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Charles Dickens > Our Mutual Friend > Book 2 - 2

Our Mutual Friend

Book 2 - 2


The person of the house, doll's dressmaker and manufacturer of
ornamental pincushions and pen-wipers, sat in her quaint little low
arm-chair, singing in the dark, until Lizzie came back. The person
of the house had attained that dignity while yet of very tender
years indeed, through being the only trustworthy person IN the

'Well Lizzie-Mizzie-Wizzie,' said she, breaking off in her song.
'what's the news out of doors?'

'What's the news in doors?' returned Lizzie, playfully smoothing
the bright long fair hair which grew very luxuriant and beautiful
on the head of the doll's dressmaker.

'Let me see, said the blind man. Why the last news is, that I don't
mean to marry your brother.'


'No-o,' shaking her head and her chin. 'Don't like the boy.'

'What do you say to his master?'

'I say that I think he's bespoke.'

Lizzie finished putting the hair carefully back over the misshapen
shoulders, and then lighted a candle. It showed the little parlour
to be dingy, but orderly and clean. She stood it on the
mantelshelf, remote from the dressmaker's eyes, and then put the
room door open, and the house door open, and turned the little
low chair and its occupant towards the outer air. It was a sultry
night, and this was a fine-weather arrangement when the day's
work was done. To complete it, she seated herself in a chair by
the side of the little chair, and protectingly drew under her arm the
spare hand that crept up to her.

'This is what your loving Jenny Wren calls the best time in the day
and night,' said the person of the house. Her real name was Fanny
Cleaver; but she had long ago chosen to bestow upon herself the
appellation of Miss Jenny Wren.

'I have been thinking,' Jenny went on, 'as I sat at work to-day,
what a thing it would be, if I should be able to have your company
till I am married, or at least courted. Because when I am courted,
I shall make Him do some of the things that you do for me. He
couldn't brush my hair like you do, or help me up and down stairs
like you do, and he couldn't do anything like you do; but he could
take my work home, and he could call for orders in his clumsy
way. And he shall too. I'LL trot him about, I can tell him!'

Jenny Wren had her personal vanities--happily for her--and no
intentions were stronger in her breast than the various trials and
torments that were, in the fulness of time, to be inflicted upon

'Wherever he may happen to be just at present, or whoever he
may happen to be,' said Miss Wren, 'I know his tricks and his
manners, and I give him warning to look out.'

'Don't you think you are rather hard upon him?' asked her friend,
smiling, and smoothing her hair.

'Not a bit,' replied the sage Miss Wren, with an air of vast
experience. 'My dear, they don't care for you, those fellows, if
you're NOT hard upon 'em. But I was saying If I should be able to
have your company. Ah! What a large If! Ain't it?'

'I have no intention of parting company, Jenny.'

'Don't say that, or you'll go directly.'

'Am I so little to be relied upon?'

'You're more to be relied upon than silver and gold.' As she said
it, Miss Wren suddenly broke off, screwed up her eyes and her
chin, and looked prodigiously knowing. 'Aha!

     Who comes here?
     A Grenadier.
     What does he want?
     A pot of beer.

And nothing else in the world, my dear!'

A man's figure paused on the pavement at the outer door. 'Mr
Eugene Wrayburn, ain't it?' said Miss Wren.

'So I am told,' was the answer.

'You may come in, if you're good.'

'I am not good,' said Eugene, 'but I'll come in.'

He gave his hand to Jenny Wren, and he gave his hand to Lizzie,
and he stood leaning by the door at Lizzie's side. He had been
strolling with his cigar, he said, (it was smoked out and gone by
this time,) and he had strolled round to return in that direction that
he might look in as he passed. Had she not seen her brother to-

'Yes,' said Lizzie, whose manner was a little troubled.

Gracious condescension on our brother's part! Mr Eugene
Wrayburn thought he had passed my young gentleman on the
bridge yonder. Who was his friend with him?

'The schoolmaster.'

'To be sure. Looked like it.'

Lizzie sat so still, that one could not have said wherein the fact of
her manner being troubled was expressed; and yet one could not
have doubted it. Eugene was as easy as ever; but perhaps, as she
sat with her eyes cast down, it might have been rather more
perceptible that his attention was concentrated upon her for
certain moments, than its concentration upon any subject for any
short time ever was, elsewhere.

'I have nothing to report, Lizzie,' said Eugene. 'But, having
promised you that an eye should be always kept on Mr Riderhood
through my friend Lightwood, I like occasionally to renew my
assurance that I keep my promise, and keep my friend up to the

'I should not have doubted it, sir.'

'Generally, I confess myself a man to be doubted,' returned
Eugene, coolly, 'for all that.'

'Why are you?' asked the sharp Miss Wren.

'Because, my dear,' said the airy Eugene, 'I am a bad idle dog.'

'Then why don't you reform and be a good dog?' inquired Miss

'Because, my dear,' returned Eugene, 'there's nobody who makes it
worth my while. Have you considered my suggestion, Lizzie?'
This in a lower voice, but only as if it were a graver matter; not at
all to the exclusion of the person of the house.

'I have thought of it, Mr Wrayburn, but I have not been able to
make up my mind to accept it.'

'False pride!' said Eugene.

'I think not, Mr Wrayburn. I hope not.'

'False pride!' repeated Eugene. 'Why, what else is it? The thing is
worth nothing in itself. The thing is worth nothing to me. What
can it be worth to me? You know the most I make of it. I propose
to be of some use to somebody--which I never was in this world,
and never shall be on any other occasion--by paying some
qualified person of your own sex and age, so many (or rather so
few) contemptible shillings, to come here, certain nights in the
week, and give you certain instruction which you wouldn't want if
you hadn't been a self-denying daughter and sister. You know
that it's good to have it, or you would never have so devoted
yourself to your brother's having it. Then why not have it:
especially when our friend Miss Jenny here would profit by it too?
If I proposed to be the teacher, or to attend the lessons--obviously
incongruous!--but as to that, I might as well be on the other side of
the globe, or not on the globe at all. False pride, Lizzie. Because
true pride wouldn't shame, or be shamed by, your thankless
brother. True pride wouldn't have schoolmasters brought here,
like doctors, to look at a bad case. True pride would go to work
and do it. You know that, well enough, for you know that your
own true pride would do it to-morrow, if you had the ways and
means which false pride won't let me supply. Very well. I add no
more than this. Your false pride does wrong to yourself and does
wrong to your dead father.'

'How to my father, Mr Wrayburn?' she asked, with an anxious

'How to your father? Can you ask! By perpetuating the
consequences of his ignorant and blind obstinacy. By resolving
not to set right the wrong he did you. By determining that the
deprivation to which he condemned you, and which he forced
upon you, shall always rest upon his head.'

It chanced to be a subtle string to sound, in her who had so spoken
to her brother within the hour. It sounded far more forcibly,
because of the change in the speaker for the moment; the passing
appearance of earnestness, complete conviction, injured
resentment of suspicion, generous and unselfish interest. All these
qualities, in him usually so light and careless, she felt to be
inseparable from some touch of their opposites in her own breast.
She thought, had she, so far below him and so different, rejected
this disinterestedness, because of some vain misgiving that he
sought her out, or heeded any personal attractions that he might
descry in her? The poor girl, pure of heart and purpose, could not
bear to think it. Sinking before her own eyes, as she suspected
herself of it, she drooped her head as though she had done him
some wicked and grievous injury, and broke into silent tears.

'Don't be distressed,' said Eugene, very, very kindly. 'I hope it is
not I who have distressed you. I meant no more than to put the
matter in its true light before you; though I acknowledge I did it
selfishly enough, for I am disappointed.'

Disappointed of doing her a service. How else COULD he be

'It won't break my heart,' laughed Eugene; 'it won't stay by me
eight-and-forty hours; but I am genuinely disappointed. I had set
my fancy on doing this little thing for you and for our friend Miss
Jenny. The novelty of my doing anything in the least useful, had
its charms. I see, now, that I might have managed it better. I
might have affected to do it wholly for our friend Miss J. I might
have got myself up, morally, as Sir Eugene Bountiful. But upon
my soul I can't make flourishes, and I would rather be
disappointed than try.'

If he meant to follow home what was in Lizzie's thoughts, it was
skilfully done. If he followed it by mere fortuitous coincidence, it
was done by an evil chance.

'It opened out so naturally before me,' said Eugene. 'The ball
seemed so thrown into my hands by accident! I happen to be
originally brought into contact with you, Lizzie, on those two
occasions that you know of. I happen to be able to promise you
that a watch shall be kept upon that false accuser, Riderhood. I
happen to be able to give you some little consolation in the
darkest hour of your distress, by assuring you that I don't believe
him. On the same occasion I tell you that I am the idlest and least
of lawyers, but that I am better than none, in a case I have noted
down with my own hand, and that you may be always sure of my
best help, and incidentally of Lightwood's too, in your efforts to
clear your father. So, it gradually takes my fancy that I may help
you--so easily!--to clear your father of that other blame which I
mentioned a few minutes ago, and which is a just and real one. I
hope I have explained myself; for I am heartily sorry to have
distressed you. I hate to claim to mean well, but I really did mean
honestly and simply well, and I want you to know it.'

'I have never doubted that, Mr Wrayburn,' said Lizzie; the more
repentant, the less he claimed.

'I am very glad to hear it. Though if you had quite understood my
whole meaning at first, I think you would not have refused. Do
you think you would?'

'I--don't know that I should, Mr Wrayburn.'

'Well! Then why refuse now you do understand it?'

'It's not easy for me to talk to you,' returned Lizzie, in some
confusion, 'for you see all the consequences of what I say, as soon
as I say it.'

'Take all the consequences,' laughed Eugene, 'and take away my
disappointment. Lizzie Hexam, as I truly respect you, and as I am
your friend and a poor devil of a gentleman, I protest I don't even
now understand why you hesitate.'

There was an appearance of openness, trustfulness, unsuspecting
generosity, in his words and manner, that won the poor girl over;
and not only won her over, but again caused her to feel as though
she had been influenced by the opposite qualities, with vanity at
their head.

'I will not hesitate any longer, Mr Wrayburn. I hope you will not
think the worse of me for having hesitated at all. For myself and
for Jenny--you let me answer for you, Jenny dear?'

The little creature had been leaning back, attentive, with her
elbows resting on the elbows of her chair, and her chin upon her
hands. Without changing her attitude, she answered, 'Yes!' so
suddenly that it rather seemed as if she had chopped the
monosyllable than spoken it.

'For myself and for Jenny, I thankfully accept your kind offer.'

'Agreed! Dismissed!' said Eugene, giving Lizzie his hand before
lightly waving it, as if he waved the whole subject away. 'I hope it
may not be often that so much is made of so little!'

Then he fell to talking playfully with Jenny Wren. 'I think of
setting up a doll, Miss Jenny,' he said.

'You had better not,' replied the dressmaker.

'Why not?'

'You are sure to break it. All you children do.'

'But that makes good for trade, you know, Miss Wren,' returned
Eugene. 'Much as people's breaking promises and contracts and
bargains of all sorts, makes good for MY trade.'

'I don't know about that,' Miss Wren retorted; 'but you had better
by half set up a pen-wiper, and turn industrious, and use it.'

'Why, if we were all as industrious as you, little Busy-Body, we
should begin to work as soon as we could crawl, and there would
be a bad thing!'

'Do you mean,' returned the little creature, with a flush suffusing
her face, 'bad for your backs and your legs?'

'No, no, no,' said Eugene; shocked--to do him justice--at the
thought of trifling with her infirmity. 'Bad for business, bad for
business. If we all set to work as soon as we could use our hands,
it would be all over with the dolls' dressmakers.'

'There's something in that,' replied Miss Wren; 'you have a sort of
an idea in your noddle sometimes.' Then, in a changed tone;
'Talking of ideas, my Lizzie,' they were sitting side by side as they
had sat at first, 'I wonder how it happens that when I am work,
work, working here, all alone in the summer-time, I smell flowers.'

'As a commonplace individual, I should say,' Eugene suggested
languidly--for he was growing weary of the person of the house--
'that you smell flowers because you DO smell flowers.'

'No I don't,' said the little creature, resting one arm upon the elbow
of her chair, resting her chin upon that hand, and looking vacantly
before her; 'this is not a flowery neighbourhood. It's anything but
that. And yet as I sit at work, I smell miles of flowers. I smell
roses, till I think I see the rose-leaves lying in heaps, bushels, on
the floor. I smell fallen leaves, till I put down my hand--so--and
expect to make them rustle. I smell the white and the pink May in
the hedges, and all sorts of flowers that I never was among. For I
have seen very few flowers indeed, in my life.'

'Pleasant fancies to have, Jenny dear!' said her friend: with a
glance towards Eugene as if she would have asked him whether
they were given the child in compensation for her losses.

'So I think, Lizzie, when they come to me. And the birds I hear!
Oh!' cried the little creature, holding out her hand and looking
upward, 'how they sing!'

There was something in the face and action for the moment, quite
inspired and beautiful. Then the chin dropped musingly upon the
hand again.

'I dare say my birds sing better than other birds, and my flowers
smell better than other flowers. For when I was a little child,' in a
tone as though it were ages ago, 'the children that I used to see
early in the morning were very different from any others that I
ever saw. They were not like me; they were not chilled, anxious,
ragged, or beaten; they were never in pain. They were not like the
children of the neighbours; they never made me tremble all over,
by setting up shrill noises, and they never mocked me. Such
numbers of them too! All in white dresses, and with something
shining on the borders, and on their heads, that I have never been
able to imitate with my work, though I know it so well. They used
to come down in long bright slanting rows, and say all together,
"Who is this in pain! Who is this in pain!" When I told them who
it was, they answered, "Come and play with us!" When I said "I
never play! I can't play!" they swept about me and took me up,
and made me light. Then it was all delicious ease and rest till they
laid me down, and said, all together, "Have patience, and we will
come again." Whenever they came back, I used to know they
were coming before I saw the long bright rows, by hearing them
ask, all together a long way off, "Who is this in pain! Who is this
in pain!" And I used to cry out, "O my blessed children, it's poor
me. Have pity on me. Take me up and make me light!"'

By degrees, as she progressed in this remembrance, the hand was
raised, the late ecstatic look returned, and she became quite
beautiful. Having so paused for a moment, silent, with a listening
smile upon her face, she looked round and recalled herself.

'What poor fun you think me; don't you, Mr Wrayburn? You may
well look tired of me. But it's Saturday night, and I won't detain

'That is to say, Miss Wren,' observed Eugene, quite ready to profit
by the hint, 'you wish me to go?'

'Well, it's Saturday night,' she returned, and my child's coming
home. And my child is a troublesome bad child, and costs me a
world of scolding. I would rather you didn't see my child.'

'A doll?' said Eugene, not understanding, and looking for an

But Lizzie, with her lips only, shaping the two words, 'Her father,'
he delayed no longer. He took his leave immediately. At the
corner of the street he stopped to light another cigar, and possibly
to ask himself what he was doing otherwise. If so, the answer was
indefinite and vague. Who knows what he is doing, who is
careless what he does!

A man stumbled against him as he turned away, who mumbled
some maudlin apology. Looking after this man, Eugene saw him
go in at the door by which he himself had just come out.

On the man's stumbling into the room, Lizzie rose to leave it.

'Don't go away, Miss Hexam,' he said in a submissive manner,
speaking thickly and with difficulty. 'Don't fly from unfortunate
man in shattered state of health. Give poor invalid honour of your
company. It ain't--ain't catching.'

Lizzie murmured that she had something to do in her own room,
and went away upstairs.

'How's my Jenny?' said the man, timidly. 'How's my Jenny Wren,
best of children, object dearest affections broken-hearted invalid?'

To which the person of the house, stretching out her arm in an
attitude of command, replied with irresponsive asperity: 'Go along
with you! Go along into your corner! Get into your corner

The wretched spectacle made as if he would have offered some
remonstrance; but not venturing to resist the person of the house,
thought better of it, and went and sat down on a particular chair of

'Oh-h-h!' cried the person of the house, pointing her little finger,
'You bad old boy! Oh-h-h you naughty, wicked creature! WHAT
do you mean by it?'

The shaking figure, unnerved and disjointed from head to foot, put
out its two hands a little way, as making overtures of peace and
reconciliation. Abject tears stood in its eyes, and stained the
blotched red of its cheeks. The swollen lead-coloured under lip
trembled with a shameful whine. The whole indecorous
threadbare ruin, from the broken shoes to the prematurely-grey
scanty hair, grovelled. Not with any sense worthy to be called a
sense, of this dire reversal of the places of parent and child, but in
a pitiful expostulation to be let off from a scolding.

'I know your tricks and your manners,' cried Miss Wren. 'I know
where you've been to!' (which indeed it did not require
discernment to discover). 'Oh, you disgraceful old chap!'

The very breathing of the figure was contemptible, as it laboured
and rattled in that operation, like a blundering clock.

'Slave, slave, slave, from morning to night,' pursued the person of
the house, 'and all for this! WHAT do you mean by it?'

There was something in that emphasized 'What,' which absurdly
frightened the figure. As often as the person of the house worked
her way round to it--even as soon as he saw that it was coming--
he collapsed in an extra degree.

'I wish you had been taken up, and locked up,' said the person of
the house. 'I wish you had been poked into cells and black holes,
and run over by rats and spiders and beetles. I know their tricks
and their manners, and they'd have tickled you nicely. Ain't you
ashamed of yourself?'

'Yes, my dear,' stammered the father.

'Then,' said the person of the house, terrifying him by a grand
muster of her spirits and forces before recurring to the emphatic
word, 'WHAT do you mean by it?'

'Circumstances over which had no control,' was the miserable
creature's plea in extenuation.

'I'LL circumstance you and control you too,' retorted the person of
the house, speaking with vehement sharpness, 'if you talk in that
way. I'll give you in charge to the police, and have you fined five
shillings when you can't pay, and then I won't pay the money for
you, and you'll be transported for life. How should you like to be
transported for life?'

'Shouldn't like it. Poor shattered invalid. Trouble nobody long,'
cried the wretched figure.

'Come, come!' said the person of the house, tapping the table near
her in a business-like manner, and shaking her head and her chin;
'you know what you've got to do. Put down your money this

The obedient figure began to rummage in its pockets.

'Spent a fortune out of your wages, I'll be bound!' said the person
of the house. 'Put it here! All you've got left! Every farthing!'

Such a business as he made of collecting it from his dogs'-eared
pockets; of expecting it in this pocket, and not finding it; of not
expecting it in that pocket, and passing it over; of finding no
pocket where that other pocket ought to be!

'Is this all?' demanded the person of the house, when a confused
heap of pence and shillings lay on the table.

'Got no more,' was the rueful answer, with an accordant shake of
the head.

'Let me make sure. You know what you've got to do. Turn all
your pockets inside out, and leave 'em so!' cried the person of the

He obeyed. And if anything could have made him look more
abject or more dismally ridiculous than before, it would have been
his so displaying himself.

'Here's but seven and eightpence halfpenny!' exclaimed Miss
Wren, after reducing the heap to order. 'Oh, you prodigal old son!
Now you shall be starved.'

'No, don't starve me,' he urged, whimpering.

'If you were treated as you ought to be,' said Miss Wren, 'you'd be
fed upon the skewers of cats' meat;--only the skewers, after the
cats had had the meat. As it is, go to bed.'

When he stumbled out of the corner to comply, he again put out
both his hands, and pleaded: 'Circumstances over which no

'Get along with you to bed!' cried Miss Wren, snapping him up.
'Don't speak to me. I'm not going to forgive you. Go to bed this

Seeing another emphatic 'What' upon its way, he evaded it by
complying and was heard to shuffle heavily up stairs, and shut his
door, and throw himself on his bed. Within a little while
afterwards, Lizzie came down.

'Shall we have our supper, Jenny dear?'

'Ah! bless us and save us, we need have something to keep us
going,' returned Miss Jenny, shrugging her shoulders.

Lizzie laid a cloth upon the little bench (more handy for the
person of the house than an ordinary table), and put upon it such
plain fare as they were accustomed to have, and drew up a stool
for herself.

'Now for supper! What are you thinking of, Jenny darling?'

'I was thinking,' she returned, coming out of a deep study, 'what I
would do to Him, if he should turn out a drunkard.'

'Oh, but he won't,' said Lizzie. 'You'll take care of that,

'I shall try to take care of it beforehand, but he might deceive me.
Oh, my dear, all those fellows with their tricks and their manners
do deceive!' With the little fist in full action. 'And if so, I tell you
what I think I'd do. When he was asleep, I'd make a spoon red
hot, and I'd have some boiling liquor bubbling in a saucepan, and
I'd take it out hissing, and I'd open his mouth with the other hand--
or perhaps he'd sleep with his mouth ready open--and I'd pour it
down his throat, and blister it and choke him.'

'I am sure you would do no such horrible thing,' said Lizzie.

'Shouldn't I? Well; perhaps I shouldn't. But I should like to!'

'I am equally sure you would not.'

'Not even like to? Well, you generally know best. Only you
haven't always lived among it as I have lived--and your back isn't
bad and your legs are not queer.'

As they went on with their supper, Lizzie tried to bring her round
to that prettier and better state. But, the charm was broken. The
person of the house was the person of a house full of sordid
shames and cares, with an upper room in which that abased figure
was infecting even innocent sleep with sensual brutality and
degradation. The doll's dressmaker had become a little quaint
shrew; of the world, worldly; of the earth, earthy.

Poor doll's dressmaker! How often so dragged down by hands
that should have raised her up; how often so misdirected when
losing her way on the eternal road, and asking guidance! Poor,
poor little doll's dressmaker!

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