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Charles Dickens > Our Mutual Friend > Book 3 - 2

Our Mutual Friend

Book 3 - 2


In the evening of this same foggy day when the yellow window-
blind of Pubsey and Co. was drawn down upon the day's work,
Riah the Jew once more came forth into Saint Mary Axe. But this
time he carried no bag, and was not bound on his master's affairs.
He passed over London Bridge, and returned to the Middlesex
shore by that of Westminster, and so, ever wading through the fog,
waded to the doorstep of the dolls' dressmaker.

Miss Wren expected him. He could see her through the window
by the light of her low fire--carefully banked up with damp cinders
that it might last the longer and waste the less when she was out--
sitting waiting for him in her bonnet. His tap at the glass roused
her from the musing solitude in which she sat, and she came to the
door to open it; aiding her steps with a little crutch-stick.

'Good evening, godmother!' said Miss Jenny Wren.

The old man laughed, and gave her his arm to lean on.

'Won't you come in and warm yourself, godmother?' asked Miss
Jenny Wren.

'Not if you are ready, Cinderella, my dear.'

'Well!' exclaimed Miss Wren, delighted. 'Now you ARE a clever
old boy! If we gave prizes at this establishment (but we only keep
blanks), you should have the first silver medal, for taking me up so
quick.' As she spake thus, Miss Wren removed the key of the
house-door from the keyhole and put it in her pocket, and then
bustlingly closed the door, and tried it as they both stood on the
step. Satisfied that her dwelling was safe, she drew one hand
through the old man's arm and prepared to ply her crutch-stick
with the other. But the key was an instrument of such gigantic
proportions, that before they started Riah proposed to carry it.

'No, no, no! I'll carry it myself,' returned Miss Wren. 'I'm awfully
lopsided, you know, and stowed down in my pocket it'll trim the
ship. To let you into a secret, godmother, I wear my pocket on my
high side, o' purpose.'

With that they began their plodding through the fog.

'Yes, it was truly sharp of you, godmother,' resumed Miss Wren
with great approbation, 'to understand me. But, you see, you ARE
so like the fairy godmother in the bright little books! You look so
unlike the rest of people, and so much as if you had changed
yourself into that shape, just this moment, with some benevolent
object. Boh!' cried Miss Jenny, putting her face close to the old
man's. 'I can see your features, godmother, behind the beard.'

'Does the fancy go to my changing other objects too, Jenny?'

'Ah! That it does! If you'd only borrow my stick and tap this piece
of pavement--this dirty stone that my foot taps--it would start up a
coach and six. I say! Let's believe so!'

'With all my heart,' replied the good old man.

'And I'll tell you what I must ask you to do, godmother. I must ask
you to be so kind as give my child a tap, and change him
altogether. O my child has been such a bad, bad child of late! It
worries me nearly out of my wits. Not done a stroke of work these
ten days. Has had the horrors, too, and fancied that four copper-
coloured men in red wanted to throw him into a fiery furnace.'

'But that's dangerous, Jenny.'

'Dangerous, godmother? My child is always dangerous, more or
less. He might'--here the little creature glanced back over her
shoulder at the sky--'be setting the house on fire at this present
moment. I don't know who would have a child, for my part! It's
no use shaking him. I have shaken him till I have made myself
giddy. "Why don't you mind your Commandments and honour
your parent, you naughty old boy?" I said to him all the time. But
he only whimpered and stared at me.'

'What shall be changed, after him?' asked Riah in a compassionately
playful voice.

'Upon my word, godmother, I am afraid I must be selfish next, and
get you to set me right in the back and the legs. It's a little thing to
you with your power, godmother, but it's a great deal to poor weak
aching me.'

There was no querulous complaining in the words, but they were
not the less touching for that.

'And then?'

'Yes, and then--YOU know, godmother. We'll both jump up into
the coach and six and go to Lizzie. This reminds me, godmother,
to ask you a serious question. You are as wise as wise can be
(having been brought up by the fairies), and you can tell me this: Is
it better to have had a good thing and lost it, or never to have had

'Explain, god-daughter.'

'I feel so much more solitary and helpless without Lizzie now, than
I used to feel before I knew her.' (Tears were in her eyes as she
said so.)

'Some beloved companionship fades out of most lives, my dear,'
said the Jew,--'that of a wife, and a fair daughter, and a son of
promise, has faded out of my own life--but the happiness was.'

'Ah!' said Miss Wren thoughtfully, by no means convinced, and
chopping the exclamation with that sharp little hatchet of hers;
'then I tell you what change I think you had better begin with,
godmother. You had better change Is into Was and Was into Is,
and keep them so.'

'Would that suit your case? Would you not be always in pain
then?' asked the old man tenderly.

'Right!' exclaimed Miss Wren with another chop. 'You have
changed me wiser, godmother.--Not,' she added with the quaint
hitch of her chin and eyes, 'that you need be a very wonderful
godmother to do that deed.'

Thus conversing, and having crossed Westminster Bridge, they
traversed the ground that Riah had lately traversed, and new
ground likewise; for, when they had recrossed the Thames by way
of London Bridge, they struck down by the river and held their still
foggier course that way.

But previously, as they were going along, Jenny twisted her
venerable friend aside to a brilliantly-lighted toy-shop window, and
said: 'Now look at 'em! All my work!'

This referred to a dazzling semicircle of dolls in all the colours of
the rainbow, who were dressed for presentation at court, for going
to balls, for going out driving, for going out on horseback, for
going out walking, for going to get married, for going to help other
dolls to get married, for all the gay events of life.'

'Pretty, pretty, pretty!' said the old man with a clap of his hands.
'Most elegant taste!'

'Glad you like 'em,' returned Miss Wren, loftily. 'But the fun is,
godmother, how I make the great ladies try my dresses on. Though
it's the hardest part of my business, and would be, even if my back
were not bad and my legs queer.'

He looked at her as not understanding what she said.

'Bless you, godmother,' said Miss Wren, 'I have to scud about town
at all hours. If it was only sitting at my bench, cutting out and
sewing, it would be comparatively easy work; but it's the trying-on
by the great ladies that takes it out of me.'

'How, the trying-on?' asked Riah.

'What a mooney godmother you are, after all!' returned Miss Wren.
'Look here. There's a Drawing Room, or a grand day in the Park,
or a Show, or a Fete, or what you like. Very well. I squeeze
among the crowd, and I look about me. When I see a great lady
very suitable for my business, I say "You'll do, my dear!' and I take
particular notice of her, and run home and cut her out and baste
her. Then another day, I come scudding back again to try on, and
then I take particular notice of her again. Sometimes she plainly
seems to say, 'How that little creature is staring!' and sometimes
likes it and sometimes don't, but much more often yes than no. All
the time I am only saying to myself, "I must hollow out a bit here; I
must slope away there;" and I am making a perfect slave of her,
with making her try on my doll's dress. Evening parties are severer
work for me, because there's only a doorway for a full view, and
what with hobbling among the wheels of the carriages and the legs
of the horses, I fully expect to be run over some night. However,
there I have 'em, just the same. When they go bobbing into the
hall from the carriage, and catch a glimpse of my little
physiognomy poked out from behind a policeman's cape in the
rain, I dare say they think I am wondering and admiring with all
my eyes and heart, but they little think they're only working for my
dolls! There was Lady Belinda Whitrose. I made her do double
duty in one night. I said when she came out of the carriage,
"YOU'll do, my dear!" and I ran straight home and cut her out and
basted her. Back I came again, and waited behind the men that
called the carriages. Very bad night too. At last, "Lady Belinda
Whitrose's carriage! Lady Belinda Whitrose coming down!" And
I made her try on--oh! and take pains about it too--before she got
seated. That's Lady Belinda hanging up by the waist, much too
near the gaslight for a wax one, with her toes turned in.'

When they had plodded on for some time nigh the river, Riah
asked the way to a certain tavern called the Six Jolly Fellowship
Porters. Following the directions he received, they arrived, after
two or three puzzled stoppages for consideration, and some
uncertain looking about them, at the door of Miss Abbey
Potterson's dominions. A peep through the glass portion of the
door revealed to them the glories of the bar, and Miss Abbey
herself seated in state on her snug throne, reading the newspaper.
To whom, with deference, they presented themselves.

Taking her eyes off her newspaper, and pausing with a suspended
expression of countenance, as if she must finish the paragraph in
hand before undertaking any other business whatever, Miss Abbey
demanded, with some slight asperity: 'Now then, what's for you?'

'Could we see Miss Potterson?' asked the old man, uncovering his

'You not only could, but you can and you do,' replied the hostess.

'Might we speak with you, madam?'

By this time Miss Abbey's eyes had possessed themselves of the
small figure of Miss Jenny Wren. For the closer observation of
which, Miss Abbey laid aside her newspaper, rose, and looked
over the half-door of the bar. The crutch-stick seemed to entreat
for its owner leave to come in and rest by the fire; so, Miss Abbey
opened the half-door, and said, as though replying to the crutch-

'Yes, come in and rest by the fire.'

'My name is Riah,' said the old man, with courteous action, 'and
my avocation is in London city. This, my young companion--'

'Stop a bit,' interposed Miss Wren. 'I'll give the lady my card.' She
produced it from her pocket with an air, after struggling with the
gigantic door-key which had got upon the top of it and kept it
down. Miss Abbey, with manifest tokens of astonishment, took
the diminutive document, and found it to run concisely thus:--

                MISS JENNY WREN

             DOLLS' DRESSMAKER.

     Dolls attended at their own residences.

'Lud!' exclaimed Miss Potterson, staring. And dropped the card.

'We take the liberty of coming, my young companion and I,
madam,' said Riah, 'on behalf of Lizzie Hexam.'

Miss Potterson was stooping to loosen the bonnet-strings of the
dolls' dressmaker. She looked round rather angrily, and said:
'Lizzie Hexam is a very proud young woman.'

'She would be so proud,' returned Riah, dexterously, 'to stand well
in your good opinion, that before she quitted London for--'

'For where, in the name of the Cape of Good Hope?' asked Miss
Potterson, as though supposing her to have emigrated.

'For the country,' was the cautious answer,--'she made us promise
to come and show you a paper, which she left in our hands for that
special purpose. I am an unserviceable friend of hers, who began
to know her after her departure from this neighbourhood. She has
been for some time living with my young companion, and has been
a helpful and a comfortable friend to her. Much needed, madam,'
he added, in a lower voice. 'Believe me; if you knew all, much

'I can believe that,' said Miss Abbey, with a softening glance at the
little creature.

'And if it's proud to have a heart that never hardens, and a temper
that never tires, and a touch that never hurts,' Miss Jenny struck in,
flushed, 'she is proud. And if it's not, she is NOT.'

Her set purpose of contradicting Miss Abbey point blank, was so
far from offending that dread authority, as to elicit a gracious
smile. 'You do right, child,' said Miss Abbey, 'to speak well of
those who deserve well of you.'

'Right or wrong,' muttered Miss Wren, inaudibly, with a visible
hitch of her chin, 'I mean to do it, and you may make up your mind
to THAT, old lady.'

'Here is the paper, madam,' said the Jew, delivering into Miss
Potterson's hands the original document drawn up by Rokesmith,
and signed by Riderhood. 'Will you please to read it?'

'But first of all,' said Miss Abbey, '-- did you ever taste shrub,

Miss Wren shook her head.

'Should you like to?'

'Should if it's good,' returned Miss Wren.

'You shall try. And, if you find it good, I'll mix some for you with
hot water. Put your poor little feet on the fender. It's a cold, cold
night, and the fog clings so.' As Miss Abbey helped her to turn her
chair, her loosened bonnet dropped on the floor. 'Why, what lovely
hair!' cried Miss Abbey. 'And enough to make wigs for all the
dolls in the world. What a quantity!'

'Call THAT a quantity?' returned Miss Wren. 'Poof! What do you
say to the rest of it?' As she spoke, she untied a band, and the
golden stream fell over herself and over the chair, and flowed down
to the ground. Miss Abbey's admiration seemed to increase her
perplexity. She beckoned the Jew towards her, as she reached
down the shrub-bottle from its niche, and whispered:

'Child, or woman?'

'Child in years,' was the answer; 'woman in self-reliance and trial.'

'You are talking about Me, good people,' thought Miss Jenny,
sitting in her golden bower, warming her feet. 'I can't hear what
you say, but I know your tricks and your manners!'

The shrub, when tasted from a spoon, perfectly harmonizing with
Miss Jenny's palate, a judicious amount was mixed by Miss
Potterson's skilful hands, whereof Riah too partook. After this
preliminary, Miss Abbey read the document; and, as often as she
raised her eyebrows in so doing, the watchful Miss Jenny
accompanied the action with an expressive and emphatic sip of the
shrub and water.

'As far as this goes,' said Miss Abbey Potterson, when she had
read it several times, and thought about it, 'it proves (what didn't
much need proving) that Rogue Riderhood is a villain. I have my
doubts whether he is not the villain who solely did the deed; but I
have no expectation of those doubts ever being cleared up now. I
believe I did Lizzie's father wrong, but never Lizzie's self; because
when things were at the worst I trusted her, had perfect confidence
in her, and tried to persuade her to come to me for a refuge. I am
very sorry to have done a man wrong, particularly when it can't be
undone. Be kind enough to let Lizzie know what I say; not
forgetting that if she will come to the Porters, after all, bygones
being bygones, she will find a home at the Porters, and a friend at
the Porters. She knows Miss Abbey of old, remind her, and she
knows what-like the home, and what-like the friend, is likely to
turn out. I am generally short and sweet--or short and sour,
according as it may be and as opinions vary--' remarked Miss
Abbey, 'and that's about all I have got to say, and enough too.'

But before the shrub and water was sipped out, Miss Abbey
bethought herself that she would like to keep a copy of the paper
by her. 'It's not long, sir,' said she to Riah, 'and perhaps you
wouldn't mind just jotting it down.' The old man willingly put on
his spectacles, and, standing at the little desk in the corner where
Miss Abbey filed her receipts and kept her sample phials
(customers' scores were interdicted by the strict administration of
the Porters), wrote out the copy in a fair round character. As he
stood there, doing his methodical penmanship, his ancient
scribelike figure intent upon the work, and the little dolls'
dressmaker sitting in her golden bower before the fire, Miss Abbey
had her doubts whether she had not dreamed those two rare figures
into the bar of the Six Jolly Fellowships, and might not wake with
a nod next moment and find them gone.

Miss Abbey had twice made the experiment of shutting her eyes
and opening them again, still finding the figures there, when,
dreamlike, a confused hubbub arose in the public room. As she
started up, and they all three looked at one another, it became a
noise of clamouring voices and of the stir of feet; then all the
windows were heard to be hastily thrown up, and shouts and cries
came floating into the house from the river. A moment more, and
Bob Gliddery came clattering along the passage, with the noise of
all the nails in his boots condensed into every separate nail.

'What is it?' asked Miss Abbey.

'It's summut run down in the fog, ma'am,' answered Bob. 'There's
ever so many people in the river.'

'Tell 'em to put on all the kettles!' cried Miss Abbey. 'See that the
boiler's full. Get a bath out. Hang some blankets to the fire. Heat
some stone bottles. Have your senses about you, you girls down
stairs, and use 'em.'

While Miss Abbey partly delivered these directions to Bob--whom
she seized by the hair, and whose head she knocked against the
wall, as a general injunction to vigilance and presence of mind--
and partly hailed the kitchen with them--the company in the public
room, jostling one another, rushed out to the causeway, and the
outer noise increased.

'Come and look,' said Miss Abbey to her visitors. They all three
hurried to the vacated public room, and passed by one of the
windows into the wooden verandah overhanging the river.

'Does anybody down there know what has happened?' demanded
Miss Abbey, in her voice of authority.

'It's a steamer, Miss Abbey,' cried one blurred figure in the fog.

'It always IS a steamer, Miss Abbey,' cried another.

'Them's her lights, Miss Abbey, wot you see a-blinking yonder,'
cried another.

'She's a-blowing off her steam, Miss Abbey, and that's what makes
the fog and the noise worse, don't you see?' explained another.

Boats were putting off, torches were lighting up, people were
rushing tumultuously to the water's edge. Some man fell in with a
splash, and was pulled out again with a roar of laughter. The
drags were called for. A cry for the life-buoy passed from mouth to
mouth. It was impossible to make out what was going on upon the
river, for every boat that put off sculled into the fog and was lost to
view at a boat's length. Nothing was clear but that the unpopular
steamer was assailed with reproaches on all sides. She was the
Murderer, bound for Gallows Bay; she was the Manslaughterer,
bound for Penal Settlement; her captain ought to be tried for his
life; her crew ran down men in row-boats with a relish; she
mashed up Thames lightermen with her paddles; she fired property
with her funnels; she always was, and she always would be,
wreaking destruction upon somebody or something, after the
manner of all her kind. The whole bulk of the fog teemed with
such taunts, uttered in tones of universal hoarseness. All the
while, the steamer's lights moved spectrally a very little, as she lay-
to, waiting the upshot of whatever accident had happened. Now,
she began burning blue-lights. These made a luminous patch
about her, as if she had set the fog on fire, and in the patch--the
cries changing their note, and becoming more fitful and more
excited--shadows of men and boats could be seen moving, while
voices shouted: 'There!' 'There again!' 'A couple more strokes a-
head!' 'Hurrah!' 'Look out!' 'Hold on!' 'Haul in!' and the like. Lastly,
with a few tumbling clots of blue fire, the night closed in dark
again, the wheels of the steamer were heard revolving, and her
lights glided smoothly away in the direction of the sea.

It appeared to Miss Abbey and her two companions that a
considerable time had been thus occupied. There was now as
eager a set towards the shore beneath the house as there had been
from it; and it was only on the first boat of the rush coming in that
it was known what had occurred.

'If that's Tom Tootle,' Miss Abbey made proclamation, in her most
commanding tones, 'let him instantly come underneath here.'

The submissive Tom complied, attended by a crowd.

'What is it, Tootle?' demanded Miss Abbey.

'It's a foreign steamer, miss, run down a wherry.'

'How many in the wherry?'

'One man, Miss Abbey.'


'Yes. He's been under water a long time, Miss; but they've
grappled up the body.'

'Let 'em bring it here. You, Bob Gliddery, shut the house-door and
stand by it on the inside, and don't you open till I tell you. Any
police down there?'

'Here, Miss Abbey,' was official rejoinder.

'After they have brought the body in, keep the crowd out, will you?
And help Bob Gliddery to shut 'em out.'

'All right, Miss Abbey.'

The autocratic landlady withdrew into the house with Riah and
Miss Jenny, and disposed those forces, one on either side of her,
within the half-door of the bar, as behind a breastwork.

'You two stand close here,' said Miss Abbey, 'and you'll come to no
hurt, and see it brought in. Bob, you stand by the door.'

That sentinel, smartly giving his rolled shirt-sleeves an extra and a
final tuck on his shoulders, obeyed.

Sound of advancing voices, sound of advancing steps. Shuffle and
talk without. Momentary pause. Two peculiarly blunt knocks or
pokes at the door, as if the dead man arriving on his back were
striking at it with the soles of his motionless feet.

'That's the stretcher, or the shutter, whichever of the two they are
carrying,' said Miss Abbey, with experienced ear. 'Open, you Bob!'

Door opened. Heavy tread of laden men. A halt. A rush.
Stoppage of rush. Door shut. Baffled boots from the vexed souls
of disappointed outsiders.

'Come on, men!' said Miss Abbey; for so potent was she with her
subjects that even then the bearers awaited her permission. 'First

The entry being low, and the staircase being low, they so took up
the burden they had set down, as to carry that low. The recumbent
figure, in passing, lay hardly as high as the half door.

Miss Abbey started back at sight of it. 'Why, good God!' said she,
turning to her two companions, 'that's the very man who made the
declaration we have just had in our hands. That's Riderhood!'

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