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Charles Dickens > Our Mutual Friend > Book 4 - 15

Our Mutual Friend

Book 4 - 15


How Bradley Headstone had been racked and riven in his mind
since the quiet evening when by the river-side he had risen, as it
were, out of the ashes of the Bargeman, none but he could have
told. Not even he could have told, for such misery can only be felt.

First, he had to bear the combined weight of the knowledge of
what he had done, of that haunting reproach that he might have
done it so much better, and of the dread of discovery. This was
load enough to crush him, and he laboured under it day and night.
It was as heavy on him in his scanty sleep, as in his red-eyed
waking hours. It bore him down with a dread unchanging
monotony, in which there was not a moment's variety. The
overweighted beast of burden, or the overweighted slave, can for
certain instants shift the physical load, and find some slight respite
even in enforcing additional pain upon such a set of muscles or
such a limb. Not even that poor mockery of relief could the
wretched man obtain, under the steady pressure of the infernal
atmosphere into which he had entered.

Time went by, and no visible suspicion dogged him; time went by,
and in such public accounts of the attack as were renewed at
intervals, he began to see Mr Lightwood (who acted as lawyer for
the injured man) straying further from the fact, going wider of the
issue, and evidently slackening in his zeal. By degrees, a
glimmering of the cause of this began to break on Bradley's sight.
Then came the chance meeting with Mr Milvey at the railway
station (where he often lingered in his leisure hours, as a place
where any fresh news of his deed would be circulated, or any
placard referring to it would be posted), and then he saw in the
light what he had brought about.

For, then he saw that through his desperate attempt to separate
those two for ever, he had been made the means of uniting them.
That he had dipped his hands in blood, to mark himself a
miserable fool and tool. That Eugene Wrayburn, for his wife's
sake, set him aside and left him to crawl along his blasted course.
He thought of Fate, or Providence, or be the directing Power what
it might, as having put a fraud upon him--overreached him--and in
his impotent mad rage bit, and tore, and had his fit.

New assurance of the truth came upon him in the next few
following days, when it was put forth how the wounded man had
been married on his bed, and to whom, and how, though always in
a dangerous condition, he was a shade better. Bradley would far
rather have been seized for his murder, than he would have read
that passage, knowing himself spared, and knowing why.

But, not to be still further defrauded and overreached--which he
would be, if implicated by Riderhood, and punished by the law for
his abject failure, as though it had been a success--he kept close in
his school during the day, ventured out warily at night, and went
no more to the railway station. He examined the advertisements in
the newspapers for any sign that Riderhood acted on his hinted
threat of so summoning him to renew their acquaintance, but found
none. Having paid him handsomely for the support and
accommodation he had had at the Lock House, and knowing him
to be a very ignorant man who could not write, he began to doubt
whether he was to be feared at all, or whether they need ever meet

All this time, his mind was never off the rack, and his raging sense
of having been made to fling himself across the chasm which
divided those two, and bridge it over for their coming together,
never cooled down. This horrible condition brought on other fits.
He could not have said how many, or when; but he saw in the faces
of his pupils that they had seen him in that state, and that they
were possessed by a dread of his relapsing.

One winter day when a slight fall of snow was feathering the sills
and frames of the schoolroom windows, he stood at his black
board, crayon in hand, about to commence with a class; when,
reading in the countenances of those boys that there was something
wrong, and that they seemed in alarm for him, he turned his eyes
to the door towards which they faced. He then saw a slouching
man of forbidding appearance standing in the midst of the school,
with a bundle under his arm; and saw that it was Riderhood.

He sat down on a stool which one of his boys put for him, and he
had a passing knowledge that he was in danger of falling, and that
his face was becoming distorted. But, the fit went off for that time,
and he wiped his mouth, and stood up again.

'Beg your pardon, governor! By your leave!' said Riderhood,
knuckling his forehead, with a chuckle and a leer. 'What place
may this be?'

'This is a school.'

'Where young folks learns wot's right?' said Riderhood, gravely
nodding. 'Beg your pardon, governor! By your leave! But who
teaches this school?'

'I do.'

'You're the master, are you, learned governor?'

'Yes. I am the master.'

'And a lovely thing it must be,' said Riderhood, 'fur to learn young
folks wot's right, and fur to know wot THEY know wot you do it.
Beg your pardon, learned governor! By your leave!--That there
black board; wot's it for?'

'It is for drawing on, or writing on.'

'Is it though!' said Riderhood. 'Who'd have thought it, from the
looks on it! WOULD you be so kind as write your name upon it,
learned governor?' (In a wheedling tone.)

Bradley hesitated for a moment; but placed his usual signature,
enlarged, upon the board.

'I ain't a learned character myself,' said Riderhood, surveying the
class, 'but I do admire learning in others. I should dearly like to
hear these here young folks read that there name off, from the

The arms of the class went up. At the miserable master's nod, the
shrill chorus arose: 'Bradley Headstone!'

'No?' cried Riderhood. 'You don't mean it? Headstone! Why,
that's in a churchyard. Hooroar for another turn!'

Another tossing of arms, another nod, and another shrill chorus:

'Bradley Headstone!'

'I've got it now!' said Riderhood, after attentively listening, and
internally repeating: 'Bradley. I see. Chris'en name, Bradley
sim'lar to Roger which is my own. Eh? Fam'ly name, Headstone,
sim'lar to Riderhood which is my own. Eh?'

Shrill chorus. 'Yes!'

'Might you be acquainted, learned governor,' said Riderhood, 'with
a person of about your own heighth and breadth, and wot 'ud pull
down in a scale about your own weight, answering to a name
sounding summat like Totherest?'

With a desperation in him that made him perfectly quiet, though
his jaw was heavily squared; with his eyes upon Riderhood; and
with traces of quickened breathing in his nostrils; the schoolmaster
replied, in a suppressed voice, after a pause: 'I think I know the
man you mean.'

'I thought you knowed the man I mean, learned governor. I want
the man.'

With a half glance around him at his pupils, Bradley returned:

'Do you suppose he is here?'

'Begging your pardon, learned governor, and by your leave,' said
Riderhood, with a laugh, 'how could I suppose he's here, when
there's nobody here but you, and me, and these young lambs wot
you're a learning on? But he is most excellent company, that man,
and I want him to come and see me at my Lock, up the river.'

'I'll tell him so.'

'D'ye think he'll come?' asked Riderhood.

'I am sure he will.'

'Having got your word for him,' said Riderhood, 'I shall count
upon him. P'raps you'd so fur obleege me, learned governor, as tell
him that if he don't come precious soon, I'll look him up.'

'He shall know it.'

'Thankee. As I says a while ago,' pursued Riderhood, changing his
hoarse tone and leering round upon the class again, 'though not a
learned character my own self, I do admire learning in others, to be
sure! Being here and having met with your kind attention, Master,
might I, afore I go, ask a question of these here young lambs of

'If it is in the way of school,' said Bradley, always sustaining his
dark look at the other, and speaking in his suppressed voice, 'you

'Oh! It's in the way of school!' cried Riderhood. 'I'll pound it,
Master, to be in the way of school. Wot's the diwisions of water,
my lambs? Wot sorts of water is there on the land?'

Shrill chorus: 'Seas, rivers, lakes, and ponds.'

'Seas, rivers, lakes, and ponds,' said Riderhood. 'They've got all
the lot, Master! Blowed if I shouldn't have left out lakes, never
having clapped eyes upon one, to my knowledge. Seas, rivers,
lakes, and ponds. Wot is it, lambs, as they ketches in seas, rivers,
lakes, and ponds?'

Shrill chorus (with some contempt for the ease of the question):


'Good a-gin!' said Riderhood. 'But wot else is it, my lambs, as they
sometimes ketches in rivers?'

Chorus at a loss. One shrill voice: 'Weed!'

'Good agin!' cried Riderhood. 'But it ain't weed neither. You'll
never guess, my dears. Wot is it, besides fish, as they sometimes
ketches in rivers? Well! I'll tell you. It's suits o' clothes.'

Bradley's face changed.

'Leastways, lambs,' said Riderhood, observing him out of the
corners of his eyes, 'that's wot I my own self sometimes ketches in
rivers. For strike me blind, my lambs, if I didn't ketch in a river
the wery bundle under my arm!'

The class looked at the master, as if appealing from the irregular
entrapment of this mode of examination. The master looked at the
examiner, as if he would have torn him to pieces.

'I ask your pardon, learned governor,' said Riderhood, smearing his
sleeve across his mouth as he laughed with a relish, 'tain't fair to
the lambs, I know. It wos a bit of fun of mine. But upon my soul I
drawed this here bundle out of a river! It's a Bargeman's suit of
clothes. You see, it had been sunk there by the man as wore it, and
I got it up.'

'How do you know it was sunk by the man who wore it?' asked

'Cause I see him do it,' said Riderhood.

They looked at each other. Bradley, slowly withdrawing his eyes,
turned his face to the black board and slowly wiped his name out.

'A heap of thanks, Master,' said Riderhood, 'for bestowing so much
of your time, and of the lambses' time, upon a man as hasn't got no
other recommendation to you than being a honest man. Wishing to
see at my Lock up the river, the person as we've spoke of, and as
you've answered for, I takes my leave of the lambs and of their
learned governor both.'

With those words, he slouched out of the school, leaving the
master to get through his weary work as he might, and leaving the
whispering pupils to observe the master's face until he fell into the
fit which had been long impending.

The next day but one was Saturday, and a holiday. Bradley rose
early, and set out on foot for Plashwater Weir Mill Lock. He rose
so early that it was not yet light when he began his journey. Before
extinguishing the candle by which he had dressed himself, he
made a little parcel of his decent silver watch and its decent guard,
and wrote inside the paper: 'Kindly take care of these for me.' He
then addressed the parcel to Miss Peecher, and left it on the most
protected corner of the little seat in her little porch.

It was a cold hard easterly morning when he latched the garden
gate and turned away. The light snowfall which had feathered his
schoolroom windows on the Thursday, still lingered in the air, and
was falling white, while the wind blew black. The tardy day did
not appear until he had been on foot two hours, and had traversed a
greater part of London from east to west. Such breakfast as he
had, he took at the comfortless public-house where he had parted
from Riderhood on the occasion of their night-walk. He took it,
standing at the littered bar, and looked loweringly at a man who
stood where Riderhood had stood that early morning.

He outwalked the short day, and was on the towing-path by the
river, somewhat footsore, when the night closed in. Still two or
three miles short of the Lock, he slackened his pace then, but went
steadily on. The ground was now covered with snow, though
thinly, and there were floating lumps of ice in the more exposed
parts of the river, and broken sheets of ice under the shelter of the
banks. He took heed of nothing but the ice, the snow, and the
distance, until he saw a light ahead, which he knew gleamed from
the Lock House window. It arrested his steps, and he looked all
around. The ice, and the snow, and he, and the one light, had
absolute possession of the dreary scene. In the distance before
him, lay the place where he had struck the worse than useless
blows that mocked him with Lizzie's presence there as Eugene's
wife. In the distance behind him, lay the place where the children
with pointing arms had seemed to devote him to the demons in
crying out his name. Within there, where the light was, was the
man who as to both distances could give him up to ruin. To these
limits had his world shrunk.

He mended his pace, keeping his eyes upon the light with a strange
intensity, as if he were taking aim at it. When he approached it so
nearly as that it parted into rays, they seemed to fasten themselves
to him and draw him on. When he struck the door with his hand,
his foot followed so quickly on his hand, that he was in the room
before he was bidden to enter.

The light was the joint product of a fire and a candle. Between the
two, with his feet on the iron fender, sat Riderhood, pipe in mouth.

He looked up with a surly nod when his visitor came in. His
visitor looked down with a surly nod. His outer clothing removed,
the visitor then took a seat on the opposite side of the fire.

'Not a smoker, I think?' said Riderhood, pushing a bottle to him
across the table.


They both lapsed into silence, with their eyes upon the fire.

'You don't need to be told I am here,' said Bradley at length. 'Who
is to begin?'

'I'll begin,' said Riderhood, 'when I've smoked this here pipe out.'

He finished it with great deliberation, knocked out the ashes on the
hob, and put it by.

'I'll begin,' he then repeated, 'Bradley Headstone, Master, if you
wish it.'

'Wish it? I wish to know what you want with me.'

'And so you shall.' Riderhood had looked hard at his hands and
his pockets, apparently as a precautionary measure lest he should
have any weapon about him. But, he now leaned forward, turning
the collar of his waistcoat with an inquisitive finger, and asked,
'Why, where's your watch?'

'I have left it behind.'

'I want it. But it can be fetched. I've took a fancy to it.'

Bradley answered with a contemptuous laugh.

'I want it,' repeated Riderhood, in a louder voice, 'and I mean to
have it.'

'That is what you want of me, is it?'

'No,' said Riderhood, still louder; 'it's on'y part of what I want of
you. I want money of you.'

'Anything else?'

'Everythink else!' roared Riderhood, in a very loud and furious
way. 'Answer me like that, and I won't talk to you at all.'

Bradley looked at him.

'Don't so much as look at me like that, or I won't talk to you at all,'
vociferated Riderhood. 'But, instead of talking, I'll bring my hand
down upon you with all its weight,' heavily smiting the table with
great force, 'and smash you!'

'Go on,' said Bradley, after moistening his lips.

'O! I'm a going on. Don't you fear but I'll go on full-fast enough
for you, and fur enough for you, without your telling. Look here,
Bradley Headstone, Master. You might have split the T'other
governor to chips and wedges, without my caring, except that I
might have come upon you for a glass or so now and then. Else
why have to do with you at all? But when you copied my clothes,
and when you copied my neckhankercher, and when you shook
blood upon me after you had done the trick, you did wot I'll be
paid for and paid heavy for. If it come to be throw'd upon you, you
was to be ready to throw it upon me, was you? Where else but in
Plashwater Weir Mill Lock was there a man dressed according as
described? Where else but in Plashwater Weir Mill Lock was
there a man as had had words with him coming through in his
boat? Look at the Lock-keeper in Plashwater Weir Mill Lock, in
them same answering clothes and with that same answering red
neckhankercher, and see whether his clothes happens to be bloody
or not. Yes, they do happen to be bloody. Ah, you sly devil!'

Bradley, very white, sat looking at him in silence.

'But two could play at your game,' said Riderhood, snapping his
fingers at him half a dozen times, 'and I played it long ago; long
afore you tried your clumsy hand at it; in days when you hadn't
begun croaking your lecters or what not in your school. I know to
a figure how you done it. Where you stole away, I could steal
away arter you, and do it knowinger than you. I know how you
come away from London in your own clothes, and where you
changed your clothes, and hid your clothes. I see you with my own
eyes take your own clothes from their hiding-place among them
felled trees, and take a dip in the river to account for your dressing
yourself, to any one as might come by. I see you rise up Bradley
Headstone, Master, where you sat down Bargeman. I see you pitch
your Bargeman's bundle into the river. I hooked your Bargeman's
bundle out of the river. I've got your Bargeman's clothes, tore this
way and that way with the scuffle, stained green with the grass,
and spattered all over with what bust from the blows. I've got
them, and I've got you. I don't care a curse for the T'other
governor, alive or dead, but I care a many curses for my own self.
And as you laid your plots agin me and was a sly devil agin me, I'll
be paid for it--I'll be paid for it--I'll be paid for it--till I've drained
you dry!'

Bradley looked at the fire, with a working face, and was silent for a
while. At last he said, with what seemed an inconsistent
composure of voice and feature:

'You can't get blood out of a stone, Riderhood.'

'I can get money out of a schoolmaster though.'

'You can't get out of me what is not in me. You can't wrest from
me what I have not got. Mine is but a poor calling. You have had
more than two guineas from me, already. Do you know how long
it has taken me (allowing for a long and arduous training) to earn
such a sum?'

'I don't know, nor I don't care. Yours is a 'spectable calling. To
save your 'spectability, it's worth your while to pawn every article
of clothes you've got, sell every stick in your house, and beg and
borrow every penny you can get trusted with. When you've done
that and handed over, I'll leave you. Not afore.'

'How do you mean, you'll leave me?'

'I mean as I'll keep you company, wherever you go, when you go
away from here. Let the Lock take care of itself. I'll take care of
you, once I've got you.'

Bradley again looked at the fire. Eyeing him aside, Riderhood took
up his pipe, refilled it, lighted it, and sat smoking. Bradley leaned
his elbows on his knees, and his head upon his hands, and looked
at the fire with a most intent abstraction.

'Riderhood,' he said, raising himself in his chair, after a long
silence, and drawing out his purse and putting it on the table. 'Say
I part with this, which is all the money I have; say I let you have
my watch; say that every quarter, when I draw my salary, I pay you
a certain portion of it.'

'Say nothink of the sort,' retorted Riderhood, shaking his head as
he smoked. 'You've got away once, and I won't run the chance
agin. I've had trouble enough to find you, and shouldn't have
found you, if I hadn't seen you slipping along the street overnight,
and watched you till you was safe housed. I'll have one settlement
with you for good and all.'

'Riderhood, I am a man who has lived a retired life. I have no
resources beyond myself. I have absolutely no friends.'

'That's a lie,' said Riderhood. 'You've got one friend as I knows of;
one as is good for a Savings-Bank book, or I'm a blue monkey!'

Bradley's face darkened, and his hand slowly closed on the purse
and drew it back, as he sat listening for what the other should go
on to say.

'I went into the wrong shop, fust, last Thursday,' said Riderhood.
'Found myself among the young ladies, by George! Over the young
ladies, I see a Missis. That Missis is sweet enough upon you,
Master, to sell herself up, slap, to get you out of trouble. Make her
do it then.'

Bradley stared at him so very suddenly that Riderhood, not quite
knowing how to take it, affected to be occupied with the encircling
smoke from his pipe; fanning it away with his hand, and blowing
it off.

'You spoke to the mistress, did you?' inquired Bradley, with that
former composure of voice and feature that seemed inconsistent,
and with averted eyes.

'Poof! Yes,' said Riderhood, withdrawing his attention from the
smoke. 'I spoke to her. I didn't say much to her. She was put in a
fluster by my dropping in among the young ladies (I never did set
up for a lady's man), and she took me into her parlour to hope as
there was nothink wrong. I tells her, "O no, nothink wrong. The
master's my wery good friend." But I see how the land laid, and
that she was comfortable off.'

Bradley put the purse in his pocket, grasped his left wrist with his
right hand, and sat rigidly contemplating the fire.

'She couldn't live more handy to you than she does,' said
Riderhood, 'and when I goes home with you (as of course I am a
going), I recommend you to clean her out without loss of time.
You can marry her, arter you and me have come to a settlement.
She's nice-looking, and I know you can't be keeping company with
no one else, having been so lately disapinted in another quarter.'

Not one other word did Bradley utter all that night. Not once did
he change his attitude, or loosen his hold upon his wrist. Rigid
before the fire, as if it were a charmed flame that was turning him
old, he sat, with the dark lines deepening in his face, its stare
becoming more and more haggard, its surface turning whiter and
whiter as if it were being overspread with ashes, and the very
texture and colour of his hair degenerating.

Not until the late daylight made the window transparent, did this
decaying statue move. Then it slowly arose, and sat in the window
looking out.

Riderhood had kept his chair all night. In the earlier part of the
night he had muttered twice or thrice that it was bitter cold; or that
the fire burnt fast, when he got up to mend it; but, as he could elicit
from his companion neither sound nor movement, he had
afterwards held his peace. He was making some disorderly
preparations for coffee, when Bradley came from the window and
put on his outer coat and hat.

'Hadn't us better have a bit o' breakfast afore we start?' said
Riderhood. 'It ain't good to freeze a empty stomach, Master.'

Without a sign to show that he heard, Bradley walked out of the
Lock House. Catching up from the table a piece of bread, and
taking his Bargeman's bundle under his arm, Riderhood
immediately followed him. Bradley turned towards London.
Riderhood caught him up, and walked at his side.

The two men trudged on, side by side, in silence, full three miles.
Suddenly, Bradley turned to retrace his course. Instantly,
Riderhood turned likewise, and they went back side by side.

Bradley re-entered the Lock House. So did Riderhood. Bradley sat
down in the window. Riderhood warmed himself at the fire. After
an hour or more, Bradley abruptly got up again, and again went
out, but this time turned the other way. Riderhood was close after
him, caught him up in a few paces, and walked at his side.

This time, as before, when he found his attendant not to be shaken
off, Bradley suddenly turned back. This time, as before, Riderhood
turned back along with him. But, not this time, as before, did they
go into the Lock House, for Bradley came to a stand on the snow-
covered turf by the Lock, looking up the river and down the river.
Navigation was impeded by the frost, and the scene was a mere
white and yellow desert.

'Come, come, Master,' urged Riderhood, at his side. 'This is a dry
game. And where's the good of it? You can't get rid of me, except
by coming to a settlement. I am a going along with you wherever
you go.'

Without a word of reply, Bradley passed quickly from him over
the wooden bridge on the lock gates. 'Why, there's even less sense
in this move than t'other,' said Riderhood, following. 'The Weir's
there, and you'll have to come back, you know.'

Without taking the least notice, Bradley leaned his body against a
post, in a resting attitude, and there rested with his eyes cast down.
'Being brought here,' said Riderhood, gruffly, 'I'll turn it to some
use by changing my gates.' With a rattle and a rush of water, he
then swung-to the lock gates that were standing open, before
opening the others. So, both sets of gates were, for the moment,

'You'd better by far be reasonable, Bradley Headstone, Master,'
said Riderhood, passing him, 'or I'll drain you all the dryer for it,
when we do settle.--Ah! Would you!'

Bradley had caught him round the body. He seemed to be girdled
with an iron ring. They were on the brink of the Lock, about
midway between the two sets of gates.

'Let go!' said Riderhood, 'or I'll get my knife out and slash you
wherever I can cut you. Let go!'

Bradley was drawing to the Lock-edge. Riderhood was drawing
away from it. It was a strong grapple, and a fierce struggle, arm
and leg. Bradley got him round, with his back to the Lock, and
still worked him backward.

'Let go!' said Riderhood. 'Stop! What are you trying at? You can't
drown Me. Ain't I told you that the man as has come through
drowning can never be drowned? I can't be drowned.'

'I can be!' returned Bradley, in a desperate, clenched voice. 'I am
resolved to be. I'll hold you living, and I'll hold you dead. Come

Riderhood went over into the smooth pit, backward, and Bradley
Headstone upon him. When the two were found, lying under the
ooze and scum behind one of the rotting gates, Riderhood's hold
had relaxed, probably in falling, and his eyes were staring upward.
But, he was girdled still with Bradley's iron ring, and the rivets of
the iron ring held tight.

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