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Charles Dickens > Our Mutual Friend > Book 3 - 7

Our Mutual Friend

Book 3 - 7


The friendly movers sat upright on the floor, panting and eyeing
one another, after Mr Boffin had slammed the gate and gone away.
In the weak eyes of Venus, and in every reddish dust-coloured hair
in his shock of hair, there was a marked distrust of Wegg and an
alertness to fly at him on perceiving the smallest occasion. In the
hard-grained face of Wegg, and in his stiff knotty figure (he looked
like a German wooden toy), there was expressed a politic
conciliation, which had no spontaneity in it. Both were flushed,
flustered, and rumpled, by the late scuffle; and Wegg, in coming to
the ground, had received a humming knock on the back of his
devoted head, which caused him still to rub it with an air of having
been highly--but disagreeably--astonished. Each was silent for
some time, leaving it to the other to begin.

'Brother,' said Wegg, at length breaking the silence, 'you were
right, and I was wrong. I forgot myself.'

Mr Venus knowingly cocked his shock of hair, as rather thinking
Mr Wegg had remembered himself, in respect of appearing
without any disguise.

'But comrade,' pursued Wegg, 'it was never your lot to know Miss
Elizabeth, Master George, Aunt Jane, nor Uncle Parker.'

Mr Venus admitted that he had never known those distinguished
persons, and added, in effect, that he had never so much as desired
the honour of their acquaintance.

'Don't say that, comrade!' retorted Wegg: 'No, don't say that!
Because, without having known them, you never can fully know
what it is to be stimilated to frenzy by the sight of the Usurper.'

Offering these excusatory words as if they reflected great credit on
himself, Mr Wegg impelled himself with his hands towards a chair
in a corner of the room, and there, after a variety of awkward
gambols, attained a perpendicular position. Mr Venus also rose.

'Comrade,' said Wegg, 'take a seat. Comrade, what a speaking
countenance is yours!'

Mr Venus involuntarily smoothed his countenance, and looked at
his hand, as if to see whether any of its speaking properties came

'For clearly do I know, mark you,' pursued Wegg, pointing his
words with his forefinger, 'clearly do I know what question your
expressive features puts to me.'

'What question?' said Venus.

'The question,' returned Wegg, with a sort of joyful affability, 'why
I didn't mention sooner, that I had found something. Says your
speaking countenance to me: "Why didn't you communicate that,
when I first come in this evening? Why did you keep it back till
you thought Mr Boffin had come to look for the article?" Your
speaking countenance,' said Wegg, 'puts it plainer than language.
Now, you can't read in my face what answer I give?'

'No, I can't,' said Venus.

'I knew it! And why not?' returned Wegg, with the same joyful
candour. 'Because I lay no claims to a speaking countenance.
Because I am well aware of my deficiencies. All men are not
gifted alike. But I can answer in words. And in what words?
These. I wanted to give you a delightful sap--pur--IZE!'

Having thus elongated and emphasized the word Surprise, Mr
Wegg shook his friend and brother by both hands, and then
clapped him on both knees, like an affectionate patron who
entreated him not to mention so small a service as that which it
had been his happy privilege to render.

'Your speaking countenance, ' said Wegg, 'being answered to its
satisfaction, only asks then, "What have you found?" Why, I hear
it say the words!'

'Well?' retorted Venus snappishly, after waiting in vain. 'If you
hear it say the words, why don't you answer it?'

'Hear me out!' said Wegg. 'I'm a-going to. Hear me out! Man and
brother, partner in feelings equally with undertakings and actions, I
have found a cash-box.'


'--Hear me out!' said Wegg. (He tried to reserve whatever he could,
and, whenever disclosure was forced upon him, broke into a
radiant gush of Hear me out.) 'On a certain day, sir--'

'When?' said Venus bluntly.

'N--no,' returned Wegg, shaking his head at once observantly,
thoughtfully, and playfully. 'No, sir! That's not your expressive
countenance which asks that question. That's your voice; merely
your voice. To proceed. On a certain day, sir, I happened to be
walking in the yard--taking my lonely round--for in the words of a
friend of my own family, the author of All's Well arranged as a

     "Deserted, as you will remember Mr Venus, by the waning
     When stars, it will occur to you before I mention it, proclaim
     night's cheerless noon,
     On tower, fort, or tented ground,
     The sentry walks his lonely round,
     The sentry walks:"

--under those circumstances, sir, I happened to be walking in the
yard early one afternoon, and happened to have an iron rod in my
hand, with which I have been sometimes accustomed to beguile
the monotony of a literary life, when I struck it against an object
not necessary to trouble you by naming--'

'It is necessary. What object?' demanded Venus, in a wrathful

'--Hear me out!' said Wegg. 'The Pump.--When I struck it against
the Pump, and found, not only that the top was loose and opened
with a lid, but that something in it rattled. That something,
comrade, I discovered to be a small flat oblong cash-box. Shall I
say it was disappintingly light?'

'There were papers in it,' said Venus.

'There your expressive countenance speaks indeed!' cried Wegg.
'A paper. The box was locked, tied up, and sealed, and on the
outside was a parchment label, with the writing, "MY WILL,

'We must know its contents,' said Venus.

'--Hear me out!' cried Wegg. 'I said so, and I broke the box open.

'Without coming to me!' exclaimed Venus.

'Exactly so, sir!' returned Wegg, blandly and buoyantly. 'I see I
take you with me! Hear, hear, hear! Resolved, as your
discriminating good sense perceives, that if you was to have a sap-
-pur--IZE, it should be a complete one! Well, sir. And so, as you
have honoured me by anticipating, I examined the document.
Regularly executed, regularly witnessed, very short. Inasmuch as
he has never made friends, and has ever had a rebellious family,
he, John Harmon, gives to Nicodemus Boffin the Little Mound,
which is quite enough for him, and gives the whole rest and
residue of his property to the Crown.'

'The date of the will that has been proved, must be looked to,'
remarked Venus. 'It may be later than this one.'

'--Hear me out!' cried Wegg. 'I said so. I paid a shilling (never
mind your sixpence of it) to look up that will. Brother, that will is
dated months before this will. And now, as a fellow-man, and as a
partner in a friendly move,' added Wegg, benignantly taking him
by both hands again, and clapping him on both knees again, 'say
have I completed my labour of love to your perfect satisfaction, and
are you sap--pur--IZED?'

Mr Venus contemplated his fellow-man and partner with doubting
eyes, and then rejoined stiffly:

'This is great news indeed, Mr Wegg. There's no denying it. But I
could have wished you had told it me before you got your fright to-
night, and I could have wished you had ever asked me as your
partner what we were to do, before you thought you were dividing
a responsibility.'

'--Hear me out!' cried Wegg. 'I knew you was a-going to say so.
But alone I bore the anxiety, and alone I'll bear the blame!' This
with an air of great magnanimity.

'No,' said Venus. 'Let's see this will and this box.'

'Do I understand, brother,' returned Wegg with considerable
reluctance, 'that it is your wish to see this will and this--?'

Mr Venus smote the table with his hand.

'--Hear me out!' said Wegg. 'Hear me out! I'll go and fetch 'em.'

After being some time absent, as if in his covetousness he could
hardly make up his mind to produce the treasure to his partner, he
returned with an old leathern hat-box, into which he had put the
other box, for the better preservation of commonplace appearances,
and for the disarming of suspicion. 'But I don't half like opening it
here,' said Silas in a low voice, looking around: 'he might come
back, he may not be gone; we don't know what he may be up to,
after what we've seen.'

'There's something in that,' assented Venus. 'Come to my place.'

Jealous of the custody of the box, and yet fearful of opening it
under the existing circumstances, Wegg hesitated. 'Come, I tell
you,' repeated Venus, chafing, 'to my place.' Not very well seeing
his way to a refusal, Mr Wegg then rejoined in a gush, '--Hear me
out!--Certainly.' So he locked up the Bower and they set forth: Mr
Venus taking his arm, and keeping it with remarkable tenacity.

They found the usual dim light burning in the window of Mr
Venus's establishment, imperfectly disclosing to the public the
usual pair of preserved frogs, sword in hand, with their point of
honour still unsettled. Mr Venus had closed his shop door on
coming out, and now opened it with the key and shut it again as
soon as they were within; but not before he had put up and barred
the shutters of the shop window. 'No one can get in without being
let in,' said he then, 'and we couldn't be more snug than here.' So
he raked together the yet warm cinders in the rusty grate, and made
a fire, and trimmed the candle on the little counter. As the fire cast
its flickering gleams here and there upon the dark greasy walls; the
Hindoo baby, the African baby, the articulated English baby, the
assortment of skulls, and the rest of the collection, came starting to
their various stations as if they had all been out, like their master
and were punctual in a general rendezvous to assist at the secret.
The French gentleman had grown considerably since Mr Wegg last
saw him, being now accommodated with a pair of legs and a head,
though his arms were yet in abeyance. To whomsoever the head
had originally belonged, Silas Wegg would have regarded it as a
personal favour if he had not cut quite so many teeth.

Silas took his seat in silence on the wooden box before the fire, and
Venus dropping into his low chair produced from among his
skeleton hands, his tea-tray and tea-cups, and put the kettle on.
Silas inwardly approved of these preparations, trusting they might
end in Mr Venus's diluting his intellect.

'Now, sir,' said Venus, 'all is safe and quiet. Let us see this

With still reluctant hands, and not without several glances towards
the skeleton hands, as if he mistrusted that a couple of them might
spring forth and clutch the document, Wegg opened the hat-box
and revealed the cash-box, opened the cash-box and revealed the
will. He held a corner of it tight, while Venus, taking hold of
another corner, searchingly and attentively read it.

'Was I correct in my account of it, partner?' said Mr Wegg at

'Partner, you were,' said Mr Venus.

Mr Wegg thereupon made an easy, graceful movement, as though
he would fold it up; but Mr Venus held on by his corner.

'No, sir,' said Mr Venus, winking his weak eyes and shaking his
head. 'No, partner. The question is now brought up, who is going
to take care of this. Do you know who is going to take care of this,

'I am,' said Wegg.

'Oh dear no, partner,' retorted Venus. 'That's a mistake. I am.
Now look here, Mr Wegg. I don't want to have any words with
you, and still less do I want to have any anatomical pursuits with

'What do you mean?' said Wegg, quickly.

'I mean, partner,' replied Venus, slowly, 'that it's hardly possible
for a man to feel in a more amiable state towards another man than
I do towards you at this present moment. But I am on my own
ground, I am surrounded by the trophies of my art, and my tools is
very handy.'

'What do you mean, Mr Venus?' asked Wegg again.

'I am surrounded, as I have observed,' said Mr Venus, placidly, 'by
the trophies of my art. They are numerous, my stock of human
warious is large, the shop is pretty well crammed, and I don't just
now want any more trophies of my art. But I like my art, and I
know how to exercise my art.'

'No man better,' assented Mr Wegg, with a somewhat staggered

'There's the Miscellanies of several human specimens,' said Venus,
'(though you mightn't think it) in the box on which you're sitting.
There's the Miscellanies of several human specimens, in the lovely
compo-one behind the door'; with a nod towards the French
gentleman. 'It still wants a pair of arms. I DON'T say that I'm in
any hurry for 'em.'

'You must be wandering in your mind, partner,' Silas remonstrated.

'You'll excuse me if I wander,' returned Venus; 'I am sometimes
rather subject to it. I like my art, and I know how to exercise my
art, and I mean to have the keeping of this document.'

'But what has that got to do with your art, partner?' asked Wegg, in
an insinuating tone.

Mr Venus winked his chronically-fatigued eyes both at once, and
adjusting the kettle on the fire, remarked to himself, in a hollow
voice, 'She'll bile in a couple of minutes.'

Silas Wegg glanced at the kettle, glanced at the shelves, glanced at
the French gentleman behind the door, and shrank a little as he
glanced at Mr Venus winking his red eyes, and feeling in his
waistcoat pocket--as for a lancet, say--with his unoccupied hand.
He and Venus were necessarily seated close together, as each held
a corner of the document, which was but a common sheet of paper.

'Partner,' said Wegg, even more insinuatingly than before, 'I
propose that we cut it in half, and each keep a half.'

Venus shook his shock of hair, as he replied, 'It wouldn't do to
mutilate it, partner. It might seem to be cancelled.'

'Partner,' said Wegg, after a silence, during which they had
contemplated one another, 'don't your speaking countenance say
that you're a-going to suggest a middle course?'

Venus shook his shock of hair as he replied, 'Partner, you have
kept this paper from me once. You shall never keep it from me
again. I offer you the box and the label to take care of, but I'll take
care of the paper.'

Silas hesitated a little longer, and then suddenly releasing his
corner, and resuming his buoyant and benignant tone, exclaimed,
'What's life without trustfulness! What's a fellow-man without
honour! You're welcome to it, partner, in a spirit of trust and

Continuing to wink his red eyes both together--but in a self-
communing way, and without any show of triumph--Mr Venus
folded the paper now left in his hand, and locked it in a drawer
behind him, and pocketed the key. He then proposed 'A cup of tea,
partner?' To which Mr Wegg returned, 'Thank'ee, partner,' and the
tea was made and poured out.

'Next,' said Venus, blowing at his tea in his saucer, and looking
over it at his confidential friend, 'comes the question, What's the
course to be pursued?'

On this head, Silas Wegg had much to say. Silas had to say That,
he would beg to remind his comrade, brother, and partner, of the
impressive passages they had read that evening; of the evident
parallel in Mr Boffin's mind between them and the late owner of
the Bower, and the present circumstances of the Bower; of the
bottle; and of the box. That, the fortunes of his brother and
comrade, and of himself were evidently made, inasmuch as they
had but to put their price upon this document, and get that price
from the minion of fortune and the worm of the hour: who now
appeared to be less of a minion and more of a worm than had been
previously supposed. That, he considered it plain that such price
was stateable in a single expressive word, and that the word was,
'Halves!' That, the question then arose when 'Halves!' should be
called. That, here he had a plan of action to recommend, with a
conditional clause. That, the plan of action was that they should
lie by with patience; that, they should allow the Mounds to be
gradually levelled and cleared away, while retaining to themselves
their present opportunity of watching the process--which would be,
he conceived, to put the trouble and cost of daily digging and
delving upon somebody else, while they might nightly turn such
complete disturbance of the dust to the account of their own private
investigations--and that, when the Mounds were gone, and they
had worked those chances for their own joint benefit solely, they
should then, and not before, explode on the minion and worm. But
here came the conditional clause, and to this he entreated the
special attention of his comrade, brother, and partner. It was not to
be borne that the minion and worm should carry off any of that
property which was now to be regarded as their own property.
When he, Mr Wegg, had seen the minion surreptitiously making
off with that bottle, and its precious contents unknown, he had
looked upon him in the light of a mere robber, and, as such, would
have despoiled him of his ill-gotten gain, but for the judicious
interference of his comrade, brother, and partner. Therefore, the
conditional clause he proposed was, that, if the minion should
return in his late sneaking manner, and if, being closely watched,
he should be found to possess himself of anything, no matter what,
the sharp sword impending over his head should be instantly
shown him, he should be strictly examined as to what he knew or
suspected, should be severely handled by them his masters, and
should be kept in a state of abject moral bondage and slavery until
the time when they should see fit to permit him to purchase his
freedom at the price of half his possessions. If, said Mr Wegg by
way of peroration, he had erred in saying only 'Halves!' he trusted
to his comrade, brother, and partner not to hesitate to set him right,
and to reprove his weakness. It might be more according to the
rights of things, to say Two-thirds; it might be more according to
the rights of things, to say Three-fourths. On those points he was
ever open to correction.

Mr Venus, having wafted his attention to this discourse over three
successive saucers of tea, signified his concurrence in the views
advanced. Inspirited hereby, Mr Wegg extended his right hand,
and declared it to be a hand which never yet. Without entering into
more minute particulars. Mr Venus, sticking to his tea, briefly
professed his beliet as polite forms required of him, that it WAS a
hand which never yet. But contented himself with looking at it,
and did not take it to his bosom.

'Brother,' said Wegg, when this happy understanding was
established, 'I should like to ask you something. You remember
the night when I first looked in here, and found you floating your
powerful mind in tea?'

Still swilling tea, Mr Venus nodded assent.

'And there you sit, sir,' pursued Wegg with an air of thoughtful
admiration, 'as if you had never left off! There you sit, sir, as if you
had an unlimited capacity of assimilating the flagrant article!
There you sit, sir, in the midst of your works, looking as if you'd
been called upon for Home, Sweet Home, and was obleeging the

     "A exile from home splendour dazzles in vain,
     O give you your lowly Preparations again,
     The birds stuffed so sweetly that can't be expected to come at
     your call,
     Give you these with the peace of mind dearer than all.
     Home, Home, Home, sweet Home!"

--Be it ever,' added Mr Wegg in prose as he glanced about the
shop, 'ever so ghastly, all things considered there's no place like it.'

'You said you'd like to ask something; but you haven't asked it,'
remarked Venus, very unsympathetic in manner.

'Your peace of mind,' said Wegg, offering condolence, 'your peace
of mind was in a poor way that night. HOW'S it going on? IS it
looking up at all?'

'She does not wish,' replied Mr Venus with a comical mixture of
indignant obstinacy and tender melancholy, 'to regard herself, nor
yet to be regarded, in that particular light. There's no more to be

'Ah, dear me, dear me!' exclaimed Wegg with a sigh, but eyeing
him while pretending to keep him company in eyeing the fire, 'such
is Woman! And I remember you said that night, sitting there as I
sat here--said that night when your peace of mind was first laid
low, that you had taken an interest in these very affairs. Such is

'Her father,' rejoined Venus, and then stopped to swallow more tea,
'her father was mixed up in them.'

'You didn't mention her name, sir, I think?' observed Wegg,
pensively. 'No, you didn't mention her name that night.'

'Pleasant Riderhood.'

'In--deed!' cried Wegg. 'Pleasant Riderhood. There's something
moving in the name. Pleasant. Dear me! Seems to express what
she might have been, if she hadn't made that unpleasant remark--
and what she ain't, in consequence of having made it. Would it at
all pour balm into your wounds, Mr Venus, to inquire how you
came acquainted with her?'

'I was down at the water-side,' said Venus, taking another gulp of
tea and mournfully winking at the fire--'looking for parrots'--taking
another gulp and stopping.

Mr Wegg hinted, to jog his attention: 'You could hardly have been
out parrot-shooting, in the British climate, sir?'

'No, no, no,' said Venus fretfully. 'I was down at the water-side,
looking for parrots brought home by sailors, to buy for stuffing.'

'Ay, ay, ay, sir!'

'--And looking for a nice pair of rattlesnakes, to articulate for a
Museum--when I was doomed to fall in with her and deal with her.
It was just at the time of that discovery in the river. Her father had
seen the discovery being towed in the river. I made the popularity
of the subject a reason for going back to improve the acquaintance,
and I have never since been the man I was. My very bones is
rendered flabby by brooding over it. If they could be brought to me
loose, to sort, I should hardly have the face to claim 'em as mine.
To such an extent have I fallen off under it.'

Mr Wegg, less interested than he had been, glanced at one
particular shelf in the dark.

'Why I remember, Mr Venus,' he said in a tone of friendly
commiseration '(for I remember every word that falls from you,
sir), I remember that you said that night, you had got up there--and
then your words was, "Never mind."'

'--The parrot that I bought of her,' said Venus, with a despondent
rise and fall of his eyes. 'Yes; there it lies on its side, dried up;
except for its plumage, very like myself. I've never had the heart to
prepare it, and I never shall have now.'

With a disappointed face, Silas mentally consigned this parrot to
regions more than tropical, and, seeming for the time to have lost
his power of assuming an interest in the woes of Mr Venus, fell to
tightening his wooden leg as a preparation for departure: its
gymnastic performances of that evening having severely tried its

After Silas had left the shop, hat-box in hand, and had left Mr
Venus to lower himself to oblivion-point with the requisite weight
of tea, it greatly preyed on his ingenuous mind that he had taken
this artist into partnership at all. He bitterly felt that he had
overreached himself in the beginning, by grasping at Mr Venus's
mere straws of hints, now shown to be worthless for his purpose.
Casting about for ways and means of dissolving the connexion
without loss of money, reproaching himself for having been
betrayed into an avowal of his secret, and complimenting himself
beyond measure on his purely accidental good luck, he beguiled
the distance between Clerkenwell and the mansion of the Golden

For, Silas Wegg felt it to be quite out of the question that he could
lay his head upon his pillow in peace, without first hovering over
Mr Boffin's house in the superior character of its Evil Genius.
Power (unless it be the power of intellect or virtue) has ever the
greatest attraction for the lowest natures; and the mere defiance of
the unconscious house-front, with his power to strip the roof off the
inhabiting family like the roof of a house of cards, was a treat
which had a charm for Silas Wegg.

As he hovered on the opposite side of the street, exulting, the
carriage drove up.

'There'll shortly be an end of YOU,' said Wegg, threatening it with
the hat-box. 'YOUR varnish is fading.'

Mrs Boffin descended and went in.

'Look out for a fall, my Lady Dustwoman,' said Wegg.

Bella lightly descended, and ran in after her.

'How brisk we are!' said Wegg. 'You won't run so gaily to your old
shabby home, my girl. You'll have to go there, though.'

A little while, and the Secretary came out.

'I was passed over for you,' said Wegg. 'But you had better provide
yourself with another situation, young man.'

Mr Boffin's shadow passed upon the blinds of three large windows
as he trotted down the room, and passed again as he went back.

'Yoop!'cried Wegg. 'You're there, are you? Where's the bottle?
You would give your bottle for my box, Dustman!'

Having now composed his mind for slumber, he turned homeward.
Such was the greed of the fellow, that his mind had shot beyond
halves, two-thirds, three-fourths, and gone straight to spoliation of
the whole. 'Though that wouldn't quite do,' he considered, growing
cooler as he got away. 'That's what would happen to him if he
didn't buy us up. We should get nothing by that.'

We so judge others by ourselves, that it had never come into his
head before, that he might not buy us up, and might prove honest,
and prefer to be poor. It caused him a slight tremor as it passed;
but a very slight one, for the idle thought was gone directly.

'He's grown too fond of money for that,' said Wegg; 'he's grown too
fond of money.' The burden fell into a strain or tune as he stumped
along the pavements. All the way home he stumped it out of the
rattling streets, PIANO with his own foot, and FORTE with his
wooden leg, 'He's GROWN too FOND of MONEY for THAT, he's

Even next day Silas soothed himself with this melodious strain,
when he was called out of bed at daybreak, to set open the yard-
gate and admit the train of carts and horses that came to carry off
the little Mound. And all day long, as he kept unwinking watch on
the slow process which promised to protract itself through many
days and weeks, whenever (to save himself from being choked
with dust) he patrolled a little cinderous beat he established for the
purpose, without taking his eyes from the diggers, he still stumped
to the tune: He's GROWN too FOND of MONEY for THAT, he's

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