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Our Mutual Friend

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Chapter 1. 
OF AN EDUCATIONAL CHARACTER

The school at which young Charley Hexam had first learned from a book—the streets being, for pupils of his degree, the great Preparatory Establishment in which very much that is never unlearned is learned without and before book—was a miserable loft in an unsavoury yard. Its atmosphere was oppressive and disagreeable; it was crowded, noisy, and confusing; half the pupils dropped asleep, or fell into a state of waking stupefaction; the other half kept them in either condition by maintaining a monotonous droning noise, as if they were performing, out of time and tune, on a ruder sort of bagpipe. The teachers, animated solely by good intentions, had no idea of execution, and a lamentable jumble was the upshot of their kind endeavours.

It was a school for all ages, and for both sexes. The latter were kept apart, and the former were partitioned off into square assortments. But, all the place was pervaded by a grimly ludicrous pretence that every pupil was childish and innocent. This pretence, much favoured by the lady-visitors, led to the ghastliest absurdities. Young women old in the vices of the commonest and worst life, were expected to profess themselves enthralled by the good child’s book, the Adventures of Little Margery, who resided in the village cottage by the mill; severely reproved and morally squashed the miller, when she was five and he was fifty; divided her porridge with singing birds; denied herself a new nankeen bonnet, on the ground that the turnips did not wear nankeen bonnets, neither did the sheep who ate them; who plaited straw and delivered the dreariest orations to all comers, at all sorts of unseasonable times. So, unwieldy young dredgers and hulking mudlarks were referred to the experiences of Thomas Twopence, who, having resolved not to rob (under circumstances of uncommon atrocity) his particular friend and benefactor, of eighteenpence, presently came into supernatural possession of three and sixpence, and lived a shining light ever afterwards. (Note, that the benefactor came to no good.) Several swaggering sinners had written their own biographies in the same strain; it always appearing from the lessons of those very boastful persons, that you were to do good, not because it was good, but because you were to make a good thing of it. Contrariwise, the adult pupils were taught to read (if they could learn) out of the New Testament; and by dint of stumbling over the syllables and keeping their bewildered eyes on the particular syllables coming round to their turn, were as absolutely ignorant of the sublime history, as if they had never seen or heard of it. An exceedingly and confoundingly perplexing jumble of a school, in fact, where black spirits and grey, red spirits and white, jumbled jumbled jumbled jumbled, jumbled every night. And particularly every Sunday night. For then, an inclined plane of unfortunate infants would be handed over to the prosiest and worst of all the teachers with good intentions, whom nobody older would endure. Who, taking his stand on the floor before them as chief executioner, would be attended by a conventional volunteer boy as executioner’s assistant. When and where it first became the conventional system that a weary or inattentive infant in a class must have its face smoothed downward with a hot hand, or when and where the conventional volunteer boy first beheld such system in operation, and became inflamed with a sacred zeal to administer it, matters not. It was the function of the chief executioner to hold forth, and it was the function of the acolyte to dart at sleeping infants, yawning infants, restless infants, whimpering infants, and smooth their wretched faces; sometimes with one hand, as if he were anointing them for a whisker; sometimes with both hands, applied after the fashion of blinkers. And so the jumble would be in action in this department for a mortal hour; the exponent drawling on to My Dearert Childerrenerr, let us say, for example, about the beautiful coming to the Sepulchre; and repeating the word Sepulchre (commonly used among infants) five hundred times, and never once hinting what it meant; the conventional boy smoothing away right and left, as an infallible commentary; the whole hot-bed of flushed and exhausted infants exchanging measles, rashes, whooping-cough, fever, and stomach disorders, as if they were assembled in High Market for the purpose.

Even in this temple of good intentions, an exceptionally sharp boy exceptionally determined to learn, could learn something, and, having learned it, could impart it much better than the teachers; as being more knowing than they, and not at the disadvantage in which they stood towards the shrewder pupils. In this way it had come about that Charley Hexam had risen in the jumble, taught in the jumble, and been received from the jumble into a better school.

‘So you want to go and see your sister, Hexam?’

‘If you please, Mr Headstone.’

‘I have half a mind to go with you. Where does your sister live?’

‘Why, she is not settled yet, Mr Headstone. I’d rather you didn’t see her till she is settled, if it was all the same to you.’

‘Look here, Hexam.’ Mr Bradley Headstone, highly certificated stipendiary schoolmaster, drew his right forefinger through one of the buttonholes of the boy’s coat, and looked at it attentively. ‘I hope your sister may be good company for you?’

‘Why do you doubt it, Mr Headstone?’

‘I did not say I doubted it.’

‘No, sir; you didn’t say so.’

Bradley Headstone looked at his finger again, took it out of the buttonhole and looked at it closer, bit the side of it and looked at it again.

‘You see, Hexam, you will be one of us. In good time you are sure to pass a creditable examination and become one of us. Then the question is—’

The boy waited so long for the question, while the schoolmaster looked at a new side of his finger, and bit it, and looked at it again, that at length the boy repeated:

‘The question is, sir—?’

‘Whether you had not better leave well alone.’

‘Is it well to leave my sister alone, Mr Headstone?’

‘I do not say so, because I do not know. I put it to you. I ask you to think of it. I want you to consider. You know how well you are doing here.’

‘After all, she got me here,’ said the boy, with a struggle.

‘Perceiving the necessity of it,’ acquiesced the schoolmaster, ‘and making up her mind fully to the separation. Yes.’

The boy, with a return of that former reluctance or struggle or whatever it was, seemed to debate with himself. At length he said, raising his eyes to the master’s face:

‘I wish you’d come with me and see her, Mr Headstone, though she is not settled. I wish you’d come with me, and take her in the rough, and judge her for yourself.’

‘You are sure you would not like,’ asked the schoolmaster, ‘to prepare her?’

‘My sister Lizzie,’ said the boy, proudly, ‘wants no preparing, Mr Headstone. What she is, she is, and shows herself to be. There’s no pretending about my sister.’

His confidence in her, sat more easily upon him than the indecision with which he had twice contended. It was his better nature to be true to her, if it were his worse nature to be wholly selfish. And as yet the better nature had the stronger hold.

‘Well, I can spare the evening,’ said the schoolmaster. ‘I am ready to walk with you.’

‘Thank you, Mr Headstone. And I am ready to go.’

Bradley Headstone, in his decent black coat and waistcoat, and decent white shirt, and decent formal black tie, and decent pantaloons of pepper and salt, with his decent silver watch in his pocket and its decent hair-guard round his neck, looked a thoroughly decent young man of six-and-twenty. He was never seen in any other dress, and yet there was a certain stiffness in his manner of wearing this, as if there were a want of adaptation between him and it, recalling some mechanics in their holiday clothes. He had acquired mechanically a great store of teacher’s knowledge. He could do mental arithmetic mechanically, sing at sight mechanically, blow various wind instruments mechanically, even play the great church organ mechanically. From his early childhood up, his mind had been a place of mechanical stowage. The arrangement of his wholesale warehouse, so that it might be always ready to meet the demands of retail dealers history here, geography there, astronomy to the right, political economy to the left—natural history, the physical sciences, figures, music, the lower mathematics, and what not, all in their several places—this care had imparted to his countenance a look of care; while the habit of questioning and being questioned had given him a suspicious manner, or a manner that would be better described as one of lying in wait. There was a kind of settled trouble in the face. It was the face belonging to a naturally slow or inattentive intellect that had toiled hard to get what it had won, and that had to hold it now that it was gotten. He always seemed to be uneasy lest anything should be missing from his mental warehouse, and taking stock to assure himself.

Suppression of so much to make room for so much, had given him a constrained manner, over and above. Yet there was enough of what was animal, and of what was fiery (though smouldering), still visible in him, to suggest that if young Bradley Headstone, when a pauper lad, had chanced to be told off for the sea, he would not have been the last man in a ship’s crew. Regarding that origin of his, he was proud, moody, and sullen, desiring it to be forgotten. And few people knew of it.

In some visits to the Jumble his attention had been attracted to this boy Hexam. An undeniable boy for a pupil-teacher; an undeniable boy to do credit to the master who should bring him on. Combined with this consideration, there may have been some thought of the pauper lad now never to be mentioned. Be that how it might, he had with pains gradually worked the boy into his own school, and procured him some offices to discharge there, which were repaid with food and lodging. Such were the circumstances that had brought together, Bradley Headstone and young Charley Hexam that autumn evening. Autumn, because full half a year had come and gone since the bird of prey lay dead upon the river-shore.

The schools—for they were twofold, as the sexes—were down in that district of the flat country tending to the Thames, where Kent and Surrey meet, and where the railways still bestride the market-gardens that will soon die under them. The schools were newly built, and there were so many like them all over the country, that one might have thought the whole were but one restless edifice with the locomotive gift of Aladdin’s palace. They were in a neighbourhood which looked like a toy neighbourhood taken in blocks out of a box by a child of particularly incoherent mind, and set up anyhow; here, one side of a new street; there, a large solitary public-house facing nowhere; here, another unfinished street already in ruins; there, a church; here, an immense new warehouse; there, a dilapidated old country villa; then, a medley of black ditch, sparkling cucumber-frame, rank field, richly cultivated kitchen-garden, brick viaduct, arch-spanned canal, and disorder of frowziness and fog. As if the child had given the table a kick, and gone to sleep.

But, even among school-buildings, school-teachers, and school-pupils, all according to pattern and all engendered in the light of the latest Gospel according to Monotony, the older pattern into which so many fortunes have been shaped for good and evil, comes out. It came out in Miss Peecher the schoolmistress, watering her flowers, as Mr Bradley Headstone walked forth. It came out in Miss Peecher the schoolmistress, watering the flowers in the little dusty bit of garden attached to her small official residence, with little windows like the eyes in needles, and little doors like the covers of school-books.

Small, shining, neat, methodical, and buxom was Miss Peecher; cherry-cheeked and tuneful of voice. A little pincushion, a little housewife, a little book, a little workbox, a little set of tables and weights and measures, and a little woman, all in one. She could write a little essay on any subject, exactly a slate long, beginning at the left-hand top of one side and ending at the right-hand bottom of the other, and the essay should be strictly according to rule. If Mr Bradley Headstone had addressed a written proposal of marriage to her, she would probably have replied in a complete little essay on the theme exactly a slate long, but would certainly have replied Yes. For she loved him. The decent hair-guard that went round his neck and took care of his decent silver watch was an object of envy to her. So would Miss Peecher have gone round his neck and taken care of him. Of him, insensible. Because he did not love Miss Peecher.

Miss Peecher’s favourite pupil, who assisted her in her little household, was in attendance with a can of water to replenish her little watering-pot, and sufficiently divined the state of Miss Peecher’s affections to feel it necessary that she herself should love young Charley Hexam. So, there was a double palpitation among the double stocks and double wall-flowers, when the master and the boy looked over the little gate.

‘A fine evening, Miss Peecher,’ said the Master.

‘A very fine evening, Mr Headstone,’ said Miss Peecher. ‘Are you taking a walk?’

‘Hexam and I are going to take a long walk.’

‘Charming weather,’ remarked Miss Peecher, ‘for a long walk.’

‘Ours is rather on business than mere pleasure,’ said the Master. Miss Peecher inverting her watering-pot, and very carefully shaking out the few last drops over a flower, as if there were some special virtue in them which would make it a Jack’s beanstalk before morning, called for replenishment to her pupil, who had been speaking to the boy.

‘Good-night, Miss Peecher,’ said the Master.

‘Good-night, Mr Headstone,’ said the Mistress.

The pupil had been, in her state of pupilage, so imbued with the class-custom of stretching out an arm, as if to hail a cab or omnibus, whenever she found she had an observation on hand to offer to Miss Peecher, that she often did it in their domestic relations; and she did it now.

‘Well, Mary Anne?’ said Miss Peecher.

‘If you please, ma’am, Hexam said they were going to see his sister.’

‘But that can’t be, I think,’ returned Miss Peecher: ‘because Mr Headstone can have no business with her.’

Mary Anne again hailed.

‘Well, Mary Anne?’

‘If you please, ma’am, perhaps it’s Hexam’s business?’

‘That may be,’ said Miss Peecher. ‘I didn’t think of that. Not that it matters at all.’

Mary Anne again hailed.

‘Well, Mary Anne?’

‘They say she’s very handsome.’

‘Oh, Mary Anne, Mary Anne!’ returned Miss Peecher, slightly colouring and shaking her head, a little out of humour; ‘how often have I told you not to use that vague expression, not to speak in that general way? When you say they say, what do you mean? Part of speech They?’

Mary Anne hooked her right arm behind her in her left hand, as being under examination, and replied:

‘Personal pronoun.’

‘Person, They?’

‘Third person.’

‘Number, They?’

‘Plural number.’

‘Then how many do you mean, Mary Anne? Two? Or more?’

‘I beg your pardon, ma’am,’ said Mary Anne, disconcerted now she came to think of it; ‘but I don’t know that I mean more than her brother himself.’ As she said it, she unhooked her arm.

‘I felt convinced of it,’ returned Miss Peecher, smiling again. ‘Now pray, Mary Anne, be careful another time. He says is very different from they say, remember. Difference between he says and they say? Give it me.’

Mary Anne immediately hooked her right arm behind her in her left hand—an attitude absolutely necessary to the situation—and replied: ‘One is indicative mood, present tense, third person singular, verb active to say. Other is indicative mood, present tense, third person plural, verb active to say.’

‘Why verb active, Mary Anne?’

‘Because it takes a pronoun after it in the objective case, Miss Peecher.’

‘Very good indeed,’ remarked Miss Peecher, with encouragement. ‘In fact, could not be better. Don’t forget to apply it, another time, Mary Anne.’ This said, Miss Peecher finished the watering of her flowers, and went into her little official residence, and took a refresher of the principal rivers and mountains of the world, their breadths, depths, and heights, before settling the measurements of the body of a dress for her own personal occupation.

Bradley Headstone and Charley Hexam duly got to the Surrey side of Westminster Bridge, and crossed the bridge, and made along the Middlesex shore towards Millbank. In this region are a certain little street called Church Street, and a certain little blind square, called Smith Square, in the centre of which last retreat is a very hideous church with four towers at the four corners, generally resembling some petrified monster, frightful and gigantic, on its back with its legs in the air. They found a tree near by in a corner, and a blacksmith’s forge, and a timber yard, and a dealer’s in old iron. What a rusty portion of a boiler and a great iron wheel or so meant by lying half-buried in the dealer’s fore-court, nobody seemed to know or to want to know. Like the Miller of questionable jollity in the song, They cared for Nobody, no not they, and Nobody cared for them.

After making the round of this place, and noting that there was a deadly kind of repose on it, more as though it had taken laudanum than fallen into a natural rest, they stopped at the point where the street and the square joined, and where there were some little quiet houses in a row. To these Charley Hexam finally led the way, and at one of these stopped.

‘This must be where my sister lives, sir. This is where she came for a temporary lodging, soon after father’s death.’

‘How often have you seen her since?’

‘Why, only twice, sir,’ returned the boy, with his former reluctance; ‘but that’s as much her doing as mine.’

‘How does she support herself?’

‘She was always a fair needlewoman, and she keeps the stockroom of a seaman’s outfitter.’

‘Does she ever work at her own lodging here?’

‘Sometimes; but her regular hours and regular occupation are at their place of business, I believe, sir. This is the number.’

The boy knocked at a door, and the door promptly opened with a spring and a click. A parlour door within a small entry stood open, and disclosed a child—a dwarf—a girl—a something—sitting on a little low old-fashioned arm-chair, which had a kind of little working bench before it.

‘I can’t get up,’ said the child, ‘because my back’s bad, and my legs are queer. But I’m the person of the house.’

‘Who else is at home?’ asked Charley Hexam, staring.

‘Nobody’s at home at present,’ returned the child, with a glib assertion of her dignity, ‘except the person of the house. What did you want, young man?’

‘I wanted to see my sister.’

‘Many young men have sisters,’ returned the child. ‘Give me your name, young man?’

The queer little figure, and the queer but not ugly little face, with its bright grey eyes, were so sharp, that the sharpness of the manner seemed unavoidable. As if, being turned out of that mould, it must be sharp.

‘Hexam is my name.’

‘Ah, indeed?’ said the person of the house. ‘I thought it might be. Your sister will be in, in about a quarter of an hour. I am very fond of your sister. She’s my particular friend. Take a seat. And this gentleman’s name?’

‘Mr Headstone, my schoolmaster.’

‘Take a seat. And would you please to shut the street door first? I can’t very well do it myself; because my back’s so bad, and my legs are so queer.’

They complied in silence, and the little figure went on with its work of gumming or gluing together with a camel’s-hair brush certain pieces of cardboard and thin wood, previously cut into various shapes. The scissors and knives upon the bench showed that the child herself had cut them; and the bright scraps of velvet and silk and ribbon also strewn upon the bench showed that when duly stuffed (and stuffing too was there), she was to cover them smartly. The dexterity of her nimble fingers was remarkable, and, as she brought two thin edges accurately together by giving them a little bite, she would glance at the visitors out of the corners of her grey eyes with a look that out-sharpened all her other sharpness.

‘You can’t tell me the name of my trade, I’ll be bound,’ she said, after taking several of these observations.

‘You make pincushions,’ said Charley.

‘What else do I make?’

‘Pen-wipers,’ said Bradley Headstone.

‘Ha! ha! What else do I make? You’re a schoolmaster, but you can’t tell me.’

‘You do something,’ he returned, pointing to a corner of the little bench, ‘with straw; but I don’t know what.’

‘Well done you!’ cried the person of the house. ‘I only make pincushions and pen-wipers, to use up my waste. But my straw really does belong to my business. Try again. What do I make with my straw?’

‘Dinner-mats?’

‘A schoolmaster, and says dinner-mats! I’ll give you a clue to my trade, in a game of forfeits. I love my love with a B because she’s Beautiful; I hate my love with a B because she is Brazen; I took her to the sign of the Blue Boar, and I treated her with Bonnets; her name’s Bouncer, and she lives in Bedlam.—Now, what do I make with my straw?’

‘Ladies’ bonnets?’

‘Fine ladies’,’ said the person of the house, nodding assent. ‘Dolls’. I’m a Doll’s Dressmaker.’

‘I hope it’s a good business?’

The person of the house shrugged her shoulders and shook her head. ‘No. Poorly paid. And I’m often so pressed for time! I had a doll married, last week, and was obliged to work all night. And it’s not good for me, on account of my back being so bad and my legs so queer.’

They looked at the little creature with a wonder that did not diminish, and the schoolmaster said: ‘I am sorry your fine ladies are so inconsiderate.’

‘It’s the way with them,’ said the person of the house, shrugging her shoulders again. ‘And they take no care of their clothes, and they never keep to the same fashions a month. I work for a doll with three daughters. Bless you, she’s enough to ruin her husband!’ The person of the house gave a weird little laugh here, and gave them another look out of the corners of her eyes. She had an elfin chin that was capable of great expression; and whenever she gave this look, she hitched this chin up. As if her eyes and her chin worked together on the same wires.

‘Are you always as busy as you are now?’

‘Busier. I’m slack just now. I finished a large mourning order the day before yesterday. Doll I work for, lost a canary-bird.’ The person of the house gave another little laugh, and then nodded her head several times, as who should moralize, ‘Oh this world, this world!’

‘Are you alone all day?’ asked Bradley Headstone. ‘Don’t any of the neighbouring children—?’

‘Ah, lud!’ cried the person of the house, with a little scream, as if the word had pricked her. ‘Don’t talk of children. I can’t bear children. I know their tricks and their manners.’ She said this with an angry little shake of her tight fist close before her eyes.

Perhaps it scarcely required the teacher-habit, to perceive that the doll’s dressmaker was inclined to be bitter on the difference between herself and other children. But both master and pupil understood it so.

‘Always running about and screeching, always playing and fighting, always skip-skip-skipping on the pavement and chalking it for their games! Oh! I know their tricks and their manners!’ Shaking the little fist as before. ‘And that’s not all. Ever so often calling names in through a person’s keyhole, and imitating a person’s back and legs. Oh! I know their tricks and their manners. And I’ll tell you what I’d do, to punish ‘em. There’s doors under the church in the Square—black doors, leading into black vaults. Well! I’d open one of those doors, and I’d cram ‘em all in, and then I’d lock the door and through the keyhole I’d blow in pepper.’

‘What would be the good of blowing in pepper?’ asked Charley Hexam.

‘To set ‘em sneezing,’ said the person of the house, ‘and make their eyes water. And when they were all sneezing and inflamed, I’d mock ‘em through the keyhole. Just as they, with their tricks and their manners, mock a person through a person’s keyhole!’

An uncommonly emphatic shake of her little fist close before her eyes, seemed to ease the mind of the person of the house; for she added with recovered composure, ‘No, no, no. No children for me. Give me grown-ups.’

It was difficult to guess the age of this strange creature, for her poor figure furnished no clue to it, and her face was at once so young and so old. Twelve, or at the most thirteen, might be near the mark.

‘I always did like grown-ups,’ she went on, ‘and always kept company with them. So sensible. Sit so quiet. Don’t go prancing and capering about! And I mean always to keep among none but grown-ups till I marry. I suppose I must make up my mind to marry, one of these days.’

She listened to a step outside that caught her ear, and there was a soft knock at the door. Pulling at a handle within her reach, she said, with a pleased laugh: ‘Now here, for instance, is a grown-up that’s my particular friend!’ and Lizzie Hexam in a black dress entered the room.

‘Charley! You!’

Taking him to her arms in the old way—of which he seemed a little ashamed—she saw no one else.

‘There, there, there, Liz, all right my dear. See! Here’s Mr Headstone come with me.’

Her eyes met those of the schoolmaster, who had evidently expected to see a very different sort of person, and a murmured word or two of salutation passed between them. She was a little flurried by the unexpected visit, and the schoolmaster was not at his ease. But he never was, quite.

‘I told Mr Headstone you were not settled, Liz, but he was so kind as to take an interest in coming, and so I brought him. How well you look!’

Bradley seemed to think so.

‘Ah! Don’t she, don’t she?’ cried the person of the house, resuming her occupation, though the twilight was falling fast. ‘I believe you she does! But go on with your chat, one and all:

     You one two three,
     My com-pa-nie,
     And don’t mind me.’

—pointing this impromptu rhyme with three points of her thin fore-finger.

‘I didn’t expect a visit from you, Charley,’ said his sister. ‘I supposed that if you wanted to see me you would have sent to me, appointing me to come somewhere near the school, as I did last time. I saw my brother near the school, sir,’ to Bradley Headstone, ‘because it’s easier for me to go there, than for him to come here. I work about midway between the two places.’

‘You don’t see much of one another,’ said Bradley, not improving in respect of ease.

‘No.’ With a rather sad shake of her head. ‘Charley always does well, Mr Headstone?’

‘He could not do better. I regard his course as quite plain before him.’

‘I hoped so. I am so thankful. So well done of you, Charley dear! It is better for me not to come (except when he wants me) between him and his prospects. You think so, Mr Headstone?’

Conscious that his pupil-teacher was looking for his answer, that he himself had suggested the boy’s keeping aloof from this sister, now seen for the first time face to face, Bradley Headstone stammered:

‘Your brother is very much occupied, you know. He has to work hard. One cannot but say that the less his attention is diverted from his work, the better for his future. When he shall have established himself, why then—it will be another thing then.’

Lizzie shook her head again, and returned, with a quiet smile: ‘I always advised him as you advise him. Did I not, Charley?’

‘Well, never mind that now,’ said the boy. ‘How are you getting on?’

‘Very well, Charley. I want for nothing.’

‘You have your own room here?’

‘Oh yes. Upstairs. And it’s quiet, and pleasant, and airy.’

‘And she always has the use of this room for visitors,’ said the person of the house, screwing up one of her little bony fists, like an opera-glass, and looking through it, with her eyes and her chin in that quaint accordance. ‘Always this room for visitors; haven’t you, Lizzie dear?’

It happened that Bradley Headstone noticed a very slight action of Lizzie Hexam’s hand, as though it checked the doll’s dressmaker. And it happened that the latter noticed him in the same instant; for she made a double eyeglass of her two hands, looked at him through it, and cried, with a waggish shake of her head: ‘Aha! Caught you spying, did I?’

It might have fallen out so, any way; but Bradley Headstone also noticed that immediately after this, Lizzie, who had not taken off her bonnet, rather hurriedly proposed that as the room was getting dark they should go out into the air. They went out; the visitors saying good-night to the doll’s dressmaker, whom they left, leaning back in her chair with her arms crossed, singing to herself in a sweet thoughtful little voice.

‘I’ll saunter on by the river,’ said Bradley. ‘You will be glad to talk together.’

As his uneasy figure went on before them among the evening shadows, the boy said to his sister, petulantly:

‘When are you going to settle yourself in some Christian sort of place, Liz? I thought you were going to do it before now.’

‘I am very well where I am, Charley.’

‘Very well where you are! I am ashamed to have brought Mr Headstone with me. How came you to get into such company as that little witch’s?’

‘By chance at first, as it seemed, Charley. But I think it must have been by something more than chance, for that child—You remember the bills upon the walls at home?’

‘Confound the bills upon the walls at home! I want to forget the bills upon the walls at home, and it would be better for you to do the same,’ grumbled the boy. ‘Well; what of them?’

‘This child is the grandchild of the old man.’

‘What old man?’

‘The terrible drunken old man, in the list slippers and the night-cap.’

The boy asked, rubbing his nose in a manner that half expressed vexation at hearing so much, and half curiosity to hear more: ‘How came you to make that out? What a girl you are!’

‘The child’s father is employed by the house that employs me; that’s how I came to know it, Charley. The father is like his own father, a weak wretched trembling creature, falling to pieces, never sober. But a good workman too, at the work he does. The mother is dead. This poor ailing little creature has come to be what she is, surrounded by drunken people from her cradle—if she ever had one, Charley.’

‘I don’t see what you have to do with her, for all that,’ said the boy.

‘Don’t you, Charley?’

The boy looked doggedly at the river. They were at Millbank, and the river rolled on their left. His sister gently touched him on the shoulder, and pointed to it.

‘Any compensation—restitution—never mind the word, you know my meaning. Father’s grave.’

But he did not respond with any tenderness. After a moody silence he broke out in an ill-used tone:

‘It’ll be a very hard thing, Liz, if, when I am trying my best to get up in the world, you pull me back.’

‘I, Charley?’

‘Yes, you, Liz. Why can’t you let bygones be bygones? Why can’t you, as Mr Headstone said to me this very evening about another matter, leave well alone? What we have got to do, is, to turn our faces full in our new direction, and keep straight on.’

‘And never look back? Not even to try to make some amends?’

‘You are such a dreamer,’ said the boy, with his former petulance. ‘It was all very well when we sat before the fire—when we looked into the hollow down by the flare—but we are looking into the real world, now.’

‘Ah, we were looking into the real world then, Charley!’

‘I understand what you mean by that, but you are not justified in it. I don’t want, as I raise myself to shake you off, Liz. I want to carry you up with me. That’s what I want to do, and mean to do. I know what I owe you. I said to Mr Headstone this very evening, “After all, my sister got me here.” Well, then. Don’t pull me back, and hold me down. That’s all I ask, and surely that’s not unconscionable.’

She had kept a steadfast look upon him, and she answered with composure:

‘I am not here selfishly, Charley. To please myself I could not be too far from that river.’

‘Nor could you be too far from it to please me. Let us get quit of it equally. Why should you linger about it any more than I? I give it a wide berth.’

‘I can’t get away from it, I think,’ said Lizzie, passing her hand across her forehead. ‘It’s no purpose of mine that I live by it still.’

‘There you go, Liz! Dreaming again! You lodge yourself of your own accord in a house with a drunken—tailor, I suppose—or something of the sort, and a little crooked antic of a child, or old person, or whatever it is, and then you talk as if you were drawn or driven there. Now, do be more practical.’

She had been practical enough with him, in suffering and striving for him; but she only laid her hand upon his shoulder—not reproachfully—and tapped it twice or thrice. She had been used to do so, to soothe him when she carried him about, a child as heavy as herself. Tears started to his eyes.

‘Upon my word, Liz,’ drawing the back of his hand across them, ‘I mean to be a good brother to you, and to prove that I know what I owe you. All I say is, that I hope you’ll control your fancies a little, on my account. I’ll get a school, and then you must come and live with me, and you’ll have to control your fancies then, so why not now? Now, say I haven’t vexed you.’

‘You haven’t, Charley, you haven’t.’

‘And say I haven’t hurt you.’

‘You haven’t, Charley.’ But this answer was less ready.

‘Say you are sure I didn’t mean to. Come! There’s Mr Headstone stopping and looking over the wall at the tide, to hint that it’s time to go. Kiss me, and tell me that you know I didn’t mean to hurt you.’

She told him so, and they embraced, and walked on and came up with the schoolmaster.

‘But we go your sister’s way,’ he remarked, when the boy told him he was ready. And with his cumbrous and uneasy action he stiffly offered her his arm. Her hand was just within it, when she drew it back. He looked round with a start, as if he thought she had detected something that repelled her, in the momentary touch.

‘I will not go in just yet,’ said Lizzie. ‘And you have a distance before you, and will walk faster without me.’

Being by this time close to Vauxhall Bridge, they resolved, in consequence, to take that way over the Thames, and they left her; Bradley Headstone giving her his hand at parting, and she thanking him for his care of her brother.

The master and the pupil walked on, rapidly and silently. They had nearly crossed the bridge, when a gentleman came coolly sauntering towards them, with a cigar in his mouth, his coat thrown back, and his hands behind him. Something in the careless manner of this person, and in a certain lazily arrogant air with which he approached, holding possession of twice as much pavement as another would have claimed, instantly caught the boy’s attention. As the gentleman passed the boy looked at him narrowly, and then stood still, looking after him.

‘Who is it that you stare after?’ asked Bradley.

‘Why!’ said the boy, with a confused and pondering frown upon his face, ‘It is that Wrayburn one!’

Bradley Headstone scrutinized the boy as closely as the boy had scrutinized the gentleman.

‘I beg your pardon, Mr Headstone, but I couldn’t help wondering what in the world brought him here!’

Though he said it as if his wonder were past—at the same time resuming the walk—it was not lost upon the master that he looked over his shoulder after speaking, and that the same perplexed and pondering frown was heavy on his face.

‘You don’t appear to like your friend, Hexam?’

‘I don’t like him,’ said the boy.

‘Why not?’

‘He took hold of me by the chin in a precious impertinent way, the first time I ever saw him,’ said the boy.

‘Again, why?’

‘For nothing. Or—it’s much the same—because something I happened to say about my sister didn’t happen to please him.’

‘Then he knows your sister?’

‘He didn’t at that time,’ said the boy, still moodily pondering.

‘Does now?’

The boy had so lost himself that he looked at Mr Bradley Headstone as they walked on side by side, without attempting to reply until the question had been repeated; then he nodded and answered, ‘Yes, sir.’

‘Going to see her, I dare say.’

‘It can’t be!’ said the boy, quickly. ‘He doesn’t know her well enough. I should like to catch him at it!’

When they had walked on for a time, more rapidly than before, the master said, clasping the pupil’s arm between the elbow and the shoulder with his hand:

‘You were going to tell me something about that person. What did you say his name was?’

‘Wrayburn. Mr Eugene Wrayburn. He is what they call a barrister, with nothing to do. The first time he came to our old place was when my father was alive. He came on business; not that it was his business—he never had any business—he was brought by a friend of his.’

‘And the other times?’

‘There was only one other time that I know of. When my father was killed by accident, he chanced to be one of the finders. He was mooning about, I suppose, taking liberties with people’s chins; but there he was, somehow. He brought the news home to my sister early in the morning, and brought Miss Abbey Potterson, a neighbour, to help break it to her. He was mooning about the house when I was fetched home in the afternoon—they didn’t know where to find me till my sister could be brought round sufficiently to tell them—and then he mooned away.’

‘And is that all?’

‘That’s all, sir.’

Bradley Headstone gradually released the boy’s arm, as if he were thoughtful, and they walked on side by side as before. After a long silence between them, Bradley resumed the talk.

‘I suppose—your sister—’ with a curious break both before and after the words, ‘has received hardly any teaching, Hexam?’

‘Hardly any, sir.’

‘Sacrificed, no doubt, to her father’s objections. I remember them in your case. Yet—your sister—scarcely looks or speaks like an ignorant person.’

‘Lizzie has as much thought as the best, Mr Headstone. Too much, perhaps, without teaching. I used to call the fire at home, her books, for she was always full of fancies—sometimes quite wise fancies, considering—when she sat looking at it.’

‘I don’t like that,’ said Bradley Headstone.

His pupil was a little surprised by this striking in with so sudden and decided and emotional an objection, but took it as a proof of the master’s interest in himself. It emboldened him to say:

‘I have never brought myself to mention it openly to you, Mr Headstone, and you’re my witness that I couldn’t even make up my mind to take it from you before we came out to-night; but it’s a painful thing to think that if I get on as well as you hope, I shall be—I won’t say disgraced, because I don’t mean disgraced—but—rather put to the blush if it was known—by a sister who has been very good to me.’

‘Yes,’ said Bradley Headstone in a slurring way, for his mind scarcely seemed to touch that point, so smoothly did it glide to another, ‘and there is this possibility to consider. Some man who had worked his way might come to admire—your sister—and might even in time bring himself to think of marrying—your sister—and it would be a sad drawback and a heavy penalty upon him, if; overcoming in his mind other inequalities of condition and other considerations against it, this inequality and this consideration remained in full force.’

‘That’s much my own meaning, sir.’

‘Ay, ay,’ said Bradley Headstone, ‘but you spoke of a mere brother. Now, the case I have supposed would be a much stronger case; because an admirer, a husband, would form the connexion voluntarily, besides being obliged to proclaim it: which a brother is not. After all, you know, it must be said of you that you couldn’t help yourself: while it would be said of him, with equal reason, that he could.’

‘That’s true, sir. Sometimes since Lizzie was left free by father’s death, I have thought that such a young woman might soon acquire more than enough to pass muster. And sometimes I have even thought that perhaps Miss Peecher—’

‘For the purpose, I would advise Not Miss Peecher,’ Bradley Headstone struck in with a recurrence of his late decision of manner.

‘Would you be so kind as to think of it for me, Mr Headstone?’

‘Yes, Hexam, yes. I’ll think of it. I’ll think maturely of it. I’ll think well of it.’

Their walk was almost a silent one afterwards, until it ended at the school-house. There, one of neat Miss Peecher’s little windows, like the eyes in needles, was illuminated, and in a corner near it sat Mary Anne watching, while Miss Peecher at the table stitched at the neat little body she was making up by brown paper pattern for her own wearing. N.B. Miss Peecher and Miss Peecher’s pupils were not much encouraged in the unscholastic art of needlework, by Government.

Mary Anne with her face to the window, held her arm up.

‘Well, Mary Anne?’

‘Mr Headstone coming home, ma’am.’

In about a minute, Mary Anne again hailed.

‘Yes, Mary Anne?’

‘Gone in and locked his door, ma’am.’

Miss Peecher repressed a sigh as she gathered her work together for bed, and transfixed that part of her dress where her heart would have been if she had had the dress on, with a sharp, sharp needle.






Chapter 2. 
STILL EDUCATIONAL

The person of the house, doll’s dressmaker and manufacturer of ornamental pincushions and pen-wipers, sat in her quaint little low arm-chair, singing in the dark, until Lizzie came back. The person of the house had attained that dignity while yet of very tender years indeed, through being the only trustworthy person in the house.

‘Well Lizzie-Mizzie-Wizzie,’ said she, breaking off in her song, ‘what’s the news out of doors?’

‘What’s the news in doors?’ returned Lizzie, playfully smoothing the bright long fair hair which grew very luxuriant and beautiful on the head of the doll’s dressmaker.

‘Let me see, said the blind man. Why the last news is, that I don’t mean to marry your brother.’

‘No?’

‘No-o,’ shaking her head and her chin. ‘Don’t like the boy.’

‘What do you say to his master?’

‘I say that I think he’s bespoke.’

Lizzie finished putting the hair carefully back over the misshapen shoulders, and then lighted a candle. It showed the little parlour to be dingy, but orderly and clean. She stood it on the mantelshelf, remote from the dressmaker’s eyes, and then put the room door open, and the house door open, and turned the little low chair and its occupant towards the outer air. It was a sultry night, and this was a fine-weather arrangement when the day’s work was done. To complete it, she seated herself in a chair by the side of the little chair, and protectingly drew under her arm the spare hand that crept up to her.

‘This is what your loving Jenny Wren calls the best time in the day and night,’ said the person of the house. Her real name was Fanny Cleaver; but she had long ago chosen to bestow upon herself the appellation of Miss Jenny Wren.

‘I have been thinking,’ Jenny went on, ‘as I sat at work to-day, what a thing it would be, if I should be able to have your company till I am married, or at least courted. Because when I am courted, I shall make Him do some of the things that you do for me. He couldn’t brush my hair like you do, or help me up and down stairs like you do, and he couldn’t do anything like you do; but he could take my work home, and he could call for orders in his clumsy way. And he shall too. I’ll trot him about, I can tell him!’

Jenny Wren had her personal vanities—happily for her—and no intentions were stronger in her breast than the various trials and torments that were, in the fulness of time, to be inflicted upon ‘him.’

‘Wherever he may happen to be just at present, or whoever he may happen to be,’ said Miss Wren, ‘I know his tricks and his manners, and I give him warning to look out.’

‘Don’t you think you are rather hard upon him?’ asked her friend, smiling, and smoothing her hair.

‘Not a bit,’ replied the sage Miss Wren, with an air of vast experience. ‘My dear, they don’t care for you, those fellows, if you’re not hard upon ‘em. But I was saying If I should be able to have your company. Ah! What a large If! Ain’t it?’

‘I have no intention of parting company, Jenny.’

‘Don’t say that, or you’ll go directly.’

‘Am I so little to be relied upon?’

‘You’re more to be relied upon than silver and gold.’ As she said it, Miss Wren suddenly broke off, screwed up her eyes and her chin, and looked prodigiously knowing. ‘Aha!

     Who comes here?
     A Grenadier.
     What does he want?
     A pot of beer.

And nothing else in the world, my dear!’

A man’s figure paused on the pavement at the outer door. ‘Mr Eugene Wrayburn, ain’t it?’ said Miss Wren.

‘So I am told,’ was the answer.

‘You may come in, if you’re good.’

‘I am not good,’ said Eugene, ‘but I’ll come in.’

He gave his hand to Jenny Wren, and he gave his hand to Lizzie, and he stood leaning by the door at Lizzie’s side. He had been strolling with his cigar, he said, (it was smoked out and gone by this time,) and he had strolled round to return in that direction that he might look in as he passed. Had she not seen her brother to-night?

‘Yes,’ said Lizzie, whose manner was a little troubled.

Gracious condescension on our brother’s part! Mr Eugene Wrayburn thought he had passed my young gentleman on the bridge yonder. Who was his friend with him?

‘The schoolmaster.’

‘To be sure. Looked like it.’

Lizzie sat so still, that one could not have said wherein the fact of her manner being troubled was expressed; and yet one could not have doubted it. Eugene was as easy as ever; but perhaps, as she sat with her eyes cast down, it might have been rather more perceptible that his attention was concentrated upon her for certain moments, than its concentration upon any subject for any short time ever was, elsewhere.

‘I have nothing to report, Lizzie,’ said Eugene. ‘But, having promised you that an eye should be always kept on Mr Riderhood through my friend Lightwood, I like occasionally to renew my assurance that I keep my promise, and keep my friend up to the mark.’

‘I should not have doubted it, sir.’

‘Generally, I confess myself a man to be doubted,’ returned Eugene, coolly, ‘for all that.’

‘Why are you?’ asked the sharp Miss Wren.

‘Because, my dear,’ said the airy Eugene, ‘I am a bad idle dog.’

‘Then why don’t you reform and be a good dog?’ inquired Miss Wren.

‘Because, my dear,’ returned Eugene, ‘there’s nobody who makes it worth my while. Have you considered my suggestion, Lizzie?’ This in a lower voice, but only as if it were a graver matter; not at all to the exclusion of the person of the house.

‘I have thought of it, Mr Wrayburn, but I have not been able to make up my mind to accept it.’

‘False pride!’ said Eugene.

‘I think not, Mr Wrayburn. I hope not.’

‘False pride!’ repeated Eugene. ‘Why, what else is it? The thing is worth nothing in itself. The thing is worth nothing to me. What can it be worth to me? You know the most I make of it. I propose to be of some use to somebody—which I never was in this world, and never shall be on any other occasion—by paying some qualified person of your own sex and age, so many (or rather so few) contemptible shillings, to come here, certain nights in the week, and give you certain instruction which you wouldn’t want if you hadn’t been a self-denying daughter and sister. You know that it’s good to have it, or you would never have so devoted yourself to your brother’s having it. Then why not have it: especially when our friend Miss Jenny here would profit by it too? If I proposed to be the teacher, or to attend the lessons—obviously incongruous!—but as to that, I might as well be on the other side of the globe, or not on the globe at all. False pride, Lizzie. Because true pride wouldn’t shame, or be shamed by, your thankless brother. True pride wouldn’t have schoolmasters brought here, like doctors, to look at a bad case. True pride would go to work and do it. You know that, well enough, for you know that your own true pride would do it to-morrow, if you had the ways and means which false pride won’t let me supply. Very well. I add no more than this. Your false pride does wrong to yourself and does wrong to your dead father.’

‘How to my father, Mr Wrayburn?’ she asked, with an anxious face.

‘How to your father? Can you ask! By perpetuating the consequences of his ignorant and blind obstinacy. By resolving not to set right the wrong he did you. By determining that the deprivation to which he condemned you, and which he forced upon you, shall always rest upon his head.’

It chanced to be a subtle string to sound, in her who had so spoken to her brother within the hour. It sounded far more forcibly, because of the change in the speaker for the moment; the passing appearance of earnestness, complete conviction, injured resentment of suspicion, generous and unselfish interest. All these qualities, in him usually so light and careless, she felt to be inseparable from some touch of their opposites in her own breast. She thought, had she, so far below him and so different, rejected this disinterestedness, because of some vain misgiving that he sought her out, or heeded any personal attractions that he might descry in her? The poor girl, pure of heart and purpose, could not bear to think it. Sinking before her own eyes, as she suspected herself of it, she drooped her head as though she had done him some wicked and grievous injury, and broke into silent tears.

‘Don’t be distressed,’ said Eugene, very, very kindly. ‘I hope it is not I who have distressed you. I meant no more than to put the matter in its true light before you; though I acknowledge I did it selfishly enough, for I am disappointed.’

Disappointed of doing her a service. How else could he be disappointed?

‘It won’t break my heart,’ laughed Eugene; ‘it won’t stay by me eight-and-forty hours; but I am genuinely disappointed. I had set my fancy on doing this little thing for you and for our friend Miss Jenny. The novelty of my doing anything in the least useful, had its charms. I see, now, that I might have managed it better. I might have affected to do it wholly for our friend Miss J. I might have got myself up, morally, as Sir Eugene Bountiful. But upon my soul I can’t make flourishes, and I would rather be disappointed than try.’

If he meant to follow home what was in Lizzie’s thoughts, it was skilfully done. If he followed it by mere fortuitous coincidence, it was done by an evil chance.

‘It opened out so naturally before me,’ said Eugene. ‘The ball seemed so thrown into my hands by accident! I happen to be originally brought into contact with you, Lizzie, on those two occasions that you know of. I happen to be able to promise you that a watch shall be kept upon that false accuser, Riderhood. I happen to be able to give you some little consolation in the darkest hour of your distress, by assuring you that I don’t believe him. On the same occasion I tell you that I am the idlest and least of lawyers, but that I am better than none, in a case I have noted down with my own hand, and that you may be always sure of my best help, and incidentally of Lightwood’s too, in your efforts to clear your father. So, it gradually takes my fancy that I may help you—so easily!—to clear your father of that other blame which I mentioned a few minutes ago, and which is a just and real one. I hope I have explained myself; for I am heartily sorry to have distressed you. I hate to claim to mean well, but I really did mean honestly and simply well, and I want you to know it.’

‘I have never doubted that, Mr Wrayburn,’ said Lizzie; the more repentant, the less he claimed.

‘I am very glad to hear it. Though if you had quite understood my whole meaning at first, I think you would not have refused. Do you think you would?’

‘I—don’t know that I should, Mr Wrayburn.’

‘Well! Then why refuse now you do understand it?’

‘It’s not easy for me to talk to you,’ returned Lizzie, in some confusion, ‘for you see all the consequences of what I say, as soon as I say it.’

‘Take all the consequences,’ laughed Eugene, ‘and take away my disappointment. Lizzie Hexam, as I truly respect you, and as I am your friend and a poor devil of a gentleman, I protest I don’t even now understand why you hesitate.’

There was an appearance of openness, trustfulness, unsuspecting generosity, in his words and manner, that won the poor girl over; and not only won her over, but again caused her to feel as though she had been influenced by the opposite qualities, with vanity at their head.

‘I will not hesitate any longer, Mr Wrayburn. I hope you will not think the worse of me for having hesitated at all. For myself and for Jenny—you let me answer for you, Jenny dear?’

The little creature had been leaning back, attentive, with her elbows resting on the elbows of her chair, and her chin upon her hands. Without changing her attitude, she answered, ‘Yes!’ so suddenly that it rather seemed as if she had chopped the monosyllable than spoken it.

‘For myself and for Jenny, I thankfully accept your kind offer.’

‘Agreed! Dismissed!’ said Eugene, giving Lizzie his hand before lightly waving it, as if he waved the whole subject away. ‘I hope it may not be often that so much is made of so little!’

Then he fell to talking playfully with Jenny Wren. ‘I think of setting up a doll, Miss Jenny,’ he said.

‘You had better not,’ replied the dressmaker.

‘Why not?’

‘You are sure to break it. All you children do.’

‘But that makes good for trade, you know, Miss Wren,’ returned Eugene. ‘Much as people’s breaking promises and contracts and bargains of all sorts, makes good for my trade.’

‘I don’t know about that,’ Miss Wren retorted; ‘but you had better by half set up a pen-wiper, and turn industrious, and use it.’

‘Why, if we were all as industrious as you, little Busy-Body, we should begin to work as soon as we could crawl, and there would be a bad thing!’

‘Do you mean,’ returned the little creature, with a flush suffusing her face, ‘bad for your backs and your legs?’

‘No, no, no,’ said Eugene; shocked—to do him justice—at the thought of trifling with her infirmity. ‘Bad for business, bad for business. If we all set to work as soon as we could use our hands, it would be all over with the dolls’ dressmakers.’

‘There’s something in that,’ replied Miss Wren; ‘you have a sort of an idea in your noddle sometimes.’ Then, in a changed tone; ‘Talking of ideas, my Lizzie,’ they were sitting side by side as they had sat at first, ‘I wonder how it happens that when I am work, work, working here, all alone in the summer-time, I smell flowers.’

‘As a commonplace individual, I should say,’ Eugene suggested languidly—for he was growing weary of the person of the house—‘that you smell flowers because you do smell flowers.’

‘No I don’t,’ said the little creature, resting one arm upon the elbow of her chair, resting her chin upon that hand, and looking vacantly before her; ‘this is not a flowery neighbourhood. It’s anything but that. And yet as I sit at work, I smell miles of flowers. I smell roses, till I think I see the rose-leaves lying in heaps, bushels, on the floor. I smell fallen leaves, till I put down my hand—so—and expect to make them rustle. I smell the white and the pink May in the hedges, and all sorts of flowers that I never was among. For I have seen very few flowers indeed, in my life.’

‘Pleasant fancies to have, Jenny dear!’ said her friend: with a glance towards Eugene as if she would have asked him whether they were given the child in compensation for her losses.

‘So I think, Lizzie, when they come to me. And the birds I hear! Oh!’ cried the little creature, holding out her hand and looking upward, ‘how they sing!’

There was something in the face and action for the moment, quite inspired and beautiful. Then the chin dropped musingly upon the hand again.

‘I dare say my birds sing better than other birds, and my flowers smell better than other flowers. For when I was a little child,’ in a tone as though it were ages ago, ‘the children that I used to see early in the morning were very different from any others that I ever saw. They were not like me; they were not chilled, anxious, ragged, or beaten; they were never in pain. They were not like the children of the neighbours; they never made me tremble all over, by setting up shrill noises, and they never mocked me. Such numbers of them too! All in white dresses, and with something shining on the borders, and on their heads, that I have never been able to imitate with my work, though I know it so well. They used to come down in long bright slanting rows, and say all together, “Who is this in pain! Who is this in pain!” When I told them who it was, they answered, “Come and play with us!” When I said “I never play! I can’t play!” they swept about me and took me up, and made me light. Then it was all delicious ease and rest till they laid me down, and said, all together, “Have patience, and we will come again.” Whenever they came back, I used to know they were coming before I saw the long bright rows, by hearing them ask, all together a long way off, “Who is this in pain! Who is this in pain!” And I used to cry out, “O my blessed children, it’s poor me. Have pity on me. Take me up and make me light!”’

By degrees, as she progressed in this remembrance, the hand was raised, the late ecstatic look returned, and she became quite beautiful. Having so paused for a moment, silent, with a listening smile upon her face, she looked round and recalled herself.

‘What poor fun you think me; don’t you, Mr Wrayburn? You may well look tired of me. But it’s Saturday night, and I won’t detain you.’

‘That is to say, Miss Wren,’ observed Eugene, quite ready to profit by the hint, ‘you wish me to go?’

‘Well, it’s Saturday night,’ she returned, ‘and my child’s coming home. And my child is a troublesome bad child, and costs me a world of scolding. I would rather you didn’t see my child.’

‘A doll?’ said Eugene, not understanding, and looking for an explanation.

But Lizzie, with her lips only, shaping the two words, ‘Her father,’ he delayed no longer. He took his leave immediately. At the corner of the street he stopped to light another cigar, and possibly to ask himself what he was doing otherwise. If so, the answer was indefinite and vague. Who knows what he is doing, who is careless what he does!

A man stumbled against him as he turned away, who mumbled some maudlin apology. Looking after this man, Eugene saw him go in at the door by which he himself had just come out.

On the man’s stumbling into the room, Lizzie rose to leave it.

‘Don’t go away, Miss Hexam,’ he said in a submissive manner, speaking thickly and with difficulty. ‘Don’t fly from unfortunate man in shattered state of health. Give poor invalid honour of your company. It ain’t—ain’t catching.’

Lizzie murmured that she had something to do in her own room, and went away upstairs.

‘How’s my Jenny?’ said the man, timidly. ‘How’s my Jenny Wren, best of children, object dearest affections broken-hearted invalid?’

To which the person of the house, stretching out her arm in an attitude of command, replied with irresponsive asperity: ‘Go along with you! Go along into your corner! Get into your corner directly!’

The wretched spectacle made as if he would have offered some remonstrance; but not venturing to resist the person of the house, thought better of it, and went and sat down on a particular chair of disgrace.

‘Oh-h-h!’ cried the person of the house, pointing her little finger, ‘You bad old boy! Oh-h-h you naughty, wicked creature! What do you mean by it?’

The shaking figure, unnerved and disjointed from head to foot, put out its two hands a little way, as making overtures of peace and reconciliation. Abject tears stood in its eyes, and stained the blotched red of its cheeks. The swollen lead-coloured under lip trembled with a shameful whine. The whole indecorous threadbare ruin, from the broken shoes to the prematurely-grey scanty hair, grovelled. Not with any sense worthy to be called a sense, of this dire reversal of the places of parent and child, but in a pitiful expostulation to be let off from a scolding.

‘I know your tricks and your manners,’ cried Miss Wren. ‘I know where you’ve been to!’ (which indeed it did not require discernment to discover). ‘Oh, you disgraceful old chap!’

The very breathing of the figure was contemptible, as it laboured and rattled in that operation, like a blundering clock.

‘Slave, slave, slave, from morning to night,’ pursued the person of the house, ‘and all for this! What do you mean by it?’

There was something in that emphasized ‘What,’ which absurdly frightened the figure. As often as the person of the house worked her way round to it—even as soon as he saw that it was coming—he collapsed in an extra degree.

‘I wish you had been taken up, and locked up,’ said the person of the house. ‘I wish you had been poked into cells and black holes, and run over by rats and spiders and beetles. I know their tricks and their manners, and they’d have tickled you nicely. Ain’t you ashamed of yourself?’

‘Yes, my dear,’ stammered the father.

‘Then,’ said the person of the house, terrifying him by a grand muster of her spirits and forces before recurring to the emphatic word, ‘What do you mean by it?’

‘Circumstances over which had no control,’ was the miserable creature’s plea in extenuation.

‘I’ll circumstance you and control you too,’ retorted the person of the house, speaking with vehement sharpness, ‘if you talk in that way. I’ll give you in charge to the police, and have you fined five shillings when you can’t pay, and then I won’t pay the money for you, and you’ll be transported for life. How should you like to be transported for life?’

‘Shouldn’t like it. Poor shattered invalid. Trouble nobody long,’ cried the wretched figure.

‘Come, come!’ said the person of the house, tapping the table near her in a business-like manner, and shaking her head and her chin; ‘you know what you’ve got to do. Put down your money this instant.’

The obedient figure began to rummage in its pockets.

‘Spent a fortune out of your wages, I’ll be bound!’ said the person of the house. ‘Put it here! All you’ve got left! Every farthing!’

Such a business as he made of collecting it from his dogs’-eared pockets; of expecting it in this pocket, and not finding it; of not expecting it in that pocket, and passing it over; of finding no pocket where that other pocket ought to be!

‘Is this all?’ demanded the person of the house, when a confused heap of pence and shillings lay on the table.

‘Got no more,’ was the rueful answer, with an accordant shake of the head.

‘Let me make sure. You know what you’ve got to do. Turn all your pockets inside out, and leave ‘em so!’ cried the person of the house.

He obeyed. And if anything could have made him look more abject or more dismally ridiculous than before, it would have been his so displaying himself.

‘Here’s but seven and eightpence halfpenny!’ exclaimed Miss Wren, after reducing the heap to order. ‘Oh, you prodigal old son! Now you shall be starved.’

‘No, don’t starve me,’ he urged, whimpering.

‘If you were treated as you ought to be,’ said Miss Wren, ‘you’d be fed upon the skewers of cats’ meat;—only the skewers, after the cats had had the meat. As it is, go to bed.’

When he stumbled out of the corner to comply, he again put out both his hands, and pleaded: ‘Circumstances over which no control—’

‘Get along with you to bed!’ cried Miss Wren, snapping him up. ‘Don’t speak to me. I’m not going to forgive you. Go to bed this moment!’

Seeing another emphatic ‘What’ upon its way, he evaded it by complying and was heard to shuffle heavily up stairs, and shut his door, and throw himself on his bed. Within a little while afterwards, Lizzie came down.

‘Shall we have our supper, Jenny dear?’

‘Ah! bless us and save us, we need have something to keep us going,’ returned Miss Jenny, shrugging her shoulders.

Lizzie laid a cloth upon the little bench (more handy for the person of the house than an ordinary table), and put upon it such plain fare as they were accustomed to have, and drew up a stool for herself.

‘Now for supper! What are you thinking of, Jenny darling?’

‘I was thinking,’ she returned, coming out of a deep study, ‘what I would do to Him, if he should turn out a drunkard.’

‘Oh, but he won’t,’ said Lizzie. ‘You’ll take care of that, beforehand.’

‘I shall try to take care of it beforehand, but he might deceive me. Oh, my dear, all those fellows with their tricks and their manners do deceive!’ With the little fist in full action. ‘And if so, I tell you what I think I’d do. When he was asleep, I’d make a spoon red hot, and I’d have some boiling liquor bubbling in a saucepan, and I’d take it out hissing, and I’d open his mouth with the other hand—or perhaps he’d sleep with his mouth ready open—and I’d pour it down his throat, and blister it and choke him.’

‘I am sure you would do no such horrible thing,’ said Lizzie.

‘Shouldn’t I? Well; perhaps I shouldn’t. But I should like to!’

‘I am equally sure you would not.’

‘Not even like to? Well, you generally know best. Only you haven’t always lived among it as I have lived—and your back isn’t bad and your legs are not queer.’

As they went on with their supper, Lizzie tried to bring her round to that prettier and better state. But, the charm was broken. The person of the house was the person of a house full of sordid shames and cares, with an upper room in which that abased figure was infecting even innocent sleep with sensual brutality and degradation. The doll’s dressmaker had become a little quaint shrew; of the world, worldly; of the earth, earthy.

Poor doll’s dressmaker! How often so dragged down by hands that should have raised her up; how often so misdirected when losing her way on the eternal road, and asking guidance! Poor, poor little doll’s dressmaker!






Chapter 3. 
A PIECE OF WORK

Britannia, sitting meditating one fine day (perhaps in the attitude in which she is presented on the copper coinage), discovers all of a sudden that she wants Veneering in Parliament. It occurs to her that Veneering is ‘a representative man’—which cannot in these times be doubted—and that Her Majesty’s faithful Commons are incomplete without him. So, Britannia mentions to a legal gentleman of her acquaintance that if Veneering will ‘put down’ five thousand pounds, he may write a couple of initial letters after his name at the extremely cheap rate of two thousand five hundred per letter. It is clearly understood between Britannia and the legal gentleman that nobody is to take up the five thousand pounds, but that being put down they will disappear by magical conjuration and enchantment.

The legal gentleman in Britannia’s confidence going straight from that lady to Veneering, thus commissioned, Veneering declares himself highly flattered, but requires breathing time to ascertain ‘whether his friends will rally round him.’ Above all things, he says, it behoves him to be clear, at a crisis of this importance, ‘whether his friends will rally round him.’ The legal gentleman, in the interests of his client cannot allow much time for this purpose, as the lady rather thinks she knows somebody prepared to put down six thousand pounds; but he says he will give Veneering four hours.

Veneering then says to Mrs Veneering, ‘We must work,’ and throws himself into a Hansom cab. Mrs Veneering in the same moment relinquishes baby to Nurse; presses her aquiline hands upon her brow, to arrange the throbbing intellect within; orders out the carriage; and repeats in a distracted and devoted manner, compounded of Ophelia and any self-immolating female of antiquity you may prefer, ‘We must work.’

Veneering having instructed his driver to charge at the Public in the streets, like the Life-Guards at Waterloo, is driven furiously to Duke Street, Saint James’s. There, he finds Twemlow in his lodgings, fresh from the hands of a secret artist who has been doing something to his hair with yolks of eggs. The process requiring that Twemlow shall, for two hours after the application, allow his hair to stick upright and dry gradually, he is in an appropriate state for the receipt of startling intelligence; looking equally like the Monument on Fish Street Hill, and King Priam on a certain incendiary occasion not wholly unknown as a neat point from the classics.

‘My dear Twemlow,’ says Veneering, grasping both his hands, ‘as the dearest and oldest of my friends—’

(‘Then there can be no more doubt about it in future,’ thinks Twemlow, ‘and I am!’)

‘—Are you of opinion that your cousin, Lord Snigsworth, would give his name as a Member of my Committee? I don’t go so far as to ask for his lordship; I only ask for his name. Do you think he would give me his name?’

In sudden low spirits, Twemlow replies, ‘I don’t think he would.’

‘My political opinions,’ says Veneering, not previously aware of having any, ‘are identical with those of Lord Snigsworth, and perhaps as a matter of public feeling and public principle, Lord Snigsworth would give me his name.’

‘It might be so,’ says Twemlow; ‘but—’ And perplexedly scratching his head, forgetful of the yolks of eggs, is the more discomfited by being reminded how stickey he is.

‘Between such old and intimate friends as ourselves,’ pursues Veneering, ‘there should in such a case be no reserve. Promise me that if I ask you to do anything for me which you don’t like to do, or feel the slightest difficulty in doing, you will freely tell me so.’

This, Twemlow is so kind as to promise, with every appearance of most heartily intending to keep his word.

‘Would you have any objection to write down to Snigsworthy Park, and ask this favour of Lord Snigsworth? Of course if it were granted I should know that I owed it solely to you; while at the same time you would put it to Lord Snigsworth entirely upon public grounds. Would you have any objection?’

Says Twemlow, with his hand to his forehead, ‘You have exacted a promise from me.’

‘I have, my dear Twemlow.’

‘And you expect me to keep it honourably.’

‘I do, my dear Twemlow.’

‘On the whole, then;—observe me,’ urges Twemlow with great nicety, as if; in the case of its having been off the whole, he would have done it directly—‘on the whole, I must beg you to excuse me from addressing any communication to Lord Snigsworth.’

‘Bless you, bless you!’ says Veneering; horribly disappointed, but grasping him by both hands again, in a particularly fervent manner.

It is not to be wondered at that poor Twemlow should decline to inflict a letter on his noble cousin (who has gout in the temper), inasmuch as his noble cousin, who allows him a small annuity on which he lives, takes it out of him, as the phrase goes, in extreme severity; putting him, when he visits at Snigsworthy Park, under a kind of martial law; ordaining that he shall hang his hat on a particular peg, sit on a particular chair, talk on particular subjects to particular people, and perform particular exercises: such as sounding the praises of the Family Varnish (not to say Pictures), and abstaining from the choicest of the Family Wines unless expressly invited to partake.

‘One thing, however, I can do for you,’ says Twemlow; ‘and that is, work for you.’

Veneering blesses him again.

‘I’ll go,’ says Twemlow, in a rising hurry of spirits, ‘to the club;—let us see now; what o’clock is it?’

‘Twenty minutes to eleven.’

‘I’ll be,’ says Twemlow, ‘at the club by ten minutes to twelve, and I’ll never leave it all day.’

Veneering feels that his friends are rallying round him, and says, ‘Thank you, thank you. I knew I could rely upon you. I said to Anastatia before leaving home just now to come to you—of course the first friend I have seen on a subject so momentous to me, my dear Twemlow—I said to Anastatia, “We must work.”’

‘You were right, you were right,’ replies Twemlow. ‘Tell me. Is she working?’

‘She is,’ says Veneering.

‘Good!’ cries Twemlow, polite little gentleman that he is. ‘A woman’s tact is invaluable. To have the dear sex with us, is to have everything with us.’

‘But you have not imparted to me,’ remarks Veneering, ‘what you think of my entering the House of Commons?’

‘I think,’ rejoins Twemlow, feelingly, ‘that it is the best club in London.’

Veneering again blesses him, plunges down stairs, rushes into his Hansom, and directs the driver to be up and at the British Public, and to charge into the City.

Meanwhile Twemlow, in an increasing hurry of spirits, gets his hair down as well as he can—which is not very well; for, after these glutinous applications it is restive, and has a surface on it somewhat in the nature of pastry—and gets to the club by the appointed time. At the club he promptly secures a large window, writing materials, and all the newspapers, and establishes himself; immoveable, to be respectfully contemplated by Pall Mall. Sometimes, when a man enters who nods to him, Twemlow says, ‘Do you know Veneering?’ Man says, ‘No; member of the club?’ Twemlow says, ‘Yes. Coming in for Pocket-Breaches.’ Man says, ‘Ah! Hope he may find it worth the money!’ yawns, and saunters out. Towards six o’clock of the afternoon, Twemlow begins to persuade himself that he is positively jaded with work, and thinks it much to be regretted that he was not brought up as a Parliamentary agent.

From Twemlow’s, Veneering dashes at Podsnap’s place of business. Finds Podsnap reading the paper, standing, and inclined to be oratorical over the astonishing discovery he has made, that Italy is not England. Respectfully entreats Podsnap’s pardon for stopping the flow of his words of wisdom, and informs him what is in the wind. Tells Podsnap that their political opinions are identical. Gives Podsnap to understand that he, Veneering, formed his political opinions while sitting at the feet of him, Podsnap. Seeks earnestly to know whether Podsnap ‘will rally round him?’

Says Podsnap, something sternly, ‘Now, first of all, Veneering, do you ask my advice?’

Veneering falters that as so old and so dear a friend—

‘Yes, yes, that’s all very well,’ says Podsnap; ‘but have you made up your mind to take this borough of Pocket-Breaches on its own terms, or do you ask my opinion whether you shall take it or leave it alone?’

Veneering repeats that his heart’s desire and his soul’s thirst are, that Podsnap shall rally round him.

‘Now, I’ll be plain with you, Veneering,’ says Podsnap, knitting his brows. ‘You will infer that I don’t care about Parliament, from the fact of my not being there?’

Why, of course Veneering knows that! Of course Veneering knows that if Podsnap chose to go there, he would be there, in a space of time that might be stated by the light and thoughtless as a jiffy.

‘It is not worth my while,’ pursues Podsnap, becoming handsomely mollified, ‘and it is the reverse of important to my position. But it is not my wish to set myself up as law for another man, differently situated. You think it is worth your while, and IS important to your position. Is that so?’

Always with the proviso that Podsnap will rally round him, Veneering thinks it is so.

‘Then you don’t ask my advice,’ says Podsnap. ‘Good. Then I won’t give it you. But you do ask my help. Good. Then I’ll work for you.’

Veneering instantly blesses him, and apprises him that Twemlow is already working. Podsnap does not quite approve that anybody should be already working—regarding it rather in the light of a liberty—but tolerates Twemlow, and says he is a well-connected old female who will do no harm.

‘I have nothing very particular to do to-day,’ adds Podsnap, ‘and I’ll mix with some influential people. I had engaged myself to dinner, but I’ll send Mrs Podsnap and get off going myself; and I’ll dine with you at eight. It’s important we should report progress and compare notes. Now, let me see. You ought to have a couple of active energetic fellows, of gentlemanly manners, to go about.’

Veneering, after cogitation, thinks of Boots and Brewer.

‘Whom I have met at your house,’ says Podsnap. ‘Yes. They’ll do very well. Let them each have a cab, and go about.’

Veneering immediately mentions what a blessing he feels it, to possess a friend capable of such grand administrative suggestions, and really is elated at this going about of Boots and Brewer, as an idea wearing an electioneering aspect and looking desperately like business. Leaving Podsnap, at a hand-gallop, he descends upon Boots and Brewer, who enthusiastically rally round him by at once bolting off in cabs, taking opposite directions. Then Veneering repairs to the legal gentleman in Britannia’s confidence, and with him transacts some delicate affairs of business, and issues an address to the independent electors of Pocket-Breaches, announcing that he is coming among them for their suffrages, as the mariner returns to the home of his early childhood: a phrase which is none the worse for his never having been near the place in his life, and not even now distinctly knowing where it is.

Mrs Veneering, during the same eventful hours, is not idle. No sooner does the carriage turn out, all complete, than she turns into it, all complete, and gives the word ‘To Lady Tippins’s.’ That charmer dwells over a staymaker’s in the Belgravian Borders, with a life-size model in the window on the ground floor of a distinguished beauty in a blue petticoat, stay-lace in hand, looking over her shoulder at the town in innocent surprise. As well she may, to find herself dressing under the circumstances.

Lady Tippins at home? Lady Tippins at home, with the room darkened, and her back (like the lady’s at the ground-floor window, though for a different reason) cunningly turned towards the light. Lady Tippins is so surprised by seeing her dear Mrs Veneering so early—in the middle of the night, the pretty creature calls it—that her eyelids almost go up, under the influence of that emotion.

To whom Mrs Veneering incoherently communicates, how that Veneering has been offered Pocket-Breaches; how that it is the time for rallying round; how that Veneering has said ‘We must work’; how that she is here, as a wife and mother, to entreat Lady Tippins to work; how that the carriage is at Lady Tippins’s disposal for purposes of work; how that she, proprietress of said bran new elegant equipage, will return home on foot—on bleeding feet if need be—to work (not specifying how), until she drops by the side of baby’s crib.

‘My love,’ says Lady Tippins, ‘compose yourself; we’ll bring him in.’ And Lady Tippins really does work, and work the Veneering horses too; for she clatters about town all day, calling upon everybody she knows, and showing her entertaining powers and green fan to immense advantage, by rattling on with, My dear soul, what do you think? What do you suppose me to be? You’ll never guess. I’m pretending to be an electioneering agent. And for what place of all places? Pocket-Breaches. And why? Because the dearest friend I have in the world has bought it. And who is the dearest friend I have in the world? A man of the name of Veneering. Not omitting his wife, who is the other dearest friend I have in the world; and I positively declare I forgot their baby, who is the other. And we are carrying on this little farce to keep up appearances, and isn’t it refreshing! Then, my precious child, the fun of it is that nobody knows who these Veneerings are, and that they know nobody, and that they have a house out of the Tales of the Genii, and give dinners out of the Arabian Nights. Curious to see ‘em, my dear? Say you’ll know ‘em. Come and dine with ‘em. They shan’t bore you. Say who shall meet you. We’ll make up a party of our own, and I’ll engage that they shall not interfere with you for one single moment. You really ought to see their gold and silver camels. I call their dinner-table, the Caravan. Do come and dine with my Veneerings, my own Veneerings, my exclusive property, the dearest friends I have in the world! And above all, my dear, be sure you promise me your vote and interest and all sorts of plumpers for Pocket-Breaches; for we couldn’t think of spending sixpence on it, my love, and can only consent to be brought in by the spontaneous thingummies of the incorruptible whatdoyoucallums.

Now, the point of view seized by the bewitching Tippins, that this same working and rallying round is to keep up appearances, may have something in it, but not all the truth. More is done, or considered to be done—which does as well—by taking cabs, and ‘going about,’ than the fair Tippins knew of. Many vast vague reputations have been made, solely by taking cabs and going about. This particularly obtains in all Parliamentary affairs. Whether the business in hand be to get a man in, or get a man out, or get a man over, or promote a railway, or jockey a railway, or what else, nothing is understood to be so effectual as scouring nowhere in a violent hurry—in short, as taking cabs and going about.

Probably because this reason is in the air, Twemlow, far from being singular in his persuasion that he works like a Trojan, is capped by Podsnap, who in his turn is capped by Boots and Brewer. At eight o’clock when all these hard workers assemble to dine at Veneering’s, it is understood that the cabs of Boots and Brewer mustn’t leave the door, but that pails of water must be brought from the nearest baiting-place, and cast over the horses’ legs on the very spot, lest Boots and Brewer should have instant occasion to mount and away. Those fleet messengers require the Analytical to see that their hats are deposited where they can be laid hold of at an instant’s notice; and they dine (remarkably well though) with the air of firemen in charge of an engine, expecting intelligence of some tremendous conflagration.

Mrs Veneering faintly remarks, as dinner opens, that many such days would be too much for her.

‘Many such days would be too much for all of us,’ says Podsnap; ‘but we’ll bring him in!’

‘We’ll bring him in,’ says Lady Tippins, sportively waving her green fan. ‘Veneering for ever!’

‘We’ll bring him in!’ says Twemlow.

‘We’ll bring him in!’ say Boots and Brewer.

Strictly speaking, it would be hard to show cause why they should not bring him in, Pocket-Breaches having closed its little bargain, and there being no opposition. However, it is agreed that they must ‘work’ to the last, and that if they did not work, something indefinite would happen. It is likewise agreed that they are all so exhausted with the work behind them, and need to be so fortified for the work before them, as to require peculiar strengthening from Veneering’s cellar. Therefore, the Analytical has orders to produce the cream of the cream of his binns, and therefore it falls out that rallying becomes rather a trying word for the occasion; Lady Tippins being observed gamely to inculcate the necessity of rearing round their dear Veneering; Podsnap advocating roaring round him; Boots and Brewer declaring their intention of reeling round him; and Veneering thanking his devoted friends one and all, with great emotion, for rarullarulling round him.

In these inspiring moments, Brewer strikes out an idea which is the great hit of the day. He consults his watch, and says (like Guy Fawkes), he’ll now go down to the House of Commons and see how things look.

‘I’ll keep about the lobby for an hour or so,’ says Brewer, with a deeply mysterious countenance, ‘and if things look well, I won’t come back, but will order my cab for nine in the morning.’

‘You couldn’t do better,’ says Podsnap.

Veneering expresses his inability ever to acknowledge this last service. Tears stand in Mrs Veneering’s affectionate eyes. Boots shows envy, loses ground, and is regarded as possessing a second-rate mind. They all crowd to the door, to see Brewer off. Brewer says to his driver, ‘Now, is your horse pretty fresh?’ eyeing the animal with critical scrutiny. Driver says he’s as fresh as butter. ‘Put him along then,’ says Brewer; ‘House of Commons.’ Driver darts up, Brewer leaps in, they cheer him as he departs, and Mr Podsnap says, ‘Mark my words, sir. That’s a man of resource; that’s a man to make his way in life.’

When the time comes for Veneering to deliver a neat and appropriate stammer to the men of Pocket-Breaches, only Podsnap and Twemlow accompany him by railway to that sequestered spot. The legal gentleman is at the Pocket-Breaches Branch Station, with an open carriage with a printed bill ‘Veneering for ever’ stuck upon it, as if it were a wall; and they gloriously proceed, amidst the grins of the populace, to a feeble little town hall on crutches, with some onions and bootlaces under it, which the legal gentleman says are a Market; and from the front window of that edifice Veneering speaks to the listening earth. In the moment of his taking his hat off, Podsnap, as per agreement made with Mrs Veneering, telegraphs to that wife and mother, ‘He’s up.’

Veneering loses his way in the usual No Thoroughfares of speech, and Podsnap and Twemlow say Hear hear! and sometimes, when he can’t by any means back himself out of some very unlucky No Thoroughfare, ‘He-a-a-r He-a-a-r!’ with an air of facetious conviction, as if the ingenuity of the thing gave them a sensation of exquisite pleasure. But Veneering makes two remarkably good points; so good, that they are supposed to have been suggested to him by the legal gentleman in Britannia’s confidence, while briefly conferring on the stairs.

Point the first is this. Veneering institutes an original comparison between the country, and a ship; pointedly calling the ship, the Vessel of the State, and the Minister the Man at the Helm. Veneering’s object is to let Pocket-Breaches know that his friend on his right (Podsnap) is a man of wealth. Consequently says he, ‘And, gentlemen, when the timbers of the Vessel of the State are unsound and the Man at the Helm is unskilful, would those great Marine Insurers, who rank among our world-famed merchant-princes—would they insure her, gentlemen? Would they underwrite her? Would they incur a risk in her? Would they have confidence in her? Why, gentlemen, if I appealed to my honourable friend upon my right, himself among the greatest and most respected of that great and much respected class, he would answer No!’

Point the second is this. The telling fact that Twemlow is related to Lord Snigsworth, must be let off. Veneering supposes a state of public affairs that probably never could by any possibility exist (though this is not quite certain, in consequence of his picture being unintelligible to himself and everybody else), and thus proceeds. ‘Why, gentlemen, if I were to indicate such a programme to any class of society, I say it would be received with derision, would be pointed at by the finger of scorn. If I indicated such a programme to any worthy and intelligent tradesman of your town—nay, I will here be personal, and say Our town—what would he reply? He would reply, “Away with it!” That’s what he would reply, gentlemen. In his honest indignation he would reply, “Away with it!” But suppose I mounted higher in the social scale. Suppose I drew my arm through the arm of my respected friend upon my left, and, walking with him through the ancestral woods of his family, and under the spreading beeches of Snigsworthy Park, approached the noble hall, crossed the courtyard, entered by the door, went up the staircase, and, passing from room to room, found myself at last in the august presence of my friend’s near kinsman, Lord Snigsworth. And suppose I said to that venerable earl, “My Lord, I am here before your lordship, presented by your lordship’s near kinsman, my friend upon my left, to indicate that programme;” what would his lordship answer? Why, he would answer, “Away with it!” That’s what he would answer, gentlemen. “Away with it!” Unconsciously using, in his exalted sphere, the exact language of the worthy and intelligent tradesman of our town, the near and dear kinsman of my friend upon my left would answer in his wrath, “Away with it!”’

Veneering finishes with this last success, and Mr Podsnap telegraphs to Mrs Veneering, ‘He’s down.’

Then, dinner is had at the Hotel with the legal gentleman, and then there are in due succession, nomination, and declaration. Finally Mr Podsnap telegraphs to Mrs Veneering, ‘We have brought him in.’

Another gorgeous dinner awaits them on their return to the Veneering halls, and Lady Tippins awaits them, and Boots and Brewer await them. There is a modest assertion on everybody’s part that everybody single-handed ‘brought him in’; but in the main it is conceded by all, that that stroke of business on Brewer’s part, in going down to the house that night to see how things looked, was the master-stroke.

A touching little incident is related by Mrs Veneering, in the course of the evening. Mrs Veneering is habitually disposed to be tearful, and has an extra disposition that way after her late excitement. Previous to withdrawing from the dinner-table with Lady Tippins, she says, in a pathetic and physically weak manner:

‘You will all think it foolish of me, I know, but I must mention it. As I sat by Baby’s crib, on the night before the election, Baby was very uneasy in her sleep.’

The Analytical chemist, who is gloomily looking on, has diabolical impulses to suggest ‘Wind’ and throw up his situation; but represses them.

‘After an interval almost convulsive, Baby curled her little hands in one another and smiled.’

Mrs Veneering stopping here, Mr Podsnap deems it incumbent on him to say: ‘I wonder why!’

‘Could it be, I asked myself,’ says Mrs Veneering, looking about her for her pocket-handkerchief, ‘that the Fairies were telling Baby that her papa would shortly be an M. P.?’

So overcome by the sentiment is Mrs Veneering, that they all get up to make a clear stage for Veneering, who goes round the table to the rescue, and bears her out backward, with her feet impressively scraping the carpet: after remarking that her work has been too much for her strength. Whether the fairies made any mention of the five thousand pounds, and it disagreed with Baby, is not speculated upon.

Poor little Twemlow, quite done up, is touched, and still continues touched after he is safely housed over the livery-stable yard in Duke Street, Saint James’s. But there, upon his sofa, a tremendous consideration breaks in upon the mild gentleman, putting all softer considerations to the rout.

‘Gracious heavens! Now I have time to think of it, he never saw one of his constituents in all his days, until we saw them together!’

After having paced the room in distress of mind, with his hand to his forehead, the innocent Twemlow returns to his sofa and moans:

‘I shall either go distracted, or die, of this man. He comes upon me too late in life. I am not strong enough to bear him!’






Chapter 4. 
CUPID PROMPTED

To use the cold language of the world, Mrs Alfred Lammle rapidly improved the acquaintance of Miss Podsnap. To use the warm language of Mrs Lammle, she and her sweet Georgiana soon became one: in heart, in mind, in sentiment, in soul.

Whenever Georgiana could escape from the thraldom of Podsnappery; could throw off the bedclothes of the custard-coloured phaeton, and get up; could shrink out of the range of her mother’s rocking, and (so to speak) rescue her poor little frosty toes from being rocked over; she repaired to her friend, Mrs Alfred Lammle. Mrs Podsnap by no means objected. As a consciously ‘splendid woman,’ accustomed to overhear herself so denominated by elderly osteologists pursuing their studies in dinner society, Mrs Podsnap could dispense with her daughter. Mr Podsnap, for his part, on being informed where Georgiana was, swelled with patronage of the Lammles. That they, when unable to lay hold of him, should respectfully grasp at the hem of his mantle; that they, when they could not bask in the glory of him the sun, should take up with the pale reflected light of the watery young moon his daughter; appeared quite natural, becoming, and proper. It gave him a better opinion of the discretion of the Lammles than he had heretofore held, as showing that they appreciated the value of the connexion. So, Georgiana repairing to her friend, Mr Podsnap went out to dinner, and to dinner, and yet to dinner, arm in arm with Mrs Podsnap: settling his obstinate head in his cravat and shirt-collar, much as if he were performing on the Pandean pipes, in his own honour, the triumphal march, See the conquering Podsnap comes, Sound the trumpets, beat the drums!

It was a trait in Mr Podsnap’s character (and in one form or other it will be generally seen to pervade the depths and shallows of Podsnappery), that he could not endure a hint of disparagement of any friend or acquaintance of his. ‘How dare you?’ he would seem to say, in such a case. ‘What do you mean? I have licensed this person. This person has taken out my certificate. Through this person you strike at me, Podsnap the Great. And it is not that I particularly care for the person’s dignity, but that I do most particularly care for Podsnap’s.’ Hence, if any one in his presence had presumed to doubt the responsibility of the Lammles, he would have been mightily huffed. Not that any one did, for Veneering, M.P., was always the authority for their being very rich, and perhaps believed it. As indeed he might, if he chose, for anything he knew of the matter.

Mr and Mrs Lammle’s house in Sackville Street, Piccadilly, was but a temporary residence. It has done well enough, they informed their friends, for Mr Lammle when a bachelor, but it would not do now. So, they were always looking at palatial residences in the best situations, and always very nearly taking or buying one, but never quite concluding the bargain. Hereby they made for themselves a shining little reputation apart. People said, on seeing a vacant palatial residence, ‘The very thing for the Lammles!’ and wrote to the Lammles about it, and the Lammles always went to look at it, but unfortunately it never exactly answered. In short, they suffered so many disappointments, that they began to think it would be necessary to build a palatial residence. And hereby they made another shining reputation; many persons of their acquaintance becoming by anticipation dissatisfied with their own houses, and envious of the non-existent Lammle structure.

The handsome fittings and furnishings of the house in Sackville Street were piled thick and high over the skeleton up-stairs, and if it ever whispered from under its load of upholstery, ‘Here I am in the closet!’ it was to very few ears, and certainly never to Miss Podsnap’s. What Miss Podsnap was particularly charmed with, next to the graces of her friend, was the happiness of her friend’s married life. This was frequently their theme of conversation.

‘I am sure,’ said Miss Podsnap, ‘Mr Lammle is like a lover. At least I—I should think he was.’

‘Georgiana, darling!’ said Mrs Lammle, holding up a forefinger, ‘Take care!’

‘Oh my goodness me!’ exclaimed Miss Podsnap, reddening. ‘What have I said now?’

‘Alfred, you know,’ hinted Mrs Lammle, playfully shaking her head. ‘You were never to say Mr Lammle any more, Georgiana.’

‘Oh! Alfred, then. I am glad it’s no worse. I was afraid I had said something shocking. I am always saying something wrong to ma.’

‘To me, Georgiana dearest?’

‘No, not to you; you are not ma. I wish you were.’

Mrs Lammle bestowed a sweet and loving smile upon her friend, which Miss Podsnap returned as she best could. They sat at lunch in Mrs Lammle’s own boudoir.

‘And so, dearest Georgiana, Alfred is like your notion of a lover?’

‘I don’t say that, Sophronia,’ Georgiana replied, beginning to conceal her elbows. ‘I haven’t any notion of a lover. The dreadful wretches that ma brings up at places to torment me, are not lovers. I only mean that Mr—’

‘Again, dearest Georgiana?’

‘That Alfred—’

‘Sounds much better, darling.’

‘—Loves you so. He always treats you with such delicate gallantry and attention. Now, don’t he?’

‘Truly, my dear,’ said Mrs Lammle, with a rather singular expression crossing her face. ‘I believe that he loves me, fully as much as I love him.’

‘Oh, what happiness!’ exclaimed Miss Podsnap.

‘But do you know, my Georgiana,’ Mrs Lammle resumed presently, ‘that there is something suspicious in your enthusiastic sympathy with Alfred’s tenderness?’

‘Good gracious no, I hope not!’

‘Doesn’t it rather suggest,’ said Mrs Lammle archly, ‘that my Georgiana’s little heart is—’

‘Oh don’t!’ Miss Podsnap blushingly besought her. ‘Please don’t! I assure you, Sophronia, that I only praise Alfred, because he is your husband and so fond of you.’

Sophronia’s glance was as if a rather new light broke in upon her. It shaded off into a cool smile, as she said, with her eyes upon her lunch, and her eyebrows raised:

‘You are quite wrong, my love, in your guess at my meaning. What I insinuated was, that my Georgiana’s little heart was growing conscious of a vacancy.’

‘No, no, no,’ said Georgiana. ‘I wouldn’t have anybody say anything to me in that way for I don’t know how many thousand pounds.’

‘In what way, my Georgiana?’ inquired Mrs Lammle, still smiling coolly with her eyes upon her lunch, and her eyebrows raised.

‘You know,’ returned poor little Miss Podsnap. ‘I think I should go out of my mind, Sophronia, with vexation and shyness and detestation, if anybody did. It’s enough for me to see how loving you and your husband are. That’s a different thing. I couldn’t bear to have anything of that sort going on with myself. I should beg and pray to—to have the person taken away and trampled upon.’

Ah! here was Alfred. Having stolen in unobserved, he playfully leaned on the back of Sophronia’s chair, and, as Miss Podsnap saw him, put one of Sophronia’s wandering locks to his lips, and waved a kiss from it towards Miss Podsnap.

‘What is this about husbands and detestations?’ inquired the captivating Alfred.

‘Why, they say,’ returned his wife, ‘that listeners never hear any good of themselves; though you—but pray how long have you been here, sir?’

‘This instant arrived, my own.’

‘Then I may go on—though if you had been here but a moment or two sooner, you would have heard your praises sounded by Georgiana.’

‘Only, if they were to be called praises at all which I really don’t think they were,’ explained Miss Podsnap in a flutter, ‘for being so devoted to Sophronia.’

‘Sophronia!’ murmured Alfred. ‘My life!’ and kissed her hand. In return for which she kissed his watch-chain.

‘But it was not I who was to be taken away and trampled upon, I hope?’ said Alfred, drawing a seat between them.

‘Ask Georgiana, my soul,’ replied his wife.

Alfred touchingly appealed to Georgiana.

‘Oh, it was nobody,’ replied Miss Podsnap. ‘It was nonsense.’

‘But if you are determined to know, Mr Inquisitive Pet, as I suppose you are,’ said the happy and fond Sophronia, smiling, ‘it was any one who should venture to aspire to Georgiana.’

‘Sophronia, my love,’ remonstrated Mr Lammle, becoming graver, ‘you are not serious?’

‘Alfred, my love,’ returned his wife, ‘I dare say Georgiana was not, but I am.’

‘Now this,’ said Mr Lammle, ‘shows the accidental combinations that there are in things! Could you believe, my Ownest, that I came in here with the name of an aspirant to our Georgiana on my lips?’

‘Of course I could believe, Alfred,’ said Mrs Lammle, ‘anything that you told me.’

‘You dear one! And I anything that you told me.’

How delightful those interchanges, and the looks accompanying them! Now, if the skeleton up-stairs had taken that opportunity, for instance, of calling out ‘Here I am, suffocating in the closet!’

‘I give you my honour, my dear Sophronia—’

‘And I know what that is, love,’ said she.

‘You do, my darling—that I came into the room all but uttering young Fledgeby’s name. Tell Georgiana, dearest, about young Fledgeby.’

‘Oh no, don’t! Please don’t!’ cried Miss Podsnap, putting her fingers in her ears. ‘I’d rather not.’

Mrs Lammle laughed in her gayest manner, and, removing her Georgiana’s unresisting hands, and playfully holding them in her own at arms’ length, sometimes near together and sometimes wide apart, went on:

‘You must know, you dearly beloved little goose, that once upon a time there was a certain person called young Fledgeby. And this young Fledgeby, who was of an excellent family and rich, was known to two other certain persons, dearly attached to one another and called Mr and Mrs Alfred Lammle. So this young Fledgeby, being one night at the play, there sees with Mr and Mrs Alfred Lammle, a certain heroine called—’

‘No, don’t say Georgiana Podsnap!’ pleaded that young lady almost in tears. ‘Please don’t. Oh do do do say somebody else! Not Georgiana Podsnap. Oh don’t, don’t, don’t!’

‘No other,’ said Mrs Lammle, laughing airily, and, full of affectionate blandishments, opening and closing Georgiana’s arms like a pair of compasses, ‘than my little Georgiana Podsnap. So this young Fledgeby goes to that Alfred Lammle and says—’

‘Oh ple-e-e-ease don’t!’ Georgiana, as if the supplication were being squeezed out of her by powerful compression. ‘I so hate him for saying it!’

‘For saying what, my dear?’ laughed Mrs Lammle.

‘Oh, I don’t know what he said,’ cried Georgiana wildly, ‘but I hate him all the same for saying it.’

‘My dear,’ said Mrs Lammle, always laughing in her most captivating way, ‘the poor young fellow only says that he is stricken all of a heap.’

‘Oh, what shall I ever do!’ interposed Georgiana. ‘Oh my goodness what a Fool he must be!’

‘—And implores to be asked to dinner, and to make a fourth at the play another time. And so he dines to-morrow and goes to the Opera with us. That’s all. Except, my dear Georgiana—and what will you think of this!—that he is infinitely shyer than you, and far more afraid of you than you ever were of any one in all your days!’

In perturbation of mind Miss Podsnap still fumed and plucked at her hands a little, but could not help laughing at the notion of anybody’s being afraid of her. With that advantage, Sophronia flattered her and rallied her more successfully, and then the insinuating Alfred flattered her and rallied her, and promised that at any moment when she might require that service at his hands, he would take young Fledgeby out and trample on him. Thus it remained amicably understood that young Fledgeby was to come to admire, and that Georgiana was to come to be admired; and Georgiana with the entirely new sensation in her breast of having that prospect before her, and with many kisses from her dear Sophronia in present possession, preceded six feet one of discontented footman (an amount of the article that always came for her when she walked home) to her father’s dwelling.

The happy pair being left together, Mrs Lammle said to her husband:

‘If I understand this girl, sir, your dangerous fascinations have produced some effect upon her. I mention the conquest in good time because I apprehend your scheme to be more important to you than your vanity.’

There was a mirror on the wall before them, and her eyes just caught him smirking in it. She gave the reflected image a look of the deepest disdain, and the image received it in the glass. Next moment they quietly eyed each other, as if they, the principals, had had no part in that expressive transaction.

It may have been that Mrs Lammle tried in some manner to excuse her conduct to herself by depreciating the poor little victim of whom she spoke with acrimonious contempt. It may have been too that in this she did not quite succeed, for it is very difficult to resist confidence, and she knew she had Georgiana’s.

Nothing more was said between the happy pair. Perhaps conspirators who have once established an understanding, may not be over-fond of repeating the terms and objects of their conspiracy. Next day came; came Georgiana; and came Fledgeby.

Georgiana had by this time seen a good deal of the house and its frequenters. As there was a certain handsome room with a billiard table in it—on the ground floor, eating out a backyard—which might have been Mr Lammle’s office, or library, but was called by neither name, but simply Mr Lammle’s room, so it would have been hard for stronger female heads than Georgiana’s to determine whether its frequenters were men of pleasure or men of business. Between the room and the men there were strong points of general resemblance. Both were too gaudy, too slangey, too odorous of cigars, and too much given to horseflesh; the latter characteristic being exemplified in the room by its decorations, and in the men by their conversation. High-stepping horses seemed necessary to all Mr Lammle’s friends—as necessary as their transaction of business together in a gipsy way at untimely hours of the morning and evening, and in rushes and snatches. There were friends who seemed to be always coming and going across the Channel, on errands about the Bourse, and Greek and Spanish and India and Mexican and par and premium and discount and three quarters and seven eighths. There were other friends who seemed to be always lolling and lounging in and out of the City, on questions of the Bourse, and Greek and Spanish and India and Mexican and par and premium and discount and three quarters and seven eighths. They were all feverish, boastful, and indefinably loose; and they all ate and drank a great deal; and made bets in eating and drinking. They all spoke of sums of money, and only mentioned the sums and left the money to be understood; as ‘five and forty thousand Tom,’ or ‘Two hundred and twenty-two on every individual share in the lot Joe.’ They seemed to divide the world into two classes of people; people who were making enormous fortunes, and people who were being enormously ruined. They were always in a hurry, and yet seemed to have nothing tangible to do; except a few of them (these, mostly asthmatic and thick-lipped) who were for ever demonstrating to the rest, with gold pencil-cases which they could hardly hold because of the big rings on their forefingers, how money was to be made. Lastly, they all swore at their grooms, and the grooms were not quite as respectful or complete as other men’s grooms; seeming somehow to fall short of the groom point as their masters fell short of the gentleman point.

Young Fledgeby was none of these. Young Fledgeby had a peachy cheek, or a cheek compounded of the peach and the red red red wall on which it grows, and was an awkward, sandy-haired, small-eyed youth, exceeding slim (his enemies would have said lanky), and prone to self-examination in the articles of whisker and moustache. While feeling for the whisker that he anxiously expected, Fledgeby underwent remarkable fluctuations of spirits, ranging along the whole scale from confidence to despair. There were times when he started, as exclaiming ‘By Jupiter here it is at last!’ There were other times when, being equally depressed, he would be seen to shake his head, and give up hope. To see him at those periods leaning on a chimneypiece, like as on an urn containing the ashes of his ambition, with the cheek that would not sprout, upon the hand on which that cheek had forced conviction, was a distressing sight.

Not so was Fledgeby seen on this occasion. Arrayed in superb raiment, with his opera hat under his arm, he concluded his self-examination hopefully, awaited the arrival of Miss Podsnap, and talked small-talk with Mrs Lammle. In facetious homage to the smallness of his talk, and the jerky nature of his manners, Fledgeby’s familiars had agreed to confer upon him (behind his back) the honorary title of Fascination Fledgeby.

‘Warm weather, Mrs Lammle,’ said Fascination Fledgeby. Mrs Lammle thought it scarcely as warm as it had been yesterday. ‘Perhaps not,’ said Fascination Fledgeby, with great quickness of repartee; ‘but I expect it will be devilish warm to-morrow.’

He threw off another little scintillation. ‘Been out to-day, Mrs Lammle?’

Mrs Lammle answered, for a short drive.

‘Some people,’ said Fascination Fledgeby, ‘are accustomed to take long drives; but it generally appears to me that if they make ‘em too long, they overdo it.’

Being in such feather, he might have surpassed himself in his next sally, had not Miss Podsnap been announced. Mrs Lammle flew to embrace her darling little Georgy, and when the first transports were over, presented Mr Fledgeby. Mr Lammle came on the scene last, for he was always late, and so were the frequenters always late; all hands being bound to be made late, by private information about the Bourse, and Greek and Spanish and India and Mexican and par and premium and discount and three quarters and seven eighths.

A handsome little dinner was served immediately, and Mr Lammle sat sparkling at his end of the table, with his servant behind his chair, and his ever-lingering doubts upon the subject of his wages behind himself. Mr Lammle’s utmost powers of sparkling were in requisition to-day, for Fascination Fledgeby and Georgiana not only struck each other speechless, but struck each other into astonishing attitudes; Georgiana, as she sat facing Fledgeby, making such efforts to conceal her elbows as were totally incompatible with the use of a knife and fork; and Fledgeby, as he sat facing Georgiana, avoiding her countenance by every possible device, and betraying the discomposure of his mind in feeling for his whiskers with his spoon, his wine glass, and his bread.

So, Mr and Mrs Alfred Lammle had to prompt, and this is how they prompted.

‘Georgiana,’ said Mr Lammle, low and smiling, and sparkling all over, like a harlequin; ‘you are not in your usual spirits. Why are you not in your usual spirits, Georgiana?’

Georgiana faltered that she was much the same as she was in general; she was not aware of being different.

‘Not aware of being different!’ retorted Mr Alfred Lammle. ‘You, my dear Georgiana! Who are always so natural and unconstrained with us! Who are such a relief from the crowd that are all alike! Who are the embodiment of gentleness, simplicity, and reality!’

Miss Podsnap looked at the door, as if she entertained confused thoughts of taking refuge from these compliments in flight.

‘Now, I will be judged,’ said Mr Lammle, raising his voice a little, ‘by my friend Fledgeby.’

‘Oh don’t!’ Miss Podsnap faintly ejaculated: when Mrs Lammle took the prompt-book.

‘I beg your pardon, Alfred, my dear, but I cannot part with Mr Fledgeby quite yet; you must wait for him a moment. Mr Fledgeby and I are engaged in a personal discussion.’

Fledgeby must have conducted it on his side with immense art, for no appearance of uttering one syllable had escaped him.

‘A personal discussion, Sophronia, my love? What discussion? Fledgeby, I am jealous. What discussion, Fledgeby?’

‘Shall I tell him, Mr Fledgeby?’ asked Mrs Lammle.

Trying to look as if he knew anything about it, Fascination replied, ‘Yes, tell him.’

‘We were discussing then,’ said Mrs Lammle, ‘if you must know, Alfred, whether Mr Fledgeby was in his usual flow of spirits.’

‘Why, that is the very point, Sophronia, that Georgiana and I were discussing as to herself! What did Fledgeby say?’

‘Oh, a likely thing, sir, that I am going to tell you everything, and be told nothing! What did Georgiana say?’

‘Georgiana said she was doing her usual justice to herself to-day, and I said she was not.’

‘Precisely,’ exclaimed Mrs Lammle, ‘what I said to Mr Fledgeby.’ Still, it wouldn’t do. They would not look at one another. No, not even when the sparkling host proposed that the quartette should take an appropriately sparkling glass of wine. Georgiana looked from her wine glass at Mr Lammle and at Mrs Lammle; but mightn’t, couldn’t, shouldn’t, wouldn’t, look at Mr Fledgeby. Fascination looked from his wine glass at Mrs Lammle and at Mr Lammle; but mightn’t, couldn’t, shouldn’t, wouldn’t, look at Georgiana.

More prompting was necessary. Cupid must be brought up to the mark. The manager had put him down in the bill for the part, and he must play it.

‘Sophronia, my dear,’ said Mr Lammle, ‘I don’t like the colour of your dress.’

‘I appeal,’ said Mrs Lammle, ‘to Mr Fledgeby.’

‘And I,’ said Mr Lammle, ‘to Georgiana.’

‘Georgy, my love,’ remarked Mrs Lammle aside to her dear girl, ‘I rely upon you not to go over to the opposition. Now, Mr Fledgeby.’

Fascination wished to know if the colour were not called rose-colour? Yes, said Mr Lammle; actually he knew everything; it was really rose-colour. Fascination took rose-colour to mean the colour of roses. (In this he was very warmly supported by Mr and Mrs Lammle.) Fascination had heard the term Queen of Flowers applied to the Rose. Similarly, it might be said that the dress was the Queen of Dresses. (‘Very happy, Fledgeby!’ from Mr Lammle.) Notwithstanding, Fascination’s opinion was that we all had our eyes—or at least a large majority of us—and that—and—and his farther opinion was several ands, with nothing beyond them.

‘Oh, Mr Fledgeby,’ said Mrs Lammle, ‘to desert me in that way! Oh, Mr Fledgeby, to abandon my poor dear injured rose and declare for blue!’

‘Victory, victory!’ cried Mr Lammle; ‘your dress is condemned, my dear.’

‘But what,’ said Mrs Lammle, stealing her affectionate hand towards her dear girl’s, ‘what does Georgy say?’

‘She says,’ replied Mr Lammle, interpreting for her, ‘that in her eyes you look well in any colour, Sophronia, and that if she had expected to be embarrassed by so pretty a compliment as she has received, she would have worn another colour herself. Though I tell her, in reply, that it would not have saved her, for whatever colour she had worn would have been Fledgeby’s colour. But what does Fledgeby say?’

‘He says,’ replied Mrs Lammle, interpreting for him, and patting the back of her dear girl’s hand, as if it were Fledgeby who was patting it, ‘that it was no compliment, but a little natural act of homage that he couldn’t resist. And,’ expressing more feeling as if it were more feeling on the part of Fledgeby, ‘he is right, he is right!’

Still, no not even now, would they look at one another. Seeming to gnash his sparkling teeth, studs, eyes, and buttons, all at once, Mr Lammle secretly bent a dark frown on the two, expressive of an intense desire to bring them together by knocking their heads together.

‘Have you heard this opera of to-night, Fledgeby?’ he asked, stopping very short, to prevent himself from running on into ‘confound you.’

‘Why no, not exactly,’ said Fledgeby. ‘In fact I don’t know a note of it.’

‘Neither do you know it, Georgy?’ said Mrs Lammle. ‘N-no,’ replied Georgiana, faintly, under the sympathetic coincidence.

‘Why, then,’ said Mrs Lammle, charmed by the discovery which flowed from the premises, ‘you neither of you know it! How charming!’

Even the craven Fledgeby felt that the time was now come when he must strike a blow. He struck it by saying, partly to Mrs Lammle and partly to the circumambient air, ‘I consider myself very fortunate in being reserved by—’

As he stopped dead, Mr Lammle, making that gingerous bush of his whiskers to look out of, offered him the word ‘Destiny.’

‘No, I wasn’t going to say that,’ said Fledgeby. ‘I was going to say Fate. I consider it very fortunate that Fate has written in the book of—in the book which is its own property—that I should go to that opera for the first time under the memorable circumstances of going with Miss Podsnap.’

To which Georgiana replied, hooking her two little fingers in one another, and addressing the tablecloth, ‘Thank you, but I generally go with no one but you, Sophronia, and I like that very much.’

Content perforce with this success for the time, Mr Lammle let Miss Podsnap out of the room, as if he were opening her cage door, and Mrs Lammle followed. Coffee being presently served up stairs, he kept a watch on Fledgeby until Miss Podsnap’s cup was empty, and then directed him with his finger (as if that young gentleman were a slow Retriever) to go and fetch it. This feat he performed, not only without failure, but even with the original embellishment of informing Miss Podsnap that green tea was considered bad for the nerves. Though there Miss Podsnap unintentionally threw him out by faltering, ‘Oh, is it indeed? How does it act?’ Which he was not prepared to elucidate.

The carriage announced, Mrs Lammle said; ‘Don’t mind me, Mr Fledgeby, my skirts and cloak occupy both my hands, take Miss Podsnap.’ And he took her, and Mrs Lammle went next, and Mr Lammle went last, savagely following his little flock, like a drover.

But he was all sparkle and glitter in the box at the Opera, and there he and his dear wife made a conversation between Fledgeby and Georgiana in the following ingenious and skilful manner. They sat in this order: Mrs Lammle, Fascination Fledgeby, Georgiana, Mr Lammle. Mrs Lammle made leading remarks to Fledgeby, only requiring monosyllabic replies. Mr Lammle did the like with Georgiana. At times Mrs Lammle would lean forward to address Mr Lammle to this purpose.

‘Alfred, my dear, Mr Fledgeby very justly says, apropos of the last scene, that true constancy would not require any such stimulant as the stage deems necessary.’ To which Mr Lammle would reply, ‘Ay, Sophronia, my love, but as Georgiana has observed to me, the lady had no sufficient reason to know the state of the gentleman’s affections.’ To which Mrs Lammle would rejoin, ‘Very true, Alfred; but Mr Fledgeby points out,’ this. To which Alfred would demur: ‘Undoubtedly, Sophronia, but Georgiana acutely remarks,’ that. Through this device the two young people conversed at great length and committed themselves to a variety of delicate sentiments, without having once opened their lips, save to say yes or no, and even that not to one another.

Fledgeby took his leave of Miss Podsnap at the carriage door, and the Lammles dropped her at her own home, and on the way Mrs Lammle archly rallied her, in her fond and protecting manner, by saying at intervals, ‘Oh little Georgiana, little Georgiana!’ Which was not much; but the tone added, ‘You have enslaved your Fledgeby.’

And thus the Lammles got home at last, and the lady sat down moody and weary, looking at her dark lord engaged in a deed of violence with a bottle of soda-water as though he were wringing the neck of some unlucky creature and pouring its blood down his throat. As he wiped his dripping whiskers in an ogreish way, he met her eyes, and pausing, said, with no very gentle voice:

‘Well?’

‘Was such an absolute Booby necessary to the purpose?’

‘I know what I am doing. He is no such dolt as you suppose.’

‘A genius, perhaps?’

‘You sneer, perhaps; and you take a lofty air upon yourself perhaps! But I tell you this:—when that young fellow’s interest is concerned, he holds as tight as a horse-leech. When money is in question with that young fellow, he is a match for the Devil.’

‘Is he a match for you?’

‘He is. Almost as good a one as you thought me for you. He has no quality of youth in him, but such as you have seen to-day. Touch him upon money, and you touch no booby then. He really is a dolt, I suppose, in other things; but it answers his one purpose very well.’

‘Has she money in her own right in any case?’

‘Ay! she has money in her own right in any case. You have done so well to-day, Sophronia, that I answer the question, though you know I object to any such questions. You have done so well to-day, Sophronia, that you must be tired. Get to bed.’






Chapter 5. 
MERCURY PROMPTING

Fledgeby deserved Mr Alfred Lammle’s eulogium. He was the meanest cur existing, with a single pair of legs. And instinct (a word we all clearly understand) going largely on four legs, and reason always on two, meanness on four legs never attains the perfection of meanness on two.

The father of this young gentleman had been a money-lender, who had transacted professional business with the mother of this young gentleman, when he, the latter, was waiting in the vast dark ante-chambers of the present world to be born. The lady, a widow, being unable to pay the money-lender, married him; and in due course, Fledgeby was summoned out of the vast dark ante-chambers to come and be presented to the Registrar-General. Rather a curious speculation how Fledgeby would otherwise have disposed of his leisure until Doomsday.

Fledgeby’s mother offended her family by marrying Fledgeby’s father. It is one of the easiest achievements in life to offend your family when your family want to get rid of you. Fledgeby’s mother’s family had been very much offended with her for being poor, and broke with her for becoming comparatively rich. Fledgeby’s mother’s family was the Snigsworth family. She had even the high honour to be cousin to Lord Snigsworth—so many times removed that the noble Earl would have had no compunction in removing her one time more and dropping her clean outside the cousinly pale; but cousin for all that.

Among her pre-matrimonial transactions with Fledgeby’s father, Fledgeby’s mother had raised money of him at a great disadvantage on a certain reversionary interest. The reversion falling in soon after they were married, Fledgeby’s father laid hold of the cash for his separate use and benefit. This led to subjective differences of opinion, not to say objective interchanges of boot-jacks, backgammon boards, and other such domestic missiles, between Fledgeby’s father and Fledgeby’s mother, and those led to Fledgeby’s mother spending as much money as she could, and to Fledgeby’s father doing all he couldn’t to restrain her. Fledgeby’s childhood had been, in consequence, a stormy one; but the winds and the waves had gone down in the grave, and Fledgeby flourished alone.

He lived in chambers in the Albany, did Fledgeby, and maintained a spruce appearance. But his youthful fire was all composed of sparks from the grindstone; and as the sparks flew off, went out, and never warmed anything, be sure that Fledgeby had his tools at the grindstone, and turned it with a wary eye.

Mr Alfred Lammle came round to the Albany to breakfast with Fledgeby. Present on the table, one scanty pot of tea, one scanty loaf, two scanty pats of butter, two scanty rashers of bacon, two pitiful eggs, and an abundance of handsome china bought a secondhand bargain.

‘What did you think of Georgiana?’ asked Mr Lammle.

‘Why, I’ll tell you,’ said Fledgeby, very deliberately.

‘Do, my boy.’

‘You misunderstand me,’ said Fledgeby. ‘I don’t mean I’ll tell you that. I mean I’ll tell you something else.’

‘Tell me anything, old fellow!’

‘Ah, but there you misunderstand me again,’ said Fledgeby. ‘I mean I’ll tell you nothing.’

Mr Lammle sparkled at him, but frowned at him too.

‘Look here,’ said Fledgeby. ‘You’re deep and you’re ready. Whether I am deep or not, never mind. I am not ready. But I can do one thing, Lammle, I can hold my tongue. And I intend always doing it.’

‘You are a long-headed fellow, Fledgeby.’

‘May be, or may not be. If I am a short-tongued fellow, it may amount to the same thing. Now, Lammle, I am never going to answer questions.’

‘My dear fellow, it was the simplest question in the world.’

‘Never mind. It seemed so, but things are not always what they seem. I saw a man examined as a witness in Westminster Hall. Questions put to him seemed the simplest in the world, but turned out to be anything rather than that, after he had answered ‘em. Very well. Then he should have held his tongue. If he had held his tongue he would have kept out of scrapes that he got into.’

‘If I had held my tongue, you would never have seen the subject of my question,’ remarked Lammle, darkening.

‘Now, Lammle,’ said Fascination Fledgeby, calmly feeling for his whisker, ‘it won’t do. I won’t be led on into a discussion. I can’t manage a discussion. But I can manage to hold my tongue.’

‘Can?’ Mr Lammle fell back upon propitiation. ‘I should think you could! Why, when these fellows of our acquaintance drink and you drink with them, the more talkative they get, the more silent you get. The more they let out, the more you keep in.’

‘I don’t object, Lammle,’ returned Fledgeby, with an internal chuckle, ‘to being understood, though I object to being questioned. That certainly is the way I do it.’

‘And when all the rest of us are discussing our ventures, none of us ever know what a single venture of yours is!’

‘And none of you ever will from me, Lammle,’ replied Fledgeby, with another internal chuckle; ‘that certainly is the way I do it.’

‘Why of course it is, I know!’ rejoined Lammle, with a flourish of frankness, and a laugh, and stretching out his hands as if to show the universe a remarkable man in Fledgeby. ‘If I hadn’t known it of my Fledgeby, should I have proposed our little compact of advantage, to my Fledgeby?’

‘Ah!’ remarked Fascination, shaking his head slyly. ‘But I am not to be got at in that way. I am not vain. That sort of vanity don’t pay, Lammle. No, no, no. Compliments only make me hold my tongue the more.’

Alfred Lammle pushed his plate away (no great sacrifice under the circumstances of there being so little in it), thrust his hands in his pockets, leaned back in his chair, and contemplated Fledgeby in silence. Then he slowly released his left hand from its pocket, and made that bush of his whiskers, still contemplating him in silence. Then he slowly broke silence, and slowly said: ‘What—the—Dev-il is this fellow about this morning?’

‘Now, look here, Lammle,’ said Fascination Fledgeby, with the meanest of twinkles in his meanest of eyes: which were too near together, by the way: ‘look here, Lammle; I am very well aware that I didn’t show to advantage last night, and that you and your wife—who, I consider, is a very clever woman and an agreeable woman—did. I am not calculated to show to advantage under that sort of circumstances. I know very well you two did show to advantage, and managed capitally. But don’t you on that account come talking to me as if I was your doll and puppet, because I am not.

‘And all this,’ cried Alfred, after studying with a look the meanness that was fain to have the meanest help, and yet was so mean as to turn upon it: ‘all this because of one simple natural question!’

‘You should have waited till I thought proper to say something about it of myself. I don’t like your coming over me with your Georgianas, as if you was her proprietor and mine too.’

‘Well, when you are in the gracious mind to say anything about it of yourself,’ retorted Lammle, ‘pray do.’

‘I have done it. I have said you managed capitally. You and your wife both. If you’ll go on managing capitally, I’ll go on doing my part. Only don’t crow.’

‘I crow!’ exclaimed Lammle, shrugging his shoulders.

‘Or,’ pursued the other—‘or take it in your head that people are your puppets because they don’t come out to advantage at the particular moments when you do, with the assistance of a very clever and agreeable wife. All the rest keep on doing, and let Mrs Lammle keep on doing. Now, I have held my tongue when I thought proper, and I have spoken when I thought proper, and there’s an end of that. And now the question is,’ proceeded Fledgeby, with the greatest reluctance, ‘will you have another egg?’

‘No, I won’t,’ said Lammle, shortly.

‘Perhaps you’re right and will find yourself better without it,’ replied Fascination, in greatly improved spirits. ‘To ask you if you’ll have another rasher would be unmeaning flattery, for it would make you thirsty all day. Will you have some more bread and butter?’

‘No, I won’t,’ repeated Lammle.

‘Then I will,’ said Fascination. And it was not a mere retort for the sound’s sake, but was a cheerful cogent consequence of the refusal; for if Lammle had applied himself again to the loaf, it would have been so heavily visited, in Fledgeby’s opinion, as to demand abstinence from bread, on his part, for the remainder of that meal at least, if not for the whole of the next.

Whether this young gentleman (for he was but three-and-twenty) combined with the miserly vice of an old man, any of the open-handed vices of a young one, was a moot point; so very honourably did he keep his own counsel. He was sensible of the value of appearances as an investment, and liked to dress well; but he drove a bargain for every moveable about him, from the coat on his back to the china on his breakfast-table; and every bargain by representing somebody’s ruin or somebody’s loss, acquired a peculiar charm for him. It was a part of his avarice to take, within narrow bounds, long odds at races; if he won, he drove harder bargains; if he lost, he half starved himself until next time. Why money should be so precious to an Ass too dull and mean to exchange it for any other satisfaction, is strange; but there is no animal so sure to get laden with it, as the Ass who sees nothing written on the face of the earth and sky but the three letters L. S. D.—not Luxury, Sensuality, Dissoluteness, which they often stand for, but the three dry letters. Your concentrated Fox is seldom comparable to your concentrated Ass in money-breeding.

Fascination Fledgeby feigned to be a young gentleman living on his means, but was known secretly to be a kind of outlaw in the bill-broking line, and to put money out at high interest in various ways. His circle of familiar acquaintance, from Mr Lammle round, all had a touch of the outlaw, as to their rovings in the merry greenwood of Jobbery Forest, lying on the outskirts of the Share-Market and the Stock Exchange.

‘I suppose you, Lammle,’ said Fledgeby, eating his bread and butter, ‘always did go in for female society?’

‘Always,’ replied Lammle, glooming considerably under his late treatment.

‘Came natural to you, eh?’ said Fledgeby.

‘The sex were pleased to like me, sir,’ said Lammle sulkily, but with the air of a man who had not been able to help himself.

‘Made a pretty good thing of marrying, didn’t you?’ asked Fledgeby.

The other smiled (an ugly smile), and tapped one tap upon his nose.

‘My late governor made a mess of it,’ said Fledgeby. ‘But Geor—is the right name Georgina or Georgiana?’

‘Georgiana.’

‘I was thinking yesterday, I didn’t know there was such a name. I thought it must end in ina.’

‘Why?’

‘Why, you play—if you can—the Concertina, you know,’ replied Fledgeby, meditating very slowly. ‘And you have—when you catch it—the Scarlatina. And you can come down from a balloon in a parach—no you can’t though. Well, say Georgeute—I mean Georgiana.’

‘You were going to remark of Georgiana—?’ Lammle moodily hinted, after waiting in vain.

‘I was going to remark of Georgiana, sir,’ said Fledgeby, not at all pleased to be reminded of his having forgotten it, ‘that she don’t seem to be violent. Don’t seem to be of the pitching-in order.’

‘She has the gentleness of the dove, Mr Fledgeby.’

‘Of course you’ll say so,’ replied Fledgeby, sharpening, the moment his interest was touched by another. ‘But you know, the real look-out is this:—what I say, not what you say. I say having my late governor and my late mother in my eye—that Georgiana don’t seem to be of the pitching-in order.’

The respected Mr Lammle was a bully, by nature and by usual practice. Perceiving, as Fledgeby’s affronts cumulated, that conciliation by no means answered the purpose here, he now directed a scowling look into Fledgeby’s small eyes for the effect of the opposite treatment. Satisfied by what he saw there, he burst into a violent passion and struck his hand upon the table, making the china ring and dance.

‘You are a very offensive fellow, sir,’ cried Mr Lammle, rising. ‘You are a highly offensive scoundrel. What do you mean by this behaviour?’

‘I say!’ remonstrated Fledgeby. ‘Don’t break out.’

‘You are a very offensive fellow sir,’ repeated Mr Lammle. ‘You are a highly offensive scoundrel!’

‘I say, you know!’ urged Fledgeby, quailing.

‘Why, you coarse and vulgar vagabond!’ said Mr Lammle, looking fiercely about him, ‘if your servant was here to give me sixpence of your money to get my boots cleaned afterwards—for you are not worth the expenditure—I’d kick you.’

‘No you wouldn’t,’ pleaded Fledgeby. ‘I am sure you’d think better of it.’

‘I tell you what, Mr Fledgeby,’ said Lammle advancing on him. ‘Since you presume to contradict me, I’ll assert myself a little. Give me your nose!’

Fledgeby covered it with his hand instead, and said, retreating, ‘I beg you won’t!’

‘Give me your nose, sir,’ repeated Lammle.

Still covering that feature and backing, Mr Fledgeby reiterated (apparently with a severe cold in his head), ‘I beg, I beg, you won’t.’

‘And this fellow,’ exclaimed Lammle, stopping and making the most of his chest—‘This fellow presumes on my having selected him out of all the young fellows I know, for an advantageous opportunity! This fellow presumes on my having in my desk round the corner, his dirty note of hand for a wretched sum payable on the occurrence of a certain event, which event can only be of my and my wife’s bringing about! This fellow, Fledgeby, presumes to be impertinent to me, Lammle. Give me your nose sir!’

‘No! Stop! I beg your pardon,’ said Fledgeby, with humility.

‘What do you say, sir?’ demanded Mr Lammle, seeming too furious to understand.

‘I beg your pardon,’ repeated Fledgeby.

‘Repeat your words louder, sir. The just indignation of a gentleman has sent the blood boiling to my head. I don’t hear you.’

‘I say,’ repeated Fledgeby, with laborious explanatory politeness, ‘I beg your pardon.’

Mr Lammle paused. ‘As a man of honour,’ said he, throwing himself into a chair, ‘I am disarmed.’

Mr Fledgeby also took a chair, though less demonstratively, and by slow approaches removed his hand from his nose. Some natural diffidence assailed him as to blowing it, so shortly after its having assumed a personal and delicate, not to say public, character; but he overcame his scruples by degrees, and modestly took that liberty under an implied protest.

‘Lammle,’ he said sneakingly, when that was done, ‘I hope we are friends again?’

‘Mr Fledgeby,’ returned Lammle, ‘say no more.’

‘I must have gone too far in making myself disagreeable,’ said Fledgeby, ‘but I never intended it.’

‘Say no more, say no more!’ Mr Lammle repeated in a magnificent tone. ‘Give me your’—Fledgeby started—‘hand.’

They shook hands, and on Mr Lammle’s part, in particular, there ensued great geniality. For, he was quite as much of a dastard as the other, and had been in equal danger of falling into the second place for good, when he took heart just in time, to act upon the information conveyed to him by Fledgeby’s eye.

The breakfast ended in a perfect understanding. Incessant machinations were to be kept at work by Mr and Mrs Lammle; love was to be made for Fledgeby, and conquest was to be insured to him; he on his part very humbly admitting his defects as to the softer social arts, and entreating to be backed to the utmost by his two able coadjutors.

Little recked Mr Podsnap of the traps and toils besetting his Young Person. He regarded her as safe within the Temple of Podsnappery, hiding the fulness of time when she, Georgiana, should take him, Fitz-Podsnap, who with all his worldly goods should her endow. It would call a blush into the cheek of his standard Young Person to have anything to do with such matters save to take as directed, and with worldly goods as per settlement to be endowed. Who giveth this woman to be married to this man? I, Podsnap. Perish the daring thought that any smaller creation should come between!

It was a public holiday, and Fledgeby did not recover his spirits or his usual temperature of nose until the afternoon. Walking into the City in the holiday afternoon, he walked against a living stream setting out of it; and thus, when he turned into the precincts of St Mary Axe, he found a prevalent repose and quiet there. A yellow overhanging plaster-fronted house at which he stopped was quiet too. The blinds were all drawn down, and the inscription Pubsey and Co. seemed to doze in the counting-house window on the ground-floor giving on the sleepy street.

Fledgeby knocked and rang, and Fledgeby rang and knocked, but no one came. Fledgeby crossed the narrow street and looked up at the house-windows, but nobody looked down at Fledgeby. He got out of temper, crossed the narrow street again, and pulled the housebell as if it were the house’s nose, and he were taking a hint from his late experience. His ear at the keyhole seemed then, at last, to give him assurance that something stirred within. His eye at the keyhole seemed to confirm his ear, for he angrily pulled the house’s nose again, and pulled and pulled and continued to pull, until a human nose appeared in the dark doorway.

‘Now you sir!’ cried Fledgeby. ‘These are nice games!’

He addressed an old Jewish man in an ancient coat, long of skirt, and wide of pocket. A venerable man, bald and shining at the top of his head, and with long grey hair flowing down at its sides and mingling with his beard. A man who with a graceful Eastern action of homage bent his head, and stretched out his hands with the palms downward, as if to deprecate the wrath of a superior.

‘What have you been up to?’ said Fledgeby, storming at him.

‘Generous Christian master,’ urged the Jewish man, ‘it being holiday, I looked for no one.’

‘Holiday he blowed!’ said Fledgeby, entering. ‘What have you got to do with holidays? Shut the door.’

With his former action the old man obeyed. In the entry hung his rusty large-brimmed low-crowned hat, as long out of date as his coat; in the corner near it stood his staff—no walking-stick but a veritable staff. Fledgeby turned into the counting-house, perched himself on a business stool, and cocked his hat. There were light boxes on shelves in the counting-house, and strings of mock beads hanging up. There were samples of cheap clocks, and samples of cheap vases of flowers. Foreign toys, all.

Perched on the stool with his hat cocked on his head and one of his legs dangling, the youth of Fledgeby hardly contrasted to advantage with the age of the Jewish man as he stood with his bare head bowed, and his eyes (which he only raised in speaking) on the ground. His clothing was worn down to the rusty hue of the hat in the entry, but though he looked shabby he did not look mean. Now, Fledgeby, though not shabby, did look mean.

‘You have not told me what you were up to, you sir,’ said Fledgeby, scratching his head with the brim of his hat.

‘Sir, I was breathing the air.’

‘In the cellar, that you didn’t hear?’

‘On the house-top.’

‘Upon my soul! That’s a way of doing business.’

‘Sir,’ the old man represented with a grave and patient air, ‘there must be two parties to the transaction of business, and the holiday has left me alone.’

‘Ah! Can’t be buyer and seller too. That’s what the Jews say; ain’t it?’

‘At least we say truly, if we say so,’ answered the old man with a smile.

‘Your people need speak the truth sometimes, for they lie enough,’ remarked Fascination Fledgeby.

‘Sir, there is,’ returned the old man with quiet emphasis, ‘too much untruth among all denominations of men.’

Rather dashed, Fascination Fledgeby took another scratch at his intellectual head with his hat, to gain time for rallying.

‘For instance,’ he resumed, as though it were he who had spoken last, ‘who but you and I ever heard of a poor Jew?’

‘The Jews,’ said the old man, raising his eyes from the ground with his former smile. ‘They hear of poor Jews often, and are very good to them.’

‘Bother that!’ returned Fledgeby. ‘You know what I mean. You’d persuade me if you could, that you are a poor Jew. I wish you’d confess how much you really did make out of my late governor. I should have a better opinion of you.’

The old man only bent his head, and stretched out his hands as before.

‘Don’t go on posturing like a Deaf and Dumb School,’ said the ingenious Fledgeby, ‘but express yourself like a Christian—or as nearly as you can.’

‘I had had sickness and misfortunes, and was so poor,’ said the old man, ‘as hopelessly to owe the father, principal and interest. The son inheriting, was so merciful as to forgive me both, and place me here.’

He made a little gesture as though he kissed the hem of an imaginary garment worn by the noble youth before him. It was humbly done, but picturesquely, and was not abasing to the doer.

‘You won’t say more, I see,’ said Fledgeby, looking at him as if he would like to try the effect of extracting a double-tooth or two, ‘and so it’s of no use my putting it to you. But confess this, Riah; who believes you to be poor now?’

‘No one,’ said the old man.

‘There you’re right,’ assented Fledgeby.

‘No one,’ repeated the old man with a grave slow wave of his head. ‘All scout it as a fable. Were I to say “This little fancy business is not mine”;’ with a lithe sweep of his easily-turning hand around him, to comprehend the various objects on the shelves; ‘“it is the little business of a Christian young gentleman who places me, his servant, in trust and charge here, and to whom I am accountable for every single bead,” they would laugh. When, in the larger money-business, I tell the borrowers—’

‘I say, old chap!’ interposed Fledgeby, ‘I hope you mind what you do tell ‘em?’

‘Sir, I tell them no more than I am about to repeat. When I tell them, “I cannot promise this, I cannot answer for the other, I must see my principal, I have not the money, I am a poor man and it does not rest with me,” they are so unbelieving and so impatient, that they sometimes curse me in Jehovah’s name.’

‘That’s deuced good, that is!’ said Fascination Fledgeby.

‘And at other times they say, “Can it never be done without these tricks, Mr Riah? Come, come, Mr Riah, we know the arts of your people”—my people!—“If the money is to be lent, fetch it, fetch it; if it is not to be lent, keep it and say so.” They never believe me.’

‘That’s all right,’ said Fascination Fledgeby.

‘They say, “We know, Mr Riah, we know. We have but to look at you, and we know.”’

‘Oh, a good ‘un are you for the post,’ thought Fledgeby, ‘and a good ‘un was I to mark you out for it! I may be slow, but I am precious sure.’

Not a syllable of this reflection shaped itself in any scrap of Mr Fledgeby’s breath, lest it should tend to put his servant’s price up. But looking at the old man as he stood quiet with his head bowed and his eyes cast down, he felt that to relinquish an inch of his baldness, an inch of his grey hair, an inch of his coat-skirt, an inch of his hat-brim, an inch of his walking-staff, would be to relinquish hundreds of pounds.

‘Look here, Riah,’ said Fledgeby, mollified by these self-approving considerations. ‘I want to go a little more into buying-up queer bills. Look out in that direction.’

‘Sir, it shall be done.’

‘Casting my eye over the accounts, I find that branch of business pays pretty fairly, and I am game for extending it. I like to know people’s affairs likewise. So look out.’

‘Sir, I will, promptly.’

‘Put it about in the right quarters, that you’ll buy queer bills by the lump—by the pound weight if that’s all—supposing you see your way to a fair chance on looking over the parcel. And there’s one thing more. Come to me with the books for periodical inspection as usual, at eight on Monday morning.’

Riah drew some folding tablets from his breast and noted it down.

‘That’s all I wanted to say at the present time,’ continued Fledgeby in a grudging vein, as he got off the stool, ‘except that I wish you’d take the air where you can hear the bell, or the knocker, either one of the two or both. By-the-by how do you take the air at the top of the house? Do you stick your head out of a chimney-pot?’

‘Sir, there are leads there, and I have made a little garden there.’

‘To bury your money in, you old dodger?’

‘A thumbnail’s space of garden would hold the treasure I bury, master,’ said Riah. ‘Twelve shillings a week, even when they are an old man’s wages, bury themselves.’

‘I should like to know what you really are worth,’ returned Fledgeby, with whom his growing rich on that stipend and gratitude was a very convenient fiction. ‘But come! Let’s have a look at your garden on the tiles, before I go!’

The old man took a step back, and hesitated.

‘Truly, sir, I have company there.’

‘Have you, by George!’ said Fledgeby; ‘I suppose you happen to know whose premises these are?’

‘Sir, they are yours, and I am your servant in them.’

‘Oh! I thought you might have overlooked that,’ retorted Fledgeby, with his eyes on Riah’s beard as he felt for his own; ‘having company on my premises, you know!’

‘Come up and see the guests, sir. I hope for your admission that they can do no harm.’

Passing him with a courteous reverence, specially unlike any action that Mr Fledgeby could for his life have imparted to his own head and hands, the old man began to ascend the stairs. As he toiled on before, with his palm upon the stair-rail, and his long black skirt, a very gaberdine, overhanging each successive step, he might have been the leader in some pilgrimage of devotional ascent to a prophet’s tomb. Not troubled by any such weak imagining, Fascination Fledgeby merely speculated on the time of life at which his beard had begun, and thought once more what a good ‘un he was for the part.

Some final wooden steps conducted them, stooping under a low penthouse roof, to the house-top. Riah stood still, and, turning to his master, pointed out his guests.

Lizzie Hexam and Jenny Wren. For whom, perhaps with some old instinct of his race, the gentle Jew had spread a carpet. Seated on it, against no more romantic object than a blackened chimney-stack over which some bumble creeper had been trained, they both pored over one book; both with attentive faces; Jenny with the sharper; Lizzie with the more perplexed. Another little book or two were lying near, and a common basket of common fruit, and another basket full of strings of beads and tinsel scraps. A few boxes of humble flowers and evergreens completed the garden; and the encompassing wilderness of dowager old chimneys twirled their cowls and fluttered their smoke, rather as if they were bridling, and fanning themselves, and looking on in a state of airy surprise.

Taking her eyes off the book, to test her memory of something in it, Lizzie was the first to see herself observed. As she rose, Miss Wren likewise became conscious, and said, irreverently addressing the great chief of the premises: ‘Whoever you are, I can’t get up, because my back’s bad and my legs are queer.’

‘This is my master,’ said Riah, stepping forward.

(‘Don’t look like anybody’s master,’ observed Miss Wren to herself, with a hitch of her chin and eyes.)

‘This, sir,’ pursued the old man, ‘is a little dressmaker for little people. Explain to the master, Jenny.’

‘Dolls; that’s all,’ said Jenny, shortly. ‘Very difficult to fit too, because their figures are so uncertain. You never know where to expect their waists.’

‘Her friend,’ resumed the old man, motioning towards Lizzie; ‘and as industrious as virtuous. But that they both are. They are busy early and late, sir, early and late; and in bye-times, as on this holiday, they go to book-learning.’

‘Not much good to be got out of that,’ remarked Fledgeby.

‘Depends upon the person!’ quoth Miss Wren, snapping him up.

‘I made acquaintance with my guests, sir,’ pursued the Jew, with an evident purpose of drawing out the dressmaker, ‘through their coming here to buy of our damage and waste for Miss Jenny’s millinery. Our waste goes into the best of company, sir, on her rosy-cheeked little customers. They wear it in their hair, and on their ball-dresses, and even (so she tells me) are presented at Court with it.’

‘Ah!’ said Fledgeby, on whose intelligence this doll-fancy made rather strong demands; ‘she’s been buying that basketful to-day, I suppose?’

‘I suppose she has,’ Miss Jenny interposed; ‘and paying for it too, most likely!’

‘Let’s have a look at it,’ said the suspicious chief. Riah handed it to him. ‘How much for this now?’

‘Two precious silver shillings,’ said Miss Wren.

Riah confirmed her with two nods, as Fledgeby looked to him. A nod for each shilling.

‘Well,’ said Fledgeby, poking into the contents of the basket with his forefinger, ‘the price is not so bad. You have got good measure, Miss What-is-it.’

‘Try Jenny,’ suggested that young lady with great calmness.

‘You have got good measure, Miss Jenny; but the price is not so bad.—And you,’ said Fledgeby, turning to the other visitor, ‘do you buy anything here, miss?’

‘No, sir.’

‘Nor sell anything neither, miss?’

‘No, sir.’

Looking askew at the questioner, Jenny stole her hand up to her friend’s, and drew her friend down, so that she bent beside her on her knee.

‘We are thankful to come here for rest, sir,’ said Jenny. ‘You see, you don’t know what the rest of this place is to us; does he, Lizzie? It’s the quiet, and the air.’

‘The quiet!’ repeated Fledgeby, with a contemptuous turn of his head towards the City’s roar. ‘And the air!’ with a ‘Poof!’ at the smoke.

‘Ah!’ said Jenny. ‘But it’s so high. And you see the clouds rushing on above the narrow streets, not minding them, and you see the golden arrows pointing at the mountains in the sky from which the wind comes, and you feel as if you were dead.’

The little creature looked above her, holding up her slight transparent hand.

‘How do you feel when you are dead?’ asked Fledgeby, much perplexed.

‘Oh, so tranquil!’ cried the little creature, smiling. ‘Oh, so peaceful and so thankful! And you hear the people who are alive, crying, and working, and calling to one another down in the close dark streets, and you seem to pity them so! And such a chain has fallen from you, and such a strange good sorrowful happiness comes upon you!’

Her eyes fell on the old man, who, with his hands folded, quietly looked on.

‘Why it was only just now,’ said the little creature, pointing at him, ‘that I fancied I saw him come out of his grave! He toiled out at that low door so bent and worn, and then he took his breath and stood upright, and looked all round him at the sky, and the wind blew upon him, and his life down in the dark was over!—Till he was called back to life,’ she added, looking round at Fledgeby with that lower look of sharpness. ‘Why did you call him back?’

‘He was long enough coming, anyhow,’ grumbled Fledgeby.

‘But you are not dead, you know,’ said Jenny Wren. ‘Get down to life!’

Mr Fledgeby seemed to think it rather a good suggestion, and with a nod turned round. As Riah followed to attend him down the stairs, the little creature called out to the Jew in a silvery tone, ‘Don’t be long gone. Come back, and be dead!’ And still as they went down they heard the little sweet voice, more and more faintly, half calling and half singing, ‘Come back and be dead, Come back and be dead!’

When they got down into the entry, Fledgeby, pausing under the shadow of the broad old hat, and mechanically poising the staff, said to the old man:

‘That’s a handsome girl, that one in her senses.’

‘And as good as handsome,’ answered Riah.

‘At all events,’ observed Fledgeby, with a dry whistle, ‘I hope she ain’t bad enough to put any chap up to the fastenings, and get the premises broken open. You look out. Keep your weather eye awake and don’t make any more acquaintances, however handsome. Of course you always keep my name to yourself?’

‘Sir, assuredly I do.’

‘If they ask it, say it’s Pubsey, or say it’s Co, or say it’s anything you like, but what it is.’

His grateful servant—in whose race gratitude is deep, strong, and enduring—bowed his head, and actually did now put the hem of his coat to his lips: though so lightly that the wearer knew nothing of it.

Thus, Fascination Fledgeby went his way, exulting in the artful cleverness with which he had turned his thumb down on a Jew, and the old man went his different way up-stairs. As he mounted, the call or song began to sound in his ears again, and, looking above, he saw the face of the little creature looking down out of a Glory of her long bright radiant hair, and musically repeating to him, like a vision:

‘Come up and be dead! Come up and be dead!’