HomeCharles DickensOur Mutual Friend

Our Mutual Friend. Charles Dickens

Mortimer raises his drooping eyelids, and slightly opens his mouth. But a faint smile, expressive of ′What′s the use!′ passes over his face, and he drops his eyelids and shuts his mouth.

′Now, Mortimer,′ says Lady Tippins, rapping the sticks of her closed green fan upon the knuckles of her left hand—which is particularly rich in knuckles, ′I insist upon your telling all that is to be told about the man from Jamaica.′

′Give you my honour I never heard of any man from Jamaica, except the man who was a brother,′ replies Mortimer.

′Tobago, then.′

′Nor yet from Tobago.′

′Except,′ Eugene strikes in: so unexpectedly that the mature young lady, who has forgotten all about him, with a start takes the epaulette out of his way: ′except our friend who long lived on rice-pudding and isinglass, till at length to his something or other, his physician said something else, and a leg of mutton somehow ended in daygo.′

A reviving impression goes round the table that Eugene is coming out. An unfulfilled impression, for he goes in again.

′Now, my dear Mrs Veneering,′ quoth Lady Tippins, I appeal to you whether this is not the basest conduct ever known in this world? I carry my lovers about, two or three at a time, on condition that they are very obedient and devoted; and here is my oldest lover-in-chief, the head of all my slaves, throwing off his allegiance before company! And here is another of my lovers, a rough Cymon at present certainly, but of whom I had most hopeful expectations as to his turning out well in course of time, pretending that he can′t remember his nursery rhymes! On purpose to annoy me, for he knows how I doat upon them!′

A grisly little fiction concerning her lovers is Lady Tippins′s point. She is always attended by a lover or two, and she keeps a little list of her lovers, and she is always booking a new lover, or striking out an old lover, or putting a lover in her black list, or promoting a lover to her blue list, or adding up her lovers, or otherwise posting her book. Mrs Veneering is charmed by the humour, and so is Veneering. Perhaps it is enhanced by a certain yellow play in Lady Tippins′s throat, like the legs of scratching poultry.

′I banish the false wretch from this moment, and I strike him out of my Cupidon (my name for my Ledger, my dear,) this very night. But I am resolved to have the account of the man from Somewhere, and I beg you to elicit it for me, my love,′ to Mrs Veneering, ′as I have lost my own influence. Oh, you perjured man!′ This to Mortimer, with a rattle of her fan.

′We are all very much interested in the man from Somewhere,′ Veneering observes.

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