Our mutual friend, p.36
Our Mutual Friend,
THE SAME RESPECTED FRIEND IN MORE ASPECTS THAN ONE
In sooth, it is Riderhood and no other, or it is the outer husk andshell of Riderhood and no other, that is borne into Miss Abbey'sfirst-floor bedroom. Supple to twist and turn as the Rogue has everbeen, he is sufficiently rigid now; and not without much shuffling ofattendant feet, and tilting of his bier this way and that way, andperil even of his sliding off it and being tumbled in a heap over thebalustrades, can he be got up stairs.
'Fetch a doctor,' quoth Miss Abbey. And then, 'Fetch his daughter.' Onboth of which errands, quick messengers depart.
The doctor-seeking messenger meets the doctor halfway, coming underconvoy of police. Doctor examines the dank carcase, and pronounces, nothopefully, that it is worth while trying to reanimate the same. All thebest means are at once in action, and everybody present lends a hand,and a heart and soul. No one has the least regard for the man; with themall, he has been an object of avoidance, suspicion, and aversion; butthe spark of life within him is curiously separable from himself now,and they have a deep interest in it, probably because it IS life, andthey are living and must die.
In answer to the doctor's inquiry how did it happen, and was anyone toblame, Tom Tootle gives in his verdict, unavoidable accident and no oneto blame but the sufferer. 'He was slinking about in his boat,' saysTom, 'which slinking were, not to speak ill of the dead, the manner ofthe man, when he come right athwart the steamer's bows and she cut himin two.' Mr Tootle is so far figurative, touching the dismemberment, asthat he means the boat, and not the man. For, the man lies whole beforethem.
Captain Joey, the bottle-nosed regular customer in the glazed hat, is apupil of the much-respected old school, and (having insinuated himselfinto the chamber, in the execution of the important service of carryingthe drowned man's neck-kerchief) favours the doctor with a sagaciousold-scholastic suggestion that the body should be hung up by the heels,'sim'lar', says Captain Joey, 'to mutton in a butcher's shop,' andshould then, as a particularly choice manoeuvre for promoting easyrespiration, be rolled upon casks. These scraps of the wisdom of thecaptain's ancestors are received with such speechless indignation byMiss Abbey, that she instantly seizes the Captain by the collar, andwithout a single word ejects him, not presuming to remonstrate, from thescene.
There then remain, to assist the doctor and Tom, only those three otherregular customers, Bob Glamour, William Williams, and Jonathan (familyname of the latter, if any, unknown to man-kind), who are quite enough.Miss Abbey having looked in to make sure that nothing is wanted,descends to the bar, and there awaits the result, with the gentle Jewand Miss Jenny Wren.
If you are not gone for good, Mr Riderhood, it would be something toknow where you are hiding at present. This flabby lump of mortality thatwe work so hard at with such patient perseverance, yields no sign ofyou. If you are gone for good, Rogue, it is very solemn, and if you arecoming back, it is hardly less so. Nay, in the suspense and mystery ofthe latter question, involving that of where you may be now, there is asolemnity even added to that of death, making us who are in attendancealike afraid to look on you and to look off you, and making those belowstart at the least sound of a creaking plank in the floor.
Stay! Did that eyelid tremble? So the doctor, breathing low, and closelywatching, asks himself.
Did that nostril twitch?
This artificial respiration ceasing, do I feel any faint flutter undermy hand upon the chest?
Over and over again No. No. But try over and over again, nevertheless.
See! A token of life! An indubitable token of life! The spark maysmoulder and go out, or it may glow and expand, but see! The fourrough fellows, seeing, shed tears. Neither Riderhood in this world, norRiderhood in the other, could draw tears from them; but a striving humansoul between the two can do it easily.
He is struggling to come back. Now, he is almost here, now he is faraway again. Now he is struggling harder to get back. And yet--like usall, when we swoon--like us all, every day of our lives when we wake--heis instinctively unwilling to be restored to the consciousness of thisexistence, and would be left dormant, if he could.
Bob Gliddery returns with Pleasant Riderhood, who was out when soughtfor, and hard to find. She has a shawl over her head, and her firstaction, when she takes it off weeping, and curtseys to Miss Abbey, is towind her hair up.
'Thank you, Miss Abbey, for having father here.'
'I am bound to say, girl, I didn't know who it was,' returns Miss Abbey;'but I hope it would have been pretty much the same if I had known.'
Poor Pleasant, fortified with a sip of brandy, is ushered into thefirst-floor chamber. She could not express much sentiment about herfather if she were called upon to pronounce his funeral oration, but shehas a greater tenderness for him than he ever had for her, and cryingbitterly when she sees him stretched unconscious, asks the doctor, withclasped hands: 'Is there no hope, sir? O poor father! Is poor fatherdead?'
To which the doctor, on one knee beside the body, busy and watchful,only rejoins without looking round: 'Now, my girl, unless you have theself-command to be perfectly quiet, I cannot allow you to remain in theroom.'
Pleasant, consequently, wipes her eyes with her back-hair, which is infresh need of being wound up, and having got it out of the way, watcheswith terrified interest all that goes on. Her natural woman's aptitudesoon renders her able to give a little help. Anticipating the doctor'swant of this or that, she quietly has it ready for him, and so bydegrees is intrusted with the charge of supporting her father's headupon her arm.
It is something so new to Pleasant to see her father an object ofsympathy and interest, to find any one very willing to tolerate hissociety in this world, not to say pressingly and soothingly entreatinghim to belong to it, that it gives her a sensation she never experiencedbefore. Some hazy idea that if affairs could remain thus for a long timeit would be a respectable change, floats in her mind. Also some vagueidea that the old evil is drowned out of him, and that if he shouldhappily come back to resume his occupation of the empty form that liesupon the bed, his spirit will be altered. In which state of mind shekisses the stony lips, and quite believes that the impassive hand shechafes will revive a tender hand, if it revive ever.
Sweet delusion for Pleasant Riderhood. But they minister to him withsuch extraordinary interest, their anxiety is so keen, their vigilanceis so great, their excited joy grows so intense as the signs of lifestrengthen, that how can she resist it, poor thing! And now he beginsto breathe naturally, and he stirs, and the doctor declares him to havecome back from that inexplicable journey where he stopped on the darkroad, and to be here.
Tom Tootle, who is nearest to the doctor when he says this, graspsthe doctor fervently by the hand. Bob Glamour, William Williams, andJonathan of the no surname, all shake hands with one another round, andwith the doctor too. Bob Glamour blows his nose, and Jonathan of theno surname is moved to do likewise, but lacking a pocket handkerchiefabandons that outlet for his emotion. Pleasant sheds tears deserving herown name, and her sweet delusion is at its height.
There is intelligence in his eyes. He wants to ask a question. Hewonders where he is. Tell him.
'Father, you were run down on the river, and are at Miss AbbeyPotterson's.'
He stares at his daughter, stares all around him, closes his eyes, andlies slumbering on her arm.
The short-lived delusion begins to fade. The low, bad, unimpressibleface is coming up from the depths of the river, or what other depths, tothe surface again. As he grows warm, the doctor and the four men cool.As his lineaments soften with life, their faces and their hearts hardento him.
'He will do now,' says the doctor, washing his hands, and looking at thepatient with growing disfavour.
'Many a better man,' moralizes Tom Tootle with a gloomy shake of thehead, 'ain't had his luck.'
'It's to be hoped he'll make a better use of his life,' says BobGlamour, 't
'Or than he done afore,' adds William Williams.
'But no, not he!' says Jonathan of the no surname, clinching thequartette.
They speak in a low tone because of his daughter, but she sees that theyhave all drawn off, and that they stand in a group at the other end ofthe room, shunning him. It would be too much to suspect them of beingsorry that he didn't die when he had done so much towards it, but theyclearly wish that they had had a better subject to bestow their painson. Intelligence is conveyed to Miss Abbey in the bar, who reappears onthe scene, and contemplates from a distance, holding whispered discoursewith the doctor. The spark of life was deeply interesting while it wasin abeyance, but now that it has got established in Mr Riderhood, thereappears to be a general desire that circumstances had admitted of itsbeing developed in anybody else, rather than that gentleman.
'However,' says Miss Abbey, cheering them up, 'you have done your dutylike good and true men, and you had better come down and take somethingat the expense of the Porters.'
This they all do, leaving the daughter watching the father. To whom, intheir absence, Bob Gliddery presents himself.
'His gills looks rum; don't they?' says Bob, after inspecting thepatient.
Pleasant faintly nods.
'His gills'll look rummer when he wakes; won't they?' says Bob.
Pleasant hopes not. Why?
'When he finds himself here, you know,' Bob explains. 'Cause Miss Abbeyforbid him the house and ordered him out of it. But what you may callthe Fates ordered him into it again. Which is rumness; ain't it?'
'He wouldn't have come here of his own accord,' returns poor Pleasant,with an effort at a little pride.
'No,' retorts Bob. 'Nor he wouldn't have been let in, if he had.'
The short delusion is quite dispelled now. As plainly as she sees on herarm the old father, unimproved, Pleasant sees that everybody there willcut him when he recovers consciousness. 'I'll take him away ever so soonas I can,' thinks Pleasant with a sigh; 'he's best at home.'
Presently they all return, and wait for him to become conscious thatthey will all be glad to get rid of him. Some clothes are got togetherfor him to wear, his own being saturated with water, and his presentdress being composed of blankets.
Becoming more and more uncomfortable, as though the prevalent dislikewere finding him out somewhere in his sleep and expressing itself tohim, the patient at last opens his eyes wide, and is assisted by hisdaughter to sit up in bed.
'Well, Riderhood,' says the doctor, 'how do you feel?'
He replies gruffly, 'Nothing to boast on.' Having, in fact, returned tolife in an uncommonly sulky state.
'I don't mean to preach; but I hope,' says the doctor, gravely shakinghis head, 'that this escape may have a good effect upon you, Riderhood.'
The patient's discontented growl of a reply is not intelligible; hisdaughter, however, could interpret, if she would, that what he says is,he 'don't want no Poll-Parroting'.
Mr Riderhood next demands his shirt; and draws it on over his head (withhis daughter's help) exactly as if he had just had a Fight.
'Warn't it a steamer?' he pauses to ask her.
'I'll have the law on her, bust her! and make her pay for it.'
He then buttons his linen very moodily, twice or thrice stopping toexamine his arms and hands, as if to see what punishment he has receivedin the Fight. He then doggedly demands his other garments, and slowlygets them on, with an appearance of great malevolence towards his lateopponent and all the spectators. He has an impression that his nose isbleeding, and several times draws the back of his hand across it, andlooks for the result, in a pugilistic manner, greatly strengthening thatincongruous resemblance.
'Where's my fur cap?' he asks in a surly voice, when he has shuffled hisclothes on.
'In the river,' somebody rejoins.
'And warn't there no honest man to pick it up? O' course there wasthough, and to cut off with it arterwards. You are a rare lot, all onyou!'
Thus, Mr Riderhood: taking from the hands of his daughter, with specialill-will, a lent cap, and grumbling as he pulls it down over his ears.Then, getting on his unsteady legs, leaning heavily upon her, andgrowling, 'Hold still, can't you? What! You must be a staggering next,must you?' he takes his departure out of the ring in which he has hadthat little turn-up with Death.
Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens / Romance & Love have rating 5 out of 5 / Based on135 votes