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Charles Dickens > Our Mutual Friend > Book 4 - 16

Our Mutual Friend

Book 4 - 16


Mr and Mrs John Harmon's first delightful occupation was, to set
all matters right that had strayed in any way wrong, or that might,
could, would, or should, have strayed in any way wrong, while
their name was in abeyance. In tracing out affairs for which John's
fictitious death was to be considered in any way responsible, they
used a very broad and free construction; regarding, for instance, the
dolls' dressmaker as having a claim on their protection, because of
her association with Mrs Eugene Wrayburn, and because of Mrs
Eugene's old association, in her turn, with the dark side of the
story. It followed that the old man, Riah, as a good and
serviceable friend to both, was not to be disclaimed. Nor even Mr
Inspector, as having been trepanned into an industrious hunt on a
false scent. It may be remarked, in connexion with that worthy
officer, that a rumour shortly afterwards pervaded the Force, to the
effect that he had confided to Miss Abbey Potterson, over a jug of
mellow flip in the bar of the Six Jolly Fellowship Porters, that he
'didn't stand to lose a farthing' through Mr Harmon's coming to
life, but was quite as well satisfied as if that gentleman had been
barbarously murdered, and he (Mr Inspector) had pocketed the
government reward.

In all their arrangements of such nature, Mr and Mrs John Harmon
derived much assistance from their eminent solicitor, Mr Mortimer
Lightwood; who laid about him professionally with such unwonted
despatch and intention, that a piece of work was vigorously
pursued as soon as cut out; whereby Young Blight was acted on as
by that transatlantic dram which is poetically named An Eye-
Opener, and found himself staring at real clients instead of out of
window. The accessibility of Riah proving very useful as to a few
hints towards the disentanglement of Eugene's affairs, Lightwood
applied himself with infinite zest to attacking and harassing Mr
Fledgeby: who, discovering himself in danger of being blown into
the air by certain explosive transactions in which he had been
engaged, and having been sufficiently flayed under his beating,
came to a parley and asked for quarter. The harmless Twemlow
profited by the conditions entered into, though he little thought it.
Mr Riah unaccountably melted; waited in person on him over the
stable yard in Duke Street, St James's, no longer ravening but mild,
to inform him that payment of interest as heretofore, but henceforth
at Mr Lightwood's offices, would appease his Jewish rancour; and
departed with the secret that Mr John Harmon had advanced the
money and become the creditor. Thus, was the sublime
Snigsworth's wrath averted, and thus did he snort no larger amount
of moral grandeur at the Corinthian column in the print over the
fireplace, than was normally in his (and the British) constitution.

Mrs Wilfer's first visit to the Mendicant's bride at the new abode of
Mendicancy, was a grand event. Pa had been sent for into the
City, on the very day of taking possession, and had been stunned
with astonishment, and brought-to, and led about the house by
one ear, to behold its various treasures, and had been enraptured
and enchanted. Pa had also been appointed Secretary, and had
been enjoined to give instant notice of resignation to Chicksey,
Veneering, and Stobbles, for ever and ever. But Ma came later,
and came, as was her due, in state.

The carriage was sent for Ma, who entered it with a bearing worthy
of the occasion, accompanied, rather than supported, by Miss
Lavinia, who altogether declined to recognize the maternal
majesty. Mr George Sampson meekly followed. He was received
in the vehicle, by Mrs Wilfer, as if admitted to the honour of
assisting at a funeral in the family, and she then issued the order,
'Onward!' to the Mendicant's menial.

'I wish to goodness, Ma,' said Lavvy, throwing herself back among
the cushions, with her arms crossed, 'that you'd loll a little.'

'How!' repeated Mrs Wilfer. 'Loll!'

'Yes, Ma.'

'I hope,' said the impressive lady, 'I am incapable of it.'

'I am sure you look so, Ma. But why one should go out to dine
with one's own daughter or sister, as if one's under-petticoat was
a blackboard, I do NOT understand.'

'Neither do I understand,' retorted Mrs Wilfer, with deep scorn,
'how a young lady can mention the garment in the name of which
you have indulged. I blush for you.'

'Thank you, Ma,' said Lavvy, yawning, 'but I can do it for myself, I
am obliged to you, when there's any occasion.'

Here, Mr Sampson, with the view of establishing harmony, which
he never under any circumstances succeeded in doing, said with an
agreeable smile: 'After all, you know, ma'am, we know it's there.'
And immediately felt that he had committed himself.

'We know it's there!' said Mrs Wilfer, glaring.

'Really, George,' remonstrated Miss Lavinia, 'I must say that I don't
understand your allusions, and that I think you might be more
delicate and less personal.'

'Go it!' cried Mr Sampson, becoming, on the shortest notice, a prey
to despair. 'Oh yes! Go it, Miss Lavinia Wilfer!'

'What you may mean, George Sampson, by your omnibus-driving
expressions, I cannot pretend to imagine. Neither,' said Miss
Lavinia, 'Mr George Sampson, do I wish to imagine. It is enough
for me to know in my own heart that I am not going to--' having
imprudently got into a sentence without providing a way out of it,
Miss Lavinia was constrained to close with 'going to it'. A weak
conclusion which, however, derived some appearance of strength
from disdain.

'Oh yes!' cried Mr Sampson, with bitterness. 'Thus it ever is. I

'If you mean to say,' Miss Lavvy cut him short, that you never
brought up a young gazelle, you may save yourself the trouble,
because nobody in this carriage supposes that you ever did. We
know you better.' (As if this were a home-thrust.)

'Lavinia,' returned Mr Sampson, in a dismal vein, I did not mean to
say so. What I did mean to say,was, that I never expected to retain
my favoured place in this family, after Fortune shed her beams
upon it. Why do you take me,' said Mr Sampson, 'to the glittering
halls with which I can never compete, and then taunt me with my
moderate salary? Is it generous? Is it kind?'

The stately lady, Mrs Wilfer, perceiving her opportunity of
delivering a few remarks from the throne, here took up the

'Mr Sampson,' she began, 'I cannot permit you to misrepresent the
intentions of a child of mine.'

'Let him alone, Ma,' Miss Lavvy interposed with haughtiness. 'It
is indifferent to me what he says or does.'

'Nay, Lavinia,' quoth Mrs Wilfer, 'this touches the blood of the
family. If Mr George Sampson attributes, even to my youngest

('I don't see why you should use the word "even", Ma,' Miss Lavvy
interposed, 'because I am quite as important as any of the others.')

'Peace!' said Mrs Wilfer, solemnly. 'I repeat, if Mr George
Sampson attributes, to my youngest daughter, grovelling motives,
he attributes them equally to the mother of my youngest daughter.
That mother repudiates them, and demands of Mr George
Sampson, as a youth of honour, what he WOULD have? I may be
mistaken--nothing is more likely--but Mr George Sampson,'
proceeded Mrs Wilfer, majestically waving her gloves, 'appears to
me to be seated in a first-class equipage. Mr George Sampson
appears to me to be on his way, by his own admission, to a
residence that may be termed Palatial. Mr George Sampson
appears to me to be invited to participate in the--shall I say the--
Elevation which has descended on the family with which he is
ambitious, shall I say to Mingle? Whence, then, this tone on Mr
Sampson's part?'

'It is only, ma'am,' Mr Sampson explained, in exceedingly low
spirits, 'because, in a pecuniary sense, I am painfully conscious of
my unworthiness. Lavinia is now highly connected. Can I hope
that she will still remain the same Lavinia as of old? And is it not
pardonable if I feel sensitive, when I see a disposition on her part
to take me up short?'

'If you are not satisfied with your position, sir,' observed Miss
Lavinia, with much politeness, 'we can set you down at any turning
you may please to indicate to my sister's coachman.'

'Dearest Lavinia,' urged Mr Sampson, pathetically, 'I adore you.'

'Then if you can't do it in a more agreeable manner,' returned the
young lady, 'I wish you wouldn't.'

'I also,' pursued Mr Sampson, 'respect you, ma'am, to an extent
which must ever be below your merits, I am well aware, but still
up to an uncommon mark. Bear with a wretch, Lavinia, bear with
a wretch, ma'am, who feels the noble sacrifices you make for him,
but is goaded almost to madness,' Mr Sampson slapped his
forehead, 'when he thinks of competing with the rich and

'When you have to compete with the rich and influential, it will
probably be mentioned to you,' said Miss Lavvy, 'in good time. At
least, it will if the case is MY case.'

Mr Sampson immediately expressed his fervent Opinion that this
was 'more than human', and was brought upon his knees at Miss
Lavinia's feet.

It was the crowning addition indispensable to the full enjoyment of
both mother and daughter, to bear Mr Sampson, a grateful captive,
into the glittering halls he had mentioned, and to parade him
through the same, at once a living witness of their glory, and a
bright instance of their condescension. Ascending the staircase,
Miss Lavinia permitted him to walk at her side, with the air of
saying: 'Notwithstanding all these surroundings, I am yours as yet,
George. How long it may last is another question, but I am yours
as yet.' She also benignantly intimated to him, aloud, the nature of
the objects upon which he looked, and to which he was
unaccustomed: as, 'Exotics, George,' 'An aviary, George,' 'An
ormolu clock, George,' and the like. While, through the whole of
the decorations, Mrs Wilfer led the way with the bearing of a
Savage Chief, who would feel himself compromised by
manifesting the slightest token of surprise or admiration.

Indeed, the bearing of this impressive woman, throughout the day,
was a pattern to all impressive women under similar
circumstances. She renewed the acquaintance of Mr and Mrs
Boffin, as if Mr and Mrs Boffin had said of her what she had said
of them, and as if Time alone could quite wear her injury out. She
regarded every servant who approached her, as her sworn enemy,
expressly intending to offer her affronts with the dishes, and to
pour forth outrages on her moral feelings from the decanters. She
sat erect at table, on the right hand of her son-in-law, as half
suspecting poison in the viands, and as bearing up with native
force of character against other deadly ambushes. Her carriage
towards Bella was as a carriage towards a young lady of good
position, whom she had met in society a few years ago. Even
when, slightly thawing under the influence of sparkling
champagne, she related to her son-in-law some passages of
domestic interest concerning her papa, she infused into the
narrative such Arctic suggestions of her having been an
unappreciated blessing to mankind, since her papa's days, and also
of that gentleman's having been a frosty impersonation of a frosty
race, as struck cold to the very soles of the feet of the hearers. The
Inexhaustible being produced, staring, and evidently intending a
weak and washy smile shortly, no sooner beheld her, than it was
stricken spasmodic and inconsolable. When she took her leave at
last, it would have been hard to say whether it was with the air of
going to the scaffold herself, or of leaving the inmates of the house
for immediate execution. Yet, John Harmon enjoyed it all merrily,
and told his wife, when he and she were alone, that her natural
ways had never seemed so dearly natural as beside this foil, and
that although he did not dispute her being her father's daughter, he
should ever remain stedfast in the faith that she could not be her

This visit was, as has been said, a grand event. Another event, not
grand but deemed in the house a special one, occurred at about the
same period; and this was, the first interview between Mr Sloppy
and Miss Wren.

The dolls' dressmaker, being at work for the Inexhaustible upon a
full-dressed doll some two sizes larger than that young person, Mr
Sloppy undertook to call for it, and did so.

'Come in, sir,' said Miss Wren, who was working at her bench.
'And who may you be?'

Mr Sloppy introduced himself by name and buttons.

'Oh indeed!' cried Jenny. 'Ah! I have been looking forward to
knowing you. I heard of your distinguishing yourself.'

'Did you, Miss?' grinned Sloppy. 'I am sure I am glad to hear it,
but I don't know how.'

'Pitching somebody into a mud-cart,' said Miss Wren.

'Oh! That way!' cried Sloppy. 'Yes, Miss.' And threw back his
head and laughed.

'Bless us!' exclaimed Miss Wren, with a start. 'Don't open your
mouth as wide as that, young man, or it'll catch so, and not shut
again some day.'

Mr Sloppy opened it, if possible, wider, and kept it open until his
laugh was out.

'Why, you're like the giant,' said Miss Wren, 'when he came home
in the land of Beanstalk, and wanted Jack for supper.'

'Was he good-looking, Miss?' asked Sloppy.

'No,' said Miss Wren. 'Ugly.'

Her visitor glanced round the room--which had many comforts in it
now, that had not been in it before--and said: 'This is a pretty
place, Miss.'

'Glad you think so, sir,' returned Miss Wren. 'And what do you
think of Me?'

The honesty of Mr Sloppy being severely taxed by the question, he
twisted a button, grinned, and faltered.

'Out with it!' said Miss Wren, with an arch look. 'Don't you think
me a queer little comicality?' In shaking her head at him after
asking the question, she shook her hair down.

'Oh!' cried Sloppy, in a burst of admiration. 'What a lot, and what
a colour!'

Miss Wren, with her usual expressive hitch, went on with her
work. But, left her hair as it was; not displeased by the effect it
had made.

'You don't live here alone; do you, Miss?' asked Sloppy.

'No,' said Miss Wren, with a chop. 'Live here with my fairy

'With;' Mr Sloppy couldn't make it out; 'with who did you say,

'Well!' replied Miss Wren, more seriously. 'With my second father.
Or with my first, for that matter.' And she shook her head, and
drew a sigh. 'If you had known a poor child I used to have here,'
she added, 'you'd have understood me. But you didn't, and you
can't. All the better!'

'You must have been taught a long time,' said Sloppy, glancing at
the array of dolls in hand, 'before you came to work so neatly,
Miss, and with such a pretty taste.'

'Never was taught a stitch, young man!' returned the dress-maker,
tossing her head. 'Just gobbled and gobbled, till I found out how
to do it. Badly enough at first, but better now.'

'And here have I,' said Sloppy, in something of a self-reproachful
tone, 'been a learning and a learning, and here has Mr Boffin been
a paying and a paying, ever so long!'

'I have heard what your trade is,' observed Miss Wren; 'it's

Mr Sloppy nodded. 'Now that the Mounds is done with, it is. I'll
tell you what, Miss. I should like to make you something.'

'Much obliged. But what?'

'I could make you,' said Sloppy, surveying the room, 'I could make
you a handy set of nests to lay the dolls in. Or I could make you a
handy little set of drawers, to keep your silks and threads and
scraps in. Or I could turn you a rare handle for that crutch-stick, if
it belongs to him you call your father.'

'It belongs to me,' returned the little creature, with a quick flush of
her face and neck. 'I am lame.'

Poor Sloppy flushed too, for there was an instinctive delicacy
behind his buttons, and his own hand had struck it. He said,
perhaps, the best thing in the way of amends that could be said. 'I
am very glad it's yours, because I'd rather ornament it for you than
for any one else. Please may I look at it?'

Miss Wren was in the act of handing it to him over her bench,
when she paused. 'But you had better see me use it,' she said,
sharply. 'This is the way. Hoppetty, Kicketty, Pep-peg-peg. Not
pretty; is it?'

'It seems to me that you hardly want it at all,' said Sloppy.

The little dressmaker sat down again, and gave it into his hand,
saying, with that better look upon her, and with a smile: 'Thank

'And as concerning the nests and the drawers,' said Sloppy, after
measuring the handle on his sleeve, and softly standing the stick
aside against the wall, 'why, it would be a real pleasure to me. I've
heerd tell that you can sing most beautiful; and I should be better
paid with a song than with any money, for I always loved the likes
of that, and often giv' Mrs Higden and Johnny a comic song
myself, with "Spoken" in it. Though that's not your sort, I'll

'You are a very kind young man,' returned the dressmaker; 'a really
kind young man. I accept your offer.--I suppose He won't mind,'
she added as an afterthought, shrugging her shoulders; 'and if he
does, he may!'

'Meaning him that you call your father, Miss,' asked Sloppy.

'No, no,' replied Miss Wren. 'Him, Him, Him!'

'Him, him, him?' repeated Sloppy; staring about, as if for Him.

'Him who is coming to court and marry me,' returned Miss Wren.
'Dear me, how slow you are!'

'Oh! HIM!' said Sloppy. And seemed to turn thoughtful and a little
troubled. 'I never thought of him. When is he coming, Miss?'

'What a question!' cried Miss Wren. 'How should I know!'

'Where is he coming from, Miss?'

'Why, good gracious, how can I tell! He is coming from
somewhere or other, I suppose, and he is coming some day or
other, I suppose. I don't know any more about him, at present.'

This tickled Mr Sloppy as an extraordinarily good joke, and he
threw back his head and laughed with measureless enjoyment. At
the sight of him laughing in that absurd way, the dolls' dressmaker
laughed very heartily indeed. So they both laughed, till they were

'There, there, there!' said Miss Wren. 'For goodness' sake, stop,
Giant, or I shall be swallowed up alive, before I know it. And to
this minute you haven't said what you've come for.'

'I have come for little Miss Harmonses doll,' said Sloppy.

'I thought as much,' remarked Miss Wren, 'and here is little Miss
Harmonses doll waiting for you. She's folded up in silver paper,
you see, as if she was wrapped from head to foot in new Bank
notes. Take care of her, and there's my hand, and thank you again.'

'I'll take more care of her than if she was a gold image,' said
Sloppy, 'and there's both MY hands, Miss, and I'll soon come back

But, the greatest event of all, in the new life of Mr and Mrs John
Harmon, was a visit from Mr and Mrs Eugene Wrayburn. Sadly
wan and worn was the once gallant Eugene, and walked resting on
his wife's arm, and leaning heavily upon a stick. But, he was daily
growing stronger and better, and it was declared by the medical
attendants that he might not be much disfigured by-and-by. It was
a grand event, indeed, when Mr and Mrs Eugene Wrayburn came
to stay at Mr and Mrs John Harmon's house: where, by the way,
Mr and Mrs Boffin (exquisitely happy, and daily cruising about, to
look at shops,) were likewise staying indefinitely.

To Mr Eugene Wrayburn, in confidence, did Mrs John Harmon
impart what she had known of the state of his wife's affections, in
his reckless time. And to Mrs John Harmon, in confidence, did Mr
Eugene Wrayburn impart that, please God, she should see how his
wife had changed him!

'I make no protestations,' said Eugene; '--who does, who means
them!--I have made a resolution.'

'But would you believe, Bella,' interposed his wife, coming to
resume her nurse's place at his side, for he never got on well
without her: 'that on our wedding day he told me he almost
thought the best thing he could do, was to die?'

'As I didn't do it, Lizzie,' said Eugene, 'I'll do that better thing you
suggested--for your sake.'

That same afternoon, Eugene lying on his couch in his own room
upstairs, Lightwood came to chat with him, while Bella took his
wife out for a ride. 'Nothing short of force will make her go,
Eugene had said; so, Bella had playfully forced her.

'Dear old fellow,' Eugene began with Lightwood, reaching up his
hand, 'you couldn't have come at a better time, for my mind is full,
and I want to empty it. First, of my present, before I touch upon
my future. M. R. F., who is a much younger cavalier than I, and a
professed admirer of beauty, was so affable as to remark the other
day (he paid us a visit of two days up the river there, and much
objected to the accommodation of the hotel), that Lizzie ought to
have her portrait painted. Which, coming from M. R. F., may be
considered equivalent to a melodramatic blessing.'

'You are getting well,' said Mortimer, with a smile.

'Really,' said Eugene, 'I mean it. When M. R. F. said that, and
followed it up by rolling the claret (for which he called, and I
paid), in his mouth, and saying, "My dear son, why do you drink
this trash?" it was tantamount in him--to a paternal benediction
on our union, accompanied with a gush of tears. The coolness of
M. R. F. is not to be measured by ordinary standards.'

'True enough,' said Lightwood.

'That's all,' pursued Eugene, 'that I shall ever hear from M. R. F.
on the subject, and he will continue to saunter through the world
with his hat on one side. My marriage being thus solemnly
recognized at the family altar, I have no further trouble on that
score. Next, you really have done wonders for me, Mortimer, in
easing my money-perplexities, and with such a guardian and
steward beside me, as the preserver of my life (I am hardly strong
yet, you see, for I am not man enough to refer to her without a
trembling voice--she is so inexpressibly dear to me, Mortimer!),
the little that I can call my own will be more than it ever has been.
It need be more, for you know what it always has been in my
hands. Nothing.'

'Worse than nothing, I fancy, Eugene. My own small income (I
devoutly wish that my grandfather had left it to the Ocean rather
than to me!) has been an effective Something, in the way of
preventing me from turning to at Anything. And I think yours has
been much the same.'

'There spake the voice of wisdom,' said Eugene. 'We are shepherds
both. In turning to at last, we turn to in earnest. Let us say no
more of that, for a few years to come. Now, I have had an idea,
Mortimer, of taking myself and my wife to one of the colonies, and
working at my vocation there.'

'I should be lost without you, Eugene; but you may be right.'

'No,' said Eugene, emphatically. 'Not right. Wrong!'

He said it with such a lively--almost angry--flash, that Mortimer
showed himself greatly surprised.

'You think this thumped head of mine is excited?' Eugene went on,
with a high look; 'not so, believe me. I can say to you of the
healthful music of my pulse what Hamlet said of his. My blood is
up, but wholesomely up, when I think of it. Tell me! Shall I turn
coward to Lizzie, and sneak away with her, as if I were ashamed of
her! Where would your friend's part in this world be, Mortimer, if
she had turned coward to him, and on immeasurably better

'Honourable and stanch,' said Lightwood. 'And yet, Eugene--'

'And yet what, Mortimer?'

'And yet, are you sure that you might not feel (for her sake, I say
for her sake) any slight coldness towards her on the part of--

'O! You and I may well stumble at the word,' returned Eugene,
laughing. 'Do we mean our Tippins?'

'Perhaps we do,' said Mortimer, laughing also.

'Faith, we DO!' returned Eugene, with great animation. 'We may
hide behind the bush and beat about it, but we DO! Now, my wife
is something nearer to my heart, Mortimer, than Tippins is, and I
owe her a little more than I owe to Tippins, and I am rather
prouder of her than I ever was of Tippins. Therefore, I will fight it
out to the last gasp, with her and for her, here, in the open field.
When I hide her, or strike for her, faint-heartedly, in a hole or a
corner, do you whom I love next best upon earth, tell me what I
shall most righteously deserve to be told:--that she would have
done well to turn me over with her foot that night when I lay
bleeding to death, and spat in my dastard face.'

The glow that shone upon him as he spoke the words, so irradiated
his features that he looked, for the time, as though he had never
been mutilated. His friend responded as Eugene would have had
him respond, and they discoursed of the future until Lizzie came
back. After resuming her place at his side, and tenderly touching
his hands and his head, she said:

'Eugene, dear, you made me go out, but I ought to have stayed with
you. You are more flushed than you have been for many days.
What have you been doing?'

'Nothing,' replied Eugene, 'but looking forward to your coming

'And talking to Mr Lightwood,' said Lizzie, turning to him with a
smile. 'But it cannot have been Society that disturbed you.'

'Faith, my dear love!' retorted Eugene, in his old airy manner, as he
laughed and kissed her, 'I rather think it WAS Society though!'

The word ran so much in Mortimer Lightwood's thoughts as he
went home to the Temple that night, that he resolved to take a look
at Society, which he had not seen for a considerable period.

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