Our mutual friend, p.51
Larger Font   Reset Font Size   Smaller Font       Night Mode Off   Night Mode

       Our Mutual Friend, p.51

           Charles Dickens
 

  BOOK THE FOURTH -- A TURNING

  Chapter 1

  SETTING TRAPS

  Plashwater Weir Mill Lock looked tranquil and pretty on an evening inthe summer time. A soft air stirred the leaves of the fresh green trees,and passed like a smooth shadow over the river, and like a smoothershadow over the yielding grass. The voice of the falling water, likethe voices of the sea and the wind, were as an outer memory to acontemplative listener; but not particularly so to Mr Riderhood, who saton one of the blunt wooden levers of his lock-gates, dozing. Wine mustbe got into a butt by some agency before it can be drawn out; and thewine of sentiment never having been got into Mr Riderhood by any agency,nothing in nature tapped him.

  As the Rogue sat, ever and again nodding himself off his balance, hisrecovery was always attended by an angry stare and growl, as if, in theabsence of any one else, he had aggressive inclinations towards himself.In one of these starts the cry of 'Lock, ho! Lock!' prevented hisrelapse into a doze. Shaking himself as he got up like the surly brutehe was, he gave his growl a responsive twist at the end, and turned hisface down-stream to see who hailed.

  It was an amateur-sculler, well up to his work though taking it easily,in so light a boat that the Rogue remarked: 'A little less on you, andyou'd a'most ha' been a Wagerbut'; then went to work at his windlasshandles and sluices, to let the sculler in. As the latter stood in hisboat, holding on by the boat-hook to the woodwork at the lock side,waiting for the gates to open, Rogue Riderhood recognized his 'T'othergovernor,' Mr Eugene Wrayburn; who was, however, too indifferent or toomuch engaged to recognize him.

  The creaking lock-gates opened slowly, and the light boat passed in assoon as there was room enough, and the creaking lock-gates closed uponit, and it floated low down in the dock between the two sets of gates,until the water should rise and the second gates should open and let itout. When Riderhood had run to his second windlass and turned it, andwhile he leaned against the lever of that gate to help it to swingopen presently, he noticed, lying to rest under the green hedge by thetowing-path astern of the Lock, a Bargeman.

  The water rose and rose as the sluice poured in, dispersing the scumwhich had formed behind the lumbering gates, and sending the boat up,so that the sculler gradually rose like an apparition against the lightfrom the bargeman's point of view. Riderhood observed that the bargemanrose too, leaning on his arm, and seemed to have his eyes fastened onthe rising figure.

  But, there was the toll to be taken, as the gates were now complainingand opening. The T'other governor tossed it ashore, twisted in a pieceof paper, and as he did so, knew his man.

  'Ay, ay? It's you, is it, honest friend?' said Eugene, seating himselfpreparatory to resuming his sculls. 'You got the place, then?'

  'I got the place, and no thanks to you for it, nor yet none to LawyerLightwood,' gruffly answered Riderhood.

  'We saved our recommendation, honest fellow,' said Eugene, 'for the nextcandidate--the one who will offer himself when you are transported orhanged. Don't be long about it; will you be so good?'

  So imperturbable was the air with which he gravely bent to his work thatRiderhood remained staring at him, without having found a retort, untilhe had rowed past a line of wooden objects by the weir, which showedlike huge teetotums standing at rest in the water, and was almost hiddenby the drooping boughs on the left bank, as he rowed away, keepingout of the opposing current. It being then too late to retort withany effect--if that could ever have been done--the honest man confinedhimself to cursing and growling in a grim under-tone. Having thengot his gates shut, he crossed back by his plank lock-bridge to thetowing-path side of the river.

  If, in so doing, he took another glance at the bargeman, he did it bystealth. He cast himself on the grass by the Lock side, in an indolentway, with his back in that direction, and, having gathered a few blades,fell to chewing them. The dip of Eugene Wrayburn's sculls had becomehardly audible in his ears when the bargeman passed him, putting theutmost width that he could between them, and keeping under the hedge.Then, Riderhood sat up and took a long look at his figure, and thencried: 'Hi--I--i! Lock, ho! Lock! Plashwater Weir Mill Lock!'

  The bargeman stopped, and looked back.

  'Plashwater Weir Mill Lock, T'otherest gov--er--nor--or--or--or!' criedMr Riderhood, with his hands to his mouth.

  The bargeman turned back. Approaching nearer and nearer, the bargemanbecame Bradley Headstone, in rough water-side second-hand clothing.

  'Wish I may die,' said Riderhood, smiting his right leg, and laughing,as he sat on the grass, 'if you ain't ha' been a imitating me,T'otherest governor! Never thought myself so good-looking afore!'

  Truly, Bradley Headstone had taken careful note of the honest man'sdress in the course of that night-walk they had had together. He musthave committed it to memory, and slowly got it by heart. It wasexactly reproduced in the dress he now wore. And whereas, in his ownschoolmaster clothes, he usually looked as if they were the clothes ofsome other man, he now looked, in the clothes of some other man or men,as if they were his own.

  'THIS your Lock?' said Bradley, whose surprise had a genuine air; 'theytold me, where I last inquired, it was the third I should come to. Thisis only the second.'

  'It's my belief, governor,' returned Riderhood, with a wink and shake ofhis head, 'that you've dropped one in your counting. It ain't Locks asYOU'VE been giving your mind to. No, no!'

  As he expressively jerked his pointing finger in the direction the boathad taken, a flush of impatience mounted into Bradley's face, and helooked anxiously up the river.

  'It ain't Locks as YOU'VE been a reckoning up,' said Riderhood, when theschoolmaster's eyes came back again. 'No, no!'

  'What other calculations do you suppose I have been occupied with?Mathematics?'

  'I never heerd it called that. It's a long word for it. Hows'ever,p'raps you call it so,' said Riderhood, stubbornly chewing his grass.

  'It. What?'

  'I'll say them, instead of it, if you like,' was the coolly growledreply. 'It's safer talk too.'

  'What do you mean that I should understand by them?'

  'Spites, affronts, offences giv' and took, deadly aggrawations, suchlike,' answered Riderhood.

  Do what Bradley Headstone would, he could not keep that former flush ofimpatience out of his face, or so master his eyes as to prevent theiragain looking anxiously up the river.

  'Ha ha! Don't be afeerd, T'otherest,' said Riderhood. 'The T'other's gotto make way agin the stream, and he takes it easy. You can soon come upwith him. But wot's the good of saying that to you! YOU know how furyou could have outwalked him betwixt anywheres about where he lost thetide--say Richmond--and this, if you had a mind to it.'

  'You think I have been following him?' said Bradley.

  'I KNOW you have,' said Riderhood.

  'Well! I have, I have,' Bradley admitted. 'But,' with another anxiouslook up the river, 'he may land.'

  'Easy you! He won't be lost if he does land,' said Riderhood. 'He mustleave his boat behind him. He can't make a bundle or a parcel on it, andcarry it ashore with him under his arm.'

  'He was speaking to you just now,' said Bradley, kneeling on one knee onthe grass beside the Lock-keeper. 'What did he say?'

  'Cheek,' said Riderhood.

  'What?'

  'Cheek,' repeated Riderhood, with an angry oath; 'cheek is what he said.He can't say nothing but cheek. I'd ha' liked to plump down aboard ofhim, neck and crop, with a heavy jump, and sunk him.'

  Bradley turned away his haggard face for a few moments, and then said,tearing up a tuft of grass:

  'Damn him!'

  'Hooroar!' cried Riderhood. 'Does you credit! Hooroar! I cry chorus tothe T'otherest.'

  'What turn,' said Bradley, with an effort at self-repression that forcedhim to wipe his face, 'did his insolence take to-day?'

  'It took the turn,' answered Riderhood, with sullen ferocity, 'of hopingas I was getting ready to be hanged.'

  'Let him look to that,' cried Bradley. 'Let him loo
k to that! It willbe bad for him when men he has injured, and at whom he has jeered, arethinking of getting hanged. Let HIM get ready for HIS fate, when thatcomes about. There was more meaning in what he said than he knew of, orhe wouldn't have had brains enough to say it. Let him look to it; lethim look to it! When men he has wronged, and on whom he has bestowedhis insolence, are getting ready to be hanged, there is a death-bellringing. And not for them.'

  Riderhood, looking fixedly at him, gradually arose from his recumbentposture while the schoolmaster said these words with the utmostconcentration of rage and hatred. So, when the words were all spoken,he too kneeled on one knee on the grass, and the two men looked at oneanother.

  'Oh!' said Riderhood, very deliberately spitting out the grass he hadbeen chewing. 'Then, I make out, T'otherest, as he is a-going to her?'

  'He left London,' answered Bradley, 'yesterday. I have hardly a doubt,this time, that at last he is going to her.'

  'You ain't sure, then?'

  'I am as sure here,' said Bradley, with a clutch at the breast of hiscoarse shirt, 'as if it was written there;' with a blow or a stab at thesky.

  'Ah! But judging from the looks on you,' retorted Riderhood, completelyridding himself of his grass, and drawing his sleeve across his mouth,'you've made ekally sure afore, and have got disapinted. It has toldupon you.'

  'Listen,' said Bradley, in a low voice, bending forward to lay his handupon the Lock-keeper's shoulder. 'These are my holidays.'

  'Are they, by George!' muttered Riderhood, with his eyes on thepassion-wasted face. 'Your working days must be stiff 'uns, if these isyour holidays.'

  'And I have never left him,' pursued Bradley, waving the interruptionaside with an impatient hand, 'since they began. And I never will leavehim now, till I have seen him with her.'

  'And when you have seen him with her?' said Riderhood.

  '--I'll come back to you.'

  Riderhood stiffened the knee on which he had been resting, got up, andlooked gloomily at his new friend. After a few moments they walked sideby side in the direction the boat had taken, as if by tacit consent;Bradley pressing forward, and Riderhood holding back; Bradley gettingout his neat prim purse into his hand (a present made him by pennysubscription among his pupils); and Riderhood, unfolding his arms tosmear his coat-cuff across his mouth with a thoughtful air.

  'I have a pound for you,' said Bradley.

  'You've two,' said Riderhood.

  Bradley held a sovereign between his fingers. Slouching at his side withhis eyes upon the towing-path, Riderhood held his left hand open, witha certain slight drawing action towards himself. Bradley dipped in hispurse for another sovereign, and two chinked in Riderhood's hand, thedrawing action of which, promptly strengthening, drew them home to hispocket.

  'Now, I must follow him,' said Bradley Headstone. 'He takes thisriver-road--the fool!--to confuse observation, or divert attention, ifnot solely to baffle me. But he must have the power of making himselfinvisible before he can shake Me off.'

  Riderhood stopped. 'If you don't get disapinted agin, T'otherest, maybeyou'll put up at the Lock-house when you come back?'

  'I will.'

  Riderhood nodded, and the figure of the bargeman went its way along thesoft turf by the side of the towing-path, keeping near the hedge andmoving quickly. They had turned a point from which a long stretch ofriver was visible. A stranger to the scene might have been certain thathere and there along the line of hedge a figure stood, watching thebargeman, and waiting for him to come up. So he himself had oftenbelieved at first, until his eyes became used to the posts, bearing thedagger that slew Wat Tyler, in the City of London shield.

  Within Mr Riderhood's knowledge all daggers were as one. Even to BradleyHeadstone, who could have told to the letter without book all about WatTyler, Lord Mayor Walworth, and the King, that it is dutiful for youthto know, there was but one subject living in the world for every sharpdestructive instrument that summer evening. So, Riderhood looking afterhim as he went, and he with his furtive hand laid upon the dagger as hepassed it, and his eyes upon the boat, were much upon a par.

  The boat went on, under the arching trees, and over their tranquilshadows in the water. The bargeman skulking on the opposite bank of thestream, went on after it. Sparkles of light showed Riderhood whenand where the rower dipped his blades, until, even as he stood idlywatching, the sun went down and the landscape was dyed red. And then thered had the appearance of fading out of it and mounting up to Heaven, aswe say that blood, guiltily shed, does.

  Turning back towards his Lock (he had not gone out of view of it), theRogue pondered as deeply as it was within the contracted power of sucha fellow to do. 'Why did he copy my clothes? He could have looked likewhat he wanted to look like, without that.' This was the subject-matterin his thoughts; in which, too, there came lumbering up, by times, likeany half floating and half sinking rubbish in the river, the question,Was it done by accident? The setting of a trap for finding out whetherit was accidentally done, soon superseded, as a practical piece ofcunning, the abstruser inquiry why otherwise it was done. And he deviseda means.

  Rogue Riderhood went into his Lock-house, and brought forth, into thenow sober grey light, his chest of clothes. Sitting on the grass besideit, he turned out, one by one, the articles it contained, until he cameto a conspicuous bright red neckerchief stained black here and there bywear. It arrested his attention, and he sat pausing over it, until hetook off the rusty colourless wisp that he wore round his throat, andsubstituted the red neckerchief, leaving the long ends flowing. 'Now,'said the Rogue, 'if arter he sees me in this neckhankecher, I see him ina sim'lar neckhankecher, it won't be accident!' Elated by his device, hecarried his chest in again and went to supper.

  'Lock ho! Lock!' It was a light night, and a barge coming down summonedhim out of a long doze. In due course he had let the barge throughand was alone again, looking to the closing of his gates, when BradleyHeadstone appeared before him, standing on the brink of the Lock.

  'Halloa!' said Riderhood. 'Back a' ready, T'otherest?'

  'He has put up for the night, at an Angler's Inn,' was the fatigued andhoarse reply. 'He goes on, up the river, at six in the morning. I havecome back for a couple of hours' rest.'

  'You want 'em,' said Riderhood, making towards the schoolmaster by hisplank bridge.

  'I don't want them,' returned Bradley, irritably, 'because I wouldrather not have them, but would much prefer to follow him all night.However, if he won't lead, I can't follow. I have been waiting about,until I could discover, for a certainty, at what time he starts; if Icouldn't have made sure of it, I should have stayed there.--This wouldbe a bad pit for a man to be flung into with his hands tied. Theseslippery smooth walls would give him no chance. And I suppose thosegates would suck him down?'

  'Suck him down, or swaller him up, he wouldn't get out,' said Riderhood.'Not even, if his hands warn't tied, he wouldn't. Shut him in at bothends, and I'd give him a pint o' old ale ever to come up to me standinghere.'

  Bradley looked down with a ghastly relish. 'You run about the brink, andrun across it, in this uncertain light, on a few inches width of rottenwood,' said he. 'I wonder you have no thought of being drowned.'

  'I can't be!' said Riderhood.

  'You can't be drowned?'

  'No!' said Riderhood, shaking his head with an air of thoroughconviction, 'it's well known. I've been brought out o' drowning, and Ican't be drowned. I wouldn't have that there busted B'lowbridger awareon it, or her people might make it tell agin' the damages I mean to get.But it's well known to water-side characters like myself, that him ashas been brought out o drowning, can never be drowned.'

  Bradley smiled sourly at the ignorance he would have corrected in one ofhis pupils, and continued to look down into the water, as if the placehad a gloomy fascination for him.

  'You seem to like it,' said Riderhood.

  He took no notice, but stood looking down, as if he had not heard thewords. There was a very dark expression on his face;
an expressionthat the Rogue found it hard to understand. It was fierce, and fullof purpose; but the purpose might have been as much against himself asagainst another. If he had stepped back for a spring, taken a leap, andthrown himself in, it would have been no surprising sequel to the look.Perhaps his troubled soul, set upon some violence, did hover for themoment between that violence and another.

  'Didn't you say,' asked Riderhood, after watching him for a while witha sidelong glance, 'as you had come back for a couple o' hours' rest?'But, even then he had to jog him with his elbow before he answered.

  'Eh? Yes.'

  'Hadn't you better come in and take your couple o' hours' rest?'

  'Thank you. Yes.'

  With the look of one just awakened, he followed Riderhood into theLock-house, where the latter produced from a cupboard some cold saltbeef and half a loaf, some gin in a bottle, and some water in a jug. Thelast he brought in, cool and dripping, from the river.

  'There, T'otherest,' said Riderhood, stooping over him to put it onthe table. 'You'd better take a bite and a sup, afore you takesyour snooze.' The draggling ends of the red neckerchief caught theschoolmaster's eyes. Riderhood saw him look at it.

  'Oh!' thought that worthy. 'You're a-taking notice, are you? Come! Youshall have a good squint at it then.' With which reflection he sat downon the other side of the table, threw open his vest, and made a pretenceof re-tying the neckerchief with much deliberation.

  Bradley ate and drank. As he sat at his platter and mug, Riderhood sawhim, again and yet again, steal a look at the neckerchief, as if he werecorrecting his slow observation and prompting his sluggish memory.'When you're ready for your snooze,' said that honest creature, 'chuckyourself on my bed in the corner, T'otherest. It'll be broad day aforethree. I'll call you early.'

  'I shall require no calling,' answered Bradley. And soon afterwards,divesting himself only of his shoes and coat, laid himself down.

  Riderhood, leaning back in his wooden arm-chair with his arms foldedon his breast, looked at him lying with his right hand clenched in hissleep and his teeth set, until a film came over his own sight, and heslept too. He awoke to find that it was daylight, and that hisvisitor was already astir, and going out to the river-side to cool hishead:--'Though I'm blest,' muttered Riderhood at the Lock-house door,looking after him, 'if I think there's water enough in all the Thamesto do THAT for you!' Within five minutes he had taken his departure,and was passing on into the calm distance as he had passed yesterday.Riderhood knew when a fish leaped, by his starting and glancing round.

  'Lock ho! Lock!' at intervals all day, and 'Lock ho! Lock!' thrice inthe ensuing night, but no return of Bradley. The second day was sultryand oppressive. In the afternoon, a thunderstorm came up, and had butnewly broken into a furious sweep of rain when he rushed in at the door,like the storm itself.

  'You've seen him with her!' exclaimed Riderhood, starting up.

  'I have.'

  'Where?'

  'At his journey's end. His boat's hauled up for three days. I heardhim give the order. Then, I saw him wait for her and meet her. I sawthem'--he stopped as though he were suffocating, and began again--'I sawthem walking side by side, last night.'

  'What did you do?'

  'Nothing.'

  'What are you going to do?'

  He dropped into a chair, and laughed. Immediately afterwards, a greatspirt of blood burst from his nose.

  'How does that happen?' asked Riderhood.

  'I don't know. I can't keep it back. It has happened twice--threetimes--four times--I don't know how many times--since last night. Itaste it, smell it, see it, it chokes me, and then it breaks out likethis.'

  He went into the pelting rain again with his head bare, and, bending lowover the river, and scooping up the water with his two hands, washed theblood away. All beyond his figure, as Riderhood looked from the door,was a vast dark curtain in solemn movement towards one quarter of theheavens. He raised his head and came back, wet from head to foot, butwith the lower parts of his sleeves, where he had dipped into the river,streaming water.

  'Your face is like a ghost's,' said Riderhood.

  'Did you ever see a ghost?' was the sullen retort.

  'I mean to say, you're quite wore out.'

  'That may well be. I have had no rest since I left here. I don'tremember that I have so much as sat down since I left here.'

  'Lie down now, then,' said Riderhood.

  'I will, if you'll give me something to quench my thirst first.'

  The bottle and jug were again produced, and he mixed a weak draught, andanother, and drank both in quick succession. 'You asked me something,'he said then.

  'No, I didn't,' replied Riderhood.

  'I tell you,' retorted Bradley, turning upon him in a wild and desperatemanner, 'you asked me something, before I went out to wash my face inthe river.

  'Oh! Then?' said Riderhood, backing a little. 'I asked you wot you wosa-going to do.'

  'How can a man in this state know?' he answered, protesting with bothhis tremulous hands, with an action so vigorously angry that he shookthe water from his sleeves upon the floor, as if he had wrung them. 'Howcan I plan anything, if I haven't sleep?'

  'Why, that's what I as good as said,' returned the other. 'Didn't I saylie down?'

  'Well, perhaps you did.'

  'Well! Anyways I says it again. Sleep where you slept last; the sounderand longer you can sleep, the better you'll know arterwards what you'reup to.'

  His pointing to the truckle bed in the corner, seemed gradually to bringthat poor couch to Bradley's wandering remembrance. He slipped off hisworn down-trodden shoes, and cast himself heavily, all wet as he was,upon the bed.

  Riderhood sat down in his wooden arm-chair, and looked through thewindow at the lightning, and listened to the thunder. But, his thoughtswere far from being absorbed by the thunder and the lightning, for againand again and again he looked very curiously at the exhausted man uponthe bed. The man had turned up the collar of the rough coat he wore,to shelter himself from the storm, and had buttoned it about his neck.Unconscious of that, and of most things, he had left the coat so, bothwhen he had laved his face in the river, and when he had cast himselfupon the bed; though it would have been much easier to him if he hadunloosened it.

  The thunder rolled heavily, and the forked lightning seemed to makejagged rents in every part of the vast curtain without, as Riderhood satby the window, glancing at the bed. Sometimes, he saw the man upon thebed, by a red light; sometimes, by a blue; sometimes, he scarcely sawhim in the darkness of the storm; sometimes he saw nothing of him inthe blinding glare of palpitating white fire. Anon, the rain would comeagain with a tremendous rush, and the river would seem to rise to meetit, and a blast of wind, bursting upon the door, would flutter the hairand dress of the man, as if invisible messengers were come around thebed to carry him away. From all these phases of the storm, Riderhoodwould turn, as if they were interruptions--rather striking interruptionspossibly, but interruptions still--of his scrutiny of the sleeper.

  'He sleeps sound,' he said within himself; 'yet he's that up to me andthat noticing of me that my getting out of my chair may wake him, when arattling peal won't; let alone my touching of him.'

  He very cautiously rose to his feet. 'T'otherest,' he said, in a low,calm voice, 'are you a lying easy? There's a chill in the air, governor.Shall I put a coat over you?'

  No answer.

  'That's about what it is a'ready, you see,' muttered Riderhood in alower and a different voice; 'a coat over you, a coat over you!'

  The sleeper moving an arm, he sat down again in his chair, and feignedto watch the storm from the window. It was a grand spectacle, but not sogrand as to keep his eyes, for half a minute together, from stealing alook at the man upon the bed.

  It was at the concealed throat of the sleeper that Riderhood so oftenlooked so curiously, until the sleep seemed to deepen into the stuporof the dead-tired in mind and body. Then, Riderhood came from the windowcautiously, and stood by the
bed.

  'Poor man!' he murmured in a low tone, with a crafty face, and a verywatchful eye and ready foot, lest he should start up; 'this here coatof his must make him uneasy in his sleep. Shall I loosen it for him,and make him more comfortable? Ah! I think I ought to do it, poor man. Ithink I will.'

  He touched the first button with a very cautious hand, and a stepbackward. But, the sleeper remaining in profound unconsciousness, hetouched the other buttons with a more assured hand, and perhaps the morelightly on that account. Softly and slowly, he opened the coat and drewit back.

  The draggling ends of a bright-red neckerchief were then disclosed, andhe had even been at the pains of dipping parts of it in some liquid,to give it the appearance of having become stained by wear. With amuch-perplexed face, Riderhood looked from it to the sleeper, and fromthe sleeper to it, and finally crept back to his chair, and there, withhis hand to his chin, sat long in a brown study, looking at both.

 
Turn Navi Off
Turn Navi On
Scroll Up
Scroll
  • 11 377
  • 0
Add comment

Add comment