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Charles Dickens > Our Mutual Friend > Book 3 - 6

Our Mutual Friend

Book 3 - 6


It had come to pass that Mr Silas Wegg now rarely attended the
minion of fortune and the worm of the hour, at his (the worm's and
minion's) own house, but lay under general instructions to await
him within a certain margin of hours at the Bower. Mr Wegg took
this arrangement in great dudgeon, because the appointed hours
were evening hours, and those he considered precious to the
progress of the friendly move. But it was quite in character, he
bitterly remarked to Mr Venus, that the upstart who had trampled
on those eminent creatures, Miss Elizabeth, Master George, Aunt
Jane, and Uncle Parker, should oppress his literary man.

The Roman Empire having worked out its destruction, Mr Boffin
next appeared in a cab with Rollin's Ancient History, which
valuable work being found to possess lethargic properties, broke
down, at about the period when the whole of the army of
Alexander the Macedonian (at that time about forty thousand
strong) burst into tears simultaneously, on his being taken with a
shivering fit after bathing. The Wars of the Jews, likewise
languishing under Mr Wegg's generalship, Mr Boffin arrived in
another cab with Plutarch: whose Lives he found in the sequel
extremely entertaining, though he hoped Plutarch might not expect
him to believe them all. What to believe, in the course of his
reading, was Mr Boffin's chief literary difficulty indeed; for some
time he was divided in his mind between half, all, or none; at
length, when he decided, as a moderate man, to compound with
half, the question still remained, which half? And that stumbling-
block he never got over.

One evening, when Silas Wegg had grown accustomed to the
arrival of his patron in a cab, accompanied by some profane
historian charged with unutterable names of incomprehensible
peoples, of impossible descent, waging wars any number of years
and syllables long, and carrying illimitable hosts and riches about,
with the greatest ease, beyond the confines of geography--one
evening the usual time passed by, and no patron appeared. After
half an hour's grace, Mr Wegg proceeded to the outer gate, and
there executed a whistle, conveying to Mr Venus, if perchance
within hearing, the tidings of his being at home and disengaged.
Forth from the shelter of a neighbouring wall, Mr Venus then

'Brother in arms,' said Mr Wegg, in excellent spirits, 'welcome!'

In return, Mr Venus gave him a rather dry good evening.

'Walk in, brother,' said Silas, clapping him on the shoulder, 'and
take your seat in my chimley corner; for what says the ballad?

     "No malice to dread, sir,
     And no falsehood to fear,
     But truth to delight me, Mr Venus,
     And I forgot what to cheer.
     Li toddle de om dee.
     And something to guide,
     My ain fireside, sir,
     My ain fireside."'

With this quotation (depending for its neatness rather on the spirit
than the words), Mr Wegg conducted his guest to his hearth.

'And you come, brother,' said Mr Wegg, in a hospitable glow, 'you
come like I don't know what--exactly like it--I shouldn't know you
from it--shedding a halo all around you.'

'What kind of halo?' asked Mr Venus.

''Ope sir,' replied Silas. 'That's YOUR halo.'

Mr Venus appeared doubtful on the point, and looked rather
discontentedly at the fire.

'We'll devote the evening, brother,' exclaimed Wegg, 'to prosecute
our friendly move. And arterwards, crushing a flowing wine-cup--
which I allude to brewing rum and water--we'll pledge one
another. For what says the Poet?

     "And you needn't Mr Venus be your black bottle,
     For surely I'll be mine,
     And we'll take a glass with a slice of lemon in it to which
     you're partial,
     For auld lang syne."'

This flow of quotation and hospitality in Wegg indicated his
observation of some little querulousness on the part of Venus.

'Why, as to the friendly move,' observed the last-named gentleman,
rubbing his knees peevishly, 'one of my objections to it is, that it
DON'T move.'

'Rome, brother,' returned Wegg: 'a city which (it may not be
generally known) originated in twins and a wolf; and ended in
Imperial marble: wasn't built in a day.'

'Did I say it was?' asked Venus.

'No, you did not, brother. Well-inquired.'

'But I do say,' proceeded Venus, 'that I am taken from among my
trophies of anatomy, am called upon to exchange my human
warious for mere coal-ashes warious, and nothing comes of it. I
think I must give up.'

'No, sir!' remonstrated Wegg, enthusiastically. 'No, Sir!

     "Charge, Chester, charge,
     On, Mr Venus, on!"

Never say die, sir! A man of your mark!'

'It's not so much saying it that I object to,' returned Mr Venus, 'as
doing it. And having got to do it whether or no, I can't afford to
waste my time on groping for nothing in cinders.'

'But think how little time you have given to the move, sir, after all,'
urged Wegg. 'Add the evenings so occupied together, and what do
they come to? And you, sir, harmonizer with myself in opinions,
views, and feelings, you with the patience to fit together on wires
the whole framework of society--I allude to the human skelinton--
you to give in so soon!'

'I don't like it,' returned Mr Venus moodily, as he put his head
between his knees and stuck up his dusty hair. 'And there's no
encouragement to go on.'

'Not them Mounds without,' said Mr Wegg, extending his right
hand with an air of solemn reasoning, 'encouragement? Not them
Mounds now looking down upon us?'

'They're too big,' grumbled Venus. 'What's a scratch here and a
scrape there, a poke in this place and a dig in the other, to them.
Besides; what have we found?'

'What HAVE we found?' cried Wegg, delighted to be able to
acquiesce. 'Ah! There I grant you, comrade. Nothing. But on the
contrary, comrade, what MAY we find? There you'll grant me.

'I don't like it,' pettishly returned Venus as before. 'I came into it
without enough consideration. And besides again. Isn't your own
Mr Boffin well acquainted with the Mounds? And wasn't he well
acquainted with the deceased and his ways? And has he ever
showed any expectation of finding anything?'

At that moment wheels were heard.

'Now, I should be loth,' said Mr Wegg, with an air of patient
injury, 'to think so ill of him as to suppose him capable of coming
at this time of night. And yet it sounds like him.'

A ring at the yard bell.

'It is him,' said Mr Wegg, 'and he it capable of it. I am sorry,
because I could have wished to keep up a little lingering fragment
of respect for him.'

Here Mr Boffin was heard lustily calling at the yard gate, 'Halloa!
Wegg! Halloa!'

'Keep your seat, Mr Venus,' said Wegg. 'He may not stop.' And
then called out, 'Halloa, sir! Halloa! I'm with you directly, sir!
Half a minute, Mr Boffin. Coming, sir, as fast as my leg will bring
me!' And so with a show of much cheerful alacrity stumped out to
the gate with a light, and there, through the window of a cab,
descried Mr Boffin inside, blocked up with books.

'Here! lend a hand, Wegg,' said Mr Boffin excitedly, 'I can't get out
till the way is cleared for me. This is the Annual Register, Wegg,
in a cab-full of wollumes. Do you know him?'

'Know the Animal Register, sir?' returned the Impostor, who had
caught the name imperfectly. 'For a trifling wager, I think I could
find any Animal in him, blindfold, Mr Boffin.'

'And here's Kirby's Wonderful Museum,' said Mr Boffin, 'and
Caulfield's Characters, and Wilson's. Such Characters, Wegg,
such Characters! I must have one or two of the best of 'em to-
night. It's amazing what places they used to put the guineas in,
wrapped up in rags. Catch hold of that pile of wollumes, Wegg, or
it'll bulge out and burst into the mud. Is there anyone about, to

'There's a friend of mine, sir, that had the intention of spending the
evening with me when I gave you up--much against my will--for
the night.'

'Call him out,' cried Mr Boffin in a bustle; 'get him to bear a hand.
Don't drop that one under your arm. It's Dancer. Him and his
sister made pies of a dead sheep they found when they were out a
walking. Where's your friend? Oh, here's your friend. Would you
be so good as help Wegg and myself with these books? But don't
take Jemmy Taylor of Southwark, nor yet Jemmy Wood of
Gloucester. These are the two Jemmys. I'll carry them myself.'

Not ceasing to talk and bustle, in a state of great excitement, Mr
Boffin directed the removal and arrangement of the books,
appearing to be in some sort beside himself until they were all
deposited on the floor, and the cab was dismissed.

'There!' said Mr Boffin, gloating over them. 'There they are, like
the four-and-twenty fiddlers--all of a row. Get on your spectacles,
Wegg; I know where to find the best of 'em, and we'll have a taste
at once of what we have got before us. What's your friend's name?'

Mr Wegg presented his friend as Mr Venus.

'Eh?' cried Mr Boffin, catching at the name. 'Of Clerkenwell?'

'Of Clerkenwell, sir,' said Mr Venus.

'Why, I've heard of you,' cried Mr Boffin, 'I heard of you in the old
man's time. You knew him. Did you ever buy anything of him?'
With piercing eagerness.

'No, sir,' returned Venus.

'But he showed you things; didn't he?'

Mr Venus, with a glance at his friend, replied in the affirmative.

'What did he show you?' asked Mr Boffin, putting his hands
behind him, and eagerly advancing his head. 'Did he show you
boxes, little cabinets, pocket-books, parcels, anything locked or
sealed, anything tied up?'

Mr Venus shook his head.

'Are you a judge of china?'

Mr Venus again shook his head.

'Because if he had ever showed you a teapot, I should be glad to
know of it,' said Mr Boffin. And then, with his right hand at his
lips, repeated thoughtfully, 'a Teapot, a Teapot', and glanced over
the books on the floor, as if he knew there was something
interesting connected with a teapot, somewhere among them.

Mr Wegg and Mr Venus looked at one another wonderingly: and
Mr Wegg, in fitting on his spectacles, opened his eyes wide, over
their rims, and tapped the side of his nose: as an admonition to
Venus to keep himself generally wide awake.

'A Teapot,' repeated Mr Boffin, continuing to muse and survey the
books; 'a Teapot, a Teapot. Are you ready, Wegg?'

'I am at your service, sir,' replied that gentleman, taking his usual
seat on the usual settle, and poking his wooden leg under the table
before it. 'Mr Venus, would you make yourself useful, and take a
seat beside me, sir, for the conveniency of snuffing the candles?'

Venus complying with the invitation while it was yet being given,
Silas pegged at him with his wooden leg, to call his particular
attention to Mr Boffin standing musing before the fire, in the space
between the two settles.

'Hem! Ahem!' coughed Mr Wegg to attract his employer's
attention. 'Would you wish to commence with an Animal, sir--
from the Register?'

'No,' said Mr Boffin, 'no, Wegg.' With that, producing a little book
from his breast-pocket, he handed it with great care to the literary
gentlemen, and inquired, 'What do you call that, Wegg?'

'This, sir,' replied Silas, adjusting his spectacles, and referring to
the title-page, 'is Merryweather's Lives and Anecdotes of Misers.
Mr Venus, would you make yourself useful and draw the candles a
little nearer, sir?' This to have a special opportunity of bestowing a
stare upon his comrade.

'Which of 'em have you got in that lot?' asked Mr Boffin. 'Can you
find out pretty easy?'

'Well, sir,' replied Silas, turning to the table of contents and slowly
fluttering the leaves of the book, 'I should say they must be pretty
well all here, sir; here's a large assortment, sir; my eye catches
John Overs, sir, John Little, sir, Dick Jarrel, John Elwes, the
Reverend Mr Jones of Blewbury, Vulture Hopkins, Daniel Dancer-

'Give us Dancer, Wegg,' said Mr Boffin.

With another stare at his comrade, Silas sought and found the

'Page a hundred and nine, Mr Boffin. Chapter eight. Contents of
chapter, "His birth and estate. His garments and outward
appearance. Miss Dancer and her feminine graces. The Miser's
Mansion. The finding of a treasure. The Story of the Mutton Pies.
A Miser's Idea of Death. Bob, the Miser's cur. Griffiths and his
Master. How to turn a penny. A substitute for a Fire. The
Advantages of keeping a Snuff-box. The Miser dies without a
Shirt. The Treasures of a Dunghill--"'

'Eh? What's that?' demanded Mr Boffin.

'"The Treasures," sir,' repeated Silas, reading very distinctly, '"of a
Dunghill." Mr Venus, sir, would you obleege with the snuffers?'
This, to secure attention to his adding with his lips only, 'Mounds!'

Mr Boffin drew an arm-chair into the space where he stood, and
said, seating himself and slyly rubbing his hands:

'Give us Dancer.'

Mr Wegg pursued the biography of that eminent man through its
various phases of avarice and dirt, through Miss Dancer's death on
a sick regimen of cold dumpling, and through Mr Dancer's keeping
his rags together with a hayband, and warming his dinner by
sitting upon it, down to the consolatory incident of his dying naked
in a sack. After which he read on as follows:

'"The house, or rather the heap of ruins, in which Mr Dancer lived,
and which at his death devolved to the right of Captain Holmes,
was a most miserable, decayed building, for it had not been
repaired for more than half a century."'

(Here Mr Wegg eyes his comrade and the room in which they sat:
which had not been repaired for a long time.)

'"But though poor in external structure, the ruinous fabric was very
rich in the interior. It took many weeks to explore its whole
contents; and Captain Holmes found it a very agreeable task to
dive into the miser's secret hoards."'

(Here Mr Wegg repeated 'secret hoards', and pegged his comrade

'"One of Mr Dancer's richest escretoires was found to be a
dungheap in the cowhouse; a sum but little short of two thousand
five hundred pounds was contained in this rich piece of manure;
and in an old jacket, carefully tied, and strongly nailed down to the
manger, in bank notes and gold were found five hundred pounds

(Here Mr Wegg's wooden leg started forward under the table, and
slowly elevated itself as he read on.)

'"Several bowls were discovered filled with guineas and half-
guineas; and at different times on searching the corners of the
house they found various parcels of bank notes. Some were
crammed into the crevices of the wall"';

(Here Mr Venus looked at the wall.)

'"Bundles were hid under the cushions and covers of the chairs"';

(Here Mr Venus looked under himself on the settle.)

'"Some were reposing snugly at the back of the drawers; and notes
amounting to six hundred pounds were found neatly doubled up in
the inside of an old teapot. In the stable the Captain found jugs
full of old dollars and shillings. The chimney was not left
unsearched, and paid very well for the trouble; for in nineteen
different holes, all filled with soot, were found various sums of
money, amounting together to more than two hundred pounds."'

On the way to this crisis Mr Wegg's wooden leg had gradually
elevated itself more and more, and he had nudged Mr Venus with
his opposite elbow deeper and deeper, until at length the
preservation of his balance became incompatible with the two
actions, and he now dropped over sideways upon that gentleman,
squeezing him against the settle's edge. Nor did either of the two,
for some few seconds, make any effort to recover himself; both
remaining in a kind of pecuniary swoon.

But the sight of Mr Boffin sitting in the arm-chair hugging himself,
with his eyes upon the fire, acted as a restorative. Counterfeiting a
sneeze to cover their movements, Mr Wegg, with a spasmodic
'Tish-ho!' pulled himself and Mr Venus up in a masterly manner.

'Let's have some more,' said Mr Boffin, hungrily.

'John Elwes is the next, sir. Is it your pleasure to take John

'Ah!' said Mr Boffin. 'Let's hear what John did.'

He did not appear to have hidden anything, so went off rather
flatly. But an exemplary lady named Wilcocks, who had stowed
away gold and silver in a pickle-pot in a clock-case, a canister-full
of treasure in a hole under her stairs, and a quantity of money in an
old rat-trap, revived the interest. To her succeeded another lady,
claiming to be a pauper, whose wealth was found wrapped up in
little scraps of paper and old rag. To her, another lady, apple-
woman by trade, who had saved a fortune of ten thousand pounds
and hidden it 'here and there, in cracks and corners, behind bricks
and under the flooring.' To her, a French gentleman, who had
crammed up his chimney, rather to the detriment of its drawing
powers, 'a leather valise, containing twenty thousand francs, gold
coins, and a large quantity of precious stones,' as discovered by a
chimneysweep after his death. By these steps Mr Wegg arrived at
a concluding instance of the human Magpie:

'"Many years ago, there lived at Cambridge a miserly old couple of
the name of Jardine: they had two sons: the father was a perfect
miser, and at his death one thousand guineas were discovered
secreted in his bed. The two sons grew up as parsimonious as
their sire. When about twenty years of age, they commenced
business at Cambridge as drapers, and they continued there until
their death. The establishment of the Messrs Jardine was the most
dirty of all the shops in Cambridge. Customers seldom went in to
purchase, except perhaps out of curiosity. The brothers were most
disreputable-looking beings; for, although surrounded with gay
apparel as their staple in trade, they wore the most filthy rags
themselves. It is said that they had no bed, and, to save the
expense of one, always slept on a bundle of packing-cloths under
the counter. In their housekeeping they were penurious in the
extreme. A joint of meat did not grace their board for twenty years.
Yet when the first of the brothers died, the other, much to his
surprise, found large sums of money which had been secreted even
from him.'

'There!' cried Mr Boffin. 'Even from him, you see! There was only
two of 'em, and yet one of 'em hid from the other.'

Mr Venus, who since his introduction to the French gentleman,
had been stooping to peer up the chimney, had his attention
recalled by the last sentence, and took the liberty of repeating it.

'Do you like it?' asked Mr Boffin, turning suddenly.

'I beg your pardon, sir?'

'Do you like what Wegg's been a-reading?'

Mr Venus answered that he found it extremely interesting.

'Then come again,' said Mr Boffin, 'and hear some more. Come
when you like; come the day after to-morrow, half an hour sooner.
There's plenty more; there's no end to it.'

Mr Venus expressed his acknowledgments and accepted the

'It's wonderful what's been hid, at one time and another,' said Mr
Boffin, ruminating; 'truly wonderful.'

'Meaning sir,' observed Wegg, with a propitiatory face to draw him
out, and with another peg at his friend and brother, 'in the way of

'Money,' said Mr Boffin. 'Ah! And papers.'

Mr Wegg, in a languid transport, again dropped over on Mr
Venus, and again recovering himself, masked his emotions with a

'Tish-ho! Did you say papers too, sir? Been hidden, sir?'

'Hidden and forgot,' said Mr Boffin. 'Why the bookseller that sold
me the Wonderful Museum--where's the Wonderful Museum?' He
was on his knees on the floor in a moment, groping eagerly among
the books.

'Can I assist you, sir?' asked Wegg.

'No, I have got it; here it is,' said Mr Boflin, dusting it with the
sleeve of his coat. 'Wollume four. I know it was the fourth
wollume, that the bookseller read it to me out of. Look for it,

Silas took the book and turned the leaves.

'Remarkable petrefaction, sir?'

'No, that's not it,' said Mr Boffin. 'It can't have been a petrefaction.'

'Memoirs of General John Reid, commonly called The Walking
Rushlight, sir? With portrait?'

'No, nor yet him,' said Mr Boffin.

'Remarkable case of a person who swallowed a crown-piece, sir?'

'To hide it?' asked Mr Boffin.

'Why, no, sir,' replied Wegg, consulting the text, 'it appears to have
been done by accident. Oh! This next must be it. "Singular
discovery of a will, lost twenty-one years."'

'That's it!' cried Mr Boffin. 'Read that.'

'"A most extraordinary case,"' read Silas Wegg aloud, '"was tried at
the last Maryborough assizes in Ireland. It was briefly this.
Robert Baldwin, in March 1782, made his will, in which he
devised the lands now in question, to the children of his youngest
son; soon after which his faculties failed him, and he became
altogether childish and died, above eighty years old. The
defendant, the eldest son, immediately afterwards gave out that his
father had destroyed the will; and no will being found, he entered
into possession of the lands in question, and so matters remained
for twenty-one years, the whole family during all that time
believing that the father had died without a will. But after twenty-
one years the defendant's wife died, and he very soon afterwards, at
the age of seventy-eight, married a very young woman: which
caused some anxiety to his two sons, whose poignant expressions
of this feeling so exasperated their father, that he in his resentment
executed a will to disinherit his eldest son, and in his fit of anger
showed it to his second son, who instantly determined to get at it,
and destroy it, in order to preserve the property to his brother.
With this view, he broke open his father's desk, where he found--
not his father's will which he sought after, but the will of his
grandfather, which was then altogether forgotten in the family."'

'There!' said Mr Boffin. 'See what men put away and forget, or
mean to destroy, and don't!' He then added in a slow tone, 'As--
ton--ish--ing!' And as he rolled his eyes all round the room, Wegg
and Venus likewise rolled their eyes all round the room. And then
Wegg, singly, fixed his eyes on Mr Boffin looking at the fire again;
as if he had a mind to spring upon him and demand his thoughts or
his life.

'However, time's up for to-night,' said Mr Boffin, waving his hand
after a silence. 'More, the day after to-morrow. Range the books
upon the shelves, Wegg. I dare say Mr Venus will be so kind as
help you.'

While speaking, he thrust his hand into the breast of his outer coat,
and struggled with some object there that was too large to be got
out easily. What was the stupefaction of the friendly movers when
this object at last emerging, proved to be a much-dilapidated dark

Without at all noticing the effect produced by this little instrument,
Mr Boffin stood it on his knee, and, producing a box of matches,
deliberately lighted the candle in the lantern, blew out the kindled
match, and cast the end into the fire. 'I'm going, Wegg,' he then
announced, 'to take a turn about the place and round the yard. I
don't want you. Me and this same lantern have taken hundreds--
thousands--of such turns in our time together.'

'But I couldn't think, sir--not on any account, I couldn't,'--Wegg
was politely beginning, when Mr Boffin, who had risen and was
going towards the door, stopped:

'I have told you that I don't want you, Wegg.'

Wegg looked intelligently thoughtful, as if that had not occurred to
his mind until he now brought it to bear on the circumstance. He
had nothing for it but to let Mr Boffin go out and shut the door
behind him. But, the instant he was on the other side of it, Wegg
clutched Venus with both hands, and said in a choking whisper, as
if he were being strangled:

'Mr Venus, he must be followed, he must be watched, he mustn't
be lost sight of for a moment.'

'Why mustn't he?' asked Venus, also strangling.

'Comrade, you might have noticed I was a little elewated in spirits
when you come in to-night. I've found something.'

'What have you found?' asked Venus, clutching him with both
hands, so that they stood interlocked like a couple of preposterous

'There's no time to tell you now. I think he must have gone to look
for it. We must have an eye upon him instantly.'

Releasing each other, they crept to the door, opened it softly, and
peeped out. It was a cloudy night, and the black shadow of the
Mounds made the dark yard darker. 'If not a double swindler,'
whispered Wegg, 'why a dark lantern? We could have seen what
he was about, if he had carried a light one. Softly, this way.'

Cautiously along the path that was bordered by fragments of
crockery set in ashes, the two stole after him. They could hear him
at his peculiar trot, crushing the loose cinders as he went. 'He
knows the place by heart,' muttered Silas, 'and don't need to turn
his lantern on, confound him!' But he did turn it on, almost in that
same instant, and flashed its light upon the first of the Mounds.

'Is that the spot?' asked Venus in a whisper.

'He's warm,' said Silas in the same tone. 'He's precious warm.
He's close. I think he must be going to look for it. What's that he's
got in his hand?'

'A shovel,' answered Venus. 'And he knows how to use it,
remember, fifty times as well as either of us.'

'If he looks for it and misses it, partner,' suggested Wegg, 'what
shall we do?'

'First of all, wait till he does,' said Venus.

Discreet advice too, for he darkened his lantern again, and the
mound turned black. After a few seconds, he turned the light on
once more, and was seen standing at the foot of the second mound,
slowly raising the lantern little by little until he held it up at arm's
length, as if he were examining the condition of the whole surface.

'That can't be the spot too?' said Venus.

'No,' said Wegg, 'he's getting cold.'

'It strikes me,' whispered Venus, 'that he wants to find out whether
any one has been groping about there.'

'Hush!' returned Wegg, 'he's getting colder and colder.--Now he's

This exclamation was elicited by his having turned the lantern off
again, and on again, and being visible at the foot of the third

'Why, he's going up it!' said Venus.

'Shovel and all!' said Wegg.

At a nimbler trot, as if the shovel over his shoulder stimulated him
by reviving old associations, Mr Boffin ascended the 'serpentining
walk', up the Mound which he had described to Silas Wegg on the
occasion of their beginning to decline and fall. On striking into it
he turned his lantern off. The two followed him, stooping low, so
that their figures might make no mark in relief against the sky
when he should turn his lantern on again. Mr Venus took the lead,
towing Mr Wegg, in order that his refractory leg might be
promptly extricated from any pitfalls it should dig for itself. They
could just make out that the Golden Dustman stopped to breathe.
Of course they stopped too, instantly.

'This is his own Mound,' whispered Wegg, as he recovered his
wind, 'this one.

'Why all three are his own,' returned Venus.

'So he thinks; but he's used to call this his own, because it's the one
first left to him; the one that was his legacy when it was all he took
under the will.'

'When he shows his light,' said Venus, keeping watch upon his
dusky figure all the time, 'drop lower and keep closer.'

He went on again, and they followed again. Gaining the top of the
Mound, he turned on his light--but only partially--and stood it on
the ground. A bare lopsided weatherbeaten pole was planted in the
ashes there, and had been there many a year. Hard by this pole, his
lantern stood: lighting a few feet of the lower part of it and a little
of the ashy surface around, and then casting off a purposeless little
clear trail of light into the air.

'He can never be going to dig up the pole!' whispered Venus as
they dropped low and kept close.

'Perhaps it's holler and full of something,' whispered Wegg.

He was going to dig, with whatsoever object, for he tucked up his
cuffs and spat on his hands, and then went at it like an old digger
as he was. He had no design upon the pole, except that he
measured a shovel's length from it before beginning, nor was it his
purpose to dig deep. Some dozen or so of expert strokes sufficed.
Then, he stopped, looked down into the cavity, bent over it, and
took out what appeared to be an ordinary case-bottle: one of those
squat, high-shouldered, short-necked glass bottles which the
Dutchman is said to keep his Courage in. As soon as he had done
this, he turned off his lantern, and they could hear that he was
filling up the hole in the dark. The ashes being easily moved by a
skilful hand, the spies took this as a hint to make off in good time.
Accordingly, Mr Venus slipped past Mr Wegg and towed him
down. But Mr Wegg's descent was not accomplished without
some personal inconvenience, for his self-willed leg sticking into
the ashes about half way down, and time pressing, Mr Venus took
the liberty of hauling him from his tether by the collar: which
occasioned him to make the rest of the journey on his back, with
his head enveloped in the skirts of his coat, and his wooden leg
coming last, like a drag. So flustered was Mr Wegg by this mode
of travelling, that when he was set on the level ground with his
intellectual developments uppermost, he was quite unconscious of
his bearings, and had not the least idea where his place of
residence was to be found, until Mr Venus shoved him into it.
Even then he staggered round and round, weakly staring about
him, until Mr Venus with a hard brush brushed his senses into him
and the dust out of him.

Mr Boffin came down leisurely, for this brushing process had been
well accomplished, and Mr Venus had had time to take his breath,
before he reappeared. That he had the bottle somewhere about him
could not be doubted; where, was not so clear. He wore a large
rough coat, buttoned over, and it might be in any one of half a
dozen pockets.

'What's the matter, Wegg?' said Mr Boffin. 'You are as pale as a

Mr Wegg replied, with literal exactness, that he felt as if he had
had a turn.

'Bile,' said Mr Boffin, blowing out the light in the lantern, shutting
it up, and stowing it away in the breast of his coat as before. 'Are
you subject to bile, Wegg?'

Mr Wegg again replied, with strict adherence to truth, that he
didn't think he had ever had a similar sensation in his head, to
anything like the same extent.

'Physic yourself to-morrow, Wegg,' said Mr Boffin, 'to be in order
for next night. By-the-by, this neighbourhood is going to have a
loss, Wegg.'

'A loss, sir?'

'Going to lose the Mounds.'

The friendly movers made such an obvious effort not to look at one
another, that they might as well have stared at one another with all
their might.

'Have you parted with them, Mr Boffin?' asked Silas.

'Yes; they're going. Mine's as good as gone already.'

'You mean the little one of the three, with the pole atop, sir.'

'Yes,' said Mr Boffin, rubbing his ear in his old way, with that new
touch of craftiness added to it. 'It has fetched a penny. It'll begin
to be carted off to-morrow.'

'Have you been out to take leave of your old friend, sir?' asked
Silas, jocosely.

'No,' said Mr Boffin. 'What the devil put that in your head?'

He was so sudden and rough, that Wegg, who had been hovering
closer and closer to his skirts, despatching the back of his hand on
exploring expeditions in search of the bottle's surface, retired two
or three paces.

'No offence, sir,' said Wegg, humbly. 'No offence.'

Mr Boffin eyed him as a dog might eye another dog who wanted
his bone; and actually retorted with a low growl, as the dog might
have retorted.

'Good-night,' he said, after having sunk into a moody silence, with
his hands clasped behind him, and his eyes suspiciously
wandering about Wegg.--'No! stop there. I know the way out, and
I want no light.'

Avarice, and the evening's legends of avarice, and the
inflammatory effect of what he had seen, and perhaps the rush of
his ill-conditioned blood to his brain in his descent, wrought Silas
Wegg to such a pitch of insatiable appetite, that when the door
closed he made a swoop at it and drew Venus along with him.

'He mustn't go,' he cried. 'We mustn't let him go? He has got that
bottle about him. We must have that bottle.'

'Why, you wouldn't take it by force?' said Venus, restraining him.

'Wouldn't I? Yes I would. I'd take it by any force, I'd have it at
any price! Are you so afraid of one old man as to let him go, you

'I am so afraid of you, as not to let YOU go,' muttered Venus,
sturdily, clasping him in his arms.

'Did you hear him?' retorted Wegg. 'Did you hear him say that he
was resolved to disappoint us? Did you hear him say, you cur, that
he was going to have the Mounds cleared off, when no doubt the
whole place will be rummaged? If you haven't the spirit of a
mouse to defend your rights, I have. Let me go after him.'

As in his wildness he was making a strong struggle for it, Mr
Venus deemed it expedient to lift him, throw him, and fall with
him; well knowing that, once down, he would not he up again
easily with his wooden leg. So they both rolled on the floor, and,
as they did so, Mr Boffin shut the gate.

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