Part 12 - Our Mutual Friend Audiobook by Charles Dickens (Book 3, Chs 15-17)


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Transcript:
Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens CHAPTER 15
THE GOLDEN DUSTMAN AT HIS WORST
The breakfast table at Mr Boffin's was usually a very pleasant one, and was always
presided over by Bella.
As though he began each new day in his healthy natural character, and some waking
hours were necessary to his relapse into the corrupting influences of his wealth,
the face and the demeanour of the Golden
Dustman were generally unclouded at that meal.
It would have been easy to believe then, that there was no change in him.
It was as the day went on that the clouds gathered, and the brightness of the morning
became obscured.
One might have said that the shadows of avarice and distrust lengthened as his own
shadow lengthened, and that the night closed around him gradually.
But, one morning long afterwards to be remembered, it was black midnight with the
Golden Dustman when he first appeared. His altered character had never been so
grossly marked.
His bearing towards his Secretary was so charged with insolent distrust and
arrogance, that the latter rose and left the table before breakfast was half done.
The look he directed at the Secretary's retiring figure was so cunningly malignant,
that Bella would have sat astounded and indignant, even though he had not gone the
length of secretly threatening Rokesmith
with his clenched fist as he closed the door.
This unlucky morning, of all mornings in the year, was the morning next after Mr
Boffin's interview with Mrs Lammle in her little carriage.
Bella looked to Mrs Boffin's face for comment on, or explanation of, this stormy
humour in her husband, but none was there. An anxious and a distressed observation of
her own face was all she could read in it.
When they were left alone together--which was not until noon, for Mr Boffin sat long
in his easy-chair, by turns jogging up and down the breakfast-room, clenching his fist
and muttering--Bella, in consternation,
asked her what had happened, what was wrong?
'I am forbidden to speak to you about it, Bella dear; I mustn't tell you,' was all
the answer she could get.
And still, whenever, in her wonder and dismay, she raised her eyes to Mrs Boffin's
face, she saw in it the same anxious and distressed observation of her own.
Oppressed by her sense that trouble was impending, and lost in speculations why Mrs
Boffin should look at her as if she had any part in it, Bella found the day long and
dreary.
It was far on in the afternoon when, she being in her own room, a servant brought
her a message from Mr Boffin begging her to come to his.
Mrs Boffin was there, seated on a sofa, and Mr Boffin was jogging up and down.
On seeing Bella he stopped, beckoned her to him, and drew her arm through his.
'Don't be alarmed, my dear,' he said, gently; 'I am not angry with you.
Why you actually tremble! Don't be alarmed, Bella my dear.
I'll see you righted.'
'See me righted?' thought Bella. And then repeated aloud in a tone of
astonishment: 'see me righted, sir?' 'Ay, ay!' said Mr Boffin.
'See you righted.
Send Mr Rokesmith here, you sir.'
Bella would have been lost in perplexity if there had been pause enough; but the
servant found Mr Rokesmith near at hand, and he almost immediately presented
himself.
'Shut the door, sir!' said Mr Boffin. 'I have got something to say to you which I
fancy you'll not be pleased to hear.'
'I am sorry to reply, Mr Boffin,' returned the Secretary, as, having closed the door,
he turned and faced him, 'that I think that very likely.'
'What do you mean?' blustered Mr Boffin.
'I mean that it has become no novelty to me to hear from your lips what I would rather
not hear.' 'Oh! Perhaps we shall change that,' said Mr
Boffin with a threatening roll of his head.
'I hope so,' returned the Secretary. He was quiet and respectful; but stood, as
Bella thought (and was glad to think), on his manhood too.
'Now, sir,' said Mr Boffin, 'look at this young lady on my arm.
Bella involuntarily raising her eyes, when this sudden reference was made to herself,
met those of Mr Rokesmith.
He was pale and seemed agitated. Then her eyes passed on to Mrs Boffin's,
and she met the look again. In a flash it enlightened her, and she
began to understand what she had done.
'I say to you, sir,' Mr Boffin repeated, 'look at this young lady on my arm.
'I do so,' returned the Secretary.
As his glance rested again on Bella for a moment, she thought there was reproach in
it. But it is possible that the reproach was
within herself.
'How dare you, sir,' said Mr Boffin, 'tamper, unknown to me, with this young
lady?
How dare you come out of your station, and your place in my house, to pester this
young lady with your impudent addresses?'
'I must decline to answer questions,' said the Secretary, 'that are so offensively
asked.' 'You decline to answer?' retorted Mr
Boffin.
'You decline to answer, do you? Then I'll tell you what it is, Rokesmith;
I'll answer for you. There are two sides to this matter, and
I'll take 'em separately.
The first side is, sheer Insolence. That's the first side.'
The Secretary smiled with some bitterness, as though he would have said, 'So I see and
hear.'
'It was sheer Insolence in you, I tell you,' said Mr Boffin, 'even to think of
this young lady. This young lady was far above YOU.
This young lady was no match for YOU.
This young lady was lying in wait (as she was qualified to do) for money, and you had
no money.' Bella hung her head and seemed to shrink a
little from Mr Boffin's protecting arm.
'What are you, I should like to know,' pursued Mr Boffin, 'that you were to have
the audacity to follow up this young lady?
This young lady was looking about the market for a good bid; she wasn't in it to
be snapped up by fellows that had no money to lay out; nothing to buy with.'
'Oh, Mr Boffin!
Mrs Boffin, pray say something for me!' murmured Bella, disengaging her arm, and
covering her face with her hands. 'Old lady,' said Mr Boffin, anticipating
his wife, 'you hold your tongue.
Bella, my dear, don't you let yourself be put out.
I'll right you.' 'But you don't, you don't right me!'
exclaimed Bella, with great emphasis.
'You wrong me, wrong me!' 'Don't you be put out, my dear,'
complacently retorted Mr Boffin. 'I'll bring this young man to book.
Now, you Rokesmith!
You can't decline to hear, you know, as well as to answer.
You hear me tell you that the first side of your conduct was Insolence--Insolence and
Presumption.
Answer me one thing, if you can. Didn't this young lady tell you so
herself?' 'Did I, Mr Rokesmith?' asked Bella with her
face still covered.
'O say, Mr Rokesmith! Did I?'
'Don't be distressed, Miss Wilfer; it matters very little now.'
'Ah! You can't deny it, though!' said Mr Boffin, with a knowing shake of his head.
'But I have asked him to forgive me since,' cried Bella; 'and I would ask him to
forgive me now again, upon my knees, if it would spare him!'
Here Mrs Boffin broke out a-crying.
'Old lady,' said Mr Boffin, 'stop that noise!
Tender-hearted in you, Miss Bella; but I mean to have it out right through with this
young man, having got him into a corner.
Now, you Rokesmith. I tell you that's one side of your conduct-
-Insolence and Presumption. Now, I'm a-coming to the other, which is
much worse.
This was a speculation of yours.' 'I indignantly deny it.'
'It's of no use your denying it; it doesn't signify a bit whether you deny it or not;
I've got a head upon my shoulders, and it ain't a baby's.
What!' said Mr Boffin, gathering himself together in his most suspicious attitude,
and wrinkling his face into a very map of curves and corners.
'Don't I know what grabs are made at a man with money?
If I didn't keep my eyes open, and my pockets buttoned, shouldn't I be brought to
the workhouse before I knew where I was?
Wasn't the experience of Dancer, and Elwes, and Hopkins, and Blewbury Jones, and ever
so many more of 'em, similar to mine?
Didn't everybody want to make grabs at what they'd got, and bring 'em to poverty and
ruin?
Weren't they forced to hide everything belonging to 'em, for fear it should be
snatched from 'em? Of course they was.
I shall be told next that they didn't know human natur!'
'They! Poor creatures,' murmured the Secretary.
'What do you say?' asked Mr Boffin, snapping at him.
'However, you needn't be at the trouble of repeating it, for it ain't worth hearing,
and won't go down with ME.
I'm a-going to unfold your plan, before this young lady; I'm a-going to show this
young lady the second view of you; and nothing you can say will stave it off.
(Now, attend here, Bella, my dear.)
Rokesmith, you're a needy chap. You're a chap that I pick up in the street.
Are you, or ain't you?' 'Go on, Mr Boffin; don't appeal to me.'
'Not appeal to YOU,' retorted Mr Boffin as if he hadn't done so.
'No, I should hope not! Appealing to YOU, would be rather a rum
course.
As I was saying, you're a needy chap that I pick up in the street.
You come and ask me in the street to take you for a Secretary, and I take you.
Very good.'
'Very bad,' murmured the Secretary. 'What do you say?' asked Mr Boffin,
snapping at him again. He returned no answer.
Mr Boffin, after eyeing him with a comical look of discomfited curiosity, was fain to
begin afresh.
'This Rokesmith is a needy young man that I take for my Secretary out of the open
street.
This Rokesmith gets acquainted with my affairs, and gets to know that I mean to
settle a sum of money on this young lady.
"Oho!" says this Rokesmith;' here Mr Boffin clapped a finger against his nose, and
tapped it several times with a sneaking air, as embodying Rokesmith confidentially
confabulating with his own nose; '"This will be a good haul; I'll go in for this!"
And so this Rokesmith, greedy and hungering, begins a-creeping on his hands
and knees towards the money.
Not so bad a speculation either: for if this young lady had had less spirit, or had
had less sense, through being at all in the romantic line, by George he might have
worked it out and made it pay!
But fortunately she was too many for him, and a pretty figure he cuts now he is
exposed.
There he stands!' said Mr Boffin, addressing Rokesmith himself with
ridiculous inconsistency. 'Look at him!'
'Your unfortunate suspicions, Mr Boffin--' began the Secretary.
'Precious unfortunate for you, I can tell you,' said Mr Boffin.
'--are not to be combated by any one, and I address myself to no such hopeless task.
But I will say a word upon the truth.' 'Yah! Much you care about the truth,' said
Mr Boffin, with a snap of his fingers.
'Noddy! My dear love!' expostulated his wife.
'Old lady,' returned Mr Boffin, 'you keep still.
I say to this Rokesmith here, much he cares about the truth.
I tell him again, much he cares about the truth.'
'Our connexion being at an end, Mr Boffin,' said the Secretary, 'it can be of very
little moment to me what you say.'
'Oh! You are knowing enough,' retorted Mr Boffin, with a sly look, 'to have found out
that our connexion's at an end, eh? But you can't get beforehand with me.
Look at this in my hand.
This is your pay, on your discharge. You can only follow suit.
You can't deprive me of the lead. Let's have no pretending that you discharge
yourself.
I discharge you.' 'So that I go,' remarked the Secretary,
waving the point aside with his hand, 'it is all one to me.'
'Is it?' said Mr Boffin.
'But it's two to me, let me tell you.
Allowing a fellow that's found out, to discharge himself, is one thing;
discharging him for insolence and presumption, and likewise for designs upon
his master's money, is another.
One and one's two; not one. (Old lady, don't you cut in.
You keep still.)' 'Have you said all you wish to say to me?'
demanded the Secretary.
'I don't know whether I have or not,' answered Mr Boffin.
'It depends.'
'Perhaps you will consider whether there are any other strong expressions that you
would like to bestow upon me?'
'I'll consider that,' said Mr Boffin, obstinately, 'at my convenience, and not at
yours. You want the last word.
It may not be suitable to let you have it.'
'Noddy! My dear, dear Noddy!
You sound so hard!' cried poor Mrs Boffin, not to be quite repressed.
'Old lady,' said her husband, but without harshness, 'if you cut in when requested
not, I'll get a pillow and carry you out of the room upon it.
What do you want to say, you Rokesmith?'
'To you, Mr Boffin, nothing. But to Miss Wilfer and to your good kind
wife, a word.' 'Out with it then,' replied Mr Boffin, 'and
cut it short, for we've had enough of you.'
'I have borne,' said the Secretary, in a low voice, 'with my false position here,
that I might not be separated from Miss Wilfer.
To be near her, has been a recompense to me from day to day, even for the undeserved
treatment I have had here, and for the degraded aspect in which she has often seen
me.
Since Miss Wilfer rejected me, I have never again urged my suit, to the best of my
belief, with a spoken syllable or a look.
But I have never changed in my devotion to her, except--if she will forgive my saying
so--that it is deeper than it was, and better founded.'
'Now, mark this chap's saying Miss Wilfer, when he means L.s.d.!' cried Mr Boffin,
with a cunning wink. 'Now, mark this chap's making Miss Wilfer
stand for Pounds, Shillings, and Pence!'
'My feeling for Miss Wilfer,' pursued the Secretary, without deigning to notice him,
'is not one to be ashamed of. I avow it.
I love her.
Let me go where I may when I presently leave this house, I shall go into a blank
life, leaving her.' 'Leaving L.s.d. behind me,' said Mr Boffin,
by way of commentary, with another wink.
'That I am incapable,' the Secretary went on, still without heeding him, 'of a
mercenary project, or a mercenary thought, in connexion with Miss Wilfer, is nothing
meritorious in me, because any prize that I
could put before my fancy would sink into insignificance beside her.
If the greatest wealth or the highest rank were hers, it would only be important in my
sight as removing her still farther from me, and making me more hopeless, if that
could be.
Say,' remarked the Secretary, looking full at his late master, 'say that with a word
she could strip Mr Boffin of his fortune and take possession of it, she would be of
no greater worth in my eyes than she is.'
'What do you think by this time, old lady,' asked Mr Boffin, turning to his wife in a
bantering tone, 'about this Rokesmith here, and his caring for the truth?
You needn't say what you think, my dear, because I don't want you to cut in, but you
can think it all the same.
As to taking possession of my property, I warrant you he wouldn't do that himself if
he could.' 'No,' returned the Secretary, with another
full look.
'Ha, ha, ha!' laughed Mr Boffin. 'There's nothing like a good 'un while you
ARE about it.'
'I have been for a moment,' said the Secretary, turning from him and falling
into his former manner, 'diverted from the little I have to say.
My interest in Miss Wilfer began when I first saw her; even began when I had only
heard of her.
It was, in fact, the cause of my throwing myself in Mr Boffin's way, and entering his
service. Miss Wilfer has never known this until now.
I mention it now, only as a corroboration (though I hope it may be needless) of my
being free from the sordid design attributed to me.'
'Now, this is a very artful dog,' said Mr Boffin, with a deep look.
'This is a longer-headed schemer than I thought him.
See how patiently and methodically he goes to work.
He gets to know about me and my property, and about this young lady, and her share in
poor young John's story, and he puts this and that together, and he says to himself,
"I'll get in with Boffin, and I'll get in
with this young lady, and I'll work 'em both at the same time, and I'll bring my
pigs to market somewhere." I hear him say it, bless you!
I look at him, now, and I see him say it!'
Mr Boffin pointed at the culprit, as it were in the act, and hugged himself in his
great penetration.
'But luckily he hadn't to deal with the people he supposed, Bella, my dear!' said
Mr Boffin.
'No! Luckily he had to deal with you, and with me, and with Daniel and Miss Dancer,
and with Elwes, and with Vulture Hopkins, and with Blewbury Jones and all the rest of
us, one down t'other come on.
And he's beat; that's what he is; regularly beat.
He thought to squeeze money out of us, and he has done for himself instead, Bella my
dear!'
Bella my dear made no response, gave no sign of acquiescence.
When she had first covered her face she had sunk upon a chair with her hands resting on
the back of it, and had never moved since.
There was a short silence at this point, and Mrs Boffin softly rose as if to go to
her.
But, Mr Boffin stopped her with a gesture, and she obediently sat down again and
stayed where she was.
'There's your pay, Mister Rokesmith,' said the Golden Dustman, jerking the folded
scrap of paper he had in his hand, towards his late Secretary.
'I dare say you can stoop to pick it up, after what you have stooped to here.'
'I have stooped to nothing but this,' Rokesmith answered as he took it from the
ground; 'and this is mine, for I have earned it by the hardest of hard labour.'
'You're a pretty quick packer, I hope,' said Mr Boffin; 'because the sooner you are
gone, bag and baggage, the better for all parties.'
'You need have no fear of my lingering.'
'There's just one thing though,' said Mr Boffin, 'that I should like to ask you
before we come to a good riddance, if it was only to show this young lady how
conceited you schemers are, in thinking
that nobody finds out how you contradict yourselves.'
'Ask me anything you wish to ask,' returned Rokesmith, 'but use the expedition that you
recommend.'
'You pretend to have a mighty admiration for this young lady?' said Mr Boffin,
laying his hand protectingly on Bella's head without looking down at her.
'I do not pretend.'
'Oh! Well. You HAVE a mighty admiration for this young
lady--since you are so particular?' 'Yes.'
'How do you reconcile that, with this young lady's being a weak-spirited, improvident
idiot, not knowing what was due to herself, flinging up her money to the church-
weathercocks, and racing off at a splitting pace for the workhouse?'
'I don't understand you.' 'Don't you?
Or won't you?
What else could you have made this young lady out to be, if she had listened to such
addresses as yours?' 'What else, if I had been so happy as to
win her affections and possess her heart?'
'Win her affections,' retorted Mr Boffin, with ineffable contempt, 'and possess her
heart! Mew says the cat, Quack-quack says the
duck, Bow-wow-wow says the dog!
Win her affections and possess her heart! Mew, Quack-quack, Bow-wow!'
John Rokesmith stared at him in his outburst, as if with some faint idea that
he had gone mad.
'What is due to this young lady,' said Mr Boffin, 'is Money, and this young lady
right well knows it.' 'You slander the young lady.'
'YOU slander the young lady; you with your affections and hearts and trumpery,'
returned Mr Boffin. 'It's of a piece with the rest of your
behaviour.
I heard of these doings of yours only last night, or you should have heard of 'em from
me, sooner, take your oath of it.
I heard of 'em from a lady with as good a headpiece as the best, and she knows this
young lady, and I know this young lady, and we all three know that it's Money she makes
a stand for--money, money, money--and that
you and your affections and hearts are a Lie, sir!'
'Mrs Boffin,' said Rokesmith, quietly turning to her, 'for your delicate and
unvarying kindness I thank you with the warmest gratitude.
Good-bye!
Miss Wilfer, good-bye!'
'And now, my dear,' said Mr Boffin, laying his hand on Bella's head again, 'you may
begin to make yourself quite comfortable, and I hope you feel that you've been
righted.'
But, Bella was so far from appearing to feel it, that she shrank from his hand and
from the chair, and, starting up in an incoherent passion of tears, and stretching
out her arms, cried, 'O Mr Rokesmith,
before you go, if you could but make me poor again!
O! Make me poor again, Somebody, I beg and pray, or my heart will break if this goes
on! Pa, dear, make me poor again and take me
home!
I was bad enough there, but I have been so much worse here.
Don't give me money, Mr Boffin, I won't have money.
Keep it away from me, and only let me speak to good little Pa, and lay my head upon his
shoulder, and tell him all my griefs.
Nobody else can understand me, nobody else can comfort me, nobody else knows how
unworthy I am, and yet can love me like a little child.
I am better with Pa than any one--more innocent, more sorry, more glad!'
So, crying out in a wild way that she could not bear this, Bella drooped her head on
Mrs Boffin's ready breast.
John Rokesmith from his place in the room, and Mr Boffin from his, looked on at her in
silence until she was silent herself.
Then Mr Boffin observed in a soothing and comfortable tone, 'There, my dear, there;
you are righted now, and it's ALL right.
I don't wonder, I'm sure, at your being a little flurried by having a scene with this
fellow, but it's all over, my dear, and you're righted, and it's--and it's ALL
right!'
Which Mr Boffin repeated with a highly satisfied air of completeness and finality.
'I hate you!' cried Bella, turning suddenly upon him, with a stamp of her little foot--
'at least, I can't hate you, but I don't like you!'
'HUL--LO!' exclaimed Mr Boffin in an amazed under-tone.
'You're a scolding, unjust, abusive, aggravating, bad old creature!' cried
Bella.
'I am angry with my ungrateful self for calling you names; but you are, you are;
you know you are!'
Mr Boffin stared here, and stared there, as misdoubting that he must be in some sort of
fit. 'I have heard you with shame,' said Bella.
'With shame for myself, and with shame for you.
You ought to be above the base tale-bearing of a time-serving woman; but you are above
nothing now.'
Mr Boffin, seeming to become convinced that this was a fit, rolled his eyes and
loosened his neckcloth.
'When I came here, I respected you and honoured you, and I soon loved you,' cried
Bella. 'And now I can't bear the sight of you.
At least, I don't know that I ought to go so far as that--only you're a--you're a
Monster!'
Having shot this bolt out with a great expenditure of force, Bella hysterically
laughed and cried together.
'The best wish I can wish you is,' said Bella, returning to the charge, 'that you
had not one single farthing in the world.
If any true friend and well-wisher could make you a bankrupt, you would be a Duck;
but as a man of property you are a Demon!'
After despatching this second bolt with a still greater expenditure of force, Bella
laughed and cried still more. 'Mr Rokesmith, pray stay one moment.
Pray hear one word from me before you go!
I am deeply sorry for the reproaches you have borne on my account.
Out of the depths of my heart I earnestly and truly beg your pardon.'
As she stepped towards him, he met her.
As she gave him her hand, he put it to his lips, and said, 'God bless you!'
No laughing was mixed with Bella's crying then; her tears were pure and fervent.
'There is not an ungenerous word that I have heard addressed to you--heard with
scorn and indignation, Mr Rokesmith--but it has wounded me far more than you, for I
have deserved it, and you never have.
Mr Rokesmith, it is to me you owe this perverted account of what passed between us
that night. I parted with the secret, even while I was
angry with myself for doing so.
It was very bad in me, but indeed it was not wicked.
I did it in a moment of conceit and folly-- one of my many such moments--one of my many
such hours--years.
As I am punished for it severely, try to forgive it!'
'I do with all my soul.' 'Thank you.
O thank you!
Don't part from me till I have said one other word, to do you justice.
The only fault you can be truly charged with, in having spoken to me as you did
that night--with how much delicacy and how much forbearance no one but I can know or
be grateful to you for--is, that you laid
yourself open to be slighted by a worldly shallow girl whose head was turned, and who
was quite unable to rise to the worth of what you offered her.
Mr Rokesmith, that girl has often seen herself in a pitiful and poor light since,
but never in so pitiful and poor a light as now, when the mean tone in which she
answered you--sordid and vain girl that she
was--has been echoed in her ears by Mr Boffin.'
He kissed her hand again.
'Mr Boffin's speeches were detestable to me, shocking to me,' said Bella, startling
that gentleman with another stamp of her little foot.
'It is quite true that there was a time, and very lately, when I deserved to be so
"righted," Mr Rokesmith; but I hope that I shall never deserve it again!'
He once more put her hand to his lips, and then relinquished it, and left the room.
Bella was hurrying back to the chair in which she had hidden her face so long,
when, catching sight of Mrs Boffin by the way, she stopped at her.
'He is gone,' sobbed Bella indignantly, despairingly, in fifty ways at once, with
her arms round Mrs Boffin's neck.
'He has been most shamefully abused, and most unjustly and most basely driven away,
and I am the cause of it!'
All this time, Mr Boffin had been rolling his eyes over his loosened neckerchief, as
if his fit were still upon him.
Appearing now to think that he was coming to, he stared straight before him for a
while, tied his neckerchief again, took several long inspirations, swallowed
several times, and ultimately exclaimed
with a deep sigh, as if he felt himself on the whole better: 'Well!'
No word, good or bad, did Mrs Boffin say; but she tenderly took care of Bella, and
glanced at her husband as if for orders.
Mr Boffin, without imparting any, took his seat on a chair over against them, and
there sat leaning forward, with a fixed countenance, his legs apart, a hand on each
knee, and his elbows squared, until Bella
should dry her eyes and raise her head, which in the fulness of time she did.
'I must go home,' said Bella, rising hurriedly.
'I am very grateful to you for all you have done for me, but I can't stay here.'
'My darling girl!' remonstrated Mrs Boffin. 'No, I can't stay here,' said Bella; 'I
can't indeed.--Ugh! you vicious old thing!'
(This to Mr Boffin.) 'Don't be rash, my love,' urged Mrs Boffin.
'Think well of what you do.' 'Yes, you had better think well,' said Mr
Boffin.
'I shall never more think well of YOU,' cried Bella, cutting him short, with
intense defiance in her expressive little eyebrows, and championship of the late
Secretary in every dimple.
'No! Never again! Your money has changed you to marble.
You are a hard-hearted Miser.
You are worse than Dancer, worse than Hopkins, worse than Blackberry Jones, worse
than any of the wretches.
And more!' proceeded Bella, breaking into tears again, 'you were wholly undeserving
of the Gentleman you have lost.'
'Why, you don't mean to say, Miss Bella,' the Golden Dustman slowly remonstrated,
'that you set up Rokesmith against me?' 'I do!' said Bella.
'He is worth a Million of you.'
Very pretty she looked, though very angry, as she made herself as tall as she possibly
could (which was not extremely tall), and utterly renounced her patron with a lofty
toss of her rich brown head.
'I would rather he thought well of me,' said Bella, 'though he swept the street for
bread, than that you did, though you splashed the mud upon him from the wheels
of a chariot of pure gold.--There!'
'Well I'm sure!' cried Mr Boffin, staring. 'And for a long time past, when you have
thought you set yourself above him, I have only seen you under his feet,' said Bella--
'There!
And throughout I saw in him the master, and I saw in you the man--There!
And when you used him shamefully, I took his part and loved him--There!
I boast of it!'
After which strong avowal Bella underwent reaction, and cried to any extent, with her
face on the back of her chair.
'Now, look here,' said Mr Boffin, as soon as he could find an opening for breaking
the silence and striking in. 'Give me your attention, Bella.
I am not angry.'
'I AM!' said Bella. 'I say,' resumed the Golden Dustman, 'I am
not angry, and I mean kindly to you, and I want to overlook this.
So you'll stay where you are, and we'll agree to say no more about it.'
'No, I can't stay here,' cried Bella, rising hurriedly again; 'I can't think of
staying here.
I must go home for good.' 'Now, don't be silly,' Mr Boffin reasoned.
'Don't do what you can't undo; don't do what you're sure to be sorry for.'
'I shall never be sorry for it,' said Bella; 'and I should always be sorry, and
should every minute of my life despise myself if I remained here after what has
happened.'
'At least, Bella,' argued Mr Boffin, 'let there be no mistake about it.
Look before you leap, you know. Stay where you are, and all's well, and
all's as it was to be.
Go away, and you can never come back.' 'I know that I can never come back, and
that's what I mean,' said Bella.
'You mustn't expect,' Mr Boffin pursued, 'that I'm a-going to settle money on you,
if you leave us like this, because I am not.
No, Bella!
Be careful! Not one brass farthing.'
'Expect!' said Bella, haughtily. 'Do you think that any power on earth could
make me take it, if you did, sir?'
But there was Mrs Boffin to part from, and, in the full flush of her dignity, the
impressible little soul collapsed again.
Down upon her knees before that good woman, she rocked herself upon her breast, and
cried, and sobbed, and folded her in her arms with all her might.
'You're a dear, a dear, the best of dears!' cried Bella.
'You're the best of human creatures. I can never be thankful enough to you, and
I can never forget you.
If I should live to be blind and deaf I know I shall see and hear you, in my fancy,
to the last of my dim old days!'
Mrs Boffin wept most heartily, and embraced her with all fondness; but said not one
single word except that she was her dear girl.
She said that often enough, to be sure, for she said it over and over again; but not
one word else.
Bella broke from her at length, and was going weeping out of the room, when in her
own little queer affectionate way, she half relented towards Mr Boffin.
'I am very glad,' sobbed Bella, 'that I called you names, sir, because you richly
deserved it. But I am very sorry that I called you
names, because you used to be so different.
Say good-bye!' 'Good-bye,' said Mr Boffin, shortly.
'If I knew which of your hands was the least spoilt, I would ask you to let me
touch it,' said Bella, 'for the last time.
But not because I repent of what I have said to you.
For I don't. It's true!'
'Try the left hand,' said Mr Boffin, holding it out in a stolid manner; 'it's
the least used.' 'You have been wonderfully good and kind to
me,' said Bella, 'and I kiss it for that.
You have been as bad as bad could be to Mr Rokesmith, and I throw it away for that.
Thank you for myself, and good-bye!' 'Good-bye,' said Mr Boffin as before.
Bella caught him round the neck and kissed him, and ran out for ever.
She ran up-stairs, and sat down on the floor in her own room, and cried
abundantly.
But the day was declining and she had no time to lose.
She opened all the places where she kept her dresses; selected only those she had
brought with her, leaving all the rest; and made a great misshapen bundle of them, to
be sent for afterwards.
'I won't take one of the others,' said Bella, tying the knots of the bundle very
tight, in the severity of her resolution. 'I'll leave all the presents behind, and
begin again entirely on my own account.'
That the resolution might be thoroughly carried into practice, she even changed the
dress she wore, for that in which she had come to the grand mansion.
Even the bonnet she put on, was the bonnet that had mounted into the Boffin chariot at
Holloway. 'Now, I am complete,' said Bella.
'It's a little trying, but I have steeped my eyes in cold water, and I won't cry any
more. You have been a pleasant room to me, dear
room.
Adieu! We shall never see each other again.'
With a parting kiss of her fingers to it, she softly closed the door and went with a
light foot down the great staircase, pausing and listening as she went, that she
might meet none of the household.
No one chanced to be about, and she got down to the hall in quiet.
The door of the late Secretary's room stood open.
She peeped in as she passed, and divined from the emptiness of his table, and the
general appearance of things, that he was already gone.
Softly opening the great hall door, and softly closing it upon herself, she turned
and kissed it on the outside--insensible old combination of wood and iron that it
was!--before she ran away from the house at a swift pace.
'That was well done!' panted Bella, slackening in the next street, and
subsiding into a walk.
'If I had left myself any breath to cry with, I should have cried again.
Now poor dear darling little Pa, you are going to see your lovely woman
unexpectedly.'
>
Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens CHAPTER 16
THE FEAST OF THE THREE HOBGOBLINS
The City looked unpromising enough, as Bella made her way along its gritty
streets. Most of its money-mills were slackening
sail, or had left off grinding for the day.
The master-millers had already departed, and the journeymen were departing.
There was a jaded aspect on the business lanes and courts, and the very pavements
had a weary appearance, confused by the tread of a million of feet.
There must be hours of night to temper down the day's distraction of so feverish a
place.
As yet the worry of the newly-stopped whirling and grinding on the part of the
money-mills seemed to linger in the air, and the quiet was more like the prostration
of a spent giant than the repose of one who was renewing his strength.
If Bella thought, as she glanced at the mighty Bank, how agreeable it would be to
have an hour's gardening there, with a bright copper shovel, among the money,
still she was not in an avaricious vein.
Much improved in that respect, and with certain half-formed images which had little
gold in their composition, dancing before her bright eyes, she arrived in the drug-
flavoured region of Mincing Lane, with the
sensation of having just opened a drawer in a chemist's shop.
The counting-house of Chicksey, Veneering, and Stobbles was pointed out by an elderly
female accustomed to the care of offices, who dropped upon Bella out of a public-
house, wiping her mouth, and accounted for
its humidity on natural principles well known to the physical sciences, by
explaining that she had looked in at the door to see what o'clock it was.
The counting-house was a wall-eyed ground floor by a dark gateway, and Bella was
considering, as she approached it, could there be any precedent in the City for her
going in and asking for R. Wilfer, when
whom should she see, sitting at one of the windows with the plate-glass sash raised,
but R. Wilfer himself, preparing to take a slight refection.
On approaching nearer, Bella discerned that the refection had the appearance of a small
cottage-loaf and a pennyworth of milk.
Simultaneously with this discovery on her part, her father discovered her, and
invoked the echoes of Mincing Lane to exclaim 'My gracious me!'
He then came cherubically flying out without a hat, and embraced her, and handed
her in.
'For it's after hours and I am all alone, my dear,' he explained, 'and am having--as
I sometimes do when they are all gone--a quiet tea.'
Looking round the office, as if her father were a captive and this his cell, Bella
hugged him and choked him to her heart's content.
'I never was so surprised, my dear!' said her father.
'I couldn't believe my eyes. Upon my life, I thought they had taken to
lying!
The idea of your coming down the Lane yourself!
Why didn't you send the footman down the Lane, my dear?'
'I have brought no footman with me, Pa.'
'Oh indeed! But you have brought the elegant turn-out,
my love?' 'No, Pa.'
'You never can have walked, my dear?'
'Yes, I have, Pa.' He looked so very much astonished, that
Bella could not make up her mind to break it to him just yet.
'The consequence is, Pa, that your lovely woman feels a little faint, and would very
much like to share your tea.'
The cottage loaf and the pennyworth of milk had been set forth on a sheet of paper on
the window-seat.
The cherubic pocket-knife, with the first bit of the loaf still on its point, lay
beside them where it had been hastily thrown down.
Bella took the bit off, and put it in her mouth.
'My dear child,' said her father, 'the idea of your partaking of such lowly fare!
But at least you must have your own loaf and your own penn'orth.
One moment, my dear. The Dairy is just over the way and round
the corner.'
Regardless of Bella's dissuasions he ran out, and quickly returned with the new
supply.
'My dear child,' he said, as he spread it on another piece of paper before her, 'the
idea of a splendid--!' and then looked at her figure, and stopped short.
'What's the matter, Pa?'
'--of a splendid female,' he resumed more slowly, 'putting up with such accommodation
as the present!--Is that a new dress you have on, my dear?'
'No, Pa, an old one.
Don't you remember it?' 'Why, I THOUGHT I remembered it, my dear!'
'You should, for you bought it, Pa.'
'Yes, I THOUGHT I bought it my dear!' said the cherub, giving himself a little shake,
as if to rouse his faculties. 'And have you grown so fickle that you
don't like your own taste, Pa dear?'
'Well, my love,' he returned, swallowing a bit of the cottage loaf with considerable
effort, for it seemed to stick by the way: 'I should have thought it was hardly
sufficiently splendid for existing circumstances.'
'And so, Pa,' said Bella, moving coaxingly to his side instead of remaining opposite,
'you sometimes have a quiet tea here all alone?
I am not in the tea's way, if I draw my arm over your shoulder like this, Pa?'
'Yes, my dear, and no, my dear. Yes to the first question, and Certainly
Not to the second.
Respecting the quiet tea, my dear, why you see the occupations of the day are
sometimes a little wearing; and if there's nothing interposed between the day and your
mother, why SHE is sometimes a little wearing, too.'
'I know, Pa.' 'Yes, my dear.
So sometimes I put a quiet tea at the window here, with a little quiet
contemplation of the Lane (which comes soothing), between the day, and domestic--'
'Bliss,' suggested Bella, sorrowfully.
'And domestic Bliss,' said her father, quite contented to accept the phrase.
Bella kissed him.
'And it is in this dark dingy place of captivity, poor dear, that you pass all the
hours of your life when you are not at home?'
'Not at home, or not on the road there, or on the road here, my love.
Yes. You see that little desk in the corner?'
'In the dark corner, furthest both from the light and from the fireplace?
The shabbiest desk of all the desks?'
'Now, does it really strike you in that point of view, my dear?' said her father,
surveying it artistically with his head on one side: 'that's mine.
That's called Rumty's Perch.'
'Whose Perch?' asked Bella with great indignation.
'Rumty's. You see, being rather high and up two steps
they call it a Perch.
And they call ME Rumty.' 'How dare they!' exclaimed Bella.
'They're playful, Bella my dear; they're playful.
They're more or less younger than I am, and they're playful.
What does it matter?
It might be Surly, or Sulky, or fifty disagreeable things that I really shouldn't
like to be considered. But Rumty!
Lor, why not Rumty?'
To inflict a heavy disappointment on this sweet nature, which had been, through all
her caprices, the object of her recognition, love, and admiration from
infancy, Bella felt to be the hardest task of her hard day.
'I should have done better,' she thought, 'to tell him at first; I should have done
better to tell him just now, when he had some slight misgiving; he is quite happy
again, and I shall make him wretched.'
He was falling back on his loaf and milk, with the pleasantest composure, and Bella
stealing her arm a little closer about him, and at the same time sticking up his hair
with an irresistible propensity to play
with him founded on the habit of her whole life, had prepared herself to say: 'Pa
dear, don't be cast down, but I must tell you something disagreeable!' when he
interrupted her in an unlooked-for manner.
'My gracious me!' he exclaimed, invoking the Mincing Lane echoes as before.
'This is very extraordinary!' 'What is, Pa?'
'Why here's Mr Rokesmith now!'
'No, no, Pa, no,' cried Bella, greatly flurried.
'Surely not.' 'Yes there is!
Look here!'
Sooth to say, Mr Rokesmith not only passed the window, but came into the counting-
house.
And not only came into the counting-house, but, finding himself alone there with Bella
and her father, rushed at Bella and caught her in his arms, with the rapturous words
'My dear, dear girl; my gallant, generous, disinterested, courageous, noble girl!'
And not only that even, (which one might have thought astonishment enough for one
dose), but Bella, after hanging her head for a moment, lifted it up and laid it on
his breast, as if that were her head's chosen and lasting resting-place!
'I knew you would come to him, and I followed you,' said Rokesmith.
'My love, my life!
You ARE mine?' To which Bella responded, 'Yes, I AM yours
if you think me worth taking!'
And after that, seemed to shrink to next to nothing in the clasp of his arms, partly
because it was such a strong one on his part, and partly because there was such a
yielding to it on hers.
The cherub, whose hair would have done for itself under the influence of this amazing
spectacle, what Bella had just now done for it, staggered back into the window-seat
from which he had risen, and surveyed the
pair with his eyes dilated to their utmost. 'But we must think of dear Pa,' said Bella;
'I haven't told dear Pa; let us speak to Pa.'
Upon which they turned to do so. 'I wish first, my dear,' remarked the
cherub faintly, 'that you'd have the kindness to sprinkle me with a little milk,
for I feel as if I was--Going.'
In fact, the good little fellow had become alarmingly limp, and his senses seemed to
be rapidly escaping, from the knees upward.
Bella sprinkled him with kisses instead of milk, but gave him a little of that article
to drink; and he gradually revived under her caressing care.
'We'll break it to you gently, dearest Pa,' said Bella.
'My dear,' returned the cherub, looking at them both, 'you broke so much in the first-
-Gush, if I may so express myself--that I think I am equal to a good large breakage
now.'
'Mr Wilfer,' said John Rokesmith, excitedly and joyfully, 'Bella takes me, though I
have no fortune, even no present occupation; nothing but what I can get in
the life before us.
Bella takes me!' 'Yes, I should rather have inferred, my
dear sir,' returned the cherub feebly, 'that Bella took you, from what I have
within these few minutes remarked.'
'You don't know, Pa,' said Bella, 'how ill I have used him!'
'You don't know, sir,' said Rokesmith, 'what a heart she has!'
'You don't know, Pa,' said Bella, 'what a shocking creature I was growing, when he
saved me from myself!' 'You don't know, sir,' said Rokesmith,
'what a sacrifice she has made for me!'
'My dear Bella,' replied the cherub, still pathetically scared, 'and my dear John
Rokesmith, if you will allow me so to call you--'
'Yes do, Pa, do!' urged Bella.
'I allow you, and my will is his law. Isn't it--dear John Rokesmith?'
There was an engaging shyness in Bella, coupled with an engaging tenderness of love
and confidence and pride, in thus first calling him by name, which made it quite
excusable in John Rokesmith to do what he did.
What he did was, once more to give her the appearance of vanishing as aforesaid.
'I think, my dears,' observed the cherub, 'that if you could make it convenient to
sit one on one side of me, and the other on the other, we should get on rather more
consecutively, and make things rather plainer.
John Rokesmith mentioned, a while ago, that he had no present occupation.'
'None,' said Rokesmith.
'No, Pa, none,' said Bella. 'From which I argue,' proceeded the cherub,
'that he has left Mr Boffin?' 'Yes, Pa.
And so--'
'Stop a bit, my dear. I wish to lead up to it by degrees.
And that Mr Boffin has not treated him well?'
'Has treated him most shamefully, dear Pa!' cried Bella with a flashing face.
'Of which,' pursued the cherub, enjoining patience with his hand, 'a certain
mercenary young person distantly related to myself, could not approve?
Am I leading up to it right?'
'Could not approve, sweet Pa,' said Bella, with a tearful laugh and a joyful kiss.
'Upon which,' pursued the cherub, 'the certain mercenary young person distantly
related to myself, having previously observed and mentioned to myself that
prosperity was spoiling Mr Boffin, felt
that she must not sell her sense of what was right and what was wrong, and what was
true and what was false, and what was just and what was unjust, for any price that
could be paid to her by any one alive?
Am I leading up to it right?' With another tearful laugh Bella joyfully
kissed him again.
'And therefore--and therefore,' the cherub went on in a glowing voice, as Bella's hand
stole gradually up his waistcoat to his neck, 'this mercenary young person
distantly related to myself, refused the
price, took off the splendid fashions that were part of it, put on the comparatively
poor dress that I had last given her, and trusting to my supporting her in what was
right, came straight to me.
Have I led up to it?' Bella's hand was round his neck by this
time, and her face was on it.
'The mercenary young person distantly related to myself,' said her good father,
'did well!
The mercenary young person distantly related to myself, did not trust to me in
vain!
I admire this mercenary young person distantly related to myself, more in this
dress than if she had come to me in China silks, Cashmere shawls, and Golconda
diamonds.
I love this young person dearly.
I say to the man of this young person's heart, out of my heart and with all of it,
"My blessing on this engagement betwixt you, and she brings you a good fortune when
she brings you the poverty she has accepted for your sake and the honest truth's!"'
The stanch little man's voice failed him as he gave John Rokesmith his hand, and he was
silent, bending his face low over his daughter.
But, not for long.
He soon looked up, saying in a sprightly tone:
'And now, my dear child, if you think you can entertain John Rokesmith for a minute
and a half, I'll run over to the Dairy, and fetch HIM a cottage loaf and a drink of
milk, that we may all have tea together.'
It was, as Bella gaily said, like the supper provided for the three nursery
hobgoblins at their house in the forest, without their thunderous low growlings of
the alarming discovery, 'Somebody's been drinking MY milk!'
It was a delicious repast; by far the most delicious that Bella, or John Rokesmith, or
even R. Wilfer had ever made.
The uncongenial oddity of its surroundings, with the two brass knobs of the iron safe
of Chicksey, Veneering, and Stobbles staring from a corner, like the eyes of
some dull dragon, only made it the more delightful.
'To think,' said the cherub, looking round the office with unspeakable enjoyment,
'that anything of a tender nature should come off here, is what tickles me.
To think that ever I should have seen my Bella folded in the arms of her future
husband, HERE, you know!'
It was not until the cottage loaves and the milk had for some time disappeared, and the
foreshadowings of night were creeping over Mincing Lane, that the cherub by degrees
became a little nervous, and said to Bella, as he cleared his throat:
'Hem!--Have you thought at all about your mother, my dear?'
'Yes, Pa.'
'And your sister Lavvy, for instance, my dear?'
'Yes, Pa. I think we had better not enter into
particulars at home.
I think it will be quite enough to say that I had a difference with Mr Boffin, and have
left for good.'
'John Rokesmith being acquainted with your Ma, my love,' said her father, after some
slight hesitation, 'I need have no delicacy in hinting before him that you may perhaps
find your Ma a little wearing.'
'A little, patient Pa?' said Bella with a tuneful laugh: the tunefuller for being so
loving in its tone. 'Well!
We'll say, strictly in confidence among ourselves, wearing; we won't qualify it,'
the cherub stoutly admitted. 'And your sister's temper is wearing.'
'I don't mind, Pa.'
'And you must prepare yourself you know, my precious,' said her father, with much
gentleness, 'for our looking very poor and meagre at home, and being at the best but
very uncomfortable, after Mr Boffin's house.'
'I don't mind, Pa. I could bear much harder trials--for John.'
The closing words were not so softly and blushingly said but that John heard them,
and showed that he heard them by again assisting Bella to another of those
mysterious disappearances.
'Well!' said the cherub gaily, and not expressing disapproval, 'when you--when you
come back from retirement, my love, and reappear on the surface, I think it will be
time to lock up and go.'
If the counting-house of Chicksey, Veneering, and Stobbles had ever been shut
up by three happier people, glad as most people were to shut it up, they must have
been superlatively happy indeed.
But first Bella mounted upon Rumty's Perch, and said, 'Show me what you do here all day
long, dear Pa.
Do you write like this?' laying her round cheek upon her plump left arm, and losing
sight of her pen in waves of hair, in a highly unbusiness-like manner.
Though John Rokesmith seemed to like it.
So, the three hobgoblins, having effaced all traces of their feast, and swept up the
crumbs, came out of Mincing Lane to walk to Holloway; and if two of the hobgoblins
didn't wish the distance twice as long as
it was, the third hobgoblin was much mistaken.
Indeed, that modest spirit deemed himself so much in the way of their deep enjoyment
of the journey, that he apologetically remarked: 'I think, my dears, I'll take the
lead on the other side of the road, and seem not to belong to you.'
Which he did, cherubically strewing the path with smiles, in the absence of
flowers.
It was almost ten o'clock when they stopped within view of Wilfer Castle; and then, the
spot being quiet and deserted, Bella began a series of disappearances which threatened
to last all night.
'I think, John,' the cherub hinted at last, 'that if you can spare me the young person
distantly related to myself, I'll take her in.'
'I can't spare her,' answered John, 'but I must lend her to you.'--My Darling!'
A word of magic which caused Bella instantly to disappear again.
'Now, dearest Pa,' said Bella, when she became visible, 'put your hand in mine, and
we'll run home as fast as ever we can run, and get it over.
Now, Pa.
Once!--' 'My dear,' the cherub faltered, with
something of a craven air, 'I was going to observe that if your mother--'
'You mustn't hang back, sir, to gain time,' cried Bella, putting out her right foot;
'do you see that, sir? That's the mark; come up to the mark, sir.
Once!
Twice! Three times and away, Pa!'
Off she skimmed, bearing the cherub along, nor ever stopped, nor suffered him to stop,
until she had pulled at the bell.
'Now, dear Pa,' said Bella, taking him by both ears as if he were a pitcher, and
conveying his face to her rosy lips, 'we are in for it!'
Miss Lavvy came out to open the gate, waited on by that attentive cavalier and
friend of the family, Mr George Sampson. 'Why, it's never Bella!' exclaimed Miss
Lavvy starting back at the sight.
And then bawled, 'Ma! Here's Bella!' This produced, before they could get into
the house, Mrs Wilfer.
Who, standing in the portal, received them with ghostly gloom, and all her other
appliances of ceremony.
'My child is welcome, though unlooked for,' said she, at the time presenting her cheek
as if it were a cool slate for visitors to enrol themselves upon.
'You too, R. W., are welcome, though late.
Does the male domestic of Mrs Boffin hear me there?'
This deep-toned inquiry was cast forth into the night, for response from the menial in
question.
'There is no one waiting, Ma, dear,' said Bella.
'There is no one waiting?' repeated Mrs Wilfer in majestic accents.
'No, Ma, dear.'
A dignified shiver pervaded Mrs Wilfer's shoulders and gloves, as who should say,
'An Enigma!' and then she marched at the head of the procession to the family
keeping-room, where she observed:
'Unless, R. W.': who started on being solemnly turned upon: 'you have taken the
precaution of making some addition to our frugal supper on your way home, it will
prove but a distasteful one to Bella.
Cold neck of mutton and a lettuce can ill compete with the luxuries of Mr Boffin's
board.'
'Pray don't talk like that, Ma dear,' said Bella; 'Mr Boffin's board is nothing to
me.'
But, here Miss Lavinia, who had been intently eyeing Bella's bonnet, struck in
with 'Why, Bella!' 'Yes, Lavvy, I know.'
The Irrepressible lowered her eyes to Bella's dress, and stooped to look at it,
exclaiming again: 'Why, Bella!' 'Yes, Lavvy, I know what I have got on.
I was going to tell Ma when you interrupted.
I have left Mr Boffin's house for good, Ma, and I have come home again.'
Mrs Wilfer spake no word, but, having glared at her offspring for a minute or two
in an awful silence, retired into her corner of state backward, and sat down:
like a frozen article on sale in a Russian market.
'In short, dear Ma,' said Bella, taking off the depreciated bonnet and shaking out her
hair, 'I have had a very serious difference with Mr Boffin on the subject of his
treatment of a member of his household, and
it's a final difference, and there's an end of all.'
'And I am bound to tell you, my dear,' added R. W., submissively, 'that Bella has
acted in a truly brave spirit, and with a truly right feeling.
And therefore I hope, my dear, you'll not allow yourself to be greatly disappointed.'
'George!' said Miss Lavvy, in a sepulchral, warning voice, founded on her mother's;
'George Sampson, speak!
What did I tell you about those Boffins?'
Mr Sampson perceiving his frail bark to be labouring among shoals and breakers,
thought it safest not to refer back to any particular thing that he had been told,
lest he should refer back to the wrong thing.
With admirable seamanship he got his bark into deep water by murmuring 'Yes indeed.'
'Yes! I told George Sampson, as George Sampson tells you, said Miss Lavvy, 'that
those hateful Boffins would pick a quarrel with Bella, as soon as her novelty had worn
off.
Have they done it, or have they not? Was I right, or was I wrong?
And what do you say to us, Bella, of your Boffins now?'
'Lavvy and Ma,' said Bella, 'I say of Mr and Mrs Boffin what I always have said; and
I always shall say of them what I always have said.
But nothing will induce me to quarrel with any one to-night.
I hope you are not sorry to see me, Ma dear,' kissing her; 'and I hope you are not
sorry to see me, Lavvy,' kissing her too; 'and as I notice the lettuce Ma mentioned,
on the table, I'll make the salad.'
Bella playfully setting herself about the task, Mrs Wilfer's impressive countenance
followed her with glaring eyes, presenting a combination of the once popular sign of
the Saracen's Head, with a piece of Dutch
clock-work, and suggesting to an imaginative mind that from the composition
of the salad, her daughter might prudently omit the vinegar.
But no word issued from the majestic matron's lips.
And this was more terrific to her husband (as perhaps she knew) than any flow of
eloquence with which she could have edified the company.
'Now, Ma dear,' said Bella in due course, 'the salad's ready, and it's past supper-
time.' Mrs Wilfer rose, but remained speechless.
'George!' said Miss Lavinia in her voice of warning, 'Ma's chair!'
Mr Sampson flew to the excellent lady's back, and followed her up close chair in
hand, as she stalked to the banquet.
Arrived at the table, she took her rigid seat, after favouring Mr Sampson with a
glare for himself, which caused the young gentleman to retire to his place in much
confusion.
The cherub not presuming to address so tremendous an object, transacted her supper
through the agency of a third person, as 'Mutton to your Ma, Bella, my dear'; and
'Lavvy, I dare say your Ma would take some
lettuce if you were to put it on her plate.'
Mrs Wilfer's manner of receiving those viands was marked by petrified absence of
mind; in which state, likewise, she partook of them, occasionally laying down her knife
and fork, as saying within her own spirit,
'What is this I am doing?' and glaring at one or other of the party, as if in
indignant search of information.
A magnetic result of such glaring was, that the person glared at could not by any means
successfully pretend to be ignorant of the fact: so that a bystander, without
beholding Mrs Wilfer at all, must have
known at whom she was glaring, by seeing her refracted from the countenance of the
beglared one.
Miss Lavinia was extremely affable to Mr Sampson on this special occasion, and took
the opportunity of informing her sister why.
'It was not worth troubling you about, Bella, when you were in a sphere so far
removed from your family as to make it a matter in which you could be expected to
take very little interest,' said Lavinia
with a toss of her chin; 'but George Sampson is paying his addresses to me.'
Bella was glad to hear it.
Mr Sampson became thoughtfully red, and felt called upon to encircle Miss Lavinia's
waist with his arm; but, encountering a large pin in the young lady's belt,
scarified a finger, uttered a sharp
exclamation, and attracted the lightning of Mrs Wilfer's glare.
'George is getting on very well,' said Miss Lavinia which might not have been supposed
at the moment--'and I dare say we shall be married, one of these days.
I didn't care to mention it when you were with your Bof--' here Miss Lavinia checked
herself in a bounce, and added more placidly, 'when you were with Mr and Mrs
Boffin; but now I think it sisterly to name the circumstance.'
'Thank you, Lavvy dear. I congratulate you.'
'Thank you, Bella.
The truth is, George and I did discuss whether I should tell you; but I said to
George that you wouldn't be much interested in so paltry an affair, and that it was far
more likely you would rather detach
yourself from us altogether, than have him added to the rest of us.'
'That was a mistake, dear Lavvy,' said Bella.
'It turns out to be,' replied Miss Lavinia; 'but circumstances have changed, you know,
my dear. George is in a new situation, and his
prospects are very good indeed.
I shouldn't have had the courage to tell you so yesterday, when you would have
thought his prospects poor, and not worth notice; but I feel quite bold tonight.'
'When did you begin to feel timid, Lavvy? inquired Bella, with a smile.
'I didn't say that I ever felt timid, Bella,' replied the Irrepressible.
'But perhaps I might have said, if I had not been restrained by delicacy towards a
sister's feelings, that I have for some time felt independent; too independent, my
dear, to subject myself to have my intended
match (you'll prick yourself again, George) looked down upon.
It is not that I could have blamed you for looking down upon it, when you were looking
up to a rich and great match, Bella; it is only that I was independent.'
Whether the Irrepressible felt slighted by Bella's declaration that she would not
quarrel, or whether her spitefulness was evoked by Bella's return to the sphere of
Mr George Sampson's courtship, or whether
it was a necessary fillip to her spirits that she should come into collision with
somebody on the present occasion,--anyhow she made a dash at her stately parent now,
with the greatest impetuosity.
'Ma, pray don't sit staring at me in that intensely aggravating manner!
If you see a black on my nose, tell me so; if you don't, leave me alone.'
'Do you address Me in those words?' said Mrs Wilfer.
'Do you presume?' 'Don't talk about presuming, Ma, for
goodness' sake.
A girl who is old enough to be engaged, is quite old enough to object to be stared at
as if she was a Clock.' 'Audacious one!' said Mrs Wilfer.
'Your grandmamma, if so addressed by one of her daughters, at any age, would have
insisted on her retiring to a dark apartment.'
'My grandmamma,' returned Lavvy, folding her arms and leaning back in her chair,
'wouldn't have sat staring people out of countenance, I think.'
'She would!' said Mrs Wilfer.
'Then it's a pity she didn't know better,' said Lavvy.
'And if my grandmamma wasn't in her dotage when she took to insisting on people's
retiring to dark apartments, she ought to have been.
A pretty exhibition my grandmamma must have made of herself!
I wonder whether she ever insisted on people's retiring into the ball of St
Paul's; and if she did, how she got them there!'
'Silence!' proclaimed Mrs Wilfer.
'I command silence!' 'I have not the slightest intention of
being silent, Ma,' returned Lavinia coolly, 'but quite the contrary.
I am not going to be eyed as if I had come from the Boffins, and sit silent under it.
I am not going to have George Sampson eyed as if HE had come from the Boffins, and sit
silent under it.
If Pa thinks proper to be eyed as if HE had come from the Boffins also, well and good.
I don't choose to. And I won't!'
Lavinia's engineering having made this crooked opening at Bella, Mrs Wilfer strode
into it. 'You rebellious spirit!
You mutinous child!
Tell me this, Lavinia.
If in violation of your mother's sentiments, you had condescended to allow
yourself to be patronized by the Boffins, and if you had come from those halls of
slavery--'
'That's mere nonsense, Ma,' said Lavinia. 'How!' exclaimed Mrs Wilfer, with sublime
severity.
'Halls of slavery, Ma, is mere stuff and nonsense,' returned the unmoved
Irrepressible.
'I say, presumptuous child, if you had come from the neighbourhood of Portland Place,
bending under the yoke of patronage and attended by its domestics in glittering
garb to visit me, do you think my deep-
seated feelings could have been expressed in looks?'
'All I think about it, is,' returned Lavinia, 'that I should wish them expressed
to the right person.'
'And if,' pursued her mother, 'if making light of my warnings that the face of Mrs
Boffin alone was a face teeming with evil, you had clung to Mrs Boffin instead of to
me, and had after all come home rejected by
Mrs Boffin, trampled under foot by Mrs Boffin, and cast out by Mrs Boffin, do you
think my feelings could have been expressed in looks?'
Lavinia was about replying to her honoured parent that she might as well have
dispensed with her looks altogether then, when Bella rose and said, 'Good night, dear
Ma.
I have had a tiring day, and I'll go to bed.'
This broke up the agreeable party.
Mr George Sampson shortly afterwards took his leave, accompanied by Miss Lavinia with
a candle as far as the hall, and without a candle as far as the garden gate; Mrs
Wilfer, washing her hands of the Boffins,
went to bed after the manner of Lady Macbeth; and R. W. was left alone among the
dilapidations of the supper table, in a melancholy attitude.
But, a light footstep roused him from his meditations, and it was Bella's.
Her pretty hair was hanging all about her, and she had tripped down softly, brush in
hand, and barefoot, to say good-night to him.
'My dear, you most unquestionably ARE a lovely woman,' said the cherub, taking up a
tress in his hand.
'Look here, sir,' said Bella; 'when your lovely woman marries, you shall have that
piece if you like, and she'll make you a chain of it.
Would you prize that remembrance of the dear creature?'
'Yes, my precious.' 'Then you shall have it if you're good,
sir.
I am very, very sorry, dearest Pa, to have brought home all this trouble.'
'My pet,' returned her father, in the simplest good faith, 'don't make yourself
uneasy about that.
It really is not worth mentioning, because things at home would have taken pretty much
the same turn any way.
If your mother and sister don't find one subject to get at times a little wearing
on, they find another. We're never out of a wearing subject, my
dear, I assure you.
I am afraid you find your old room with Lavvy, dreadfully inconvenient, Bella?'
'No I don't, Pa; I don't mind. Why don't I mind, do you think, Pa?'
'Well, my child, you used to complain of it when it wasn't such a contrast as it must
be now. Upon my word, I can only answer, because
you are so much improved.'
'No, Pa. Because I am so thankful and so happy!'
Here she choked him until her long hair made him sneeze, and then she laughed until
she made him laugh, and then she choked him again that they might not be overheard.
'Listen, sir,' said Bella.
'Your lovely woman was told her fortune to night on her way home.
It won't be a large fortune, because if the lovely woman's Intended gets a certain
appointment that he hopes to get soon, she will marry on a hundred and fifty pounds a
year.
But that's at first, and even if it should never be more, the lovely woman will make
it quite enough. But that's not all, sir.
In the fortune there's a certain fair man-- a little man, the fortune-teller said--who,
it seems, will always find himself near the lovely woman, and will always have kept,
expressly for him, such a peaceful corner
in the lovely woman's little house as never was.
Tell me the name of that man, sir.'
'Is he a Knave in the pack of cards?' inquired the cherub, with a twinkle in his
eyes. 'Yes!' cried Bella, in high glee, choking
him again.
'He's the Knave of Wilfers!
Dear Pa, the lovely woman means to look forward to this fortune that has been told
for her, so delightfully, and to cause it to make her a much better lovely woman than
she ever has been yet.
What the little fair man is expected to do, sir, is to look forward to it also, by
saying to himself when he is in danger of being over-worried, "I see land at last!"
'I see land at last!' repeated her father.
'There's a dear Knave of Wilfers!' exclaimed Bella; then putting out her small
white bare foot, 'That's the mark, sir. Come to the mark.
Put your boot against it.
We keep to it together, mind! Now, sir, you may kiss the lovely woman
before she runs away, so thankful and so happy.
O yes, fair little man, so thankful and so happy!'
>
Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens CHAPTER 17
A SOCIAL CHORUS
Amazement sits enthroned upon the countenances of Mr and Mrs Alfred Lammle's
circle of acquaintance, when the disposal of their first-class furniture and effects
(including a Billiard Table in capital
letters), 'by auction, under a bill of sale,' is publicly announced on a waving
hearthrug in Sackville Street.
But, nobody is half so much amazed as Hamilton Veneering, Esquire, M.P. for
Pocket-Breaches, who instantly begins to find out that the Lammles are the only
people ever entered on his soul's register,
who are NOT the oldest and dearest friends he has in the world.
Mrs Veneering, W.M.P. for Pocket-Breaches, like a faithful wife shares her husband's
discovery and inexpressible astonishment.
Perhaps the Veneerings twain may deem the last unutterable feeling particularly due
to their reputation, by reason that once upon a time some of the longer heads in the
City are whispered to have shaken
themselves, when Veneering's extensive dealings and great wealth were mentioned.
But, it is certain that neither Mr nor Mrs Veneering can find words to wonder in, and
it becomes necessary that they give to the oldest and dearest friends they have in the
world, a wondering dinner.
For, it is by this time noticeable that, whatever befals, the Veneerings must give a
dinner upon it.
Lady Tippins lives in a chronic state of invitation to dine with the Veneerings, and
in a chronic state of inflammation arising from the dinners.
Boots and Brewer go about in cabs, with no other intelligible business on earth than
to beat up people to come and dine with the Veneerings.
Veneering pervades the legislative lobbies, intent upon entrapping his fellow-
legislators to dinner.
Mrs Veneering dined with five-and-twenty bran-new faces over night; calls upon them
all to day; sends them every one a dinner- card to-morrow, for the week after next;
before that dinner is digested, calls upon
their brothers and sisters, their sons and daughters, their nephews and nieces, their
aunts and uncles and cousins, and invites them all to dinner.
And still, as at first, howsoever, the dining circle widens, it is to be observed
that all the diners are consistent in appearing to go to the Veneerings, not to
dine with Mr and Mrs Veneering (which would
seem to be the last thing in their minds), but to dine with one another.
Perhaps, after all,--who knows?--Veneering may find this dining, though expensive,
remunerative, in the sense that it makes champions.
Mr Podsnap, as a representative man, is not alone in caring very particularly for his
own dignity, if not for that of his acquaintances, and therefore in angrily
supporting the acquaintances who have taken
out his Permit, lest, in their being lessened, he should be.
The gold and silver camels, and the ice- pails, and the rest of the Veneering table
decorations, make a brilliant show, and when I, Podsnap, casually remark elsewhere
that I dined last Monday with a gorgeous
caravan of camels, I find it personally offensive to have it hinted to me that they
are broken-kneed camels, or camels labouring under suspicion of any sort.
'I don't display camels myself, I am above them: I am a more solid man; but these
camels have basked in the light of my countenance, and how dare you, sir,
insinuate to me that I have irradiated any but unimpeachable camels?'
The camels are polishing up in the Analytical's pantry for the dinner of
wonderment on the occasion of the Lammles going to pieces, and Mr Twemlow feels a
little queer on the sofa at his lodgings
over the stable yard in Duke Street, Saint James's, in consequence of having taken two
advertised pills at about mid-day, on the faith of the printed representation
accompanying the box (price one and a penny
halfpenny, government stamp included), that the same 'will be found highly salutary as
a precautionary measure in connection with the pleasures of the table.'
To whom, while sickly with the fancy of an insoluble pill sticking in his gullet, and
also with the sensation of a deposit of warm gum languidly wandering within him a
little lower down, a servant enters with
the announcement that a lady wishes to speak with him.
'A lady!' says Twemlow, pluming his ruffled feathers.
'Ask the favour of the lady's name.'
The lady's name is Lammle. The lady will not detain Mr Twemlow longer
than a very few minutes.
The lady is sure that Mr Twemlow will do her the kindness to see her, on being told
that she particularly desires a short interview.
The lady has no doubt whatever of Mr Twemlow's compliance when he hears her
name. Has begged the servant to be particular not
to mistake her name.
Would have sent in a card, but has none. 'Show the lady in.'
Lady shown in, comes in.
Mr Twemlow's little rooms are modestly furnished, in an old-fashioned manner
(rather like the housekeeper's room at Snigsworthy Park), and would be bare of
mere ornament, were it not for a full-
length engraving of the sublime Snigsworth over the chimneypiece, snorting at a
Corinthian column, with an enormous roll of paper at his feet, and a heavy curtain
going to tumble down on his head; those
accessories being understood to represent the noble lord as somehow in the act of
saving his country. 'Pray take a seat, Mrs Lammle.'
Mrs Lammle takes a seat and opens the conversation.
'I have no doubt, Mr Twemlow, that you have heard of a reverse of fortune having
befallen us.
Of course you have heard of it, for no kind of news travels so fast--among one's
friends especially.'
Mindful of the wondering dinner, Twemlow, with a little twinge, admits the
imputation.
'Probably it will not,' says Mrs Lammle, with a certain hardened manner upon her,
that makes Twemlow shrink, 'have surprised you so much as some others, after what
passed between us at the house which is now turned out at windows.
I have taken the liberty of calling upon you, Mr Twemlow, to add a sort of
postscript to what I said that day.'
Mr Twemlow's dry and hollow cheeks become more dry and hollow at the prospect of some
new complication.
'Really,' says the uneasy little gentleman, 'really, Mrs Lammle, I should take it as a
favour if you could excuse me from any further confidence.
It has ever been one of the objects of my life--which, unfortunately, has not had
many objects--to be inoffensive, and to keep out of cabals and interferences.'
Mrs Lammle, by far the more observant of the two, scarcely finds it necessary to
look at Twemlow while he speaks, so easily does she read him.
'My postscript--to retain the term I have used'--says Mrs Lammle, fixing her eyes on
his face, to enforce what she says herself- -'coincides exactly with what you say, Mr
Twemlow.
So far from troubling you with any new confidence, I merely wish to remind you
what the old one was.
So far from asking you for interference, I merely wish to claim your strict
neutrality.'
Twemlow going on to reply, she rests her eyes again, knowing her ears to be quite
enough for the contents of so weak a vessel.
'I can, I suppose,' says Twemlow, nervously, 'offer no reasonable objection
to hearing anything that you do me the honour to wish to say to me under those
heads.
But if I may, with all possible delicacy and politeness, entreat you not to range
beyond them, I--I beg to do so.'
'Sir,' says Mrs Lammle, raising her eyes to his face again, and quite daunting him with
her hardened manner, 'I imparted to you a certain piece of knowledge, to be imparted
again, as you thought best, to a certain person.'
'Which I did,' says Twemlow.
'And for doing which, I thank you; though, indeed, I scarcely know why I turned
traitress to my husband in the matter, for the girl is a poor little fool.
I was a poor little fool once myself; I can find no better reason.'
Seeing the effect she produces on him by her indifferent laugh and cold look, she
keeps her eyes upon him as she proceeds.
'Mr Twemlow, if you should chance to see my husband, or to see me, or to see both of
us, in the favour or confidence of any one else--whether of our common acquaintance or
not, is of no consequence--you have no
right to use against us the knowledge I intrusted you with, for one special purpose
which has been accomplished. This is what I came to say.
It is not a stipulation; to a gentleman it is simply a reminder.'
Twemlow sits murmuring to himself with his hand to his forehead.
'It is so plain a case,' Mrs Lammle goes on, 'as between me (from the first relying
on your honour) and you, that I will not waste another word upon it.'
She looks steadily at Mr Twemlow, until, with a shrug, he makes her a little one-
sided bow, as though saying 'Yes, I think you have a right to rely upon me,' and then
she moistens her lips, and shows a sense of relief.
'I trust I have kept the promise I made through your servant, that I would detain
you a very few minutes.
I need trouble you no longer, Mr Twemlow.' 'Stay!' says Twemlow, rising as she rises.
'Pardon me a moment.
I should never have sought you out, madam, to say what I am going to say, but since
you have sought me out and are here, I will throw it off my mind.
Was it quite consistent, in candour, with our taking that resolution against Mr
Fledgeby, that you should afterwards address Mr Fledgeby as your dear and
confidential friend, and entreat a favour of Mr Fledgeby?
Always supposing that you did; I assert no knowledge of my own on the subject; it has
been represented to me that you did.'
'Then he told you?' retorts Mrs Lammle, who again has saved her eyes while listening,
and uses them with strong effect while speaking.
'Yes.'
'It is strange that he should have told you the truth,' says Mrs Lammle, seriously
pondering. 'Pray where did a circumstance so very
extraordinary happen?'
Twemlow hesitates.
He is shorter than the lady as well as weaker, and, as she stands above him with
her hardened manner and her well-used eyes, he finds himself at such a disadvantage
that he would like to be of the opposite sex.
'May I ask where it happened, Mr Twemlow? In strict confidence?'
'I must confess,' says the mild little gentleman, coming to his answer by degrees,
'that I felt some compunctions when Mr Fledgeby mentioned it.
I must admit that I could not regard myself in an agreeable light.
More particularly, as Mr Fledgeby did, with great civility, which I could not feel that
I deserved from him, render me the same service that you had entreated him to
render you.
It is a part of the true nobility of the poor gentleman's soul to say this last
sentence.
'Otherwise,' he has reflected, 'I shall assume the superior position of having no
difficulties of my own, while I know of hers.
Which would be mean, very mean.
'Was Mr Fledgeby's advocacy as effectual in your case as in ours?'
Mrs Lammle demands. 'As ineffectual.'
'Can you make up your mind to tell me where you saw Mr Fledgeby, Mr Twemlow?'
'I beg your pardon. I fully intended to have done so.
The reservation was not intentional.
I encountered Mr Fledgeby, quite by accident, on the spot.--By the expression,
on the spot, I mean at Mr Riah's in Saint Mary Axe.'
'Have you the misfortune to be in Mr Riah's hands then?'
'Unfortunately, madam,' returns Twemlow, 'the one money obligation to which I stand
committed, the one debt of my life (but it is a just debt; pray observe that I don't
dispute it), has fallen into Mr Riah's hands.'
'Mr Twemlow,' says Mrs Lammle, fixing his eyes with hers: which he would prevent her
doing if he could, but he can't; 'it has fallen into Mr Fledgeby's hands.
Mr Riah is his mask.
It has fallen into Mr Fledgeby's hands. Let me tell you that, for your guidance.
The information may be of use to you, if only to prevent your credulity, in judging
another man's truthfulness by your own, from being imposed upon.'
'Impossible!' cries Twemlow, standing aghast.
'How do you know it?' 'I scarcely know how I know it.
The whole train of circumstances seemed to take fire at once, and show it to me.'
'Oh! Then you have no proof.'
'It is very strange,' says Mrs Lammle, coldly and boldly, and with some disdain,
'how like men are to one another in some things, though their characters are as
different as can be!
No two men can have less affinity between them, one would say, than Mr Twemlow and my
husband.
Yet my husband replies to me "You have no proof," and Mr Twemlow replies to me with
the very same words!' 'But why, madam?'
Twemlow ventures gently to argue.
'Consider why the very same words? Because they state the fact.
Because you HAVE no proof.'
'Men are very wise in their way,' quoth Mrs Lammle, glancing haughtily at the
Snigsworth portrait, and shaking out her dress before departing; 'but they have
wisdom to learn.
My husband, who is not over-confiding, ingenuous, or inexperienced, sees this
plain thing no more than Mr Twemlow does-- because there is no proof!
Yet I believe five women out of six, in my place, would see it as clearly as I do.
However, I will never rest (if only in remembrance of Mr Fledgeby's having kissed
my hand) until my husband does see it.
And you will do well for yourself to see it from this time forth, Mr Twemlow, though I
CAN give you no proof.'
As she moves towards the door, Mr Twemlow, attending on her, expresses his soothing
hope that the condition of Mr Lammle's affairs is not irretrievable.
'I don't know,' Mrs Lammle answers, stopping, and sketching out the pattern of
the paper on the wall with the point of her parasol; 'it depends.
There may be an opening for him dawning now, or there may be none.
We shall soon find out. If none, we are bankrupt here, and must go
abroad, I suppose.'
Mr Twemlow, in his good-natured desire to make the best of it, remarks that there are
pleasant lives abroad.
'Yes,' returns Mrs Lammle, still sketching on the wall; 'but I doubt whether billiard-
playing, card-playing, and so forth, for the means to live under suspicion at a
dirty table-d'hote, is one of them.'
It is much for Mr Lammle, Twemlow politely intimates (though greatly shocked), to have
one always beside him who is attached to him in all his fortunes, and whose
restraining influence will prevent him from
courses that would be discreditable and ruinous.
As he says it, Mrs Lammle leaves off sketching, and looks at him.
'Restraining influence, Mr Twemlow? We must eat and drink, and dress, and have
a roof over our heads. Always beside him and attached in all his
fortunes?
Not much to boast of in that; what can a woman at my age do?
My husband and I deceived one another when we married; we must bear the consequences
of the deception--that is to say, bear one another, and bear the burden of scheming
together for to-day's dinner and to-
morrow's breakfast--till death divorces us.'
With those words, she walks out into Duke Street, Saint James's.
Mr Twemlow returning to his sofa, lays down his aching head on its slippery little
horsehair bolster, with a strong internal conviction that a painful interview is not
the kind of thing to be taken after the
dinner pills which are so highly salutary in connexion with the pleasures of the
table.
But, six o'clock in the evening finds the worthy little gentleman getting better, and
also getting himself into his obsolete little silk stockings and pumps, for the
wondering dinner at the Veneerings.
And seven o'clock in the evening finds him trotting out into Duke Street, to trot to
the corner and save a sixpence in coach- hire.
Tippins the divine has dined herself into such a condition by this time, that a
morbid mind might desire her, for a blessed change, to sup at last, and turn into bed.
Such a mind has Mr Eugene Wrayburn, whom Twemlow finds contemplating Tippins with
the moodiest of visages, while that playful creature rallies him on being so long
overdue at the woolsack.
Skittish is Tippins with Mortimer Lightwood too, and has raps to give him with her fan
for having been best man at the nuptials of these deceiving what's-their-names who have
gone to pieces.
Though, indeed, the fan is generally lively, and taps away at the men in all
directions, with something of a grisly sound suggestive of the clattering of Lady
Tippins's bones.
A new race of intimate friends has sprung up at Veneering's since he went into
Parliament for the public good, to whom Mrs Veneering is very attentive.
These friends, like astronomical distances, are only to be spoken of in the very
largest figures.
Boots says that one of them is a Contractor who (it has been calculated) gives
employment, directly and indirectly, to five hundred thousand men.
Brewer says that another of them is a Chairman, in such request at so many
Boards, so far apart, that he never travels less by railway than three thousand miles a
week.
Buffer says that another of them hadn't a sixpence eighteen months ago, and, through
the brilliancy of his genius in getting those shares issued at eighty-five, and
buying them all up with no money and
selling them at par for cash, has now three hundred and seventy-five thousand pounds--
Buffer particularly insisting on the odd seventy-five, and declining to take a
farthing less.
With Buffer, Boots, and Brewer, Lady Tippins is eminently facetious on the
subject of these Fathers of the Scrip- Church: surveying them through her
eyeglass, and inquiring whether Boots and
Brewer and Buffer think they will make her fortune if she makes love to them? with
other pleasantries of that nature.
Veneering, in his different way, is much occupied with the Fathers too, piously
retiring with them into the conservatory, from which retreat the word 'Committee' is
occasionally heard, and where the Fathers
instruct Veneering how he must leave the valley of the piano on his left, take the
level of the mantelpiece, cross by an open cutting at the candelabra, seize the
carrying-traffic at the console, and cut up
the opposition root and branch at the window curtains.
Mr and Mrs Podsnap are of the company, and the Fathers descry in Mrs Podsnap a fine
woman.
She is consigned to a Father--Boots's Father, who employs five hundred thousand
men--and is brought to anchor on Veneering's left; thus affording
opportunity to the sportive Tippins on his
right (he, as usual, being mere vacant space), to entreat to be told something
about those loves of Navvies, and whether they really do live on raw beefsteaks, and
drink porter out of their barrows.
But, in spite of such little skirmishes it is felt that this was to be a wondering
dinner, and that the wondering must not be neglected.
Accordingly, Brewer, as the man who has the greatest reputation to sustain, becomes the
interpreter of the general instinct.
'I took,' says Brewer in a favourable pause, 'a cab this morning, and I rattled
off to that Sale.' Boots (devoured by envy) says, 'So did I.'
Buffer says, 'So did I'; but can find nobody to care whether he did or not.
'And what was it like?' inquires Veneering.
'I assure you,' replies Brewer, looking about for anybody else to address his
answer to, and giving the preference to Lightwood; 'I assure you, the things were
going for a song.
Handsome things enough, but fetching nothing.'
'So I heard this afternoon,' says Lightwood.
Brewer begs to know now, would it be fair to ask a professional man how--on--earth--
these--people--ever--did--come--TO--such-- A--total smash?
(Brewer's divisions being for emphasis.)
Lightwood replies that he was consulted certainly, but could give no opinion which
would pay off the Bill of Sale, and therefore violates no confidence in
supposing that it came of their living beyond their means.
'But how,' says Veneering, 'CAN people do that!'
Hah!
That is felt on all hands to be a shot in the bull's eye.
How CAN people do that!
The Analytical Chemist going round with champagne, looks very much as if HE could
give them a pretty good idea how people did that, if he had a mind.
'How,' says Mrs Veneering, laying down her fork to press her aquiline hands together
at the tips of the fingers, and addressing the Father who travels the three thousand
miles per week: 'how a mother can look at
her baby, and know that she lives beyond her husband's means, I cannot imagine.'
Eugene suggests that Mrs Lammle, not being a mother, had no baby to look at.
'True,' says Mrs Veneering, 'but the principle is the same.'
Boots is clear that the principle is the same.
So is Buffer.
It is the unfortunate destiny of Buffer to damage a cause by espousing it.
The rest of the company have meekly yielded to the proposition that the principle is
the same, until Buffer says it is; when instantly a general murmur arises that the
principle is not the same.
'But I don't understand,' says the Father of the three hundred and seventy-five
thousand pounds, '--if these people spoken of, occupied the position of being in
society--they were in society?'
Veneering is bound to confess that they dined here, and were even married from
here.
'Then I don't understand,' pursues the Father, 'how even their living beyond their
means could bring them to what has been termed a total smash.
Because, there is always such a thing as an adjustment of affairs, in the case of
people of any standing at all.'
Eugene (who would seem to be in a gloomy state of suggestiveness), suggests,
'Suppose you have no means and live beyond them?'
This is too insolvent a state of things for the Father to entertain.
It is too insolvent a state of things for any one with any self-respect to entertain,
and is universally scouted.
But, it is so amazing how any people can have come to a total smash, that everybody
feels bound to account for it specially. One of the Fathers says, 'Gaming table.'
Another of the Fathers says, 'Speculated without knowing that speculation is a
science.' Boots says 'Horses.'
Lady Tippins says to her fan, 'Two establishments.'
Mr Podsnap, saying nothing, is referred to for his opinion; which he delivers as
follows; much flushed and extremely angry:
'Don't ask me. I desire to take no part in the discussion
of these people's affairs. I abhor the subject.
It is an odious subject, an offensive subject, a subject that makes me sick, and
I--' And with his favourite right-arm flourish which sweeps away everything and
settles it for ever, Mr Podsnap sweeps
these inconveniently unexplainable wretches who have lived beyond their means and gone
to total smash, off the face of the universe.
Eugene, leaning back in his chair, is observing Mr Podsnap with an irreverent
face, and may be about to offer a new suggestion, when the Analytical is beheld
in collision with the Coachman; the
Coachman manifesting a purpose of coming at the company with a silver salver, as though
intent upon making a collection for his wife and family; the Analytical cutting him
off at the sideboard.
The superior stateliness, if not the superior generalship, of the Analytical
prevails over a man who is as nothing off the box; and the Coachman, yielding up his
salver, retires defeated.
Then, the Analytical, perusing a scrap of paper lying on the salver, with the air of
a literary Censor, adjusts it, takes his time about going to the table with it, and
presents it to Mr Eugene Wrayburn.
Whereupon the pleasant Tippins says aloud, 'The Lord Chancellor has resigned!'
With distracting coolness and slowness--for he knows the curiosity of the Charmer to be
always devouring--Eugene makes a pretence of getting out an eyeglass, polishing it,
and reading the paper with difficulty, long after he has seen what is written on it.
What is written on it in wet ink, is: 'Young Blight.'
'Waiting?' says Eugene over his shoulder, in confidence, with the Analytical.
'Waiting,' returns the Analytical in responsive confidence.
Eugene looks 'Excuse me,' towards Mrs Veneering, goes out, and finds Young
Blight, Mortimer's clerk, at the hall-door.
'You told me to bring him, sir, to wherever you was, if he come while you was out and I
was in,' says that discreet young gentleman, standing on tiptoe to whisper;
'and I've brought him.'
'Sharp boy. Where is he?' asks Eugene.
'He's in a cab, sir, at the door.
I thought it best not to show him, you see, if it could be helped; for he's a-shaking
all over, like--Blight's simile is perhaps inspired by the surrounding dishes of
sweets--'like Glue Monge.'
'Sharp boy again,' returns Eugene. 'I'll go to him.'
Goes out straightway, and, leisurely leaning his arms on the open window of a
cab in waiting, looks in at Mr Dolls: who has brought his own atmosphere with him,
and would seem from its odour to have
brought it, for convenience of carriage, in a rum-cask.
'Now Dolls, wake up!' 'Mist Wrayburn?
Drection!
Fifteen shillings!'
After carefully reading the dingy scrap of paper handed to him, and as carefully
tucking it into his waistcoat pocket, Eugene tells out the money; beginning
incautiously by telling the first shilling
into Mr Dolls's hand, which instantly jerks it out of window; and ending by telling the
fifteen shillings on the seat. 'Give him a ride back to Charing Cross,
sharp boy, and there get rid of him.'
Returning to the dining-room, and pausing for an instant behind the screen at the
door, Eugene overhears, above the hum and clatter, the fair Tippins saying: 'I am
dying to ask him what he was called out for!'
'Are you?' mutters Eugene, 'then perhaps if you can't ask him, you'll die.
So I'll be a benefactor to society, and go.
A stroll and a cigar, and I can think this over.
Think this over.'
Thus, with a thoughtful face, he finds his hat and cloak, unseen of the Analytical,
and goes his way.
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