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Charles Dickens > Our Mutual Friend > Book 4 - 1

Our Mutual Friend

Book 4 - 1


Plashwater Weir Mill Lock looked tranquil and pretty on an
evening in the summer time. A soft air stirred the leaves of the
fresh green trees, and passed like a smooth shadow over the river,
and like a smoother shadow over the yielding grass. The voice of
the falling water, like the voices of the sea and the wind, were as
an outer memory to a contemplative listener; but not particularly so
to Mr Riderhood, who sat on one of the blunt wooden levers of his
lock-gates, dozing. Wine must be got into a butt by some agency
before it can be drawn out; and the wine of sentiment never having
been got into Mr Riderhood by any agency, nothing in nature
tapped him.

As the Rogue sat, ever and again nodding himself off his balance,
his recovery was always attended by an angry stare and growl, as
if, in the absence of any one else, he had aggressive inclinations
towards himself. In one of these starts the cry of 'Lock, ho! Lock!'
prevented his relapse into a doze. Shaking himself as he got up
like the surly brute he was, he gave his growl a responsive twist at
the end, and turned his face down-stream to see who hailed.

It was an amateur-sculler, well up to his work though taking it
easily, in so light a boat that the Rogue remarked: 'A little less on
you, and you'd a'most ha' been a Wagerbut'; then went to work at
his windlass handles and sluices, to let the sculler in. As the latter
stood in his boat, holding on by the boat-hook to the woodwork at
the lock side, waiting for the gates to open, Rogue Riderhood
recognized his 'T'other governor,' Mr Eugene Wrayburn; who was,
however, too indifferent or too much engaged to recognize him.

The creaking lock-gates opened slowly, and the light boat passed
in as soon as there was room enough, and the creaking lock-gates
closed upon it, and it floated low down in the dock between the
two sets of gates, until the water should rise and the second gates
should open and let it out. When Riderhood had run to his second
windlass and turned it, and while he leaned against the lever of
that gate to help it to swing open presently, he noticed, lying to rest
under the green hedge by the towing-path astern of the Lock, a

The water rose and rose as the sluice poured in, dispersing the
scum which had formed behind the lumbering gates, and sending
the boat up, so that the sculler gradually rose like an apparition
against the light from the bargeman's point of view. Riderhood
observed that the bargeman rose too, leaning on his arm, and
seemed to have his eyes fastened on the rising figure.

But, there was the toll to be taken, as the gates were now
complaining and opening. The T'other governor tossed it ashore,
twisted in a piece of paper, and as he did so, knew his man.

'Ay, ay? It's you, is it, honest friend?' said Eugene, seating himself
preparatory to resuming his sculls. 'You got the place, then?'

'I got the place, and no thanks to you for it, nor yet none to Lawyer
Lightwood,' gruffly answered Riderhood.

'We saved our recommendation, honest fellow,' said Eugene, 'for
the next candidate--the one who will offer himself when you are
transported or hanged. Don't be long about it; will you be so

So imperturbable was the air with which he gravely bent to his
work that Riderhood remained staring at him, without having
found a retort, until he had rowed past a line of wooden objects by
the weir, which showed like huge teetotums standing at rest in the
water, and was almost hidden by the drooping boughs on the left
bank, as he rowed away, keeping out of the opposing current. It
being then too late to retort with any effect--if that could ever have
been done--the honest man confined himself to cursing and
growling in a grim under-tone. Having then got his gates shut, he
crossed back by his plank lock-bridge to the towing-path side of
the river.

If, in so doing, he took another glance at the bargeman, he did it by
stealth. He cast himself on the grass by the Lock side, in an
indolent way, with his back in that direction, and, having gathered
a few blades, fell to chewing them. The dip of Eugene Wrayburn's
sculls had become hardly audible in his ears when the bargeman
passed him, putting the utmost width that he could between them,
and keeping under the hedge. Then, Riderhood sat up and took a
long look at his figure, and then cried: 'Hi--I--i! Lock, ho! Lock!
Plashwater Weir Mill Lock!'

The bargeman stopped, and looked back.

'Plashwater Weir Mill Lock, T'otherest gov--er--nor--or--or--or!'
cried Mr Riderhood, with his hands to his mouth.

The bargeman turned back. Approaching nearer and nearer, the
bargeman became Bradley Headstone, in rough water-side second-
hand clothing.

'Wish I may die,' said Riderhood, smiting his right leg, and
laughing, as he sat on the grass, 'if you ain't ha' been a imitating
me, T'otherest governor! Never thought myself so good-looking

Truly, Bradley Headstone had taken careful note of the honest
man's dress in the course of that night-walk they had had together.
He must have committed it to memory, and slowly got it by heart.
It was exactly reproduced in the dress he now wore. And whereas,
in his own schoolmaster clothes, he usually looked as if they were
the clothes of some other man, he now looked, in the clothes of
some other man or men, as if they were his own.

'THIS your Lock?' said Bradley, whose surprise had a genuine air;
'they told me, where I last inquired, it was the third I should come
to. This is only the second.'

'It's my belief, governor,' returned Riderhood, with a wink and
shake of his head, 'that you've dropped one in your counting. It
ain't Locks as YOU'VE been giving your mind to. No, no!'

As he expressively jerked his pointing finger in the direction the
boat had taken, a flush of impatience mounted into Bradley's face,
and he looked anxiously up the river.

'It ain't Locks as YOU'VE been a reckoning up,' said Riderhood,
when the schoolmaster's eyes came back again. 'No, no!'

'What other calculations do you suppose I have been occupied
with? Mathematics?'

'I never heerd it called that. It's a long word for it. Hows'ever,
p'raps you call it so,' said Riderhood, stubbornly chewing his grass.

'It. What?'

'I'll say them, instead of it, if you like,' was the coolly growled
reply. 'It's safer talk too.'

'What do you mean that I should understand by them?'

'Spites, affronts, offences giv' and took, deadly aggrawations, such
like,' answered Riderhood.

Do what Bradley Headstone would, he could not keep that former
flush of impatience out of his face, or so master his eyes as to
prevent their again looking anxiously up the river.

'Ha ha! Don't be afeerd, T'otherest,' said Riderhood. 'The T'other's
got to make way agin the stream, and he takes it easy. You can
soon come up with him. But wot's the good of saying that to you!
YOU know how fur you could have outwalked him betwixt
anywheres about where he lost the tide--say Richmond--and this, if
you had a mind to it.'

'You think I have been following him?' said Bradley.

'I KNOW you have,' said Riderhood.

'Well! I have, I have,' Bradley admitted. 'But,' with another
anxious look up the river, 'he may land.'

'Easy you! He won't be lost if he does land,' said Riderhood. 'He
must leave his boat behind him. He can't make a bundle or a
parcel on it, and carry it ashore with him under his arm.'

'He was speaking to you just now,' said Bradley, kneeling on one
knee on the grass beside the Lock-keeper. 'What did he say?'

'Cheek,' said Riderhood.


'Cheek,' repeated Riderhood, with an angry oath; 'cheek is what he
said. He can't say nothing but cheek. I'd ha' liked to plump down
aboard of him, neck and crop, with a heavy jump, and sunk him.'

Bradley turned away his haggard face for a few moments, and then
said, tearing up a tuft of grass:

'Damn him!'

'Hooroar!' cried Riderhood. 'Does you credit! Hooroar! I cry
chorus to the T'otherest.'

'What turn,' said Bradley, with an effort at self-repression that
forced him to wipe his face, 'did his insolence take to-day?'

'It took the turn,' answered Riderhood, with sullen ferocity, 'of
hoping as I was getting ready to be hanged.'

'Let him look to that,' cried Bradley. 'Let him look to that! It will
be bad for him when men he has injured, and at whom he has
jeered, are thinking of getting hanged. Let HIM get ready for HIS
fate, when that comes about. There was more meaning in what he
said than he knew of, or he wouldn't have had brains enough to say
it. Let him look to it; let him look to it! When men he has
wronged, and on whom he has bestowed his insolence, are getting
ready to be hanged, there is a death-bell ringing. And not for

Riderhood, looking fixedly at him, gradually arose from his
recumbent posture while the schoolmaster said these words with
the utmost concentration of rage and hatred. So, when the words
were all spoken, he too kneeled on one knee on the grass, and the
two men looked at one another.

'Oh!' said Riderhood, very deliberately spitting out the grass he had
been chewing. 'Then, I make out, T'otherest, as he is a-going to

'He left London,' answered Bradley, 'yesterday. I have hardly a
doubt, this time, that at last he is going to her.'

'You ain't sure, then?'

'I am as sure here,' said Bradley, with a clutch at the breast of his
coarse shirt, 'as if it was written there;' with a blow or a stab at the

'Ah! But judging from the looks on you,' retorted Riderhood,
completely ridding himself of his grass, and drawing his sleeve
across his mouth, 'you've made ekally sure afore, and have got
disapinted. It has told upon you.'

'Listen,' said Bradley, in a low voice, bending forward to lay his
hand upon the Lock-keeper's shoulder. 'These are my holidays.'

'Are they, by George!' muttered Riderhood, with his eyes on the
passion-wasted face. 'Your working days must be stiff 'uns, if
these is your holidays.'

'And I have never left him,' pursued Bradley, waving the
interruption aside with an impatient hand, 'since they began. And
I never will leave him now, till I have seen him with her.'

'And when you have seen him with her?' said Riderhood.

'--I'll come back to you.'

Riderhood stiffened the knee on which he had been resting, got up,
and looked gloomily at his new friend. After a few moments they
walked side by side in the direction the boat had taken, as if by
tacit consent; Bradley pressing forward, and Riderhood holding
back; Bradley getting out his neat prim purse into his hand (a
present made him by penny subscription among his pupils); and
Riderhood, unfolding his arms to smear his coat-cuff across his
mouth with a thoughtful air.

'I have a pound for you,' said Bradley.

'You've two,' said Riderhood.

Bradley held a sovereign between his fingers. Slouching at his
side with his eyes upon the towing-path, Riderhood held his left
hand open, with a certain slight drawing action towards himself.
Bradley dipped in his purse for another sovereign, and two chinked
in Riderhood's hand, the drawing action of which, promptly
strengthening, drew them home to his pocket.

'Now, I must follow him,' said Bradley Headstone. 'He takes this
river-road--the fool!--to confuse observation, or divert attention, if
not solely to baffle me. But he must have the power of making
himself invisible before he can shake Me off.'

Riderhood stopped. 'If you don't get disapinted agin, T'otherest,
maybe you'll put up at the Lock-house when you come back?'

'I will.'

Riderhood nodded, and the figure of the bargeman went its way
along the soft turf by the side of the towing-path, keeping near the
hedge and moving quickly. They had turned a point from which a
long stretch of river was visible. A stranger to the scene might
have been certain that here and there along the line of hedge a
figure stood, watching the bargeman, and waiting for him to come
up. So he himself had often believed at first, until his eyes became
used to the posts, bearing the dagger that slew Wat Tyler, in the
City of London shield.

Within Mr Riderhood's knowledge all daggers were as one. Even
to Bradley Headstone, who could have told to the letter without
book all about Wat Tyler, Lord Mayor Walworth, and the King,
that it is dutiful for youth to know, there was but one subject living
in the world for every sharp destructive instrument that summer
evening. So, Riderhood looking after him as he went, and he with
his furtive hand laid upon the dagger as he passed it, and his eyes
upon the boat, were much upon a par.

The boat went on, under the arching trees, and over their tranquil
shadows in the water. The bargeman skulking on the opposite
bank of the stream, went on after it. Sparkles of light showed
Riderhood when and where the rower dipped his blades, until,
even as he stood idly watching, the sun went down and the
landscape was dyed red. And then the red had the appearance of
fading out of it and mounting up to Heaven, as we say that blood,
guiltily shed, does.

Turning back towards his Lock (he had not gone out of view of it),
the Rogue pondered as deeply as it was within the contracted
power of such a fellow to do. 'Why did he copy my clothes? He
could have looked like what he wanted to look like, without that.'
This was the subject-matter in his thoughts; in which, too, there
came lumbering up, by times, like any half floating and half
sinking rubbish in the river, the question, Was it done by accident?
The setting of a trap for finding out whether it was accidentally
done, soon superseded, as a practical piece of cunning, the
abstruser inquiry why otherwise it was done. And he devised a

Rogue Riderhood went into his Lock-house, and brought forth, into
the now sober grey light, his chest of clothes. Sitting on the grass
beside it, he turned out, one by one, the articles it contained, until
he came to a conspicuous bright red neckerchief stained black here
and there by wear. It arrested his attention, and he sat pausing
over it, until he took off the rusty colourless wisp that he wore
round his throat, and substituted the red neckerchief, leaving the
long ends flowing. 'Now,' said the Rogue, 'if arter he sees me in
this neckhankecher, I see him in a sim'lar neckhankecher, it won't
be accident!' Elated by his device, he carried his chest in again and
went to supper.

'Lock ho! Lock!' It was a light night, and a barge coming down
summoned him out of a long doze. In due course he had let the
barge through and was alone again, looking to the closing of his
gates, when Bradley Headstone appeared before him, standing on
the brink of the Lock.

'Halloa!' said Riderhood. 'Back a' ready, T'otherest?'

'He has put up for the night, at an Angler's Inn,' was the fatigued
and hoarse reply. 'He goes on, up the river, at six in the morning. I
have come back for a couple of hours' rest.'

'You want 'em,' said Riderhood, making towards the schoolmaster
by his plank bridge.

'I don't want them,' returned Bradley, irritably, 'because I would
rather not have them, but would much prefer to follow him all
night. However, if he won't lead, I can't follow. I have been
waiting about, until I could discover, for a certainty, at what time
he starts; if I couldn't have made sure of it, I should have stayed
there.--This would be a bad pit for a man to be flung into with his
hands tied. These slippery smooth walls would give him no
chance. And I suppose those gates would suck him down?'

'Suck him down, or swaller him up, he wouldn't get out,' said
Riderhood. 'Not even, if his hands warn't tied, he wouldn't. Shut
him in at both ends, and I'd give him a pint o' old ale ever to come
up to me standing here.'

Bradley looked down with a ghastly relish. 'You run about the
brink, and run across it, in this uncertain light, on a few inches
width of rotten wood,' said he. 'I wonder you have no thought of
being drowned.'

'I can't be!' said Riderhood.

'You can't be drowned?'

'No!' said Riderhood, shaking his head with an air of thorough
conviction, 'it's well known. I've been brought out o' drowning,
and I can't be drowned. I wouldn't have that there busted
B'lowbridger aware on it, or her people might make it tell agin' the
damages I mean to get. But it's well known to water-side
characters like myself, that him as has been brought out o
drowning, can never be drowned.'

Bradley smiled sourly at the ignorance he would have corrected in
one of his pupils, and continued to look down into the water, as if
the place had a gloomy fascination for him.

'You seem to like it,' said Riderhood.

He took no notice, but stood looking down, as if he had not heard
the words. There was a very dark expression on his face; an
expression that the Rogue found it hard to understand. It was
fierce, and full of purpose; but the purpose might have been as
much against himself as against another. If he had stepped back
for a spring, taken a leap, and thrown himself in, it would have
been no surprising sequel to the look. Perhaps his troubled soul,
set upon some violence, did hover for the moment between that
violence and another.

'Didn't you say,' asked Riderhood, after watching him for a while
with a sidelong glance, 'as you had come back for a couple o'
hours' rest?' But, even then he had to jog him with his elbow
before he answered.

'Eh? Yes.'

'Hadn't you better come in and take your couple o' hours' rest?'

'Thank you. Yes.'

With the look of one just awakened, he followed Riderhood into
the Lock-house, where the latter produced from a cupboard some
cold salt beef and half a loaf, some gin in a bottle, and some water
in a jug. The last he brought in, cool and dripping, from the river.

'There, T'otherest,' said Riderhood, stooping over him to put it on
the table. 'You'd better take a bite and a sup, afore you takes your
snooze.' The draggling ends of the red neckerchief caught the
schoolmaster's eyes. Riderhood saw him look at it.

'Oh!' thought that worthy. 'You're a-taking notice, are you?
Come! You shall have a good squint at it then.' With which
reflection he sat down on the other side of the table, threw open his
vest, and made a pretence of re-tying the neckerchief with much

Bradley ate and drank. As he sat at his platter and mug,
Riderhood saw him, again and yet again, steal a look at the
neckerchief, as if he were correcting his slow observation and
prompting his sluggish memory. 'When you're ready for your
snooze,' said that honest creature, 'chuck yourself on my bed in
the corner, T'otherest. It'll be broad day afore three. I'll call you

'I shall require no calling,' answered Bradley. And soon
afterwards, divesting himself only of his shoes and coat, laid
himself down.

Riderhood, leaning back in his wooden arm-chair with his arms
folded on his breast, looked at him lying with his right hand
clenched in his sleep and his teeth set, until a film came over his
own sight, and he slept too. He awoke to find that it was daylight,
and that his visitor was already astir, and going out to the river-
side to cool his head:--'Though I'm blest,' muttered Riderhood at
the Lock-house door, looking after him, 'if I think there's water
enough in all the Thames to do THAT for you!' Within five
minutes he had taken his departure, and was passing on into the
calm distance as he had passed yesterday. Riderhood knew when
a fish leaped, by his starting and glancing round.

'Lock ho! Lock!' at intervals all day, and 'Lock ho! Lock!' thrice in
the ensuing night, but no return of Bradley. The second day was
sultry and oppressive. In the afternoon, a thunderstorm came up,
and had but newly broken into a furious sweep of rain when he
rushed in at the door, like the storm itself.

'You've seen him with her!' exclaimed Riderhood, starting up.

'I have.'


'At his journey's end. His boat's hauled up for three days. I heard
him give the order. Then, I saw him wait for her and meet her. I
saw them'--he stopped as though he were suffocating, and began
again--'I saw them walking side by side, last night.'

'What did you do?'


'What are you going to do?'

He dropped into a chair, and laughed. Immediately afterwards, a
great spirt of blood burst from his nose.

'How does that happen?' asked Riderhood.

'I don't know. I can't keep it back. It has happened twice--three
times--four times--I don't know how many times--since last night.
I taste it, smell it, see it, it chokes me, and then it breaks out like

He went into the pelting rain again with his head bare, and,
bending low over the river, and scooping up the water with his two
hands, washed the blood away. All beyond his figure, as
Riderhood looked from the door, was a vast dark curtain in solemn
movement towards one quarter of the heavens. He raised his head
and came back, wet from head to foot, but with the lower parts of
his sleeves, where he had dipped into the river, streaming water.

'Your face is like a ghost's,' said Riderhood.

'Did you ever see a ghost?' was the sullen retort.

'I mean to say, you're quite wore out.'

'That may well be. I have had no rest since I left here. I don't
remember that I have so much as sat down since I left here.'

'Lie down now, then,' said Riderhood.

'I will, if you'll give me something to quench my thirst first.'

The bottle and jug were again produced, and he mixed a weak
draught, and another, and drank both in quick succession. 'You
asked me something,' he said then.

'No, I didn't,' replied Riderhood.

'I tell you,' retorted Bradley, turning upon him in a wild and
desperate manner, 'you asked me something, before I went out to
wash my face in the river.

'Oh! Then?' said Riderhood, backing a little. 'I asked you wot you
wos a-going to do.'

'How can a man in this state know?' he answered, protesting with
both his tremulous hands, with an action so vigorously angry that
he shook the water from his sleeves upon the floor, as if he had
wrung them. 'How can I plan anything, if I haven't sleep?'

'Why, that's what I as good as said,' returned the other. 'Didn't I
say lie down?'

'Well, perhaps you did.'

'Well! Anyways I says it again. Sleep where you slept last; the
sounder and longer you can sleep, the better you'll know arterwards
what you're up to.'

His pointing to the truckle bed in the corner, seemed gradually to
bring that poor couch to Bradley's wandering remembrance. He
slipped off his worn down-trodden shoes, and cast himself heavily,
all wet as he was, upon the bed.

Riderhood sat down in his wooden arm-chair, and looked through
the window at the lightning, and listened to the thunder. But, his
thoughts were far from being absorbed by the thunder and the
lightning, for again and again and again he looked very curiously
at the exhausted man upon the bed. The man had turned up the
collar of the rough coat he wore, to shelter himself from the storm,
and had buttoned it about his neck. Unconscious of that, and of
most things, he had left the coat so, both when he had laved his
face in the river, and when he had cast himself upon the bed;
though it would have been much easier to him if he had
unloosened it.

The thunder rolled heavily, and the forked lightning seemed to
make jagged rents in every part of the vast curtain without, as
Riderhood sat by the window, glancing at the bed. Sometimes, he
saw the man upon the bed, by a red light; sometimes, by a blue;
sometimes, he scarcely saw him in the darkness of the storm;
sometimes he saw nothing of him in the blinding glare of
palpitating white fire. Anon, the rain would come again with a
tremendous rush, and the river would seem to rise to meet it, and a
blast of wind, bursting upon the door, would flutter the hair and
dress of the man, as if invisible messengers were come around the
bed to carry him away. From all these phases of the storm,
Riderhood would turn, as if they were interruptions--rather striking
interruptions possibly, but interruptions still--of his scrutiny of the

'He sleeps sound,' he said within himself; 'yet he's that up to me
and that noticing of me that my getting out of my chair may wake
him, when a rattling peal won't; let alone my touching of him.'

He very cautiously rose to his feet. 'T'otherest,' he said, in a low,
calm voice, 'are you a lying easy? There's a chill in the air,
governor. Shall I put a coat over you?'

No answer.

'That's about what it is a'ready, you see,' muttered Riderhood in a
lower and a different voice; 'a coat over you, a coat over you!'

The sleeper moving an arm, he sat down again in his chair, and
feigned to watch the storm from the window. It was a grand
spectacle, but not so grand as to keep his eyes, for half a minute
together, from stealing a look at the man upon the bed.

It was at the concealed throat of the sleeper that Riderhood so often
looked so curiously, until the sleep seemed to deepen into the
stupor of the dead-tired in mind and body. Then, Riderhood came
from the window cautiously, and stood by the bed.

'Poor man!' he murmured in a low tone, with a crafty face, and a
very watchful eye and ready foot, lest he should start up; 'this here
coat of his must make him uneasy in his sleep. Shall I loosen it for
him, and make him more comfortable? Ah! I think I ought to do
it, poor man. I think I will.'

He touched the first button with a very cautious hand, and a step
backward. But, the sleeper remaining in profound
unconsciousness, he touched the other buttons with a more assured
hand, and perhaps the more lightly on that account. Softly and
slowly, he opened the coat and drew it back.

The draggling ends of a bright-red neckerchief were then disclosed,
and he had even been at the pains of dipping parts of it in some
liquid, to give it the appearance of having become stained by wear.
With a much-perplexed face, Riderhood looked from it to the
sleeper, and from the sleeper to it, and finally crept back to his
chair, and there, with his hand to his chin, sat long in a brown
study, looking at both.

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