Our Mutual Friend Part 12
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'I never did.'
As this happens to be true, Mrs Lammle is thrown on the feminine resource of saying, 'I don't care what you uttered or did not utter.'
After a little more walking and a little more silence, Mr Lammle breaks the latter.
'You shall proceed in your own way. You claim a right to ask me do I mean to tell you. Do I mean to tell you what?'
'That you are a man of property?'
'Then you married me on false pretences?'
'So be it. Next comes what you mean to say. Do you mean to say you are a woman of property?'
'Then you married me on false pretences.'
'If you were so dull a fortune-hunter that you deceived yourself, or if you were so greedy and grasping that you were over-willing to be deceived by appearances, is it my fault, you adventurer?' the lady demands, with great asperity.
'I asked Veneering, and he told me you were rich.'
'Veneering!' with great contempt.' And what does Veneering know about me!'
'Was he not your trustee?'
'No. I have no trustee, but the one you saw on the day when you fraudulently married me. And his trust is not a very difficult one, for it is only an annuity of a hundred and fifteen pounds. I think there are some odd s.h.i.+llings or pence, if you are very particular.'
Mr Lammle bestows a by no means loving look upon the partner of his joys and sorrows, and he mutters something; but checks himself.
'Question for question. It is my turn again, Mrs Lammle. What made you suppose me a man of property?'
'You made me suppose you so. Perhaps you will deny that you always presented yourself to me in that character?'
'But you asked somebody, too. Come, Mrs Lammle, admission for admission. You asked somebody?'
'I asked Veneering.'
'And Veneering knew as much of me as he knew of you, or as anybody knows of him.'
After more silent walking, the bride stops short, to say in a pa.s.sionate manner: 'I never will forgive the Veneerings for this!'
'Neither will I,' returns the bridegroom.
With that, they walk again; she, making those angry spirts in the sand; he, dragging that dejected tail. The tide is low, and seems to have thrown them together high on the bare sh.o.r.e. A gull comes sweeping by their heads and flouts them. There was a golden surface on the brown cliffs but now, and behold they are only damp earth. A taunting roar comes from the sea, and the far-out rollers mount upon one another, to look at the entrapped impostors, and to join in impish and exultant gambols.
'Do you pretend to believe,' Mrs Lammle resumes, sternly, 'when you talk of my marrying you for worldly advantages, that it was within the bounds of reasonable probability that I would have married you for yourself?'
'Again there are two sides to the question, Mrs Lammle. What do you pretend to believe?'
'So you first deceive me and then insult me!' cries the lady, with a heaving bosom.
'Not at all. I have originated nothing. The double-edged question was yours.'
'Was mine!' the bride repeats, and her parasol breaks in her angry hand.
His colour has turned to a livid white, and ominous marks have come to light about his nose, as if the finger of the very devil himself had, within the last few moments, touched it here and there. But he has repressive power, and she has none.
'Throw it away,' he coolly recommends as to the parasol; 'you have made it useless; you look ridiculous with it.'
Whereupon she calls him in her rage, 'A deliberate villain,' and so casts the broken thing from her as that it strikes him in falling. The finger-marks are something whiter for the instant, but he walks on at her side.
She bursts into tears, declaring herself the wretchedest, the most deceived, the worst-used, of women. Then she says that if she had the courage to kill herself, she would do it. Then she calls him vile impostor. Then she asks him, why, in the disappointment of his base speculation, he does not take her life with his own hand, under the present favourable circ.u.mstances. Then she cries again. Then she is enraged again, and makes some mention of swindlers. Finally, she sits down crying on a block of stone, and is in all the known and unknown humours of her s.e.x at once. Pending her changes, those aforesaid marks in his face have come and gone, now here now there, like white steps of a pipe on which the diabolical performer has played a tune. Also his livid lips are parted at last, as if he were breathless with running. Yet he is not.
'Now, get up, Mrs Lammle, and let us speak reasonably.'
She sits upon her stone, and takes no heed of him.
'Get up, I tell you.'
Raising her head, she looks contemptuously in his face, and repeats, 'You tell me! Tell me, forsooth!'
She affects not to know that his eyes are fastened on her as she droops her head again; but her whole figure reveals that she knows it uneasily.
'Enough of this. Come! Do you hear? Get up.'
Yielding to his hand, she rises, and they walk again; but this time with their faces turned towards their place of residence.
'Mrs Lammle, we have both been deceiving, and we have both been deceived. We have both been biting, and we have both been bitten. In a nut-sh.e.l.l, there's the state of the case.'
'You sought me out--'
'Tut! Let us have done with that. WE know very well how it was. Why should you and I talk about it, when you and I can't disguise it? To proceed. I am disappointed and cut a poor figure.'
'Am I no one?'
'Some one--and I was coming to you, if you had waited a moment. You, too, are disappointed and cut a poor figure.'
'An injured figure!'
'You are now cool enough, Sophronia, to see that you can't be injured without my being equally injured; and that therefore the mere word is not to the purpose. When I look back, I wonder how I can have been such a fool as to take you to so great an extent upon trust.'
'And when I look back--' the bride cries, interrupting.
'And when you look back, you wonder how you can have been--you'll excuse the word?'
'Most certainly, with so much reason.
'--Such a fool as to take ME to so great an extent upon trust. But the folly is committed on both sides. I cannot get rid of you; you cannot get rid of me. What follows?'
'Shame and misery,' the bride bitterly replies.
'I don't know. A mutual understanding follows, and I think it may carry us through. Here I split my discourse (give me your arm, Sophronia), into three heads, to make it shorter and plainer. Firstly, it's enough to have been done, without the mortification of being known to have been done. So we agree to keep the fact to ourselves. You agree?'
'If it is possible, I do.'
'Possible! We have pretended well enough to one another. Can't we, united, pretend to the world? Agreed. Secondly, we owe the Veneerings a grudge, and we owe all other people the grudge of wis.h.i.+ng them to be taken in, as we ourselves have been taken in. Agreed?'
'We come smoothly to thirdly. You have called me an adventurer, Sophronia. So I am. In plain uncomplimentary English, so I am. So are you, my dear. So are many people. We agree to keep our own secret, and to work together in furtherance of our own schemes.'
'Any scheme that will bring us money. By our own schemes, I mean our joint interest. Agreed?'
She answers, after a little hesitation, 'I suppose so. Agreed.'
'Carried at once, you see! Now, Sophronia, only half a dozen words more. We know one another perfectly. Don't be tempted into twitting me with the past knowledge that you have of me, because it is identical with the past knowledge that I have of you, and in twitting me, you twit yourself, and I don't want to hear you do it. With this good understanding established between us, it is better never done. To wind up all:--You have shown temper today, Sophronia. Don't be betrayed into doing so again, because I have a Devil of a temper myself.'
So, the happy pair, with this hopeful marriage contract thus signed, sealed, and delivered, repair homeward. If, when those infernal finger-marks were on the white and breathless countenance of Alfred Lammle, Esquire, they denoted that he conceived the purpose of subduing his dear wife Mrs Alfred Lammle, by at once divesting her of any lingering reality or pretence of self-respect, the purpose would seem to have been presently executed. The mature young lady has mighty little need of powder, now, for her downcast face, as he escorts her in the light of the setting sun to their abode of bliss.
Mr Podsnap was well to do, and stood very high in Mr Podsnap's opinion. Beginning with a good inheritance, he had married a good inheritance, and had thriven exceedingly in the Marine Insurance way, and was quite satisfied. He never could make out why everybody was not quite satisfied, and he felt conscious that he set a brilliant social example in being particularly well satisfied with most things, and, above all other things, with himself.
Thus happily acquainted with his own merit and importance, Mr Podsnap settled that whatever he put behind him he put out of existence. There was a dignified conclusiveness--not to add a grand convenience--in this way of getting rid of disagreeables which had done much towards establis.h.i.+ng Mr Podsnap in his lofty place in Mr Podsnap's satisfaction. 'I don't want to know about it; I don't choose to discuss it; I don't admit it!' Mr Podsnap had even acquired a peculiar flourish of his right arm in often clearing the world of its most difficult problems, by sweeping them behind him (and consequently sheer away) with those words and a flushed face. For they affronted him.
Mr Podsnap's world was not a very large world, morally; no, nor even geographically: seeing that although his business was sustained upon commerce with other countries, he considered other countries, with that important reservation, a mistake, and of their manners and customs would conclusively observe, 'Not Englis.h.!.+' when, PRESTO! with a flourish of the arm, and a flush of the face, they were swept away. Elsewhere, the world got up at eight, shaved close at a quarter-past, breakfasted at nine, went to the City at ten, came home at half-past five, and dined at seven. Mr Podsnap's notions of the Arts in their integrity might have been stated thus. Literature; large print, respectfully descriptive of getting up at eight, shaving close at a quarter past, breakfasting at nine, going to the City at ten, coming home at half-past five, and dining at seven. Painting and Sculpture; models and portraits representing Professors of getting up at eight, shaving close at a quarter past, breakfasting at nine, going to the City at ten, coming home at half-past five, and dining at seven. Music; a respectable performance (without variations) on stringed and wind instruments, sedately expressive of getting up at eight, shaving close at a quarter past, breakfasting at nine, going to the City at ten, coming home at half-past five, and dining at seven. Nothing else to be permitted to those same vagrants the Arts, on pain of excommunication. Nothing else To Be--anywhere!
As a so eminently respectable man, Mr Podsnap was sensible of its being required of him to take Providence under his protection. Consequently he always knew exactly what Providence meant. Inferior and less respectable men might fall short of that mark, but Mr Podsnap was always up to it. And it was very remarkable (and must have been very comfortable) that what Providence meant, was invariably what Mr Podsnap meant.
These may be said to have been the articles of a faith and school which the present chapter takes the liberty of calling, after its representative man, Podsnappery. They were confined within close bounds, as Mr Podsnap's own head was confined by his s.h.i.+rt-collar; and they were enunciated with a sounding pomp that smacked of the creaking of Mr Podsnap's own boots.
There was a Miss Podsnap. And this young rocking-horse was being trained in her mother's art of prancing in a stately manner without ever getting on. But the high parental action was not yet imparted to her, and in truth she was but an undersized damsel, with high shoulders, low spirits, chilled elbows, and a rasped surface of nose, who seemed to take occasional frosty peeps out of childhood into womanhood, and to shrink back again, overcome by her mother's head-dress and her father from head to foot--crushed by the mere dead-weight of Podsnappery.
A certain inst.i.tution in Mr Podsnap's mind which he called 'the young person' may be considered to have been embodied in Miss Podsnap, his daughter. It was an inconvenient and exacting inst.i.tution, as requiring everything in the universe to be filed down and fitted to it. The question about everything was, would it bring a blush into the cheek of the young person? And the inconvenience of the young person was, that, according to Mr Podsnap, she seemed always liable to burst into blushes when there was no need at all. There appeared to be no line of demarcation between the young person's excessive innocence, and another person's guiltiest knowledge. Take Mr Podsnap's word for it, and the soberest tints of drab, white, lilac, and grey, were all flaming red to this troublesome Bull of a young person.
The Podsnaps lived in a shady angle adjoining Portman Square. They were a kind of people certain to dwell in the shade, wherever they dwelt. Miss Podsnap's life had been, from her first appearance on this planet, altogether of a shady order; for, Mr Podsnap's young person was likely to get little good out of a.s.sociation with other young persons, and had therefore been restricted to companions.h.i.+p with not very congenial older persons, and with ma.s.sive furniture. Miss Podsnap's early views of life being princ.i.p.ally derived from the reflections of it in her father's boots, and in the walnut and rosewood tables of the dim drawing-rooms, and in their swarthy giants of looking-gla.s.ses, were of a sombre cast; and it was not wonderful that now, when she was on most days solemnly tooled through the Park by the side of her mother in a great tall custard-coloured phaeton, she showed above the ap.r.o.n of that vehicle like a dejected young person sitting up in bed to take a startled look at things in general, and very strongly desiring to get her head under the counterpane again.
Said Mr Podsnap to Mrs Podsnap, 'Georgiana is almost eighteen.'
Said Mrs Podsnap to Mr Podsnap, a.s.senting, 'Almost eighteen.'
Said Mr Podsnap then to Mrs Podsnap, 'Really I think we should have some people on Georgiana's birthday.'
Said Mrs Podsnap then to Mr Podsnap, 'Which will enable us to clear off all those people who are due.'
So it came to pa.s.s that Mr and Mrs Podsnap requested the honour of the company of seventeen friends of their souls at dinner; and that they subst.i.tuted other friends of their souls for such of the seventeen original friends of their souls as deeply regretted that a prior engagement prevented their having the honour of dining with Mr and Mrs Podsnap, in pursuance of their kind invitation; and that Mrs Podsnap said of all these inconsolable personages, as she checked them off with a pencil in her list, 'Asked, at any rate, and got rid of;' and that they successfully disposed of a good many friends of their souls in this way, and felt their consciences much lightened.
There were still other friends of their souls who were not ent.i.tled to be asked to dinner, but had a claim to be invited to come and take a haunch of mutton vapour-bath at half-past nine. For the clearing off of these worthies, Mrs Podsnap added a small and early evening to the dinner, and looked in at the music-shop to bespeak a well-conducted automaton to come and play quadrilles for a carpet dance.
Mr and Mrs Veneering, and Mr and Mrs Veneering's bran-new bride and bridegroom, were of the dinner company; but the Podsnap establishment had nothing else in common with the Veneerings. Mr Podsnap could tolerate taste in a mushroom man who stood in need of that sort of thing, but was far above it himself. Hideous solidity was the characteristic of the Podsnap plate. Everything was made to look as heavy as it could, and to take up as much room as possible. Everything said boastfully, 'Here you have as much of me in my ugliness as if I were only lead; but I am so many ounces of precious metal worth so much an ounce;--wouldn't you like to melt me down?' A corpulent straddling epergne, blotched all over as if it had broken out in an eruption rather than been ornamented, delivered this address from an unsightly silver platform in the centre of the table. Four silver wine-coolers, each furnished with four staring heads, each head obtrusively carrying a big silver ring in each of its ears, conveyed the sentiment up and down the table, and handed it on to the pot-bellied silver salt-cellars. All the big silver spoons and forks widened the mouths of the company expressly for the purpose of thrusting the sentiment down their throats with every morsel they ate.
The majority of the guests were like the plate, and included several heavy articles weighing ever so much. But there was a foreign gentleman among them: whom Mr Podsnap had invited after much debate with himself--believing the whole European continent to be in mortal alliance against the young person--and there was a droll disposition, not only on the part of Mr Podsnap but of everybody else, to treat him as if he were a child who was hard of hearing.
As a delicate concession to this unfortunately-born foreigner, Mr Podsnap, in receiving him, had presented his wife as 'Madame Podsnap;' also his daughter as 'Mademoiselle Podsnap,' with some inclination to add 'ma fille,' in which bold venture, however, he checked himself. The Veneerings being at that time the only other arrivals, he had added (in a condescendingly explanatory manner), 'Monsieur Vey-nair-reeng,' and had then subsided into English.
'How Do You Like London?' Mr Podsnap now inquired from his station of host, as if he were administering something in the nature of a powder or potion to the deaf child; 'London, Londres, London?'
The foreign gentleman admired it.
'You find it Very Large?' said Mr Podsnap, s.p.a.ciously.
The foreign gentleman found it very large.
'And Very Rich?'
The foreign gentleman found it, without doubt, enormement riche.
'Enormously Rich, We say,' returned Mr Podsnap, in a condescending manner. 'Our English adverbs do Not terminate in Mong, and We p.r.o.nounce the "ch" as if there were a "t" before it. We say Ritch.'
'Reetch,' remarked the foreign gentleman.
'And Do You Find, Sir,' pursued Mr Podsnap, with dignity, 'Many Evidences that Strike You, of our British Const.i.tution in the Streets Of The World's Metropolis, London, Londres, London?'
The foreign gentleman begged to be pardoned, but did not altogether understand.
'The Const.i.tution Britannique,' Mr Podsnap explained, as if he were teaching in an infant school.' We Say British, But You Say Britannique, You Know' (forgivingly, as if that were not his fault). 'The Const.i.tution, Sir.'
The foreign gentleman said, 'Mais, yees; I know eem.'
A youngish sallowish gentleman in spectacles, with a lumpy forehead, seated in a supplementary chair at a corner of the table, here caused a profound sensation by saying, in a raised voice, 'ESKER,' and then stopping dead.
'Mais oui,' said the foreign gentleman, turning towards him. 'Est-ce que? Quoi donc?'
But the gentleman with the lumpy forehead having for the time delivered himself of all that he found behind his lumps, spake for the time no more.
Our Mutual Friend Part 12
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Our Mutual Friend Part 12 summary
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