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Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens

Part 13 out of 21

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(Here Mr Venus looked at the wall.)

'"Bundles were hid under the cushions and covers of the chairs"';

(Here Mr Venus looked under himself on the settle.)

'"Some were reposing snugly at the back of the drawers; and notes
amounting to six hundred pounds were found neatly doubled up in
the inside of an old teapot. In the stable the Captain found jugs
full of old dollars and shillings. The chimney was not left
unsearched, and paid very well for the trouble; for in nineteen
different holes, all filled with soot, were found various sums of
money, amounting together to more than two hundred pounds."'

On the way to this crisis Mr Wegg's wooden leg had gradually
elevated itself more and more, and he had nudged Mr Venus with
his opposite elbow deeper and deeper, until at length the
preservation of his balance became incompatible with the two
actions, and he now dropped over sideways upon that gentleman,
squeezing him against the settle's edge. Nor did either of the two,
for some few seconds, make any effort to recover himself; both
remaining in a kind of pecuniary swoon.

But the sight of Mr Boffin sitting in the arm-chair hugging himself,
with his eyes upon the fire, acted as a restorative. Counterfeiting a
sneeze to cover their movements, Mr Wegg, with a spasmodic
'Tish-ho!' pulled himself and Mr Venus up in a masterly manner.

'Let's have some more,' said Mr Boffin, hungrily.

'John Elwes is the next, sir. Is it your pleasure to take John
Elwes?'

'Ah!' said Mr Boffin. 'Let's hear what John did.'

He did not appear to have hidden anything, so went off rather
flatly. But an exemplary lady named Wilcocks, who had stowed
away gold and silver in a pickle-pot in a clock-case, a canister-full
of treasure in a hole under her stairs, and a quantity of money in an
old rat-trap, revived the interest. To her succeeded another lady,
claiming to be a pauper, whose wealth was found wrapped up in
little scraps of paper and old rag. To her, another lady, apple-
woman by trade, who had saved a fortune of ten thousand pounds
and hidden it 'here and there, in cracks and corners, behind bricks
and under the flooring.' To her, a French gentleman, who had
crammed up his chimney, rather to the detriment of its drawing
powers, 'a leather valise, containing twenty thousand francs, gold
coins, and a large quantity of precious stones,' as discovered by a
chimneysweep after his death. By these steps Mr Wegg arrived at
a concluding instance of the human Magpie:

'"Many years ago, there lived at Cambridge a miserly old couple of
the name of Jardine: they had two sons: the father was a perfect
miser, and at his death one thousand guineas were discovered
secreted in his bed. The two sons grew up as parsimonious as
their sire. When about twenty years of age, they commenced
business at Cambridge as drapers, and they continued there until
their death. The establishment of the Messrs Jardine was the most
dirty of all the shops in Cambridge. Customers seldom went in to
purchase, except perhaps out of curiosity. The brothers were most
disreputable-looking beings; for, although surrounded with gay
apparel as their staple in trade, they wore the most filthy rags
themselves. It is said that they had no bed, and, to save the
expense of one, always slept on a bundle of packing-cloths under
the counter. In their housekeeping they were penurious in the
extreme. A joint of meat did not grace their board for twenty years.
Yet when the first of the brothers died, the other, much to his
surprise, found large sums of money which had been secreted even
from him.'

'There!' cried Mr Boffin. 'Even from him, you see! There was only
two of 'em, and yet one of 'em hid from the other.'

Mr Venus, who since his introduction to the French gentleman,
had been stooping to peer up the chimney, had his attention
recalled by the last sentence, and took the liberty of repeating it.

'Do you like it?' asked Mr Boffin, turning suddenly.

'I beg your pardon, sir?'

'Do you like what Wegg's been a-reading?'

Mr Venus answered that he found it extremely interesting.

'Then come again,' said Mr Boffin, 'and hear some more. Come
when you like; come the day after to-morrow, half an hour sooner.
There's plenty more; there's no end to it.'

Mr Venus expressed his acknowledgments and accepted the
invitation.

'It's wonderful what's been hid, at one time and another,' said Mr
Boffin, ruminating; 'truly wonderful.'

'Meaning sir,' observed Wegg, with a propitiatory face to draw him
out, and with another peg at his friend and brother, 'in the way of
money?'

'Money,' said Mr Boffin. 'Ah! And papers.'

Mr Wegg, in a languid transport, again dropped over on Mr
Venus, and again recovering himself, masked his emotions with a
sneeze.

'Tish-ho! Did you say papers too, sir? Been hidden, sir?'

'Hidden and forgot,' said Mr Boffin. 'Why the bookseller that sold
me the Wonderful Museum--where's the Wonderful Museum?' He
was on his knees on the floor in a moment, groping eagerly among
the books.

'Can I assist you, sir?' asked Wegg.

'No, I have got it; here it is,' said Mr Boflin, dusting it with the
sleeve of his coat. 'Wollume four. I know it was the fourth
wollume, that the bookseller read it to me out of. Look for it,
Wegg.'

Silas took the book and turned the leaves.

'Remarkable petrefaction, sir?'

'No, that's not it,' said Mr Boffin. 'It can't have been a petrefaction.'

'Memoirs of General John Reid, commonly called The Walking
Rushlight, sir? With portrait?'

'No, nor yet him,' said Mr Boffin.

'Remarkable case of a person who swallowed a crown-piece, sir?'

'To hide it?' asked Mr Boffin.

'Why, no, sir,' replied Wegg, consulting the text, 'it appears to have
been done by accident. Oh! This next must be it. "Singular
discovery of a will, lost twenty-one years."'

'That's it!' cried Mr Boffin. 'Read that.'

'"A most extraordinary case,"' read Silas Wegg aloud, '"was tried at
the last Maryborough assizes in Ireland. It was briefly this.
Robert Baldwin, in March 1782, made his will, in which he
devised the lands now in question, to the children of his youngest
son; soon after which his faculties failed him, and he became
altogether childish and died, above eighty years old. The
defendant, the eldest son, immediately afterwards gave out that his
father had destroyed the will; and no will being found, he entered
into possession of the lands in question, and so matters remained
for twenty-one years, the whole family during all that time
believing that the father had died without a will. But after twenty-
one years the defendant's wife died, and he very soon afterwards, at
the age of seventy-eight, married a very young woman: which
caused some anxiety to his two sons, whose poignant expressions
of this feeling so exasperated their father, that he in his resentment
executed a will to disinherit his eldest son, and in his fit of anger
showed it to his second son, who instantly determined to get at it,
and destroy it, in order to preserve the property to his brother.
With this view, he broke open his father's desk, where he found--
not his father's will which he sought after, but the will of his
grandfather, which was then altogether forgotten in the family."'

'There!' said Mr Boffin. 'See what men put away and forget, or
mean to destroy, and don't!' He then added in a slow tone, 'As--
ton--ish--ing!' And as he rolled his eyes all round the room, Wegg
and Venus likewise rolled their eyes all round the room. And then
Wegg, singly, fixed his eyes on Mr Boffin looking at the fire again;
as if he had a mind to spring upon him and demand his thoughts or
his life.

'However, time's up for to-night,' said Mr Boffin, waving his hand
after a silence. 'More, the day after to-morrow. Range the books
upon the shelves, Wegg. I dare say Mr Venus will be so kind as
help you.'

While speaking, he thrust his hand into the breast of his outer coat,
and struggled with some object there that was too large to be got
out easily. What was the stupefaction of the friendly movers when
this object at last emerging, proved to be a much-dilapidated dark
lantern!

Without at all noticing the effect produced by this little instrument,
Mr Boffin stood it on his knee, and, producing a box of matches,
deliberately lighted the candle in the lantern, blew out the kindled
match, and cast the end into the fire. 'I'm going, Wegg,' he then
announced, 'to take a turn about the place and round the yard. I
don't want you. Me and this same lantern have taken hundreds--
thousands--of such turns in our time together.'

'But I couldn't think, sir--not on any account, I couldn't,'--Wegg
was politely beginning, when Mr Boffin, who had risen and was
going towards the door, stopped:

'I have told you that I don't want you, Wegg.'

Wegg looked intelligently thoughtful, as if that had not occurred to
his mind until he now brought it to bear on the circumstance. He
had nothing for it but to let Mr Boffin go out and shut the door
behind him. But, the instant he was on the other side of it, Wegg
clutched Venus with both hands, and said in a choking whisper, as
if he were being strangled:

'Mr Venus, he must be followed, he must be watched, he mustn't
be lost sight of for a moment.'

'Why mustn't he?' asked Venus, also strangling.

'Comrade, you might have noticed I was a little elewated in spirits
when you come in to-night. I've found something.'

'What have you found?' asked Venus, clutching him with both
hands, so that they stood interlocked like a couple of preposterous
gladiators.

'There's no time to tell you now. I think he must have gone to look
for it. We must have an eye upon him instantly.'

Releasing each other, they crept to the door, opened it softly, and
peeped out. It was a cloudy night, and the black shadow of the
Mounds made the dark yard darker. 'If not a double swindler,'
whispered Wegg, 'why a dark lantern? We could have seen what
he was about, if he had carried a light one. Softly, this way.'

Cautiously along the path that was bordered by fragments of
crockery set in ashes, the two stole after him. They could hear him
at his peculiar trot, crushing the loose cinders as he went. 'He
knows the place by heart,' muttered Silas, 'and don't need to turn
his lantern on, confound him!' But he did turn it on, almost in that
same instant, and flashed its light upon the first of the Mounds.

'Is that the spot?' asked Venus in a whisper.

'He's warm,' said Silas in the same tone. 'He's precious warm.
He's close. I think he must be going to look for it. What's that he's
got in his hand?'

'A shovel,' answered Venus. 'And he knows how to use it,
remember, fifty times as well as either of us.'

'If he looks for it and misses it, partner,' suggested Wegg, 'what
shall we do?'

'First of all, wait till he does,' said Venus.

Discreet advice too, for he darkened his lantern again, and the
mound turned black. After a few seconds, he turned the light on
once more, and was seen standing at the foot of the second mound,
slowly raising the lantern little by little until he held it up at arm's
length, as if he were examining the condition of the whole surface.

'That can't be the spot too?' said Venus.

'No,' said Wegg, 'he's getting cold.'

'It strikes me,' whispered Venus, 'that he wants to find out whether
any one has been groping about there.'

'Hush!' returned Wegg, 'he's getting colder and colder.--Now he's
freezing!'

This exclamation was elicited by his having turned the lantern off
again, and on again, and being visible at the foot of the third
mound.

'Why, he's going up it!' said Venus.

'Shovel and all!' said Wegg.

At a nimbler trot, as if the shovel over his shoulder stimulated him
by reviving old associations, Mr Boffin ascended the 'serpentining
walk', up the Mound which he had described to Silas Wegg on the
occasion of their beginning to decline and fall. On striking into it
he turned his lantern off. The two followed him, stooping low, so
that their figures might make no mark in relief against the sky
when he should turn his lantern on again. Mr Venus took the lead,
towing Mr Wegg, in order that his refractory leg might be
promptly extricated from any pitfalls it should dig for itself. They
could just make out that the Golden Dustman stopped to breathe.
Of course they stopped too, instantly.

'This is his own Mound,' whispered Wegg, as he recovered his
wind, 'this one.

'Why all three are his own,' returned Venus.

'So he thinks; but he's used to call this his own, because it's the one
first left to him; the one that was his legacy when it was all he took
under the will.'

'When he shows his light,' said Venus, keeping watch upon his
dusky figure all the time, 'drop lower and keep closer.'

He went on again, and they followed again. Gaining the top of the
Mound, he turned on his light--but only partially--and stood it on
the ground. A bare lopsided weatherbeaten pole was planted in the
ashes there, and had been there many a year. Hard by this pole, his
lantern stood: lighting a few feet of the lower part of it and a little
of the ashy surface around, and then casting off a purposeless little
clear trail of light into the air.

'He can never be going to dig up the pole!' whispered Venus as
they dropped low and kept close.

'Perhaps it's holler and full of something,' whispered Wegg.

He was going to dig, with whatsoever object, for he tucked up his
cuffs and spat on his hands, and then went at it like an old digger
as he was. He had no design upon the pole, except that he
measured a shovel's length from it before beginning, nor was it his
purpose to dig deep. Some dozen or so of expert strokes sufficed.
Then, he stopped, looked down into the cavity, bent over it, and
took out what appeared to be an ordinary case-bottle: one of those
squat, high-shouldered, short-necked glass bottles which the
Dutchman is said to keep his Courage in. As soon as he had done
this, he turned off his lantern, and they could hear that he was
filling up the hole in the dark. The ashes being easily moved by a
skilful hand, the spies took this as a hint to make off in good time.
Accordingly, Mr Venus slipped past Mr Wegg and towed him
down. But Mr Wegg's descent was not accomplished without
some personal inconvenience, for his self-willed leg sticking into
the ashes about half way down, and time pressing, Mr Venus took
the liberty of hauling him from his tether by the collar: which
occasioned him to make the rest of the journey on his back, with
his head enveloped in the skirts of his coat, and his wooden leg
coming last, like a drag. So flustered was Mr Wegg by this mode
of travelling, that when he was set on the level ground with his
intellectual developments uppermost, he was quite unconscious of
his bearings, and had not the least idea where his place of
residence was to be found, until Mr Venus shoved him into it.
Even then he staggered round and round, weakly staring about
him, until Mr Venus with a hard brush brushed his senses into him
and the dust out of him.

Mr Boffin came down leisurely, for this brushing process had been
well accomplished, and Mr Venus had had time to take his breath,
before he reappeared. That he had the bottle somewhere about him
could not be doubted; where, was not so clear. He wore a large
rough coat, buttoned over, and it might be in any one of half a
dozen pockets.

'What's the matter, Wegg?' said Mr Boffin. 'You are as pale as a
candle.'

Mr Wegg replied, with literal exactness, that he felt as if he had
had a turn.

'Bile,' said Mr Boffin, blowing out the light in the lantern, shutting
it up, and stowing it away in the breast of his coat as before. 'Are
you subject to bile, Wegg?'

Mr Wegg again replied, with strict adherence to truth, that he
didn't think he had ever had a similar sensation in his head, to
anything like the same extent.

'Physic yourself to-morrow, Wegg,' said Mr Boffin, 'to be in order
for next night. By-the-by, this neighbourhood is going to have a
loss, Wegg.'

'A loss, sir?'

'Going to lose the Mounds.'

The friendly movers made such an obvious effort not to look at one
another, that they might as well have stared at one another with all
their might.

'Have you parted with them, Mr Boffin?' asked Silas.

'Yes; they're going. Mine's as good as gone already.'

'You mean the little one of the three, with the pole atop, sir.'

'Yes,' said Mr Boffin, rubbing his ear in his old way, with that new
touch of craftiness added to it. 'It has fetched a penny. It'll begin
to be carted off to-morrow.'

'Have you been out to take leave of your old friend, sir?' asked
Silas, jocosely.

'No,' said Mr Boffin. 'What the devil put that in your head?'

He was so sudden and rough, that Wegg, who had been hovering
closer and closer to his skirts, despatching the back of his hand on
exploring expeditions in search of the bottle's surface, retired two
or three paces.

'No offence, sir,' said Wegg, humbly. 'No offence.'

Mr Boffin eyed him as a dog might eye another dog who wanted
his bone; and actually retorted with a low growl, as the dog might
have retorted.

'Good-night,' he said, after having sunk into a moody silence, with
his hands clasped behind him, and his eyes suspiciously
wandering about Wegg.--'No! stop there. I know the way out, and
I want no light.'

Avarice, and the evening's legends of avarice, and the
inflammatory effect of what he had seen, and perhaps the rush of
his ill-conditioned blood to his brain in his descent, wrought Silas
Wegg to such a pitch of insatiable appetite, that when the door
closed he made a swoop at it and drew Venus along with him.

'He mustn't go,' he cried. 'We mustn't let him go? He has got that
bottle about him. We must have that bottle.'

'Why, you wouldn't take it by force?' said Venus, restraining him.

'Wouldn't I? Yes I would. I'd take it by any force, I'd have it at
any price! Are you so afraid of one old man as to let him go, you
coward?'

'I am so afraid of you, as not to let YOU go,' muttered Venus,
sturdily, clasping him in his arms.

'Did you hear him?' retorted Wegg. 'Did you hear him say that he
was resolved to disappoint us? Did you hear him say, you cur, that
he was going to have the Mounds cleared off, when no doubt the
whole place will be rummaged? If you haven't the spirit of a
mouse to defend your rights, I have. Let me go after him.'

As in his wildness he was making a strong struggle for it, Mr
Venus deemed it expedient to lift him, throw him, and fall with
him; well knowing that, once down, he would not he up again
easily with his wooden leg. So they both rolled on the floor, and,
as they did so, Mr Boffin shut the gate.

Chapter 7

THE FRIENDLY MOVE TAKES UP A STRONG POSITION

The friendly movers sat upright on the floor, panting and eyeing
one another, after Mr Boffin had slammed the gate and gone away.
In the weak eyes of Venus, and in every reddish dust-coloured hair
in his shock of hair, there was a marked distrust of Wegg and an
alertness to fly at him on perceiving the smallest occasion. In the
hard-grained face of Wegg, and in his stiff knotty figure (he looked
like a German wooden toy), there was expressed a politic
conciliation, which had no spontaneity in it. Both were flushed,
flustered, and rumpled, by the late scuffle; and Wegg, in coming to
the ground, had received a humming knock on the back of his
devoted head, which caused him still to rub it with an air of having
been highly--but disagreeably--astonished. Each was silent for
some time, leaving it to the other to begin.

'Brother,' said Wegg, at length breaking the silence, 'you were
right, and I was wrong. I forgot myself.'

Mr Venus knowingly cocked his shock of hair, as rather thinking
Mr Wegg had remembered himself, in respect of appearing
without any disguise.

'But comrade,' pursued Wegg, 'it was never your lot to know Miss
Elizabeth, Master George, Aunt Jane, nor Uncle Parker.'

Mr Venus admitted that he had never known those distinguished
persons, and added, in effect, that he had never so much as desired
the honour of their acquaintance.

'Don't say that, comrade!' retorted Wegg: 'No, don't say that!
Because, without having known them, you never can fully know
what it is to be stimilated to frenzy by the sight of the Usurper.'

Offering these excusatory words as if they reflected great credit on
himself, Mr Wegg impelled himself with his hands towards a chair
in a corner of the room, and there, after a variety of awkward
gambols, attained a perpendicular position. Mr Venus also rose.

'Comrade,' said Wegg, 'take a seat. Comrade, what a speaking
countenance is yours!'

Mr Venus involuntarily smoothed his countenance, and looked at
his hand, as if to see whether any of its speaking properties came
off.

'For clearly do I know, mark you,' pursued Wegg, pointing his
words with his forefinger, 'clearly do I know what question your
expressive features puts to me.'

'What question?' said Venus.

'The question,' returned Wegg, with a sort of joyful affability, 'why
I didn't mention sooner, that I had found something. Says your
speaking countenance to me: "Why didn't you communicate that,
when I first come in this evening? Why did you keep it back till
you thought Mr Boffin had come to look for the article?" Your
speaking countenance,' said Wegg, 'puts it plainer than language.
Now, you can't read in my face what answer I give?'

'No, I can't,' said Venus.

'I knew it! And why not?' returned Wegg, with the same joyful
candour. 'Because I lay no claims to a speaking countenance.
Because I am well aware of my deficiencies. All men are not
gifted alike. But I can answer in words. And in what words?
These. I wanted to give you a delightful sap--pur--IZE!'

Having thus elongated and emphasized the word Surprise, Mr
Wegg shook his friend and brother by both hands, and then
clapped him on both knees, like an affectionate patron who
entreated him not to mention so small a service as that which it
had been his happy privilege to render.

'Your speaking countenance, ' said Wegg, 'being answered to its
satisfaction, only asks then, "What have you found?" Why, I hear
it say the words!'

'Well?' retorted Venus snappishly, after waiting in vain. 'If you
hear it say the words, why don't you answer it?'

'Hear me out!' said Wegg. 'I'm a-going to. Hear me out! Man and
brother, partner in feelings equally with undertakings and actions, I
have found a cash-box.'

'Where?'

'--Hear me out!' said Wegg. (He tried to reserve whatever he could,
and, whenever disclosure was forced upon him, broke into a
radiant gush of Hear me out.) 'On a certain day, sir--'

'When?' said Venus bluntly.

'N--no,' returned Wegg, shaking his head at once observantly,
thoughtfully, and playfully. 'No, sir! That's not your expressive
countenance which asks that question. That's your voice; merely
your voice. To proceed. On a certain day, sir, I happened to be
walking in the yard--taking my lonely round--for in the words of a
friend of my own family, the author of All's Well arranged as a
duett:

"Deserted, as you will remember Mr Venus, by the waning
moon,
When stars, it will occur to you before I mention it, proclaim
night's cheerless noon,
On tower, fort, or tented ground,
The sentry walks his lonely round,
The sentry walks:"

--under those circumstances, sir, I happened to be walking in the
yard early one afternoon, and happened to have an iron rod in my
hand, with which I have been sometimes accustomed to beguile
the monotony of a literary life, when I struck it against an object
not necessary to trouble you by naming--'

'It is necessary. What object?' demanded Venus, in a wrathful
tone.

'--Hear me out!' said Wegg. 'The Pump.--When I struck it against
the Pump, and found, not only that the top was loose and opened
with a lid, but that something in it rattled. That something,
comrade, I discovered to be a small flat oblong cash-box. Shall I
say it was disappintingly light?'

'There were papers in it,' said Venus.

'There your expressive countenance speaks indeed!' cried Wegg.
'A paper. The box was locked, tied up, and sealed, and on the
outside was a parchment label, with the writing, "MY WILL,
JOHN HARMON, TEMPORARILY DEPOSITED HERE."'

'We must know its contents,' said Venus.

'--Hear me out!' cried Wegg. 'I said so, and I broke the box open.

'Without coming to me!' exclaimed Venus.

'Exactly so, sir!' returned Wegg, blandly and buoyantly. 'I see I
take you with me! Hear, hear, hear! Resolved, as your
discriminating good sense perceives, that if you was to have a sap-
-pur--IZE, it should be a complete one! Well, sir. And so, as you
have honoured me by anticipating, I examined the document.
Regularly executed, regularly witnessed, very short. Inasmuch as
he has never made friends, and has ever had a rebellious family,
he, John Harmon, gives to Nicodemus Boffin the Little Mound,
which is quite enough for him, and gives the whole rest and
residue of his property to the Crown.'

'The date of the will that has been proved, must be looked to,'
remarked Venus. 'It may be later than this one.'

'--Hear me out!' cried Wegg. 'I said so. I paid a shilling (never
mind your sixpence of it) to look up that will. Brother, that will is
dated months before this will. And now, as a fellow-man, and as a
partner in a friendly move,' added Wegg, benignantly taking him
by both hands again, and clapping him on both knees again, 'say
have I completed my labour of love to your perfect satisfaction, and
are you sap--pur--IZED?'

Mr Venus contemplated his fellow-man and partner with doubting
eyes, and then rejoined stiffly:

'This is great news indeed, Mr Wegg. There's no denying it. But I
could have wished you had told it me before you got your fright to-
night, and I could have wished you had ever asked me as your
partner what we were to do, before you thought you were dividing
a responsibility.'

'--Hear me out!' cried Wegg. 'I knew you was a-going to say so.
But alone I bore the anxiety, and alone I'll bear the blame!' This
with an air of great magnanimity.

'No,' said Venus. 'Let's see this will and this box.'

'Do I understand, brother,' returned Wegg with considerable
reluctance, 'that it is your wish to see this will and this--?'

Mr Venus smote the table with his hand.

'--Hear me out!' said Wegg. 'Hear me out! I'll go and fetch 'em.'

After being some time absent, as if in his covetousness he could
hardly make up his mind to produce the treasure to his partner, he
returned with an old leathern hat-box, into which he had put the
other box, for the better preservation of commonplace appearances,
and for the disarming of suspicion. 'But I don't half like opening it
here,' said Silas in a low voice, looking around: 'he might come
back, he may not be gone; we don't know what he may be up to,
after what we've seen.'

'There's something in that,' assented Venus. 'Come to my place.'

Jealous of the custody of the box, and yet fearful of opening it
under the existing circumstances, Wegg hesitated. 'Come, I tell
you,' repeated Venus, chafing, 'to my place.' Not very well seeing
his way to a refusal, Mr Wegg then rejoined in a gush, '--Hear me
out!--Certainly.' So he locked up the Bower and they set forth: Mr
Venus taking his arm, and keeping it with remarkable tenacity.

They found the usual dim light burning in the window of Mr
Venus's establishment, imperfectly disclosing to the public the
usual pair of preserved frogs, sword in hand, with their point of
honour still unsettled. Mr Venus had closed his shop door on
coming out, and now opened it with the key and shut it again as
soon as they were within; but not before he had put up and barred
the shutters of the shop window. 'No one can get in without being
let in,' said he then, 'and we couldn't be more snug than here.' So
he raked together the yet warm cinders in the rusty grate, and made
a fire, and trimmed the candle on the little counter. As the fire cast
its flickering gleams here and there upon the dark greasy walls; the
Hindoo baby, the African baby, the articulated English baby, the
assortment of skulls, and the rest of the collection, came starting to
their various stations as if they had all been out, like their master
and were punctual in a general rendezvous to assist at the secret.
The French gentleman had grown considerably since Mr Wegg last
saw him, being now accommodated with a pair of legs and a head,
though his arms were yet in abeyance. To whomsoever the head
had originally belonged, Silas Wegg would have regarded it as a
personal favour if he had not cut quite so many teeth.

Silas took his seat in silence on the wooden box before the fire, and
Venus dropping into his low chair produced from among his
skeleton hands, his tea-tray and tea-cups, and put the kettle on.
Silas inwardly approved of these preparations, trusting they might
end in Mr Venus's diluting his intellect.

'Now, sir,' said Venus, 'all is safe and quiet. Let us see this
discovery.'

With still reluctant hands, and not without several glances towards
the skeleton hands, as if he mistrusted that a couple of them might
spring forth and clutch the document, Wegg opened the hat-box
and revealed the cash-box, opened the cash-box and revealed the
will. He held a corner of it tight, while Venus, taking hold of
another corner, searchingly and attentively read it.

'Was I correct in my account of it, partner?' said Mr Wegg at
length.

'Partner, you were,' said Mr Venus.

Mr Wegg thereupon made an easy, graceful movement, as though
he would fold it up; but Mr Venus held on by his corner.

'No, sir,' said Mr Venus, winking his weak eyes and shaking his
head. 'No, partner. The question is now brought up, who is going
to take care of this. Do you know who is going to take care of this,
partner?'

'I am,' said Wegg.

'Oh dear no, partner,' retorted Venus. 'That's a mistake. I am.
Now look here, Mr Wegg. I don't want to have any words with
you, and still less do I want to have any anatomical pursuits with
you.'

'What do you mean?' said Wegg, quickly.

'I mean, partner,' replied Venus, slowly, 'that it's hardly possible
for a man to feel in a more amiable state towards another man than
I do towards you at this present moment. But I am on my own
ground, I am surrounded by the trophies of my art, and my tools is
very handy.'

'What do you mean, Mr Venus?' asked Wegg again.

'I am surrounded, as I have observed,' said Mr Venus, placidly, 'by
the trophies of my art. They are numerous, my stock of human
warious is large, the shop is pretty well crammed, and I don't just
now want any more trophies of my art. But I like my art, and I
know how to exercise my art.'

'No man better,' assented Mr Wegg, with a somewhat staggered
air.

'There's the Miscellanies of several human specimens,' said Venus,
'(though you mightn't think it) in the box on which you're sitting.
There's the Miscellanies of several human specimens, in the lovely
compo-one behind the door'; with a nod towards the French
gentleman. 'It still wants a pair of arms. I DON'T say that I'm in
any hurry for 'em.'

'You must be wandering in your mind, partner,' Silas remonstrated.

'You'll excuse me if I wander,' returned Venus; 'I am sometimes
rather subject to it. I like my art, and I know how to exercise my
art, and I mean to have the keeping of this document.'

'But what has that got to do with your art, partner?' asked Wegg, in
an insinuating tone.

Mr Venus winked his chronically-fatigued eyes both at once, and
adjusting the kettle on the fire, remarked to himself, in a hollow
voice, 'She'll bile in a couple of minutes.'

Silas Wegg glanced at the kettle, glanced at the shelves, glanced at
the French gentleman behind the door, and shrank a little as he
glanced at Mr Venus winking his red eyes, and feeling in his
waistcoat pocket--as for a lancet, say--with his unoccupied hand.
He and Venus were necessarily seated close together, as each held
a corner of the document, which was but a common sheet of paper.

'Partner,' said Wegg, even more insinuatingly than before, 'I
propose that we cut it in half, and each keep a half.'

Venus shook his shock of hair, as he replied, 'It wouldn't do to
mutilate it, partner. It might seem to be cancelled.'

'Partner,' said Wegg, after a silence, during which they had
contemplated one another, 'don't your speaking countenance say
that you're a-going to suggest a middle course?'

Venus shook his shock of hair as he replied, 'Partner, you have
kept this paper from me once. You shall never keep it from me
again. I offer you the box and the label to take care of, but I'll take
care of the paper.'

Silas hesitated a little longer, and then suddenly releasing his
corner, and resuming his buoyant and benignant tone, exclaimed,
'What's life without trustfulness! What's a fellow-man without
honour! You're welcome to it, partner, in a spirit of trust and
confidence.'

Continuing to wink his red eyes both together--but in a self-
communing way, and without any show of triumph--Mr Venus
folded the paper now left in his hand, and locked it in a drawer
behind him, and pocketed the key. He then proposed 'A cup of tea,
partner?' To which Mr Wegg returned, 'Thank'ee, partner,' and the
tea was made and poured out.

'Next,' said Venus, blowing at his tea in his saucer, and looking
over it at his confidential friend, 'comes the question, What's the
course to be pursued?'

On this head, Silas Wegg had much to say. Silas had to say That,
he would beg to remind his comrade, brother, and partner, of the
impressive passages they had read that evening; of the evident
parallel in Mr Boffin's mind between them and the late owner of
the Bower, and the present circumstances of the Bower; of the
bottle; and of the box. That, the fortunes of his brother and
comrade, and of himself were evidently made, inasmuch as they
had but to put their price upon this document, and get that price
from the minion of fortune and the worm of the hour: who now
appeared to be less of a minion and more of a worm than had been
previously supposed. That, he considered it plain that such price
was stateable in a single expressive word, and that the word was,
'Halves!' That, the question then arose when 'Halves!' should be
called. That, here he had a plan of action to recommend, with a
conditional clause. That, the plan of action was that they should
lie by with patience; that, they should allow the Mounds to be
gradually levelled and cleared away, while retaining to themselves
their present opportunity of watching the process--which would be,
he conceived, to put the trouble and cost of daily digging and
delving upon somebody else, while they might nightly turn such
complete disturbance of the dust to the account of their own private
investigations--and that, when the Mounds were gone, and they
had worked those chances for their own joint benefit solely, they
should then, and not before, explode on the minion and worm. But
here came the conditional clause, and to this he entreated the
special attention of his comrade, brother, and partner. It was not to
be borne that the minion and worm should carry off any of that
property which was now to be regarded as their own property.
When he, Mr Wegg, had seen the minion surreptitiously making
off with that bottle, and its precious contents unknown, he had
looked upon him in the light of a mere robber, and, as such, would
have despoiled him of his ill-gotten gain, but for the judicious
interference of his comrade, brother, and partner. Therefore, the
conditional clause he proposed was, that, if the minion should
return in his late sneaking manner, and if, being closely watched,
he should be found to possess himself of anything, no matter what,
the sharp sword impending over his head should be instantly
shown him, he should be strictly examined as to what he knew or
suspected, should be severely handled by them his masters, and
should be kept in a state of abject moral bondage and slavery until
the time when they should see fit to permit him to purchase his
freedom at the price of half his possessions. If, said Mr Wegg by
way of peroration, he had erred in saying only 'Halves!' he trusted
to his comrade, brother, and partner not to hesitate to set him right,
and to reprove his weakness. It might be more according to the
rights of things, to say Two-thirds; it might be more according to
the rights of things, to say Three-fourths. On those points he was
ever open to correction.

Mr Venus, having wafted his attention to this discourse over three
successive saucers of tea, signified his concurrence in the views
advanced. Inspirited hereby, Mr Wegg extended his right hand,
and declared it to be a hand which never yet. Without entering into
more minute particulars. Mr Venus, sticking to his tea, briefly
professed his beliet as polite forms required of him, that it WAS a
hand which never yet. But contented himself with looking at it,
and did not take it to his bosom.

'Brother,' said Wegg, when this happy understanding was
established, 'I should like to ask you something. You remember
the night when I first looked in here, and found you floating your
powerful mind in tea?'

Still swilling tea, Mr Venus nodded assent.

'And there you sit, sir,' pursued Wegg with an air of thoughtful
admiration, 'as if you had never left off! There you sit, sir, as if you
had an unlimited capacity of assimilating the flagrant article!
There you sit, sir, in the midst of your works, looking as if you'd
been called upon for Home, Sweet Home, and was obleeging the
company!

"A exile from home splendour dazzles in vain,
O give you your lowly Preparations again,
The birds stuffed so sweetly that can't be expected to come at
your call,
Give you these with the peace of mind dearer than all.
Home, Home, Home, sweet Home!"

--Be it ever,' added Mr Wegg in prose as he glanced about the
shop, 'ever so ghastly, all things considered there's no place like it.'

'You said you'd like to ask something; but you haven't asked it,'
remarked Venus, very unsympathetic in manner.

'Your peace of mind,' said Wegg, offering condolence, 'your peace
of mind was in a poor way that night. HOW'S it going on? IS it
looking up at all?'

'She does not wish,' replied Mr Venus with a comical mixture of
indignant obstinacy and tender melancholy, 'to regard herself, nor
yet to be regarded, in that particular light. There's no more to be
said.'

'Ah, dear me, dear me!' exclaimed Wegg with a sigh, but eyeing
him while pretending to keep him company in eyeing the fire, 'such
is Woman! And I remember you said that night, sitting there as I
sat here--said that night when your peace of mind was first laid
low, that you had taken an interest in these very affairs. Such is
coincidence!'

'Her father,' rejoined Venus, and then stopped to swallow more tea,
'her father was mixed up in them.'

'You didn't mention her name, sir, I think?' observed Wegg,
pensively. 'No, you didn't mention her name that night.'

'Pleasant Riderhood.'

'In--deed!' cried Wegg. 'Pleasant Riderhood. There's something
moving in the name. Pleasant. Dear me! Seems to express what
she might have been, if she hadn't made that unpleasant remark--
and what she ain't, in consequence of having made it. Would it at
all pour balm into your wounds, Mr Venus, to inquire how you
came acquainted with her?'

'I was down at the water-side,' said Venus, taking another gulp of
tea and mournfully winking at the fire--'looking for parrots'--taking
another gulp and stopping.

Mr Wegg hinted, to jog his attention: 'You could hardly have been
out parrot-shooting, in the British climate, sir?'

'No, no, no,' said Venus fretfully. 'I was down at the water-side,
looking for parrots brought home by sailors, to buy for stuffing.'

'Ay, ay, ay, sir!'

'--And looking for a nice pair of rattlesnakes, to articulate for a
Museum--when I was doomed to fall in with her and deal with her.
It was just at the time of that discovery in the river. Her father had
seen the discovery being towed in the river. I made the popularity
of the subject a reason for going back to improve the acquaintance,
and I have never since been the man I was. My very bones is
rendered flabby by brooding over it. If they could be brought to me
loose, to sort, I should hardly have the face to claim 'em as mine.
To such an extent have I fallen off under it.'

Mr Wegg, less interested than he had been, glanced at one
particular shelf in the dark.

'Why I remember, Mr Venus,' he said in a tone of friendly
commiseration '(for I remember every word that falls from you,
sir), I remember that you said that night, you had got up there--and
then your words was, "Never mind."'

'--The parrot that I bought of her,' said Venus, with a despondent
rise and fall of his eyes. 'Yes; there it lies on its side, dried up;
except for its plumage, very like myself. I've never had the heart to
prepare it, and I never shall have now.'

With a disappointed face, Silas mentally consigned this parrot to
regions more than tropical, and, seeming for the time to have lost
his power of assuming an interest in the woes of Mr Venus, fell to
tightening his wooden leg as a preparation for departure: its
gymnastic performances of that evening having severely tried its
constitution.

After Silas had left the shop, hat-box in hand, and had left Mr
Venus to lower himself to oblivion-point with the requisite weight
of tea, it greatly preyed on his ingenuous mind that he had taken
this artist into partnership at all. He bitterly felt that he had
overreached himself in the beginning, by grasping at Mr Venus's
mere straws of hints, now shown to be worthless for his purpose.
Casting about for ways and means of dissolving the connexion
without loss of money, reproaching himself for having been
betrayed into an avowal of his secret, and complimenting himself
beyond measure on his purely accidental good luck, he beguiled
the distance between Clerkenwell and the mansion of the Golden
Dustman.

For, Silas Wegg felt it to be quite out of the question that he could
lay his head upon his pillow in peace, without first hovering over
Mr Boffin's house in the superior character of its Evil Genius.
Power (unless it be the power of intellect or virtue) has ever the
greatest attraction for the lowest natures; and the mere defiance of
the unconscious house-front, with his power to strip the roof off the
inhabiting family like the roof of a house of cards, was a treat
which had a charm for Silas Wegg.

As he hovered on the opposite side of the street, exulting, the
carriage drove up.

'There'll shortly be an end of YOU,' said Wegg, threatening it with
the hat-box. 'YOUR varnish is fading.'

Mrs Boffin descended and went in.

'Look out for a fall, my Lady Dustwoman,' said Wegg.

Bella lightly descended, and ran in after her.

'How brisk we are!' said Wegg. 'You won't run so gaily to your old
shabby home, my girl. You'll have to go there, though.'

A little while, and the Secretary came out.

'I was passed over for you,' said Wegg. 'But you had better provide
yourself with another situation, young man.'

Mr Boffin's shadow passed upon the blinds of three large windows
as he trotted down the room, and passed again as he went back.

'Yoop!'cried Wegg. 'You're there, are you? Where's the bottle?
You would give your bottle for my box, Dustman!'

Having now composed his mind for slumber, he turned homeward.
Such was the greed of the fellow, that his mind had shot beyond
halves, two-thirds, three-fourths, and gone straight to spoliation of
the whole. 'Though that wouldn't quite do,' he considered, growing
cooler as he got away. 'That's what would happen to him if he
didn't buy us up. We should get nothing by that.'

We so judge others by ourselves, that it had never come into his
head before, that he might not buy us up, and might prove honest,
and prefer to be poor. It caused him a slight tremor as it passed;
but a very slight one, for the idle thought was gone directly.

'He's grown too fond of money for that,' said Wegg; 'he's grown too
fond of money.' The burden fell into a strain or tune as he stumped
along the pavements. All the way home he stumped it out of the
rattling streets, PIANO with his own foot, and FORTE with his
wooden leg, 'He's GROWN too FOND of MONEY for THAT, he's
GROWN too FOND of MONEY.'

Even next day Silas soothed himself with this melodious strain,
when he was called out of bed at daybreak, to set open the yard-
gate and admit the train of carts and horses that came to carry off
the little Mound. And all day long, as he kept unwinking watch on
the slow process which promised to protract itself through many
days and weeks, whenever (to save himself from being choked
with dust) he patrolled a little cinderous beat he established for the
purpose, without taking his eyes from the diggers, he still stumped
to the tune: He's GROWN too FOND of MONEY for THAT, he's
GROWN too FOND of MONEY.'

Chapter 8

THE END OF A LONG JOURNEY

The train of carts and horses came and went all day from dawn to
nightfall, making little or no daily impression on the heap of ashes,
though, as the days passed on, the heap was seen to be slowly
melting. My lords and gentlemen and honourable boards, when
you in the course of your dust-shovelling and cinder-raking have
piled up a mountain of pretentious failure, you must off with your
honourable coats for the removal of it, and fall to the work with the
power of all the queen's horses and all the queen's men, or it will
come rushing down and bury us alive.

Yes, verily, my lords and gentlemen and honourable boards,
adapting your Catechism to the occasion, and by God's help so you
must. For when we have got things to the pass that with an
enormous treasure at disposal to relieve the poor, the best of the
poor detest our mercies, hide their heads from us, and shame us by
starving to death in the midst of us, it is a pass impossible of
prosperity, impossible of continuance. It may not be so wrirten in
the Gospel according to Podsnappery; you may not 'find these
words' for the text of a sermon, in the Returns of the Board of
Trade; but they have been the truth since the foundations of the
universe were laid, and they will be the truth until the foundations
of the universe are shaken by the Builder. This boastful handiwork
of ours, which fails in its terrors for the professional pauper, the
sturdy breaker of windows and the rampant tearer of clothes,
strikes with a cruel and a wicked stab at the stricken sufferer, and
is a horror to the deserving and unfortunate. We must mend it,
lords and gentlemen and honourable boards, or in its own evil hour
it will mar every one of us.

Old Betty Higden fared upon her pilgrimage as many ruggedly
honest creatures, women and men, fare on their toiling way along
the roads of life. Patiently to earn a spare bare living, and quietly
to die, untouched by workhouse hands--this was her highest
sublunary hope.

Nothing had been heard of her at Mr Boffin's house since she
trudged off. The weather had been hard and the roads had been
bad, and her spirit was up. A less stanch spirit might have been
subdued by such adverse influences; but the loan for her little outfit
was in no part repaid, and it had gone worse with her than she had
foreseen, and she was put upon proving her case and maintaining
her independence.

Faithful soul! When she had spoken to the Secretary of that
'deadness that steals over me at times', her fortitude had made too
little of it. Oftener and ever oftener, it came stealing over her;
darker and ever darker, like the shadow of advancing Death. That
the shadow should be deep as it came on, like the shadow of an
actual presence, was in accordance with the laws of the physical
world, for all the Light that shone on Betty Higden lay beyond
Death.

The poor old creature had taken the upward course of the river
Thames as her general track; it was the track in which her last
home lay, and of which she had last had local love and knowledge.
She had hovered for a little while in the near neighbourhood of her
abandoned dwelling, and had sold, and knitted and sold, and gone
on. In the pleasant towns of Chertsey, Walton, Kingston, and
Staines, her figure came to be quite well known for some short
weeks, and then again passed on.

She would take her stand in market-places, where there were such
things, on market days; at other times, in the busiest (that was
seldom very busy) portion of the little quiet High Street; at still
other times she would explore the outlying roads for great houses,
and would ask leave at the Lodge to pass in with her basket, and
would not often get it. But ladies in carriages would frequently
make purchases from her trifling stock, and were usually pleased
with her bright eyes and her hopeful speech. In these and her clean
dress originated a fable that she was well to do in the world: one
might say, for her station, rich. As making a comfortable provision
for its subject which costs nobody anything, this class of fable has
long been popular.

In those pleasant little towns on Thames, you may hear the fall of
the water over the weirs, or even, in still weather, the rustle of the
rushes; and from the bridge you may see the young river, dimpled
like a young child, playfully gliding away among the trees,
unpolluted by the defilements that lie in wait for it on its course,
and as yet out of hearing of the deep summons of the sea. It were
too much to pretend that Betty Higden made out such thoughts; no;
but she heard the tender river whispering to many like herself,
'Come to me, come to me! When the cruel shame and terror you
have so long fled from, most beset you, come to me! I am the
Relieving Officer appointed by eternal ordinance to do my work; I
am not held in estimation according as I shirk it. My breast is
softer than the pauper-nurse's; death in my arms is peacefuller than
among the pauper-wards. Come to me!'

There was abundant place for gentler fancies too, in her untutored
mind. Those gentlefolks and their children inside those fine
houses, could they think, as they looked out at her, what it was to
be really hungry, really cold? Did they feel any of the wonder
about her, that she felt about them? Bless the dear laughing
children! If they could have seen sick Johnny in her arms, would
they have cried for pity? If they could have seen dead Johnny on
that little bed, would they have understood it? Bless the dear
children for his sake, anyhow! So with the humbler houses in the
little street, the inner firelight shining on the panes as the outer
twilight darkened. When the families gathered in-doors there, for
the night, it was only a foolish fancy to feel as if it were a little
hard in them to close the shutter and blacken the flame. So with
the lighted shops, and speculations whether their masters and
mistresses taking tea in a perspective of back-parlour--not so far
within but that the flavour of tea and toast came out, mingled with
the glow of light, into the street--ate or drank or wore what they
sold, with the greater relish because they dealt in it. So with the
churchyard on a branch of the solitary way to the night's sleeping-
place. 'Ah me! The dead and I seem to have it pretty much to
ourselves in the dark and in this weather! But so much the better
for all who are warmly housed at home.' The poor soul envied no
one in bitterness, and grudged no one anything.

But, the old abhorrence grew stronger on her as she grew weaker,
and it found more sustaining food than she did in her wanderings.
Now, she would light upon the shameful spectacle of some
desolate creature--or some wretched ragged groups of either sex, or
of both sexes, with children among them, huddled together like the
smaller vermin for a little warmth--lingering and lingering on a
doorstep, while the appointed evader of the public trust did his
dirty office of trying to weary them out and so get rid of them.
Now, she would light upon some poor decent person, like herself,
going afoot on a pilgrimage of many weary miles to see some
worn-out relative or friend who had been charitably clutched off to
a great blank barren Union House, as far from old home as the
County Jail (the remoteness of which is always its worst
punishment for small rural offenders), and in its dietary, and in its
lodging, and in its tending of the sick, a much more penal
establishment. Sometimes she would hear a newspaper read out,
and would learn how the Registrar General cast up the units that
had within the last week died of want and of exposure to the
weather: for which that Recording Angel seemed to have a regular
fixed place in his sum, as if they were its halfpence. All such
things she would hear discussed, as we, my lords and gentlemen
and honourable boards, in our unapproachable magnificence never
hear them, and from all such things she would fly with the wings
of raging Despair.

This is not to be received as a figure of speech. Old Betty Higden
however tired, however footsore, would start up and be driven
away by her awakened horror of falling into the hands of Charity.
It is a remarkable Christian improvement, to have made a pursuing
Fury of the Good Samaritan; but it was so in this case, and it is a
type of many, many, many.

Two incidents united to intensify the old unreasoning abhorrence--
granted in a previous place to be unreasoning, because the people
always are unreasoning, and invaRiahly make a point of producing
all their smoke without fire.

One day she was sitting in a market-place on a bench outside an
inn, with her little wares for sale, when the deadness that she
strove against came over her so heavily that the scene departed
from before her eyes; when it returned, she found herself on the
ground, her head supported by some good-natured market-women,
and a little crowd about her.

'Are you better now, mother?' asked one of the women. 'Do you
think you can do nicely now?'

'Have I been ill then?' asked old Betty.

'You have had a faint like,' was the answer, 'or a fit. It ain't that
you've been a-struggling, mother, but you've been stiff and
numbed.'

'Ah!' said Betty, recovering her memory. 'It's the numbness. Yes.
It comes over me at times.'

Was it gone? the women asked her.

'It's gone now,' said Betty. 'I shall be stronger than I was afore.
Many thanks to ye, my dears, and when you come to be as old as I
am, may others do as much for you!'

They assisted her to rise, but she could not stand yet, and they
supported her when she sat down again upon the bench.

'My head's a bit light, and my feet are a bit heavy,' said old Betty,
leaning her face drowsily on the breast of the woman who had
spoken before. 'They'll both come nat'ral in a minute. There's
nothing more the matter.'

'Ask her,' said some farmers standing by, who had come out from
their market-dinner, 'who belongs to her.'

'Are there any folks belonging to you, mother?' said the woman.

'Yes sure,' answered Betty. 'I heerd the gentleman say it, but I
couldn't answer quick enough. There's plenty belonging to me.
Don't ye fear for me, my dear.'

'But are any of 'em near here? 'said the men's voices; the women's
voices chiming in when it was said, and prolonging the strain.

'Quite near enough,' said Betty, rousing herself. 'Don't ye be afeard
for me, neighbours.'

'But you are not fit to travel. Where are you going?' was the next
compassionate chorus she heard.

'I'm a going to London when I've sold out all,' said Betty, rising
with difficulty. 'I've right good friends in London. I want for
nothing. I shall come to no harm. Thankye. Don't ye be afeard for
me.'

A well-meaning bystander, yellow-legginged and purple-faced,
said hoarsely over his red comforter, as she rose to her feet, that
she 'oughtn't to be let to go'.

'For the Lord's love don't meddle with me!' cried old Betty, all her
fears crowding on her. 'I am quite well now, and I must go this
minute.'

She caught up her basket as she spoke and was making an
unsteady rush away from them, when the same bystander checked
her with his hand on her sleeve, and urged her to come with him
and see the parish-doctor. Strengthening herself by the utmost
exercise of her resolution, the poor trembling creature shook him
off, almost fiercely, and took to flight. Nor did she feel safe until
she had set a mile or two of by-road between herself and the
marketplace, and had crept into a copse, like a hunted animal, to
hide and recover breath. Not until then for the first time did she
venture to recall how she had looked over her shoulder before
turning out of the town, and had seen the sign of the White Lion
hanging across the road, and the fluttering market booths, and the
old grey church, and the little crowd gazing after her but not
attempting to follow her.

The second frightening incident was this. She had been again as
bad, and had been for some days better, and was travelling along
by a part of the road where it touched the river, and in wet seasons
was so often overflowed by it that there were tall white posts set up
to mark the way. A barge was being towed towards her, and she
sat down on the bank to rest and watch it. As the tow-rope was
slackened by a turn of the stream and dipped into the water, such a
confusion stole into her mind that she thought she saw the forms of
her dead children and dead grandchildren peopling the barge, and
waving their hands to her in solemn measure; then, as the rope
tightened and came up, dropping diamonds, it seemed to vibrate
into two parallel ropes and strike her, with a twang, though it was
far off. When she looked again, there was no barge, no river, no
daylight, and a man whom she had never before seen held a candle
close to her face.

'Now, Missis,' said he; 'where did you come from and where are
you going to?'

The poor soul confusedly asked the counter-question where she
was?

'I am the Lock,' said the man.

'The Lock?'

'I am the Deputy Lock, on job, and this is the Lock-house. (Lock
or Deputy Lock, it's all one, while the t'other man's in the hospital.)
What's your Parish?'

'Parish!' She was up from the truckle-bed directly, wildly feeling
about her for her basket, and gazing at him in affright.

'You'll be asked the question down town,' said the man. 'They
won't let you be more than a Casual there. They'll pass you on to
your settlement, Missis, with all speed. You're not in a state to be
let come upon strange parishes 'ceptin as a Casual.'

''Twas the deadness again!' murmured Betty Higden, with her hand
to her head.

'It was the deadness, there's not a doubt about it,' returned the man.
'I should have thought the deadness was a mild word for it, if it
had been named to me when we brought you in. Have you got any
friends, Missis?'

'The best of friends, Master.'

'I should recommend your looking 'em up if you consider 'em game
to do anything for you,' said the Deputy Lock. 'Have you got any
money?'

'Just a morsel of money, sir.'

'Do you want to keep it?'

'Sure I do!'

'Well, you know,' said the Deputy Lock, shrugging his shoulders
with his hands in his pockets, and shaking his head in a sulkily
ominous manner, 'the parish authorities down town will have it out
of you, if you go on, you may take your Alfred David.'

'Then I'll not go on.'

'They'll make you pay, as fur as your money will go,' pursued the
Deputy, 'for your relief as a Casual and for your being passed to
your Parish.'

'Thank ye kindly, Master, for your warning, thank ye for your
shelter, and good night.'

'Stop a bit,' said the Deputy, striking in between her and the door.
'Why are you all of a shake, and what's your hurry, Missis?'

'Oh, Master, Master,' returned Betty Higden, I've fought against the
Parish and fled from it, all my life, and I want to die free of it!'

'I don't know,' said the Deputy, with deliberation, 'as I ought to let
you go. I'm a honest man as gets my living by the sweat of my
brow, and I may fall into trouble by letting you go. I've fell into
trouble afore now, by George, and I know what it is, and it's made
me careful. You might be took with your deadness again, half a
mile off--or half of half a quarter, for the matter of that--and then it
would be asked, Why did that there honest Deputy Lock, let her
go, instead of putting her safe with the Parish? That's what a man
of his character ought to have done, it would be argueyfied,' said
the Deputy Lock, cunningly harping on the strong string of her
terror; 'he ought to have handed her over safe to the Parish. That
was to be expected of a man of his merits.'

As he stood in the doorway, the poor old careworn wayworn
woman burst into tears, and clasped her hands, as if in a very
agony she prayed to him.

'As I've told you, Master, I've the best of friends. This letter will
show how true I spoke, and they will be thankful for me.'

The Deputy Lock opened the letter with a grave face, which
underwent no change as he eyed its contents. But it might have
done, if he could have read them.

'What amount of small change, Missis,' he said, with an abstracted
air, after a little meditation, 'might you call a morsel of money?'

Hurriedly emptying her pocket, old Betty laid down on the table, a
shilling, and two sixpenny pieces, and a few pence.

'If I was to let you go instead of handing you over safe to the
Parish,' said the Deputy, counting the money with his eyes, 'might
it be your own free wish to leave that there behind you?'

'Take it, Master, take it, and welcome and thankful!'

'I'm a man,' said the Deputy, giving her back the letter, and
pocketing the coins, one by one, 'as earns his living by the sweat of
his brow;' here he drew his sleeve across his forehead, as if this
particular portion of his humble gains were the result of sheer hard
labour and virtuous industry; 'and I won't stand in your way. Go
where you like.'

She was gone out of the Lock-house as soon as he gave her this
permission, and her tottering steps were on the road again. But,
afraid to go back and afraid to go forward; seeing what she fled
from, in the sky-glare of the lights of the little town before her, and
leaving a confused horror of it everywhere behind her, as if she had
escaped it in every stone of every market-place; she struck off by
side ways, among which she got bewildered and lost. That night
she took refuge from the Samaritan in his latest accredited form,
under a farmer's rick; and if--worth thinking of, perhaps, my
fellow-Christians--the Samaritan had in the lonely night, 'passed
by on the other side', she would have most devoutly thanked High
Heaven for her escape from him.

The morning found her afoot again, but fast declining as to the
clearness of her thoughts, though not as to the steadiness of her
purpose. Comprehending that her strength was quitting her, and
that the struggle of her life was almost ended, she could neither
reason out the means of getting back to her protectors, nor even
form the idea. The overmastering dread, and the proud stubborn
resolution it engendered in her to die undegraded, were the two
distinct impressions left in her failing mind. Supported only by a
sense that she was bent on conquering in her life-long fight, she
went on.

The time was come, now, when the wants of this little life were
passing away from her. She could not have swallowed food,
though a table had been spread for her in the next field. The day
was cold and wet, but she scarcely knew it. She crept on, poor
soul, like a criminal afraid of being taken, and felt little beyond the
terror of falling down while it was yet daylight, and being found
alive. She had no fear that she would live through another night.

Sewn in the breast of her gown, the money to pay for her burial
was still intact. If she could wear through the day, and then lie
down to die under cover of the darkness, she would die
independent. If she were captured previously, the money would be
taken from her as a pauper who had no right to it, and she would
be carried to the accursed workhouse. Gaining her end, the letter
would be found in her breast, along with the money, and the
gentlefolks would say when it was given back to them, 'She prized
it, did old Betty Higden; she was true to it; and while she lived, she
would never let it be disgraced by falling into the hands of those
that she held in horror.' Most illogical, inconsequential, and light-
headed, this; but travellers in the valley of the shadow of death are
apt to be light-headed; and worn-out old people of low estate have
a trick of reasoning as indifferently as they live, and doubtless
would appreciate our Poor Law more philosophically on an income
of ten thousand a year.

So, keeping to byways, and shunning human approach, this
troublesome old woman hid herself, and fared on all through the
dreary day. Yet so unlike was she to vagrant hiders in general, that
sometimes, as the day advanced, there was a bright fire in her eyes,
and a quicker beating at her feeble heart, as though she said
exultingly, 'The Lord will see me through it!'

By what visionary hands she was led along upon that journey of
escape from the Samaritan; by what voices, hushed in the grave,
she seemed to be addressed; how she fancied the dead child in her
arms again, and times innumerable adjusted her shawl to keep it
warm; what infinite variety of forms of tower and roof and steeple
the trees took; how many furious horsemen rode at her, crying,
'There she goes! Stop! Stop, Betty Higden!' and melted away as
they came close; be these things left untold. Faring on and hiding,
hiding and faring on, the poor harmless creature, as though she
were a Murderess and the whole country were up after her, wore
out the day, and gained the night.

'Water-meadows, or such like,' she had sometimes murmured, on
the day's pilgrimage, when she had raised her head and taken any
note of the real objects about her. There now arose in the darkness,
a great building, full of lighted windows. Smoke was issuing from
a high chimney in the rear of it, and there was the sound of a
water-wheel at the side. Between her and the building, lay a piece
of water, in which the lighted windows were reflected, and on its
nearest margin was a plantation of trees. 'I humbly thank the
Power and the Glory,' said Betty Higden, holding up her withered
hands, 'that I have come to my journey's end!'

She crept among the trees to the trunk of a tree whence she could
see, beyond some intervening trees and branches, the lighted
windows, both in their reality and their reflection in the water. She
placed her orderly little basket at her side, and sank upon the
ground, supporting herself against the tree. It brought to her mind
the foot of the Cross, and she committed herself to Him who died
upon it. Her strength held out to enable her to arrange the letter in
her breast, so as that it could be seen that she had a paper there. It
had held out for this, and it departed when this was done.

'I am safe here,' was her last benumbed thought. 'When I am
found dead at the foot of the Cross, it will be by some of my own
sort; some of the working people who work among the lights
yonder. I cannot see the lighted windows now, but they are there.
I am thankful for all!'

The darkness gone, and a face bending down.

'It cannot be the boofer lady?'

'I don't understand what you say. Let me wet your lips again with
this brandy. I have been away to fetch it. Did you think that I was
long gone?'

It is as the face of a woman, shaded by a quantity of rich dark hair.
It is the earnest face of a woman who is young and handsome. But
all is over with me on earth, and this must be an Angel.

'Have I been long dead?'

'I don't understand what you say. Let me wet your lips again. I
hurried all I could, and brought no one back with me, lest you
should die of the shock of strangers.'

'Am I not dead?'

'I cannot understand what you say. Your voice is so low and
broken that I cannot hear you. Do you hear me?'

'Yes.'

'Do you mean Yes?'

'Yes.'

'I was coming from my work just now, along the path outside (I
was up with the night-hands last night), and I heard a groan, and
found you lying here.'

'What work, deary?'

'Did you ask what work? At the paper-mill.'

'Where is it?'

'Your face is turned up to the sky, and you can't see it. It is close
by. You can see my face, here, between you and the sky?'

'Yes.'

'Dare I lift you?'

'Not yet.'

'Not even lift your head to get it on my arm? I will do it by very
gentle degrees. You shall hardly feel it.'

'Not yet. Paper. Letter.'

'This paper in your breast?'

'Bless ye!'

'Let me wet your lips again. Am I to open it? To read it?'

'Bless ye!'

She reads it with surprise, and looks down with a new expression
and an added interest on the motionless face she kneels beside.

'I know these names. I have heard them often.'

'Will you send it, my dear?'

'I cannot understand you. Let me wet your lips again, and your
forehead. There. O poor thing, poor thing!' These words through
her fast-dropping tears. 'What was it that you asked me? Wait till
I bring my ear quite close.'

'Will you send it, my dear?'

'Will I send it to the writers? Is that your wish? Yes, certainly.'

'You'll not give it up to any one but them?'

'No.'

'As you must grow old in time, and come to your dying hour, my
dear, you'll not give it up to any one but them?'

'No. Most solemnly.'

'Never to the Parish!' with a convulsed struggle.

'No. Most solemnly.'

'Nor let the Parish touch me, not yet so much as look at me!' with
another struggle.

'No. Faithfully.'

A look of thankfulness and triumph lights the worn old face.

The eyes, which have been darkly fixed upon the sky, turn with
meaning in them towards the compassionate face from which the
tears are dropping, and a smile is on the aged lips as they ask:

'What is your name, my dear?'

'My name is Lizzie Hexam.'

'I must be sore disfigured. Are you afraid to kiss me?'

The answer is, the ready pressure of her lips upon the cold but
smiling mouth.

'Bless ye! NOW lift me, my love.'

Lizzie Hexam very softly raised the weather-stained grey head, and
lifted her as high as Heaven.

Chapter 9

SOMEBODY BECOMES THE SUBJECT OF A PREDICTION

'"We give thee hearty thanks for that it hath pleased thee to
deliver this our sister out of the miseries of this sinful world."'
So read the Reverend Frank Milvey in a not untroubled voice,
for his heart misgave him that all was not quite right between
us and our sister--or say our sister in Law--Poor Law--and that
we sometimes read these words in an awful manner, over our Sister
and our Brother too.

And Sloppy--on whom the brave deceased had never turned her
back until she ran away from him, knowing that otherwise he
would not be separated from her--Sloppy could not in his
conscience as yet find the hearty thanks required of it. Selfish in
Sloppy, and yet excusable, it may be humbly hoped, because our
sister had been more than his mother.

The words were read above the ashes of Betty Higden, in a corner
of a churchyard near the river; in a churchyard so obscure that there
was nothing in it but grass-mounds, not so much as one single
tombstone. It might not be to do an unreasonably great deal for the
diggers and hewers, in a registering age, if we ticketed their graves
at the common charge; so that a new generation might know which
was which: so that the soldier, sailor, emigrant, coming home,
should be able to identify the resting-place of father, mother, playmate,
or betrothed. For, we turn up our eyes and say that we are all
alike in death, and we might turn them down and work the saying
out in this world, so far. It would be sentimental, perhaps? But
how say ye, my lords and gentleman and honourable boards, shall
we not find good standing-room left for a little sentiment, if we
look into our crowds?

Near unto the Reverend Frank Milvey as he read, stood his little
wife, John Rokesmith the Secretary, and Bella Wilfer. These, over
and above Sloppy, were the mourners at the lowly grave. Not a
penny had been added to the money sewn in her dress: what her
honest spirit had so long projected, was fulfilled.

'I've took it in my head,' said Sloppy, laying it, inconsolable,
against the church door, when all was done: I've took it in my
wretched head that I might have sometimes turned a little harder
for her, and it cuts me deep to think so now.'

The Reverend Frank Milvey, comforting Sloppy, expounded to him
how the best of us were more or less remiss in our turnings at our
respective Mangles--some of us very much so--and how we were
all a halting, failing, feeble, and inconstant crew.

'SHE warn't, sir,' said Sloppy, taking this ghostly counsel rather ill,
in behalf of his late benefactress. 'Let us speak for ourselves, sir.
She went through with whatever duty she had to do. She went
through with me, she went through with the Minders, she went
through with herself, she went through with everythink. O Mrs
Higden, Mrs Higden, you was a woman and a mother and a
mangler in a million million!'

With those heartfelt words, Sloppy removed his dejected head from
the church door, and took it back to the grave in the comer, and
laid it down there, and wept alone. 'Not a very poor grave,' said
the Reverend Frank Milvey, brushing his hand across his eyes,
'when it has that homely figure on it. Richer, I think, than it could
be made by most of the sculpture in Westminster Abbey!'

They left him undisturbed, and passed out at the wicket-gate. The
water-wheel of the paper-mill was audible there, and seemed to
have a softening influence on the bright wintry scene. They had
arrived but a little while before, and Lizzie Hexam now told them
the little she could add to the letter in which she had enclosed Mr
Rokesmith's letter and had asked for their instructions. This was
merely how she had heard the groan, and what had afterwards
passed, and how she had obtained leave for the remains to be
placed in that sweet, fresh, empty store-room of the mill from
which they had just accompanied them to the churchyard, and how
the last requests had been religiously observed.

'I could not have done it all, or nearly all, of myself,' said Lizzie. 'I
should not have wanted the will; but I should not have had the
power, without our managing partner.'

'Surely not the Jew who received us?' said Mrs Milvey.

('My dear,' observed her husband in parenthesis, 'why not?')

'The gentleman certainly is a Jew,' said Lizzie, 'and the lady, his
wife, is a Jewess, and I was first brought to their notice by a Jew.
But I think there cannot be kinder people in the world.'

'But suppose they try to convert you!' suggested Mrs Milvey,
bristling in her good little way, as a clergyman's wife.

'To do what, ma'am?' asked Lizzie, with a modest smile.

'To make you change your religion,' said Mrs Milvey.

Lizzie shook her head, still smiling. 'They have never asked me
what my religion is. They asked me what my story was, and I told
them. They asked me to be industrious and faithful, and I
promised to be so. They most willingly and cheerfully do their
duty to all of us who are employed here, and we try to do ours to
them. Indeed they do much more than their duty to us, for they are
wonderfully mindful of us in many ways.

'It is easy to see you're a favourite, my dear,' said little Mrs Milvey,
not quite pleased.

'It would be very ungrateful in me to say I am not,' returned Lizzie,
'for I have been already raised to a place of confidence here. But
that makes no difference in their following their own religion and
leaving all of us to ours. They never talk of theirs to us, and they
never talk of ours to us. If I was the last in the mill, it would be
just the same. They never asked me what religion that poor thing
had followed.'

'My dear,' said Mrs Milvey, aside to the Reverend Frank, 'I wish
you would talk to her.'

'My dear,' said the Reverend Frank aside to his good little wife, 'I
think I will leave it to somebody else. The circumstances are
hardly favourable. There are plenty of talkers going about, my
love, and she will soon find one.'

While this discourse was interchanging, both Bella and the
Secretary observed Lizzie Hexam with great attention. Brought
face to face for the first time with the daughter of his supposed
murderer, it was natural that John Harmon should have his own
secret reasons for a careful scrutiny of her countenance and
manner. Bella knew that Lizzie's father had been falsely accused
of the crime which had had so great an influence on her own life
and fortunes; and her interest, though it had no secret springs, like
that of the Secretary, was equally natural. Both had expected to
see something very different from the real Lizzie Hexam, and thus
it fell out that she became the unconscious means of bringing them
together.

For, when they had walked on with her to the little house in the
clean village by the paper-mill, where Lizzie had a lodging with an
elderly couple employed in the establishment, and when Mrs
Milvey and Bella had been up to see her room and had come down,
the mill bell rang. This called Lizzie away for the time, and left the
Secretary and Bella standing rather awkwardly in the small street;
Mrs Milvey being engaged in pursuing the village children, and
her investigations whether they were in danger of becoming
children of Israel; and the Reverend Frank being engaged--to say
the truth--in evading that branch of his spiritual functions, and
getting out of sight surreptitiously.

Bella at length said:

'Hadn't we better talk about the commission we have undertaken,
Mr Rokesmith?'

'By all means,' said the Secretary.

'I suppose,' faltered Bella, 'that we ARE both commissioned, or we
shouldn't both be here?'

'I suppose so,' was the Secretary's answer.

'When I proposed to come with Mr and Mrs Milvey,' said Bella,
'Mrs Boffin urged me to do so, in order that I might give her my
small report--it's not worth anything, Mr Rokesmith, except for it's
being a woman's--which indeed with you may be a fresh reason for
it's being worth nothing--of Lizzie Hexam.'

'Mr Boffin,' said the Secretary, 'directed me to come for the same
purpose.'

As they spoke they were leaving the little street and emerging on
the wooded landscape by the river.

'You think well of her, Mr Rokesmith?' pursued Bella, conscious
of making all the advances.

'I think highly of her.'

'I am so glad of that! Something quite refined in her beauty, is
there not?'

'Her appearance is very striking.'

'There is a shade of sadness upon her that is quite touching. At
least I--I am not setting up my own poor opinion, you know, Mr
Rokesmith,' said Bella, excusing and explaining herself in a pretty
shy way; 'I am consulting you.'

'I noticed that sadness. I hope it may not,' said the Secretary in a
lower voice, 'be the result of the false accusation which has been
retracted.'

When they had passed on a little further without speaking, Bella,
after stealing a glance or two at the Secretary, suddenly said:

'Oh, Mr Rokesmith, don't be hard with me, don't be stern with me;
be magnanimous! I want to talk with you on equal terms.'

The Secretary as suddenly brightened, and returned: 'Upon my
honour I had no thought but for you. I forced myself to be
constrained, lest you might misinterpret my being more natural.
There. It's gone.'

'Thank you,' said Bella, holding out her little hand. 'Forgive me.'

'No!' cried the Secretary, eagerly. 'Forgive ME!' For there were
tears in her eyes, and they were prettier in his sight (though they
smote him on the heart rather reproachfully too) than any other
glitter in the world.

When they had walked a little further:

'You were going to speak to me,' said the Secretary, with the
shadow so long on him quite thrown off and cast away, 'about
Lizzie Hexam. So was I going to speak to you, if I could have
begun.'

'Now that you CAN begin, sir,' returned Bella, with a look as if she
italicized the word by putting one of her dimples under it, 'what
were you going to say?'

'You remember, of course, that in her short letter to Mrs Boffin--
short, but containing everything to the purpose--she stipulated that
either her name, or else her place of residence, must be kept strictly
a secret among us.'

Bella nodded Yes.

'It is my duty to find out why she made that stipulation. I have it in
charge from Mr Boffin to discover, and I am very desirous for
myself to discover, whether that retracted accusation still leaves
any stain upon her. I mean whether it places her at any
disadvantage towards any one, even towards herself.'

'Yes,' said Bella, nodding thoughtfully; 'I understand. That seems
wise, and considerate.'

'You may not have noticed, Miss Wilfer, that she has the same
kind of interest in you, that you have in her. Just as you are
attracted by her beaut--by her appearance and manner, she is
attracted by yours.'

'I certainly have NOT noticed it,' returned Bella, again italicizing
with the dimple, 'and I should have given her credit for--'

The Secretary with a smile held up his hand, so plainly interposing
'not for better taste', that Bella's colour deepened over the little
piece of coquetry she was checked in.

'And so,' resumed the Secretary, 'if you would speak with her alone
before we go away from here, I feel quite sure that a natural and
easy confidence would arise between you. Of course you would
not be asked to betray it; and of course you would not, if you were.
But if you do not object to put this question to her--to ascertain for
us her own feeling in this one matter--you can do so at a far greater
advantage than I or any else could. Mr Boffin is anxious on the
subject. And I am,' added the Secretary after a moment, 'for a
special reason, very anxious.'

'I shall be happy, Mr Rokesmith,' returned Bella, 'to be of the least
use; for I feel, after the serious scene of to-day, that I am useless
enough in this world.'

'Don't say that,' urged the Secretary.

'Oh, but I mean that,' said Bella, raising her eyebrows.

'No one is useless in this world,' retorted the Secretary, 'who
lightens the burden of it for any one else.'

'But I assure you I DON'T, Mr Rokesmith,' said Bella. half-crying.

'Not for your father?'

'Dear, loving, self-forgetting, easily-satisfied Pa! Oh, yes! He
thinks so.'

'It is enough if he only thinks so,' said the Secretary. 'Excuse the
interruption: I don't like to hear you depreciate yourself.'

'But YOU once depreciated ME, sir,' thought Bella, pouting, 'and I
hope you may be satisfied with the consequences you brought upon
your head!' However, she said nothing to that purpose; she even
said something to a different purpose.

'Mr Rokesmith, it seems so long since we spoke together naturally,
that I am embarrassed in approaching another subject. Mr Boffin.
You know I am very grateful to him; don't you? You know I feel a
true respect for him, and am bound to him by the strong ties of his
own generosity; now don't you?'

'Unquestionably. And also that you are his favourite companion.'

'That makes it,' said Bella, 'so very difficult to speak of him. But--.
Does he treat you well?'

'You see how he treats me,' the Secretary answered, with a patient
and yet proud air.

'Yes, and I see it with pain,' said Bella, very energetically.

The Secretary gave her such a radiant look, that if he had thanked
her a hundred times, he could not have said as much as the look
said.

'I see it with pain,' repeated Bella, 'and it often makes me
miserable. Miserable, because I cannot bear to be supposed to
approve of it, or have any indirect share in it. Miserable, because I
cannot bear to be forced to admit to myself that Fortune is spoiling
Mr Boffin.'

'Miss Wilfer,' said the Secretary, with a beaming face, 'if you could
know with what delight I make the discovery that Fortune isn't
spoiling YOU, you would know that it more than compensates me
for any slight at any other hands.'

'Oh, don't speak of ME,' said Bella, giving herself an impatient
little slap with her glove. 'You don't know me as well as--'

'As you know yourself?' suggested the Secretary, finding that she
stopped. 'DO you know yourself?'

'I know quite enough of myself,' said Bella, with a charming air of
being inclined to give herself up as a bad job, 'and I don't improve
upon acquaintance. But Mr Boffin.'

'That Mr Boffin's manner to me, or consideration for me, is not
what it used to be,' observed the Secretary, 'must be admitted. It is
too plain to be denied.'

'Are you disposed to deny it, Mr Rokesmith?' asked Bella, with a
look of wonder.

'Ought I not to be glad to do so, if I could: though it were only for
my own sake?'

'Truly,' returned Bella, 'it must try you very much, and--you must
please promise me that you won't take ill what I am going to add,
Mr Rokesmith?'

'I promise it with all my heart.'

'--And it must sometimes, I should think,' said Bella, hesitating, 'a
little lower you in your own estimation?'

Assenting with a movement of his head, though not at all looking
as if it did, the Secretary replied:

'I have very strong reasons, Miss Wilfer, for bearing with the
drawbacks of my position in the house we both inhabit. Believe
that they are not all mercenary, although I have, through a series of
strange fatalities, faded out of my place in life. If what you see
with such a gracious and good sympathy is calculated to rouse my
pride, there are other considerations (and those you do not see)
urging me to quiet endurance. The latter are by far the stronger.'

'I think I have noticed, Mr Rokesmith,' said Bella, looking at him
with curiosity, as not quite making him out, 'that you repress
yourself, and force yourself, to act a passive part.'

'You are right. I repress myself and force myself to act a part. It is
not in tameness of spirit that I submit. I have a settled purpose.'

'And a good one, I hope,' said Bella.

'And a good one, I hope,' he answered, looking steadily at her.

'Sometimes I have fancied, sir,' said Bella, turning away her eyes,
'that your great regard for Mrs Boffin is a very powerful motive
with you.'

'You are right again; it is. I would do anything for her, bear
anything for her. There are no words to express how I esteem that
good, good woman.'

'As I do too! May I ask you one thing more, Mr Rokesmith?'

'Anything more.'

'Of course you see that she really suffers, when Mr Boffin shows
how he is changing?'

'I see it, every day, as you see it, and am grieved to give her pain.'

'To give her pain?' said Bella, repeating the phrase quickly, with
her eyebrows raised.

'I am generally the unfortunate cause of it.'

'Perhaps she says to you, as she often says to me, that he is the best
of men, in spite of all.'

'I often overhear her, in her honest and beautiful devotion to him,
saying so to you,' returned the Secretary, with the same steady
look, 'but I cannot assert that she ever says so to me.'

Bella met the steady look for a moment with a wistful, musing
little look of her own, and then, nodding her pretty head several
times, like a dimpled philosopher (of the very best school) who
was moralizing on Life, heaved a little sigh, and gave up things in
general for a bad job, as she had previously been inclined to give
up herself.

But, for all that, they had a very pleasant walk. The trees were
bare of leaves, and the river was bare of water-lilies; but the sky
was not bare of its beautiful blue, and the water reflected it, and a
delicious wind ran with the stream, touching the surface crisply.
Perhaps the old mirror was never yet made by human hands,
which, if all the images it has in its time reflected could pass
across its surface again, would fail to reveal some scene of horror
or distress. But the great serene mirror of the river seemed as if it
might have reproduced all it had ever reflected between those
placid banks, and brought nothing to the light save what was
peaceful, pastoral, and blooming.

So, they walked, speaking of the newly filled-up grave, and of
Johnny, and of many things. So, on their return, they met brisk
Mrs Milvey coming to seek them, with the agreeable intelligence
that there was no fear for the village children, there being a
Christian school in the village, and no worse Judaical interference
with it than to plant its garden. So, they got back to the village as
Lizzie Hexam was coming from the paper-mill, and Bella detached
herself to speak with her in her own home.

'I am afraid it is a poor room for you,' said Lizzie, with a smile of
welcome, as she offered the post of honour by the fireside.

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