Part 5 out of 21
'No,' said Mr Inspector.' He has quitted those works. He is
otherwise disposed of.'
'Will she be left alone then?' asked Eugene.
'She will be left,' said Mr Inspector, 'alone.'
Bob's reappearance with a steaming jug broke off the conversation.
But although the jug steamed forth a delicious perfume, its
contents had not received that last happy touch which the
surpassing finish of the Six Jolly Fellowship Porters imparted on
such momentous occasions. Bob carried in his left hand one of
those iron models of sugar-loaf hats, before mentioned, into which
he emptied the jug, and the pointed end of which he thrust deep
down into the fire, so leaving it for a few moments while he
disappeared and reappeared with three bright drinking-glasses.
Placing these on the table and bending over the fire, meritoriously
sensible of the trying nature of his duty, he watched the wreaths of
steam, until at the special instant of projection he caught up the
iron vessel and gave it one delicate twirl, causing it to send forth
one gentle hiss. Then he restored the contents to the jug; held over
the steam of the jug, each of the three bright glasses in succession;
finally filled them all, and with a clear conscience awaited the
applause of his fellow-creatures.
It was bestowed (Mr Inspector having proposed as an appropriate
sentiment 'The lime trade!') and Bob withdrew to report the
commendations of the guests to Miss Abbey in the bar. It may be
here in confidence admitted that, the room being close shut in his
absence, there had not appeared to be the slightest reason for the
elaborate maintenance of this same lime fiction. Only it had been
regarded by Mr Inspector as so uncommonly satisfactory, and so
fraught with mysterious virtues, that neither of his clients had
presumed to question it.
Two taps were now heard on the outside of the window. Mr
Inspector, hastily fortifying himself with another glass, strolled out
with a noiseless foot and an unoccupied countenance. As one
might go to survey the weather and the general aspect of the
'This is becoming grim, Mortimer,' said Eugene, in a low voice. 'I
don't like this.'
'Nor I' said Lightwood. 'Shall we go?'
'Being here, let us stay. You ought to see it out, and I won't leave
you. Besides, that lonely girl with the dark hair runs in my head.
It was little more than a glimpse we had of her that last time, and
yet I almost see her waiting by the fire to-night. Do you feel like a
dark combination of traitor and pickpocket when you think of that
'Rather,' returned Lightwood. 'Do you?'
'Very much so.'
Their escort strolled back again, and reported. Divested of its
various lime-lights and shadows, his report went to the effect that
Gaffer was away in his boat, supposed to be on his old look-out;
that he had been expected last high-water; that having missed it for
some reason or other, he was not, according to his usual habits at
night, to be counted on before next high-water, or it might be an
hour or so later; that his daughter, surveyed through the window,
would seem to be so expecting him, for the supper was not
cooking, but set out ready to be cooked; that it would be high-
water at about one, and that it was now barely ten; that there was
nothing to be done but watch and wait; that the informer was
keeping watch at the instant of that present reporting, but that two
heads were better than one (especially when the second was Mr
Inspector's); and that the reporter meant to share the watch. And
forasmuch as crouching under the lee of a hauled-up boat on a
night when it blew cold and strong, and when the weather was
varied with blasts of hail at times, might be wearisome to
amateurs, the reporter closed with the recommendation that the
two gentlemen should remain, for a while at any rate, in their
present quarters, which were weather-tight and warm.
They were not inclined to dispute this recommendation, but they
wanted to know where they could join the watchers when so
disposed. Rather than trust to a verbal description of the place,
which might mislead, Eugene (with a less weighty sense of
personal trouble on him than he usually had) would go out with Mr
Inspector, note the spot, and come back.
On the shelving bank of the river, among the slimy stones of a
causeway--not the special causeway of the Six Jolly Fellowships,
which had a landing-place of its own, but another, a little removed,
and very near to the old windmill which was the denounced man's
dwelling-place--were a few boats; some, moored and already
beginning to float; others, hauled up above the reach of the tide.
Under one of these latter, Eugene's companion disappeared. And
when Eugene had observed its position with reference to the other
boats, and had made sure that he could not miss it, he turned his
eyes upon the building where, as he had been told, the lonely girl
with the dark hair sat by the fire.
He could see the light of the fire shining through the window.
Perhaps it drew him on to look in. Perhaps he had come out with
the express intention. That part of the bank having rank grass
growing on it, there was no difficulty in getting close, without any
noise of footsteps: it was but to scramble up a ragged face of pretty
hard mud some three or four feet high and come upon the grass
and to the window. He came to the window by that means.
She had no other light than the light of the fire. The unkindled
lamp stood on the table. She sat on the ground, looking at the
brazier, with her face leaning on her hand. There was a kind of
film or flicker on her face, which at first he took to be the fitful
firelight; but, on a second look, he saw that she was weeping. A
sad and solitary spectacle, as shown him by the rising and the
falling of the fire.
It was a little window of but four pieces of glass, and was not
curtained; he chose it because the larger window near it was. It
showed him the room, and the bills upon the wall respecting the
drowned people starting out and receding by turns. But he glanced
slightly at them, though he looked long and steadily at her. A deep
rich piece of colour, with the brown flush of her cheek and the
shining lustre of her hair, though sad and solitary, weeping by the
rising and the falling of the fire.
She started up. He had been so very still that he felt sure it was not
he who had disturbed her, so merely withdrew from the window
and stood near it in the shadow of the wall. She opened the door,
and said in an alarmed tone, 'Father, was that you calling me?'
And again, 'Father!' And once again, after listening, 'Father! I
thought I heard you call me twice before!'
No response. As she re-entered at the door, he dropped over the
bank and made his way back, among the ooze and near the hiding-
place, to Mortimer Lightwood: to whom he told what he had seen
of the girl, and how this was becoming very grim indeed.
'If the real man feels as guilty as I do,' said Eugene, 'he is
'Influence of secrecy,' suggested Lightwood.
'I am not at all obliged to it for making me Guy Fawkes in the
vault and a Sneak in the area both at once,' said Eugene. 'Give me
some more of that stuff.'
Lightwood helped him to some more of that stuff, but it had been
cooling, and didn't answer now.
'Pooh,' said Eugene, spitting it out among the ashes. 'Tastes like
the wash of the river.'
'Are you so familiar with the flavour of the wash of the river?'
'I seem to be to-night. I feel as if I had been half drowned, and
swallowing a gallon of it.'
'Influence of locality,' suggested Lightwood.
'You are mighty learned to-night, you and your influences,'
returned Eugene. 'How long shall we stay here?'
'How long do you think?'
'If I could choose, I should say a minute,' replied Eugene, 'for the
Jolly Fellowship Porters are not the jolliest dogs I have known.
But I suppose we are best here until they turn us out with the other
suspicious characters, at midnight.'
Thereupon he stirred the fire, and sat down on one side of it. It
struck eleven, and he made believe to compose himself patiently.
But gradually he took the fidgets in one leg, and then in the other
leg, and then in one arm, and then in the other arm, and then in his
chin, and then in his back, and then in his forehead, and then in his
hair, and then in his nose; and then he stretched himself recumbent
on two chairs, and groaned; and then he started up.
'Invisible insects of diabolical activity swarm in this place. I am
tickled and twitched all over. Mentally, I have now committed a
burglary under the meanest circumstances, and the myrmidons of
justice are at my heels.'
'I am quite as bad,' said Lightwood, sitting up facing him, with a
tumbled head; after going through some wonderful evolutions, in
which his head had been the lowest part of him. 'This
restlessness began with me, long ago. All the time you were out, I
felt like Gulliver with the Lilliputians firing upon him.'
'It won't do, Mortimer. We must get into the air; we must join our
dear friend and brother, Riderhood. And let us tranquillize
ourselves by making a compact. Next time (with a view to our
peace of mind) we'll commit the crime, instead of taking the
criminal. You swear it?'
'Sworn! Let Tippins look to it. Her life's in danger.'
Mortimer rang the bell to pay the score, and Bob appeared to
transact that business with him: whom Eugene, in his careless
extravagance, asked if he would like a situation in the lime-trade?
'Thankee sir, no sir,' said Bob. 'I've a good sitiwation here, sir.'
'If you change your mind at any time,' returned Eugene, 'come to
me at my works, and you'll always find an opening in the lime-
'Thankee sir,' said Bob.
'This is my partner,' said Eugene, 'who keeps the books and attends
to the wages. A fair day's wages for a fair day's work is ever my
'And a very good 'un it is, gentlemen,' said Bob, receiving his fee,
and drawing a bow out of his head with his right hand, very much
as he would have drawn a pint of beer out of the beer engine.
'Eugene,' Mortimer apostrophized him, laughing quite heartily
when they were alone again, 'how CAN you be so ridiculous?'
'I am in a ridiculous humour,' quoth Eugene; 'I am a ridiculous
fellow. Everything is ridiculous. Come along!'
It passed into Mortimer Lightwood's mind that a change of some
sort, best expressed perhaps as an intensification of all that was
wildest and most negligent and reckless in his friend, had come
upon him in the last half-hour or so. Thoroughly used to him as he
was, he found something new and strained in him that was for the
moment perplexing. This passed into his mind, and passed out
again; but he remembered it afterwards.
'There's where she sits, you see,' said Eugene, when they were
standing under the bank, roared and riven at by the wind. 'There's
the light of her fire.'
'I'll take a peep through the window,' said Mortimer.
'No, don't!' Eugene caught him by the arm. 'Best, not make a
show of her. Come to our honest friend.'
He led him to the post of watch, and they both dropped down and
crept under the lee of the boat; a better shelter than it had seemed
before, being directly contrasted with the blowing wind and the
'Mr Inspector at home?' whispered Eugene.
'Here I am, sir.'
'And our friend of the perspiring brow is at the far corner there?
Good. Anything happened?'
'His daughter has been out, thinking she heard him calling, unless
it was a sign to him to keep out of the way. It might have been.'
'It might have been Rule Britannia,' muttered Eugene, 'but it
'Here!' (On the other side of Mr Inspector.)
'Two burglaries now, and a forgery!'
With this indication of his depressed state of mind, Eugene fell
They were all silent for a long while. As it got to be flood-tide,
and the water came nearer to them, noises on the river became
more frequent, and they listened more. To the turning of steam-
paddles, to the clinking of iron chain, to the creaking of blocks, to
the measured working of oars, to the occasional violent barking of
some passing dog on shipboard, who seemed to scent them lying
in their hiding-place. The night was not so dark but that, besides
the lights at bows and mastheads gliding to and fro, they could
discern some shadowy bulk attached; and now and then a ghostly
lighter with a large dark sail, like a warning arm, would start up
very near them, pass on, and vanish. At this time of their watch,
the water close to them would be often agitated by some impulsion
given it from a distance. Often they believed this beat and plash to
be the boat they lay in wait for, running in ashore; and again and
again they would have started up, but for the immobility with
which the informer, well used to the river, kept quiet in his place.
The wind carried away the striking of the great multitude of city
church clocks, for those lay to leeward of them; but there were
bells to windward that told them of its being One--Two--Three.
Without that aid they would have known how the night wore, by
the falling of the tide, recorded in the appearance of an ever-
widening black wet strip of shore, and the emergence of the paved
causeway from the river, foot by foot.
As the time so passed, this slinking business became a more and
more precarious one. It would seem as if the man had had some
intimation of what was in hand against him, or had taken fright?
His movements might have been planned to gain for him, in
getting beyond their reach, twelve hours' advantage? The honest
man who had expended the sweat of his brow became uneasy, and
began to complain with bitterness of the proneness of mankind to
cheat him--him invested with the dignity of Labour!
Their retreat was so chosen that while they could watch the river,
they could watch the house. No one had passed in or out, since the
daughter thought she heard the father calling. No one could pass
in or out without being seen.
'But it will be light at five,' said Mr Inspector, 'and then WE shall
'Look here,' said Riderhood, 'what do you say to this? He may
have been lurking in and out, and just holding his own betwixt two
or three bridges, for hours back.'
'What do you make of that?' said Mr Inspector. Stoical, but
'He may be doing so at this present time.'
'What do you make of that?' said Mr Inspector.
'My boat's among them boats here at the cause'ay.'
'And what do you make of your boat?' said Mr Inspector.
'What if I put off in her and take a look round? I know his ways,
and the likely nooks he favours. I know where he'd be at such a
time of the tide, and where he'd be at such another time. Ain't I
been his pardner? None of you need show. None of you need stir.
I can shove her off without help; and as to me being seen, I'm
about at all times.'
'You might have given a worse opinion,' said Mr Inspector, after
brief consideration. 'Try it.'
'Stop a bit. Let's work it out. If I want you, I'll drop round under
the Fellowships and tip you a whistle.'
'If I might so far presume as to offer a suggestion to my honourable
and gallant friend, whose knowledge of naval matters far be it
from me to impeach,' Eugene struck in with great deliberation, 'it
would be, that to tip a whistle is to advertise mystery and invite
speculation. My honourable and gallant friend will, I trust, excuse
me, as an independent member, for throwing out a remark which I
feel to be due to this house and the country.'
'Was that the T'other Governor, or Lawyer Lightwood?' asked
Riderhood. For, they spoke as they crouched or lay, without seeing
one another's faces.
'In reply to the question put by my honourable and gallant friend,'
said Eugene, who was lying on his back with his hat on his face,
as an attitude highly expressive of watchfulness, 'I can have no
hesitation in replying (it not being inconsistent with the public
service) that those accents were the accents of the T'other
'You've tolerable good eyes, ain't you, Governor? You've all
tolerable good eyes, ain't you?' demanded the informer.
'Then if I row up under the Fellowship and lay there, no need to
whistle. You'll make out that there's a speck of something or
another there, and you'll know it's me, and you'll come down that
cause'ay to me. Understood all?'
'Off she goes then!'
In a moment, with the wind cutting keenly at him sideways, he
was staggering down to his boat; in a few moments he was clear,
and creeping up the river under their own shore.
Eugene had raised himself on his elbow to look into the darkness
after him. 'I wish the boat of my honourable and gallant friend,' he
murmured, lying down again and speaking into his hat, 'may be
endowed with philanthropy enough to turn bottom-upward and
'My honourable friend.'
'Three burglaries, two forgeries, and a midnight assassination.'
Yet in spite of having those weights on his conscience, Eugene
was somewhat enlivened by the late slight change in the
circumstances of affairs. So were his two companions. Its being a
change was everything. The suspense seemed to have taken a new
lease, and to have begun afresh from a recent date. There was
something additional to look for. They were all three more sharply
on the alert, and less deadened by the miserable influences of the
place and time.
More than an hour had passed, and they were even dozing, when
one of the three--each said it was he, and he had NOT dozed--
made out Riderhood in his boat at the spot agreed on. They sprang
up, came out from their shelter, and went down to him. When he
saw them coming, he dropped alongside the causeway; so that
they, standing on the causeway, could speak with him in whispers,
under the shadowy mass of the Six Jolly Fellowship Porters fast
'Blest if I can make it out!' said he, staring at them.
'Make what out? Have you seen him?'
'What HAVE you seen?' asked Lightwood. For, he was staring at
them in the strangest way.
'I've seen his boat.'
'Yes, empty. And what's more,--adrift. And what's more,--with
one scull gone. And what's more,--with t'other scull jammed in the
thowels and broke short off. And what's more,--the boat's drove
tight by the tide 'atwixt two tiers of barges. And what's more,--he's
in luck again, by George if he ain't!'
THE BIRD OF PREY BROUGHT DOWN
Cold on the shore, in the raw cold of that leaden crisis in the four-
and-twenty hours when the vital force of all the noblest and
prettiest things that live is at its lowest, the three watchers looked
each at the blank faces of the other two, and all at the blank face of
Riderhood in his boat.
'Gaffer's boat, Gaffer in luck again, and yet no Gaffer!' So spake
Riderhood, staring disconsolate.
As if with one accord, they all turned their eyes towards the light
of the fire shining through the window. It was fainter and duller.
Perhaps fire, like the higher animal and vegetable life it helps to
sustain, has its greatest tendency towards death, when the night is
dying and the day is not yet born.
'If it was me that had the law of this here job in hand,' growled
Riderhood with a threatening shake of his head, 'blest if I wouldn't
lay hold of HER, at any rate!'
'Ay, but it is not you,' said Eugene. With something so suddenly
fierce in him that the informer returned submissively; 'Well, well,
well, t'other governor, I didn't say it was. A man may speak.'
'And vermin may be silent,' said Eugene. 'Hold your tongue, you
Astonished by his friend's unusual heat, Lightwood stared too, and
then said: 'What can have become of this man?'
'Can't imagine. Unless he dived overboard.' The informer wiped
his brow ruefully as he said it, sitting in his boat and always
'Did you make his boat fast?'
'She's fast enough till the tide runs back. I couldn't make her faster
than she is. Come aboard of mine, and see for your own-selves.'
There was a little backwardness in complying, for the freight
looked too much for the boat; but on Riderhood's protesting 'that he
had had half a dozen, dead and alive, in her afore now, and she
was nothing deep in the water nor down in the stern even then, to
speak of;' they carefully took their places, and trimmed the crazy
thing. While they were doing so, Riderhood still sat staring
'All right. Give way!' said Lightwood.
'Give way, by George!' repeated Riderhood, before shoving off. 'If
he's gone and made off any how Lawyer Lightwood, it's enough to
make me give way in a different manner. But he always WAS a
cheat, con-found him! He always was a infernal cheat, was Gaffer.
Nothing straightfor'ard, nothing on the square. So mean, so
underhanded. Never going through with a thing, nor carrying it
out like a man!'
'Hallo! Steady!' cried Eugene (he had recovered immediately on
embarking), as they bumped heavily against a pile; and then in a
lower voice reversed his late apostrophe by remarking ('I wish the
boat of my honourable and gallant friend may be endowed with
philanthropy enough not to turn bottom-upward and extinguish
us!) Steady, steady! Sit close, Mortimer. Here's the hail again.
See how it flies, like a troop of wild cats, at Mr Riderhood's eyes!'
Indeed he had the full benefit of it, and it so mauled him, though
he bent his head low and tried to present nothing but the mangy
cap to it, that he dropped under the lee of a tier of shipping, and
they lay there until it was over. The squall had come up, like a
spiteful messenger before the morning; there followed in its wake a
ragged tear of light which ripped the dark clouds until they showed
a great grey hole of day.
They were all shivering, and everything about them seemed to be
shivering; the river itself; craft, rigging, sails, such early smoke as
there yet was on the shore. Black with wet, and altered to the eye
by white patches of hail and sleet, the huddled buildings looked
lower than usual, as if they were cowering, and had shrunk with
the cold. Very little life was to be seen on either bank, windows
and doors were shut, and the staring black and white letters upon
wharves and warehouses 'looked,' said Eugene to Mortimer, 'like
inscriptions over the graves of dead businesses.'
As they glided slowly on, keeping under the shore and sneaking in
and out among the shipping by back-alleys of water, in a pilfering
way that seemed to be their boatman's normal manner of
progression, all the objects among which they crept were so huge
in contrast with their wretched boat, as to threaten to crush it. Not
a ship's hull, with its rusty iron links of cable run out of hawse-
holes long discoloured with the iron's rusty tears, but seemed to be
there with a fell intention. Not a figure-head but had the menacing
look of bursting forward to run them down. Not a sluice gate, or a
painted scale upon a post or wall, showing the depth of water, but
seemed to hint, like the dreadfully facetious Wolf in bed in
Grandmamma's cottage, 'That's to drown YOU in, my dears!' Not
a lumbering black barge, with its cracked and blistered side
impending over them, but seemed to suck at the river with a thirst
for sucking them under. And everything so vaunted the spoiling
influences of water--discoloured copper, rotten wood, honey-
combed stone, green dank deposit--that the after-consequences of
being crushed, sucked under, and drawn down, looked as ugly to
the imagination as the main event.
Some half-hour of this work, and Riderhood unshipped his sculls,
stood holding on to a barge, and hand over hand long-wise along
the barge's side gradually worked his boat under her head into a
secret little nook of scummy water. And driven into that nook, and
wedged as he had described, was Gaffer's boat; that boat with the
stain still in it, bearing some resemblance to a muffled human
'Now tell me I'm a liar!' said the honest man.
('With a morbid expectation,' murmured Eugene to Lightwood,
'that somebody is always going to tell him the truth.')
'This is Hexam's boat,' said Mr Inspector. 'I know her well.'
'Look at the broken scull. Look at the t'other scull gone. NOW tell
me I am a liar!' said the honest man.
Mr Inspector stepped into the boat. Eugene and Mortimer looked
'And see now!' added Riderhood, creeping aft, and showing a
stretched rope made fast there and towing overboard. 'Didn't I tell
you he was in luck again?'
'Haul in,' said Mr Inspector.
'Easy to say haul in,' answered Riderhood. 'Not so easy done. His
luck's got fouled under the keels of the barges. I tried to haul in
last time, but I couldn't. See how taut the line is!'
'I must have it up,' said Mr Inspector. 'I am going to take this
boat ashore, and his luck along with it. Try easy now.'
He tried easy now; but the luck resisted; wouldn't come.
'I mean to have it, and the boat too,' said Mr Inspector, playing the
But still the luck resisted; wouldn't come.
'Take care,' said Riderhood. 'You'll disfigure. Or pull asunder
'I am not going to do either, not even to your Grandmother,' said
Mr Inspector; 'but I mean to have it. Come!' he added, at once
persuasively and with authority to the hidden object in the water,
as he played the line again; 'it's no good this sort of game, you
know. You MUST come up. I mean to have you.'
There was so much virtue in this distinctly and decidedly meaning
to have it, that it yielded a little, even while the line was played.
'I told you so,' quoth Mr Inspector, pulling off his outer coat, and
leaning well over the stern with a will. 'Come!'
It was an awful sort of fishing, but it no more disconcerted Mr
Inspector than if he had been fishing in a punt on a summer
evening by some soothing weir high up the peaceful river. After
certain minutes, and a few directions to the rest to 'ease her a little
for'ard,' and 'now ease her a trifle aft,' and the like, he said
composedly, 'All clear!' and the line and the boat came free
Accepting Lightwood's proffered hand to help him up, he then put
on his coat, and said to Riderhood, 'Hand me over those spare
sculls of yours, and I'll pull this in to the nearest stairs. Go ahead
you, and keep out in pretty open water, that I mayn't get fouled
His directions were obeyed, and they pulled ashore directly; two in
one boat, two in the other.
'Now,' said Mr Inspector, again to Riderhood, when they were all
on the slushy stones; 'you have had more practice in this than I
have had, and ought to be a better workman at it. Undo the tow-
rope, and we'll help you haul in.'
Riderhood got into the boat accordingly. It appeared as if he had
scarcely had a moment's time to touch the rope or look over the
stern, when he came scrambling back, as pale as the morning, and
'By the Lord, he's done me!'
'What do you mean?' they all demanded.
He pointed behind him at the boat, and gasped to that degree that
he dropped upon the stones to get his breath.
'Gaffer's done me. It's Gaffer!'
They ran to the rope, leaving him gasping there. Soon, the form of
the bird of prey, dead some hours, lay stretched upon the shore,
with a new blast storming at it and clotting the wet hair with hail-
Father, was that you calling me? Father! I thought I heard you call
me twice before! Words never to be answered, those, upon the
earth-side of the grave. The wind sweeps jeeringly over Father,
whips him with the frayed ends of his dress and his jagged hair,
tries to turn him where he lies stark on his back, and force his face
towards the rising sun, that he may be shamed the more. A lull,
and the wind is secret and prying with him; lifts and lets falls a
rag; hides palpitating under another rag; runs nimbly through his
hair and beard. Then, in a rush, it cruelly taunts him. Father, was
that you calling me? Was it you, the voiceless and the dead? Was
it you, thus buffeted as you lie here in a heap? Was it you, thus
baptized unto Death, with these flying impurities now flung upon
your face? Why not speak, Father? Soaking into this filthy ground
as you lie here, is your own shape. Did you never see such a shape
soaked into your boat? Speak, Father. Speak to us, the winds, the
only listeners left you!
'Now see,' said Mr Inspector, after mature deliberation: kneeling
on one knee beside the body, when they had stood looking down
on the drowned man, as he had many a time looked down on many
another man: 'the way of it was this. Of course you gentlemen
hardly failed to observe that he was towing by the neck and arms.'
They had helped to release the rope, and of course not.
'And you will have observed before, and you will observe now, that
this knot, which was drawn chock-tight round his neck by the
strain of his own arms, is a slip-knot': holding it up for
'Likewise you will have observed how he had run the other end of
this rope to his boat.'
It had the curves and indentations in it still, where it had been
twined and bound.
'Now see,' said Mr Inspector, 'see how it works round upon him.
It's a wild tempestuous evening when this man that was,' stooping
to wipe some hailstones out of his hair with an end of his own
drowned jacket, '--there! Now he's more like himself; though he's
badly bruised,--when this man that was, rows out upon the river on
his usual lay. He carries with him this coil of rope. He always
carries with him this coil of rope. It's as well known to me as he
was himself. Sometimes it lay in the bottom of his boat.
Sometimes he hung it loose round his neck. He was a light-dresser
was this man;--you see?' lifting the loose neckerchief over his
breast, and taking the opportunity of wiping the dead lips with it--
'and when it was wet, or freezing, or blew cold, he would hang
this coil of line round his neck. Last evening he does this. Worse
for him! He dodges about in his boat, does this man, till he gets
chilled. His hands,' taking up one of them, which dropped like a
leaden weight, 'get numbed. He sees some object that's in his way
of business, floating. He makes ready to secure that object. He
unwinds the end of his coil that he wants to take some turns on in
his boat, and he takes turns enough on it to secure that it shan't run
out. He makes it too secure, as it happens. He is a little longer
about this than usual, his hands being numbed. His object drifts
up, before he is quite ready for it. He catches at it, thinks he'll
make sure of the contents of the pockets anyhow, in case he should
be parted from it, bends right over the stern, and in one of these
heavy squalls, or in the cross-swell of two steamers, or in not being
quite prepared, or through all or most or some, gets a lurch,
overbalances and goes head-foremost overboard. Now see! He
can swim, can this man, and instantly he strikes out. But in such
striking-out he tangles his arms, pulls strong on the slip-knot, and
it runs home. The object he had expected to take in tow, floats by,
and his own boat tows him dead, to where we found him, all
entangled in his own line. You'll ask me how I make out about
the pockets? First, I'll tell you more; there was silver in 'em. How
do I make that out? Simple and satisfactory. Because he's got it
here.' The lecturer held up the tightly clenched right hand.
'What is to be done with the remains?' asked Lightwood.
'If you wouldn't object to standing by him half a minute, sir,' was
the reply, 'I'll find the nearest of our men to come and take charge
of him;--I still call it HIM, you see,' said Mr Inspector, looking
back as he went, with a philosophical smile upon the force of
'Eugene,' said Lightwood and was about to add 'we may wait at a
little distance,' when turning his head he found that no Eugene was
He raised his voice and called 'Eugene! Holloa!' But no Eugene
It was broad daylight now, and he looked about. But no Eugene
was in all the view.
Mr Inspector speedily returning down the wooden stairs, with a
police constable, Lightwood asked him if he had seen his friend
leave them? Mr Inspector could not exactly say that he had seen
him go, but had noticed that he was restless.
'Singular and entertaining combination, sir, your friend.'
'I wish it had not been a part of his singular entertaining
combination to give me the slip under these dreary circumstances
at this time of the morning,' said Lightwood. 'Can we get anything
hot to drink?'
We could, and we did. In a public-house kitchen with a large fire.
We got hot brandy and water, and it revived us wonderfully. Mr
Inspector having to Mr Riderhood announced his official intention
of 'keeping his eye upon him', stood him in a corner of the
fireplace, like a wet umbrella, and took no further outward and
visible notice of that honest man, except ordering a separate service
of brandy and water for him: apparently out of the public funds.
As Mortimer Lightwood sat before the blazing fire, conscious of
drinking brandy and water then and there in his sleep, and yet at
one and the same time drinking burnt sherry at the Six Jolly
Fellowships, and lying under the boat on the river shore, and
sitting in the boat that Riderhood rowed, and listening to the
lecture recently concluded, and having to dine in the Temple with
an unknown man, who described himself as M. H. F. Eugene
Gaffer Harmon, and said he lived at Hailstorm,--as he passed
through these curious vicissitudes of fatigue and slumber, arranged
upon the scale of a dozen hours to the second, he became aware of
answering aloud a communication of pressing importance that had
never been made to him, and then turned it into a cough on
beholding Mr Inspector. For, he felt, with some natural
indignation, that that functionary might otherwise suspect him of
having closed his eyes, or wandered in his attention.
'Here just before us, you see,' said Mr Inspector.
'I see,' said Lightwood, with dignity.
'And had hot brandy and water too, you see,' said Mr Inspector,
'and then cut off at a great rate.'
'Who?' said Lightwood.
'Your friend, you know.'
'I know,' he replied, again with dignity.
After hearing, in a mist through which Mr Inspector loomed vague
and large, that the officer took upon himself to prepare the dead
man's daughter for what had befallen in the night, and generally
that he took everything upon himself, Mortimer Lightwood
stumbled in his sleep to a cab-stand, called a cab, and had entered
the army and committed a capital military offence and been tried
by court martial and found guilty and had arranged his affairs and
been marched out to be shot, before the door banged.
Hard work rowing the cab through the City to the Temple, for a
cup of from five to ten thousand pounds value, given by Mr Boffin;
and hard work holding forth at that immeasurable length to Eugene
(when he had been rescued with a rope from the running
pavement) for making off in that extraordinary manner! But he
offered such ample apologies, and was so very penitent, that when
Lightwood got out of the cab, he gave the driver a particular charge
to he careful of him. Which the driver (knowing there was no
other fare left inside) stared at prodigiously.
In short, the night's work had so exhausted and worn out this actor
in it, that he had become a mere somnambulist. He was too tired
to rest in his sleep, until he was even tired out of being too tired,
and dropped into oblivion. Late in the afternoon he awoke, and in
some anxiety sent round to Eugene's lodging hard by, to inquire if
he were up yet?
Oh yes, he was up. In fact, he had not been to bed. He had just
come home. And here he was, close following on the heels of the
'Why what bloodshot, draggled, dishevelled spectacle is this!' cried
'Are my feathers so very much rumpled?' said Eugene, coolly going
up to the looking-glass. They ARE rather out of sorts. But
consider. Such a night for plumage!'
'Such a night?' repeated Mortimer. 'What became of you in the
'My dear fellow,' said Eugene, sitting on his bed, 'I felt that we had
bored one another so long, that an unbroken continuance of those
relations must inevitably terminate in our flying to opposite points
of the earth. I also felt that I had committed every crime in the
Newgate Calendar. So, for mingled considerations of friendship
and felony, I took a walk.'
TWO NEW SERVANTS
Mr and Mrs Boffin sat after breakfast, in the Bower, a prey to
prosperity. Mr Boffin's face denoted Care and Complication.
Many disordered papers were before him, and he looked at them
about as hopefully as an innocent civilian might look at a crowd of
troops whom he was required at five minutes' notice to manoeuvre
and review. He had been engaged in some attempts to make notes
of these papers; but being troubled (as men of his stamp often are)
with an exceedingly distrustful and corrective thumb, that busy
member had so often interposed to smear his notes, that they were
little more legible than the various impressions of itself; which
blurred his nose and forehead. It is curious to consider, in such a
case as Mr Boffin's, what a cheap article ink is, and how far it may
be made to go. As a grain of musk will scent a drawer for many
years, and still lose nothing appreciable of its original weight, so a
halfpenny-worth of ink would blot Mr Boffin to the roots of his
hair and the calves of his legs, without inscribing a line on the
paper before him, or appearing to diminish in the inkstand.
Mr Boffin was in such severe literary difficulties that his eyes were
prominent and fixed, and his breathing was stertorous, when, to
the great relief of Mrs Boffin, who observed these symptoms with
alarm, the yard bell rang.
'Who's that, I wonder!' said Mrs Boffin.
Mr Boffin drew a long breath, laid down his pen, looked at his
notes as doubting whether he had the pleasure of their
acquaintance, and appeared, on a second perusal of their
countenances, to be confirmed in his impression that he had not,
when there was announced by the hammer-headed young man:
'Oh!' said Mr Boffin. 'Oh indeed! Our and the Wilfers' Mutual
Friend, my dear. Yes. Ask him to come in.'
Mr Rokesmith appeared.
'Sit down, sir,' said Mr Boffin, shaking hands with him. 'Mrs
Boffin you're already acquainted with. Well, sir, I am rather
unprepared to see you, for, to tell you the truth, I've been so busy
with one thing and another, that I've not had time to turn your offer
'That's apology for both of us: for Mr Boffin, and for me as well,'
said the smiling Mrs Boffin. 'But Lor! we can talk it over now;
Mr Rokesmith bowed, thanked her, and said he hoped so.
'Let me see then,' resumed Mr Boffin, with his hand to his chin. 'It
was Secretary that you named; wasn't it?'
'I said Secretary,' assented Mr Rokesmith.
'It rather puzzled me at the time,' said Mr Boffin, 'and it rather
puzzled me and Mrs Boffin when we spoke of it afterwards,
because (not to make a mystery of our belief) we have always
believed a Secretary to be a piece of furniture, mostly of mahogany,
lined with green baize or leather, with a lot of little drawers in it.
Now, you won't think I take a liberty when I mention that you
certainly ain't THAT.'
Certainly not, said Mr Rokesmith. But he had used the word in
the sense of Steward.
'Why, as to Steward, you see,' returned Mr Boffin, with his hand
still to his chin, 'the odds are that Mrs Boffin and me may never go
upon the water. Being both bad sailors, we should want a Steward
if we did; but there's generally one provided.'
Mr Rokesmith again explained; defining the duties he sought to
undertake, as those of general superintendent, or manager, or
overlooker, or man of business.
'Now, for instance--come!' said Mr Boffin, in his pouncing way. 'If
you entered my employment, what would you do?'
'I would keep exact accounts of all the expenditure you sanctioned,
Mr Boffin. I would write your letters, under your direction. I
would transact your business with people in your pay or
employment. I would,' with a glance and a half-smile at the table,
'arrange your papers--'
Mr Boffin rubbed his inky ear, and looked at his wife.
'--And so arrange them as to have them always in order for
immediate reference, with a note of the contents of each outside it.'
'I tell you what,' said Mr Boffin, slowly crumpling his own blotted
note in his hand; 'if you'll turn to at these present papers, and see
what you can make of 'em, I shall know better what I can make of
No sooner said than done. Relinquishing his hat and gloves, Mr
Rokesmith sat down quietly at the table, arranged the open papers
into an orderly heap, cast his eyes over each in succession, folded
it, docketed it on the outside, laid it in a second heap, and, when
that second heap was complete and the first gone, took from his
pocket a piece of string and tied it together with a remarkably
dexterous hand at a running curve and a loop.
'Good!' said Mr Boffin. 'Very good! Now let us hear what they're
all about; will you be so good?'
John Rokesmith read his abstracts aloud. They were all about the
new house. Decorator's estimate, so much. Furniture estimate, so
much. Estimate for furniture of offices, so much. Coach-maker's
estimate, so much. Horse-dealer's estimate, so much. Harness-
maker's estimate, so much. Goldsmith's estimate, so much.
Total, so very much. Then came correspondence. Acceptance of
Mr Boffin's offer of such a date, and to such an effect. Rejection of
Mr Boffin's proposal of such a date and to such an effect.
Concerning Mr Boffin's scheme of such another date to such
another effect. All compact and methodical.
'Apple-pie order!' said Mr Boffin, after checking off each
inscription with his hand, like a man beating time. 'And whatever
you do with your ink, I can't think, for you're as clean as a whistle
after it. Now, as to a letter. Let's,' said Mr Boffin, rubbing his
hands in his pleasantly childish admiration, 'let's try a letter next.'
'To whom shall it be addressed, Mr Boffin?'
Mr Rokesmith quickly wrote, and then read aloud:
'"Mr Boffin presents his compliments to Mr John Rokesmith, and
begs to say that he has decided on giving Mr John Rokesmith a
trial in the capacity he desires to fill. Mr Boffin takes Mr John
Rokesmith at his word, in postponing to some indefinite period,
the consideration of salary. It is quite understood that Mr Boffin is
in no way committed on that point. Mr Boffin has merely to add,
that he relies on Mr John Rokesmith's assurance that he will be
faithful and serviceable. Mr John Rokesmith will please enter on
his duties immediately."'
'Well! Now, Noddy!' cried Mrs Boffin, clapping her hands, 'That
IS a good one!'
Mr Boffin was no less delighted; indeed, in his own bosom, he
regarded both the composition itself and the device that had given
birth to it, as a very remarkable monument of human ingenuity.
'And I tell you, my deary,' said Mrs Boffin, 'that if you don't close
with Mr Rokesmith now at once, and if you ever go a muddling
yourself again with things never meant nor made for you, you'll
have an apoplexy--besides iron-moulding your linen--and you'll
break my heart.'
Mr Boffin embraced his spouse for these words of wisdom, and
then, congratulating John Rokesmith on the brilliancy of his
achievements, gave him his hand in pledge of their new relations.
So did Mrs Boffin.
'Now,' said Mr Boffin, who, in his frankness, felt that it did not
become him to have a gentleman in his employment five minutes,
without reposing some confidence in him, 'you must be let a little
more into our affairs, Rokesmith. I mentioned to you, when I
made your acquaintance, or I might better say when you made
mine, that Mrs Boffin's inclinations was setting in the way of
Fashion, but that I didn't know how fashionable we might or might
not grow. Well! Mrs Boffin has carried the day, and we're going
in neck and crop for Fashion.'
'I rather inferred that, sir,' replied John Rokesmith, 'from the scale
on which your new establishment is to be maintained.'
'Yes,' said Mr Boffin, 'it's to be a Spanker. The fact is, my literary
man named to me that a house with which he is, as I may say,
connected--in which he has an interest--'
'As property?' inquired John Rokesmith.
'Why no,' said Mr Boffin, 'not exactly that; a sort of a family tie.'
'Association?' the Secretary suggested.
'Ah!' said Mr Boffin. 'Perhaps. Anyhow, he named to me that the
house had a board up, "This Eminently Aristocratic Mansion to be
let or sold." Me and Mrs Boffin went to look at it, and finding it
beyond a doubt Eminently Aristocratic (though a trifle high and
dull, which after all may be part of the same thing) took it. My
literary man was so friendly as to drop into a charming piece of
poetry on that occasion, in which he complimented Mrs Boffin on
coming into possession of--how did it go, my dear?'
Mrs Boffin replied:
'"The gay, the gay and festive scene,
The halls, the halls of dazzling light."'
'That's it! And it was made neater by there really being two halls
in the house, a front 'un and a back 'un, besides the servants'. He
likewise dropped into a very pretty piece of poetry to be sure,
respecting the extent to which he would be willing to put himself
out of the way to bring Mrs Boffin round, in case she should ever
get low in her spirits in the house. Mrs Boffin has a wonderful
memory. Will you repeat it, my dear?'
Mrs Boffin complied, by reciting the verses in which this obliging
offer had been made, exactly as she had received them.
'"I'll tell thee how the maiden wept, Mrs Boffin,
When her true love was slain ma'am,
And how her broken spirit slept, Mrs Boffin,
And never woke again ma'am.
I'll tell thee (if agreeable to Mr Boffin) how the steed drew
And left his lord afar;
And if my tale (which I hope Mr Boffin might excuse) should
make you sigh,
I'll strike the light guitar."'
'Correct to the letter!' said Mr Boffin. 'And I consider that the
poetry brings us both in, in a beautiful manner.'
The effect of the poem on the Secretary being evidently to astonish
him, Mr Boffin was confirmed in his high opinion of it, and was
'Now, you see, Rokesmith,' he went on, 'a literary man--WITH a
wooden leg--is liable to jealousy. I shall therefore cast about for
comfortable ways and means of not calling up Wegg's jealousy,
but of keeping you in your department, and keeping him in his.'
'Lor!' cried Mrs Boffin. 'What I say is, the world's wide enough for
all of us!'
'So it is, my dear,' said Mr Boffin, 'when not literary. But when so,
not so. And I am bound to bear in mind that I took Wegg on, at a
time when I had no thought of being fashionable or of leaving the
Bower. To let him feel himself anyways slighted now, would be to
be guilty of a meanness, and to act like having one's head turned
by the halls of dazzling light. Which Lord forbid! Rokesmith,
what shall we say about your living in the house?'
'In this house?'
'No, no. I have got other plans for this house. In the new house?'
'That will be as you please, Mr Boffin. I hold myself quite at your
disposal. You know where I live at present.'
'Well!' said Mr Boffin, after considering the point; 'suppose you
keep as you are for the present, and we'll decide by-and-by. You'll
begin to take charge at once, of all that's going on in the new
house, will you?'
'Most willingly. I will begin this very day. Will you give me the
Mr Boffin repeated it, and the Secretary wrote it down in his
pocket-book. Mrs Boffin took the opportunity of his being so
engaged, to get a better observation of his face than she had yet
taken. It impressed her in his favour, for she nodded aside to Mr
Boffin, 'I like him.'
'I will see directly that everything is in train, Mr Boffin.'
'Thank'ee. Being here, would you care at all to look round the
'I should greatly like it. I have heard so much of its story.'
'Come!' said Mr Boffin. And he and Mrs Boffin led the way.
A gloomy house the Bower, with sordid signs on it of having been,
through its long existence as Harmony Jail, in miserly holding.
Bare of paint, bare of paper on the walls, bare of furniture, bare of
experience of human life. Whatever is built by man for man's
occupation, must, like natural creations, fulfil the intention of its
existence, or soon perish. This old house had wasted--more from
desuetude than it would have wasted from use, twenty years for
A certain leanness falls upon houses not sufficiently imbued with
life (as if they were nourished upon it), which was very noticeable
here. The staircase, balustrades, and rails, had a spare look--an air
of being denuded to the bone--which the panels of the walls and
the jambs of the doors and windows also bore. The scanty
moveables partook of it; save for the cleanliness of the place, the
dust--into which they were all resolving would have lain thick on
the floors; and those, both in colour and in grain, were worn like
old faces that had kept much alone.
The bedroom where the clutching old man had lost his grip on life,
was left as he had left it. There was the old grisly four-post
bedstead, without hangings, and with a jail-like upper rim of iron
and spikes; and there was the old patch-work counterpane. There
was the tight-clenched old bureau, receding atop like a bad and
secret forehead; there was the cumbersome old table with twisted
legs, at the bed-side; and there was the box upon it, in which the
will had lain. A few old chairs with patch-work covers, under
which the more precious stuff to be preserved had slowly lost its
quality of colour without imparting pleasure to any eye, stood
against the wall. A hard family likeness was on all these things.
'The room was kept like this, Rokesmith,' said Mr Boffin, 'against
the son's return. In short, everything in the house was kept exactly
as it came to us, for him to see and approve. Even now, nothing is
changed but our own room below-stairs that you have just left.
When the son came home for the last time in his life, and for the
last time in his life saw his father, it was most likely in this room
that they met.'
As the Secretary looked all round it, his eyes rested on a side door
in a corner.
'Another staircase,' said Mr Boffin, unlocking the door, 'leading
down into the yard. We'll go down this way, as you may like to
see the yard, and it's all in the road. When the son was a little
child, it was up and down these stairs that he mostly came and
went to his father. He was very timid of his father. I've seen him
sit on these stairs, in his shy way, poor child, many a time. Mr and
Mrs Boffin have comforted him, sitting with his little book on
these stairs, often.'
'Ah! And his poor sister too,' said Mrs Boffin. 'And here's the
sunny place on the white wall where they one day measured one
another. Their own little hands wrote up their names here, only
with a pencil; but the names are here still, and the poor dears gone
'We must take care of the names, old lady,' said Mr Boffin. 'We
must take care of the names. They shan't be rubbed out in our
time, nor yet, if we can help it, in the time after us. Poor little
'Ah, poor little children!' said Mrs Boffin.
They had opened the door at the bottom of the staircase giving on
the yard, and they stood in the sunlight, looking at the scrawl of the
two unsteady childish hands two or three steps up the staircase.
There was something in this simple memento of a blighted
childhood, and in the tenderness of Mrs Boffin, that touched the
Mr Boffin then showed his new man of business the Mounds, and
his own particular Mound which had been left him as his legacy
under the will before he acquired the whole estate.
'It would have been enough for us,' said Mr Boffin, 'in case it had
pleased God to spare the last of those two young lives and
sorrowful deaths. We didn't want the rest.'
At the treasures of the yard, and at the outside of the house, and at
the detached building which Mr Boffin pointed out as the residence
of himself and his wife during the many years of their service, the
Secretary looked with interest. It was not until Mr Boffin had
shown him every wonder of the Bower twice over, that he
remembered his having duties to discharge elsewhere.
'You have no instructions to give me, Mr Boffin, in reference to
'Not any, Rokesmith. No.'
'Might I ask, without seeming impertinent, whether you have any
intention of selling it?'
'Certainly not. In remembrance of our old master, our old master's
children, and our old service, me and Mrs Boffin mean to keep it
up as it stands.'
The Secretary's eyes glanced with so much meaning in them at the
Mounds, that Mr Boffin said, as if in answer to a remark:
'Ay, ay, that's another thing. I may sell THEM, though I should be
sorry to see the neighbourhood deprived of 'em too. It'll look but a
poor dead flat without the Mounds. Still I don't say that I'm going
to keep 'em always there, for the sake of the beauty of the
landscape. There's no hurry about it; that's all I say at present. I
ain't a scholar in much, Rokesmith, but I'm a pretty fair scholar in
dust. I can price the Mounds to a fraction, and I know how they
can be best disposed of; and likewise that they take no harm by
standing where they do. You'll look in to-morrow, will you be so
'Every day. And the sooner I can get you into your new house,
complete, the better you will be pleased, sir?'
'Well, it ain't that I'm in a mortal hurry,' said Mr Boffin; 'only
when you DO pay people for looking alive, it's as well to know
that they ARE looking alive. Ain't that your opinion?'
'Quite!' replied the Secretary; and so withdrew.
'Now,' said Mr Boffin to himself; subsiding into his regular series
of turns in the yard, 'if I can make it comfortable with Wegg, my
affairs will be going smooth.'
The man of low cunning had, of course, acquired a mastery over
the man of high simplicity. The mean man had, of course, got the
better of the generous man. How long such conquests last, is
another matter; that they are achieved, is every-day experience, not
even to be flourished away by Podsnappery itself. The
undesigning Boffin had become so far immeshed by the wily Wegg
that his mind misgave him he was a very designing man indeed in
purposing to do more for Wegg. It seemed to him (so skilful was
Wegg) that he was plotting darkly, when he was contriving to do
the very thing that Wegg was plotting to get him to do. And thus,
while he was mentally turning the kindest of kind faces on Wegg
this morning, he was not absolutely sure but that he might
somehow deserve the charge of turning his back on him.
For these reasons Mr Boffin passed but anxious hours until
evening came, and with it Mr Wegg, stumping leisurely to the
Roman Empire. At about this period Mr Boffin had become
profoundly interested in the fortunes of a great military leader
known to him as Bully Sawyers, but perhaps better known to fame
and easier of identification by the classical student, under the less
Britannic name of Belisarius. Even this general's career paled in
interest for Mr Boffin before the clearing of his conscience with
Wegg; and hence, when that literary gentleman had according to
custom eaten and drunk until he was all a-glow, and when he took
up his book with the usual chirping introduction, 'And now, Mr
Boffin, sir, we'll decline and we'll fall!' Mr Boffin stopped him.
'You remember, Wegg, when I first told you that I wanted to make
a sort of offer to you?'
'Let me get on my considering cap, sir,' replied that gentleman,
turning the open book face downward. 'When you first told me
that you wanted to make a sort of offer to me? Now let me think.'
(as if there were the least necessity) 'Yes, to be sure I do, Mr
Boffin. It was at my corner. To be sure it was! You had first
asked me whether I liked your name, and Candour had compelled
a reply in the negative case. I little thought then, sir, how familiar
that name would come to be!'
'I hope it will be more familiar still, Wegg.'
'Do you, Mr Boffin? Much obliged to you, I'm sure. Is it your
pleasure, sir, that we decline and we fall?' with a feint of taking up
'Not just yet awhile, Wegg. In fact, I have got another offer to
Mr Wegg (who had had nothing else in his mind for several
nights) took off his spectacles with an air of bland surprise.
'And I hope you'll like it, Wegg.'
'Thank you, sir,' returned that reticent individual. 'I hope it may
prove so. On all accounts, I am sure.' (This, as a philanthropic
'What do you think,' said Mr Boffin, 'of not keeping a stall,
'I think, sir,' replied Wegg, 'that I should like to be shown the
gentleman prepared to make it worth my while!'
'Here he is,' said Mr Boffin.
Mr Wegg was going to say, My Benefactor, and had said My
Bene, when a grandiloquent change came over him.
'No, Mr Boffin, not you sir. Anybody but you. Do not fear, Mr
Boffin, that I shall contaminate the premises which your gold has
bought, with MY lowly pursuits. I am aware, sir, that it would not
become me to carry on my little traffic under the windows of your
mansion. I have already thought of that, and taken my measures.
No need to be bought out, sir. Would Stepney Fields be
considered intrusive? If not remote enough, I can go remoter. In
the words of the poet's song, which I do not quite remember:
Thrown on the wide world, doom'd to wander and roam,
Bereft of my parents, bereft of a home,
A stranger to something and what's his name joy,
Behold little Edmund the poor Peasant boy.
--And equally,' said Mr Wegg, repairing the want of direct
application in the last line, 'behold myself on a similar footing!'
'Now, Wegg, Wegg, Wegg,' remonstrated the excellent Boffin.
'You are too sensitive.'
'I know I am, sir,' returned Wegg, with obstinate magnanimity. 'I
am acquainted with my faults. I always was, from a child, too
'But listen,' pursued the Golden Dustman; 'hear me out, Wegg.
You have taken it into your head that I mean to pension you off.'
'True, sir,' returned Wegg, still with an obstinate magnanimity. 'I
am acquainted with my faults. Far be it from me to deny them. I
HAVE taken it into my head.'
'But I DON'T mean it.'
The assurance seemed hardly as comforting to Mr Wegg, as Mr
Boffin intended it to be. Indeed, an appreciable elongation of his
visage might have been observed as he replied:
'Don't you, indeed, sir?'
'No,' pursued Mr Boffin; 'because that would express, as I
understand it, that you were not going to do anything to deserve
your money. But you are; you are.'
'That, sir,' replied Mr Wegg, cheering up bravely, 'is quite another
pair of shoes. Now, my independence as a man is again elevated.
Now, I no longer
Weep for the hour,
When to Boffinses bower,
The Lord of the valley with offers came;
Neither does the moon hide her light
From the heavens to-night,
And weep behind her clouds o'er any individual in the present
--Please to proceed, Mr Boffin.'
'Thank'ee, Wegg, both for your confidence in me and for your
frequent dropping into poetry; both of which is friendly. Well,
then; my idea is, that you should give up your stall, and that I
should put you into the Bower here, to keep it for us. It's a
pleasant spot; and a man with coals and candles and a pound a
week might be in clover here.'
'Hem! Would that man, sir--we will say that man, for the purposes
of argueyment;' Mr Wegg made a smiling demonstration of great
perspicuity here; 'would that man, sir, be expected to throw any
other capacity in, or would any other capacity be considered extra?
Now let us (for the purposes of argueyment) suppose that man to
be engaged as a reader: say (for the purposes of argunyment) in the
evening. Would that man's pay as a reader in the evening, be
added to the other amount, which, adopting your language, we will
call clover; or would it merge into that amount, or clover?'
'Well,' said Mr Boffin, 'I suppose it would be added.'
'I suppose it would, sir. You are right, sir. Exactly my own views,
Mr Boffin.' Here Wegg rose, and balancing himself on his wooden
leg, fluttered over his prey with extended hand. 'Mr Boffin,
consider it done. Say no more, sir, not a word more. My stall and
I are for ever parted. The collection of ballads will in future be
reserved for private study, with the object of making poetry
tributary'--Wegg was so proud of having found this word, that he
said it again, with a capital letter--'Tributary, to friendship. Mr
Boffin, don't allow yourself to be made uncomfortable by the pang
it gives me to part from my stock and stall. Similar emotion was
undergone by my own father when promoted for his merits from
his occupation as a waterman to a situation under Government.
His Christian name was Thomas. His words at the time (I was
then an infant, but so deep was their impression on me, that I
committed them to memory) were:
Then farewell my trim-built wherry,
Oars and coat and badge farewell!
Never more at Chelsea Ferry,
Shall your Thomas take a spell!
--My father got over it, Mr Boffin, and so shall I.'
While delivering these valedictory observations, Wegg continually
disappointed Mr Boffin of his hand by flourishing it in the air. He
now darted it at his patron, who took it, and felt his mind relieved
of a great weight: observing that as they had arranged their joint
affairs so satisfactorily, he would now he glad to look into those
of Bully Sawyers. Which, indeed, had been left over-night in a
very unpromising posture, and for whose impending expedition
against the Persians the weather had been by no means favourable
Mr Wegg resumed his spectacles therefore. But Sawyers was not
to be of the party that night; for, before Wegg had found his place,
Mrs Boffin's tread was heard upon the stairs, so unusually heavy
and hurried, that Mr Boffin would have started up at the sound,
anticipating some occurrence much out of the common course,
even though she had not also called to him in an agitated tone.
Mr Boffin hurried out, and found her on the dark staircase,
panting, with a lighted candle in her hand.
'What's the matter, my dear?'
'I don't know; I don't know; but I wish you'd come up-stairs.'
Much surprised, Mr Boffin went up stairs and accompanied Mrs
Boffin into their own room: a second large room on the same floor
as the room in which the late proprietor had died. Mr Boffin
looked all round him, and saw nothing more unusual than various
articles of folded linen on a large chest, which Mrs Boffin had been
'What is it, my dear? Why, you're frightened! YOU frightened?'
'I am not one of that sort certainly,' said Mrs Boffin, as she sat
down in a chair to recover herself, and took her husband's arm; 'but
it's very strange!'
'What is, my dear?'
'Noddy, the faces of the old man and the two children are all over
the house to-night.'
'My dear?' exclaimed Mr Boffin. But not without a certain
uncomfortable sensation gliding down his back.
'I know it must sound foolish, and yet it is so.'
'Where did you think you saw them?'
'I don't know that I think I saw them anywhere. I felt them.'
'No. Felt them in the air. I was sorting those things on the chest,
and not thinking of the old man or the children, but singing to
myself, when all in a moment I felt there was a face growing out of
'What face?' asked her husband, looking about him.
'For a moment it was the old man's, and then it got younger. For a
moment it was both the children's, and then it got older. For a
moment it was a strange face, and then it was all the faces.'
'And then it was gone?'
'Yes; and then it was gone.'
'Where were you then, old lady?'
'Here, at the chest. Well; I got the better of it, and went on sorting,
and went on singing to myself. "Lor!" I says, "I'll think of
something else--something comfortable--and put it out of my
head." So I thought of the new house and Miss Bella Wilfer, and
was thinking at a great rate with that sheet there in my hand, when
all of a sudden, the faces seemed to be hidden in among the folds
of it and I let it drop.'
As it still lay on the floor where it had fallen, Mr Boffin picked it
up and laid it on the chest.
'And then you ran down stairs?'
'No. I thought I'd try another room, and shake it off. I says to
myself, "I'll go and walk slowly up and down the old man's room
three times, from end to end, and then I shall have conquered it." I
went in with the candle in my hand; but the moment I came near
the bed, the air got thick with them.'
'With the faces?'
'Yes, and I even felt that they were in the dark behind the side-
door, and on the little staircase, floating away into the yard. Then,
I called you.'
Mr Boffin, lost in amazement, looked at Mrs Boffin. Mrs Boffin,
lost in her own fluttered inability to make this out, looked at Mr
'I think, my dear,' said the Golden Dustman, 'I'll at once get rid of
Wegg for the night, because he's coming to inhabit the Bower, and
it might be put into his head or somebody else's, if he heard this
and it got about that the house is haunted. Whereas we know
better. Don't we?'
'I never had the feeling in the house before,' said Mrs Boffin; 'and I
have been about it alone at all hours of the night. I have been in
the house when Death was in it, and I have been in the house when
Murder was a new part of its adventures, and I never had a fright
in it yet.'
'And won't again, my dear,' said Mr Boffin. 'Depend upon it, it
comes of thinking and dwelling on that dark spot.'
'Yes; but why didn't it come before?' asked Mrs Boffin.
This draft on Mr Boffin's philosophy could only be met by that
gentleman with the remark that everything that is at all, must begin
at some time. Then, tucking his wife's arm under his own, that she
might not be left by herself to be troubled again, he descended to
release Wegg. Who, being something drowsy after his plentiful
repast, and constitutionally of a shirking temperament, was well
enough pleased to stump away, without doing what he had come to
do, and was paid for doing.
Mr Boffin then put on his hat, and Mrs Boffin her shawl; and the
pair, further provided with a bunch of keys and a lighted lantern,
went all over the dismal house--dismal everywhere, but in their
own two rooms--from cellar to cock-loft. Not resting satisfied with
giving that much chace to Mrs Boffin's fancies, they pursued them
into the yard and outbuildings, and under the Mounds. And
setting the lantern, when all was done, at the foot of one of the
Mounds, they comfortably trotted to and fro for an evening walk, to
the end that the murky cobwebs in Mrs Boffin's brain might be
There, my dear!' said Mr Boffin when they came in to supper.
'That was the treatment, you see. Completely worked round,
'Yes, deary,' said Mrs Boffin, laying aside her shawl. 'I'm not
nervous any more. I'm not a bit troubled now. I'd go anywhere
about the house the same as ever. But--'
'Eh!' said Mr Boffin.
'But I've only to shut my eyes.'
'And what then?'
'Why then,' said Mrs Boffin, speaking with her eyes closed, and
her left hand thoughtfully touching her brow, 'then, there they are!
The old man's face, and it gets younger. The two children's faces,
and they get older. A face that I don't know. And then all the
Opening her eyes again, and seeing her husband's face across the
table, she leaned forward to give it a pat on the cheek, and sat
down to supper, declaring it to be the best face in the world.
MINDERS AND RE-MINDERS
The Secretary lost no time in getting to work, and his vigilance and
method soon set their mark on the Golden Dustman's affairs. His
earnestness in determining to understand the length and breadth
and depth of every piece of work submitted to him by his employer,
was as special as his despatch in transacting it. He accepted no
information or explanation at second hand, but made himself the
master of everything confided to him.
One part of the Secretary's conduct, underlying all the rest, might
have been mistrusted by a man with a better knowledge of men
than the Golden Dustman had. The Secretary was as far from
being inquisitive or intrusive as Secretary could be, but nothing
less than a complete understanding of the whole of the affairs
would content him. It soon became apparent (from the knowledge
with which he set out) that he must have been to the office where
the Harmon will was registered, and must have read the will. He
anticipated Mr Boffin's consideration whether he should be
advised with on this or that topic, by showing that he already knew
of it and understood it. He did this with no attempt at
concealment, seeming to be satisfied that it was part of his duty to
have prepared himself at all attainable points for its utmost
This might--let it be repeated--have awakened some little vague
mistrust in a man more worldly-wise than the Golden Dustman.
On the other hand, the Secretary was discerning, discreet, and
silent, though as zealous as if the affairs had been his own. He
showed no love of patronage or the command of money, but
distinctly preferred resigning both to Mr Boffin. If, in his limited
sphere, he sought power, it was the power of knowledge; the
power derivable from a perfect comprehension of his business.
As on the Secretary's face there was a nameless cloud, so on his
manner there was a shadow equally indefinable. It was not that he
was embarrassed, as on that first night with the Wilfer family; he
was habitually unembarrassed now, and yet the something
remained. It was not that his manner was bad, as on that occasion;
it was now very good, as being modest, gracious, and ready. Yet
the something never left it. It has been written of men who have
undergone a cruel captivity, or who have passed through a terrible
strait, or who in self-preservation have killed a defenceless fellow-
creature, that the record thereof has never faded from their
countenances until they died. Was there any such record here?
He established a temporary office for himself in the new house, and
all went well under his hand, with one singular exception. He
manifestly objected to communicate with Mr Boffin's solicitor.
Two or three times, when there was some slight occasion for his
doing so, he transferred the task to Mr Boffin; and his evasion of it
soon became so curiously apparent, that Mr Boffin spoke to him on
the subject of his reluctance.
'It is so,' the Secretary admitted. 'I would rather not.'
Had he any personal objection to Mr Lightwood?
'I don't know him.'
Had he suffered from law-suits?
'Not more than other men,' was his short answer.
Was he prejudiced against the race of lawyers?
'No. But while I am in your employment, sir, I would rather he
excused from going between the lawyer and the client. Of course if
you press it, Mr Boffin, I am ready to comply. But I should take it
as a great favour if you would not press it without urgent occasion.'
Now, it could not be said that there WAS urgent occasion, for
Lightwood retained no other affairs in his hands than such as still
lingered and languished about the undiscovered criminal, and such
as arose out of the purchase of the house. Many other matters that
might have travelled to him, now stopped short at the Secretary,
under whose administration they were far more expeditiously and
satisfactorily disposed of than they would have been if they had got
into Young Blight's domain. This the Golden Dustman quite
understood. Even the matter immediately in hand was of very little
moment as requiring personal appearance on the Secretary's part,
for it amounted to no more than this:--The death of Hexam
rendering the sweat of the honest man's brow unprofitable, the
honest man had shufflingly decided to moisten his brow for
nothing, with that severe exertion which is known in legal circles
as swearing your way through a stone wall. Consequently, that
new light had gone sputtering out. But, the airing of the old facts
had led some one concerned to suggest that it would be well before
they were reconsigned to their gloomy shelf--now probably for
ever--to induce or compel that Mr Julius Handford to reappear and
be questioned. And all traces of Mr Julius Handford being lost,
Lightwood now referred to his client for authority to seek him
through public advertisement.
'Does your objection go to writing to Lightwood, Rokesmith?'
'Not in the least, sir.'
'Then perhaps you'll write him a line, and say he is free to do what
he likes. I don't think it promises.'
'I don't think it promises,' said the Secretary.
'Still, he may do what he likes.'
'I will write immediately. Let me thank you for so considerately
yielding to my disinclination. It may seem less unreasonable, if I
avow to you that although I don't know Mr Lightwood, I have a
disagreeable association connected with him. It is not his fault; he
is not at all to blame for it, and does not even know my name.'
Mr Boffin dismissed the matter with a nod or two. The letter was
written, and next day Mr Julius Handford was advertised for. He
was requested to place himself in communication with Mr
Mortimer Lightwood, as a possible means of furthering the ends of
justice, and a reward was offered to any one acquainted with his
whereabout who would communicate the same to the said Mr
Mortimer Lightwood at his office in the Temple. Every day for six
weeks this advertisement appeared at the head of all the
newspapers, and every day for six weeks the Secretary, when he
saw it, said to himself; in the tone in which he had said to his
employer,--'I don't think it promises!'
Among his first occupations the pursuit of that orphan wanted by
Mrs Boffin held a conspicuous place. From the earliest moment of
his engagement he showed a particular desire to please her, and,
knowing her to have this object at heart, he followed it up with
unwearying alacrity and interest.
Mr and Mrs Milvey had found their search a difficult one. Either
an eligible orphan was of the wrong sex (which almost always
happened) or was too old, or too young, or too sickly, or too dirty,
or too much accustomed to the streets, or too likely to run away; or,
it was found impossible to complete the philanthropic transaction
without buying the orphan. For, the instant it became known that
anybody wanted the orphan, up started some affectionate relative
of the orphan who put a price upon the orphan's head. The
suddenness of an orphan's rise in the market was not to be
paralleled by the maddest records of the Stock Exchange. He
would be at five thousand per cent discount out at nurse making a
mud pie at nine in the morning, and (being inquired for) would go
up to five thousand per cent premium before noon. The market
was 'rigged' in various artful ways. Counterfeit stock got into
circulation. Parents boldly represented themselves as dead, and
brought their orphans with them. Genuine orphan-stock was
surreptitiously withdrawn from the market. It being announced, by
emissaries posted for the purpose, that Mr and Mrs Milvey were
coming down the court, orphan scrip would be instantly concealed,
and production refused, save on a condition usually stated by the
brokers as 'a gallon of beer'. Likewise, fluctuations of a wild and
South-Sea nature were occasioned, by orphan-holders keeping
back, and then rushing into the market a dozen together. But, the
uniform principle at the root of all these various operations was
bargain and sale; and that principle could not be recognized by Mr
and Mrs Milvey.
At length, tidings were received by the Reverend Frank of a
charming orphan to be found at Brentford. One of the deceased
parents (late his parishioners) had a poor widowed grandmother in
that agreeable town, and she, Mrs Betty Higden, had carried off the
orphan with maternal care, but could not afford to keep him.
The Secretary proposed to Mrs Boffin, either to go down himself
and take a preliminary survey of this orphan, or to drive her down,
that she might at once form her own opinion. Mrs Boffin
preferring the latter course, they set off one morning in a hired
phaeton, conveying the hammer-headed young man behind them.
The abode of Mrs Betty Higden was not easy to find, lying in such
complicated back settlements of muddy Brentford that they left
their equipage at the sign of the Three Magpies, and went in search
of it on foot. After many inquiries and defeats, there was pointed
out to them in a lane, a very small cottage residence, with a board
across the open doorway, hooked on to which board by the armpits
was a young gentleman of tender years, angling for mud with a
headless wooden horse and line. In this young sportsman,
distinguished by a crisply curling auburn head and a bluff
countenance, the Secretary descried the orphan.
It unfortunately happened as they quickened their pace, that the
orphan, lost to considerations of personal safety in the ardour of the
moment, overbalanced himself and toppled into the street. Being
an orphan of a chubby conformation, he then took to rolling, and
had rolled into the gutter before they could come up. From the
gutter he was rescued by John Rokesmith, and thus the first
meeting with Mrs Higden was inaugurated by the awkward
circumstance of their being in possession--one would say at first
sight unlawful possession--of the orphan, upside down and purple
in the countenance. The board across the doorway too, acting as a
trap equally for the feet of Mrs Higden coming out, and the feet of
Mrs Boffin and John Rokesmith going in, greatly increased the
difficulty of the situation: to which the cries of the orphan imparted
a lugubrious and inhuman character.
At first, it was impossible to explain, on account of the orphan's
'holding his breath': a most terrific proceeding, super-inducing in
the orphan lead-colour rigidity and a deadly silence, compared
with which his cries were music yielding the height of enjoyment.
But as he gradually recovered, Mrs Boffin gradually introduced
herself; and smiling peace was gradually wooed back to Mrs Betty
It was then perceived to be a small home with a large mangle in it,
at the handle of which machine stood a very long boy, with a very
little head, and an open mouth of disproportionate capacity that
seemed to assist his eyes in staring at the visitors. In a corner
below the mangle, on a couple of stools, sat two very little
children: a boy and a girl; and when the very long boy, in an
interval of staring, took a turn at the mangle, it was alarming to see
how it lunged itself at those two innocents, like a catapult designed
for their destruction, harmlessly retiring when within an inch of
their heads. The room was clean and neat. It had a brick floor,
and a window of diamond panes, and a flounce hanging below the
chimney-piece, and strings nailed from bottom to top outside the
window on which scarlet-beans were to grow in the coming season
if the Fates were propitious. However propitious they might have
been in the seasons that were gone, to Betty Higden in the matter
of beans, they had not been very favourable in the matter of coins;
for it was easy to see that she was poor.
She was one of those old women, was Mrs Betty Higden, who by
dint of an indomitable purpose and a strong constitution fight out
many years, though each year has come with its new knock-down
blows fresh to the fight against her, wearied by it; an active old
woman, with a bright dark eye and a resolute face, yet quite a
tender creature too; not a logically-reasoning woman, but God is
good, and hearts may count in Heaven as high as heads.
'Yes sure!' said she, when the business was opened, 'Mrs Milvey
had the kindness to write to me, ma'am, and I got Sloppy to read it.
It was a pretty letter. But she's an affable lady.'
The visitors glanced at the long boy, who seemed to indicate by a
broader stare of his mouth and eyes that in him Sloppy stood
'For I aint, you must know,' said Betty, 'much of a hand at reading
writing-hand, though I can read my Bible and most print. And I
do love a newspaper. You mightn't think it, but Sloppy is a
beautiful reader of a newspaper. He do the Police in different
The visitors again considered it a point of politeness to look at
Sloppy, who, looking at them, suddenly threw back his head,
extended his mouth to its utmost width, and laughed loud and
long. At this the two innocents, with their brains in that apparent
danger, laughed, and Mrs Higden laughed, and the orphan
laughed, and then the visitors laughed. Which was more cheerful
Then Sloppy seeming to be seized with an industrious mania or
fury, turned to at the mangle, and impelled it at the heads of the
innocents with such a creaking and rumbling, that Mrs Higden
'The gentlefolks can't hear themselves speak, Sloppy. Bide a bit,
bide a bit!'
'Is that the dear child in your lap?' said Mrs Boffin.
'Yes, ma'am, this is Johnny.'
'Johnny, too!' cried Mrs Boffin, turning to the Secretary; 'already
Johnny! Only one of the two names left to give him! He's a pretty
With his chin tucked down in his shy childish manner, he was
looking furtively at Mrs Boffin out of his blue eyes, and reaching
his fat dimpled hand up to the lips of the old woman, who was
kissing it by times.
'Yes, ma'am, he's a pretty boy, he's a dear darling boy, he's the
child of my own last left daughter's daughter. But she's gone the
way of all the rest.'
'Those are not his brother and sister?' said Mrs Boffin. 'Oh, dear
no, ma'am. Those are Minders.'
'Minders?' the Secretary repeated.
'Left to he Minded, sir. I keep a Minding-School. I can take only
three, on account of the Mangle. But I love children, and Four-
pence a week is Four-pence. Come here, Toddles and Poddles.'
Toddles was the pet-name of the boy; Poddles of the girl. At their
little unsteady pace, they came across the floor, hand-in-hand, as if
they were traversing an extremely difficult road intersected by
brooks, and, when they had had their heads patted by Mrs Betty
Higden, made lunges at the orphan, dramatically representing an
attempt to bear him, crowing, into captivity and slavery. All the
three children enjoyed this to a delightful extent, and the
sympathetic Sloppy again laughed long and loud. When it was
discreet to stop the play, Betty Higden said 'Go to your seats
Toddles and Poddles,' and they returned hand-in-hand across
country, seeming to find the brooks rather swollen by late rains.
'And Master--or Mister--Sloppy?' said the Secretary, in doubt
whether he was man, boy, or what.
'A love-child,' returned Betty Higden, dropping her voice; 'parents
never known; found in the street. He was brought up in the--' with
a shiver of repugnance, '--the House.'
'The Poor-house?' said the Secretary.
Mrs Higden set that resolute old face of hers, and darkly nodded
'You dislike the mention of it.'
'Dislike the mention of it?' answered the old woman. 'Kill me
sooner than take me there. Throw this pretty child under cart-
horses feet and a loaded waggon, sooner than take him there.
Come to us and find us all a-dying, and set a light to us all where
we lie and let us all blaze away with the house into a heap of
cinders sooner than move a corpse of us there!'
A surprising spirit in this lonely woman after so many years of
hard working, and hard living, my Lords and Gentlemen and
Honourable Boards! What is it that we call it in our grandiose
speeches? British independence, rather perverted? Is that, or
something like it, the ring of the cant?
'Do I never read in the newspapers,' said the dame, fondling the
child--'God help me and the like of me!--how the worn-out people
that do come down to that, get driven from post to pillar and pillar
to post, a-purpose to tire them out! Do I never read how they are
put off, put off, put off--how they are grudged, grudged, grudged,
the shelter, or the doctor, or the drop of physic, or the bit of bread?
Do I never read how they grow heartsick of it and give it up, after
having let themsleves drop so low, and how they after all die out
for want of help? Then I say, I hope I can die as well as another,
and I'll die without that disgrace.'
Absolutely impossible my Lords and Gentlemen and Honourable
Boards, by any stretch of legislative wisdom to set these perverse
people right in their logic?
'Johnny, my pretty,' continued old Betty, caressing the child, and
rather mourning over it than speaking to it, 'your old Granny Betty
is nigher fourscore year than threescore and ten. She never begged
nor had a penny of the Union money in all her life. She paid scot
and she paid lot when she had money to pay; she worked when she
could, and she starved when she must. You pray that your Granny
may have strength enough left her at the last (she's strong for an
old one, Johnny), to get up from her bed and run and hide herself
and swown to death in a hole, sooner than fall into the hands of
those Cruel Jacks we read of that dodge and drive, and worry and
weary, and scorn and shame, the decent poor.'
A brilliant success, my Lords and Gentlemen and Honourable
Boards to have brought it to this in the minds of the best of the
poor! Under submission, might it be worth thinking of at any odd
The fright and abhorrence that Mrs Betty Higden smoothed out of
her strong face as she ended this diversion, showed how seriously
she had meant it.
'And does he work for you?' asked the Secretary, gently bringing
the discourse back to Master or Mister Sloppy.
'Yes,' said Betty with a good-humoured smile and nod of the head.
'And well too.'
'Does he live here?'
'He lives more here than anywhere. He was thought to be no
better than a Natural, and first come to me as a Minder. I made
interest with Mr Blogg the Beadle to have him as a Minder, seeing
him by chance up at church, and thinking I might do something
with him. For he was a weak ricketty creetur then.'
'Is he called by his right name?'
'Why, you see, speaking quite correctly, he has no right name. I
always understood he took his name from being found on a Sloppy
'He seems an amiable fellow.'
'Bless you, sir, there's not a bit of him,' returned Betty, 'that's not
amiable. So you may judge how amiable he is, by running your
eye along his heighth.'
Of an ungainly make was Sloppy. Too much of him longwise, too
little of him broadwise, and too many sharp angles of him angle-
wise. One of those shambling male human creatures, born to be
indiscreetly candid in the revelation of buttons; every button he had
about him glaring at the public to a quite preternatural extent. A
considerable capital of knee and elbow and wrist and ankle, had
Sloppy, and he didn't know how to dispose of it to the best
advantage, but was always investing it in wrong securities, and so
getting himself into embarrassed circumstances. Full-Private
Number One in the Awkward Squad of the rank and file of life,
was Sloppy, and yet had his glimmering notions of standing true to
'And now,' said Mrs Boffin, 'concerning Johnny.'
As Johnny, with his chin tucked in and lips pouting, reclined in
Betty's lap, concentrating his blue eyes on the visitors and shading
them from observation with a dimpled arm, old Betty took one of
his fresh fat hands in her withered right, and fell to gently beating
it on her withered left.
'Yes, ma'am. Concerning Johnny.'
'If you trust the dear child to me,' said Mrs Boffin, with a face
inviting trust, 'he shall have the best of homes, the best of care, the
best of education, the best of friends. Please God I will be a true
good mother to him!'
'I am thankful to you, ma'am, and the dear child would be thankful
if he was old enough to understand.' Still lightly beating the little
hand upon her own. 'I wouldn't stand in the dear child's light, not
if I had all my life before me instead of a very little of it. But I
hope you won't take it ill that I cleave to the child closer than
words can tell, for he's the last living thing left me.'
'Take it ill, my dear soul? Is it likely? And you so tender of him as
to bring him home here!'
'I have seen,' said Betty, still with that light beat upon her hard
rough hand, 'so many of them on my lap. And they are all gone
but this one! I am ashamed to seem so selfish, but I don't really
mean it. It'll be the making of his fortune, and he'll be a gentleman
when I am dead. I--I--don't know what comes over me. I--try
against it. Don't notice me!' The light beat stopped, the resolute
mouth gave way, and the fine strong old face broke up into
weakness and tears.
Now, greatly to the relief of the visitors, the emotional Sloppy no
sooner beheld his patroness in this condition, than, throwing back
his head and throwing open his mouth, he lifted up his voice and
bellowed. This alarming note of something wrong instantly
terrified Toddles and Poddles, who were no sooner heard to roar
surprisingly, than Johnny, curving himself the wrong way and
striking out at Mrs Boffin with a pair of indifferent shoes, became
a prey to despair. The absurdity of the situation put its pathos to
the rout. Mrs Betty Higden was herself in a moment, and brought
them all to order with that speed, that Sloppy, stopping short in a
polysyllabic bellow, transferred his energy to the mangle, and had
taken several penitential turns before he could be stopped.
'There, there, there!' said Mrs Boffin, almost regarding her kind
self as the most ruthless of women. 'Nothing is going to be done.
Nobody need be frightened. We're all comfortable; ain't we, Mrs
'Sure and certain we are,' returned Betty.
'And there really is no hurry, you know,' said Mrs Boffin in a lower
voice. 'Take time to think of it, my good creature!'
'Don't you fear ME no more, ma'am,' said Betty; 'I thought of it for
good yesterday. I don't know what come over me just now, but it'll