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Chapter 5

Chapter 5

BOFFIN'S BOWER


Over against a London house, a corner house not far from
Cavendish Square, a man with a wooden leg had sat for some years,
with his remaining foot in a basket in cold weather, picking
up a living on this wise:--Every morning at eight o'clock, he
stumped to the corner, carrying a chair, a clothes-horse, a pair of
trestles, a board, a basket, and an umbrella, all strapped together.
Separating these, the board and trestles became a counter, the
basket supplied the few small lots of fruit and sweets that he
offered for sale upon it and became a foot-warmer, the unfolded
clothes-horse displayed a choice collection of halfpenny ballads
and became a screen, and the stool planted within it became his
post for the rest of the day. All weathers saw the man at the post.
This is to be accepted in a double sense, for he contrived a back to
his wooden stool, by placing it against the lamp-post. When the
weather was wet, he put up his umbrella over his stock in trade,
not over himself; when the weather was dry, he furled that faded
article, tied it round with a piece of yarn, and laid it cross-wise
under the trestles: where it looked like an unwholesomely-forced
lettuce that had lost in colour and crispness what it had gained in
size.

He had established his right to the corner, by imperceptible
prescription. He had never varied his ground an inch, but had in
the beginning diffidently taken the corner upon which the side of
the house gave. A howling corner in the winter time, a dusty
corner in the summer time, an undesirable corner at the best of
times. Shelterless fragments of straw and paper got up revolving
storms there, when the main street was at peace; and the water-
cart, as if it were drunk or short-sighted, came blundering and
jolting round it, making it muddy when all else was clean.

On the front of his sale-board hung a little placard, like a kettle-
holder, bearing the inscription in his own small text:

Errands gone
On with fi
Delity By
Ladies and Gentlemen
I remain
Your humble Servt:
Silas Wegg

He had not only settled it with himself in course of time, that he
was errand-goer by appointment to the house at the corner (though
he received such commissions not half a dozen times in a year, and
then only as some servant's deputy), but also that he was one of the
house's retainers and owed vassalage to it and was bound to leal
and loyal interest in it. For this reason, he always spoke of it as
'Our House,' and, though his knowledge of its affairs was mostly
speculative and all wrong, claimed to be in its confidence. On
similar grounds he never beheld an inmate at any one of its
windows but he touched his hat. Yet, he knew so little about the
inmates that he gave them names of his own invention: as 'Miss
Elizabeth', 'Master George', 'Aunt Jane', 'Uncle Parker '--having no
authority whatever for any such designations, but particularly the
last--to which, as a natural consequence, he stuck with great obstinacy.

Over the house itself, he exercised the same imaginary power as
over its inhabitants and their affairs. He had never been in it, the
length of a piece of fat black water-pipe which trailed itself over
the area-door into a damp stone passage, and had rather the air of a
leech on the house that had 'taken' wonderfully; but this was no
impediment to his arranging it according to a plan of his own. It
was a great dingy house with a quantity of dim side window and
blank back premises, and it cost his mind a world of trouble so to
lay it out as to account for everything in its external appearance.
But, this once done, was quite satisfactory, and he rested
persuaded, that he knew his way about the house blindfold: from
the barred garrets in the high roof, to the two iron extinguishers
before the main door--which seemed to request all lively visitors to
have the kindness to put themselves out, before entering.

Assuredly, this stall of Silas Wegg's was the hardest little stall of
all the sterile little stalls in London. It gave you the face-ache to
look at his apples, the stomach-ache to look at his oranges, the
tooth-ache to look at his nuts. Of the latter commodity he had
always a grim little heap, on which lay a little wooden measure
which had no discernible inside, and was considered to represent
the penn'orth appointed by Magna Charta. Whether from too
much east wind or no--it was an easterly corner--the stall, the
stock, and the keeper, were all as dry as the Desert. Wegg was a
knotty man, and a close-grained, with a face carved out of very
hard material, that had just as much play of expression as a
watchman's rattle. When he laughed, certain jerks occurred in it,
and the rattle sprung. Sooth to say, he was so wooden a man that
he seemed to have taken his wooden leg naturally, and rather
suggested to the fanciful observer, that he might be expected--if his
development received no untimely check--to be completely set up
with a pair of wooden legs in about six months.

Mr Wegg was an observant person, or, as he himself said, 'took a
powerful sight of notice'. He saluted all his regular passers-by
every day, as he sat on his stool backed up by the lamp-post; and
on the adaptable character of these salutes he greatly plumed
himself. Thus, to the rector, he addressed a bow, compounded of
lay deference, and a slight touch of the shady preliminary
meditation at church; to the doctor, a confidential bow, as to a
gentleman whose acquaintance with his inside he begged
respectfully to acknowledge; before the Quality he delighted to
abase himself; and for Uncle Parker, who was in the army (at least,
so he had settled it), he put his open hand to the side of his hat,
in a military manner which that angry-eyed buttoned-up
inflammatory-faced old gentleman appeared but imperfectly to
appreciate.

The only article in which Silas dealt, that was not hard, was
gingerbread. On a certain day, some wretched infant having
purchased the damp gingerbread-horse (fearfully out of condition),
and the adhesive bird-cage, which had been exposed for the day's sale,
he had taken a tin box from under his stool to produce a relay
of those dreadful specimens, and was going to look in at the lid,
when he said to himself, pausing: 'Oh! Here you are again!'

The words referred to a broad, round-shouldered, one-sided old
fellow in mourning, coming comically ambling towards the corner,
dressed in a pea over-coat, and carrying a large stick. He wore
thick shoes, and thick leather gaiters, and thick gloves like a
hedger's. Both as to his dress and to himself, he was of an
overlapping rhinoceros build, with folds in his cheeks, and his
forehead, and his eyelids, and his lips, and his ears; but with
bright, eager, childishly-inquiring, grey eyes, under his ragged
eyebrows, and broad-brimmed hat. A very odd-looking old fellow
altogether.

'Here you are again,' repeated Mr Wegg, musing. 'And what are
you now? Are you in the Funns, or where are you? Have you
lately come to settle in this neighbourhood, or do you own to
another neighbourhood? Are you in independent circumstances, or
is it wasting the motions of a bow on you? Come! I'll speculate!
I'll invest a bow in you.'

Which Mr Wegg, having replaced his tin box, accordingly did, as
he rose to bait his gingerbread-trap for some other devoted infant.
The salute was acknowledged with:

'Morning, sir! Morning! Morning!'

('Calls me Sir!' said Mr Wegg, to himself; 'HE won't answer. A
bow gone!')

'Morning, morning, morning!'

'Appears to be rather a 'arty old cock, too,' said Mr Wegg, as
before; 'Good morning to YOU, sir.'

'Do you remember me, then?' asked his new acquaintance,
stopping in his amble, one-sided, before the stall, and speaking in
a pounding way, though with great good-humour.

'I have noticed you go past our house, sir, several times in the
course of the last week or so.'

'Our house,' repeated the other. 'Meaning--?'

'Yes,' said Mr Wegg, nodding, as the other pointed the clumsy
forefinger of his right glove at the corner house.

'Oh! Now, what,' pursued the old fellow, in an inquisitive manner,
carrying his knotted stick in his left arm as if it were a baby, 'what
do they allow you now?'

'It's job work that I do for our house,' returned Silas, drily, and with
reticence; 'it's not yet brought to an exact allowance.'

'Oh! It's not yet brought to an exact allowance? No! It's not yet
brought to an exact allowance. Oh!--Morning, morning, morning!'

'Appears to be rather a cracked old cock,' thought Silas, qualifying
his former good opinion, as the other ambled off. But, in a
moment he was back again with the question:

'How did you get your wooden leg?'

Mr Wegg replied, (tartly to this personal inquiry), 'In an accident.'

'Do you like it?'

'Well! I haven't got to keep it warm,' Mr Wegg made answer, in a
sort of desperation occasioned by the singularity of the question.

'He hasn't,' repeated the other to his knotted stick, as he gave it a
hug; 'he hasn't got--ha!--ha!--to keep it warm! Did you ever hear of
the name of Boffin?'

'No,' said Mr Wegg, who was growing restive under this
examination. 'I never did hear of the name of Boffin.'

'Do you like it?'

'Why, no,' retorted Mr Wegg, again approaching desperation; 'I
can't say I do.'

'Why don't you like it?'

'I don't know why I don't,' retorted Mr Wegg, approaching frenzy,
'but I don't at all.'

'Now, I'll tell you something that'll make you sorry for that,' said
the stranger, smiling. 'My name's Boffin.'

'I can't help it!' returned Mr Wegg. Implying in his manner the
offensive addition, 'and if I could, I wouldn't.'

'But there's another chance for you,' said Mr Boffin, smiling still,
'Do you like the name of Nicodemus? Think it over. Nick, or
Noddy.'

'It is not, sir,' Mr Wegg rejoined, as he sat down on his stool, with
an air of gentle resignation, combined with melancholy candour; it
is not a name as I could wish any one that I had a respect for, to
call ME by; but there may be persons that would not view it with
the same objections.--I don't know why,' Mr Wegg added,
anticipating another question.

'Noddy Boffin,' said that gentleman. 'Noddy. That's my name.
Noddy--or Nick--Boffin. What's your name?'

'Silas Wegg.--I don't,' said Mr Wegg, bestirring himself to take the
same precaution as before, 'I don't know why Silas, and I don't
know why Wegg.'

'Now, Wegg,' said Mr Boffin, hugging his stick closer, 'I want to
make a sort of offer to you. Do you remember when you first see
me?'

The wooden Wegg looked at him with a meditative eye, and also
with a softened air as descrying possibility of profit. 'Let me think.
I ain't quite sure, and yet I generally take a powerful sight of
notice, too. Was it on a Monday morning, when the butcher-boy
had been to our house for orders, and bought a ballad of me,
which, being unacquainted with the tune, I run it over to him?'

'Right, Wegg, right! But he bought more than one.'

'Yes, to be sure, sir; he bought several; and wishing to lay out his
money to the best, he took my opinion to guide his choice, and we
went over the collection together. To be sure we did. Here was
him as it might be, and here was myself as it might be, and there
was you, Mr Boffin, as you identically are, with your self-same
stick under your very same arm, and your very same back towards
us. To--be--sure!' added Mr Wegg, looking a little round Mr
Boffin, to take him in the rear, and identify this last extraordinary
coincidence, 'your wery self-same back!'

'What do you think I was doing, Wegg?'

'I should judge, sir, that you might be glancing your eye down the
street.'

'No, Wegg. I was a listening.'

'Was you, indeed?' said Mr Wegg, dubiously.

'Not in a dishonourable way, Wegg, because you was singing to
the butcher; and you wouldn't sing secrets to a butcher in the
street, you know.'

'It never happened that I did so yet, to the best of my
remembrance,' said Mr Wegg, cautiously. 'But I might do it. A
man can't say what he might wish to do some day or another.'
(This, not to release any little advantage he might derive from Mr
Boffin's avowal.)

'Well,' repeated Boffin, 'I was a listening to you and to him. And
what do you--you haven't got another stool, have you? I'm rather
thick in my breath.'

'I haven't got another, but you're welcome to this,' said Wegg,
resigning it. 'It's a treat to me to stand.'

'Lard!' exclaimed Mr Boffin, in a tone of great enjoyment, as he
settled himself down, still nursing his stick like a baby, 'it's a
pleasant place, this! And then to be shut in on each side, with
these ballads, like so many book-leaf blinkers! Why, its
delightful!'

'If I am not mistaken, sir,' Mr Wegg delicately hinted, resting a
hand on his stall, and bending over the discursive Boffin, 'you
alluded to some offer or another that was in your mind?'

'I'm coming to it! All right. I'm coming to it! I was going to say
that when I listened that morning, I listened with hadmiration
amounting to haw. I thought to myself, "Here's a man with a
wooden leg--a literary man with--"'

'N--not exactly so, sir,' said Mr Wegg.

'Why, you know every one of these songs by name and by tune,
and if you want to read or to sing any one on 'em off straight,
you've only to whip on your spectacles and do it!' cried Mr Boffin.
'I see you at it!'

'Well, sir,' returned Mr Wegg, with a conscious inclination of the
head; 'we'll say literary, then.'

'"A literary man--WITH a wooden leg--and all Print is open to
him!" That's what I thought to myself, that morning,' pursued Mr
Boffin, leaning forward to describe, uncramped by the
clotheshorse, as large an arc as his right arm could make; '"all
Print is open to him!" And it is, ain't it?'

'Why, truly, sir,' Mr Wegg admitted, with modesty; 'I believe you
couldn't show me the piece of English print, that I wouldn't be
equal to collaring and throwing.'

'On the spot?' said Mr Boffin.

'On the spot.'

'I know'd it! Then consider this. Here am I, a man without a
wooden leg, and yet all print is shut to me.'

'Indeed, sir?' Mr Wegg returned with increasing self-complacency.
'Education neglected?'

'Neg--lected!' repeated Boffin, with emphasis. 'That ain't no word
for it. I don't mean to say but what if you showed me a B, I could
so far give you change for it, as to answer Boffin.'

'Come, come, sir,' said Mr Wegg, throwing in a little
encouragement, 'that's something, too.'

'It's something,' answered Mr Boffin, 'but I'll take my oath it ain't
much.'

'Perhaps it's not as much as could be wished by an inquiring mind,
sir,' Mr Wegg admitted.

'Now, look here. I'm retired from business. Me and Mrs Boffin--
Henerietty Boffin--which her father's name was Henery, and her
mother's name was Hetty, and so you get it--we live on a
compittance, under the will of a diseased governor.'

'Gentleman dead, sir?'

'Man alive, don't I tell you? A diseased governor? Now, it's too
late for me to begin shovelling and sifting at alphabeds and
grammar-books. I'm getting to be a old bird, and I want to take it
easy. But I want some reading--some fine bold reading, some
splendid book in a gorging Lord-Mayor's-Show of wollumes'
(probably meaning gorgeous, but misled by association of ideas);
'as'll reach right down your pint of view, and take time to go by
you. How can I get that reading, Wegg? By,' tapping him on the
breast with the head of his thick stick, 'paying a man truly qualified
to do it, so much an hour (say twopence) to come and do it.'

'Hem! Flattered, sir, I am sure,' said Wegg, beginning to regard
himself in quite a new light. 'Hew! This is the offer you
mentioned, sir?'

'Yes. Do you like it?'

'I am considering of it, Mr Boffin.'

'I don't,' said Boffin, in a free-handed manner, 'want to tie a literary
man--WITH a wooden leg--down too tight. A halfpenny an hour
shan't part us. The hours are your own to choose, after you've done
for the day with your house here. I live over Maiden-Lane way--
out Holloway direction--and you've only got to go East-and-by-
North when you've finished here, and you're there. Twopence
halfpenny an hour,' said Boffin, taking a piece of chalk from his
pocket and getting off the stool to work the sum on the top of it in
his own way; 'two long'uns and a short'un--twopence halfpenny;
two short'uns is a long'un and two two long'uns is four long'uns--
making five long'uns; six nights a week at five long'uns a night,'
scoring them all down separately, 'and you mount up to thirty
long'uns. A round'un! Half a crown!'

Pointing to this result as a large and satisfactory one, Mr Boffin
smeared it out with his moistened glove, and sat down on the
remains.

'Half a crown,' said Wegg, meditating. 'Yes. (It ain't much, sir.)
Half a crown.'

'Per week, you know.'

'Per week. Yes. As to the amount of strain upon the intellect now.
Was you thinking at all of poetry?' Mr Wegg inquired, musing.

'Would it come dearer?' Mr Boffin asked.

'It would come dearer,' Mr Wegg returned. 'For when a person
comes to grind off poetry night after night, it is but right he should
expect to be paid for its weakening effect on his mind.'

'To tell you the truth Wegg,' said Boffin, 'I wasn't thinking of
poetry, except in so fur as this:--If you was to happen now and then
to feel yourself in the mind to tip me and Mrs Boffin one of your
ballads, why then we should drop into poetry.'

'I follow you, sir,' said Wegg. 'But not being a regular musical
professional, I should be loath to engage myself for that; and
therefore when I dropped into poetry, I should ask to be considered
so fur, in the light of a friend.'

At this, Mr Boffin's eyes sparkled, and he shook Silas earnestly by
the hand: protesting that it was more than he could have asked,
and that he took it very kindly indeed.

'What do you think of the terms, Wegg?' Mr Boffin then
demanded, with unconcealed anxiety.

Silas, who had stimulated this anxiety by his hard reserve of
manner, and who had begun to understand his man very well,
replied with an air; as if he were saying something extraordinarily
generous and great:

'Mr Boffin, I never bargain.'

'So I should have thought of you!' said Mr Boffin, admiringly. 'No,
sir. I never did 'aggle and I never will 'aggle. Consequently I meet
you at once, free and fair, with--Done, for double the money!'

Mr Boffin seemed a little unprepared for this conclusion, but
assented, with the remark, 'You know better what it ought to be
than I do, Wegg,' and again shook hands with him upon it.

'Could you begin to night, Wegg?' he then demanded.

'Yes, sir,' said Mr Wegg, careful to leave all the eagerness to him.
'I see no difficulty if you wish it. You are provided with the
needful implement--a book, sir?'

'Bought him at a sale,' said Mr Boffin. 'Eight wollumes. Red and
gold. Purple ribbon in every wollume, to keep the place where you
leave off. Do you know him?'

'The book's name, sir?' inquired Silas.

'I thought you might have know'd him without it,' said Mr Boffin
slightly disappointed. 'His name is Decline-And-Fall-Off-The-
Rooshan-Empire.' (Mr Boffin went over these stones slowly and
with much caution.)

'Ay indeed!' said Mr Wegg, nodding his head with an air of
friendly recognition.

'You know him, Wegg?'

'I haven't been not to say right slap through him, very lately,' Mr
Wegg made answer, 'having been otherways employed, Mr Boffin.
But know him? Old familiar declining and falling off the
Rooshan? Rather, sir! Ever since I was not so high as your stick.
Ever since my eldest brother left our cottage to enlist into the army.
On which occasion, as the ballad that was made about it describes:

'Beside that cottage door, Mr Boffin,
A girl was on her knees;
She held aloft a snowy scarf, Sir,
Which (my eldest brother noticed) fluttered in the breeze.
She breathed a prayer for him, Mr Boffin;
A prayer he coold not hear.
And my eldest brother lean'd upon his sword, Mr Boffin,
And wiped away a tear.'

Much impressed by this family circumstance, and also by the
friendly disposition of Mr Wegg, as exemplified in his so soon
dropping into poetry, Mr Boffin again shook hands with that
ligneous sharper, and besought him to name his hour. Mr Wegg
named eight.

'Where I live,' said Mr Boffin, 'is called The Bower. Boffin's
Bower is the name Mrs Boffin christened it when we come into it
as a property. If you should meet with anybody that don't know it
by that name (which hardly anybody does), when you've got nigh
upon about a odd mile, or say and a quarter if you like, up Maiden
Lane, Battle Bridge, ask for Harmony Jail, and you'll be put right.
I shall expect you, Wegg,' said Mr Boffin, clapping him on the
shoulder with the greatest enthusiasm, 'most joyfully. I shall have
no peace or patience till you come. Print is now opening ahead of
me. This night, a literary man--WITH a wooden leg--' he
bestowed an admiring look upon that decoration, as if it greatly
enhanced the relish of Mr Wegg's attainments--'will begin to lead
me a new life! My fist again, Wegg. Morning, morning, morning!'

Left alone at his stall as the other ambled off, Mr Wegg subsided
into his screen, produced a small pocket-handkerchief of a
penitentially-scrubbing character, and took himself by the nose
with a thoughtful aspect. Also, while he still grasped that feature,
he directed several thoughtful looks down the street, after the
retiring figure of Mr Boffin. But, profound gravity sat enthroned
on Wegg's countenance. For, while he considered within himself
that this was an old fellow of rare simplicity, that this was an
opportunity to be improved, and that here might he money to be
got beyond present calculation, still he compromised himself by no
admission that his new engagement was at all out of his way, or
involved the least element of the ridiculous. Mr Wegg would even
have picked a handsome quarrel with any one who should have
challenged his deep acquaintance with those aforesaid eight
volumes of Decline and Fall. His gravity was unusual, portentous,
and immeasurable, not because he admitted any doubt of himself
but because he perceived it necessary to forestall any doubt of
himself in others. And herein he ranged with that very numerous
class of impostors, who are quite as determined to keep up
appearances to themselves, as to their neighbours.

A certain loftiness, likewise, took possession of Mr Wegg; a
condescending sense of being in request as an official expounder of
mysteries. It did not move him to commercial greatness, but rather
to littleness, insomuch that if it had been within the possibilities of
things for the wooden measure to hold fewer nuts than usual, it
would have done so that day. But, when night came, and with her
veiled eyes beheld him stumping towards Boffin's Bower, he was
elated too.

The Bower was as difficult to find, as Fair Rosamond's without the
clue. Mr Wegg, having reached the quarter indicated, inquired for
the Bower half a dozen times without the least success, until he
remembered to ask for Harmony Jail. This occasioned a quick
change in the spirits of a hoarse gentleman and a donkey, whom he
had much perplexed.

'Why, yer mean Old Harmon's, do yer?' said the hoarse gentleman,
who was driving his donkey in a truck, with a carrot for a whip.
'Why didn't yer niver say so? Eddard and me is a goin' by HIM!
Jump in.'

Mr Wegg complied, and the hoarse gentleman invited his attention
to the third person in company, thus;

'Now, you look at Eddard's ears. What was it as you named, agin?
Whisper.'

Mr Wegg whispered, 'Boffin's Bower.'

'Eddard! (keep yer hi on his ears) cut away to Boffin's Bower!'

Edward, with his ears lying back, remained immoveable.

'Eddard! (keep yer hi on his ears) cut away to Old Harmon's.'
Edward instantly pricked up his ears to their utmost, and rattled off
at such a pace that Mr Wegg's conversation was jolted out of him
in a most dislocated state.

'Was-it-Ev-verajail?' asked Mr Wegg, holding on.

'Not a proper jail, wot you and me would get committed to,'
returned his escort; 'they giv' it the name, on accounts of Old
Harmon living solitary there.'

'And-why-did-they-callitharm-Ony?' asked Wegg.

'On accounts of his never agreeing with nobody. Like a speeches
of chaff. Harmon's Jail; Harmony Jail. Working it round like.'

'Doyouknow-Mist-Erboff-in?' asked Wegg.

'I should think so! Everybody do about here. Eddard knows him.
(Keep yer hi on his ears.) Noddy Boffin, Eddard!'

The effect of the name was so very alarming, in respect of causing
a temporary disappearance of Edward's head, casting his hind
hoofs in the air, greatly accelerating the pace and increasing the
jolting, that Mr Wegg was fain to devote his attention exclusively
to holding on, and to relinquish his desire of ascertaining whether
this homage to Boffin was to be considered complimentary or the
reverse.

Presently, Edward stopped at a gateway, and Wegg discreetly lost
no time in slipping out at the back of the truck. The moment he
was landed, his late driver with a wave of the carrot, said 'Supper,
Eddard!' and he, the hind hoofs, the truck, and Edward, all seemed
to fly into the air together, in a kind of apotheosis.

Pushing the gate, which stood ajar, Wegg looked into an enclosed
space where certain tall dark mounds rose high against the sky,
and where the pathway to the Bower was indicated, as the
moonlight showed, between two lines of broken crockery set in
ashes. A white figure advancing along this path, proved to be
nothing more ghostly than Mr Boffin, easily attired for the pursuit
of knowledge, in an undress garment of short white smock-frock.
Having received his literary friend with great cordiality, he
conducted him to the interior of the Bower and there presented him
to Mrs Boffin:--a stout lady of a rubicund and cheerful aspect,
dressed (to Mr Wegg's consternation) in a low evening-dress of
sable satin, and a large black velvet hat and feathers.

'Mrs Boffin, Wegg,' said Boffin, 'is a highflyer at Fashion. And
her make is such, that she does it credit. As to myself I ain't yet as
Fash'nable as I may come to be. Henerietty, old lady, this is the
gentleman that's a going to decline and fall off the Rooshan
Empire.'

'And I am sure I hope it'll do you both good,' said Mrs Boffin.

It was the queerest of rooms, fitted and furnished more like a
luxurious amateur tap-room than anything else within the ken of
Silas Wegg. There were two wooden settles by the fire, one on
either side of it, with a corresponding table before each. On one of
these tables, the eight volumes were ranged flat, in a row, like a
galvanic battery; on the other, certain squat case-bottles of inviting
appearance seemed to stand on tiptoe to exchange glances with Mr
Wegg over a front row of tumblers and a basin of white sugar. On
the hob, a kettle steamed; on the hearth, a cat reposed. Facing the
fire between the settles, a sofa, a footstool, and a little table,
formed a centrepiece devoted to Mrs Boffin. They were garish in
taste and colour, but were expensive articles of drawing-room
furniture that had a very odd look beside the settles and the flaring
gaslight pendent from the ceiling. There was a flowery carpet on
the floor; but, instead of reaching to the fireside, its glowing
vegetation stopped short at Mrs Boffin's footstool, and gave place
to a region of sand and sawdust. Mr Wegg also noticed, with
admiring eyes, that, while the flowery land displayed such hollow
ornamentation as stuffed birds and waxen fruits under glass-
shades, there were, in the territory where vegetation ceased,
compensatory shelves on which the best part of a large pie and
likewise of a cold joint were plainly discernible among other
solids. The room itself was large, though low; and the heavy
frames of its old-fashioned windows, and the heavy beams in its
crooked ceiling, seemed to indicate that it had once been a house of
some mark standing alone in the country.

'Do you like it, Wegg?' asked Mr Boffin, in his pouncing manner.

'I admire it greatly, sir,' said Wegg. 'Peculiar comfort at this
fireside, sir.'

'Do you understand it, Wegg?'

'Why, in a general way, sir,' Mr Wegg was beginning slowly and
knowingly, with his head stuck on one side, as evasive people do
begin, when the other cut him short:

'You DON'T understand it, Wegg, and I'll explain it. These
arrangements is made by mutual consent between Mrs Boffin and
me. Mrs Boffin, as I've mentioned, is a highflyer at Fashion; at
present I'm not. I don't go higher than comfort, and comfort of the
sort that I'm equal to the enjoyment of. Well then. Where would
be the good of Mrs Boffin and me quarrelling over it? We never
did quarrel, before we come into Boffin's Bower as a property; why
quarrel when we HAVE come into Boffin's Bower as a property?
So Mrs Boffin, she keeps up her part of the room, in her way; I
keep up my part of the room in mine. In consequence of which we
have at once, Sociability (I should go melancholy mad without Mrs
Boffin), Fashion, and Comfort. If I get by degrees to be a higher-
flyer at Fashion, then Mrs Boffin will by degrees come for'arder. If
Mrs Boffin should ever be less of a dab at Fashion than she is at
the present time, then Mrs Boffin's carpet would go back'arder. If
we should both continny as we are, why then HERE we are, and
give us a kiss, old lady.'

Mrs Boffin who, perpetually smiling, had approached and drawn
her plump arm through her lord's, most willingly complied.
Fashion, in the form of her black velvet hat and feathers, tried to
prevent it; but got deservedly crushed in the endeavour.

'So now, Wegg,' said Mr Boffin, wiping his mouth with an air of
much refreshment, 'you begin to know us as we are. This is a
charming spot, is the Bower, but you must get to apprechiate it by
degrees. It's a spot to find out the merits of; little by little, and a
new'un every day. There's a serpentining walk up each of the
mounds, that gives you the yard and neighbourhood changing
every moment. When you get to the top, there's a view of the
neighbouring premises, not to be surpassed. The premises of Mrs
Boffin's late father (Canine Provision Trade), you look down into,
as if they was your own. And the top of the High Mound is
crowned with a lattice-work Arbour, in which, if you don't read out
loud many a book in the summer, ay, and as a friend, drop many a
time into poetry too, it shan't be my fault. Now, what'll you read
on?'

'Thank you, sir,' returned Wegg, as if there were nothing new in his
reading at all. 'I generally do it on gin and water.'

'Keeps the organ moist, does it, Wegg?' asked Mr Boffin, with
innocent eagerness.

'N-no, sir,' replied Wegg, coolly, 'I should hardly describe it so, sir.
I should say, mellers it. Mellers it, is the word I should employ,
Mr Boffin.'

His wooden conceit and craft kept exact pace with the delighted
expectation of his victim. The visions rising before his mercenary
mind, of the many ways in which this connexion was to be turned
to account, never obscured the foremost idea natural to a dull
overreaching man, that he must not make himself too cheap.

Mrs Boffin's Fashion, as a less inexorable deity than the idol
usually worshipped under that name, did not forbid her mixing for
her literary guest, or asking if he found the result to his liking. On
his returning a gracious answer and taking his place at the literary
settle, Mr Boffin began to compose himself as a listener, at the
opposite settle, with exultant eyes.

'Sorry to deprive you of a pipe, Wegg,' he said, filling his own, 'but
you can't do both together. Oh! and another thing I forgot to name!
When you come in here of an evening, and look round you, and
notice anything on a shelf that happens to catch your fancy,
mention it.'

Wegg, who had been going to put on his spectacles, immediately
laid them down, with the sprightly observation:

'You read my thoughts, sir. DO my eyes deceive me, or is that
object up there a--a pie? It can't be a pie.'

'Yes, it's a pie, Wegg,' replied Mr Boffin, with a glance of some
little discomfiture at the Decline and Fall.

'HAVE I lost my smell for fruits, or is it a apple pie, sir?' asked
Wegg.

'It's a veal and ham pie,' said Mr Boffin.

'Is it indeed, sir? And it would be hard, sir, to name the pie that is
a better pie than a weal and hammer,' said Mr Wegg, nodding his
head emotionally.

'Have some, Wegg?'

'Thank you, Mr Boffin, I think I will, at your invitation. I wouldn't
at any other party's, at the present juncture; but at yours, sir!--And
meaty jelly too, especially when a little salt, which is the case
where there's ham, is mellering to the organ, is very mellering to
the organ.' Mr Wegg did not say what organ, but spoke with a
cheerful generality.

So, the pie was brought down, and the worthy Mr Boffin exercised
his patience until Wegg, in the exercise of his knife and fork, had
finished the dish: only profiting by the opportunity to inform Wegg
that although it was not strictly Fashionable to keep the contents of
a larder thus exposed to view, he (Mr Boffin) considered it
hospitable; for the reason, that instead of saying, in a
comparatively unmeaning manner, to a visitor, 'There are such and
such edibles down stairs; will you have anything up?' you took the
bold practical course of saying, 'Cast your eye along the shelves,
and, if you see anything you like there, have it down.'

And now, Mr Wegg at length pushed away his plate and put on his
spectacles, and Mr Boffin lighted his pipe and looked with
beaming eyes into the opening world before him, and Mrs Boffin
reclined in a fashionable manner on her sofa: as one who would be
part of the audience if she found she could, and would go to sleep
if she found she couldn't.

'Hem!' began Wegg, 'This, Mr Boffin and Lady, is the first chapter
of the first wollume of the Decline and Fall off--' here he looked
hard at the book, and stopped.

'What's the matter, Wegg?'

'Why, it comes into my mind, do you know, sir,' said Wegg with
an air of insinuating frankness (having first again looked hard at
the book), 'that you made a little mistake this morning, which I had
meant to set you right in, only something put it out of my head. I
think you said Rooshan Empire, sir?'

'It is Rooshan; ain't it, Wegg?'

'No, sir. Roman. Roman.'

'What's the difference, Wegg?'

'The difference, sir?' Mr Wegg was faltering and in danger of
breaking down, when a bright thought flashed upon him. 'The
difference, sir? There you place me in a difficulty, Mr Boffin.
Suffice it to observe, that the difference is best postponed to some
other occasion when Mrs Boffin does not honour us with her
company. In Mrs Boffin's presence, sir, we had better drop it.'

Mr Wegg thus came out of his disadvantage with quite a
chivalrous air, and not only that, but by dint of repeating with a
manly delicacy, 'In Mrs Boffin's presence, sir, we had better drop
it!' turned the disadvantage on Boffin, who felt that he had
committed himself in a very painful manner.

Then, Mr Wegg, in a dry unflinching way, entered on his task;
going straight across country at everything that came before him;
taking all the hard words, biographical and geographical; getting
rather shaken by Hadrian, Trajan, and the Antonines; stumbling at
Polybius (pronounced Polly Beeious, and supposed by Mr Boffin to
be a Roman virgin, and by Mrs Boffin to be responsible for that
necessity of dropping it); heavily unseated by Titus Antoninus
Pius; up again and galloping smoothly with Augustus; finally,
getting over the ground well with Commodus: who, under the
appellation of Commodious, was held by Mr Boffin to have been
quite unworthy of his English origin, and 'not to have acted up to
his name' in his government of the Roman people. With the death
of this personage, Mr Wegg terminated his first reading; long
before which consummation several total eclipses of Mrs Boffin's
candle behind her black velvet disc, would have been very
alarming, but for being regularly accompanied by a potent smell of
burnt pens when her feathers took fire, which acted as a restorative
and woke her. Mr Wegg, having read on by rote and attached as
few ideas as possible to the text, came out of the encounter fresh;
but, Mr Boffin, who had soon laid down his unfinished pipe, and
had ever since sat intently staring with his eyes and mind at the
confounding enormities of the Romans, was so severely punished
that he could hardly wish his literary friend Good-night, and
articulate 'Tomorrow.'

'Commodious,' gasped Mr Boffin, staring at the moon, after
letting Wegg out at the gate and fastening it: 'Commodious fights
in that wild-beast-show, seven hundred and thirty-five times, in
one character only! As if that wasn't stunning enough, a hundred
lions is turned into the same wild-beast-show all at once! As if
that wasn't stunning enough, Commodious, in another character,
kills 'em all off in a hundred goes! As if that wasn't stunning
enough, Vittle-us (and well named too) eats six millions' worth,
English money, in seven months! Wegg takes it easy, but upon-
my-soul to a old bird like myself these are scarers. And even now
that Commodious is strangled, I don't see a way to our bettering
ourselves.' Mr Boffin added as he turned his pensive steps towards
the Bower and shook his head, 'I didn't think this morning there
was half so many Scarers in Print. But I'm in for it now!'

Charles Dickens