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Charles Dickens > Our Mutual Friend > Book 4 - 2

Our Mutual Friend

Book 4 - 2


Mr and Mrs Lammle had come to breakfast with Mr and Mrs
Boffin. They were not absolutely uninvited, but had pressed
themselves with so much urgency on the golden couple, that
evasion of the honour and pleasure of their company would have
been difficult, if desired. They were in a charming state of mind,
were Mr and Mrs Lammle, and almost as fond of Mr and Mrs
Boffin as of one another.

'My dear Mrs Boffin,' said Mrs Lammle, 'it imparts new life to me,
to see my Alfred in confidential communication with Mr Boffin.
The two were formed to become intimate. So much simplicity
combined with so much force of character, such natural sagacity
united to such amiability and gentleness--these are the
distinguishing characteristics of both.'

This being said aloud, gave Mr Lammle an opportunity, as he
came with Mr Boffin from the window to the breakfast table, of
taking up his dear and honoured wife.

'My Sophronia,' said that gentleman, 'your too partial estimate of
your husband's character--'

'No! Not too partial, Alfred,' urged the lady, tenderly moved;
'never say that.'

'My child, your favourable opinion, then, of your husband--you
don't object to that phrase, darling?'

'How can I, Alfred?'

'Your favourable opinion then, my Precious, does less than justice
to Mr Boffin, and more than justice to me.'

'To the first charge, Alfred, I plead guilty. But to the second, oh
no, no!'

'Less than justice to Mr Boffin, Sophronia,' said Mr Lammle,
soaring into a tone of moral grandeur, 'because it represents Mr
Boffin as on my lower level; more than justice to me, Sophronia,
because it represents me as on Mr Boffin's higher level. Mr Boffin
bears and forbears far more than I could.'

'Far more than you could for yourself, Alfred?'

'My love, that is not the question.'

'Not the question, Lawyer?' said Mrs Lammle, archly.

'No, dear Sophronia. From my lower level, I regard Mr Boffin as
too generous, as possessed of too much clemency, as being too
good to persons who are unworthy of him and ungrateful to him.
To those noble qualities I can lay no claim. On the contrary, they
rouse my indignation when I see them in action.'


'They rouse my indignation, my dear, against the unworthy
persons, and give me a combative desire to stand between Mr
Boffin and all such persons. Why? Because, in my lower nature I
am more worldly and less delicate. Not being so magnanimous as
Mr Boffin, I feel his injuries more than he does himself, and feel
more capable of opposing his injurers.'

It struck Mrs Lammle that it appeared rather difficult this morning
to bring Mr and Mrs Boffin into agreeable conversation. Here had
been several lures thrown out, and neither of them had uttered a
word. Here were she, Mrs Lammle, and her husband discoursing
at once affectingly and effectively, but discoursing alone.
Assuming that the dear old creatures were impressed by what they
heard, still one would like to be sure of it, the more so, as at least
one of the dear old creatures was somewhat pointedly referred to.
If the dear old creatures were too bashful or too dull to assume
their required places in the discussion, why then it would seem
desirable that the dear old creatures should be taken by their heads
and shoulders and brought into it.

'But is not my husband saying in effect,' asked Mrs Lammie,
therefore, with an innocent air, of Mr and Mrs Boffin, 'that he
becomes unmindful of his own temporary misfortunes in his
admiration of another whom he is burning to serve? And is not
that making an admission that his nature is a generous one? I am
wretched in argument, but surely this is so, dear Mr and Mrs

Still, neither Mr and Mrs Boffin said a word. He sat with his eyes
on his plate, eating his muffins and ham, and she sat shyly looking
at the teapot. Mrs Lammle's innocent appeal was merely thrown
into the air, to mingle with the steam of the urn. Glancing towards
Mr and Mrs Boffin, she very slightly raised her eyebrows, as
though inquiring of her husband: 'Do I notice anything wrong

Mr Lammle, who had found his chest effective on a variety of
occasions, manoeuvred his capacious shirt front into the largest
demonstration possible, and then smiling retorted on his wife,

'Sophronia, darling, Mr and Mrs Boffin will remind you of the old
adage, that self-praise is no recommendation.'

'Self-praise, Alfred? Do you mean because we are one and the

'No, my dear child. I mean that you cannot fail to remember, if you
reflect for a single moment, that what you are pleased to
compliment me upon feeling in the case of Mr Boffin, you have
yourself confided to me as your own feeling in the case of Mrs

('I shall be beaten by this Lawyer,' Mrs Lammle gaily whispered to
Mrs Boffin. 'I am afraid I must admit it, if he presses me, for it's
damagingly true.')

Several white dints began to come and go about Mr Lammle's
nose, as he observed that Mrs Boffin merely looked up from the
teapot for a moment with an embarrassed smile, which was no
smile, and then looked down again.

'Do you admit the charge, Sophronia?' inquired Alfred, in a
rallying tone.

'Really, I think,' said Mrs Lammle, still gaily, 'I must throw myself
on the protection of the Court. Am I bound to answer that
question, my Lord?' To Mr Boffin.

'You needn't, if you don't like, ma'am,' was his answer. 'It's not of
the least consequence.'

Both husband and wife glanced at him, very doubtfully. His
manner was grave, but not coarse, and derived some dignity from a
certain repressed dislike of the tone of the conversation.

Again Mrs Lammle raised her eyebrows for instruction from her
husband. He replied in a slight nod, 'Try 'em again.'

'To protect myself against the suspicion of covert self-laudation,
my dear Mrs Boffin,' said the airy Mrs Lammle therefore, 'I must
tell you how it was.'

'No. Pray don't,' Mr Boffin interposed.

Mrs Lammie turned to him laughingly. 'The Court objects?'

'Ma'am,' said Mr Boffin, 'the Court (if I am the Court) does object.
The Court objects for two reasons. First, because the Court don't
think it fair. Secondly, because the dear old lady, Mrs Court (if I
am Mr) gets distressed by it.'

A very remarkable wavering between two bearings--between her
propitiatory bearing there, and her defiant bearing at Mr
Twemlow's--was observable on the part of Mrs Lammle as she

'What does the Court not consider fair?'

'Letting you go on,' replied Mr Boffin, nodding his head
soothingly, as who should say, We won't be harder on you than we
can help; we'll make the best of it. 'It's not above-board and it's not
fair. When the old lady is uncomfortable, there's sure to be good
reason for it. I see she is uncomfortable, and I plainly see this is
the good reason wherefore. HAVE you breakfasted, ma'am.'

Mrs Lammle, settling into her defiant manner, pushed her plate
away, looked at her husband, and laughed; but by no means gaily.

'Have YOU breakfasted, sir?' inquired Mr Boffin.

'Thank you,' replied Alfred, showing all his teeth. 'If Mrs Boffin
will oblige me, I'll take another cup of tea.'

He spilled a little of it over the chest which ought to have been so
effective, and which had done so little; but on the whole drank it
with something of an air, though the coming and going dints got
almost as large, the while, as if they had been made by pressure of
the teaspoon. 'A thousand thanks,' he then observed. 'I have

'Now, which,' said Mr Boffin softly, taking out a pocket-book,
'which of you two is Cashier?'

'Sophronia, my dear,' remarked her husband, as he leaned back in
his chair, waving his right hand towards her, while he hung his left
hand by the thumb in the arm-hole of his waistcoat: 'it shall be
your department.'

'I would rather,' said Mr Boffin, 'that it was your husband's,
ma'am, because--but never mind, because. I would rather have to
do with him. However, what I have to say, I will say with as little
offence as possible; if I can say it without any, I shall be heartily
glad. You two have done me a service, a very great service, in
doing what you did (my old lady knows what it was), and I have
put into this envelope a bank note for a hundred pound. I consider
the service well worth a hundred pound, and I am well pleased to
pay the money. Would you do me the favour to take it, and
likewise to accept my thanks?'

With a haughty action, and without looking towards him, Mrs
Lammle held out her left hand, and into it Mr Boffin put the little
packet. When she had conveyed it to her bosom, Mr Lammle had
the appearance of feeling relieved, and breathing more freely, as
not having been quite certain that the hundred pounds were his,
until the note had been safely transferred out of Mr Boffin's
keeping into his own Sophronia's.

'It is not impossible,' said Mr Boffin, addressing Alfred, 'that you
have had some general idea, sir, of replacing Rokesmith, in course
of time?'

'It is not,' assented Alfred, with a glittering smile and a great deal
of nose, 'not impossible.'

'And perhaps, ma'am,' pursued Mr Boffin, addressing Sophronia,
'you have been so kind as to take up my old lady in your own mind,
and to do her the honour of turning the question over whether you
mightn't one of these days have her in charge, like? Whether you
mightn't be a sort of Miss Bella Wilfer to her, and something

'I should hope,' returned Mrs Lammle, with a scornful look and in
a loud voice, 'that if I were anything to your wife, sir, I could
hardly fail to be something more than Miss Bella Wilfer, as you
call her.'

'What do YOU call her, ma'am?' asked Mr Boffin.

Mrs Lammle disdained to reply, and sat defiantly beating one foot
on the ground.

'Again I think I may say, that's not impossible. Is it, sir?' asked Mr
Boffin, turning to Alfred.

'It is not,' said Alfred, smiling assent as before, 'not impossible.'

'Now,' said Mr Boffin, gently, 'it won't do. I don't wish to say a
single word that might be afrerwards remembered as unpleasant;
but it won't do.'

'Sophronia, my love,' her husband repeated in a bantering manner,
'you hear? It won't do.'

'No,' said Mr Boffin, with his voice still dropped, 'it really won't.
You positively must excuse us. If you'll go your way, we'll go
ours, and so I hope this affair ends to the satisfaction of all parties.'

Mrs Lammle gave him the look of a decidedly dissatisfied party
demanding exemption from the category; but said nothing.

'The best thing we can make of the affair,' said Mr Boffin, 'is a
matter of business, and as a matter of business it's brought to a
conclusion. You have done me a great service, a very great
service, and I have paid for it. Is there any objection to the price?'

Mr and Mrs Lammle looked at one another across the table, but
neither could say that there was. Mr Lammle shrugged his
shoulders, and Mrs Lammle sat rigid.

'Very good,' said Mr Boffin. 'We hope (my old lady and me) that
you'll give us credit for taking the plainest and honestest short-cut
that could be taken under the circumstances. We have talked it
over with a deal of care (my old lady and me), and we have felt
that at all to lead you on, or even at all to let you go on of your own
selves, wouldn't be the right thing. So, I have openly given you to
understand that--' Mr Boffin sought for a new turn of speech, but
could find none so expressive as his former one, repeated in a
confidential tone, '--that it won't do. If I could have put the case
more pleasantly I would; but I hope I haven't put it very
unpleasantly; at all events I haven't meant to. So,' said Mr Boffin,
by way of peroration, 'wishing you well in the way you go, we now
conclude with the observation that perhaps you'll go it.'

Mr Lammle rose with an impudent laugh on his side of the table,
and Mrs Lammle rose with a disdainful frown on hers. At this
moment a hasty foot was heard on the staircase, and Georgiana
Podsnap broke into the room, unannounced and in tears.

'Oh, my dear Sophronia,' cried Georgiana, wringing her hands as
she ran up to embrace her, 'to think that you and Alfred should be
ruined! Oh, my poor dear Sophronia, to think that you should have
had a Sale at your house after all your kindness to me! Oh, Mr and
Mrs Boffin, pray forgive me for this intrusion, but you don't know
how fond I was of Sophronia when Pa wouldn't let me go there any
more, or what I have felt for Sophronia since I heard from Ma of
her having been brought low in the world. You don't, you can't,
you never can, think, how I have lain awake at night and cried for
my good Sophronia, my first and only friend!'

Mrs Lammle's manner changed under the poor silly girl's
embraces, and she turned extremely pale: directing one appealing
look, first to Mrs Boffin, and then to Mr Boffin. Both understood
her instantly, with a more delicate subtlety than much better
educated people, whose perception came less directly from the
heart, could have brought to bear upon the case.

'I haven't a minute,' said poor little Georgiana, 'to stay. I am out
shopping early with Ma, and I said I had a headache and got Ma to
leave me outside in the phaeton, in Piccadilly, and ran round to
Sackville Street, and heard that Sophronia was here, and then Ma
came to see, oh such a dreadful old stony woman from the country
in a turban in Portland Place, and I said I wouldn't go up with Ma
but would drive round and leave cards for the Boffins, which is
taking a liberty with the name; but oh my goodness I am
distracted, and the phaeton's at the door, and what would Pa say if
he knew it!'

'Don't ye be timid, my dear,' said Mrs Boffin. 'You came in to see

'Oh, no, I didn't,' cried Georgiana. 'It's very impolite, I know, but I
came to see my poor Sophronia, my only friend. Oh! how I felt the
separation, my dear Sophronia, before I knew you were brought
low in the world, and how much more I feel it now!'

There were actually tears in the bold woman's eyes, as the soft-
headed and soft-hearted girl twined her arms about her neck.

'But I've come on business,' said Georgiana, sobbing and drying
her face, and then searching in a little reticule, 'and if I don't
despatch it I shall have come for nothing, and oh good gracious!
what would Pa say if he knew of Sackville Street, and what would
Ma say if she was kept waiting on the doorsteps of that dreadful
turban, and there never were such pawing horses as ours unsettling
my mind every moment more and more when I want more mind
than I have got, by pawing up Mr Boffin's street where they have
no business to be. Oh! where is, where is it? Oh! I can't find it!'
All this time sobbing, and searching in the little reticule.

'What do you miss, my dear?' asked Mr Boffin, stepping forward.

'Oh! it's little enough,' replied Georgiana, 'because Ma always
treats me as if I was in the nursery (I am sure I wish I was!), but I
hardly ever spend it and it has mounted up to fifteen pounds,
Sophronia, and I hope three five-pound notes are better than
nothing, though so little, so little! And now I have found that--oh,
my goodness! there's the other gone next! Oh no, it isn't, here it is!'

With that, always sobbing and searching in the reticule, Georgiana
produced a necklace.

'Ma says chits and jewels have no business together,' pursued
Georgiana, 'and that's the reason why I have no trinkets except this,
but I suppose my aunt Hawkinson was of a different opinion,
because she left me this, though I used to think she might just as
well have buried it, for it's always kept in jewellers' cotton.
However, here it is, I am thankful to say, and of use at last, and
you'll sell it, dear Sophronia, and buy things with it.'

'Give it to me,' said Mr Boffin, gently taking it. 'I'll see that it's
properly disposed of.'

'Oh! are you such a friend of Sophronia's, Mr Boffin?' cried
Georgiana. 'Oh, how good of you! Oh, my gracious! there was
something else, and it's gone out of my head! Oh no, it isn't, I
remember what it was. My grandmamma's property, that'll come
to me when I am of age, Mr Boffin, will be all my own, and neither
Pa nor Ma nor anybody else will have any control over it, and what
I wish to do it so make some of it over somehow to Sophronia and
Alfred, by signing something somewhere that'll prevail on
somebody to advance them something. I want them to have
something handsome to bring them up in the world again. Oh, my
goodness me! Being such a friend of my dear Sophronia's, you
won't refuse me, will you?'

'No, no,' said Mr Boffin, 'it shall be seen to.'

'Oh, thank you, thank you!' cried Georgiana. 'If my maid had a
little note and half a crown, I could run round to the pastrycook's
to sign something, or I could sign something in the Square if
somebody would come and cough for me to let 'em in with the key,
and would bring a pen and ink with 'em and a bit of blotting-paper.
Oh, my gracious! I must tear myself away, or Pa and Ma will both
find out! Dear, dear Sophronia, good, good-bye!'

The credulous little creature again embraced Mrs Lammle most
affectionately, and then held out her hand to Mr Lammle.

'Good-bye, dear Mr Lammle--I mean Alfred. You won't think after
to-day that I have deserted you and Sophronia because you have
been brought low in the world, will you? Oh me! oh me! I have
been crying my eyes out of my head, and Ma will he sure to ask me
what's the matter. Oh, take me down, somebody, please, please,

Mr Boffin took her down, and saw her driven away, with her poor
little red eyes and weak chin peering over the great apron of the
custard-coloured phaeton, as if she had been ordered to expiate
some childish misdemeanour by going to bed in the daylight, and
were peeping over the counterpane in a miserable flutter of
repentance and low spirits. Returning to the breakfast-room, he
found Mrs Lammle still standing on her side of the table, and Mr
Lammle on his.

'I'll take care,' said Mr Boffin, showing the money and the
necklace, 'that these are soon given back.'

Mrs Lammle had taken up her parasol from a side table, and stood
sketching with it on the pattern of the damask cloth, as she had
sketched on the pattern of Mr Twemlow's papered wall.

'You will not undeceive her I hope, Mr Boffin?' she said, turning
her head towards him, but not her eyes.

'No,' said Mr Boffin.

'I mean, as to the worth and value of her friend,' Mrs Lammle
explained, in a measured voice, and with an emphasis on her last

'No,' he returned. 'I may try to give a hint at her home that she is in
want of kind and careful protection, but I shall say no more than
that to her parents, and I shall say nothing to the young lady

'Mr and Mrs Boffin,' said Mrs Lammle, still sketching, and
seeming to bestow great pains upon it, 'there are not many people,
I think, who, under the circumstances, would have been so
considerate and sparing as you have been to me just now. Do you
care to be thanked?'

'Thanks are always worth having,' said Mrs Boffin, in her ready
good nature.

'Then thank you both.'

'Sophronia,' asked her husband, mockingly, 'are you sentimental?'

'Well, well, my good sir,' Mr Boffin interposed, 'it's a very good
thing to think well of another person, and it's a very good thing to
be thought well of BY another person. Mrs Lammle will be none
the worse for it, if she is.'

'Much obliged. But I asked Mrs Lammle if she was.'

She stood sketching on the table-cloth, with her face clouded and
set, and was silent.

'Because,' said Alfred, 'I am disposed to be sentimental myself,
on your appropriation of the jewels and the money, Mr Boffin. As
our little Georgiana said, three five-pound notes are better than
nothing, and if you sell a necklace you can buy things with the

'IF you sell it,' was Mr Boffin's comment, as he put it in his pocket.

Alfred followed it with his looks, and also greedily pursued the
notes until they vanished into Mr Boffin's waistcoat pocket. Then
he directed a look, half exasperated and half jeering, at his wife.
She still stood sketching; but, as she sketched, there was a struggle
within her, which found expression in the depth of the few last
lines the parasol point indented into the table-cloth, and then some
tears fell from her eyes.

'Why, confound the woman,' exclaimed Lammle, 'she IS

She walked to the window, flinching under his angry stare, looked
out for a moment, and turned round quite coldly.

'You have had no former cause of complaint on the sentimental
score, Alfred, and you will have none in future. It is not worth
your noticing. We go abroad soon, with the money we have earned

'You know we do; you know we must.'

'There is no fear of my taking any sentiment with me. I should
soon be eased of it, if I did. But it will be all left behind. It IS all
left behind. Are you ready, Alfred?'

'What the deuce have I been waiting for but you, Sophronia?'

'Let us go then. I am sorry I have delayed our dignified departure.'

She passed out and he followed her. Mr and Mrs Boffin had the
curiosity softly to raise a window and look after them as they went
down the long street. They walked arm-in-arm, showily enough,
but without appearing to interchange a syllable. It might have
been fanciful to suppose that under their outer bearing there was
something of the shamed air of two cheats who were linked
together by concealed handcuffs; but, not so, to suppose that they
were haggardly weary of one another, of themselves, and of all this
world. In turning the street corner they might have turned out of
this world, for anything Mr and Mrs Boffin ever saw of them to the
contrary; for, they set eyes on the Lammles never more.

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