Our mutual friend, p.46
Our Mutual Friend, p.46Charles Dickens
GIVE A DOG A BAD NAME, AND HANG HIM
Fascination Fledgeby, left alone in the counting-house, strolled aboutwith his hat on one side, whistling, and investigating the drawers, andprying here and there for any small evidences of his being cheated,but could find none. 'Not his merit that he don't cheat me,' was MrFledgeby's commentary delivered with a wink, 'but my precaution.' Hethen with a lazy grandeur asserted his rights as lord of Pubsey andCo. by poking his cane at the stools and boxes, and spitting in thefireplace, and so loitered royally to the window and looked out into thenarrow street, with his small eyes just peering over the top of Pubseyand Co.'s blind. As a blind in more senses than one, it reminded himthat he was alone in the counting-house with the front door open. He wasmoving away to shut it, lest he should be injudiciously identified withthe establishment, when he was stopped by some one coming to the door.
This some one was the dolls' dressmaker, with a little basket on herarm, and her crutch stick in her hand. Her keen eyes had espied MrFledgeby before Mr Fledgeby had espied her, and he was paralysed in hispurpose of shutting her out, not so much by her approaching the door, asby her favouring him with a shower of nods, the instant he saw her. Thisadvantage she improved by hobbling up the steps with such despatch thatbefore Mr Fledgeby could take measures for her finding nobody at home,she was face to face with him in the counting-house.
'Hope I see you well, sir,' said Miss Wren. 'Mr Riah in?'
Fledgeby had dropped into a chair, in the attitude of one waitingwearily. 'I suppose he will be back soon,' he replied; 'he has cutout and left me expecting him back, in an odd way. Haven't I seen youbefore?'
'Once before--if you had your eyesight,' replied Miss Wren; theconditional clause in an under-tone.
'When you were carrying on some games up at the top of the house. Iremember. How's your friend?'
'I have more friends than one, sir, I hope,' replied Miss Wren. 'Whichfriend?'
'Never mind,' said Mr Fledgeby, shutting up one eye, 'any of yourfriends, all your friends. Are they pretty tolerable?'
Somewhat confounded, Miss Wren parried the pleasantry, and sat down in acorner behind the door, with her basket in her lap. By-and-by, she said,breaking a long and patient silence:
'I beg your pardon, sir, but I am used to find Mr Riah at this time, andso I generally come at this time. I only want to buy my poor little twoshillings' worth of waste. Perhaps you'll kindly let me have it, andI'll trot off to my work.'
'I let you have it?' said Fledgeby, turning his head towards her; for hehad been sitting blinking at the light, and feeling his cheek. 'Why, youdon't really suppose that I have anything to do with the place, or thebusiness; do you?'
'Suppose?' exclaimed Miss Wren. 'He said, that day, you were themaster!'
'The old cock in black said? Riah said? Why, he'd say anything.'
'Well; but you said so too,' returned Miss Wren. 'Or at least you tookon like the master, and didn't contradict him.'
'One of his dodges,' said Mr Fledgeby, with a cool and contemptuousshrug. 'He's made of dodges. He said to me, "Come up to the top of thehouse, sir, and I'll show you a handsome girl. But I shall call youthe master." So I went up to the top of the house and he showed me thehandsome girl (very well worth looking at she was), and I was called themaster. I don't know why. I dare say he don't. He loves a dodge forits own sake; being,' added Mr Fledgeby, after casting about for anexpressive phrase, 'the dodgerest of all the dodgers.'
'Oh my head!' cried the dolls' dressmaker, holding it with both herhands, as if it were cracking. 'You can't mean what you say.'
'I can, my little woman, retorted Fledgeby, 'and I do, I assure you.'
This repudiation was not only an act of deliberate policy on Fledgeby'spart, in case of his being surprised by any other caller, but was also aretort upon Miss Wren for her over-sharpness, and a pleasant instanceof his humour as regarded the old Jew. 'He has got a bad name as an oldJew, and he is paid for the use of it, and I'll have my money's worthout of him.' This was Fledgeby's habitual reflection in the way ofbusiness, and it was sharpened just now by the old man's presumingto have a secret from him: though of the secret itself, as annoyingsomebody else whom he disliked, he by no means disapproved.
Miss Wren with a fallen countenance sat behind the door lookingthoughtfully at the ground, and the long and patient silence hadagain set in for some time, when the expression of Mr Fledgeby's facebetokened that through the upper portion of the door, which was ofglass, he saw some one faltering on the brink of the counting-house.Presently there was a rustle and a tap, and then some more rustling andanother tap. Fledgeby taking no notice, the door was at length softlyopened, and the dried face of a mild little elderly gentleman looked in.
'Mr Riah?' said this visitor, very politely.
'I am waiting for him, sir,' returned Mr Fledgeby. 'He went out and leftme here. I expect him back every minute. Perhaps you had better take achair.'
The gentleman took a chair, and put his hand to his forehead, as ifhe were in a melancholy frame of mind. Mr Fledgeby eyed him aside, andseemed to relish his attitude.
'A fine day, sir,' remarked Fledgeby.
The little dried gentleman was so occupied with his own depressedreflections that he did not notice the remark until the sound of MrFledgeby's voice had died out of the counting-house. Then he started,and said: 'I beg your pardon, sir. I fear you spoke to me?'
'I said,' remarked Fledgeby, a little louder than before, 'it was a fineday.'
'I beg your pardon. I beg your pardon. Yes.'
Again the little dried gentleman put his hand to his forehead, and againMr Fledgeby seemed to enjoy his doing it. When the gentleman changed hisattitude with a sigh, Fledgeby spake with a grin.
'Mr Twemlow, I think?'
The dried gentleman seemed much surprised.
'Had the pleasure of dining with you at Lammle's,' said Fledgeby. 'Evenhave the honour of being a connexion of yours. An unexpected sort ofplace this to meet in; but one never knows, when one gets into the City,what people one may knock up against. I hope you have your health, andare enjoying yourself.'
There might have been a touch of impertinence in the last words; on theother hand, it might have been but the native grace of Mr Fledgeby'smanner. Mr Fledgeby sat on a stool with a foot on the rail of anotherstool, and his hat on. Mr Twemlow had uncovered on looking in at thedoor, and remained so. Now the conscientious Twemlow, knowing what hehad done to thwart the gracious Fledgeby, was particularly disconcertedby this encounter. He was as ill at ease as a gentleman well could be.He felt himself bound to conduct himself stiffly towards Fledgeby,and he made him a distant bow. Fledgeby made his small eyes smallerin taking special note of his manner. The dolls' dressmaker sat in hercorner behind the door, with her eyes on the ground and her hands foldedon her basket, holding her crutch-stick between them, and appearing totake no heed of anything.
'He's a long time,' muttered Mr Fledgeby, looking at his watch. 'Whattime may you make it, Mr Twemlow?'
Mr Twemlow made it ten minutes past twelve, sir.
'As near as a toucher,' assented Fledgeby. 'I hope, Mr Twemlow, yourbusiness here may be of a more agreeable character than mine.'
'Thank you, sir,' said Mr Twemlow.
Fledgeby again made his small eyes smaller, as he glanced with greatcomplacency at Twemlow, who was timorously tapping the table with afolded letter.
'What I know of Mr Riah,' said Fledgeby, with a very disparagingutterance of his name, 'leads me to believe that this is about the shopfor disagreeable business. I have always found him the bitingest andtightest screw in London.'
Mr Twemlow acknowledged the remark with a little distant bow. Itevidently made him nervous.
'So much so,' pursued Fledgeby, 'that if it wasn't to be true to afriend, nobody should catch me waiting here a single minute. But if youhave friends in adversity, stand by them. That's what I say and act upto.'
The equitable Twemlow felt that this sent
'Glad to have your approbation,' returned Fledgeby. 'It's a coincidence,Mr Twemlow;' here he descended from his perch, and sauntered towardshim; 'that the friends I am standing by to-day are the friends at whosehouse I met you! The Lammles. She's a very taking and agreeable woman?'
Conscience smote the gentle Twemlow pale. 'Yes,' he said. 'She is.'
'And when she appealed to me this morning, to come and try what I coulddo to pacify their creditor, this Mr Riah--that I certainly have gainedsome little influence with in transacting business for another friend,but nothing like so much as she supposes--and when a woman like thatspoke to me as her dearest Mr Fledgeby, and shed tears--why what could Ido, you know?'
Twemlow gasped 'Nothing but come.'
'Nothing but come. And so I came. But why,' said Fledgeby, puttinghis hands in his pockets and counterfeiting deep meditation, 'why Riahshould have started up, when I told him that the Lammles entreated himto hold over a Bill of Sale he has on all their effects; and why heshould have cut out, saying he would be back directly; and why he shouldhave left me here alone so long; I cannot understand.'
The chivalrous Twemlow, Knight of the Simple Heart, was not in acondition to offer any suggestion. He was too penitent, too remorseful.For the first time in his life he had done an underhanded action, and hehad done wrong. He had secretly interposed against this confiding youngman, for no better real reason than because the young man's ways werenot his ways.
But, the confiding young man proceeded to heap coals of fire on hissensitive head.
'I beg your pardon, Mr Twemlow; you see I am acquainted with the natureof the affairs that are transacted here. Is there anything I can do foryou here? You have always been brought up as a gentleman, and never as aman of business;' another touch of possible impertinence in this place;'and perhaps you are but a poor man of business. What else is to beexpected!'
'I am even a poorer man of business than I am a man, sir,' returnedTwemlow, 'and I could hardly express my deficiency in a stronger way. Ireally do not so much as clearly understand my position in the matteron which I am brought here. But there are reasons which make mevery delicate of accepting your assistance. I am greatly, greatly,disinclined to profit by it. I don't deserve it.'
Good childish creature! Condemned to a passage through the world by suchnarrow little dimly-lighted ways, and picking up so few specks or spotson the road!
'Perhaps,' said Fledgeby, 'you may be a little proud of entering on thetopic,--having been brought up as a gentleman.'
'It's not that, sir,' returned Twemlow, 'it's not that. I hope Idistinguish between true pride and false pride.'
'I have no pride at all, myself,' said Fledgeby, 'and perhaps I don'tcut things so fine as to know one from t'other. But I know this is aplace where even a man of business needs his wits about him; and if minecan be of any use to you here, you're welcome to them.'
'You are very good,' said Twemlow, faltering. 'But I am mostunwilling--'
'I don't, you know,' proceeded Fledgeby with an ill-favoured glance,'entertain the vanity of supposing that my wits could be of any useto you in society, but they might be here. You cultivate society andsociety cultivates you, but Mr Riah's not society. In society, Mr Riahis kept dark; eh, Mr Twemlow?'
Twemlow, much disturbed, and with his hand fluttering about hisforehead, replied: 'Quite true.'
The confiding young man besought him to state his case. The innocentTwemlow, expecting Fledgeby to be astounded by what he should unfold,and not for an instant conceiving the possibility of its happening everyday, but treating of it as a terrible phenomenon occurring in the courseof ages, related how that he had had a deceased friend, a married civilofficer with a family, who had wanted money for change of place onchange of post, and how he, Twemlow, had 'given him his name,' with theusual, but in the eyes of Twemlow almost incredible result that he hadbeen left to repay what he had never had. How, in the course of years,he had reduced the principal by trifling sums, 'having,' said Twemlow,'always to observe great economy, being in the enjoyment of a fixedincome limited in extent, and that depending on the munificence ofa certain nobleman,' and had always pinched the full interest out ofhimself with punctual pinches. How he had come, in course of time,to look upon this one only debt of his life as a regular quarterlydrawback, and no worse, when 'his name' had some way fallen into thepossession of Mr Riah, who had sent him notice to redeem it by paying upin full, in one plump sum, or take tremendous consequences. This, withhazy remembrances of how he had been carried to some office to 'confessjudgment' (as he recollected the phrase), and how he had been carriedto another office where his life was assured for somebody not whollyunconnected with the sherry trade whom he remembered by the remarkablecircumstance that he had a Straduarius violin to dispose of, and also aMadonna, formed the sum and substance of Mr Twemlow's narrative. Throughwhich stalked the shadow of the awful Snigsworth, eyed afar off bymoney-lenders as Security in the Mist, and menacing Twemlow with hisbaronial truncheon.
To all, Mr Fledgeby listened with the modest gravity becoming aconfiding young man who knew it all beforehand, and, when it wasfinished, seriously shook his head. 'I don't like, Mr Twemlow,' saidFledgeby, 'I don't like Riah's calling in the principal. If he'sdetermined to call it in, it must come.'
'But supposing, sir,' said Twemlow, downcast, 'that it can't come?'
'Then,' retorted Fledgeby, 'you must go, you know.'
'Where?' asked Twemlow, faintly.
'To prison,' returned Fledgeby. Whereat Mr Twemlow leaned his innocenthead upon his hand, and moaned a little moan of distress and disgrace.
'However,' said Fledgeby, appearing to pluck up his spirits, 'we'll hopeit's not so bad as that comes to. If you'll allow me, I'll mention to MrRiah when he comes in, who you are, and I'll tell him you're my friend,and I'll say my say for you, instead of your saying it for yourself; Imay be able to do it in a more business-like way. You won't consider ita liberty?'
'I thank you again and again, sir,' said Twemlow. 'I am strong,strongly, disinclined to avail myself of your generosity, though myhelplessness yields. For I cannot but feel that I--to put it in themildest form of speech--that I have done nothing to deserve it.'
'Where CAN he be?' muttered Fledgeby, referring to his watch again.'What CAN he have gone out for? Did you ever see him, Mr Twemlow?'
'He is a thorough Jew to look at, but he is a more thorough Jew to dealwith. He's worst when he's quiet. If he's quiet, I shall take it as avery bad sign. Keep your eye upon him when he comes in, and, if he'squiet, don't be hopeful. Here he is!--He looks quiet.'
With these words, which had the effect of causing the harmless Twemlowpainful agitation, Mr Fledgeby withdrew to his former post, and the oldman entered the counting-house.
'Why, Mr Riah,' said Fledgeby, 'I thought you were lost!'
The old man, glancing at the stranger, stood stock-still. He perceivedthat his master was leading up to the orders he was to take, and hewaited to understand them.
'I really thought,' repeated Fledgeby slowly, 'that you were lost, MrRiah. Why, now I look at you--but no, you can't have done it; no, youcan't have done it!'
Hat in hand, the old man lifted his head, and looked distressfully atFledgeby as seeking to know what new moral burden he was to bear.
'You can't have rushed out to get the start of everybody else, and putin that bill of sale at Lammle's?' said Fledgeby. 'Say you haven't, MrRiah.'
'Sir, I have,' replied the old man in a low voice.
'Oh my eye!' cried Fledgeby. 'Tut, tut, tut! Dear, dear, dear! Well! Iknew you were a hard customer, Mr Riah, but I never thought you were ashard as that.'
'Sir,' said the old man, with great uneasiness, 'I do as I am directed.I am not the principal here. I am but the agent of a superior, and Ihave no choice, no power.'
The old man clasped the skirt of his long coat with his disengaged hand,and directed a wistful look at Fledgeby.
'And don't,' said Fledgeby, 'don't, I entreat you as a favour, Mr Riah,be so devilish meek, for I know what'll follow if you are. Look here, MrRiah. This gentleman is Mr Twemlow.'
The Jew turned to him and bowed. That poor lamb bowed in return; polite,and terrified.
'I have made such a failure,' proceeded Fledgeby, 'in trying to doanything with you for my friend Lammle, that I've hardly a hope of doinganything with you for my friend (and connexion indeed) Mr Twemlow. ButI do think that if you would do a favour for anybody, you would for me,and I won't fail for want of trying, and I've passed my promise to MrTwemlow besides. Now, Mr Riah, here is Mr Twemlow. Always good for hisinterest, always coming up to time, always paying his little way. Now,why should you press Mr Twemlow? You can't have any spite against MrTwemlow! Why not be easy with Mr Twemlow?'
The old man looked into Fledgeby's little eyes for any sign of leave tobe easy with Mr Twemlow; but there was no sign in them.
'Mr Twemlow is no connexion of yours, Mr Riah,' said Fledgeby; 'youcan't want to be even with him for having through life gone in for agentleman and hung on to his Family. If Mr Twemlow has a contempt forbusiness, what can it matter to you?'
'But pardon me,' interposed the gentle victim, 'I have not. I shouldconsider it presumption.'
'There, Mr Riah!' said Fledgeby, 'isn't that handsomely said? Come! Maketerms with me for Mr Twemlow.'
The old man looked again for any sign of permission to spare the poorlittle gentleman. No. Mr Fledgeby meant him to be racked.
'I am very sorry, Mr Twemlow,' said Riah. 'I have my instructions. I aminvested with no authority for diverging from them. The money must bepaid.'
'In full and slap down, do you mean, Mr Riah?' asked Fledgeby, to makethings quite explicit.
'In full, sir, and at once,' was Riah's answer.
Mr Fledgeby shook his head deploringly at Twemlow, and mutely expressedin reference to the venerable figure standing before him with eyes uponthe ground: 'What a Monster of an Israelite this is!'
'Mr Riah,' said Fledgeby.
The old man lifted up his eyes once more to the little eyes in MrFledgeby's head, with some reviving hope that the sign might be comingyet.
'Mr Riah, it's of no use my holding back the fact. There's a certaingreat party in the background in Mr Twemlow's case, and you know it.'
'I know it,' the old man admitted.
'Now, I'll put it as a plain point of business, Mr Riah. Are you fullydetermined (as a plain point of business) either to have that said greatparty's security, or that said great party's money?'
'Fully determined,' answered Riah, as he read his master's face, andlearnt the book.
'Not at all caring for, and indeed as it seems to me rather enjoying,'said Fledgeby, with peculiar unction, 'the precious kick-up and row thatwill come off between Mr Twemlow and the said great party?'
This required no answer, and received none. Poor Mr Twemlow, who hadbetrayed the keenest mental terrors since his noble kinsman loomed inthe perspective, rose with a sigh to take his departure. 'I thank youvery much, sir,' he said, offering Fledgeby his feverish hand. 'You havedone me an unmerited service. Thank you, thank you!'
'Don't mention it,' answered Fledgeby. 'It's a failure so far, but I'llstay behind, and take another touch at Mr Riah.'
'Do not deceive yourself Mr Twemlow,' said the Jew, then addressing himdirectly for the first time. 'There is no hope for you. You must expectno leniency here. You must pay in full, and you cannot pay too promptly,or you will be put to heavy charges. Trust nothing to me, sir. Money,money, money.' When he had said these words in an emphatic manner, heacknowledged Mr Twemlow's still polite motion of his head, and thatamiable little worthy took his departure in the lowest spirits.
Fascination Fledgeby was in such a merry vein when the counting-housewas cleared of him, that he had nothing for it but to go to the window,and lean his arms on the frame of the blind, and have his silent laughout, with his back to his subordinate. When he turned round again with acomposed countenance, his subordinate still stood in the same place, andthe dolls' dressmaker sat behind the door with a look of horror.
'Halloa!' cried Mr Fledgeby, 'you're forgetting this young lady, MrRiah, and she has been waiting long enough too. Sell her her waste,please, and give her good measure if you can make up your mind to do theliberal thing for once.'
He looked on for a time, as the Jew filled her little basket with suchscraps as she was used to buy; but, his merry vein coming on again, hewas obliged to turn round to the window once more, and lean his arms onthe blind.
'There, my Cinderella dear,' said the old man in a whisper, and with aworn-out look, 'the basket's full now. Bless you! And get you gone!'
'Don't call me your Cinderella dear,' returned Miss Wren. 'O you cruelgodmother!'
She shook that emphatic little forefinger of hers in his face atparting, as earnestly and reproachfully as she had ever shaken it at hergrim old child at home.
'You are not the godmother at all!' said she. 'You are the Wolf inthe Forest, the wicked Wolf! And if ever my dear Lizzie is sold andbetrayed, I shall know who sold and betrayed her!'
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