Our mutual friend, p.47
Our Mutual Friend, p.47Charles Dickens
MR WEGG PREPARES A GRINDSTONE FOR MR BOFFIN'S NOSE
Having assisted at a few more expositions of the lives of Misers, MrVenus became almost indispensable to the evenings at the Bower. Thecircumstance of having another listener to the wonders unfolded byWegg, or, as it were, another calculator to cast up the guineas found inteapots, chimneys, racks and mangers, and other such banks of deposit,seemed greatly to heighten Mr Boffin's enjoyment; while Silas Wegg, forhis part, though of a jealous temperament which might under ordinarycircumstances have resented the anatomist's getting into favour, wasso very anxious to keep his eye on that gentleman--lest, being toomuch left to himself, he should be tempted to play any tricks with theprecious document in his keeping--that he never lost an opportunity ofcommending him to Mr Boffin's notice as a third party whose company wasmuch to be desired. Another friendly demonstration towards him Mr Weggnow regularly gratified. After each sitting was over, and the patronhad departed, Mr Wegg invariably saw Mr Venus home. To be sure, he asinvariably requested to be refreshed with a sight of the paper in whichhe was a joint proprietor; but he never failed to remark that it was thegreat pleasure he derived from Mr Venus's improving society which hadinsensibly lured him round to Clerkenwell again, and that, findinghimself once more attracted to the spot by the social powers of Mr V.,he would beg leave to go through that little incidental procedure, as amatter of form. 'For well I know, sir,' Mr Wegg would add, 'that aman of your delicate mind would wish to be checked off whenever theopportunity arises, and it is not for me to baulk your feelings.'
A certain rustiness in Mr Venus, which never became so lubricated bythe oil of Mr Wegg but that he turned under the screw in a creaking andstiff manner, was very noticeable at about this period. While assistingat the literary evenings, he even went so far, on two or threeoccasions, as to correct Mr Wegg when he grossly mispronounced a word,or made nonsense of a passage; insomuch that Mr Wegg took to surveyinghis course in the day, and to making arrangements for getting roundrocks at night instead of running straight upon them. Of the slightestanatomical reference he became particularly shy, and, if he saw a boneahead, would go any distance out of his way rather than mention it byname.
The adverse destinies ordained that one evening Mr Wegg's labouringbark became beset by polysyllables, and embarrassed among a perfectarchipelago of hard words. It being necessary to take soundings everyminute, and to feel the way with the greatest caution, Mr Wegg'sattention was fully employed. Advantage was taken of this dilemma byMr Venus, to pass a scrap of paper into Mr Boffin's hand, and lay hisfinger on his own lip.
When Mr Boffin got home at night he found that the paper contained MrVenus's card and these words: 'Should be glad to be honoured with a callrespecting business of your own, about dusk on an early evening.'
The very next evening saw Mr Boffin peeping in at the preserved frogsin Mr Venus's shop-window, and saw Mr Venus espying Mr Boffin with thereadiness of one on the alert, and beckoning that gentleman into hisinterior. Responding, Mr Boffin was invited to seat himself on the boxof human miscellanies before the fire, and did so, looking round theplace with admiring eyes. The fire being low and fitful, and the duskgloomy, the whole stock seemed to be winking and blinking with botheyes, as Mr Venus did. The French gentleman, though he had no eyes, wasnot at all behind-hand, but appeared, as the flame rose and fell, toopen and shut his no eyes, with the regularity of the glass-eyed dogsand ducks and birds. The big-headed babies were equally obliging inlending their grotesque aid to the general effect.
'You see, Mr Venus, I've lost no time,' said Mr Boffin. 'Here I am.'
'Here you are, sir,' assented Mr Venus.
'I don't like secrecy,' pursued Mr Boffin--'at least, not in a generalway I don't--but I dare say you'll show me good reason for being secretso far.'
'I think I shall, sir,' returned Venus.
'Good,' said Mr Boffin. 'You don't expect Wegg, I take it for granted?'
'No, sir. I expect no one but the present company.'
Mr Boffin glanced about him, as accepting under that inclusivedenomination the French gentleman and the circle in which he didn'tmove, and repeated, 'The present company.'
'Sir,' said Mr Venus, 'before entering upon business, I shall have toask you for your word and honour that we are in confidence.'
'Let's wait a bit and understand what the expression means,' answered MrBoffin. 'In confidence for how long? In confidence for ever and a day?'
'I take your hint, sir,' said Venus; 'you think you might consider thebusiness, when you came to know it, to be of a nature incompatible withconfidence on your part?'
'I might,' said Mr Boffin with a cautious look.
'True, sir. Well, sir,' observed Venus, after clutching at his dustyhair, to brighten his ideas, 'let us put it another way. I open thebusiness with you, relying upon your honour not to do anything in it,and not to mention me in it, without my knowledge.'
'That sounds fair,' said Mr Boffin. 'I agree to that.'
'I have your word and honour, sir?'
'My good fellow,' retorted Mr Boffin, 'you have my word; and how youcan have that, without my honour too, I don't know. I've sorted a lotof dust in my time, but I never knew the two things go into separateheaps.'
This remark seemed rather to abash Mr Venus. He hesitated, and said,'Very true, sir;' and again, 'Very true, sir,' before resuming thethread of his discourse.
'Mr Boffin, if I confess to you that I fell into a proposal of which youwere the subject, and of which you oughtn't to have been the subject,you will allow me to mention, and will please take into favourableconsideration, that I was in a crushed state of mind at the time.'
The Golden Dustman, with his hands folded on the top of his stoutstick, with his chin resting upon them, and with something leering andwhimsical in his eyes, gave a nod, and said, 'Quite so, Venus.'
'That proposal, sir, was a conspiring breach of your confidence, tosuch an extent, that I ought at once to have made it known to you. But Ididn't, Mr Boffin, and I fell into it.'
Without moving eye or finger, Mr Boffin gave another nod, and placidlyrepeated, 'Quite so, Venus.'
'Not that I was ever hearty in it, sir,' the penitent anatomist wenton, 'or that I ever viewed myself with anything but reproach for havingturned out of the paths of science into the paths of--' he was goingto say 'villany,' but, unwilling to press too hard upon himself,substituted with great emphasis--'Weggery.'
Placid and whimsical of look as ever, Mr Boffin answered:
'Quite so, Venus.'
'And now, sir,' said Venus, 'having prepared your mind in the rough, Iwill articulate the details.' With which brief professional exordium, heentered on the history of the friendly move, and truly recounted it. Onemight have thought that it would have extracted some show of surprise oranger, or other emotion, from Mr Boffin, but it extracted nothing beyondhis former comment:
'Quite so, Venus.'
'I have astonished you, sir, I believe?' said Mr Venus, pausingdubiously.
Mr Boffin simply answered as aforesaid: 'Quite so, Venus.'
By this time the astonishment was all on the other side. It did not,however, so continue. For, when Venus passed to Wegg's discovery, andfrom that to their having both seen Mr Boffin dig up the Dutch bottle,that gentleman changed colour, changed his attitude, became extremelyrestless, and ended (when Venus ended) by being in a state of manifestanxiety, trepidation, and confusion.
'Now, sir,' said Venus, finishing off; 'you best know what was in thatDutch bottle, and why you dug it up, and took it away. I don't pretendto know anything more about it than I saw. All I know is this: I amproud of my calling after all (though it has been attended by onedreadful drawback which has told upon my heart, and almost equally uponmy skeleton), and I mean to live by my calling. Putting the same meaninginto other words, I do not mean to turn a single dishonest penny by thisaffair. As the best amends I can make you for having ever gone into it,I make known to you, as a warning, what Wegg has
'Thank'ee, Venus!' said Mr Boffin, with a hearty grip of his hand;'thank'ee, Venus, thank'ee, Venus!' And then walked up and down thelittle shop in great agitation. 'But look here, Venus,' he by-and-byresumed, nervously sitting down again; 'if I have to buy Wegg up, Ishan't buy him any cheaper for your being out of it. Instead of hishaving half the money--it was to have been half, I suppose? Share andshare alike?'
'It was to have been half, sir,' answered Venus.
'Instead of that, he'll now have all. I shall pay the same, if not more.For you tell me he's an unconscionable dog, a ravenous rascal.'
'He is,' said Venus.
'Don't you think, Venus,' insinuated Mr Boffin, after looking at thefire for a while--'don't you feel as if--you might like to pretend to bein it till Wegg was bought up, and then ease your mind by handing overto me what you had made believe to pocket?'
'No I don't, sir,' returned Venus, very positively.
'Not to make amends?' insinuated Mr Boffin.
'No, sir. It seems to me, after maturely thinking it over, that the bestamends for having got out of the square is to get back into the square.'
'Humph!' mused Mr Boffin. 'When you say the square, you mean--'
'I mean,' said Venus, stoutly and shortly, 'the right.'
'It appears to me,' said Mr Boffin, grumbling over the fire in aninjured manner, 'that the right is with me, if it's anywhere. I havemuch more right to the old man's money than the Crown can ever have.What was the Crown to him except the King's Taxes? Whereas, me and mywife, we was all in all to him.'
Mr Venus, with his head upon his hands, rendered melancholy by thecontemplation of Mr Boffin's avarice, only murmured to steep himselfin the luxury of that frame of mind: 'She did not wish so to regardherself, nor yet to be so regarded.'
'And how am I to live,' asked Mr Boffin, piteously, 'if I'm to be goingbuying fellows up out of the little that I've got? And how am I to setabout it? When am I to get my money ready? When am I to make a bid? Youhaven't told me when he threatens to drop down upon me.'
Venus explained under what conditions, and with what views, the droppingdown upon Mr Boffin was held over until the Mounds should be clearedaway. Mr Boffin listened attentively. 'I suppose,' said he, with agleam of hope, 'there's no doubt about the genuineness and date of thisconfounded will?'
'None whatever,' said Mr Venus.
'Where might it be deposited at present?' asked Mr Boffin, in awheedling tone.
'It's in my possession, sir.'
'Is it?' he cried, with great eagerness. 'Now, for any liberal sum ofmoney that could be agreed upon, Venus, would you put it in the fire?'
'No, sir, I wouldn't,' interrupted Mr Venus.
'Nor pass it over to me?'
'That would be the same thing. No, sir,' said Mr Venus.
The Golden Dustman seemed about to pursue these questions, when astumping noise was heard outside, coming towards the door. 'Hush! here'sWegg!' said Venus. 'Get behind the young alligator in the corner, MrBoffin, and judge him for yourself. I won't light a candle till he'sgone; there'll only be the glow of the fire; Wegg's well acquainted withthe alligator, and he won't take particular notice of him. Draw yourlegs in, Mr Boffin, at present I see a pair of shoes at the end of histail. Get your head well behind his smile, Mr Boffin, and you'll liecomfortable there; you'll find plenty of room behind his smile. He's alittle dusty, but he's very like you in tone. Are you right, sir?'
Mr Boffin had but whispered an affirmative response, when Wegg camestumping in. 'Partner,' said that gentleman in a sprightly manner,'how's yourself?'
'Tolerable,' returned Mr Venus. 'Not much to boast of.'
'In-deed!' said Wegg: 'sorry, partner, that you're not picking upfaster, but your soul's too large for your body, sir; that's whereit is. And how's our stock in trade, partner? Safe bind, safe find,partner? Is that about it?'
'Do you wish to see it?' asked Venus.
'If you please, partner,' said Wegg, rubbing his hands. 'I wish to seeit jintly with yourself. Or, in similar words to some that was set tomusic some time back:
"I wish you to see it with your eyes, And I will pledge with mine."'
Turning his back and turning a key, Mr Venus produced the document,holding on by his usual corner. Mr Wegg, holding on by the oppositecorner, sat down on the seat so lately vacated by Mr Boffin, and lookedit over. 'All right, sir,' he slowly and unwillingly admitted, in hisreluctance to loose his hold, 'all right!' And greedily watched hispartner as he turned his back again, and turned his key again.
'There's nothing new, I suppose?' said Venus, resuming his low chairbehind the counter.
'Yes there is, sir,' replied Wegg; 'there was something new thismorning. That foxey old grasper and griper--'
'Mr Boffin?' inquired Venus, with a glance towards the alligator's yardor two of smile.
'Mister be blowed!' cried Wegg, yielding to his honest indignation.'Boffin. Dusty Boffin. That foxey old grunter and grinder, sir, turnsinto the yard this morning, to meddle with our property, a menial toolof his own, a young man by the name of Sloppy. Ecod, when I say to him,"What do you want here, young man? This is a private yard," he pulls outa paper from Boffin's other blackguard, the one I was passed over for."This is to authorize Sloppy to overlook the carting and to watch thework." That's pretty strong, I think, Mr Venus?'
'Remember he doesn't know yet of our claim on the property,' suggestedVenus.
'Then he must have a hint of it,' said Wegg, 'and a strong one that'lljog his terrors a bit. Give him an inch, and he'll take an ell. Let himalone this time, and what'll he do with our property next? I tell youwhat, Mr Venus; it comes to this; I must be overbearing with Boffin, orI shall fly into several pieces. I can't contain myself when I lookat him. Every time I see him putting his hand in his pocket, I see himputting it into my pocket. Every time I hear him jingling his money, Ihear him taking liberties with my money. Flesh and blood can't bear it.No,' said Mr Wegg, greatly exasperated, 'and I'll go further. A woodenleg can't bear it!'
'But, Mr Wegg,' urged Venus, 'it was your own idea that he should not beexploded upon, till the Mounds were carted away.'
'But it was likewise my idea, Mr Venus,' retorted Wegg, 'that if he camesneaking and sniffing about the property, he should be threatened, givento understand that he has no right to it, and be made our slave. Wasn'tthat my idea, Mr Venus?'
'It certainly was, Mr Wegg.'
'It certainly was, as you say, partner,' assented Wegg, put intoa better humour by the ready admission. 'Very well. I consider hisplanting one of his menial tools in the yard, an act of sneaking andsniffing. And his nose shall be put to the grindstone for it.'
'It was not your fault, Mr Wegg, I must admit,' said Venus, 'that he gotoff with the Dutch bottle that night.'
'As you handsomely say again, partner! No, it was not my fault. I'd havehad that bottle out of him. Was it to be borne that he should come, likea thief in the dark, digging among stuff that was far more ours than his(seeing that we could deprive him of every grain of it, if he didn't buyus at our own figure), and carrying off treasure from its bowels? No,it was not to be borne. And for that, too, his nose shall be put to thegrindstone.'
'How do you propose to do it, Mr Wegg?'
'To put his nose to the grindstone? I propose,' returned that estimableman, 'to insult him openly. And, if looking into this eye of mine, hedares to offer a word in answer, to retort upon him before he can takehis breath, "Add another word to that, you dusty old dog, and you're abeggar."'
'Suppose he says nothing, Mr Wegg?'
'Then,' replied Wegg, 'we
'You speak quite revengefully, Mr Wegg.'
'Revengefully, sir? Is it for him that I have declined and falled,night after night? Is it for his pleasure that I've waited at home of anevening, like a set of skittles, to be set up and knocked over, set upand knocked over, by whatever balls--or books--he chose to bring againstme? Why, I'm a hundred times the man he is, sir; five hundred times!'
Perhaps it was with the malicious intent of urging him on to his worstthat Mr Venus looked as if he doubted that.
'What? Was it outside the house at present ockypied, to its disgrace,by that minion of fortune and worm of the hour,' said Wegg, falling backupon his strongest terms of reprobation, and slapping the counter,'that I, Silas Wegg, five hundred times the man he ever was, sat in allweathers, waiting for a errand or a customer? Was it outside that veryhouse as I first set eyes upon him, rolling in the lap of luxury, when Iwas selling halfpenny ballads there for a living? And am I to grovel inthe dust for HIM to walk over? No!'
There was a grin upon the ghastly countenance of the French gentlemanunder the influence of the firelight, as if he were computing how manythousand slanderers and traitors array themselves against the fortunate,on premises exactly answering to those of Mr Wegg. One might havefancied that the big-headed babies were toppling over with theirhydrocephalic attempts to reckon up the children of men who transformtheir benefactors into their injurers by the same process. The yard ortwo of smile on the part of the alligator might have been invested withthe meaning, 'All about this was quite familiar knowledge down in thedepths of the slime, ages ago.'
'But,' said Wegg, possibly with some slight perception to the foregoingeffect, 'your speaking countenance remarks, Mr Venus, that I'm dullerand savager than usual. Perhaps I HAVE allowed myself to brood too much.Begone, dull Care! 'Tis gone, sir. I've looked in upon you, and empireresumes her sway. For, as the song says--subject to your correction,sir--
"When the heart of a man is depressed with cares, The mist is dispelled if Venus appears. Like the notes of a fiddle, you sweetly, sir, sweetly, Raises our spirits and charms our ears."
'I shall have a word or two to say to you, Mr Wegg, before long,'remarked Venus, 'respecting my share in the project we've been speakingof.'
'My time, sir,' returned Wegg, 'is yours. In the meanwhile let it befully understood that I shall not neglect bringing the grindstone tobear, nor yet bringing Dusty Boffin's nose to it. His nose once broughtto it, shall be held to it by these hands, Mr Venus, till the sparksflies out in showers.'
With this agreeable promise Wegg stumped out, and shut the shop-doorafter him. 'Wait till I light a candle, Mr Boffin,' said Venus, 'andyou'll come out more comfortable.' So, he lighting a candle and holdingit up at arm's length, Mr Boffin disengaged himself from behind thealligator's smile, with an expression of countenance so very downcastthat it not only appeared as if the alligator had the whole of the joketo himself, but further as if it had been conceived and executed at MrBoffin's expense.
'That's a treacherous fellow,' said Mr Boffin, dusting his arms and legsas he came forth, the alligator having been but musty company. 'That's adreadful fellow.'
'The alligator, sir?' said Venus.
'No, Venus, no. The Serpent.'
'You'll have the goodness to notice, Mr Boffin,' remarked Venus, 'that Isaid nothing to him about my going out of the affair altogether, becauseI didn't wish to take you anyways by surprise. But I can't be too soonout of it for my satisfaction, Mr Boffin, and I now put it to you whenit will suit your views for me to retire?'
'Thank'ee, Venus, thank'ee, Venus; but I don't know what to say,'returned Mr Boffin, 'I don't know what to do. He'll drop down on me anyway. He seems fully determined to drop down; don't he?'
Mr Venus opined that such was clearly his intention.
'You might be a sort of protection for me, if you remained in it,' saidMr Boffin; 'you might stand betwixt him and me, and take the edge offhim. Don't you feel as if you could make a show of remaining in it,Venus, till I had time to turn myself round?'
Venus naturally inquired how long Mr Boffin thought it might take him toturn himself round?
'I am sure I don't know,' was the answer, given quite at a loss.'Everything is so at sixes and sevens. If I had never come into theproperty, I shouldn't have minded. But being in it, it would be verytrying to be turned out; now, don't you acknowledge that it would,Venus?'
Mr Venus preferred, he said, to leave Mr Boffin to arrive at his ownconclusions on that delicate question.
'I am sure I don't know what to do,' said Mr Boffin. 'If I ask advice ofany one else, it's only letting in another person to be bought out, andthen I shall be ruined that way, and might as well have given up theproperty and gone slap to the workhouse. If I was to take advice of myyoung man, Rokesmith, I should have to buy HIM out. Sooner or later, ofcourse, he'd drop down upon me, like Wegg. I was brought into the worldto be dropped down upon, it appears to me.'
Mr Venus listened to these lamentations in silence, while Mr Boffinjogged to and fro, holding his pockets as if he had a pain in them.
'After all, you haven't said what you mean to do yourself, Venus. Whenyou do go out of it, how do you mean to go?'
Venus replied that as Wegg had found the document and handed it to him,it was his intention to hand it back to Wegg, with the declaration thathe himself would have nothing to say to it, or do with it, and that Weggmust act as he chose, and take the consequences.
'And then he drops down with his whole weight upon ME!' cried Mr Boffin,ruefully. 'I'd sooner be dropped upon by you than by him, or even by youjintly, than by him alone!'
Mr Venus could only repeat that it was his fixed intention to betakehimself to the paths of science, and to walk in the same all the daysof his life; not dropping down upon his fellow-creatures until they weredeceased, and then only to articulate them to the best of his humbleability.
'How long could you be persuaded to keep up the appearance of remainingin it?' asked Mr Boffin, retiring on his other idea. 'Could you be gotto do so, till the Mounds are gone?'
No. That would protract the mental uneasiness of Mr Venus too long, hesaid.
'Not if I was to show you reason now?' demanded Mr Boffin; 'not if I wasto show you good and sufficient reason?'
If by good and sufficient reason Mr Boffin meant honest andunimpeachable reason, that might weigh with Mr Venus against hispersonal wishes and convenience. But he must add that he saw no openingto the possibility of such reason being shown him.
'Come and see me, Venus,' said Mr Boffin, 'at my house.'
'Is the reason there, sir?' asked Mr Venus, with an incredulous smileand blink.
'It may be, or may not be,' said Mr Boffin, 'just as you view it. Butin the meantime don't go out of the matter. Look here. Do this. Give meyour word that you won't take any steps with Wegg, without my knowledge,just as I have given you my word that I won't without yours.'
'Done, Mr Boffin!' said Venus, after brief consideration.
'Thank'ee, Venus, thank'ee, Venus! Done!'
'When shall I come to see you, Mr Boffin.'
'When you like. The sooner the better. I must be going now. Good-night,Venus.'
'And good-night to the rest of the present company,' said Mr Boffin,glancing round the shop. 'They make a queer show, Venus, and I shouldlike to be better acquainted with them some day. Good-night, Venus,good-night! Thankee, Venus, thankee, Venus!' With that he jogged outinto the street, and jogged upon his homeward way.
'Now, I wonder,' he meditated as he went along, nursing his stick,'whether it can be, that Venus is setting himself to get the better ofWegg? Whether it can be, that
It was a cunning and suspicious idea, quite in the way of his schoolof Misers, and he looked very cunning and suspicious as he went joggingthrough the streets. More than once or twice, more than twice or thrice,say half a dozen times, he took his stick from the arm on which henursed it, and hit a straight sharp rap at the air with its head.Possibly the wooden countenance of Mr Silas Wegg was incorporeallybefore him at those moments, for he hit with intense satisfaction.
He was within a few streets of his own house, when a little privatecarriage, coming in the contrary direction, passed him, turned round,and passed him again. It was a little carriage of eccentric movement,for again he heard it stop behind him and turn round, and again he sawit pass him. Then it stopped, and then went on, out of sight. But, notfar out of sight, for, when he came to the corner of his own street,there it stood again.
There was a lady's face at the window as he came up with this carriage,and he was passing it when the lady softly called to him by his name.
'I beg your pardon, Ma'am?' said Mr Boffin, coming to a stop.
'It is Mrs Lammle,' said the lady.
Mr Boffin went up to the window, and hoped Mrs Lammle was well.
'Not very well, dear Mr Boffin; I have fluttered myself bybeing--perhaps foolishly--uneasy and anxious. I have been waiting foryou some time. Can I speak to you?'
Mr Boffin proposed that Mrs Lammle should drive on to his house, a fewhundred yards further.
'I would rather not, Mr Boffin, unless you particularly wish it. I feelthe difficulty and delicacy of the matter so much that I would ratheravoid speaking to you at your own home. You must think this verystrange?'
Mr Boffin said no, but meant yes.
'It is because I am so grateful for the good opinion of all myfriends, and am so touched by it, that I cannot bear to run the risk offorfeiting it in any case, even in the cause of duty. I have asked myhusband (my dear Alfred, Mr Boffin) whether it is the cause of duty,and he has most emphatically said Yes. I wish I had asked him sooner. Itwould have spared me much distress.'
('Can this be more dropping down upon me!' thought Mr Boffin, quitebewildered.)
'It was Alfred who sent me to you, Mr Boffin. Alfred said, "Don'tcome back, Sophronia, until you have seen Mr Boffin, and told him all.Whatever he may think of it, he ought certainly to know it." Would youmind coming into the carriage?'
Mr Boffin answered, 'Not at all,' and took his seat at Mrs Lammle'sside.
'Drive slowly anywhere,' Mrs Lammle called to her coachman, 'and don'tlet the carriage rattle.'
'It MUST be more dropping down, I think,' said Mr Boffin to himself.'What next?'
Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens / Romance & Love have rating 5 out of 5 / Based on135 votes