Three-Penn'orth Rum

Three-Penn'orth Rum by Marcus Stone. Wood engraving by Dalziel. 9.5 cm high x 14.4 cm wide. Second illustration for the thirteenth monthly number of Our Mutual Friend, Chapter Ten, "Scouts Out," in the third book, "A Long Lane." The Authentic edition, facing p. 468. [This part of the novel originally appeared in periodical form in May 1865.] Scanned image and text by Philip V. Allingham[You may use this image without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose as long as you (1) credit the person who scanned the image and (2) link your document to this URL in a web document or cite the Victorian Web in a print one.]

The setting is once again, as in "Forming the Domestic Virtues" (November 1864), the bachelor apartments of Mortimer Lightwood (right) and Eugene Wrayburn (left) in the Temple. Indeed, by his positioning of the young attorneys and configuration of the room, Stone appears to have been inviting the serial reader to compare the earlier scene, in which Charley Hexam and Bradley Headstone confronted Eugene about the lawyer's interest in Lizzie, with the present scene, in which Eugene is interrogating "Mr. Dolls" (Jenny Wren's alcoholic father) about Lizzie's whereabouts. The moment realized occurs at the conclusion of the following passage, after Eugene has attempted to fumigate the disreputable, odorous inebriate by burning pastilles on the coal shovel:

What do you want?'

Mr. Dolls collapsed in his chair, and faintly said 'Threepenn'orth Rum.'

'Will you do me the favour, my dear Mortimer, to wind up Mr. Dolls again?' said Eugene. 'I am occupied with the fumigation.'

A similar quantity was poured into his glass, and he got it to his lips by similar circuitous ways. Having drunk it, Mr. Dolls, with an evident fear of running down again unless he made haste, proceeded to business.

'Mist Wrayburn. Tried to nudge you, but you wouldn't. You want that drection. You want t'know where she lives. Do you, Mist Wrayburn?'

With a glance at his friend, Eugene replied to the question sternly, 'I do.'

'I am er man,' said Mr. Dolls, trying to smite himself on the breast, but bringing his hand to bear upon the vicinity of his eye, 'er do it. I am er man er do it.'

'What are you the man to do?' demanded Eugene, still sternly.

'Er give up that drection.'

'Have you got it?'

With a most laborious attempt at pride and dignity, Mr. Dolls rolled his head for some time, awakening the highest expectations, and then answered, as if it were the happiest point that could possibly be expected of him: 'No.'

'What do you mean then?'

Mr. Dolls, collapsing in the drowsiest manner after his late intellectual triumph, replied: 'Threepenn'orth Rum.'

'Wind him up again, my dear Mortimer,' said Wrayburn; 'wind him up again.'

'Eugene, Eugene,' urged Lightwood in a low voice, as he complied, 'can you stoop to the use of such an instrument as this?'

'I said,' was the reply, made with that former gleam of determination, 'that I would find her out by any means, fair or foul. These are foul, and I'll take them — if I am not first tempted to break the head of Mr. Dolls with the fumigator. Can you get the direction? Do you mean that? Speak! If that's what you have come for, say how much you want.'

'Ten shillings — Threepenn'orths Rum,' said Mr. Dolls.

'You shall have it.' [468]

As Eugene and Mortimer focus on their guest, he focuses exclusively on the wineglass in Stone's illustration. Stone is less specific about the room's furnishings than in the previous scene set in this room, and does not even indicate the location of the window, but retains the chair (down left) and the fireplace in the same approximate positions for the sake of continuity. The three figures are disposed in a triangle with Eugene at the apex, apparently in charge but actually being manipulated by the inferior drunkard. The source of suspense, which is fostered by the illustration, is whether in fact Jenny's dissolute father has any real information with which to leverage a few drinks and a lump sum payment, and subsequently whether therefore Eugene will be able to deploy so vile an "instrument" in pursuit of the object of his affections. The question then is really, "Who is using whom?" Mr. Dolls restrains himself, playing the young attorney, determined to abstract as much liquor and small change as possible. And, as Eugene afterwards confesses to his friend, if he is to find Lizzie he "can't do without him." As is so often the case in this novel, one character hopes to convert knowledge or information into money, or, more properly, what money can buy.

References

Davis, Paul. Charles Dickens A to Z: The Essential Reference to His Life and Work. New York: Checkmark and Facts On File, 1998.

Dickens, Charles. Our Mutual Friend. Illustrated by Marcus Stone. Volume 14 of the Authentic Edition. London: Chapman and Hall; New York: Charles Scribners' Sons, 1901.


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Last modified 4 July 2011