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Charles Dickens > Our Mutual Friend > Book 3 - 17

Our Mutual Friend

Book 3 - 17


Amazement sits enthroned upon the countenances of Mr and Mrs
Alfred Lammle's circle of acquaintance, when the disposal of their
first-class furniture and effects (including a Billiard Table in
capital letters), 'by auction, under a bill of sale,' is publicly
announced on a waving hearthrug in Sackville Street. But, nobody
is half so much amazed as Hamilton Veneering, Esquire, M.P. for
Pocket-Breaches, who instantly begins to find out that the
Lammles are the only people ever entered on his soul's register,
who are NOT the oldest and dearest friends he has in the world.
Mrs Veneering, W.M.P. for Pocket-Breaches, like a faithful wife
shares her husband's discovery and inexpressible astonishment.
Perhaps the Veneerings twain may deem the last unutterable
feeling particularly due to their reputation, by reason that once
upon a time some of the longer heads in the City are whispered to
have shaken themselves, when Veneering's extensive dealings and
great wealth were mentioned. But, it is certain that neither Mr nor
Mrs Veneering can find words to wonder in, and it becomes
necessary that they give to the oldest and dearest friends they have
in the world, a wondering dinner.

For, it is by this time noticeable that, whatever befals, the
Veneerings must give a dinner upon it. Lady Tippins lives in a
chronic state of invitation to dine with the Veneerings, and in a
chronic state of inflammation arising from the dinners. Boots and
Brewer go about in cabs, with no other intelligible business on
earth than to beat up people to come and dine with the Veneerings.
Veneering pervades the legislative lobbies, intent upon entrapping
his fellow-legislators to dinner. Mrs Veneering dined with five-
and-twenty bran-new faces over night; calls upon them all to day;
sends them every one a dinner-card to-morrow, for the week after
next; before that dinner is digested, calls upon their brothers and
sisters, their sons and daughters, their nephews and nieces, their
aunts and uncles and cousins, and invites them all to dinner. And
still, as at first, howsoever, the dining circle widens, it is to be
observed that all the diners are consistent in appearing to go to the
Veneerings, not to dine with Mr and Mrs Veneering (which would
seem to be the last thing in their minds), but to dine with one

Perhaps, after all,--who knows?--Veneering may find this dining,
though expensive, remunerative, in the sense that it makes
champions. Mr Podsnap, as a representative man, is not alone in
caring very particularly for his own dignity, if not for that of his
acquaintances, and therefore in angrily supporting the
acquaintances who have taken out his Permit, lest, in their being
lessened, he should be. The gold and silver camels, and the ice-
pails, and the rest of the Veneering table decorations, make a
brilliant show, and when I, Podsnap, casually remark elsewhere
that I dined last Monday with a gorgeous caravan of camels, I find
it personally offensive to have it hinted to me that they are broken-
kneed camels, or camels labouring under suspicion of any sort. 'I
don't display camels myself, I am above them: I am a more solid
man; but these camels have basked in the light of my countenance,
and how dare you, sir, insinuate to me that I have irradiated any
but unimpeachable camels?'

The camels are polishing up in the Analytical's pantry for the
dinner of wonderment on the occasion of the Lammles going to
pieces, and Mr Twemlow feels a little queer on the sofa at his
lodgings over the stable yard in Duke Street, Saint James's, in
consequence of having taken two advertised pills at about mid-day,
on the faith of the printed representation accompanying the box
(price one and a penny halfpenny, government stamp included),
that the same 'will be found highly salutary as a precautionary
measure in connection with the pleasures of the table.' To whom,
while sickly with the fancy of an insoluble pill sticking in his
gullet, and also with the sensation of a deposit of warm gum
languidly wandering within him a little lower down, a servant
enters with the announcement that a lady wishes to speak with

'A lady!' says Twemlow, pluming his ruffled feathers. 'Ask the
favour of the lady's name.'

The lady's name is Lammle. The lady will not detain Mr
Twemlow longer than a very few minutes. The lady is sure that
Mr Twemlow will do her the kindness to see her, on being told that
she particularly desires a short interview. The lady has no doubt
whatever of Mr Twemlow's compliance when he hears her name.
Has begged the servant to be particular not to mistake her name.
Would have sent in a card, but has none.

'Show the lady in.' Lady shown in, comes in.

Mr Twemlow's little rooms are modestly furnished, in an old-
fashioned manner (rather like the housekeeper's room at
Snigsworthy Park), and would be bare of mere ornament, were it
not for a full-length engraving of the sublime Snigsworth over the
chimneypiece, snorting at a Corinthian column, with an enormous
roll of paper at his feet, and a heavy curtain going to tumble down
on his head; those accessories being understood to represent the
noble lord as somehow in the act of saving his country.

'Pray take a seat, Mrs Lammle.' Mrs Lammle takes a seat and
opens the conversation.

'I have no doubt, Mr Twemlow, that you have heard of a reverse of
fortune having befallen us. Of course you have heard of it, for no
kind of news travels so fast--among one's friends especially.'

Mindful of the wondering dinner, Twemlow, with a little twinge,
admits the imputation.

'Probably it will not,' says Mrs Lammle, with a certain hardened
manner upon her, that makes Twemlow shrink, 'have surprised you
so much as some others, after what passed between us at the house
which is now turned out at windows. I have taken the liberty of
calling upon you, Mr Twemlow, to add a sort of postscript to what
I said that day.'

Mr Twemlow's dry and hollow cheeks become more dry and
hollow at the prospect of some new complication.

'Really,' says the uneasy little gentleman, 'really, Mrs Lammle, I
should take it as a favour if you could excuse me from any further
confidence. It has ever been one of the objects of my life--which,
unfortunately, has not had many objects--to be inoffensive, and to
keep out of cabals and interferences.'

Mrs Lammle, by far the more observant of the two, scarcely finds it
necessary to look at Twemlow while he speaks, so easily does she
read him.

'My postscript--to retain the term I have used'--says Mrs Lammle,
fixing her eyes on his face, to enforce what she says herself--
'coincides exactly with what you say, Mr Twemlow. So far from
troubling you with any new confidence, I merely wish to remind
you what the old one was. So far from asking you for interference,
I merely wish to claim your strict neutrality.'

Twemlow going on to reply, she rests her eyes again, knowing her
ears to be quite enough for the contents of so weak a vessel.

'I can, I suppose,' says Twemlow, nervously, 'offer no reasonable
objection to hearing anything that you do me the honour to wish to
say to me under those heads. But if I may, with all possible
delicacy and politeness, entreat you not to range beyond them, I--I
beg to do so.'

'Sir,' says Mrs Lammle, raising her eyes to his face again, and
quite daunting him with her hardened manner, 'I imparted to you a
certain piece of knowledge, to be imparted again, as you thought
best, to a certain person.'

'Which I did,' says Twemlow.

'And for doing which, I thank you; though, indeed, I scarcely know
why I turned traitress to my husband in the matter, for the girl is a
poor little fool. I was a poor little fool once myself; I can find no
better reason.' Seeing the effect she produces on him by her
indifferent laugh and cold look, she keeps her eyes upon him as
she proceeds. 'Mr Twemlow, if you should chance to see my
husband, or to see me, or to see both of us, in the favour or
confidence of any one else--whether of our common acquaintance
or not, is of no consequence--you have no right to use against us
the knowledge I intrusted you with, for one special purpose which
has been accomplished. This is what I came to say. It is not a
stipulation; to a gentleman it is simply a reminder.'

Twemlow sits murmuring to himself with his hand to his forehead.

'It is so plain a case,' Mrs Lammle goes on, 'as between me (from
the first relying on your honour) and you, that I will not waste
another word upon it.' She looks steadily at Mr Twemlow, until,
with a shrug, he makes her a little one-sided bow, as though saying
'Yes, I think you have a right to rely upon me,' and then she
moistens her lips, and shows a sense of relief.

'I trust I have kept the promise I made through your servant, that I
would detain you a very few minutes. I need trouble you no
longer, Mr Twemlow.'

'Stay!' says Twemlow, rising as she rises. 'Pardon me a moment. I
should never have sought you out, madam, to say what I am going
to say, but since you have sought me out and are here, I will throw
it off my mind. Was it quite consistent, in candour, with our
taking that resolution against Mr Fledgeby, that you should
afterwards address Mr Fledgeby as your dear and confidential
friend, and entreat a favour of Mr Fledgeby? Always supposing
that you did; I assert no knowledge of my own on the subject; it
has been represented to me that you did.'

'Then he told you?' retorts Mrs Lammle, who again has saved her
eyes while listening, and uses them with strong effect while


'It is strange that he should have told you the truth,' says Mrs
Lammle, seriously pondering. 'Pray where did a circumstance so
very extraordinary happen?'

Twemlow hesitates. He is shorter than the lady as well as weaker,
and, as she stands above him with her hardened manner and her
well-used eyes, he finds himself at such a disadvantage that he
would like to be of the opposite sex.

'May I ask where it happened, Mr Twemlow? In strict

'I must confess,' says the mild little gentleman, coming to his
answer by degrees, 'that I felt some compunctions when Mr
Fledgeby mentioned it. I must admit that I could not regard myself
in an agreeable light. More particularly, as Mr Fledgeby did, with
great civility, which I could not feel that I deserved from him,
render me the same service that you had entreated him to render

It is a part of the true nobility of the poor gentleman's soul to say
this last sentence. 'Otherwise,' he has reffected, 'I shall assume the
superior position of having no difficulties of my own, while I know
of hers. Which would be mean, very mean.

'Was Mr Fledgeby's advocacy as effectual in your case as in ours?'
Mrs Lammle demands.

'As ineffectual.'

'Can you make up your mind to tell me where you saw Mr
Fledgeby, Mr Twemlow?'

'I beg your pardon. I fully intended to have done so. The
reservation was not intentional. I encountered Mr Fledgeby, quite
by accident, on the spot.--By the expression, on the spot, I mean at
Mr Riah's in Saint Mary Axe.'

'Have you the misfortune to be in Mr Riah's hands then?'

'Unfortunately, madam,' returns Twemlow, 'the one money
obligation to which I stand committed, the one debt of my life (but
it is a just debt; pray observe that I don't dispute it), has fallen into
Mr Riah's hands.'

'Mr Twemlow,' says Mrs Lammle, fixing his eyes with hers: which
he would prevent her doing if he could, but he can't; 'it has fallen
into Mr Fledgeby's hands. Mr Riah is his mask. It has fallen into
Mr Fledgeby's hands. Let me tell you that, for your guidance. The
information may be of use to you, if only to prevent your credulity,
in judging another man's truthfulness by your own, from being
imposed upon.'

'Impossible!' cries Twemlow, standing aghast. 'How do you
know it?'

'I scarcely know how I know it. The whole train of circumstances
seemed to take fire at once, and show it to me.'

'Oh! Then you have no proof.'

'It is very strange,' says Mrs Lammle, coldly and boldly, and with
some disdain, 'how like men are to one another in some things,
though their characters are as different as can be! No two men can
have less affinity between them, one would say, than Mr Twemlow
and my husband. Yet my husband replies to me "You have no
proof," and Mr Twemlow replies to me with the very same words!'

'But why, madam?' Twemlow ventures gently to argue. 'Consider
why the very same words? Because they state the fact. Because
you HAVE no proof.'

'Men are very wise in their way,' quoth Mrs Lammle, glancing
haughtily at the Snigsworth portrait, and shaking out her dress
before departing; 'but they have wisdom to learn. My husband,
who is not over-confiding, ingenuous, or inexperienced, sees this
plain thing no more than Mr Twemlow does--because there is no
proof! Yet I believe five women out of six, in my place, would see
it as clearly as I do. However, I will never rest (if only in
remembrance of Mr Fledgeby's having kissed my hand) until my
husband does see it. And you will do well for yourself to see it
from this time forth, Mr Twemlow, though I CAN give you no

As she moves towards the door, Mr Twemlow, attending on her,
expresses his soothing hope that the condition of Mr Lammle's
affairs is not irretrievable.

'I don't know,' Mrs Lammle answers, stopping, and sketching out
the pattern of the paper on the wall with the point of her parasol; 'it
depends. There may be an opening for him dawning now, or there
may be none. We shall soon find out. If none, we are bankrupt
here, and must go abroad, I suppose.'

Mr Twemlow, in his good-natured desire to make the best of it,
remarks that there are pleasant lives abroad.

'Yes,' returns Mrs Lammle, still sketching on the wall; 'but I doubt
whether billiard-playing, card-playing, and so forth, for the means
to live under suspicion at a dirty table-d'hote, is one of them.'

It is much for Mr Lammle, Twemlow politely intimates (though
greatly shocked), to have one always beside him who is attached to
him in all his fortunes, and whose restraining influence will
prevent him from courses that would be discreditable and ruinous.
As he says it, Mrs Lammle leaves off sketching, and looks at him.

'Restraining influence, Mr Twemlow? We must eat and drink, and
dress, and have a roof over our heads. Always beside him and
attached in all his fortunes? Not much to boast of in that; what can
a woman at my age do? My husband and I deceived one another
when we married; we must bear the consequences of the
deception--that is to say, bear one another, and bear the burden of
scheming together for to-day's dinner and to-morrow's breakfast--
till death divorces us.'

With those words, she walks out into Duke Street, Saint James's.
Mr Twemlow returning to his sofa, lays down his aching head on
its slippery little horsehair bolster, with a strong internal conviction
that a painful interview is not the kind of thing to be taken after the
dinner pills which are so highly salutary in connexion with the
pleasures of the table.

But, six o'clock in the evening finds the worthy little gentleman
getting better, and also getting himself into his obsolete little silk
stockings and pumps, for the wondering dinner at the Veneerings.
And seven o'clock in the evening finds him trotting out into Duke
Street, to trot to the corner and save a sixpence in coach-hire.

Tippins the divine has dined herself into such a condition by this
time, that a morbid mind might desire her, for a blessed change, to
sup at last, and turn into bed. Such a mind has Mr Eugene
Wrayburn, whom Twemlow finds contemplating Tippins with the
moodiest of visages, while that playful creature rallies him on
being so long overdue at the woolsack. Skittish is Tippins with
Mortimer Lightwood too, and has raps to give him with her fan for
having been best man at the nuptials of these deceiving what's-
their-names who have gone to pieces. Though, indeed, the fan is
generally lively, and taps away at the men in all directions, with
something of a grisly sound suggestive of the clattering of Lady
Tippins's bones.

A new race of intimate friends has sprung up at Veneering's since
he went into Parliament for the public good, to whom Mrs
Veneering is very attentive. These friends, like astronomical
distances, are only to be spoken of in the very largest figures.
Boots says that one of them is a Contractor who (it has been
calculated) gives employment, directly and indirectly, to five
hundred thousand men. Brewer says that another of them is a
Chairman, in such request at so many Boards, so far apart, that he
never travels less by railway than three thousand miles a week.
Buffer says that another of them hadn't a sixpence eighteen months
ago, and, through the brilliancy of his genius in getting those
shares issued at eighty-five, and buying them all up with no money
and selling them at par for cash, has now three hundred and
seventy-five thousand pounds--Buffer particularly insisting on the
odd seventy-five, and declining to take a farthing less. With
Buffer, Boots, and Brewer, Lady Tippins is eminently facetious on
the subject of these Fathers of the Scrip-Church: surveying them
through her eyeglass, and inquiring whether Boots and Brewer and
Buffer think they will make her fortune if she makes love to them?
with other pleasantries of that nature. Veneering, in his different
way, is much occupied with the Fathers too, piously retiring with
them into the conservatory, from which retreat the word
'Committee' is occasionally heard, and where the Fathers instruct
Veneering how he must leave the valley of the piano on his left,
take the level of the mantelpiece, cross by an open cutting at the
candelabra, seize the carrying-traffic at the console, and cut up the
opposition root and branch at the window curtains.

Mr and Mrs Podsnap are of the company, and the Fathers descry in
Mrs Podsnap a fine woman. She is consigned to a Father--Boots's
Father, who employs five hundred thousand men--and is brought
to anchor on Veneering's left; thus affording opportunity to the
sportive Tippins on his right (he, as usual, being mere vacant
space), to entreat to be told something about those loves of
Navvies, and whether they really do live on raw beefsteaks, and
drink porter out of their barrows. But, in spite of such little
skirmishes it is felt that this was to be a wondering dinner, and that
the wondering must not be neglected. Accordingly, Brewer, as the
man who has the greatest reputation to sustain, becomes the
interpreter of the general instinct.

'I took,' says Brewer in a favourable pause, 'a cab this morning,
and I rattled off to that Sale.'

Boots (devoured by envy) says, 'So did I.'

Buffer says, 'So did I'; but can find nobody to care whether he did
or not.

'And what was it like?' inquires Veneering.

'I assure you,' replies Brewer, looking about for anybody else to
address his answer to, and giving the preference to Lightwood; 'I
assure you, the things were going for a song. Handsome things
enough, but fetching nothing.'

'So I heard this afternoon,' says Lightwood.

Brewer begs to know now, would it be fair to ask a professional
man how--on--earth--these--people--ever--did--come--TO--such--
A--total smash? (Brewer's divisions being for emphasis.)

Lightwood replies that he was consulted certainly, but could give
no opinion which would pay off the Bill of Sale, and therefore
violates no confidence in supposing that it came of their living
beyond their means.

'But how,' says Veneering, 'CAN people do that!'

Hah! That is felt on all hands to be a shot in the bull's eye. How
CAN people do that! The Analytical Chemist going round with
champagne, looks very much as if HE could give them a pretty
good idea how people did that, if he had a mind.

'How,' says Mrs Veneering, laying down her fork to press her
aquiline hands together at the tips of the fingers, and addressing
the Father who travels the three thousand miles per week: 'how a
mother can look at her baby, and know that she lives beyond her
husband's means, I cannot imagine.'

Eugene suggests that Mrs Lammle, not being a mother, had no
baby to look at.

'True,' says Mrs Veneering, 'but the principle is the same.'

Boots is clear that the principle is the same. So is Buffer. It is the
unfortunate destiny of Buffer to damage a cause by espousing it.
The rest of the company have meekly yielded to the proposition
that the principle is the same, until Buffer says it is; when instantly
a general murmur arises that the principle is not the same.

'But I don't understand,' says the Father of the three hundred and
seventy-five thousand pounds, '--if these people spoken of,
occupied the position of being in society--they were in society?'

Veneering is bound to confess that they dined here, and were even
married from here.

'Then I don't understand,' pursues the Father, 'how even their living
beyond their means could bring them to what has been termed a
total smash. Because, there is always such a thing as an
adjustment of affairs, in the case of people of any standing at all.'

Eugene (who would seem to be in a gloomy state of
suggestiveness), suggests, 'Suppose you have no means and live
beyond them?'

This is too insolvent a state of things for the Father to entertain. It
is too insolvent a state of things for any one with any self-respect to
entertain, and is universally scouted. But, it is so amazing how
any people can have come to a total smash, that everybody feels
bound to account for it specially. One of the Fathers says, 'Gaming
table.' Another of the Fathers says, 'Speculated without knowing
that speculation is a science.' Boots says 'Horses.' Lady Tippins
says to her fan, 'Two establishments.' Mr Podsnap, saying
nothing, is referred to for his opinion; which he delivers as follows;
much flushed and extremely angry:

'Don't ask me. I desire to take no part in the discussion of these
people's affairs. I abhor the subject. It is an odious subject, an
offensive subject, a subject that makes me sick, and I--' And with
his favourite right-arm flourish which sweeps away everything and
settles it for ever, Mr Podsnap sweeps these inconveniently
unexplainable wretches who have lived beyond their means and
gone to total smash, off the face of the universe.

Eugene, leaning back in his chair, is observing Mr Podsnap with
an irreverent face, and may be about to offer a new suggestion,
when the Analytical is beheld in collision with the Coachman; the
Coachman manifesting a purpose of coming at the company with a
silver salver, as though intent upon making a collection for his wife
and family; the Analytical cutting him off at the sideboard. The
superior stateliness, if not the superior generalship, of the
Analytical prevails over a man who is as nothing off the box; and
the Coachman, yielding up his salver, retires defeated.

Then, the Analytical, perusing a scrap of paper lying on the salver,
with the air of a literary Censor, adjusts it, takes his time about
going to the table with it, and presents it to Mr Eugene Wrayburn.
Whereupon the pleasant Tippins says aloud, 'The Lord Chancellor
has resigned!'

With distracting coolness and slowness--for he knows the curiosity
of the Charmer to be always devouring--Eugene makes a pretence
of getting out an eyeglass, polishing it, and reading the paper with
difficulty, long after he has seen what is written on it. What is
written on it in wet ink, is:

'Young Blight.'

'Waiting?' says Eugene over his shoulder, in confidence, with the

'Waiting,' returns the Analytical in responsive confidence.

Eugene looks 'Excuse me,' towards Mrs Veneering, goes out, and
finds Young Blight, Mortimer's clerk, at the hall-door.

'You told me to bring him, sir, to wherever you was, if he come
while you was out and I was in,' says that discreet young
gentleman, standing on tiptoe to whisper; 'and I've brought him.'

'Sharp boy. Where is he?' asks Eugene.

'He's in a cab, sir, at the door. I thought it best not to show him,
you see, if it could be helped; for he's a-shaking all over, like--
Blight's simile is perhaps inspired by the surrounding dishes of
sweets--'like Glue Monge.'

'Sharp boy again,' returns Eugene. 'I'll go to him.'

Goes out straightway, and, leisurely leaning his arms on the open
window of a cab in waiting, looks in at Mr Dolls: who has brought
his own atmosphere with him, and would seem from its odour to
have brought it, for convenience of carriage, in a rum-cask.

'Now Dolls, wake up!'

'Mist Wrayburn? Drection! Fifteen shillings!'

After carefully reading the dingy scrap of paper handed to him, and
as carefully tucking it into his waistcoat pocket, Eugene tells out
the money; beginning incautiously by telling the first shilling into
Mr Dolls's hand, which instantly jerks it out of window; and
ending by telling the fifteen shillings on the seat.

'Give him a ride back to Charing Cross, sharp boy, and there get
rid of him.'

Returning to the dining-room, and pausing for an instant behind
the screen at the door, Eugene overhears, above the hum and
clatter, the fair Tippins saying: 'I am dying to ask him what he
was called out for!'

'Are you?' mutters Eugene, 'then perhaps if you can't ask him,
you'll die. So I'll be a benefactor to society, and go. A stroll and a
cigar, and I can think this over. Think this over.' Thus, with a
thoughtful face, he finds his hat and cloak, unseen of the
Analytical, and goes his way.

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