Our mutual friend, p.59
Larger Font   Reset Font Size   Smaller Font       Night Mode Off   Night Mode

       Our Mutual Friend, p.59

           Charles Dickens
 

  Chapter 9

  TWO PLACES VACATED

  Set down by the omnibus at the corner of Saint Mary Axe, and trustingto her feet and her crutch-stick within its precincts, the dolls'dressmaker proceeded to the place of business of Pubsey and Co. Allthere was sunny and quiet externally, and shady and quiet internally.Hiding herself in the entry outside the glass door, she could see fromthat post of observation the old man in his spectacles sitting writingat his desk.

  'Boh!' cried the dressmaker, popping in her head at the glass-door. 'MrWolf at home?'

  The old man took his glasses off, and mildly laid them down beside him.'Ah Jenny, is it you? I thought you had given me up.'

  'And so I had given up the treacherous wolf of the forest,' she replied;'but, godmother, it strikes me you have come back. I am not quite sure,because the wolf and you change forms. I want to ask you a question ortwo, to find out whether you are really godmother or really wolf. MayI?'

  'Yes, Jenny, yes.' But Riah glanced towards the door, as if he thoughthis principal might appear there, unseasonably.

  'If you're afraid of the fox,' said Miss Jenny, 'you may dismiss allpresent expectations of seeing that animal. HE won't show himselfabroad, for many a day.'

  'What do you mean, my child?'

  'I mean, godmother,' replied Miss Wren, sitting down beside the Jew,'that the fox has caught a famous flogging, and that if his skin andbones are not tingling, aching, and smarting at this present instant, nofox did ever tingle, ache, and smart.' Therewith Miss Jenny related whathad come to pass in the Albany, omitting the few grains of pepper.

  'Now, godmother,' she went on, 'I particularly wish to ask you what hastaken place here, since I left the wolf here? Because I have an ideaabout the size of a marble, rolling about in my little noddle. First andforemost, are you Pubsey and Co., or are you either? Upon your solemnword and honour.'

  The old man shook his head.

  'Secondly, isn't Fledgeby both Pubsey and Co.?'

  The old man answered with a reluctant nod.

  'My idea,' exclaimed Miss Wren, 'is now about the size of an orange. Butbefore it gets any bigger, welcome back, dear godmother!'

  The little creature folded her arms about the old man's neck with greatearnestness, and kissed him. 'I humbly beg your forgiveness, godmother.I am truly sorry. I ought to have had more faith in you. But what couldI suppose when you said nothing for yourself, you know? I don't mean tooffer that as a justification, but what could I suppose, when you were asilent party to all he said? It did look bad; now didn't it?'

  'It looked so bad, Jenny,' responded the old man, with gravity, 'that Iwill straightway tell you what an impression it wrought upon me. I washateful in mine own eyes. I was hateful to myself, in being so hatefulto the debtor and to you. But more than that, and worse than that,and to pass out far and broad beyond myself--I reflected that evening,sitting alone in my garden on the housetop, that I was doing dishonourto my ancient faith and race. I reflected--clearly reflected for thefirst time--that in bending my neck to the yoke I was willing to wear,I bent the unwilling necks of the whole Jewish people. For it is not, inChristian countries, with the Jews as with other peoples. Men say, 'Thisis a bad Greek, but there are good Greeks. This is a bad Turk, but thereare good Turks.' Not so with the Jews. Men find the bad among us easilyenough--among what peoples are the bad not easily found?--but they takethe worst of us as samples of the best; they take the lowest of us aspresentations of the highest; and they say "All Jews are alike." If,doing what I was content to do here, because I was grateful for the pastand have small need of money now, I had been a Christian, I could havedone it, compromising no one but my individual self. But doing it as aJew, I could not choose but compromise the Jews of all conditions andall countries. It is a little hard upon us, but it is the truth. I wouldthat all our people remembered it! Though I have little right to say so,seeing that it came home so late to me.'

  The dolls' dressmaker sat holding the old man by the hand, and lookingthoughtfully in his face.

  'Thus I reflected, I say, sitting that evening in my garden on thehousetop. And passing the painful scene of that day in review beforeme many times, I always saw that the poor gentleman believed the storyreadily, because I was one of the Jews--that you believed the storyreadily, my child, because I was one of the Jews--that the story itselffirst came into the invention of the originator thereof, because I wasone of the Jews. This was the result of my having had you three beforeme, face to face, and seeing the thing visibly presented as upon atheatre. Wherefore I perceived that the obligation was upon me to leavethis service. But Jenny, my dear,' said Riah, breaking off, 'I promisedthat you should pursue your questions, and I obstruct them.'

  'On the contrary, godmother; my idea is as large now as a pumpkin--andYOU know what a pumpkin is, don't you? So you gave notice that youwere going? Does that come next?' asked Miss Jenny with a look of closeattention.

  'I indited a letter to my master. Yes. To that effect.'

  'And what said Tingling-Tossing-Aching-Screaming-Scratching-Smarter?'asked Miss Wren with an unspeakable enjoyment in the utterance of thosehonourable titles and in the recollection of the pepper.

  'He held me to certain months of servitude, which were his lawful termof notice. They expire to-morrow. Upon their expiration--not before--Ihad meant to set myself right with my Cinderella.'

  'My idea is getting so immense now,' cried Miss Wren, clasping hertemples, 'that my head won't hold it! Listen, godmother; I am going toexpound. Little Eyes (that's Screaming-Scratching-Smarter) owes you aheavy grudge for going. Little Eyes casts about how best to pay you off.Little Eyes thinks of Lizzie. Little Eyes says to himself, 'I'll findout where he has placed that girl, and I'll betray his secret becauseit's dear to him.' Perhaps Little Eyes thinks, "I'll make love to hermyself too;" but that I can't swear--all the rest I can. So, Little Eyescomes to me, and I go to Little Eyes. That's the way of it. And now themurder's all out, I'm sorry,' added the dolls' dressmaker, rigid fromhead to foot with energy as she shook her little fist before her eyes,'that I didn't give him Cayenne pepper and chopped pickled Capsicum!'

  This expression of regret being but partially intelligible to Mr Riah,the old man reverted to the injuries Fledgeby had received, and hintedat the necessity of his at once going to tend that beaten cur.

  'Godmother, godmother, godmother!' cried Miss Wren irritably, 'I reallylose all patience with you. One would think you believed in the GoodSamaritan. How can you be so inconsistent?'

  'Jenny dear,' began the old man gently, 'it is the custom of our peopleto help--'

  'Oh! Bother your people!' interposed Miss Wren, with a toss of her head.'If your people don't know better than to go and help Little Eyes, it'sa pity they ever got out of Egypt. Over and above that,' she added, 'hewouldn't take your help if you offered it. Too much ashamed. Wants tokeep it close and quiet, and to keep you out of the way.'

  They were still debating this point when a shadow darkened the entry,and the glass door was opened by a messenger who brought a letterunceremoniously addressed, 'Riah.' To which he said there was an answerwanted.

  The letter, which was scrawled in pencil uphill and downhill and roundcrooked corners, ran thus:

  'OLD RIAH,

  Your accounts being all squared, go. Shut up the place, turn outdirectly, and send me the key by bearer. Go. You are an unthankful dogof a Jew. Get out.

  F.'

  The dolls' dressmaker found it delicious to trace the screaming andsmarting of Little Eyes in the distorted writing of this epistle. Shelaughed over it and jeered at it in a convenient corner (to the greatastonishment of the messenger) while the old man got his few goodstogether in a black bag. That done, the shutters of the upper windowsclosed, and the office blind pulled down, they issued forth upon thesteps with the attendant messenger. There, while Miss Jenny held thebag, the old man locked the house door, and handed over the key to him;who at once retired with the same.

  'Well, godmother,' said Miss Wren, as
they remained upon the stepstogether, looking at one another. 'And so you're thrown upon the world!'

  'It would appear so, Jenny, and somewhat suddenly.'

  'Where are you going to seek your fortune?' asked Miss Wren.

  The old man smiled, but looked about him with a look of having lost hisway in life, which did not escape the dolls' dressmaker.

  'Verily, Jenny,' said he, 'the question is to the purpose, and moreeasily asked than answered. But as I have experience of the readygoodwill and good help of those who have given occupation to Lizzie, Ithink I will seek them out for myself.'

  'On foot?' asked Miss Wren, with a chop.

  'Ay!' said the old man. 'Have I not my staff?'

  It was exactly because he had his staff, and presented so quaint anaspect, that she mistrusted his making the journey.

  'The best thing you can do,' said Jenny, 'for the time being, at allevents, is to come home with me, godmother. Nobody's there but my badchild, and Lizzie's lodging stands empty.' The old man when satisfiedthat no inconvenience could be entailed on any one by his compliance,readily complied; and the singularly-assorted couple once more wentthrough the streets together.

  Now, the bad child having been strictly charged by his parent to remainat home in her absence, of course went out; and, being in the very laststage of mental decrepitude, went out with two objects; firstly,to establish a claim he conceived himself to have upon any licensedvictualler living, to be supplied with threepennyworth of rum fornothing; and secondly, to bestow some maudlin remorse on Mr EugeneWrayburn, and see what profit came of it. Stumblingly pursuing thesetwo designs--they both meant rum, the only meaning of which he wascapable--the degraded creature staggered into Covent Garden Market andthere bivouacked, to have an attack of the trembles succeeded by anattack of the horrors, in a doorway.

  This market of Covent Garden was quite out of the creature's line ofroad, but it had the attraction for him which it has for the worst ofthe solitary members of the drunken tribe. It may be the companionshipof the nightly stir, or it may be the companionship of the gin andbeer that slop about among carters and hucksters, or it may be thecompanionship of the trodden vegetable refuse which is so like their owndress that perhaps they take the Market for a great wardrobe; but beit what it may, you shall see no such individual drunkards on doorstepsanywhere, as there. Of dozing women-drunkards especially, you shall comeupon such specimens there, in the morning sunlight, as you mightseek out of doors in vain through London. Such stale vapid rejectedcabbage-leaf and cabbage-stalk dress, such damaged-orange countenance,such squashed pulp of humanity, are open to the day nowhere else. So,the attraction of the Market drew Mr Dolls to it, and he had out his twofits of trembles and horrors in a doorway on which a woman had had outher sodden nap a few hours before.

  There is a swarm of young savages always flitting about this same place,creeping off with fragments of orange-chests, and mouldy litter--Heavenknows into what holes they can convey them, having no home!--whose barefeet fall with a blunt dull softness on the pavement as the policemanhunts them, and who are (perhaps for that reason) little heard bythe Powers that be, whereas in top-boots they would make a deafeningclatter. These, delighting in the trembles and the horrors of Mr Dolls,as in a gratuitous drama, flocked about him in his doorway, buttedat him, leaped at him, and pelted him. Hence, when he came out ofhis invalid retirement and shook off that ragged train, he was muchbespattered, and in worse case than ever. But, not yet at his worst;for, going into a public-house, and being supplied in stress of businesswith his rum, and seeking to vanish without payment, he was collared,searched, found penniless, and admonished not to try that again,by having a pail of dirty water cast over him. This applicationsuperinduced another fit of the trembles; after which Mr Dolls, asfinding himself in good cue for making a call on a professional friend,addressed himself to the Temple.

  There was nobody at the chambers but Young Blight. That discreet youth,sensible of a certain incongruity in the association of such aclient with the business that might be coming some day, with the bestintentions temporized with Dolls, and offered a shilling for coach-hirehome. Mr Dolls, accepting the shilling, promptly laid it out intwo threepennyworths of conspiracy against his life, and twothreepennyworths of raging repentance. Returning to the Chambers withwhich burden, he was descried coming round into the court, by the waryyoung Blight watching from the window: who instantly closed the outerdoor, and left the miserable object to expend his fury on the panels.

  The more the door resisted him, the more dangerous and imminent becamethat bloody conspiracy against his life. Force of police arriving,he recognized in them the conspirators, and laid about him hoarsely,fiercely, staringly, convulsively, foamingly. A humble machine, familiarto the conspirators and called by the expressive name of Stretcher,being unavoidably sent for, he was rendered a harmless bundle of tornrags by being strapped down upon it, with voice and consciousness goneout of him, and life fast going. As this machine was borne out at theTemple gate by four men, the poor little dolls' dressmaker and herJewish friend were coming up the street.

  'Let us see what it is,' cried the dressmaker. 'Let us make haste andlook, godmother.'

  The brisk little crutch-stick was but too brisk. 'O gentlemen,gentlemen, he belongs to me!'

  'Belongs to you?' said the head of the party, stopping it.

  'O yes, dear gentlemen, he's my child, out without leave. My poor bad,bad boy! and he don't know me, he don't know me! O what shall I do,'cried the little creature, wildly beating her hands together, 'when myown child don't know me!'

  The head of the party looked (as well he might) to the old man forexplanation. He whispered, as the dolls' dressmaker bent over theexhausted form and vainly tried to extract some sign of recognition fromit: 'It's her drunken father.'

  As the load was put down in the street, Riah drew the head of the partyaside, and whispered that he thought the man was dying. 'No, surelynot?' returned the other. But he became less confident, on looking, anddirected the bearers to 'bring him to the nearest doctor's shop.'

  Thither he was brought; the window becoming from within, a wall offaces, deformed into all kinds of shapes through the agency of globularred bottles, green bottles, blue bottles, and other coloured bottles. Aghastly light shining upon him that he didn't need, the beast so furiousbut a few minutes gone, was quiet enough now, with a strange mysteriouswriting on his face, reflected from one of the great bottles, as ifDeath had marked him: 'Mine.'

  The medical testimony was more precise and more to the purpose than itsometimes is in a Court of Justice. 'You had better send for somethingto cover it. All's over.'

  Therefore, the police sent for something to cover it, and it was coveredand borne through the streets, the people falling away. After it,went the dolls' dressmaker, hiding her face in the Jewish skirts, andclinging to them with one hand, while with the other she plied herstick. It was carried home, and, by reason that the staircase was verynarrow, it was put down in the parlour--the little working-bench beingset aside to make room for it--and there, in the midst of the dolls withno speculation in their eyes, lay Mr Dolls with no speculation in his.

  Many flaunting dolls had to be gaily dressed, before the money was inthe dressmaker's pocket to get mourning for Mr Dolls. As the old man,Riah, sat by, helping her in such small ways as he could, he found itdifficult to make out whether she really did realize that the deceasedhad been her father.

  'If my poor boy,' she would say, 'had been brought up better, he mighthave done better. Not that I reproach myself. I hope I have no cause forthat.'

  'None indeed, Jenny, I am very certain.'

  'Thank you, godmother. It cheers me to hear you say so. But you see itis so hard to bring up a child well, when you work, work, work, all day.When he was out of employment, I couldn't always keep him near me. Hegot fractious and nervous, and I was obliged to let him go into thestreets. And he never did well in the streets, he never did well out ofsight. How often it happens with children!'
r />   'Too often, even in this sad sense!' thought the old man.

  'How can I say what I might have turned out myself, but for my backhaving been so bad and my legs so queer, when I was young!' thedressmaker would go on. 'I had nothing to do but work, and so I worked.I couldn't play. But my poor unfortunate child could play, and it turnedout the worse for him.'

  'And not for him alone, Jenny.'

  'Well! I don't know, godmother. He suffered heavily, did my unfortunateboy. He was very, very ill sometimes. And I called him a quantity ofnames;' shaking her head over her work, and dropping tears. 'I don'tknow that his going wrong was much the worse for me. If it ever was, letus forget it.'

  'You are a good girl, you are a patient girl.'

  'As for patience,' she would reply with a shrug, 'not much of that,godmother. If I had been patient, I should never have called him names.But I hope I did it for his good. And besides, I felt my responsibilityas a mother, so much. I tried reasoning, and reasoning failed. I triedcoaxing, and coaxing failed. I tried scolding and scolding failed. But Iwas bound to try everything, you know, with such a charge upon my hands.Where would have been my duty to my poor lost boy, if I had not triedeverything!'

  With such talk, mostly in a cheerful tone on the part of the industriouslittle creature, the day-work and the night-work were beguiled untilenough of smart dolls had gone forth to bring into the kitchen,where the working-bench now stood, the sombre stuff that the occasionrequired, and to bring into the house the other sombre preparations.'And now,' said Miss Jenny, 'having knocked off my rosy-cheeked youngfriends, I'll knock off my white-cheeked self.' This referred to hermaking her own dress, which at last was done. 'The disadvantage ofmaking for yourself,' said Miss Jenny, as she stood upon a chair to lookat the result in the glass, 'is, that you can't charge anybody else forthe job, and the advantage is, that you haven't to go out to try on.Humph! Very fair indeed! If He could see me now (whoever he is) I hopehe wouldn't repent of his bargain!'

  The simple arrangements were of her own making, and were stated to Riahthus:

  'I mean to go alone, godmother, in my usual carriage, and you'll be sokind as keep house while I am gone. It's not far off. And when I return,we'll have a cup of tea, and a chat over future arrangements. It's avery plain last house that I have been able to give my poor unfortunateboy; but he'll accept the will for the deed if he knows anything aboutit; and if he doesn't know anything about it,' with a sob, and wipingher eyes, 'why, it won't matter to him. I see the service in thePrayer-book says, that we brought nothing into this world and it iscertain we can take nothing out. It comforts me for not being able tohire a lot of stupid undertaker's things for my poor child, and seemingas if I was trying to smuggle 'em out of this world with him, when ofcourse I must break down in the attempt, and bring 'em all back again.As it is, there'll be nothing to bring back but me, and that's quiteconsistent, for I shan't be brought back, some day!'

  After that previous carrying of him in the streets, the wretched oldfellow seemed to be twice buried. He was taken on the shoulders of halfa dozen blossom-faced men, who shuffled with him to the churchyard,and who were preceded by another blossom-faced man, affecting astately stalk, as if he were a Policeman of the D(eath) Division, andceremoniously pretending not to know his intimate acquaintances, as heled the pageant. Yet, the spectacle of only one little mourner hobblingafter, caused many people to turn their heads with a look of interest.

  At last the troublesome deceased was got into the ground, to be buriedno more, and the stately stalker stalked back before the solitarydressmaker, as if she were bound in honour to have no notion of the wayhome. Those Furies, the conventionalities, being thus appeased, he lefther.

  'I must have a very short cry, godmother, before I cheer up for good,'said the little creature, coming in. 'Because after all a child is achild, you know.'

  It was a longer cry than might have been expected. Howbeit, it woreitself out in a shadowy corner, and then the dressmaker came forth, andwashed her face, and made the tea. 'You wouldn't mind my cutting outsomething while we are at tea, would you?' she asked her Jewish friend,with a coaxing air.

  'Cinderella, dear child,' the old man expostulated, 'will you neverrest?'

  'Oh! It's not work, cutting out a pattern isn't,' said Miss Jenny, withher busy little scissors already snipping at some paper. 'The truth is,godmother, I want to fix it while I have it correct in my mind.'

  'Have you seen it to-day then?' asked Riah.

  'Yes, godmother. Saw it just now. It's a surplice, that's what itis. Thing our clergymen wear, you know,' explained Miss Jenny, inconsideration of his professing another faith.

  'And what have you to do with that, Jenny?'

  'Why, godmother,' replied the dressmaker, 'you must know that weProfessors who live upon our taste and invention, are obliged to keepour eyes always open. And you know already that I have many extraexpenses to meet just now. So, it came into my head while I was weepingat my poor boy's grave, that something in my way might be done with aclergyman.'

  'What can be done?' asked the old man.

  'Not a funeral, never fear!' returned Miss Jenny, anticipating hisobjection with a nod. 'The public don't like to be made melancholy, Iknow very well. I am seldom called upon to put my young friends intomourning; not into real mourning, that is; Court mourning they arerather proud of. But a doll clergyman, my dear,--glossy black curlsand whiskers--uniting two of my young friends in matrimony,' said MissJenny, shaking her forefinger, 'is quite another affair. If you don'tsee those three at the altar in Bond Street, in a jiffy, my name's JackRobinson!'

  With her expert little ways in sharp action, she had got a doll intowhitey-brown paper orders, before the meal was over, and was displayingit for the edification of the Jewish mind, when a knock was heard at thestreet-door. Riah went to open it, and presently came back, ushering in,with the grave and courteous air that sat so well upon him, a gentleman.

  The gentleman was a stranger to the dressmaker; but even in the momentof his casting his eyes upon her, there was something in his mannerwhich brought to her remembrance Mr Eugene Wrayburn.

  'Pardon me,' said the gentleman. 'You are the dolls' dressmaker?'

  'I am the dolls' dressmaker, sir.'

  'Lizzie Hexam's friend?'

  'Yes, sir,' replied Miss Jenny, instantly on the defensive. 'And LizzieHexam's friend.'

  'Here is a note from her, entreating you to accede to the request ofMr Mortimer Lightwood, the bearer. Mr Riah chances to know that I am MrMortimer Lightwood, and will tell you so.'

  Riah bent his head in corroboration.

  'Will you read the note?'

  'It's very short,' said Jenny, with a look of wonder, when she had readit.

  'There was no time to make it longer. Time was so very precious. My dearfriend Mr Eugene Wrayburn is dying.'

  The dressmaker clasped her hands, and uttered a little piteous cry.

  'Is dying,' repeated Lightwood, with emotion, 'at some distance fromhere. He is sinking under injuries received at the hands of a villainwho attacked him in the dark. I come straight from his bedside. He isalmost always insensible. In a short restless interval of sensibility,or partial sensibility, I made out that he asked for you to be broughtto sit by him. Hardly relying on my own interpretation of the indistinctsounds he made, I caused Lizzie to hear them. We were both sure that heasked for you.'

  The dressmaker, with her hands still clasped, looked affrightedly fromthe one to the other of her two companions.

  'If you delay, he may die with his request ungratified, with hislast wish--intrusted to me--we have long been much more thanbrothers--unfulfilled. I shall break down, if I try to say more.'

  In a few moments the black bonnet and the crutch-stick were on duty, thegood Jew was left in possession of the house, and the dolls' dressmaker,side by side in a chaise with Mortimer Lightwood, was posting out oftown.

 
Turn Navi Off
Turn Navi On
Scroll Up
Scroll
  • 11 379
  • 0
Add comment

Add comment