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Little Dorrit

31.
Spirit
Anybody may pass, any day, in the thronged thoroughfares of the metropolis,
some meagre, wrinkled, yellow old man (who might be supposed to have
dropped from the stars, if there were any star in the Heavens dull enough to be
suspected of casting off so feeble a spark), creeping along with a scared air, as
though bewildered and a little frightened by the noise and bustle. This old man is
always a little old man. If he were ever a big old man, he has shrunk into a little
old man; if he were always a little old man, he has dwindled into a less old man.
His coat is a colour, and cut, that never was the mode anywhere, at any period.
Clearly, it was not made for him, or for any individual mortal. Some wholesale
contractor measured Fate for five thousand coats of such quality, and Fate has
lent this old coat to this old man, as one of a long unfinished line of many old
men. It has always large dull metal buttons, similar to no other buttons. This old
man wears a hat, a thumbed and napless and yet an obdurate hat, which has
never adapted itself to the shape of his poor head. His coarse shirt and his
coarse neckcloth have no more individuality than his coat and hat; they have the
same character of not being his--of not being anybody's. Yet this old man wears
these clothes with a certain unaccustomed air of being dressed and elaborated
for the public ways; as though he passed the greater part of his time in a
nightcap and gown. And so, like the country mouse in the second year of a
famine, come to see the town mouse, and timidly threading his way to the town-
mouse's lodging through a city of cats, this old man passes in the streets.
Sometimes, on holidays towards evening, he will be seen to walk with a slightly
increased infirmity, and his old eyes will glimmer with a moist and marshy light.
Then the little old man is drunk. A very small measure will overset him; he may
be bowled off his unsteady legs with a half-pint pot. Some pitying acquaintance--
chance acquaintance very often--has warmed up his weakness with a treat of
beer, and the consequence will be the lapse of a longer time than usual before
he shall pass again. For the little old man is going home to the Workhouse; and
on his good behaviour they do not let him out often (though methinks they might,
considering the few years he has before him to go out in, under the sun); and on
his bad behaviour they shut him up closer than ever in a grove of two score and
nineteen more old men, every one of whom smells of all the others.
Mrs Plornish's father,--a poor little reedy piping old gentleman, like a worn-out
bird; who had been in what he called the music- binding business, and met with
great misfortunes, and who had seldom been able to make his way, or to see it
or to pay it, or to do anything at all with it but find it no thoroughfare,--had retired
of his own accord to the Workhouse which was appointed by law to be the Good
Samaritan of his district (without the twopence, which was bad political
economy), on the settlement of that execution which had carried Mr Plornish to
the Marshalsea College. Previous to his son-in-law's difficulties coming to that
head, Old Nandy (he was always so called in his legal Retreat, but he was Old
Mr Nandy among the Bleeding Hearts) had sat in a corner of the Plornish
fireside, and taken his bite and sup out of the Plornish cupboard. He still hoped to
 
 
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