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Our Mutual Friend

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Chapter 11. 
PODSNAPPERY

Mr Podsnap was well to do, and stood very high in Mr Podsnap’s opinion. Beginning with a good inheritance, he had married a good inheritance, and had thriven exceedingly in the Marine Insurance way, and was quite satisfied. He never could make out why everybody was not quite satisfied, and he felt conscious that he set a brilliant social example in being particularly well satisfied with most things, and, above all other things, with himself.

Thus happily acquainted with his own merit and importance, Mr Podsnap settled that whatever he put behind him he put out of existence. There was a dignified conclusiveness—not to add a grand convenience—in this way of getting rid of disagreeables which had done much towards establishing Mr Podsnap in his lofty place in Mr Podsnap’s satisfaction. ‘I don’t want to know about it; I don’t choose to discuss it; I don’t admit it!’ Mr Podsnap had even acquired a peculiar flourish of his right arm in often clearing the world of its most difficult problems, by sweeping them behind him (and consequently sheer away) with those words and a flushed face. For they affronted him.

Mr Podsnap’s world was not a very large world, morally; no, nor even geographically: seeing that although his business was sustained upon commerce with other countries, he considered other countries, with that important reservation, a mistake, and of their manners and customs would conclusively observe, ‘Not English!’ when, presto! with a flourish of the arm, and a flush of the face, they were swept away. Elsewise, the world got up at eight, shaved close at a quarter-past, breakfasted at nine, went to the City at ten, came home at half-past five, and dined at seven. Mr Podsnap’s notions of the Arts in their integrity might have been stated thus. Literature; large print, respectfully descriptive of getting up at eight, shaving close at a quarter past, breakfasting at nine, going to the City at ten, coming home at half-past five, and dining at seven. Painting and Sculpture; models and portraits representing Professors of getting up at eight, shaving close at a quarter past, breakfasting at nine, going to the City at ten, coming home at half-past five, and dining at seven. Music; a respectable performance (without variations) on stringed and wind instruments, sedately expressive of getting up at eight, shaving close at a quarter past, breakfasting at nine, going to the City at ten, coming home at half-past five, and dining at seven. Nothing else to be permitted to those same vagrants the Arts, on pain of excommunication. Nothing else To Be—anywhere!

As a so eminently respectable man, Mr Podsnap was sensible of its being required of him to take Providence under his protection. Consequently he always knew exactly what Providence meant. Inferior and less respectable men might fall short of that mark, but Mr Podsnap was always up to it. And it was very remarkable (and must have been very comfortable) that what Providence meant, was invariably what Mr Podsnap meant.

These may be said to have been the articles of a faith and school which the present chapter takes the liberty of calling, after its representative man, Podsnappery. They were confined within close bounds, as Mr Podsnap’s own head was confined by his shirt-collar; and they were enunciated with a sounding pomp that smacked of the creaking of Mr Podsnap’s own boots.

There was a Miss Podsnap. And this young rocking-horse was being trained in her mother’s art of prancing in a stately manner without ever getting on. But the high parental action was not yet imparted to her, and in truth she was but an undersized damsel, with high shoulders, low spirits, chilled elbows, and a rasped surface of nose, who seemed to take occasional frosty peeps out of childhood into womanhood, and to shrink back again, overcome by her mother’s head-dress and her father from head to foot—crushed by the mere dead-weight of Podsnappery.

A certain institution in Mr Podsnap’s mind which he called ‘the young person’ may be considered to have been embodied in Miss Podsnap, his daughter. It was an inconvenient and exacting institution, as requiring everything in the universe to be filed down and fitted to it. The question about everything was, would it bring a blush into the cheek of the young person? And the inconvenience of the young person was, that, according to Mr Podsnap, she seemed always liable to burst into blushes when there was no need at all. There appeared to be no line of demarcation between the young person’s excessive innocence, and another person’s guiltiest knowledge. Take Mr Podsnap’s word for it, and the soberest tints of drab, white, lilac, and grey, were all flaming red to this troublesome Bull of a young person.

The Podsnaps lived in a shady angle adjoining Portman Square. They were a kind of people certain to dwell in the shade, wherever they dwelt. Miss Podsnap’s life had been, from her first appearance on this planet, altogether of a shady order; for, Mr Podsnap’s young person was likely to get little good out of association with other young persons, and had therefore been restricted to companionship with not very congenial older persons, and with massive furniture. Miss Podsnap’s early views of life being principally derived from the reflections of it in her father’s boots, and in the walnut and rosewood tables of the dim drawing-rooms, and in their swarthy giants of looking-glasses, were of a sombre cast; and it was not wonderful that now, when she was on most days solemnly tooled through the Park by the side of her mother in a great tall custard-coloured phaeton, she showed above the apron of that vehicle like a dejected young person sitting up in bed to take a startled look at things in general, and very strongly desiring to get her head under the counterpane again.

Said Mr Podsnap to Mrs Podsnap, ‘Georgiana is almost eighteen.’

Said Mrs Podsnap to Mr Podsnap, assenting, ‘Almost eighteen.’

Said Mr Podsnap then to Mrs Podsnap, ‘Really I think we should have some people on Georgiana’s birthday.’

Said Mrs Podsnap then to Mr Podsnap, ‘Which will enable us to clear off all those people who are due.’

So it came to pass that Mr and Mrs Podsnap requested the honour of the company of seventeen friends of their souls at dinner; and that they substituted other friends of their souls for such of the seventeen original friends of their souls as deeply regretted that a prior engagement prevented their having the honour of dining with Mr and Mrs Podsnap, in pursuance of their kind invitation; and that Mrs Podsnap said of all these inconsolable personages, as she checked them off with a pencil in her list, ‘Asked, at any rate, and got rid of;’ and that they successfully disposed of a good many friends of their souls in this way, and felt their consciences much lightened.

There were still other friends of their souls who were not entitled to be asked to dinner, but had a claim to be invited to come and take a haunch of mutton vapour-bath at half-past nine. For the clearing off of these worthies, Mrs Podsnap added a small and early evening to the dinner, and looked in at the music-shop to bespeak a well-conducted automaton to come and play quadrilles for a carpet dance.

Mr and Mrs Veneering, and Mr and Mrs Veneering’s bran-new bride and bridegroom, were of the dinner company; but the Podsnap establishment had nothing else in common with the Veneerings. Mr Podsnap could tolerate taste in a mushroom man who stood in need of that sort of thing, but was far above it himself. Hideous solidity was the characteristic of the Podsnap plate. Everything was made to look as heavy as it could, and to take up as much room as possible. Everything said boastfully, ‘Here you have as much of me in my ugliness as if I were only lead; but I am so many ounces of precious metal worth so much an ounce;—wouldn’t you like to melt me down?’ A corpulent straddling epergne, blotched all over as if it had broken out in an eruption rather than been ornamented, delivered this address from an unsightly silver platform in the centre of the table. Four silver wine-coolers, each furnished with four staring heads, each head obtrusively carrying a big silver ring in each of its ears, conveyed the sentiment up and down the table, and handed it on to the pot-bellied silver salt-cellars. All the big silver spoons and forks widened the mouths of the company expressly for the purpose of thrusting the sentiment down their throats with every morsel they ate.

The majority of the guests were like the plate, and included several heavy articles weighing ever so much. But there was a foreign gentleman among them: whom Mr Podsnap had invited after much debate with himself—believing the whole European continent to be in mortal alliance against the young person—and there was a droll disposition, not only on the part of Mr Podsnap but of everybody else, to treat him as if he were a child who was hard of hearing.

As a delicate concession to this unfortunately-born foreigner, Mr Podsnap, in receiving him, had presented his wife as ‘Madame Podsnap;’ also his daughter as ‘Mademoiselle Podsnap,’ with some inclination to add ‘ma fille,’ in which bold venture, however, he checked himself. The Veneerings being at that time the only other arrivals, he had added (in a condescendingly explanatory manner), ‘Monsieur Vey-nair-reeng,’ and had then subsided into English.

‘How Do You Like London?’ Mr Podsnap now inquired from his station of host, as if he were administering something in the nature of a powder or potion to the deaf child; ‘London, Londres, London?’

The foreign gentleman admired it.

‘You find it Very Large?’ said Mr Podsnap, spaciously.

The foreign gentleman found it very large.

‘And Very Rich?’

The foreign gentleman found it, without doubt, enormement riche.

‘Enormously Rich, We say,’ returned Mr Podsnap, in a condescending manner. ‘Our English adverbs do Not terminate in Mong, and We Pronounce the “ch” as if there were a “t” before it. We say Ritch.’

‘Reetch,’ remarked the foreign gentleman.

‘And Do You Find, Sir,’ pursued Mr Podsnap, with dignity, ‘Many Evidences that Strike You, of our British Constitution in the Streets Of The World’s Metropolis, London, Londres, London?’

The foreign gentleman begged to be pardoned, but did not altogether understand.

‘The Constitution Britannique,’ Mr Podsnap explained, as if he were teaching in an infant school. ‘We Say British, But You Say Britannique, You Know’ (forgivingly, as if that were not his fault). ‘The Constitution, Sir.’

The foreign gentleman said, ‘Mais, yees; I know eem.’

A youngish sallowish gentleman in spectacles, with a lumpy forehead, seated in a supplementary chair at a corner of the table, here caused a profound sensation by saying, in a raised voice, ‘Esker,’ and then stopping dead.

‘Mais oui,’ said the foreign gentleman, turning towards him. ‘Est-ce que? Quoi donc?’

But the gentleman with the lumpy forehead having for the time delivered himself of all that he found behind his lumps, spake for the time no more.

‘I Was Inquiring,’ said Mr Podsnap, resuming the thread of his discourse, ‘Whether You Have Observed in our Streets as We should say, Upon our Pavvy as You would say, any Tokens—’

The foreign gentleman, with patient courtesy entreated pardon; ‘But what was tokenz?’

‘Marks,’ said Mr Podsnap; ‘Signs, you know, Appearances—Traces.’

‘Ah! Of a Orse?’ inquired the foreign gentleman.

‘We call it Horse,’ said Mr Podsnap, with forbearance. ‘In England, Angleterre, England, We Aspirate the “H,” and We Say “Horse.” Only our Lower Classes Say “Orse!”’

‘Pardon,’ said the foreign gentleman; ‘I am alwiz wrong!’

‘Our Language,’ said Mr Podsnap, with a gracious consciousness of being always right, ‘is Difficult. Ours is a Copious Language, and Trying to Strangers. I will not Pursue my Question.’

But the lumpy gentleman, unwilling to give it up, again madly said, ‘Esker,’ and again spake no more.

‘It merely referred,’ Mr Podsnap explained, with a sense of meritorious proprietorship, ‘to Our Constitution, Sir. We Englishmen are Very Proud of our Constitution, Sir. It Was Bestowed Upon Us By Providence. No Other Country is so Favoured as This Country.’

‘And ozer countries?—’ the foreign gentleman was beginning, when Mr Podsnap put him right again.

‘We do not say Ozer; we say Other: the letters are “T” and “H;” You say Tay and Aish, You Know; (still with clemency). The sound is “th”—“th!”’

‘And other countries,’ said the foreign gentleman. ‘They do how?’

‘They do, Sir,’ returned Mr Podsnap, gravely shaking his head; ‘they do—I am sorry to be obliged to say it—as they do.’

‘It was a little particular of Providence,’ said the foreign gentleman, laughing; ‘for the frontier is not large.’

‘Undoubtedly,’ assented Mr Podsnap; ‘But So it is. It was the Charter of the Land. This Island was Blest, Sir, to the Direct Exclusion of such Other Countries as—as there may happen to be. And if we were all Englishmen present, I would say,’ added Mr Podsnap, looking round upon his compatriots, and sounding solemnly with his theme, ‘that there is in the Englishman a combination of qualities, a modesty, an independence, a responsibility, a repose, combined with an absence of everything calculated to call a blush into the cheek of a young person, which one would seek in vain among the Nations of the Earth.’

Having delivered this little summary, Mr Podsnap’s face flushed, as he thought of the remote possibility of its being at all qualified by any prejudiced citizen of any other country; and, with his favourite right-arm flourish, he put the rest of Europe and the whole of Asia, Africa, and America nowhere.

The audience were much edified by this passage of words; and Mr Podsnap, feeling that he was in rather remarkable force to-day, became smiling and conversational.

‘Has anything more been heard, Veneering,’ he inquired, ‘of the lucky legatee?’

‘Nothing more,’ returned Veneering, ‘than that he has come into possession of the property. I am told people now call him The Golden Dustman. I mentioned to you some time ago, I think, that the young lady whose intended husband was murdered is daughter to a clerk of mine?’

‘Yes, you told me that,’ said Podsnap; ‘and by-the-bye, I wish you would tell it again here, for it’s a curious coincidence—curious that the first news of the discovery should have been brought straight to your table (when I was there), and curious that one of your people should have been so nearly interested in it. Just relate that, will you?’

Veneering was more than ready to do it, for he had prospered exceedingly upon the Harmon Murder, and had turned the social distinction it conferred upon him to the account of making several dozen of bran-new bosom-friends. Indeed, such another lucky hit would almost have set him up in that way to his satisfaction. So, addressing himself to the most desirable of his neighbours, while Mrs Veneering secured the next most desirable, he plunged into the case, and emerged from it twenty minutes afterwards with a Bank Director in his arms. In the mean time, Mrs Veneering had dived into the same waters for a wealthy Ship-Broker, and had brought him up, safe and sound, by the hair. Then Mrs Veneering had to relate, to a larger circle, how she had been to see the girl, and how she was really pretty, and (considering her station) presentable. And this she did with such a successful display of her eight aquiline fingers and their encircling jewels, that she happily laid hold of a drifting General Officer, his wife and daughter, and not only restored their animation which had become suspended, but made them lively friends within an hour.

Although Mr Podsnap would in a general way have highly disapproved of Bodies in rivers as ineligible topics with reference to the cheek of the young person, he had, as one may say, a share in this affair which made him a part proprietor. As its returns were immediate, too, in the way of restraining the company from speechless contemplation of the wine-coolers, it paid, and he was satisfied.

And now the haunch of mutton vapour-bath having received a gamey infusion, and a few last touches of sweets and coffee, was quite ready, and the bathers came; but not before the discreet automaton had got behind the bars of the piano music-desk, and there presented the appearance of a captive languishing in a rose-wood jail. And who now so pleasant or so well assorted as Mr and Mrs Alfred Lammle, he all sparkle, she all gracious contentment, both at occasional intervals exchanging looks like partners at cards who played a game against All England.

There was not much youth among the bathers, but there was no youth (the young person always excepted) in the articles of Podsnappery. Bald bathers folded their arms and talked to Mr Podsnap on the hearthrug; sleek-whiskered bathers, with hats in their hands, lunged at Mrs Podsnap and retreated; prowling bathers, went about looking into ornamental boxes and bowls as if they had suspicions of larceny on the part of the Podsnaps, and expected to find something they had lost at the bottom; bathers of the gentler sex sat silently comparing ivory shoulders. All this time and always, poor little Miss Podsnap, whose tiny efforts (if she had made any) were swallowed up in the magnificence of her mother’s rocking, kept herself as much out of sight and mind as she could, and appeared to be counting on many dismal returns of the day. It was somehow understood, as a secret article in the state proprieties of Podsnappery that nothing must be said about the day. Consequently this young damsel’s nativity was hushed up and looked over, as if it were agreed on all hands that it would have been better that she had never been born.

The Lammles were so fond of the dear Veneerings that they could not for some time detach themselves from those excellent friends; but at length, either a very open smile on Mr Lammle’s part, or a very secret elevation of one of his gingerous eyebrows—certainly the one or the other—seemed to say to Mrs Lammle, ‘Why don’t you play?’ And so, looking about her, she saw Miss Podsnap, and seeming to say responsively, ‘That card?’ and to be answered, ‘Yes,’ went and sat beside Miss Podsnap.

Mrs Lammle was overjoyed to escape into a corner for a little quiet talk.

It promised to be a very quiet talk, for Miss Podsnap replied in a flutter, ‘Oh! Indeed, it’s very kind of you, but I am afraid I don’t talk.’

‘Let us make a beginning,’ said the insinuating Mrs Lammle, with her best smile.

‘Oh! I am afraid you’ll find me very dull. But Ma talks!’

That was plainly to be seen, for Ma was talking then at her usual canter, with arched head and mane, opened eyes and nostrils.

‘Fond of reading perhaps?’

‘Yes. At least I—don’t mind that so much,’ returned Miss Podsnap.

‘M-m-m-m-music.’ So insinuating was Mrs Lammle that she got half a dozen ms into the word before she got it out.

‘I haven’t nerve to play even if I could. Ma plays.’

(At exactly the same canter, and with a certain flourishing appearance of doing something, Ma did, in fact, occasionally take a rock upon the instrument.)

‘Of course you like dancing?’

‘Oh no, I don’t,’ said Miss Podsnap.

‘No? With your youth and attractions? Truly, my dear, you surprise me!’

‘I can’t say,’ observed Miss Podsnap, after hesitating considerably, and stealing several timid looks at Mrs Lammle’s carefully arranged face, ‘how I might have liked it if I had been a—you won’t mention it, will you?’

‘My dear! Never!’

‘No, I am sure you won’t. I can’t say then how I should have liked it, if I had been a chimney-sweep on May-day.’

‘Gracious!’ was the exclamation which amazement elicited from Mrs Lammle.

‘There! I knew you’d wonder. But you won’t mention it, will you?’

‘Upon my word, my love,’ said Mrs Lammle, ‘you make me ten times more desirous, now I talk to you, to know you well than I was when I sat over yonder looking at you. How I wish we could be real friends! Try me as a real friend. Come! Don’t fancy me a frumpy old married woman, my dear; I was married but the other day, you know; I am dressed as a bride now, you see. About the chimney-sweeps?’

‘Hush! Ma’ll hear.’

‘She can’t hear from where she sits.’

‘Don’t you be too sure of that,’ said Miss Podsnap, in a lower voice. ‘Well, what I mean is, that they seem to enjoy it.’

‘And that perhaps you would have enjoyed it, if you had been one of them?’

Miss Podsnap nodded significantly.

‘Then you don’t enjoy it now?’

‘How is it possible?’ said Miss Podsnap. ‘Oh it is such a dreadful thing! If I was wicked enough—and strong enough—to kill anybody, it should be my partner.’

This was such an entirely new view of the Terpsichorean art as socially practised, that Mrs Lammle looked at her young friend in some astonishment. Her young friend sat nervously twiddling her fingers in a pinioned attitude, as if she were trying to hide her elbows. But this latter Utopian object (in short sleeves) always appeared to be the great inoffensive aim of her existence.

‘It sounds horrid, don’t it?’ said Miss Podsnap, with a penitential face.

Mrs Lammle, not very well knowing what to answer, resolved herself into a look of smiling encouragement.

‘But it is, and it always has been,’ pursued Miss Podsnap, ‘such a trial to me! I so dread being awful. And it is so awful! No one knows what I suffered at Madame Sauteuse’s, where I learnt to dance and make presentation-curtseys, and other dreadful things—or at least where they tried to teach me. Ma can do it.’

‘At any rate, my love,’ said Mrs Lammle, soothingly, ‘that’s over.’

‘Yes, it’s over,’ returned Miss Podsnap, ‘but there’s nothing gained by that. It’s worse here, than at Madame Sauteuse’s. Ma was there, and Ma’s here; but Pa wasn’t there, and company wasn’t there, and there were not real partners there. Oh there’s Ma speaking to the man at the piano! Oh there’s Ma going up to somebody! Oh I know she’s going to bring him to me! Oh please don’t, please don’t, please don’t! Oh keep away, keep away, keep away!’ These pious ejaculations Miss Podsnap uttered with her eyes closed, and her head leaning back against the wall.

But the Ogre advanced under the pilotage of Ma, and Ma said, ‘Georgiana, Mr Grompus,’ and the Ogre clutched his victim and bore her off to his castle in the top couple. Then the discreet automaton who had surveyed his ground, played a blossomless tuneless ‘set,’ and sixteen disciples of Podsnappery went through the figures of - 1, Getting up at eight and shaving close at a quarter past - 2, Breakfasting at nine - 3, Going to the City at ten - 4, Coming home at half-past five - 5, Dining at seven, and the grand chain.

While these solemnities were in progress, Mr Alfred Lammle (most loving of husbands) approached the chair of Mrs Alfred Lammle (most loving of wives), and bending over the back of it, trifled for some few seconds with Mrs Lammle’s bracelet. Slightly in contrast with this brief airy toying, one might have noticed a certain dark attention in Mrs Lammle’s face as she said some words with her eyes on Mr Lammle’s waistcoat, and seemed in return to receive some lesson. But it was all done as a breath passes from a mirror.

And now, the grand chain riveted to the last link, the discreet automaton ceased, and the sixteen, two and two, took a walk among the furniture. And herein the unconsciousness of the Ogre Grompus was pleasantly conspicuous; for, that complacent monster, believing that he was giving Miss Podsnap a treat, prolonged to the utmost stretch of possibility a peripatetic account of an archery meeting; while his victim, heading the procession of sixteen as it slowly circled about, like a revolving funeral, never raised her eyes except once to steal a glance at Mrs Lammle, expressive of intense despair.

At length the procession was dissolved by the violent arrival of a nutmeg, before which the drawing-room door bounced open as if it were a cannon-ball; and while that fragrant article, dispersed through several glasses of coloured warm water, was going the round of society, Miss Podsnap returned to her seat by her new friend.

‘Oh my goodness,’ said Miss Podsnap. ‘that’s over! I hope you didn’t look at me.’

‘My dear, why not?’

‘Oh I know all about myself,’ said Miss Podsnap.

‘I’ll tell you something I know about you, my dear,’ returned Mrs Lammle in her winning way, ‘and that is, you are most unnecessarily shy.’

‘Ma ain’t,’ said Miss Podsnap. ‘—I detest you! Go along!’ This shot was levelled under her breath at the gallant Grompus for bestowing an insinuating smile upon her in passing.

‘Pardon me if I scarcely see, my dear Miss Podsnap,’ Mrs Lammle was beginning when the young lady interposed.

‘If we are going to be real friends (and I suppose we are, for you are the only person who ever proposed it) don’t let us be awful. It’s awful enough to be Miss Podsnap, without being called so. Call me Georgiana.’

‘Dearest Georgiana,’ Mrs Lammle began again.

‘Thank you,’ said Miss Podsnap.

‘Dearest Georgiana, pardon me if I scarcely see, my love, why your mamma’s not being shy, is a reason why you should be.’

‘Don’t you really see that?’ asked Miss Podsnap, plucking at her fingers in a troubled manner, and furtively casting her eyes now on Mrs Lammle, now on the ground. ‘Then perhaps it isn’t?’

‘My dearest Georgiana, you defer much too readily to my poor opinion. Indeed it is not even an opinion, darling, for it is only a confession of my dullness.’

‘Oh you are not dull,’ returned Miss Podsnap. ‘I am dull, but you couldn’t have made me talk if you were.’

Some little touch of conscience answering this perception of her having gained a purpose, called bloom enough into Mrs Lammle’s face to make it look brighter as she sat smiling her best smile on her dear Georgiana, and shaking her head with an affectionate playfulness. Not that it meant anything, but that Georgiana seemed to like it.

‘What I mean is,’ pursued Georgiana, ‘that Ma being so endowed with awfulness, and Pa being so endowed with awfulness, and there being so much awfulness everywhere—I mean, at least, everywhere where I am—perhaps it makes me who am so deficient in awfulness, and frightened at it—I say it very badly—I don’t know whether you can understand what I mean?’

‘Perfectly, dearest Georgiana!’ Mrs Lammle was proceeding with every reassuring wile, when the head of that young lady suddenly went back against the wall again and her eyes closed.

‘Oh there’s Ma being awful with somebody with a glass in his eye! Oh I know she’s going to bring him here! Oh don’t bring him, don’t bring him! Oh he’ll be my partner with his glass in his eye! Oh what shall I do!’ This time Georgiana accompanied her ejaculations with taps of her feet upon the floor, and was altogether in quite a desperate condition. But, there was no escape from the majestic Mrs Podsnap’s production of an ambling stranger, with one eye screwed up into extinction and the other framed and glazed, who, having looked down out of that organ, as if he descried Miss Podsnap at the bottom of some perpendicular shaft, brought her to the surface, and ambled off with her. And then the captive at the piano played another ‘set,’ expressive of his mournful aspirations after freedom, and other sixteen went through the former melancholy motions, and the ambler took Miss Podsnap for a furniture walk, as if he had struck out an entirely original conception.

In the mean time a stray personage of a meek demeanour, who had wandered to the hearthrug and got among the heads of tribes assembled there in conference with Mr Podsnap, eliminated Mr Podsnap’s flush and flourish by a highly unpolite remark; no less than a reference to the circumstance that some half-dozen people had lately died in the streets, of starvation. It was clearly ill-timed after dinner. It was not adapted to the cheek of the young person. It was not in good taste.

‘I don’t believe it,’ said Mr Podsnap, putting it behind him.

The meek man was afraid we must take it as proved, because there were the Inquests and the Registrar’s returns.

‘Then it was their own fault,’ said Mr Podsnap.

Veneering and other elders of tribes commended this way out of it. At once a short cut and a broad road.

The man of meek demeanour intimated that truly it would seem from the facts, as if starvation had been forced upon the culprits in question—as if, in their wretched manner, they had made their weak protests against it—as if they would have taken the liberty of staving it off if they could—as if they would rather not have been starved upon the whole, if perfectly agreeable to all parties.

‘There is not,’ said Mr Podsnap, flushing angrily, ‘there is not a country in the world, sir, where so noble a provision is made for the poor as in this country.’

The meek man was quite willing to concede that, but perhaps it rendered the matter even worse, as showing that there must be something appallingly wrong somewhere.

‘Where?’ said Mr Podsnap.

The meek man hinted Wouldn’t it be well to try, very seriously, to find out where?

‘Ah!’ said Mr Podsnap. ‘Easy to say somewhere; not so easy to say where! But I see what you are driving at. I knew it from the first. Centralization. No. Never with my consent. Not English.’

An approving murmur arose from the heads of tribes; as saying, ‘There you have him! Hold him!’

He was not aware (the meek man submitted of himself) that he was driving at any ization. He had no favourite ization that he knew of. But he certainly was more staggered by these terrible occurrences than he was by names, of howsoever so many syllables. Might he ask, was dying of destitution and neglect necessarily English?

‘You know what the population of London is, I suppose,’ said Mr Podsnap.

The meek man supposed he did, but supposed that had absolutely nothing to do with it, if its laws were well administered.

‘And you know; at least I hope you know;’ said Mr Podsnap, with severity, ‘that Providence has declared that you shall have the poor always with you?’

The meek man also hoped he knew that.

‘I am glad to hear it,’ said Mr Podsnap with a portentous air. ‘I am glad to hear it. It will render you cautious how you fly in the face of Providence.’

In reference to that absurd and irreverent conventional phrase, the meek man said, for which Mr Podsnap was not responsible, he the meek man had no fear of doing anything so impossible; but—

But Mr Podsnap felt that the time had come for flushing and flourishing this meek man down for good. So he said:

‘I must decline to pursue this painful discussion. It is not pleasant to my feelings; it is repugnant to my feelings. I have said that I do not admit these things. I have also said that if they do occur (not that I admit it), the fault lies with the sufferers themselves. It is not for me’—Mr Podsnap pointed ‘me’ forcibly, as adding by implication though it may be all very well for you—‘it is not for me to impugn the workings of Providence. I know better than that, I trust, and I have mentioned what the intentions of Providence are. Besides,’ said Mr Podsnap, flushing high up among his hair-brushes, with a strong consciousness of personal affront, ‘the subject is a very disagreeable one. I will go so far as to say it is an odious one. It is not one to be introduced among our wives and young persons, and I—’ He finished with that flourish of his arm which added more expressively than any words, And I remove it from the face of the earth.

Simultaneously with this quenching of the meek man’s ineffectual fire; Georgiana having left the ambler up a lane of sofa, in a No Thoroughfare of back drawing-room, to find his own way out, came back to Mrs Lammle. And who should be with Mrs Lammle, but Mr Lammle. So fond of her!

‘Alfred, my love, here is my friend. Georgiana, dearest girl, you must like my husband next to me.’

Mr Lammle was proud to be so soon distinguished by this special commendation to Miss Podsnap’s favour. But if Mr Lammle were prone to be jealous of his dear Sophronia’s friendships, he would be jealous of her feeling towards Miss Podsnap.

‘Say Georgiana, darling,’ interposed his wife.

‘Towards—shall I?—Georgiana.’ Mr Lammle uttered the name, with a delicate curve of his right hand, from his lips outward. ‘For never have I known Sophronia (who is not apt to take sudden likings) so attracted and so captivated as she is by—shall I once more?—Georgiana.’

The object of this homage sat uneasily enough in receipt of it, and then said, turning to Mrs Lammle, much embarrassed:

‘I wonder what you like me for! I am sure I can’t think.’

‘Dearest Georgiana, for yourself. For your difference from all around you.’

‘Well! That may be. For I think I like you for your difference from all around me,’ said Georgiana with a smile of relief.

‘We must be going with the rest,’ observed Mrs Lammle, rising with a show of unwillingness, amidst a general dispersal. ‘We are real friends, Georgiana dear?’

‘Real.’

‘Good night, dear girl!’

She had established an attraction over the shrinking nature upon which her smiling eyes were fixed, for Georgiana held her hand while she answered in a secret and half-frightened tone:

‘Don’t forget me when you are gone away. And come again soon. Good night!’

Charming to see Mr and Mrs Lammle taking leave so gracefully, and going down the stairs so lovingly and sweetly. Not quite so charming to see their smiling faces fall and brood as they dropped moodily into separate corners of their little carriage. But to be sure that was a sight behind the scenes, which nobody saw, and which nobody was meant to see.

Certain big, heavy vehicles, built on the model of the Podsnap plate, took away the heavy articles of guests weighing ever so much; and the less valuable articles got away after their various manners; and the Podsnap plate was put to bed. As Mr Podsnap stood with his back to the drawing-room fire, pulling up his shirtcollar, like a veritable cock of the walk literally pluming himself in the midst of his possessions, nothing would have astonished him more than an intimation that Miss Podsnap, or any other young person properly born and bred, could not be exactly put away like the plate, brought out like the plate, polished like the plate, counted, weighed, and valued like the plate. That such a young person could possibly have a morbid vacancy in the heart for anything younger than the plate, or less monotonous than the plate; or that such a young person’s thoughts could try to scale the region bounded on the north, south, east, and west, by the plate; was a monstrous imagination which he would on the spot have flourished into space. This perhaps in some sort arose from Mr Podsnap’s blushing young person being, so to speak, all cheek; whereas there is a possibility that there may be young persons of a rather more complex organization.

If Mr Podsnap, pulling up his shirt-collar, could only have heard himself called ‘that fellow’ in a certain short dialogue, which passed between Mr and Mrs Lammle in their opposite corners of their little carriage, rolling home!

‘Sophronia, are you awake?’

‘Am I likely to be asleep, sir?’

‘Very likely, I should think, after that fellow’s company. Attend to what I am going to say.’

‘I have attended to what you have already said, have I not? What else have I been doing all to-night.’

‘Attend, I tell you,’ (in a raised voice) ‘to what I am going to say. Keep close to that idiot girl. Keep her under your thumb. You have her fast, and you are not to let her go. Do you hear?’

‘I hear you.’

‘I foresee there is money to be made out of this, besides taking that fellow down a peg. We owe each other money, you know.’

Mrs Lammle winced a little at the reminder, but only enough to shake her scents and essences anew into the atmosphere of the little carriage, as she settled herself afresh in her own dark corner.






Chapter 12. 
THE SWEAT OF AN HONEST MAN’S BROW

Mr Mortimer Lightwood and Mr Eugene Wrayburn took a coffee-house dinner together in Mr Lightwood’s office. They had newly agreed to set up a joint establishment together. They had taken a bachelor cottage near Hampton, on the brink of the Thames, with a lawn, and a boat-house; and all things fitting, and were to float with the stream through the summer and the Long Vacation.

It was not summer yet, but spring; and it was not gentle spring ethereally mild, as in Thomson’s Seasons, but nipping spring with an easterly wind, as in Johnson’s, Jackson’s, Dickson’s, Smith’s, and Jones’s Seasons. The grating wind sawed rather than blew; and as it sawed, the sawdust whirled about the sawpit. Every street was a sawpit, and there were no top-sawyers; every passenger was an under-sawyer, with the sawdust blinding him and choking him.

That mysterious paper currency which circulates in London when the wind blows, gyrated here and there and everywhere. Whence can it come, whither can it go? It hangs on every bush, flutters in every tree, is caught flying by the electric wires, haunts every enclosure, drinks at every pump, cowers at every grating, shudders upon every plot of grass, seeks rest in vain behind the legions of iron rails. In Paris, where nothing is wasted, costly and luxurious city though it be, but where wonderful human ants creep out of holes and pick up every scrap, there is no such thing. There, it blows nothing but dust. There, sharp eyes and sharp stomachs reap even the east wind, and get something out of it.

The wind sawed, and the sawdust whirled. The shrubs wrung their many hands, bemoaning that they had been over-persuaded by the sun to bud; the young leaves pined; the sparrows repented of their early marriages, like men and women; the colours of the rainbow were discernible, not in floral spring, but in the faces of the people whom it nibbled and pinched. And ever the wind sawed, and the sawdust whirled.

When the spring evenings are too long and light to shut out, and such weather is rife, the city which Mr Podsnap so explanatorily called London, Londres, London, is at its worst. Such a black shrill city, combining the qualities of a smoky house and a scolding wife; such a gritty city; such a hopeless city, with no rent in the leaden canopy of its sky; such a beleaguered city, invested by the great Marsh Forces of Essex and Kent. So the two old schoolfellows felt it to be, as, their dinner done, they turned towards the fire to smoke. Young Blight was gone, the coffee-house waiter was gone, the plates and dishes were gone, the wine was going—but not in the same direction.

‘The wind sounds up here,’ quoth Eugene, stirring the fire, ‘as if we were keeping a lighthouse. I wish we were.’

‘Don’t you think it would bore us?’ Lightwood asked.

‘Not more than any other place. And there would be no Circuit to go. But that’s a selfish consideration, personal to me.’

‘And no clients to come,’ added Lightwood. ‘Not that that’s a selfish consideration at all personal to me.’

‘If we were on an isolated rock in a stormy sea,’ said Eugene, smoking with his eyes on the fire, ‘Lady Tippins couldn’t put off to visit us, or, better still, might put off and get swamped. People couldn’t ask one to wedding breakfasts. There would be no Precedents to hammer at, except the plain-sailing Precedent of keeping the light up. It would be exciting to look out for wrecks.’

‘But otherwise,’ suggested Lightwood, ‘there might be a degree of sameness in the life.’

‘I have thought of that also,’ said Eugene, as if he really had been considering the subject in its various bearings with an eye to the business; ‘but it would be a defined and limited monotony. It would not extend beyond two people. Now, it’s a question with me, Mortimer, whether a monotony defined with that precision and limited to that extent, might not be more endurable than the unlimited monotony of one’s fellow-creatures.’

As Lightwood laughed and passed the wine, he remarked, ‘We shall have an opportunity, in our boating summer, of trying the question.’

‘An imperfect one,’ Eugene acquiesced, with a sigh, ‘but so we shall. I hope we may not prove too much for one another.’

‘Now, regarding your respected father,’ said Lightwood, bringing him to a subject they had expressly appointed to discuss: always the most slippery eel of eels of subjects to lay hold of.

‘Yes, regarding my respected father,’ assented Eugene, settling himself in his arm-chair. ‘I would rather have approached my respected father by candlelight, as a theme requiring a little artificial brilliancy; but we will take him by twilight, enlivened with a glow of Wallsend.’

He stirred the fire again as he spoke, and having made it blaze, resumed.

‘My respected father has found, down in the parental neighbourhood, a wife for his not-generally-respected son.’

‘With some money, of course?’

‘With some money, of course, or he would not have found her. My respected father—let me shorten the dutiful tautology by substituting in future M. R. F., which sounds military, and rather like the Duke of Wellington.’

‘What an absurd fellow you are, Eugene!’

‘Not at all, I assure you. M. R. F. having always in the clearest manner provided (as he calls it) for his children by pre-arranging from the hour of the birth of each, and sometimes from an earlier period, what the devoted little victim’s calling and course in life should be, M. R. F. pre-arranged for myself that I was to be the barrister I am (with the slight addition of an enormous practice, which has not accrued), and also the married man I am not.’

‘The first you have often told me.’

‘The first I have often told you. Considering myself sufficiently incongruous on my legal eminence, I have until now suppressed my domestic destiny. You know M. R. F., but not as well as I do. If you knew him as well as I do, he would amuse you.’

‘Filially spoken, Eugene!’

‘Perfectly so, believe me; and with every sentiment of affectionate deference towards M. R. F. But if he amuses me, I can’t help it. When my eldest brother was born, of course the rest of us knew (I mean the rest of us would have known, if we had been in existence) that he was heir to the Family Embarrassments—we call it before the company the Family Estate. But when my second brother was going to be born by-and-by, “this,” says M. R. F., “is a little pillar of the church.” Was born, and became a pillar of the church; a very shaky one. My third brother appeared, considerably in advance of his engagement to my mother; but M. R. F., not at all put out by surprise, instantly declared him a Circumnavigator. Was pitch-forked into the Navy, but has not circumnavigated. I announced myself and was disposed of with the highly satisfactory results embodied before you. When my younger brother was half an hour old, it was settled by M. R. F. that he should have a mechanical genius. And so on. Therefore I say that M. R. F. amuses me.’

‘Touching the lady, Eugene.’

‘There M. R. F. ceases to be amusing, because my intentions are opposed to touching the lady.’

‘Do you know her?’

‘Not in the least.’

‘Hadn’t you better see her?’

‘My dear Mortimer, you have studied my character. Could I possibly go down there, labelled “ELIGIBLE. ON VIEW,” and meet the lady, similarly labelled? Anything to carry out M. R. F.‘s arrangements, I am sure, with the greatest pleasure—except matrimony. Could I possibly support it? I, so soon bored, so constantly, so fatally?’

‘But you are not a consistent fellow, Eugene.’

‘In susceptibility to boredom,’ returned that worthy, ‘I assure you I am the most consistent of mankind.’

‘Why, it was but now that you were dwelling in the advantages of a monotony of two.’

‘In a lighthouse. Do me the justice to remember the condition. In a lighthouse.’

Mortimer laughed again, and Eugene, having laughed too for the first time, as if he found himself on reflection rather entertaining, relapsed into his usual gloom, and drowsily said, as he enjoyed his cigar, ‘No, there is no help for it; one of the prophetic deliveries of M. R. F. must for ever remain unfulfilled. With every disposition to oblige him, he must submit to a failure.’

It had grown darker as they talked, and the wind was sawing and the sawdust was whirling outside paler windows. The underlying churchyard was already settling into deep dim shade, and the shade was creeping up to the housetops among which they sat. ‘As if,’ said Eugene, ‘as if the churchyard ghosts were rising.’

He had walked to the window with his cigar in his mouth, to exalt its flavour by comparing the fireside with the outside, when he stopped midway on his return to his arm-chair, and said:

‘Apparently one of the ghosts has lost its way, and dropped in to be directed. Look at this phantom!’

Lightwood, whose back was towards the door, turned his head, and there, in the darkness of the entry, stood a something in the likeness of a man: to whom he addressed the not irrelevant inquiry, ‘Who the devil are you?’

‘I ask your pardons, Governors,’ replied the ghost, in a hoarse double-barrelled whisper, ‘but might either on you be Lawyer Lightwood?’

‘What do you mean by not knocking at the door?’ demanded Mortimer.

‘I ask your pardons, Governors,’ replied the ghost, as before, ‘but probable you was not aware your door stood open.’

‘What do you want?’

Hereunto the ghost again hoarsely replied, in its double-barrelled manner, ‘I ask your pardons, Governors, but might one on you be Lawyer Lightwood?’

‘One of us is,’ said the owner of that name.

‘All right, Governors Both,’ returned the ghost, carefully closing the room door; ‘’tickler business.’

Mortimer lighted the candles. They showed the visitor to be an ill-looking visitor with a squinting leer, who, as he spoke, fumbled at an old sodden fur cap, formless and mangey, that looked like a furry animal, dog or cat, puppy or kitten, drowned and decaying.

‘Now,’ said Mortimer, ‘what is it?’

‘Governors Both,’ returned the man, in what he meant to be a wheedling tone, ‘which on you might be Lawyer Lightwood?’

‘I am.’

‘Lawyer Lightwood,’ ducking at him with a servile air, ‘I am a man as gets my living, and as seeks to get my living, by the sweat of my brow. Not to risk being done out of the sweat of my brow, by any chances, I should wish afore going further to be swore in.’

‘I am not a swearer in of people, man.’

The visitor, clearly anything but reliant on this assurance, doggedly muttered ‘Alfred David.’

‘Is that your name?’ asked Lightwood.

‘My name?’ returned the man. ‘No; I want to take a Alfred David.’

(Which Eugene, smoking and contemplating him, interpreted as meaning Affidavit.)

‘I tell you, my good fellow,’ said Lightwood, with his indolent laugh, ‘that I have nothing to do with swearing.’

‘He can swear at you,’ Eugene explained; ‘and so can I. But we can’t do more for you.’

Much discomfited by this information, the visitor turned the drowned dog or cat, puppy or kitten, about and about, and looked from one of the Governors Both to the other of the Governors Both, while he deeply considered within himself. At length he decided:

‘Then I must be took down.’

‘Where?’ asked Lightwood.

‘Here,’ said the man. ‘In pen and ink.’

‘First, let us know what your business is about.’

‘It’s about,’ said the man, taking a step forward, dropping his hoarse voice, and shading it with his hand, ‘it’s about from five to ten thousand pound reward. That’s what it’s about. It’s about Murder. That’s what it’s about.’

‘Come nearer the table. Sit down. Will you have a glass of wine?’

‘Yes, I will,’ said the man; ‘and I don’t deceive you, Governors.’

It was given him. Making a stiff arm to the elbow, he poured the wine into his mouth, tilted it into his right cheek, as saying, ‘What do you think of it?’ tilted it into his left cheek, as saying, ‘What do you think of it?’ jerked it into his stomach, as saying, ‘What do you think of it?’ To conclude, smacked his lips, as if all three replied, ‘We think well of it.’

‘Will you have another?’

‘Yes, I will,’ he repeated, ‘and I don’t deceive you, Governors.’ And also repeated the other proceedings.

‘Now,’ began Lightwood, ‘what’s your name?’

‘Why, there you’re rather fast, Lawyer Lightwood,’ he replied, in a remonstrant manner. ‘Don’t you see, Lawyer Lightwood? There you’re a little bit fast. I’m going to earn from five to ten thousand pound by the sweat of my brow; and as a poor man doing justice to the sweat of my brow, is it likely I can afford to part with so much as my name without its being took down?’

Deferring to the man’s sense of the binding powers of pen and ink and paper, Lightwood nodded acceptance of Eugene’s nodded proposal to take those spells in hand. Eugene, bringing them to the table, sat down as clerk or notary.

‘Now,’ said Lightwood, ‘what’s your name?’

But further precaution was still due to the sweat of this honest fellow’s brow.

‘I should wish, Lawyer Lightwood,’ he stipulated, ‘to have that T’other Governor as my witness that what I said I said. Consequent, will the T’other Governor be so good as chuck me his name and where he lives?’

Eugene, cigar in mouth and pen in hand, tossed him his card. After spelling it out slowly, the man made it into a little roll, and tied it up in an end of his neckerchief still more slowly.

‘Now,’ said Lightwood, for the third time, ‘if you have quite completed your various preparations, my friend, and have fully ascertained that your spirits are cool and not in any way hurried, what’s your name?’

‘Roger Riderhood.’

‘Dwelling-place?’

‘Lime’us Hole.’

‘Calling or occupation?’

Not quite so glib with this answer as with the previous two, Mr Riderhood gave in the definition, ‘Waterside character.’

‘Anything against you?’ Eugene quietly put in, as he wrote.

Rather baulked, Mr Riderhood evasively remarked, with an innocent air, that he believed the T’other Governor had asked him summa’t.

‘Ever in trouble?’ said Eugene.

‘Once.’ (Might happen to any man, Mr Riderhood added incidentally.)

‘On suspicion of—’

‘Of seaman’s pocket,’ said Mr Riderhood. ‘Whereby I was in reality the man’s best friend, and tried to take care of him.’

‘With the sweat of your brow?’ asked Eugene.

‘Till it poured down like rain,’ said Roger Riderhood.

Eugene leaned back in his chair, and smoked with his eyes negligently turned on the informer, and his pen ready to reduce him to more writing. Lightwood also smoked, with his eyes negligently turned on the informer.

‘Now let me be took down again,’ said Riderhood, when he had turned the drowned cap over and under, and had brushed it the wrong way (if it had a right way) with his sleeve. ‘I give information that the man that done the Harmon Murder is Gaffer Hexam, the man that found the body. The hand of Jesse Hexam, commonly called Gaffer on the river and along shore, is the hand that done that deed. His hand and no other.’

The two friends glanced at one another with more serious faces than they had shown yet.

‘Tell us on what grounds you make this accusation,’ said Mortimer Lightwood.

‘On the grounds,’ answered Riderhood, wiping his face with his sleeve, ‘that I was Gaffer’s pardner, and suspected of him many a long day and many a dark night. On the grounds that I knowed his ways. On the grounds that I broke the pardnership because I see the danger; which I warn you his daughter may tell you another story about that, for anythink I can say, but you know what it’ll be worth, for she’d tell you lies, the world round and the heavens broad, to save her father. On the grounds that it’s well understood along the cause’ays and the stairs that he done it. On the grounds that he’s fell off from, because he done it. On the grounds that I will swear he done it. On the grounds that you may take me where you will, and get me sworn to it. I don’t want to back out of the consequences. I have made up my mind. Take me anywheres.’

‘All this is nothing,’ said Lightwood.

‘Nothing?’ repeated Riderhood, indignantly and amazedly.

‘Merely nothing. It goes to no more than that you suspect this man of the crime. You may do so with some reason, or you may do so with no reason, but he cannot be convicted on your suspicion.’

‘Haven’t I said—I appeal to the T’other Governor as my witness—haven’t I said from the first minute that I opened my mouth in this here world-without-end-everlasting chair’ (he evidently used that form of words as next in force to an affidavit), ‘that I was willing to swear that he done it? Haven’t I said, Take me and get me sworn to it? Don’t I say so now? You won’t deny it, Lawyer Lightwood?’

‘Surely not; but you only offer to swear to your suspicion, and I tell you it is not enough to swear to your suspicion.’

‘Not enough, ain’t it, Lawyer Lightwood?’ he cautiously demanded.

‘Positively not.’

‘And did I say it was enough? Now, I appeal to the T’other Governor. Now, fair! Did I say so?’

‘He certainly has not said that he had no more to tell,’ Eugene observed in a low voice without looking at him, ‘whatever he seemed to imply.’

‘Hah!’ cried the informer, triumphantly perceiving that the remark was generally in his favour, though apparently not closely understanding it. ‘Fort’nate for me I had a witness!’

‘Go on, then,’ said Lightwood. ‘Say out what you have to say. No after-thought.’

‘Let me be took down then!’ cried the informer, eagerly and anxiously. ‘Let me be took down, for by George and the Draggin I’m a coming to it now! Don’t do nothing to keep back from a honest man the fruits of the sweat of his brow! I give information, then, that he told me that he done it. Is that enough?’

‘Take care what you say, my friend,’ returned Mortimer.

‘Lawyer Lightwood, take care, you, what I say; for I judge you’ll be answerable for follering it up!’ Then, slowly and emphatically beating it all out with his open right hand on the palm of his left; ‘I, Roger Riderhood, Lime’us Hole, Waterside character, tell you, Lawyer Lightwood, that the man Jesse Hexam, commonly called upon the river and along-shore Gaffer, told me that he done the deed. What’s more, he told me with his own lips that he done the deed. What’s more, he said that he done the deed. And I’ll swear it!’

‘Where did he tell you so?’

‘Outside,’ replied Riderhood, always beating it out, with his head determinedly set askew, and his eyes watchfully dividing their attention between his two auditors, ‘outside the door of the Six Jolly Fellowships, towards a quarter after twelve o’clock at midnight—but I will not in my conscience undertake to swear to so fine a matter as five minutes—on the night when he picked up the body. The Six Jolly Fellowships won’t run away. If it turns out that he warn’t at the Six Jolly Fellowships that night at midnight, I’m a liar.’

‘What did he say?’

‘I’ll tell you (take me down, T’other Governor, I ask no better). He come out first; I come out last. I might be a minute arter him; I might be half a minute, I might be a quarter of a minute; I cannot swear to that, and therefore I won’t. That’s knowing the obligations of a Alfred David, ain’t it?’

‘Go on.’

‘I found him a waiting to speak to me. He says to me, “Rogue Riderhood”—for that’s the name I’m mostly called by—not for any meaning in it, for meaning it has none, but because of its being similar to Roger.’

‘Never mind that.’

‘’Scuse me, Lawyer Lightwood, it’s a part of the truth, and as such I do mind it, and I must mind it and I will mind it. “Rogue Riderhood,” he says, “words passed betwixt us on the river tonight.” Which they had; ask his daughter! “I threatened you,” he says, “to chop you over the fingers with my boat’s stretcher, or take a aim at your brains with my boathook. I did so on accounts of your looking too hard at what I had in tow, as if you was suspicious, and on accounts of your holding on to the gunwale of my boat.” I says to him, “Gaffer, I know it.” He says to me, “Rogue Riderhood, you are a man in a dozen”—I think he said in a score, but of that I am not positive, so take the lowest figure, for precious be the obligations of a Alfred David. “And,” he says, “when your fellow-men is up, be it their lives or be it their watches, sharp is ever the word with you. Had you suspicions?” I says, “Gaffer, I had; and what’s more, I have.” He falls a shaking, and he says, “Of what?” I says, “Of foul play.” He falls a shaking worse, and he says, “There was foul play then. I done it for his money. Don’t betray me!” Those were the words as ever he used.’

There was a silence, broken only by the fall of the ashes in the grate. An opportunity which the informer improved by smearing himself all over the head and neck and face with his drowned cap, and not at all improving his own appearance.

‘What more?’ asked Lightwood.

‘Of him, d’ye mean, Lawyer Lightwood?’

‘Of anything to the purpose.’

‘Now, I’m blest if I understand you, Governors Both,’ said the informer, in a creeping manner: propitiating both, though only one had spoken. ‘What? Ain’t that enough?’

‘Did you ask him how he did it, where he did it, when he did it?’

‘Far be it from me, Lawyer Lightwood! I was so troubled in my mind, that I wouldn’t have knowed more, no, not for the sum as I expect to earn from you by the sweat of my brow, twice told! I had put an end to the pardnership. I had cut the connexion. I couldn’t undo what was done; and when he begs and prays, “Old pardner, on my knees, don’t split upon me!” I only makes answer “Never speak another word to Roger Riderhood, nor look him in the face!” and I shuns that man.’

Having given these words a swing to make them mount the higher and go the further, Rogue Riderhood poured himself out another glass of wine unbidden, and seemed to chew it, as, with the half-emptied glass in his hand, he stared at the candles.

Mortimer glanced at Eugene, but Eugene sat glowering at his paper, and would give him no responsive glance. Mortimer again turned to the informer, to whom he said:

‘You have been troubled in your mind a long time, man?’

Giving his wine a final chew, and swallowing it, the informer answered in a single word:

‘Hages!’

‘When all that stir was made, when the Government reward was offered, when the police were on the alert, when the whole country rang with the crime!’ said Mortimer, impatiently.

‘Hah!’ Mr Riderhood very slowly and hoarsely chimed in, with several retrospective nods of his head. ‘Warn’t I troubled in my mind then!’

‘When conjecture ran wild, when the most extravagant suspicions were afloat, when half a dozen innocent people might have been laid by the heels any hour in the day!’ said Mortimer, almost warming.

‘Hah!’ Mr Riderhood chimed in, as before. ‘Warn’t I troubled in my mind through it all!’

‘But he hadn’t,’ said Eugene, drawing a lady’s head upon his writing-paper, and touching it at intervals, ‘the opportunity then of earning so much money, you see.’

‘The T’other Governor hits the nail, Lawyer Lightwood! It was that as turned me. I had many times and again struggled to relieve myself of the trouble on my mind, but I couldn’t get it off. I had once very nigh got it off to Miss Abbey Potterson which keeps the Six Jolly Fellowships—there is the ‘ouse, it won’t run away,—there lives the lady, she ain’t likely to be struck dead afore you get there—ask her!—but I couldn’t do it. At last, out comes the new bill with your own lawful name, Lawyer Lightwood, printed to it, and then I asks the question of my own intellects, Am I to have this trouble on my mind for ever? Am I never to throw it off? Am I always to think more of Gaffer than of my own self? If he’s got a daughter, ain’t I got a daughter?’

‘And echo answered—?’ Eugene suggested.

‘“You have,”’ said Mr Riderhood, in a firm tone.

‘Incidentally mentioning, at the same time, her age?’ inquired Eugene.

‘Yes, governor. Two-and-twenty last October. And then I put it to myself, “Regarding the money. It is a pot of money.” For it is a pot,’ said Mr Riderhood, with candour, ‘and why deny it?’

‘Hear!’ from Eugene as he touched his drawing.

‘“It is a pot of money; but is it a sin for a labouring man that moistens every crust of bread he earns, with his tears—or if not with them, with the colds he catches in his head—is it a sin for that man to earn it? Say there is anything again earning it.” This I put to myself strong, as in duty bound; “how can it be said without blaming Lawyer Lightwood for offering it to be earned?” And was it for me to blame Lawyer Lightwood? No.’

‘No,’ said Eugene.

‘Certainly not, Governor,’ Mr Riderhood acquiesced. ‘So I made up my mind to get my trouble off my mind, and to earn by the sweat of my brow what was held out to me. And what’s more,’ he added, suddenly turning bloodthirsty, ‘I mean to have it! And now I tell you, once and away, Lawyer Lightwood, that Jesse Hexam, commonly called Gaffer, his hand and no other, done the deed, on his own confession to me. And I give him up to you, and I want him took. This night!’

After another silence, broken only by the fall of the ashes in the grate, which attracted the informer’s attention as if it were the chinking of money, Mortimer Lightwood leaned over his friend, and said in a whisper:

‘I suppose I must go with this fellow to our imperturbable friend at the police-station.’

‘I suppose,’ said Eugene, ‘there is no help for it.’

‘Do you believe him?’

‘I believe him to be a thorough rascal. But he may tell the truth, for his own purpose, and for this occasion only.’

‘It doesn’t look like it.’

‘He doesn’t,’ said Eugene. ‘But neither is his late partner, whom he denounces, a prepossessing person. The firm are cut-throat Shepherds both, in appearance. I should like to ask him one thing.’

The subject of this conference sat leering at the ashes, trying with all his might to overhear what was said, but feigning abstraction as the ‘Governors Both’ glanced at him.

‘You mentioned (twice, I think) a daughter of this Hexam’s,’ said Eugene, aloud. ‘You don’t mean to imply that she had any guilty knowledge of the crime?’

The honest man, after considering—perhaps considering how his answer might affect the fruits of the sweat of his brow—replied, unreservedly, ‘No, I don’t.’

‘And you implicate no other person?’

‘It ain’t what I implicate, it’s what Gaffer implicated,’ was the dogged and determined answer. ‘I don’t pretend to know more than that his words to me was, “I done it.” Those was his words.’

‘I must see this out, Mortimer,’ whispered Eugene, rising. ‘How shall we go?’

‘Let us walk,’ whispered Lightwood, ‘and give this fellow time to think of it.’

Having exchanged the question and answer, they prepared themselves for going out, and Mr Riderhood rose. While extinguishing the candles, Lightwood, quite as a matter of course took up the glass from which that honest gentleman had drunk, and coolly tossed it under the grate, where it fell shivering into fragments.

‘Now, if you will take the lead,’ said Lightwood, ‘Mr Wrayburn and I will follow. You know where to go, I suppose?’

‘I suppose I do, Lawyer Lightwood.’

‘Take the lead, then.’

The waterside character pulled his drowned cap over his ears with both hands, and making himself more round-shouldered than nature had made him, by the sullen and persistent slouch with which he went, went down the stairs, round by the Temple Church, across the Temple into Whitefriars, and so on by the waterside streets.

‘Look at his hang-dog air,’ said Lightwood, following.

‘It strikes me rather as a hang-man air,’ returned Eugene. ‘He has undeniable intentions that way.’

They said little else as they followed. He went on before them as an ugly Fate might have done, and they kept him in view, and would have been glad enough to lose sight of him. But on he went before them, always at the same distance, and the same rate. Aslant against the hard implacable weather and the rough wind, he was no more to be driven back than hurried forward, but held on like an advancing Destiny. There came, when they were about midway on their journey, a heavy rush of hail, which in a few minutes pelted the streets clear, and whitened them. It made no difference to him. A man’s life being to be taken and the price of it got, the hailstones to arrest the purpose must lie larger and deeper than those. He crashed through them, leaving marks in the fast-melting slush that were mere shapeless holes; one might have fancied, following, that the very fashion of humanity had departed from his feet.

The blast went by, and the moon contended with the fast-flying clouds, and the wild disorder reigning up there made the pitiful little tumults in the streets of no account. It was not that the wind swept all the brawlers into places of shelter, as it had swept the hail still lingering in heaps wherever there was refuge for it; but that it seemed as if the streets were absorbed by the sky, and the night were all in the air.

‘If he has had time to think of it,’ said Eugene, ‘he has not had time to think better of it—or differently of it, if that’s better. There is no sign of drawing back in him; and as I recollect this place, we must be close upon the corner where we alighted that night.’

In fact, a few abrupt turns brought them to the river side, where they had slipped about among the stones, and where they now slipped more; the wind coming against them in slants and flaws, across the tide and the windings of the river, in a furious way. With that habit of getting under the lee of any shelter which waterside characters acquire, the waterside character at present in question led the way to the leeside of the Six Jolly Fellowship Porters before he spoke.

‘Look round here, Lawyer Lightwood, at them red curtains. It’s the Fellowships, the ‘ouse as I told you wouldn’t run away. And has it run away?’

Not showing himself much impressed by this remarkable confirmation of the informer’s evidence, Lightwood inquired what other business they had there?

‘I wished you to see the Fellowships for yourself, Lawyer Lightwood, that you might judge whether I’m a liar; and now I’ll see Gaffer’s window for myself, that we may know whether he’s at home.’

With that, he crept away.

‘He’ll come back, I suppose?’ murmured Lightwood.

‘Ay! and go through with it,’ murmured Eugene.

He came back after a very short interval indeed.

‘Gaffer’s out, and his boat’s out. His daughter’s at home, sitting a-looking at the fire. But there’s some supper getting ready, so Gaffer’s expected. I can find what move he’s upon, easy enough, presently.’

Then he beckoned and led the way again, and they came to the police-station, still as clean and cool and steady as before, saving that the flame of its lamp—being but a lamp-flame, and only attached to the Force as an outsider—flickered in the wind.

Also, within doors, Mr Inspector was at his studies as of yore. He recognized the friends the instant they reappeared, but their reappearance had no effect on his composure. Not even the circumstance that Riderhood was their conductor moved him, otherwise than that as he took a dip of ink he seemed, by a settlement of his chin in his stock, to propound to that personage, without looking at him, the question, ‘What have you been up to, last?’

Mortimer Lightwood asked him, would he be so good as look at those notes? Handing him Eugene’s.

Having read the first few lines, Mr Inspector mounted to that (for him) extraordinary pitch of emotion that he said, ‘Does either of you two gentlemen happen to have a pinch of snuff about him?’ Finding that neither had, he did quite as well without it, and read on.

‘Have you heard these read?’ he then demanded of the honest man.

‘No,’ said Riderhood.

‘Then you had better hear them.’ And so read them aloud, in an official manner.

‘Are these notes correct, now, as to the information you bring here and the evidence you mean to give?’ he asked, when he had finished reading.

‘They are. They are as correct,’ returned Mr Riderhood, ‘as I am. I can’t say more than that for ‘em.’

‘I’ll take this man myself, sir,’ said Mr Inspector to Lightwood. Then to Riderhood, ‘Is he at home? Where is he? What’s he doing? You have made it your business to know all about him, no doubt.’

Riderhood said what he did know, and promised to find out in a few minutes what he didn’t know.

‘Stop,’ said Mr Inspector; ‘not till I tell you: We mustn’t look like business. Would you two gentlemen object to making a pretence of taking a glass of something in my company at the Fellowships? Well-conducted house, and highly respectable landlady.’

They replied that they would be happy to substitute a reality for the pretence, which, in the main, appeared to be as one with Mr Inspector’s meaning.

‘Very good,’ said he, taking his hat from its peg, and putting a pair of handcuffs in his pocket as if they were his gloves. ‘Reserve!’ Reserve saluted. ‘You know where to find me?’ Reserve again saluted. ‘Riderhood, when you have found out concerning his coming home, come round to the window of Cosy, tap twice at it, and wait for me. Now, gentlemen.’

As the three went out together, and Riderhood slouched off from under the trembling lamp his separate way, Lightwood asked the officer what he thought of this?

Mr Inspector replied, with due generality and reticence, that it was always more likely that a man had done a bad thing than that he hadn’t. That he himself had several times ‘reckoned up’ Gaffer, but had never been able to bring him to a satisfactory criminal total. That if this story was true, it was only in part true. That the two men, very shy characters, would have been jointly and pretty equally ‘in it;’ but that this man had ‘spotted’ the other, to save himself and get the money.

‘And I think,’ added Mr Inspector, in conclusion, ‘that if all goes well with him, he’s in a tolerable way of getting it. But as this is the Fellowships, gentlemen, where the lights are, I recommend dropping the subject. You can’t do better than be interested in some lime works anywhere down about Northfleet, and doubtful whether some of your lime don’t get into bad company as it comes up in barges.’

‘You hear Eugene?’ said Lightwood, over his shoulder. ‘You are deeply interested in lime.’

‘Without lime,’ returned that unmoved barrister-at-law, ‘my existence would be unilluminated by a ray of hope.’






Chapter 13. 
TRACKING THE BIRD OF PREY

The two lime merchants, with their escort, entered the dominions of Miss Abbey Potterson, to whom their escort (presenting them and their pretended business over the half-door of the bar, in a confidential way) preferred his figurative request that ‘a mouthful of fire’ might be lighted in Cosy. Always well disposed to assist the constituted authorities, Miss Abbey bade Bob Gliddery attend the gentlemen to that retreat, and promptly enliven it with fire and gaslight. Of this commission the bare-armed Bob, leading the way with a flaming wisp of paper, so speedily acquitted himself, that Cosy seemed to leap out of a dark sleep and embrace them warmly, the moment they passed the lintels of its hospitable door.

‘They burn sherry very well here,’ said Mr Inspector, as a piece of local intelligence. ‘Perhaps you gentlemen might like a bottle?’

The answer being By all means, Bob Gliddery received his instructions from Mr Inspector, and departed in a becoming state of alacrity engendered by reverence for the majesty of the law.

‘It’s a certain fact,’ said Mr Inspector, ‘that this man we have received our information from,’ indicating Riderhood with his thumb over his shoulder, ‘has for some time past given the other man a bad name arising out of your lime barges, and that the other man has been avoided in consequence. I don’t say what it means or proves, but it’s a certain fact. I had it first from one of the opposite sex of my acquaintance,’ vaguely indicating Miss Abbey with his thumb over his shoulder, ‘down away at a distance, over yonder.’

Then probably Mr Inspector was not quite unprepared for their visit that evening? Lightwood hinted.

‘Well you see,’ said Mr Inspector, ‘it was a question of making a move. It’s of no use moving if you don’t know what your move is. You had better by far keep still. In the matter of this lime, I certainly had an idea that it might lie betwixt the two men; I always had that idea. Still I was forced to wait for a start, and I wasn’t so lucky as to get a start. This man that we have received our information from, has got a start, and if he don’t meet with a check he may make the running and come in first. There may turn out to be something considerable for him that comes in second, and I don’t mention who may or who may not try for that place. There’s duty to do, and I shall do it, under any circumstances; to the best of my judgment and ability.’

‘Speaking as a shipper of lime—’ began Eugene.

‘Which no man has a better right to do than yourself, you know,’ said Mr Inspector.

‘I hope not,’ said Eugene; ‘my father having been a shipper of lime before me, and my grandfather before him—in fact we having been a family immersed to the crowns of our heads in lime during several generations—I beg to observe that if this missing lime could be got hold of without any young female relative of any distinguished gentleman engaged in the lime trade (which I cherish next to my life) being present, I think it might be a more agreeable proceeding to the assisting bystanders, that is to say, lime-burners.’

‘I also,’ said Lightwood, pushing his friend aside with a laugh, ‘should much prefer that.’

‘It shall be done, gentlemen, if it can be done conveniently,’ said Mr Inspector, with coolness. ‘There is no wish on my part to cause any distress in that quarter. Indeed, I am sorry for that quarter.’

‘There was a boy in that quarter,’ remarked Eugene. ‘He is still there?’

‘No,’ said Mr Inspector. ‘He has quitted those works. He is otherwise disposed of.’

‘Will she be left alone then?’ asked Eugene.

‘She will be left,’ said Mr Inspector, ‘alone.’

Bob’s reappearance with a steaming jug broke off the conversation. But although the jug steamed forth a delicious perfume, its contents had not received that last happy touch which the surpassing finish of the Six Jolly Fellowship Porters imparted on such momentous occasions. Bob carried in his left hand one of those iron models of sugar-loaf hats, before mentioned, into which he emptied the jug, and the pointed end of which he thrust deep down into the fire, so leaving it for a few moments while he disappeared and reappeared with three bright drinking-glasses. Placing these on the table and bending over the fire, meritoriously sensible of the trying nature of his duty, he watched the wreaths of steam, until at the special instant of projection he caught up the iron vessel and gave it one delicate twirl, causing it to send forth one gentle hiss. Then he restored the contents to the jug; held over the steam of the jug, each of the three bright glasses in succession; finally filled them all, and with a clear conscience awaited the applause of his fellow-creatures.

It was bestowed (Mr Inspector having proposed as an appropriate sentiment ‘The lime trade!’) and Bob withdrew to report the commendations of the guests to Miss Abbey in the bar. It may be here in confidence admitted that, the room being close shut in his absence, there had not appeared to be the slightest reason for the elaborate maintenance of this same lime fiction. Only it had been regarded by Mr Inspector as so uncommonly satisfactory, and so fraught with mysterious virtues, that neither of his clients had presumed to question it.

Two taps were now heard on the outside of the window. Mr Inspector, hastily fortifying himself with another glass, strolled out with a noiseless foot and an unoccupied countenance. As one might go to survey the weather and the general aspect of the heavenly bodies.

‘This is becoming grim, Mortimer,’ said Eugene, in a low voice. ‘I don’t like this.’

‘Nor I’ said Lightwood. ‘Shall we go?’

‘Being here, let us stay. You ought to see it out, and I won’t leave you. Besides, that lonely girl with the dark hair runs in my head. It was little more than a glimpse we had of her that last time, and yet I almost see her waiting by the fire to-night. Do you feel like a dark combination of traitor and pickpocket when you think of that girl?’

‘Rather,’ returned Lightwood. ‘Do you?’

‘Very much so.’

Their escort strolled back again, and reported. Divested of its various lime-lights and shadows, his report went to the effect that Gaffer was away in his boat, supposed to be on his old look-out; that he had been expected last high-water; that having missed it for some reason or other, he was not, according to his usual habits at night, to be counted on before next high-water, or it might be an hour or so later; that his daughter, surveyed through the window, would seem to be so expecting him, for the supper was not cooking, but set out ready to be cooked; that it would be high-water at about one, and that it was now barely ten; that there was nothing to be done but watch and wait; that the informer was keeping watch at the instant of that present reporting, but that two heads were better than one (especially when the second was Mr Inspector’s); and that the reporter meant to share the watch. And forasmuch as crouching under the lee of a hauled-up boat on a night when it blew cold and strong, and when the weather was varied with blasts of hail at times, might be wearisome to amateurs, the reporter closed with the recommendation that the two gentlemen should remain, for a while at any rate, in their present quarters, which were weather-tight and warm.

They were not inclined to dispute this recommendation, but they wanted to know where they could join the watchers when so disposed. Rather than trust to a verbal description of the place, which might mislead, Eugene (with a less weighty sense of personal trouble on him than he usually had) would go out with Mr Inspector, note the spot, and come back.

On the shelving bank of the river, among the slimy stones of a causeway—not the special causeway of the Six Jolly Fellowships, which had a landing-place of its own, but another, a little removed, and very near to the old windmill which was the denounced man’s dwelling-place—were a few boats; some, moored and already beginning to float; others, hauled up above the reach of the tide. Under one of these latter, Eugene’s companion disappeared. And when Eugene had observed its position with reference to the other boats, and had made sure that he could not miss it, he turned his eyes upon the building where, as he had been told, the lonely girl with the dark hair sat by the fire.

He could see the light of the fire shining through the window. Perhaps it drew him on to look in. Perhaps he had come out with the express intention. That part of the bank having rank grass growing on it, there was no difficulty in getting close, without any noise of footsteps: it was but to scramble up a ragged face of pretty hard mud some three or four feet high and come upon the grass and to the window. He came to the window by that means.

She had no other light than the light of the fire. The unkindled lamp stood on the table. She sat on the ground, looking at the brazier, with her face leaning on her hand. There was a kind of film or flicker on her face, which at first he took to be the fitful firelight; but, on a second look, he saw that she was weeping. A sad and solitary spectacle, as shown him by the rising and the falling of the fire.

It was a little window of but four pieces of glass, and was not curtained; he chose it because the larger window near it was. It showed him the room, and the bills upon the wall respecting the drowned people starting out and receding by turns. But he glanced slightly at them, though he looked long and steadily at her. A deep rich piece of colour, with the brown flush of her cheek and the shining lustre of her hair, though sad and solitary, weeping by the rising and the falling of the fire.

She started up. He had been so very still that he felt sure it was not he who had disturbed her, so merely withdrew from the window and stood near it in the shadow of the wall. She opened the door, and said in an alarmed tone, ‘Father, was that you calling me?’ And again, ‘Father!’ And once again, after listening, ‘Father! I thought I heard you call me twice before!’

No response. As she re-entered at the door, he dropped over the bank and made his way back, among the ooze and near the hiding-place, to Mortimer Lightwood: to whom he told what he had seen of the girl, and how this was becoming very grim indeed.

‘If the real man feels as guilty as I do,’ said Eugene, ‘he is remarkably uncomfortable.’

‘Influence of secrecy,’ suggested Lightwood.

‘I am not at all obliged to it for making me Guy Fawkes in the vault and a Sneak in the area both at once,’ said Eugene. ‘Give me some more of that stuff.’

Lightwood helped him to some more of that stuff, but it had been cooling, and didn’t answer now.

‘Pooh,’ said Eugene, spitting it out among the ashes. ‘Tastes like the wash of the river.’

‘Are you so familiar with the flavour of the wash of the river?’

‘I seem to be to-night. I feel as if I had been half drowned, and swallowing a gallon of it.’

‘Influence of locality,’ suggested Lightwood.

‘You are mighty learned to-night, you and your influences,’ returned Eugene. ‘How long shall we stay here?’

‘How long do you think?’

‘If I could choose, I should say a minute,’ replied Eugene, ‘for the Jolly Fellowship Porters are not the jolliest dogs I have known. But I suppose we are best here until they turn us out with the other suspicious characters, at midnight.’

Thereupon he stirred the fire, and sat down on one side of it. It struck eleven, and he made believe to compose himself patiently. But gradually he took the fidgets in one leg, and then in the other leg, and then in one arm, and then in the other arm, and then in his chin, and then in his back, and then in his forehead, and then in his hair, and then in his nose; and then he stretched himself recumbent on two chairs, and groaned; and then he started up.

‘Invisible insects of diabolical activity swarm in this place. I am tickled and twitched all over. Mentally, I have now committed a burglary under the meanest circumstances, and the myrmidons of justice are at my heels.’

‘I am quite as bad,’ said Lightwood, sitting up facing him, with a tumbled head; after going through some wonderful evolutions, in which his head had been the lowest part of him. ‘This restlessness began with me, long ago. All the time you were out, I felt like Gulliver with the Lilliputians firing upon him.’

‘It won’t do, Mortimer. We must get into the air; we must join our dear friend and brother, Riderhood. And let us tranquillize ourselves by making a compact. Next time (with a view to our peace of mind) we’ll commit the crime, instead of taking the criminal. You swear it?’

‘Certainly.’

‘Sworn! Let Tippins look to it. Her life’s in danger.’

Mortimer rang the bell to pay the score, and Bob appeared to transact that business with him: whom Eugene, in his careless extravagance, asked if he would like a situation in the lime-trade?

‘Thankee sir, no sir,’ said Bob. ‘I’ve a good sitiwation here, sir.’

‘If you change your mind at any time,’ returned Eugene, ‘come to me at my works, and you’ll always find an opening in the lime-kiln.’

‘Thankee sir,’ said Bob.

‘This is my partner,’ said Eugene, ‘who keeps the books and attends to the wages. A fair day’s wages for a fair day’s work is ever my partner’s motto.’

‘And a very good ‘un it is, gentlemen,’ said Bob, receiving his fee, and drawing a bow out of his head with his right hand, very much as he would have drawn a pint of beer out of the beer engine.

‘Eugene,’ Mortimer apostrophized him, laughing quite heartily when they were alone again, ‘how can you be so ridiculous?’

‘I am in a ridiculous humour,’ quoth Eugene; ‘I am a ridiculous fellow. Everything is ridiculous. Come along!’

It passed into Mortimer Lightwood’s mind that a change of some sort, best expressed perhaps as an intensification of all that was wildest and most negligent and reckless in his friend, had come upon him in the last half-hour or so. Thoroughly used to him as he was, he found something new and strained in him that was for the moment perplexing. This passed into his mind, and passed out again; but he remembered it afterwards.

‘There’s where she sits, you see,’ said Eugene, when they were standing under the bank, roared and riven at by the wind. ‘There’s the light of her fire.’

‘I’ll take a peep through the window,’ said Mortimer.

‘No, don’t!’ Eugene caught him by the arm. ‘Best, not make a show of her. Come to our honest friend.’

He led him to the post of watch, and they both dropped down and crept under the lee of the boat; a better shelter than it had seemed before, being directly contrasted with the blowing wind and the bare night.

‘Mr Inspector at home?’ whispered Eugene.

‘Here I am, sir.’

‘And our friend of the perspiring brow is at the far corner there? Good. Anything happened?’

‘His daughter has been out, thinking she heard him calling, unless it was a sign to him to keep out of the way. It might have been.’

‘It might have been Rule Britannia,’ muttered Eugene, ‘but it wasn’t. Mortimer!’

‘Here!’ (On the other side of Mr Inspector.)

‘Two burglaries now, and a forgery!’

With this indication of his depressed state of mind, Eugene fell silent.

They were all silent for a long while. As it got to be flood-tide, and the water came nearer to them, noises on the river became more frequent, and they listened more. To the turning of steam-paddles, to the clinking of iron chain, to the creaking of blocks, to the measured working of oars, to the occasional violent barking of some passing dog on shipboard, who seemed to scent them lying in their hiding-place. The night was not so dark but that, besides the lights at bows and mastheads gliding to and fro, they could discern some shadowy bulk attached; and now and then a ghostly lighter with a large dark sail, like a warning arm, would start up very near them, pass on, and vanish. At this time of their watch, the water close to them would be often agitated by some impulsion given it from a distance. Often they believed this beat and plash to be the boat they lay in wait for, running in ashore; and again and again they would have started up, but for the immobility with which the informer, well used to the river, kept quiet in his place.

The wind carried away the striking of the great multitude of city church clocks, for those lay to leeward of them; but there were bells to windward that told them of its being One—Two—Three. Without that aid they would have known how the night wore, by the falling of the tide, recorded in the appearance of an ever-widening black wet strip of shore, and the emergence of the paved causeway from the river, foot by foot.

As the time so passed, this slinking business became a more and more precarious one. It would seem as if the man had had some intimation of what was in hand against him, or had taken fright? His movements might have been planned to gain for him, in getting beyond their reach, twelve hours’ advantage? The honest man who had expended the sweat of his brow became uneasy, and began to complain with bitterness of the proneness of mankind to cheat him—him invested with the dignity of Labour!

Their retreat was so chosen that while they could watch the river, they could watch the house. No one had passed in or out, since the daughter thought she heard the father calling. No one could pass in or out without being seen.

‘But it will be light at five,’ said Mr Inspector, ‘and then we shall be seen.’

‘Look here,’ said Riderhood, ‘what do you say to this? He may have been lurking in and out, and just holding his own betwixt two or three bridges, for hours back.’

‘What do you make of that?’ said Mr Inspector. Stoical, but contradictory.

‘He may be doing so at this present time.’

‘What do you make of that?’ said Mr Inspector.

‘My boat’s among them boats here at the cause’ay.’

‘And what do you make of your boat?’ said Mr Inspector.

‘What if I put off in her and take a look round? I know his ways, and the likely nooks he favours. I know where he’d be at such a time of the tide, and where he’d be at such another time. Ain’t I been his pardner? None of you need show. None of you need stir. I can shove her off without help; and as to me being seen, I’m about at all times.’

‘You might have given a worse opinion,’ said Mr Inspector, after brief consideration. ‘Try it.’

‘Stop a bit. Let’s work it out. If I want you, I’ll drop round under the Fellowships and tip you a whistle.’

‘If I might so far presume as to offer a suggestion to my honourable and gallant friend, whose knowledge of naval matters far be it from me to impeach,’ Eugene struck in with great deliberation, ‘it would be, that to tip a whistle is to advertise mystery and invite speculation. My honourable and gallant friend will, I trust, excuse me, as an independent member, for throwing out a remark which I feel to be due to this house and the country.’

‘Was that the T’other Governor, or Lawyer Lightwood?’ asked Riderhood. For, they spoke as they crouched or lay, without seeing one another’s faces.

‘In reply to the question put by my honourable and gallant friend,’ said Eugene, who was lying on his back with his hat on his face, as an attitude highly expressive of watchfulness, ‘I can have no hesitation in replying (it not being inconsistent with the public service) that those accents were the accents of the T’other Governor.’

‘You’ve tolerable good eyes, ain’t you, Governor? You’ve all tolerable good eyes, ain’t you?’ demanded the informer.

All.

‘Then if I row up under the Fellowship and lay there, no need to whistle. You’ll make out that there’s a speck of something or another there, and you’ll know it’s me, and you’ll come down that cause’ay to me. Understood all?’

Understood all.

‘Off she goes then!’

In a moment, with the wind cutting keenly at him sideways, he was staggering down to his boat; in a few moments he was clear, and creeping up the river under their own shore.

Eugene had raised himself on his elbow to look into the darkness after him. ‘I wish the boat of my honourable and gallant friend,’ he murmured, lying down again and speaking into his hat, ‘may be endowed with philanthropy enough to turn bottom-upward and extinguish him!—Mortimer.’

‘My honourable friend.’

‘Three burglaries, two forgeries, and a midnight assassination.’ Yet in spite of having those weights on his conscience, Eugene was somewhat enlivened by the late slight change in the circumstances of affairs. So were his two companions. Its being a change was everything. The suspense seemed to have taken a new lease, and to have begun afresh from a recent date. There was something additional to look for. They were all three more sharply on the alert, and less deadened by the miserable influences of the place and time.

More than an hour had passed, and they were even dozing, when one of the three—each said it was he, and he had not dozed—made out Riderhood in his boat at the spot agreed on. They sprang up, came out from their shelter, and went down to him. When he saw them coming, he dropped alongside the causeway; so that they, standing on the causeway, could speak with him in whispers, under the shadowy mass of the Six Jolly Fellowship Porters fast asleep.

‘Blest if I can make it out!’ said he, staring at them.

‘Make what out? Have you seen him?’

‘No.’

‘What have you seen?’ asked Lightwood. For, he was staring at them in the strangest way.

‘I’ve seen his boat.’

‘Not empty?’

‘Yes, empty. And what’s more,—adrift. And what’s more,—with one scull gone. And what’s more,—with t’other scull jammed in the thowels and broke short off. And what’s more,—the boat’s drove tight by the tide ‘atwixt two tiers of barges. And what’s more,—he’s in luck again, by George if he ain’t!’






Chapter 14. 
THE BIRD OF PREY BROUGHT DOWN

Cold on the shore, in the raw cold of that leaden crisis in the four-and-twenty hours when the vital force of all the noblest and prettiest things that live is at its lowest, the three watchers looked each at the blank faces of the other two, and all at the blank face of Riderhood in his boat.

‘Gaffer’s boat, Gaffer in luck again, and yet no Gaffer!’ So spake Riderhood, staring disconsolate.

As if with one accord, they all turned their eyes towards the light of the fire shining through the window. It was fainter and duller. Perhaps fire, like the higher animal and vegetable life it helps to sustain, has its greatest tendency towards death, when the night is dying and the day is not yet born.

‘If it was me that had the law of this here job in hand,’ growled Riderhood with a threatening shake of his head, ‘blest if I wouldn’t lay hold of her, at any rate!’

‘Ay, but it is not you,’ said Eugene. With something so suddenly fierce in him that the informer returned submissively; ‘Well, well, well, t’other governor, I didn’t say it was. A man may speak.’

‘And vermin may be silent,’ said Eugene. ‘Hold your tongue, you water-rat!’

Astonished by his friend’s unusual heat, Lightwood stared too, and then said: ‘What can have become of this man?’

‘Can’t imagine. Unless he dived overboard.’ The informer wiped his brow ruefully as he said it, sitting in his boat and always staring disconsolate.

‘Did you make his boat fast?’

‘She’s fast enough till the tide runs back. I couldn’t make her faster than she is. Come aboard of mine, and see for your own-selves.’

There was a little backwardness in complying, for the freight looked too much for the boat; but on Riderhood’s protesting ‘that he had had half a dozen, dead and alive, in her afore now, and she was nothing deep in the water nor down in the stern even then, to speak of;’ they carefully took their places, and trimmed the crazy thing. While they were doing so, Riderhood still sat staring disconsolate.

‘All right. Give way!’ said Lightwood.

‘Give way, by George!’ repeated Riderhood, before shoving off. ‘If he’s gone and made off any how Lawyer Lightwood, it’s enough to make me give way in a different manner. But he always was a cheat, con-found him! He always was a infernal cheat, was Gaffer. Nothing straightfor’ard, nothing on the square. So mean, so underhanded. Never going through with a thing, nor carrying it out like a man!’

‘Hallo! Steady!’ cried Eugene (he had recovered immediately on embarking), as they bumped heavily against a pile; and then in a lower voice reversed his late apostrophe by remarking (‘I wish the boat of my honourable and gallant friend may be endowed with philanthropy enough not to turn bottom-upward and extinguish us!) Steady, steady! Sit close, Mortimer. Here’s the hail again. See how it flies, like a troop of wild cats, at Mr Riderhood’s eyes!’

Indeed he had the full benefit of it, and it so mauled him, though he bent his head low and tried to present nothing but the mangy cap to it, that he dropped under the lee of a tier of shipping, and they lay there until it was over. The squall had come up, like a spiteful messenger before the morning; there followed in its wake a ragged tear of light which ripped the dark clouds until they showed a great grey hole of day.

They were all shivering, and everything about them seemed to be shivering; the river itself; craft, rigging, sails, such early smoke as there yet was on the shore. Black with wet, and altered to the eye by white patches of hail and sleet, the huddled buildings looked lower than usual, as if they were cowering, and had shrunk with the cold. Very little life was to be seen on either bank, windows and doors were shut, and the staring black and white letters upon wharves and warehouses ‘looked,’ said Eugene to Mortimer, ‘like inscriptions over the graves of dead businesses.’

As they glided slowly on, keeping under the shore and sneaking in and out among the shipping by back-alleys of water, in a pilfering way that seemed to be their boatman’s normal manner of progression, all the objects among which they crept were so huge in contrast with their wretched boat, as to threaten to crush it. Not a ship’s hull, with its rusty iron links of cable run out of hawse-holes long discoloured with the iron’s rusty tears, but seemed to be there with a fell intention. Not a figure-head but had the menacing look of bursting forward to run them down. Not a sluice gate, or a painted scale upon a post or wall, showing the depth of water, but seemed to hint, like the dreadfully facetious Wolf in bed in Grandmamma’s cottage, ‘That’s to drown you in, my dears!’ Not a lumbering black barge, with its cracked and blistered side impending over them, but seemed to suck at the river with a thirst for sucking them under. And everything so vaunted the spoiling influences of water—discoloured copper, rotten wood, honey-combed stone, green dank deposit—that the after-consequences of being crushed, sucked under, and drawn down, looked as ugly to the imagination as the main event.

Some half-hour of this work, and Riderhood unshipped his sculls, stood holding on to a barge, and hand over hand long-wise along the barge’s side gradually worked his boat under her head into a secret little nook of scummy water. And driven into that nook, and wedged as he had described, was Gaffer’s boat; that boat with the stain still in it, bearing some resemblance to a muffled human form.

‘Now tell me I’m a liar!’ said the honest man.

(‘With a morbid expectation,’ murmured Eugene to Lightwood, ‘that somebody is always going to tell him the truth.’)

‘This is Hexam’s boat,’ said Mr Inspector. ‘I know her well.’

‘Look at the broken scull. Look at the t’other scull gone. Now tell me I am a liar!’ said the honest man.

Mr Inspector stepped into the boat. Eugene and Mortimer looked on.

‘And see now!’ added Riderhood, creeping aft, and showing a stretched rope made fast there and towing overboard. ‘Didn’t I tell you he was in luck again?’

‘Haul in,’ said Mr Inspector.

‘Easy to say haul in,’ answered Riderhood. ‘Not so easy done. His luck’s got fouled under the keels of the barges. I tried to haul in last time, but I couldn’t. See how taut the line is!’

‘I must have it up,’ said Mr Inspector. ‘I am going to take this boat ashore, and his luck along with it. Try easy now.’

He tried easy now; but the luck resisted; wouldn’t come.

‘I mean to have it, and the boat too,’ said Mr Inspector, playing the line.

But still the luck resisted; wouldn’t come.

‘Take care,’ said Riderhood. ‘You’ll disfigure. Or pull asunder perhaps.’

‘I am not going to do either, not even to your Grandmother,’ said Mr Inspector; ‘but I mean to have it. Come!’ he added, at once persuasively and with authority to the hidden object in the water, as he played the line again; ‘it’s no good this sort of game, you know. You must come up. I mean to have you.’

There was so much virtue in this distinctly and decidedly meaning to have it, that it yielded a little, even while the line was played.

‘I told you so,’ quoth Mr Inspector, pulling off his outer coat, and leaning well over the stern with a will. ‘Come!’

It was an awful sort of fishing, but it no more disconcerted Mr Inspector than if he had been fishing in a punt on a summer evening by some soothing weir high up the peaceful river. After certain minutes, and a few directions to the rest to ‘ease her a little for’ard,’ and ‘now ease her a trifle aft,’ and the like, he said composedly, ‘All clear!’ and the line and the boat came free together.

Accepting Lightwood’s proffered hand to help him up, he then put on his coat, and said to Riderhood, ‘Hand me over those spare sculls of yours, and I’ll pull this in to the nearest stairs. Go ahead you, and keep out in pretty open water, that I mayn’t get fouled again.’

His directions were obeyed, and they pulled ashore directly; two in one boat, two in the other.

‘Now,’ said Mr Inspector, again to Riderhood, when they were all on the slushy stones; ‘you have had more practice in this than I have had, and ought to be a better workman at it. Undo the tow-rope, and we’ll help you haul in.’

Riderhood got into the boat accordingly. It appeared as if he had scarcely had a moment’s time to touch the rope or look over the stern, when he came scrambling back, as pale as the morning, and gasped out:

‘By the Lord, he’s done me!’

‘What do you mean?’ they all demanded.

He pointed behind him at the boat, and gasped to that degree that he dropped upon the stones to get his breath.

‘Gaffer’s done me. It’s Gaffer!’

They ran to the rope, leaving him gasping there. Soon, the form of the bird of prey, dead some hours, lay stretched upon the shore, with a new blast storming at it and clotting the wet hair with hail-stones.

Father, was that you calling me? Father! I thought I heard you call me twice before! Words never to be answered, those, upon the earth-side of the grave. The wind sweeps jeeringly over Father, whips him with the frayed ends of his dress and his jagged hair, tries to turn him where he lies stark on his back, and force his face towards the rising sun, that he may be shamed the more. A lull, and the wind is secret and prying with him; lifts and lets falls a rag; hides palpitating under another rag; runs nimbly through his hair and beard. Then, in a rush, it cruelly taunts him. Father, was that you calling me? Was it you, the voiceless and the dead? Was it you, thus buffeted as you lie here in a heap? Was it you, thus baptized unto Death, with these flying impurities now flung upon your face? Why not speak, Father? Soaking into this filthy ground as you lie here, is your own shape. Did you never see such a shape soaked into your boat? Speak, Father. Speak to us, the winds, the only listeners left you!

‘Now see,’ said Mr Inspector, after mature deliberation: kneeling on one knee beside the body, when they had stood looking down on the drowned man, as he had many a time looked down on many another man: ‘the way of it was this. Of course you gentlemen hardly failed to observe that he was towing by the neck and arms.’

They had helped to release the rope, and of course not.

‘And you will have observed before, and you will observe now, that this knot, which was drawn chock-tight round his neck by the strain of his own arms, is a slip-knot’: holding it up for demonstration.

Plain enough.

‘Likewise you will have observed how he had run the other end of this rope to his boat.’

It had the curves and indentations in it still, where it had been twined and bound.

‘Now see,’ said Mr Inspector, ‘see how it works round upon him. It’s a wild tempestuous evening when this man that was,’ stooping to wipe some hailstones out of his hair with an end of his own drowned jacket, ‘—there! Now he’s more like himself; though he’s badly bruised,—when this man that was, rows out upon the river on his usual lay. He carries with him this coil of rope. He always carries with him this coil of rope. It’s as well known to me as he was himself. Sometimes it lay in the bottom of his boat. Sometimes he hung it loose round his neck. He was a light-dresser was this man;—you see?’ lifting the loose neckerchief over his breast, and taking the opportunity of wiping the dead lips with it—‘and when it was wet, or freezing, or blew cold, he would hang this coil of line round his neck. Last evening he does this. Worse for him! He dodges about in his boat, does this man, till he gets chilled. His hands,’ taking up one of them, which dropped like a leaden weight, ‘get numbed. He sees some object that’s in his way of business, floating. He makes ready to secure that object. He unwinds the end of his coil that he wants to take some turns on in his boat, and he takes turns enough on it to secure that it shan’t run out. He makes it too secure, as it happens. He is a little longer about this than usual, his hands being numbed. His object drifts up, before he is quite ready for it. He catches at it, thinks he’ll make sure of the contents of the pockets anyhow, in case he should be parted from it, bends right over the stern, and in one of these heavy squalls, or in the cross-swell of two steamers, or in not being quite prepared, or through all or most or some, gets a lurch, overbalances and goes head-foremost overboard. Now see! He can swim, can this man, and instantly he strikes out. But in such striking-out he tangles his arms, pulls strong on the slip-knot, and it runs home. The object he had expected to take in tow, floats by, and his own boat tows him dead, to where we found him, all entangled in his own line. You’ll ask me how I make out about the pockets? First, I’ll tell you more; there was silver in ‘em. How do I make that out? Simple and satisfactory. Because he’s got it here.’ The lecturer held up the tightly clenched right hand.

‘What is to be done with the remains?’ asked Lightwood.

‘If you wouldn’t object to standing by him half a minute, sir,’ was the reply, ‘I’ll find the nearest of our men to come and take charge of him;—I still call it him, you see,’ said Mr Inspector, looking back as he went, with a philosophical smile upon the force of habit.

‘Eugene,’ said Lightwood and was about to add ‘we may wait at a little distance,’ when turning his head he found that no Eugene was there.

He raised his voice and called ‘Eugene! Holloa!’ But no Eugene replied.

It was broad daylight now, and he looked about. But no Eugene was in all the view.

Mr Inspector speedily returning down the wooden stairs, with a police constable, Lightwood asked him if he had seen his friend leave them? Mr Inspector could not exactly say that he had seen him go, but had noticed that he was restless.

‘Singular and entertaining combination, sir, your friend.’

‘I wish it had not been a part of his singular entertaining combination to give me the slip under these dreary circumstances at this time of the morning,’ said Lightwood. ‘Can we get anything hot to drink?’

We could, and we did. In a public-house kitchen with a large fire. We got hot brandy and water, and it revived us wonderfully. Mr Inspector having to Mr Riderhood announced his official intention of ‘keeping his eye upon him’, stood him in a corner of the fireplace, like a wet umbrella, and took no further outward and visible notice of that honest man, except ordering a separate service of brandy and water for him: apparently out of the public funds.

As Mortimer Lightwood sat before the blazing fire, conscious of drinking brandy and water then and there in his sleep, and yet at one and the same time drinking burnt sherry at the Six Jolly Fellowships, and lying under the boat on the river shore, and sitting in the boat that Riderhood rowed, and listening to the lecture recently concluded, and having to dine in the Temple with an unknown man, who described himself as M. H. F. Eugene Gaffer Harmon, and said he lived at Hailstorm,—as he passed through these curious vicissitudes of fatigue and slumber, arranged upon the scale of a dozen hours to the second, he became aware of answering aloud a communication of pressing importance that had never been made to him, and then turned it into a cough on beholding Mr Inspector. For, he felt, with some natural indignation, that that functionary might otherwise suspect him of having closed his eyes, or wandered in his attention.

‘Here just before us, you see,’ said Mr Inspector.

‘I see,’ said Lightwood, with dignity.

‘And had hot brandy and water too, you see,’ said Mr Inspector, ‘and then cut off at a great rate.’

‘Who?’ said Lightwood.

‘Your friend, you know.’

‘I know,’ he replied, again with dignity.

After hearing, in a mist through which Mr Inspector loomed vague and large, that the officer took upon himself to prepare the dead man’s daughter for what had befallen in the night, and generally that he took everything upon himself, Mortimer Lightwood stumbled in his sleep to a cab-stand, called a cab, and had entered the army and committed a capital military offence and been tried by court martial and found guilty and had arranged his affairs and been marched out to be shot, before the door banged.

Hard work rowing the cab through the City to the Temple, for a cup of from five to ten thousand pounds value, given by Mr Boffin; and hard work holding forth at that immeasurable length to Eugene (when he had been rescued with a rope from the running pavement) for making off in that extraordinary manner! But he offered such ample apologies, and was so very penitent, that when Lightwood got out of the cab, he gave the driver a particular charge to be careful of him. Which the driver (knowing there was no other fare left inside) stared at prodigiously.

In short, the night’s work had so exhausted and worn out this actor in it, that he had become a mere somnambulist. He was too tired to rest in his sleep, until he was even tired out of being too tired, and dropped into oblivion. Late in the afternoon he awoke, and in some anxiety sent round to Eugene’s lodging hard by, to inquire if he were up yet?

Oh yes, he was up. In fact, he had not been to bed. He had just come home. And here he was, close following on the heels of the message.

‘Why what bloodshot, draggled, dishevelled spectacle is this!’ cried Mortimer.

‘Are my feathers so very much rumpled?’ said Eugene, coolly going up to the looking-glass. They are rather out of sorts. But consider. Such a night for plumage!’

‘Such a night?’ repeated Mortimer. ‘What became of you in the morning?’

‘My dear fellow,’ said Eugene, sitting on his bed, ‘I felt that we had bored one another so long, that an unbroken continuance of those relations must inevitably terminate in our flying to opposite points of the earth. I also felt that I had committed every crime in the Newgate Calendar. So, for mingled considerations of friendship and felony, I took a walk.’






Chapter 15. 
TWO NEW SERVANTS

Mr and Mrs Boffin sat after breakfast, in the Bower, a prey to prosperity. Mr Boffin’s face denoted Care and Complication. Many disordered papers were before him, and he looked at them about as hopefully as an innocent civilian might look at a crowd of troops whom he was required at five minutes’ notice to manoeuvre and review. He had been engaged in some attempts to make notes of these papers; but being troubled (as men of his stamp often are) with an exceedingly distrustful and corrective thumb, that busy member had so often interposed to smear his notes, that they were little more legible than the various impressions of itself; which blurred his nose and forehead. It is curious to consider, in such a case as Mr Boffin’s, what a cheap article ink is, and how far it may be made to go. As a grain of musk will scent a drawer for many years, and still lose nothing appreciable of its original weight, so a halfpenny-worth of ink would blot Mr Boffin to the roots of his hair and the calves of his legs, without inscribing a line on the paper before him, or appearing to diminish in the inkstand.

Mr Boffin was in such severe literary difficulties that his eyes were prominent and fixed, and his breathing was stertorous, when, to the great relief of Mrs Boffin, who observed these symptoms with alarm, the yard bell rang.

‘Who’s that, I wonder!’ said Mrs Boffin.

Mr Boffin drew a long breath, laid down his pen, looked at his notes as doubting whether he had the pleasure of their acquaintance, and appeared, on a second perusal of their countenances, to be confirmed in his impression that he had not, when there was announced by the hammer-headed young man:

‘Mr Rokesmith.’

‘Oh!’ said Mr Boffin. ‘Oh indeed! Our and the Wilfers’ Mutual Friend, my dear. Yes. Ask him to come in.’

Mr Rokesmith appeared.

‘Sit down, sir,’ said Mr Boffin, shaking hands with him. ‘Mrs Boffin you’re already acquainted with. Well, sir, I am rather unprepared to see you, for, to tell you the truth, I’ve been so busy with one thing and another, that I’ve not had time to turn your offer over.’

‘That’s apology for both of us: for Mr Boffin, and for me as well,’ said the smiling Mrs Boffin. ‘But Lor! we can talk it over now; can’t us?’

Mr Rokesmith bowed, thanked her, and said he hoped so.

‘Let me see then,’ resumed Mr Boffin, with his hand to his chin. ‘It was Secretary that you named; wasn’t it?’

‘I said Secretary,’ assented Mr Rokesmith.

‘It rather puzzled me at the time,’ said Mr Boffin, ‘and it rather puzzled me and Mrs Boffin when we spoke of it afterwards, because (not to make a mystery of our belief) we have always believed a Secretary to be a piece of furniture, mostly of mahogany, lined with green baize or leather, with a lot of little drawers in it. Now, you won’t think I take a liberty when I mention that you certainly ain’t that.’

Certainly not, said Mr Rokesmith. But he had used the word in the sense of Steward.

‘Why, as to Steward, you see,’ returned Mr Boffin, with his hand still to his chin, ‘the odds are that Mrs Boffin and me may never go upon the water. Being both bad sailors, we should want a Steward if we did; but there’s generally one provided.’

Mr Rokesmith again explained; defining the duties he sought to undertake, as those of general superintendent, or manager, or overlooker, or man of business.

‘Now, for instance—come!’ said Mr Boffin, in his pouncing way. ‘If you entered my employment, what would you do?’

‘I would keep exact accounts of all the expenditure you sanctioned, Mr Boffin. I would write your letters, under your direction. I would transact your business with people in your pay or employment. I would,’ with a glance and a half-smile at the table, ‘arrange your papers—’

Mr Boffin rubbed his inky ear, and looked at his wife.

‘—And so arrange them as to have them always in order for immediate reference, with a note of the contents of each outside it.’

‘I tell you what,’ said Mr Boffin, slowly crumpling his own blotted note in his hand; ‘if you’ll turn to at these present papers, and see what you can make of ‘em, I shall know better what I can make of you.’

No sooner said than done. Relinquishing his hat and gloves, Mr Rokesmith sat down quietly at the table, arranged the open papers into an orderly heap, cast his eyes over each in succession, folded it, docketed it on the outside, laid it in a second heap, and, when that second heap was complete and the first gone, took from his pocket a piece of string and tied it together with a remarkably dexterous hand at a running curve and a loop.

‘Good!’ said Mr Boffin. ‘Very good! Now let us hear what they’re all about; will you be so good?’

John Rokesmith read his abstracts aloud. They were all about the new house. Decorator’s estimate, so much. Furniture estimate, so much. Estimate for furniture of offices, so much. Coach-maker’s estimate, so much. Horse-dealer’s estimate, so much. Harness-maker’s estimate, so much. Goldsmith’s estimate, so much. Total, so very much. Then came correspondence. Acceptance of Mr Boffin’s offer of such a date, and to such an effect. Rejection of Mr Boffin’s proposal of such a date and to such an effect. Concerning Mr Boffin’s scheme of such another date to such another effect. All compact and methodical.

‘Apple-pie order!’ said Mr Boffin, after checking off each inscription with his hand, like a man beating time. ‘And whatever you do with your ink, I can’t think, for you’re as clean as a whistle after it. Now, as to a letter. Let’s,’ said Mr Boffin, rubbing his hands in his pleasantly childish admiration, ‘let’s try a letter next.’

‘To whom shall it be addressed, Mr Boffin?’

‘Anyone. Yourself.’

Mr Rokesmith quickly wrote, and then read aloud:

‘“Mr Boffin presents his compliments to Mr John Rokesmith, and begs to say that he has decided on giving Mr John Rokesmith a trial in the capacity he desires to fill. Mr Boffin takes Mr John Rokesmith at his word, in postponing to some indefinite period, the consideration of salary. It is quite understood that Mr Boffin is in no way committed on that point. Mr Boffin has merely to add, that he relies on Mr John Rokesmith’s assurance that he will be faithful and serviceable. Mr John Rokesmith will please enter on his duties immediately.”’

‘Well! Now, Noddy!’ cried Mrs Boffin, clapping her hands, ‘That is a good one!’

Mr Boffin was no less delighted; indeed, in his own bosom, he regarded both the composition itself and the device that had given birth to it, as a very remarkable monument of human ingenuity.

‘And I tell you, my deary,’ said Mrs Boffin, ‘that if you don’t close with Mr Rokesmith now at once, and if you ever go a muddling yourself again with things never meant nor made for you, you’ll have an apoplexy—besides iron-moulding your linen—and you’ll break my heart.’

Mr Boffin embraced his spouse for these words of wisdom, and then, congratulating John Rokesmith on the brilliancy of his achievements, gave him his hand in pledge of their new relations. So did Mrs Boffin.

‘Now,’ said Mr Boffin, who, in his frankness, felt that it did not become him to have a gentleman in his employment five minutes, without reposing some confidence in him, ‘you must be let a little more into our affairs, Rokesmith. I mentioned to you, when I made your acquaintance, or I might better say when you made mine, that Mrs Boffin’s inclinations was setting in the way of Fashion, but that I didn’t know how fashionable we might or might not grow. Well! Mrs Boffin has carried the day, and we’re going in neck and crop for Fashion.’

‘I rather inferred that, sir,’ replied John Rokesmith, ‘from the scale on which your new establishment is to be maintained.’

‘Yes,’ said Mr Boffin, ‘it’s to be a Spanker. The fact is, my literary man named to me that a house with which he is, as I may say, connected—in which he has an interest—’

‘As property?’ inquired John Rokesmith.

‘Why no,’ said Mr Boffin, ‘not exactly that; a sort of a family tie.’

‘Association?’ the Secretary suggested.

‘Ah!’ said Mr Boffin. ‘Perhaps. Anyhow, he named to me that the house had a board up, “This Eminently Aristocratic Mansion to be let or sold.” Me and Mrs Boffin went to look at it, and finding it beyond a doubt Eminently Aristocratic (though a trifle high and dull, which after all may be part of the same thing) took it. My literary man was so friendly as to drop into a charming piece of poetry on that occasion, in which he complimented Mrs Boffin on coming into possession of—how did it go, my dear?’

Mrs Boffin replied:

     ‘“The gay, the gay and festive scene,
     The halls, the halls of dazzling light.”’

‘That’s it! And it was made neater by there really being two halls in the house, a front ‘un and a back ‘un, besides the servants’. He likewise dropped into a very pretty piece of poetry to be sure, respecting the extent to which he would be willing to put himself out of the way to bring Mrs Boffin round, in case she should ever get low in her spirits in the house. Mrs Boffin has a wonderful memory. Will you repeat it, my dear?’

Mrs Boffin complied, by reciting the verses in which this obliging offer had been made, exactly as she had received them.

     ‘“I’ll tell thee how the maiden wept, Mrs Boffin,
     When her true love was slain ma’am,
     And how her broken spirit slept, Mrs Boffin,
     And never woke again ma’am.
     I’ll tell thee (if agreeable to Mr Boffin) how the steed drew
     nigh,
     And left his lord afar;
     And if my tale (which I hope Mr Boffin might excuse) should
     make you sigh,
     I’ll strike the light guitar.”’

‘Correct to the letter!’ said Mr Boffin. ‘And I consider that the poetry brings us both in, in a beautiful manner.’

The effect of the poem on the Secretary being evidently to astonish him, Mr Boffin was confirmed in his high opinion of it, and was greatly pleased.

‘Now, you see, Rokesmith,’ he went on, ‘a literary man—with a wooden leg—is liable to jealousy. I shall therefore cast about for comfortable ways and means of not calling up Wegg’s jealousy, but of keeping you in your department, and keeping him in his.’

‘Lor!’ cried Mrs Boffin. ‘What I say is, the world’s wide enough for all of us!’

‘So it is, my dear,’ said Mr Boffin, ‘when not literary. But when so, not so. And I am bound to bear in mind that I took Wegg on, at a time when I had no thought of being fashionable or of leaving the Bower. To let him feel himself anyways slighted now, would be to be guilty of a meanness, and to act like having one’s head turned by the halls of dazzling light. Which Lord forbid! Rokesmith, what shall we say about your living in the house?’

‘In this house?’

‘No, no. I have got other plans for this house. In the new house?’

‘That will be as you please, Mr Boffin. I hold myself quite at your disposal. You know where I live at present.’

‘Well!’ said Mr Boffin, after considering the point; ‘suppose you keep as you are for the present, and we’ll decide by-and-by. You’ll begin to take charge at once, of all that’s going on in the new house, will you?’

‘Most willingly. I will begin this very day. Will you give me the address?’

Mr Boffin repeated it, and the Secretary wrote it down in his pocket-book. Mrs Boffin took the opportunity of his being so engaged, to get a better observation of his face than she had yet taken. It impressed her in his favour, for she nodded aside to Mr Boffin, ‘I like him.’

‘I will see directly that everything is in train, Mr Boffin.’

‘Thank’ee. Being here, would you care at all to look round the Bower?’

‘I should greatly like it. I have heard so much of its story.’

‘Come!’ said Mr Boffin. And he and Mrs Boffin led the way.

A gloomy house the Bower, with sordid signs on it of having been, through its long existence as Harmony Jail, in miserly holding. Bare of paint, bare of paper on the walls, bare of furniture, bare of experience of human life. Whatever is built by man for man’s occupation, must, like natural creations, fulfil the intention of its existence, or soon perish. This old house had wasted—more from desuetude than it would have wasted from use, twenty years for one.

A certain leanness falls upon houses not sufficiently imbued with life (as if they were nourished upon it), which was very noticeable here. The staircase, balustrades, and rails, had a spare look—an air of being denuded to the bone—which the panels of the walls and the jambs of the doors and windows also bore. The scanty moveables partook of it; save for the cleanliness of the place, the dust—into which they were all resolving would have lain thick on the floors; and those, both in colour and in grain, were worn like old faces that had kept much alone.

The bedroom where the clutching old man had lost his grip on life, was left as he had left it. There was the old grisly four-post bedstead, without hangings, and with a jail-like upper rim of iron and spikes; and there was the old patch-work counterpane. There was the tight-clenched old bureau, receding atop like a bad and secret forehead; there was the cumbersome old table with twisted legs, at the bed-side; and there was the box upon it, in which the will had lain. A few old chairs with patch-work covers, under which the more precious stuff to be preserved had slowly lost its quality of colour without imparting pleasure to any eye, stood against the wall. A hard family likeness was on all these things.

‘The room was kept like this, Rokesmith,’ said Mr Boffin, ‘against the son’s return. In short, everything in the house was kept exactly as it came to us, for him to see and approve. Even now, nothing is changed but our own room below-stairs that you have just left. When the son came home for the last time in his life, and for the last time in his life saw his father, it was most likely in this room that they met.’

As the Secretary looked all round it, his eyes rested on a side door in a corner.

‘Another staircase,’ said Mr Boffin, unlocking the door, ‘leading down into the yard. We’ll go down this way, as you may like to see the yard, and it’s all in the road. When the son was a little child, it was up and down these stairs that he mostly came and went to his father. He was very timid of his father. I’ve seen him sit on these stairs, in his shy way, poor child, many a time. Mr and Mrs Boffin have comforted him, sitting with his little book on these stairs, often.’

‘Ah! And his poor sister too,’ said Mrs Boffin. ‘And here’s the sunny place on the white wall where they one day measured one another. Their own little hands wrote up their names here, only with a pencil; but the names are here still, and the poor dears gone for ever.’

‘We must take care of the names, old lady,’ said Mr Boffin. ‘We must take care of the names. They shan’t be rubbed out in our time, nor yet, if we can help it, in the time after us. Poor little children!’

‘Ah, poor little children!’ said Mrs Boffin.

They had opened the door at the bottom of the staircase giving on the yard, and they stood in the sunlight, looking at the scrawl of the two unsteady childish hands two or three steps up the staircase. There was something in this simple memento of a blighted childhood, and in the tenderness of Mrs Boffin, that touched the Secretary.

Mr Boffin then showed his new man of business the Mounds, and his own particular Mound which had been left him as his legacy under the will before he acquired the whole estate.

‘It would have been enough for us,’ said Mr Boffin, ‘in case it had pleased God to spare the last of those two young lives and sorrowful deaths. We didn’t want the rest.’

At the treasures of the yard, and at the outside of the house, and at the detached building which Mr Boffin pointed out as the residence of himself and his wife during the many years of their service, the Secretary looked with interest. It was not until Mr Boffin had shown him every wonder of the Bower twice over, that he remembered his having duties to discharge elsewhere.

‘You have no instructions to give me, Mr Boffin, in reference to this place?’

‘Not any, Rokesmith. No.’

‘Might I ask, without seeming impertinent, whether you have any intention of selling it?’

‘Certainly not. In remembrance of our old master, our old master’s children, and our old service, me and Mrs Boffin mean to keep it up as it stands.’

The Secretary’s eyes glanced with so much meaning in them at the Mounds, that Mr Boffin said, as if in answer to a remark:

‘Ay, ay, that’s another thing. I may sell them, though I should be sorry to see the neighbourhood deprived of ‘em too. It’ll look but a poor dead flat without the Mounds. Still I don’t say that I’m going to keep ‘em always there, for the sake of the beauty of the landscape. There’s no hurry about it; that’s all I say at present. I ain’t a scholar in much, Rokesmith, but I’m a pretty fair scholar in dust. I can price the Mounds to a fraction, and I know how they can be best disposed of; and likewise that they take no harm by standing where they do. You’ll look in to-morrow, will you be so kind?’

‘Every day. And the sooner I can get you into your new house, complete, the better you will be pleased, sir?’

‘Well, it ain’t that I’m in a mortal hurry,’ said Mr Boffin; ‘only when you do pay people for looking alive, it’s as well to know that they are looking alive. Ain’t that your opinion?’

‘Quite!’ replied the Secretary; and so withdrew.

‘Now,’ said Mr Boffin to himself; subsiding into his regular series of turns in the yard, ‘if I can make it comfortable with Wegg, my affairs will be going smooth.’

The man of low cunning had, of course, acquired a mastery over the man of high simplicity. The mean man had, of course, got the better of the generous man. How long such conquests last, is another matter; that they are achieved, is every-day experience, not even to be flourished away by Podsnappery itself. The undesigning Boffin had become so far immeshed by the wily Wegg that his mind misgave him he was a very designing man indeed in purposing to do more for Wegg. It seemed to him (so skilful was Wegg) that he was plotting darkly, when he was contriving to do the very thing that Wegg was plotting to get him to do. And thus, while he was mentally turning the kindest of kind faces on Wegg this morning, he was not absolutely sure but that he might somehow deserve the charge of turning his back on him.

For these reasons Mr Boffin passed but anxious hours until evening came, and with it Mr Wegg, stumping leisurely to the Roman Empire. At about this period Mr Boffin had become profoundly interested in the fortunes of a great military leader known to him as Bully Sawyers, but perhaps better known to fame and easier of identification by the classical student, under the less Britannic name of Belisarius. Even this general’s career paled in interest for Mr Boffin before the clearing of his conscience with Wegg; and hence, when that literary gentleman had according to custom eaten and drunk until he was all a-glow, and when he took up his book with the usual chirping introduction, ‘And now, Mr Boffin, sir, we’ll decline and we’ll fall!’ Mr Boffin stopped him.

‘You remember, Wegg, when I first told you that I wanted to make a sort of offer to you?’

‘Let me get on my considering cap, sir,’ replied that gentleman, turning the open book face downward. ‘When you first told me that you wanted to make a sort of offer to me? Now let me think.’ (as if there were the least necessity) ‘Yes, to be sure I do, Mr Boffin. It was at my corner. To be sure it was! You had first asked me whether I liked your name, and Candour had compelled a reply in the negative case. I little thought then, sir, how familiar that name would come to be!’

‘I hope it will be more familiar still, Wegg.’

‘Do you, Mr Boffin? Much obliged to you, I’m sure. Is it your pleasure, sir, that we decline and we fall?’ with a feint of taking up the book.

‘Not just yet awhile, Wegg. In fact, I have got another offer to make you.’

Mr Wegg (who had had nothing else in his mind for several nights) took off his spectacles with an air of bland surprise.

‘And I hope you’ll like it, Wegg.’

‘Thank you, sir,’ returned that reticent individual. ‘I hope it may prove so. On all accounts, I am sure.’ (This, as a philanthropic aspiration.)

‘What do you think,’ said Mr Boffin, ‘of not keeping a stall, Wegg?’

‘I think, sir,’ replied Wegg, ‘that I should like to be shown the gentleman prepared to make it worth my while!’

‘Here he is,’ said Mr Boffin.

Mr Wegg was going to say, My Benefactor, and had said My Bene, when a grandiloquent change came over him.

‘No, Mr Boffin, not you sir. Anybody but you. Do not fear, Mr Boffin, that I shall contaminate the premises which your gold has bought, with my lowly pursuits. I am aware, sir, that it would not become me to carry on my little traffic under the windows of your mansion. I have already thought of that, and taken my measures. No need to be bought out, sir. Would Stepney Fields be considered intrusive? If not remote enough, I can go remoter. In the words of the poet’s song, which I do not quite remember:

     Thrown on the wide world, doom’d to wander and roam,
     Bereft of my parents, bereft of a home,
     A stranger to something and what’s his name joy,
     Behold little Edmund the poor Peasant boy.

—And equally,’ said Mr Wegg, repairing the want of direct application in the last line, ‘behold myself on a similar footing!’

‘Now, Wegg, Wegg, Wegg,’ remonstrated the excellent Boffin. ‘You are too sensitive.’

‘I know I am, sir,’ returned Wegg, with obstinate magnanimity. ‘I am acquainted with my faults. I always was, from a child, too sensitive.’

‘But listen,’ pursued the Golden Dustman; ‘hear me out, Wegg. You have taken it into your head that I mean to pension you off.’

‘True, sir,’ returned Wegg, still with an obstinate magnanimity. ‘I am acquainted with my faults. Far be it from me to deny them. I have taken it into my head.’

‘But I don’t mean it.’

The assurance seemed hardly as comforting to Mr Wegg, as Mr Boffin intended it to be. Indeed, an appreciable elongation of his visage might have been observed as he replied:

‘Don’t you, indeed, sir?’

‘No,’ pursued Mr Boffin; ‘because that would express, as I understand it, that you were not going to do anything to deserve your money. But you are; you are.’

‘That, sir,’ replied Mr Wegg, cheering up bravely, ‘is quite another pair of shoes. Now, my independence as a man is again elevated. Now, I no longer

     Weep for the hour,
     When to Boffinses bower,
     The Lord of the valley with offers came;
     Neither does the moon hide her light
     From the heavens to-night,
     And weep behind her clouds o’er any individual in the present
     Company’s shame.

—Please to proceed, Mr Boffin.’

‘Thank’ee, Wegg, both for your confidence in me and for your frequent dropping into poetry; both of which is friendly. Well, then; my idea is, that you should give up your stall, and that I should put you into the Bower here, to keep it for us. It’s a pleasant spot; and a man with coals and candles and a pound a week might be in clover here.’

‘Hem! Would that man, sir—we will say that man, for the purposes of argueyment;’ Mr Wegg made a smiling demonstration of great perspicuity here; ‘would that man, sir, be expected to throw any other capacity in, or would any other capacity be considered extra? Now let us (for the purposes of argueyment) suppose that man to be engaged as a reader: say (for the purposes of argueyment) in the evening. Would that man’s pay as a reader in the evening, be added to the other amount, which, adopting your language, we will call clover; or would it merge into that amount, or clover?’

‘Well,’ said Mr Boffin, ‘I suppose it would be added.’

‘I suppose it would, sir. You are right, sir. Exactly my own views, Mr Boffin.’ Here Wegg rose, and balancing himself on his wooden leg, fluttered over his prey with extended hand. ‘Mr Boffin, consider it done. Say no more, sir, not a word more. My stall and I are for ever parted. The collection of ballads will in future be reserved for private study, with the object of making poetry tributary’—Wegg was so proud of having found this word, that he said it again, with a capital letter—‘Tributary, to friendship. Mr Boffin, don’t allow yourself to be made uncomfortable by the pang it gives me to part from my stock and stall. Similar emotion was undergone by my own father when promoted for his merits from his occupation as a waterman to a situation under Government. His Christian name was Thomas. His words at the time (I was then an infant, but so deep was their impression on me, that I committed them to memory) were:

     Then farewell my trim-built wherry,
     Oars and coat and badge farewell!
     Never more at Chelsea Ferry,
     Shall your Thomas take a spell!

—My father got over it, Mr Boffin, and so shall I.’

While delivering these valedictory observations, Wegg continually disappointed Mr Boffin of his hand by flourishing it in the air. He now darted it at his patron, who took it, and felt his mind relieved of a great weight: observing that as they had arranged their joint affairs so satisfactorily, he would now be glad to look into those of Bully Sawyers. Which, indeed, had been left over-night in a very unpromising posture, and for whose impending expedition against the Persians the weather had been by no means favourable all day.

Mr Wegg resumed his spectacles therefore. But Sawyers was not to be of the party that night; for, before Wegg had found his place, Mrs Boffin’s tread was heard upon the stairs, so unusually heavy and hurried, that Mr Boffin would have started up at the sound, anticipating some occurrence much out of the common course, even though she had not also called to him in an agitated tone.

Mr Boffin hurried out, and found her on the dark staircase, panting, with a lighted candle in her hand.

‘What’s the matter, my dear?’

‘I don’t know; I don’t know; but I wish you’d come up-stairs.’

Much surprised, Mr Boffin went up stairs and accompanied Mrs Boffin into their own room: a second large room on the same floor as the room in which the late proprietor had died. Mr Boffin looked all round him, and saw nothing more unusual than various articles of folded linen on a large chest, which Mrs Boffin had been sorting.

‘What is it, my dear? Why, you’re frightened! You frightened?’

‘I am not one of that sort certainly,’ said Mrs Boffin, as she sat down in a chair to recover herself, and took her husband’s arm; ‘but it’s very strange!’

‘What is, my dear?’

‘Noddy, the faces of the old man and the two children are all over the house to-night.’

‘My dear?’ exclaimed Mr Boffin. But not without a certain uncomfortable sensation gliding down his back.

‘I know it must sound foolish, and yet it is so.’

‘Where did you think you saw them?’

‘I don’t know that I think I saw them anywhere. I felt them.’

‘Touched them?’

‘No. Felt them in the air. I was sorting those things on the chest, and not thinking of the old man or the children, but singing to myself, when all in a moment I felt there was a face growing out of the dark.’

‘What face?’ asked her husband, looking about him.

‘For a moment it was the old man’s, and then it got younger. For a moment it was both the children’s, and then it got older. For a moment it was a strange face, and then it was all the faces.’

‘And then it was gone?’

‘Yes; and then it was gone.’

‘Where were you then, old lady?’

‘Here, at the chest. Well; I got the better of it, and went on sorting, and went on singing to myself. “Lor!” I says, “I’ll think of something else—something comfortable—and put it out of my head.” So I thought of the new house and Miss Bella Wilfer, and was thinking at a great rate with that sheet there in my hand, when all of a sudden, the faces seemed to be hidden in among the folds of it and I let it drop.’

As it still lay on the floor where it had fallen, Mr Boffin picked it up and laid it on the chest.

‘And then you ran down stairs?’

‘No. I thought I’d try another room, and shake it off. I says to myself, “I’ll go and walk slowly up and down the old man’s room three times, from end to end, and then I shall have conquered it.” I went in with the candle in my hand; but the moment I came near the bed, the air got thick with them.’

‘With the faces?’

‘Yes, and I even felt that they were in the dark behind the side-door, and on the little staircase, floating away into the yard. Then, I called you.’

Mr Boffin, lost in amazement, looked at Mrs Boffin. Mrs Boffin, lost in her own fluttered inability to make this out, looked at Mr Boffin.

‘I think, my dear,’ said the Golden Dustman, ‘I’ll at once get rid of Wegg for the night, because he’s coming to inhabit the Bower, and it might be put into his head or somebody else’s, if he heard this and it got about that the house is haunted. Whereas we know better. Don’t we?’

‘I never had the feeling in the house before,’ said Mrs Boffin; ‘and I have been about it alone at all hours of the night. I have been in the house when Death was in it, and I have been in the house when Murder was a new part of its adventures, and I never had a fright in it yet.’

‘And won’t again, my dear,’ said Mr Boffin. ‘Depend upon it, it comes of thinking and dwelling on that dark spot.’

‘Yes; but why didn’t it come before?’ asked Mrs Boffin.

This draft on Mr Boffin’s philosophy could only be met by that gentleman with the remark that everything that is at all, must begin at some time. Then, tucking his wife’s arm under his own, that she might not be left by herself to be troubled again, he descended to release Wegg. Who, being something drowsy after his plentiful repast, and constitutionally of a shirking temperament, was well enough pleased to stump away, without doing what he had come to do, and was paid for doing.

Mr Boffin then put on his hat, and Mrs Boffin her shawl; and the pair, further provided with a bunch of keys and a lighted lantern, went all over the dismal house—dismal everywhere, but in their own two rooms—from cellar to cock-loft. Not resting satisfied with giving that much chace to Mrs Boffin’s fancies, they pursued them into the yard and outbuildings, and under the Mounds. And setting the lantern, when all was done, at the foot of one of the Mounds, they comfortably trotted to and fro for an evening walk, to the end that the murky cobwebs in Mrs Boffin’s brain might be blown away.

‘There, my dear!’ said Mr Boffin when they came in to supper. ‘That was the treatment, you see. Completely worked round, haven’t you?’

‘Yes, deary,’ said Mrs Boffin, laying aside her shawl. ‘I’m not nervous any more. I’m not a bit troubled now. I’d go anywhere about the house the same as ever. But—’

‘Eh!’ said Mr Boffin.

‘But I’ve only to shut my eyes.’

‘And what then?’

‘Why then,’ said Mrs Boffin, speaking with her eyes closed, and her left hand thoughtfully touching her brow, ‘then, there they are! The old man’s face, and it gets younger. The two children’s faces, and they get older. A face that I don’t know. And then all the faces!’

Opening her eyes again, and seeing her husband’s face across the table, she leaned forward to give it a pat on the cheek, and sat down to supper, declaring it to be the best face in the world.






Chapter 16. 
MINDERS AND RE-MINDERS

The Secretary lost no time in getting to work, and his vigilance and method soon set their mark on the Golden Dustman’s affairs. His earnestness in determining to understand the length and breadth and depth of every piece of work submitted to him by his employer, was as special as his despatch in transacting it. He accepted no information or explanation at second hand, but made himself the master of everything confided to him.

One part of the Secretary’s conduct, underlying all the rest, might have been mistrusted by a man with a better knowledge of men than the Golden Dustman had. The Secretary was as far from being inquisitive or intrusive as Secretary could be, but nothing less than a complete understanding of the whole of the affairs would content him. It soon became apparent (from the knowledge with which he set out) that he must have been to the office where the Harmon will was registered, and must have read the will. He anticipated Mr Boffin’s consideration whether he should be advised with on this or that topic, by showing that he already knew of it and understood it. He did this with no attempt at concealment, seeming to be satisfied that it was part of his duty to have prepared himself at all attainable points for its utmost discharge.

This might—let it be repeated—have awakened some little vague mistrust in a man more worldly-wise than the Golden Dustman. On the other hand, the Secretary was discerning, discreet, and silent, though as zealous as if the affairs had been his own. He showed no love of patronage or the command of money, but distinctly preferred resigning both to Mr Boffin. If, in his limited sphere, he sought power, it was the power of knowledge; the power derivable from a perfect comprehension of his business.

As on the Secretary’s face there was a nameless cloud, so on his manner there was a shadow equally indefinable. It was not that he was embarrassed, as on that first night with the Wilfer family; he was habitually unembarrassed now, and yet the something remained. It was not that his manner was bad, as on that occasion; it was now very good, as being modest, gracious, and ready. Yet the something never left it. It has been written of men who have undergone a cruel captivity, or who have passed through a terrible strait, or who in self-preservation have killed a defenceless fellow-creature, that the record thereof has never faded from their countenances until they died. Was there any such record here?

He established a temporary office for himself in the new house, and all went well under his hand, with one singular exception. He manifestly objected to communicate with Mr Boffin’s solicitor. Two or three times, when there was some slight occasion for his doing so, he transferred the task to Mr Boffin; and his evasion of it soon became so curiously apparent, that Mr Boffin spoke to him on the subject of his reluctance.

‘It is so,’ the Secretary admitted. ‘I would rather not.’

Had he any personal objection to Mr Lightwood?

‘I don’t know him.’

Had he suffered from law-suits?

‘Not more than other men,’ was his short answer.

Was he prejudiced against the race of lawyers?

‘No. But while I am in your employment, sir, I would rather be excused from going between the lawyer and the client. Of course if you press it, Mr Boffin, I am ready to comply. But I should take it as a great favour if you would not press it without urgent occasion.’

Now, it could not be said that there was urgent occasion, for Lightwood retained no other affairs in his hands than such as still lingered and languished about the undiscovered criminal, and such as arose out of the purchase of the house. Many other matters that might have travelled to him, now stopped short at the Secretary, under whose administration they were far more expeditiously and satisfactorily disposed of than they would have been if they had got into Young Blight’s domain. This the Golden Dustman quite understood. Even the matter immediately in hand was of very little moment as requiring personal appearance on the Secretary’s part, for it amounted to no more than this:—The death of Hexam rendering the sweat of the honest man’s brow unprofitable, the honest man had shufflingly declined to moisten his brow for nothing, with that severe exertion which is known in legal circles as swearing your way through a stone wall. Consequently, that new light had gone sputtering out. But, the airing of the old facts had led some one concerned to suggest that it would be well before they were reconsigned to their gloomy shelf—now probably for ever—to induce or compel that Mr Julius Handford to reappear and be questioned. And all traces of Mr Julius Handford being lost, Lightwood now referred to his client for authority to seek him through public advertisement.

‘Does your objection go to writing to Lightwood, Rokesmith?’

‘Not in the least, sir.’

‘Then perhaps you’ll write him a line, and say he is free to do what he likes. I don’t think it promises.’

‘I don’t think it promises,’ said the Secretary.

‘Still, he may do what he likes.’

‘I will write immediately. Let me thank you for so considerately yielding to my disinclination. It may seem less unreasonable, if I avow to you that although I don’t know Mr Lightwood, I have a disagreeable association connected with him. It is not his fault; he is not at all to blame for it, and does not even know my name.’

Mr Boffin dismissed the matter with a nod or two. The letter was written, and next day Mr Julius Handford was advertised for. He was requested to place himself in communication with Mr Mortimer Lightwood, as a possible means of furthering the ends of justice, and a reward was offered to any one acquainted with his whereabout who would communicate the same to the said Mr Mortimer Lightwood at his office in the Temple. Every day for six weeks this advertisement appeared at the head of all the newspapers, and every day for six weeks the Secretary, when he saw it, said to himself; in the tone in which he had said to his employer,—‘I don’t think it promises!’

Among his first occupations the pursuit of that orphan wanted by Mrs Boffin held a conspicuous place. From the earliest moment of his engagement he showed a particular desire to please her, and, knowing her to have this object at heart, he followed it up with unwearying alacrity and interest.

Mr and Mrs Milvey had found their search a difficult one. Either an eligible orphan was of the wrong sex (which almost always happened) or was too old, or too young, or too sickly, or too dirty, or too much accustomed to the streets, or too likely to run away; or, it was found impossible to complete the philanthropic transaction without buying the orphan. For, the instant it became known that anybody wanted the orphan, up started some affectionate relative of the orphan who put a price upon the orphan’s head. The suddenness of an orphan’s rise in the market was not to be paralleled by the maddest records of the Stock Exchange. He would be at five thousand per cent discount out at nurse making a mud pie at nine in the morning, and (being inquired for) would go up to five thousand per cent premium before noon. The market was ‘rigged’ in various artful ways. Counterfeit stock got into circulation. Parents boldly represented themselves as dead, and brought their orphans with them. Genuine orphan-stock was surreptitiously withdrawn from the market. It being announced, by emissaries posted for the purpose, that Mr and Mrs Milvey were coming down the court, orphan scrip would be instantly concealed, and production refused, save on a condition usually stated by the brokers as ‘a gallon of beer’. Likewise, fluctuations of a wild and South-Sea nature were occasioned, by orphan-holders keeping back, and then rushing into the market a dozen together. But, the uniform principle at the root of all these various operations was bargain and sale; and that principle could not be recognized by Mr and Mrs Milvey.

At length, tidings were received by the Reverend Frank of a charming orphan to be found at Brentford. One of the deceased parents (late his parishioners) had a poor widowed grandmother in that agreeable town, and she, Mrs Betty Higden, had carried off the orphan with maternal care, but could not afford to keep him.

The Secretary proposed to Mrs Boffin, either to go down himself and take a preliminary survey of this orphan, or to drive her down, that she might at once form her own opinion. Mrs Boffin preferring the latter course, they set off one morning in a hired phaeton, conveying the hammer-headed young man behind them.

The abode of Mrs Betty Higden was not easy to find, lying in such complicated back settlements of muddy Brentford that they left their equipage at the sign of the Three Magpies, and went in search of it on foot. After many inquiries and defeats, there was pointed out to them in a lane, a very small cottage residence, with a board across the open doorway, hooked on to which board by the armpits was a young gentleman of tender years, angling for mud with a headless wooden horse and line. In this young sportsman, distinguished by a crisply curling auburn head and a bluff countenance, the Secretary descried the orphan.

It unfortunately happened as they quickened their pace, that the orphan, lost to considerations of personal safety in the ardour of the moment, overbalanced himself and toppled into the street. Being an orphan of a chubby conformation, he then took to rolling, and had rolled into the gutter before they could come up. From the gutter he was rescued by John Rokesmith, and thus the first meeting with Mrs Higden was inaugurated by the awkward circumstance of their being in possession—one would say at first sight unlawful possession—of the orphan, upside down and purple in the countenance. The board across the doorway too, acting as a trap equally for the feet of Mrs Higden coming out, and the feet of Mrs Boffin and John Rokesmith going in, greatly increased the difficulty of the situation: to which the cries of the orphan imparted a lugubrious and inhuman character.

At first, it was impossible to explain, on account of the orphan’s ‘holding his breath’: a most terrific proceeding, super-inducing in the orphan lead-colour rigidity and a deadly silence, compared with which his cries were music yielding the height of enjoyment. But as he gradually recovered, Mrs Boffin gradually introduced herself; and smiling peace was gradually wooed back to Mrs Betty Higden’s home.

It was then perceived to be a small home with a large mangle in it, at the handle of which machine stood a very long boy, with a very little head, and an open mouth of disproportionate capacity that seemed to assist his eyes in staring at the visitors. In a corner below the mangle, on a couple of stools, sat two very little children: a boy and a girl; and when the very long boy, in an interval of staring, took a turn at the mangle, it was alarming to see how it lunged itself at those two innocents, like a catapult designed for their destruction, harmlessly retiring when within an inch of their heads. The room was clean and neat. It had a brick floor, and a window of diamond panes, and a flounce hanging below the chimney-piece, and strings nailed from bottom to top outside the window on which scarlet-beans were to grow in the coming season if the Fates were propitious. However propitious they might have been in the seasons that were gone, to Betty Higden in the matter of beans, they had not been very favourable in the matter of coins; for it was easy to see that she was poor.

She was one of those old women, was Mrs Betty Higden, who by dint of an indomitable purpose and a strong constitution fight out many years, though each year has come with its new knock-down blows fresh to the fight against her, wearied by it; an active old woman, with a bright dark eye and a resolute face, yet quite a tender creature too; not a logically-reasoning woman, but God is good, and hearts may count in Heaven as high as heads.

‘Yes sure!’ said she, when the business was opened, ‘Mrs Milvey had the kindness to write to me, ma’am, and I got Sloppy to read it. It was a pretty letter. But she’s an affable lady.’

The visitors glanced at the long boy, who seemed to indicate by a broader stare of his mouth and eyes that in him Sloppy stood confessed.

‘For I aint, you must know,’ said Betty, ‘much of a hand at reading writing-hand, though I can read my Bible and most print. And I do love a newspaper. You mightn’t think it, but Sloppy is a beautiful reader of a newspaper. He do the Police in different voices.’

The visitors again considered it a point of politeness to look at Sloppy, who, looking at them, suddenly threw back his head, extended his mouth to its utmost width, and laughed loud and long. At this the two innocents, with their brains in that apparent danger, laughed, and Mrs Higden laughed, and the orphan laughed, and then the visitors laughed. Which was more cheerful than intelligible.

Then Sloppy seeming to be seized with an industrious mania or fury, turned to at the mangle, and impelled it at the heads of the innocents with such a creaking and rumbling, that Mrs Higden stopped him.

‘The gentlefolks can’t hear themselves speak, Sloppy. Bide a bit, bide a bit!’

‘Is that the dear child in your lap?’ said Mrs Boffin.

‘Yes, ma’am, this is Johnny.’

‘Johnny, too!’ cried Mrs Boffin, turning to the Secretary; ‘already Johnny! Only one of the two names left to give him! He’s a pretty boy.’

With his chin tucked down in his shy childish manner, he was looking furtively at Mrs Boffin out of his blue eyes, and reaching his fat dimpled hand up to the lips of the old woman, who was kissing it by times.

‘Yes, ma’am, he’s a pretty boy, he’s a dear darling boy, he’s the child of my own last left daughter’s daughter. But she’s gone the way of all the rest.’

‘Those are not his brother and sister?’ said Mrs Boffin.

‘Oh, dear no, ma’am. Those are Minders.’

‘Minders?’ the Secretary repeated.

‘Left to be Minded, sir. I keep a Minding-School. I can take only three, on account of the Mangle. But I love children, and Four-pence a week is Four-pence. Come here, Toddles and Poddles.’

Toddles was the pet-name of the boy; Poddles of the girl. At their little unsteady pace, they came across the floor, hand-in-hand, as if they were traversing an extremely difficult road intersected by brooks, and, when they had had their heads patted by Mrs Betty Higden, made lunges at the orphan, dramatically representing an attempt to bear him, crowing, into captivity and slavery. All the three children enjoyed this to a delightful extent, and the sympathetic Sloppy again laughed long and loud. When it was discreet to stop the play, Betty Higden said ‘Go to your seats Toddles and Poddles,’ and they returned hand-in-hand across country, seeming to find the brooks rather swollen by late rains.

‘And Master—or Mister—Sloppy?’ said the Secretary, in doubt whether he was man, boy, or what.

‘A love-child,’ returned Betty Higden, dropping her voice; ‘parents never known; found in the street. He was brought up in the—’ with a shiver of repugnance, ‘—the House.’

‘The Poor-house?’ said the Secretary.

Mrs Higden set that resolute old face of hers, and darkly nodded yes.

‘You dislike the mention of it.’

‘Dislike the mention of it?’ answered the old woman. ‘Kill me sooner than take me there. Throw this pretty child under cart-horses feet and a loaded waggon, sooner than take him there. Come to us and find us all a-dying, and set a light to us all where we lie and let us all blaze away with the house into a heap of cinders sooner than move a corpse of us there!’

A surprising spirit in this lonely woman after so many years of hard working, and hard living, my Lords and Gentlemen and Honourable Boards! What is it that we call it in our grandiose speeches? British independence, rather perverted? Is that, or something like it, the ring of the cant?

‘Do I never read in the newspapers,’ said the dame, fondling the child—‘God help me and the like of me!—how the worn-out people that do come down to that, get driven from post to pillar and pillar to post, a-purpose to tire them out! Do I never read how they are put off, put off, put off—how they are grudged, grudged, grudged, the shelter, or the doctor, or the drop of physic, or the bit of bread? Do I never read how they grow heartsick of it and give it up, after having let themselves drop so low, and how they after all die out for want of help? Then I say, I hope I can die as well as another, and I’ll die without that disgrace.’

Absolutely impossible my Lords and Gentlemen and Honourable Boards, by any stretch of legislative wisdom to set these perverse people right in their logic?

‘Johnny, my pretty,’ continued old Betty, caressing the child, and rather mourning over it than speaking to it, ‘your old Granny Betty is nigher fourscore year than threescore and ten. She never begged nor had a penny of the Union money in all her life. She paid scot and she paid lot when she had money to pay; she worked when she could, and she starved when she must. You pray that your Granny may have strength enough left her at the last (she’s strong for an old one, Johnny), to get up from her bed and run and hide herself and swown to death in a hole, sooner than fall into the hands of those Cruel Jacks we read of that dodge and drive, and worry and weary, and scorn and shame, the decent poor.’

A brilliant success, my Lords and Gentlemen and Honourable Boards to have brought it to this in the minds of the best of the poor! Under submission, might it be worth thinking of at any odd time?

The fright and abhorrence that Mrs Betty Higden smoothed out of her strong face as she ended this diversion, showed how seriously she had meant it.

‘And does he work for you?’ asked the Secretary, gently bringing the discourse back to Master or Mister Sloppy.

‘Yes,’ said Betty with a good-humoured smile and nod of the head. ‘And well too.’

‘Does he live here?’

‘He lives more here than anywhere. He was thought to be no better than a Natural, and first come to me as a Minder. I made interest with Mr Blogg the Beadle to have him as a Minder, seeing him by chance up at church, and thinking I might do something with him. For he was a weak ricketty creetur then.’

‘Is he called by his right name?’

‘Why, you see, speaking quite correctly, he has no right name. I always understood he took his name from being found on a Sloppy night.’

‘He seems an amiable fellow.’

‘Bless you, sir, there’s not a bit of him,’ returned Betty, ‘that’s not amiable. So you may judge how amiable he is, by running your eye along his heighth.’

Of an ungainly make was Sloppy. Too much of him longwise, too little of him broadwise, and too many sharp angles of him angle-wise. One of those shambling male human creatures, born to be indiscreetly candid in the revelation of buttons; every button he had about him glaring at the public to a quite preternatural extent. A considerable capital of knee and elbow and wrist and ankle, had Sloppy, and he didn’t know how to dispose of it to the best advantage, but was always investing it in wrong securities, and so getting himself into embarrassed circumstances. Full-Private Number One in the Awkward Squad of the rank and file of life, was Sloppy, and yet had his glimmering notions of standing true to the Colours.

‘And now,’ said Mrs Boffin, ‘concerning Johnny.’

As Johnny, with his chin tucked in and lips pouting, reclined in Betty’s lap, concentrating his blue eyes on the visitors and shading them from observation with a dimpled arm, old Betty took one of his fresh fat hands in her withered right, and fell to gently beating it on her withered left.

‘Yes, ma’am. Concerning Johnny.’

‘If you trust the dear child to me,’ said Mrs Boffin, with a face inviting trust, ‘he shall have the best of homes, the best of care, the best of education, the best of friends. Please God I will be a true good mother to him!’

‘I am thankful to you, ma’am, and the dear child would be thankful if he was old enough to understand.’ Still lightly beating the little hand upon her own. ‘I wouldn’t stand in the dear child’s light, not if I had all my life before me instead of a very little of it. But I hope you won’t take it ill that I cleave to the child closer than words can tell, for he’s the last living thing left me.’

‘Take it ill, my dear soul? Is it likely? And you so tender of him as to bring him home here!’

‘I have seen,’ said Betty, still with that light beat upon her hard rough hand, ‘so many of them on my lap. And they are all gone but this one! I am ashamed to seem so selfish, but I don’t really mean it. It’ll be the making of his fortune, and he’ll be a gentleman when I am dead. I—I—don’t know what comes over me. I—try against it. Don’t notice me!’ The light beat stopped, the resolute mouth gave way, and the fine strong old face broke up into weakness and tears.

Now, greatly to the relief of the visitors, the emotional Sloppy no sooner beheld his patroness in this condition, than, throwing back his head and throwing open his mouth, he lifted up his voice and bellowed. This alarming note of something wrong instantly terrified Toddles and Poddles, who were no sooner heard to roar surprisingly, than Johnny, curving himself the wrong way and striking out at Mrs Boffin with a pair of indifferent shoes, became a prey to despair. The absurdity of the situation put its pathos to the rout. Mrs Betty Higden was herself in a moment, and brought them all to order with that speed, that Sloppy, stopping short in a polysyllabic bellow, transferred his energy to the mangle, and had taken several penitential turns before he could be stopped.

‘There, there, there!’ said Mrs Boffin, almost regarding her kind self as the most ruthless of women. ‘Nothing is going to be done. Nobody need be frightened. We’re all comfortable; ain’t we, Mrs Higden?’

‘Sure and certain we are,’ returned Betty.

‘And there really is no hurry, you know,’ said Mrs Boffin in a lower voice. ‘Take time to think of it, my good creature!’

‘Don’t you fear me no more, ma’am,’ said Betty; ‘I thought of it for good yesterday. I don’t know what come over me just now, but it’ll never come again.’

‘Well, then, Johnny shall have more time to think of it,’ returned Mrs Boffin; ‘the pretty child shall have time to get used to it. And you’ll get him more used to it, if you think well of it; won’t you?’

Betty undertook that, cheerfully and readily.

‘Lor,’ cried Mrs Boffin, looking radiantly about her, ‘we want to make everybody happy, not dismal!—And perhaps you wouldn’t mind letting me know how used to it you begin to get, and how it all goes on?’

‘I’ll send Sloppy,’ said Mrs Higden.

‘And this gentleman who has come with me will pay him for his trouble,’ said Mrs Boffin. ‘And Mr Sloppy, whenever you come to my house, be sure you never go away without having had a good dinner of meat, beer, vegetables, and pudding.’

This still further brightened the face of affairs; for, the highly sympathetic Sloppy, first broadly staring and grinning, and then roaring with laughter, Toddles and Poddles followed suit, and Johnny trumped the trick. T and P considering these favourable circumstances for the resumption of that dramatic descent upon Johnny, again came across-country hand-in-hand upon a buccaneering expedition; and this having been fought out in the chimney corner behind Mrs Higden’s chair, with great valour on both sides, those desperate pirates returned hand-in-hand to their stools, across the dry bed of a mountain torrent.

‘You must tell me what I can do for you, Betty my friend,’ said Mrs Boffin confidentially, ‘if not to-day, next time.’

‘Thank you all the same, ma’am, but I want nothing for myself. I can work. I’m strong. I can walk twenty mile if I’m put to it.’ Old Betty was proud, and said it with a sparkle in her bright eyes.

‘Yes, but there are some little comforts that you wouldn’t be the worse for,’ returned Mrs Boffin. ‘Bless ye, I wasn’t born a lady any more than you.’

‘It seems to me,’ said Betty, smiling, ‘that you were born a lady, and a true one, or there never was a lady born. But I couldn’t take anything from you, my dear. I never did take anything from any one. It ain’t that I’m not grateful, but I love to earn it better.’

‘Well, well!’ returned Mrs Boffin. ‘I only spoke of little things, or I wouldn’t have taken the liberty.’

Betty put her visitor’s hand to her lips, in acknowledgment of the delicate answer. Wonderfully upright her figure was, and wonderfully self-reliant her look, as, standing facing her visitor, she explained herself further.

‘If I could have kept the dear child, without the dread that’s always upon me of his coming to that fate I have spoken of, I could never have parted with him, even to you. For I love him, I love him, I love him! I love my husband long dead and gone, in him; I love my children dead and gone, in him; I love my young and hopeful days dead and gone, in him. I couldn’t sell that love, and look you in your bright kind face. It’s a free gift. I am in want of nothing. When my strength fails me, if I can but die out quick and quiet, I shall be quite content. I have stood between my dead and that shame I have spoken of; and it has been kept off from every one of them. Sewed into my gown,’ with her hand upon her breast, ‘is just enough to lay me in the grave. Only see that it’s rightly spent, so as I may rest free to the last from that cruelty and disgrace, and you’ll have done much more than a little thing for me, and all that in this present world my heart is set upon.’

Mrs Betty Higden’s visitor pressed her hand. There was no more breaking up of the strong old face into weakness. My Lords and Gentlemen and Honourable Boards, it really was as composed as our own faces, and almost as dignified.

And now, Johnny was to be inveigled into occupying a temporary position on Mrs Boffin’s lap. It was not until he had been piqued into competition with the two diminutive Minders, by seeing them successively raised to that post and retire from it without injury, that he could be by any means induced to leave Mrs Betty Higden’s skirts; towards which he exhibited, even when in Mrs Boffin’s embrace, strong yearnings, spiritual and bodily; the former expressed in a very gloomy visage, the latter in extended arms. However, a general description of the toy-wonders lurking in Mr Boffin’s house, so far conciliated this worldly-minded orphan as to induce him to stare at her frowningly, with a fist in his mouth, and even at length to chuckle when a richly-caparisoned horse on wheels, with a miraculous gift of cantering to cake-shops, was mentioned. This sound being taken up by the Minders, swelled into a rapturous trio which gave general satisfaction.

So, the interview was considered very successful, and Mrs Boffin was pleased, and all were satisfied. Not least of all, Sloppy, who undertook to conduct the visitors back by the best way to the Three Magpies, and whom the hammer-headed young man much despised.

This piece of business thus put in train, the Secretary drove Mrs Boffin back to the Bower, and found employment for himself at the new house until evening. Whether, when evening came, he took a way to his lodgings that led through fields, with any design of finding Miss Bella Wilfer in those fields, is not so certain as that she regularly walked there at that hour.

And, moreover, it is certain that there she was.

No longer in mourning, Miss Bella was dressed in as pretty colours as she could muster. There is no denying that she was as pretty as they, and that she and the colours went very prettily together. She was reading as she walked, and of course it is to be inferred, from her showing no knowledge of Mr Rokesmith’s approach, that she did not know he was approaching.

‘Eh?’ said Miss Bella, raising her eyes from her book, when he stopped before her. ‘Oh! It’s you.’

‘Only I. A fine evening!’

‘Is it?’ said Bella, looking coldly round. ‘I suppose it is, now you mention it. I have not been thinking of the evening.’

‘So intent upon your book?’

‘Ye-e-es,’ replied Bella, with a drawl of indifference.

‘A love story, Miss Wilfer?’

‘Oh dear no, or I shouldn’t be reading it. It’s more about money than anything else.’

‘And does it say that money is better than anything?’

‘Upon my word,’ returned Bella, ‘I forget what it says, but you can find out for yourself if you like, Mr Rokesmith. I don’t want it any more.’

The Secretary took the book—she had fluttered the leaves as if it were a fan—and walked beside her.

‘I am charged with a message for you, Miss Wilfer.’

‘Impossible, I think!’ said Bella, with another drawl.

‘From Mrs Boffin. She desired me to assure you of the pleasure she has in finding that she will be ready to receive you in another week or two at furthest.’

Bella turned her head towards him, with her prettily-insolent eyebrows raised, and her eyelids drooping. As much as to say, ‘How did you come by the message, pray?’

‘I have been waiting for an opportunity of telling you that I am Mr Boffin’s Secretary.’

‘I am as wise as ever,’ said Miss Bella, loftily, ‘for I don’t know what a Secretary is. Not that it signifies.’

‘Not at all.’

A covert glance at her face, as he walked beside her, showed him that she had not expected his ready assent to that proposition.

‘Then are you going to be always there, Mr Rokesmith?’ she inquired, as if that would be a drawback.

‘Always? No. Very much there? Yes.’

‘Dear me!’ drawled Bella, in a tone of mortification.

‘But my position there as Secretary, will be very different from yours as guest. You will know little or nothing about me. I shall transact the business: you will transact the pleasure. I shall have my salary to earn; you will have nothing to do but to enjoy and attract.’

‘Attract, sir?’ said Bella, again with her eyebrows raised, and her eyelids drooping. ‘I don’t understand you.’

Without replying on this point, Mr Rokesmith went on.

‘Excuse me; when I first saw you in your black dress—’

(‘There!’ was Miss Bella’s mental exclamation. ‘What did I say to them at home? Everybody noticed that ridiculous mourning.’)

‘When I first saw you in your black dress, I was at a loss to account for that distinction between yourself and your family. I hope it was not impertinent to speculate upon it?’

‘I hope not, I am sure,’ said Miss Bella, haughtily. ‘But you ought to know best how you speculated upon it.’

Mr Rokesmith inclined his head in a deprecatory manner, and went on.

‘Since I have been entrusted with Mr Boffin’s affairs, I have necessarily come to understand the little mystery. I venture to remark that I feel persuaded that much of your loss may be repaired. I speak, of course, merely of wealth, Miss Wilfer. The loss of a perfect stranger, whose worth, or worthlessness, I cannot estimate—nor you either—is beside the question. But this excellent gentleman and lady are so full of simplicity, so full of generosity, so inclined towards you, and so desirous to—how shall I express it?—to make amends for their good fortune, that you have only to respond.’

As he watched her with another covert look, he saw a certain ambitious triumph in her face which no assumed coldness could conceal.

‘As we have been brought under one roof by an accidental combination of circumstances, which oddly extends itself to the new relations before us, I have taken the liberty of saying these few words. You don’t consider them intrusive I hope?’ said the Secretary with deference.

‘Really, Mr Rokesmith, I can’t say what I consider them,’ returned the young lady. ‘They are perfectly new to me, and may be founded altogether on your own imagination.’

‘You will see.’

These same fields were opposite the Wilfer premises. The discreet Mrs Wilfer now looking out of window and beholding her daughter in conference with her lodger, instantly tied up her head and came out for a casual walk.

‘I have been telling Miss Wilfer,’ said John Rokesmith, as the majestic lady came stalking up, ‘that I have become, by a curious chance, Mr Boffin’s Secretary or man of business.’

‘I have not,’ returned Mrs Wilfer, waving her gloves in her chronic state of dignity, and vague ill-usage, ‘the honour of any intimate acquaintance with Mr Boffin, and it is not for me to congratulate that gentleman on the acquisition he has made.’

‘A poor one enough,’ said Rokesmith.

‘Pardon me,’ returned Mrs Wilfer, ‘the merits of Mr Boffin may be highly distinguished—may be more distinguished than the countenance of Mrs Boffin would imply—but it were the insanity of humility to deem him worthy of a better assistant.’

‘You are very good. I have also been telling Miss Wilfer that she is expected very shortly at the new residence in town.’

‘Having tacitly consented,’ said Mrs Wilfer, with a grand shrug of her shoulders, and another wave of her gloves, ‘to my child’s acceptance of the proffered attentions of Mrs Boffin, I interpose no objection.’

Here Miss Bella offered the remonstrance: ‘Don’t talk nonsense, ma, please.’

‘Peace!’ said Mrs Wilfer.

‘No, ma, I am not going to be made so absurd. Interposing objections!’

‘I say,’ repeated Mrs Wilfer, with a vast access of grandeur, ‘that I am not going to interpose objections. If Mrs Boffin (to whose countenance no disciple of Lavater could possibly for a single moment subscribe),’ with a shiver, ‘seeks to illuminate her new residence in town with the attractions of a child of mine, I am content that she should be favoured by the company of a child of mine.’

‘You use the word, ma’am, I have myself used,’ said Rokesmith, with a glance at Bella, ‘when you speak of Miss Wilfer’s attractions there.’

‘Pardon me,’ returned Mrs Wilfer, with dreadful solemnity, ‘but I had not finished.’

‘Pray excuse me.’

‘I was about to say,’ pursued Mrs Wilfer, who clearly had not had the faintest idea of saying anything more: ‘that when I use the term attractions, I do so with the qualification that I do not mean it in any way whatever.’

The excellent lady delivered this luminous elucidation of her views with an air of greatly obliging her hearers, and greatly distinguishing herself. Whereat Miss Bella laughed a scornful little laugh and said:

‘Quite enough about this, I am sure, on all sides. Have the goodness, Mr Rokesmith, to give my love to Mrs Boffin—’

‘Pardon me!’ cried Mrs Wilfer. ‘Compliments.’

‘Love!’ repeated Bella, with a little stamp of her foot.

‘No!’ said Mrs Wilfer, monotonously. ‘Compliments.’

(‘Say Miss Wilfer’s love, and Mrs Wilfer’s compliments,’ the Secretary proposed, as a compromise.)

‘And I shall be very glad to come when she is ready for me. The sooner, the better.’

‘One last word, Bella,’ said Mrs Wilfer, ‘before descending to the family apartment. I trust that as a child of mine you will ever be sensible that it will be graceful in you, when associating with Mr and Mrs Boffin upon equal terms, to remember that the Secretary, Mr Rokesmith, as your father’s lodger, has a claim on your good word.’

The condescension with which Mrs Wilfer delivered this proclamation of patronage, was as wonderful as the swiftness with which the lodger had lost caste in the Secretary. He smiled as the mother retired down stairs; but his face fell, as the daughter followed.

‘So insolent, so trivial, so capricious, so mercenary, so careless, so hard to touch, so hard to turn!’ he said, bitterly.

And added as he went upstairs. ‘And yet so pretty, so pretty!’

And added presently, as he walked to and fro in his room. ‘And if she knew!’

She knew that he was shaking the house by his walking to and fro; and she declared it another of the miseries of being poor, that you couldn’t get rid of a haunting Secretary, stump—stump—stumping overhead in the dark, like a Ghost.






Chapter 17. 
A DISMAL SWAMP

And now, in the blooming summer days, behold Mr and Mrs Boffin established in the eminently aristocratic family mansion, and behold all manner of crawling, creeping, fluttering, and buzzing creatures, attracted by the gold dust of the Golden Dustman!

Foremost among those leaving cards at the eminently aristocratic door before it is quite painted, are the Veneerings: out of breath, one might imagine, from the impetuosity of their rush to the eminently aristocratic steps. One copper-plate Mrs Veneering, two copper-plate Mr Veneerings, and a connubial copper-plate Mr and Mrs Veneering, requesting the honour of Mr and Mrs Boffin’s company at dinner with the utmost Analytical solemnities. The enchanting Lady Tippins leaves a card. Twemlow leaves cards. A tall custard-coloured phaeton tooling up in a solemn manner leaves four cards, to wit, a couple of Mr Podsnaps, a Mrs Podsnap, and a Miss Podsnap. All the world and his wife and daughter leave cards. Sometimes the world’s wife has so many daughters, that her card reads rather like a Miscellaneous Lot at an Auction; comprising Mrs Tapkins, Miss Tapkins, Miss Frederica Tapkins, Miss Antonina Tapkins, Miss Malvina Tapkins, and Miss Euphemia Tapkins; at the same time, the same lady leaves the card of Mrs Henry George Alfred Swoshle, nee Tapkins; also, a card, Mrs Tapkins at Home, Wednesdays, Music, Portland Place.

Miss Bella Wilfer becomes an inmate, for an indefinite period, of the eminently aristocratic dwelling. Mrs Boffin bears Miss Bella away to her Milliner’s and Dressmaker’s, and she gets beautifully dressed. The Veneerings find with swift remorse that they have omitted to invite Miss Bella Wilfer. One Mrs Veneering and one Mr and Mrs Veneering requesting that additional honour, instantly do penance in white cardboard on the hall table. Mrs Tapkins likewise discovers her omission, and with promptitude repairs it; for herself; for Miss Tapkins, for Miss Frederica Tapkins, for Miss Antonina Tapkins, for Miss Malvina Tapkins, and for Miss Euphemia Tapkins. Likewise, for Mrs Henry George Alfred Swoshle nee Tapkins. Likewise, for Mrs Tapkins at Home, Wednesdays, Music, Portland Place.

Tradesmen’s books hunger, and tradesmen’s mouths water, for the gold dust of the Golden Dustman. As Mrs Boffin and Miss Wilfer drive out, or as Mr Boffin walks out at his jog-trot pace, the fishmonger pulls off his hat with an air of reverence founded on conviction. His men cleanse their fingers on their woollen aprons before presuming to touch their foreheads to Mr Boffin or Lady. The gaping salmon and the golden mullet lying on the slab seem to turn up their eyes sideways, as they would turn up their hands if they had any, in worshipping admiration. The butcher, though a portly and a prosperous man, doesn’t know what to do with himself; so anxious is he to express humility when discovered by the passing Boffins taking the air in a mutton grove. Presents are made to the Boffin servants, and bland strangers with business-cards meeting said servants in the street, offer hypothetical corruption. As, ‘Supposing I was to be favoured with an order from Mr Boffin, my dear friend, it would be worth my while’—to do a certain thing that I hope might not prove wholly disagreeable to your feelings.

But no one knows so well as the Secretary, who opens and reads the letters, what a set is made at the man marked by a stroke of notoriety. Oh the varieties of dust for ocular use, offered in exchange for the gold dust of the Golden Dustman! Fifty-seven churches to be erected with half-crowns, forty-two parsonage houses to be repaired with shillings, seven-and-twenty organs to be built with halfpence, twelve hundred children to be brought up on postage stamps. Not that a half-crown, shilling, halfpenny, or postage stamp, would be particularly acceptable from Mr Boffin, but that it is so obvious he is the man to make up the deficiency. And then the charities, my Christian brother! And mostly in difficulties, yet mostly lavish, too, in the expensive articles of print and paper. Large fat private double letter, sealed with ducal coronet. ‘Nicodemus Boffin, Esquire. My Dear Sir,—Having consented to preside at the forthcoming Annual Dinner of the Family Party Fund, and feeling deeply impressed with the immense usefulness of that noble Institution and the great importance of its being supported by a List of Stewards that shall prove to the public the interest taken in it by popular and distinguished men, I have undertaken to ask you to become a Steward on that occasion. Soliciting your favourable reply before the 14th instant, I am, My Dear Sir, Your faithful Servant, Linseed. P.S. The Steward’s fee is limited to three Guineas.’ Friendly this, on the part of the Duke of Linseed (and thoughtful in the postscript), only lithographed by the hundred and presenting but a pale individuality of an address to Nicodemus Boffin, Esquire, in quite another hand. It takes two noble Earls and a Viscount, combined, to inform Nicodemus Boffin, Esquire, in an equally flattering manner, that an estimable lady in the West of England has offered to present a purse containing twenty pounds, to the Society for Granting Annuities to Unassuming Members of the Middle Classes, if twenty individuals will previously present purses of one hundred pounds each. And those benevolent noblemen very kindly point out that if Nicodemus Boffin, Esquire, should wish to present two or more purses, it will not be inconsistent with the design of the estimable lady in the West of England, provided each purse be coupled with the name of some member of his honoured and respected family.

These are the corporate beggars. But there are, besides, the individual beggars; and how does the heart of the Secretary fail him when he has to cope with them! And they must be coped with to some extent, because they all enclose documents (they call their scraps documents; but they are, as to papers deserving the name, what minced veal is to a calf), the non-return of which would be their ruin. That is say, they are utterly ruined now, but they would be more utterly ruined then. Among these correspondents are several daughters of general officers, long accustomed to every luxury of life (except spelling), who little thought, when their gallant fathers waged war in the Peninsula, that they would ever have to appeal to those whom Providence, in its inscrutable wisdom, has blessed with untold gold, and from among whom they select the name of Nicodemus Boffin, Esquire, for a maiden effort in this wise, understanding that he has such a heart as never was. The Secretary learns, too, that confidence between man and wife would seem to obtain but rarely when virtue is in distress, so numerous are the wives who take up their pens to ask Mr Boffin for money without the knowledge of their devoted husbands, who would never permit it; while, on the other hand, so numerous are the husbands who take up their pens to ask Mr Boffin for money without the knowledge of their devoted wives, who would instantly go out of their senses if they had the least suspicion of the circumstance. There are the inspired beggars, too. These were sitting, only yesterday evening, musing over a fragment of candle which must soon go out and leave them in the dark for the rest of their nights, when surely some Angel whispered the name of Nicodemus Boffin, Esquire, to their souls, imparting rays of hope, nay confidence, to which they had long been strangers! Akin to these are the suggestively-befriended beggars. They were partaking of a cold potato and water by the flickering and gloomy light of a lucifer-match, in their lodgings (rent considerably in arrear, and heartless landlady threatening expulsion ‘like a dog’ into the streets), when a gifted friend happening to look in, said, ‘Write immediately to Nicodemus Boffin, Esquire,’ and would take no denial. There are the nobly independent beggars too. These, in the days of their abundance, ever regarded gold as dross, and have not yet got over that only impediment in the way of their amassing wealth, but they want no dross from Nicodemus Boffin, Esquire; No, Mr Boffin; the world may term it pride, paltry pride if you will, but they wouldn’t take it if you offered it; a loan, sir—for fourteen weeks to the day, interest calculated at the rate of five per cent per annum, to be bestowed upon any charitable institution you may name—is all they want of you, and if you have the meanness to refuse it, count on being despised by these great spirits. There are the beggars of punctual business-habits too. These will make an end of themselves at a quarter to one P.M. on Tuesday, if no Post-office order is in the interim received from Nicodemus Boffin, Esquire; arriving after a quarter to one P.M. on Tuesday, it need not be sent, as they will then (having made an exact memorandum of the heartless circumstances) be ‘cold in death.’ There are the beggars on horseback too, in another sense from the sense of the proverb. These are mounted and ready to start on the highway to affluence. The goal is before them, the road is in the best condition, their spurs are on, the steed is willing, but, at the last moment, for want of some special thing—a clock, a violin, an astronomical telescope, an electrifying machine—they must dismount for ever, unless they receive its equivalent in money from Nicodemus Boffin, Esquire. Less given to detail are the beggars who make sporting ventures. These, usually to be addressed in reply under initials at a country post-office, inquire in feminine hands, Dare one who cannot disclose herself to Nicodemus Boffin, Esquire, but whose name might startle him were it revealed, solicit the immediate advance of two hundred pounds from unexpected riches exercising their noblest privilege in the trust of a common humanity?

In such a Dismal Swamp does the new house stand, and through it does the Secretary daily struggle breast-high. Not to mention all the people alive who have made inventions that won’t act, and all the jobbers who job in all the jobberies jobbed; though these may be regarded as the Alligators of the Dismal Swamp, and are always lying by to drag the Golden Dustman under.

But the old house. There are no designs against the Golden Dustman there? There are no fish of the shark tribe in the Bower waters? Perhaps not. Still, Wegg is established there, and would seem, judged by his secret proceedings, to cherish a notion of making a discovery. For, when a man with a wooden leg lies prone on his stomach to peep under bedsteads; and hops up ladders, like some extinct bird, to survey the tops of presses and cupboards; and provides himself an iron rod which he is always poking and prodding into dust-mounds; the probability is that he expects to find something.