Our Mutual Friend
12. The Sweat Of An Honest Man's Brow
Mr Mortimer Lightwood and Mr Eugene Wrayburn took a coffee- house dinner
together in Mr Lightwood's office. They had newly agreed to set up a joint
establishment together. They had taken a bachelor cottage near Hampton, on
the brink of the Thames, with a lawn, and a boat-house; and all things fitting, and
were to float with the stream through the summer and the Long Vacation.
It was not summer yet, but spring; and it was not gentle spring ethereally mild, as
in Thomson's Seasons, but nipping spring with an easterly wind, as in Johnson's,
Jackson's, Dickson's, Smith's, and Jones's Seasons. The grating wind sawed
rather than blew; and as it sawed, the sawdust whirled about the sawpit. Every
street was a sawpit, and there were no top-sawyers; every passenger was an
under-sawyer, with the sawdust blinding him and choking him.
That mysterious paper currency which circulates in London when the wind blows,
gyrated here and there and everywhere. Whence can it come, whither can it go?
It hangs on every bush, flutters in every tree, is caught flying by the electric wires,
haunts every enclosure, drinks at every pump, cowers at every grating, shudders
upon every plot of grass, seeks rest in vain behind the legions of iron rails. In
Paris, where nothing is wasted, costly and luxurious city though it be, but where
wonderful human ants creep out of holes and pick up every scrap, there is no
such thing. There, it blows nothing but dust. There, sharp eyes and sharp
stomachs reap even the east wind, and get something out of it.
The wind sawed, and the sawdust whirled. The shrubs wrung their many hands,
bemoaning that they had been over-persuaded by the sun to bud; the young
leaves pined; the sparrows repented of their early marriages, like men and
women; the colours of the rainbow were discernible, not in floral spring, but in the
faces of the people whom it nibbled and pinched. And ever the wind sawed, and
the sawdust whirled.
When the spring evenings are too long and light to shut out, and such weather is
rife, the city which Mr Podsnap so explanatorily called London, Londres, London,
is at its worst. Such a black shrill city, combining the qualities of a smoky house
and a scolding wife; such a gritty city; such a hopeless city, with no rent in the
leaden canopy of its sky; such a beleaguered city, invested by the great Marsh
Forces of Essex and Kent. So the two old schoolfellows felt it to be, as, their
dinner done, they turned towards the fire to smoke. Young Blight was gone, the
coffee- house waiter was gone, the plates and dishes were gone, the wine was
going--but not in the same direction.