Our mutual friend, p.12
Our Mutual Friend,
THE SWEAT OF AN HONEST MAN'S BROW
Mr Mortimer Lightwood and Mr Eugene Wrayburn took a coffee-house dinnertogether in Mr Lightwood's office. They had newly agreed to set up ajoint establishment together. They had taken a bachelor cottage nearHampton, on the brink of the Thames, with a lawn, and a boat-house; andall things fitting, and were to float with the stream through the summerand the Long Vacation.
It was not summer yet, but spring; and it was not gentle springethereally mild, as in Thomson's Seasons, but nipping spring with aneasterly wind, as in Johnson's, Jackson's, Dickson's, Smith's, andJones's Seasons. The grating wind sawed rather than blew; and as itsawed, the sawdust whirled about the sawpit. Every street was a sawpit,and there were no top-sawyers; every passenger was an under-sawyer, withthe sawdust blinding him and choking him.
That mysterious paper currency which circulates in London when thewind blows, gyrated here and there and everywhere. Whence can it come,whither can it go? It hangs on every bush, flutters in every tree, iscaught flying by the electric wires, haunts every enclosure, drinks atevery pump, cowers at every grating, shudders upon every plot of grass,seeks rest in vain behind the legions of iron rails. In Paris, wherenothing is wasted, costly and luxurious city though it be, but wherewonderful human ants creep out of holes and pick up every scrap, thereis no such thing. There, it blows nothing but dust. There, sharp eyesand sharp stomachs reap even the east wind, and get something out of it.
The wind sawed, and the sawdust whirled. The shrubs wrung their manyhands, bemoaning that they had been over-persuaded by the sun to bud;the young leaves pined; the sparrows repented of their early marriages,like men and women; the colours of the rainbow were discernible, notin floral spring, but in the faces of the people whom it nibbled andpinched. And ever the wind sawed, and the sawdust whirled.
When the spring evenings are too long and light to shut out, and suchweather is rife, the city which Mr Podsnap so explanatorily calledLondon, Londres, London, is at its worst. Such a black shrill city,combining the qualities of a smoky house and a scolding wife; such agritty city; such a hopeless city, with no rent in the leaden canopy ofits sky; such a beleaguered city, invested by the great Marsh Forces ofEssex and Kent. So the two old schoolfellows felt it to be, as, theirdinner done, they turned towards the fire to smoke. Young Blight wasgone, the coffee-house waiter was gone, the plates and dishes were gone,the wine was going--but not in the same direction.
'The wind sounds up here,' quoth Eugene, stirring the fire, 'as if wewere keeping a lighthouse. I wish we were.'
'Don't you think it would bore us?' Lightwood asked.
'Not more than any other place. And there would be no Circuit to go. Butthat's a selfish consideration, personal to me.'
'And no clients to come,' added Lightwood. 'Not that that's a selfishconsideration at all personal to ME.'
'If we were on an isolated rock in a stormy sea,' said Eugene, smokingwith his eyes on the fire, 'Lady Tippins couldn't put off to visit us,or, better still, might put off and get swamped. People couldn't ask oneto wedding breakfasts. There would be no Precedents to hammer at,except the plain-sailing Precedent of keeping the light up. It would beexciting to look out for wrecks.'
'But otherwise,' suggested Lightwood, 'there might be a degree ofsameness in the life.'
'I have thought of that also,' said Eugene, as if he really had beenconsidering the subject in its various bearings with an eye to thebusiness; 'but it would be a defined and limited monotony. It wouldnot extend beyond two people. Now, it's a question with me, Mortimer,whether a monotony defined with that precision and limited to thatextent, might not be more endurable than the unlimited monotony of one'sfellow-creatures.'
As Lightwood laughed and passed the wine, he remarked, 'We shall have anopportunity, in our boating summer, of trying the question.'
'An imperfect one,' Eugene acquiesced, with a sigh, 'but so we shall. Ihope we may not prove too much for one another.'
'Now, regarding your respected father,' said Lightwood, bringing himto a subject they had expressly appointed to discuss: always the mostslippery eel of eels of subjects to lay hold of.
'Yes, regarding my respected father,' assented Eugene, settling himselfin his arm-chair. 'I would rather have approached my respected father bycandlelight, as a theme requiring a little artificial brilliancy; but wewill take him by twilight, enlivened with a glow of Wallsend.'
He stirred the fire again as he spoke, and having made it blaze,resumed.
'My respected father has found, down in the parental neighbourhood, awife for his not-generally-respected son.'
'With some money, of course?'
'With some money, of course, or he would not have found her. Myrespected father--let me shorten the dutiful tautology by substitutingin future M. R. F., which sounds military, and rather like the Duke ofWellington.'
'What an absurd fellow you are, Eugene!'
'Not at all, I assure you. M. R. F. having always in the clearest mannerprovided (as he calls it) for his children by pre-arranging from thehour of the birth of each, and sometimes from an earlier period, whatthe devoted little victim's calling and course in life should be, M. R.F. pre-arranged for myself that I was to be the barrister I am (withthe slight addition of an enormous practice, which has not accrued), andalso the married man I am not.'
'The first you have often told me.'
'The first I have often told you. Considering myself sufficientlyincongruous on my legal eminence, I have until now suppressed mydomestic destiny. You know M. R. F., but not as well as I do. If youknew him as well as I do, he would amuse you.'
'Filially spoken, Eugene!'
'Perfectly so, believe me; and with every sentiment of affectionatedeference towards M. R. F. But if he amuses me, I can't help it. When myeldest brother was born, of course the rest of us knew (I mean the restof us would have known, if we had been in existence) that he was heirto the Family Embarrassments--we call it before the company the FamilyEstate. But when my second brother was going to be born by-and-by,"this," says M. R. F., "is a little pillar of the church." Was born,and became a pillar of the church; a very shaky one. My third brotherappeared, considerably in advance of his engagement to my mother; butM. R. F., not at all put out by surprise, instantly declared hima Circumnavigator. Was pitch-forked into the Navy, but has notcircumnavigated. I announced myself and was disposed of with the highlysatisfactory results embodied before you. When my younger brother washalf an hour old, it was settled by M. R. F. that he should have amechanical genius. And so on. Therefore I say that M. R. F. amuses me.'
'Touching the lady, Eugene.'
'There M. R. F. ceases to be amusing, because my intentions are opposedto touching the lady.'
'Do you know her?'
'Not in the least.'
'Hadn't you better see her?'
'My dear Mortimer, you have studied my character. Could I possibly godown there, labelled "ELIGIBLE. ON VIEW," and meet the lady, similarlylabelled? Anything to carry out M. R. F.'s arrangements, I am sure, withthe greatest pleasure--except matrimony. Could I possibly support it? I,so soon bored, so constantly, so fatally?'
'But you are not a consistent fellow, Eugene.'
'In susceptibility to boredom,' returned that worthy, 'I assure you I amthe most consistent of mankind.'
'Why, it was but now that you were dwelling in the advantages of amonotony of two.'
'In a lighthouse. Do me the justice to remember the condition. In alighthouse.'
Mortimer laughed again, and Eugene, having laughed too for the firsttime, as if he found himself on reflection rather entertaining, relapsedinto his usual gloom, and drowsily said, as he enjoyed his cigar, 'No,there is no help for it; one of the prophetic deliveries of M. R. F.must for ever remain unfulfilled. With every disposition to oblige him,he must submit to a failure.'
It had grown darker as they talked, and the wind was sawing and thesawdust was whirling outside paler windows. The underlying c
He had walked to the window with his cigar in his mouth, to exalt itsflavour by comparing the fireside with the outside, when he stoppedmidway on his return to his arm-chair, and said:
'Apparently one of the ghosts has lost its way, and dropped in to bedirected. Look at this phantom!'
Lightwood, whose back was towards the door, turned his head, and there,in the darkness of the entry, stood a something in the likeness of aman: to whom he addressed the not irrelevant inquiry, 'Who the devil areyou?'
'I ask your pardons, Governors,' replied the ghost, in a hoarsedouble-barrelled whisper, 'but might either on you be Lawyer Lightwood?'
'What do you mean by not knocking at the door?' demanded Mortimer.
'I ask your pardons, Governors,' replied the ghost, as before, 'butprobable you was not aware your door stood open.'
'What do you want?'
Hereunto the ghost again hoarsely replied, in its double-barrelledmanner, 'I ask your pardons, Governors, but might one on you be LawyerLightwood?'
'One of us is,' said the owner of that name.
'All right, Governors Both,' returned the ghost, carefully closing theroom door; ''tickler business.'
Mortimer lighted the candles. They showed the visitor to be anill-looking visitor with a squinting leer, who, as he spoke, fumbledat an old sodden fur cap, formless and mangey, that looked like a furryanimal, dog or cat, puppy or kitten, drowned and decaying.
'Now,' said Mortimer, 'what is it?'
'Governors Both,' returned the man, in what he meant to be a wheedlingtone, 'which on you might be Lawyer Lightwood?'
'Lawyer Lightwood,' ducking at him with a servile air, 'I am a man asgets my living, and as seeks to get my living, by the sweat of my brow.Not to risk being done out of the sweat of my brow, by any chances, Ishould wish afore going further to be swore in.'
'I am not a swearer in of people, man.'
The visitor, clearly anything but reliant on this assurance, doggedlymuttered 'Alfred David.'
'Is that your name?' asked Lightwood.
'My name?' returned the man. 'No; I want to take a Alfred David.'
(Which Eugene, smoking and contemplating him, interpreted as meaningAffidavit.)
'I tell you, my good fellow,' said Lightwood, with his indolent laugh,'that I have nothing to do with swearing.'
'He can swear AT you,' Eugene explained; 'and so can I. But we can't domore for you.'
Much discomfited by this information, the visitor turned the drowneddog or cat, puppy or kitten, about and about, and looked from one ofthe Governors Both to the other of the Governors Both, while he deeplyconsidered within himself. At length he decided:
'Then I must be took down.'
'Where?' asked Lightwood.
'Here,' said the man. 'In pen and ink.'
'First, let us know what your business is about.'
'It's about,' said the man, taking a step forward, dropping his hoarsevoice, and shading it with his hand, 'it's about from five to tenthousand pound reward. That's what it's about. It's about Murder. That'swhat it's about.'
'Come nearer the table. Sit down. Will you have a glass of wine?'
'Yes, I will,' said the man; 'and I don't deceive you, Governors.'
It was given him. Making a stiff arm to the elbow, he poured the wineinto his mouth, tilted it into his right cheek, as saying, 'What do youthink of it?' tilted it into his left cheek, as saying, 'What do YOUthink of it?' jerked it into his stomach, as saying, 'What do YOU thinkof it?' To conclude, smacked his lips, as if all three replied, 'Wethink well of it.'
'Will you have another?'
'Yes, I will,' he repeated, 'and I don't deceive you, Governors.' Andalso repeated the other proceedings.
'Now,' began Lightwood, 'what's your name?'
'Why, there you're rather fast, Lawyer Lightwood,' he replied, in aremonstrant manner. 'Don't you see, Lawyer Lightwood? There you're alittle bit fast. I'm going to earn from five to ten thousand pound bythe sweat of my brow; and as a poor man doing justice to the sweat of mybrow, is it likely I can afford to part with so much as my name withoutits being took down?'
Deferring to the man's sense of the binding powers of pen and ink andpaper, Lightwood nodded acceptance of Eugene's nodded proposal to takethose spells in hand. Eugene, bringing them to the table, sat down asclerk or notary.
'Now,' said Lightwood, 'what's your name?'
But further precaution was still due to the sweat of this honestfellow's brow.
'I should wish, Lawyer Lightwood,' he stipulated, 'to have that T'otherGovernor as my witness that what I said I said. Consequent, will theT'other Governor be so good as chuck me his name and where he lives?'
Eugene, cigar in mouth and pen in hand, tossed him his card. Afterspelling it out slowly, the man made it into a little roll, and tied itup in an end of his neckerchief still more slowly.
'Now,' said Lightwood, for the third time, 'if you have quite completedyour various preparations, my friend, and have fully ascertained thatyour spirits are cool and not in any way hurried, what's your name?'
'Calling or occupation?'
Not quite so glib with this answer as with the previous two, MrRiderhood gave in the definition, 'Waterside character.'
'Anything against you?' Eugene quietly put in, as he wrote.
Rather baulked, Mr Riderhood evasively remarked, with an innocent air,that he believed the T'other Governor had asked him summa't.
'Ever in trouble?' said Eugene.
'Once.' (Might happen to any man, Mr Riderhood added incidentally.)
'On suspicion of--'
'Of seaman's pocket,' said Mr Riderhood. 'Whereby I was in reality theman's best friend, and tried to take care of him.'
'With the sweat of your brow?' asked Eugene.
'Till it poured down like rain,' said Roger Riderhood.
Eugene leaned back in his chair, and smoked with his eyes negligentlyturned on the informer, and his pen ready to reduce him to more writing.Lightwood also smoked, with his eyes negligently turned on the informer.
'Now let me be took down again,' said Riderhood, when he had turned thedrowned cap over and under, and had brushed it the wrong way (if it hada right way) with his sleeve. 'I give information that the man that donethe Harmon Murder is Gaffer Hexam, the man that found the body. The handof Jesse Hexam, commonly called Gaffer on the river and along shore, isthe hand that done that deed. His hand and no other.'
The two friends glanced at one another with more serious faces than theyhad shown yet.
'Tell us on what grounds you make this accusation,' said MortimerLightwood.
'On the grounds,' answered Riderhood, wiping his face with his sleeve,'that I was Gaffer's pardner, and suspected of him many a long day andmany a dark night. On the grounds that I knowed his ways. On the groundsthat I broke the pardnership because I see the danger; which I warn youhis daughter may tell you another story about that, for anythink I cansay, but you know what it'll be worth, for she'd tell you lies, theworld round and the heavens broad, to save her father. On the groundsthat it's well understood along the cause'ays and the stairs that hedone it. On the grounds that he's fell off from, because he done it. Onthe grounds that I will swear he done it. On the grounds that you maytake me where you will, and get me sworn to it. I don't want to back outof the consequences. I have made up MY mind. Take me anywheres.'
'All this is nothing,' said Lightwood.
'Nothing?' repeated Riderhood, indignantly and amazedly.
'Merely nothing. It goes to no more than that you suspect this man ofthe crime. You may do so with some reason, or you may do so with noreason, but he cannot be convicted on your suspicion.'
'Haven't I said--I appeal t
'Surely not; but you only offer to swear to your suspicion, and I tellyou it is not enough to swear to your suspicion.'
'Not enough, ain't it, Lawyer Lightwood?' he cautiously demanded.
'And did I say it WAS enough? Now, I appeal to the T'other Governor.Now, fair! Did I say so?'
'He certainly has not said that he had no more to tell,' Eugene observedin a low voice without looking at him, 'whatever he seemed to imply.'
'Hah!' cried the informer, triumphantly perceiving that the remark wasgenerally in his favour, though apparently not closely understanding it.'Fort'nate for me I had a witness!'
'Go on, then,' said Lightwood. 'Say out what you have to say. Noafter-thought.'
'Let me be took down then!' cried the informer, eagerly and anxiously.'Let me be took down, for by George and the Draggin I'm a coming to itnow! Don't do nothing to keep back from a honest man the fruits of thesweat of his brow! I give information, then, that he told me that hedone it. Is THAT enough?'
'Take care what you say, my friend,' returned Mortimer.
'Lawyer Lightwood, take care, you, what I say; for I judge you'll beanswerable for follering it up!' Then, slowly and emphatically beatingit all out with his open right hand on the palm of his left; 'I,Roger Riderhood, Lime'us Hole, Waterside character, tell you, LawyerLightwood, that the man Jesse Hexam, commonly called upon the river andalong-shore Gaffer, told me that he done the deed. What's more, he toldme with his own lips that he done the deed. What's more, he said that hedone the deed. And I'll swear it!'
'Where did he tell you so?'
'Outside,' replied Riderhood, always beating it out, with his headdeterminedly set askew, and his eyes watchfully dividing theirattention between his two auditors, 'outside the door of the Six JollyFellowships, towards a quarter after twelve o'clock at midnight--but Iwill not in my conscience undertake to swear to so fine a matter asfive minutes--on the night when he picked up the body. The Six JollyFellowships won't run away. If it turns out that he warn't at the SixJolly Fellowships that night at midnight, I'm a liar.'
'What did he say?'
'I'll tell you (take me down, T'other Governor, I ask no better). Hecome out first; I come out last. I might be a minute arter him; I mightbe half a minute, I might be a quarter of a minute; I cannot swear tothat, and therefore I won't. That's knowing the obligations of a AlfredDavid, ain't it?'
'I found him a waiting to speak to me. He says to me, "RogueRiderhood"--for that's the name I'm mostly called by--not for anymeaning in it, for meaning it has none, but because of its being similarto Roger.'
'Never mind that.'
''Scuse ME, Lawyer Lightwood, it's a part of the truth, and as such Ido mind it, and I must mind it and I will mind it. "Rogue Riderhood,"he says, "words passed betwixt us on the river tonight." Which they had;ask his daughter! "I threatened you," he says, "to chop you over thefingers with my boat's stretcher, or take a aim at your brains with myboathook. I did so on accounts of your looking too hard at what I had intow, as if you was suspicious, and on accounts of your holding on to thegunwale of my boat." I says to him, "Gaffer, I know it." He says to me,"Rogue Riderhood, you are a man in a dozen"--I think he said in a score,but of that I am not positive, so take the lowest figure, for preciousbe the obligations of a Alfred David. "And," he says, "when yourfellow-men is up, be it their lives or be it their watches, sharp isever the word with you. Had you suspicions?" I says, "Gaffer, I had;and what's more, I have." He falls a shaking, and he says, "Of what?" Isays, "Of foul play." He falls a shaking worse, and he says, "There WASfoul play then. I done it for his money. Don't betray me!" Those werethe words as ever he used.'
There was a silence, broken only by the fall of the ashes in the grate.An opportunity which the informer improved by smearing himself allover the head and neck and face with his drowned cap, and not at allimproving his own appearance.
'What more?' asked Lightwood.
'Of him, d'ye mean, Lawyer Lightwood?'
'Of anything to the purpose.'
'Now, I'm blest if I understand you, Governors Both,' said the informer,in a creeping manner: propitiating both, though only one had spoken.'What? Ain't THAT enough?'
'Did you ask him how he did it, where he did it, when he did it?'
'Far be it from me, Lawyer Lightwood! I was so troubled in my mind, thatI wouldn't have knowed more, no, not for the sum as I expect to earnfrom you by the sweat of my brow, twice told! I had put an end to thepardnership. I had cut the connexion. I couldn't undo what was done; andwhen he begs and prays, "Old pardner, on my knees, don't split upon me!"I only makes answer "Never speak another word to Roger Riderhood, norlook him in the face!" and I shuns that man.'
Having given these words a swing to make them mount the higher and gothe further, Rogue Riderhood poured himself out another glass of wineunbidden, and seemed to chew it, as, with the half-emptied glass in hishand, he stared at the candles.
Mortimer glanced at Eugene, but Eugene sat glowering at his paper,and would give him no responsive glance. Mortimer again turned to theinformer, to whom he said:
'You have been troubled in your mind a long time, man?'
Giving his wine a final chew, and swallowing it, the informer answeredin a single word:
'When all that stir was made, when the Government reward was offered,when the police were on the alert, when the whole country rang with thecrime!' said Mortimer, impatiently.
'Hah!' Mr Riderhood very slowly and hoarsely chimed in, with severalretrospective nods of his head. 'Warn't I troubled in my mind then!'
'When conjecture ran wild, when the most extravagant suspicions wereafloat, when half a dozen innocent people might have been laid by theheels any hour in the day!' said Mortimer, almost warming.
'Hah!' Mr Riderhood chimed in, as before. 'Warn't I troubled in my mindthrough it all!'
'But he hadn't,' said Eugene, drawing a lady's head upon hiswriting-paper, and touching it at intervals, 'the opportunity then ofearning so much money, you see.'
'The T'other Governor hits the nail, Lawyer Lightwood! It was that asturned me. I had many times and again struggled to relieve myself of thetrouble on my mind, but I couldn't get it off. I had once very nighgot it off to Miss Abbey Potterson which keeps the Six JollyFellowships--there is the 'ouse, it won't run away,--there lives thelady, she ain't likely to be struck dead afore you get there--askher!--but I couldn't do it. At last, out comes the new bill with yourown lawful name, Lawyer Lightwood, printed to it, and then I asks thequestion of my own intellects, Am I to have this trouble on my mind forever? Am I never to throw it off? Am I always to think more of Gafferthan of my own self? If he's got a daughter, ain't I got a daughter?'
'And echo answered--?' Eugene suggested.
'"You have,"' said Mr Riderhood, in a firm tone.
'Incidentally mentioning, at the same time, her age?' inquired Eugene.
'Yes, governor. Two-and-twenty last October. And then I put it tomyself, "Regarding the money. It is a pot of money." For it IS a pot,'said Mr Riderhood, with candour, 'and why deny it?'
'Hear!' from Eugene as he touched his drawing.
'"It is a pot of money; but is it a sin for a labouring man thatmoistens every crust of bread he earns, with his tears--or if not withthem, with the colds he catches in his head--is it a sin for that man toearn it? Say there is anything again earning it." This I put to myselfstrong, as in duty bound; "how can it be said without blaming LawyerLightwood for offering it to be earned?" And was it for ME to blameLawyer Lightwood? No.'
'No,' said Eugene.
'Certainly not, Gover
After another silence, broken only by the fall of the ashes in thegrate, which attracted the informer's attention as if it were thechinking of money, Mortimer Lightwood leaned over his friend, and saidin a whisper:
'I suppose I must go with this fellow to our imperturbable friend at thepolice-station.'
'I suppose,' said Eugene, 'there is no help for it.'
'Do you believe him?'
'I believe him to be a thorough rascal. But he may tell the truth, forhis own purpose, and for this occasion only.'
'It doesn't look like it.'
'HE doesn't,' said Eugene. 'But neither is his late partner, whom hedenounces, a prepossessing person. The firm are cut-throat Shepherdsboth, in appearance. I should like to ask him one thing.'
The subject of this conference sat leering at the ashes, trying withall his might to overhear what was said, but feigning abstraction as the'Governors Both' glanced at him.
'You mentioned (twice, I think) a daughter of this Hexam's,' saidEugene, aloud. 'You don't mean to imply that she had any guiltyknowledge of the crime?'
The honest man, after considering--perhaps considering how his answermight affect the fruits of the sweat of his brow--replied, unreservedly,'No, I don't.'
'And you implicate no other person?'
'It ain't what I implicate, it's what Gaffer implicated,' was the doggedand determined answer. 'I don't pretend to know more than that his wordsto me was, "I done it." Those was his words.'
'I must see this out, Mortimer,' whispered Eugene, rising. 'How shall wego?'
'Let us walk,' whispered Lightwood, 'and give this fellow time to thinkof it.'
Having exchanged the question and answer, they prepared themselvesfor going out, and Mr Riderhood rose. While extinguishing the candles,Lightwood, quite as a matter of course took up the glass from which thathonest gentleman had drunk, and coolly tossed it under the grate, whereit fell shivering into fragments.
'Now, if you will take the lead,' said Lightwood, 'Mr Wrayburn and Iwill follow. You know where to go, I suppose?'
'I suppose I do, Lawyer Lightwood.'
'Take the lead, then.'
The waterside character pulled his drowned cap over his ears with bothhands, and making himself more round-shouldered than nature had madehim, by the sullen and persistent slouch with which he went, wentdown the stairs, round by the Temple Church, across the Temple intoWhitefriars, and so on by the waterside streets.
'Look at his hang-dog air,' said Lightwood, following.
'It strikes me rather as a hang-MAN air,' returned Eugene. 'He hasundeniable intentions that way.'
They said little else as they followed. He went on before them as anugly Fate might have done, and they kept him in view, and would havebeen glad enough to lose sight of him. But on he went before them,always at the same distance, and the same rate. Aslant against the hardimplacable weather and the rough wind, he was no more to be driven backthan hurried forward, but held on like an advancing Destiny. There came,when they were about midway on their journey, a heavy rush of hail,which in a few minutes pelted the streets clear, and whitened them. Itmade no difference to him. A man's life being to be taken and the priceof it got, the hailstones to arrest the purpose must lie larger anddeeper than those. He crashed through them, leaving marks in thefast-melting slush that were mere shapeless holes; one might havefancied, following, that the very fashion of humanity had departed fromhis feet.
The blast went by, and the moon contended with the fast-flying clouds,and the wild disorder reigning up there made the pitiful little tumultsin the streets of no account. It was not that the wind swept allthe brawlers into places of shelter, as it had swept the hail stilllingering in heaps wherever there was refuge for it; but that it seemedas if the streets were absorbed by the sky, and the night were all inthe air.
'If he has had time to think of it,' said Eugene, 'he has not had time tothink better of it--or differently of it, if that's better. There is nosign of drawing back in him; and as I recollect this place, we must beclose upon the corner where we alighted that night.'
In fact, a few abrupt turns brought them to the river side, where theyhad slipped about among the stones, and where they now slipped more; thewind coming against them in slants and flaws, across the tide and thewindings of the river, in a furious way. With that habit of gettingunder the lee of any shelter which waterside characters acquire, thewaterside character at present in question led the way to the leeside ofthe Six Jolly Fellowship Porters before he spoke.
'Look round here, Lawyer Lightwood, at them red curtains. It's theFellowships, the 'ouse as I told you wouldn't run away. And has it runaway?'
Not showing himself much impressed by this remarkable confirmation ofthe informer's evidence, Lightwood inquired what other business they hadthere?
'I wished you to see the Fellowships for yourself, Lawyer Lightwood,that you might judge whether I'm a liar; and now I'll see Gaffer'swindow for myself, that we may know whether he's at home.'
With that, he crept away.
'He'll come back, I suppose?' murmured Lightwood.
'Ay! and go through with it,' murmured Eugene.
He came back after a very short interval indeed.
'Gaffer's out, and his boat's out. His daughter's at home, sittinga-looking at the fire. But there's some supper getting ready, soGaffer's expected. I can find what move he's upon, easy enough,presently.'
Then he beckoned and led the way again, and they came to thepolice-station, still as clean and cool and steady as before, savingthat the flame of its lamp--being but a lamp-flame, and only attached tothe Force as an outsider--flickered in the wind.
Also, within doors, Mr Inspector was at his studies as of yore.He recognized the friends the instant they reappeared, but theirreappearance had no effect on his composure. Not even the circumstancethat Riderhood was their conductor moved him, otherwise than that as hetook a dip of ink he seemed, by a settlement of his chin in his stock,to propound to that personage, without looking at him, the question,'What have YOU been up to, last?'
Mortimer Lightwood asked him, would he be so good as look at thosenotes? Handing him Eugene's.
Having read the first few lines, Mr Inspector mounted to that (for him)extraordinary pitch of emotion that he said, 'Does either of you twogentlemen happen to have a pinch of snuff about him?' Finding thatneither had, he did quite as well without it, and read on.
'Have you heard these read?' he then demanded of the honest man.
'No,' said Riderhood.
'Then you had better hear them.' And so read them aloud, in an officialmanner.
'Are these notes correct, now, as to the information you bring here andthe evidence you mean to give?' he asked, when he had finished reading.
'They are. They are as correct,' returned Mr Riderhood, 'as I am. Ican't say more than that for 'em.'
'I'll take this man myself, sir,' said Mr Inspector to Lightwood. Thento Riderhood, 'Is he at home? Where is he? What's he doing? You havemade it your business to know all about him, no doubt.'
Riderhood said what he did know, and promised to find out in a fewminutes what he didn't know.
'Stop,' said Mr Inspector; 'not till I tell you: We mustn't look likebusiness. Would you two gentlemen object to making a pretence of takinga glass of something in my company at the Fellowships? Well-conductedhouse, and highly respectable landlady.'
They replied that they would be happy to substitute a reality for thepretence, which, in the main, appeared to be as one with Mr Inspector'smeaning.
'Very good,' said he, taking his hat from its peg, and puttin
As the three went out together, and Riderhood slouched off from underthe trembling lamp his separate way, Lightwood asked the officer what hethought of this?
Mr Inspector replied, with due generality and reticence, that it wasalways more likely that a man had done a bad thing than that he hadn't.That he himself had several times 'reckoned up' Gaffer, but had neverbeen able to bring him to a satisfactory criminal total. That if thisstory was true, it was only in part true. That the two men, very shycharacters, would have been jointly and pretty equally 'in it;' but thatthis man had 'spotted' the other, to save himself and get the money.
'And I think,' added Mr Inspector, in conclusion, 'that if all goeswell with him, he's in a tolerable way of getting it. But as this is theFellowships, gentlemen, where the lights are, I recommend droppingthe subject. You can't do better than be interested in some lime worksanywhere down about Northfleet, and doubtful whether some of your limedon't get into bad company as it comes up in barges.'
'You hear Eugene?' said Lightwood, over his shoulder. 'You are deeplyinterested in lime.'
'Without lime,' returned that unmoved barrister-at-law, 'my existencewould be unilluminated by a ray of hope.'
Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens / Romance & Love have rating 5 out of 5 / Based on135 votes