Our Mutual Friend



volume_down_alt volume_up

Chapter 6. 

The Paper Mill had stopped work for the night, and the paths and roads in its neighbourhood were sprinkled with clusters of people going home from their day’s labour in it. There were men, women, and children in the groups, and there was no want of lively colour to flutter in the gentle evening wind. The mingling of various voices and the sound of laughter made a cheerful impression upon the ear, analogous to that of the fluttering colours upon the eye. Into the sheet of water reflecting the flushed sky in the foreground of the living picture, a knot of urchins were casting stones, and watching the expansion of the rippling circles. So, in the rosy evening, one might watch the ever-widening beauty of the landscape—beyond the newly-released workers wending home—beyond the silver river—beyond the deep green fields of corn, so prospering, that the loiterers in their narrow threads of pathway seemed to float immersed breast-high—beyond the hedgerows and the clumps of trees—beyond the windmills on the ridge—away to where the sky appeared to meet the earth, as if there were no immensity of space between mankind and Heaven.

It was a Saturday evening, and at such a time the village dogs, always much more interested in the doings of humanity than in the affairs of their own species, were particularly active. At the general shop, at the butcher’s and at the public-house, they evinced an inquiring spirit never to be satiated. Their especial interest in the public-house would seem to imply some latent rakishness in the canine character; for little was eaten there, and they, having no taste for beer or tobacco (Mrs Hubbard’s dog is said to have smoked, but proof is wanting), could only have been attracted by sympathy with loose convivial habits. Moreover, a most wretched fiddle played within; a fiddle so unutterably vile, that one lean long-bodied cur, with a better ear than the rest, found himself under compulsion at intervals to go round the corner and howl. Yet, even he returned to the public-house on each occasion with the tenacity of a confirmed drunkard.

Fearful to relate, there was even a sort of little Fair in the village. Some despairing gingerbread that had been vainly trying to dispose of itself all over the country, and had cast a quantity of dust upon its head in its mortification, again appealed to the public from an infirm booth. So did a heap of nuts, long, long exiled from Barcelona, and yet speaking English so indifferently as to call fourteen of themselves a pint. A Peep-show which had originally started with the Battle of Waterloo, and had since made it every other battle of later date by altering the Duke of Wellington’s nose, tempted the student of illustrated history. A Fat Lady, perhaps in part sustained upon postponed pork, her professional associate being a Learned Pig, displayed her life-size picture in a low dress as she appeared when presented at Court, several yards round. All this was a vicious spectacle as any poor idea of amusement on the part of the rougher hewers of wood and drawers of water in this land of England ever is and shall be. They must not vary the rheumatism with amusement. They may vary it with fever and ague, or with as many rheumatic variations as they have joints; but positively not with entertainment after their own manner.

The various sounds arising from this scene of depravity, and floating away into the still evening air, made the evening, at any point which they just reached fitfully, mellowed by the distance, more still by contrast. Such was the stillness of the evening to Eugene Wrayburn, as he walked by the river with his hands behind him.

He walked slowly, and with the measured step and preoccupied air of one who was waiting. He walked between the two points, an osier-bed at this end and some floating lilies at that, and at each point stopped and looked expectantly in one direction.

‘It is very quiet,’ said he.

It was very quiet. Some sheep were grazing on the grass by the river-side, and it seemed to him that he had never before heard the crisp tearing sound with which they cropped it. He stopped idly, and looked at them.

‘You are stupid enough, I suppose. But if you are clever enough to get through life tolerably to your satisfaction, you have got the better of me, Man as I am, and Mutton as you are!’

A rustle in a field beyond the hedge attracted his attention. ‘What’s here to do?’ he asked himself leisurely going towards the gate and looking over. ‘No jealous paper-miller? No pleasures of the chase in this part of the country? Mostly fishing hereabouts!’

The field had been newly mown, and there were yet the marks of the scythe on the yellow-green ground, and the track of wheels where the hay had been carried. Following the tracks with his eyes, the view closed with the new hayrick in a corner.

Now, if he had gone on to the hayrick, and gone round it? But, say that the event was to be, as the event fell out, and how idle are such suppositions! Besides, if he had gone; what is there of warning in a Bargeman lying on his face?

‘A bird flying to the hedge,’ was all he thought about it; and came back, and resumed his walk.

‘If I had not a reliance on her being truthful,’ said Eugene, after taking some half-dozen turns, ‘I should begin to think she had given me the slip for the second time. But she promised, and she is a girl of her word.’

Turning again at the water-lilies, he saw her coming, and advanced to meet her.

‘I was saying to myself, Lizzie, that you were sure to come, though you were late.’

‘I had to linger through the village as if I had no object before me, and I had to speak to several people in passing along, Mr Wrayburn.’

‘Are the lads of the village—and the ladies—such scandal-mongers?’ he asked, as he took her hand and drew it through his arm.

She submitted to walk slowly on, with downcast eyes. He put her hand to his lips, and she quietly drew it away.

‘Will you walk beside me, Mr Wrayburn, and not touch me?’ For, his arm was already stealing round her waist.

She stopped again, and gave him an earnest supplicating look. ‘Well, Lizzie, well!’ said he, in an easy way though ill at ease with himself ‘don’t be unhappy, don’t be reproachful.’

‘I cannot help being unhappy, but I do not mean to be reproachful. Mr Wrayburn, I implore you to go away from this neighbourhood, to-morrow morning.’

‘Lizzie, Lizzie, Lizzie!’ he remonstrated. ‘As well be reproachful as wholly unreasonable. I can’t go away.’

‘Why not?’

‘Faith!’ said Eugene in his airily candid manner. ‘Because you won’t let me. Mind! I don’t mean to be reproachful either. I don’t complain that you design to keep me here. But you do it, you do it.’

‘Will you walk beside me, and not touch me;’ for, his arm was coming about her again; ‘while I speak to you very seriously, Mr Wrayburn?’

‘I will do anything within the limits of possibility, for you, Lizzie,’ he answered with pleasant gaiety as he folded his arms. ‘See here! Napoleon Buonaparte at St Helena.’

‘When you spoke to me as I came from the Mill the night before last,’ said Lizzie, fixing her eyes upon him with the look of supplication which troubled his better nature, ‘you told me that you were much surprised to see me, and that you were on a solitary fishing excursion. Was it true?’

‘It was not,’ replied Eugene composedly, ‘in the least true. I came here, because I had information that I should find you here.’

‘Can you imagine why I left London, Mr Wrayburn?’

‘I am afraid, Lizzie,’ he openly answered, ‘that you left London to get rid of me. It is not flattering to my self-love, but I am afraid you did.’

‘I did.’

‘How could you be so cruel?’

‘O Mr Wrayburn,’ she answered, suddenly breaking into tears, ‘is the cruelty on my side! O Mr Wrayburn, Mr Wrayburn, is there no cruelty in your being here to-night!’

‘In the name of all that’s good—and that is not conjuring you in my own name, for Heaven knows I am not good’—said Eugene, ‘don’t be distressed!’

‘What else can I be, when I know the distance and the difference between us? What else can I be, when to tell me why you came here, is to put me to shame!’ said Lizzie, covering her face.

He looked at her with a real sentiment of remorseful tenderness and pity. It was not strong enough to impell him to sacrifice himself and spare her, but it was a strong emotion.

‘Lizzie! I never thought before, that there was a woman in the world who could affect me so much by saying so little. But don’t be hard in your construction of me. You don’t know what my state of mind towards you is. You don’t know how you haunt me and bewilder me. You don’t know how the cursed carelessness that is over-officious in helping me at every other turning of my life, won’t help me here. You have struck it dead, I think, and I sometimes almost wish you had struck me dead along with it.’

She had not been prepared for such passionate expressions, and they awakened some natural sparks of feminine pride and joy in her breast. To consider, wrong as he was, that he could care so much for her, and that she had the power to move him so!

‘It grieves you to see me distressed, Mr Wrayburn; it grieves me to see you distressed. I don’t reproach you. Indeed I don’t reproach you. You have not felt this as I feel it, being so different from me, and beginning from another point of view. You have not thought. But I entreat you to think now, think now!’

‘What am I to think of?’ asked Eugene, bitterly.

‘Think of me.’

‘Tell me how not to think of you, Lizzie, and you’ll change me altogether.’

‘I don’t mean in that way. Think of me, as belonging to another station, and quite cut off from you in honour. Remember that I have no protector near me, unless I have one in your noble heart. Respect my good name. If you feel towards me, in one particular, as you might if I was a lady, give me the full claims of a lady upon your generous behaviour. I am removed from you and your family by being a working girl. How true a gentleman to be as considerate of me as if I was removed by being a Queen!’

He would have been base indeed to have stood untouched by her appeal. His face expressed contrition and indecision as he asked:

‘Have I injured you so much, Lizzie?’

‘No, no. You may set me quite right. I don’t speak of the past, Mr Wrayburn, but of the present and the future. Are we not here now, because through two days you have followed me so closely where there are so many eyes to see you, that I consented to this appointment as an escape?’

‘Again, not very flattering to my self-love,’ said Eugene, moodily; ‘but yes. Yes. Yes.’

‘Then I beseech you, Mr Wrayburn, I beg and pray you, leave this neighbourhood. If you do not, consider to what you will drive me.’

He did consider within himself for a moment or two, and then retorted, ‘Drive you? To what shall I drive you, Lizzie?’

‘You will drive me away. I live here peacefully and respected, and I am well employed here. You will force me to quit this place as I quitted London, and—by following me again—will force me to quit the next place in which I may find refuge, as I quitted this.’

‘Are you so determined, Lizzie—forgive the word I am going to use, for its literal truth—to fly from a lover?’

‘I am so determined,’ she answered resolutely, though trembling, ‘to fly from such a lover. There was a poor woman died here but a little while ago, scores of years older than I am, whom I found by chance, lying on the wet earth. You may have heard some account of her?’

‘I think I have,’ he answered, ‘if her name was Higden.’

‘Her name was Higden. Though she was so weak and old, she kept true to one purpose to the very last. Even at the very last, she made me promise that her purpose should be kept to, after she was dead, so settled was her determination. What she did, I can do. Mr Wrayburn, if I believed—but I do not believe—that you could be so cruel to me as to drive me from place to place to wear me out, you should drive me to death and not do it.’

He looked full at her handsome face, and in his own handsome face there was a light of blended admiration, anger, and reproach, which she—who loved him so in secret whose heart had long been so full, and he the cause of its overflowing—drooped before. She tried hard to retain her firmness, but he saw it melting away under his eyes. In the moment of its dissolution, and of his first full knowledge of his influence upon her, she dropped, and he caught her on his arm.

‘Lizzie! Rest so a moment. Answer what I ask you. If I had not been what you call removed from you and cut off from you, would you have made this appeal to me to leave you?’

‘I don’t know, I don’t know. Don’t ask me, Mr Wrayburn. Let me go back.’

‘I swear to you, Lizzie, you shall go directly. I swear to you, you shall go alone. I’ll not accompany you, I’ll not follow you, if you will reply.’

‘How can I, Mr Wrayburn? How can I tell you what I should have done, if you had not been what you are?’

‘If I had not been what you make me out to be,’ he struck in, skilfully changing the form of words, ‘would you still have hated me?’

‘O Mr Wrayburn,’ she replied appealingly, and weeping, ‘you know me better than to think I do!’

‘If I had not been what you make me out to be, Lizzie, would you still have been indifferent to me?’

‘O Mr Wrayburn,’ she answered as before, ‘you know me better than that too!’

There was something in the attitude of her whole figure as he supported it, and she hung her head, which besought him to be merciful and not force her to disclose her heart. He was not merciful with her, and he made her do it.

‘If I know you better than quite to believe (unfortunate dog though I am!) that you hate me, or even that you are wholly indifferent to me, Lizzie, let me know so much more from yourself before we separate. Let me know how you would have dealt with me if you had regarded me as being what you would have considered on equal terms with you.’

‘It is impossible, Mr Wrayburn. How can I think of you as being on equal terms with me? If my mind could put you on equal terms with me, you could not be yourself. How could I remember, then, the night when I first saw you, and when I went out of the room because you looked at me so attentively? Or, the night that passed into the morning when you broke to me that my father was dead? Or, the nights when you used to come to see me at my next home? Or, your having known how uninstructed I was, and having caused me to be taught better? Or, my having so looked up to you and wondered at you, and at first thought you so good to be at all mindful of me?’

‘Only “at first” thought me so good, Lizzie? What did you think me after “at first”? So bad?’

‘I don’t say that. I don’t mean that. But after the first wonder and pleasure of being noticed by one so different from any one who had ever spoken to me, I began to feel that it might have been better if I had never seen you.’


‘Because you were so different,’ she answered in a lower voice. ‘Because it was so endless, so hopeless. Spare me!’

‘Did you think for me at all, Lizzie?’ he asked, as if he were a little stung.

‘Not much, Mr Wrayburn. Not much until to-night.’

‘Will you tell me why?’

‘I never supposed until to-night that you needed to be thought for. But if you do need to be; if you do truly feel at heart that you have indeed been towards me what you have called yourself to-night, and that there is nothing for us in this life but separation; then Heaven help you, and Heaven bless you!’

The purity with which in these words she expressed something of her own love and her own suffering, made a deep impression on him for the passing time. He held her, almost as if she were sanctified to him by death, and kissed her, once, almost as he might have kissed the dead.

‘I promised that I would not accompany you, nor follow you. Shall I keep you in view? You have been agitated, and it’s growing dark.’

‘I am used to be out alone at this hour, and I entreat you not to do so.’

‘I promise. I can bring myself to promise nothing more tonight, Lizzie, except that I will try what I can do.’

‘There is but one means, Mr Wrayburn, of sparing yourself and of sparing me, every way. Leave this neighbourhood to-morrow morning.’

‘I will try.’

As he spoke the words in a grave voice, she put her hand in his, removed it, and went away by the river-side.

‘Now, could Mortimer believe this?’ murmured Eugene, still remaining, after a while, where she had left him. ‘Can I even believe it myself?’

He referred to the circumstance that there were tears upon his hand, as he stood covering his eyes. ‘A most ridiculous position this, to be found out in!’ was his next thought. And his next struck its root in a little rising resentment against the cause of the tears.

‘Yet I have gained a wonderful power over her, too, let her be as much in earnest as she will!’

The reflection brought back the yielding of her face and form as she had drooped under his gaze. Contemplating the reproduction, he seemed to see, for the second time, in the appeal and in the confession of weakness, a little fear.

‘And she loves me. And so earnest a character must be very earnest in that passion. She cannot choose for herself to be strong in this fancy, wavering in that, and weak in the other. She must go through with her nature, as I must go through with mine. If mine exacts its pains and penalties all round, so must hers, I suppose.’

Pursuing the inquiry into his own nature, he thought, ‘Now, if I married her. If, outfacing the absurdity of the situation in correspondence with M. R. F., I astonished M. R. F. to the utmost extent of his respected powers, by informing him that I had married her, how would M. R. F. reason with the legal mind? “You wouldn’t marry for some money and some station, because you were frightfully likely to become bored. Are you less frightfully likely to become bored, marrying for no money and no station? Are you sure of yourself?” Legal mind, in spite of forensic protestations, must secretly admit, “Good reasoning on the part of M. R. F. not sure of myself.”’

In the very act of calling this tone of levity to his aid, he felt it to be profligate and worthless, and asserted her against it.

‘And yet,’ said Eugene, ‘I should like to see the fellow (Mortimer excepted) who would undertake to tell me that this was not a real sentiment on my part, won out of me by her beauty and her worth, in spite of myself, and that I would not be true to her. I should particularly like to see the fellow to-night who would tell me so, or who would tell me anything that could be construed to her disadvantage; for I am wearily out of sorts with one Wrayburn who cuts a sorry figure, and I would far rather be out of sorts with somebody else. “Eugene, Eugene, Eugene, this is a bad business.” Ah! So go the Mortimer Lightwood bells, and they sound melancholy to-night.’

Strolling on, he thought of something else to take himself to task for. ‘Where is the analogy, Brute Beast,’ he said impatiently, ‘between a woman whom your father coolly finds out for you and a woman whom you have found out for yourself, and have ever drifted after with more and more of constancy since you first set eyes upon her? Ass! Can you reason no better than that?’

But, again he subsided into a reminiscence of his first full knowledge of his power just now, and of her disclosure of her heart. To try no more to go away, and to try her again, was the reckless conclusion it turned uppermost. And yet again, ‘Eugene, Eugene, Eugene, this is a bad business!’ And, ‘I wish I could stop the Lightwood peal, for it sounds like a knell.’

Looking above, he found that the young moon was up, and that the stars were beginning to shine in the sky from which the tones of red and yellow were flickering out, in favour of the calm blue of a summer night. He was still by the river-side. Turning suddenly, he met a man, so close upon him that Eugene, surprised, stepped back, to avoid a collision. The man carried something over his shoulder which might have been a broken oar, or spar, or bar, and took no notice of him, but passed on.

‘Halloa, friend!’ said Eugene, calling after him, ‘are you blind?’

The man made no reply, but went his way.

Eugene Wrayburn went the opposite way, with his hands behind him and his purpose in his thoughts. He passed the sheep, and passed the gate, and came within hearing of the village sounds, and came to the bridge. The inn where he stayed, like the village and the mill, was not across the river, but on that side of the stream on which he walked. However, knowing the rushy bank and the backwater on the other side to be a retired place, and feeling out of humour for noise or company, he crossed the bridge, and sauntered on: looking up at the stars as they seemed one by one to be kindled in the sky, and looking down at the river as the same stars seemed to be kindled deep in the water. A landing-place overshadowed by a willow, and a pleasure-boat lying moored there among some stakes, caught his eye as he passed along. The spot was in such dark shadow, that he paused to make out what was there, and then passed on again.

The rippling of the river seemed to cause a correspondent stir in his uneasy reflections. He would have laid them asleep if he could, but they were in movement, like the stream, and all tending one way with a strong current. As the ripple under the moon broke unexpectedly now and then, and palely flashed in a new shape and with a new sound, so parts of his thoughts started, unbidden, from the rest, and revealed their wickedness. ‘Out of the question to marry her,’ said Eugene, ‘and out of the question to leave her. The crisis!’

He had sauntered far enough. Before turning to retrace his steps, he stopped upon the margin, to look down at the reflected night. In an instant, with a dreadful crash, the reflected night turned crooked, flames shot jaggedly across the air, and the moon and stars came bursting from the sky.

Was he struck by lightning? With some incoherent half-formed thought to that effect, he turned under the blows that were blinding him and mashing his life, and closed with a murderer, whom he caught by a red neckerchief—unless the raining down of his own blood gave it that hue.

Eugene was light, active, and expert; but his arms were broken, or he was paralysed, and could do no more than hang on to the man, with his head swung back, so that he could see nothing but the heaving sky. After dragging at the assailant, he fell on the bank with him, and then there was another great crash, and then a splash, and all was done.

Lizzie Hexam, too, had avoided the noise, and the Saturday movement of people in the straggling street, and chose to walk alone by the water until her tears should be dry, and she could so compose herself as to escape remark upon her looking ill or unhappy on going home. The peaceful serenity of the hour and place, having no reproaches or evil intentions within her breast to contend against, sank healingly into its depths. She had meditated and taken comfort. She, too, was turning homeward, when she heard a strange sound.

It startled her, for it was like a sound of blows. She stood still, and listened. It sickened her, for blows fell heavily and cruelly on the quiet of the night. As she listened, undecided, all was silent. As she yet listened, she heard a faint groan, and a fall into the river.

Her old bold life and habit instantly inspired her. Without vain waste of breath in crying for help where there were none to hear, she ran towards the spot from which the sounds had come. It lay between her and the bridge, but it was more removed from her than she had thought; the night being so very quiet, and sound travelling far with the help of water.

At length, she reached a part of the green bank, much and newly trodden, where there lay some broken splintered pieces of wood and some torn fragments of clothes. Stooping, she saw that the grass was bloody. Following the drops and smears, she saw that the watery margin of the bank was bloody. Following the current with her eyes, she saw a bloody face turned up towards the moon, and drifting away.

Now, merciful Heaven be thanked for that old time, and grant, O Blessed Lord, that through thy wonderful workings it may turn to good at last! To whomsoever the drifting face belongs, be it man’s or woman’s, help my humble hands, Lord God, to raise it from death and restore it to some one to whom it must be dear!

It was thought, fervently thought, but not for a moment did the prayer check her. She was away before it welled up in her mind, away, swift and true, yet steady above all—for without steadiness it could never be done—to the landing-place under the willow-tree, where she also had seen the boat lying moored among the stakes.

A sure touch of her old practised hand, a sure step of her old practised foot, a sure light balance of her body, and she was in the boat. A quick glance of her practised eye showed her, even through the deep dark shadow, the sculls in a rack against the red-brick garden-wall. Another moment, and she had cast off (taking the line with her), and the boat had shot out into the moonlight, and she was rowing down the stream as never other woman rowed on English water.

Intently over her shoulder, without slackening speed, she looked ahead for the driving face. She passed the scene of the struggle—yonder it was, on her left, well over the boat’s stern—she passed on her right, the end of the village street, a hilly street that almost dipped into the river; its sounds were growing faint again, and she slackened; looking as the boat drove, everywhere, everywhere, for the floating face.

She merely kept the boat before the stream now, and rested on her oars, knowing well that if the face were not soon visible, it had gone down, and she would overshoot it. An untrained sight would never have seen by the moonlight what she saw at the length of a few strokes astern. She saw the drowning figure rise to the surface, slightly struggle, and as if by instinct turn over on its back to float. Just so had she first dimly seen the face which she now dimly saw again.

Firm of look and firm of purpose, she intently watched its coming on, until it was very near; then, with a touch unshipped her sculls, and crept aft in the boat, between kneeling and crouching. Once, she let the body evade her, not being sure of her grasp. Twice, and she had seized it by its bloody hair.

It was insensible, if not virtually dead; it was mutilated, and streaked the water all about it with dark red streaks. As it could not help itself, it was impossible for her to get it on board. She bent over the stern to secure it with the line, and then the river and its shores rang to the terrible cry she uttered.

But, as if possessed by supernatural spirit and strength, she lashed it safe, resumed her seat, and rowed in, desperately, for the nearest shallow water where she might run the boat aground. Desperately, but not wildly, for she knew that if she lost distinctness of intention, all was lost and gone.

She ran the boat ashore, went into the water, released him from the line, and by main strength lifted him in her arms and laid him in the bottom of the boat. He had fearful wounds upon him, and she bound them up with her dress torn into strips. Else, supposing him to be still alive, she foresaw that he must bleed to death before he could be landed at his inn, which was the nearest place for succour.

This done very rapidly, she kissed his disfigured forehead, looked up in anguish to the stars, and blessed him and forgave him, ‘if she had anything to forgive.’ It was only in that instant that she thought of herself, and then she thought of herself only for him.

Now, merciful Heaven be thanked for that old time, enabling me, without a wasted moment, to have got the boat afloat again, and to row back against the stream! And grant, O Blessed Lord God, that through poor me he may be raised from death, and preserved to some one else to whom he may be dear one day, though never dearer than to me!

She rowed hard—rowed desperately, but never wildly—and seldom removed her eyes from him in the bottom of the boat. She had so laid him there, as that she might see his disfigured face; it was so much disfigured that his mother might have covered it, but it was above and beyond disfigurement in her eyes.

The boat touched the edge of the patch of inn lawn, sloping gently to the water. There were lights in the windows, but there chanced to be no one out of doors. She made the boat fast, and again by main strength took him up, and never laid him down until she laid him down in the house.

Surgeons were sent for, and she sat supporting his head. She had oftentimes heard in days that were gone, how doctors would lift the hand of an insensible wounded person, and would drop it if the person were dead. She waited for the awful moment when the doctors might lift this hand, all broken and bruised, and let it fall.

The first of the surgeons came, and asked, before proceeding to his examination, ‘Who brought him in?’

‘I brought him in, sir,’ answered Lizzie, at whom all present looked.

‘You, my dear? You could not lift, far less carry, this weight.’

‘I think I could not, at another time, sir; but I am sure I did.’

The surgeon looked at her with great attention, and with some compassion. Having with a grave face touched the wounds upon the head, and the broken arms, he took the hand.

O! would he let it drop?

He appeared irresolute. He did not retain it, but laid it gently down, took a candle, looked more closely at the injuries on the head, and at the pupils of the eyes. That done, he replaced the candle and took the hand again. Another surgeon then coming in, the two exchanged a whisper, and the second took the hand. Neither did he let it fall at once, but kept it for a while and laid it gently down.

‘Attend to the poor girl,’ said the first surgeon then. ‘She is quite unconscious. She sees nothing and hears nothing. All the better for her! Don’t rouse her, if you can help it; only move her. Poor girl, poor girl! She must be amazingly strong of heart, but it is much to be feared that she has set her heart upon the dead. Be gentle with her.’

Chapter 7. 

Day was breaking at Plashwater Weir Mill Lock. Stars were yet visible, but there was dull light in the east that was not the light of night. The moon had gone down, and a mist crept along the banks of the river, seen through which the trees were the ghosts of trees, and the water was the ghost of water. This earth looked spectral, and so did the pale stars: while the cold eastern glare, expressionless as to heat or colour, with the eye of the firmament quenched, might have been likened to the stare of the dead.

Perhaps it was so likened by the lonely Bargeman, standing on the brink of the lock. For certain, Bradley Headstone looked that way, when a chill air came up, and when it passed on murmuring, as if it whispered something that made the phantom trees and water tremble—or threaten—for fancy might have made it either.

He turned away, and tried the Lock-house door. It was fastened on the inside.

‘Is he afraid of me?’ he muttered, knocking.

Rogue Riderhood was soon roused, and soon undrew the bolt and let him in.

‘Why, T’otherest, I thought you had been and got lost! Two nights away! I a’most believed as you’d giv’ me the slip, and I had as good as half a mind for to advertise you in the newspapers to come for’ard.’

Bradley’s face turned so dark on this hint, that Riderhood deemed it expedient to soften it into a compliment.

‘But not you, governor, not you,’ he went on, stolidly shaking his head. ‘For what did I say to myself arter having amused myself with that there stretch of a comic idea, as a sort of a playful game? Why, I says to myself; “He’s a man o’ honour.” That’s what I says to myself. “He’s a man o’ double honour.”’

Very remarkably, Riderhood put no question to him. He had looked at him on opening the door, and he now looked at him again (stealthily this time), and the result of his looking was, that he asked him no question.

‘You’ll be for another forty on ‘em, governor, as I judges, afore you turns your mind to breakfast,’ said Riderhood, when his visitor sat down, resting his chin on his hand, with his eyes on the ground. And very remarkably again: Riderhood feigned to set the scanty furniture in order, while he spoke, to have a show of reason for not looking at him.

‘Yes. I had better sleep, I think,’ said Bradley, without changing his position.

‘I myself should recommend it, governor,’ assented Riderhood. ‘Might you be anyways dry?’

‘Yes. I should like a drink,’ said Bradley; but without appearing to attend much.

Mr Riderhood got out his bottle, and fetched his jug-full of water, and administered a potation. Then, he shook the coverlet of his bed and spread it smooth, and Bradley stretched himself upon it in the clothes he wore. Mr Riderhood poetically remarking that he would pick the bones of his night’s rest, in his wooden chair, sat in the window as before; but, as before, watched the sleeper narrowly until he was very sound asleep. Then, he rose and looked at him close, in the bright daylight, on every side, with great minuteness. He went out to his Lock to sum up what he had seen.

‘One of his sleeves is tore right away below the elber, and the t’other’s had a good rip at the shoulder. He’s been hung on to, pretty tight, for his shirt’s all tore out of the neck-gathers. He’s been in the grass and he’s been in the water. And he’s spotted, and I know with what, and with whose. Hooroar!’

Bradley slept long. Early in the afternoon a barge came down. Other barges had passed through, both ways, before it; but the Lock-keeper hailed only this particular barge, for news, as if he had made a time calculation with some nicety. The men on board told him a piece of news, and there was a lingering on their part to enlarge upon it.

Twelve hours had intervened since Bradley’s lying down, when he got up. ‘Not that I swaller it,’ said Riderhood, squinting at his Lock, when he saw Bradley coming out of the house, ‘as you’ve been a sleeping all the time, old boy!’

Bradley came to him, sitting on his wooden lever, and asked what o’clock it was? Riderhood told him it was between two and three.

‘When are you relieved?’ asked Bradley.

‘Day arter to-morrow, governor.’

‘Not sooner?’

‘Not a inch sooner, governor.’

On both sides, importance seemed attached to this question of relief. Riderhood quite petted his reply; saying a second time, and prolonging a negative roll of his head, ‘n—n—not a inch sooner, governor.’

‘Did I tell you I was going on to-night?’ asked Bradley.

‘No, governor,’ returned Riderhood, in a cheerful, affable, and conversational manner, ‘you did not tell me so. But most like you meant to it and forgot to it. How, otherways, could a doubt have come into your head about it, governor?’

‘As the sun goes down, I intend to go on,’ said Bradley.

‘So much the more necessairy is a Peck,’ returned Riderhood. ‘Come in and have it, T’otherest.’

The formality of spreading a tablecloth not being observed in Mr Riderhood’s establishment, the serving of the ‘peck’ was the affair of a moment; it merely consisting in the handing down of a capacious baking dish with three-fourths of an immense meat pie in it, and the production of two pocket-knives, an earthenware mug, and a large brown bottle of beer.

Both ate and drank, but Riderhood much the more abundantly. In lieu of plates, that honest man cut two triangular pieces from the thick crust of the pie, and laid them, inside uppermost, upon the table: the one before himself, and the other before his guest. Upon these platters he placed two goodly portions of the contents of the pie, thus imparting the unusual interest to the entertainment that each partaker scooped out the inside of his plate, and consumed it with his other fare, besides having the sport of pursuing the clots of congealed gravy over the plain of the table, and successfully taking them into his mouth at last from the blade of his knife, in case of their not first sliding off it.

Bradley Headstone was so remarkably awkward at these exercises, that the Rogue observed it.

‘Look out, T’otherest!’ he cried, ‘you’ll cut your hand!’

But, the caution came too late, for Bradley gashed it at the instant. And, what was more unlucky, in asking Riderhood to tie it up, and in standing close to him for the purpose, he shook his hand under the smart of the wound, and shook blood over Riderhood’s dress.

When dinner was done, and when what remained of the platters and what remained of the congealed gravy had been put back into what remained of the pie, which served as an economical investment for all miscellaneous savings, Riderhood filled the mug with beer and took a long drink. And now he did look at Bradley, and with an evil eye.

‘T’otherest!’ he said, hoarsely, as he bent across the table to touch his arm. ‘The news has gone down the river afore you.’

‘What news?’

‘Who do you think,’ said Riderhood, with a hitch of his head, as if he disdainfully jerked the feint away, ‘picked up the body? Guess.’

‘I am not good at guessing anything.’

‘She did. Hooroar! You had him there agin. She did.’

The convulsive twitching of Bradley Headstone’s face, and the sudden hot humour that broke out upon it, showed how grimly the intelligence touched him. But he said not a single word, good or bad. He only smiled in a lowering manner, and got up and stood leaning at the window, looking through it. Riderhood followed him with his eyes. Riderhood cast down his eyes on his own besprinkled clothes. Riderhood began to have an air of being better at a guess than Bradley owned to being.

‘I have been so long in want of rest,’ said the schoolmaster, ‘that with your leave I’ll lie down again.’

‘And welcome, T’otherest!’ was the hospitable answer of his host. He had laid himself down without waiting for it, and he remained upon the bed until the sun was low. When he arose and came out to resume his journey, he found his host waiting for him on the grass by the towing-path outside the door.

‘Whenever it may be necessary that you and I should have any further communication together,’ said Bradley, ‘I will come back. Good-night!’

‘Well, since no better can be,’ said Riderhood, turning on his heel, ‘Good-night!’ But he turned again as the other set forth, and added under his breath, looking after him with a leer: ‘You wouldn’t be let to go like that, if my Relief warn’t as good as come. I’ll catch you up in a mile.’

In a word, his real time of relief being that evening at sunset, his mate came lounging in, within a quarter of an hour. Not staying to fill up the utmost margin of his time, but borrowing an hour or so, to be repaid again when he should relieve his reliever, Riderhood straightway followed on the track of Bradley Headstone.

He was a better follower than Bradley. It had been the calling of his life to slink and skulk and dog and waylay, and he knew his calling well. He effected such a forced march on leaving the Lock House that he was close up with him—that is to say, as close up with him as he deemed it convenient to be—before another Lock was passed. His man looked back pretty often as he went, but got no hint of him. He knew how to take advantage of the ground, and where to put the hedge between them, and where the wall, and when to duck, and when to drop, and had a thousand arts beyond the doomed Bradley’s slow conception.

But, all his arts were brought to a standstill, like himself when Bradley, turning into a green lane or riding by the river-side—a solitary spot run wild in nettles, briars, and brambles, and encumbered with the scathed trunks of a whole hedgerow of felled trees, on the outskirts of a little wood—began stepping on these trunks and dropping down among them and stepping on them again, apparently as a schoolboy might have done, but assuredly with no schoolboy purpose, or want of purpose.

‘What are you up to?’ muttered Riderhood, down in the ditch, and holding the hedge a little open with both hands. And soon his actions made a most extraordinary reply. ‘By George and the Draggin!’ cried Riderhood, ‘if he ain’t a going to bathe!’

He had passed back, on and among the trunks of trees again, and has passed on to the water-side and had begun undressing on the grass. For a moment it had a suspicious look of suicide, arranged to counterfeit accident. ‘But you wouldn’t have fetched a bundle under your arm, from among that timber, if such was your game!’ said Riderhood. Nevertheless it was a relief to him when the bather after a plunge and a few strokes came out. ‘For I shouldn’t,’ he said in a feeling manner, ‘have liked to lose you till I had made more money out of you neither.’

Prone in another ditch (he had changed his ditch as his man had changed his position), and holding apart so small a patch of the hedge that the sharpest eyes could not have detected him, Rogue Riderhood watched the bather dressing. And now gradually came the wonder that he stood up, completely clothed, another man, and not the Bargeman.

‘Aha!’ said Riderhood. ‘Much as you was dressed that night. I see. You’re a taking me with you, now. You’re deep. But I knows a deeper.’

When the bather had finished dressing, he kneeled on the grass, doing something with his hands, and again stood up with his bundle under his arm. Looking all around him with great attention, he then went to the river’s edge, and flung it in as far, and yet as lightly as he could. It was not until he was so decidedly upon his way again as to be beyond a bend of the river and for the time out of view, that Riderhood scrambled from the ditch.

‘Now,’ was his debate with himself ‘shall I foller you on, or shall I let you loose for this once, and go a fishing?’ The debate continuing, he followed, as a precautionary measure in any case, and got him again in sight. ‘If I was to let you loose this once,’ said Riderhood then, still following, ‘I could make you come to me agin, or I could find you out in one way or another. If I wasn’t to go a fishing, others might.—I’ll let you loose this once, and go a fishing!’ With that, he suddenly dropped the pursuit and turned.

The miserable man whom he had released for the time, but not for long, went on towards London. Bradley was suspicious of every sound he heard, and of every face he saw, but was under a spell which very commonly falls upon the shedder of blood, and had no suspicion of the real danger that lurked in his life, and would have it yet. Riderhood was much in his thoughts—had never been out of his thoughts since the night-adventure of their first meeting; but Riderhood occupied a very different place there, from the place of pursuer; and Bradley had been at the pains of devising so many means of fitting that place to him, and of wedging him into it, that his mind could not compass the possibility of his occupying any other. And this is another spell against which the shedder of blood for ever strives in vain. There are fifty doors by which discovery may enter. With infinite pains and cunning, he double locks and bars forty-nine of them, and cannot see the fiftieth standing wide open.

Now, too, was he cursed with a state of mind more wearing and more wearisome than remorse. He had no remorse; but the evildoer who can hold that avenger at bay, cannot escape the slower torture of incessantly doing the evil deed again and doing it more efficiently. In the defensive declarations and pretended confessions of murderers, the pursuing shadow of this torture may be traced through every lie they tell. If I had done it as alleged, is it conceivable that I would have made this and this mistake? If I had done it as alleged, should I have left that unguarded place which that false and wicked witness against me so infamously deposed to? The state of that wretch who continually finds the weak spots in his own crime, and strives to strengthen them when it is unchangeable, is a state that aggravates the offence by doing the deed a thousand times instead of once; but it is a state, too, that tauntingly visits the offence upon a sullen unrepentant nature with its heaviest punishment every time.

Bradley toiled on, chained heavily to the idea of his hatred and his vengeance, and thinking how he might have satiated both in many better ways than the way he had taken. The instrument might have been better, the spot and the hour might have been better chosen. To batter a man down from behind in the dark, on the brink of a river, was well enough, but he ought to have been instantly disabled, whereas he had turned and seized his assailant; and so, to end it before chance-help came, and to be rid of him, he had been hurriedly thrown backward into the river before the life was fully beaten out of him. Now if it could be done again, it must not be so done. Supposing his head had been held down under water for a while. Supposing the first blow had been truer. Supposing he had been shot. Supposing he had been strangled. Suppose this way, that way, the other way. Suppose anything but getting unchained from the one idea, for that was inexorably impossible.

The school reopened next day. The scholars saw little or no change in their master’s face, for it always wore its slowly labouring expression. But, as he heard his classes, he was always doing the deed and doing it better. As he paused with his piece of chalk at the black board before writing on it, he was thinking of the spot, and whether the water was not deeper and the fall straighter, a little higher up, or a little lower down. He had half a mind to draw a line or two upon the board, and show himself what he meant. He was doing it again and improving on the manner, at prayers, in his mental arithmetic, all through his questioning, all through the day.

Charley Hexam was a master now, in another school, under another head. It was evening, and Bradley was walking in his garden observed from behind a blind by gentle little Miss Peecher, who contemplated offering him a loan of her smelling salts for headache, when Mary Anne, in faithful attendance, held up her arm.

‘Yes, Mary Anne?’

‘Young Mr Hexam, if you please, ma’am, coming to see Mr Headstone.’

‘Very good, Mary Anne.’

Again Mary Anne held up her arm.

‘You may speak, Mary Anne?’

‘Mr Headstone has beckoned young Mr Hexam into his house, ma’am, and he has gone in himself without waiting for young Mr Hexam to come up, and now he has gone in too, ma’am, and has shut the door.’

‘With all my heart, Mary Anne.’

Again Mary Anne’s telegraphic arm worked.

‘What more, Mary Anne?’

‘They must find it rather dull and dark, Miss Peecher, for the parlour blind’s down, and neither of them pulls it up.’

‘There is no accounting,’ said good Miss Peecher with a little sad sigh which she repressed by laying her hand on her neat methodical boddice, ‘there is no accounting for tastes, Mary Anne.’

Charley, entering the dark room, stopped short when he saw his old friend in its yellow shade.

‘Come in, Hexam, come in.’

Charley advanced to take the hand that was held out to him; but stopped again, short of it. The heavy, bloodshot eyes of the schoolmaster, rising to his face with an effort, met his look of scrutiny.

‘Mr Headstone, what’s the matter?’

‘Matter? Where?’

‘Mr Headstone, have you heard the news? This news about the fellow, Mr Eugene Wrayburn? That he is killed?’

‘He is dead, then!’ exclaimed Bradley.

Young Hexam standing looking at him, he moistened his lips with his tongue, looked about the room, glanced at his former pupil, and looked down. ‘I heard of the outrage,’ said Bradley, trying to constrain his working mouth, ‘but I had not heard the end of it.’

‘Where were you,’ said the boy, advancing a step as he lowered his voice, ‘when it was done? Stop! I don’t ask that. Don’t tell me. If you force your confidence upon me, Mr Headstone, I’ll give up every word of it. Mind! Take notice. I’ll give up it, and I’ll give up you. I will!’

The wretched creature seemed to suffer acutely under this renunciation. A desolate air of utter and complete loneliness fell upon him, like a visible shade.

‘It’s for me to speak, not you,’ said the boy. ‘If you do, you’ll do it at your peril. I am going to put your selfishness before you, Mr Headstone—your passionate, violent, and ungovernable selfishness—to show you why I can, and why I will, have nothing more to do with you.’

He looked at young Hexam as if he were waiting for a scholar to go on with a lesson that he knew by heart and was deadly tired of. But he had said his last word to him.

‘If you had any part—I don’t say what—in this attack,’ pursued the boy; ‘or if you know anything about it—I don’t say how much—or if you know who did it—I go no closer—you did an injury to me that’s never to be forgiven. You know that I took you with me to his chambers in the Temple when I told him my opinion of him, and made myself responsible for my opinion of you. You know that I took you with me when I was watching him with a view to recovering my sister and bringing her to her senses; you know that I have allowed myself to be mixed up with you, all through this business, in favouring your desire to marry my sister. And how do you know that, pursuing the ends of your own violent temper, you have not laid me open to suspicion? Is that your gratitude to me, Mr Headstone?’

Bradley sat looking steadily before him at the vacant air. As often as young Hexam stopped, he turned his eyes towards him, as if he were waiting for him to go on with the lesson, and get it done. As often as the boy resumed, Bradley resumed his fixed face.

‘I am going to be plain with you, Mr Headstone,’ said young Hexam, shaking his head in a half-threatening manner, ‘because this is no time for affecting not to know things that I do know—except certain things at which it might not be very safe for you, to hint again. What I mean is this: if you were a good master, I was a good pupil. I have done you plenty of credit, and in improving my own reputation I have improved yours quite as much. Very well then. Starting on equal terms, I want to put before you how you have shown your gratitude to me, for doing all I could to further your wishes with reference to my sister. You have compromised me by being seen about with me, endeavouring to counteract this Mr Eugene Wrayburn. That’s the first thing you have done. If my character, and my now dropping you, help me out of that, Mr Headstone, the deliverance is to be attributed to me, and not to you. No thanks to you for it!’

The boy stopping again, he moved his eyes again.

‘I am going on, Mr Headstone, don’t you be afraid. I am going on to the end, and I have told you beforehand what the end is. Now, you know my story. You are as well aware as I am, that I have had many disadvantages to leave behind me in life. You have heard me mention my father, and you are sufficiently acquainted with the fact that the home from which I, as I may say, escaped, might have been a more creditable one than it was. My father died, and then it might have been supposed that my way to respectability was pretty clear. No. For then my sister begins.’

He spoke as confidently, and with as entire an absence of any tell-tale colour in his cheek, as if there were no softening old time behind him. Not wonderful, for there was none in his hollow empty heart. What is there but self, for selfishness to see behind it?

‘When I speak of my sister, I devoutly wish that you had never seen her, Mr Headstone. However, you did see her, and that’s useless now. I confided in you about her. I explained her character to you, and how she interposed some ridiculous fanciful notions in the way of our being as respectable as I tried for. You fell in love with her, and I favoured you with all my might. She could not be induced to favour you, and so we came into collision with this Mr Eugene Wrayburn. Now, what have you done? Why, you have justified my sister in being firmly set against you from first to last, and you have put me in the wrong again! And why have you done it? Because, Mr Headstone, you are in all your passions so selfish, and so concentrated upon yourself that you have not bestowed one proper thought on me.’

The cool conviction with which the boy took up and held his position, could have been derived from no other vice in human nature.

‘It is,’ he went on, actually with tears, ‘an extraordinary circumstance attendant on my life, that every effort I make towards perfect respectability, is impeded by somebody else through no fault of mine! Not content with doing what I have put before you, you will drag my name into notoriety through dragging my sister’s—which you are pretty sure to do, if my suspicions have any foundation at all—and the worse you prove to be, the harder it will be for me to detach myself from being associated with you in people’s minds.’

When he had dried his eyes and heaved a sob over his injuries, he began moving towards the door.

‘However, I have made up my mind that I will become respectable in the scale of society, and that I will not be dragged down by others. I have done with my sister as well as with you. Since she cares so little for me as to care nothing for undermining my respectability, she shall go her way and I will go mine. My prospects are very good, and I mean to follow them alone. Mr Headstone, I don’t say what you have got upon your conscience, for I don’t know. Whatever lies upon it, I hope you will see the justice of keeping wide and clear of me, and will find a consolation in completely exonerating all but yourself. I hope, before many years are out, to succeed the master in my present school, and the mistress being a single woman, though some years older than I am, I might even marry her. If it is any comfort to you to know what plans I may work out by keeping myself strictly respectable in the scale of society, these are the plans at present occurring to me. In conclusion, if you feel a sense of having injured me, and a desire to make some small reparation, I hope you will think how respectable you might have been yourself and will contemplate your blighted existence.’

Was it strange that the wretched man should take this heavily to heart? Perhaps he had taken the boy to heart, first, through some long laborious years; perhaps through the same years he had found his drudgery lightened by communication with a brighter and more apprehensive spirit than his own; perhaps a family resemblance of face and voice between the boy and his sister, smote him hard in the gloom of his fallen state. For whichsoever reason, or for all, he drooped his devoted head when the boy was gone, and shrank together on the floor, and grovelled there, with the palms of his hands tight-clasping his hot temples, in unutterable misery, and unrelieved by a single tear.

Rogue Riderhood had been busy with the river that day. He had fished with assiduity on the previous evening, but the light was short, and he had fished unsuccessfully. He had fished again that day with better luck, and had carried his fish home to Plashwater Weir Mill Lock-house, in a bundle.

Chapter 8. 

The dolls’ dressmaker went no more to the business-premises of Pubsey and Co. in St Mary Axe, after chance had disclosed to her (as she supposed) the flinty and hypocritical character of Mr Riah. She often moralized over her work on the tricks and the manners of that venerable cheat, but made her little purchases elsewhere, and lived a secluded life. After much consultation with herself, she decided not to put Lizzie Hexam on her guard against the old man, arguing that the disappointment of finding him out would come upon her quite soon enough. Therefore, in her communication with her friend by letter, she was silent on this theme, and principally dilated on the backslidings of her bad child, who every day grew worse and worse.

‘You wicked old boy,’ Miss Wren would say to him, with a menacing forefinger, ‘you’ll force me to run away from you, after all, you will; and then you’ll shake to bits, and there’ll be nobody to pick up the pieces!’

At this foreshadowing of a desolate decease, the wicked old boy would whine and whimper, and would sit shaking himself into the lowest of low spirits, until such time as he could shake himself out of the house and shake another threepennyworth into himself. But dead drunk or dead sober (he had come to such a pass that he was least alive in the latter state), it was always on the conscience of the paralytic scarecrow that he had betrayed his sharp parent for sixty threepennyworths of rum, which were all gone, and that her sharpness would infallibly detect his having done it, sooner or later. All things considered therefore, and addition made of the state of his body to the state of his mind, the bed on which Mr Dolls reposed was a bed of roses from which the flowers and leaves had entirely faded, leaving him to lie upon the thorns and stalks.

On a certain day, Miss Wren was alone at her work, with the house-door set open for coolness, and was trolling in a small sweet voice a mournful little song which might have been the song of the doll she was dressing, bemoaning the brittleness and meltability of wax, when whom should she descry standing on the pavement, looking in at her, but Mr Fledgeby.

‘I thought it was you?’ said Fledgeby, coming up the two steps.

‘Did you?’ Miss Wren retorted. ‘And I thought it was you, young man. Quite a coincidence. You’re not mistaken, and I’m not mistaken. How clever we are!’

‘Well, and how are you?’ said Fledgeby.

‘I am pretty much as usual, sir,’ replied Miss Wren. ‘A very unfortunate parent, worried out of my life and senses by a very bad child.’

Fledgeby’s small eyes opened so wide that they might have passed for ordinary-sized eyes, as he stared about him for the very young person whom he supposed to be in question.

‘But you’re not a parent,’ said Miss Wren, ‘and consequently it’s of no use talking to you upon a family subject.—To what am I to attribute the honour and favour?’

‘To a wish to improve your acquaintance,’ Mr Fledgeby replied.

Miss Wren, stopping to bite her thread, looked at him very knowingly.

‘We never meet now,’ said Fledgeby; ‘do we?’

‘No,’ said Miss Wren, chopping off the word.

‘So I had a mind,’ pursued Fledgeby, ‘to come and have a talk with you about our dodging friend, the child of Israel.’

‘So he gave you my address; did he?’ asked Miss Wren.

‘I got it out of him,’ said Fledgeby, with a stammer.

‘You seem to see a good deal of him,’ remarked Miss Wren, with shrewd distrust. ‘A good deal of him you seem to see, considering.’

‘Yes, I do,’ said Fledgeby. ‘Considering.’

‘Haven’t you,’ inquired the dressmaker, bending over the doll on which her art was being exercised, ‘done interceding with him yet?’

‘No,’ said Fledgeby, shaking his head.

‘La! Been interceding with him all this time, and sticking to him still?’ said Miss Wren, busy with her work.

‘Sticking to him is the word,’ said Fledgeby.

Miss Wren pursued her occupation with a concentrated air, and asked, after an interval of silent industry:

‘Are you in the army?’

‘Not exactly,’ said Fledgeby, rather flattered by the question.

‘Navy?’ asked Miss Wren.

‘N—no,’ said Fledgeby. He qualified these two negatives, as if he were not absolutely in either service, but was almost in both.

‘What are you then?’ demanded Miss Wren.

‘I am a gentleman, I am,’ said Fledgeby.

‘Oh!’ assented Jenny, screwing up her mouth with an appearance of conviction. ‘Yes, to be sure! That accounts for your having so much time to give to interceding. But only to think how kind and friendly a gentleman you must be!’

Mr Fledgeby found that he was skating round a board marked Dangerous, and had better cut out a fresh track. ‘Let’s get back to the dodgerest of the dodgers,’ said he. ‘What’s he up to in the case of your friend the handsome gal? He must have some object. What’s his object?’

‘Cannot undertake to say, sir, I am sure!’ returned Miss Wren, composedly.

‘He won’t acknowledge where she’s gone,’ said Fledgeby; ‘and I have a fancy that I should like to have another look at her. Now I know he knows where she is gone.’

‘Cannot undertake to say, sir, I am sure!’ Miss Wren again rejoined.

‘And you know where she is gone,’ hazarded Fledgeby.

‘Cannot undertake to say, sir, really,’ replied Miss Wren.

The quaint little chin met Mr Fledgeby’s gaze with such a baffling hitch, that that agreeable gentleman was for some time at a loss how to resume his fascinating part in the dialogue. At length he said:

‘Miss Jenny!—That’s your name, if I don’t mistake?’

‘Probably you don’t mistake, sir,’ was Miss Wren’s cool answer; ‘because you had it on the best authority. Mine, you know.’

‘Miss Jenny! Instead of coming up and being dead, let’s come out and look alive. It’ll pay better, I assure you,’ said Fledgeby, bestowing an inveigling twinkle or two upon the dressmaker. ‘You’ll find it pay better.’

‘Perhaps,’ said Miss Jenny, holding out her doll at arm’s length, and critically contemplating the effect of her art with her scissors on her lips and her head thrown back, as if her interest lay there, and not in the conversation; ‘perhaps you’ll explain your meaning, young man, which is Greek to me.—You must have another touch of blue in your trimming, my dear.’ Having addressed the last remark to her fair client, Miss Wren proceeded to snip at some blue fragments that lay before her, among fragments of all colours, and to thread a needle from a skein of blue silk.

‘Look here,’ said Fledgeby.—‘Are you attending?’

‘I am attending, sir,’ replied Miss Wren, without the slightest appearance of so doing. ‘Another touch of blue in your trimming, my dear.’

‘Well, look here,’ said Fledgeby, rather discouraged by the circumstances under which he found himself pursuing the conversation. ‘If you’re attending—’

(‘Light blue, my sweet young lady,’ remarked Miss Wren, in a sprightly tone, ‘being best suited to your fair complexion and your flaxen curls.’)

‘I say, if you’re attending,’ proceeded Fledgeby, ‘it’ll pay better in this way. It’ll lead in a roundabout manner to your buying damage and waste of Pubsey and Co. at a nominal price, or even getting it for nothing.’

‘Aha!’ thought the dressmaker. ‘But you are not so roundabout, Little Eyes, that I don’t notice your answering for Pubsey and Co. after all! Little Eyes, Little Eyes, you’re too cunning by half.’

‘And I take it for granted,’ pursued Fledgeby, ‘that to get the most of your materials for nothing would be well worth your while, Miss Jenny?’

‘You may take it for granted,’ returned the dressmaker with many knowing nods, ‘that it’s always well worth my while to make money.’

‘Now,’ said Fledgeby approvingly, ‘you’re answering to a sensible purpose. Now, you’re coming out and looking alive! So I make so free, Miss Jenny, as to offer the remark, that you and Judah were too thick together to last. You can’t come to be intimate with such a deep file as Judah without beginning to see a little way into him, you know,’ said Fledgeby with a wink.

‘I must own,’ returned the dressmaker, with her eyes upon her work, ‘that we are not good friends at present.’

‘I know you’re not good friends at present,’ said Fledgeby. ‘I know all about it. I should like to pay off Judah, by not letting him have his own deep way in everything. In most things he’ll get it by hook or by crook, but—hang it all!—don’t let him have his own deep way in everything. That’s too much.’ Mr Fledgeby said this with some display of indignant warmth, as if he was counsel in the cause for Virtue.

‘How can I prevent his having his own way?’ began the dressmaker.

‘Deep way, I called it,’ said Fledgeby.

‘—His own deep way, in anything?’

‘I’ll tell you,’ said Fledgeby. ‘I like to hear you ask it, because it’s looking alive. It’s what I should expect to find in one of your sagacious understanding. Now, candidly.’

‘Eh?’ cried Miss Jenny.

‘I said, now candidly,’ Mr Fledgeby explained, a little put out.


‘I should be glad to countermine him, respecting the handsome gal, your friend. He means something there. You may depend upon it, Judah means something there. He has a motive, and of course his motive is a dark motive. Now, whatever his motive is, it’s necessary to his motive’—Mr Fledgeby’s constructive powers were not equal to the avoidance of some tautology here—‘that it should be kept from me, what he has done with her. So I put it to you, who know: What has he done with her? I ask no more. And is that asking much, when you understand that it will pay?’

Miss Jenny Wren, who had cast her eyes upon the bench again after her last interruption, sat looking at it, needle in hand but not working, for some moments. She then briskly resumed her work, and said with a sidelong glance of her eyes and chin at Mr Fledgeby:

‘Where d’ye live?’

‘Albany, Piccadilly,’ replied Fledgeby.

‘When are you at home?’

‘When you like.’

‘Breakfast-time?’ said Jenny, in her abruptest and shortest manner.

‘No better time in the day,’ said Fledgeby.

‘I’ll look in upon you to-morrow, young man. Those two ladies,’ pointing to dolls, ‘have an appointment in Bond Street at ten precisely. When I’ve dropped ‘em there, I’ll drive round to you.’ With a weird little laugh, Miss Jenny pointed to her crutch-stick as her equipage.

‘This is looking alive indeed!’ cried Fledgeby, rising.

‘Mark you! I promise you nothing,’ said the dolls’ dressmaker, dabbing two dabs at him with her needle, as if she put out both his eyes.

‘No no. I understand,’ returned Fledgeby. ‘The damage and waste question shall be settled first. It shall be made to pay; don’t you be afraid. Good-day, Miss Jenny.’

‘Good-day, young man.’

Mr Fledgeby’s prepossessing form withdrew itself; and the little dressmaker, clipping and snipping and stitching, and stitching and snipping and clipping, fell to work at a great rate; musing and muttering all the time.

‘Misty, misty, misty. Can’t make it out. Little Eyes and the wolf in a conspiracy? Or Little Eyes and the wolf against one another? Can’t make it out. My poor Lizzie, have they both designs against you, either way? Can’t make it out. Is Little Eyes Pubsey, and the wolf Co? Can’t make it out. Pubsey true to Co, and Co to Pubsey? Pubsey false to Co, and Co to Pubsey? Can’t make it out. What said Little Eyes? “Now, candidly?” Ah! However the cat jumps, he’s a liar. That’s all I can make out at present; but you may go to bed in the Albany, Piccadilly, with that for your pillow, young man!’ Thereupon, the little dressmaker again dabbed out his eyes separately, and making a loop in the air of her thread and deftly catching it into a knot with her needle, seemed to bowstring him into the bargain.

For the terrors undergone by Mr Dolls that evening when his little parent sat profoundly meditating over her work, and when he imagined himself found out, as often as she changed her attitude, or turned her eyes towards him, there is no adequate name. Moreover it was her habit to shake her head at that wretched old boy whenever she caught his eye as he shivered and shook. What are popularly called ‘the trembles’ being in full force upon him that evening, and likewise what are popularly called ‘the horrors,’ he had a very bad time of it; which was not made better by his being so remorseful as frequently to moan ‘Sixty threepennorths.’ This imperfect sentence not being at all intelligible as a confession, but sounding like a Gargantuan order for a dram, brought him into new difficulties by occasioning his parent to pounce at him in a more than usually snappish manner, and to overwhelm him with bitter reproaches.

What was a bad time for Mr Dolls, could not fail to be a bad time for the dolls’ dressmaker. However, she was on the alert next morning, and drove to Bond Street, and set down the two ladies punctually, and then directed her equipage to conduct her to the Albany. Arrived at the doorway of the house in which Mr Fledgeby’s chambers were, she found a lady standing there in a travelling dress, holding in her hand—of all things in the world—a gentleman’s hat.

‘You want some one?’ said the lady in a stern manner.

‘I am going up stairs to Mr Fledgeby’s.’

‘You cannot do that at this moment. There is a gentleman with him. I am waiting for the gentleman. His business with Mr Fledgeby will very soon be transacted, and then you can go up. Until the gentleman comes down, you must wait here.’

While speaking, and afterwards, the lady kept watchfully between her and the staircase, as if prepared to oppose her going up, by force. The lady being of a stature to stop her with a hand, and looking mightily determined, the dressmaker stood still.

‘Well? Why do you listen?’ asked the lady.

‘I am not listening,’ said the dressmaker.

‘What do you hear?’ asked the lady, altering her phrase.

‘Is it a kind of a spluttering somewhere?’ said the dressmaker, with an inquiring look.

‘Mr Fledgeby in his shower-bath, perhaps,’ remarked the lady, smiling.

‘And somebody’s beating a carpet, I think?’

‘Mr Fledgeby’s carpet, I dare say,’ replied the smiling lady.

Miss Wren had a reasonably good eye for smiles, being well accustomed to them on the part of her young friends, though their smiles mostly ran smaller than in nature. But she had never seen so singular a smile as that upon this lady’s face. It twitched her nostrils open in a remarkable manner, and contracted her lips and eyebrows. It was a smile of enjoyment too, though of such a fierce kind that Miss Wren thought she would rather not enjoy herself than do it in that way.

‘Well!’ said the lady, watching her. ‘What now?’

‘I hope there’s nothing the matter!’ said the dressmaker.

‘Where?’ inquired the lady.

‘I don’t know where,’ said Miss Wren, staring about her. ‘But I never heard such odd noises. Don’t you think I had better call somebody?’

‘I think you had better not,’ returned the lady with a significant frown, and drawing closer.

On this hint, the dressmaker relinquished the idea, and stood looking at the lady as hard as the lady looked at her. Meanwhile the dressmaker listened with amazement to the odd noises which still continued, and the lady listened too, but with a coolness in which there was no trace of amazement.

Soon afterwards, came a slamming and banging of doors; and then came running down stairs, a gentleman with whiskers, and out of breath, who seemed to be red-hot.

‘Is your business done, Alfred?’ inquired the lady.

‘Very thoroughly done,’ replied the gentleman, as he took his hat from her.

‘You can go up to Mr Fledgeby as soon as you like,’ said the lady, moving haughtily away.

‘Oh! And you can take these three pieces of stick with you,’ added the gentleman politely, ‘and say, if you please, that they come from Mr Alfred Lammle, with his compliments on leaving England. Mr Alfred Lammle. Be so good as not to forget the name.’

The three pieces of stick were three broken and frayed fragments of a stout lithe cane. Miss Jenny taking them wonderingly, and the gentleman repeating with a grin, ‘Mr Alfred Lammle, if you’ll be so good. Compliments, on leaving England,’ the lady and gentleman walked away quite deliberately, and Miss Jenny and her crutch-stick went up stairs. ‘Lammle, Lammle, Lammle?’ Miss Jenny repeated as she panted from stair to stair, ‘where have I heard that name? Lammle, Lammle? I know! Saint Mary Axe!’

With a gleam of new intelligence in her sharp face, the dolls’ dressmaker pulled at Fledgeby’s bell. No one answered; but, from within the chambers, there proceeded a continuous spluttering sound of a highly singular and unintelligible nature.

‘Good gracious! Is Little Eyes choking?’ cried Miss Jenny.

Pulling at the bell again and getting no reply, she pushed the outer door, and found it standing ajar. No one being visible on her opening it wider, and the spluttering continuing, she took the liberty of opening an inner door, and then beheld the extraordinary spectacle of Mr Fledgeby in a shirt, a pair of Turkish trousers, and a Turkish cap, rolling over and over on his own carpet, and spluttering wonderfully.

‘Oh Lord!’ gasped Mr Fledgeby. ‘Oh my eye! Stop thief! I am strangling. Fire! Oh my eye! A glass of water. Give me a glass of water. Shut the door. Murder! Oh Lord!’ And then rolled and spluttered more than ever.

Hurrying into another room, Miss Jenny got a glass of water, and brought it for Fledgeby’s relief: who, gasping, spluttering, and rattling in his throat betweenwhiles, drank some water, and laid his head faintly on her arm.

‘Oh my eye!’ cried Fledgeby, struggling anew. ‘It’s salt and snuff. It’s up my nose, and down my throat, and in my wind-pipe. Ugh! Ow! Ow! Ow! Ah—h—h—h!’ And here, crowing fearfully, with his eyes starting out of his head, appeared to be contending with every mortal disease incidental to poultry.

‘And Oh my Eye, I’m so sore!’ cried Fledgeby, starting, over on his back, in a spasmodic way that caused the dressmaker to retreat to the wall. ‘Oh I smart so! Do put something to my back and arms, and legs and shoulders. Ugh! It’s down my throat again and can’t come up. Ow! Ow! Ow! Ah—h—h—h! Oh I smart so!’ Here Mr Fledgeby bounded up, and bounded down, and went rolling over and over again.

The dolls’ dressmaker looked on until he rolled himself into a corner with his Turkish slippers uppermost, and then, resolving in the first place to address her ministration to the salt and snuff, gave him more water and slapped his back. But, the latter application was by no means a success, causing Mr Fledgeby to scream, and to cry out, ‘Oh my eye! don’t slap me! I’m covered with weales and I smart so!’

However, he gradually ceased to choke and crow, saving at intervals, and Miss Jenny got him into an easy-chair: where, with his eyes red and watery, with his features swollen, and with some half-dozen livid bars across his face, he presented a most rueful sight.

‘What ever possessed you to take salt and snuff, young man?’ inquired Miss Jenny.

‘I didn’t take it,’ the dismal youth replied. ‘It was crammed into my mouth.’

‘Who crammed it?’ asked Miss Jenny.

‘He did,’ answered Fledgeby. ‘The assassin. Lammle. He rubbed it into my mouth and up my nose and down my throat—Ow! Ow! Ow! Ah—h—h—h! Ugh!—to prevent my crying out, and then cruelly assaulted me.’

‘With this?’ asked Miss Jenny, showing the pieces of cane.

‘That’s the weapon,’ said Fledgeby, eyeing it with the air of an acquaintance. ‘He broke it over me. Oh I smart so! How did you come by it?’

‘When he ran down stairs and joined the lady he had left in the hall with his hat’—Miss Jenny began.

‘Oh!’ groaned Mr Fledgeby, writhing, ‘she was holding his hat, was she? I might have known she was in it.’

‘When he came down stairs and joined the lady who wouldn’t let me come up, he gave me the pieces for you, and I was to say, “With Mr Alfred Lammle’s compliments on his leaving England.”’ Miss Jenny said it with such spiteful satisfaction, and such a hitch of her chin and eyes as might have added to Mr Fledgeby’s miseries, if he could have noticed either, in his bodily pain with his hand to his head.

‘Shall I go for the police?’ inquired Miss Jenny, with a nimble start towards the door.

‘Stop! No, don’t!’ cried Fledgeby. ‘Don’t, please. We had better keep it quiet. Will you be so good as shut the door? Oh I do smart so!’

In testimony of the extent to which he smarted, Mr Fledgeby came wallowing out of the easy-chair, and took another roll on the carpet.

‘Now the door’s shut,’ said Mr Fledgeby, sitting up in anguish, with his Turkish cap half on and half off, and the bars on his face getting bluer, ‘do me the kindness to look at my back and shoulders. They must be in an awful state, for I hadn’t got my dressing-gown on, when the brute came rushing in. Cut my shirt away from the collar; there’s a pair of scissors on that table. Oh!’ groaned Mr Fledgeby, with his hand to his head again. ‘How I do smart, to be sure!’

‘There?’ inquired Miss Jenny, alluding to the back and shoulders.

‘Oh Lord, yes!’ moaned Fledgeby, rocking himself. ‘And all over! Everywhere!’

The busy little dressmaker quickly snipped the shirt away, and laid bare the results of as furious and sound a thrashing as even Mr Fledgeby merited. ‘You may well smart, young man!’ exclaimed Miss Jenny. And stealthily rubbed her little hands behind him, and poked a few exultant pokes with her two forefingers over the crown of his head.

‘What do you think of vinegar and brown paper?’ inquired the suffering Fledgeby, still rocking and moaning. ‘Does it look as if vinegar and brown paper was the sort of application?’

‘Yes,’ said Miss Jenny, with a silent chuckle. ‘It looks as if it ought to be Pickled.’

Mr Fledgeby collapsed under the word ‘Pickled,’ and groaned again. ‘My kitchen is on this floor,’ he said; ‘you’ll find brown paper in a dresser-drawer there, and a bottle of vinegar on a shelf. Would you have the kindness to make a few plasters and put ‘em on? It can’t be kept too quiet.’

‘One, two—hum—five, six. You’ll want six,’ said the dress-maker.

‘There’s smart enough,’ whimpered Mr Fledgeby, groaning and writhing again, ‘for sixty.’

Miss Jenny repaired to the kitchen, scissors in hand, found the brown paper and found the vinegar, and skilfully cut out and steeped six large plasters. When they were all lying ready on the dresser, an idea occurred to her as she was about to gather them up.

‘I think,’ said Miss Jenny with a silent laugh, ‘he ought to have a little pepper? Just a few grains? I think the young man’s tricks and manners make a claim upon his friends for a little pepper?’

Mr Fledgeby’s evil star showing her the pepper-box on the chimneypiece, she climbed upon a chair, and got it down, and sprinkled all the plasters with a judicious hand. She then went back to Mr Fledgeby, and stuck them all on him: Mr Fledgeby uttering a sharp howl as each was put in its place.

‘There, young man!’ said the dolls’ dressmaker. ‘Now I hope you feel pretty comfortable?’

Apparently, Mr Fledgeby did not, for he cried by way of answer, ‘Oh—h how I do smart!’

Miss Jenny got his Persian gown upon him, extinguished his eyes crookedly with his Persian cap, and helped him to his bed: upon which he climbed groaning. ‘Business between you and me being out of the question to-day, young man, and my time being precious,’ said Miss Jenny then, ‘I’ll make myself scarce. Are you comfortable now?’

‘Oh my eye!’ cried Mr Fledgeby. ‘No, I ain’t. Oh—h—h! how I do smart!’

The last thing Miss Jenny saw, as she looked back before closing the room door, was Mr Fledgeby in the act of plunging and gambolling all over his bed, like a porpoise or dolphin in its native element. She then shut the bedroom door, and all the other doors, and going down stairs and emerging from the Albany into the busy streets, took omnibus for Saint Mary Axe: pressing on the road all the gaily-dressed ladies whom she could see from the window, and making them unconscious lay-figures for dolls, while she mentally cut them out and basted them.

Chapter 9. 

Set down by the omnibus at the corner of Saint Mary Axe, and trusting to her feet and her crutch-stick within its precincts, the dolls’ dressmaker proceeded to the place of business of Pubsey and Co. All there was sunny and quiet externally, and shady and quiet internally. Hiding herself in the entry outside the glass door, she could see from that post of observation the old man in his spectacles sitting writing at his desk.

‘Boh!’ cried the dressmaker, popping in her head at the glass-door. ‘Mr Wolf at home?’

The old man took his glasses off, and mildly laid them down beside him. ‘Ah Jenny, is it you? I thought you had given me up.’

‘And so I had given up the treacherous wolf of the forest,’ she replied; ‘but, godmother, it strikes me you have come back. I am not quite sure, because the wolf and you change forms. I want to ask you a question or two, to find out whether you are really godmother or really wolf. May I?’

‘Yes, Jenny, yes.’ But Riah glanced towards the door, as if he thought his principal might appear there, unseasonably.

‘If you’re afraid of the fox,’ said Miss Jenny, ‘you may dismiss all present expectations of seeing that animal. He won’t show himself abroad, for many a day.’

‘What do you mean, my child?’

‘I mean, godmother,’ replied Miss Wren, sitting down beside the Jew, ‘that the fox has caught a famous flogging, and that if his skin and bones are not tingling, aching, and smarting at this present instant, no fox did ever tingle, ache, and smart.’ Therewith Miss Jenny related what had come to pass in the Albany, omitting the few grains of pepper.

‘Now, godmother,’ she went on, ‘I particularly wish to ask you what has taken place here, since I left the wolf here? Because I have an idea about the size of a marble, rolling about in my little noddle. First and foremost, are you Pubsey and Co., or are you either? Upon your solemn word and honour.’

The old man shook his head.

‘Secondly, isn’t Fledgeby both Pubsey and Co.?’

The old man answered with a reluctant nod.

‘My idea,’ exclaimed Miss Wren, ‘is now about the size of an orange. But before it gets any bigger, welcome back, dear godmother!’

The little creature folded her arms about the old man’s neck with great earnestness, and kissed him. ‘I humbly beg your forgiveness, godmother. I am truly sorry. I ought to have had more faith in you. But what could I suppose when you said nothing for yourself, you know? I don’t mean to offer that as a justification, but what could I suppose, when you were a silent party to all he said? It did look bad; now didn’t it?’

‘It looked so bad, Jenny,’ responded the old man, with gravity, ‘that I will straightway tell you what an impression it wrought upon me. I was hateful in mine own eyes. I was hateful to myself, in being so hateful to the debtor and to you. But more than that, and worse than that, and to pass out far and broad beyond myself—I reflected that evening, sitting alone in my garden on the housetop, that I was doing dishonour to my ancient faith and race. I reflected—clearly reflected for the first time—that in bending my neck to the yoke I was willing to wear, I bent the unwilling necks of the whole Jewish people. For it is not, in Christian countries, with the Jews as with other peoples. Men say, “This is a bad Greek, but there are good Greeks. This is a bad Turk, but there are good Turks.” Not so with the Jews. Men find the bad among us easily enough—among what peoples are the bad not easily found?—but they take the worst of us as samples of the best; they take the lowest of us as presentations of the highest; and they say “All Jews are alike.” If, doing what I was content to do here, because I was grateful for the past and have small need of money now, I had been a Christian, I could have done it, compromising no one but my individual self. But doing it as a Jew, I could not choose but compromise the Jews of all conditions and all countries. It is a little hard upon us, but it is the truth. I would that all our people remembered it! Though I have little right to say so, seeing that it came home so late to me.’

The dolls’ dressmaker sat holding the old man by the hand, and looking thoughtfully in his face.

‘Thus I reflected, I say, sitting that evening in my garden on the housetop. And passing the painful scene of that day in review before me many times, I always saw that the poor gentleman believed the story readily, because I was one of the Jews—that you believed the story readily, my child, because I was one of the Jews—that the story itself first came into the invention of the originator thereof, because I was one of the Jews. This was the result of my having had you three before me, face to face, and seeing the thing visibly presented as upon a theatre. Wherefore I perceived that the obligation was upon me to leave this service. But Jenny, my dear,’ said Riah, breaking off, ‘I promised that you should pursue your questions, and I obstruct them.’

‘On the contrary, godmother; my idea is as large now as a pumpkin—and you know what a pumpkin is, don’t you? So you gave notice that you were going? Does that come next?’ asked Miss Jenny with a look of close attention.

‘I indited a letter to my master. Yes. To that effect.’

‘And what said Tingling-Tossing-Aching-Screaming-Scratching-Smarter?’ asked Miss Wren with an unspeakable enjoyment in the utterance of those honourable titles and in the recollection of the pepper.

‘He held me to certain months of servitude, which were his lawful term of notice. They expire to-morrow. Upon their expiration—not before—I had meant to set myself right with my Cinderella.’

‘My idea is getting so immense now,’ cried Miss Wren, clasping her temples, ‘that my head won’t hold it! Listen, godmother; I am going to expound. Little Eyes (that’s Screaming-Scratching-Smarter) owes you a heavy grudge for going. Little Eyes casts about how best to pay you off. Little Eyes thinks of Lizzie. Little Eyes says to himself, “I’ll find out where he has placed that girl, and I’ll betray his secret because it’s dear to him.” Perhaps Little Eyes thinks, “I’ll make love to her myself too;” but that I can’t swear—all the rest I can. So, Little Eyes comes to me, and I go to Little Eyes. That’s the way of it. And now the murder’s all out, I’m sorry,’ added the dolls’ dressmaker, rigid from head to foot with energy as she shook her little fist before her eyes, ‘that I didn’t give him Cayenne pepper and chopped pickled Capsicum!’

This expression of regret being but partially intelligible to Mr Riah, the old man reverted to the injuries Fledgeby had received, and hinted at the necessity of his at once going to tend that beaten cur.

‘Godmother, godmother, godmother!’ cried Miss Wren irritably, ‘I really lose all patience with you. One would think you believed in the Good Samaritan. How can you be so inconsistent?’

‘Jenny dear,’ began the old man gently, ‘it is the custom of our people to help—’

‘Oh! Bother your people!’ interposed Miss Wren, with a toss of her head. ‘If your people don’t know better than to go and help Little Eyes, it’s a pity they ever got out of Egypt. Over and above that,’ she added, ‘he wouldn’t take your help if you offered it. Too much ashamed. Wants to keep it close and quiet, and to keep you out of the way.’

They were still debating this point when a shadow darkened the entry, and the glass door was opened by a messenger who brought a letter unceremoniously addressed, ‘Riah.’ To which he said there was an answer wanted.

The letter, which was scrawled in pencil uphill and downhill and round crooked corners, ran thus:

‘Old Riah,

Your accounts being all squared, go. Shut up the place, turn out directly, and send me the key by bearer. Go. You are an unthankful dog of a Jew. Get out.


The dolls’ dressmaker found it delicious to trace the screaming and smarting of Little Eyes in the distorted writing of this epistle. She laughed over it and jeered at it in a convenient corner (to the great astonishment of the messenger) while the old man got his few goods together in a black bag. That done, the shutters of the upper windows closed, and the office blind pulled down, they issued forth upon the steps with the attendant messenger. There, while Miss Jenny held the bag, the old man locked the house door, and handed over the key to him; who at once retired with the same.

‘Well, godmother,’ said Miss Wren, as they remained upon the steps together, looking at one another. ‘And so you’re thrown upon the world!’

‘It would appear so, Jenny, and somewhat suddenly.’

‘Where are you going to seek your fortune?’ asked Miss Wren.

The old man smiled, but looked about him with a look of having lost his way in life, which did not escape the dolls’ dressmaker.

‘Verily, Jenny,’ said he, ‘the question is to the purpose, and more easily asked than answered. But as I have experience of the ready goodwill and good help of those who have given occupation to Lizzie, I think I will seek them out for myself.’

‘On foot?’ asked Miss Wren, with a chop.

‘Ay!’ said the old man. ‘Have I not my staff?’

It was exactly because he had his staff, and presented so quaint an aspect, that she mistrusted his making the journey.

‘The best thing you can do,’ said Jenny, ‘for the time being, at all events, is to come home with me, godmother. Nobody’s there but my bad child, and Lizzie’s lodging stands empty.’ The old man when satisfied that no inconvenience could be entailed on any one by his compliance, readily complied; and the singularly-assorted couple once more went through the streets together.

Now, the bad child having been strictly charged by his parent to remain at home in her absence, of course went out; and, being in the very last stage of mental decrepitude, went out with two objects; firstly, to establish a claim he conceived himself to have upon any licensed victualler living, to be supplied with threepennyworth of rum for nothing; and secondly, to bestow some maudlin remorse on Mr Eugene Wrayburn, and see what profit came of it. Stumblingly pursuing these two designs—they both meant rum, the only meaning of which he was capable—the degraded creature staggered into Covent Garden Market and there bivouacked, to have an attack of the trembles succeeded by an attack of the horrors, in a doorway.

This market of Covent Garden was quite out of the creature’s line of road, but it had the attraction for him which it has for the worst of the solitary members of the drunken tribe. It may be the companionship of the nightly stir, or it may be the companionship of the gin and beer that slop about among carters and hucksters, or it may be the companionship of the trodden vegetable refuse which is so like their own dress that perhaps they take the Market for a great wardrobe; but be it what it may, you shall see no such individual drunkards on doorsteps anywhere, as there. Of dozing women-drunkards especially, you shall come upon such specimens there, in the morning sunlight, as you might seek out of doors in vain through London. Such stale vapid rejected cabbage-leaf and cabbage-stalk dress, such damaged-orange countenance, such squashed pulp of humanity, are open to the day nowhere else. So, the attraction of the Market drew Mr Dolls to it, and he had out his two fits of trembles and horrors in a doorway on which a woman had had out her sodden nap a few hours before.

There is a swarm of young savages always flitting about this same place, creeping off with fragments of orange-chests, and mouldy litter—Heaven knows into what holes they can convey them, having no home!—whose bare feet fall with a blunt dull softness on the pavement as the policeman hunts them, and who are (perhaps for that reason) little heard by the Powers that be, whereas in top-boots they would make a deafening clatter. These, delighting in the trembles and the horrors of Mr Dolls, as in a gratuitous drama, flocked about him in his doorway, butted at him, leaped at him, and pelted him. Hence, when he came out of his invalid retirement and shook off that ragged train, he was much bespattered, and in worse case than ever. But, not yet at his worst; for, going into a public-house, and being supplied in stress of business with his rum, and seeking to vanish without payment, he was collared, searched, found penniless, and admonished not to try that again, by having a pail of dirty water cast over him. This application superinduced another fit of the trembles; after which Mr Dolls, as finding himself in good cue for making a call on a professional friend, addressed himself to the Temple.

There was nobody at the chambers but Young Blight. That discreet youth, sensible of a certain incongruity in the association of such a client with the business that might be coming some day, with the best intentions temporized with Dolls, and offered a shilling for coach-hire home. Mr Dolls, accepting the shilling, promptly laid it out in two threepennyworths of conspiracy against his life, and two threepennyworths of raging repentance. Returning to the Chambers with which burden, he was descried coming round into the court, by the wary young Blight watching from the window: who instantly closed the outer door, and left the miserable object to expend his fury on the panels.

The more the door resisted him, the more dangerous and imminent became that bloody conspiracy against his life. Force of police arriving, he recognized in them the conspirators, and laid about him hoarsely, fiercely, staringly, convulsively, foamingly. A humble machine, familiar to the conspirators and called by the expressive name of Stretcher, being unavoidably sent for, he was rendered a harmless bundle of torn rags by being strapped down upon it, with voice and consciousness gone out of him, and life fast going. As this machine was borne out at the Temple gate by four men, the poor little dolls’ dressmaker and her Jewish friend were coming up the street.

‘Let us see what it is,’ cried the dressmaker. ‘Let us make haste and look, godmother.’

The brisk little crutch-stick was but too brisk. ‘O gentlemen, gentlemen, he belongs to me!’

‘Belongs to you?’ said the head of the party, stopping it.

‘O yes, dear gentlemen, he’s my child, out without leave. My poor bad, bad boy! and he don’t know me, he don’t know me! O what shall I do,’ cried the little creature, wildly beating her hands together, ‘when my own child don’t know me!’

The head of the party looked (as well he might) to the old man for explanation. He whispered, as the dolls’ dressmaker bent over the exhausted form and vainly tried to extract some sign of recognition from it: ‘It’s her drunken father.’

As the load was put down in the street, Riah drew the head of the party aside, and whispered that he thought the man was dying. ‘No, surely not?’ returned the other. But he became less confident, on looking, and directed the bearers to ‘bring him to the nearest doctor’s shop.’

Thither he was brought; the window becoming from within, a wall of faces, deformed into all kinds of shapes through the agency of globular red bottles, green bottles, blue bottles, and other coloured bottles. A ghastly light shining upon him that he didn’t need, the beast so furious but a few minutes gone, was quiet enough now, with a strange mysterious writing on his face, reflected from one of the great bottles, as if Death had marked him: ‘Mine.’

The medical testimony was more precise and more to the purpose than it sometimes is in a Court of Justice. ‘You had better send for something to cover it. All’s over.’

Therefore, the police sent for something to cover it, and it was covered and borne through the streets, the people falling away. After it, went the dolls’ dressmaker, hiding her face in the Jewish skirts, and clinging to them with one hand, while with the other she plied her stick. It was carried home, and, by reason that the staircase was very narrow, it was put down in the parlour—the little working-bench being set aside to make room for it—and there, in the midst of the dolls with no speculation in their eyes, lay Mr Dolls with no speculation in his.

Many flaunting dolls had to be gaily dressed, before the money was in the dressmaker’s pocket to get mourning for Mr Dolls. As the old man, Riah, sat by, helping her in such small ways as he could, he found it difficult to make out whether she really did realize that the deceased had been her father.

‘If my poor boy,’ she would say, ‘had been brought up better, he might have done better. Not that I reproach myself. I hope I have no cause for that.’

‘None indeed, Jenny, I am very certain.’

‘Thank you, godmother. It cheers me to hear you say so. But you see it is so hard to bring up a child well, when you work, work, work, all day. When he was out of employment, I couldn’t always keep him near me. He got fractious and nervous, and I was obliged to let him go into the streets. And he never did well in the streets, he never did well out of sight. How often it happens with children!’

‘Too often, even in this sad sense!’ thought the old man.

‘How can I say what I might have turned out myself, but for my back having been so bad and my legs so queer, when I was young!’ the dressmaker would go on. ‘I had nothing to do but work, and so I worked. I couldn’t play. But my poor unfortunate child could play, and it turned out the worse for him.’

‘And not for him alone, Jenny.’

‘Well! I don’t know, godmother. He suffered heavily, did my unfortunate boy. He was very, very ill sometimes. And I called him a quantity of names;’ shaking her head over her work, and dropping tears. ‘I don’t know that his going wrong was much the worse for me. If it ever was, let us forget it.’

‘You are a good girl, you are a patient girl.’

‘As for patience,’ she would reply with a shrug, ‘not much of that, godmother. If I had been patient, I should never have called him names. But I hope I did it for his good. And besides, I felt my responsibility as a mother, so much. I tried reasoning, and reasoning failed. I tried coaxing, and coaxing failed. I tried scolding and scolding failed. But I was bound to try everything, you know, with such a charge upon my hands. Where would have been my duty to my poor lost boy, if I had not tried everything!’

With such talk, mostly in a cheerful tone on the part of the industrious little creature, the day-work and the night-work were beguiled until enough of smart dolls had gone forth to bring into the kitchen, where the working-bench now stood, the sombre stuff that the occasion required, and to bring into the house the other sombre preparations. ‘And now,’ said Miss Jenny, ‘having knocked off my rosy-cheeked young friends, I’ll knock off my white-cheeked self.’ This referred to her making her own dress, which at last was done. ‘The disadvantage of making for yourself,’ said Miss Jenny, as she stood upon a chair to look at the result in the glass, ‘is, that you can’t charge anybody else for the job, and the advantage is, that you haven’t to go out to try on. Humph! Very fair indeed! If He could see me now (whoever he is) I hope he wouldn’t repent of his bargain!’

The simple arrangements were of her own making, and were stated to Riah thus:

‘I mean to go alone, godmother, in my usual carriage, and you’ll be so kind as keep house while I am gone. It’s not far off. And when I return, we’ll have a cup of tea, and a chat over future arrangements. It’s a very plain last house that I have been able to give my poor unfortunate boy; but he’ll accept the will for the deed if he knows anything about it; and if he doesn’t know anything about it,’ with a sob, and wiping her eyes, ‘why, it won’t matter to him. I see the service in the Prayer-book says, that we brought nothing into this world and it is certain we can take nothing out. It comforts me for not being able to hire a lot of stupid undertaker’s things for my poor child, and seeming as if I was trying to smuggle ‘em out of this world with him, when of course I must break down in the attempt, and bring ‘em all back again. As it is, there’ll be nothing to bring back but me, and that’s quite consistent, for I shan’t be brought back, some day!’

After that previous carrying of him in the streets, the wretched old fellow seemed to be twice buried. He was taken on the shoulders of half a dozen blossom-faced men, who shuffled with him to the churchyard, and who were preceded by another blossom-faced man, affecting a stately stalk, as if he were a Policeman of the D(eath) Division, and ceremoniously pretending not to know his intimate acquaintances, as he led the pageant. Yet, the spectacle of only one little mourner hobbling after, caused many people to turn their heads with a look of interest.

At last the troublesome deceased was got into the ground, to be buried no more, and the stately stalker stalked back before the solitary dressmaker, as if she were bound in honour to have no notion of the way home. Those Furies, the conventionalities, being thus appeased, he left her.

‘I must have a very short cry, godmother, before I cheer up for good,’ said the little creature, coming in. ‘Because after all a child is a child, you know.’

It was a longer cry than might have been expected. Howbeit, it wore itself out in a shadowy corner, and then the dressmaker came forth, and washed her face, and made the tea. ‘You wouldn’t mind my cutting out something while we are at tea, would you?’ she asked her Jewish friend, with a coaxing air.

‘Cinderella, dear child,’ the old man expostulated, ‘will you never rest?’

‘Oh! It’s not work, cutting out a pattern isn’t,’ said Miss Jenny, with her busy little scissors already snipping at some paper. ‘The truth is, godmother, I want to fix it while I have it correct in my mind.’

‘Have you seen it to-day then?’ asked Riah.

‘Yes, godmother. Saw it just now. It’s a surplice, that’s what it is. Thing our clergymen wear, you know,’ explained Miss Jenny, in consideration of his professing another faith.

‘And what have you to do with that, Jenny?’

‘Why, godmother,’ replied the dressmaker, ‘you must know that we Professors who live upon our taste and invention, are obliged to keep our eyes always open. And you know already that I have many extra expenses to meet just now. So, it came into my head while I was weeping at my poor boy’s grave, that something in my way might be done with a clergyman.’

‘What can be done?’ asked the old man.

‘Not a funeral, never fear!’ returned Miss Jenny, anticipating his objection with a nod. ‘The public don’t like to be made melancholy, I know very well. I am seldom called upon to put my young friends into mourning; not into real mourning, that is; Court mourning they are rather proud of. But a doll clergyman, my dear,—glossy black curls and whiskers—uniting two of my young friends in matrimony,’ said Miss Jenny, shaking her forefinger, ‘is quite another affair. If you don’t see those three at the altar in Bond Street, in a jiffy, my name’s Jack Robinson!’

With her expert little ways in sharp action, she had got a doll into whitey-brown paper orders, before the meal was over, and was displaying it for the edification of the Jewish mind, when a knock was heard at the street-door. Riah went to open it, and presently came back, ushering in, with the grave and courteous air that sat so well upon him, a gentleman.

The gentleman was a stranger to the dressmaker; but even in the moment of his casting his eyes upon her, there was something in his manner which brought to her remembrance Mr Eugene Wrayburn.

‘Pardon me,’ said the gentleman. ‘You are the dolls’ dressmaker?’

‘I am the dolls’ dressmaker, sir.’

‘Lizzie Hexam’s friend?’

‘Yes, sir,’ replied Miss Jenny, instantly on the defensive. ‘And Lizzie Hexam’s friend.’

‘Here is a note from her, entreating you to accede to the request of Mr Mortimer Lightwood, the bearer. Mr Riah chances to know that I am Mr Mortimer Lightwood, and will tell you so.’

Riah bent his head in corroboration.

‘Will you read the note?’

‘It’s very short,’ said Jenny, with a look of wonder, when she had read it.

‘There was no time to make it longer. Time was so very precious. My dear friend Mr Eugene Wrayburn is dying.’

The dressmaker clasped her hands, and uttered a little piteous cry.

‘Is dying,’ repeated Lightwood, with emotion, ‘at some distance from here. He is sinking under injuries received at the hands of a villain who attacked him in the dark. I come straight from his bedside. He is almost always insensible. In a short restless interval of sensibility, or partial sensibility, I made out that he asked for you to be brought to sit by him. Hardly relying on my own interpretation of the indistinct sounds he made, I caused Lizzie to hear them. We were both sure that he asked for you.’

The dressmaker, with her hands still clasped, looked affrightedly from the one to the other of her two companions.

‘If you delay, he may die with his request ungratified, with his last wish—intrusted to me—we have long been much more than brothers—unfulfilled. I shall break down, if I try to say more.’

In a few moments the black bonnet and the crutch-stick were on duty, the good Jew was left in possession of the house, and the dolls’ dressmaker, side by side in a chaise with Mortimer Lightwood, was posting out of town.

Chapter 10. 

A darkened and hushed room; the river outside the windows flowing on to the vast ocean; a figure on the bed, swathed and bandaged and bound, lying helpless on its back, with its two useless arms in splints at its sides. Only two days of usage so familiarized the little dressmaker with this scene, that it held the place occupied two days ago by the recollections of years.

He had scarcely moved since her arrival. Sometimes his eyes were open, sometimes closed. When they were open, there was no meaning in their unwinking stare at one spot straight before them, unless for a moment the brow knitted into a faint expression of anger, or surprise. Then, Mortimer Lightwood would speak to him, and on occasions he would be so far roused as to make an attempt to pronounce his friend’s name. But, in an instant consciousness was gone again, and no spirit of Eugene was in Eugene’s crushed outer form.

They provided Jenny with materials for plying her work, and she had a little table placed at the foot of his bed. Sitting there, with her rich shower of hair falling over the chair-back, they hoped she might attract his notice. With the same object, she would sing, just above her breath, when he opened his eyes, or she saw his brow knit into that faint expression, so evanescent that it was like a shape made in water. But as yet he had not heeded. The ‘they’ here mentioned were the medical attendant; Lizzie, who was there in all her intervals of rest; and Lightwood, who never left him.

The two days became three, and the three days became four. At length, quite unexpectedly, he said something in a whisper.

‘What was it, my dear Eugene?’

‘Will you, Mortimer—’

‘Will I—?

—‘Send for her?’

‘My dear fellow, she is here.’

Quite unconscious of the long blank, he supposed that they were still speaking together.

The little dressmaker stood up at the foot of the bed, humming her song, and nodded to him brightly. ‘I can’t shake hands, Jenny,’ said Eugene, with something of his old look; ‘but I am very glad to see you.’

Mortimer repeated this to her, for it could only be made out by bending over him and closely watching his attempts to say it. In a little while, he added:

‘Ask her if she has seen the children.’

Mortimer could not understand this, neither could Jenny herself, until he added:

‘Ask her if she has smelt the flowers.’

‘Oh! I know!’ cried Jenny. ‘I understand him now!’ Then, Lightwood yielded his place to her quick approach, and she said, bending over the bed, with that better look: ‘You mean my long bright slanting rows of children, who used to bring me ease and rest? You mean the children who used to take me up, and make me light?’

Eugene smiled, ‘Yes.’

‘I have not seen them since I saw you. I never see them now, but I am hardly ever in pain now.’

‘It was a pretty fancy,’ said Eugene.

‘But I have heard my birds sing,’ cried the little creature, ‘and I have smelt my flowers. Yes, indeed I have! And both were most beautiful and most Divine!’

‘Stay and help to nurse me,’ said Eugene, quietly. ‘I should like you to have the fancy here, before I die.’

She touched his lips with her hand, and shaded her eyes with that same hand as she went back to her work and her little low song. He heard the song with evident pleasure, until she allowed it gradually to sink away into silence.


‘My dear Eugene.’

‘If you can give me anything to keep me here for only a few minutes—’

‘To keep you here, Eugene?’

‘To prevent my wandering away I don’t know where—for I begin to be sensible that I have just come back, and that I shall lose myself again—do so, dear boy!’

Mortimer gave him such stimulants as could be given him with safety (they were always at hand, ready), and bending over him once more, was about to caution him, when he said:

‘Don’t tell me not to speak, for I must speak. If you knew the harassing anxiety that gnaws and wears me when I am wandering in those places—where are those endless places, Mortimer? They must be at an immense distance!’

He saw in his friend’s face that he was losing himself; for he added after a moment: ‘Don’t be afraid—I am not gone yet. What was it?’

‘You wanted to tell me something, Eugene. My poor dear fellow, you wanted to say something to your old friend—to the friend who has always loved you, admired you, imitated you, founded himself upon you, been nothing without you, and who, God knows, would be here in your place if he could!’

‘Tut, tut!’ said Eugene with a tender glance as the other put his hand before his face. ‘I am not worth it. I acknowledge that I like it, dear boy, but I am not worth it. This attack, my dear Mortimer; this murder—’

His friend leaned over him with renewed attention, saying: ‘You and I suspect some one.’

‘More than suspect. But, Mortimer, while I lie here, and when I lie here no longer, I trust to you that the perpetrator is never brought to justice.’


‘Her innocent reputation would be ruined, my friend. She would be punished, not he. I have wronged her enough in fact; I have wronged her still more in intention. You recollect what pavement is said to be made of good intentions. It is made of bad intentions too. Mortimer, I am lying on it, and I know!’

‘Be comforted, my dear Eugene.’

‘I will, when you have promised me. Dear Mortimer, the man must never be pursued. If he should be accused, you must keep him silent and save him. Don’t think of avenging me; think only of hushing the story and protecting her. You can confuse the case, and turn aside the circumstances. Listen to what I say to you. It was not the schoolmaster, Bradley Headstone. Do you hear me? Twice; it was not the schoolmaster, Bradley Headstone. Do you hear me? Three times; it was not the schoolmaster, Bradley Headstone.’

He stopped, exhausted. His speech had been whispered, broken, and indistinct; but by a great effort he had made it plain enough to be unmistakeable.

‘Dear fellow, I am wandering away. Stay me for another moment, if you can.’

Lightwood lifted his head at the neck, and put a wine-glass to his lips. He rallied.

‘I don’t know how long ago it was done, whether weeks, days, or hours. No matter. There is inquiry on foot, and pursuit. Say! Is there not?’


‘Check it; divert it! Don’t let her be brought in question. Shield her. The guilty man, brought to justice, would poison her name. Let the guilty man go unpunished. Lizzie and my reparation before all! Promise me!’

‘Eugene, I do. I promise you!’

In the act of turning his eyes gratefully towards his friend, he wandered away. His eyes stood still, and settled into that former intent unmeaning stare.

Hours and hours, days and nights, he remained in this same condition. There were times when he would calmly speak to his friend after a long period of unconsciousness, and would say he was better, and would ask for something. Before it could be given him, he would be gone again.

The dolls’ dressmaker, all softened compassion now, watched him with an earnestness that never relaxed. She would regularly change the ice, or the cooling spirit, on his head, and would keep her ear at the pillow betweenwhiles, listening for any faint words that fell from him in his wanderings. It was amazing through how many hours at a time she would remain beside him, in a crouching attitude, attentive to his slightest moan. As he could not move a hand, he could make no sign of distress; but, through this close watching (if through no secret sympathy or power) the little creature attained an understanding of him that Lightwood did not possess. Mortimer would often turn to her, as if she were an interpreter between this sentient world and the insensible man; and she would change the dressing of a wound, or ease a ligature, or turn his face, or alter the pressure of the bedclothes on him, with an absolute certainty of doing right. The natural lightness and delicacy of touch which had become very refined by practice in her miniature work, no doubt was involved in this; but her perception was at least as fine.

The one word, Lizzie, he muttered millions of times. In a certain phase of his distressful state, which was the worst to those who tended him, he would roll his head upon the pillow, incessantly repeating the name in a hurried and impatient manner, with the misery of a disturbed mind, and the monotony of a machine. Equally, when he lay still and staring, he would repeat it for hours without cessation, but then, always in a tone of subdued warning and horror. Her presence and her touch upon his breast or face would often stop this, and then they learned to expect that he would for some time remain still, with his eyes closed, and that he would be conscious on opening them. But, the heavy disappointment of their hope—revived by the welcome silence of the room—was, that his spirit would glide away again and be lost, in the moment of their joy that it was there.

This frequent rising of a drowning man from the deep, to sink again, was dreadful to the beholders. But, gradually the change stole upon him that it became dreadful to himself. His desire to impart something that was on his mind, his unspeakable yearning to have speech with his friend and make a communication to him, so troubled him when he recovered consciousness, that its term was thereby shortened. As the man rising from the deep would disappear the sooner for fighting with the water, so he in his desperate struggle went down again.

One afternoon when he had been lying still, and Lizzie, unrecognized, had just stolen out of the room to pursue her occupation, he uttered Lightwood’s name.

‘My dear Eugene, I am here.’

‘How long is this to last, Mortimer?’

Lightwood shook his head. ‘Still, Eugene, you are no worse than you were.’

‘But I know there’s no hope. Yet I pray it may last long enough for you to do me one last service, and for me to do one last action. Keep me here a few moments, Mortimer. Try, try!’

His friend gave him what aid he could, and encouraged him to believe that he was more composed, though even then his eyes were losing the expression they so rarely recovered.

‘Hold me here, dear fellow, if you can. Stop my wandering away. I am going!’

‘Not yet, not yet. Tell me, dear Eugene, what is it I shall do?’

‘Keep me here for only a single minute. I am going away again. Don’t let me go. Hear me speak first. Stop me—stop me!’

‘My poor Eugene, try to be calm.’

‘I do try. I try so hard. If you only knew how hard! Don’t let me wander till I have spoken. Give me a little more wine.’

Lightwood complied. Eugene, with a most pathetic struggle against the unconsciousness that was coming over him, and with a look of appeal that affected his friend profoundly, said:

‘You can leave me with Jenny, while you speak to her and tell her what I beseech of her. You can leave me with Jenny, while you are gone. There’s not much for you to do. You won’t be long away.’

‘No, no, no. But tell me what it is that I shall do, Eugene!’

‘I am going! You can’t hold me.’

‘Tell me in a word, Eugene!’

His eyes were fixed again, and the only word that came from his lips was the word millions of times repeated. Lizzie, Lizzie, Lizzie.

But, the watchful little dressmaker had been vigilant as ever in her watch, and she now came up and touched Lightwood’s arm as he looked down at his friend, despairingly.

‘Hush!’ she said, with her finger on her lips. ‘His eyes are closing. He’ll be conscious when he next opens them. Shall I give you a leading word to say to him?’

‘O Jenny, if you could only give me the right word!’

‘I can. Stoop down.’

He stooped, and she whispered in his ear. She whispered in his ear one short word of a single syllable. Lightwood started, and looked at her.

‘Try it,’ said the little creature, with an excited and exultant face. She then bent over the unconscious man, and, for the first time, kissed him on the cheek, and kissed the poor maimed hand that was nearest to her. Then, she withdrew to the foot of the bed.

Some two hours afterwards, Mortimer Lightwood saw his consciousness come back, and instantly, but very tranquilly, bent over him.

‘Don’t speak, Eugene. Do no more than look at me, and listen to me. You follow what I say.’

He moved his head in assent.

‘I am going on from the point where we broke off. Is the word we should soon have come to—is it—Wife?’

‘O God bless you, Mortimer!’

‘Hush! Don’t be agitated. Don’t speak. Hear me, dear Eugene. Your mind will be more at peace, lying here, if you make Lizzie your wife. You wish me to speak to her, and tell her so, and entreat her to be your wife. You ask her to kneel at this bedside and be married to you, that your reparation may be complete. Is that so?’

‘Yes. God bless you! Yes.’

‘It shall be done, Eugene. Trust it to me. I shall have to go away for some few hours, to give effect to your wishes. You see this is unavoidable?’

‘Dear friend, I said so.’

‘True. But I had not the clue then. How do you think I got it?’

Glancing wistfully around, Eugene saw Miss Jenny at the foot of the bed, looking at him with her elbows on the bed, and her head upon her hands. There was a trace of his whimsical air upon him, as he tried to smile at her.

‘Yes indeed,’ said Lightwood, ‘the discovery was hers. Observe my dear Eugene; while I am away you will know that I have discharged my trust with Lizzie, by finding her here, in my present place at your bedside, to leave you no more. A final word before I go. This is the right course of a true man, Eugene. And I solemnly believe, with all my soul, that if Providence should mercifully restore you to us, you will be blessed with a noble wife in the preserver of your life, whom you will dearly love.’

‘Amen. I am sure of that. But I shall not come through it, Mortimer.’

‘You will not be the less hopeful or less strong, for this, Eugene.’

‘No. Touch my face with yours, in case I should not hold out till you come back. I love you, Mortimer. Don’t be uneasy for me while you are gone. If my dear brave girl will take me, I feel persuaded that I shall live long enough to be married, dear fellow.’

Miss Jenny gave up altogether on this parting taking place between the friends, and sitting with her back towards the bed in the bower made by her bright hair, wept heartily, though noiselessly. Mortimer Lightwood was soon gone. As the evening light lengthened the heavy reflections of the trees in the river, another figure came with a soft step into the sick room.

‘Is he conscious?’ asked the little dressmaker, as the figure took its station by the pillow. For, Jenny had given place to it immediately, and could not see the sufferer’s face, in the dark room, from her new and removed position.

‘He is conscious, Jenny,’ murmured Eugene for himself. ‘He knows his wife.’