Our mutual friend, p.32
Our Mutual Friend, p.32Charles Dickens
THE WHOLE CASE SO FAR
Bradley Headstone held fast by that other interview he was to have withLizzie Hexam. In stipulating for it, he had been impelled by a feelinglittle short of desperation, and the feeling abided by him. It was verysoon after his interview with the Secretary, that he and Charley Hexamset out one leaden evening, not unnoticed by Miss Peecher, to have thisdesperate interview accomplished.
'That dolls' dressmaker,' said Bradley, 'is favourable neither to me norto you, Hexam.'
'A pert crooked little chit, Mr Headstone! I knew she would put herselfin the way, if she could, and would be sure to strike in with somethingimpertinent. It was on that account that I proposed our going to theCity to-night and meeting my sister.'
'So I supposed,' said Bradley, getting his gloves on his nervous handsas he walked. 'So I supposed.'
'Nobody but my sister,' pursued Charley, 'would have found out such anextraordinary companion. She has done it in a ridiculous fancy of givingherself up to another. She told me so, that night when we went there.'
'Why should she give herself up to the dressmaker?' asked Bradley.
'Oh!' said the boy, colouring. 'One of her romantic ideas! I tried toconvince her so, but I didn't succeed. However, what we have got to do,is, to succeed to-night, Mr Headstone, and then all the rest follows.'
'You are still sanguine, Hexam.'
'Certainly I am, sir. Why, we have everything on our side.'
'Except your sister, perhaps,' thought Bradley. But he only gloomilythought it, and said nothing.
'Everything on our side,' repeated the boy with boyish confidence.'Respectability, an excellent connexion for me, common sense,everything!'
'To be sure, your sister has always shown herself a devoted sister,'said Bradley, willing to sustain himself on even that low ground ofhope.
'Naturally, Mr Headstone, I have a good deal of influence with her.And now that you have honoured me with your confidence and spoken to mefirst, I say again, we have everything on our side.'
And Bradley thought again, 'Except your sister, perhaps.'
A grey dusty withered evening in London city has not a hopeful aspect.The closed warehouses and offices have an air of death about them, andthe national dread of colour has an air of mourning. The towers andsteeples of the many house-encompassed churches, dark and dingy as thesky that seems descending on them, are no relief to the general gloom;a sun-dial on a church-wall has the look, in its useless black shade, ofhaving failed in its business enterprise and stopped payment for ever;melancholy waifs and strays of housekeepers and porter sweep melancholywaifs and strays of papers and pins into the kennels, and other moremelancholy waifs and strays explore them, searching and stooping andpoking for anything to sell. The set of humanity outward from the Cityis as a set of prisoners departing from gaol, and dismal Newgateseems quite as fit a stronghold for the mighty Lord Mayor as his ownstate-dwelling.
On such an evening, when the city grit gets into the hair and eyes andskin, and when the fallen leaves of the few unhappy city trees grinddown in corners under wheels of wind, the schoolmaster and the pupilemerged upon the Leadenhall Street region, spying eastward for Lizzie.Being something too soon in their arrival, they lurked at a corner,waiting for her to appear. The best-looking among us will not look verywell, lurking at a corner, and Bradley came out of that disadvantagevery poorly indeed.
'Here she comes, Mr Headstone! Let us go forward and meet her.'
As they advanced, she saw them coming, and seemed rather troubled. Butshe greeted her brother with the usual warmth, and touched the extendedhand of Bradley.
'Why, where are you going, Charley, dear?' she asked him then.
'Nowhere. We came on purpose to meet you.'
'To meet me, Charley?'
'Yes. We are going to walk with you. But don't let us take the greatleading streets where every one walks, and we can't hear ourselvesspeak. Let us go by the quiet backways. Here's a large paved court bythis church, and quiet, too. Let us go up here.'
'But it's not in the way, Charley.'
'Yes it is,' said the boy, petulantly. 'It's in my way, and my way isyours.'
She had not released his hand, and, still holding it, looked at him witha kind of appeal. He avoided her eyes, under pretence of saying, 'Comealong, Mr Headstone.' Bradley walked at his side--not at hers--and thebrother and sister walked hand in hand. The court brought them to achurchyard; a paved square court, with a raised bank of earth aboutbreast high, in the middle, enclosed by iron rails. Here, convenientlyand healthfully elevated above the level of the living, were the dead,and the tombstones; some of the latter droopingly inclined from theperpendicular, as if they were ashamed of the lies they told.
They paced the whole of this place once, in a constrained anduncomfortable manner, when the boy stopped and said:
'Lizzie, Mr Headstone has something to say to you. I don't wish to be aninterruption either to him or to you, and so I'll go and take a littlestroll and come back. I know in a general way what Mr Headstone intendsto say, and I very highly approve of it, as I hope--and indeed I donot doubt--you will. I needn't tell you, Lizzie, that I am under greatobligations to Mr Headstone, and that I am very anxious for Mr Headstoneto succeed in all he undertakes. As I hope--and as, indeed, I don'tdoubt--you must be.'
'Charley,' returned his sister, detaining his hand as he withdrew it, 'Ithink you had better stay. I think Mr Headstone had better not say whathe thinks of saying.'
'Why, how do you know what it is?' returned the boy.
'Perhaps I don't, but--'
'Perhaps you don't? No, Liz, I should think not. If you knew whatit was, you would give me a very different answer. There; let go; besensible. I wonder you don't remember that Mr Headstone is looking on.'
She allowed him to separate himself from her, and he, after saying, 'NowLiz, be a rational girl and a good sister,' walked away. She remainedstanding alone with Bradley Headstone, and it was not until she raisedher eyes, that he spoke.
'I said,' he began, 'when I saw you last, that there was somethingunexplained, which might perhaps influence you. I have come this eveningto explain it. I hope you will not judge of me by my hesitating mannerwhen I speak to you. You see me at my greatest disadvantage. It is mostunfortunate for me that I wish you to see me at my best, and that I knowyou see me at my worst.'
She moved slowly on when he paused, and he moved slowly on beside her.
'It seems egotistical to begin by saying so much about myself,' heresumed, 'but whatever I say to you seems, even in my own ears, belowwhat I want to say, and different from what I want to say. I can't helpit. So it is. You are the ruin of me.'
She started at the passionate sound of the last words, and at thepassionate action of his hands, with which they were accompanied.
'Yes! you are the ruin--the ruin--the ruin--of me. I have no resourcesin myself, I have no confidence in myself, I have no government ofmyself when you are near me or in my thoughts. And you are always in mythoughts now. I have never been quit of you since I first saw you. Oh,that was a wretched day for me! That was a wretched, miserable day!'
A touch of pity for him mingled with her dislike of him, and she said:'Mr Headstone, I am grieved to have done you any harm, but I have nevermeant it.'
'There!' he cried, despairingly. 'Now, I seem to have reproached you,instead of revealing to you the state of my own mind! Bear with me. I amalways wrong when you are in question. It is my doom.'
Struggling with himself, and by times looking up at the deserted windowsof the houses as if there could be anything written in their grimy panesthat would help him, he paced the whole pavement at her side, before hespoke again.
'I must try to give expression to what is in my mind; it shall and mustbe spoken. Though you see me so confounded--though you strike me sohelpless--I ask you to believe that there are many people who think wellof me; that there are some people who highly esteem me; that I have inmy way won a Station which is con
'Surely, Mr Headstone, I do believe it. Surely I have always known itfrom Charley.'
'I ask you to believe that if I were to offer my home such as it is, mystation such as it is, my affections such as they are, to any one of thebest considered, and best qualified, and most distinguished, among theyoung women engaged in my calling, they would probably be accepted. Evenreadily accepted.'
'I do not doubt it,' said Lizzie, with her eyes upon the ground.
'I have sometimes had it in my thoughts to make that offer and to settledown as many men of my class do: I on the one side of a school, my wifeon the other, both of us interested in the same work.'
'Why have you not done so?' asked Lizzie Hexam. 'Why do you not do so?'
'Far better that I never did! The only one grain of comfort I have hadthese many weeks,' he said, always speaking passionately, and, whenmost emphatic, repeating that former action of his hands, which waslike flinging his heart's blood down before her in drops upon thepavement-stones; 'the only one grain of comfort I have had these manyweeks is, that I never did. For if I had, and if the same spell had comeupon me for my ruin, I know I should have broken that tie asunder as ifit had been thread.'
She glanced at him with a glance of fear, and a shrinking gesture. Heanswered, as if she had spoken.
'No! It would not have been voluntary on my part, any more than it isvoluntary in me to be here now. You draw me to you. If I were shut up ina strong prison, you would draw me out. I should break through the wallto come to you. If I were lying on a sick bed, you would draw me up--tostagger to your feet and fall there.'
The wild energy of the man, now quite let loose, was absolutelyterrible. He stopped and laid his hand upon a piece of the coping of theburial-ground enclosure, as if he would have dislodged the stone.
'No man knows till the time comes, what depths are within him. To somemen it never comes; let them rest and be thankful! To me, you broughtit; on me, you forced it; and the bottom of this raging sea,' strikinghimself upon the breast, 'has been heaved up ever since.'
'Mr Headstone, I have heard enough. Let me stop you here. It will bebetter for you and better for me. Let us find my brother.'
'Not yet. It shall and must be spoken. I have been in torments eversince I stopped short of it before. You are alarmed. It is another of mymiseries that I cannot speak to you or speak of you without stumbling atevery syllable, unless I let the check go altogether and run mad. Hereis a man lighting the lamps. He will be gone directly. I entreat of youlet us walk round this place again. You have no reason to look alarmed;I can restrain myself, and I will.'
She yielded to the entreaty--how could she do otherwise!--and they pacedthe stones in silence. One by one the lights leaped up making the coldgrey church tower more remote, and they were alone again. He said nomore until they had regained the spot where he had broken off; there, heagain stood still, and again grasped the stone. In saying what he saidthen, he never looked at her; but looked at it and wrenched at it.
'You know what I am going to say. I love you. What other men may meanwhen they use that expression, I cannot tell; what I mean is, that I amunder the influence of some tremendous attraction which I have resistedin vain, and which overmasters me. You could draw me to fire, you coulddraw me to water, you could draw me to the gallows, you could draw me toany death, you could draw me to anything I have most avoided, you coulddraw me to any exposure and disgrace. This and the confusion of mythoughts, so that I am fit for nothing, is what I mean by your being theruin of me. But if you would return a favourable answer to my offerof myself in marriage, you could draw me to any good--every good--withequal force. My circumstances are quite easy, and you would want fornothing. My reputation stands quite high, and would be a shield foryours. If you saw me at my work, able to do it well and respected init, you might even come to take a sort of pride in me;--I would try hardthat you should. Whatever considerations I may have thought of againstthis offer, I have conquered, and I make it with all my heart. Yourbrother favours me to the utmost, and it is likely that we might liveand work together; anyhow, it is certain that he would have my bestinfluence and support. I don't know what I could say more if I tried. Imight only weaken what is ill enough said as it is. I only add thatif it is any claim on you to be in earnest, I am in thorough earnest,dreadful earnest.'
The powdered mortar from under the stone at which he wrenched, rattledon the pavement to confirm his words.
'Stop! I implore you, before you answer me, to walk round this placeonce more. It will give you a minute's time to think, and me a minute'stime to get some fortitude together.'
Again she yielded to the entreaty, and again they came back to the sameplace, and again he worked at the stone.
'Is it,' he said, with his attention apparently engrossed by it, 'yes,or no?'
'Mr Headstone, I thank you sincerely, I thank you gratefully, and hopeyou may find a worthy wife before long and be very happy. But it is no.'
'Is no short time necessary for reflection; no weeks or days?' he asked,in the same half-suffocated way.
'Are you quite decided, and is there no chance of any change in myfavour?'
'I am quite decided, Mr Headstone, and I am bound to answer I am certainthere is none.'
'Then,' said he, suddenly changing his tone and turning to her, andbringing his clenched hand down upon the stone with a force that laidthe knuckles raw and bleeding; 'then I hope that I may never kill him!'
The dark look of hatred and revenge with which the words broke from hislivid lips, and with which he stood holding out his smeared hand asif it held some weapon and had just struck a mortal blow, made her soafraid of him that she turned to run away. But he caught her by the arm.
'Mr Headstone, let me go. Mr Headstone, I must call for help!'
'It is I who should call for help,' he said; 'you don't know yet howmuch I need it.'
The working of his face as she shrank from it, glancing round for herbrother and uncertain what to do, might have extorted a cry from her inanother instant; but all at once he sternly stopped it and fixed it, asif Death itself had done so.
'There! You see I have recovered myself. Hear me out.'
With much of the dignity of courage, as she recalled her self-reliantlife and her right to be free from accountability to this man, shereleased her arm from his grasp and stood looking full at him. She hadnever been so handsome, in his eyes. A shade came over them whilehe looked back at her, as if she drew the very light out of them toherself.
'This time, at least, I will leave nothing unsaid,' he went on, foldinghis hands before him, clearly to prevent his being betrayed into anyimpetuous gesture; 'this last time at least I will not be tortured withafter-thoughts of a lost opportunity. Mr Eugene Wrayburn.'
'Was it of him you spoke in your ungovernable rage and violence?' LizzieHexam demanded with spirit.
He bit his lip, and looked at her, and said never a word.
'Was it Mr Wrayburn that you threatened?'
He bit his lip again, and looked at her, and said never a word.
'You asked me to hear you out, and you will not speak. Let me find mybrother.'
'Stay! I threatened no one.'
Her look dropped for an instant to his bleeding hand. He lifted it tohis mouth, wiped it on his sleeve, and again folded it over the other.'Mr Eugene Wrayburn,' he repeated.
'Why do you mention that name again and again, Mr Headstone?'
'Because it is the text of the little I have left to say. Observe! Thereare no threats in it. If I utter a threat, stop me, and fasten it uponme. Mr Eugene Wrayburn.'
A worse threat than was conveyed in his manner of uttering the name,could hardly have escaped him.
'He haunts you. You accept favours from him. You are willing enough tolisten to HIM. I know it, as well as he does.'
'Mr Wrayburn has been considerate and good to me, sir,' said Lizzie,proudly, 'in connexio
'No doubt. He is of course a very considerate and a very good man, MrEugene Wrayburn.'
'He is nothing to you, I think,' said Lizzie, with an indignation shecould not repress.
'Oh yes, he is. There you mistake. He is much to me.'
'What can he be to you?'
'He can be a rival to me among other things,' said Bradley.
'Mr Headstone,' returned Lizzie, with a burning face, 'it is cowardly inyou to speak to me in this way. But it makes me able to tell you thatI do not like you, and that I never have liked you from the first, andthat no other living creature has anything to do with the effect youhave produced upon me for yourself.'
His head bent for a moment, as if under a weight, and he then looked upagain, moistening his lips. 'I was going on with the little I had leftto say. I knew all this about Mr Eugene Wrayburn, all the while you weredrawing me to you. I strove against the knowledge, but quite in vain. Itmade no difference in me. With Mr Eugene Wrayburn in my mind, I wenton. With Mr Eugene Wrayburn in my mind, I spoke to you just now. With MrEugene Wrayburn in my mind, I have been set aside and I have been castout.'
'If you give those names to my thanking you for your proposaland declining it, is it my fault, Mr Headstone?' said Lizzie,compassionating the bitter struggle he could not conceal, almost as muchas she was repelled and alarmed by it.
'I am not complaining,' he returned, 'I am only stating the case. I hadto wrestle with my self-respect when I submitted to be drawn to you inspite of Mr Wrayburn. You may imagine how low my self-respect lies now.'
She was hurt and angry; but repressed herself in consideration of hissuffering, and of his being her brother's friend.
'And it lies under his feet,' said Bradley, unfolding his hands in spiteof himself, and fiercely motioning with them both towards the stones ofthe pavement. 'Remember that! It lies under that fellow's feet, and hetreads upon it and exults above it.'
'He does not!' said Lizzie.
'He does!' said Bradley. 'I have stood before him face to face, and hecrushed me down in the dirt of his contempt, and walked over me. Why?Because he knew with triumph what was in store for me to-night.'
'O, Mr Headstone, you talk quite wildly.'
'Quite collectedly. I know what I say too well. Now I have said all. Ihave used no threat, remember; I have done no more than show you how thecase stands;--how the case stands, so far.'
At this moment her brother sauntered into view close by. She darted tohim, and caught him by the hand. Bradley followed, and laid his heavyhand on the boy's opposite shoulder.
'Charley Hexam, I am going home. I must walk home by myself to-night,and get shut up in my room without being spoken to. Give me half anhour's start, and let me be, till you find me at my work in the morning.I shall be at my work in the morning just as usual.'
Clasping his hands, he uttered a short unearthly broken cry, and wenthis way. The brother and sister were left looking at one another neara lamp in the solitary churchyard, and the boy's face clouded anddarkened, as he said in a rough tone: 'What is the meaning of this? Whathave you done to my best friend? Out with the truth!'
'Charley!' said his sister. 'Speak a little more considerately!'
'I am not in the humour for consideration, or for nonsense of any sort,'replied the boy. 'What have you been doing? Why has Mr Headstone gonefrom us in that way?'
'He asked me--you know he asked me--to be his wife, Charley.'
'Well?' said the boy, impatiently.
'And I was obliged to tell him that I could not be his wife.'
'You were obliged to tell him,' repeated the boy angrily, between histeeth, and rudely pushing her away. 'You were obliged to tell him! Doyou know that he is worth fifty of you?'
'It may easily be so, Charley, but I cannot marry him.'
'You mean that you are conscious that you can't appreciate him, anddon't deserve him, I suppose?'
'I mean that I do not like him, Charley, and that I will never marryhim.'
'Upon my soul,' exclaimed the boy, 'you are a nice picture of a sister!Upon my soul, you are a pretty piece of disinterestedness! And so all myendeavours to cancel the past and to raise myself in the world, and toraise you with me, are to be beaten down by YOUR low whims; are they?'
'I will not reproach you, Charley.'
'Hear her!' exclaimed the boy, looking round at the darkness. 'She won'treproach me! She does her best to destroy my fortunes and her own,and she won't reproach me! Why, you'll tell me, next, that you won'treproach Mr Headstone for coming out of the sphere to which he is anornament, and putting himself at YOUR feet, to be rejected by YOU!'
'No, Charley; I will only tell you, as I told himself, that I thank himfor doing so, that I am sorry he did so, and that I hope he will do muchbetter, and be happy.'
Some touch of compunction smote the boy's hardening heart as he lookedupon her, his patient little nurse in infancy, his patient friend,adviser, and reclaimer in boyhood, the self-forgetting sister who haddone everything for him. His tone relented, and he drew her arm throughhis.
'Now, come, Liz; don't let us quarrel: let us be reasonable and talkthis over like brother and sister. Will you listen to me?'
'Oh, Charley!' she replied through her starting tears; 'do I not listento you, and hear many hard things!'
'Then I am sorry. There, Liz! I am unfeignedly sorry. Only you do put meout so. Now see. Mr Headstone is perfectly devoted to you. He has toldme in the strongest manner that he has never been his old self for onesingle minute since I first brought him to see you. Miss Peecher, ourschoolmistress--pretty and young, and all that--is known to be very muchattached to him, and he won't so much as look at her or hear of her.Now, his devotion to you must be a disinterested one; mustn't it? If hemarried Miss Peecher, he would be a great deal better off in all worldlyrespects, than in marrying you. Well then; he has nothing to get by it,has he?'
'Nothing, Heaven knows!'
'Very well then,' said the boy; 'that's something in his favour, and agreat thing. Then I come in. Mr Headstone has always got me on, and hehas a good deal in his power, and of course if he was my brother-in-lawhe wouldn't get me on less, but would get me on more. Mr Headstonecomes and confides in me, in a very delicate way, and says, "I hope mymarrying your sister would be agreeable to you, Hexam, and useful toyou?" I say, "There's nothing in the world, Mr Headstone, that I couldbe better pleased with." Mr Headstone says, "Then I may rely upon yourintimate knowledge of me for your good word with your sister, Hexam?"And I say, "Certainly, Mr Headstone, and naturally I have a good deal ofinfluence with her." So I have; haven't I, Liz?'
'Well said! Now, you see, we begin to get on, the moment we begin tobe really talking it over, like brother and sister. Very well. ThenYOU come in. As Mr Headstone's wife you would be occupying a mostrespectable station, and you would be holding a far better place insociety than you hold now, and you would at length get quit of theriver-side and the old disagreeables belonging to it, and you would berid for good of dolls' dressmakers and their drunken fathers, and thelike of that. Not that I want to disparage Miss Jenny Wren: I daresay she is all very well in her way; but her way is not your way asMr Headstone's wife. Now, you see, Liz, on all three accounts--onMr Headstone's, on mine, on yours--nothing could be better or moredesirable.'
They were walking slowly as the boy spoke, and here he stood still, tosee what effect he had made. His sister's eyes were fixed upon him; butas they showed no yielding, and as she remained silent, he walked her onagain. There was some discomfiture in his tone as he resumed, though hetried to conceal it.
'Having so much influence with you, Liz, as I have, perhaps I shouldhave done better to have had a little chat with you in the firstinstance, before Mr Headstone spoke for himself. But really all this inhis favour seemed so plain and undeniable, and I knew you to have alwaysbeen so reasonable and sensible, that I didn't consider it worth while.Very likely that was a mis
He stopped again. The pale face looked anxiously and lovingly at him,but she shook her head.
'Can't you speak?' said the boy sharply.
'I am very unwilling to speak, Charley. If I must, I must. I cannotauthorize you to say any such thing to Mr Headstone: I cannot allow youto say any such thing to Mr Headstone. Nothing remains to be said to himfrom me, after what I have said for good and all, to-night.'
'And this girl,' cried the boy, contemptuously throwing her off again,'calls herself a sister!'
'Charley, dear, that is the second time that you have almost struckme. Don't be hurt by my words. I don't mean--Heaven forbid!--that youintended it; but you hardly know with what a sudden swing you removedyourself from me.'
'However!' said the boy, taking no heed of the remonstrance, andpursuing his own mortified disappointment, 'I know what this means, andyou shall not disgrace me.'
'It means what I have told you, Charley, and nothing more.'
'That's not true,' said the boy in a violent tone, 'and you know it'snot. It means your precious Mr Wrayburn; that's what it means.'
'Charley! If you remember any old days of ours together, forbear!'
'But you shall not disgrace me,' doggedly pursued the boy. 'I amdetermined that after I have climbed up out of the mire, you shall notpull me down. You can't disgrace me if I have nothing to do with you,and I will have nothing to do with you for the future.'
'Charley! On many a night like this, and many a worse night, I have saton the stones of the street, hushing you in my arms. Unsay those wordswithout even saying you are sorry for them, and my arms are open to youstill, and so is my heart.'
'I'll not unsay them. I'll say them again. You are an inveterately badgirl, and a false sister, and I have done with you. For ever, I havedone with you!'
He threw up his ungrateful and ungracious hand as if it set up a barrierbetween them, and flung himself upon his heel and left her. She remainedimpassive on the same spot, silent and motionless, until the strikingof the church clock roused her, and she turned away. But then, with thebreaking up of her immobility came the breaking up of the waters thatthe cold heart of the selfish boy had frozen. And 'O that I were lyinghere with the dead!' and 'O Charley, Charley, that this should be theend of our pictures in the fire!' were all the words she said, as shelaid her face in her hands on the stone coping.
A figure passed by, and passed on, but stopped and looked round ather. It was the figure of an old man with a bowed head, wearing a largebrimmed low-crowned hat, and a long-skirted coat. After hesitating alittle, the figure turned back, and, advancing with an air of gentlenessand compassion, said:
'Pardon me, young woman, for speaking to you, but you are under somedistress of mind. I cannot pass upon my way and leave you weeping herealone, as if there was nothing in the place. Can I help you? Can I doanything to give you comfort?'
She raised her head at the sound of these kind words, and answeredgladly, 'O, Mr Riah, is it you?'
'My daughter,' said the old man, 'I stand amazed! I spoke as to astranger. Take my arm, take my arm. What grieves you? Who has done this?Poor girl, poor girl!'
'My brother has quarrelled with me,' sobbed Lizzie, 'and renounced me.'
'He is a thankless dog,' said the Jew, angrily. 'Let him go. Shake thedust from thy feet and let him go. Come, daughter! Come home with me--itis but across the road--and take a little time to recover your peace andto make your eyes seemly, and then I will bear you company through thestreets. For it is past your usual time, and will soon be late, and theway is long, and there is much company out of doors to-night.'
She accepted the support he offered her, and they slowly passed outof the churchyard. They were in the act of emerging into the mainthoroughfare, when another figure loitering discontentedly by, andlooking up the street and down it, and all about, started and exclaimed,'Lizzie! why, where have you been? Why, what's the matter?'
As Eugene Wrayburn thus addressed her, she drew closer to the Jew, andbent her head. The Jew having taken in the whole of Eugene at one sharpglance, cast his eyes upon the ground, and stood mute.
'Lizzie, what is the matter?'
'Mr Wrayburn, I cannot tell you now. I cannot tell you to-night, if Iever can tell you. Pray leave me.'
'But, Lizzie, I came expressly to join you. I came to walk home withyou, having dined at a coffee-house in this neighbourhood and knowingyour hour. And I have been lingering about,' added Eugene, 'like abailiff; or,' with a look at Riah, 'an old clothesman.'
The Jew lifted up his eyes, and took in Eugene once more, at anotherglance.
'Mr Wrayburn, pray, pray, leave me with this protector. And one thingmore. Pray, pray be careful of yourself.'
'Mysteries of Udolpho!' said Eugene, with a look of wonder. 'May I beexcused for asking, in the elderly gentleman's presence, who is thiskind protector?'
'A trustworthy friend,' said Lizzie.
'I will relieve him of his trust,' returned Eugene. 'But you must tellme, Lizzie, what is the matter?'
'Her brother is the matter,' said the old man, lifting up his eyesagain.
'Our brother the matter?' returned Eugene, with airy contempt. 'Ourbrother is not worth a thought, far less a tear. What has our brotherdone?'
The old man lifted up his eyes again, with one grave look at Wrayburn,and one grave glance at Lizzie, as she stood looking down. Both were sofull of meaning that even Eugene was checked in his light career, andsubsided into a thoughtful 'Humph!'
With an air of perfect patience the old man, remaining mute and keepinghis eyes cast down, stood, retaining Lizzie's arm, as though in hishabit of passive endurance, it would be all one to him if he had stoodthere motionless all night.
'If Mr Aaron,' said Eugene, who soon found this fatiguing, 'will be goodenough to relinquish his charge to me, he will be quite free for anyengagement he may have at the Synagogue. Mr Aaron, will you have thekindness?'
But the old man stood stock still.
'Good evening, Mr Aaron,' said Eugene, politely; 'we need not detainyou.' Then turning to Lizzie, 'Is our friend Mr Aaron a little deaf?'
'My hearing is very good, Christian gentleman,' replied the old man,calmly; 'but I will hear only one voice to-night, desiring me to leavethis damsel before I have conveyed her to her home. If she requests it,I will do it. I will do it for no one else.'
'May I ask why so, Mr Aaron?' said Eugene, quite undisturbed in hisease.
'Excuse me. If she asks me, I will tell her,' replied the old man. 'Iwill tell no one else.'
'I do not ask you,' said Lizzie, 'and I beg you to take me home. MrWrayburn, I have had a bitter trial to-night, and I hope you will notthink me ungrateful, or mysterious, or changeable. I am neither; I amwretched. Pray remember what I said to you. Pray, pray, take care.'
'My dear Lizzie,' he returned, in a low voice, bending over her on theother side; 'of what? Of whom?'
'Of any one you have lately seen and made angry.'
He snapped his fingers and laughed. 'Come,' said he, 'since no bettermay be, Mr Aaron and I will divide this trust, and see you hometogether. Mr Aaron on that side; I on this. If perfectly agreeable to MrAaron, the escort will now proceed.'
He knew his power over her. He knew that she would not insist upon hisleaving her. He knew that, her fears for him being aroused, she wouldbe uneasy if he were out of her sight. For all his seeming levity andcarelessness, he knew whatever he chose to know of the thoughts of herheart.
And going on at her side, so gaily, regardless of all that had beenurged against him; so superior in his sallies and self-possession tothe gloomy constraint of her suitor and the selfish petulance of herbrother; so faithful to her, as it seemed, when her own stock wasfaithless; what an immense advantage, what an overpowering influence,were his that ni
Nothing more being said of repairing to Riah's, they went direct toLizzie's lodging. A little short of the house-door she parted from them,and went in alone.
'Mr Aaron,' said Eugene, when they were left together in the street,'with many thanks for your company, it remains for me unwillingly to sayFarewell.'
'Sir,' returned the other, 'I give you good night, and I wish that youwere not so thoughtless.'
'Mr Aaron,' returned Eugene, 'I give you good night, and I wish (for youare a little dull) that you were not so thoughtful.'
But now, that his part was played out for the evening, and when inturning his back upon the Jew he came off the stage, he was thoughtfulhimself. 'How did Lightwood's catechism run?' he murmured, as he stoppedto light his cigar. 'What is to come of it? What are you doing? Whereare you going? We shall soon know now. Ah!' with a heavy sigh.
The heavy sigh was repeated as if by an echo, an hour afterwards, whenRiah, who had been sitting on some dark steps in a corner over againstthe house, arose and went his patient way; stealing through the streetsin his ancient dress, like the ghost of a departed Time.
Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens / Romance & Love have rating 5 out of 5 / Based on135 votes