Part 2 out of 21
The gentleman listened to her, with a face of marked attention,
though he neither looked up nor changed his attitude. He sat, still
and silent, until his future landlord accepted his proposals, and
brought writing materials to complete the business. He sat, still
and silent, while the landlord wrote.
When the agreement was ready in duplicate (the landlord having
worked at it like some cherubic scribe, in what is conventionally
called a doubtful, which means a not at all doubtful, Old Master),
it was signed by the contracting parties, Bella looking on as
scornful witness. The contracting parties were R. Wilfer, and John
When it came to Bella's turn to sign her name, Mr Rokesmith, who
was standing, as he had sat, with a hesitating hand upon the table,
looked at her stealthily, but narrowly. He looked at the pretty
figure bending down over the paper and saying, 'Where am I to go,
pa? Here, in this corner?' He looked at the beautiful brown hair,
shading the coquettish face; he looked at the free dash of the
signature, which was a bold one for a woman's; and then they
looked at one another.
'Much obliged to you, Miss Wilfer.'
'I have given you so much trouble.'
'Signing my name? Yes, certainly. But I am your landlord's
As there was nothing more to do but pay eight sovereigns in
earnest of the bargain, pocket the agreement, appoint a time for the
arrival of his furniture and himself, and go, Mr Rokesmith did that
as awkwardly as it might be done, and was escorted by his
landlord to the outer air. When R. Wilfer returned, candlestick in
hand, to the bosom of his family, he found the bosom agitated.
'Pa,' said Bella, 'we have got a Murderer for a tenant.'
'Pa,' said Lavinia, 'we have got a Robber.'
'To see him unable for his life to look anybody in the face!' said
Bella. 'There never was such an exhibition.'
'My dears,' said their father, 'he is a diffident gentleman, and I
should say particularly so in the society of girls of your age.'
'Nonsense, our age!' cried Bella, impatiently. 'What's that got to do
'Besides, we are not of the same age:--which age?' demanded
'Never YOU mind, Lavvy,' retorted Bella; 'you wait till you are of
an age to ask such questions. Pa, mark my words! Between Mr
Rokesmith and me, there is a natural antipathy and a deep distrust;
and something will come of it!'
'My dear, and girls,' said the cherub-patriarch, 'between Mr
Rokesmith and me, there is a matter of eight sovereigns, and
something for supper shall come of it, if you'll agree upon the
This was a neat and happy turn to give the subject, treats being
rare in the Wilfer household, where a monotonous appearance of
Dutch-cheese at ten o'clock in the evening had been rather
frequently commented on by the dimpled shoulders of Miss Bella.
Indeed, the modest Dutchman himself seemed conscious of his
want of variety, and generally came before the family in a state of
apologetic perspiration. After some discussion on the relative
merits of veal-cutlet, sweetbread, and lobster, a decision was
pronounced in favour of veal-cutlet. Mrs Wilfer then solemnly
divested herself of her handkerchief and gloves, as a preliminary
sacrifice to preparing the frying-pan, and R. W. himself went out to
purchase the viand. He soon returned, bearing the same in a fresh
cabbage-leaf, where it coyly embraced a rasher of ham. Melodious
sounds were not long in rising from the frying-pan on the fire, or in
seeming, as the firelight danced in the mellow halls of a couple of
full bottles on the table, to play appropriate dance-music.
The cloth was laid by Lavvy. Bella, as the acknowledged
ornament of the family, employed both her hands in giving her hair
an additional wave while sitting in the easiest chair, and
occasionally threw in a direction touching the supper: as, 'Very
brown, ma;' or, to her sister, 'Put the saltcellar straight, miss, and
don't be a dowdy little puss.'
Meantime her father, chinking Mr Rokesmith's gold as he sat
expectant between his knife and fork, remarked that six of those
sovereigns came just in time for their landlord, and stood them in a
little pile on the white tablecloth to look at.
'I hate our landlord!' said Bella.
But, observing a fall in her father's face, she went and sat down by
him at the table, and began touching up his hair with the handle of
a fork. It was one of the girl's spoilt ways to be always arranging
the family's hair--perhaps because her own was so pretty, and
occupied so much of her attention.
'You deserve to have a house of your own; don't you, poor pa?'
'I don't deserve it better than another, my dear.'
'At any rate I, for one, want it more than another,' said Bella,
holding him by the chin, as she stuck his flaxen hair on end, 'and I
grudge this money going to the Monster that swallows up so much,
when we all want--Everything. And if you say (as you want to say;
I know you want to say so, pa) "that's neither reasonable nor
honest, Bella," then I answer, "Maybe not, pa--very likely--but it's
one of the consequences of being poor, and of thoroughly hating
and detesting to be poor, and that's my case." Now, you look
lovely, pa; why don't you always wear your hair like that? And
here's the cutlet! If it isn't very brown, ma, I can't eat it, and must
have a bit put back to be done expressly.'
However, as it was brown, even to Bella's taste, the young lady
graciously partook of it without reconsignment to the frying-pan,
and also, in due course, of the contents of the two bottles: whereof
one held Scotch ale and the other rum. The latter perfume, with
the fostering aid of boiling water and lemon-peel, diffused itself
throughout the room, and became so highly concentrated around
the warm fireside, that the wind passing over the house roof must
have rushed off charged with a delicious whiff of it, after buzzing
like a great bee at that particular chimneypot.
'Pa,' said Bella, sipping the fragrant mixture and warming her
favourite ankle; 'when old Mr Harmon made such a fool of me (not
to mention himself, as he is dead), what do you suppose he did it
'Impossible to say, my dear. As I have told you time out of number
since his will was brought to light, I doubt if I ever exchanged a
hundred words with the old gentleman. If it was his whim to
surprise us, his whim succeeded. For he certainly did it.'
'And I was stamping my foot and screaming, when he first took
notice of me; was I?' said Bella, contemplating the ankle before
'You were stamping your little foot, my dear, and screaming with
your little voice, and laying into me with your little bonnet, which
you had snatched off for the purpose,' returned her father, as if the
remembrance gave a relish to the rum; 'you were doing this one
Sunday morning when I took you out, because I didn't go the exact
way you wanted, when the old gentleman, sitting on a seat near,
said, "That's a nice girl; that's a VERY nice girl; a promising girl!"
And so you were, my dear.'
'And then he asked my name, did he, pa?'
'Then he asked your name, my dear, and mine; and on other
Sunday mornings, when we walked his way, we saw him again,
and--and really that's all.'
As that was all the rum and water too, or, in other words, as R. W.
delicately signified that his glass was empty, by throwing back his
head and standing the glass upside down on his nose and upper
lip, it might have been charitable in Mrs Wilfer to suggest
replenishment. But that heroine briefly suggesting 'Bedtime'
instead, the bottles were put away, and the family retired; she
cherubically escorted, like some severe saint in a painting, or
merely human matron allegorically treated.
'And by this time to-morrow,' said Lavinia when the two girls were
alone in their room, 'we shall have Mr Rokesmith here, and shall
be expecting to have our throats cut.'
'You needn't stand between me and the candle for all that,' retorted
Bella. 'This is another of the consequences of being poor! The
idea of a girl with a really fine head of hair, having to do it by one
flat candle and a few inches of looking-glass!'
'You caught George Sampson with it, Bella, bad as your means of
dressing it are.'
'You low little thing. Caught George Sampson with it! Don't talk
about catching people, miss, till your own time for catching--as
you call it--comes.'
'Perhaps it has come,' muttered Lavvy, with a toss of her head.
'What did you say?' asked Bella, very sharply. 'What did you say,
Lavvy declining equally to repeat or to explain, Bella gradually
lapsed over her hair-dressing into a soliloquy on the miseries of
being poor, as exemplified in having nothing to put on, nothing to
go out in, nothing to dress by, only a nasty box to dress at instead
of a commodious dressing-table, and being obliged to take in
suspicious lodgers. On the last grievance as her climax, she laid
great stress--and might have laid greater, had she known that if Mr
Julius Handford had a twin brother upon earth, Mr John
Rokesmith was the man.
Over against a London house, a corner house not far from
Cavendish Square, a man with a wooden leg had sat for some years,
with his remaining foot in a basket in cold weather, picking
up a living on this wise:--Every morning at eight o'clock, he
stumped to the corner, carrying a chair, a clothes-horse, a pair of
trestles, a board, a basket, and an umbrella, all strapped together.
Separating these, the board and trestles became a counter, the
basket supplied the few small lots of fruit and sweets that he
offered for sale upon it and became a foot-warmer, the unfolded
clothes-horse displayed a choice collection of halfpenny ballads
and became a screen, and the stool planted within it became his
post for the rest of the day. All weathers saw the man at the post.
This is to be accepted in a double sense, for he contrived a back to
his wooden stool, by placing it against the lamp-post. When the
weather was wet, he put up his umbrella over his stock in trade,
not over himself; when the weather was dry, he furled that faded
article, tied it round with a piece of yarn, and laid it cross-wise
under the trestles: where it looked like an unwholesomely-forced
lettuce that had lost in colour and crispness what it had gained in
He had established his right to the corner, by imperceptible
prescription. He had never varied his ground an inch, but had in
the beginning diffidently taken the corner upon which the side of
the house gave. A howling corner in the winter time, a dusty
corner in the summer time, an undesirable corner at the best of
times. Shelterless fragments of straw and paper got up revolving
storms there, when the main street was at peace; and the water-
cart, as if it were drunk or short-sighted, came blundering and
jolting round it, making it muddy when all else was clean.
On the front of his sale-board hung a little placard, like a kettle-
holder, bearing the inscription in his own small text:
On with fi
Ladies and Gentlemen
Your humble Servt:
He had not only settled it with himself in course of time, that he
was errand-goer by appointment to the house at the corner (though
he received such commissions not half a dozen times in a year, and
then only as some servant's deputy), but also that he was one of the
house's retainers and owed vassalage to it and was bound to leal
and loyal interest in it. For this reason, he always spoke of it as
'Our House,' and, though his knowledge of its affairs was mostly
speculative and all wrong, claimed to be in its confidence. On
similar grounds he never beheld an inmate at any one of its
windows but he touched his hat. Yet, he knew so little about the
inmates that he gave them names of his own invention: as 'Miss
Elizabeth', 'Master George', 'Aunt Jane', 'Uncle Parker '--having no
authority whatever for any such designations, but particularly the
last--to which, as a natural consequence, he stuck with great obstinacy.
Over the house itself, he exercised the same imaginary power as
over its inhabitants and their affairs. He had never been in it, the
length of a piece of fat black water-pipe which trailed itself over
the area-door into a damp stone passage, and had rather the air of a
leech on the house that had 'taken' wonderfully; but this was no
impediment to his arranging it according to a plan of his own. It
was a great dingy house with a quantity of dim side window and
blank back premises, and it cost his mind a world of trouble so to
lay it out as to account for everything in its external appearance.
But, this once done, was quite satisfactory, and he rested
persuaded, that he knew his way about the house blindfold: from
the barred garrets in the high roof, to the two iron extinguishers
before the main door--which seemed to request all lively visitors to
have the kindness to put themselves out, before entering.
Assuredly, this stall of Silas Wegg's was the hardest little stall of
all the sterile little stalls in London. It gave you the face-ache to
look at his apples, the stomach-ache to look at his oranges, the
tooth-ache to look at his nuts. Of the latter commodity he had
always a grim little heap, on which lay a little wooden measure
which had no discernible inside, and was considered to represent
the penn'orth appointed by Magna Charta. Whether from too
much east wind or no--it was an easterly corner--the stall, the
stock, and the keeper, were all as dry as the Desert. Wegg was a
knotty man, and a close-grained, with a face carved out of very
hard material, that had just as much play of expression as a
watchman's rattle. When he laughed, certain jerks occurred in it,
and the rattle sprung. Sooth to say, he was so wooden a man that
he seemed to have taken his wooden leg naturally, and rather
suggested to the fanciful observer, that he might be expected--if his
development received no untimely check--to be completely set up
with a pair of wooden legs in about six months.
Mr Wegg was an observant person, or, as he himself said, 'took a
powerful sight of notice'. He saluted all his regular passers-by
every day, as he sat on his stool backed up by the lamp-post; and
on the adaptable character of these salutes he greatly plumed
himself. Thus, to the rector, he addressed a bow, compounded of
lay deference, and a slight touch of the shady preliminary
meditation at church; to the doctor, a confidential bow, as to a
gentleman whose acquaintance with his inside he begged
respectfully to acknowledge; before the Quality he delighted to
abase himself; and for Uncle Parker, who was in the army (at least,
so he had settled it), he put his open hand to the side of his hat,
in a military manner which that angry-eyed buttoned-up
inflammatory-faced old gentleman appeared but imperfectly to
The only article in which Silas dealt, that was not hard, was
gingerbread. On a certain day, some wretched infant having
purchased the damp gingerbread-horse (fearfully out of condition),
and the adhesive bird-cage, which had been exposed for the day's sale,
he had taken a tin box from under his stool to produce a relay
of those dreadful specimens, and was going to look in at the lid,
when he said to himself, pausing: 'Oh! Here you are again!'
The words referred to a broad, round-shouldered, one-sided old
fellow in mourning, coming comically ambling towards the corner,
dressed in a pea over-coat, and carrying a large stick. He wore
thick shoes, and thick leather gaiters, and thick gloves like a
hedger's. Both as to his dress and to himself, he was of an
overlapping rhinoceros build, with folds in his cheeks, and his
forehead, and his eyelids, and his lips, and his ears; but with
bright, eager, childishly-inquiring, grey eyes, under his ragged
eyebrows, and broad-brimmed hat. A very odd-looking old fellow
'Here you are again,' repeated Mr Wegg, musing. 'And what are
you now? Are you in the Funns, or where are you? Have you
lately come to settle in this neighbourhood, or do you own to
another neighbourhood? Are you in independent circumstances, or
is it wasting the motions of a bow on you? Come! I'll speculate!
I'll invest a bow in you.'
Which Mr Wegg, having replaced his tin box, accordingly did, as
he rose to bait his gingerbread-trap for some other devoted infant.
The salute was acknowledged with:
'Morning, sir! Morning! Morning!'
('Calls me Sir!' said Mr Wegg, to himself; 'HE won't answer. A
'Morning, morning, morning!'
'Appears to be rather a 'arty old cock, too,' said Mr Wegg, as
before; 'Good morning to YOU, sir.'
'Do you remember me, then?' asked his new acquaintance,
stopping in his amble, one-sided, before the stall, and speaking in
a pounding way, though with great good-humour.
'I have noticed you go past our house, sir, several times in the
course of the last week or so.'
'Our house,' repeated the other. 'Meaning--?'
'Yes,' said Mr Wegg, nodding, as the other pointed the clumsy
forefinger of his right glove at the corner house.
'Oh! Now, what,' pursued the old fellow, in an inquisitive manner,
carrying his knotted stick in his left arm as if it were a baby, 'what
do they allow you now?'
'It's job work that I do for our house,' returned Silas, drily, and with
reticence; 'it's not yet brought to an exact allowance.'
'Oh! It's not yet brought to an exact allowance? No! It's not yet
brought to an exact allowance. Oh!--Morning, morning, morning!'
'Appears to be rather a cracked old cock,' thought Silas, qualifying
his former good opinion, as the other ambled off. But, in a
moment he was back again with the question:
'How did you get your wooden leg?'
Mr Wegg replied, (tartly to this personal inquiry), 'In an accident.'
'Do you like it?'
'Well! I haven't got to keep it warm,' Mr Wegg made answer, in a
sort of desperation occasioned by the singularity of the question.
'He hasn't,' repeated the other to his knotted stick, as he gave it a
hug; 'he hasn't got--ha!--ha!--to keep it warm! Did you ever hear of
the name of Boffin?'
'No,' said Mr Wegg, who was growing restive under this
examination. 'I never did hear of the name of Boffin.'
'Do you like it?'
'Why, no,' retorted Mr Wegg, again approaching desperation; 'I
can't say I do.'
'Why don't you like it?'
'I don't know why I don't,' retorted Mr Wegg, approaching frenzy,
'but I don't at all.'
'Now, I'll tell you something that'll make you sorry for that,' said
the stranger, smiling. 'My name's Boffin.'
'I can't help it!' returned Mr Wegg. Implying in his manner the
offensive addition, 'and if I could, I wouldn't.'
'But there's another chance for you,' said Mr Boffin, smiling still,
'Do you like the name of Nicodemus? Think it over. Nick, or
'It is not, sir,' Mr Wegg rejoined, as he sat down on his stool, with
an air of gentle resignation, combined with melancholy candour; it
is not a name as I could wish any one that I had a respect for, to
call ME by; but there may be persons that would not view it with
the same objections.--I don't know why,' Mr Wegg added,
anticipating another question.
'Noddy Boffin,' said that gentleman. 'Noddy. That's my name.
Noddy--or Nick--Boffin. What's your name?'
'Silas Wegg.--I don't,' said Mr Wegg, bestirring himself to take the
same precaution as before, 'I don't know why Silas, and I don't
know why Wegg.'
'Now, Wegg,' said Mr Boffin, hugging his stick closer, 'I want to
make a sort of offer to you. Do you remember when you first see
The wooden Wegg looked at him with a meditative eye, and also
with a softened air as descrying possibility of profit. 'Let me think.
I ain't quite sure, and yet I generally take a powerful sight of
notice, too. Was it on a Monday morning, when the butcher-boy
had been to our house for orders, and bought a ballad of me,
which, being unacquainted with the tune, I run it over to him?'
'Right, Wegg, right! But he bought more than one.'
'Yes, to be sure, sir; he bought several; and wishing to lay out his
money to the best, he took my opinion to guide his choice, and we
went over the collection together. To be sure we did. Here was
him as it might be, and here was myself as it might be, and there
was you, Mr Boffin, as you identically are, with your self-same
stick under your very same arm, and your very same back towards
us. To--be--sure!' added Mr Wegg, looking a little round Mr
Boffin, to take him in the rear, and identify this last extraordinary
coincidence, 'your wery self-same back!'
'What do you think I was doing, Wegg?'
'I should judge, sir, that you might be glancing your eye down the
'No, Wegg. I was a listening.'
'Was you, indeed?' said Mr Wegg, dubiously.
'Not in a dishonourable way, Wegg, because you was singing to
the butcher; and you wouldn't sing secrets to a butcher in the
street, you know.'
'It never happened that I did so yet, to the best of my
remembrance,' said Mr Wegg, cautiously. 'But I might do it. A
man can't say what he might wish to do some day or another.'
(This, not to release any little advantage he might derive from Mr
'Well,' repeated Boffin, 'I was a listening to you and to him. And
what do you--you haven't got another stool, have you? I'm rather
thick in my breath.'
'I haven't got another, but you're welcome to this,' said Wegg,
resigning it. 'It's a treat to me to stand.'
'Lard!' exclaimed Mr Boffin, in a tone of great enjoyment, as he
settled himself down, still nursing his stick like a baby, 'it's a
pleasant place, this! And then to be shut in on each side, with
these ballads, like so many book-leaf blinkers! Why, its
'If I am not mistaken, sir,' Mr Wegg delicately hinted, resting a
hand on his stall, and bending over the discursive Boffin, 'you
alluded to some offer or another that was in your mind?'
'I'm coming to it! All right. I'm coming to it! I was going to say
that when I listened that morning, I listened with hadmiration
amounting to haw. I thought to myself, "Here's a man with a
wooden leg--a literary man with--"'
'N--not exactly so, sir,' said Mr Wegg.
'Why, you know every one of these songs by name and by tune,
and if you want to read or to sing any one on 'em off straight,
you've only to whip on your spectacles and do it!' cried Mr Boffin.
'I see you at it!'
'Well, sir,' returned Mr Wegg, with a conscious inclination of the
head; 'we'll say literary, then.'
'"A literary man--WITH a wooden leg--and all Print is open to
him!" That's what I thought to myself, that morning,' pursued Mr
Boffin, leaning forward to describe, uncramped by the
clotheshorse, as large an arc as his right arm could make; '"all
Print is open to him!" And it is, ain't it?'
'Why, truly, sir,' Mr Wegg admitted, with modesty; 'I believe you
couldn't show me the piece of English print, that I wouldn't be
equal to collaring and throwing.'
'On the spot?' said Mr Boffin.
'On the spot.'
'I know'd it! Then consider this. Here am I, a man without a
wooden leg, and yet all print is shut to me.'
'Indeed, sir?' Mr Wegg returned with increasing self-complacency.
'Neg--lected!' repeated Boffin, with emphasis. 'That ain't no word
for it. I don't mean to say but what if you showed me a B, I could
so far give you change for it, as to answer Boffin.'
'Come, come, sir,' said Mr Wegg, throwing in a little
encouragement, 'that's something, too.'
'It's something,' answered Mr Boffin, 'but I'll take my oath it ain't
'Perhaps it's not as much as could be wished by an inquiring mind,
sir,' Mr Wegg admitted.
'Now, look here. I'm retired from business. Me and Mrs Boffin--
Henerietty Boffin--which her father's name was Henery, and her
mother's name was Hetty, and so you get it--we live on a
compittance, under the will of a diseased governor.'
'Gentleman dead, sir?'
'Man alive, don't I tell you? A diseased governor? Now, it's too
late for me to begin shovelling and sifting at alphabeds and
grammar-books. I'm getting to be a old bird, and I want to take it
easy. But I want some reading--some fine bold reading, some
splendid book in a gorging Lord-Mayor's-Show of wollumes'
(probably meaning gorgeous, but misled by association of ideas);
'as'll reach right down your pint of view, and take time to go by
you. How can I get that reading, Wegg? By,' tapping him on the
breast with the head of his thick stick, 'paying a man truly qualified
to do it, so much an hour (say twopence) to come and do it.'
'Hem! Flattered, sir, I am sure,' said Wegg, beginning to regard
himself in quite a new light. 'Hew! This is the offer you
'Yes. Do you like it?'
'I am considering of it, Mr Boffin.'
'I don't,' said Boffin, in a free-handed manner, 'want to tie a literary
man--WITH a wooden leg--down too tight. A halfpenny an hour
shan't part us. The hours are your own to choose, after you've done
for the day with your house here. I live over Maiden-Lane way--
out Holloway direction--and you've only got to go East-and-by-
North when you've finished here, and you're there. Twopence
halfpenny an hour,' said Boffin, taking a piece of chalk from his
pocket and getting off the stool to work the sum on the top of it in
his own way; 'two long'uns and a short'un--twopence halfpenny;
two short'uns is a long'un and two two long'uns is four long'uns--
making five long'uns; six nights a week at five long'uns a night,'
scoring them all down separately, 'and you mount up to thirty
long'uns. A round'un! Half a crown!'
Pointing to this result as a large and satisfactory one, Mr Boffin
smeared it out with his moistened glove, and sat down on the
'Half a crown,' said Wegg, meditating. 'Yes. (It ain't much, sir.)
Half a crown.'
'Per week, you know.'
'Per week. Yes. As to the amount of strain upon the intellect now.
Was you thinking at all of poetry?' Mr Wegg inquired, musing.
'Would it come dearer?' Mr Boffin asked.
'It would come dearer,' Mr Wegg returned. 'For when a person
comes to grind off poetry night after night, it is but right he should
expect to be paid for its weakening effect on his mind.'
'To tell you the truth Wegg,' said Boffin, 'I wasn't thinking of
poetry, except in so fur as this:--If you was to happen now and then
to feel yourself in the mind to tip me and Mrs Boffin one of your
ballads, why then we should drop into poetry.'
'I follow you, sir,' said Wegg. 'But not being a regular musical
professional, I should be loath to engage myself for that; and
therefore when I dropped into poetry, I should ask to be considered
so fur, in the light of a friend.'
At this, Mr Boffin's eyes sparkled, and he shook Silas earnestly by
the hand: protesting that it was more than he could have asked,
and that he took it very kindly indeed.
'What do you think of the terms, Wegg?' Mr Boffin then
demanded, with unconcealed anxiety.
Silas, who had stimulated this anxiety by his hard reserve of
manner, and who had begun to understand his man very well,
replied with an air; as if he were saying something extraordinarily
generous and great:
'Mr Boffin, I never bargain.'
'So I should have thought of you!' said Mr Boffin, admiringly. 'No,
sir. I never did 'aggle and I never will 'aggle. Consequently I meet
you at once, free and fair, with--Done, for double the money!'
Mr Boffin seemed a little unprepared for this conclusion, but
assented, with the remark, 'You know better what it ought to be
than I do, Wegg,' and again shook hands with him upon it.
'Could you begin to night, Wegg?' he then demanded.
'Yes, sir,' said Mr Wegg, careful to leave all the eagerness to him.
'I see no difficulty if you wish it. You are provided with the
needful implement--a book, sir?'
'Bought him at a sale,' said Mr Boffin. 'Eight wollumes. Red and
gold. Purple ribbon in every wollume, to keep the place where you
leave off. Do you know him?'
'The book's name, sir?' inquired Silas.
'I thought you might have know'd him without it,' said Mr Boffin
slightly disappointed. 'His name is Decline-And-Fall-Off-The-
Rooshan-Empire.' (Mr Boffin went over these stones slowly and
with much caution.)
'Ay indeed!' said Mr Wegg, nodding his head with an air of
'You know him, Wegg?'
'I haven't been not to say right slap through him, very lately,' Mr
Wegg made answer, 'having been otherways employed, Mr Boffin.
But know him? Old familiar declining and falling off the
Rooshan? Rather, sir! Ever since I was not so high as your stick.
Ever since my eldest brother left our cottage to enlist into the army.
On which occasion, as the ballad that was made about it describes:
'Beside that cottage door, Mr Boffin,
A girl was on her knees;
She held aloft a snowy scarf, Sir,
Which (my eldest brother noticed) fluttered in the breeze.
She breathed a prayer for him, Mr Boffin;
A prayer he coold not hear.
And my eldest brother lean'd upon his sword, Mr Boffin,
And wiped away a tear.'
Much impressed by this family circumstance, and also by the
friendly disposition of Mr Wegg, as exemplified in his so soon
dropping into poetry, Mr Boffin again shook hands with that
ligneous sharper, and besought him to name his hour. Mr Wegg
'Where I live,' said Mr Boffin, 'is called The Bower. Boffin's
Bower is the name Mrs Boffin christened it when we come into it
as a property. If you should meet with anybody that don't know it
by that name (which hardly anybody does), when you've got nigh
upon about a odd mile, or say and a quarter if you like, up Maiden
Lane, Battle Bridge, ask for Harmony Jail, and you'll be put right.
I shall expect you, Wegg,' said Mr Boffin, clapping him on the
shoulder with the greatest enthusiasm, 'most joyfully. I shall have
no peace or patience till you come. Print is now opening ahead of
me. This night, a literary man--WITH a wooden leg--' he
bestowed an admiring look upon that decoration, as if it greatly
enhanced the relish of Mr Wegg's attainments--'will begin to lead
me a new life! My fist again, Wegg. Morning, morning, morning!'
Left alone at his stall as the other ambled off, Mr Wegg subsided
into his screen, produced a small pocket-handkerchief of a
penitentially-scrubbing character, and took himself by the nose
with a thoughtful aspect. Also, while he still grasped that feature,
he directed several thoughtful looks down the street, after the
retiring figure of Mr Boffin. But, profound gravity sat enthroned
on Wegg's countenance. For, while he considered within himself
that this was an old fellow of rare simplicity, that this was an
opportunity to be improved, and that here might he money to be
got beyond present calculation, still he compromised himself by no
admission that his new engagement was at all out of his way, or
involved the least element of the ridiculous. Mr Wegg would even
have picked a handsome quarrel with any one who should have
challenged his deep acquaintance with those aforesaid eight
volumes of Decline and Fall. His gravity was unusual, portentous,
and immeasurable, not because he admitted any doubt of himself
but because he perceived it necessary to forestall any doubt of
himself in others. And herein he ranged with that very numerous
class of impostors, who are quite as determined to keep up
appearances to themselves, as to their neighbours.
A certain loftiness, likewise, took possession of Mr Wegg; a
condescending sense of being in request as an official expounder of
mysteries. It did not move him to commercial greatness, but rather
to littleness, insomuch that if it had been within the possibilities of
things for the wooden measure to hold fewer nuts than usual, it
would have done so that day. But, when night came, and with her
veiled eyes beheld him stumping towards Boffin's Bower, he was
The Bower was as difficult to find, as Fair Rosamond's without the
clue. Mr Wegg, having reached the quarter indicated, inquired for
the Bower half a dozen times without the least success, until he
remembered to ask for Harmony Jail. This occasioned a quick
change in the spirits of a hoarse gentleman and a donkey, whom he
had much perplexed.
'Why, yer mean Old Harmon's, do yer?' said the hoarse gentleman,
who was driving his donkey in a truck, with a carrot for a whip.
'Why didn't yer niver say so? Eddard and me is a goin' by HIM!
Mr Wegg complied, and the hoarse gentleman invited his attention
to the third person in company, thus;
'Now, you look at Eddard's ears. What was it as you named, agin?
Mr Wegg whispered, 'Boffin's Bower.'
'Eddard! (keep yer hi on his ears) cut away to Boffin's Bower!'
Edward, with his ears lying back, remained immoveable.
'Eddard! (keep yer hi on his ears) cut away to Old Harmon's.'
Edward instantly pricked up his ears to their utmost, and rattled off
at such a pace that Mr Wegg's conversation was jolted out of him
in a most dislocated state.
'Was-it-Ev-verajail?' asked Mr Wegg, holding on.
'Not a proper jail, wot you and me would get committed to,'
returned his escort; 'they giv' it the name, on accounts of Old
Harmon living solitary there.'
'And-why-did-they-callitharm-Ony?' asked Wegg.
'On accounts of his never agreeing with nobody. Like a speeches
of chaff. Harmon's Jail; Harmony Jail. Working it round like.'
'Doyouknow-Mist-Erboff-in?' asked Wegg.
'I should think so! Everybody do about here. Eddard knows him.
(Keep yer hi on his ears.) Noddy Boffin, Eddard!'
The effect of the name was so very alarming, in respect of causing
a temporary disappearance of Edward's head, casting his hind
hoofs in the air, greatly accelerating the pace and increasing the
jolting, that Mr Wegg was fain to devote his attention exclusively
to holding on, and to relinquish his desire of ascertaining whether
this homage to Boffin was to be considered complimentary or the
Presently, Edward stopped at a gateway, and Wegg discreetly lost
no time in slipping out at the back of the truck. The moment he
was landed, his late driver with a wave of the carrot, said 'Supper,
Eddard!' and he, the hind hoofs, the truck, and Edward, all seemed
to fly into the air together, in a kind of apotheosis.
Pushing the gate, which stood ajar, Wegg looked into an enclosed
space where certain tall dark mounds rose high against the sky,
and where the pathway to the Bower was indicated, as the
moonlight showed, between two lines of broken crockery set in
ashes. A white figure advancing along this path, proved to be
nothing more ghostly than Mr Boffin, easily attired for the pursuit
of knowledge, in an undress garment of short white smock-frock.
Having received his literary friend with great cordiality, he
conducted him to the interior of the Bower and there presented him
to Mrs Boffin:--a stout lady of a rubicund and cheerful aspect,
dressed (to Mr Wegg's consternation) in a low evening-dress of
sable satin, and a large black velvet hat and feathers.
'Mrs Boffin, Wegg,' said Boffin, 'is a highflyer at Fashion. And
her make is such, that she does it credit. As to myself I ain't yet as
Fash'nable as I may come to be. Henerietty, old lady, this is the
gentleman that's a going to decline and fall off the Rooshan
'And I am sure I hope it'll do you both good,' said Mrs Boffin.
It was the queerest of rooms, fitted and furnished more like a
luxurious amateur tap-room than anything else within the ken of
Silas Wegg. There were two wooden settles by the fire, one on
either side of it, with a corresponding table before each. On one of
these tables, the eight volumes were ranged flat, in a row, like a
galvanic battery; on the other, certain squat case-bottles of inviting
appearance seemed to stand on tiptoe to exchange glances with Mr
Wegg over a front row of tumblers and a basin of white sugar. On
the hob, a kettle steamed; on the hearth, a cat reposed. Facing the
fire between the settles, a sofa, a footstool, and a little table,
formed a centrepiece devoted to Mrs Boffin. They were garish in
taste and colour, but were expensive articles of drawing-room
furniture that had a very odd look beside the settles and the flaring
gaslight pendent from the ceiling. There was a flowery carpet on
the floor; but, instead of reaching to the fireside, its glowing
vegetation stopped short at Mrs Boffin's footstool, and gave place
to a region of sand and sawdust. Mr Wegg also noticed, with
admiring eyes, that, while the flowery land displayed such hollow
ornamentation as stuffed birds and waxen fruits under glass-
shades, there were, in the territory where vegetation ceased,
compensatory shelves on which the best part of a large pie and
likewise of a cold joint were plainly discernible among other
solids. The room itself was large, though low; and the heavy
frames of its old-fashioned windows, and the heavy beams in its
crooked ceiling, seemed to indicate that it had once been a house of
some mark standing alone in the country.
'Do you like it, Wegg?' asked Mr Boffin, in his pouncing manner.
'I admire it greatly, sir,' said Wegg. 'Peculiar comfort at this
'Do you understand it, Wegg?'
'Why, in a general way, sir,' Mr Wegg was beginning slowly and
knowingly, with his head stuck on one side, as evasive people do
begin, when the other cut him short:
'You DON'T understand it, Wegg, and I'll explain it. These
arrangements is made by mutual consent between Mrs Boffin and
me. Mrs Boffin, as I've mentioned, is a highflyer at Fashion; at
present I'm not. I don't go higher than comfort, and comfort of the
sort that I'm equal to the enjoyment of. Well then. Where would
be the good of Mrs Boffin and me quarrelling over it? We never
did quarrel, before we come into Boffin's Bower as a property; why
quarrel when we HAVE come into Boffin's Bower as a property?
So Mrs Boffin, she keeps up her part of the room, in her way; I
keep up my part of the room in mine. In consequence of which we
have at once, Sociability (I should go melancholy mad without Mrs
Boffin), Fashion, and Comfort. If I get by degrees to be a higher-
flyer at Fashion, then Mrs Boffin will by degrees come for'arder. If
Mrs Boffin should ever be less of a dab at Fashion than she is at
the present time, then Mrs Boffin's carpet would go back'arder. If
we should both continny as we are, why then HERE we are, and
give us a kiss, old lady.'
Mrs Boffin who, perpetually smiling, had approached and drawn
her plump arm through her lord's, most willingly complied.
Fashion, in the form of her black velvet hat and feathers, tried to
prevent it; but got deservedly crushed in the endeavour.
'So now, Wegg,' said Mr Boffin, wiping his mouth with an air of
much refreshment, 'you begin to know us as we are. This is a
charming spot, is the Bower, but you must get to apprechiate it by
degrees. It's a spot to find out the merits of; little by little, and a
new'un every day. There's a serpentining walk up each of the
mounds, that gives you the yard and neighbourhood changing
every moment. When you get to the top, there's a view of the
neighbouring premises, not to be surpassed. The premises of Mrs
Boffin's late father (Canine Provision Trade), you look down into,
as if they was your own. And the top of the High Mound is
crowned with a lattice-work Arbour, in which, if you don't read out
loud many a book in the summer, ay, and as a friend, drop many a
time into poetry too, it shan't be my fault. Now, what'll you read
'Thank you, sir,' returned Wegg, as if there were nothing new in his
reading at all. 'I generally do it on gin and water.'
'Keeps the organ moist, does it, Wegg?' asked Mr Boffin, with
'N-no, sir,' replied Wegg, coolly, 'I should hardly describe it so, sir.
I should say, mellers it. Mellers it, is the word I should employ,
His wooden conceit and craft kept exact pace with the delighted
expectation of his victim. The visions rising before his mercenary
mind, of the many ways in which this connexion was to be turned
to account, never obscured the foremost idea natural to a dull
overreaching man, that he must not make himself too cheap.
Mrs Boffin's Fashion, as a less inexorable deity than the idol
usually worshipped under that name, did not forbid her mixing for
her literary guest, or asking if he found the result to his liking. On
his returning a gracious answer and taking his place at the literary
settle, Mr Boffin began to compose himself as a listener, at the
opposite settle, with exultant eyes.
'Sorry to deprive you of a pipe, Wegg,' he said, filling his own, 'but
you can't do both together. Oh! and another thing I forgot to name!
When you come in here of an evening, and look round you, and
notice anything on a shelf that happens to catch your fancy,
Wegg, who had been going to put on his spectacles, immediately
laid them down, with the sprightly observation:
'You read my thoughts, sir. DO my eyes deceive me, or is that
object up there a--a pie? It can't be a pie.'
'Yes, it's a pie, Wegg,' replied Mr Boffin, with a glance of some
little discomfiture at the Decline and Fall.
'HAVE I lost my smell for fruits, or is it a apple pie, sir?' asked
'It's a veal and ham pie,' said Mr Boffin.
'Is it indeed, sir? And it would be hard, sir, to name the pie that is
a better pie than a weal and hammer,' said Mr Wegg, nodding his
'Have some, Wegg?'
'Thank you, Mr Boffin, I think I will, at your invitation. I wouldn't
at any other party's, at the present juncture; but at yours, sir!--And
meaty jelly too, especially when a little salt, which is the case
where there's ham, is mellering to the organ, is very mellering to
the organ.' Mr Wegg did not say what organ, but spoke with a
So, the pie was brought down, and the worthy Mr Boffin exercised
his patience until Wegg, in the exercise of his knife and fork, had
finished the dish: only profiting by the opportunity to inform Wegg
that although it was not strictly Fashionable to keep the contents of
a larder thus exposed to view, he (Mr Boffin) considered it
hospitable; for the reason, that instead of saying, in a
comparatively unmeaning manner, to a visitor, 'There are such and
such edibles down stairs; will you have anything up?' you took the
bold practical course of saying, 'Cast your eye along the shelves,
and, if you see anything you like there, have it down.'
And now, Mr Wegg at length pushed away his plate and put on his
spectacles, and Mr Boffin lighted his pipe and looked with
beaming eyes into the opening world before him, and Mrs Boffin
reclined in a fashionable manner on her sofa: as one who would be
part of the audience if she found she could, and would go to sleep
if she found she couldn't.
'Hem!' began Wegg, 'This, Mr Boffin and Lady, is the first chapter
of the first wollume of the Decline and Fall off--' here he looked
hard at the book, and stopped.
'What's the matter, Wegg?'
'Why, it comes into my mind, do you know, sir,' said Wegg with
an air of insinuating frankness (having first again looked hard at
the book), 'that you made a little mistake this morning, which I had
meant to set you right in, only something put it out of my head. I
think you said Rooshan Empire, sir?'
'It is Rooshan; ain't it, Wegg?'
'No, sir. Roman. Roman.'
'What's the difference, Wegg?'
'The difference, sir?' Mr Wegg was faltering and in danger of
breaking down, when a bright thought flashed upon him. 'The
difference, sir? There you place me in a difficulty, Mr Boffin.
Suffice it to observe, that the difference is best postponed to some
other occasion when Mrs Boffin does not honour us with her
company. In Mrs Boffin's presence, sir, we had better drop it.'
Mr Wegg thus came out of his disadvantage with quite a
chivalrous air, and not only that, but by dint of repeating with a
manly delicacy, 'In Mrs Boffin's presence, sir, we had better drop
it!' turned the disadvantage on Boffin, who felt that he had
committed himself in a very painful manner.
Then, Mr Wegg, in a dry unflinching way, entered on his task;
going straight across country at everything that came before him;
taking all the hard words, biographical and geographical; getting
rather shaken by Hadrian, Trajan, and the Antonines; stumbling at
Polybius (pronounced Polly Beeious, and supposed by Mr Boffin to
be a Roman virgin, and by Mrs Boffin to be responsible for that
necessity of dropping it); heavily unseated by Titus Antoninus
Pius; up again and galloping smoothly with Augustus; finally,
getting over the ground well with Commodus: who, under the
appellation of Commodious, was held by Mr Boffin to have been
quite unworthy of his English origin, and 'not to have acted up to
his name' in his government of the Roman people. With the death
of this personage, Mr Wegg terminated his first reading; long
before which consummation several total eclipses of Mrs Boffin's
candle behind her black velvet disc, would have been very
alarming, but for being regularly accompanied by a potent smell of
burnt pens when her feathers took fire, which acted as a restorative
and woke her. Mr Wegg, having read on by rote and attached as
few ideas as possible to the text, came out of the encounter fresh;
but, Mr Boffin, who had soon laid down his unfinished pipe, and
had ever since sat intently staring with his eyes and mind at the
confounding enormities of the Romans, was so severely punished
that he could hardly wish his literary friend Good-night, and
'Commodious,' gasped Mr Boffin, staring at the moon, after
letting Wegg out at the gate and fastening it: 'Commodious fights
in that wild-beast-show, seven hundred and thirty-five times, in
one character only! As if that wasn't stunning enough, a hundred
lions is turned into the same wild-beast-show all at once! As if
that wasn't stunning enough, Commodious, in another character,
kills 'em all off in a hundred goes! As if that wasn't stunning
enough, Vittle-us (and well named too) eats six millions' worth,
English money, in seven months! Wegg takes it easy, but upon-
my-soul to a old bird like myself these are scarers. And even now
that Commodious is strangled, I don't see a way to our bettering
ourselves.' Mr Boffin added as he turned his pensive steps towards
the Bower and shook his head, 'I didn't think this morning there
was half so many Scarers in Print. But I'm in for it now!'
The Six Jolly Fellowship Porters, already mentioned as a tavern of
a dropsical appearance, had long settled down into a state of hale
infirmity. In its whole constitution it had not a straight floor, and
hardly a straight line; but it had outlasted, and clearly would yet
outlast, many a better-trimmed building, many a sprucer public-
house. Externally, it was a narrow lopsided wooden jumble of
corpulent windows heaped one upon another as you might heap as
many toppling oranges, with a crazy wooden verandah impending
over the water; indeed the whole house, inclusive of the
complaining flag-staff on the roof, impended over the water, but
seemed to have got into the condition of a faint-hearted diver who
has paused so long on the brink that he will never go in at all.
This description applies to the river-frontage of the Six Jolly
Fellowship Porters. The back of the establishment, though the
chief entrance was there, so contracted that it merely represented in
its connexion with the front, the handle of a flat iron set upright on
its broadest end. This handle stood at the bottom of a wilderness
of court and alley: which wilderness pressed so hard and close
upon the Six Jolly Fellowship Porters as to leave the hostelry not
an inch of ground beyond its door. For this reason, in combination
with the fact that the house was all but afloat at high water, when
the Porters had a family wash the linen subjected to that operation
might usually be seen drying on lines stretched across the
reception-rooms and bed-chambers.
The wood forming the chimney-pieces, beams, partitions, floors
and doors, of the Six Jolly Fellowship Porters, seemed in its old
age fraught with confused memories of its youth. In many places it
had become gnarled and riven, according to the manner of old
trees; knots started out of it; and here and there it seemed to twist
itself into some likeness of boughs. In this state of second
childhood, it had an air of being in its own way garrulous about its
early life. Not without reason was it often asserted by the regular
frequenters of the Porters, that when the light shone full upon the
grain of certain panels, and particularly upon an old corner
cupboard of walnut-wood in the bar, you might trace little forests
there, and tiny trees like the parent tree, in full umbrageous leaf.
The bar of the Six Jolly Fellowship Porters was a bar to soften the
human breast. The available space in it was not much larger than
a hackney-coach; but no one could have wished the bar bigger, that
space was so girt in by corpulent little casks, and by cordial-bottles
radiant with fictitious grapes in bunches, and by lemons in nets,
and by biscuits in baskets, and by the polite beer-pulls that made
low bows when customers were served with beer, and by the
cheese in a snug corner, and by the landlady's own small table in a
snugger corner near the fire, with the cloth everlastingly laid. This
haven was divided from the rough world by a glass partition and a
half-door, with a leaden sill upon it for the convenience of resting
your liquor; but, over this half-door the bar's snugness so gushed
forth that, albeit customers drank there standing, in a dark and
draughty passage where they were shouldered by other customers
passing in and out, they always appeared to drink under an
enchanting delusion that they were in the bar itself.
For the rest, both the tap and parlour of the Six Jolly Fellowship
Porters gave upon the river, and had red curtains matching the
noses of the regular customers, and were provided with
comfortable fireside tin utensils, like models of sugar-loaf hats,
made in that shape that they might, with their pointed ends, seek
out for themselves glowing nooks in the depths of the red coals,
when they mulled your ale, or heated for you those delectable
drinks, Purl, Flip, and Dog's Nose. The first of these humming
compounds was a speciality of the Porters, which, through an
inscription on its door-posts, gently appealed to your feelings as,
'The Early Purl House'. For, it would seem that Purl must always
be taken early; though whether for any more distinctly stomachic
reason than that, as the early bird catches the worm, so the early
purl catches the customer, cannot here be resolved. It only remains
to add that in the handle of the flat iron, and opposite the bar, was
a very little room like a three-cornered hat, into which no direct ray
of sun, moon, or star, ever penetrated, but which was
superstitiously regarded as a sanctuary replete with comfort and
retirement by gaslight, and on the door of which was therefore
painted its alluring name: Cosy.
Miss Potterson, sole proprietor and manager of the Fellowship
Porters, reigned supreme on her throne, the Bar, and a man must
have drunk himself mad drunk indeed if he thought he could
contest a point with her. Being known on her own authority as
Miss Abbey Potterson, some water-side heads, which (like the
water) were none of the clearest, harboured muddled notions that,
because of her dignity and firmness, she was named after, or in
some sort related to, the Abbey at Westminster. But, Abbey was
only short for Abigail, by which name Miss Potterson had been
christened at Limehouse Church, some sixty and odd years before.
'Now, you mind, you Riderhood,' said Miss Abbey Potterson, with
emphatic forefinger over the half-door, 'the Fellowship don't want
you at all, and would rather by far have your room than your
company; but if you were as welcome here as you are not, you
shouldn't even then have another drop of drink here this night, after
this present pint of beer. So make the most of it.'
'But you know, Miss Potterson,' this was suggested very meekly
though, 'if I behave myself, you can't help serving me, miss.'
'CAN'T I!' said Abbey, with infinite expression.
'No, Miss Potterson; because, you see, the law--'
'I am the law here, my man,' returned Miss Abbey, 'and I'll soon
convince you of that, if you doubt it at all.'
'I never said I did doubt it at all, Miss Abbey.'
'So much the better for you.'
Abbey the supreme threw the customer's halfpence into the till,
and, seating herself in her fireside-chair, resumed the newspaper
she had been reading. She was a tall, upright, well-favoured
woman, though severe of countenance, and had more of the air of a
schoolmistress than mistress of the Six Jolly Fellowship Porters.
The man on the other side of the half-door, was a waterside-man
with a squinting leer, and he eyed her as if he were one of her
pupils in disgrace.
'You're cruel hard upon me, Miss Potterson.'
Miss Potterson read her newspaper with contracted brows, and
took no notice until he whispered:
'Miss Potterson! Ma'am! Might I have half a word with you?'
Deigning then to turn her eyes sideways towards the suppliant,
Miss Potterson beheld him knuckling his low forehead, and
ducking at her with his head, as if he were asking leave to fling
himself head foremost over the half-door and alight on his feet in
'Well?' said Miss Potterson, with a manner as short as she herself
was long, 'say your half word. Bring it out.'
'Miss Potterson! Ma'am! Would you 'sxcuse me taking the liberty
of asking, is it my character that you take objections to?'
'Certainly,' said Miss Potterson.
'Is it that you're afraid of--'
'I am not afraid OF YOU,' interposed Miss Potterson, 'if you mean
'But I humbly don't mean that, Miss Abbey.'
'Then what do you mean?'
'You really are so cruel hard upon me! What I was going to make
inquiries was no more than, might you have any apprehensions--
leastways beliefs or suppositions--that the company's property
mightn't be altogether to be considered safe, if I used the house too
'What do you want to know for?'
'Well, Miss Abbey, respectfully meaning no offence to you, it
would be some satisfaction to a man's mind, to understand why the
Fellowship Porters is not to be free to such as me, and is to be free
to such as Gaffer.'
The face of the hostess darkened with some shadow of perplexity,
as she replied: 'Gaffer has never been where you have been.'
'Signifying in Quod, Miss? Perhaps not. But he may have merited
it. He may be suspected of far worse than ever I was.'
'Who suspects him?'
'Many, perhaps. One, beyond all doubts. I do.'
'YOU are not much,' said Miss Abbey Potterson, knitting her
brows again with disdain.
'But I was his pardner. Mind you, Miss Abbey, I was his pardner.
As such I know more of the ins and outs of him than any person
living does. Notice this! I am the man that was his pardner, and I
am the man that suspects him.'
'Then,' suggested Miss Abbey, though with a deeper shade of
perplexity than before, 'you criminate yourself.'
'No I don't, Miss Abbey. For how does it stand? It stands this
way. When I was his pardner, I couldn't never give him
satisfaction. Why couldn't I never give him satisfaction? Because
my luck was bad; because I couldn't find many enough of 'em.
How was his luck? Always good. Notice this! Always good! Ah!
There's a many games, Miss Abbey, in which there's chance, but
there's a many others in which there's skill too, mixed along with it.'
'That Gaffer has a skill in finding what he finds, who doubts,
man?' asked Miss Abbey.
'A skill in purwiding what he finds, perhaps,' said Riderhood,
shaking his evil head.
Miss Abbey knitted her brow at him, as he darkly leered at her. 'If
you're out upon the river pretty nigh every tide, and if you want to
find a man or woman in the river, you'll greatly help your luck,
Miss Abbey, by knocking a man or woman on the head aforehand
and pitching 'em in.'
'Gracious Lud!' was the involuntary exclamation of Miss Potterson.
'Mind you!' returned the other, stretching forward over the half
door to throw his words into the bar; for his voice was as if the
head of his boat's mop were down his throat; 'I say so, Miss
Abbey! And mind you! I'll follow him up, Miss Abbey! And
mind you! I'll bring him to hook at last, if it's twenty year hence, I
will! Who's he, to he favoured along of his daughter? Ain't I got a
daughter of my own!'
With that flourish, and seeming to have talked himself rather more
drunk and much more ferocious than he had begun by being, Mr
Riderhood took up his pint pot and swaggered off to the taproom.
Gaffer was not there, but a pretty strong muster of Miss Abbey's
pupils were, who exhibited, when occasion required, the greatest
docility. On the clock's striking ten, and Miss Abbey's appearing
at the door, and addressing a certain person in a faded scarlet
jacket, with 'George Jones, your time's up! I told your wife you
should be punctual,' Jones submissively rose, gave the company
good-night, and retired. At half-past ten, on Miss Abbey's looking
in again, and saying, 'William Williams, Bob Glamour, and
Jonathan, you are all due,' Williams, Bob, and Jonathan with
similar meekness took their leave and evaporated. Greater wonder
than these, when a bottle-nosed person in a glazed hat had after
some considerable hesitation ordered another glass of gin and
water of the attendant potboy, and when Miss Abbey, instead of
sending it, appeared in person, saying, 'Captain Joey, you have had
as much as will do you good,' not only did the captain feebly rub
his knees and contemplate the fire without offering a word of
protest, but the rest of the company murmured, 'Ay, ay, Captain!
Miss Abbey's right; you be guided by Miss Abbey, Captain.' Nor,
was Miss Abbey's vigilance in anywise abated by this submission,
but rather sharpened; for, looking round on the deferential faces of
her school, and descrying two other young persons in need of
admonition, she thus bestowed it: 'Tom Tootle, it's time for a
young fellow who's going to be married next month, to be at home
and asleep. And you needn't nudge him, Mr Jack Mullins, for I
know your work begins early tomorrow, and I say the same to you.
So come! Good-night, like good lads!' Upon which, the blushing
Tootle looked to Mullins, and the blushing Mullins looked to
Tootle, on the question who should rise first, and finally both rose
together and went out on the broad grin, followed by Miss Abbey;
in whose presence the cormpany did not take the liberty of grinning
In such an establishment, the white-aproned pot-boy with his shirt-
sleeves arranged in a tight roll on each bare shoulder, was a mere
hint of the possibility of physical force, thrown out as a matter of
state and form. Exactly at the closing hour, all the guests who
were left, filed out in the best order: Miss Abbey standing at the
half door of the bar, to hold a ceremony of review and dismissal.
All wished Miss Abbey good-night and Miss Abbey wished good-
night to all, except Riderhood. The sapient pot-boy, looking on
officially, then had the conviction borne in upon his soul, that the
man was evermore outcast and excommunicate from the Six Jolly
'You Bob Gliddery,' said Miss Abbey to this pot-boy, 'run round to
Hexam's and tell his daughter Lizzie that I want to speak to her.'
With exemplary swiftness Bob Gliddery departed, and returned.
Lizzie, following him, arrived as one of the two female domestics
of the Fellowship Porters arranged on the snug little table by the
bar fire, Miss Potterson's supper of hot sausages and mashed
'Come in and sit ye down, girl,' said Miss Abbey. 'Can you eat a
'No thank you, Miss. I have had my supper.'
'I have had mine too, I think,' said Miss Abbey, pushing away the
untasted dish, 'and more than enough of it. I am put out, Lizzie.'
'I am very sorry for it, Miss.'
'Then why, in the name of Goodness,' quoth Miss Abbey, sharply,
'do you do it?'
'I do it, Miss!'
'There, there. Don't look astonished. I ought to have begun with a
word of explanation, but it's my way to make short cuts at things. I
always was a pepperer. You Bob Gliddery there, put the chain
upon the door and get ye down to your supper.'
With an alacrity that seemed no less referable to the pepperer fact
than to the supper fact, Bob obeyed, and his boots were heard
descending towards the bed of the river.
'Lizzie Hexam, Lizzie Hexam,' then began Miss Potterson, 'how
often have I held out to you the opportunity of getting clear of your
father, and doing well?'
'Very often, Miss.'
'Very often? Yes! And I might as well have spoken to the iron
funnel of the strongest sea-going steamer that passes the
'No, Miss,' Lizzie pleaded; 'because that would not be thankful,
and I am.'
'I vow and declare I am half ashamed of myself for taking such an
interest in you,' said Miss Abbey, pettishly, 'for I don't believe I
should do it if you were not good-looking. Why ain't you ugly?'
Lizzie merely answered this difficult question with an apologetic
'However, you ain't,' resumed Miss Potterson, 'so it's no use going
into that. I must take you as I find you. Which indeed is what I've
done. And you mean to say you are still obstinate?'
'Not obstinate, Miss, I hope.'
'Firm (I suppose you call it) then?'
'Yes, Miss. Fixed like.'
'Never was an obstinate person yet, who would own to the word!'
remarked Miss Potterson, rubbing her vexed nose; 'I'm sure I
would, if I was obstinate; but I am a pepperer, which is different.
Lizzie Hexam, Lizzie Hexam, think again. Do you know the worst
of your father?'
'Do I know the worst of father!' she repeated, opening her eyes. 'Do
you know the suspicions to which your father makes himself
liable? Do you know the suspicions that are actually about,
The consciousness of what he habitually did, oppressed the girl
heavily, and she slowly cast down her eyes.
'Say, Lizzie. Do you know?' urged Miss Abbey.
'Please to tell me what the suspicions are, Miss,' she asked after a
silence, with her eyes upon the ground.
'It's not an easy thing to tell a daughter, but it must be told. It is
thought by some, then, that your father helps to their death a few of
those that he finds dead.'
The relief of hearing what she felt sure was a false suspicion, in
place of the expected real and true one, so lightened Lizzie's breast
for the moment, that Miss Abbey was amazed at her demeanour.
She raised her eyes quickly, shook her head, and, in a kind of
triumph, almost laughed.
'They little know father who talk like that!'
('She takes it,' thought Miss Abbey, 'very quietly. She takes it with
'And perhaps,' said Lizzie, as a recollection flashed upon her, 'it is
some one who has a grudge against father; some one who has
threatened father! Is it Riderhood, Miss?'
'Well; yes it is.'
'Yes! He was father's partner, and father broke with him, and now
he revenges himself. Father broke with him when I was by, and he
was very angry at it. And besides, Miss Abbey!--Will you never,
without strong reason, let pass your lips what I am going to say?'
She bent forward to say it in a whisper.
'I promise,' said Miss Abbey.
'It was on the night when the Harmon murder was found out,
through father, just above bridge. And just below bridge, as we
were sculling home, Riderhood crept out of the dark in his boat.
And many and many times afterwards, when such great pains were
taken to come to the bottom of the crime, and it never could be
come near, I thought in my own thoughts, could Riderhood himself
have done the murder, and did he purposely let father find the
body? It seemed a'most wicked and cruel to so much as think such
a thing; but now that he tries to throw it upon father, I go back to it
as if it was a truth. Can it be a truth? That was put into my mind
by the dead?'
She asked this question, rather of the fire than of the hostess of the
Fellowship Porters, and looked round the little bar with troubled
But, Miss Potterson, as a ready schoolmistress accustomed to bring
her pupils to book, set the matter in a light that was essentially of
'You poor deluded girl,' she said, 'don't you see that you can't open
your mind to particular suspicions of one of the two, without
opening your mind to general suspicions of the other? They had
worked together. Their goings-on had been going on for some
time. Even granting that it was as you have had in your thoughts,
what the two had done together would come familiar to the mind
'You don't know father, Miss, when you talk like that. Indeed,
indeed, you don't know father.'
'Lizzie, Lizzie,' said Miss Potterson. 'Leave him. You needn't
break with him altogether, but leave him. Do well away from him;
not because of what I have told you to-night--we'll pass no
judgment upon that, and we'll hope it may not be--but because of
what I have urged on you before. No matter whether it's owing to
your good looks or not, I like you and I want to serve you. Lizzie,
come under my direction. Don't fling yourself away, my girl, but
be persuaded into being respectable and happy.'
In the sound good feeling and good sense of her entreaty, Miss
Abbey had softened into a soothing tone, and had even drawn her
arm round the girl's waist. But, she only replied, 'Thank you,
thank you! I can't. I won't. I must not think of it. The harder
father is borne upon, the more he needs me to lean on.'
And then Miss Abbey, who, like all hard people when they do
soften, felt that there was considerable compensation owing to her,
underwent reaction and became frigid.
'I have done what I can,' she said, 'and you must go your way. You
make your bed, and you must lie on it. But tell your father one
thing: he must not come here any more.
'Oh, Miss, will you forbid him the house where I know he's safe?'
'The Fellowships,' returned Miss Abbey, 'has itself to look to, as
well as others. It has been hard work to establish order here, and
make the Fellowships what it is, and it is daily and nightly hard
work to keep it so. The Fellowships must not have a taint upon it
that may give it a bad name. I forbid the house to Riderhood, and I
forbid the house to Gaffer. I forbid both, equally. I find from
Riderhood and you together, that there are suspicions against both
men, and I'm not going to take upon myself to decide betwixt
them. They are both tarred with a dirty brush, and I can't have the
Fellowships tarred with the same brush. That's all I know.'
'Good-night, Miss!' said Lizzie Hexam, sorrowfully.
'Hah!--Good-night!' returned Miss Abbey with a shake of her head.
'Believe me, Miss Abbey, I am truly grateful all the same.'
'I can believe a good deal,' returned the stately Abbey, 'so I'll try to
believe that too, Lizzie.'
No supper did Miss Potterson take that night, and only half her
usual tumbler of hot Port Negus. And the female domestics--two
robust sisters, with staring black eyes, shining flat red faces, blunt
noses, and strong black curls, like dolls--interchanged the
sentiment that Missis had had her hair combed the wrong way by
somebody. And the pot-boy afterwards remarked, that he hadn't
been 'so rattled to bed', since his late mother had systematically
accelerated his retirement to rest with a poker.
The chaining of the door behind her, as she went forth,
disenchanted Lizzie Hexam of that first relief she had felt. The
night was black and shrill, the river-side wilderness was
melancholy, and there was a sound of casting-out, in the rattling of
the iron-links, and the grating of the bolts and staples under Miss
Abbey's hand. As she came beneath the lowering sky, a sense of
being involved in a murky shade of Murder dropped upon her; and,
as the tidal swell of the river broke at her feet without her seeing
how it gathered, so, her thoughts startled her by rushing out of an
unseen void and striking at her heart.
Of her father's being groundlessly suspected, she felt sure. Sure.
Sure. And yet, repeat the word inwardly as often as she would, the
attempt to reason out and prove that she was sure, always came
after it and failed. Riderhood had done the deed, and entrapped
her father. Riderhood had not done the deed, but had resolved in
his malice to turn against her father, the appearances that were
ready to his hand to distort. Equally and swiftly upon either
putting of the case, followed the frightful possibility that her father,
being innocent, yet might come to be believed guilty. She had
heard of people suffering Death for bloodshed of which they were
afterwards proved pure, and those ill-fated persons were not, first,
in that dangerous wrong in which her father stood. Then at the
best, the beginning of his being set apart, whispered against, and
avoided, was a certain fact. It dated from that very night. And as
the great black river with its dreary shores was soon lost to her
view in the gloom, so, she stood on the river's brink unable to see
into the vast blank misery of a life suspected, and fallen away from
by good and bad, but knowing that it lay there dim before her,
stretching away to the great ocean, Death.
One thing only, was clear to the girl's mind. Accustomed from her
very babyhood promptly to do the thing that could be done--
whether to keep out weather, to ward off cold, to postpone hunger,
or what not--she started out of her meditation, and ran home.
The room was quiet, and the lamp burnt on the table. In the bunk
in the corner, her brother lay asleep. She bent over him softly,
kissed him, and came to the table.
'By the time of Miss Abbey's closing, and by the run of the tide, it
must be one. Tide's running up. Father at Chiswick, wouldn't
think of coming down, till after the turn, and that's at half after
four. I'll call Charley at six. I shall hear the church-clocks strike,
as I sit here.'
Very quietly, she placed a chair before the scanty fire, and sat
down in it, drawing her shawl about her.
'Charley's hollow down by the flare is not there now. Poor
The clock struck two, and the clock struck three, and the clock
struck four, and she remained there, with a woman's patience and
her own purpose. When the morning was well on between four
and five, she slipped off her shoes (that her going about, might not
wake Charley), trimmed the fire sparingly, put water on to boil,
and set the table for breakfast. Then she went up the ladder, lamp
in hand, and came down again, and glided about and about,
making a little bundle. Lastly, from her pocket, and from the
chimney-piece, and from an inverted basin on the highest shelf she
brought halfpence, a few sixpences, fewer shillings, and fell to
laboriously and noiselessly counting them, and setting aside one
little heap. She was still so engaged, when she was startled by:
'Hal-loa!' From her brother, sitting up in bed.
'You made me jump, Charley.'
'Jump! Didn't you make ME jump, when I opened my eyes a
moment ago, and saw you sitting there, like the ghost of a girl
miser, in the dead of the night.'
'It's not the dead of the night, Charley. It's nigh six in the
'Is it though? But what are you up to, Liz?'
'Still telling your fortune, Charley.'
'It seems to be a precious small one, if that's it,' said the boy.
'What are you putting that little pile of money by itself for?'
'For you, Charley.'
'What do you mean?'
'Get out of bed, Charley, and get washed and dressed, and then I'll
Her composed manner, and her low distinct voice, always had an
influence over him. His head was soon in a basin of water, and out
of it again, and staring at her through a storm of towelling.
'I never,' towelling at himself as if he were his bitterest enemy,
'saw such a girl as you are. What IS the move, Liz?'
'Are you almost ready for breakfast, Charley?'
'You can pour it out. Hal-loa! I say? And a bundle?'
'And a bundle, Charley.'
'You don't mean it's for me, too?'
'Yes, Charley; I do; indeed.'
More serious of face, and more slow of action, than he had been,
the boy completed his dressing, and came and sat down at the little
breakfast-table, with his eyes amazedly directed to her face.
'You see, Charley dear, I have made up my mind that this is the
right time for your going away from us. Over and above all the
blessed change of by-and-bye, you'll be much happier, and do
much better, even so soon as next month. Even so soon as next
'How do you know I shall?'
'I don't quite know how, Charley, but I do.' In spite of her
unchanged manner of speaking, and her unchanged appearance of
composure, she scarcely trusted herself to look at him, but kept her
eyes employed on the cutting and buttering of his bread, and on the
mixing of his tea, and other such little preparations. 'You must
leave father to me, Charley--I will do what I can with him--but you
'You don't stand upon ceremony, I think,' grumbled the boy,
throwing his bread and butter about, in an ill-humour.
She made him no answer.
'I tell you what,' said the boy, then, bursting out into an angry
whimpering, 'you're a selfish jade, and you think there's not enough
for three of us, and you want to get rid of me.'
'If you believe so, Charley,--yes, then I believe too, that I am a
selfish jade, and that I think there's not enough for three of us, and
that I want to get rid of you.'
It was only when the boy rushed at her, and threw his arms round
her neck, that she lost her self-restraint. But she lost it then, and
wept over him.
'Don't cry, don't cry! I am satisfied to go, Liz; I am satisfied to go.
I know you send me away for my good.'
'O, Charley, Charley, Heaven above us knows I do!'
'Yes yes. Don't mind what I said. Don't remember it. Kiss me.'
After a silence, she loosed him, to dry her eyes and regain her
strong quiet influence.
'Now listen, Charley dear. We both know it must be done, and I
alone know there is good reason for its being done at once. Go
straight to the school, and say that you and I agreed upon it--that
we can't overcome father's opposition--that father will never
trouble them, but will never take you back. You are a credit to the
school, and you will be a greater credit to it yet, and they will help
you to get a living. Show what clothes you have brought, and what
money, and say that I will send some more money. If I can get
some in no other way, I will ask a little help of those two
gentlemen who came here that night.'
'I say!' cried her brother, quickly. 'Don't you have it of that chap
that took hold of me by the chin! Don't you have it of that
Perhaps a slight additional tinge of red flushed up into her face and
brow, as with a nod she laid a hand upon his lips to keep him
'And above all things mind this, Charley! Be sure you always
speak well of father. Be sure you always give father his full due.
You can't deny that because father has no learning himself he is set
against it in you; but favour nothing else against him, and be sure
you say--as you know--that your sister is devoted to him. And if
you should ever happen to hear anything said against father that is
new to you, it will not be true. Remember, Charley! It will not be
The boy looked at her with some doubt and surprise, but she went
on again without heeding it.
'Above all things remember! It will not be true. I have nothing
more to say, Charley dear, except, be good, and get learning, and
only think of some things in the old life here, as if you had
dreamed them in a dream last night. Good-bye, my Darling!'
Though so young, she infused in these parting words a love that
was far more like a mother's than a sister's, and before which the
boy was quite bowed down. After holding her to his breast with a
passionate cry, he took up his bundle and darted out at the door,
with an arm across his eyes.
The white face of the winter day came sluggishly on, veiled in a
frosty mist; and the shadowy ships in the river slowly changed to
black substances; and the sun, blood-red on the eastern marshes
behind dark masts and yards, seemed filled with the ruins of a
forest it had set on fire. Lizzie, looking for her father, saw him
coming, and stood upon the causeway that he might see her.
He had nothing with him but his boat, and came on apace. A knot
of those amphibious human-creatures who appear to have some
mysterious power of extracting a subsistence out of tidal water by
looking at it, were gathered together about the causeway. As her
father's boat grounded, they became contemplative of the mud, and
dispersed themselves. She saw that the mute avoidance had
Gaffer saw it, too, in so far as that he was moved when he set foot
on shore, to stare around him. But, he promptly set to work to haul
up his boat, and make her fast, and take the sculls and rudder and
rope out of her. Carrying these with Lizzie's aid, he passed up to
'Sit close to the fire, father, dear, while I cook your breakfast. It's
all ready for cooking, and only been waiting for you. You must be
'Well, Lizzie, I ain't of a glow; that's certain. And my hands seem
nailed through to the sculls. See how dead they are!' Something
suggestive in their colour, and perhaps in her face, struck him as
he held them up; he turned his shoulder and held them down to the
'You were not out in the perishing night, I hope, father?'
'No, my dear. Lay aboard a barge, by a blazing coal-fire.--Where's
'There's a drop of brandy for your tea, father, if you'll put it in while
I turn this bit of meat. If the river was to get frozen, there would be
a deal of distress; wouldn't there, father?'
'Ah! there's always enough of that,' said Gaffer, dropping the liquor
into his cup from a squat black bottle, and dropping it slowly that
it might seem more; 'distress is for ever a going about, like sut in
the air--Ain't that boy up yet?'
'The meat's ready now, father. Eat it while it's hot and
comfortable. After you have finished, we'll turn round to the fire
But, he perceived that he was evaded, and, having thrown a hasty
angry glance towards the bunk, plucked at a corner of her apron
'What's gone with that boy?'
'Father, if you'll begin your breakfast, I'll sit by and tell you.' He
looked at her, stirred his tea and took two or three gulps, then cut
at his piece of hot steak with his case-knife, and said, eating:
'Now then. What's gone with that boy?'
'Don't be angry, dear. It seems, father, that he has quite a gift of
'Unnat'ral young beggar!' said the parent, shaking his knife in the
'And that having this gift, and not being equally good at other
things, he has made shift to get some schooling.'
'Unnat'ral young beggar!' said the parent again, with his former
'--And that knowing you have nothing to spare, father, and not
wishing to be a burden on you, he gradually made up his mind to
go seek his fortune out of learning. He went away this morning,
father, and he cried very much at going, and he hoped you would
'Let him never come a nigh me to ask me my forgiveness,' said the
father, again emphasizing his words with the knife. 'Let him never
come within sight of my eyes, nor yet within reach of my arm. His
own father ain't good enough for him. He's disowned his own
father. His own father therefore, disowns him for ever and ever, as
a unnat'ral young beggar.'
He had pushed away his plate. With the natural need of a strong
rough man in anger, to do something forcible, he now clutched his
knife overhand, and struck downward with it at the end of every
succeeding sentence. As he would have struck with his own
clenched fist if there had chanced to be nothing in it.
'He's welcome to go. He's more welcome to go than to stay. But
let him never come back. Let him never put his head inside that
door. And let you never speak a word more in his favour, or you'll
disown your own father, likewise, and what your father says of him
he'll have to come to say of you. Now I see why them men yonder
held aloof from me. They says to one another, "Here comes the
man as ain't good enough for his own son!" Lizzie--!'
But, she stopped him with a cry. Looking at her he saw her, with a
face quite strange to him, shrinking back against the wall, with her
hands before her eyes.
'Father, don't! I can't bear to see you striking with it. Put it down!'
He looked at the knife; but in his astonishment still held it.
'Father, it's too horrible. O put it down, put it down!'
Confounded by her appearance and exclamation, he tossed it away,
and stood up with his open hands held out before him.
'What's come to you, Liz? Can you think I would strike at you
with a knife?'
'No, father, no; you would never hurt me.'
'What should I hurt?'
'Nothing, dear father. On my knees, I am certain, in my heart and
soul I am certain, nothing! But it was too dreadful to bear; for it
looked--' her hands covering her face again, 'O it looked--'
'What did it look like?'
The recollection of his murderous figure, combining with her trial
of last night, and her trial of the morning, caused her to drop at his
feet, without having answered.
He had never seen her so before. He raised her with the utmost
tenderness, calling her the best of daughters, and 'my poor pretty
creetur', and laid her head upon his knee, and tried to restore her.
But failing, he laid her head gently down again, got a pillow and
placed it under her dark hair, and sought on the table for a spoonful
of brandy. There being none left, he hurriedly caught up the empty
bottle, and ran out at the door.
He returned as hurriedly as he had gone, with the bottle still empty.
He kneeled down by her, took her head on his arm, and moistened
her lips with a little water into which he dipped his fingers: saying,
fiercely, as he looked around, now over this shoulder, now over
'Have we got a pest in the house? Is there summ'at deadly sticking
to my clothes? What's let loose upon us? Who loosed it?'
MR WEGG LOOKS AFTER HIMSELF
Silas Wegg, being on his road to the Roman Empire, approaches it
by way of Clerkenwell. The time is early in the evening; the
weather moist and raw. Mr Wegg finds leisure to make a little
circuit, by reason that he folds his screen early, now that he
combines another source of income with it, and also that he feels it
due to himself to be anxiously expected at the Bower. 'Boffin will
get all the eagerer for waiting a bit,' says Silas, screwing up, as he
stumps along, first his right eye, and then his left. Which is
something superfluous in him, for Nature has already screwed both
'If I get on with him as I expect to get on,' Silas pursues, stumping
and meditating, 'it wouldn't become me to leave it here. It wouldn't
he respectable.' Animated by this reflection, he stumps faster, and
looks a long way before him, as a man with an ambitious project in
abeyance often will do.
Aware of a working-jeweller population taking sanctuary about the
church in Clerkenwell, Mr Wegg is conscious of an interest in, and
a respect for, the neighbourhood. But, his sensations in this regard
halt as to their strict morality, as he halts in his gait; for, they
suggest the delights of a coat of invisibility in which to walk off
safely with the precious stones and watch-cases, but stop short of
any compunction for the people who would lose the same.
Not, however, towards the 'shops' where cunning artificers work in
pearls and diamonds and gold and silver, making their hands so
rich, that the enriched water in which they wash them is bought for
the refiners;--not towards these does Mr Wegg stump, but towards
the poorer shops of small retail traders in commodities to eat and
drink and keep folks warm, and of Italian frame-makers, and of
barbers, and of brokers, and of dealers in dogs and singing-birds.
From these, in a narrow and a dirty street devoted to such callings,
Mr Wegg selects one dark shop-window with a tallow candle
dimly burning in it, surrounded by a muddle of objects vaguely
resembling pieces of leather and dry stick, but among which
nothing is resolvable into anything distinct, save the candle itself in
its old tin candlestick, and two preserved frogs fighting a small-
sword duel. Stumping with fresh vigour, he goes in at the dark
greasy entry, pushes a little greasy dark reluctant side-door, and
follows the door into the little dark greasy shop. It is so dark that
nothing can be made out in it, over a little counter, but another
tallow candle in another old tin candlestick, close to the face of a
man stooping low in a chair.
Mr Wegg nods to the face, 'Good evening.'
The face looking up is a sallow face with weak eyes, surmounted
by a tangle of reddish-dusty hair. The owner of the face has no
cravat on, and has opened his tumbled shirt-collar to work with the
more ease. For the same reason he has no coat on: only a loose
waistcoat over his yellow linen. His eyes are like the over-tried
eyes of an engraver, but he is not that; his expression and stoop are
like those of a shoemaker, but he is not that.
'Good evening, Mr Venus. Don't you remember?'
With slowly dawning remembrance, Mr Venus rises, and holds his
candle over the little counter, and holds it down towards the legs,
natural and artificial, of Mr Wegg.
'To be SURE!' he says, then. 'How do you do?'
'Wegg, you know,' that gentleman explains.
'Yes, yes,' says the other. 'Hospital amputation?'
'Just so,' says Mr Wegg.
'Yes, yes,' quoth Venus. 'How do you do? Sit down by the fire,
and warm your--your other one.'
'The little counter being so short a counter that it leaves the
fireplace, which would have been behind it if it had been longer,
accessible, Mr Wegg sits down on a box in front of the fire, and
inhales a warm and comfortable smell which is not the smell of the
shop. 'For that,' Mr Wegg inwardly decides, as he takes a
corrective sniff or two, 'is musty, leathery, feathery, cellary, gluey,
gummy, and,' with another sniff, 'as it might be, strong of old pairs
'My tea is drawing, and my muffin is on the hob, Mr Wegg; will
It being one of Mr Wegg's guiding rules in life always to partake,
he says he will. But, the little shop is so excessively dark, is stuck
so full of black shelves and brackets and nooks and corners, that he
sees Mr Venus's cup and saucer only because it is close under the
candle, and does not see from what mysterious recess Mr Venus
produces another for himself until it is under his nose.
Concurrently, Wegg perceives a pretty little dead bird lying on the
counter, with its head drooping on one side against the rim of Mr
Venus's saucer, and a long stiff wire piercing its breast. As if it
were Cock Robin, the hero of the ballad, and Mr Venus were the
sparrow with his bow and arrow, and Mr Wegg were the fly with
his little eye.
Mr Venus dives, and produces another muffin, yet untoasted;
taking the arrow out of the breast of Cock Robin, he proceeds to
toast it on the end of that cruel instrument. When it is brown, he
dives again and produces butter, with which he completes his
Mr Wegg, as an artful man who is sure of his supper by-and-bye,
presses muffin on his host to soothe him into a compliant state of
mind, or, as one might say, to grease his works. As the muffins
disappear, little by little, the black shelves and nooks and corners
begin to appear, and Mr Wegg gradually acquires an imperfect
notion that over against him on the chimney-piece is a Hindoo
baby in a bottle, curved up with his big head tucked under him, as
he would instantly throw a summersault if the bottle were large
When he deems Mr Venus's wheels sufficiently lubricated, Mr
Wegg approaches his object by asking, as he lightly taps his hands
together, to express an undesigning frame of mind:
'And how have I been going on, this long time, Mr Venus?'
'Very bad,' says Mr Venus, uncompromisingly.
'What? Am I still at home?' asks Wegg, with an air of surprise.
'Always at home.'
This would seem to be secretly agreeable to Wegg, but he veils his
feelings, and observes, 'Strange. To what do you attribute it?'
'I don't know,' replies Venus, who is a haggard melancholy man,
speaking in a weak voice of querulous complaint, 'to what to
attribute it, Mr Wegg. I can't work you into a miscellaneous one,
no how. Do what I will, you can't be got to fit. Anybody with a
passable knowledge would pick you out at a look, and say,--"No
go! Don't match!"'
'Well, but hang it, Mr Venus,' Wegg expostulates with some little
irritation, 'that can't be personal and peculiar in ME. It must often
happen with miscellaneous ones.'
'With ribs (I grant you) always. But not else. When I prepare a
miscellaneous one, I know beforehand that I can't keep to nature,
and be miscellaneous with ribs, because every man has his own
ribs, and no other man's will go with them; but elseways I can be
miscellaneous. I have just sent home a Beauty--a perfect Beauty--
to a school of art. One leg Belgian, one leg English, and the
pickings of eight other people in it. Talk of not being qualified to
be miscellaneous! By rights you OUGHT to be, Mr Wegg.'
Silas looks as hard at his one leg as he can in the dim light, and
after a pause sulkily opines 'that it must be the fault of the other
people. Or how do you mean to say it comes about?' he demands
'I don't know how it comes about. Stand up a minute. Hold the
light.' Mr Venus takes from a corner by his chair, the bones of a
leg and foot, beautifully pure, and put together with exquisite
neatness. These he compares with Mr Wegg's leg; that gentleman
looking on, as if he were being measured for a riding-boot. 'No, I
don't know how it is, but so it is. You have got a twist in that
bone, to the best of my belief. I never saw the likes of you.'
Mr Wegg having looked distrustfully at his own limb, and
suspiciously at the pattern with which it has been compared,
makes the point:
'I'll bet a pound that ain't an English one!'
'An easy wager, when we run so much into foreign! No, it belongs
to that French gentleman.'
As he nods towards a point of darkness behind Mr Wegg, the
latter, with a slight start, looks round for 'that French gentleman,'
whom he at length descries to be represented (in a very
workmanlike manner) by his ribs only, standing on a shelf in
another corner, like a piece of armour or a pair of stays.