He had sauntered far enough. Before returning to retrace his steps, he stopped upon the margin to look down at the reflected night (p. 360) —​ James Mahoney's fiftieth illustration for Dickens's Our Mutual Friend, Household Edition, 1875, has the same caption in both the New York and London printings. Wood engraving by the Dalziels, 9.3 cm high x 13.3 cm wide. The composite wood-engraving concerns the minutes prior to Bradley Headstone's assault upon Eugene Wrayburn near the Plashwater Weir on the upper Thames, shortly after Lizzie Hexam has broken off her relationship with Wrayburn as unsuitable to the disparity in their backgrounds and respective classes. The illustration enhances the textual suspense by alerting the reader to this plot development without telegraphing the outcome of the attack on Headstone's romantic rival.

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.]

Passage Realised

A landing-place overshadowed by a willow, and a pleasure-boat lying moored there among some stakes, caught his eye as he passed along. The spot was in such dark shadow, that he paused to make out what was there, and then passed on again.

The rippling of the river seemed to cause a correspondent stir in his uneasy reflections. He would have laid them asleep if he could, but they were in movement, like the stream, and all tending one way with a strong current. As the ripple under the moon broke unexpectedly now and then, and palely flashed in a new shape and with a new sound, so parts of his thoughts started, unbidden, from the rest, and revealed their wickedness. "Out of the question to marry her," said Eugene, "and out of the question to leave her. The crisis!"

He had sauntered far enough. Before turning to retrace his steps, he stopped upon the margin, to look down at the reflected night. In an instant, with a dreadful crash, the reflected night turned crooked, flames shot jaggedly across the air, and the moon and stars came bursting from the sky.

Was he struck by lightning? With some incoherent half-formed thought to that effect, he turned under the blows that were blinding him and mashing his life, and closed with a murderer, whom he caught by a red neckerchief — unless the raining down of his own blood gave it that hue.

Eugene was light, active, and expert; but his arms were broken, or he was paralysed, and could do no more than hang on to the man, with his head swung back, so that he could see nothing but the heaving sky. After dragging at the assailant, he fell on the bank with him, and then there was another great crash, and then a splash, and all was done. — Book Four, Chapter 6, "A Cry for Help."


Mahoney does not attempt to describe the assault itself, for doing so would render the wrestling scene on the lock, Mahoney's penultimate illustration, a repetition of this earlier violent episode. Nor does he merely ignore it, as Dickens's own serial illustrator, Marcus Stone did in the monthly number of September 1865, in which he prepares the reader for the setting and circumstances of the assault but does not forewarn the reader that Headstone's shadowing Wrayburn will result in attempted murder. The other approach by the third significant illustrator of the text, Harry Furniss's, is as successful as Mahoney's at generating suspense, and is equally dramatic. Again the illustrator realises a significant moment in the chapter "A Cry for Help" without giving away the fact that the young attorney will survive the attack. The Mahoney plate is not without its technical difficulties, however, since the illustrator is showing Headstone lying in wait in the growing darkness and Wrayburn oblivious to his adversary's presence without this being a dark plate, so that, at first glance, a viewer cannot understand why the lawyer is not aware of the crouching school-master immediately behind him. There is no comparable scene to this, anticipating the assault, in the original serial sequence, which jumps from the romantic scene involving Eugene Wrayburn and Lizzie Hexam, The Parting by the River (Chapter Six, "A Cry for Help") to Headstone's anguish at what he has done and what he has become, Better to be Abel than Cain River in the chapter of the same name (Chapter Seven, still within the September 1865 instalment) — a psychological interpretation that Dickens himself probably endorsed.

Whereas F. O. C. Darley in the fourth American "Household" Edition volume of 1866 had focussed in the frontispiece on Rogue Riderhood's surveillance of Headstone as he attempts to destroy the evidence of his involvement in what he believes to be the murder of the young lawyer in On the Track, the crime-and-detection aspect of the novel, Mahoney and Furniss seized upon one of the most suspenseful sequences in the final movement of the story. Furniss's illustration Lizzie Hexam to the Rescue shifts the emphasis significantly from the rivalry between the male admirers of Lizzie towards an appreciation of her pivotal role in Eugene's escaping drowning and being recalled to life.

In the Mahoney illustration, which would have influenced how so many late Victorian readers would have processed the incidents in what had originally been the September 1865 monthly number, respectably clad Eugene with his bowler-hat is engaged in observing the surface of the river beneath him while the malevolent Headstone, clad in working-class attire, steels himself, grabbing a branch with his right hand. The object may be tree-branch, in which case the assault is a spur-of-the-moment decision; it may also be something that the assailant has brought with him, suggesting that the crime is entirely pre-meditated. In the text, Eugene encounters a man carrying something upon his shoulder — "which might have been a broken oar, or spar, or a bar" — but Dickens does not specifically identify this "man" as Headstone, and does not even describe his clothing. Nor does Dickens describe how Headstone prepares for the attack, so that the part of the illustration dealing with the assailant is pure speculation on Mahoney's part. In colouration Headstone in the wood-engraving is one with the vegetation on the river-bank, and therefore Mahoney would seem to be suggesting that Headstone at this point is at one with the antagonistic natural forces that oppose humanity, or perhaps an exemplar of the Darwinian ethos of "Survival of the Fittest." By this point in the narrative in the letterpress surrounding the illustration in the Chapman and Hall edition, Headstone has already attempted to destroy the disguise that would implicate him in what he believes is the murder of his romantic rival, and is now resting in the lock-keeper's hut.

The relevant illustrations in the original and later editions

Left: F. O. C. Darley's frontispiece span class="tcartwork">On the Track (1866), in which Headstone attempts to destroy the clothing he worse when he attacked Wrayburn. Right: Marcus Stone's September 1865 serial illustration of Bradley Headstone in the throes of dementia, Better to be Cain than Abel.​ [Click on images to enlarge them.]

Above: Marcus Stone's interpretation of the emotional scene on the river bank when Lizzie attempts to break off her relationship with Eugene, The Parting by the river (September 1865). [Click on the image to enlarge it.]

Above: Harry Furniss's Lizzie Hexam to the Rescue. (1910). [Click on the image to enlarge it.]


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Last modified 10 January 2016