Our Mutual Friend
6. Cut Adrift
The Six Jolly Fellowship Porters, already mentioned as a tavern of a dropsical
appearance, had long settled down into a state of hale infirmity. In its whole
constitution it had not a straight floor, and hardly a straight line; but it had
outlasted, and clearly would yet outlast, many a better-trimmed building, many a
sprucer public- house. Externally, it was a narrow lopsided wooden jumble of
corpulent windows heaped one upon another as you might heap as many
toppling oranges, with a crazy wooden verandah impending over the water;
indeed the whole house, inclusive of the complaining flag-staff on the roof,
impended over the water, but seemed to have got into the condition of a faint-
hearted diver who has paused so long on the brink that he will never go in at all.
This description applies to the river-frontage of the Six Jolly Fellowship Porters.
The back of the establishment, though the chief entrance was there, so
contracted that it merely represented in its connexion with the front, the handle of
a flat iron set upright on its broadest end. This handle stood at the bottom of a
wilderness of court and alley: which wilderness pressed so hard and close upon
the Six Jolly Fellowship Porters as to leave the hostelry not an inch of ground
beyond its door. For this reason, in combination with the fact that the house was
all but afloat at high water, when the Porters had a family wash the linen
subjected to that operation might usually be seen drying on lines stretched
across the reception-rooms and bed-chambers.
The wood forming the chimney-pieces, beams, partitions, floors and doors, of the
Six Jolly Fellowship Porters, seemed in its old age fraught with confused
memories of its youth. In many places it had become gnarled and riven,
according to the manner of old trees; knots started out of it; and here and there it
seemed to twist itself into some likeness of boughs. In this state of second
childhood, it had an air of being in its own way garrulous about its early life. Not
without reason was it often asserted by the regular frequenters of the Porters,
that when the light shone full upon the grain of certain panels, and particularly
upon an old corner cupboard of walnut-wood in the bar, you might trace little
forests there, and tiny trees like the parent tree, in full umbrageous leaf.
The bar of the Six Jolly Fellowship Porters was a bar to soften the human breast.
The available space in it was not much larger than a hackney-coach; but no one
could have wished the bar bigger, that space was so girt in by corpulent little
casks, and by cordial-bottles radiant with fictitious grapes in bunches, and by
lemons in nets, and by biscuits in baskets, and by the polite beer-pulls that made
low bows when customers were served with beer, and by the cheese in a snug
corner, and by the landlady's own small table in a snugger corner near the fire,
with the cloth everlastingly laid. This haven was divided from the rough world by