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Charles Dickens > Our Mutual Friend > Book 1 - 17

Our Mutual Friend

Book 1 - 17


And now, in the blooming summer days, behold Mr and Mrs
Boffin established in the eminently aristocratic family mansion,
and behold all manner of crawling, creeping, fluttering, and
buzzing creatures, attracted by the gold dust of the Golden

Foremost among those leaving cards at the eminently aristocratic
door before it is quite painted, are the Veneerings: out of breath,
one might imagine, from the impetuosity of their rush to the
eminently aristocratic steps. One copper-plate Mrs Veneering,
two copper-plate Mr Veneerings, and a connubial copper-plate Mr
and Mrs Veneering, requesting the honour of Mr and Mrs Boffin's
company at dinner with the utmost Analytical solemnities. The
enchanting Lady Tippins leaves a card. Twemlow leaves cards. A
tall custard-coloured phaeton tooling up in a solemn manner leaves
four cards, to wit, a couple of Mr Podsnaps, a Mrs Podsnap, and a
Miss Podsnap. All the world and his wife and daughter leave
cards. Sometimes the world's wife has so many daughters, that her
card reads rather like a Miscellaneous Lot at an Auction;
comprising Mrs Tapkins, Miss Tapkins, Miss Frederica Tapkins,
Miss Antonina Tapkins, Miss Malvina Tapkins, and Miss
Euphemia Tapkins; at the same time, the same lady leaves the card
of Mrs Henry George Alfred Swoshle, NEE Tapkins; also, a card,
Mrs Tapkins at Home, Wednesdays, Music, Portland Place.

Miss Bella Wilfer becomes an inmate, for an indefinite period, of
the eminently aristocratic dwelling. Mrs Boffin bears Miss Bella
away to her Milliner's and Dressmaker's, and she gets beautifully
dressed. The Veneerings find with swift remorse that they have
omitted to invite Miss Bella Wilfer. One Mrs Veneering and one
Mr and Mrs Veneering requesting that additional honour, instantly
do penance in white cardboard on the hall table. Mrs Tapkins
likewise discovers her omission, and with promptitude repairs it;
for herself; for Miss Tapkins, for Miss Frederica Tapkins, for Miss
Antonina Tapkins, for Miss Malvina Tapkins, and for Miss
Euphemia Tapkins. Likewise, for Mrs Henry George Alfred
Swoshle NEE Tapkins. Likewise, for Mrs Tapkins at Home,
Wednesdays, Music, Portland Place.

Tradesmen's books hunger, and tradesmen's mouths water, for the
gold dust of the Golden Dustman. As Mrs Boffin and Miss Wilfer
drive out, or as Mr Boffin walks out at his jog-trot pace, the
fishmonger pulls off his hat with an air of reverence founded on
conviction. His men cleanse their fingers on their woollen aprons
before presuming to touch their foreheads to Mr Boffin or Lady.
The gaping salmon and the golden mullet lying on the slab seem to
turn up their eyes sideways, as they would turn up their hands if
they had any, in worshipping admiration. The butcher, though a
portly and a prosperous man, doesn't know what to do with
himself; so anxious is he to express humility when discovered by
the passing Boffins taking the air in a mutton grove. Presents are
made to the Boffin servants, and bland strangers with business-
cards meeting said servants in the street, offer hypothetical
corruption. As, 'Supposing I was to be favoured with an order
from Mr Boffin, my dear friend, it would be worth my while'--to do
a certain thing that I hope might not prove wholly disagreeable to
your feelings.

But no one knows so well as the Secretary, who opens and reads
the letters, what a set is made at the man marked by a stroke of
notoriety. Oh the varieties of dust for ocular use, offered in
exchange for the gold dust of the Golden Dustman! Fifty-seven
churches to be erected with half-crowns, forty-two parsonage
houses to be repaired with shillings, seven-and-twenty organs to be
built with halfpence, twelve hundred children to be brought up on
postage stamps. Not that a half-crown, shilling, halfpenny, or
postage stamp, would be particularly acceptable from Mr Boffin,
but that it is so obvious he is the man to make up the deficiency.
And then the charities, my Christian brother! And mostly in
difficulties, yet mostly lavish, too, in the expensive articles of print
and paper. Large fat private double letter, sealed with ducal
coronet. 'Nicodemus Boffin, Esquire. My Dear Sir,--Having
consented to preside at the forthcoming Annual Dinner of the
Family Party Fund, and feeling deeply impressed with the
immense usefulness of that noble Institution and the great
importance of its being supported by a List of Stewards that shall
prove to the public the interest taken in it by popular and
distinguished men, I have undertaken to ask you to become a
Steward on that occasion. Soliciting your favourable reply before
the 14th instant, I am, My Dear Sir, Your faithful Servant,
LINSEED. P.S. The Steward's fee is limited to three Guineas.'
Friendly this, on the part of the Duke of Linseed (and thoughtful in
the postscript), only lithographed by the hundred and presenting
but a pale individuality of an address to Nicodemus Boffin,
Esquire, in quite another hand. It takes two noble Earls and a
Viscount, combined, to inform Nicodemus Boffin, Esquire, in an
equally flattering manner, that an estimable lady in the West of
England has offered to present a purse containing twenty pounds,
to the Society for Granting Annuities to Unassuming Members of
the Middle Classes, if twenty individuals will previously present
purses of one hundred pounds each. And those benevolent
noblemen very kindly point out that if Nicodemus Boffin, Esquire,
should wish to present two or more purses, it will not be
inconsistent with the design of the estimable lady in the West of
England, provided each purse be coupled with the name of some
member of his honoured and respected family.

These are the corporate beggars. But there are, besides, the
individual beggars; and how does the heart of the Secretary fail
him when he has to cope with THEM! And they must be coped
with to some extent, because they all enclose documents (they call
their scraps documents; but they are, as to papers deserving the
name, what minced veal is to a calf), the non-return of which
would be their ruin. That is say, they are utterly ruined now, but
they would be more utterly ruined then. Among these
correspondents are several daughters of general officers, long
accustomed to every luxury of life (except spelling), who little
thought, when their gallant fathers waged war in the Peninsula,
that they would ever have to appeal to those whom Providence, in
its inscrutable wisdom, has blessed with untold gold, and from
among whom they select the name of Nicodemus Boffin, Esquire,
for a maiden effort in this wise, understanding that he has such a
heart as never was. The Secretary learns, too, that confidence
between man and wife would seem to obtain but rarely when virtue
is in distress, so numerous are the wives who take up their pens to
ask Mr Boffin for money without the knowledge of their devoted
husbands, who would never permit it; while, on the other hand, so
numerous are the husbands who take up their pens to ask Mr
Boffin for money without the knowledge of their devoted wives,
who would instantly go out of their senses if they had the least
suspicion of the circumstance. There are the inspired beggars, too.
These were sitting, only yesterday evening, musing over a fragment
of candle which must soon go out and leave them in the dark for
the rest of their nights, when surely some Angel whispered the
name of Nicodemus Boffin, Esquire, to their souls, imparting rays
of hope, nay confidence, to which they had long been strangers!
Akin to these are the suggestively-befriended beggars. They were
partaking of a cold potato and water by the flickering and gloomy
light of a lucifer-match, in their lodgings (rent considerably in
arrear, and heartless landlady threatening expulsion 'like a dog'
into the streets), when a gifted friend happening to look in, said,
'Write immediately to Nicodemus Boffin, Esquire,' and would take
no denial. There are the nobly independent beggars too. These, in
the days of their abundance, ever regarded gold as dross, and have
not yet got over that only impediment in the way of their amassing
wealth, but they want no dross from Nicodemus Boffin, Esquire;
No, Mr Boffin; the world may term it pride, paltry pride if you will,
but they wouldn't take it if you offered it; a loan, sir--for fourteen
weeks to the day, interest calculated at the rate of five per cent per
annum, to be bestowed upon any charitable institution you may
name--is all they want of you, and if you have the meanness to
refuse it, count on being despised by these great spirits. There are
the beggars of punctual business-habits too. These will make an
end of themselves at a quarter to one P.M. on Tuesday, if no Post-
office order is in the interim received from Nicodemus Boffin,
Esquire; arriving after a quarter to one P.M. on Tuesday, it need
not be sent, as they will then (having made an exact memorandum
of the heartless circumstances) be 'cold in death.' There are the
beggars on horseback too, in another sense from the sense of the
proverb. These are mounted and ready to start on the highway to
affluence. The goal is before them, the road is in the best
condition, their spurs are on, the steed is willing, but, at the last
moment, for want of some special thing--a clock, a violin, an
astronomical telescope, an electrifying machine--they must
dismount for ever, unless they receive its equivalent in money from
Nicodemus Boffin, Esquire. Less given to detail are the beggars
who make sporting ventures. These, usually to be addressed in
reply under initials at a country post-office, inquire in feminine
hands, Dare one who cannot disclose herself to Nicodemus Boffin,
Esquire, but whose name might startle him were it revealed, solicit
the immediate advance of two hundred pounds from unexpected
riches exercising their noblest privilege in the trust of a common

In such a Dismal Swamp does the new house stand, and through it
does the Secretary daily struggle breast-high. Not to mention all
the people alive who have made inventions that won't act, and all
the jobbers who job in all the jobberies jobbed; though these may
be regarded as the Alligators of the Dismal Swamp, and are
always lying by to drag the Golden Dustman under.

But the old house. There are no designs against the Golden
Dustman there? There are no fish of the shark tribe in the Bower
waters? Perhaps not. Still, Wegg is established there, and would
seem, judged by his secret proceedings, to cherish a notion of
making a discovery. For, when a man with a wooden leg lies
prone on his stomach to peep under bedsteads; and hops up
ladders, like some extinct bird, to survey the tops of presses and
cupboards; and provides himself an iron rod which he is always
poking and prodding into dust-mounds; the probability is that he
expects to find something.

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