenting, Pancks dealt him his card, and
consulted his hand again.

'There's a Church in London; I may as well take that. And a Family
Bible; I may as well take that, too. That's two to me. Two to
me,' repeated Pancks, breathing hard over his cards. 'Here's a
Clerk at Durham for you, John, and an old seafaring gentleman at
Dunstable for you, Mr Rugg. Two to me, was it? Yes, two to me.
Here's a Stone; three to me. And a Still-born Baby; four to me.
And all, for the present, told.'
When he had thus disposed of his cards, all being done very quietly
and in a suppressed tone, Mr Pancks puffed his way into his own
breast-pocket and tugged out a canvas bag; from which, with a
sparing hand, he told forth money for travelling expenses in two
little portions. 'Cash goes out fast,' he said anxiously, as he
pushed a portion to each of his male companions, 'very fast.'

'I can only assure you, Mr Pancks,' said Young John, 'that I deeply
regret my circumstances being such that I can't afford to pay my
own charges, or that it's not advisable to allow me the time
necessary for my doing the distances on foot; because nothing would
give me greater satisfaction than to walk myself off my legs
without fee or reward.'

This young man's disinterestedness appeared so very ludicrous in
the eyes of Miss Rugg, that she was obliged to effect a precipitate
retirement from the company, and to sit upon the stairs until she
had had her laugh out. Meanwhile Mr Pancks, looking, not without
some pity, at Young John, slowly and thoughtfully twisted up his
canvas bag as if he were wringing its neck. The lady, returning as
he restored it to his pocket, mixed rum and water for the party,
not forgetting her fair self, and handed to every one his glass.
When all were supplied, Mr Rugg rose, and silently holding out his
glass at arm's length above the centre of the table, by that
gesture invited the other three to add theirs, and to unite in a
general conspiratorial clink. The ceremony was effective up to a
certain point, and would have been wholly so throughout, if Miss
Rugg, as she raised her glass to her lips in completion of it, had
not happened to look at Young John; when she was again so overcome
by the contemptible comicality of his disinterestedness as to
splutter some ambrosial drops of rum and water around, and withdraw
in confusion.

Such was the dinner without precedent, given by Pancks at
Pentonville; and such was the busy and strange life Pancks led.
The only waking moments at which he appeared to relax from his
cares, and to recreate himself by going anywhere or saying anything
without a pervading object, were when he showed a dawning interest
in the lame foreigner with the stick, down Bleeding Heart Yard.

The foreigner, by name John Baptist Cavalletto--they called him Mr
Baptist in the Yard--was such a chirping, easy, hopeful little
fellow, that his attraction for Pancks was probably in the force of
contrast. Solitary, weak, and scantily acquainted with the most
necessary words of the only language in which he could communicate
with the people about him, he went with the stream of his fortunes,
in a brisk way that was new in those parts. With little to eat,
and less to drink, and nothing to wear but what he wore upon him,
or had brought tied up in one of the smallest bundles that ever
were seen, he put as bright a face upon it as if he were in the
most flourishing circumstances when he first hobbled up and down
the Yard, humbly propitiating the general good-will with his white

It was uphill work for a foreigner, lame or sound, to make his way
with the Bleeding Hearts. In the first place, they were vaguely
persuaded that every foreigner had a knife about him; in the
second, they held it to be a sound constitutional national axiom
that he ought to go home to his own country. They never thought of
inquiring how many of their own countrymen would be returned upon
their hands from divers parts of the world, if the principle were
generally recognised; they considered it particularly and
peculiarly British. In the third place, they had a notion that it
was a sort of Divine visitation upon a foreigner that he was not an
Englishman, and that all kinds of calamities happened to his
country because it did things that England did not, and did not do
things that England did. In this belief, to be sure, they had long
been carefully trained by the Barnacles and Stiltstalkings, who
were always proclaiming to them, officially, that no country which
failed to submit itself to those two large families could possibly
hope to be under the protection of Providence; and who, when they
believed it, disparaged them in private as the most prejudiced
people under the sun.

This, therefore, might be called a political position of the
Bleeding Hearts; but they entertained other objections to having
foreigners in the Yard. They believed that foreigners were always
badly off; and though they were as ill off themselves as they could
desire to be, that did not diminish the force of the objection.
They believed that foreigners were dragooned and bayoneted; and
though they certainly got their own skulls promptly fractured if
they showed any ill-humour, still it was with a blunt instrument,
and that didn't count. They believed that foreigners were always
immoral; and though they had an occasional assize at home, and now
and then a divorce case or so, that had nothing to do with it.
They believed that foreigners had no independent spirit, as never
being escorted to the poll in droves by Lord Decimus Tite Barnacle,
with colours flying and the tune of Rule Britannia playing. Not to
be tedious, they had many other beliefs of a similar kind.

Against these obstacles, the lame foreigner with the stick had to
make head as well as he could; not absolutely single-handed,
because Mr Arthur Clennam had recommended him to the Plornishes (he
lived at the top of the same house), but still at heavy odds.
However, the Bleeding Hearts were kind hearts; and when they saw
the little fellow cheerily limping about with a good-humoured face,
doing no harm, drawing no knives, committing no outrageous
immoralities, living chiefly on farinaceous and milk diet, and
playing with Mrs Plornish's children of an evening, they began to
think that although he could never hope to be an Englishman, still
it would be hard to visit that affliction on his head. They began
to accommodate themselves to his level, calling him 'Mr Baptist,'
but treating him like a baby, and laughing immoderately at his
lively gestures and his childish English--more, because he didn't
mind it, and laughed too. They spoke to him in very loud voices as
if he were stone deaf. They constructed sentences, by way of
teaching him the language in its purity, such as were addressed by
the savages to Captain Cook, or by Friday to Robinson Crusoe. Mrs
Plornish was particularly ingenious in this art; and attained so
much celebrity for saying 'Me ope you leg well soon,' that it was
considered in the Yard but a very short remove indeed from speaking
Italian. Even Mrs Plornish herself began to think that she had a
natural call towards that language. As he became more popular,
household objects were brought into requisition for his instruction
in a copious vocabulary; and whenever he appeared in the Yard
ladies would fly out at their doors crying 'Mr Baptist--tea-pot!'
'Mr Baptist--dust-pan!' 'Mr Baptist--flour-dredger!' 'Mr
Baptist--coffee-biggin!' At the same time exhibiting those
articles, and penetrating him with a sense of the appalling
difficulties of the Anglo-Saxon tongue.

It was in this stage of his progress, and in about the third week
of his occupation, that Mr Pancks's fancy became attracted by the
little man. Mounting to his attic, attended by Mrs Plornish as
interpreter, he found Mr Baptist with no furniture but his bed on
the ground, a table, and a chair, carving with the aid of a few
simple tools, in the blithest way possible.

'Now, old chap,' said Mr Pancks, 'pay up!'

He had his money ready, folded in a scrap of paper, and laughingly
handed it in; then with a free action, threw out as many fingers of
his right hand as there were shillings, and made a cut crosswise in
the air for an odd sixpence.

'Oh!' said Mr Pancks, watching him, wonderingly. 'That's it, is
it? You're a quick customer. It's all right. I didn't expect to
receive it, though.'

Mrs Plornish here interposed with great condescension, and
explained to Mr Baptist. 'E please. E glad get money.'

The little man smiled and nodded. His bright face seemed
uncommonly attractive to Mr Pancks. 'How's he getting on in his
limb?' he asked Mrs Plornish.

'Oh, he's a deal better, sir,' said Mrs Plornish. 'We expect next
week he'll be able to leave off his stick entirely.' (The
opportunity being too favourable to be lost, Mrs Plornish displayed
her great accomplishment by explaining with pardonable pride to Mr
Baptist, 'E ope you leg well soon.')

'He's a merry fellow, too,' said Mr Pancks, admiring him as if he
were a mechanical toy. 'How does he live?'

'Why, sir,' rejoined Mrs Plornish, 'he turns out to have quite a
power of carving them flowers that you see him at now.' (Mr
Baptist, watching their faces as they spoke, held up his work. Mrs
Plornish interpreted in her Italian manner, on behalf of Mr Pancks,
'E please. Double good!')

'Can he live by that?' asked Mr Pancks.
'He can live on very little, sir, and it is expected as he will be
able, in time, to make a very good living. Mr Clennam got it him
to do, and gives him odd jobs besides in at the Works next door--
makes 'em for him, in short, when he knows he wants 'em.'

'And what does he do with himself, now, when he ain't hard at it?'
said Mr Pancks.

'Why, not much as yet, sir, on accounts I suppose of not being able
to walk much; but he goes about the Yard, and he chats without
particular understanding or being understood, and he plays with the
children, and he sits in the sun--he'll sit down anywhere, as if it
was an arm-chair--and he'll sing, and he'll laugh!'

'Laugh!' echoed Mr Pancks. 'He looks to me as if every tooth in
his head was always laughing.'

'But whenever he gets to the top of the steps at t'other end of the
Yard,' said Mrs Plornish, 'he'll peep out in the curiousest way!
So that some of us thinks he's peeping out towards where his own
country is, and some of us thinks he's looking for somebody he
don't want to see, and some of us don't know what to think.'

Mr Baptist seemed to have a general understanding of what she said;
or perhaps his quickness caught and applied her slight action of
peeping. In any case he closed his eyes and tossed his head with
the air of a man who had sufficient reasons for what he did, and
said in his own tongue, it didn't matter. Altro!

'What's Altro?' said Pancks.

'Hem! It's a sort of a general kind of expression, sir,' said Mrs

'Is it?' said Pancks. 'Why, then Altro to you, old chap. Good
afternoon. Altro!'

Mr Baptist in his vivacious way repeating the word several times,
Mr Pancks in his duller way gave it him back once. From that time
it became a frequent custom with Pancks the gipsy, as he went home
jaded at night, to pass round by Bleeding Heart Yard, go quietly up
the stairs, look in at Mr Baptist's door, and, finding him in his
room, to say, 'Hallo, old chap! Altro!' To which Mr Baptist would
reply with innumerable bright nods and smiles, 'Altro, signore,
altro, altro, altro!' After this highly condensed conversation, Mr
Pancks would go his way with an appearance of being lightened and

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