Our Mutual Friend HTML version

5. Boffin's Bower
Over against a London house, a corner house not far from Cavendish Square, a
man with a wooden leg had sat for some years, with his remaining foot in a
basket in cold weather, picking up a living on this wise:--Every morning at eight
o'clock, he stumped to the corner, carrying a chair, a clothes-horse, a pair of
trestles, a board, a basket, and an umbrella, all strapped together. Separating
these, the board and trestles became a counter, the basket supplied the few
small lots of fruit and sweets that he offered for sale upon it and became a foot-
warmer, the unfolded clothes-horse displayed a choice collection of halfpenny
ballads and became a screen, and the stool planted within it became his post for
the rest of the day. All weathers saw the man at the post. This is to be accepted
in a double sense, for he contrived a back to his wooden stool, by placing it
against the lamp-post. When the weather was wet, he put up his umbrella over
his stock in trade, not over himself; when the weather was dry, he furled that
faded article, tied it round with a piece of yarn, and laid it cross-wise under the
trestles: where it looked like an unwholesomely-forced lettuce that had lost in
colour and crispness what it had gained in size.
He had established his right to the corner, by imperceptible prescription. He had
never varied his ground an inch, but had in the beginning diffidently taken the
corner upon which the side of the house gave. A howling corner in the winter
time, a dusty corner in the summer time, an undesirable corner at the best of
times. Shelterless fragments of straw and paper got up revolving storms there,
when the main street was at peace; and the water- cart, as if it were drunk or
short-sighted, came blundering and jolting round it, making it muddy when all
else was clean.
On the front of his sale-board hung a little placard, like a kettle- holder, bearing
the inscription in his own small text:
Errands gone On with fi Delity By Ladies and Gentlemen I remain Your humble
Servt: Silas Wegg
He had not only settled it with himself in course of time, that he was errand-goer
by appointment to the house at the corner (though he received such
commissions not half a dozen times in a year, and then only as some servant's
deputy), but also that he was one of the house's retainers and owed vassalage to
it and was bound to leal and loyal interest in it. For this reason, he always spoke
of it as 'Our House,' and, though his knowledge of its affairs was mostly
speculative and all wrong, claimed to be in its confidence. On similar grounds he
never beheld an inmate at any one of its windows but he touched his hat. Yet, he
knew so little about the inmates that he gave them names of his own invention:
as 'Miss Elizabeth', 'Master George', 'Aunt Jane', 'Uncle Parker '--having no