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Chapter 64


Chapter 14

CHECKMATE TO THE FRIENDLY MOVE


Mr and Mrs John Harmon had so timed their taking possession of
their rightful name and their London house, that the event befel on
the very day when the last waggon-load of the last Mound was
driven out at the gates of Boffin's Bower. As it jolted away, Mr
Wegg felt that the last load was correspondingly removed from his
mind, and hailed the auspicious season when that black sheep,
Boffin, was to be closely sheared.

Over the whole slow process of levelling the Mounds, Silas had
kept watch with rapacious eyes. But, eyes no less rapacious had
watched the growth of the Mounds in years bygone, and had
vigilantly sifted the dust of which they were composed. No
valuables turned up. How should there be any, seeing that the old
hard jailer of Harmony Jail had coined every waif and stray into
money, long before?

Though disappointed by this bare result, Mr Wegg felt too sensibly
relieved by the close of the labour, to grumble to any great extent.
A foreman-representative of the dust contractors, purchasers of the
Mounds, had worn Mr Wegg down to skin and bone. This
supervisor of the proceedings, asserting his employers' rights to
cart off by daylight, nightlight, torchlight, when they would, must
have been the death of Silas if the work had lasted much longer.
Seeming never to need sleep himself, he would reappear, with a
tied-up broken head, in fantail hat and velveteen smalls, like an
accursed goblin, at the most unholy and untimely hours. Tired out
by keeping close ward over a long day's work in fog and rain,
Silas would have just crawled to bed and be dozing, when a
horrid shake and rumble under his pillow would announce an
approaching train of carts, escorted by this Demon of Unrest, to
fall to work again. At another time, he would be rumbled up out of
his soundest sleep, in the dead of the night; at another, would be
kept at his post eight-and-forty hours on end. The more his
persecutor besought him not to trouble himself to turn out, the
more suspicious was the crafty Wegg that indications had been
observed of something hidden somewhere, and that attempts were
on foot to circumvent him. So continually broken was his rest
through these means, that he led the life of having wagered to keep
ten thousand dog-watches in ten thousand hours, and looked
piteously upon himself as always getting up and yet never going to
bed. So gaunt and haggard had he grown at last, that his wooden
leg showed disproportionate, and presented a thriving appearance
in contrast with the rest of his plagued body, which might almost
have been termed chubby.

However, Wegg's comfort was, that all his disagreeables were now
over, and that he was immediately coming into his property. Of
late, the grindstone did undoubtedly appear to have been whirling
at his own nose rather than Boffin's, but Boffin's nose was now to
be sharpened fine. Thus far, Mr Wegg had let his dusty friend off
lightly, having been baulked in that amiable design of frequently
dining with him, by the machinations of the sleepless dustman. He
had been constrained to depute Mr Venus to keep their dusty
friend, Boffin, under inspection, while he himself turned lank and
lean at the Bower.

To Mr Venus's museum Mr Wegg repaired when at length the
Mounds were down and gone. It being evening, he found that
gentleman, as he expected, seated over his fire; but did not find
him, as he expected, floating his powerful mind in tea.

'Why, you smell rather comfortable here!' said Wegg, seeming to
take it ill, and stopping and sniffing as he entered.

'I AM rather comfortable, sir,' said Venus.

'You don't use lemon in your business, do you?' asked Wegg,
sniffing again.

'No, Mr Wegg,' said Venus. 'When I use it at all, I mostly use it in
cobblers' punch.'

'What do you call cobblers' punch?' demanded Wegg, in a worse
humour than before.

'It's difficult to impart the receipt for it, sir,' returned Venus,
'because, however particular you may be in allotting your
materials, so much will still depend upon the individual gifts, and
there being a feeling thrown into it. But the groundwork is gin.'

'In a Dutch bottle?' said Wegg gloomily, as he sat himself down.

'Very good, sir, very good!' cried Venus. 'Will you partake, sir?'

'Will I partake?' returned Wegg very surlily. 'Why, of course I
will! WILL a man partake, as has been tormented out of his five
senses by an everlasting dustman with his head tied up! WILL he,
too! As if he wouldn't!'

'Don't let it put you out, Mr Wegg. You don't seem in your usual
spirits.'

'If you come to that, you don't seem in your usual spirits,' growled
Wegg. 'You seem to be setting up for lively.'

This circumstance appeared, in his then state of mind, to give Mr
Wegg uncommon offence.

'And you've been having your hair cut!' said Wegg, missing the
usual dusty shock.

'Yes, Mr Wegg. But don't let that put you out, either.'

'And I am blest if you ain't getting fat!' said Wegg, with
culminating discontent. 'What are you going to do next?'

'Well, Mr Wegg,' said Venus, smiling in a sprightly manner, 'I
suspect you could hardly guess what I am going to do next.'

'I don't want to guess,' retorted Wegg. 'All I've got to say is, that
it's well for you that the diwision of labour has been what it has
been. It's well for you to have had so light a part in this business,
when mine has been so heavy. You haven't had YOUR rest broke,
I'll be bound.'

'Not at all, sir,' said Venus. 'Never rested so well in all my life, I
thank you.'

'Ah!' grumbled Wegg, 'you should have been me. If you had been
me, and had been fretted out of your bed, and your sleep, and your
meals, and your mind, for a stretch of months together, you'd have
been out of condition and out of sorts.'

'Certainly, it has trained you down, Mr Wegg,' said Venus,
contemplating his figure with an artist's eye. 'Trained you down
very low, it has! So weazen and yellow is the kivering upon your
bones, that one might almost fancy you had come to give a look-in
upon the French gentleman in the corner, instead of me.'

Mr Wegg, glancing in great dudgeon towards the French
gentleman's corner, seemed to notice something new there, which
induced him to glance at the opposite corner, and then to put on his
glasses and stare at all the nooks and corners of the dim shop in
succession.

'Why, you've been having the place cleaned up!' he exclaimed.

'Yes, Mr Wegg. By the hand of adorable woman.'

'Then what you're going to do next, I suppose, is to get married?'

'That's it, sir.'

Silas took off his glasses again--finding himself too intensely
disgusted by the sprightly appearance of his friend and partner to
bear a magnified view of him and made the inquiry:

'To the old party?'

'Mr Wegg!' said Venus, with a sudden flush of wrath. 'The lady in
question is not a old party.'

'I meant,' exclaimed Wegg, testily, 'to the party as formerly
objected?'

'Mr Wegg,' said Venus, 'in a case of so much delicacy, I must
trouble you to say what you mean. There are strings that must not
be played upon. No sir! Not sounded, unless in the most
respectful and tuneful manner. Of such melodious strings is Miss
Pleasant Riderhood formed.'

'Then it IS the lady as formerly objected?' said Wegg.

'Sir,' returned Venus with dignity, 'I accept the altered phrase. It is
the lady as formerly objected.'

'When is it to come off?' asked Silas.

'Mr Wegg,' said Venus, with another flush. 'I cannot permit it to
be put in the form of a Fight. I must temperately but firmly call
upon you, sir, to amend that question.'

'When is the lady,' Wegg reluctantly demanded, constraining his ill
temper in remembrance of the partnership and its stock in trade,
'a going to give her 'and where she has already given her 'art?'

'Sir,' returned Venus, 'I again accept the altered phrase, and with
pleasure. The lady is a going to give her 'and where she has
already given her 'art, next Monday.'

'Then the lady's objection has been met?' said Silas.

'Mr Wegg,' said Venus, 'as I did name to you, I think, on a former
occasion, if not on former occasions--'

'On former occasions,' interrupted Wegg.

'--What,' pursued Venus, 'what the nature of the lady's objection
was, I may impart, without violating any of the tender confidences
since sprung up between the lady and myself, how it has been met,
through the kind interference of two good friends of mine: one,
previously acquainted with the lady: and one, not. The pint was
thrown out, sir, by those two friends when they did me the great
service of waiting on the lady to try if a union betwixt the lady and
me could not be brought to bear--the pint, I say, was thrown out by
them, sir, whether if, after marriage, I confined myself to the
articulation of men, children, and the lower animals, it might not
relieve the lady's mind of her feeling respecting being as a lady--
regarded in a bony light. It was a happy thought, sir, and it took
root.'

'It would seem, Mr Venus,' observed Wegg, with a touch of
distrust, 'that you are flush of friends?'

'Pretty well, sir,' that gentleman answered, in a tone of placid
mystery. 'So-so, sir. Pretty well.'

'However,' said Wegg, after eyeing him with another touch of
distrust, 'I wish you joy. One man spends his fortune in one way,
and another in another. You are going to try matrimony. I mean to
try travelling.'

'Indeed, Mr Wegg?'

'Change of air, sea-scenery, and my natural rest, I hope may bring
me round after the persecutions I have undergone from the
dustman with his head tied up, which I just now mentioned. The
tough job being ended and the Mounds laid low, the hour is come
for Boffin to stump up. Would ten to-morrow morning suit you,
partner, for finally bringing Boffin's nose to the grindstone?'

Ten to-morrow morning would quite suit Mr Venus for that
excellent purpose.

'You have had him well under inspection, I hope?' said Silas.

Mr Venus had had him under inspection pretty well every day.

'Suppose you was just to step round to-night then, and give him
orders from me--I say from me, because he knows I won't be
played with--to be ready with his papers, his accounts, and his
cash, at that time in the morning?' said Wegg. 'And as a matter of
form, which will be agreeable to your own feelings, before we go
out (for I'll walk with you part of the way, though my leg gives
under me with weariness), let's have a look at the stock in trade.'

Mr Venus produced it, and it was perfectly correct; Mr Venus
undertook to produce it again in the morning, and to keep tryst
with Mr Wegg on Boffin's doorstep as the clock struck ten. At a
certain point of the road between Clerkenwell and Boffin's house
(Mr Wegg expressly insisted that there should be no prefix to the
Golden Dustman's name) the partners separated for the night.

It was a very bad night; to which succeeded a very bad morning.
The streets were so unusually slushy, muddy, and miserable, in the
morning, that Wegg rode to the scene of action; arguing that a man
who was, as it were, going to the Bank to draw out a handsome
property, could well afford that trifling expense.

Venus was punctual, and Wegg undertook to knock at the door,
and conduct the conference. Door knocked at. Door opened.

'Boffin at home?'

The servant replied that MR Boffin was at home.

'He'll do,' said Wegg, 'though it ain't what I call him.'

The servant inquired if they had any appointment?

'Now, I tell you what, young fellow,' said Wegg, 'I won't have it.
This won't do for me. I don't want menials. I want Boffin.'

They were shown into a waiting-room, where the all-powerful
Wegg wore his hat, and whistled, and with his forefinger stirred up
a clock that stood upon the chimneypiece, until he made it strike.
In a few minutes they were shown upstairs into what used to be
Boffin's room; which, besides the door of entrance, had folding-
doors in it, to make it one of a suite of rooms when occasion
required. Here, Boffin was seated at a library-table, and here Mr
Wegg, having imperiously motioned the servant to withdraw, drew
up a chair and seated himself, in his hat, close beside him. Here,
also, Mr Wegg instantly underwent the remarkable experience of
having his hat twitched off his head and thrown out of a window,
which was opened and shut for the purpose.

'Be careful what insolent liberties you take in that gentleman's
presence,' said the owner of the hand which had done this, 'or I will
throw you after it.'

Wegg involuntarily clapped his hand to his bare head, and stared
at the Secretary. For, it was he addressed him with a severe
countenance, and who had come in quietly by the folding-doors.

'Oh!' said Wegg, as soon as he recovered his suspended power of
speech. 'Very good! I gave directions for YOU to be dismissed.
And you ain't gone, ain't you? Oh! We'll look into this presently.
Very good!'

'No, nor I ain't gone,' said another voice.

Somebody else had come in quietly by the folding-doors. Turning
his head, Wegg beheld his persecutor, the ever-wakeful dustman,
accoutred with fantail hat and velveteen smalls complete. Who,
untying his tied-up broken head, revealed a head that was whole,
and a face that was Sloppy's.

'Ha, ha, ha, gentlemen!' roared Sloppy in a peal of laughter, and
with immeasureable relish. 'He never thought as I could sleep
standing, and often done it when I turned for Mrs Higden! He
never thought as I used to give Mrs Higden the Police-news in
different voices! But I did lead him a life all through it, gentlemen,
I hope I really and truly DID!' Here, Mr Sloppy opening his mouth
to a quite alarming extent, and throwing back his head to peal
again, revealed incalculable buttons.

'Oh!' said Wegg, slightly discomfited, but not much as yet: 'one
and one is two not dismissed, is it? Bof--fin! Just let me ask a
question. Who set this chap on, in this dress, when the carting
began? Who employed this fellow?'

'I say!' remonstrated Sloppy, jerking his head forward. 'No fellows,
or I'll throw you out of winder!'

Mr Boffin appeased him with a wave of his hand, and said: 'I
employed him, Wegg.'

'Oh! You employed him, Boffin? Very good. Mr Venus, we raise
our terms, and we can't do better than proceed to business. Bof--
fin! I want the room cleared of these two scum.'

'That's not going to be done, Wegg,' replied Mr Boffin, sitting
composedly on the library-table, at one end, while the Secretary sat
composedly on it at the other.

'Bof--fin! Not going to be done?' repeated Wegg. 'Not at your
peril?'

'No, Wegg,' said Mr Boffin, shaking his head good-humouredly.
'Not at my peril, and not on any other terms.'

Wegg reflected a moment, and then said: 'Mr Venus, will you be
so good as hand me over that same dockyment?'

'Certainly, sir,' replied Venus, handing it to him with much
politeness. 'There it is. Having now, sir, parted with it, I wish to
make a small observation: not so much because it is anyways
necessary, or expresses any new doctrine or discovery, as because
it is a comfort to my mind. Silas Wegg, you are a precious old
rascal.'

Mr Wegg, who, as if anticipating a compliment, had been beating
time with the paper to the other's politeness until this unexpected
conclusion came upon him, stopped rather abruptly.

'Silas Wegg,' said Venus, 'know that I took the liberty of taking Mr
Boffin into our concern as a sleeping partner, at a very early period
of our firm's existence.

'Quite true,' added Mr Boffin; 'and I tested Venus by making him a
pretended proposal or two; and I found him on the whole a very
honest man, Wegg.'

'So Mr Boffin, in his indulgence, is pleased to say,' Venus
remarked: 'though in the beginning of this dirt, my hands were not,
for a few hours, quite as clean as I could wish. But I hope I made
early and full amends.'

'Venus, you did,' said Mr Boffin. 'Certainly, certainly, certainly.'

Venus inclined his head with respect and gratitude. 'Thank you,
sir. I am much obliged to you, sir, for all. For your good opinion
now, for your way of receiving and encouraging me when I first
put myself in communication with you, and for the influence since
so kindly brought to bear upon a certain lady, both by yourself and
by Mr John Harmon.' To whom, when thus making mention of
him, he also bowed.

Wegg followed the name with sharp ears, and the action with
sharp eyes, and a certain cringing air was infusing itself into his
bullying air, when his attention was re-claimed by Venus.

'Everything else between you and me, Mr Wegg,' said Venus, 'now
explains itself, and you can now make out, sir, without further
words from me. But totally to prevent any unpleasantness or
mistake that might arise on what I consider an important point, to
be made quite clear at the close of our acquaintance, I beg the leave
of Mr Boffin and Mr John Harmon to repeat an observation which
I have already had the pleasure of bringing under your notice. You
are a precious old rascal!'

'You are a fool,' said Wegg, with a snap of his fingers, 'and I'd
have got rid of you before now, if I could have struck out any way
of doing it. I have thought it over, I can tell you. You may go, and
welcome. You leave the more for me. Because, you know,' said
Wegg, dividing his next observation between Mr Boffin and Mr
Harmon, 'I am worth my price, and I mean to have it. This getting
off is all very well in its way, and it tells with such an anatomical
Pump as this one,' pointing out Mr Venus, 'but it won't do with a
Man. I am here to be bought off, and I have named my figure.
Now, buy me, or leave me.'

'I'll leave you, Wegg, said Mr Boffin, laughing, 'as far as I am
concerned.'

'Bof--fin!' replied Wegg, turning upon him with a severe air, 'I
understand YOUR new-born boldness. I see the brass underneath
YOUR silver plating. YOU have got YOUR nose out of joint.
Knowing that you've nothing at stake, you can afford to come the
independent game. Why, you're just so much smeary glass to see
through, you know! But Mr Harmon is in another sitiwation.
What Mr Harmon risks, is quite another pair of shoes. Now, I've
heerd something lately about this being Mr Harmon--I make out
now, some hints that I've met on that subject in the newspaper--
and I drop you, Bof--fin, as beneath my notice. I ask Mr Harmon
whether he has any idea of the contents of this present paper?'

'It is a will of my late father's, of more recent date than the will
proved by Mr Boffin (address whom again, as you have addressed
him already, and I'll knock you down), leaving the whole of his
property to the Crown,' said John Harmon, with as much
indifference as was compatible with extreme sternness.

'Bight you are!' cried Wegg. 'Then,' screwing the weight of his
body upon his wooden leg, and screwing his wooden head very
much on one side, and screwing up one eye: 'then, I put the
question to you, what's this paper worth?'

'Nothing,' said John Harmon.

Wegg had repeated the word with a sneer, and was entering on
some sarcastic retort, when, to his boundless amazement, he found
himself gripped by the cravat; shaken until his teeth chattered;
shoved back, staggering, into a corner of the room; and pinned
there.

'You scoundrel!' said John Harmon, whose seafaring hold was like
that of a vice.

'You're knocking my head against the wall,' urged Silas faintly.

'I mean to knock your head against the wall,' neturned John
Harmon, suiting his action to his words, with the heartiest good
will; 'and I'd give a thousand pounds for leave to knock your brains
out. Listen, you scoundrel, and look at that Dutch bottle.'

Sloppy held it up, for his edification.

'That Dutch bottle, scoundrel, contained the latest will of the many
wills made by my unhappy self-tormenting father. That will gives
everything absolutely to my noble benefactor and yours, Mr Boffin,
excluding and reviling me, and my sister (then already dead of a
broken heart), by name. That Dutch bottle was found by my noble
benefactor and yours, after he entered on possession of the estate.
That Dutch bottle distressed him beyond measure, because, though
I and my sister were both no more, it cast a slur upon our memory
which he knew we had done nothing in our miserable youth, to
deserve. That Dutch bottle, therefore, he buried in the Mound
belonging to him, and there it lay while you, you thankless wretch,
were prodding and poking--often very near it, I dare say. His
intention was, that it should never see the light; but he was afraid
to destroy it, lest to destroy such a document, even with his great
generous motive, might be an offence at law. After the discovery
was made here who I was, Mr Boffin, still restless on the subject,
told me, upon certain conditions impossible for such a hound as
you to appreciate, the secret of that Dutch bottle. I urged upon him
the necessity of its being dug up, and the paper being legally
produced and established. The first thing you saw him do, and the
second thing has been done without your knowledge.
Consequently, the paper now rattling in your hand as I shake you--
and I should like to shake the life out of you--is worth less than the
rotten cork of the Dutch bottle, do you understand?'

Judging from the fallen countenance of Silas as his head wagged
backwards and forwards in a most uncomfortable manner, he did
understand.

Now, scoundrel,' said John Harmon, taking another sailor-like turn
on his cravat and holding him in his corner at arms' length, 'I shall
make two more short speeches to you, because I hope they will
torment you. Your discovery was a genuine discovery (such as it
was), for nobody had thought of looking into that place. Neither
did we know you had made it, until Venus spoke to Mr Boffin,
though I kept you under good observation from my first appearance
here, and though Sloppy has long made it the chief occupation and
delight of his life, to attend you like your shadow. I tell you this,
that you may know we knew enough of you to persuade Mr Boffin
to let us lead you on, deluded, to the last possible moment, in order
that your disappointment might be the heaviest possible
disappointment. That's the first short speech, do you understand?'

Here, John Harmon assisted his comprehension with another
shake.

'Now, scoundrel,' he pursued, 'I am going to finish. You supposed
me just now, to be the possessor of my father's property.--So I am.
But through any act of my father's, or by any right I have? No.
Through the munificence of Mr Boffin. The conditions that he
made with me, before parting with the secret of the Dutch bottle,
were, that I should take the fortune, and that he should take his
Mound and no more. I owe everything I possess, solely to the
disinterestedness, uprightness, tenderness, goodness (there are no
words to satisfy me) of Mr and Mrs Boffin. And when, knowing
what I knew, I saw such a mud-worm as you presume to rise in
this house against this noble soul, the wonder is,' added John
Harmon through his clenched teeth, and with a very ugly turn
indeed on Wegg's cravat, 'that I didn't try to twist your head off,
and fling THAT out of window! So. That's the last short speech,
do you understand?'

Silas, released, put his hand to his throat, cleared it, and looked as
if he had a rather large fishbone in that region. Simultaneously
with this action on his part in his corner, a singular, and on the
surface an incomprehensible, movement was made by Mr Sloppy:
who began backing towards Mr Wegg along the wall, in the
manner of a porter or heaver who is about to lift a sack of flour or
coals.

'I am sorry, Wegg,' said Mr Boffin, in his clemency, 'that my old
lady and I can't have a better opinion of you than the bad one we
are forced to entertain. But I shouldn't like to leave you, after all
said and done, worse off in life than I found you. Therefore say in
a word, before we part, what it'll cost to set you up in another
stall.'

'And in another place,' John Harmon struck in. 'You don't come
outside these windows.'

'Mr Boffin,' returned Wegg in avaricious humiliation: 'when I first
had the honour of making your acquaintance, I had got together a
collection of ballads which was, I may say, above price.'

'Then they can't be paid for,' said John Harmon, 'and you had better
not try, my dear sir.'

'Pardon me, Mr Boffin,' resumed Wegg, with a malignant glance in
the last speaker's direction, 'I was putting the case to you, who, if
my senses did not deceive me, put the case to me. I had a very
choice collection of ballads, and there was a new stock of
gingerbread in the tin box. I say no more, but would rather leave it
to you.'

'But it's difficult to name what's right,' said Mr Boffin uneasily,
with his hand in his pocket, 'and I don't want to go beyond what's
right, because you really have turned out such a very bad fellow.
So artful, and so ungrateful you have been, Wegg; for when did I
ever injure you?'

'There was also,' Mr Wegg went on, in a meditative manner, 'a
errand connection, in which I was much respected. But I would
not wish to be deemed covetous, and I would rather leave it to you,
Mr Boffin.'

'Upon my word, I don't know what to put it at,' the Golden
Dustman muttered.

'There was likewise,' resumed Wegg, 'a pair of trestles, for which
alone a Irish person, who was deemed a judge of trestles, offered
five and six--a sum I would not hear of, for I should have lost by it-
-and there was a stool, a umbrella, a clothes-horse, and a tray. But
I leave it to you, Mr Boffin.'

The Golden Dustman seeming to be engaged in some abstruse
calculation, Mr Wegg assisted him with the following additional
items.

'There was, further, Miss Elizabeth, Master George, Aunt Jane,
and Uncle Parker. Ah! When a man thinks of the loss of such
patronage as that; when a man finds so fair a garden rooted up by
pigs; he finds it hard indeed, without going high, to work it into
money. But I leave it wholly to you, sir.'

Mr Sloppy still continued his singular, and on the surface his
incomprehensible, movement.

'Leading on has been mentioned,' said Wegg with a melancholy
air, 'and it's not easy to say how far the tone of my mind may have
been lowered by unwholesome reading on the subject of Misers,
when you was leading me and others on to think you one yourself,
sir. All I can say is, that I felt my tone of mind a lowering at the
time. And how can a man put a price upon his mind! There was
likewise a hat just now. But I leave the ole to you, Mr Boffin.'

'Come!' said Mr Boffin. 'Here's a couple of pound.'

'In justice to myself, I couldn't take it, sir.'

The words were but out of his mouth when John Harmon lifted his
finger, and Sloppy, who was now close to Wegg, backed to Wegg's
back, stooped, grasped his coat collar behind with both hands, and
deftly swung him up like the sack of flour or coals before
mentioned. A countenance of special discontent and amazement
Mr Wegg exhibited in this position, with his buttons almost as
prominently on view as Sloppy's own, and with his wooden leg in
a highly unaccommodating state. But, not for many seconds was
his countenance visible in the room; for, Sloppy lightly trotted out
with him and trotted down the staircase, Mr Venus attending to
open the street door. Mr Sloppy's instructions had been to deposit
his burden in the road; but, a scavenger's cart happening to stand
unattended at the corner, with its little ladder planted against the
wheel, Mr S. found it impossible to resist the temptation of
shooting Mr Silas Wegg into the cart's contents. A somewhat
difficult feat, achieved with great dexterity, and with a prodigious
splash.


Charles Dickens