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´╗┐Title: Our Mutual Friend
Author: Dickens, Charles, 1812-1870
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Our Mutual Friend" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



OUR MUTUAL FRIEND

Charles Dickens



CONTENTS


     Book the First

     THE CUP AND THE LIP


     1. ON THE LOOK OUT
     2. THE MAN FROM SOMEWHERE
     3. ANOTHER MAN
     4. THE R. WILFER FAMILY
     5. BOFFIN'S BOWER
     6. CUT ADRIFT
     7. MR WEGG LOOKS AFTER HIMSELF
     8. MR BOFFIN IN CONSULTATION
     9. MR AND MRS BOFFIN IN CONSULTATION
     10. A MARRIAGE CONTRACT
     11. PODSNAPPERY
     12. THE SWEAT OF AN HONEST MAN'S BROW
     13. TRACKING THE BIRD OF PREY
     14. THE BIRD OF PREY BROUGHT DOWN
     15. TWO NEW SERVANTS
     16. MINDERS AND RE-MINDERS
     17. A DISMAL SWAMP



     Book the Second

     BIRDS OF A FEATHER


     1. OF AN EDUCATIONAL CHARACTER
     2. STILL EDUCATIONAL
     3. A PIECE OF WORK
     4. CUPID PROMPTED
     5. MERCURY PROMPTING
     6. A RIDDLE WITHOUT AN ANSWER
     7. IN WHICH A FRIENDLY MOVE IS ORIGINATED
     8. IN WHICH AN INNOCENT ELOPEMENT OCCURS
     9. IN WHICH THE ORPHAN MAKES HIS WILL
     10. A SUCCESSOR
     11. SOME AFFAIRS OF THE HEART
     12. MORE BIRDS OF PREY
     13. A SOLO AND A DUETT
     14. STRONG OF PURPOSE
     15. THE WHOLE CASE SO FAR
     16. AN ANNIVERSARY OCCASION



     Book the Third

     A LONG LANE


     1. LODGERS IN QUEER STREET
     2. A RESPECTED FRIEND IN A NEW ASPECT
     3. THE SAME RESPECTED FRIEND IN MORE ASPECTS THAN ONE
     4. A HAPPY RETURN OF THE DAY
     5. THE GOLDEN DUSTMAN FALLS INTO BAD COMPANY
     6. THE GOLDEN DUSTMAN FALLS INTO WORSE COMPANY
     7. THE FRIENDLY MOVE TAKES UP A STRONG POSITION
     8. THE END OF A LONG JOURNEY
     9. SOMEBODY BECOMES THE SUBJECT OF A PREDICTION
     10. SCOUTS OUT
     11. IN THE DARK
     12. MEANING MISCHIEF
     13. GIVE A DOG A BAD NAME, AND HANG HIM
     14. MR WEGG PREPARES A GRINDSTONE FOR MR BOFFIN'S NOSE
     15. THE GOLDEN DUSTMAN AT HIS WORST
     16. THE FEAST OF THE THREE HOBGOBLINS
     17. A SOCIAL CHORUS



     Book the Fourth

     A TURNING


     1. SETTING TRAPS
     2. THE GOLDEN DUSTMAN RISES A LITTLE
     3. THE GOLDEN DUSTMAN SINKS AGAIN
     4. A RUNAWAY MATCH
     5. CONCERNING THE MENDICANT'S BRIDE
     6. A CRY FOR HELP
     7. BETTER TO BE ABEL THAN CAIN
     8. A FEW GRAINS OF PEPPER
     9. TWO PLACES VACATED
     10. THE DOLLS' DRESSMAKER DISCOVERS A WORD
     11. EFFECT IS GIVEN TO THE DOLLS' DRESSMAKER'S DISCOVERY
     12. THE PASSING SHADOW
     13. SHOWING HOW THE GOLDEN DUSTMAN HELPED TO SCATTER DUST
     14. CHECKMATE TO THE FRIENDLY MOVE
     15. WHAT WAS CAUGHT IN THE TRAPS THAT WERE SET
     16. PERSONS AND THINGS IN GENERAL
     17. THE VOICE OF SOCIETY


     POSTSCRIPT, IN LIEU OF PREFACE



BOOK THE FIRST -- THE CUP AND THE LIP



Chapter 1

ON THE LOOK OUT


In these times of ours, though concerning the exact year there is no
need to be precise, a boat of dirty and disreputable appearance, with
two figures in it, floated on the Thames, between Southwark bridge which
is of iron, and London Bridge which is of stone, as an autumn evening
was closing in.

The figures in this boat were those of a strong man with ragged grizzled
hair and a sun-browned face, and a dark girl of nineteen or twenty,
sufficiently like him to be recognizable as his daughter. The girl
rowed, pulling a pair of sculls very easily; the man, with the
rudder-lines slack in his hands, and his hands loose in his waistband,
kept an eager look out. He had no net, hook, or line, and he could
not be a fisherman; his boat had no cushion for a sitter, no paint, no
inscription, no appliance beyond a rusty boathook and a coil of rope,
and he could not be a waterman; his boat was too crazy and too small
to take in cargo for delivery, and he could not be a lighterman or
river-carrier; there was no clue to what he looked for, but he looked
for something, with a most intent and searching gaze. The tide, which
had turned an hour before, was running down, and his eyes watched
every little race and eddy in its broad sweep, as the boat made slight
head-way against it, or drove stern foremost before it, according as he
directed his daughter by a movement of his head. She watched his face
as earnestly as he watched the river. But, in the intensity of her look
there was a touch of dread or horror.

Allied to the bottom of the river rather than the surface, by reason of
the slime and ooze with which it was covered, and its sodden state, this
boat and the two figures in it obviously were doing something that they
often did, and were seeking what they often sought. Half savage as the
man showed, with no covering on his matted head, with his brown arms
bare to between the elbow and the shoulder, with the loose knot of a
looser kerchief lying low on his bare breast in a wilderness of beard
and whisker, with such dress as he wore seeming to be made out of the
mud that begrimed his boat, still there was a business-like usage in his
steady gaze. So with every lithe action of the girl, with every turn of
her wrist, perhaps most of all with her look of dread or horror; they
were things of usage.

'Keep her out, Lizzie. Tide runs strong here. Keep her well afore the
sweep of it.'

Trusting to the girl's skill and making no use of the rudder, he eyed
the coming tide with an absorbed attention. So the girl eyed him. But,
it happened now, that a slant of light from the setting sun glanced into
the bottom of the boat, and, touching a rotten stain there which bore
some resemblance to the outline of a muffled human form, coloured it as
though with diluted blood. This caught the girl's eye, and she shivered.

'What ails you?' said the man, immediately aware of it, though so intent
on the advancing waters; 'I see nothing afloat.'

The red light was gone, the shudder was gone, and his gaze, which had
come back to the boat for a moment, travelled away again. Wheresoever
the strong tide met with an impediment, his gaze paused for an instant.
At every mooring-chain and rope, at every stationery boat or barge that
split the current into a broad-arrowhead, at the offsets from the piers
of Southwark Bridge, at the paddles of the river steamboats as they beat
the filthy water, at the floating logs of timber lashed together lying
off certain wharves, his shining eyes darted a hungry look. After a
darkening hour or so, suddenly the rudder-lines tightened in his hold,
and he steered hard towards the Surrey shore.

Always watching his face, the girl instantly answered to the action in
her sculling; presently the boat swung round, quivered as from a sudden
jerk, and the upper half of the man was stretched out over the stern.

The girl pulled the hood of a cloak she wore, over her head and over her
face, and, looking backward so that the front folds of this hood were
turned down the river, kept the boat in that direction going before the
tide. Until now, the boat had barely held her own, and had hovered about
one spot; but now, the banks changed swiftly, and the deepening shadows
and the kindling lights of London Bridge were passed, and the tiers of
shipping lay on either hand.

It was not until now that the upper half of the man came back into the
boat. His arms were wet and dirty, and he washed them over the side. In
his right hand he held something, and he washed that in the river too.
It was money. He chinked it once, and he blew upon it once, and he spat
upon it once,--'for luck,' he hoarsely said--before he put it in his
pocket.

'Lizzie!'

The girl turned her face towards him with a start, and rowed in silence.
Her face was very pale. He was a hook-nosed man, and with that and his
bright eyes and his ruffled head, bore a certain likeness to a roused
bird of prey.

'Take that thing off your face.'

She put it back.

'Here! and give me hold of the sculls. I'll take the rest of the spell.'

'No, no, father! No! I can't indeed. Father!--I cannot sit so near it!'

He was moving towards her to change places, but her terrified
expostulation stopped him and he resumed his seat.

'What hurt can it do you?'

'None, none. But I cannot bear it.'

'It's my belief you hate the sight of the very river.'

'I--I do not like it, father.'

'As if it wasn't your living! As if it wasn't meat and drink to you!'

At these latter words the girl shivered again, and for a moment paused
in her rowing, seeming to turn deadly faint. It escaped his attention,
for he was glancing over the stern at something the boat had in tow.

'How can you be so thankless to your best friend, Lizzie? The very
fire that warmed you when you were a babby, was picked out of the river
alongside the coal barges. The very basket that you slept in, the tide
washed ashore. The very rockers that I put it upon to make a cradle
of it, I cut out of a piece of wood that drifted from some ship or
another.'

Lizzie took her right hand from the scull it held, and touched her
lips with it, and for a moment held it out lovingly towards him: then,
without speaking, she resumed her rowing, as another boat of similar
appearance, though in rather better trim, came out from a dark place and
dropped softly alongside.

'In luck again, Gaffer?' said a man with a squinting leer, who sculled
her and who was alone, 'I know'd you was in luck again, by your wake as
you come down.'

'Ah!' replied the other, drily. 'So you're out, are you?'

'Yes, pardner.'

There was now a tender yellow moonlight on the river, and the new comer,
keeping half his boat's length astern of the other boat looked hard at
its track.

'I says to myself,' he went on, 'directly you hove in view, yonder's
Gaffer, and in luck again, by George if he ain't! Scull it is,
pardner--don't fret yourself--I didn't touch him.' This was in answer
to a quick impatient movement on the part of Gaffer: the speaker at the
same time unshipping his scull on that side, and laying his hand on the
gunwale of Gaffer's boat and holding to it.

'He's had touches enough not to want no more, as well as I make him
out, Gaffer! Been a knocking about with a pretty many tides, ain't he
pardner? Such is my out-of-luck ways, you see! He must have passed me
when he went up last time, for I was on the lookout below bridge here. I
a'most think you're like the wulturs, pardner, and scent 'em out.'

He spoke in a dropped voice, and with more than one glance at Lizzie who
had pulled on her hood again. Both men then looked with a weird unholy
interest in the wake of Gaffer's boat.

'Easy does it, betwixt us. Shall I take him aboard, pardner?'

'No,' said the other. In so surly a tone that the man, after a blank
stare, acknowledged it with the retort:

'--Arn't been eating nothing as has disagreed with you, have you,
pardner?'

'Why, yes, I have,' said Gaffer. 'I have been swallowing too much of
that word, Pardner. I am no pardner of yours.'

'Since when was you no pardner of mine, Gaffer Hexam Esquire?'

'Since you was accused of robbing a man. Accused of robbing a live man!'
said Gaffer, with great indignation.

'And what if I had been accused of robbing a dead man, Gaffer?'

'You COULDN'T do it.'

'Couldn't you, Gaffer?'

'No. Has a dead man any use for money? Is it possible for a dead man to
have money? What world does a dead man belong to? 'Tother world. What
world does money belong to? This world. How can money be a corpse's? Can
a corpse own it, want it, spend it, claim it, miss it? Don't try to go
confounding the rights and wrongs of things in that way. But it's worthy
of the sneaking spirit that robs a live man.'

'I'll tell you what it is--.'

'No you won't. I'll tell you what it is. You got off with a short time
of it for putting you're hand in the pocket of a sailor, a live sailor.
Make the most of it and think yourself lucky, but don't think after
that to come over ME with your pardners. We have worked together in time
past, but we work together no more in time present nor yet future. Let
go. Cast off!'

'Gaffer! If you think to get rid of me this way--.'

'If I don't get rid of you this way, I'll try another, and chop you over
the fingers with the stretcher, or take a pick at your head with the
boat-hook. Cast off! Pull you, Lizzie. Pull home, since you won't let
your father pull.'

Lizzie shot ahead, and the other boat fell astern. Lizzie's father,
composing himself into the easy attitude of one who had asserted the
high moralities and taken an unassailable position, slowly lighted a
pipe, and smoked, and took a survey of what he had in tow. What he had
in tow, lunged itself at him sometimes in an awful manner when the boat
was checked, and sometimes seemed to try to wrench itself away, though
for the most part it followed submissively. A neophyte might have
fancied that the ripples passing over it were dreadfully like faint
changes of expression on a sightless face; but Gaffer was no neophyte
and had no fancies.



Chapter 2

THE MAN FROM SOMEWHERE


Mr and Mrs Veneering were bran-new people in a bran-new house in a
bran-new quarter of London. Everything about the Veneerings was spick
and span new. All their furniture was new, all their friends were new,
all their servants were new, their plate was new, their carriage was
new, their harness was new, their horses were new, their pictures
were new, they themselves were new, they were as newly married as was
lawfully compatible with their having a bran-new baby, and if they had
set up a great-grandfather, he would have come home in matting from the
Pantechnicon, without a scratch upon him, French polished to the crown
of his head.

For, in the Veneering establishment, from the hall-chairs with the new
coat of arms, to the grand pianoforte with the new action, and upstairs
again to the new fire-escape, all things were in a state of high varnish
and polish. And what was observable in the furniture, was observable in
the Veneerings--the surface smelt a little too much of the workshop and
was a trifle sticky.

There was an innocent piece of dinner-furniture that went upon easy
castors and was kept over a livery stable-yard in Duke Street, Saint
James's, when not in use, to whom the Veneerings were a source of blind
confusion. The name of this article was Twemlow. Being first cousin
to Lord Snigsworth, he was in frequent requisition, and at many houses
might be said to represent the dining-table in its normal state. Mr and
Mrs Veneering, for example, arranging a dinner, habitually started with
Twemlow, and then put leaves in him, or added guests to him. Sometimes,
the table consisted of Twemlow and half a dozen leaves; sometimes, of
Twemlow and a dozen leaves; sometimes, Twemlow was pulled out to his
utmost extent of twenty leaves. Mr and Mrs Veneering on occasions of
ceremony faced each other in the centre of the board, and thus the
parallel still held; for, it always happened that the more Twemlow was
pulled out, the further he found himself from the center, and nearer
to the sideboard at one end of the room, or the window-curtains at the
other.

But, it was not this which steeped the feeble soul of Twemlow in
confusion. This he was used to, and could take soundings of. The abyss
to which he could find no bottom, and from which started forth the
engrossing and ever-swelling difficulty of his life, was the insoluble
question whether he was Veneering's oldest friend, or newest friend.
To the excogitation of this problem, the harmless gentleman had devoted
many anxious hours, both in his lodgings over the livery stable-yard,
and in the cold gloom, favourable to meditation, of Saint James's
Square. Thus. Twemlow had first known Veneering at his club, where
Veneering then knew nobody but the man who made them known to one
another, who seemed to be the most intimate friend he had in the world,
and whom he had known two days--the bond of union between their souls,
the nefarious conduct of the committee respecting the cookery of
a fillet of veal, having been accidentally cemented at that date.
Immediately upon this, Twemlow received an invitation to dine with
Veneering, and dined: the man being of the party. Immediately upon
that, Twemlow received an invitation to dine with the man, and dined:
Veneering being of the party. At the man's were a Member, an Engineer, a
Payer-off of the National Debt, a Poem on Shakespeare, a Grievance, and
a Public Office, who all seem to be utter strangers to Veneering. And
yet immediately after that, Twemlow received an invitation to dine at
Veneerings, expressly to meet the Member, the Engineer, the Payer-off
of the National Debt, the Poem on Shakespeare, the Grievance, and the
Public Office, and, dining, discovered that all of them were the most
intimate friends Veneering had in the world, and that the wives of all
of them (who were all there) were the objects of Mrs Veneering's most
devoted affection and tender confidence.

Thus it had come about, that Mr Twemlow had said to himself in his
lodgings, with his hand to his forehead: 'I must not think of this. This
is enough to soften any man's brain,'--and yet was always thinking of
it, and could never form a conclusion.

This evening the Veneerings give a banquet. Eleven leaves in the
Twemlow; fourteen in company all told. Four pigeon-breasted retainers in
plain clothes stand in line in the hall. A fifth retainer, proceeding up
the staircase with a mournful air--as who should say, 'Here is another
wretched creature come to dinner; such is life!'--announces, 'Mis-ter
Twemlow!'

Mrs Veneering welcomes her sweet Mr Twemlow. Mr Veneering welcomes
his dear Twemlow. Mrs Veneering does not expect that Mr Twemlow can in
nature care much for such insipid things as babies, but so old a friend
must please to look at baby. 'Ah! You will know the friend of your
family better, Tootleums,' says Mr Veneering, nodding emotionally at
that new article, 'when you begin to take notice.' He then begs to make
his dear Twemlow known to his two friends, Mr Boots and Mr Brewer--and
clearly has no distinct idea which is which.

But now a fearful circumstance occurs.

'Mis-ter and Mis-sus Podsnap!'

'My dear,' says Mr Veneering to Mrs Veneering, with an air of much
friendly interest, while the door stands open, 'the Podsnaps.'

A too, too smiling large man, with a fatal freshness on him, appearing
with his wife, instantly deserts his wife and darts at Twemlow with:

'How do you do? So glad to know you. Charming house you have here. I
hope we are not late. So glad of the opportunity, I am sure!'

When the first shock fell upon him, Twemlow twice skipped back in
his neat little shoes and his neat little silk stockings of a bygone
fashion, as if impelled to leap over a sofa behind him; but the large
man closed with him and proved too strong.

'Let me,' says the large man, trying to attract the attention of his
wife in the distance, 'have the pleasure of presenting Mrs Podsnap
to her host. She will be,' in his fatal freshness he seems to find
perpetual verdure and eternal youth in the phrase, 'she will be so glad
of the opportunity, I am sure!'

In the meantime, Mrs Podsnap, unable to originate a mistake on her own
account, because Mrs Veneering is the only other lady there, does her
best in the way of handsomely supporting her husband's, by looking
towards Mr Twemlow with a plaintive countenance and remarking to Mrs
Veneering in a feeling manner, firstly, that she fears he has been
rather bilious of late, and, secondly, that the baby is already very
like him.

It is questionable whether any man quite relishes being mistaken for
any other man; but, Mr Veneering having this very evening set up the
shirt-front of the young Antinous in new worked cambric just come home,
is not at all complimented by being supposed to be Twemlow, who is dry
and weazen and some thirty years older. Mrs Veneering equally resents
the imputation of being the wife of Twemlow. As to Twemlow, he is
so sensible of being a much better bred man than Veneering, that he
considers the large man an offensive ass.

In this complicated dilemma, Mr Veneering approaches the large man with
extended hand and, smilingly assures that incorrigible personage that he
is delighted to see him: who in his fatal freshness instantly replies:

'Thank you. I am ashamed to say that I cannot at this moment recall
where we met, but I am so glad of this opportunity, I am sure!'

Then pouncing upon Twemlow, who holds back with all his feeble might, he
is haling him off to present him, as Veneering, to Mrs Podsnap, when the
arrival of more guests unravels the mistake. Whereupon, having re-shaken
hands with Veneering as Veneering, he re-shakes hands with Twemlow as
Twemlow, and winds it all up to his own perfect satisfaction by saying
to the last-named, 'Ridiculous opportunity--but so glad of it, I am
sure!'

Now, Twemlow having undergone this terrific experience, having likewise
noted the fusion of Boots in Brewer and Brewer in Boots, and having
further observed that of the remaining seven guests four discrete
characters enter with wandering eyes and wholly declined to commit
themselves as to which is Veneering, until Veneering has them in his
grasp;--Twemlow having profited by these studies, finds his brain
wholesomely hardening as he approaches the conclusion that he really is
Veneering's oldest friend, when his brain softens again and all is
lost, through his eyes encountering Veneering and the large man linked
together as twin brothers in the back drawing-room near the conservatory
door, and through his ears informing him in the tones of Mrs Veneering
that the same large man is to be baby's godfather.

'Dinner is on the table!'

Thus the melancholy retainer, as who should say, 'Come down and be
poisoned, ye unhappy children of men!'

Twemlow, having no lady assigned him, goes down in the rear, with
his hand to his forehead. Boots and Brewer, thinking him indisposed,
whisper, 'Man faint. Had no lunch.' But he is only stunned by the
unvanquishable difficulty of his existence.

Revived by soup, Twemlow discourses mildly of the Court Circular with
Boots and Brewer. Is appealed to, at the fish stage of the banquet, by
Veneering, on the disputed question whether his cousin Lord Snigsworth
is in or out of town? Gives it that his cousin is out of town. 'At
Snigsworthy Park?' Veneering inquires. 'At Snigsworthy,' Twemlow
rejoins. Boots and Brewer regard this as a man to be cultivated; and
Veneering is clear that he is a remunerative article. Meantime the
retainer goes round, like a gloomy Analytical Chemist: always seeming
to say, after 'Chablis, sir?'--'You wouldn't if you knew what it's made
of.'

The great looking-glass above the sideboard, reflects the table and the
company. Reflects the new Veneering crest, in gold and eke in silver,
frosted and also thawed, a camel of all work. The Heralds' College found
out a Crusading ancestor for Veneering who bore a camel on his shield
(or might have done it if he had thought of it), and a caravan of camels
take charge of the fruits and flowers and candles, and kneel down be
loaded with the salt. Reflects Veneering; forty, wavy-haired, dark,
tending to corpulence, sly, mysterious, filmy--a kind of sufficiently
well-looking veiled-prophet, not prophesying. Reflects Mrs Veneering;
fair, aquiline-nosed and fingered, not so much light hair as she might
have, gorgeous in raiment and jewels, enthusiastic, propitiatory,
conscious that a corner of her husband's veil is over herself. Reflects
Podsnap; prosperously feeding, two little light-coloured wiry wings, one
on either side of his else bald head, looking as like his hairbrushes as
his hair, dissolving view of red beads on his forehead, large allowance
of crumpled shirt-collar up behind. Reflects Mrs Podsnap; fine woman
for Professor Owen, quantity of bone, neck and nostrils like a
rocking-horse, hard features, majestic head-dress in which Podsnap has
hung golden offerings. Reflects Twemlow; grey, dry, polite, susceptible
to east wind, First-Gentleman-in-Europe collar and cravat, cheeks drawn
in as if he had made a great effort to retire into himself some years
ago, and had got so far and had never got any farther. Reflects mature
young lady; raven locks, and complexion that lights up well when well
powdered--as it is--carrying on considerably in the captivation of
mature young gentleman; with too much nose in his face, too much ginger
in his whiskers, too much torso in his waistcoat, too much sparkle in
his studs, his eyes, his buttons, his talk, and his teeth. Reflects
charming old Lady Tippins on Veneering's right; with an immense obtuse
drab oblong face, like a face in a tablespoon, and a dyed Long Walk up
the top of her head, as a convenient public approach to the bunch of
false hair behind, pleased to patronize Mrs Veneering opposite, who
is pleased to be patronized. Reflects a certain 'Mortimer', another
of Veneering's oldest friends; who never was in the house before,
and appears not to want to come again, who sits disconsolate on Mrs
Veneering's left, and who was inveigled by Lady Tippins (a friend of
his boyhood) to come to these people's and talk, and who won't talk.
Reflects Eugene, friend of Mortimer; buried alive in the back of his
chair, behind a shoulder--with a powder-epaulette on it--of the mature
young lady, and gloomily resorting to the champagne chalice whenever
proffered by the Analytical Chemist. Lastly, the looking-glass reflects
Boots and Brewer, and two other stuffed Buffers interposed between the
rest of the company and possible accidents.

The Veneering dinners are excellent dinners--or new people wouldn't
come--and all goes well. Notably, Lady Tippins has made a series of
experiments on her digestive functions, so extremely complicated and
daring, that if they could be published with their results it might
benefit the human race. Having taken in provisions from all parts of the
world, this hardy old cruiser has last touched at the North Pole, when,
as the ice-plates are being removed, the following words fall from her:

'I assure you, my dear Veneering--'

(Poor Twemlow's hand approaches his forehead, for it would seem now,
that Lady Tippins is going to be the oldest friend.)

'I assure you, my dear Veneering, that it is the oddest affair! Like
the advertising people, I don't ask you to trust me, without offering
a respectable reference. Mortimer there, is my reference, and knows all
about it.'

Mortimer raises his drooping eyelids, and slightly opens his mouth. But
a faint smile, expressive of 'What's the use!' passes over his face, and
he drops his eyelids and shuts his mouth.

'Now, Mortimer,' says Lady Tippins, rapping the sticks of her closed
green fan upon the knuckles of her left hand--which is particularly rich
in knuckles, 'I insist upon your telling all that is to be told about
the man from Jamaica.'

'Give you my honour I never heard of any man from Jamaica, except the
man who was a brother,' replies Mortimer.

'Tobago, then.'

'Nor yet from Tobago.'

'Except,' Eugene strikes in: so unexpectedly that the mature young lady,
who has forgotten all about him, with a start takes the epaulette out
of his way: 'except our friend who long lived on rice-pudding and
isinglass, till at length to his something or other, his physician said
something else, and a leg of mutton somehow ended in daygo.'

A reviving impression goes round the table that Eugene is coming out. An
unfulfilled impression, for he goes in again.

'Now, my dear Mrs Veneering,' quoth Lady Tippins, I appeal to you
whether this is not the basest conduct ever known in this world? I carry
my lovers about, two or three at a time, on condition that they are very
obedient and devoted; and here is my oldest lover-in-chief, the head of
all my slaves, throwing off his allegiance before company! And here is
another of my lovers, a rough Cymon at present certainly, but of whom
I had most hopeful expectations as to his turning out well in course of
time, pretending that he can't remember his nursery rhymes! On purpose
to annoy me, for he knows how I doat upon them!'

A grisly little fiction concerning her lovers is Lady Tippins's point.
She is always attended by a lover or two, and she keeps a little list
of her lovers, and she is always booking a new lover, or striking out an
old lover, or putting a lover in her black list, or promoting a lover to
her blue list, or adding up her lovers, or otherwise posting her book.
Mrs Veneering is charmed by the humour, and so is Veneering. Perhaps it
is enhanced by a certain yellow play in Lady Tippins's throat, like the
legs of scratching poultry.

'I banish the false wretch from this moment, and I strike him out of
my Cupidon (my name for my Ledger, my dear,) this very night. But I am
resolved to have the account of the man from Somewhere, and I beg you
to elicit it for me, my love,' to Mrs Veneering, 'as I have lost my own
influence. Oh, you perjured man!' This to Mortimer, with a rattle of her
fan.

'We are all very much interested in the man from Somewhere,' Veneering
observes.

Then the four Buffers, taking heart of grace all four at once, say:

'Deeply interested!'

'Quite excited!'

'Dramatic!'

'Man from Nowhere, perhaps!'

And then Mrs Veneering--for the Lady Tippins's winning wiles are
contagious--folds her hands in the manner of a supplicating child, turns
to her left neighbour, and says, 'Tease! Pay! Man from Tumwhere!' At
which the four Buffers, again mysteriously moved all four at once,
explain, 'You can't resist!'

'Upon my life,' says Mortimer languidly, 'I find it immensely
embarrassing to have the eyes of Europe upon me to this extent, and my
only consolation is that you will all of you execrate Lady Tippins in
your secret hearts when you find, as you inevitably will, the man from
Somewhere a bore. Sorry to destroy romance by fixing him with a local
habitation, but he comes from the place, the name of which escapes me,
but will suggest itself to everybody else here, where they make the
wine.'

Eugene suggests 'Day and Martin's.'

'No, not that place,' returns the unmoved Mortimer, 'that's where they
make the Port. My man comes from the country where they make the Cape
Wine. But look here, old fellow; its not at all statistical and it's
rather odd.'

It is always noticeable at the table of the Veneerings, that no man
troubles himself much about the Veneerings themselves, and that any
one who has anything to tell, generally tells it to anybody else in
preference.

'The man,' Mortimer goes on, addressing Eugene, 'whose name is Harmon,
was only son of a tremendous old rascal who made his money by Dust.'

'Red velveteens and a bell?' the gloomy Eugene inquires.

'And a ladder and basket if you like. By which means, or by others, he
grew rich as a Dust Contractor, and lived in a hollow in a hilly country
entirely composed of Dust. On his own small estate the growling old
vagabond threw up his own mountain range, like an old volcano, and its
geological formation was Dust. Coal-dust, vegetable-dust, bone-dust,
crockery dust, rough dust and sifted dust,--all manner of Dust.'

A passing remembrance of Mrs Veneering, here induces Mortimer to address
his next half-dozen words to her; after which he wanders away again,
tries Twemlow and finds he doesn't answer, ultimately takes up with the
Buffers who receive him enthusiastically.

'The moral being--I believe that's the right expression--of this
exemplary person, derived its highest gratification from anathematizing
his nearest relations and turning them out of doors. Having begun (as
was natural) by rendering these attentions to the wife of his bosom,
he next found himself at leisure to bestow a similar recognition on the
claims of his daughter. He chose a husband for her, entirely to his own
satisfaction and not in the least to hers, and proceeded to settle upon
her, as her marriage portion, I don't know how much Dust, but something
immense. At this stage of the affair the poor girl respectfully
intimated that she was secretly engaged to that popular character whom
the novelists and versifiers call Another, and that such a marriage
would make Dust of her heart and Dust of her life--in short, would
set her up, on a very extensive scale, in her father's business.
Immediately, the venerable parent--on a cold winter's night, it is
said--anathematized and turned her out.'

Here, the Analytical Chemist (who has evidently formed a very low
opinion of Mortimer's story) concedes a little claret to the Buffers;
who, again mysteriously moved all four at once, screw it slowly into
themselves with a peculiar twist of enjoyment, as they cry in chorus,
'Pray go on.'

'The pecuniary resources of Another were, as they usually are, of a very
limited nature. I believe I am not using too strong an expression when
I say that Another was hard up. However, he married the young lady, and
they lived in a humble dwelling, probably possessing a porch ornamented
with honeysuckle and woodbine twining, until she died. I must refer
you to the Registrar of the District in which the humble dwelling was
situated, for the certified cause of death; but early sorrow and anxiety
may have had to do with it, though they may not appear in the ruled
pages and printed forms. Indisputably this was the case with Another,
for he was so cut up by the loss of his young wife that if he outlived
her a year it was as much as he did.'

There is that in the indolent Mortimer, which seems to hint that if good
society might on any account allow itself to be impressible, he, one of
good society, might have the weakness to be impressed by what he here
relates. It is hidden with great pains, but it is in him. The gloomy
Eugene too, is not without some kindred touch; for, when that appalling
Lady Tippins declares that if Another had survived, he should have gone
down at the head of her list of lovers--and also when the mature young
lady shrugs her epaulettes, and laughs at some private and confidential
comment from the mature young gentleman--his gloom deepens to that
degree that he trifles quite ferociously with his dessert-knife.

Mortimer proceeds.

'We must now return, as novelists say, and as we all wish they wouldn't,
to the man from Somewhere. Being a boy of fourteen, cheaply educated
at Brussels when his sister's expulsion befell, it was some little time
before he heard of it--probably from herself, for the mother was dead;
but that I don't know. Instantly, he absconded, and came over here. He
must have been a boy of spirit and resource, to get here on a stopped
allowance of five sous a week; but he did it somehow, and he burst in
on his father, and pleaded his sister's cause. Venerable parent promptly
resorts to anathematization, and turns him out. Shocked and terrified
boy takes flight, seeks his fortune, gets aboard ship, ultimately
turns up on dry land among the Cape wine: small proprietor, farmer,
grower--whatever you like to call it.'

At this juncture, shuffling is heard in the hall, and tapping is heard
at the dining-room door. Analytical Chemist goes to the door, confers
angrily with unseen tapper, appears to become mollified by descrying
reason in the tapping, and goes out.

'So he was discovered, only the other day, after having been expatriated
about fourteen years.'

A Buffer, suddenly astounding the other three, by detaching himself, and
asserting individuality, inquires: 'How discovered, and why?'

'Ah! To be sure. Thank you for reminding me. Venerable parent dies.'

Same Buffer, emboldened by success, says: 'When?'

'The other day. Ten or twelve months ago.'

Same Buffer inquires with smartness, 'What of?' But herein perishes a
melancholy example; being regarded by the three other Buffers with a
stony stare, and attracting no further attention from any mortal.

'Venerable parent,' Mortimer repeats with a passing remembrance that
there is a Veneering at table, and for the first time addressing
him--'dies.'

The gratified Veneering repeats, gravely, 'dies'; and folds his arms,
and composes his brow to hear it out in a judicial manner, when he finds
himself again deserted in the bleak world.

'His will is found,' said Mortimer, catching Mrs Podsnap's
rocking-horse's eye. 'It is dated very soon after the son's flight. It
leaves the lowest of the range of dust-mountains, with some sort of a
dwelling-house at its foot, to an old servant who is sole executor, and
all the rest of the property--which is very considerable--to the son.
He directs himself to be buried with certain eccentric ceremonies and
precautions against his coming to life, with which I need not bore you,
and that's all--except--' and this ends the story.

The Analytical Chemist returning, everybody looks at him. Not because
anybody wants to see him, but because of that subtle influence in nature
which impels humanity to embrace the slightest opportunity of looking at
anything, rather than the person who addresses it.

'--Except that the son's inheriting is made conditional on his marrying
a girl, who at the date of the will, was a child of four or five years
old, and who is now a marriageable young woman. Advertisement and
inquiry discovered the son in the man from Somewhere, and at the present
moment, he is on his way home from there--no doubt, in a state of great
astonishment--to succeed to a very large fortune, and to take a wife.'

Mrs Podsnap inquires whether the young person is a young person of
personal charms? Mortimer is unable to report.

Mr Podsnap inquires what would become of the very large fortune, in the
event of the marriage condition not being fulfilled? Mortimer replies,
that by special testamentary clause it would then go to the old servant
above mentioned, passing over and excluding the son; also, that if
the son had not been living, the same old servant would have been sole
residuary legatee.

Mrs Veneering has just succeeded in waking Lady Tippins from a snore, by
dexterously shunting a train of plates and dishes at her knuckles across
the table; when everybody but Mortimer himself becomes aware that the
Analytical Chemist is, in a ghostly manner, offering him a folded paper.
Curiosity detains Mrs Veneering a few moments.

Mortimer, in spite of all the arts of the chemist, placidly refreshes
himself with a glass of Madeira, and remains unconscious of the Document
which engrosses the general attention, until Lady Tippins (who has a
habit of waking totally insensible), having remembered where she is, and
recovered a perception of surrounding objects, says: 'Falser man than
Don Juan; why don't you take the note from the commendatore?' Upon
which, the chemist advances it under the nose of Mortimer, who looks
round at him, and says:

'What's this?'

Analytical Chemist bends and whispers.

'WHO?' Says Mortimer.

Analytical Chemist again bends and whispers.

Mortimer stares at him, and unfolds the paper. Reads it, reads it twice,
turns it over to look at the blank outside, reads it a third time.

'This arrives in an extraordinarily opportune manner,' says Mortimer
then, looking with an altered face round the table: 'this is the
conclusion of the story of the identical man.'

'Already married?' one guesses.

'Declines to marry?' another guesses.

'Codicil among the dust?' another guesses.

'Why, no,' says Mortimer; 'remarkable thing, you are all wrong. The
story is completer and rather more exciting than I supposed. Man's
drowned!'



Chapter 3

ANOTHER MAN


As the disappearing skirts of the ladies ascended the Veneering
staircase, Mortimer, following them forth from the dining-room, turned
into a library of bran-new books, in bran-new bindings liberally gilded,
and requested to see the messenger who had brought the paper. He was a
boy of about fifteen. Mortimer looked at the boy, and the boy looked
at the bran-new pilgrims on the wall, going to Canterbury in more gold
frame than procession, and more carving than country.

'Whose writing is this?'

'Mine, sir.'

'Who told you to write it?'

'My father, Jesse Hexam.'

'Is it he who found the body?'

'Yes, sir.'

'What is your father?'

The boy hesitated, looked reproachfully at the pilgrims as if they had
involved him in a little difficulty, then said, folding a plait in the
right leg of his trousers, 'He gets his living along-shore.'

'Is it far?'

'Is which far?' asked the boy, upon his guard, and again upon the road
to Canterbury.

'To your father's?'

'It's a goodish stretch, sir. I come up in a cab, and the cab's waiting
to be paid. We could go back in it before you paid it, if you liked.
I went first to your office, according to the direction of the papers
found in the pockets, and there I see nobody but a chap of about my age
who sent me on here.'

There was a curious mixture in the boy, of uncompleted savagery, and
uncompleted civilization. His voice was hoarse and coarse, and his face
was coarse, and his stunted figure was coarse; but he was cleaner than
other boys of his type; and his writing, though large and round,
was good; and he glanced at the backs of the books, with an awakened
curiosity that went below the binding. No one who can read, ever looks
at a book, even unopened on a shelf, like one who cannot.

'Were any means taken, do you know, boy, to ascertain if it was possible
to restore life?' Mortimer inquired, as he sought for his hat.

'You wouldn't ask, sir, if you knew his state. Pharaoh's multitude that
were drowned in the Red Sea, ain't more beyond restoring to life. If
Lazarus was only half as far gone, that was the greatest of all the
miracles.'

'Halloa!' cried Mortimer, turning round with his hat upon his head, 'you
seem to be at home in the Red Sea, my young friend?'

'Read of it with teacher at the school,' said the boy.

'And Lazarus?'

'Yes, and him too. But don't you tell my father! We should have no peace
in our place, if that got touched upon. It's my sister's contriving.'

'You seem to have a good sister.'

'She ain't half bad,' said the boy; 'but if she knows her letters it's
the most she does--and them I learned her.'

The gloomy Eugene, with his hands in his pockets, had strolled in and
assisted at the latter part of the dialogue; when the boy spoke these
words slightingly of his sister, he took him roughly enough by the chin,
and turned up his face to look at it.

'Well, I'm sure, sir!' said the boy, resisting; 'I hope you'll know me
again.'

Eugene vouchsafed no answer; but made the proposal to Mortimer, 'I'll
go with you, if you like?' So, they all three went away together in the
vehicle that had brought the boy; the two friends (once boys together at
a public school) inside, smoking cigars; the messenger on the box beside
the driver.

'Let me see,' said Mortimer, as they went along; 'I have been, Eugene,
upon the honourable roll of solicitors of the High Court of Chancery,
and attorneys at Common Law, five years; and--except gratuitously taking
instructions, on an average once a fortnight, for the will of Lady
Tippins who has nothing to leave--I have had no scrap of business but
this romantic business.'

'And I,' said Eugene, 'have been "called" seven years, and have had no
business at all, and never shall have any. And if I had, I shouldn't
know how to do it.'

'I am far from being clear as to the last particular,' returned
Mortimer, with great composure, 'that I have much advantage over you.'

'I hate,' said Eugene, putting his legs up on the opposite seat, 'I hate
my profession.'

'Shall I incommode you, if I put mine up too?' returned Mortimer. 'Thank
you. I hate mine.'

'It was forced upon me,' said the gloomy Eugene, 'because it was
understood that we wanted a barrister in the family. We have got a
precious one.'

'It was forced upon me,' said Mortimer, 'because it was understood that
we wanted a solicitor in the family. And we have got a precious one.'

'There are four of us, with our names painted on a door-post in right of
one black hole called a set of chambers,' said Eugene; 'and each of us
has the fourth of a clerk--Cassim Baba, in the robber's cave--and Cassim
is the only respectable member of the party.'

'I am one by myself, one,' said Mortimer, 'high up an awful staircase
commanding a burial-ground, and I have a whole clerk to myself, and he
has nothing to do but look at the burial-ground, and what he will turn
out when arrived at maturity, I cannot conceive. Whether, in that shabby
rook's nest, he is always plotting wisdom, or plotting murder; whether
he will grow up, after so much solitary brooding, to enlighten his
fellow-creatures, or to poison them; is the only speck of interest that
presents itself to my professional view. Will you give me a light? Thank
you.'

'Then idiots talk,' said Eugene, leaning back, folding his arms, smoking
with his eyes shut, and speaking slightly through his nose, 'of Energy.
If there is a word in the dictionary under any letter from A to Z that
I abominate, it is energy. It is such a conventional superstition, such
parrot gabble! What the deuce! Am I to rush out into the street, collar
the first man of a wealthy appearance that I meet, shake him, and say,
"Go to law upon the spot, you dog, and retain me, or I'll be the death
of you"? Yet that would be energy.'

'Precisely my view of the case, Eugene. But show me a good opportunity,
show me something really worth being energetic about, and I'll show you
energy.'

'And so will I,' said Eugene.

And it is likely enough that ten thousand other young men, within the
limits of the London Post-office town delivery, made the same hopeful
remark in the course of the same evening.

The wheels rolled on, and rolled down by the Monument and by the Tower,
and by the Docks; down by Ratcliffe, and by Rotherhithe; down by where
accumulated scum of humanity seemed to be washed from higher grounds,
like so much moral sewage, and to be pausing until its own weight forced
it over the bank and sunk it in the river. In and out among vessels
that seemed to have got ashore, and houses that seemed to have got
afloat--among bow-splits staring into windows, and windows staring
into ships--the wheels rolled on, until they stopped at a dark corner,
river-washed and otherwise not washed at all, where the boy alighted and
opened the door.

'You must walk the rest, sir; it's not many yards.' He spoke in the
singular number, to the express exclusion of Eugene.

'This is a confoundedly out-of-the-way place,' said Mortimer, slipping
over the stones and refuse on the shore, as the boy turned the corner
sharp.

'Here's my father's, sir; where the light is.'

The low building had the look of having once been a mill. There was a
rotten wart of wood upon its forehead that seemed to indicate where
the sails had been, but the whole was very indistinctly seen in the
obscurity of the night. The boy lifted the latch of the door, and they
passed at once into a low circular room, where a man stood before a red
fire, looking down into it, and a girl sat engaged in needlework. The
fire was in a rusty brazier, not fitted to the hearth; and a common
lamp, shaped like a hyacinth-root, smoked and flared in the neck of a
stone bottle on the table. There was a wooden bunk or berth in a corner,
and in another corner a wooden stair leading above--so clumsy and steep
that it was little better than a ladder. Two or three old sculls and
oars stood against the wall, and against another part of the wall was a
small dresser, making a spare show of the commonest articles of crockery
and cooking-vessels. The roof of the room was not plastered, but was
formed of the flooring of the room above. This, being very old, knotted,
seamed, and beamed, gave a lowering aspect to the chamber; and roof, and
walls, and floor, alike abounding in old smears of flour, red-lead (or
some such stain which it had probably acquired in warehousing), and
damp, alike had a look of decomposition.

'The gentleman, father.'

The figure at the red fire turned, raised its ruffled head, and looked
like a bird of prey.

'You're Mortimer Lightwood Esquire; are you, sir?'

'Mortimer Lightwood is my name. What you found,' said Mortimer, glancing
rather shrinkingly towards the bunk; 'is it here?'

''Tain't not to say here, but it's close by. I do everything reg'lar.
I've giv' notice of the circumstarnce to the police, and the police have
took possession of it. No time ain't been lost, on any hand. The police
have put into print already, and here's what the print says of it.'

Taking up the bottle with the lamp in it, he held it near a paper on
the wall, with the police heading, BODY FOUND. The two friends read the
handbill as it stuck against the wall, and Gaffer read them as he held
the light.

'Only papers on the unfortunate man, I see,' said Lightwood, glancing
from the description of what was found, to the finder.

'Only papers.'

Here the girl arose with her work in her hand, and went out at the door.

'No money,' pursued Mortimer; 'but threepence in one of the
skirt-pockets.'

'Three. Penny. Pieces,' said Gaffer Hexam, in as many sentences.

'The trousers pockets empty, and turned inside out.'

Gaffer Hexam nodded. 'But that's common. Whether it's the wash of the
tide or no, I can't say. Now, here,' moving the light to another similar
placard, 'HIS pockets was found empty, and turned inside out. And here,'
moving the light to another, 'HER pocket was found empty, and turned
inside out. And so was this one's. And so was that one's. I can't read,
nor I don't want to it, for I know 'em by their places on the wall. This
one was a sailor, with two anchors and a flag and G. F. T. on his arm.
Look and see if he warn't.'

'Quite right.'

'This one was the young woman in grey boots, and her linen marked with a
cross. Look and see if she warn't.'

'Quite right.'

'This is him as had a nasty cut over the eye. This is them two young
sisters what tied themselves together with a handkecher. This the
drunken old chap, in a pair of list slippers and a nightcap, wot had
offered--it afterwards come out--to make a hole in the water for a
quartern of rum stood aforehand, and kept to his word for the first and
last time in his life. They pretty well papers the room, you see; but I
know 'em all. I'm scholar enough!'

He waved the light over the whole, as if to typify the light of his
scholarly intelligence, and then put it down on the table and stood
behind it looking intently at his visitors. He had the special
peculiarity of some birds of prey, that when he knitted his brow, his
ruffled crest stood highest.

'You did not find all these yourself; did you?' asked Eugene.

To which the bird of prey slowly rejoined, 'And what might YOUR name be,
now?'

'This is my friend,' Mortimer Lightwood interposed; 'Mr Eugene
Wrayburn.'

'Mr Eugene Wrayburn, is it? And what might Mr Eugene Wrayburn have asked
of me?'

'I asked you, simply, if you found all these yourself?'

'I answer you, simply, most on 'em.'

'Do you suppose there has been much violence and robbery, beforehand,
among these cases?'

'I don't suppose at all about it,' returned Gaffer. 'I ain't one of the
supposing sort. If you'd got your living to haul out of the river every
day of your life, you mightn't be much given to supposing. Am I to show
the way?'

As he opened the door, in pursuance of a nod from Lightwood, an
extremely pale and disturbed face appeared in the doorway--the face of a
man much agitated.

'A body missing?' asked Gaffer Hexam, stopping short; 'or a body found?
Which?'

'I am lost!' replied the man, in a hurried and an eager manner.

'Lost?'

'I--I--am a stranger, and don't know the way. I--I--want to find the
place where I can see what is described here. It is possible I may know
it.' He was panting, and could hardly speak; but, he showed a copy of
the newly-printed bill that was still wet upon the wall. Perhaps its
newness, or perhaps the accuracy of his observation of its general look,
guided Gaffer to a ready conclusion.

'This gentleman, Mr Lightwood, is on that business.'

'Mr Lightwood?'

During a pause, Mortimer and the stranger confronted each other. Neither
knew the other.

'I think, sir,' said Mortimer, breaking the awkward silence with his
airy self-possession, 'that you did me the honour to mention my name?'

'I repeated it, after this man.'

'You said you were a stranger in London?'

'An utter stranger.'

'Are you seeking a Mr Harmon?'

'No.'

'Then I believe I can assure you that you are on a fruitless errand, and
will not find what you fear to find. Will you come with us?'

A little winding through some muddy alleys that might have been
deposited by the last ill-savoured tide, brought them to the
wicket-gate and bright lamp of a Police Station; where they found the
Night-Inspector, with a pen and ink, and ruler, posting up his books in
a whitewashed office, as studiously as if he were in a monastery on
top of a mountain, and no howling fury of a drunken woman were banging
herself against a cell-door in the back-yard at his elbow. With the
same air of a recluse much given to study, he desisted from his books to
bestow a distrustful nod of recognition upon Gaffer, plainly importing,
'Ah! we know all about YOU, and you'll overdo it some day;' and to
inform Mr Mortimer Lightwood and friends, that he would attend them
immediately. Then, he finished ruling the work he had in hand (it might
have been illuminating a missal, he was so calm), in a very neat and
methodical manner, showing not the slightest consciousness of the woman
who was banging herself with increased violence, and shrieking most
terrifically for some other woman's liver.

'A bull's-eye,' said the Night-Inspector, taking up his keys. Which a
deferential satellite produced. 'Now, gentlemen.'

With one of his keys, he opened a cool grot at the end of the yard,
and they all went in. They quickly came out again, no one speaking but
Eugene: who remarked to Mortimer, in a whisper, 'Not MUCH worse than
Lady Tippins.'

So, back to the whitewashed library of the monastery--with that liver
still in shrieking requisition, as it had been loudly, while they looked
at the silent sight they came to see--and there through the merits of
the case as summed up by the Abbot. No clue to how body came into river.
Very often was no clue. Too late to know for certain, whether injuries
received before or after death; one excellent surgical opinion said,
before; other excellent surgical opinion said, after. Steward of ship in
which gentleman came home passenger, had been round to view, and could
swear to identity. Likewise could swear to clothes. And then, you
see, you had the papers, too. How was it he had totally disappeared on
leaving ship, 'till found in river? Well! Probably had been upon some
little game. Probably thought it a harmless game, wasn't up to things,
and it turned out a fatal game. Inquest to-morrow, and no doubt open
verdict.

'It appears to have knocked your friend over--knocked him completely off
his legs,' Mr Inspector remarked, when he had finished his summing up.
'It has given him a bad turn to be sure!' This was said in a very low
voice, and with a searching look (not the first he had cast) at the
stranger.

Mr Lightwood explained that it was no friend of his.

'Indeed?' said Mr Inspector, with an attentive ear; 'where did you pick
him up?'

Mr Lightwood explained further.

Mr Inspector had delivered his summing up, and had added these words,
with his elbows leaning on his desk, and the fingers and thumb of his
right hand, fitting themselves to the fingers and thumb of his left.
Mr Inspector moved nothing but his eyes, as he now added, raising his
voice:

'Turned you faint, sir! Seems you're not accustomed to this kind of
work?'

The stranger, who was leaning against the chimneypiece with drooping
head, looked round and answered, 'No. It's a horrible sight!'

'You expected to identify, I am told, sir?'

'Yes.'

'HAVE you identified?'

'No. It's a horrible sight. O! a horrible, horrible sight!'

'Who did you think it might have been?' asked Mr Inspector. 'Give us a
description, sir. Perhaps we can help you.'

'No, no,' said the stranger; 'it would be quite useless. Good-night.'

Mr Inspector had not moved, and had given no order; but, the satellite
slipped his back against the wicket, and laid his left arm along the top
of it, and with his right hand turned the bull's-eye he had taken from
his chief--in quite a casual manner--towards the stranger.

'You missed a friend, you know; or you missed a foe, you know; or you
wouldn't have come here, you know. Well, then; ain't it reasonable to
ask, who was it?' Thus, Mr Inspector.

'You must excuse my telling you. No class of man can understand better
than you, that families may not choose to publish their disagreements
and misfortunes, except on the last necessity. I do not dispute that you
discharge your duty in asking me the question; you will not dispute my
right to withhold the answer. Good-night.'

Again he turned towards the wicket, where the satellite, with his eye
upon his chief, remained a dumb statue.

'At least,' said Mr Inspector, 'you will not object to leave me your
card, sir?'

'I should not object, if I had one; but I have not.' He reddened and was
much confused as he gave the answer.

'At least,' said Mr Inspector, with no change of voice or manner, 'you
will not object to write down your name and address?'

'Not at all.'

Mr Inspector dipped a pen in his inkstand, and deftly laid it on a
piece of paper close beside him; then resumed his former attitude.
The stranger stepped up to the desk, and wrote in a rather tremulous
hand--Mr Inspector taking sidelong note of every hair of his head when
it was bent down for the purpose--'Mr Julius Handford, Exchequer Coffee
House, Palace Yard, Westminster.'

'Staying there, I presume, sir?'

'Staying there.'

'Consequently, from the country?'

'Eh? Yes--from the country.'

'Good-night, sir.'

The satellite removed his arm and opened the wicket, and Mr Julius
Handford went out.

'Reserve!' said Mr Inspector. 'Take care of this piece of paper, keep
him in view without giving offence, ascertain that he IS staying there,
and find out anything you can about him.'

The satellite was gone; and Mr Inspector, becoming once again the quiet
Abbot of that Monastery, dipped his pen in his ink and resumed
his books. The two friends who had watched him, more amused by the
professional manner than suspicious of Mr Julius Handford, inquired
before taking their departure too whether he believed there was anything
that really looked bad here?

The Abbot replied with reticence, couldn't say. If a murder, anybody
might have done it. Burglary or pocket-picking wanted 'prenticeship. Not
so, murder. We were all of us up to that. Had seen scores of people come
to identify, and never saw one person struck in that particular way.
Might, however, have been Stomach and not Mind. If so, rum stomach.
But to be sure there were rum everythings. Pity there was not a word
of truth in that superstition about bodies bleeding when touched by the
hand of the right person; you never got a sign out of bodies. You got
row enough out of such as her--she was good for all night now (referring
here to the banging demands for the liver), 'but you got nothing out of
bodies if it was ever so.'

There being nothing more to be done until the Inquest was held next day,
the friends went away together, and Gaffer Hexam and his son went their
separate way. But, arriving at the last corner, Gaffer bade his boy go
home while he turned into a red-curtained tavern, that stood dropsically
bulging over the causeway, 'for a half-a-pint.'

The boy lifted the latch he had lifted before, and found his sister
again seated before the fire at her work. Who raised her head upon his
coming in and asking:

'Where did you go, Liz?'

'I went out in the dark.'

'There was no necessity for that. It was all right enough.'

'One of the gentlemen, the one who didn't speak while I was there,
looked hard at me. And I was afraid he might know what my face meant.
But there! Don't mind me, Charley! I was all in a tremble of another
sort when you owned to father you could write a little.'

'Ah! But I made believe I wrote so badly, as that it was odds if any one
could read it. And when I wrote slowest and smeared but with my finger
most, father was best pleased, as he stood looking over me.'

The girl put aside her work, and drawing her seat close to his seat by
the fire, laid her arm gently on his shoulder.

'You'll make the most of your time, Charley; won't you?'

'Won't I? Come! I like that. Don't I?'

'Yes, Charley, yes. You work hard at your learning, I know. And I work
a little, Charley, and plan and contrive a little (wake out of my
sleep contriving sometimes), how to get together a shilling now, and a
shilling then, that shall make father believe you are beginning to earn
a stray living along shore.'

'You are father's favourite, and can make him believe anything.'

'I wish I could, Charley! For if I could make him believe that learning
was a good thing, and that we might lead better lives, I should be
a'most content to die.'

'Don't talk stuff about dying, Liz.'

She placed her hands in one another on his shoulder, and laying her
rich brown cheek against them as she looked down at the fire, went on
thoughtfully:

'Of an evening, Charley, when you are at the school, and father's--'

'At the Six Jolly Fellowship Porters,' the boy struck in, with a
backward nod of his head towards the public-house.

'Yes. Then as I sit a-looking at the fire, I seem to see in the burning
coal--like where that glow is now--'

'That's gas, that is,' said the boy, 'coming out of a bit of a forest
that's been under the mud that was under the water in the days of Noah's
Ark. Look here! When I take the poker--so--and give it a dig--'

'Don't disturb it, Charley, or it'll be all in a blaze. It's that dull
glow near it, coming and going, that I mean. When I look at it of an
evening, it comes like pictures to me, Charley.'

'Show us a picture,' said the boy. 'Tell us where to look.'

'Ah! It wants my eyes, Charley.'

'Cut away then, and tell us what your eyes make of it.'

'Why, there are you and me, Charley, when you were quite a baby that
never knew a mother--'

'Don't go saying I never knew a mother,' interposed the boy, 'for I knew
a little sister that was sister and mother both.'

The girl laughed delightedly, and here eyes filled with pleasant tears,
as he put both his arms round her waist and so held her.

'There are you and me, Charley, when father was away at work and locked
us out, for fear we should set ourselves afire or fall out of window,
sitting on the door-sill, sitting on other door-steps, sitting on the
bank of the river, wandering about to get through the time. You
are rather heavy to carry, Charley, and I am often obliged to rest.
Sometimes we are sleepy and fall asleep together in a corner, sometimes
we are very hungry, sometimes we are a little frightened, but what is
oftenest hard upon us is the cold. You remember, Charley?'

'I remember,' said the boy, pressing her to him twice or thrice, 'that I
snuggled under a little shawl, and it was warm there.'

'Sometimes it rains, and we creep under a boat or the like of that:
sometimes it's dark, and we get among the gaslights, sitting watching
the people as they go along the streets. At last, up comes father and
takes us home. And home seems such a shelter after out of doors! And
father pulls my shoes off, and dries my feet at the fire, and has me
to sit by him while he smokes his pipe long after you are abed, and
I notice that father's is a large hand but never a heavy one when it
touches me, and that father's is a rough voice but never an angry one
when it speaks to me. So, I grow up, and little by little father trusts
me, and makes me his companion, and, let him be put out as he may, never
once strikes me.'

The listening boy gave a grunt here, as much as to say 'But he strikes
ME though!'

'Those are some of the pictures of what is past, Charley.'

'Cut away again,' said the boy, 'and give us a fortune-telling one; a
future one.'

'Well! There am I, continuing with father and holding to father, because
father loves me and I love father. I can't so much as read a book,
because, if I had learned, father would have thought I was deserting
him, and I should have lost my influence. I have not the influence I
want to have, I cannot stop some dreadful things I try to stop, but I
go on in the hope and trust that the time will come. In the meanwhile
I know that I am in some things a stay to father, and that if I was
not faithful to him he would--in revenge-like, or in disappointment, or
both--go wild and bad.'

'Give us a touch of the fortune-telling pictures about me.'

'I was passing on to them, Charley,' said the girl, who had not changed
her attitude since she began, and who now mournfully shook her head;
'the others were all leading up. There are you--'

'Where am I, Liz?'

'Still in the hollow down by the flare.'

'There seems to be the deuce-and-all in the hollow down by the flare,'
said the boy, glancing from her eyes to the brazier, which had a grisly
skeleton look on its long thin legs.

'There are you, Charley, working your way, in secret from father, at
the school; and you get prizes; and you go on better and better; and you
come to be a--what was it you called it when you told me about that?'

'Ha, ha! Fortune-telling not know the name!' cried the boy, seeming to
be rather relieved by this default on the part of the hollow down by the
flare. 'Pupil-teacher.'

'You come to be a pupil-teacher, and you still go on better and better,
and you rise to be a master full of learning and respect. But the secret
has come to father's knowledge long before, and it has divided you from
father, and from me.'

'No it hasn't!'

'Yes it has, Charley. I see, as plain as plain can be, that your way is
not ours, and that even if father could be got to forgive your taking
it (which he never could be), that way of yours would be darkened by our
way. But I see too, Charley--'

'Still as plain as plain can be, Liz?' asked the boy playfully.

'Ah! Still. That it is a great work to have cut you away from father's
life, and to have made a new and good beginning. So there am I, Charley,
left alone with father, keeping him as straight as I can, watching
for more influence than I have, and hoping that through some fortunate
chance, or when he is ill, or when--I don't know what--I may turn him to
wish to do better things.'

'You said you couldn't read a book, Lizzie. Your library of books is the
hollow down by the flare, I think.'

'I should be very glad to be able to read real books. I feel my want of
learning very much, Charley. But I should feel it much more, if I didn't
know it to be a tie between me and father.--Hark! Father's tread!'

It being now past midnight, the bird of prey went straight to roost. At
mid-day following he reappeared at the Six Jolly Fellowship Porters, in
the character, not new to him, of a witness before a Coroner's Jury.

Mr Mortimer Lightwood, besides sustaining the character of one of the
witnesses, doubled the part with that of the eminent solicitor who
watched the proceedings on behalf of the representatives of the
deceased, as was duly recorded in the newspapers. Mr Inspector watched
the proceedings too, and kept his watching closely to himself. Mr Julius
Handford having given his right address, and being reported in solvent
circumstances as to his bill, though nothing more was known of him at
his hotel except that his way of life was very retired, had no summons
to appear, and was merely present in the shades of Mr Inspector's mind.

The case was made interesting to the public, by Mr Mortimer Lightwood's
evidence touching the circumstances under which the deceased, Mr John
Harmon, had returned to England; exclusive private proprietorship in
which circumstances was set up at dinner-tables for several days, by
Veneering, Twemlow, Podsnap, and all the Buffers: who all related them
irreconcilably with one another, and contradicted themselves. It was
also made interesting by the testimony of Job Potterson, the ship's
steward, and one Mr Jacob Kibble, a fellow-passenger, that the deceased
Mr John Harmon did bring over, in a hand-valise with which he did
disembark, the sum realized by the forced sale of his little landed
property, and that the sum exceeded, in ready money, seven hundred
pounds. It was further made interesting, by the remarkable experiences
of Jesse Hexam in having rescued from the Thames so many dead bodies,
and for whose behoof a rapturous admirer subscribing himself 'A friend
to Burial' (perhaps an undertaker), sent eighteen postage stamps, and
five 'Now Sir's to the editor of the Times.

Upon the evidence adduced before them, the Jury found, That the body
of Mr John Harmon had been discovered floating in the Thames, in an
advanced state of decay, and much injured; and that the said Mr John
Harmon had come by his death under highly suspicious circumstances,
though by whose act or in what precise manner there was no evidence
before this Jury to show. And they appended to their verdict, a
recommendation to the Home Office (which Mr Inspector appeared to think
highly sensible), to offer a reward for the solution of the mystery.
Within eight-and-forty hours, a reward of One Hundred Pounds was
proclaimed, together with a free pardon to any person or persons not the
actual perpetrator or perpetrators, and so forth in due form.

This Proclamation rendered Mr Inspector additionally studious, and
caused him to stand meditating on river-stairs and causeways, and to go
lurking about in boats, putting this and that together. But, according
to the success with which you put this and that together, you get a
woman and a fish apart, or a Mermaid in combination. And Mr Inspector
could turn out nothing better than a Mermaid, which no Judge and Jury
would believe in.

Thus, like the tides on which it had been borne to the knowledge of men,
the Harmon Murder--as it came to be popularly called--went up and down,
and ebbed and flowed, now in the town, now in the country, now among
palaces, now among hovels, now among lords and ladies and gentlefolks,
now among labourers and hammerers and ballast-heavers, until at last,
after a long interval of slack water it got out to sea and drifted away.



Chapter 4

THE R. WILFER FAMILY


Reginald Wilfer is a name with rather a grand sound, suggesting on
first acquaintance brasses in country churches, scrolls in stained-glass
windows, and generally the De Wilfers who came over with the Conqueror.
For, it is a remarkable fact in genealogy that no De Any ones ever came
over with Anybody else.

But, the Reginald Wilfer family were of such commonplace extraction and
pursuits that their forefathers had for generations modestly subsisted
on the Docks, the Excise Office, and the Custom House, and the existing
R. Wilfer was a poor clerk. So poor a clerk, though having a limited
salary and an unlimited family, that he had never yet attained the
modest object of his ambition: which was, to wear a complete new suit
of clothes, hat and boots included, at one time. His black hat was brown
before he could afford a coat, his pantaloons were white at the seams
and knees before he could buy a pair of boots, his boots had worn out
before he could treat himself to new pantaloons, and, by the time he
worked round to the hat again, that shining modern article roofed-in an
ancient ruin of various periods.

If the conventional Cherub could ever grow up and be clothed, he might
be photographed as a portrait of Wilfer. His chubby, smooth, innocent
appearance was a reason for his being always treated with condescension
when he was not put down. A stranger entering his own poor house at
about ten o'clock P.M. might have been surprised to find him sitting up
to supper. So boyish was he in his curves and proportions, that his
old schoolmaster meeting him in Cheapside, might have been unable to
withstand the temptation of caning him on the spot. In short, he was
the conventional cherub, after the supposititious shoot just mentioned,
rather grey, with signs of care on his expression, and in decidedly
insolvent circumstances.

He was shy, and unwilling to own to the name of Reginald, as being too
aspiring and self-assertive a name. In his signature he used only the
initial R., and imparted what it really stood for, to none but chosen
friends, under the seal of confidence. Out of this, the facetious habit
had arisen in the neighbourhood surrounding Mincing Lane of making
christian names for him of adjectives and participles beginning with R.
Some of these were more or less appropriate: as Rusty, Retiring, Ruddy,
Round, Ripe, Ridiculous, Ruminative; others, derived their point from
their want of application: as Raging, Rattling, Roaring, Raffish. But,
his popular name was Rumty, which in a moment of inspiration had been
bestowed upon him by a gentleman of convivial habits connected with the
drug-markets, as the beginning of a social chorus, his leading part in
the execution of which had led this gentleman to the Temple of Fame, and
of which the whole expressive burden ran:

     'Rumty iddity, row dow dow,
     Sing toodlely, teedlely, bow wow wow.'

Thus he was constantly addressed, even in minor notes on business, as
'Dear Rumty'; in answer to which, he sedately signed himself, 'Yours
truly, R. Wilfer.'

He was clerk in the drug-house of Chicksey, Veneering, and Stobbles.
Chicksey and Stobbles, his former masters, had both become absorbed in
Veneering, once their traveller or commission agent: who had signalized
his accession to supreme power by bringing into the business a quantity
of plate-glass window and French-polished mahogany partition, and a
gleaming and enormous doorplate.

R. Wilfer locked up his desk one evening, and, putting his bunch of keys
in his pocket much as if it were his peg-top, made for home. His home
was in the Holloway region north of London, and then divided from it by
fields and trees. Between Battle Bridge and that part of the Holloway
district in which he dwelt, was a tract of suburban Sahara, where tiles
and bricks were burnt, bones were boiled, carpets were beat, rubbish was
shot, dogs were fought, and dust was heaped by contractors. Skirting
the border of this desert, by the way he took, when the light of its
kiln-fires made lurid smears on the fog, R. Wilfer sighed and shook his
head.

'Ah me!' said he, 'what might have been is not what is!'

With which commentary on human life, indicating an experience of it
not exclusively his own, he made the best of his way to the end of his
journey.

Mrs Wilfer was, of course, a tall woman and an angular. Her lord being
cherubic, she was necessarily majestic, according to the principle which
matrimonially unites contrasts. She was much given to tying up her head
in a pocket-handkerchief, knotted under the chin. This head-gear, in
conjunction with a pair of gloves worn within doors, she seemed to
consider as at once a kind of armour against misfortune (invariably
assuming it when in low spirits or difficulties), and as a species of
full dress. It was therefore with some sinking of the spirit that her
husband beheld her thus heroically attired, putting down her candle in
the little hall, and coming down the doorsteps through the little front
court to open the gate for him.

Something had gone wrong with the house-door, for R. Wilfer stopped on
the steps, staring at it, and cried:

'Hal-loa?'

'Yes,' said Mrs Wilfer, 'the man came himself with a pair of pincers,
and took it off, and took it away. He said that as he had no expectation
of ever being paid for it, and as he had an order for another LADIES'
SCHOOL door-plate, it was better (burnished up) for the interests of all
parties.'

'Perhaps it was, my dear; what do you think?'

'You are master here, R. W.,' returned his wife. 'It is as you think;
not as I do. Perhaps it might have been better if the man had taken the
door too?'

'My dear, we couldn't have done without the door.'

'Couldn't we?'

'Why, my dear! Could we?'

'It is as you think, R. W.; not as I do.' With those submissive words,
the dutiful wife preceded him down a few stairs to a little basement
front room, half kitchen, half parlour, where a girl of about nineteen,
with an exceedingly pretty figure and face, but with an impatient and
petulant expression both in her face and in her shoulders (which in
her sex and at her age are very expressive of discontent), sat playing
draughts with a younger girl, who was the youngest of the House of
Wilfer. Not to encumber this page by telling off the Wilfers in detail
and casting them up in the gross, it is enough for the present that the
rest were what is called 'out in the world,' in various ways, and that
they were Many. So many, that when one of his dutiful children called in
to see him, R. Wilfer generally seemed to say to himself, after a little
mental arithmetic, 'Oh! here's another of 'em!' before adding aloud,
'How de do, John,' or Susan, as the case might be.

'Well Piggywiggies,' said R. W., 'how de do to-night? What I was
thinking of, my dear,' to Mrs Wilfer already seated in a corner with
folded gloves, 'was, that as we have let our first floor so well, and as
we have now no place in which you could teach pupils even if pupils--'

'The milkman said he knew of two young ladies of the highest
respectability who were in search of a suitable establishment, and he
took a card,' interposed Mrs Wilfer, with severe monotony, as if she
were reading an Act of Parliament aloud. 'Tell your father whether it
was last Monday, Bella.'

'But we never heard any more of it, ma,' said Bella, the elder girl.

'In addition to which, my dear,' her husband urged, 'if you have no
place to put two young persons into--'

'Pardon me,' Mrs Wilfer again interposed; 'they were not young persons.
Two young ladies of the highest respectability. Tell your father, Bella,
whether the milkman said so.'

'My dear, it is the same thing.'

'No it is not,' said Mrs Wilfer, with the same impressive monotony.
'Pardon me!'

'I mean, my dear, it is the same thing as to space. As to space. If you
have no space in which to put two youthful fellow-creatures, however
eminently respectable, which I do not doubt, where are those youthful
fellow-creatures to be accommodated? I carry it no further than that.
And solely looking at it,' said her husband, making the stipulation at
once in a conciliatory, complimentary, and argumentative tone--'as I am
sure you will agree, my love--from a fellow-creature point of view, my
dear.'

'I have nothing more to say,' returned Mrs Wilfer, with a meek
renunciatory action of her gloves. 'It is as you think, R. W.; not as I
do.'

Here, the huffing of Miss Bella and the loss of three of her men at a
swoop, aggravated by the coronation of an opponent, led to that young
lady's jerking the draught-board and pieces off the table: which her
sister went down on her knees to pick up.

'Poor Bella!' said Mrs Wilfer.

'And poor Lavinia, perhaps, my dear?' suggested R. W.

'Pardon me,' said Mrs Wilfer, 'no!'

It was one of the worthy woman's specialities that she had an amazing
power of gratifying her splenetic or worldly-minded humours by extolling
her own family: which she thus proceeded, in the present case, to do.

'No, R. W. Lavinia has not known the trial that Bella has known. The
trial that your daughter Bella has undergone, is, perhaps, without
a parallel, and has been borne, I will say, Nobly. When you see your
daughter Bella in her black dress, which she alone of all the family
wears, and when you remember the circumstances which have led to
her wearing it, and when you know how those circumstances have been
sustained, then, R. W., lay your head upon your pillow and say, "Poor
Lavinia!"'

Here, Miss Lavinia, from her kneeling situation under the table, put in
that she didn't want to be 'poored by pa', or anybody else.

'I am sure you do not, my dear,' returned her mother, 'for you have a
fine brave spirit. And your sister Cecilia has a fine brave spirit
of another kind, a spirit of pure devotion, a beau-ti-ful spirit! The
self-sacrifice of Cecilia reveals a pure and womanly character, very
seldom equalled, never surpassed. I have now in my pocket a letter from
your sister Cecilia, received this morning--received three months after
her marriage, poor child!--in which she tells me that her husband must
unexpectedly shelter under their roof his reduced aunt. "But I will be
true to him, mamma," she touchingly writes, "I will not leave him, I
must not forget that he is my husband. Let his aunt come!" If this is
not pathetic, if this is not woman's devotion--!' The good lady waved
her gloves in a sense of the impossibility of saying more, and tied the
pocket-handkerchief over her head in a tighter knot under her chin.

Bella, who was now seated on the rug to warm herself, with her brown
eyes on the fire and a handful of her brown curls in her mouth, laughed
at this, and then pouted and half cried.

'I am sure,' said she, 'though you have no feeling for me, pa, I am one
of the most unfortunate girls that ever lived. You know how poor we are'
(it is probable he did, having some reason to know it!), 'and what a
glimpse of wealth I had, and how it melted away, and how I am here in
this ridiculous mourning--which I hate!--a kind of a widow who never was
married. And yet you don't feel for me.--Yes you do, yes you do.'

This abrupt change was occasioned by her father's face. She stopped
to pull him down from his chair in an attitude highly favourable to
strangulation, and to give him a kiss and a pat or two on the cheek.

'But you ought to feel for me, you know, pa.'

'My dear, I do.'

'Yes, and I say you ought to. If they had only left me alone and told
me nothing about it, it would have mattered much less. But that nasty Mr
Lightwood feels it his duty, as he says, to write and tell me what is in
reserve for me, and then I am obliged to get rid of George Sampson.'

Here, Lavinia, rising to the surface with the last draughtman rescued,
interposed, 'You never cared for George Sampson, Bella.'

'And did I say I did, miss?' Then, pouting again, with the curls in her
mouth; 'George Sampson was very fond of me, and admired me very much,
and put up with everything I did to him.'

'You were rude enough to him,' Lavinia again interposed.

'And did I say I wasn't, miss? I am not setting up to be sentimental
about George Sampson. I only say George Sampson was better than
nothing.'

'You didn't show him that you thought even that,' Lavinia again
interposed.

'You are a chit and a little idiot,' returned Bella, 'or you wouldn't
make such a dolly speech. What did you expect me to do? Wait till you
are a woman, and don't talk about what you don't understand. You only
show your ignorance!' Then, whimpering again, and at intervals biting
the curls, and stopping to look how much was bitten off, 'It's a shame!
There never was such a hard case! I shouldn't care so much if it wasn't
so ridiculous. It was ridiculous enough to have a stranger coming over
to marry me, whether he liked it or not. It was ridiculous enough to
know what an embarrassing meeting it would be, and how we never
could pretend to have an inclination of our own, either of us. It was
ridiculous enough to know I shouldn't like him--how COULD I like him,
left to him in a will, like a dozen of spoons, with everything cut and
dried beforehand, like orange chips. Talk of orange flowers indeed!
I declare again it's a shame! Those ridiculous points would have been
smoothed away by the money, for I love money, and want money--want it
dreadfully. I hate to be poor, and we are degradingly poor, offensively
poor, miserably poor, beastly poor. But here I am, left with all the
ridiculous parts of the situation remaining, and, added to them all,
this ridiculous dress! And if the truth was known, when the Harmon
murder was all over the town, and people were speculating on its being
suicide, I dare say those impudent wretches at the clubs and places made
jokes about the miserable creature's having preferred a watery grave to
me. It's likely enough they took such liberties; I shouldn't wonder! I
declare it's a very hard case indeed, and I am a most unfortunate girl.
The idea of being a kind of a widow, and never having been married!
And the idea of being as poor as ever after all, and going into black,
besides, for a man I never saw, and should have hated--as far as HE was
concerned--if I had seen!'

The young lady's lamentations were checked at this point by a knuckle,
knocking at the half-open door of the room. The knuckle had knocked two
or three times already, but had not been heard.

'Who is it?' said Mrs Wilfer, in her Act-of-Parliament manner. 'Enter!'

A gentleman coming in, Miss Bella, with a short and sharp exclamation,
scrambled off the hearth-rug and massed the bitten curls together in
their right place on her neck.

'The servant girl had her key in the door as I came up, and directed me
to this room, telling me I was expected. I am afraid I should have asked
her to announce me.'

'Pardon me,' returned Mrs Wilfer. 'Not at all. Two of my daughters. R.
W., this is the gentleman who has taken your first-floor. He was so good
as to make an appointment for to-night, when you would be at home.'

A dark gentleman. Thirty at the utmost. An expressive, one might say
handsome, face. A very bad manner. In the last degree constrained,
reserved, diffident, troubled. His eyes were on Miss Bella for an
instant, and then looked at the ground as he addressed the master of the
house.

'Seeing that I am quite satisfied, Mr Wilfer, with the rooms, and with
their situation, and with their price, I suppose a memorandum between us
of two or three lines, and a payment down, will bind the bargain? I wish
to send in furniture without delay.'

Two or three times during this short address, the cherub addressed had
made chubby motions towards a chair. The gentleman now took it, laying
a hesitating hand on a corner of the table, and with another hesitating
hand lifting the crown of his hat to his lips, and drawing it before his
mouth.

'The gentleman, R. W.,' said Mrs Wilfer, 'proposes to take your
apartments by the quarter. A quarter's notice on either side.'

'Shall I mention, sir,' insinuated the landlord, expecting it to be
received as a matter of course, 'the form of a reference?'

'I think,' returned the gentleman, after a pause, 'that a reference is
not necessary; neither, to say the truth, is it convenient, for I am
a stranger in London. I require no reference from you, and perhaps,
therefore, you will require none from me. That will be fair on both
sides. Indeed, I show the greater confidence of the two, for I will pay
in advance whatever you please, and I am going to trust my furniture
here. Whereas, if you were in embarrassed circumstances--this is merely
supposititious--'

Conscience causing R. Wilfer to colour, Mrs Wilfer, from a corner (she
always got into stately corners) came to the rescue with a deep-toned
'Per-fectly.'

'--Why then I--might lose it.'

'Well!' observed R. Wilfer, cheerfully, 'money and goods are certainly
the best of references.'

'Do you think they ARE the best, pa?' asked Miss Bella, in a low voice,
and without looking over her shoulder as she warmed her foot on the
fender.

'Among the best, my dear.'

'I should have thought, myself, it was so easy to add the usual kind of
one,' said Bella, with a toss of her curls.

The gentleman listened to her, with a face of marked attention, though
he neither looked up nor changed his attitude. He sat, still and silent,
until his future landlord accepted his proposals, and brought writing
materials to complete the business. He sat, still and silent, while the
landlord wrote.

When the agreement was ready in duplicate (the landlord having worked
at it like some cherubic scribe, in what is conventionally called a
doubtful, which means a not at all doubtful, Old Master), it was signed
by the contracting parties, Bella looking on as scornful witness. The
contracting parties were R. Wilfer, and John Rokesmith Esquire.

When it came to Bella's turn to sign her name, Mr Rokesmith, who was
standing, as he had sat, with a hesitating hand upon the table, looked
at her stealthily, but narrowly. He looked at the pretty figure bending
down over the paper and saying, 'Where am I to go, pa? Here, in this
corner?' He looked at the beautiful brown hair, shading the coquettish
face; he looked at the free dash of the signature, which was a bold one
for a woman's; and then they looked at one another.

'Much obliged to you, Miss Wilfer.'

'Obliged?'

'I have given you so much trouble.'

'Signing my name? Yes, certainly. But I am your landlord's daughter,
sir.'

As there was nothing more to do but pay eight sovereigns in earnest of
the bargain, pocket the agreement, appoint a time for the arrival of his
furniture and himself, and go, Mr Rokesmith did that as awkwardly as it
might be done, and was escorted by his landlord to the outer air. When
R. Wilfer returned, candlestick in hand, to the bosom of his family, he
found the bosom agitated.

'Pa,' said Bella, 'we have got a Murderer for a tenant.'

'Pa,' said Lavinia, 'we have got a Robber.'

'To see him unable for his life to look anybody in the face!' said
Bella. 'There never was such an exhibition.'

'My dears,' said their father, 'he is a diffident gentleman, and I
should say particularly so in the society of girls of your age.'

'Nonsense, our age!' cried Bella, impatiently. 'What's that got to do
with him?'

'Besides, we are not of the same age:--which age?' demanded Lavinia.

'Never YOU mind, Lavvy,' retorted Bella; 'you wait till you are of an
age to ask such questions. Pa, mark my words! Between Mr Rokesmith and
me, there is a natural antipathy and a deep distrust; and something will
come of it!'

'My dear, and girls,' said the cherub-patriarch, 'between Mr Rokesmith
and me, there is a matter of eight sovereigns, and something for supper
shall come of it, if you'll agree upon the article.'

This was a neat and happy turn to give the subject, treats being rare in
the Wilfer household, where a monotonous appearance of Dutch-cheese at
ten o'clock in the evening had been rather frequently commented on by
the dimpled shoulders of Miss Bella. Indeed, the modest Dutchman himself
seemed conscious of his want of variety, and generally came before the
family in a state of apologetic perspiration. After some discussion on
the relative merits of veal-cutlet, sweetbread, and lobster, a decision
was pronounced in favour of veal-cutlet. Mrs Wilfer then solemnly
divested herself of her handkerchief and gloves, as a preliminary
sacrifice to preparing the frying-pan, and R. W. himself went out
to purchase the viand. He soon returned, bearing the same in a fresh
cabbage-leaf, where it coyly embraced a rasher of ham. Melodious sounds
were not long in rising from the frying-pan on the fire, or in seeming,
as the firelight danced in the mellow halls of a couple of full bottles
on the table, to play appropriate dance-music.

The cloth was laid by Lavvy. Bella, as the acknowledged ornament of the
family, employed both her hands in giving her hair an additional
wave while sitting in the easiest chair, and occasionally threw in a
direction touching the supper: as, 'Very brown, ma;' or, to her sister,
'Put the saltcellar straight, miss, and don't be a dowdy little puss.'

Meantime her father, chinking Mr Rokesmith's gold as he sat expectant
between his knife and fork, remarked that six of those sovereigns came
just in time for their landlord, and stood them in a little pile on the
white tablecloth to look at.

'I hate our landlord!' said Bella.

But, observing a fall in her father's face, she went and sat down by him
at the table, and began touching up his hair with the handle of a fork.
It was one of the girl's spoilt ways to be always arranging the family's
hair--perhaps because her own was so pretty, and occupied so much of her
attention.

'You deserve to have a house of your own; don't you, poor pa?'

'I don't deserve it better than another, my dear.'

'At any rate I, for one, want it more than another,' said Bella, holding
him by the chin, as she stuck his flaxen hair on end, 'and I grudge
this money going to the Monster that swallows up so much, when we all
want--Everything. And if you say (as you want to say; I know you want
to say so, pa) "that's neither reasonable nor honest, Bella," then I
answer, "Maybe not, pa--very likely--but it's one of the consequences
of being poor, and of thoroughly hating and detesting to be poor, and
that's my case." Now, you look lovely, pa; why don't you always wear
your hair like that? And here's the cutlet! If it isn't very brown, ma,
I can't eat it, and must have a bit put back to be done expressly.'

However, as it was brown, even to Bella's taste, the young lady
graciously partook of it without reconsignment to the frying-pan, and
also, in due course, of the contents of the two bottles: whereof
one held Scotch ale and the other rum. The latter perfume, with
the fostering aid of boiling water and lemon-peel, diffused itself
throughout the room, and became so highly concentrated around the warm
fireside, that the wind passing over the house roof must have rushed off
charged with a delicious whiff of it, after buzzing like a great bee at
that particular chimneypot.

'Pa,' said Bella, sipping the fragrant mixture and warming her favourite
ankle; 'when old Mr Harmon made such a fool of me (not to mention
himself, as he is dead), what do you suppose he did it for?'

'Impossible to say, my dear. As I have told you time out of number since
his will was brought to light, I doubt if I ever exchanged a hundred
words with the old gentleman. If it was his whim to surprise us, his
whim succeeded. For he certainly did it.'

'And I was stamping my foot and screaming, when he first took notice of
me; was I?' said Bella, contemplating the ankle before mentioned.

'You were stamping your little foot, my dear, and screaming with your
little voice, and laying into me with your little bonnet, which you
had snatched off for the purpose,' returned her father, as if the
remembrance gave a relish to the rum; 'you were doing this one Sunday
morning when I took you out, because I didn't go the exact way you
wanted, when the old gentleman, sitting on a seat near, said, "That's a
nice girl; that's a VERY nice girl; a promising girl!" And so you were,
my dear.'

'And then he asked my name, did he, pa?'

'Then he asked your name, my dear, and mine; and on other Sunday
mornings, when we walked his way, we saw him again, and--and really
that's all.'

As that was all the rum and water too, or, in other words, as R. W.
delicately signified that his glass was empty, by throwing back his head
and standing the glass upside down on his nose and upper lip, it might
have been charitable in Mrs Wilfer to suggest replenishment. But that
heroine briefly suggesting 'Bedtime' instead, the bottles were put away,
and the family retired; she cherubically escorted, like some severe
saint in a painting, or merely human matron allegorically treated.

'And by this time to-morrow,' said Lavinia when the two girls were alone
in their room, 'we shall have Mr Rokesmith here, and shall be expecting
to have our throats cut.'

'You needn't stand between me and the candle for all that,' retorted
Bella. 'This is another of the consequences of being poor! The idea of a
girl with a really fine head of hair, having to do it by one flat candle
and a few inches of looking-glass!'

'You caught George Sampson with it, Bella, bad as your means of dressing
it are.'

'You low little thing. Caught George Sampson with it! Don't talk about
catching people, miss, till your own time for catching--as you call
it--comes.'

'Perhaps it has come,' muttered Lavvy, with a toss of her head.

'What did you say?' asked Bella, very sharply. 'What did you say, miss?'

Lavvy declining equally to repeat or to explain, Bella gradually lapsed
over her hair-dressing into a soliloquy on the miseries of being poor,
as exemplified in having nothing to put on, nothing to go out in,
nothing to dress by, only a nasty box to dress at instead of a
commodious dressing-table, and being obliged to take in suspicious
lodgers. On the last grievance as her climax, she laid great stress--and
might have laid greater, had she known that if Mr Julius Handford had a
twin brother upon earth, Mr John Rokesmith was the man.



Chapter 5

BOFFIN'S BOWER


Over against a London house, a corner house not far from Cavendish
Square, a man with a wooden leg had sat for some years, with his
remaining foot in a basket in cold weather, picking up a living on
this wise:--Every morning at eight o'clock, he stumped to the corner,
carrying a chair, a clothes-horse, a pair of trestles, a board, a
basket, and an umbrella, all strapped together. Separating these, the
board and trestles became a counter, the basket supplied the few small
lots of fruit and sweets that he offered for sale upon it and became a
foot-warmer, the unfolded clothes-horse displayed a choice collection of
halfpenny ballads and became a screen, and the stool planted within it
became his post for the rest of the day. All weathers saw the man at the
post. This is to be accepted in a double sense, for he contrived a
back to his wooden stool, by placing it against the lamp-post. When the
weather was wet, he put up his umbrella over his stock in trade, not
over himself; when the weather was dry, he furled that faded article,
tied it round with a piece of yarn, and laid it cross-wise under the
trestles: where it looked like an unwholesomely-forced lettuce that had
lost in colour and crispness what it had gained in size.

He had established his right to the corner, by imperceptible
prescription. He had never varied his ground an inch, but had in the
beginning diffidently taken the corner upon which the side of the house
gave. A howling corner in the winter time, a dusty corner in the summer
time, an undesirable corner at the best of times. Shelterless fragments
of straw and paper got up revolving storms there, when the main street
was at peace; and the water-cart, as if it were drunk or short-sighted,
came blundering and jolting round it, making it muddy when all else was
clean.

On the front of his sale-board hung a little placard, like a
kettle-holder, bearing the inscription in his own small text:

     Errands gone
     On with fi
     Delity By
     Ladies and Gentlemen
     I remain
     Your humble Servt:
     Silas Wegg

He had not only settled it with himself in course of time, that he
was errand-goer by appointment to the house at the corner (though he
received such commissions not half a dozen times in a year, and then
only as some servant's deputy), but also that he was one of the house's
retainers and owed vassalage to it and was bound to leal and loyal
interest in it. For this reason, he always spoke of it as 'Our House,'
and, though his knowledge of its affairs was mostly speculative and
all wrong, claimed to be in its confidence. On similar grounds he never
beheld an inmate at any one of its windows but he touched his hat. Yet,
he knew so little about the inmates that he gave them names of his own
invention: as 'Miss Elizabeth', 'Master George', 'Aunt Jane', 'Uncle
Parker '--having no authority whatever for any such designations, but
particularly the last--to which, as a natural consequence, he stuck with
great obstinacy.

Over the house itself, he exercised the same imaginary power as over its
inhabitants and their affairs. He had never been in it, the length of
a piece of fat black water-pipe which trailed itself over the area-door
into a damp stone passage, and had rather the air of a leech on the
house that had 'taken' wonderfully; but this was no impediment to his
arranging it according to a plan of his own. It was a great dingy house
with a quantity of dim side window and blank back premises, and it
cost his mind a world of trouble so to lay it out as to account for
everything in its external appearance. But, this once done, was quite
satisfactory, and he rested persuaded, that he knew his way about the
house blindfold: from the barred garrets in the high roof, to the two
iron extinguishers before the main door--which seemed to request all
lively visitors to have the kindness to put themselves out, before
entering.

Assuredly, this stall of Silas Wegg's was the hardest little stall of
all the sterile little stalls in London. It gave you the face-ache
to look at his apples, the stomach-ache to look at his oranges, the
tooth-ache to look at his nuts. Of the latter commodity he had always
a grim little heap, on which lay a little wooden measure which had
no discernible inside, and was considered to represent the penn'orth
appointed by Magna Charta. Whether from too much east wind or no--it was
an easterly corner--the stall, the stock, and the keeper, were all as
dry as the Desert. Wegg was a knotty man, and a close-grained, with a
face carved out of very hard material, that had just as much play
of expression as a watchman's rattle. When he laughed, certain jerks
occurred in it, and the rattle sprung. Sooth to say, he was so wooden
a man that he seemed to have taken his wooden leg naturally, and rather
suggested to the fanciful observer, that he might be expected--if his
development received no untimely check--to be completely set up with a
pair of wooden legs in about six months.

Mr Wegg was an observant person, or, as he himself said, 'took a
powerful sight of notice'. He saluted all his regular passers-by every
day, as he sat on his stool backed up by the lamp-post; and on the
adaptable character of these salutes he greatly plumed himself. Thus,
to the rector, he addressed a bow, compounded of lay deference, and
a slight touch of the shady preliminary meditation at church; to the
doctor, a confidential bow, as to a gentleman whose acquaintance with
his inside he begged respectfully to acknowledge; before the Quality he
delighted to abase himself; and for Uncle Parker, who was in the army
(at least, so he had settled it), he put his open hand to the side
of his hat, in a military manner which that angry-eyed buttoned-up
inflammatory-faced old gentleman appeared but imperfectly to appreciate.

The only article in which Silas dealt, that was not hard, was
gingerbread. On a certain day, some wretched infant having purchased the
damp gingerbread-horse (fearfully out of condition), and the adhesive
bird-cage, which had been exposed for the day's sale, he had taken a tin
box from under his stool to produce a relay of those dreadful specimens,
and was going to look in at the lid, when he said to himself, pausing:
'Oh! Here you are again!'

The words referred to a broad, round-shouldered, one-sided old fellow in
mourning, coming comically ambling towards the corner, dressed in a pea
over-coat, and carrying a large stick. He wore thick shoes, and thick
leather gaiters, and thick gloves like a hedger's. Both as to his dress
and to himself, he was of an overlapping rhinoceros build, with folds
in his cheeks, and his forehead, and his eyelids, and his lips, and his
ears; but with bright, eager, childishly-inquiring, grey eyes, under his
ragged eyebrows, and broad-brimmed hat. A very odd-looking old fellow
altogether.

'Here you are again,' repeated Mr Wegg, musing. 'And what are you now?
Are you in the Funns, or where are you? Have you lately come to settle
in this neighbourhood, or do you own to another neighbourhood? Are you
in independent circumstances, or is it wasting the motions of a bow on
you? Come! I'll speculate! I'll invest a bow in you.'

Which Mr Wegg, having replaced his tin box, accordingly did, as he rose
to bait his gingerbread-trap for some other devoted infant. The salute
was acknowledged with:

'Morning, sir! Morning! Morning!'

('Calls me Sir!' said Mr Wegg, to himself; 'HE won't answer. A bow
gone!')

'Morning, morning, morning!'

'Appears to be rather a 'arty old cock, too,' said Mr Wegg, as before;
'Good morning to YOU, sir.'

'Do you remember me, then?' asked his new acquaintance, stopping in
his amble, one-sided, before the stall, and speaking in a pounding way,
though with great good-humour.

'I have noticed you go past our house, sir, several times in the course
of the last week or so.'

'Our house,' repeated the other. 'Meaning--?'

'Yes,' said Mr Wegg, nodding, as the other pointed the clumsy forefinger
of his right glove at the corner house.

'Oh! Now, what,' pursued the old fellow, in an inquisitive manner,
carrying his knotted stick in his left arm as if it were a baby, 'what
do they allow you now?'

'It's job work that I do for our house,' returned Silas, drily, and with
reticence; 'it's not yet brought to an exact allowance.'

'Oh! It's not yet brought to an exact allowance? No! It's not yet
brought to an exact allowance. Oh!--Morning, morning, morning!'

'Appears to be rather a cracked old cock,' thought Silas, qualifying his
former good opinion, as the other ambled off. But, in a moment he was
back again with the question:

'How did you get your wooden leg?'

Mr Wegg replied, (tartly to this personal inquiry), 'In an accident.'

'Do you like it?'

'Well! I haven't got to keep it warm,' Mr Wegg made answer, in a sort of
desperation occasioned by the singularity of the question.

'He hasn't,' repeated the other to his knotted stick, as he gave it a
hug; 'he hasn't got--ha!--ha!--to keep it warm! Did you ever hear of the
name of Boffin?'

'No,' said Mr Wegg, who was growing restive under this examination. 'I
never did hear of the name of Boffin.'

'Do you like it?'

'Why, no,' retorted Mr Wegg, again approaching desperation; 'I can't say
I do.'

'Why don't you like it?'

'I don't know why I don't,' retorted Mr Wegg, approaching frenzy, 'but I
don't at all.'

'Now, I'll tell you something that'll make you sorry for that,' said the
stranger, smiling. 'My name's Boffin.'

'I can't help it!' returned Mr Wegg. Implying in his manner the
offensive addition, 'and if I could, I wouldn't.'

'But there's another chance for you,' said Mr Boffin, smiling still, 'Do
you like the name of Nicodemus? Think it over. Nick, or Noddy.'

'It is not, sir,' Mr Wegg rejoined, as he sat down on his stool, with an
air of gentle resignation, combined with melancholy candour; it is not
a name as I could wish any one that I had a respect for, to call ME
by; but there may be persons that would not view it with the same
objections.--I don't know why,' Mr Wegg added, anticipating another
question.

'Noddy Boffin,' said that gentleman. 'Noddy. That's my name. Noddy--or
Nick--Boffin. What's your name?'

'Silas Wegg.--I don't,' said Mr Wegg, bestirring himself to take the
same precaution as before, 'I don't know why Silas, and I don't know why
Wegg.'

'Now, Wegg,' said Mr Boffin, hugging his stick closer, 'I want to make a
sort of offer to you. Do you remember when you first see me?'

The wooden Wegg looked at him with a meditative eye, and also with a
softened air as descrying possibility of profit. 'Let me think. I ain't
quite sure, and yet I generally take a powerful sight of notice, too.
Was it on a Monday morning, when the butcher-boy had been to our house
for orders, and bought a ballad of me, which, being unacquainted with
the tune, I run it over to him?'

'Right, Wegg, right! But he bought more than one.'

'Yes, to be sure, sir; he bought several; and wishing to lay out his
money to the best, he took my opinion to guide his choice, and we went
over the collection together. To be sure we did. Here was him as it
might be, and here was myself as it might be, and there was you, Mr
Boffin, as you identically are, with your self-same stick under your
very same arm, and your very same back towards us. To--be--sure!' added
Mr Wegg, looking a little round Mr Boffin, to take him in the rear,
and identify this last extraordinary coincidence, 'your wery self-same
back!'

'What do you think I was doing, Wegg?'

'I should judge, sir, that you might be glancing your eye down the
street.'

'No, Wegg. I was a listening.'

'Was you, indeed?' said Mr Wegg, dubiously.

'Not in a dishonourable way, Wegg, because you was singing to the
butcher; and you wouldn't sing secrets to a butcher in the street, you
know.'

'It never happened that I did so yet, to the best of my remembrance,'
said Mr Wegg, cautiously. 'But I might do it. A man can't say what he
might wish to do some day or another.' (This, not to release any little
advantage he might derive from Mr Boffin's avowal.)

'Well,' repeated Boffin, 'I was a listening to you and to him. And what
do you--you haven't got another stool, have you? I'm rather thick in my
breath.'

'I haven't got another, but you're welcome to this,' said Wegg,
resigning it. 'It's a treat to me to stand.'

'Lard!' exclaimed Mr Boffin, in a tone of great enjoyment, as he settled
himself down, still nursing his stick like a baby, 'it's a pleasant
place, this! And then to be shut in on each side, with these ballads,
like so many book-leaf blinkers! Why, its delightful!'

'If I am not mistaken, sir,' Mr Wegg delicately hinted, resting a hand
on his stall, and bending over the discursive Boffin, 'you alluded to
some offer or another that was in your mind?'

'I'm coming to it! All right. I'm coming to it! I was going to say that
when I listened that morning, I listened with hadmiration amounting to
haw. I thought to myself, "Here's a man with a wooden leg--a literary
man with--"'

'N--not exactly so, sir,' said Mr Wegg.

'Why, you know every one of these songs by name and by tune, and if you
want to read or to sing any one on 'em off straight, you've only to whip
on your spectacles and do it!' cried Mr Boffin. 'I see you at it!'

'Well, sir,' returned Mr Wegg, with a conscious inclination of the head;
'we'll say literary, then.'

'"A literary man--WITH a wooden leg--and all Print is open to him!"
That's what I thought to myself, that morning,' pursued Mr Boffin,
leaning forward to describe, uncramped by the clotheshorse, as large an
arc as his right arm could make; '"all Print is open to him!" And it is,
ain't it?'

'Why, truly, sir,' Mr Wegg admitted, with modesty; 'I believe you
couldn't show me the piece of English print, that I wouldn't be equal to
collaring and throwing.'

'On the spot?' said Mr Boffin.

'On the spot.'

'I know'd it! Then consider this. Here am I, a man without a wooden leg,
and yet all print is shut to me.'

'Indeed, sir?' Mr Wegg returned with increasing self-complacency.
'Education neglected?'

'Neg--lected!' repeated Boffin, with emphasis. 'That ain't no word for
it. I don't mean to say but what if you showed me a B, I could so far
give you change for it, as to answer Boffin.'

'Come, come, sir,' said Mr Wegg, throwing in a little encouragement,
'that's something, too.'

'It's something,' answered Mr Boffin, 'but I'll take my oath it ain't
much.'

'Perhaps it's not as much as could be wished by an inquiring mind, sir,'
Mr Wegg admitted.

'Now, look here. I'm retired from business. Me and Mrs
Boffin--Henerietty Boffin--which her father's name was Henery, and her
mother's name was Hetty, and so you get it--we live on a compittance,
under the will of a diseased governor.'

'Gentleman dead, sir?'

'Man alive, don't I tell you? A diseased governor? Now, it's too late
for me to begin shovelling and sifting at alphabeds and grammar-books.
I'm getting to be a old bird, and I want to take it easy. But I want
some reading--some fine bold reading, some splendid book in a gorging
Lord-Mayor's-Show of wollumes' (probably meaning gorgeous, but misled
by association of ideas); 'as'll reach right down your pint of view, and
take time to go by you. How can I get that reading, Wegg? By,' tapping
him on the breast with the head of his thick stick, 'paying a man truly
qualified to do it, so much an hour (say twopence) to come and do it.'

'Hem! Flattered, sir, I am sure,' said Wegg, beginning to regard himself
in quite a new light. 'Hew! This is the offer you mentioned, sir?'

'Yes. Do you like it?'

'I am considering of it, Mr Boffin.'

'I don't,' said Boffin, in a free-handed manner, 'want to tie a literary
man--WITH a wooden leg--down too tight. A halfpenny an hour shan't part
us. The hours are your own to choose, after you've done for the day
with your house here. I live over Maiden-Lane way--out Holloway
direction--and you've only got to go East-and-by-North when you've
finished here, and you're there. Twopence halfpenny an hour,' said
Boffin, taking a piece of chalk from his pocket and getting off the
stool to work the sum on the top of it in his own way; 'two long'uns and
a short'un--twopence halfpenny; two short'uns is a long'un and two two
long'uns is four long'uns--making five long'uns; six nights a week at
five long'uns a night,' scoring them all down separately, 'and you mount
up to thirty long'uns. A round'un! Half a crown!'

Pointing to this result as a large and satisfactory one, Mr Boffin
smeared it out with his moistened glove, and sat down on the remains.

'Half a crown,' said Wegg, meditating. 'Yes. (It ain't much, sir.) Half
a crown.'

'Per week, you know.'

'Per week. Yes. As to the amount of strain upon the intellect now. Was
you thinking at all of poetry?' Mr Wegg inquired, musing.

'Would it come dearer?' Mr Boffin asked.

'It would come dearer,' Mr Wegg returned. 'For when a person comes to
grind off poetry night after night, it is but right he should expect to
be paid for its weakening effect on his mind.'

'To tell you the truth Wegg,' said Boffin, 'I wasn't thinking of poetry,
except in so fur as this:--If you was to happen now and then to feel
yourself in the mind to tip me and Mrs Boffin one of your ballads, why
then we should drop into poetry.'

'I follow you, sir,' said Wegg. 'But not being a regular musical
professional, I should be loath to engage myself for that; and therefore
when I dropped into poetry, I should ask to be considered so fur, in the
light of a friend.'

At this, Mr Boffin's eyes sparkled, and he shook Silas earnestly by the
hand: protesting that it was more than he could have asked, and that he
took it very kindly indeed.

'What do you think of the terms, Wegg?' Mr Boffin then demanded, with
unconcealed anxiety.

Silas, who had stimulated this anxiety by his hard reserve of manner,
and who had begun to understand his man very well, replied with an air;
as if he were saying something extraordinarily generous and great:

'Mr Boffin, I never bargain.'

'So I should have thought of you!' said Mr Boffin, admiringly. 'No, sir.
I never did 'aggle and I never will 'aggle. Consequently I meet you at
once, free and fair, with--Done, for double the money!'

Mr Boffin seemed a little unprepared for this conclusion, but assented,
with the remark, 'You know better what it ought to be than I do, Wegg,'
and again shook hands with him upon it.

'Could you begin to night, Wegg?' he then demanded.

'Yes, sir,' said Mr Wegg, careful to leave all the eagerness to him.
'I see no difficulty if you wish it. You are provided with the needful
implement--a book, sir?'

'Bought him at a sale,' said Mr Boffin. 'Eight wollumes. Red and gold.
Purple ribbon in every wollume, to keep the place where you leave off.
Do you know him?'

'The book's name, sir?' inquired Silas.

'I thought you might have know'd him without it,' said Mr
Boffin slightly disappointed. 'His name is
Decline-And-Fall-Off-The-Rooshan-Empire.' (Mr Boffin went over these
stones slowly and with much caution.)

'Ay indeed!' said Mr Wegg, nodding his head with an air of friendly
recognition.

'You know him, Wegg?'

'I haven't been not to say right slap through him, very lately,' Mr Wegg
made answer, 'having been otherways employed, Mr Boffin. But know him?
Old familiar declining and falling off the Rooshan? Rather, sir! Ever
since I was not so high as your stick. Ever since my eldest brother left
our cottage to enlist into the army. On which occasion, as the ballad
that was made about it describes:

     'Beside that cottage door, Mr Boffin,
             A girl was on her knees;
     She held aloft a snowy scarf, Sir,
             Which (my eldest brother noticed) fluttered in the breeze.
     She breathed a prayer for him, Mr Boffin;
             A prayer he coold not hear.
     And my eldest brother lean'd upon his sword, Mr Boffin,
              And wiped away a tear.'

Much impressed by this family circumstance, and also by the friendly
disposition of Mr Wegg, as exemplified in his so soon dropping into
poetry, Mr Boffin again shook hands with that ligneous sharper, and
besought him to name his hour. Mr Wegg named eight.

'Where I live,' said Mr Boffin, 'is called The Bower. Boffin's Bower is
the name Mrs Boffin christened it when we come into it as a property.
If you should meet with anybody that don't know it by that name (which
hardly anybody does), when you've got nigh upon about a odd mile, or
say and a quarter if you like, up Maiden Lane, Battle Bridge, ask for
Harmony Jail, and you'll be put right. I shall expect you, Wegg,' said
Mr Boffin, clapping him on the shoulder with the greatest enthusiasm,
'most joyfully. I shall have no peace or patience till you come. Print
is now opening ahead of me. This night, a literary man--WITH a wooden
leg--' he bestowed an admiring look upon that decoration, as if it
greatly enhanced the relish of Mr Wegg's attainments--'will begin to
lead me a new life! My fist again, Wegg. Morning, morning, morning!'

Left alone at his stall as the other ambled off, Mr Wegg subsided
into his screen, produced a small pocket-handkerchief of a
penitentially-scrubbing character, and took himself by the nose with
a thoughtful aspect. Also, while he still grasped that feature, he
directed several thoughtful looks down the street, after the retiring
figure of Mr Boffin. But, profound gravity sat enthroned on Wegg's
countenance. For, while he considered within himself that this was
an old fellow of rare simplicity, that this was an opportunity to
be improved, and that here might be money to be got beyond present
calculation, still he compromised himself by no admission that his new
engagement was at all out of his way, or involved the least element of
the ridiculous. Mr Wegg would even have picked a handsome quarrel with
any one who should have challenged his deep acquaintance with those
aforesaid eight volumes of Decline and Fall. His gravity was unusual,
portentous, and immeasurable, not because he admitted any doubt of
himself but because he perceived it necessary to forestall any doubt of
himself in others. And herein he ranged with that very numerous class
of impostors, who are quite as determined to keep up appearances to
themselves, as to their neighbours.

A certain loftiness, likewise, took possession of Mr Wegg; a
condescending sense of being in request as an official expounder of
mysteries. It did not move him to commercial greatness, but rather to
littleness, insomuch that if it had been within the possibilities of
things for the wooden measure to hold fewer nuts than usual, it would
have done so that day. But, when night came, and with her veiled eyes
beheld him stumping towards Boffin's Bower, he was elated too.

The Bower was as difficult to find, as Fair Rosamond's without the clue.
Mr Wegg, having reached the quarter indicated, inquired for the Bower
half a dozen times without the least success, until he remembered to
ask for Harmony Jail. This occasioned a quick change in the spirits of a
hoarse gentleman and a donkey, whom he had much perplexed.

'Why, yer mean Old Harmon's, do yer?' said the hoarse gentleman, who was
driving his donkey in a truck, with a carrot for a whip. 'Why didn't yer
niver say so? Eddard and me is a goin' by HIM! Jump in.'

Mr Wegg complied, and the hoarse gentleman invited his attention to the
third person in company, thus;

'Now, you look at Eddard's ears. What was it as you named, agin?
Whisper.'

Mr Wegg whispered, 'Boffin's Bower.'

'Eddard! (keep yer hi on his ears) cut away to Boffin's Bower!'

Edward, with his ears lying back, remained immoveable.

'Eddard! (keep yer hi on his ears) cut away to Old Harmon's.' Edward
instantly pricked up his ears to their utmost, and rattled off at such
a pace that Mr Wegg's conversation was jolted out of him in a most
dislocated state.

'Was-it-Ev-verajail?' asked Mr Wegg, holding on.

'Not a proper jail, wot you and me would get committed to,' returned
his escort; 'they giv' it the name, on accounts of Old Harmon living
solitary there.'

'And-why-did-they-callitharm-Ony?' asked Wegg.

'On accounts of his never agreeing with nobody. Like a speeches of
chaff. Harmon's Jail; Harmony Jail. Working it round like.'

'Doyouknow-Mist-Erboff-in?' asked Wegg.

'I should think so! Everybody do about here. Eddard knows him. (Keep yer
hi on his ears.) Noddy Boffin, Eddard!'

The effect of the name was so very alarming, in respect of causing a
temporary disappearance of Edward's head, casting his hind hoofs in the
air, greatly accelerating the pace and increasing the jolting, that Mr
Wegg was fain to devote his attention exclusively to holding on, and to
relinquish his desire of ascertaining whether this homage to Boffin was
to be considered complimentary or the reverse.

Presently, Edward stopped at a gateway, and Wegg discreetly lost no time
in slipping out at the back of the truck. The moment he was landed, his
late driver with a wave of the carrot, said 'Supper, Eddard!' and he,
the hind hoofs, the truck, and Edward, all seemed to fly into the air
together, in a kind of apotheosis.

Pushing the gate, which stood ajar, Wegg looked into an enclosed space
where certain tall dark mounds rose high against the sky, and where the
pathway to the Bower was indicated, as the moonlight showed, between two
lines of broken crockery set in ashes. A white figure advancing along
this path, proved to be nothing more ghostly than Mr Boffin, easily
attired for the pursuit of knowledge, in an undress garment of short
white smock-frock. Having received his literary friend with great
cordiality, he conducted him to the interior of the Bower and there
presented him to Mrs Boffin:--a stout lady of a rubicund and cheerful
aspect, dressed (to Mr Wegg's consternation) in a low evening-dress of
sable satin, and a large black velvet hat and feathers.

'Mrs Boffin, Wegg,' said Boffin, 'is a highflyer at Fashion. And her
make is such, that she does it credit. As to myself I ain't yet as
Fash'nable as I may come to be. Henerietty, old lady, this is the
gentleman that's a going to decline and fall off the Rooshan Empire.'

'And I am sure I hope it'll do you both good,' said Mrs Boffin.

It was the queerest of rooms, fitted and furnished more like a luxurious
amateur tap-room than anything else within the ken of Silas Wegg. There
were two wooden settles by the fire, one on either side of it, with
a corresponding table before each. On one of these tables, the eight
volumes were ranged flat, in a row, like a galvanic battery; on the
other, certain squat case-bottles of inviting appearance seemed to stand
on tiptoe to exchange glances with Mr Wegg over a front row of tumblers
and a basin of white sugar. On the hob, a kettle steamed; on the hearth,
a cat reposed. Facing the fire between the settles, a sofa, a footstool,
and a little table, formed a centrepiece devoted to Mrs Boffin.
They were garish in taste and colour, but were expensive articles of
drawing-room furniture that had a very odd look beside the settles
and the flaring gaslight pendent from the ceiling. There was a flowery
carpet on the floor; but, instead of reaching to the fireside, its
glowing vegetation stopped short at Mrs Boffin's footstool, and gave
place to a region of sand and sawdust. Mr Wegg also noticed, with
admiring eyes, that, while the flowery land displayed such hollow
ornamentation as stuffed birds and waxen fruits under glass-shades,
there were, in the territory where vegetation ceased, compensatory
shelves on which the best part of a large pie and likewise of a cold
joint were plainly discernible among other solids. The room itself was
large, though low; and the heavy frames of its old-fashioned windows,
and the heavy beams in its crooked ceiling, seemed to indicate that it
had once been a house of some mark standing alone in the country.

'Do you like it, Wegg?' asked Mr Boffin, in his pouncing manner.

'I admire it greatly, sir,' said Wegg. 'Peculiar comfort at this
fireside, sir.'

'Do you understand it, Wegg?'

'Why, in a general way, sir,' Mr Wegg was beginning slowly and
knowingly, with his head stuck on one side, as evasive people do begin,
when the other cut him short:

'You DON'T understand it, Wegg, and I'll explain it. These arrangements
is made by mutual consent between Mrs Boffin and me. Mrs Boffin, as I've
mentioned, is a highflyer at Fashion; at present I'm not. I don't go
higher than comfort, and comfort of the sort that I'm equal to the
enjoyment of. Well then. Where would be the good of Mrs Boffin and me
quarrelling over it? We never did quarrel, before we come into Boffin's
Bower as a property; why quarrel when we HAVE come into Boffin's Bower
as a property? So Mrs Boffin, she keeps up her part of the room, in her
way; I keep up my part of the room in mine. In consequence of which
we have at once, Sociability (I should go melancholy mad without Mrs
Boffin), Fashion, and Comfort. If I get by degrees to be a higher-flyer
at Fashion, then Mrs Boffin will by degrees come for'arder. If Mrs
Boffin should ever be less of a dab at Fashion than she is at the
present time, then Mrs Boffin's carpet would go back'arder. If we should
both continny as we are, why then HERE we are, and give us a kiss, old
lady.'

Mrs Boffin who, perpetually smiling, had approached and drawn her plump
arm through her lord's, most willingly complied. Fashion, in the form
of her black velvet hat and feathers, tried to prevent it; but got
deservedly crushed in the endeavour.

'So now, Wegg,' said Mr Boffin, wiping his mouth with an air of much
refreshment, 'you begin to know us as we are. This is a charming spot,
is the Bower, but you must get to apprechiate it by degrees. It's a spot
to find out the merits of; little by little, and a new'un every day.
There's a serpentining walk up each of the mounds, that gives you the
yard and neighbourhood changing every moment. When you get to the top,
there's a view of the neighbouring premises, not to be surpassed. The
premises of Mrs Boffin's late father (Canine Provision Trade), you look
down into, as if they was your own. And the top of the High Mound is
crowned with a lattice-work Arbour, in which, if you don't read out loud
many a book in the summer, ay, and as a friend, drop many a time into
poetry too, it shan't be my fault. Now, what'll you read on?'

'Thank you, sir,' returned Wegg, as if there were nothing new in his
reading at all. 'I generally do it on gin and water.'

'Keeps the organ moist, does it, Wegg?' asked Mr Boffin, with innocent
eagerness.

'N-no, sir,' replied Wegg, coolly, 'I should hardly describe it so, sir.
I should say, mellers it. Mellers it, is the word I should employ, Mr
Boffin.'

His wooden conceit and craft kept exact pace with the delighted
expectation of his victim. The visions rising before his mercenary mind,
of the many ways in which this connexion was to be turned to account,
never obscured the foremost idea natural to a dull overreaching man,
that he must not make himself too cheap.

Mrs Boffin's Fashion, as a less inexorable deity than the idol usually
worshipped under that name, did not forbid her mixing for her literary
guest, or asking if he found the result to his liking. On his returning
a gracious answer and taking his place at the literary settle, Mr Boffin
began to compose himself as a listener, at the opposite settle, with
exultant eyes.

'Sorry to deprive you of a pipe, Wegg,' he said, filling his own, 'but
you can't do both together. Oh! and another thing I forgot to name! When
you come in here of an evening, and look round you, and notice anything
on a shelf that happens to catch your fancy, mention it.'

Wegg, who had been going to put on his spectacles, immediately laid them
down, with the sprightly observation:

'You read my thoughts, sir. DO my eyes deceive me, or is that object up
there a--a pie? It can't be a pie.'

'Yes, it's a pie, Wegg,' replied Mr Boffin, with a glance of some little
discomfiture at the Decline and Fall.

'HAVE I lost my smell for fruits, or is it a apple pie, sir?' asked
Wegg.

'It's a veal and ham pie,' said Mr Boffin.

'Is it indeed, sir? And it would be hard, sir, to name the pie that is
a better pie than a weal and hammer,' said Mr Wegg, nodding his head
emotionally.

'Have some, Wegg?'

'Thank you, Mr Boffin, I think I will, at your invitation. I wouldn't
at any other party's, at the present juncture; but at yours, sir!--And
meaty jelly too, especially when a little salt, which is the case where
there's ham, is mellering to the organ, is very mellering to the organ.'
Mr Wegg did not say what organ, but spoke with a cheerful generality.

So, the pie was brought down, and the worthy Mr Boffin exercised his
patience until Wegg, in the exercise of his knife and fork, had finished
the dish: only profiting by the opportunity to inform Wegg that although
it was not strictly Fashionable to keep the contents of a larder thus
exposed to view, he (Mr Boffin) considered it hospitable; for the
reason, that instead of saying, in a comparatively unmeaning manner, to
a visitor, 'There are such and such edibles down stairs; will you have
anything up?' you took the bold practical course of saying, 'Cast your
eye along the shelves, and, if you see anything you like there, have it
down.'

And now, Mr Wegg at length pushed away his plate and put on his
spectacles, and Mr Boffin lighted his pipe and looked with beaming
eyes into the opening world before him, and Mrs Boffin reclined in a
fashionable manner on her sofa: as one who would be part of the audience
if she found she could, and would go to sleep if she found she couldn't.

'Hem!' began Wegg, 'This, Mr Boffin and Lady, is the first chapter of
the first wollume of the Decline and Fall off--' here he looked hard at
the book, and stopped.

'What's the matter, Wegg?'

'Why, it comes into my mind, do you know, sir,' said Wegg with an air
of insinuating frankness (having first again looked hard at the book),
'that you made a little mistake this morning, which I had meant to set
you right in, only something put it out of my head. I think you said
Rooshan Empire, sir?'

'It is Rooshan; ain't it, Wegg?'

'No, sir. Roman. Roman.'

'What's the difference, Wegg?'

'The difference, sir?' Mr Wegg was faltering and in danger of breaking
down, when a bright thought flashed upon him. 'The difference, sir?
There you place me in a difficulty, Mr Boffin. Suffice it to observe,
that the difference is best postponed to some other occasion when Mrs
Boffin does not honour us with her company. In Mrs Boffin's presence,
sir, we had better drop it.'

Mr Wegg thus came out of his disadvantage with quite a chivalrous air,
and not only that, but by dint of repeating with a manly delicacy,
'In Mrs Boffin's presence, sir, we had better drop it!' turned the
disadvantage on Boffin, who felt that he had committed himself in a very
painful manner.

Then, Mr Wegg, in a dry unflinching way, entered on his task; going
straight across country at everything that came before him; taking all
the hard words, biographical and geographical; getting rather shaken by
Hadrian, Trajan, and the Antonines; stumbling at Polybius (pronounced
Polly Beeious, and supposed by Mr Boffin to be a Roman virgin, and by
Mrs Boffin to be responsible for that necessity of dropping it); heavily
unseated by Titus Antoninus Pius; up again and galloping smoothly with
Augustus; finally, getting over the ground well with Commodus: who,
under the appellation of Commodious, was held by Mr Boffin to have been
quite unworthy of his English origin, and 'not to have acted up to his
name' in his government of the Roman people. With the death of this
personage, Mr Wegg terminated his first reading; long before which
consummation several total eclipses of Mrs Boffin's candle behind
her black velvet disc, would have been very alarming, but for being
regularly accompanied by a potent smell of burnt pens when her feathers
took fire, which acted as a restorative and woke her. Mr Wegg, having
read on by rote and attached as few ideas as possible to the text, came
out of the encounter fresh; but, Mr Boffin, who had soon laid down his
unfinished pipe, and had ever since sat intently staring with his eyes
and mind at the confounding enormities of the Romans, was so severely
punished that he could hardly wish his literary friend Good-night, and
articulate 'Tomorrow.'

'Commodious,' gasped Mr Boffin, staring at the moon, after letting
Wegg out at the gate and fastening it: 'Commodious fights in that
wild-beast-show, seven hundred and thirty-five times, in one character
only! As if that wasn't stunning enough, a hundred lions is turned into
the same wild-beast-show all at once! As if that wasn't stunning enough,
Commodious, in another character, kills 'em all off in a hundred goes!
As if that wasn't stunning enough, Vittle-us (and well named too) eats
six millions' worth, English money, in seven months! Wegg takes it easy,
but upon-my-soul to a old bird like myself these are scarers. And even
now that Commodious is strangled, I don't see a way to our bettering
ourselves.' Mr Boffin added as he turned his pensive steps towards the
Bower and shook his head, 'I didn't think this morning there was half so
many Scarers in Print. But I'm in for it now!'



Chapter 6

CUT ADRIFT


The Six Jolly Fellowship Porters, already mentioned as a tavern of
a dropsical appearance, had long settled down into a state of hale
infirmity. In its whole constitution it had not a straight floor, and
hardly a straight line; but it had outlasted, and clearly would yet
outlast, many a better-trimmed building, many a sprucer public-house.
Externally, it was a narrow lopsided wooden jumble of corpulent windows
heaped one upon another as you might heap as many toppling oranges,
with a crazy wooden verandah impending over the water; indeed the whole
house, inclusive of the complaining flag-staff on the roof, impended
over the water, but seemed to have got into the condition of a
faint-hearted diver who has paused so long on the brink that he will
never go in at all.

This description applies to the river-frontage of the Six Jolly
Fellowship Porters. The back of the establishment, though the chief
entrance was there, so contracted that it merely represented in its
connexion with the front, the handle of a flat iron set upright on its
broadest end. This handle stood at the bottom of a wilderness of court
and alley: which wilderness pressed so hard and close upon the Six Jolly
Fellowship Porters as to leave the hostelry not an inch of ground beyond
its door. For this reason, in combination with the fact that the house
was all but afloat at high water, when the Porters had a family wash the
linen subjected to that operation might usually be seen drying on lines
stretched across the reception-rooms and bed-chambers.

The wood forming the chimney-pieces, beams, partitions, floors and
doors, of the Six Jolly Fellowship Porters, seemed in its old age
fraught with confused memories of its youth. In many places it had
become gnarled and riven, according to the manner of old trees; knots
started out of it; and here and there it seemed to twist itself into
some likeness of boughs. In this state of second childhood, it had an
air of being in its own way garrulous about its early life. Not without
reason was it often asserted by the regular frequenters of the Porters,
that when the light shone full upon the grain of certain panels, and
particularly upon an old corner cupboard of walnut-wood in the bar, you
might trace little forests there, and tiny trees like the parent tree,
in full umbrageous leaf.

The bar of the Six Jolly Fellowship Porters was a bar to soften the
human breast. The available space in it was not much larger than a
hackney-coach; but no one could have wished the bar bigger, that space
was so girt in by corpulent little casks, and by cordial-bottles
radiant with fictitious grapes in bunches, and by lemons in nets, and
by biscuits in baskets, and by the polite beer-pulls that made low
bows when customers were served with beer, and by the cheese in a snug
corner, and by the landlady's own small table in a snugger corner near
the fire, with the cloth everlastingly laid. This haven was divided from
the rough world by a glass partition and a half-door, with a leaden
sill upon it for the convenience of resting your liquor; but, over this
half-door the bar's snugness so gushed forth that, albeit customers
drank there standing, in a dark and draughty passage where they were
shouldered by other customers passing in and out, they always appeared
to drink under an enchanting delusion that they were in the bar itself.

For the rest, both the tap and parlour of the Six Jolly Fellowship
Porters gave upon the river, and had red curtains matching the noses of
the regular customers, and were provided with comfortable fireside tin
utensils, like models of sugar-loaf hats, made in that shape that they
might, with their pointed ends, seek out for themselves glowing nooks
in the depths of the red coals, when they mulled your ale, or heated for
you those delectable drinks, Purl, Flip, and Dog's Nose. The first of
these humming compounds was a speciality of the Porters, which, through
an inscription on its door-posts, gently appealed to your feelings as,
'The Early Purl House'. For, it would seem that Purl must always be
taken early; though whether for any more distinctly stomachic reason
than that, as the early bird catches the worm, so the early purl catches
the customer, cannot here be resolved. It only remains to add that in
the handle of the flat iron, and opposite the bar, was a very little
room like a three-cornered hat, into which no direct ray of sun, moon,
or star, ever penetrated, but which was superstitiously regarded as a
sanctuary replete with comfort and retirement by gaslight, and on the
door of which was therefore painted its alluring name: Cosy.

Miss Potterson, sole proprietor and manager of the Fellowship Porters,
reigned supreme on her throne, the Bar, and a man must have drunk
himself mad drunk indeed if he thought he could contest a point with
her. Being known on her own authority as Miss Abbey Potterson, some
water-side heads, which (like the water) were none of the clearest,
harboured muddled notions that, because of her dignity and firmness, she
was named after, or in some sort related to, the Abbey at Westminster.
But, Abbey was only short for Abigail, by which name Miss Potterson had
been christened at Limehouse Church, some sixty and odd years before.

'Now, you mind, you Riderhood,' said Miss Abbey Potterson, with emphatic
forefinger over the half-door, 'the Fellowship don't want you at all,
and would rather by far have your room than your company; but if you
were as welcome here as you are not, you shouldn't even then have
another drop of drink here this night, after this present pint of beer.
So make the most of it.'

'But you know, Miss Potterson,' this was suggested very meekly though,
'if I behave myself, you can't help serving me, miss.'

'CAN'T I!' said Abbey, with infinite expression.

'No, Miss Potterson; because, you see, the law--'

'I am the law here, my man,' returned Miss Abbey, 'and I'll soon
convince you of that, if you doubt it at all.'

'I never said I did doubt it at all, Miss Abbey.'

'So much the better for you.'

Abbey the supreme threw the customer's halfpence into the till, and,
seating herself in her fireside-chair, resumed the newspaper she had
been reading. She was a tall, upright, well-favoured woman, though
severe of countenance, and had more of the air of a schoolmistress than
mistress of the Six Jolly Fellowship Porters. The man on the other side
of the half-door, was a waterside-man with a squinting leer, and he eyed
her as if he were one of her pupils in disgrace.

'You're cruel hard upon me, Miss Potterson.'

Miss Potterson read her newspaper with contracted brows, and took no
notice until he whispered:

'Miss Potterson! Ma'am! Might I have half a word with you?'

Deigning then to turn her eyes sideways towards the suppliant, Miss
Potterson beheld him knuckling his low forehead, and ducking at her with
his head, as if he were asking leave to fling himself head foremost over
the half-door and alight on his feet in the bar.

'Well?' said Miss Potterson, with a manner as short as she herself was
long, 'say your half word. Bring it out.'

'Miss Potterson! Ma'am! Would you 'sxcuse me taking the liberty of
asking, is it my character that you take objections to?'

'Certainly,' said Miss Potterson.

'Is it that you're afraid of--'

'I am not afraid OF YOU,' interposed Miss Potterson, 'if you mean that.'

'But I humbly don't mean that, Miss Abbey.'

'Then what do you mean?'

'You really are so cruel hard upon me! What I was going to make
inquiries was no more than, might you have any apprehensions--leastways
beliefs or suppositions--that the company's property mightn't be
altogether to be considered safe, if I used the house too regular?'

'What do you want to know for?'

'Well, Miss Abbey, respectfully meaning no offence to you, it would
be some satisfaction to a man's mind, to understand why the Fellowship
Porters is not to be free to such as me, and is to be free to such as
Gaffer.'

The face of the hostess darkened with some shadow of perplexity, as she
replied: 'Gaffer has never been where you have been.'

'Signifying in Quod, Miss? Perhaps not. But he may have merited it. He
may be suspected of far worse than ever I was.'

'Who suspects him?'

'Many, perhaps. One, beyond all doubts. I do.'

'YOU are not much,' said Miss Abbey Potterson, knitting her brows again
with disdain.

'But I was his pardner. Mind you, Miss Abbey, I was his pardner. As
such I know more of the ins and outs of him than any person living does.
Notice this! I am the man that was his pardner, and I am the man that
suspects him.'

'Then,' suggested Miss Abbey, though with a deeper shade of perplexity
than before, 'you criminate yourself.'

'No I don't, Miss Abbey. For how does it stand? It stands this way. When
I was his pardner, I couldn't never give him satisfaction. Why couldn't
I never give him satisfaction? Because my luck was bad; because I
couldn't find many enough of 'em. How was his luck? Always good. Notice
this! Always good! Ah! There's a many games, Miss Abbey, in which
there's chance, but there's a many others in which there's skill too,
mixed along with it.'

'That Gaffer has a skill in finding what he finds, who doubts, man?'
asked Miss Abbey.

'A skill in purwiding what he finds, perhaps,' said Riderhood, shaking
his evil head.

Miss Abbey knitted her brow at him, as he darkly leered at her. 'If
you're out upon the river pretty nigh every tide, and if you want to
find a man or woman in the river, you'll greatly help your luck, Miss
Abbey, by knocking a man or woman on the head aforehand and pitching 'em
in.'

'Gracious Lud!' was the involuntary exclamation of Miss Potterson.

'Mind you!' returned the other, stretching forward over the half door
to throw his words into the bar; for his voice was as if the head of his
boat's mop were down his throat; 'I say so, Miss Abbey! And mind you!
I'll follow him up, Miss Abbey! And mind you! I'll bring him to hook at
last, if it's twenty year hence, I will! Who's he, to be favoured along
of his daughter? Ain't I got a daughter of my own!'

With that flourish, and seeming to have talked himself rather more drunk
and much more ferocious than he had begun by being, Mr Riderhood took up
his pint pot and swaggered off to the taproom.

Gaffer was not there, but a pretty strong muster of Miss Abbey's pupils
were, who exhibited, when occasion required, the greatest docility. On
the clock's striking ten, and Miss Abbey's appearing at the door, and
addressing a certain person in a faded scarlet jacket, with 'George
Jones, your time's up! I told your wife you should be punctual,'
Jones submissively rose, gave the company good-night, and retired. At
half-past ten, on Miss Abbey's looking in again, and saying, 'William
Williams, Bob Glamour, and Jonathan, you are all due,' Williams, Bob,
and Jonathan with similar meekness took their leave and evaporated.
Greater wonder than these, when a bottle-nosed person in a glazed hat
had after some considerable hesitation ordered another glass of gin and
water of the attendant potboy, and when Miss Abbey, instead of sending
it, appeared in person, saying, 'Captain Joey, you have had as much as
will do you good,' not only did the captain feebly rub his knees and
contemplate the fire without offering a word of protest, but the rest
of the company murmured, 'Ay, ay, Captain! Miss Abbey's right; you
be guided by Miss Abbey, Captain.' Nor, was Miss Abbey's vigilance in
anywise abated by this submission, but rather sharpened; for, looking
round on the deferential faces of her school, and descrying two other
young persons in need of admonition, she thus bestowed it: 'Tom Tootle,
it's time for a young fellow who's going to be married next month, to
be at home and asleep. And you needn't nudge him, Mr Jack Mullins, for
I know your work begins early tomorrow, and I say the same to you.
So come! Good-night, like good lads!' Upon which, the blushing Tootle
looked to Mullins, and the blushing Mullins looked to Tootle, on the
question who should rise first, and finally both rose together and went
out on the broad grin, followed by Miss Abbey; in whose presence the
company did not take the liberty of grinning likewise.

In such an establishment, the white-aproned pot-boy with his
shirt-sleeves arranged in a tight roll on each bare shoulder, was a mere
hint of the possibility of physical force, thrown out as a matter of
state and form. Exactly at the closing hour, all the guests who were
left, filed out in the best order: Miss Abbey standing at the half door
of the bar, to hold a ceremony of review and dismissal. All wished
Miss Abbey good-night and Miss Abbey wished good-night to all, except
Riderhood. The sapient pot-boy, looking on officially, then had the
conviction borne in upon his soul, that the man was evermore outcast and
excommunicate from the Six Jolly Fellowship Porters.

'You Bob Gliddery,' said Miss Abbey to this pot-boy, 'run round to
Hexam's and tell his daughter Lizzie that I want to speak to her.'

With exemplary swiftness Bob Gliddery departed, and returned. Lizzie,
following him, arrived as one of the two female domestics of the
Fellowship Porters arranged on the snug little table by the bar fire,
Miss Potterson's supper of hot sausages and mashed potatoes.

'Come in and sit ye down, girl,' said Miss Abbey. 'Can you eat a bit?'

'No thank you, Miss. I have had my supper.'

'I have had mine too, I think,' said Miss Abbey, pushing away the
untasted dish, 'and more than enough of it. I am put out, Lizzie.'

'I am very sorry for it, Miss.'

'Then why, in the name of Goodness,' quoth Miss Abbey, sharply, 'do you
do it?'

'I do it, Miss!'

'There, there. Don't look astonished. I ought to have begun with a word
of explanation, but it's my way to make short cuts at things. I always
was a pepperer. You Bob Gliddery there, put the chain upon the door and
get ye down to your supper.'

With an alacrity that seemed no less referable to the pepperer fact
than to the supper fact, Bob obeyed, and his boots were heard descending
towards the bed of the river.

'Lizzie Hexam, Lizzie Hexam,' then began Miss Potterson, 'how often have
I held out to you the opportunity of getting clear of your father, and
doing well?'

'Very often, Miss.'

'Very often? Yes! And I might as well have spoken to the iron funnel of
the strongest sea-going steamer that passes the Fellowship Porters.'

'No, Miss,' Lizzie pleaded; 'because that would not be thankful, and I
am.'

'I vow and declare I am half ashamed of myself for taking such an
interest in you,' said Miss Abbey, pettishly, 'for I don't believe I
should do it if you were not good-looking. Why ain't you ugly?'

Lizzie merely answered this difficult question with an apologetic
glance.

'However, you ain't,' resumed Miss Potterson, 'so it's no use going into
that. I must take you as I find you. Which indeed is what I've done. And
you mean to say you are still obstinate?'

'Not obstinate, Miss, I hope.'

'Firm (I suppose you call it) then?'

'Yes, Miss. Fixed like.'

'Never was an obstinate person yet, who would own to the word!' remarked
Miss Potterson, rubbing her vexed nose; 'I'm sure I would, if I was
obstinate; but I am a pepperer, which is different. Lizzie Hexam, Lizzie
Hexam, think again. Do you know the worst of your father?'

'Do I know the worst of father!' she repeated, opening her eyes. 'Do you
know the suspicions to which your father makes himself liable? Do you
know the suspicions that are actually about, against him?'

The consciousness of what he habitually did, oppressed the girl heavily,
and she slowly cast down her eyes.

'Say, Lizzie. Do you know?' urged Miss Abbey.

'Please to tell me what the suspicions are, Miss,' she asked after a
silence, with her eyes upon the ground.

'It's not an easy thing to tell a daughter, but it must be told. It is
thought by some, then, that your father helps to their death a few of
those that he finds dead.'

The relief of hearing what she felt sure was a false suspicion, in place
of the expected real and true one, so lightened Lizzie's breast for the
moment, that Miss Abbey was amazed at her demeanour. She raised her eyes
quickly, shook her head, and, in a kind of triumph, almost laughed.

'They little know father who talk like that!'

('She takes it,' thought Miss Abbey, 'very quietly. She takes it with
extraordinary quietness!')

'And perhaps,' said Lizzie, as a recollection flashed upon her, 'it is
some one who has a grudge against father; some one who has threatened
father! Is it Riderhood, Miss?'

'Well; yes it is.'

'Yes! He was father's partner, and father broke with him, and now he
revenges himself. Father broke with him when I was by, and he was very
angry at it. And besides, Miss Abbey!--Will you never, without strong
reason, let pass your lips what I am going to say?'

She bent forward to say it in a whisper.

'I promise,' said Miss Abbey.

'It was on the night when the Harmon murder was found out, through
father, just above bridge. And just below bridge, as we were sculling
home, Riderhood crept out of the dark in his boat. And many and many
times afterwards, when such great pains were taken to come to the bottom
of the crime, and it never could be come near, I thought in my own
thoughts, could Riderhood himself have done the murder, and did he
purposely let father find the body? It seemed a'most wicked and cruel
to so much as think such a thing; but now that he tries to throw it upon
father, I go back to it as if it was a truth. Can it be a truth? That
was put into my mind by the dead?'

She asked this question, rather of the fire than of the hostess of the
Fellowship Porters, and looked round the little bar with troubled eyes.

But, Miss Potterson, as a ready schoolmistress accustomed to bring her
pupils to book, set the matter in a light that was essentially of this
world.

'You poor deluded girl,' she said, 'don't you see that you can't open
your mind to particular suspicions of one of the two, without opening
your mind to general suspicions of the other? They had worked together.
Their goings-on had been going on for some time. Even granting that it
was as you have had in your thoughts, what the two had done together
would come familiar to the mind of one.'

'You don't know father, Miss, when you talk like that. Indeed, indeed,
you don't know father.'

'Lizzie, Lizzie,' said Miss Potterson. 'Leave him. You needn't break
with him altogether, but leave him. Do well away from him; not because
of what I have told you to-night--we'll pass no judgment upon that,
and we'll hope it may not be--but because of what I have urged on you
before. No matter whether it's owing to your good looks or not, I like
you and I want to serve you. Lizzie, come under my direction. Don't
fling yourself away, my girl, but be persuaded into being respectable
and happy.'

In the sound good feeling and good sense of her entreaty, Miss Abbey
had softened into a soothing tone, and had even drawn her arm round the
girl's waist. But, she only replied, 'Thank you, thank you! I can't. I
won't. I must not think of it. The harder father is borne upon, the more
he needs me to lean on.'

And then Miss Abbey, who, like all hard people when they do soften,
felt that there was considerable compensation owing to her, underwent
reaction and became frigid.

'I have done what I can,' she said, 'and you must go your way. You make
your bed, and you must lie on it. But tell your father one thing: he
must not come here any more.

'Oh, Miss, will you forbid him the house where I know he's safe?'

'The Fellowships,' returned Miss Abbey, 'has itself to look to, as well
as others. It has been hard work to establish order here, and make the
Fellowships what it is, and it is daily and nightly hard work to keep it
so. The Fellowships must not have a taint upon it that may give it a bad
name. I forbid the house to Riderhood, and I forbid the house to Gaffer.
I forbid both, equally. I find from Riderhood and you together, that
there are suspicions against both men, and I'm not going to take upon
myself to decide betwixt them. They are both tarred with a dirty brush,
and I can't have the Fellowships tarred with the same brush. That's all
I know.'

'Good-night, Miss!' said Lizzie Hexam, sorrowfully.

'Hah!--Good-night!' returned Miss Abbey with a shake of her head.

'Believe me, Miss Abbey, I am truly grateful all the same.'

'I can believe a good deal,' returned the stately Abbey, 'so I'll try to
believe that too, Lizzie.'

No supper did Miss Potterson take that night, and only half her usual
tumbler of hot Port Negus. And the female domestics--two robust sisters,
with staring black eyes, shining flat red faces, blunt noses, and strong
black curls, like dolls--interchanged the sentiment that Missis had had
her hair combed the wrong way by somebody. And the pot-boy afterwards
remarked, that he hadn't been 'so rattled to bed', since his late mother
had systematically accelerated his retirement to rest with a poker.

The chaining of the door behind her, as she went forth, disenchanted
Lizzie Hexam of that first relief she had felt. The night was black and
shrill, the river-side wilderness was melancholy, and there was a sound
of casting-out, in the rattling of the iron-links, and the grating of
the bolts and staples under Miss Abbey's hand. As she came beneath
the lowering sky, a sense of being involved in a murky shade of Murder
dropped upon her; and, as the tidal swell of the river broke at her feet
without her seeing how it gathered, so, her thoughts startled her by
rushing out of an unseen void and striking at her heart.

Of her father's being groundlessly suspected, she felt sure. Sure. Sure.
And yet, repeat the word inwardly as often as she would, the attempt to
reason out and prove that she was sure, always came after it and failed.
Riderhood had done the deed, and entrapped her father. Riderhood had
not done the deed, but had resolved in his malice to turn against her
father, the appearances that were ready to his hand to distort. Equally
and swiftly upon either putting of the case, followed the frightful
possibility that her father, being innocent, yet might come to be
believed guilty. She had heard of people suffering Death for bloodshed
of which they were afterwards proved pure, and those ill-fated persons
were not, first, in that dangerous wrong in which her father stood. Then
at the best, the beginning of his being set apart, whispered against,
and avoided, was a certain fact. It dated from that very night. And as
the great black river with its dreary shores was soon lost to her view
in the gloom, so, she stood on the river's brink unable to see into the
vast blank misery of a life suspected, and fallen away from by good and
bad, but knowing that it lay there dim before her, stretching away to
the great ocean, Death.

One thing only, was clear to the girl's mind. Accustomed from her very
babyhood promptly to do the thing that could be done--whether to keep
out weather, to ward off cold, to postpone hunger, or what not--she
started out of her meditation, and ran home.

The room was quiet, and the lamp burnt on the table. In the bunk in the
corner, her brother lay asleep. She bent over him softly, kissed him,
and came to the table.

'By the time of Miss Abbey's closing, and by the run of the tide, it
must be one. Tide's running up. Father at Chiswick, wouldn't think of
coming down, till after the turn, and that's at half after four. I'll
call Charley at six. I shall hear the church-clocks strike, as I sit
here.'

Very quietly, she placed a chair before the scanty fire, and sat down in
it, drawing her shawl about her.

'Charley's hollow down by the flare is not there now. Poor Charley!'

The clock struck two, and the clock struck three, and the clock struck
four, and she remained there, with a woman's patience and her own
purpose. When the morning was well on between four and five, she slipped
off her shoes (that her going about, might not wake Charley), trimmed
the fire sparingly, put water on to boil, and set the table for
breakfast. Then she went up the ladder, lamp in hand, and came down
again, and glided about and about, making a little bundle. Lastly, from
her pocket, and from the chimney-piece, and from an inverted basin
on the highest shelf she brought halfpence, a few sixpences, fewer
shillings, and fell to laboriously and noiselessly counting them, and
setting aside one little heap. She was still so engaged, when she was
startled by:

'Hal-loa!' From her brother, sitting up in bed.

'You made me jump, Charley.'

'Jump! Didn't you make ME jump, when I opened my eyes a moment ago, and
saw you sitting there, like the ghost of a girl miser, in the dead of
the night.'

'It's not the dead of the night, Charley. It's nigh six in the morning.'

'Is it though? But what are you up to, Liz?'

'Still telling your fortune, Charley.'

'It seems to be a precious small one, if that's it,' said the boy. 'What
are you putting that little pile of money by itself for?'

'For you, Charley.'

'What do you mean?'

'Get out of bed, Charley, and get washed and dressed, and then I'll tell
you.'

Her composed manner, and her low distinct voice, always had an influence
over him. His head was soon in a basin of water, and out of it again,
and staring at her through a storm of towelling.

'I never,' towelling at himself as if he were his bitterest enemy, 'saw
such a girl as you are. What IS the move, Liz?'

'Are you almost ready for breakfast, Charley?'

'You can pour it out. Hal-loa! I say? And a bundle?'

'And a bundle, Charley.'

'You don't mean it's for me, too?'

'Yes, Charley; I do; indeed.'

More serious of face, and more slow of action, than he had been, the
boy completed his dressing, and came and sat down at the little
breakfast-table, with his eyes amazedly directed to her face.

'You see, Charley dear, I have made up my mind that this is the right
time for your going away from us. Over and above all the blessed change
of by-and-bye, you'll be much happier, and do much better, even so soon
as next month. Even so soon as next week.'

'How do you know I shall?'

'I don't quite know how, Charley, but I do.' In spite of her unchanged
manner of speaking, and her unchanged appearance of composure, she
scarcely trusted herself to look at him, but kept her eyes employed on
the cutting and buttering of his bread, and on the mixing of his tea,
and other such little preparations. 'You must leave father to me,
Charley--I will do what I can with him--but you must go.'

'You don't stand upon ceremony, I think,' grumbled the boy, throwing his
bread and butter about, in an ill-humour.

She made him no answer.

'I tell you what,' said the boy, then, bursting out into an angry
whimpering, 'you're a selfish jade, and you think there's not enough for
three of us, and you want to get rid of me.'

'If you believe so, Charley,--yes, then I believe too, that I am a
selfish jade, and that I think there's not enough for three of us, and
that I want to get rid of you.'

It was only when the boy rushed at her, and threw his arms round her
neck, that she lost her self-restraint. But she lost it then, and wept
over him.

'Don't cry, don't cry! I am satisfied to go, Liz; I am satisfied to go.
I know you send me away for my good.'

'O, Charley, Charley, Heaven above us knows I do!'

'Yes yes. Don't mind what I said. Don't remember it. Kiss me.'

After a silence, she loosed him, to dry her eyes and regain her strong
quiet influence.

'Now listen, Charley dear. We both know it must be done, and I alone
know there is good reason for its being done at once. Go straight to the
school, and say that you and I agreed upon it--that we can't overcome
father's opposition--that father will never trouble them, but will never
take you back. You are a credit to the school, and you will be a greater
credit to it yet, and they will help you to get a living. Show what
clothes you have brought, and what money, and say that I will send some
more money. If I can get some in no other way, I will ask a little help
of those two gentlemen who came here that night.'

'I say!' cried her brother, quickly. 'Don't you have it of that chap
that took hold of me by the chin! Don't you have it of that Wrayburn
one!'

Perhaps a slight additional tinge of red flushed up into her face and
brow, as with a nod she laid a hand upon his lips to keep him silently
attentive.

'And above all things mind this, Charley! Be sure you always speak well
of father. Be sure you always give father his full due. You can't deny
that because father has no learning himself he is set against it in
you; but favour nothing else against him, and be sure you say--as you
know--that your sister is devoted to him. And if you should ever happen
to hear anything said against father that is new to you, it will not be
true. Remember, Charley! It will not be true.'

The boy looked at her with some doubt and surprise, but she went on
again without heeding it.

'Above all things remember! It will not be true. I have nothing more to
say, Charley dear, except, be good, and get learning, and only think of
some things in the old life here, as if you had dreamed them in a dream
last night. Good-bye, my Darling!'

Though so young, she infused in these parting words a love that was far
more like a mother's than a sister's, and before which the boy was quite
bowed down. After holding her to his breast with a passionate cry, he
took up his bundle and darted out at the door, with an arm across his
eyes.

The white face of the winter day came sluggishly on, veiled in a
frosty mist; and the shadowy ships in the river slowly changed to black
substances; and the sun, blood-red on the eastern marshes behind dark
masts and yards, seemed filled with the ruins of a forest it had set on
fire. Lizzie, looking for her father, saw him coming, and stood upon the
causeway that he might see her.

He had nothing with him but his boat, and came on apace. A knot of those
amphibious human-creatures who appear to have some mysterious power
of extracting a subsistence out of tidal water by looking at it, were
gathered together about the causeway. As her father's boat grounded,
they became contemplative of the mud, and dispersed themselves. She saw
that the mute avoidance had begun.

Gaffer saw it, too, in so far as that he was moved when he set foot on
shore, to stare around him. But, he promptly set to work to haul up his
boat, and make her fast, and take the sculls and rudder and rope out of
her. Carrying these with Lizzie's aid, he passed up to his dwelling.

'Sit close to the fire, father, dear, while I cook your breakfast.
It's all ready for cooking, and only been waiting for you. You must be
frozen.'

'Well, Lizzie, I ain't of a glow; that's certain. And my hands seem
nailed through to the sculls. See how dead they are!' Something
suggestive in their colour, and perhaps in her face, struck him as he
held them up; he turned his shoulder and held them down to the fire.

'You were not out in the perishing night, I hope, father?'

'No, my dear. Lay aboard a barge, by a blazing coal-fire.--Where's that
boy?'

'There's a drop of brandy for your tea, father, if you'll put it in
while I turn this bit of meat. If the river was to get frozen, there
would be a deal of distress; wouldn't there, father?'

'Ah! there's always enough of that,' said Gaffer, dropping the liquor
into his cup from a squat black bottle, and dropping it slowly that it
might seem more; 'distress is for ever a going about, like sut in the
air--Ain't that boy up yet?'

'The meat's ready now, father. Eat it while it's hot and comfortable.
After you have finished, we'll turn round to the fire and talk.'

But, he perceived that he was evaded, and, having thrown a hasty angry
glance towards the bunk, plucked at a corner of her apron and asked:

'What's gone with that boy?'

'Father, if you'll begin your breakfast, I'll sit by and tell you.' He
looked at her, stirred his tea and took two or three gulps, then cut at
his piece of hot steak with his case-knife, and said, eating:

'Now then. What's gone with that boy?'

'Don't be angry, dear. It seems, father, that he has quite a gift of
learning.'

'Unnat'ral young beggar!' said the parent, shaking his knife in the air.

'And that having this gift, and not being equally good at other things,
he has made shift to get some schooling.'

'Unnat'ral young beggar!' said the parent again, with his former action.

'--And that knowing you have nothing to spare, father, and not wishing
to be a burden on you, he gradually made up his mind to go seek his
fortune out of learning. He went away this morning, father, and he cried
very much at going, and he hoped you would forgive him.'

'Let him never come a nigh me to ask me my forgiveness,' said the
father, again emphasizing his words with the knife. 'Let him never come
within sight of my eyes, nor yet within reach of my arm. His own father
ain't good enough for him. He's disowned his own father. His own father
therefore, disowns him for ever and ever, as a unnat'ral young beggar.'

He had pushed away his plate. With the natural need of a strong rough
man in anger, to do something forcible, he now clutched his knife
overhand, and struck downward with it at the end of every succeeding
sentence. As he would have struck with his own clenched fist if there
had chanced to be nothing in it.

'He's welcome to go. He's more welcome to go than to stay. But let him
never come back. Let him never put his head inside that door. And let
you never speak a word more in his favour, or you'll disown your own
father, likewise, and what your father says of him he'll have to come to
say of you. Now I see why them men yonder held aloof from me. They says
to one another, "Here comes the man as ain't good enough for his own
son!" Lizzie--!'

But, she stopped him with a cry. Looking at her he saw her, with a face
quite strange to him, shrinking back against the wall, with her hands
before her eyes.

'Father, don't! I can't bear to see you striking with it. Put it down!'

He looked at the knife; but in his astonishment still held it.

'Father, it's too horrible. O put it down, put it down!'

Confounded by her appearance and exclamation, he tossed it away, and
stood up with his open hands held out before him.

'What's come to you, Liz? Can you think I would strike at you with a
knife?'

'No, father, no; you would never hurt me.'

'What should I hurt?'

'Nothing, dear father. On my knees, I am certain, in my heart and soul
I am certain, nothing! But it was too dreadful to bear; for it looked--'
her hands covering her face again, 'O it looked--'

'What did it look like?'

The recollection of his murderous figure, combining with her trial of
last night, and her trial of the morning, caused her to drop at his
feet, without having answered.

He had never seen her so before. He raised her with the utmost
tenderness, calling her the best of daughters, and 'my poor pretty
creetur', and laid her head upon his knee, and tried to restore her. But
failing, he laid her head gently down again, got a pillow and placed it
under her dark hair, and sought on the table for a spoonful of brandy.
There being none left, he hurriedly caught up the empty bottle, and ran
out at the door.

He returned as hurriedly as he had gone, with the bottle still empty.
He kneeled down by her, took her head on his arm, and moistened her lips
with a little water into which he dipped his fingers: saying, fiercely,
as he looked around, now over this shoulder, now over that:

'Have we got a pest in the house? Is there summ'at deadly sticking to my
clothes? What's let loose upon us? Who loosed it?'



Chapter 7

MR WEGG LOOKS AFTER HIMSELF


Silas Wegg, being on his road to the Roman Empire, approaches it by way
of Clerkenwell. The time is early in the evening; the weather moist and
raw. Mr Wegg finds leisure to make a little circuit, by reason that he
folds his screen early, now that he combines another source of income
with it, and also that he feels it due to himself to be anxiously
expected at the Bower. 'Boffin will get all the eagerer for waiting a
bit,' says Silas, screwing up, as he stumps along, first his right eye,
and then his left. Which is something superfluous in him, for Nature has
already screwed both pretty tight.

'If I get on with him as I expect to get on,' Silas pursues, stumping
and meditating, 'it wouldn't become me to leave it here. It wouldn't he
respectable.' Animated by this reflection, he stumps faster, and looks
a long way before him, as a man with an ambitious project in abeyance
often will do.

Aware of a working-jeweller population taking sanctuary about the church
in Clerkenwell, Mr Wegg is conscious of an interest in, and a respect
for, the neighbourhood. But, his sensations in this regard halt as to
their strict morality, as he halts in his gait; for, they suggest the
delights of a coat of invisibility in which to walk off safely with the
precious stones and watch-cases, but stop short of any compunction for
the people who would lose the same.

Not, however, towards the 'shops' where cunning artificers work in
pearls and diamonds and gold and silver, making their hands so rich,
that the enriched water in which they wash them is bought for the
refiners;--not towards these does Mr Wegg stump, but towards the poorer
shops of small retail traders in commodities to eat and drink and keep
folks warm, and of Italian frame-makers, and of barbers, and of brokers,
and of dealers in dogs and singing-birds. From these, in a narrow and
a dirty street devoted to such callings, Mr Wegg selects one dark
shop-window with a tallow candle dimly burning in it, surrounded by a
muddle of objects vaguely resembling pieces of leather and dry stick,
but among which nothing is resolvable into anything distinct, save
the candle itself in its old tin candlestick, and two preserved frogs
fighting a small-sword duel. Stumping with fresh vigour, he goes in at
the dark greasy entry, pushes a little greasy dark reluctant side-door,
and follows the door into the little dark greasy shop. It is so dark
that nothing can be made out in it, over a little counter, but another
tallow candle in another old tin candlestick, close to the face of a man
stooping low in a chair.

Mr Wegg nods to the face, 'Good evening.'

The face looking up is a sallow face with weak eyes, surmounted by a
tangle of reddish-dusty hair. The owner of the face has no cravat on,
and has opened his tumbled shirt-collar to work with the more ease.
For the same reason he has no coat on: only a loose waistcoat over his
yellow linen. His eyes are like the over-tried eyes of an engraver, but
he is not that; his expression and stoop are like those of a shoemaker,
but he is not that.

'Good evening, Mr Venus. Don't you remember?'

With slowly dawning remembrance, Mr Venus rises, and holds his candle
over the little counter, and holds it down towards the legs, natural and
artificial, of Mr Wegg.

'To be SURE!' he says, then. 'How do you do?'

'Wegg, you know,' that gentleman explains.

'Yes, yes,' says the other. 'Hospital amputation?'

'Just so,' says Mr Wegg.

'Yes, yes,' quoth Venus. 'How do you do? Sit down by the fire, and warm
your--your other one.'

'The little counter being so short a counter that it leaves the
fireplace, which would have been behind it if it had been longer,
accessible, Mr Wegg sits down on a box in front of the fire, and inhales
a warm and comfortable smell which is not the smell of the shop. 'For
that,' Mr Wegg inwardly decides, as he takes a corrective sniff or two,
'is musty, leathery, feathery, cellary, gluey, gummy, and,' with another
sniff, 'as it might be, strong of old pairs of bellows.'

'My tea is drawing, and my muffin is on the hob, Mr Wegg; will you
partake?'

It being one of Mr Wegg's guiding rules in life always to partake, he
says he will. But, the little shop is so excessively dark, is stuck so
full of black shelves and brackets and nooks and corners, that he sees
Mr Venus's cup and saucer only because it is close under the candle, and
does not see from what mysterious recess Mr Venus produces another
for himself until it is under his nose. Concurrently, Wegg perceives a
pretty little dead bird lying on the counter, with its head drooping
on one side against the rim of Mr Venus's saucer, and a long stiff wire
piercing its breast. As if it were Cock Robin, the hero of the ballad,
and Mr Venus were the sparrow with his bow and arrow, and Mr Wegg were
the fly with his little eye.

Mr Venus dives, and produces another muffin, yet untoasted; taking the
arrow out of the breast of Cock Robin, he proceeds to toast it on the
end of that cruel instrument. When it is brown, he dives again and
produces butter, with which he completes his work.

Mr Wegg, as an artful man who is sure of his supper by-and-bye, presses
muffin on his host to soothe him into a compliant state of mind, or, as
one might say, to grease his works. As the muffins disappear, little by
little, the black shelves and nooks and corners begin to appear, and Mr
Wegg gradually acquires an imperfect notion that over against him on the
chimney-piece is a Hindoo baby in a bottle, curved up with his big
head tucked under him, as he would instantly throw a summersault if the
bottle were large enough.

When he deems Mr Venus's wheels sufficiently lubricated, Mr Wegg
approaches his object by asking, as he lightly taps his hands together,
to express an undesigning frame of mind:

'And how have I been going on, this long time, Mr Venus?'

'Very bad,' says Mr Venus, uncompromisingly.

'What? Am I still at home?' asks Wegg, with an air of surprise.

'Always at home.'

This would seem to be secretly agreeable to Wegg, but he veils his
feelings, and observes, 'Strange. To what do you attribute it?'

'I don't know,' replies Venus, who is a haggard melancholy man, speaking
in a weak voice of querulous complaint, 'to what to attribute it, Mr
Wegg. I can't work you into a miscellaneous one, no how. Do what I will,
you can't be got to fit. Anybody with a passable knowledge would pick
you out at a look, and say,--"No go! Don't match!"'

'Well, but hang it, Mr Venus,' Wegg expostulates with some little
irritation, 'that can't be personal and peculiar in ME. It must often
happen with miscellaneous ones.'

'With ribs (I grant you) always. But not else. When I prepare a
miscellaneous one, I know beforehand that I can't keep to nature, and
be miscellaneous with ribs, because every man has his own ribs, and no
other man's will go with them; but elseways I can be miscellaneous. I
have just sent home a Beauty--a perfect Beauty--to a school of art. One
leg Belgian, one leg English, and the pickings of eight other people in
it. Talk of not being qualified to be miscellaneous! By rights you OUGHT
to be, Mr Wegg.'

Silas looks as hard at his one leg as he can in the dim light, and after
a pause sulkily opines 'that it must be the fault of the other people.
Or how do you mean to say it comes about?' he demands impatiently.

'I don't know how it comes about. Stand up a minute. Hold the light.'
Mr Venus takes from a corner by his chair, the bones of a leg and foot,
beautifully pure, and put together with exquisite neatness. These he
compares with Mr Wegg's leg; that gentleman looking on, as if he were
being measured for a riding-boot. 'No, I don't know how it is, but so it
is. You have got a twist in that bone, to the best of my belief. I never
saw the likes of you.'

Mr Wegg having looked distrustfully at his own limb, and suspiciously at
the pattern with which it has been compared, makes the point:

'I'll bet a pound that ain't an English one!'

'An easy wager, when we run so much into foreign! No, it belongs to that
French gentleman.'

As he nods towards a point of darkness behind Mr Wegg, the latter, with
a slight start, looks round for 'that French gentleman,' whom he at
length descries to be represented (in a very workmanlike manner) by his
ribs only, standing on a shelf in another corner, like a piece of armour
or a pair of stays.

'Oh!' says Mr Wegg, with a sort of sense of being introduced; 'I
dare say you were all right enough in your own country, but I hope no
objections will be taken to my saying that the Frenchman was never yet
born as I should wish to match.'

At this moment the greasy door is violently pushed inward, and a boy
follows it, who says, after having let it slam:

'Come for the stuffed canary.'

'It's three and ninepence,' returns Venus; 'have you got the money?'

The boy produces four shillings. Mr Venus, always in exceedingly low
spirits and making whimpering sounds, peers about for the stuffed
canary. On his taking the candle to assist his search, Mr Wegg observes
that he has a convenient little shelf near his knees, exclusively
appropriated to skeleton hands, which have very much the appearance of
wanting to lay hold of him. From these Mr Venus rescues the canary in a
glass case, and shows it to the boy.

'There!' he whimpers. 'There's animation! On a twig, making up his mind
to hop! Take care of him; he's a lovely specimen.--And three is four.'

The boy gathers up his change and has pulled the door open by a leather
strap nailed to it for the purpose, when Venus cries out:

'Stop him! Come back, you young villain! You've got a tooth among them
halfpence.'

'How was I to know I'd got it? You giv it me. I don't want none of your
teeth; I've got enough of my own.' So the boy pipes, as he selects it
from his change, and throws it on the counter.

'Don't sauce ME, in the wicious pride of your youth,' Mr Venus retorts
pathetically.' Don't hit ME because you see I'm down. I'm low enough
without that. It dropped into the till, I suppose. They drop into
everything. There was two in the coffee-pot at breakfast time. Molars.'

'Very well, then,' argues the boy, 'what do you call names for?'

To which Mr Venus only replies, shaking his shock of dusty hair, and
winking his weak eyes, 'Don't sauce ME, in the wicious pride of your
youth; don't hit ME, because you see I'm down. You've no idea how small
you'd come out, if I had the articulating of you.'

This consideration seems to have its effect on the boy, for he goes out
grumbling.

'Oh dear me, dear me!' sighs Mr Venus, heavily, snuffing the candle,
'the world that appeared so flowery has ceased to blow! You're casting
your eye round the shop, Mr Wegg. Let me show you a light. My working
bench. My young man's bench. A Wice. Tools. Bones, warious. Skulls,
warious. Preserved Indian baby. African ditto. Bottled preparations,
warious. Everything within reach of your hand, in good preservation.
The mouldy ones a-top. What's in those hampers over them again, I don't
quite remember. Say, human warious. Cats. Articulated English baby.
Dogs. Ducks. Glass eyes, warious. Mummied bird. Dried cuticle, warious.
Oh, dear me! That's the general panoramic view.'

Having so held and waved the candle as that all these heterogeneous
objects seemed to come forward obediently when they were named, and
then retire again, Mr Venus despondently repeats, 'Oh dear me, dear
me!' resumes his seat, and with drooping despondency upon him, falls to
pouring himself out more tea.

'Where am I?' asks Mr Wegg.

'You're somewhere in the back shop across the yard, sir; and speaking
quite candidly, I wish I'd never bought you of the Hospital Porter.'

'Now, look here, what did you give for me?'

'Well,' replies Venus, blowing his tea: his head and face peering out
of the darkness, over the smoke of it, as if he were modernizing the old
original rise in his family: 'you were one of a warious lot, and I don't
know.'

Silas puts his point in the improved form of 'What will you take for
me?'

'Well,' replies Venus, still blowing his tea, 'I'm not prepared, at a
moment's notice, to tell you, Mr Wegg.'

'Come! According to your own account I'm not worth much,' Wegg reasons
persuasively.

'Not for miscellaneous working in, I grant you, Mr Wegg; but you might
turn out valuable yet, as a--' here Mr Venus takes a gulp of tea, so
hot that it makes him choke, and sets his weak eyes watering; 'as a
Monstrosity, if you'll excuse me.'

Repressing an indignant look, indicative of anything but a disposition
to excuse him, Silas pursues his point.

'I think you know me, Mr Venus, and I think you know I never bargain.'

Mr Venus takes gulps of hot tea, shutting his eyes at every gulp, and
opening them again in a spasmodic manner; but does not commit himself to
assent.

'I have a prospect of getting on in life and elevating myself by my own
independent exertions,' says Wegg, feelingly, 'and I shouldn't like--I
tell you openly I should NOT like--under such circumstances, to be what
I may call dispersed, a part of me here, and a part of me there, but
should wish to collect myself like a genteel person.'

'It's a prospect at present, is it, Mr Wegg? Then you haven't got the
money for a deal about you? Then I'll tell you what I'll do with you;
I'll hold you over. I am a man of my word, and you needn't be afraid of
my disposing of you. I'll hold you over. That's a promise. Oh dear me,
dear me!'

Fain to accept his promise, and wishing to propitiate him, Mr Wegg looks
on as he sighs and pours himself out more tea, and then says, trying to
get a sympathetic tone into his voice:

'You seem very low, Mr Venus. Is business bad?'

'Never was so good.'

'Is your hand out at all?'

'Never was so well in. Mr Wegg, I'm not only first in the trade, but I'm
THE trade. You may go and buy a skeleton at the West End if you like,
and pay the West End price, but it'll be my putting together. I've as
much to do as I can possibly do, with the assistance of my young man,
and I take a pride and a pleasure in it.'

Mr Venus thus delivers himself, his right hand extended, his smoking
saucer in his left hand, protesting as though he were going to burst
into a flood of tears.

'That ain't a state of things to make you low, Mr Venus.'

'Mr Wegg, I know it ain't. Mr Wegg, not to name myself as a workman
without an equal, I've gone on improving myself in my knowledge of
Anatomy, till both by sight and by name I'm perfect. Mr Wegg, if you was
brought here loose in a bag to be articulated, I'd name your smallest
bones blindfold equally with your largest, as fast as I could pick 'em
out, and I'd sort 'em all, and sort your wertebrae, in a manner that
would equally surprise and charm you.'

'Well,' remarks Silas (though not quite so readily as last time), 'THAT
ain't a state of things to be low about.--Not for YOU to be low about,
leastways.'

'Mr Wegg, I know it ain't; Mr Wegg, I know it ain't. But it's the heart
that lowers me, it is the heart! Be so good as take and read that card
out loud.'

Silas receives one from his hand, which Venus takes from a wonderful
litter in a drawer, and putting on his spectacles, reads:

'"Mr Venus,"'

'Yes. Go on.'

'"Preserver of Animals and Birds,"'

'Yes. Go on.'

'"Articulator of human bones."'

'That's it,' with a groan. 'That's it! Mr Wegg, I'm thirty-two, and a
bachelor. Mr Wegg, I love her. Mr Wegg, she is worthy of being loved by
a Potentate!' Here Silas is rather alarmed by Mr Venus's springing to
his feet in the hurry of his spirits, and haggardly confronting him with
his hand on his coat collar; but Mr Venus, begging pardon, sits down
again, saying, with the calmness of despair, 'She objects to the
business.'

'Does she know the profits of it?'

'She knows the profits of it, but she don't appreciate the art of
it, and she objects to it. "I do not wish," she writes in her own
handwriting, "to regard myself, nor yet to be regarded, in that boney
light".'

Mr Venus pours himself out more tea, with a look and in an attitude of
the deepest desolation.

'And so a man climbs to the top of the tree, Mr Wegg, only to see that
there's no look-out when he's up there! I sit here of a night surrounded
by the lovely trophies of my art, and what have they done for me? Ruined
me. Brought me to the pass of being informed that "she does not wish to
regard herself, nor yet to be regarded, in that boney light"!' Having
repeated the fatal expressions, Mr Venus drinks more tea by gulps, and
offers an explanation of his doing so.

'It lowers me. When I'm equally lowered all over, lethargy sets in. By
sticking to it till one or two in the morning, I get oblivion. Don't let
me detain you, Mr Wegg. I'm not company for any one.'

'It is not on that account,' says Silas, rising, 'but because I've got
an appointment. It's time I was at Harmon's.'

'Eh?' said Mr Venus. 'Harmon's, up Battle Bridge way?'

Mr Wegg admits that he is bound for that port.

'You ought to be in a good thing, if you've worked yourself in there.
There's lots of money going, there.'

'To think,' says Silas, 'that you should catch it up so quick, and know
about it. Wonderful!'

'Not at all, Mr Wegg. The old gentleman wanted to know the nature and
worth of everything that was found in the dust; and many's the bone, and
feather, and what not, that he's brought to me.'

'Really, now!'

'Yes. (Oh dear me, dear me!) And he's buried quite in this
neighbourhood, you know. Over yonder.'

Mr Wegg does not know, but he makes as if he did, by responsively
nodding his head. He also follows with his eyes, the toss of Venus's
head: as if to seek a direction to over yonder.

'I took an interest in that discovery in the river,' says Venus.
(She hadn't written her cutting refusal at that time.) I've got up
there--never mind, though.'

He had raised the candle at arm's length towards one of the dark
shelves, and Mr Wegg had turned to look, when he broke off.

'The old gentleman was well known all round here. There used to be
stories about his having hidden all kinds of property in those dust
mounds. I suppose there was nothing in 'em. Probably you know, Mr Wegg?'

'Nothing in 'em,' says Wegg, who has never heard a word of this before.

'Don't let me detain you. Good night!'

The unfortunate Mr Venus gives him a shake of the hand with a shake of
his own head, and drooping down in his chair, proceeds to pour himself
out more tea. Mr Wegg, looking back over his shoulder as he pulls the
door open by the strap, notices that the movement so shakes the crazy
shop, and so shakes a momentary flare out of the candle, as that the
babies--Hindoo, African, and British--the 'human warious', the French
gentleman, the green glass-eyed cats, the dogs, the ducks, and all
the rest of the collection, show for an instant as if paralytically
animated; while even poor little Cock Robin at Mr Venus's elbow turns
over on his innocent side. Next moment, Mr Wegg is stumping under the
gaslights and through the mud.



Chapter 8

MR BOFFIN IN CONSULTATION


Whosoever had gone out of Fleet Street into the Temple at the date of
this history, and had wandered disconsolate about the Temple until he
stumbled on a dismal churchyard, and had looked up at the dismal windows
commanding that churchyard until at the most dismal window of them
all he saw a dismal boy, would in him have beheld, at one grand
comprehensive swoop of the eye, the managing clerk, junior clerk,
common-law clerk, conveyancing clerk, chancery clerk, every refinement
and department of clerk, of Mr Mortimer Lightwood, erewhile called in
the newspapers eminent solicitor.

Mr Boffin having been several times in communication with this clerkly
essence, both on its own ground and at the Bower, had no difficulty in
identifying it when he saw it up in its dusty eyrie. To the second floor
on which the window was situated, he ascended, much pre-occupied in mind
by the uncertainties besetting the Roman Empire, and much regretting the
death of the amiable Pertinax: who only last night had left the Imperial
affairs in a state of great confusion, by falling a victim to the fury
of the praetorian guards.

'Morning, morning, morning!' said Mr Boffin, with a wave of his hand, as
the office door was opened by the dismal boy, whose appropriate name was
Blight. 'Governor in?'

'Mr Lightwood gave you an appointment, sir, I think?'

'I don't want him to give it, you know,' returned Mr Boffin; 'I'll pay
my way, my boy.'

'No doubt, sir. Would you walk in? Mr Lightwood ain't in at the present
moment, but I expect him back very shortly. Would you take a seat in Mr
Lightwood's room, sir, while I look over our Appointment Book?'
Young Blight made a great show of fetching from his desk a long thin
manuscript volume with a brown paper cover, and running his finger down
the day's appointments, murmuring, 'Mr Aggs, Mr Baggs, Mr Caggs, Mr
Daggs, Mr Faggs, Mr Gaggs, Mr Boffin. Yes, sir; quite right. You are a
little before your time, sir. Mr Lightwood will be in directly.'

'I'm not in a hurry,' said Mr Boffin

'Thank you, sir. I'll take the opportunity, if you please, of entering
your name in our Callers' Book for the day.' Young Blight made another
great show of changing the volume, taking up a pen, sucking it, dipping
it, and running over previous entries before he wrote. As, 'Mr Alley,
Mr Balley, Mr Calley, Mr Dalley, Mr Falley, Mr Galley, Mr Halley, Mr
Lalley, Mr Malley. And Mr Boffin.'

'Strict system here; eh, my lad?' said Mr Boffin, as he was booked.

'Yes, sir,' returned the boy. 'I couldn't get on without it.'

By which he probably meant that his mind would have been shattered to
pieces without this fiction of an occupation. Wearing in his solitary
confinement no fetters that he could polish, and being provided with no
drinking-cup that he could carve, he had fallen on the device of ringing
alphabetical changes into the two volumes in question, or of entering
vast numbers of persons out of the Directory as transacting business
with Mr Lightwood. It was the more necessary for his spirits, because,
being of a sensitive temperament, he was apt to consider it personally
disgraceful to himself that his master had no clients.

'How long have you been in the law, now?' asked Mr Boffin, with a
pounce, in his usual inquisitive way.

'I've been in the law, now, sir, about three years.'

'Must have been as good as born in it!' said Mr Boffin, with admiration.
'Do you like it?'

'I don't mind it much,' returned Young Blight, heaving a sigh, as if its
bitterness were past.

'What wages do you get?'

'Half what I could wish,' replied young Blight.

'What's the whole that you could wish?'

'Fifteen shillings a week,' said the boy.

'About how long might it take you now, at a average rate of going, to be
a Judge?' asked Mr Boffin, after surveying his small stature in silence.

The boy answered that he had not yet quite worked out that little
calculation.

'I suppose there's nothing to prevent your going in for it?' said Mr
Boffin.

The boy virtually replied that as he had the honour to be a Briton who
never never never, there was nothing to prevent his going in for it. Yet
he seemed inclined to suspect that there might be something to prevent
his coming out with it.

'Would a couple of pound help you up at all?' asked Mr Boffin.

On this head, young Blight had no doubt whatever, so Mr Boffin made him
a present of that sum of money, and thanked him for his attention to his
(Mr Boffin's) affairs; which, he added, were now, he believed, as good
as settled.

Then Mr Boffin, with his stick at his ear, like a Familiar Spirit
explaining the office to him, sat staring at a little bookcase of Law
Practice and Law Reports, and at a window, and at an empty blue bag, and
at a stick of sealing-wax, and a pen, and a box of wafers, and an apple,
and a writing-pad--all very dusty--and at a number of inky smears
and blots, and at an imperfectly-disguised gun-case pretending to be
something legal, and at an iron box labelled HARMON ESTATE, until Mr
Lightwood appeared.

Mr Lightwood explained that he came from the proctor's, with whom he had
been engaged in transacting Mr Boffin's affairs.

'And they seem to have taken a deal out of you!' said Mr Boffin, with
commiseration.

Mr Lightwood, without explaining that his weariness was chronic,
proceeded with his exposition that, all forms of law having been at
length complied with, will of Harmon deceased having been proved, death
of Harmon next inheriting having been proved, &c., and so forth, Court
of Chancery having been moved, &c. and so forth, he, Mr Lightwood, had
now the gratification, honour, and happiness, again &c. and so forth, of
congratulating Mr Boffin on coming into possession as residuary legatee,
of upwards of one hundred thousand pounds, standing in the books of the
Governor and Company of the Bank of England, again &c. and so forth.

'And what is particularly eligible in the property Mr Boffin, is, that
it involves no trouble. There are no estates to manage, no rents to
return so much per cent upon in bad times (which is an extremely dear
way of getting your name into the newspapers), no voters to become
parboiled in hot water with, no agents to take the cream off the
milk before it comes to table. You could put the whole in a cash-box
to-morrow morning, and take it with you to--say, to the Rocky Mountains.
Inasmuch as every man,' concluded Mr Lightwood, with an indolent smile,
'appears to be under a fatal spell which obliges him, sooner or later,
to mention the Rocky Mountains in a tone of extreme familiarity to some
other man, I hope you'll excuse my pressing you into the service of that
gigantic range of geographical bores.'

Without following this last remark very closely, Mr Boffin cast his
perplexed gaze first at the ceiling, and then at the carpet.

'Well,' he remarked, 'I don't know what to say about it, I am sure. I
was a'most as well as I was. It's a great lot to take care of.'

'My dear Mr Boffin, then DON'T take care of it!'

'Eh?' said that gentleman.

'Speaking now,' returned Mortimer, 'with the irresponsible imbecility
of a private individual, and not with the profundity of a professional
adviser, I should say that if the circumstance of its being too much,
weighs upon your mind, you have the haven of consolation open to you
that you can easily make it less. And if you should be apprehensive of
the trouble of doing so, there is the further haven of consolation that
any number of people will take the trouble off your hands.'

'Well! I don't quite see it,' retorted Mr Boffin, still perplexed.
'That's not satisfactory, you know, what you're a-saying.'

'Is Anything satisfactory, Mr Boffin?' asked Mortimer, raising his
eyebrows.

'I used to find it so,' answered Mr Boffin, with a wistful look. 'While
I was foreman at the Bower--afore it WAS the Bower--I considered the
business very satisfactory. The old man was a awful Tartar (saying
it, I'm sure, without disrespect to his memory) but the business was
a pleasant one to look after, from before daylight to past dark. It's
a'most a pity,' said Mr Boffin, rubbing his ear, 'that he ever went and
made so much money. It would have been better for him if he hadn't so
given himself up to it. You may depend upon it,' making the discovery
all of a sudden, 'that HE found it a great lot to take care of!'

Mr Lightwood coughed, not convinced.

'And speaking of satisfactory,' pursued Mr Boffin, 'why, Lord save
us! when we come to take it to pieces, bit by bit, where's the
satisfactoriness of the money as yet? When the old man does right the
poor boy after all, the poor boy gets no good of it. He gets made away
with, at the moment when he's lifting (as one may say) the cup and
sarser to his lips. Mr Lightwood, I will now name to you, that on behalf
of the poor dear boy, me and Mrs Boffin have stood out against the old
man times out of number, till he has called us every name he could lay
his tongue to. I have seen him, after Mrs Boffin has given him her mind
respecting the claims of the nat'ral affections, catch off Mrs Boffin's
bonnet (she wore, in general, a black straw, perched as a matter of
convenience on the top of her head), and send it spinning across
the yard. I have indeed. And once, when he did this in a manner that
amounted to personal, I should have given him a rattler for himself, if
Mrs Boffin hadn't thrown herself betwixt us, and received flush on the
temple. Which dropped her, Mr Lightwood. Dropped her.'

Mr Lightwood murmured 'Equal honour--Mrs Boffin's head and heart.'

'You understand; I name this,' pursued Mr Boffin, 'to show you, now the
affairs are wound up, that me and Mrs Boffin have ever stood as we were
in Christian honour bound, the children's friend. Me and Mrs Boffin
stood the poor girl's friend; me and Mrs Boffin stood the poor boy's
friend; me and Mrs Boffin up and faced the old man when we momently
expected to be turned out for our pains. As to Mrs Boffin,' said Mr
Boffin lowering his voice, 'she mightn't wish it mentioned now she's
Fashionable, but she went so far as to tell him, in my presence, he was
a flinty-hearted rascal.'

Mr Lightwood murmured 'Vigorous Saxon spirit--Mrs Boffin's
ancestors--bowmen--Agincourt and Cressy.'

'The last time me and Mrs Boffin saw the poor boy,' said Mr Boffin,
warming (as fat usually does) with a tendency to melt, 'he was a child
of seven year old. For when he came back to make intercession for his
sister, me and Mrs Boffin were away overlooking a country contract which
was to be sifted before carted, and he was come and gone in a single
hour. I say he was a child of seven year old. He was going away, all
alone and forlorn, to that foreign school, and he come into our place,
situate up the yard of the present Bower, to have a warm at our fire.
There was his little scanty travelling clothes upon him. There was his
little scanty box outside in the shivering wind, which I was going to
carry for him down to the steamboat, as the old man wouldn't hear of
allowing a sixpence coach-money. Mrs Boffin, then quite a young woman
and pictur of a full-blown rose, stands him by her, kneels down at the
fire, warms her two open hands, and falls to rubbing his cheeks; but
seeing the tears come into the child's eyes, the tears come fast into
her own, and she holds him round the neck, like as if she was protecting
him, and cries to me, "I'd give the wide wide world, I would, to run
away with him!" I don't say but what it cut me, and but what it at the
same time heightened my feelings of admiration for Mrs Boffin. The poor
child clings to her for awhile, as she clings to him, and then, when
the old man calls, he says "I must go! God bless you!" and for a moment
rests his heart against her bosom, and looks up at both of us, as if it
was in pain--in agony. Such a look! I went aboard with him (I gave him
first what little treat I thought he'd like), and I left him when he had
fallen asleep in his berth, and I came back to Mrs Boffin. But tell
her what I would of how I had left him, it all went for nothing, for,
according to her thoughts, he never changed that look that he had looked
up at us two. But it did one piece of good. Mrs Boffin and me had no
child of our own, and had sometimes wished that how we had one. But not
now. "We might both of us die," says Mrs Boffin, "and other eyes might
see that lonely look in our child." So of a night, when it was very
cold, or when the wind roared, or the rain dripped heavy, she would
wake sobbing, and call out in a fluster, "Don't you see the poor child's
face? O shelter the poor child!"--till in course of years it gently wore
out, as many things do.'

'My dear Mr Boffin, everything wears to rags,' said Mortimer, with a
light laugh.

'I won't go so far as to say everything,' returned Mr Boffin, on whom
his manner seemed to grate, 'because there's some things that I never
found among the dust. Well, sir. So Mrs Boffin and me grow older and
older in the old man's service, living and working pretty hard in it,
till the old man is discovered dead in his bed. Then Mrs Boffin and me
seal up his box, always standing on the table at the side of his bed,
and having frequently heerd tell of the Temple as a spot where lawyer's
dust is contracted for, I come down here in search of a lawyer to
advise, and I see your young man up at this present elevation, chopping
at the flies on the window-sill with his penknife, and I give him a Hoy!
not then having the pleasure of your acquaintance, and by that
means come to gain the honour. Then you, and the gentleman in the
uncomfortable neck-cloth under the little archway in Saint Paul's
Churchyard--'

'Doctors' Commons,' observed Lightwood.

'I understood it was another name,' said Mr Boffin, pausing, 'but you
know best. Then you and Doctor Scommons, you go to work, and you do the
thing that's proper, and you and Doctor S. take steps for finding out
the poor boy, and at last you do find out the poor boy, and me and Mrs
Boffin often exchange the observation, "We shall see him again,
under happy circumstances." But it was never to be; and the want of
satisfactoriness is, that after all the money never gets to him.'

'But it gets,' remarked Lightwood, with a languid inclination of the
head, 'into excellent hands.'

'It gets into the hands of me and Mrs Boffin only this very day and
hour, and that's what I am working round to, having waited for this day
and hour a' purpose. Mr Lightwood, here has been a wicked cruel
murder. By that murder me and Mrs Boffin mysteriously profit. For the
apprehension and conviction of the murderer, we offer a reward of one
tithe of the property--a reward of Ten Thousand Pound.'

'Mr Boffin, it's too much.'

'Mr Lightwood, me and Mrs Boffin have fixed the sum together, and we
stand to it.'

'But let me represent to you,' returned Lightwood, 'speaking now with
professional profundity, and not with individual imbecility, that the
offer of such an immense reward is a temptation to forced suspicion,
forced construction of circumstances, strained accusation, a whole
tool-box of edged tools.'

'Well,' said Mr Boffin, a little staggered, 'that's the sum we put o'
one side for the purpose. Whether it shall be openly declared in the new
notices that must now be put about in our names--'

'In your name, Mr Boffin; in your name.'

'Very well; in my name, which is the same as Mrs Boffin's, and means
both of us, is to be considered in drawing 'em up. But this is the first
instruction that I, as the owner of the property, give to my lawyer on
coming into it.'

'Your lawyer, Mr Boffin,' returned Lightwood, making a very short
note of it with a very rusty pen, 'has the gratification of taking the
instruction. There is another?'

'There is just one other, and no more. Make me as compact a little will
as can be reconciled with tightness, leaving the whole of the property
to "my beloved wife, Henerietty Boffin, sole executrix". Make it as
short as you can, using those words; but make it tight.'

At some loss to fathom Mr Boffin's notions of a tight will, Lightwood
felt his way.

'I beg your pardon, but professional profundity must be exact. When you
say tight--'

'I mean tight,' Mr Boffin explained.

'Exactly so. And nothing can be more laudable. But is the tightness to
bind Mrs Boffin to any and what conditions?'

'Bind Mrs Boffin?' interposed her husband. 'No! What are you thinking
of! What I want is, to make it all hers so tight as that her hold of it
can't be loosed.'

'Hers freely, to do what she likes with? Hers absolutely?'

'Absolutely?' repeated Mr Boffin, with a short sturdy laugh. 'Hah! I
should think so! It would be handsome in me to begin to bind Mrs Boffin
at this time of day!'

So that instruction, too, was taken by Mr Lightwood; and Mr Lightwood,
having taken it, was in the act of showing Mr Boffin out, when Mr Eugene
Wrayburn almost jostled him in the door-way. Consequently Mr Lightwood
said, in his cool manner, 'Let me make you two known to one another,'
and further signified that Mr Wrayburn was counsel learned in the
law, and that, partly in the way of business and partly in the way of
pleasure, he had imparted to Mr Wrayburn some of the interesting facts
of Mr Boffin's biography.

'Delighted,' said Eugene--though he didn't look so--'to know Mr Boffin.'

'Thankee, sir, thankee,' returned that gentleman. 'And how do YOU like
the law?'

'A--not particularly,' returned Eugene.

'Too dry for you, eh? Well, I suppose it wants some years of sticking
to, before you master it. But there's nothing like work. Look at the
bees.'

'I beg your pardon,' returned Eugene, with a reluctant smile, 'but will
you excuse my mentioning that I always protest against being referred to
the bees?'

'Do you!' said Mr Boffin.

'I object on principle,' said Eugene, 'as a biped--'

'As a what?' asked Mr Boffin.

'As a two-footed creature;--I object on principle, as a two-footed
creature, to being constantly referred to insects and four-footed
creatures. I object to being required to model my proceedings according
to the proceedings of the bee, or the dog, or the spider, or the camel.
I fully admit that the camel, for instance, is an excessively temperate
person; but he has several stomachs to entertain himself with, and I
have only one. Besides, I am not fitted up with a convenient cool cellar
to keep my drink in.'

'But I said, you know,' urged Mr Boffin, rather at a loss for an answer,
'the bee.'

'Exactly. And may I represent to you that it's injudicious to say the
bee? For the whole case is assumed. Conceding for a moment that there is
any analogy between a bee, and a man in a shirt and pantaloons (which
I deny), and that it is settled that the man is to learn from the bee
(which I also deny), the question still remains, what is he to learn?
To imitate? Or to avoid? When your friends the bees worry themselves to
that highly fluttered extent about their sovereign, and become perfectly
distracted touching the slightest monarchical movement, are we men to
learn the greatness of Tuft-hunting, or the littleness of the
Court Circular? I am not clear, Mr Boffin, but that the hive may be
satirical.'

'At all events, they work,' said Mr Boffin.

'Ye-es,' returned Eugene, disparagingly, 'they work; but don't you think
they overdo it? They work so much more than they need--they make so much
more than they can eat--they are so incessantly boring and buzzing at
their one idea till Death comes upon them--that don't you think they
overdo it? And are human labourers to have no holidays, because of the
bees? And am I never to have change of air, because the bees don't? Mr
Boffin, I think honey excellent at breakfast; but, regarded in the light
of my conventional schoolmaster and moralist, I protest against the
tyrannical humbug of your friend the bee. With the highest respect for
you.'

'Thankee,' said Mr Boffin. 'Morning, morning!'

But, the worthy Mr Boffin jogged away with a comfortless impression he
could have dispensed with, that there was a deal of unsatisfactoriness
in the world, besides what he had recalled as appertaining to the Harmon
property. And he was still jogging along Fleet Street in this condition
of mind, when he became aware that he was closely tracked and observed
by a man of genteel appearance.

'Now then?' said Mr Boffin, stopping short, with his meditations brought
to an abrupt check, 'what's the next article?'

'I beg your pardon, Mr Boffin.'

'My name too, eh? How did you come by it? I don't know you.'

'No, sir, you don't know me.'

Mr Boffin looked full at the man, and the man looked full at him.

'No,' said Mr Boffin, after a glance at the pavement, as if it were made
of faces and he were trying to match the man's, 'I DON'T know you.'

'I am nobody,' said the stranger, 'and not likely to be known; but Mr
Boffin's wealth--'

'Oh! that's got about already, has it?' muttered Mr Boffin.

'--And his romantic manner of acquiring it, make him conspicuous. You
were pointed out to me the other day.'

'Well,' said Mr Boffin, 'I should say I was a disappintment to you when
I WAS pinted out, if your politeness would allow you to confess it, for
I am well aware I am not much to look at. What might you want with me?
Not in the law, are you?'

'No, sir.'

'No information to give, for a reward?'

'No, sir.'

There may have been a momentary mantling in the face of the man as he
made the last answer, but it passed directly.

'If I don't mistake, you have followed me from my lawyer's and tried
to fix my attention. Say out! Have you? Or haven't you?' demanded Mr
Boffin, rather angry.

'Yes.'

'Why have you?'

'If you will allow me to walk beside you, Mr Boffin, I will tell you.
Would you object to turn aside into this place--I think it is called
Clifford's Inn--where we can hear one another better than in the roaring
street?'

('Now,' thought Mr Boffin, 'if he proposes a game at skittles, or meets
a country gentleman just come into property, or produces any article
of jewellery he has found, I'll knock him down!' With this discreet
reflection, and carrying his stick in his arms much as Punch carries
his, Mr Boffin turned into Clifford's Inn aforesaid.)

'Mr Boffin, I happened to be in Chancery Lane this morning, when I saw
you going along before me. I took the liberty of following you, trying
to make up my mind to speak to you, till you went into your lawyer's.
Then I waited outside till you came out.'

('Don't quite sound like skittles, nor yet country gentleman, nor yet
jewellery,' thought Mr Boffin, 'but there's no knowing.')

'I am afraid my object is a bold one, I am afraid it has little of the
usual practical world about it, but I venture it. If you ask me, or if
you ask yourself--which is more likely--what emboldens me, I answer, I
have been strongly assured, that you are a man of rectitude and plain
dealing, with the soundest of sound hearts, and that you are blessed in
a wife distinguished by the same qualities.'

'Your information is true of Mrs Boffin, anyhow,' was Mr Boffin's
answer, as he surveyed his new friend again. There was something
repressed in the strange man's manner, and he walked with his eyes
on the ground--though conscious, for all that, of Mr Boffin's
observation--and he spoke in a subdued voice. But his words came easily,
and his voice was agreeable in tone, albeit constrained.

'When I add, I can discern for myself what the general tongue says of
you--that you are quite unspoiled by Fortune, and not uplifted--I trust
you will not, as a man of an open nature, suspect that I mean to flatter
you, but will believe that all I mean is to excuse myself, these being
my only excuses for my present intrusion.'

('How much?' thought Mr Boffin. 'It must be coming to money. How much?')

'You will probably change your manner of living, Mr Boffin, in your
changed circumstances. You will probably keep a larger house, have many
matters to arrange, and be beset by numbers of correspondents. If you
would try me as your Secretary--'

'As WHAT?' cried Mr Boffin, with his eyes wide open.

'Your Secretary.'

'Well,' said Mr Boffin, under his breath, 'that's a queer thing!'

'Or,' pursued the stranger, wondering at Mr Boffin's wonder, 'if you
would try me as your man of business under any name, I know you would
find me faithful and grateful, and I hope you would find me useful. You
may naturally think that my immediate object is money. Not so, for
I would willingly serve you a year--two years--any term you might
appoint--before that should begin to be a consideration between us.'

'Where do you come from?' asked Mr Boffin.

'I come,' returned the other, meeting his eye, 'from many countries.'

Boffin's acquaintances with the names and situations of foreign lands
being limited in extent and somewhat confused in quality, he shaped his
next question on an elastic model.

'From--any particular place?'

'I have been in many places.'

'What have you been?' asked Mr Boffin.

Here again he made no great advance, for the reply was, 'I have been a
student and a traveller.'

'But if it ain't a liberty to plump it out,' said Mr Boffin, 'what do
you do for your living?'

'I have mentioned,' returned the other, with another look at him, and
a smile, 'what I aspire to do. I have been superseded as to some slight
intentions I had, and I may say that I have now to begin life.'

Not very well knowing how to get rid of this applicant, and feeling the
more embarrassed because his manner and appearance claimed a delicacy
in which the worthy Mr Boffin feared he himself might be deficient, that
gentleman glanced into the mouldy little plantation or cat-preserve, of
Clifford's Inn, as it was that day, in search of a suggestion. Sparrows
were there, cats were there, dry-rot and wet-rot were there, but it was
not otherwise a suggestive spot.

'All this time,' said the stranger, producing a little pocket-book and
taking out a card, 'I have not mentioned my name. My name is Rokesmith.
I lodge at one Mr Wilfer's, at Holloway.'

Mr Boffin stared again.

'Father of Miss Bella Wilfer?' said he.

'My landlord has a daughter named Bella. Yes; no doubt.'

Now, this name had been more or less in Mr Boffin's thoughts all the
morning, and for days before; therefore he said:

'That's singular, too!' unconsciously staring again, past all bounds of
good manners, with the card in his hand. 'Though, by-the-bye, I suppose
it was one of that family that pinted me out?'

'No. I have never been in the streets with one of them.'

'Heard me talked of among 'em, though?'

'No. I occupy my own rooms, and have held scarcely any communication
with them.'

'Odder and odder!' said Mr Boffin. 'Well, sir, to tell you the truth, I
don't know what to say to you.'

'Say nothing,' returned Mr Rokesmith; 'allow me to call on you in a few
days. I am not so unconscionable as to think it likely that you would
accept me on trust at first sight, and take me out of the very street.
Let me come to you for your further opinion, at your leisure.'

'That's fair, and I don't object,' said Mr Boffin; 'but it must be on
condition that it's fully understood that I no more know that I shall
ever be in want of any gentleman as Secretary--it WAS Secretary you
said; wasn't it?'

'Yes.'

Again Mr Boffin's eyes opened wide, and he stared at the applicant from
head to foot, repeating 'Queer!--You're sure it was Secretary? Are you?'

'I am sure I said so.'

--'As Secretary,' repeated Mr Boffin, meditating upon the word; 'I no
more know that I may ever want a Secretary, or what not, than I do that
I shall ever be in want of the man in the moon. Me and Mrs Boffin have
not even settled that we shall make any change in our way of life. Mrs
Boffin's inclinations certainly do tend towards Fashion; but, being
already set up in a fashionable way at the Bower, she may not make
further alterations. However, sir, as you don't press yourself, I wish
to meet you so far as saying, by all means call at the Bower if you
like. Call in the course of a week or two. At the same time, I consider
that I ought to name, in addition to what I have already named, that I
have in my employment a literary man--WITH a wooden leg--as I have no
thoughts of parting from.'

'I regret to hear I am in some sort anticipated,' Mr Rokesmith answered,
evidently having heard it with surprise; 'but perhaps other duties might
arise?'

'You see,' returned Mr Boffin, with a confidential sense of dignity, 'as
to my literary man's duties, they're clear. Professionally he declines
and he falls, and as a friend he drops into poetry.'

Without observing that these duties seemed by no means clear to Mr
Rokesmith's astonished comprehension, Mr Boffin went on:

'And now, sir, I'll wish you good-day. You can call at the Bower any
time in a week or two. It's not above a mile or so from you, and your
landlord can direct you to it. But as he may not know it by it's new
name of Boffin's Bower, say, when you inquire of him, it's Harmon's;
will you?'

'Harmoon's,' repeated Mr Rokesmith, seeming to have caught the sound
imperfectly, 'Harmarn's. How do you spell it?'

'Why, as to the spelling of it,' returned Mr Boffin, with great presence
of mind, 'that's YOUR look out. Harmon's is all you've got to say to
HIM. Morning, morning, morning!' And so departed, without looking back.



Chapter 9

MR AND MRS BOFFIN IN CONSULTATION


Betaking himself straight homeward, Mr Boffin, without further let or
hindrance, arrived at the Bower, and gave Mrs Boffin (in a walking dress
of black velvet and feathers, like a mourning coach-horse) an account of
all he had said and done since breakfast.

'This brings us round, my dear,' he then pursued, 'to the question
we left unfinished: namely, whether there's to be any new go-in for
Fashion.'

'Now, I'll tell you what I want, Noddy,' said Mrs Boffin, smoothing her
dress with an air of immense enjoyment, 'I want Society.'

'Fashionable Society, my dear?'

'Yes!' cried Mrs Boffin, laughing with the glee of a child. 'Yes! It's
no good my being kept here like Wax-Work; is it now?'

'People have to pay to see Wax-Work, my dear,' returned her husband,
'whereas (though you'd be cheap at the same money) the neighbours is
welcome to see YOU for nothing.'

'But it don't answer,' said the cheerful Mrs Boffin. 'When we worked
like the neighbours, we suited one another. Now we have left work off;
we have left off suiting one another.'

'What, do you think of beginning work again?' Mr Boffin hinted.

'Out of the question! We have come into a great fortune, and we must do
what's right by our fortune; we must act up to it.'

Mr Boffin, who had a deep respect for his wife's intuitive wisdom,
replied, though rather pensively: 'I suppose we must.'

'It's never been acted up to yet, and, consequently, no good has come of
it,' said Mrs Boffin.

'True, to the present time,' Mr Boffin assented, with his former
pensiveness, as he took his seat upon his settle. 'I hope good may be
coming of it in the future time. Towards which, what's your views, old
lady?'

Mrs Boffin, a smiling creature, broad of figure and simple of nature,
with her hands folded in her lap, and with buxom creases in her throat,
proceeded to expound her views.

'I say, a good house in a good neighbourhood, good things about us,
good living, and good society. I say, live like our means, without
extravagance, and be happy.'

'Yes. I say be happy, too,' assented the still pensive Mr Boffin.
'Lor-a-mussy!' exclaimed Mrs Boffin, laughing and clapping her hands,
and gaily rocking herself to and fro, 'when I think of me in a light
yellow chariot and pair, with silver boxes to the wheels--'

'Oh! you was thinking of that, was you, my dear?'

'Yes!' cried the delighted creature. 'And with a footman up behind, with
a bar across, to keep his legs from being poled! And with a coachman
up in front, sinking down into a seat big enough for three of him, all
covered with upholstery in green and white! And with two bay horses
tossing their heads and stepping higher than they trot long-ways! And
with you and me leaning back inside, as grand as ninepence! Oh-h-h-h My!
Ha ha ha ha ha!'

Mrs Boffin clapped her hands again, rocked herself again, beat her feet
upon the floor, and wiped the tears of laughter from her eyes.

'And what, my old lady,' inquired Mr Boffin, when he also had
sympathetically laughed: 'what's your views on the subject of the
Bower?'

'Shut it up. Don't part with it, but put somebody in it, to keep it.'

'Any other views?'

'Noddy,' said Mrs Boffin, coming from her fashionable sofa to his side
on the plain settle, and hooking her comfortable arm through his,
'Next I think--and I really have been thinking early and late--of the
disappointed girl; her that was so cruelly disappointed, you know, both
of her husband and his riches. Don't you think we might do something for
her? Have her to live with us? Or something of that sort?'

'Ne-ver once thought of the way of doing it!' cried Mr Boffin, smiting
the table in his admiration. 'What a thinking steam-ingein this old lady
is. And she don't know how she does it. Neither does the ingein!'

Mrs Boffin pulled his nearest ear, in acknowledgment of this piece of
philosophy, and then said, gradually toning down to a motherly strain:
'Last, and not least, I have taken a fancy. You remember dear little
John Harmon, before he went to school? Over yonder across the yard, at
our fire? Now that he is past all benefit of the money, and it's come to
us, I should like to find some orphan child, and take the boy and adopt
him and give him John's name, and provide for him. Somehow, it would
make me easier, I fancy. Say it's only a whim--'

'But I don't say so,' interposed her husband.

'No, but deary, if you did--'

'I should be a Beast if I did,' her husband interposed again.

'That's as much as to say you agree? Good and kind of you, and like you,
deary! And don't you begin to find it pleasant now,' said Mrs Boffin,
once more radiant in her comely way from head to foot, and once more
smoothing her dress with immense enjoyment, 'don't you begin to find
it pleasant already, to think that a child will be made brighter, and
better, and happier, because of that poor sad child that day? And isn't
it pleasant to know that the good will be done with the poor sad child's
own money?'

'Yes; and it's pleasant to know that you are Mrs Boffin,' said her
husband, 'and it's been a pleasant thing to know this many and many a
year!' It was ruin to Mrs Boffin's aspirations, but, having so spoken,
they sat side by side, a hopelessly Unfashionable pair.

These two ignorant and unpolished people had guided themselves so far on
in their journey of life, by a religious sense of duty and desire to do
right. Ten thousand weaknesses and absurdities might have been detected
in the breasts of both; ten thousand vanities additional, possibly, in
the breast of the woman. But the hard wrathful and sordid nature that
had wrung as much work out of them as could be got in their best days,
for as little money as could be paid to hurry on their worst, had never
been so warped but that it knew their moral straightness and respected
it. In its own despite, in a constant conflict with itself and them, it
had done so. And this is the eternal law. For, Evil often stops short at
itself and dies with the doer of it; but Good, never.

Through his most inveterate purposes, the dead Jailer of Harmony Jail
had known these two faithful servants to be honest and true. While he
raged at them and reviled them for opposing him with the speech of the
honest and true, it had scratched his stony heart, and he had perceived
the powerlessness of all his wealth to buy them if he had addressed
himself to the attempt. So, even while he was their griping taskmaster
and never gave them a good word, he had written their names down in his
will. So, even while it was his daily declaration that he mistrusted all
mankind--and sorely indeed he did mistrust all who bore any resemblance
to himself--he was as certain that these two people, surviving him,
would be trustworthy in all things from the greatest to the least, as he
was that he must surely die.

Mr and Mrs Boffin, sitting side by side, with Fashion withdrawn to an
immeasurable distance, fell to discussing how they could best find their
orphan. Mrs Boffin suggested advertisement in the newspapers, requesting
orphans answering annexed description to apply at the Bower on a certain
day; but Mr Boffin wisely apprehending obstruction of the neighbouring
thoroughfares by orphan swarms, this course was negatived. Mrs Boffin
next suggested application to their clergyman for a likely orphan. Mr
Boffin thinking better of this scheme, they resolved to call upon the
reverend gentleman at once, and to take the same opportunity of making
acquaintance with Miss Bella Wilfer. In order that these visits might be
visits of state, Mrs Boffin's equipage was ordered out.

This consisted of a long hammer-headed old horse, formerly used in the
business, attached to a four-wheeled chaise of the same period, which
had long been exclusively used by the Harmony Jail poultry as the
favourite laying-place of several discreet hens. An unwonted application
of corn to the horse, and of paint and varnish to the carriage, when
both fell in as a part of the Boffin legacy, had made what Mr Boffin
considered a neat turn-out of the whole; and a driver being added, in
the person of a long hammer-headed young man who was a very good match
for the horse, left nothing to be desired. He, too, had been formerly
used in the business, but was now entombed by an honest jobbing tailor
of the district in a perfect Sepulchre of coat and gaiters, sealed with
ponderous buttons.

Behind this domestic, Mr and Mrs Boffin took their seats in the back
compartment of the vehicle: which was sufficiently commodious, but had
an undignified and alarming tendency, in getting over a rough crossing,
to hiccup itself away from the front compartment. On their being
descried emerging from the gates of the Bower, the neighbourhood turned
out at door and window to salute the Boffins. Among those who were ever
and again left behind, staring after the equipage, were many youthful
spirits, who hailed it in stentorian tones with such congratulations as
'Nod-dy Bof-fin!' 'Bof-fin's mon-ey!' 'Down with the dust, Bof-fin!' and
other similar compliments. These, the hammer-headed young man took in
such ill part that he often impaired the majesty of the progress by
pulling up short, and making as though he would alight to exterminate
the offenders; a purpose from which he only allowed himself to be
dissuaded after long and lively arguments with his employers.

At length the Bower district was left behind, and the peaceful dwelling
of the Reverend Frank Milvey was gained. The Reverend Frank Milvey's
abode was a very modest abode, because his income was a very modest
income. He was officially accessible to every blundering old woman who
had incoherence to bestow upon him, and readily received the Boffins.
He was quite a young man, expensively educated and wretchedly paid, with
quite a young wife and half a dozen quite young children. He was under
the necessity of teaching and translating from the classics, to eke out
his scanty means, yet was generally expected to have more time to spare
than the idlest person in the parish, and more money than the richest.
He accepted the needless inequalities and inconsistencies of his life,
with a kind of conventional submission that was almost slavish; and any
daring layman who would have adjusted such burdens as his, more decently
and graciously, would have had small help from him.

With a ready patient face and manner, and yet with a latent smile that
showed a quick enough observation of Mrs Boffin's dress, Mr Milvey, in
his little book-room--charged with sounds and cries as though the six
children above were coming down through the ceiling, and the roasting
leg of mutton below were coming up through the floor--listened to Mrs
Boffin's statement of her want of an orphan.

'I think,' said Mr Milvey, 'that you have never had a child of your own,
Mr and Mrs Boffin?'

Never.

'But, like the Kings and Queens in the Fairy Tales, I suppose you have
wished for one?'

In a general way, yes.

Mr Milvey smiled again, as he remarked to himself 'Those kings and
queens were always wishing for children.' It occurring to him, perhaps,
that if they had been Curates, their wishes might have tended in the
opposite direction.

'I think,' he pursued, 'we had better take Mrs Milvey into our Council.
She is indispensable to me. If you please, I'll call her.'

So, Mr Milvey called, 'Margaretta, my dear!' and Mrs Milvey came down.
A pretty, bright little woman, something worn by anxiety, who had
repressed many pretty tastes and bright fancies, and substituted in
their stead, schools, soup, flannel, coals, and all the week-day cares
and Sunday coughs of a large population, young and old. As gallantly had
Mr Milvey repressed much in himself that naturally belonged to his old
studies and old fellow-students, and taken up among the poor and their
children with the hard crumbs of life.

'Mr and Mrs Boffin, my dear, whose good fortune you have heard of.'

Mrs Milvey, with the most unaffected grace in the world, congratulated
them, and was glad to see them. Yet her engaging face, being an open as
well as a perceptive one, was not without her husband's latent smile.

'Mrs Boffin wishes to adopt a little boy, my dear.'

Mrs Milvey, looking rather alarmed, her husband added:

'An orphan, my dear.'

'Oh!' said Mrs Milvey, reassured for her own little boys.

'And I was thinking, Margaretta, that perhaps old Mrs Goody's grandchild
might answer the purpose.

'Oh my DEAR Frank! I DON'T think that would do!'

'No?'

'Oh NO!'

The smiling Mrs Boffin, feeling it incumbent on her to take part in the
conversation, and being charmed with the emphatic little wife and her
ready interest, here offered her acknowledgments and inquired what there
was against him?

'I DON'T think,' said Mrs Milvey, glancing at the Reverend Frank'--and
I believe my husband will agree with me when he considers it again--that
you could possibly keep that orphan clean from snuff. Because his
grandmother takes so MANY ounces, and drops it over him.'

'But he would not be living with his grandmother then, Margaretta,' said
Mr Milvey.

'No, Frank, but it would be impossible to keep her from Mrs Boffin's
house; and the MORE there was to eat and drink there, the oftener she
would go. And she IS an inconvenient woman. I HOPE it's not uncharitable
to remember that last Christmas Eve she drank eleven cups of tea, and
grumbled all the time. And she is NOT a grateful woman, Frank. You
recollect her addressing a crowd outside this house, about her wrongs,
when, one night after we had gone to bed, she brought back the petticoat
of new flannel that had been given her, because it was too short.'

'That's true,' said Mr Milvey. 'I don't think that would do. Would
little Harrison--'

'Oh, FRANK!' remonstrated his emphatic wife.

'He has no grandmother, my dear.'

'No, but I DON'T think Mrs Boffin would like an orphan who squints so
MUCH.'

'That's true again,' said Mr Milvey, becoming haggard with perplexity.
'If a little girl would do--'

'But, my DEAR Frank, Mrs Boffin wants a boy.'

'That's true again,' said Mr Milvey. 'Tom Bocker is a nice boy'
(thoughtfully).

'But I DOUBT, Frank,' Mrs Milvey hinted, after a little hesitation, 'if
Mrs Boffin wants an orphan QUITE nineteen, who drives a cart and waters
the roads.'

Mr Milvey referred the point to Mrs Boffin in a look; on that smiling
lady's shaking her black velvet bonnet and bows, he remarked, in lower
spirits, 'that's true again.'

'I am sure,' said Mrs Boffin, concerned at giving so much trouble, 'that
if I had known you would have taken so much pains, sir--and you too, ma'
am--I don't think I would have come.'

'PRAY don't say that!' urged Mrs Milvey.

'No, don't say that,' assented Mr Milvey, 'because we are so much
obliged to you for giving us the preference.' Which Mrs Milvey
confirmed; and really the kind, conscientious couple spoke, as if they
kept some profitable orphan warehouse and were personally patronized.
'But it is a responsible trust,' added Mr Milvey, 'and difficult to
discharge. At the same time, we are naturally very unwilling to lose the
chance you so kindly give us, and if you could afford us a day or two
to look about us,--you know, Margaretta, we might carefully examine the
workhouse, and the Infant School, and your District.'

'To be SURE!' said the emphatic little wife.

'We have orphans, I know,' pursued Mr Milvey, quite with the air as if
he might have added, 'in stock,' and quite as anxiously as if there were
great competition in the business and he were afraid of losing an order,
'over at the clay-pits; but they are employed by relations or friends,
and I am afraid it would come at last to a transaction in the way of
barter. And even if you exchanged blankets for the child--or books
and firing--it would be impossible to prevent their being turned into
liquor.'

Accordingly, it was resolved that Mr and Mrs Milvey should search for
an orphan likely to suit, and as free as possible from the foregoing
objections, and should communicate again with Mrs Boffin. Then, Mr
Boffin took the liberty of mentioning to Mr Milvey that if Mr Milvey
would do him the kindness to be perpetually his banker to the extent
of 'a twenty-pound note or so,' to be expended without any reference
to him, he would be heartily obliged. At this, both Mr Milvey and Mrs
Milvey were quite as much pleased as if they had no wants of their own,
but only knew what poverty was, in the persons of other people; and
so the interview terminated with satisfaction and good opinion on all
sides.

'Now, old lady,' said Mr Boffin, as they resumed their seats behind the
hammer-headed horse and man: 'having made a very agreeable visit there,
we'll try Wilfer's.'

It appeared, on their drawing up at the family gate, that to try
Wilfer's was a thing more easily projected than done, on account of the
extreme difficulty of getting into that establishment; three pulls
at the bell producing no external result; though each was attended
by audible sounds of scampering and rushing within. At the fourth
tug--vindictively administered by the hammer-headed young man--Miss
Lavinia appeared, emerging from the house in an accidental manner, with
a bonnet and parasol, as designing to take a contemplative walk. The
young lady was astonished to find visitors at the gate, and expressed
her feelings in appropriate action.

'Here's Mr and Mrs Boffin!' growled the hammer-headed young man through
the bars of the gate, and at the same time shaking it, as if he were on
view in a Menagerie; 'they've been here half an hour.'

'Who did you say?' asked Miss Lavinia.

'Mr and Mrs BOFFIN' returned the young man, rising into a roar.

Miss Lavinia tripped up the steps to the house-door, tripped down the
steps with the key, tripped across the little garden, and opened the
gate. 'Please to walk in,' said Miss Lavinia, haughtily. 'Our servant is
out.'

Mr and Mrs Boffin complying, and pausing in the little hall until Miss
Lavinia came up to show them where to go next, perceived three pairs of
listening legs upon the stairs above. Mrs Wilfer's legs, Miss Bella's
legs, Mr George Sampson's legs.

'Mr and Mrs Boffin, I think?' said Lavinia, in a warning voice. Strained
attention on the part of Mrs Wilfer's legs, of Miss Bella's legs, of Mr
George Sampson's legs.

'Yes, Miss.'

'If you'll step this way--down these stairs--I'll let Ma know.'
Excited flight of Mrs Wilfer's legs, of Miss Bella's legs, of Mr George
Sampson's legs.

After waiting some quarter of an hour alone in the family sitting-room,
which presented traces of having been so hastily arranged after a meal,
that one might have doubted whether it was made tidy for visitors,
or cleared for blindman's buff, Mr and Mrs Boffin became aware of the
entrance of Mrs Wilfer, majestically faint, and with a condescending
stitch in her side: which was her company manner.

'Pardon me,' said Mrs Wilfer, after the first salutations, and as soon
as she had adjusted the handkerchief under her chin, and waved her
gloved hands, 'to what am I indebted for this honour?'

'To make short of it, ma'am,' returned Mr Boffin, 'perhaps you may be
acquainted with the names of me and Mrs Boffin, as having come into a
certain property.'

'I have heard, sir,' returned Mrs Wilfer, with a dignified bend of her
head, 'of such being the case.'

'And I dare say, ma'am,' pursued Mr Boffin, while Mrs Boffin added
confirmatory nods and smiles, 'you are not very much inclined to take
kindly to us?'

'Pardon me,' said Mrs Wilfer. ''Twere unjust to visit upon Mr and Mrs
Boffin, a calamity which was doubtless a dispensation.' These words
were rendered the more effective by a serenely heroic expression of
suffering.

'That's fairly meant, I am sure,' remarked the honest Mr Boffin; 'Mrs
Boffin and me, ma'am, are plain people, and we don't want to pretend
to anything, nor yet to go round and round at anything because there's
always a straight way to everything. Consequently, we make this call
to say, that we shall be glad to have the honour and pleasure of your
daughter's acquaintance, and that we shall be rejoiced if your daughter
will come to consider our house in the light of her home equally with
this. In short, we want to cheer your daughter, and to give her
the opportunity of sharing such pleasures as we are a going to take
ourselves. We want to brisk her up, and brisk her about, and give her a
change.'

'That's it!' said the open-hearted Mrs Boffin. 'Lor! Let's be
comfortable.'

Mrs Wilfer bent her head in a distant manner to her lady visitor, and
with majestic monotony replied to the gentleman:

'Pardon me. I have several daughters. Which of my daughters am I to
understand is thus favoured by the kind intentions of Mr Boffin and his
lady?'

'Don't you see?' the ever-smiling Mrs Boffin put in. 'Naturally, Miss
Bella, you know.'

'Oh-h!' said Mrs Wilfer, with a severely unconvinced look. 'My daughter
Bella is accessible and shall speak for herself.' Then opening the door
a little way, simultaneously with a sound of scuttling outside it,
the good lady made the proclamation, 'Send Miss Bella to me!' which
proclamation, though grandly formal, and one might almost say heraldic,
to hear, was in fact enunciated with her maternal eyes reproachfully
glaring on that young lady in the flesh--and in so much of it that she
was retiring with difficulty into the small closet under the stairs,
apprehensive of the emergence of Mr and Mrs Boffin.

'The avocations of R. W., my husband,' Mrs Wilfer explained, on resuming
her seat, 'keep him fully engaged in the City at this time of the day,
or he would have had the honour of participating in your reception
beneath our humble roof.'

'Very pleasant premises!' said Mr Boffin, cheerfully.

'Pardon me, sir,' returned Mrs Wilfer, correcting him, 'it is the abode
of conscious though independent Poverty.'

Finding it rather difficult to pursue the conversation down this road,
Mr and Mrs Boffin sat staring at mid-air, and Mrs Wilfer sat silently
giving them to understand that every breath she drew required to be
drawn with a self-denial rarely paralleled in history, until Miss Bella
appeared: whom Mrs Wilfer presented, and to whom she explained the
purpose of the visitors.

'I am much obliged to you, I am sure,' said Miss Bella, coldly shaking
her curls, 'but I doubt if I have the inclination to go out at all.'

'Bella!' Mrs Wilfer admonished her; 'Bella, you must conquer this.'

'Yes, do what your Ma says, and conquer it, my dear,' urged Mrs Boffin,
'because we shall be so glad to have you, and because you are much too
pretty to keep yourself shut up.' With that, the pleasant creature gave
her a kiss, and patted her on her dimpled shoulders; Mrs Wilfer sitting
stiffly by, like a functionary presiding over an interview previous to
an execution.

'We are going to move into a nice house,' said Mrs Boffin, who was woman
enough to compromise Mr Boffin on that point, when he couldn't very well
contest it; 'and we are going to set up a nice carriage, and we'll go
everywhere and see everything. And you mustn't,' seating Bella beside
her, and patting her hand, 'you mustn't feel a dislike to us to begin
with, because we couldn't help it, you know, my dear.'

With the natural tendency of youth to yield to candour and sweet temper,
Miss Bella was so touched by the simplicity of this address that she
frankly returned Mrs Boffin's kiss. Not at all to the satisfaction
of that good woman of the world, her mother, who sought to hold the
advantageous ground of obliging the Boffins instead of being obliged.

'My youngest daughter, Lavinia,' said Mrs Wilfer, glad to make a
diversion, as that young lady reappeared. 'Mr George Sampson, a friend
of the family.'

The friend of the family was in that stage of tender passion which bound
him to regard everybody else as the foe of the family. He put the round
head of his cane in his mouth, like a stopper, when he sat down. As if
he felt himself full to the throat with affronting sentiments. And he
eyed the Boffins with implacable eyes.

'If you like to bring your sister with you when you come to stay with
us,' said Mrs Boffin, 'of course we shall be glad. The better you please
yourself, Miss Bella, the better you'll please us.'

'Oh, my consent is of no consequence at all, I suppose?' cried Miss
Lavinia.

'Lavvy,' said her sister, in a low voice, 'have the goodness to be seen
and not heard.'

'No, I won't,' replied the sharp Lavinia. 'I'm not a child, to be taken
notice of by strangers.'

'You ARE a child.'

'I'm not a child, and I won't be taken notice of. "Bring your sister,"
indeed!'

'Lavinia!' said Mrs Wilfer. 'Hold! I will not allow you to utter in my
presence the absurd suspicion that any strangers--I care not what their
names--can patronize my child. Do you dare to suppose, you ridiculous
girl, that Mr and Mrs Boffin would enter these doors upon a patronizing
errand; or, if they did, would remain within them, only for one single
instant, while your mother had the strength yet remaining in her vital
frame to request them to depart? You little know your mother if you
presume to think so.'

'It's all very fine,' Lavinia began to grumble, when Mrs Wilfer
repeated:

'Hold! I will not allow this. Do you not know what is due to guests?
Do you not comprehend that in presuming to hint that this lady and
gentleman could have any idea of patronizing any member of your
family--I care not which--you accuse them of an impertinence little less
than insane?'

'Never mind me and Mrs Boffin, ma'am,' said Mr Boffin, smilingly: 'we
don't care.'

'Pardon me, but I do,' returned Mrs Wilfer.

Miss Lavinia laughed a short laugh as she muttered, 'Yes, to be sure.'

'And I require my audacious child,' proceeded Mrs Wilfer, with a
withering look at her youngest, on whom it had not the slightest effect,
'to please to be just to her sister Bella; to remember that her sister
Bella is much sought after; and that when her sister Bella accepts an
attention, she considers herself to be conferring qui-i-ite as much
honour,'--this with an indignant shiver,--'as she receives.'

But, here Miss Bella repudiated, and said quietly, 'I can speak for
myself; you know, ma. You needn't bring ME in, please.'

'And it's all very well aiming at others through convenient me,' said
the irrepressible Lavinia, spitefully; 'but I should like to ask George
Sampson what he says to it.'

'Mr Sampson,' proclaimed Mrs Wilfer, seeing that young gentleman take
his stopper out, and so darkly fixing him with her eyes as that he put
it in again: 'Mr Sampson, as a friend of this family and a frequenter of
this house, is, I am persuaded, far too well-bred to interpose on such
an invitation.'

This exaltation of the young gentleman moved the conscientious Mrs
Boffin to repentance for having done him an injustice in her mind, and
consequently to saying that she and Mr Boffin would at any time be glad
to see him; an attention which he handsomely acknowledged by replying,
with his stopper unremoved, 'Much obliged to you, but I'm always
engaged, day and night.'

However, Bella compensating for all drawbacks by responding to the
advances of the Boffins in an engaging way, that easy pair were on the
whole well satisfied, and proposed to the said Bella that as soon as
they should be in a condition to receive her in a manner suitable to
their desires, Mrs Boffin should return with notice of the fact. This
arrangement Mrs Wilfer sanctioned with a stately inclination of her
head and wave of her gloves, as who should say, 'Your demerits shall be
overlooked, and you shall be mercifully gratified, poor people.'

'By-the-bye, ma'am,' said Mr Boffin, turning back as he was going, 'you
have a lodger?'

'A gentleman,' Mrs Wilfer answered, qualifying the low expression,
'undoubtedly occupies our first floor.'

'I may call him Our Mutual Friend,' said Mr Boffin. 'What sort of a
fellow IS Our Mutual Friend, now? Do you like him?'

'Mr Rokesmith is very punctual, very quiet, a very eligible inmate.'

'Because,' Mr Boffin explained, 'you must know that I'm not particularly
well acquainted with Our Mutual Friend, for I have only seen him once.
You give a good account of him. Is he at home?'

'Mr Rokesmith is at home,' said Mrs Wilfer; 'indeed,' pointing through
the window, 'there he stands at the garden gate. Waiting for you,
perhaps?'

'Perhaps so,' replied Mr Boffin. 'Saw me come in, maybe.'

Bella had closely attended to this short dialogue. Accompanying Mrs
Boffin to the gate, she as closely watched what followed.

'How are you, sir, how are you?' said Mr Boffin. 'This is Mrs Boffin. Mr
Rokesmith, that I told you of; my dear.'

She gave him good day, and he bestirred himself and helped her to her
seat, and the like, with a ready hand.

'Good-bye for the present, Miss Bella,' said Mrs Boffin, calling out a
hearty parting. 'We shall meet again soon! And then I hope I shall have
my little John Harmon to show you.'

Mr Rokesmith, who was at the wheel adjusting the skirts of her dress,
suddenly looked behind him, and around him, and then looked up at her,
with a face so pale that Mrs Boffin cried:

'Gracious!' And after a moment, 'What's the matter, sir?'

'How can you show her the Dead?' returned Mr Rokesmith.

'It's only an adopted child. One I have told her of. One I'm going to
give the name to!'

'You took me by surprise,' said Mr Rokesmith, 'and it sounded like an
omen, that you should speak of showing the Dead to one so young and
blooming.'

Now, Bella suspected by this time that Mr Rokesmith admired her. Whether
the knowledge (for it was rather that than suspicion) caused her to
incline to him a little more, or a little less, than she had done at
first; whether it rendered her eager to find out more about him, because
she sought to establish reason for her distrust, or because she sought
to free him from it; was as yet dark to her own heart. But at most
times he occupied a great amount of her attention, and she had set her
attention closely on this incident.

That he knew it as well as she, she knew as well as he, when they were
left together standing on the path by the garden gate.

'Those are worthy people, Miss Wilfer.'

'Do you know them well?' asked Bella.

He smiled, reproaching her, and she coloured, reproaching herself--both,
with the knowledge that she had meant to entrap him into an answer not
true--when he said 'I know OF them.'

'Truly, he told us he had seen you but once.'

'Truly, I supposed he did.'

Bella was nervous now, and would have been glad to recall her question.

'You thought it strange that, feeling much interested in you, I should
start at what sounded like a proposal to bring you into contact with the
murdered man who lies in his grave. I might have known--of course in a
moment should have known--that it could not have that meaning. But my
interest remains.'

Re-entering the family-room in a meditative state, Miss Bella was
received by the irrepressible Lavinia with:

'There, Bella! At last I hope you have got your wishes realized--by your
Boffins. You'll be rich enough now--with your Boffins. You can have as
much flirting as you like--at your Boffins. But you won't take ME to
your Boffins, I can tell you--you and your Boffins too!'

'If,' quoth Mr George Sampson, moodily pulling his stopper out, 'Miss
Bella's Mr Boffin comes any more of his nonsense to ME, I only wish him
to understand, as betwixt man and man, that he does it at his per--' and
was going to say peril; but Miss Lavinia, having no confidence in his
mental powers, and feeling his oration to have no definite application
to any circumstances, jerked his stopper in again, with a sharpness that
made his eyes water.

And now the worthy Mrs Wilfer, having used her youngest daughter as a
lay-figure for the edification of these Boffins, became bland to her,
and proceeded to develop her last instance of force of character,
which was still in reserve. This was, to illuminate the family with her
remarkable powers as a physiognomist; powers that terrified R. W. when
ever let loose, as being always fraught with gloom and evil which no
inferior prescience was aware of. And this Mrs Wilfer now did, be it
observed, in jealousy of these Boffins, in the very same moments when
she was already reflecting how she would flourish these very same
Boffins and the state they kept, over the heads of her Boffinless
friends.

'Of their manners,' said Mrs Wilfer, 'I say nothing. Of their
appearance, I say nothing. Of the disinterestedness of their intentions
towards Bella, I say nothing. But the craft, the secrecy, the dark
deep underhanded plotting, written in Mrs Boffin's countenance, make me
shudder.'

As an incontrovertible proof that those baleful attributes were all
there, Mrs Wilfer shuddered on the spot.



Chapter 10

A MARRIAGE CONTRACT


There is excitement in the Veneering mansion. The mature young lady is
going to be married (powder and all) to the mature young gentleman, and
she is to be married from the Veneering house, and the Veneerings are to
give the breakfast. The Analytical, who objects as a matter of principle
to everything that occurs on the premises, necessarily objects to the
match; but his consent has been dispensed with, and a spring-van is
delivering its load of greenhouse plants at the door, in order that
to-morrow's feast may be crowned with flowers.

The mature young lady is a lady of property. The mature young gentleman
is a gentleman of property. He invests his property. He goes, in
a condescending amateurish way, into the City, attends meetings of
Directors, and has to do with traffic in Shares. As is well known to the
wise in their generation, traffic in Shares is the one thing to have to
do with in this world. Have no antecedents, no established character, no
cultivation, no ideas, no manners; have Shares. Have Shares enough to
be on Boards of Direction in capital letters, oscillate on mysterious
business between London and Paris, and be great. Where does he come
from? Shares. Where is he going to? Shares. What are his tastes? Shares.
Has he any principles? Shares. What squeezes him into Parliament?
Shares. Perhaps he never of himself achieved success in anything, never
originated anything, never produced anything? Sufficient answer to all;
Shares. O mighty Shares! To set those blaring images so high, and to
cause us smaller vermin, as under the influence of henbane or opium, to
cry out, night and day, 'Relieve us of our money, scatter it for us, buy
us and sell us, ruin us, only we beseech ye take rank among the powers
of the earth, and fatten on us'!

While the Loves and Graces have been preparing this torch for Hymen,
which is to be kindled to-morrow, Mr Twemlow has suffered much in his
mind. It would seem that both the mature young lady and the mature young
gentleman must indubitably be Veneering's oldest friends. Wards of his,
perhaps? Yet that can scarcely be, for they are older than himself.
Veneering has been in their confidence throughout, and has done much to
lure them to the altar. He has mentioned to Twemlow how he said to
Mrs Veneering, 'Anastatia, this must be a match.' He has mentioned to
Twemlow how he regards Sophronia Akershem (the mature young lady) in the
light of a sister, and Alfred Lammle (the mature young gentleman) in the
light of a brother. Twemlow has asked him whether he went to school as
a junior with Alfred? He has answered, 'Not exactly.' Whether Sophronia
was adopted by his mother? He has answered, 'Not precisely so.'
Twemlow's hand has gone to his forehead with a lost air.

But, two or three weeks ago, Twemlow, sitting over his newspaper,
and over his dry-toast and weak tea, and over the stable-yard in Duke
Street, St James's, received a highly-perfumed cocked-hat and monogram
from Mrs Veneering, entreating her dearest Mr T., if not particularly
engaged that day, to come like a charming soul and make a fourth at
dinner with dear Mr Podsnap, for the discussion of an interesting family
topic; the last three words doubly underlined and pointed with a note
of admiration. And Twemlow replying, 'Not engaged, and more than
delighted,' goes, and this takes place:

'My dear Twemlow,' says Veneering, 'your ready response to Anastatia's
unceremonious invitation is truly kind, and like an old, old friend. You
know our dear friend Podsnap?'

Twemlow ought to know the dear friend Podsnap who covered him with so
much confusion, and he says he does know him, and Podsnap reciprocates.
Apparently, Podsnap has been so wrought upon in a short time, as to
believe that he has been intimate in the house many, many, many years.
In the friendliest manner he is making himself quite at home with his
back to the fire, executing a statuette of the Colossus at Rhodes.
Twemlow has before noticed in his feeble way how soon the Veneering
guests become infected with the Veneering fiction. Not, however, that he
has the least notion of its being his own case.

'Our friends, Alfred and Sophronia,' pursues Veneering the veiled
prophet: 'our friends Alfred and Sophronia, you will be glad to hear, my
dear fellows, are going to be married. As my wife and I make it a family
affair the entire direction of which we take upon ourselves, of course
our first step is to communicate the fact to our family friends.'

('Oh!' thinks Twemlow, with his eyes on Podsnap, 'then there are only
two of us, and he's the other.')

'I did hope,' Veneering goes on, 'to have had Lady Tippins to meet you;
but she is always in request, and is unfortunately engaged.'

('Oh!' thinks Twemlow, with his eyes wandering, 'then there are three of
us, and SHE'S the other.')

'Mortimer Lightwood,' resumes Veneering, 'whom you both know, is out of
town; but he writes, in his whimsical manner, that as we ask him to be
bridegroom's best man when the ceremony takes place, he will not refuse,
though he doesn't see what he has to do with it.'

('Oh!' thinks Twemlow, with his eyes rolling, 'then there are four of
us, and HE'S the other.')

'Boots and Brewer,' observes Veneering, 'whom you also know, I have not
asked to-day; but I reserve them for the occasion.'

('Then,' thinks Twemlow, with his eyes shut, 'there are si--' But here
collapses and does not completely recover until dinner is over and the
Analytical has been requested to withdraw.)

'We now come,' says Veneering, 'to the point, the real point, of our
little family consultation. Sophronia, having lost both father and
mother, has no one to give her away.'

'Give her away yourself,' says Podsnap.

'My dear Podsnap, no. For three reasons. Firstly, because I couldn't
take so much upon myself when I have respected family friends to
remember. Secondly, because I am not so vain as to think that I look
the part. Thirdly, because Anastatia is a little superstitious on the
subject and feels averse to my giving away anybody until baby is old
enough to be married.'

'What would happen if he did?' Podsnap inquires of Mrs Veneering.

'My dear Mr Podsnap, it's very foolish I know, but I have an instinctive
presentiment that if Hamilton gave away anybody else first, he would
never give away baby.' Thus Mrs Veneering; with her open hands pressed
together, and each of her eight aquiline fingers looking so very like
her one aquiline nose that the bran-new jewels on them seem necessary
for distinction's sake.

'But, my dear Podsnap,' quoth Veneering, 'there IS a tried friend of
our family who, I think and hope you will agree with me, Podsnap, is
the friend on whom this agreeable duty almost naturally devolves. That
friend,' saying the words as if the company were about a hundred and
fifty in number, 'is now among us. That friend is Twemlow.'

'Certainly!' From Podsnap.

'That friend,' Veneering repeats with greater firmness, 'is our dear
good Twemlow. And I cannot sufficiently express to you, my dear Podsnap,
the pleasure I feel in having this opinion of mine and Anastatia's so
readily confirmed by you, that other equally familiar and tried friend
who stands in the proud position--I mean who proudly stands in the
position--or I ought rather to say, who places Anastatia and myself in
the proud position of himself standing in the simple position--of baby's
godfather.' And, indeed, Veneering is much relieved in mind to find that
Podsnap betrays no jealousy of Twemlow's elevation.

So, it has come to pass that the spring-van is strewing flowers on
the rosy hours and on the staircase, and that Twemlow is surveying the
ground on which he is to play his distinguished part to-morrow. He has
already been to the church, and taken note of the various impediments in
the aisle, under the auspices of an extremely dreary widow who opens the
pews, and whose left hand appears to be in a state of acute rheumatism,
but is in fact voluntarily doubled up to act as a money-box.

And now Veneering shoots out of the Study wherein he is accustomed,
when contemplative, to give his mind to the carving and gilding of
the Pilgrims going to Canterbury, in order to show Twemlow the little
flourish he has prepared for the trumpets of fashion, describing how
that on the seventeenth instant, at St James's Church, the Reverend
Blank Blank, assisted by the Reverend Dash Dash, united in the bonds of
matrimony, Alfred Lammle Esquire, of Sackville Street, Piccadilly,
to Sophronia, only daughter of the late Horatio Akershem, Esquire,
of Yorkshire. Also how the fair bride was married from the house of
Hamilton Veneering, Esquire, of Stucconia, and was given away by Melvin
Twemlow, Esquire, of Duke Street, St James's, second cousin to Lord
Snigsworth, of Snigsworthy Park. While perusing which composition,
Twemlow makes some opaque approach to perceiving that if the Reverend
Blank Blank and the Reverend Dash Dash fail, after this introduction, to
become enrolled in the list of Veneering's dearest and oldest friends,
they will have none but themselves to thank for it.

After which, appears Sophronia (whom Twemlow has seen twice in his
lifetime), to thank Twemlow for counterfeiting the late Horatio Akershem
Esquire, broadly of Yorkshire. And after her, appears Alfred (whom
Twemlow has seen once in his lifetime), to do the same and to make a
pasty sort of glitter, as if he were constructed for candle-light only,
and had been let out into daylight by some grand mistake. And after
that, comes Mrs Veneering, in a pervadingly aquiline state of figure,
and with transparent little knobs on her temper, like the little
transparent knob on the bridge of her nose, 'Worn out by worry and
excitement,' as she tells her dear Mr Twemlow, and reluctantly revived
with curacoa by the Analytical. And after that, the bridesmaids begin
to come by rail-road from various parts of the country, and to come like
adorable recruits enlisted by a sergeant not present; for, on arriving
at the Veneering depot, they are in a barrack of strangers.

So, Twemlow goes home to Duke Street, St James's, to take a plate of
mutton broth with a chop in it, and a look at the marriage-service, in
order that he may cut in at the right place to-morrow; and he is low,
and feels it dull over the livery stable-yard, and is distinctly aware
of a dint in his heart, made by the most adorable of the adorable
bridesmaids. For, the poor little harmless gentleman once had his fancy,
like the rest of us, and she didn't answer (as she often does not),
and he thinks the adorable bridesmaid is like the fancy as she was then
(which she is not at all), and that if the fancy had not married some
one else for money, but had married him for love, he and she would
have been happy (which they wouldn't have been), and that she has a
tenderness for him still (whereas her toughness is a proverb). Brooding
over the fire, with his dried little head in his dried little hands,
and his dried little elbows on his dried little knees, Twemlow is
melancholy. 'No Adorable to bear me company here!' thinks he. 'No
Adorable at the club! A waste, a waste, a waste, my Twemlow!' And so
drops asleep, and has galvanic starts all over him.

Betimes next morning, that horrible old Lady Tippins (relict of the late
Sir Thomas Tippins, knighted in mistake for somebody else by His
Majesty King George the Third, who, while performing the ceremony, was
graciously pleased to observe, 'What, what, what? Who, who, who?
Why, why, why?') begins to be dyed and varnished for the interesting
occasion. She has a reputation for giving smart accounts of things, and
she must be at these people's early, my dear, to lose nothing of the
fun. Whereabout in the bonnet and drapery announced by her name, any
fragment of the real woman may be concealed, is perhaps known to her
maid; but you could easily buy all you see of her, in Bond Street; or
you might scalp her, and peel her, and scrape her, and make two Lady
Tippinses out of her, and yet not penetrate to the genuine article. She
has a large gold eye-glass, has Lady Tippins, to survey the proceedings
with. If she had one in each eye, it might keep that other drooping
lid up, and look more uniform. But perennial youth is in her artificial
flowers, and her list of lovers is full.

'Mortimer, you wretch,' says Lady Tippins, turning the eyeglass about
and about, 'where is your charge, the bridegroom?'

'Give you my honour,' returns Mortimer, 'I don't know, and I don't
care.'

'Miserable! Is that the way you do your duty?'

'Beyond an impression that he is to sit upon my knee and be seconded
at some point of the solemnities, like a principal at a prizefight, I
assure you I have no notion what my duty is,' returns Mortimer.

Eugene is also in attendance, with a pervading air upon him of having
presupposed the ceremony to be a funeral, and of being disappointed. The
scene is the Vestry-room of St James's Church, with a number of leathery
old registers on shelves, that might be bound in Lady Tippinses.

But, hark! A carriage at the gate, and Mortimer's man arrives, looking
rather like a spurious Mephistopheles and an unacknowledged member
of that gentleman's family. Whom Lady Tippins, surveying through her
eye-glass, considers a fine man, and quite a catch; and of whom Mortimer
remarks, in the lowest spirits, as he approaches, 'I believe this is my
fellow, confound him!' More carriages at the gate, and lo the rest of
the characters. Whom Lady Tippins, standing on a cushion, surveying
through the eye-glass, thus checks off. 'Bride; five-and-forty if a
day, thirty shillings a yard, veil fifteen pound, pocket-handkerchief
a present. Bridesmaids; kept down for fear of outshining bride,
consequently not girls, twelve and sixpence a yard, Veneering's flowers,
snub-nosed one rather pretty but too conscious of her stockings, bonnets
three pound ten. Twemlow; blessed release for the dear man if she really
was his daughter, nervous even under the pretence that she is, well he
may be. Mrs Veneering; never saw such velvet, say two thousand pounds
as she stands, absolute jeweller's window, father must have been a
pawnbroker, or how could these people do it? Attendant unknowns; pokey.'

Ceremony performed, register signed, Lady Tippins escorted out of sacred
edifice by Veneering, carriages rolling back to Stucconia, servants
with favours and flowers, Veneering's house reached, drawing-rooms most
magnificent. Here, the Podsnaps await the happy party; Mr Podsnap, with
his hair-brushes made the most of; that imperial rocking-horse, Mrs
Podsnap, majestically skittish. Here, too, are Boots and Brewer, and
the two other Buffers; each Buffer with a flower in his button-hole, his
hair curled, and his gloves buttoned on tight, apparently come prepared,
if anything had happened to the bridegroom, to be married instantly.
Here, too, the bride's aunt and next relation; a widowed female of
a Medusa sort, in a stoney cap, glaring petrifaction at her
fellow-creatures. Here, too, the bride's trustee; an oilcake-fed style
of business-gentleman with mooney spectacles, and an object of much
interest. Veneering launching himself upon this trustee as his oldest
friend (which makes seven, Twemlow thought), and confidentially retiring
with him into the conservatory, it is understood that Veneering is his
co-trustee, and that they are arranging about the fortune. Buffers are
even overheard to whisper Thir-ty Thou-sand Pou-nds! with a smack and a
relish suggestive of the very finest oysters. Pokey unknowns, amazed
to find how intimately they know Veneering, pluck up spirit, fold
their arms, and begin to contradict him before breakfast. What time Mrs
Veneering, carrying baby dressed as a bridesmaid, flits about among
the company, emitting flashes of many-coloured lightning from diamonds,
emeralds, and rubies.

The Analytical, in course of time achieving what he feels to be due to
himself in bringing to a dignified conclusion several quarrels he has on
hand with the pastrycook's men, announces breakfast. Dining-room no less
magnificent than drawing-room; tables superb; all the camels out, and
all laden. Splendid cake, covered with Cupids, silver, and true-lovers'
knots. Splendid bracelet, produced by Veneering before going down, and
clasped upon the arm of bride. Yet nobody seems to think much more of
the Veneerings than if they were a tolerable landlord and landlady
doing the thing in the way of business at so much a head. The bride and
bridegroom talk and laugh apart, as has always been their manner;
and the Buffers work their way through the dishes with systematic
perseverance, as has always been THEIR manner; and the pokey unknowns
are exceedingly benevolent to one another in invitations to take
glasses of champagne; but Mrs Podsnap, arching her mane and rocking her
grandest, has a far more deferential audience than Mrs Veneering; and
Podsnap all but does the honours.

Another dismal circumstance is, that Veneering, having the captivating
Tippins on one side of him and the bride's aunt on the other, finds
it immensely difficult to keep the peace. For, Medusa, besides
unmistakingly glaring petrifaction at the fascinating Tippins, follows
every lively remark made by that dear creature, with an audible snort:
which may be referable to a chronic cold in the head, but may also be
referable to indignation and contempt. And this snort being regular in
its reproduction, at length comes to be expected by the company, who
make embarrassing pauses when it is falling due, and by waiting for it,
render it more emphatic when it comes. The stoney aunt has likewise an
injurious way of rejecting all dishes whereof Lady Tippins partakes:
saying aloud when they are proffered to her, 'No, no, no, not for me.
Take it away!' As with a set purpose of implying a misgiving that if
nourished upon similar meats, she might come to be like that charmer,
which would be a fatal consummation. Aware of her enemy, Lady Tippins
tries a youthful sally or two, and tries the eye-glass; but, from the
impenetrable cap and snorting armour of the stoney aunt all weapons
rebound powerless.

Another objectionable circumstance is, that the pokey unknowns support
each other in being unimpressible. They persist in not being frightened
by the gold and silver camels, and they are banded together to defy
the elaborately chased ice-pails. They even seem to unite in some vague
utterance of the sentiment that the landlord and landlady will make a
pretty good profit out of this, and they almost carry themselves
like customers. Nor is there compensating influence in the adorable
bridesmaids; for, having very little interest in the bride, and none
at all in one another, those lovely beings become, each one of her own
account, depreciatingly contemplative of the millinery present; while
the bridegroom's man, exhausted, in the back of his chair, appears to be
improving the occasion by penitentially contemplating all the wrong he
has ever done; the difference between him and his friend Eugene, being,
that the latter, in the back of HIS chair, appears to be contemplating
all the wrong he would like to do--particularly to the present company.

In which state of affairs, the usual ceremonies rather droop and flag,
and the splendid cake when cut by the fair hand of the bride has but
an indigestible appearance. However, all the things indispensable to
be said are said, and all the things indispensable to be done are
done (including Lady Tippins's yawning, falling asleep, and waking
insensible), and there is hurried preparation for the nuptial journey
to the Isle of Wight, and the outer air teems with brass bands and
spectators. In full sight of whom, the malignant star of the Analytical
has pre-ordained that pain and ridicule shall befall him. For he,
standing on the doorsteps to grace the departure, is suddenly caught a
most prodigious thump on the side of his head with a heavy shoe, which
a Buffer in the hall, champagne-flushed and wild of aim, has borrowed on
the spur of the moment from the pastrycook's porter, to cast after the
departing pair as an auspicious omen.

So they all go up again into the gorgeous drawing-rooms--all of them
flushed with breakfast, as having taken scarlatina sociably--and there
the combined unknowns do malignant things with their legs to ottomans,
and take as much as possible out of the splendid furniture. And so, Lady
Tippins, quite undetermined whether today is the day before yesterday,
or the day after to-morrow, or the week after next, fades away; and
Mortimer Lightwood and Eugene fade away, and Twemlow fades away, and
the stoney aunt goes away--she declines to fade, proving rock to the
last--and even the unknowns are slowly strained off, and it is all over.

All over, that is to say, for the time being. But, there is another time
to come, and it comes in about a fortnight, and it comes to Mr and Mrs
Lammle on the sands at Shanklin, in the Isle of Wight.

Mr and Mrs Lammle have walked for some time on the Shanklin sands, and
one may see by their footprints that they have not walked arm in arm,
and that they have not walked in a straight track, and that they have
walked in a moody humour; for, the lady has prodded little spirting
holes in the damp sand before her with her parasol, and the gentleman
has trailed his stick after him. As if he were of the Mephistopheles
family indeed, and had walked with a drooping tail.

'Do you mean to tell me, then, Sophronia--'

Thus he begins after a long silence, when Sophronia flashes fiercely,
and turns upon him.

'Don't put it upon ME, sir. I ask you, do YOU mean to tell me?'

Mr Lammle falls silent again, and they walk as before. Mrs Lammle opens
her nostrils and bites her under-lip; Mr Lammle takes his gingerous
whiskers in his left hand, and, bringing them together, frowns furtively
at his beloved, out of a thick gingerous bush.

'Do I mean to say!' Mrs Lammle after a time repeats, with indignation.
'Putting it on me! The unmanly disingenuousness!'

Mr Lammle stops, releases his whiskers, and looks at her. 'The what?'

Mrs Lammle haughtily replies, without stopping, and without looking
back. 'The meanness.'

He is at her side again in a pace or two, and he retorts, 'That is not
what you said. You said disingenuousness.'

'What if I did?'

'There is no "if" in the case. You did.'

'I did, then. And what of it?'

'What of it?' says Mr Lammle. 'Have you the face to utter the word to
me?'

'The face, too!' replied Mrs Lammle, staring at him with cold scorn.
'Pray, how dare you, sir, utter the word to me?'

'I never did.'

As this happens to be true, Mrs Lammle is thrown on the feminine
resource of saying, 'I don't care what you uttered or did not utter.'

After a little more walking and a little more silence, Mr Lammle breaks
the latter.

'You shall proceed in your own way. You claim a right to ask me do I
mean to tell you. Do I mean to tell you what?'

'That you are a man of property?'

'No.'

'Then you married me on false pretences?'

'So be it. Next comes what you mean to say. Do you mean to say you are a
woman of property?'

'No.'

'Then you married me on false pretences.'

'If you were so dull a fortune-hunter that you deceived yourself, or
if you were so greedy and grasping that you were over-willing to be
deceived by appearances, is it my fault, you adventurer?' the lady
demands, with great asperity.

'I asked Veneering, and he told me you were rich.'

'Veneering!' with great contempt.' And what does Veneering know about
me!'

'Was he not your trustee?'

'No. I have no trustee, but the one you saw on the day when you
fraudulently married me. And his trust is not a very difficult one, for
it is only an annuity of a hundred and fifteen pounds. I think there are
some odd shillings or pence, if you are very particular.'

Mr Lammle bestows a by no means loving look upon the partner of his joys
and sorrows, and he mutters something; but checks himself.

'Question for question. It is my turn again, Mrs Lammle. What made you
suppose me a man of property?'

'You made me suppose you so. Perhaps you will deny that you always
presented yourself to me in that character?'

'But you asked somebody, too. Come, Mrs Lammle, admission for admission.
You asked somebody?'

'I asked Veneering.'

'And Veneering knew as much of me as he knew of you, or as anybody knows
of him.'

After more silent walking, the bride stops short, to say in a passionate
manner:

'I never will forgive the Veneerings for this!'

'Neither will I,' returns the bridegroom.

With that, they walk again; she, making those angry spirts in the sand;
he, dragging that dejected tail. The tide is low, and seems to have
thrown them together high on the bare shore. A gull comes sweeping by
their heads and flouts them. There was a golden surface on the brown
cliffs but now, and behold they are only damp earth. A taunting roar
comes from the sea, and the far-out rollers mount upon one another,
to look at the entrapped impostors, and to join in impish and exultant
gambols.

'Do you pretend to believe,' Mrs Lammle resumes, sternly, 'when you talk
of my marrying you for worldly advantages, that it was within the bounds
of reasonable probability that I would have married you for yourself?'

'Again there are two sides to the question, Mrs Lammle. What do you
pretend to believe?'

'So you first deceive me and then insult me!' cries the lady, with a
heaving bosom.

'Not at all. I have originated nothing. The double-edged question was
yours.'

'Was mine!' the bride repeats, and her parasol breaks in her angry hand.

His colour has turned to a livid white, and ominous marks have come to
light about his nose, as if the finger of the very devil himself had,
within the last few moments, touched it here and there. But he has
repressive power, and she has none.

'Throw it away,' he coolly recommends as to the parasol; 'you have made
it useless; you look ridiculous with it.'

Whereupon she calls him in her rage, 'A deliberate villain,' and so
casts the broken thing from her as that it strikes him in falling. The
finger-marks are something whiter for the instant, but he walks on at
her side.

She bursts into tears, declaring herself the wretchedest, the most
deceived, the worst-used, of women. Then she says that if she had
the courage to kill herself, she would do it. Then she calls him vile
impostor. Then she asks him, why, in the disappointment of his base
speculation, he does not take her life with his own hand, under the
present favourable circumstances. Then she cries again. Then she is
enraged again, and makes some mention of swindlers. Finally, she sits
down crying on a block of stone, and is in all the known and unknown
humours of her sex at once. Pending her changes, those aforesaid marks
in his face have come and gone, now here now there, like white steps
of a pipe on which the diabolical performer has played a tune. Also his
livid lips are parted at last, as if he were breathless with running.
Yet he is not.

'Now, get up, Mrs Lammle, and let us speak reasonably.'

She sits upon her stone, and takes no heed of him.

'Get up, I tell you.'

Raising her head, she looks contemptuously in his face, and repeats,
'You tell me! Tell me, forsooth!'

She affects not to know that his eyes are fastened on her as she droops
her head again; but her whole figure reveals that she knows it uneasily.

'Enough of this. Come! Do you hear? Get up.'

Yielding to his hand, she rises, and they walk again; but this time with
their faces turned towards their place of residence.

'Mrs Lammle, we have both been deceiving, and we have both been
deceived. We have both been biting, and we have both been bitten. In a
nut-shell, there's the state of the case.'

'You sought me out--'

'Tut! Let us have done with that. WE know very well how it was. Why
should you and I talk about it, when you and I can't disguise it? To
proceed. I am disappointed and cut a poor figure.'

'Am I no one?'

'Some one--and I was coming to you, if you had waited a moment. You,
too, are disappointed and cut a poor figure.'

'An injured figure!'

'You are now cool enough, Sophronia, to see that you can't be injured
without my being equally injured; and that therefore the mere word is
not to the purpose. When I look back, I wonder how I can have been such
a fool as to take you to so great an extent upon trust.'

'And when I look back--' the bride cries, interrupting.

'And when you look back, you wonder how you can have been--you'll excuse
the word?'

'Most certainly, with so much reason.

'--Such a fool as to take ME to so great an extent upon trust. But the
folly is committed on both sides. I cannot get rid of you; you cannot
get rid of me. What follows?'

'Shame and misery,' the bride bitterly replies.

'I don't know. A mutual understanding follows, and I think it may carry
us through. Here I split my discourse (give me your arm, Sophronia),
into three heads, to make it shorter and plainer. Firstly, it's enough
to have been done, without the mortification of being known to have been
done. So we agree to keep the fact to ourselves. You agree?'

'If it is possible, I do.'

'Possible! We have pretended well enough to one another. Can't we,
united, pretend to the world? Agreed. Secondly, we owe the Veneerings
a grudge, and we owe all other people the grudge of wishing them to be
taken in, as we ourselves have been taken in. Agreed?'

'Yes. Agreed.'

'We come smoothly to thirdly. You have called me an adventurer,
Sophronia. So I am. In plain uncomplimentary English, so I am. So are
you, my dear. So are many people. We agree to keep our own secret, and
to work together in furtherance of our own schemes.'

'What schemes?'

'Any scheme that will bring us money. By our own schemes, I mean our
joint interest. Agreed?'

She answers, after a little hesitation, 'I suppose so. Agreed.'

'Carried at once, you see! Now, Sophronia, only half a dozen words more.
We know one another perfectly. Don't be tempted into twitting me with
the past knowledge that you have of me, because it is identical with
the past knowledge that I have of you, and in twitting me, you
twit yourself, and I don't want to hear you do it. With this good
understanding established between us, it is better never done. To wind
up all:--You have shown temper today, Sophronia. Don't be betrayed into
doing so again, because I have a Devil of a temper myself.'

So, the happy pair, with this hopeful marriage contract thus signed,
sealed, and delivered, repair homeward. If, when those infernal
finger-marks were on the white and breathless countenance of Alfred
Lammle, Esquire, they denoted that he conceived the purpose of subduing
his dear wife Mrs Alfred Lammle, by at once divesting her of any
lingering reality or pretence of self-respect, the purpose would seem
to have been presently executed. The mature young lady has mighty little
need of powder, now, for her downcast face, as he escorts her in the
light of the setting sun to their abode of bliss.



Chapter 11

PODSNAPPERY


Mr Podsnap was well to do, and stood very high in Mr Podsnap's opinion.
Beginning with a good inheritance, he had married a good inheritance,
and had thriven exceedingly in the Marine Insurance way, and was
quite satisfied. He never could make out why everybody was not quite
satisfied, and he felt conscious that he set a brilliant social example
in being particularly well satisfied with most things, and, above all
other things, with himself.

Thus happily acquainted with his own merit and importance, Mr Podsnap
settled that whatever he put behind him he put out of existence. There
was a dignified conclusiveness--not to add a grand convenience--in
this way of getting rid of disagreeables which had done much towards
establishing Mr Podsnap in his lofty place in Mr Podsnap's satisfaction.
'I don't want to know about it; I don't choose to discuss it; I don't
admit it!' Mr Podsnap had even acquired a peculiar flourish of his
right arm in often clearing the world of its most difficult problems, by
sweeping them behind him (and consequently sheer away) with those words
and a flushed face. For they affronted him.

Mr Podsnap's world was not a very large world, morally; no, nor even
geographically: seeing that although his business was sustained upon
commerce with other countries, he considered other countries, with that
important reservation, a mistake, and of their manners and customs would
conclusively observe, 'Not English!' when, PRESTO! with a flourish of
the arm, and a flush of the face, they were swept away. Elsewhere, the
world got up at eight, shaved close at a quarter-past, breakfasted at
nine, went to the City at ten, came home at half-past five, and dined
at seven. Mr Podsnap's notions of the Arts in their integrity might have
been stated thus. Literature; large print, respectfully descriptive of
getting up at eight, shaving close at a quarter past, breakfasting
at nine, going to the City at ten, coming home at half-past five,
and dining at seven. Painting and Sculpture; models and portraits
representing Professors of getting up at eight, shaving close at a
quarter past, breakfasting at nine, going to the City at ten, coming
home at half-past five, and dining at seven. Music; a respectable
performance (without variations) on stringed and wind instruments,
sedately expressive of getting up at eight, shaving close at a quarter
past, breakfasting at nine, going to the City at ten, coming home at
half-past five, and dining at seven. Nothing else to be permitted to
those same vagrants the Arts, on pain of excommunication. Nothing else
To Be--anywhere!

As a so eminently respectable man, Mr Podsnap was sensible of its being
required of him to take Providence under his protection. Consequently he
always knew exactly what Providence meant. Inferior and less respectable
men might fall short of that mark, but Mr Podsnap was always up to it.
And it was very remarkable (and must have been very comfortable) that
what Providence meant, was invariably what Mr Podsnap meant.

These may be said to have been the articles of a faith and school
which the present chapter takes the liberty of calling, after its
representative man, Podsnappery. They were confined within close bounds,
as Mr Podsnap's own head was confined by his shirt-collar; and they
were enunciated with a sounding pomp that smacked of the creaking of Mr
Podsnap's own boots.

There was a Miss Podsnap. And this young rocking-horse was being trained
in her mother's art of prancing in a stately manner without ever getting
on. But the high parental action was not yet imparted to her, and
in truth she was but an undersized damsel, with high shoulders, low
spirits, chilled elbows, and a rasped surface of nose, who seemed to
take occasional frosty peeps out of childhood into womanhood, and to
shrink back again, overcome by her mother's head-dress and her father
from head to foot--crushed by the mere dead-weight of Podsnappery.

A certain institution in Mr Podsnap's mind which he called 'the young
person' may be considered to have been embodied in Miss Podsnap, his
daughter. It was an inconvenient and exacting institution, as requiring
everything in the universe to be filed down and fitted to it. The
question about everything was, would it bring a blush into the cheek of
the young person? And the inconvenience of the young person was, that,
according to Mr Podsnap, she seemed always liable to burst into
blushes when there was no need at all. There appeared to be no line of
demarcation between the young person's excessive innocence, and another
person's guiltiest knowledge. Take Mr Podsnap's word for it, and the
soberest tints of drab, white, lilac, and grey, were all flaming red to
this troublesome Bull of a young person.

The Podsnaps lived in a shady angle adjoining Portman Square. They were
a kind of people certain to dwell in the shade, wherever they dwelt.
Miss Podsnap's life had been, from her first appearance on this planet,
altogether of a shady order; for, Mr Podsnap's young person was likely
to get little good out of association with other young persons, and had
therefore been restricted to companionship with not very congenial older
persons, and with massive furniture. Miss Podsnap's early views of life
being principally derived from the reflections of it in her father's
boots, and in the walnut and rosewood tables of the dim drawing-rooms,
and in their swarthy giants of looking-glasses, were of a sombre cast;
and it was not wonderful that now, when she was on most days solemnly
tooled through the Park by the side of her mother in a great tall
custard-coloured phaeton, she showed above the apron of that vehicle
like a dejected young person sitting up in bed to take a startled look
at things in general, and very strongly desiring to get her head under
the counterpane again.

Said Mr Podsnap to Mrs Podsnap, 'Georgiana is almost eighteen.'

Said Mrs Podsnap to Mr Podsnap, assenting, 'Almost eighteen.'

Said Mr Podsnap then to Mrs Podsnap, 'Really I think we should have some
people on Georgiana's birthday.'

Said Mrs Podsnap then to Mr Podsnap, 'Which will enable us to clear off
all those people who are due.'

So it came to pass that Mr and Mrs Podsnap requested the honour of the
company of seventeen friends of their souls at dinner; and that they
substituted other friends of their souls for such of the seventeen
original friends of their souls as deeply regretted that a prior
engagement prevented their having the honour of dining with Mr and Mrs
Podsnap, in pursuance of their kind invitation; and that Mrs Podsnap
said of all these inconsolable personages, as she checked them off with
a pencil in her list, 'Asked, at any rate, and got rid of;' and that
they successfully disposed of a good many friends of their souls in this
way, and felt their consciences much lightened.

There were still other friends of their souls who were not entitled to
be asked to dinner, but had a claim to be invited to come and take a
haunch of mutton vapour-bath at half-past nine. For the clearing off
of these worthies, Mrs Podsnap added a small and early evening to the
dinner, and looked in at the music-shop to bespeak a well-conducted
automaton to come and play quadrilles for a carpet dance.

Mr and Mrs Veneering, and Mr and Mrs Veneering's bran-new bride and
bridegroom, were of the dinner company; but the Podsnap establishment
had nothing else in common with the Veneerings. Mr Podsnap could
tolerate taste in a mushroom man who stood in need of that sort
of thing, but was far above it himself. Hideous solidity was the
characteristic of the Podsnap plate. Everything was made to look as
heavy as it could, and to take up as much room as possible. Everything
said boastfully, 'Here you have as much of me in my ugliness as if I
were only lead; but I am so many ounces of precious metal worth so much
an ounce;--wouldn't you like to melt me down?' A corpulent straddling
epergne, blotched all over as if it had broken out in an eruption rather
than been ornamented, delivered this address from an unsightly silver
platform in the centre of the table. Four silver wine-coolers, each
furnished with four staring heads, each head obtrusively carrying a big
silver ring in each of its ears, conveyed the sentiment up and down the
table, and handed it on to the pot-bellied silver salt-cellars. All the
big silver spoons and forks widened the mouths of the company expressly
for the purpose of thrusting the sentiment down their throats with every
morsel they ate.

The majority of the guests were like the plate, and included several
heavy articles weighing ever so much. But there was a foreign gentleman
among them: whom Mr Podsnap had invited after much debate with
himself--believing the whole European continent to be in mortal alliance
against the young person--and there was a droll disposition, not only on
the part of Mr Podsnap but of everybody else, to treat him as if he were
a child who was hard of hearing.

As a delicate concession to this unfortunately-born foreigner, Mr
Podsnap, in receiving him, had presented his wife as 'Madame Podsnap;'
also his daughter as 'Mademoiselle Podsnap,' with some inclination to
add 'ma fille,' in which bold venture, however, he checked himself. The
Veneerings being at that time the only other arrivals, he had added (in
a condescendingly explanatory manner), 'Monsieur Vey-nair-reeng,' and
had then subsided into English.

'How Do You Like London?' Mr Podsnap now inquired from his station of
host, as if he were administering something in the nature of a powder or
potion to the deaf child; 'London, Londres, London?'

The foreign gentleman admired it.

'You find it Very Large?' said Mr Podsnap, spaciously.

The foreign gentleman found it very large.

'And Very Rich?'

The foreign gentleman found it, without doubt, enormement riche.

'Enormously Rich, We say,' returned Mr Podsnap, in a condescending
manner. 'Our English adverbs do Not terminate in Mong, and We Pronounce
the "ch" as if there were a "t" before it. We say Ritch.'

'Reetch,' remarked the foreign gentleman.

'And Do You Find, Sir,' pursued Mr Podsnap, with dignity, 'Many
Evidences that Strike You, of our British Constitution in the Streets Of
The World's Metropolis, London, Londres, London?'

The foreign gentleman begged to be pardoned, but did not altogether
understand.

'The Constitution Britannique,' Mr Podsnap explained, as if he were
teaching in an infant school.' We Say British, But You Say Britannique,
You Know' (forgivingly, as if that were not his fault). 'The
Constitution, Sir.'

The foreign gentleman said, 'Mais, yees; I know eem.'

A youngish sallowish gentleman in spectacles, with a lumpy forehead,
seated in a supplementary chair at a corner of the table, here caused
a profound sensation by saying, in a raised voice, 'ESKER,' and then
stopping dead.

'Mais oui,' said the foreign gentleman, turning towards him. 'Est-ce
que? Quoi donc?'

But the gentleman with the lumpy forehead having for the time delivered
himself of all that he found behind his lumps, spake for the time no
more.

'I Was Inquiring,' said Mr Podsnap, resuming the thread of his
discourse, 'Whether You Have Observed in our Streets as We should say,
Upon our Pavvy as You would say, any Tokens--'

The foreign gentleman, with patient courtesy entreated pardon; 'But what
was tokenz?'

'Marks,' said Mr Podsnap; 'Signs, you know, Appearances--Traces.'

'Ah! Of a Orse?' inquired the foreign gentleman.

'We call it Horse,' said Mr Podsnap, with forbearance. 'In England,
Angleterre, England, We Aspirate the "H," and We Say "Horse." Only our
Lower Classes Say "Orse!"'

'Pardon,' said the foreign gentleman; 'I am alwiz wrong!'

'Our Language,' said Mr Podsnap, with a gracious consciousness of being
always right, 'is Difficult. Ours is a Copious Language, and Trying to
Strangers. I will not Pursue my Question.'

But the lumpy gentleman, unwilling to give it up, again madly said,
'ESKER,' and again spake no more.

'It merely referred,' Mr Podsnap explained, with a sense of meritorious
proprietorship, 'to Our Constitution, Sir. We Englishmen are Very Proud
of our Constitution, Sir. It Was Bestowed Upon Us By Providence. No
Other Country is so Favoured as This Country.'

'And ozer countries?--' the foreign gentleman was beginning, when Mr
Podsnap put him right again.

'We do not say Ozer; we say Other: the letters are "T" and "H;" You say
Tay and Aish, You Know; (still with clemency). The sound is "th"--"th!"'

'And OTHER countries,' said the foreign gentleman. 'They do how?'

'They do, Sir,' returned Mr Podsnap, gravely shaking his head; 'they
do--I am sorry to be obliged to say it--AS they do.'

'It was a little particular of Providence,' said the foreign gentleman,
laughing; 'for the frontier is not large.'

'Undoubtedly,' assented Mr Podsnap; 'But So it is. It was the Charter
of the Land. This Island was Blest, Sir, to the Direct Exclusion of
such Other Countries as--as there may happen to be. And if we were all
Englishmen present, I would say,' added Mr Podsnap, looking round upon
his compatriots, and sounding solemnly with his theme, 'that there is in
the Englishman a combination of qualities, a modesty, an independence,
a responsibility, a repose, combined with an absence of everything
calculated to call a blush into the cheek of a young person, which one
would seek in vain among the Nations of the Earth.'

Having delivered this little summary, Mr Podsnap's face flushed, as he
thought of the remote possibility of its being at all qualified by
any prejudiced citizen of any other country; and, with his favourite
right-arm flourish, he put the rest of Europe and the whole of Asia,
Africa, and America nowhere.

The audience were much edified by this passage of words; and Mr Podsnap,
feeling that he was in rather remarkable force to-day, became smiling
and conversational.

'Has anything more been heard, Veneering,' he inquired, 'of the lucky
legatee?'

'Nothing more,' returned Veneering, 'than that he has come into
possession of the property. I am told people now call him The Golden
Dustman. I mentioned to you some time ago, I think, that the young lady
whose intended husband was murdered is daughter to a clerk of mine?'

'Yes, you told me that,' said Podsnap; 'and by-the-bye, I wish you would
tell it again here, for it's a curious coincidence--curious that the
first news of the discovery should have been brought straight to your
table (when I was there), and curious that one of your people should
have been so nearly interested in it. Just relate that, will you?'

Veneering was more than ready to do it, for he had prospered exceedingly
upon the Harmon Murder, and had turned the social distinction it
conferred upon him to the account of making several dozen of bran-new
bosom-friends. Indeed, such another lucky hit would almost have set him
up in that way to his satisfaction. So, addressing himself to the most
desirable of his neighbours, while Mrs Veneering secured the next most
desirable, he plunged into the case, and emerged from it twenty minutes
afterwards with a Bank Director in his arms. In the mean time, Mrs
Veneering had dived into the same waters for a wealthy Ship-Broker, and
had brought him up, safe and sound, by the hair. Then Mrs Veneering had
to relate, to a larger circle, how she had been to see the girl, and how
she was really pretty, and (considering her station) presentable.
And this she did with such a successful display of her eight aquiline
fingers and their encircling jewels, that she happily laid hold of a
drifting General Officer, his wife and daughter, and not only restored
their animation which had become suspended, but made them lively friends
within an hour.

Although Mr Podsnap would in a general way have highly disapproved of
Bodies in rivers as ineligible topics with reference to the cheek of the
young person, he had, as one may say, a share in this affair which made
him a part proprietor. As its returns were immediate, too, in the way
of restraining the company from speechless contemplation of the
wine-coolers, it paid, and he was satisfied.

And now the haunch of mutton vapour-bath having received a gamey
infusion, and a few last touches of sweets and coffee, was quite ready,
and the bathers came; but not before the discreet automaton had got
behind the bars of the piano music-desk, and there presented the
appearance of a captive languishing in a rose-wood jail. And who now
so pleasant or so well assorted as Mr and Mrs Alfred Lammle, he all
sparkle, she all gracious contentment, both at occasional intervals
exchanging looks like partners at cards who played a game against All
England.

There was not much youth among the bathers, but there was no youth
(the young person always excepted) in the articles of Podsnappery. Bald
bathers folded their arms and talked to Mr Podsnap on the hearthrug;
sleek-whiskered bathers, with hats in their hands, lunged at Mrs Podsnap
and retreated; prowling bathers, went about looking into ornamental
boxes and bowls as if they had suspicions of larceny on the part of the
Podsnaps, and expected to find something they had lost at the bottom;
bathers of the gentler sex sat silently comparing ivory shoulders. All
this time and always, poor little Miss Podsnap, whose tiny efforts (if
she had made any) were swallowed up in the magnificence of her mother's
rocking, kept herself as much out of sight and mind as she could,
and appeared to be counting on many dismal returns of the day. It was
somehow understood, as a secret article in the state proprieties of
Podsnappery that nothing must be said about the day. Consequently this
young damsel's nativity was hushed up and looked over, as if it were
agreed on all hands that it would have been better that she had never
been born.

The Lammles were so fond of the dear Veneerings that they could not for
some time detach themselves from those excellent friends; but at length,
either a very open smile on Mr Lammle's part, or a very secret elevation
of one of his gingerous eyebrows--certainly the one or the other--seemed
to say to Mrs Lammle, 'Why don't you play?' And so, looking about her,
she saw Miss Podsnap, and seeming to say responsively, 'That card?' and
to be answered, 'Yes,' went and sat beside Miss Podsnap.

Mrs Lammle was overjoyed to escape into a corner for a little quiet
talk.

It promised to be a very quiet talk, for Miss Podsnap replied in a
flutter, 'Oh! Indeed, it's very kind of you, but I am afraid I DON'T
talk.'

'Let us make a beginning,' said the insinuating Mrs Lammle, with her
best smile.

'Oh! I am afraid you'll find me very dull. But Ma talks!'

That was plainly to be seen, for Ma was talking then at her usual
canter, with arched head and mane, opened eyes and nostrils.

'Fond of reading perhaps?'

'Yes. At least I--don't mind that so much,' returned Miss Podsnap.

'M-m-m-m-music. So insinuating was Mrs Lammle that she got half a dozen
ms into the word before she got it out.

'I haven't nerve to play even if I could. Ma plays.'

(At exactly the same canter, and with a certain flourishing appearance
of doing something, Ma did, in fact, occasionally take a rock upon the
instrument.)

'Of course you like dancing?'

'Oh no, I don't,' said Miss Podsnap.

'No? With your youth and attractions? Truly, my dear, you surprise me!'

'I can't say,' observed Miss Podsnap, after hesitating considerably, and
stealing several timid looks at Mrs Lammle's carefully arranged face,
'how I might have liked it if I had been a--you won't mention it, WILL
you?'

'My dear! Never!'

'No, I am sure you won't. I can't say then how I should have liked it,
if I had been a chimney-sweep on May-day.'

'Gracious!' was the exclamation which amazement elicited from Mrs
Lammle.

'There! I knew you'd wonder. But you won't mention it, will you?'

'Upon my word, my love,' said Mrs Lammle, 'you make me ten times more
desirous, now I talk to you, to know you well than I was when I sat over
yonder looking at you. How I wish we could be real friends! Try me as a
real friend. Come! Don't fancy me a frumpy old married woman, my dear;
I was married but the other day, you know; I am dressed as a bride now,
you see. About the chimney-sweeps?'

'Hush! Ma'll hear.'

'She can't hear from where she sits.'

'Don't you be too sure of that,' said Miss Podsnap, in a lower voice.
'Well, what I mean is, that they seem to enjoy it.'

'And that perhaps you would have enjoyed it, if you had been one of
them?'

Miss Podsnap nodded significantly.

'Then you don't enjoy it now?'

'How is it possible?' said Miss Podsnap. 'Oh it is such a dreadful
thing! If I was wicked enough--and strong enough--to kill anybody, it
should be my partner.'

This was such an entirely new view of the Terpsichorean art as
socially practised, that Mrs Lammle looked at her young friend in some
astonishment. Her young friend sat nervously twiddling her fingers in
a pinioned attitude, as if she were trying to hide her elbows. But this
latter Utopian object (in short sleeves) always appeared to be the great
inoffensive aim of her existence.

'It sounds horrid, don't it?' said Miss Podsnap, with a penitential
face.

Mrs Lammle, not very well knowing what to answer, resolved herself into
a look of smiling encouragement.

'But it is, and it always has been,' pursued Miss Podsnap, 'such a trial
to me! I so dread being awful. And it is so awful! No one knows what
I suffered at Madame Sauteuse's, where I learnt to dance and make
presentation-curtseys, and other dreadful things--or at least where they
tried to teach me. Ma can do it.'

'At any rate, my love,' said Mrs Lammle, soothingly, 'that's over.'

'Yes, it's over,' returned Miss Podsnap, 'but there's nothing gained by
that. It's worse here, than at Madame Sauteuse's. Ma was there, and Ma's
here; but Pa wasn't there, and company wasn't there, and there were not
real partners there. Oh there's Ma speaking to the man at the piano! Oh
there's Ma going up to somebody! Oh I know she's going to bring him
to me! Oh please don't, please don't, please don't! Oh keep away, keep
away, keep away!' These pious ejaculations Miss Podsnap uttered with her
eyes closed, and her head leaning back against the wall.

But the Ogre advanced under the pilotage of Ma, and Ma said, 'Georgiana,
Mr Grompus,' and the Ogre clutched his victim and bore her off to his
castle in the top couple. Then the discreet automaton who had surveyed
his ground, played a blossomless tuneless 'set,' and sixteen disciples
of Podsnappery went through the figures of - 1, Getting up at eight and
shaving close at a quarter past - 2, Breakfasting at nine - 3, Going to
the City at ten - 4, Coming home at half-past five - 5, Dining at seven,
and the grand chain.

While these solemnities were in progress, Mr Alfred Lammle (most loving
of husbands) approached the chair of Mrs Alfred Lammle (most loving of
wives), and bending over the back of it, trifled for some few seconds
with Mrs Lammle's bracelet. Slightly in contrast with this brief airy
toying, one might have noticed a certain dark attention in Mrs Lammle's
face as she said some words with her eyes on Mr Lammle's waistcoat, and
seemed in return to receive some lesson. But it was all done as a breath
passes from a mirror.

And now, the grand chain riveted to the last link, the discreet
automaton ceased, and the sixteen, two and two, took a walk among
the furniture. And herein the unconsciousness of the Ogre Grompus was
pleasantly conspicuous; for, that complacent monster, believing that
he was giving Miss Podsnap a treat, prolonged to the utmost stretch
of possibility a peripatetic account of an archery meeting; while his
victim, heading the procession of sixteen as it slowly circled about,
like a revolving funeral, never raised her eyes except once to steal a
glance at Mrs Lammle, expressive of intense despair.

At length the procession was dissolved by the violent arrival of a
nutmeg, before which the drawing-room door bounced open as if it were a
cannon-ball; and while that fragrant article, dispersed through several
glasses of coloured warm water, was going the round of society, Miss
Podsnap returned to her seat by her new friend.

'Oh my goodness,' said Miss Podsnap. 'THAT'S over! I hope you didn't
look at me.'

'My dear, why not?'

'Oh I know all about myself,' said Miss Podsnap.

'I'll tell you something I know about you, my dear,' returned Mrs Lammle
in her winning way, 'and that is, you are most unnecessarily shy.'

'Ma ain't,' said Miss Podsnap. '--I detest you! Go along!' This shot
was levelled under her breath at the gallant Grompus for bestowing an
insinuating smile upon her in passing.

'Pardon me if I scarcely see, my dear Miss Podsnap,' Mrs Lammle was
beginning when the young lady interposed.

'If we are going to be real friends (and I suppose we are, for you are
the only person who ever proposed it) don't let us be awful. It's awful
enough to BE Miss Podsnap, without being called so. Call me Georgiana.'

'Dearest Georgiana,' Mrs Lammle began again.

'Thank you,' said Miss Podsnap.

'Dearest Georgiana, pardon me if I scarcely see, my love, why your
mamma's not being shy, is a reason why you should be.'

'Don't you really see that?' asked Miss Podsnap, plucking at her fingers
in a troubled manner, and furtively casting her eyes now on Mrs Lammle,
now on the ground. 'Then perhaps it isn't?'

'My dearest Georgiana, you defer much too readily to my poor opinion.
Indeed it is not even an opinion, darling, for it is only a confession
of my dullness.'

'Oh YOU are not dull,' returned Miss Podsnap. 'I am dull, but you
couldn't have made me talk if you were.'

Some little touch of conscience answering this perception of her having
gained a purpose, called bloom enough into Mrs Lammle's face to make it
look brighter as she sat smiling her best smile on her dear Georgiana,
and shaking her head with an affectionate playfulness. Not that it meant
anything, but that Georgiana seemed to like it.

'What I mean is,' pursued Georgiana, 'that Ma being so endowed with
awfulness, and Pa being so endowed with awfulness, and there being
so much awfulness everywhere--I mean, at least, everywhere where I
am--perhaps it makes me who am so deficient in awfulness, and frightened
at it--I say it very badly--I don't know whether you can understand what
I mean?'

'Perfectly, dearest Georgiana!' Mrs Lammle was proceeding with every
reassuring wile, when the head of that young lady suddenly went back
against the wall again and her eyes closed.

'Oh there's Ma being awful with somebody with a glass in his eye! Oh I
know she's going to bring him here! Oh don't bring him, don't bring him!
Oh he'll be my partner with his glass in his eye! Oh what shall I do!'
This time Georgiana accompanied her ejaculations with taps of her feet
upon the floor, and was altogether in quite a desperate condition. But,
there was no escape from the majestic Mrs Podsnap's production of an
ambling stranger, with one eye screwed up into extinction and the other
framed and glazed, who, having looked down out of that organ, as if he
descried Miss Podsnap at the bottom of some perpendicular shaft, brought
her to the surface, and ambled off with her. And then the captive at the
piano played another 'set,' expressive of his mournful aspirations after
freedom, and other sixteen went through the former melancholy motions,
and the ambler took Miss Podsnap for a furniture walk, as if he had
struck out an entirely original conception.

In the mean time a stray personage of a meek demeanour, who had wandered
to the hearthrug and got among the heads of tribes assembled there in
conference with Mr Podsnap, eliminated Mr Podsnap's flush and
flourish by a highly unpolite remark; no less than a reference to the
circumstance that some half-dozen people had lately died in the streets,
of starvation. It was clearly ill-timed after dinner. It was not adapted
to the cheek of the young person. It was not in good taste.

'I don't believe it,' said Mr Podsnap, putting it behind him.

The meek man was afraid we must take it as proved, because there were
the Inquests and the Registrar's returns.

'Then it was their own fault,' said Mr Podsnap.

Veneering and other elders of tribes commended this way out of it. At
once a short cut and a broad road.

The man of meek demeanour intimated that truly it would seem from
the facts, as if starvation had been forced upon the culprits in
question--as if, in their wretched manner, they had made their weak
protests against it--as if they would have taken the liberty of staving
it off if they could--as if they would rather not have been starved upon
the whole, if perfectly agreeable to all parties.

'There is not,' said Mr Podsnap, flushing angrily, 'there is not a
country in the world, sir, where so noble a provision is made for the
poor as in this country.'

The meek man was quite willing to concede that, but perhaps it
rendered the matter even worse, as showing that there must be something
appallingly wrong somewhere.

'Where?' said Mr Podsnap.

The meek man hinted Wouldn't it be well to try, very seriously, to find
out where?

'Ah!' said Mr Podsnap. 'Easy to say somewhere; not so easy to say
where! But I see what you are driving at. I knew it from the first.
Centralization. No. Never with my consent. Not English.'

An approving murmur arose from the heads of tribes; as saying, 'There
you have him! Hold him!'

He was not aware (the meek man submitted of himself) that he was driving
at any ization. He had no favourite ization that he knew of. But he
certainly was more staggered by these terrible occurrences than he was
by names, of howsoever so many syllables. Might he ask, was dying of
destitution and neglect necessarily English?

'You know what the population of London is, I suppose,' said Mr Podsnap.

The meek man supposed he did, but supposed that had absolutely nothing
to do with it, if its laws were well administered.

'And you know; at least I hope you know;' said Mr Podsnap, with
severity, 'that Providence has declared that you shall have the poor
always with you?'

The meek man also hoped he knew that.

'I am glad to hear it,' said Mr Podsnap with a portentous air. 'I am
glad to hear it. It will render you cautious how you fly in the face of
Providence.'

In reference to that absurd and irreverent conventional phrase, the meek
man said, for which Mr Podsnap was not responsible, he the meek man had
no fear of doing anything so impossible; but--

But Mr Podsnap felt that the time had come for flushing and flourishing
this meek man down for good. So he said:

'I must decline to pursue this painful discussion. It is not pleasant to
my feelings; it is repugnant to my feelings. I have said that I do not
admit these things. I have also said that if they do occur (not that I
admit it), the fault lies with the sufferers themselves. It is not for
ME'--Mr Podsnap pointed 'me' forcibly, as adding by implication though
it may be all very well for YOU--'it is not for me to impugn the
workings of Providence. I know better than that, I trust, and I have
mentioned what the intentions of Providence are. Besides,' said
Mr Podsnap, flushing high up among his hair-brushes, with a strong
consciousness of personal affront, 'the subject is a very disagreeable
one. I will go so far as to say it is an odious one. It is not one to be
introduced among our wives and young persons, and I--' He finished with
that flourish of his arm which added more expressively than any words,
And I remove it from the face of the earth.

Simultaneously with this quenching of the meek man's ineffectual fire;
Georgiana having left the ambler up a lane of sofa, in a No Thoroughfare
of back drawing-room, to find his own way out, came back to Mrs Lammle.
And who should be with Mrs Lammle, but Mr Lammle. So fond of her!

'Alfred, my love, here is my friend. Georgiana, dearest girl, you must
like my husband next to me.

Mr Lammle was proud to be so soon distinguished by this special
commendation to Miss Podsnap's favour. But if Mr Lammle were prone to be
jealous of his dear Sophronia's friendships, he would be jealous of her
feeling towards Miss Podsnap.

'Say Georgiana, darling,' interposed his wife.

'Towards--shall I?--Georgiana.' Mr Lammle uttered the name, with a
delicate curve of his right hand, from his lips outward. 'For never have
I known Sophronia (who is not apt to take sudden likings) so attracted
and so captivated as she is by--shall I once more?--Georgiana.'

The object of this homage sat uneasily enough in receipt of it, and then
said, turning to Mrs Lammle, much embarrassed:

'I wonder what you like me for! I am sure I can't think.'

'Dearest Georgiana, for yourself. For your difference from all around
you.'

'Well! That may be. For I think I like you for your difference from all
around me,' said Georgiana with a smile of relief.

'We must be going with the rest,' observed Mrs Lammle, rising with a
show of unwillingness, amidst a general dispersal. 'We are real friends,
Georgiana dear?'

'Real.'

'Good night, dear girl!'

She had established an attraction over the shrinking nature upon which
her smiling eyes were fixed, for Georgiana held her hand while she
answered in a secret and half-frightened tone:

'Don't forget me when you are gone away. And come again soon. Good
night!'

Charming to see Mr and Mrs Lammle taking leave so gracefully, and going
down the stairs so lovingly and sweetly. Not quite so charming to see
their smiling faces fall and brood as they dropped moodily into separate
corners of their little carriage. But to be sure that was a sight behind
the scenes, which nobody saw, and which nobody was meant to see.

Certain big, heavy vehicles, built on the model of the Podsnap plate,
took away the heavy articles of guests weighing ever so much; and the
less valuable articles got away after their various manners; and the
Podsnap plate was put to bed. As Mr Podsnap stood with his back to the
drawing-room fire, pulling up his shirtcollar, like a veritable cock
of the walk literally pluming himself in the midst of his possessions,
nothing would have astonished him more than an intimation that Miss
Podsnap, or any other young person properly born and bred, could not be
exactly put away like the plate, brought out like the plate, polished
like the plate, counted, weighed, and valued like the plate. That such
a young person could possibly have a morbid vacancy in the heart for
anything younger than the plate, or less monotonous than the plate;
or that such a young person's thoughts could try to scale the region
bounded on the north, south, east, and west, by the plate; was a
monstrous imagination which he would on the spot have flourished into
space. This perhaps in some sort arose from Mr Podsnap's blushing young
person being, so to speak, all cheek; whereas there is a possibility
that there may be young persons of a rather more complex organization.

If Mr Podsnap, pulling up his shirt-collar, could only have heard
himself called 'that fellow' in a certain short dialogue, which passed
between Mr and Mrs Lammle in their opposite corners of their little
carriage, rolling home!

'Sophronia, are you awake?'

'Am I likely to be asleep, sir?'

'Very likely, I should think, after that fellow's company. Attend to
what I am going to say.'

'I have attended to what you have already said, have I not? What else
have I been doing all to-night.'

'Attend, I tell you,' (in a raised voice) 'to what I am going to say.
Keep close to that idiot girl. Keep her under your thumb. You have her
fast, and you are not to let her go. Do you hear?'

'I hear you.'

'I foresee there is money to be made out of this, besides taking that
fellow down a peg. We owe each other money, you know.'

Mrs Lammle winced a little at the reminder, but only enough to shake her
scents and essences anew into the atmosphere of the little carriage, as
she settled herself afresh in her own dark corner.



Chapter 12

THE SWEAT OF AN HONEST MAN'S BROW


Mr Mortimer Lightwood and Mr Eugene Wrayburn took a coffee-house dinner
together in Mr Lightwood's office. They had newly agreed to set up a
joint establishment together. They had taken a bachelor cottage near
Hampton, on the brink of the Thames, with a lawn, and a boat-house; and
all things fitting, and were to float with the stream through the summer
and the Long Vacation.

It was not summer yet, but spring; and it was not gentle spring
ethereally mild, as in Thomson's Seasons, but nipping spring with an
easterly wind, as in Johnson's, Jackson's, Dickson's, Smith's, and
Jones's Seasons. The grating wind sawed rather than blew; and as it
sawed, the sawdust whirled about the sawpit. Every street was a sawpit,
and there were no top-sawyers; every passenger was an under-sawyer, with
the sawdust blinding him and choking him.

That mysterious paper currency which circulates in London when the
wind blows, gyrated here and there and everywhere. Whence can it come,
whither can it go? It hangs on every bush, flutters in every tree, is
caught flying by the electric wires, haunts every enclosure, drinks at
every pump, cowers at every grating, shudders upon every plot of grass,
seeks rest in vain behind the legions of iron rails. In Paris, where
nothing is wasted, costly and luxurious city though it be, but where
wonderful human ants creep out of holes and pick up every scrap, there
is no such thing. There, it blows nothing but dust. There, sharp eyes
and sharp stomachs reap even the east wind, and get something out of it.

The wind sawed, and the sawdust whirled. The shrubs wrung their many
hands, bemoaning that they had been over-persuaded by the sun to bud;
the young leaves pined; the sparrows repented of their early marriages,
like men and women; the colours of the rainbow were discernible, not
in floral spring, but in the faces of the people whom it nibbled and
pinched. And ever the wind sawed, and the sawdust whirled.

When the spring evenings are too long and light to shut out, and such
weather is rife, the city which Mr Podsnap so explanatorily called
London, Londres, London, is at its worst. Such a black shrill city,
combining the qualities of a smoky house and a scolding wife; such a
gritty city; such a hopeless city, with no rent in the leaden canopy of
its sky; such a beleaguered city, invested by the great Marsh Forces of
Essex and Kent. So the two old schoolfellows felt it to be, as, their
dinner done, they turned towards the fire to smoke. Young Blight was
gone, the coffee-house waiter was gone, the plates and dishes were gone,
the wine was going--but not in the same direction.

'The wind sounds up here,' quoth Eugene, stirring the fire, 'as if we
were keeping a lighthouse. I wish we were.'

'Don't you think it would bore us?' Lightwood asked.

'Not more than any other place. And there would be no Circuit to go. But
that's a selfish consideration, personal to me.'

'And no clients to come,' added Lightwood. 'Not that that's a selfish
consideration at all personal to ME.'

'If we were on an isolated rock in a stormy sea,' said Eugene, smoking
with his eyes on the fire, 'Lady Tippins couldn't put off to visit us,
or, better still, might put off and get swamped. People couldn't ask one
to wedding breakfasts. There would be no Precedents to hammer at,
except the plain-sailing Precedent of keeping the light up. It would be
exciting to look out for wrecks.'

'But otherwise,' suggested Lightwood, 'there might be a degree of
sameness in the life.'

'I have thought of that also,' said Eugene, as if he really had been
considering the subject in its various bearings with an eye to the
business; 'but it would be a defined and limited monotony. It would
not extend beyond two people. Now, it's a question with me, Mortimer,
whether a monotony defined with that precision and limited to that
extent, might not be more endurable than the unlimited monotony of one's
fellow-creatures.'

As Lightwood laughed and passed the wine, he remarked, 'We shall have an
opportunity, in our boating summer, of trying the question.'

'An imperfect one,' Eugene acquiesced, with a sigh, 'but so we shall. I
hope we may not prove too much for one another.'

'Now, regarding your respected father,' said Lightwood, bringing him
to a subject they had expressly appointed to discuss: always the most
slippery eel of eels of subjects to lay hold of.

'Yes, regarding my respected father,' assented Eugene, settling himself
in his arm-chair. 'I would rather have approached my respected father by
candlelight, as a theme requiring a little artificial brilliancy; but we
will take him by twilight, enlivened with a glow of Wallsend.'

He stirred the fire again as he spoke, and having made it blaze,
resumed.

'My respected father has found, down in the parental neighbourhood, a
wife for his not-generally-respected son.'

'With some money, of course?'

'With some money, of course, or he would not have found her. My
respected father--let me shorten the dutiful tautology by substituting
in future M. R. F., which sounds military, and rather like the Duke of
Wellington.'

'What an absurd fellow you are, Eugene!'

'Not at all, I assure you. M. R. F. having always in the clearest manner
provided (as he calls it) for his children by pre-arranging from the
hour of the birth of each, and sometimes from an earlier period, what
the devoted little victim's calling and course in life should be, M. R.
F. pre-arranged for myself that I was to be the barrister I am (with
the slight addition of an enormous practice, which has not accrued), and
also the married man I am not.'

'The first you have often told me.'

'The first I have often told you. Considering myself sufficiently
incongruous on my legal eminence, I have until now suppressed my
domestic destiny. You know M. R. F., but not as well as I do. If you
knew him as well as I do, he would amuse you.'

'Filially spoken, Eugene!'

'Perfectly so, believe me; and with every sentiment of affectionate
deference towards M. R. F. But if he amuses me, I can't help it. When my
eldest brother was born, of course the rest of us knew (I mean the rest
of us would have known, if we had been in existence) that he was heir
to the Family Embarrassments--we call it before the company the Family
Estate. But when my second brother was going to be born by-and-by,
"this," says M. R. F., "is a little pillar of the church." WAS born,
and became a pillar of the church; a very shaky one. My third brother
appeared, considerably in advance of his engagement to my mother; but
M. R. F., not at all put out by surprise, instantly declared him
a Circumnavigator. Was pitch-forked into the Navy, but has not
circumnavigated. I announced myself and was disposed of with the highly
satisfactory results embodied before you. When my younger brother was
half an hour old, it was settled by M. R. F. that he should have a
mechanical genius. And so on. Therefore I say that M. R. F. amuses me.'

'Touching the lady, Eugene.'

'There M. R. F. ceases to be amusing, because my intentions are opposed
to touching the lady.'

'Do you know her?'

'Not in the least.'

'Hadn't you better see her?'

'My dear Mortimer, you have studied my character. Could I possibly go
down there, labelled "ELIGIBLE. ON VIEW," and meet the lady, similarly
labelled? Anything to carry out M. R. F.'s arrangements, I am sure, with
the greatest pleasure--except matrimony. Could I possibly support it? I,
so soon bored, so constantly, so fatally?'

'But you are not a consistent fellow, Eugene.'

'In susceptibility to boredom,' returned that worthy, 'I assure you I am
the most consistent of mankind.'

'Why, it was but now that you were dwelling in the advantages of a
monotony of two.'

'In a lighthouse. Do me the justice to remember the condition. In a
lighthouse.'

Mortimer laughed again, and Eugene, having laughed too for the first
time, as if he found himself on reflection rather entertaining, relapsed
into his usual gloom, and drowsily said, as he enjoyed his cigar, 'No,
there is no help for it; one of the prophetic deliveries of M. R. F.
must for ever remain unfulfilled. With every disposition to oblige him,
he must submit to a failure.'

It had grown darker as they talked, and the wind was sawing and the
sawdust was whirling outside paler windows. The underlying churchyard
was already settling into deep dim shade, and the shade was creeping up
to the housetops among which they sat. 'As if,' said Eugene, 'as if the
churchyard ghosts were rising.'

He had walked to the window with his cigar in his mouth, to exalt its
flavour by comparing the fireside with the outside, when he stopped
midway on his return to his arm-chair, and said:

'Apparently one of the ghosts has lost its way, and dropped in to be
directed. Look at this phantom!'

Lightwood, whose back was towards the door, turned his head, and there,
in the darkness of the entry, stood a something in the likeness of a
man: to whom he addressed the not irrelevant inquiry, 'Who the devil are
you?'

'I ask your pardons, Governors,' replied the ghost, in a hoarse
double-barrelled whisper, 'but might either on you be Lawyer Lightwood?'

'What do you mean by not knocking at the door?' demanded Mortimer.

'I ask your pardons, Governors,' replied the ghost, as before, 'but
probable you was not aware your door stood open.'

'What do you want?'

Hereunto the ghost again hoarsely replied, in its double-barrelled
manner, 'I ask your pardons, Governors, but might one on you be Lawyer
Lightwood?'

'One of us is,' said the owner of that name.

'All right, Governors Both,' returned the ghost, carefully closing the
room door; ''tickler business.'

Mortimer lighted the candles. They showed the visitor to be an
ill-looking visitor with a squinting leer, who, as he spoke, fumbled
at an old sodden fur cap, formless and mangey, that looked like a furry
animal, dog or cat, puppy or kitten, drowned and decaying.

'Now,' said Mortimer, 'what is it?'

'Governors Both,' returned the man, in what he meant to be a wheedling
tone, 'which on you might be Lawyer Lightwood?'

'I am.'

'Lawyer Lightwood,' ducking at him with a servile air, 'I am a man as
gets my living, and as seeks to get my living, by the sweat of my brow.
Not to risk being done out of the sweat of my brow, by any chances, I
should wish afore going further to be swore in.'

'I am not a swearer in of people, man.'

The visitor, clearly anything but reliant on this assurance, doggedly
muttered 'Alfred David.'

'Is that your name?' asked Lightwood.

'My name?' returned the man. 'No; I want to take a Alfred David.'

(Which Eugene, smoking and contemplating him, interpreted as meaning
Affidavit.)

'I tell you, my good fellow,' said Lightwood, with his indolent laugh,
'that I have nothing to do with swearing.'

'He can swear AT you,' Eugene explained; 'and so can I. But we can't do
more for you.'

Much discomfited by this information, the visitor turned the drowned
dog or cat, puppy or kitten, about and about, and looked from one of
the Governors Both to the other of the Governors Both, while he deeply
considered within himself. At length he decided:

'Then I must be took down.'

'Where?' asked Lightwood.

'Here,' said the man. 'In pen and ink.'

'First, let us know what your business is about.'

'It's about,' said the man, taking a step forward, dropping his hoarse
voice, and shading it with his hand, 'it's about from five to ten
thousand pound reward. That's what it's about. It's about Murder. That's
what it's about.'

'Come nearer the table. Sit down. Will you have a glass of wine?'

'Yes, I will,' said the man; 'and I don't deceive you, Governors.'

It was given him. Making a stiff arm to the elbow, he poured the wine
into his mouth, tilted it into his right cheek, as saying, 'What do you
think of it?' tilted it into his left cheek, as saying, 'What do YOU
think of it?' jerked it into his stomach, as saying, 'What do YOU think
of it?' To conclude, smacked his lips, as if all three replied, 'We
think well of it.'

'Will you have another?'

'Yes, I will,' he repeated, 'and I don't deceive you, Governors.' And
also repeated the other proceedings.

'Now,' began Lightwood, 'what's your name?'

'Why, there you're rather fast, Lawyer Lightwood,' he replied, in a
remonstrant manner. 'Don't you see, Lawyer Lightwood? There you're a
little bit fast. I'm going to earn from five to ten thousand pound by
the sweat of my brow; and as a poor man doing justice to the sweat of my
brow, is it likely I can afford to part with so much as my name without
its being took down?'

Deferring to the man's sense of the binding powers of pen and ink and
paper, Lightwood nodded acceptance of Eugene's nodded proposal to take
those spells in hand. Eugene, bringing them to the table, sat down as
clerk or notary.

'Now,' said Lightwood, 'what's your name?'

But further precaution was still due to the sweat of this honest
fellow's brow.

'I should wish, Lawyer Lightwood,' he stipulated, 'to have that T'other
Governor as my witness that what I said I said. Consequent, will the
T'other Governor be so good as chuck me his name and where he lives?'

Eugene, cigar in mouth and pen in hand, tossed him his card. After
spelling it out slowly, the man made it into a little roll, and tied it
up in an end of his neckerchief still more slowly.

'Now,' said Lightwood, for the third time, 'if you have quite completed
your various preparations, my friend, and have fully ascertained that
your spirits are cool and not in any way hurried, what's your name?'

'Roger Riderhood.'

'Dwelling-place?'

'Lime'us Hole.'

'Calling or occupation?'

Not quite so glib with this answer as with the previous two, Mr
Riderhood gave in the definition, 'Waterside character.'

'Anything against you?' Eugene quietly put in, as he wrote.

Rather baulked, Mr Riderhood evasively remarked, with an innocent air,
that he believed the T'other Governor had asked him summa't.

'Ever in trouble?' said Eugene.

'Once.' (Might happen to any man, Mr Riderhood added incidentally.)

'On suspicion of--'

'Of seaman's pocket,' said Mr Riderhood. 'Whereby I was in reality the
man's best friend, and tried to take care of him.'

'With the sweat of your brow?' asked Eugene.

'Till it poured down like rain,' said Roger Riderhood.

Eugene leaned back in his chair, and smoked with his eyes negligently
turned on the informer, and his pen ready to reduce him to more writing.
Lightwood also smoked, with his eyes negligently turned on the informer.

'Now let me be took down again,' said Riderhood, when he had turned the
drowned cap over and under, and had brushed it the wrong way (if it had
a right way) with his sleeve. 'I give information that the man that done
the Harmon Murder is Gaffer Hexam, the man that found the body. The hand
of Jesse Hexam, commonly called Gaffer on the river and along shore, is
the hand that done that deed. His hand and no other.'

The two friends glanced at one another with more serious faces than they
had shown yet.

'Tell us on what grounds you make this accusation,' said Mortimer
Lightwood.

'On the grounds,' answered Riderhood, wiping his face with his sleeve,
'that I was Gaffer's pardner, and suspected of him many a long day and
many a dark night. On the grounds that I knowed his ways. On the grounds
that I broke the pardnership because I see the danger; which I warn you
his daughter may tell you another story about that, for anythink I can
say, but you know what it'll be worth, for she'd tell you lies, the
world round and the heavens broad, to save her father. On the grounds
that it's well understood along the cause'ays and the stairs that he
done it. On the grounds that he's fell off from, because he done it. On
the grounds that I will swear he done it. On the grounds that you may
take me where you will, and get me sworn to it. I don't want to back out
of the consequences. I have made up MY mind. Take me anywheres.'

'All this is nothing,' said Lightwood.

'Nothing?' repeated Riderhood, indignantly and amazedly.

'Merely nothing. It goes to no more than that you suspect this man of
the crime. You may do so with some reason, or you may do so with no
reason, but he cannot be convicted on your suspicion.'

'Haven't I said--I appeal to the T'other Governor as my witness--haven't
I said from the first minute that I opened my mouth in this here
world-without-end-everlasting chair' (he evidently used that form of
words as next in force to an affidavit), 'that I was willing to swear
that he done it? Haven't I said, Take me and get me sworn to it? Don't I
say so now? You won't deny it, Lawyer Lightwood?'

'Surely not; but you only offer to swear to your suspicion, and I tell
you it is not enough to swear to your suspicion.'

'Not enough, ain't it, Lawyer Lightwood?' he cautiously demanded.

'Positively not.'

'And did I say it WAS enough? Now, I appeal to the T'other Governor.
Now, fair! Did I say so?'

'He certainly has not said that he had no more to tell,' Eugene observed
in a low voice without looking at him, 'whatever he seemed to imply.'

'Hah!' cried the informer, triumphantly perceiving that the remark was
generally in his favour, though apparently not closely understanding it.
'Fort'nate for me I had a witness!'

'Go on, then,' said Lightwood. 'Say out what you have to say. No
after-thought.'

'Let me be took down then!' cried the informer, eagerly and anxiously.
'Let me be took down, for by George and the Draggin I'm a coming to it
now! Don't do nothing to keep back from a honest man the fruits of the
sweat of his brow! I give information, then, that he told me that he
done it. Is THAT enough?'

'Take care what you say, my friend,' returned Mortimer.

'Lawyer Lightwood, take care, you, what I say; for I judge you'll be
answerable for follering it up!' Then, slowly and emphatically beating
it all out with his open right hand on the palm of his left; 'I,
Roger Riderhood, Lime'us Hole, Waterside character, tell you, Lawyer
Lightwood, that the man Jesse Hexam, commonly called upon the river and
along-shore Gaffer, told me that he done the deed. What's more, he told
me with his own lips that he done the deed. What's more, he said that he
done the deed. And I'll swear it!'

'Where did he tell you so?'

'Outside,' replied Riderhood, always beating it out, with his head
determinedly set askew, and his eyes watchfully dividing their
attention between his two auditors, 'outside the door of the Six Jolly
Fellowships, towards a quarter after twelve o'clock at midnight--but I
will not in my conscience undertake to swear to so fine a matter as
five minutes--on the night when he picked up the body. The Six Jolly
Fellowships won't run away. If it turns out that he warn't at the Six
Jolly Fellowships that night at midnight, I'm a liar.'

'What did he say?'

'I'll tell you (take me down, T'other Governor, I ask no better). He
come out first; I come out last. I might be a minute arter him; I might
be half a minute, I might be a quarter of a minute; I cannot swear to
that, and therefore I won't. That's knowing the obligations of a Alfred
David, ain't it?'

'Go on.'

'I found him a waiting to speak to me. He says to me, "Rogue
Riderhood"--for that's the name I'm mostly called by--not for any
meaning in it, for meaning it has none, but because of its being similar
to Roger.'

'Never mind that.'

''Scuse ME, Lawyer Lightwood, it's a part of the truth, and as such I
do mind it, and I must mind it and I will mind it. "Rogue Riderhood,"
he says, "words passed betwixt us on the river tonight." Which they had;
ask his daughter! "I threatened you," he says, "to chop you over the
fingers with my boat's stretcher, or take a aim at your brains with my
boathook. I did so on accounts of your looking too hard at what I had in
tow, as if you was suspicious, and on accounts of your holding on to the
gunwale of my boat." I says to him, "Gaffer, I know it." He says to me,
"Rogue Riderhood, you are a man in a dozen"--I think he said in a score,
but of that I am not positive, so take the lowest figure, for precious
be the obligations of a Alfred David. "And," he says, "when your
fellow-men is up, be it their lives or be it their watches, sharp is
ever the word with you. Had you suspicions?" I says, "Gaffer, I had;
and what's more, I have." He falls a shaking, and he says, "Of what?" I
says, "Of foul play." He falls a shaking worse, and he says, "There WAS
foul play then. I done it for his money. Don't betray me!" Those were
the words as ever he used.'

There was a silence, broken only by the fall of the ashes in the grate.
An opportunity which the informer improved by smearing himself all
over the head and neck and face with his drowned cap, and not at all
improving his own appearance.

'What more?' asked Lightwood.

'Of him, d'ye mean, Lawyer Lightwood?'

'Of anything to the purpose.'

'Now, I'm blest if I understand you, Governors Both,' said the informer,
in a creeping manner: propitiating both, though only one had spoken.
'What? Ain't THAT enough?'

'Did you ask him how he did it, where he did it, when he did it?'

'Far be it from me, Lawyer Lightwood! I was so troubled in my mind, that
I wouldn't have knowed more, no, not for the sum as I expect to earn
from you by the sweat of my brow, twice told! I had put an end to the
pardnership. I had cut the connexion. I couldn't undo what was done; and
when he begs and prays, "Old pardner, on my knees, don't split upon me!"
I only makes answer "Never speak another word to Roger Riderhood, nor
look him in the face!" and I shuns that man.'

Having given these words a swing to make them mount the higher and go
the further, Rogue Riderhood poured himself out another glass of wine
unbidden, and seemed to chew it, as, with the half-emptied glass in his
hand, he stared at the candles.

Mortimer glanced at Eugene, but Eugene sat glowering at his paper,
and would give him no responsive glance. Mortimer again turned to the
informer, to whom he said:

'You have been troubled in your mind a long time, man?'

Giving his wine a final chew, and swallowing it, the informer answered
in a single word:

'Hages!'

'When all that stir was made, when the Government reward was offered,
when the police were on the alert, when the whole country rang with the
crime!' said Mortimer, impatiently.

'Hah!' Mr Riderhood very slowly and hoarsely chimed in, with several
retrospective nods of his head. 'Warn't I troubled in my mind then!'

'When conjecture ran wild, when the most extravagant suspicions were
afloat, when half a dozen innocent people might have been laid by the
heels any hour in the day!' said Mortimer, almost warming.

'Hah!' Mr Riderhood chimed in, as before. 'Warn't I troubled in my mind
through it all!'

'But he hadn't,' said Eugene, drawing a lady's head upon his
writing-paper, and touching it at intervals, 'the opportunity then of
earning so much money, you see.'

'The T'other Governor hits the nail, Lawyer Lightwood! It was that as
turned me. I had many times and again struggled to relieve myself of the
trouble on my mind, but I couldn't get it off. I had once very nigh
got it off to Miss Abbey Potterson which keeps the Six Jolly
Fellowships--there is the 'ouse, it won't run away,--there lives the
lady, she ain't likely to be struck dead afore you get there--ask
her!--but I couldn't do it. At last, out comes the new bill with your
own lawful name, Lawyer Lightwood, printed to it, and then I asks the
question of my own intellects, Am I to have this trouble on my mind for
ever? Am I never to throw it off? Am I always to think more of Gaffer
than of my own self? If he's got a daughter, ain't I got a daughter?'

'And echo answered--?' Eugene suggested.

'"You have,"' said Mr Riderhood, in a firm tone.

'Incidentally mentioning, at the same time, her age?' inquired Eugene.

'Yes, governor. Two-and-twenty last October. And then I put it to
myself, "Regarding the money. It is a pot of money." For it IS a pot,'
said Mr Riderhood, with candour, 'and why deny it?'

'Hear!' from Eugene as he touched his drawing.

'"It is a pot of money; but is it a sin for a labouring man that
moistens every crust of bread he earns, with his tears--or if not with
them, with the colds he catches in his head--is it a sin for that man to
earn it? Say there is anything again earning it." This I put to myself
strong, as in duty bound; "how can it be said without blaming Lawyer
Lightwood for offering it to be earned?" And was it for ME to blame
Lawyer Lightwood? No.'

'No,' said Eugene.

'Certainly not, Governor,' Mr Riderhood acquiesced. 'So I made up my
mind to get my trouble off my mind, and to earn by the sweat of my brow
what was held out to me. And what's more, he added, suddenly turning
bloodthirsty, 'I mean to have it! And now I tell you, once and away,
Lawyer Lightwood, that Jesse Hexam, commonly called Gaffer, his hand and
no other, done the deed, on his own confession to me. And I give him up
to you, and I want him took. This night!'

After another silence, broken only by the fall of the ashes in the
grate, which attracted the informer's attention as if it were the
chinking of money, Mortimer Lightwood leaned over his friend, and said
in a whisper:

'I suppose I must go with this fellow to our imperturbable friend at the
police-station.'

'I suppose,' said Eugene, 'there is no help for it.'

'Do you believe him?'

'I believe him to be a thorough rascal. But he may tell the truth, for
his own purpose, and for this occasion only.'

'It doesn't look like it.'

'HE doesn't,' said Eugene. 'But neither is his late partner, whom he
denounces, a prepossessing person. The firm are cut-throat Shepherds
both, in appearance. I should like to ask him one thing.'

The subject of this conference sat leering at the ashes, trying with
all his might to overhear what was said, but feigning abstraction as the
'Governors Both' glanced at him.

'You mentioned (twice, I think) a daughter of this Hexam's,' said
Eugene, aloud. 'You don't mean to imply that she had any guilty
knowledge of the crime?'

The honest man, after considering--perhaps considering how his answer
might affect the fruits of the sweat of his brow--replied, unreservedly,
'No, I don't.'

'And you implicate no other person?'

'It ain't what I implicate, it's what Gaffer implicated,' was the dogged
and determined answer. 'I don't pretend to know more than that his words
to me was, "I done it." Those was his words.'

'I must see this out, Mortimer,' whispered Eugene, rising. 'How shall we
go?'

'Let us walk,' whispered Lightwood, 'and give this fellow time to think
of it.'

Having exchanged the question and answer, they prepared themselves
for going out, and Mr Riderhood rose. While extinguishing the candles,
Lightwood, quite as a matter of course took up the glass from which that
honest gentleman had drunk, and coolly tossed it under the grate, where
it fell shivering into fragments.

'Now, if you will take the lead,' said Lightwood, 'Mr Wrayburn and I
will follow. You know where to go, I suppose?'

'I suppose I do, Lawyer Lightwood.'

'Take the lead, then.'

The waterside character pulled his drowned cap over his ears with both
hands, and making himself more round-shouldered than nature had made
him, by the sullen and persistent slouch with which he went, went
down the stairs, round by the Temple Church, across the Temple into
Whitefriars, and so on by the waterside streets.

'Look at his hang-dog air,' said Lightwood, following.

'It strikes me rather as a hang-MAN air,' returned Eugene. 'He has
undeniable intentions that way.'

They said little else as they followed. He went on before them as an
ugly Fate might have done, and they kept him in view, and would have
been glad enough to lose sight of him. But on he went before them,
always at the same distance, and the same rate. Aslant against the hard
implacable weather and the rough wind, he was no more to be driven back
than hurried forward, but held on like an advancing Destiny. There came,
when they were about midway on their journey, a heavy rush of hail,
which in a few minutes pelted the streets clear, and whitened them. It
made no difference to him. A man's life being to be taken and the price
of it got, the hailstones to arrest the purpose must lie larger and
deeper than those. He crashed through them, leaving marks in the
fast-melting slush that were mere shapeless holes; one might have
fancied, following, that the very fashion of humanity had departed from
his feet.

The blast went by, and the moon contended with the fast-flying clouds,
and the wild disorder reigning up there made the pitiful little tumults
in the streets of no account. It was not that the wind swept all
the brawlers into places of shelter, as it had swept the hail still
lingering in heaps wherever there was refuge for it; but that it seemed
as if the streets were absorbed by the sky, and the night were all in
the air.

'If he has had time to think of it,' said Eugene, he has not had time to
think better of it--or differently of it, if that's better. There is no
sign of drawing back in him; and as I recollect this place, we must be
close upon the corner where we alighted that night.'

In fact, a few abrupt turns brought them to the river side, where they
had slipped about among the stones, and where they now slipped more; the
wind coming against them in slants and flaws, across the tide and the
windings of the river, in a furious way. With that habit of getting
under the lee of any shelter which waterside characters acquire, the
waterside character at present in question led the way to the leeside of
the Six Jolly Fellowship Porters before he spoke.

'Look round here, Lawyer Lightwood, at them red curtains. It's the
Fellowships, the 'ouse as I told you wouldn't run away. And has it run
away?'

Not showing himself much impressed by this remarkable confirmation of
the informer's evidence, Lightwood inquired what other business they had
there?

'I wished you to see the Fellowships for yourself, Lawyer Lightwood,
that you might judge whether I'm a liar; and now I'll see Gaffer's
window for myself, that we may know whether he's at home.'

With that, he crept away.

'He'll come back, I suppose?' murmured Lightwood.

'Ay! and go through with it,' murmured Eugene.

He came back after a very short interval indeed.

'Gaffer's out, and his boat's out. His daughter's at home, sitting
a-looking at the fire. But there's some supper getting ready, so
Gaffer's expected. I can find what move he's upon, easy enough,
presently.'

Then he beckoned and led the way again, and they came to the
police-station, still as clean and cool and steady as before, saving
that the flame of its lamp--being but a lamp-flame, and only attached to
the Force as an outsider--flickered in the wind.

Also, within doors, Mr Inspector was at his studies as of yore.
He recognized the friends the instant they reappeared, but their
reappearance had no effect on his composure. Not even the circumstance
that Riderhood was their conductor moved him, otherwise than that as he
took a dip of ink he seemed, by a settlement of his chin in his stock,
to propound to that personage, without looking at him, the question,
'What have YOU been up to, last?'

Mortimer Lightwood asked him, would he be so good as look at those
notes? Handing him Eugene's.

Having read the first few lines, Mr Inspector mounted to that (for him)
extraordinary pitch of emotion that he said, 'Does either of you two
gentlemen happen to have a pinch of snuff about him?' Finding that
neither had, he did quite as well without it, and read on.

'Have you heard these read?' he then demanded of the honest man.

'No,' said Riderhood.

'Then you had better hear them.' And so read them aloud, in an official
manner.

'Are these notes correct, now, as to the information you bring here and
the evidence you mean to give?' he asked, when he had finished reading.

'They are. They are as correct,' returned Mr Riderhood, 'as I am. I
can't say more than that for 'em.'

'I'll take this man myself, sir,' said Mr Inspector to Lightwood. Then
to Riderhood, 'Is he at home? Where is he? What's he doing? You have
made it your business to know all about him, no doubt.'

Riderhood said what he did know, and promised to find out in a few
minutes what he didn't know.

'Stop,' said Mr Inspector; 'not till I tell you: We mustn't look like
business. Would you two gentlemen object to making a pretence of taking
a glass of something in my company at the Fellowships? Well-conducted
house, and highly respectable landlady.'

They replied that they would be happy to substitute a reality for the
pretence, which, in the main, appeared to be as one with Mr Inspector's
meaning.

'Very good,' said he, taking his hat from its peg, and putting a pair of
handcuffs in his pocket as if they were his gloves. 'Reserve!' Reserve
saluted. 'You know where to find me?' Reserve again saluted. 'Riderhood,
when you have found out concerning his coming home, come round to the
window of Cosy, tap twice at it, and wait for me. Now, gentlemen.'

As the three went out together, and Riderhood slouched off from under
the trembling lamp his separate way, Lightwood asked the officer what he
thought of this?

Mr Inspector replied, with due generality and reticence, that it was
always more likely that a man had done a bad thing than that he hadn't.
That he himself had several times 'reckoned up' Gaffer, but had never
been able to bring him to a satisfactory criminal total. That if this
story was true, it was only in part true. That the two men, very shy
characters, would have been jointly and pretty equally 'in it;' but that
this man had 'spotted' the other, to save himself and get the money.

'And I think,' added Mr Inspector, in conclusion, 'that if all goes
well with him, he's in a tolerable way of getting it. But as this is the
Fellowships, gentlemen, where the lights are, I recommend dropping
the subject. You can't do better than be interested in some lime works
anywhere down about Northfleet, and doubtful whether some of your lime
don't get into bad company as it comes up in barges.'

'You hear Eugene?' said Lightwood, over his shoulder. 'You are deeply
interested in lime.'

'Without lime,' returned that unmoved barrister-at-law, 'my existence
would be unilluminated by a ray of hope.'



Chapter 13

TRACKING THE BIRD OF PREY


The two lime merchants, with their escort, entered the dominions of
Miss Abbey Potterson, to whom their escort (presenting them and their
pretended business over the half-door of the bar, in a confidential
way) preferred his figurative request that 'a mouthful of fire' might
be lighted in Cosy. Always well disposed to assist the constituted
authorities, Miss Abbey bade Bob Gliddery attend the gentlemen to
that retreat, and promptly enliven it with fire and gaslight. Of this
commission the bare-armed Bob, leading the way with a flaming wisp of
paper, so speedily acquitted himself, that Cosy seemed to leap out of a
dark sleep and embrace them warmly, the moment they passed the lintels
of its hospitable door.

'They burn sherry very well here,' said Mr Inspector, as a piece of
local intelligence. 'Perhaps you gentlemen might like a bottle?'

The answer being By all means, Bob Gliddery received his instructions
from Mr Inspector, and departed in a becoming state of alacrity
engendered by reverence for the majesty of the law.

'It's a certain fact,' said Mr Inspector, 'that this man we have
received our information from,' indicating Riderhood with his thumb over
his shoulder, 'has for some time past given the other man a bad name
arising out of your lime barges, and that the other man has been avoided
in consequence. I don't say what it means or proves, but it's a certain
fact. I had it first from one of the opposite sex of my acquaintance,'
vaguely indicating Miss Abbey with his thumb over his shoulder, 'down
away at a distance, over yonder.'

Then probably Mr Inspector was not quite unprepared for their visit that
evening? Lightwood hinted.

'Well you see,' said Mr Inspector, 'it was a question of making a move.
It's of no use moving if you don't know what your move is. You had
better by far keep still. In the matter of this lime, I certainly had
an idea that it might lie betwixt the two men; I always had that idea.
Still I was forced to wait for a start, and I wasn't so lucky as to get
a start. This man that we have received our information from, has got
a start, and if he don't meet with a check he may make the running and
come in first. There may turn out to be something considerable for him
that comes in second, and I don't mention who may or who may not try
for that place. There's duty to do, and I shall do it, under any
circumstances; to the best of my judgment and ability.'

'Speaking as a shipper of lime--' began Eugene.

'Which no man has a better right to do than yourself, you know,' said Mr
Inspector.

'I hope not,' said Eugene; 'my father having been a shipper of lime
before me, and my grandfather before him--in fact we having been a
family immersed to the crowns of our heads in lime during several
generations--I beg to observe that if this missing lime could be got
hold of without any young female relative of any distinguished gentleman
engaged in the lime trade (which I cherish next to my life) being
present, I think it might be a more agreeable proceeding to the
assisting bystanders, that is to say, lime-burners.'

'I also,' said Lightwood, pushing his friend aside with a laugh, 'should
much prefer that.'

'It shall be done, gentlemen, if it can be done conveniently,' said
Mr Inspector, with coolness. 'There is no wish on my part to cause any
distress in that quarter. Indeed, I am sorry for that quarter.'

'There was a boy in that quarter,' remarked Eugene. 'He is still there?'

'No,' said Mr Inspector.' He has quitted those works. He is otherwise
disposed of.'

'Will she be left alone then?' asked Eugene.

'She will be left,' said Mr Inspector, 'alone.'

Bob's reappearance with a steaming jug broke off the conversation. But
although the jug steamed forth a delicious perfume, its contents had not
received that last happy touch which the surpassing finish of the Six
Jolly Fellowship Porters imparted on such momentous occasions. Bob
carried in his left hand one of those iron models of sugar-loaf hats,
before mentioned, into which he emptied the jug, and the pointed end of
which he thrust deep down into the fire, so leaving it for a few moments
while he disappeared and reappeared with three bright drinking-glasses.
Placing these on the table and bending over the fire, meritoriously
sensible of the trying nature of his duty, he watched the wreaths of
steam, until at the special instant of projection he caught up the iron
vessel and gave it one delicate twirl, causing it to send forth one
gentle hiss. Then he restored the contents to the jug; held over the
steam of the jug, each of the three bright glasses in succession;
finally filled them all, and with a clear conscience awaited the
applause of his fellow-creatures.

It was bestowed (Mr Inspector having proposed as an appropriate
sentiment 'The lime trade!') and Bob withdrew to report the
commendations of the guests to Miss Abbey in the bar. It may be here
in confidence admitted that, the room being close shut in his absence,
there had not appeared to be the slightest reason for the elaborate
maintenance of this same lime fiction. Only it had been regarded by Mr
Inspector as so uncommonly satisfactory, and so fraught with mysterious
virtues, that neither of his clients had presumed to question it.

Two taps were now heard on the outside of the window. Mr Inspector,
hastily fortifying himself with another glass, strolled out with a
noiseless foot and an unoccupied countenance. As one might go to survey
the weather and the general aspect of the heavenly bodies.

'This is becoming grim, Mortimer,' said Eugene, in a low voice. 'I don't
like this.'

'Nor I' said Lightwood. 'Shall we go?'

'Being here, let us stay. You ought to see it out, and I won't leave
you. Besides, that lonely girl with the dark hair runs in my head. It
was little more than a glimpse we had of her that last time, and yet
I almost see her waiting by the fire to-night. Do you feel like a dark
combination of traitor and pickpocket when you think of that girl?'

'Rather,' returned Lightwood. 'Do you?'

'Very much so.'

Their escort strolled back again, and reported. Divested of its various
lime-lights and shadows, his report went to the effect that Gaffer was
away in his boat, supposed to be on his old look-out; that he had been
expected last high-water; that having missed it for some reason or
other, he was not, according to his usual habits at night, to be counted
on before next high-water, or it might be an hour or so later; that his
daughter, surveyed through the window, would seem to be so expecting
him, for the supper was not cooking, but set out ready to be cooked;
that it would be high-water at about one, and that it was now barely
ten; that there was nothing to be done but watch and wait; that the
informer was keeping watch at the instant of that present reporting, but
that two heads were better than one (especially when the second was
Mr Inspector's); and that the reporter meant to share the watch. And
forasmuch as crouching under the lee of a hauled-up boat on a night when
it blew cold and strong, and when the weather was varied with blasts of
hail at times, might be wearisome to amateurs, the reporter closed with
the recommendation that the two gentlemen should remain, for a while at
any rate, in their present quarters, which were weather-tight and warm.

They were not inclined to dispute this recommendation, but they wanted
to know where they could join the watchers when so disposed. Rather than
trust to a verbal description of the place, which might mislead, Eugene
(with a less weighty sense of personal trouble on him than he usually
had) would go out with Mr Inspector, note the spot, and come back.

On the shelving bank of the river, among the slimy stones of a
causeway--not the special causeway of the Six Jolly Fellowships, which
had a landing-place of its own, but another, a little removed, and
very near to the old windmill which was the denounced man's
dwelling-place--were a few boats; some, moored and already beginning to
float; others, hauled up above the reach of the tide. Under one of these
latter, Eugene's companion disappeared. And when Eugene had observed its
position with reference to the other boats, and had made sure that he
could not miss it, he turned his eyes upon the building where, as he had
been told, the lonely girl with the dark hair sat by the fire.

He could see the light of the fire shining through the window. Perhaps
it drew him on to look in. Perhaps he had come out with the express
intention. That part of the bank having rank grass growing on it, there
was no difficulty in getting close, without any noise of footsteps: it
was but to scramble up a ragged face of pretty hard mud some three or
four feet high and come upon the grass and to the window. He came to the
window by that means.

She had no other light than the light of the fire. The unkindled lamp
stood on the table. She sat on the ground, looking at the brazier, with
her face leaning on her hand. There was a kind of film or flicker on
her face, which at first he took to be the fitful firelight; but, on a
second look, he saw that she was weeping. A sad and solitary spectacle,
as shown him by the rising and the falling of the fire.

It was a little window of but four pieces of glass, and was not
curtained; he chose it because the larger window near it was. It showed
him the room, and the bills upon the wall respecting the drowned people
starting out and receding by turns. But he glanced slightly at them,
though he looked long and steadily at her. A deep rich piece of colour,
with the brown flush of her cheek and the shining lustre of her hair,
though sad and solitary, weeping by the rising and the falling of the
fire.

She started up. He had been so very still that he felt sure it was not
he who had disturbed her, so merely withdrew from the window and stood
near it in the shadow of the wall. She opened the door, and said in an
alarmed tone, 'Father, was that you calling me?' And again, 'Father!'
And once again, after listening, 'Father! I thought I heard you call me
twice before!'

No response. As she re-entered at the door, he dropped over the bank and
made his way back, among the ooze and near the hiding-place, to Mortimer
Lightwood: to whom he told what he had seen of the girl, and how this
was becoming very grim indeed.

'If the real man feels as guilty as I do,' said Eugene, 'he is
remarkably uncomfortable.'

'Influence of secrecy,' suggested Lightwood.

'I am not at all obliged to it for making me Guy Fawkes in the vault and
a Sneak in the area both at once,' said Eugene. 'Give me some more of
that stuff.'

Lightwood helped him to some more of that stuff, but it had been
cooling, and didn't answer now.

'Pooh,' said Eugene, spitting it out among the ashes. 'Tastes like the
wash of the river.'

'Are you so familiar with the flavour of the wash of the river?'

'I seem to be to-night. I feel as if I had been half drowned, and
swallowing a gallon of it.'

'Influence of locality,' suggested Lightwood.

'You are mighty learned to-night, you and your influences,' returned
Eugene. 'How long shall we stay here?'

'How long do you think?'

'If I could choose, I should say a minute,' replied Eugene, 'for the
Jolly Fellowship Porters are not the jolliest dogs I have known. But
I suppose we are best here until they turn us out with the other
suspicious characters, at midnight.'

Thereupon he stirred the fire, and sat down on one side of it. It struck
eleven, and he made believe to compose himself patiently. But gradually
he took the fidgets in one leg, and then in the other leg, and then in
one arm, and then in the other arm, and then in his chin, and then in
his back, and then in his forehead, and then in his hair, and then in
his nose; and then he stretched himself recumbent on two chairs, and
groaned; and then he started up.

'Invisible insects of diabolical activity swarm in this place. I am
tickled and twitched all over. Mentally, I have now committed a burglary
under the meanest circumstances, and the myrmidons of justice are at my
heels.'

'I am quite as bad,' said Lightwood, sitting up facing him, with a
tumbled head; after going through some wonderful evolutions, in which
his head had been the lowest part of him. 'This restlessness began with
me, long ago. All the time you were out, I felt like Gulliver with the
Lilliputians firing upon him.'

'It won't do, Mortimer. We must get into the air; we must join our dear
friend and brother, Riderhood. And let us tranquillize ourselves by
making a compact. Next time (with a view to our peace of mind) we'll
commit the crime, instead of taking the criminal. You swear it?'

'Certainly.'

'Sworn! Let Tippins look to it. Her life's in danger.'

Mortimer rang the bell to pay the score, and Bob appeared to transact
that business with him: whom Eugene, in his careless extravagance, asked
if he would like a situation in the lime-trade?

'Thankee sir, no sir,' said Bob. 'I've a good sitiwation here, sir.'

'If you change your mind at any time,' returned Eugene, 'come to me at
my works, and you'll always find an opening in the lime-kiln.'

'Thankee sir,' said Bob.

'This is my partner,' said Eugene, 'who keeps the books and attends to
the wages. A fair day's wages for a fair day's work is ever my partner's
motto.'

'And a very good 'un it is, gentlemen,' said Bob, receiving his fee, and
drawing a bow out of his head with his right hand, very much as he would
have drawn a pint of beer out of the beer engine.

'Eugene,' Mortimer apostrophized him, laughing quite heartily when they
were alone again, 'how CAN you be so ridiculous?'

'I am in a ridiculous humour,' quoth Eugene; 'I am a ridiculous fellow.
Everything is ridiculous. Come along!'

It passed into Mortimer Lightwood's mind that a change of some sort,
best expressed perhaps as an intensification of all that was wildest and
most negligent and reckless in his friend, had come upon him in the last
half-hour or so. Thoroughly used to him as he was, he found something
new and strained in him that was for the moment perplexing. This passed
into his mind, and passed out again; but he remembered it afterwards.

'There's where she sits, you see,' said Eugene, when they were standing
under the bank, roared and riven at by the wind. 'There's the light of
her fire.'

'I'll take a peep through the window,' said Mortimer.

'No, don't!' Eugene caught him by the arm. 'Best, not make a show of
her. Come to our honest friend.'

He led him to the post of watch, and they both dropped down and crept
under the lee of the boat; a better shelter than it had seemed before,
being directly contrasted with the blowing wind and the bare night.

'Mr Inspector at home?' whispered Eugene.

'Here I am, sir.'

'And our friend of the perspiring brow is at the far corner there? Good.
Anything happened?'

'His daughter has been out, thinking she heard him calling, unless it
was a sign to him to keep out of the way. It might have been.'

'It might have been Rule Britannia,' muttered Eugene, 'but it wasn't.
Mortimer!'

'Here!' (On the other side of Mr Inspector.)

'Two burglaries now, and a forgery!'

With this indication of his depressed state of mind, Eugene fell silent.

They were all silent for a long while. As it got to be flood-tide, and
the water came nearer to them, noises on the river became more frequent,
and they listened more. To the turning of steam-paddles, to the clinking
of iron chain, to the creaking of blocks, to the measured working
of oars, to the occasional violent barking of some passing dog on
shipboard, who seemed to scent them lying in their hiding-place. The
night was not so dark but that, besides the lights at bows and mastheads
gliding to and fro, they could discern some shadowy bulk attached; and
now and then a ghostly lighter with a large dark sail, like a warning
arm, would start up very near them, pass on, and vanish. At this time
of their watch, the water close to them would be often agitated by some
impulsion given it from a distance. Often they believed this beat and
plash to be the boat they lay in wait for, running in ashore; and again
and again they would have started up, but for the immobility with which
the informer, well used to the river, kept quiet in his place.

The wind carried away the striking of the great multitude of city
church clocks, for those lay to leeward of them; but there were bells to
windward that told them of its being One--Two--Three. Without that aid
they would have known how the night wore, by the falling of the tide,
recorded in the appearance of an ever-widening black wet strip of shore,
and the emergence of the paved causeway from the river, foot by foot.

As the time so passed, this slinking business became a more and more
precarious one. It would seem as if the man had had some intimation of
what was in hand against him, or had taken fright? His movements might
have been planned to gain for him, in getting beyond their reach, twelve
hours' advantage? The honest man who had expended the sweat of his brow
became uneasy, and began to complain with bitterness of the proneness of
mankind to cheat him--him invested with the dignity of Labour!

Their retreat was so chosen that while they could watch the river, they
could watch the house. No one had passed in or out, since the daughter
thought she heard the father calling. No one could pass in or out
without being seen.

'But it will be light at five,' said Mr Inspector, 'and then WE shall be
seen.'

'Look here,' said Riderhood, 'what do you say to this? He may have
been lurking in and out, and just holding his own betwixt two or three
bridges, for hours back.'

'What do you make of that?' said Mr Inspector. Stoical, but
contradictory.

'He may be doing so at this present time.'

'What do you make of that?' said Mr Inspector.

'My boat's among them boats here at the cause'ay.'

'And what do you make of your boat?' said Mr Inspector.

'What if I put off in her and take a look round? I know his ways, and
the likely nooks he favours. I know where he'd be at such a time of the
tide, and where he'd be at such another time. Ain't I been his pardner?
None of you need show. None of you need stir. I can shove her off
without help; and as to me being seen, I'm about at all times.'

'You might have given a worse opinion,' said Mr Inspector, after brief
consideration. 'Try it.'

'Stop a bit. Let's work it out. If I want you, I'll drop round under the
Fellowships and tip you a whistle.'

'If I might so far presume as to offer a suggestion to my honourable and
gallant friend, whose knowledge of naval matters far be it from me to
impeach,' Eugene struck in with great deliberation, 'it would be, that
to tip a whistle is to advertise mystery and invite speculation.
My honourable and gallant friend will, I trust, excuse me, as an
independent member, for throwing out a remark which I feel to be due to
this house and the country.'

'Was that the T'other Governor, or Lawyer Lightwood?' asked Riderhood.
For, they spoke as they crouched or lay, without seeing one another's
faces.

'In reply to the question put by my honourable and gallant friend,'
said Eugene, who was lying on his back with his hat on his face, as an
attitude highly expressive of watchfulness, 'I can have no hesitation in
replying (it not being inconsistent with the public service) that those
accents were the accents of the T'other Governor.'

'You've tolerable good eyes, ain't you, Governor? You've all tolerable
good eyes, ain't you?' demanded the informer.

All.

'Then if I row up under the Fellowship and lay there, no need to
whistle. You'll make out that there's a speck of something or another
there, and you'll know it's me, and you'll come down that cause'ay to
me. Understood all?'

Understood all.

'Off she goes then!'

In a moment, with the wind cutting keenly at him sideways, he was
staggering down to his boat; in a few moments he was clear, and creeping
up the river under their own shore.

Eugene had raised himself on his elbow to look into the darkness after
him. 'I wish the boat of my honourable and gallant friend,' he murmured,
lying down again and speaking into his hat, 'may be endowed
with philanthropy enough to turn bottom-upward and extinguish
him!--Mortimer.'

'My honourable friend.'

'Three burglaries, two forgeries, and a midnight assassination.' Yet
in spite of having those weights on his conscience, Eugene was somewhat
enlivened by the late slight change in the circumstances of affairs. So
were his two companions. Its being a change was everything. The suspense
seemed to have taken a new lease, and to have begun afresh from a recent
date. There was something additional to look for. They were all three
more sharply on the alert, and less deadened by the miserable influences
of the place and time.

More than an hour had passed, and they were even dozing, when one of the
three--each said it was he, and he had NOT dozed--made out Riderhood
in his boat at the spot agreed on. They sprang up, came out from their
shelter, and went down to him. When he saw them coming, he dropped
alongside the causeway; so that they, standing on the causeway, could
speak with him in whispers, under the shadowy mass of the Six Jolly
Fellowship Porters fast asleep.

'Blest if I can make it out!' said he, staring at them.

'Make what out? Have you seen him?'

'No.'

'What HAVE you seen?' asked Lightwood. For, he was staring at them in
the strangest way.

'I've seen his boat.'

'Not empty?'

'Yes, empty. And what's more,--adrift. And what's more,--with one scull
gone. And what's more,--with t'other scull jammed in the thowels and
broke short off. And what's more,--the boat's drove tight by the tide
'atwixt two tiers of barges. And what's more,--he's in luck again, by
George if he ain't!'



Chapter 14

THE BIRD OF PREY BROUGHT DOWN


Cold on the shore, in the raw cold of that leaden crisis in the
four-and-twenty hours when the vital force of all the noblest and
prettiest things that live is at its lowest, the three watchers looked
each at the blank faces of the other two, and all at the blank face of
Riderhood in his boat.

'Gaffer's boat, Gaffer in luck again, and yet no Gaffer!' So spake
Riderhood, staring disconsolate.

As if with one accord, they all turned their eyes towards the light of
the fire shining through the window. It was fainter and duller. Perhaps
fire, like the higher animal and vegetable life it helps to sustain, has
its greatest tendency towards death, when the night is dying and the day
is not yet born.

'If it was me that had the law of this here job in hand,' growled
Riderhood with a threatening shake of his head, 'blest if I wouldn't lay
hold of HER, at any rate!'

'Ay, but it is not you,' said Eugene. With something so suddenly fierce
in him that the informer returned submissively; 'Well, well, well,
t'other governor, I didn't say it was. A man may speak.'

'And vermin may be silent,' said Eugene. 'Hold your tongue, you
water-rat!'

Astonished by his friend's unusual heat, Lightwood stared too, and then
said: 'What can have become of this man?'

'Can't imagine. Unless he dived overboard.' The informer wiped his
brow ruefully as he said it, sitting in his boat and always staring
disconsolate.

'Did you make his boat fast?'

'She's fast enough till the tide runs back. I couldn't make her faster
than she is. Come aboard of mine, and see for your own-selves.'

There was a little backwardness in complying, for the freight looked too
much for the boat; but on Riderhood's protesting 'that he had had half a
dozen, dead and alive, in her afore now, and she was nothing deep in the
water nor down in the stern even then, to speak of;' they carefully took
their places, and trimmed the crazy thing. While they were doing so,
Riderhood still sat staring disconsolate.

'All right. Give way!' said Lightwood.

'Give way, by George!' repeated Riderhood, before shoving off. 'If he's
gone and made off any how Lawyer Lightwood, it's enough to make me give
way in a different manner. But he always WAS a cheat, con-found him!
He always was a infernal cheat, was Gaffer. Nothing straightfor'ard,
nothing on the square. So mean, so underhanded. Never going through with
a thing, nor carrying it out like a man!'

'Hallo! Steady!' cried Eugene (he had recovered immediately on
embarking), as they bumped heavily against a pile; and then in a lower
voice reversed his late apostrophe by remarking ('I wish the boat of my
honourable and gallant friend may be endowed with philanthropy enough
not to turn bottom-upward and extinguish us!) Steady, steady! Sit close,
Mortimer. Here's the hail again. See how it flies, like a troop of wild
cats, at Mr Riderhood's eyes!'

Indeed he had the full benefit of it, and it so mauled him, though he
bent his head low and tried to present nothing but the mangy cap to it,
that he dropped under the lee of a tier of shipping, and they lay there
until it was over. The squall had come up, like a spiteful messenger
before the morning; there followed in its wake a ragged tear of light
which ripped the dark clouds until they showed a great grey hole of day.

They were all shivering, and everything about them seemed to be
shivering; the river itself; craft, rigging, sails, such early smoke as
there yet was on the shore. Black with wet, and altered to the eye by
white patches of hail and sleet, the huddled buildings looked lower
than usual, as if they were cowering, and had shrunk with the cold. Very
little life was to be seen on either bank, windows and doors were shut,
and the staring black and white letters upon wharves and warehouses
'looked,' said Eugene to Mortimer, 'like inscriptions over the graves of
dead businesses.'

As they glided slowly on, keeping under the shore and sneaking in and
out among the shipping by back-alleys of water, in a pilfering way
that seemed to be their boatman's normal manner of progression, all
the objects among which they crept were so huge in contrast with their
wretched boat, as to threaten to crush it. Not a ship's hull, with its
rusty iron links of cable run out of hawse-holes long discoloured with
the iron's rusty tears, but seemed to be there with a fell intention.
Not a figure-head but had the menacing look of bursting forward to run
them down. Not a sluice gate, or a painted scale upon a post or wall,
showing the depth of water, but seemed to hint, like the dreadfully
facetious Wolf in bed in Grandmamma's cottage, 'That's to drown YOU in,
my dears!' Not a lumbering black barge, with its cracked and blistered
side impending over them, but seemed to suck at the river with a
thirst for sucking them under. And everything so vaunted the spoiling
influences of water--discoloured copper, rotten wood, honey-combed
stone, green dank deposit--that the after-consequences of being crushed,
sucked under, and drawn down, looked as ugly to the imagination as the
main event.

Some half-hour of this work, and Riderhood unshipped his sculls, stood
holding on to a barge, and hand over hand long-wise along the barge's
side gradually worked his boat under her head into a secret little
nook of scummy water. And driven into that nook, and wedged as he had
described, was Gaffer's boat; that boat with the stain still in it,
bearing some resemblance to a muffled human form.

'Now tell me I'm a liar!' said the honest man.

('With a morbid expectation,' murmured Eugene to Lightwood, 'that
somebody is always going to tell him the truth.')

'This is Hexam's boat,' said Mr Inspector. 'I know her well.'

'Look at the broken scull. Look at the t'other scull gone. NOW tell me I
am a liar!' said the honest man.

Mr Inspector stepped into the boat. Eugene and Mortimer looked on.

'And see now!' added Riderhood, creeping aft, and showing a stretched
rope made fast there and towing overboard. 'Didn't I tell you he was in
luck again?'

'Haul in,' said Mr Inspector.

'Easy to say haul in,' answered Riderhood. 'Not so easy done. His luck's
got fouled under the keels of the barges. I tried to haul in last time,
but I couldn't. See how taut the line is!'

'I must have it up,' said Mr Inspector. 'I am going to take this boat
ashore, and his luck along with it. Try easy now.'

He tried easy now; but the luck resisted; wouldn't come.

'I mean to have it, and the boat too,' said Mr Inspector, playing the
line.

But still the luck resisted; wouldn't come.

'Take care,' said Riderhood. 'You'll disfigure. Or pull asunder
perhaps.'

'I am not going to do either, not even to your Grandmother,' said Mr
Inspector; 'but I mean to have it. Come!' he added, at once persuasively
and with authority to the hidden object in the water, as he played the
line again; 'it's no good this sort of game, you know. You MUST come up.
I mean to have you.'

There was so much virtue in this distinctly and decidedly meaning to
have it, that it yielded a little, even while the line was played.

'I told you so,' quoth Mr Inspector, pulling off his outer coat, and
leaning well over the stern with a will. 'Come!'

It was an awful sort of fishing, but it no more disconcerted Mr
Inspector than if he had been fishing in a punt on a summer evening by
some soothing weir high up the peaceful river. After certain minutes,
and a few directions to the rest to 'ease her a little for'ard,' and
'now ease her a trifle aft,' and the like, he said composedly, 'All
clear!' and the line and the boat came free together.

Accepting Lightwood's proffered hand to help him up, he then put on his
coat, and said to Riderhood, 'Hand me over those spare sculls of yours,
and I'll pull this in to the nearest stairs. Go ahead you, and keep out
in pretty open water, that I mayn't get fouled again.'

His directions were obeyed, and they pulled ashore directly; two in one
boat, two in the other.

'Now,' said Mr Inspector, again to Riderhood, when they were all on the
slushy stones; 'you have had more practice in this than I have had, and
ought to be a better workman at it. Undo the tow-rope, and we'll help
you haul in.'

Riderhood got into the boat accordingly. It appeared as if he had
scarcely had a moment's time to touch the rope or look over the stern,
when he came scrambling back, as pale as the morning, and gasped out:

'By the Lord, he's done me!'

'What do you mean?' they all demanded.

He pointed behind him at the boat, and gasped to that degree that he
dropped upon the stones to get his breath.

'Gaffer's done me. It's Gaffer!'

They ran to the rope, leaving him gasping there. Soon, the form of the
bird of prey, dead some hours, lay stretched upon the shore, with a new
blast storming at it and clotting the wet hair with hail-stones.

Father, was that you calling me? Father! I thought I heard you call me
twice before! Words never to be answered, those, upon the earth-side
of the grave. The wind sweeps jeeringly over Father, whips him with the
frayed ends of his dress and his jagged hair, tries to turn him where he
lies stark on his back, and force his face towards the rising sun, that
he may be shamed the more. A lull, and the wind is secret and prying
with him; lifts and lets falls a rag; hides palpitating under another
rag; runs nimbly through his hair and beard. Then, in a rush, it cruelly
taunts him. Father, was that you calling me? Was it you, the voiceless
and the dead? Was it you, thus buffeted as you lie here in a heap? Was
it you, thus baptized unto Death, with these flying impurities now flung
upon your face? Why not speak, Father? Soaking into this filthy ground
as you lie here, is your own shape. Did you never see such a shape
soaked into your boat? Speak, Father. Speak to us, the winds, the only
listeners left you!

'Now see,' said Mr Inspector, after mature deliberation: kneeling on one
knee beside the body, when they had stood looking down on the drowned
man, as he had many a time looked down on many another man: 'the way of
it was this. Of course you gentlemen hardly failed to observe that he
was towing by the neck and arms.'

They had helped to release the rope, and of course not.

'And you will have observed before, and you will observe now, that this
knot, which was drawn chock-tight round his neck by the strain of his
own arms, is a slip-knot': holding it up for demonstration.

Plain enough.

'Likewise you will have observed how he had run the other end of this
rope to his boat.'

It had the curves and indentations in it still, where it had been twined
and bound.

'Now see,' said Mr Inspector, 'see how it works round upon him. It's a
wild tempestuous evening when this man that was,' stooping to wipe
some hailstones out of his hair with an end of his own drowned jacket,
'--there! Now he's more like himself; though he's badly bruised,--when
this man that was, rows out upon the river on his usual lay. He carries
with him this coil of rope. He always carries with him this coil of
rope. It's as well known to me as he was himself. Sometimes it lay in
the bottom of his boat. Sometimes he hung it loose round his neck.
He was a light-dresser was this man;--you see?' lifting the loose
neckerchief over his breast, and taking the opportunity of wiping the
dead lips with it--'and when it was wet, or freezing, or blew cold, he
would hang this coil of line round his neck. Last evening he does this.
Worse for him! He dodges about in his boat, does this man, till he gets
chilled. His hands,' taking up one of them, which dropped like a leaden
weight, 'get numbed. He sees some object that's in his way of business,
floating. He makes ready to secure that object. He unwinds the end of
his coil that he wants to take some turns on in his boat, and he takes
turns enough on it to secure that it shan't run out. He makes it too
secure, as it happens. He is a little longer about this than usual, his
hands being numbed. His object drifts up, before he is quite ready for
it. He catches at it, thinks he'll make sure of the contents of the
pockets anyhow, in case he should be parted from it, bends right over
the stern, and in one of these heavy squalls, or in the cross-swell of
two steamers, or in not being quite prepared, or through all or most or
some, gets a lurch, overbalances and goes head-foremost overboard. Now
see! He can swim, can this man, and instantly he strikes out. But in
such striking-out he tangles his arms, pulls strong on the slip-knot,
and it runs home. The object he had expected to take in tow, floats by,
and his own boat tows him dead, to where we found him, all entangled
in his own line. You'll ask me how I make out about the pockets? First,
I'll tell you more; there was silver in 'em. How do I make that out?
Simple and satisfactory. Because he's got it here.' The lecturer held up
the tightly clenched right hand.

'What is to be done with the remains?' asked Lightwood.

'If you wouldn't object to standing by him half a minute, sir,' was
the reply, 'I'll find the nearest of our men to come and take charge of
him;--I still call it HIM, you see,' said Mr Inspector, looking back as
he went, with a philosophical smile upon the force of habit.

'Eugene,' said Lightwood and was about to add 'we may wait at a little
distance,' when turning his head he found that no Eugene was there.

He raised his voice and called 'Eugene! Holloa!' But no Eugene replied.

It was broad daylight now, and he looked about. But no Eugene was in all
the view.

Mr Inspector speedily returning down the wooden stairs, with a police
constable, Lightwood asked him if he had seen his friend leave them? Mr
Inspector could not exactly say that he had seen him go, but had noticed
that he was restless.

'Singular and entertaining combination, sir, your friend.'

'I wish it had not been a part of his singular entertaining combination
to give me the slip under these dreary circumstances at this time of the
morning,' said Lightwood. 'Can we get anything hot to drink?'

We could, and we did. In a public-house kitchen with a large fire. We
got hot brandy and water, and it revived us wonderfully. Mr Inspector
having to Mr Riderhood announced his official intention of 'keeping
his eye upon him', stood him in a corner of the fireplace, like a wet
umbrella, and took no further outward and visible notice of that honest
man, except ordering a separate service of brandy and water for him:
apparently out of the public funds.

As Mortimer Lightwood sat before the blazing fire, conscious of drinking
brandy and water then and there in his sleep, and yet at one and the
same time drinking burnt sherry at the Six Jolly Fellowships, and
lying under the boat on the river shore, and sitting in the boat that
Riderhood rowed, and listening to the lecture recently concluded, and
having to dine in the Temple with an unknown man, who described himself
as M. H. F. Eugene Gaffer Harmon, and said he lived at Hailstorm,--as
he passed through these curious vicissitudes of fatigue and slumber,
arranged upon the scale of a dozen hours to the second, he became aware
of answering aloud a communication of pressing importance that had
never been made to him, and then turned it into a cough on beholding
Mr Inspector. For, he felt, with some natural indignation, that that
functionary might otherwise suspect him of having closed his eyes, or
wandered in his attention.

'Here just before us, you see,' said Mr Inspector.

'I see,' said Lightwood, with dignity.

'And had hot brandy and water too, you see,' said Mr Inspector, 'and
then cut off at a great rate.'

'Who?' said Lightwood.

'Your friend, you know.'

'I know,' he replied, again with dignity.

After hearing, in a mist through which Mr Inspector loomed vague and
large, that the officer took upon himself to prepare the dead man's
daughter for what had befallen in the night, and generally that he took
everything upon himself, Mortimer Lightwood stumbled in his sleep to
a cab-stand, called a cab, and had entered the army and committed a
capital military offence and been tried by court martial and found
guilty and had arranged his affairs and been marched out to be shot,
before the door banged.

Hard work rowing the cab through the City to the Temple, for a cup of
from five to ten thousand pounds value, given by Mr Boffin; and hard
work holding forth at that immeasurable length to Eugene (when he had
been rescued with a rope from the running pavement) for making off in
that extraordinary manner! But he offered such ample apologies, and was
so very penitent, that when Lightwood got out of the cab, he gave
the driver a particular charge to be careful of him. Which the driver
(knowing there was no other fare left inside) stared at prodigiously.

In short, the night's work had so exhausted and worn out this actor in
it, that he had become a mere somnambulist. He was too tired to rest in
his sleep, until he was even tired out of being too tired, and dropped
into oblivion. Late in the afternoon he awoke, and in some anxiety sent
round to Eugene's lodging hard by, to inquire if he were up yet?

Oh yes, he was up. In fact, he had not been to bed. He had just come
home. And here he was, close following on the heels of the message.

'Why what bloodshot, draggled, dishevelled spectacle is this!' cried
Mortimer.

'Are my feathers so very much rumpled?' said Eugene, coolly going up to
the looking-glass. They ARE rather out of sorts. But consider. Such a
night for plumage!'

'Such a night?' repeated Mortimer. 'What became of you in the morning?'

'My dear fellow,' said Eugene, sitting on his bed, 'I felt that we
had bored one another so long, that an unbroken continuance of those
relations must inevitably terminate in our flying to opposite points of
the earth. I also felt that I had committed every crime in the Newgate
Calendar. So, for mingled considerations of friendship and felony, I
took a walk.'



Chapter 15

TWO NEW SERVANTS


Mr and Mrs Boffin sat after breakfast, in the Bower, a prey to
prosperity. Mr Boffin's face denoted Care and Complication. Many
disordered papers were before him, and he looked at them about as
hopefully as an innocent civilian might look at a crowd of troops whom
he was required at five minutes' notice to manoeuvre and review. He had
been engaged in some attempts to make notes of these papers; but being
troubled (as men of his stamp often are) with an exceedingly distrustful
and corrective thumb, that busy member had so often interposed to
smear his notes, that they were little more legible than the various
impressions of itself; which blurred his nose and forehead. It is
curious to consider, in such a case as Mr Boffin's, what a cheap article
ink is, and how far it may be made to go. As a grain of musk will scent
a drawer for many years, and still lose nothing appreciable of its
original weight, so a halfpenny-worth of ink would blot Mr Boffin to the
roots of his hair and the calves of his legs, without inscribing a line
on the paper before him, or appearing to diminish in the inkstand.

Mr Boffin was in such severe literary difficulties that his eyes were
prominent and fixed, and his breathing was stertorous, when, to the
great relief of Mrs Boffin, who observed these symptoms with alarm, the
yard bell rang.

'Who's that, I wonder!' said Mrs Boffin.

Mr Boffin drew a long breath, laid down his pen, looked at his notes
as doubting whether he had the pleasure of their acquaintance, and
appeared, on a second perusal of their countenances, to be confirmed
in his impression that he had not, when there was announced by the
hammer-headed young man:

'Mr Rokesmith.'

'Oh!' said Mr Boffin. 'Oh indeed! Our and the Wilfers' Mutual Friend, my
dear. Yes. Ask him to come in.'

Mr Rokesmith appeared.

'Sit down, sir,' said Mr Boffin, shaking hands with him. 'Mrs Boffin
you're already acquainted with. Well, sir, I am rather unprepared to see
you, for, to tell you the truth, I've been so busy with one thing and
another, that I've not had time to turn your offer over.'

'That's apology for both of us: for Mr Boffin, and for me as well,' said
the smiling Mrs Boffin. 'But Lor! we can talk it over now; can't us?'

Mr Rokesmith bowed, thanked her, and said he hoped so.

'Let me see then,' resumed Mr Boffin, with his hand to his chin. 'It was
Secretary that you named; wasn't it?'

'I said Secretary,' assented Mr Rokesmith.

'It rather puzzled me at the time,' said Mr Boffin, 'and it rather
puzzled me and Mrs Boffin when we spoke of it afterwards, because (not
to make a mystery of our belief) we have always believed a Secretary to
be a piece of furniture, mostly of mahogany, lined with green baize or
leather, with a lot of little drawers in it. Now, you won't think I take
a liberty when I mention that you certainly ain't THAT.'

Certainly not, said Mr Rokesmith. But he had used the word in the sense
of Steward.

'Why, as to Steward, you see,' returned Mr Boffin, with his hand still
to his chin, 'the odds are that Mrs Boffin and me may never go upon the
water. Being both bad sailors, we should want a Steward if we did; but
there's generally one provided.'

Mr Rokesmith again explained; defining the duties he sought to
undertake, as those of general superintendent, or manager, or
overlooker, or man of business.

'Now, for instance--come!' said Mr Boffin, in his pouncing way. 'If you
entered my employment, what would you do?'

'I would keep exact accounts of all the expenditure you sanctioned,
Mr Boffin. I would write your letters, under your direction. I would
transact your business with people in your pay or employment. I would,'
with a glance and a half-smile at the table, 'arrange your papers--'

Mr Boffin rubbed his inky ear, and looked at his wife.

'--And so arrange them as to have them always in order for immediate
reference, with a note of the contents of each outside it.'

'I tell you what,' said Mr Boffin, slowly crumpling his own blotted note
in his hand; 'if you'll turn to at these present papers, and see what
you can make of 'em, I shall know better what I can make of you.'

No sooner said than done. Relinquishing his hat and gloves, Mr Rokesmith
sat down quietly at the table, arranged the open papers into an orderly
heap, cast his eyes over each in succession, folded it, docketed it on
the outside, laid it in a second heap, and, when that second heap was
complete and the first gone, took from his pocket a piece of string and
tied it together with a remarkably dexterous hand at a running curve and
a loop.

'Good!' said Mr Boffin. 'Very good! Now let us hear what they're all
about; will you be so good?'

John Rokesmith read his abstracts aloud. They were all about the new
house. Decorator's estimate, so much. Furniture estimate, so much.
Estimate for furniture of offices, so much. Coach-maker's estimate, so
much. Horse-dealer's estimate, so much. Harness-maker's estimate, so
much. Goldsmith's estimate, so much. Total, so very much. Then came
correspondence. Acceptance of Mr Boffin's offer of such a date, and to
such an effect. Rejection of Mr Boffin's proposal of such a date and to
such an effect. Concerning Mr Boffin's scheme of such another date to
such another effect. All compact and methodical.

'Apple-pie order!' said Mr Boffin, after checking off each inscription
with his hand, like a man beating time. 'And whatever you do with your
ink, I can't think, for you're as clean as a whistle after it. Now, as
to a letter. Let's,' said Mr Boffin, rubbing his hands in his pleasantly
childish admiration, 'let's try a letter next.'

'To whom shall it be addressed, Mr Boffin?'

'Anyone. Yourself.'

Mr Rokesmith quickly wrote, and then read aloud:

'"Mr Boffin presents his compliments to Mr John Rokesmith, and begs
to say that he has decided on giving Mr John Rokesmith a trial in the
capacity he desires to fill. Mr Boffin takes Mr John Rokesmith at his
word, in postponing to some indefinite period, the consideration of
salary. It is quite understood that Mr Boffin is in no way committed
on that point. Mr Boffin has merely to add, that he relies on Mr John
Rokesmith's assurance that he will be faithful and serviceable. Mr John
Rokesmith will please enter on his duties immediately."'

'Well! Now, Noddy!' cried Mrs Boffin, clapping her hands, 'That IS a
good one!'

Mr Boffin was no less delighted; indeed, in his own bosom, he regarded
both the composition itself and the device that had given birth to it,
as a very remarkable monument of human ingenuity.

'And I tell you, my deary,' said Mrs Boffin, 'that if you don't close
with Mr Rokesmith now at once, and if you ever go a muddling yourself
again with things never meant nor made for you, you'll have an
apoplexy--besides iron-moulding your linen--and you'll break my heart.'

Mr Boffin embraced his spouse for these words of wisdom, and then,
congratulating John Rokesmith on the brilliancy of his achievements,
gave him his hand in pledge of their new relations. So did Mrs Boffin.

'Now,' said Mr Boffin, who, in his frankness, felt that it did not
become him to have a gentleman in his employment five minutes, without
reposing some confidence in him, 'you must be let a little more into our
affairs, Rokesmith. I mentioned to you, when I made your acquaintance,
or I might better say when you made mine, that Mrs Boffin's inclinations
was setting in the way of Fashion, but that I didn't know how
fashionable we might or might not grow. Well! Mrs Boffin has carried the
day, and we're going in neck and crop for Fashion.'

'I rather inferred that, sir,' replied John Rokesmith, 'from the scale
on which your new establishment is to be maintained.'

'Yes,' said Mr Boffin, 'it's to be a Spanker. The fact is, my
literary man named to me that a house with which he is, as I may say,
connected--in which he has an interest--'

'As property?' inquired John Rokesmith.

'Why no,' said Mr Boffin, 'not exactly that; a sort of a family tie.'

'Association?' the Secretary suggested.

'Ah!' said Mr Boffin. 'Perhaps. Anyhow, he named to me that the house
had a board up, "This Eminently Aristocratic Mansion to be let or sold."
Me and Mrs Boffin went to look at it, and finding it beyond a doubt
Eminently Aristocratic (though a trifle high and dull, which after all
may be part of the same thing) took it. My literary man was so friendly
as to drop into a charming piece of poetry on that occasion, in which he
complimented Mrs Boffin on coming into possession of--how did it go, my
dear?'

Mrs Boffin replied:

     '"The gay, the gay and festive scene,
     The halls, the halls of dazzling light."'

'That's it! And it was made neater by there really being two halls
in the house, a front 'un and a back 'un, besides the servants'.
He likewise dropped into a very pretty piece of poetry to be sure,
respecting the extent to which he would be willing to put himself out
of the way to bring Mrs Boffin round, in case she should ever get low
in her spirits in the house. Mrs Boffin has a wonderful memory. Will you
repeat it, my dear?'

Mrs Boffin complied, by reciting the verses in which this obliging offer
had been made, exactly as she had received them.

     '"I'll tell thee how the maiden wept, Mrs Boffin,
     When her true love was slain ma'am,
     And how her broken spirit slept, Mrs Boffin,
     And never woke again ma'am.
     I'll tell thee (if agreeable to Mr Boffin) how the steed drew
     nigh,
     And left his lord afar;
     And if my tale (which I hope Mr Boffin might excuse) should
     make you sigh,
     I'll strike the light guitar."'

'Correct to the letter!' said Mr Boffin. 'And I consider that the poetry
brings us both in, in a beautiful manner.'

The effect of the poem on the Secretary being evidently to astonish
him, Mr Boffin was confirmed in his high opinion of it, and was greatly
pleased.

'Now, you see, Rokesmith,' he went on, 'a literary man--WITH a wooden
leg--is liable to jealousy. I shall therefore cast about for comfortable
ways and means of not calling up Wegg's jealousy, but of keeping you in
your department, and keeping him in his.'

'Lor!' cried Mrs Boffin. 'What I say is, the world's wide enough for all
of us!'

'So it is, my dear,' said Mr Boffin, 'when not literary. But when so,
not so. And I am bound to bear in mind that I took Wegg on, at a time
when I had no thought of being fashionable or of leaving the Bower. To
let him feel himself anyways slighted now, would be to be guilty of
a meanness, and to act like having one's head turned by the halls of
dazzling light. Which Lord forbid! Rokesmith, what shall we say about
your living in the house?'

'In this house?'

'No, no. I have got other plans for this house. In the new house?'

'That will be as you please, Mr Boffin. I hold myself quite at your
disposal. You know where I live at present.'

'Well!' said Mr Boffin, after considering the point; 'suppose you keep
as you are for the present, and we'll decide by-and-by. You'll begin to
take charge at once, of all that's going on in the new house, will you?'

'Most willingly. I will begin this very day. Will you give me the
address?'

Mr Boffin repeated it, and the Secretary wrote it down in his
pocket-book. Mrs Boffin took the opportunity of his being so engaged,
to get a better observation of his face than she had yet taken. It
impressed her in his favour, for she nodded aside to Mr Boffin, 'I like
him.'

'I will see directly that everything is in train, Mr Boffin.'

'Thank'ee. Being here, would you care at all to look round the Bower?'

'I should greatly like it. I have heard so much of its story.'

'Come!' said Mr Boffin. And he and Mrs Boffin led the way.

A gloomy house the Bower, with sordid signs on it of having been,
through its long existence as Harmony Jail, in miserly holding. Bare of
paint, bare of paper on the walls, bare of furniture, bare of experience
of human life. Whatever is built by man for man's occupation, must,
like natural creations, fulfil the intention of its existence, or soon
perish. This old house had wasted--more from desuetude than it would
have wasted from use, twenty years for one.

A certain leanness falls upon houses not sufficiently imbued with life
(as if they were nourished upon it), which was very noticeable here.
The staircase, balustrades, and rails, had a spare look--an air of being
denuded to the bone--which the panels of the walls and the jambs of the
doors and windows also bore. The scanty moveables partook of it; save
for the cleanliness of the place, the dust--into which they were all
resolving would have lain thick on the floors; and those, both in colour
and in grain, were worn like old faces that had kept much alone.

The bedroom where the clutching old man had lost his grip on life, was
left as he had left it. There was the old grisly four-post bedstead,
without hangings, and with a jail-like upper rim of iron and spikes; and
there was the old patch-work counterpane. There was the tight-clenched
old bureau, receding atop like a bad and secret forehead; there was the
cumbersome old table with twisted legs, at the bed-side; and there
was the box upon it, in which the will had lain. A few old chairs with
patch-work covers, under which the more precious stuff to be preserved
had slowly lost its quality of colour without imparting pleasure to any
eye, stood against the wall. A hard family likeness was on all these
things.

'The room was kept like this, Rokesmith,' said Mr Boffin, 'against the
son's return. In short, everything in the house was kept exactly as it
came to us, for him to see and approve. Even now, nothing is changed
but our own room below-stairs that you have just left. When the son came
home for the last time in his life, and for the last time in his life
saw his father, it was most likely in this room that they met.'

As the Secretary looked all round it, his eyes rested on a side door in
a corner.

'Another staircase,' said Mr Boffin, unlocking the door, 'leading down
into the yard. We'll go down this way, as you may like to see the yard,
and it's all in the road. When the son was a little child, it was up
and down these stairs that he mostly came and went to his father. He was
very timid of his father. I've seen him sit on these stairs, in his
shy way, poor child, many a time. Mr and Mrs Boffin have comforted him,
sitting with his little book on these stairs, often.'

'Ah! And his poor sister too,' said Mrs Boffin. 'And here's the sunny
place on the white wall where they one day measured one another. Their
own little hands wrote up their names here, only with a pencil; but the
names are here still, and the poor dears gone for ever.'

'We must take care of the names, old lady,' said Mr Boffin. 'We must
take care of the names. They shan't be rubbed out in our time, nor yet,
if we can help it, in the time after us. Poor little children!'

'Ah, poor little children!' said Mrs Boffin.

They had opened the door at the bottom of the staircase giving on the
yard, and they stood in the sunlight, looking at the scrawl of the two
unsteady childish hands two or three steps up the staircase. There was
something in this simple memento of a blighted childhood, and in the
tenderness of Mrs Boffin, that touched the Secretary.

Mr Boffin then showed his new man of business the Mounds, and his own
particular Mound which had been left him as his legacy under the will
before he acquired the whole estate.

'It would have been enough for us,' said Mr Boffin, 'in case it had
pleased God to spare the last of those two young lives and sorrowful
deaths. We didn't want the rest.'

At the treasures of the yard, and at the outside of the house, and at
the detached building which Mr Boffin pointed out as the residence
of himself and his wife during the many years of their service, the
Secretary looked with interest. It was not until Mr Boffin had shown
him every wonder of the Bower twice over, that he remembered his having
duties to discharge elsewhere.

'You have no instructions to give me, Mr Boffin, in reference to this
place?'

'Not any, Rokesmith. No.'

'Might I ask, without seeming impertinent, whether you have any
intention of selling it?'

'Certainly not. In remembrance of our old master, our old master's
children, and our old service, me and Mrs Boffin mean to keep it up as
it stands.'

The Secretary's eyes glanced with so much meaning in them at the Mounds,
that Mr Boffin said, as if in answer to a remark:

'Ay, ay, that's another thing. I may sell THEM, though I should be sorry
to see the neighbourhood deprived of 'em too. It'll look but a poor dead
flat without the Mounds. Still I don't say that I'm going to keep 'em
always there, for the sake of the beauty of the landscape. There's no
hurry about it; that's all I say at present. I ain't a scholar in much,
Rokesmith, but I'm a pretty fair scholar in dust. I can price the Mounds
to a fraction, and I know how they can be best disposed of; and likewise
that they take no harm by standing where they do. You'll look in
to-morrow, will you be so kind?'

'Every day. And the sooner I can get you into your new house, complete,
the better you will be pleased, sir?'

'Well, it ain't that I'm in a mortal hurry,' said Mr Boffin; 'only when
you DO pay people for looking alive, it's as well to know that they ARE
looking alive. Ain't that your opinion?'

'Quite!' replied the Secretary; and so withdrew.

'Now,' said Mr Boffin to himself; subsiding into his regular series of
turns in the yard, 'if I can make it comfortable with Wegg, my affairs
will be going smooth.'

The man of low cunning had, of course, acquired a mastery over the man
of high simplicity. The mean man had, of course, got the better of the
generous man. How long such conquests last, is another matter; that they
are achieved, is every-day experience, not even to be flourished away by
Podsnappery itself. The undesigning Boffin had become so far immeshed
by the wily Wegg that his mind misgave him he was a very designing man
indeed in purposing to do more for Wegg. It seemed to him (so skilful
was Wegg) that he was plotting darkly, when he was contriving to do the
very thing that Wegg was plotting to get him to do. And thus, while he
was mentally turning the kindest of kind faces on Wegg this morning, he
was not absolutely sure but that he might somehow deserve the charge of
turning his back on him.

For these reasons Mr Boffin passed but anxious hours until evening came,
and with it Mr Wegg, stumping leisurely to the Roman Empire. At about
this period Mr Boffin had become profoundly interested in the fortunes
of a great military leader known to him as Bully Sawyers, but perhaps
better known to fame and easier of identification by the classical
student, under the less Britannic name of Belisarius. Even this
general's career paled in interest for Mr Boffin before the clearing of
his conscience with Wegg; and hence, when that literary gentleman had
according to custom eaten and drunk until he was all a-glow, and when
he took up his book with the usual chirping introduction, 'And now, Mr
Boffin, sir, we'll decline and we'll fall!' Mr Boffin stopped him.

'You remember, Wegg, when I first told you that I wanted to make a sort
of offer to you?'

'Let me get on my considering cap, sir,' replied that gentleman, turning
the open book face downward. 'When you first told me that you wanted
to make a sort of offer to me? Now let me think.' (as if there were the
least necessity) 'Yes, to be sure I do, Mr Boffin. It was at my corner.
To be sure it was! You had first asked me whether I liked your name,
and Candour had compelled a reply in the negative case. I little thought
then, sir, how familiar that name would come to be!'

'I hope it will be more familiar still, Wegg.'

'Do you, Mr Boffin? Much obliged to you, I'm sure. Is it your pleasure,
sir, that we decline and we fall?' with a feint of taking up the book.

'Not just yet awhile, Wegg. In fact, I have got another offer to make
you.'

Mr Wegg (who had had nothing else in his mind for several nights) took
off his spectacles with an air of bland surprise.

'And I hope you'll like it, Wegg.'

'Thank you, sir,' returned that reticent individual. 'I hope it may
prove so. On all accounts, I am sure.' (This, as a philanthropic
aspiration.)

'What do you think,' said Mr Boffin, 'of not keeping a stall, Wegg?'

'I think, sir,' replied Wegg, 'that I should like to be shown the
gentleman prepared to make it worth my while!'

'Here he is,' said Mr Boffin.

Mr Wegg was going to say, My Benefactor, and had said My Bene, when a
grandiloquent change came over him.

'No, Mr Boffin, not you sir. Anybody but you. Do not fear, Mr Boffin,
that I shall contaminate the premises which your gold has bought, with
MY lowly pursuits. I am aware, sir, that it would not become me to carry
on my little traffic under the windows of your mansion. I have already
thought of that, and taken my measures. No need to be bought out, sir.
Would Stepney Fields be considered intrusive? If not remote enough, I
can go remoter. In the words of the poet's song, which I do not quite
remember:

     Thrown on the wide world, doom'd to wander and roam,
     Bereft of my parents, bereft of a home,
     A stranger to something and what's his name joy,
     Behold little Edmund the poor Peasant boy.

--And equally,' said Mr Wegg, repairing the want of direct application
in the last line, 'behold myself on a similar footing!'

'Now, Wegg, Wegg, Wegg,' remonstrated the excellent Boffin. 'You are too
sensitive.'

'I know I am, sir,' returned Wegg, with obstinate magnanimity. 'I am
acquainted with my faults. I always was, from a child, too sensitive.'

'But listen,' pursued the Golden Dustman; 'hear me out, Wegg. You have
taken it into your head that I mean to pension you off.'

'True, sir,' returned Wegg, still with an obstinate magnanimity. 'I am
acquainted with my faults. Far be it from me to deny them. I HAVE taken
it into my head.'

'But I DON'T mean it.'

The assurance seemed hardly as comforting to Mr Wegg, as Mr Boffin
intended it to be. Indeed, an appreciable elongation of his visage might
have been observed as he replied:

'Don't you, indeed, sir?'

'No,' pursued Mr Boffin; 'because that would express, as I understand
it, that you were not going to do anything to deserve your money. But
you are; you are.'

'That, sir,' replied Mr Wegg, cheering up bravely, 'is quite another
pair of shoes. Now, my independence as a man is again elevated. Now, I
no longer

     Weep for the hour,
     When to Boffinses bower,
     The Lord of the valley with offers came;
     Neither does the moon hide her light
     From the heavens to-night,
     And weep behind her clouds o'er any individual in the present
     Company's shame.

--Please to proceed, Mr Boffin.'

'Thank'ee, Wegg, both for your confidence in me and for your frequent
dropping into poetry; both of which is friendly. Well, then; my idea is,
that you should give up your stall, and that I should put you into the
Bower here, to keep it for us. It's a pleasant spot; and a man with
coals and candles and a pound a week might be in clover here.'

'Hem! Would that man, sir--we will say that man, for the purposes of
argueyment;' Mr Wegg made a smiling demonstration of great perspicuity
here; 'would that man, sir, be expected to throw any other capacity in,
or would any other capacity be considered extra? Now let us (for the
purposes of argueyment) suppose that man to be engaged as a reader: say
(for the purposes of argueyment) in the evening. Would that man's pay as
a reader in the evening, be added to the other amount, which, adopting
your language, we will call clover; or would it merge into that amount,
or clover?'

'Well,' said Mr Boffin, 'I suppose it would be added.'

'I suppose it would, sir. You are right, sir. Exactly my own views,
Mr Boffin.' Here Wegg rose, and balancing himself on his wooden leg,
fluttered over his prey with extended hand. 'Mr Boffin, consider it
done. Say no more, sir, not a word more. My stall and I are for ever
parted. The collection of ballads will in future be reserved for private
study, with the object of making poetry tributary'--Wegg was so proud
of having found this word, that he said it again, with a capital
letter--'Tributary, to friendship. Mr Boffin, don't allow yourself to
be made uncomfortable by the pang it gives me to part from my stock and
stall. Similar emotion was undergone by my own father when promoted
for his merits from his occupation as a waterman to a situation under
Government. His Christian name was Thomas. His words at the time (I was
then an infant, but so deep was their impression on me, that I committed
them to memory) were:

     Then farewell my trim-built wherry,
     Oars and coat and badge farewell!
     Never more at Chelsea Ferry,
     Shall your Thomas take a spell!

--My father got over it, Mr Boffin, and so shall I.'

While delivering these valedictory observations, Wegg continually
disappointed Mr Boffin of his hand by flourishing it in the air. He now
darted it at his patron, who took it, and felt his mind relieved of a
great weight: observing that as they had arranged their joint affairs
so satisfactorily, he would now be glad to look into those of Bully
Sawyers. Which, indeed, had been left over-night in a very unpromising
posture, and for whose impending expedition against the Persians the
weather had been by no means favourable all day.

Mr Wegg resumed his spectacles therefore. But Sawyers was not to be of
the party that night; for, before Wegg had found his place, Mrs Boffin's
tread was heard upon the stairs, so unusually heavy and hurried, that Mr
Boffin would have started up at the sound, anticipating some occurrence
much out of the common course, even though she had not also called to
him in an agitated tone.

Mr Boffin hurried out, and found her on the dark staircase, panting,
with a lighted candle in her hand.

'What's the matter, my dear?'

'I don't know; I don't know; but I wish you'd come up-stairs.'

Much surprised, Mr Boffin went up stairs and accompanied Mrs Boffin into
their own room: a second large room on the same floor as the room in
which the late proprietor had died. Mr Boffin looked all round him,
and saw nothing more unusual than various articles of folded linen on a
large chest, which Mrs Boffin had been sorting.

'What is it, my dear? Why, you're frightened! YOU frightened?'

'I am not one of that sort certainly,' said Mrs Boffin, as she sat down
in a chair to recover herself, and took her husband's arm; 'but it's
very strange!'

'What is, my dear?'

'Noddy, the faces of the old man and the two children are all over the
house to-night.'

'My dear?' exclaimed Mr Boffin. But not without a certain uncomfortable
sensation gliding down his back.

'I know it must sound foolish, and yet it is so.'

'Where did you think you saw them?'

'I don't know that I think I saw them anywhere. I felt them.'

'Touched them?'

'No. Felt them in the air. I was sorting those things on the chest, and
not thinking of the old man or the children, but singing to myself, when
all in a moment I felt there was a face growing out of the dark.'

'What face?' asked her husband, looking about him.

'For a moment it was the old man's, and then it got younger. For a
moment it was both the children's, and then it got older. For a moment
it was a strange face, and then it was all the faces.'

'And then it was gone?'

'Yes; and then it was gone.'

'Where were you then, old lady?'

'Here, at the chest. Well; I got the better of it, and went on sorting,
and went on singing to myself. "Lor!" I says, "I'll think of something
else--something comfortable--and put it out of my head." So I thought
of the new house and Miss Bella Wilfer, and was thinking at a great rate
with that sheet there in my hand, when all of a sudden, the faces seemed
to be hidden in among the folds of it and I let it drop.'

As it still lay on the floor where it had fallen, Mr Boffin picked it up
and laid it on the chest.

'And then you ran down stairs?'

'No. I thought I'd try another room, and shake it off. I says to myself,
"I'll go and walk slowly up and down the old man's room three times,
from end to end, and then I shall have conquered it." I went in with the
candle in my hand; but the moment I came near the bed, the air got thick
with them.'

'With the faces?'

'Yes, and I even felt that they were in the dark behind the side-door,
and on the little staircase, floating away into the yard. Then, I called
you.'

Mr Boffin, lost in amazement, looked at Mrs Boffin. Mrs Boffin, lost in
her own fluttered inability to make this out, looked at Mr Boffin.

'I think, my dear,' said the Golden Dustman, 'I'll at once get rid of
Wegg for the night, because he's coming to inhabit the Bower, and it
might be put into his head or somebody else's, if he heard this and it
got about that the house is haunted. Whereas we know better. Don't we?'

'I never had the feeling in the house before,' said Mrs Boffin; 'and I
have been about it alone at all hours of the night. I have been in the
house when Death was in it, and I have been in the house when Murder was
a new part of its adventures, and I never had a fright in it yet.'

'And won't again, my dear,' said Mr Boffin. 'Depend upon it, it comes of
thinking and dwelling on that dark spot.'

'Yes; but why didn't it come before?' asked Mrs Boffin.

This draft on Mr Boffin's philosophy could only be met by that gentleman
with the remark that everything that is at all, must begin at some time.
Then, tucking his wife's arm under his own, that she might not be left
by herself to be troubled again, he descended to release Wegg. Who,
being something drowsy after his plentiful repast, and constitutionally
of a shirking temperament, was well enough pleased to stump away,
without doing what he had come to do, and was paid for doing.

Mr Boffin then put on his hat, and Mrs Boffin her shawl; and the pair,
further provided with a bunch of keys and a lighted lantern, went
all over the dismal house--dismal everywhere, but in their own two
rooms--from cellar to cock-loft. Not resting satisfied with giving that
much chace to Mrs Boffin's fancies, they pursued them into the yard and
outbuildings, and under the Mounds. And setting the lantern, when all
was done, at the foot of one of the Mounds, they comfortably trotted to
and fro for an evening walk, to the end that the murky cobwebs in Mrs
Boffin's brain might be blown away.

There, my dear!' said Mr Boffin when they came in to supper. 'That was
the treatment, you see. Completely worked round, haven't you?'

'Yes, deary,' said Mrs Boffin, laying aside her shawl. 'I'm not nervous
any more. I'm not a bit troubled now. I'd go anywhere about the house
the same as ever. But--'

'Eh!' said Mr Boffin.

'But I've only to shut my eyes.'

'And what then?'

'Why then,' said Mrs Boffin, speaking with her eyes closed, and her
left hand thoughtfully touching her brow, 'then, there they are! The old
man's face, and it gets younger. The two children's faces, and they get
older. A face that I don't know. And then all the faces!'

Opening her eyes again, and seeing her husband's face across the table,
she leaned forward to give it a pat on the cheek, and sat down to
supper, declaring it to be the best face in the world.



Chapter 16

MINDERS AND RE-MINDERS


The Secretary lost no time in getting to work, and his vigilance
and method soon set their mark on the Golden Dustman's affairs. His
earnestness in determining to understand the length and breadth and
depth of every piece of work submitted to him by his employer, was as
special as his despatch in transacting it. He accepted no information
or explanation at second hand, but made himself the master of everything
confided to him.

One part of the Secretary's conduct, underlying all the rest, might have
been mistrusted by a man with a better knowledge of men than the
Golden Dustman had. The Secretary was as far from being inquisitive
or intrusive as Secretary could be, but nothing less than a complete
understanding of the whole of the affairs would content him. It soon
became apparent (from the knowledge with which he set out) that he must
have been to the office where the Harmon will was registered, and must
have read the will. He anticipated Mr Boffin's consideration whether he
should be advised with on this or that topic, by showing that he
already knew of it and understood it. He did this with no attempt at
concealment, seeming to be satisfied that it was part of his duty to
have prepared himself at all attainable points for its utmost discharge.

This might--let it be repeated--have awakened some little vague mistrust
in a man more worldly-wise than the Golden Dustman. On the other hand,
the Secretary was discerning, discreet, and silent, though as zealous as
if the affairs had been his own. He showed no love of patronage or the
command of money, but distinctly preferred resigning both to Mr
Boffin. If, in his limited sphere, he sought power, it was the power
of knowledge; the power derivable from a perfect comprehension of his
business.

As on the Secretary's face there was a nameless cloud, so on his
manner there was a shadow equally indefinable. It was not that he was
embarrassed, as on that first night with the Wilfer family; he was
habitually unembarrassed now, and yet the something remained. It was not
that his manner was bad, as on that occasion; it was now very good, as
being modest, gracious, and ready. Yet the something never left it. It
has been written of men who have undergone a cruel captivity, or who
have passed through a terrible strait, or who in self-preservation have
killed a defenceless fellow-creature, that the record thereof has never
faded from their countenances until they died. Was there any such record
here?

He established a temporary office for himself in the new house, and all
went well under his hand, with one singular exception. He manifestly
objected to communicate with Mr Boffin's solicitor. Two or three times,
when there was some slight occasion for his doing so, he transferred
the task to Mr Boffin; and his evasion of it soon became so curiously
apparent, that Mr Boffin spoke to him on the subject of his reluctance.

'It is so,' the Secretary admitted. 'I would rather not.'

Had he any personal objection to Mr Lightwood?

'I don't know him.'

Had he suffered from law-suits?

'Not more than other men,' was his short answer.

Was he prejudiced against the race of lawyers?

'No. But while I am in your employment, sir, I would rather be excused
from going between the lawyer and the client. Of course if you press it,
Mr Boffin, I am ready to comply. But I should take it as a great favour
if you would not press it without urgent occasion.'

Now, it could not be said that there WAS urgent occasion, for Lightwood
retained no other affairs in his hands than such as still lingered and
languished about the undiscovered criminal, and such as arose out of the
purchase of the house. Many other matters that might have travelled to
him, now stopped short at the Secretary, under whose administration they
were far more expeditiously and satisfactorily disposed of than they
would have been if they had got into Young Blight's domain. This the
Golden Dustman quite understood. Even the matter immediately in hand
was of very little moment as requiring personal appearance on the
Secretary's part, for it amounted to no more than this:--The death of
Hexam rendering the sweat of the honest man's brow unprofitable, the
honest man had shufflingly declined to moisten his brow for nothing,
with that severe exertion which is known in legal circles as swearing
your way through a stone wall. Consequently, that new light had gone
sputtering out. But, the airing of the old facts had led some one
concerned to suggest that it would be well before they were reconsigned
to their gloomy shelf--now probably for ever--to induce or compel that
Mr Julius Handford to reappear and be questioned. And all traces of Mr
Julius Handford being lost, Lightwood now referred to his client for
authority to seek him through public advertisement.

'Does your objection go to writing to Lightwood, Rokesmith?'

'Not in the least, sir.'

'Then perhaps you'll write him a line, and say he is free to do what he
likes. I don't think it promises.'

'I don't think it promises,' said the Secretary.

'Still, he may do what he likes.'

'I will write immediately. Let me thank you for so considerately
yielding to my disinclination. It may seem less unreasonable, if I avow
to you that although I don't know Mr Lightwood, I have a disagreeable
association connected with him. It is not his fault; he is not at all to
blame for it, and does not even know my name.'

Mr Boffin dismissed the matter with a nod or two. The letter was
written, and next day Mr Julius Handford was advertised for. He was
requested to place himself in communication with Mr Mortimer Lightwood,
as a possible means of furthering the ends of justice, and a reward was
offered to any one acquainted with his whereabout who would communicate
the same to the said Mr Mortimer Lightwood at his office in the Temple.
Every day for six weeks this advertisement appeared at the head of all
the newspapers, and every day for six weeks the Secretary, when he
saw it, said to himself; in the tone in which he had said to his
employer,--'I don't think it promises!'

Among his first occupations the pursuit of that orphan wanted by
Mrs Boffin held a conspicuous place. From the earliest moment of his
engagement he showed a particular desire to please her, and, knowing her
to have this object at heart, he followed it up with unwearying alacrity
and interest.

Mr and Mrs Milvey had found their search a difficult one. Either an
eligible orphan was of the wrong sex (which almost always happened)
or was too old, or too young, or too sickly, or too dirty, or too much
accustomed to the streets, or too likely to run away; or, it was found
impossible to complete the philanthropic transaction without buying the
orphan. For, the instant it became known that anybody wanted the orphan,
up started some affectionate relative of the orphan who put a price upon
the orphan's head. The suddenness of an orphan's rise in the market was
not to be paralleled by the maddest records of the Stock Exchange. He
would be at five thousand per cent discount out at nurse making a mud
pie at nine in the morning, and (being inquired for) would go up to
five thousand per cent premium before noon. The market was 'rigged' in
various artful ways. Counterfeit stock got into circulation. Parents
boldly represented themselves as dead, and brought their orphans with
them. Genuine orphan-stock was surreptitiously withdrawn from the
market. It being announced, by emissaries posted for the purpose, that
Mr and Mrs Milvey were coming down the court, orphan scrip would be
instantly concealed, and production refused, save on a condition usually
stated by the brokers as 'a gallon of beer'. Likewise, fluctuations of
a wild and South-Sea nature were occasioned, by orphan-holders keeping
back, and then rushing into the market a dozen together. But, the
uniform principle at the root of all these various operations was
bargain and sale; and that principle could not be recognized by Mr and
Mrs Milvey.

At length, tidings were received by the Reverend Frank of a charming
orphan to be found at Brentford. One of the deceased parents (late his
parishioners) had a poor widowed grandmother in that agreeable town, and
she, Mrs Betty Higden, had carried off the orphan with maternal care,
but could not afford to keep him.

The Secretary proposed to Mrs Boffin, either to go down himself and
take a preliminary survey of this orphan, or to drive her down, that
she might at once form her own opinion. Mrs Boffin preferring the latter
course, they set off one morning in a hired phaeton, conveying the
hammer-headed young man behind them.

The abode of Mrs Betty Higden was not easy to find, lying in such
complicated back settlements of muddy Brentford that they left their
equipage at the sign of the Three Magpies, and went in search of it on
foot. After many inquiries and defeats, there was pointed out to them
in a lane, a very small cottage residence, with a board across the open
doorway, hooked on to which board by the armpits was a young gentleman
of tender years, angling for mud with a headless wooden horse and line.
In this young sportsman, distinguished by a crisply curling auburn head
and a bluff countenance, the Secretary descried the orphan.

It unfortunately happened as they quickened their pace, that the orphan,
lost to considerations of personal safety in the ardour of the moment,
overbalanced himself and toppled into the street. Being an orphan of a
chubby conformation, he then took to rolling, and had rolled into the
gutter before they could come up. From the gutter he was rescued by John
Rokesmith, and thus the first meeting with Mrs Higden was inaugurated by
the awkward circumstance of their being in possession--one would say at
first sight unlawful possession--of the orphan, upside down and purple
in the countenance. The board across the doorway too, acting as a trap
equally for the feet of Mrs Higden coming out, and the feet of Mrs
Boffin and John Rokesmith going in, greatly increased the difficulty of
the situation: to which the cries of the orphan imparted a lugubrious
and inhuman character.

At first, it was impossible to explain, on account of the orphan's
'holding his breath': a most terrific proceeding, super-inducing in the
orphan lead-colour rigidity and a deadly silence, compared with which
his cries were music yielding the height of enjoyment. But as he
gradually recovered, Mrs Boffin gradually introduced herself; and
smiling peace was gradually wooed back to Mrs Betty Higden's home.

It was then perceived to be a small home with a large mangle in it, at
the handle of which machine stood a very long boy, with a very little
head, and an open mouth of disproportionate capacity that seemed to
assist his eyes in staring at the visitors. In a corner below the
mangle, on a couple of stools, sat two very little children: a boy and a
girl; and when the very long boy, in an interval of staring, took a turn
at the mangle, it was alarming to see how it lunged itself at those two
innocents, like a catapult designed for their destruction, harmlessly
retiring when within an inch of their heads. The room was clean and
neat. It had a brick floor, and a window of diamond panes, and a flounce
hanging below the chimney-piece, and strings nailed from bottom to top
outside the window on which scarlet-beans were to grow in the coming
season if the Fates were propitious. However propitious they might have
been in the seasons that were gone, to Betty Higden in the matter of
beans, they had not been very favourable in the matter of coins; for it
was easy to see that she was poor.

She was one of those old women, was Mrs Betty Higden, who by dint of
an indomitable purpose and a strong constitution fight out many years,
though each year has come with its new knock-down blows fresh to the
fight against her, wearied by it; an active old woman, with a bright
dark eye and a resolute face, yet quite a tender creature too; not a
logically-reasoning woman, but God is good, and hearts may count in
Heaven as high as heads.

'Yes sure!' said she, when the business was opened, 'Mrs Milvey had the
kindness to write to me, ma'am, and I got Sloppy to read it. It was a
pretty letter. But she's an affable lady.'

The visitors glanced at the long boy, who seemed to indicate by a
broader stare of his mouth and eyes that in him Sloppy stood confessed.

'For I aint, you must know,' said Betty, 'much of a hand at reading
writing-hand, though I can read my Bible and most print. And I do love a
newspaper. You mightn't think it, but Sloppy is a beautiful reader of a
newspaper. He do the Police in different voices.'

The visitors again considered it a point of politeness to look at
Sloppy, who, looking at them, suddenly threw back his head, extended his
mouth to its utmost width, and laughed loud and long. At this the two
innocents, with their brains in that apparent danger, laughed, and Mrs
Higden laughed, and the orphan laughed, and then the visitors laughed.
Which was more cheerful than intelligible.

Then Sloppy seeming to be seized with an industrious mania or fury,
turned to at the mangle, and impelled it at the heads of the innocents
with such a creaking and rumbling, that Mrs Higden stopped him.

'The gentlefolks can't hear themselves speak, Sloppy. Bide a bit, bide a
bit!'

'Is that the dear child in your lap?' said Mrs Boffin.

'Yes, ma'am, this is Johnny.'

'Johnny, too!' cried Mrs Boffin, turning to the Secretary; 'already
Johnny! Only one of the two names left to give him! He's a pretty boy.'

With his chin tucked down in his shy childish manner, he was looking
furtively at Mrs Boffin out of his blue eyes, and reaching his fat
dimpled hand up to the lips of the old woman, who was kissing it by
times.

'Yes, ma'am, he's a pretty boy, he's a dear darling boy, he's the child
of my own last left daughter's daughter. But she's gone the way of all
the rest.'

'Those are not his brother and sister?' said Mrs Boffin. 'Oh, dear no,
ma'am. Those are Minders.'

'Minders?' the Secretary repeated.

'Left to be Minded, sir. I keep a Minding-School. I can take only three,
on account of the Mangle. But I love children, and Four-pence a week is
Four-pence. Come here, Toddles and Poddles.'

Toddles was the pet-name of the boy; Poddles of the girl. At their
little unsteady pace, they came across the floor, hand-in-hand, as if
they were traversing an extremely difficult road intersected by brooks,
and, when they had had their heads patted by Mrs Betty Higden, made
lunges at the orphan, dramatically representing an attempt to bear him,
crowing, into captivity and slavery. All the three children enjoyed this
to a delightful extent, and the sympathetic Sloppy again laughed long
and loud. When it was discreet to stop the play, Betty Higden said
'Go to your seats Toddles and Poddles,' and they returned hand-in-hand
across country, seeming to find the brooks rather swollen by late rains.

'And Master--or Mister--Sloppy?' said the Secretary, in doubt whether he
was man, boy, or what.

'A love-child,' returned Betty Higden, dropping her voice; 'parents
never known; found in the street. He was brought up in the--' with a
shiver of repugnance, '--the House.'

'The Poor-house?' said the Secretary.

Mrs Higden set that resolute old face of hers, and darkly nodded yes.

'You dislike the mention of it.'

'Dislike the mention of it?' answered the old woman. 'Kill me sooner
than take me there. Throw this pretty child under cart-horses feet and
a loaded waggon, sooner than take him there. Come to us and find us all
a-dying, and set a light to us all where we lie and let us all blaze
away with the house into a heap of cinders sooner than move a corpse of
us there!'

A surprising spirit in this lonely woman after so many years of hard
working, and hard living, my Lords and Gentlemen and Honourable
Boards! What is it that we call it in our grandiose speeches? British
independence, rather perverted? Is that, or something like it, the ring
of the cant?

'Do I never read in the newspapers,' said the dame, fondling the
child--'God help me and the like of me!--how the worn-out people that
do come down to that, get driven from post to pillar and pillar to post,
a-purpose to tire them out! Do I never read how they are put off, put
off, put off--how they are grudged, grudged, grudged, the shelter, or
the doctor, or the drop of physic, or the bit of bread? Do I never
read how they grow heartsick of it and give it up, after having let
themselves drop so low, and how they after all die out for want of help?
Then I say, I hope I can die as well as another, and I'll die without
that disgrace.'

Absolutely impossible my Lords and Gentlemen and Honourable Boards, by
any stretch of legislative wisdom to set these perverse people right in
their logic?

'Johnny, my pretty,' continued old Betty, caressing the child, and
rather mourning over it than speaking to it, 'your old Granny Betty is
nigher fourscore year than threescore and ten. She never begged nor had
a penny of the Union money in all her life. She paid scot and she
paid lot when she had money to pay; she worked when she could, and
she starved when she must. You pray that your Granny may have strength
enough left her at the last (she's strong for an old one, Johnny), to
get up from her bed and run and hide herself and swown to death in a
hole, sooner than fall into the hands of those Cruel Jacks we read of
that dodge and drive, and worry and weary, and scorn and shame, the
decent poor.'

A brilliant success, my Lords and Gentlemen and Honourable Boards to
have brought it to this in the minds of the best of the poor! Under
submission, might it be worth thinking of at any odd time?

The fright and abhorrence that Mrs Betty Higden smoothed out of her
strong face as she ended this diversion, showed how seriously she had
meant it.

'And does he work for you?' asked the Secretary, gently bringing the
discourse back to Master or Mister Sloppy.

'Yes,' said Betty with a good-humoured smile and nod of the head. 'And
well too.'

'Does he live here?'

'He lives more here than anywhere. He was thought to be no better than a
Natural, and first come to me as a Minder. I made interest with Mr Blogg
the Beadle to have him as a Minder, seeing him by chance up at church,
and thinking I might do something with him. For he was a weak ricketty
creetur then.'

'Is he called by his right name?'

'Why, you see, speaking quite correctly, he has no right name. I always
understood he took his name from being found on a Sloppy night.'

'He seems an amiable fellow.'

'Bless you, sir, there's not a bit of him,' returned Betty, 'that's not
amiable. So you may judge how amiable he is, by running your eye along
his heighth.'

Of an ungainly make was Sloppy. Too much of him longwise, too little of
him broadwise, and too many sharp angles of him angle-wise. One of those
shambling male human creatures, born to be indiscreetly candid in the
revelation of buttons; every button he had about him glaring at the
public to a quite preternatural extent. A considerable capital of knee
and elbow and wrist and ankle, had Sloppy, and he didn't know how to
dispose of it to the best advantage, but was always investing it in
wrong securities, and so getting himself into embarrassed circumstances.
Full-Private Number One in the Awkward Squad of the rank and file of
life, was Sloppy, and yet had his glimmering notions of standing true to
the Colours.

'And now,' said Mrs Boffin, 'concerning Johnny.'

As Johnny, with his chin tucked in and lips pouting, reclined in Betty's
lap, concentrating his blue eyes on the visitors and shading them from
observation with a dimpled arm, old Betty took one of his fresh fat
hands in her withered right, and fell to gently beating it on her
withered left.

'Yes, ma'am. Concerning Johnny.'

'If you trust the dear child to me,' said Mrs Boffin, with a face
inviting trust, 'he shall have the best of homes, the best of care, the
best of education, the best of friends. Please God I will be a true good
mother to him!'

'I am thankful to you, ma'am, and the dear child would be thankful if
he was old enough to understand.' Still lightly beating the little hand
upon her own. 'I wouldn't stand in the dear child's light, not if I had
all my life before me instead of a very little of it. But I hope you
won't take it ill that I cleave to the child closer than words can tell,
for he's the last living thing left me.'

'Take it ill, my dear soul? Is it likely? And you so tender of him as to
bring him home here!'

'I have seen,' said Betty, still with that light beat upon her hard
rough hand, 'so many of them on my lap. And they are all gone but this
one! I am ashamed to seem so selfish, but I don't really mean it. It'll
be the making of his fortune, and he'll be a gentleman when I am dead.
I--I--don't know what comes over me. I--try against it. Don't notice
me!' The light beat stopped, the resolute mouth gave way, and the fine
strong old face broke up into weakness and tears.

Now, greatly to the relief of the visitors, the emotional Sloppy no
sooner beheld his patroness in this condition, than, throwing back his
head and throwing open his mouth, he lifted up his voice and bellowed.
This alarming note of something wrong instantly terrified Toddles and
Poddles, who were no sooner heard to roar surprisingly, than Johnny,
curving himself the wrong way and striking out at Mrs Boffin with a pair
of indifferent shoes, became a prey to despair. The absurdity of the
situation put its pathos to the rout. Mrs Betty Higden was herself in
a moment, and brought them all to order with that speed, that Sloppy,
stopping short in a polysyllabic bellow, transferred his energy to
the mangle, and had taken several penitential turns before he could be
stopped.

'There, there, there!' said Mrs Boffin, almost regarding her kind self
as the most ruthless of women. 'Nothing is going to be done. Nobody need
be frightened. We're all comfortable; ain't we, Mrs Higden?'

'Sure and certain we are,' returned Betty.

'And there really is no hurry, you know,' said Mrs Boffin in a lower
voice. 'Take time to think of it, my good creature!'

'Don't you fear ME no more, ma'am,' said Betty; 'I thought of it for
good yesterday. I don't know what come over me just now, but it'll never
come again.'

'Well, then, Johnny shall have more time to think of it,' returned Mrs
Boffin; 'the pretty child shall have time to get used to it. And you'll
get him more used to it, if you think well of it; won't you?'

Betty undertook that, cheerfully and readily.

'Lor,' cried Mrs Boffin, looking radiantly about her, 'we want to make
everybody happy, not dismal!--And perhaps you wouldn't mind letting me
know how used to it you begin to get, and how it all goes on?'

'I'll send Sloppy,' said Mrs Higden.

'And this gentleman who has come with me will pay him for his trouble,'
said Mrs Boffin. 'And Mr Sloppy, whenever you come to my house, be
sure you never go away without having had a good dinner of meat, beer,
vegetables, and pudding.'

This still further brightened the face of affairs; for, the highly
sympathetic Sloppy, first broadly staring and grinning, and then roaring
with laughter, Toddles and Poddles followed suit, and Johnny trumped
the trick. T and P considering these favourable circumstances for
the resumption of that dramatic descent upon Johnny, again came
across-country hand-in-hand upon a buccaneering expedition; and this
having been fought out in the chimney corner behind Mrs Higden's chair,
with great valour on both sides, those desperate pirates returned
hand-in-hand to their stools, across the dry bed of a mountain torrent.

'You must tell me what I can do for you, Betty my friend,' said Mrs
Boffin confidentially, 'if not to-day, next time.'

'Thank you all the same, ma'am, but I want nothing for myself. I can
work. I'm strong. I can walk twenty mile if I'm put to it.' Old Betty
was proud, and said it with a sparkle in her bright eyes.

'Yes, but there are some little comforts that you wouldn't be the worse
for,' returned Mrs Boffin. 'Bless ye, I wasn't born a lady any more than
you.'

'It seems to me,' said Betty, smiling, 'that you were born a lady, and
a true one, or there never was a lady born. But I couldn't take anything
from you, my dear. I never did take anything from any one. It ain't that
I'm not grateful, but I love to earn it better.'

'Well, well!' returned Mrs Boffin. 'I only spoke of little things, or I
wouldn't have taken the liberty.'

Betty put her visitor's hand to her lips, in acknowledgment of the
delicate answer. Wonderfully upright her figure was, and wonderfully
self-reliant her look, as, standing facing her visitor, she explained
herself further.

'If I could have kept the dear child, without the dread that's always
upon me of his coming to that fate I have spoken of, I could never have
parted with him, even to you. For I love him, I love him, I love him! I
love my husband long dead and gone, in him; I love my children dead and
gone, in him; I love my young and hopeful days dead and gone, in him. I
couldn't sell that love, and look you in your bright kind face. It's a
free gift. I am in want of nothing. When my strength fails me, if I
can but die out quick and quiet, I shall be quite content. I have stood
between my dead and that shame I have spoken of; and it has been kept
off from every one of them. Sewed into my gown,' with her hand upon
her breast, 'is just enough to lay me in the grave. Only see that it's
rightly spent, so as I may rest free to the last from that cruelty and
disgrace, and you'll have done much more than a little thing for me, and
all that in this present world my heart is set upon.'

Mrs Betty Higden's visitor pressed her hand. There was no more breaking
up of the strong old face into weakness. My Lords and Gentlemen and
Honourable Boards, it really was as composed as our own faces, and
almost as dignified.

And now, Johnny was to be inveigled into occupying a temporary
position on Mrs Boffin's lap. It was not until he had been piqued into
competition with the two diminutive Minders, by seeing them successively
raised to that post and retire from it without injury, that he could be
by any means induced to leave Mrs Betty Higden's skirts; towards which
he exhibited, even when in Mrs Boffin's embrace, strong yearnings,
spiritual and bodily; the former expressed in a very gloomy visage,
the latter in extended arms. However, a general description of the
toy-wonders lurking in Mr Boffin's house, so far conciliated this
worldly-minded orphan as to induce him to stare at her frowningly,
with a fist in his mouth, and even at length to chuckle when a
richly-caparisoned horse on wheels, with a miraculous gift of cantering
to cake-shops, was mentioned. This sound being taken up by the Minders,
swelled into a rapturous trio which gave general satisfaction.

So, the interview was considered very successful, and Mrs Boffin was
pleased, and all were satisfied. Not least of all, Sloppy, who undertook
to conduct the visitors back by the best way to the Three Magpies, and
whom the hammer-headed young man much despised.

This piece of business thus put in train, the Secretary drove Mrs Boffin
back to the Bower, and found employment for himself at the new house
until evening. Whether, when evening came, he took a way to his lodgings
that led through fields, with any design of finding Miss Bella Wilfer
in those fields, is not so certain as that she regularly walked there at
that hour.

And, moreover, it is certain that there she was.

No longer in mourning, Miss Bella was dressed in as pretty colours as
she could muster. There is no denying that she was as pretty as they,
and that she and the colours went very prettily together. She was
reading as she walked, and of course it is to be inferred, from her
showing no knowledge of Mr Rokesmith's approach, that she did not know
he was approaching.

'Eh?' said Miss Bella, raising her eyes from her book, when he stopped
before her. 'Oh! It's you.'

'Only I. A fine evening!'

'Is it?' said Bella, looking coldly round. 'I suppose it is, now you
mention it. I have not been thinking of the evening.'

'So intent upon your book?'

'Ye-e-es,' replied Bella, with a drawl of indifference.

'A love story, Miss Wilfer?'

'Oh dear no, or I shouldn't be reading it. It's more about money than
anything else.'

'And does it say that money is better than anything?'

'Upon my word,' returned Bella, 'I forget what it says, but you can find
out for yourself if you like, Mr Rokesmith. I don't want it any more.'

The Secretary took the book--she had fluttered the leaves as if it were
a fan--and walked beside her.

'I am charged with a message for you, Miss Wilfer.'

'Impossible, I think!' said Bella, with another drawl.

'From Mrs Boffin. She desired me to assure you of the pleasure she has
in finding that she will be ready to receive you in another week or two
at furthest.'

Bella turned her head towards him, with her prettily-insolent eyebrows
raised, and her eyelids drooping. As much as to say, 'How did YOU come
by the message, pray?'

'I have been waiting for an opportunity of telling you that I am Mr
Boffin's Secretary.'

'I am as wise as ever,' said Miss Bella, loftily, 'for I don't know what
a Secretary is. Not that it signifies.'

'Not at all.'

A covert glance at her face, as he walked beside her, showed him that
she had not expected his ready assent to that proposition.

'Then are you going to be always there, Mr Rokesmith?' she inquired, as
if that would be a drawback.

'Always? No. Very much there? Yes.'

'Dear me!' drawled Bella, in a tone of mortification.

'But my position there as Secretary, will be very different from yours
as guest. You will know little or nothing about me. I shall transact
the business: you will transact the pleasure. I shall have my salary to
earn; you will have nothing to do but to enjoy and attract.'

'Attract, sir?' said Bella, again with her eyebrows raised, and her
eyelids drooping. 'I don't understand you.'

Without replying on this point, Mr Rokesmith went on.

'Excuse me; when I first saw you in your black dress--'

('There!' was Miss Bella's mental exclamation. 'What did I say to them
at home? Everybody noticed that ridiculous mourning.')

'When I first saw you in your black dress, I was at a loss to account
for that distinction between yourself and your family. I hope it was not
impertinent to speculate upon it?'

'I hope not, I am sure,' said Miss Bella, haughtily. 'But you ought to
know best how you speculated upon it.'

Mr Rokesmith inclined his head in a deprecatory manner, and went on.

'Since I have been entrusted with Mr Boffin's affairs, I have
necessarily come to understand the little mystery. I venture to remark
that I feel persuaded that much of your loss may be repaired. I
speak, of course, merely of wealth, Miss Wilfer. The loss of a perfect
stranger, whose worth, or worthlessness, I cannot estimate--nor you
either--is beside the question. But this excellent gentleman and lady
are so full of simplicity, so full of generosity, so inclined towards
you, and so desirous to--how shall I express it?--to make amends for
their good fortune, that you have only to respond.'

As he watched her with another covert look, he saw a certain ambitious
triumph in her face which no assumed coldness could conceal.

'As we have been brought under one roof by an accidental combination of
circumstances, which oddly extends itself to the new relations before
us, I have taken the liberty of saying these few words. You don't
consider them intrusive I hope?' said the Secretary with deference.

'Really, Mr Rokesmith, I can't say what I consider them,' returned the
young lady. 'They are perfectly new to me, and may be founded altogether
on your own imagination.'

'You will see.'

These same fields were opposite the Wilfer premises. The discreet
Mrs Wilfer now looking out of window and beholding her daughter in
conference with her lodger, instantly tied up her head and came out for
a casual walk.

'I have been telling Miss Wilfer,' said John Rokesmith, as the majestic
lady came stalking up, 'that I have become, by a curious chance, Mr
Boffin's Secretary or man of business.'

'I have not,' returned Mrs Wilfer, waving her gloves in her chronic
state of dignity, and vague ill-usage, 'the honour of any intimate
acquaintance with Mr Boffin, and it is not for me to congratulate that
gentleman on the acquisition he has made.'

'A poor one enough,' said Rokesmith.

'Pardon me,' returned Mrs Wilfer, 'the merits of Mr Boffin may be highly
distinguished--may be more distinguished than the countenance of Mrs
Boffin would imply--but it were the insanity of humility to deem him
worthy of a better assistant.'

'You are very good. I have also been telling Miss Wilfer that she is
expected very shortly at the new residence in town.'

'Having tacitly consented,' said Mrs Wilfer, with a grand shrug of her
shoulders, and another wave of her gloves, 'to my child's acceptance of
the proffered attentions of Mrs Boffin, I interpose no objection.'

Here Miss Bella offered the remonstrance: 'Don't talk nonsense, ma,
please.'

'Peace!' said Mrs Wilfer.

'No, ma, I am not going to be made so absurd. Interposing objections!'

'I say,' repeated Mrs Wilfer, with a vast access of grandeur, 'that I am
NOT going to interpose objections. If Mrs Boffin (to whose countenance
no disciple of Lavater could possibly for a single moment subscribe),'
with a shiver, 'seeks to illuminate her new residence in town with the
attractions of a child of mine, I am content that she should be favoured
by the company of a child of mine.'

'You use the word, ma'am, I have myself used,' said Rokesmith, with a
glance at Bella, 'when you speak of Miss Wilfer's attractions there.'

'Pardon me,' returned Mrs Wilfer, with dreadful solemnity, 'but I had
not finished.'

'Pray excuse me.'

'I was about to say,' pursued Mrs Wilfer, who clearly had not had
the faintest idea of saying anything more: 'that when I use the term
attractions, I do so with the qualification that I do not mean it in any
way whatever.'

The excellent lady delivered this luminous elucidation of her views
with an air of greatly obliging her hearers, and greatly distinguishing
herself. Whereat Miss Bella laughed a scornful little laugh and said:

'Quite enough about this, I am sure, on all sides. Have the goodness, Mr
Rokesmith, to give my love to Mrs Boffin--'

'Pardon me!' cried Mrs Wilfer. 'Compliments.'

'Love!' repeated Bella, with a little stamp of her foot.

'No!' said Mrs Wilfer, monotonously. 'Compliments.'

('Say Miss Wilfer's love, and Mrs Wilfer's compliments,' the Secretary
proposed, as a compromise.)

'And I shall be very glad to come when she is ready for me. The sooner,
the better.'

'One last word, Bella,' said Mrs Wilfer, 'before descending to the
family apartment. I trust that as a child of mine you will ever be
sensible that it will be graceful in you, when associating with Mr
and Mrs Boffin upon equal terms, to remember that the Secretary, Mr
Rokesmith, as your father's lodger, has a claim on your good word.'

The condescension with which Mrs Wilfer delivered this proclamation of
patronage, was as wonderful as the swiftness with which the lodger
had lost caste in the Secretary. He smiled as the mother retired down
stairs; but his face fell, as the daughter followed.

'So insolent, so trivial, so capricious, so mercenary, so careless, so
hard to touch, so hard to turn!' he said, bitterly.

And added as he went upstairs. 'And yet so pretty, so pretty!'

And added presently, as he walked to and fro in his room. 'And if she
knew!'

She knew that he was shaking the house by his walking to and fro; and
she declared it another of the miseries of being poor, that you couldn't
get rid of a haunting Secretary, stump--stump--stumping overhead in the
dark, like a Ghost.



Chapter 17

A DISMAL SWAMP


And now, in the blooming summer days, behold Mr and Mrs Boffin
established in the eminently aristocratic family mansion, and behold
all manner of crawling, creeping, fluttering, and buzzing creatures,
attracted by the gold dust of the Golden Dustman!

Foremost among those leaving cards at the eminently aristocratic door
before it is quite painted, are the Veneerings: out of breath, one
might imagine, from the impetuosity of their rush to the eminently
aristocratic steps. One copper-plate Mrs Veneering, two copper-plate
Mr Veneerings, and a connubial copper-plate Mr and Mrs Veneering,
requesting the honour of Mr and Mrs Boffin's company at dinner with
the utmost Analytical solemnities. The enchanting Lady Tippins leaves a
card. Twemlow leaves cards. A tall custard-coloured phaeton tooling up
in a solemn manner leaves four cards, to wit, a couple of Mr Podsnaps, a
Mrs Podsnap, and a Miss Podsnap. All the world and his wife and daughter
leave cards. Sometimes the world's wife has so many daughters, that her
card reads rather like a Miscellaneous Lot at an Auction; comprising Mrs
Tapkins, Miss Tapkins, Miss Frederica Tapkins, Miss Antonina Tapkins,
Miss Malvina Tapkins, and Miss Euphemia Tapkins; at the same time,
the same lady leaves the card of Mrs Henry George Alfred Swoshle, NEE
Tapkins; also, a card, Mrs Tapkins at Home, Wednesdays, Music, Portland
Place.

Miss Bella Wilfer becomes an inmate, for an indefinite period, of the
eminently aristocratic dwelling. Mrs Boffin bears Miss Bella away to
her Milliner's and Dressmaker's, and she gets beautifully dressed. The
Veneerings find with swift remorse that they have omitted to invite Miss
Bella Wilfer. One Mrs Veneering and one Mr and Mrs Veneering requesting
that additional honour, instantly do penance in white cardboard on
the hall table. Mrs Tapkins likewise discovers her omission, and
with promptitude repairs it; for herself; for Miss Tapkins, for Miss
Frederica Tapkins, for Miss Antonina Tapkins, for Miss Malvina Tapkins,
and for Miss Euphemia Tapkins. Likewise, for Mrs Henry George Alfred
Swoshle NEE Tapkins. Likewise, for Mrs Tapkins at Home, Wednesdays,
Music, Portland Place.

Tradesmen's books hunger, and tradesmen's mouths water, for the gold
dust of the Golden Dustman. As Mrs Boffin and Miss Wilfer drive out, or
as Mr Boffin walks out at his jog-trot pace, the fishmonger pulls off
his hat with an air of reverence founded on conviction. His men cleanse
their fingers on their woollen aprons before presuming to touch their
foreheads to Mr Boffin or Lady. The gaping salmon and the golden mullet
lying on the slab seem to turn up their eyes sideways, as they would
turn up their hands if they had any, in worshipping admiration. The
butcher, though a portly and a prosperous man, doesn't know what to do
with himself; so anxious is he to express humility when discovered by
the passing Boffins taking the air in a mutton grove. Presents are made
to the Boffin servants, and bland strangers with business-cards
meeting said servants in the street, offer hypothetical corruption. As,
'Supposing I was to be favoured with an order from Mr Boffin, my dear
friend, it would be worth my while'--to do a certain thing that I hope
might not prove wholly disagreeable to your feelings.

But no one knows so well as the Secretary, who opens and reads the
letters, what a set is made at the man marked by a stroke of notoriety.
Oh the varieties of dust for ocular use, offered in exchange for the
gold dust of the Golden Dustman! Fifty-seven churches to be erected with
half-crowns, forty-two parsonage houses to be repaired with shillings,
seven-and-twenty organs to be built with halfpence, twelve hundred
children to be brought up on postage stamps. Not that a half-crown,
shilling, halfpenny, or postage stamp, would be particularly acceptable
from Mr Boffin, but that it is so obvious he is the man to make up the
deficiency. And then the charities, my Christian brother! And mostly in
difficulties, yet mostly lavish, too, in the expensive articles of print
and paper. Large fat private double letter, sealed with ducal coronet.
'Nicodemus Boffin, Esquire. My Dear Sir,--Having consented to preside
at the forthcoming Annual Dinner of the Family Party Fund, and feeling
deeply impressed with the immense usefulness of that noble Institution
and the great importance of its being supported by a List of Stewards
that shall prove to the public the interest taken in it by popular and
distinguished men, I have undertaken to ask you to become a Steward on
that occasion. Soliciting your favourable reply before the 14th instant,
I am, My Dear Sir, Your faithful Servant, LINSEED. P.S. The Steward's
fee is limited to three Guineas.' Friendly this, on the part of the Duke
of Linseed (and thoughtful in the postscript), only lithographed by
the hundred and presenting but a pale individuality of an address to
Nicodemus Boffin, Esquire, in quite another hand. It takes two noble
Earls and a Viscount, combined, to inform Nicodemus Boffin, Esquire,
in an equally flattering manner, that an estimable lady in the West of
England has offered to present a purse containing twenty pounds, to
the Society for Granting Annuities to Unassuming Members of the Middle
Classes, if twenty individuals will previously present purses of one
hundred pounds each. And those benevolent noblemen very kindly point out
that if Nicodemus Boffin, Esquire, should wish to present two or more
purses, it will not be inconsistent with the design of the estimable
lady in the West of England, provided each purse be coupled with the
name of some member of his honoured and respected family.

These are the corporate beggars. But there are, besides, the individual
beggars; and how does the heart of the Secretary fail him when he has to
cope with THEM! And they must be coped with to some extent, because they
all enclose documents (they call their scraps documents; but they are,
as to papers deserving the name, what minced veal is to a calf), the
non-return of which would be their ruin. That is say, they are utterly
ruined now, but they would be more utterly ruined then. Among these
correspondents are several daughters of general officers, long
accustomed to every luxury of life (except spelling), who little
thought, when their gallant fathers waged war in the Peninsula,
that they would ever have to appeal to those whom Providence, in its
inscrutable wisdom, has blessed with untold gold, and from among whom
they select the name of Nicodemus Boffin, Esquire, for a maiden effort
in this wise, understanding that he has such a heart as never was. The
Secretary learns, too, that confidence between man and wife would seem
to obtain but rarely when virtue is in distress, so numerous are the
wives who take up their pens to ask Mr Boffin for money without the
knowledge of their devoted husbands, who would never permit it; while,
on the other hand, so numerous are the husbands who take up their pens
to ask Mr Boffin for money without the knowledge of their devoted
wives, who would instantly go out of their senses if they had the least
suspicion of the circumstance. There are the inspired beggars, too.
These were sitting, only yesterday evening, musing over a fragment of
candle which must soon go out and leave them in the dark for the rest
of their nights, when surely some Angel whispered the name of Nicodemus
Boffin, Esquire, to their souls, imparting rays of hope, nay
confidence, to which they had long been strangers! Akin to these are the
suggestively-befriended beggars. They were partaking of a cold potato
and water by the flickering and gloomy light of a lucifer-match, in
their lodgings (rent considerably in arrear, and heartless landlady
threatening expulsion 'like a dog' into the streets), when a gifted
friend happening to look in, said, 'Write immediately to Nicodemus
Boffin, Esquire,' and would take no denial. There are the nobly
independent beggars too. These, in the days of their abundance, ever
regarded gold as dross, and have not yet got over that only impediment
in the way of their amassing wealth, but they want no dross from
Nicodemus Boffin, Esquire; No, Mr Boffin; the world may term it pride,
paltry pride if you will, but they wouldn't take it if you offered it;
a loan, sir--for fourteen weeks to the day, interest calculated at the
rate of five per cent per annum, to be bestowed upon any charitable
institution you may name--is all they want of you, and if you have the
meanness to refuse it, count on being despised by these great spirits.
There are the beggars of punctual business-habits too. These will
make an end of themselves at a quarter to one P.M. on Tuesday, if no
Post-office order is in the interim received from Nicodemus Boffin,
Esquire; arriving after a quarter to one P.M. on Tuesday, it need not
be sent, as they will then (having made an exact memorandum of the
heartless circumstances) be 'cold in death.' There are the beggars on
horseback too, in another sense from the sense of the proverb. These
are mounted and ready to start on the highway to affluence. The goal is
before them, the road is in the best condition, their spurs are on,
the steed is willing, but, at the last moment, for want of some special
thing--a clock, a violin, an astronomical telescope, an electrifying
machine--they must dismount for ever, unless they receive its equivalent
in money from Nicodemus Boffin, Esquire. Less given to detail are the
beggars who make sporting ventures. These, usually to be addressed
in reply under initials at a country post-office, inquire in feminine
hands, Dare one who cannot disclose herself to Nicodemus Boffin,
Esquire, but whose name might startle him were it revealed, solicit
the immediate advance of two hundred pounds from unexpected riches
exercising their noblest privilege in the trust of a common humanity?

In such a Dismal Swamp does the new house stand, and through it does
the Secretary daily struggle breast-high. Not to mention all the people
alive who have made inventions that won't act, and all the jobbers who
job in all the jobberies jobbed; though these may be regarded as the
Alligators of the Dismal Swamp, and are always lying by to drag the
Golden Dustman under.

But the old house. There are no designs against the Golden Dustman
there? There are no fish of the shark tribe in the Bower waters? Perhaps
not. Still, Wegg is established there, and would seem, judged by his
secret proceedings, to cherish a notion of making a discovery. For,
when a man with a wooden leg lies prone on his stomach to peep under
bedsteads; and hops up ladders, like some extinct bird, to survey the
tops of presses and cupboards; and provides himself an iron rod which he
is always poking and prodding into dust-mounds; the probability is that
he expects to find something.



BOOK THE SECOND -- BIRDS OF A FEATHER



Chapter 1

OF AN EDUCATIONAL CHARACTER


The school at which young Charley Hexam had first learned from a
book--the streets being, for pupils of his degree, the great Preparatory
Establishment in which very much that is never unlearned is learned
without and before book--was a miserable loft in an unsavoury yard. Its
atmosphere was oppressive and disagreeable; it was crowded, noisy,
and confusing; half the pupils dropped asleep, or fell into a state of
waking stupefaction; the other half kept them in either condition by
maintaining a monotonous droning noise, as if they were performing, out
of time and tune, on a ruder sort of bagpipe. The teachers, animated
solely by good intentions, had no idea of execution, and a lamentable
jumble was the upshot of their kind endeavours.

It was a school for all ages, and for both sexes. The latter were kept
apart, and the former were partitioned off into square assortments. But,
all the place was pervaded by a grimly ludicrous pretence that every
pupil was childish and innocent. This pretence, much favoured by the
lady-visitors, led to the ghastliest absurdities. Young women old in
the vices of the commonest and worst life, were expected to profess
themselves enthralled by the good child's book, the Adventures of
Little Margery, who resided in the village cottage by the mill; severely
reproved and morally squashed the miller, when she was five and he was
fifty; divided her porridge with singing birds; denied herself a new
nankeen bonnet, on the ground that the turnips did not wear nankeen
bonnets, neither did the sheep who ate them; who plaited straw and
delivered the dreariest orations to all comers, at all sorts of
unseasonable times. So, unwieldy young dredgers and hulking mudlarks
were referred to the experiences of Thomas Twopence, who, having
resolved not to rob (under circumstances of uncommon atrocity) his
particular friend and benefactor, of eighteenpence, presently came into
supernatural possession of three and sixpence, and lived a shining light
ever afterwards. (Note, that the benefactor came to no good.) Several
swaggering sinners had written their own biographies in the same strain;
it always appearing from the lessons of those very boastful persons,
that you were to do good, not because it WAS good, but because you were
to make a good thing of it. Contrariwise, the adult pupils were taught
to read (if they could learn) out of the New Testament; and by dint of
stumbling over the syllables and keeping their bewildered eyes on the
particular syllables coming round to their turn, were as absolutely
ignorant of the sublime history, as if they had never seen or heard of
it. An exceedingly and confoundingly perplexing jumble of a school,
in fact, where black spirits and grey, red spirits and white, jumbled
jumbled jumbled jumbled, jumbled every night. And particularly every
Sunday night. For then, an inclined plane of unfortunate infants would
be handed over to the prosiest and worst of all the teachers with good
intentions, whom nobody older would endure. Who, taking his stand on
the floor before them as chief executioner, would be attended by a
conventional volunteer boy as executioner's assistant. When and where it
first became the conventional system that a weary or inattentive infant
in a class must have its face smoothed downward with a hot hand, or when
and where the conventional volunteer boy first beheld such system in
operation, and became inflamed with a sacred zeal to administer it,
matters not. It was the function of the chief executioner to hold forth,
and it was the function of the acolyte to dart at sleeping infants,
yawning infants, restless infants, whimpering infants, and smooth their
wretched faces; sometimes with one hand, as if he were anointing them
for a whisker; sometimes with both hands, applied after the fashion of
blinkers. And so the jumble would be in action in this department for a
mortal hour; the exponent drawling on to My Dearert Childerrenerr, let
us say, for example, about the beautiful coming to the Sepulchre; and
repeating the word Sepulchre (commonly used among infants) five hundred
times, and never once hinting what it meant; the conventional boy
smoothing away right and left, as an infallible commentary; the whole
hot-bed of flushed and exhausted infants exchanging measles, rashes,
whooping-cough, fever, and stomach disorders, as if they were assembled
in High Market for the purpose.

Even in this temple of good intentions, an exceptionally sharp boy
exceptionally determined to learn, could learn something, and, having
learned it, could impart it much better than the teachers; as being
more knowing than they, and not at the disadvantage in which they stood
towards the shrewder pupils. In this way it had come about that Charley
Hexam had risen in the jumble, taught in the jumble, and been received
from the jumble into a better school.

'So you want to go and see your sister, Hexam?'

'If you please, Mr Headstone.'

'I have half a mind to go with you. Where does your sister live?'

'Why, she is not settled yet, Mr Headstone. I'd rather you didn't see
her till she is settled, if it was all the same to you.'

'Look here, Hexam.' Mr Bradley Headstone, highly certificated
stipendiary schoolmaster, drew his right forefinger through one of the
buttonholes of the boy's coat, and looked at it attentively. 'I hope
your sister may be good company for you?'

'Why do you doubt it, Mr Headstone?'

'I did not say I doubted it.'

'No, sir; you didn't say so.'

Bradley Headstone looked at his finger again, took it out of the
buttonhole and looked at it closer, bit the side of it and looked at it
again.

'You see, Hexam, you will be one of us. In good time you are sure to
pass a creditable examination and become one of us. Then the question
is--'

The boy waited so long for the question, while the schoolmaster looked
at a new side of his finger, and bit it, and looked at it again, that at
length the boy repeated:

'The question is, sir--?'

'Whether you had not better leave well alone.'

'Is it well to leave my sister alone, Mr Headstone?'

'I do not say so, because I do not know. I put it to you. I ask you to
think of it. I want you to consider. You know how well you are doing
here.'

'After all, she got me here,' said the boy, with a struggle.

'Perceiving the necessity of it,' acquiesced the schoolmaster, 'and
making up her mind fully to the separation. Yes.'

The boy, with a return of that former reluctance or struggle or whatever
it was, seemed to debate with himself. At length he said, raising his
eyes to the master's face:

'I wish you'd come with me and see her, Mr Headstone, though she is not
settled. I wish you'd come with me, and take her in the rough, and judge
her for yourself.'

'You are sure you would not like,' asked the schoolmaster, 'to prepare
her?'

'My sister Lizzie,' said the boy, proudly, 'wants no preparing, Mr
Headstone. What she is, she is, and shows herself to be. There's no
pretending about my sister.'

His confidence in her, sat more easily upon him than the indecision with
which he had twice contended. It was his better nature to be true to
her, if it were his worse nature to be wholly selfish. And as yet the
better nature had the stronger hold.

'Well, I can spare the evening,' said the schoolmaster. 'I am ready to
walk with you.'

'Thank you, Mr Headstone. And I am ready to go.'

Bradley Headstone, in his decent black coat and waistcoat, and decent
white shirt, and decent formal black tie, and decent pantaloons of
pepper and salt, with his decent silver watch in his pocket and its
decent hair-guard round his neck, looked a thoroughly decent young man
of six-and-twenty. He was never seen in any other dress, and yet there
was a certain stiffness in his manner of wearing this, as if there were
a want of adaptation between him and it, recalling some mechanics in
their holiday clothes. He had acquired mechanically a great store of
teacher's knowledge. He could do mental arithmetic mechanically, sing
at sight mechanically, blow various wind instruments mechanically, even
play the great church organ mechanically. From his early childhood up,
his mind had been a place of mechanical stowage. The arrangement of
his wholesale warehouse, so that it might be always ready to meet the
demands of retail dealers history here, geography there, astronomy to
the right, political economy to the left--natural history, the physical
sciences, figures, music, the lower mathematics, and what not, all in
their several places--this care had imparted to his countenance a look
of care; while the habit of questioning and being questioned had given
him a suspicious manner, or a manner that would be better described as
one of lying in wait. There was a kind of settled trouble in the face.
It was the face belonging to a naturally slow or inattentive intellect
that had toiled hard to get what it had won, and that had to hold it now
that it was gotten. He always seemed to be uneasy lest anything should
be missing from his mental warehouse, and taking stock to assure
himself.

Suppression of so much to make room for so much, had given him a
constrained manner, over and above. Yet there was enough of what was
animal, and of what was fiery (though smouldering), still visible in
him, to suggest that if young Bradley Headstone, when a pauper lad, had
chanced to be told off for the sea, he would not have been the last man
in a ship's crew. Regarding that origin of his, he was proud, moody, and
sullen, desiring it to be forgotten. And few people knew of it.

In some visits to the Jumble his attention had been attracted to this
boy Hexam. An undeniable boy for a pupil-teacher; an undeniable boy
to do credit to the master who should bring him on. Combined with this
consideration, there may have been some thought of the pauper lad now
never to be mentioned. Be that how it might, he had with pains gradually
worked the boy into his own school, and procured him some offices to
discharge there, which were repaid with food and lodging. Such were the
circumstances that had brought together, Bradley Headstone and young
Charley Hexam that autumn evening. Autumn, because full half a year had
come and gone since the bird of prey lay dead upon the river-shore.

The schools--for they were twofold, as the sexes--were down in that
district of the flat country tending to the Thames, where Kent and
Surrey meet, and where the railways still bestride the market-gardens
that will soon die under them. The schools were newly built, and there
were so many like them all over the country, that one might have thought
the whole were but one restless edifice with the locomotive gift of
Aladdin's palace. They were in a neighbourhood which looked like a toy
neighbourhood taken in blocks out of a box by a child of particularly
incoherent mind, and set up anyhow; here, one side of a new street;
there, a large solitary public-house facing nowhere; here, another
unfinished street already in ruins; there, a church; here, an immense
new warehouse; there, a dilapidated old country villa; then, a medley
of black ditch, sparkling cucumber-frame, rank field, richly cultivated
kitchen-garden, brick viaduct, arch-spanned canal, and disorder of
frowziness and fog. As if the child had given the table a kick, and gone
to sleep.

But, even among school-buildings, school-teachers, and school-pupils,
all according to pattern and all engendered in the light of the latest
Gospel according to Monotony, the older pattern into which so many
fortunes have been shaped for good and evil, comes out. It came out in
Miss Peecher the schoolmistress, watering her flowers, as Mr Bradley
Headstone walked forth. It came out in Miss Peecher the schoolmistress,
watering the flowers in the little dusty bit of garden attached to her
small official residence, with little windows like the eyes in needles,
and little doors like the covers of school-books.

Small, shining, neat, methodical, and buxom was Miss Peecher;
cherry-cheeked and tuneful of voice. A little pincushion, a little
housewife, a little book, a little workbox, a little set of tables and
weights and measures, and a little woman, all in one. She could write
a little essay on any subject, exactly a slate long, beginning at the
left-hand top of one side and ending at the right-hand bottom of the
other, and the essay should be strictly according to rule. If Mr Bradley
Headstone had addressed a written proposal of marriage to her, she would
probably have replied in a complete little essay on the theme exactly a
slate long, but would certainly have replied Yes. For she loved him. The
decent hair-guard that went round his neck and took care of his decent
silver watch was an object of envy to her. So would Miss Peecher have
gone round his neck and taken care of him. Of him, insensible. Because
he did not love Miss Peecher.

Miss Peecher's favourite pupil, who assisted her in her little
household, was in attendance with a can of water to replenish her little
watering-pot, and sufficiently divined the state of Miss Peecher's
affections to feel it necessary that she herself should love young
Charley Hexam. So, there was a double palpitation among the double
stocks and double wall-flowers, when the master and the boy looked over
the little gate.

'A fine evening, Miss Peecher,' said the Master.

'A very fine evening, Mr Headstone,' said Miss Peecher. 'Are you taking
a walk?'

'Hexam and I are going to take a long walk.'

'Charming weather,' remarked Miss Peecher, FOR a long walk.'

'Ours is rather on business than mere pleasure,' said the Master. Miss
Peecher inverting her watering-pot, and very carefully shaking out the
few last drops over a flower, as if there were some special virtue in
them which would make it a Jack's beanstalk before morning, called for
replenishment to her pupil, who had been speaking to the boy.

'Good-night, Miss Peecher,' said the Master.

'Good-night, Mr Headstone,' said the Mistress.

The pupil had been, in her state of pupilage, so imbued with the
class-custom of stretching out an arm, as if to hail a cab or omnibus,
whenever she found she had an observation on hand to offer to Miss
Peecher, that she often did it in their domestic relations; and she did
it now.

'Well, Mary Anne?' said Miss Peecher.

'If you please, ma'am, Hexam said they were going to see his sister.'

'But that can't be, I think,' returned Miss Peecher: 'because Mr
Headstone can have no business with HER.'

Mary Anne again hailed.

'Well, Mary Anne?'

'If you please, ma'am, perhaps it's Hexam's business?'

'That may be,' said Miss Peecher. 'I didn't think of that. Not that it
matters at all.'

Mary Anne again hailed.

'Well, Mary Anne?'

'They say she's very handsome.'

'Oh, Mary Anne, Mary Anne!' returned Miss Peecher, slightly colouring
and shaking her head, a little out of humour; 'how often have I told you
not to use that vague expression, not to speak in that general way? When
you say THEY say, what do you mean? Part of speech They?'

Mary Anne hooked her right arm behind her in her left hand, as being
under examination, and replied:

'Personal pronoun.'

'Person, They?'

'Third person.'

'Number, They?'

'Plural number.'

'Then how many do you mean, Mary Anne? Two? Or more?'

'I beg your pardon, ma'am,' said Mary Anne, disconcerted now she came
to think of it; 'but I don't know that I mean more than her brother
himself.' As she said it, she unhooked her arm.

'I felt convinced of it,' returned Miss Peecher, smiling again. 'Now
pray, Mary Anne, be careful another time. He says is very different from
they say, remember. Difference between he says and they say? Give it
me.'

Mary Anne immediately hooked her right arm behind her in her left
hand--an attitude absolutely necessary to the situation--and replied:
'One is indicative mood, present tense, third person singular, verb
active to say. Other is indicative mood, present tense, third person
plural, verb active to say.'

'Why verb active, Mary Anne?'

'Because it takes a pronoun after it in the objective case, Miss
Peecher.'

'Very good indeed,' remarked Miss Peecher, with encouragement. 'In fact,
could not be better. Don't forget to apply it, another time, Mary Anne.'
This said, Miss Peecher finished the watering of her flowers, and
went into her little official residence, and took a refresher of the
principal rivers and mountains of the world, their breadths, depths, and
heights, before settling the measurements of the body of a dress for her
own personal occupation.

Bradley Headstone and Charley Hexam duly got to the Surrey side of
Westminster Bridge, and crossed the bridge, and made along the Middlesex
shore towards Millbank. In this region are a certain little street
called Church Street, and a certain little blind square, called Smith
Square, in the centre of which last retreat is a very hideous church
with four towers at the four corners, generally resembling some
petrified monster, frightful and gigantic, on its back with its legs
in the air. They found a tree near by in a corner, and a blacksmith's
forge, and a timber yard, and a dealer's in old iron. What a rusty
portion of a boiler and a great iron wheel or so meant by lying
half-buried in the dealer's fore-court, nobody seemed to know or to want
to know. Like the Miller of questionable jollity in the song, They cared
for Nobody, no not they, and Nobody cared for them.

After making the round of this place, and noting that there was a deadly
kind of repose on it, more as though it had taken laudanum than fallen
into a natural rest, they stopped at the point where the street and the
square joined, and where there were some little quiet houses in a row.
To these Charley Hexam finally led the way, and at one of these stopped.

'This must be where my sister lives, sir. This is where she came for a
temporary lodging, soon after father's death.'

'How often have you seen her since?'

'Why, only twice, sir,' returned the boy, with his former reluctance;
'but that's as much her doing as mine.'

'How does she support herself?'

'She was always a fair needlewoman, and she keeps the stockroom of a
seaman's outfitter.'

'Does she ever work at her own lodging here?'

'Sometimes; but her regular hours and regular occupation are at their
place of business, I believe, sir. This is the number.'

The boy knocked at a door, and the door promptly opened with a spring
and a click. A parlour door within a small entry stood open, and
disclosed a child--a dwarf--a girl--a something--sitting on a little low
old-fashioned arm-chair, which had a kind of little working bench before
it.

'I can't get up,' said the child, 'because my back's bad, and my legs
are queer. But I'm the person of the house.'

'Who else is at home?' asked Charley Hexam, staring.

'Nobody's at home at present,' returned the child, with a glib assertion
of her dignity, 'except the person of the house. What did you want,
young man?'

'I wanted to see my sister.'

'Many young men have sisters,' returned the child. 'Give me your name,
young man?'

The queer little figure, and the queer but not ugly little face, with
its bright grey eyes, were so sharp, that the sharpness of the manner
seemed unavoidable. As if, being turned out of that mould, it must be
sharp.

'Hexam is my name.'

'Ah, indeed?' said the person of the house. 'I thought it might be. Your
sister will be in, in about a quarter of an hour. I am very fond of your
sister. She's my particular friend. Take a seat. And this gentleman's
name?'

'Mr Headstone, my schoolmaster.'

'Take a seat. And would you please to shut the street door first? I
can't very well do it myself; because my back's so bad, and my legs are
so queer.'

They complied in silence, and the little figure went on with its work of
gumming or gluing together with a camel's-hair brush certain pieces
of cardboard and thin wood, previously cut into various shapes. The
scissors and knives upon the bench showed that the child herself had cut
them; and the bright scraps of velvet and silk and ribbon also strewn
upon the bench showed that when duly stuffed (and stuffing too was
there), she was to cover them smartly. The dexterity of her nimble
fingers was remarkable, and, as she brought two thin edges accurately
together by giving them a little bite, she would glance at the visitors
out of the corners of her grey eyes with a look that out-sharpened all
her other sharpness.

'You can't tell me the name of my trade, I'll be bound,' she said, after
taking several of these observations.

'You make pincushions,' said Charley.

'What else do I make?'

'Pen-wipers,' said Bradley Headstone.

'Ha! ha! What else do I make? You're a schoolmaster, but you can't tell
me.'

'You do something,' he returned, pointing to a corner of the little
bench, 'with straw; but I don't know what.'

'Well done you!' cried the person of the house. 'I only make pincushions
and pen-wipers, to use up my waste. But my straw really does belong to
my business. Try again. What do I make with my straw?'

'Dinner-mats?'

'A schoolmaster, and says dinner-mats! I'll give you a clue to my trade,
in a game of forfeits. I love my love with a B because she's Beautiful;
I hate my love with a B because she is Brazen; I took her to the sign of
the Blue Boar, and I treated her with Bonnets; her name's Bouncer, and
she lives in Bedlam.--Now, what do I make with my straw?'

'Ladies' bonnets?'

'Fine ladies',' said the person of the house, nodding assent. 'Dolls'.
I'm a Doll's Dressmaker.'

'I hope it's a good business?'

The person of the house shrugged her shoulders and shook her head. 'No.
Poorly paid. And I'm often so pressed for time! I had a doll married,
last week, and was obliged to work all night. And it's not good for me,
on account of my back being so bad and my legs so queer.'

They looked at the little creature with a wonder that did not diminish,
and the schoolmaster said: 'I am sorry your fine ladies are so
inconsiderate.'

'It's the way with them,' said the person of the house, shrugging her
shoulders again. 'And they take no care of their clothes, and they
never keep to the same fashions a month. I work for a doll with three
daughters. Bless you, she's enough to ruin her husband!' The person of
the house gave a weird little laugh here, and gave them another look out
of the corners of her eyes. She had an elfin chin that was capable of
great expression; and whenever she gave this look, she hitched this chin
up. As if her eyes and her chin worked together on the same wires.

'Are you always as busy as you are now?'

'Busier. I'm slack just now. I finished a large mourning order the day
before yesterday. Doll I work for, lost a canary-bird.' The person of
the house gave another little laugh, and then nodded her head several
times, as who should moralize, 'Oh this world, this world!'

'Are you alone all day?' asked Bradley Headstone. 'Don't any of the
neighbouring children--?'

'Ah, lud!' cried the person of the house, with a little scream, as
if the word had pricked her. 'Don't talk of children. I can't bear
children. I know their tricks and their manners.' She said this with an
angry little shake of her tight fist close before her eyes.

Perhaps it scarcely required the teacher-habit, to perceive that the
doll's dressmaker was inclined to be bitter on the difference between
herself and other children. But both master and pupil understood it so.

'Always running about and screeching, always playing and fighting,
always skip-skip-skipping on the pavement and chalking it for their
games! Oh! I know their tricks and their manners!' Shaking the little
fist as before. 'And that's not all. Ever so often calling names in
through a person's keyhole, and imitating a person's back and legs. Oh!
I know their tricks and their manners. And I'll tell you what I'd do, to
punish 'em. There's doors under the church in the Square--black doors,
leading into black vaults. Well! I'd open one of those doors, and I'd
cram 'em all in, and then I'd lock the door and through the keyhole I'd
blow in pepper.'

'What would be the good of blowing in pepper?' asked Charley Hexam.

'To set 'em sneezing,' said the person of the house, 'and make their
eyes water. And when they were all sneezing and inflamed, I'd mock 'em
through the keyhole. Just as they, with their tricks and their manners,
mock a person through a person's keyhole!'

An uncommonly emphatic shake of her little fist close before her eyes,
seemed to ease the mind of the person of the house; for she added
with recovered composure, 'No, no, no. No children for me. Give me
grown-ups.'

It was difficult to guess the age of this strange creature, for her poor
figure furnished no clue to it, and her face was at once so young and so
old. Twelve, or at the most thirteen, might be near the mark.

'I always did like grown-ups,' she went on, 'and always kept company
with them. So sensible. Sit so quiet. Don't go prancing and capering
about! And I mean always to keep among none but grown-ups till I marry.
I suppose I must make up my mind to marry, one of these days.'

She listened to a step outside that caught her ear, and there was a soft
knock at the door. Pulling at a handle within her reach, she said,
with a pleased laugh: 'Now here, for instance, is a grown-up that's my
particular friend!' and Lizzie Hexam in a black dress entered the room.

'Charley! You!'

Taking him to her arms in the old way--of which he seemed a little
ashamed--she saw no one else.

'There, there, there, Liz, all right my dear. See! Here's Mr Headstone
come with me.'

Her eyes met those of the schoolmaster, who had evidently expected
to see a very different sort of person, and a murmured word or two
of salutation passed between them. She was a little flurried by the
unexpected visit, and the schoolmaster was not at his ease. But he never
was, quite.

'I told Mr Headstone you were not settled, Liz, but he was so kind as to
take an interest in coming, and so I brought him. How well you look!'

Bradley seemed to think so.

'Ah! Don't she, don't she?' cried the person of the house, resuming her
occupation, though the twilight was falling fast. 'I believe you she
does! But go on with your chat, one and all:

     You one two three,
     My com-pa-nie,
     And don't mind me.'

--pointing this impromptu rhyme with three points of her thin
fore-finger.

'I didn't expect a visit from you, Charley,' said his sister. 'I
supposed that if you wanted to see me you would have sent to me,
appointing me to come somewhere near the school, as I did last time.
I saw my brother near the school, sir,' to Bradley Headstone, 'because
it's easier for me to go there, than for him to come here. I work about
midway between the two places.'

'You don't see much of one another,' said Bradley, not improving in
respect of ease.

'No.' With a rather sad shake of her head. 'Charley always does well, Mr
Headstone?'

'He could not do better. I regard his course as quite plain before him.'

'I hoped so. I am so thankful. So well done of you, Charley dear! It is
better for me not to come (except when he wants me) between him and his
prospects. You think so, Mr Headstone?'

Conscious that his pupil-teacher was looking for his answer, that he
himself had suggested the boy's keeping aloof from this sister, now seen
for the first time face to face, Bradley Headstone stammered:

'Your brother is very much occupied, you know. He has to work hard. One
cannot but say that the less his attention is diverted from his work,
the better for his future. When he shall have established himself, why
then--it will be another thing then.'

Lizzie shook her head again, and returned, with a quiet smile: 'I always
advised him as you advise him. Did I not, Charley?'

'Well, never mind that now,' said the boy. 'How are you getting on?'

'Very well, Charley. I want for nothing.'

'You have your own room here?'

'Oh yes. Upstairs. And it's quiet, and pleasant, and airy.'

'And she always has the use of this room for visitors,' said the
person of the house, screwing up one of her little bony fists, like an
opera-glass, and looking through it, with her eyes and her chin in that
quaint accordance. 'Always this room for visitors; haven't you, Lizzie
dear?'

It happened that Bradley Headstone noticed a very slight action of
Lizzie Hexam's hand, as though it checked the doll's dressmaker. And it
happened that the latter noticed him in the same instant; for she made
a double eyeglass of her two hands, looked at him through it, and cried,
with a waggish shake of her head: 'Aha! Caught you spying, did I?'

It might have fallen out so, any way; but Bradley Headstone also noticed
that immediately after this, Lizzie, who had not taken off her bonnet,
rather hurriedly proposed that as the room was getting dark they should
go out into the air. They went out; the visitors saying good-night to
the doll's dressmaker, whom they left, leaning back in her chair with
her arms crossed, singing to herself in a sweet thoughtful little voice.

'I'll saunter on by the river,' said Bradley. 'You will be glad to talk
together.'

As his uneasy figure went on before them among the evening shadows, the
boy said to his sister, petulantly:

'When are you going to settle yourself in some Christian sort of place,
Liz? I thought you were going to do it before now.'

'I am very well where I am, Charley.'

'Very well where you are! I am ashamed to have brought Mr Headstone with
me. How came you to get into such company as that little witch's?'

'By chance at first, as it seemed, Charley. But I think it must have
been by something more than chance, for that child--You remember the
bills upon the walls at home?'

'Confound the bills upon the walls at home! I want to forget the bills
upon the walls at home, and it would be better for you to do the same,'
grumbled the boy. 'Well; what of them?'

'This child is the grandchild of the old man.'

'What old man?'

'The terrible drunken old man, in the list slippers and the night-cap.'

The boy asked, rubbing his nose in a manner that half expressed vexation
at hearing so much, and half curiosity to hear more: 'How came you to
make that out? What a girl you are!'

'The child's father is employed by the house that employs me; that's how
I came to know it, Charley. The father is like his own father, a weak
wretched trembling creature, falling to pieces, never sober. But a good
workman too, at the work he does. The mother is dead. This poor ailing
little creature has come to be what she is, surrounded by drunken people
from her cradle--if she ever had one, Charley.'

'I don't see what you have to do with her, for all that,' said the boy.

'Don't you, Charley?'

The boy looked doggedly at the river. They were at Millbank, and
the river rolled on their left. His sister gently touched him on the
shoulder, and pointed to it.

'Any compensation--restitution--never mind the word, you know my
meaning. Father's grave.'

But he did not respond with any tenderness. After a moody silence he
broke out in an ill-used tone:

'It'll be a very hard thing, Liz, if, when I am trying my best to get up
in the world, you pull me back.'

'I, Charley?'

'Yes, you, Liz. Why can't you let bygones be bygones? Why can't you, as
Mr Headstone said to me this very evening about another matter, leave
well alone? What we have got to do, is, to turn our faces full in our
new direction, and keep straight on.'

'And never look back? Not even to try to make some amends?'

'You are such a dreamer,' said the boy, with his former petulance. 'It
was all very well when we sat before the fire--when we looked into the
hollow down by the flare--but we are looking into the real world, now.'

'Ah, we were looking into the real world then, Charley!'

'I understand what you mean by that, but you are not justified in it. I
don't want, as I raise myself to shake you off, Liz. I want to carry you
up with me. That's what I want to do, and mean to do. I know what I owe
you. I said to Mr Headstone this very evening, "After all, my sister got
me here." Well, then. Don't pull me back, and hold me down. That's all I
ask, and surely that's not unconscionable.'

She had kept a steadfast look upon him, and she answered with composure:

'I am not here selfishly, Charley. To please myself I could not be too
far from that river.'

'Nor could you be too far from it to please me. Let us get quit of it
equally. Why should you linger about it any more than I? I give it a
wide berth.'

'I can't get away from it, I think,' said Lizzie, passing her hand
across her forehead. 'It's no purpose of mine that I live by it still.'

'There you go, Liz! Dreaming again! You lodge yourself of your own
accord in a house with a drunken--tailor, I suppose--or something of the
sort, and a little crooked antic of a child, or old person, or whatever
it is, and then you talk as if you were drawn or driven there. Now, do
be more practical.'

She had been practical enough with him, in suffering and striving
for him; but she only laid her hand upon his shoulder--not
reproachfully--and tapped it twice or thrice. She had been used to
do so, to soothe him when she carried him about, a child as heavy as
herself. Tears started to his eyes.

'Upon my word, Liz,' drawing the back of his hand across them, 'I mean
to be a good brother to you, and to prove that I know what I owe you.
All I say is, that I hope you'll control your fancies a little, on my
account. I'll get a school, and then you must come and live with me,
and you'll have to control your fancies then, so why not now? Now, say I
haven't vexed you.'

'You haven't, Charley, you haven't.'

'And say I haven't hurt you.'

'You haven't, Charley.' But this answer was less ready.

'Say you are sure I didn't mean to. Come! There's Mr Headstone stopping
and looking over the wall at the tide, to hint that it's time to go.
Kiss me, and tell me that you know I didn't mean to hurt you.'

She told him so, and they embraced, and walked on and came up with the
schoolmaster.

'But we go your sister's way,' he remarked, when the boy told him he was
ready. And with his cumbrous and uneasy action he stiffly offered her
his arm. Her hand was just within it, when she drew it back. He looked
round with a start, as if he thought she had detected something that
repelled her, in the momentary touch.

'I will not go in just yet,' said Lizzie. 'And you have a distance
before you, and will walk faster without me.'

Being by this time close to Vauxhall Bridge, they resolved, in
consequence, to take that way over the Thames, and they left her;
Bradley Headstone giving her his hand at parting, and she thanking him
for his care of her brother.

The master and the pupil walked on, rapidly and silently. They had
nearly crossed the bridge, when a gentleman came coolly sauntering
towards them, with a cigar in his mouth, his coat thrown back, and his
hands behind him. Something in the careless manner of this person,
and in a certain lazily arrogant air with which he approached, holding
possession of twice as much pavement as another would have claimed,
instantly caught the boy's attention. As the gentleman passed the boy
looked at him narrowly, and then stood still, looking after him.

'Who is it that you stare after?' asked Bradley.

'Why!' said the boy, with a confused and pondering frown upon his face,
'It IS that Wrayburn one!'

Bradley Headstone scrutinized the boy as closely as the boy had
scrutinized the gentleman.

'I beg your pardon, Mr Headstone, but I couldn't help wondering what in
the world brought HIM here!'

Though he said it as if his wonder were past--at the same time resuming
the walk--it was not lost upon the master that he looked over his
shoulder after speaking, and that the same perplexed and pondering frown
was heavy on his face.

'You don't appear to like your friend, Hexam?'

'I DON'T like him,' said the boy.

'Why not?'

'He took hold of me by the chin in a precious impertinent way, the first
time I ever saw him,' said the boy.

'Again, why?'

'For nothing. Or--it's much the same--because something I happened to
say about my sister didn't happen to please him.'

'Then he knows your sister?'

'He didn't at that time,' said the boy, still moodily pondering.

'Does now?'

The boy had so lost himself that he looked at Mr Bradley Headstone
as they walked on side by side, without attempting to reply until the
question had been repeated; then he nodded and answered, 'Yes, sir.'

'Going to see her, I dare say.'

'It can't be!' said the boy, quickly. 'He doesn't know her well enough.
I should like to catch him at it!'

When they had walked on for a time, more rapidly than before, the master
said, clasping the pupil's arm between the elbow and the shoulder with
his hand:

'You were going to tell me something about that person. What did you say
his name was?'

'Wrayburn. Mr Eugene Wrayburn. He is what they call a barrister, with
nothing to do. The first time he came to our old place was when my
father was alive. He came on business; not that it was HIS business--HE
never had any business--he was brought by a friend of his.'

'And the other times?'

'There was only one other time that I know of. When my father was killed
by accident, he chanced to be one of the finders. He was mooning about,
I suppose, taking liberties with people's chins; but there he was,
somehow. He brought the news home to my sister early in the morning, and
brought Miss Abbey Potterson, a neighbour, to help break it to her.
He was mooning about the house when I was fetched home in the
afternoon--they didn't know where to find me till my sister could be
brought round sufficiently to tell them--and then he mooned away.'

'And is that all?'

'That's all, sir.'

Bradley Headstone gradually released the boy's arm, as if he were
thoughtful, and they walked on side by side as before. After a long
silence between them, Bradley resumed the talk.

'I suppose--your sister--' with a curious break both before and after
the words, 'has received hardly any teaching, Hexam?'

'Hardly any, sir.'

'Sacrificed, no doubt, to her father's objections. I remember them in
your case. Yet--your sister--scarcely looks or speaks like an ignorant
person.'

'Lizzie has as much thought as the best, Mr Headstone. Too much,
perhaps, without teaching. I used to call the fire at home, her books,
for she was always full of fancies--sometimes quite wise fancies,
considering--when she sat looking at it.'

'I don't like that,' said Bradley Headstone.

His pupil was a little surprised by this striking in with so sudden
and decided and emotional an objection, but took it as a proof of the
master's interest in himself. It emboldened him to say:

'I have never brought myself to mention it openly to you, Mr Headstone,
and you're my witness that I couldn't even make up my mind to take it
from you before we came out to-night; but it's a painful thing to think
that if I get on as well as you hope, I shall be--I won't say disgraced,
because I don't mean disgraced-but--rather put to the blush if it was
known--by a sister who has been very good to me.'

'Yes,' said Bradley Headstone in a slurring way, for his mind scarcely
seemed to touch that point, so smoothly did it glide to another, 'and
there is this possibility to consider. Some man who had worked his way
might come to admire--your sister--and might even in time bring himself
to think of marrying--your sister--and it would be a sad drawback and a
heavy penalty upon him, if; overcoming in his mind other inequalities of
condition and other considerations against it, this inequality and this
consideration remained in full force.'

'That's much my own meaning, sir.'

'Ay, ay,' said Bradley Headstone, 'but you spoke of a mere brother.
Now, the case I have supposed would be a much stronger case; because an
admirer, a husband, would form the connexion voluntarily, besides being
obliged to proclaim it: which a brother is not. After all, you know, it
must be said of you that you couldn't help yourself: while it would be
said of him, with equal reason, that he could.'

'That's true, sir. Sometimes since Lizzie was left free by father's
death, I have thought that such a young woman might soon acquire more
than enough to pass muster. And sometimes I have even thought that
perhaps Miss Peecher--'

'For the purpose, I would advise Not Miss Peecher,' Bradley Headstone
struck in with a recurrence of his late decision of manner.

'Would you be so kind as to think of it for me, Mr Headstone?'

'Yes, Hexam, yes. I'll think of it. I'll think maturely of it. I'll
think well of it.'

Their walk was almost a silent one afterwards, until it ended at the
school-house. There, one of neat Miss Peecher's little windows, like the
eyes in needles, was illuminated, and in a corner near it sat Mary Anne
watching, while Miss Peecher at the table stitched at the neat little
body she was making up by brown paper pattern for her own wearing. N.B.
Miss Peecher and Miss Peecher's pupils were not much encouraged in the
unscholastic art of needlework, by Government.

Mary Anne with her face to the window, held her arm up.

'Well, Mary Anne?'

'Mr Headstone coming home, ma'am.'

In about a minute, Mary Anne again hailed.

'Yes, Mary Anne?'

'Gone in and locked his door, ma'am.'

Miss Peecher repressed a sigh as she gathered her work together for bed,
and transfixed that part of her dress where her heart would have been if
she had had the dress on, with a sharp, sharp needle.



Chapter 2

STILL EDUCATIONAL


The person of the house, doll's dressmaker and manufacturer of
ornamental pincushions and pen-wipers, sat in her quaint little low
arm-chair, singing in the dark, until Lizzie came back. The person
of the house had attained that dignity while yet of very tender years
indeed, through being the only trustworthy person IN the house.

'Well Lizzie-Mizzie-Wizzie,' said she, breaking off in her song, 'what's
the news out of doors?'

'What's the news in doors?' returned Lizzie, playfully smoothing the
bright long fair hair which grew very luxuriant and beautiful on the
head of the doll's dressmaker.

'Let me see, said the blind man. Why the last news is, that I don't mean
to marry your brother.'

'No?'

'No-o,' shaking her head and her chin. 'Don't like the boy.'

'What do you say to his master?'

'I say that I think he's bespoke.'

Lizzie finished putting the hair carefully back over the misshapen
shoulders, and then lighted a candle. It showed the little parlour to
be dingy, but orderly and clean. She stood it on the mantelshelf, remote
from the dressmaker's eyes, and then put the room door open, and the
house door open, and turned the little low chair and its occupant
towards the outer air. It was a sultry night, and this was a
fine-weather arrangement when the day's work was done. To complete
it, she seated herself in a chair by the side of the little chair, and
protectingly drew under her arm the spare hand that crept up to her.

'This is what your loving Jenny Wren calls the best time in the day and
night,' said the person of the house. Her real name was Fanny Cleaver;
but she had long ago chosen to bestow upon herself the appellation of
Miss Jenny Wren.

'I have been thinking,' Jenny went on, 'as I sat at work to-day, what
a thing it would be, if I should be able to have your company till I am
married, or at least courted. Because when I am courted, I shall make
Him do some of the things that you do for me. He couldn't brush my hair
like you do, or help me up and down stairs like you do, and he couldn't
do anything like you do; but he could take my work home, and he could
call for orders in his clumsy way. And he shall too. I'LL trot him
about, I can tell him!'

Jenny Wren had her personal vanities--happily for her--and no intentions
were stronger in her breast than the various trials and torments that
were, in the fulness of time, to be inflicted upon 'him.'

'Wherever he may happen to be just at present, or whoever he may happen
to be,' said Miss Wren, 'I know his tricks and his manners, and I give
him warning to look out.'

'Don't you think you are rather hard upon him?' asked her friend,
smiling, and smoothing her hair.

'Not a bit,' replied the sage Miss Wren, with an air of vast experience.
'My dear, they don't care for you, those fellows, if you're NOT hard
upon 'em. But I was saying If I should be able to have your company. Ah!
What a large If! Ain't it?'

'I have no intention of parting company, Jenny.'

'Don't say that, or you'll go directly.'

'Am I so little to be relied upon?'

'You're more to be relied upon than silver and gold.' As she said it,
Miss Wren suddenly broke off, screwed up her eyes and her chin, and
looked prodigiously knowing. 'Aha!

     Who comes here?
     A Grenadier.
     What does he want?
     A pot of beer.

And nothing else in the world, my dear!'

A man's figure paused on the pavement at the outer door. 'Mr Eugene
Wrayburn, ain't it?' said Miss Wren.

'So I am told,' was the answer.

'You may come in, if you're good.'

'I am not good,' said Eugene, 'but I'll come in.'

He gave his hand to Jenny Wren, and he gave his hand to Lizzie, and he
stood leaning by the door at Lizzie's side. He had been strolling with
his cigar, he said, (it was smoked out and gone by this time,) and he
had strolled round to return in that direction that he might look in as
he passed. Had she not seen her brother to-night?

'Yes,' said Lizzie, whose manner was a little troubled.

Gracious condescension on our brother's part! Mr Eugene Wrayburn thought
he had passed my young gentleman on the bridge yonder. Who was his
friend with him?

'The schoolmaster.'

'To be sure. Looked like it.'

Lizzie sat so still, that one could not have said wherein the fact of
her manner being troubled was expressed; and yet one could not have
doubted it. Eugene was as easy as ever; but perhaps, as she sat with
her eyes cast down, it might have been rather more perceptible that
his attention was concentrated upon her for certain moments, than its
concentration upon any subject for any short time ever was, elsewhere.

'I have nothing to report, Lizzie,' said Eugene. 'But, having promised
you that an eye should be always kept on Mr Riderhood through my friend
Lightwood, I like occasionally to renew my assurance that I keep my
promise, and keep my friend up to the mark.'

'I should not have doubted it, sir.'

'Generally, I confess myself a man to be doubted,' returned Eugene,
coolly, 'for all that.'

'Why are you?' asked the sharp Miss Wren.

'Because, my dear,' said the airy Eugene, 'I am a bad idle dog.'

'Then why don't you reform and be a good dog?' inquired Miss Wren.

'Because, my dear,' returned Eugene, 'there's nobody who makes it worth
my while. Have you considered my suggestion, Lizzie?' This in a lower
voice, but only as if it were a graver matter; not at all to the
exclusion of the person of the house.

'I have thought of it, Mr Wrayburn, but I have not been able to make up
my mind to accept it.'

'False pride!' said Eugene.

'I think not, Mr Wrayburn. I hope not.'

'False pride!' repeated Eugene. 'Why, what else is it? The thing is
worth nothing in itself. The thing is worth nothing to me. What can it
be worth to me? You know the most I make of it. I propose to be of some
use to somebody--which I never was in this world, and never shall be on
any other occasion--by paying some qualified person of your own sex and
age, so many (or rather so few) contemptible shillings, to come here,
certain nights in the week, and give you certain instruction which you
wouldn't want if you hadn't been a self-denying daughter and sister.
You know that it's good to have it, or you would never have so devoted
yourself to your brother's having it. Then why not have it: especially
when our friend Miss Jenny here would profit by it too? If I proposed to
be the teacher, or to attend the lessons--obviously incongruous!--but
as to that, I might as well be on the other side of the globe, or not
on the globe at all. False pride, Lizzie. Because true pride wouldn't
shame, or be shamed by, your thankless brother. True pride wouldn't have
schoolmasters brought here, like doctors, to look at a bad case. True
pride would go to work and do it. You know that, well enough, for you
know that your own true pride would do it to-morrow, if you had the ways
and means which false pride won't let me supply. Very well. I add no
more than this. Your false pride does wrong to yourself and does wrong
to your dead father.'

'How to my father, Mr Wrayburn?' she asked, with an anxious face.

'How to your father? Can you ask! By perpetuating the consequences of
his ignorant and blind obstinacy. By resolving not to set right the
wrong he did you. By determining that the deprivation to which he
condemned you, and which he forced upon you, shall always rest upon his
head.'

It chanced to be a subtle string to sound, in her who had so spoken to
her brother within the hour. It sounded far more forcibly, because of
the change in the speaker for the moment; the passing appearance of
earnestness, complete conviction, injured resentment of suspicion,
generous and unselfish interest. All these qualities, in him usually so
light and careless, she felt to be inseparable from some touch of their
opposites in her own breast. She thought, had she, so far below him
and so different, rejected this disinterestedness, because of some vain
misgiving that he sought her out, or heeded any personal attractions
that he might descry in her? The poor girl, pure of heart and purpose,
could not bear to think it. Sinking before her own eyes, as she
suspected herself of it, she drooped her head as though she had done him
some wicked and grievous injury, and broke into silent tears.

'Don't be distressed,' said Eugene, very, very kindly. 'I hope it is not
I who have distressed you. I meant no more than to put the matter in its
true light before you; though I acknowledge I did it selfishly enough,
for I am disappointed.'

Disappointed of doing her a service. How else COULD he be disappointed?

'It won't break my heart,' laughed Eugene; 'it won't stay by me
eight-and-forty hours; but I am genuinely disappointed. I had set my
fancy on doing this little thing for you and for our friend Miss Jenny.
The novelty of my doing anything in the least useful, had its charms. I
see, now, that I might have managed it better. I might have affected to
do it wholly for our friend Miss J. I might have got myself up, morally,
as Sir Eugene Bountiful. But upon my soul I can't make flourishes, and I
would rather be disappointed than try.'

If he meant to follow home what was in Lizzie's thoughts, it was
skilfully done. If he followed it by mere fortuitous coincidence, it was
done by an evil chance.

'It opened out so naturally before me,' said Eugene. 'The ball seemed so
thrown into my hands by accident! I happen to be originally brought into
contact with you, Lizzie, on those two occasions that you know of. I
happen to be able to promise you that a watch shall be kept upon that
false accuser, Riderhood. I happen to be able to give you some little
consolation in the darkest hour of your distress, by assuring you that I
don't believe him. On the same occasion I tell you that I am the idlest
and least of lawyers, but that I am better than none, in a case I have
noted down with my own hand, and that you may be always sure of my best
help, and incidentally of Lightwood's too, in your efforts to clear
your father. So, it gradually takes my fancy that I may help you--so
easily!--to clear your father of that other blame which I mentioned
a few minutes ago, and which is a just and real one. I hope I have
explained myself; for I am heartily sorry to have distressed you. I hate
to claim to mean well, but I really did mean honestly and simply well,
and I want you to know it.'

'I have never doubted that, Mr Wrayburn,' said Lizzie; the more
repentant, the less he claimed.

'I am very glad to hear it. Though if you had quite understood my whole
meaning at first, I think you would not have refused. Do you think you
would?'

'I--don't know that I should, Mr Wrayburn.'

'Well! Then why refuse now you do understand it?'

'It's not easy for me to talk to you,' returned Lizzie, in some
confusion, 'for you see all the consequences of what I say, as soon as I
say it.'

'Take all the consequences,' laughed Eugene, 'and take away my
disappointment. Lizzie Hexam, as I truly respect you, and as I am your
friend and a poor devil of a gentleman, I protest I don't even now
understand why you hesitate.'

There was an appearance of openness, trustfulness, unsuspecting
generosity, in his words and manner, that won the poor girl over; and
not only won her over, but again caused her to feel as though she had
been influenced by the opposite qualities, with vanity at their head.

'I will not hesitate any longer, Mr Wrayburn. I hope you will not
think the worse of me for having hesitated at all. For myself and for
Jenny--you let me answer for you, Jenny dear?'

The little creature had been leaning back, attentive, with her elbows
resting on the elbows of her chair, and her chin upon her hands. Without
changing her attitude, she answered, 'Yes!' so suddenly that it rather
seemed as if she had chopped the monosyllable than spoken it.

'For myself and for Jenny, I thankfully accept your kind offer.'

'Agreed! Dismissed!' said Eugene, giving Lizzie his hand before lightly
waving it, as if he waved the whole subject away. 'I hope it may not be
often that so much is made of so little!'

Then he fell to talking playfully with Jenny Wren. 'I think of setting
up a doll, Miss Jenny,' he said.

'You had better not,' replied the dressmaker.

'Why not?'

'You are sure to break it. All you children do.'

'But that makes good for trade, you know, Miss Wren,' returned Eugene.
'Much as people's breaking promises and contracts and bargains of all
sorts, makes good for MY trade.'

'I don't know about that,' Miss Wren retorted; 'but you had better by
half set up a pen-wiper, and turn industrious, and use it.'

'Why, if we were all as industrious as you, little Busy-Body, we should
begin to work as soon as we could crawl, and there would be a bad
thing!'

'Do you mean,' returned the little creature, with a flush suffusing her
face, 'bad for your backs and your legs?'

'No, no, no,' said Eugene; shocked--to do him justice--at the thought of
trifling with her infirmity. 'Bad for business, bad for business. If we
all set to work as soon as we could use our hands, it would be all over
with the dolls' dressmakers.'

'There's something in that,' replied Miss Wren; 'you have a sort of an
idea in your noddle sometimes.' Then, in a changed tone; 'Talking of
ideas, my Lizzie,' they were sitting side by side as they had sat at
first, 'I wonder how it happens that when I am work, work, working here,
all alone in the summer-time, I smell flowers.'

'As a commonplace individual, I should say,' Eugene suggested
languidly--for he was growing weary of the person of the house--'that
you smell flowers because you DO smell flowers.'

'No I don't,' said the little creature, resting one arm upon the elbow
of her chair, resting her chin upon that hand, and looking vacantly
before her; 'this is not a flowery neighbourhood. It's anything but
that. And yet as I sit at work, I smell miles of flowers. I smell roses,
till I think I see the rose-leaves lying in heaps, bushels, on the
floor. I smell fallen leaves, till I put down my hand--so--and expect to
make them rustle. I smell the white and the pink May in the hedges, and
all sorts of flowers that I never was among. For I have seen very few
flowers indeed, in my life.'

'Pleasant fancies to have, Jenny dear!' said her friend: with a glance
towards Eugene as if she would have asked him whether they were given
the child in compensation for her losses.

'So I think, Lizzie, when they come to me. And the birds I hear! Oh!'
cried the little creature, holding out her hand and looking upward, 'how
they sing!'

There was something in the face and action for the moment, quite
inspired and beautiful. Then the chin dropped musingly upon the hand
again.

'I dare say my birds sing better than other birds, and my flowers smell
better than other flowers. For when I was a little child,' in a tone as
though it were ages ago, 'the children that I used to see early in the
morning were very different from any others that I ever saw. They were
not like me; they were not chilled, anxious, ragged, or beaten; they
were never in pain. They were not like the children of the neighbours;
they never made me tremble all over, by setting up shrill noises, and
they never mocked me. Such numbers of them too! All in white dresses,
and with something shining on the borders, and on their heads, that I
have never been able to imitate with my work, though I know it so
well. They used to come down in long bright slanting rows, and say all
together, "Who is this in pain! Who is this in pain!" When I told them
who it was, they answered, "Come and play with us!" When I said "I never
play! I can't play!" they swept about me and took me up, and made me
light. Then it was all delicious ease and rest till they laid me
down, and said, all together, "Have patience, and we will come again."
Whenever they came back, I used to know they were coming before I saw
the long bright rows, by hearing them ask, all together a long way off,
"Who is this in pain! Who is this in pain!" And I used to cry out, "O my
blessed children, it's poor me. Have pity on me. Take me up and make me
light!"'

By degrees, as she progressed in this remembrance, the hand was raised,
the late ecstatic look returned, and she became quite beautiful. Having
so paused for a moment, silent, with a listening smile upon her face,
she looked round and recalled herself.

'What poor fun you think me; don't you, Mr Wrayburn? You may well look
tired of me. But it's Saturday night, and I won't detain you.'

'That is to say, Miss Wren,' observed Eugene, quite ready to profit by
the hint, 'you wish me to go?'

'Well, it's Saturday night,' she returned, and my child's coming
home. And my child is a troublesome bad child, and costs me a world of
scolding. I would rather you didn't see my child.'

'A doll?' said Eugene, not understanding, and looking for an
explanation.

But Lizzie, with her lips only, shaping the two words, 'Her father,' he
delayed no longer. He took his leave immediately. At the corner of the
street he stopped to light another cigar, and possibly to ask himself
what he was doing otherwise. If so, the answer was indefinite and vague.
Who knows what he is doing, who is careless what he does!

A man stumbled against him as he turned away, who mumbled some maudlin
apology. Looking after this man, Eugene saw him go in at the door by
which he himself had just come out.

On the man's stumbling into the room, Lizzie rose to leave it.

'Don't go away, Miss Hexam,' he said in a submissive manner, speaking
thickly and with difficulty. 'Don't fly from unfortunate man in
shattered state of health. Give poor invalid honour of your company. It
ain't--ain't catching.'

Lizzie murmured that she had something to do in her own room, and went
away upstairs.

'How's my Jenny?' said the man, timidly. 'How's my Jenny Wren, best of
children, object dearest affections broken-hearted invalid?'

To which the person of the house, stretching out her arm in an attitude
of command, replied with irresponsive asperity: 'Go along with you! Go
along into your corner! Get into your corner directly!'

The wretched spectacle made as if he would have offered some
remonstrance; but not venturing to resist the person of the house,
thought better of it, and went and sat down on a particular chair of
disgrace.

'Oh-h-h!' cried the person of the house, pointing her little finger,
'You bad old boy! Oh-h-h you naughty, wicked creature! WHAT do you mean
by it?'

The shaking figure, unnerved and disjointed from head to foot, put
out its two hands a little way, as making overtures of peace and
reconciliation. Abject tears stood in its eyes, and stained the blotched
red of its cheeks. The swollen lead-coloured under lip trembled with a
shameful whine. The whole indecorous threadbare ruin, from the broken
shoes to the prematurely-grey scanty hair, grovelled. Not with any sense
worthy to be called a sense, of this dire reversal of the places of
parent and child, but in a pitiful expostulation to be let off from a
scolding.

'I know your tricks and your manners,' cried Miss Wren. 'I know where
you've been to!' (which indeed it did not require discernment to
discover). 'Oh, you disgraceful old chap!'

The very breathing of the figure was contemptible, as it laboured and
rattled in that operation, like a blundering clock.

'Slave, slave, slave, from morning to night,' pursued the person of the
house, 'and all for this! WHAT do you mean by it?'

There was something in that emphasized 'What,' which absurdly frightened
the figure. As often as the person of the house worked her way round to
it--even as soon as he saw that it was coming--he collapsed in an extra
degree.

'I wish you had been taken up, and locked up,' said the person of the
house. 'I wish you had been poked into cells and black holes, and run
over by rats and spiders and beetles. I know their tricks and their
manners, and they'd have tickled you nicely. Ain't you ashamed of
yourself?'

'Yes, my dear,' stammered the father.

'Then,' said the person of the house, terrifying him by a grand muster
of her spirits and forces before recurring to the emphatic word, 'WHAT
do you mean by it?'

'Circumstances over which had no control,' was the miserable creature's
plea in extenuation.

'I'LL circumstance you and control you too,' retorted the person of the
house, speaking with vehement sharpness, 'if you talk in that way. I'll
give you in charge to the police, and have you fined five shillings when
you can't pay, and then I won't pay the money for you, and you'll be
transported for life. How should you like to be transported for life?'

'Shouldn't like it. Poor shattered invalid. Trouble nobody long,' cried
the wretched figure.

'Come, come!' said the person of the house, tapping the table near her
in a business-like manner, and shaking her head and her chin; 'you know
what you've got to do. Put down your money this instant.'

The obedient figure began to rummage in its pockets.

'Spent a fortune out of your wages, I'll be bound!' said the person of
the house. 'Put it here! All you've got left! Every farthing!'

Such a business as he made of collecting it from his dogs'-eared
pockets; of expecting it in this pocket, and not finding it; of not
expecting it in that pocket, and passing it over; of finding no pocket
where that other pocket ought to be!

'Is this all?' demanded the person of the house, when a confused heap of
pence and shillings lay on the table.

'Got no more,' was the rueful answer, with an accordant shake of the
head.

'Let me make sure. You know what you've got to do. Turn all your pockets
inside out, and leave 'em so!' cried the person of the house.

He obeyed. And if anything could have made him look more abject or more
dismally ridiculous than before, it would have been his so displaying
himself.

'Here's but seven and eightpence halfpenny!' exclaimed Miss Wren, after
reducing the heap to order. 'Oh, you prodigal old son! Now you shall be
starved.'

'No, don't starve me,' he urged, whimpering.

'If you were treated as you ought to be,' said Miss Wren, 'you'd be fed
upon the skewers of cats' meat;--only the skewers, after the cats had
had the meat. As it is, go to bed.'

When he stumbled out of the corner to comply, he again put out both his
hands, and pleaded: 'Circumstances over which no control--'

'Get along with you to bed!' cried Miss Wren, snapping him up. 'Don't
speak to me. I'm not going to forgive you. Go to bed this moment!'

Seeing another emphatic 'What' upon its way, he evaded it by complying
and was heard to shuffle heavily up stairs, and shut his door, and throw
himself on his bed. Within a little while afterwards, Lizzie came down.

'Shall we have our supper, Jenny dear?'

'Ah! bless us and save us, we need have something to keep us going,'
returned Miss Jenny, shrugging her shoulders.

Lizzie laid a cloth upon the little bench (more handy for the person of
the house than an ordinary table), and put upon it such plain fare as
they were accustomed to have, and drew up a stool for herself.

'Now for supper! What are you thinking of, Jenny darling?'

'I was thinking,' she returned, coming out of a deep study, 'what I
would do to Him, if he should turn out a drunkard.'

'Oh, but he won't,' said Lizzie. 'You'll take care of that, beforehand.'

'I shall try to take care of it beforehand, but he might deceive me.
Oh, my dear, all those fellows with their tricks and their manners do
deceive!' With the little fist in full action. 'And if so, I tell you
what I think I'd do. When he was asleep, I'd make a spoon red hot, and
I'd have some boiling liquor bubbling in a saucepan, and I'd take it
out hissing, and I'd open his mouth with the other hand--or perhaps he'd
sleep with his mouth ready open--and I'd pour it down his throat, and
blister it and choke him.'

'I am sure you would do no such horrible thing,' said Lizzie.

'Shouldn't I? Well; perhaps I shouldn't. But I should like to!'

'I am equally sure you would not.'

'Not even like to? Well, you generally know best. Only you haven't
always lived among it as I have lived--and your back isn't bad and your
legs are not queer.'

As they went on with their supper, Lizzie tried to bring her round to
that prettier and better state. But, the charm was broken. The person
of the house was the person of a house full of sordid shames and cares,
with an upper room in which that abased figure was infecting even
innocent sleep with sensual brutality and degradation. The doll's
dressmaker had become a little quaint shrew; of the world, worldly; of
the earth, earthy.

Poor doll's dressmaker! How often so dragged down by hands that should
have raised her up; how often so misdirected when losing her way on the
eternal road, and asking guidance! Poor, poor little doll's dressmaker!



Chapter 3

A PIECE OF WORK


Britannia, sitting meditating one fine day (perhaps in the attitude in
which she is presented on the copper coinage), discovers all of a sudden
that she wants Veneering in Parliament. It occurs to her that Veneering
is 'a representative man'--which cannot in these times be doubted--and
that Her Majesty's faithful Commons are incomplete without him. So,
Britannia mentions to a legal gentleman of her acquaintance that if
Veneering will 'put down' five thousand pounds, he may write a couple
of initial letters after his name at the extremely cheap rate of two
thousand five hundred per letter. It is clearly understood between
Britannia and the legal gentleman that nobody is to take up the five
thousand pounds, but that being put down they will disappear by magical
conjuration and enchantment.

The legal gentleman in Britannia's confidence going straight from that
lady to Veneering, thus commissioned, Veneering declares himself highly
flattered, but requires breathing time to ascertain 'whether his friends
will rally round him.' Above all things, he says, it behoves him to be
clear, at a crisis of this importance, 'whether his friends will rally
round him.' The legal gentleman, in the interests of his client cannot
allow much time for this purpose, as the lady rather thinks she knows
somebody prepared to put down six thousand pounds; but he says he will
give Veneering four hours.

Veneering then says to Mrs Veneering, 'We must work,' and throws himself
into a Hansom cab. Mrs Veneering in the same moment relinquishes baby
to Nurse; presses her aquiline hands upon her brow, to arrange the
throbbing intellect within; orders out the carriage; and repeats in
a distracted and devoted manner, compounded of Ophelia and any
self-immolating female of antiquity you may prefer, 'We must work.'

Veneering having instructed his driver to charge at the Public in the
streets, like the Life-Guards at Waterloo, is driven furiously to Duke
Street, Saint James's. There, he finds Twemlow in his lodgings, fresh
from the hands of a secret artist who has been doing something to his
hair with yolks of eggs. The process requiring that Twemlow shall, for
two hours after the application, allow his hair to stick upright and dry
gradually, he is in an appropriate state for the receipt of startling
intelligence; looking equally like the Monument on Fish Street Hill, and
King Priam on a certain incendiary occasion not wholly unknown as a neat
point from the classics.

'My dear Twemlow,' says Veneering, grasping both his hands, as the
dearest and oldest of my friends--'

('Then there can be no more doubt about it in future,' thinks Twemlow,
'and I AM!')

'--Are you of opinion that your cousin, Lord Snigsworth, would give his
name as a Member of my Committee? I don't go so far as to ask for his
lordship; I only ask for his name. Do you think he would give me his
name?'

In sudden low spirits, Twemlow replies, 'I don't think he would.'

'My political opinions,' says Veneering, not previously aware of having
any, 'are identical with those of Lord Snigsworth, and perhaps as a
matter of public feeling and public principle, Lord Snigsworth would
give me his name.'

'It might be so,' says Twemlow; 'but--' And perplexedly scratching his
head, forgetful of the yolks of eggs, is the more discomfited by being
reminded how stickey he is.

'Between such old and intimate friends as ourselves,' pursues Veneering,
'there should in such a case be no reserve. Promise me that if I ask you
to do anything for me which you don't like to do, or feel the slightest
difficulty in doing, you will freely tell me so.'

This, Twemlow is so kind as to promise, with every appearance of most
heartily intending to keep his word.

'Would you have any objection to write down to Snigsworthy Park, and ask
this favour of Lord Snigsworth? Of course if it were granted I should
know that I owed it solely to you; while at the same time you would put
it to Lord Snigsworth entirely upon public grounds. Would you have any
objection?'

Says Twemlow, with his hand to his forehead, 'You have exacted a promise
from me.'

'I have, my dear Twemlow.'

'And you expect me to keep it honourably.'

'I do, my dear Twemlow.'

'ON the whole, then;--observe me,' urges Twemlow with great nicety, as
if; in the case of its having been off the whole, he would have done it
directly--'ON the whole, I must beg you to excuse me from addressing any
communication to Lord Snigsworth.'

'Bless you, bless you!' says Veneering; horribly disappointed, but
grasping him by both hands again, in a particularly fervent manner.

It is not to be wondered at that poor Twemlow should decline to inflict
a letter on his noble cousin (who has gout in the temper), inasmuch
as his noble cousin, who allows him a small annuity on which he lives,
takes it out of him, as the phrase goes, in extreme severity; putting
him, when he visits at Snigsworthy Park, under a kind of martial law;
ordaining that he shall hang his hat on a particular peg, sit on a
particular chair, talk on particular subjects to particular people, and
perform particular exercises: such as sounding the praises of the Family
Varnish (not to say Pictures), and abstaining from the choicest of the
Family Wines unless expressly invited to partake.

'One thing, however, I CAN do for you,' says Twemlow; 'and that is, work
for you.'

Veneering blesses him again.

'I'll go,' says Twemlow, in a rising hurry of spirits, 'to the
club;--let us see now; what o'clock is it?'

'Twenty minutes to eleven.'

'I'll be,' says Twemlow, 'at the club by ten minutes to twelve, and I'll
never leave it all day.'

Veneering feels that his friends are rallying round him, and says,
'Thank you, thank you. I knew I could rely upon you. I said to Anastatia
before leaving home just now to come to you--of course the first friend
I have seen on a subject so momentous to me, my dear Twemlow--I said to
Anastatia, "We must work."'

'You were right, you were right,' replies Twemlow. 'Tell me. Is SHE
working?'

'She is,' says Veneering.

'Good!' cries Twemlow, polite little gentleman that he is. 'A woman's
tact is invaluable. To have the dear sex with us, is to have everything
with us.'

'But you have not imparted to me,' remarks Veneering, 'what you think of
my entering the House of Commons?'

'I think,' rejoins Twemlow, feelingly, 'that it is the best club in
London.'

Veneering again blesses him, plunges down stairs, rushes into his
Hansom, and directs the driver to be up and at the British Public, and
to charge into the City.

Meanwhile Twemlow, in an increasing hurry of spirits, gets his hair down
as well as he can--which is not very well; for, after these glutinous
applications it is restive, and has a surface on it somewhat in the
nature of pastry--and gets to the club by the appointed time. At the
club he promptly secures a large window, writing materials, and all
the newspapers, and establishes himself; immoveable, to be respectfully
contemplated by Pall Mall. Sometimes, when a man enters who nods to
him, Twemlow says, 'Do you know Veneering?' Man says, 'No; member of
the club?' Twemlow says, 'Yes. Coming in for Pocket-Breaches.' Man says,
'Ah! Hope he may find it worth the money!' yawns, and saunters out.
Towards six o'clock of the afternoon, Twemlow begins to persuade
himself that he is positively jaded with work, and thinks it much to be
regretted that he was not brought up as a Parliamentary agent.

From Twemlow's, Veneering dashes at Podsnap's place of business. Finds
Podsnap reading the paper, standing, and inclined to be oratorical
over the astonishing discovery he has made, that Italy is not England.
Respectfully entreats Podsnap's pardon for stopping the flow of his
words of wisdom, and informs him what is in the wind. Tells Podsnap that
their political opinions are identical. Gives Podsnap to understand that
he, Veneering, formed his political opinions while sitting at the feet
of him, Podsnap. Seeks earnestly to know whether Podsnap 'will rally
round him?'

Says Podsnap, something sternly, 'Now, first of all, Veneering, do you
ask my advice?'

Veneering falters that as so old and so dear a friend--

'Yes, yes, that's all very well,' says Podsnap; 'but have you made up
your mind to take this borough of Pocket-Breaches on its own terms, or
do you ask my opinion whether you shall take it or leave it alone?'

Veneering repeats that his heart's desire and his soul's thirst are,
that Podsnap shall rally round him.

'Now, I'll be plain with you, Veneering,' says Podsnap, knitting his
brows. 'You will infer that I don't care about Parliament, from the fact
of my not being there?'

Why, of course Veneering knows that! Of course Veneering knows that if
Podsnap chose to go there, he would be there, in a space of time that
might be stated by the light and thoughtless as a jiffy.

'It is not worth my while,' pursues Podsnap, becoming handsomely
mollified, 'and it is the reverse of important to my position. But it
is not my wish to set myself up as law for another man, differently
situated. You think it IS worth YOUR while, and IS important to YOUR
position. Is that so?'

Always with the proviso that Podsnap will rally round him, Veneering
thinks it is so.

'Then you don't ask my advice,' says Podsnap. 'Good. Then I won't give
it you. But you do ask my help. Good. Then I'll work for you.'

Veneering instantly blesses him, and apprises him that Twemlow is
already working. Podsnap does not quite approve that anybody should
be already working--regarding it rather in the light of a liberty--but
tolerates Twemlow, and says he is a well-connected old female who will
do no harm.

'I have nothing very particular to do to-day,' adds Podsnap, 'and I'll
mix with some influential people. I had engaged myself to dinner, but
I'll send Mrs Podsnap and get off going myself; and I'll dine with you
at eight. It's important we should report progress and compare notes.
Now, let me see. You ought to have a couple of active energetic fellows,
of gentlemanly manners, to go about.'

Veneering, after cogitation, thinks of Boots and Brewer.

'Whom I have met at your house,' says Podsnap. 'Yes. They'll do very
well. Let them each have a cab, and go about.'

Veneering immediately mentions what a blessing he feels it, to possess
a friend capable of such grand administrative suggestions, and really
is elated at this going about of Boots and Brewer, as an idea wearing
an electioneering aspect and looking desperately like business. Leaving
Podsnap, at a hand-gallop, he descends upon Boots and Brewer, who
enthusiastically rally round him by at once bolting off in cabs, taking
opposite directions. Then Veneering repairs to the legal gentleman in
Britannia's confidence, and with him transacts some delicate affairs
of business, and issues an address to the independent electors of
Pocket-Breaches, announcing that he is coming among them for their
suffrages, as the mariner returns to the home of his early childhood: a
phrase which is none the worse for his never having been near the place
in his life, and not even now distinctly knowing where it is.

Mrs Veneering, during the same eventful hours, is not idle. No sooner
does the carriage turn out, all complete, than she turns into it, all
complete, and gives the word 'To Lady Tippins's.' That charmer dwells
over a staymaker's in the Belgravian Borders, with a life-size model
in the window on the ground floor of a distinguished beauty in a blue
petticoat, stay-lace in hand, looking over her shoulder at the town in
innocent surprise. As well she may, to find herself dressing under the
circumstances.

Lady Tippins at home? Lady Tippins at home, with the room darkened,
and her back (like the lady's at the ground-floor window, though for a
different reason) cunningly turned towards the light. Lady Tippins is
so surprised by seeing her dear Mrs Veneering so early--in the middle of
the night, the pretty creature calls it--that her eyelids almost go up,
under the influence of that emotion.

To whom Mrs Veneering incoherently communicates, how that Veneering
has been offered Pocket-Breaches; how that it is the time for rallying
round; how that Veneering has said 'We must work'; how that she is here,
as a wife and mother, to entreat Lady Tippins to work; how that the
carriage is at Lady Tippins's disposal for purposes of work; how that
she, proprietress of said bran new elegant equipage, will return home on
foot--on bleeding feet if need be--to work (not specifying how), until
she drops by the side of baby's crib.

'My love,' says Lady Tippins, 'compose yourself; we'll bring him in.'
And Lady Tippins really does work, and work the Veneering horses too;
for she clatters about town all day, calling upon everybody she knows,
and showing her entertaining powers and green fan to immense advantage,
by rattling on with, My dear soul, what do you think? What do
you suppose me to be? You'll never guess. I'm pretending to be an
electioneering agent. And for what place of all places? Pocket-Breaches.
And why? Because the dearest friend I have in the world has bought it.
And who is the dearest friend I have in the world? A man of the name of
Veneering. Not omitting his wife, who is the other dearest friend I have
in the world; and I positively declare I forgot their baby, who is the
other. And we are carrying on this little farce to keep up appearances,
and isn't it refreshing! Then, my precious child, the fun of it is that
nobody knows who these Veneerings are, and that they know nobody, and
that they have a house out of the Tales of the Genii, and give dinners
out of the Arabian Nights. Curious to see 'em, my dear? Say you'll know
'em. Come and dine with 'em. They shan't bore you. Say who shall meet
you. We'll make up a party of our own, and I'll engage that they shall
not interfere with you for one single moment. You really ought to see
their gold and silver camels. I call their dinner-table, the Caravan.
Do come and dine with my Veneerings, my own Veneerings, my exclusive
property, the dearest friends I have in the world! And above all, my
dear, be sure you promise me your vote and interest and all sorts of
plumpers for Pocket-Breaches; for we couldn't think of spending sixpence
on it, my love, and can only consent to be brought in by the spontaneous
thingummies of the incorruptible whatdoyoucallums.

Now, the point of view seized by the bewitching Tippins, that this same
working and rallying round is to keep up appearances, may have something
in it, but not all the truth. More is done, or considered to be
done--which does as well--by taking cabs, and 'going about,' than the
fair Tippins knew of. Many vast vague reputations have been made,
solely by taking cabs and going about. This particularly obtains in all
Parliamentary affairs. Whether the business in hand be to get a man in,
or get a man out, or get a man over, or promote a railway, or jockey
a railway, or what else, nothing is understood to be so effectual as
scouring nowhere in a violent hurry--in short, as taking cabs and going
about.

Probably because this reason is in the air, Twemlow, far from being
singular in his persuasion that he works like a Trojan, is capped by
Podsnap, who in his turn is capped by Boots and Brewer. At eight o'clock
when all these hard workers assemble to dine at Veneering's, it is
understood that the cabs of Boots and Brewer mustn't leave the door, but
that pails of water must be brought from the nearest baiting-place,
and cast over the horses' legs on the very spot, lest Boots and Brewer
should have instant occasion to mount and away. Those fleet messengers
require the Analytical to see that their hats are deposited where they
can be laid hold of at an instant's notice; and they dine (remarkably
well though) with the air of firemen in charge of an engine, expecting
intelligence of some tremendous conflagration.

Mrs Veneering faintly remarks, as dinner opens, that many such days
would be too much for her.

'Many such days would be too much for all of us,' says Podsnap; 'but
we'll bring him in!'

'We'll bring him in,' says Lady Tippins, sportively waving her green
fan. 'Veneering for ever!'

'We'll bring him in!' says Twemlow.

'We'll bring him in!' say Boots and Brewer.

Strictly speaking, it would be hard to show cause why they should not
bring him in, Pocket-Breaches having closed its little bargain, and
there being no opposition. However, it is agreed that they must 'work'
to the last, and that if they did not work, something indefinite would
happen. It is likewise agreed that they are all so exhausted with the
work behind them, and need to be so fortified for the work before them,
as to require peculiar strengthening from Veneering's cellar. Therefore,
the Analytical has orders to produce the cream of the cream of his
binns, and therefore it falls out that rallying becomes rather a trying
word for the occasion; Lady Tippins being observed gamely to inculcate
the necessity of rearing round their dear Veneering; Podsnap advocating
roaring round him; Boots and Brewer declaring their intention of reeling
round him; and Veneering thanking his devoted friends one and all, with
great emotion, for rarullarulling round him.

In these inspiring moments, Brewer strikes out an idea which is the
great hit of the day. He consults his watch, and says (like Guy Fawkes),
he'll now go down to the House of Commons and see how things look.

'I'll keep about the lobby for an hour or so,' says Brewer, with a
deeply mysterious countenance, 'and if things look well, I won't come
back, but will order my cab for nine in the morning.'

'You couldn't do better,' says Podsnap.

Veneering expresses his inability ever to acknowledge this last service.
Tears stand in Mrs Veneering's affectionate eyes. Boots shows envy,
loses ground, and is regarded as possessing a second-rate mind. They all
crowd to the door, to see Brewer off. Brewer says to his driver, 'Now,
is your horse pretty fresh?' eyeing the animal with critical scrutiny.
Driver says he's as fresh as butter. 'Put him along then,' says Brewer;
'House of Commons.' Driver darts up, Brewer leaps in, they cheer him as
he departs, and Mr Podsnap says, 'Mark my words, sir. That's a man of
resource; that's a man to make his way in life.'

When the time comes for Veneering to deliver a neat and appropriate
stammer to the men of Pocket-Breaches, only Podsnap and Twemlow
accompany him by railway to that sequestered spot. The legal gentleman
is at the Pocket-Breaches Branch Station, with an open carriage with a
printed bill 'Veneering for ever' stuck upon it, as if it were a wall;
and they gloriously proceed, amidst the grins of the populace, to a
feeble little town hall on crutches, with some onions and bootlaces
under it, which the legal gentleman says are a Market; and from the
front window of that edifice Veneering speaks to the listening earth.
In the moment of his taking his hat off, Podsnap, as per agreement made
with Mrs Veneering, telegraphs to that wife and mother, 'He's up.'

Veneering loses his way in the usual No Thoroughfares of speech, and
Podsnap and Twemlow say Hear hear! and sometimes, when he can't by any
means back himself out of some very unlucky No Thoroughfare, 'He-a-a-r
He-a-a-r!' with an air of facetious conviction, as if the ingenuity of
the thing gave them a sensation of exquisite pleasure. But Veneering
makes two remarkably good points; so good, that they are supposed
to have been suggested to him by the legal gentleman in Britannia's
confidence, while briefly conferring on the stairs.

Point the first is this. Veneering institutes an original comparison
between the country, and a ship; pointedly calling the ship, the Vessel
of the State, and the Minister the Man at the Helm. Veneering's object
is to let Pocket-Breaches know that his friend on his right (Podsnap) is
a man of wealth. Consequently says he, 'And, gentlemen, when the timbers
of the Vessel of the State are unsound and the Man at the Helm is
unskilful, would those great Marine Insurers, who rank among our
world-famed merchant-princes--would they insure her, gentlemen? Would
they underwrite her? Would they incur a risk in her? Would they have
confidence in her? Why, gentlemen, if I appealed to my honourable friend
upon my right, himself among the greatest and most respected of that
great and much respected class, he would answer No!'

Point the second is this. The telling fact that Twemlow is related to
Lord Snigsworth, must be let off. Veneering supposes a state of public
affairs that probably never could by any possibility exist (though this
is not quite certain, in consequence of his picture being unintelligible
to himself and everybody else), and thus proceeds. 'Why, gentlemen, if
I were to indicate such a programme to any class of society, I say it
would be received with derision, would be pointed at by the finger of
scorn. If I indicated such a programme to any worthy and intelligent
tradesman of your town--nay, I will here be personal, and say Our
town--what would he reply? He would reply, "Away with it!" That's what
HE would reply, gentlemen. In his honest indignation he would reply,
"Away with it!" But suppose I mounted higher in the social scale.
Suppose I drew my arm through the arm of my respected friend upon my
left, and, walking with him through the ancestral woods of his family,
and under the spreading beeches of Snigsworthy Park, approached the
noble hall, crossed the courtyard, entered by the door, went up the
staircase, and, passing from room to room, found myself at last in
the august presence of my friend's near kinsman, Lord Snigsworth. And
suppose I said to that venerable earl, "My Lord, I am here before your
lordship, presented by your lordship's near kinsman, my friend upon my
left, to indicate that programme;" what would his lordship answer? Why,
he would answer, "Away with it!" That's what he would answer, gentlemen.
"Away with it!" Unconsciously using, in his exalted sphere, the exact
language of the worthy and intelligent tradesman of our town, the near
and dear kinsman of my friend upon my left would answer in his wrath,
"Away with it!"'

Veneering finishes with this last success, and Mr Podsnap telegraphs to
Mrs Veneering, 'He's down.'

Then, dinner is had at the Hotel with the legal gentleman, and then
there are in due succession, nomination, and declaration. Finally Mr
Podsnap telegraphs to Mrs Veneering, 'We have brought him in.'

Another gorgeous dinner awaits them on their return to the Veneering
halls, and Lady Tippins awaits them, and Boots and Brewer await
them. There is a modest assertion on everybody's part that everybody
single-handed 'brought him in'; but in the main it is conceded by all,
that that stroke of business on Brewer's part, in going down to the
house that night to see how things looked, was the master-stroke.

A touching little incident is related by Mrs Veneering, in the course of
the evening. Mrs Veneering is habitually disposed to be tearful, and
has an extra disposition that way after her late excitement. Previous
to withdrawing from the dinner-table with Lady Tippins, she says, in a
pathetic and physically weak manner:

'You will all think it foolish of me, I know, but I must mention it. As
I sat by Baby's crib, on the night before the election, Baby was very
uneasy in her sleep.'

The Analytical chemist, who is gloomily looking on, has diabolical
impulses to suggest 'Wind' and throw up his situation; but represses
them.

'After an interval almost convulsive, Baby curled her little hands in
one another and smiled.'

Mrs Veneering stopping here, Mr Podsnap deems it incumbent on him to
say: 'I wonder why!'

'Could it be, I asked myself,' says Mrs Veneering, looking about her for
her pocket-handkerchief, 'that the Fairies were telling Baby that her
papa would shortly be an M. P.?'

So overcome by the sentiment is Mrs Veneering, that they all get up
to make a clear stage for Veneering, who goes round the table to the
rescue, and bears her out backward, with her feet impressively scraping
the carpet: after remarking that her work has been too much for her
strength. Whether the fairies made any mention of the five thousand
pounds, and it disagreed with Baby, is not speculated upon.

Poor little Twemlow, quite done up, is touched, and still continues
touched after he is safely housed over the livery-stable yard in
Duke Street, Saint James's. But there, upon his sofa, a tremendous
consideration breaks in upon the mild gentleman, putting all softer
considerations to the rout.

'Gracious heavens! Now I have time to think of it, he never saw one of
his constituents in all his days, until we saw them together!'

After having paced the room in distress of mind, with his hand to his
forehead, the innocent Twemlow returns to his sofa and moans:

'I shall either go distracted, or die, of this man. He comes upon me too
late in life. I am not strong enough to bear him!'



Chapter 4

CUPID PROMPTED


To use the cold language of the world, Mrs Alfred Lammle rapidly
improved the acquaintance of Miss Podsnap. To use the warm language of
Mrs Lammle, she and her sweet Georgiana soon became one: in heart, in
mind, in sentiment, in soul.

Whenever Georgiana could escape from the thraldom of Podsnappery; could
throw off the bedclothes of the custard-coloured phaeton, and get up;
could shrink out of the range of her mother's rocking, and (so to speak)
rescue her poor little frosty toes from being rocked over; she repaired
to her friend, Mrs Alfred Lammle. Mrs Podsnap by no means objected. As
a consciously 'splendid woman,' accustomed to overhear herself so
denominated by elderly osteologists pursuing their studies in dinner
society, Mrs Podsnap could dispense with her daughter. Mr Podsnap, for
his part, on being informed where Georgiana was, swelled with patronage
of the Lammles. That they, when unable to lay hold of him, should
respectfully grasp at the hem of his mantle; that they, when they could
not bask in the glory of him the sun, should take up with the pale
reflected light of the watery young moon his daughter; appeared quite
natural, becoming, and proper. It gave him a better opinion of the
discretion of the Lammles than he had heretofore held, as showing that
they appreciated the value of the connexion. So, Georgiana repairing
to her friend, Mr Podsnap went out to dinner, and to dinner, and yet to
dinner, arm in arm with Mrs Podsnap: settling his obstinate head in his
cravat and shirt-collar, much as if he were performing on the Pandean
pipes, in his own honour, the triumphal march, See the conquering
Podsnap comes, Sound the trumpets, beat the drums!

It was a trait in Mr Podsnap's character (and in one form or other
it will be generally seen to pervade the depths and shallows of
Podsnappery), that he could not endure a hint of disparagement of any
friend or acquaintance of his. 'How dare you?' he would seem to say, in
such a case. 'What do you mean? I have licensed this person. This person
has taken out MY certificate. Through this person you strike at me,
Podsnap the Great. And it is not that I particularly care for the
person's dignity, but that I do most particularly care for Podsnap's.'
Hence, if any one in his presence had presumed to doubt the
responsibility of the Lammles, he would have been mightily huffed. Not
that any one did, for Veneering, M.P., was always the authority for
their being very rich, and perhaps believed it. As indeed he might, if
he chose, for anything he knew of the matter.

Mr and Mrs Lammle's house in Sackville Street, Piccadilly, was but
a temporary residence. It has done well enough, they informed their
friends, for Mr Lammle when a bachelor, but it would not do now. So,
they were always looking at palatial residences in the best situations,
and always very nearly taking or buying one, but never quite concluding
the bargain. Hereby they made for themselves a shining little reputation
apart. People said, on seeing a vacant palatial residence, 'The very
thing for the Lammles!' and wrote to the Lammles about it, and the
Lammles always went to look at it, but unfortunately it never exactly
answered. In short, they suffered so many disappointments, that they
began to think it would be necessary to build a palatial residence.
And hereby they made another shining reputation; many persons of their
acquaintance becoming by anticipation dissatisfied with their own
houses, and envious of the non-existent Lammle structure.

The handsome fittings and furnishings of the house in Sackville Street
were piled thick and high over the skeleton up-stairs, and if it ever
whispered from under its load of upholstery, 'Here I am in the closet!'
it was to very few ears, and certainly never to Miss Podsnap's. What
Miss Podsnap was particularly charmed with, next to the graces of
her friend, was the happiness of her friend's married life. This was
frequently their theme of conversation.

'I am sure,' said Miss Podsnap, 'Mr Lammle is like a lover. At least
I--I should think he was.'

'Georgiana, darling!' said Mrs Lammle, holding up a forefinger, 'Take
care!'

'Oh my goodness me!' exclaimed Miss Podsnap, reddening. 'What have I
said now?'

'Alfred, you know,' hinted Mrs Lammle, playfully shaking her head. 'You
were never to say Mr Lammle any more, Georgiana.'

'Oh! Alfred, then. I am glad it's no worse. I was afraid I had said
something shocking. I am always saying something wrong to ma.'

'To me, Georgiana dearest?'

'No, not to you; you are not ma. I wish you were.'

Mrs Lammle bestowed a sweet and loving smile upon her friend, which Miss
Podsnap returned as she best could. They sat at lunch in Mrs Lammle's
own boudoir.

'And so, dearest Georgiana, Alfred is like your notion of a lover?'

'I don't say that, Sophronia,' Georgiana replied, beginning to conceal
her elbows. 'I haven't any notion of a lover. The dreadful wretches that
ma brings up at places to torment me, are not lovers. I only mean that
Mr--'

'Again, dearest Georgiana?'

'That Alfred--'

'Sounds much better, darling.'

'--Loves you so. He always treats you with such delicate gallantry and
attention. Now, don't he?'

'Truly, my dear,' said Mrs Lammle, with a rather singular expression
crossing her face. 'I believe that he loves me, fully as much as I love
him.'

'Oh, what happiness!' exclaimed Miss Podsnap.

'But do you know, my Georgiana,' Mrs Lammle resumed presently, 'that
there is something suspicious in your enthusiastic sympathy with
Alfred's tenderness?'

'Good gracious no, I hope not!'

'Doesn't it rather suggest,' said Mrs Lammle archly, 'that my
Georgiana's little heart is--'

'Oh don't!' Miss Podsnap blushingly besought her. 'Please don't! I
assure you, Sophronia, that I only praise Alfred, because he is your
husband and so fond of you.'

Sophronia's glance was as if a rather new light broke in upon her. It
shaded off into a cool smile, as she said, with her eyes upon her lunch,
and her eyebrows raised:

'You are quite wrong, my love, in your guess at my meaning. What I
insinuated was, that my Georgiana's little heart was growing conscious
of a vacancy.'

'No, no, no,' said Georgiana. 'I wouldn't have anybody say anything to
me in that way for I don't know how many thousand pounds.'

'In what way, my Georgiana?' inquired Mrs Lammle, still smiling coolly
with her eyes upon her lunch, and her eyebrows raised.

'YOU know,' returned poor little Miss Podsnap. 'I think I should go out
of my mind, Sophronia, with vexation and shyness and detestation, if
anybody did. It's enough for me to see how loving you and your husband
are. That's a different thing. I couldn't bear to have anything of that
sort going on with myself. I should beg and pray to--to have the person
taken away and trampled upon.'

Ah! here was Alfred. Having stolen in unobserved, he playfully leaned on
the back of Sophronia's chair, and, as Miss Podsnap saw him, put one
of Sophronia's wandering locks to his lips, and waved a kiss from it
towards Miss Podsnap.

'What is this about husbands and detestations?' inquired the captivating
Alfred.

'Why, they say,' returned his wife, 'that listeners never hear any good
of themselves; though you--but pray how long have you been here, sir?'

'This instant arrived, my own.'

'Then I may go on--though if you had been here but a moment or two
sooner, you would have heard your praises sounded by Georgiana.'

'Only, if they were to be called praises at all which I really don't
think they were,' explained Miss Podsnap in a flutter, 'for being so
devoted to Sophronia.'

'Sophronia!' murmured Alfred. 'My life!' and kissed her hand. In return
for which she kissed his watch-chain.

'But it was not I who was to be taken away and trampled upon, I hope?'
said Alfred, drawing a seat between them.

'Ask Georgiana, my soul,' replied his wife.

Alfred touchingly appealed to Georgiana.

'Oh, it was nobody,' replied Miss Podsnap. 'It was nonsense.'

'But if you are determined to know, Mr Inquisitive Pet, as I suppose you
are,' said the happy and fond Sophronia, smiling, 'it was any one who
should venture to aspire to Georgiana.'

'Sophronia, my love,' remonstrated Mr Lammle, becoming graver, 'you are
not serious?'

'Alfred, my love,' returned his wife, 'I dare say Georgiana was not, but
I am.'

'Now this,' said Mr Lammle, 'shows the accidental combinations that
there are in things! Could you believe, my Ownest, that I came in here
with the name of an aspirant to our Georgiana on my lips?'

'Of course I could believe, Alfred,' said Mrs Lammle, 'anything that YOU
told me.'

'You dear one! And I anything that YOU told me.'

How delightful those interchanges, and the looks accompanying them! Now,
if the skeleton up-stairs had taken that opportunity, for instance, of
calling out 'Here I am, suffocating in the closet!'

'I give you my honour, my dear Sophronia--'

'And I know what that is, love,' said she.

'You do, my darling--that I came into the room all but uttering young
Fledgeby's name. Tell Georgiana, dearest, about young Fledgeby.'

'Oh no, don't! Please don't!' cried Miss Podsnap, putting her fingers in
her ears. 'I'd rather not.'

Mrs Lammle laughed in her gayest manner, and, removing her Georgiana's
unresisting hands, and playfully holding them in her own at arms'
length, sometimes near together and sometimes wide apart, went on:

'You must know, you dearly beloved little goose, that once upon a
time there was a certain person called young Fledgeby. And this young
Fledgeby, who was of an excellent family and rich, was known to two
other certain persons, dearly attached to one another and called Mr and
Mrs Alfred Lammle. So this young Fledgeby, being one night at the play,
there sees with Mr and Mrs Alfred Lammle, a certain heroine called--'

'No, don't say Georgiana Podsnap!' pleaded that young lady almost in
tears. 'Please don't. Oh do do do say somebody else! Not Georgiana
Podsnap. Oh don't, don't, don't!'

'No other,' said Mrs Lammle, laughing airily, and, full of affectionate
blandishments, opening and closing Georgiana's arms like a pair of
compasses, than my little Georgiana Podsnap. So this young Fledgeby goes
to that Alfred Lammle and says--'

'Oh ple-e-e-ease don't!' Georgiana, as if the supplication were being
squeezed out of her by powerful compression. 'I so hate him for saying
it!'

'For saying what, my dear?' laughed Mrs Lammle.

'Oh, I don't know what he said,' cried Georgiana wildly, 'but I hate him
all the same for saying it.'

'My dear,' said Mrs Lammle, always laughing in her most captivating way,
'the poor young fellow only says that he is stricken all of a heap.'

'Oh, what shall I ever do!' interposed Georgiana. 'Oh my goodness what a
Fool he must be!'

'--And implores to be asked to dinner, and to make a fourth at the play
another time. And so he dines to-morrow and goes to the Opera with
us. That's all. Except, my dear Georgiana--and what will you think of
this!--that he is infinitely shyer than you, and far more afraid of you
than you ever were of any one in all your days!'

In perturbation of mind Miss Podsnap still fumed and plucked at her
hands a little, but could not help laughing at the notion of anybody's
being afraid of her. With that advantage, Sophronia flattered her and
rallied her more successfully, and then the insinuating Alfred flattered
her and rallied her, and promised that at any moment when she might
require that service at his hands, he would take young Fledgeby out and
trample on him. Thus it remained amicably understood that young Fledgeby
was to come to admire, and that Georgiana was to come to be admired; and
Georgiana with the entirely new sensation in her breast of having that
prospect before her, and with many kisses from her dear Sophronia in
present possession, preceded six feet one of discontented footman (an
amount of the article that always came for her when she walked home) to
her father's dwelling.

The happy pair being left together, Mrs Lammle said to her husband:

'If I understand this girl, sir, your dangerous fascinations have
produced some effect upon her. I mention the conquest in good time
because I apprehend your scheme to be more important to you than your
vanity.'

There was a mirror on the wall before them, and her eyes just caught
him smirking in it. She gave the reflected image a look of the deepest
disdain, and the image received it in the glass. Next moment they
quietly eyed each other, as if they, the principals, had had no part in
that expressive transaction.

It may have been that Mrs Lammle tried in some manner to excuse her
conduct to herself by depreciating the poor little victim of whom she
spoke with acrimonious contempt. It may have been too that in this she
did not quite succeed, for it is very difficult to resist confidence,
and she knew she had Georgiana's.

Nothing more was said between the happy pair. Perhaps conspirators
who have once established an understanding, may not be over-fond of
repeating the terms and objects of their conspiracy. Next day came; came
Georgiana; and came Fledgeby.

Georgiana had by this time seen a good deal of the house and its
frequenters. As there was a certain handsome room with a billiard table
in it--on the ground floor, eating out a backyard--which might have
been Mr Lammle's office, or library, but was called by neither name, but
simply Mr Lammle's room, so it would have been hard for stronger female
heads than Georgiana's to determine whether its frequenters were men
of pleasure or men of business. Between the room and the men there were
strong points of general resemblance. Both were too gaudy, too slangey,
too odorous of cigars, and too much given to horseflesh; the latter
characteristic being exemplified in the room by its decorations, and in
the men by their conversation. High-stepping horses seemed necessary to
all Mr Lammle's friends--as necessary as their transaction of business
together in a gipsy way at untimely hours of the morning and evening,
and in rushes and snatches. There were friends who seemed to be always
coming and going across the Channel, on errands about the Bourse, and
Greek and Spanish and India and Mexican and par and premium and discount
and three quarters and seven eighths. There were other friends who
seemed to be always lolling and lounging in and out of the City, on
questions of the Bourse, and Greek and Spanish and India and Mexican and
par and premium and discount and three quarters and seven eighths. They
were all feverish, boastful, and indefinably loose; and they all ate and
drank a great deal; and made bets in eating and drinking. They all spoke
of sums of money, and only mentioned the sums and left the money to
be understood; as 'five and forty thousand Tom,' or 'Two hundred and
twenty-two on every individual share in the lot Joe.' They seemed to
divide the world into two classes of people; people who were making
enormous fortunes, and people who were being enormously ruined. They
were always in a hurry, and yet seemed to have nothing tangible to do;
except a few of them (these, mostly asthmatic and thick-lipped) who were
for ever demonstrating to the rest, with gold pencil-cases which they
could hardly hold because of the big rings on their forefingers, how
money was to be made. Lastly, they all swore at their grooms, and the
grooms were not quite as respectful or complete as other men's grooms;
seeming somehow to fall short of the groom point as their masters fell
short of the gentleman point.

Young Fledgeby was none of these. Young Fledgeby had a peachy cheek,
or a cheek compounded of the peach and the red red red wall on which
it grows, and was an awkward, sandy-haired, small-eyed youth, exceeding
slim (his enemies would have said lanky), and prone to self-examination
in the articles of whisker and moustache. While feeling for the whisker
that he anxiously expected, Fledgeby underwent remarkable fluctuations
of spirits, ranging along the whole scale from confidence to despair.
There were times when he started, as exclaiming 'By Jupiter here it is
at last!' There were other times when, being equally depressed, he would
be seen to shake his head, and give up hope. To see him at those periods
leaning on a chimneypiece, like as on an urn containing the ashes of his
ambition, with the cheek that would not sprout, upon the hand on which
that cheek had forced conviction, was a distressing sight.

Not so was Fledgeby seen on this occasion. Arrayed in superb raiment,
with his opera hat under his arm, he concluded his self-examination
hopefully, awaited the arrival of Miss Podsnap, and talked small-talk
with Mrs Lammle. In facetious homage to the smallness of his talk, and
the jerky nature of his manners, Fledgeby's familiars had agreed to
confer upon him (behind his back) the honorary title of Fascination
Fledgeby.

'Warm weather, Mrs Lammle,' said Fascination Fledgeby. Mrs Lammle
thought it scarcely as warm as it had been yesterday. 'Perhaps not,'
said Fascination Fledgeby, with great quickness of repartee; 'but I
expect it will be devilish warm to-morrow.'

He threw off another little scintillation. 'Been out to-day, Mrs
Lammle?'

Mrs Lammle answered, for a short drive.

'Some people,' said Fascination Fledgeby, 'are accustomed to take long
drives; but it generally appears to me that if they make 'em too long,
they overdo it.'

Being in such feather, he might have surpassed himself in his next
sally, had not Miss Podsnap been announced. Mrs Lammle flew to embrace
her darling little Georgy, and when the first transports were over,
presented Mr Fledgeby. Mr Lammle came on the scene last, for he was
always late, and so were the frequenters always late; all hands being
bound to be made late, by private information about the Bourse, and
Greek and Spanish and India and Mexican and par and premium and discount
and three quarters and seven eighths.

A handsome little dinner was served immediately, and Mr Lammle sat
sparkling at his end of the table, with his servant behind his chair,
and HIS ever-lingering doubts upon the subject of his wages behind
himself. Mr Lammle's utmost powers of sparkling were in requisition
to-day, for Fascination Fledgeby and Georgiana not only struck each
other speechless, but struck each other into astonishing attitudes;
Georgiana, as she sat facing Fledgeby, making such efforts to conceal
her elbows as were totally incompatible with the use of a knife and
fork; and Fledgeby, as he sat facing Georgiana, avoiding her countenance
by every possible device, and betraying the discomposure of his mind in
feeling for his whiskers with his spoon, his wine glass, and his bread.

So, Mr and Mrs Alfred Lammle had to prompt, and this is how they
prompted.

'Georgiana,' said Mr Lammle, low and smiling, and sparkling all over,
like a harlequin; 'you are not in your usual spirits. Why are you not in
your usual spirits, Georgiana?'

Georgiana faltered that she was much the same as she was in general; she
was not aware of being different.

'Not aware of being different!' retorted Mr Alfred Lammle. 'You, my dear
Georgiana! Who are always so natural and unconstrained with us! Who are
such a relief from the crowd that are all alike! Who are the embodiment
of gentleness, simplicity, and reality!'

Miss Podsnap looked at the door, as if she entertained confused thoughts
of taking refuge from these compliments in flight.

'Now, I will be judged,' said Mr Lammle, raising his voice a little, 'by
my friend Fledgeby.'

'Oh DON'T!' Miss Podsnap faintly ejaculated: when Mrs Lammle took the
prompt-book.

'I beg your pardon, Alfred, my dear, but I cannot part with Mr Fledgeby
quite yet; you must wait for him a moment. Mr Fledgeby and I are engaged
in a personal discussion.'

Fledgeby must have conducted it on his side with immense art, for no
appearance of uttering one syllable had escaped him.

'A personal discussion, Sophronia, my love? What discussion? Fledgeby, I
am jealous. What discussion, Fledgeby?'

'Shall I tell him, Mr Fledgeby?' asked Mrs Lammle.

Trying to look as if he knew anything about it, Fascination replied,
'Yes, tell him.'

'We were discussing then,' said Mrs Lammle, 'if you MUST know, Alfred,
whether Mr Fledgeby was in his usual flow of spirits.'

'Why, that is the very point, Sophronia, that Georgiana and I were
discussing as to herself! What did Fledgeby say?'

'Oh, a likely thing, sir, that I am going to tell you everything, and be
told nothing! What did Georgiana say?'

'Georgiana said she was doing her usual justice to herself to-day, and I
said she was not.'

'Precisely,' exclaimed Mrs Lammle, 'what I said to Mr Fledgeby.' Still,
it wouldn't do. They would not look at one another. No, not even
when the sparkling host proposed that the quartette should take an
appropriately sparkling glass of wine. Georgiana looked from her wine
glass at Mr Lammle and at Mrs Lammle; but mightn't, couldn't, shouldn't,
wouldn't, look at Mr Fledgeby. Fascination looked from his wine glass
at Mrs Lammle and at Mr Lammle; but mightn't, couldn't, shouldn't,
wouldn't, look at Georgiana.

More prompting was necessary. Cupid must be brought up to the mark. The
manager had put him down in the bill for the part, and he must play it.

'Sophronia, my dear,' said Mr Lammle, 'I don't like the colour of your
dress.'

'I appeal,' said Mrs Lammle, 'to Mr Fledgeby.'

'And I,' said Mr Lammle, 'to Georgiana.'

'Georgy, my love,' remarked Mrs Lammle aside to her dear girl, 'I rely
upon you not to go over to the opposition. Now, Mr Fledgeby.'

Fascination wished to know if the colour were not called rose-colour?
Yes, said Mr Lammle; actually he knew everything; it was really
rose-colour. Fascination took rose-colour to mean the colour of roses.
(In this he was very warmly supported by Mr and Mrs Lammle.) Fascination
had heard the term Queen of Flowers applied to the Rose. Similarly, it
might be said that the dress was the Queen of Dresses. ('Very happy,
Fledgeby!' from Mr Lammle.) Notwithstanding, Fascination's opinion
was that we all had our eyes--or at least a large majority of us--and
that--and--and his farther opinion was several ands, with nothing beyond
them.

'Oh, Mr Fledgeby,' said Mrs Lammle, 'to desert me in that way! Oh, Mr
Fledgeby, to abandon my poor dear injured rose and declare for blue!'

'Victory, victory!' cried Mr Lammle; 'your dress is condemned, my dear.'

'But what,' said Mrs Lammle, stealing her affectionate hand towards her
dear girl's, 'what does Georgy say?'

'She says,' replied Mr Lammle, interpreting for her, 'that in her eyes
you look well in any colour, Sophronia, and that if she had expected to
be embarrassed by so pretty a compliment as she has received, she would
have worn another colour herself. Though I tell her, in reply, that it
would not have saved her, for whatever colour she had worn would have
been Fledgeby's colour. But what does Fledgeby say?'

'He says,' replied Mrs Lammle, interpreting for him, and patting the
back of her dear girl's hand, as if it were Fledgeby who was patting it,
'that it was no compliment, but a little natural act of homage that
he couldn't resist. And,' expressing more feeling as if it were more
feeling on the part of Fledgeby, 'he is right, he is right!'

Still, no not even now, would they look at one another. Seeming to gnash
his sparkling teeth, studs, eyes, and buttons, all at once, Mr Lammle
secretly bent a dark frown on the two, expressive of an intense desire
to bring them together by knocking their heads together.

'Have you heard this opera of to-night, Fledgeby?' he asked, stopping
very short, to prevent himself from running on into 'confound you.'

'Why no, not exactly,' said Fledgeby. 'In fact I don't know a note of
it.'

'Neither do you know it, Georgy?' said Mrs Lammle. 'N-no,' replied
Georgiana, faintly, under the sympathetic coincidence.

'Why, then,' said Mrs Lammle, charmed by the discovery which flowed from
the premises, 'you neither of you know it! How charming!'

Even the craven Fledgeby felt that the time was now come when he must
strike a blow. He struck it by saying, partly to Mrs Lammle and partly
to the circumambient air, 'I consider myself very fortunate in being
reserved by--'

As he stopped dead, Mr Lammle, making that gingerous bush of his
whiskers to look out of, offered him the word 'Destiny.'

'No, I wasn't going to say that,' said Fledgeby. 'I was going to say
Fate. I consider it very fortunate that Fate has written in the book
of--in the book which is its own property--that I should go to that
opera for the first time under the memorable circumstances of going with
Miss Podsnap.'

To which Georgiana replied, hooking her two little fingers in one
another, and addressing the tablecloth, 'Thank you, but I generally go
with no one but you, Sophronia, and I like that very much.'

Content perforce with this success for the time, Mr Lammle let Miss
Podsnap out of the room, as if he were opening her cage door, and Mrs
Lammle followed. Coffee being presently served up stairs, he kept a
watch on Fledgeby until Miss Podsnap's cup was empty, and then directed
him with his finger (as if that young gentleman were a slow Retriever)
to go and fetch it. This feat he performed, not only without failure,
but even with the original embellishment of informing Miss Podsnap that
green tea was considered bad for the nerves. Though there Miss Podsnap
unintentionally threw him out by faltering, 'Oh, is it indeed? How does
it act?' Which he was not prepared to elucidate.

The carriage announced, Mrs Lammle said; 'Don't mind me, Mr Fledgeby, my
skirts and cloak occupy both my hands, take Miss Podsnap.' And he
took her, and Mrs Lammle went next, and Mr Lammle went last, savagely
following his little flock, like a drover.

But he was all sparkle and glitter in the box at the Opera, and there he
and his dear wife made a conversation between Fledgeby and Georgiana in
the following ingenious and skilful manner. They sat in this order:
Mrs Lammle, Fascination Fledgeby, Georgiana, Mr Lammle. Mrs Lammle made
leading remarks to Fledgeby, only requiring monosyllabic replies. Mr
Lammle did the like with Georgiana. At times Mrs Lammle would lean
forward to address Mr Lammle to this purpose.

'Alfred, my dear, Mr Fledgeby very justly says, apropos of the last
scene, that true constancy would not require any such stimulant as the
stage deems necessary.' To which Mr Lammle would reply, 'Ay, Sophronia,
my love, but as Georgiana has observed to me, the lady had no sufficient
reason to know the state of the gentleman's affections.' To which Mrs
Lammle would rejoin, 'Very true, Alfred; but Mr Fledgeby points
out,' this. To which Alfred would demur: 'Undoubtedly, Sophronia, but
Georgiana acutely remarks,' that. Through this device the two young
people conversed at great length and committed themselves to a variety
of delicate sentiments, without having once opened their lips, save to
say yes or no, and even that not to one another.

Fledgeby took his leave of Miss Podsnap at the carriage door, and the
Lammles dropped her at her own home, and on the way Mrs Lammle archly
rallied her, in her fond and protecting manner, by saying at intervals,
'Oh little Georgiana, little Georgiana!' Which was not much; but the
tone added, 'You have enslaved your Fledgeby.'

And thus the Lammles got home at last, and the lady sat down moody and
weary, looking at her dark lord engaged in a deed of violence with a
bottle of soda-water as though he were wringing the neck of some unlucky
creature and pouring its blood down his throat. As he wiped his dripping
whiskers in an ogreish way, he met her eyes, and pausing, said, with no
very gentle voice:

'Well?'

'Was such an absolute Booby necessary to the purpose?'

'I know what I am doing. He is no such dolt as you suppose.'

'A genius, perhaps?'

'You sneer, perhaps; and you take a lofty air upon yourself perhaps!
But I tell you this:--when that young fellow's interest is concerned,
he holds as tight as a horse-leech. When money is in question with that
young fellow, he is a match for the Devil.'

'Is he a match for you?'

'He is. Almost as good a one as you thought me for you. He has no
quality of youth in him, but such as you have seen to-day. Touch him
upon money, and you touch no booby then. He really is a dolt, I suppose,
in other things; but it answers his one purpose very well.'

'Has she money in her own right in any case?'

'Ay! she has money in her own right in any case. You have done so well
to-day, Sophronia, that I answer the question, though you know I object
to any such questions. You have done so well to-day, Sophronia, that you
must be tired. Get to bed.'



Chapter 5

MERCURY PROMPTING


Fledgeby deserved Mr Alfred Lammle's eulogium. He was the meanest
cur existing, with a single pair of legs. And instinct (a word we all
clearly understand) going largely on four legs, and reason always on
two, meanness on four legs never attains the perfection of meanness on
two.

The father of this young gentleman had been a money-lender, who
had transacted professional business with the mother of this
young gentleman, when he, the latter, was waiting in the vast dark
ante-chambers of the present world to be born. The lady, a widow, being
unable to pay the money-lender, married him; and in due course, Fledgeby
was summoned out of the vast dark ante-chambers to come and be presented
to the Registrar-General. Rather a curious speculation how Fledgeby
would otherwise have disposed of his leisure until Doomsday.

Fledgeby's mother offended her family by marrying Fledgeby's father. It
is one of the easiest achievements in life to offend your family when
your family want to get rid of you. Fledgeby's mother's family had
been very much offended with her for being poor, and broke with her
for becoming comparatively rich. Fledgeby's mother's family was the
Snigsworth family. She had even the high honour to be cousin to Lord
Snigsworth--so many times removed that the noble Earl would have had no
compunction in removing her one time more and dropping her clean outside
the cousinly pale; but cousin for all that.

Among her pre-matrimonial transactions with Fledgeby's father,
Fledgeby's mother had raised money of him at a great disadvantage on a
certain reversionary interest. The reversion falling in soon after they
were married, Fledgeby's father laid hold of the cash for his separate
use and benefit. This led to subjective differences of opinion, not to
say objective interchanges of boot-jacks, backgammon boards, and other
such domestic missiles, between Fledgeby's father and Fledgeby's mother,
and those led to Fledgeby's mother spending as much money as she
could, and to Fledgeby's father doing all he couldn't to restrain her.
Fledgeby's childhood had been, in consequence, a stormy one; but the
winds and the waves had gone down in the grave, and Fledgeby flourished
alone.

He lived in chambers in the Albany, did Fledgeby, and maintained a
spruce appearance. But his youthful fire was all composed of sparks from
the grindstone; and as the sparks flew off, went out, and never warmed
anything, be sure that Fledgeby had his tools at the grindstone, and
turned it with a wary eye.

Mr Alfred Lammle came round to the Albany to breakfast with Fledgeby.
Present on the table, one scanty pot of tea, one scanty loaf, two scanty
pats of butter, two scanty rashers of bacon, two pitiful eggs, and an
abundance of handsome china bought a secondhand bargain.

'What did you think of Georgiana?' asked Mr Lammle.

'Why, I'll tell you,' said Fledgeby, very deliberately.

'Do, my boy.'

'You misunderstand me,' said Fledgeby. 'I don't mean I'll tell you that.
I mean I'll tell you something else.'

'Tell me anything, old fellow!'

'Ah, but there you misunderstand me again,' said Fledgeby. 'I mean I'll
tell you nothing.'

Mr Lammle sparkled at him, but frowned at him too.

'Look here,' said Fledgeby. 'You're deep and you're ready. Whether I am
deep or not, never mind. I am not ready. But I can do one thing, Lammle,
I can hold my tongue. And I intend always doing it.'

'You are a long-headed fellow, Fledgeby.'

'May be, or may not be. If I am a short-tongued fellow, it may amount to
the same thing. Now, Lammle, I am never going to answer questions.'

'My dear fellow, it was the simplest question in the world.'

'Never mind. It seemed so, but things are not always what they seem. I
saw a man examined as a witness in Westminster Hall. Questions put to
him seemed the simplest in the world, but turned out to be anything
rather than that, after he had answered 'em. Very well. Then he should
have held his tongue. If he had held his tongue he would have kept out
of scrapes that he got into.'

'If I had held my tongue, you would never have seen the subject of my
question,' remarked Lammle, darkening.

'Now, Lammle,' said Fascination Fledgeby, calmly feeling for his
whisker, 'it won't do. I won't be led on into a discussion. I can't
manage a discussion. But I can manage to hold my tongue.'

'Can?' Mr Lammle fell back upon propitiation. 'I should think you could!
Why, when these fellows of our acquaintance drink and you drink with
them, the more talkative they get, the more silent you get. The more
they let out, the more you keep in.'

'I don't object, Lammle,' returned Fledgeby, with an internal chuckle,
'to being understood, though I object to being questioned. That
certainly IS the way I do it.'

'And when all the rest of us are discussing our ventures, none of us
ever know what a single venture of yours is!'

'And none of you ever will from me, Lammle,' replied Fledgeby, with
another internal chuckle; 'that certainly IS the way I do it.'

'Why of course it is, I know!' rejoined Lammle, with a flourish of
frankness, and a laugh, and stretching out his hands as if to show
the universe a remarkable man in Fledgeby. 'If I hadn't known it of my
Fledgeby, should I have proposed our little compact of advantage, to my
Fledgeby?'

'Ah!' remarked Fascination, shaking his head slyly. 'But I am not to
be got at in that way. I am not vain. That sort of vanity don't pay,
Lammle. No, no, no. Compliments only make me hold my tongue the more.'

Alfred Lammle pushed his plate away (no great sacrifice under the
circumstances of there being so little in it), thrust his hands in his
pockets, leaned back in his chair, and contemplated Fledgeby in silence.
Then he slowly released his left hand from its pocket, and made that
bush of his whiskers, still contemplating him in silence. Then he slowly
broke silence, and slowly said: 'What--the--Dev-il is this fellow about
this morning?'

'Now, look here, Lammle,' said Fascination Fledgeby, with the meanest
of twinkles in his meanest of eyes: which were too near together, by
the way: 'look here, Lammle; I am very well aware that I didn't show to
advantage last night, and that you and your wife--who, I consider, is
a very clever woman and an agreeable woman--did. I am not calculated to
show to advantage under that sort of circumstances. I know very well you
two did show to advantage, and managed capitally. But don't you on that
account come talking to me as if I was your doll and puppet, because I
am not.

'And all this,' cried Alfred, after studying with a look the meanness
that was fain to have the meanest help, and yet was so mean as to turn
upon it: 'all this because of one simple natural question!'

'You should have waited till I thought proper to say something about it
of myself. I don't like your coming over me with your Georgianas, as if
you was her proprietor and mine too.'

'Well, when you are in the gracious mind to say anything about it of
yourself,' retorted Lammle, 'pray do.'

'I have done it. I have said you managed capitally. You and your wife
both. If you'll go on managing capitally, I'll go on doing my part. Only
don't crow.'

'I crow!' exclaimed Lammle, shrugging his shoulders.

'Or,' pursued the other--'or take it in your head that people are your
puppets because they don't come out to advantage at the particular
moments when you do, with the assistance of a very clever and agreeable
wife. All the rest keep on doing, and let Mrs Lammle keep on doing. Now,
I have held my tongue when I thought proper, and I have spoken when I
thought proper, and there's an end of that. And now the question is,'
proceeded Fledgeby, with the greatest reluctance, 'will you have another
egg?'

'No, I won't,' said Lammle, shortly.

'Perhaps you're right and will find yourself better without it,' replied
Fascination, in greatly improved spirits. 'To ask you if you'll have
another rasher would be unmeaning flattery, for it would make you
thirsty all day. Will you have some more bread and butter?'

'No, I won't,' repeated Lammle.

'Then I will,' said Fascination. And it was not a mere retort for the
sound's sake, but was a cheerful cogent consequence of the refusal; for
if Lammle had applied himself again to the loaf, it would have been so
heavily visited, in Fledgeby's opinion, as to demand abstinence from
bread, on his part, for the remainder of that meal at least, if not for
the whole of the next.

Whether this young gentleman (for he was but three-and-twenty) combined
with the miserly vice of an old man, any of the open-handed vices of
a young one, was a moot point; so very honourably did he keep his own
counsel. He was sensible of the value of appearances as an investment,
and liked to dress well; but he drove a bargain for every moveable about
him, from the coat on his back to the china on his breakfast-table;
and every bargain by representing somebody's ruin or somebody's loss,
acquired a peculiar charm for him. It was a part of his avarice to take,
within narrow bounds, long odds at races; if he won, he drove harder
bargains; if he lost, he half starved himself until next time. Why money
should be so precious to an Ass too dull and mean to exchange it for any
other satisfaction, is strange; but there is no animal so sure to get
laden with it, as the Ass who sees nothing written on the face of the
earth and sky but the three letters L. S. D.--not Luxury, Sensuality,
Dissoluteness, which they often stand for, but the three dry letters.
Your concentrated Fox is seldom comparable to your concentrated Ass in
money-breeding.

Fascination Fledgeby feigned to be a young gentleman living on his
means, but was known secretly to be a kind of outlaw in the bill-broking
line, and to put money out at high interest in various ways. His circle
of familiar acquaintance, from Mr Lammle round, all had a touch of the
outlaw, as to their rovings in the merry greenwood of Jobbery Forest,
lying on the outskirts of the Share-Market and the Stock Exchange.

'I suppose you, Lammle,' said Fledgeby, eating his bread and butter,
'always did go in for female society?'

'Always,' replied Lammle, glooming considerably under his late
treatment.

'Came natural to you, eh?' said Fledgeby.

'The sex were pleased to like me, sir,' said Lammle sulkily, but with
the air of a man who had not been able to help himself.

'Made a pretty good thing of marrying, didn't you?' asked Fledgeby.

The other smiled (an ugly smile), and tapped one tap upon his nose.

'My late governor made a mess of it,' said Fledgeby. 'But Geor--is the
right name Georgina or Georgiana?'

'Georgiana.'

'I was thinking yesterday, I didn't know there was such a name. I
thought it must end in ina.

'Why?'

'Why, you play--if you can--the Concertina, you know,' replied
Fledgeby, meditating very slowly. 'And you have--when you catch it--the
Scarlatina. And you can come down from a balloon in a parach--no you
can't though. Well, say Georgeute--I mean Georgiana.'

'You were going to remark of Georgiana--?' Lammle moodily hinted, after
waiting in vain.

'I was going to remark of Georgiana, sir,' said Fledgeby, not at all
pleased to be reminded of his having forgotten it, 'that she don't seem
to be violent. Don't seem to be of the pitching-in order.'

'She has the gentleness of the dove, Mr Fledgeby.'

'Of course you'll say so,' replied Fledgeby, sharpening, the moment his
interest was touched by another. 'But you know, the real look-out is
this:--what I say, not what you say. I say having my late governor
and my late mother in my eye--that Georgiana don't seem to be of the
pitching-in order.'

The respected Mr Lammle was a bully, by nature and by usual practice.
Perceiving, as Fledgeby's affronts cumulated, that conciliation by no
means answered the purpose here, he now directed a scowling look
into Fledgeby's small eyes for the effect of the opposite treatment.
Satisfied by what he saw there, he burst into a violent passion and
struck his hand upon the table, making the china ring and dance.

'You are a very offensive fellow, sir,' cried Mr Lammle, rising. 'You
are a highly offensive scoundrel. What do you mean by this behaviour?'

'I say!' remonstrated Fledgeby. 'Don't break out.'

'You are a very offensive fellow sir,' repeated Mr Lammle. 'You are a
highly offensive scoundrel!'

'I SAY, you know!' urged Fledgeby, quailing.

'Why, you coarse and vulgar vagabond!' said Mr Lammle, looking fiercely
about him, 'if your servant was here to give me sixpence of your
money to get my boots cleaned afterwards--for you are not worth the
expenditure--I'd kick you.'

'No you wouldn't,' pleaded Fledgeby. 'I am sure you'd think better of
it.'

'I tell you what, Mr Fledgeby,' said Lammle advancing on him. 'Since
you presume to contradict me, I'll assert myself a little. Give me your
nose!'

Fledgeby covered it with his hand instead, and said, retreating, 'I beg
you won't!'

'Give me your nose, sir,' repeated Lammle.

Still covering that feature and backing, Mr Fledgeby reiterated
(apparently with a severe cold in his head), 'I beg, I beg, you won't.'

'And this fellow,' exclaimed Lammle, stopping and making the most of his
chest--'This fellow presumes on my having selected him out of all the
young fellows I know, for an advantageous opportunity! This fellow
presumes on my having in my desk round the corner, his dirty note of
hand for a wretched sum payable on the occurrence of a certain event,
which event can only be of my and my wife's bringing about! This fellow,
Fledgeby, presumes to be impertinent to me, Lammle. Give me your nose
sir!'

'No! Stop! I beg your pardon,' said Fledgeby, with humility.

'What do you say, sir?' demanded Mr Lammle, seeming too furious to
understand.

'I beg your pardon,' repeated Fledgeby.

'Repeat your words louder, sir. The just indignation of a gentleman has
sent the blood boiling to my head. I don't hear you.'

'I say,' repeated Fledgeby, with laborious explanatory politeness, 'I
beg your pardon.'

Mr Lammle paused. 'As a man of honour,' said he, throwing himself into a
chair, 'I am disarmed.'

Mr Fledgeby also took a chair, though less demonstratively, and by
slow approaches removed his hand from his nose. Some natural diffidence
assailed him as to blowing it, so shortly after its having assumed a
personal and delicate, not to say public, character; but he overcame
his scruples by degrees, and modestly took that liberty under an implied
protest.

'Lammle,' he said sneakingly, when that was done, 'I hope we are friends
again?'

'Mr Fledgeby,' returned Lammle, 'say no more.'

'I must have gone too far in making myself disagreeable,' said Fledgeby,
'but I never intended it.'

'Say no more, say no more!' Mr Lammle repeated in a magnificent tone.
'Give me your'--Fledgeby started--'hand.'

They shook hands, and on Mr Lammle's part, in particular, there ensued
great geniality. For, he was quite as much of a dastard as the other,
and had been in equal danger of falling into the second place for good,
when he took heart just in time, to act upon the information conveyed to
him by Fledgeby's eye.

The breakfast ended in a perfect understanding. Incessant machinations
were to be kept at work by Mr and Mrs Lammle; love was to be made for
Fledgeby, and conquest was to be insured to him; he on his part
very humbly admitting his defects as to the softer social arts, and
entreating to be backed to the utmost by his two able coadjutors.

Little recked Mr Podsnap of the traps and toils besetting his Young
Person. He regarded her as safe within the Temple of Podsnappery, hiding
the fulness of time when she, Georgiana, should take him, Fitz-Podsnap,
who with all his worldly goods should her endow. It would call a blush
into the cheek of his standard Young Person to have anything to do with
such matters save to take as directed, and with worldly goods as per
settlement to be endowed. Who giveth this woman to be married to this
man? I, Podsnap. Perish the daring thought that any smaller creation
should come between!

It was a public holiday, and Fledgeby did not recover his spirits or his
usual temperature of nose until the afternoon. Walking into the City in
the holiday afternoon, he walked against a living stream setting out of
it; and thus, when he turned into the precincts of St Mary Axe, he found
a prevalent repose and quiet there. A yellow overhanging plaster-fronted
house at which he stopped was quiet too. The blinds were all drawn down,
and the inscription Pubsey and Co. seemed to doze in the counting-house
window on the ground-floor giving on the sleepy street.

Fledgeby knocked and rang, and Fledgeby rang and knocked, but no
one came. Fledgeby crossed the narrow street and looked up at the
house-windows, but nobody looked down at Fledgeby. He got out of temper,
crossed the narrow street again, and pulled the housebell as if it were
the house's nose, and he were taking a hint from his late experience.
His ear at the keyhole seemed then, at last, to give him assurance that
something stirred within. His eye at the keyhole seemed to confirm his
ear, for he angrily pulled the house's nose again, and pulled and pulled
and continued to pull, until a human nose appeared in the dark doorway.

'Now you sir!' cried Fledgeby. 'These are nice games!'

He addressed an old Jewish man in an ancient coat, long of skirt, and
wide of pocket. A venerable man, bald and shining at the top of his
head, and with long grey hair flowing down at its sides and mingling
with his beard. A man who with a graceful Eastern action of homage bent
his head, and stretched out his hands with the palms downward, as if to
deprecate the wrath of a superior.

'What have you been up to?' said Fledgeby, storming at him.

'Generous Christian master,' urged the Jewish man, 'it being holiday, I
looked for no one.'

'Holiday he blowed!' said Fledgeby, entering. 'What have YOU got to do
with holidays? Shut the door.'

With his former action the old man obeyed. In the entry hung his rusty
large-brimmed low-crowned hat, as long out of date as his coat; in the
corner near it stood his staff--no walking-stick but a veritable staff.
Fledgeby turned into the counting-house, perched himself on a business
stool, and cocked his hat. There were light boxes on shelves in the
counting-house, and strings of mock beads hanging up. There were samples
of cheap clocks, and samples of cheap vases of flowers. Foreign toys,
all.

Perched on the stool with his hat cocked on his head and one of his legs
dangling, the youth of Fledgeby hardly contrasted to advantage with the
age of the Jewish man as he stood with his bare head bowed, and his eyes
(which he only raised in speaking) on the ground. His clothing was worn
down to the rusty hue of the hat in the entry, but though he looked
shabby he did not look mean. Now, Fledgeby, though not shabby, did look
mean.

'You have not told me what you were up to, you sir,' said Fledgeby,
scratching his head with the brim of his hat.

'Sir, I was breathing the air.'

'In the cellar, that you didn't hear?'

'On the house-top.'

'Upon my soul! That's a way of doing business.'

'Sir,' the old man represented with a grave and patient air, 'there must
be two parties to the transaction of business, and the holiday has left
me alone.'

'Ah! Can't be buyer and seller too. That's what the Jews say; ain't it?'

'At least we say truly, if we say so,' answered the old man with a
smile.

'Your people need speak the truth sometimes, for they lie enough,'
remarked Fascination Fledgeby.

'Sir, there is,' returned the old man with quiet emphasis, 'too much
untruth among all denominations of men.'

Rather dashed, Fascination Fledgeby took another scratch at his
intellectual head with his hat, to gain time for rallying.

'For instance,' he resumed, as though it were he who had spoken last,
'who but you and I ever heard of a poor Jew?'

'The Jews,' said the old man, raising his eyes from the ground with his
former smile. 'They hear of poor Jews often, and are very good to them.'

'Bother that!' returned Fledgeby. 'You know what I mean. You'd persuade
me if you could, that you are a poor Jew. I wish you'd confess how much
you really did make out of my late governor. I should have a better
opinion of you.'

The old man only bent his head, and stretched out his hands as before.

'Don't go on posturing like a Deaf and Dumb School,' said the ingenious
Fledgeby, 'but express yourself like a Christian--or as nearly as you
can.'

'I had had sickness and misfortunes, and was so poor,' said the old
man, 'as hopelessly to owe the father, principal and interest. The son
inheriting, was so merciful as to forgive me both, and place me here.'

He made a little gesture as though he kissed the hem of an imaginary
garment worn by the noble youth before him. It was humbly done, but
picturesquely, and was not abasing to the doer.

'You won't say more, I see,' said Fledgeby, looking at him as if he
would like to try the effect of extracting a double-tooth or two, 'and
so it's of no use my putting it to you. But confess this, Riah; who
believes you to be poor now?'

'No one,' said the old man.

'There you're right,' assented Fledgeby.

'No one,' repeated the old man with a grave slow wave of his head. 'All
scout it as a fable. Were I to say "This little fancy business is not
mine";' with a lithe sweep of his easily-turning hand around him,
to comprehend the various objects on the shelves; '"it is the little
business of a Christian young gentleman who places me, his servant, in
trust and charge here, and to whom I am accountable for every single
bead," they would laugh. When, in the larger money-business, I tell the
borrowers--'

'I say, old chap!' interposed Fledgeby, 'I hope you mind what you DO
tell 'em?'

'Sir, I tell them no more than I am about to repeat. When I tell them,
"I cannot promise this, I cannot answer for the other, I must see my
principal, I have not the money, I am a poor man and it does not rest
with me," they are so unbelieving and so impatient, that they sometimes
curse me in Jehovah's name.'

'That's deuced good, that is!' said Fascination Fledgeby.

'And at other times they say, "Can it never be done without these
tricks, Mr Riah? Come, come, Mr Riah, we know the arts of your
people"--my people!--"If the money is to be lent, fetch it, fetch it; if
it is not to be lent, keep it and say so." They never believe me.'

'THAT'S all right,' said Fascination Fledgeby.

'They say, "We know, Mr Riah, we know. We have but to look at you, and
we know."'

'Oh, a good 'un are you for the post,' thought Fledgeby, 'and a good 'un
was I to mark you out for it! I may be slow, but I am precious sure.'

Not a syllable of this reflection shaped itself in any scrap of Mr
Fledgeby's breath, lest it should tend to put his servant's price up.
But looking at the old man as he stood quiet with his head bowed and his
eyes cast down, he felt that to relinquish an inch of his baldness,
an inch of his grey hair, an inch of his coat-skirt, an inch of his
hat-brim, an inch of his walking-staff, would be to relinquish hundreds
of pounds.

'Look here, Riah,' said Fledgeby, mollified by these self-approving
considerations. 'I want to go a little more into buying-up queer bills.
Look out in that direction.'

'Sir, it shall be done.'

'Casting my eye over the accounts, I find that branch of business pays
pretty fairly, and I am game for extending it. I like to know people's
affairs likewise. So look out.'

'Sir, I will, promptly.'

'Put it about in the right quarters, that you'll buy queer bills by the
lump--by the pound weight if that's all--supposing you see your way to a
fair chance on looking over the parcel. And there's one thing more. Come
to me with the books for periodical inspection as usual, at eight on
Monday morning.'

Riah drew some folding tablets from his breast and noted it down.

'That's all I wanted to say at the present time,' continued Fledgeby in
a grudging vein, as he got off the stool, 'except that I wish you'd take
the air where you can hear the bell, or the knocker, either one of the
two or both. By-the-by how DO you take the air at the top of the house?
Do you stick your head out of a chimney-pot?'

'Sir, there are leads there, and I have made a little garden there.'

'To bury your money in, you old dodger?'

'A thumbnail's space of garden would hold the treasure I bury, master,'
said Riah. 'Twelve shillings a week, even when they are an old man's
wages, bury themselves.'

'I should like to know what you really are worth,' returned Fledgeby,
with whom his growing rich on that stipend and gratitude was a very
convenient fiction. 'But come! Let's have a look at your garden on the
tiles, before I go!'

The old man took a step back, and hesitated.

'Truly, sir, I have company there.'

'Have you, by George!' said Fledgeby; 'I suppose you happen to know
whose premises these are?'

'Sir, they are yours, and I am your servant in them.'

'Oh! I thought you might have overlooked that,' retorted Fledgeby, with
his eyes on Riah's beard as he felt for his own; 'having company on my
premises, you know!'

'Come up and see the guests, sir. I hope for your admission that they
can do no harm.'

Passing him with a courteous reverence, specially unlike any action that
Mr Fledgeby could for his life have imparted to his own head and hands,
the old man began to ascend the stairs. As he toiled on before, with his
palm upon the stair-rail, and his long black skirt, a very gaberdine,
overhanging each successive step, he might have been the leader in some
pilgrimage of devotional ascent to a prophet's tomb. Not troubled by any
such weak imagining, Fascination Fledgeby merely speculated on the time
of life at which his beard had begun, and thought once more what a good
'un he was for the part.

Some final wooden steps conducted them, stooping under a low penthouse
roof, to the house-top. Riah stood still, and, turning to his master,
pointed out his guests.

Lizzie Hexam and Jenny Wren. For whom, perhaps with some old instinct of
his race, the gentle Jew had spread a carpet. Seated on it, against
no more romantic object than a blackened chimney-stack over which some
bumble creeper had been trained, they both pored over one book; both
with attentive faces; Jenny with the sharper; Lizzie with the more
perplexed. Another little book or two were lying near, and a common
basket of common fruit, and another basket full of strings of beads and
tinsel scraps. A few boxes of humble flowers and evergreens completed
the garden; and the encompassing wilderness of dowager old chimneys
twirled their cowls and fluttered their smoke, rather as if they were
bridling, and fanning themselves, and looking on in a state of airy
surprise.

Taking her eyes off the book, to test her memory of something in it,
Lizzie was the first to see herself observed. As she rose, Miss Wren
likewise became conscious, and said, irreverently addressing the great
chief of the premises: 'Whoever you are, I can't get up, because my
back's bad and my legs are queer.'

'This is my master,' said Riah, stepping forward.

('Don't look like anybody's master,' observed Miss Wren to herself, with
a hitch of her chin and eyes.)

'This, sir,' pursued the old man, 'is a little dressmaker for little
people. Explain to the master, Jenny.'

'Dolls; that's all,' said Jenny, shortly. 'Very difficult to fit too,
because their figures are so uncertain. You never know where to expect
their waists.'

'Her friend,' resumed the old man, motioning towards Lizzie; 'and as
industrious as virtuous. But that they both are. They are busy early and
late, sir, early and late; and in bye-times, as on this holiday, they go
to book-learning.'

'Not much good to be got out of that,' remarked Fledgeby.

'Depends upon the person!' quoth Miss Wren, snapping him up.

'I made acquaintance with my guests, sir,' pursued the Jew, with an
evident purpose of drawing out the dressmaker, 'through their coming
here to buy of our damage and waste for Miss Jenny's millinery. Our
waste goes into the best of company, sir, on her rosy-cheeked little
customers. They wear it in their hair, and on their ball-dresses, and
even (so she tells me) are presented at Court with it.'

'Ah!' said Fledgeby, on whose intelligence this doll-fancy made rather
strong demands; 'she's been buying that basketful to-day, I suppose?'

'I suppose she has,' Miss Jenny interposed; 'and paying for it too, most
likely!'

'Let's have a look at it,' said the suspicious chief. Riah handed it to
him. 'How much for this now?'

'Two precious silver shillings,' said Miss Wren.

Riah confirmed her with two nods, as Fledgeby looked to him. A nod for
each shilling.

'Well,' said Fledgeby, poking into the contents of the basket with his
forefinger, 'the price is not so bad. You have got good measure, Miss
What-is-it.'

'Try Jenny,' suggested that young lady with great calmness.

'You have got good measure, Miss Jenny; but the price is not so
bad.--And you,' said Fledgeby, turning to the other visitor, 'do you buy
anything here, miss?'

'No, sir.'

'Nor sell anything neither, miss?'

'No, sir.'

Looking askew at the questioner, Jenny stole her hand up to her
friend's, and drew her friend down, so that she bent beside her on her
knee.

'We are thankful to come here for rest, sir,' said Jenny. 'You see, you
don't know what the rest of this place is to us; does he, Lizzie? It's
the quiet, and the air.'

'The quiet!' repeated Fledgeby, with a contemptuous turn of his head
towards the City's roar. 'And the air!' with a 'Poof!' at the smoke.

'Ah!' said Jenny. 'But it's so high. And you see the clouds rushing
on above the narrow streets, not minding them, and you see the golden
arrows pointing at the mountains in the sky from which the wind comes,
and you feel as if you were dead.'

The little creature looked above her, holding up her slight transparent
hand.

'How do you feel when you are dead?' asked Fledgeby, much perplexed.

'Oh, so tranquil!' cried the little creature, smiling. 'Oh, so peaceful
and so thankful! And you hear the people who are alive, crying, and
working, and calling to one another down in the close dark streets, and
you seem to pity them so! And such a chain has fallen from you, and such
a strange good sorrowful happiness comes upon you!'

Her eyes fell on the old man, who, with his hands folded, quietly looked
on.

'Why it was only just now,' said the little creature, pointing at him,
'that I fancied I saw him come out of his grave! He toiled out at
that low door so bent and worn, and then he took his breath and stood
upright, and looked all round him at the sky, and the wind blew upon
him, and his life down in the dark was over!--Till he was called back
to life,' she added, looking round at Fledgeby with that lower look of
sharpness. 'Why did you call him back?'

'He was long enough coming, anyhow,' grumbled Fledgeby.

'But you are not dead, you know,' said Jenny Wren. 'Get down to life!'

Mr Fledgeby seemed to think it rather a good suggestion, and with a nod
turned round. As Riah followed to attend him down the stairs, the little
creature called out to the Jew in a silvery tone, 'Don't be long gone.
Come back, and be dead!' And still as they went down they heard the
little sweet voice, more and more faintly, half calling and half
singing, 'Come back and be dead, Come back and be dead!'

When they got down into the entry, Fledgeby, pausing under the shadow of
the broad old hat, and mechanically poising the staff, said to the old
man:

'That's a handsome girl, that one in her senses.'

'And as good as handsome,' answered Riah.

'At all events,' observed Fledgeby, with a dry whistle, 'I hope she
ain't bad enough to put any chap up to the fastenings, and get the
premises broken open. You look out. Keep your weather eye awake and
don't make any more acquaintances, however handsome. Of course you
always keep my name to yourself?'

'Sir, assuredly I do.'

'If they ask it, say it's Pubsey, or say it's Co, or say it's anything
you like, but what it is.'

His grateful servant--in whose race gratitude is deep, strong, and
enduring--bowed his head, and actually did now put the hem of his coat
to his lips: though so lightly that the wearer knew nothing of it.

Thus, Fascination Fledgeby went his way, exulting in the artful
cleverness with which he had turned his thumb down on a Jew, and the old
man went his different way up-stairs. As he mounted, the call or song
began to sound in his ears again, and, looking above, he saw the face
of the little creature looking down out of a Glory of her long bright
radiant hair, and musically repeating to him, like a vision:

'Come up and be dead! Come up and be dead!'



Chapter 6

A RIDDLE WITHOUT AN ANSWER


Again Mr Mortimer Lightwood and Mr Eugene Wrayburn sat together in the
Temple. This evening, however, they were not together in the place of
business of the eminent solicitor, but in another dismal set of
chambers facing it on the same second-floor; on whose dungeon-like black
outer-door appeared the legend:

PRIVATE

MR EUGENE WRAYBURN

MR MORTIMER LIGHTWOOD

(Mr Lightwood's Offices opposite.)

Appearances indicated that this establishment was a very recent
institution. The white letters of the inscription were extremely white
and extremely strong to the sense of smell, the complexion of the
tables and chairs was (like Lady Tippins's) a little too blooming to
be believed in, and the carpets and floorcloth seemed to rush at the
beholder's face in the unusual prominency of their patterns. But the
Temple, accustomed to tone down both the still life and the human life
that has much to do with it, would soon get the better of all that.

'Well!' said Eugene, on one side of the fire, 'I feel tolerably
comfortable. I hope the upholsterer may do the same.'

'Why shouldn't he?' asked Lightwood, from the other side of the fire.

'To be sure,' pursued Eugene, reflecting, 'he is not in the secret of
our pecuniary affairs, so perhaps he may be in an easy frame of mind.'

'We shall pay him,' said Mortimer.

'Shall we, really?' returned Eugene, indolently surprised. 'You don't
say so!'

'I mean to pay him, Eugene, for my part,' said Mortimer, in a slightly
injured tone.

'Ah! I mean to pay him too,' retorted Eugene. 'But then I mean so much
that I--that I don't mean.'

'Don't mean?'

'So much that I only mean and shall always only mean and nothing more,
my dear Mortimer. It's the same thing.'

His friend, lying back in his easy chair, watched him lying back in his
easy chair, as he stretched out his legs on the hearth-rug, and said,
with the amused look that Eugene Wrayburn could always awaken in him
without seeming to try or care:

'Anyhow, your vagaries have increased the bill.'

'Calls the domestic virtues vagaries!' exclaimed Eugene, raising his
eyes to the ceiling.

'This very complete little kitchen of ours,' said Mortimer, 'in which
nothing will ever be cooked--'

'My dear, dear Mortimer,' returned his friend, lazily lifting his head
a little to look at him, 'how often have I pointed out to you that its
moral influence is the important thing?'

'Its moral influence on this fellow!' exclaimed Lightwood, laughing.

'Do me the favour,' said Eugene, getting out of his chair with much
gravity, 'to come and inspect that feature of our establishment which
you rashly disparage.' With that, taking up a candle, he conducted
his chum into the fourth room of the set of chambers--a little narrow
room--which was very completely and neatly fitted as a kitchen. 'See!'
said Eugene, 'miniature flour-barrel, rolling-pin, spice-box, shelf of
brown jars, chopping-board, coffee-mill, dresser elegantly furnished
with crockery, saucepans and pans, roasting jack, a charming kettle, an
armoury of dish-covers. The moral influence of these objects, in forming
the domestic virtues, may have an immense influence upon me; not upon
you, for you are a hopeless case, but upon me. In fact, I have an idea
that I feel the domestic virtues already forming. Do me the favour to
step into my bedroom. Secretaire, you see, and abstruse set of solid
mahogany pigeon-holes, one for every letter of the alphabet. To what use
do I devote them? I receive a bill--say from Jones. I docket it neatly
at the secretaire, JONES, and I put it into pigeonhole J. It's the next
thing to a receipt and is quite as satisfactory to ME. And I very much
wish, Mortimer,' sitting on his bed, with the air of a philosopher
lecturing a disciple, 'that my example might induce YOU to cultivate
habits of punctuality and method; and, by means of the moral influences
with which I have surrounded you, to encourage the formation of the
domestic virtues.'

Mortimer laughed again, with his usual commentaries of 'How CAN you be
so ridiculous, Eugene!' and 'What an absurd fellow you are!' but when
his laugh was out, there was something serious, if not anxious, in his
face. Despite that pernicious assumption of lassitude and indifference,
which had become his second nature, he was strongly attached to his
friend. He had founded himself upon Eugene when they were yet boys at
school; and at this hour imitated him no less, admired him no less,
loved him no less, than in those departed days.

'Eugene,' said he, 'if I could find you in earnest for a minute, I would
try to say an earnest word to you.'

'An earnest word?' repeated Eugene. 'The moral influences are beginning
to work. Say on.'

'Well, I will,' returned the other, 'though you are not earnest yet.'

'In this desire for earnestness,' murmured Eugene, with the air of one
who was meditating deeply, 'I trace the happy influences of the little
flour-barrel and the coffee-mill. Gratifying.'

'Eugene,' resumed Mortimer, disregarding the light interruption, and
laying a hand upon Eugene's shoulder, as he, Mortimer, stood before him
seated on his bed, 'you are withholding something from me.'

Eugene looked at him, but said nothing.

'All this past summer, you have been withholding something from me.
Before we entered on our boating vacation, you were as bent upon it as I
have seen you upon anything since we first rowed together. But you cared
very little for it when it came, often found it a tie and a drag upon
you, and were constantly away. Now it was well enough half-a-dozen
times, a dozen times, twenty times, to say to me in your own odd manner,
which I know so well and like so much, that your disappearances were
precautions against our boring one another; but of course after a short
while I began to know that they covered something. I don't ask what it
is, as you have not told me; but the fact is so. Say, is it not?'

'I give you my word of honour, Mortimer,' returned Eugene, after a
serious pause of a few moments, 'that I don't know.'

'Don't know, Eugene?'

'Upon my soul, don't know. I know less about myself than about most
people in the world, and I don't know.'

'You have some design in your mind?'

'Have I? I don't think I have.'

'At any rate, you have some subject of interest there which used not to
be there?'

'I really can't say,' replied Eugene, shaking his head blankly, after
pausing again to reconsider. 'At times I have thought yes; at other
times I have thought no. Now, I have been inclined to pursue such a
subject; now I have felt that it was absurd, and that it tired and
embarrassed me. Absolutely, I can't say. Frankly and faithfully, I would
if I could.'

So replying, he clapped a hand, in his turn, on his friend's shoulder,
as he rose from his seat upon the bed, and said:

'You must take your friend as he is. You know what I am, my dear
Mortimer. You know how dreadfully susceptible I am to boredom. You know
that when I became enough of a man to find myself an embodied conundrum,
I bored myself to the last degree by trying to find out what I meant.
You know that at length I gave it up, and declined to guess any more.
Then how can I possibly give you the answer that I have not discovered?
The old nursery form runs, "Riddle-me-riddle-me-ree, p'raps you can't
tell me what this may be?" My reply runs, "No. Upon my life, I can't."'

So much of what was fantastically true to his own knowledge of this
utterly careless Eugene, mingled with the answer, that Mortimer could
not receive it as a mere evasion. Besides, it was given with an engaging
air of openness, and of special exemption of the one friend he valued,
from his reckless indifference.

'Come, dear boy!' said Eugene. 'Let us try the effect of smoking. If it
enlightens me at all on this question, I will impart unreservedly.'

They returned to the room they had come from, and, finding it heated,
opened a window. Having lighted their cigars, they leaned out of this
window, smoking, and looking down at the moonlight, as it shone into the
court below.

'No enlightenment,' resumed Eugene, after certain minutes of silence. 'I
feel sincerely apologetic, my dear Mortimer, but nothing comes.'

'If nothing comes,' returned Mortimer, 'nothing can come from it. So
I shall hope that this may hold good throughout, and that there may be
nothing on foot. Nothing injurious to you, Eugene, or--'

Eugene stayed him for a moment with his hand on his arm, while he took a
piece of earth from an old flowerpot on the window-sill and dexterously
shot it at a little point of light opposite; having done which to his
satisfaction, he said, 'Or?'

'Or injurious to any one else.'

'How,' said Eugene, taking another little piece of earth, and shooting
it with great precision at the former mark, 'how injurious to any one
else?'

'I don't know.'

'And,' said Eugene, taking, as he said the word, another shot, 'to whom
else?'

'I don't know.'

Checking himself with another piece of earth in his hand, Eugene looked
at his friend inquiringly and a little suspiciously. There was no
concealed or half-expressed meaning in his face.

'Two belated wanderers in the mazes of the law,' said Eugene, attracted
by the sound of footsteps, and glancing down as he spoke, 'stray into
the court. They examine the door-posts of number one, seeking the name
they want. Not finding it at number one, they come to number two. On the
hat of wanderer number two, the shorter one, I drop this pellet. Hitting
him on the hat, I smoke serenely, and become absorbed in contemplation
of the sky.'

Both the wanderers looked up towards the window; but, after
interchanging a mutter or two, soon applied themselves to the door-posts
below. There they seemed to discover what they wanted, for they
disappeared from view by entering at the doorway. 'When they emerge,'
said Eugene, 'you shall see me bring them both down'; and so prepared
two pellets for the purpose.

He had not reckoned on their seeking his name, or Lightwood's. But
either the one or the other would seem to be in question, for now there
came a knock at the door. 'I am on duty to-night,' said Mortimer, 'stay
you where you are, Eugene.' Requiring no persuasion, he stayed there,
smoking quietly, and not at all curious to know who knocked, until
Mortimer spoke to him from within the room, and touched him. Then,
drawing in his head, he found the visitors to be young Charley Hexam
and the schoolmaster; both standing facing him, and both recognized at a
glance.

'You recollect this young fellow, Eugene?' said Mortimer.

'Let me look at him,' returned Wrayburn, coolly. 'Oh, yes, yes. I
recollect him!'

He had not been about to repeat that former action of taking him by the
chin, but the boy had suspected him of it, and had thrown up his arm
with an angry start. Laughingly, Wrayburn looked to Lightwood for an
explanation of this odd visit.

'He says he has something to say.'

'Surely it must be to you, Mortimer.'

'So I thought, but he says no. He says it is to you.'

'Yes, I do say so,' interposed the boy. 'And I mean to say what I want
to say, too, Mr Eugene Wrayburn!'

Passing him with his eyes as if there were nothing where he stood,
Eugene looked on to Bradley Headstone. With consummate indolence, he
turned to Mortimer, inquiring: 'And who may this other person be?'

'I am Charles Hexam's friend,' said Bradley; 'I am Charles Hexam's
schoolmaster.'

'My good sir, you should teach your pupils better manners,' returned
Eugene.

Composedly smoking, he leaned an elbow on the chimneypiece, at the side
of the fire, and looked at the schoolmaster. It was a cruel look, in its
cold disdain of him, as a creature of no worth. The schoolmaster looked
at him, and that, too, was a cruel look, though of the different kind,
that it had a raging jealousy and fiery wrath in it.

Very remarkably, neither Eugene Wrayburn nor Bradley Headstone looked at
all at the boy. Through the ensuing dialogue, those two, no matter
who spoke, or whom was addressed, looked at each other. There was some
secret, sure perception between them, which set them against one another
in all ways.

'In some high respects, Mr Eugene Wrayburn,' said Bradley, answering
him with pale and quivering lips, 'the natural feelings of my pupils are
stronger than my teaching.'

'In most respects, I dare say,' replied Eugene, enjoying his cigar,
'though whether high or low is of no importance. You have my name very
correctly. Pray what is yours?'

'It cannot concern you much to know, but--'

'True,' interposed Eugene, striking sharply and cutting him short at his
mistake, 'it does not concern me at all to know. I can say Schoolmaster,
which is a most respectable title. You are right, Schoolmaster.'

It was not the dullest part of this goad in its galling of Bradley
Headstone, that he had made it himself in a moment of incautious anger.
He tried to set his lips so as to prevent their quivering, but they
quivered fast.

'Mr Eugene Wrayburn,' said the boy, 'I want a word with you. I have
wanted it so much, that we have looked out your address in the book, and
we have been to your office, and we have come from your office here.'

'You have given yourself much trouble, Schoolmaster,' observed
Eugene, blowing the feathery ash from his cigar. 'I hope it may prove
remunerative.'

'And I am glad to speak,' pursued the boy, 'in presence of Mr Lightwood,
because it was through Mr Lightwood that you ever saw my sister.'

For a mere moment, Wrayburn turned his eyes aside from the schoolmaster
to note the effect of the last word on Mortimer, who, standing on the
opposite side of the fire, as soon as the word was spoken, turned his
face towards the fire and looked down into it.

'Similarly, it was through Mr Lightwood that you ever saw her again, for
you were with him on the night when my father was found, and so I found
you with her on the next day. Since then, you have seen my sister often.
You have seen my sister oftener and oftener. And I want to know why?'

'Was this worth while, Schoolmaster?' murmured Eugene, with the air of
a disinterested adviser. 'So much trouble for nothing? You should know
best, but I think not.'

'I don't know, Mr Wrayburn,' answered Bradley, with his passion rising,
'why you address me--'

'Don't you? said Eugene. 'Then I won't.'

He said it so tauntingly in his perfect placidity, that the respectable
right-hand clutching the respectable hair-guard of the respectable watch
could have wound it round his throat and strangled him with it. Not
another word did Eugene deem it worth while to utter, but stood leaning
his head upon his hand, smoking, and looking imperturbably at the
chafing Bradley Headstone with his clutching right-hand, until Bradley
was wellnigh mad.

'Mr Wrayburn,' proceeded the boy, 'we not only know this that I have
charged upon you, but we know more. It has not yet come to my sister's
knowledge that we have found it out, but we have. We had a plan, Mr
Headstone and I, for my sister's education, and for its being advised
and overlooked by Mr Headstone, who is a much more competent authority,
whatever you may pretend to think, as you smoke, than you could produce,
if you tried. Then, what do we find? What do we find, Mr Lightwood? Why,
we find that my sister is already being taught, without our knowing
it. We find that while my sister gives an unwilling and cold ear to our
schemes for her advantage--I, her brother, and Mr Headstone, the most
competent authority, as his certificates would easily prove, that could
be produced--she is wilfully and willingly profiting by other schemes.
Ay, and taking pains, too, for I know what such pains are. And so does
Mr Headstone! Well! Somebody pays for this, is a thought that naturally
occurs to us; who pays? We apply ourselves to find out, Mr Lightwood,
and we find that your friend, this Mr Eugene Wrayburn, here, pays. Then
I ask him what right has he to do it, and what does he mean by it, and
how comes he to be taking such a liberty without my consent, when I
am raising myself in the scale of society by my own exertions and Mr
Headstone's aid, and have no right to have any darkness cast upon my
prospects, or any imputation upon my respectability, through my sister?'

The boyish weakness of this speech, combined with its great selfishness,
made it a poor one indeed. And yet Bradley Headstone, used to the little
audience of a school, and unused to the larger ways of men, showed a
kind of exultation in it.

'Now I tell Mr Eugene Wrayburn,' pursued the boy, forced into the use
of the third person by the hopelessness of addressing him in the first,
'that I object to his having any acquaintance at all with my sister, and
that I request him to drop it altogether. He is not to take it into his
head that I am afraid of my sister's caring for HIM--'

(As the boy sneered, the Master sneered, and Eugene blew off the
feathery ash again.)

--'But I object to it, and that's enough. I am more important to my
sister than he thinks. As I raise myself, I intend to raise her;
she knows that, and she has to look to me for her prospects. Now I
understand all this very well, and so does Mr Headstone. My sister is an
excellent girl, but she has some romantic notions; not about such things
as your Mr Eugene Wrayburns, but about the death of my father and other
matters of that sort. Mr Wrayburn encourages those notions to make
himself of importance, and so she thinks she ought to be grateful to
him, and perhaps even likes to be. Now I don't choose her to be grateful
to him, or to be grateful to anybody but me, except Mr Headstone. And
I tell Mr Wrayburn that if he don't take heed of what I say, it will be
worse for her. Let him turn that over in his memory, and make sure of
it. Worse for her!'

A pause ensued, in which the schoolmaster looked very awkward.

'May I suggest, Schoolmaster,' said Eugene, removing his fast-waning
cigar from his lips to glance at it, 'that you can now take your pupil
away.'

'And Mr Lightwood,' added the boy, with a burning face, under the
flaming aggravation of getting no sort of answer or attention, 'I hope
you'll take notice of what I have said to your friend, and of what
your friend has heard me say, word by word, whatever he pretends to the
contrary. You are bound to take notice of it, Mr Lightwood, for, as I
have already mentioned, you first brought your friend into my sister's
company, and but for you we never should have seen him. Lord knows none
of us ever wanted him, any more than any of us will ever miss him. Now
Mr Headstone, as Mr Eugene Wrayburn has been obliged to hear what I had
to say, and couldn't help himself, and as I have said it out to the last
word, we have done all we wanted to do, and may go.'

'Go down-stairs, and leave me a moment, Hexam,' he returned. The boy
complying with an indignant look and as much noise as he could make,
swung out of the room; and Lightwood went to the window, and leaned
there, looking out.

'You think me of no more value than the dirt under your feet,' said
Bradley to Eugene, speaking in a carefully weighed and measured tone, or
he could not have spoken at all.

'I assure you, Schoolmaster,' replied Eugene, 'I don't think about you.'

'That's not true,' returned the other; 'you know better.'

'That's coarse,' Eugene retorted; 'but you DON'T know better.'

'Mr Wrayburn, at least I know very well that it would be idle to set
myself against you in insolent words or overbearing manners. That lad
who has just gone out could put you to shame in half-a-dozen branches of
knowledge in half an hour, but you can throw him aside like an inferior.
You can do as much by me, I have no doubt, beforehand.'

'Possibly,' remarked Eugene.

'But I am more than a lad,' said Bradley, with his clutching hand, 'and
I WILL be heard, sir.'

'As a schoolmaster,' said Eugene, 'you are always being heard. That
ought to content you.'

'But it does not content me,' replied the other, white with passion. 'Do
you suppose that a man, in forming himself for the duties I discharge,
and in watching and repressing himself daily to discharge them well,
dismisses a man's nature?'

'I suppose you,' said Eugene, 'judging from what I see as I look at you,
to be rather too passionate for a good schoolmaster.' As he spoke, he
tossed away the end of his cigar.

'Passionate with you, sir, I admit I am. Passionate with you, sir, I
respect myself for being. But I have not Devils for my pupils.'

'For your Teachers, I should rather say,' replied Eugene.

'Mr Wrayburn.'

'Schoolmaster.'

'Sir, my name is Bradley Headstone.'

'As you justly said, my good sir, your name cannot concern me. Now, what
more?'

'This more. Oh, what a misfortune is mine,' cried Bradley, breaking off
to wipe the starting perspiration from his face as he shook from head to
foot, 'that I cannot so control myself as to appear a stronger creature
than this, when a man who has not felt in all his life what I have felt
in a day can so command himself!' He said it in a very agony, and even
followed it with an errant motion of his hands as if he could have torn
himself.

Eugene Wrayburn looked on at him, as if he found him beginning to be
rather an entertaining study.

'Mr Wrayburn, I desire to say something to you on my own part.'

'Come, come, Schoolmaster,' returned Eugene, with a languid approach to
impatience as the other again struggled with himself; 'say what you have
to say. And let me remind you that the door is standing open, and your
young friend waiting for you on the stairs.'

'When I accompanied that youth here, sir, I did so with the purpose of
adding, as a man whom you should not be permitted to put aside, in case
you put him aside as a boy, that his instinct is correct and right.'
Thus Bradley Headstone, with great effort and difficulty.

'Is that all?' asked Eugene.

'No, sir,' said the other, flushed and fierce. 'I strongly support him
in his disapproval of your visits to his sister, and in his objection to
your officiousness--and worse--in what you have taken upon yourself to
do for her.'

'Is THAT all?' asked Eugene.

'No, sir. I determined to tell you that you are not justified in these
proceedings, and that they are injurious to his sister.'

'Are you her schoolmaster as well as her brother's?--Or perhaps you
would like to be?' said Eugene.

It was a stab that the blood followed, in its rush to Bradley
Headstone's face, as swiftly as if it had been dealt with a dagger.
'What do you mean by that?' was as much as he could utter.

'A natural ambition enough,' said Eugene, coolly. Far be it from me
to say otherwise. The sister who is something too much upon your lips,
perhaps--is so very different from all the associations to which she had
been used, and from all the low obscure people about her, that it is a
very natural ambition.'

'Do you throw my obscurity in my teeth, Mr Wrayburn?'

'That can hardly be, for I know nothing concerning it, Schoolmaster, and
seek to know nothing.'

'You reproach me with my origin,' said Bradley Headstone; 'you cast
insinuations at my bringing-up. But I tell you, sir, I have worked my
way onward, out of both and in spite of both, and have a right to be
considered a better man than you, with better reasons for being proud.'

'How I can reproach you with what is not within my knowledge, or how
I can cast stones that were never in my hand, is a problem for the
ingenuity of a schoolmaster to prove,' returned Eugene. 'Is THAT all?'

'No, sir. If you suppose that boy--'

'Who really will be tired of waiting,' said Eugene, politely.

'If you suppose that boy to be friendless, Mr Wrayburn, you deceive
yourself. I am his friend, and you shall find me so.'

'And you will find HIM on the stairs,' remarked Eugene.

'You may have promised yourself, sir, that you could do what you
chose here, because you had to deal with a mere boy, inexperienced,
friendless, and unassisted. But I give you warning that this mean
calculation is wrong. You have to do with a man also. You have to do
with me. I will support him, and, if need be, require reparation for
him. My hand and heart are in this cause, and are open to him.'

'And--quite a coincidence--the door is open,' remarked Eugene.

'I scorn your shifty evasions, and I scorn you,' said the schoolmaster.
'In the meanness of your nature you revile me with the meanness of my
birth. I hold you in contempt for it. But if you don't profit by this
visit, and act accordingly, you will find me as bitterly in earnest
against you as I could be if I deemed you worth a second thought on my
own account.'

With a consciously bad grace and stiff manner, as Wrayburn looked so
easily and calmly on, he went out with these words, and the heavy door
closed like a furnace-door upon his red and white heats of rage.

'A curious monomaniac,' said Eugene. 'The man seems to believe that
everybody was acquainted with his mother!'

Mortimer Lightwood being still at the window, to which he had in
delicacy withdrawn, Eugene called to him, and he fell to slowly pacing
the room.

'My dear fellow,' said Eugene, as he lighted another cigar, 'I fear my
unexpected visitors have been troublesome. If as a set-off (excuse the
legal phrase from a barrister-at-law) you would like to ask Tippins to
tea, I pledge myself to make love to her.'

'Eugene, Eugene, Eugene,' replied Mortimer, still pacing the room, 'I am
sorry for this. And to think that I have been so blind!'

'How blind, dear boy?' inquired his unmoved friend.

'What were your words that night at the river-side public-house?' said
Lightwood, stopping. 'What was it that you asked me? Did I feel like a
dark combination of traitor and pickpocket when I thought of that girl?'

'I seem to remember the expression,' said Eugene.

'How do YOU feel when you think of her just now?'

His friend made no direct reply, but observed, after a few whiffs of his
cigar, 'Don't mistake the situation. There is no better girl in all this
London than Lizzie Hexam. There is no better among my people at home; no
better among your people.'

'Granted. What follows?'

'There,' said Eugene, looking after him dubiously as he paced away to
the other end of the room, 'you put me again upon guessing the riddle
that I have given up.'

'Eugene, do you design to capture and desert this girl?'

'My dear fellow, no.'

'Do you design to marry her?'

'My dear fellow, no.'

'Do you design to pursue her?'

'My dear fellow, I don't design anything. I have no design whatever.
I am incapable of designs. If I conceived a design, I should speedily
abandon it, exhausted by the operation.'

'Oh Eugene, Eugene!'

'My dear Mortimer, not that tone of melancholy reproach, I entreat. What
can I do more than tell you all I know, and acknowledge my ignorance
of all I don't know! How does that little old song go, which, under
pretence of being cheerful, is by far the most lugubrious I ever heard
in my life?

     "Away with melancholy,
     Nor doleful changes ring
     On life and human folly,
     But merrily merrily sing
                              Fal la!"

Don't let us sing Fal la, my dear Mortimer (which is comparatively
unmeaning), but let us sing that we give up guessing the riddle
altogether.'

'Are you in communication with this girl, Eugene, and is what these
people say true?'

'I concede both admissions to my honourable and learned friend.'

'Then what is to come of it? What are you doing? Where are you going?'

'My dear Mortimer, one would think the schoolmaster had left behind him
a catechizing infection. You are ruffled by the want of another cigar.
Take one of these, I entreat. Light it at mine, which is in perfect
order. So! Now do me the justice to observe that I am doing all I can
towards self-improvement, and that you have a light thrown on those
household implements which, when you only saw them as in a glass darkly,
you were hastily--I must say hastily--inclined to depreciate. Sensible
of my deficiencies, I have surrounded myself with moral influences
expressly meant to promote the formation of the domestic virtues.
To those influences, and to the improving society of my friend from
boyhood, commend me with your best wishes.'

'Ah, Eugene!' said Lightwood, affectionately, now standing near him,
so that they both stood in one little cloud of smoke; 'I would that you
answered my three questions! What is to come of it? What are you doing?
Where are you going?'

'And my dear Mortimer,' returned Eugene, lightly fanning away the smoke
with his hand for the better exposition of his frankness of face and
manner, 'believe me, I would answer them instantly if I could. But
to enable me to do so, I must first have found out the troublesome
conundrum long abandoned. Here it is. Eugene Wrayburn.' Tapping his
forehead and breast. 'Riddle-me, riddle-me-ree, perhaps you can't tell
me what this may be?--No, upon my life I can't. I give it up!'



Chapter 7

IN WHICH A FRIENDLY MOVE IS ORIGINATED


The arrangement between Mr Boffin and his literary man, Mr Silas Wegg,
so far altered with the altered habits of Mr Boffin's life, as that
the Roman Empire usually declined in the morning and in the eminently
aristocratic family mansion, rather than in the evening, as of yore,
and in Boffin's Bower. There were occasions, however, when Mr Boffin,
seeking a brief refuge from the blandishments of fashion, would present
himself at the Bower after dark, to anticipate the next sallying
forth of Wegg, and would there, on the old settle, pursue the downward
fortunes of those enervated and corrupted masters of the world who were
by this time on their last legs. If Wegg had been worse paid for his
office, or better qualified to discharge it, he would have considered
these visits complimentary and agreeable; but, holding the position of
a handsomely-remunerated humbug, he resented them. This was quite
according to rule, for the incompetent servant, by whomsoever employed,
is always against his employer. Even those born governors, noble and
right honourable creatures, who have been the most imbecile in high
places, have uniformly shown themselves the most opposed (sometimes in
belying distrust, sometimes in vapid insolence) to THEIR employer. What
is in such wise true of the public master and servant, is equally true
of the private master and servant all the world over.

When Mr Silas Wegg did at last obtain free access to 'Our House', as he
had been wont to call the mansion outside which he had sat shelterless
so long, and when he did at last find it in all particulars as different
from his mental plans of it as according to the nature of things it
well could be, that far-seeing and far-reaching character, by way of
asserting himself and making out a case for compensation, affected to
fall into a melancholy strain of musing over the mournful past; as if
the house and he had had a fall in life together.

'And this, sir,' Silas would say to his patron, sadly nodding his head
and musing, 'was once Our House! This, sir, is the building from which I
have so often seen those great creatures, Miss Elizabeth, Master
George, Aunt Jane, and Uncle Parker'--whose very names were of his own
inventing--'pass and repass! And has it come to this, indeed! Ah dear
me, dear me!'

So tender were his lamentations, that the kindly Mr Boffin was quite
sorry for him, and almost felt mistrustful that in buying the house he
had done him an irreparable injury.

Two or three diplomatic interviews, the result of great subtlety on Mr
Wegg's part, but assuming the mask of careless yielding to a fortuitous
combination of circumstances impelling him towards Clerkenwell, had
enabled him to complete his bargain with Mr Venus.

'Bring me round to the Bower,' said Silas, when the bargain was closed,
'next Saturday evening, and if a sociable glass of old Jamaikey warm
should meet your views, I am not the man to begrudge it.'

'You are aware of my being poor company, sir,' replied Mr Venus, 'but be
it so.'

It being so, here is Saturday evening come, and here is Mr Venus come,
and ringing at the Bower-gate.

Mr Wegg opens the gate, descries a sort of brown paper truncheon under
Mr Venus's arm, and remarks, in a dry tone: 'Oh! I thought perhaps you
might have come in a cab.'

'No, Mr Wegg,' replies Venus. 'I am not above a parcel.'

'Above a parcel! No!' says Wegg, with some dissatisfaction. But does not
openly growl, 'a certain sort of parcel might be above you.'

'Here is your purchase, Mr Wegg,' says Venus, politely handing it over,
'and I am glad to restore it to the source from whence it--flowed.'

'Thankee,' says Wegg. 'Now this affair is concluded, I may mention to
you in a friendly way that I've my doubts whether, if I had consulted a
lawyer, you could have kept this article back from me. I only throw it
out as a legal point.'

'Do you think so, Mr Wegg? I bought you in open contract.'

'You can't buy human flesh and blood in this country, sir; not alive,
you can't,' says Wegg, shaking his head. 'Then query, bone?'

'As a legal point?' asks Venus.

'As a legal point.'

'I am not competent to speak upon that, Mr Wegg,' says Venus, reddening
and growing something louder; 'but upon a point of fact I think myself
competent to speak; and as a point of fact I would have seen you--will
you allow me to say, further?'

'I wouldn't say more than further, if I was you,' Mr Wegg suggests,
pacifically.

--'Before I'd have given that packet into your hand without being paid
my price for it. I don't pretend to know how the point of law may stand,
but I'm thoroughly confident upon the point of fact.'

As Mr Venus is irritable (no doubt owing to his disappointment in love),
and as it is not the cue of Mr Wegg to have him out of temper, the
latter gentleman soothingly remarks, 'I only put it as a little case; I
only put it ha'porthetically.'

'Then I'd rather, Mr Wegg, you put it another time, penn'orth-etically,'
is Mr Venus's retort, 'for I tell you candidly I don't like your little
cases.'

Arrived by this time in Mr Wegg's sitting-room, made bright on the
chilly evening by gaslight and fire, Mr Venus softens and compliments
him on his abode; profiting by the occasion to remind Wegg that he
(Venus) told him he had got into a good thing.

'Tolerable,' Wegg rejoins. 'But bear in mind, Mr Venus, that there's
no gold without its alloy. Mix for yourself and take a seat in the
chimbley-corner. Will you perform upon a pipe, sir?'

'I am but an indifferent performer, sir,' returns the other; 'but I'll
accompany you with a whiff or two at intervals.'

So, Mr Venus mixes, and Wegg mixes; and Mr Venus lights and puffs, and
Wegg lights and puffs.

'And there's alloy even in this metal of yours, Mr Wegg, you was
remarking?'

'Mystery,' returns Wegg. 'I don't like it, Mr Venus. I don't like to
have the life knocked out of former inhabitants of this house, in the
gloomy dark, and not know who did it.'

'Might you have any suspicions, Mr Wegg?'

'No,' returns that gentleman. 'I know who profits by it. But I've no
suspicions.'

Having said which, Mr Wegg smokes and looks at the fire with a most
determined expression of Charity; as if he had caught that cardinal
virtue by the skirts as she felt it her painful duty to depart from him,
and held her by main force.

'Similarly,' resumes Wegg, 'I have observations as I can offer upon
certain points and parties; but I make no objections, Mr Venus. Here
is an immense fortune drops from the clouds upon a person that shall be
nameless. Here is a weekly allowance, with a certain weight of coals,
drops from the clouds upon me. Which of us is the better man? Not the
person that shall be nameless. That's an observation of mine, but I
don't make it an objection. I take my allowance and my certain weight of
coals. He takes his fortune. That's the way it works.'

'It would be a good thing for me, if I could see things in the calm
light you do, Mr Wegg.'

'Again look here,' pursues Silas, with an oratorical flourish of his
pipe and his wooden leg: the latter having an undignified tendency
to tilt him back in his chair; 'here's another observation, Mr Venus,
unaccompanied with an objection. Him that shall be nameless is liable to
be talked over. He gets talked over. Him that shall be nameless, having
me at his right hand, naturally looking to be promoted higher, and you
may perhaps say meriting to be promoted higher--'

(Mr Venus murmurs that he does say so.)

'--Him that shall be nameless, under such circumstances passes me by,
and puts a talking-over stranger above my head. Which of us two is the
better man? Which of us two can repeat most poetry? Which of us two has,
in the service of him that shall be nameless, tackled the Romans, both
civil and military, till he has got as husky as if he'd been weaned and
ever since brought up on sawdust? Not the talking-over stranger. Yet the
house is as free to him as if it was his, and he has his room, and is
put upon a footing, and draws about a thousand a year. I am banished to
the Bower, to be found in it like a piece of furniture whenever wanted.
Merit, therefore, don't win. That's the way it works. I observe it,
because I can't help observing it, being accustomed to take a powerful
sight of notice; but I don't object. Ever here before, Mr Venus?'

'Not inside the gate, Mr Wegg.'

'You've been as far as the gate then, Mr Venus?'

'Yes, Mr Wegg, and peeped in from curiosity.'

'Did you see anything?'

'Nothing but the dust-yard.'

Mr Wegg rolls his eyes all round the room, in that ever unsatisfied
quest of his, and then rolls his eyes all round Mr Venus; as if
suspicious of his having something about him to be found out.

'And yet, sir,' he pursues, 'being acquainted with old Mr Harmon, one
would have thought it might have been polite in you, too, to give him a
call. And you're naturally of a polite disposition, you are.' This last
clause as a softening compliment to Mr Venus.

'It is true, sir,' replies Venus, winking his weak eyes, and running
his fingers through his dusty shock of hair, 'that I was so, before a
certain observation soured me. You understand to what I allude, Mr Wegg?
To a certain written statement respecting not wishing to be regarded in
a certain light. Since that, all is fled, save gall.'

'Not all,' says Mr Wegg, in a tone of sentimental condolence.

'Yes, sir,' returns Venus, 'all! The world may deem it harsh, but I'd
quite as soon pitch into my best friend as not. Indeed, I'd sooner!'

Involuntarily making a pass with his wooden leg to guard himself as Mr
Venus springs up in the emphasis of this unsociable declaration, Mr Wegg
tilts over on his back, chair and all, and is rescued by that harmless
misanthrope, in a disjointed state and ruefully rubbing his head.

'Why, you lost your balance, Mr Wegg,' says Venus, handing him his pipe.

'And about time to do it,' grumbles Silas, 'when a man's visitors,
without a word of notice, conduct themselves with the sudden wiciousness
of Jacks-in-boxes! Don't come flying out of your chair like that, Mr
Venus!'

'I ask your pardon, Mr Wegg. I am so soured.'

'Yes, but hang it,' says Wegg argumentatively, 'a well-governed mind can
be soured sitting! And as to being regarded in lights, there's bumpey
lights as well as bony. IN which,' again rubbing his head, 'I object to
regard myself.'

'I'll bear it in memory, sir.'

'If you'll be so good.' Mr Wegg slowly subdues his ironical tone and his
lingering irritation, and resumes his pipe. 'We were talking of old Mr
Harmon being a friend of yours.'

'Not a friend, Mr Wegg. Only known to speak to, and to have a little
deal with now and then. A very inquisitive character, Mr Wegg, regarding
what was found in the dust. As inquisitive as secret.'

'Ah! You found him secret?' returns Wegg, with a greedy relish.

'He had always the look of it, and the manner of it.'

'Ah!' with another roll of his eyes. 'As to what was found in the dust
now. Did you ever hear him mention how he found it, my dear friend?
Living on the mysterious premises, one would like to know. For instance,
where he found things? Or, for instance, how he set about it? Whether
he began at the top of the mounds, or whether he began at the bottom.
Whether he prodded'; Mr Wegg's pantomime is skilful and expressive here;
'or whether he scooped? Should you say scooped, my dear Mr Venus; or
should you as a man--say prodded?'

'I should say neither, Mr Wegg.'

'As a fellow-man, Mr Venus--mix again--why neither?'

'Because I suppose, sir, that what was found, was found in the sorting
and sifting. All the mounds are sorted and sifted?'

'You shall see 'em and pass your opinion. Mix again.'

On each occasion of his saying 'mix again', Mr Wegg, with a hop on
his wooden leg, hitches his chair a little nearer; more as if he were
proposing that himself and Mr Venus should mix again, than that they
should replenish their glasses.

'Living (as I said before) on the mysterious premises,' says Wegg when
the other has acted on his hospitable entreaty, 'one likes to know.
Would you be inclined to say now--as a brother--that he ever hid things
in the dust, as well as found 'em?'

'Mr Wegg, on the whole I should say he might.'

Mr Wegg claps on his spectacles, and admiringly surveys Mr Venus from
head to foot.

'As a mortal equally with myself, whose hand I take in mine for the
first time this day, having unaccountably overlooked that act so full of
boundless confidence binding a fellow-creetur TO a fellow creetur,' says
Wegg, holding Mr Venus's palm out, flat and ready for smiting, and now
smiting it; 'as such--and no other--for I scorn all lowlier ties betwixt
myself and the man walking with his face erect that alone I call my
Twin--regarded and regarding in this trustful bond--what do you think he
might have hid?'

'It is but a supposition, Mr Wegg.'

'As a Being with his hand upon his heart,' cries Wegg; and the
apostrophe is not the less impressive for the Being's hand being
actually upon his rum and water; 'put your supposition into language,
and bring it out, Mr Venus!'

'He was the species of old gentleman, sir,' slowly returns that
practical anatomist, after drinking, 'that I should judge likely to
take such opportunities as this place offered, of stowing away money,
valuables, maybe papers.'

'As one that was ever an ornament to human life,' says Mr Wegg, again
holding out Mr Venus's palm as if he were going to tell his fortune by
chiromancy, and holding his own up ready for smiting it when the time
should come; 'as one that the poet might have had his eye on, in writing
the national naval words:

     Helm a-weather, now lay her close,
            Yard arm and yard arm she lies;
     Again, cried I, Mr Venus, give her t'other dose,
            Man shrouds and grapple, sir, or she flies!

--that is to say, regarded in the light of true British Oak, for such
you are explain, Mr Venus, the expression "papers"!'

'Seeing that the old gentleman was generally cutting off some near
relation, or blocking out some natural affection,' Mr Venus rejoins, 'he
most likely made a good many wills and codicils.'

The palm of Silas Wegg descends with a sounding smack upon the palm
of Venus, and Wegg lavishly exclaims, 'Twin in opinion equally with
feeling! Mix a little more!'

Having now hitched his wooden leg and his chair close in front of Mr
Venus, Mr Wegg rapidly mixes for both, gives his visitor his glass,
touches its rim with the rim of his own, puts his own to his lips, puts
it down, and spreading his hands on his visitor's knees thus addresses
him:

'Mr Venus. It ain't that I object to being passed over for a stranger,
though I regard the stranger as a more than doubtful customer. It ain't
for the sake of making money, though money is ever welcome. It ain't for
myself, though I am not so haughty as to be above doing myself a good
turn. It's for the cause of the right.'

Mr Venus, passively winking his weak eyes both at once, demands: 'What
is, Mr Wegg?'

'The friendly move, sir, that I now propose. You see the move, sir?'

'Till you have pointed it out, Mr Wegg, I can't say whether I do or
not.'

'If there IS anything to be found on these premises, let us find it
together. Let us make the friendly move of agreeing to look for it
together. Let us make the friendly move of agreeing to share the
profits of it equally betwixt us. In the cause of the right.' Thus Silas
assuming a noble air.

'Then,' says Mr Venus, looking up, after meditating with his hair held
in his hands, as if he could only fix his attention by fixing his head;
'if anything was to be unburied from under the dust, it would be kept a
secret by you and me? Would that be it, Mr Wegg?'

'That would depend upon what it was, Mr Venus. Say it was money, or
plate, or jewellery, it would be as much ours as anybody else's.'

Mr Venus rubs an eyebrow, interrogatively.

'In the cause of the right it would. Because it would be unknowingly
sold with the mounds else, and the buyer would get what he was never
meant to have, and never bought. And what would that be, Mr Venus, but
the cause of the wrong?'

'Say it was papers,' Mr Venus propounds.

'According to what they contained we should offer to dispose of 'em to
the parties most interested,' replies Wegg, promptly.

'In the cause of the right, Mr Wegg?'

'Always so, Mr Venus. If the parties should use them in the cause of the
wrong, that would be their act and deed. Mr Venus. I have an opinion of
you, sir, to which it is not easy to give mouth. Since I called upon you
that evening when you were, as I may say, floating your powerful mind in
tea, I have felt that you required to be roused with an object. In this
friendly move, sir, you will have a glorious object to rouse you.'

Mr Wegg then goes on to enlarge upon what throughout has been uppermost
in his crafty mind:--the qualifications of Mr Venus for such a search.
He expatiates on Mr Venus's patient habits and delicate manipulation; on
his skill in piecing little things together; on his knowledge of various
tissues and textures; on the likelihood of small indications leading him
on to the discovery of great concealments. 'While as to myself,' says
Wegg, 'I am not good at it. Whether I gave myself up to prodding,
or whether I gave myself up to scooping, I couldn't do it with that
delicate touch so as not to show that I was disturbing the mounds.
Quite different with YOU, going to work (as YOU would) in the light of
a fellow-man, holily pledged in a friendly move to his brother man.' Mr
Wegg next modestly remarks on the want of adaptation in a wooden leg
to ladders and such like airy perches, and also hints at an inherent
tendency in that timber fiction, when called into action for the
purposes of a promenade on an ashey slope, to stick itself into the
yielding foothold, and peg its owner to one spot. Then, leaving this
part of the subject, he remarks on the special phenomenon that before
his installation in the Bower, it was from Mr Venus that he first heard
of the legend of hidden wealth in the Mounds: 'which', he observes with
a vaguely pious air, 'was surely never meant for nothing.' Lastly,
he returns to the cause of the right, gloomily foreshadowing the
possibility of something being unearthed to criminate Mr Boffin (of whom
he once more candidly admits it cannot be denied that he profits by a
murder), and anticipating his denunciation by the friendly movers to
avenging justice. And this, Mr Wegg expressly points out, not at all for
the sake of the reward--though it would be a want of principle not to
take it.

To all this, Mr Venus, with his shock of dusty hair cocked after the
manner of a terrier's ears, attends profoundly. When Mr Wegg, having
finished, opens his arms wide, as if to show Mr Venus how bare his
breast is, and then folds them pending a reply, Mr Venus winks at him
with both eyes some little time before speaking.

'I see you have tried it by yourself, Mr Wegg,' he says when he does
speak. 'You have found out the difficulties by experience.'

'No, it can hardly be said that I have tried it,' replies Wegg, a little
dashed by the hint. 'I have just skimmed it. Skimmed it.'

'And found nothing besides the difficulties?'

Wegg shakes his head.

'I scarcely know what to say to this, Mr Wegg,' observes Venus, after
ruminating for a while.

'Say yes,' Wegg naturally urges.

'If I wasn't soured, my answer would be no. But being soured, Mr Wegg,
and driven to reckless madness and desperation, I suppose it's Yes.'

Wegg joyfully reproduces the two glasses, repeats the ceremony of
clinking their rims, and inwardly drinks with great heartiness to the
health and success in life of the young lady who has reduced Mr Venus to
his present convenient state of mind.

The articles of the friendly move are then severally recited and agreed
upon. They are but secrecy, fidelity, and perseverance. The Bower to
be always free of access to Mr Venus for his researches, and every
precaution to be taken against their attracting observation in the
neighbourhood.

'There's a footstep!' exclaims Venus.

'Where?' cries Wegg, starting.

'Outside. St!'

They are in the act of ratifying the treaty of friendly move, by shaking
hands upon it. They softly break off, light their pipes which have gone
out, and lean back in their chairs. No doubt, a footstep. It approaches
the window, and a hand taps at the glass. 'Come in!' calls Wegg; meaning
come round by the door. But the heavy old-fashioned sash is slowly
raised, and a head slowly looks in out of the dark background of night.

'Pray is Mr Silas Wegg here? Oh! I see him!'

The friendly movers might not have been quite at their ease, even
though the visitor had entered in the usual manner. But, leaning on the
breast-high window, and staring in out of the darkness, they find the
visitor extremely embarrassing. Especially Mr Venus: who removes his
pipe, draws back his head, and stares at the starer, as if it were his
own Hindoo baby come to fetch him home.

'Good evening, Mr Wegg. The yard gate-lock should be looked to, if you
please; it don't catch.'

'Is it Mr Rokesmith?' falters Wegg.

'It is Mr Rokesmith. Don't let me disturb you. I am not coming in. I
have only a message for you, which I undertook to deliver on my way home
to my lodgings. I was in two minds about coming beyond the gate without
ringing: not knowing but you might have a dog about.'

'I wish I had,' mutters Wegg, with his back turned as he rose from his
chair. St! Hush! The talking-over stranger, Mr Venus.'

'Is that any one I know?' inquires the staring Secretary.

'No, Mr Rokesmith. Friend of mine. Passing the evening with me.'

'Oh! I beg his pardon. Mr Boffin wishes you to know that he does not
expect you to stay at home any evening, on the chance of his coming. It
has occurred to him that he may, without intending it, have been a tie
upon you. In future, if he should come without notice, he will take his
chance of finding you, and it will be all the same to him if he does
not. I undertook to tell you on my way. That's all.'

With that, and 'Good night,' the Secretary lowers the window, and
disappears. They listen, and hear his footsteps go back to the gate, and
hear the gate close after him.

'And for that individual, Mr Venus,' remarks Wegg, when he is fully
gone, 'I have been passed over! Let me ask you what you think of him?'

Apparently, Mr Venus does not know what to think of him, for he makes
sundry efforts to reply, without delivering himself of any other
articulate utterance than that he has 'a singular look'.

'A double look, you mean, sir,' rejoins Wegg, playing bitterly upon the
word. 'That's HIS look. Any amount of singular look for me, but not a
double look! That's an under-handed mind, sir.'

'Do you say there's something against him?' Venus asks.

'Something against him?' repeats Wegg. 'Something? What would the relief
be to my feelings--as a fellow-man--if I wasn't the slave of truth, and
didn't feel myself compelled to answer, Everything!'

See into what wonderful maudlin refuges, featherless ostriches plunge
their heads! It is such unspeakable moral compensation to Wegg, to be
overcome by the consideration that Mr Rokesmith has an underhanded mind!

'On this starlight night, Mr Venus,' he remarks, when he is showing that
friendly mover out across the yard, and both are something the worse
for mixing again and again: 'on this starlight night to think that
talking-over strangers, and underhanded minds, can go walking home under
the sky, as if they was all square!'

'The spectacle of those orbs,' says Mr Venus, gazing upward with his hat
tumbling off; 'brings heavy on me her crushing words that she did not
wish to regard herself nor yet to be regarded in that--'

'I know! I know! You needn't repeat 'em,' says Wegg, pressing his hand.
'But think how those stars steady me in the cause of the right against
some that shall be nameless. It isn't that I bear malice. But see how
they glisten with old remembrances! Old remembrances of what, sir?'

Mr Venus begins drearily replying, 'Of her words, in her own
handwriting, that she does not wish to regard herself, nor yet--' when
Silas cuts him short with dignity.

'No, sir! Remembrances of Our House, of Master George, of Aunt Jane, of
Uncle Parker, all laid waste! All offered up sacrifices to the minion of
fortune and the worm of the hour!'



Chapter 8

IN WHICH AN INNOCENT ELOPEMENT OCCURS


The minion of fortune and the worm of the hour, or in less cutting
language, Nicodemus Boffin, Esquire, the Golden Dustman, had become
as much at home in his eminently aristocratic family mansion as he
was likely ever to be. He could not but feel that, like an eminently
aristocratic family cheese, it was much too large for his wants, and
bred an infinite amount of parasites; but he was content to regard this
drawback on his property as a sort of perpetual Legacy Duty. He felt the
more resigned to it, forasmuch as Mrs Boffin enjoyed herself completely,
and Miss Bella was delighted.

That young lady was, no doubt, and acquisition to the Boffins. She
was far too pretty to be unattractive anywhere, and far too quick of
perception to be below the tone of her new career. Whether it improved
her heart might be a matter of taste that was open to question; but as
touching another matter of taste, its improvement of her appearance and
manner, there could be no question whatever.

And thus it soon came about that Miss Bella began to set Mrs Boffin
right; and even further, that Miss Bella began to feel ill at ease, and
as it were responsible, when she saw Mrs Boffin going wrong. Not that so
sweet a disposition and so sound a nature could ever go very wrong even
among the great visiting authorities who agreed that the Boffins were
'charmingly vulgar' (which for certain was not their own case in saying
so), but that when she made a slip on the social ice on which all the
children of Podsnappery, with genteel souls to be saved, are required to
skate in circles, or to slide in long rows, she inevitably tripped Miss
Bella up (so that young lady felt), and caused her to experience great
confusion under the glances of the more skilful performers engaged in
those ice-exercises.

At Miss Bella's time of life it was not to be expected that she should
examine herself very closely on the congruity or stability of her
position in Mr Boffin's house. And as she had never been sparing of
complaints of her old home when she had no other to compare it with,
so there was no novelty of ingratitude or disdain in her very much
preferring her new one.

'An invaluable man is Rokesmith,' said Mr Boffin, after some two or
three months. 'But I can't quite make him out.'

Neither could Bella, so she found the subject rather interesting.

'He takes more care of my affairs, morning, noon, and night,' said Mr
Boffin, 'than fifty other men put together either could or would; and
yet he has ways of his own that are like tying a scaffolding-pole right
across the road, and bringing me up short when I am almost a-walking arm
in arm with him.'

'May I ask how so, sir?' inquired Bella.

'Well, my dear,' said Mr Boffin, 'he won't meet any company here, but
you. When we have visitors, I should wish him to have his regular place
at the table like ourselves; but no, he won't take it.'

'If he considers himself above it,' said Miss Bella, with an airy toss
of her head, 'I should leave him alone.'

'It ain't that, my dear,' replied Mr Boffin, thinking it over. 'He don't
consider himself above it.'

'Perhaps he considers himself beneath it,' suggested Bella. 'If so, he
ought to know best.'

'No, my dear; nor it ain't that, neither. No,' repeated Mr Boffin, with
a shake of his head, after again thinking it over; 'Rokesmith's a modest
man, but he don't consider himself beneath it.'

'Then what does he consider, sir?' asked Bella.

'Dashed if I know!' said Mr Boffin. 'It seemed that first as if it
was only Lightwood that he objected to meet. And now it seems to be
everybody, except you.'

Oho! thought Miss Bella. 'In--deed! That's it, is it!' For Mr Mortimer
Lightwood had dined there two or three times, and she had met him
elsewhere, and he had shown her some attention. 'Rather cool in a
Secretary--and Pa's lodger--to make me the subject of his jealousy!'

That Pa's daughter should be so contemptuous of Pa's lodger was odd;
but there were odder anomalies than that in the mind of the spoilt girl:
spoilt first by poverty, and then by wealth. Be it this history's part,
however, to leave them to unravel themselves.

'A little too much, I think,' Miss Bella reflected scornfully, 'to
have Pa's lodger laying claim to me, and keeping eligible people off!
A little too much, indeed, to have the opportunities opened to me by Mr
and Mrs Boffin, appropriated by a mere Secretary and Pa's lodger!'

Yet it was not so very long ago that Bella had been fluttered by the
discovery that this same Secretary and lodger seem to like her. Ah! but
the eminently aristocratic mansion and Mrs Boffin's dressmaker had not
come into play then.

In spite of his seemingly retiring manners a very intrusive person, this
Secretary and lodger, in Miss Bella's opinion. Always a light in his
office-room when we came home from the play or Opera, and he always at
the carriage-door to hand us out. Always a provoking radiance too on
Mrs Boffin's face, and an abominably cheerful reception of him, as if it
were possible seriously to approve what the man had in his mind!

'You never charge me, Miss Wilfer,' said the Secretary, encountering her
by chance alone in the great drawing-room, 'with commissions for home.
I shall always be happy to execute any commands you may have in that
direction.'

'Pray what may you mean, Mr Rokesmith?' inquired Miss Bella, with
languidly drooping eyelids.

'By home? I mean your father's house at Holloway.'

She coloured under the retort--so skilfully thrust, that the words
seemed to be merely a plain answer, given in plain good faith--and said,
rather more emphatically and sharply:

'What commissions and commands are you speaking of?'

'Only little words of remembrance as I assume you sent somehow or
other,' replied the Secretary with his former air. 'It would be a
pleasure to me if you would make me the bearer of them. As you know, I
come and go between the two houses every day.'

'You needn't remind me of that, sir.'

She was too quick in this petulant sally against 'Pa's lodger'; and she
felt that she had been so when she met his quiet look.

'They don't send many--what was your expression?--words of remembrance
to me,' said Bella, making haste to take refuge in ill-usage.

'They frequently ask me about you, and I give them such slight
intelligence as I can.'

'I hope it's truly given,' exclaimed Bella.

'I hope you cannot doubt it, for it would be very much against you, if
you could.'

'No, I do not doubt it. I deserve the reproach, which is very just
indeed. I beg your pardon, Mr Rokesmith.'

'I should beg you not to do so, but that it shows you to such admirable
advantage,' he replied with earnestness. 'Forgive me; I could not help
saying that. To return to what I have digressed from, let me add that
perhaps they think I report them to you, deliver little messages, and
the like. But I forbear to trouble you, as you never ask me.'

'I am going, sir,' said Bella, looking at him as if he had reproved her,
'to see them tomorrow.'

'Is that,' he asked, hesitating, 'said to me, or to them?'

'To which you please.'

'To both? Shall I make it a message?'

'You can if you like, Mr Rokesmith. Message or no message, I am going to
see them tomorrow.'

'Then I will tell them so.'

He lingered a moment, as though to give her the opportunity of
prolonging the conversation if she wished. As she remained silent, he
left her. Two incidents of the little interview were felt by Miss Bella
herself, when alone again, to be very curious. The first was, that he
unquestionably left her with a penitent air upon her, and a penitent
feeling in her heart. The second was, that she had not an intention or
a thought of going home, until she had announced it to him as a settled
design.

'What can I mean by it, or what can he mean by it?' was her mental
inquiry: 'He has no right to any power over me, and how do I come to
mind him when I don't care for him?'

Mrs Boffin, insisting that Bella should make tomorrow's expedition
in the chariot, she went home in great grandeur. Mrs Wilfer and Miss
Lavinia had speculated much on the probabilities and improbabilities of
her coming in this gorgeous state, and, on beholding the chariot from
the window at which they were secreted to look out for it, agreed
that it must be detained at the door as long as possible, for the
mortification and confusion of the neighbours. Then they repaired to
the usual family room, to receive Miss Bella with a becoming show of
indifference.

The family room looked very small and very mean, and the downward
staircase by which it was attained looked very narrow and very crooked.
The little house and all its arrangements were a poor contrast to the
eminently aristocratic dwelling. 'I can hardly believe, thought Bella,
that I ever did endure life in this place!'

Gloomy majesty on the part of Mrs Wilfer, and native pertness on the
part of Lavvy, did not mend the matter. Bella really stood in natural
need of a little help, and she got none.

'This,' said Mrs Wilfer, presenting a cheek to be kissed, as sympathetic
and responsive as the back of the bowl of a spoon, 'is quite an honour!
You will probably find your sister Lavvy grown, Bella.'

'Ma,' Miss Lavinia interposed, 'there can be no objection to your being
aggravating, because Bella richly deserves it; but I really must request
that you will not drag in such ridiculous nonsense as my having grown
when I am past the growing age.'

'I grew, myself,' Mrs Wilfer sternly proclaimed, 'after I was married.'

'Very well, Ma,' returned Lavvy, 'then I think you had much better have
left it alone.'

The lofty glare with which the majestic woman received this answer,
might have embarrassed a less pert opponent, but it had no effect upon
Lavinia: who, leaving her parent to the enjoyment of any amount of
glaring at she might deem desirable under the circumstances, accosted
her sister, undismayed.

'I suppose you won't consider yourself quite disgraced, Bella, if I give
you a kiss? Well! And how do you do, Bella? And how are your Boffins?'

'Peace!' exclaimed Mrs Wilfer. 'Hold! I will not suffer this tone of
levity.'

'My goodness me! How are your Spoffins, then?' said Lavvy, 'since Ma so
very much objects to your Boffins.'

'Impertinent girl! Minx!' said Mrs Wilfer, with dread severity.

'I don't care whether I am a Minx, or a Sphinx,' returned Lavinia,
coolly, tossing her head; 'it's exactly the same thing to me, and I'd
every bit as soon be one as the other; but I know this--I'll not grow
after I'm married!'

'You will not? YOU will not?' repeated Mrs Wilfer, solemnly.

'No, Ma, I will not. Nothing shall induce me.'

Mrs Wilfer, having waved her gloves, became loftily pathetic.

'But it was to be expected;' thus she spake. 'A child of mine deserts me
for the proud and prosperous, and another child of mine despises me. It
is quite fitting.'

'Ma,' Bella struck in, 'Mr and Mrs Boffin are prosperous, no doubt; but
you have no right to say they are proud. You must know very well that
they are not.'

'In short, Ma,' said Lavvy, bouncing over to the enemy without a word
of notice, you must know very well--or if you don't, more shame for
you!--that Mr and Mrs Boffin are just absolute perfection.'

'Truly,' returned Mrs Wilfer, courteously receiving the deserter, it
would seem that we are required to think so. And this, Lavinia, is
my reason for objecting to a tone of levity. Mrs Boffin (of whose
physiognomy I can never speak with the composure I would desire to
preserve), and your mother, are not on terms of intimacy. It is not
for a moment to be supposed that she and her husband dare to presume to
speak of this family as the Wilfers. I cannot therefore condescend to
speak of them as the Boffins. No; for such a tone--call it familiarity,
levity, equality, or what you will--would imply those social
interchanges which do not exist. Do I render myself intelligible?'

Without taking the least notice of this inquiry, albeit delivered in an
imposing and forensic manner, Lavinia reminded her sister, 'After all,
you know, Bella, you haven't told us how your Whatshisnames are.'

'I don't want to speak of them here,' replied Bella, suppressing
indignation, and tapping her foot on the floor. 'They are much too kind
and too good to be drawn into these discussions.'

'Why put it so?' demanded Mrs Wilfer, with biting sarcasm. 'Why adopt a
circuitous form of speech? It is polite and it is obliging; but why do
it? Why not openly say that they are much too kind and too good for US?
We understand the allusion. Why disguise the phrase?'

'Ma,' said Bella, with one beat of her foot, 'you are enough to drive a
saint mad, and so is Lavvy.'

'Unfortunate Lavvy!' cried Mrs Wilfer, in a tone of commiseration. 'She
always comes for it. My poor child!' But Lavvy, with the suddenness of
her former desertion, now bounced over to the other enemy: very sharply
remarking, 'Don't patronize ME, Ma, because I can take care of myself.'

'I only wonder,' resumed Mrs Wilfer, directing her observations to her
elder daughter, as safer on the whole than her utterly unmanageable
younger, 'that you found time and inclination to tear yourself from
Mr and Mrs Boffin, and come to see us at all. I only wonder that our
claims, contending against the superior claims of Mr and Mrs Boffin,
had any weight. I feel I ought to be thankful for gaining so much, in
competition with Mr and Mrs Boffin.' (The good lady bitterly emphasized
the first letter of the word Boffin, as if it represented her chief
objection to the owners of that name, and as if she could have born
Doffin, Moffin, or Poffin much better.)

'Ma,' said Bella, angrily, 'you force me to say that I am truly sorry I
did come home, and that I never will come home again, except when poor
dear Pa is here. For, Pa is too magnanimous to feel envy and spite
towards my generous friends, and Pa is delicate enough and gentle enough
to remember the sort of little claim they thought I had upon them and
the unusually trying position in which, through no act of my own, I had
been placed. And I always did love poor dear Pa better than all the rest
of you put together, and I always do and I always shall!'

Here Bella, deriving no comfort from her charming bonnet and her elegant
dress, burst into tears.

'I think, R.W.,' cried Mrs Wilfer, lifting up her eyes and
apostrophising the air, 'that if you were present, it would be a
trial to your feelings to hear your wife and the mother of your family
depreciated in your name. But Fate has spared you this, R.W., whatever
it may have thought proper to inflict upon her!'

Here Mrs Wilfer burst into tears.

'I hate the Boffins!' protested Miss Lavinia. I don't care who objects
to their being called the Boffins. I WILL call 'em the Boffins. The
Boffins, the Boffins, the Boffins! And I say they are mischief-making
Boffins, and I say the Boffins have set Bella against me, and I tell the
Boffins to their faces:' which was not strictly the fact, but the
young lady was excited: 'that they are detestable Boffins, disreputable
Boffins, odious Boffins, beastly Boffins. There!'

Here Miss Lavinia burst into tears.

The front garden-gate clanked, and the Secretary was seen coming at a
brisk pace up the steps. 'Leave Me to open the door to him,' said Mrs
Wilfer, rising with stately resignation as she shook her head and dried
her eyes; 'we have at present no stipendiary girl to do so. We have
nothing to conceal. If he sees these traces of emotion on our cheeks,
let him construe them as he may.'

With those words she stalked out. In a few moments she stalked in again,
proclaiming in her heraldic manner, 'Mr Rokesmith is the bearer of a
packet for Miss Bella Wilfer.'

Mr Rokesmith followed close upon his name, and of course saw what was
amiss. But he discreetly affected to see nothing, and addressed Miss
Bella.

'Mr Boffin intended to have placed this in the carriage for you
this morning. He wished you to have it, as a little keepsake he had
prepared--it is only a purse, Miss Wilfer--but as he was disappointed in
his fancy, I volunteered to come after you with it.'

Bella took it in her hand, and thanked him.

'We have been quarrelling here a little, Mr Rokesmith, but not more than
we used; you know our agreeable ways among ourselves. You find me just
going. Good-bye, mamma. Good-bye, Lavvy!' and with a kiss for each Miss
Bella turned to the door. The Secretary would have attended her, but
Mrs Wilfer advancing and saying with dignity, 'Pardon me! Permit me to
assert my natural right to escort my child to the equipage which is
in waiting for her,' he begged pardon and gave place. It was a very
magnificent spectacle indeed, too see Mrs Wilfer throw open the
house-door, and loudly demand with extended gloves, 'The male domestic
of Mrs Boffin!' To whom presenting himself, she delivered the brief but
majestic charge, 'Miss Wilfer. Coming out!' and so delivered her over,
like a female Lieutenant of the Tower relinquishing a State Prisoner.
The effect of this ceremonial was for some quarter of an hour afterwards
perfectly paralyzing on the neighbours, and was much enhanced by the
worthy lady airing herself for that term in a kind of splendidly serene
trance on the top step.

When Bella was seated in the carriage, she opened the little packet in
her hand. It contained a pretty purse, and the purse contained a bank
note for fifty pounds. 'This shall be a joyful surprise for poor dear
Pa,' said Bella, 'and I'll take it myself into the City!'

As she was uninformed respecting the exact locality of the place of
business of Chicksey Veneering and Stobbles, but knew it to be near
Mincing Lane, she directed herself to be driven to the corner of that
darksome spot. Thence she despatched 'the male domestic of Mrs Boffin,'
in search of the counting-house of Chicksey Veneering and Stobbles, with
a message importing that if R. Wilfer could come out, there was a lady
waiting who would be glad to speak with him. The delivery of these
mysterious words from the mouth of a footman caused so great an
excitement in the counting-house, that a youthful scout was instantly
appointed to follow Rumty, observe the lady, and come in with his
report. Nor was the agitation by any means diminished, when the scout
rushed back with the intelligence that the lady was 'a slap-up gal in a
bang-up chariot.'

Rumty himself, with his pen behind his ear under his rusty hat, arrived
at the carriage-door in a breathless condition, and had been fairly
lugged into the vehicle by his cravat and embraced almost unto choking,
before he recognized his daughter. 'My dear child!' he then panted,
incoherently. 'Good gracious me! What a lovely woman you are! I thought
you had been unkind and forgotten your mother and sister.'

'I have just been to see them, Pa dear.'

'Oh! and how--how did you find your mother?' asked R. W., dubiously.

'Very disagreeable, Pa, and so was Lavvy.'

'They are sometimes a little liable to it,' observed the patient cherub;
'but I hope you made allowances, Bella, my dear?'

'No. I was disagreeable too, Pa; we were all of us disagreeable
together. But I want you to come and dine with me somewhere, Pa.'

'Why, my dear, I have already partaken of a--if one might mention such
an article in this superb chariot--of a--Saveloy,' replied R. Wilfer,
modestly dropping his voice on the word, as he eyed the canary-coloured
fittings.

'Oh! That's nothing, Pa!'

'Truly, it ain't as much as one could sometimes wish it to be, my
dear,' he admitted, drawing his hand across his mouth. 'Still, when
circumstances over which you have no control, interpose obstacles
between yourself and Small Germans, you can't do better than bring a
contented mind to hear on'--again dropping his voice in deference to the
chariot--'Saveloys!'

'You poor good Pa! Pa, do, I beg and pray, get leave for the rest of the
day, and come and pass it with me!'

'Well, my dear, I'll cut back and ask for leave.'

'But before you cut back,' said Bella, who had already taken him by the
chin, pulled his hat off, and begun to stick up his hair in her old way,
'do say that you are sure I am giddy and inconsiderate, but have never
really slighted you, Pa.'

'My dear, I say it with all my heart. And might I likewise observe,' her
father delicately hinted, with a glance out at window, 'that perhaps
it might be calculated to attract attention, having one's hair publicly
done by a lovely woman in an elegant turn-out in Fenchurch Street?'

Bella laughed and put on his hat again. But when his boyish figure
bobbed away, its shabbiness and cheerful patience smote the tears out
of her eyes. 'I hate that Secretary for thinking it of me,' she said to
herself, 'and yet it seems half true!'

Back came her father, more like a boy than ever, in his release from
school. 'All right, my dear. Leave given at once. Really very handsomely
done!'

'Now where can we find some quiet place, Pa, in which I can wait for you
while you go on an errand for me, if I send the carriage away?'

It demanded cogitation. 'You see, my dear,' he explained, 'you really
have become such a very lovely woman, that it ought to be a very quiet
place.' At length he suggested, 'Near the garden up by the Trinity House
on Tower Hill.' So, they were driven there, and Bella dismissed the
chariot; sending a pencilled note by it to Mrs Boffin, that she was with
her father.

'Now, Pa, attend to what I am going to say, and promise and vow to be
obedient.'

'I promise and vow, my dear.'

'You ask no questions. You take this purse; you go to the nearest place
where they keep everything of the very very best, ready made; you buy
and put on, the most beautiful suit of clothes, the most beautiful hat,
and the most beautiful pair of bright boots (patent leather, Pa, mind!)
that are to be got for money; and you come back to me.'

'But, my dear Bella--'

'Take care, Pa!' pointing her forefinger at him, merrily. 'You have
promised and vowed. It's perjury, you know.'

There was water in the foolish little fellow's eyes, but she kissed them
dry (though her own were wet), and he bobbed away again. After half an
hour, he came back, so brilliantly transformed, that Bella was obliged
to walk round him in ecstatic admiration twenty times, before she could
draw her arm through his, and delightedly squeeze it.

'Now, Pa,' said Bella, hugging him close, 'take this lovely woman out to
dinner.'

'Where shall we go, my dear?'

'Greenwich!' said Bella, valiantly. 'And be sure you treat this lovely
woman with everything of the best.'

While they were going along to take boat, 'Don't you wish, my dear,'
said R. W., timidly, 'that your mother was here?'

'No, I don't, Pa, for I like to have you all to myself to-day. I was
always your little favourite at home, and you were always mine. We have
run away together often, before now; haven't we, Pa?'

'Ah, to be sure we have! Many a Sunday when your mother was--was a
little liable to it,' repeating his former delicate expression after
pausing to cough.

'Yes, and I am afraid I was seldom or never as good as I ought to have
been, Pa. I made you carry me, over and over again, when you should
have made me walk; and I often drove you in harness, when you would much
rather have sat down and read your news-paper: didn't I?'

'Sometimes, sometimes. But Lor, what a child you were! What a companion
you were!'

'Companion? That's just what I want to be to-day, Pa.'

'You are safe to succeed, my love. Your brothers and sisters have all
in their turns been companions to me, to a certain extent, but only to a
certain extent. Your mother has, throughout life, been a companion that
any man might--might look up to--and--and commit the sayings of, to
memory--and--form himself upon--if he--'

'If he liked the model?' suggested Bella.

'We-ell, ye-es,' he returned, thinking about it, not quite satisfied
with the phrase: 'or perhaps I might say, if it was in him. Supposing,
for instance, that a man wanted to be always marching, he would find
your mother an inestimable companion. But if he had any taste for
walking, or should wish at any time to break into a trot, he might
sometimes find it a little difficult to keep step with your mother.
Or take it this way, Bella,' he added, after a moment's reflection;
'Supposing that a man had to go through life, we won't say with a
companion, but we'll say to a tune. Very good. Supposing that the tune
allotted to him was the Dead March in Saul. Well. It would be a very
suitable tune for particular occasions--none better--but it would
be difficult to keep time with in the ordinary run of domestic
transactions. For instance, if he took his supper after a hard day, to
the Dead March in Saul, his food might be likely to sit heavy on him.
Or, if he was at any time inclined to relieve his mind by singing a
comic song or dancing a hornpipe, and was obliged to do it to the Dead
March in Saul, he might find himself put out in the execution of his
lively intentions.'

'Poor Pa!' thought Bella, as she hung upon his arm.

'Now, what I will say for you, my dear,' the cherub pursued mildly and
without a notion of complaining, 'is, that you are so adaptable. So
adaptable.'

'Indeed I am afraid I have shown a wretched temper, Pa. I am afraid
I have been very complaining, and very capricious. I seldom or never
thought of it before. But when I sat in the carriage just now and saw
you coming along the pavement, I reproached myself.'

'Not at all, my dear. Don't speak of such a thing.'

A happy and a chatty man was Pa in his new clothes that day. Take it
for all in all, it was perhaps the happiest day he had ever known in his
life; not even excepting that on which his heroic partner had approached
the nuptial altar to the tune of the Dead March in Saul.

The little expedition down the river was delightful, and the little
room overlooking the river into which they were shown for dinner was
delightful. Everything was delightful. The park was delightful, the
punch was delightful, the dishes of fish were delightful, the wine
was delightful. Bella was more delightful than any other item in the
festival; drawing Pa out in the gayest manner; making a point of always
mentioning herself as the lovely woman; stimulating Pa to order things,
by declaring that the lovely woman insisted on being treated with them;
and in short causing Pa to be quite enraptured with the consideration
that he WAS the Pa of such a charming daughter.

And then, as they sat looking at the ships and steamboats making their
way to the sea with the tide that was running down, the lovely woman
imagined all sorts of voyages for herself and Pa. Now, Pa, in the
character of owner of a lumbering square-sailed collier, was tacking
away to Newcastle, to fetch black diamonds to make his fortune with;
now, Pa was going to China in that handsome threemasted ship, to bring
home opium, with which he would for ever cut out Chicksey Veneering
and Stobbles, and to bring home silks and shawls without end for the
decoration of his charming daughter. Now, John Harmon's disastrous fate
was all a dream, and he had come home and found the lovely woman just
the article for him, and the lovely woman had found him just the article
for her, and they were going away on a trip, in their gallant bark,
to look after their vines, with streamers flying at all points, a band
playing on deck and Pa established in the great cabin. Now, John Harmon
was consigned to his grave again, and a merchant of immense wealth
(name unknown) had courted and married the lovely woman, and he was
so enormously rich that everything you saw upon the river sailing or
steaming belonged to him, and he kept a perfect fleet of yachts for
pleasure, and that little impudent yacht which you saw over there, with
the great white sail, was called The Bella, in honour of his wife, and
she held her state aboard when it pleased her, like a modern Cleopatra.
Anon, there would embark in that troop-ship when she got to Gravesend, a
mighty general, of large property (name also unknown), who wouldn't
hear of going to victory without his wife, and whose wife was the lovely
woman, and she was destined to become the idol of all the red coats and
blue jackets alow and aloft. And then again: you saw that ship being
towed out by a steam-tug? Well! where did you suppose she was going to?
She was going among the coral reefs and cocoa-nuts and all that sort of
thing, and she was chartered for a fortunate individual of the name
of Pa (himself on board, and much respected by all hands), and she
was going, for his sole profit and advantage, to fetch a cargo of
sweet-smelling woods, the most beautiful that ever were seen, and the
most profitable that ever were heard of; and her cargo would be a great
fortune, as indeed it ought to be: the lovely woman who had purchased
her and fitted her expressly for this voyage, being married to an Indian
Prince, who was a Something-or-Other, and who wore Cashmere shawls all
over himself and diamonds and emeralds blazing in his turban, and was
beautifully coffee-coloured and excessively devoted, though a little too
jealous. Thus Bella ran on merrily, in a manner perfectly enchanting to
Pa, who was as willing to put his head into the Sultan's tub of water as
the beggar-boys below the window were to put THEIR heads in the mud.

'I suppose, my dear,' said Pa after dinner, 'we may come to the
conclusion at home, that we have lost you for good?'

Bella shook her head. Didn't know. Couldn't say. All she was able to
report was, that she was most handsomely supplied with everything she
could possibly want, and that whenever she hinted at leaving Mr and Mrs
Boffin, they wouldn't hear of it.

'And now, Pa,' pursued Bella, 'I'll make a confession to you. I am the
most mercenary little wretch that ever lived in the world.'

'I should hardly have thought it of you, my dear,' returned her father,
first glancing at himself; and then at the dessert.

'I understand what you mean, Pa, but it's not that. It's not that I care
for money to keep as money, but I do care so much for what it will buy!'

'Really I think most of us do,' returned R. W.

'But not to the dreadful extent that I do, Pa. O-o!' cried Bella,
screwing the exclamation out of herself with a twist of her dimpled
chin. 'I AM so mercenary!'

With a wistful glance R. W. said, in default of having anything better
to say: 'About when did you begin to feel it coming on, my dear?'

'That's it, Pa. That's the terrible part of it. When I was at home, and
only knew what it was to be poor, I grumbled but didn't so much mind.
When I was at home expecting to be rich, I thought vaguely of all the
great things I would do. But when I had been disappointed of my splendid
fortune, and came to see it from day to day in other hands, and to have
before my eyes what it could really do, then I became the mercenary
little wretch I am.'

'It's your fancy, my dear.'

'I can assure you it's nothing of the sort, Pa!' said Bella, nodding at
him, with her very pretty eyebrows raised as high as they would go, and
looking comically frightened. 'It's a fact. I am always avariciously
scheming.'

'Lor! But how?'

'I'll tell you, Pa. I don't mind telling YOU, because we have always
been favourites of each other's, and because you are not like a Pa, but
more like a sort of a younger brother with a dear venerable chubbiness
on him. And besides,' added Bella, laughing as she pointed a rallying
finger at his face, 'because I have got you in my power. This is a
secret expedition. If ever you tell of me, I'll tell of you. I'll tell
Ma that you dined at Greenwich.'

'Well; seriously, my dear,' observed R. W., with some trepidation of
manner, 'it might be as well not to mention it.'

'Aha!' laughed Bella. 'I knew you wouldn't like it, sir! So you keep my
confidence, and I'll keep yours. But betray the lovely woman, and you
shall find her a serpent. Now, you may give me a kiss, Pa, and I should
like to give your hair a turn, because it has been dreadfully neglected
in my absence.'

R. W. submitted his head to the operator, and the operator went on
talking; at the same time putting separate locks of his hair through
a curious process of being smartly rolled over her two revolving
forefingers, which were then suddenly pulled out of it in opposite
lateral directions. On each of these occasions the patient winced and
winked.

'I have made up my mind that I must have money, Pa. I feel that I can't
beg it, borrow it, or steal it; and so I have resolved that I must marry
it.'

R. W. cast up his eyes towards her, as well as he could under the
operating circumstances, and said in a tone of remonstrance, 'My de-ar
Bella!'

'Have resolved, I say, Pa, that to get money I must marry money. In
consequence of which, I am always looking out for money to captivate.'

'My de-a-r Bella!'

'Yes, Pa, that is the state of the case. If ever there was a mercenary
plotter whose thoughts and designs were always in her mean occupation, I
am the amiable creature. But I don't care. I hate and detest being
poor, and I won't be poor if I can marry money. Now you are deliciously
fluffy, Pa, and in a state to astonish the waiter and pay the bill.'

'But, my dear Bella, this is quite alarming at your age.'

'I told you so, Pa, but you wouldn't believe it,' returned Bella, with a
pleasant childish gravity. 'Isn't it shocking?'

'It would be quite so, if you fully knew what you said, my dear, or
meant it.'

'Well, Pa, I can only tell you that I mean nothing else. Talk to me of
love!' said Bella, contemptuously: though her face and figure certainly
rendered the subject no incongruous one. 'Talk to me of fiery dragons!
But talk to me of poverty and wealth, and there indeed we touch upon
realities.'

'My De-ar, this is becoming Awful--' her father was emphatically
beginning: when she stopped him.

'Pa, tell me. Did you marry money?'

'You know I didn't, my dear.'

Bella hummed the Dead March in Saul, and said, after all it signified
very little! But seeing him look grave and downcast, she took him round
the neck and kissed him back to cheerfulness again.

'I didn't mean that last touch, Pa; it was only said in joke. Now mind!
You are not to tell of me, and I'll not tell of you. And more than that;
I promise to have no secrets from you, Pa, and you may make certain
that, whatever mercenary things go on, I shall always tell you all about
them in strict confidence.'

Fain to be satisfied with this concession from the lovely woman, R. W.
rang the bell, and paid the bill. 'Now, all the rest of this, Pa,' said
Bella, rolling up the purse when they were alone again, hammering it
small with her little fist on the table, and cramming it into one of the
pockets of his new waistcoat, 'is for you, to buy presents with for them
at home, and to pay bills with, and to divide as you like, and spend
exactly as you think proper. Last of all take notice, Pa, that it's
not the fruit of any avaricious scheme. Perhaps if it was, your little
mercenary wretch of a daughter wouldn't make so free with it!'

After which, she tugged at his coat with both hands, and pulled him all
askew in buttoning that garment over the precious waistcoat pocket, and
then tied her dimples into her bonnet-strings in a very knowing way, and
took him back to London. Arrived at Mr Boffin's door, she set him with
his back against it, tenderly took him by the ears as convenient handles
for her purpose, and kissed him until he knocked muffled double knocks
at the door with the back of his head. That done, she once more reminded
him of their compact and gaily parted from him.

Not so gaily, however, but that tears filled her eyes as he went away
down the dark street. Not so gaily, but that she several times said,
'Ah, poor little Pa! Ah, poor dear struggling shabby little Pa!'
before she took heart to knock at the door. Not so gaily, but that the
brilliant furniture seemed to stare her out of countenance as if it
insisted on being compared with the dingy furniture at home. Not so
gaily, but that she fell into very low spirits sitting late in her own
room, and very heartily wept, as she wished, now that the deceased old
John Harmon had never made a will about her, now that the deceased young
John Harmon had lived to marry her. 'Contradictory things to wish,' said
Bella, 'but my life and fortunes are so contradictory altogether that
what can I expect myself to be!'



Chapter 9

IN WHICH THE ORPHAN MAKES HIS WILL


The Secretary, working in the Dismal Swamp betimes next morning, was
informed that a youth waited in the hall who gave the name of Sloppy.
The footman who communicated this intelligence made a decent pause
before uttering the name, to express that it was forced on his
reluctance by the youth in question, and that if the youth had had
the good sense and good taste to inherit some other name it would have
spared the feelings of him the bearer.

'Mrs Boffin will be very well pleased,' said the Secretary in a
perfectly composed way. 'Show him in.'

Mr Sloppy being introduced, remained close to the door: revealing
in various parts of his form many surprising, confounding, and
incomprehensible buttons.

'I am glad to see you,' said John Rokesmith, in a cheerful tone of
welcome. 'I have been expecting you.'

Sloppy explained that he had meant to come before, but that the Orphan
(of whom he made mention as Our Johnny) had been ailing, and he had
waited to report him well.

'Then he is well now?' said the Secretary.

'No he ain't,' said Sloppy.

Mr Sloppy having shaken his head to a considerable extent, proceeded
to remark that he thought Johnny 'must have took 'em from the Minders.'
Being asked what he meant, he answered, them that come out upon him and
partickler his chest. Being requested to explain himself, he stated that
there was some of 'em wot you couldn't kiver with a sixpence. Pressed to
fall back upon a nominative case, he opined that they wos about as
red as ever red could be. 'But as long as they strikes out'ards, sir,'
continued Sloppy, 'they ain't so much. It's their striking in'ards
that's to be kep off.'

John Rokesmith hoped the child had had medical attendance? Oh yes, said
Sloppy, he had been took to the doctor's shop once. And what did the
doctor call it? Rokesmith asked him. After some perplexed reflection,
Sloppy answered, brightening, 'He called it something as wos wery
long for spots.' Rokesmith suggested measles. 'No,' said Sloppy with
confidence, 'ever so much longer than THEM, sir!' (Mr Sloppy was
elevated by this fact, and seemed to consider that it reflected credit
on the poor little patient.)

'Mrs Boffin will be sorry to hear this,' said Rokesmith.

'Mrs Higden said so, sir, when she kep it from her, hoping as Our Johnny
would work round.'

'But I hope he will?' said Rokesmith, with a quick turn upon the
messenger.

'I hope so,' answered Sloppy. 'It all depends on their striking
in'ards.' He then went on to say that whether Johnny had 'took 'em'
from the Minders, or whether the Minders had 'took em from Johnny,
the Minders had been sent home and had 'got em. Furthermore, that Mrs
Higden's days and nights being devoted to Our Johnny, who was never out
of her lap, the whole of the mangling arrangements had devolved upon
himself, and he had had 'rayther a tight time'. The ungainly piece of
honesty beamed and blushed as he said it, quite enraptured with the
remembrance of having been serviceable.

'Last night,' said Sloppy, 'when I was a-turning at the wheel pretty
late, the mangle seemed to go like Our Johnny's breathing. It begun
beautiful, then as it went out it shook a little and got unsteady, then
as it took the turn to come home it had a rattle-like and lumbered a
bit, then it come smooth, and so it went on till I scarce know'd which
was mangle and which was Our Johnny. Nor Our Johnny, he scarce know'd
either, for sometimes when the mangle lumbers he says, "Me choking,
Granny!" and Mrs Higden holds him up in her lap and says to me "Bide a
bit, Sloppy," and we all stops together. And when Our Johnny gets his
breathing again, I turns again, and we all goes on together.'

Sloppy had gradually expanded with his description into a stare and a
vacant grin. He now contracted, being silent, into a half-repressed gush
of tears, and, under pretence of being heated, drew the under part of
his sleeve across his eyes with a singularly awkward, laborious, and
roundabout smear.

'This is unfortunate,' said Rokesmith. 'I must go and break it to Mrs
Boffin. Stay you here, Sloppy.'

Sloppy stayed there, staring at the pattern of the paper on the wall,
until the Secretary and Mrs Boffin came back together. And with Mrs
Boffin was a young lady (Miss Bella Wilfer by name) who was better worth
staring at, it occurred to Sloppy, than the best of wall-papering.

'Ah, my poor dear pretty little John Harmon!' exclaimed Mrs Boffin.

'Yes mum,' said the sympathetic Sloppy.

'You don't think he is in a very, very bad way, do you?' asked the
pleasant creature with her wholesome cordiality.

Put upon his good faith, and finding it in collision with his
inclinations, Sloppy threw back his head and uttered a mellifluous howl,
rounded off with a sniff.

'So bad as that!' cried Mrs Boffin. 'And Betty Higden not to tell me of
it sooner!'

'I think she might have been mistrustful, mum,' answered Sloppy,
hesitating.

'Of what, for Heaven's sake?'

'I think she might have been mistrustful, mum,' returned Sloppy with
submission, 'of standing in Our Johnny's light. There's so much trouble
in illness, and so much expense, and she's seen such a lot of its being
objected to.'

'But she never can have thought,' said Mrs Boffin, 'that I would grudge
the dear child anything?'

'No mum, but she might have thought (as a habit-like) of its standing
in Johnny's light, and might have tried to bring him through it
unbeknownst.'

Sloppy knew his ground well. To conceal herself in sickness, like a
lower animal; to creep out of sight and coil herself away and die; had
become this woman's instinct. To catch up in her arms the sick child who
was dear to her, and hide it as if it were a criminal, and keep off all
ministration but such as her own ignorant tenderness and patience could
supply, had become this woman's idea of maternal love, fidelity, and
duty. The shameful accounts we read, every week in the Christian year,
my lords and gentlemen and honourable boards, the infamous records of
small official inhumanity, do not pass by the people as they pass by
us. And hence these irrational, blind, and obstinate prejudices, so
astonishing to our magnificence, and having no more reason in them--God
save the Queen and Confound their politics--no, than smoke has in coming
from fire!

'It's not a right place for the poor child to stay in,' said Mrs Boffin.
'Tell us, dear Mr Rokesmith, what to do for the best.'

He had already thought what to do, and the consultation was very short.
He could pave the way, he said, in half an hour, and then they would go
down to Brentford. 'Pray take me,' said Bella. Therefore a carriage was
ordered, of capacity to take them all, and in the meantime Sloppy
was regaled, feasting alone in the Secretary's room, with a complete
realization of that fairy vision--meat, beer, vegetables, and pudding.
In consequence of which his buttons became more importunate of public
notice than before, with the exception of two or three about the region
of the waistband, which modestly withdrew into a creasy retirement.

Punctual to the time, appeared the carriage and the Secretary. He sat
on the box, and Mr Sloppy graced the rumble. So, to the Three Magpies as
before: where Mrs Boffin and Miss Bella were handed out, and whence they
all went on foot to Mrs Betty Higden's.

But, on the way down, they had stopped at a toy-shop, and had bought
that noble charger, a description of whose points and trappings had on
the last occasion conciliated the then worldly-minded orphan, and also a
Noah's ark, and also a yellow bird with an artificial voice in him,
and also a military doll so well dressed that if he had only been of
life-size his brother-officers in the Guards might never have found him
out. Bearing these gifts, they raised the latch of Betty Higden's door,
and saw her sitting in the dimmest and furthest corner with poor Johnny
in her lap.

'And how's my boy, Betty?' asked Mrs Boffin, sitting down beside her.

'He's bad! He's bad!' said Betty. 'I begin to be afeerd he'll not be
yours any more than mine. All others belonging to him have gone to
the Power and the Glory, and I have a mind that they're drawing him to
them--leading him away.'

'No, no, no,' said Mrs Boffin.

'I don't know why else he clenches his little hand as if it had hold of
a finger that I can't see. Look at it,' said Betty, opening the wrappers
in which the flushed child lay, and showing his small right hand lying
closed upon his breast. 'It's always so. It don't mind me.'

'Is he asleep?'

'No, I think not. You're not asleep, my Johnny?'

'No,' said Johnny, with a quiet air of pity for himself; and without
opening his eyes.

'Here's the lady, Johnny. And the horse.'

Johnny could bear the lady, with complete indifference, but not the
horse. Opening his heavy eyes, he slowly broke into a smile on beholding
that splendid phenomenon, and wanted to take it in his arms. As it was
much too big, it was put upon a chair where he could hold it by the mane
and contemplate it. Which he soon forgot to do.

But, Johnny murmuring something with his eyes closed, and Mrs Boffin
not knowing what, old Betty bent her ear to listen and took pains to
understand. Being asked by her to repeat what he had said, he did so two
or three times, and then it came out that he must have seen more than
they supposed when he looked up to see the horse, for the murmur was,
'Who is the boofer lady?' Now, the boofer, or beautiful, lady was Bella;
and whereas this notice from the poor baby would have touched her of
itself; it was rendered more pathetic by the late melting of her heart
to her poor little father, and their joke about the lovely woman. So,
Bella's behaviour was very tender and very natural when she kneeled on
the brick floor to clasp the child, and when the child, with a child's
admiration of what is young and pretty, fondled the boofer lady.

'Now, my good dear Betty,' said Mrs Boffin, hoping that she saw her
opportunity, and laying her hand persuasively on her arm; 'we have come
to remove Johnny from this cottage to where he can be taken better care
of.'

Instantly, and before another word could be spoken, the old woman
started up with blazing eyes, and rushed at the door with the sick
child.

'Stand away from me every one of ye!' she cried out wildly. 'I see what
ye mean now. Let me go my way, all of ye. I'd sooner kill the Pretty,
and kill myself!'

'Stay, stay!' said Rokesmith, soothing her. 'You don't understand.'

'I understand too well. I know too much about it, sir. I've run from
it too many a year. No! Never for me, nor for the child, while there's
water enough in England to cover us!'

The terror, the shame, the passion of horror and repugnance, firing the
worn face and perfectly maddening it, would have been a quite terrible
sight, if embodied in one old fellow-creature alone. Yet it 'crops
up'--as our slang goes--my lords and gentlemen and honourable boards, in
other fellow-creatures, rather frequently!

'It's been chasing me all my life, but it shall never take me nor mine
alive!' cried old Betty. 'I've done with ye. I'd have fastened door and
window and starved out, afore I'd ever have let ye in, if I had known
what ye came for!'

But, catching sight of Mrs Boffin's wholesome face, she relented, and
crouching down by the door and bending over her burden to hush it, said
humbly: 'Maybe my fears has put me wrong. If they have so, tell me, and
the good Lord forgive me! I'm quick to take this fright, I know, and my
head is summ'at light with wearying and watching.'

'There, there, there!' returned Mrs Boffin. 'Come, come! Say no more of
it, Betty. It was a mistake, a mistake. Any one of us might have made it
in your place, and felt just as you do.'

'The Lord bless ye!' said the old woman, stretching out her hand.

'Now, see, Betty,' pursued the sweet compassionate soul, holding the
hand kindly, 'what I really did mean, and what I should have begun by
saying out, if I had only been a little wiser and handier. We want to
move Johnny to a place where there are none but children; a place set
up on purpose for sick children; where the good doctors and nurses pass
their lives with children, talk to none but children, touch none but
children, comfort and cure none but children.'

'Is there really such a place?' asked the old woman, with a gaze of
wonder.

'Yes, Betty, on my word, and you shall see it. If my home was a better
place for the dear boy, I'd take him to it; but indeed indeed it's not.'

'You shall take him,' returned Betty, fervently kissing the comforting
hand, 'where you will, my deary. I am not so hard, but that I believe
your face and voice, and I will, as long as I can see and hear.'

This victory gained, Rokesmith made haste to profit by it, for he saw
how woefully time had been lost. He despatched Sloppy to bring the
carriage to the door; caused the child to be carefully wrapped up; bade
old Betty get her bonnet on; collected the toys, enabling the little
fellow to comprehend that his treasures were to be transported with
him; and had all things prepared so easily that they were ready for
the carriage as soon as it appeared, and in a minute afterwards were
on their way. Sloppy they left behind, relieving his overcharged breast
with a paroxysm of mangling.

At the Children's Hospital, the gallant steed, the Noah's ark, yellow
bird, and the officer in the Guards, were made as welcome as their
child-owner. But the doctor said aside to Rokesmith, 'This should have
been days ago. Too late!'

However, they were all carried up into a fresh airy room, and there
Johnny came to himself, out of a sleep or a swoon or whatever it was,
to find himself lying in a little quiet bed, with a little platform over
his breast, on which were already arranged, to give him heart and urge
him to cheer up, the Noah's ark, the noble steed, and the yellow bird;
with the officer in the Guards doing duty over the whole, quite as much
to the satisfaction of his country as if he had been upon Parade. And at
the bed's head was a coloured picture beautiful to see, representing as
it were another Johnny seated on the knee of some Angel surely who loved
little children. And, marvellous fact, to lie and stare at: Johnny had
become one of a little family, all in little quiet beds (except two
playing dominoes in little arm-chairs at a little table on the hearth):
and on all the little beds were little platforms whereon were to be
seen dolls' houses, woolly dogs with mechanical barks in them not very
dissimilar from the artificial voice pervading the bowels of the yellow
bird, tin armies, Moorish tumblers, wooden tea things, and the riches of
the earth.

As Johnny murmured something in his placid admiration, the ministering
women at his bed's head asked him what he said. It seemed that he wanted
to know whether all these were brothers and sisters of his? So they told
him yes. It seemed then, that he wanted to know whether God had brought
them all together there? So they told him yes again. They made out then,
that he wanted to know whether they would all get out of pain? So they
answered yes to that question likewise, and made him understand that the
reply included himself.

Johnny's powers of sustaining conversation were as yet so very
imperfectly developed, even in a state of health, that in sickness they
were little more than monosyllabic. But, he had to be washed and tended,
and remedies were applied, and though those offices were far, far more
skilfully and lightly done than ever anything had been done for him in
his little life, so rough and short, they would have hurt and tired him
but for an amazing circumstance which laid hold of his attention. This
was no less than the appearance on his own little platform in pairs,
of All Creation, on its way into his own particular ark: the elephant
leading, and the fly, with a diffident sense of his size, politely
bringing up the rear. A very little brother lying in the next bed with a
broken leg, was so enchanted by this spectacle that his delight exalted
its enthralling interest; and so came rest and sleep.

'I see you are not afraid to leave the dear child here, Betty,'
whispered Mrs Boffin.

'No, ma'am. Most willingly, most thankfully, with all my heart and
soul.'

So, they kissed him, and left him there, and old Betty was to come back
early in the morning, and nobody but Rokesmith knew for certain how that
the doctor had said, 'This should have been days ago. Too late!'

But, Rokesmith knowing it, and knowing that his bearing it in mind would
be acceptable thereafter to that good woman who had been the only light
in the childhood of desolate John Harmon dead and gone, resolved that
late at night he would go back to the bedside of John Harmon's namesake,
and see how it fared with him.

The family whom God had brought together were not all asleep, but were
all quiet. From bed to bed, a light womanly tread and a pleasant fresh
face passed in the silence of the night. A little head would lift itself
up into the softened light here and there, to be kissed as the face went
by--for these little patients are very loving--and would then submit
itself to be composed to rest again. The mite with the broken leg was
restless, and moaned; but after a while turned his face towards Johnny's
bed, to fortify himself with a view of the ark, and fell asleep. Over
most of the beds, the toys were yet grouped as the children had left
them when they last laid themselves down, and, in their innocent
grotesqueness and incongruity, they might have stood for the children's
dreams.

The doctor came in too, to see how it fared with Johnny. And he and
Rokesmith stood together, looking down with compassion on him.

'What is it, Johnny?' Rokesmith was the questioner, and put an arm round
the poor baby as he made a struggle.

'Him!' said the little fellow. 'Those!'

The doctor was quick to understand children, and, taking the horse,
the ark, the yellow bird, and the man in the Guards, from Johnny's bed,
softly placed them on that of his next neighbour, the mite with the
broken leg.

With a weary and yet a pleased smile, and with an action as if he
stretched his little figure out to rest, the child heaved his body on
the sustaining arm, and seeking Rokesmith's face with his lips, said:

'A kiss for the boofer lady.'

Having now bequeathed all he had to dispose of, and arranged his affairs
in this world, Johnny, thus speaking, left it.



Chapter 10

A SUCCESSOR


Some of the Reverend Frank Milvey's brethren had found themselves
exceedingly uncomfortable in their minds, because they were required to
bury the dead too hopefully. But, the Reverend Frank, inclining to the
belief that they were required to do one or two other things (say out of
nine-and-thirty) calculated to trouble their consciences rather more if
they would think as much about them, held his peace.

Indeed, the Reverend Frank Milvey was a forbearing man, who noticed many
sad warps and blights in the vineyard wherein he worked, and did not
profess that they made him savagely wise. He only learned that the more
he himself knew, in his little limited human way, the better he could
distantly imagine what Omniscience might know.

Wherefore, if the Reverend Frank had had to read the words that troubled
some of his brethren, and profitably touched innumerable hearts, in
a worse case than Johnny's, he would have done so out of the pity and
humility of his soul. Reading them over Johnny, he thought of his own
six children, but not of his poverty, and read them with dimmed eyes.
And very seriously did he and his bright little wife, who had been
listening, look down into the small grave and walk home arm-in-arm.

There was grief in the aristocratic house, and there was joy in the
Bower. Mr Wegg argued, if an orphan were wanted, was he not an orphan
himself; and could a better be desired? And why go beating about
Brentford bushes, seeking orphans forsooth who had established no claims
upon you and made no sacrifices for you, when here was an orphan ready
to your hand who had given up in your cause, Miss Elizabeth, Master
George, Aunt Jane, and Uncle Parker?

Mr Wegg chuckled, consequently, when he heard the tidings. Nay, it was
afterwards affirmed by a witness who shall at present be nameless,
that in the seclusion of the Bower he poked out his wooden leg, in the
stage-ballet manner, and executed a taunting or triumphant pirouette on
the genuine leg remaining to him.

John Rokesmith's manner towards Mrs Boffin at this time, was more the
manner of a young man towards a mother, than that of a Secretary towards
his employer's wife. It had always been marked by a subdued affectionate
deference that seemed to have sprung up on the very day of his
engagement; whatever was odd in her dress or her ways had seemed to have
no oddity for him; he had sometimes borne a quietly-amused face in her
company, but still it had seemed as if the pleasure her genial temper
and radiant nature yielded him, could have been quite as naturally
expressed in a tear as in a smile. The completeness of his sympathy with
her fancy for having a little John Harmon to protect and rear, he
had shown in every act and word, and now that the kind fancy was
disappointed, he treated it with a manly tenderness and respect for
which she could hardly thank him enough.

'But I do thank you, Mr Rokesmith,' said Mrs Boffin, 'and I thank you
most kindly. You love children.'

'I hope everybody does.'

'They ought,' said Mrs Boffin; 'but we don't all of us do what we ought,
do us?'

John Rokesmith replied, 'Some among us supply the short-comings of the
rest. You have loved children well, Mr Boffin has told me.'

Not a bit better than he has, but that's his way; he puts all the good
upon me. You speak rather sadly, Mr Rokesmith.'

'Do I?'

'It sounds to me so. Were you one of many children?' He shook his head.

'An only child?'

'No there was another. Dead long ago.'

'Father or mother alive?'

'Dead.'--

'And the rest of your relations?'

'Dead--if I ever had any living. I never heard of any.'

At this point of the dialogue Bella came in with a light step. She
paused at the door a moment, hesitating whether to remain or retire;
perplexed by finding that she was not observed.

'Now, don't mind an old lady's talk,' said Mrs Boffin, 'but tell me. Are
you quite sure, Mr Rokesmith, that you have never had a disappointment
in love?'

'Quite sure. Why do you ask me?'

'Why, for this reason. Sometimes you have a kind of kept-down manner
with you, which is not like your age. You can't be thirty?'

'I am not yet thirty.'

Deeming it high time to make her presence known, Bella coughed here to
attract attention, begged pardon, and said she would go, fearing that
she interrupted some matter of business.

'No, don't go,' rejoined Mrs Boffin, 'because we are coming to business,
instead of having begun it, and you belong to it as much now, my dear
Bella, as I do. But I want my Noddy to consult with us. Would somebody
be so good as find my Noddy for me?'

Rokesmith departed on that errand, and presently returned accompanied by
Mr Boffin at his jog-trot. Bella felt a little vague trepidation as to
the subject-matter of this same consultation, until Mrs Boffin announced
it.

'Now, you come and sit by me, my dear,' said that worthy soul, taking
her comfortable place on a large ottoman in the centre of the room,
and drawing her arm through Bella's; 'and Noddy, you sit here, and Mr
Rokesmith you sit there. Now, you see, what I want to talk about, is
this. Mr and Mrs Milvey have sent me the kindest note possible (which
Mr Rokesmith just now read to me out aloud, for I ain't good at
handwritings), offering to find me another little child to name and
educate and bring up. Well. This has set me thinking.'

('And she is a steam-ingein at it,' murmured Mr Boffin, in an admiring
parenthesis, 'when she once begins. It mayn't be so easy to start her;
but once started, she's a ingein.')

'--This has set me thinking, I say,' repeated Mrs Boffin, cordially
beaming under the influence of her husband's compliment, 'and I have
thought two things. First of all, that I have grown timid of reviving
John Harmon's name. It's an unfortunate name, and I fancy I should
reproach myself if I gave it to another dear child, and it proved again
unlucky.'

'Now, whether,' said Mr Boffin, gravely propounding a case for his
Secretary's opinion; 'whether one might call that a superstition?'

'It is a matter of feeling with Mrs Boffin,' said Rokesmith, gently.
'The name has always been unfortunate. It has now this new unfortunate
association connected with it. The name has died out. Why revive it?
Might I ask Miss Wilfer what she thinks?'

'It has not been a fortunate name for me,' said Bella, colouring--'or
at least it was not, until it led to my being here--but that is not the
point in my thoughts. As we had given the name to the poor child, and as
the poor child took so lovingly to me, I think I should feel jealous of
calling another child by it. I think I should feel as if the name had
become endeared to me, and I had no right to use it so.'

'And that's your opinion?' remarked Mr Boffin, observant of the
Secretary's face and again addressing him.

'I say again, it is a matter of feeling,' returned the Secretary. 'I
think Miss Wilfer's feeling very womanly and pretty.'

'Now, give us your opinion, Noddy,' said Mrs Boffin.

'My opinion, old lady,' returned the Golden Dustman, 'is your opinion.'

'Then,' said Mrs Boffin, 'we agree not to revive John Harmon's name, but
to let it rest in the grave. It is, as Mr Rokesmith says, a matter of
feeling, but Lor how many matters ARE matters of feeling! Well; and so
I come to the second thing I have thought of. You must know, Bella,
my dear, and Mr Rokesmith, that when I first named to my husband my
thoughts of adopting a little orphan boy in remembrance of John Harmon,
I further named to my husband that it was comforting to think that how
the poor boy would be benefited by John's own money, and protected from
John's own forlornness.'

'Hear, hear!' cried Mr Boffin. 'So she did. Ancoar!'

'No, not Ancoar, Noddy, my dear,' returned Mrs Boffin, 'because I am
going to say something else. I meant that, I am sure, as I much as
I still mean it. But this little death has made me ask myself the
question, seriously, whether I wasn't too bent upon pleasing myself.
Else why did I seek out so much for a pretty child, and a child quite to
my liking? Wanting to do good, why not do it for its own sake, and put
my tastes and likings by?'

'Perhaps,' said Bella; and perhaps she said it with some little
sensitiveness arising out of those old curious relations of hers towards
the murdered man; 'perhaps, in reviving the name, you would not have
liked to give it to a less interesting child than the original. He
interested you very much.'

'Well, my dear,' returned Mrs Boffin, giving her a squeeze, 'it's kind
of you to find that reason out, and I hope it may have been so, and
indeed to a certain extent I believe it was so, but I am afraid not to
the whole extent. However, that don't come in question now, because we
have done with the name.'

'Laid it up as a remembrance,' suggested Bella, musingly.

'Much better said, my dear; laid it up as a remembrance. Well then; I
have been thinking if I take any orphan to provide for, let it not be
a pet and a plaything for me, but a creature to be helped for its own
sake.'

'Not pretty then?' said Bella.

'No,' returned Mrs Boffin, stoutly.

'Nor prepossessing then?' said Bella.

'No,' returned Mrs Boffin. 'Not necessarily so. That's as it may happen.
A well-disposed boy comes in my way who may be even a little wanting in
such advantages for getting on in life, but is honest and industrious
and requires a helping hand and deserves it. If I am very much in
earnest and quite determined to be unselfish, let me take care of HIM.'

Here the footman whose feelings had been hurt on the former occasion,
appeared, and crossing to Rokesmith apologetically announced the
objectionable Sloppy.

The four members of Council looked at one another, and paused. 'Shall he
be brought here, ma'am?' asked Rokesmith.

'Yes,' said Mrs Boffin. Whereupon the footman disappeared, reappeared
presenting Sloppy, and retired much disgusted.

The consideration of Mrs Boffin had clothed Mr Sloppy in a suit of
black, on which the tailor had received personal directions from
Rokesmith to expend the utmost cunning of his art, with a view to the
concealment of the cohering and sustaining buttons. But, so much
more powerful were the frailties of Sloppy's form than the strongest
resources of tailoring science, that he now stood before the Council,
a perfect Argus in the way of buttons: shining and winking and gleaming
and twinkling out of a hundred of those eyes of bright metal, at the
dazzled spectators. The artistic taste of some unknown hatter had
furnished him with a hatband of wholesale capacity which was fluted
behind, from the crown of his hat to the brim, and terminated in a black
bunch, from which the imagination shrunk discomfited and the reason
revolted. Some special powers with which his legs were endowed, had
already hitched up his glossy trousers at the ankles, and bagged them at
the knees; while similar gifts in his arms had raised his coat-sleeves
from his wrists and accumulated them at his elbows. Thus set forth, with
the additional embellishments of a very little tail to his coat, and a
yawning gulf at his waistband, Sloppy stood confessed.

'And how is Betty, my good fellow?' Mrs Boffin asked him.

'Thankee, mum,' said Sloppy, 'she do pretty nicely, and sending her
dooty and many thanks for the tea and all faviours and wishing to know
the family's healths.'

'Have you just come, Sloppy?'

'Yes, mum.'

'Then you have not had your dinner yet?'

'No, mum. But I mean to it. For I ain't forgotten your handsome orders
that I was never to go away without having had a good 'un off of meat
and beer and pudding--no: there was four of 'em, for I reckoned 'em
up when I had 'em; meat one, beer two, vegetables three, and which was
four?--Why, pudding, HE was four!' Here Sloppy threw his head back,
opened his mouth wide, and laughed rapturously.

'How are the two poor little Minders?' asked Mrs Boffin.

'Striking right out, mum, and coming round beautiful.'

Mrs Boffin looked on the other three members of Council, and then said,
beckoning with her finger:

'Sloppy.'

'Yes, mum.'

'Come forward, Sloppy. Should you like to dine here every day?'

'Off of all four on 'em, mum? O mum!' Sloppy's feelings obliged him to
squeeze his hat, and contract one leg at the knee.

'Yes. And should you like to be always taken care of here, if you were
industrious and deserving?'

'Oh, mum!--But there's Mrs Higden,' said Sloppy, checking himself in his
raptures, drawing back, and shaking his head with very serious meaning.
'There's Mrs Higden. Mrs Higden goes before all. None can ever be better
friends to me than Mrs Higden's been. And she must be turned for, must
Mrs Higden. Where would Mrs Higden be if she warn't turned for!' At the
mere thought of Mrs Higden in this inconceivable affliction, Mr Sloppy's
countenance became pale, and manifested the most distressful emotions.

'You are as right as right can be, Sloppy,' said Mrs Boffin 'and far be
it from me to tell you otherwise. It shall be seen to. If Betty Higden
can be turned for all the same, you shall come here and be taken care of
for life, and be made able to keep her in other ways than the turning.'

'Even as to that, mum,' answered the ecstatic Sloppy, 'the turning might
be done in the night, don't you see? I could be here in the day, and
turn in the night. I don't want no sleep, I don't. Or even if I any ways
should want a wink or two,' added Sloppy, after a moment's apologetic
reflection, 'I could take 'em turning. I've took 'em turning many a
time, and enjoyed 'em wonderful!'

On the grateful impulse of the moment, Mr Sloppy kissed Mrs Boffin's
hand, and then detaching himself from that good creature that he might
have room enough for his feelings, threw back his head, opened his mouth
wide, and uttered a dismal howl. It was creditable to his tenderness of
heart, but suggested that he might on occasion give some offence to the
neighbours: the rather, as the footman looked in, and begged pardon,
finding he was not wanted, but excused himself; on the ground 'that he
thought it was Cats.'



Chapter 11

SOME AFFAIRS OF THE HEART


Little Miss Peecher, from her little official dwelling-house, with its
little windows like the eyes in needles, and its little doors like the
covers of school-books, was very observant indeed of the object of her
quiet affections. Love, though said to be afflicted with blindness, is
a vigilant watchman, and Miss Peecher kept him on double duty over Mr
Bradley Headstone. It was not that she was naturally given to playing
the spy--it was not that she was at all secret, plotting, or mean--it
was simply that she loved the irresponsive Bradley with all the
primitive and homely stock of love that had never been examined or
certificated out of her. If her faithful slate had had the latent
qualities of sympathetic paper, and its pencil those of invisible ink,
many a little treatise calculated to astonish the pupils would have come
bursting through the dry sums in school-time under the warming influence
of Miss Peecher's bosom. For, oftentimes when school was not, and her
calm leisure and calm little house were her own, Miss Peecher would
commit to the confidential slate an imaginary description of how, upon
a balmy evening at dusk, two figures might have been observed in the
market-garden ground round the corner, of whom one, being a manly form,
bent over the other, being a womanly form of short stature and some
compactness, and breathed in a low voice the words, 'Emma Peecher, wilt
thou be my own?' after which the womanly form's head reposed upon the
manly form's shoulder, and the nightingales tuned up. Though all unseen,
and unsuspected by the pupils, Bradley Headstone even pervaded the
school exercises. Was Geography in question? He would come triumphantly
flying out of Vesuvius and Aetna ahead of the lava, and would boil
unharmed in the hot springs of Iceland, and would float majestically
down the Ganges and the Nile. Did History chronicle a king of men?
Behold him in pepper-and-salt pantaloons, with his watch-guard round
his neck. Were copies to be written? In capital B's and H's most of the
girls under Miss Peecher's tuition were half a year ahead of every other
letter in the alphabet. And Mental Arithmetic, administered by Miss
Peecher, often devoted itself to providing Bradley Headstone with a
wardrobe of fabulous extent: fourscore and four neck-ties at two and
ninepence-halfpenny, two gross of silver watches at four pounds fifteen
and sixpence, seventy-four black hats at eighteen shillings; and many
similar superfluities.

The vigilant watchman, using his daily opportunities of turning his eyes
in Bradley's direction, soon apprized Miss Peecher that Bradley was more
preoccupied than had been his wont, and more given to strolling about
with a downcast and reserved face, turning something difficult in his
mind that was not in the scholastic syllabus. Putting this and that
together--combining under the head 'this,' present appearances and the
intimacy with Charley Hexam, and ranging under the head 'that' the
visit to his sister, the watchman reported to Miss Peecher his strong
suspicions that the sister was at the bottom of it.

'I wonder,' said Miss Peecher, as she sat making up her weekly report on
a half-holiday afternoon, 'what they call Hexam's sister?'

Mary Anne, at her needlework, attendant and attentive, held her arm up.

'Well, Mary Anne?'

'She is named Lizzie, ma'am.'

'She can hardly be named Lizzie, I think, Mary Anne,' returned Miss
Peecher, in a tunefully instructive voice. 'Is Lizzie a Christian name,
Mary Anne?'

Mary Anne laid down her work, rose, hooked herself behind, as being
under catechization, and replied: 'No, it is a corruption, Miss
Peecher.'

'Who gave her that name?' Miss Peecher was going on, from the mere force
of habit, when she checked herself; on Mary Anne's evincing theological
impatience to strike in with her godfathers and her godmothers, and
said: 'I mean of what name is it a corruption?'

'Elizabeth, or Eliza, Miss Peecher.'

'Right, Mary Anne. Whether there were any Lizzies in the early Christian
Church must be considered very doubtful, very doubtful.' Miss Peecher
was exceedingly sage here. 'Speaking correctly, we say, then, that
Hexam's sister is called Lizzie; not that she is named so. Do we not,
Mary Anne?'

'We do, Miss Peecher.'

'And where,' pursued Miss Peecher, complacent in her little transparent
fiction of conducting the examination in a semiofficial manner for Mary
Anne's benefit, not her own, 'where does this young woman, who is called
but not named Lizzie, live? Think, now, before answering.'

'In Church Street, Smith Square, by Mill Bank, ma'am.'

'In Church Street, Smith Square, by Mill Bank,' repeated Miss Peecher,
as if possessed beforehand of the book in which it was written. Exactly
so. And what occupation does this young woman pursue, Mary Anne? Take
time.'

'She has a place of trust at an outfitter's in the City, ma'am.'

'Oh!' said Miss Peecher, pondering on it; but smoothly added, in a
confirmatory tone, 'At an outfitter's in the City. Ye-es?'

'And Charley--' Mary Anne was proceeding, when Miss Peecher stared.

'I mean Hexam, Miss Peecher.'

'I should think you did, Mary Anne. I am glad to hear you do. And
Hexam--'

'Says,' Mary Anne went on, 'that he is not pleased with his sister, and
that his sister won't be guided by his advice, and persists in being
guided by somebody else's; and that--'

'Mr Headstone coming across the garden!' exclaimed Miss Peecher, with a
flushed glance at the looking-glass. 'You have answered very well, Mary
Anne. You are forming an excellent habit of arranging your thoughts
clearly. That will do.'

The discreet Mary Anne resumed her seat and her silence, and stitched,
and stitched, and was stitching when the schoolmaster's shadow came in
before him, announcing that he might be instantly expected.

'Good evening, Miss Peecher,' he said, pursuing the shadow, and taking
its place.

'Good evening, Mr Headstone. Mary Anne, a chair.'

'Thank you,' said Bradley, seating himself in his constrained manner.
'This is but a flying visit. I have looked in, on my way, to ask a
kindness of you as a neighbour.'

'Did you say on your way, Mr Headstone?' asked Miss Peecher.

'On my way to--where I am going.'

'Church Street, Smith Square, by Mill Bank,' repeated Miss Peecher, in
her own thoughts.

'Charley Hexam has gone to get a book or two he wants, and will probably
be back before me. As we leave my house empty, I took the liberty of
telling him I would leave the key here. Would you kindly allow me to do
so?'

'Certainly, Mr Headstone. Going for an evening walk, sir?'

'Partly for a walk, and partly for--on business.'

'Business in Church Street, Smith Square, by Mill Bank,' repeated Miss
Peecher to herself.

'Having said which,' pursued Bradley, laying his door-key on the table,
'I must be already going. There is nothing I can do for you, Miss
Peecher?'

'Thank you, Mr Headstone. In which direction?'

'In the direction of Westminster.'

'Mill Bank,' Miss Peecher repeated in her own thoughts once again. 'No,
thank you, Mr Headstone; I'll not trouble you.'

'You couldn't trouble me,' said the schoolmaster.

'Ah!' returned Miss Peecher, though not aloud; 'but you can trouble
ME!' And for all her quiet manner, and her quiet smile, she was full of
trouble as he went his way.

She was right touching his destination. He held as straight a course
for the house of the dolls' dressmaker as the wisdom of his ancestors,
exemplified in the construction of the intervening streets, would let
him, and walked with a bent head hammering at one fixed idea. It had
been an immoveable idea since he first set eyes upon her. It seemed to
him as if all that he could suppress in himself he had suppressed, as
if all that he could restrain in himself he had restrained, and the time
had come--in a rush, in a moment--when the power of self-command had
departed from him. Love at first sight is a trite expression quite
sufficiently discussed; enough that in certain smouldering natures like
this man's, that passion leaps into a blaze, and makes such head as fire
does in a rage of wind, when other passions, but for its mastery, could
be held in chains. As a multitude of weak, imitative natures are
always lying by, ready to go mad upon the next wrong idea that may be
broached--in these times, generally some form of tribute to Somebody
for something that never was done, or, if ever done, that was done by
Somebody Else--so these less ordinary natures may lie by for years,
ready on the touch of an instant to burst into flame.

The schoolmaster went his way, brooding and brooding, and a sense of
being vanquished in a struggle might have been pieced out of his worried
face. Truly, in his breast there lingered a resentful shame to find
himself defeated by this passion for Charley Hexam's sister, though in
the very self-same moments he was concentrating himself upon the object
of bringing the passion to a successful issue.

He appeared before the dolls' dressmaker, sitting alone at her work.
'Oho!' thought that sharp young personage, 'it's you, is it? I know your
tricks and your manners, my friend!'

'Hexam's sister,' said Bradley Headstone, 'is not come home yet?'

'You are quite a conjuror,' returned Miss Wren.

'I will wait, if you please, for I want to speak to her.'

'Do you?' returned Miss Wren. 'Sit down. I hope it's mutual.' Bradley
glanced distrustfully at the shrewd face again bending over the work,
and said, trying to conquer doubt and hesitation:

'I hope you don't imply that my visit will be unacceptable to Hexam's
sister?'

'There! Don't call her that. I can't bear you to call her that,'
returned Miss Wren, snapping her fingers in a volley of impatient snaps,
'for I don't like Hexam.'

'Indeed?'

'No.' Miss Wren wrinkled her nose, to express dislike. 'Selfish. Thinks
only of himself. The way with all of you.'

'The way with all of us? Then you don't like ME?'

'So-so,' replied Miss Wren, with a shrug and a laugh. 'Don't know much
about you.'

'But I was not aware it was the way with all of us,' said Bradley,
returning to the accusation, a little injured. 'Won't you say, some of
us?'

'Meaning,' returned the little creature, 'every one of you, but you.
Hah! Now look this lady in the face. This is Mrs Truth. The Honourable.
Full-dressed.'

Bradley glanced at the doll she held up for his observation--which had
been lying on its face on her bench, while with a needle and thread she
fastened the dress on at the back--and looked from it to her.

'I stand the Honourable Mrs T. on my bench in this corner against the
wall, where her blue eyes can shine upon you,' pursued Miss Wren, doing
so, and making two little dabs at him in the air with her needle, as
if she pricked him with it in his own eyes; 'and I defy you to tell me,
with Mrs T. for a witness, what you have come here for.'

'To see Hexam's sister.'

'You don't say so!' retorted Miss Wren, hitching her chin. 'But on whose
account?'

'Her own.'

'O Mrs T.!' exclaimed Miss Wren. 'You hear him!'

'To reason with her,' pursued Bradley, half humouring what was present,
and half angry with what was not present; 'for her own sake.'

'Oh Mrs T.!' exclaimed the dressmaker.

'For her own sake,' repeated Bradley, warming, 'and for her brother's,
and as a perfectly disinterested person.'

'Really, Mrs T.,' remarked the dressmaker, 'since it comes to this, we
must positively turn you with your face to the wall.' She had hardly
done so, when Lizzie Hexam arrived, and showed some surprise on seeing
Bradley Headstone there, and Jenny shaking her little fist at him close
before her eyes, and the Honourable Mrs T. with her face to the wall.

'Here's a perfectly disinterested person, Lizzie dear,' said the knowing
Miss Wren, 'come to talk with you, for your own sake and your brother's.
Think of that. I am sure there ought to be no third party present at
anything so very kind and so very serious; and so, if you'll remove the
third party upstairs, my dear, the third party will retire.'

Lizzie took the hand which the dolls' dressmaker held out to her for
the purpose of being supported away, but only looked at her with an
inquiring smile, and made no other movement.

'The third party hobbles awfully, you know, when she's left to herself;'
said Miss Wren, 'her back being so bad, and her legs so queer; so she
can't retire gracefully unless you help her, Lizzie.'

'She can do no better than stay where she is,' returned Lizzie,
releasing the hand, and laying her own lightly on Miss Jenny's curls.
And then to Bradley: 'From Charley, sir?'

In an irresolute way, and stealing a clumsy look at her, Bradley rose to
place a chair for her, and then returned to his own.

'Strictly speaking,' said he, 'I come from Charley, because I left him
only a little while ago; but I am not commissioned by Charley. I come of
my own spontaneous act.'

With her elbows on her bench, and her chin upon her hands, Miss Jenny
Wren sat looking at him with a watchful sidelong look. Lizzie, in her
different way, sat looking at him too.

'The fact is,' began Bradley, with a mouth so dry that he had some
difficulty in articulating his words: the consciousness of which
rendered his manner still more ungainly and undecided; 'the truth is,
that Charley, having no secrets from me (to the best of my belief), has
confided the whole of this matter to me.'

He came to a stop, and Lizzie asked: 'what matter, sir?'

'I thought,' returned the schoolmaster, stealing another look at her,
and seeming to try in vain to sustain it; for the look dropped as it
lighted on her eyes, 'that it might be so superfluous as to be almost
impertinent, to enter upon a definition of it. My allusion was to this
matter of your having put aside your brother's plans for you, and
given the preference to those of Mr--I believe the name is Mr Eugene
Wrayburn.'

He made this point of not being certain of the name, with another uneasy
look at her, which dropped like the last.

Nothing being said on the other side, he had to begin again, and began
with new embarrassment.

'Your brother's plans were communicated to me when he first had them in
his thoughts. In point of fact he spoke to me about them when I was
last here--when we were walking back together, and when I--when the
impression was fresh upon me of having seen his sister.'

There might have been no meaning in it, but the little dressmaker here
removed one of her supporting hands from her chin, and musingly turned
the Honourable Mrs T. with her face to the company. That done, she fell
into her former attitude.

'I approved of his idea,' said Bradley, with his uneasy look wandering
to the doll, and unconsciously resting there longer than it had
rested on Lizzie, 'both because your brother ought naturally to be the
originator of any such scheme, and because I hoped to be able to promote
it. I should have had inexpressible pleasure, I should have taken
inexpressible interest, in promoting it. Therefore I must acknowledge
that when your brother was disappointed, I too was disappointed. I wish
to avoid reservation or concealment, and I fully acknowledge that.'

He appeared to have encouraged himself by having got so far. At all
events he went on with much greater firmness and force of emphasis:
though with a curious disposition to set his teeth, and with a curious
tight-screwing movement of his right hand in the clenching palm of his
left, like the action of one who was being physically hurt, and was
unwilling to cry out.

'I am a man of strong feelings, and I have strongly felt this
disappointment. I do strongly feel it. I don't show what I feel; some
of us are obliged habitually to keep it down. To keep it down. But to
return to your brother. He has taken the matter so much to heart that
he has remonstrated (in my presence he remonstrated) with Mr Eugene
Wrayburn, if that be the name. He did so, quite ineffectually. As any
one not blinded to the real character of Mr--Mr Eugene Wrayburn--would
readily suppose.'

He looked at Lizzie again, and held the look. And his face turned from
burning red to white, and from white back to burning red, and so for the
time to lasting deadly white.

'Finally, I resolved to come here alone, and appeal to you. I resolved
to come here alone, and entreat you to retract the course you have
chosen, and instead of confiding in a mere stranger--a person of most
insolent behaviour to your brother and others--to prefer your brother
and your brother's friend.'

Lizzie Hexam had changed colour when those changes came over him, and
her face now expressed some anger, more dislike, and even a touch of
fear. But she answered him very steadily.

'I cannot doubt, Mr Headstone, that your visit is well meant. You have
been so good a friend to Charley that I have no right to doubt it. I
have nothing to tell Charley, but that I accepted the help to which he
so much objects before he made any plans for me; or certainly before I
knew of any. It was considerately and delicately offered, and there were
reasons that had weight with me which should be as dear to Charley as to
me. I have no more to say to Charley on this subject.'

His lips trembled and stood apart, as he followed this repudiation of
himself; and limitation of her words to her brother.

'I should have told Charley, if he had come to me,' she resumed, as
though it were an after-thought, 'that Jenny and I find our teacher very
able and very patient, and that she takes great pains with us. So much
so, that we have said to her we hope in a very little while to be able
to go on by ourselves. Charley knows about teachers, and I should also
have told him, for his satisfaction, that ours comes from an institution
where teachers are regularly brought up.'

'I should like to ask you,' said Bradley Headstone, grinding his words
slowly out, as though they came from a rusty mill; 'I should like to
ask you, if I may without offence, whether you would have objected--no;
rather, I should like to say, if I may without offence, that I wish I
had had the opportunity of coming here with your brother and devoting my
poor abilities and experience to your service.'

'Thank you, Mr Headstone.'

'But I fear,' he pursued, after a pause, furtively wrenching at the seat
of his chair with one hand, as if he would have wrenched the chair to
pieces, and gloomily observing her while her eyes were cast down, 'that
my humble services would not have found much favour with you?'

She made no reply, and the poor stricken wretch sat contending with
himself in a heat of passion and torment. After a while he took out his
handkerchief and wiped his forehead and hands.

'There is only one thing more I had to say, but it is the most
important. There is a reason against this matter, there is a personal
relation concerned in this matter, not yet explained to you. It might--I
don't say it would--it might--induce you to think differently. To
proceed under the present circumstances is out of the question. Will you
please come to the understanding that there shall be another interview
on the subject?'

'With Charley, Mr Headstone?'

'With--well,' he answered, breaking off, 'yes! Say with him too.
Will you please come to the understanding that there must be another
interview under more favourable circumstances, before the whole case can
be submitted?'

'I don't,' said Lizzie, shaking her head, 'understand your meaning, Mr
Headstone.'

'Limit my meaning for the present,' he interrupted, 'to the whole case
being submitted to you in another interview.'

'What case, Mr Headstone? What is wanting to it?'

'You--you shall be informed in the other interview.' Then he said, as
if in a burst of irrepressible despair, 'I--I leave it all incomplete!
There is a spell upon me, I think!' And then added, almost as if he
asked for pity, 'Good-night!'

He held out his hand. As she, with manifest hesitation, not to say
reluctance, touched it, a strange tremble passed over him, and his face,
so deadly white, was moved as by a stroke of pain. Then he was gone.

The dolls' dressmaker sat with her attitude unchanged, eyeing the door
by which he had departed, until Lizzie pushed her bench aside and sat
down near her. Then, eyeing Lizzie as she had previously eyed Bradley
and the door, Miss Wren chopped that very sudden and keen chop in which
her jaws sometimes indulged, leaned back in her chair with folded arms,
and thus expressed herself:

'Humph! If he--I mean, of course, my dear, the party who is coming to
court me when the time comes--should be THAT sort of man, he may spare
himself the trouble. HE wouldn't do to be trotted about and made useful.
He'd take fire and blow up while he was about it.

'And so you would be rid of him,' said Lizzie, humouring her.

'Not so easily,' returned Miss Wren. 'He wouldn't blow up alone. He'd
carry me up with him. I know his tricks and his manners.'

'Would he want to hurt you, do you mean?' asked Lizzie.

'Mightn't exactly want to do it, my dear,' returned Miss Wren; 'but a
lot of gunpowder among lighted lucifer-matches in the next room might
almost as well be here.'

'He is a very strange man,' said Lizzie, thoughtfully.

'I wish he was so very strange a man as to be a total stranger,'
answered the sharp little thing.

It being Lizzie's regular occupation when they were alone of an evening
to brush out and smooth the long fair hair of the dolls' dressmaker, she
unfastened a ribbon that kept it back while the little creature was at
her work, and it fell in a beautiful shower over the poor shoulders that
were much in need of such adorning rain. 'Not now, Lizzie, dear,' said
Jenny; 'let us have a talk by the fire.' With those words, she in her
turn loosened her friend's dark hair, and it dropped of its own weight
over her bosom, in two rich masses. Pretending to compare the colours
and admire the contrast, Jenny so managed a mere touch or two of her
nimble hands, as that she herself laying a cheek on one of the dark
folds, seemed blinded by her own clustering curls to all but the fire,
while the fine handsome face and brow of Lizzie were revealed without
obstruction in the sombre light.

'Let us have a talk,' said Jenny, 'about Mr Eugene Wrayburn.'

Something sparkled down among the fair hair resting on the dark hair;
and if it were not a star--which it couldn't be--it was an eye; and
if it were an eye, it was Jenny Wren's eye, bright and watchful as the
bird's whose name she had taken.

'Why about Mr Wrayburn?' Lizzie asked.

'For no better reason than because I'm in the humour. I wonder whether
he's rich!'

'No, not rich.'

'Poor?'

'I think so, for a gentleman.'

'Ah! To be sure! Yes, he's a gentleman. Not of our sort; is he?' A shake
of the head, a thoughtful shake of the head, and the answer, softly
spoken, 'Oh no, oh no!'

The dolls' dressmaker had an arm round her friend's waist. Adjusting the
arm, she slyly took the opportunity of blowing at her own hair where
it fell over her face; then the eye down there, under lighter shadows
sparkled more brightly and appeared more watchful.

'When He turns up, he shan't be a gentleman; I'll very soon send him
packing, if he is. However, he's not Mr Wrayburn; I haven't captivated
HIM. I wonder whether anybody has, Lizzie!'

'It is very likely.'

'Is it very likely? I wonder who!'

'Is it not very likely that some lady has been taken by him, and that he
may love her dearly?'

'Perhaps. I don't know. What would you think of him, Lizzie, if you were
a lady?'

'I a lady!' she repeated, laughing. 'Such a fancy!'

'Yes. But say: just as a fancy, and for instance.'

'I a lady! I, a poor girl who used to row poor father on the river. I,
who had rowed poor father out and home on the very night when I saw him
for the first time. I, who was made so timid by his looking at me, that
I got up and went out!'

('He did look at you, even that night, though you were not a lady!'
thought Miss Wren.)

'I a lady!' Lizzie went on in a low voice, with her eyes upon the fire.
'I, with poor father's grave not even cleared of undeserved stain and
shame, and he trying to clear it for me! I a lady!'

'Only as a fancy, and for instance,' urged Miss Wren.

'Too much, Jenny, dear, too much! My fancy is not able to get that far.'
As the low fire gleamed upon her, it showed her smiling, mournfully and
abstractedly.

'But I am in the humour, and I must be humoured, Lizzie, because after
all I am a poor little thing, and have had a hard day with my bad child.
Look in the fire, as I like to hear you tell how you used to do when you
lived in that dreary old house that had once been a windmill. Look in
the--what was its name when you told fortunes with your brother that I
DON'T like?'

'The hollow down by the flare?'

'Ah! That's the name! You can find a lady there, I know.'

'More easily than I can make one of such material as myself, Jenny.'

The sparkling eye looked steadfastly up, as the musing face looked
thoughtfully down. 'Well?' said the dolls' dressmaker, 'We have found
our lady?'

Lizzie nodded, and asked, 'Shall she be rich?'

'She had better be, as he's poor.'

'She is very rich. Shall she be handsome?'

'Even you can be that, Lizzie, so she ought to be.'

'She is very handsome.'

'What does she say about him?' asked Miss Jenny, in a low voice:
watchful, through an intervening silence, of the face looking down at
the fire.

'She is glad, glad, to be rich, that he may have the money. She is glad,
glad, to be beautiful, that he may be proud of her. Her poor heart--'

'Eh? Her poor hear?' said Miss Wren.

'Her heart--is given him, with all its love and truth. She would
joyfully die with him, or, better than that, die for him. She knows he
has failings, but she thinks they have grown up through his being like
one cast away, for the want of something to trust in, and care for, and
think well of. And she says, that lady rich and beautiful that I can
never come near, "Only put me in that empty place, only try how little
I mind myself, only prove what a world of things I will do and bear for
you, and I hope that you might even come to be much better than you are,
through me who am so much worse, and hardly worth the thinking of beside
you."'

As the face looking at the fire had become exalted and forgetful in the
rapture of these words, the little creature, openly clearing away
her fair hair with her disengaged hand, had gazed at it with earnest
attention and something like alarm. Now that the speaker ceased, the
little creature laid down her head again, and moaned, 'O me, O me, O
me!'

'In pain, dear Jenny?' asked Lizzie, as if awakened.

'Yes, but not the old pain. Lay me down, lay me down. Don't go out of
my sight to-night. Lock the door and keep close to me. Then turning away
her face, she said in a whisper to herself, 'My Lizzie, my poor Lizzie!
O my blessed children, come back in the long bright slanting rows, and
come for her, not me. She wants help more than I, my blessed children!'

She had stretched her hands up with that higher and better look, and
now she turned again, and folded them round Lizzie's neck, and rocked
herself on Lizzie's breast.



Chapter 12

MORE BIRDS OF PREY


Rogue Riderhood dwelt deep and dark in Limehouse Hole, among the
riggers, and the mast, oar and block makers, and the boat-builders, and
the sail-lofts, as in a kind of ship's hold stored full of waterside
characters, some no better than himself, some very much better, and
none much worse. The Hole, albeit in a general way not over nice in
its choice of company, was rather shy in reference to the honour of
cultivating the Rogue's acquaintance; more frequently giving him the
cold shoulder than the warm hand, and seldom or never drinking with him
unless at his own expense. A part of the Hole, indeed, contained so
much public spirit and private virtue that not even this strong leverage
could move it to good fellowship with a tainted accuser. But, there may
have been the drawback on this magnanimous morality, that its exponents
held a true witness before Justice to be the next unneighbourly and
accursed character to a false one.

Had it not been for the daughter whom he often mentioned, Mr Riderhood
might have found the Hole a mere grave as to any means it would yield
him of getting a living. But Miss Pleasant Riderhood had some little
position and connection in Limehouse Hole. Upon the smallest of small
scales, she was an unlicensed pawnbroker, keeping what was popularly
called a Leaving Shop, by lending insignificant sums on insignificant
articles of property deposited with her as security. In her
four-and-twentieth year of life, Pleasant was already in her fifth year
of this way of trade. Her deceased mother had established the business,
and on that parent's demise she had appropriated a secret capital of
fifteen shillings to establishing herself in it; the existence of
such capital in a pillow being the last intelligible confidential
communication made to her by the departed, before succumbing to
dropsical conditions of snuff and gin, incompatible equally with
coherence and existence.

Why christened Pleasant, the late Mrs Riderhood might possibly have
been at some time able to explain, and possibly not. Her daughter had no
information on that point. Pleasant she found herself, and she couldn't
help it. She had not been consulted on the question, any more than on
the question of her coming into these terrestrial parts, to want a name.
Similarly, she found herself possessed of what is colloquially termed
a swivel eye (derived from her father), which she might perhaps have
declined if her sentiments on the subject had been taken. She was not
otherwise positively ill-looking, though anxious, meagre, of a muddy
complexion, and looking as old again as she really was.

As some dogs have it in the blood, or are trained, to worry certain
creatures to a certain point, so--not to make the comparison
disrespectfully--Pleasant Riderhood had it in the blood, or had been
trained, to regard seamen, within certain limits, as her prey. Show
her a man in a blue jacket, and, figuratively speaking, she pinned him
instantly. Yet, all things considered, she was not of an evil mind or an
unkindly disposition. For, observe how many things were to be considered
according to her own unfortunate experience. Show Pleasant Riderhood a
Wedding in the street, and she only saw two people taking out a regular
licence to quarrel and fight. Show her a Christening, and she saw a
little heathen personage having a quite superfluous name bestowed upon
it, inasmuch as it would be commonly addressed by some abusive epithet:
which little personage was not in the least wanted by anybody, and would
be shoved and banged out of everybody's way, until it should grow
big enough to shove and bang. Show her a Funeral, and she saw an
unremunerative ceremony in the nature of a black masquerade, conferring
a temporary gentility on the performers, at an immense expense, and
representing the only formal party ever given by the deceased. Show her
a live father, and she saw but a duplicate of her own father, who from
her infancy had been taken with fits and starts of discharging his duty
to her, which duty was always incorporated in the form of a fist or a
leathern strap, and being discharged hurt her. All things considered,
therefore, Pleasant Riderhood was not so very, very bad. There was even
a touch of romance in her--of such romance as could creep into Limehouse
Hole--and maybe sometimes of a summer evening, when she stood with
folded arms at her shop-door, looking from the reeking street to the
sky where the sun was setting, she may have had some vaporous visions
of far-off islands in the southern seas or elsewhere (not being
geographically particular), where it would be good to roam with a
congenial partner among groves of bread-fruit, waiting for ships to be
wafted from the hollow ports of civilization. For, sailors to be got the
better of, were essential to Miss Pleasant's Eden.

Not on a summer evening did she come to her little shop-door, when a
certain man standing over against the house on the opposite side of
the street took notice of her. That was on a cold shrewd windy evening,
after dark. Pleasant Riderhood shared with most of the lady inhabitants
of the Hole, the peculiarity that her hair was a ragged knot, constantly
coming down behind, and that she never could enter upon any undertaking
without first twisting it into place. At that particular moment, being
newly come to the threshold to take a look out of doors, she was winding
herself up with both hands after this fashion. And so prevalent was the
fashion, that on the occasion of a fight or other disturbance in the
Hole, the ladies would be seen flocking from all quarters universally
twisting their back-hair as they came along, and many of them, in the
hurry of the moment, carrying their back-combs in their mouths.

It was a wretched little shop, with a roof that any man standing in it
could touch with his hand; little better than a cellar or cave, down
three steps. Yet in its ill-lighted window, among a flaring handkerchief
or two, an old peacoat or so, a few valueless watches and compasses, a
jar of tobacco and two crossed pipes, a bottle of walnut ketchup, and
some horrible sweets these creature discomforts serving as a blind to
the main business of the Leaving Shop--was displayed the inscription
SEAMAN'S BOARDING-HOUSE.

Taking notice of Pleasant Riderhood at the door, the man crossed so
quickly that she was still winding herself up, when he stood close
before her.

'Is your father at home?' said he.

'I think he is,' returned Pleasant, dropping her arms; 'come in.'

It was a tentative reply, the man having a seafaring appearance. Her
father was not at home, and Pleasant knew it. 'Take a seat by the fire,'
were her hospitable words when she had got him in; 'men of your calling
are always welcome here.'

'Thankee,' said the man.

His manner was the manner of a sailor, and his hands were the hands of
a sailor, except that they were smooth. Pleasant had an eye for sailors,
and she noticed the unused colour and texture of the hands, sunburnt
though they were, as sharply as she noticed their unmistakable looseness
and suppleness, as he sat himself down with his left arm carelessly
thrown across his left leg a little above the knee, and the right arm
as carelessly thrown over the elbow of the wooden chair, with the hand
curved, half open and half shut, as if it had just let go a rope.

'Might you be looking for a Boarding-House?' Pleasant inquired, taking
her observant stand on one side of the fire.

'I don't rightly know my plans yet,' returned the man.

'You ain't looking for a Leaving Shop?'

'No,' said the man.

'No,' assented Pleasant, 'you've got too much of an outfit on you for
that. But if you should want either, this is both.'

'Ay, ay!' said the man, glancing round the place. 'I know. I've been
here before.'

'Did you Leave anything when you were here before?' asked Pleasant, with
a view to principal and interest.

'No.' The man shook his head.

'I am pretty sure you never boarded here?'

'No.' The man again shook his head.

'What DID you do here when you were here before?' asked Pleasant. 'For I
don't remember you.'

'It's not at all likely you should. I only stood at the door, one
night--on the lower step there--while a shipmate of mine looked in to
speak to your father. I remember the place well.' Looking very curiously
round it.

'Might that have been long ago?'

'Ay, a goodish bit ago. When I came off my last voyage.'

'Then you have not been to sea lately?'

'No. Been in the sick bay since then, and been employed ashore.'

'Then, to be sure, that accounts for your hands.'

The man with a keen look, a quick smile, and a change of manner, caught
her up. 'You're a good observer. Yes. That accounts for my hands.'

Pleasant was somewhat disquieted by his look, and returned it
suspiciously. Not only was his change of manner, though very sudden,
quite collected, but his former manner, which he resumed, had a
certain suppressed confidence and sense of power in it that were half
threatening.

'Will your father be long?' he inquired.

'I don't know. I can't say.'

'As you supposed he was at home, it would seem that he has just gone
out? How's that?'

'I supposed he had come home,' Pleasant explained.

'Oh! You supposed he had come home? Then he has been some time out?
How's that?'

'I don't want to deceive you. Father's on the river in his boat.'

'At the old work?' asked the man.

'I don't know what you mean,' said Pleasant, shrinking a step back.
'What on earth d'ye want?'

'I don't want to hurt your father. I don't want to say I might, if I
chose. I want to speak to him. Not much in that, is there? There shall
be no secrets from you; you shall be by. And plainly, Miss Riderhood,
there's nothing to be got out of me, or made of me. I am not good for
the Leaving Shop, I am not good for the Boarding-House, I am not good
for anything in your way to the extent of sixpenn'orth of halfpence. Put
the idea aside, and we shall get on together.'

'But you're a seafaring man?' argued Pleasant, as if that were a
sufficient reason for his being good for something in her way.

'Yes and no. I have been, and I may be again. But I am not for you.
Won't you take my word for it?'

The conversation had arrived at a crisis to justify Miss Pleasant's hair
in tumbling down. It tumbled down accordingly, and she twisted it up,
looking from under her bent forehead at the man. In taking stock of his
familiarly worn rough-weather nautical clothes, piece by piece, she took
stock of a formidable knife in a sheath at his waist ready to his hand,
and of a whistle hanging round his neck, and of a short jagged knotted
club with a loaded head that peeped out of a pocket of his loose
outer jacket or frock. He sat quietly looking at her; but, with these
appendages partially revealing themselves, and with a quantity
of bristling oakum-coloured head and whisker, he had a formidable
appearance.

'Won't you take my word for it?' he asked again.

Pleasant answered with a short dumb nod. He rejoined with another short
dumb nod. Then he got up and stood with his arms folded, in front of
the fire, looking down into it occasionally, as she stood with her arms
folded, leaning against the side of the chimney-piece.

'To wile away the time till your father comes,' he said,--'pray is there
much robbing and murdering of seamen about the water-side now?'

'No,' said Pleasant.

'Any?'

'Complaints of that sort are sometimes made, about Ratcliffe and Wapping
and up that way. But who knows how many are true?'

'To be sure. And it don't seem necessary.'

'That's what I say,' observed Pleasant. 'Where's the reason for it?
Bless the sailors, it ain't as if they ever could keep what they have,
without it.'

'You're right. Their money may be soon got out of them, without
violence,' said the man.

'Of course it may,' said Pleasant; 'and then they ship again and get
more. And the best thing for 'em, too, to ship again as soon as ever
they can be brought to it. They're never so well off as when they're
afloat.'

'I'll tell you why I ask,' pursued the visitor, looking up from the
fire. 'I was once beset that way myself, and left for dead.'

'No?' said Pleasant. 'Where did it happen?'

'It happened,' returned the man, with a ruminative air, as he drew his
right hand across his chin, and dipped the other in the pocket of his
rough outer coat, 'it happened somewhere about here as I reckon. I don't
think it can have been a mile from here.'

'Were you drunk?' asked Pleasant.

'I was muddled, but not with fair drinking. I had not been drinking, you
understand. A mouthful did it.'

Pleasant with a grave look shook her head; importing that she understood
the process, but decidedly disapproved.

'Fair trade is one thing,' said she, 'but that's another. No one has a
right to carry on with Jack in THAT way.'

'The sentiment does you credit,' returned the man, with a grim smile;
and added, in a mutter, 'the more so, as I believe it's not your
father's.--Yes, I had a bad time of it, that time. I lost everything,
and had a sharp struggle for my life, weak as I was.'

'Did you get the parties punished?' asked Pleasant.

'A tremendous punishment followed,' said the man, more seriously; 'but
it was not of my bringing about.'

'Of whose, then?' asked Pleasant.

The man pointed upward with his forefinger, and, slowly recovering that
hand, settled his chin in it again as he looked at the fire. Bringing
her inherited eye to bear upon him, Pleasant Riderhood felt more
and more uncomfortable, his manner was so mysterious, so stern, so
self-possessed.

'Anyways,' said the damsel, 'I am glad punishment followed, and I say
so. Fair trade with seafaring men gets a bad name through deeds of
violence. I am as much against deeds of violence being done to seafaring
men, as seafaring men can be themselves. I am of the same opinion as my
mother was, when she was living. Fair trade, my mother used to say, but
no robbery and no blows.' In the way of trade Miss Pleasant would have
taken--and indeed did take when she could--as much as thirty shillings
a week for board that would be dear at five, and likewise conducted the
Leaving business upon correspondingly equitable principles; yet she had
that tenderness of conscience and those feelings of humanity, that the
moment her ideas of trade were overstepped, she became the seaman's
champion, even against her father whom she seldom otherwise resisted.

But, she was here interrupted by her father's voice exclaiming angrily,
'Now, Poll Parrot!' and by her father's hat being heavily flung from his
hand and striking her face. Accustomed to such occasional manifestations
of his sense of parental duty, Pleasant merely wiped her face on her
hair (which of course had tumbled down) before she twisted it up. This
was another common procedure on the part of the ladies of the Hole, when
heated by verbal or fistic altercation.

'Blest if I believe such a Poll Parrot as you was ever learned to
speak!' growled Mr Riderhood, stooping to pick up his hat, and making
a feint at her with his head and right elbow; for he took the delicate
subject of robbing seamen in extraordinary dudgeon, and was out of
humour too. 'What are you Poll Parroting at now? Ain't you got nothing
to do but fold your arms and stand a Poll Parroting all night?'

'Let her alone,' urged the man. 'She was only speaking to me.'

'Let her alone too!' retorted Mr Riderhood, eyeing him all over. 'Do you
know she's my daughter?'

'Yes.'

'And don't you know that I won't have no Poll Parroting on the part of
my daughter? No, nor yet that I won't take no Poll Parroting from no
man? And who may YOU be, and what may YOU want?'

'How can I tell you until you are silent?' returned the other fiercely.

'Well,' said Mr Riderhood, quailing a little, 'I am willing to be silent
for the purpose of hearing. But don't Poll Parrot me.'

'Are you thirsty, you?' the man asked, in the same fierce short way,
after returning his look.

'Why nat'rally,' said Mr Riderhood, 'ain't I always thirsty!' (Indignant
at the absurdity of the question.)

'What will you drink?' demanded the man.

'Sherry wine,' returned Mr Riderhood, in the same sharp tone, 'if you're
capable of it.'

The man put his hand in his pocket, took out half a sovereign, and
begged the favour of Miss Pleasant that she would fetch a bottle. 'With
the cork undrawn,' he added, emphatically, looking at her father.

'I'll take my Alfred David,' muttered Mr Riderhood, slowly relaxing into
a dark smile, 'that you know a move. Do I know YOU? N--n--no, I don't
know you.'

The man replied, 'No, you don't know me.' And so they stood looking at
one another surlily enough, until Pleasant came back.

'There's small glasses on the shelf,' said Riderhood to his daughter.
'Give me the one without a foot. I gets my living by the sweat of my
brow, and it's good enough for ME.' This had a modest self-denying
appearance; but it soon turned out that as, by reason of the
impossibility of standing the glass upright while there was anything in
it, it required to be emptied as soon as filled, Mr Riderhood managed to
drink in the proportion of three to one.

With his Fortunatus's goblet ready in his hand, Mr Riderhood sat down on
one side of the table before the fire, and the strange man on the other:
Pleasant occupying a stool between the latter and the fireside. The
background, composed of handkerchiefs, coats, shirts, hats, and other
old articles 'On Leaving,' had a general dim resemblance to human
listeners; especially where a shiny black sou'wester suit and hat hung,
looking very like a clumsy mariner with his back to the company, who
was so curious to overhear, that he paused for the purpose with his
coat half pulled on, and his shoulders up to his ears in the uncompleted
action.

The visitor first held the bottle against the light of the candle,
and next examined the top of the cork. Satisfied that it had not been
tampered with, he slowly took from his breastpocket a rusty clasp-knife,
and, with a corkscrew in the handle, opened the wine. That done,
he looked at the cork, unscrewed it from the corkscrew, laid each
separately on the table, and, with the end of the sailor's knot of his
neckerchief, dusted the inside of the neck of the bottle. All this with
great deliberation.

At first Riderhood had sat with his footless glass extended at arm's
length for filling, while the very deliberate stranger seemed absorbed
in his preparations. But, gradually his arm reverted home to him, and
his glass was lowered and lowered until he rested it upside down upon
the table. By the same degrees his attention became concentrated on
the knife. And now, as the man held out the bottle to fill all round,
Riderhood stood up, leaned over the table to look closer at the knife,
and stared from it to him.

'What's the matter?' asked the man.

'Why, I know that knife!' said Riderhood.

'Yes, I dare say you do.'

He motioned to him to hold up his glass, and filled it. Riderhood
emptied it to the last drop and began again.

'That there knife--'

'Stop,' said the man, composedly. 'I was going to drink to your
daughter. Your health, Miss Riderhood.'

'That knife was the knife of a seaman named George Radfoot.'

'It was.'

'That seaman was well beknown to me.'

'He was.'

'What's come to him?'

'Death has come to him. Death came to him in an ugly shape. He looked,'
said the man, 'very horrible after it.'

'Arter what?' said Riderhood, with a frowning stare.

'After he was killed.'

'Killed? Who killed him?'

Only answering with a shrug, the man filled the footless glass, and
Riderhood emptied it: looking amazedly from his daughter to his visitor.

'You don't mean to tell a honest man--' he was recommencing with
his empty glass in his hand, when his eye became fascinated by the
stranger's outer coat. He leaned across the table to see it nearer,
touched the sleeve, turned the cuff to look at the sleeve-lining (the
man, in his perfect composure, offering not the least objection), and
exclaimed, 'It's my belief as this here coat was George Radfoot's too!'

'You are right. He wore it the last time you ever saw him, and the last
time you ever will see him--in this world.'

'It's my belief you mean to tell me to my face you killed him!'
exclaimed Riderhood; but, nevertheless, allowing his glass to be filled
again.

The man only answered with another shrug, and showed no symptom of
confusion.

'Wish I may die if I know what to be up to with this chap!' said
Riderhood, after staring at him, and tossing his last glassful down his
throat. 'Let's know what to make of you. Say something plain.'

'I will,' returned the other, leaning forward across the table, and
speaking in a low impressive voice. 'What a liar you are!'

The honest witness rose, and made as though he would fling his glass in
the man's face. The man not wincing, and merely shaking his forefinger
half knowingly, half menacingly, the piece of honesty thought better of
it and sat down again, putting the glass down too.

'And when you went to that lawyer yonder in the Temple with that
invented story,' said the stranger, in an exasperatingly comfortable
sort of confidence, 'you might have had your strong suspicions of a
friend of your own, you know. I think you had, you know.'

'Me my suspicions? Of what friend?'

'Tell me again whose knife was this?' demanded the man.

'It was possessed by, and was the property of--him as I have made
mention on,' said Riderhood, stupidly evading the actual mention of the
name.

'Tell me again whose coat was this?'

'That there article of clothing likeways belonged to, and was wore
by--him as I have made mention on,' was again the dull Old Bailey
evasion.

'I suspect that you gave him the credit of the deed, and of keeping
cleverly out of the way. But there was small cleverness in HIS keeping
out of the way. The cleverness would have been, to have got back for one
single instant to the light of the sun.'

'Things is come to a pretty pass,' growled Mr Riderhood, rising to his
feet, goaded to stand at bay, 'when bullyers as is wearing dead men's
clothes, and bullyers as is armed with dead men's knives, is to come
into the houses of honest live men, getting their livings by the sweats
of their brows, and is to make these here sort of charges with no rhyme
and no reason, neither the one nor yet the other! Why should I have had
my suspicions of him?'

'Because you knew him,' replied the man; 'because you had been one with
him, and knew his real character under a fair outside; because on the
night which you had afterwards reason to believe to be the very night of
the murder, he came in here, within an hour of his having left his ship
in the docks, and asked you in what lodgings he could find room. Was
there no stranger with him?'

'I'll take my world-without-end everlasting Alfred David that you warn't
with him,' answered Riderhood. 'You talk big, you do, but things look
pretty black against yourself, to my thinking. You charge again' me that
George Radfoot got lost sight of, and was no more thought of. What's
that for a sailor? Why there's fifty such, out of sight and out of
mind, ten times as long as him--through entering in different names,
re-shipping when the out'ard voyage is made, and what not--a turning
up to light every day about here, and no matter made of it. Ask my
daughter. You could go on Poll Parroting enough with her, when I warn't
come in: Poll Parrot a little with her on this pint. You and your
suspicions of my suspicions of him! What are my suspicions of you? You
tell me George Radfoot got killed. I ask you who done it and how you
know it. You carry his knife and you wear his coat. I ask you how you
come by 'em? Hand over that there bottle!' Here Mr Riderhood appeared
to labour under a virtuous delusion that it was his own property. 'And
you,' he added, turning to his daughter, as he filled the footless
glass, 'if it warn't wasting good sherry wine on you, I'd chuck this at
you, for Poll Parroting with this man. It's along of Poll Parroting
that such like as him gets their suspicions, whereas I gets mine by
argueyment, and being nat'rally a honest man, and sweating away at the
brow as a honest man ought.' Here he filled the footless goblet again,
and stood chewing one half of its contents and looking down into the
other as he slowly rolled the wine about in the glass; while Pleasant,
whose sympathetic hair had come down on her being apostrophised,
rearranged it, much in the style of the tail of a horse when proceeding
to market to be sold.

'Well? Have you finished?' asked the strange man.

'No,' said Riderhood, 'I ain't. Far from it. Now then! I want to know
how George Radfoot come by his death, and how you come by his kit?'

'If you ever do know, you won't know now.'

'And next I want to know,' proceeded Riderhood 'whether you mean to
charge that what-you-may-call-it-murder--'

'Harmon murder, father,' suggested Pleasant.

'No Poll Parroting!' he vociferated, in return. 'Keep your mouth
shut!--I want to know, you sir, whether you charge that there crime on
George Radfoot?'

'If you ever do know, you won't know now.'

'Perhaps you done it yourself?' said Riderhood, with a threatening
action.

'I alone know,' returned the man, sternly shaking his head, 'the
mysteries of that crime. I alone know that your trumped-up story cannot
possibly be true. I alone know that it must be altogether false, and
that you must know it to be altogether false. I come here to-night to
tell you so much of what I know, and no more.'

Mr Riderhood, with his crooked eye upon his visitor, meditated for some
moments, and then refilled his glass, and tipped the contents down his
throat in three tips.

'Shut the shop-door!' he then said to his daughter, putting the glass
suddenly down. 'And turn the key and stand by it! If you know all this,
you sir,' getting, as he spoke, between the visitor and the door, 'why
han't you gone to Lawyer Lightwood?'

'That, also, is alone known to myself,' was the cool answer.

'Don't you know that, if you didn't do the deed, what you say you could
tell is worth from five to ten thousand pound?' asked Riderhood.

'I know it very well, and when I claim the money you shall share it.'

The honest man paused, and drew a little nearer to the visitor, and a
little further from the door.

'I know it,' repeated the man, quietly, 'as well as I know that you and
George Radfoot were one together in more than one dark business; and as
well as I know that you, Roger Riderhood, conspired against an innocent
man for blood-money; and as well as I know that I can--and that I swear
I will!--give you up on both scores, and be the proof against you in my
own person, if you defy me!'

'Father!' cried Pleasant, from the door. 'Don't defy him! Give way to
him! Don't get into more trouble, father!'

'Will you leave off a Poll Parroting, I ask you?' cried Mr Riderhood,
half beside himself between the two. Then, propitiatingly and
crawlingly: 'You sir! You han't said what you want of me. Is it fair, is
it worthy of yourself, to talk of my defying you afore ever you say what
you want of me?'

'I don't want much,' said the man. 'This accusation of yours must not be
left half made and half unmade. What was done for the blood-money must
be thoroughly undone.'

'Well; but Shipmate--'

'Don't call me Shipmate,' said the man.

'Captain, then,' urged Mr Riderhood; 'there! You won't object to
Captain. It's a honourable title, and you fully look it. Captain! Ain't
the man dead? Now I ask you fair. Ain't Gaffer dead?'

'Well,' returned the other, with impatience, 'yes, he is dead. What
then?'

'Can words hurt a dead man, Captain? I only ask you fair.'

'They can hurt the memory of a dead man, and they can hurt his living
children. How many children had this man?'

'Meaning Gaffer, Captain?'

'Of whom else are we speaking?' returned the other, with a movement of
his foot, as if Rogue Riderhood were beginning to sneak before him in
the body as well as the spirit, and he spurned him off. 'I have heard
of a daughter, and a son. I ask for information; I ask YOUR daughter; I
prefer to speak to her. What children did Hexam leave?'

Pleasant, looking to her father for permission to reply, that honest man
exclaimed with great bitterness:

'Why the devil don't you answer the Captain? You can Poll Parrot enough
when you ain't wanted to Poll Parrot, you perwerse jade!'

Thus encouraged, Pleasant explained that there were only Lizzie, the
daughter in question, and the youth. Both very respectable, she added.

'It is dreadful that any stigma should attach to them,' said the
visitor, whom the consideration rendered so uneasy that he rose, and
paced to and fro, muttering, 'Dreadful! Unforeseen? How could it be
foreseen!' Then he stopped, and asked aloud: 'Where do they live?'

Pleasant further explained that only the daughter had resided with the
father at the time of his accidental death, and that she had immediately
afterwards quitted the neighbourhood.

'I know that,' said the man, 'for I have been to the place they dwelt
in, at the time of the inquest. Could you quietly find out for me where
she lives now?'

Pleasant had no doubt she could do that. Within what time, did she
think? Within a day. The visitor said that was well, and he would return
for the information, relying on its being obtained. To this dialogue
Riderhood had attended in silence, and he now obsequiously bespake the
Captain.

'Captain! Mentioning them unfort'net words of mine respecting Gaffer,
it is contrairily to be bore in mind that Gaffer always were a precious
rascal, and that his line were a thieving line. Likeways when I went to
them two Governors, Lawyer Lightwood and the t'other Governor, with
my information, I may have been a little over-eager for the cause of
justice, or (to put it another way) a little over-stimilated by them
feelings which rouses a man up, when a pot of money is going about,
to get his hand into that pot of money for his family's sake. Besides
which, I think the wine of them two Governors was--I will not say
a hocussed wine, but fur from a wine as was elthy for the mind. And
there's another thing to be remembered, Captain. Did I stick to them
words when Gaffer was no more, and did I say bold to them two Governors,
"Governors both, wot I informed I still inform; wot was took down I hold
to"? No. I says, frank and open--no shuffling, mind you, Captain!--"I
may have been mistook, I've been a thinking of it, it mayn't have been
took down correct on this and that, and I won't swear to thick and thin,
I'd rayther forfeit your good opinions than do it." And so far as
I know,' concluded Mr Riderhood, by way of proof and evidence to
character, 'I HAVE actiwally forfeited the good opinions of several
persons--even your own, Captain, if I understand your words--but I'd
sooner do it than be forswore. There; if that's conspiracy, call me
conspirator.'

'You shall sign,' said the visitor, taking very little heed of this
oration, 'a statement that it was all utterly false, and the poor girl
shall have it. I will bring it with me for your signature, when I come
again.'

'When might you be expected, Captain?' inquired Riderhood, again
dubiously getting between him and door.

'Quite soon enough for you. I shall not disappoint you; don't be
afraid.'

'Might you be inclined to leave any name, Captain?'

'No, not at all. I have no such intention.'

'"Shall" is summ'at of a hard word, Captain,' urged Riderhood, still
feebly dodging between him and the door, as he advanced. 'When you say a
man "shall" sign this and that and t'other, Captain, you order him about
in a grand sort of a way. Don't it seem so to yourself?'

The man stood still, and angrily fixed him with his eyes.

'Father, father!' entreated Pleasant, from the door, with her disengaged
hand nervously trembling at her lips; 'don't! Don't get into trouble any
more!'

'Hear me out, Captain, hear me out! All I was wishing to mention,
Captain, afore you took your departer,' said the sneaking Mr Riderhood,
falling out of his path, 'was, your handsome words relating to the
reward.'

'When I claim it,' said the man, in a tone which seemed to leave some
such words as 'you dog,' very distinctly understood, 'you shall share
it.'

Looking stedfastly at Riderhood, he once more said in a low voice, this
time with a grim sort of admiration of him as a perfect piece of evil,
'What a liar you are!' and, nodding his head twice or thrice over the
compliment, passed out of the shop. But, to Pleasant he said good-night
kindly.

The honest man who gained his living by the sweat of his brow remained
in a state akin to stupefaction, until the footless glass and the
unfinished bottle conveyed themselves into his mind. From his mind he
conveyed them into his hands, and so conveyed the last of the wine into
his stomach. When that was done, he awoke to a clear perception that
Poll Parroting was solely chargeable with what had passed. Therefore,
not to be remiss in his duty as a father, he threw a pair of sea-boots
at Pleasant, which she ducked to avoid, and then cried, poor thing,
using her hair for a pocket-handkerchief.



Chapter 13

A SOLO AND A DUETT


The wind was blowing so hard when the visitor came out at the shop-door
into the darkness and dirt of Limehouse Hole, that it almost blew him
in again. Doors were slamming violently, lamps were flickering or blown
out, signs were rocking in their frames, the water of the kennels,
wind-dispersed, flew about in drops like rain. Indifferent to the
weather, and even preferring it to better weather for its clearance of
the streets, the man looked about him with a scrutinizing glance. 'Thus
much I know,' he murmured. 'I have never been here since that night, and
never was here before that night, but thus much I recognize. I wonder
which way did we take when we came out of that shop. We turned to the
right as I have turned, but I can recall no more. Did we go by this
alley? Or down that little lane?'

He tried both, but both confused him equally, and he came straying
back to the same spot. 'I remember there were poles pushed out of upper
windows on which clothes were drying, and I remember a low public-house,
and the sound flowing down a narrow passage belonging to it of the
scraping of a fiddle and the shuffling of feet. But here are all these
things in the lane, and here are all these things in the alley. And I
have nothing else in my mind but a wall, a dark doorway, a flight of
stairs, and a room.'

He tried a new direction, but made nothing of it; walls, dark doorways,
flights of stairs and rooms, were too abundant. And, like most people so
puzzled, he again and again described a circle, and found himself at
the point from which he had begun. 'This is like what I have read in
narratives of escape from prison,' said he, 'where the little track of
the fugitives in the night always seems to take the shape of the great
round world, on which they wander; as if it were a secret law.'

Here he ceased to be the oakum-headed, oakum-whiskered man on whom Miss
Pleasant Riderhood had looked, and, allowing for his being still wrapped
in a nautical overcoat, became as like that same lost wanted Mr Julius
Handford, as never man was like another in this world. In the breast of
the coat he stowed the bristling hair and whisker, in a moment, as the
favouring wind went with him down a solitary place that it had swept
clear of passengers. Yet in that same moment he was the Secretary also,
Mr Boffin's Secretary. For John Rokesmith, too, was as like that same
lost wanted Mr Julius Handford as never man was like another in this
world.

'I have no clue to the scene of my death,' said he. 'Not that it matters
now. But having risked discovery by venturing here at all, I should have
been glad to track some part of the way.' With which singular words he
abandoned his search, came up out of Limehouse Hole, and took the way
past Limehouse Church. At the great iron gate of the churchyard he
stopped and looked in. He looked up at the high tower spectrally
resisting the wind, and he looked round at the white tombstones, like
enough to the dead in their winding-sheets, and he counted the nine
tolls of the clock-bell.

'It is a sensation not experienced by many mortals,' said he, 'to be
looking into a churchyard on a wild windy night, and to feel that I no
more hold a place among the living than these dead do, and even to know
that I lie buried somewhere else, as they lie buried here. Nothing uses
me to it. A spirit that was once a man could hardly feel stranger or
lonelier, going unrecognized among mankind, than I feel.

'But this is the fanciful side of the situation. It has a real side, so
difficult that, though I think of it every day, I never thoroughly think
it out. Now, let me determine to think it out as I walk home. I know
I evade it, as many men--perhaps most men--do evade thinking their way
through their greatest perplexity. I will try to pin myself to mine.
Don't evade it, John Harmon; don't evade it; think it out!


'When I came to England, attracted to the country with which I had none
but most miserable associations, by the accounts of my fine inheritance
that found me abroad, I came back, shrinking from my father's money,
shrinking from my father's memory, mistrustful of being forced on a
mercenary wife, mistrustful of my father's intention in thrusting that
marriage on me, mistrustful that I was already growing avaricious,
mistrustful that I was slackening in gratitude to the two dear noble
honest friends who had made the only sunlight in my childish life or
that of my heartbroken sister. I came back, timid, divided in my mind,
afraid of myself and everybody here, knowing of nothing but wretchedness
that my father's wealth had ever brought about. Now, stop, and so far
think it out, John Harmon. Is that so? That is exactly so.

'On board serving as third mate was George Radfoot. I knew nothing of
him. His name first became known to me about a week before we sailed,
through my being accosted by one of the ship-agent's clerks as
"Mr Radfoot." It was one day when I had gone aboard to look to my
preparations, and the clerk, coming behind me as I stood on deck, tapped
me on the shoulder, and said, "Mr Rad-foot, look here," referring to
some papers that he had in his hand. And my name first became known to
Radfoot, through another clerk within a day or two, and while the ship
was yet in port, coming up behind him, tapping him on the shoulder and
beginning, "I beg your pardon, Mr Harmon--." I believe we were alike
in bulk and stature but not otherwise, and that we were not strikingly
alike, even in those respects, when we were together and could be
compared.

'However, a sociable word or two on these mistakes became an easy
introduction between us, and the weather was hot, and he helped me to a
cool cabin on deck alongside his own, and his first school had been at
Brussels as mine had been, and he had learnt French as I had learnt it,
and he had a little history of himself to relate--God only knows how
much of it true, and how much of it false--that had its likeness to
mine. I had been a seaman too. So we got to be confidential together,
and the more easily yet, because he and every one on board had known
by general rumour what I was making the voyage to England for. By such
degrees and means, he came to the knowledge of my uneasiness of mind,
and of its setting at that time in the direction of desiring to see and
form some judgment of my allotted wife, before she could possibly know
me for myself; also to try Mrs Boffin and give her a glad surprise. So
the plot was made out of our getting common sailors' dresses (as he was
able to guide me about London), and throwing ourselves in Bella Wilfer's
neighbourhood, and trying to put ourselves in her way, and doing
whatever chance might favour on the spot, and seeing what came of it. If
nothing came of it, I should be no worse off, and there would merely
be a short delay in my presenting myself to Lightwood. I have all these
facts right? Yes. They are all accurately right.

'His advantage in all this was, that for a time I was to be lost. It
might be for a day or for two days, but I must be lost sight of on
landing, or there would be recognition, anticipation, and failure.
Therefore, I disembarked with my valise in my hand--as Potterson
the steward and Mr Jacob Kibble my fellow-passenger afterwards
remembered--and waited for him in the dark by that very Limehouse Church
which is now behind me.

'As I had always shunned the port of London, I only knew the church
through his pointing out its spire from on board. Perhaps I might
recall, if it were any good to try, the way by which I went to it alone
from the river; but how we two went from it to Riderhood's shop, I don't
know--any more than I know what turns we took and doubles we made, after
we left it. The way was purposely confused, no doubt.

'But let me go on thinking the facts out, and avoid confusing them with
my speculations. Whether he took me by a straight way or a crooked way,
what is that to the purpose now? Steady, John Harmon.

'When we stopped at Riderhood's, and he asked that scoundrel a question
or two, purporting to refer only to the lodging-houses in which there
was accommodation for us, had I the least suspicion of him? None.
Certainly none until afterwards when I held the clue. I think he must
have got from Riderhood in a paper, the drug, or whatever it was, that
afterwards stupefied me, but I am far from sure. All I felt safe in
charging on him to-night, was old companionship in villainy between
them. Their undisguised intimacy, and the character I now know Riderhood
to bear, made that not at all adventurous. But I am not clear about the
drug. Thinking out the circumstances on which I found my suspicion, they
are only two. One: I remember his changing a small folded paper from one
pocket to another, after we came out, which he had not touched before.
Two: I now know Riderhood to have been previously taken up for being
concerned in the robbery of an unlucky seaman, to whom some such poison
had been given.

'It is my conviction that we cannot have gone a mile from that shop,
before we came to the wall, the dark doorway, the flight of stairs, and
the room. The night was particularly dark and it rained hard. As I think
the circumstances back, I hear the rain splashing on the stone pavement
of the passage, which was not under cover. The room overlooked the
river, or a dock, or a creek, and the tide was out. Being possessed of
the time down to that point, I know by the hour that it must have been
about low water; but while the coffee was getting ready, I drew back the
curtain (a dark-brown curtain), and, looking out, knew by the kind
of reflection below, of the few neighbouring lights, that they were
reflected in tidal mud.

'He had carried under his arm a canvas bag, containing a suit of his
clothes. I had no change of outer clothes with me, as I was to buy
slops. "You are very wet, Mr Harmon,"--I can hear him saying--"and I am
quite dry under this good waterproof coat. Put on these clothes of
mine. You may find on trying them that they will answer your purpose
to-morrow, as well as the slops you mean to buy, or better. While you
change, I'll hurry the hot coffee." When he came back, I had his clothes
on, and there was a black man with him, wearing a linen jacket, like
a steward, who put the smoking coffee on the table in a tray and never
looked at me. I am so far literal and exact? Literal and exact, I am
certain.

'Now, I pass to sick and deranged impressions; they are so strong, that
I rely upon them; but there are spaces between them that I know nothing
about, and they are not pervaded by any idea of time.

'I had drank some coffee, when to my sense of sight he began to swell
immensely, and something urged me to rush at him. We had a struggle near
the door. He got from me, through my not knowing where to strike, in the
whirling round of the room, and the flashing of flames of fire between
us. I dropped down. Lying helpless on the ground, I was turned over by
a foot. I was dragged by the neck into a corner. I heard men speak
together. I was turned over by other feet. I saw a figure like myself
lying dressed in my clothes on a bed. What might have been, for anything
I knew, a silence of days, weeks, months, years, was broken by a violent
wrestling of men all over the room. The figure like myself was assailed,
and my valise was in its hand. I was trodden upon and fallen over. I
heard a noise of blows, and thought it was a wood-cutter cutting down
a tree. I could not have said that my name was John Harmon--I could not
have thought it--I didn't know it--but when I heard the blows, I thought
of the wood-cutter and his axe, and had some dead idea that I was lying
in a forest.

'This is still correct? Still correct, with the exception that I cannot
possibly express it to myself without using the word I. But it was not
I. There was no such thing as I, within my knowledge.

'It was only after a downward slide through something like a tube, and
then a great noise and a sparkling and crackling as of fires, that the
consciousness came upon me, "This is John Harmon drowning! John Harmon,
struggle for your life. John Harmon, call on Heaven and save yourself!"
I think I cried it out aloud in a great agony, and then a heavy horrid
unintelligible something vanished, and it was I who was struggling there
alone in the water.

'I was very weak and faint, frightfully oppressed with drowsiness, and
driving fast with the tide. Looking over the black water, I saw the
lights racing past me on the two banks of the river, as if they were
eager to be gone and leave me dying in the dark. The tide was running
down, but I knew nothing of up or down then. When, guiding myself safely
with Heaven's assistance before the fierce set of the water, I at last
caught at a boat moored, one of a tier of boats at a causeway, I was
sucked under her, and came up, only just alive, on the other side.

'Was I long in the water? Long enough to be chilled to the heart, but
I don't know how long. Yet the cold was merciful, for it was the cold
night air and the rain that restored me from a swoon on the stones of
the causeway. They naturally supposed me to have toppled in, drunk, when
I crept to the public-house it belonged to; for I had no notion where
I was, and could not articulate--through the poison that had made me
insensible having affected my speech--and I supposed the night to be
the previous night, as it was still dark and raining. But I had lost
twenty-four hours.

'I have checked the calculation often, and it must have been two nights
that I lay recovering in that public-house. Let me see. Yes. I am sure
it was while I lay in that bed there, that the thought entered my head
of turning the danger I had passed through, to the account of being
for some time supposed to have disappeared mysteriously, and of proving
Bella. The dread of our being forced on one another, and perpetuating
the fate that seemed to have fallen on my father's riches--the fate that
they should lead to nothing but evil--was strong upon the moral timidity
that dates from my childhood with my poor sister.

'As to this hour I cannot understand that side of the river where I
recovered the shore, being the opposite side to that on which I was
ensnared, I shall never understand it now. Even at this moment, while I
leave the river behind me, going home, I cannot conceive that it rolls
between me and that spot, or that the sea is where it is. But this is
not thinking it out; this is making a leap to the present time.

'I could not have done it, but for the fortune in the waterproof
belt round my body. Not a great fortune, forty and odd pounds for the
inheritor of a hundred and odd thousand! But it was enough. Without it I
must have disclosed myself. Without it, I could never have gone to that
Exchequer Coffee House, or taken Mrs Wilfer's lodgings.

'Some twelve days I lived at that hotel, before the night when I saw the
corpse of Radfoot at the Police Station. The inexpressible mental horror
that I laboured under, as one of the consequences of the poison, makes
the interval seem greatly longer, but I know it cannot have been longer.
That suffering has gradually weakened and weakened since, and has only
come upon me by starts, and I hope I am free from it now; but even now,
I have sometimes to think, constrain myself, and stop before speaking,
or I could not say the words I want to say.

'Again I ramble away from thinking it out to the end. It is not so far
to the end that I need be tempted to break off. Now, on straight!

'I examined the newspapers every day for tidings that I was missing, but
saw none. Going out that night to walk (for I kept retired while it was
light), I found a crowd assembled round a placard posted at Whitehall.
It described myself, John Harmon, as found dead and mutilated in the
river under circumstances of strong suspicion, described my dress,
described the papers in my pockets, and stated where I was lying for
recognition. In a wild incautious way I hurried there, and there--with
the horror of the death I had escaped, before my eyes in its most
appalling shape, added to the inconceivable horror tormenting me at
that time when the poisonous stuff was strongest on me--I perceived that
Radfoot had been murdered by some unknown hands for the money for which
he would have murdered me, and that probably we had both been shot into
the river from the same dark place into the same dark tide, when the
stream ran deep and strong.

'That night I almost gave up my mystery, though I suspected no one,
could offer no information, knew absolutely nothing save that the
murdered man was not I, but Radfoot. Next day while I hesitated, and
next day while I hesitated, it seemed as if the whole country were
determined to have me dead. The Inquest declared me dead, the Government
proclaimed me dead; I could not listen at my fireside for five minutes
to the outer noises, but it was borne into my ears that I was dead.

'So John Harmon died, and Julius Handford disappeared, and John
Rokesmith was born. John Rokesmith's intent to-night has been to repair
a wrong that he could never have imagined possible, coming to his ears
through the Lightwood talk related to him, and which he is bound by
every consideration to remedy. In that intent John Rokesmith will
persevere, as his duty is.

'Now, is it all thought out? All to this time? Nothing omitted? No,
nothing. But beyond this time? To think it out through the future, is a
harder though a much shorter task than to think it out through the past.
John Harmon is dead. Should John Harmon come to life?

'If yes, why? If no, why?'

'Take yes, first. To enlighten human Justice concerning the offence of
one far beyond it who may have a living mother. To enlighten it with the
lights of a stone passage, a flight of stairs, a brown window-curtain,
and a black man. To come into possession of my father's money, and with
it sordidly to buy a beautiful creature whom I love--I cannot help it;
reason has nothing to do with it; I love her against reason--but who
would as soon love me for my own sake, as she would love the beggar at
the corner. What a use for the money, and how worthy of its old misuses!

'Now, take no. The reasons why John Harmon should not come to life.
Because he has passively allowed these dear old faithful friends to pass
into possession of the property. Because he sees them happy with it,
making a good use of it, effacing the old rust and tarnish on the money.
Because they have virtually adopted Bella, and will provide for her.
Because there is affection enough in her nature, and warmth enough in
her heart, to develop into something enduringly good, under favourable
conditions. Because her faults have been intensified by her place in my
father's will, and she is already growing better. Because her marriage
with John Harmon, after what I have heard from her own lips, would be a
shocking mockery, of which both she and I must always be conscious, and
which would degrade her in her mind, and me in mine, and each of us in
the other's. Because if John Harmon comes to life and does not marry
her, the property falls into the very hands that hold it now.

'What would I have? Dead, I have found the true friends of my lifetime
still as true as tender and as faithful as when I was alive, and making
my memory an incentive to good actions done in my name. Dead, I have
found them when they might have slighted my name, and passed
greedily over my grave to ease and wealth, lingering by the way, like
single-hearted children, to recall their love for me when I was a poor
frightened child. Dead, I have heard from the woman who would have been
my wife if I had lived, the revolting truth that I should have purchased
her, caring nothing for me, as a Sultan buys a slave.

'What would I have? If the dead could know, or do know, how the living
use them, who among the hosts of dead has found a more disinterested
fidelity on earth than I? Is not that enough for me? If I had come back,
these noble creatures would have welcomed me, wept over me, given up
everything to me with joy. I did not come back, and they have passed
unspoiled into my place. Let them rest in it, and let Bella rest in
hers.

'What course for me then? This. To live the same quiet Secretary life,
carefully avoiding chances of recognition, until they shall have become
more accustomed to their altered state, and until the great swarm of
swindlers under many names shall have found newer prey. By that time,
the method I am establishing through all the affairs, and with which I
will every day take new pains to make them both familiar, will be, I may
hope, a machine in such working order as that they can keep it going.
I know I need but ask of their generosity, to have. When the right time
comes, I will ask no more than will replace me in my former path of
life, and John Rokesmith shall tread it as contentedly as he may. But
John Harmon shall come back no more.

'That I may never, in the days to come afar off, have any weak misgiving
that Bella might, in any contingency, have taken me for my own sake if
I had plainly asked her, I WILL plainly ask her: proving beyond all
question what I already know too well. And now it is all thought out,
from the beginning to the end, and my mind is easier.'


So deeply engaged had the living-dead man been, in thus communing with
himself, that he had regarded neither the wind nor the way, and had
resisted the former instinctively as he had pursued the latter. But
being now come into the City, where there was a coach-stand, he stood
irresolute whether to go to his lodgings, or to go first to Mr Boffin's
house. He decided to go round by the house, arguing, as he carried his
overcoat upon his arm, that it was less likely to attract notice if left
there, than if taken to Holloway: both Mrs Wilfer and Miss Lavinia being
ravenously curious touching every article of which the lodger stood
possessed.

Arriving at the house, he found that Mr and Mrs Boffin were out, but
that Miss Wilfer was in the drawing-room. Miss Wilfer had remained at
home, in consequence of not feeling very well, and had inquired in the
evening if Mr Rokesmith were in his room.

'Make my compliments to Miss Wilfer, and say I am here now.'

Miss Wilfer's compliments came down in return, and, if it were not too
much trouble, would Mr Rokesmith be so kind as to come up before he
went?

It was not too much trouble, and Mr Rokesmith came up.

Oh she looked very pretty, she looked very, very pretty! If the father
of the late John Harmon had but left his money unconditionally to his
son, and if his son had but lighted on this loveable girl for himself,
and had the happiness to make her loving as well as loveable!

'Dear me! Are you not well, Mr Rokesmith?'

'Yes, quite well. I was sorry to hear, when I came in, that YOU were
not.'

'A mere nothing. I had a headache--gone now--and was not quite fit for
a hot theatre, so I stayed at home. I asked you if you were not well,
because you look so white.'

'Do I? I have had a busy evening.'

She was on a low ottoman before the fire, with a little shining jewel
of a table, and her book and her work, beside her. Ah! what a different
life the late John Harmon's, if it had been his happy privilege to take
his place upon that ottoman, and draw his arm about that waist, and say,
'I hope the time has been long without me? What a Home Goddess you look,
my darling!'

But, the present John Rokesmith, far removed from the late John Harmon,
remained standing at a distance. A little distance in respect of space,
but a great distance in respect of separation.

'Mr Rokesmith,' said Bella, taking up her work, and inspecting it all
round the corners, 'I wanted to say something to you when I could have
the opportunity, as an explanation why I was rude to you the other day.
You have no right to think ill of me, sir.'

The sharp little way in which she darted a look at him, half sensitively
injured, and half pettishly, would have been very much admired by the
late John Harmon.

'You don't know how well I think of you, Miss Wilfer.'

'Truly, you must have a very high opinion of me, Mr Rokesmith, when you
believe that in prosperity I neglect and forget my old home.'

'Do I believe so?'

'You DID, sir, at any rate,' returned Bella.

'I took the liberty of reminding you of a little omission into which you
had fallen--insensibly and naturally fallen. It was no more than that.'

'And I beg leave to ask you, Mr Rokesmith,' said Bella, 'why you took
that liberty?--I hope there is no offence in the phrase; it is your own,
remember.'

'Because I am truly, deeply, profoundly interested in you, Miss Wilfer.
Because I wish to see you always at your best. Because I--shall I go
on?'

'No, sir,' returned Bella, with a burning face, 'you have said more than
enough. I beg that you will NOT go on. If you have any generosity, any
honour, you will say no more.'

The late John Harmon, looking at the proud face with the down-cast eyes,
and at the quick breathing as it stirred the fall of bright brown hair
over the beautiful neck, would probably have remained silent.

'I wish to speak to you, sir,' said Bella, 'once for all, and I don't
know how to do it. I have sat here all this evening, wishing to speak to
you, and determining to speak to you, and feeling that I must. I beg for
a moment's time.'

He remained silent, and she remained with her face averted, sometimes
making a slight movement as if she would turn and speak. At length she
did so.

'You know how I am situated here, sir, and you know how I am situated
at home. I must speak to you for myself, since there is no one about
me whom I could ask to do so. It is not generous in you, it is not
honourable in you, to conduct yourself towards me as you do.'

'Is it ungenerous or dishonourable to be devoted to you; fascinated by
you?'

'Preposterous!' said Bella.

The late John Harmon might have thought it rather a contemptuous and
lofty word of repudiation.

'I now feel obliged to go on,' pursued the Secretary, 'though it were
only in self-explanation and self-defence. I hope, Miss Wilfer, that
it is not unpardonable--even in me--to make an honest declaration of an
honest devotion to you.'

'An honest declaration!' repeated Bella, with emphasis.

'Is it otherwise?'

'I must request, sir,' said Bella, taking refuge in a touch of timely
resentment, 'that I may not be questioned. You must excuse me if I
decline to be cross-examined.'

'Oh, Miss Wilfer, this is hardly charitable. I ask you nothing but what
your own emphasis suggests. However, I waive even that question. But
what I have declared, I take my stand by. I cannot recall the avowal of
my earnest and deep attachment to you, and I do not recall it.'

'I reject it, sir,' said Bella.

'I should be blind and deaf if I were not prepared for the reply.
Forgive my offence, for it carries its punishment with it.'

'What punishment?' asked Bella.

'Is my present endurance none? But excuse me; I did not mean to
cross-examine you again.'

'You take advantage of a hasty word of mine,' said Bella with a little
sting of self-reproach, 'to make me seem--I don't know what. I spoke
without consideration when I used it. If that was bad, I am sorry; but
you repeat it after consideration, and that seems to me to be at least
no better. For the rest, I beg it may be understood, Mr Rokesmith, that
there is an end of this between us, now and for ever.'

'Now and for ever,' he repeated.

'Yes. I appeal to you, sir,' proceeded Bella with increasing spirit,
'not to pursue me. I appeal to you not to take advantage of your
position in this house to make my position in it distressing and
disagreeable. I appeal to you to discontinue your habit of making your
misplaced attentions as plain to Mrs Boffin as to me.'

'Have I done so?'

'I should think you have,' replied Bella. 'In any case it is not your
fault if you have not, Mr Rokesmith.'

'I hope you are wrong in that impression. I should be very sorry to
have justified it. I think I have not. For the future there is no
apprehension. It is all over.'

'I am much relieved to hear it,' said Bella. 'I have far other views in
life, and why should you waste your own?'

'Mine!' said the Secretary. 'My life!'

His curious tone caused Bella to glance at the curious smile with which
he said it. It was gone as he glanced back. 'Pardon me, Miss Wilfer,'
he proceeded, when their eyes met; 'you have used some hard words, for
which I do not doubt you have a justification in your mind, that I do
not understand. Ungenerous and dishonourable. In what?'

'I would rather not be asked,' said Bella, haughtily looking down.

'I would rather not ask, but the question is imposed upon me. Kindly
explain; or if not kindly, justly.'

'Oh, sir!' said Bella, raising her eyes to his, after a little struggle
to forbear, 'is it generous and honourable to use the power here which
your favour with Mr and Mrs Boffin and your ability in your place give
you, against me?'

'Against you?'

'Is it generous and honourable to form a plan for gradually bringing
their influence to bear upon a suit which I have shown you that I do not
like, and which I tell you that I utterly reject?'

The late John Harmon could have borne a good deal, but he would have
been cut to the heart by such a suspicion as this.

'Would it be generous and honourable to step into your place--if you did
so, for I don't know that you did, and I hope you did not--anticipating,
or knowing beforehand, that I should come here, and designing to take me
at this disadvantage?'

'This mean and cruel disadvantage,' said the Secretary.

'Yes,' assented Bella.

The Secretary kept silence for a little while; then merely said, 'You
are wholly mistaken, Miss Wilfer; wonderfully mistaken. I cannot say,
however, that it is your fault. If I deserve better things of you, you
do not know it.'

'At least, sir,' retorted Bella, with her old indignation rising, 'you
know the history of my being here at all. I have heard Mr Boffin say
that you are master of every line and word of that will, as you are
master of all his affairs. And was it not enough that I should have been
willed away, like a horse, or a dog, or a bird; but must you too begin
to dispose of me in your mind, and speculate in me, as soon as I had
ceased to be the talk and the laugh of the town? Am I for ever to be
made the property of strangers?'

'Believe me,' returned the Secretary, 'you are wonderfully mistaken.'

'I should be glad to know it,' answered Bella.

'I doubt if you ever will. Good-night. Of course I shall be careful to
conceal any traces of this interview from Mr and Mrs Boffin, as long as
I remain here. Trust me, what you have complained of is at an end for
ever.'

'I am glad I have spoken, then, Mr Rokesmith. It has been painful and
difficult, but it is done. If I have hurt you, I hope you will forgive
me. I am inexperienced and impetuous, and I have been a little spoilt;
but I really am not so bad as I dare say I appear, or as you think me.'

He quitted the room when Bella had said this, relenting in her wilful
inconsistent way. Left alone, she threw herself back on her ottoman, and
said, 'I didn't know the lovely woman was such a Dragon!' Then, she
got up and looked in the glass, and said to her image, 'You have been
positively swelling your features, you little fool!' Then, she took an
impatient walk to the other end of the room and back, and said, 'I
wish Pa was here to have a talk about an avaricious marriage; but he
is better away, poor dear, for I know I should pull his hair if he WAS
here.' And then she threw her work away, and threw her book after
it, and sat down and hummed a tune, and hummed it out of tune, and
quarrelled with it.

And John Rokesmith, what did he?

He went down to his room, and buried John Harmon many additional fathoms
deep. He took his hat, and walked out, and, as he went to Holloway or
anywhere else--not at all minding where--heaped mounds upon mounds of
earth over John Harmon's grave. His walking did not bring him home until
the dawn of day. And so busy had he been all night, piling and piling
weights upon weights of earth above John Harmon's grave, that by that
time John Harmon lay buried under a whole Alpine range; and still the
Sexton Rokesmith accumulated mountains over him, lightening his labour
with the dirge, 'Cover him, crush him, keep him down!'



Chapter 14

STRONG OF PURPOSE


The sexton-task of piling earth above John Harmon all night long, was
not conducive to sound sleep; but Rokesmith had some broken morning
rest, and rose strengthened in his purpose. It was all over now. No
ghost should trouble Mr and Mrs Boffin's peace; invisible and voiceless,
the ghost should look on for a little while longer at the state of
existence out of which it had departed, and then should for ever cease
to haunt the scenes in which it had no place.

He went over it all again. He had lapsed into the condition in which
he found himself, as many a man lapses into many a condition, without
perceiving the accumulative power of its separate circumstances. When
in the distrust engendered by his wretched childhood and the action for
evil--never yet for good within his knowledge then--of his father and
his father's wealth on all within their influence, he conceived the idea
of his first deception, it was meant to be harmless, it was to last
but a few hours or days, it was to involve in it only the girl so
capriciously forced upon him and upon whom he was so capriciously
forced, and it was honestly meant well towards her. For, if he had
found her unhappy in the prospect of that marriage (through her heart
inclining to another man or for any other cause), he would seriously
have said: 'This is another of the old perverted uses of the
misery-making money. I will let it go to my and my sister's only
protectors and friends.' When the snare into which he fell so
outstripped his first intention as that he found himself placarded by
the police authorities upon the London walls for dead, he confusedly
accepted the aid that fell upon him, without considering how firmly it
must seem to fix the Boffins in their accession to the fortune. When he
saw them, and knew them, and even from his vantage-ground of inspection
could find no flaw in them, he asked himself, 'And shall I come to life
to dispossess such people as these?' There was no good to set against
the putting of them to that hard proof. He had heard from Bella's own
lips when he stood tapping at the door on that night of his taking
the lodgings, that the marriage would have been on her part thoroughly
mercenary. He had since tried her, in his own unknown person and
supposed station, and she not only rejected his advances but resented
them. Was it for him to have the shame of buying her, or the meanness of
punishing her? Yet, by coming to life and accepting the condition of the
inheritance, he must do the former; and by coming to life and rejecting
it, he must do the latter.

Another consequence that he had never foreshadowed, was the implication
of an innocent man in his supposed murder. He would obtain complete
retraction from the accuser, and set the wrong right; but clearly the
wrong could never have been done if he had never planned a deception.
Then, whatever inconvenience or distress of mind the deception cost him,
it was manful repentantly to accept as among its consequences, and make
no complaint.

Thus John Rokesmith in the morning, and it buried John Harmon still many
fathoms deeper than he had been buried in the night.

Going out earlier than he was accustomed to do, he encountered the
cherub at the door. The cherub's way was for a certain space his way,
and they walked together.

It was impossible not to notice the change in the cherub's appearance.
The cherub felt very conscious of it, and modestly remarked:

'A present from my daughter Bella, Mr Rokesmith.'

The words gave the Secretary a stroke of pleasure, for he remembered the
fifty pounds, and he still loved the girl. No doubt it was very weak--it
always IS very weak, some authorities hold--but he loved the girl.

'I don't know whether you happen to have read many books of African
Travel, Mr Rokesmith?' said R. W.

'I have read several.'

'Well, you know, there's usually a King George, or a King Boy, or a King
Sambo, or a King Bill, or Bull, or Rum, or Junk, or whatever name the
sailors may have happened to give him.'

'Where?' asked Rokesmith.

'Anywhere. Anywhere in Africa, I mean. Pretty well everywhere, I may
say; for black kings are cheap--and I think'--said R. W., with an
apologetic air, 'nasty'.

'I am much of your opinion, Mr Wilfer. You were going to say--?'

'I was going to say, the king is generally dressed in a London hat only,
or a Manchester pair of braces, or one epaulette, or an uniform coat
with his legs in the sleeves, or something of that kind.'

'Just so,' said the Secretary.

'In confidence, I assure you, Mr Rokesmith,' observed the cheerful
cherub, 'that when more of my family were at home and to be provided
for, I used to remind myself immensely of that king. You have no idea,
as a single man, of the difficulty I have had in wearing more than one
good article at a time.'

'I can easily believe it, Mr Wilfer.'

'I only mention it,' said R. W. in the warmth of his heart, 'as a proof
of the amiable, delicate, and considerate affection of my daughter
Bella. If she had been a little spoilt, I couldn't have thought so very
much of it, under the circumstances. But no, not a bit. And she is so
very pretty! I hope you agree with me in finding her very pretty, Mr
Rokesmith?'

'Certainly I do. Every one must.'

'I hope so,' said the cherub. 'Indeed, I have no doubt of it. This is a
great advancement for her in life, Mr Rokesmith. A great opening of her
prospects?'

'Miss Wilfer could have no better friends than Mr and Mrs Boffin.'

'Impossible!' said the gratified cherub. 'Really I begin to think things
are very well as they are. If Mr John Harmon had lived--'

'He is better dead,' said the Secretary.

'No, I won't go so far as to say that,' urged the cherub, a little
remonstrant against the very decisive and unpitying tone; 'but he
mightn't have suited Bella, or Bella mightn't have suited him, or fifty
things, whereas now I hope she can choose for herself.'

'Has she--as you place the confidence in me of speaking on the subject,
you will excuse my asking--has she--perhaps--chosen?' faltered the
Secretary.

'Oh dear no!' returned R. W.

'Young ladies sometimes,' Rokesmith hinted, 'choose without mentioning
their choice to their fathers.'

'Not in this case, Mr Rokesmith. Between my daughter Bella and me there
is a regular league and covenant of confidence. It was ratified only the
other day. The ratification dates from--these,' said the cherub,
giving a little pull at the lappels of his coat and the pockets of his
trousers. 'Oh no, she has not chosen. To be sure, young George Sampson,
in the days when Mr John Harmon--'

'Who I wish had never been born!' said the Secretary, with a gloomy
brow.

R. W. looked at him with surprise, as thinking he had contracted an
unaccountable spite against the poor deceased, and continued: 'In the
days when Mr John Harmon was being sought out, young George Sampson
certainly was hovering about Bella, and Bella let him hover. But it
never was seriously thought of, and it's still less than ever to be
thought of now. For Bella is ambitious, Mr Rokesmith, and I think I may
predict will marry fortune. This time, you see, she will have the person
and the property before her together, and will be able to make her
choice with her eyes open. This is my road. I am very sorry to part
company so soon. Good morning, sir!'

The Secretary pursued his way, not very much elevated in spirits by this
conversation, and, arriving at the Boffin mansion, found Betty Higden
waiting for him.

'I should thank you kindly, sir,' said Betty, 'if I might make so bold
as have a word or two wi' you.'

She should have as many words as she liked, he told her; and took her
into his room, and made her sit down.

''Tis concerning Sloppy, sir,' said Betty. 'And that's how I come here
by myself. Not wishing him to know what I'm a-going to say to you, I got
the start of him early and walked up.'

'You have wonderful energy,' returned Rokesmith. 'You are as young as I
am.'

Betty Higden gravely shook her head. 'I am strong for my time of life,
sir, but not young, thank the Lord!'

'Are you thankful for not being young?'

'Yes, sir. If I was young, it would all have to be gone through again,
and the end would be a weary way off, don't you see? But never mind me;
'tis concerning Sloppy.'

'And what about him, Betty?'

''Tis just this, sir. It can't be reasoned out of his head by any powers
of mine but what that he can do right by your kind lady and gentleman
and do his work for me, both together. Now he can't. To give himself up
to being put in the way of arning a good living and getting on, he must
give me up. Well; he won't.'

'I respect him for it,' said Rokesmith.

'DO ye, sir? I don't know but what I do myself. Still that don't make it
right to let him have his way. So as he won't give me up, I'm a-going to
give him up.'

'How, Betty?'

'I'm a-going to run away from him.'

With an astonished look at the indomitable old face and the bright eyes,
the Secretary repeated, 'Run away from him?'

'Yes, sir,' said Betty, with one nod. And in the nod and in the firm set
of her mouth, there was a vigour of purpose not to be doubted.

'Come, come!' said the Secretary. 'We must talk about this. Let us take
our time over it, and try to get at the true sense of the case and the
true course, by degrees.'

'Now, lookee here, by dear,' returned old Betty--'asking your excuse
for being so familiar, but being of a time of life a'most to be your
grandmother twice over. Now, lookee, here. 'Tis a poor living and a
hard as is to be got out of this work that I'm a doing now, and but for
Sloppy I don't know as I should have held to it this long. But it did
just keep us on, the two together. Now that I'm alone--with even Johnny
gone--I'd far sooner be upon my feet and tiring of myself out, than a
sitting folding and folding by the fire. And I'll tell you why. There's
a deadness steals over me at times, that the kind of life favours and I
don't like. Now, I seem to have Johnny in my arms--now, his mother--now,
his mother's mother--now, I seem to be a child myself, a lying once
again in the arms of my own mother--then I get numbed, thought and
sense, till I start out of my seat, afeerd that I'm a growing like the
poor old people that they brick up in the Unions, as you may sometimes
see when they let 'em out of the four walls to have a warm in the sun,
crawling quite scared about the streets. I was a nimble girl, and have
always been a active body, as I told your lady, first time ever I see
her good face. I can still walk twenty mile if I am put to it. I'd far
better be a walking than a getting numbed and dreary. I'm a good fair
knitter, and can make many little things to sell. The loan from your
lady and gentleman of twenty shillings to fit out a basket with, would
be a fortune for me. Trudging round the country and tiring of myself
out, I shall keep the deadness off, and get my own bread by my own
labour. And what more can I want?'

'And this is your plan,' said the Secretary, 'for running away?'

'Show me a better! My deary, show me a better! Why, I know very well,'
said old Betty Higden, 'and you know very well, that your lady and
gentleman would set me up like a queen for the rest of my life, if so be
that we could make it right among us to have it so. But we can't make it
right among us to have it so. I've never took charity yet, nor yet has
any one belonging to me. And it would be forsaking of myself indeed, and
forsaking of my children dead and gone, and forsaking of their children
dead and gone, to set up a contradiction now at last.'

'It might come to be justifiable and unavoidable at last,' the Secretary
gently hinted, with a slight stress on the word.

'I hope it never will! It ain't that I mean to give offence by being
anyways proud,' said the old creature simply, 'but that I want to be of
a piece like, and helpful of myself right through to my death.'

'And to be sure,' added the Secretary, as a comfort for her, 'Sloppy
will be eagerly looking forward to his opportunity of being to you what
you have been to him.'

'Trust him for that, sir!' said Betty, cheerfully. 'Though he had need
to be something quick about it, for I'm a getting to be an old one. But
I'm a strong one too, and travel and weather never hurt me yet! Now, be
so kind as speak for me to your lady and gentleman, and tell 'em what I
ask of their good friendliness to let me do, and why I ask it.'

The Secretary felt that there was no gainsaying what was urged by
this brave old heroine, and he presently repaired to Mrs Boffin and
recommended her to let Betty Higden have her way, at all events for the
time. 'It would be far more satisfactory to your kind heart, I know,'
he said, 'to provide for her, but it may be a duty to respect this
independent spirit.' Mrs Boffin was not proof against the consideration
set before her. She and her husband had worked too, and had brought
their simple faith and honour clean out of dustheaps. If they owed a
duty to Betty Higden, of a surety that duty must be done.

'But, Betty,' said Mrs Boffin, when she accompanied John Rokesmith back
to his room, and shone upon her with the light of her radiant face,
'granted all else, I think I wouldn't run away'.

''Twould come easier to Sloppy,' said Mrs Higden, shaking her head.
''Twould come easier to me too. But 'tis as you please.'

'When would you go?'

'Now,' was the bright and ready answer. 'To-day, my deary, to-morrow.
Bless ye, I am used to it. I know many parts of the country well. When
nothing else was to be done, I have worked in many a market-garden afore
now, and in many a hop-garden too.'

'If I give my consent to your going, Betty--which Mr Rokesmith thinks I
ought to do--'

Betty thanked him with a grateful curtsey.

'--We must not lose sight of you. We must not let you pass out of our
knowledge. We must know all about you.'

'Yes, my deary, but not through letter-writing, because
letter-writing--indeed, writing of most sorts hadn't much come up for
such as me when I was young. But I shall be to and fro. No fear of
my missing a chance of giving myself a sight of your reviving face.
Besides,' said Betty, with logical good faith, 'I shall have a debt to
pay off, by littles, and naturally that would bring me back, if nothing
else would.'

'MUST it be done?' asked Mrs Boffin, still reluctant, of the Secretary.

'I think it must.'

After more discussion it was agreed that it should be done, and Mrs
Boffin summoned Bella to note down the little purchases that were
necessary to set Betty up in trade. 'Don't ye be timorous for me, my
dear,' said the stanch old heart, observant of Bella's face: when I
take my seat with my work, clean and busy and fresh, in a country
market-place, I shall turn a sixpence as sure as ever a farmer's wife
there.'

The Secretary took that opportunity of touching on the practical
question of Mr Sloppy's capabilities. He would have made a wonderful
cabinet-maker, said Mrs Higden, 'if there had been the money to put him
to it.' She had seen him handle tools that he had borrowed to mend
the mangle, or to knock a broken piece of furniture together, in a
surprising manner. As to constructing toys for the Minders, out of
nothing, he had done that daily. And once as many as a dozen people had
got together in the lane to see the neatness with which he fitted the
broken pieces of a foreign monkey's musical instrument. 'That's well,'
said the Secretary. 'It will not be hard to find a trade for him.'

John Harmon being buried under mountains now, the Secretary that very
same day set himself to finish his affairs and have done with him. He
drew up an ample declaration, to be signed by Rogue Riderhood (knowing
he could get his signature to it, by making him another and much shorter
evening call), and then considered to whom should he give the document?
To Hexam's son, or daughter? Resolved speedily, to the daughter. But it
would be safer to avoid seeing the daughter, because the son had seen
Julius Handford, and--he could not be too careful--there might possibly
be some comparison of notes between the son and daughter, which would
awaken slumbering suspicion, and lead to consequences. 'I might even,'
he reflected, 'be apprehended as having been concerned in my own
murder!' Therefore, best to send it to the daughter under cover by the
post. Pleasant Riderhood had undertaken to find out where she lived,
and it was not necessary that it should be attended by a single word of
explanation. So far, straight.

But, all that he knew of the daughter he derived from Mrs Boffin's
accounts of what she heard from Mr Lightwood, who seemed to have a
reputation for his manner of relating a story, and to have made this
story quite his own. It interested him, and he would like to have
the means of knowing more--as, for instance, that she received the
exonerating paper, and that it satisfied her--by opening some channel
altogether independent of Lightwood: who likewise had seen Julius
Handford, who had publicly advertised for Julius Handford, and whom
of all men he, the Secretary, most avoided. 'But with whom the common
course of things might bring me in a moment face to face, any day in the
week or any hour in the day.'

Now, to cast about for some likely means of opening such a channel. The
boy, Hexam, was training for and with a schoolmaster. The Secretary knew
it, because his sister's share in that disposal of him seemed to be
the best part of Lightwood's account of the family. This young fellow,
Sloppy, stood in need of some instruction. If he, the Secretary, engaged
that schoolmaster to impart it to him, the channel might be opened. The
next point was, did Mrs Boffin know the schoolmaster's name? No, but she
knew where the school was. Quite enough. Promptly the Secretary wrote
to the master of that school, and that very evening Bradley Headstone
answered in person.

The Secretary stated to the schoolmaster how the object was, to send to
him for certain occasional evening instruction, a youth whom Mr and Mrs
Boffin wished to help to an industrious and useful place in life. The
schoolmaster was willing to undertake the charge of such a pupil. The
Secretary inquired on what terms? The schoolmaster stated on what terms.
Agreed and disposed of.

'May I ask, sir,' said Bradley Headstone, 'to whose good opinion I owe a
recommendation to you?'

'You should know that I am not the principal here. I am Mr Boffin's
Secretary. Mr Boffin is a gentleman who inherited a property of which
you may have heard some public mention; the Harmon property.'

'Mr Harmon,' said Bradley: who would have been a great deal more at a
loss than he was, if he had known to whom he spoke: 'was murdered and
found in the river.'

'Was murdered and found in the river.'

'It was not--'

'No,' interposed the Secretary, smiling, 'it was not he who recommended
you. Mr Boffin heard of you through a certain Mr Lightwood. I think you
know Mr Lightwood, or know of him?'

'I know as much of him as I wish to know, sir. I have no acquaintance
with Mr Lightwood, and I desire none. I have no objection to Mr
Lightwood, but I have a particular objection to some of Mr Lightwood's
friends--in short, to one of Mr Lightwood's friends. His great friend.'

He could hardly get the words out, even then and there, so fierce did
he grow (though keeping himself down with infinite pains of repression),
when the careless and contemptuous bearing of Eugene Wrayburn rose
before his mind.

The Secretary saw there was a strong feeling here on some sore point,
and he would have made a diversion from it, but for Bradley's holding to
it in his cumbersome way.

'I have no objection to mention the friend by name,' he said, doggedly.
'The person I object to, is Mr Eugene Wrayburn.'

The Secretary remembered him. In his disturbed recollection of that
night when he was striving against the drugged drink, there was but a
dim image of Eugene's person; but he remembered his name, and his manner
of speaking, and how he had gone with them to view the body, and where
he had stood, and what he had said.

'Pray, Mr Headstone, what is the name,' he asked, again trying to make a
diversion, 'of young Hexam's sister?'

'Her name is Lizzie,' said the schoolmaster, with a strong contraction
of his whole face.

'She is a young woman of a remarkable character; is she not?'

'She is sufficiently remarkable to be very superior to Mr Eugene
Wrayburn--though an ordinary person might be that,' said the
schoolmaster; 'and I hope you will not think it impertinent in me, sir,
to ask why you put the two names together?'

'By mere accident,' returned the Secretary. 'Observing that Mr Wrayburn
was a disagreeable subject with you, I tried to get away from it: though
not very successfully, it would appear.'

'Do you know Mr Wrayburn, sir?'

'No.'

'Then perhaps the names cannot be put together on the authority of any
representation of his?'

'Certainly not.'

'I took the liberty to ask,' said Bradley, after casting his eyes on
the ground, 'because he is capable of making any representation, in the
swaggering levity of his insolence. I--I hope you will not misunderstand
me, sir. I--I am much interested in this brother and sister, and the
subject awakens very strong feelings within me. Very, very, strong
feelings.' With a shaking hand, Bradley took out his handkerchief and
wiped his brow.

The Secretary thought, as he glanced at the schoolmaster's face, that he
had opened a channel here indeed, and that it was an unexpectedly dark
and deep and stormy one, and difficult to sound. All at once, in the
midst of his turbulent emotions, Bradley stopped and seemed to challenge
his look. Much as though he suddenly asked him, 'What do you see in me?'

'The brother, young Hexam, was your real recommendation here,' said the
Secretary, quietly going back to the point; 'Mr and Mrs Boffin happening
to know, through Mr Lightwood, that he was your pupil. Anything that
I ask respecting the brother and sister, or either of them, I ask for
myself out of my own interest in the subject, and not in my official
character, or on Mr Boffin's behalf. How I come to be interested, I need
not explain. You know the father's connection with the discovery of Mr
Harmon's body.'

'Sir,' replied Bradley, very restlessly indeed, 'I know all the
circumstances of that case.'

'Pray tell me, Mr Headstone,' said the Secretary. 'Does the sister
suffer under any stigma because of the impossible accusation--groundless
would be a better word--that was made against the father, and
substantially withdrawn?'

'No, sir,' returned Bradley, with a kind of anger.

'I am very glad to hear it.'

'The sister,' said Bradley, separating his words over-carefully, and
speaking as if he were repeating them from a book, 'suffers under no
reproach that repels a man of unimpeachable character who had made
for himself every step of his way in life, from placing her in his own
station. I will not say, raising her to his own station; I say, placing
her in it. The sister labours under no reproach, unless she should
unfortunately make it for herself. When such a man is not deterred from
regarding her as his equal, and when he has convinced himself that
there is no blemish on her, I think the fact must be taken to be pretty
expressive.'

'And there is such a man?' said the Secretary.

Bradley Headstone knotted his brows, and squared his large lower jaw,
and fixed his eyes on the ground with an air of determination that
seemed unnecessary to the occasion, as he replied: 'And there is such a
man.'

The Secretary had no reason or excuse for prolonging the conversation,
and it ended here. Within three hours the oakum-headed apparition once
more dived into the Leaving Shop, and that night Rogue Riderhood's
recantation lay in the post office, addressed under cover to Lizzie
Hexam at her right address.

All these proceedings occupied John Rokesmith so much, that it was not
until the following day that he saw Bella again. It seemed then to be
tacitly understood between them that they were to be as distantly easy
as they could, without attracting the attention of Mr and Mrs Boffin to
any marked change in their manner. The fitting out of old Betty Higden
was favourable to this, as keeping Bella engaged and interested, and as
occupying the general attention.

'I think,' said Rokesmith, when they all stood about her, while she
packed her tidy basket--except Bella, who was busily helping on her
knees at the chair on which it stood; 'that at least you might keep a
letter in your pocket, Mrs Higden, which I would write for you and date
from here, merely stating, in the names of Mr and Mrs Boffin, that they
are your friends;--I won't say patrons, because they wouldn't like it.'

'No, no, no,' said Mr Boffin; 'no patronizing! Let's keep out of THAT,
whatever we come to.'

'There's more than enough of that about, without us; ain't there,
Noddy?' said Mrs Boffin.

'I believe you, old lady!' returned the Golden Dustman. 'Overmuch
indeed!'

'But people sometimes like to be patronized; don't they, sir?' asked
Bella, looking up.

'I don't. And if THEY do, my dear, they ought to learn better,' said Mr
Boffin. 'Patrons and Patronesses, and Vice-Patrons and Vice-Patronesses,
and Deceased Patrons and Deceased Patronesses, and Ex-Vice-Patrons and
Ex-Vice-Patronesses, what does it all mean in the books of the Charities
that come pouring in on Rokesmith as he sits among 'em pretty well up to
his neck! If Mr Tom Noakes gives his five shillings ain't he a Patron,
and if Mrs Jack Styles gives her five shillings ain't she a Patroness?
What the deuce is it all about? If it ain't stark staring impudence,
what do you call it?'

'Don't be warm, Noddy,' Mrs Boffin urged.

'Warm!' cried Mr Boffin. 'It's enough to make a man smoking hot. I can't
go anywhere without being Patronized. I don't want to be Patronized. If
I buy a ticket for a Flower Show, or a Music Show, or any sort of Show,
and pay pretty heavy for it, why am I to be Patroned and Patronessed as
if the Patrons and Patronesses treated me? If there's a good thing to be
done, can't it be done on its own merits? If there's a bad thing to
be done, can it ever be Patroned and Patronessed right? Yet when a new
Institution's going to be built, it seems to me that the bricks and
mortar ain't made of half so much consequence as the Patrons and
Patronesses; no, nor yet the objects. I wish somebody would tell me
whether other countries get Patronized to anything like the extent of
this one! And as to the Patrons and Patronesses themselves, I wonder
they're not ashamed of themselves. They ain't Pills, or Hair-Washes, or
Invigorating Nervous Essences, to be puffed in that way!'

Having delivered himself of these remarks, Mr Boffin took a trot,
according to his usual custom, and trotted back to the spot from which
he had started.

'As to the letter, Rokesmith,' said Mr Boffin, 'you're as right as a
trivet. Give her the letter, make her take the letter, put it in her
pocket by violence. She might fall sick. You know you might fall sick,'
said Mr Boffin. 'Don't deny it, Mrs Higden, in your obstinacy; you know
you might.'

Old Betty laughed, and said that she would take the letter and be
thankful.

'That's right!' said Mr Boffin. 'Come! That's sensible. And don't be
thankful to us (for we never thought of it), but to Mr Rokesmith.'

The letter was written, and read to her, and given to her.

'Now, how do you feel?' said Mr Boffin. 'Do you like it?'

'The letter, sir?' said Betty. 'Ay, it's a beautiful letter!'

'No, no, no; not the letter,' said Mr Boffin; 'the idea. Are you sure
you're strong enough to carry out the idea?'

'I shall be stronger, and keep the deadness off better, this way, than
any way left open to me, sir.'

'Don't say than any way left open, you know,' urged Mr Boffin; 'because
there are ways without end. A housekeeper would be acceptable over
yonder at the Bower, for instance. Wouldn't you like to see the
Bower, and know a retired literary man of the name of Wegg that lives
there--WITH a wooden leg?'

Old Betty was proof even against this temptation, and fell to adjusting
her black bonnet and shawl.

'I wouldn't let you go, now it comes to this, after all,' said Mr
Boffin, 'if I didn't hope that it may make a man and a workman of
Sloppy, in as short a time as ever a man and workman was made yet. Why,
what have you got there, Betty? Not a doll?'

It was the man in the Guards who had been on duty over Johnny's bed.
The solitary old woman showed what it was, and put it up quietly in her
dress. Then, she gratefully took leave of Mrs Boffin, and of Mr Boffin,
and of Rokesmith, and then put her old withered arms round Bella's young
and blooming neck, and said, repeating Johnny's words: 'A kiss for the
boofer lady.'

The Secretary looked on from a doorway at the boofer lady thus
encircled, and still looked on at the boofer lady standing alone there,
when the determined old figure with its steady bright eyes was trudging
through the streets, away from paralysis and pauperism.



Chapter 15

THE WHOLE CASE SO FAR


Bradley Headstone held fast by that other interview he was to have with
Lizzie Hexam. In stipulating for it, he had been impelled by a feeling
little short of desperation, and the feeling abided by him. It was very
soon after his interview with the Secretary, that he and Charley Hexam
set out one leaden evening, not unnoticed by Miss Peecher, to have this
desperate interview accomplished.

'That dolls' dressmaker,' said Bradley, 'is favourable neither to me nor
to you, Hexam.'

'A pert crooked little chit, Mr Headstone! I knew she would put herself
in the way, if she could, and would be sure to strike in with something
impertinent. It was on that account that I proposed our going to the
City to-night and meeting my sister.'

'So I supposed,' said Bradley, getting his gloves on his nervous hands
as he walked. 'So I supposed.'

'Nobody but my sister,' pursued Charley, 'would have found out such an
extraordinary companion. She has done it in a ridiculous fancy of giving
herself up to another. She told me so, that night when we went there.'

'Why should she give herself up to the dressmaker?' asked Bradley.

'Oh!' said the boy, colouring. 'One of her romantic ideas! I tried to
convince her so, but I didn't succeed. However, what we have got to do,
is, to succeed to-night, Mr Headstone, and then all the rest follows.'

'You are still sanguine, Hexam.'

'Certainly I am, sir. Why, we have everything on our side.'

'Except your sister, perhaps,' thought Bradley. But he only gloomily
thought it, and said nothing.

'Everything on our side,' repeated the boy with boyish confidence.
'Respectability, an excellent connexion for me, common sense,
everything!'

'To be sure, your sister has always shown herself a devoted sister,'
said Bradley, willing to sustain himself on even that low ground of
hope.

'Naturally, Mr Headstone, I have a good deal of influence with her.
And now that you have honoured me with your confidence and spoken to me
first, I say again, we have everything on our side.'

And Bradley thought again, 'Except your sister, perhaps.'

A grey dusty withered evening in London city has not a hopeful aspect.
The closed warehouses and offices have an air of death about them, and
the national dread of colour has an air of mourning. The towers and
steeples of the many house-encompassed churches, dark and dingy as the
sky that seems descending on them, are no relief to the general gloom;
a sun-dial on a church-wall has the look, in its useless black shade, of
having failed in its business enterprise and stopped payment for ever;
melancholy waifs and strays of housekeepers and porter sweep melancholy
waifs and strays of papers and pins into the kennels, and other more
melancholy waifs and strays explore them, searching and stooping and
poking for anything to sell. The set of humanity outward from the City
is as a set of prisoners departing from gaol, and dismal Newgate
seems quite as fit a stronghold for the mighty Lord Mayor as his own
state-dwelling.

On such an evening, when the city grit gets into the hair and eyes and
skin, and when the fallen leaves of the few unhappy city trees grind
down in corners under wheels of wind, the schoolmaster and the pupil
emerged upon the Leadenhall Street region, spying eastward for Lizzie.
Being something too soon in their arrival, they lurked at a corner,
waiting for her to appear. The best-looking among us will not look very
well, lurking at a corner, and Bradley came out of that disadvantage
very poorly indeed.

'Here she comes, Mr Headstone! Let us go forward and meet her.'

As they advanced, she saw them coming, and seemed rather troubled. But
she greeted her brother with the usual warmth, and touched the extended
hand of Bradley.

'Why, where are you going, Charley, dear?' she asked him then.

'Nowhere. We came on purpose to meet you.'

'To meet me, Charley?'

'Yes. We are going to walk with you. But don't let us take the great
leading streets where every one walks, and we can't hear ourselves
speak. Let us go by the quiet backways. Here's a large paved court by
this church, and quiet, too. Let us go up here.'

'But it's not in the way, Charley.'

'Yes it is,' said the boy, petulantly. 'It's in my way, and my way is
yours.'

She had not released his hand, and, still holding it, looked at him with
a kind of appeal. He avoided her eyes, under pretence of saying, 'Come
along, Mr Headstone.' Bradley walked at his side--not at hers--and the
brother and sister walked hand in hand. The court brought them to a
churchyard; a paved square court, with a raised bank of earth about
breast high, in the middle, enclosed by iron rails. Here, conveniently
and healthfully elevated above the level of the living, were the dead,
and the tombstones; some of the latter droopingly inclined from the
perpendicular, as if they were ashamed of the lies they told.

They paced the whole of this place once, in a constrained and
uncomfortable manner, when the boy stopped and said:

'Lizzie, Mr Headstone has something to say to you. I don't wish to be an
interruption either to him or to you, and so I'll go and take a little
stroll and come back. I know in a general way what Mr Headstone intends
to say, and I very highly approve of it, as I hope--and indeed I do
not doubt--you will. I needn't tell you, Lizzie, that I am under great
obligations to Mr Headstone, and that I am very anxious for Mr Headstone
to succeed in all he undertakes. As I hope--and as, indeed, I don't
doubt--you must be.'

'Charley,' returned his sister, detaining his hand as he withdrew it, 'I
think you had better stay. I think Mr Headstone had better not say what
he thinks of saying.'

'Why, how do you know what it is?' returned the boy.

'Perhaps I don't, but--'

'Perhaps you don't? No, Liz, I should think not. If you knew what
it was, you would give me a very different answer. There; let go; be
sensible. I wonder you don't remember that Mr Headstone is looking on.'

She allowed him to separate himself from her, and he, after saying, 'Now
Liz, be a rational girl and a good sister,' walked away. She remained
standing alone with Bradley Headstone, and it was not until she raised
her eyes, that he spoke.

'I said,' he began, 'when I saw you last, that there was something
unexplained, which might perhaps influence you. I have come this evening
to explain it. I hope you will not judge of me by my hesitating manner
when I speak to you. You see me at my greatest disadvantage. It is most
unfortunate for me that I wish you to see me at my best, and that I know
you see me at my worst.'

She moved slowly on when he paused, and he moved slowly on beside her.

'It seems egotistical to begin by saying so much about myself,' he
resumed, 'but whatever I say to you seems, even in my own ears, below
what I want to say, and different from what I want to say. I can't help
it. So it is. You are the ruin of me.'

She started at the passionate sound of the last words, and at the
passionate action of his hands, with which they were accompanied.

'Yes! you are the ruin--the ruin--the ruin--of me. I have no resources
in myself, I have no confidence in myself, I have no government of
myself when you are near me or in my thoughts. And you are always in my
thoughts now. I have never been quit of you since I first saw you. Oh,
that was a wretched day for me! That was a wretched, miserable day!'

A touch of pity for him mingled with her dislike of him, and she said:
'Mr Headstone, I am grieved to have done you any harm, but I have never
meant it.'

'There!' he cried, despairingly. 'Now, I seem to have reproached you,
instead of revealing to you the state of my own mind! Bear with me. I am
always wrong when you are in question. It is my doom.'

Struggling with himself, and by times looking up at the deserted windows
of the houses as if there could be anything written in their grimy panes
that would help him, he paced the whole pavement at her side, before he
spoke again.

'I must try to give expression to what is in my mind; it shall and must
be spoken. Though you see me so confounded--though you strike me so
helpless--I ask you to believe that there are many people who think well
of me; that there are some people who highly esteem me; that I have in
my way won a Station which is considered worth winning.'

'Surely, Mr Headstone, I do believe it. Surely I have always known it
from Charley.'

'I ask you to believe that if I were to offer my home such as it is, my
station such as it is, my affections such as they are, to any one of the
best considered, and best qualified, and most distinguished, among the
young women engaged in my calling, they would probably be accepted. Even
readily accepted.'

'I do not doubt it,' said Lizzie, with her eyes upon the ground.

'I have sometimes had it in my thoughts to make that offer and to settle
down as many men of my class do: I on the one side of a school, my wife
on the other, both of us interested in the same work.'

'Why have you not done so?' asked Lizzie Hexam. 'Why do you not do so?'

'Far better that I never did! The only one grain of comfort I have had
these many weeks,' he said, always speaking passionately, and, when
most emphatic, repeating that former action of his hands, which was
like flinging his heart's blood down before her in drops upon the
pavement-stones; 'the only one grain of comfort I have had these many
weeks is, that I never did. For if I had, and if the same spell had come
upon me for my ruin, I know I should have broken that tie asunder as if
it had been thread.'

She glanced at him with a glance of fear, and a shrinking gesture. He
answered, as if she had spoken.

'No! It would not have been voluntary on my part, any more than it is
voluntary in me to be here now. You draw me to you. If I were shut up in
a strong prison, you would draw me out. I should break through the wall
to come to you. If I were lying on a sick bed, you would draw me up--to
stagger to your feet and fall there.'

The wild energy of the man, now quite let loose, was absolutely
terrible. He stopped and laid his hand upon a piece of the coping of the
burial-ground enclosure, as if he would have dislodged the stone.

'No man knows till the time comes, what depths are within him. To some
men it never comes; let them rest and be thankful! To me, you brought
it; on me, you forced it; and the bottom of this raging sea,' striking
himself upon the breast, 'has been heaved up ever since.'

'Mr Headstone, I have heard enough. Let me stop you here. It will be
better for you and better for me. Let us find my brother.'

'Not yet. It shall and must be spoken. I have been in torments ever
since I stopped short of it before. You are alarmed. It is another of my
miseries that I cannot speak to you or speak of you without stumbling at
every syllable, unless I let the check go altogether and run mad. Here
is a man lighting the lamps. He will be gone directly. I entreat of you
let us walk round this place again. You have no reason to look alarmed;
I can restrain myself, and I will.'

She yielded to the entreaty--how could she do otherwise!--and they paced
the stones in silence. One by one the lights leaped up making the cold
grey church tower more remote, and they were alone again. He said no
more until they had regained the spot where he had broken off; there, he
again stood still, and again grasped the stone. In saying what he said
then, he never looked at her; but looked at it and wrenched at it.

'You know what I am going to say. I love you. What other men may mean
when they use that expression, I cannot tell; what I mean is, that I am
under the influence of some tremendous attraction which I have resisted
in vain, and which overmasters me. You could draw me to fire, you could
draw me to water, you could draw me to the gallows, you could draw me to
any death, you could draw me to anything I have most avoided, you could
draw me to any exposure and disgrace. This and the confusion of my
thoughts, so that I am fit for nothing, is what I mean by your being the
ruin of me. But if you would return a favourable answer to my offer
of myself in marriage, you could draw me to any good--every good--with
equal force. My circumstances are quite easy, and you would want for
nothing. My reputation stands quite high, and would be a shield for
yours. If you saw me at my work, able to do it well and respected in
it, you might even come to take a sort of pride in me;--I would try hard
that you should. Whatever considerations I may have thought of against
this offer, I have conquered, and I make it with all my heart. Your
brother favours me to the utmost, and it is likely that we might live
and work together; anyhow, it is certain that he would have my best
influence and support. I don't know what I could say more if I tried. I
might only weaken what is ill enough said as it is. I only add that
if it is any claim on you to be in earnest, I am in thorough earnest,
dreadful earnest.'

The powdered mortar from under the stone at which he wrenched, rattled
on the pavement to confirm his words.

'Mr Headstone--'

'Stop! I implore you, before you answer me, to walk round this place
once more. It will give you a minute's time to think, and me a minute's
time to get some fortitude together.'

Again she yielded to the entreaty, and again they came back to the same
place, and again he worked at the stone.

'Is it,' he said, with his attention apparently engrossed by it, 'yes,
or no?'

'Mr Headstone, I thank you sincerely, I thank you gratefully, and hope
you may find a worthy wife before long and be very happy. But it is no.'

'Is no short time necessary for reflection; no weeks or days?' he asked,
in the same half-suffocated way.

'None whatever.'

'Are you quite decided, and is there no chance of any change in my
favour?'

'I am quite decided, Mr Headstone, and I am bound to answer I am certain
there is none.'

'Then,' said he, suddenly changing his tone and turning to her, and
bringing his clenched hand down upon the stone with a force that laid
the knuckles raw and bleeding; 'then I hope that I may never kill him!'

The dark look of hatred and revenge with which the words broke from his
livid lips, and with which he stood holding out his smeared hand as
if it held some weapon and had just struck a mortal blow, made her so
afraid of him that she turned to run away. But he caught her by the arm.

'Mr Headstone, let me go. Mr Headstone, I must call for help!'

'It is I who should call for help,' he said; 'you don't know yet how
much I need it.'

The working of his face as she shrank from it, glancing round for her
brother and uncertain what to do, might have extorted a cry from her in
another instant; but all at once he sternly stopped it and fixed it, as
if Death itself had done so.

'There! You see I have recovered myself. Hear me out.'

With much of the dignity of courage, as she recalled her self-reliant
life and her right to be free from accountability to this man, she
released her arm from his grasp and stood looking full at him. She had
never been so handsome, in his eyes. A shade came over them while
he looked back at her, as if she drew the very light out of them to
herself.

'This time, at least, I will leave nothing unsaid,' he went on, folding
his hands before him, clearly to prevent his being betrayed into any
impetuous gesture; 'this last time at least I will not be tortured with
after-thoughts of a lost opportunity. Mr Eugene Wrayburn.'

'Was it of him you spoke in your ungovernable rage and violence?' Lizzie
Hexam demanded with spirit.

He bit his lip, and looked at her, and said never a word.

'Was it Mr Wrayburn that you threatened?'

He bit his lip again, and looked at her, and said never a word.

'You asked me to hear you out, and you will not speak. Let me find my
brother.'

'Stay! I threatened no one.'

Her look dropped for an instant to his bleeding hand. He lifted it to
his mouth, wiped it on his sleeve, and again folded it over the other.
'Mr Eugene Wrayburn,' he repeated.

'Why do you mention that name again and again, Mr Headstone?'

'Because it is the text of the little I have left to say. Observe! There
are no threats in it. If I utter a threat, stop me, and fasten it upon
me. Mr Eugene Wrayburn.'

A worse threat than was conveyed in his manner of uttering the name,
could hardly have escaped him.

'He haunts you. You accept favours from him. You are willing enough to
listen to HIM. I know it, as well as he does.'

'Mr Wrayburn has been considerate and good to me, sir,' said Lizzie,
proudly, 'in connexion with the death and with the memory of my poor
father.'

'No doubt. He is of course a very considerate and a very good man, Mr
Eugene Wrayburn.'

'He is nothing to you, I think,' said Lizzie, with an indignation she
could not repress.

'Oh yes, he is. There you mistake. He is much to me.'

'What can he be to you?'

'He can be a rival to me among other things,' said Bradley.

'Mr Headstone,' returned Lizzie, with a burning face, 'it is cowardly in
you to speak to me in this way. But it makes me able to tell you that
I do not like you, and that I never have liked you from the first, and
that no other living creature has anything to do with the effect you
have produced upon me for yourself.'

His head bent for a moment, as if under a weight, and he then looked up
again, moistening his lips. 'I was going on with the little I had left
to say. I knew all this about Mr Eugene Wrayburn, all the while you were
drawing me to you. I strove against the knowledge, but quite in vain. It
made no difference in me. With Mr Eugene Wrayburn in my mind, I went
on. With Mr Eugene Wrayburn in my mind, I spoke to you just now. With Mr
Eugene Wrayburn in my mind, I have been set aside and I have been cast
out.'

'If you give those names to my thanking you for your proposal
and declining it, is it my fault, Mr Headstone?' said Lizzie,
compassionating the bitter struggle he could not conceal, almost as much
as she was repelled and alarmed by it.

'I am not complaining,' he returned, 'I am only stating the case. I had
to wrestle with my self-respect when I submitted to be drawn to you in
spite of Mr Wrayburn. You may imagine how low my self-respect lies now.'

She was hurt and angry; but repressed herself in consideration of his
suffering, and of his being her brother's friend.

'And it lies under his feet,' said Bradley, unfolding his hands in spite
of himself, and fiercely motioning with them both towards the stones of
the pavement. 'Remember that! It lies under that fellow's feet, and he
treads upon it and exults above it.'

'He does not!' said Lizzie.

'He does!' said Bradley. 'I have stood before him face to face, and he
crushed me down in the dirt of his contempt, and walked over me. Why?
Because he knew with triumph what was in store for me to-night.'

'O, Mr Headstone, you talk quite wildly.'

'Quite collectedly. I know what I say too well. Now I have said all. I
have used no threat, remember; I have done no more than show you how the
case stands;--how the case stands, so far.'

At this moment her brother sauntered into view close by. She darted to
him, and caught him by the hand. Bradley followed, and laid his heavy
hand on the boy's opposite shoulder.

'Charley Hexam, I am going home. I must walk home by myself to-night,
and get shut up in my room without being spoken to. Give me half an
hour's start, and let me be, till you find me at my work in the morning.
I shall be at my work in the morning just as usual.'

Clasping his hands, he uttered a short unearthly broken cry, and went
his way. The brother and sister were left looking at one another near
a lamp in the solitary churchyard, and the boy's face clouded and
darkened, as he said in a rough tone: 'What is the meaning of this? What
have you done to my best friend? Out with the truth!'

'Charley!' said his sister. 'Speak a little more considerately!'

'I am not in the humour for consideration, or for nonsense of any sort,'
replied the boy. 'What have you been doing? Why has Mr Headstone gone
from us in that way?'

'He asked me--you know he asked me--to be his wife, Charley.'

'Well?' said the boy, impatiently.

'And I was obliged to tell him that I could not be his wife.'

'You were obliged to tell him,' repeated the boy angrily, between his
teeth, and rudely pushing her away. 'You were obliged to tell him! Do
you know that he is worth fifty of you?'

'It may easily be so, Charley, but I cannot marry him.'

'You mean that you are conscious that you can't appreciate him, and
don't deserve him, I suppose?'

'I mean that I do not like him, Charley, and that I will never marry
him.'

'Upon my soul,' exclaimed the boy, 'you are a nice picture of a sister!
Upon my soul, you are a pretty piece of disinterestedness! And so all my
endeavours to cancel the past and to raise myself in the world, and to
raise you with me, are to be beaten down by YOUR low whims; are they?'

'I will not reproach you, Charley.'

'Hear her!' exclaimed the boy, looking round at the darkness. 'She won't
reproach me! She does her best to destroy my fortunes and her own,
and she won't reproach me! Why, you'll tell me, next, that you won't
reproach Mr Headstone for coming out of the sphere to which he is an
ornament, and putting himself at YOUR feet, to be rejected by YOU!'

'No, Charley; I will only tell you, as I told himself, that I thank him
for doing so, that I am sorry he did so, and that I hope he will do much
better, and be happy.'

Some touch of compunction smote the boy's hardening heart as he looked
upon her, his patient little nurse in infancy, his patient friend,
adviser, and reclaimer in boyhood, the self-forgetting sister who had
done everything for him. His tone relented, and he drew her arm through
his.

'Now, come, Liz; don't let us quarrel: let us be reasonable and talk
this over like brother and sister. Will you listen to me?'

'Oh, Charley!' she replied through her starting tears; 'do I not listen
to you, and hear many hard things!'

'Then I am sorry. There, Liz! I am unfeignedly sorry. Only you do put me
out so. Now see. Mr Headstone is perfectly devoted to you. He has told
me in the strongest manner that he has never been his old self for one
single minute since I first brought him to see you. Miss Peecher, our
schoolmistress--pretty and young, and all that--is known to be very much
attached to him, and he won't so much as look at her or hear of her.
Now, his devotion to you must be a disinterested one; mustn't it? If he
married Miss Peecher, he would be a great deal better off in all worldly
respects, than in marrying you. Well then; he has nothing to get by it,
has he?'

'Nothing, Heaven knows!'

'Very well then,' said the boy; 'that's something in his favour, and a
great thing. Then I come in. Mr Headstone has always got me on, and he
has a good deal in his power, and of course if he was my brother-in-law
he wouldn't get me on less, but would get me on more. Mr Headstone
comes and confides in me, in a very delicate way, and says, "I hope my
marrying your sister would be agreeable to you, Hexam, and useful to
you?" I say, "There's nothing in the world, Mr Headstone, that I could
be better pleased with." Mr Headstone says, "Then I may rely upon your
intimate knowledge of me for your good word with your sister, Hexam?"
And I say, "Certainly, Mr Headstone, and naturally I have a good deal of
influence with her." So I have; haven't I, Liz?'

'Yes, Charley.'

'Well said! Now, you see, we begin to get on, the moment we begin to
be really talking it over, like brother and sister. Very well. Then
YOU come in. As Mr Headstone's wife you would be occupying a most
respectable station, and you would be holding a far better place in
society than you hold now, and you would at length get quit of the
river-side and the old disagreeables belonging to it, and you would be
rid for good of dolls' dressmakers and their drunken fathers, and the
like of that. Not that I want to disparage Miss Jenny Wren: I dare
say she is all very well in her way; but her way is not your way as
Mr Headstone's wife. Now, you see, Liz, on all three accounts--on
Mr Headstone's, on mine, on yours--nothing could be better or more
desirable.'

They were walking slowly as the boy spoke, and here he stood still, to
see what effect he had made. His sister's eyes were fixed upon him; but
as they showed no yielding, and as she remained silent, he walked her on
again. There was some discomfiture in his tone as he resumed, though he
tried to conceal it.

'Having so much influence with you, Liz, as I have, perhaps I should
have done better to have had a little chat with you in the first
instance, before Mr Headstone spoke for himself. But really all this in
his favour seemed so plain and undeniable, and I knew you to have always
been so reasonable and sensible, that I didn't consider it worth while.
Very likely that was a mistake of mine. However, it's soon set right.
All that need be done to set it right, is for you to tell me at once
that I may go home and tell Mr Headstone that what has taken place is
not final, and that it will all come round by-and-by.'

He stopped again. The pale face looked anxiously and lovingly at him,
but she shook her head.

'Can't you speak?' said the boy sharply.

'I am very unwilling to speak, Charley. If I must, I must. I cannot
authorize you to say any such thing to Mr Headstone: I cannot allow you
to say any such thing to Mr Headstone. Nothing remains to be said to him
from me, after what I have said for good and all, to-night.'

'And this girl,' cried the boy, contemptuously throwing her off again,
'calls herself a sister!'

'Charley, dear, that is the second time that you have almost struck
me. Don't be hurt by my words. I don't mean--Heaven forbid!--that you
intended it; but you hardly know with what a sudden swing you removed
yourself from me.'

'However!' said the boy, taking no heed of the remonstrance, and
pursuing his own mortified disappointment, 'I know what this means, and
you shall not disgrace me.'

'It means what I have told you, Charley, and nothing more.'

'That's not true,' said the boy in a violent tone, 'and you know it's
not. It means your precious Mr Wrayburn; that's what it means.'

'Charley! If you remember any old days of ours together, forbear!'

'But you shall not disgrace me,' doggedly pursued the boy. 'I am
determined that after I have climbed up out of the mire, you shall not
pull me down. You can't disgrace me if I have nothing to do with you,
and I will have nothing to do with you for the future.'

'Charley! On many a night like this, and many a worse night, I have sat
on the stones of the street, hushing you in my arms. Unsay those words
without even saying you are sorry for them, and my arms are open to you
still, and so is my heart.'

'I'll not unsay them. I'll say them again. You are an inveterately bad
girl, and a false sister, and I have done with you. For ever, I have
done with you!'

He threw up his ungrateful and ungracious hand as if it set up a barrier
between them, and flung himself upon his heel and left her. She remained
impassive on the same spot, silent and motionless, until the striking
of the church clock roused her, and she turned away. But then, with the
breaking up of her immobility came the breaking up of the waters that
the cold heart of the selfish boy had frozen. And 'O that I were lying
here with the dead!' and 'O Charley, Charley, that this should be the
end of our pictures in the fire!' were all the words she said, as she
laid her face in her hands on the stone coping.

A figure passed by, and passed on, but stopped and looked round at
her. It was the figure of an old man with a bowed head, wearing a large
brimmed low-crowned hat, and a long-skirted coat. After hesitating a
little, the figure turned back, and, advancing with an air of gentleness
and compassion, said:

'Pardon me, young woman, for speaking to you, but you are under some
distress of mind. I cannot pass upon my way and leave you weeping here
alone, as if there was nothing in the place. Can I help you? Can I do
anything to give you comfort?'

She raised her head at the sound of these kind words, and answered
gladly, 'O, Mr Riah, is it you?'

'My daughter,' said the old man, 'I stand amazed! I spoke as to a
stranger. Take my arm, take my arm. What grieves you? Who has done this?
Poor girl, poor girl!'

'My brother has quarrelled with me,' sobbed Lizzie, 'and renounced me.'

'He is a thankless dog,' said the Jew, angrily. 'Let him go.' Shake the
dust from thy feet and let him go. Come, daughter! Come home with me--it
is but across the road--and take a little time to recover your peace and
to make your eyes seemly, and then I will bear you company through the
streets. For it is past your usual time, and will soon be late, and the
way is long, and there is much company out of doors to-night.'

She accepted the support he offered her, and they slowly passed out
of the churchyard. They were in the act of emerging into the main
thoroughfare, when another figure loitering discontentedly by, and
looking up the street and down it, and all about, started and exclaimed,
'Lizzie! why, where have you been? Why, what's the matter?'

As Eugene Wrayburn thus addressed her, she drew closer to the Jew, and
bent her head. The Jew having taken in the whole of Eugene at one sharp
glance, cast his eyes upon the ground, and stood mute.

'Lizzie, what is the matter?'

'Mr Wrayburn, I cannot tell you now. I cannot tell you to-night, if I
ever can tell you. Pray leave me.'

'But, Lizzie, I came expressly to join you. I came to walk home with
you, having dined at a coffee-house in this neighbourhood and knowing
your hour. And I have been lingering about,' added Eugene, 'like a
bailiff; or,' with a look at Riah, 'an old clothesman.'

The Jew lifted up his eyes, and took in Eugene once more, at another
glance.

'Mr Wrayburn, pray, pray, leave me with this protector. And one thing
more. Pray, pray be careful of yourself.'

'Mysteries of Udolpho!' said Eugene, with a look of wonder. 'May I be
excused for asking, in the elderly gentleman's presence, who is this
kind protector?'

'A trustworthy friend,' said Lizzie.

'I will relieve him of his trust,' returned Eugene. 'But you must tell
me, Lizzie, what is the matter?'

'Her brother is the matter,' said the old man, lifting up his eyes
again.

'Our brother the matter?' returned Eugene, with airy contempt. 'Our
brother is not worth a thought, far less a tear. What has our brother
done?'

The old man lifted up his eyes again, with one grave look at Wrayburn,
and one grave glance at Lizzie, as she stood looking down. Both were so
full of meaning that even Eugene was checked in his light career, and
subsided into a thoughtful 'Humph!'

With an air of perfect patience the old man, remaining mute and keeping
his eyes cast down, stood, retaining Lizzie's arm, as though in his
habit of passive endurance, it would be all one to him if he had stood
there motionless all night.

'If Mr Aaron,' said Eugene, who soon found this fatiguing, 'will be good
enough to relinquish his charge to me, he will be quite free for any
engagement he may have at the Synagogue. Mr Aaron, will you have the
kindness?'

But the old man stood stock still.

'Good evening, Mr Aaron,' said Eugene, politely; 'we need not detain
you.' Then turning to Lizzie, 'Is our friend Mr Aaron a little deaf?'

'My hearing is very good, Christian gentleman,' replied the old man,
calmly; 'but I will hear only one voice to-night, desiring me to leave
this damsel before I have conveyed her to her home. If she requests it,
I will do it. I will do it for no one else.'

'May I ask why so, Mr Aaron?' said Eugene, quite undisturbed in his
ease.

'Excuse me. If she asks me, I will tell her,' replied the old man. 'I
will tell no one else.'

'I do not ask you,' said Lizzie, 'and I beg you to take me home. Mr
Wrayburn, I have had a bitter trial to-night, and I hope you will not
think me ungrateful, or mysterious, or changeable. I am neither; I am
wretched. Pray remember what I said to you. Pray, pray, take care.'

'My dear Lizzie,' he returned, in a low voice, bending over her on the
other side; 'of what? Of whom?'

'Of any one you have lately seen and made angry.'

He snapped his fingers and laughed. 'Come,' said he, 'since no better
may be, Mr Aaron and I will divide this trust, and see you home
together. Mr Aaron on that side; I on this. If perfectly agreeable to Mr
Aaron, the escort will now proceed.'

He knew his power over her. He knew that she would not insist upon his
leaving her. He knew that, her fears for him being aroused, she would
be uneasy if he were out of her sight. For all his seeming levity and
carelessness, he knew whatever he chose to know of the thoughts of her
heart.

And going on at her side, so gaily, regardless of all that had been
urged against him; so superior in his sallies and self-possession to
the gloomy constraint of her suitor and the selfish petulance of her
brother; so faithful to her, as it seemed, when her own stock was
faithless; what an immense advantage, what an overpowering influence,
were his that night! Add to the rest, poor girl, that she had heard him
vilified for her sake, and that she had suffered for his, and where the
wonder that his occasional tones of serious interest (setting off his
carelessness, as if it were assumed to calm her), that his lightest
touch, his lightest look, his very presence beside her in the dark
common street, were like glimpses of an enchanted world, which it was
natural for jealousy and malice and all meanness to be unable to bear
the brightness of, and to gird at as bad spirits might.

Nothing more being said of repairing to Riah's, they went direct to
Lizzie's lodging. A little short of the house-door she parted from them,
and went in alone.

'Mr Aaron,' said Eugene, when they were left together in the street,
'with many thanks for your company, it remains for me unwillingly to say
Farewell.'

'Sir,' returned the other, 'I give you good night, and I wish that you
were not so thoughtless.'

'Mr Aaron,' returned Eugene, 'I give you good night, and I wish (for you
are a little dull) that you were not so thoughtful.'

But now, that his part was played out for the evening, and when in
turning his back upon the Jew he came off the stage, he was thoughtful
himself. 'How did Lightwood's catechism run?' he murmured, as he stopped
to light his cigar. 'What is to come of it? What are you doing? Where
are you going? We shall soon know now. Ah!' with a heavy sigh.

The heavy sigh was repeated as if by an echo, an hour afterwards, when
Riah, who had been sitting on some dark steps in a corner over against
the house, arose and went his patient way; stealing through the streets
in his ancient dress, like the ghost of a departed Time.



Chapter 16

AN ANNIVERSARY OCCASION


The estimable Twemlow, dressing himself in his lodgings over the
stable-yard in Duke Street, Saint James's, and hearing the horses at
their toilette below, finds himself on the whole in a disadvantageous
position as compared with the noble animals at livery. For whereas, on
the one hand, he has no attendant to slap him soundingly and require him
in gruff accents to come up and come over, still, on the other hand,
he has no attendant at all; and the mild gentleman's finger-joints and
other joints working rustily in the morning, he could deem it agreeable
even to be tied up by the countenance at his chamber-door, so he were
there skilfully rubbed down and slushed and sluiced and polished and
clothed, while himself taking merely a passive part in these trying
transactions.

How the fascinating Tippins gets on when arraying herself for the
bewilderment of the senses of men, is known only to the Graces and her
maid; but perhaps even that engaging creature, though not reduced to
the self-dependence of Twemlow could dispense with a good deal of the
trouble attendant on the daily restoration of her charms, seeing that
as to her face and neck this adorable divinity is, as it were, a diurnal
species of lobster--throwing off a shell every forenoon, and needing to
keep in a retired spot until the new crust hardens.

Howbeit, Twemlow doth at length invest himself with collar and cravat
and wristbands to his knuckles, and goeth forth to breakfast. And to
breakfast with whom but his near neighbours, the Lammles of Sackville
Street, who have imparted to him that he will meet his distant kinsman,
Mr Fledgely. The awful Snigsworth might taboo and prohibit Fledgely, but
the peaceable Twemlow reasons, If he IS my kinsman I didn't make him so,
and to meet a man is not to know him.'

It is the first anniversary of the happy marriage of Mr and Mrs Lammle,
and the celebration is a breakfast, because a dinner on the desired
scale of sumptuosity cannot be achieved within less limits than those
of the non-existent palatial residence of which so many people are
madly envious. So, Twemlow trips with not a little stiffness across
Piccadilly, sensible of having once been more upright in figure and less
in danger of being knocked down by swift vehicles. To be sure that was
in the days when he hoped for leave from the dread Snigsworth to do
something, or be something, in life, and before that magnificent Tartar
issued the ukase, 'As he will never distinguish himself, he must be a
poor gentleman-pensioner of mine, and let him hereby consider himself
pensioned.'

Ah! my Twemlow! Say, little feeble grey personage, what thoughts are in
thy breast to-day, of the Fancy--so still to call her who bruised thy
heart when it was green and thy head brown--and whether it be better or
worse, more painful or less, to believe in the Fancy to this hour, than
to know her for a greedy armour-plated crocodile, with no more capacity
of imagining the delicate and sensitive and tender spot behind thy
waistcoat, than of going straight at it with a knitting-needle. Say
likewise, my Twemlow, whether it be the happier lot to be a poor
relation of the great, or to stand in the wintry slush giving the hack
horses to drink out of the shallow tub at the coach-stand, into which
thou has so nearly set thy uncertain foot. Twemlow says nothing, and
goes on.

As he approaches the Lammles' door, drives up a little one-horse
carriage, containing Tippins the divine. Tippins, letting down the
window, playfully extols the vigilance of her cavalier in being in
waiting there to hand her out. Twemlow hands her out with as much polite
gravity as if she were anything real, and they proceed upstairs. Tippins
all abroad about the legs, and seeking to express that those unsteady
articles are only skipping in their native buoyancy.

And dear Mrs Lammle and dear Mr Lammle, how do you do, and when are
you going down to what's-its-name place--Guy, Earl of Warwick, you
know--what is it?--Dun Cow--to claim the flitch of bacon? And Mortimer,
whose name is for ever blotted out from my list of lovers, by reason
first of fickleness and then of base desertion, how do YOU do, wretch?
And Mr Wrayburn, YOU here! What can YOU come for, because we are all
very sure before-hand that you are not going to talk! And Veneering,
M.P., how are things going on down at the house, and when will you turn
out those terrible people for us? And Mrs Veneering, my dear, can it
positively be true that you go down to that stifling place night after
night, to hear those men prose? Talking of which, Veneering, why don't
you prose, for you haven't opened your lips there yet, and we are dying
to hear what you have got to say to us! Miss Podsnap, charmed to see
you. Pa, here? No! Ma, neither? Oh! Mr Boots! Delighted. Mr Brewer!
This IS a gathering of the clans. Thus Tippins, and surveys Fledgeby and
outsiders through golden glass, murmuring as she turns about and about,
in her innocent giddy way, Anybody else I know? No, I think not. Nobody
there. Nobody THERE. Nobody anywhere!

Mr Lammle, all a-glitter, produces his friend Fledgeby, as dying for the
honour of presentation to Lady Tippins. Fledgeby presented, has the air
of going to say something, has the air of going to say nothing, has an
air successively of meditation, of resignation, and of desolation,
backs on Brewer, makes the tour of Boots, and fades into the extreme
background, feeling for his whisker, as if it might have turned up since
he was there five minutes ago.

But Lammle has him out again before he has so much as completely
ascertained the bareness of the land. He would seem to be in a bad way,
Fledgeby; for Lammle represents him as dying again. He is dying now, of
want of presentation to Twemlow.

Twemlow offers his hand. Glad to see him. 'Your mother, sir, was a
connexion of mine.'

'I believe so,' says Fledgeby, 'but my mother and her family were two.'

'Are you staying in town?' asks Twemlow.

'I always am,' says Fledgeby.

'You like town,' says Twemlow. But is felled flat by Fledgeby's taking
it quite ill, and replying, No, he don't like town. Lammle tries to
break the force of the fall, by remarking that some people do not like
town. Fledgeby retorting that he never heard of any such case but his
own, Twemlow goes down again heavily.

'There is nothing new this morning, I suppose?' says Twemlow, returning
to the mark with great spirit.

Fledgeby has not heard of anything.

'No, there's not a word of news,' says Lammle.

'Not a particle,' adds Boots.

'Not an atom,' chimes in Brewer.

Somehow the execution of this little concerted piece appears to raise
the general spirits as with a sense of duty done, and sets the company a
going. Everybody seems more equal than before, to the calamity of being
in the society of everybody else. Even Eugene standing in a window,
moodily swinging the tassel of a blind, gives it a smarter jerk now, as
if he found himself in better case.

Breakfast announced. Everything on table showy and gaudy, but with
a self-assertingly temporary and nomadic air on the decorations, as
boasting that they will be much more showy and gaudy in the palatial
residence. Mr Lammle's own particular servant behind his chair; the
Analytical behind Veneering's chair; instances in point that
such servants fall into two classes: one mistrusting the master's
acquaintances, and the other mistrusting the master. Mr Lammle's
servant, of the second class. Appearing to be lost in wonder and low
spirits because the police are so long in coming to take his master up
on some charge of the first magnitude.

Veneering, M.P., on the right of Mrs Lammle; Twemlow on her left; Mrs
Veneering, W.M.P. (wife of Member of Parliament), and Lady Tippins on Mr
Lammle's right and left. But be sure that well within the fascination of
Mr Lammle's eye and smile sits little Georgiana. And be sure that
close to little Georgiana, also under inspection by the same gingerous
gentleman, sits Fledgeby.

Oftener than twice or thrice while breakfast is in progress, Mr Twemlow
gives a little sudden turn towards Mrs Lammle, and then says to her, 'I
beg your pardon!' This not being Twemlow's usual way, why is it his
way to-day? Why, the truth is, Twemlow repeatedly labours under the
impression that Mrs Lammle is going to speak to him, and turning finds
that it is not so, and mostly that she has her eyes upon Veneering.
Strange that this impression so abides by Twemlow after being corrected,
yet so it is.

Lady Tippins partaking plentifully of the fruits of the earth (including
grape-juice in the category) becomes livelier, and applies herself to
elicit sparks from Mortimer Lightwood. It is always understood among the
initiated, that that faithless lover must be planted at table opposite
to Lady Tippins, who will then strike conversational fire out of him.
In a pause of mastication and deglutition, Lady Tippins, contemplating
Mortimer, recalls that it was at our dear Veneerings, and in the
presence of a party who are surely all here, that he told them his
story of the man from somewhere, which afterwards became so horribly
interesting and vulgarly popular.

'Yes, Lady Tippins,' assents Mortimer; 'as they say on the stage, "Even
so!"

'Then we expect you,' retorts the charmer, 'to sustain your reputation,
and tell us something else.'

'Lady Tippins, I exhausted myself for life that day, and there is
nothing more to be got out of me.'

Mortimer parries thus, with a sense upon him that elsewhere it is Eugene
and not he who is the jester, and that in these circles where Eugene
persists in being speechless, he, Mortimer, is but the double of the
friend on whom he has founded himself.

'But,' quoth the fascinating Tippins, 'I am resolved on getting
something more out of you. Traitor! what is this I hear about another
disappearance?'

'As it is you who have heard it,' returns Lightwood, 'perhaps you'll
tell us.'

'Monster, away!' retorts Lady Tippins. 'Your own Golden Dustman referred
me to you.'

Mr Lammle, striking in here, proclaims aloud that there is a sequel
to the story of the man from somewhere. Silence ensues upon the
proclamation.

'I assure you,' says Lightwood, glancing round the table, 'I have
nothing to tell.' But Eugene adding in a low voice, 'There, tell
it, tell it!' he corrects himself with the addition, 'Nothing worth
mentioning.'

Boots and Brewer immediately perceive that it is immensely worth
mentioning, and become politely clamorous. Veneering is also visited by
a perception to the same effect. But it is understood that his attention
is now rather used up, and difficult to hold, that being the tone of the
House of Commons.

'Pray don't be at the trouble of composing yourselves to listen,' says
Mortimer Lightwood, 'because I shall have finished long before you have
fallen into comfortable attitudes. It's like--'

'It's like,' impatiently interrupts Eugene, 'the children's narrative:

     "I'll tell you a story
     Of Jack a Manory,
     And now my story's begun;
     I'll tell you another
     Of Jack and his brother,
     And now my story is done."

--Get on, and get it over!'

Eugene says this with a sound of vexation in his voice, leaning back in
his chair and looking balefully at Lady Tippins, who nods to him as
her dear Bear, and playfully insinuates that she (a self-evident
proposition) is Beauty, and he Beast.

'The reference,' proceeds Mortimer, 'which I suppose to be made by my
honourable and fair enslaver opposite, is to the following circumstance.
Very lately, the young woman, Lizzie Hexam, daughter of the late Jesse
Hexam, otherwise Gaffer, who will be remembered to have found the body
of the man from somewhere, mysteriously received, she knew not from
whom, an explicit retraction of the charges made against her father, by
another water-side character of the name of Riderhood. Nobody believed
them, because little Rogue Riderhood--I am tempted into the paraphrase
by remembering the charming wolf who would have rendered society a great
service if he had devoured Mr Riderhood's father and mother in their
infancy--had previously played fast and loose with the said charges,
and, in fact, abandoned them. However, the retraction I have mentioned
found its way into Lizzie Hexam's hands, with a general flavour on it
of having been favoured by some anonymous messenger in a dark cloak and
slouched hat, and was by her forwarded, in her father's vindication, to
Mr Boffin, my client. You will excuse the phraseology of the shop, but
as I never had another client, and in all likelihood never shall have, I
am rather proud of him as a natural curiosity probably unique.'

Although as easy as usual on the surface, Lightwood is not quite as easy
as usual below it. With an air of not minding Eugene at all, he feels
that the subject is not altogether a safe one in that connexion.

'The natural curiosity which forms the sole ornament of my professional
museum,' he resumes, 'hereupon desires his Secretary--an individual
of the hermit-crab or oyster species, and whose name, I think, is
Chokesmith--but it doesn't in the least matter--say Artichoke--to put
himself in communication with Lizzie Hexam. Artichoke professes his
readiness so to do, endeavours to do so, but fails.'

'Why fails?' asks Boots.

'How fails?' asks Brewer.

'Pardon me,' returns Lightwood,' I must postpone the reply for one
moment, or we shall have an anti-climax. Artichoke failing signally, my
client refers the task to me: his purpose being to advance the interests
of the object of his search. I proceed to put myself in communication
with her; I even happen to possess some special means,' with a glance
at Eugene, 'of putting myself in communication with her; but I fail too,
because she has vanished.'

'Vanished!' is the general echo.

'Disappeared,' says Mortimer. 'Nobody knows how, nobody knows when,
nobody knows where. And so ends the story to which my honourable and
fair enslaver opposite referred.'

Tippins, with a bewitching little scream, opines that we shall every one
of us be murdered in our beds. Eugene eyes her as if some of us would
be enough for him. Mrs Veneering, W.M.P., remarks that these social
mysteries make one afraid of leaving Baby. Veneering, M.P., wishes to
be informed (with something of a second-hand air of seeing the Right
Honourable Gentleman at the head of the Home Department in his place)
whether it is intended to be conveyed that the vanished person has been
spirited away or otherwise harmed? Instead of Lightwood's answering,
Eugene answers, and answers hastily and vexedly: 'No, no, no; he doesn't
mean that; he means voluntarily vanished--but utterly--completely.'

However, the great subject of the happiness of Mr and Mrs Lammle must
not be allowed to vanish with the other vanishments--with the vanishing
of the murderer, the vanishing of Julius Handford, the vanishing of
Lizzie Hexam,--and therefore Veneering must recall the present sheep
to the pen from which they have strayed. Who so fit to discourse of
the happiness of Mr and Mrs Lammle, they being the dearest and oldest
friends he has in the world; or what audience so fit for him to take
into his confidence as that audience, a noun of multitude or signifying
many, who are all the oldest and dearest friends he has in the world?
So Veneering, without the formality of rising, launches into a familiar
oration, gradually toning into the Parliamentary sing-song, in which he
sees at that board his dear friend Twemlow who on that day twelvemonth
bestowed on his dear friend Lammle the fair hand of his dear friend
Sophronia, and in which he also sees at that board his dear friends
Boots and Brewer whose rallying round him at a period when his dear
friend Lady Tippins likewise rallied round him--ay, and in the foremost
rank--he can never forget while memory holds her seat. But he is free
to confess that he misses from that board his dear old friend Podsnap,
though he is well represented by his dear young friend Georgiana. And he
further sees at that board (this he announces with pomp, as if exulting
in the powers of an extraordinary telescope) his friend Mr Fledgeby, if
he will permit him to call him so. For all of these reasons, and many
more which he right well knows will have occurred to persons of your
exceptional acuteness, he is here to submit to you that the time has
arrived when, with our hearts in our glasses, with tears in our eyes,
with blessings on our lips, and in a general way with a profusion of
gammon and spinach in our emotional larders, we should one and all drink
to our dear friends the Lammles, wishing them many years as happy as
the last, and many many friends as congenially united as themselves. And
this he will add; that Anastatia Veneering (who is instantly heard to
weep) is formed on the same model as her old and chosen friend Sophronia
Lammle, in respect that she is devoted to the man who wooed and won her,
and nobly discharges the duties of a wife.

Seeing no better way out of it, Veneering here pulls up his oratorical
Pegasus extremely short, and plumps down, clean over his head, with:
'Lammle, God bless you!'

Then Lammle. Too much of him every way; pervadingly too much nose of a
coarse wrong shape, and his nose in his mind and his manners; too much
smile to be real; too much frown to be false; too many large teeth to be
visible at once without suggesting a bite. He thanks you, dear friends,
for your kindly greeting, and hopes to receive you--it may be on the
next of these delightful occasions--in a residence better suited to
your claims on the rites of hospitality. He will never forget that at
Veneering's he first saw Sophronia. Sophronia will never forget that at
Veneering's she first saw him. 'They spoke of it soon after they
were married, and agreed that they would never forget it. In fact, to
Veneering they owe their union. They hope to show their sense of this
some day ('No, no, from Veneering)--oh yes, yes, and let him rely
upon it, they will if they can! His marriage with Sophronia was not a
marriage of interest on either side: she had her little fortune, he had
his little fortune: they joined their little fortunes: it was a marriage
of pure inclination and suitability. Thank you! Sophronia and he are
fond of the society of young people; but he is not sure that their house
would be a good house for young people proposing to remain single, since
the contemplation of its domestic bliss might induce them to change
their minds. He will not apply this to any one present; certainly not
to their darling little Georgiana. Again thank you! Neither, by-the-by,
will he apply it to his friend Fledgeby. He thanks Veneering for the
feeling manner in which he referred to their common friend Fledgeby, for
he holds that gentleman in the highest estimation. Thank you. In fact
(returning unexpectedly to Fledgeby), the better you know him, the more
you find in him that you desire to know. Again thank you! In his dear
Sophronia's name and in his own, thank you!

Mrs Lammle has sat quite still, with her eyes cast down upon the
table-cloth. As Mr Lammle's address ends, Twemlow once more turns to her
involuntarily, not cured yet of that often recurring impression that she
is going to speak to him. This time she really is going to speak to him.
Veneering is talking with his other next neighbour, and she speaks in a
low voice.

'Mr Twemlow.'

He answers, 'I beg your pardon? Yes?' Still a little doubtful, because
of her not looking at him.

'You have the soul of a gentleman, and I know I may trust you. Will you
give me the opportunity of saying a few words to you when you come up
stairs?'

'Assuredly. I shall be honoured.'

'Don't seem to do so, if you please, and don't think it inconsistent if
my manner should be more careless than my words. I may be watched.'

Intensely astonished, Twemlow puts his hand to his forehead, and sinks
back in his chair meditating. Mrs Lammle rises. All rise. The ladies go
up stairs. The gentlemen soon saunter after them. Fledgeby has devoted
the interval to taking an observation of Boots's whiskers, Brewer's
whiskers, and Lammle's whiskers, and considering which pattern of
whisker he would prefer to produce out of himself by friction, if the
Genie of the cheek would only answer to his rubbing.

In the drawing-room, groups form as usual. Lightwood, Boots, and Brewer,
flutter like moths around that yellow wax candle--guttering down,
and with some hint of a winding-sheet in it--Lady Tippins. Outsiders
cultivate Veneering, M P., and Mrs Veneering, W.M.P. Lammle stands with
folded arms, Mephistophelean in a corner, with Georgiana and Fledgeby.
Mrs Lammle, on a sofa by a table, invites Mr Twemlow's attention to a
book of portraits in her hand.

Mr Twemlow takes his station on a settee before her, and Mrs Lammle
shows him a portrait.

'You have reason to be surprised,' she says softly, 'but I wish you
wouldn't look so.'

Disturbed Twemlow, making an effort not to look so, looks much more so.

'I think, Mr Twemlow, you never saw that distant connexion of yours
before to-day?'

'No, never.'

'Now that you do see him, you see what he is. You are not proud of him?'

'To say the truth, Mrs Lammle, no.'

'If you knew more of him, you would be less inclined to acknowledge him.
Here is another portrait. What do you think of it?'

Twemlow has just presence of mind enough to say aloud: 'Very like!
Uncommonly like!'

'You have noticed, perhaps, whom he favours with his attentions? You
notice where he is now, and how engaged?'

'Yes. But Mr Lammle--'

She darts a look at him which he cannot comprehend, and shows him
another portrait.

'Very good; is it not?'

'Charming!' says Twemlow.

'So like as to be almost a caricature?--Mr Twemlow, it is impossible
to tell you what the struggle in my mind has been, before I could bring
myself to speak to you as I do now. It is only in the conviction that I
may trust you never to betray me, that I can proceed. Sincerely promise
me that you never will betray my confidence--that you will respect it,
even though you may no longer respect me,--and I shall be as satisfied
as if you had sworn it.'

'Madam, on the honour of a poor gentleman--'

'Thank you. I can desire no more. Mr Twemlow, I implore you to save that
child!'

'That child?'

'Georgiana. She will be sacrificed. She will be inveigled and married
to that connexion of yours. It is a partnership affair, a
money-speculation. She has no strength of will or character to help
herself and she is on the brink of being sold into wretchedness for
life.'

'Amazing! But what can I do to prevent it?' demands Twemlow, shocked and
bewildered to the last degree.

'Here is another portrait. And not good, is it?'

Aghast at the light manner of her throwing her head back to look at it
critically, Twemlow still dimly perceives the expediency of throwing his
own head back, and does so. Though he no more sees the portrait than if
it were in China.

'Decidedly not good,' says Mrs Lammle. 'Stiff and exaggerated!'

'And ex--' But Twemlow, in his demolished state, cannot command the
word, and trails off into '--actly so.'

'Mr Twemlow, your word will have weight with her pompous, self-blinded
father. You know how much he makes of your family. Lose no time. Warn
him.'

'But warn him against whom?'

'Against me.'

By great good fortune Twemlow receives a stimulant at this critical
instant. The stimulant is Lammle's voice.

'Sophronia, my dear, what portraits are you showing Twemlow?'

'Public characters, Alfred.'

'Show him the last of me.'

'Yes, Alfred.'

She puts the book down, takes another book up, turns the leaves, and
presents the portrait to Twemlow.

'That is the last of Mr Lammle. Do you think it good?--Warn her father
against me. I deserve it, for I have been in the scheme from the first.
It is my husband's scheme, your connexion's, and mine. I tell you this,
only to show you the necessity of the poor little foolish affectionate
creature's being befriended and rescued. You will not repeat this to her
father. You will spare me so far, and spare my husband. For, though this
celebration of to-day is all a mockery, he is my husband, and we must
live.--Do you think it like?'

Twemlow, in a stunned condition, feigns to compare the portrait in his
hand with the original looking towards him from his Mephistophelean
corner.

'Very well indeed!' are at length the words which Twemlow with great
difficulty extracts from himself.

'I am glad you think so. On the whole, I myself consider it the best.
The others are so dark. Now here, for instance, is another of Mr
Lammle--'

'But I don't understand; I don't see my way,' Twemlow stammers, as he
falters over the book with his glass at his eye. 'How warn her father,
and not tell him? Tell him how much? Tell him how little? I--I--am
getting lost.'

'Tell him I am a match-maker; tell him I am an artful and designing
woman; tell him you are sure his daughter is best out of my house and my
company. Tell him any such things of me; they will all be true. You know
what a puffed-up man he is, and how easily you can cause his vanity to
take the alarm. Tell him as much as will give him the alarm and make
him careful of her, and spare me the rest. Mr Twemlow, I feel my sudden
degradation in your eyes; familiar as I am with my degradation in my own
eyes, I keenly feel the change that must have come upon me in yours,
in these last few moments. But I trust to your good faith with me as
implicitly as when I began. If you knew how often I have tried to speak
to you to-day, you would almost pity me. I want no new promise from you
on my own account, for I am satisfied, and I always shall be satisfied,
with the promise you have given me. I can venture to say no more, for
I see that I am watched. If you would set my mind at rest with the
assurance that you will interpose with the father and save this harmless
girl, close that book before you return it to me, and I shall know what
you mean, and deeply thank you in my heart.--Alfred, Mr Twemlow thinks
the last one the best, and quite agrees with you and me.'

Alfred advances. The groups break up. Lady Tippins rises to go, and Mrs
Veneering follows her leader. For the moment, Mrs Lammle does not turn
to them, but remains looking at Twemlow looking at Alfred's portrait
through his eyeglass. The moment past, Twemlow drops his eyeglass at its
ribbon's length, rises, and closes the book with an emphasis which makes
that fragile nursling of the fairies, Tippins, start.

Then good-bye and good-bye, and charming occasion worthy of the Golden
Age, and more about the flitch of bacon, and the like of that; and
Twemlow goes staggering across Piccadilly with his hand to his forehead,
and is nearly run down by a flushed lettercart, and at last drops
safe in his easy-chair, innocent good gentleman, with his hand to his
forehead still, and his head in a whirl.



BOOK THE THIRD -- A LONG LANE



Chapter 1

LODGERS IN QUEER STREET


It was a foggy day in London, and the fog was heavy and dark. Animate
London, with smarting eyes and irritated lungs, was blinking, wheezing,
and choking; inanimate London was a sooty spectre, divided in purpose
between being visible and invisible, and so being wholly neither.
Gaslights flared in the shops with a haggard and unblest air, as knowing
themselves to be night-creatures that had no business abroad under the
sun; while the sun itself when it was for a few moments dimly indicated
through circling eddies of fog, showed as if it had gone out and were
collapsing flat and cold. Even in the surrounding country it was a foggy
day, but there the fog was grey, whereas in London it was, at about
the boundary line, dark yellow, and a little within it brown, and then
browner, and then browner, until at the heart of the City--which call
Saint Mary Axe--it was rusty-black. From any point of the high ridge of
land northward, it might have been discerned that the loftiest buildings
made an occasional struggle to get their heads above the foggy sea, and
especially that the great dome of Saint Paul's seemed to die hard; but
this was not perceivable in the streets at their feet, where the whole
metropolis was a heap of vapour charged with muffled sound of wheels,
and enfolding a gigantic catarrh.

At nine o'clock on such a morning, the place of business of Pubsey and
Co. was not the liveliest object even in Saint Mary Axe--which is not a
very lively spot--with a sobbing gaslight in the counting-house window,
and a burglarious stream of fog creeping in to strangle it through the
keyhole of the main door. But the light went out, and the main door
opened, and Riah came forth with a bag under his arm.

Almost in the act of coming out at the door, Riah went into the fog, and
was lost to the eyes of Saint Mary Axe. But the eyes of this history
can follow him westward, by Cornhill, Cheapside, Fleet Street, and the
Strand, to Piccadilly and the Albany. Thither he went at his grave and
measured pace, staff in hand, skirt at heel; and more than one head,
turning to look back at his venerable figure already lost in the mist,
supposed it to be some ordinary figure indistinctly seen, which fancy
and the fog had worked into that passing likeness.

Arrived at the house in which his master's chambers were on the
second floor, Riah proceeded up the stairs, and paused at Fascination
Fledgeby's door. Making free with neither bell nor knocker, he struck
upon the door with the top of his staff, and, having listened, sat down
on the threshold. It was characteristic of his habitual submission,
that he sat down on the raw dark staircase, as many of his ancestors
had probably sat down in dungeons, taking what befell him as it might
befall.

After a time, when he had grown so cold as to be fain to blow upon his
fingers, he arose and knocked with his staff again, and listened again,
and again sat down to wait. Thrice he repeated these actions before his
listening ears were greeted by the voice of Fledgeby, calling from his
bed, 'Hold your row!--I'll come and open the door directly!' But, in
lieu of coming directly, he fell into a sweet sleep for some quarter of
an hour more, during which added interval Riah sat upon the stairs and
waited with perfect patience.

At length the door stood open, and Mr Fledgeby's retreating drapery
plunged into bed again. Following it at a respectful distance, Riah
passed into the bed-chamber, where a fire had been sometime lighted, and
was burning briskly.

'Why, what time of night do you mean to call it?' inquired Fledgeby,
turning away beneath the clothes, and presenting a comfortable rampart
of shoulder to the chilled figure of the old man.

'Sir, it is full half-past ten in the morning.'

'The deuce it is! Then it must be precious foggy?'

'Very foggy, sir.'

'And raw, then?'

'Chill and bitter,' said Riah, drawing out a handkerchief, and wiping
the moisture from his beard and long grey hair as he stood on the verge
of the rug, with his eyes on the acceptable fire.

With a plunge of enjoyment, Fledgeby settled himself afresh.

'Any snow, or sleet, or slush, or anything of that sort?' he asked.

'No, sir, no. Not quite so bad as that. The streets are pretty clean.'

'You needn't brag about it,' returned Fledgeby, disappointed in his
desire to heighten the contrast between his bed and the streets. 'But
you're always bragging about something. Got the books there?'

'They are here, sir.'

'All right. I'll turn the general subject over in my mind for a minute
or two, and while I'm about it you can empty your bag and get ready for
me.'

With another comfortable plunge, Mr Fledgeby fell asleep again. The old
man, having obeyed his directions, sat down on the edge of a chair, and,
folding his hands before him, gradually yielded to the influence of the
warmth, and dozed. He was roused by Mr Fledgeby's appearing erect at
the foot of the bed, in Turkish slippers, rose-coloured Turkish trousers
(got cheap from somebody who had cheated some other somebody out of
them), and a gown and cap to correspond. In that costume he would have
left nothing to be desired, if he had been further fitted out with a
bottomless chair, a lantern, and a bunch of matches.

'Now, old 'un!' cried Fascination, in his light raillery, 'what dodgery
are you up to next, sitting there with your eyes shut? You ain't asleep.
Catch a weasel at it, and catch a Jew!'

'Truly, sir, I fear I nodded,' said the old man.

'Not you!' returned Fledgeby, with a cunning look. 'A telling move with
a good many, I dare say, but it won't put ME off my guard. Not a bad
notion though, if you want to look indifferent in driving a bargain. Oh,
you are a dodger!'

The old man shook his head, gently repudiating the imputation, and
suppressed a sigh, and moved to the table at which Mr Fledgeby was now
pouring out for himself a cup of steaming and fragrant coffee from a pot
that had stood ready on the hob. It was an edifying spectacle, the young
man in his easy chair taking his coffee, and the old man with his grey
head bent, standing awaiting his pleasure.

'Now!' said Fledgeby. 'Fork out your balance in hand, and prove by
figures how you make it out that it ain't more. First of all, light that
candle.'

Riah obeyed, and then taking a bag from his breast, and referring to
the sum in the accounts for which they made him responsible, told it out
upon the table. Fledgeby told it again with great care, and rang every
sovereign.

'I suppose,' he said, taking one up to eye it closely, 'you haven't been
lightening any of these; but it's a trade of your people's, you know.
YOU understand what sweating a pound means, don't you?'

'Much as you do, sir,' returned the old man, with his hands under
opposite cuffs of his loose sleeves, as he stood at the table,
deferentially observant of the master's face. 'May I take the liberty to
say something?'

'You may,' Fledgeby graciously conceded.

'Do you not, sir--without intending it--of a surety without intending
it--sometimes mingle the character I fairly earn in your employment,
with the character which it is your policy that I should bear?'

'I don't find it worth my while to cut things so fine as to go into the
inquiry,' Fascination coolly answered.

'Not in justice?'

'Bother justice!' said Fledgeby.

'Not in generosity?'

'Jews and generosity!' said Fledgeby. 'That's a good connexion! Bring
out your vouchers, and don't talk Jerusalem palaver.'

The vouchers were produced, and for the next half-hour Mr Fledgeby
concentrated his sublime attention on them. They and the accounts were
all found correct, and the books and the papers resumed their places in
the bag.

'Next,' said Fledgeby, 'concerning that bill-broking branch of the
business; the branch I like best. What queer bills are to be bought, and
at what prices? You have got your list of what's in the market?'

'Sir, a long list,' replied Riah, taking out a pocket-book, and
selecting from its contents a folded paper, which, being unfolded,
became a sheet of foolscap covered with close writing.

'Whew!' whistled Fledgeby, as he took it in his hand. 'Queer Street is
full of lodgers just at present! These are to be disposed of in parcels;
are they?'

'In parcels as set forth,' returned the old man, looking over his
master's shoulder; 'or the lump.'

'Half the lump will be waste-paper, one knows beforehand,' said
Fledgeby. 'Can you get it at waste-paper price? That's the question.'

Riah shook his head, and Fledgeby cast his small eyes down the list.
They presently began to twinkle, and he no sooner became conscious of
their twinkling, than he looked up over his shoulder at the grave face
above him, and moved to the chimney-piece. Making a desk of it, he stood
there with his back to the old man, warming his knees, perusing the list
at his leisure, and often returning to some lines of it, as though
they were particularly interesting. At those times he glanced in the
chimney-glass to see what note the old man took of him. He took none
that could be detected, but, aware of his employer's suspicions, stood
with his eyes on the ground.

Mr Fledgeby was thus amiably engaged when a step was heard at the outer
door, and the door was heard to open hastily. 'Hark! That's your doing,
you Pump of Israel,' said Fledgeby; 'you can't have shut it.' Then the
step was heard within, and the voice of Mr Alfred Lammle called aloud,
'Are you anywhere here, Fledgeby?' To which Fledgeby, after cautioning
Riah in a low voice to take his cue as it should be given him, replied,
'Here I am!' and opened his bedroom door.

'Come in!' said Fledgeby. 'This gentleman is only Pubsey and Co. of
Saint Mary Axe, that I am trying to make terms for an unfortunate friend
with in a matter of some dishonoured bills. But really Pubsey and Co.
are so strict with their debtors, and so hard to move, that I seem to be
wasting my time. Can't I make ANY terms with you on my friend's part, Mr
Riah?'

'I am but the representative of another, sir,' returned the Jew in a low
voice. 'I do as I am bidden by my principal. It is not my capital that
is invested in the business. It is not my profit that arises therefrom.'

'Ha ha!' laughed Fledgeby. 'Lammle?'

'Ha ha!' laughed Lammle. 'Yes. Of course. We know.'

'Devilish good, ain't it, Lammle?' said Fledgeby, unspeakably amused by
his hidden joke.

'Always the same, always the same!' said Lammle. 'Mr--'

'Riah, Pubsey and Co. Saint Mary Axe,' Fledgeby put in, as he wiped away
the tears that trickled from his eyes, so rare was his enjoyment of his
secret joke.

'Mr Riah is bound to observe the invariable forms for such cases made
and provided,' said Lammle.

'He is only the representative of another!' cried Fledgeby. 'Does as
he is told by his principal! Not his capital that's invested in the
business. Oh, that's good! Ha ha ha ha!' Mr Lammle joined in the laugh
and looked knowing; and the more he did both, the more exquisite the
secret joke became for Mr Fledgeby.

'However,' said that fascinating gentleman, wiping his eyes again, 'if
we go on in this way, we shall seem to be almost making game of Mr Riah,
or of Pubsey and Co. Saint Mary Axe, or of somebody: which is far from
our intention. Mr Riah, if you would have the kindness to step into the
next room for a few moments while I speak with Mr Lammle here, I should
like to try to make terms with you once again before you go.'

The old man, who had never raised his eyes during the whole transaction
of Mr Fledgeby's joke, silently bowed and passed out by the door which
Fledgeby opened for him. Having closed it on him, Fledgeby returned to
Lammle, standing with his back to the bedroom fire, with one hand under
his coat-skirts, and all his whiskers in the other.

'Halloa!' said Fledgeby. 'There's something wrong!'

'How do you know it?' demanded Lammle.

'Because you show it,' replied Fledgeby in unintentional rhyme.

'Well then; there is,' said Lammle; 'there IS something wrong; the whole
thing's wrong.'

'I say!' remonstrated Fascination very slowly, and sitting down with his
hands on his knees to stare at his glowering friend with his back to the
fire.

'I tell you, Fledgeby,' repeated Lammle, with a sweep of his right arm,
'the whole thing's wrong. The game's up.'

'What game's up?' demanded Fledgeby, as slowly as before, and more
sternly.

'THE game. OUR game. Read that.'

Fledgeby took a note from his extended hand and read it aloud. 'Alfred
Lammle, Esquire. Sir: Allow Mrs Podsnap and myself to express our united
sense of the polite attentions of Mrs Alfred Lammle and yourself towards
our daughter, Georgiana. Allow us also, wholly to reject them for the
future, and to communicate our final desire that the two families
may become entire strangers. I have the honour to be, Sir, your most
obedient and very humble servant, JOHN PODSNAP.' Fledgeby looked at the
three blank sides of this note, quite as long and earnestly as at the
first expressive side, and then looked at Lammle, who responded with
another extensive sweep of his right arm.

'Whose doing is this?' said Fledgeby.

'Impossible to imagine,' said Lammle.

'Perhaps,' suggested Fledgeby, after reflecting with a very discontented
brow, 'somebody has been giving you a bad character.'

'Or you,' said Lammle, with a deeper frown.

Mr Fledgeby appeared to be on the verge of some mutinous expressions,
when his hand happened to touch his nose. A certain remembrance
connected with that feature operating as a timely warning, he took it
thoughtfully between his thumb and forefinger, and pondered; Lammle
meanwhile eyeing him with furtive eyes.

'Well!' said Fledgeby. 'This won't improve with talking about. If we
ever find out who did it, we'll mark that person. There's nothing more
to be said, except that you undertook to do what circumstances prevent
your doing.'

'And that you undertook to do what you might have done by this time, if
you had made a prompter use of circumstances,' snarled Lammle.

'Hah! That,' remarked Fledgeby, with his hands in the Turkish trousers,
'is matter of opinion.'

'Mr Fledgeby,' said Lammle, in a bullying tone, 'am I to understand that
you in any way reflect upon me, or hint dissatisfaction with me, in this
affair?'

'No,' said Fledgeby; 'provided you have brought my promissory note in
your pocket, and now hand it over.'

Lammle produced it, not without reluctance. Fledgeby looked at it,
identified it, twisted it up, and threw it into the fire. They both
looked at it as it blazed, went out, and flew in feathery ash up the
chimney.

'NOW, Mr Fledgeby,' said Lammle, as before; 'am I to understand that
you in any way reflect upon me, or hint dissatisfaction with me, in this
affair?'

'No,' said Fledgeby.

'Finally and unreservedly no?'

'Yes.'

'Fledgeby, my hand.'

Mr Fledgeby took it, saying, 'And if we ever find out who did this,
we'll mark that person. And in the most friendly manner, let me mention
one thing more. I don't know what your circumstances are, and I don't
ask. You have sustained a loss here. Many men are liable to be involved
at times, and you may be, or you may not be. But whatever you do,
Lammle, don't--don't--don't, I beg of you--ever fall into the hands of
Pubsey and Co. in the next room, for they are grinders. Regular flayers
and grinders, my dear Lammle,' repeated Fledgeby with a peculiar relish,
'and they'll skin you by the inch, from the nape of your neck to the
sole of your foot, and grind every inch of your skin to tooth-powder.
You have seen what Mr Riah is. Never fall into his hands, Lammle, I beg
of you as a friend!'

Mr Lammle, disclosing some alarm at the solemnity of this affectionate
adjuration, demanded why the devil he ever should fall into the hands of
Pubsey and Co.?

'To confess the fact, I was made a little uneasy,' said the candid
Fledgeby, 'by the manner in which that Jew looked at you when he heard
your name. I didn't like his eye. But it may have been the heated
fancy of a friend. Of course if you are sure that you have no personal
security out, which you may not be quite equal to meeting, and which can
have got into his hands, it must have been fancy. Still, I didn't like
his eye.'

The brooding Lammle, with certain white dints coming and going in his
palpitating nose, looked as if some tormenting imp were pinching it.
Fledgeby, watching him with a twitch in his mean face which did duty
there for a smile, looked very like the tormentor who was pinching.

'But I mustn't keep him waiting too long,' said Fledgeby, 'or he'll
revenge it on my unfortunate friend. How's your very clever and
agreeable wife? She knows we have broken down?'

'I showed her the letter.'

'Very much surprised?' asked Fledgeby.

'I think she would have been more so,' answered Lammle, 'if there had
been more go in YOU?'

'Oh!--She lays it upon me, then?'

'Mr Fledgeby, I will not have my words misconstrued.'

'Don't break out, Lammle,' urged Fledgeby, in a submissive tone,
'because there's no occasion. I only asked a question. Then she don't
lay it upon me? To ask another question.'

'No, sir.'

'Very good,' said Fledgeby, plainly seeing that she did. 'My compliments
to her. Good-bye!'

They shook hands, and Lammle strode out pondering. Fledgeby saw him
into the fog, and, returning to the fire and musing with his face to it,
stretched the legs of the rose-coloured Turkish trousers wide apart, and
meditatively bent his knees, as if he were going down upon them.

'You have a pair of whiskers, Lammle, which I never liked,' murmured
Fledgeby, 'and which money can't produce; you are boastful of your
manners and your conversation; you wanted to pull my nose, and you have
let me in for a failure, and your wife says I am the cause of it. I'll
bowl you down. I will, though I have no whiskers,' here he rubbed the
places where they were due, 'and no manners, and no conversation!'

Having thus relieved his noble mind, he collected the legs of the
Turkish trousers, straightened himself on his knees, and called out
to Riah in the next room, 'Halloa, you sir!' At sight of the old man
re-entering with a gentleness monstrously in contrast with the character
he had given him, Mr Fledgeby was so tickled again, that he exclaimed,
laughing, 'Good! Good! Upon my soul it is uncommon good!'

'Now, old 'un,' proceeded Fledgeby, when he had had his laugh out,
'you'll buy up these lots that I mark with my pencil--there's a tick
there, and a tick there, and a tick there--and I wager two-pence you'll
afterwards go on squeezing those Christians like the Jew you are. Now,
next you'll want a cheque--or you'll say you want it, though you've
capital enough somewhere, if one only knew where, but you'd be peppered
and salted and grilled on a gridiron before you'd own to it--and that
cheque I'll write.'

When he had unlocked a drawer and taken a key from it to open another
drawer, in which was another key that opened another drawer, in which
was another key that opened another drawer, in which was the cheque
book; and when he had written the cheque; and when, reversing the key
and drawer process, he had placed his cheque book in safety again; he
beckoned the old man, with the folded cheque, to come and take it.

'Old 'un,' said Fledgeby, when the Jew had put it in his pocketbook, and
was putting that in the breast of his outer garment; 'so much at present
for my affairs. Now a word about affairs that are not exactly mine.
Where is she?'

With his hand not yet withdrawn from the breast of his garment, Riah
started and paused.

'Oho!' said Fledgeby. 'Didn't expect it! Where have you hidden her?'

Showing that he was taken by surprise, the old man looked at his master
with some passing confusion, which the master highly enjoyed.

'Is she in the house I pay rent and taxes for in Saint Mary Axe?'
demanded Fledgeby.

'No, sir.'

'Is she in your garden up atop of that house--gone up to be dead, or
whatever the game is?' asked Fledgeby.

'No, sir.'

'Where is she then?'

Riah bent his eyes upon the ground, as if considering whether he could
answer the question without breach of faith, and then silently raised
them to Fledgeby's face, as if he could not.

'Come!' said Fledgeby. 'I won't press that just now. But I want to know
this, and I will know this, mind you. What are you up to?'

The old man, with an apologetic action of his head and hands, as not
comprehending the master's meaning, addressed to him a look of mute
inquiry.

'You can't be a gallivanting dodger,' said Fledgeby. 'For you're a
"regular pity the sorrows", you know--if you DO know any Christian
rhyme--"whose trembling limbs have borne him to"--et cetrer. You're one
of the Patriarchs; you're a shaky old card; and you can't be in love
with this Lizzie?'

'O, sir!' expostulated Riah. 'O, sir, sir, sir!'

'Then why,' retorted Fledgeby, with some slight tinge of a blush, 'don't
you out with your reason for having your spoon in the soup at all?'

'Sir, I will tell you the truth. But (your pardon for the stipulation)
it is in sacred confidence; it is strictly upon honour.'

'Honour too!' cried Fledgeby, with a mocking lip. 'Honour among Jews.
Well. Cut away.'

'It is upon honour, sir?' the other still stipulated, with respectful
firmness.

'Oh, certainly. Honour bright,' said Fledgeby.

The old man, never bidden to sit down, stood with an earnest hand laid
on the back of the young man's easy chair. The young man sat looking at
the fire with a face of listening curiosity, ready to check him off and
catch him tripping.

'Cut away,' said Fledgeby. 'Start with your motive.'

'Sir, I have no motive but to help the helpless.'

Mr Fledgeby could only express the feelings to which this incredible
statement gave rise in his breast, by a prodigiously long derisive
sniff.

'How I came to know, and much to esteem and to respect, this damsel, I
mentioned when you saw her in my poor garden on the house-top,' said the
Jew.

'Did you?' said Fledgeby, distrustfully. 'Well. Perhaps you did,
though.'

'The better I knew her, the more interest I felt in her fortunes. They
gathered to a crisis. I found her beset by a selfish and ungrateful
brother, beset by an unacceptable wooer, beset by the snares of a more
powerful lover, beset by the wiles of her own heart.'

'She took to one of the chaps then?'

'Sir, it was only natural that she should incline towards him, for he
had many and great advantages. But he was not of her station, and to
marry her was not in his mind. Perils were closing round her, and the
circle was fast darkening, when I--being as you have said, sir, too
old and broken to be suspected of any feeling for her but a
father's--stepped in, and counselled flight. I said, "My daughter, there
are times of moral danger when the hardest virtuous resolution to form
is flight, and when the most heroic bravery is flight." She answered,
she had had this in her thoughts; but whither to fly without help she
knew not, and there were none to help her. I showed her there was one to
help her, and it was I. And she is gone.'

'What did you do with her?' asked Fledgeby, feeling his cheek.

'I placed her,' said the old man, 'at a distance;' with a grave smooth
outward sweep from one another of his two open hands at arm's length;
'at a distance--among certain of our people, where her industry would
serve her, and where she could hope to exercise it, unassailed from any
quarter.'

Fledgeby's eyes had come from the fire to notice the action of his hands
when he said 'at a distance.' Fledgeby now tried (very unsuccessfully)
to imitate that action, as he shook his head and said, 'Placed her in
that direction, did you? Oh you circular old dodger!'

With one hand across his breast and the other on the easy chair, Riah,
without justifying himself, waited for further questioning. But, that it
was hopeless to question him on that one reserved point, Fledgeby, with
his small eyes too near together, saw full well.

'Lizzie,' said Fledgeby, looking at the fire again, and then looking up.
'Humph, Lizzie. You didn't tell me the other name in your garden atop of
the house. I'll be more communicative with you. The other name's Hexam.'

Riah bent his head in assent.

'Look here, you sir,' said Fledgeby. 'I have a notion I know something
of the inveigling chap, the powerful one. Has he anything to do with the
law?'

'Nominally, I believe it his calling.'

'I thought so. Name anything like Lightwood?'

'Sir, not at all like.'

'Come, old 'un,' said Fledgeby, meeting his eyes with a wink, 'say the
name.'

'Wrayburn.'

'By Jupiter!' cried Fledgeby. 'That one, is it? I thought it might be
the other, but I never dreamt of that one! I shouldn't object to your
baulking either of the pair, dodger, for they are both conceited enough;
but that one is as cool a customer as ever I met with. Got a beard
besides, and presumes upon it. Well done, old 'un! Go on and prosper!'

Brightened by this unexpected commendation, Riah asked were there more
instructions for him?

'No,' said Fledgeby, 'you may toddle now, Judah, and grope about on the
orders you have got.' Dismissed with those pleasing words, the old man
took his broad hat and staff, and left the great presence: more as if he
were some superior creature benignantly blessing Mr Fledgeby, than the
poor dependent on whom he set his foot. Left alone, Mr Fledgeby locked
his outer door, and came back to his fire.

'Well done you!' said Fascination to himself. 'Slow, you may be; sure,
you are!' This he twice or thrice repeated with much complacency, as he
again dispersed the legs of the Turkish trousers and bent the knees.

'A tidy shot that, I flatter myself,' he then soliloquised. 'And a Jew
brought down with it! Now, when I heard the story told at Lammle's, I
didn't make a jump at Riah. Not a hit of it; I got at him by degrees.'
Herein he was quite accurate; it being his habit, not to jump, or
leap, or make an upward spring, at anything in life, but to crawl at
everything.

'I got at him,' pursued Fledgeby, feeling for his whisker, 'by degrees.
If your Lammles or your Lightwoods had got at him anyhow, they would
have asked him the question whether he hadn't something to do with that
gal's disappearance. I knew a better way of going to work. Having got
behind the hedge, and put him in the light, I took a shot at him and
brought him down plump. Oh! It don't count for much, being a Jew, in a
match against ME!'

Another dry twist in place of a smile, made his face crooked here.

'As to Christians,' proceeded Fledgeby, 'look out, fellow-Christians,
particularly you that lodge in Queer Street! I have got the run of Queer
Street now, and you shall see some games there. To work a lot of power
over you and you not know it, knowing as you think yourselves, would
be almost worth laying out money upon. But when it comes to squeezing a
profit out of you into the bargain, it's something like!'

With this apostrophe Mr Fledgeby appropriately proceeded to divest
himself of his Turkish garments, and invest himself with Christian
attire. Pending which operation, and his morning ablutions, and his
anointing of himself with the last infallible preparation for the
production of luxuriant and glossy hair upon the human countenance
(quacks being the only sages he believed in besides usurers), the murky
fog closed about him and shut him up in its sooty embrace. If it had
never let him out any more, the world would have had no irreparable
loss, but could have easily replaced him from its stock on hand.



Chapter 2

A RESPECTED FRIEND IN A NEW ASPECT


In the evening of this same foggy day when the yellow window-blind of
Pubsey and Co. was drawn down upon the day's work, Riah the Jew once
more came forth into Saint Mary Axe. But this time he carried no bag,
and was not bound on his master's affairs. He passed over London Bridge,
and returned to the Middlesex shore by that of Westminster, and so, ever
wading through the fog, waded to the doorstep of the dolls' dressmaker.

Miss Wren expected him. He could see her through the window by the light
of her low fire--carefully banked up with damp cinders that it might
last the longer and waste the less when she was out--sitting waiting
for him in her bonnet. His tap at the glass roused her from the musing
solitude in which she sat, and she came to the door to open it; aiding
her steps with a little crutch-stick.

'Good evening, godmother!' said Miss Jenny Wren.

The old man laughed, and gave her his arm to lean on.

'Won't you come in and warm yourself, godmother?' asked Miss Jenny Wren.

'Not if you are ready, Cinderella, my dear.'

'Well!' exclaimed Miss Wren, delighted. 'Now you ARE a clever old boy!
If we gave prizes at this establishment (but we only keep blanks), you
should have the first silver medal, for taking me up so quick.' As she
spake thus, Miss Wren removed the key of the house-door from the keyhole
and put it in her pocket, and then bustlingly closed the door, and tried
it as they both stood on the step. Satisfied that her dwelling was safe,
she drew one hand through the old man's arm and prepared to ply her
crutch-stick with the other. But the key was an instrument of such
gigantic proportions, that before they started Riah proposed to carry
it.

'No, no, no! I'll carry it myself,' returned Miss Wren. 'I'm awfully
lopsided, you know, and stowed down in my pocket it'll trim the ship. To
let you into a secret, godmother, I wear my pocket on my high side, o'
purpose.'

With that they began their plodding through the fog.

'Yes, it was truly sharp of you, godmother,' resumed Miss Wren with
great approbation, 'to understand me. But, you see, you ARE so like the
fairy godmother in the bright little books! You look so unlike the rest
of people, and so much as if you had changed yourself into that shape,
just this moment, with some benevolent object. Boh!' cried Miss Jenny,
putting her face close to the old man's. 'I can see your features,
godmother, behind the beard.'

'Does the fancy go to my changing other objects too, Jenny?'

'Ah! That it does! If you'd only borrow my stick and tap this piece of
pavement--this dirty stone that my foot taps--it would start up a coach
and six. I say! Let's believe so!'

'With all my heart,' replied the good old man.

'And I'll tell you what I must ask you to do, godmother. I must ask you
to be so kind as give my child a tap, and change him altogether. O my
child has been such a bad, bad child of late! It worries me nearly
out of my wits. Not done a stroke of work these ten days. Has had the
horrors, too, and fancied that four copper-coloured men in red wanted to
throw him into a fiery furnace.'

'But that's dangerous, Jenny.'

'Dangerous, godmother? My child is always dangerous, more or less. He
might'--here the little creature glanced back over her shoulder at the
sky--'be setting the house on fire at this present moment. I don't know
who would have a child, for my part! It's no use shaking him. I have
shaken him till I have made myself giddy. "Why don't you mind your
Commandments and honour your parent, you naughty old boy?" I said to him
all the time. But he only whimpered and stared at me.'

'What shall be changed, after him?' asked Riah in a compassionately
playful voice.

'Upon my word, godmother, I am afraid I must be selfish next, and get
you to set me right in the back and the legs. It's a little thing to you
with your power, godmother, but it's a great deal to poor weak aching
me.'

There was no querulous complaining in the words, but they were not the
less touching for that.

'And then?'

'Yes, and then--YOU know, godmother. We'll both jump up into the coach
and six and go to Lizzie. This reminds me, godmother, to ask you a
serious question. You are as wise as wise can be (having been brought
up by the fairies), and you can tell me this: Is it better to have had a
good thing and lost it, or never to have had it?'

'Explain, god-daughter.'

'I feel so much more solitary and helpless without Lizzie now, than I
used to feel before I knew her.' (Tears were in her eyes as she said
so.)

'Some beloved companionship fades out of most lives, my dear,' said the
Jew,--'that of a wife, and a fair daughter, and a son of promise, has
faded out of my own life--but the happiness was.'

'Ah!' said Miss Wren thoughtfully, by no means convinced, and chopping
the exclamation with that sharp little hatchet of hers; 'then I tell you
what change I think you had better begin with, godmother. You had better
change Is into Was and Was into Is, and keep them so.'

'Would that suit your case? Would you not be always in pain then?' asked
the old man tenderly.

'Right!' exclaimed Miss Wren with another chop. 'You have changed me
wiser, godmother.--Not,' she added with the quaint hitch of her chin and
eyes, 'that you need be a very wonderful godmother to do that deed.'

Thus conversing, and having crossed Westminster Bridge, they traversed
the ground that Riah had lately traversed, and new ground likewise; for,
when they had recrossed the Thames by way of London Bridge, they struck
down by the river and held their still foggier course that way.

But previously, as they were going along, Jenny twisted her venerable
friend aside to a brilliantly-lighted toy-shop window, and said: 'Now
look at 'em! All my work!'

This referred to a dazzling semicircle of dolls in all the colours of
the rainbow, who were dressed for presentation at court, for going to
balls, for going out driving, for going out on horseback, for going out
walking, for going to get married, for going to help other dolls to get
married, for all the gay events of life.'

'Pretty, pretty, pretty!' said the old man with a clap of his hands.
'Most elegant taste!'

'Glad you like 'em,' returned Miss Wren, loftily. 'But the fun is,
godmother, how I make the great ladies try my dresses on. Though it's
the hardest part of my business, and would be, even if my back were not
bad and my legs queer.'

He looked at her as not understanding what she said.

'Bless you, godmother,' said Miss Wren, 'I have to scud about town at
all hours. If it was only sitting at my bench, cutting out and sewing,
it would be comparatively easy work; but it's the trying-on by the great
ladies that takes it out of me.'

'How, the trying-on?' asked Riah.

'What a mooney godmother you are, after all!' returned Miss Wren. 'Look
here. There's a Drawing Room, or a grand day in the Park, or a Show, or
a Fete, or what you like. Very well. I squeeze among the crowd, and I
look about me. When I see a great lady very suitable for my business, I
say "You'll do, my dear!" and I take particular notice of her, and run
home and cut her out and baste her. Then another day, I come scudding
back again to try on, and then I take particular notice of her again.
Sometimes she plainly seems to say, 'How that little creature is
staring!' and sometimes likes it and sometimes don't, but much more
often yes than no. All the time I am only saying to myself, "I must
hollow out a bit here; I must slope away there;" and I am making a
perfect slave of her, with making her try on my doll's dress. Evening
parties are severer work for me, because there's only a doorway for a
full view, and what with hobbling among the wheels of the carriages
and the legs of the horses, I fully expect to be run over some night.
However, there I have 'em, just the same. When they go bobbing into the
hall from the carriage, and catch a glimpse of my little physiognomy
poked out from behind a policeman's cape in the rain, I dare say they
think I am wondering and admiring with all my eyes and heart, but they
little think they're only working for my dolls! There was Lady Belinda
Whitrose. I made her do double duty in one night. I said when she came
out of the carriage, "YOU'll do, my dear!" and I ran straight home and
cut her out and basted her. Back I came again, and waited behind the men
that called the carriages. Very bad night too. At last, "Lady Belinda
Whitrose's carriage! Lady Belinda Whitrose coming down!" And I made her
try on--oh! and take pains about it too--before she got seated. That's
Lady Belinda hanging up by the waist, much too near the gaslight for a
wax one, with her toes turned in.'

When they had plodded on for some time nigh the river, Riah asked
the way to a certain tavern called the Six Jolly Fellowship Porters.
Following the directions he received, they arrived, after two or three
puzzled stoppages for consideration, and some uncertain looking about
them, at the door of Miss Abbey Potterson's dominions. A peep through
the glass portion of the door revealed to them the glories of the bar,
and Miss Abbey herself seated in state on her snug throne, reading the
newspaper. To whom, with deference, they presented themselves.

Taking her eyes off her newspaper, and pausing with a suspended
expression of countenance, as if she must finish the paragraph in hand
before undertaking any other business whatever, Miss Abbey demanded,
with some slight asperity: 'Now then, what's for you?'

'Could we see Miss Potterson?' asked the old man, uncovering his head.

'You not only could, but you can and you do,' replied the hostess.

'Might we speak with you, madam?'

By this time Miss Abbey's eyes had possessed themselves of the small
figure of Miss Jenny Wren. For the closer observation of which, Miss
Abbey laid aside her newspaper, rose, and looked over the half-door of
the bar. The crutch-stick seemed to entreat for its owner leave to come
in and rest by the fire; so, Miss Abbey opened the half-door, and said,
as though replying to the crutch-stick:

'Yes, come in and rest by the fire.'

'My name is Riah,' said the old man, with courteous action, 'and my
avocation is in London city. This, my young companion--'

'Stop a bit,' interposed Miss Wren. 'I'll give the lady my card.' She
produced it from her pocket with an air, after struggling with the
gigantic door-key which had got upon the top of it and kept it down.
Miss Abbey, with manifest tokens of astonishment, took the diminutive
document, and found it to run concisely thus:--


MISS JENNY WREN

DOLLS' DRESSMAKER.

Dolls attended at their own residences.


'Lud!' exclaimed Miss Potterson, staring. And dropped the card.

'We take the liberty of coming, my young companion and I, madam,' said
Riah, 'on behalf of Lizzie Hexam.'

Miss Potterson was stooping to loosen the bonnet-strings of the dolls'
dressmaker. She looked round rather angrily, and said: 'Lizzie Hexam is
a very proud young woman.'

'She would be so proud,' returned Riah, dexterously, 'to stand well in
your good opinion, that before she quitted London for--'

'For where, in the name of the Cape of Good Hope?' asked Miss Potterson,
as though supposing her to have emigrated.

'For the country,' was the cautious answer,--'she made us promise to
come and show you a paper, which she left in our hands for that special
purpose. I am an unserviceable friend of hers, who began to know her
after her departure from this neighbourhood. She has been for some time
living with my young companion, and has been a helpful and a comfortable
friend to her. Much needed, madam,' he added, in a lower voice. 'Believe
me; if you knew all, much needed.'

'I can believe that,' said Miss Abbey, with a softening glance at the
little creature.

'And if it's proud to have a heart that never hardens, and a temper
that never tires, and a touch that never hurts,' Miss Jenny struck in,
flushed, 'she is proud. And if it's not, she is NOT.'

Her set purpose of contradicting Miss Abbey point blank, was so far from
offending that dread authority, as to elicit a gracious smile. 'You do
right, child,' said Miss Abbey, 'to speak well of those who deserve well
of you.'

'Right or wrong,' muttered Miss Wren, inaudibly, with a visible hitch of
her chin, 'I mean to do it, and you may make up your mind to THAT, old
lady.'

'Here is the paper, madam,' said the Jew, delivering into Miss
Potterson's hands the original document drawn up by Rokesmith, and
signed by Riderhood. 'Will you please to read it?'

'But first of all,' said Miss Abbey, '--did you ever taste shrub,
child?'

Miss Wren shook her head.

'Should you like to?'

'Should if it's good,' returned Miss Wren.

'You shall try. And, if you find it good, I'll mix some for you with hot
water. Put your poor little feet on the fender. It's a cold, cold night,
and the fog clings so.' As Miss Abbey helped her to turn her chair, her
loosened bonnet dropped on the floor. 'Why, what lovely hair!' cried
Miss Abbey. 'And enough to make wigs for all the dolls in the world.
What a quantity!'

'Call THAT a quantity?' returned Miss Wren. 'Poof! What do you say to
the rest of it?' As she spoke, she untied a band, and the golden stream
fell over herself and over the chair, and flowed down to the ground.
Miss Abbey's admiration seemed to increase her perplexity. She beckoned
the Jew towards her, as she reached down the shrub-bottle from its
niche, and whispered:

'Child, or woman?'

'Child in years,' was the answer; 'woman in self-reliance and trial.'

'You are talking about Me, good people,' thought Miss Jenny, sitting in
her golden bower, warming her feet. 'I can't hear what you say, but I
know your tricks and your manners!'

The shrub, when tasted from a spoon, perfectly harmonizing with Miss
Jenny's palate, a judicious amount was mixed by Miss Potterson's skilful
hands, whereof Riah too partook. After this preliminary, Miss Abbey read
the document; and, as often as she raised her eyebrows in so doing,
the watchful Miss Jenny accompanied the action with an expressive and
emphatic sip of the shrub and water.

'As far as this goes,' said Miss Abbey Potterson, when she had read it
several times, and thought about it, 'it proves (what didn't much need
proving) that Rogue Riderhood is a villain. I have my doubts whether he
is not the villain who solely did the deed; but I have no expectation of
those doubts ever being cleared up now. I believe I did Lizzie's father
wrong, but never Lizzie's self; because when things were at the worst I
trusted her, had perfect confidence in her, and tried to persuade her
to come to me for a refuge. I am very sorry to have done a man wrong,
particularly when it can't be undone. Be kind enough to let Lizzie know
what I say; not forgetting that if she will come to the Porters, after
all, bygones being bygones, she will find a home at the Porters, and a
friend at the Porters. She knows Miss Abbey of old, remind her, and she
knows what-like the home, and what-like the friend, is likely to turn
out. I am generally short and sweet--or short and sour, according as it
may be and as opinions vary--' remarked Miss Abbey, 'and that's about
all I have got to say, and enough too.'

But before the shrub and water was sipped out, Miss Abbey bethought
herself that she would like to keep a copy of the paper by her. 'It's
not long, sir,' said she to Riah, 'and perhaps you wouldn't mind just
jotting it down.' The old man willingly put on his spectacles, and,
standing at the little desk in the corner where Miss Abbey filed her
receipts and kept her sample phials (customers' scores were interdicted
by the strict administration of the Porters), wrote out the copy in
a fair round character. As he stood there, doing his methodical
penmanship, his ancient scribelike figure intent upon the work, and the
little dolls' dressmaker sitting in her golden bower before the fire,
Miss Abbey had her doubts whether she had not dreamed those two rare
figures into the bar of the Six Jolly Fellowships, and might not wake
with a nod next moment and find them gone.

Miss Abbey had twice made the experiment of shutting her eyes and
opening them again, still finding the figures there, when, dreamlike,
a confused hubbub arose in the public room. As she started up, and they
all three looked at one another, it became a noise of clamouring voices
and of the stir of feet; then all the windows were heard to be hastily
thrown up, and shouts and cries came floating into the house from
the river. A moment more, and Bob Gliddery came clattering along the
passage, with the noise of all the nails in his boots condensed into
every separate nail.

'What is it?' asked Miss Abbey.

'It's summut run down in the fog, ma'am,' answered Bob. 'There's ever so
many people in the river.'

'Tell 'em to put on all the kettles!' cried Miss Abbey. 'See that the
boiler's full. Get a bath out. Hang some blankets to the fire. Heat some
stone bottles. Have your senses about you, you girls down stairs, and
use 'em.'

While Miss Abbey partly delivered these directions to Bob--whom she
seized by the hair, and whose head she knocked against the wall, as a
general injunction to vigilance and presence of mind--and partly hailed
the kitchen with them--the company in the public room, jostling one
another, rushed out to the causeway, and the outer noise increased.

'Come and look,' said Miss Abbey to her visitors. They all three hurried
to the vacated public room, and passed by one of the windows into the
wooden verandah overhanging the river.

'Does anybody down there know what has happened?' demanded Miss Abbey,
in her voice of authority.

'It's a steamer, Miss Abbey,' cried one blurred figure in the fog.

'It always IS a steamer, Miss Abbey,' cried another.

'Them's her lights, Miss Abbey, wot you see a-blinking yonder,' cried
another.

'She's a-blowing off her steam, Miss Abbey, and that's what makes the
fog and the noise worse, don't you see?' explained another.

Boats were putting off, torches were lighting up, people were rushing
tumultuously to the water's edge. Some man fell in with a splash, and
was pulled out again with a roar of laughter. The drags were called for.
A cry for the life-buoy passed from mouth to mouth. It was impossible to
make out what was going on upon the river, for every boat that put off
sculled into the fog and was lost to view at a boat's length. Nothing
was clear but that the unpopular steamer was assailed with reproaches
on all sides. She was the Murderer, bound for Gallows Bay; she was the
Manslaughterer, bound for Penal Settlement; her captain ought to be
tried for his life; her crew ran down men in row-boats with a relish;
she mashed up Thames lightermen with her paddles; she fired property
with her funnels; she always was, and she always would be, wreaking
destruction upon somebody or something, after the manner of all her
kind. The whole bulk of the fog teemed with such taunts, uttered in
tones of universal hoarseness. All the while, the steamer's lights moved
spectrally a very little, as she lay-to, waiting the upshot of whatever
accident had happened. Now, she began burning blue-lights. These made a
luminous patch about her, as if she had set the fog on fire, and in the
patch--the cries changing their note, and becoming more fitful and more
excited--shadows of men and boats could be seen moving, while voices
shouted: 'There!' 'There again!' 'A couple more strokes a-head!'
'Hurrah!' 'Look out!' 'Hold on!' 'Haul in!' and the like. Lastly, with
a few tumbling clots of blue fire, the night closed in dark again,
the wheels of the steamer were heard revolving, and her lights glided
smoothly away in the direction of the sea.

It appeared to Miss Abbey and her two companions that a considerable
time had been thus occupied. There was now as eager a set towards the
shore beneath the house as there had been from it; and it was only
on the first boat of the rush coming in that it was known what had
occurred.

'If that's Tom Tootle,' Miss Abbey made proclamation, in her most
commanding tones, 'let him instantly come underneath here.'

The submissive Tom complied, attended by a crowd.

'What is it, Tootle?' demanded Miss Abbey.

'It's a foreign steamer, miss, run down a wherry.'

'How many in the wherry?'

'One man, Miss Abbey.'

'Found?'

'Yes. He's been under water a long time, Miss; but they've grappled up
the body.'

'Let 'em bring it here. You, Bob Gliddery, shut the house-door and stand
by it on the inside, and don't you open till I tell you. Any police down
there?'

'Here, Miss Abbey,' was official rejoinder.

'After they have brought the body in, keep the crowd out, will you? And
help Bob Gliddery to shut 'em out.'

'All right, Miss Abbey.'

The autocratic landlady withdrew into the house with Riah and Miss
Jenny, and disposed those forces, one on either side of her, within the
half-door of the bar, as behind a breastwork.

'You two stand close here,' said Miss Abbey, 'and you'll come to no
hurt, and see it brought in. Bob, you stand by the door.'

That sentinel, smartly giving his rolled shirt-sleeves an extra and a
final tuck on his shoulders, obeyed.

Sound of advancing voices, sound of advancing steps. Shuffle and talk
without. Momentary pause. Two peculiarly blunt knocks or pokes at the
door, as if the dead man arriving on his back were striking at it with
the soles of his motionless feet.

'That's the stretcher, or the shutter, whichever of the two they are
carrying,' said Miss Abbey, with experienced ear. 'Open, you Bob!'

Door opened. Heavy tread of laden men. A halt. A rush. Stoppage of rush.
Door shut. Baffled boots from the vexed souls of disappointed outsiders.

'Come on, men!' said Miss Abbey; for so potent was she with her subjects
that even then the bearers awaited her permission. 'First floor.'

The entry being low, and the staircase being low, they so took up the
burden they had set down, as to carry that low. The recumbent figure, in
passing, lay hardly as high as the half door.

Miss Abbey started back at sight of it. 'Why, good God!' said she,
turning to her two companions, 'that's the very man who made the
declaration we have just had in our hands. That's Riderhood!'



Chapter 3

THE SAME RESPECTED FRIEND IN MORE ASPECTS THAN ONE


In sooth, it is Riderhood and no other, or it is the outer husk and
shell of Riderhood and no other, that is borne into Miss Abbey's
first-floor bedroom. Supple to twist and turn as the Rogue has ever
been, he is sufficiently rigid now; and not without much shuffling of
attendant feet, and tilting of his bier this way and that way, and
peril even of his sliding off it and being tumbled in a heap over the
balustrades, can he be got up stairs.

'Fetch a doctor,' quoth Miss Abbey. And then, 'Fetch his daughter.' On
both of which errands, quick messengers depart.

The doctor-seeking messenger meets the doctor halfway, coming under
convoy of police. Doctor examines the dank carcase, and pronounces, not
hopefully, that it is worth while trying to reanimate the same. All the
best means are at once in action, and everybody present lends a hand,
and a heart and soul. No one has the least regard for the man; with them
all, he has been an object of avoidance, suspicion, and aversion; but
the spark of life within him is curiously separable from himself now,
and they have a deep interest in it, probably because it IS life, and
they are living and must die.

In answer to the doctor's inquiry how did it happen, and was anyone to
blame, Tom Tootle gives in his verdict, unavoidable accident and no one
to blame but the sufferer. 'He was slinking about in his boat,' says
Tom, 'which slinking were, not to speak ill of the dead, the manner of
the man, when he come right athwart the steamer's bows and she cut him
in two.' Mr Tootle is so far figurative, touching the dismemberment, as
that he means the boat, and not the man. For, the man lies whole before
them.

Captain Joey, the bottle-nosed regular customer in the glazed hat, is a
pupil of the much-respected old school, and (having insinuated himself
into the chamber, in the execution of the important service of carrying
the drowned man's neck-kerchief) favours the doctor with a sagacious
old-scholastic suggestion that the body should be hung up by the heels,
'sim'lar', says Captain Joey, 'to mutton in a butcher's shop,' and
should then, as a particularly choice manoeuvre for promoting easy
respiration, be rolled upon casks. These scraps of the wisdom of the
captain's ancestors are received with such speechless indignation by
Miss Abbey, that she instantly seizes the Captain by the collar, and
without a single word ejects him, not presuming to remonstrate, from the
scene.

There then remain, to assist the doctor and Tom, only those three other
regular customers, Bob Glamour, William Williams, and Jonathan (family
name of the latter, if any, unknown to man-kind), who are quite enough.
Miss Abbey having looked in to make sure that nothing is wanted,
descends to the bar, and there awaits the result, with the gentle Jew
and Miss Jenny Wren.

If you are not gone for good, Mr Riderhood, it would be something to
know where you are hiding at present. This flabby lump of mortality that
we work so hard at with such patient perseverance, yields no sign of
you. If you are gone for good, Rogue, it is very solemn, and if you are
coming back, it is hardly less so. Nay, in the suspense and mystery of
the latter question, involving that of where you may be now, there is a
solemnity even added to that of death, making us who are in attendance
alike afraid to look on you and to look off you, and making those below
start at the least sound of a creaking plank in the floor.

Stay! Did that eyelid tremble? So the doctor, breathing low, and closely
watching, asks himself.

No.

Did that nostril twitch?

No.

This artificial respiration ceasing, do I feel any faint flutter under
my hand upon the chest?

No.

Over and over again No. No. But try over and over again, nevertheless.

See! A token of life! An indubitable token of life! The spark may
smoulder and go out, or it may glow and expand, but see! The four
rough fellows, seeing, shed tears. Neither Riderhood in this world, nor
Riderhood in the other, could draw tears from them; but a striving human
soul between the two can do it easily.

He is struggling to come back. Now, he is almost here, now he is far
away again. Now he is struggling harder to get back. And yet--like us
all, when we swoon--like us all, every day of our lives when we wake--he
is instinctively unwilling to be restored to the consciousness of this
existence, and would be left dormant, if he could.

Bob Gliddery returns with Pleasant Riderhood, who was out when sought
for, and hard to find. She has a shawl over her head, and her first
action, when she takes it off weeping, and curtseys to Miss Abbey, is to
wind her hair up.

'Thank you, Miss Abbey, for having father here.'

'I am bound to say, girl, I didn't know who it was,' returns Miss Abbey;
'but I hope it would have been pretty much the same if I had known.'

Poor Pleasant, fortified with a sip of brandy, is ushered into the
first-floor chamber. She could not express much sentiment about her
father if she were called upon to pronounce his funeral oration, but she
has a greater tenderness for him than he ever had for her, and crying
bitterly when she sees him stretched unconscious, asks the doctor, with
clasped hands: 'Is there no hope, sir? O poor father! Is poor father
dead?'

To which the doctor, on one knee beside the body, busy and watchful,
only rejoins without looking round: 'Now, my girl, unless you have the
self-command to be perfectly quiet, I cannot allow you to remain in the
room.'

Pleasant, consequently, wipes her eyes with her back-hair, which is in
fresh need of being wound up, and having got it out of the way, watches
with terrified interest all that goes on. Her natural woman's aptitude
soon renders her able to give a little help. Anticipating the doctor's
want of this or that, she quietly has it ready for him, and so by
degrees is intrusted with the charge of supporting her father's head
upon her arm.

It is something so new to Pleasant to see her father an object of
sympathy and interest, to find any one very willing to tolerate his
society in this world, not to say pressingly and soothingly entreating
him to belong to it, that it gives her a sensation she never experienced
before. Some hazy idea that if affairs could remain thus for a long time
it would be a respectable change, floats in her mind. Also some vague
idea that the old evil is drowned out of him, and that if he should
happily come back to resume his occupation of the empty form that lies
upon the bed, his spirit will be altered. In which state of mind she
kisses the stony lips, and quite believes that the impassive hand she
chafes will revive a tender hand, if it revive ever.

Sweet delusion for Pleasant Riderhood. But they minister to him with
such extraordinary interest, their anxiety is so keen, their vigilance
is so great, their excited joy grows so intense as the signs of life
strengthen, that how can she resist it, poor thing! And now he begins
to breathe naturally, and he stirs, and the doctor declares him to have
come back from that inexplicable journey where he stopped on the dark
road, and to be here.

Tom Tootle, who is nearest to the doctor when he says this, grasps
the doctor fervently by the hand. Bob Glamour, William Williams, and
Jonathan of the no surname, all shake hands with one another round, and
with the doctor too. Bob Glamour blows his nose, and Jonathan of the
no surname is moved to do likewise, but lacking a pocket handkerchief
abandons that outlet for his emotion. Pleasant sheds tears deserving her
own name, and her sweet delusion is at its height.

There is intelligence in his eyes. He wants to ask a question. He
wonders where he is. Tell him.

'Father, you were run down on the river, and are at Miss Abbey
Potterson's.'

He stares at his daughter, stares all around him, closes his eyes, and
lies slumbering on her arm.

The short-lived delusion begins to fade. The low, bad, unimpressible
face is coming up from the depths of the river, or what other depths, to
the surface again. As he grows warm, the doctor and the four men cool.
As his lineaments soften with life, their faces and their hearts harden
to him.

'He will do now,' says the doctor, washing his hands, and looking at the
patient with growing disfavour.

'Many a better man,' moralizes Tom Tootle with a gloomy shake of the
head, 'ain't had his luck.'

'It's to be hoped he'll make a better use of his life,' says Bob
Glamour, 'than I expect he will.'

'Or than he done afore,' adds William Williams.

'But no, not he!' says Jonathan of the no surname, clinching the
quartette.

They speak in a low tone because of his daughter, but she sees that they
have all drawn off, and that they stand in a group at the other end of
the room, shunning him. It would be too much to suspect them of being
sorry that he didn't die when he had done so much towards it, but they
clearly wish that they had had a better subject to bestow their pains
on. Intelligence is conveyed to Miss Abbey in the bar, who reappears on
the scene, and contemplates from a distance, holding whispered discourse
with the doctor. The spark of life was deeply interesting while it was
in abeyance, but now that it has got established in Mr Riderhood, there
appears to be a general desire that circumstances had admitted of its
being developed in anybody else, rather than that gentleman.

'However,' says Miss Abbey, cheering them up, 'you have done your duty
like good and true men, and you had better come down and take something
at the expense of the Porters.'

This they all do, leaving the daughter watching the father. To whom, in
their absence, Bob Gliddery presents himself.

'His gills looks rum; don't they?' says Bob, after inspecting the
patient.

Pleasant faintly nods.

'His gills'll look rummer when he wakes; won't they?' says Bob.

Pleasant hopes not. Why?

'When he finds himself here, you know,' Bob explains. 'Cause Miss Abbey
forbid him the house and ordered him out of it. But what you may call
the Fates ordered him into it again. Which is rumness; ain't it?'

'He wouldn't have come here of his own accord,' returns poor Pleasant,
with an effort at a little pride.

'No,' retorts Bob. 'Nor he wouldn't have been let in, if he had.'

The short delusion is quite dispelled now. As plainly as she sees on her
arm the old father, unimproved, Pleasant sees that everybody there will
cut him when he recovers consciousness. 'I'll take him away ever so soon
as I can,' thinks Pleasant with a sigh; 'he's best at home.'

Presently they all return, and wait for him to become conscious that
they will all be glad to get rid of him. Some clothes are got together
for him to wear, his own being saturated with water, and his present
dress being composed of blankets.

Becoming more and more uncomfortable, as though the prevalent dislike
were finding him out somewhere in his sleep and expressing itself to
him, the patient at last opens his eyes wide, and is assisted by his
daughter to sit up in bed.

'Well, Riderhood,' says the doctor, 'how do you feel?'

He replies gruffly, 'Nothing to boast on.' Having, in fact, returned to
life in an uncommonly sulky state.

'I don't mean to preach; but I hope,' says the doctor, gravely shaking
his head, 'that this escape may have a good effect upon you, Riderhood.'

The patient's discontented growl of a reply is not intelligible; his
daughter, however, could interpret, if she would, that what he says is,
he 'don't want no Poll-Parroting'.

Mr Riderhood next demands his shirt; and draws it on over his head (with
his daughter's help) exactly as if he had just had a Fight.

'Warn't it a steamer?' he pauses to ask her.

'Yes, father.'

'I'll have the law on her, bust her! and make her pay for it.'

He then buttons his linen very moodily, twice or thrice stopping to
examine his arms and hands, as if to see what punishment he has received
in the Fight. He then doggedly demands his other garments, and slowly
gets them on, with an appearance of great malevolence towards his late
opponent and all the spectators. He has an impression that his nose is
bleeding, and several times draws the back of his hand across it, and
looks for the result, in a pugilistic manner, greatly strengthening that
incongruous resemblance.

'Where's my fur cap?' he asks in a surly voice, when he has shuffled his
clothes on.

'In the river,' somebody rejoins.

'And warn't there no honest man to pick it up? O' course there was
though, and to cut off with it arterwards. You are a rare lot, all on
you!'

Thus, Mr Riderhood: taking from the hands of his daughter, with special
ill-will, a lent cap, and grumbling as he pulls it down over his ears.
Then, getting on his unsteady legs, leaning heavily upon her, and
growling, 'Hold still, can't you? What! You must be a staggering next,
must you?' he takes his departure out of the ring in which he has had
that little turn-up with Death.



Chapter 4

A HAPPY RETURN OF THE DAY


Mr and Mrs Wilfer had seen a full quarter of a hundred more
anniversaries of their wedding day than Mr and Mrs Lammle had seen of
theirs, but they still celebrated the occasion in the bosom of
their family. Not that these celebrations ever resulted in anything
particularly agreeable, or that the family was ever disappointed by that
circumstance on account of having looked forward to the return of the
auspicious day with sanguine anticipations of enjoyment. It was kept
morally, rather as a Fast than a Feast, enabling Mrs Wilfer to hold
a sombre darkling state, which exhibited that impressive woman in her
choicest colours.

The noble lady's condition on these delightful occasions was one
compounded of heroic endurance and heroic forgiveness. Lurid indications
of the better marriages she might have made, shone athwart the awful
gloom of her composure, and fitfully revealed the cherub as a little
monster unaccountably favoured by Heaven, who had possessed himself of a
blessing for which many of his superiors had sued and contended in vain.
So firmly had this his position towards his treasure become established,
that when the anniversary arrived, it always found him in an apologetic
state. It is not impossible that his modest penitence may have even gone
the length of sometimes severely reproving him for that he ever took the
liberty of making so exalted a character his wife.

As for the children of the union, their experience of these festivals
had been sufficiently uncomfortable to lead them annually to wish, when
out of their tenderest years, either that Ma had married somebody else
instead of much-teased Pa, or that Pa had married somebody else instead
of Ma. When there came to be but two sisters left at home, the daring
mind of Bella on the next of these occasions scaled the height of
wondering with droll vexation 'what on earth Pa ever could have seen in
Ma, to induce him to make such a little fool of himself as to ask her to
have him.'

The revolving year now bringing the day round in its orderly sequence,
Bella arrived in the Boffin chariot to assist at the celebration. It was
the family custom when the day recurred, to sacrifice a pair of fowls
on the altar of Hymen; and Bella had sent a note beforehand, to intimate
that she would bring the votive offering with her. So, Bella and the
fowls, by the united energies of two horses, two men, four wheels, and a
plum-pudding carriage dog with as uncomfortable a collar on as if he
had been George the Fourth, were deposited at the door of the parental
dwelling. They were there received by Mrs Wilfer in person, whose
dignity on this, as on most special occasions, was heightened by a
mysterious toothache.

'I shall not require the carriage at night,' said Bella. 'I shall walk
back.'

The male domestic of Mrs Boffin touched his hat, and in the act of
departure had an awful glare bestowed upon him by Mrs Wilfer, intended
to carry deep into his audacious soul the assurance that, whatever his
private suspicions might be, male domestics in livery were no rarity
there.

'Well, dear Ma,' said Bella, 'and how do you do?'

'I am as well, Bella,' replied Mrs Wilfer, 'as can be expected.'

'Dear me, Ma,' said Bella; 'you talk as if one was just born!'

'That's exactly what Ma has been doing,' interposed Lavvy, over the
maternal shoulder, 'ever since we got up this morning. It's all very
well to laugh, Bella, but anything more exasperating it is impossible to
conceive.'

Mrs Wilfer, with a look too full of majesty to be accompanied by any
words, attended both her daughters to the kitchen, where the sacrifice
was to be prepared.

'Mr Rokesmith,' said she, resignedly, 'has been so polite as to place
his sitting-room at our disposal to-day. You will therefore, Bella, be
entertained in the humble abode of your parents, so far in accordance
with your present style of living, that there will be a drawing-room for
your reception as well as a dining-room. Your papa invited Mr Rokesmith
to partake of our lowly fare. In excusing himself on account of a
particular engagement, he offered the use of his apartment.'

Bella happened to know that he had no engagement out of his own room at
Mr Boffin's, but she approved of his staying away. 'We should only have
put one another out of countenance,' she thought, 'and we do that quite
often enough as it is.'

Yet she had sufficient curiosity about his room, to run up to it with
the least possible delay, and make a close inspection of its contents.
It was tastefully though economically furnished, and very neatly
arranged. There were shelves and stands of books, English, French, and
Italian; and in a portfolio on the writing-table there were sheets upon
sheets of memoranda and calculations in figures, evidently referring to
the Boffin property. On that table also, carefully backed with canvas,
varnished, mounted, and rolled like a map, was the placard descriptive
of the murdered man who had come from afar to be her husband. She shrank
from this ghostly surprise, and felt quite frightened as she rolled and
tied it up again. Peeping about here and there, she came upon a print, a
graceful head of a pretty woman, elegantly framed, hanging in the corner
by the easy chair. 'Oh, indeed, sir!' said Bella, after stopping to
ruminate before it. 'Oh, indeed, sir! I fancy I can guess whom you
think THAT'S like. But I'll tell you what it's much more like--your
impudence!' Having said which she decamped: not solely because she was
offended, but because there was nothing else to look at.

'Now, Ma,' said Bella, reappearing in the kitchen with some remains of a
blush, 'you and Lavvy think magnificent me fit for nothing, but I intend
to prove the contrary. I mean to be Cook today.'

'Hold!' rejoined her majestic mother. 'I cannot permit it. Cook, in that
dress!'

'As for my dress, Ma,' returned Bella, merrily searching in a
dresser-drawer, 'I mean to apron it and towel it all over the front; and
as to permission, I mean to do without.'

'YOU cook?' said Mrs Wilfer. 'YOU, who never cooked when you were at
home?'

'Yes, Ma,' returned Bella; 'that is precisely the state of the case.'

She girded herself with a white apron, and busily with knots and pins
contrived a bib to it, coming close and tight under her chin, as if it
had caught her round the neck to kiss her. Over this bib her dimples
looked delightful, and under it her pretty figure not less so. 'Now,
Ma,' said Bella, pushing back her hair from her temples with both hands,
'what's first?'

'First,' returned Mrs Wilfer solemnly, 'if you persist in what I cannot
but regard as conduct utterly incompatible with the equipage in which
you arrived--'

('Which I do, Ma.')

'First, then, you put the fowls down to the fire.'

'To--be--sure!' cried Bella; 'and flour them, and twirl them round, and
there they go!' sending them spinning at a great rate. 'What's next,
Ma?'

'Next,' said Mrs Wilfer with a wave of her gloves, expressive of
abdication under protest from the culinary throne, 'I would recommend
examination of the bacon in the saucepan on the fire, and also of the
potatoes by the application of a fork. Preparation of the greens will
further become necessary if you persist in this unseemly demeanour.'

'As of course I do, Ma.'

Persisting, Bella gave her attention to one thing and forgot the
other, and gave her attention to the other and forgot the third, and
remembering the third was distracted by the fourth, and made amends
whenever she went wrong by giving the unfortunate fowls an extra spin,
which made their chance of ever getting cooked exceedingly doubtful. But
it was pleasant cookery too. Meantime Miss Lavinia, oscillating between
the kitchen and the opposite room, prepared the dining-table in the
latter chamber. This office she (always doing her household spiriting
with unwillingness) performed in a startling series of whisks and bumps;
laying the table-cloth as if she were raising the wind, putting down
the glasses and salt-cellars as if she were knocking at the door, and
clashing the knives and forks in a skirmishing manner suggestive of
hand-to-hand conflict.

'Look at Ma,' whispered Lavinia to Bella when this was done, and they
stood over the roasting fowls. 'If one was the most dutiful child in
existence (of course on the whole one hopes one is), isn't she enough
to make one want to poke her with something wooden, sitting there bolt
upright in a corner?'

'Only suppose,' returned Bella, 'that poor Pa was to sit bolt upright in
another corner.'

'My dear, he couldn't do it,' said Lavvy. 'Pa would loll directly. But
indeed I do not believe there ever was any human creature who could keep
so bolt upright as Ma, 'or put such an amount of aggravation into one
back! What's the matter, Ma? Ain't you well, Ma?'

'Doubtless I am very well,' returned Mrs Wilfer, turning her eyes upon
her youngest born, with scornful fortitude. 'What should be the matter
with Me?'

'You don't seem very brisk, Ma,' retorted Lavvy the bold.

'Brisk?' repeated her parent, 'Brisk? Whence the low expression,
Lavinia? If I am uncomplaining, if I am silently contented with my lot,
let that suffice for my family.'

'Well, Ma,' returned Lavvy, 'since you will force it out of me, I must
respectfully take leave to say that your family are no doubt under
the greatest obligations to you for having an annual toothache on your
wedding day, and that it's very disinterested in you, and an immense
blessing to them. Still, on the whole, it is possible to be too boastful
even of that boon.'

'You incarnation of sauciness,' said Mrs Wilfer, 'do you speak like that
to me? On this day, of all days in the year? Pray do you know what
would have become of you, if I had not bestowed my hand upon R. W., your
father, on this day?'

'No, Ma,' replied Lavvy, 'I really do not; and, with the greatest
respect for your abilities and information, I very much doubt if you do
either.'

Whether or no the sharp vigour of this sally on a weak point of Mrs
Wilfer's entrenchments might have routed that heroine for the time, is
rendered uncertain by the arrival of a flag of truce in the person of
Mr George Sampson: bidden to the feast as a friend of the family, whose
affections were now understood to be in course of transference from
Bella to Lavinia, and whom Lavinia kept--possibly in remembrance of his
bad taste in having overlooked her in the first instance--under a course
of stinging discipline.

'I congratulate you, Mrs Wilfer,' said Mr George Sampson, who had
meditated this neat address while coming along, 'on the day.' Mrs Wilfer
thanked him with a magnanimous sigh, and again became an unresisting
prey to that inscrutable toothache.

'I am surprised,' said Mr Sampson feebly, 'that Miss Bella condescends
to cook.'

Here Miss Lavinia descended on the ill-starred young gentleman with a
crushing supposition that at all events it was no business of his. This
disposed of Mr Sampson in a melancholy retirement of spirit, until the
cherub arrived, whose amazement at the lovely woman's occupation was
great.

However, she persisted in dishing the dinner as well as cooking it, and
then sat down, bibless and apronless, to partake of it as an illustrious
guest: Mrs Wilfer first responding to her husband's cheerful 'For what
we are about to receive--'with a sepulchral Amen, calculated to cast a
damp upon the stoutest appetite.

'But what,' said Bella, as she watched the carving of the fowls, 'makes
them pink inside, I wonder, Pa! Is it the breed?'

'No, I don't think it's the breed, my dear,' returned Pa. 'I rather
think it is because they are not done.'

'They ought to be,' said Bella.

'Yes, I am aware they ought to be, my dear,' rejoined her father, 'but
they--ain't.'

So, the gridiron was put in requisition, and the good-tempered cherub,
who was often as un-cherubically employed in his own family as if he had
been in the employment of some of the Old Masters, undertook to grill
the fowls. Indeed, except in respect of staring about him (a branch of
the public service to which the pictorial cherub is much addicted), this
domestic cherub discharged as many odd functions as his prototype; with
the difference, say, that he performed with a blacking-brush on the
family's boots, instead of performing on enormous wind instruments and
double-basses, and that he conducted himself with cheerful alacrity to
much useful purpose, instead of foreshortening himself in the air with
the vaguest intentions.

Bella helped him with his supplemental cookery, and made him very happy,
but put him in mortal terror too by asking him when they sat down at
table again, how he supposed they cooked fowls at the Greenwich dinners,
and whether he believed they really were such pleasant dinners as people
said? His secret winks and nods of remonstrance, in reply, made the
mischievous Bella laugh until she choked, and then Lavinia was obliged
to slap her on the back, and then she laughed the more.

But her mother was a fine corrective at the other end of the table; to
whom her father, in the innocence of his good-fellowship, at intervals
appealed with: 'My dear, I am afraid you are not enjoying yourself?'

'Why so, R. W.?' she would sonorously reply.

'Because, my dear, you seem a little out of sorts.'

'Not at all,' would be the rejoinder, in exactly the same tone.

'Would you take a merry-thought, my dear?'

'Thank you. I will take whatever you please, R. W.'

'Well, but my dear, do you like it?'

'I like it as well as I like anything, R. W.' The stately woman would
then, with a meritorious appearance of devoting herself to the general
good, pursue her dinner as if she were feeding somebody else on high
public grounds.

Bella had brought dessert and two bottles of wine, thus shedding
unprecedented splendour on the occasion. Mrs Wilfer did the honours of
the first glass by proclaiming: 'R. W. I drink to you.

'Thank you, my dear. And I to you.'

'Pa and Ma!' said Bella.

'Permit me,' Mrs Wilfer interposed, with outstretched glove. 'No. I
think not. I drank to your papa. If, however, you insist on including
me, I can in gratitude offer no objection.'

'Why, Lor, Ma,' interposed Lavvy the bold, 'isn't it the day that made
you and Pa one and the same? I have no patience!'

'By whatever other circumstance the day may be marked, it is not the
day, Lavinia, on which I will allow a child of mine to pounce upon me.
I beg--nay, command!--that you will not pounce. R. W., it is appropriate
to recall that it is for you to command and for me to obey. It is your
house, and you are master at your own table. Both our healths!' Drinking
the toast with tremendous stiffness.

'I really am a little afraid, my dear,' hinted the cherub meekly, 'that
you are not enjoying yourself?'

'On the contrary,' returned Mrs Wilfer, 'quite so. Why should I not?'

'I thought, my dear, that perhaps your face might--'

'My face might be a martyrdom, but what would that import, or who should
know it, if I smiled?'

And she did smile; manifestly freezing the blood of Mr George Sampson
by so doing. For that young gentleman, catching her smiling eye, was so
very much appalled by its expression as to cast about in his thoughts
concerning what he had done to bring it down upon himself.

'The mind naturally falls,' said Mrs Wilfer, 'shall I say into a
reverie, or shall I say into a retrospect? on a day like this.'

Lavvy, sitting with defiantly folded arms, replied (but not audibly),
'For goodness' sake say whichever of the two you like best, Ma, and get
it over.'

'The mind,' pursued Mrs Wilfer in an oratorical manner, 'naturally
reverts to Papa and Mamma--I here allude to my parents--at a period
before the earliest dawn of this day. I was considered tall; perhaps I
was. Papa and Mamma were unquestionably tall. I have rarely seen a finer
women than my mother; never than my father.'

The irrepressible Lavvy remarked aloud, 'Whatever grandpapa was, he
wasn't a female.'

'Your grandpapa,' retorted Mrs Wilfer, with an awful look, and in an
awful tone, 'was what I describe him to have been, and would have struck
any of his grandchildren to the earth who presumed to question it. It
was one of mamma's cherished hopes that I should become united to a
tall member of society. It may have been a weakness, but if so, it was
equally the weakness, I believe, of King Frederick of Prussia.' These
remarks being offered to Mr George Sampson, who had not the courage to
come out for single combat, but lurked with his chest under the table
and his eyes cast down, Mrs Wilfer proceeded, in a voice of increasing
sternness and impressiveness, until she should force that skulker
to give himself up. 'Mamma would appear to have had an indefinable
foreboding of what afterwards happened, for she would frequently urge
upon me, "Not a little man. Promise me, my child, not a little man.
Never, never, never, marry a little man!" Papa also would remark to me
(he possessed extraordinary humour), "that a family of whales must not
ally themselves with sprats." His company was eagerly sought, as may
be supposed, by the wits of the day, and our house was their continual
resort. I have known as many as three copper-plate engravers exchanging
the most exquisite sallies and retorts there, at one time.' (Here Mr
Sampson delivered himself captive, and said, with an uneasy movement on
his chair, that three was a large number, and it must have been highly
entertaining.) 'Among the most prominent members of that distinguished
circle, was a gentleman measuring six feet four in height. HE was NOT
an engraver.' (Here Mr Sampson said, with no reason whatever, Of course
not.) 'This gentleman was so obliging as to honour me with attentions
which I could not fail to understand.' (Here Mr Sampson murmured that
when it came to that, you could always tell.) 'I immediately announced
to both my parents that those attentions were misplaced, and that I
could not favour his suit. They inquired was he too tall? I replied it
was not the stature, but the intellect was too lofty. At our house,
I said, the tone was too brilliant, the pressure was too high, to be
maintained by me, a mere woman, in every-day domestic life. I well
remember mamma's clasping her hands, and exclaiming "This will end in
a little man!"' (Here Mr Sampson glanced at his host and shook his head
with despondency.) 'She afterwards went so far as to predict that it
would end in a little man whose mind would be below the average, but
that was in what I may denominate a paroxysm of maternal disappointment.
Within a month,' said Mrs Wilfer, deepening her voice, as if she were
relating a terrible ghost story, 'within a-month, I first saw R. W. my
husband. Within a year, I married him. It is natural for the mind to
recall these dark coincidences on the present day.'

Mr Sampson at length released from the custody of Mrs Wilfer's eye, now
drew a long breath, and made the original and striking remark that there
was no accounting for these sort of presentiments. R. W. scratched his
head and looked apologetically all round the table until he came to his
wife, when observing her as it were shrouded in a more sombre veil than
before, he once more hinted, 'My dear, I am really afraid you are not
altogether enjoying yourself?' To which she once more replied, 'On the
contrary, R. W. Quite so.'

The wretched Mr Sampson's position at this agreeable entertainment
was truly pitiable. For, not only was he exposed defenceless to the
harangues of Mrs Wilfer, but he received the utmost contumely at the
hands of Lavinia; who, partly to show Bella that she (Lavinia) could do
what she liked with him, and partly to pay him off for still obviously
admiring Bella's beauty, led him the life of a dog. Illuminated on the
one hand by the stately graces of Mrs Wilfer's oratory, and shadowed
on the other by the checks and frowns of the young lady to whom he
had devoted himself in his destitution, the sufferings of this young
gentleman were distressing to witness. If his mind for the moment reeled
under them, it may be urged, in extenuation of its weakness, that it
was constitutionally a knock-knee'd mind and never very strong upon its
legs.

The rosy hours were thus beguiled until it was time for Bella to have
Pa's escort back. The dimples duly tied up in the bonnet-strings and the
leave-taking done, they got out into the air, and the cherub drew a long
breath as if he found it refreshing.

'Well, dear Pa,' said Bella, 'the anniversary may be considered over.'

'Yes, my dear,' returned the cherub, 'there's another of 'em gone.'

Bella drew his arm closer through hers as they walked along, and gave it
a number of consolatory pats. 'Thank you, my dear,' he said, as if
she had spoken; 'I am all right, my dear. Well, and how do you get on,
Bella?'

'I am not at all improved, Pa.'

'Ain't you really though?'

'No, Pa. On the contrary, I am worse.'

'Lor!' said the cherub.

'I am worse, Pa. I make so many calculations how much a year I must have
when I marry, and what is the least I can manage to do with, that I am
beginning to get wrinkles over my nose. Did you notice any wrinkles over
my nose this evening, Pa?'

Pa laughing at this, Bella gave him two or three shakes.

'You won't laugh, sir, when you see your lovely woman turning haggard.
You had better be prepared in time, I can tell you. I shall not be able
to keep my greediness for money out of my eyes long, and when you see it
there you'll be sorry, and serve you right for not being warned in time.
Now, sir, we entered into a bond of confidence. Have you anything to
impart?'

'I thought it was you who was to impart, my love.'

'Oh! did you indeed, sir? Then why didn't you ask me, the moment we came
out? The confidences of lovely women are not to be slighted. However, I
forgive you this once, and look here, Pa; that's'--Bella laid the
little forefinger of her right glove on her lip, and then laid it on her
father's lip--'that's a kiss for you. And now I am going seriously
to tell you--let me see how many--four secrets. Mind! Serious, grave,
weighty secrets. Strictly between ourselves.'

'Number one, my dear?' said her father, settling her arm comfortably and
confidentially.

'Number one,' said Bella, 'will electrify you, Pa. Who do you think
has'--she was confused here in spite of her merry way of beginning 'has
made an offer to me?'

Pa looked in her face, and looked at the ground, and looked in her face
again, and declared he could never guess.

'Mr Rokesmith.'

'You don't tell me so, my dear!'

'Mis--ter Roke--smith, Pa,' said Bella separating the syllables for
emphasis. 'What do you say to THAT?'

Pa answered quietly with the counter-question, 'What did YOU say to
that, my love?'

'I said No,' returned Bella sharply. 'Of course.'

'Yes. Of course,' said her father, meditating.

'And I told him why I thought it a betrayal of trust on his part, and an
affront to me,' said Bella.

'Yes. To be sure. I am astonished indeed. I wonder he committed himself
without seeing more of his way first. Now I think of it, I suspect he
always has admired you though, my dear.'

'A hackney coachman may admire me,' remarked Bella, with a touch of her
mother's loftiness.

'It's highly probable, my love. Number two, my dear?'

'Number two, Pa, is much to the same purpose, though not so
preposterous. Mr Lightwood would propose to me, if I would let him.'

'Then I understand, my dear, that you don't intend to let him?'

Bella again saying, with her former emphasis, 'Why, of course not!' her
father felt himself bound to echo, 'Of course not.'

'I don't care for him,' said Bella.

'That's enough,' her father interposed.

'No, Pa, it's NOT enough,' rejoined Bella, giving him another shake or
two. 'Haven't I told you what a mercenary little wretch I am? It
only becomes enough when he has no money, and no clients, and no
expectations, and no anything but debts.'

'Hah!' said the cherub, a little depressed. 'Number three, my dear?'

'Number three, Pa, is a better thing. A generous thing, a noble thing, a
delightful thing. Mrs Boffin has herself told me, as a secret, with her
own kind lips--and truer lips never opened or closed in this life, I am
sure--that they wish to see me well married; and that when I marry with
their consent they will portion me most handsomely.' Here the grateful
girl burst out crying very heartily.

'Don't cry, my darling,' said her father, with his hand to his eyes;
'it's excusable in me to be a little overcome when I find that my dear
favourite child is, after all disappointments, to be so provided for
and so raised in the world; but don't YOU cry, don't YOU cry. I am very
thankful. I congratulate you with all my heart, my dear.' The good soft
little fellow, drying his eyes, here, Bella put her arms round his neck
and tenderly kissed him on the high road, passionately telling him
he was the best of fathers and the best of friends, and that on her
wedding-morning she would go down on her kne