Our mutual friend, p.6
Our Mutual Friend, p.6Charles Dickens
The Six Jolly Fellowship Porters, already mentioned as a tavern ofa dropsical appearance, had long settled down into a state of haleinfirmity. In its whole constitution it had not a straight floor, andhardly a straight line; but it had outlasted, and clearly would yetoutlast, many a better-trimmed building, many a sprucer public-house.Externally, it was a narrow lopsided wooden jumble of corpulent windowsheaped one upon another as you might heap as many toppling oranges,with a crazy wooden verandah impending over the water; indeed the wholehouse, inclusive of the complaining flag-staff on the roof, impendedover the water, but seemed to have got into the condition of afaint-hearted diver who has paused so long on the brink that he willnever go in at all.
This description applies to the river-frontage of the Six JollyFellowship Porters. The back of the establishment, though the chiefentrance was there, so contracted that it merely represented in itsconnexion with the front, the handle of a flat iron set upright on itsbroadest end. This handle stood at the bottom of a wilderness of courtand alley: which wilderness pressed so hard and close upon the Six JollyFellowship Porters as to leave the hostelry not an inch of ground beyondits door. For this reason, in combination with the fact that the housewas all but afloat at high water, when the Porters had a family wash thelinen subjected to that operation might usually be seen drying on linesstretched across the reception-rooms and bed-chambers.
The wood forming the chimney-pieces, beams, partitions, floors anddoors, of the Six Jolly Fellowship Porters, seemed in its old agefraught with confused memories of its youth. In many places it hadbecome gnarled and riven, according to the manner of old trees; knotsstarted out of it; and here and there it seemed to twist itself intosome likeness of boughs. In this state of second childhood, it had anair of being in its own way garrulous about its early life. Not withoutreason was it often asserted by the regular frequenters of the Porters,that when the light shone full upon the grain of certain panels, andparticularly upon an old corner cupboard of walnut-wood in the bar, youmight trace little forests there, and tiny trees like the parent tree,in full umbrageous leaf.
The bar of the Six Jolly Fellowship Porters was a bar to soften thehuman breast. The available space in it was not much larger than ahackney-coach; but no one could have wished the bar bigger, that spacewas so girt in by corpulent little casks, and by cordial-bottlesradiant with fictitious grapes in bunches, and by lemons in nets, andby biscuits in baskets, and by the polite beer-pulls that made lowbows when customers were served with beer, and by the cheese in a snugcorner, and by the landlady's own small table in a snugger corner nearthe fire, with the cloth everlastingly laid. This haven was divided fromthe rough world by a glass partition and a half-door, with a leadensill upon it for the convenience of resting your liquor; but, over thishalf-door the bar's snugness so gushed forth that, albeit customersdrank there standing, in a dark and draughty passage where they wereshouldered by other customers passing in and out, they always appearedto drink under an enchanting delusion that they were in the bar itself.
For the rest, both the tap and parlour of the Six Jolly FellowshipPorters gave upon the river, and had red curtains matching the noses ofthe regular customers, and were provided with comfortable fireside tinutensils, like models of sugar-loaf hats, made in that shape that theymight, with their pointed ends, seek out for themselves glowing nooksin the depths of the red coals, when they mulled your ale, or heated foryou those delectable drinks, Purl, Flip, and Dog's Nose. The first ofthese humming compounds was a speciality of the Porters, which, throughan inscription on its door-posts, gently appealed to your feelings as,'The Early Purl House'. For, it would seem that Purl must always betaken early; though whether for any more distinctly stomachic reasonthan that, as the early bird catches the worm, so the early purl catchesthe customer, cannot here be resolved. It only remains to add that inthe handle of the flat iron, and opposite the bar, was a very littleroom like a three-cornered hat, into which no direct ray of sun, moon,or star, ever penetrated, but which was superstitiously regarded as asanctuary replete with comfort and retirement by gaslight, and on thedoor of which was therefore painted its alluring name: Cosy.
Miss Potterson, sole proprietor and manager of the Fellowship Porters,reigned supreme on her throne, the Bar, and a man must have drunkhimself mad drunk indeed if he thought he could contest a point withher. Being known on her own authority as Miss Abbey Potterson, somewater-side heads, which (like the water) were none of the clearest,harboured muddled notions that, because of her dignity and firmness, shewas named after, or in some sort related to, the Abbey at Westminster.But, Abbey was only short for Abigail, by which name Miss Potterson hadbeen christened at Limehouse Church, some sixty and odd years before.
'Now, you mind, you Riderhood,' said Miss Abbey Potterson, with emphaticforefinger over the half-door, 'the Fellowship don't want you at all,and would rather by far have your room than your company; but if youwere as welcome here as you are not, you shouldn't even then haveanother drop of drink here this night, after this present pint of beer.So make the most of it.'
'But you know, Miss Potterson,' this was suggested very meekly though,'if I behave myself, you can't help serving me, miss.'
'CAN'T I!' said Abbey, with infinite expression.
'No, Miss Potterson; because, you see, the law--'
'I am the law here, my man,' returned Miss Abbey, 'and I'll soonconvince you of that, if you doubt it at all.'
'I never said I did doubt it at all, Miss Abbey.'
'So much the better for you.'
Abbey the supreme threw the customer's halfpence into the till, and,seating herself in her fireside-chair, resumed the newspaper she hadbeen reading. She was a tall, upright, well-favoured woman, thoughsevere of countenance, and had more of the air of a schoolmistress thanmistress of the Six Jolly Fellowship Porters. The man on the other sideof the half-door, was a waterside-man with a squinting leer, and he eyedher as if he were one of her pupils in disgrace.
'You're cruel hard upon me, Miss Potterson.'
Miss Potterson read her newspaper with contracted brows, and took nonotice until he whispered:
'Miss Potterson! Ma'am! Might I have half a word with you?'
Deigning then to turn her eyes sideways towards the suppliant, MissPotterson beheld him knuckling his low forehead, and ducking at her withhis head, as if he were asking leave to fling himself head foremost overthe half-door and alight on his feet in the bar.
'Well?' said Miss Potterson, with a manner as short as she herself waslong, 'say your half word. Bring it out.'
'Miss Potterson! Ma'am! Would you 'sxcuse me taking the liberty ofasking, is it my character that you take objections to?'
'Certainly,' said Miss Potterson.
'Is it that you're afraid of--'
'I am not afraid OF YOU,' interposed Miss Potterson, 'if you mean that.'
'But I humbly don't mean that, Miss Abbey.'
'Then what do you mean?'
'You really are so cruel hard upon me! What I was going to makeinquiries was no more than, might you have any apprehensions--leastwaysbeliefs or suppositions--that the company's property mightn't bealtogether to be considered safe, if I used the house too regular?'
'What do you want to know for?'
'Well, Miss Abbey, respectfully meaning no offence to you, it wouldbe some satisfaction to a man's mind, to understand why the FellowshipPorters is not to be free to such as me, and is to be free to such asGaffer.'
The face of the hostess darkened with some shadow of perplexity, as shereplied: 'Gaffer has never been where you have been.'
'Signifying in Quod, Miss? Perhaps not. But he may have merited it. Hemay be suspected of far worse than ever I was.'
'Who suspects him?'
'Many, perhaps. One, beyond all doubts. I do.'
'YOU are not much,' said Miss Abbey Potterson, knitting her brows againwith disdain.
'But I was his pardner. Mind you, Miss Abbey, I was
'Then,' suggested Miss Abbey, though with a deeper shade of perplexitythan before, 'you criminate yourself.'
'No I don't, Miss Abbey. For how does it stand? It stands this way. WhenI was his pardner, I couldn't never give him satisfaction. Why couldn'tI never give him satisfaction? Because my luck was bad; because Icouldn't find many enough of 'em. How was his luck? Always good. Noticethis! Always good! Ah! There's a many games, Miss Abbey, in whichthere's chance, but there's a many others in which there's skill too,mixed along with it.'
'That Gaffer has a skill in finding what he finds, who doubts, man?'asked Miss Abbey.
'A skill in purwiding what he finds, perhaps,' said Riderhood, shakinghis evil head.
Miss Abbey knitted her brow at him, as he darkly leered at her. 'Ifyou're out upon the river pretty nigh every tide, and if you want tofind a man or woman in the river, you'll greatly help your luck, MissAbbey, by knocking a man or woman on the head aforehand and pitching 'emin.'
'Gracious Lud!' was the involuntary exclamation of Miss Potterson.
'Mind you!' returned the other, stretching forward over the half doorto throw his words into the bar; for his voice was as if the head of hisboat's mop were down his throat; 'I say so, Miss Abbey! And mind you!I'll follow him up, Miss Abbey! And mind you! I'll bring him to hook atlast, if it's twenty year hence, I will! Who's he, to be favoured alongof his daughter? Ain't I got a daughter of my own!'
With that flourish, and seeming to have talked himself rather more drunkand much more ferocious than he had begun by being, Mr Riderhood took uphis pint pot and swaggered off to the taproom.
Gaffer was not there, but a pretty strong muster of Miss Abbey's pupilswere, who exhibited, when occasion required, the greatest docility. Onthe clock's striking ten, and Miss Abbey's appearing at the door, andaddressing a certain person in a faded scarlet jacket, with 'GeorgeJones, your time's up! I told your wife you should be punctual,'Jones submissively rose, gave the company good-night, and retired. Athalf-past ten, on Miss Abbey's looking in again, and saying, 'WilliamWilliams, Bob Glamour, and Jonathan, you are all due,' Williams, Bob,and Jonathan with similar meekness took their leave and evaporated.Greater wonder than these, when a bottle-nosed person in a glazed hathad after some considerable hesitation ordered another glass of gin andwater of the attendant potboy, and when Miss Abbey, instead of sendingit, appeared in person, saying, 'Captain Joey, you have had as much aswill do you good,' not only did the captain feebly rub his knees andcontemplate the fire without offering a word of protest, but the restof the company murmured, 'Ay, ay, Captain! Miss Abbey's right; yoube guided by Miss Abbey, Captain.' Nor, was Miss Abbey's vigilance inanywise abated by this submission, but rather sharpened; for, lookinground on the deferential faces of her school, and descrying two otheryoung persons in need of admonition, she thus bestowed it: 'Tom Tootle,it's time for a young fellow who's going to be married next month, tobe at home and asleep. And you needn't nudge him, Mr Jack Mullins, forI know your work begins early tomorrow, and I say the same to you.So come! Good-night, like good lads!' Upon which, the blushing Tootlelooked to Mullins, and the blushing Mullins looked to Tootle, on thequestion who should rise first, and finally both rose together and wentout on the broad grin, followed by Miss Abbey; in whose presence thecompany did not take the liberty of grinning likewise.
In such an establishment, the white-aproned pot-boy with hisshirt-sleeves arranged in a tight roll on each bare shoulder, was a merehint of the possibility of physical force, thrown out as a matter ofstate and form. Exactly at the closing hour, all the guests who wereleft, filed out in the best order: Miss Abbey standing at the half doorof the bar, to hold a ceremony of review and dismissal. All wishedMiss Abbey good-night and Miss Abbey wished good-night to all, exceptRiderhood. The sapient pot-boy, looking on officially, then had theconviction borne in upon his soul, that the man was evermore outcast andexcommunicate from the Six Jolly Fellowship Porters.
'You Bob Gliddery,' said Miss Abbey to this pot-boy, 'run round toHexam's and tell his daughter Lizzie that I want to speak to her.'
With exemplary swiftness Bob Gliddery departed, and returned. Lizzie,following him, arrived as one of the two female domestics of theFellowship Porters arranged on the snug little table by the bar fire,Miss Potterson's supper of hot sausages and mashed potatoes.
'Come in and sit ye down, girl,' said Miss Abbey. 'Can you eat a bit?'
'No thank you, Miss. I have had my supper.'
'I have had mine too, I think,' said Miss Abbey, pushing away theuntasted dish, 'and more than enough of it. I am put out, Lizzie.'
'I am very sorry for it, Miss.'
'Then why, in the name of Goodness,' quoth Miss Abbey, sharply, 'do youdo it?'
'I do it, Miss!'
'There, there. Don't look astonished. I ought to have begun with a wordof explanation, but it's my way to make short cuts at things. I alwayswas a pepperer. You Bob Gliddery there, put the chain upon the door andget ye down to your supper.'
With an alacrity that seemed no less referable to the pepperer factthan to the supper fact, Bob obeyed, and his boots were heard descendingtowards the bed of the river.
'Lizzie Hexam, Lizzie Hexam,' then began Miss Potterson, 'how often haveI held out to you the opportunity of getting clear of your father, anddoing well?'
'Very often, Miss.'
'Very often? Yes! And I might as well have spoken to the iron funnel ofthe strongest sea-going steamer that passes the Fellowship Porters.'
'No, Miss,' Lizzie pleaded; 'because that would not be thankful, and Iam.'
'I vow and declare I am half ashamed of myself for taking such aninterest in you,' said Miss Abbey, pettishly, 'for I don't believe Ishould do it if you were not good-looking. Why ain't you ugly?'
Lizzie merely answered this difficult question with an apologeticglance.
'However, you ain't,' resumed Miss Potterson, 'so it's no use going intothat. I must take you as I find you. Which indeed is what I've done. Andyou mean to say you are still obstinate?'
'Not obstinate, Miss, I hope.'
'Firm (I suppose you call it) then?'
'Yes, Miss. Fixed like.'
'Never was an obstinate person yet, who would own to the word!' remarkedMiss Potterson, rubbing her vexed nose; 'I'm sure I would, if I wasobstinate; but I am a pepperer, which is different. Lizzie Hexam, LizzieHexam, think again. Do you know the worst of your father?'
'Do I know the worst of father!' she repeated, opening her eyes.
'Do you know the suspicions to which your father makes himself liable?Do you know the suspicions that are actually about, against him?'
The consciousness of what he habitually did, oppressed the girl heavily,and she slowly cast down her eyes.
'Say, Lizzie. Do you know?' urged Miss Abbey.
'Please to tell me what the suspicions are, Miss,' she asked after asilence, with her eyes upon the ground.
'It's not an easy thing to tell a daughter, but it must be told. It isthought by some, then, that your father helps to their death a few ofthose that he finds dead.'
The relief of hearing what she felt sure was a false suspicion, in placeof the expected real and true one, so lightened Lizzie's breast for themoment, that Miss Abbey was amazed at her demeanour. She raised her eyesquickly, shook her head, and, in a kind of triumph, almost laughed.
'They little know father who talk like that!'
('She takes it,' thought Miss Abbey, 'very quietly. She takes it withextraordinary quietness!')
'And perhaps,' said Lizzie, as a recollection flashed upon her, 'it issome one who has a grudge against father; some one who has threatenedfather! Is it Riderhood, Miss?'
'Well; yes it is.'
'Yes! He was father's partner, and father broke with him, and now herevenges himself. Father broke with him when I was by, and he was veryangr
She bent forward to say it in a whisper.
'I promise,' said Miss Abbey.
'It was on the night when the Harmon murder was found out, throughfather, just above bridge. And just below bridge, as we were scullinghome, Riderhood crept out of the dark in his boat. And many and manytimes afterwards, when such great pains were taken to come to the bottomof the crime, and it never could be come near, I thought in my ownthoughts, could Riderhood himself have done the murder, and did hepurposely let father find the body? It seemed a'most wicked and cruelto so much as think such a thing; but now that he tries to throw it uponfather, I go back to it as if it was a truth. Can it be a truth? Thatwas put into my mind by the dead?'
She asked this question, rather of the fire than of the hostess of theFellowship Porters, and looked round the little bar with troubled eyes.
But, Miss Potterson, as a ready schoolmistress accustomed to bring herpupils to book, set the matter in a light that was essentially of thisworld.
'You poor deluded girl,' she said, 'don't you see that you can't openyour mind to particular suspicions of one of the two, without openingyour mind to general suspicions of the other? They had worked together.Their goings-on had been going on for some time. Even granting that itwas as you have had in your thoughts, what the two had done togetherwould come familiar to the mind of one.'
'You don't know father, Miss, when you talk like that. Indeed, indeed,you don't know father.'
'Lizzie, Lizzie,' said Miss Potterson. 'Leave him. You needn't breakwith him altogether, but leave him. Do well away from him; not becauseof what I have told you to-night--we'll pass no judgment upon that,and we'll hope it may not be--but because of what I have urged on youbefore. No matter whether it's owing to your good looks or not, I likeyou and I want to serve you. Lizzie, come under my direction. Don'tfling yourself away, my girl, but be persuaded into being respectableand happy.'
In the sound good feeling and good sense of her entreaty, Miss Abbeyhad softened into a soothing tone, and had even drawn her arm round thegirl's waist. But, she only replied, 'Thank you, thank you! I can't. Iwon't. I must not think of it. The harder father is borne upon, the morehe needs me to lean on.'
And then Miss Abbey, who, like all hard people when they do soften,felt that there was considerable compensation owing to her, underwentreaction and became frigid.
'I have done what I can,' she said, 'and you must go your way. You makeyour bed, and you must lie on it. But tell your father one thing: hemust not come here any more.'
'Oh, Miss, will you forbid him the house where I know he's safe?'
'The Fellowships,' returned Miss Abbey, 'has itself to look to, as wellas others. It has been hard work to establish order here, and make theFellowships what it is, and it is daily and nightly hard work to keep itso. The Fellowships must not have a taint upon it that may give it a badname. I forbid the house to Riderhood, and I forbid the house to Gaffer.I forbid both, equally. I find from Riderhood and you together, thatthere are suspicions against both men, and I'm not going to take uponmyself to decide betwixt them. They are both tarred with a dirty brush,and I can't have the Fellowships tarred with the same brush. That's allI know.'
'Good-night, Miss!' said Lizzie Hexam, sorrowfully.
'Hah!--Good-night!' returned Miss Abbey with a shake of her head.
'Believe me, Miss Abbey, I am truly grateful all the same.'
'I can believe a good deal,' returned the stately Abbey, 'so I'll try tobelieve that too, Lizzie.'
No supper did Miss Potterson take that night, and only half her usualtumbler of hot Port Negus. And the female domestics--two robust sisters,with staring black eyes, shining flat red faces, blunt noses, and strongblack curls, like dolls--interchanged the sentiment that Missis had hadher hair combed the wrong way by somebody. And the pot-boy afterwardsremarked, that he hadn't been 'so rattled to bed', since his late motherhad systematically accelerated his retirement to rest with a poker.
The chaining of the door behind her, as she went forth, disenchantedLizzie Hexam of that first relief she had felt. The night was black andshrill, the river-side wilderness was melancholy, and there was a soundof casting-out, in the rattling of the iron-links, and the grating ofthe bolts and staples under Miss Abbey's hand. As she came beneaththe lowering sky, a sense of being involved in a murky shade of Murderdropped upon her; and, as the tidal swell of the river broke at her feetwithout her seeing how it gathered, so, her thoughts startled her byrushing out of an unseen void and striking at her heart.
Of her father's being groundlessly suspected, she felt sure. Sure. Sure.And yet, repeat the word inwardly as often as she would, the attempt toreason out and prove that she was sure, always came after it and failed.Riderhood had done the deed, and entrapped her father. Riderhood hadnot done the deed, but had resolved in his malice to turn against herfather, the appearances that were ready to his hand to distort. Equallyand swiftly upon either putting of the case, followed the frightfulpossibility that her father, being innocent, yet might come to bebelieved guilty. She had heard of people suffering Death for bloodshedof which they were afterwards proved pure, and those ill-fated personswere not, first, in that dangerous wrong in which her father stood. Thenat the best, the beginning of his being set apart, whispered against,and avoided, was a certain fact. It dated from that very night. And asthe great black river with its dreary shores was soon lost to her viewin the gloom, so, she stood on the river's brink unable to see into thevast blank misery of a life suspected, and fallen away from by good andbad, but knowing that it lay there dim before her, stretching away tothe great ocean, Death.
One thing only, was clear to the girl's mind. Accustomed from her verybabyhood promptly to do the thing that could be done--whether to keepout weather, to ward off cold, to postpone hunger, or what not--shestarted out of her meditation, and ran home.
The room was quiet, and the lamp burnt on the table. In the bunk in thecorner, her brother lay asleep. She bent over him softly, kissed him,and came to the table.
'By the time of Miss Abbey's closing, and by the run of the tide, itmust be one. Tide's running up. Father at Chiswick, wouldn't think ofcoming down, till after the turn, and that's at half after four. I'llcall Charley at six. I shall hear the church-clocks strike, as I sithere.'
Very quietly, she placed a chair before the scanty fire, and sat down init, drawing her shawl about her.
'Charley's hollow down by the flare is not there now. Poor Charley!'
The clock struck two, and the clock struck three, and the clock struckfour, and she remained there, with a woman's patience and her ownpurpose. When the morning was well on between four and five, she slippedoff her shoes (that her going about might not wake Charley), trimmedthe fire sparingly, put water on to boil, and set the table forbreakfast. Then she went up the ladder, lamp in hand, and came downagain, and glided about and about, making a little bundle. Lastly, fromher pocket, and from the chimney-piece, and from an inverted basinon the highest shelf she brought halfpence, a few sixpences, fewershillings, and fell to laboriously and noiselessly counting them, andsetting aside one little heap. She was still so engaged, when she wasstartled by:
'Hal-loa!' From her brother, sitting up in bed.
'You made me jump, Charley.'
'Jump! Didn't you make ME jump, when I opened my eyes a moment ago, andsaw you sitting there, like the ghost of a girl miser, in the dead ofthe night.'
'It's not the dead of the night, Charley. It's nigh six in the morning.'
'Is it though? But what are you up to, Liz?'
'Still telling your fortune, Charley.'
'It seems to be a precious small one, if that's it,' said the boy. 'Whatare you putting that little pile of money by itself for?'
'For you, Charley.'
'What do you mean?'
'Get out of bed, Charley, and get washed and dressed, and then I'll tellyou.'
'I never,' towelling at himself as if he were his bitterest enemy, 'sawsuch a girl as you are. What IS the move, Liz?'
'Are you almost ready for breakfast, Charley?'
'You can pour it out. Hal-loa! I say? And a bundle?'
'And a bundle, Charley.'
'You don't mean it's for me, too?'
'Yes, Charley; I do; indeed.'
More serious of face, and more slow of action, than he had been, theboy completed his dressing, and came and sat down at the littlebreakfast-table, with his eyes amazedly directed to her face.
'You see, Charley dear, I have made up my mind that this is the righttime for your going away from us. Over and above all the blessed changeof by-and-bye, you'll be much happier, and do much better, even so soonas next month. Even so soon as next week.'
'How do you know I shall?'
'I don't quite know how, Charley, but I do.' In spite of her unchangedmanner of speaking, and her unchanged appearance of composure, shescarcely trusted herself to look at him, but kept her eyes employed onthe cutting and buttering of his bread, and on the mixing of his tea,and other such little preparations. 'You must leave father to me,Charley--I will do what I can with him--but you must go.'
'You don't stand upon ceremony, I think,' grumbled the boy, throwing hisbread and butter about, in an ill-humour.
She made him no answer.
'I tell you what,' said the boy, then, bursting out into an angrywhimpering, 'you're a selfish jade, and you think there's not enough forthree of us, and you want to get rid of me.'
'If you believe so, Charley,--yes, then I believe too, that I am aselfish jade, and that I think there's not enough for three of us, andthat I want to get rid of you.'
It was only when the boy rushed at her, and threw his arms round herneck, that she lost her self-restraint. But she lost it then, and weptover him.
'Don't cry, don't cry! I am satisfied to go, Liz; I am satisfied to go.I know you send me away for my good.'
'O, Charley, Charley, Heaven above us knows I do!'
'Yes yes. Don't mind what I said. Don't remember it. Kiss me.'
After a silence, she loosed him, to dry her eyes and regain her strongquiet influence.
'Now listen, Charley dear. We both know it must be done, and I aloneknow there is good reason for its being done at once. Go straight to theschool, and say that you and I agreed upon it--that we can't overcomefather's opposition--that father will never trouble them, but will nevertake you back. You are a credit to the school, and you will be a greatercredit to it yet, and they will help you to get a living. Show whatclothes you have brought, and what money, and say that I will send somemore money. If I can get some in no other way, I will ask a little helpof those two gentlemen who came here that night.'
'I say!' cried her brother, quickly. 'Don't you have it of that chapthat took hold of me by the chin! Don't you have it of that Wrayburnone!'
Perhaps a slight additional tinge of red flushed up into her face andbrow, as with a nod she laid a hand upon his lips to keep him silentlyattentive.
'And above all things mind this, Charley! Be sure you always speak wellof father. Be sure you always give father his full due. You can't denythat because father has no learning himself he is set against it inyou; but favour nothing else against him, and be sure you say--as youknow--that your sister is devoted to him. And if you should ever happento hear anything said against father that is new to you, it will not betrue. Remember, Charley! It will not be true.'
The boy looked at her with some doubt and surprise, but she went onagain without heeding it.
'Above all things remember! It will not be true. I have nothing more tosay, Charley dear, except, be good, and get learning, and only think ofsome things in the old life here, as if you had dreamed them in a dreamlast night. Good-bye, my Darling!'
Though so young, she infused in these parting words a love that was farmore like a mother's than a sister's, and before which the boy was quitebowed down. After holding her to his breast with a passionate cry, hetook up his bundle and darted out at the door, with an arm across hiseyes.
The white face of the winter day came sluggishly on, veiled in afrosty mist; and the shadowy ships in the river slowly changed to blacksubstances; and the sun, blood-red on the eastern marshes behind darkmasts and yards, seemed filled with the ruins of a forest it had set onfire. Lizzie, looking for her father, saw him coming, and stood upon thecauseway that he might see her.
He had nothing with him but his boat, and came on apace. A knot of thoseamphibious human-creatures who appear to have some mysterious powerof extracting a subsistence out of tidal water by looking at it, weregathered together about the causeway. As her father's boat grounded,they became contemplative of the mud, and dispersed themselves. She sawthat the mute avoidance had begun.
Gaffer saw it, too, in so far as that he was moved when he set foot onshore, to stare around him. But, he promptly set to work to haul up hisboat, and make her fast, and take the sculls and rudder and rope out ofher. Carrying these with Lizzie's aid, he passed up to his dwelling.
'Sit close to the fire, father, dear, while I cook your breakfast.It's all ready for cooking, and only been waiting for you. You must befrozen.'
'Well, Lizzie, I ain't of a glow; that's certain. And my hands seemnailed through to the sculls. See how dead they are!' Somethingsuggestive in their colour, and perhaps in her face, struck him as heheld them up; he turned his shoulder and held them down to the fire.
'You were not out in the perishing night, I hope, father?'
'No, my dear. Lay aboard a barge, by a blazing coal-fire.--Where's thatboy?'
'There's a drop of brandy for your tea, father, if you'll put it inwhile I turn this bit of meat. If the river was to get frozen, therewould be a deal of distress; wouldn't there, father?'
'Ah! there's always enough of that,' said Gaffer, dropping the liquorinto his cup from a squat black bottle, and dropping it slowly that itmight seem more; 'distress is for ever a going about, like sut in theair--Ain't that boy up yet?'
'The meat's ready now, father. Eat it while it's hot and comfortable.After you have finished, we'll turn round to the fire and talk.'
But, he perceived that he was evaded, and, having thrown a hasty angryglance towards the bunk, plucked at a corner of her apron and asked:
'What's gone with that boy?'
'Father, if you'll begin your breakfast, I'll sit by and tell you.' Helooked at her, stirred his tea and took two or three gulps, then cut athis piece of hot steak with his case-knife, and said, eating:
'Now then. What's gone with that boy?'
'Don't be angry, dear. It seems, father, that he has quite a gift oflearning.'
'Unnat'ral young beggar!' said the parent, shaking his knife in the air.
'And that having this gift, and not being equally good at other things,he has made shift to get some schooling.'
'Unnat'ral young beggar!' said the parent again, with his former action.
'--And that knowing you have nothing to spare, father, and not wishingto be a burden on you, he gradually made up his mind to go seek hisfortune out of learning. He went away this morning, father, and he criedvery much at going, and he hoped you would forgive him.'
'Let him never come a nigh me to ask me my forgiveness,' said thefather, again emphasizing his words with the knife. 'Let him never comewithin sight of my eyes, nor yet within reach of my arm. His own fatherain't good enough for him. He's disowned his own father. His own fathertherefore, disowns him for ever and ever, as a unnat'ral young beggar.'
He had pushed away his plate. With the natural need of a strong roughman in anger, to do something forcible, he now clutched his knifeoverhand, and struck downward with it at the end of every succeedingsentence. As he would have struck with his own clenched fist if
'He's welcome to go. He's more welcome to go than to stay. But let himnever come back. Let him never put his head inside that door. And letyou never speak a word more in his favour, or you'll disown your ownfather, likewise, and what your father says of him he'll have to come tosay of you. Now I see why them men yonder held aloof from me. They saysto one another, "Here comes the man as ain't good enough for his ownson!" Lizzie--!'
But, she stopped him with a cry. Looking at her he saw her, with a facequite strange to him, shrinking back against the wall, with her handsbefore her eyes.
'Father, don't! I can't bear to see you striking with it. Put it down!'
He looked at the knife; but in his astonishment still held it.
'Father, it's too horrible. O put it down, put it down!'
Confounded by her appearance and exclamation, he tossed it away, andstood up with his open hands held out before him.
'What's come to you, Liz? Can you think I would strike at you with aknife?'
'No, father, no; you would never hurt me.'
'What should I hurt?'
'Nothing, dear father. On my knees, I am certain, in my heart and soulI am certain, nothing! But it was too dreadful to bear; for it looked--'her hands covering her face again, 'O it looked--'
'What did it look like?'
The recollection of his murderous figure, combining with her trial oflast night, and her trial of the morning, caused her to drop at hisfeet, without having answered.
He had never seen her so before. He raised her with the utmosttenderness, calling her the best of daughters, and 'my poor prettycreetur', and laid her head upon his knee, and tried to restore her. Butfailing, he laid her head gently down again, got a pillow and placed itunder her dark hair, and sought on the table for a spoonful of brandy.There being none left, he hurriedly caught up the empty bottle, and ranout at the door.
He returned as hurriedly as he had gone, with the bottle still empty.He kneeled down by her, took her head on his arm, and moistened her lipswith a little water into which he dipped his fingers: saying, fiercely,as he looked around, now over this shoulder, now over that:
'Have we got a pest in the house? Is there summ'at deadly sticking to myclothes? What's let loose upon us? Who loosed it?'
Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens / Romance & Love have rating 5 out of 5 / Based on135 votes