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Charles Dickens > Our Mutual Friend > Book 1 - 2

Our Mutual Friend

Book 1 - 2


Mr and Mrs Veneering were bran-new people in a bran-new house
in a bran-new quarter of London. Everything about the Veneerings
was spick and span new. All their furniture was new, all their
friends were new, all their servants were new, their plate was new,
their carriage was new, their harness was new, their horses were
new, their pictures were new, they themselves were new, they were
as newly married as was lawfully compatible with their having a
bran-new baby, and if they had set up a great-grandfather, he
would have come home in matting from the Pantechnicon, without
a scratch upon him, French polished to the crown of his head.

For, in the Veneering establishment, from the hall-chairs with the
new coat of arms, to the grand pianoforte with the new action, and
upstairs again to the new fire-escape, all things were in a state of
high varnish and polish. And what was observable in the
furniture, was observable in the Veneerings--the surface smelt a
little too much of the workshop and was a trifle sticky.

There was an innocent piece of dinner-furniture that went upon
easy castors and was kept over a livery stable-yard in Duke Street,
Saint James's, when not in use, to whom the Veneerings were a
source of blind confusion. The name of this article was Twemlow.
Being first cousin to Lord Snigsworth, he was in frequent
requisition, and at many houses might be said to represent the
dining-table in its normal state. Mr and Mrs Veneering, for
example, arranging a dinner, habitually started with Twemlow,
and then put leaves in him, or added guests to him. Sometimes,
the table consisted of Twemlow and half a dozen leaves;
sometimes, of Twemlow and a dozen leaves; sometimes, Twemlow
was pulled out to his utmost extent of twenty leaves. Mr and Mrs
Veneering on occasions of ceremony faced each other in the centre
of the board, and thus the parallel still held; for, it always
happened that the more Twemlow was pulled out, the further he
found himself from the center, and nearer to the sideboard at one
end of the room, or the window-curtains at the other.

But, it was not this which steeped the feeble soul of Twemlow in
confusion. This he was used to,and could take soundings of. The
abyss to which he could find no bottom, and from which started
forth the engrossing and ever-swelling difficulty of his life, was the
insoluble question whether he was Veneering's oldest friend, or
newest friend. To the excogitation of this problem, the harmless
gentleman had devoted many anxious hours, both in his lodgings
over the livery stable-yard, and in the cold gloom, favourable to
meditation, of Saint James's Square. Thus. Twemlow had first
known Veneering at his club, where Veneering then knew nobody
but the man who made them known to one another, who seemed to
be the most intimate friend he had in the world, and whom he had
known two days--the bond of union between their souls, the
nefarious conduct of the committee respecting the cookery of a
fillet of veal, having been accidentally cemented at that date.
Immediately upon this, Twemlow received an invitation to dine
with Veneering, and dined: the man being of the party.
Immediately upon that, Twemlow received an invitation to dine
with the man, and dined: Veneering being of the party. At the
man's were a Member, an Engineer, a Payer-off of the National
Debt, a Poem on Shakespeare, a Grievance, and a Public Office,
who all seem to be utter strangers to Veneering. And yet
immediately after that, Twemlow received an invitation to dine at
Veneerings, expressly to meet the Member, the Engineer, the
Payer-off of the National Debt, the Poem on Shakespeare, the
Grievance, and the Public Office, and, dining, discovered that all of
them were the most intimate friends Veneering had in the world,
and that the wives of all of them (who were all there) were the
objects of Mrs Veneering's most devoted affection and tender

Thus it had come about, that Mr Twemlow had said to himself in
his lodgings, with his hand to his forehead: 'I must not think of
this. This is enough to soften any man's brain,'--and yet was
always thinking of it, and could never form a conclusion.

This evening the Veneerings give a banquet. Eleven leaves in the
Twemlow; fourteen in company all told. Four pigeon-breasted
retainers in plain clothes stand in line in the hall. A fifth retainer,
proceeding up the staircase with a mournful air--as who should
say, 'Here is another wretched creature come to dinner; such is
life!'--announces, 'Mis-ter Twemlow!'

Mrs Veneering welcomes her sweet Mr Twemlow. Mr Veneering
welcomes his dear Twemlow. Mrs Veneering does not expect that
Mr Twemlow can in nature care much for such insipid things as
babies, but so old a friend must please to look at baby. 'Ah! You
will know the friend of your family better, Tootleums,' says Mr
Veneering, nodding emotionally at that new article, 'when you
begin to take notice.' He then begs to make his dear Twemlow
known to his two friends, Mr Boots and Mr Brewer--and clearly
has no distinct idea which is which.

But now a fearful circumstance occurs.

'Mis-ter and Mis-sus Podsnap!'

'My dear,' says Mr Veneering to Mrs Veneering, with an air of
much friendly interest, while the door stands open, 'the Podsnaps.'

A too, too smiling large man, with a fatal freshness on him,
appearing with his wife, instantly deserts his wife and darts at
Twemlow with:

'How do you do? So glad to know you. Charming house you have
here. I hope we are not late. So glad of the opportunity, I am sure!'

When the first shock fell upon him, Twemlow twice skipped back
in his neat little shoes and his neat little silk stockings of a bygone
fashion, as if impelled to leap over a sofa behind him; but the large
man closed with him and proved too strong.

'Let me,' says the large man, trying to attract the attention of his
wife in the distance, 'have the pleasure of presenting Mrs Podsnap
to her host. She will be,' in his fatal freshness he seems to find
perpetual verdure and eternal youth in the phrase, 'she will be so
glad of the opportunity, I am sure!'

In the meantime, Mrs Podsnap, unable to originate a mistake on
her own account, because Mrs Veneering is the only other lady
there, does her best in the way of handsomely supporting her
husband's, by looking towards Mr Twemlow with a plaintive
countenance and remarking to Mrs Veneering in a feeling manner,
firstly, that she fears he has been rather bilious of late, and,
secondly, that the baby is already very like him.

It is questionable whether any man quite relishes being mistaken
for any other man; but, Mr Veneering having this very evening set
up the shirt-front of the young Antinous in new worked cambric
just come home, is not at all complimented by being supposed to
be Twemlow, who is dry and weazen and some thirty years older.
Mrs Veneering equally resents the imputation of being the wife of
Twemlow. As to Twemlow, he is so sensible of being a much
better bred man than Veneering, that he considers the large man an
offensive ass.

In this complicated dilemma, Mr Veneering approaches the large
man with extended hand and, smilingly assures that incorrigible
personage that he is delighted to see him: who in his fatal
freshness instantly replies:

'Thank you. I am ashamed to say that I cannot at this moment
recall where we met, but I am so glad of this opportunity, I am

Then pouncing upon Twemlow, who holds back with all his feeble
might, he is haling him off to present him, as Veneering, to Mrs
Podsnap, when the arrival of more guests unravels the mistake.
Whereupon, having re-shaken hands with Veneering as Veneering,
he re-shakes hands with Twemlow as Twemlow, and winds it all
up to his own perfect satisfaction by saying to the last-named,
'Ridiculous opportunity--but so glad of it, I am sure!'

Now, Twemlow having undergone this terrific experience, having
likewise noted the fusion of Boots in Brewer and Brewer in Boots,
and having further observed that of the remaining seven guests
four discrete characters enter with wandering eyes and wholly
declined to commit themselves as to which is Veneering, until
Veneering has them in his grasp;--Twemlow having profited by
these studies, finds his brain wholesomely hardening as he
approaches the conclusion that he really is Veneering's oldest
friend, when his brain softens again and all is lost, through his
eyes encountering Veneering and the large man linked together as
twin brothers in the back drawing-room near the conservatory
door, and through his ears informing him in the tones of Mrs
Veneering that the same large man is to be baby's godfather.

'Dinner is on the table!'

Thus the melancholy retainer, as who should say, 'Come down and
be poisoned, ye unhappy children of men!'

Twemlow, having no lady assigned him, goes down in the rear,
with his hand to his forehead. Boots and Brewer, thinking him
indisposed, whisper, 'Man faint. Had no lunch.' But he is only
stunned by the unvanquishable difficulty of his existence.

Revived by soup, Twemlow discourses mildly of the Court
Circular with Boots and Brewer. Is appealed to, at the fish stage of
the banquet, by Veneering, on the disputed question whether his
cousin Lord Snigsworth is in or out of town? Gives it that his
cousin is out of town. 'At Snigsworthy Park?' Veneering inquires.
'At Snigsworthy,' Twemlow rejoins. Boots and Brewer regard this
as a man to be cultivated; and Veneering is clear that he is a
renumerative article. Meantime the retainer goes round, like a
gloomy Analytical Chemist: always seeming to say, after 'Chablis,
sir?'--'You wouldn't if you knew what it's made of.'

The great looking-glass above the sideboard, reflects the table and
the company. Reflects the new Veneering crest, in gold and eke in
silver, frosted and also thawed, a camel of all work. The Heralds'
College found out a Crusading ancestor for Veneering who bore a
camel on his shield (or might have done it if he had thought of it),
and a caravan of camels take charge of the fruits and flowers and
candles, and kneel down be loaded with the salt. Reflects
Veneering; forty, wavy-haired, dark, tending to corpulence, sly,
mysterious, filmy--a kind of sufficiently well-looking veiled-
prophet, not prophesying. Reflects Mrs Veneering; fair, aquiline-
nosed and fingered, not so much light hair as she might have,
gorgeous in raiment and jewels, enthusiastic, propitiatory,
conscious that a corner of her husband's veil is over herself.
Reflects Podsnap; prosperously feeding, two little light-coloured
wiry wings, one on either side of his else bald head, looking as like
his hairbrushes as his hair, dissolving view of red beads on his
forehead, large allowance of crumpled shirt-collar up behind.
Reflects Mrs Podsnap; fine woman for Professor Owen, quantity of
bone, neck and nostrils like a rocking-horse, hard features,
majestic head-dress in which Podsnap has hung golden offerings.
Reflects Twemlow; grey, dry, polite, susceptible to east wind,
First-Gentleman-in-Europe collar and cravat, cheeks drawn in as if
he had made a great effort to retire into himself some years ago,
and had got so far and had never got any farther. Reflects mature
young lady; raven locks, and complexion that lights up well when
well powdered--as it is--carrying on considerably in the captivation
of mature young gentleman; with too much nose in his face, too
much ginger in his whiskers, too much torso in his waistcoat, too
much sparkle in his studs, his eyes, his buttons, his talk, and his
teeth. Reflects charming old Lady Tippins on Veneering's right;
with an immense obtuse drab oblong face, like a face in a
tablespoon, and a dyed Long Walk up the top of her head, as a
convenient public approach to the bunch of false hair behind,
pleased to patronize Mrs Veneering opposite, who is pleased to be
patronized. Reflects a certain 'Mortimer', another of Veneering's
oldest friends; who never was in the house before, and appears not
to want to come again, who sits disconsolate on Mrs Veneering's
left, and who was inveigled by Lady Tippins (a friend of his
boyhood) to come to these people's and talk, and who won't talk.
Reflects Eugene, friend of Mortimer; buried alive in the back of his
chair, behind a shoulder--with a powder-epaulette on it--of the
mature young lady, and gloomily resorting to the champagne
chalice whenever proffered by the Analytical Chemist. Lastly, the
looking-glass reflects Boots and Brewer, and two other stuffed
Buffers interposed between the rest of the company and possible

The Veneering dinners are excellent dinners--or new people
wouldn't come--and all goes well. Notably, Lady Tippins has
made a series of experiments on her digestive functions, so
extremely complicated and daring, that if they could be published
with their results it might benefit the human race. Having taken in
provisions from all parts of the world, this hardy old cruiser has
last touched at the North Pole, when, as the ice-plates are being
removed, the following words fall from her:

'I assure you, my dear Veneering--'

(Poor Twemlow's hand approaches his forehead, for it would seem
now, that Lady Tippins is going to be the oldest friend.)

'I assure you, my dear Veneering, that it is the oddest affair! Like
the advertising people, I don't ask you to trust me, without offering
a respectable reference. Mortimer there, is my reference, and
knows all about it.'

Mortimer raises his drooping eyelids, and slightly opens his
mouth. But a faint smile, expressive of 'What's the use!' passes
over his face, and he drops his eyelids and shuts his mouth.

'Now, Mortimer,' says Lady Tippins, rapping the sticks of her
closed green fan upon the knuckles of her left hand--which is
particularly rich in knuckles, 'I insist upon your telling all that is to
be told about the man from Jamaica.'

'Give you my honour I never heard of any man from Jamaica,
except the man who was a brother,' replies Mortimer.

'Tobago, then.'

'Nor yet from Tobago.'

'Except,' Eugene strikes in: so unexpectedly that the mature young
lady, who has forgotten all about him, with a start takes the
epaulette out of his way: 'except our friend who long lived on rice-
pudding and isinglass, till at length to his something or other, his
physician said something else, and a leg of mutton somehow ended
in daygo.'

A reviving impression goes round the table that Eugene is coming
out. An unfulfilled impression, for he goes in again.

'Now, my dear Mrs Veneering,' quoth Lady Tippins, I appeal to
you whether this is not the basest conduct ever known in this
world? I carry my lovers about, two or three at a time, on
condition that they are very obedient and devoted; and here is my
oldest lover-in-chief, the head of all my slaves, throwing off his
allegiance before company! And here is another of my lovers, a
rough Cymon at present certainly, but of whom I had most hopeful
expectations as to his turning out well in course of time, pretending
that he can't remember his nursery rhymes! On purpose to annoy
me, for he knows how I doat upon them!'

A grisly little fiction concerning her lovers is Lady Tippins's point.
She is always attended by a lover or two, and she keeps a little list
of her lovers, and she is always booking a new lover, or striking
out an old lover, or putting a lover in her black list, or promoting a
lover to her blue list, or adding up her lovers, or otherwise posting
her book. Mrs Veneering is charmed by the humour, and so is
Veneering. Perhaps it is enhanced by a certain yellow play in Lady
Tippins's throat, like the legs of scratching poultry.

'I banish the false wretch from this moment, and I strike him out of
my Cupidon (my name for my Ledger, my dear,) this very night.
But I am resolved to have the account of the man from Somewhere,
and I beg you to elicit it for me, my love,' to Mrs Veneering, 'as I
have lost my own influence. Oh, you perjured man!' This to
Mortimer, with a rattle of her fan.

'We are all very much interested in the man from Somewhere,'
Veneering observes.

Then the four Buffers, taking heart of grace all four at once, say:

'Deeply interested!'

'Quite excited!'


'Man from Nowhere, perhaps!'

And then Mrs Veneering--for the Lady Tippins's winning wiles are
contagious--folds her hands in the manner of a supplicating child,
turns to her left neighbour, and says, 'Tease! Pay! Man from
Tumwhere!' At which the four Buffers, again mysteriously moved
all four at once, explain, 'You can't resist!'

'Upon my life,' says Mortimer languidly, 'I find it immensely
embarrassing to have the eyes of Europe upon me to this extent,
and my only consolation is that you will all of you execrate Lady
Tippins in your secret hearts when you find, as you inevitably will,
the man from Somewhere a bore. Sorry to destroy romance by
fixing him with a local habitation, but he comes from the place, the
name of which escapes me, but will suggest itself to everybody
else here, where they make the wine.'

Eugene suggests 'Day and Martin's.'

'No, not that place,' returns the unmoved Mortimer, 'that's where
they make the Port. My man comes from the country where they
make the Cape Wine. But look here, old fellow; its not at all
statistical and it's rather odd.'

It is always noticeable at the table of the Veneerings, that no man
troubles himself much about the Veneerings themselves, and that
any one who has anything to tell, generally tells it to anybody else
in preference.

'The man,' Mortimer goes on, addressing Eugene, 'whose name is
Harmon, was only son of a tremendous old rascal who made his
money by Dust.'

'Red velveteens and a bell?' the gloomy Eugene inquires.

'And a ladder and basket if you like. By which means, or by
others, he grew rich as a Dust Contractor, and lived in a hollow in
a hilly country entirely composed of Dust. On his own small estate
the growling old vagabond threw up his own mountain range, like
an old volcano, and its geological formation was Dust. Coal-dust,
vegetable-dust, bone-dust, crockery dust, rough dust and sifted
dust,--all manner of Dust.'

A passing remembrance of Mrs Veneering, here induces Mortimer
to address his next half-dozen words to her; after which he
wanders away again, tries Twemlow and finds he doesn't answer,
ultimately takes up with the Buffers who receive him

'The moral being--I believe that's the right expression--of this
exemplary person, derived its highest gratification from
anathematizing his nearest relations and turning them out of doors.
Having begun (as was natural) by rendering these attentions to the
wife of his bosom, he next found himself at leisure to bestow a
similar recognition on the claims of his daughter. He chose a
husband for her, entirely to his own satisfaction and not in the least
to hers, and proceeded to settle upon her, as her marriage portion, I
don't know how much Dust, but something immense. At this
stage of the affair the poor girl respectfully intimated that she was
secretly engaged to that popular character whom the novelists and
versifiers call Another, and that such a marriage would make Dust
of her heart and Dust of her life--in short, would set her up, on a
very extensive scale, in her father's business. Immediately, the
venerable parent--on a cold winter's night, it is said--
anathematized and turned her out.'

Here, the Analytical Chemist (who has evidently formed a very low
opinion of Mortimer's story) concedes a little claret to the Buffers;
who, again mysteriously moved all four at once, screw it slowly
into themselves with a peculiar twist of enjoyment, as they cry in
chorus, 'Pray go on.'

'The pecuniary resources of Another were, as they usually are, of a
very limited nature. I believe I am not using too strong an
expression when I say that Another was hard up. However, he
married the young lady, and they lived in a humble dwelling,
probably possessing a porch ornamented with honeysuckle and
woodbine twining, until she died. I must refer you to the Registrar
of the District in which the humble dwelling was situated, for the
certified cause of death; but early sorrow and anxiety may have had
to do with it, though they may not appear in the ruled pages and
printed forms. Indisputably this was the case with Another, for he
was so cut up by the loss of his young wife that if he outlived her a
year it was as much as he did.'

There is that in the indolent Mortimer, which seems to hint that if
good society might on any account allow itself to be impressible,
he, one of good society, might have the weakness to be impressed
by what he here relates. It is hidden with great pains, but it is in
him. The gloomy Eugene too, is not without some kindred touch;
for, when that appalling Lady Tippins declares that if Another had
survived, he should have gone down at the head of her list of
lovers--and also when the mature young lady shrugs her epaulettes,
and laughs at some private and confidential comment from the
mature young gentleman--his gloom deepens to that degree that he
trifles quite ferociously with his dessert-knife.

Mortimer proceeds.

'We must now return, as novelists say, and as we all wish they
wouldn't, to the man from Somewhere. Being a boy of fourteen,
cheaply educated at Brussels when his sister's expulsion befell, it
was some little time before he heard of it--probably from herself,
for the mother was dead; but that I don't know. Instantly, he
absconded, and came over here. He must have been a boy of spirit
and resource, to get here on a stopped allowance of five sous a
week; but he did it somehow, and he burst in on his father, and
pleaded his sister's cause. Venerable parent promptly resorts to
anathematization, and turns him out. Shocked and terrified boy
takes flight, seeks his fortune, gets aboard ship, ultimately turns up
on dry land among the Cape wine: small proprietor, farmer,
grower--whatever you like to call it.'

At this juncture, shuffling is heard in the hall, and tapping is heard
at the dining-room door. Analytical Chemist goes to the door,
confers angrily with unseen tapper, appears to become mollified by
descrying reason in the tapping, and goes out.

'So he was discovered, only the other day, after having been
expatriated about fourteen years.'

A Buffer, suddenly astounding the other three, by detaching
himself, and asserting individuality, inquires: 'How discovered,
and why?'

'Ah! To be sure. Thank you for reminding me. Venerable parent

Same Buffer, emboldened by success, says: 'When?'

'The other day. Ten or twelve months ago.'

Same Buffer inquires with smartness, 'What of?' But herein
perishes a melancholy example; being regarded by the three other
Buffers with a stony stare, and attracting no further attention from
any mortal.

'Venerable parent,' Mortimer repeats with a passing remembrance
that there is a Veneering at table, and for the first time addressing

The gratified Veneering repeats, gravely, 'dies'; and folds his arms,
and composes his brow to hear it out in a judicial manner, when he
finds himself again deserted in the bleak world.

'His will is found,' said Mortimer, catching Mrs Podsnap's rocking-
horse's eye. 'It is dated very soon after the son's flight. It leaves
the lowest of the range of dust-mountains, with some sort of a
dwelling-house at its foot, to an old servant who is sole executor,
and all the rest of the property--which is very considerable--to the
son. He directs himself to be buried with certain eccentric
ceremonies and precautions against his coming to life, with which
I need not bore you, and that's all--except--' and this ends the story.

The Analytical Chemist returning, everybody looks at him. Not
because anybody wants to see him, but because of that subtle
influence in nature which impels humanity to embrace the slightest
opportunity of looking at anything, rather than the person who
addresses it.

'--Except that the son's inheriting is made conditional on his
marrying a girl, who at the date of the will, was a child of four or
five years old, and who is now a marriageable young woman.
Advertisement and inquiry discovered the son in the man from
Somewhere, and at the present moment, he is on his way home
from there--no doubt, in a state of great astonishment--to succeed
to a very large fortune, and to take a wife.'

Mrs Podsnap inquires whether the young person is a young person
of personal charms? Mortimer is unable to report.

Mr Podsnap inquires what would become of the very large fortune,
in the event of the marriage condition not being fulfilled?
Mortimer replies, that by special testamentary clause it would then
go to the old servant above mentioned, passing over and excluding
the son; also, that if the son had not been living, the same old
servant would have been sole residuary legatee.

Mrs Veneering has just succeeded in waking Lady Tippins from a
snore, by dexterously shunting a train of plates and dishes at her
knuckles across the table; when everybody but Mortimer himself
becomes aware that the Analytical Chemist is, in a ghostly
manner, offering him a folded paper. Curiosity detains Mrs
Veneering a few moments.

Mortimer, in spite of all the arts of the chemist, placidly refreshes
himself with a glass of Madeira, and remains unconscious of the
Document which engrosses the general attention, until Lady
Tippins (who has a habit of waking totally insensible), having
remembered where she is, and recovered a perception of
surrounding objects, says: 'Falser man than Don Juan; why don't
you take the note from the commendatore?' Upon which, the
chemist advances it under the nose of Mortimer, who looks round
at him, and says:

'What's this?'

Analytical Chemist bends and whispers.

'WHO?' Says Mortimer.

Analytical Chemist again bends and whispers.

Mortimer stares at him, and unfolds the paper. Reads it, reads it
twice, turns it over to look at the blank outside, reads it a third

'This arrives in an extraordinarily opportune manner,' says
Mortimer then, looking with an altered face round the table: 'this is
the conclusion of the story of the identical man.'

'Already married?' one guesses.

'Declines to marry?' another guesses.

'Codicil among the dust?' another guesses.

'Why, no,' says Mortimer; 'remarkable thing, you are all wrong.
The story is completer and rather more exciting than I supposed.
Man's drowned!'

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