Our Mutual Friend
5. Mercury Prompting
Fledgeby deserved Mr Alfred Lammle's eulogium. He was the meanest cur
existing, with a single pair of legs. And instinct (a word we all clearly understand)
going largely on four legs, and reason always on two, meanness on four legs
never attains the perfection of meanness on two.
The father of this young gentleman had been a money-lender, who had
transacted professional business with the mother of this young gentleman, when
he, the latter, was waiting in the vast dark ante- chambers of the present world to
be born. The lady, a widow, being unable to pay the money-lender, married him;
and in due course, Fledgeby was summoned out of the vast dark ante- chambers
to come and be presented to the Registrar-General. Rather a curious speculation
how Fledgehy would otherwise have disposed of his leisure until Doomsday.
Fledgeby's mother offended her family by marrying Fledgeby's father. It is one of
the easiest achievements in life to offend your family when your family want to
get rid of you. Fledgeby's mother's family had been very much offended with her
for being poor, and broke with her for becoming comparatively rich. Fledgeby's
mother's family was the Snigsworth family. She had even the high honour to be
cousin to Lord Snigsworth--so many times removed that the noble Earl would
have had no compunction in removing her one time more and dropping her clean
outside the cousinly pale; but cousin for all that.
Among her pre-matrimonial transactions with Fledgeby's father, Fledgeby's
mother had raised money of him at a great disadvantage on a certain
reversionary interest. The reversion falling in soon after they were married,
Fledgeby's father laid hold of the cash for his separate use and benefit. This led
to subjective differences of opinion, not to say objective interchanges of boot-
jacks, backgammon boards, and other such domestic missiles, between
Fledgeby's father and Fledgeby's mother, and those led to Fledgeby's mother
spending as much money as she could, and to Fledgeby's father doing all he
couldn't to restrain her. Fledgeby's childhood had been, in consequence, a
stormy one; but the winds and the waves had gone down in the grave, and
Fledgeby flourished alone.
He lived in chambers in the Albany, did Fledgeby, and maintained a spruce
appearance. But his youthful fire was all composed of sparks from the
grindstone; and as the sparks flew off, went out, and never warmed anything, be
sure that Fledgeby had his tools at the grindstone, and turned it with a wary eye.
Mr Alfred Lammle came round to the Albany to breakfast with Fledgeby. Present
on the table, one scanty pot of tea, one scanty loaf, two scanty pats of butter, two