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Charles Dickens > Our Mutual Friend > Book 4 - 7

Our Mutual Friend

Book 4 - 7


Day was breaking at Plashwater Weir Mill Lock. Stars were yet
visible, but there was dull light in the east that was not the light of
night. The moon had gone down, and a mist crept along the banks
of the river, seen through which the trees were the ghosts of trees,
and the water was the ghost of water. This earth looked spectral,
and so did the pale stars: while the cold eastern glare,
expressionless as to heat or colour, with the eye of the firmament
quenched, might have been likened to the stare of the dead.

Perhaps it was so likened by the lonely Bargeman, standing on the
brink of the lock. For certain, Bradley Headstone looked that way,
when a chill air came up, and when it passed on murmuring, as if
it whispered something that made the phantom trees and water
tremble--or threaten--for fancy might have made it either.

He turned away, and tried the Lock-house door. It was fastened on
the inside.

'Is he afraid of me?' he muttered, knocking.

Rogue Riderhood was soon roused, and soon undrew the bolt and
let him in.

'Why, T'otherest, I thought you had been and got lost! Two nights
away! I a'most believed as you'd giv' me the slip, and I had as
good as half a mind for to advertise you in the newspapers to come

Bradley's face turned so dark on this hint, that Riderhood deemed
it expedient to soften it into a compliment.

'But not you, governor, not you,' he went on, stolidly shaking his
head. 'For what did I say to myself arter having amused myself
with that there stretch of a comic idea, as a sort of a playful game?
Why, I says to myself; "He's a man o' honour." That's what I says
to myself. "He's a man o' double honour."'

Very remarkably, Riderhood put no question to him. He had
looked at him on opening the door, and he now looked at him
again (stealthily this time), and the result of his looking was, that
he asked him no question.

'You'll be for another forty on 'em, governor, as I judges, afore you
turns your mind to breakfast,' said Riderhood, when his visitor sat
down, resting his chin on his hand, with his eyes on the ground.
And very remarkably again: Riderhood feigned to set the scanty
furniture in order, while he spoke, to have a show of reason for not
looking at him.

'Yes. I had better sleep, I think,' said Bradley, without changing
his position.

'I myself should recommend it, governor,' assented Riderhood.
'Might you be anyways dry?'

'Yes. I should like a drink,' said Bradley; but without appearing to
attend much.

Mr Riderhood got out his bottle, and fetched his jug-full of water,
and administered a potation. Then, he shook the coverlet of his
bed and spread it smooth, and Bradley stretched himself upon it in
the clothes he wore. Mr Riderhood poetically remarking that he
would pick the bones of his night's rest, in his wooden chair, sat in
the window as before; but, as before, watched the sleeper narrowly
until he was very sound asleep. Then, he rose and looked at him
close, in the bright daylight, on every side, with great minuteness.
He went out to his Lock to sum up what he had seen.

'One of his sleeves is tore right away below the elber, and the
t'other's had a good rip at the shoulder. He's been hung on to,
pretty tight, for his shirt's all tore out of the neck-gathers. He's
been in the grass and he's been in the water. And he's spotted, and
I know with what, and with whose. Hooroar!'

Bradley slept long. Early in the afternoon a barge came down.
Other barges had passed through, both ways, before it; but the
Lock-keeper hailed only this particular barge, for news, as if he
had made a time calculation with some nicety. The men on board
told him a piece of news, and there was a lingering on their part to
enlarge upon it.

Twelve hours had intervened since Bradley's lying down, when he
got up. 'Not that I swaller it,' said Riderhood, squinting at his
Lock, when he saw Bradley coming out of the house, 'as you've
been a sleeping all the time, old boy!'

Bradley came to him, sitting on his wooden lever, and asked what
o'clock it was? Riderhood told him it was between two and three.

'When are you relieved?' asked Bradley.

'Day arter to-morrow, governor.'

'Not sooner?'

'Not a inch sooner, governor.'

On both sides, importance seemed attached to this question of
relief. Riderhood quite petted his reply; saying a second time, and
prolonging a negative roll of his head, 'n--n--not a inch sooner,

'Did I tell you I was going on to-night?' asked Bradley.

'No, governor,' returned Riderhood, in a cheerful, affable, and
conversational manner, 'you did not tell me so. But most like you
meant to it and forgot to it. How, otherways, could a doubt have
come into your head about it, governor?'

'As the sun goes down, I intend to go on,' said Bradley.

'So much the more necessairy is a Peck,' returned Riderhood.
'Come in and have it, T'otherest.'

The formality of spreading a tablecloth not being observed in Mr
Riderhood's establishment, the serving of the 'peck' was the affair
of a moment; it merely consisting in the handing down of a
capacious baking dish with three-fourths of an immense meat pie
in it, and the production of two pocket-knives, an earthenware
mug, and a large brown bottle of beer.

Both ate and drank, but Riderhood much the more abundantly. In
lieu of plates, that honest man cut two triangular pieces from the
thick crust of the pie, and laid them, inside uppermost, upon the
table: the one before himself, and the other before his guest. Upon
these platters he placed two goodly portions of the contents of the
pie, thus imparting the unusual interest to the entertainment that
each partaker scooped out the inside of his plate, and consumed it
with his other fare, besides having the sport of pursuing the clots of
congealed gravy over the plain of the table, and successfully taking
them into his mouth at last from the blade of his knife, in case of
their not first sliding off it.

Bradley Headstone was so remarkably awkward at these exercises,
that the Rogue observed it.

'Look out, T'otherest!' he cried, 'you'll cut your hand!'

But, the caution came too late, for Bradley gashed it at the instant.
And, what was more unlucky, in asking Riderhood to tie it up, and
in standing close to him for the purpose, he shook his hand under
the smart of the wound, and shook blood over Riderhood's dress.

When dinner was done, and when what remained of the platters
and what remained of the congealed gravy had been put back into
what remained of the pie, which served as an economical
investment for all miscellaneous savings, Riderhood filled the mug
with beer and took a long drink. And now he did look at Bradley,
and with an evil eye.

'T'otherest!' he said, hoarsely, as he bent across the table to touch
his arm. 'The news has gone down the river afore you.'

'What news?'

'Who do you think,' said Riderhood, with a hitch of his head, as if
he disdainfully jerked the feint away, 'picked up the body? Guess.'

'I am not good at guessing anything.'

'She did. Hooroar! You had him there agin. She did.'

The convulsive twitching of Bradley Headstone's face, and the
sudden hot humour that broke out upon it, showed how grimly the
intelligence touched him. But he said not a single word, good or
bad. He only smiled in a lowering manner, and got up and stood
leaning at the window, looking through it. Riderhood followed
him with his eyes. Riderhood cast down his eyes on his own
besprinkled clothes. Riderhood began to have an air of being
better at a guess than Bradley owned to being.

'I have been so long in want of rest,' said the schoolmaster, 'that
with your leave I'll lie down again.'

'And welcome, T'otherest!' was the hospitable answer of his host.
He had laid himself down without waiting for it, and he remained
upon the bed until the sun was low. When he arose and came out
to resume his journey, he found his host waiting for him on the
grass by the towing-path outside the door.

'Whenever it may be necessary that you and I should have any
further communication together,' said Bradley, 'I will come back.

'Well, since no better can be,' said Riderhood, turning on his heel,
'Good-night!' But he turned again as the other set forth, and added
under his breath, looking after him with a leer: 'You wouldn't be
let to go like that, if my Relief warn't as good as come. I'll catch
you up in a mile.'

In a word, his real time of relief being that evening at sunset, his
mate came lounging in, within a quarter of an hour. Not staying to
fill up the utmost margin of his time, but borrowing an hour or so,
to be repaid again when he should relieve his reliever, Riderhood
straightway followed on the track of Bradley Headstone.

He was a better follower than Bradley. It had been the calling of
his life to slink and skulk and dog and waylay, and he knew his
calling well. He effected such a forced march on leaving the Lock
House that he was close up with him--that is to say, as close up
with him as he deemed it convenient to be--before another Lock
was passed. His man looked back pretty often as he went, but got
no hint of him. HE knew how to take advantage of the ground,
and where to put the hedge between them, and where the wall, and
when to duck, and when to drop, and had a thousand arts beyond
the doomed Bradley's slow conception.

But, all his arts were brought to a standstill, like himself when
Bradley, turning into a green lane or riding by the river-side--a
solitary spot run wild in nettles, briars, and brambles, and
encumbered with the scathed trunks of a whole hedgerow of felled
trees, on the outskirts of a little wood--began stepping on these
trunks and dropping down among them and stepping on them
again, apparently as a schoolboy might have done, but assuredly
with no schoolboy purpose, or want of purpose.

'What are you up to?' muttered Riderhood, down in the ditch, and
holding the hedge a little open with both hands. And soon his
actions made a most extraordinary reply. 'By George and the
Draggin!' cried Riderhood, 'if he ain't a going to bathe!'

He had passed back, on and among the trunks of trees again, and
has passed on to the water-side and had begun undressing on the
grass. For a moment it had a suspicious look of suicide, arranged
to counterfeit accident. 'But you wouldn't have fetched a bundle
under your arm, from among that timber, if such was your game!'
said Riderhood. Nevertheless it was a relief to him when the
bather after a plunge and a few strokes came out. 'For I shouldn't,'
he said in a feeling manner, 'have liked to lose you till I had made
more money out of you neither.'

Prone in another ditch (he had changed his ditch as his man had
changed his position), and holding apart so small a patch of the
hedge that the sharpest eyes could not have detected him, Rogue
Riderhood watched the bather dressing. And now gradually came
the wonder that he stood up, completely clothed, another man, and
not the Bargeman.

'Aha!' said Riderhood. 'Much as you was dressed that night. I see.
You're a taking me with you, now. You're deep. But I knows a

When the bather had finished dressing, he kneeled on the grass,
doing something with his hands, and again stood up with his
bundle under his arm. Looking all around him with great
attention, he then went to the river's edge, and flung it in as far,
and yet as lightly as he could. It was not until he was so decidedly
upon his way again as to be beyond a bend of the river and for the
time out of view, that Riderhood scrambled from the ditch.

'Now,' was his debate with himself 'shall I foller you on, or shall I
let you loose for this once, and go a fishing?' The debate
continuing, he followed, as a precautionary measure in any case,
and got him again in sight. 'If I was to let you loose this once,' said
Riderhood then, still following, 'I could make you come to me
agin, or I could find you out in one way or another. If I wasn't to
go a fishing, others might.--I'll let you loose this once, and go a
fishing!' With that, he suddenly dropped the pursuit and turned.

The miserable man whom he had released for the time, but not for
long, went on towards London. Bradley was suspicious of every
sound he heard, and of every face he saw, but was under a spell
which very commonly falls upon the shedder of blood, and had no
suspicion of the real danger that lurked in his life, and would have
it yet. Riderhood was much in his thoughts--had never been out of
his thoughts since the night-adventure of their first meeting; but
Riderhood occupied a very different place there, from the place of
pursuer; and Bradley had been at the pains of devising so many
means of fitting that place to him, and of wedging him into it, that
his mind could not compass the possibility of his occupying any
other. And this is another spell against which the shedder of blood
for ever strives in vain. There are fifty doors by which discovery
may enter. With infinite pains and cunning, he double locks and
bars forty-nine of them, and cannot see the fiftieth standing wide

Now, too, was he cursed with a state of mind more wearing and
more wearisome than remorse. He had no remorse; but the
evildoer who can hold that avenger at bay, cannot escape the
slower torture of incessantly doing the evil deed again and doing it
more efficiently. In the defensive declarations and pretended
confessions of murderers, the pursuing shadow of this torture may
be traced through every lie they tell. If I had done it as alleged, is
it conceivable that I would have made this and this mistake? If I
had done it as alleged, should I have left that unguarded place
which that false and wicked witness against me so infamously
deposed to? The state of that wretch who continually finds the
weak spots in his own crime, and strives to strengthen them when
it is unchangeable, is a state that aggravates the offence by doing
the deed a thousand times instead of once; but it is a state, too, that
tauntingly visits the offence upon a sullen unrepentant nature with
its heaviest punishment every time.

Bradley toiled on, chained heavily to the idea of his hatred and his
vengeance, and thinking how he might have satiated both in many
better ways than the way he had taken. The instrument might have
been better, the spot and the hour might have been better chosen.
To batter a man down from behind in the dark, on the brink of a
river, was well enough, but he ought to have been instantly
disabled, whereas he had turned and seized his assailant; and so, to
end it before chance-help came, and to be rid of him, he had been
hurriedly thrown backward into the river before the life was fully
beaten out of him. Now if it could be done again, it must not be so
done. Supposing his head had been held down under water for a
while. Supposing the first blow had been truer. Supposing he had
been shot. Supposing he had been strangled. Suppose this way,
that way, the other way. Suppose anything but getting unchained
from the one idea, for that was inexorably impossible.

The school reopened next day. The scholars saw little or no
change in their master's face, for it always wore its slowly
labouring expression. But, as he heard his classes, he was always
doing the deed and doing it better. As he paused with his piece of
chalk at the black board before writing on it, he was thinking of the
spot, and whether the water was not deeper and the fall straighter,
a little higher up, or a little lower down. He had half a mind to
draw a line or two upon the board, and show himself what he
meant. He was doing it again and improving on the manner, at
prayers, in his mental arithmetic, all through his questioning, all
through the day.

Charley Hexam was a master now, in another school, under
another head. It was evening, and Bradley was walking in his
garden observed from behind a blind by gentle little Miss Peecher,
who contemplated offering him a loan of her smelling salts for
headache, when Mary Anne, in faithful attendance, held up her

'Yes, Mary Anne?'

'Young Mr Hexam, if you please, ma'am, coming to see Mr

'Very good, Mary Anne.'

Again Mary Anne held up her arm.

'You may speak, Mary Anne?'

'Mr Headstone has beckoned young Mr Hexam into his house,
ma'am, and he has gone in himself without waiting for young Mr
Hexam to come up, and now HE has gone in too, ma'am, and has
shut the door.'

'With all my heart, Mary Anne.'

Again Mary Anne's telegraphic arm worked.

'What more, Mary Anne?'

'They must find it rather dull and dark, Miss Peecher, for the
parlour blind's down, and neither of them pulls it up.'

'There is no accounting,' said good Miss Peecher with a little sad
sigh which she repressed by laying her hand on her neat
methodical boddice, 'there is no accounting for tastes, Mary Anne.'

Charley, entering the dark room, stopped short when he saw his
old friend in its yellow shade.

'Come in, Hexam, come in.'

Charley advanced to take the hand that was held out to him; but
stopped again, short of it. The heavy, bloodshot eyes of the
schoolmaster, rising to his face with an effort, met his look of

'Mr Headstone, what's the matter?'

'Matter? Where?'

'Mr Headstone, have you heard the news? This news about the
fellow, Mr Eugene Wrayburn? That he is killed?'

'He is dead, then!' exclaimed Bradley.

Young Hexam standing looking at him, he moistened his lips with
his tongue, looked about the room, glanced at his former pupil, and
looked down. 'I heard of the outrage,' said Bradley, trying to
constrain his working mouth, 'but I had not heard the end of it.'

'Where were you,' said the boy, advancing a step as he lowered his
voice, 'when it was done? Stop! I don't ask that. Don't tell me. If
you force your confidence upon me, Mr Headstone, I'll give up
every word of it. Mind! Take notice. I'll give up it, and I'll give
up you. I will!'

The wretched creature seemed to suffer acutely under this
renunciation. A desolate air of utter and complete loneliness fell
upon him, like a visible shade.

'It's for me to speak, not you,' said the boy. 'If you do, you'll do it at
your peril. I am going to put your selfishness before you, Mr
Headstone--your passionate, violent, and ungovernable selfishness
--to show you why I can, and why I will, have nothing more to do
with you.'

He looked at young Hexam as if he were waiting for a scholar to go
on with a lesson that he knew by heart and was deadly tired of.
But he had said his last word to him.

'If you had any part--I don't say what--in this attack,' pursued the
boy; 'or if you know anything about it--I don't say how much--or if
you know who did it--I go no closer--you did an injury to me that's
never to be forgiven. You know that I took you with me to his
chambers in the Temple when I told him my opinion of him, and
made myself responsible for my opinion of you. You know that I
took you with me when I was watching him with a view to
recovering my sister and bringing her to her senses; you know that
I have allowed myself to be mixed up with you, all through this
business, in favouring your desire to marry my sister. And how do
you know that, pursuing the ends of your own violent temper, you
have not laid me open to suspicion? Is that your gratitude to me,
Mr Headstone?'

Bradley sat looking steadily before him at the vacant air. As often
as young Hexam stopped, he turned his eyes towards him, as if he
were waiting for him to go on with the lesson, and get it done. As
often as the boy resumed, Bradley resumed his fixed face.

'I am going to be plain with you, Mr Headstone,' said young
Hexam, shaking his head in a half-threatening manner, 'because
this is no time for affecting not to know things that I do know--
except certain things at which it might not be very safe for you, to
hint again. What I mean is this: if you were a good master, I was a
good pupil. I have done you plenty of credit, and in improving my
own reputation I have improved yours quite as much. Very well
then. Starting on equal terms, I want to put before you how you
have shown your gratitude to me, for doing all I could to further
your wishes with reference to my sister. You have compromised
me by being seen about with me, endeavouring to counteract this
Mr Eugene Wrayburn. That's the first thing you have done. If my
character, and my now dropping you, help me out of that, Mr
Headstone, the deliverance is to be attributed to me, and not to you.
No thanks to you for it!'

The boy stopping again, he moved his eyes again.

'I am going on, Mr Headstone, don't you be afraid. I am going on
to the end, and I have told you beforehand what the end is. Now,
you know my story. You are as well aware as I am, that I have had
many disadvantages to leave behind me in life. You have heard
me mention my father, and you are sufficiently acquainted with the
fact that the home from which I, as I may say, escaped, might have
been a more creditable one than it was. My father died, and then it
might have been supposed that my way to respectability was pretty
clear. No. For then my sister begins.'

He spoke as confidently, and with as entire an absence of any tell-
tale colour in his cheek, as if there were no softening old time
behind him. Not wonderful, for there WAS none in his hollow
empty heart. What is there but self, for selfishness to see behind

'When I speak of my sister, I devoutly wish that you had never seen
her, Mr Headstone. However, you did see her, and that's useless
now. I confided in you about her. I explained her character to you,
and how she interposed some ridiculous fanciful notions in the
way of our being as respectable as I tried for. You fell in love with
her, and I favoured you with all my might. She could not be
induced to favour you, and so we came into collision with this Mr
Eugene Wrayburn. Now, what have you done? Why, you have
justified my sister in being firmly set against you from first to last,
and you have put me in the wrong again! And why have you done
it? Because, Mr Headstone, you are in all your passions so selfish,
and so concentrated upon yourself that you have not bestowed one
proper thought on me.'

The cool conviction with which the boy took up and held his
position, could have been derived from no other vice in human

'It is,' he went on, actually with tears, 'an extraordinary
circumstance attendant on my life, that every effort I make towards
perfect respectability, is impeded by somebody else through no
fault of mine! Not content with doing what I have put before you,
you will drag my name into notoriety through dragging my sister's
--which you are pretty sure to do, if my suspicions have any
foundation at all--and the worse you prove to be, the harder it will
be for me to detach myself from being associated with you in
people's minds.'

When he had dried his eyes and heaved a sob over his injuries, he
began moving towards the door.

'However, I have made up my mind that I will become respectable
in the scale of society, and that I will not be dragged down by
others. I have done with my sister as well as with you. Since she
cares so little for me as to care nothing for undermining my
respectability, she shall go her way and I will go mine. My
prospects are very good, and I mean to follow them alone. Mr
Headstone, I don't say what you have got upon your conscience, for
I don't know. Whatever lies upon it, I hope you will see the justice
of keeping wide and clear of me, and will find a consolation in
completely exonerating all but yourself. I hope, before many years
are out, to succeed the master in my present school, and the
mistress being a single woman, though some years older than I am,
I might even marry her. If it is any comfort to you to know what
plans I may work out by keeping myself strictly respectable in the
scale of society, these are the plans at present occurring to me. In
conclusion, if you feel a sense of having injured me, and a desire to
make some small reparation, I hope you will think how respectable
you might have been yourself and will contemplate your blighted

Was it strange that the wretched man should take this heavily to
heart? Perhaps he had taken the boy to heart, first, through some
long laborious years; perhaps through the same years he had found
his drudgery lightened by communication with a brighter and more
apprehensive spirit than his own; perhaps a family resemblance of
face and voice between the boy and his sister, smote him hard in
the gloom of his fallen state. For whichsoever reason, or for all, he
drooped his devoted head when the boy was gone, and shrank
together on the floor, and grovelled there, with the palms of his
hands tight-clasping his hot temples, in unutterable misery, and
unrelieved by a single tear.

Rogue Riderhood had been busy with the river that day. He had
fished with assiduity on the previous evening, but the light was
short, and he had fished unsuccessfully. He had fished again that
day with better luck, and had carried his fish home to Plashwater
Weir Mill Lock-house, in a bundle.

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