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Chapter 24


Chapter 7

IN WHICH A FRIENDLY MOVE IS ORIGINATED


The arrangement between Mr Boffin and his literary man, Mr
Silas Wegg, so far altered with the altered habits of Mr Boffin's
life, as that the Roman Empire usually declined in the morning
and in the eminently aristocratic family mansion, rather than in the
evening, as of yore, and in Boffin's Bower. There were occasions,
however, when Mr Boffin, seeking a brief refuge from the
blandishments of fashion, would present himself at the Bower
after dark, to anticipate the next sallying forth of Wegg, and
would there, on the old settle, pursue the downward fortunes of
those enervated and corrupted masters of the world who were by
this time on their last legs. If Wegg had been worse paid for his
office, or better qualified to discharge it, he would have
considered these visits complimentary and agreeable; but, holding
the position of a handsomely-remunerated humbug, he resented
them. This was quite according to rule, for the incompetent
servant, by whomsoever employed, is always against his
employer. Even those born governors, noble and right honourable
creatures, who have been the most imbecile in high places, have
uniformly shown themselves the most opposed (sometimes in
belying distrust, sometimes in vapid insolence) to THEIR
employer. What is in such wise true of the public master and
servant, is equally true of the private master and servant all the
world over.

When Mr Silas Wegg did at last obtain free access to 'Our House',
as he had been wont to call the mansion outside which he had sat
shelterless so long, and when he did at last find it in all particulars
as different from his mental plans of it as according to the nature
of things it well could be, that far-seeing and far-reaching
character, by way of asserting himself and making out a case for
compensation, affected to fall into a melancholy strain of musing
over the mournful past; as if the house and he had had a fall in life
together.

'And this, sir,' Silas would say to his patron, sadly nodding his head
and musing, 'was once Our House! This, sir, is the building from
which I have so often seen those great creatures, Miss Elizabeth,
Master George, Aunt Jane, and Uncle Parker'--whose very names
were of his own inventing--'pass and repass! And has it come to
this, indeed! Ah dear me, dear me!'

So tender were his lamentations, that the kindly Mr Boffin was
quite sorry for him, and almost felt mistrustful that in buying the
house he had done him an irreparable injury.

Two or three diplomatic interviews, the result of great subtlety on
Mr Wegg's part, but assuming the mask of careless yielding to a
fortuitous combination of circumstances impelling him towards
Clerkenwell, had enabled him to complete his bargain with Mr
Venus.

'Bring me round to the Bower,' said Silas, when the bargain was
closed, 'next Saturday evening, and if a sociable glass of old
Jamaikey warm should meet your views, I am not the man to
begrudge it.'

'You are aware of my being poor company, sir,' replied Mr Venus,
'but be it so.'

It being so, here is Saturday evening come, and here is Mr Venus
come, and ringing at the Bower-gate.

Mr Wegg opens the gate, descries a sort of brown paper truncheon
under Mr Venus's arm, and remarks, in a dry tone: 'Oh! I thought
perhaps you might have come in a cab.'

'No, Mr Wegg,' replies Venus. 'I am not above a parcel.'

'Above a parcel! No!' says Wegg, with some dissatisfaction. But
does not openly growl, 'a certain sort of parcel might be above
you.'

'Here is your purchase, Mr Wegg,' says Venus, politely handing it
over, 'and I am glad to restore it to the source from whence it--
flowed.'

'Thankee,' says Wegg. 'Now this affair is concluded, I may
mention to you in a friendly way that I've my doubts whether, if I
had consulted a lawyer, you could have kept this article back from
me. I only throw it out as a legal point.'

'Do you think so, Mr Wegg? I bought you in open contract.'

'You can't buy human flesh and blood in this country, sir; not
alive, you can't,' says Wegg, shaking his head. 'Then query, bone?'

'As a legal point?' asks Venus.

'As a legal point.'

'I am not competent to speak upon that, Mr Wegg,' says Venus,
reddening and growing something louder; 'but upon a point of fact
I think myself competent to speak; and as a point of fact I would
have seen you--will you allow me to say, further?'

'I wouldn't say more than further, if I was you,' Mr Wegg suggests,
pacifically.

--'Before I'd have given that packet into your hand without being
paid my price for it. I don't pretend to know how the point of law
may stand, but I'm thoroughly confident upon the point of fact.'

As Mr Venus is irritable (no doubt owing to his disappointment in
love), and as it is not the cue of Mr Wegg to have him out of
temper, the latter gentleman soothingly remarks, 'I only put it as a
little case; I only put it ha'porthetically.'

'Then I'd rather, Mr Wegg, you put it another time, penn'orth-
etically,' is Mr Venus's retort, 'for I tell you candidly I don't like
your little cases.'

Arrived by this time in Mr Wegg's sitting-room, made bright on
the chilly evening by gaslight and fire, Mr Venus softens and
compliments him on his abode; profiting by the occasion to
remind Wegg that he (Venus) told him he had got into a good
thing.

'Tolerable,' Wegg rejoins. 'But bear in mind, Mr Venus, that
there's no gold without its alloy. Mix for yourself and take a seat
in the chimbley-corner. Will you perform upon a pipe, sir?'

'I am but an indifferent performer, sir,' returns the other; 'but I'll
accompany you with a whiff or two at intervals.'

So, Mr Venus mixes, and Wegg mixes; and Mr Venus lights and
puffs, and Wegg lights and puffs.

'And there's alloy even in this metal of yours, Mr Wegg, you was
remarking?'

'Mystery,' returns Wegg. 'I don't like it, Mr Venus. I don't like to
have the life knocked out of former inhabitants of this house, in
the gloomy dark, and not know who did it.'

'Might you have any suspicions, Mr Wegg?'

'No,' returns that gentleman. 'I know who profits by it. But I've
no suspicions.'

Having said which, Mr Wegg smokes and looks at the fire with a
most determined expression of Charity; as if he had caught that
cardinal virtue by the skirts as she felt it her painful duty to depart
from him, and held her by main force.

'Similarly,' resumes Wegg, 'I have observations as I can offer upon
certain points and parties; but I make no objections, Mr Venus.
Here is an immense fortune drops from the clouds upon a person
that shall be nameless. Here is a weekly allowance, with a certain
weight of coals, drops from the clouds upon me. Which of us is
the better man? Not the person that shall be nameless. That's an
observation of mine, but I don't make it an objection. I take my
allowance and my certain weight of coals. He takes his fortune.
That's the way it works.'

'It would be a good thing for me, if I could see things in the calm
light you do, Mr Wegg.'

'Again look here,' pursues Silas, with an oratorical flourish of his
pipe and his wooden leg: the latter having an undignified tendency
to tilt him back in his chair; 'here's another observation, Mr Venus,
unaccompanied with an objection. Him that shall be nameless is
liable to be talked over. He gets talked over. Him that shall be
nameless, having me at his right hand, naturally looking to be
promoted higher, and you may perhaps say meriting to be
promoted higher--'

(Mr Venus murmurs that he does say so.)

'--Him that shall be nameless, under such circumstances passes me
by, and puts a talking-over stranger above my head. Which of us
two is the better man? Which of us two can repeat most poetry?
Which of us two has, in the service of him that shall be nameless,
tackled the Romans, both civil and military, till he has got as
husky as if he'd been weaned and ever since brought up on
sawdust? Not the talking-over stranger. Yet the house is as free
to him as if it was his, and he has his room, and is put upon a
footing, and draws about a thousand a year. I am banished to the
Bower, to be found in it like a piece of furniture whenever
wanted. Merit, therefore, don't win. That's the way it works. I
observe it, because I can't help observing it, being accustomed to
take a powerful sight of notice; but I don't object. Ever here
before, Mr Venus?'

'Not inside the gate, Mr Wegg.'

'You've been as far as the gate then, Mr Venus?'

'Yes, Mr Wegg, and peeped in from curiosity.'

'Did you see anything?'

'Nothing but the dust-yard.'

Mr Wegg rolls his eyes all round the room, in that ever unsatisfied
quest of his, and then rolls his eyes all round Mr Venus; as if
suspicious of his having something about him to be found out.

'And yet, sir,' he pursues, 'being acquainted with old Mr Harmon,
one would have thought it might have been polite in you, too, to
give him a call. And you're naturally of a polite disposition, you
are.' This last clause as a softening compliment to Mr Venus.

'It is true, sir,' replies Venus, winking his weak eyes, and running
his fingers through his dusty shock of hair, 'that I was so, before a
certain observation soured me. You understand to what I allude,
Mr Wegg? To a certain written statement respecting not wishing
to be regarded in a certain light. Since that, all is fled, save gall.'

'Not all,' says Mr Wegg, in a tone of sentimental condolence.

'Yes, sir,' returns Venus, 'all! The world may deem it harsh, but I'd
quite as soon pitch into my best friend as not. Indeed, I'd sooner!'

Involuntarily making a pass with his wooden leg to guard himself
as Mr Venus springs up in the emphasis of this unsociable
declaration, Mr Wegg tilts over on his back, chair and all, and is
rescued by that harmless misanthrope, in a disjointed state and
ruefully rubbing his head.

'Why, you lost your balance, Mr Wegg,' says Venus, handing him
his pipe.

'And about time to do it,' grumbles Silas, 'when a man's visitors,
without a word of notice, conduct themselves with the sudden
wiciousness of Jacks-in-boxes! Don't come flying out of your
chair like that, Mr Venus!'

'I ask your pardon, Mr Wegg. I am so soured.'

'Yes, but hang it,' says Wegg argumentatively, 'a well-governed
mind can be soured sitting! And as to being regarded in lights,
there's bumpey lights as well as bony. IN which,' again rubbing
his head, 'I object to regard myself.'

'I'll bear it in memory, sir.'

'If you'll be so good.' Mr Wegg slowly subdues his ironical tone
and his lingering irritation, and resumes his pipe. 'We were talking
of old Mr Harmon being a friend of yours.'

'Not a friend, Mr Wegg. Only known to speak to, and to have a
little deal with now and then. A very inquisitive character, Mr
Wegg, regarding what was found in the dust. As inquisitive as
secret.'

'Ah! You found him secret?' returns Wegg, with a greedy relish.

'He had always the look of it, and the manner of it.'

'Ah!' with another roll of his eyes. 'As to what was found in the
dust now. Did you ever hear him mention how he found it, my
dear friend? Living on the mysterious premises, one would like to
know. For instance, where he found things? Or, for instance, how
he set about it? Whether he began at the top ot the mounds, or
whether he began at the bottom. Whether he prodded'; Mr
Wegg's pantomime is skilful and expressive here; 'or whether he
scooped? Should you say scooped, my dear Mr Venus; or should
you as a man--say prodded?'

'I should say neither, Mr Wegg.'

'As a fellow-man, Mr Venus--mix again--why neither?'

'Because I suppose, sir, that what was found, was found in the
sorting and sifting. All the mounds are sorted and sifted?'

'You shall see 'em and pass your opinion. Mix again.'

On each occasion of his saying 'mix again', Mr Wegg, with a hop
on his wooden leg, hitches his chair a little nearer; more as if he
were proposing that himself and Mr Venus should mix again, than
that they should replenish their glasses.

'Living (as I said before) on the mysterious premises,' says Wegg
when the other has acted on his hospitable entreaty, 'one likes to
know. Would you be inclined to say now--as a brother--that he
ever hid things in the dust, as well as found 'em?'

'Mr Wegg, on the whole I should say he might.'

Mr Wegg claps on his spectacles, and admiringly surveys Mr
Venus from head to foot.

'As a mortal equally with myself, whose hand I take in mine for
the first time this day, having unaccountably overlooked that act
so full of boundless confidence binding a fellow-creetur TO a
fellow creetur,' says Wegg, holding Mr Venus's palm out, flat and
ready for smiting, and now smiting it; 'as such--and no other--for I
scorn all lowlier ties betwixt myself and the man walking with his
face erect that alone I call my Twin--regarded and regarding in
this trustful bond--what do you think he might have hid?'

'It is but a supposition, Mr Wegg.'

'As a Being with his hand upon his heart,' cries Wegg; and the
apostrophe is not the less impressive for the Being's hand being
actually upon his rum and water; 'put your supposition into
language, and bring it out, Mr Venus!'

'He was the species of old gentleman, sir,' slowly returns that
practical anatomist, after drinking, 'that I should judge likely to
take such opportunities as this place offered, of stowing away
money, valuables, maybe papers.'

'As one that was ever an ornament to human life,' says Mr Wegg,
again holding out Mr Venus's palm as if he were going to tell his
fortune by chiromancy, and holding his own up ready for smiting
it when the time should come; 'as one that the poet might have
had his eye on, in writing the national naval words:

Helm a-weather, now lay her close,
Yard arm and yard arm she lies;
Again, cried I, Mr Venus, give her t'other dose,
Man shrouds and grapple, sir, or she flies!

--that is to say, regarded in the light of true British Oak, for such
you are explain, Mr Venus, the expression "papers"!'

'Seeing that the old gentleman was generally cutting off some near
relation, or blocking out some natural affection,' Mr Venus rejoins,
'he most likely made a good many wills and codicils.'

The palm of Silas Wegg descends with a sounding smack upon the
palm of Venus, and Wegg lavishly exclaims, 'Twin in opinion
equally with feeling! Mix a little more!'

Having now hitched his wooden leg and his chair close in front of
Mr Venus, Mr Wegg rapidly mixes for both, gives his visitor his
glass, touches its rim with the rim of his own, puts his own to his
lips, puts it down, and spreading his hands on his visitor's knees
thus addresses him:

'Mr Venus. It ain't that I object to being passed over for a
stranger, though I regard the stranger as a more than doubtful
customer. It ain't for the sake of making money, though money is
ever welcome. It ain't for myself, though I am not so haughty as
to be above doing myself a good turn. It's for the cause of the
right.'

Mr Venus, passively winking his weak eyes both at once,
demands: 'What is, Mr Wegg?'

'The friendly move, sir, that I now propose. You see the move,
sir?'

'Till you have pointed it out, Mr Wegg, I can't say whether I do or
not.'

'If there IS anything to be found on these premises, let us find it
together. Let us make the friendly move of agreeing to look for it
together. Let us make the friendly move of agreeing to share the
profits of it equally betwixt us. In the cause of the right.' Thus
Silas assuming a noble air.

'Then,' says Mr Venus, looking up, after meditating with his hair
held in his hands, as if he could only fix his attention by fixing his
head; 'if anything was to be unburied from under the dust, it would
be kept a secret by you and me? Would that be it, Mr Wegg?'

'That would depend upon what it was, Mr Venus. Say it was
money, or plate, or jewellery, it would be as much ours as
anybody else's.'

Mr Venus rubs an eyebrow, interrogatively.

'In the cause of the right it would. Because it would be
unknowingly sold with the mounds else, and the buyer would get
what he was never meant to have, and never bought. And what
would that be, Mr Venus, but the cause of the wrong?'

'Say it was papers,' Mr Venus propounds.

'According to what they contained we should offer to dispose of
'em to the parties most interested,' replies Wegg, promptly.

'In the cause of the right, Mr Wegg?'

'Always so, Mr Venus. If the parties should use them in the cause
of the wrong, that would be their act and deed. Mr Venus. I have
an opinion of you, sir, to which it is not easy to give mouth. Since
I called upon you that evening when you were, as I may say,
floating your powerful mind in tea, I have felt that you required to
be roused with an object. In this friendly move, sir, you will have
a glorious object to rouse you.'

Mr Wegg then goes on to enlarge upon what throughout has been
uppermost in his crafty mind:--the qualifications of Mr Venus for
such a search. He expatiates on Mr Venus's patient habits and
delicate manipulation; on his skill in piecing little things together;
on his knowledge of various tissues and textures; on the likelihood
of small indications leading him on to the discovery of great
concealments. 'While as to myself,' says Wegg, 'I am not good at
it. Whether I gave myself up to prodding, or whether I gave
myself up to scooping, I couldn't do it with that delicate touch so
as not to show that I was disturbing the mounds. Quite different
with YOU, going to work (as YOU would) in the light of a fellow-
man, holily pledged in a friendly move to his brother man.' Mr
Wegg next modestly remarks on the want of adaptation in a
wooden leg to ladders and such like airy perches, and also hints at
an inherent tendency in that timber fiction, when called into
action for the purposes of a promenade on an ashey slope, to stick
itself into the yielding foothold, and peg its owner to one spot.
Then, leaving this part of the subject, he remarks on the special
phenomenon that before his installation in the Bower, it was from
Mr Venus that he first heard of the legend of hidden wealth in the
Mounds: 'which', he observes with a vaguely pious air, 'was surely
never meant for nothing.' Lastly, he returns to the cause of the
right, gloomily foreshadowing the possibility of something being
unearthed to criminate Mr Boffin (of whom he once more
candidly admits it cannot be denied that he profits by a murder),
and anticipating his denunciation by the friendly movers to
avenging justice. And this, Mr Wegg expressly points out, not at
all for the sake of the reward--though it would be a want of
principle not to take it.

To all this, Mr Venus, with his shock of dusty hair cocked after
the manner of a terrier's ears, attends profoundly. When Mr
Wegg, having finished, opens his arms wide, as if to show Mr
Venus how bare his breast is, and then folds them pending a reply,
Mr Venus winks at him with both eyes some little time before
speaking.

'I see you have tried it by yourself, Mr Wegg,' he says when he
does speak. 'You have found out the difficulties by experience.'

'No, it can hardly be said that I have tried it,' replies Wegg, a little
dashed by the hint. 'I have just skimmed it. Skimmed it.'

'And found nothing besides the difficulties?'

Wegg shakes his head.

'I scarcely know what to say to this, Mr Wegg,' observes Venus,
after ruminating for a while.

'Say yes,' Wegg naturally urges.

'If I wasn't soured, my answer would be no. But being soured, Mr
Wegg, and driven to reckless madness and desperation, I suppose
it's Yes.'

Wegg joyfully reproduces the two glasses, repeats the ceremony
of clinking their rims, and inwardly drinks with great heartiness to
the health and success in life of the young lady who has reduced
Mr Venus to his present convenient state of mind.

The articles of the friendly move are then severally recited and
agreed upon. They are but secrecy, fidelity, and perseverance.
The Bower to be always free of access to Mr Venus for his
researches, and every precaution to be taken against their
attracting observation in the neighbourhood.

'There's a footstep!' exclaims Venus.

'Where?' cries Wegg, starting.

'Outside. St!'

They are in the act of ratifying the treaty of friendly move, by
shaking hands upon it. They softly break off, light their pipes
which have gone out, and lean back in their chairs. No doubt, a
footstep. It approaches the window, and a hand taps at the glass.
'Come in!' calls Wegg; meaning come round by the door. But the
heavy old-fashioned sash is slowly raised, and a head slowly looks
in out of the dark background of night.

'Pray is Mr Silas Wegg here? Oh! I see him!'

The friendly movers might not have been quite at their ease, even
though the visitor had entered in the usual manner. But, leaning
on the breast-high window, and staring in out of the darkness, they
find the visitor extremely embarrassing. Expecially Mr Venus:
who removes his pipe, draws back his head, and stares at the
starer, as if it were his own Hindoo baby come to fetch him home.

'Good evening, Mr Wegg. The yard gate-lock should be looked
to, if you please; it don't catch.'

'Is it Mr Rokesmith?' falters Wegg.

'It is Mr Rokesmith. Don't let me disturb you. I am not coming in.
I have only a message for you, which I undertook to deliver on my
way home to my lodgings. I was in two minds about coming
beyond the gate without ringing: not knowing but you might have
a dog about.'

'I wish I had,' mutters Wegg, with his back turned as he rose from
his chair. St! Hush! The talking-over stranger, Mr Venus.'

'Is that any one I know?' inquires the staring Secretary.

'No, Mr Rokesmith. Friend of mine. Passing the evening with
me.'

'Oh! I beg his pardon. Mr Boffin wishes you to know that he does
not expect you to stay at home any evening, on the chance of his
coming. It has occurred to him that he may, without intending it,
have been a tie upon you. In future, if he should come without
notice, he will take his chance of finding you, and it will be all the
same to him if he does not. I undertook to tell you on my way.
That's all.'

With that, and 'Good night,' the Secretary lowers the window, and
disappears. They listen, and hear his footsteps go back to the
gate, and hear the gate close after him.

'And for that individual, Mr Venus,' remarks Wegg, when he is
fully gone, 'I have been passed over! Let me ask you what you
think of him?'

Apparently, Mr Venus does not know what to think of him, for he
makes sundry efforts to reply, without delivering himself of any
other articulate utterance than that he has 'a singular look'.

'A double look, you mean, sir,' rejoins Wegg, playing bitterly upon
the word. 'That's HIS look. Any amount of singular look for me,
but not a double look! That's an under-handed mind, sir.'

'Do you say there's something against him?' Venus asks.

'Something against him?' repeats Wegg. 'Something? What would
the relief be to my feelings--as a fellow-man--if I wasn't the slave
of truth, and didn't feel myself compelled to answer, Everything!'

See into what wonderful maudlin refuges, featherless ostriches
plunge their heads! It is such unspeakable moral compensation to
Wegg, to be overcome by the consideration that Mr Rokesmith
has an underhanded mind!

'On this starlight night, Mr Venus,' he remarks, when he is showing
that friendly mover out across the yard, and both are something
the worse for mixing again and again: 'on this starlight night to
think that talking-over strangers, and underhanded minds, can go
walking home under the sky, as if they was all square!'

'The spectacle of those orbs,' says Mr Venus, gazing upward with
his hat tumbling off; 'brings heavy on me her crushing words that
she did not wish to regard herself nor yet to be regarded in that--'

'I know! I know! You needn't repeat 'em,' says Wegg, pressing
his hand. 'But think how those stars steady me in the cause of the
right against some that shall be nameless. It isn't that I bear
malice. But see how they glisten with old remembrances! Old
remembrances of what, sir?'

Mr Venus begins drearily replying, 'Of her words, in her own
handwriting, that she does not wish to regard herself, nor yet--'
when Silas cuts him short with dignity.

'No, sir! Remembrances of Our House, of Master George, of Aunt
Jane, of Uncle Parker, all laid waste! All offered up sacrifices to
the minion of fortune and the worm of the hour!'

Charles Dickens