Our Mutual Friend HTML version
3. A Piece Of Work
Britannia, sitting meditating one fine day (perhaps in the attitude in which she is
presented on the copper coinage), discovers all of a sudden that she wants
Veneering in Parliament. It occurs to her that Veneering is 'a representative
man'--which cannot in these times be doubted--and that Her Majesty's faithful
Commons are incomplete without him. So, Britannia mentions to a legal
gentleman of her acquaintance that if Veneering will 'put down' five thousand
pounds, he may write a couple of initial letters after his name at the extremely
cheap rate of two thousand five hundred per letter. It is clearly understood
between Britannia and the legal gentleman that nobody is to take up the five
thousand pounds, but that being put down they will disappear by magical
conjuration and enchantment.
The legal gentleman in Britannia's confidence going straight from that lady to
Veneering, thus commissioned, Veneering declares himself highly flattered, but
requires breathing time to ascertain 'whether his friends will rally round him.'
Above all things, he says, it behoves him to be clear, at a crisis of this
importance, 'whether his friends will rally round him.' The legal gentleman, in the
interests of his client cannot allow much time for this purpose, as the lady rather
thinks she knows somebody prepared to put down six thousand pounds; but he
says he will give Veneering four hours.
Veneering then says to Mrs Veneering, 'We must work,' and throws himself into a
Hansom cab. Mrs Veneering in the same moment relinquishes baby to Nurse;
presses her aquiline hands upon her brow, to arrange the throbbing intellect
within; orders out the carriage; and repeats in a distracted and devoted manner,
compounded of Ophelia and any self-immolating female of antiquity you may
prefer, 'We must work.'
Veneering having instructed his driver to charge at the Public in the streets, like
the Life-Guards at Waterloo, is driven furiously to Duke Street, Saint James's.
There, he finds Twemlow in his lodgings, fresh from the hands of a secret artist
who has been doing something to his hair with yolks of eggs. The process
requiring that Twemlow shall, for two hours after the application, allow his hair to
stick upright and dry gradually, he is in an appropriate state for the receipt of
startling intelligence; looking equally like the Monument on Fish Street Hill, and
King Priam on a certain incendiary occasion not wholly unknown as a neat point
from the classics.
'My dear Twemlow,' says Veneering, grasping both his bands, as the dearest and
oldest of my friends--'