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A PIECE OF WORK
Britannia, sitting meditating one fine day (perhaps in the attitude
in which she is presented on the copper coinage), discovers all of
a sudden that she wants Veneering in Parliament. It occurs to her
that Veneering is 'a representative man'--which cannot in these
times be doubted--and that Her Majesty's faithful Commons are
incomplete without him. So, Britannia mentions to a legal
gentleman of her acquaintance that if Veneering will 'put down'
five thousand pounds, he may write a couple of initial letters after
his name at the extremely cheap rate of two thousand five
hundred per letter. It is clearly understood between Britannia and
the legal gentleman that nobody is to take up the five thousand
pounds, but that being put down they will disappear by magical
conjuration and enchantment.
The legal gentleman in Britannia's confidence going straight from
that lady to Veneering, thus commissioned, Veneering declares
himself highly flattered, but requires breathing time to ascertain
'whether his friends will rally round him.' Above all things, he
says, it behoves him to be clear, at a crisis of this importance,
'whether his friends will rally round him.' The legal gentleman, in
the interests of his client cannot allow much time for this purpose,
as the lady rather thinks she knows somebody prepared to put
down six thousand pounds; but he says he will give Veneering
Veneering then says to Mrs Veneering, 'We must work,' and
throws himself into a Hansom cab. Mrs Veneering in the same
moment relinquishes baby to Nurse; presses her aquiline hands
upon her brow, to arrange the throbbing intellect within; orders
out the carriage; and repeats in a distracted and devoted manner,
compounded of Ophelia and any self-immolating female of
antiquity you may prefer, 'We must work.'
Veneering having instructed his driver to charge at the Public in
the streets, like the Life-Guards at Waterloo, is driven furiously to
Duke Street, Saint James's. There, he finds Twemlow in his
lodgings, fresh from the hands of a secret artist who has been
doing something to his hair with yolks of eggs. The process
requiring that Twemlow shall, for two hours after the application,
allow his hair to stick upright and dry gradually, he is in an
appropriate state for the receipt of startling intelligence; looking
equally like the Monument on Fish Street Hill, and King Priam on
a certain incendiary occasion not wholly unknown as a neat point
from the classics.
'My dear Twemlow,' says Veneering, grasping both his bands, as
the dearest and oldest of my friends--'
('Then there can be no more doubt about it in future,' thinks
Twemlow, 'and I AM!')
'--Are you of opinion that your cousin, Lord Snigsworth, would
give his name as a Member of my Committee? I don't go so far as
to ask for his lordship; I only ask for his name. Do you think he
would give me his name?'
In sudden low spirits, Twemlow replies, 'I don't think he would.'
'My political opinions,' says Veneering, not previously aware of
having any, 'are identical with those of Lord Snigsworth, and
perhaps as a matter of public feeling and public principle, Lord
Snigswotth would give me his name.'
'It might be so,' says Twemlow; 'but--' And perplexedly scratching
his head, forgetful of the yolks of eggs, is the more discomfited by
being reminded how stickey he is.
'Between such old and intimate friends as ourselves,' pursues
Veneering, 'there should in such a case be no reserve. Promise me
that if I ask you to do anything for me which you don't like to do,
or feel the slightest difficulty in doing, you will freely tell me so.'
This, Twemlow is so kind as to promise, with every appearance of
most heartily intending to keep his word.
'Would you have any objection to write down to Snigsworthy
Park, and ask this favour of Lord Snigsworth? Of course if it were
granted I should know that I owed it solely to you; while at the
same time you would put it to Lord Snigsworth entirely upon
public grounds. Would you have any objection?'
Says Twemlow, with his hand to his forehead, 'You have exacted
a promise from me.'
'I have, my dear Twemlow.'
'And you expect me to keep it honourably.'
'I do, my dear Twemlow.'
'ON the whole, then;--observe me,' urges Twemlow with great
nicety, as if; in the case of its having been off the whole, he would
have done it directly--'ON the whole, I must beg you to excuse me
from addressing any communication to Lord Snigsworth.'
'Bless you, bless you!' says Veneering; horribly disappointed, but
grasping him by both hands again, in a particularly fervent
It is not to be wondered at that poor Twemlow should decline to
inflict a letter on his noble cousin (who has gout in the temper),
inasmuch as his noble cousin, who allows him a small annuity on
which he lives, takes it out of him, as the phrase goes, in extreme
severity; putting him, when he visits at Snigsworthy Park, under a
kind of martial law; ordaining that he shall hang his hat on a
particular peg, sit on a particular chair, talk on particular subjects
to particular people, and perform particular exercises: such as
sounding the praises of the Family Varnish (not to say Pictures),
and abstaining from the choicest of the Family Wines unless
expressly invited to partake.
'One thing, however, I CAN do for you,' says Twemlow; 'and that
is, work for you.'
Veneering blesses him again.
'I'll go,' says Twemlow, in a rising hurry of spirits, 'to the club;--let
us see now; what o'clock is it?'
'Twenty minutes to eleven.'
'I'll be,' says Twemlow, 'at the club by ten minutes to twelve, and
I'll never leave it all day.'
Veneering feels that his friends are rallying round him, and says,
'Thank you, thank you. I knew I could rely upon you. I said to
Anastatia before leaving home just now to come to you--of course
the first friend I have seen on a subject so momentous to me, my
dear Twemlow--I said to Anastatia, "We must work."'
'You were right, you were right,' replies Twemlow. 'Tell me. Is
'She is,' says Veneering.
'Good!' cries Twemlow, polite little gentleman that he is. 'A
woman's tact is invaluable. To have the dear sex with us, is to
have everything with us.'
'But you have not imparted to me,' remarks Veneering, 'what you
think of my entering the House of Commons?'
'I think,' rejoins Twemlow, feelingly, 'that it is the best club in
Veneering again blesses him, plunges down stairs, rushes into his
Hansom, and directs the driver to be up and at the British Public,
and to charge into the City.
Meanwhile Twemlow, in an increasing hurry of spirits, gets his
hair down as well as he can--which is not very well; for, after
these glutinous applications it is restive, and has a surface on it
somewhat in the nature of pastry--and gets to the club by the
appointed time. At the club he promptly secures a large window,
writing materials, and all the newspapers, and establishes himself;
immoveable, to be respectfully contemplated by Pall Mall.
Sometimes, when a man enters who nods to him, Twemlow says,
'Do you know Veneering?' Man says, 'No; member of the club?'
Twemlow says, 'Yes. Coming in for Pocket-Breaches.' Man says,
'Ah! Hope he may find it worth the money!' yawns, and saunters
out. Towards six o'clock of the afternoon, Twemlow begins to
persuade himself that he is positively jaded with work, and thinks
it much to be regretted that he was not brought up as a
From Twemlow's, Veneering dashes at Podsnap's place of
business. Finds Podsnap reading the paper, standing, and inclined
to be oratorical over the astonishing discovery he has made, that
Italy is not England. Respectfully entreats Podsnap's pardon for
stopping the flow of his words of wisdom, and informs him what is
in the wind. Tells Podsnap that their political opinions are
identical. Gives Podsnap to understand that he, Veneering,
formed his political opinions while sitting at the feet of him,
Podsnap. Seeks earnestly to know whether Podsnap 'will rally
Says Podsnap, something sternly, 'Now, first of all, Veneering, do
you ask my advice?'
Veneering falters that as so old and so dear a friend--
'Yes, yes, that's all very well,' says Podsnap; 'but have you made
up your mind to take this borough of Pocket-Breaches on its own
terms, or do you ask my opinion whether you shall take it or leave
Veneering repeats that his heart's desire and his soul's thirst are,
that Podsnap shall rally round him.
'Now, I'll be plain with you, Veneering,' says Podsnap, knitting his
brows. 'You will infer that I don't care about Parliament, from the
fact of my not being there?'
Why, of course Veneering knows that! Of course Veneering
knows that if Podsnap chose to go there, he would be there, in a
space of time that might be stated by the light and thoughtless as a
'It is not worth my while,' pursues Podsnap, becoming handsomely
mollified, 'and it is the reverse of important to my position. But it
is not my wish to set myself up as law for another man, differently
situated. You think it IS worth YOUR while, and IS important to
YOUR position. Is that so?'
Always with the proviso that Podsnap will rally round him,
Veneering thinks it is so.
'Then you don't ask my advice,' says Podsnap. 'Good. Then I
won't give it you. But you do ask my help. Good. Then I'll work
Veneering instantly blesses him, and apprises him that Twemlow is
already working. Podsnap does not quite approve that anybody
should be already working--regarding it rather in the light of a
liberty--but tolerates Twemlow, and says he is a well-connected
old female who will do no harm.
'I have nothing very particular to do to-day,' adds Podsnap, 'and
I'll mix with some influential people. I had engaged myself to
dinner, but I'll send Mrs Podsnap and get off going myself; and I'll
dine with you at eight. It's important we should report progress
and compare notes. Now, let me see. You ought to have a couple
of active energetic fellows, of gentlemanly manners, to go about.'
Veneering, after cogitation, thinks of Boots and Brewer.
'Whom I have met at your house,' says Podsnap. 'Yes. They'll do
very well. Let them each have a cab, and go about.'
Veneering immediately mentions what a blessing he feels it, to
possess a friend capable of such grand administrative suggestions,
and really is elated at this going about of Boots and Brewer, as an
idea wearing an electioneering aspect and looking desperately like
business. Leaving Podsnap, at a hand-gallop, he descends upon
Boots and Brewer, who enthusiastically rally round him by at
once bolting off in cabs, taking opposite directions. Then
Veneering repairs to the legal gentleman in Britannia's confidence,
and with him transacts some delicate affairs of business, and
issues an address to the independent electors of Pocket-Breaches,
announcing that he is coming among them for their suffrages, as
the mariner returns to the home of his early childhood: a phrase
which is none the worse for his never having been near the place
in his life, and not even now distinctly knowing where it is.
Mrs Veneering, during the same eventful hours, is not idle. No
sooner does the carriage turn out, all complete, than she turns into
it, all complete, and gives the word 'To Lady Tippins's.' That
charmer dwells over a staymaker's in the Belgravian Borders, with
a life-size model in the window on the ground floor of a
distinguished beauty in a blue petticoat, stay-lace in hand, looking
over her shoulder at the town in innocent surprise. As well she
may, to find herself dressing under the circumstances.
Lady Tippins at home? Lady Tippins at home, with the room
darkened, and her back (like the lady's at the ground-floor
window, though for a different reason) cunningly turned towards
the light. Lady Tippins is so surprised by seeing her dear Mrs
Veneering so early--in the middle of the night, the pretty creature
calls it--that her eyelids almost go up, under the influence of that
To whom Mrs Veneering incoherently communicates, how that
Veneering has been offered Pocket-Breaches; how that it is the
time for rallying round; how that Veneering has said 'We must
work'; how that she is here, as a wife and mother, to entreat Lady
Tippins to work; how that the carriage is at Lady Tippins's
disposal for purposes of work; how that she, proprietress of said
bran new elegant equipage, will return home on foot--on bleeding
feet if need be--to work (not specifying how), until she drops by
the side of baby's crib.
'My love,' says Lady Tippins, 'compose yourself; we'll bring him
in.' And Lady Tippins really does work, and work the Veneering
horses too; for she clatters about town all day, calling upon
everybody she knows, and showing her entertaining powers and
green fan to immense advantage, by rattling on with, My dear
soul, what do you think? What do you suppose me to be? You'll
never guess. I'm pretending to be an electioneering agent. And
for what place of all places? Pocket-Breaches. And why?
Because the dearest friend I have in the world has bought it. And
who is the dearest friend I have in the world? A man of the name
of Veneering. Not omitting his wife, who is the other dearest
friend I have in the world; and I positively declare I forgot their
baby, who is the other. And we are carrying on this little farce to
keep up appearances, and isn't it refreshing! Then, my precious
child, the fun of it is that nobody knows who these Veneerings
are, and that they know nobody, and that they have a house out of
the Tales of the Genii, and give dinners out of the Arabian Nights.
Curious to see 'em, my dear? Say you'll know 'em. Come and
dine with 'em. They shan't bore you. Say who shall meet you.
We'll make up a party of our own, and I'll engage that they shall
not interfere with you for one single moment. You really ought to
see their gold and silver camels. I call their dinner-table, the
Caravan. Do come and dine with my Veneerings, my own
Veneerings, my exclusive property, the dearest friends I have in
the world! And above all, my dear, be sure you promise me your
vote and interest and all sorts of plumpers for Pocket-Breaches;
for we couldn't think of spending sixpence on it, my love, and can
only consent to be brought in by the spontaneous thingummies of
the incorruptible whatdoyoucallums.
Now, the point of view seized by the bewitching Tippins, that this
same working and rallying round is to keep up appearances, may
have something in it, but not all the truth. More is done, or
considered to be done--which does as well--by taking cabs, and
'going about,' than the fair Tippins knew of. Many vast vague
reputations have been made, solely by taking cabs and going
about. This particularly obtains in all Parliamentary affairs.
Whether the business in hand be to get a man in, or get a man out,
or get a man over, or promote a railway, or jockey a railway, or
what else, nothing is understood to be so effectual as scouring
nowhere in a violent hurry--in short, as taking cabs and going
Probably because this reason is in the air, Twemlow, far from
being singular in his persuasion that he works like a Trojan, is
capped by Podsnap, who in his turn is capped by Boots and
Brewer. At eight o'clock when all these hard workers assemble to
dine at Veneering's, it is understood that the cabs of Boots and
Brewer mustn't leave the door, but that pails of water must be
brought from the nearest baiting-place, and cast over the horses'
legs on the very spot, lest Boots and Brewer should have instant
occasion to mount and away. Those fleet messengers require the
Analytical to see that their hats are deposited where they can be
laid hold of at an instant's notice; and they dine (remarkably well
though) with the air of firemen in charge of an engine, expecting
intelligence of some tremendous conflagration.
Mrs Veneering faintly remarks, as dinner opens, that many such
days would be too much for her.
'Many such days would be too much for all of us,' says Podsnap;
'but we'll bring him in!'
'We'll bring him in,' says Lady Tippins, sportively waving her
green fan. 'Veneering for ever!'
'We'll bring him in!' says Twemlow.
'We'll bring him in!' say Boots and Brewer.
Strictly speaking, it would be hard to show cause why they should
not bring him in, Pocket-Breaches having closed its little bargain,
and there being no opposition. However, it is agreed that they
must 'work' to the last, and that if they did not work, something
indefinite would happen. It is likewise agreed that they are all so
exhausted with the work behind them, and need to be so fortified
for the work before them, as to require peculiar strengthening
from Veneering's cellar. Therefore, the Analytical has orders to
produce the cream of the cream of his binns, and therefore it falls
out that rallying becomes rather a trying word for the occasion;
Lady Tippins being observed gamely to inculcate the necessity of
rearing round their dear Veneering; Podsnap advocating roaring
round him; Boots and Brewer declaring their intention of reeling
round him; and Veneering thanking his devoted friends one and
all, with great emotion, for rarullarulling round him.
In these inspiring moments, Brewer strikes out an idea which is
the great hit of the day. He consults his watch, and says (like Guy
Fawkes), he'll now go down to the House of Commons and see
how things look.
'I'll keep about the lobby for an hour or so,' says Brewer, with a
deeply mysterious countenance, 'and if things look well, I won't
come back, but will order my cab for nine in the morning.'
'You couldn't do better,' says Podsnap.
Veneering expresses his inability ever to acknowledge this last
service. Tears stand in Mrs Veneering's affectionate eyes. Boots
shows envy, loses ground, and is regarded as possessing a second-
rate mind. They all crowd to the door, to see Brewer off. Brewer
says to his driver, 'Now, is your horse pretty fresh?' eyeing the
animal with critical scrutiny. Driver says he's as fresh as butter.
'Put him along then,' says Brewer; 'House of Commons.' Driver
darts up, Brewer leaps in, they cheer him as he departs, and Mr
Podsnap says, 'Mark my words, sir. That's a man of resource;
that's a man to make his way in life.'
When the time comes for Veneering to deliver a neat and
appropriate stammer to the men of Pocket-Breaches, only
Podsnap and Twemlow accompany him by railway to that
sequestered spot. The legal gentleman is at the Pocket-Breaches
Branch Station, with an open carriage with a printed bill
'Veneering for ever' stuck upon it, as if it were a wall; and they
gloriously proceed, amidst the grins of the populace, to a feeble
little town hall on crutches, with some onions and bootlaces under
it, which the legal gentleman says are a Market; and from the
front window of that edifice Veneering speaks to the listening
earth. In the moment of his taking his hat off, Podsnap, as per
agreement made with Mrs Veneering, telegraphs to that wife and
mother, 'He's up.'
Veneering loses his way in the usual No Thoroughfares of speech,
and Podsnap and Twemlow say Hear hear! and sometimes, when
he can't by any means back himself out of some very unlucky No
Thoroughfare, 'He-a-a-r He-a-a-r!' with an air of facetious
conviction, as if the ingenuity of the thing gave them a sensation
of exquisite pleasure. But Veneering makes two remarkably good
points; so good, that they are supposed to have been suggested to
him by the legal gentleman in Britannia's confidence, while briefly
conferring on the stairs.
Point the first is this. Veneering institutes an original comparison
between the country, and a ship; pointedly calling the ship, the
Vessel of the State, and the Minister the Man at the Helm.
Veneering's object is to let Pocket-Breaches know that his friend
on his right (Podsnap) is a man of wealth. Consequently says he,
'And, gentlemen, when the timbers of the Vessel of the State are
unsound and the Man at the Helm is unskilful, would those great
Marine Insurers, who rank among our world-famed merchant-
princes--would they insure her, gentlemen? Would they
underwrite her? Would they incur a risk in her? Would they have
confidence in her? Why, gentlemen, if I appealed to my
honourable friend upon my right, himself among the greatest and
most respected of that great and much respected class, he would
Point the second is this. The telling fact that Twemlow is related
to Lord Snigsworth, must be let off. Veneering supposes a state of
public affairs that probably never could by any possibility exist
(though this is not quite certain, in consequence of his picture
being unintelligible to himself and everybody else), and thus
proceeds. 'Why, gentlemen, if I were to indicate such a
programme to any class of society, I say it would be received with
derision, would be pointed at by the finger of scorn. If I indicated
such a programme to any worthy and intelligent tradesman of your
town--nay, I will here be personal, and say Our town--what would
he reply? He would reply, "Away with it!" That's what HE would
reply, gentlemen. In his honest indignation he would reply,
"Away with it!" But suppose I mounted higher in the social scale.
Suppose I drew my arm through the arm of my respected friend
upon my left, and, walking with him through the ancestral woods
of his family, and under the spreading beeches of Snigsworthy
Park, approached the noble hall, crossed the courtyard, entered by
the door, went up the staircase, and, passing from room to room,
found myself at last in the august presence of my friend's near
kinsman, Lord Snigsworth. And suppose I said to that venerable
earl, "My Lord, I am here before your lordship, presented by your
lordship's near kinsman, my friend upon my left, to indicate that
programme;" what would his lordship answer? Why, he would
answer, "Away with it!" That's what he would answer, gentlemen.
"Away with it!" Unconsciously using, in his exalted sphere, the
exact language of the worthy and intelligent tradesman of our
town, the near and dear kinsman of my friend upon my left would
answer in his wrath, "Away with it!"'
Veneering finishes with this last success, and Mr Podsnap
telegraphs to Mrs Veneering, 'He's down.'
Then, dinner is had at the Hotel with the legal gentleman, and then
there are in due succession, nomination, and declaration. Finally
Mr Podsnap telegraphs to Mrs Veneering, 'We have brought him
Another gorgeous dinner awaits them on their return to the
Veneering halls, and Lady Tippins awaits them, and Boots and
Brewer await them. There is a modest assertion on everybody's
part that everybody single-handed 'brought him in'; but in the main
it is conceded by all, that that stroke of business on Brewer's part,
in going down to the house that night to see how things looked,
was the master-stroke.
A touching little incident is related by Mrs Veneering, in the
course of the evening. Mrs Veneering is habitually disposed to be
tearful, and has an extra disposition that way after her late
excitement. Previous to withdrawing from the dinner-table with
Lady Tippins, she says, in a pathetic and physically weak manner:
'You will all think it foolish of me, I know, but I must mention it.
As I sat by Baby's crib, on the night before the election, Baby was
very uneasy in her sleep.'
The Analytical chemist, who is gloomily looking on, has diabolical
impulses to suggest 'Wind' and throw up his situation; but
'After an interval almost convulsive, Baby curled her little hands
in one another and smiled.'
Mrs Veneering stopping here, Mr Podsnap deems it incumbent on
him to say: 'I wonder why!'
'Could it be, I asked myself,' says Mrs Veneering, looking about
her for her pocket-handkerchief, 'that the Fairies were telling
Baby that her papa would shortly be an M. P.?'
So overcome by the sentiment is Mrs Veneering, that they all get
up to make a clear stage for Veneering, who goes round the table
to the rescue, and bears her out backward, with her feet
impressively scraping the carpet: after remarking that her work
has been too much for her strength. Whether the fairies made any
mention of the five thousand pounds, and it disagreed with Baby,
is not speculated upon.
Poor little Twemlow, quite done up, is touched. and still continues
touched after he is safely housed over the livery-stable yard in
Duke Street, Saint James's. But there, upon his sofa, a tremendous
consideration breaks in upon the mild gentleman, putting all softer
considerations to the rout.
'Gracious heavens! Now I have time to think of it, he never saw
one of his constituents in all his days, until we saw them together!'
After having paced the room in distress of mind, with his hand to
his forehead, the innocent Twemlow returns to his sofa and
'I shall either go distracted, or die, of this man. He comes upon
me too late in life. I am not strong enough to bear him!'
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