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Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens

Part 14 out of 21

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'Not so poor as you think, my dear,' returned Bella, 'if you knew
all.' Indeed, though attained by some wonderful winding narrow
stairs, which seemed to have been erected in a pure white chimney,
and though very low in the ceiling, and very rugged in the floor,
and rather blinking as to the proportions of its lattice window, it
was a pleasanter room than that despised chamber once at home,
in which Bella had first bemoaned the miseries of taking lodgers.

The day was closing as the two girls looked at one another by the
fireside. The dusky room was lighted by the fire. The grate might
have been the old brazier, and the glow might have been the old
hollow down by the flare.

'It's quite new to me,' said Lizzie, 'to be visited by a lady so nearly
of my own age, and so pretty, as you. It's a pleasure to me to look
at you.'

'I have nothing left to begin with,' returned Bella, blushing,
'because I was going to say that it was a pleasure to me to look at
you, Lizzie. But we can begin without a beginning, can't we?'

Lizzie took the pretty little hand that was held out in as pretty a
little frankness.

'Now, dear,' said Bella, drawing her chair a little nearer, and taking
Lizzie's arm as if they were going out for a walk, 'I am
commissioned with something to say, and I dare say I shall say it
wrong, but I won't if I can help it. It is in reference to your letter to
Mr and Mrs Boffin, and this is what it is. Let me see. Oh yes!
This is what it is.'

With this exordium, Bella set forth that request of Lizzie's touching
secrecy, and delicately spoke of that false accusation and its
retraction, and asked might she beg to be informed whether it had
any bearing, near or remote, on such request. 'I feel, my dear,' said
Bella, quite amazing herself by the business-like manner in which
she was getting on, 'that the subject must be a painful one to you,
but I am mixed up in it also; for--I don't know whether you may
know it or suspect it--I am the willed-away girl who was to have
been married to the unfortunate gentleman, if he had been pleased
to approve of me. So I was dragged into the subject without my
consent, and you were dragged into it without your consent, and
there is very little to choose between us.'

'I had no doubt,' said Lizzie, 'that you were the Miss Wilfer I have
often heard named. Can you tell me who my unknown friend is?'

'Unknown friend, my dear?' said Bella.

'Who caused the charge against poor father to be contradicted, and
sent me the written paper.'

Bella had never heard of him. Had no notion who he was.

'I should have been glad to thank him,' returned Lizzie. 'He has
done a great deal for me. I must hope that he will let me thank him
some day. You asked me has it anything to do--'

'It or the accusation itself,' Bella put in.

'Yes. Has either anything to do with my wishing to live quite
secret and retired here? No.'

As Lizzie Hexam shook her head in giving this reply and as her
glance sought the fire, there was a quiet resolution in her folded
hands, not lost on Bella's bright eyes.

'Have you lived much alone?' asked Bella.

'Yes. It's nothing new to me. I used to be always alone many
hours together, in the day and in the night, when poor father was
alive.'

'You have a brother, I have been told?'

'I have a brother, but he is not friendly with me. He is a very good
boy though, and has raised himself by his industry. I don't
complain of him.'

As she said it, with her eyes upon the fire-glow, there was an
instantaneous escape of distress into her face. Bella seized the
moment to touch her hand.

'Lizzie, I wish you would tell me whether you have any friend of
your own sex and age.'

'I have lived that lonely kind of life, that I have never had one,' was
the answer.

'Nor I neither,' said Bella. 'Not that my life has been lonely, for I
could have sometimes wished it lonelier, instead of having Ma
going on like the Tragic Muse with a face-ache in majestic corners,
and Lavvy being spiteful--though of course I am very fond of them
both. I wish you could make a friend of me, Lizzie. Do you think
you could? I have no more of what they call character, my dear,
than a canary-bird, but I know I am trustworthy.'

The wayward, playful, affectionate nature, giddy for want of the
weight of some sustaining purpose, and capricious because it was
always fluttering among little things, was yet a captivating one. To
Lizzie it was so new, so pretty, at once so womanly and so
childish, that it won her completely. And when Bella said again,
'Do you think you could, Lizzie?' with her eyebrows raised, her
head inquiringly on one side, and an odd doubt about it in her own
bosom, Lizzie showed beyond all question that she thought she
could.

'Tell me, my dear,' said Bella, 'what is the matter, and why you live
like this.'

Lizzie presently began, by way of prelude, 'You must have many
lovers--' when Bella checked her with a little scream of
astonishment.

'My dear, I haven't one!'

'Not one?'

'Well! Perhaps one,' said Bella. 'I am sure I don't know. I HAD
one, but what he may think about it at the present time I can't say.
Perhaps I have half a one (of course I don't count that Idiot, George
Sampson). However, never mind me. I want to hear about you.'

'There is a certain man,' said Lizzie, 'a passionate and angry man,
who says he loves me, and who I must believe does love me. He is
the friend of my brother. I shrank from him within myself when
my brother first brought him to me; but the last time I saw him he
terrified me more than I can say.' There she stopped.

'Did you come here to escape from him, Lizzie?'

'I came here immediately after he so alarmed me.'

'Are you afraid of him here?'

'I am not timid generally, but I am always afraid of him. I am
afraid to see a newspaper, or to hear a word spoken of what is done
in London, lest he should have done some violence.'

'Then you are not afraid of him for yourself, dear?' said Bella, after
pondering on the words.

'I should be even that, if I met him about here. I look round for
him always, as I pass to and fro at night.'

'Are you afraid of anything he may do to himself in London, my
dear?'

'No. He might be fierce enough even to do some violence to
himself, but I don't think of that.'

'Then it would almost seem, dear,' said Bella quaintly, 'as if there
must be somebody else?'

Lizzie put her hands before her face for a moment before replying:
'The words are always in my ears, and the blow he struck upon a
stone wall as he said them is always before my eyes. I have tried
hard to think it not worth remembering, but I cannot make so little
of it. His hand was trickling down with blood as he said to me,
"Then I hope that I may never kill him!"

Rather startled, Bella made and clasped a girdle of her arms round
Lizzie's waist, and then asked quietly, in a soft voice, as they both
looked at the fire:

'Kill him! Is this man so jealous, then?'

'Of a gentleman,' said Lizzie. '--I hardly know how to tell you--of a
gentleman far above me and my way of life, who broke father's
death to me, and has shown an interest in me since.'

'Does he love you?'

Lizzie shook her head.

'Does he admire you?'

Lizzie ceased to shake her head, and pressed her hand upon her
living girdle.

'Is it through his influence that you came here?'

'O no! And of all the world I wouldn't have him know that I am
here, or get the least clue where to find me.'

'Lizzie, dear! Why?' asked Bella, in amazement at this burst. But
then quickly added, reading Lizzie's face: 'No. Don't say why.
That was a foolish question of mine. I see, I see.'

There was silence between them. Lizzie, with a drooping head,
glanced down at the glow in the fire where her first fancies had
been nursed, and her first escape made from the grim life out of
which she had plucked her brother, foreseeing her reward.

'You know all now,' she said, raising her eyes to Bella's. 'There is
nothing left out. This is my reason for living secret here, with the
aid of a good old man who is my true friend. For a short part of
my life at home with father, I knew of things--don't ask me what--
that I set my face against, and tried to better. I don't think I could
have done more, then, without letting my hold on father go; but
they sometimes lie heavy on my mind. By doing all for the best, I
hope I may wear them out.'

'And wear out too,' said Bella soothingly, 'this weakness, Lizzie, in
favour of one who is not worthy of it.'

'No. I don't want to wear that out,' was the flushed reply, 'nor do I
want to believe, nor do I believe, that he is not worthy of it. What
should I gain by that, and how much should I lose!'

Bella's expressive little eyebrows remonstrated with the fire for
some short time before she rejoined:

'Don't think that I press you, Lizzie; but wouldn't you gain in
peace, and hope, and even in freedom? Wouldn't it be better not to
live a secret life in hiding, and not to be shut out from your natural
and wholesome prospects? Forgive my asking you, would that be
no gain?'

'Does a woman's heart that--that has that weakness in it which you
have spoken of,' returned Lizzie, 'seek to gain anything?'

The question was so directly at variance with Bella's views in life,
as set forth to her father, that she said internally, 'There, you little
mercenary wretch! Do you hear that? Ain't you ashamed of your
self?' and unclasped the girdle of her arms, expressly to give
herself a penitential poke in the side.

'But you said, Lizzie,' observed Bella, returning to her subject
when she had administered this chastisement, 'that you would lose,
besides. Would you mind telling me what you would lose, Lizzie?'

'I should lose some of the best recollections, best encouragements,
and best objects, that I carry through my daily life. I should lose
my belief that if I had been his equal, and he had loved me, I
should have tried with all my might to make him better and
happier, as he would have made me. I should lose almost all the
value that I put upon the little learning I have, which is all owing
to him, and which I conquered the difficulties of, that he might not
think it thrown away upon me. I should lose a kind of picture of
him--or of what he might have been, if I had been a lady, and he
had loved me--which is always with me, and which I somehow
feel that I could not do a mean or a wrong thing before. I should
leave off prizing the remembrance that he has done me nothing but
good since I have known him, and that he has made a change
within me, like--like the change in the grain of these hands, which
were coarse, and cracked, and hard, and brown when I rowed on
the river with father, and are softened and made supple by this new
work as you see them now.'

They trembled, but with no weakness, as she showed them.

'Understand me, my dear;' thus she went on. I have never dreamed
of the possibility of his being anything to me on this earth but the
kind picture that I know I could not make you understand, if the
understanding was not in your own breast already. I have no more
dreamed of the possibility of MY being his wife, than he ever has--
and words could not be stronger than that. And yet I love him. I
love him so much, and so dearly, that when I sometimes think my
life may be but a weary one, I am proud of it and glad of it. I am
proud and glad to suffer something for him, even though it is of no
service to him, and he will never know of it or care for it.'

Bella sat enchained by the deep, unselfish passion of this girl or
woman of her own age, courageously revealing itself in the
confidence of her sympathetic perception of its truth. And yet she
had never experienced anything like it, or thought of the existence
of anything like it.

'It was late upon a wretched night,' said Lizzie, 'when his eyes first
looked at me in my old river-side home, very different from this.
His eyes may never look at me again. I would rather that they
never did; I hope that they never may. But I would not have the
light of them taken out of my life, for anything my life can give me.
I have told you everything now, my dear. If it comes a little
strange to me to have parted with it, I am not sorry. I had no
thought of ever parting with a single word of it, a moment before
you came in; but you came in, and my mind changed.'

Bella kissed her on the cheek, and thanked her warmly for her
confidence. 'I only wish,' said Bella, 'I was more deserving of it.'

'More deserving of it?' repeated Lizzie, with an incredulous smile.

'I don't mean in respect of keeping it,' said Bella, 'because any one
should tear me to bits before getting at a syllable of it--though
there's no merit in that, for I am naturally as obstinate as a Pig.
What I mean is, Lizzie, that I am a mere impertinent piece of
conceit, and you shame me.'

Lizzie put up the pretty brown hair that came tumbling down,
owing to the energy with which Bella shook her head; and she
remonstrated while thus engaged, 'My dear!'

'Oh, it's all very well to call me your dear,' said Bella, with a
pettish whimper, 'and I am glad to be called so, though I have
slight enough claim to be. But I AM such a nasty little thing!'

'My dear!' urged Lizzie again.

'Such a shallow, cold, worldly, Limited little brute!' said Bella,
bringing out her last adjective with culminating force.

'Do you think,' inquired Lizzie with her quiet smile, the hair being
now secured, 'that I don't know better?'

'DO you know better though?' said Bella. 'Do you really believe
you know better? Oh, I should be so glad if you did know better,
but I am so very much afraid that I must know best!'

Lizzie asked her, laughing outright, whether she ever saw her own
face or heard her own voice?

'I suppose so,' returned Bella; 'I look in the glass often enough, and
I chatter like a Magpie.'

'I have seen your face, and heard your voice, at any rate,' said
Lizzie, 'and they have tempted me to say to you--with a certainty of
not going wrong--what I thought I should never say to any one.
Does that look ill?'

'No, I hope it doesn't,' pouted Bella, stopping herself in something
between a humoured laugh and a humoured sob.

'I used once to see pictures in the fire,' said Lizzie playfully, 'to
please my brother. Shall I tell you what I see down there where the
fire is glowing?'

They had risen, and were standing on the hearth, the time being
come for separating; each had drawn an arm around the other to
take leave.

'Shall I tell you,' asked Lizzie, 'what I see down there?'

'Limited little b?' suggested Bella with her eyebrows raised.

'A heart well worth winning, and well won. A heart that, once
won, goes through fire and water for the winner, and never
changes, and is never daunted.'

'Girl's heart?' asked Bella, with accompanying eyebrows. Lizzie
nodded. 'And the figure to which it belongs--'

Is yours,' suggested Bella.

'No. Most clearly and distinctly yours.'

So the interview terminated with pleasant words on both sides, and
with many reminders on the part of Bella that they were friends,
and pledges that she would soon come down into that part of the
country again. There with Lizzie returned to her occupation, and
Bella ran over to the little inn to rejoin her company.

'You look rather serious, Miss Wilfer,' was the Secretary's first
remark.

'I feel rather serious,' returned Miss Wilfer.

She had nothing else to tell him but that Lizzie Hexam's secret had
no reference whatever to the cruel charge, or its withdrawal. Oh
yes though! said Bella; she might as well mention one other thing;
Lizzie was very desirous to thank her unknown friend who had
sent her the written retractation. Was she, indeed? observed the
Secretary. Ah! Bella asked him, had he any notion who that
unknown friend might be? He had no notion whatever.

They were on the borders of Oxfordshire, so far had poor old Betty
Higden strayed. They were to return by the train presently, and, the
station being near at hand, the Reverend Frank and Mrs Frank, and
Sloppy and Bella and the Secretary, set out to walk to it. Few
rustic paths are wide enough for five, and Bella and the Secretary
dropped behind.

'Can you believe, Mr Rokesmith,' said Bella, 'that I feel as if whole
years had passed since I went into Lizzie Hexam's cottage?'

'We have crowded a good deal into the day,' he returned, 'and you
were much affected in the churchyard. You are over-tired.'

'No, I am not at all tired. I have not quite expressed what I mean.
I don't mean that I feel as if a great space of time had gone by, but
that I feel as if much had happened--to myself, you know.'

'For good, I hope?'

'I hope so,' said Bella.

'You are cold; I felt you tremble. Pray let me put this wrapper of
mine about you. May I fold it over this shoulder without injuring
your dress? Now, it will be too heavy and too long. Let me carry
this end over my arm, as you have no arm to give me.'

Yes she had though. How she got it out, in her muffled state,
Heaven knows; but she got it out somehow--there it was--and
slipped it through the Secretary's.

'I have had a long and interesting talk with Lizzie, Mr Rokesmith,
and she gave me her full confidence.'

'She could not withhold it,' said the Secretary.

'I wonder how you come,' said Bella, stopping short as she glanced
at him, 'to say to me just what she said about it!'

'I infer that it must be because I feel just as she felt about it.'

'And how was that, do you mean to say, sir?' asked Bella, moving
again.

'That if you were inclined to win her confidence--anybody's
confidence--you were sure to do it.'

The railway, at this point, knowingly shutting a green eye and
opening a red one, they had to run for it. As Bella could not run
easily so wrapped up, the Secretary had to help her. When she
took her opposite place in the carriage corner, the brightness in her
face was so charming to behold, that on her exclaiming, 'What
beautiful stars and what a glorious night!' the Secretary said 'Yes,'
but seemed to prefer to see the night and the stars in the light of her
lovely little countenance, to looking out of window.

O boofer lady, fascinating boofer lady! If I were but legally
executor of Johnny's will! If I had but the right to pay your legacy
and to take your receipt!--Something to this purpose surely
mingled with the blast of the train as it cleared the stations, all
knowingly shutting up their green eyes and opening their red ones
when they prepared to let the boofer lady pass.

Chapter 10

SCOUTS OUT

'And so, Miss Wren,' said Mr Eugene Wrayburn, 'I cannot
persuade you to dress me a doll?'

'No,' replied Miss Wren snappishly; 'if you want one, go and buy
one at the shop.'

'And my charming young goddaughter,' said Mr Wrayburn
plaintively, 'down in Hertfordshire--'

('Humbugshire you mean, I think,' interposed Miss Wren.)

'--is to be put upon the cold footing of the general public, and is to
derive no advantage from my private acquaintance with the Court
Dressmaker?'

'If it's any advantage to your charming godchild--and oh, a
precious godfather she has got!'--replied Miss Wren, pricking at
him in the air with her needle, 'to be informed that the Court
Dressmaker knows your tricks and your manners, you may tell her
so by post, with my compliments.'

Miss Wren was busy at her work by candle-light, and Mr
Wrayburn, half amused and half vexed, and all idle and shiftless,
stood by her bench looking on. Miss Wren's troublesome child
was in the corner in deep disgrace, and exhibiting great
wretchedness in the shivering stage of prostration from drink.

'Ugh, you disgraceful boy!' exclaimed Miss Wren, attracted by the
sound of his chattering teeth, 'I wish they'd all drop down your
throat and play at dice in your stomach! Boh, wicked child! Bee-
baa, black sheep!'

On her accompanying each of these reproaches with a threatening
stamp of the foot, the wretched creature protested with a whine.

'Pay five shillings for you indeed!' Miss Wren proceeded; 'how
many hours do you suppose it costs me to earn five shillings, you
imfamous boy?--Don't cry like that, or I'll throw a doll at you. Pay
five shillings fine for you indeed. Fine in more ways than one, I
think! I'd give the dustman five shillings, to carry you off in the
dust cart.'

'No, no,' pleaded the absurd creature. 'Please!'

'He's enough to break his mother's heart, is this boy,' said Miss
Wren, half appealing to Eugene. 'I wish I had never brought him
up. He'd be sharper than a serpent's tooth, if he wasn't as dull as
ditch water. Look at him. There's a pretty object for a parent's
eyes!'

Assuredly, in his worse than swinish state (for swine at least fatten
on their guzzling, and make themselves good to eat), he was a
pretty object for any eyes.

'A muddling and a swipey old child,' said Miss Wren, rating him
with great severity, 'fit for nothing but to be preserved in the liquor
that destroys him, and put in a great glass bottle as a sight for other
swipey children of his own pattern,--if he has no consideration for
his liver, has he none for his mother?'

'Yes. Deration, oh don't!' cried the subject of these angry remarks.

'Oh don't and oh don't,' pursued Miss Wren. 'It's oh do and oh do.
And why do you?'

'Won't do so any more. Won't indeed. Pray!'

'There!' said Miss Wren, covering her eyes with her hand. 'I can't
bear to look at you. Go up stairs and get me my bonnet and shawl.
Make yourself useful in some way, bad boy, and let me have your
room instead of your company, for one half minute.'

Obeying her, he shambled out, and Eugene Wrayburn saw the
tears exude from between the little creature's fingers as she kept
her hand before her eyes. He was sorry, but his sympathy did not
move his carelessness to do anything but feel sorry.

'I'm going to the Italian Opera to try on,' said Miss Wren, taking
away her hand after a little while, and laughing satirically to hide
that she had been crying; 'I must see your back before I go, Mr
Wrayburn. Let me first tell you, once for all, that it's of no use your
paying visits to me. You wouldn't get what you want, of me, no,
not if you brought pincers with you to tear it out.'

'Are you so obstinate on the subject of a doll's dress for my
godchild?'

'Ah!' returned Miss Wren with a hitch of her chin, 'I am so
obstinate. And of course it's on the subject of a doll's dress--or
ADdress--whichever you like. Get along and give it up!'

Her degraded charge had come back, and was standing behind her
with the bonnet and shawl.

'Give 'em to me and get back into your corner, you naughty old
thing!' said Miss Wren, as she turned and espied him. 'No, no, I
won't have your help. Go into your corner, this minute!'

The miserable man, feebly rubbing the back of his faltering hands
downward from the wrists, shuffled on to his post of disgrace; but
not without a curious glance at Eugene in passing him,
accompanied with what seemed as if it might have been an action
of his elbow, if any action of any limb or joint he had, would have
answered truly to his will. Taking no more particular notice of him
than instinctively falling away from the disagreeable contact,
Eugene, with a lazy compliment or so to Miss Wren, begged leave
to light his cigar, and departed.

'Now you prodigal old son,' said Jenny, shaking her head and her
emphatic little forefinger at her burden, 'you sit there till I come
back. You dare to move out of your corner for a single instant
while I'm gone, and I'll know the reason why.'

With this admonition, she blew her work candles out, leaving him
to the light of the fire, and, taking her big door-key in her pocket
and her crutch-stick in her hand, marched off.

Eugene lounged slowly towards the Temple, smoking his cigar,
but saw no more of the dolls' dressmaker, through the accident of
their taking opposite sides of the street. He lounged along
moodily, and stopped at Charing Cross to look about him, with as
little interest in the crowd as any man might take, and was
lounging on again, when a most unexpected object caught his eyes.
No less an object than Jenny Wren's bad boy trying to make up his
mind to cross the road.

A more ridiculous and feeble spectacle than this tottering wretch
making unsteady sallies into the roadway, and as often staggering
back again, oppressed by terrors of vehicles that were a long way
off or were nowhere, the streets could not have shown. Over and
over again, when the course was perfectly clear, he set out, got half
way, described a loop, turned, and went back again; when he
might have crossed and re-crossed half a dozen times. Then, he
would stand shivering on the edge of the pavement, looking up the
street and looking down, while scores of people jostled him, and
crossed, and went on. Stimulated in course of time by the sight of
so many successes, he would make another sally, make another
loop, would all but have his foot on the opposite pavement, would
see or imagine something coming, and would stagger back again.
There, he would stand making spasmodic preparations as if for a
great leap, and at last would decide on a start at precisely the
wrong moment, and would be roared at by drivers, and would
shrink back once more, and stand in the old spot shivering, with
the whole of the proceedings to go through again.

'It strikes me,' remarked Eugene coolly, after watching him for
some minutes, 'that my friend is likely to be rather behind time if
he has any appointment on hand.' With which remark he strolled
on, and took no further thought of him.

Lightwood was at home when he got to the Chambers, and had
dined alone there. Eugene drew a chair to the fire by which he was
having his wine and reading the evening paper, and brought a
glass, and filled it for good fellowship's sake.

'My dear Mortimer, you are the express picture of contented
industry, reposing (on credit) after the virtuous labours of the day.'

'My dear Eugene, you are the express picture of discontented
idleness not reposing at all. Where have you been?'

'I have been,' replied Wrayburn, '--about town. I have turned up at
the present juncture, with the intention of consulting my highly
intelligent and respected solicitor on the position of my affairs.'

'Your highly intelligent and respect solicitor is of opinion that your
affairs are in a bad way, Eugene.'

'Though whether,' said Eugene thoughtfully, 'that can be
intelligently said, now, of the affairs of a client who has nothing to
lose and who cannot possibly be made to pay, may be open to
question.'

'You have fallen into the hands of the Jews, Eugene.'

'My dear boy,' returned the debtor, very composedly taking up his
glass, 'having previously fallen into the hands of some of the
Christians, I can bear it with philosophy.'

'I have had an interview to-day, Eugene, with a Jew, who seems
determined to press us hard. Quite a Shylock, and quite a
Patriarch. A picturesque grey-headed and grey-bearded old Jew, in
a shovel-hat and gaberdine.'

'Not,' said Eugene, pausing in setting down his glass, 'surely not
my worthy friend Mr Aaron?'

'He calls himself Mr Riah.'

'By-the-by,' said Eugene, 'it comes into my mind that--no doubt
with an instinctive desire to receive him into the bosom of our
Church--I gave him the name of Aaron!'

'Eugene, Eugene,' returned Lightwood, 'you are more ridiculous
than usual. Say what you mean.'

'Merely, my dear fellow, that I have the honour and pleasure of a
speaking acquaintance with such a Patriarch as you describe, and
that I address him as Mr Aaron, because it appears to me Hebraic,
expressive, appropriate, and complimentary. Notwithstanding
which strong reasons for its being his name, it may not be his
name.'

'I believe you are the absurdest man on the face of the earth,' said
Lightwood, laughing.

'Not at all, I assure you. Did he mention that he knew me?'

'He did not. He only said of you that he expected to be paid by
you.'

'Which looks,' remarked Eugene with much gravity, 'like NOT
knowing me. I hope it may not be my worthy friend Mr Aaron,
for, to tell you the truth, Mortimer, I doubt he may have a
prepossession against me. I strongly suspect him of having had a
hand in spiriting away Lizzie.'

'Everything,' returned Lightwood impatiently, 'seems, by a fatality,
to bring us round to Lizzie. "About town" meant about Lizzie, just
now, Eugene.'

'My solicitor, do you know,' observed Eugene, turning round to the
furniture, 'is a man of infinite discernment!'

'Did it not, Eugene?'

'Yes it did, Mortimer.'

'And yet, Eugene, you know you do not really care for her.'

Eugene Wrayburn rose, and put his hands in his pockets, and stood
with a foot on the fender, indolently rocking his body and looking
at the fire. After a prolonged pause, he replied: 'I don't know that.
I must ask you not to say that, as if we took it for granted.'

'But if you do care for her, so much the more should you leave her
to herself.'

Having again paused as before, Eugene said: 'I don't know that,
either. But tell me. Did you ever see me take so much trouble
about anything, as about this disappearance of hers? I ask, for
information.'

'My dear Eugene, I wish I ever had!'

'Then you have not? Just so. You confirm my own impression.
Does that look as if I cared for her? I ask, for information.'

'I asked YOU for information, Eugene,' said Mortimer
reproachfully.

'Dear boy, I know it, but I can't give it. I thirst for information.
What do I mean? If my taking so much trouble to recover her does
not mean that I care for her, what does it mean? "If Peter Piper
picked a peck of pickled pepper, where's the peck," &c.?'

Though he said this gaily, he said it with a perplexed and
inquisitive face, as if he actually did not know what to make of
himself. 'Look on to the end--' Lightwood was beginning to
remonstrate, when he caught at the words:

'Ah! See now! That's exactly what I am incapable of doing. How
very acute you are, Mortimer, in finding my weak place! When we
were at school together, I got up my lessons at the last moment,
day by day and bit by bit; now we are out in life together, I get up
my lessons in the same way. In the present task I have not got
beyond this:--I am bent on finding Lizzie, and I mean to find her,
and I will take any means of finding her that offer themselves. Fair
means or foul means, are all alike to me. I ask you--for
information--what does that mean? When I have found her I may
ask you--also for information--what do I mean now? But it would
be premature in this stage, and it's not the character of my mind.'

Lightwood was shaking his head over the air with which his friend
held forth thus--an air so whimsically open and argumentative as
almost to deprive what he said of the appearance of evasion--when
a shuffling was heard at the outer door, and then an undecided
knock, as though some hand were groping for the knocker. 'The
frolicsome youth of the neighbourhood,' said Eugene, 'whom I
should be delighted to pitch from this elevation into the churchyard
below, without any intermediate ceremonies, have probably turned
the lamp out. I am on duty to-night, and will see to the door.'

His friend had barely had time to recall the unprecedented gleam of
determination with which he had spoken of finding this girl, and
which had faded out of him with the breath of the spoken words,
when Eugene came back, ushering in a most disgraceful shadow of
a man, shaking from head to foot, and clothed in shabby grease
and smear.

'This interesting gentleman,' said Eugene, 'is the son--the
occasionally rather trying son, for he has his failings--of a lady of
my acquaintance. My dear Mortimer--Mr Dolls.' Eugene had no
idea what his name was, knowing the little dressmaker's to be
assumed, but presented him with easy confidence under the first
appellation that his associations suggested.

'I gather, my dear Mortimer,' pursued Eugene, as Lightwood stared
at the obscene visitor, 'from the manner of Mr Dolls--which is
occasionally complicated--that he desires to make some
communication to me. I have mentioned to Mr Dolls that you and
I are on terms of confidence, and have requested Mr Dolls to
develop his views here.'

The wretched object being much embarrassed by holding what
remained of his hat, Eugene airily tossed it to the door, and put him
down in a chair.

'It will be necessary, I think,' he observed, 'to wind up Mr Dolls,
before anything to any mortal purpose can be got out of him.
Brandy, Mr Dolls, or--?'

'Threepenn'orth Rum,' said Mr Dolls.

A judiciously small quantity of the spirit was given him in a wine-
glass, and he began to convey it to his mouth, with all kinds of
falterings and gyrations on the road.

'The nerves of Mr Dolls,' remarked Eugene to Lightwood, 'are
considerably unstrung. And I deem it on the whole expedient to
fumigate Mr Dolls.'

He took the shovel from the grate, sprinkled a few live ashes on it,
and from a box on the chimney-piece took a few pastiles, which he
set upon them; then, with great composure began placidly waving
the shovel in front of Mr Dolls, to cut him off from his company.

'Lord bless my soul, Eugene!' cried Lightwood, laughing again,
'what a mad fellow you are! Why does this creature come to see
you?'

'We shall hear,' said Wrayburn, very observant of his face withal.
'Now then. Speak out. Don't be afraid. State your business,
Dolls.'

'Mist Wrayburn!' said the visitor, thickly and huskily. '--'TIS Mist
Wrayburn, ain't?' With a stupid stare.

'Of course it is. Look at me. What do you want?'

Mr Dolls collapsed in his chair, and faintly said 'Threepenn'orth
Rum.'

'Will you do me the favour, my dear Mortimer, to wind up Mr
Dolls again?' said Eugene. 'I am occupied with the fumigation.'

A similar quantity was poured into his glass, and he got it to his
lips by similar circuitous ways. Having drunk it, Mr Dolls, with
an evident fear of running down again unless he made haste,
proceeded to business.

'Mist Wrayburn. Tried to nudge you, but you wouldn't. You want
that drection. You want t'know where she lives. DO you Mist
Wrayburn?'

With a glance at his friend, Eugene replied to the question sternly,
'I do.'

'I am er man,' said Mr Dolls, trying to smite himself on the breast,
but bringing his hand to bear upon the vicinity of his eye, 'er do it.
I am er man er do it.'

'What are you the man to do?' demanded Eugene, still sternly.

'Er give up that drection.'

'Have you got it?'

With a most laborious attempt at pride and dignity, Mr Dolls
rolled his head for some time, awakening the highest expectations,
and then answered, as if it were the happiest point that could
possibly be expected of him: 'No.'

'What do you mean then?'

Mr Dolls, collapsing in the drowsiest manner after his late
intellectual triumph, replied: 'Threepenn'orth Rum.'

'Wind him up again, my dear Mortimer,' said Wrayburn; 'wind him
up again.'

'Eugene, Eugene,' urged Lightwood in a low voice, as he complied,
'can you stoop to the use of such an instrument as this?'

'I said,' was the reply, made with that former gleam of
determination, 'that I would find her out by any means, fair or foul.
These are foul, and I'll take them--if I am not first tempted to break
the head of Mr Dolls with the fumigator. Can you get the
direction? Do you mean that? Speak! If that's what you have
come for, say how much you want.'

'Ten shillings--Threepenn'orths Rum,' said Mr Dolls.

'You shall have it.'

'Fifteen shillings--Threepenn'orths Rum,' said Mr Dolls, making an
attempt to stiffen himself.

'You shall have it. Stop at that. How will you get the direction you
talk of?'

'I am er man,' said Mr Dolls, with majesty, 'er get it, sir.'

'How will you get it, I ask you?'

'I am ill-used vidual,' said Mr Dolls. 'Blown up morning t'night.
Called names. She makes Mint money, sir, and never stands
Threepenn'orth Rum.'

'Get on,' rejoined Eugene, tapping his palsied head with the fire-
shovel, as it sank on his breast. 'What comes next?'

Making a dignified attempt to gather himself together, but, as it
were, dropping half a dozen pieces of himself while he tried in vain
to pick up one, Mr Dolls, swaying his head from side to side,
regarded his questioner with what he supposed to be a haughty
smile and a scornful glance.

'She looks upon me as mere child, sir. I am NOT mere child, sir.
Man. Man talent. Lerrers pass betwixt 'em. Postman lerrers.
Easy for man talent er get drection, as get his own drection.'

'Get it then,' said Eugene; adding very heartily under his breath,
'--You Brute! Get it, and bring it here to me, and earn the money for
sixty threepenn'orths of rum, and drink them all, one a top of
another, and drink yourself dead with all possible expedition.' The
latter clauses of these special instructions he addressed to the fire,
as he gave it back the ashes he had taken from it, and replaced the
shovel.

Mr Dolls now struck out the highly unexpected discovery that he
had been insulted by Lightwood, and stated his desire to 'have it
out with him' on the spot, and defied him to come on, upon the
liberal terms of a sovereign to a halfpenny. Mr Dolls then fell a
crying, and then exhibited a tendency to fall asleep. This last
manifestation as by far the most alarming, by reason of its
threatening his prolonged stay on the premises, necessitated
vigorous measures. Eugene picked up his worn-out hat with the
tongs, clapped it on his head, and, taking him by the collar--all this
at arm's length--conducted him down stairs and out of the precincts
into Fleet Street. There, he turned his face westward, and left him.

When he got back, Lightwood was standing over the fire, brooding
in a sufficiently low-spirited manner.

'I'll wash my hands of Mr Dolls physically--' said Eugene, 'and be
with you again directly, Mortimer.'

'I would much prefer,' retorted Mortimer, 'your washing your hands
of Mr Dolls, morally, Eugene.'

'So would I,' said Eugene; 'but you see, dear boy, I can't do without
him.'

In a minute or two he resumed his chair, as perfectly unconcerned
as usual, and rallied his friend on having so narrowly escaped the
prowess of their muscular visitor.

'I can't be amused on this theme,' said Mortimer, restlessly. 'You
can make almost any theme amusing to me, Eugene, but not this.'

'Well!' cried Eugene, 'I am a little ashamed of it myself, and
therefore let us change the subject.'

'It is so deplorably underhanded,' said Mortimer. 'It is so unworthy
of you, this setting on of such a shameful scout.'

'We have changed the subject!' exclaimed Eugene, airily. 'We have
found a new one in that word, scout. Don't be like Patience on a
mantelpiece frowning at Dolls, but sit down, and I'll tell you
something that you really will find amusing. Take a cigar. Look
at this of mine. I light it--draw one puff--breathe the smoke out--
there it goes--it's Dolls!--it's gone--and being gone you are a man
again.'

'Your subject,' said Mortimer, after lighting a cigar, and
comforting himself with a whiff or two, 'was scouts, Eugene.'

'Exactly. Isn't it droll that I never go out after dark, but I find
myself attended, always by one scout, and often by two?'

Lightwood took his cigar from his lips in surprise, and looked at
his friend, as if with a latent suspicion that there must be a jest or
hidden meaning in his words.

'On my honour, no,' said Wrayburn, answering the look and
smiling carelessly; 'I don't wonder at your supposing so, but on my
honour, no. I say what I mean. I never go out after dark, but I find
myself in the ludicrous situation of being followed and observed at
a distance, always by one scout, and often by two.'

'Are you sure, Eugene?'

'Sure? My dear boy, they are always the same.'

'But there's no process out against you. The Jews only threaten.
They have done nothing. Besides, they know where to find you,
and I represent you. Why take the trouble?'

'Observe the legal mind!' remarked Eugene, turning round to the
furniture again, with an air of indolent rapture. 'Observe the dyer's
hand, assimilating itself to what it works in,--or would work in, if
anybody would give it anything to do. Respected solicitor, it's not
that. The schoolmaster's abroad.'

'The schoolmaster?'

'Ay! Sometimes the schoolmaster and the pupil are both abroad.
Why, how soon you rust in my absence! You don't understand yet?
Those fellows who were here one night. They are the scouts I
speak of, as doing me the honour to attend me after dark.'

'How long has this been going on?' asked Lightwood, opposing a
serious face to the laugh of his friend.

'I apprehend it has been going on, ever since a certain person went
off. Probably, it had been going on some little time before I
noticed it: which would bring it to about that time.'

'Do you think they suppose you to have inveigled her away?'

'My dear Mortimer, you know the absorbing nature of my
professional occupations; I really have not had leisure to think
about it.'

'Have you asked them what they want? Have you objected?'

'Why should I ask them what they want, dear fellow, when I am
indifferent what they want? Why should I express objection, when
I don't object?'

'You are in your most reckless mood. But you called the situation
just now, a ludicrous one; and most men object to that, even those
who are utterly indifferent to everything else.'

'You charm me, Mortimer, with your reading of my weaknesses.
(By-the-by, that very word, Reading, in its critical use, always
charms me. An actress's Reading of a chambermaid, a dancer's
Reading of a hornpipe, a singer's Reading of a song, a marine
painter's Reading of the sea, the kettle-drum's Reading of an
instrumental passage, are phrases ever youthful and delightful.) I
was mentioning your perception of my weaknesses. I own to the
weakness of objecting to occupy a ludicrous position, and therefore
I transfer the position to the scouts.'

'I wish, Eugene, you would speak a little more soberly and plainly,
if it were only out of consideration for my feeling less at ease than
you do.'

'Then soberly and plainly, Mortimer, I goad the schoolmaster to
madness. I make the schoolmaster so ridiculous, and so aware of
being made ridiculous, that I see him chafe and fret at every pore
when we cross one another. The amiable occupation has been the
solace of my life, since I was baulked in the manner unnecessary to
recall. I have derived inexpressible comfort from it. I do it thus: I
stroll out after dark, stroll a little way, look in at a window and
furtively look out for the schoolmaster. Sooner or later, I perceive
the schoolmaster on the watch; sometimes accompanied by his
hopeful pupil; oftener, pupil-less. Having made sure of his
watching me, I tempt him on, all over London. One night I go
east, another night north, in a few nights I go all round the
compass. Sometimes, I walk; sometimes, I proceed in cabs,
draining the pocket of the schoolmaster who then follows in cabs.
I study and get up abstruse No Thoroughfares in the course of the
day. With Venetian mystery I seek those No Thoroughfares at
night, glide into them by means of dark courts, tempt the
schoolmaster to follow, turn suddenly, and catch him before he can
retreat. Then we face one another, and I pass him as unaware of
his existence, and he undergoes grinding torments. Similarly, I
walk at a great pace down a short street, rapidly turn the corner,
and, getting out of his view, as rapidly turn back. I catch him
coming on post, again pass him as unaware of his existence, and
again he undergoes grinding torments. Night after night his
disappointment is acute, but hope springs eternal in the scholastic
breast, and he follows me again to-morrow. Thus I enjoy the
pleasures of the chase, and derive great benefit from the healthful
exercise. When I do not enjoy the pleasures of the chase, for
anything I know he watches at the Temple Gate all night.'

'This is an extraordinary story,' observed Lightwood, who had
heard it out with serious attention. 'I don't like it.'

'You are a little hipped, dear fellow,' said Eugene; 'you have been
too sedentary. Come and enjoy the pleasures of the chase.'

'Do you mean that you believe he is watching now?'

'I have not the slightest doubt he is.'

'Have you seen him to-night?'

'I forgot to look for him when I was last out,' returned Eugene with
the calmest indifference; 'but I dare say he was there. Come! Be a
British sportsman and enjoy the pleasures of the chase. It will do
you good.'

Lightwood hesitated; but, yielding to his curiosity, rose.

'Bravo!' cried Eugene, rising too. 'Or, if Yoicks would be in better
keeping, consider that I said Yoicks. Look to your feet, Mortimer,
for we shall try your boots. When you are ready, I am--need I say
with a Hey Ho Chivey, and likewise with a Hark Forward, Hark
Forward, Tantivy?'

'Will nothing make you serious?' said Mortimer, laughing through
his gravity.

'I am always serious, but just now I am a little excited by the
glorious fact that a southerly wind and a cloudy sky proclaim a
hunting evening. Ready? So. We turn out the lamp and shut the
door, and take the field.'

As the two friends passed out of the Temple into the public street,
Eugene demanded with a show of courteous patronage in which
direction Mortimer would you like the run to be? 'There is a rather
difficult country about Bethnal Green,' said Eugene, 'and we have
not taken in that direction lately. What is your opinion of Bethnal
Green?' Mortimer assented to Bethnal Green, and they turned
eastward. 'Now, when we come to St Paul's churchyard,' pursued
Eugene, 'we'll loiter artfully, and I'll show you the schoolmaster.'
But, they both saw him, before they got there; alone, and stealing
after them in the shadow of the houses, on the opposite side of the
way.

'Get your wind,' said Eugene, 'for I am off directly. Does it occur
to you that the boys of Merry England will begin to deteriorate in
an educational light, if this lasts long? The schoolmaster can't
attend to me and the boys too. Got your wind? I am off!'

At what a rate he went, to breathe the schoolmaster; and how he
then lounged and loitered, to put his patience to another kind of
wear; what preposterous ways he took, with no other object on
earth than to disappoint and punish him; and how he wore him out
by every piece of ingenuity that his eccentric humour could devise;
all this Lightwood noted, with a feeling of astonishment that so
careless a man could be so wary, and that so idle a man could take
so much trouble. At last, far on in the third hour of the pleasures
of the chase, when he had brought the poor dogging wretch round
again into the City, he twisted Mortimer up a few dark entries,
twisted him into a little square court, twisted him sharp round
again, and they almost ran against Bradley Headstone.

'And you see, as I was saying, Mortimer,' remarked Eugene aloud
with the utmost coolness, as though there were no one within
hearing by themselves: 'and you see, as I was saying--undergoing
grinding torments.'

It was not too strong a phrase for the occasion. Looking like the
hunted and not the hunter, baffled, worn, with the exhaustion of
deferred hope and consuming hate and anger in his face, white-
lipped, wild-eyed, draggle-haired, seamed with jealousy and anger,
and torturing himself with the conviction that he showed it all and
they exulted in it, he went by them in the dark, like a haggard head
suspended in the air: so completely did the force of his expression
cancel his figure.

Mortimer Lightwood was not an extraordinarily impressible man,
but this face impressed him. He spoke of it more than once on the
remainder of the way home, and more than once when they got
home.

They had been abed in their respective rooms two or three hours,
when Eugene was partly awakened by hearing a footstep going
about, and was fully awakened by seeing Lightwood standing at
his bedside.

'Nothing wrong, Mortimer?'

'No.'

'What fancy takes you, then, for walking about in the night?'

'I am horribly wakeful.'

'How comes that about, I wonder!'

'Eugene, I cannot lose sight of that fellow's face.'

'Odd!' said Eugene with a light laugh, 'I can.' And turned over,
and fell asleep again.

Chapter 11

IN THE DARK

There was no sleep for Bradley Headstone on that night when
Eugene Wrayburn turned so easily in his bed; there was no sleep
for little Miss Peecher. Bradley consumed the lonely hours, and
consumed himself in haunting the spot where his careless rival lay
a dreaming; little Miss Peecher wore them away in listening for the
return home of the master of her heart, and in sorrowfully
presaging that much was amiss with him. Yet more was amiss
with him than Miss Peecher's simply arranged little work-box of
thoughts, fitted with no gloomy and dark recesses, could hold.
For, the state of the man was murderous.

The state of the man was murderous, and he knew it. More; he
irritated it, with a kind of perverse pleasure akin to that which a
sick man sometimes has in irritating a wound upon his body. Tied
up all day with his disciplined show upon him, subdued to the
performance of his routine of educational tricks, encircled by a
gabbling crowd, he broke loose at night like an ill-tamed wild
animal. Under his daily restraint, it was his compensation, not his
trouble, to give a glance towards his state at night, and to the
freedom of its being indulged. If great criminals told the truth--
which, being great criminals, they do not--they would very rarely
tell of their struggles against the crime. Their struggles are
towards it. They buffet with opposing waves, to gain the bloody
shore, not to recede from it. This man perfectly comprehended that
he hated his rival with his strongest and worst forces, and that if he
tracked him to Lizzie Hexam, his so doing would never serve
himself with her, or serve her. All his pains were taken, to the end
that he might incense himself with the sight of the detested figure
in her company and favour, in her place of concealment. And he
knew as well what act of his would follow if he did, as he knew
that his mother had borne him. Granted, that he may not have held
it necessary to make express mention to himself of the one familiar
truth any more than of the other.

He knew equally well that he fed his wrath and hatred, and that he
accumulated provocation and self-justification, by being made the
nightly sport of the reckless and insolent Eugene. Knowing all
this,--and still always going on with infinite endurance, pains, and
perseverance, could his dark soul doubt whither he went?

Baffled, exasperated, and weary, he lingered opposite the Temple
gate when it closed on Wrayburn and Lightwood, debating with
himself should he go home for that time or should he watch longer.
Possessed in his jealousy by the fixed idea that Wrayburn was in
the secret, if it were not altogether of his contriving, Bradley was
as confident of getting the better of him at last by sullenly sticking
to him, as he would have been--and often had been--of mastering
any piece of study in the way of his vocation, by the like slow
persistent process. A man of rapid passions and sluggish
intelligence, it had served him often and should serve him again.

The suspicion crossed him as he rested in a doorway with his eyes
upon the Temple gate, that perhaps she was even concealed in that
set of Chambers. It would furnish another reason for Wrayburn's
purposeless walks, and it might be. He thought of it and thought
of it, until he resolved to steal up the stairs, if the gatekeeper would
let him through, and listen. So, the haggard head suspended in the
air flitted across the road, like the spectre of one of the many heads
erst hoisted upon neighbouring Temple Bar, and stopped before the
watchman.

The watchman looked at it, and asked: 'Who for?'

'Mr Wrayburn.'

'It's very late.'

'He came back with Mr Lightwood, I know, near upon two hours
ago. But if he has gone to bed, I'll put a paper in his letter-box. I
am expected.'

The watchman said no more, but opened the gate, though rather
doubtfully. Seeing, however, that the visitor went straight and fast
in the right direction, he seemed satisfied.

The haggard head floated up the dark staircase, and softly
descended nearer to the floor outside the outer door of the
chambers. The doors of the rooms within, appeared to be standing
open. There were rays of candlelight from one of them, and there
was the sound of a footstep going about. There were two voices.
The words they uttered were not distinguishable, but they were
both the voices of men. In a few moments the voices were silent,
and there was no sound of footstep, and the inner light went out. If
Lightwood could have seen the face which kept him awake, staring
and listening in the darkness outside the door as he spoke of it, he
might have been less disposed to sleep, through the remainder of
the night.

'Not there,' said Bradley; 'but she might have been.' The head
arose to its former height from the ground, floated down the stair-
case again, and passed on to the gate. A man was standing there,
in parley with the watchman.

'Oh!' said the watchman. 'Here he is!'

Perceiving himself to be the antecedent, Bradley looked from the
watchman to the man.

'This man is leaving a letter for Mr Lightwood,' the watchman
explained, showing it in his hand; 'and I was mentioning that a
person had just gone up to Mr Lightwood's chambers. It might be
the same business perhaps?'

'No,' said Bradley, glancing at the man, who was a stranger to him.

'No,' the man assented in a surly way; 'my letter--it's wrote by my
daughter, but it's mine--is about my business, and my business
ain't nobody else's business.'

As Bradley passed out at the gate with an undecided foot, he heard
it shut behind him, and heard the footstep of the man coming after
him.

''Scuse me,' said the man, who appeared to have been drinking and
rather stumbled at him than touched him, to attract his attention:
'but might you be acquainted with the T'other Governor?'

'With whom?' asked Bradley.

'With,' returned the man, pointing backward over his right shoulder
with his right thumb, 'the T'other Governor?'

'I don't know what you mean.'

'Why look here,' hooking his proposition on his left-hand fingers
with the forefinger of his right. 'There's two Governors, ain't there?
One and one, two--Lawyer Lightwood, my first finger, he's one,
ain't he? Well; might you be acquainted with my middle finger,
the T'other?'

'I know quite as much of him,' said Bradley, with a frown and a
distant look before him, 'as I want to know.'

'Hooroar!' cried the man. 'Hooroar T'other t'other Governor.
Hooroar T'otherest Governor! I am of your way of thinkin'.'

'Don't make such a noise at this dead hour of the night. What are
you talking about?'

'Look here, T'otherest Governor,' replied the man, becoming
hoarsely confidential. 'The T'other Governor he's always joked his
jokes agin me, owing, as I believe, to my being a honest man as
gets my living by the sweat of my brow. Which he ain't, and he
don't.'

'What is that to me?'

'T'otherest Governor,' returned the man in a tone of injured
innocence, 'if you don't care to hear no more, don't hear no more.
You begun it. You said, and likeways showed pretty plain, as you
warn't by no means friendly to him. But I don't seek to force my
company nor yet my opinions on no man. I am a honest man,
that's what I am. Put me in the dock anywhere--I don't care where
--and I says, "My Lord, I am a honest man." Put me in the witness-
box anywhere--I don't care where--and I says the same to his
lordship, and I kisses the book. I don't kiss my coat-cuff; I kisses
the book.'

It was not so much in deference to these strong testimonials to
character, as in his restless casting about for any way or help
towards the discovery on which he was concentrated, that Bradley
Headstone replied: 'You needn't take offence. I didn't mean to stop
you. You were too--loud in the open street; that was all.'

''Totherest Governor,' replied Mr Riderhood, mollified and
mysterious, 'I know wot it is to be loud, and I know wot it is to be
soft. Nat'rally I do. It would be a wonder if I did not, being by the
Chris'en name of Roger, which took it arter my own father, which
took it from his own father, though which of our fam'ly fust took it
nat'ral I will not in any ways mislead you by undertakin' to say.
And wishing that your elth may be better than your looks, which
your inside must be bad indeed if it's on the footing of your out.'

Startled by the implication that his face revealed too much of his
mind, Bradley made an effort to clear his brow. It might be worth
knowing what this strange man's business was with Lightwood, or
Wrayburn, or both, at such an unseasonable hour. He set himself
to find out, for the man might prove to be a messenger between
those two.

'You call at the Temple late,' he remarked, with a lumbering show
of ease.

'Wish I may die,' cried Mr Riderhood, with a hoarse laugh, 'if I
warn't a goin' to say the self-same words to you, T'otherest
Governor!'

'It chanced so with me,' said Bradley, looking disconcertedly about
him.

'And it chanced so with me,' said Riderhood. 'But I don't mind
telling you how. Why should I mind telling you? I'm a Deputy
Lock-keeper up the river, and I was off duty yes'day, and I shall be
on to-morrow.'

'Yes?'

'Yes, and I come to London to look arter my private affairs. My
private affairs is to get appinted to the Lock as reg'lar keeper at fust
hand, and to have the law of a busted B'low-Bridge steamer which
drownded of me. I ain't a goin' to be drownded and not paid for it!'

Bradley looked at him, as though he were claiming to be a Ghost.

'The steamer,' said Mr Riderhood, obstinately, 'run me down and
drownded of me. Interference on the part of other parties brought
me round; but I never asked 'em to bring me round, nor yet the
steamer never asked 'em to it. I mean to be paid for the life as the
steamer took.'

'Was that your business at Mr Lightwood's chambers in the middle
of the night?' asked Bradley, eyeing him with distrust.

'That and to get a writing to be fust-hand Lock Keeper. A
recommendation in writing being looked for, who else ought to
give it to me? As I says in the letter in my daughter's hand, with
my mark put to it to make it good in law, Who but you, Lawyer
Lightwood, ought to hand over this here stifficate, and who but you
ought to go in for damages on my account agin the Steamer? For
(as I says under my mark) I have had trouble enough along of you
and your friend. If you, Lawyer Lightwood, had backed me good
and true, and if the T'other Governor had took me down correct (I
says under my mark), I should have been worth money at the
present time, instead of having a barge-load of bad names chucked
at me, and being forced to eat my words, which is a unsatisfying
sort of food wotever a man's appetite! And when you mention the
middle of the night, T'otherest Governor,' growled Mr Riderhood,
winding up his monotonous summary of his wrongs, 'throw your
eye on this here bundle under my arm, and bear in mind that I'm a
walking back to my Lock, and that the Temple laid upon my line of
road.'

Bradley Headstone's face had changed during this latter recital, and
he had observed the speaker with a more sustained attention.

'Do you know,' said he, after a pause, during which they walked on
side by side, 'that I believe I could tell you your name, if I tried?'

'Prove your opinion,' was the answer, accompanied with a stop and
a stare. 'Try.'

'Your name is Riderhood.'

'I'm blest if it ain't,' returned that gentleman. 'But I don't know
your'n.'

'That's quite another thing,' said Bradley. 'I never supposed you
did.'

As Bradley walked on meditating, the Rogue walked on at his side
muttering. The purport of the muttering was: 'that Rogue
Riderhood, by George! seemed to be made public property on,
now, and that every man seemed to think himself free to handle his
name as if it was a Street Pump.' The purport of the meditating
was: 'Here is an instrument. Can I use it?'

They had walked along the Strand, and into Pall Mall, and had
turned up-hill towards Hyde Park Corner; Bradley Headstone
waiting on the pace and lead of Riderhood, and leaving him to
indicate the course. So slow were the schoolmaster's thoughts, and
so indistinct his purposes when they were but tributary to the one
absorbing purpose or rather when, like dark trees under a stormy
sky, they only lined the long vista at the end of which he saw those
two figures of Wrayburn and Lizzie on which his eyes were fixed--
that at least a good half-mile was traversed before he spoke again.
Even then, it was only to ask:

'Where is your Lock?'

'Twenty mile and odd--call it five-and-twenty mile and odd, if you
like--up stream,' was the sullen reply.

'How is it called?'

'Plashwater Weir Mill Lock.'

'Suppose I was to offer you five shillings; what then?'

'Why, then, I'd take it,' said Mr Riderhood.

The schoolmaster put his hand in his pocket, and produced two
half-crowns, and placed them in Mr Riderhood's palm: who
stopped at a convenient doorstep to ring them both, before
acknowledging their receipt.

'There's one thing about you, T'otherest Governor,' said Riderhood,
faring on again, 'as looks well and goes fur. You're a ready money
man. Now;' when he had carefully pocketed the coins on that side
of himself which was furthest from his new friend; 'what's this for?'

'For you.'

'Why, o' course I know THAT,' said Riderhood, as arguing
something that was self-evident. 'O' course I know very well as no
man in his right senses would suppose as anythink would make
me give it up agin when I'd once got it. But what do you want for it?'

'I don't know that I want anything for it. Or if I do want anything
for it, I don't know what it is.' Bradley gave this answer in a stolid,
vacant, and self-communing manner, which Mr Riderhood found
very extraordinary.

'You have no goodwill towards this Wrayburn,' said Bradley,
coming to the name in a reluctant and forced way, as if he were
dragged to it.

'No.'

'Neither have I.'

Riderhood nodded, and asked: 'Is it for that?'

'It's as much for that as anything else. It's something to be agreed
with, on a subject that occupies so much of one's thoughts.'

'It don't agree with YOU,' returned Mr Riderhood, bluntly. 'No! It
don't, T'otherest Governor, and it's no use a lookin' as if you
wanted to make out that it did. I tell you it rankles in you. It
rankles in you, rusts in you, and pisons you.'

'Say that it does so,' returned Bradley with quivering lips; 'is there
no cause for it?'

'Cause enough, I'll bet a pound!' cried Mr Riderhood.

'Haven't you yourself declared that the fellow has heaped
provocations, insults, and affronts on you, or something to that
effect? He has done the same by me. He is made of venomous
insults and affronts, from the crown of his head to the sole of his
foot. Are you so hopeful or so stupid, as not to know that he and
the other will treat your application with contempt, and light their
cigars with it?'

'I shouldn't wonder if they did, by George!' said Riderhood, turning
angry.

'If they did! They will. Let me ask you a question. I know
something more than your name about you; I knew something
about Gaffer Hexam. When did you last set eyes upon his
daughter?'

'When did I last set eyes upon his daughter, T'otherest Governor?'
repeated Mr Riderhood, growing intentionally slower of
comprehension as the other quickened in his speech.

'Yes. Not to speak to her. To see her--anywhere?'

The Rogue had got the clue he wanted, though he held it with a
clumsy hand. Looking perplexedly at the passionate face, as if he
were trying to work out a sum in his mind, he slowly answered:

'I ain't set eyes upon her--never once--not since the day of Gaffer's
death.'

'You know her well, by sight?'

'I should think I did! No one better.'

'And you know him as well?'

'Who's him?' asked Riderhood, taking off his hat and rubbing his
forehead, as he directed a dull look at his questioner.

'Curse the name! Is it so agreeable to you that you want to hear it
again?'

'Oh! HIM!' said Riderhood, who had craftily worked the
schoolmaster into this corner, that he might again take note of his
face under its evil possession. 'I'd know HIM among a thousand.'

'Did you--' Bradley tried to ask it quietly; but, do what he might
with his voice, he could not subdue his face;--'did you ever see
them together?'

(The Rogue had got the clue in both hands now.)

'I see 'em together, T'otherest Governor, on the very day when
Gaffer was towed ashore.'

Bradley could have hidden a reserved piece of information from the
sharp eyes of a whole inquisitive class, but he could not veil from
the eyes of the ignorant Riderhood the withheld question next in
his breast. 'You shall put it plain if you want it answered,' thought
the Rogue, doggedly; 'I ain't a-going a wolunteering.'

'Well! was he insolent to her too?' asked Bradley after a struggle.
'Or did he make a show of being kind to her?'

'He made a show of being most uncommon kind to her,' said
Riderhood. 'By George! now I--'

His flying off at a tangent was indisputably natural. Bradley
looked at him for the reason.

'Now I think of it,' said Mr Riderhood, evasively, for he was
substituting those words for 'Now I see you so jealous,' which was
the phrase really in his mind; 'P'r'aps he went and took me down
wrong, a purpose, on account o' being sweet upon her!'

The baseness of confirming him in this suspicion or pretence of
one (for he could not have really entertained it), was a line's
breadth beyond the mark the schoolmaster had reached. The
baseness of communing and intriguing with the fellow who would
have set that stain upon her, and upon her brother too, was
attained. The line's breadth further, lay beyond. He made no reply,
but walked on with a lowering face.

What he might gain by this acquaintance, he could not work out in
his slow and cumbrous thoughts. The man had an injury against
the object of his hatred, and that was something; though it was less
than he supposed, for there dwelt in the man no such deadly rage
and resentment as burned in his own breast. The man knew her,
and might by a fortunate chance see her, or hear of her; that was
something, as enlisting one pair of eyes and ears the more. The
man was a bad man, and willing enough to be in his pay. That
was something, for his own state and purpose were as bad as bad
could be, and he seemed to derive a vague support from the
possession of a congenial instrument, though it might never be
used.

Suddenly he stood still, and asked Riderhood point-blank if he
knew where she was? Clearly, he did not know. He asked
Riderhood if he would be willing, in case any intelligence of her,
or of Wrayburn as seeking her or associating with her, should fall
in his way, to communicate it if it were paid for? He would be
very willing indeed. He was 'agin 'em both,' he said with an oath,
and for why? 'Cause they had both stood betwixt him and his
getting his living by the sweat of his brow.

'It will not be long then,' said Bradley Headstone, after some more
discourse to this effect, 'before we see one another again. Here is
the country road, and here is the day. Both have come upon me by
surprise.'

'But, T'otherest Governor,' urged Mr Riderhood, 'I don't know
where to find you.'

'It is of no consequence. I know where to find you, and I'll come to
your Lock.'

'But, T'otherest Governor,' urged Mr Riderhood again, 'no luck
never come yet of a dry acquaintance. Let's wet it, in a mouth-fill
of rum and milk, T'otherest Governon'

Bradley assenting, went with him into an early public-house,
haunted by unsavoury smells of musty hay and stale straw, where
returning carts, farmers' men, gaunt dogs, fowls of a beery breed,
and certain human nightbirds fluttering home to roost, were
solacing themselves after their several manners; and where not one
of the nightbirds hovering about the sloppy bar failed to discern at
a glance in the passion-wasted nightbird with respectable feathers,
the worst nightbird of all.

An inspiration of affection for a half-drunken carter going his way
led to Mr Riderhood's being elevated on a high heap of baskets on
a waggon, and pursuing his journey recumbent on his back with
his head on his bundle. Bradley then turned to retrace his steps,
and by-and-by struck off through little-traversed ways, and by-and-
by reached school and home. Up came the sun to find him washed
and brushed, methodically dressed in decent black coat and
waistcoat, decent formal black tie, and pepper-and-salt pantaloons,
with his decent silver watch in its pocket, and its decent hair-guard
round his neck: a scholastic huntsman clad for the field, with his
fresh pack yelping and barking around him.

Yet more really bewitched than the miserable creatures of the
much-lamented times, who accused themselves of impossibilities
under a contagion of horror and the strongly suggestive influences
of Torture, he had been ridden hard by Evil Spirits in the night that
was newly gone. He had been spurred and whipped and heavily
sweated. If a record of the sport had usurped the places of the
peaceful texts from Scripture on the wall, the most advanced of the
scholars might have taken fright and run away from the master.

Chapter 12

MEANING MISCHIEF

Up came the sun, steaming all over London, and in its glorious
impartiality even condescending to make prismatic sparkles in the
whiskers of Mr Alfred Lammle as he sat at breakfast. In need of
some brightening from without, was Mr Alfred Lammle, for he
had the air of being dull enough within, and looked grievously
discontented.

Mrs Alfred Lammle faced her lord. The happy pair of swindlers,
with the comfortable tie between them that each had swindled the
other, sat moodily observant of the tablecloth. Things looked so
gloomy in the breakfast-room, albeit on the sunny side of Sackville
Street, that any of the family tradespeople glancing through the
blinds might have taken the hint to send in his account and press
for it. But this, indeed, most of the family tradespeople had already
done, without the hint.

'It seems to me,' said Mrs Lammle, 'that you have had no money at
all, ever since we have been married.'

'What seems to you,' said Mr Lammle, 'to have been the case, may
possibly have been the case. It doesn't matter.'

Was it the speciality of Mr and Mrs Lammle, or does it ever obtain
with other loving couples? In these matrimonial dialogues they
never addressed each other, but always some invisible presence
that appeared to take a station about midway between them.
Perhaps the skeleton in the cupboard comes out to be talked to, on
such domestic occasions?

'I have never seen any money in the house,' said Mrs Lammle to
the skeleton, 'except my own annuity. That I swear.'

'You needn't take the trouble of swearing,' said Mr Lammle to the
skeleton; 'once more, it doesn't matter. You never turned your
annuity to so good an account.'

'Good an account! In what way?' asked Mrs Lammle.

'In the way of getting credit, and living well,' said Mr Lammle.
Perhaps the skeleton laughed scornfully on being intrusted with
this question and this answer; certainly Mrs Lammle did, and Mr
Lammle did.

'And what is to happen next?' asked Mrs Lammle of the skeleton.

'Smash is to happen next,' said Mr Lammle to the same authority.

After this, Mrs Lammle looked disdainfully at the skeleton--but
without carrying the look on to Mr Lammle--and drooped her eyes.
After that, Mr Lammle did exactly the same thing, and drooped
HIS eyes. A servant then entering with toast, the skeleton retired
into the closet, and shut itself up.

'Sophronia,' said Mr Lammle, when the servant had withdrawn.
And then, very much louder: 'Sophronia!'

'Well?'

'Attend to me, if you please.' He eyed her sternly until she did
attend, and then went on. 'I want to take counsel with you. Come,
come; no more trifling. You know our league and covenant. We
are to work together for our joint interest, and you are as knowing a
hand as I am. We shouldn't be together, if you were not. What's to
be done? We are hemmed into a corner. What shall we do?'

'Have you no scheme on foot that will bring in anything?'

Mr Lammle plunged into his whiskers for reflection, and came out
hopeless: 'No; as adventurers we are obliged to play rash games for
chances of high winnings, and there has been a run of luck against
us.'

She was resuming, 'Have you nothing--' when he stopped her.

'We, Sophronia. We, we, we.'

'Have we nothing to sell ?'

'Deuce a bit. I have given a Jew a bill of sale on this furniture, and
he could take it to-morrow, to-day, now. He would have taken it
before now, I believe, but for Fledgeby.'

'What has Fledgeby to do with him?'

'Knew him. Cautioned me against him before I got into his claws.
Couldn't persuade him then, in behalf of somebody else.'

'Do you mean that Fledgeby has at all softened him towards you?'

'Us, Sophronia. Us, us, us.'

'Towards us?'

'I mean that the Jew has not yet done what he might have done,
and that Fledgeby takes the credit of having got him to hold his
hand.'

'Do you believe Fledgeby?'

'Sophronia, I never believe anybody. I never have, my dear, since I
believed you. But it looks like it.'

Having given her this back-handed reminder of her mutinous
observations to the skeleton, Mr Lammle rose from table--perhaps,
the better to conceal a smile, and a white dint or two about his
nose--and took a turn on the carpet and came to the hearthrug.

'If we could have packed the brute off with Georgiana;--but
however; that's spilled milk.'

As Lammle, standing gathering up the skirts of his dressing-gown
with his back to the fire, said this, looking down at his wife, she
turned pale and looked down at the ground. With a sense of
disloyalty upon her, and perhaps with a sense of personal danger--
for she was afraid of him--even afraid of his hand and afraid of his
foot, though he had never done her violence--she hastened to put
herself right in his eyes.

'If we could borrow money, Alfred--'

'Beg money, borrow money, or steal money. It would be all one to
us, Sophronia,' her husband struck in.

'--Then, we could weather this?'

'No doubt. To offer another original and undeniable remark,
Sophronia, two and two make four.'

But, seeing that she was turning something in her mind, he
gathered up the skirts of his dressing-gown again, and, tucking
them under one arm, and collecting his ample whiskers in his other
hand, kept his eye upon her, silently.

'It is natural, Alfred,' she said, looking up with some timidity into
his face, 'to think in such an emergency of the richest people we
know, and the simplest.'

'Just so, Sophronia.'

'The Boffins.'

'Just so, Sophronia.'

'Is there nothing to be done with them?'

'What is there to be done with them, Sophronia?'

She cast about in her thoughts again, and he kept his eye upon her
as before.

'Of course I have repeatedly thought of the Boffins, Sophronia,' he
resumed, after a fruitless silence; 'but I have seen my way to
nothing. They are well guarded. That infernal Secretary stands
between them and--people of merit.'

'If he could be got rid of?' said she, brightening a little, after more
casting about.

'Take time, Sophronia,' observed her watchful husband, in a
patronizing manner.

'If working him out of the way could be presented in the light of a
service to Mr Boffin?'

'Take time, Sophronia.'

'We have remarked lately, Alfred, that the old man is turning very
suspicious and distrustful.'

'Miserly too, my dear; which is far the most unpromising for us.
Nevertheless, take time, Sophronia, take time.'

She took time and then said:

'Suppose we should address ourselves to that tendency in him of
which we have made ourselves quite sure. Suppose my
conscience--'

'And we know what a conscience it is, my soul. Yes?'

'Suppose my conscience should not allow me to keep to myself any
longer what that upstart girl told me of the Secretary's having made
a declaration to her. Suppose my conscience should oblige me to
repeat it to Mr Boffin.'

'I rather like that,' said Lammle.

'Suppose I so repeated it to Mr Boffin, as to insinuate that my
sensitive delicacy and honour--'

'Very good words, Sophronia.'

'--As to insinuate that OUR sensitive delicacy and honour,' she
resumed, with a bitter stress upon the phrase, 'would not allow us
to be silent parties to so mercenary and designing a speculation on
the Secretary's part, and so gross a breach of faith towards his
confiding employer. Suppose I had imparted my virtuous
uneasiness to my excellent husband, and he had said, in his
integrity, "Sophronia, you must immediately disclose this to Mr
Boffin."'

'Once more, Sophronia,' observed Lammle, changing the leg on
which he stood, 'I rather like that.'

'You remark that he is well guarded,' she pursued. 'I think so too.
But if this should lead to his discharging his Secretary, there would
be a weak place made.'

'Go on expounding, Sophronia. I begin to like this very much.'

'Having, in our unimpeachable rectitude, done him the service of
opening his eyes to the treachery of the person he trusted, we shall
have established a claim upon him and a confidence with him.
Whether it can be made much of, or little of, we must wait--
because we can't help it--to see. Probably we shall make the most
of it that is to be made.'

'Probably,' said LammIe.

'Do you think it impossible,' she asked, in the same cold plotting
way, 'that you might replace the Secretary?'

'Not impossible, Sophronia. It might be brought about. At any
rate it might be skilfully led up to.'

She nodded her understanding of the hint, as she looked at the fire.
'Mr Lammle,' she said, musingly: not without a slight ironical
touch: 'Mr Lammle would be so delighted to do anything in his
power. Mr Lammle, himself a man of business as well as a
capitalist. Mr Lammle, accustomed to be intrusted with the most
delicate affairs. Mr Lammle, who has managed my own little
fortune so admirably, but who, to be sure, began to make his
reputation with the advantage of being a man of property, above
temptation, and beyond suspicion.'

Mr Lammle smiled, and even patted her on the head. In his
sinister relish of the scheme, as he stood above her, making it the
subject of his cogitations, he seemed to have twice as much nose
on his face as he had ever had in his life.

He stood pondering, and she sat looking at the dusty fire without
moving, for some time. But, the moment he began to speak again
she looked up with a wince and attended to him, as if that double-
dealing of hers had been in her mind, and the fear were revived in
her of his hand or his foot.

'It appears to me, Sophronia, that you have omitted one branch of
the subject. Perhaps not, for women understand women. We
might oust the girl herself?'

Mrs Lammle shook her head. 'She has an immensely strong hold
upon them both, Alfred. Not to be compared with that of a paid
secretary.

'But the dear child,' said Lammle, with a crooked smile, 'ought to
have been open with her benefactor and benefactress. The darling
love ought to have reposed unbounded confidence in her benefactor
and benefactress.'

Sophronia shook her head again.

'Well! Women understand women,' said her husband, rather
disappointed. 'I don't press it. It might be the making of our
fortune to make a clean sweep of them both. With me to manage
the property, and my wife to manage the people--Whew!'

Again shaking her head, she returned: 'They will never quarrel
with the girl. They will never punish the girl. We must accept the
girl, rely upon it.'

'Well!' cried Lammle, shrugging his shoulders, 'so be it: only
always remember that we don't want her.'

'Now, the sole remaining question is,' said Mrs Lammle, 'when
shall I begin?'

'You cannot begin too soon, Sophronia. As I have told you, the
condition of our affairs is desperate, and may be blown upon at any
moment.'

'I must secure Mr Boffin alone, Alfred. If his wife was present, she
would throw oil upon the waters. I know I should fail to move him
to an angry outburst, if his wife was there. And as to the girl
herself--as I am going to betray her confidence, she is equally out
of the question.'

'It wouldn't do to write for an appointment?' said Lammle.

'No, certainly not. They would wonder among themselves why I
wrote, and I want to have him wholly unprepared.'

'Call, and ask to see him alone?' suggested Lammle.

'I would rather not do that either. Leave it to me. Spare me the
little carriage for to-day, and for to-morrow (if I don't succeed to-
day), and I'll lie in wait for him.'

It was barely settled when a manly form was seen to pass the
windows and heard to knock and ring. 'Here's Fledgeby,' said
Lammle. 'He admires you, and has a high opinion of you. I'll be
out. Coax him to use his influence with the Jew. His name is
Riah, of the House of Pubsey and Co.' Adding these words under
his breath, lest he should be audible in the erect ears of Mr
Fledgeby, through two keyholes and the hall, Lammle, making
signals of discretion to his servant, went softly up stairs.

'Mr Fledgeby,' said Mrs Lammle, giving him a very gracious
reception, 'so glad to see you! My poor dear Alfred, who is greatly
worried just now about his affairs, went out rather early. Dear Mr
Fledgeby, do sit down.'

Dear Mr Fledgeby did sit down, and satisfied himself (or, judging
from the expression of his countenance, DISsatisfied himself) that
nothing new had occurred in the way of whisker-sprout since he
came round the corner from the Albany.

'Dear Mr Fledgeby, it was needless to mention to you that my poor
dear Alfred is much worried about his affairs at present, for he has
told me what a comfort you are to him in his temporary difficulties,
and what a great service you have rendered him.'

'Oh!' said Mr Fledgeby.

'Yes,' said Mrs Lammle.

'I didn't know,' remarked Mr Fledgeby, trying a new part of his
chair, 'but that Lammle might be reserved about his affairs.'

'Not to me,' said Mrs Lammle, with deep feeling.

'Oh, indeed?' said Fledgeby.

'Not to me, dear Mr Fledgeby. I am his wife.'

'Yes. I--I always understood so,' said Mr Fledgeby.

'And as the wife of Alfred, may I, dear Mr Fledgeby, wholly
without his authority or knowledge, as I am sure your discernment
will perceive, entreat you to continue that great service, and once
more use your well-earned influence with Mr Riah for a little more
indulgence? The name I have heard Alfred mention, tossing in his
dreams, IS Riah; is it not?'

'The name of the Creditor is Riah,' said Mr Fledgehy, with a rather
uncompromising accent on his noun-substantive. 'Saint Mary Axe.
Pubsey and Co.'

'Oh yes!' exclaimed Mrs Lammle, clasping her hands with a certain
gushing wildness. 'Pubsey and Co.!'

'The pleading of the feminine--' Mr Fledgeby began, and there
stuck so long for a word to get on with, that Mrs Lammle offered
him sweetly, 'Heart?'

'No,' said Mr Fledgeby, 'Gender--is ever what a man is bound to
listen to, and I wish it rested with myself. But this Riah is a nasty
one, Mrs Lammle; he really is.'

'Not if YOU speak to him, dear Mr Fledgeby.'

'Upon my soul and body he is!' said Fledgeby.

'Try. Try once more, dearest Mr Fledgeby. What is there you
cannot do, if you will!'

'Thank you,' said Fledgeby, 'you're very complimentary to say so.
I don't mind trying him again, at your request. But of course I
can't answer for the consequences. Riah is a tough subject, and
when he says he'll do a thing, he'll do it.'

'Exactly so,' cried Mrs Lammle, 'and when he says to you he'll
wait, he'll wait.'

('She is a devilish clever woman,' thought Fledgeby. 'I didn't see
that opening, but she spies it out and cuts into it as soon as it's
made. ')

'In point of fact, dear Mr Fledgeby,' Mrs Lammle went on in a very
interesting manner, 'not to affect concealment of Alfred's hopes,
to you who are so much his friend, there is a distant break in his
horizon.'

This figure of speech seemed rather mysterious to Fascination
Fledgeby, who said, 'There's a what in his--eh?'

'Alfred, dear Mr Fledgeby, discussed with me this very morning
before he went out, some prospects he has, which might entirely
change the aspect of his present troubles.'

'Really?' said Fledgeby.

'O yes!' Here Mrs Lammle brought her handkerchief into play.
'And you know, dear Mr Fledgeby--you who study the human
heart, and study the world--what an affliction it would be to lose
position and to lose credit, when ability to tide over a very short
time might save all appearances.'

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