Our mutual friend, p.40
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       Our Mutual Friend, p.40

           Charles Dickens
 

  Chapter 7

  THE FRIENDLY MOVE TAKES UP A STRONG POSITION

  The friendly movers sat upright on the floor, panting and eyeing oneanother, after Mr Boffin had slammed the gate and gone away. In the weakeyes of Venus, and in every reddish dust-coloured hair in his shock ofhair, there was a marked distrust of Wegg and an alertness to fly at himon perceiving the smallest occasion. In the hard-grained face of Wegg,and in his stiff knotty figure (he looked like a German wooden toy),there was expressed a politic conciliation, which had no spontaneity init. Both were flushed, flustered, and rumpled, by the late scuffle; andWegg, in coming to the ground, had received a humming knock on the backof his devoted head, which caused him still to rub it with an air ofhaving been highly--but disagreeably--astonished. Each was silent forsome time, leaving it to the other to begin.

  'Brother,' said Wegg, at length breaking the silence, 'you were right,and I was wrong. I forgot myself.'

  Mr Venus knowingly cocked his shock of hair, as rather thinking Mr Wegghad remembered himself, in respect of appearing without any disguise.

  'But comrade,' pursued Wegg, 'it was never your lot to know MissElizabeth, Master George, Aunt Jane, nor Uncle Parker.'

  Mr Venus admitted that he had never known those distinguished persons,and added, in effect, that he had never so much as desired the honour oftheir acquaintance.

  'Don't say that, comrade!' retorted Wegg: 'No, don't say that! Because,without having known them, you never can fully know what it is to bestimilated to frenzy by the sight of the Usurper.'

  Offering these excusatory words as if they reflected great credit onhimself, Mr Wegg impelled himself with his hands towards a chair ina corner of the room, and there, after a variety of awkward gambols,attained a perpendicular position. Mr Venus also rose.

  'Comrade,' said Wegg, 'take a seat. Comrade, what a speaking countenanceis yours!'

  Mr Venus involuntarily smoothed his countenance, and looked at his hand,as if to see whether any of its speaking properties came off.

  'For clearly do I know, mark you,' pursued Wegg, pointing his wordswith his forefinger, 'clearly do I know what question your expressivefeatures puts to me.'

  'What question?' said Venus.

  'The question,' returned Wegg, with a sort of joyful affability, 'whyI didn't mention sooner, that I had found something. Says your speakingcountenance to me: "Why didn't you communicate that, when I first comein this evening? Why did you keep it back till you thought Mr Boffin hadcome to look for the article?" Your speaking countenance,' said Wegg,'puts it plainer than language. Now, you can't read in my face whatanswer I give?'

  'No, I can't,' said Venus.

  'I knew it! And why not?' returned Wegg, with the same joyful candour.'Because I lay no claims to a speaking countenance. Because I am wellaware of my deficiencies. All men are not gifted alike. But I can answerin words. And in what words? These. I wanted to give you a delightfulsap--pur--IZE!'

  Having thus elongated and emphasized the word Surprise, Mr Wegg shookhis friend and brother by both hands, and then clapped him on bothknees, like an affectionate patron who entreated him not to mention sosmall a service as that which it had been his happy privilege to render.

  'Your speaking countenance,' said Wegg, 'being answered to itssatisfaction, only asks then, "What have you found?" Why, I hear it saythe words!'

  'Well?' retorted Venus snappishly, after waiting in vain. 'If you hearit say the words, why don't you answer it?'

  'Hear me out!' said Wegg. 'I'm a-going to. Hear me out! Man and brother,partner in feelings equally with undertakings and actions, I have founda cash-box.'

  'Where?'

  '--Hear me out!' said Wegg. (He tried to reserve whatever he could, and,whenever disclosure was forced upon him, broke into a radiant gush ofHear me out.) 'On a certain day, sir--'

  'When?' said Venus bluntly.

  'N--no,' returned Wegg, shaking his head at once observantly,thoughtfully, and playfully. 'No, sir! That's not your expressivecountenance which asks that question. That's your voice; merely yourvoice. To proceed. On a certain day, sir, I happened to be walking inthe yard--taking my lonely round--for in the words of a friend of my ownfamily, the author of All's Well arranged as a duett:

  "Deserted, as you will remember Mr Venus, by the waning moon, When stars, it will occur to you before I mention it, proclaim night's cheerless noon, On tower, fort, or tented ground, The sentry walks his lonely round, The sentry walks:"

  --under those circumstances, sir, I happened to be walking in the yardearly one afternoon, and happened to have an iron rod in my hand, withwhich I have been sometimes accustomed to beguile the monotony of aliterary life, when I struck it against an object not necessary totrouble you by naming--'

  'It is necessary. What object?' demanded Venus, in a wrathful tone.

  '--Hear me out!' said Wegg. 'The Pump.--When I struck it against thePump, and found, not only that the top was loose and opened with a lid,but that something in it rattled. That something, comrade, I discoveredto be a small flat oblong cash-box. Shall I say it was disappointinglylight?'

  'There were papers in it,' said Venus.

  'There your expressive countenance speaks indeed!' cried Wegg. 'Apaper. The box was locked, tied up, and sealed, and on the outside wasa parchment label, with the writing, "MY WILL, JOHN HARMON, TEMPORARILYDEPOSITED HERE."'

  'We must know its contents,' said Venus.

  '--Hear me out!' cried Wegg. 'I said so, and I broke the box open.'

  'Without coming to me!' exclaimed Venus.

  'Exactly so, sir!' returned Wegg, blandly and buoyantly. 'I see I takeyou with me! Hear, hear, hear! Resolved, as your discriminating goodsense perceives, that if you was to have a sap--pur--IZE, it should bea complete one! Well, sir. And so, as you have honoured me byanticipating, I examined the document. Regularly executed, regularlywitnessed, very short. Inasmuch as he has never made friends, and hasever had a rebellious family, he, John Harmon, gives to Nicodemus Boffinthe Little Mound, which is quite enough for him, and gives the wholerest and residue of his property to the Crown.'

  'The date of the will that has been proved, must be looked to,' remarkedVenus. 'It may be later than this one.'

  '--Hear me out!' cried Wegg. 'I said so. I paid a shilling (never mindyour sixpence of it) to look up that will. Brother, that will is datedmonths before this will. And now, as a fellow-man, and as a partner in afriendly move,' added Wegg, benignantly taking him by both hands again,and clapping him on both knees again, 'say have I completed my labour oflove to your perfect satisfaction, and are you sap--pur--IZED?'

  Mr Venus contemplated his fellow-man and partner with doubting eyes, andthen rejoined stiffly:

  'This is great news indeed, Mr Wegg. There's no denying it. But I couldhave wished you had told it me before you got your fright to-night, andI could have wished you had ever asked me as your partner what we wereto do, before you thought you were dividing a responsibility.'

  '--Hear me out!' cried Wegg. 'I knew you was a-going to say so. Butalone I bore the anxiety, and alone I'll bear the blame!' This with anair of great magnanimity.

  'No,' said Venus. 'Let's see this will and this box.'

  'Do I understand, brother,' returned Wegg with considerable reluctance,'that it is your wish to see this will and this--?'

  Mr Venus smote the table with his hand.

  '--Hear me out!' said Wegg. 'Hear me out! I'll go and fetch 'em.'

  After being some time absent, as if in his covetousness he could hardlymake up his mind to produce the treasure to his partner, he returnedwith an old leathern hat-box, into which he had put the other box,for the better preservation of commonplace appearances, and for thedisarming of suspicion. 'But I don't half like opening it here,' saidSilas in a low voice, looking around: 'he might come back, he may not begone; we don't know what he may be up to, after what we've seen.'

  'There's something in that,' assented Venus. 'Come to my place.'

 
Jealous of the custody of the box, and yet fearful of opening it underthe existing circumstances, Wegg hesitated. 'Come, I tell you,' repeatedVenus, chafing, 'to my place.' Not very well seeing his way to arefusal, Mr Wegg then rejoined in a gush, '--Hear me out!--Certainly.'So he locked up the Bower and they set forth: Mr Venus taking his arm,and keeping it with remarkable tenacity.

  They found the usual dim light burning in the window of Mr Venus'sestablishment, imperfectly disclosing to the public the usual pairof preserved frogs, sword in hand, with their point of honour stillunsettled. Mr Venus had closed his shop door on coming out, and nowopened it with the key and shut it again as soon as they were within;but not before he had put up and barred the shutters of the shop window.'No one can get in without being let in,' said he then, 'and we couldn'tbe more snug than here.' So he raked together the yet warm cinders inthe rusty grate, and made a fire, and trimmed the candle on the littlecounter. As the fire cast its flickering gleams here and there upon thedark greasy walls; the Hindoo baby, the African baby, the articulatedEnglish baby, the assortment of skulls, and the rest of the collection,came starting to their various stations as if they had all been out,like their master and were punctual in a general rendezvous to assistat the secret. The French gentleman had grown considerably since Mr Wegglast saw him, being now accommodated with a pair of legs and a head,though his arms were yet in abeyance. To whomsoever the head hadoriginally belonged, Silas Wegg would have regarded it as a personalfavour if he had not cut quite so many teeth.

  Silas took his seat in silence on the wooden box before the fire, andVenus dropping into his low chair produced from among his skeletonhands, his tea-tray and tea-cups, and put the kettle on. Silas inwardlyapproved of these preparations, trusting they might end in Mr Venus'sdiluting his intellect.

  'Now, sir,' said Venus, 'all is safe and quiet. Let us see thisdiscovery.'

  With still reluctant hands, and not without several glances towards theskeleton hands, as if he mistrusted that a couple of them might springforth and clutch the document, Wegg opened the hat-box and revealed thecash-box, opened the cash-box and revealed the will. He held a cornerof it tight, while Venus, taking hold of another corner, searchingly andattentively read it.

  'Was I correct in my account of it, partner?' said Mr Wegg at length.

  'Partner, you were,' said Mr Venus.

  Mr Wegg thereupon made an easy, graceful movement, as though he wouldfold it up; but Mr Venus held on by his corner.

  'No, sir,' said Mr Venus, winking his weak eyes and shaking his head.'No, partner. The question is now brought up, who is going to take careof this. Do you know who is going to take care of this, partner?'

  'I am,' said Wegg.

  'Oh dear no, partner,' retorted Venus. 'That's a mistake. I am. Now lookhere, Mr Wegg. I don't want to have any words with you, and still lessdo I want to have any anatomical pursuits with you.'

  'What do you mean?' said Wegg, quickly.

  'I mean, partner,' replied Venus, slowly, 'that it's hardly possiblefor a man to feel in a more amiable state towards another man than Ido towards you at this present moment. But I am on my own ground, I amsurrounded by the trophies of my art, and my tools is very handy.'

  'What do you mean, Mr Venus?' asked Wegg again.

  'I am surrounded, as I have observed,' said Mr Venus, placidly, 'bythe trophies of my art. They are numerous, my stock of human warious islarge, the shop is pretty well crammed, and I don't just now want anymore trophies of my art. But I like my art, and I know how to exercisemy art.'

  'No man better,' assented Mr Wegg, with a somewhat staggered air.

  'There's the Miscellanies of several human specimens,' said Venus,'(though you mightn't think it) in the box on which you're sitting.There's the Miscellanies of several human specimens, in the lovelycompo-one behind the door'; with a nod towards the French gentleman. 'Itstill wants a pair of arms. I DON'T say that I'm in any hurry for 'em.'

  'You must be wandering in your mind, partner,' Silas remonstrated.

  'You'll excuse me if I wander,' returned Venus; 'I am sometimes rathersubject to it. I like my art, and I know how to exercise my art, and Imean to have the keeping of this document.'

  'But what has that got to do with your art, partner?' asked Wegg, in aninsinuating tone.

  Mr Venus winked his chronically-fatigued eyes both at once, andadjusting the kettle on the fire, remarked to himself, in a hollowvoice, 'She'll bile in a couple of minutes.'

  Silas Wegg glanced at the kettle, glanced at the shelves, glanced at theFrench gentleman behind the door, and shrank a little as he glanced atMr Venus winking his red eyes, and feeling in his waistcoat pocket--asfor a lancet, say--with his unoccupied hand. He and Venus werenecessarily seated close together, as each held a corner of thedocument, which was but a common sheet of paper.

  'Partner,' said Wegg, even more insinuatingly than before, 'I proposethat we cut it in half, and each keep a half.'

  Venus shook his shock of hair, as he replied, 'It wouldn't do tomutilate it, partner. It might seem to be cancelled.'

  'Partner,' said Wegg, after a silence, during which they hadcontemplated one another, 'don't your speaking countenance say thatyou're a-going to suggest a middle course?'

  Venus shook his shock of hair as he replied, 'Partner, you have keptthis paper from me once. You shall never keep it from me again. I offeryou the box and the label to take care of, but I'll take care of thepaper.'

  Silas hesitated a little longer, and then suddenly releasing his corner,and resuming his buoyant and benignant tone, exclaimed, 'What's lifewithout trustfulness! What's a fellow-man without honour! You're welcometo it, partner, in a spirit of trust and confidence.'

  Continuing to wink his red eyes both together--but in a self-communingway, and without any show of triumph--Mr Venus folded the paper now leftin his hand, and locked it in a drawer behind him, and pocketed the key.He then proposed 'A cup of tea, partner?' To which Mr Wegg returned,'Thank'ee, partner,' and the tea was made and poured out.

  'Next,' said Venus, blowing at his tea in his saucer, and looking overit at his confidential friend, 'comes the question, What's the course tobe pursued?'

  On this head, Silas Wegg had much to say. Silas had to say That, hewould beg to remind his comrade, brother, and partner, of the impressivepassages they had read that evening; of the evident parallel in MrBoffin's mind between them and the late owner of the Bower, and thepresent circumstances of the Bower; of the bottle; and of the box. That,the fortunes of his brother and comrade, and of himself were evidentlymade, inasmuch as they had but to put their price upon this document,and get that price from the minion of fortune and the worm of the hour:who now appeared to be less of a minion and more of a worm than had beenpreviously supposed. That, he considered it plain that such price wasstateable in a single expressive word, and that the word was, 'Halves!'That, the question then arose when 'Halves!' should be called. That,here he had a plan of action to recommend, with a conditional clause.That, the plan of action was that they should lie by with patience;that, they should allow the Mounds to be gradually levelled and clearedaway, while retaining to themselves their present opportunity ofwatching the process--which would be, he conceived, to put the troubleand cost of daily digging and delving upon somebody else, while theymight nightly turn such complete disturbance of the dust to the accountof their own private investigations--and that, when the Mounds weregone, and they had worked those chances for their own joint benefitsolely, they should then, and not before, explode on the minion andworm. But here came the conditional clause, and to this he entreated thespecial attention of his comrade, brother, and partner. It was not tobe borne that the minion and worm should carry off any of that propertywhich was now to be regarded as their own property. When he, Mr Wegg,had seen the minion surreptitiously making off with that bottle, and itsprecious contents unknown, he had looked upon him in the light of a mererobber, and, as such, would have despoiled him of his ill-gotten gain,but for the judicious interference of hi
s comrade, brother, and partner.Therefore, the conditional clause he proposed was, that, if the minionshould return in his late sneaking manner, and if, being closelywatched, he should be found to possess himself of anything, no matterwhat, the sharp sword impending over his head should be instantly shownhim, he should be strictly examined as to what he knew or suspected,should be severely handled by them his masters, and should be kept ina state of abject moral bondage and slavery until the time when theyshould see fit to permit him to purchase his freedom at the price ofhalf his possessions. If, said Mr Wegg by way of peroration, he haderred in saying only 'Halves!' he trusted to his comrade, brother, andpartner not to hesitate to set him right, and to reprove his weakness.It might be more according to the rights of things, to sayTwo-thirds; it might be more according to the rights of things, to sayThree-fourths. On those points he was ever open to correction.

  Mr Venus, having wafted his attention to this discourse over threesuccessive saucers of tea, signified his concurrence in the viewsadvanced. Inspirited hereby, Mr Wegg extended his right hand, anddeclared it to be a hand which never yet. Without entering into moreminute particulars. Mr Venus, sticking to his tea, briefly professed hisbelief as polite forms required of him, that it WAS a hand which neveryet. But contented himself with looking at it, and did not take it tohis bosom.

  'Brother,' said Wegg, when this happy understanding was established, 'Ishould like to ask you something. You remember the night when I firstlooked in here, and found you floating your powerful mind in tea?'

  Still swilling tea, Mr Venus nodded assent.

  'And there you sit, sir,' pursued Wegg with an air of thoughtfuladmiration, 'as if you had never left off! There you sit, sir, as if youhad an unlimited capacity of assimilating the flagrant article! Thereyou sit, sir, in the midst of your works, looking as if you'd beencalled upon for Home, Sweet Home, and was obleeging the company!

  "A exile from home splendour dazzles in vain, O give you your lowly Preparations again, The birds stuffed so sweetly that can't be expected to come at your call, Give you these with the peace of mind dearer than all. Home, Home, Home, sweet Home!"

  --Be it ever,' added Mr Wegg in prose as he glanced about the shop,'ever so ghastly, all things considered there's no place like it.'

  'You said you'd like to ask something; but you haven't asked it,'remarked Venus, very unsympathetic in manner.

  'Your peace of mind,' said Wegg, offering condolence, 'your peace ofmind was in a poor way that night. HOW'S it going on? IS it looking upat all?'

  'She does not wish,' replied Mr Venus with a comical mixture ofindignant obstinacy and tender melancholy, 'to regard herself, nor yetto be regarded, in that particular light. There's no more to be said.'

  'Ah, dear me, dear me!' exclaimed Wegg with a sigh, but eyeing him whilepretending to keep him company in eyeing the fire, 'such is Woman! AndI remember you said that night, sitting there as I sat here--said thatnight when your peace of mind was first laid low, that you had taken aninterest in these very affairs. Such is coincidence!'

  'Her father,' rejoined Venus, and then stopped to swallow more tea, 'herfather was mixed up in them.'

  'You didn't mention her name, sir, I think?' observed Wegg, pensively.'No, you didn't mention her name that night.'

  'Pleasant Riderhood.'

  'In--deed!' cried Wegg. 'Pleasant Riderhood. There's something moving inthe name. Pleasant. Dear me! Seems to express what she might havebeen, if she hadn't made that unpleasant remark--and what she ain't,in consequence of having made it. Would it at all pour balm into yourwounds, Mr Venus, to inquire how you came acquainted with her?'

  'I was down at the water-side,' said Venus, taking another gulp oftea and mournfully winking at the fire--'looking for parrots'--takinganother gulp and stopping.

  Mr Wegg hinted, to jog his attention: 'You could hardly have been outparrot-shooting, in the British climate, sir?'

  'No, no, no,' said Venus fretfully. 'I was down at the water-side,looking for parrots brought home by sailors, to buy for stuffing.'

  'Ay, ay, ay, sir!'

  '--And looking for a nice pair of rattlesnakes, to articulate for aMuseum--when I was doomed to fall in with her and deal with her. It wasjust at the time of that discovery in the river. Her father had seen thediscovery being towed in the river. I made the popularity of the subjecta reason for going back to improve the acquaintance, and I have neversince been the man I was. My very bones is rendered flabby by broodingover it. If they could be brought to me loose, to sort, I should hardlyhave the face to claim 'em as mine. To such an extent have I fallen offunder it.'

  Mr Wegg, less interested than he had been, glanced at one particularshelf in the dark.

  'Why I remember, Mr Venus,' he said in a tone of friendly commiseration'(for I remember every word that falls from you, sir), I remember thatyou said that night, you had got up there--and then your words was,"Never mind."'

  '--The parrot that I bought of her,' said Venus, with a despondent riseand fall of his eyes. 'Yes; there it lies on its side, dried up; exceptfor its plumage, very like myself. I've never had the heart to prepareit, and I never shall have now.'

  With a disappointed face, Silas mentally consigned this parrot toregions more than tropical, and, seeming for the time to have losthis power of assuming an interest in the woes of Mr Venus, fell totightening his wooden leg as a preparation for departure: its gymnasticperformances of that evening having severely tried its constitution.

  After Silas had left the shop, hat-box in hand, and had left Mr Venusto lower himself to oblivion-point with the requisite weight of tea, itgreatly preyed on his ingenuous mind that he had taken this artist intopartnership at all. He bitterly felt that he had overreached himself inthe beginning, by grasping at Mr Venus's mere straws of hints, now shownto be worthless for his purpose. Casting about for ways and means ofdissolving the connexion without loss of money, reproaching himself forhaving been betrayed into an avowal of his secret, and complimentinghimself beyond measure on his purely accidental good luck, he beguiledthe distance between Clerkenwell and the mansion of the Golden Dustman.

  For, Silas Wegg felt it to be quite out of the question that he couldlay his head upon his pillow in peace, without first hovering overMr Boffin's house in the superior character of its Evil Genius. Power(unless it be the power of intellect or virtue) has ever the greatestattraction for the lowest natures; and the mere defiance of theunconscious house-front, with his power to strip the roof off theinhabiting family like the roof of a house of cards, was a treat whichhad a charm for Silas Wegg.

  As he hovered on the opposite side of the street, exulting, the carriagedrove up.

  'There'll shortly be an end of YOU,' said Wegg, threatening it with thehat-box. 'YOUR varnish is fading.'

  Mrs Boffin descended and went in.

  'Look out for a fall, my Lady Dustwoman,' said Wegg.

  Bella lightly descended, and ran in after her.

  'How brisk we are!' said Wegg. 'You won't run so gaily to your oldshabby home, my girl. You'll have to go there, though.'

  A little while, and the Secretary came out.

  'I was passed over for you,' said Wegg. 'But you had better provideyourself with another situation, young man.'

  Mr Boffin's shadow passed upon the blinds of three large windows as hetrotted down the room, and passed again as he went back.

  'Yoop!' cried Wegg. 'You're there, are you? Where's the bottle? Youwould give your bottle for my box, Dustman!'

  Having now composed his mind for slumber, he turned homeward. Suchwas the greed of the fellow, that his mind had shot beyond halves,two-thirds, three-fourths, and gone straight to spoliation of the whole.'Though that wouldn't quite do,' he considered, growing cooler as he gotaway. 'That's what would happen to him if he didn't buy us up. We shouldget nothing by that.'

  We so judge others by ourselves, that it had never come into his headbefore, that he might not buy us up, and might prove honest, and preferto be poor. It c
aused him a slight tremor as it passed; but a veryslight one, for the idle thought was gone directly.

  'He's grown too fond of money for that,' said Wegg; 'he's grown too fondof money.' The burden fell into a strain or tune as he stumped along thepavements. All the way home he stumped it out of the rattling streets,PIANO with his own foot, and FORTE with his wooden leg, 'He's GROWN tooFOND of MONEY for THAT, he's GROWN too FOND of MONEY.'

  Even next day Silas soothed himself with this melodious strain, when hewas called out of bed at daybreak, to set open the yard-gate and admitthe train of carts and horses that came to carry off the little Mound.And all day long, as he kept unwinking watch on the slow process whichpromised to protract itself through many days and weeks, whenever(to save himself from being choked with dust) he patrolled a littlecinderous beat he established for the purpose, without taking his eyesfrom the diggers, he still stumped to the tune: He's GROWN too FOND ofMONEY for THAT, he's GROWN too FOND of MONEY.'

 
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