Part 11 - Our Mutual Friend Audiobook by Charles Dickens (Book 3, Chs 10-14)

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Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens CHAPTER 10
'And so, Miss Wren,' said Mr Eugene Wrayburn, 'I cannot persuade you to dress
me a doll?' 'No,' replied Miss Wren snappishly; 'if you
want one, go and buy one at the shop.'
'And my charming young goddaughter,' said Mr Wrayburn plaintively, 'down in
Hertfordshire--' ('Humbugshire you mean, I think,'
interposed Miss Wren.)
'--is to be put upon the cold footing of the general public, and is to derive no
advantage from my private acquaintance with the Court Dressmaker?'
'If it's any advantage to your charming godchild--and oh, a precious godfather she
has got!'--replied Miss Wren, pricking at him in the air with her needle, 'to be
informed that the Court Dressmaker knows
your tricks and your manners, you may tell her so by post, with my compliments.'
Miss Wren was busy at her work by candle- light, and Mr Wrayburn, half amused and
half vexed, and all idle and shiftless, stood by her bench looking on.
Miss Wren's troublesome child was in the corner in deep disgrace, and exhibiting
great wretchedness in the shivering stage of prostration from drink.
'Ugh, you disgraceful boy!' exclaimed Miss Wren, attracted by the sound of his
chattering teeth, 'I wish they'd all drop down your throat and play at dice in your
Boh, wicked child! Bee-baa, black sheep!'
On her accompanying each of these reproaches with a threatening stamp of the
foot, the wretched creature protested with a whine.
'Pay five shillings for you indeed!'
Miss Wren proceeded; 'how many hours do you suppose it costs me to earn five shillings,
you infamous boy?--Don't cry like that, or I'll throw a doll at you.
Pay five shillings fine for you indeed.
Fine in more ways than one, I think! I'd give the dustman five shillings, to
carry you off in the dust cart.' 'No, no,' pleaded the absurd creature.
'He's enough to break his mother's heart, is this boy,' said Miss Wren, half
appealing to Eugene. 'I wish I had never brought him up.
He'd be sharper than a serpent's tooth, if he wasn't as dull as ditch water.
Look at him. There's a pretty object for a parent's
Assuredly, in his worse than swinish state (for swine at least fatten on their
guzzling, and make themselves good to eat), he was a pretty object for any eyes.
'A muddling and a swipey old child,' said Miss Wren, rating him with great severity,
'fit for nothing but to be preserved in the liquor that destroys him, and put in a
great glass bottle as a sight for other
swipey children of his own pattern,--if he has no consideration for his liver, has he
none for his mother?' 'Yes. Deration, oh don't!' cried the
subject of these angry remarks.
'Oh don't and oh don't,' pursued Miss Wren. 'It's oh do and oh do.
And why do you?' 'Won't do so any more.
Won't indeed.
Pray!' 'There!' said Miss Wren, covering her eyes
with her hand. 'I can't bear to look at you.
Go up stairs and get me my bonnet and shawl.
Make yourself useful in some way, bad boy, and let me have your room instead of your
company, for one half minute.'
Obeying her, he shambled out, and Eugene Wrayburn saw the tears exude from between
the little creature's fingers as she kept her hand before her eyes.
He was sorry, but his sympathy did not move his carelessness to do anything but feel
'I'm going to the Italian Opera to try on,' said Miss Wren, taking away her hand after
a little while, and laughing satirically to hide that she had been crying; 'I must see
your back before I go, Mr Wrayburn.
Let me first tell you, once for all, that it's of no use your paying visits to me.
You wouldn't get what you want, of me, no, not if you brought pincers with you to tear
it out.'
'Are you so obstinate on the subject of a doll's dress for my godchild?'
'Ah!' returned Miss Wren with a hitch of her chin, 'I am so obstinate.
And of course it's on the subject of a doll's dress--or ADdress--whichever you
like. Get along and give it up!'
Her degraded charge had come back, and was standing behind her with the bonnet and
'Give 'em to me and get back into your corner, you naughty old thing!' said Miss
Wren, as she turned and espied him. 'No, no, I won't have your help.
Go into your corner, this minute!'
The miserable man, feebly rubbing the back of his faltering hands downward from the
wrists, shuffled on to his post of disgrace; but not without a curious glance
at Eugene in passing him, accompanied with
what seemed as if it might have been an action of his elbow, if any action of any
limb or joint he had, would have answered truly to his will.
Taking no more particular notice of him than instinctively falling away from the
disagreeable contact, Eugene, with a lazy compliment or so to Miss Wren, begged leave
to light his cigar, and departed.
'Now you prodigal old son,' said Jenny, shaking her head and her emphatic little
forefinger at her burden, 'you sit there till I come back.
You dare to move out of your corner for a single instant while I'm gone, and I'll
know the reason why.'
With this admonition, she blew her work candles out, leaving him to the light of
the fire, and, taking her big door-key in her pocket and her crutch-stick in her
hand, marched off.
Eugene lounged slowly towards the Temple, smoking his cigar, but saw no more of the
dolls' dressmaker, through the accident of their taking opposite sides of the street.
He lounged along moodily, and stopped at Charing Cross to look about him, with as
little interest in the crowd as any man might take, and was lounging on again, when
a most unexpected object caught his eyes.
No less an object than Jenny Wren's bad boy trying to make up his mind to cross the
A more ridiculous and feeble spectacle than this tottering wretch making unsteady
sallies into the roadway, and as often staggering back again, oppressed by terrors
of vehicles that were a long way off or
were nowhere, the streets could not have shown.
Over and over again, when the course was perfectly clear, he set out, got half way,
described a loop, turned, and went back again; when he might have crossed and re-
crossed half a dozen times.
Then, he would stand shivering on the edge of the pavement, looking up the street and
looking down, while scores of people jostled him, and crossed, and went on.
Stimulated in course of time by the sight of so many successes, he would make another
sally, make another loop, would all but have his foot on the opposite pavement,
would see or imagine something coming, and would stagger back again.
There, he would stand making spasmodic preparations as if for a great leap, and at
last would decide on a start at precisely the wrong moment, and would be roared at by
drivers, and would shrink back once more,
and stand in the old spot shivering, with the whole of the proceedings to go through
'It strikes me,' remarked Eugene coolly, after watching him for some minutes, 'that
my friend is likely to be rather behind time if he has any appointment on hand.'
With which remark he strolled on, and took no further thought of him.
Lightwood was at home when he got to the Chambers, and had dined alone there.
Eugene drew a chair to the fire by which he was having his wine and reading the evening
paper, and brought a glass, and filled it for good fellowship's sake.
'My dear Mortimer, you are the express picture of contented industry, reposing (on
credit) after the virtuous labours of the day.'
'My dear Eugene, you are the express picture of discontented idleness not
reposing at all. Where have you been?'
'I have been,' replied Wrayburn, '--about town.
I have turned up at the present juncture, with the intention of consulting my highly
intelligent and respected solicitor on the position of my affairs.'
'Your highly intelligent and respect solicitor is of opinion that your affairs
are in a bad way, Eugene.'
'Though whether,' said Eugene thoughtfully, 'that can be intelligently said, now, of
the affairs of a client who has nothing to lose and who cannot possibly be made to
pay, may be open to question.'
'You have fallen into the hands of the Jews, Eugene.'
'My dear boy,' returned the debtor, very composedly taking up his glass, 'having
previously fallen into the hands of some of the Christians, I can bear it with
'I have had an interview to-day, Eugene, with a Jew, who seems determined to press
us hard. Quite a Shylock, and quite a Patriarch.
A picturesque grey-headed and grey-bearded old Jew, in a shovel-hat and gaberdine.'
'Not,' said Eugene, pausing in setting down his glass, 'surely not my worthy friend Mr
'He calls himself Mr Riah.' 'By-the-by,' said Eugene, 'it comes into my
mind that--no doubt with an instinctive desire to receive him into the bosom of our
Church--I gave him the name of Aaron!'
'Eugene, Eugene,' returned Lightwood, 'you are more ridiculous than usual.
Say what you mean.'
'Merely, my dear fellow, that I have the honour and pleasure of a speaking
acquaintance with such a Patriarch as you describe, and that I address him as Mr
Aaron, because it appears to me Hebraic, expressive, appropriate, and complimentary.
Notwithstanding which strong reasons for its being his name, it may not be his
'I believe you are the absurdest man on the face of the earth,' said Lightwood,
laughing. 'Not at all, I assure you.
Did he mention that he knew me?'
'He did not. He only said of you that he expected to be
paid by you.' 'Which looks,' remarked Eugene with much
gravity, 'like NOT knowing me.
I hope it may not be my worthy friend Mr Aaron, for, to tell you the truth,
Mortimer, I doubt he may have a prepossession against me.
I strongly suspect him of having had a hand in spiriting away Lizzie.'
'Everything,' returned Lightwood impatiently, 'seems, by a fatality, to
bring us round to Lizzie.
"About town" meant about Lizzie, just now, Eugene.'
'My solicitor, do you know,' observed Eugene, turning round to the furniture, 'is
a man of infinite discernment!'
'Did it not, Eugene?' 'Yes it did, Mortimer.'
'And yet, Eugene, you know you do not really care for her.'
Eugene Wrayburn rose, and put his hands in his pockets, and stood with a foot on the
fender, indolently rocking his body and looking at the fire.
After a prolonged pause, he replied: 'I don't know that.
I must ask you not to say that, as if we took it for granted.'
'But if you do care for her, so much the more should you leave her to herself.'
Having again paused as before, Eugene said: 'I don't know that, either.
But tell me.
Did you ever see me take so much trouble about anything, as about this disappearance
of hers? I ask, for information.'
'My dear Eugene, I wish I ever had!'
'Then you have not? Just so.
You confirm my own impression. Does that look as if I cared for her?
I ask, for information.'
'I asked YOU for information, Eugene,' said Mortimer reproachfully.
'Dear boy, I know it, but I can't give it. I thirst for information.
What do I mean?
If my taking so much trouble to recover her does not mean that I care for her, what
does it mean? "If Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled
pepper, where's the peck," &c.?'
Though he said this gaily, he said it with a perplexed and inquisitive face, as if he
actually did not know what to make of himself.
'Look on to the end--' Lightwood was beginning to remonstrate, when he caught at
the words: 'Ah! See now!
That's exactly what I am incapable of doing.
How very acute you are, Mortimer, in finding my weak place!
When we were at school together, I got up my lessons at the last moment, day by day
and bit by bit; now we are out in life together, I get up my lessons in the same
In the present task I have not got beyond this:--I am bent on finding Lizzie, and I
mean to find her, and I will take any means of finding her that offer themselves.
Fair means or foul means, are all alike to me.
I ask you--for information--what does that mean?
When I have found her I may ask you--also for information--what do I mean now?
But it would be premature in this stage, and it's not the character of my mind.'
Lightwood was shaking his head over the air with which his friend held forth thus--an
air so whimsically open and argumentative as almost to deprive what he said of the
appearance of evasion--when a shuffling was
heard at the outer door, and then an undecided knock, as though some hand were
groping for the knocker.
'The frolicsome youth of the neighbourhood,' said Eugene, 'whom I should
be delighted to pitch from this elevation into the churchyard below, without any
intermediate ceremonies, have probably turned the lamp out.
I am on duty to-night, and will see to the door.'
His friend had barely had time to recall the unprecedented gleam of determination
with which he had spoken of finding this girl, and which had faded out of him with
the breath of the spoken words, when Eugene
came back, ushering in a most disgraceful shadow of a man, shaking from head to foot,
and clothed in shabby grease and smear.
'This interesting gentleman,' said Eugene, 'is the son--the occasionally rather trying
son, for he has his failings--of a lady of my acquaintance.
My dear Mortimer--Mr Dolls.'
Eugene had no idea what his name was, knowing the little dressmaker's to be
assumed, but presented him with easy confidence under the first appellation that
his associations suggested.
'I gather, my dear Mortimer,' pursued Eugene, as Lightwood stared at the obscene
visitor, 'from the manner of Mr Dolls-- which is occasionally complicated--that he
desires to make some communication to me.
I have mentioned to Mr Dolls that you and I are on terms of confidence, and have
requested Mr Dolls to develop his views here.'
The wretched object being much embarrassed by holding what remained of his hat, Eugene
airily tossed it to the door, and put him down in a chair.
'It will be necessary, I think,' he observed, 'to wind up Mr Dolls, before
anything to any mortal purpose can be got out of him.
Brandy, Mr Dolls, or--?'
'Threepenn'orth Rum,' said Mr Dolls. A judiciously small quantity of the spirit
was given him in a wine-glass, and he began to convey it to his mouth, with all kinds
of falterings and gyrations on the road.
'The nerves of Mr Dolls,' remarked Eugene to Lightwood, 'are considerably unstrung.
And I deem it on the whole expedient to fumigate Mr Dolls.'
He took the shovel from the grate, sprinkled a few live ashes on it, and from
a box on the chimney-piece took a few pastiles, which he set upon them; then,
with great composure began placidly waving
the shovel in front of Mr Dolls, to cut him off from his company.
'Lord bless my soul, Eugene!' cried Lightwood, laughing again, 'what a mad
fellow you are!
Why does this creature come to see you?' 'We shall hear,' said Wrayburn, very
observant of his face withal. 'Now then.
Speak out.
Don't be afraid. State your business, Dolls.'
'Mist Wrayburn!' said the visitor, thickly and huskily.
'--'TIS Mist Wrayburn, ain't?'
With a stupid stare. 'Of course it is.
Look at me. What do you want?'
Mr Dolls collapsed in his chair, and faintly said 'Threepenn'orth Rum.'
'Will you do me the favour, my dear Mortimer, to wind up Mr Dolls again?' said
'I am occupied with the fumigation.' A similar quantity was poured into his
glass, and he got it to his lips by similar circuitous ways.
Having drunk it, Mr Dolls, with an evident fear of running down again unless he made
haste, proceeded to business. 'Mist Wrayburn.
Tried to nudge you, but you wouldn't.
You want that drection. You want t'know where she lives.
DO you Mist Wrayburn?' With a glance at his friend, Eugene replied
to the question sternly, 'I do.'
'I am er man,' said Mr Dolls, trying to smite himself on the breast, but bringing
his hand to bear upon the vicinity of his eye, 'er do it.
I am er man er do it.'
'What are you the man to do?' demanded Eugene, still sternly.
'Er give up that drection.' 'Have you got it?'
With a most laborious attempt at pride and dignity, Mr Dolls rolled his head for some
time, awakening the highest expectations, and then answered, as if it were the
happiest point that could possibly be expected of him: 'No.'
'What do you mean then?'
Mr Dolls, collapsing in the drowsiest manner after his late intellectual triumph,
replied: 'Threepenn'orth Rum.' 'Wind him up again, my dear Mortimer,' said
Wrayburn; 'wind him up again.'
'Eugene, Eugene,' urged Lightwood in a low voice, as he complied, 'can you stoop to
the use of such an instrument as this?'
'I said,' was the reply, made with that former gleam of determination, 'that I
would find her out by any means, fair or foul.
These are foul, and I'll take them--if I am not first tempted to break the head of Mr
Dolls with the fumigator. Can you get the direction?
Do you mean that?
Speak! If that's what you have come for, say how
much you want.' 'Ten shillings--Threepenn'orths Rum,' said
Mr Dolls.
'You shall have it.' 'Fifteen shillings--Threepenn'orths Rum,'
said Mr Dolls, making an attempt to stiffen himself.
'You shall have it.
Stop at that. How will you get the direction you talk
of?' 'I am er man,' said Mr Dolls, with majesty,
'er get it, sir.'
'How will you get it, I ask you?' 'I am ill-used vidual,' said Mr Dolls.
'Blown up morning t'night. Called names.
She makes Mint money, sir, and never stands Threepenn'orth Rum.'
'Get on,' rejoined Eugene, tapping his palsied head with the fire-shovel, as it
sank on his breast.
'What comes next?'
Making a dignified attempt to gather himself together, but, as it were, dropping
half a dozen pieces of himself while he tried in vain to pick up one, Mr Dolls,
swaying his head from side to side,
regarded his questioner with what he supposed to be a haughty smile and a
scornful glance. 'She looks upon me as mere child, sir.
I am NOT mere child, sir.
Man. Man talent. Lerrers pass betwixt 'em.
Postman lerrers. Easy for man talent er get drection, as get
his own drection.'
'Get it then,' said Eugene; adding very heartily under his breath, '--You Brute!
Get it, and bring it here to me, and earn the money for sixty threepenn'orths of rum,
and drink them all, one a top of another, and drink yourself dead with all possible
The latter clauses of these special instructions he addressed to the fire, as
he gave it back the ashes he had taken from it, and replaced the shovel.
Mr Dolls now struck out the highly unexpected discovery that he had been
insulted by Lightwood, and stated his desire to 'have it out with him' on the
spot, and defied him to come on, upon the
liberal terms of a sovereign to a halfpenny.
Mr Dolls then fell a crying, and then exhibited a tendency to fall asleep.
This last manifestation as by far the most alarming, by reason of its threatening his
prolonged stay on the premises, necessitated vigorous measures.
Eugene picked up his worn-out hat with the tongs, clapped it on his head, and, taking
him by the collar--all this at arm's length--conducted him down stairs and out
of the precincts into Fleet Street.
There, he turned his face westward, and left him.
When he got back, Lightwood was standing over the fire, brooding in a sufficiently
low-spirited manner.
'I'll wash my hands of Mr Dolls physically- -' said Eugene, 'and be with you again
directly, Mortimer.'
'I would much prefer,' retorted Mortimer, 'your washing your hands of Mr Dolls,
morally, Eugene.' 'So would I,' said Eugene; 'but you see,
dear boy, I can't do without him.'
In a minute or two he resumed his chair, as perfectly unconcerned as usual, and rallied
his friend on having so narrowly escaped the prowess of their muscular visitor.
'I can't be amused on this theme,' said Mortimer, restlessly.
'You can make almost any theme amusing to me, Eugene, but not this.'
'Well!' cried Eugene, 'I am a little ashamed of it myself, and therefore let us
change the subject.' 'It is so deplorably underhanded,' said
'It is so unworthy of you, this setting on of such a shameful scout.'
'We have changed the subject!' exclaimed Eugene, airily.
'We have found a new one in that word, scout.
Don't be like Patience on a mantelpiece frowning at Dolls, but sit down, and I'll
tell you something that you really will find amusing.
Take a cigar.
Look at this of mine. I light it--draw one puff--breathe the
smoke out--there it goes--it's Dolls!--it's gone--and being gone you are a man again.'
'Your subject,' said Mortimer, after lighting a cigar, and comforting himself
with a whiff or two, 'was scouts, Eugene.' 'Exactly.
Isn't it droll that I never go out after dark, but I find myself attended, always by
one scout, and often by two?'
Lightwood took his cigar from his lips in surprise, and looked at his friend, as if
with a latent suspicion that there must be a jest or hidden meaning in his words.
'On my honour, no,' said Wrayburn, answering the look and smiling carelessly;
'I don't wonder at your supposing so, but on my honour, no.
I say what I mean.
I never go out after dark, but I find myself in the ludicrous situation of being
followed and observed at a distance, always by one scout, and often by two.'
'Are you sure, Eugene?'
'Sure? My dear boy, they are always the same.'
'But there's no process out against you. The Jews only threaten.
They have done nothing.
Besides, they know where to find you, and I represent you.
Why take the trouble?'
'Observe the legal mind!' remarked Eugene, turning round to the furniture again, with
an air of indolent rapture.
'Observe the dyer's hand, assimilating itself to what it works in,--or would work
in, if anybody would give it anything to do.
Respected solicitor, it's not that.
The schoolmaster's abroad.' 'The schoolmaster?'
'Ay! Sometimes the schoolmaster and the pupil
are both abroad.
Why, how soon you rust in my absence! You don't understand yet?
Those fellows who were here one night. They are the scouts I speak of, as doing me
the honour to attend me after dark.'
'How long has this been going on?' asked Lightwood, opposing a serious face to the
laugh of his friend. 'I apprehend it has been going on, ever
since a certain person went off.
Probably, it had been going on some little time before I noticed it: which would bring
it to about that time.' 'Do you think they suppose you to have
inveigled her away?'
'My dear Mortimer, you know the absorbing nature of my professional occupations; I
really have not had leisure to think about it.'
'Have you asked them what they want?
Have you objected?' 'Why should I ask them what they want, dear
fellow, when I am indifferent what they want?
Why should I express objection, when I don't object?'
'You are in your most reckless mood.
But you called the situation just now, a ludicrous one; and most men object to that,
even those who are utterly indifferent to everything else.'
'You charm me, Mortimer, with your reading of my weaknesses.
(By-the-by, that very word, Reading, in its critical use, always charms me.
An actress's Reading of a chambermaid, a dancer's Reading of a hornpipe, a singer's
Reading of a song, a marine painter's Reading of the sea, the kettle-drum's
Reading of an instrumental passage, are phrases ever youthful and delightful.)
I was mentioning your perception of my weaknesses.
I own to the weakness of objecting to occupy a ludicrous position, and therefore
I transfer the position to the scouts.'
'I wish, Eugene, you would speak a little more soberly and plainly, if it were only
out of consideration for my feeling less at ease than you do.'
'Then soberly and plainly, Mortimer, I goad the schoolmaster to madness.
I make the schoolmaster so ridiculous, and so aware of being made ridiculous, that I
see him chafe and fret at every pore when we cross one another.
The amiable occupation has been the solace of my life, since I was baulked in the
manner unnecessary to recall. I have derived inexpressible comfort from
I do it thus: I stroll out after dark, stroll a little way, look in at a window
and furtively look out for the schoolmaster.
Sooner or later, I perceive the schoolmaster on the watch; sometimes
accompanied by his hopeful pupil; oftener, pupil-less.
Having made sure of his watching me, I tempt him on, all over London.
One night I go east, another night north, in a few nights I go all round the compass.
Sometimes, I walk; sometimes, I proceed in cabs, draining the pocket of the
schoolmaster who then follows in cabs. I study and get up abstruse No
Thoroughfares in the course of the day.
With Venetian mystery I seek those No Thoroughfares at night, glide into them by
means of dark courts, tempt the schoolmaster to follow, turn suddenly, and
catch him before he can retreat.
Then we face one another, and I pass him as unaware of his existence, and he undergoes
grinding torments.
Similarly, I walk at a great pace down a short street, rapidly turn the corner, and,
getting out of his view, as rapidly turn back.
I catch him coming on post, again pass him as unaware of his existence, and again he
undergoes grinding torments.
Night after night his disappointment is acute, but hope springs eternal in the
scholastic breast, and he follows me again to-morrow.
Thus I enjoy the pleasures of the chase, and derive great benefit from the healthful
When I do not enjoy the pleasures of the chase, for anything I know he watches at
the Temple Gate all night.'
'This is an extraordinary story,' observed Lightwood, who had heard it out with
serious attention. 'I don't like it.'
'You are a little hipped, dear fellow,' said Eugene; 'you have been too sedentary.
Come and enjoy the pleasures of the chase.' 'Do you mean that you believe he is
watching now?'
'I have not the slightest doubt he is.' 'Have you seen him to-night?'
'I forgot to look for him when I was last out,' returned Eugene with the calmest
indifference; 'but I dare say he was there.
Come! Be a British sportsman and enjoy the
pleasures of the chase. It will do you good.'
Lightwood hesitated; but, yielding to his curiosity, rose.
'Bravo!' cried Eugene, rising too. 'Or, if Yoicks would be in better keeping,
consider that I said Yoicks.
Look to your feet, Mortimer, for we shall try your boots.
When you are ready, I am--need I say with a Hey Ho Chivey, and likewise with a Hark
Forward, Hark Forward, Tantivy?'
'Will nothing make you serious?' said Mortimer, laughing through his gravity.
'I am always serious, but just now I am a little excited by the glorious fact that a
southerly wind and a cloudy sky proclaim a hunting evening.
So. We turn out the lamp and shut the door, and take the field.'
As the two friends passed out of the Temple into the public street, Eugene demanded
with a show of courteous patronage in which direction Mortimer would you like the run
to be?
'There is a rather difficult country about Bethnal Green,' said Eugene, 'and we have
not taken in that direction lately. What is your opinion of Bethnal Green?'
Mortimer assented to Bethnal Green, and they turned eastward.
'Now, when we come to St Paul's churchyard,' pursued Eugene, 'we'll loiter
artfully, and I'll show you the schoolmaster.'
But, they both saw him, before they got there; alone, and stealing after them in
the shadow of the houses, on the opposite side of the way.
'Get your wind,' said Eugene, 'for I am off directly.
Does it occur to you that the boys of Merry England will begin to deteriorate in an
educational light, if this lasts long?
The schoolmaster can't attend to me and the boys too.
Got your wind? I am off!'
At what a rate he went, to breathe the schoolmaster; and how he then lounged and
loitered, to put his patience to another kind of wear; what preposterous ways he
took, with no other object on earth than to
disappoint and punish him; and how he wore him out by every piece of ingenuity that
his eccentric humour could devise; all this Lightwood noted, with a feeling of
astonishment that so careless a man could
be so wary, and that so idle a man could take so much trouble.
At last, far on in the third hour of the pleasures of the chase, when he had brought
the poor dogging wretch round again into the City, he twisted Mortimer up a few dark
entries, twisted him into a little square
court, twisted him sharp round again, and they almost ran against Bradley Headstone.
'And you see, as I was saying, Mortimer,' remarked Eugene aloud with the utmost
coolness, as though there were no one within hearing by themselves: 'and you see,
as I was saying--undergoing grinding torments.'
It was not too strong a phrase for the occasion.
Looking like the hunted and not the hunter, baffled, worn, with the exhaustion of
deferred hope and consuming hate and anger in his face, white-lipped, wild-eyed,
draggle-haired, seamed with jealousy and
anger, and torturing himself with the conviction that he showed it all and they
exulted in it, he went by them in the dark, like a haggard head suspended in the air:
so completely did the force of his expression cancel his figure.
Mortimer Lightwood was not an extraordinarily impressible man, but this
face impressed him.
He spoke of it more than once on the remainder of the way home, and more than
once when they got home.
They had been abed in their respective rooms two or three hours, when Eugene was
partly awakened by hearing a footstep going about, and was fully awakened by seeing
Lightwood standing at his bedside.
'Nothing wrong, Mortimer?' 'No.'
'What fancy takes you, then, for walking about in the night?'
'I am horribly wakeful.'
'How comes that about, I wonder!' 'Eugene, I cannot lose sight of that
fellow's face.' 'Odd!' said Eugene with a light laugh, 'I
And turned over, and fell asleep again.
Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens CHAPTER 11
There was no sleep for Bradley Headstone on that night when Eugene Wrayburn turned so
easily in his bed; there was no sleep for little Miss Peecher.
Bradley consumed the lonely hours, and consumed himself in haunting the spot where
his careless rival lay a dreaming; little Miss Peecher wore them away in listening
for the return home of the master of her
heart, and in sorrowfully presaging that much was amiss with him.
Yet more was amiss with him than Miss Peecher's simply arranged little work-box
of thoughts, fitted with no gloomy and dark recesses, could hold.
For, the state of the man was murderous.
The state of the man was murderous, and he knew it.
More; he irritated it, with a kind of perverse pleasure akin to that which a sick
man sometimes has in irritating a wound upon his body.
Tied up all day with his disciplined show upon him, subdued to the performance of his
routine of educational tricks, encircled by a gabbling crowd, he broke loose at night
like an ill-tamed wild animal.
Under his daily restraint, it was his compensation, not his trouble, to give a
glance towards his state at night, and to the freedom of its being indulged.
If great criminals told the truth--which, being great criminals, they do not--they
would very rarely tell of their struggles against the crime.
Their struggles are towards it.
They buffet with opposing waves, to gain the bloody shore, not to recede from it.
This man perfectly comprehended that he hated his rival with his strongest and
worst forces, and that if he tracked him to Lizzie Hexam, his so doing would never
serve himself with her, or serve her.
All his pains were taken, to the end that he might incense himself with the sight of
the detested figure in her company and favour, in her place of concealment.
And he knew as well what act of his would follow if he did, as he knew that his
mother had borne him.
Granted, that he may not have held it necessary to make express mention to
himself of the one familiar truth any more than of the other.
He knew equally well that he fed his wrath and hatred, and that he accumulated
provocation and self-justification, by being made the nightly sport of the
reckless and insolent Eugene.
Knowing all this,--and still always going on with infinite endurance, pains, and
perseverance, could his dark soul doubt whither he went?
Baffled, exasperated, and weary, he lingered opposite the Temple gate when it
closed on Wrayburn and Lightwood, debating with himself should he go home for that
time or should he watch longer.
Possessed in his jealousy by the fixed idea that Wrayburn was in the secret, if it were
not altogether of his contriving, Bradley was as confident of getting the better of
him at last by sullenly sticking to him, as
he would have been--and often had been--of mastering any piece of study in the way of
his vocation, by the like slow persistent process.
A man of rapid passions and sluggish intelligence, it had served him often and
should serve him again.
The suspicion crossed him as he rested in a doorway with his eyes upon the Temple gate,
that perhaps she was even concealed in that set of Chambers.
It would furnish another reason for Wrayburn's purposeless walks, and it might
He thought of it and thought of it, until he resolved to steal up the stairs, if the
gatekeeper would let him through, and listen.
So, the haggard head suspended in the air flitted across the road, like the spectre
of one of the many heads erst hoisted upon neighbouring Temple Bar, and stopped before
the watchman.
The watchman looked at it, and asked: 'Who for?'
'Mr Wrayburn.' 'It's very late.'
'He came back with Mr Lightwood, I know, near upon two hours ago.
But if he has gone to bed, I'll put a paper in his letter-box.
I am expected.'
The watchman said no more, but opened the gate, though rather doubtfully.
Seeing, however, that the visitor went straight and fast in the right direction,
he seemed satisfied.
The haggard head floated up the dark staircase, and softly descended nearer to
the floor outside the outer door of the chambers.
The doors of the rooms within, appeared to be standing open.
There were rays of candlelight from one of them, and there was the sound of a footstep
going about.
There were two voices. The words they uttered were not
distinguishable, but they were both the voices of men.
In a few moments the voices were silent, and there was no sound of footstep, and the
inner light went out.
If Lightwood could have seen the face which kept him awake, staring and listening in
the darkness outside the door as he spoke of it, he might have been less disposed to
sleep, through the remainder of the night.
'Not there,' said Bradley; 'but she might have been.'
The head arose to its former height from the ground, floated down the stair-case
again, and passed on to the gate.
A man was standing there, in parley with the watchman.
'Oh!' said the watchman. 'Here he is!'
Perceiving himself to be the antecedent, Bradley looked from the watchman to the
'This man is leaving a letter for Mr Lightwood,' the watchman explained, showing
it in his hand; 'and I was mentioning that a person had just gone up to Mr Lightwood's
It might be the same business perhaps?' 'No,' said Bradley, glancing at the man,
who was a stranger to him.
'No,' the man assented in a surly way; 'my letter--it's wrote by my daughter, but it's
mine--is about my business, and my business ain't nobody else's business.'
As Bradley passed out at the gate with an undecided foot, he heard it shut behind
him, and heard the footstep of the man coming after him.
''Scuse me,' said the man, who appeared to have been drinking and rather stumbled at
him than touched him, to attract his attention: 'but might you be acquainted
with the T'other Governor?'
'With whom?' asked Bradley. 'With,' returned the man, pointing backward
over his right shoulder with his right thumb, 'the T'other Governor?'
'I don't know what you mean.'
'Why look here,' hooking his proposition on his left-hand fingers with the forefinger
of his right. 'There's two Governors, ain't there?
One and one, two--Lawyer Lightwood, my first finger, he's one, ain't he?
Well; might you be acquainted with my middle finger, the T'other?'
'I know quite as much of him,' said Bradley, with a frown and a distant look
before him, 'as I want to know.' 'Hooroar!' cried the man.
'Hooroar T'other t'other Governor.
Hooroar T'otherest Governor! I am of your way of thinkin'.'
'Don't make such a noise at this dead hour of the night.
What are you talking about?'
'Look here, T'otherest Governor,' replied the man, becoming hoarsely confidential.
'The T'other Governor he's always joked his jokes agin me, owing, as I believe, to my
being a honest man as gets my living by the sweat of my brow.
Which he ain't, and he don't.'
'What is that to me?' 'T'otherest Governor,' returned the man in
a tone of injured innocence, 'if you don't care to hear no more, don't hear no more.
You begun it.
You said, and likeways showed pretty plain, as you warn't by no means friendly to him.
But I don't seek to force my company nor yet my opinions on no man.
I am a honest man, that's what I am.
Put me in the dock anywhere--I don't care where--and I says, "My Lord, I am a honest
Put me in the witness-box anywhere--I don't care where--and I says the same to his
lordship, and I kisses the book. I don't kiss my coat-cuff; I kisses the
It was not so much in deference to these strong testimonials to character, as in his
restless casting about for any way or help towards the discovery on which he was
concentrated, that Bradley Headstone replied: 'You needn't take offence.
I didn't mean to stop you. You were too--loud in the open street; that
was all.'
''Totherest Governor,' replied Mr Riderhood, mollified and mysterious, 'I
know wot it is to be loud, and I know wot it is to be soft.
Nat'rally I do.
It would be a wonder if I did not, being by the Chris'en name of Roger, which took it
arter my own father, which took it from his own father, though which of our fam'ly fust
took it nat'ral I will not in any ways mislead you by undertakin' to say.
And wishing that your elth may be better than your looks, which your inside must be
bad indeed if it's on the footing of your out.'
Startled by the implication that his face revealed too much of his mind, Bradley made
an effort to clear his brow.
It might be worth knowing what this strange man's business was with Lightwood, or
Wrayburn, or both, at such an unseasonable hour.
He set himself to find out, for the man might prove to be a messenger between those
two. 'You call at the Temple late,' he remarked,
with a lumbering show of ease.
'Wish I may die,' cried Mr Riderhood, with a hoarse laugh, 'if I warn't a goin' to say
the self-same words to you, T'otherest Governor!'
'It chanced so with me,' said Bradley, looking disconcertedly about him.
'And it chanced so with me,' said Riderhood.
'But I don't mind telling you how.
Why should I mind telling you? I'm a Deputy Lock-keeper up the river, and
I was off duty yes'day, and I shall be on to-morrow.'
'Yes, and I come to London to look arter my private affairs.
My private affairs is to get appinted to the Lock as reg'lar keeper at fust hand,
and to have the law of a busted B'low- Bridge steamer which drownded of me.
I ain't a goin' to be drownded and not paid for it!'
Bradley looked at him, as though he were claiming to be a Ghost.
'The steamer,' said Mr Riderhood, obstinately, 'run me down and drownded of
Interference on the part of other parties brought me round; but I never asked 'em to
bring me round, nor yet the steamer never asked 'em to it.
I mean to be paid for the life as the steamer took.'
'Was that your business at Mr Lightwood's chambers in the middle of the night?' asked
Bradley, eyeing him with distrust.
'That and to get a writing to be fust-hand Lock Keeper.
A recommendation in writing being looked for, who else ought to give it to me?
As I says in the letter in my daughter's hand, with my mark put to it to make it
good in law, Who but you, Lawyer Lightwood, ought to hand over this here stifficate,
and who but you ought to go in for damages on my account agin the Steamer?
For (as I says under my mark) I have had trouble enough along of you and your
If you, Lawyer Lightwood, had backed me good and true, and if the T'other Governor
had took me down correct (I says under my mark), I should have been worth money at
the present time, instead of having a
barge-load of bad names chucked at me, and being forced to eat my words, which is a
unsatisfying sort of food wotever a man's appetite!
And when you mention the middle of the night, T'otherest Governor,' growled Mr
Riderhood, winding up his monotonous summary of his wrongs, 'throw your eye on
this here bundle under my arm, and bear in
mind that I'm a walking back to my Lock, and that the Temple laid upon my line of
Bradley Headstone's face had changed during this latter recital, and he had observed
the speaker with a more sustained attention.
'Do you know,' said he, after a pause, during which they walked on side by side,
'that I believe I could tell you your name, if I tried?'
'Prove your opinion,' was the answer, accompanied with a stop and a stare.
'Try.' 'Your name is Riderhood.'
'I'm blest if it ain't,' returned that gentleman.
'But I don't know your'n.' 'That's quite another thing,' said Bradley.
'I never supposed you did.'
As Bradley walked on meditating, the Rogue walked on at his side muttering.
The purport of the muttering was: 'that Rogue Riderhood, by George! seemed to be
made public property on, now, and that every man seemed to think himself free to
handle his name as if it was a Street Pump.'
The purport of the meditating was: 'Here is an instrument.
Can I use it?'
They had walked along the Strand, and into Pall Mall, and had turned up-hill towards
Hyde Park Corner; Bradley Headstone waiting on the pace and lead of Riderhood, and
leaving him to indicate the course.
So slow were the schoolmaster's thoughts, and so indistinct his purposes when they
were but tributary to the one absorbing purpose or rather when, like dark trees
under a stormy sky, they only lined the
long vista at the end of which he saw those two figures of Wrayburn and Lizzie on which
his eyes were fixed--that at least a good half-mile was traversed before he spoke
Even then, it was only to ask: 'Where is your Lock?'
'Twenty mile and odd--call it five-and- twenty mile and odd, if you like--up
stream,' was the sullen reply.
'How is it called?' 'Plashwater Weir Mill Lock.'
'Suppose I was to offer you five shillings; what then?'
'Why, then, I'd take it,' said Mr Riderhood.
The schoolmaster put his hand in his pocket, and produced two half-crowns, and
placed them in Mr Riderhood's palm: who stopped at a convenient doorstep to ring
them both, before acknowledging their receipt.
'There's one thing about you, T'otherest Governor,' said Riderhood, faring on again,
'as looks well and goes fur.
You're a ready money man. Now;' when he had carefully pocketed the
coins on that side of himself which was furthest from his new friend; 'what's this
'For you.' 'Why, o' course I know THAT,' said
Riderhood, as arguing something that was self-evident.
'O' course I know very well as no man in his right senses would suppose as anythink
would make me give it up agin when I'd once got it.
But what do you want for it?'
'I don't know that I want anything for it. Or if I do want anything for it, I don't
know what it is.'
Bradley gave this answer in a stolid, vacant, and self-communing manner, which Mr
Riderhood found very extraordinary.
'You have no goodwill towards this Wrayburn,' said Bradley, coming to the name
in a reluctant and forced way, as if he were dragged to it.
'Neither have I.' Riderhood nodded, and asked: 'Is it for
that?' 'It's as much for that as anything else.
It's something to be agreed with, on a subject that occupies so much of one's
thoughts.' 'It don't agree with YOU,' returned Mr
Riderhood, bluntly.
'No! It don't, T'otherest Governor, and it's no use a lookin' as if you wanted to
make out that it did. I tell you it rankles in you.
It rankles in you, rusts in you, and pisons you.'
'Say that it does so,' returned Bradley with quivering lips; 'is there no cause for
'Cause enough, I'll bet a pound!' cried Mr Riderhood.
'Haven't you yourself declared that the fellow has heaped provocations, insults,
and affronts on you, or something to that effect?
He has done the same by me.
He is made of venomous insults and affronts, from the crown of his head to the
sole of his foot.
Are you so hopeful or so stupid, as not to know that he and the other will treat your
application with contempt, and light their cigars with it?'
'I shouldn't wonder if they did, by George!' said Riderhood, turning angry.
'If they did! They will.
Let me ask you a question.
I know something more than your name about you; I knew something about Gaffer Hexam.
When did you last set eyes upon his daughter?'
'When did I last set eyes upon his daughter, T'otherest Governor?' repeated Mr
Riderhood, growing intentionally slower of comprehension as the other quickened in his
'Yes. Not to speak to her. To see her--anywhere?'
The Rogue had got the clue he wanted, though he held it with a clumsy hand.
Looking perplexedly at the passionate face, as if he were trying to work out a sum in
his mind, he slowly answered: 'I ain't set eyes upon her--never once--not
since the day of Gaffer's death.'
'You know her well, by sight?' 'I should think I did!
No one better.' 'And you know him as well?'
'Who's him?' asked Riderhood, taking off his hat and rubbing his forehead, as he
directed a dull look at his questioner. 'Curse the name!
Is it so agreeable to you that you want to hear it again?'
'Oh! HIM!' said Riderhood, who had craftily worked the schoolmaster into this corner,
that he might again take note of his face under its evil possession.
'I'd know HIM among a thousand.'
'Did you--' Bradley tried to ask it quietly; but, do what he might with his
voice, he could not subdue his face;--'did you ever see them together?'
(The Rogue had got the clue in both hands now.)
'I see 'em together, T'otherest Governor, on the very day when Gaffer was towed
Bradley could have hidden a reserved piece of information from the sharp eyes of a
whole inquisitive class, but he could not veil from the eyes of the ignorant
Riderhood the withheld question next in his breast.
'You shall put it plain if you want it answered,' thought the Rogue, doggedly; 'I
ain't a-going a wolunteering.'
'Well! was he insolent to her too?' asked Bradley after a struggle.
'Or did he make a show of being kind to her?'
'He made a show of being most uncommon kind to her,' said Riderhood.
'By George! now I--' His flying off at a tangent was
indisputably natural.
Bradley looked at him for the reason.
'Now I think of it,' said Mr Riderhood, evasively, for he was substituting those
words for 'Now I see you so jealous,' which was the phrase really in his mind; 'P'r'aps
he went and took me down wrong, a purpose, on account o' being sweet upon her!'
The baseness of confirming him in this suspicion or pretence of one (for he could
not have really entertained it), was a line's breadth beyond the mark the
schoolmaster had reached.
The baseness of communing and intriguing with the fellow who would have set that
stain upon her, and upon her brother too, was attained.
The line's breadth further, lay beyond.
He made no reply, but walked on with a lowering face.
What he might gain by this acquaintance, he could not work out in his slow and cumbrous
The man had an injury against the object of his hatred, and that was something; though
it was less than he supposed, for there dwelt in the man no such deadly rage and
resentment as burned in his own breast.
The man knew her, and might by a fortunate chance see her, or hear of her; that was
something, as enlisting one pair of eyes and ears the more.
The man was a bad man, and willing enough to be in his pay.
That was something, for his own state and purpose were as bad as bad could be, and he
seemed to derive a vague support from the possession of a congenial instrument,
though it might never be used.
Suddenly he stood still, and asked Riderhood point-blank if he knew where she
was? Clearly, he did not know.
He asked Riderhood if he would be willing, in case any intelligence of her, or of
Wrayburn as seeking her or associating with her, should fall in his way, to communicate
it if it were paid for?
He would be very willing indeed. He was 'agin 'em both,' he said with an
oath, and for why?
'Cause they had both stood betwixt him and his getting his living by the sweat of his
'It will not be long then,' said Bradley Headstone, after some more discourse to
this effect, 'before we see one another again.
Here is the country road, and here is the day.
Both have come upon me by surprise.'
'But, T'otherest Governor,' urged Mr Riderhood, 'I don't know where to find
you.' 'It is of no consequence.
I know where to find you, and I'll come to your Lock.'
'But, T'otherest Governor,' urged Mr Riderhood again, 'no luck never come yet of
a dry acquaintance.
Let's wet it, in a mouth-fill of rum and milk, T'otherest Governor.'
Bradley assenting, went with him into an early public-house, haunted by unsavoury
smells of musty hay and stale straw, where returning carts, farmers' men, gaunt dogs,
fowls of a beery breed, and certain human
nightbirds fluttering home to roost, were solacing themselves after their several
manners; and where not one of the nightbirds hovering about the sloppy bar
failed to discern at a glance in the
passion-wasted nightbird with respectable feathers, the worst nightbird of all.
An inspiration of affection for a half- drunken carter going his way led to Mr
Riderhood's being elevated on a high heap of baskets on a waggon, and pursuing his
journey recumbent on his back with his head on his bundle.
Bradley then turned to retrace his steps, and by-and-by struck off through little-
traversed ways, and by-and-by reached school and home.
Up came the sun to find him washed and brushed, methodically dressed in decent
black coat and waistcoat, decent formal black tie, and pepper-and-salt pantaloons,
with his decent silver watch in its pocket,
and its decent hair-guard round his neck: a scholastic huntsman clad for the field,
with his fresh pack yelping and barking around him.
Yet more really bewitched than the miserable creatures of the much-lamented
times, who accused themselves of impossibilities under a contagion of horror
and the strongly suggestive influences of
Torture, he had been ridden hard by Evil Spirits in the night that was newly gone.
He had been spurred and whipped and heavily sweated.
If a record of the sport had usurped the places of the peaceful texts from Scripture
on the wall, the most advanced of the scholars might have taken fright and run
away from the master.
Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens CHAPTER 12
Up came the sun, steaming all over London, and in its glorious impartiality even
condescending to make prismatic sparkles in the whiskers of Mr Alfred Lammle as he sat
at breakfast.
In need of some brightening from without, was Mr Alfred Lammle, for he had the air of
being dull enough within, and looked grievously discontented.
Mrs Alfred Lammle faced her lord.
The happy pair of swindlers, with the comfortable tie between them that each had
swindled the other, sat moodily observant of the tablecloth.
Things looked so gloomy in the breakfast- room, albeit on the sunny side of Sackville
Street, that any of the family tradespeople glancing through the blinds might have
taken the hint to send in his account and press for it.
But this, indeed, most of the family tradespeople had already done, without the
'It seems to me,' said Mrs Lammle, 'that you have had no money at all, ever since we
have been married.'
'What seems to you,' said Mr Lammle, 'to have been the case, may possibly have been
the case. It doesn't matter.'
Was it the speciality of Mr and Mrs Lammle, or does it ever obtain with other loving
In these matrimonial dialogues they never addressed each other, but always some
invisible presence that appeared to take a station about midway between them.
Perhaps the skeleton in the cupboard comes out to be talked to, on such domestic
'I have never seen any money in the house,' said Mrs Lammle to the skeleton, 'except my
own annuity. That I swear.'
'You needn't take the trouble of swearing,' said Mr Lammle to the skeleton; 'once more,
it doesn't matter. You never turned your annuity to so good an
'Good an account! In what way?' asked Mrs Lammle.
'In the way of getting credit, and living well,' said Mr Lammle.
Perhaps the skeleton laughed scornfully on being intrusted with this question and this
answer; certainly Mrs Lammle did, and Mr Lammle did.
'And what is to happen next?' asked Mrs Lammle of the skeleton.
'Smash is to happen next,' said Mr Lammle to the same authority.
After this, Mrs Lammle looked disdainfully at the skeleton--but without carrying the
look on to Mr Lammle--and drooped her eyes. After that, Mr Lammle did exactly the same
thing, and drooped HIS eyes.
A servant then entering with toast, the skeleton retired into the closet, and shut
itself up. 'Sophronia,' said Mr Lammle, when the
servant had withdrawn.
And then, very much louder: 'Sophronia!' 'Well?'
'Attend to me, if you please.' He eyed her sternly until she did attend,
and then went on.
'I want to take counsel with you. Come, come; no more trifling.
You know our league and covenant.
We are to work together for our joint interest, and you are as knowing a hand as
I am. We shouldn't be together, if you were not.
What's to be done?
We are hemmed into a corner. What shall we do?'
'Have you no scheme on foot that will bring in anything?'
Mr Lammle plunged into his whiskers for reflection, and came out hopeless: 'No; as
adventurers we are obliged to play rash games for chances of high winnings, and
there has been a run of luck against us.'
She was resuming, 'Have you nothing--' when he stopped her.
'We, Sophronia. We, we, we.'
'Have we nothing to sell?'
'Deuce a bit. I have given a Jew a bill of sale on this
furniture, and he could take it to-morrow, to-day, now.
He would have taken it before now, I believe, but for Fledgeby.'
'What has Fledgeby to do with him?' 'Knew him.
Cautioned me against him before I got into his claws.
Couldn't persuade him then, in behalf of somebody else.'
'Do you mean that Fledgeby has at all softened him towards you?'
'Us, Sophronia. Us, us, us.'
'Towards us?'
'I mean that the Jew has not yet done what he might have done, and that Fledgeby takes
the credit of having got him to hold his hand.'
'Do you believe Fledgeby?'
'Sophronia, I never believe anybody. I never have, my dear, since I believed
you. But it looks like it.'
Having given her this back-handed reminder of her mutinous observations to the
skeleton, Mr Lammle rose from table-- perhaps, the better to conceal a smile, and
a white dint or two about his nose--and
took a turn on the carpet and came to the hearthrug.
'If we could have packed the brute off with Georgiana;--but however; that's spilled
As Lammle, standing gathering up the skirts of his dressing-gown with his back to the
fire, said this, looking down at his wife, she turned pale and looked down at the
With a sense of disloyalty upon her, and perhaps with a sense of personal danger--
for she was afraid of him--even afraid of his hand and afraid of his foot, though he
had never done her violence--she hastened to put herself right in his eyes.
'If we could borrow money, Alfred--' 'Beg money, borrow money, or steal money.
It would be all one to us, Sophronia,' her husband struck in.
'--Then, we could weather this?' 'No doubt.
To offer another original and undeniable remark, Sophronia, two and two make four.'
But, seeing that she was turning something in her mind, he gathered up the skirts of
his dressing-gown again, and, tucking them under one arm, and collecting his ample
whiskers in his other hand, kept his eye upon her, silently.
'It is natural, Alfred,' she said, looking up with some timidity into his face, 'to
think in such an emergency of the richest people we know, and the simplest.'
'Just so, Sophronia.'
'The Boffins.' 'Just so, Sophronia.'
'Is there nothing to be done with them?' 'What is there to be done with them,
She cast about in her thoughts again, and he kept his eye upon her as before.
'Of course I have repeatedly thought of the Boffins, Sophronia,' he resumed, after a
fruitless silence; 'but I have seen my way to nothing.
They are well guarded.
That infernal Secretary stands between them and--people of merit.'
'If he could be got rid of?' said she, brightening a little, after more casting
'Take time, Sophronia,' observed her watchful husband, in a patronizing manner.
'If working him out of the way could be presented in the light of a service to Mr
'Take time, Sophronia.' 'We have remarked lately, Alfred, that the
old man is turning very suspicious and distrustful.'
'Miserly too, my dear; which is far the most unpromising for us.
Nevertheless, take time, Sophronia, take time.'
She took time and then said:
'Suppose we should address ourselves to that tendency in him of which we have made
ourselves quite sure. Suppose my conscience--'
'And we know what a conscience it is, my soul. Yes?'
'Suppose my conscience should not allow me to keep to myself any longer what that
upstart girl told me of the Secretary's having made a declaration to her.
Suppose my conscience should oblige me to repeat it to Mr Boffin.'
'I rather like that,' said Lammle.
'Suppose I so repeated it to Mr Boffin, as to insinuate that my sensitive delicacy and
honour--' 'Very good words, Sophronia.'
'--As to insinuate that OUR sensitive delicacy and honour,' she resumed, with a
bitter stress upon the phrase, 'would not allow us to be silent parties to so
mercenary and designing a speculation on
the Secretary's part, and so gross a breach of faith towards his confiding employer.
Suppose I had imparted my virtuous uneasiness to my excellent husband, and he
had said, in his integrity, "Sophronia, you must immediately disclose this to Mr
'Once more, Sophronia,' observed Lammle, changing the leg on which he stood, 'I
rather like that.' 'You remark that he is well guarded,' she
'I think so too. But if this should lead to his discharging
his Secretary, there would be a weak place made.'
'Go on expounding, Sophronia.
I begin to like this very much.'
'Having, in our unimpeachable rectitude, done him the service of opening his eyes to
the treachery of the person he trusted, we shall have established a claim upon him and
a confidence with him.
Whether it can be made much of, or little of, we must wait--because we can't help it-
-to see. Probably we shall make the most of it that
is to be made.'
'Probably,' said Lammle. 'Do you think it impossible,' she asked, in
the same cold plotting way, 'that you might replace the Secretary?'
'Not impossible, Sophronia.
It might be brought about. At any rate it might be skilfully led up
to.' She nodded her understanding of the hint,
as she looked at the fire.
'Mr Lammle,' she said, musingly: not without a slight ironical touch: 'Mr Lammle
would be so delighted to do anything in his power.
Mr Lammle, himself a man of business as well as a capitalist.
Mr Lammle, accustomed to be intrusted with the most delicate affairs.
Mr Lammle, who has managed my own little fortune so admirably, but who, to be sure,
began to make his reputation with the advantage of being a man of property, above
temptation, and beyond suspicion.'
Mr Lammle smiled, and even patted her on the head.
In his sinister relish of the scheme, as he stood above her, making it the subject of
his cogitations, he seemed to have twice as much nose on his face as he had ever had in
his life.
He stood pondering, and she sat looking at the dusty fire without moving, for some
But, the moment he began to speak again she looked up with a wince and attended to him,
as if that double-dealing of hers had been in her mind, and the fear were revived in
her of his hand or his foot.
'It appears to me, Sophronia, that you have omitted one branch of the subject.
Perhaps not, for women understand women. We might oust the girl herself?'
Mrs Lammle shook her head.
'She has an immensely strong hold upon them both, Alfred.
Not to be compared with that of a paid secretary.
'But the dear child,' said Lammle, with a crooked smile, 'ought to have been open
with her benefactor and benefactress.
The darling love ought to have reposed unbounded confidence in her benefactor and
benefactress.' Sophronia shook her head again.
Women understand women,' said her husband, rather disappointed.
'I don't press it. It might be the making of our fortune to
make a clean sweep of them both.
With me to manage the property, and my wife to manage the people--Whew!'
Again shaking her head, she returned: 'They will never quarrel with the girl.
They will never punish the girl.
We must accept the girl, rely upon it.' 'Well!' cried Lammle, shrugging his
shoulders, 'so be it: only always remember that we don't want her.'
'Now, the sole remaining question is,' said Mrs Lammle, 'when shall I begin?'
'You cannot begin too soon, Sophronia.
As I have told you, the condition of our affairs is desperate, and may be blown upon
at any moment.' 'I must secure Mr Boffin alone, Alfred.
If his wife was present, she would throw oil upon the waters.
I know I should fail to move him to an angry outburst, if his wife was there.
And as to the girl herself--as I am going to betray her confidence, she is equally
out of the question.' 'It wouldn't do to write for an
appointment?' said Lammle.
'No, certainly not. They would wonder among themselves why I
wrote, and I want to have him wholly unprepared.'
'Call, and ask to see him alone?' suggested Lammle.
'I would rather not do that either. Leave it to me.
Spare me the little carriage for to-day, and for to-morrow (if I don't succeed to-
day), and I'll lie in wait for him.'
It was barely settled when a manly form was seen to pass the windows and heard to knock
and ring. 'Here's Fledgeby,' said Lammle.
'He admires you, and has a high opinion of you.
I'll be out. Coax him to use his influence with the Jew.
His name is Riah, of the House of Pubsey and Co.'
Adding these words under his breath, lest he should be audible in the erect ears of
Mr Fledgeby, through two keyholes and the hall, Lammle, making signals of discretion
to his servant, went softly up stairs.
'Mr Fledgeby,' said Mrs Lammle, giving him a very gracious reception, 'so glad to see
My poor dear Alfred, who is greatly worried just now about his affairs, went out rather
early. Dear Mr Fledgeby, do sit down.'
Dear Mr Fledgeby did sit down, and satisfied himself (or, judging from the
expression of his countenance, DISsatisfied himself) that nothing new had occurred in
the way of whisker-sprout since he came round the corner from the Albany.
'Dear Mr Fledgeby, it was needless to mention to you that my poor dear Alfred is
much worried about his affairs at present, for he has told me what a comfort you are
to him in his temporary difficulties, and
what a great service you have rendered him.'
'Oh!' said Mr Fledgeby. 'Yes,' said Mrs Lammle.
'I didn't know,' remarked Mr Fledgeby, trying a new part of his chair, 'but that
Lammle might be reserved about his affairs.'
'Not to me,' said Mrs Lammle, with deep feeling.
'Oh, indeed?' said Fledgeby. 'Not to me, dear Mr Fledgeby.
I am his wife.'
'Yes. I--I always understood so,' said Mr Fledgeby.
'And as the wife of Alfred, may I, dear Mr Fledgeby, wholly without his authority or
knowledge, as I am sure your discernment will perceive, entreat you to continue that
great service, and once more use your well-
earned influence with Mr Riah for a little more indulgence?
The name I have heard Alfred mention, tossing in his dreams, IS Riah; is it not?'
'The name of the Creditor is Riah,' said Mr Fledgeby, with a rather uncompromising
accent on his noun-substantive. 'Saint Mary Axe. Pubsey and Co.'
'Oh yes!' exclaimed Mrs Lammle, clasping her hands with a certain gushing wildness.
'Pubsey and Co.!'
'The pleading of the feminine--' Mr Fledgeby began, and there stuck so long for
a word to get on with, that Mrs Lammle offered him sweetly, 'Heart?'
'No,' said Mr Fledgeby, 'Gender--is ever what a man is bound to listen to, and I
wish it rested with myself. But this Riah is a nasty one, Mrs Lammle;
he really is.'
'Not if YOU speak to him, dear Mr Fledgeby.'
'Upon my soul and body he is!' said Fledgeby.
'Try. Try once more, dearest Mr Fledgeby.
What is there you cannot do, if you will!' 'Thank you,' said Fledgeby, 'you're very
complimentary to say so. I don't mind trying him again, at your
But of course I can't answer for the consequences.
Riah is a tough subject, and when he says he'll do a thing, he'll do it.'
'Exactly so,' cried Mrs Lammle, 'and when he says to you he'll wait, he'll wait.'
('She is a devilish clever woman,' thought Fledgeby.
'I didn't see that opening, but she spies it out and cuts into it as soon as it's
made. ')
'In point of fact, dear Mr Fledgeby,' Mrs Lammle went on in a very interesting
manner, 'not to affect concealment of Alfred's hopes, to you who are so much his
friend, there is a distant break in his horizon.'
This figure of speech seemed rather mysterious to Fascination Fledgeby, who
said, 'There's a what in his--eh?'
'Alfred, dear Mr Fledgeby, discussed with me this very morning before he went out,
some prospects he has, which might entirely change the aspect of his present troubles.'
'Really?' said Fledgeby.
'O yes!' Here Mrs Lammle brought her handkerchief
into play.
'And you know, dear Mr Fledgeby--you who study the human heart, and study the world-
-what an affliction it would be to lose position and to lose credit, when ability
to tide over a very short time might save all appearances.'
'Oh!' said Fledgeby.
'Then you think, Mrs Lammle, that if Lammle got time, he wouldn't burst up?--To use an
expression,' Mr Fledgeby apologetically explained, 'which is adopted in the Money
'Indeed yes. Truly, truly, yes!'
'That makes all the difference,' said Fledgeby.
'I'll make a point of seeing Riah at once.'
'Blessings on you, dearest Mr Fledgeby!' 'Not at all,' said Fledgeby.
She gave him her hand.
'The hand,' said Mr Fledgeby, 'of a lovely and superior-minded female is ever the
repayment of a--' 'Noble action!' said Mrs Lammle, extremely
anxious to get rid of him.
'It wasn't what I was going to say,' returned Fledgeby, who never would, under
any circumstances, accept a suggested expression, 'but you're very complimentary.
May I imprint a--a one--upon it?
Good morning!' 'I may depend upon your promptitude,
dearest Mr Fledgeby?'
Said Fledgeby, looking back at the door and respectfully kissing his hand, 'You may
depend upon it.'
In fact, Mr Fledgeby sped on his errand of mercy through the streets, at so brisk a
rate that his feet might have been winged by all the good spirits that wait on
They might have taken up their station in his breast, too, for he was blithe and
There was quite a fresh trill in his voice, when, arriving at the counting-house in St
Mary Axe, and finding it for the moment empty, he trolled forth at the foot of the
staircase: 'Now, Judah, what are you up to there?'
The old man appeared, with his accustomed deference.
'Halloa!' said Fledgeby, falling back, with a wink.
'You mean mischief, Jerusalem!' The old man raised his eyes inquiringly.
'Yes you do,' said Fledgeby.
'Oh, you sinner! Oh, you dodger!
What! You're going to act upon that bill of sale
at Lammle's, are you?
Nothing will turn you, won't it? You won't be put off for another single
minute, won't you?'
Ordered to immediate action by the master's tone and look, the old man took up his hat
from the little counter where it lay.
'You have been told that he might pull through it, if you didn't go in to win,
Wide-Awake; have you?' said Fledgeby. 'And it's not your game that he should pull
through it; ain't it?
You having got security, and there being enough to pay you?
Oh, you Jew!'
The old man stood irresolute and uncertain for a moment, as if there might be further
instructions for him in reserve. 'Do I go, sir?' he at length asked in a low
'Asks me if he is going!' exclaimed Fledgeby.
'Asks me, as if he didn't know his own purpose!
Asks me, as if he hadn't got his hat on ready!
Asks me, as if his sharp old eye--why, it cuts like a knife--wasn't looking at his
walking-stick by the door!'
'Do I go, sir?' 'Do you go?' sneered Fledgeby.
'Yes, you do go. Toddle, Judah!'
Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens CHAPTER 13
Fascination Fledgeby, left alone in the counting-house, strolled about with his hat
on one side, whistling, and investigating the drawers, and prying here and there for
any small evidences of his being cheated, but could find none.
'Not his merit that he don't cheat me,' was Mr Fledgeby's commentary delivered with a
wink, 'but my precaution.'
He then with a lazy grandeur asserted his rights as lord of Pubsey and Co. by poking
his cane at the stools and boxes, and spitting in the fireplace, and so loitered
royally to the window and looked out into
the narrow street, with his small eyes just peering over the top of Pubsey and Co.'s
As a blind in more senses than one, it reminded him that he was alone in the
counting-house with the front door open.
He was moving away to shut it, lest he should be injudiciously identified with the
establishment, when he was stopped by some one coming to the door.
This some one was the dolls' dressmaker, with a little basket on her arm, and her
crutch stick in her hand.
Her keen eyes had espied Mr Fledgeby before Mr Fledgeby had espied her, and he was
paralysed in his purpose of shutting her out, not so much by her approaching the
door, as by her favouring him with a shower of nods, the instant he saw her.
This advantage she improved by hobbling up the steps with such despatch that before Mr
Fledgeby could take measures for her finding nobody at home, she was face to
face with him in the counting-house.
'Hope I see you well, sir,' said Miss Wren. 'Mr Riah in?'
Fledgeby had dropped into a chair, in the attitude of one waiting wearily.
'I suppose he will be back soon,' he replied; 'he has cut out and left me
expecting him back, in an odd way. Haven't I seen you before?'
'Once before--if you had your eyesight,' replied Miss Wren; the conditional clause
in an under-tone. 'When you were carrying on some games up at
the top of the house.
I remember. How's your friend?'
'I have more friends than one, sir, I hope,' replied Miss Wren.
'Which friend?'
'Never mind,' said Mr Fledgeby, shutting up one eye, 'any of your friends, all your
friends. Are they pretty tolerable?'
Somewhat confounded, Miss Wren parried the pleasantry, and sat down in a corner behind
the door, with her basket in her lap. By-and-by, she said, breaking a long and
patient silence:
'I beg your pardon, sir, but I am used to find Mr Riah at this time, and so I
generally come at this time. I only want to buy my poor little two
shillings' worth of waste.
Perhaps you'll kindly let me have it, and I'll trot off to my work.'
'I let you have it?' said Fledgeby, turning his head towards her; for he had been
sitting blinking at the light, and feeling his cheek.
'Why, you don't really suppose that I have anything to do with the place, or the
business; do you?' 'Suppose?' exclaimed Miss Wren.
'He said, that day, you were the master!'
'The old cock in black said? Riah said?
Why, he'd say anything.' 'Well; but you said so too,' returned Miss
'Or at least you took on like the master, and didn't contradict him.'
'One of his dodges,' said Mr Fledgeby, with a cool and contemptuous shrug.
'He's made of dodges.
He said to me, "Come up to the top of the house, sir, and I'll show you a handsome
girl. But I shall call you the master."
So I went up to the top of the house and he showed me the handsome girl (very well
worth looking at she was), and I was called the master.
I don't know why.
I dare say he don't. He loves a dodge for its own sake; being,'
added Mr Fledgeby, after casting about for an expressive phrase, 'the dodgerest of all
the dodgers.'
'Oh my head!' cried the dolls' dressmaker, holding it with both her hands, as if it
were cracking. 'You can't mean what you say.'
'I can, my little woman, retorted Fledgeby, 'and I do, I assure you.
This repudiation was not only an act of deliberate policy on Fledgeby's part, in
case of his being surprised by any other caller, but was also a retort upon Miss
Wren for her over-sharpness, and a pleasant
instance of his humour as regarded the old Jew.
'He has got a bad name as an old Jew, and he is paid for the use of it, and I'll have
my money's worth out of him.'
This was Fledgeby's habitual reflection in the way of business, and it was sharpened
just now by the old man's presuming to have a secret from him: though of the secret
itself, as annoying somebody else whom he disliked, he by no means disapproved.
Miss Wren with a fallen countenance sat behind the door looking thoughtfully at the
ground, and the long and patient silence had again set in for some time, when the
expression of Mr Fledgeby's face betokened
that through the upper portion of the door, which was of glass, he saw some one
faltering on the brink of the counting- house.
Presently there was a rustle and a tap, and then some more rustling and another tap.
Fledgeby taking no notice, the door was at length softly opened, and the dried face of
a mild little elderly gentleman looked in.
'Mr Riah?' said this visitor, very politely.
'I am waiting for him, sir,' returned Mr Fledgeby.
'He went out and left me here.
I expect him back every minute. Perhaps you had better take a chair.'
The gentleman took a chair, and put his hand to his forehead, as if he were in a
melancholy frame of mind.
Mr Fledgeby eyed him aside, and seemed to relish his attitude.
'A fine day, sir,' remarked Fledgeby.
The little dried gentleman was so occupied with his own depressed reflections that he
did not notice the remark until the sound of Mr Fledgeby's voice had died out of the
Then he started, and said: 'I beg your pardon, sir.
I fear you spoke to me?' 'I said,' remarked Fledgeby, a little
louder than before, 'it was a fine day.'
'I beg your pardon. I beg your pardon.
Again the little dried gentleman put his hand to his forehead, and again Mr Fledgeby
seemed to enjoy his doing it. When the gentleman changed his attitude
with a sigh, Fledgeby spake with a grin.
'Mr Twemlow, I think?' The dried gentleman seemed much surprised.
'Had the pleasure of dining with you at Lammle's,' said Fledgeby.
'Even have the honour of being a connexion of yours.
An unexpected sort of place this to meet in; but one never knows, when one gets into
the City, what people one may knock up against.
I hope you have your health, and are enjoying yourself.'
There might have been a touch of impertinence in the last words; on the
other hand, it might have been but the native grace of Mr Fledgeby's manner.
Mr Fledgeby sat on a stool with a foot on the rail of another stool, and his hat on.
Mr Twemlow had uncovered on looking in at the door, and remained so.
Now the conscientious Twemlow, knowing what he had done to thwart the gracious
Fledgeby, was particularly disconcerted by this encounter.
He was as ill at ease as a gentleman well could be.
He felt himself bound to conduct himself stiffly towards Fledgeby, and he made him a
distant bow.
Fledgeby made his small eyes smaller in taking special note of his manner.
The dolls' dressmaker sat in her corner behind the door, with her eyes on the
ground and her hands folded on her basket, holding her crutch-stick between them, and
appearing to take no heed of anything.
'He's a long time,' muttered Mr Fledgeby, looking at his watch.
'What time may you make it, Mr Twemlow?' Mr Twemlow made it ten minutes past twelve,
'As near as a toucher,' assented Fledgeby. 'I hope, Mr Twemlow, your business here may
be of a more agreeable character than mine.'
'Thank you, sir,' said Mr Twemlow.
Fledgeby again made his small eyes smaller, as he glanced with great complacency at
Twemlow, who was timorously tapping the table with a folded letter.
'What I know of Mr Riah,' said Fledgeby, with a very disparaging utterance of his
name, 'leads me to believe that this is about the shop for disagreeable business.
I have always found him the bitingest and tightest screw in London.'
Mr Twemlow acknowledged the remark with a little distant bow.
It evidently made him nervous.
'So much so,' pursued Fledgeby, 'that if it wasn't to be true to a friend, nobody
should catch me waiting here a single minute.
But if you have friends in adversity, stand by them.
That's what I say and act up to.'
The equitable Twemlow felt that this sentiment, irrespective of the utterer,
demanded his cordial assent. 'You are very right, sir,' he rejoined with
'You indicate the generous and manly course.
'Glad to have your approbation,' returned Fledgeby.
'It's a coincidence, Mr Twemlow;' here he descended from his perch, and sauntered
towards him; 'that the friends I am standing by to-day are the friends at whose
house I met you!
The Lammles. She's a very taking and agreeable woman?'
Conscience smote the gentle Twemlow pale. 'Yes,' he said.
'She is.'
'And when she appealed to me this morning, to come and try what I could do to pacify
their creditor, this Mr Riah--that I certainly have gained some little influence
with in transacting business for another
friend, but nothing like so much as she supposes--and when a woman like that spoke
to me as her dearest Mr Fledgeby, and shed tears--why what could I do, you know?'
Twemlow gasped 'Nothing but come.'
'Nothing but come. And so I came.
But why,' said Fledgeby, putting his hands in his pockets and counterfeiting deep
meditation, 'why Riah should have started up, when I told him that the Lammles
entreated him to hold over a Bill of Sale
he has on all their effects; and why he should have cut out, saying he would be
back directly; and why he should have left me here alone so long; I cannot
The chivalrous Twemlow, Knight of the Simple Heart, was not in a condition to
offer any suggestion. He was too penitent, too remorseful.
For the first time in his life he had done an underhanded action, and he had done
He had secretly interposed against this confiding young man, for no better real
reason than because the young man's ways were not his ways.
But, the confiding young man proceeded to heap coals of fire on his sensitive head.
'I beg your pardon, Mr Twemlow; you see I am acquainted with the nature of the
affairs that are transacted here.
Is there anything I can do for you here?
You have always been brought up as a gentleman, and never as a man of business;'
another touch of possible impertinence in this place; 'and perhaps you are but a poor
man of business.
What else is to be expected!' 'I am even a poorer man of business than I
am a man, sir,' returned Twemlow, 'and I could hardly express my deficiency in a
stronger way.
I really do not so much as clearly understand my position in the matter on
which I am brought here. But there are reasons which make me very
delicate of accepting your assistance.
I am greatly, greatly, disinclined to profit by it.
I don't deserve it.' Good childish creature!
Condemned to a passage through the world by such narrow little dimly-lighted ways, and
picking up so few specks or spots on the road!
'Perhaps,' said Fledgeby, 'you may be a little proud of entering on the topic,--
having been brought up as a gentleman.' 'It's not that, sir,' returned Twemlow,
'it's not that.
I hope I distinguish between true pride and false pride.'
'I have no pride at all, myself,' said Fledgeby, 'and perhaps I don't cut things
so fine as to know one from t'other.
But I know this is a place where even a man of business needs his wits about him; and
if mine can be of any use to you here, you're welcome to them.'
'You are very good,' said Twemlow, faltering.
'But I am most unwilling--'
'I don't, you know,' proceeded Fledgeby with an ill-favoured glance, 'entertain the
vanity of supposing that my wits could be of any use to you in society, but they
might be here.
You cultivate society and society cultivates you, but Mr Riah's not society.
In society, Mr Riah is kept dark; eh, Mr Twemlow?'
Twemlow, much disturbed, and with his hand fluttering about his forehead, replied:
'Quite true.' The confiding young man besought him to
state his case.
The innocent Twemlow, expecting Fledgeby to be astounded by what he should unfold, and
not for an instant conceiving the possibility of its happening every day, but
treating of it as a terrible phenomenon
occurring in the course of ages, related how that he had had a deceased friend, a
married civil officer with a family, who had wanted money for change of place on
change of post, and how he, Twemlow, had
'given him his name,' with the usual, but in the eyes of Twemlow almost incredible
result that he had been left to repay what he had never had.
How, in the course of years, he had reduced the principal by trifling sums, 'having,'
said Twemlow, 'always to observe great economy, being in the enjoyment of a fixed
income limited in extent, and that
depending on the munificence of a certain nobleman,' and had always pinched the full
interest out of himself with punctual pinches.
How he had come, in course of time, to look upon this one only debt of his life as a
regular quarterly drawback, and no worse, when 'his name' had some way fallen into
the possession of Mr Riah, who had sent him
notice to redeem it by paying up in full, in one plump sum, or take tremendous
This, with hazy remembrances of how he had been carried to some office to 'confess
judgment' (as he recollected the phrase), and how he had been carried to another
office where his life was assured for
somebody not wholly unconnected with the sherry trade whom he remembered by the
remarkable circumstance that he had a Straduarius violin to dispose of, and also
a Madonna, formed the sum and substance of Mr Twemlow's narrative.
Through which stalked the shadow of the awful Snigsworth, eyed afar off by money-
lenders as Security in the Mist, and menacing Twemlow with his baronial
To all, Mr Fledgeby listened with the modest gravity becoming a confiding young
man who knew it all beforehand, and, when it was finished, seriously shook his head.
'I don't like, Mr Twemlow,' said Fledgeby, 'I don't like Riah's calling in the
principal. If he's determined to call it in, it must
'But supposing, sir,' said Twemlow, downcast, 'that it can't come?'
'Then,' retorted Fledgeby, 'you must go, you know.'
'Where?' asked Twemlow, faintly.
'To prison,' returned Fledgeby. Whereat Mr Twemlow leaned his innocent head
upon his hand, and moaned a little moan of distress and disgrace.
'However,' said Fledgeby, appearing to pluck up his spirits, 'we'll hope it's not
so bad as that comes to.
If you'll allow me, I'll mention to Mr Riah when he comes in, who you are, and I'll
tell him you're my friend, and I'll say my say for you, instead of your saying it for
yourself; I may be able to do it in a more business-like way.
You won't consider it a liberty?' 'I thank you again and again, sir,' said
'I am strong, strongly, disinclined to avail myself of your generosity, though my
helplessness yields.
For I cannot but feel that I--to put it in the mildest form of speech--that I have
done nothing to deserve it.' 'Where CAN he be?' muttered Fledgeby,
referring to his watch again.
'What CAN he have gone out for? Did you ever see him, Mr Twemlow?'
'Never.' 'He is a thorough Jew to look at, but he is
a more thorough Jew to deal with.
He's worst when he's quiet. If he's quiet, I shall take it as a very
bad sign. Keep your eye upon him when he comes in,
and, if he's quiet, don't be hopeful.
Here he is!--He looks quiet.'
With these words, which had the effect of causing the harmless Twemlow painful
agitation, Mr Fledgeby withdrew to his former post, and the old man entered the
'Why, Mr Riah,' said Fledgeby, 'I thought you were lost!'
The old man, glancing at the stranger, stood stock-still.
He perceived that his master was leading up to the orders he was to take, and he waited
to understand them. 'I really thought,' repeated Fledgeby
slowly, 'that you were lost, Mr Riah.
Why, now I look at you--but no, you can't have done it; no, you can't have done it!'
Hat in hand, the old man lifted his head, and looked distressfully at Fledgeby as
seeking to know what new moral burden he was to bear.
'You can't have rushed out to get the start of everybody else, and put in that bill of
sale at Lammle's?' said Fledgeby. 'Say you haven't, Mr Riah.'
'Sir, I have,' replied the old man in a low voice.
'Oh my eye!' cried Fledgeby. 'Tut, tut, tut!
Dear, dear, dear!
Well! I knew you were a hard customer, Mr Riah,
but I never thought you were as hard as that.'
'Sir,' said the old man, with great uneasiness, 'I do as I am directed.
I am not the principal here. I am but the agent of a superior, and I
have no choice, no power.'
'Don't say so,' retorted Fledgeby, secretly exultant as the old man stretched out his
hands, with a shrinking action of defending himself against the sharp construction of
the two observers.
'Don't play the tune of the trade, Mr Riah. You've a right to get in your debts, if
you're determined to do it, but don't pretend what every one in your line
regularly pretends.
At least, don't do it to me. Why should you, Mr Riah?
You know I know all about you.'
The old man clasped the skirt of his long coat with his disengaged hand, and directed
a wistful look at Fledgeby.
'And don't,' said Fledgeby, 'don't, I entreat you as a favour, Mr Riah, be so
devilish meek, for I know what'll follow if you are.
Look here, Mr Riah.
This gentleman is Mr Twemlow.' The Jew turned to him and bowed.
That poor lamb bowed in return; polite, and terrified.
'I have made such a failure,' proceeded Fledgeby, 'in trying to do anything with
you for my friend Lammle, that I've hardly a hope of doing anything with you for my
friend (and connexion indeed) Mr Twemlow.
But I do think that if you would do a favour for anybody, you would for me, and I
won't fail for want of trying, and I've passed my promise to Mr Twemlow besides.
Now, Mr Riah, here is Mr Twemlow.
Always good for his interest, always coming up to time, always paying his little way.
Now, why should you press Mr Twemlow? You can't have any spite against Mr
Why not be easy with Mr Twemlow?' The old man looked into Fledgeby's little
eyes for any sign of leave to be easy with Mr Twemlow; but there was no sign in them.
'Mr Twemlow is no connexion of yours, Mr Riah,' said Fledgeby; 'you can't want to be
even with him for having through life gone in for a gentleman and hung on to his
If Mr Twemlow has a contempt for business, what can it matter to you?'
'But pardon me,' interposed the gentle victim, 'I have not.
I should consider it presumption.'
'There, Mr Riah!' said Fledgeby, 'isn't that handsomely said?
Come! Make terms with me for Mr Twemlow.'
The old man looked again for any sign of permission to spare the poor little
gentleman. No. Mr Fledgeby meant him to be racked.
'I am very sorry, Mr Twemlow,' said Riah.
'I have my instructions. I am invested with no authority for
diverging from them. The money must be paid.'
'In full and slap down, do you mean, Mr Riah?' asked Fledgeby, to make things quite
explicit. 'In full, sir, and at once,' was Riah's
Mr Fledgeby shook his head deploringly at Twemlow, and mutely expressed in reference
to the venerable figure standing before him with eyes upon the ground: 'What a Monster
of an Israelite this is!'
'Mr Riah,' said Fledgeby. The old man lifted up his eyes once more to
the little eyes in Mr Fledgeby's head, with some reviving hope that the sign might be
coming yet.
'Mr Riah, it's of no use my holding back the fact.
There's a certain great party in the background in Mr Twemlow's case, and you
know it.
'I know it,' the old man admitted. 'Now, I'll put it as a plain point of
business, Mr Riah.
Are you fully determined (as a plain point of business) either to have that said great
party's security, or that said great party's money?'
'Fully determined,' answered Riah, as he read his master's face, and learnt the
'Not at all caring for, and indeed as it seems to me rather enjoying,' said
Fledgeby, with peculiar unction, 'the precious kick-up and row that will come off
between Mr Twemlow and the said great party?'
This required no answer, and received none.
Poor Mr Twemlow, who had betrayed the keenest mental terrors since his noble
kinsman loomed in the perspective, rose with a sigh to take his departure.
'I thank you very much, sir,' he said, offering Fledgeby his feverish hand.
'You have done me an unmerited service. Thank you, thank you!'
'Don't mention it,' answered Fledgeby.
'It's a failure so far, but I'll stay behind, and take another touch at Mr Riah.'
'Do not deceive yourself Mr Twemlow,' said the Jew, then addressing him directly for
the first time.
'There is no hope for you. You must expect no leniency here.
You must pay in full, and you cannot pay too promptly, or you will be put to heavy
Trust nothing to me, sir. Money, money, money.'
When he had said these words in an emphatic manner, he acknowledged Mr Twemlow's still
polite motion of his head, and that amiable little worthy took his departure in the
lowest spirits.
Fascination Fledgeby was in such a merry vein when the counting-house was cleared of
him, that he had nothing for it but to go to the window, and lean his arms on the
frame of the blind, and have his silent
laugh out, with his back to his subordinate.
When he turned round again with a composed countenance, his subordinate still stood in
the same place, and the dolls' dressmaker sat behind the door with a look of horror.
'Halloa!' cried Mr Fledgeby, 'you're forgetting this young lady, Mr Riah, and
she has been waiting long enough too.
Sell her her waste, please, and give her good measure if you can make up your mind
to do the liberal thing for once.'
He looked on for a time, as the Jew filled her little basket with such scraps as she
was used to buy; but, his merry vein coming on again, he was obliged to turn round to
the window once more, and lean his arms on the blind.
'There, my Cinderella dear,' said the old man in a whisper, and with a worn-out look,
'the basket's full now.
Bless you! And get you gone!'
'Don't call me your Cinderella dear,' returned Miss Wren.
'O you cruel godmother!'
She shook that emphatic little forefinger of hers in his face at parting, as
earnestly and reproachfully as she had ever shaken it at her grim old child at home.
'You are not the godmother at all!' said she.
'You are the Wolf in the Forest, the wicked Wolf!
And if ever my dear Lizzie is sold and betrayed, I shall know who sold and
betrayed her!'
Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens CHAPTER 14
Having assisted at a few more expositions of the lives of Misers, Mr Venus became
almost indispensable to the evenings at the Bower.
The circumstance of having another listener to the wonders unfolded by Wegg, or, as it
were, another calculator to cast up the guineas found in teapots, chimneys, racks
and mangers, and other such banks of
deposit, seemed greatly to heighten Mr Boffin's enjoyment; while Silas Wegg, for
his part, though of a jealous temperament which might under ordinary circumstances
have resented the anatomist's getting into
favour, was so very anxious to keep his eye on that gentleman--lest, being too much
left to himself, he should be tempted to play any tricks with the precious document
in his keeping--that he never lost an
opportunity of commending him to Mr Boffin's notice as a third party whose
company was much to be desired. Another friendly demonstration towards him
Mr Wegg now regularly gratified.
After each sitting was over, and the patron had departed, Mr Wegg invariably saw Mr
Venus home.
To be sure, he as invariably requested to be refreshed with a sight of the paper in
which he was a joint proprietor; but he never failed to remark that it was the
great pleasure he derived from Mr Venus's
improving society which had insensibly lured him round to Clerkenwell again, and
that, finding himself once more attracted to the spot by the social powers of Mr V.,
he would beg leave to go through that
little incidental procedure, as a matter of form.
'For well I know, sir,' Mr Wegg would add, 'that a man of your delicate mind would
wish to be checked off whenever the opportunity arises, and it is not for me to
baulk your feelings.'
A certain rustiness in Mr Venus, which never became so lubricated by the oil of Mr
Wegg but that he turned under the screw in a creaking and stiff manner, was very
noticeable at about this period.
While assisting at the literary evenings, he even went so far, on two or three
occasions, as to correct Mr Wegg when he grossly mispronounced a word, or made
nonsense of a passage; insomuch that Mr
Wegg took to surveying his course in the day, and to making arrangements for getting
round rocks at night instead of running straight upon them.
Of the slightest anatomical reference he became particularly shy, and, if he saw a
bone ahead, would go any distance out of his way rather than mention it by name.
The adverse destinies ordained that one evening Mr Wegg's labouring bark became
beset by polysyllables, and embarrassed among a perfect archipelago of hard words.
It being necessary to take soundings every minute, and to feel the way with the
greatest caution, Mr Wegg's attention was fully employed.
Advantage was taken of this dilemma by Mr Venus, to pass a scrap of paper into Mr
Boffin's hand, and lay his finger on his own lip.
When Mr Boffin got home at night he found that the paper contained Mr Venus's card
and these words: 'Should be glad to be honoured with a call respecting business of
your own, about dusk on an early evening.'
The very next evening saw Mr Boffin peeping in at the preserved frogs in Mr Venus's
shop-window, and saw Mr Venus espying Mr Boffin with the readiness of one on the
alert, and beckoning that gentleman into his interior.
Responding, Mr Boffin was invited to seat himself on the box of human miscellanies
before the fire, and did so, looking round the place with admiring eyes.
The fire being low and fitful, and the dusk gloomy, the whole stock seemed to be
winking and blinking with both eyes, as Mr Venus did.
The French gentleman, though he had no eyes, was not at all behind-hand, but
appeared, as the flame rose and fell, to open and shut his no eyes, with the
regularity of the glass-eyed dogs and ducks and birds.
The big-headed babies were equally obliging in lending their grotesque aid to the
general effect.
'You see, Mr Venus, I've lost no time,' said Mr Boffin.
'Here I am.' 'Here you are, sir,' assented Mr Venus.
'I don't like secrecy,' pursued Mr Boffin-- 'at least, not in a general way I don't--
but I dare say you'll show me good reason for being secret so far.'
'I think I shall, sir,' returned Venus.
'Good,' said Mr Boffin. 'You don't expect Wegg, I take it for
granted?' 'No, sir.
I expect no one but the present company.'
Mr Boffin glanced about him, as accepting under that inclusive denomination the
French gentleman and the circle in which he didn't move, and repeated, 'The present
'Sir,' said Mr Venus, 'before entering upon business, I shall have to ask you for your
word and honour that we are in confidence.' 'Let's wait a bit and understand what the
expression means,' answered Mr Boffin.
'In confidence for how long? In confidence for ever and a day?'
'I take your hint, sir,' said Venus; 'you think you might consider the business, when
you came to know it, to be of a nature incompatible with confidence on your part?'
'I might,' said Mr Boffin with a cautious look.
'True, sir.
Well, sir,' observed Venus, after clutching at his dusty hair, to brighten his ideas,
'let us put it another way.
I open the business with you, relying upon your honour not to do anything in it, and
not to mention me in it, without my knowledge.'
'That sounds fair,' said Mr Boffin.
'I agree to that.' 'I have your word and honour, sir?'
'My good fellow,' retorted Mr Boffin, 'you have my word; and how you can have that,
without my honour too, I don't know.
I've sorted a lot of dust in my time, but I never knew the two things go into separate
heaps.' This remark seemed rather to abash Mr
He hesitated, and said, 'Very true, sir;' and again, 'Very true, sir,' before
resuming the thread of his discourse.
'Mr Boffin, if I confess to you that I fell into a proposal of which you were the
subject, and of which you oughtn't to have been the subject, you will allow me to
mention, and will please take into
favourable consideration, that I was in a crushed state of mind at the time.'
The Golden Dustman, with his hands folded on the top of his stout stick, with his
chin resting upon them, and with something leering and whimsical in his eyes, gave a
nod, and said, 'Quite so, Venus.'
'That proposal, sir, was a conspiring breach of your confidence, to such an
extent, that I ought at once to have made it known to you.
But I didn't, Mr Boffin, and I fell into it.'
Without moving eye or finger, Mr Boffin gave another nod, and placidly repeated,
'Quite so, Venus.'
'Not that I was ever hearty in it, sir,' the penitent anatomist went on, 'or that I
ever viewed myself with anything but reproach for having turned out of the paths
of science into the paths of--' he was
going to say 'villany,' but, unwilling to press too hard upon himself, substituted
with great emphasis--'Weggery.' Placid and whimsical of look as ever, Mr
Boffin answered:
'Quite so, Venus.' 'And now, sir,' said Venus, 'having
prepared your mind in the rough, I will articulate the details.'
With which brief professional exordium, he entered on the history of the friendly
move, and truly recounted it.
One might have thought that it would have extracted some show of surprise or anger,
or other emotion, from Mr Boffin, but it extracted nothing beyond his former
'Quite so, Venus.' 'I have astonished you, sir, I believe?'
said Mr Venus, pausing dubiously. Mr Boffin simply answered as aforesaid:
'Quite so, Venus.'
By this time the astonishment was all on the other side.
It did not, however, so continue.
For, when Venus passed to Wegg's discovery, and from that to their having both seen Mr
Boffin dig up the Dutch bottle, that gentleman changed colour, changed his
attitude, became extremely restless, and
ended (when Venus ended) by being in a state of manifest anxiety, trepidation, and
'Now, sir,' said Venus, finishing off; 'you best know what was in that Dutch bottle,
and why you dug it up, and took it away. I don't pretend to know anything more about
it than I saw.
All I know is this: I am proud of my calling after all (though it has been
attended by one dreadful drawback which has told upon my heart, and almost equally upon
my skeleton), and I mean to live by my calling.
Putting the same meaning into other words, I do not mean to turn a single dishonest
penny by this affair.
As the best amends I can make you for having ever gone into it, I make known to
you, as a warning, what Wegg has found out.
My opinion is, that Wegg is not to be silenced at a modest price, and I build
that opinion on his beginning to dispose of your property the moment he knew his power.
Whether it's worth your while to silence him at any price, you will decide for
yourself, and take your measures accordingly.
As far as I am concerned, I have no price.
If I am ever called upon for the truth, I tell it, but I want to do no more than I
have now done and ended.'
'Thank'ee, Venus!' said Mr Boffin, with a hearty grip of his hand; 'thank'ee, Venus,
thank'ee, Venus!' And then walked up and down the little shop
in great agitation.
'But look here, Venus,' he by-and-by resumed, nervously sitting down again; 'if
I have to buy Wegg up, I shan't buy him any cheaper for your being out of it.
Instead of his having half the money--it was to have been half, I suppose?
Share and share alike?' 'It was to have been half, sir,' answered
'Instead of that, he'll now have all. I shall pay the same, if not more.
For you tell me he's an unconscionable dog, a ravenous rascal.'
'He is,' said Venus.
'Don't you think, Venus,' insinuated Mr Boffin, after looking at the fire for a
while--'don't you feel as if--you might like to pretend to be in it till Wegg was
bought up, and then ease your mind by
handing over to me what you had made believe to pocket?'
'No I don't, sir,' returned Venus, very positively.
'Not to make amends?' insinuated Mr Boffin.
'No, sir. It seems to me, after maturely thinking it
over, that the best amends for having got out of the square is to get back into the
'Humph!' mused Mr Boffin. 'When you say the square, you mean--'
'I mean,' said Venus, stoutly and shortly, 'the right.'
'It appears to me,' said Mr Boffin, grumbling over the fire in an injured
manner, 'that the right is with me, if it's anywhere.
I have much more right to the old man's money than the Crown can ever have.
What was the Crown to him except the King's Taxes?
Whereas, me and my wife, we was all in all to him.'
Mr Venus, with his head upon his hands, rendered melancholy by the contemplation of
Mr Boffin's avarice, only murmured to steep himself in the luxury of that frame of
mind: 'She did not wish so to regard herself, nor yet to be so regarded.'
'And how am I to live,' asked Mr Boffin, piteously, 'if I'm to be going buying
fellows up out of the little that I've got?
And how am I to set about it? When am I to get my money ready?
When am I to make a bid? You haven't told me when he threatens to
drop down upon me.'
Venus explained under what conditions, and with what views, the dropping down upon Mr
Boffin was held over until the Mounds should be cleared away.
Mr Boffin listened attentively.
'I suppose,' said he, with a gleam of hope, 'there's no doubt about the genuineness and
date of this confounded will?' 'None whatever,' said Mr Venus.
'Where might it be deposited at present?' asked Mr Boffin, in a wheedling tone.
'It's in my possession, sir.' 'Is it?' he cried, with great eagerness.
'Now, for any liberal sum of money that could be agreed upon, Venus, would you put
it in the fire?' 'No, sir, I wouldn't,' interrupted Mr
'Nor pass it over to me?' 'That would be the same thing.
No, sir,' said Mr Venus.
The Golden Dustman seemed about to pursue these questions, when a stumping noise was
heard outside, coming towards the door. 'Hush! here's Wegg!' said Venus.
'Get behind the young alligator in the corner, Mr Boffin, and judge him for
I won't light a candle till he's gone; there'll only be the glow of the fire;
Wegg's well acquainted with the alligator, and he won't take particular notice of him.
Draw your legs in, Mr Boffin, at present I see a pair of shoes at the end of his tail.
Get your head well behind his smile, Mr Boffin, and you'll lie comfortable there;
you'll find plenty of room behind his smile.
He's a little dusty, but he's very like you in tone.
Are you right, sir?' Mr Boffin had but whispered an affirmative
response, when Wegg came stumping in.
'Partner,' said that gentleman in a sprightly manner, 'how's yourself?'
'Tolerable,' returned Mr Venus. 'Not much to boast of.'
'In-deed!' said Wegg: 'sorry, partner, that you're not picking up faster, but your
soul's too large for your body, sir; that's where it is.
And how's our stock in trade, partner?
Safe bind, safe find, partner? Is that about it?'
'Do you wish to see it?' asked Venus. 'If you please, partner,' said Wegg,
rubbing his hands.
'I wish to see it jintly with yourself. Or, in similar words to some that was set
to music some time back:
"I wish you to see it with your eyes,And I will pledge with mine."'
Turning his back and turning a key, Mr Venus produced the document, holding on by
his usual corner.
Mr Wegg, holding on by the opposite corner, sat down on the seat so lately vacated by
Mr Boffin, and looked it over.
'All right, sir,' he slowly and unwillingly admitted, in his reluctance to loose his
hold, 'all right!'
And greedily watched his partner as he turned his back again, and turned his key
'There's nothing new, I suppose?' said Venus, resuming his low chair behind the
counter. 'Yes there is, sir,' replied Wegg; 'there
was something new this morning.
That foxey old grasper and griper--' 'Mr Boffin?' inquired Venus, with a glance
towards the alligator's yard or two of smile.
'Mister be blowed!' cried Wegg, yielding to his honest indignation.
'Boffin. Dusty Boffin.
That foxey old grunter and grinder, sir, turns into the yard this morning, to meddle
with our property, a menial tool of his own, a young man by the name of Sloppy.
Ecod, when I say to him, "What do you want here, young man?
This is a private yard," he pulls out a paper from Boffin's other blackguard, the
one I was passed over for.
"This is to authorize Sloppy to overlook the carting and to watch the work."
That's pretty strong, I think, Mr Venus?' 'Remember he doesn't know yet of our claim
on the property,' suggested Venus.
'Then he must have a hint of it,' said Wegg, 'and a strong one that'll jog his
terrors a bit. Give him an inch, and he'll take an ell.
Let him alone this time, and what'll he do with our property next?
I tell you what, Mr Venus; it comes to this; I must be overbearing with Boffin, or
I shall fly into several pieces.
I can't contain myself when I look at him. Every time I see him putting his hand in
his pocket, I see him putting it into my pocket.
Every time I hear him jingling his money, I hear him taking liberties with my money.
Flesh and blood can't bear it. No,' said Mr Wegg, greatly exasperated,
'and I'll go further.
A wooden leg can't bear it!' 'But, Mr Wegg,' urged Venus, 'it was your
own idea that he should not be exploded upon, till the Mounds were carted away.'
'But it was likewise my idea, Mr Venus,' retorted Wegg, 'that if he came sneaking
and sniffing about the property, he should be threatened, given to understand that he
has no right to it, and be made our slave.
Wasn't that my idea, Mr Venus?' 'It certainly was, Mr Wegg.'
'It certainly was, as you say, partner,' assented Wegg, put into a better humour by
the ready admission.
'Very well. I consider his planting one of his menial
tools in the yard, an act of sneaking and sniffing.
And his nose shall be put to the grindstone for it.'
'It was not your fault, Mr Wegg, I must admit,' said Venus, 'that he got off with
the Dutch bottle that night.'
'As you handsomely say again, partner! No, it was not my fault.
I'd have had that bottle out of him.
Was it to be borne that he should come, like a thief in the dark, digging among
stuff that was far more ours than his (seeing that we could deprive him of every
grain of it, if he didn't buy us at our own
figure), and carrying off treasure from its bowels?
No, it was not to be borne. And for that, too, his nose shall be put to
the grindstone.'
'How do you propose to do it, Mr Wegg?' 'To put his nose to the grindstone?
I propose,' returned that estimable man, 'to insult him openly.
And, if looking into this eye of mine, he dares to offer a word in answer, to retort
upon him before he can take his breath, "Add another word to that, you dusty old
dog, and you're a beggar."'
'Suppose he says nothing, Mr Wegg?' 'Then,' replied Wegg, 'we shall have come
to an understanding with very little trouble, and I'll break him and drive him,
Mr Venus.
I'll put him in harness, and I'll bear him up tight, and I'll break him and drive him.
The harder the old Dust is driven, sir, the higher he'll pay.
And I mean to be paid high, Mr Venus, I promise you.'
'You speak quite revengefully, Mr Wegg.' 'Revengefully, sir?
Is it for him that I have declined and falled, night after night?
Is it for his pleasure that I've waited at home of an evening, like a set of skittles,
to be set up and knocked over, set up and knocked over, by whatever balls--or books--
he chose to bring against me?
Why, I'm a hundred times the man he is, sir; five hundred times!'
Perhaps it was with the malicious intent of urging him on to his worst that Mr Venus
looked as if he doubted that.
Was it outside the house at present ockypied, to its disgrace, by that minion
of fortune and worm of the hour,' said Wegg, falling back upon his strongest terms
of reprobation, and slapping the counter,
'that I, Silas Wegg, five hundred times the man he ever was, sat in all weathers,
waiting for a errand or a customer?
Was it outside that very house as I first set eyes upon him, rolling in the lap of
luxury, when I was selling halfpenny ballads there for a living?
And am I to grovel in the dust for HIM to walk over?
There was a grin upon the ghastly countenance of the French gentleman under
the influence of the firelight, as if he were computing how many thousand slanderers
and traitors array themselves against the
fortunate, on premises exactly answering to those of Mr Wegg.
One might have fancied that the big-headed babies were toppling over with their
hydrocephalic attempts to reckon up the children of men who transform their
benefactors into their injurers by the same process.
The yard or two of smile on the part of the alligator might have been invested with the
meaning, 'All about this was quite familiar knowledge down in the depths of the slime,
ages ago.'
'But,' said Wegg, possibly with some slight perception to the foregoing effect, 'your
speaking countenance remarks, Mr Venus, that I'm duller and savager than usual.
Perhaps I HAVE allowed myself to brood too much.
Begone, dull Care! 'Tis gone, sir.
I've looked in upon you, and empire resumes her sway.
For, as the song says--subject to your correction, sir--
"When the heart of a man is depressed with cares,The mist is dispelled if
Venus appears.
Like the notes of a fiddle, you sweetly, sir, sweetly,Raises our spirits
and charms our ears."
Good-night, sir.' 'I shall have a word or two to say to you,
Mr Wegg, before long,' remarked Venus, 'respecting my share in the project we've
been speaking of.'
'My time, sir,' returned Wegg, 'is yours. In the meanwhile let it be fully understood
that I shall not neglect bringing the grindstone to bear, nor yet bringing Dusty
Boffin's nose to it.
His nose once brought to it, shall be held to it by these hands, Mr Venus, till the
sparks flies out in showers.' With this agreeable promise Wegg stumped
out, and shut the shop-door after him.
'Wait till I light a candle, Mr Boffin,' said Venus, 'and you'll come out more
So, he lighting a candle and holding it up at arm's length, Mr Boffin disengaged
himself from behind the alligator's smile, with an expression of countenance so very
downcast that it not only appeared as if
the alligator had the whole of the joke to himself, but further as if it had been
conceived and executed at Mr Boffin's expense.
'That's a treacherous fellow,' said Mr Boffin, dusting his arms and legs as he
came forth, the alligator having been but musty company.
'That's a dreadful fellow.'
'The alligator, sir?' said Venus. 'No, Venus, no.
The Serpent.'
'You'll have the goodness to notice, Mr Boffin,' remarked Venus, 'that I said
nothing to him about my going out of the affair altogether, because I didn't wish to
take you anyways by surprise.
But I can't be too soon out of it for my satisfaction, Mr Boffin, and I now put it
to you when it will suit your views for me to retire?'
'Thank'ee, Venus, thank'ee, Venus; but I don't know what to say,' returned Mr
Boffin, 'I don't know what to do. He'll drop down on me any way.
He seems fully determined to drop down; don't he?'
Mr Venus opined that such was clearly his intention.
'You might be a sort of protection for me, if you remained in it,' said Mr Boffin;
'you might stand betwixt him and me, and take the edge off him.
Don't you feel as if you could make a show of remaining in it, Venus, till I had time
to turn myself round?'
Venus naturally inquired how long Mr Boffin thought it might take him to turn himself
round? 'I am sure I don't know,' was the answer,
given quite at a loss.
'Everything is so at sixes and sevens. If I had never come into the property, I
shouldn't have minded.
But being in it, it would be very trying to be turned out; now, don't you acknowledge
that it would, Venus?'
Mr Venus preferred, he said, to leave Mr Boffin to arrive at his own conclusions on
that delicate question. 'I am sure I don't know what to do,' said
Mr Boffin.
'If I ask advice of any one else, it's only letting in another person to be bought out,
and then I shall be ruined that way, and might as well have given up the property
and gone slap to the workhouse.
If I was to take advice of my young man, Rokesmith, I should have to buy HIM out.
Sooner or later, of course, he'd drop down upon me, like Wegg.
I was brought into the world to be dropped down upon, it appears to me.'
Mr Venus listened to these lamentations in silence, while Mr Boffin jogged to and fro,
holding his pockets as if he had a pain in them.
'After all, you haven't said what you mean to do yourself, Venus.
When you do go out of it, how do you mean to go?'
Venus replied that as Wegg had found the document and handed it to him, it was his
intention to hand it back to Wegg, with the declaration that he himself would have
nothing to say to it, or do with it, and
that Wegg must act as he chose, and take the consequences.
'And then he drops down with his whole weight upon ME!' cried Mr Boffin, ruefully.
'I'd sooner be dropped upon by you than by him, or even by you jintly, than by him
Mr Venus could only repeat that it was his fixed intention to betake himself to the
paths of science, and to walk in the same all the days of his life; not dropping down
upon his fellow-creatures until they were
deceased, and then only to articulate them to the best of his humble ability.
'How long could you be persuaded to keep up the appearance of remaining in it?' asked
Mr Boffin, retiring on his other idea.
'Could you be got to do so, till the Mounds are gone?'
No. That would protract the mental uneasiness of Mr Venus too long, he said.
'Not if I was to show you reason now?' demanded Mr Boffin; 'not if I was to show
you good and sufficient reason?'
If by good and sufficient reason Mr Boffin meant honest and unimpeachable reason, that
might weigh with Mr Venus against his personal wishes and convenience.
But he must add that he saw no opening to the possibility of such reason being shown
him. 'Come and see me, Venus,' said Mr Boffin,
'at my house.'
'Is the reason there, sir?' asked Mr Venus, with an incredulous smile and blink.
'It may be, or may not be,' said Mr Boffin, 'just as you view it.
But in the meantime don't go out of the matter.
Look here. Do this.
Give me your word that you won't take any steps with Wegg, without my knowledge, just
as I have given you my word that I won't without yours.'
'Done, Mr Boffin!' said Venus, after brief consideration.
'Thank'ee, Venus, thank'ee, Venus! Done!'
'When shall I come to see you, Mr Boffin.'
'When you like. The sooner the better.
I must be going now. Good-night, Venus.'
'Good-night, sir.'
'And good-night to the rest of the present company,' said Mr Boffin, glancing round
the shop.
'They make a queer show, Venus, and I should like to be better acquainted with
them some day. Good-night, Venus, good-night!
Thankee, Venus, thankee, Venus!'
With that he jogged out into the street, and jogged upon his homeward way.
'Now, I wonder,' he meditated as he went along, nursing his stick, 'whether it can
be, that Venus is setting himself to get the better of Wegg?
Whether it can be, that he means, when I have bought Wegg out, to have me all to
himself and to pick me clean to the bones!'
It was a cunning and suspicious idea, quite in the way of his school of Misers, and he
looked very cunning and suspicious as he went jogging through the streets.
More than once or twice, more than twice or thrice, say half a dozen times, he took his
stick from the arm on which he nursed it, and hit a straight sharp rap at the air
with its head.
Possibly the wooden countenance of Mr Silas Wegg was incorporeally before him at those
moments, for he hit with intense satisfaction.
He was within a few streets of his own house, when a little private carriage,
coming in the contrary direction, passed him, turned round, and passed him again.
It was a little carriage of eccentric movement, for again he heard it stop behind
him and turn round, and again he saw it pass him.
Then it stopped, and then went on, out of sight.
But, not far out of sight, for, when he came to the corner of his own street, there
it stood again.
There was a lady's face at the window as he came up with this carriage, and he was
passing it when the lady softly called to him by his name.
'I beg your pardon, Ma'am?' said Mr Boffin, coming to a stop.
'It is Mrs Lammle,' said the lady. Mr Boffin went up to the window, and hoped
Mrs Lammle was well.
'Not very well, dear Mr Boffin; I have fluttered myself by being--perhaps
foolishly--uneasy and anxious. I have been waiting for you some time.
Can I speak to you?'
Mr Boffin proposed that Mrs Lammle should drive on to his house, a few hundred yards
further. 'I would rather not, Mr Boffin, unless you
particularly wish it.
I feel the difficulty and delicacy of the matter so much that I would rather avoid
speaking to you at your own home. You must think this very strange?'
Mr Boffin said no, but meant yes.
'It is because I am so grateful for the good opinion of all my friends, and am so
touched by it, that I cannot bear to run the risk of forfeiting it in any case, even
in the cause of duty.
I have asked my husband (my dear Alfred, Mr Boffin) whether it is the cause of duty,
and he has most emphatically said Yes. I wish I had asked him sooner.
It would have spared me much distress.'
('Can this be more dropping down upon me!' thought Mr Boffin, quite bewildered.)
'It was Alfred who sent me to you, Mr Boffin.
Alfred said, "Don't come back, Sophronia, until you have seen Mr Boffin, and told him
all. Whatever he may think of it, he ought
certainly to know it."
Would you mind coming into the carriage?' Mr Boffin answered, 'Not at all,' and took
his seat at Mrs Lammle's side.
'Drive slowly anywhere,' Mrs Lammle called to her coachman, 'and don't let the
carriage rattle.' 'It MUST be more dropping down, I think,'
said Mr Boffin to himself.
'What next?'