Our mutual friend, p.34
Our Mutual Friend, p.34Charles Dickens
BOOK THE THIRD -- A LONG LANE
LODGERS IN QUEER STREET
It was a foggy day in London, and the fog was heavy and dark. AnimateLondon, with smarting eyes and irritated lungs, was blinking, wheezing,and choking; inanimate London was a sooty spectre, divided in purposebetween being visible and invisible, and so being wholly neither.Gaslights flared in the shops with a haggard and unblest air, as knowingthemselves to be night-creatures that had no business abroad under thesun; while the sun itself when it was for a few moments dimly indicatedthrough circling eddies of fog, showed as if it had gone out and werecollapsing flat and cold. Even in the surrounding country it was a foggyday, but there the fog was grey, whereas in London it was, at aboutthe boundary line, dark yellow, and a little within it brown, and thenbrowner, and then browner, until at the heart of the City--which callSaint Mary Axe--it was rusty-black. From any point of the high ridge ofland northward, it might have been discerned that the loftiest buildingsmade an occasional struggle to get their heads above the foggy sea, andespecially that the great dome of Saint Paul's seemed to die hard; butthis was not perceivable in the streets at their feet, where the wholemetropolis was a heap of vapour charged with muffled sound of wheels,and enfolding a gigantic catarrh.
At nine o'clock on such a morning, the place of business of Pubsey andCo. was not the liveliest object even in Saint Mary Axe--which is not avery lively spot--with a sobbing gaslight in the counting-house window,and a burglarious stream of fog creeping in to strangle it through thekeyhole of the main door. But the light went out, and the main dooropened, and Riah came forth with a bag under his arm.
Almost in the act of coming out at the door, Riah went into the fog, andwas lost to the eyes of Saint Mary Axe. But the eyes of this historycan follow him westward, by Cornhill, Cheapside, Fleet Street, and theStrand, to Piccadilly and the Albany. Thither he went at his grave andmeasured pace, staff in hand, skirt at heel; and more than one head,turning to look back at his venerable figure already lost in the mist,supposed it to be some ordinary figure indistinctly seen, which fancyand the fog had worked into that passing likeness.
Arrived at the house in which his master's chambers were on thesecond floor, Riah proceeded up the stairs, and paused at FascinationFledgeby's door. Making free with neither bell nor knocker, he struckupon the door with the top of his staff, and, having listened, sat downon the threshold. It was characteristic of his habitual submission,that he sat down on the raw dark staircase, as many of his ancestorshad probably sat down in dungeons, taking what befell him as it mightbefall.
After a time, when he had grown so cold as to be fain to blow upon hisfingers, he arose and knocked with his staff again, and listened again,and again sat down to wait. Thrice he repeated these actions before hislistening ears were greeted by the voice of Fledgeby, calling from hisbed, 'Hold your row!--I'll come and open the door directly!' But, inlieu of coming directly, he fell into a sweet sleep for some quarter ofan hour more, during which added interval Riah sat upon the stairs andwaited with perfect patience.
At length the door stood open, and Mr Fledgeby's retreating draperyplunged into bed again. Following it at a respectful distance, Riahpassed into the bed-chamber, where a fire had been sometime lighted, andwas burning briskly.
'Why, what time of night do you mean to call it?' inquired Fledgeby,turning away beneath the clothes, and presenting a comfortable rampartof shoulder to the chilled figure of the old man.
'Sir, it is full half-past ten in the morning.'
'The deuce it is! Then it must be precious foggy?'
'Very foggy, sir.'
'And raw, then?'
'Chill and bitter,' said Riah, drawing out a handkerchief, and wipingthe moisture from his beard and long grey hair as he stood on the vergeof the rug, with his eyes on the acceptable fire.
With a plunge of enjoyment, Fledgeby settled himself afresh.
'Any snow, or sleet, or slush, or anything of that sort?' he asked.
'No, sir, no. Not quite so bad as that. The streets are pretty clean.'
'You needn't brag about it,' returned Fledgeby, disappointed in hisdesire to heighten the contrast between his bed and the streets. 'Butyou're always bragging about something. Got the books there?'
'They are here, sir.'
'All right. I'll turn the general subject over in my mind for a minuteor two, and while I'm about it you can empty your bag and get ready forme.'
With another comfortable plunge, Mr Fledgeby fell asleep again. The oldman, having obeyed his directions, sat down on the edge of a chair, and,folding his hands before him, gradually yielded to the influence of thewarmth, and dozed. He was roused by Mr Fledgeby's appearing erect atthe foot of the bed, in Turkish slippers, rose-coloured Turkish trousers(got cheap from somebody who had cheated some other somebody out ofthem), and a gown and cap to correspond. In that costume he would haveleft nothing to be desired, if he had been further fitted out with abottomless chair, a lantern, and a bunch of matches.
'Now, old 'un!' cried Fascination, in his light raillery, 'what dodgeryare you up to next, sitting there with your eyes shut? You ain't asleep.Catch a weasel at it, and catch a Jew!'
'Truly, sir, I fear I nodded,' said the old man.
'Not you!' returned Fledgeby, with a cunning look. 'A telling move witha good many, I dare say, but it won't put ME off my guard. Not a badnotion though, if you want to look indifferent in driving a bargain. Oh,you are a dodger!'
The old man shook his head, gently repudiating the imputation, andsuppressed a sigh, and moved to the table at which Mr Fledgeby was nowpouring out for himself a cup of steaming and fragrant coffee from a potthat had stood ready on the hob. It was an edifying spectacle, the youngman in his easy chair taking his coffee, and the old man with his greyhead bent, standing awaiting his pleasure.
'Now!' said Fledgeby. 'Fork out your balance in hand, and prove byfigures how you make it out that it ain't more. First of all, light thatcandle.'
Riah obeyed, and then taking a bag from his breast, and referring tothe sum in the accounts for which they made him responsible, told it outupon the table. Fledgeby told it again with great care, and rang everysovereign.
'I suppose,' he said, taking one up to eye it closely, 'you haven't beenlightening any of these; but it's a trade of your people's, you know.YOU understand what sweating a pound means, don't you?'
'Much as you do, sir,' returned the old man, with his hands underopposite cuffs of his loose sleeves, as he stood at the table,deferentially observant of the master's face. 'May I take the liberty tosay something?'
'You may,' Fledgeby graciously conceded.
'Do you not, sir--without intending it--of a surety without intendingit--sometimes mingle the character I fairly earn in your employment,with the character which it is your policy that I should bear?'
'I don't find it worth my while to cut things so fine as to go into theinquiry,' Fascination coolly answered.
'Not in justice?'
'Bother justice!' said Fledgeby.
'Not in generosity?'
'Jews and generosity!' said Fledgeby. 'That's a good connexion! Bringout your vouchers, and don't talk Jerusalem palaver.'
The vouchers were produced, and for the next half-hour Mr Fledgebyconcentrated his sublime attention on them. They and the accounts wereall found correct, and the books and the papers resumed their places inthe bag.
'Next,' said Fledgeby, 'concerning that bill-broking branch of thebusiness; the branch I like best. What queer bills are to be bought, andat what prices? You have got your list of what's in the market?'
'Sir, a long list,' replied Riah, taking out a pocket-book, andselecting from its contents a folded paper, which, being unfolded,became a sheet of foolscap covered with close writing.
'Whew!' whistled Fledgeby, as he took it in his hand. 'Queer Street isfull of lodgers just at present! These are to be disposed of in parcels;are they?'
'In parcels as set forth,' returned the old
'Half the lump will be waste-paper, one knows beforehand,' saidFledgeby. 'Can you get it at waste-paper price? That's the question.'
Riah shook his head, and Fledgeby cast his small eyes down the list.They presently began to twinkle, and he no sooner became conscious oftheir twinkling, than he looked up over his shoulder at the grave faceabove him, and moved to the chimney-piece. Making a desk of it, he stoodthere with his back to the old man, warming his knees, perusing the listat his leisure, and often returning to some lines of it, as thoughthey were particularly interesting. At those times he glanced in thechimney-glass to see what note the old man took of him. He took nonethat could be detected, but, aware of his employer's suspicions, stoodwith his eyes on the ground.
Mr Fledgeby was thus amiably engaged when a step was heard at the outerdoor, and the door was heard to open hastily. 'Hark! That's your doing,you Pump of Israel,' said Fledgeby; 'you can't have shut it.' Then thestep was heard within, and the voice of Mr Alfred Lammle called aloud,'Are you anywhere here, Fledgeby?' To which Fledgeby, after cautioningRiah in a low voice to take his cue as it should be given him, replied,'Here I am!' and opened his bedroom door.
'Come in!' said Fledgeby. 'This gentleman is only Pubsey and Co. ofSaint Mary Axe, that I am trying to make terms for an unfortunate friendwith in a matter of some dishonoured bills. But really Pubsey and Co.are so strict with their debtors, and so hard to move, that I seem to bewasting my time. Can't I make ANY terms with you on my friend's part, MrRiah?'
'I am but the representative of another, sir,' returned the Jew in a lowvoice. 'I do as I am bidden by my principal. It is not my capital thatis invested in the business. It is not my profit that arises therefrom.'
'Ha ha!' laughed Fledgeby. 'Lammle?'
'Ha ha!' laughed Lammle. 'Yes. Of course. We know.'
'Devilish good, ain't it, Lammle?' said Fledgeby, unspeakably amused byhis hidden joke.
'Always the same, always the same!' said Lammle. 'Mr--'
'Riah, Pubsey and Co. Saint Mary Axe,' Fledgeby put in, as he wiped awaythe tears that trickled from his eyes, so rare was his enjoyment of hissecret joke.
'Mr Riah is bound to observe the invariable forms for such cases madeand provided,' said Lammle.
'He is only the representative of another!' cried Fledgeby. 'Does ashe is told by his principal! Not his capital that's invested in thebusiness. Oh, that's good! Ha ha ha ha!' Mr Lammle joined in the laughand looked knowing; and the more he did both, the more exquisite thesecret joke became for Mr Fledgeby.
'However,' said that fascinating gentleman, wiping his eyes again, 'ifwe go on in this way, we shall seem to be almost making game of Mr Riah,or of Pubsey and Co. Saint Mary Axe, or of somebody: which is far fromour intention. Mr Riah, if you would have the kindness to step into thenext room for a few moments while I speak with Mr Lammle here, I shouldlike to try to make terms with you once again before you go.'
The old man, who had never raised his eyes during the whole transactionof Mr Fledgeby's joke, silently bowed and passed out by the door whichFledgeby opened for him. Having closed it on him, Fledgeby returned toLammle, standing with his back to the bedroom fire, with one hand underhis coat-skirts, and all his whiskers in the other.
'Halloa!' said Fledgeby. 'There's something wrong!'
'How do you know it?' demanded Lammle.
'Because you show it,' replied Fledgeby in unintentional rhyme.
'Well then; there is,' said Lammle; 'there IS something wrong; the wholething's wrong.'
'I say!' remonstrated Fascination very slowly, and sitting down with hishands on his knees to stare at his glowering friend with his back to thefire.
'I tell you, Fledgeby,' repeated Lammle, with a sweep of his right arm,'the whole thing's wrong. The game's up.'
'What game's up?' demanded Fledgeby, as slowly as before, and moresternly.
'THE game. OUR game. Read that.'
Fledgeby took a note from his extended hand and read it aloud. 'AlfredLammle, Esquire. Sir: Allow Mrs Podsnap and myself to express our unitedsense of the polite attentions of Mrs Alfred Lammle and yourself towardsour daughter, Georgiana. Allow us also, wholly to reject them for thefuture, and to communicate our final desire that the two familiesmay become entire strangers. I have the honour to be, Sir, your mostobedient and very humble servant, JOHN PODSNAP.' Fledgeby looked at thethree blank sides of this note, quite as long and earnestly as at thefirst expressive side, and then looked at Lammle, who responded withanother extensive sweep of his right arm.
'Whose doing is this?' said Fledgeby.
'Impossible to imagine,' said Lammle.
'Perhaps,' suggested Fledgeby, after reflecting with a very discontentedbrow, 'somebody has been giving you a bad character.'
'Or you,' said Lammle, with a deeper frown.
Mr Fledgeby appeared to be on the verge of some mutinous expressions,when his hand happened to touch his nose. A certain remembranceconnected with that feature operating as a timely warning, he took itthoughtfully between his thumb and forefinger, and pondered; Lammlemeanwhile eyeing him with furtive eyes.
'Well!' said Fledgeby. 'This won't improve with talking about. If weever find out who did it, we'll mark that person. There's nothing moreto be said, except that you undertook to do what circumstances preventyour doing.'
'And that you undertook to do what you might have done by this time, ifyou had made a prompter use of circumstances,' snarled Lammle.
'Hah! That,' remarked Fledgeby, with his hands in the Turkish trousers,'is matter of opinion.'
'Mr Fledgeby,' said Lammle, in a bullying tone, 'am I to understand thatyou in any way reflect upon me, or hint dissatisfaction with me, in thisaffair?'
'No,' said Fledgeby; 'provided you have brought my promissory note inyour pocket, and now hand it over.'
Lammle produced it, not without reluctance. Fledgeby looked at it,identified it, twisted it up, and threw it into the fire. They bothlooked at it as it blazed, went out, and flew in feathery ash up thechimney.
'NOW, Mr Fledgeby,' said Lammle, as before; 'am I to understand thatyou in any way reflect upon me, or hint dissatisfaction with me, in thisaffair?'
'No,' said Fledgeby.
'Finally and unreservedly no?'
'Fledgeby, my hand.'
Mr Fledgeby took it, saying, 'And if we ever find out who did this,we'll mark that person. And in the most friendly manner, let me mentionone thing more. I don't know what your circumstances are, and I don'task. You have sustained a loss here. Many men are liable to be involvedat times, and you may be, or you may not be. But whatever you do,Lammle, don't--don't--don't, I beg of you--ever fall into the hands ofPubsey and Co. in the next room, for they are grinders. Regular flayersand grinders, my dear Lammle,' repeated Fledgeby with a peculiar relish,'and they'll skin you by the inch, from the nape of your neck to thesole of your foot, and grind every inch of your skin to tooth-powder.You have seen what Mr Riah is. Never fall into his hands, Lammle, I begof you as a friend!'
Mr Lammle, disclosing some alarm at the solemnity of this affectionateadjuration, demanded why the devil he ever should fall into the hands ofPubsey and Co.?
'To confess the fact, I was made a little uneasy,' said the candidFledgeby, 'by the manner in which that Jew looked at you when he heardyour name. I didn't like his eye. But it may have been the heatedfancy of a friend. Of course if you are sure that you have no personalsecurity out, which you may not be quite equal to meeting, and which canhave got into his hands, it must have been fancy. Still, I didn't likehis eye.'
The brooding Lammle, with certain white dints coming and going in hispalpitating nose, looked as if some tormenting imp were pinching it.Fledgeby, watching him with a twitch in his mean face which did dutythere for a smile, looked very like the tormentor who was pinching.
'But I mustn't keep him waiting too long,' said Fledgeby, 'or he'llrevenge it on my unfortunate friend. How's your very
'I showed her the letter.'
'Very much surprised?' asked Fledgeby.
'I think she would have been more so,' answered Lammle, 'if there hadbeen more go in YOU?'
'Oh!--She lays it upon me, then?'
'Mr Fledgeby, I will not have my words misconstrued.'
'Don't break out, Lammle,' urged Fledgeby, in a submissive tone,'because there's no occasion. I only asked a question. Then she don'tlay it upon me? To ask another question.'
'Very good,' said Fledgeby, plainly seeing that she did. 'My complimentsto her. Good-bye!'
They shook hands, and Lammle strode out pondering. Fledgeby saw himinto the fog, and, returning to the fire and musing with his face to it,stretched the legs of the rose-coloured Turkish trousers wide apart, andmeditatively bent his knees, as if he were going down upon them.
'You have a pair of whiskers, Lammle, which I never liked,' murmuredFledgeby, 'and which money can't produce; you are boastful of yourmanners and your conversation; you wanted to pull my nose, and you havelet me in for a failure, and your wife says I am the cause of it. I'llbowl you down. I will, though I have no whiskers,' here he rubbed theplaces where they were due, 'and no manners, and no conversation!'
Having thus relieved his noble mind, he collected the legs of theTurkish trousers, straightened himself on his knees, and called outto Riah in the next room, 'Halloa, you sir!' At sight of the old manre-entering with a gentleness monstrously in contrast with the characterhe had given him, Mr Fledgeby was so tickled again, that he exclaimed,laughing, 'Good! Good! Upon my soul it is uncommon good!'
'Now, old 'un,' proceeded Fledgeby, when he had had his laugh out,'you'll buy up these lots that I mark with my pencil--there's a tickthere, and a tick there, and a tick there--and I wager two-pence you'llafterwards go on squeezing those Christians like the Jew you are. Now,next you'll want a cheque--or you'll say you want it, though you'vecapital enough somewhere, if one only knew where, but you'd be pepperedand salted and grilled on a gridiron before you'd own to it--and thatcheque I'll write.'
When he had unlocked a drawer and taken a key from it to open anotherdrawer, in which was another key that opened another drawer, in whichwas another key that opened another drawer, in which was the chequebook; and when he had written the cheque; and when, reversing the keyand drawer process, he had placed his cheque book in safety again; hebeckoned the old man, with the folded cheque, to come and take it.
'Old 'un,' said Fledgeby, when the Jew had put it in his pocketbook, andwas putting that in the breast of his outer garment; 'so much at presentfor my affairs. Now a word about affairs that are not exactly mine.Where is she?'
With his hand not yet withdrawn from the breast of his garment, Riahstarted and paused.
'Oho!' said Fledgeby. 'Didn't expect it! Where have you hidden her?'
Showing that he was taken by surprise, the old man looked at his masterwith some passing confusion, which the master highly enjoyed.
'Is she in the house I pay rent and taxes for in Saint Mary Axe?'demanded Fledgeby.
'Is she in your garden up atop of that house--gone up to be dead, orwhatever the game is?' asked Fledgeby.
'Where is she then?'
Riah bent his eyes upon the ground, as if considering whether he couldanswer the question without breach of faith, and then silently raisedthem to Fledgeby's face, as if he could not.
'Come!' said Fledgeby. 'I won't press that just now. But I want to knowthis, and I will know this, mind you. What are you up to?'
The old man, with an apologetic action of his head and hands, as notcomprehending the master's meaning, addressed to him a look of muteinquiry.
'You can't be a gallivanting dodger,' said Fledgeby. 'For you're a"regular pity the sorrows", you know--if you DO know any Christianrhyme--"whose trembling limbs have borne him to"--et cetrer. You're oneof the Patriarchs; you're a shaky old card; and you can't be in lovewith this Lizzie?'
'O, sir!' expostulated Riah. 'O, sir, sir, sir!'
'Then why,' retorted Fledgeby, with some slight tinge of a blush, 'don'tyou out with your reason for having your spoon in the soup at all?'
'Sir, I will tell you the truth. But (your pardon for the stipulation)it is in sacred confidence; it is strictly upon honour.'
'Honour too!' cried Fledgeby, with a mocking lip. 'Honour among Jews.Well. Cut away.'
'It is upon honour, sir?' the other still stipulated, with respectfulfirmness.
'Oh, certainly. Honour bright,' said Fledgeby.
The old man, never bidden to sit down, stood with an earnest hand laidon the back of the young man's easy chair. The young man sat looking atthe fire with a face of listening curiosity, ready to check him off andcatch him tripping.
'Cut away,' said Fledgeby. 'Start with your motive.'
'Sir, I have no motive but to help the helpless.'
Mr Fledgeby could only express the feelings to which this incrediblestatement gave rise in his breast, by a prodigiously long derisivesniff.
'How I came to know, and much to esteem and to respect, this damsel, Imentioned when you saw her in my poor garden on the house-top,' said theJew.
'Did you?' said Fledgeby, distrustfully. 'Well. Perhaps you did,though.'
'The better I knew her, the more interest I felt in her fortunes. Theygathered to a crisis. I found her beset by a selfish and ungratefulbrother, beset by an unacceptable wooer, beset by the snares of a morepowerful lover, beset by the wiles of her own heart.'
'She took to one of the chaps then?'
'Sir, it was only natural that she should incline towards him, for hehad many and great advantages. But he was not of her station, and tomarry her was not in his mind. Perils were closing round her, and thecircle was fast darkening, when I--being as you have said, sir, tooold and broken to be suspected of any feeling for her but afather's--stepped in, and counselled flight. I said, "My daughter, thereare times of moral danger when the hardest virtuous resolution to formis flight, and when the most heroic bravery is flight." She answered,she had had this in her thoughts; but whither to fly without help sheknew not, and there were none to help her. I showed her there was one tohelp her, and it was I. And she is gone.'
'What did you do with her?' asked Fledgeby, feeling his cheek.
'I placed her,' said the old man, 'at a distance;' with a grave smoothoutward sweep from one another of his two open hands at arm's length;'at a distance--among certain of our people, where her industry wouldserve her, and where she could hope to exercise it, unassailed from anyquarter.'
Fledgeby's eyes had come from the fire to notice the action of his handswhen he said 'at a distance.' Fledgeby now tried (very unsuccessfully)to imitate that action, as he shook his head and said, 'Placed her inthat direction, did you? Oh you circular old dodger!'
With one hand across his breast and the other on the easy chair, Riah,without justifying himself, waited for further questioning. But, that itwas hopeless to question him on that one reserved point, Fledgeby, withhis small eyes too near together, saw full well.
'Lizzie,' said Fledgeby, looking at the fire again, and then looking up.'Humph, Lizzie. You didn't tell me the other name in your garden atop ofthe house. I'll be more communicative with you. The other name's Hexam.'
Riah bent his head in assent.
'Look here, you sir,' said Fledgeby. 'I have a notion I know somethingof the inveigling chap, the powerful one. Has he anything to do with thelaw?'
'Nominally, I believe it his calling.'
'I thought so. Name anything like Lightwood?'
'Sir, not at all like.'
'Come, old 'un,' said Fledgeby, meeting his eyes with a wink, 'say thename.'
'By Jupiter!' cried Fledgeby. 'That one, is it? I thought it might bethe other, but I never dreamt of that one! I shouldn't object to yourbaulking either of the pair, dodger, fo
Brightened by this unexpected commendation, Riah asked were there moreinstructions for him?
'No,' said Fledgeby, 'you may toddle now, Judah, and grope about on theorders you have got.' Dismissed with those pleasing words, the old mantook his broad hat and staff, and left the great presence: more as if hewere some superior creature benignantly blessing Mr Fledgeby, than thepoor dependent on whom he set his foot. Left alone, Mr Fledgeby lockedhis outer door, and came back to his fire.
'Well done you!' said Fascination to himself. 'Slow, you may be; sure,you are!' This he twice or thrice repeated with much complacency, as heagain dispersed the legs of the Turkish trousers and bent the knees.
'A tidy shot that, I flatter myself,' he then soliloquised. 'And a Jewbrought down with it! Now, when I heard the story told at Lammle's, Ididn't make a jump at Riah. Not a hit of it; I got at him by degrees.'Herein he was quite accurate; it being his habit, not to jump, orleap, or make an upward spring, at anything in life, but to crawl ateverything.
'I got at him,' pursued Fledgeby, feeling for his whisker, 'by degrees.If your Lammles or your Lightwoods had got at him anyhow, they wouldhave asked him the question whether he hadn't something to do with thatgal's disappearance. I knew a better way of going to work. Having gotbehind the hedge, and put him in the light, I took a shot at him andbrought him down plump. Oh! It don't count for much, being a Jew, in amatch against ME!'
Another dry twist in place of a smile, made his face crooked here.
'As to Christians,' proceeded Fledgeby, 'look out, fellow-Christians,particularly you that lodge in Queer Street! I have got the run of QueerStreet now, and you shall see some games there. To work a lot of powerover you and you not know it, knowing as you think yourselves, wouldbe almost worth laying out money upon. But when it comes to squeezing aprofit out of you into the bargain, it's something like!'
With this apostrophe Mr Fledgeby appropriately proceeded to divesthimself of his Turkish garments, and invest himself with Christianattire. Pending which operation, and his morning ablutions, and hisanointing of himself with the last infallible preparation for theproduction of luxuriant and glossy hair upon the human countenance(quacks being the only sages he believed in besides usurers), the murkyfog closed about him and shut him up in its sooty embrace. If it hadnever let him out any more, the world would have had no irreparableloss, but could have easily replaced him from its stock on hand.
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