{tocify}

Our Mutual Friend

Chapter

Book

first_page
play_arrow
last_page
00:00
00:00
volume_down_alt volume_up


Chapter 6. 
CUT ADRIFT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Can’t I!’ said Abbey, with infinite expression.

‘No, Miss Potterson; because, you see, the law—’

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

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

‘So much the better for you.’

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

‘You’re cruel hard upon me, Miss Potterson.’

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

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

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

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

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

‘Certainly,’ said Miss Potterson.

‘Is it that you’re afraid of—’

‘I am not afraid of you,’ interposed Miss Potterson, ‘if you mean that.’

‘But I humbly don’t mean that, Miss Abbey.’

‘Then what do you mean?’

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

‘What do you want to know for?’

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

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

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

‘Who suspects him?’

‘Many, perhaps. One, beyond all doubts. I do.’

‘You are not much,’ said Miss Abbey Potterson, knitting her brows again with disdain.

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Gracious Lud!’ was the involuntary exclamation of Miss Potterson.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘No thank you, Miss. I have had my supper.’

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

‘I am very sorry for it, Miss.’

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

‘I do it, Miss!’

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

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

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

‘Very often, Miss.’

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

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

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

Lizzie merely answered this difficult question with an apologetic glance.

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

‘Not obstinate, Miss, I hope.’

‘Firm (I suppose you call it) then?’

‘Yes, Miss. Fixed like.’

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

‘Do I know the worst of father!’ she repeated, opening her eyes.

‘Do you know the suspicions to which your father makes himself liable? Do you know the suspicions that are actually about, against him?’

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

‘Say, Lizzie. Do you know?’ urged Miss Abbey.

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

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

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

‘They little know father who talk like that!’

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

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

‘Well; yes it is.’

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

She bent forward to say it in a whisper.

‘I promise,’ said Miss Abbey.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Good-night, Miss!’ said Lizzie Hexam, sorrowfully.

‘Hah!—Good-night!’ returned Miss Abbey with a shake of her head.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘You made me jump, Charley.’

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

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

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

‘Still telling your fortune, Charley.’

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

‘For you, Charley.’

‘What do you mean?’

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

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

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

‘Are you almost ready for breakfast, Charley?’

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

‘And a bundle, Charley.’

‘You don’t mean it’s for me, too?’

‘Yes, Charley; I do; indeed.’

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

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

‘How do you know I shall?’

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

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

She made him no answer.

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

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

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

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

‘O, Charley, Charley, Heaven above us knows I do!’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘What’s gone with that boy?’

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

‘Now then. What’s gone with that boy?’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Father, it’s too horrible. O put it down, put it down!’

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

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

‘No, father, no; you would never hurt me.’

‘What should I hurt?’

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

‘What did it look like?’

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

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

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

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






Chapter 7. 
MR WEGG LOOKS AFTER HIMSELF

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

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

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

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

Mr Wegg nods to the face, ‘Good evening.’

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

‘Good evening, Mr Venus. Don’t you remember?’

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

‘To be sure!’ he says, then. ‘How do you do?’

‘Wegg, you know,’ that gentleman explains.

‘Yes, yes,’ says the other. ‘Hospital amputation?’

‘Just so,’ says Mr Wegg.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Very bad,’ says Mr Venus, uncompromisingly.

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

‘Always at home.’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Come for the stuffed canary.’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Where am I?’ asks Mr Wegg.

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

‘Now, look here, what did you give for me?’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Never was so good.’

‘Is your hand out at all?’

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

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

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

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

‘Well,’ remarks Silas (though not quite so readily as last time), ‘that ain’t a state of things to be low about.—Not for you to be low about, leastways.’

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

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

‘“Mr Venus,”’

‘Yes. Go on.’

‘“Preserver of Animals and Birds,”’

‘Yes. Go on.’

‘“Articulator of human bones.”’

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

‘Does she know the profits of it?’

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mr Wegg admits that he is bound for that port.

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

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

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

‘Really, now!’

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Don’t let me detain you. Good night!’

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






Chapter 8. 
MR BOFFIN IN CONSULTATION

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

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

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

‘Mr Lightwood gave you an appointment, sir, I think?’

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

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

‘I’m not in a hurry,’ said Mr Boffin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘What wages do you get?’

‘Half what I could wish,’ replied young Blight.

‘What’s the whole that you could wish?’

‘Fifteen shillings a week,’ said the boy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘My dear Mr Boffin, then don’t take care of it!’

‘Eh?’ said that gentleman.

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

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

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

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

Mr Lightwood coughed, not convinced.

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

Mr Lightwood murmured ‘Equal honour—Mrs Boffin’s head and heart.’

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

Mr Lightwood murmured ‘Vigorous Saxon spirit—Mrs Boffin’s ancestors—bowmen—Agincourt and Cressy.’

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

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

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

‘Doctors’ Commons,’ observed Lightwood.

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

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

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

‘Mr Boffin, it’s too much.’

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

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

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

‘In your name, Mr Boffin; in your name.’

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

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

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

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

‘I beg your pardon, but professional profundity must be exact. When you say tight—’

‘I mean tight,’ Mr Boffin explained.

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

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

‘Hers freely, to do what she likes with? Hers absolutely?’

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

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

‘Delighted,’ said Eugene—though he didn’t look so—‘to know Mr Boffin.’

‘Thankee, sir, thankee,’ returned that gentleman. ‘And how do you like the law?’

‘A—not particularly,’ returned Eugene.

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

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

‘Do you!’ said Mr Boffin.

‘I object on principle,’ said Eugene, ‘as a biped—’

‘As a what?’ asked Mr Boffin.

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

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

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

‘At all events, they work,’ said Mr Boffin.

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

‘Thankee,’ said Mr Boffin. ‘Morning, morning!’

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

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

‘I beg your pardon, Mr Boffin.’

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

‘No, sir, you don’t know me.’

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

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

‘I am nobody,’ said the stranger, ‘and not likely to be known; but Mr Boffin’s wealth—’

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

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

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

‘No, sir.’

‘No information to give, for a reward?’

‘No, sir.’

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

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

‘Yes.’

‘Why have you?’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘As what?’ cried Mr Boffin, with his eyes wide open.

‘Your Secretary.’

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

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

‘Where do you come from?’ asked Mr Boffin.

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

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

‘From—any particular place?’

‘I have been in many places.’

‘What have you been?’ asked Mr Boffin.

Here again he made no great advance, for the reply was, ‘I have been a student and a traveller.’

‘But if it ain’t a liberty to plump it out,’ said Mr Boffin, ‘what do you do for your living?’

‘I have mentioned,’ returned the other, with another look at him, and a smile, ‘what I aspire to do. I have been superseded as to some slight intentions I had, and I may say that I have now to begin life.’

Not very well knowing how to get rid of this applicant, and feeling the more embarrassed because his manner and appearance claimed a delicacy in which the worthy Mr Boffin feared he himself might be deficient, that gentleman glanced into the mouldy little plantation or cat-preserve, of Clifford’s Inn, as it was that day, in search of a suggestion. Sparrows were there, cats were there, dry-rot and wet-rot were there, but it was not otherwise a suggestive spot.

‘All this time,’ said the stranger, producing a little pocket-book and taking out a card, ‘I have not mentioned my name. My name is Rokesmith. I lodge at one Mr Wilfer’s, at Holloway.’

Mr Boffin stared again.

‘Father of Miss Bella Wilfer?’ said he.

‘My landlord has a daughter named Bella. Yes; no doubt.’

Now, this name had been more or less in Mr Boffin’s thoughts all the morning, and for days before; therefore he said:

‘That’s singular, too!’ unconsciously staring again, past all bounds of good manners, with the card in his hand. ‘Though, by-the-bye, I suppose it was one of that family that pinted me out?’

‘No. I have never been in the streets with one of them.’

‘Heard me talked of among ‘em, though?’

‘No. I occupy my own rooms, and have held scarcely any communication with them.’

‘Odder and odder!’ said Mr Boffin. ‘Well, sir, to tell you the truth, I don’t know what to say to you.’

‘Say nothing,’ returned Mr Rokesmith; ‘allow me to call on you in a few days. I am not so unconscionable as to think it likely that you would accept me on trust at first sight, and take me out of the very street. Let me come to you for your further opinion, at your leisure.’

‘That’s fair, and I don’t object,’ said Mr Boffin; ‘but it must be on condition that it’s fully understood that I no more know that I shall ever be in want of any gentleman as Secretary—it was Secretary you said; wasn’t it?’

‘Yes.’

Again Mr Boffin’s eyes opened wide, and he stared at the applicant from head to foot, repeating ‘Queer!—You’re sure it was Secretary? Are you?’

‘I am sure I said so.’

—‘As Secretary,’ repeated Mr Boffin, meditating upon the word; ‘I no more know that I may ever want a Secretary, or what not, than I do that I shall ever be in want of the man in the moon. Me and Mrs Boffin have not even settled that we shall make any change in our way of life. Mrs Boffin’s inclinations certainly do tend towards Fashion; but, being already set up in a fashionable way at the Bower, she may not make further alterations. However, sir, as you don’t press yourself, I wish to meet you so far as saying, by all means call at the Bower if you like. Call in the course of a week or two. At the same time, I consider that I ought to name, in addition to what I have already named, that I have in my employment a literary man—with a wooden leg—as I have no thoughts of parting from.’

‘I regret to hear I am in some sort anticipated,’ Mr Rokesmith answered, evidently having heard it with surprise; ‘but perhaps other duties might arise?’

‘You see,’ returned Mr Boffin, with a confidential sense of dignity, ‘as to my literary man’s duties, they’re clear. Professionally he declines and he falls, and as a friend he drops into poetry.’

Without observing that these duties seemed by no means clear to Mr Rokesmith’s astonished comprehension, Mr Boffin went on:

‘And now, sir, I’ll wish you good-day. You can call at the Bower any time in a week or two. It’s not above a mile or so from you, and your landlord can direct you to it. But as he may not know it by its new name of Boffin’s Bower, say, when you inquire of him, it’s Harmon’s; will you?’

‘Harmoon’s,’ repeated Mr Rokesmith, seeming to have caught the sound imperfectly, ‘Harmarn’s. How do you spell it?’

‘Why, as to the spelling of it,’ returned Mr Boffin, with great presence of mind, ‘that’s your look out. Harmon’s is all you’ve got to say to him. Morning, morning, morning!’ And so departed, without looking back.






Chapter 9. 
MR AND MRS BOFFIN IN CONSULTATION

Betaking himself straight homeward, Mr Boffin, without further let or hindrance, arrived at the Bower, and gave Mrs Boffin (in a walking dress of black velvet and feathers, like a mourning coach-horse) an account of all he had said and done since breakfast.

‘This brings us round, my dear,’ he then pursued, ‘to the question we left unfinished: namely, whether there’s to be any new go-in for Fashion.’

‘Now, I’ll tell you what I want, Noddy,’ said Mrs Boffin, smoothing her dress with an air of immense enjoyment, ‘I want Society.’

‘Fashionable Society, my dear?’

‘Yes!’ cried Mrs Boffin, laughing with the glee of a child. ‘Yes! It’s no good my being kept here like Wax-Work; is it now?’

‘People have to pay to see Wax-Work, my dear,’ returned her husband, ‘whereas (though you’d be cheap at the same money) the neighbours is welcome to see you for nothing.’

‘But it don’t answer,’ said the cheerful Mrs Boffin. ‘When we worked like the neighbours, we suited one another. Now we have left work off; we have left off suiting one another.’

‘What, do you think of beginning work again?’ Mr Boffin hinted.

‘Out of the question! We have come into a great fortune, and we must do what’s right by our fortune; we must act up to it.’

Mr Boffin, who had a deep respect for his wife’s intuitive wisdom, replied, though rather pensively: ‘I suppose we must.’

‘It’s never been acted up to yet, and, consequently, no good has come of it,’ said Mrs Boffin.

‘True, to the present time,’ Mr Boffin assented, with his former pensiveness, as he took his seat upon his settle. ‘I hope good may be coming of it in the future time. Towards which, what’s your views, old lady?’

Mrs Boffin, a smiling creature, broad of figure and simple of nature, with her hands folded in her lap, and with buxom creases in her throat, proceeded to expound her views.

‘I say, a good house in a good neighbourhood, good things about us, good living, and good society. I say, live like our means, without extravagance, and be happy.’

‘Yes. I say be happy, too,’ assented the still pensive Mr Boffin. ‘Lor-a-mussy!’ exclaimed Mrs Boffin, laughing and clapping her hands, and gaily rocking herself to and fro, ‘when I think of me in a light yellow chariot and pair, with silver boxes to the wheels—’

‘Oh! you was thinking of that, was you, my dear?’

‘Yes!’ cried the delighted creature. ‘And with a footman up behind, with a bar across, to keep his legs from being poled! And with a coachman up in front, sinking down into a seat big enough for three of him, all covered with upholstery in green and white! And with two bay horses tossing their heads and stepping higher than they trot long-ways! And with you and me leaning back inside, as grand as ninepence! Oh-h-h-h My! Ha ha ha ha ha!’

Mrs Boffin clapped her hands again, rocked herself again, beat her feet upon the floor, and wiped the tears of laughter from her eyes.

‘And what, my old lady,’ inquired Mr Boffin, when he also had sympathetically laughed: ‘what’s your views on the subject of the Bower?’

‘Shut it up. Don’t part with it, but put somebody in it, to keep it.’

‘Any other views?’

‘Noddy,’ said Mrs Boffin, coming from her fashionable sofa to his side on the plain settle, and hooking her comfortable arm through his, ‘Next I think—and I really have been thinking early and late—of the disappointed girl; her that was so cruelly disappointed, you know, both of her husband and his riches. Don’t you think we might do something for her? Have her to live with us? Or something of that sort?’

‘Ne-ver once thought of the way of doing it!’ cried Mr Boffin, smiting the table in his admiration. ‘What a thinking steam-ingein this old lady is. And she don’t know how she does it. Neither does the ingein!’

Mrs Boffin pulled his nearest ear, in acknowledgment of this piece of philosophy, and then said, gradually toning down to a motherly strain: ‘Last, and not least, I have taken a fancy. You remember dear little John Harmon, before he went to school? Over yonder across the yard, at our fire? Now that he is past all benefit of the money, and it’s come to us, I should like to find some orphan child, and take the boy and adopt him and give him John’s name, and provide for him. Somehow, it would make me easier, I fancy. Say it’s only a whim—’

‘But I don’t say so,’ interposed her husband.

‘No, but deary, if you did—’

‘I should be a Beast if I did,’ her husband interposed again.

‘That’s as much as to say you agree? Good and kind of you, and like you, deary! And don’t you begin to find it pleasant now,’ said Mrs Boffin, once more radiant in her comely way from head to foot, and once more smoothing her dress with immense enjoyment, ‘don’t you begin to find it pleasant already, to think that a child will be made brighter, and better, and happier, because of that poor sad child that day? And isn’t it pleasant to know that the good will be done with the poor sad child’s own money?’

‘Yes; and it’s pleasant to know that you are Mrs Boffin,’ said her husband, ‘and it’s been a pleasant thing to know this many and many a year!’ It was ruin to Mrs Boffin’s aspirations, but, having so spoken, they sat side by side, a hopelessly Unfashionable pair.

These two ignorant and unpolished people had guided themselves so far on in their journey of life, by a religious sense of duty and desire to do right. Ten thousand weaknesses and absurdities might have been detected in the breasts of both; ten thousand vanities additional, possibly, in the breast of the woman. But the hard wrathful and sordid nature that had wrung as much work out of them as could be got in their best days, for as little money as could be paid to hurry on their worst, had never been so warped but that it knew their moral straightness and respected it. In its own despite, in a constant conflict with itself and them, it had done so. And this is the eternal law. For, Evil often stops short at itself and dies with the doer of it; but Good, never.

Through his most inveterate purposes, the dead Jailer of Harmony Jail had known these two faithful servants to be honest and true. While he raged at them and reviled them for opposing him with the speech of the honest and true, it had scratched his stony heart, and he had perceived the powerlessness of all his wealth to buy them if he had addressed himself to the attempt. So, even while he was their griping taskmaster and never gave them a good word, he had written their names down in his will. So, even while it was his daily declaration that he mistrusted all mankind—and sorely indeed he did mistrust all who bore any resemblance to himself—he was as certain that these two people, surviving him, would be trustworthy in all things from the greatest to the least, as he was that he must surely die.

Mr and Mrs Boffin, sitting side by side, with Fashion withdrawn to an immeasurable distance, fell to discussing how they could best find their orphan. Mrs Boffin suggested advertisement in the newspapers, requesting orphans answering annexed description to apply at the Bower on a certain day; but Mr Boffin wisely apprehending obstruction of the neighbouring thoroughfares by orphan swarms, this course was negatived. Mrs Boffin next suggested application to their clergyman for a likely orphan. Mr Boffin thinking better of this scheme, they resolved to call upon the reverend gentleman at once, and to take the same opportunity of making acquaintance with Miss Bella Wilfer. In order that these visits might be visits of state, Mrs Boffin’s equipage was ordered out.

This consisted of a long hammer-headed old horse, formerly used in the business, attached to a four-wheeled chaise of the same period, which had long been exclusively used by the Harmony Jail poultry as the favourite laying-place of several discreet hens. An unwonted application of corn to the horse, and of paint and varnish to the carriage, when both fell in as a part of the Boffin legacy, had made what Mr Boffin considered a neat turn-out of the whole; and a driver being added, in the person of a long hammer-headed young man who was a very good match for the horse, left nothing to be desired. He, too, had been formerly used in the business, but was now entombed by an honest jobbing tailor of the district in a perfect Sepulchre of coat and gaiters, sealed with ponderous buttons.

Behind this domestic, Mr and Mrs Boffin took their seats in the back compartment of the vehicle: which was sufficiently commodious, but had an undignified and alarming tendency, in getting over a rough crossing, to hiccup itself away from the front compartment. On their being descried emerging from the gates of the Bower, the neighbourhood turned out at door and window to salute the Boffins. Among those who were ever and again left behind, staring after the equipage, were many youthful spirits, who hailed it in stentorian tones with such congratulations as ‘Nod-dy Bof-fin!’ ‘Bof-fin’s mon-ey!’ ‘Down with the dust, Bof-fin!’ and other similar compliments. These, the hammer-headed young man took in such ill part that he often impaired the majesty of the progress by pulling up short, and making as though he would alight to exterminate the offenders; a purpose from which he only allowed himself to be dissuaded after long and lively arguments with his employers.

At length the Bower district was left behind, and the peaceful dwelling of the Reverend Frank Milvey was gained. The Reverend Frank Milvey’s abode was a very modest abode, because his income was a very modest income. He was officially accessible to every blundering old woman who had incoherence to bestow upon him, and readily received the Boffins. He was quite a young man, expensively educated and wretchedly paid, with quite a young wife and half a dozen quite young children. He was under the necessity of teaching and translating from the classics, to eke out his scanty means, yet was generally expected to have more time to spare than the idlest person in the parish, and more money than the richest. He accepted the needless inequalities and inconsistencies of his life, with a kind of conventional submission that was almost slavish; and any daring layman who would have adjusted such burdens as his, more decently and graciously, would have had small help from him.

With a ready patient face and manner, and yet with a latent smile that showed a quick enough observation of Mrs Boffin’s dress, Mr Milvey, in his little book-room—charged with sounds and cries as though the six children above were coming down through the ceiling, and the roasting leg of mutton below were coming up through the floor—listened to Mrs Boffin’s statement of her want of an orphan.

‘I think,’ said Mr Milvey, ‘that you have never had a child of your own, Mr and Mrs Boffin?’

Never.

‘But, like the Kings and Queens in the Fairy Tales, I suppose you have wished for one?’

In a general way, yes.

Mr Milvey smiled again, as he remarked to himself ‘Those kings and queens were always wishing for children.’ It occurring to him, perhaps, that if they had been Curates, their wishes might have tended in the opposite direction.

‘I think,’ he pursued, ‘we had better take Mrs Milvey into our Council. She is indispensable to me. If you please, I’ll call her.’

So, Mr Milvey called, ‘Margaretta, my dear!’ and Mrs Milvey came down. A pretty, bright little woman, something worn by anxiety, who had repressed many pretty tastes and bright fancies, and substituted in their stead, schools, soup, flannel, coals, and all the week-day cares and Sunday coughs of a large population, young and old. As gallantly had Mr Milvey repressed much in himself that naturally belonged to his old studies and old fellow-students, and taken up among the poor and their children with the hard crumbs of life.

‘Mr and Mrs Boffin, my dear, whose good fortune you have heard of.’

Mrs Milvey, with the most unaffected grace in the world, congratulated them, and was glad to see them. Yet her engaging face, being an open as well as a perceptive one, was not without her husband’s latent smile.

‘Mrs Boffin wishes to adopt a little boy, my dear.’

Mrs Milvey, looking rather alarmed, her husband added:

‘An orphan, my dear.’

‘Oh!’ said Mrs Milvey, reassured for her own little boys.

‘And I was thinking, Margaretta, that perhaps old Mrs Goody’s grandchild might answer the purpose.

‘Oh my Dear Frank! I don’t think that would do!’

‘No?’

‘Oh no!’

The smiling Mrs Boffin, feeling it incumbent on her to take part in the conversation, and being charmed with the emphatic little wife and her ready interest, here offered her acknowledgments and inquired what there was against him?

‘I don’t think,’ said Mrs Milvey, glancing at the Reverend Frank, ‘—and I believe my husband will agree with me when he considers it again—that you could possibly keep that orphan clean from snuff. Because his grandmother takes so many ounces, and drops it over him.’

‘But he would not be living with his grandmother then, Margaretta,’ said Mr Milvey.

‘No, Frank, but it would be impossible to keep her from Mrs Boffin’s house; and the more there was to eat and drink there, the oftener she would go. And she IS an inconvenient woman. I hope it’s not uncharitable to remember that last Christmas Eve she drank eleven cups of tea, and grumbled all the time. And she is not a grateful woman, Frank. You recollect her addressing a crowd outside this house, about her wrongs, when, one night after we had gone to bed, she brought back the petticoat of new flannel that had been given her, because it was too short.’

‘That’s true,’ said Mr Milvey. ‘I don’t think that would do. Would little Harrison—’

‘Oh, Frank!’ remonstrated his emphatic wife.

‘He has no grandmother, my dear.’

‘No, but I don’t think Mrs Boffin would like an orphan who squints so much.’

‘That’s true again,’ said Mr Milvey, becoming haggard with perplexity. ‘If a little girl would do—’

‘But, my dear Frank, Mrs Boffin wants a boy.’

‘That’s true again,’ said Mr Milvey. ‘Tom Bocker is a nice boy’ (thoughtfully).

‘But I doubt, Frank,’ Mrs Milvey hinted, after a little hesitation, ‘if Mrs Boffin wants an orphan quite nineteen, who drives a cart and waters the roads.’

Mr Milvey referred the point to Mrs Boffin in a look; on that smiling lady’s shaking her black velvet bonnet and bows, he remarked, in lower spirits, ‘that’s true again.’

‘I am sure,’ said Mrs Boffin, concerned at giving so much trouble, ‘that if I had known you would have taken so much pains, sir—and you too, ma’ am—I don’t think I would have come.’

‘Pray don’t say that!’ urged Mrs Milvey.

‘No, don’t say that,’ assented Mr Milvey, ‘because we are so much obliged to you for giving us the preference.’ Which Mrs Milvey confirmed; and really the kind, conscientious couple spoke, as if they kept some profitable orphan warehouse and were personally patronized. ‘But it is a responsible trust,’ added Mr Milvey, ‘and difficult to discharge. At the same time, we are naturally very unwilling to lose the chance you so kindly give us, and if you could afford us a day or two to look about us,—you know, Margaretta, we might carefully examine the workhouse, and the Infant School, and your District.’

‘To be sure!’ said the emphatic little wife.

‘We have orphans, I know,’ pursued Mr Milvey, quite with the air as if he might have added, ‘in stock,’ and quite as anxiously as if there were great competition in the business and he were afraid of losing an order, ‘over at the clay-pits; but they are employed by relations or friends, and I am afraid it would come at last to a transaction in the way of barter. And even if you exchanged blankets for the child—or books and firing—it would be impossible to prevent their being turned into liquor.’

Accordingly, it was resolved that Mr and Mrs Milvey should search for an orphan likely to suit, and as free as possible from the foregoing objections, and should communicate again with Mrs Boffin. Then, Mr Boffin took the liberty of mentioning to Mr Milvey that if Mr Milvey would do him the kindness to be perpetually his banker to the extent of ‘a twenty-pound note or so,’ to be expended without any reference to him, he would be heartily obliged. At this, both Mr Milvey and Mrs Milvey were quite as much pleased as if they had no wants of their own, but only knew what poverty was, in the persons of other people; and so the interview terminated with satisfaction and good opinion on all sides.

‘Now, old lady,’ said Mr Boffin, as they resumed their seats behind the hammer-headed horse and man: ‘having made a very agreeable visit there, we’ll try Wilfer’s.’

It appeared, on their drawing up at the family gate, that to try Wilfer’s was a thing more easily projected than done, on account of the extreme difficulty of getting into that establishment; three pulls at the bell producing no external result; though each was attended by audible sounds of scampering and rushing within. At the fourth tug—vindictively administered by the hammer-headed young man—Miss Lavinia appeared, emerging from the house in an accidental manner, with a bonnet and parasol, as designing to take a contemplative walk. The young lady was astonished to find visitors at the gate, and expressed her feelings in appropriate action.

‘Here’s Mr and Mrs Boffin!’ growled the hammer-headed young man through the bars of the gate, and at the same time shaking it, as if he were on view in a Menagerie; ‘they’ve been here half an hour.’

‘Who did you say?’ asked Miss Lavinia.

‘Mr and Mrs Boffin’ returned the young man, rising into a roar.

Miss Lavinia tripped up the steps to the house-door, tripped down the steps with the key, tripped across the little garden, and opened the gate. ‘Please to walk in,’ said Miss Lavinia, haughtily. ‘Our servant is out.’

Mr and Mrs Boffin complying, and pausing in the little hall until Miss Lavinia came up to show them where to go next, perceived three pairs of listening legs upon the stairs above. Mrs Wilfer’s legs, Miss Bella’s legs, Mr George Sampson’s legs.

‘Mr and Mrs Boffin, I think?’ said Lavinia, in a warning voice. Strained attention on the part of Mrs Wilfer’s legs, of Miss Bella’s legs, of Mr George Sampson’s legs.

‘Yes, Miss.’

‘If you’ll step this way—down these stairs—I’ll let Ma know.’ Excited flight of Mrs Wilfer’s legs, of Miss Bella’s legs, of Mr George Sampson’s legs.

After waiting some quarter of an hour alone in the family sitting-room, which presented traces of having been so hastily arranged after a meal, that one might have doubted whether it was made tidy for visitors, or cleared for blindman’s buff, Mr and Mrs Boffin became aware of the entrance of Mrs Wilfer, majestically faint, and with a condescending stitch in her side: which was her company manner.

‘Pardon me,’ said Mrs Wilfer, after the first salutations, and as soon as she had adjusted the handkerchief under her chin, and waved her gloved hands, ‘to what am I indebted for this honour?’

‘To make short of it, ma’am,’ returned Mr Boffin, ‘perhaps you may be acquainted with the names of me and Mrs Boffin, as having come into a certain property.’

‘I have heard, sir,’ returned Mrs Wilfer, with a dignified bend of her head, ‘of such being the case.’

‘And I dare say, ma’am,’ pursued Mr Boffin, while Mrs Boffin added confirmatory nods and smiles, ‘you are not very much inclined to take kindly to us?’

‘Pardon me,’ said Mrs Wilfer. ‘’Twere unjust to visit upon Mr and Mrs Boffin, a calamity which was doubtless a dispensation.’ These words were rendered the more effective by a serenely heroic expression of suffering.

‘That’s fairly meant, I am sure,’ remarked the honest Mr Boffin; ‘Mrs Boffin and me, ma’am, are plain people, and we don’t want to pretend to anything, nor yet to go round and round at anything because there’s always a straight way to everything. Consequently, we make this call to say, that we shall be glad to have the honour and pleasure of your daughter’s acquaintance, and that we shall be rejoiced if your daughter will come to consider our house in the light of her home equally with this. In short, we want to cheer your daughter, and to give her the opportunity of sharing such pleasures as we are a going to take ourselves. We want to brisk her up, and brisk her about, and give her a change.’

‘That’s it!’ said the open-hearted Mrs Boffin. ‘Lor! Let’s be comfortable.’

Mrs Wilfer bent her head in a distant manner to her lady visitor, and with majestic monotony replied to the gentleman:

‘Pardon me. I have several daughters. Which of my daughters am I to understand is thus favoured by the kind intentions of Mr Boffin and his lady?’

‘Don’t you see?’ the ever-smiling Mrs Boffin put in. ‘Naturally, Miss Bella, you know.’

‘Oh-h!’ said Mrs Wilfer, with a severely unconvinced look. ‘My daughter Bella is accessible and shall speak for herself.’ Then opening the door a little way, simultaneously with a sound of scuttling outside it, the good lady made the proclamation, ‘Send Miss Bella to me!’ which proclamation, though grandly formal, and one might almost say heraldic, to hear, was in fact enunciated with her maternal eyes reproachfully glaring on that young lady in the flesh—and in so much of it that she was retiring with difficulty into the small closet under the stairs, apprehensive of the emergence of Mr and Mrs Boffin.

‘The avocations of R. W., my husband,’ Mrs Wilfer explained, on resuming her seat, ‘keep him fully engaged in the City at this time of the day, or he would have had the honour of participating in your reception beneath our humble roof.’

‘Very pleasant premises!’ said Mr Boffin, cheerfully.

‘Pardon me, sir,’ returned Mrs Wilfer, correcting him, ‘it is the abode of conscious though independent Poverty.’

Finding it rather difficult to pursue the conversation down this road, Mr and Mrs Boffin sat staring at mid-air, and Mrs Wilfer sat silently giving them to understand that every breath she drew required to be drawn with a self-denial rarely paralleled in history, until Miss Bella appeared: whom Mrs Wilfer presented, and to whom she explained the purpose of the visitors.

‘I am much obliged to you, I am sure,’ said Miss Bella, coldly shaking her curls, ‘but I doubt if I have the inclination to go out at all.’

‘Bella!’ Mrs Wilfer admonished her; ‘Bella, you must conquer this.’

‘Yes, do what your Ma says, and conquer it, my dear,’ urged Mrs Boffin, ‘because we shall be so glad to have you, and because you are much too pretty to keep yourself shut up.’ With that, the pleasant creature gave her a kiss, and patted her on her dimpled shoulders; Mrs Wilfer sitting stiffly by, like a functionary presiding over an interview previous to an execution.

‘We are going to move into a nice house,’ said Mrs Boffin, who was woman enough to compromise Mr Boffin on that point, when he couldn’t very well contest it; ‘and we are going to set up a nice carriage, and we’ll go everywhere and see everything. And you mustn’t,’ seating Bella beside her, and patting her hand, ‘you mustn’t feel a dislike to us to begin with, because we couldn’t help it, you know, my dear.’

With the natural tendency of youth to yield to candour and sweet temper, Miss Bella was so touched by the simplicity of this address that she frankly returned Mrs Boffin’s kiss. Not at all to the satisfaction of that good woman of the world, her mother, who sought to hold the advantageous ground of obliging the Boffins instead of being obliged.

‘My youngest daughter, Lavinia,’ said Mrs Wilfer, glad to make a diversion, as that young lady reappeared. ‘Mr George Sampson, a friend of the family.’

The friend of the family was in that stage of tender passion which bound him to regard everybody else as the foe of the family. He put the round head of his cane in his mouth, like a stopper, when he sat down. As if he felt himself full to the throat with affronting sentiments. And he eyed the Boffins with implacable eyes.

‘If you like to bring your sister with you when you come to stay with us,’ said Mrs Boffin, ‘of course we shall be glad. The better you please yourself, Miss Bella, the better you’ll please us.’

‘Oh, my consent is of no consequence at all, I suppose?’ cried Miss Lavinia.

‘Lavvy,’ said her sister, in a low voice, ‘have the goodness to be seen and not heard.’

‘No, I won’t,’ replied the sharp Lavinia. ‘I’m not a child, to be taken notice of by strangers.’

‘You are a child.’

‘I’m not a child, and I won’t be taken notice of. “Bring your sister,” indeed!’

‘Lavinia!’ said Mrs Wilfer. ‘Hold! I will not allow you to utter in my presence the absurd suspicion that any strangers—I care not what their names—can patronize my child. Do you dare to suppose, you ridiculous girl, that Mr and Mrs Boffin would enter these doors upon a patronizing errand; or, if they did, would remain within them, only for one single instant, while your mother had the strength yet remaining in her vital frame to request them to depart? You little know your mother if you presume to think so.’

‘It’s all very fine,’ Lavinia began to grumble, when Mrs Wilfer repeated:

‘Hold! I will not allow this. Do you not know what is due to guests? Do you not comprehend that in presuming to hint that this lady and gentleman could have any idea of patronizing any member of your family—I care not which—you accuse them of an impertinence little less than insane?’

‘Never mind me and Mrs Boffin, ma’am,’ said Mr Boffin, smilingly: ‘we don’t care.’

‘Pardon me, but I do,’ returned Mrs Wilfer.

Miss Lavinia laughed a short laugh as she muttered, ‘Yes, to be sure.’

‘And I require my audacious child,’ proceeded Mrs Wilfer, with a withering look at her youngest, on whom it had not the slightest effect, ‘to please to be just to her sister Bella; to remember that her sister Bella is much sought after; and that when her sister Bella accepts an attention, she considers herself to be conferring qui-i-ite as much honour,’—this with an indignant shiver,—‘as she receives.’

But, here Miss Bella repudiated, and said quietly, ‘I can speak for myself; you know, ma. You needn’t bring me in, please.’

‘And it’s all very well aiming at others through convenient me,’ said the irrepressible Lavinia, spitefully; ‘but I should like to ask George Sampson what he says to it.’

‘Mr Sampson,’ proclaimed Mrs Wilfer, seeing that young gentleman take his stopper out, and so darkly fixing him with her eyes as that he put it in again: ‘Mr Sampson, as a friend of this family and a frequenter of this house, is, I am persuaded, far too well-bred to interpose on such an invitation.’

This exaltation of the young gentleman moved the conscientious Mrs Boffin to repentance for having done him an injustice in her mind, and consequently to saying that she and Mr Boffin would at any time be glad to see him; an attention which he handsomely acknowledged by replying, with his stopper unremoved, ‘Much obliged to you, but I’m always engaged, day and night.’

However, Bella compensating for all drawbacks by responding to the advances of the Boffins in an engaging way, that easy pair were on the whole well satisfied, and proposed to the said Bella that as soon as they should be in a condition to receive her in a manner suitable to their desires, Mrs Boffin should return with notice of the fact. This arrangement Mrs Wilfer sanctioned with a stately inclination of her head and wave of her gloves, as who should say, ‘Your demerits shall be overlooked, and you shall be mercifully gratified, poor people.’

‘By-the-bye, ma’am,’ said Mr Boffin, turning back as he was going, ‘you have a lodger?’

‘A gentleman,’ Mrs Wilfer answered, qualifying the low expression, ‘undoubtedly occupies our first floor.’

‘I may call him Our Mutual Friend,’ said Mr Boffin. ‘What sort of a fellow is Our Mutual Friend, now? Do you like him?’

‘Mr Rokesmith is very punctual, very quiet, a very eligible inmate.’

‘Because,’ Mr Boffin explained, ‘you must know that I’m not particularly well acquainted with Our Mutual Friend, for I have only seen him once. You give a good account of him. Is he at home?’

‘Mr Rokesmith is at home,’ said Mrs Wilfer; ‘indeed,’ pointing through the window, ‘there he stands at the garden gate. Waiting for you, perhaps?’

‘Perhaps so,’ replied Mr Boffin. ‘Saw me come in, maybe.’

Bella had closely attended to this short dialogue. Accompanying Mrs Boffin to the gate, she as closely watched what followed.

‘How are you, sir, how are you?’ said Mr Boffin. ‘This is Mrs Boffin. Mr Rokesmith, that I told you of; my dear.’

She gave him good day, and he bestirred himself and helped her to her seat, and the like, with a ready hand.

‘Good-bye for the present, Miss Bella,’ said Mrs Boffin, calling out a hearty parting. ‘We shall meet again soon! And then I hope I shall have my little John Harmon to show you.’

Mr Rokesmith, who was at the wheel adjusting the skirts of her dress, suddenly looked behind him, and around him, and then looked up at her, with a face so pale that Mrs Boffin cried:

‘Gracious!’ And after a moment, ‘What’s the matter, sir?’

‘How can you show her the Dead?’ returned Mr Rokesmith.

‘It’s only an adopted child. One I have told her of. One I’m going to give the name to!’

‘You took me by surprise,’ said Mr Rokesmith, ‘and it sounded like an omen, that you should speak of showing the Dead to one so young and blooming.’

Now, Bella suspected by this time that Mr Rokesmith admired her. Whether the knowledge (for it was rather that than suspicion) caused her to incline to him a little more, or a little less, than she had done at first; whether it rendered her eager to find out more about him, because she sought to establish reason for her distrust, or because she sought to free him from it; was as yet dark to her own heart. But at most times he occupied a great amount of her attention, and she had set her attention closely on this incident.

That he knew it as well as she, she knew as well as he, when they were left together standing on the path by the garden gate.

‘Those are worthy people, Miss Wilfer.’

‘Do you know them well?’ asked Bella.

He smiled, reproaching her, and she coloured, reproaching herself—both, with the knowledge that she had meant to entrap him into an answer not true—when he said ‘I know of them.’

‘Truly, he told us he had seen you but once.’

‘Truly, I supposed he did.’

Bella was nervous now, and would have been glad to recall her question.

‘You thought it strange that, feeling much interested in you, I should start at what sounded like a proposal to bring you into contact with the murdered man who lies in his grave. I might have known—of course in a moment should have known—that it could not have that meaning. But my interest remains.’

Re-entering the family-room in a meditative state, Miss Bella was received by the irrepressible Lavinia with:

‘There, Bella! At last I hope you have got your wishes realized—by your Boffins. You’ll be rich enough now—with your Boffins. You can have as much flirting as you like—at your Boffins. But you won’t take me to your Boffins, I can tell you—you and your Boffins too!’

‘If,’ quoth Mr George Sampson, moodily pulling his stopper out, ‘Miss Bella’s Mr Boffin comes any more of his nonsense to me, I only wish him to understand, as betwixt man and man, that he does it at his per—’ and was going to say peril; but Miss Lavinia, having no confidence in his mental powers, and feeling his oration to have no definite application to any circumstances, jerked his stopper in again, with a sharpness that made his eyes water.

And now the worthy Mrs Wilfer, having used her youngest daughter as a lay-figure for the edification of these Boffins, became bland to her, and proceeded to develop her last instance of force of character, which was still in reserve. This was, to illuminate the family with her remarkable powers as a physiognomist; powers that terrified R. W. when ever let loose, as being always fraught with gloom and evil which no inferior prescience was aware of. And this Mrs Wilfer now did, be it observed, in jealousy of these Boffins, in the very same moments when she was already reflecting how she would flourish these very same Boffins and the state they kept, over the heads of her Boffinless friends.

‘Of their manners,’ said Mrs Wilfer, ‘I say nothing. Of their appearance, I say nothing. Of the disinterestedness of their intentions towards Bella, I say nothing. But the craft, the secrecy, the dark deep underhanded plotting, written in Mrs Boffin’s countenance, make me shudder.’

As an incontrovertible proof that those baleful attributes were all there, Mrs Wilfer shuddered on the spot.






Chapter 10. 
A MARRIAGE CONTRACT

There is excitement in the Veneering mansion. The mature young lady is going to be married (powder and all) to the mature young gentleman, and she is to be married from the Veneering house, and the Veneerings are to give the breakfast. The Analytical, who objects as a matter of principle to everything that occurs on the premises, necessarily objects to the match; but his consent has been dispensed with, and a spring-van is delivering its load of greenhouse plants at the door, in order that to-morrow’s feast may be crowned with flowers.

The mature young lady is a lady of property. The mature young gentleman is a gentleman of property. He invests his property. He goes, in a condescending amateurish way, into the City, attends meetings of Directors, and has to do with traffic in Shares. As is well known to the wise in their generation, traffic in Shares is the one thing to have to do with in this world. Have no antecedents, no established character, no cultivation, no ideas, no manners; have Shares. Have Shares enough to be on Boards of Direction in capital letters, oscillate on mysterious business between London and Paris, and be great. Where does he come from? Shares. Where is he going to? Shares. What are his tastes? Shares. Has he any principles? Shares. What squeezes him into Parliament? Shares. Perhaps he never of himself achieved success in anything, never originated anything, never produced anything? Sufficient answer to all; Shares. O mighty Shares! To set those blaring images so high, and to cause us smaller vermin, as under the influence of henbane or opium, to cry out, night and day, ‘Relieve us of our money, scatter it for us, buy us and sell us, ruin us, only we beseech ye take rank among the powers of the earth, and fatten on us’!

While the Loves and Graces have been preparing this torch for Hymen, which is to be kindled to-morrow, Mr Twemlow has suffered much in his mind. It would seem that both the mature young lady and the mature young gentleman must indubitably be Veneering’s oldest friends. Wards of his, perhaps? Yet that can scarcely be, for they are older than himself. Veneering has been in their confidence throughout, and has done much to lure them to the altar. He has mentioned to Twemlow how he said to Mrs Veneering, ‘Anastatia, this must be a match.’ He has mentioned to Twemlow how he regards Sophronia Akershem (the mature young lady) in the light of a sister, and Alfred Lammle (the mature young gentleman) in the light of a brother. Twemlow has asked him whether he went to school as a junior with Alfred? He has answered, ‘Not exactly.’ Whether Sophronia was adopted by his mother? He has answered, ‘Not precisely so.’ Twemlow’s hand has gone to his forehead with a lost air.

But, two or three weeks ago, Twemlow, sitting over his newspaper, and over his dry-toast and weak tea, and over the stable-yard in Duke Street, St James’s, received a highly-perfumed cocked-hat and monogram from Mrs Veneering, entreating her dearest Mr T., if not particularly engaged that day, to come like a charming soul and make a fourth at dinner with dear Mr Podsnap, for the discussion of an interesting family topic; the last three words doubly underlined and pointed with a note of admiration. And Twemlow replying, ‘Not engaged, and more than delighted,’ goes, and this takes place:

‘My dear Twemlow,’ says Veneering, ‘your ready response to Anastatia’s unceremonious invitation is truly kind, and like an old, old friend. You know our dear friend Podsnap?’

Twemlow ought to know the dear friend Podsnap who covered him with so much confusion, and he says he does know him, and Podsnap reciprocates. Apparently, Podsnap has been so wrought upon in a short time, as to believe that he has been intimate in the house many, many, many years. In the friendliest manner he is making himself quite at home with his back to the fire, executing a statuette of the Colossus at Rhodes. Twemlow has before noticed in his feeble way how soon the Veneering guests become infected with the Veneering fiction. Not, however, that he has the least notion of its being his own case.

‘Our friends, Alfred and Sophronia,’ pursues Veneering the veiled prophet: ‘our friends Alfred and Sophronia, you will be glad to hear, my dear fellows, are going to be married. As my wife and I make it a family affair the entire direction of which we take upon ourselves, of course our first step is to communicate the fact to our family friends.’

(‘Oh!’ thinks Twemlow, with his eyes on Podsnap, ‘then there are only two of us, and he’s the other.’)

‘I did hope,’ Veneering goes on, ‘to have had Lady Tippins to meet you; but she is always in request, and is unfortunately engaged.’

(‘Oh!’ thinks Twemlow, with his eyes wandering, ‘then there are three of us, and she’s the other.’)

‘Mortimer Lightwood,’ resumes Veneering, ‘whom you both know, is out of town; but he writes, in his whimsical manner, that as we ask him to be bridegroom’s best man when the ceremony takes place, he will not refuse, though he doesn’t see what he has to do with it.’

(‘Oh!’ thinks Twemlow, with his eyes rolling, ‘then there are four of us, and he’s the other.’)

‘Boots and Brewer,’ observes Veneering, ‘whom you also know, I have not asked to-day; but I reserve them for the occasion.’

(‘Then,’ thinks Twemlow, with his eyes shut, ‘there are si—’ But here collapses and does not completely recover until dinner is over and the Analytical has been requested to withdraw.)

‘We now come,’ says Veneering, ‘to the point, the real point, of our little family consultation. Sophronia, having lost both father and mother, has no one to give her away.’

‘Give her away yourself,’ says Podsnap.

‘My dear Podsnap, no. For three reasons. Firstly, because I couldn’t take so much upon myself when I have respected family friends to remember. Secondly, because I am not so vain as to think that I look the part. Thirdly, because Anastatia is a little superstitious on the subject and feels averse to my giving away anybody until baby is old enough to be married.’

‘What would happen if he did?’ Podsnap inquires of Mrs Veneering.

‘My dear Mr Podsnap, it’s very foolish I know, but I have an instinctive presentiment that if Hamilton gave away anybody else first, he would never give away baby.’ Thus Mrs Veneering; with her open hands pressed together, and each of her eight aquiline fingers looking so very like her one aquiline nose that the bran-new jewels on them seem necessary for distinction’s sake.

‘But, my dear Podsnap,’ quoth Veneering, ‘there is a tried friend of our family who, I think and hope you will agree with me, Podsnap, is the friend on whom this agreeable duty almost naturally devolves. That friend,’ saying the words as if the company were about a hundred and fifty in number, ‘is now among us. That friend is Twemlow.’

‘Certainly!’ from Podsnap.

‘That friend,’ Veneering repeats with greater firmness, ‘is our dear good Twemlow. And I cannot sufficiently express to you, my dear Podsnap, the pleasure I feel in having this opinion of mine and Anastatia’s so readily confirmed by you, that other equally familiar and tried friend who stands in the proud position—I mean who proudly stands in the position—or I ought rather to say, who places Anastatia and myself in the proud position of himself standing in the simple position—of baby’s godfather.’ And, indeed, Veneering is much relieved in mind to find that Podsnap betrays no jealousy of Twemlow’s elevation.

So, it has come to pass that the spring-van is strewing flowers on the rosy hours and on the staircase, and that Twemlow is surveying the ground on which he is to play his distinguished part to-morrow. He has already been to the church, and taken note of the various impediments in the aisle, under the auspices of an extremely dreary widow who opens the pews, and whose left hand appears to be in a state of acute rheumatism, but is in fact voluntarily doubled up to act as a money-box.

And now Veneering shoots out of the Study wherein he is accustomed, when contemplative, to give his mind to the carving and gilding of the Pilgrims going to Canterbury, in order to show Twemlow the little flourish he has prepared for the trumpets of fashion, describing how that on the seventeenth instant, at St James’s Church, the Reverend Blank Blank, assisted by the Reverend Dash Dash, united in the bonds of matrimony, Alfred Lammle Esquire, of Sackville Street, Piccadilly, to Sophronia, only daughter of the late Horatio Akershem, Esquire, of Yorkshire. Also how the fair bride was married from the house of Hamilton Veneering, Esquire, of Stucconia, and was given away by Melvin Twemlow, Esquire, of Duke Street, St James’s, second cousin to Lord Snigsworth, of Snigsworthy Park. While perusing which composition, Twemlow makes some opaque approach to perceiving that if the Reverend Blank Blank and the Reverend Dash Dash fail, after this introduction, to become enrolled in the list of Veneering’s dearest and oldest friends, they will have none but themselves to thank for it.

After which, appears Sophronia (whom Twemlow has seen twice in his lifetime), to thank Twemlow for counterfeiting the late Horatio Akershem Esquire, broadly of Yorkshire. And after her, appears Alfred (whom Twemlow has seen once in his lifetime), to do the same and to make a pasty sort of glitter, as if he were constructed for candle-light only, and had been let out into daylight by some grand mistake. And after that, comes Mrs Veneering, in a pervadingly aquiline state of figure, and with transparent little knobs on her temper, like the little transparent knob on the bridge of her nose, ‘Worn out by worry and excitement,’ as she tells her dear Mr Twemlow, and reluctantly revived with curacoa by the Analytical. And after that, the bridesmaids begin to come by rail-road from various parts of the country, and to come like adorable recruits enlisted by a sergeant not present; for, on arriving at the Veneering depot, they are in a barrack of strangers.

So, Twemlow goes home to Duke Street, St James’s, to take a plate of mutton broth with a chop in it, and a look at the marriage-service, in order that he may cut in at the right place to-morrow; and he is low, and feels it dull over the livery stable-yard, and is distinctly aware of a dint in his heart, made by the most adorable of the adorable bridesmaids. For, the poor little harmless gentleman once had his fancy, like the rest of us, and she didn’t answer (as she often does not), and he thinks the adorable bridesmaid is like the fancy as she was then (which she is not at all), and that if the fancy had not married some one else for money, but had married him for love, he and she would have been happy (which they wouldn’t have been), and that she has a tenderness for him still (whereas her toughness is a proverb). Brooding over the fire, with his dried little head in his dried little hands, and his dried little elbows on his dried little knees, Twemlow is melancholy. ‘No Adorable to bear me company here!’ thinks he. ‘No Adorable at the club! A waste, a waste, a waste, my Twemlow!’ And so drops asleep, and has galvanic starts all over him.

Betimes next morning, that horrible old Lady Tippins (relict of the late Sir Thomas Tippins, knighted in mistake for somebody else by His Majesty King George the Third, who, while performing the ceremony, was graciously pleased to observe, ‘What, what, what? Who, who, who? Why, why, why?’) begins to be dyed and varnished for the interesting occasion. She has a reputation for giving smart accounts of things, and she must be at these people’s early, my dear, to lose nothing of the fun. Whereabout in the bonnet and drapery announced by her name, any fragment of the real woman may be concealed, is perhaps known to her maid; but you could easily buy all you see of her, in Bond Street; or you might scalp her, and peel her, and scrape her, and make two Lady Tippinses out of her, and yet not penetrate to the genuine article. She has a large gold eye-glass, has Lady Tippins, to survey the proceedings with. If she had one in each eye, it might keep that other drooping lid up, and look more uniform. But perennial youth is in her artificial flowers, and her list of lovers is full.

‘Mortimer, you wretch,’ says Lady Tippins, turning the eyeglass about and about, ‘where is your charge, the bridegroom?’

‘Give you my honour,’ returns Mortimer, ‘I don’t know, and I don’t care.’

‘Miserable! Is that the way you do your duty?’

‘Beyond an impression that he is to sit upon my knee and be seconded at some point of the solemnities, like a principal at a prizefight, I assure you I have no notion what my duty is,’ returns Mortimer.

Eugene is also in attendance, with a pervading air upon him of having presupposed the ceremony to be a funeral, and of being disappointed. The scene is the Vestry-room of St James’s Church, with a number of leathery old registers on shelves, that might be bound in Lady Tippinses.

But, hark! A carriage at the gate, and Mortimer’s man arrives, looking rather like a spurious Mephistopheles and an unacknowledged member of that gentleman’s family. Whom Lady Tippins, surveying through her eye-glass, considers a fine man, and quite a catch; and of whom Mortimer remarks, in the lowest spirits, as he approaches, ‘I believe this is my fellow, confound him!’ More carriages at the gate, and lo the rest of the characters. Whom Lady Tippins, standing on a cushion, surveying through the eye-glass, thus checks off. ‘Bride; five-and-forty if a day, thirty shillings a yard, veil fifteen pound, pocket-handkerchief a present. Bridesmaids; kept down for fear of outshining bride, consequently not girls, twelve and sixpence a yard, Veneering’s flowers, snub-nosed one rather pretty but too conscious of her stockings, bonnets three pound ten. Twemlow; blessed release for the dear man if she really was his daughter, nervous even under the pretence that she is, well he may be. Mrs Veneering; never saw such velvet, say two thousand pounds as she stands, absolute jeweller’s window, father must have been a pawnbroker, or how could these people do it? Attendant unknowns; pokey.’

Ceremony performed, register signed, Lady Tippins escorted out of sacred edifice by Veneering, carriages rolling back to Stucconia, servants with favours and flowers, Veneering’s house reached, drawing-rooms most magnificent. Here, the Podsnaps await the happy party; Mr Podsnap, with his hair-brushes made the most of; that imperial rocking-horse, Mrs Podsnap, majestically skittish. Here, too, are Boots and Brewer, and the two other Buffers; each Buffer with a flower in his button-hole, his hair curled, and his gloves buttoned on tight, apparently come prepared, if anything had happened to the bridegroom, to be married instantly. Here, too, the bride’s aunt and next relation; a widowed female of a Medusa sort, in a stoney cap, glaring petrifaction at her fellow-creatures. Here, too, the bride’s trustee; an oilcake-fed style of business-gentleman with mooney spectacles, and an object of much interest. Veneering launching himself upon this trustee as his oldest friend (which makes seven, Twemlow thought), and confidentially retiring with him into the conservatory, it is understood that Veneering is his co-trustee, and that they are arranging about the fortune. Buffers are even overheard to whisper Thir-ty Thou-sand Pou-nds! with a smack and a relish suggestive of the very finest oysters. Pokey unknowns, amazed to find how intimately they know Veneering, pluck up spirit, fold their arms, and begin to contradict him before breakfast. What time Mrs Veneering, carrying baby dressed as a bridesmaid, flits about among the company, emitting flashes of many-coloured lightning from diamonds, emeralds, and rubies.

The Analytical, in course of time achieving what he feels to be due to himself in bringing to a dignified conclusion several quarrels he has on hand with the pastrycook’s men, announces breakfast. Dining-room no less magnificent than drawing-room; tables superb; all the camels out, and all laden. Splendid cake, covered with Cupids, silver, and true-lovers’ knots. Splendid bracelet, produced by Veneering before going down, and clasped upon the arm of bride. Yet nobody seems to think much more of the Veneerings than if they were a tolerable landlord and landlady doing the thing in the way of business at so much a head. The bride and bridegroom talk and laugh apart, as has always been their manner; and the Buffers work their way through the dishes with systematic perseverance, as has always been their manner; and the pokey unknowns are exceedingly benevolent to one another in invitations to take glasses of champagne; but Mrs Podsnap, arching her mane and rocking her grandest, has a far more deferential audience than Mrs Veneering; and Podsnap all but does the honours.

Another dismal circumstance is, that Veneering, having the captivating Tippins on one side of him and the bride’s aunt on the other, finds it immensely difficult to keep the peace. For, Medusa, besides unmistakingly glaring petrifaction at the fascinating Tippins, follows every lively remark made by that dear creature, with an audible snort: which may be referable to a chronic cold in the head, but may also be referable to indignation and contempt. And this snort being regular in its reproduction, at length comes to be expected by the company, who make embarrassing pauses when it is falling due, and by waiting for it, render it more emphatic when it comes. The stoney aunt has likewise an injurious way of rejecting all dishes whereof Lady Tippins partakes: saying aloud when they are proffered to her, ‘No, no, no, not for me. Take it away!’ As with a set purpose of implying a misgiving that if nourished upon similar meats, she might come to be like that charmer, which would be a fatal consummation. Aware of her enemy, Lady Tippins tries a youthful sally or two, and tries the eye-glass; but, from the impenetrable cap and snorting armour of the stoney aunt all weapons rebound powerless.

Another objectionable circumstance is, that the pokey unknowns support each other in being unimpressible. They persist in not being frightened by the gold and silver camels, and they are banded together to defy the elaborately chased ice-pails. They even seem to unite in some vague utterance of the sentiment that the landlord and landlady will make a pretty good profit out of this, and they almost carry themselves like customers. Nor is there compensating influence in the adorable bridesmaids; for, having very little interest in the bride, and none at all in one another, those lovely beings become, each one of her own account, depreciatingly contemplative of the millinery present; while the bridegroom’s man, exhausted, in the back of his chair, appears to be improving the occasion by penitentially contemplating all the wrong he has ever done; the difference between him and his friend Eugene, being, that the latter, in the back of his chair, appears to be contemplating all the wrong he would like to do—particularly to the present company.

In which state of affairs, the usual ceremonies rather droop and flag, and the splendid cake when cut by the fair hand of the bride has but an indigestible appearance. However, all the things indispensable to be said are said, and all the things indispensable to be done are done (including Lady Tippins’s yawning, falling asleep, and waking insensible), and there is hurried preparation for the nuptial journey to the Isle of Wight, and the outer air teems with brass bands and spectators. In full sight of whom, the malignant star of the Analytical has pre-ordained that pain and ridicule shall befall him. For he, standing on the doorsteps to grace the departure, is suddenly caught a most prodigious thump on the side of his head with a heavy shoe, which a Buffer in the hall, champagne-flushed and wild of aim, has borrowed on the spur of the moment from the pastrycook’s porter, to cast after the departing pair as an auspicious omen.

So they all go up again into the gorgeous drawing-rooms—all of them flushed with breakfast, as having taken scarlatina sociably—and there the combined unknowns do malignant things with their legs to ottomans, and take as much as possible out of the splendid furniture. And so, Lady Tippins, quite undetermined whether today is the day before yesterday, or the day after to-morrow, or the week after next, fades away; and Mortimer Lightwood and Eugene fade away, and Twemlow fades away, and the stoney aunt goes away—she declines to fade, proving rock to the last—and even the unknowns are slowly strained off, and it is all over.

All over, that is to say, for the time being. But, there is another time to come, and it comes in about a fortnight, and it comes to Mr and Mrs Lammle on the sands at Shanklin, in the Isle of Wight.

Mr and Mrs Lammle have walked for some time on the Shanklin sands, and one may see by their footprints that they have not walked arm in arm, and that they have not walked in a straight track, and that they have walked in a moody humour; for, the lady has prodded little spirting holes in the damp sand before her with her parasol, and the gentleman has trailed his stick after him. As if he were of the Mephistopheles family indeed, and had walked with a drooping tail.

‘Do you mean to tell me, then, Sophronia—’

Thus he begins after a long silence, when Sophronia flashes fiercely, and turns upon him.

‘Don’t put it upon me, sir. I ask you, do you mean to tell me?’

Mr Lammle falls silent again, and they walk as before. Mrs Lammle opens her nostrils and bites her under-lip; Mr Lammle takes his gingerous whiskers in his left hand, and, bringing them together, frowns furtively at his beloved, out of a thick gingerous bush.

‘Do I mean to say!’ Mrs Lammle after a time repeats, with indignation. ‘Putting it on me! The unmanly disingenuousness!’

Mr Lammle stops, releases his whiskers, and looks at her. ‘The what?’

Mrs Lammle haughtily replies, without stopping, and without looking back. ‘The meanness.’

He is at her side again in a pace or two, and he retorts, ‘That is not what you said. You said disingenuousness.’

‘What if I did?’

‘There is no “if” in the case. You did.’

‘I did, then. And what of it?’

‘What of it?’ says Mr Lammle. ‘Have you the face to utter the word to me?’

‘The face, too!’ replied Mrs Lammle, staring at him with cold scorn. ‘Pray, how dare you, sir, utter the word to me?’

‘I never did.’

As this happens to be true, Mrs Lammle is thrown on the feminine resource of saying, ‘I don’t care what you uttered or did not utter.’

After a little more walking and a little more silence, Mr Lammle breaks the latter.

‘You shall proceed in your own way. You claim a right to ask me do I mean to tell you. Do I mean to tell you what?’

‘That you are a man of property?’

‘No.’

‘Then you married me on false pretences?’

‘So be it. Next comes what you mean to say. Do you mean to say you are a woman of property?’

‘No.’

‘Then you married me on false pretences.’

‘If you were so dull a fortune-hunter that you deceived yourself, or if you were so greedy and grasping that you were over-willing to be deceived by appearances, is it my fault, you adventurer?’ the lady demands, with great asperity.

‘I asked Veneering, and he told me you were rich.’

‘Veneering!’ with great contempt.’ And what does Veneering know about me!’

‘Was he not your trustee?’

‘No. I have no trustee, but the one you saw on the day when you fraudulently married me. And his trust is not a very difficult one, for it is only an annuity of a hundred and fifteen pounds. I think there are some odd shillings or pence, if you are very particular.’

Mr Lammle bestows a by no means loving look upon the partner of his joys and sorrows, and he mutters something; but checks himself.

‘Question for question. It is my turn again, Mrs Lammle. What made you suppose me a man of property?’

‘You made me suppose you so. Perhaps you will deny that you always presented yourself to me in that character?’

‘But you asked somebody, too. Come, Mrs Lammle, admission for admission. You asked somebody?’

‘I asked Veneering.’

‘And Veneering knew as much of me as he knew of you, or as anybody knows of him.’

After more silent walking, the bride stops short, to say in a passionate manner:

‘I never will forgive the Veneerings for this!’

‘Neither will I,’ returns the bridegroom.

With that, they walk again; she, making those angry spirts in the sand; he, dragging that dejected tail. The tide is low, and seems to have thrown them together high on the bare shore. A gull comes sweeping by their heads and flouts them. There was a golden surface on the brown cliffs but now, and behold they are only damp earth. A taunting roar comes from the sea, and the far-out rollers mount upon one another, to look at the entrapped impostors, and to join in impish and exultant gambols.

‘Do you pretend to believe,’ Mrs Lammle resumes, sternly, ‘when you talk of my marrying you for worldly advantages, that it was within the bounds of reasonable probability that I would have married you for yourself?’

‘Again there are two sides to the question, Mrs Lammle. What do you pretend to believe?’

‘So you first deceive me and then insult me!’ cries the lady, with a heaving bosom.

‘Not at all. I have originated nothing. The double-edged question was yours.’

‘Was mine!’ the bride repeats, and her parasol breaks in her angry hand.

His colour has turned to a livid white, and ominous marks have come to light about his nose, as if the finger of the very devil himself had, within the last few moments, touched it here and there. But he has repressive power, and she has none.

‘Throw it away,’ he coolly recommends as to the parasol; ‘you have made it useless; you look ridiculous with it.’

Whereupon she calls him in her rage, ‘A deliberate villain,’ and so casts the broken thing from her as that it strikes him in falling. The finger-marks are something whiter for the instant, but he walks on at her side.

She bursts into tears, declaring herself the wretchedest, the most deceived, the worst-used, of women. Then she says that if she had the courage to kill herself, she would do it. Then she calls him vile impostor. Then she asks him, why, in the disappointment of his base speculation, he does not take her life with his own hand, under the present favourable circumstances. Then she cries again. Then she is enraged again, and makes some mention of swindlers. Finally, she sits down crying on a block of stone, and is in all the known and unknown humours of her sex at once. Pending her changes, those aforesaid marks in his face have come and gone, now here now there, like white steps of a pipe on which the diabolical performer has played a tune. Also his livid lips are parted at last, as if he were breathless with running. Yet he is not.

‘Now, get up, Mrs Lammle, and let us speak reasonably.’

She sits upon her stone, and takes no heed of him.

‘Get up, I tell you.’

Raising her head, she looks contemptuously in his face, and repeats, ‘You tell me! Tell me, forsooth!’

She affects not to know that his eyes are fastened on her as she droops her head again; but her whole figure reveals that she knows it uneasily.

‘Enough of this. Come! Do you hear? Get up.’

Yielding to his hand, she rises, and they walk again; but this time with their faces turned towards their place of residence.

‘Mrs Lammle, we have both been deceiving, and we have both been deceived. We have both been biting, and we have both been bitten. In a nut-shell, there’s the state of the case.’

‘You sought me out—’

‘Tut! Let us have done with that. We know very well how it was. Why should you and I talk about it, when you and I can’t disguise it? To proceed. I am disappointed and cut a poor figure.’

‘Am I no one?’

‘Some one—and I was coming to you, if you had waited a moment. You, too, are disappointed and cut a poor figure.’

‘An injured figure!’

‘You are now cool enough, Sophronia, to see that you can’t be injured without my being equally injured; and that therefore the mere word is not to the purpose. When I look back, I wonder how I can have been such a fool as to take you to so great an extent upon trust.’

‘And when I look back—’ the bride cries, interrupting.

‘And when you look back, you wonder how you can have been—you’ll excuse the word?’

‘Most certainly, with so much reason.

‘—Such a fool as to take me to so great an extent upon trust. But the folly is committed on both sides. I cannot get rid of you; you cannot get rid of me. What follows?’

‘Shame and misery,’ the bride bitterly replies.

‘I don’t know. A mutual understanding follows, and I think it may carry us through. Here I split my discourse (give me your arm, Sophronia), into three heads, to make it shorter and plainer. Firstly, it’s enough to have been done, without the mortification of being known to have been done. So we agree to keep the fact to ourselves. You agree?’

‘If it is possible, I do.’

‘Possible! We have pretended well enough to one another. Can’t we, united, pretend to the world? Agreed. Secondly, we owe the Veneerings a grudge, and we owe all other people the grudge of wishing them to be taken in, as we ourselves have been taken in. Agreed?’

‘Yes. Agreed.’

‘We come smoothly to thirdly. You have called me an adventurer, Sophronia. So I am. In plain uncomplimentary English, so I am. So are you, my dear. So are many people. We agree to keep our own secret, and to work together in furtherance of our own schemes.’

‘What schemes?’

‘Any scheme that will bring us money. By our own schemes, I mean our joint interest. Agreed?’

She answers, after a little hesitation, ‘I suppose so. Agreed.’

‘Carried at once, you see! Now, Sophronia, only half a dozen words more. We know one another perfectly. Don’t be tempted into twitting me with the past knowledge that you have of me, because it is identical with the past knowledge that I have of you, and in twitting me, you twit yourself, and I don’t want to hear you do it. With this good understanding established between us, it is better never done. To wind up all:—You have shown temper today, Sophronia. Don’t be betrayed into doing so again, because I have a Devil of a temper myself.’

So, the happy pair, with this hopeful marriage contract thus signed, sealed, and delivered, repair homeward. If, when those infernal finger-marks were on the white and breathless countenance of Alfred Lammle, Esquire, they denoted that he conceived the purpose of subduing his dear wife Mrs Alfred Lammle, by at once divesting her of any lingering reality or pretence of self-respect, the purpose would seem to have been presently executed. The mature young lady has mighty little need of powder, now, for her downcast face, as he escorts her in the light of the setting sun to their abode of bliss.