Part 16 - Our Mutual Friend Audiobook by Charles Dickens (Book 4, Chs 14-17)

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Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens CHAPTER 14
Mr and Mrs John Harmon had so timed their taking possession of their rightful name
and their London house, that the event befel on the very day when the last waggon-
load of the last Mound was driven out at the gates of Boffin's Bower.
As it jolted away, Mr Wegg felt that the last load was correspondingly removed from
his mind, and hailed the auspicious season when that black sheep, Boffin, was to be
closely sheared.
Over the whole slow process of levelling the Mounds, Silas had kept watch with
rapacious eyes.
But, eyes no less rapacious had watched the growth of the Mounds in years bygone, and
had vigilantly sifted the dust of which they were composed.
No valuables turned up.
How should there be any, seeing that the old hard jailer of Harmony Jail had coined
every waif and stray into money, long before?
Though disappointed by this bare result, Mr Wegg felt too sensibly relieved by the
close of the labour, to grumble to any great extent.
A foreman-representative of the dust contractors, purchasers of the Mounds, had
worn Mr Wegg down to skin and bone.
This supervisor of the proceedings, asserting his employers' rights to cart off
by daylight, nightlight, torchlight, when they would, must have been the death of
Silas if the work had lasted much longer.
Seeming never to need sleep himself, he would reappear, with a tied-up broken head,
in fantail hat and velveteen smalls, like an accursed goblin, at the most unholy and
untimely hours.
Tired out by keeping close ward over a long day's work in fog and rain, Silas would
have just crawled to bed and be dozing, when a horrid shake and rumble under his
pillow would announce an approaching train
of carts, escorted by this Demon of Unrest, to fall to work again.
At another time, he would be rumbled up out of his soundest sleep, in the dead of the
night; at another, would be kept at his post eight-and-forty hours on end.
The more his persecutor besought him not to trouble himself to turn out, the more
suspicious was the crafty Wegg that indications had been observed of something
hidden somewhere, and that attempts were on foot to circumvent him.
So continually broken was his rest through these means, that he led the life of having
wagered to keep ten thousand dog-watches in ten thousand hours, and looked piteously
upon himself as always getting up and yet never going to bed.
So gaunt and haggard had he grown at last, that his wooden leg showed
disproportionate, and presented a thriving appearance in contrast with the rest of his
plagued body, which might almost have been termed chubby.
However, Wegg's comfort was, that all his disagreeables were now over, and that he
was immediately coming into his property.
Of late, the grindstone did undoubtedly appear to have been whirling at his own
nose rather than Boffin's, but Boffin's nose was now to be sharpened fine.
Thus far, Mr Wegg had let his dusty friend off lightly, having been baulked in that
amiable design of frequently dining with him, by the machinations of the sleepless
He had been constrained to depute Mr Venus to keep their dusty friend, Boffin, under
inspection, while he himself turned lank and lean at the Bower.
To Mr Venus's museum Mr Wegg repaired when at length the Mounds were down and gone.
It being evening, he found that gentleman, as he expected, seated over his fire; but
did not find him, as he expected, floating his powerful mind in tea.
'Why, you smell rather comfortable here!' said Wegg, seeming to take it ill, and
stopping and sniffing as he entered. 'I AM rather comfortable, sir,' said Venus.
'You don't use lemon in your business, do you?' asked Wegg, sniffing again.
'No, Mr Wegg,' said Venus. 'When I use it at all, I mostly use it in
cobblers' punch.'
'What do you call cobblers' punch?' demanded Wegg, in a worse humour than
'It's difficult to impart the receipt for it, sir,' returned Venus, 'because, however
particular you may be in allotting your materials, so much will still depend upon
the individual gifts, and there being a feeling thrown into it.
But the groundwork is gin.' 'In a Dutch bottle?' said Wegg gloomily, as
he sat himself down.
'Very good, sir, very good!' cried Venus. 'Will you partake, sir?'
'Will I partake?' returned Wegg very surlily.
'Why, of course I will!
WILL a man partake, as has been tormented out of his five senses by an everlasting
dustman with his head tied up! WILL he, too!
As if he wouldn't!'
'Don't let it put you out, Mr Wegg. You don't seem in your usual spirits.'
'If you come to that, you don't seem in your usual spirits,' growled Wegg.
'You seem to be setting up for lively.'
This circumstance appeared, in his then state of mind, to give Mr Wegg uncommon
offence. 'And you've been having your hair cut!'
said Wegg, missing the usual dusty shock.
'Yes, Mr Wegg. But don't let that put you out, either.'
'And I am blest if you ain't getting fat!' said Wegg, with culminating discontent.
'What are you going to do next?'
'Well, Mr Wegg,' said Venus, smiling in a sprightly manner, 'I suspect you could
hardly guess what I am going to do next.' 'I don't want to guess,' retorted Wegg.
'All I've got to say is, that it's well for you that the diwision of labour has been
what it has been.
It's well for you to have had so light a part in this business, when mine has been
so heavy. You haven't had YOUR rest broke, I'll be
'Not at all, sir,' said Venus. 'Never rested so well in all my life, I
thank you.' 'Ah!' grumbled Wegg, 'you should have been
If you had been me, and had been fretted out of your bed, and your sleep, and your
meals, and your mind, for a stretch of months together, you'd have been out of
condition and out of sorts.'
'Certainly, it has trained you down, Mr Wegg,' said Venus, contemplating his figure
with an artist's eye. 'Trained you down very low, it has!
So weazen and yellow is the kivering upon your bones, that one might almost fancy you
had come to give a look-in upon the French gentleman in the corner, instead of me.'
Mr Wegg, glancing in great dudgeon towards the French gentleman's corner, seemed to
notice something new there, which induced him to glance at the opposite corner, and
then to put on his glasses and stare at all
the nooks and corners of the dim shop in succession.
'Why, you've been having the place cleaned up!' he exclaimed.
'Yes, Mr Wegg.
By the hand of adorable woman.' 'Then what you're going to do next, I
suppose, is to get married?' 'That's it, sir.'
Silas took off his glasses again--finding himself too intensely disgusted by the
sprightly appearance of his friend and partner to bear a magnified view of him and
made the inquiry:
'To the old party?' 'Mr Wegg!' said Venus, with a sudden flush
of wrath. 'The lady in question is not a old party.'
'I meant,' exclaimed Wegg, testily, 'to the party as formerly objected?'
'Mr Wegg,' said Venus, 'in a case of so much delicacy, I must trouble you to say
what you mean.
There are strings that must not be played upon.
No sir! Not sounded, unless in the most respectful
and tuneful manner.
Of such melodious strings is Miss Pleasant Riderhood formed.'
'Then it IS the lady as formerly objected?' said Wegg.
'Sir,' returned Venus with dignity, 'I accept the altered phrase.
It is the lady as formerly objected.' 'When is it to come off?' asked Silas.
'Mr Wegg,' said Venus, with another flush.
'I cannot permit it to be put in the form of a Fight.
I must temperately but firmly call upon you, sir, to amend that question.'
'When is the lady,' Wegg reluctantly demanded, constraining his ill temper in
remembrance of the partnership and its stock in trade, 'a going to give her 'and
where she has already given her 'art?'
'Sir,' returned Venus, 'I again accept the altered phrase, and with pleasure.
The lady is a going to give her 'and where she has already given her 'art, next
'Then the lady's objection has been met?' said Silas.
'Mr Wegg,' said Venus, 'as I did name to you, I think, on a former occasion, if not
on former occasions--'
'On former occasions,' interrupted Wegg.
'--What,' pursued Venus, 'what the nature of the lady's objection was, I may impart,
without violating any of the tender confidences since sprung up between the
lady and myself, how it has been met,
through the kind interference of two good friends of mine: one, previously acquainted
with the lady: and one, not.
The pint was thrown out, sir, by those two friends when they did me the great service
of waiting on the lady to try if a union betwixt the lady and me could not be
brought to bear--the pint, I say, was
thrown out by them, sir, whether if, after marriage, I confined myself to the
articulation of men, children, and the lower animals, it might not relieve the
lady's mind of her feeling respecting being as a lady--regarded in a bony light.
It was a happy thought, sir, and it took root.'
'It would seem, Mr Venus,' observed Wegg, with a touch of distrust, 'that you are
flush of friends?' 'Pretty well, sir,' that gentleman
answered, in a tone of placid mystery.
'So-so, sir. Pretty well.'
'However,' said Wegg, after eyeing him with another touch of distrust, 'I wish you joy.
One man spends his fortune in one way, and another in another.
You are going to try matrimony. I mean to try travelling.'
'Indeed, Mr Wegg?'
'Change of air, sea-scenery, and my natural rest, I hope may bring me round after the
persecutions I have undergone from the dustman with his head tied up, which I just
now mentioned.
The tough job being ended and the Mounds laid low, the hour is come for Boffin to
stump up.
Would ten to-morrow morning suit you, partner, for finally bringing Boffin's nose
to the grindstone?' Ten to-morrow morning would quite suit Mr
Venus for that excellent purpose.
'You have had him well under inspection, I hope?' said Silas.
Mr Venus had had him under inspection pretty well every day.
'Suppose you was just to step round to- night then, and give him orders from me--I
say from me, because he knows I won't be played with--to be ready with his papers,
his accounts, and his cash, at that time in the morning?' said Wegg.
'And as a matter of form, which will be agreeable to your own feelings, before we
go out (for I'll walk with you part of the way, though my leg gives under me with
weariness), let's have a look at the stock in trade.'
Mr Venus produced it, and it was perfectly correct; Mr Venus undertook to produce it
again in the morning, and to keep tryst with Mr Wegg on Boffin's doorstep as the
clock struck ten.
At a certain point of the road between Clerkenwell and Boffin's house (Mr Wegg
expressly insisted that there should be no prefix to the Golden Dustman's name) the
partners separated for the night.
It was a very bad night; to which succeeded a very bad morning.
The streets were so unusually slushy, muddy, and miserable, in the morning, that
Wegg rode to the scene of action; arguing that a man who was, as it were, going to
the Bank to draw out a handsome property, could well afford that trifling expense.
Venus was punctual, and Wegg undertook to knock at the door, and conduct the
Door knocked at. Door opened.
'Boffin at home?' The servant replied that MR Boffin was at
'He'll do,' said Wegg, 'though it ain't what I call him.'
The servant inquired if they had any appointment?
'Now, I tell you what, young fellow,' said Wegg, 'I won't have it.
This won't do for me. I don't want menials.
I want Boffin.'
They were shown into a waiting-room, where the all-powerful Wegg wore his hat, and
whistled, and with his forefinger stirred up a clock that stood upon the
chimneypiece, until he made it strike.
In a few minutes they were shown upstairs into what used to be Boffin's room; which,
besides the door of entrance, had folding- doors in it, to make it one of a suite of
rooms when occasion required.
Here, Boffin was seated at a library-table, and here Mr Wegg, having imperiously
motioned the servant to withdraw, drew up a chair and seated himself, in his hat, close
beside him.
Here, also, Mr Wegg instantly underwent the remarkable experience of having his hat
twitched off his head and thrown out of a window, which was opened and shut for the
'Be careful what insolent liberties you take in that gentleman's presence,' said
the owner of the hand which had done this, 'or I will throw you after it.'
Wegg involuntarily clapped his hand to his bare head, and stared at the Secretary.
For, it was he addressed him with a severe countenance, and who had come in quietly by
the folding-doors.
'Oh!' said Wegg, as soon as he recovered his suspended power of speech.
'Very good! I gave directions for YOU to be dismissed.
And you ain't gone, ain't you?
Oh! We'll look into this presently.
Very good!' 'No, nor I ain't gone,' said another voice.
Somebody else had come in quietly by the folding-doors.
Turning his head, Wegg beheld his persecutor, the ever-wakeful dustman,
accoutred with fantail hat and velveteen smalls complete.
Who, untying his tied-up broken head, revealed a head that was whole, and a face
that was Sloppy's.
'Ha, ha, ha, gentlemen!' roared Sloppy in a peal of laughter, and with immeasureable
'He never thought as I could sleep standing, and often done it when I turned
for Mrs Higden! He never thought as I used to give Mrs
Higden the Police-news in different voices!
But I did lead him a life all through it, gentlemen, I hope I really and truly DID!'
Here, Mr Sloppy opening his mouth to a quite alarming extent, and throwing back
his head to peal again, revealed incalculable buttons.
'Oh!' said Wegg, slightly discomfited, but not much as yet: 'one and one is two not
dismissed, is it? Bof--fin!
Just let me ask a question.
Who set this chap on, in this dress, when the carting began?
Who employed this fellow?' 'I say!' remonstrated Sloppy, jerking his
head forward.
'No fellows, or I'll throw you out of winder!'
Mr Boffin appeased him with a wave of his hand, and said: 'I employed him, Wegg.'
'Oh! You employed him, Boffin?
Very good. Mr Venus, we raise our terms, and we can't
do better than proceed to business. Bof--fin!
I want the room cleared of these two scum.'
'That's not going to be done, Wegg,' replied Mr Boffin, sitting composedly on
the library-table, at one end, while the Secretary sat composedly on it at the
'Bof--fin! Not going to be done?' repeated Wegg.
'Not at your peril?' 'No, Wegg,' said Mr Boffin, shaking his
head good-humouredly.
'Not at my peril, and not on any other terms.'
Wegg reflected a moment, and then said: 'Mr Venus, will you be so good as hand me over
that same dockyment?'
'Certainly, sir,' replied Venus, handing it to him with much politeness.
'There it is.
Having now, sir, parted with it, I wish to make a small observation: not so much
because it is anyways necessary, or expresses any new doctrine or discovery, as
because it is a comfort to my mind.
Silas Wegg, you are a precious old rascal.'
Mr Wegg, who, as if anticipating a compliment, had been beating time with the
paper to the other's politeness until this unexpected conclusion came upon him,
stopped rather abruptly.
'Silas Wegg,' said Venus, 'know that I took the liberty of taking Mr Boffin into our
concern as a sleeping partner, at a very early period of our firm's existence.
'Quite true,' added Mr Boffin; 'and I tested Venus by making him a pretended
proposal or two; and I found him on the whole a very honest man, Wegg.'
'So Mr Boffin, in his indulgence, is pleased to say,' Venus remarked: 'though in
the beginning of this dirt, my hands were not, for a few hours, quite as clean as I
could wish.
But I hope I made early and full amends.' 'Venus, you did,' said Mr Boffin.
'Certainly, certainly, certainly.' Venus inclined his head with respect and
'Thank you, sir. I am much obliged to you, sir, for all.
For your good opinion now, for your way of receiving and encouraging me when I first
put myself in communication with you, and for the influence since so kindly brought
to bear upon a certain lady, both by yourself and by Mr John Harmon.'
To whom, when thus making mention of him, he also bowed.
Wegg followed the name with sharp ears, and the action with sharp eyes, and a certain
cringing air was infusing itself into his bullying air, when his attention was re-
claimed by Venus.
'Everything else between you and me, Mr Wegg,' said Venus, 'now explains itself,
and you can now make out, sir, without further words from me.
But totally to prevent any unpleasantness or mistake that might arise on what I
consider an important point, to be made quite clear at the close of our
acquaintance, I beg the leave of Mr Boffin
and Mr John Harmon to repeat an observation which I have already had the pleasure of
bringing under your notice. You are a precious old rascal!'
'You are a fool,' said Wegg, with a snap of his fingers, 'and I'd have got rid of you
before now, if I could have struck out any way of doing it.
I have thought it over, I can tell you.
You may go, and welcome. You leave the more for me.
Because, you know,' said Wegg, dividing his next observation between Mr Boffin and Mr
Harmon, 'I am worth my price, and I mean to have it.
This getting off is all very well in its way, and it tells with such an anatomical
Pump as this one,' pointing out Mr Venus, 'but it won't do with a Man.
I am here to be bought off, and I have named my figure.
Now, buy me, or leave me.' 'I'll leave you, Wegg, said Mr Boffin,
laughing, 'as far as I am concerned.'
'Bof--fin!' replied Wegg, turning upon him with a severe air, 'I understand YOUR new-
born boldness. I see the brass underneath YOUR silver
YOU have got YOUR nose out of joint. Knowing that you've nothing at stake, you
can afford to come the independent game. Why, you're just so much smeary glass to
see through, you know!
But Mr Harmon is in another sitiwation. What Mr Harmon risks, is quite another pair
of shoes.
Now, I've heerd something lately about this being Mr Harmon--I make out now, some hints
that I've met on that subject in the newspaper--and I drop you, Bof--fin, as
beneath my notice.
I ask Mr Harmon whether he has any idea of the contents of this present paper?'
'It is a will of my late father's, of more recent date than the will proved by Mr
Boffin (address whom again, as you have addressed him already, and I'll knock you
down), leaving the whole of his property to
the Crown,' said John Harmon, with as much indifference as was compatible with extreme
sternness. 'Bight you are!' cried Wegg.
'Then,' screwing the weight of his body upon his wooden leg, and screwing his
wooden head very much on one side, and screwing up one eye: 'then, I put the
question to you, what's this paper worth?'
'Nothing,' said John Harmon.
Wegg had repeated the word with a sneer, and was entering on some sarcastic retort,
when, to his boundless amazement, he found himself gripped by the cravat; shaken until
his teeth chattered; shoved back,
staggering, into a corner of the room; and pinned there.
'You scoundrel!' said John Harmon, whose seafaring hold was like that of a vice.
'You're knocking my head against the wall,' urged Silas faintly.
'I mean to knock your head against the wall,' returned John Harmon, suiting his
action to his words, with the heartiest good will; 'and I'd give a thousand pounds
for leave to knock your brains out.
Listen, you scoundrel, and look at that Dutch bottle.'
Sloppy held it up, for his edification.
'That Dutch bottle, scoundrel, contained the latest will of the many wills made by
my unhappy self-tormenting father.
That will gives everything absolutely to my noble benefactor and yours, Mr Boffin,
excluding and reviling me, and my sister (then already dead of a broken heart), by
That Dutch bottle was found by my noble benefactor and yours, after he entered on
possession of the estate.
That Dutch bottle distressed him beyond measure, because, though I and my sister
were both no more, it cast a slur upon our memory which he knew we had done nothing in
our miserable youth, to deserve.
That Dutch bottle, therefore, he buried in the Mound belonging to him, and there it
lay while you, you thankless wretch, were prodding and poking--often very near it, I
dare say.
His intention was, that it should never see the light; but he was afraid to destroy it,
lest to destroy such a document, even with his great generous motive, might be an
offence at law.
After the discovery was made here who I was, Mr Boffin, still restless on the
subject, told me, upon certain conditions impossible for such a hound as you to
appreciate, the secret of that Dutch bottle.
I urged upon him the necessity of its being dug up, and the paper being legally
produced and established.
The first thing you saw him do, and the second thing has been done without your
Consequently, the paper now rattling in your hand as I shake you--and I should like
to shake the life out of you--is worth less than the rotten cork of the Dutch bottle,
do you understand?'
Judging from the fallen countenance of Silas as his head wagged backwards and
forwards in a most uncomfortable manner, he did understand.
Now, scoundrel,' said John Harmon, taking another sailor-like turn on his cravat and
holding him in his corner at arms' length, 'I shall make two more short speeches to
you, because I hope they will torment you.
Your discovery was a genuine discovery (such as it was), for nobody had thought of
looking into that place.
Neither did we know you had made it, until Venus spoke to Mr Boffin, though I kept you
under good observation from my first appearance here, and though Sloppy has long
made it the chief occupation and delight of his life, to attend you like your shadow.
I tell you this, that you may know we knew enough of you to persuade Mr Boffin to let
us lead you on, deluded, to the last possible moment, in order that your
disappointment might be the heaviest possible disappointment.
That's the first short speech, do you understand?'
Here, John Harmon assisted his comprehension with another shake.
'Now, scoundrel,' he pursued, 'I am going to finish.
You supposed me just now, to be the possessor of my father's property.--So I
am. But through any act of my father's, or by
any right I have?
No. Through the munificence of Mr Boffin.
The conditions that he made with me, before parting with the secret of the Dutch
bottle, were, that I should take the fortune, and that he should take his Mound
and no more.
I owe everything I possess, solely to the disinterestedness, uprightness, tenderness,
goodness (there are no words to satisfy me) of Mr and Mrs Boffin.
And when, knowing what I knew, I saw such a mud-worm as you presume to rise in this
house against this noble soul, the wonder is,' added John Harmon through his clenched
teeth, and with a very ugly turn indeed on
Wegg's cravat, 'that I didn't try to twist your head off, and fling THAT out of
window! So. That's the last short speech, do you
Silas, released, put his hand to his throat, cleared it, and looked as if he had
a rather large fishbone in that region.
Simultaneously with this action on his part in his corner, a singular, and on the
surface an incomprehensible, movement was made by Mr Sloppy: who began backing
towards Mr Wegg along the wall, in the
manner of a porter or heaver who is about to lift a sack of flour or coals.
'I am sorry, Wegg,' said Mr Boffin, in his clemency, 'that my old lady and I can't
have a better opinion of you than the bad one we are forced to entertain.
But I shouldn't like to leave you, after all said and done, worse off in life than I
found you.
Therefore say in a word, before we part, what it'll cost to set you up in another
stall.' 'And in another place,' John Harmon struck
'You don't come outside these windows.'
'Mr Boffin,' returned Wegg in avaricious humiliation: 'when I first had the honour
of making your acquaintance, I had got together a collection of ballads which was,
I may say, above price.'
'Then they can't be paid for,' said John Harmon, 'and you had better not try, my
dear sir.'
'Pardon me, Mr Boffin,' resumed Wegg, with a malignant glance in the last speaker's
direction, 'I was putting the case to you, who, if my senses did not deceive me, put
the case to me.
I had a very choice collection of ballads, and there was a new stock of gingerbread in
the tin box. I say no more, but would rather leave it to
'But it's difficult to name what's right,' said Mr Boffin uneasily, with his hand in
his pocket, 'and I don't want to go beyond what's right, because you really have
turned out such a very bad fellow.
So artful, and so ungrateful you have been, Wegg; for when did I ever injure you?'
'There was also,' Mr Wegg went on, in a meditative manner, 'a errand connection, in
which I was much respected.
But I would not wish to be deemed covetous, and I would rather leave it to you, Mr
Boffin.' 'Upon my word, I don't know what to put it
at,' the Golden Dustman muttered.
'There was likewise,' resumed Wegg, 'a pair of trestles, for which alone a Irish
person, who was deemed a judge of trestles, offered five and six--a sum I would not
hear of, for I should have lost by it--and
there was a stool, a umbrella, a clothes- horse, and a tray.
But I leave it to you, Mr Boffin.'
The Golden Dustman seeming to be engaged in some abstruse calculation, Mr Wegg assisted
him with the following additional items. 'There was, further, Miss Elizabeth, Master
George, Aunt Jane, and Uncle Parker.
Ah! When a man thinks of the loss of such patronage as that; when a man finds so fair
a garden rooted up by pigs; he finds it hard indeed, without going high, to work it
into money.
But I leave it wholly to you, sir.' Mr Sloppy still continued his singular, and
on the surface his incomprehensible, movement.
'Leading on has been mentioned,' said Wegg with a melancholy air, 'and it's not easy
to say how far the tone of my mind may have been lowered by unwholesome reading on the
subject of Misers, when you was leading me
and others on to think you one yourself, sir.
All I can say is, that I felt my tone of mind a lowering at the time.
And how can a man put a price upon his mind!
There was likewise a hat just now. But I leave the ole to you, Mr Boffin.'
'Come!' said Mr Boffin.
'Here's a couple of pound.' 'In justice to myself, I couldn't take it,
The words were but out of his mouth when John Harmon lifted his finger, and Sloppy,
who was now close to Wegg, backed to Wegg's back, stooped, grasped his coat collar
behind with both hands, and deftly swung
him up like the sack of flour or coals before mentioned.
A countenance of special discontent and amazement Mr Wegg exhibited in this
position, with his buttons almost as prominently on view as Sloppy's own, and
with his wooden leg in a highly unaccommodating state.
But, not for many seconds was his countenance visible in the room; for,
Sloppy lightly trotted out with him and trotted down the staircase, Mr Venus
attending to open the street door.
Mr Sloppy's instructions had been to deposit his burden in the road; but, a
scavenger's cart happening to stand unattended at the corner, with its little
ladder planted against the wheel, Mr S.
found it impossible to resist the temptation of shooting Mr Silas Wegg into
the cart's contents.
A somewhat difficult feat, achieved with great dexterity, and with a prodigious
Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens CHAPTER 15
How Bradley Headstone had been racked and riven in his mind since the quiet evening
when by the river-side he had risen, as it were, out of the ashes of the Bargeman,
none but he could have told.
Not even he could have told, for such misery can only be felt.
First, he had to bear the combined weight of the knowledge of what he had done, of
that haunting reproach that he might have done it so much better, and of the dread of
This was load enough to crush him, and he laboured under it day and night.
It was as heavy on him in his scanty sleep, as in his red-eyed waking hours.
It bore him down with a dread unchanging monotony, in which there was not a moment's
The overweighted beast of burden, or the overweighted slave, can for certain
instants shift the physical load, and find some slight respite even in enforcing
additional pain upon such a set of muscles or such a limb.
Not even that poor mockery of relief could the wretched man obtain, under the steady
pressure of the infernal atmosphere into which he had entered.
Time went by, and no visible suspicion dogged him; time went by, and in such
public accounts of the attack as were renewed at intervals, he began to see Mr
Lightwood (who acted as lawyer for the
injured man) straying further from the fact, going wider of the issue, and
evidently slackening in his zeal. By degrees, a glimmering of the cause of
this began to break on Bradley's sight.
Then came the chance meeting with Mr Milvey at the railway station (where he often
lingered in his leisure hours, as a place where any fresh news of his deed would be
circulated, or any placard referring to it
would be posted), and then he saw in the light what he had brought about.
For, then he saw that through his desperate attempt to separate those two for ever, he
had been made the means of uniting them.
That he had dipped his hands in blood, to mark himself a miserable fool and tool.
That Eugene Wrayburn, for his wife's sake, set him aside and left him to crawl along
his blasted course.
He thought of Fate, or Providence, or be the directing Power what it might, as
having put a fraud upon him--overreached him--and in his impotent mad rage bit, and
tore, and had his fit.
New assurance of the truth came upon him in the next few following days, when it was
put forth how the wounded man had been married on his bed, and to whom, and how,
though always in a dangerous condition, he was a shade better.
Bradley would far rather have been seized for his murder, than he would have read
that passage, knowing himself spared, and knowing why.
But, not to be still further defrauded and overreached--which he would be, if
implicated by Riderhood, and punished by the law for his abject failure, as though
it had been a success--he kept close in his
school during the day, ventured out warily at night, and went no more to the railway
He examined the advertisements in the newspapers for any sign that Riderhood
acted on his hinted threat of so summoning him to renew their acquaintance, but found
Having paid him handsomely for the support and accommodation he had had at the Lock
House, and knowing him to be a very ignorant man who could not write, he began
to doubt whether he was to be feared at all, or whether they need ever meet again.
All this time, his mind was never off the rack, and his raging sense of having been
made to fling himself across the chasm which divided those two, and bridge it over
for their coming together, never cooled down.
This horrible condition brought on other fits.
He could not have said how many, or when; but he saw in the faces of his pupils that
they had seen him in that state, and that they were possessed by a dread of his
One winter day when a slight fall of snow was feathering the sills and frames of the
schoolroom windows, he stood at his black board, crayon in hand, about to commence
with a class; when, reading in the
countenances of those boys that there was something wrong, and that they seemed in
alarm for him, he turned his eyes to the door towards which they faced.
He then saw a slouching man of forbidding appearance standing in the midst of the
school, with a bundle under his arm; and saw that it was Riderhood.
He sat down on a stool which one of his boys put for him, and he had a passing
knowledge that he was in danger of falling, and that his face was becoming distorted.
But, the fit went off for that time, and he wiped his mouth, and stood up again.
'Beg your pardon, governor! By your leave!' said Riderhood, knuckling
his forehead, with a chuckle and a leer.
'What place may this be?' 'This is a school.'
'Where young folks learns wot's right?' said Riderhood, gravely nodding.
'Beg your pardon, governor!
By your leave! But who teaches this school?'
'I do.' 'You're the master, are you, learned
'Yes. I am the master.' 'And a lovely thing it must be,' said
Riderhood, 'fur to learn young folks wot's right, and fur to know wot THEY know wot
you do it.
Beg your pardon, learned governor! By your leave!--That there black board;
wot's it for?' 'It is for drawing on, or writing on.'
'Is it though!' said Riderhood.
'Who'd have thought it, from the looks on it!
WOULD you be so kind as write your name upon it, learned governor?'
(In a wheedling tone.)
Bradley hesitated for a moment; but placed his usual signature, enlarged, upon the
'I ain't a learned character myself,' said Riderhood, surveying the class, 'but I do
admire learning in others.
I should dearly like to hear these here young folks read that there name off, from
the writing.' The arms of the class went up.
At the miserable master's nod, the shrill chorus arose: 'Bradley Headstone!'
'No?' cried Riderhood. 'You don't mean it?
Why, that's in a churchyard. Hooroar for another turn!'
Another tossing of arms, another nod, and another shrill chorus:
'Bradley Headstone!'
'I've got it now!' said Riderhood, after attentively listening, and internally
repeating: 'Bradley. I see.
Chris'en name, Bradley sim'lar to Roger which is my own.
Eh? Fam'ly name, Headstone, sim'lar to
Riderhood which is my own.
Eh?' Shrill chorus.
'Might you be acquainted, learned governor,' said Riderhood, 'with a person
of about your own heighth and breadth, and wot 'ud pull down in a scale about your own
weight, answering to a name sounding summat like Totherest?'
With a desperation in him that made him perfectly quiet, though his jaw was heavily
squared; with his eyes upon Riderhood; and with traces of quickened breathing in his
nostrils; the schoolmaster replied, in a
suppressed voice, after a pause: 'I think I know the man you mean.'
'I thought you knowed the man I mean, learned governor.
I want the man.'
With a half glance around him at his pupils, Bradley returned:
'Do you suppose he is here?'
'Begging your pardon, learned governor, and by your leave,' said Riderhood, with a
laugh, 'how could I suppose he's here, when there's nobody here but you, and me, and
these young lambs wot you're a learning on?
But he is most excellent company, that man, and I want him to come and see me at my
Lock, up the river.' 'I'll tell him so.'
'D'ye think he'll come?' asked Riderhood.
'I am sure he will.' 'Having got your word for him,' said
Riderhood, 'I shall count upon him.
P'raps you'd so fur obleege me, learned governor, as tell him that if he don't come
precious soon, I'll look him up.' 'He shall know it.'
As I says a while ago,' pursued Riderhood, changing his hoarse tone and leering round
upon the class again, 'though not a learned character my own self, I do admire learning
in others, to be sure!
Being here and having met with your kind attention, Master, might I, afore I go, ask
a question of these here young lambs of yourn?'
'If it is in the way of school,' said Bradley, always sustaining his dark look at
the other, and speaking in his suppressed voice, 'you may.'
'Oh! It's in the way of school!' cried Riderhood.
'I'll pound it, Master, to be in the way of school.
Wot's the diwisions of water, my lambs?
Wot sorts of water is there on the land?' Shrill chorus: 'Seas, rivers, lakes, and
ponds.' 'Seas, rivers, lakes, and ponds,' said
'They've got all the lot, Master! Blowed if I shouldn't have left out lakes,
never having clapped eyes upon one, to my knowledge.
Seas, rivers, lakes, and ponds.
Wot is it, lambs, as they ketches in seas, rivers, lakes, and ponds?'
Shrill chorus (with some contempt for the ease of the question):
'Good a-gin!' said Riderhood. 'But wot else is it, my lambs, as they
sometimes ketches in rivers?' Chorus at a loss.
One shrill voice: 'Weed!'
'Good agin!' cried Riderhood. 'But it ain't weed neither.
You'll never guess, my dears. Wot is it, besides fish, as they sometimes
ketches in rivers?
Well! I'll tell you.
It's suits o' clothes.' Bradley's face changed.
'Leastways, lambs,' said Riderhood, observing him out of the corners of his
eyes, 'that's wot I my own self sometimes ketches in rivers.
For strike me blind, my lambs, if I didn't ketch in a river the wery bundle under my
The class looked at the master, as if appealing from the irregular entrapment of
this mode of examination. The master looked at the examiner, as if he
would have torn him to pieces.
'I ask your pardon, learned governor,' said Riderhood, smearing his sleeve across his
mouth as he laughed with a relish, 'tain't fair to the lambs, I know.
It wos a bit of fun of mine.
But upon my soul I drawed this here bundle out of a river!
It's a Bargeman's suit of clothes. You see, it had been sunk there by the man
as wore it, and I got it up.'
'How do you know it was sunk by the man who wore it?' asked Bradley.
'Cause I see him do it,' said Riderhood. They looked at each other.
Bradley, slowly withdrawing his eyes, turned his face to the black board and
slowly wiped his name out.
'A heap of thanks, Master,' said Riderhood, 'for bestowing so much of your time, and of
the lambses' time, upon a man as hasn't got no other recommendation to you than being a
honest man.
Wishing to see at my Lock up the river, the person as we've spoke of, and as you've
answered for, I takes my leave of the lambs and of their learned governor both.'
With those words, he slouched out of the school, leaving the master to get through
his weary work as he might, and leaving the whispering pupils to observe the master's
face until he fell into the fit which had been long impending.
The next day but one was Saturday, and a holiday.
Bradley rose early, and set out on foot for Plashwater Weir Mill Lock.
He rose so early that it was not yet light when he began his journey.
Before extinguishing the candle by which he had dressed himself, he made a little
parcel of his decent silver watch and its decent guard, and wrote inside the paper:
'Kindly take care of these for me.'
He then addressed the parcel to Miss Peecher, and left it on the most protected
corner of the little seat in her little porch.
It was a cold hard easterly morning when he latched the garden gate and turned away.
The light snowfall which had feathered his schoolroom windows on the Thursday, still
lingered in the air, and was falling white, while the wind blew black.
The tardy day did not appear until he had been on foot two hours, and had traversed a
greater part of London from east to west.
Such breakfast as he had, he took at the comfortless public-house where he had
parted from Riderhood on the occasion of their night-walk.
He took it, standing at the littered bar, and looked loweringly at a man who stood
where Riderhood had stood that early morning.
He outwalked the short day, and was on the towing-path by the river, somewhat
footsore, when the night closed in.
Still two or three miles short of the Lock, he slackened his pace then, but went
steadily on.
The ground was now covered with snow, though thinly, and there were floating
lumps of ice in the more exposed parts of the river, and broken sheets of ice under
the shelter of the banks.
He took heed of nothing but the ice, the snow, and the distance, until he saw a
light ahead, which he knew gleamed from the Lock House window.
It arrested his steps, and he looked all around.
The ice, and the snow, and he, and the one light, had absolute possession of the
dreary scene.
In the distance before him, lay the place where he had struck the worse than useless
blows that mocked him with Lizzie's presence there as Eugene's wife.
In the distance behind him, lay the place where the children with pointing arms had
seemed to devote him to the demons in crying out his name.
Within there, where the light was, was the man who as to both distances could give him
up to ruin. To these limits had his world shrunk.
He mended his pace, keeping his eyes upon the light with a strange intensity, as if
he were taking aim at it.
When he approached it so nearly as that it parted into rays, they seemed to fasten
themselves to him and draw him on.
When he struck the door with his hand, his foot followed so quickly on his hand, that
he was in the room before he was bidden to enter.
The light was the joint product of a fire and a candle.
Between the two, with his feet on the iron fender, sat Riderhood, pipe in mouth.
He looked up with a surly nod when his visitor came in.
His visitor looked down with a surly nod.
His outer clothing removed, the visitor then took a seat on the opposite side of
the fire. 'Not a smoker, I think?' said Riderhood,
pushing a bottle to him across the table.
'No.' They both lapsed into silence, with their
eyes upon the fire. 'You don't need to be told I am here,' said
Bradley at length.
'Who is to begin?' 'I'll begin,' said Riderhood, 'when I've
smoked this here pipe out.'
He finished it with great deliberation, knocked out the ashes on the hob, and put
it by. 'I'll begin,' he then repeated, 'Bradley
Headstone, Master, if you wish it.'
'Wish it? I wish to know what you want with me.'
'And so you shall.'
Riderhood had looked hard at his hands and his pockets, apparently as a precautionary
measure lest he should have any weapon about him.
But, he now leaned forward, turning the collar of his waistcoat with an inquisitive
finger, and asked, 'Why, where's your watch?'
'I have left it behind.'
'I want it. But it can be fetched.
I've took a fancy to it.' Bradley answered with a contemptuous laugh.
'I want it,' repeated Riderhood, in a louder voice, 'and I mean to have it.'
'That is what you want of me, is it?' 'No,' said Riderhood, still louder; 'it's
on'y part of what I want of you.
I want money of you.' 'Anything else?'
'Everythink else!' roared Riderhood, in a very loud and furious way.
'Answer me like that, and I won't talk to you at all.'
Bradley looked at him.
'Don't so much as look at me like that, or I won't talk to you at all,' vociferated
'But, instead of talking, I'll bring my hand down upon you with all its weight,'
heavily smiting the table with great force, 'and smash you!'
'Go on,' said Bradley, after moistening his lips.
'O! I'm a going on.
Don't you fear but I'll go on full-fast enough for you, and fur enough for you,
without your telling. Look here, Bradley Headstone, Master.
You might have split the T'other governor to chips and wedges, without my caring,
except that I might have come upon you for a glass or so now and then.
Else why have to do with you at all?
But when you copied my clothes, and when you copied my neckhankercher, and when you
shook blood upon me after you had done the trick, you did wot I'll be paid for and
paid heavy for.
If it come to be throw'd upon you, you was to be ready to throw it upon me, was you?
Where else but in Plashwater Weir Mill Lock was there a man dressed according as
Where else but in Plashwater Weir Mill Lock was there a man as had had words with him
coming through in his boat?
Look at the Lock-keeper in Plashwater Weir Mill Lock, in them same answering clothes
and with that same answering red neckhankercher, and see whether his clothes
happens to be bloody or not.
Yes, they do happen to be bloody. Ah, you sly devil!'
Bradley, very white, sat looking at him in silence.
'But two could play at your game,' said Riderhood, snapping his fingers at him half
a dozen times, 'and I played it long ago; long afore you tried your clumsy hand at
it; in days when you hadn't begun croaking your lecters or what not in your school.
I know to a figure how you done it. Where you stole away, I could steal away
arter you, and do it knowinger than you.
I know how you come away from London in your own clothes, and where you changed
your clothes, and hid your clothes.
I see you with my own eyes take your own clothes from their hiding-place among them
felled trees, and take a dip in the river to account for your dressing yourself, to
any one as might come by.
I see you rise up Bradley Headstone, Master, where you sat down Bargeman.
I see you pitch your Bargeman's bundle into the river.
I hooked your Bargeman's bundle out of the river.
I've got your Bargeman's clothes, tore this way and that way with the scuffle, stained
green with the grass, and spattered all over with what bust from the blows.
I've got them, and I've got you.
I don't care a curse for the T'other governor, alive or dead, but I care a many
curses for my own self.
And as you laid your plots agin me and was a sly devil agin me, I'll be paid for it--
I'll be paid for it--I'll be paid for it-- till I've drained you dry!'
Bradley looked at the fire, with a working face, and was silent for a while.
At last he said, with what seemed an inconsistent composure of voice and
'You can't get blood out of a stone, Riderhood.'
'I can get money out of a schoolmaster though.'
'You can't get out of me what is not in me.
You can't wrest from me what I have not got.
Mine is but a poor calling. You have had more than two guineas from me,
Do you know how long it has taken me (allowing for a long and arduous training)
to earn such a sum?' 'I don't know, nor I don't care.
Yours is a 'spectable calling.
To save your 'spectability, it's worth your while to pawn every article of clothes
you've got, sell every stick in your house, and beg and borrow every penny you can get
trusted with.
When you've done that and handed over, I'll leave you.
Not afore.' 'How do you mean, you'll leave me?'
'I mean as I'll keep you company, wherever you go, when you go away from here.
Let the Lock take care of itself. I'll take care of you, once I've got you.'
Bradley again looked at the fire.
Eyeing him aside, Riderhood took up his pipe, refilled it, lighted it, and sat
Bradley leaned his elbows on his knees, and his head upon his hands, and looked at the
fire with a most intent abstraction.
'Riderhood,' he said, raising himself in his chair, after a long silence, and
drawing out his purse and putting it on the table.
'Say I part with this, which is all the money I have; say I let you have my watch;
say that every quarter, when I draw my salary, I pay you a certain portion of it.'
'Say nothink of the sort,' retorted Riderhood, shaking his head as he smoked.
'You've got away once, and I won't run the chance agin.
I've had trouble enough to find you, and shouldn't have found you, if I hadn't seen
you slipping along the street overnight, and watched you till you was safe housed.
I'll have one settlement with you for good and all.'
'Riderhood, I am a man who has lived a retired life.
I have no resources beyond myself.
I have absolutely no friends.' 'That's a lie,' said Riderhood.
'You've got one friend as I knows of; one as is good for a Savings-Bank book, or I'm
a blue monkey!'
Bradley's face darkened, and his hand slowly closed on the purse and drew it
back, as he sat listening for what the other should go on to say.
'I went into the wrong shop, fust, last Thursday,' said Riderhood.
'Found myself among the young ladies, by George!
Over the young ladies, I see a Missis.
That Missis is sweet enough upon you, Master, to sell herself up, slap, to get
you out of trouble. Make her do it then.'
Bradley stared at him so very suddenly that Riderhood, not quite knowing how to take
it, affected to be occupied with the encircling smoke from his pipe; fanning it
away with his hand, and blowing it off.
'You spoke to the mistress, did you?' inquired Bradley, with that former
composure of voice and feature that seemed inconsistent, and with averted eyes.
Yes,' said Riderhood, withdrawing his attention from the smoke.
'I spoke to her. I didn't say much to her.
She was put in a fluster by my dropping in among the young ladies (I never did set up
for a lady's man), and she took me into her parlour to hope as there was nothink wrong.
I tells her, "O no, nothink wrong.
The master's my wery good friend." But I see how the land laid, and that she
was comfortable off.'
Bradley put the purse in his pocket, grasped his left wrist with his right hand,
and sat rigidly contemplating the fire.
'She couldn't live more handy to you than she does,' said Riderhood, 'and when I goes
home with you (as of course I am a going), I recommend you to clean her out without
loss of time.
You can marry her, arter you and me have come to a settlement.
She's nice-looking, and I know you can't be keeping company with no one else, having
been so lately disapinted in another quarter.'
Not one other word did Bradley utter all that night.
Not once did he change his attitude, or loosen his hold upon his wrist.
Rigid before the fire, as if it were a charmed flame that was turning him old, he
sat, with the dark lines deepening in his face, its stare becoming more and more
haggard, its surface turning whiter and
whiter as if it were being overspread with ashes, and the very texture and colour of
his hair degenerating. Not until the late daylight made the window
transparent, did this decaying statue move.
Then it slowly arose, and sat in the window looking out.
Riderhood had kept his chair all night.
In the earlier part of the night he had muttered twice or thrice that it was bitter
cold; or that the fire burnt fast, when he got up to mend it; but, as he could elicit
from his companion neither sound nor movement, he had afterwards held his peace.
He was making some disorderly preparations for coffee, when Bradley came from the
window and put on his outer coat and hat.
'Hadn't us better have a bit o' breakfast afore we start?' said Riderhood.
'It ain't good to freeze a empty stomach, Master.'
Without a sign to show that he heard, Bradley walked out of the Lock House.
Catching up from the table a piece of bread, and taking his Bargeman's bundle
under his arm, Riderhood immediately followed him.
Bradley turned towards London.
Riderhood caught him up, and walked at his side.
The two men trudged on, side by side, in silence, full three miles.
Suddenly, Bradley turned to retrace his course.
Instantly, Riderhood turned likewise, and they went back side by side.
Bradley re-entered the Lock House.
So did Riderhood. Bradley sat down in the window.
Riderhood warmed himself at the fire.
After an hour or more, Bradley abruptly got up again, and again went out, but this time
turned the other way. Riderhood was close after him, caught him
up in a few paces, and walked at his side.
This time, as before, when he found his attendant not to be shaken off, Bradley
suddenly turned back. This time, as before, Riderhood turned back
along with him.
But, not this time, as before, did they go into the Lock House, for Bradley came to a
stand on the snow-covered turf by the Lock, looking up the river and down the river.
Navigation was impeded by the frost, and the scene was a mere white and yellow
desert. 'Come, come, Master,' urged Riderhood, at
his side.
'This is a dry game. And where's the good of it?
You can't get rid of me, except by coming to a settlement.
I am a going along with you wherever you go.'
Without a word of reply, Bradley passed quickly from him over the wooden bridge on
the lock gates.
'Why, there's even less sense in this move than t'other,' said Riderhood, following.
'The Weir's there, and you'll have to come back, you know.'
Without taking the least notice, Bradley leaned his body against a post, in a
resting attitude, and there rested with his eyes cast down.
'Being brought here,' said Riderhood, gruffly, 'I'll turn it to some use by
changing my gates.'
With a rattle and a rush of water, he then swung-to the lock gates that were standing
open, before opening the others. So, both sets of gates were, for the
moment, closed.
'You'd better by far be reasonable, Bradley Headstone, Master,' said Riderhood, passing
him, 'or I'll drain you all the dryer for it, when we do settle.--Ah! Would you!'
Bradley had caught him round the body.
He seemed to be girdled with an iron ring. They were on the brink of the Lock, about
midway between the two sets of gates.
'Let go!' said Riderhood, 'or I'll get my knife out and slash you wherever I can cut
you. Let go!'
Bradley was drawing to the Lock-edge.
Riderhood was drawing away from it. It was a strong grapple, and a fierce
struggle, arm and leg. Bradley got him round, with his back to the
Lock, and still worked him backward.
'Let go!' said Riderhood. 'Stop!
What are you trying at? You can't drown Me.
Ain't I told you that the man as has come through drowning can never be drowned?
I can't be drowned.' 'I can be!' returned Bradley, in a
desperate, clenched voice.
'I am resolved to be. I'll hold you living, and I'll hold you
dead. Come down!'
Riderhood went over into the smooth pit, backward, and Bradley Headstone upon him.
When the two were found, lying under the ooze and scum behind one of the rotting
gates, Riderhood's hold had relaxed, probably in falling, and his eyes were
staring upward.
But, he was girdled still with Bradley's iron ring, and the rivets of the iron ring
held tight.
Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens CHAPTER 16
Mr and Mrs John Harmon's first delightful occupation was, to set all matters right
that had strayed in any way wrong, or that might, could, would, or should, have
strayed in any way wrong, while their name was in abeyance.
In tracing out affairs for which John's fictitious death was to be considered in
any way responsible, they used a very broad and free construction; regarding, for
instance, the dolls' dressmaker as having a
claim on their protection, because of her association with Mrs Eugene Wrayburn, and
because of Mrs Eugene's old association, in her turn, with the dark side of the story.
It followed that the old man, Riah, as a good and serviceable friend to both, was
not to be disclaimed.
Nor even Mr Inspector, as having been trepanned into an industrious hunt on a
false scent.
It may be remarked, in connexion with that worthy officer, that a rumour shortly
afterwards pervaded the Force, to the effect that he had confided to Miss Abbey
Potterson, over a jug of mellow flip in the
bar of the Six Jolly Fellowship Porters, that he 'didn't stand to lose a farthing'
through Mr Harmon's coming to life, but was quite as well satisfied as if that
gentleman had been barbarously murdered,
and he (Mr Inspector) had pocketed the government reward.
In all their arrangements of such nature, Mr and Mrs John Harmon derived much
assistance from their eminent solicitor, Mr Mortimer Lightwood; who laid about him
professionally with such unwonted despatch
and intention, that a piece of work was vigorously pursued as soon as cut out;
whereby Young Blight was acted on as by that transatlantic dram which is poetically
named An Eye-Opener, and found himself
staring at real clients instead of out of window.
The accessibility of Riah proving very useful as to a few hints towards the
disentanglement of Eugene's affairs, Lightwood applied himself with infinite
zest to attacking and harassing Mr
Fledgeby: who, discovering himself in danger of being blown into the air by
certain explosive transactions in which he had been engaged, and having been
sufficiently flayed under his beating, came to a parley and asked for quarter.
The harmless Twemlow profited by the conditions entered into, though he little
thought it.
Mr Riah unaccountably melted; waited in person on him over the stable yard in Duke
Street, St James's, no longer ravening but mild, to inform him that payment of
interest as heretofore, but henceforth at
Mr Lightwood's offices, would appease his Jewish rancour; and departed with the
secret that Mr John Harmon had advanced the money and become the creditor.
Thus, was the sublime Snigsworth's wrath averted, and thus did he snort no larger
amount of moral grandeur at the Corinthian column in the print over the fireplace,
than was normally in his (and the British) constitution.
Mrs Wilfer's first visit to the Mendicant's bride at the new abode of Mendicancy, was a
grand event.
Pa had been sent for into the City, on the very day of taking possession, and had been
stunned with astonishment, and brought-to, and led about the house by one ear, to
behold its various treasures, and had been enraptured and enchanted.
Pa had also been appointed Secretary, and had been enjoined to give instant notice of
resignation to Chicksey, Veneering, and Stobbles, for ever and ever.
But Ma came later, and came, as was her due, in state.
The carriage was sent for Ma, who entered it with a bearing worthy of the occasion,
accompanied, rather than supported, by Miss Lavinia, who altogether declined to
recognize the maternal majesty.
Mr George Sampson meekly followed.
He was received in the vehicle, by Mrs Wilfer, as if admitted to the honour of
assisting at a funeral in the family, and she then issued the order, 'Onward!' to the
Mendicant's menial.
'I wish to goodness, Ma,' said Lavvy, throwing herself back among the cushions,
with her arms crossed, 'that you'd loll a little.'
'How!' repeated Mrs Wilfer.
'Loll!' 'Yes, Ma.'
'I hope,' said the impressive lady, 'I am incapable of it.'
'I am sure you look so, Ma.
But why one should go out to dine with one's own daughter or sister, as if one's
under-petticoat was a blackboard, I do NOT understand.'
'Neither do I understand,' retorted Mrs Wilfer, with deep scorn, 'how a young lady
can mention the garment in the name of which you have indulged.
I blush for you.'
'Thank you, Ma,' said Lavvy, yawning, 'but I can do it for myself, I am obliged to
you, when there's any occasion.'
Here, Mr Sampson, with the view of establishing harmony, which he never under
any circumstances succeeded in doing, said with an agreeable smile: 'After all, you
know, ma'am, we know it's there.'
And immediately felt that he had committed himself.
'We know it's there!' said Mrs Wilfer, glaring.
'Really, George,' remonstrated Miss Lavinia, 'I must say that I don't
understand your allusions, and that I think you might be more delicate and less
'Go it!' cried Mr Sampson, becoming, on the shortest notice, a prey to despair.
'Oh yes! Go it, Miss Lavinia Wilfer!'
'What you may mean, George Sampson, by your omnibus-driving expressions, I cannot
pretend to imagine. Neither,' said Miss Lavinia, 'Mr George
Sampson, do I wish to imagine.
It is enough for me to know in my own heart that I am not going to--' having
imprudently got into a sentence without providing a way out of it, Miss Lavinia was
constrained to close with 'going to it'.
A weak conclusion which, however, derived some appearance of strength from disdain.
'Oh yes!' cried Mr Sampson, with bitterness.
'Thus it ever is.
I never--'
'If you mean to say,' Miss Lavvy cut him short, that you never brought up a young
gazelle, you may save yourself the trouble, because nobody in this carriage supposes
that you ever did.
We know you better.' (As if this were a home-thrust.)
'Lavinia,' returned Mr Sampson, in a dismal vein, I did not mean to say so.
What I did mean to say, was, that I never expected to retain my favoured place in
this family, after Fortune shed her beams upon it.
Why do you take me,' said Mr Sampson, 'to the glittering halls with which I can never
compete, and then taunt me with my moderate salary?
Is it generous?
Is it kind?' The stately lady, Mrs Wilfer, perceiving
her opportunity of delivering a few remarks from the throne, here took up the
'Mr Sampson,' she began, 'I cannot permit you to misrepresent the intentions of a
child of mine.' 'Let him alone, Ma,' Miss Lavvy interposed
with haughtiness.
'It is indifferent to me what he says or does.'
'Nay, Lavinia,' quoth Mrs Wilfer, 'this touches the blood of the family.
If Mr George Sampson attributes, even to my youngest daughter--'
('I don't see why you should use the word "even", Ma,' Miss Lavvy interposed,
'because I am quite as important as any of the others.')
'Peace!' said Mrs Wilfer, solemnly.
'I repeat, if Mr George Sampson attributes, to my youngest daughter, grovelling
motives, he attributes them equally to the mother of my youngest daughter.
That mother repudiates them, and demands of Mr George Sampson, as a youth of honour,
what he WOULD have?
I may be mistaken--nothing is more likely-- but Mr George Sampson,' proceeded Mrs
Wilfer, majestically waving her gloves, 'appears to me to be seated in a first-
class equipage.
Mr George Sampson appears to me to be on his way, by his own admission, to a
residence that may be termed Palatial.
Mr George Sampson appears to me to be invited to participate in the--shall I say
the--Elevation which has descended on the family with which he is ambitious, shall I
say to Mingle?
Whence, then, this tone on Mr Sampson's part?'
'It is only, ma'am,' Mr Sampson explained, in exceedingly low spirits, 'because, in a
pecuniary sense, I am painfully conscious of my unworthiness.
Lavinia is now highly connected.
Can I hope that she will still remain the same Lavinia as of old?
And is it not pardonable if I feel sensitive, when I see a disposition on her
part to take me up short?'
'If you are not satisfied with your position, sir,' observed Miss Lavinia, with
much politeness, 'we can set you down at any turning you may please to indicate to
my sister's coachman.'
'Dearest Lavinia,' urged Mr Sampson, pathetically, 'I adore you.'
'Then if you can't do it in a more agreeable manner,' returned the young lady,
'I wish you wouldn't.'
'I also,' pursued Mr Sampson, 'respect you, ma'am, to an extent which must ever be
below your merits, I am well aware, but still up to an uncommon mark.
Bear with a wretch, Lavinia, bear with a wretch, ma'am, who feels the noble
sacrifices you make for him, but is goaded almost to madness,' Mr Sampson slapped his
forehead, 'when he thinks of competing with the rich and influential.'
'When you have to compete with the rich and influential, it will probably be mentioned
to you,' said Miss Lavvy, 'in good time.
At least, it will if the case is MY case.' Mr Sampson immediately expressed his
fervent Opinion that this was 'more than human', and was brought upon his knees at
Miss Lavinia's feet.
It was the crowning addition indispensable to the full enjoyment of both mother and
daughter, to bear Mr Sampson, a grateful captive, into the glittering halls he had
mentioned, and to parade him through the
same, at once a living witness of their glory, and a bright instance of their
Ascending the staircase, Miss Lavinia permitted him to walk at her side, with the
air of saying: 'Notwithstanding all these surroundings, I am yours as yet, George.
How long it may last is another question, but I am yours as yet.'
She also benignantly intimated to him, aloud, the nature of the objects upon which
he looked, and to which he was unaccustomed: as, 'Exotics, George,' 'An
aviary, George,' 'An ormolu clock, George,' and the like.
While, through the whole of the decorations, Mrs Wilfer led the way with
the bearing of a Savage Chief, who would feel himself compromised by manifesting the
slightest token of surprise or admiration.
Indeed, the bearing of this impressive woman, throughout the day, was a pattern to
all impressive women under similar circumstances.
She renewed the acquaintance of Mr and Mrs Boffin, as if Mr and Mrs Boffin had said of
her what she had said of them, and as if Time alone could quite wear her injury out.
She regarded every servant who approached her, as her sworn enemy, expressly
intending to offer her affronts with the dishes, and to pour forth outrages on her
moral feelings from the decanters.
She sat erect at table, on the right hand of her son-in-law, as half suspecting
poison in the viands, and as bearing up with native force of character against
other deadly ambushes.
Her carriage towards Bella was as a carriage towards a young lady of good
position, whom she had met in society a few years ago.
Even when, slightly thawing under the influence of sparkling champagne, she
related to her son-in-law some passages of domestic interest concerning her papa, she
infused into the narrative such Arctic
suggestions of her having been an unappreciated blessing to mankind, since
her papa's days, and also of that gentleman's having been a frosty
impersonation of a frosty race, as struck
cold to the very soles of the feet of the hearers.
The Inexhaustible being produced, staring, and evidently intending a weak and washy
smile shortly, no sooner beheld her, than it was stricken spasmodic and inconsolable.
When she took her leave at last, it would have been hard to say whether it was with
the air of going to the scaffold herself, or of leaving the inmates of the house for
immediate execution.
Yet, John Harmon enjoyed it all merrily, and told his wife, when he and she were
alone, that her natural ways had never seemed so dearly natural as beside this
foil, and that although he did not dispute
her being her father's daughter, he should ever remain stedfast in the faith that she
could not be her mother's. This visit was, as has been said, a grand
Another event, not grand but deemed in the house a special one, occurred at about the
same period; and this was, the first interview between Mr Sloppy and Miss Wren.
The dolls' dressmaker, being at work for the Inexhaustible upon a full-dressed doll
some two sizes larger than that young person, Mr Sloppy undertook to call for it,
and did so.
'Come in, sir,' said Miss Wren, who was working at her bench.
'And who may you be?' Mr Sloppy introduced himself by name and
'Oh indeed!' cried Jenny. 'Ah! I have been looking forward to knowing
you. I heard of your distinguishing yourself.'
'Did you, Miss?' grinned Sloppy.
'I am sure I am glad to hear it, but I don't know how.'
'Pitching somebody into a mud-cart,' said Miss Wren.
'Oh! That way!' cried Sloppy.
'Yes, Miss.' And threw back his head and laughed.
'Bless us!' exclaimed Miss Wren, with a start.
'Don't open your mouth as wide as that, young man, or it'll catch so, and not shut
again some day.' Mr Sloppy opened it, if possible, wider,
and kept it open until his laugh was out.
'Why, you're like the giant,' said Miss Wren, 'when he came home in the land of
Beanstalk, and wanted Jack for supper.' 'Was he good-looking, Miss?' asked Sloppy.
'No,' said Miss Wren.
'Ugly.' Her visitor glanced round the room--which
had many comforts in it now, that had not been in it before--and said: 'This is a
pretty place, Miss.'
'Glad you think so, sir,' returned Miss Wren.
'And what do you think of Me?'
The honesty of Mr Sloppy being severely taxed by the question, he twisted a button,
grinned, and faltered. 'Out with it!' said Miss Wren, with an arch
'Don't you think me a queer little comicality?'
In shaking her head at him after asking the question, she shook her hair down.
'Oh!' cried Sloppy, in a burst of admiration.
'What a lot, and what a colour!' Miss Wren, with her usual expressive hitch,
went on with her work.
But, left her hair as it was; not displeased by the effect it had made.
'You don't live here alone; do you, Miss?' asked Sloppy.
'No,' said Miss Wren, with a chop.
'Live here with my fairy godmother.' 'With;' Mr Sloppy couldn't make it out;
'with who did you say, Miss?' 'Well!' replied Miss Wren, more seriously.
'With my second father.
Or with my first, for that matter.' And she shook her head, and drew a sigh.
'If you had known a poor child I used to have here,' she added, 'you'd have
understood me.
But you didn't, and you can't. All the better!'
'You must have been taught a long time,' said Sloppy, glancing at the array of dolls
in hand, 'before you came to work so neatly, Miss, and with such a pretty
'Never was taught a stitch, young man!' returned the dress-maker, tossing her head.
'Just gobbled and gobbled, till I found out how to do it.
Badly enough at first, but better now.'
'And here have I,' said Sloppy, in something of a self-reproachful tone, 'been
a learning and a learning, and here has Mr Boffin been a paying and a paying, ever so
'I have heard what your trade is,' observed Miss Wren; 'it's cabinet-making.'
Mr Sloppy nodded. 'Now that the Mounds is done with, it is.
I'll tell you what, Miss.
I should like to make you something.' 'Much obliged.
But what?'
'I could make you,' said Sloppy, surveying the room, 'I could make you a handy set of
nests to lay the dolls in.
Or I could make you a handy little set of drawers, to keep your silks and threads and
scraps in.
Or I could turn you a rare handle for that crutch-stick, if it belongs to him you call
your father.'
'It belongs to me,' returned the little creature, with a quick flush of her face
and neck. 'I am lame.'
Poor Sloppy flushed too, for there was an instinctive delicacy behind his buttons,
and his own hand had struck it. He said, perhaps, the best thing in the way
of amends that could be said.
'I am very glad it's yours, because I'd rather ornament it for you than for any one
else. Please may I look at it?'
Miss Wren was in the act of handing it to him over her bench, when she paused.
'But you had better see me use it,' she said, sharply.
'This is the way.
Hoppetty, Kicketty, Pep-peg-peg. Not pretty; is it?'
'It seems to me that you hardly want it at all,' said Sloppy.
The little dressmaker sat down again, and gave it into his hand, saying, with that
better look upon her, and with a smile: 'Thank you!'
'And as concerning the nests and the drawers,' said Sloppy, after measuring the
handle on his sleeve, and softly standing the stick aside against the wall, 'why, it
would be a real pleasure to me.
I've heerd tell that you can sing most beautiful; and I should be better paid with
a song than with any money, for I always loved the likes of that, and often giv' Mrs
Higden and Johnny a comic song myself, with "Spoken" in it.
Though that's not your sort, I'll wager.' 'You are a very kind young man,' returned
the dressmaker; 'a really kind young man.
I accept your offer.--I suppose He won't mind,' she added as an afterthought,
shrugging her shoulders; 'and if he does, he may!'
'Meaning him that you call your father, Miss,' asked Sloppy.
'No, no,' replied Miss Wren. 'Him, Him, Him!'
'Him, him, him?' repeated Sloppy; staring about, as if for Him.
'Him who is coming to court and marry me,' returned Miss Wren.
'Dear me, how slow you are!'
'Oh! HIM!' said Sloppy. And seemed to turn thoughtful and a little
troubled. 'I never thought of him.
When is he coming, Miss?'
'What a question!' cried Miss Wren. 'How should I know!'
'Where is he coming from, Miss?' 'Why, good gracious, how can I tell!
He is coming from somewhere or other, I suppose, and he is coming some day or
other, I suppose. I don't know any more about him, at
This tickled Mr Sloppy as an extraordinarily good joke, and he threw
back his head and laughed with measureless enjoyment.
At the sight of him laughing in that absurd way, the dolls' dressmaker laughed very
heartily indeed. So they both laughed, till they were tired.
'There, there, there!' said Miss Wren.
'For goodness' sake, stop, Giant, or I shall be swallowed up alive, before I know
it. And to this minute you haven't said what
you've come for.'
'I have come for little Miss Harmonses doll,' said Sloppy.
'I thought as much,' remarked Miss Wren, 'and here is little Miss Harmonses doll
waiting for you.
She's folded up in silver paper, you see, as if she was wrapped from head to foot in
new Bank notes. Take care of her, and there's my hand, and
thank you again.'
'I'll take more care of her than if she was a gold image,' said Sloppy, 'and there's
both MY hands, Miss, and I'll soon come back again.'
But, the greatest event of all, in the new life of Mr and Mrs John Harmon, was a visit
from Mr and Mrs Eugene Wrayburn.
Sadly wan and worn was the once gallant Eugene, and walked resting on his wife's
arm, and leaning heavily upon a stick.
But, he was daily growing stronger and better, and it was declared by the medical
attendants that he might not be much disfigured by-and-by.
It was a grand event, indeed, when Mr and Mrs Eugene Wrayburn came to stay at Mr and
Mrs John Harmon's house: where, by the way, Mr and Mrs Boffin (exquisitely happy, and
daily cruising about, to look at shops,) were likewise staying indefinitely.
To Mr Eugene Wrayburn, in confidence, did Mrs John Harmon impart what she had known
of the state of his wife's affections, in his reckless time.
And to Mrs John Harmon, in confidence, did Mr Eugene Wrayburn impart that, please God,
she should see how his wife had changed him!
'I make no protestations,' said Eugene; '-- who does, who means them!--I have made a
'But would you believe, Bella,' interposed his wife, coming to resume her nurse's
place at his side, for he never got on well without her: 'that on our wedding day he
told me he almost thought the best thing he could do, was to die?'
'As I didn't do it, Lizzie,' said Eugene, 'I'll do that better thing you suggested--
for your sake.'
That same afternoon, Eugene lying on his couch in his own room upstairs, Lightwood
came to chat with him, while Bella took his wife out for a ride.
'Nothing short of force will make her go, Eugene had said; so, Bella had playfully
forced her.
'Dear old fellow,' Eugene began with Lightwood, reaching up his hand, 'you
couldn't have come at a better time, for my mind is full, and I want to empty it.
First, of my present, before I touch upon my future.
M. R. F., who is a much younger cavalier than I, and a professed admirer of beauty,
was so affable as to remark the other day (he paid us a visit of two days up the
river there, and much objected to the
accommodation of the hotel), that Lizzie ought to have her portrait painted.
Which, coming from M. R. F., may be considered equivalent to a melodramatic
'You are getting well,' said Mortimer, with a smile.
'Really,' said Eugene, 'I mean it.
When M. R. F. said that, and followed it up by rolling the claret (for which he called,
and I paid), in his mouth, and saying, "My dear son, why do you drink this trash?" it
was tantamount in him--to a paternal
benediction on our union, accompanied with a gush of tears.
The coolness of M. R. F. is not to be measured by ordinary standards.'
'True enough,' said Lightwood.
'That's all,' pursued Eugene, 'that I shall ever hear from M. R. F. on the subject, and
he will continue to saunter through the world with his hat on one side.
My marriage being thus solemnly recognized at the family altar, I have no further
trouble on that score.
Next, you really have done wonders for me, Mortimer, in easing my money-perplexities,
and with such a guardian and steward beside me, as the preserver of my life (I am
hardly strong yet, you see, for I am not
man enough to refer to her without a trembling voice--she is so inexpressibly
dear to me, Mortimer!), the little that I can call my own will be more than it ever
has been.
It need be more, for you know what it always has been in my hands.
Nothing.' 'Worse than nothing, I fancy, Eugene.
My own small income (I devoutly wish that my grandfather had left it to the Ocean
rather than to me!) has been an effective Something, in the way of preventing me from
turning to at Anything.
And I think yours has been much the same.' 'There spake the voice of wisdom,' said
Eugene. 'We are shepherds both.
In turning to at last, we turn to in earnest.
Let us say no more of that, for a few years to come.
Now, I have had an idea, Mortimer, of taking myself and my wife to one of the
colonies, and working at my vocation there.'
'I should be lost without you, Eugene; but you may be right.'
'No,' said Eugene, emphatically. 'Not right.
He said it with such a lively--almost angry--flash, that Mortimer showed himself
greatly surprised. 'You think this thumped head of mine is
Eugene went on, with a high look; 'not so, believe me.
I can say to you of the healthful music of my pulse what Hamlet said of his.
My blood is up, but wholesomely up, when I think of it.
Tell me! Shall I turn coward to Lizzie, and sneak
away with her, as if I were ashamed of her!
Where would your friend's part in this world be, Mortimer, if she had turned
coward to him, and on immeasurably better occasion?'
'Honourable and stanch,' said Lightwood.
'And yet, Eugene--' 'And yet what, Mortimer?'
'And yet, are you sure that you might not feel (for her sake, I say for her sake) any
slight coldness towards her on the part of- -Society?'
'O! You and I may well stumble at the word,' returned Eugene, laughing.
'Do we mean our Tippins?' 'Perhaps we do,' said Mortimer, laughing
'Faith, we DO!' returned Eugene, with great animation.
'We may hide behind the bush and beat about it, but we DO!
Now, my wife is something nearer to my heart, Mortimer, than Tippins is, and I owe
her a little more than I owe to Tippins, and I am rather prouder of her than I ever
was of Tippins.
Therefore, I will fight it out to the last gasp, with her and for her, here, in the
open field.
When I hide her, or strike for her, faint- heartedly, in a hole or a corner, do you
whom I love next best upon earth, tell me what I shall most righteously deserve to be
told:--that she would have done well to
turn me over with her foot that night when I lay bleeding to death, and spat in my
dastard face.'
The glow that shone upon him as he spoke the words, so irradiated his features that
he looked, for the time, as though he had never been mutilated.
His friend responded as Eugene would have had him respond, and they discoursed of the
future until Lizzie came back.
After resuming her place at his side, and tenderly touching his hands and his head,
she said: 'Eugene, dear, you made me go out, but I
ought to have stayed with you.
You are more flushed than you have been for many days.
What have you been doing?' 'Nothing,' replied Eugene, 'but looking
forward to your coming back.'
'And talking to Mr Lightwood,' said Lizzie, turning to him with a smile.
'But it cannot have been Society that disturbed you.'
'Faith, my dear love!' retorted Eugene, in his old airy manner, as he laughed and
kissed her, 'I rather think it WAS Society though!'
The word ran so much in Mortimer Lightwood's thoughts as he went home to the
Temple that night, that he resolved to take a look at Society, which he had not seen
for a considerable period.
Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens CHAPTER 17
Behoves Mortimer Lightwood, therefore, to answer a dinner card from Mr and Mrs
Veneering requesting the honour, and to signify that Mr Mortimer Lightwood will be
happy to have the other honour.
The Veneerings have been, as usual, indefatigably dealing dinner cards to
Society, and whoever desires to take a hand had best be quick about it, for it is
written in the Books of the Insolvent Fates
that Veneering shall make a resounding smash next week.
Having found out the clue to that great mystery how people can contrive to live
beyond their means, and having over-jobbed his jobberies as legislator deputed to the
Universe by the pure electors of Pocket-
Breaches, it shall come to pass next week that Veneering will accept the Chiltern
Hundreds, that the legal gentleman in Britannia's confidence will again accept
the Pocket-Breaches Thousands, and that the
Veneerings will retire to Calais, there to live on Mrs Veneering's diamonds (in which
Mr Veneering, as a good husband, has from time to time invested considerable sums),
and to relate to Neptune and others, how
that, before Veneering retired from Parliament, the House of Commons was
composed of himself and the six hundred and fifty-seven dearest and oldest friends he
had in the world.
It shall likewise come to pass, at as nearly as possible the same period, that
Society will discover that it always did despise Veneering, and distrust Veneering,
and that when it went to Veneering's to
dinner it always had misgivings--though very secretly at the time, it would seem,
and in a perfectly private and confidential manner.
The next week's books of the Insolvent Fates, however, being not yet opened, there
is the usual rush to the Veneerings, of the people who go to their house to dine with
one another and not with them.
There is Lady Tippins. There are Podsnap the Great, and Mrs
Podsnap. There is Twemlow.
There are Buffer, Boots, and Brewer.
There is the Contractor, who is Providence to five hundred thousand men.
There is the Chairman, travelling three thousand miles per week.
There is the brilliant genius who turned the shares into that remarkably exact sum
of three hundred and seventy five thousand pounds, no shillings, and nopence.
To whom, add Mortimer Lightwood, coming in among them with a reassumption of his old
languid air, founded on Eugene, and belonging to the days when he told the
story of the man from Somewhere.
That fresh fairy, Tippins, all but screams at sight of her false swain.
She summons the deserter to her with her fan; but the deserter, predetermined not to
come, talks Britain with Podsnap.
Podsnap always talks Britain, and talks as if he were a sort of Private Watchman
employed, in the British interests, against the rest of the world.
'We know what Russia means, sir,' says Podsnap; 'we know what France wants; we see
what America is up to; but we know what England is.
That's enough for us.'
However, when dinner is served, and Lightwood drops into his old place over
against Lady Tippins, she can be fended off no longer.
'Long banished Robinson Crusoe,' says the charmer, exchanging salutations, 'how did
you leave the Island?' 'Thank you,' says Lightwood.
'It made no complaint of being in pain anywhere.'
'Say, how did you leave the savages?' asks Lady Tippins.
'They were becoming civilized when I left Juan Fernandez,' says Lightwood.
'At least they were eating one another, which looked like it.'
'Tormentor!' returns the dear young creature.
'You know what I mean, and you trifle with my impatience.
Tell me something, immediately, about the married pair.
You were at the wedding.' 'Was I, by-the-by?'
Mortimer pretends, at great leisure, to consider.
'So I was!' 'How was the bride dressed?
In rowing costume?'
Mortimer looks gloomy, and declines to answer.
'I hope she steered herself, skiffed herself, paddled herself, larboarded and
starboarded herself, or whatever the technical term may be, to the ceremony?'
proceeds the playful Tippins.
'However she got to it, she graced it,' says Mortimer.
Lady Tippins with a skittish little scream, attracts the general attention.
'Graced it!
Take care of me if I faint, Veneering. He means to tell us, that a horrid female
waterman is graceful!' 'Pardon me.
I mean to tell you nothing, Lady Tippins,' replies Lightwood.
And keeps his word by eating his dinner with a show of the utmost indifference.
'You shall not escape me in this way, you morose backwoodsman,' retorts Lady Tippins.
'You shall not evade the question, to screen your friend Eugene, who has made
this exhibition of himself.
The knowledge shall be brought home to you that such a ridiculous affair is condemned
by the voice of Society.
My dear Mrs Veneering, do let us resolve ourselves into a Committee of the whole
House on the subject.' Mrs Veneering, always charmed by this
rattling sylph, cries.
'Oh yes! Do let us resolve ourselves into a
Committee of the whole House! So delicious!'
Veneering says, 'As many as are of that opinion, say Aye,--contrary, No--the Ayes
have it.' But nobody takes the slightest notice of
his joke.
'Now, I am Chairwoman of Committees!' cries Lady Tippins.
('What spirits she has!' exclaims Mrs Veneering; to whom likewise nobody
'And this,' pursues the sprightly one, 'is a Committee of the whole House to what-you-
may-call-it--elicit, I suppose--the voice of Society.
The question before the Committee is, whether a young man of very fair family,
good appearance, and some talent, makes a fool or a wise man of himself in marrying a
female waterman, turned factory girl.'
'Hardly so, I think,' the stubborn Mortimer strikes in.
'I take the question to be, whether such a man as you describe, Lady Tippins, does
right or wrong in marrying a brave woman (I say nothing of her beauty), who has saved
his life, with a wonderful energy and
address; whom he knows to be virtuous, and possessed of remarkable qualities; whom he
has long admired, and who is deeply attached to him.'
'But, excuse me,' says Podsnap, with his temper and his shirt-collar about equally
rumpled; 'was this young woman ever a female waterman?'
But she sometimes rowed in a boat with her father, I believe.'
General sensation against the young woman. Brewer shakes his head.
Boots shakes his head.
Buffer shakes his head. 'And now, Mr Lightwood, was she ever,'
pursues Podsnap, with his indignation rising high into those hair-brushes of his,
'a factory girl?'
'Never. But she had some employment in a paper
mill, I believe.' General sensation repeated.
Brewer says, 'Oh dear!'
Boots says, 'Oh dear!' Buffer says, 'Oh dear!'
All, in a rumbling tone of protest.
'Then all I have to say is,' returns Podsnap, putting the thing away with his
right arm, 'that my gorge rises against such a marriage--that it offends and
disgusts me--that it makes me sick--and that I desire to know no more about it.'
('Now I wonder,' thinks Mortimer, amused, 'whether YOU are the Voice of Society!')
'Hear, hear, hear!' cries Lady Tippins.
'Your opinion of this MESALLIANCE, honourable colleagues of the honourable
member who has just sat down?'
Mrs Podsnap is of opinion that in these matters there should be an equality of
station and fortune, and that a man accustomed to Society should look out for a
woman accustomed to Society and capable of
bearing her part in it with--an ease and elegance of carriage--that.'
Mrs Podsnap stops there, delicately intimating that every such man should look
out for a fine woman as nearly resembling herself as he may hope to discover.
('Now I wonder,' thinks Mortimer, 'whether you are the Voice!')
Lady Tippins next canvasses the Contractor, of five hundred thousand power.
It appears to this potentate, that what the man in question should have done, would
have been, to buy the young woman a boat and a small annuity, and set her up for
These things are a question of beefsteaks and porter.
You buy the young woman a boat. Very good.
You buy her, at the same time, a small annuity.
You speak of that annuity in pounds sterling, but it is in reality so many
pounds of beefsteaks and so many pints of porter.
On the one hand, the young woman has the boat.
On the other hand, she consumes so many pounds of beefsteaks and so many pints of
Those beefsteaks and that porter are the fuel to that young woman's engine.
She derives therefrom a certain amount of power to row the boat; that power will
produce so much money; you add that to the small annuity; and thus you get at the
young woman's income.
That (it seems to the Contractor) is the way of looking at it.
The fair enslaver having fallen into one of her gentle sleeps during the last
exposition, nobody likes to wake her.
Fortunately, she comes awake of herself, and puts the question to the Wandering
Chairman. The Wanderer can only speak of the case as
if it were his own.
If such a young woman as the young woman described, had saved his own life, he would
have been very much obliged to her, wouldn't have married her, and would have
got her a berth in an Electric Telegraph Office, where young women answer very well.
What does the Genius of the three hundred and seventy-five thousand pounds, no
shillings, and nopence, think?
He can't say what he thinks, without asking: Had the young woman any money?
'No,' says Lightwood, in an uncompromising voice; 'no money.'
'Madness and moonshine,' is then the compressed verdict of the Genius.
'A man may do anything lawful, for money. But for no money!--Bosh!'
What does Boots say?
Boots says he wouldn't have done it under twenty thousand pound.
What does Brewer say? Brewer says what Boots says.
What does Buffer say?
Buffer says he knows a man who married a bathing-woman, and bolted.
Lady Tippins fancies she has collected the suffrages of the whole Committee (nobody
dreaming of asking the Veneerings for their opinion), when, looking round the table
through her eyeglass, she perceives Mr Twemlow with his hand to his forehead.
Good gracious! My Twemlow forgotten!
My dearest!
My own! What is his vote?
Twemlow has the air of being ill at ease, as he takes his hand from his forehead and
'I am disposed to think,' says he, 'that this is a question of the feelings of a
'A gentleman can have no feelings who contracts such a marriage,' flushes
Podsnap. 'Pardon me, sir,' says Twemlow, rather less
mildly than usual, 'I don't agree with you.
If this gentleman's feelings of gratitude, of respect, of admiration, and affection,
induced him (as I presume they did) to marry this lady--'
'This lady!' echoes Podsnap.
'Sir,' returns Twemlow, with his wristbands bristling a little, 'YOU repeat the word; I
repeat the word. This lady.
What else would you call her, if the gentleman were present?'
This being something in the nature of a poser for Podsnap, he merely waves it away
with a speechless wave.
'I say,' resumes Twemlow, 'if such feelings on the part of this gentleman, induced this
gentleman to marry this lady, I think he is the greater gentleman for the action, and
makes her the greater lady.
I beg to say, that when I use the word, gentleman, I use it in the sense in which
the degree may be attained by any man.
The feelings of a gentleman I hold sacred, and I confess I am not comfortable when
they are made the subject of sport or general discussion.'
'I should like to know,' sneers Podsnap, 'whether your noble relation would be of
your opinion.' 'Mr Podsnap,' retorts Twemlow, 'permit me.
He might be, or he might not be.
I cannot say. But, I could not allow even him to dictate
to me on a point of great delicacy, on which I feel very strongly.'
Somehow, a canopy of wet blanket seems to descend upon the company, and Lady Tippins
was never known to turn so very greedy or so very cross.
Mortimer Lightwood alone brightens.
He has been asking himself, as to every other member of the Committee in turn, 'I
wonder whether you are the Voice!'
But he does not ask himself the question after Twemlow has spoken, and he glances in
Twemlow's direction as if he were grateful.
When the company disperse--by which time Mr and Mrs Veneering have had quite as much as
they want of the honour, and the guests have had quite as much as THEY want of the
other honour--Mortimer sees Twemlow home,
shakes hands with him cordially at parting, and fares to the Temple, gaily.
Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens POSTSCRIPT
When I devised this story, I foresaw the likelihood that a class of readers and
commentators would suppose that I was at great pains to conceal exactly what I was
at great pains to suggest: namely, that Mr
John Harmon was not slain, and that Mr John Rokesmith was he.
Pleasing myself with the idea that the supposition might in part arise out of some
ingenuity in the story, and thinking it worth while, in the interests of art, to
hint to an audience that an artist (of
whatever denomination) may perhaps be trusted to know what he is about in his
vocation, if they will concede him a little patience, I was not alarmed by the
To keep for a long time unsuspected, yet always working itself out, another purpose
originating in that leading incident, and turning it to a pleasant and useful account
at last, was at once the most interesting and the most difficult part of my design.
Its difficulty was much enhanced by the mode of publication; for, it would be very
unreasonable to expect that many readers, pursuing a story in portions from month to
month through nineteen months, will, until
they have it before them complete, perceive the relations of its finer threads to the
whole pattern which is always before the eyes of the story-weaver at his loom.
Yet, that I hold the advantages of the mode of publication to outweigh its
disadvantages, may be easily believed of one who revived it in the Pickwick Papers
after long disuse, and has pursued it ever since.
There is sometimes an odd disposition in this country to dispute as improbable in
fiction, what are the commonest experiences in fact.
Therefore, I note here, though it may not be at all necessary, that there are
hundreds of Will Cases (as they are called), far more remarkable than that
fancied in this book; and that the stores
of the Prerogative Office teem with instances of testators who have made,
changed, contradicted, hidden, forgotten, left cancelled, and left uncancelled, each
many more wills than were ever made by the elder Mr Harmon of Harmony Jail.
In my social experiences since Mrs Betty Higden came upon the scene and left it, I
have found Circumlocutional champions disposed to be warm with me on the subject
of my view of the Poor Law.
Mr friend Mr Bounderby could never see any difference between leaving the Coketown
'hands' exactly as they were, and requiring them to be fed with turtle soup and venison
out of gold spoons.
Idiotic propositions of a parallel nature have been freely offered for my acceptance,
and I have been called upon to admit that I would give Poor Law relief to anybody,
anywhere, anyhow.
Putting this nonsense aside, I have observed a suspicious tendency in the
champions to divide into two parties; the one, contending that there are no deserving
Poor who prefer death by slow starvation
and bitter weather, to the mercies of some Relieving Officers and some Union Houses;
the other, admitting that there are such Poor, but denying that they have any cause
or reason for what they do.
The records in our newspapers, the late exposure by THE LANCET, and the common
sense and senses of common people, furnish too abundant evidence against both
But, that my view of the Poor Law may not be mistaken or misrepresented, I will state
I believe there has been in England, since the days of the STUARTS, no law so often
infamously administered, no law so often openly violated, no law habitually so ill-
In the majority of the shameful cases of disease and death from destitution, that
shock the Public and disgrace the country, the illegality is quite equal to the
inhumanity--and known language could say no more of their lawlessness.
On Friday the Ninth of June in the present year, Mr and Mrs Boffin (in their
manuscript dress of receiving Mr and Mrs Lammle at breakfast) were on the South
Eastern Railway with me, in a terribly destructive accident.
When I had done what I could to help others, I climbed back into my carriage--
nearly turned over a viaduct, and caught aslant upon the turn--to extricate the
worthy couple.
They were much soiled, but otherwise unhurt.
The same happy result attended Miss Bella Wilfer on her wedding day, and Mr Riderhood
inspecting Bradley Headstone's red neckerchief as he lay asleep.
I remember with devout thankfulness that I can never be much nearer parting company
with my readers for ever, than I was then, until there shall be written against my
life, the two words with which I have this day closed this book:--THE END.
September 2nd, 1865.