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 hands, “as the dearest and oldest of my friends —”

(“Then there can be no more doubt about it in future,” thinks Twemlow, “and I AM!”)

“ — Are you of opinion that your cousin, Lord Snigsworth, would give his name as a Member of my Committee? I don’t go so far as to ask for his lordship; I only ask for his name. Do you think he would give me his name?”

In sudden low spirits, Twemlow replies, “I don’t think he would.”

“My political opinions,” says Veneering, not previously aware of having any, “are identical with those of Lord Snigsworth, and perhaps as a matter of public feeling and public principle, Lord Snigsworth would give me his name.”

“It might be so,” says Twemlow; “but—” And perplexedly scratching his head, forgetful of the yolks of eggs, is the more discomfited by being reminded how stickey he is.

“Between such old and intimate friends as ourselves,” pursues Veneering, “there should in such a case be no reserve. Promise me that if I ask you to do anything for me which you don’t like to do, or feel the slightest difficulty in doing, you will freely tell me so.”

This, Twemlow is so kind as to promise, with every appearance of most heartily intending to keep his word.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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