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Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens

Part 10 out of 21

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'If you ever do know, you won't know now.'

'Perhaps you done it yourself?' said Riderhood, with a threatening
action.

'I alone know,' returned the man, sternly shaking his head, 'the
mysteries of that crime. I alone know that your trumped-up story
cannot possibly be true. I alone know that it must be altogether
false, and that you must know it to be altogether false. I come
here to-night to tell you so much of what I know, and no more.'

Mr Riderhood, with his crooked eye upon his visitor, meditated
for some moments, and then refilled his glass, and tipped the
contents down his throat in three tips.

'Shut the shop-door!' he then said to his daughter, putting the glass
suddenly down. 'And turn the key and stand by it! If you know
all this, you sir,' getting, as he spoke, between the visitor and the
door, 'why han't you gone to Lawyer Lightwood?'

'That, also, is alone known to myself,' was the cool answer.

'Don't you know that, if you didn't do the deed, what you say you
could tell is worth from five to ten thousand pound?' asked
Riderhood.

'I know it very well, and when I claim the money you shall share it.'

The honest man paused, and drew a little nearer to the visitor, and
a little further from the door.

'I know it,' repeated the man, quietly, 'as well as I know that you
and George Radfoot were one together in more than one dark
business; and as well as I know that you, Roger Riderhood,
conspired against an innocent man for blood-money; and as well
as I know that I can--and that I swear I will!--give you up on both
scores, and be the proof against you in my own person, if you defy
me!'

'Father!' cried Pleasant, from the door. 'Don't defy him! Give
way to him! Don't get into more trouble, father!'

'Will you leave off a Poll Parroting, I ask you?' cried Mr
Riderhood, half beside himself between the two. Then,
propitiatingly and crawlingly: 'You sir! You han't said what you
want of me. Is it fair, is it worthy of yourself, to talk of my
defying you afore ever you say what you want of me?'

'I don't want much,' said the man. 'This accusation of yours must
not be left half made and half unmade. What was done for the
blood-money must be thoroughly undone.'

'Well; but Shipmate--'

'Don't call me Shipmate,' said the man.

'Captain, then,' urged Mr Riderhood; 'there! You won't object to
Captain. It's a honourable title, and you fully look it. Captain!
Ain't the man dead? Now I ask you fair. Ain't Gaffer dead?'

'Well,' returned the other, with impatience, 'yes, he is dead. What
then?'

'Can words hurt a dead man, Captain? I only ask you fair.'

'They can hurt the memory of a dead man, and they can hurt his
living children. How many children had this man?'

'Meaning Gaffer, Captain?'

'Of whom else are we speaking?' returned the other, with a
movement of his foot, as if Rogue Riderhood were beginning to
sneak before him in the body as well as the spirit, and he spurned
him off. 'I have heard of a daughter, and a son. I ask for
information; I ask YOUR daughter; I prefer to speak to her. What
children did Hexam leave?'

Pleasant, looking to her father for permission to reply, that honest
man exclaimed with great bitterness:

'Why the devil don't you answer the Captain? You can Poll Parrot
enough when you ain't wanted to Poll Parrot, you perwerse jade!'

Thus encouraged, Pleasant explained that there were only Lizzie,
the daughter in question, and the youth. Both very respectable,
she added.

'It is dreadful that any stigma should attach to them,' said the
visitor, whom the consideration rendered so uneasy that he rose,
and paced to and fro, muttering, 'Dreadful! Unforeseen? How
could it be foreseen!' Then he stopped, and asked aloud: 'Where
do they live?'

Pleasant further explained that only the daughter had resided with
the father at the time of his accidental death, and that she had
immediately afterwards quitted the neighbourhood.

'I know that,' said the man, 'for I have been to the place they dwelt
in, at the time of the inquest. Could you quietly find out for me
where she lives now?'

Pleasant had no doubt she could do that. Within what time, did
she think? Within a day. The visitor said that was well, and he
would return for the information, relying on its being obtained. To
this dialogue Riderhood had attended in silence, and he now
obsequiously bespake the Captain.

'Captain! Mentioning them unfort'net words of mine respecting
Gaffer, it is contrairily to be bore in mind that Gaffer always were
a precious rascal, and that his line were a thieving line. Likeways
when I went to them two Governors, Lawyer Lightwood and the
t'other Governor, with my information, I may have been a little
over-eager for the cause of justice, or (to put it another way) a
little over-stimilated by them feelings which rouses a man up,
when a pot of money is going about, to get his hand into that pot
of money for his family's sake. Besides which, I think the wine of
them two Governors was--I will not say a hocussed wine, but fur
from a wine as was elthy for the mind. And there's another thing
to be remembered, Captain. Did I stick to them words when
Gaffer was no more, and did I say bold to them two Governors,
"Governors both, wot I informed I still inform; wot was took down
I hold to"? No. I says, frank and open--no shuffling, mind you,
Captain!--"I may have been mistook, I've been a thinking of it, it
mayn't have been took down correct on this and that, and I won't
swear to thick and thin, I'd rayther forfeit your good opinions than
do it. And so far as I know,' concluded Mr Riderhood, by way of
proof and evidence to character, 'I HAVE actiwally forfeited the
good opinions of several persons--even your own, Captain, if I
understand your words--but I'd sooner do it than be forswore.
There; if that's conspiracy, call me conspirator.'

'You shall sign,' said the visitor, taking very little heed of this
oration, 'a statement that it was all utterly false, and the poor girl
shall have it. I will bring it with me for your signature, when I
come again.'

'When might you be expected, Captain?' inquired Riderhood,
again dubiously getting between him and door.

'Quite soon enough for you. I shall not disappoint you; don't be
afraid.'

'Might you be inclined to leave any name, Captain?'

'No, not at all. I have no such intention.'

'"Shall" is summ'at of a hard word, Captain,' urged Riderhood, still
feebly dodging between him and the door, as he advanced. 'When
you say a man "shall" sign this and that and t'other, Captain, you
order him about in a grand sort of a way. Don't it seem so to
yourself?'

The man stood still, and angrily fixed him with his eyes.

'Father, father!' entreated Pleasant, from the door, with her
disengaged hand nervously trembling at her lips; 'don't! Don't get
into trouble any more!'

'Hear me out, Captain, hear me out! All I was wishing to mention,
Captain, afore you took your departer,' said the sneaking Mr
Riderhood, falling out of his path, 'was, your handsome words
relating to the reward.'

'When I claim it,' said the man, in a tone which seemed to leave
some such words as 'you dog,' very distinctly understood, 'you
shall share it.'

Looking stedfastly at Riderhood, he once more said in a low
voice, this time with a grim sort of admiration of him as a perfect
piece of evil, 'What a liar you are!' and, nodding his head twice or
thrice over the compliment, passed out of the shop. But, to
Pleasant he said good-night kindly.

The honest man who gained his living by the sweat of his brow
remained in a state akin to stupefaction, until the footless glass
and the unfinished bottle conveyed themselves into his mind.
From his mind he conveyed them into his hands, and so conveyed
the last of the wine into his stomach. When that was done, he
awoke to a clear perception that Poll Parroting was solely
chargeable with what had passed. Therefore,not to be remiss in
his duty as a father, he threw a pair of sea-boots at Pleasant,
which she ducked to avoid, and then cried, poor thing, using her
hair for a pocket-handkerchief.

Chapter 13

A SOLO AND A DUETT

The wind was blowing so hard when the visitor came out at the
shop-door into the darkness and dirt of Limehouse Hole, that it
almost blew him in again. Doors were slamming violently, lamps
were flickering or blown out, signs were rocking in their frames,
the water of the kennels, wind-dispersed, flew about in drops like
rain. Indifferent to the weather, and even preferring it to better
weather for its clearance of the streets, the man looked about him
with a scrutinizing glance. 'Thus much I know,' he murmured. 'I
have never been here since that night, and never was here before
that night, but thus much I recognize. I wonder which way did we
take when we came out of that shop. We turned to the right as I
have turned, but I can recall no more. Did we go by this alley?
Or down that little lane?'

He tried both, but both confused him equally, and he came
straying back to the same spot. 'I remember there were poles
pushed out of upper windows on which clothes were drying, and I
remember a low public-house, and the sound flowing down a
narrow passage belonging to it of the scraping of a fiddle and the
shuffling of feet. But here are all these things in the lane, and here
are all these things in the alley. And I have nothing else in my
mind but a wall, a dark doorway, a flight of stairs, and a room.'

He tried a new direction, but made nothing of it; walls, dark
doorways, flights of stairs and rooms, were too abundant. And,
like most people so puzzled, he again and again described a circle,
and found himself at the point from which he had begun. 'This is
like what I have read in narratives of escape from prison,' said he,
'where the little track of the fugitives in the night always seems to
take the shape of the great round world, on which they wander; as
if it were a secret law.'

Here he ceased to be the oakum-headed, oakum-whiskered man
on whom Miss Pleasant Riderhood had looked, and, allowing for
his being still wrapped in a nautical overcoat, became as like that
same lost wanted Mr Julius Handford, as never man was like
another in this world. In the breast of the coat he stowed the
bristling hair and whisker, in a moment, as the favouring wind
went with him down a solitary place that it had swept clear of
passengers. Yet in that same moment he was the Secretary also,
Mr Boffin's Secretary. For John Rokesmith, too, was as like that
same lost wanted Mr Julius Handford as never man was like
another in this world.

'I have no clue to the scene of my death,' said he. 'Not that it
matters now. But having risked discovery by venturing here at all,
I should have been glad to track some part of the way.' With
which singular words he abandoned his search, came up out of
Limehouse Hole, and took the way past Limehouse Church. At
the great iron gate of the churchyard he stopped and looked in.
He looked up at the high tower spectrally resisting the wind, and
he looked round at the white tombstones, like enough to the dead
in their winding-sheets, and he counted the nine tolls of the clock-
bell.

'It is a sensation not experienced by many mortals,' said he, 'to be
looking into a churchyard on a wild windy night, and to feel that I
no more hold a place among the living than these dead do, and
even to know that I lie buried somewhere else, as they lie buried
here. Nothing uses me to it. A spirit that was once a man could
hardly feel stranger or lonelier, going unrecognized among
mankind, than I feel.

'But this is the fanciful side of the situation. It has a real side, so
difficult that, though I think of it every day, I never thoroughly
think it out. Now, let me determine to think it out as I walk home.
I know I evade it, as many men--perhaps most men--do evade
thinking their way through their greatest perplexity. I will try to
pin myself to mine. Don't evade it, John Harmon; don't evade it;
think it out!

'When I came to England, attracted to the country with which I
had none but most miserable associations, by the accounts of my
fine inheritance that found me abroad, I came back, shrinking
from my father's money, shrinking from my father's memory,
mistrustful of being forced on a mercenary wife, mistrustful of my
father's intention in thrusting that marriage on me, mistrustful that
I was already growing avaricious, mistrustful that I was slackening
in gratitude to the two dear noble honest friends who had made
the only sunlight in my childish life or that of my hearthroken
sister. I came back, timid, divided in my mind, afraid of myself
and everybody here, knowing of nothing but wretchedness that
my father's wealth had ever brought about. Now, stop, and so far
think it out, John Harmon. Is that so? That is exactly so.

'On board serving as third mate was George Radfoot. I knew
nothing of him. His name first became known to me about a week
before we sailed, through my being accosted by one of the ship-
agent's clerks as "Mr Radfoot." It was one day when I had gone
aboard to look to my preparations, and the clerk, coming behind
me as I stood on deck, tapped me on the shoulder, and said, "Mr
Rad-foot, look here," referring to some papers that he had in his
hand. And my name first became known to Radfoot, through
another clerk within a day or two, and while the ship was yet in
port, coming up behind him, tapping him on the shoulder and
beginning, "I beg your pardon, Mr Harmon--." I believe we were
alike in bulk and stature but not otherwise, and that we were not
strikingly alike, even in those respects, when we were together
and could be compared.

'However, a sociable word or two on these mistakes became an
easy introduction between us, and the weather was hot, and he
helped me to a cool cabin on deck alongside his own, and his first
school had been at Brussels as mine had been, and he had learnt
French as I had learnt it, and he had a little history of himself to
relate--God only knows how much of it true, and how much of it
false--that had its likeness to mine. I had been a seaman too. So
we got to be confidential together, and the more easily yet,
because he and every one on board had known by general rumour
what I was making the voyage to England for. By such degrees
and means, he came to the knowledge of my uneasiness of mind,
and of its setting at that time in the direction of desiring to see and
form some judgment of my allotted wife, before she could
possibly know me for myself; also to try Mrs Boffin and give her a
glad surprise. So the plot was made out of our getting common
sailors' dresses (as he was able to guide me about London), and
throwing ourselves in Bella Wilfer's neighbourhood, and trying to
put ourselves in her way, and doing whatever chance might favour
on the spot, and seeing what came of it. If nothing came of it, I
should be no worse off, and there would merely be a short delay
in my presenting myself to Lightwood. I have all these facts right?
Yes. They are all accurately right.

'His advantage in all this was, that for a time I was to be lost. It
might be for a day or for two days, but I must be lost sight of on
landing, or there would be recognition, anticipation, and failure.
Therefore, I disembarked with my valise in my hand--as Potterson
the steward and Mr Jacob Kibble my fellow-passenger afterwards
remembered--and waited for him in the dark by that very
Limehouse Church which is now behind me.

'As I had always shunned the port of London, I only knew the
church through his pointing out its spire from on board. Perhaps I
might recall, if it were any good to try, the way by which I went to
it alone from the river; but how we two went from it to
Riderhood's shop, I don't know--any more than I know what turns
we took and doubles we made, after we left it. The way was
purposely confused, no doubt.

'But let me go on thinking the facts out, and avoid confusing them
with my speculations. Whether be took me by a straight way or a
crooked way, what is that to the purpose now? Steady, John
Harmon.

'When we stopped at Riderhood's, and he asked that scoundrel a
question or two, purporting to refer only to the lodging-houses in
which there was accommodation for us, had I the least suspicion
of him? None. Certainly none until afterwards when I held the
clue. I think he must have got from Riderhood in a paper, the
drug, or whatever it was, that afterwards stupefied me, but I am
far from sure. All I felt safe in charging on him to-night, was old
companionship in villainy between them. Their undisguised
intimacy, and the character I now know Riderhood to bear, made
that not at all adventurous. But I am not clear about the drug.
Thinking out the circumstances on which I found my suspicion,
they are only two. One: I remember his changing a small folded
paper from one pocket to another, after we came out, which he
had not touched before. Two: I now know Riderhood to have
been previously taken up for being concerned in the robbery of an
unlucky seaman, to whom some such poison had been given.

'It is my conviction that we cannot have gone a mile from that
shop, before we came to the wall, the dark doorway, the flight of
stairs, and the room. The night was particularly dark and it rained
hard. As I think the circumstances back, I hear the rain splashing
on the stone pavement of the passage, whch was not under cover.
The room overlooked the river, or a dock, or a creek, and the tide
was out. Being possessed of the time down to that point, I know
by the hour that it must have been about low water; but while the
coffee was getting ready, I drew back the curtain (a dark-brown
curtain), and, looking out, knew by the kind of reflection below,
of the few neighbouring lights, that they were reflected in tidal
mud.

'He had carried under his arm a canvas bag, containing a suit of
his clothes. I had no change of outer clothes with me, as I was to
buy slops. "You are very wet, Mr Harmon,"--I can hear him
saying--"and I am quite dry under this good waterproof coat. Put
on these clothes of mine. You may find on trying them that they
will answer your purpose to-morrow, as well as the slops you
mean to buy, or better. While you change, I'll hurry the hot
coffee." When he came back, I had his clothes on, and there was
a black man with him, wearing a linen jacket, like a steward, who
put the smoking coffee on the table in a tray and never looked at
me. I am so far literal and exact? Literal and exact, I am certain.

'Now, I pass to sick and deranged impressions; they are so strong,
that I rely upon them; but there are spaces between them that I
know nothing about, and they are not pervaded by any idea of
time.

'I had drank some coffee, when to my sense of sight he began to
swell immensely, and something urged me to rush at him. We had
a struggle near the door. He got from me, through my not
knowing where to strike, in the whirling round of the room, and
the flashing of flames of fire between us. I dropped down. Lying
helpless on the ground, I was turned over by a foot. I was dragged
by the neck into a corner. I heard men speak together. I was
turned over by other feet. I saw a figure like myself lying dressed
in my clothes on a bed. What might have been, for anything I
knew, a silence of days, weeks, months, years, was broken by a
violent wrestling of men all over the room. The figure like myself
was assailed, and my valise was in its hand. I was trodden upon
and fallen over. I heard a noise of blows, and thought it was a
wood-cutter cutting down a tree. I could not have said that my
name was John Harmon--I could not have thought it--I didn't
know it--but when I heard the blows, I thought of the wood-cutter
and his axe, and had some dead idea that I was lying in a forest.

'This is still correct? Still correct, with the exception that I cannot
possibly express it to myself without using the word I. But it was
not I. There was no such thing as I, within my knowledge.

'It was only after a downward slide through something like a tube,
and then a great noise and a sparkling and crackling as of fires,
that the consciousness came upon me, "This is John Harmon
drowning! John Harmon, struggle for your life. John Harmon,
call on Heaven and save yourself!" I think I cried it out aloud in a
great agony, and then a heavy horrid unintelligible something
vanished, and it was I who was struggling there alone in the water.

'I was very weak and faint, frightfully oppressed with drowsiness,
and driving fast with the tide. Looking over the black water, I saw
the lights racing past me on the two banks of the river, as if they
were eager to be gone and leave me dying in the dark. The tide
was running down, but I knew nothing of up or down then. When,
guiding myself safely with Heaven's assistance before the fierce
set of the water, I at last caught at a boat moored, one of a tier of
boats at a causeway, I was sucked under her, and came up, only
just alive, on the other side.

'Was I long in the water? Long enough to be chilled to the heart,
but I don't know how long. Yet the cold was merciful, for it was
the cold night air and the rain that restored me from a swoon on
the stones of the causeway. They naturally supposed me to have
toppled in, drunk, when I crept to the public-house it belonged to;
for I had no notion where I was, and could not articulate--through
the poison that had made me insensible having affected my
speech--and I supposed the night to be the previous night, as it
was still dark and raining. But I had lost twenty-four hours.

'I have checked the calculation often, and it must have been two
nights that I lay recovering in that public-house. Let me see. Yes.
I am sure it was while I lay in that bed there, that the thought
entered my head of turning the danger I had passed through, to the
account of being for some time supposed to have disappeared
mysteriously, and of proving Bella. The dread of our being forced
on one another, and perpetuating the fate that seemed to have
fallen on my father's riches--the fate that they should lead to
nothing but evil--was strong upon the moral timidity that dates
from my childhood with my poor sister.

'As to this hour I cannot understand that side of the river where I
recovered the shore, being the opposite side to that on which I
was ensnared, I shall never understand it now. Even at this
moment, while I leave the river behind me, going home, I cannot
conceive that it rolls between me and that spot, or that the sea is
where it is. But this is not thinking it out; this is making a leap to
the present time.

'I could not have done it, but for the fortune in the waterproof belt
round my body. Not a great fortune, forty and odd pounds for the
inheritor of a hundred and odd thousand! But it was enough.
Without it I must have disclosed myself. Without it, I could never
have gone to that Exchequer Coffee House, or taken Mrs Wilfer's
lodgings.

'Some twelve days I lived at that hotel, before the night when I
saw the corpse of Radfoot at the Police Station. The inexpressible
mental horror that I laboured under, as one of the consequences of
the poison, makes the interval seem greatly longer, but I know it
cannot have been longer. That suffering has gradually weakened
and weakened since, and has only come upon me by starts, and I
hope I am free from it now; but even now, I have sometimes to
think, constrain myself, and stop before speaking, or I could not
say the words I want to say.

'Again I ramble away from thinking it out to the end. It is not so
far to the end that I need be tempted to break off. Now, on
straight!

'I examined the newspapers every day for tidings that I was
missing, but saw none. Going out that night to walk (for I kept
retired while it was light), I found a crowd assembled round a
placard posted at Whitehall. It described myself, John Harmon, as
found dead and mutilated in the river under circumstances of
strong suspicion, described my dress, described the papers in my
pockets, and stated where I was lying for recognition. In a wild
incautious way I hurried there, and there--with the horror of the
death I had escaped, before my eyes in its most appalling shape,
added to the inconceivable horror tormenting me at that time
when the poisonous stuff was strongest on me--I perceived that
Radfoot had been murdered by some unknown hands for the
money for which he would have murdered me, and that probably
we had both been shot into the river from the same dark place into
the same dark tide, when the stream ran deep and strong.

'That night I almost gave up my mystery, though I suspected no
one, could offer no information, knew absolutely nothing save that
the murdered man was not I, but Radfoot. Next day while I
hesitated, and next day while I hesitated, it seemed as if the whole
country were determined to have me dead. The Inquest declared
me dead, the Government proclaimed me dead; I could not listen
at my fireside for five minutes to the outer noises, but it was borne
into my ears that I was dead.

'So John Harmon died, and Julius Handford disappeared, and John
Rokesmith was born. John Rokesmith's intent to-night has been to
repair a wrong that he could never have imagined possible,
coming to his ears through the Lightwood talk related to him, and
which he is bound by every consideration to remedy. In that
intent John Rokesmith will persevere, as his duty is.

'Now, is it all thought out? All to this time? Nothing omitted?
No, nothing. But beyond this time? To think it out through the
future, is a harder though a much shorter task than to think it out
through the past. John Harmon is dead. Should John Harmon
come to life?

'If yes, why? If no, why?'

'Take yes, first. To enlighten human Justice concerning the
offence of one far beyond it who may have a living mother. To
enlighten it with the lights of a stone passage, a flight of stairs, a
brown window-curtain, and a black man. To come into possession
of my father's money, and with it sordidly to buy a beautiful
creature whom I love--I cannot help it; reason has nothing to do
with it; I love her against reason--but who would as soon love me
for my own sake, as she would love the beggar at the corner.
What a use for the money, and how worthy of its old misuses!

'Now, take no. The reasons why John Harmon should not come to
life. Because he has passively allowed these dear old faithful
friends to pass into possession of the property. Because he sees
them happy with it, making a good use of it, effacing the old rust
and tarnish on the money. Because they have virtually adopted
Bella, and will provide for her. Because there is affection enough
in her nature, and warmth enough in her heart, to develop into
something enduringly good, under favourable conditions. Because
her faults have been intensified by her place in my father's will,
and she is already growing better. Because her marriage with
John Harmon, after what I have heard from her own lips, would
be a shocking mockery, of which both she and I must always be
conscious, and which would degrade her in her mind, and me in
mine, and each of us in the other's. Because if John Harmon
comes to life and does not marry her, the property falls into the
very hands that hold it now.

'What would I have? Dead, I have found the true friends of my
lifetime still as true as tender and as faithful as when I was alive,
and making my memory an incentive to good actions done in my
name. Dead, I have found them when they might have slighted
my name, and passed greedily over my grave to ease and wealth,
lingering by the way, like single-hearted children, to recall their
love for me when I was a poor frightened child. Dead, I have
heard from the woman who would have been my wife if I had
lived, the revolting truth that I should have purchased her, caring
nothing for me, as a Sultan buys a slave.

'What would I have? If the dead could know, or do know, how
the living use them, who among the hosts of dead has found a
more disinterested fidelity on earth than I? Is not that enough for
me? If I had come back, these noble creatures would have
welcomed me, wept over me, given up everything to me with joy.
I did not come back, and they have passed unspoiled into my
place. Let them rest in it, and let Bella rest in hers.

'What course for me then? This. To live the same quiet Secretary
life, carefully avoiding chances of recognition, until they shall
have become more accustomed to their altered state, and until the
great swarm of swindlers under many names shall have found
newer prey. By that time, the method I am establishing through
all the affairs, and with which I will every day take new pains to
make them both familiar, will be, I may hope, a machine in such
working order as that they can keep it going. I know I need but
ask of their generosity, to have. When the right time comes, I will
ask no more than will replace me in my former path of life, and
John Rokesmith shall tread it as contentedly as he may. But John
Harmon shall come back no more.

'That I may never, in the days to come afar off, have any weak
misgiving that Bella might, in any contingency, have taken me for
my own sake if I had plainly asked her, I WILL plainly ask her:
proving beyond all question what I already know too well. And
now it is all thought out, from the beginning to the end, and my
mind is easier.'

So deeply engaged had the living-dead man been, in thus
communing with himself, that he had regarded neither the wind
nor the way, and had resisted the former instinctively as he had
pursued the latter. But being now come into the City, where there
was a coach-stand, he stood irresolute whether to go to his
lodgings, or to go first to Mr Boffin's house. He decided to go
round by the house, arguing, as he carried his overcoat upon his
arm, that it was less likely to attract notice if left there, than if
taken to Holloway: both Mrs Wilfer and Miss Lavinia being
ravenously curious touching every article of which the lodger
stood possessed.

Arriving at the house, he found that Mr and Mrs Boffin were out,
but that Miss Wilfer was in the drawing-room. Miss Wilfer had
remained at home, in consequence of not feeling very well, and
had inquired in the evening if Mr Rokesmith were in his room.

'Make my compliments to Miss Wilfer, and say I am here now.'

Miss Wilfer's compliments came down in return, and, if it were
not too much trouble, would Mr Rokesmith be so kind as to come
up before he went?

It was not too much trouble, and Mr Rokesmith came up.

Oh she looked very pretty, she looked very, very pretty! If the
father of the late John Harmon had but left his money
unconditionally to his son, and if his son had but lighted on this
loveable girl for himself, and had the happiness to make her loving
as well as loveable!

'Dear me! Are you not well, Mr Rokesmith?'

'Yes, quite well. I was sorry to hear, when I came in, that YOU
were not.'

'A mere nothing. I had a headache--gone now--and was not quite
fit for a hot theatre, so I stayed at home. I asked you if you were
not well, because you look so white.'

'Do I? I have had a busy evening.'

She was on a low ottoman before the fire, with a little shining
jewel of a table, and her book and her work, beside her. Ah! what
a different life the late John Harmon's, if it had been his happy
privilege to take his place upon that ottoman, and draw his arm
about that waist, and say, 'I hope the time has been long without
me? What a Home Goddess you look, my darling!'

But, the present John Rokesmith, far removed from the late John
Harmon, remained standing at a distance. A little distance in
respect of space, but a great distance in respect of separation.

'Mr Rokesmith,' said Bella, taking up her work, and inspecting it
all round the corners, 'I wanted to say something to you when I
could have the opportunity, as an explanation why I was rude to
you the other day. You have no right to think ill of me, sir.'

The sharp little way in which she darted a look at him, half
sensitively injured, and half pettishly, would have been very much
admired by the late John Harmon.

'You don't know how well I think of you, Miss Wilfer.'

'Truly, you must have a very high opinion of me, Mr Rokesmith,
when you believe that in prosperity I neglect and forget my old
home.'

'Do I believe so?'

'You DID, sir, at any rate,' returned Bella.

'I took the liberty of reminding you of a little omission into which
you had fallen--insensibly and naturally fallen. It was no more
than that.'

'And I beg leave to ask you, Mr Rokesmith,' said Bella, 'why you
took that liberty?--I hope there is no offence in the phrase; it is
your own, remember.'

'Because I am truly, deeply, profoundly interested in you, Miss
Wilfer. Because I wish to see you always at your best. Because
I--shall I go on?'

'No, sir,' returned Bella, with a burning face, 'you have said more
than enough. I beg that you will NOT go on. If you have any
generosity, any honour, you will say no more.'

The late John Harmon, looking at the proud face with the down-
cast eyes, and at the quick breathing as it stirred the fall of bright
brown hair over the beautiful neck, would probably have
remained silent.

'I wish to speak to you, sir,' said Bella, 'once for all, and I don't
know how to do it. I have sat here all this evening, wishing to
speak to you, and determining to speak to you, and feeling that I
must. I beg for a moment's time.'

He remained silent, and she remained with her face averted,
sometimes making a slight movement as if she would turn and
speak. At length she did so.

'You know how I am situated here, sir, and you know how I am
situated at home. I must speak to you for myself, since there is no
one about me whom I could ask to do so. It is not generous in
you, it is not honourable in you, to conduct yourself towards me
as you do.'

'Is it ungenerous or dishonourable to be devoted to you; fascinated
by you?'

'Preposterous!' said Bella.

The late John Harmon might have thought it rather a
contemptuous and lofty word of repudiation.

'I now feel obliged to go on,' pursued the Secretary, 'though it
were only in self-explanation and self-defence. I hope, Miss
Wilfer, that it is not unpardonable--even in me--to make an honest
declaration of an honest devotion to you.'

'An honest declaration!' repeated Bella, with emphasis.

'Is it otherwise?'

'I must request, sir,' said Bella, taking refuge in a touch of timely
resentment, 'that I may not be questioned. You must excuse me if
I decline to be cross-examined.'

'Oh, Miss Wilfer, this is hardly charitable. I ask you nothing but
what your own emphasis suggests. However, I waive even that
question. But what I have declared, I take my stand by. I cannot
recall the avowal of my earnest and deep attachment to you, and I
do not recall it.'

'I reject it, sir,' said Bella.

'I should be blind and deaf if I were not prepared for the reply.
Forgive my offence, for it carries its punishment with it.'

'What punishment?' asked Bella.

'Is my present endurance none? But excuse me; I did not mean to
cross-examine you again.'

'You take advantage of a hasty word of mine,' said Bella with a
little sting of self-reproach, 'to make me seem--I don't know what.
I spoke without consideration when I used it. If that was bad, I
am sorry; but you repeat it after consideration, and that seems to
me to be at least no better. For the rest, I beg it may be
understood, Mr Rokesmith, that there is an end of this between us,
now and for ever.'

'Now and for ever,' he repeated.

'Yes. I appeal to you, sir,' proceeded Bella with increasing spirit,
'not to pursue me. I appeal to you not to take advantage of your
position in this house to make my position in it distressing and
disagreeable. I appeal to you to discontinue your habit of making
your misplaced attentions as plain to Mrs Boffin as to me.'

'Have I done so?'

'I should think you have,' replied Bella. 'In any case it is not your
fault if you have not, Mr Rokesmith.'

'I hope you are wrong in that impression. I should be very sorry to
have justified it. I think I have not. For the future there is no
apprehension. It is all over.'

'I am much relieved to hear it,' said Bella. 'I have far other views
in life, and why should you waste your own?'

'Mine!' said the Secretary. 'My life!'

His curious tone caused Bella to glance at the curious smile with
which he said it. It was gone as he glanced back. 'Pardon me,
Miss Wilfer,' he proceeded, when their eyes met; 'you have used
some hard words, for which I do not doubt you have a justification
in your mind, that I do not understand. Ungenerous and
dishonourable. In what?'

'I would rather not be asked,' said Bella, haughtily looking down.

'I would rather not ask, but the question is imposed upon me.
Kindly explain; or if not kindly, justly.'

'Oh, sir!' said Bella, raising her eyes to his, after a little struggle to
forbear, 'is it generous and honourable to use the power here
which your favour with Mr and Mrs Boffin and your ability in
your place give you, against me?'

'Against you?'

'Is it generous and honourable to form a plan for gradually
bringing their influence to bear upon a suit which I have shown
you that I do not like, and which I tell you that I utterly reject?'

The late John Harmon could have borne a good deal, but he would
have been cut to the heart by such a suspicion as this.

'Would it be generous and honourable to step into your place--if
you did so, for I don't know that you did, and I hope you did not--
anticipating, or knowing beforehand, that I should come here, and
designing to take me at this disadvantage?'

'This mean and cruel disadvantage,' said the Secretary.

'Yes,' assented Bella.

The Secretary kept silence for a little while; then merely said,
'You are wholly mistaken, Miss Wilfer; wonderfully mistaken. I
cannot say, however, that it is your fault. If I deserve better
things of you, you do not know it.'

'At least, sir,' retorted Bella, with her old indignation rising, 'you
know the history of my being here at all. I have heard Mr Boffin
say that you are master of every line and word of that will, as you
are master of all his affairs. And was it not enough that I should
have been willed away, like a horse, or a dog, or a bird; but must
you too begin to dispose of me in your mind, and speculate in me,
as soon as I had ceased to be the talk and the laugh of the town?
Am I for ever to be made the property of strangers?'

'Believe me,' returned the Secretary, 'you are wonderfully
mistaken.'

'I should be glad to know it,' answered Bella.

'I doubt if you ever will. Good-night. Of course I shall be careful
to conceal any traces of this interview from Mr and Mrs Boffin, as
long as I remain here. Trust me, what you have complained of is
at an end for ever.'

'I am glad I have spoken, then, Mr Rokesmith. It has been painful
and difficult, but it is done. If I have hurt you, I hope you will
forgive me. I am inexperienced and impetuous, and I have been a
little spoilt; but I really am not so bad as I dare say I appear, or as
you think me.'

He quitted the room when Bella had said this, relenting in her
wilful inconsistent way. Left alone, she threw herself back on her
ottoman, and said, 'I didn't know the lovely woman was such a
Dragon!' Then, she got up and looked in the glass, and said to her
image, 'You have been positively swelling your features, you little
fool!' Then, she took an impatient walk to the other end of the
room and back, and said, 'I wish Pa was here to have a talk about
an avaricious marriage; but he is better away, poor dear, for I
know I should pull his hair if he WAS here.' And then she threw
her work away, and threw her book after it, and sat down and
hummed a tune, and hummed it out of tune, and quarrelled with it.

And John Rokesmith, what did he?

He went down to his room, and buried John Harmon many
additional fathoms deep. He took his hat, and walked out, and, as
he went to Holloway or anywhere else--not at all minding where--
heaped mounds upon mounds of earth over John Harmon's grave.
His walking did not bring him home until the dawn of day. And so
busy had he been all night, piling and piling weights upon weights
of earth above John Harmon's grave, that by that time John
Harmon lay buried under a whole Alpine range; and still the
Sexton Rokesmith accumulated mountains over him, lightening his
labour with the dirge, 'Cover him, crush him, keep him down!'

Chapter 14

STRONG OF PURPOSE

The sexton-task of piling earth above John Harmon all night long,
was not conducive to sound sleep; but Rokesmith had some
broken morning rest, and rose strengthened in his purpose. It was
all over now. No ghost should trouble Mr and Mrs Boffin's peace;
invisible and voiceless, the ghost should look on for a little while
longer at the state of existence out of which it had departed, and
then should for ever cease to haunt the scenes in which it had no
place.

He went over it all again. He had lapsed into the condition in
which he found himself, as many a man lapses into many a
condition, without perceiving the accumulative power of its
separate circumstances. When in the distrust engendered by his
wretched childhood and the action for evil--never yet for good
within his knowledge then--of his father and his father's wealth on
all within their influence, he conceived the idea of his first
deception, it was meant to be harmless, it was to last but a few
hours or days, it was to involve in it only the girl so capriciously
forced upon him and upon whom he was so capriciously forced,
and it was honestly meant well towards her. For, if he had found
her unhappy in the prospect of that marriage (through her heart
inclining to another man or for any other cause), be would
seriously have said: 'This is another of the old perverted uses of
the misery-making money. I will let it go to my and my sister's
only protectors and friends.' When the snare into which he fell so
outstripped his first intention as that he found himself placarded
by the police authorities upon the London walls for dead, he
confusedly accepted the aid that fell upon him, without
considering how firmly it must seem to fix the Boffins in their
accession to the fortune. When he saw them, and knew them, and
even from his vantage-ground of inspection could find no flaw in
them, he asked himself, 'And shall I come to life to dispossess
such people as these?' There was no good to set against the
putting of them to that hard proof. He had heard from Bella's own
lips when he stood tapping at the door on that night of his taking
the lodgings, that the marriage would have been on her part
thoroughly mercenary. He had since tried her, in his own
unknown person and supposed station, and she not only rejected
his advances but resented them. Was it for him to have the shame
of buying her, or the meanness of punishing her? Yet, by coming
to life and accepting the condition of the inheritance, he must do
the former; and by coming to life and rejecting it, he must do the
latter.

Another consequence that he had never foreshadowed, was the
implication of an innocent man in his supposed murder. He would
obtain complete retraction from the accuser, and set the wrong
right; but clearly the wrong could never have been done if he had
never planned a deception. Then, whatever inconvenience or
distress of mind the deception cost him, it was manful repentantly
to accept as among its consequences, and make no complaint.

Thus John Rokesmith in the morning, and it buried John Harmon
still many fathoms deeper than he had been buried in the night.

Going out earlier than he was accustomed to do, he encountered
the cherub at the door. The cherub's way was for a certain space
his way, and they walked together.

It was impossible not to notice the change in the cherub's
appearance. The cherub felt very conscious of it, and modestly
remarked:

'A present from my daughter Bella, Mr Rokesmith.'

The words gave the Secretary a stroke of pleasure, for he
remembered the fifty pounds, and he still loved the girl. No doubt
it was very weak--it always IS very weak, some authorities hold--
but he loved the girl.

'I don't know whether you happen to have read many books of
African Travel, Mr Rokesmith?' said R. W.

'I have read several.'

'Well, you know, there's usually a King George, or a King Boy, or
a King Sambo, or a King Bill, or Bull, or Rum, or Junk, or
whatever name the sailors may have happened to give him.'

'Where?' asked Rokesmith.

'Anywhere. Anywhere in Africa, I mean. Pretty well everywhere,
I may say; for black kings are cheap--and I think'--said R. W.,
with an apologetic air, 'nasty'.

'I am much of your opinion, Mr Wilfer. You were going to say--?'

'I was going to say, the king is generally dressed in a London hat
only, or a Manchester pair of braces, or one epaulette, or an
uniform coat with his legs in the sleeves, or something of that
kind.'

'Just so,' said the Secretary.

'In confidence, I assure you, Mr Rokesmith,' observed the cheerful
cherub, 'that when more of my family were at home and to be
provided for, I used to remind myself immensely of that king.
You have no idea, as a single man, of the difficulty I have had in
wearing more than one good article at a time.'

'I can easily believe it, Mr Wilfer.'

'I only mention it,' said R. W. in the warmth of his heart, 'as a
proof of the amiable, delicate, and considerate affection of my
daughter Bella. If she had been a little spoilt, I couldn't have
thought so very much of it, under the circumstances. But no, not
a bit. And she is so very pretty! I hope you agree with me in
finding her very pretty, Mr Rokesmith?'

'Certainly I do. Every one must.'

'I hope so,' said the cherub. 'Indeed, I have no doubt of it. This is
a great advancement for her in life, Mr Rokesmith. A great
opening of her prospects?'

'Miss Wilfer could have no better friends than Mr and Mrs Boffin.'

'Impossible!' said the gratified cherub. 'Really I begin to think
things are very well as they are. If Mr John Harmon had lived--'

'He is better dead,' said the Secretary.

'No, I won't go so far as to say that,' urged the cherub, a little
remonstrant against the very decisive and unpitying tone; 'but he
mightn't have suited Bella, or Bella mightn't have suited him, or
fifty things, whereas now I hope she can choose for herself.'

'Has she--as you place the confidence in me of speaking on the
subject, you will excuse my asking--has she--perhaps--chosen?'
faltered the Secretary.

'Oh dear no!' returned R. W.

'Young ladies sometimes,' Rokesmith hinted, 'choose without
mentioning their choice to their fathers.'

'Not in this case, Mr Rokesmith. Between my daughter Bella and
me there is a regular league and covenant of confidence. It was
ratified only the other day. The ratification dates from--these,'
said the cherub, giving a little pull at the lappels of his coat and
the pockets of his trousers. 'Oh no, she has not chosen. To be
sure, young George Sampson, in the days when Mr John Harmon--'

'Who I wish had never been born!' said the Secretary, with a
gloomy brow.

R. W. looked at him with surprise, as thinking he had contracted
an unaccountable spite against the poor deceased, and continued:
'In the days when Mr John Harmon was being sought out, young
George Sampson certainly was hovering about Bella, and Bella let
him hover. But it never was seriously thought of, and it's still less
than ever to be thought of now. For Bella is ambitious, Mr
Rokesmith, and I think I may predict will marry fortune. This
time, you see, she will have the person and the property before
her together, and will be able to make her choice with her eyes
open. This is my road. I am very sorry to part company so soon.
Good morning, sir!'

The Secretary pursued his way, not very much elevated in spirits
by this conversation, and, arriving at the Boffin mansion, found
Betty Higden waiting for him.

'I should thank you kindly, sir,' said Betty, 'if I might make so bold
as have a word or two wi' you.'

She should have as many words as she liked, he told her; and took
her into his room, and made her sit down.

''Tis concerning Sloppy, sir,' said Betty. 'And that's how I come
here by myself. Not wishing him to know what I'm a-going to say
to you, I got the start of him early and walked up.'

'You have wonderful energy,' returned Rokesmith. 'You are as
young as I am.'

Betty Higden gravely shook her head. 'I am strong for my time of
life, sir, but not young, thank the Lord!'

'Are you thankful for not being young?'

'Yes, sir. If I was young, it would all have to be gone through
again, and the end would be a weary way off, don't you see? But
never mind me; 'tis concerning Sloppy.'

'And what about him, Betty?'

''Tis just this, sir. It can't be reasoned out of his head by any
powers of mine but what that he can do right by your kind lady
and gentleman and do his work for me, both together. Now he
can't. To give himself up to being put in the way of arning a good
living and getting on, he must give me up. Well; he won't.'

'I respect him for it,' said Rokesmith.

'DO ye, sir? I don't know but what I do myself. Still that don't
make it right to let him have his way. So as he won't give me up,
I'm a-going to give him up.'

'How, Betty?'

'I'm a-going to run away from him.'

With an astonished look at the indomitable old face and the bright
eyes, the Secretary repeated, 'Run away from him?'

'Yes, sir,' said Betty, with one nod. And in the nod and in the firm
set of her mouth, there was a vigour of purpose not to be doubted.

'Come, come!' said the Secretary. 'We must talk about this. Let
us take our time over it, and try to get at the true sense of the case
and the true course, by degrees.'

'Now, lookee here, by dear,' returned old Betty--'asking your
excuse for being so familiar, but being of a time of life a'most to
be your grandmother twice over. Now, lookee, here. 'Tis a poor
living and a hard as is to be got out of this work that I'm a doing
now, and but for Sloppy I don't know as I should have held to it
this long. But it did just keep us on, the two together. Now that
I'm alone--with even Johnny gone--I'd far sooner be upon my feet
and tiring of myself out, than a sitting folding and folding by the
fire. And I'll tell you why. There's a deadness steals over me at
times, that the kind of life favours and I don't like. Now, I seem to
have Johnny in my arms--now, his mother--now, his mother's
mother--now, I seem to be a child myself, a lying once again in the
arms of my own mother--then I get numbed, thought and sense,
till I start out of my seat, afeerd that I'm a growing like the poor
old people that they brick up in the Unions, as you may sometimes
see when they let 'em out of the four walls to have a warm in the
sun, crawling quite scared about the streets. I was a nimble girl,
and have always been a active body, as I told your lady, first time
ever I see her good face. I can still walk twenty mile if I am put to
it. I'd far better be a walking than a getting numbed and dreary.
I'm a good fair knitter, and can make many little things to sell.
The loan from your lady and gentleman of twenty shillings to fit
out a basket with, would be a fortune for me. Trudging round the
country and tiring of myself out, I shall keep the deadness off, and
get my own bread by my own labour. And what more can I
want?'

'And this is your plan,' said the Secretary, 'for running away?'

'Show me a better! My deary, show me a better! Why, I know
very well,' said old Betty Higden, 'and you know very well, that
your lady and gentleman would set me up like a queen for the rest
of my life, if so be that we could make it right among us to have it
so. But we can't make it right among us to have it so. I've never
took charity yet, nor yet has any one belonging to me. And it
would be forsaking of myself indeed, and forsaking of my children
dead and gone, and forsaking of their children dead and gone, to
set up a contradiction now at last.'

'It might come to be justifiable and unavoidable at last,' the
Secretary gently hinted, with a slight stress on the word.

'I hope it never will! It ain't that I mean to give offence by being
anyways proud,' said the old creature simply, 'but that I want to be
of a piece like, and helpful of myself right through to my death.'

'And to be sure,' added the Secretary, as a comfort for her, 'Sloppy
will be eagerly looking forward to his opportunity of being to you
what you have been to him.'

'Trust him for that, sir!' said Betty, cheerfully. 'Though he had
need to be something quick about it, for I'm a getting to be an old
one. But I'm a strong one too, and travel and weather never hurt
me yet! Now, be so kind as speak for me to your lady and
gentleman, and tell 'em what I ask of their good friendliness to let
me do, and why I ask it.'

The Secretary felt that there was no gainsaying what was urged by
this brave old heroine, and he presently repaired to Mrs Boffin
and recommended her to let Betty Higden have her way, at all
events for the time. 'It would be far more satisfactory to your kind
heart, I know,' he said, 'to provide for her, but it may be a duty to
respect this independent spirit.' Mrs Boffin was not proof against
the consideration set before her. She and her husband had worked
too, and had brought their simple faith and honour clean out of
dustheaps. If they owed a duty to Betty Higden, of a surety that
duty must be done.

'But, Betty,' said Mrs Boffin, when she accompanied John
Rokesmith back to his room, and shone upon her with the light of
her radiant face, 'granted all else, I think I wouldn't run away'.

''Twould come easier to Sloppy,' said Mrs Higden, shaking her
head. ''Twould come easier to me too. But 'tis as you please.'

'When would you go?'

'Now,' was the bright and ready answer. 'To-day, my deary, to-
morrow. Bless ye, I am used to it. I know many parts of the
country well. When nothing else was to be done, I have worked
in many a market-garden afore now, and in many a hop-garden
too.'

'If I give my consent to your going, Betty--which Mr Rokesmith
thinks I ought to do--'

Betty thanked him with a grateful curtsey.

'--We must not lose sight of you. We must not let you pass out of
our knowledge. We must know all about you.'

'Yes, my deary, but not through letter-writing, because letter-
writing--indeed, writing of most sorts hadn't much come up for
such as me when I was young. But I shall be to and fro. No fear
of my missing a chance of giving myself a sight of your reviving
face. Besides,' said Betty, with logical good faith, 'I shall have a
debt to pay off, by littles, and naturally that would bring me back,
if nothing else would.'

'MUST it be done?' asked Mrs Boffin, still reluctant, of the
Secretary.

'I think it must.'

After more discussion it was agreed that it should be done, and
Mrs Boffin summoned Bella to note down the little purchases that
were necessary to set Betty up in trade. 'Don't ye be timorous for
me, my dear,' said the stanch old heart, observant of Bella's face:
when I take my seat with my work, clean and busy and fresh, in a
country market-place, I shall turn a sixpence as sure as ever a
farmer's wife there.'

The Secretary took that opportunity of touching on the practical
question of Mr Sloppy's capabilities. He would have made a
wonderful cabinet-maker, said Mrs Higden, 'if there had been the
money to put him to it.' She had seen him handle tools that he had
borrowed to mend the mangle, or to knock a broken piece of
furniture together, in a surprising manner. As to constructing toys
for the Minders, out of nothing, he had done that daily. And once
as many as a dozen people had got together in the lane to see the
neatness with which he fitted the broken pieces of a foreign
monkey's musical instrument. 'That's well,' said the Secretary. 'It
will not be hard to find a trade for him.'

John Harmon being buried under mountains now, the Secretary
that very same day set himself to finish his affairs and have done
with him. He drew up an ample declaration, to be signed by
Rogue Riderhood (knowing he could get his signature to it, by
making him another and much shorter evening call), and then
considered to whom should he give the document? To Hexam's
son, or daughter? Resolved speedily, to the daughter. But it
would be safer to avoid seeing the daughter, because the son had
seen Julius Handford, and--he could not be too careful--there
might possibly be some comparison of notes between the son and
daughter, which would awaken slumbering suspicion, and lead to
consequences. 'I might even,' he reflected, 'be apprehended as
having been concerned in my own murder!' Therefore, best to
send it to the daughter under cover by the post. Pleasant
Riderhood had undertaken to find out where she lived, and it was
not necessary that it should be attended by a single word of
explanation. So far, straight.

But, all that he knew of the daughter he derived from Mrs Boffin's
accounts of what she heard from Mr Lightwood, who seemed to
have a reputation for his manner of relating a story, and to have
made this story quite his own. It interested him, and he would like
to have the means of knowing more--as, for instance, that she
received the exonerating paper, and that it satisfied her--by
opening some channel altogether independent of Lightwood: who
likewise had seen Julius Handford, who had publicly advertised
for Julius Handford, and whom of all men he, the Secretary, most
avoided. 'But with whom the common course of things might
bring me in a moment face to face, any day in the week or any
hour in the day.'

Now, to cast about for some likely means of opening such a
channel. The boy, Hexam, was training for and with a
schoolmaster. The Secretary knew it, because his sister's share in
that disposal of him seemed to be the best part of Lightwood's
account of the family. This young fellow, Sloppy, stood in need of
some instruction. If he, the Secretary, engaged that schoolmaster
to impart it to him, the channel might be opened. The next point
was, did Mrs Boffin know the schoolmaster's name? No, but she
knew where the school was. Quite enough. Promptly the
Secretary wrote to the master of that school, and that very
evening Bradley Headstone answered in person.

The Secretary stated to the schoolmaster how the object was, to
send to him for certain occasional evening instruction, a youth
whom Mr and Mrs Boffin wished to help to an industrious and
useful place in life. The schoolmaster was willing to undertake the
charge of such a pupil. The Secretary inquired on what terms?
The schoolmaster stated on what terms. Agreed and disposed of.

'May I ask, sir,' said Bradley Headstone, 'to whose good opinion I
owe a recommendation to you?'

'You should know that I am not the principal here. I am Mr
Boffin's Secretary. Mr Boffin is a gentleman who inherited a
property of which you may have heard some public mention; the
Harmon property.'

'Mr Harmon,' said Bradley: who would have been a great deal
more at a loss than he was, if he had known to whom he spoke:
'was murdered and found in the river.'

'Was murdered and found in the river.'

'It was not--'

'No,' interposed the Secretary, smiling, 'it was not he who
recommended you. Mr Boffin heard of you through a certain Mr
Lightwood. I think you know Mr Lightwood, or know of him?'

'I know as much of him as I wish to know, sir. I have no
acquaintance with Mr Lightwood, and I desire none. I have no
objection to Mr Lightwood, but I have a particular objection to
some of Mr Lightwood's friends--in short, to one of Mr
Lightwood's friends. His great friend.'

He could hardly get the words out, even then and there, so fierce
did he grow (though keeping himself down with infinite pains of
repression), when the careless and contemptuous bearing of
Eugene Wrayburn rose before his mind.

The Secretary saw there was a strong feeling here on some sore
point, and he would have made a diversion from it, but for
Bradley's holding to it in his cumbersome way.

'I have no objection to mention the friend by name,' he said,
doggedly. 'The person I object to, is Mr Eugene Wrayburn.'

The Secretary remembered him. In his disturbed recollection of
that night when he was striving against the drugged drink, there
was but a dim image of Eugene's person; but he remembered his
name, and his manner of speaking, and how he had gone with
them to view the body, and where he had stood, and what he had
said.

'Pray, Mr Headstone, what is the name,' he asked, again trying to
make a diversion, 'of young Hexam's sister?'

'Her name is Lizzie,' said the schoolmaster, with a strong
contraction of his whole face.

'She is a young woman of a remarkable character; is she not?'

'She is sufficiently remarkable to be very superior to Mr Eugene
Wrayburn--though an ordinary person might be that,' said the
schoolmaster; 'and I hope you will not think it impertinent in me,
sir, to ask why you put the two names together?'

'By mere accident,' returned the Secretary. 'Observing that Mr
Wrayburn was a disagreeable subject with you, I tried to get away
from it: though not very successfully, it would appear.'

'Do you know Mr Wrayburn, sir?'

'No.'

'Then perhaps the names cannot be put together on the authority
of any representation of his?'

'Certainly not.'

'I took the liberty to ask,' said Bradley, after casting his eyes on
the ground, 'because he is capable of making any representation,
in the swaggering levity of his insolence. I--I hope you will not
misunderstand me, sir. I--I am much interested in this brother and
sister, and the subject awakens very strong feelings within me.
Very, very, strong feelings.' With a shaking hand, Bradley took
out his handkerchief and wiped his brow.

The Secretary thought, as he glanced at the schoolmaster's face,
that he had opened a channel here indeed, and that it was an
unexpectedly dark and deep and stormy one, and difficult to
sound. All at once, in the midst of his turbulent emotions, Bradley
stopped and seemed to challenge his look. Much as though he
suddenly asked him, 'What do you see in me?'

'The brother, young Hexam, was your real recommendation here,'
said the Secretary, quietly going back to the point; 'Mr and Mrs
Boffin happening to know, through Mr Lightwood, that he was
your pupil. Anything that I ask respecting the brother and sister,
or either of them, I ask for myself out of my own interest in the
subject, and not in my official character, or on Mr Boffin's behalf.
How I come to be interested, I need not explain. You know the
father's connection with the discovery of Mr Harmon's body.'

'Sir,' replied Bradley, very restlessly indeed, 'I know all the
circumstances of that case.'

'Pray tell me, Mr Headstone,' said the Secretary. 'Does the sister
suffer under any stigma because of the impossible accusation--
groundless would be a better word--that was made against the
father, and substantially withdrawn?'

'No, sir,' returned Bradley, with a kind of anger.

'I am very glad to hear it.'

'The sister,' said Bradley, separating his words over-carefully, and
speaking as if he were repeating them from a book, 'suffers under
no reproach that repels a man of unimpeachable character who
had made for himself every step of his way in life, from placing
her in his own station. I will not say, raising her to his own
station; I say, placing her in it. The sister labours under no
reproach, unless she should unfortunately make it for herself.
When such a man is not deterred from regarding her as his equal,
and when he has convinced himself that there is no blemish on
her, I think the fact must be taken to be pretty expressive.'

'And there is such a man?' said the Secretary.

Bradley Headstone knotted his brows, and squared his large lower
jaw, and fixed his eyes on the ground with an air of determination
that seemed unnecessary to the occasion, as he replied: 'And there
is such a man.'

The Secretary had no reason or excuse for prolonging the
conversation, and it ended here. Within three hours the oakum-
headed apparition once more dived into the Leaving Shop, and
that night Rogue Riderhood's recantation lay in the post office,
addressed under cover to Lizzie Hexam at her right address.

All these proceedings occupied John Rokesmith so much, that it
was not until the following day that he saw Bella again. It seemed
then to be tacitly understood between them that they were to be
as distantly easy as they could, without attracting the attention of
Mr and Mrs Boffin to any marked change in their manner. The
fitting out of old Betty Higden was favourable to this, as keeping
Bella engaged and interested, and as occupying the general
attention.

'I think,' said Rokesmith, when they all stood about her, while she
packed her tidy basket--except Bella, who was busily helping on
her knees at the chair on which it stood; 'that at least you might
keep a letter in your pocket, Mrs Higden, which I would write for
you and date from here, merely stating, in the names of Mr and
Mrs Boffin, that they are your friends;--I won't say patrons,
because they wouldn't like it.'

'No, no, no,' said Mr Boffin; 'no patronizing! Let's keep out of
THAT, whatever we come to.'

'There's more than enough of that about, without us; ain't there,
Noddy?' said Mrs Boffin.

'I believe you, old lady!' returned the Golden Dustman.
'Overmuch indeed!'

'But people sometimes like to be patronized; don't they, sir?' asked
Bella, looking up.

'I don't. And if THEY do, my dear, they ought to learn better,'
said Mr Boffin. 'Patrons and Patronesses, and Vice-Patrons and
Vice-Patronesses, and Deceased Patrons and Deceased
Patronesses, and Ex-Vice-Patrons and Ex-Vice-Patronesses, what
does it all mean in the books of the Charities that come pouring in
on Rokesmith as he sits among 'em pretty well up to his neck! If
Mr Tom Noakes gives his five shillings ain't he a Patron, and if
Mrs Jack Styles gives her five shillings ain't she a Patroness?
What the deuce is it all about? If it ain't stark staring impudence,
what do you call it?'

'Don't be warm, Noddy,' Mrs Boffin urged.

'Warm!' cried Mr Boffin. 'It's enough to make a man smoking hot.
I can't go anywhere without being Patronized. I don't want to be
Patronized. If I buy a ticket for a Flower Show, or a Music Show,
or any sort of Show, and pay pretty heavy for it, why am I to be
Patroned and Patronessed as if the Patrons and Patronesses
treated me? If there's a good thing to be done, can't it be done on
its own merits? If there's a bad thing to be done, can it ever be
Patroned and Patronessed right? Yet when a new Institution's
going to be built, it seems to me that the bricks and mortar ain't
made of half so much consequence as the Patrons and
Patronesses; no, nor yet the objects. I wish somebody would tell
me whether other countries get Patronized to anything like the
extent of this one! And as to the Patrons and Patronesses
themselves, I wonder they're not ashamed of themselves. They
ain't Pills, or Hair-Washes, or Invigorating Nervous Essences, to
be puffed in that way!'

Having delivered himself of these remarks, Mr Boffin took a trot,
according to his usual custom, and trotted back to the spot from
which he had started.

'As to the letter, Rokesmith,' said Mr Boffin, 'you're as right as a
trivet. Give her the letter, make her take the letter, put it in her
pocket by violence. She might fall sick. You know you might fall
sick,' said Mr Boffin. 'Don't deny it, Mrs Higden, in your
obstinacy; you know you might.'

Old Betty laughed, and said that she would take the letter and be
thankful.

'That's right!' said Mr Boffin. 'Come! That's sensible. And don't
be thankful to us (for we never thought of it), but to Mr
Rokesmith.'

The letter was written, and read to her, and given to her.

'Now, how do you feel?' said Mr Boffin. 'Do you like it?'

'The letter, sir?' said Betty. 'Ay, it's a beautiful letter!'

'No, no, no; not the letter,' said Mr Boffin; 'the idea. Are you sure
you're strong enough to carry out the idea?'

'I shall be stronger, and keep the deadness off better, this way,
than any way left open to me, sir.'

'Don't say than any way left open, you know,' urged Mr Boffin;
'because there are ways without end. A housekeeper would be
acceptable over yonder at the Bower, for instance. Wouldn't you
like to see the Bower, and know a retired literary man of the name
of Wegg that lives there--WITH a wooden leg?'

Old Betty was proof even against this temptation, and fell to
adjusting her black bonnet and shawl.

'I wouldn't let you go, now it comes to this, after all,' said Mr
Boffin, 'if I didn't hope that it may make a man and a workman of
Sloppy, in as short a time as ever a man and workman was made
yet. Why, what have you got there, Betty? Not a doll?'

It was the man in the Guards who had been on duty over Johnny's
bed. The solitary old woman showed what it was, and put it up
quietly in her dress. Then, she gratefully took leave of Mrs
Boffin, and of Mr Boffin, and of Rokesmith, and then put her old
withered arms round Bella's young and blooming neck, and said,
repeating Johnny's words: 'A kiss for the boofer lady.'

The Secretary looked on from a doorway at the boofer lady thus
encircled, and still looked on at the boofer lady standing alone
there, when the determined old figure with its steady bright eyes
was trudging through the streets, away from paralysis and
pauperism.

Chapter 15

THE WHOLE CASE SO FAR

Bradley Headstone held fast by that other interview he was to
have with Lizzie Hexam. In stipulating for it, he had been
impelled by a feeling little short of desperation, and the feeling
abided by him. It was very soon after his interview with the
Secretary, that he and Charley Hexam set out one leaden evening,
not unnoticed by Miss Peecher, to have this desperate interview
accomplished.

'That dolls' dressmaker,' said Bradley, 'is favourable neither to me
nor to you, Hexam.'

'A pert crooked little chit, Mr Headstone! I knew she would put
herself in the way, if she could, and would be sure to strike in with
something impertinent. It was on that account that I proposed our
going to the City to-night and meeting my sister.'

'So I supposed,' said Bradley, getting his gloves on his nervous
hands as he walked. 'So I supposed.'

'Nobody but my sister,' pursued Charley, 'would have found out
such an extraordinary companion. She has done it in a ridiculous
fancy of giving herself up to another. She told me so, that night
when we went there.'

'Why should she give herself up to the dressmaker?' asked
Bradley.

'Oh!' said the boy, colouring. 'One of her romantic ideas! I tried
to convince her so, but I didn't succeed. However, what we have
got to do, is, to succeed to-night, Mr Headstone, and then all the
rest follows.'

'You are still sanguine, Hexam.'

'Certainly I am, sir. Why, we have everything on our side.'

'Except your sister, perhaps,' thought Bradley. But he only
gloomily thought it, and said nothing.

'Everything on our side,' repeated the boy with boyish confidence.
'Respectability, an excellent connexion for me, common sense,
everything!'

'To be sure, your sister has always shown herself a devoted sister,'
said Bradley, willing to sustain himself on even that low ground of
hope.

'Naturally, Mr Headstone, I have a good deal of influence with
her. And now that you have honoured me with your confidence
and spoken to me first, I say again, we have everything on our
side.'

And Bradley thought again, 'Except your sister, perhaps.'

A grey dusty withered evening in London city has not a hopeful
aspect. The closed warehouses and offices have an air of death
about them, and the national dread of colour has an air of
mourning. The towers and steeples of the many house-
encompassed churches, dark and dingy as the sky that seems
descending on them, are no relief to the general gloom; a sun-dial
on a church-wall has the look, in its useless black shade, of having
failed in its business enterprise and stopped payment for ever;
melancholy waifs and strays of housekeepers and porter sweep
melancholy waifs and strays of papers and pins into the kennels,
and other more melancholy waifs and strays explore them,
searching and stooping and poking for anything to sell. The set of
humanity outward from the City is as a set of prisoners departing
from gaol, and dismal Newgate seems quite as fit a stronghold for
the mighty Lord Mayor as his own state-dwelling.

On such an evening, when the city grit gets into the hair and eyes
and skin, and when the fallen leaves of the few unhappy city trees
grind down in corners under wheels of wind, the schoolmaster and
the pupil emerged upon the Leadenhall Street region, spying
eastward for Lizzie. Being something too soon in their arrival,
they lurked at a corner, waiting for her to appear. The best-
looking among us will not look very well, lurking at a corner, and
Bradley came out of that disadvantage very poorly indeed.

'Here she comes, Mr Headstone! Let us go forward and meet her.'

As they advanced, she saw them coming, and seemed rather
troubled. But she greeted her brother with the usual warmth, and
touched the extended hand of Bradley.

'Why, where are you going, Charley, dear?' she asked him then.

'Nowhere. We came on purpose to meet you.'

'To meet me, Charley?'

'Yes. We are going to walk with you. But don't let us take the
great leading streets where every one walks, and we can't hear
ourselves speak. Let us go by the quiet backways. Here's a large
paved court by this church, and quiet, too. Let us go up here.'

'But it's not in the way, Charley.'

'Yes it is,' said the boy, petulantly. 'It's in my way, and my way is
yours.'

She had not released his hand, and, still holding it, looked at him
with a kind of appeal. He avoided her eyes, under pretence of
saying, 'Come along, Mr Headstone.' Bradley walked at his side--
not at hers--and the brother and sister walked hand in hand. The
court brought them to a churchyard; a paved square court, with a
raised bank of earth about breast high, in the middle, enclosed by
iron rails. Here, conveniently and heathfully elevated above the
level of the living, were the dead, and the tombstones; some of the
latter droopingly inclined from the perpendicular, as if they were
ashamed of the lies they told.

They paced the whole of this place once, in a constrained and
uncomfortable manner, when the boy stopped and said:

'Lizzie, Mr Headstone has something to say to you. I don't wish to
be an interruption either to him or to you, and so I'll go and take a
little stroll and come back. I know in a general way what Mr
Headstone intends to say, and I very highly approve of it, as I
hope--and indeed I do not doubt--you will. I needn't tell you,
Lizzie, that I am under great obligations to Mr Headstone, and that
I am very anxious for Mr Headstone to succeed in all he
undertakes. As I hope--and as, indeed, I don't doubt--you must
be.'

'Charley,' returned his sister, detaining his hand as he withdrew it,
'I think you had better stay. I think Mr Headstone had better not
say what he thinks of saying.'

'Why, how do you know what it is?' returned the boy.

'Perhaps I don't, but--'

'Perhaps you don't? No, Liz, I should think not. If you knew what
it was, you would give me a very different answer. There; let go;
be sensible. I wonder you don't remember that Mr Headstone is
looking on.'

She allowed him to separate himself from her, and he, after
saying, 'Now Liz, be a rational girl and a good sister,' walked
away. She remained standing alone with Bradley Headstone, and
it was not until she raised her eyes, that he spoke.

'I said,' he began, 'when I saw you last, that there was something
unexplained, which might perhaps influence you. I have come
this evening to explain it. I hope you will not judge of me by my
hesitating manner when I speak to you. You see me at my
greatest disadvantage. It is most unfortunate for me that I wish
you to see me at my best, and that I know you see me at my
worst.'

She moved slowly on when he paused, and he moved slowly on
beside her.

'It seems egotistical to begin by saying so much about myself,' he
resumed, 'but whatever I say to you seems, even in my own ears,
below what I want to say, and different from what I want to say. I
can't help it. So it is. You are the ruin of me.'

She started at the passionate sound of the last words, and at the
passionate action of his hands, with which they were
accompanied.

'Yes! you are the ruin--the ruin--the ruin--of me. I have no
resources in myself, I have no confidence in myself, I have no
government of myself when you are near me or in my thoughts.
And you are always in my thoughts now. I have never been quit
of you since I first saw you. Oh, that was a wretched day for me!
That was a wretched, miserable day!'

A touch of pity for him mingled with her dislike of him, and she
said: 'Mr Headstone, I am grieved to have done you any harm, but
I have never meant it.'

'There!' he cried, despairingly. 'Now, I seem to have reproached
you, instead of revealing to you the state of my own mind! Bear
with me. I am always wrong when you are in question. It is my
doom.'

Struggling with himself, and by times looking up at the deserted
windows of the houses as if there could be anything written in
their grimy panes that would help him, he paced the whole
pavement at her side, before he spoke again.

'I must try to give expression to what is in my mind; it shall and
must be spoken. Though you see me so confounded--though you
strike me so helpless--I ask you to believe that there are many
people who think well of me; that there are some people who
highly esteem me; that I have in my way won a Station which is
considered worth winning.'

'Surely, Mr Headstone, I do believe it. Surely I have always
known it from Charley.'

'I ask you to believe that if I were to offer my home such as it is,
my station such as it is, my affections such as they are, to any one
of the best considered, and best qualified, and most distinguished,
among the young women engaged in my calling, they would
probably be accepted. Even readily accepted.'

'I do not doubt it,' said Lizzie, with her eyes upon the ground.

'I have sometimes had it in my thoughts to make that offer and to
settle down as many men of my class do: I on the one side of a
school, my wife on the other, both of us interested in the same
work.'

'Why have you not done so?' asked Lizzie Hexam. 'Why do you
not do so?'

'Far better that I never did! The only one grain of comfort I have
had these many weeks,' he said, always speaking passionately,
and, when most emphatic, repeating that former action of his
hands, which was like flinging his heart's blood down before her in
drops upon the pavement-stones; 'the only one grain of comfort I
have had these many weeks is, that I never did. For if I had, and
if the same spell had come upon me for my ruin, I know I should
have broken that tie asunder as if it had been thread.'

She glanced at him with a glance of fear, and a shrinking gesture.
He answered, as if she had spoken.

'No! It would not have been voluntary on my part, any more than
it is voluntary in me to be here now. You draw me to you. If I
were shut up in a strong prison, you would draw me out. I should
break through the wall to come to you. If I were lying on a sick
bed, you would draw me up--to stagger to your feet and fall there.'

The wild energy of the man, now quite let loose, was absolutely
terrible. He stopped and laid his hand upon a piece of the coping
of the burial-ground enclosure, as if he would have dislodged the
stone.

'No man knows till the time comes, what depths are within him.
To some men it never comes; let them rest and be thankful! To
me, you brought it; on me, you forced it; and the bottom of this
raging sea,' striking himself upon the breast, 'has been heaved up
ever since.'

'Mr Headstone, I have heard enough. Let me stop you here. It
will be better for you and better for me. Let us find my brother.'

'Not yet. It shall and must be spoken. I have been in torments
ever since I stopped short of it before. You are alarmed. It is
another of my miseries that I cannot speak to you or speak of you
without stumbling at every syllable, unless I let the check go
altogether and run mad. Here is a man lighting the lamps. He will
be gone directly. I entreat of you let us walk round this place
again. You have no reason to look alarmed; I can restrain myself,
and I will.'

She yielded to the entreaty--how could she do otherwise!--and
they paced the stones in silence. One by one the lights leaped up
making the cold grey church tower more remote, and they were
alone again. He said no more until they had regained the spot
where he had broken off; there, he again stood still, and again
grasped the stone. In saying what he said then, he never looked at
her; but looked at it and wrenched at it.

'You know what I am going to say. I love you. What other men
may mean when they use that expression, I cannot tell; what I
mean is, that I am under the influence of some tremendous
attraction which I have resisted in vain, and which overmasters
me. You could draw me to fire, you could draw me to water, you
could draw me to the gallows, you could draw me to any death,
you could draw me to anything I have most avoided, you could
draw me to any exposure and disgrace. This and the confusion of
my thoughts, so that I am fit for nothing, is what I mean by your
being the ruin of me. But if you would return a favourable answer
to my offer of myself in marringe, you could draw me to any
good--every good--with equal force. My circumstances are quite
easy, and you would want for nothing. My reputation stands quite
high, and would be a shield for yours. If you saw me at my work,
able to do it well and respected in it, you might even come to take
a sort of pride in me;--I would try hard that you should. Whatever
considerations I may have thought of against this offer, I have
conquered, and I make it with all my heart. Your brother favours
me to the utmost, and it is likely that we might live and work
together; anyhow, it is certain that he would have my best
influence and support. I don't know what I could say more if I
tried. I might only weaken what is ill enough said as it is. I only
add that if it is any claim on you to be in earnest, I am in thorough
earnest, dreadful earnest.'

The powdered mortar from under the stone at which he wrenched,
rattled on the pavement to confirm his words.

'Mr Headstone--'

'Stop! I implore you, before you answer me, to walk round this
place once more. It will give you a minute's time to think, and me
a minute's time to get some fortitude together.'

Again she yielded to the entreaty, and again they came back to the
same place, and again he worked at the stone.

'Is it,' he said, with his attention apparently engrossed by it, 'yes, or
no?'

'Mr Headstone, I thank you sincerely, I thank you gratefully, and
hope you may find a worthy wife before long and be very happy.
But it is no.'

'Is no short time necessary for reflection; no weeks or days?' he
asked, in the same half-suffocated way.

'None whatever.'

'Are you quite decided, and is there no chance of any change in
my favour?'

'I am quite decided, Mr Headstone, and I am bound to answer I
am certain there is none.'

'Then,' said he, suddenly changing his tone and turning to her, and
bringing his clenched hand down upon the stone with a force that
laid the knuckles raw and bleeding; 'then I hope that I may never
kill him!'

The dark look of hatred and revenge with which the words broke
from his livid lips, and with which he stood holding out his
smeared hand as if it held some weapon and had just struck a
mortal blow, made her so afraid of him that she turned to run
away. But he caught her by the arm.

'Mr Headstone, let me go. Mr Headstone, I must call for help!'

'It is I who should call for help,' he said; 'you don't know yet how
much I need it.'

The working of his face as she shrank from it, glancing round for
her brother and uncertain what to do, might have extorted a cry
from her in another instant; but all at once he sternly stopped it
and fixed it, as if Death itself had done so.

'There! You see I have recovered myself. Hear me out.'

With much of the dignity of courage, as she recalled her self-
reliant life and her right to be free from accountability to this man,
she released her arm from his grasp and stood looking full at him.
She had never been so handsome, in his eyes. A shade came over
them while he looked back at her, as if she drew the very light out
of them to herself.

'This time, at least, I will leave nothing unsaid,' he went on, folding
his hands before him, clearly to prevent his being betrayed into
any impetuous gesture; 'this last time at least I will not be tortured
with after-thoughts of a lost opportunity. Mr Eugene Wrayburn.'

'Was it of him you spoke in your ungovernable rage and violence?'
Lizzie Hexam demanded with spirit.

He bit his lip, and looked at her, and said never a word.

'Was it Mr Wrayburn that you threatened?'

He bit his lip again, and looked at her, and said never a word.

'You asked me to hear you out, and you will not speak. Let me
find my brother.'

'Stay! I threatened no one.'

Her look dropped for an instant to his bleeding hand. He lifted it
to his mouth, wiped it on his sleeve, and again folded it over the
other. 'Mr Eugene Wrayburn,' he repeated.

'Why do you mention that name again and again, Mr Headstone?'

'Because it is the text of the little I have left to say. Observe!
There are no threats in it. If I utter a threat, stop me, and fasten it
upon me. Mr Eugene Wrayburn.'

A worse threat than was conveyed in his manner of uttering the
name, could hardly have escaped him.

'He haunts you. You accept favours from him. You are willing
enough to listen to HIM. I know it, as well as he does.'

'Mr Wrayburn has been considerate and good to me, sir,' said
Lizzie, proudly, 'in connexion with the death and with the memory
of my poor father.'

'No doubt. He is of course a very considerate and a very good
man, Mr Eugene Wrayburn.'

'He is nothing to you, I think,' said Lizzie, with an indignation she
could not repress.

'Oh yes, he is. There you mistake. He is much to me.'

'What can he be to you?'

'He can be a rival to me among other things,' said Bradley.

'Mr Headstone,' returned Lizzie, with a burning face, 'it is
cowardly in you to speak to me in this way. But it makes me able
to tell you that I do not like you, and that I never have liked you
from the first, and that no other living creature has anything to do
with the effect you have produced upon me for yourself.'

His head bent for a moment, as if under a weight, and he then
looked up again, moistening his lips. 'I was going on with the little
I had left to say. I knew all this about Mr Eugene Wrayhurn, all
the while you were drawing me to you. I strove against the
knowledge, but quite in vain. It made no difference in me. With
Mr Eugene Wrayburn in my mind, I went on. With Mr Eugene
Wrayburn in my mind, I spoke to you just now. With Mr Eugene
Wrayburn in my mind, I have been set aside and I have been cast
out.'

'If you give those names to my thanking you for your proposal and
declining it, is it my fault, Mr Headstone?' said Lizzie,
compassionating the bitter struggle he could not conceal, almost as
much as she was repelled and alarmed by it.

'I am not complaining,' he returned, 'I am only stating the case. I
had to wrestle with my self-respect when I submitted to be drawn
to you in spite of Mr Wrayburn. You may imagine how low my
self-respect lies now.'

She was hurt and angry; but repressed herself in consideration of
his suffering, and of his being her brother's friend.

'And it lies under his feet,' said Bradley, unfolding his hands in
spite of himself, and fiercely motioning with them both towards
the stones of the pavement. 'Remember that! It lies under that
fellow's feet, and he treads upon it and exults above it.'

'He does not!' said Lizzie.

'He does!' said Bradley. 'I have stood before him face to face, and
he crushed me down in the dirt of his contempt, and walked over
me. Why? Because he knew with triumph what was in store for
me to-night.'

'O, Mr Headstone, you talk quite wildly.'

'Quite collectedly. I know what I say too well. Now I have said
all. I have used no threat, remember; I have done no more than
show you how the case stands;--how the case stands, so far.'

At this moment her brother sauntered into view close by. She
darted to him, and caught him by the hand. Bradley followed, and
laid his heavy hand on the boy's opposite shoulder.

'Charley Hexam, I am going home. I must walk home by myself
to-night, and get shut up in my room without being spoken to.
Give me half an hour's start, and let me be, till you find me at my
work in the morning. I shall be at my work in the morning just as
usual.'

Clasping his hands, he uttered a short unearthly broken cry, and
went his way. The brother and sister were left looking at one
another near a lamp in the solitary churchyard, and the boy's face
clouded and darkened, as he said in a rough tone: 'What is the
meaning of this? What have you done to my best friend? Out
with the truth!'

'Charley!' said his sister. 'Speak a little more considerately!'

'I am not in the humour for consideration, or for nonsense of any
sort,' replied the boy. 'What have you been doing? Why has Mr
Headstone gone from us in that way?'

'He asked me--you know he asked me--to be his wife, Charley.'

'Well?' said the boy, impatiently.

'And I was obliged to tell him that I could not be his wife.'

'You were obliged to tell him,' repeated the boy angrily, between
his teeth, and rudely pushing her away. 'You were obliged to tell
him! Do you know that he is worth fifty of you?'

'It may easily be so, Charley, but I cannot marry him.'

'You mean that you are conscious that you can't appreciate him,
and don't deserve him, I suppose?'

'I mean that I do not like him, Charley, and that I will never marry
him.'

'Upon my soul,' exclaimed the boy, 'you are a nice picture of a
sister! Upon my soul, you are a pretty piece of disinterestedness!
And so all my endeavours to cancel the past and to raise myself in
the world, and to raise you with me, are to be beaten down by
YOUR low whims; are they?'

'I will not reproach you, Charley.'

'Hear her!' exclaimed the boy, looking round at the darkness. 'She
won't reproach me! She does her best to destroy my fortunes and
her own, and she won't reproach me! Why, you'll tell me, next,
that you won't reproach Mr Headstone for coming out of the
sphere to which he is an ornament, and putting himself at YOUR
feet, to be rejected by YOU!'

'No, Charley; I will only tell you, as I told himself, that I thank him
for doing so, that I am sorry he did so, and that I hope he will do
much better, and be happy.'

Some touch of compunction smote the boy's hardening heart as he
looked upon her, his patient little nurse in infancy, his patient
friend, adviser, and reclaimer in boyhood, the self-forgetting sister
who had done everything for him. His tone relented, and he drew
her arm through his.

'Now, come, Liz; don't let us quarrel: let us be reasonable and talk

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