Part 01 - Our Mutual Friend Audiobook by Charles Dickens (Book 1, Chs 1-5)

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Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens CHAPTER 1
In these times of ours, though concerning the exact year there is no need to be
precise, a boat of dirty and disreputable appearance, with two figures in it, floated
on the Thames, between Southwark bridge
which is of iron, and London Bridge which is of stone, as an autumn evening was
closing in.
The figures in this boat were those of a strong man with ragged grizzled hair and a
sun-browned face, and a dark girl of nineteen or twenty, sufficiently like him
to be recognizable as his daughter.
The girl rowed, pulling a pair of sculls very easily; the man, with the rudder-lines
slack in his hands, and his hands loose in his waistband, kept an eager look out.
He had no net, hook, or line, and he could not be a fisherman; his boat had no cushion
for a sitter, no paint, no inscription, no appliance beyond a rusty boathook and a
coil of rope, and he could not be a
waterman; his boat was too crazy and too small to take in cargo for delivery, and he
could not be a lighterman or river-carrier; there was no clue to what he looked for,
but he looked for something, with a most intent and searching gaze.
The tide, which had turned an hour before, was running down, and his eyes watched
every little race and eddy in its broad sweep, as the boat made slight head-way
against it, or drove stern foremost before
it, according as he directed his daughter by a movement of his head.
She watched his face as earnestly as he watched the river.
But, in the intensity of her look there was a touch of dread or horror.
Allied to the bottom of the river rather than the surface, by reason of the slime
and ooze with which it was covered, and its sodden state, this boat and the two figures
in it obviously were doing something that
they often did, and were seeking what they often sought.
Half savage as the man showed, with no covering on his matted head, with his brown
arms bare to between the elbow and the shoulder, with the loose knot of a looser
kerchief lying low on his bare breast in a
wilderness of beard and whisker, with such dress as he wore seeming to be made out of
the mud that begrimed his boat, still there was a business-like usage in his steady
So with every lithe action of the girl, with every turn of her wrist, perhaps most
of all with her look of dread or horror; they were things of usage.
'Keep her out, Lizzie.
Tide runs strong here. Keep her well afore the sweep of it.'
Trusting to the girl's skill and making no use of the rudder, he eyed the coming tide
with an absorbed attention.
So the girl eyed him.
But, it happened now, that a slant of light from the setting sun glanced into the
bottom of the boat, and, touching a rotten stain there which bore some resemblance to
the outline of a muffled human form, coloured it as though with diluted blood.
This caught the girl's eye, and she shivered.
'What ails you?' said the man, immediately aware of it, though so intent on the
advancing waters; 'I see nothing afloat.'
The red light was gone, the shudder was gone, and his gaze, which had come back to
the boat for a moment, travelled away again.
Wheresoever the strong tide met with an impediment, his gaze paused for an instant.
At every mooring-chain and rope, at every stationery boat or barge that split the
current into a broad-arrowhead, at the offsets from the piers of Southwark Bridge,
at the paddles of the river steamboats as
they beat the filthy water, at the floating logs of timber lashed together lying off
certain wharves, his shining eyes darted a hungry look.
After a darkening hour or so, suddenly the rudder-lines tightened in his hold, and he
steered hard towards the Surrey shore.
Always watching his face, the girl instantly answered to the action in her
sculling; presently the boat swung round, quivered as from a sudden jerk, and the
upper half of the man was stretched out over the stern.
The girl pulled the hood of a cloak she wore, over her head and over her face, and,
looking backward so that the front folds of this hood were turned down the river, kept
the boat in that direction going before the tide.
Until now, the boat had barely held her own, and had hovered about one spot; but
now, the banks changed swiftly, and the deepening shadows and the kindling lights
of London Bridge were passed, and the tiers of shipping lay on either hand.
It was not until now that the upper half of the man came back into the boat.
His arms were wet and dirty, and he washed them over the side.
In his right hand he held something, and he washed that in the river too.
It was money.
He chinked it once, and he blew upon it once, and he spat upon it once,--'for
luck,' he hoarsely said--before he put it in his pocket.
The girl turned her face towards him with a start, and rowed in silence.
Her face was very pale.
He was a hook-nosed man, and with that and his bright eyes and his ruffled head, bore
a certain likeness to a roused bird of prey.
'Take that thing off your face.'
She put it back. 'Here! and give me hold of the sculls.
I'll take the rest of the spell.' 'No, no, father!
No! I can't indeed.
Father!--I cannot sit so near it!' He was moving towards her to change places,
but her terrified expostulation stopped him and he resumed his seat.
'What hurt can it do you?'
'None, none. But I cannot bear it.'
'It's my belief you hate the sight of the very river.'
'I--I do not like it, father.'
'As if it wasn't your living! As if it wasn't meat and drink to you!'
At these latter words the girl shivered again, and for a moment paused in her
rowing, seeming to turn deadly faint.
It escaped his attention, for he was glancing over the stern at something the
boat had in tow. 'How can you be so thankless to your best
friend, Lizzie?
The very fire that warmed you when you were a babby, was picked out of the river
alongside the coal barges. The very basket that you slept in, the tide
washed ashore.
The very rockers that I put it upon to make a cradle of it, I cut out of a piece of
wood that drifted from some ship or another.'
Lizzie took her right hand from the scull it held, and touched her lips with it, and
for a moment held it out lovingly towards him: then, without speaking, she resumed
her rowing, as another boat of similar
appearance, though in rather better trim, came out from a dark place and dropped
softly alongside.
'In luck again, Gaffer?' said a man with a squinting leer, who sculled her and who was
alone, 'I know'd you was in luck again, by your wake as you come down.'
'Ah!' replied the other, drily.
'So you're out, are you?' 'Yes, pardner.'
There was now a tender yellow moonlight on the river, and the new comer, keeping half
his boat's length astern of the other boat looked hard at its track.
'I says to myself,' he went on, 'directly you hove in view, yonder's Gaffer, and in
luck again, by George if he ain't! Scull it is, pardner--don't fret yourself--
I didn't touch him.'
This was in answer to a quick impatient movement on the part of Gaffer: the speaker
at the same time unshipping his scull on that side, and laying his hand on the
gunwale of Gaffer's boat and holding to it.
'He's had touches enough not to want no more, as well as I make him out, Gaffer!
Been a knocking about with a pretty many tides, ain't he pardner?
Such is my out-of-luck ways, you see!
He must have passed me when he went up last time, for I was on the lookout below bridge
here. I a'most think you're like the wulturs,
pardner, and scent 'em out.'
He spoke in a dropped voice, and with more than one glance at Lizzie who had pulled on
her hood again. Both men then looked with a weird unholy
interest in the wake of Gaffer's boat.
'Easy does it, betwixt us. Shall I take him aboard, pardner?'
'No,' said the other.
In so surly a tone that the man, after a blank stare, acknowledged it with the
retort: '--Arn't been eating nothing as has
disagreed with you, have you, pardner?'
'Why, yes, I have,' said Gaffer. 'I have been swallowing too much of that
word, Pardner. I am no pardner of yours.'
'Since when was you no pardner of mine, Gaffer Hexam Esquire?'
'Since you was accused of robbing a man. Accused of robbing a live man!' said
Gaffer, with great indignation.
'And what if I had been accused of robbing a dead man, Gaffer?'
'You COULDN'T do it.' 'Couldn't you, Gaffer?'
'No. Has a dead man any use for money?
Is it possible for a dead man to have money?
What world does a dead man belong to? 'Tother world.
What world does money belong to?
This world. How can money be a corpse's?
Can a corpse own it, want it, spend it, claim it, miss it?
Don't try to go confounding the rights and wrongs of things in that way.
But it's worthy of the sneaking spirit that robs a live man.'
'I'll tell you what it is--.'
'No you won't. I'll tell you what it is.
You got off with a short time of it for putting your hand in the pocket of a
sailor, a live sailor.
Make the most of it and think yourself lucky, but don't think after that to come
over ME with your pardners.
We have worked together in time past, but we work together no more in time present
nor yet future. Let go.
Cast off!'
'Gaffer! If you think to get rid of me this way--.'
'If I don't get rid of you this way, I'll try another, and chop you over the fingers
with the stretcher, or take a pick at your head with the boat-hook.
Cast off!
Pull you, Lizzie. Pull home, since you won't let your father
pull.' Lizzie shot ahead, and the other boat fell
Lizzie's father, composing himself into the easy attitude of one who had asserted the
high moralities and taken an unassailable position, slowly lighted a pipe, and
smoked, and took a survey of what he had in tow.
What he had in tow, lunged itself at him sometimes in an awful manner when the boat
was checked, and sometimes seemed to try to wrench itself away, though for the most
part it followed submissively.
A neophyte might have fancied that the ripples passing over it were dreadfully
like faint changes of expression on a sightless face; but Gaffer was no neophyte
and had no fancies.
Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens CHAPTER 2
Mr and Mrs Veneering were bran-new people in a bran-new house in a bran-new quarter
of London. Everything about the Veneerings was spick
and span new.
All their furniture was new, all their friends were new, all their servants were
new, their plate was new, their carriage was new, their harness was new, their
horses were new, their pictures were new,
they themselves were new, they were as newly married as was lawfully compatible
with their having a bran-new baby, and if they had set up a great-grandfather, he
would have come home in matting from the
Pantechnicon, without a scratch upon him, French polished to the crown of his head.
For, in the Veneering establishment, from the hall-chairs with the new coat of arms,
to the grand pianoforte with the new action, and upstairs again to the new fire-
escape, all things were in a state of high varnish and polish.
And what was observable in the furniture, was observable in the Veneerings--the
surface smelt a little too much of the workshop and was a trifle sticky.
There was an innocent piece of dinner- furniture that went upon easy castors and
was kept over a livery stable-yard in Duke Street, Saint James's, when not in use, to
whom the Veneerings were a source of blind confusion.
The name of this article was Twemlow.
Being first cousin to Lord Snigsworth, he was in frequent requisition, and at many
houses might be said to represent the dining-table in its normal state.
Mr and Mrs Veneering, for example, arranging a dinner, habitually started with
Twemlow, and then put leaves in him, or added guests to him.
Sometimes, the table consisted of Twemlow and half a dozen leaves; sometimes, of
Twemlow and a dozen leaves; sometimes, Twemlow was pulled out to his utmost extent
of twenty leaves.
Mr and Mrs Veneering on occasions of ceremony faced each other in the centre of
the board, and thus the parallel still held; for, it always happened that the more
Twemlow was pulled out, the further he
found himself from the center, and nearer to the sideboard at one end of the room, or
the window-curtains at the other. But, it was not this which steeped the
feeble soul of Twemlow in confusion.
This he was used to, and could take soundings of.
The abyss to which he could find no bottom, and from which started forth the engrossing
and ever-swelling difficulty of his life, was the insoluble question whether he was
Veneering's oldest friend, or newest friend.
To the excogitation of this problem, the harmless gentleman had devoted many anxious
hours, both in his lodgings over the livery stable-yard, and in the cold gloom,
favourable to meditation, of Saint James's Square.
Twemlow had first known Veneering at his club, where Veneering then knew nobody but
the man who made them known to one another, who seemed to be the most intimate friend
he had in the world, and whom he had known
two days--the bond of union between their souls, the nefarious conduct of the
committee respecting the cookery of a fillet of veal, having been accidentally
cemented at that date.
Immediately upon this, Twemlow received an invitation to dine with Veneering, and
dined: the man being of the party.
Immediately upon that, Twemlow received an invitation to dine with the man, and dined:
Veneering being of the party.
At the man's were a Member, an Engineer, a Payer-off of the National Debt, a Poem on
Shakespeare, a Grievance, and a Public Office, who all seem to be utter strangers
to Veneering.
And yet immediately after that, Twemlow received an invitation to dine at
Veneerings, expressly to meet the Member, the Engineer, the Payer-off of the National
Debt, the Poem on Shakespeare, the
Grievance, and the Public Office, and, dining, discovered that all of them were
the most intimate friends Veneering had in the world, and that the wives of all of
them (who were all there) were the objects
of Mrs Veneering's most devoted affection and tender confidence.
Thus it had come about, that Mr Twemlow had said to himself in his lodgings, with his
hand to his forehead: 'I must not think of this.
This is enough to soften any man's brain,'- -and yet was always thinking of it, and
could never form a conclusion. This evening the Veneerings give a banquet.
Eleven leaves in the Twemlow; fourteen in company all told.
Four pigeon-breasted retainers in plain clothes stand in line in the hall.
A fifth retainer, proceeding up the staircase with a mournful air--as who
should say, 'Here is another wretched creature come to dinner; such is life!'--
announces, 'Mis-ter Twemlow!'
Mrs Veneering welcomes her sweet Mr Twemlow.
Mr Veneering welcomes his dear Twemlow.
Mrs Veneering does not expect that Mr Twemlow can in nature care much for such
insipid things as babies, but so old a friend must please to look at baby.
'Ah! You will know the friend of your family better, Tootleums,' says Mr
Veneering, nodding emotionally at that new article, 'when you begin to take notice.'
He then begs to make his dear Twemlow known to his two friends, Mr Boots and Mr Brewer-
-and clearly has no distinct idea which is which.
But now a fearful circumstance occurs.
'Mis-ter and Mis-sus Podsnap!' 'My dear,' says Mr Veneering to Mrs
Veneering, with an air of much friendly interest, while the door stands open, 'the
A too, too smiling large man, with a fatal freshness on him, appearing with his wife,
instantly deserts his wife and darts at Twemlow with:
'How do you do?
So glad to know you. Charming house you have here.
I hope we are not late. So glad of the opportunity, I am sure!'
When the first shock fell upon him, Twemlow twice skipped back in his neat little shoes
and his neat little silk stockings of a bygone fashion, as if impelled to leap over
a sofa behind him; but the large man closed with him and proved too strong.
'Let me,' says the large man, trying to attract the attention of his wife in the
distance, 'have the pleasure of presenting Mrs Podsnap to her host.
She will be,' in his fatal freshness he seems to find perpetual verdure and eternal
youth in the phrase, 'she will be so glad of the opportunity, I am sure!'
In the meantime, Mrs Podsnap, unable to originate a mistake on her own account,
because Mrs Veneering is the only other lady there, does her best in the way of
handsomely supporting her husband's, by
looking towards Mr Twemlow with a plaintive countenance and remarking to Mrs Veneering
in a feeling manner, firstly, that she fears he has been rather bilious of late,
and, secondly, that the baby is already very like him.
It is questionable whether any man quite relishes being mistaken for any other man;
but, Mr Veneering having this very evening set up the shirt-front of the young
Antinous in new worked cambric just come
home, is not at all complimented by being supposed to be Twemlow, who is dry and
weazen and some thirty years older. Mrs Veneering equally resents the
imputation of being the wife of Twemlow.
As to Twemlow, he is so sensible of being a much better bred man than Veneering, that
he considers the large man an offensive ass.
In this complicated dilemma, Mr Veneering approaches the large man with extended hand
and, smilingly assures that incorrigible personage that he is delighted to see him:
who in his fatal freshness instantly replies:
'Thank you.
I am ashamed to say that I cannot at this moment recall where we met, but I am so
glad of this opportunity, I am sure!'
Then pouncing upon Twemlow, who holds back with all his feeble might, he is haling him
off to present him, as Veneering, to Mrs Podsnap, when the arrival of more guests
unravels the mistake.
Whereupon, having re-shaken hands with Veneering as Veneering, he re-shakes hands
with Twemlow as Twemlow, and winds it all up to his own perfect satisfaction by
saying to the last-named, 'Ridiculous opportunity--but so glad of it, I am sure!'
Now, Twemlow having undergone this terrific experience, having likewise noted the
fusion of Boots in Brewer and Brewer in Boots, and having further observed that of
the remaining seven guests four discrete
characters enter with wandering eyes and wholly declined to commit themselves as to
which is Veneering, until Veneering has them in his grasp;--Twemlow having profited
by these studies, finds his brain
wholesomely hardening as he approaches the conclusion that he really is Veneering's
oldest friend, when his brain softens again and all is lost, through his eyes
encountering Veneering and the large man
linked together as twin brothers in the back drawing-room near the conservatory
door, and through his ears informing him in the tones of Mrs Veneering that the same
large man is to be baby's godfather.
'Dinner is on the table!' Thus the melancholy retainer, as who should
say, 'Come down and be poisoned, ye unhappy children of men!'
Twemlow, having no lady assigned him, goes down in the rear, with his hand to his
forehead. Boots and Brewer, thinking him indisposed,
whisper, 'Man faint.
Had no lunch.' But he is only stunned by the
unvanquishable difficulty of his existence.
Revived by soup, Twemlow discourses mildly of the Court Circular with Boots and
Is appealed to, at the fish stage of the banquet, by Veneering, on the disputed
question whether his cousin Lord Snigsworth is in or out of town?
Gives it that his cousin is out of town.
'At Snigsworthy Park?' Veneering inquires.
'At Snigsworthy,' Twemlow rejoins.
Boots and Brewer regard this as a man to be cultivated; and Veneering is clear that he
is a remunerative article.
Meantime the retainer goes round, like a gloomy Analytical Chemist: always seeming
to say, after 'Chablis, sir?'--'You wouldn't if you knew what it's made of.'
The great looking-glass above the sideboard, reflects the table and the
Reflects the new Veneering crest, in gold and eke in silver, frosted and also thawed,
a camel of all work.
The Heralds' College found out a Crusading ancestor for Veneering who bore a camel on
his shield (or might have done it if he had thought of it), and a caravan of camels
take charge of the fruits and flowers and
candles, and kneel down be loaded with the salt.
Reflects Veneering; forty, wavy-haired, dark, tending to corpulence, sly,
mysterious, filmy--a kind of sufficiently well-looking veiled-prophet, not
Reflects Mrs Veneering; fair, aquiline- nosed and fingered, not so much light hair
as she might have, gorgeous in raiment and jewels, enthusiastic, propitiatory,
conscious that a corner of her husband's veil is over herself.
Reflects Podsnap; prosperously feeding, two little light-coloured wiry wings, one on
either side of his else bald head, looking as like his hairbrushes as his hair,
dissolving view of red beads on his
forehead, large allowance of crumpled shirt-collar up behind.
Reflects Mrs Podsnap; fine woman for Professor Owen, quantity of bone, neck and
nostrils like a rocking-horse, hard features, majestic head-dress in which
Podsnap has hung golden offerings.
Reflects Twemlow; grey, dry, polite, susceptible to east wind, First-Gentleman-
in-Europe collar and cravat, cheeks drawn in as if he had made a great effort to
retire into himself some years ago, and had got so far and had never got any farther.
Reflects mature young lady; raven locks, and complexion that lights up well when
well powdered--as it is--carrying on considerably in the captivation of mature
young gentleman; with too much nose in his
face, too much ginger in his whiskers, too much torso in his waistcoat, too much
sparkle in his studs, his eyes, his buttons, his talk, and his teeth.
Reflects charming old Lady Tippins on Veneering's right; with an immense obtuse
drab oblong face, like a face in a tablespoon, and a dyed Long Walk up the top
of her head, as a convenient public
approach to the bunch of false hair behind, pleased to patronize Mrs Veneering
opposite, who is pleased to be patronized.
Reflects a certain 'Mortimer', another of Veneering's oldest friends; who never was
in the house before, and appears not to want to come again, who sits disconsolate
on Mrs Veneering's left, and who was
inveigled by Lady Tippins (a friend of his boyhood) to come to these people's and
talk, and who won't talk.
Reflects Eugene, friend of Mortimer; buried alive in the back of his chair, behind a
shoulder--with a powder-epaulette on it--of the mature young lady, and gloomily
resorting to the champagne chalice whenever proffered by the Analytical Chemist.
Lastly, the looking-glass reflects Boots and Brewer, and two other stuffed Buffers
interposed between the rest of the company and possible accidents.
The Veneering dinners are excellent dinners--or new people wouldn't come--and
all goes well.
Notably, Lady Tippins has made a series of experiments on her digestive functions, so
extremely complicated and daring, that if they could be published with their results
it might benefit the human race.
Having taken in provisions from all parts of the world, this hardy old cruiser has
last touched at the North Pole, when, as the ice-plates are being removed, the
following words fall from her:
'I assure you, my dear Veneering--' (Poor Twemlow's hand approaches his
forehead, for it would seem now, that Lady Tippins is going to be the oldest friend.)
'I assure you, my dear Veneering, that it is the oddest affair!
Like the advertising people, I don't ask you to trust me, without offering a
respectable reference.
Mortimer there, is my reference, and knows all about it.'
Mortimer raises his drooping eyelids, and slightly opens his mouth.
But a faint smile, expressive of 'What's the use!' passes over his face, and he
drops his eyelids and shuts his mouth.
'Now, Mortimer,' says Lady Tippins, rapping the sticks of her closed green fan upon the
knuckles of her left hand--which is particularly rich in knuckles, 'I insist
upon your telling all that is to be told about the man from Jamaica.'
'Give you my honour I never heard of any man from Jamaica, except the man who was a
brother,' replies Mortimer.
'Tobago, then.' 'Nor yet from Tobago.'
'Except,' Eugene strikes in: so unexpectedly that the mature young lady,
who has forgotten all about him, with a start takes the epaulette out of his way:
'except our friend who long lived on rice-
pudding and isinglass, till at length to his something or other, his physician said
something else, and a leg of mutton somehow ended in daygo.'
A reviving impression goes round the table that Eugene is coming out.
An unfulfilled impression, for he goes in again.
'Now, my dear Mrs Veneering,' quoth Lady Tippins, I appeal to you whether this is
not the basest conduct ever known in this world?
I carry my lovers about, two or three at a time, on condition that they are very
obedient and devoted; and here is my oldest lover-in-chief, the head of all my slaves,
throwing off his allegiance before company!
And here is another of my lovers, a rough Cymon at present certainly, but of whom I
had most hopeful expectations as to his turning out well in course of time,
pretending that he can't remember his nursery rhymes!
On purpose to annoy me, for he knows how I doat upon them!'
A grisly little fiction concerning her lovers is Lady Tippins's point.
She is always attended by a lover or two, and she keeps a little list of her lovers,
and she is always booking a new lover, or striking out an old lover, or putting a
lover in her black list, or promoting a
lover to her blue list, or adding up her lovers, or otherwise posting her book.
Mrs Veneering is charmed by the humour, and so is Veneering.
Perhaps it is enhanced by a certain yellow play in Lady Tippins's throat, like the
legs of scratching poultry.
'I banish the false wretch from this moment, and I strike him out of my Cupidon
(my name for my Ledger, my dear,) this very night.
But I am resolved to have the account of the man from Somewhere, and I beg you to
elicit it for me, my love,' to Mrs Veneering, 'as I have lost my own
Oh, you perjured man!' This to Mortimer, with a rattle of her fan.
'We are all very much interested in the man from Somewhere,' Veneering observes.
Then the four Buffers, taking heart of grace all four at once, say:
'Deeply interested!' 'Quite excited!'
'Man from Nowhere, perhaps!'
And then Mrs Veneering--for the Lady Tippins's winning wiles are contagious--
folds her hands in the manner of a supplicating child, turns to her left
neighbour, and says, 'Tease! Pay! Man from Tumwhere!'
At which the four Buffers, again mysteriously moved all four at once,
explain, 'You can't resist!'
'Upon my life,' says Mortimer languidly, 'I find it immensely embarrassing to have the
eyes of Europe upon me to this extent, and my only consolation is that you will all of
you execrate Lady Tippins in your secret
hearts when you find, as you inevitably will, the man from Somewhere a bore.
Sorry to destroy romance by fixing him with a local habitation, but he comes from the
place, the name of which escapes me, but will suggest itself to everybody else here,
where they make the wine.'
Eugene suggests 'Day and Martin's.' 'No, not that place,' returns the unmoved
Mortimer, 'that's where they make the Port. My man comes from the country where they
make the Cape Wine.
But look here, old fellow; its not at all statistical and it's rather odd.'
It is always noticeable at the table of the Veneerings, that no man troubles himself
much about the Veneerings themselves, and that any one who has anything to tell,
generally tells it to anybody else in preference.
'The man,' Mortimer goes on, addressing Eugene, 'whose name is Harmon, was only son
of a tremendous old rascal who made his money by Dust.'
'Red velveteens and a bell?' the gloomy Eugene inquires.
'And a ladder and basket if you like.
By which means, or by others, he grew rich as a Dust Contractor, and lived in a hollow
in a hilly country entirely composed of Dust.
On his own small estate the growling old vagabond threw up his own mountain range,
like an old volcano, and its geological formation was Dust.
Coal-dust, vegetable-dust, bone-dust, crockery dust, rough dust and sifted dust,-
-all manner of Dust.'
A passing remembrance of Mrs Veneering, here induces Mortimer to address his next
half-dozen words to her; after which he wanders away again, tries Twemlow and finds
he doesn't answer, ultimately takes up with
the Buffers who receive him enthusiastically.
'The moral being--I believe that's the right expression--of this exemplary person,
derived its highest gratification from anathematizing his nearest relations and
turning them out of doors.
Having begun (as was natural) by rendering these attentions to the wife of his bosom,
he next found himself at leisure to bestow a similar recognition on the claims of his
He chose a husband for her, entirely to his own satisfaction and not in the least to
hers, and proceeded to settle upon her, as her marriage portion, I don't know how much
Dust, but something immense.
At this stage of the affair the poor girl respectfully intimated that she was
secretly engaged to that popular character whom the novelists and versifiers call
Another, and that such a marriage would
make Dust of her heart and Dust of her life--in short, would set her up, on a very
extensive scale, in her father's business.
Immediately, the venerable parent--on a cold winter's night, it is said--
anathematized and turned her out.'
Here, the Analytical Chemist (who has evidently formed a very low opinion of
Mortimer's story) concedes a little claret to the Buffers; who, again mysteriously
moved all four at once, screw it slowly
into themselves with a peculiar twist of enjoyment, as they cry in chorus, 'Pray go
'The pecuniary resources of Another were, as they usually are, of a very limited
I believe I am not using too strong an expression when I say that Another was hard
However, he married the young lady, and they lived in a humble dwelling, probably
possessing a porch ornamented with honeysuckle and woodbine twining, until she
I must refer you to the Registrar of the District in which the humble dwelling was
situated, for the certified cause of death; but early sorrow and anxiety may have had
to do with it, though they may not appear in the ruled pages and printed forms.
Indisputably this was the case with Another, for he was so cut up by the loss
of his young wife that if he outlived her a year it was as much as he did.'
There is that in the indolent Mortimer, which seems to hint that if good society
might on any account allow itself to be impressible, he, one of good society, might
have the weakness to be impressed by what he here relates.
It is hidden with great pains, but it is in him.
The gloomy Eugene too, is not without some kindred touch; for, when that appalling
Lady Tippins declares that if Another had survived, he should have gone down at the
head of her list of lovers--and also when
the mature young lady shrugs her epaulettes, and laughs at some private and
confidential comment from the mature young gentleman--his gloom deepens to that degree
that he trifles quite ferociously with his dessert-knife.
Mortimer proceeds.
'We must now return, as novelists say, and as we all wish they wouldn't, to the man
from Somewhere.
Being a boy of fourteen, cheaply educated at Brussels when his sister's expulsion
befell, it was some little time before he heard of it--probably from herself, for the
mother was dead; but that I don't know.
Instantly, he absconded, and came over here.
He must have been a boy of spirit and resource, to get here on a stopped
allowance of five sous a week; but he did it somehow, and he burst in on his father,
and pleaded his sister's cause.
Venerable parent promptly resorts to anathematization, and turns him out.
Shocked and terrified boy takes flight, seeks his fortune, gets aboard ship,
ultimately turns up on dry land among the Cape wine: small proprietor, farmer,
grower--whatever you like to call it.'
At this juncture, shuffling is heard in the hall, and tapping is heard at the dining-
room door.
Analytical Chemist goes to the door, confers angrily with unseen tapper, appears
to become mollified by descrying reason in the tapping, and goes out.
'So he was discovered, only the other day, after having been expatriated about
fourteen years.'
A Buffer, suddenly astounding the other three, by detaching himself, and asserting
individuality, inquires: 'How discovered, and why?'
'Ah! To be sure.
Thank you for reminding me. Venerable parent dies.'
Same Buffer, emboldened by success, says: 'When?'
'The other day.
Ten or twelve months ago.' Same Buffer inquires with smartness, 'What
But herein perishes a melancholy example; being regarded by the three other Buffers
with a stony stare, and attracting no further attention from any mortal.
'Venerable parent,' Mortimer repeats with a passing remembrance that there is a
Veneering at table, and for the first time addressing him--'dies.'
The gratified Veneering repeats, gravely, 'dies'; and folds his arms, and composes
his brow to hear it out in a judicial manner, when he finds himself again
deserted in the bleak world.
'His will is found,' said Mortimer, catching Mrs Podsnap's rocking-horse's eye.
'It is dated very soon after the son's flight.
It leaves the lowest of the range of dust- mountains, with some sort of a dwelling-
house at its foot, to an old servant who is sole executor, and all the rest of the
property--which is very considerable--to the son.
He directs himself to be buried with certain eccentric ceremonies and
precautions against his coming to life, with which I need not bore you, and that's
all--except--' and this ends the story.
The Analytical Chemist returning, everybody looks at him.
Not because anybody wants to see him, but because of that subtle influence in nature
which impels humanity to embrace the slightest opportunity of looking at
anything, rather than the person who addresses it.
'--Except that the son's inheriting is made conditional on his marrying a girl, who at
the date of the will, was a child of four or five years old, and who is now a
marriageable young woman.
Advertisement and inquiry discovered the son in the man from Somewhere, and at the
present moment, he is on his way home from there--no doubt, in a state of great
astonishment--to succeed to a very large fortune, and to take a wife.'
Mrs Podsnap inquires whether the young person is a young person of personal
Mortimer is unable to report. Mr Podsnap inquires what would become of
the very large fortune, in the event of the marriage condition not being fulfilled?
Mortimer replies, that by special testamentary clause it would then go to the
old servant above mentioned, passing over and excluding the son; also, that if the
son had not been living, the same old
servant would have been sole residuary legatee.
Mrs Veneering has just succeeded in waking Lady Tippins from a snore, by dexterously
shunting a train of plates and dishes at her knuckles across the table; when
everybody but Mortimer himself becomes
aware that the Analytical Chemist is, in a ghostly manner, offering him a folded
paper. Curiosity detains Mrs Veneering a few
Mortimer, in spite of all the arts of the chemist, placidly refreshes himself with a
glass of Madeira, and remains unconscious of the Document which engrosses the general
attention, until Lady Tippins (who has a
habit of waking totally insensible), having remembered where she is, and recovered a
perception of surrounding objects, says: 'Falser man than Don Juan; why don't you
take the note from the commendatore?'
Upon which, the chemist advances it under the nose of Mortimer, who looks round at
him, and says: 'What's this?'
Analytical Chemist bends and whispers.
'WHO?' Says Mortimer.
Analytical Chemist again bends and whispers.
Mortimer stares at him, and unfolds the paper.
Reads it, reads it twice, turns it over to look at the blank outside, reads it a third
'This arrives in an extraordinarily opportune manner,' says Mortimer then,
looking with an altered face round the table: 'this is the conclusion of the story
of the identical man.'
'Already married?' one guesses. 'Declines to marry?' another guesses.
'Codicil among the dust?' another guesses. 'Why, no,' says Mortimer; 'remarkable
thing, you are all wrong.
The story is completer and rather more exciting than I supposed.
Man's drowned!'
Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens CHAPTER 3
As the disappearing skirts of the ladies ascended the Veneering staircase, Mortimer,
following them forth from the dining-room, turned into a library of bran-new books, in
bran-new bindings liberally gilded, and
requested to see the messenger who had brought the paper.
He was a boy of about fifteen.
Mortimer looked at the boy, and the boy looked at the bran-new pilgrims on the
wall, going to Canterbury in more gold frame than procession, and more carving
than country.
'Whose writing is this?' 'Mine, sir.'
'Who told you to write it?' 'My father, Jesse Hexam.'
'Is it he who found the body?'
'Yes, sir.' 'What is your father?'
The boy hesitated, looked reproachfully at the pilgrims as if they had involved him in
a little difficulty, then said, folding a plait in the right leg of his trousers, 'He
gets his living along-shore.'
'Is it far?' 'Is which far?' asked the boy, upon his
guard, and again upon the road to Canterbury.
'To your father's?'
'It's a goodish stretch, sir. I come up in a cab, and the cab's waiting
to be paid. We could go back in it before you paid it,
if you liked.
I went first to your office, according to the direction of the papers found in the
pockets, and there I see nobody but a chap of about my age who sent me on here.'
There was a curious mixture in the boy, of uncompleted savagery, and uncompleted
His voice was hoarse and coarse, and his face was coarse, and his stunted figure was
coarse; but he was cleaner than other boys of his type; and his writing, though large
and round, was good; and he glanced at the
backs of the books, with an awakened curiosity that went below the binding.
No one who can read, ever looks at a book, even unopened on a shelf, like one who
'Were any means taken, do you know, boy, to ascertain if it was possible to restore
life?' Mortimer inquired, as he sought for his
'You wouldn't ask, sir, if you knew his state.
Pharaoh's multitude that were drowned in the Red Sea, ain't more beyond restoring to
If Lazarus was only half as far gone, that was the greatest of all the miracles.'
'Halloa!' cried Mortimer, turning round with his hat upon his head, 'you seem to be
at home in the Red Sea, my young friend?'
'Read of it with teacher at the school,' said the boy.
'And Lazarus?' 'Yes, and him too.
But don't you tell my father!
We should have no peace in our place, if that got touched upon.
It's my sister's contriving.' 'You seem to have a good sister.'
'She ain't half bad,' said the boy; 'but if she knows her letters it's the most she
does--and them I learned her.'
The gloomy Eugene, with his hands in his pockets, had strolled in and assisted at
the latter part of the dialogue; when the boy spoke these words slightingly of his
sister, he took him roughly enough by the chin, and turned up his face to look at it.
'Well, I'm sure, sir!' said the boy, resisting; 'I hope you'll know me again.'
Eugene vouchsafed no answer; but made the proposal to Mortimer, 'I'll go with you, if
you like?'
So, they all three went away together in the vehicle that had brought the boy; the
two friends (once boys together at a public school) inside, smoking cigars; the
messenger on the box beside the driver.
'Let me see,' said Mortimer, as they went along; 'I have been, Eugene, upon the
honourable roll of solicitors of the High Court of Chancery, and attorneys at Common
Law, five years; and--except gratuitously
taking instructions, on an average once a fortnight, for the will of Lady Tippins who
has nothing to leave--I have had no scrap of business but this romantic business.'
'And I,' said Eugene, 'have been "called" seven years, and have had no business at
all, and never shall have any. And if I had, I shouldn't know how to do
'I am far from being clear as to the last particular,' returned Mortimer, with great
composure, 'that I have much advantage over you.'
'I hate,' said Eugene, putting his legs up on the opposite seat, 'I hate my
profession.' 'Shall I incommode you, if I put mine up
too?' returned Mortimer.
'Thank you. I hate mine.'
'It was forced upon me,' said the gloomy Eugene, 'because it was understood that we
wanted a barrister in the family.
We have got a precious one.' 'It was forced upon me,' said Mortimer,
'because it was understood that we wanted a solicitor in the family.
And we have got a precious one.'
'There are four of us, with our names painted on a door-post in right of one
black hole called a set of chambers,' said Eugene; 'and each of us has the fourth of a
clerk--Cassim Baba, in the robber's cave--
and Cassim is the only respectable member of the party.'
'I am one by myself, one,' said Mortimer, 'high up an awful staircase commanding a
burial-ground, and I have a whole clerk to myself, and he has nothing to do but look
at the burial-ground, and what he will turn
out when arrived at maturity, I cannot conceive.
Whether, in that shabby rook's nest, he is always plotting wisdom, or plotting murder;
whether he will grow up, after so much solitary brooding, to enlighten his fellow-
creatures, or to poison them; is the only
speck of interest that presents itself to my professional view.
Will you give me a light? Thank you.'
'Then idiots talk,' said Eugene, leaning back, folding his arms, smoking with his
eyes shut, and speaking slightly through his nose, 'of Energy.
If there is a word in the dictionary under any letter from A to Z that I abominate, it
is energy. It is such a conventional superstition,
such parrot gabble!
What the deuce!
Am I to rush out into the street, collar the first man of a wealthy appearance that
I meet, shake him, and say, "Go to law upon the spot, you dog, and retain me, or I'll
be the death of you"?
Yet that would be energy.' 'Precisely my view of the case, Eugene.
But show me a good opportunity, show me something really worth being energetic
about, and I'll show you energy.'
'And so will I,' said Eugene.
And it is likely enough that ten thousand other young men, within the limits of the
London Post-office town delivery, made the same hopeful remark in the course of the
same evening.
The wheels rolled on, and rolled down by the Monument and by the Tower, and by the
Docks; down by Ratcliffe, and by Rotherhithe; down by where accumulated scum
of humanity seemed to be washed from higher
grounds, like so much moral sewage, and to be pausing until its own weight forced it
over the bank and sunk it in the river.
In and out among vessels that seemed to have got ashore, and houses that seemed to
have got afloat--among bow-splits staring into windows, and windows staring into
ships--the wheels rolled on, until they
stopped at a dark corner, river-washed and otherwise not washed at all, where the boy
alighted and opened the door. 'You must walk the rest, sir; it's not many
He spoke in the singular number, to the express exclusion of Eugene.
'This is a confoundedly out-of-the-way place,' said Mortimer, slipping over the
stones and refuse on the shore, as the boy turned the corner sharp.
'Here's my father's, sir; where the light is.'
The low building had the look of having once been a mill.
There was a rotten wart of wood upon its forehead that seemed to indicate where the
sails had been, but the whole was very indistinctly seen in the obscurity of the
The boy lifted the latch of the door, and they passed at once into a low circular
room, where a man stood before a red fire, looking down into it, and a girl sat
engaged in needlework.
The fire was in a rusty brazier, not fitted to the hearth; and a common lamp, shaped
like a hyacinth-root, smoked and flared in the neck of a stone bottle on the table.
There was a wooden bunk or berth in a corner, and in another corner a wooden
stair leading above--so clumsy and steep that it was little better than a ladder.
Two or three old sculls and oars stood against the wall, and against another part
of the wall was a small dresser, making a spare show of the commonest articles of
crockery and cooking-vessels.
The roof of the room was not plastered, but was formed of the flooring of the room
This, being very old, knotted, seamed, and beamed, gave a lowering aspect to the
chamber; and roof, and walls, and floor, alike abounding in old smears of flour,
red-lead (or some such stain which it had
probably acquired in warehousing), and damp, alike had a look of decomposition.
'The gentleman, father.'
The figure at the red fire turned, raised its ruffled head, and looked like a bird of
prey. 'You're Mortimer Lightwood Esquire; are
you, sir?'
'Mortimer Lightwood is my name. What you found,' said Mortimer, glancing
rather shrinkingly towards the bunk; 'is it here?'
''Tain't not to say here, but it's close by.
I do everything reg'lar.
I've giv' notice of the circumstarnce to the police, and the police have took
possession of it. No time ain't been lost, on any hand.
The police have put into print already, and here's what the print says of it.'
Taking up the bottle with the lamp in it, he held it near a paper on the wall, with
the police heading, BODY FOUND.
The two friends read the handbill as it stuck against the wall, and Gaffer read
them as he held the light.
'Only papers on the unfortunate man, I see,' said Lightwood, glancing from the
description of what was found, to the finder.
'Only papers.'
Here the girl arose with her work in her hand, and went out at the door.
'No money,' pursued Mortimer; 'but threepence in one of the skirt-pockets.'
Penny. Pieces,' said Gaffer Hexam, in as many
sentences. 'The trousers pockets empty, and turned
inside out.'
Gaffer Hexam nodded. 'But that's common.
Whether it's the wash of the tide or no, I can't say.
Now, here,' moving the light to another similar placard, 'HIS pockets was found
empty, and turned inside out.
And here,' moving the light to another, 'HER pocket was found empty, and turned
inside out. And so was this one's.
And so was that one's.
I can't read, nor I don't want to it, for I know 'em by their places on the wall.
This one was a sailor, with two anchors and a flag and G. F. T. on his arm.
Look and see if he warn't.'
'Quite right.' 'This one was the young woman in grey
boots, and her linen marked with a cross. Look and see if she warn't.'
'Quite right.'
'This is him as had a nasty cut over the eye.
This is them two young sisters what tied themselves together with a handkecher.
This the drunken old chap, in a pair of list slippers and a nightcap, wot had
offered--it afterwards come out--to make a hole in the water for a quartern of rum
stood aforehand, and kept to his word for the first and last time in his life.
They pretty well papers the room, you see; but I know 'em all.
I'm scholar enough!'
He waved the light over the whole, as if to typify the light of his scholarly
intelligence, and then put it down on the table and stood behind it looking intently
at his visitors.
He had the special peculiarity of some birds of prey, that when he knitted his
brow, his ruffled crest stood highest. 'You did not find all these yourself; did
you?' asked Eugene.
To which the bird of prey slowly rejoined, 'And what might YOUR name be, now?'
'This is my friend,' Mortimer Lightwood interposed; 'Mr Eugene Wrayburn.'
'Mr Eugene Wrayburn, is it?
And what might Mr Eugene Wrayburn have asked of me?'
'I asked you, simply, if you found all these yourself?'
'I answer you, simply, most on 'em.'
'Do you suppose there has been much violence and robbery, beforehand, among
these cases?' 'I don't suppose at all about it,' returned
'I ain't one of the supposing sort. If you'd got your living to haul out of the
river every day of your life, you mightn't be much given to supposing.
Am I to show the way?'
As he opened the door, in pursuance of a nod from Lightwood, an extremely pale and
disturbed face appeared in the doorway--the face of a man much agitated.
'A body missing?' asked Gaffer Hexam, stopping short; 'or a body found?
Which?' 'I am lost!' replied the man, in a hurried
and an eager manner.
'Lost?' 'I--I--am a stranger, and don't know the
way. I--I--want to find the place where I can
see what is described here.
It is possible I may know it.' He was panting, and could hardly speak;
but, he showed a copy of the newly-printed bill that was still wet upon the wall.
Perhaps its newness, or perhaps the accuracy of his observation of its general
look, guided Gaffer to a ready conclusion. 'This gentleman, Mr Lightwood, is on that
'Mr Lightwood?' During a pause, Mortimer and the stranger
confronted each other. Neither knew the other.
'I think, sir,' said Mortimer, breaking the awkward silence with his airy self-
possession, 'that you did me the honour to mention my name?'
'I repeated it, after this man.'
'You said you were a stranger in London?' 'An utter stranger.'
'Are you seeking a Mr Harmon?' 'No.'
'Then I believe I can assure you that you are on a fruitless errand, and will not
find what you fear to find. Will you come with us?'
A little winding through some muddy alleys that might have been deposited by the last
ill-savoured tide, brought them to the wicket-gate and bright lamp of a Police
Station; where they found the Night-
Inspector, with a pen and ink, and ruler, posting up his books in a whitewashed
office, as studiously as if he were in a monastery on top of a mountain, and no
howling fury of a drunken woman were
banging herself against a cell-door in the back-yard at his elbow.
With the same air of a recluse much given to study, he desisted from his books to
bestow a distrustful nod of recognition upon Gaffer, plainly importing, 'Ah! we
know all about YOU, and you'll overdo it
some day;' and to inform Mr Mortimer Lightwood and friends, that he would attend
them immediately.
Then, he finished ruling the work he had in hand (it might have been illuminating a
missal, he was so calm), in a very neat and methodical manner, showing not the
slightest consciousness of the woman who
was banging herself with increased violence, and shrieking most terrifically
for some other woman's liver. 'A bull's-eye,' said the Night-Inspector,
taking up his keys.
Which a deferential satellite produced. 'Now, gentlemen.'
With one of his keys, he opened a cool grot at the end of the yard, and they all went
They quickly came out again, no one speaking but Eugene: who remarked to
Mortimer, in a whisper, 'Not MUCH worse than Lady Tippins.'
So, back to the whitewashed library of the monastery--with that liver still in
shrieking requisition, as it had been loudly, while they looked at the silent
sight they came to see--and there through
the merits of the case as summed up by the Abbot.
No clue to how body came into river. Very often was no clue.
Too late to know for certain, whether injuries received before or after death;
one excellent surgical opinion said, before; other excellent surgical opinion
said, after.
Steward of ship in which gentleman came home passenger, had been round to view, and
could swear to identity. Likewise could swear to clothes.
And then, you see, you had the papers, too.
How was it he had totally disappeared on leaving ship, 'till found in river?
Well! Probably had been upon some little game.
Probably thought it a harmless game, wasn't up to things, and it turned out a fatal
game. Inquest to-morrow, and no doubt open
'It appears to have knocked your friend over--knocked him completely off his legs,'
Mr Inspector remarked, when he had finished his summing up.
'It has given him a bad turn to be sure!'
This was said in a very low voice, and with a searching look (not the first he had
cast) at the stranger. Mr Lightwood explained that it was no
friend of his.
'Indeed?' said Mr Inspector, with an attentive ear; 'where did you pick him up?'
Mr Lightwood explained further.
Mr Inspector had delivered his summing up, and had added these words, with his elbows
leaning on his desk, and the fingers and thumb of his right hand, fitting themselves
to the fingers and thumb of his left.
Mr Inspector moved nothing but his eyes, as he now added, raising his voice:
'Turned you faint, sir! Seems you're not accustomed to this kind of
The stranger, who was leaning against the chimneypiece with drooping head, looked
round and answered, 'No. It's a horrible sight!'
'You expected to identify, I am told, sir?'
'Yes.' 'HAVE you identified?'
'No. It's a horrible sight. O! a horrible, horrible sight!'
'Who did you think it might have been?' asked Mr Inspector.
'Give us a description, sir. Perhaps we can help you.'
'No, no,' said the stranger; 'it would be quite useless.
Mr Inspector had not moved, and had given no order; but, the satellite slipped his
back against the wicket, and laid his left arm along the top of it, and with his right
hand turned the bull's-eye he had taken
from his chief--in quite a casual manner-- towards the stranger.
'You missed a friend, you know; or you missed a foe, you know; or you wouldn't
have come here, you know.
Well, then; ain't it reasonable to ask, who was it?'
Thus, Mr Inspector. 'You must excuse my telling you.
No class of man can understand better than you, that families may not choose to
publish their disagreements and misfortunes, except on the last necessity.
I do not dispute that you discharge your duty in asking me the question; you will
not dispute my right to withhold the answer.
Again he turned towards the wicket, where the satellite, with his eye upon his chief,
remained a dumb statue. 'At least,' said Mr Inspector, 'you will
not object to leave me your card, sir?'
'I should not object, if I had one; but I have not.'
He reddened and was much confused as he gave the answer.
'At least,' said Mr Inspector, with no change of voice or manner, 'you will not
object to write down your name and address?'
'Not at all.'
Mr Inspector dipped a pen in his inkstand, and deftly laid it on a piece of paper
close beside him; then resumed his former attitude.
The stranger stepped up to the desk, and wrote in a rather tremulous hand--Mr
Inspector taking sidelong note of every hair of his head when it was bent down for
the purpose--'Mr Julius Handford, Exchequer Coffee House, Palace Yard, Westminster.'
'Staying there, I presume, sir?' 'Staying there.'
'Consequently, from the country?'
'Eh? Yes--from the country.' 'Good-night, sir.'
The satellite removed his arm and opened the wicket, and Mr Julius Handford went
'Reserve!' said Mr Inspector. 'Take care of this piece of paper, keep him
in view without giving offence, ascertain that he IS staying there, and find out
anything you can about him.'
The satellite was gone; and Mr Inspector, becoming once again the quiet Abbot of that
Monastery, dipped his pen in his ink and resumed his books.
The two friends who had watched him, more amused by the professional manner than
suspicious of Mr Julius Handford, inquired before taking their departure too whether
he believed there was anything that really looked bad here?
The Abbot replied with reticence, couldn't say.
If a murder, anybody might have done it.
Burglary or pocket-picking wanted 'prenticeship.
Not so, murder. We were all of us up to that.
Had seen scores of people come to identify, and never saw one person struck in that
particular way. Might, however, have been Stomach and not
If so, rum stomach. But to be sure there were rum everythings.
Pity there was not a word of truth in that superstition about bodies bleeding when
touched by the hand of the right person; you never got a sign out of bodies.
You got row enough out of such as her--she was good for all night now (referring here
to the banging demands for the liver), 'but you got nothing out of bodies if it was
ever so.'
There being nothing more to be done until the Inquest was held next day, the friends
went away together, and Gaffer Hexam and his son went their separate way.
But, arriving at the last corner, Gaffer bade his boy go home while he turned into a
red-curtained tavern, that stood dropsically bulging over the causeway, 'for
a half-a-pint.'
The boy lifted the latch he had lifted before, and found his sister again seated
before the fire at her work. Who raised her head upon his coming in and
'Where did you go, Liz?' 'I went out in the dark.'
'There was no necessity for that. It was all right enough.'
'One of the gentlemen, the one who didn't speak while I was there, looked hard at me.
And I was afraid he might know what my face meant.
But there!
Don't mind me, Charley! I was all in a tremble of another sort when
you owned to father you could write a little.'
'Ah! But I made believe I wrote so badly, as that it was odds if any one could read
And when I wrote slowest and smeared but with my finger most, father was best
pleased, as he stood looking over me.'
The girl put aside her work, and drawing her seat close to his seat by the fire,
laid her arm gently on his shoulder. 'You'll make the most of your time,
Charley; won't you?'
'Won't I? Come! I like that. Don't I?' 'Yes, Charley, yes.
You work hard at your learning, I know.
And I work a little, Charley, and plan and contrive a little (wake out of my sleep
contriving sometimes), how to get together a shilling now, and a shilling then, that
shall make father believe you are beginning to earn a stray living along shore.'
'You are father's favourite, and can make him believe anything.'
'I wish I could, Charley!
For if I could make him believe that learning was a good thing, and that we
might lead better lives, I should be a'most content to die.'
'Don't talk stuff about dying, Liz.'
She placed her hands in one another on his shoulder, and laying her rich brown cheek
against them as she looked down at the fire, went on thoughtfully:
'Of an evening, Charley, when you are at the school, and father's--'
'At the Six Jolly Fellowship Porters,' the boy struck in, with a backward nod of his
head towards the public-house.
'Yes. Then as I sit a-looking at the fire, I seem to see in the burning coal--like
where that glow is now--'
'That's gas, that is,' said the boy, 'coming out of a bit of a forest that's
been under the mud that was under the water in the days of Noah's Ark. Look here!
When I take the poker--so--and give it a dig--'
'Don't disturb it, Charley, or it'll be all in a blaze.
It's that dull glow near it, coming and going, that I mean.
When I look at it of an evening, it comes like pictures to me, Charley.'
'Show us a picture,' said the boy.
'Tell us where to look.' 'Ah! It wants my eyes, Charley.'
'Cut away then, and tell us what your eyes make of it.'
'Why, there are you and me, Charley, when you were quite a baby that never knew a
'Don't go saying I never knew a mother,' interposed the boy, 'for I knew a little
sister that was sister and mother both.'
The girl laughed delightedly, and her eyes filled with pleasant tears, as he put both
his arms round her waist and so held her.
'There are you and me, Charley, when father was away at work and locked us out, for
fear we should set ourselves afire or fall out of window, sitting on the door-sill,
sitting on other door-steps, sitting on the
bank of the river, wandering about to get through the time.
You are rather heavy to carry, Charley, and I am often obliged to rest.
Sometimes we are sleepy and fall asleep together in a corner, sometimes we are very
hungry, sometimes we are a little frightened, but what is oftenest hard upon
us is the cold.
You remember, Charley?' 'I remember,' said the boy, pressing her to
him twice or thrice, 'that I snuggled under a little shawl, and it was warm there.'
'Sometimes it rains, and we creep under a boat or the like of that: sometimes it's
dark, and we get among the gaslights, sitting watching the people as they go
along the streets.
At last, up comes father and takes us home. And home seems such a shelter after out of
And father pulls my shoes off, and dries my feet at the fire, and has me to sit by him
while he smokes his pipe long after you are abed, and I notice that father's is a large
hand but never a heavy one when it touches
me, and that father's is a rough voice but never an angry one when it speaks to me.
So, I grow up, and little by little father trusts me, and makes me his companion, and,
let him be put out as he may, never once strikes me.'
The listening boy gave a grunt here, as much as to say 'But he strikes ME though!'
'Those are some of the pictures of what is past, Charley.'
'Cut away again,' said the boy, 'and give us a fortune-telling one; a future one.'
There am I, continuing with father and holding to father, because father loves me
and I love father.
I can't so much as read a book, because, if I had learned, father would have thought I
was deserting him, and I should have lost my influence.
I have not the influence I want to have, I cannot stop some dreadful things I try to
stop, but I go on in the hope and trust that the time will come.
In the meanwhile I know that I am in some things a stay to father, and that if I was
not faithful to him he would--in revenge- like, or in disappointment, or both--go
wild and bad.'
'Give us a touch of the fortune-telling pictures about me.'
'I was passing on to them, Charley,' said the girl, who had not changed her attitude
since she began, and who now mournfully shook her head; 'the others were all
leading up.
There are you--' 'Where am I, Liz?'
'Still in the hollow down by the flare.'
'There seems to be the deuce-and-all in the hollow down by the flare,' said the boy,
glancing from her eyes to the brazier, which had a grisly skeleton look on its
long thin legs.
'There are you, Charley, working your way, in secret from father, at the school; and
you get prizes; and you go on better and better; and you come to be a--what was it
you called it when you told me about that?'
'Ha, ha! Fortune-telling not know the name!' cried
the boy, seeming to be rather relieved by this default on the part of the hollow down
by the flare.
'Pupil-teacher.' 'You come to be a pupil-teacher, and you
still go on better and better, and you rise to be a master full of learning and
But the secret has come to father's knowledge long before, and it has divided
you from father, and from me.' 'No it hasn't!'
'Yes it has, Charley.
I see, as plain as plain can be, that your way is not ours, and that even if father
could be got to forgive your taking it (which he never could be), that way of
yours would be darkened by our way.
But I see too, Charley--' 'Still as plain as plain can be, Liz?'
asked the boy playfully. 'Ah! Still.
That it is a great work to have cut you away from father's life, and to have made a
new and good beginning.
So there am I, Charley, left alone with father, keeping him as straight as I can,
watching for more influence than I have, and hoping that through some fortunate
chance, or when he is ill, or when--I don't
know what--I may turn him to wish to do better things.'
'You said you couldn't read a book, Lizzie. Your library of books is the hollow down by
the flare, I think.'
'I should be very glad to be able to read real books.
I feel my want of learning very much, Charley.
But I should feel it much more, if I didn't know it to be a tie between me and father.-
-Hark! Father's tread!'
It being now past midnight, the bird of prey went straight to roost.
At mid-day following he reappeared at the Six Jolly Fellowship Porters, in the
character, not new to him, of a witness before a Coroner's Jury.
Mr Mortimer Lightwood, besides sustaining the character of one of the witnesses,
doubled the part with that of the eminent solicitor who watched the proceedings on
behalf of the representatives of the
deceased, as was duly recorded in the newspapers.
Mr Inspector watched the proceedings too, and kept his watching closely to himself.
Mr Julius Handford having given his right address, and being reported in solvent
circumstances as to his bill, though nothing more was known of him at his hotel
except that his way of life was very
retired, had no summons to appear, and was merely present in the shades of Mr
Inspector's mind.
The case was made interesting to the public, by Mr Mortimer Lightwood's evidence
touching the circumstances under which the deceased, Mr John Harmon, had returned to
England; exclusive private proprietorship
in which circumstances was set up at dinner-tables for several days, by
Veneering, Twemlow, Podsnap, and all the Buffers: who all related them
irreconcilably with one another, and contradicted themselves.
It was also made interesting by the testimony of Job Potterson, the ship's
steward, and one Mr Jacob Kibble, a fellow- passenger, that the deceased Mr John Harmon
did bring over, in a hand-valise with which
he did disembark, the sum realized by the forced sale of his little landed property,
and that the sum exceeded, in ready money, seven hundred pounds.
It was further made interesting, by the remarkable experiences of Jesse Hexam in
having rescued from the Thames so many dead bodies, and for whose behoof a rapturous
admirer subscribing himself 'A friend to
Burial' (perhaps an undertaker), sent eighteen postage stamps, and five 'Now
Sir's to the editor of the Times.
Upon the evidence adduced before them, the Jury found, That the body of Mr John Harmon
had been discovered floating in the Thames, in an advanced state of decay, and much
injured; and that the said Mr John Harmon
had come by his death under highly suspicious circumstances, though by whose
act or in what precise manner there was no evidence before this Jury to show.
And they appended to their verdict, a recommendation to the Home Office (which Mr
Inspector appeared to think highly sensible), to offer a reward for the
solution of the mystery.
Within eight-and-forty hours, a reward of One Hundred Pounds was proclaimed, together
with a free pardon to any person or persons not the actual perpetrator or perpetrators,
and so forth in due form.
This Proclamation rendered Mr Inspector additionally studious, and caused him to
stand meditating on river-stairs and causeways, and to go lurking about in
boats, putting this and that together.
But, according to the success with which you put this and that together, you get a
woman and a fish apart, or a Mermaid in combination.
And Mr Inspector could turn out nothing better than a Mermaid, which no Judge and
Jury would believe in.
Thus, like the tides on which it had been borne to the knowledge of men, the Harmon
Murder--as it came to be popularly called-- went up and down, and ebbed and flowed, now
in the town, now in the country, now among
palaces, now among hovels, now among lords and ladies and gentlefolks, now among
labourers and hammerers and ballast- heavers, until at last, after a long
interval of slack water it got out to sea and drifted away.
Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens CHAPTER 4
Reginald Wilfer is a name with rather a grand sound, suggesting on first
acquaintance brasses in country churches, scrolls in stained-glass windows, and
generally the De Wilfers who came over with the Conqueror.
For, it is a remarkable fact in genealogy that no De Any ones ever came over with
Anybody else.
But, the Reginald Wilfer family were of such commonplace extraction and pursuits
that their forefathers had for generations modestly subsisted on the Docks, the Excise
Office, and the Custom House, and the existing R. Wilfer was a poor clerk.
So poor a clerk, though having a limited salary and an unlimited family, that he had
never yet attained the modest object of his ambition: which was, to wear a complete new
suit of clothes, hat and boots included, at one time.
His black hat was brown before he could afford a coat, his pantaloons were white at
the seams and knees before he could buy a pair of boots, his boots had worn out
before he could treat himself to new
pantaloons, and, by the time he worked round to the hat again, that shining modern
article roofed-in an ancient ruin of various periods.
If the conventional Cherub could ever grow up and be clothed, he might be photographed
as a portrait of Wilfer.
His chubby, smooth, innocent appearance was a reason for his being always treated with
condescension when he was not put down.
A stranger entering his own poor house at about ten o'clock P.M. might have been
surprised to find him sitting up to supper.
So boyish was he in his curves and proportions, that his old schoolmaster
meeting him in Cheapside, might have been unable to withstand the temptation of
caning him on the spot.
In short, he was the conventional cherub, after the supposititious shoot just
mentioned, rather grey, with signs of care on his expression, and in decidedly
insolvent circumstances.
He was shy, and unwilling to own to the name of Reginald, as being too aspiring and
self-assertive a name.
In his signature he used only the initial R., and imparted what it really stood for,
to none but chosen friends, under the seal of confidence.
Out of this, the facetious habit had arisen in the neighbourhood surrounding Mincing
Lane of making christian names for him of adjectives and participles beginning with
Some of these were more or less appropriate: as Rusty, Retiring, Ruddy,
Round, Ripe, Ridiculous, Ruminative; others, derived their point from their want
of application: as Raging, Rattling, Roaring, Raffish.
But, his popular name was Rumty, which in a moment of inspiration had been bestowed
upon him by a gentleman of convivial habits connected with the drug-markets, as the
beginning of a social chorus, his leading
part in the execution of which had led this gentleman to the Temple of Fame, and of
which the whole expressive burden ran:
'Rumty iddity, row dow dow, Sing toodlely, teedlely, bow wow wow.'
Thus he was constantly addressed, even in minor notes on business, as 'Dear Rumty';
in answer to which, he sedately signed himself, 'Yours truly, R. Wilfer.'
He was clerk in the drug-house of Chicksey, Veneering, and Stobbles.
Chicksey and Stobbles, his former masters, had both become absorbed in Veneering, once
their traveller or commission agent: who had signalized his accession to supreme
power by bringing into the business a
quantity of plate-glass window and French- polished mahogany partition, and a gleaming
and enormous doorplate.
R. Wilfer locked up his desk one evening, and, putting his bunch of keys in his
pocket much as if it were his peg-top, made for home.
His home was in the Holloway region north of London, and then divided from it by
fields and trees.
Between Battle Bridge and that part of the Holloway district in which he dwelt, was a
tract of suburban Sahara, where tiles and bricks were burnt, bones were boiled,
carpets were beat, rubbish was shot, dogs
were fought, and dust was heaped by contractors.
Skirting the border of this desert, by the way he took, when the light of its kiln-
fires made lurid smears on the fog, R. Wilfer sighed and shook his head.
'Ah me!' said he, 'what might have been is not what is!'
With which commentary on human life, indicating an experience of it not
exclusively his own, he made the best of his way to the end of his journey.
Mrs Wilfer was, of course, a tall woman and an angular.
Her lord being cherubic, she was necessarily majestic, according to the
principle which matrimonially unites contrasts.
She was much given to tying up her head in a pocket-handkerchief, knotted under the
This head-gear, in conjunction with a pair of gloves worn within doors, she seemed to
consider as at once a kind of armour against misfortune (invariably assuming it
when in low spirits or difficulties), and as a species of full dress.
It was therefore with some sinking of the spirit that her husband beheld her thus
heroically attired, putting down her candle in the little hall, and coming down the
doorsteps through the little front court to open the gate for him.
Something had gone wrong with the house- door, for R. Wilfer stopped on the steps,
staring at it, and cried:
'Hal-loa?' 'Yes,' said Mrs Wilfer, 'the man came
himself with a pair of pincers, and took it off, and took it away.
He said that as he had no expectation of ever being paid for it, and as he had an
order for another LADIES' SCHOOL door- plate, it was better (burnished up) for the
interests of all parties.'
'Perhaps it was, my dear; what do you think?'
'You are master here, R. W.,' returned his wife.
'It is as you think; not as I do.
Perhaps it might have been better if the man had taken the door too?'
'My dear, we couldn't have done without the door.'
'Couldn't we?'
'Why, my dear! Could we?'
'It is as you think, R. W.; not as I do.'
With those submissive words, the dutiful wife preceded him down a few stairs to a
little basement front room, half kitchen, half parlour, where a girl of about
nineteen, with an exceedingly pretty figure
and face, but with an impatient and petulant expression both in her face and in
her shoulders (which in her sex and at her age are very expressive of discontent), sat
playing draughts with a younger girl, who was the youngest of the House of Wilfer.
Not to encumber this page by telling off the Wilfers in detail and casting them up
in the gross, it is enough for the present that the rest were what is called 'out in
the world,' in various ways, and that they were Many.
So many, that when one of his dutiful children called in to see him, R. Wilfer
generally seemed to say to himself, after a little mental arithmetic, 'Oh! here's
another of 'em!' before adding aloud, 'How
de do, John,' or Susan, as the case might be.
'Well Piggywiggies,' said R. W., 'how de do to-night?
What I was thinking of, my dear,' to Mrs Wilfer already seated in a corner with
folded gloves, 'was, that as we have let our first floor so well, and as we have now
no place in which you could teach pupils even if pupils--'
'The milkman said he knew of two young ladies of the highest respectability who
were in search of a suitable establishment, and he took a card,' interposed Mrs Wilfer,
with severe monotony, as if she were reading an Act of Parliament aloud.
'Tell your father whether it was last Monday, Bella.'
'But we never heard any more of it, ma,' said Bella, the elder girl.
'In addition to which, my dear,' her husband urged, 'if you have no place to put
two young persons into--'
'Pardon me,' Mrs Wilfer again interposed; 'they were not young persons.
Two young ladies of the highest respectability.
Tell your father, Bella, whether the milkman said so.'
'My dear, it is the same thing.' 'No it is not,' said Mrs Wilfer, with the
same impressive monotony.
'Pardon me!' 'I mean, my dear, it is the same thing as
to space. As to space.
If you have no space in which to put two youthful fellow-creatures, however
eminently respectable, which I do not doubt, where are those youthful fellow-
creatures to be accommodated?
I carry it no further than that.
And solely looking at it,' said her husband, making the stipulation at once in
a conciliatory, complimentary, and argumentative tone--'as I am sure you will
agree, my love--from a fellow-creature point of view, my dear.'
'I have nothing more to say,' returned Mrs Wilfer, with a meek renunciatory action of
her gloves.
'It is as you think, R. W.; not as I do.'
Here, the huffing of Miss Bella and the loss of three of her men at a swoop,
aggravated by the coronation of an opponent, led to that young lady's jerking
the draught-board and pieces off the table:
which her sister went down on her knees to pick up.
'Poor Bella!' said Mrs Wilfer. 'And poor Lavinia, perhaps, my dear?'
suggested R. W.
'Pardon me,' said Mrs Wilfer, 'no!'
It was one of the worthy woman's specialities that she had an amazing power
of gratifying her splenetic or worldly- minded humours by extolling her own family:
which she thus proceeded, in the present case, to do.
'No, R. W. Lavinia has not known the trial that Bella has known.
The trial that your daughter Bella has undergone, is, perhaps, without a parallel,
and has been borne, I will say, Nobly.
When you see your daughter Bella in her black dress, which she alone of all the
family wears, and when you remember the circumstances which have led to her wearing
it, and when you know how those
circumstances have been sustained, then, R. W., lay your head upon your pillow and say,
"Poor Lavinia!"'
Here, Miss Lavinia, from her kneeling situation under the table, put in that she
didn't want to be 'poored by pa', or anybody else.
'I am sure you do not, my dear,' returned her mother, 'for you have a fine brave
And your sister Cecilia has a fine brave spirit of another kind, a spirit of pure
devotion, a beau-ti-ful spirit!
The self-sacrifice of Cecilia reveals a pure and womanly character, very seldom
equalled, never surpassed.
I have now in my pocket a letter from your sister Cecilia, received this morning--
received three months after her marriage, poor child!--in which she tells me that her
husband must unexpectedly shelter under their roof his reduced aunt.
"But I will be true to him, mamma," she touchingly writes, "I will not leave him, I
must not forget that he is my husband.
Let his aunt come!" If this is not pathetic, if this is not
woman's devotion--!'
The good lady waved her gloves in a sense of the impossibility of saying more, and
tied the pocket-handkerchief over her head in a tighter knot under her chin.
Bella, who was now seated on the rug to warm herself, with her brown eyes on the
fire and a handful of her brown curls in her mouth, laughed at this, and then pouted
and half cried.
'I am sure,' said she, 'though you have no feeling for me, pa, I am one of the most
unfortunate girls that ever lived.
You know how poor we are' (it is probable he did, having some reason to know it!),
'and what a glimpse of wealth I had, and how it melted away, and how I am here in
this ridiculous mourning--which I hate!--a kind of a widow who never was married.
And yet you don't feel for me.--Yes you do, yes you do.'
This abrupt change was occasioned by her father's face.
She stopped to pull him down from his chair in an attitude highly favourable to
strangulation, and to give him a kiss and a pat or two on the cheek.
'But you ought to feel for me, you know, pa.'
'My dear, I do.' 'Yes, and I say you ought to.
If they had only left me alone and told me nothing about it, it would have mattered
much less.
But that nasty Mr Lightwood feels it his duty, as he says, to write and tell me what
is in reserve for me, and then I am obliged to get rid of George Sampson.'
Here, Lavinia, rising to the surface with the last draughtman rescued, interposed,
'You never cared for George Sampson, Bella.'
'And did I say I did, miss?'
Then, pouting again, with the curls in her mouth; 'George Sampson was very fond of me,
and admired me very much, and put up with everything I did to him.'
'You were rude enough to him,' Lavinia again interposed.
'And did I say I wasn't, miss? I am not setting up to be sentimental about
George Sampson.
I only say George Sampson was better than nothing.'
'You didn't show him that you thought even that,' Lavinia again interposed.
'You are a chit and a little idiot,' returned Bella, 'or you wouldn't make such
a dolly speech. What did you expect me to do?
Wait till you are a woman, and don't talk about what you don't understand.
You only show your ignorance!'
Then, whimpering again, and at intervals biting the curls, and stopping to look how
much was bitten off, 'It's a shame! There never was such a hard case!
I shouldn't care so much if it wasn't so ridiculous.
It was ridiculous enough to have a stranger coming over to marry me, whether he liked
it or not.
It was ridiculous enough to know what an embarrassing meeting it would be, and how
we never could pretend to have an inclination of our own, either of us.
It was ridiculous enough to know I shouldn't like him--how COULD I like him,
left to him in a will, like a dozen of spoons, with everything cut and dried
beforehand, like orange chips.
Talk of orange flowers indeed! I declare again it's a shame!
Those ridiculous points would have been smoothed away by the money, for I love
money, and want money--want it dreadfully.
I hate to be poor, and we are degradingly poor, offensively poor, miserably poor,
beastly poor.
But here I am, left with all the ridiculous parts of the situation remaining, and,
added to them all, this ridiculous dress!
And if the truth was known, when the Harmon murder was all over the town, and people
were speculating on its being suicide, I dare say those impudent wretches at the
clubs and places made jokes about the
miserable creature's having preferred a watery grave to me.
It's likely enough they took such liberties; I shouldn't wonder!
I declare it's a very hard case indeed, and I am a most unfortunate girl.
The idea of being a kind of a widow, and never having been married!
And the idea of being as poor as ever after all, and going into black, besides, for a
man I never saw, and should have hated--as far as HE was concerned--if I had seen!'
The young lady's lamentations were checked at this point by a knuckle, knocking at the
half-open door of the room. The knuckle had knocked two or three times
already, but had not been heard.
'Who is it?' said Mrs Wilfer, in her Act- of-Parliament manner.
A gentleman coming in, Miss Bella, with a short and sharp exclamation, scrambled off
the hearth-rug and massed the bitten curls together in their right place on her neck.
'The servant girl had her key in the door as I came up, and directed me to this room,
telling me I was expected. I am afraid I should have asked her to
announce me.'
'Pardon me,' returned Mrs Wilfer. 'Not at all.
Two of my daughters. R. W., this is the gentleman who has taken
your first-floor.
He was so good as to make an appointment for to-night, when you would be at home.'
A dark gentleman. Thirty at the utmost.
An expressive, one might say handsome, face.
A very bad manner. In the last degree constrained, reserved,
diffident, troubled.
His eyes were on Miss Bella for an instant, and then looked at the ground as he
addressed the master of the house.
'Seeing that I am quite satisfied, Mr Wilfer, with the rooms, and with their
situation, and with their price, I suppose a memorandum between us of two or three
lines, and a payment down, will bind the bargain?
I wish to send in furniture without delay.'
Two or three times during this short address, the cherub addressed had made
chubby motions towards a chair.
The gentleman now took it, laying a hesitating hand on a corner of the table,
and with another hesitating hand lifting the crown of his hat to his lips, and
drawing it before his mouth.
'The gentleman, R. W.,' said Mrs Wilfer, 'proposes to take your apartments by the
quarter. A quarter's notice on either side.'
'Shall I mention, sir,' insinuated the landlord, expecting it to be received as a
matter of course, 'the form of a reference?'
'I think,' returned the gentleman, after a pause, 'that a reference is not necessary;
neither, to say the truth, is it convenient, for I am a stranger in London.
I require no reference from you, and perhaps, therefore, you will require none
from me. That will be fair on both sides.
Indeed, I show the greater confidence of the two, for I will pay in advance whatever
you please, and I am going to trust my furniture here.
Whereas, if you were in embarrassed circumstances--this is merely
Conscience causing R. Wilfer to colour, Mrs Wilfer, from a corner (she always got into
stately corners) came to the rescue with a deep-toned 'Per-fectly.'
'--Why then I--might lose it.'
'Well!' observed R. Wilfer, cheerfully, 'money and goods are certainly the best of
'Do you think they ARE the best, pa?' asked Miss Bella, in a low voice, and without
looking over her shoulder as she warmed her foot on the fender.
'Among the best, my dear.'
'I should have thought, myself, it was so easy to add the usual kind of one,' said
Bella, with a toss of her curls.
The gentleman listened to her, with a face of marked attention, though he neither
looked up nor changed his attitude.
He sat, still and silent, until his future landlord accepted his proposals, and
brought writing materials to complete the business.
He sat, still and silent, while the landlord wrote.
When the agreement was ready in duplicate (the landlord having worked at it like some
cherubic scribe, in what is conventionally called a doubtful, which means a not at all
doubtful, Old Master), it was signed by the
contracting parties, Bella looking on as scornful witness.
The contracting parties were R. Wilfer, and John Rokesmith Esquire.
When it came to Bella's turn to sign her name, Mr Rokesmith, who was standing, as he
had sat, with a hesitating hand upon the table, looked at her stealthily, but
He looked at the pretty figure bending down over the paper and saying, 'Where am I to
go, pa? Here, in this corner?'
He looked at the beautiful brown hair, shading the coquettish face; he looked at
the free dash of the signature, which was a bold one for a woman's; and then they
looked at one another.
'Much obliged to you, Miss Wilfer.' 'Obliged?'
'I have given you so much trouble.' 'Signing my name?
Yes, certainly.
But I am your landlord's daughter, sir.'
As there was nothing more to do but pay eight sovereigns in earnest of the bargain,
pocket the agreement, appoint a time for the arrival of his furniture and himself,
and go, Mr Rokesmith did that as awkwardly
as it might be done, and was escorted by his landlord to the outer air.
When R. Wilfer returned, candlestick in hand, to the bosom of his family, he found
the bosom agitated.
'Pa,' said Bella, 'we have got a Murderer for a tenant.'
'Pa,' said Lavinia, 'we have got a Robber.' 'To see him unable for his life to look
anybody in the face!' said Bella.
'There never was such an exhibition.' 'My dears,' said their father, 'he is a
diffident gentleman, and I should say particularly so in the society of girls of
your age.'
'Nonsense, our age!' cried Bella, impatiently.
'What's that got to do with him?' 'Besides, we are not of the same age:--
which age?' demanded Lavinia.
'Never YOU mind, Lavvy,' retorted Bella; 'you wait till you are of an age to ask
such questions. Pa, mark my words!
Between Mr Rokesmith and me, there is a natural antipathy and a deep distrust; and
something will come of it!'
'My dear, and girls,' said the cherub- patriarch, 'between Mr Rokesmith and me,
there is a matter of eight sovereigns, and something for supper shall come of it, if
you'll agree upon the article.'
This was a neat and happy turn to give the subject, treats being rare in the Wilfer
household, where a monotonous appearance of Dutch-cheese at ten o'clock in the evening
had been rather frequently commented on by the dimpled shoulders of Miss Bella.
Indeed, the modest Dutchman himself seemed conscious of his want of variety, and
generally came before the family in a state of apologetic perspiration.
After some discussion on the relative merits of veal-cutlet, sweetbread, and
lobster, a decision was pronounced in favour of veal-cutlet.
Mrs Wilfer then solemnly divested herself of her handkerchief and gloves, as a
preliminary sacrifice to preparing the frying-pan, and R. W. himself went out to
purchase the viand.
He soon returned, bearing the same in a fresh cabbage-leaf, where it coyly embraced
a rasher of ham.
Melodious sounds were not long in rising from the frying-pan on the fire, or in
seeming, as the firelight danced in the mellow halls of a couple of full bottles on
the table, to play appropriate dance-music.
The cloth was laid by Lavvy.
Bella, as the acknowledged ornament of the family, employed both her hands in giving
her hair an additional wave while sitting in the easiest chair, and occasionally
threw in a direction touching the supper:
as, 'Very brown, ma;' or, to her sister, 'Put the saltcellar straight, miss, and
don't be a dowdy little puss.'
Meantime her father, chinking Mr Rokesmith's gold as he sat expectant
between his knife and fork, remarked that six of those sovereigns came just in time
for their landlord, and stood them in a
little pile on the white tablecloth to look at.
'I hate our landlord!' said Bella.
But, observing a fall in her father's face, she went and sat down by him at the table,
and began touching up his hair with the handle of a fork.
It was one of the girl's spoilt ways to be always arranging the family's hair--perhaps
because her own was so pretty, and occupied so much of her attention.
'You deserve to have a house of your own; don't you, poor pa?'
'I don't deserve it better than another, my dear.'
'At any rate I, for one, want it more than another,' said Bella, holding him by the
chin, as she stuck his flaxen hair on end, 'and I grudge this money going to the
Monster that swallows up so much, when we all want--Everything.
And if you say (as you want to say; I know you want to say so, pa) "that's neither
reasonable nor honest, Bella," then I answer, "Maybe not, pa--very likely--but
it's one of the consequences of being poor,
and of thoroughly hating and detesting to be poor, and that's my case."
Now, you look lovely, pa; why don't you always wear your hair like that?
And here's the cutlet!
If it isn't very brown, ma, I can't eat it, and must have a bit put back to be done
However, as it was brown, even to Bella's taste, the young lady graciously partook of
it without reconsignment to the frying-pan, and also, in due course, of the contents of
the two bottles: whereof one held Scotch ale and the other rum.
The latter perfume, with the fostering aid of boiling water and lemon-peel, diffused
itself throughout the room, and became so highly concentrated around the warm
fireside, that the wind passing over the
house roof must have rushed off charged with a delicious whiff of it, after buzzing
like a great bee at that particular chimneypot.
'Pa,' said Bella, sipping the fragrant mixture and warming her favourite ankle;
'when old Mr Harmon made such a fool of me (not to mention himself, as he is dead),
what do you suppose he did it for?'
'Impossible to say, my dear. As I have told you time out of number since
his will was brought to light, I doubt if I ever exchanged a hundred words with the old
If it was his whim to surprise us, his whim succeeded.
For he certainly did it.'
'And I was stamping my foot and screaming, when he first took notice of me; was I?'
said Bella, contemplating the ankle before mentioned.
'You were stamping your little foot, my dear, and screaming with your little voice,
and laying into me with your little bonnet, which you had snatched off for the
purpose,' returned her father, as if the
remembrance gave a relish to the rum; 'you were doing this one Sunday morning when I
took you out, because I didn't go the exact way you wanted, when the old gentleman,
sitting on a seat near, said, "That's a
nice girl; that's a VERY nice girl; a promising girl!"
And so you were, my dear.' 'And then he asked my name, did he, pa?'
'Then he asked your name, my dear, and mine; and on other Sunday mornings, when we
walked his way, we saw him again, and--and really that's all.'
As that was all the rum and water too, or, in other words, as R. W. delicately
signified that his glass was empty, by throwing back his head and standing the
glass upside down on his nose and upper
lip, it might have been charitable in Mrs Wilfer to suggest replenishment.
But that heroine briefly suggesting 'Bedtime' instead, the bottles were put
away, and the family retired; she cherubically escorted, like some severe
saint in a painting, or merely human matron allegorically treated.
'And by this time to-morrow,' said Lavinia when the two girls were alone in their
room, 'we shall have Mr Rokesmith here, and shall be expecting to have our throats
'You needn't stand between me and the candle for all that,' retorted Bella.
'This is another of the consequences of being poor!
The idea of a girl with a really fine head of hair, having to do it by one flat candle
and a few inches of looking-glass!' 'You caught George Sampson with it, Bella,
bad as your means of dressing it are.'
'You low little thing. Caught George Sampson with it!
Don't talk about catching people, miss, till your own time for catching--as you
call it--comes.'
'Perhaps it has come,' muttered Lavvy, with a toss of her head.
'What did you say?' asked Bella, very sharply.
'What did you say, miss?'
Lavvy declining equally to repeat or to explain, Bella gradually lapsed over her
hair-dressing into a soliloquy on the miseries of being poor, as exemplified in
having nothing to put on, nothing to go out
in, nothing to dress by, only a nasty box to dress at instead of a commodious
dressing-table, and being obliged to take in suspicious lodgers.
On the last grievance as her climax, she laid great stress--and might have laid
greater, had she known that if Mr Julius Handford had a twin brother upon earth, Mr
John Rokesmith was the man.
Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens CHAPTER 5
Over against a London house, a corner house not far from Cavendish Square, a man with a
wooden leg had sat for some years, with his remaining foot in a basket in cold weather,
picking up a living on this wise:--Every
morning at eight o'clock, he stumped to the corner, carrying a chair, a clothes-horse,
a pair of trestles, a board, a basket, and an umbrella, all strapped together.
Separating these, the board and trestles became a counter, the basket supplied the
few small lots of fruit and sweets that he offered for sale upon it and became a foot-
warmer, the unfolded clothes-horse
displayed a choice collection of halfpenny ballads and became a screen, and the stool
planted within it became his post for the rest of the day.
All weathers saw the man at the post.
This is to be accepted in a double sense, for he contrived a back to his wooden
stool, by placing it against the lamp-post.
When the weather was wet, he put up his umbrella over his stock in trade, not over
himself; when the weather was dry, he furled that faded article, tied it round
with a piece of yarn, and laid it cross-
wise under the trestles: where it looked like an unwholesomely-forced lettuce that
had lost in colour and crispness what it had gained in size.
He had established his right to the corner, by imperceptible prescription.
He had never varied his ground an inch, but had in the beginning diffidently taken the
corner upon which the side of the house gave.
A howling corner in the winter time, a dusty corner in the summer time, an
undesirable corner at the best of times.
Shelterless fragments of straw and paper got up revolving storms there, when the
main street was at peace; and the water- cart, as if it were drunk or short-sighted,
came blundering and jolting round it, making it muddy when all else was clean.
On the front of his sale-board hung a little placard, like a kettle-holder,
bearing the inscription in his own small text:
Errands gone On with fi Delity By
Ladies and Gentlemen I remain Your humble Servt: Silas Wegg
He had not only settled it with himself in course of time, that he was errand-goer by
appointment to the house at the corner (though he received such commissions not
half a dozen times in a year, and then only
as some servant's deputy), but also that he was one of the house's retainers and owed
vassalage to it and was bound to leal and loyal interest in it.
For this reason, he always spoke of it as 'Our House,' and, though his knowledge of
its affairs was mostly speculative and all wrong, claimed to be in its confidence.
On similar grounds he never beheld an inmate at any one of its windows but he
touched his hat.
Yet, he knew so little about the inmates that he gave them names of his own
invention: as 'Miss Elizabeth', 'Master George', 'Aunt Jane', 'Uncle Parker '--
having no authority whatever for any such
designations, but particularly the last--to which, as a natural consequence, he stuck
with great obstinacy.
Over the house itself, he exercised the same imaginary power as over its
inhabitants and their affairs.
He had never been in it, the length of a piece of fat black water-pipe which trailed
itself over the area-door into a damp stone passage, and had rather the air of a leech
on the house that had 'taken' wonderfully;
but this was no impediment to his arranging it according to a plan of his own.
It was a great dingy house with a quantity of dim side window and blank back premises,
and it cost his mind a world of trouble so to lay it out as to account for everything
in its external appearance.
But, this once done, was quite satisfactory, and he rested persuaded, that
he knew his way about the house blindfold: from the barred garrets in the high roof,
to the two iron extinguishers before the
main door--which seemed to request all lively visitors to have the kindness to put
themselves out, before entering.
Assuredly, this stall of Silas Wegg's was the hardest little stall of all the sterile
little stalls in London.
It gave you the face-ache to look at his apples, the stomach-ache to look at his
oranges, the tooth-ache to look at his nuts.
Of the latter commodity he had always a grim little heap, on which lay a little
wooden measure which had no discernible inside, and was considered to represent the
penn'orth appointed by Magna Charta.
Whether from too much east wind or no--it was an easterly corner--the stall, the
stock, and the keeper, were all as dry as the Desert.
Wegg was a knotty man, and a close-grained, with a face carved out of very hard
material, that had just as much play of expression as a watchman's rattle.
When he laughed, certain jerks occurred in it, and the rattle sprung.
Sooth to say, he was so wooden a man that he seemed to have taken his wooden leg
naturally, and rather suggested to the fanciful observer, that he might be
expected--if his development received no
untimely check--to be completely set up with a pair of wooden legs in about six
Mr Wegg was an observant person, or, as he himself said, 'took a powerful sight of
He saluted all his regular passers-by every day, as he sat on his stool backed up by
the lamp-post; and on the adaptable character of these salutes he greatly
plumed himself.
Thus, to the rector, he addressed a bow, compounded of lay deference, and a slight
touch of the shady preliminary meditation at church; to the doctor, a confidential
bow, as to a gentleman whose acquaintance
with his inside he begged respectfully to acknowledge; before the Quality he
delighted to abase himself; and for Uncle Parker, who was in the army (at least, so
he had settled it), he put his open hand to
the side of his hat, in a military manner which that angry-eyed buttoned-up
inflammatory-faced old gentleman appeared but imperfectly to appreciate.
The only article in which Silas dealt, that was not hard, was gingerbread.
On a certain day, some wretched infant having purchased the damp gingerbread-horse
(fearfully out of condition), and the adhesive bird-cage, which had been exposed
for the day's sale, he had taken a tin box
from under his stool to produce a relay of those dreadful specimens, and was going to
look in at the lid, when he said to himself, pausing: 'Oh!
Here you are again!'
The words referred to a broad, round- shouldered, one-sided old fellow in
mourning, coming comically ambling towards the corner, dressed in a pea over-coat, and
carrying a large stick.
He wore thick shoes, and thick leather gaiters, and thick gloves like a hedger's.
Both as to his dress and to himself, he was of an overlapping rhinoceros build, with
folds in his cheeks, and his forehead, and his eyelids, and his lips, and his ears;
but with bright, eager, childishly-
inquiring, grey eyes, under his ragged eyebrows, and broad-brimmed hat.
A very odd-looking old fellow altogether. 'Here you are again,' repeated Mr Wegg,
'And what are you now? Are you in the Funns, or where are you?
Have you lately come to settle in this neighbourhood, or do you own to another
Are you in independent circumstances, or is it wasting the motions of a bow on you?
Come! I'll speculate!
I'll invest a bow in you.'
Which Mr Wegg, having replaced his tin box, accordingly did, as he rose to bait his
gingerbread-trap for some other devoted infant.
The salute was acknowledged with:
'Morning, sir! Morning!
Morning!' ('Calls me Sir!' said Mr Wegg, to himself;
'HE won't answer.
A bow gone!') 'Morning, morning, morning!'
'Appears to be rather a 'arty old cock, too,' said Mr Wegg, as before; 'Good
morning to YOU, sir.'
'Do you remember me, then?' asked his new acquaintance, stopping in his amble, one-
sided, before the stall, and speaking in a pounding way, though with great good-
'I have noticed you go past our house, sir, several times in the course of the last
week or so.' 'Our house,' repeated the other.
'Yes,' said Mr Wegg, nodding, as the other pointed the clumsy forefinger of his right
glove at the corner house.
'Oh! Now, what,' pursued the old fellow, in an inquisitive manner, carrying his knotted
stick in his left arm as if it were a baby, 'what do they allow you now?'
'It's job work that I do for our house,' returned Silas, drily, and with reticence;
'it's not yet brought to an exact allowance.'
'Oh! It's not yet brought to an exact allowance?
No! It's not yet brought to an exact allowance.
Oh!--Morning, morning, morning!'
'Appears to be rather a cracked old cock,' thought Silas, qualifying his former good
opinion, as the other ambled off. But, in a moment he was back again with the
'How did you get your wooden leg?' Mr Wegg replied, (tartly to this personal
inquiry), 'In an accident.' 'Do you like it?'
I haven't got to keep it warm,' Mr Wegg made answer, in a sort of desperation
occasioned by the singularity of the question.
'He hasn't,' repeated the other to his knotted stick, as he gave it a hug; 'he
hasn't got--ha!--ha!--to keep it warm! Did you ever hear of the name of Boffin?'
'No,' said Mr Wegg, who was growing restive under this examination.
'I never did hear of the name of Boffin.' 'Do you like it?'
'Why, no,' retorted Mr Wegg, again approaching desperation; 'I can't say I
do.' 'Why don't you like it?'
'I don't know why I don't,' retorted Mr Wegg, approaching frenzy, 'but I don't at
'Now, I'll tell you something that'll make you sorry for that,' said the stranger,
smiling. 'My name's Boffin.'
'I can't help it!' returned Mr Wegg.
Implying in his manner the offensive addition, 'and if I could, I wouldn't.'
'But there's another chance for you,' said Mr Boffin, smiling still, 'Do you like the
name of Nicodemus?
Think it over. Nick, or Noddy.'
'It is not, sir,' Mr Wegg rejoined, as he sat down on his stool, with an air of
gentle resignation, combined with melancholy candour; it is not a name as I
could wish any one that I had a respect
for, to call ME by; but there may be persons that would not view it with the
same objections.--I don't know why,' Mr Wegg added, anticipating another question.
'Noddy Boffin,' said that gentleman.
'Noddy. That's my name.
Noddy--or Nick--Boffin. What's your name?'
'Silas Wegg.--I don't,' said Mr Wegg, bestirring himself to take the same
precaution as before, 'I don't know why Silas, and I don't know why Wegg.'
'Now, Wegg,' said Mr Boffin, hugging his stick closer, 'I want to make a sort of
offer to you. Do you remember when you first see me?'
The wooden Wegg looked at him with a meditative eye, and also with a softened
air as descrying possibility of profit. 'Let me think.
I ain't quite sure, and yet I generally take a powerful sight of notice, too.
Was it on a Monday morning, when the butcher-boy had been to our house for
orders, and bought a ballad of me, which, being unacquainted with the tune, I run it
over to him?'
'Right, Wegg, right! But he bought more than one.'
'Yes, to be sure, sir; he bought several; and wishing to lay out his money to the
best, he took my opinion to guide his choice, and we went over the collection
To be sure we did.
Here was him as it might be, and here was myself as it might be, and there was you,
Mr Boffin, as you identically are, with your self-same stick under your very same
arm, and your very same back towards us.
To--be--sure!' added Mr Wegg, looking a little round Mr Boffin, to take him in the
rear, and identify this last extraordinary coincidence, 'your wery self-same back!'
'What do you think I was doing, Wegg?'
'I should judge, sir, that you might be glancing your eye down the street.'
'No, Wegg. I was a listening.'
'Was you, indeed?' said Mr Wegg, dubiously.
'Not in a dishonourable way, Wegg, because you was singing to the butcher; and you
wouldn't sing secrets to a butcher in the street, you know.'
'It never happened that I did so yet, to the best of my remembrance,' said Mr Wegg,
cautiously. 'But I might do it.
A man can't say what he might wish to do some day or another.'
(This, not to release any little advantage he might derive from Mr Boffin's avowal.)
'Well,' repeated Boffin, 'I was a listening to you and to him.
And what do you--you haven't got another stool, have you?
I'm rather thick in my breath.'
'I haven't got another, but you're welcome to this,' said Wegg, resigning it.
'It's a treat to me to stand.'
'Lard!' exclaimed Mr Boffin, in a tone of great enjoyment, as he settled himself
down, still nursing his stick like a baby, 'it's a pleasant place, this!
And then to be shut in on each side, with these ballads, like so many book-leaf
blinkers! Why, its delightful!'
'If I am not mistaken, sir,' Mr Wegg delicately hinted, resting a hand on his
stall, and bending over the discursive Boffin, 'you alluded to some offer or
another that was in your mind?'
'I'm coming to it! All right.
I'm coming to it!
I was going to say that when I listened that morning, I listened with hadmiration
amounting to haw. I thought to myself, "Here's a man with a
wooden leg--a literary man with--"'
'N--not exactly so, sir,' said Mr Wegg.
'Why, you know every one of these songs by name and by tune, and if you want to read
or to sing any one on 'em off straight, you've only to whip on your spectacles and
do it!' cried Mr Boffin.
'I see you at it!' 'Well, sir,' returned Mr Wegg, with a
conscious inclination of the head; 'we'll say literary, then.'
'"A literary man--WITH a wooden leg--and all Print is open to him!"
That's what I thought to myself, that morning,' pursued Mr Boffin, leaning
forward to describe, uncramped by the clotheshorse, as large an arc as his right
arm could make; '"all Print is open to him!"
And it is, ain't it?'
'Why, truly, sir,' Mr Wegg admitted, with modesty; 'I believe you couldn't show me
the piece of English print, that I wouldn't be equal to collaring and throwing.'
'On the spot?' said Mr Boffin.
'On the spot.' 'I know'd it!
Then consider this. Here am I, a man without a wooden leg, and
yet all print is shut to me.'
'Indeed, sir?' Mr Wegg returned with increasing self-
complacency. 'Education neglected?'
'Neg--lected!' repeated Boffin, with emphasis.
'That ain't no word for it.
I don't mean to say but what if you showed me a B, I could so far give you change for
it, as to answer Boffin.'
'Come, come, sir,' said Mr Wegg, throwing in a little encouragement, 'that's
something, too.' 'It's something,' answered Mr Boffin, 'but
I'll take my oath it ain't much.'
'Perhaps it's not as much as could be wished by an inquiring mind, sir,' Mr Wegg
admitted. 'Now, look here.
I'm retired from business.
Me and Mrs Boffin--Henerietty Boffin--which her father's name was Henery, and her
mother's name was Hetty, and so you get it- -we live on a compittance, under the will
of a diseased governor.'
'Gentleman dead, sir?' 'Man alive, don't I tell you?
A diseased governor?
Now, it's too late for me to begin shovelling and sifting at alphabeds and
grammar-books. I'm getting to be a old bird, and I want to
take it easy.
But I want some reading--some fine bold reading, some splendid book in a gorging
Lord-Mayor's-Show of wollumes' (probably meaning gorgeous, but misled by association
of ideas); 'as'll reach right down your pint of view, and take time to go by you.
How can I get that reading, Wegg?
By,' tapping him on the breast with the head of his thick stick, 'paying a man
truly qualified to do it, so much an hour (say twopence) to come and do it.'
'Hem! Flattered, sir, I am sure,' said Wegg, beginning to regard himself in quite
a new light. 'Hew! This is the offer you mentioned,
'Yes. Do you like it?' 'I am considering of it, Mr Boffin.'
'I don't,' said Boffin, in a free-handed manner, 'want to tie a literary man--WITH a
wooden leg--down too tight.
A halfpenny an hour shan't part us. The hours are your own to choose, after
you've done for the day with your house here.
I live over Maiden-Lane way--out Holloway direction--and you've only got to go East-
and-by-North when you've finished here, and you're there.
Twopence halfpenny an hour,' said Boffin, taking a piece of chalk from his pocket and
getting off the stool to work the sum on the top of it in his own way; 'two long'uns
and a short'un--twopence halfpenny; two
short'uns is a long'un and two two long'uns is four long'uns--making five long'uns; six
nights a week at five long'uns a night,' scoring them all down separately, 'and you
mount up to thirty long'uns.
A round'un! Half a crown!'
Pointing to this result as a large and satisfactory one, Mr Boffin smeared it out
with his moistened glove, and sat down on the remains.
'Half a crown,' said Wegg, meditating.
'Yes. (It ain't much, sir.) Half a crown.'
'Per week, you know.' 'Per week.
As to the amount of strain upon the intellect now.
Was you thinking at all of poetry?' Mr Wegg inquired, musing.
'Would it come dearer?'
Mr Boffin asked. 'It would come dearer,' Mr Wegg returned.
'For when a person comes to grind off poetry night after night, it is but right
he should expect to be paid for its weakening effect on his mind.'
'To tell you the truth Wegg,' said Boffin, 'I wasn't thinking of poetry, except in so
fur as this:--If you was to happen now and then to feel yourself in the mind to tip me
and Mrs Boffin one of your ballads, why then we should drop into poetry.'
'I follow you, sir,' said Wegg.
'But not being a regular musical professional, I should be loath to engage
myself for that; and therefore when I dropped into poetry, I should ask to be
considered so fur, in the light of a friend.'
At this, Mr Boffin's eyes sparkled, and he shook Silas earnestly by the hand:
protesting that it was more than he could have asked, and that he took it very kindly
'What do you think of the terms, Wegg?' Mr Boffin then demanded, with unconcealed
Silas, who had stimulated this anxiety by his hard reserve of manner, and who had
begun to understand his man very well, replied with an air; as if he were saying
something extraordinarily generous and great:
'Mr Boffin, I never bargain.' 'So I should have thought of you!' said Mr
Boffin, admiringly.
'No, sir. I never did 'aggle and I never will 'aggle.
Consequently I meet you at once, free and fair, with--Done, for double the money!'
Mr Boffin seemed a little unprepared for this conclusion, but assented, with the
remark, 'You know better what it ought to be than I do, Wegg,' and again shook hands
with him upon it.
'Could you begin to night, Wegg?' he then demanded.
'Yes, sir,' said Mr Wegg, careful to leave all the eagerness to him.
'I see no difficulty if you wish it.
You are provided with the needful implement--a book, sir?'
'Bought him at a sale,' said Mr Boffin. 'Eight wollumes.
Red and gold.
Purple ribbon in every wollume, to keep the place where you leave off.
Do you know him?' 'The book's name, sir?' inquired Silas.
'I thought you might have know'd him without it,' said Mr Boffin slightly
disappointed. 'His name is Decline-And-Fall-Off-The-
(Mr Boffin went over these stones slowly and with much caution.)
'Ay indeed!' said Mr Wegg, nodding his head with an air of friendly recognition.
'You know him, Wegg?'
'I haven't been not to say right slap through him, very lately,' Mr Wegg made
answer, 'having been otherways employed, Mr Boffin.
But know him?
Old familiar declining and falling off the Rooshan?
Rather, sir! Ever since I was not so high as your stick.
Ever since my eldest brother left our cottage to enlist into the army.
On which occasion, as the ballad that was made about it describes:
'Beside that cottage door, Mr Boffin, A girl was on her knees;She held aloft a
snowy scarf, Sir, Which (my eldest brother noticed) fluttered
in the breeze.
She breathed a prayer for him, Mr Boffin; A prayer he coold not
hear.And my eldest brother lean'd upon his sword, Mr Boffin,
And wiped away a tear.'
Much impressed by this family circumstance, and also by the friendly disposition of Mr
Wegg, as exemplified in his so soon dropping into poetry, Mr Boffin again shook
hands with that ligneous sharper, and besought him to name his hour.
Mr Wegg named eight. 'Where I live,' said Mr Boffin, 'is called
The Bower.
Boffin's Bower is the name Mrs Boffin christened it when we come into it as a
If you should meet with anybody that don't know it by that name (which hardly anybody
does), when you've got nigh upon about a odd mile, or say and a quarter if you like,
up Maiden Lane, Battle Bridge, ask for Harmony Jail, and you'll be put right.
I shall expect you, Wegg,' said Mr Boffin, clapping him on the shoulder with the
greatest enthusiasm, 'most joyfully.
I shall have no peace or patience till you come.
Print is now opening ahead of me.
This night, a literary man--WITH a wooden leg--' he bestowed an admiring look upon
that decoration, as if it greatly enhanced the relish of Mr Wegg's attainments--'will
begin to lead me a new life!
My fist again, Wegg. Morning, morning, morning!'
Left alone at his stall as the other ambled off, Mr Wegg subsided into his screen,
produced a small pocket-handkerchief of a penitentially-scrubbing character, and took
himself by the nose with a thoughtful aspect.
Also, while he still grasped that feature, he directed several thoughtful looks down
the street, after the retiring figure of Mr Boffin.
But, profound gravity sat enthroned on Wegg's countenance.
For, while he considered within himself that this was an old fellow of rare
simplicity, that this was an opportunity to be improved, and that here might be money
to be got beyond present calculation, still
he compromised himself by no admission that his new engagement was at all out of his
way, or involved the least element of the ridiculous.
Mr Wegg would even have picked a handsome quarrel with any one who should have
challenged his deep acquaintance with those aforesaid eight volumes of Decline and
His gravity was unusual, portentous, and immeasurable, not because he admitted any
doubt of himself but because he perceived it necessary to forestall any doubt of
himself in others.
And herein he ranged with that very numerous class of impostors, who are quite
as determined to keep up appearances to themselves, as to their neighbours.
A certain loftiness, likewise, took possession of Mr Wegg; a condescending
sense of being in request as an official expounder of mysteries.
It did not move him to commercial greatness, but rather to littleness,
insomuch that if it had been within the possibilities of things for the wooden
measure to hold fewer nuts than usual, it would have done so that day.
But, when night came, and with her veiled eyes beheld him stumping towards Boffin's
Bower, he was elated too.
The Bower was as difficult to find, as Fair Rosamond's without the clue.
Mr Wegg, having reached the quarter indicated, inquired for the Bower half a
dozen times without the least success, until he remembered to ask for Harmony
This occasioned a quick change in the spirits of a hoarse gentleman and a donkey,
whom he had much perplexed.
'Why, yer mean Old Harmon's, do yer?' said the hoarse gentleman, who was driving his
donkey in a truck, with a carrot for a whip.
'Why didn't yer niver say so?
Eddard and me is a goin' by HIM! Jump in.'
Mr Wegg complied, and the hoarse gentleman invited his attention to the third person
in company, thus;
'Now, you look at Eddard's ears. What was it as you named, agin?
Whisper.' Mr Wegg whispered, 'Boffin's Bower.'
(keep yer hi on his ears) cut away to Boffin's Bower!'
Edward, with his ears lying back, remained immoveable.
(keep yer hi on his ears) cut away to Old Harmon's.'
Edward instantly pricked up his ears to their utmost, and rattled off at such a
pace that Mr Wegg's conversation was jolted out of him in a most dislocated state.
'Was-it-Ev-verajail?' asked Mr Wegg, holding on.
'Not a proper jail, wot you and me would get committed to,' returned his escort;
'they giv' it the name, on accounts of Old Harmon living solitary there.'
'And-why-did-they-callitharm-Ony?' asked Wegg.
'On accounts of his never agreeing with nobody.
Like a speeches of chaff.
Harmon's Jail; Harmony Jail. Working it round like.'
'Doyouknow-Mist-Erboff-in?' asked Wegg. 'I should think so!
Everybody do about here.
Eddard knows him. (Keep yer hi on his ears.)
Noddy Boffin, Eddard!'
The effect of the name was so very alarming, in respect of causing a temporary
disappearance of Edward's head, casting his hind hoofs in the air, greatly accelerating
the pace and increasing the jolting, that
Mr Wegg was fain to devote his attention exclusively to holding on, and to
relinquish his desire of ascertaining whether this homage to Boffin was to be
considered complimentary or the reverse.
Presently, Edward stopped at a gateway, and Wegg discreetly lost no time in slipping
out at the back of the truck.
The moment he was landed, his late driver with a wave of the carrot, said 'Supper,
Eddard!' and he, the hind hoofs, the truck, and Edward, all seemed to fly into the air
together, in a kind of apotheosis.
Pushing the gate, which stood ajar, Wegg looked into an enclosed space where certain
tall dark mounds rose high against the sky, and where the pathway to the Bower was
indicated, as the moonlight showed, between two lines of broken crockery set in ashes.
A white figure advancing along this path, proved to be nothing more ghostly than Mr
Boffin, easily attired for the pursuit of knowledge, in an undress garment of short
white smock-frock.
Having received his literary friend with great cordiality, he conducted him to the
interior of the Bower and there presented him to Mrs Boffin:--a stout lady of a
rubicund and cheerful aspect, dressed (to
Mr Wegg's consternation) in a low evening- dress of sable satin, and a large black
velvet hat and feathers. 'Mrs Boffin, Wegg,' said Boffin, 'is a
highflyer at Fashion.
And her make is such, that she does it credit.
As to myself I ain't yet as Fash'nable as I may come to be.
Henerietty, old lady, this is the gentleman that's a going to decline and fall off the
Rooshan Empire.' 'And I am sure I hope it'll do you both
good,' said Mrs Boffin.
It was the queerest of rooms, fitted and furnished more like a luxurious amateur
tap-room than anything else within the ken of Silas Wegg.
There were two wooden settles by the fire, one on either side of it, with a
corresponding table before each.
On one of these tables, the eight volumes were ranged flat, in a row, like a galvanic
battery; on the other, certain squat case- bottles of inviting appearance seemed to
stand on tiptoe to exchange glances with Mr
Wegg over a front row of tumblers and a basin of white sugar.
On the hob, a kettle steamed; on the hearth, a cat reposed.
Facing the fire between the settles, a sofa, a footstool, and a little table,
formed a centrepiece devoted to Mrs Boffin.
They were garish in taste and colour, but were expensive articles of drawing-room
furniture that had a very odd look beside the settles and the flaring gaslight
pendent from the ceiling.
There was a flowery carpet on the floor; but, instead of reaching to the fireside,
its glowing vegetation stopped short at Mrs Boffin's footstool, and gave place to a
region of sand and sawdust.
Mr Wegg also noticed, with admiring eyes, that, while the flowery land displayed such
hollow ornamentation as stuffed birds and waxen fruits under glass-shades, there
were, in the territory where vegetation
ceased, compensatory shelves on which the best part of a large pie and likewise of a
cold joint were plainly discernible among other solids.
The room itself was large, though low; and the heavy frames of its old-fashioned
windows, and the heavy beams in its crooked ceiling, seemed to indicate that it had
once been a house of some mark standing alone in the country.
'Do you like it, Wegg?' asked Mr Boffin, in his pouncing manner.
'I admire it greatly, sir,' said Wegg.
'Peculiar comfort at this fireside, sir.' 'Do you understand it, Wegg?'
'Why, in a general way, sir,' Mr Wegg was beginning slowly and knowingly, with his
head stuck on one side, as evasive people do begin, when the other cut him short:
'You DON'T understand it, Wegg, and I'll explain it.
These arrangements is made by mutual consent between Mrs Boffin and me.
Mrs Boffin, as I've mentioned, is a highflyer at Fashion; at present I'm not.
I don't go higher than comfort, and comfort of the sort that I'm equal to the enjoyment
Well then. Where would be the good of Mrs Boffin and
me quarrelling over it?
We never did quarrel, before we come into Boffin's Bower as a property; why quarrel
when we HAVE come into Boffin's Bower as a property?
So Mrs Boffin, she keeps up her part of the room, in her way; I keep up my part of the
room in mine.
In consequence of which we have at once, Sociability (I should go melancholy mad
without Mrs Boffin), Fashion, and Comfort.
If I get by degrees to be a higher-flyer at Fashion, then Mrs Boffin will by degrees
come for'arder.
If Mrs Boffin should ever be less of a dab at Fashion than she is at the present time,
then Mrs Boffin's carpet would go back'arder.
If we should both continny as we are, why then HERE we are, and give us a kiss, old
Mrs Boffin who, perpetually smiling, had approached and drawn her plump arm through
her lord's, most willingly complied.
Fashion, in the form of her black velvet hat and feathers, tried to prevent it; but
got deservedly crushed in the endeavour.
'So now, Wegg,' said Mr Boffin, wiping his mouth with an air of much refreshment, 'you
begin to know us as we are. This is a charming spot, is the Bower, but
you must get to apprechiate it by degrees.
It's a spot to find out the merits of; little by little, and a new'un every day.
There's a serpentining walk up each of the mounds, that gives you the yard and
neighbourhood changing every moment.
When you get to the top, there's a view of the neighbouring premises, not to be
The premises of Mrs Boffin's late father (Canine Provision Trade), you look down
into, as if they was your own.
And the top of the High Mound is crowned with a lattice-work Arbour, in which, if
you don't read out loud many a book in the summer, ay, and as a friend, drop many a
time into poetry too, it shan't be my fault.
Now, what'll you read on?'
'Thank you, sir,' returned Wegg, as if there were nothing new in his reading at
all. 'I generally do it on gin and water.'
'Keeps the organ moist, does it, Wegg?' asked Mr Boffin, with innocent eagerness.
'N-no, sir,' replied Wegg, coolly, 'I should hardly describe it so, sir.
I should say, mellers it.
Mellers it, is the word I should employ, Mr Boffin.'
His wooden conceit and craft kept exact pace with the delighted expectation of his
The visions rising before his mercenary mind, of the many ways in which this
connexion was to be turned to account, never obscured the foremost idea natural to
a dull overreaching man, that he must not make himself too cheap.
Mrs Boffin's Fashion, as a less inexorable deity than the idol usually worshipped
under that name, did not forbid her mixing for her literary guest, or asking if he
found the result to his liking.
On his returning a gracious answer and taking his place at the literary settle, Mr
Boffin began to compose himself as a listener, at the opposite settle, with
exultant eyes.
'Sorry to deprive you of a pipe, Wegg,' he said, filling his own, 'but you can't do
both together. Oh! and another thing I forgot to name!
When you come in here of an evening, and look round you, and notice anything on a
shelf that happens to catch your fancy, mention it.'
Wegg, who had been going to put on his spectacles, immediately laid them down,
with the sprightly observation: 'You read my thoughts, sir.
DO my eyes deceive me, or is that object up there a--a pie?
It can't be a pie.'
'Yes, it's a pie, Wegg,' replied Mr Boffin, with a glance of some little discomfiture
at the Decline and Fall. 'HAVE I lost my smell for fruits, or is it
a apple pie, sir?' asked Wegg.
'It's a veal and ham pie,' said Mr Boffin. 'Is it indeed, sir?
And it would be hard, sir, to name the pie that is a better pie than a weal and
hammer,' said Mr Wegg, nodding his head emotionally.
'Have some, Wegg?'
'Thank you, Mr Boffin, I think I will, at your invitation.
I wouldn't at any other party's, at the present juncture; but at yours, sir!--And
meaty jelly too, especially when a little salt, which is the case where there's ham,
is mellering to the organ, is very mellering to the organ.'
Mr Wegg did not say what organ, but spoke with a cheerful generality.
So, the pie was brought down, and the worthy Mr Boffin exercised his patience
until Wegg, in the exercise of his knife and fork, had finished the dish: only
profiting by the opportunity to inform Wegg
that although it was not strictly Fashionable to keep the contents of a
larder thus exposed to view, he (Mr Boffin) considered it hospitable; for the reason,
that instead of saying, in a comparatively
unmeaning manner, to a visitor, 'There are such and such edibles down stairs; will you
have anything up?' you took the bold practical course of saying, 'Cast your eye
along the shelves, and, if you see anything you like there, have it down.'
And now, Mr Wegg at length pushed away his plate and put on his spectacles, and Mr
Boffin lighted his pipe and looked with beaming eyes into the opening world before
him, and Mrs Boffin reclined in a
fashionable manner on her sofa: as one who would be part of the audience if she found
she could, and would go to sleep if she found she couldn't.
'Hem!' began Wegg, 'This, Mr Boffin and Lady, is the first chapter of the first
wollume of the Decline and Fall off--' here he looked hard at the book, and stopped.
'What's the matter, Wegg?'
'Why, it comes into my mind, do you know, sir,' said Wegg with an air of insinuating
frankness (having first again looked hard at the book), 'that you made a little
mistake this morning, which I had meant to
set you right in, only something put it out of my head.
I think you said Rooshan Empire, sir?' 'It is Rooshan; ain't it, Wegg?'
'No, sir.
Roman. Roman.'
'What's the difference, Wegg?' 'The difference, sir?'
Mr Wegg was faltering and in danger of breaking down, when a bright thought
flashed upon him. 'The difference, sir?
There you place me in a difficulty, Mr Boffin.
Suffice it to observe, that the difference is best postponed to some other occasion
when Mrs Boffin does not honour us with her company.
In Mrs Boffin's presence, sir, we had better drop it.'
Mr Wegg thus came out of his disadvantage with quite a chivalrous air, and not only
that, but by dint of repeating with a manly delicacy, 'In Mrs Boffin's presence, sir,
we had better drop it!' turned the
disadvantage on Boffin, who felt that he had committed himself in a very painful
Then, Mr Wegg, in a dry unflinching way, entered on his task; going straight across
country at everything that came before him; taking all the hard words, biographical and
geographical; getting rather shaken by
Hadrian, Trajan, and the Antonines; stumbling at Polybius (pronounced Polly
Beeious, and supposed by Mr Boffin to be a Roman virgin, and by Mrs Boffin to be
responsible for that necessity of dropping
it); heavily unseated by Titus Antoninus Pius; up again and galloping smoothly with
Augustus; finally, getting over the ground well with Commodus: who, under the
appellation of Commodious, was held by Mr
Boffin to have been quite unworthy of his English origin, and 'not to have acted up
to his name' in his government of the Roman people.
With the death of this personage, Mr Wegg terminated his first reading; long before
which consummation several total eclipses of Mrs Boffin's candle behind her black
velvet disc, would have been very alarming,
but for being regularly accompanied by a potent smell of burnt pens when her
feathers took fire, which acted as a restorative and woke her.
Mr Wegg, having read on by rote and attached as few ideas as possible to the
text, came out of the encounter fresh; but, Mr Boffin, who had soon laid down his
unfinished pipe, and had ever since sat
intently staring with his eyes and mind at the confounding enormities of the Romans,
was so severely punished that he could hardly wish his literary friend Good-night,
and articulate 'Tomorrow.'
'Commodious,' gasped Mr Boffin, staring at the moon, after letting Wegg out at the
gate and fastening it: 'Commodious fights in that wild-beast-show, seven hundred and
thirty-five times, in one character only!
As if that wasn't stunning enough, a hundred lions is turned into the same wild-
beast-show all at once!
As if that wasn't stunning enough, Commodious, in another character, kills 'em
all off in a hundred goes!
As if that wasn't stunning enough, Vittle- us (and well named too) eats six millions'
worth, English money, in seven months! Wegg takes it easy, but upon-my-soul to a
old bird like myself these are scarers.
And even now that Commodious is strangled, I don't see a way to our bettering
Mr Boffin added as he turned his pensive steps towards the Bower and shook his head,
'I didn't think this morning there was half so many Scarers in Print.
But I'm in for it now!'