Our mutual friend, p.22
Our Mutual Friend,
Fledgeby deserved Mr Alfred Lammle's eulogium. He was the meanestcur existing, with a single pair of legs. And instinct (a word we allclearly understand) going largely on four legs, and reason always ontwo, meanness on four legs never attains the perfection of meanness ontwo.
The father of this young gentleman had been a money-lender, whohad transacted professional business with the mother of thisyoung gentleman, when he, the latter, was waiting in the vast darkante-chambers of the present world to be born. The lady, a widow, beingunable to pay the money-lender, married him; and in due course, Fledgebywas summoned out of the vast dark ante-chambers to come and be presentedto the Registrar-General. Rather a curious speculation how Fledgebywould otherwise have disposed of his leisure until Doomsday.
Fledgeby's mother offended her family by marrying Fledgeby's father. Itis one of the easiest achievements in life to offend your family whenyour family want to get rid of you. Fledgeby's mother's family hadbeen very much offended with her for being poor, and broke with herfor becoming comparatively rich. Fledgeby's mother's family was theSnigsworth family. She had even the high honour to be cousin to LordSnigsworth--so many times removed that the noble Earl would have had nocompunction in removing her one time more and dropping her clean outsidethe cousinly pale; but cousin for all that.
Among her pre-matrimonial transactions with Fledgeby's father,Fledgeby's mother had raised money of him at a great disadvantage on acertain reversionary interest. The reversion falling in soon after theywere married, Fledgeby's father laid hold of the cash for his separateuse and benefit. This led to subjective differences of opinion, not tosay objective interchanges of boot-jacks, backgammon boards, and othersuch domestic missiles, between Fledgeby's father and Fledgeby's mother,and those led to Fledgeby's mother spending as much money as shecould, and to Fledgeby's father doing all he couldn't to restrain her.Fledgeby's childhood had been, in consequence, a stormy one; but thewinds and the waves had gone down in the grave, and Fledgeby flourishedalone.
He lived in chambers in the Albany, did Fledgeby, and maintained aspruce appearance. But his youthful fire was all composed of sparks fromthe grindstone; and as the sparks flew off, went out, and never warmedanything, be sure that Fledgeby had his tools at the grindstone, andturned it with a wary eye.
Mr Alfred Lammle came round to the Albany to breakfast with Fledgeby.Present on the table, one scanty pot of tea, one scanty loaf, two scantypats of butter, two scanty rashers of bacon, two pitiful eggs, and anabundance of handsome china bought a secondhand bargain.
'What did you think of Georgiana?' asked Mr Lammle.
'Why, I'll tell you,' said Fledgeby, very deliberately.
'Do, my boy.'
'You misunderstand me,' said Fledgeby. 'I don't mean I'll tell you that.I mean I'll tell you something else.'
'Tell me anything, old fellow!'
'Ah, but there you misunderstand me again,' said Fledgeby. 'I mean I'lltell you nothing.'
Mr Lammle sparkled at him, but frowned at him too.
'Look here,' said Fledgeby. 'You're deep and you're ready. Whether I amdeep or not, never mind. I am not ready. But I can do one thing, Lammle,I can hold my tongue. And I intend always doing it.'
'You are a long-headed fellow, Fledgeby.'
'May be, or may not be. If I am a short-tongued fellow, it may amount tothe same thing. Now, Lammle, I am never going to answer questions.'
'My dear fellow, it was the simplest question in the world.'
'Never mind. It seemed so, but things are not always what they seem. Isaw a man examined as a witness in Westminster Hall. Questions put tohim seemed the simplest in the world, but turned out to be anythingrather than that, after he had answered 'em. Very well. Then he shouldhave held his tongue. If he had held his tongue he would have kept outof scrapes that he got into.'
'If I had held my tongue, you would never have seen the subject of myquestion,' remarked Lammle, darkening.
'Now, Lammle,' said Fascination Fledgeby, calmly feeling for hiswhisker, 'it won't do. I won't be led on into a discussion. I can'tmanage a discussion. But I can manage to hold my tongue.'
'Can?' Mr Lammle fell back upon propitiation. 'I should think you could!Why, when these fellows of our acquaintance drink and you drink withthem, the more talkative they get, the more silent you get. The morethey let out, the more you keep in.'
'I don't object, Lammle,' returned Fledgeby, with an internal chuckle,'to being understood, though I object to being questioned. Thatcertainly IS the way I do it.'
'And when all the rest of us are discussing our ventures, none of usever know what a single venture of yours is!'
'And none of you ever will from me, Lammle,' replied Fledgeby, withanother internal chuckle; 'that certainly IS the way I do it.'
'Why of course it is, I know!' rejoined Lammle, with a flourish offrankness, and a laugh, and stretching out his hands as if to showthe universe a remarkable man in Fledgeby. 'If I hadn't known it of myFledgeby, should I have proposed our little compact of advantage, to myFledgeby?'
'Ah!' remarked Fascination, shaking his head slyly. 'But I am not tobe got at in that way. I am not vain. That sort of vanity don't pay,Lammle. No, no, no. Compliments only make me hold my tongue the more.'
Alfred Lammle pushed his plate away (no great sacrifice under thecircumstances of there being so little in it), thrust his hands in hispockets, leaned back in his chair, and contemplated Fledgeby in silence.Then he slowly released his left hand from its pocket, and made thatbush of his whiskers, still contemplating him in silence. Then he slowlybroke silence, and slowly said: 'What--the--Dev-il is this fellow aboutthis morning?'
'Now, look here, Lammle,' said Fascination Fledgeby, with the meanestof twinkles in his meanest of eyes: which were too near together, bythe way: 'look here, Lammle; I am very well aware that I didn't show toadvantage last night, and that you and your wife--who, I consider, isa very clever woman and an agreeable woman--did. I am not calculated toshow to advantage under that sort of circumstances. I know very well youtwo did show to advantage, and managed capitally. But don't you on thataccount come talking to me as if I was your doll and puppet, because Iam not.
'And all this,' cried Alfred, after studying with a look the meannessthat was fain to have the meanest help, and yet was so mean as to turnupon it: 'all this because of one simple natural question!'
'You should have waited till I thought proper to say something about itof myself. I don't like your coming over me with your Georgianas, as ifyou was her proprietor and mine too.'
'Well, when you are in the gracious mind to say anything about it ofyourself,' retorted Lammle, 'pray do.'
'I have done it. I have said you managed capitally. You and your wifeboth. If you'll go on managing capitally, I'll go on doing my part. Onlydon't crow.'
'I crow!' exclaimed Lammle, shrugging his shoulders.
'Or,' pursued the other--'or take it in your head that people are yourpuppets because they don't come out to advantage at the particularmoments when you do, with the assistance of a very clever and agreeablewife. All the rest keep on doing, and let Mrs Lammle keep on doing. Now,I have held my tongue when I thought proper, and I have spoken when Ithought proper, and there's an end of that. And now the question is,'proceeded Fledgeby, with the greatest reluctance, 'will you have anotheregg?'
'No, I won't,' said Lammle, shortly.
'Perhaps you're right and will find yourself better without it,' repliedFascination, in greatly improved spirits. 'To ask you if you'll haveanother rasher would be unmeaning flattery, for it would make youthirsty all day. Will you have some more bread and butter?'
'No, I won't,' repeated Lammle.
'Then I will,' said Fascination. And it was not a mere retort for thesound's sake, but was a cheerful cogent consequence of the refusal; forif Lammle had applied himself again to the loaf, it would have been soheavily visited, in Fledgeby's opinion, as to demand abstinence frombread, on
Whether this young gentleman (for he was but three-and-twenty) combinedwith the miserly vice of an old man, any of the open-handed vices ofa young one, was a moot point; so very honourably did he keep his owncounsel. He was sensible of the value of appearances as an investment,and liked to dress well; but he drove a bargain for every moveable abouthim, from the coat on his back to the china on his breakfast-table;and every bargain by representing somebody's ruin or somebody's loss,acquired a peculiar charm for him. It was a part of his avarice to take,within narrow bounds, long odds at races; if he won, he drove harderbargains; if he lost, he half starved himself until next time. Why moneyshould be so precious to an Ass too dull and mean to exchange it for anyother satisfaction, is strange; but there is no animal so sure to getladen with it, as the Ass who sees nothing written on the face of theearth and sky but the three letters L. S. D.--not Luxury, Sensuality,Dissoluteness, which they often stand for, but the three dry letters.Your concentrated Fox is seldom comparable to your concentrated Ass inmoney-breeding.
Fascination Fledgeby feigned to be a young gentleman living on hismeans, but was known secretly to be a kind of outlaw in the bill-brokingline, and to put money out at high interest in various ways. His circleof familiar acquaintance, from Mr Lammle round, all had a touch of theoutlaw, as to their rovings in the merry greenwood of Jobbery Forest,lying on the outskirts of the Share-Market and the Stock Exchange.
'I suppose you, Lammle,' said Fledgeby, eating his bread and butter,'always did go in for female society?'
'Always,' replied Lammle, glooming considerably under his latetreatment.
'Came natural to you, eh?' said Fledgeby.
'The sex were pleased to like me, sir,' said Lammle sulkily, but withthe air of a man who had not been able to help himself.
'Made a pretty good thing of marrying, didn't you?' asked Fledgeby.
The other smiled (an ugly smile), and tapped one tap upon his nose.
'My late governor made a mess of it,' said Fledgeby. 'But Geor--is theright name Georgina or Georgiana?'
'I was thinking yesterday, I didn't know there was such a name. Ithought it must end in ina.'
'Why, you play--if you can--the Concertina, you know,' repliedFledgeby, meditating very slowly. 'And you have--when you catch it--theScarlatina. And you can come down from a balloon in a parach--no youcan't though. Well, say Georgeute--I mean Georgiana.'
'You were going to remark of Georgiana--?' Lammle moodily hinted, afterwaiting in vain.
'I was going to remark of Georgiana, sir,' said Fledgeby, not at allpleased to be reminded of his having forgotten it, 'that she don't seemto be violent. Don't seem to be of the pitching-in order.'
'She has the gentleness of the dove, Mr Fledgeby.'
'Of course you'll say so,' replied Fledgeby, sharpening, the moment hisinterest was touched by another. 'But you know, the real look-out isthis:--what I say, not what you say. I say having my late governorand my late mother in my eye--that Georgiana don't seem to be of thepitching-in order.'
The respected Mr Lammle was a bully, by nature and by usual practice.Perceiving, as Fledgeby's affronts cumulated, that conciliation by nomeans answered the purpose here, he now directed a scowling lookinto Fledgeby's small eyes for the effect of the opposite treatment.Satisfied by what he saw there, he burst into a violent passion andstruck his hand upon the table, making the china ring and dance.
'You are a very offensive fellow, sir,' cried Mr Lammle, rising. 'Youare a highly offensive scoundrel. What do you mean by this behaviour?'
'I say!' remonstrated Fledgeby. 'Don't break out.'
'You are a very offensive fellow sir,' repeated Mr Lammle. 'You are ahighly offensive scoundrel!'
'I SAY, you know!' urged Fledgeby, quailing.
'Why, you coarse and vulgar vagabond!' said Mr Lammle, looking fiercelyabout him, 'if your servant was here to give me sixpence of yourmoney to get my boots cleaned afterwards--for you are not worth theexpenditure--I'd kick you.'
'No you wouldn't,' pleaded Fledgeby. 'I am sure you'd think better ofit.'
'I tell you what, Mr Fledgeby,' said Lammle advancing on him. 'Sinceyou presume to contradict me, I'll assert myself a little. Give me yournose!'
Fledgeby covered it with his hand instead, and said, retreating, 'I begyou won't!'
'Give me your nose, sir,' repeated Lammle.
Still covering that feature and backing, Mr Fledgeby reiterated(apparently with a severe cold in his head), 'I beg, I beg, you won't.'
'And this fellow,' exclaimed Lammle, stopping and making the most of hischest--'This fellow presumes on my having selected him out of all theyoung fellows I know, for an advantageous opportunity! This fellowpresumes on my having in my desk round the corner, his dirty note ofhand for a wretched sum payable on the occurrence of a certain event,which event can only be of my and my wife's bringing about! This fellow,Fledgeby, presumes to be impertinent to me, Lammle. Give me your nosesir!'
'No! Stop! I beg your pardon,' said Fledgeby, with humility.
'What do you say, sir?' demanded Mr Lammle, seeming too furious tounderstand.
'I beg your pardon,' repeated Fledgeby.
'Repeat your words louder, sir. The just indignation of a gentleman hassent the blood boiling to my head. I don't hear you.'
'I say,' repeated Fledgeby, with laborious explanatory politeness, 'Ibeg your pardon.'
Mr Lammle paused. 'As a man of honour,' said he, throwing himself into achair, 'I am disarmed.'
Mr Fledgeby also took a chair, though less demonstratively, and byslow approaches removed his hand from his nose. Some natural diffidenceassailed him as to blowing it, so shortly after its having assumed apersonal and delicate, not to say public, character; but he overcamehis scruples by degrees, and modestly took that liberty under an impliedprotest.
'Lammle,' he said sneakingly, when that was done, 'I hope we are friendsagain?'
'Mr Fledgeby,' returned Lammle, 'say no more.'
'I must have gone too far in making myself disagreeable,' said Fledgeby,'but I never intended it.'
'Say no more, say no more!' Mr Lammle repeated in a magnificent tone.'Give me your'--Fledgeby started--'hand.'
They shook hands, and on Mr Lammle's part, in particular, there ensuedgreat geniality. For, he was quite as much of a dastard as the other,and had been in equal danger of falling into the second place for good,when he took heart just in time, to act upon the information conveyed tohim by Fledgeby's eye.
The breakfast ended in a perfect understanding. Incessant machinationswere to be kept at work by Mr and Mrs Lammle; love was to be made forFledgeby, and conquest was to be insured to him; he on his partvery humbly admitting his defects as to the softer social arts, andentreating to be backed to the utmost by his two able coadjutors.
Little recked Mr Podsnap of the traps and toils besetting his YoungPerson. He regarded her as safe within the Temple of Podsnappery, hidingthe fulness of time when she, Georgiana, should take him, Fitz-Podsnap,who with all his worldly goods should her endow. It would call a blushinto the cheek of his standard Young Person to have anything to do withsuch matters save to take as directed, and with worldly goods as persettlement to be endowed. Who giveth this woman to be married to thisman? I, Podsnap. Perish the daring thought that any smaller creationshould come between!
It was a public holiday, and Fledgeby did not recover his spirits or hisusual temperature of nose until the afternoon. Walking into the City inthe holiday afternoon, he walked against a living stream setting out ofit; and thus, when he turned into the precincts of St Mary Axe, he founda prevalent repose and quiet there. A yellow overhanging plaster-frontedhouse at which he stopped was quiet too. The blinds were all drawn down,and the inscription Pubsey and Co. seemed to doze in the counting-housewindow on the ground-floor giving on the sleepy street.
Fledgeby knocked and rang, and Fledg
'Now you sir!' cried Fledgeby. 'These are nice games!'
He addressed an old Jewish man in an ancient coat, long of skirt, andwide of pocket. A venerable man, bald and shining at the top of hishead, and with long grey hair flowing down at its sides and minglingwith his beard. A man who with a graceful Eastern action of homage benthis head, and stretched out his hands with the palms downward, as if todeprecate the wrath of a superior.
'What have you been up to?' said Fledgeby, storming at him.
'Generous Christian master,' urged the Jewish man, 'it being holiday, Ilooked for no one.'
'Holiday he blowed!' said Fledgeby, entering. 'What have YOU got to dowith holidays? Shut the door.'
With his former action the old man obeyed. In the entry hung his rustylarge-brimmed low-crowned hat, as long out of date as his coat; in thecorner near it stood his staff--no walking-stick but a veritable staff.Fledgeby turned into the counting-house, perched himself on a businessstool, and cocked his hat. There were light boxes on shelves in thecounting-house, and strings of mock beads hanging up. There were samplesof cheap clocks, and samples of cheap vases of flowers. Foreign toys,all.
Perched on the stool with his hat cocked on his head and one of his legsdangling, the youth of Fledgeby hardly contrasted to advantage with theage of the Jewish man as he stood with his bare head bowed, and his eyes(which he only raised in speaking) on the ground. His clothing was worndown to the rusty hue of the hat in the entry, but though he lookedshabby he did not look mean. Now, Fledgeby, though not shabby, did lookmean.
'You have not told me what you were up to, you sir,' said Fledgeby,scratching his head with the brim of his hat.
'Sir, I was breathing the air.'
'In the cellar, that you didn't hear?'
'On the house-top.'
'Upon my soul! That's a way of doing business.'
'Sir,' the old man represented with a grave and patient air, 'there mustbe two parties to the transaction of business, and the holiday has leftme alone.'
'Ah! Can't be buyer and seller too. That's what the Jews say; ain't it?'
'At least we say truly, if we say so,' answered the old man with asmile.
'Your people need speak the truth sometimes, for they lie enough,'remarked Fascination Fledgeby.
'Sir, there is,' returned the old man with quiet emphasis, 'too muchuntruth among all denominations of men.'
Rather dashed, Fascination Fledgeby took another scratch at hisintellectual head with his hat, to gain time for rallying.
'For instance,' he resumed, as though it were he who had spoken last,'who but you and I ever heard of a poor Jew?'
'The Jews,' said the old man, raising his eyes from the ground with hisformer smile. 'They hear of poor Jews often, and are very good to them.'
'Bother that!' returned Fledgeby. 'You know what I mean. You'd persuademe if you could, that you are a poor Jew. I wish you'd confess how muchyou really did make out of my late governor. I should have a betteropinion of you.'
The old man only bent his head, and stretched out his hands as before.
'Don't go on posturing like a Deaf and Dumb School,' said the ingeniousFledgeby, 'but express yourself like a Christian--or as nearly as youcan.'
'I had had sickness and misfortunes, and was so poor,' said the oldman, 'as hopelessly to owe the father, principal and interest. The soninheriting, was so merciful as to forgive me both, and place me here.'
He made a little gesture as though he kissed the hem of an imaginarygarment worn by the noble youth before him. It was humbly done, butpicturesquely, and was not abasing to the doer.
'You won't say more, I see,' said Fledgeby, looking at him as if hewould like to try the effect of extracting a double-tooth or two, 'andso it's of no use my putting it to you. But confess this, Riah; whobelieves you to be poor now?'
'No one,' said the old man.
'There you're right,' assented Fledgeby.
'No one,' repeated the old man with a grave slow wave of his head. 'Allscout it as a fable. Were I to say "This little fancy business is notmine";' with a lithe sweep of his easily-turning hand around him,to comprehend the various objects on the shelves; '"it is the littlebusiness of a Christian young gentleman who places me, his servant, intrust and charge here, and to whom I am accountable for every singlebead," they would laugh. When, in the larger money-business, I tell theborrowers--'
'I say, old chap!' interposed Fledgeby, 'I hope you mind what you DOtell 'em?'
'Sir, I tell them no more than I am about to repeat. When I tell them,"I cannot promise this, I cannot answer for the other, I must see myprincipal, I have not the money, I am a poor man and it does not restwith me," they are so unbelieving and so impatient, that they sometimescurse me in Jehovah's name.'
'That's deuced good, that is!' said Fascination Fledgeby.
'And at other times they say, "Can it never be done without thesetricks, Mr Riah? Come, come, Mr Riah, we know the arts of yourpeople"--my people!--"If the money is to be lent, fetch it, fetch it; ifit is not to be lent, keep it and say so." They never believe me.'
'THAT'S all right,' said Fascination Fledgeby.
'They say, "We know, Mr Riah, we know. We have but to look at you, andwe know."'
'Oh, a good 'un are you for the post,' thought Fledgeby, 'and a good 'unwas I to mark you out for it! I may be slow, but I am precious sure.'
Not a syllable of this reflection shaped itself in any scrap of MrFledgeby's breath, lest it should tend to put his servant's price up.But looking at the old man as he stood quiet with his head bowed and hiseyes cast down, he felt that to relinquish an inch of his baldness,an inch of his grey hair, an inch of his coat-skirt, an inch of hishat-brim, an inch of his walking-staff, would be to relinquish hundredsof pounds.
'Look here, Riah,' said Fledgeby, mollified by these self-approvingconsiderations. 'I want to go a little more into buying-up queer bills.Look out in that direction.'
'Sir, it shall be done.'
'Casting my eye over the accounts, I find that branch of business payspretty fairly, and I am game for extending it. I like to know people'saffairs likewise. So look out.'
'Sir, I will, promptly.'
'Put it about in the right quarters, that you'll buy queer bills by thelump--by the pound weight if that's all--supposing you see your way to afair chance on looking over the parcel. And there's one thing more. Cometo me with the books for periodical inspection as usual, at eight onMonday morning.'
Riah drew some folding tablets from his breast and noted it down.
'That's all I wanted to say at the present time,' continued Fledgeby ina grudging vein, as he got off the stool, 'except that I wish you'd takethe air where you can hear the bell, or the knocker, either one of thetwo or both. By-the-by how DO you take the air at the top of the house?Do you stick your head out of a chimney-pot?'
'Sir, there are leads there, and I have made a little garden there.'
'To bury your money in, you old dodger?'
'A thumbnail's space of garden would hold the treasure I bury, master,'said Riah. 'Twelve shillings a week, even when they are an old man'swages, bury themselves.'
'I should like to know what you really are worth,' returned Fledgeby,with whom his growing rich on that stipend and gratitude was a veryconvenient fiction. 'But come! Let's have a look at your garden on thetiles, before I go!'
The old man took a step back, and hesitated.
'Truly, sir, I have company there.'
'Sir, they are yours, and I am your servant in them.'
'Oh! I thought you might have overlooked that,' retorted Fledgeby, withhis eyes on Riah's beard as he felt for his own; 'having company on mypremises, you know!'
'Come up and see the guests, sir. I hope for your admission that theycan do no harm.'
Passing him with a courteous reverence, specially unlike any action thatMr Fledgeby could for his life have imparted to his own head and hands,the old man began to ascend the stairs. As he toiled on before, with hispalm upon the stair-rail, and his long black skirt, a very gaberdine,overhanging each successive step, he might have been the leader in somepilgrimage of devotional ascent to a prophet's tomb. Not troubled by anysuch weak imagining, Fascination Fledgeby merely speculated on the timeof life at which his beard had begun, and thought once more what a good'un he was for the part.
Some final wooden steps conducted them, stooping under a low penthouseroof, to the house-top. Riah stood still, and, turning to his master,pointed out his guests.
Lizzie Hexam and Jenny Wren. For whom, perhaps with some old instinct ofhis race, the gentle Jew had spread a carpet. Seated on it, againstno more romantic object than a blackened chimney-stack over which somebumble creeper had been trained, they both pored over one book; bothwith attentive faces; Jenny with the sharper; Lizzie with the moreperplexed. Another little book or two were lying near, and a commonbasket of common fruit, and another basket full of strings of beads andtinsel scraps. A few boxes of humble flowers and evergreens completedthe garden; and the encompassing wilderness of dowager old chimneystwirled their cowls and fluttered their smoke, rather as if they werebridling, and fanning themselves, and looking on in a state of airysurprise.
Taking her eyes off the book, to test her memory of something in it,Lizzie was the first to see herself observed. As she rose, Miss Wrenlikewise became conscious, and said, irreverently addressing the greatchief of the premises: 'Whoever you are, I can't get up, because myback's bad and my legs are queer.'
'This is my master,' said Riah, stepping forward.
('Don't look like anybody's master,' observed Miss Wren to herself, witha hitch of her chin and eyes.)
'This, sir,' pursued the old man, 'is a little dressmaker for littlepeople. Explain to the master, Jenny.'
'Dolls; that's all,' said Jenny, shortly. 'Very difficult to fit too,because their figures are so uncertain. You never know where to expecttheir waists.'
'Her friend,' resumed the old man, motioning towards Lizzie; 'and asindustrious as virtuous. But that they both are. They are busy early andlate, sir, early and late; and in bye-times, as on this holiday, they goto book-learning.'
'Not much good to be got out of that,' remarked Fledgeby.
'Depends upon the person!' quoth Miss Wren, snapping him up.
'I made acquaintance with my guests, sir,' pursued the Jew, with anevident purpose of drawing out the dressmaker, 'through their cominghere to buy of our damage and waste for Miss Jenny's millinery. Ourwaste goes into the best of company, sir, on her rosy-cheeked littlecustomers. They wear it in their hair, and on their ball-dresses, andeven (so she tells me) are presented at Court with it.'
'Ah!' said Fledgeby, on whose intelligence this doll-fancy made ratherstrong demands; 'she's been buying that basketful to-day, I suppose?'
'I suppose she has,' Miss Jenny interposed; 'and paying for it too, mostlikely!'
'Let's have a look at it,' said the suspicious chief. Riah handed it tohim. 'How much for this now?'
'Two precious silver shillings,' said Miss Wren.
Riah confirmed her with two nods, as Fledgeby looked to him. A nod foreach shilling.
'Well,' said Fledgeby, poking into the contents of the basket with hisforefinger, 'the price is not so bad. You have got good measure, MissWhat-is-it.'
'Try Jenny,' suggested that young lady with great calmness.
'You have got good measure, Miss Jenny; but the price is not sobad.--And you,' said Fledgeby, turning to the other visitor, 'do you buyanything here, miss?'
'Nor sell anything neither, miss?'
Looking askew at the questioner, Jenny stole her hand up to herfriend's, and drew her friend down, so that she bent beside her on herknee.
'We are thankful to come here for rest, sir,' said Jenny. 'You see, youdon't know what the rest of this place is to us; does he, Lizzie? It'sthe quiet, and the air.'
'The quiet!' repeated Fledgeby, with a contemptuous turn of his headtowards the City's roar. 'And the air!' with a 'Poof!' at the smoke.
'Ah!' said Jenny. 'But it's so high. And you see the clouds rushingon above the narrow streets, not minding them, and you see the goldenarrows pointing at the mountains in the sky from which the wind comes,and you feel as if you were dead.'
The little creature looked above her, holding up her slight transparenthand.
'How do you feel when you are dead?' asked Fledgeby, much perplexed.
'Oh, so tranquil!' cried the little creature, smiling. 'Oh, so peacefuland so thankful! And you hear the people who are alive, crying, andworking, and calling to one another down in the close dark streets, andyou seem to pity them so! And such a chain has fallen from you, and sucha strange good sorrowful happiness comes upon you!'
Her eyes fell on the old man, who, with his hands folded, quietly lookedon.
'Why it was only just now,' said the little creature, pointing at him,'that I fancied I saw him come out of his grave! He toiled out atthat low door so bent and worn, and then he took his breath and stoodupright, and looked all round him at the sky, and the wind blew uponhim, and his life down in the dark was over!--Till he was called backto life,' she added, looking round at Fledgeby with that lower look ofsharpness. 'Why did you call him back?'
'He was long enough coming, anyhow,' grumbled Fledgeby.
'But you are not dead, you know,' said Jenny Wren. 'Get down to life!'
Mr Fledgeby seemed to think it rather a good suggestion, and with a nodturned round. As Riah followed to attend him down the stairs, the littlecreature called out to the Jew in a silvery tone, 'Don't be long gone.Come back, and be dead!' And still as they went down they heard thelittle sweet voice, more and more faintly, half calling and halfsinging, 'Come back and be dead, Come back and be dead!'
When they got down into the entry, Fledgeby, pausing under the shadow ofthe broad old hat, and mechanically poising the staff, said to the oldman:
'That's a handsome girl, that one in her senses.'
'And as good as handsome,' answered Riah.
'At all events,' observed Fledgeby, with a dry whistle, 'I hope sheain't bad enough to put any chap up to the fastenings, and get thepremises broken open. You look out. Keep your weather eye awake anddon't make any more acquaintances, however handsome. Of course youalways keep my name to yourself?'
'Sir, assuredly I do.'
'If they ask it, say it's Pubsey, or say it's Co, or say it's anythingyou like, but what it is.'
His grateful servant--in whose race gratitude is deep, strong, andenduring--bowed his head, and actually did now put the hem of his coatto his lips: though so lightly that the wearer knew nothing of it.
Thus, Fascination Fledgeby went his way, exulting in the artfulcleverness with which he had turned his thumb down on a Jew, and the oldman went his different way up-stairs. As he mounted, the call or songbegan to sound in his ears again, and, looking above, he saw the faceof the little creature looking down out of a Glory of her long brightradiant hair, and musically repeating to him, like a vision:
'Come up and be dead! Come up and be dead!'
Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens / Romance & Love have rating 5 out of 5 / Based on135 votes