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Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens

Part 17 out of 21

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The Court objects for two reasons. First, because the Court don't
think it fair. Secondly, because the dear old lady, Mrs Court (if I
am Mr) gets distressed by it.'

A very remarkable wavering between two bearings--between her
propitiatory bearing there, and her defiant bearing at Mr
Twemlow's--was observable on the part of Mrs Lammle as she
said:

'What does the Court not consider fair?'

'Letting you go on,' replied Mr Boffin, nodding his head
soothingly, as who should say, We won't be harder on you than we
can help; we'll make the best of it. 'It's not above-board and it's not
fair. When the old lady is uncomfortable, there's sure to be good
reason for it. I see she is uncomfortable, and I plainly see this is
the good reason wherefore. HAVE you breakfasted, ma'am.'

Mrs Lammle, settling into her defiant manner, pushed her plate
away, looked at her husband, and laughed; but by no means gaily.

'Have YOU breakfasted, sir?' inquired Mr Boffin.

'Thank you,' replied Alfred, showing all his teeth. 'If Mrs Boffin
will oblige me, I'll take another cup of tea.'

He spilled a little of it over the chest which ought to have been so
effective, and which had done so little; but on the whole drank it
with something of an air, though the coming and going dints got
almost as large, the while, as if they had been made by pressure of
the teaspoon. 'A thousand thanks,' he then observed. 'I have
breakfasted.'

'Now, which,' said Mr Boffin softly, taking out a pocket-book,
'which of you two is Cashier?'

'Sophronia, my dear,' remarked her husband, as he leaned back in
his chair, waving his right hand towards her, while he hung his left
hand by the thumb in the arm-hole of his waistcoat: 'it shall be
your department.'

'I would rather,' said Mr Boffin, 'that it was your husband's,
ma'am, because--but never mind, because. I would rather have to
do with him. However, what I have to say, I will say with as little
offence as possible; if I can say it without any, I shall be heartily
glad. You two have done me a service, a very great service, in
doing what you did (my old lady knows what it was), and I have
put into this envelope a bank note for a hundred pound. I consider
the service well worth a hundred pound, and I am well pleased to
pay the money. Would you do me the favour to take it, and
likewise to accept my thanks?'

With a haughty action, and without looking towards him, Mrs
Lammle held out her left hand, and into it Mr Boffin put the little
packet. When she had conveyed it to her bosom, Mr Lammle had
the appearance of feeling relieved, and breathing more freely, as
not having been quite certain that the hundred pounds were his,
until the note had been safely transferred out of Mr Boffin's
keeping into his own Sophronia's.

'It is not impossible,' said Mr Boffin, addressing Alfred, 'that you
have had some general idea, sir, of replacing Rokesmith, in course
of time?'

'It is not,' assented Alfred, with a glittering smile and a great deal
of nose, 'not impossible.'

'And perhaps, ma'am,' pursued Mr Boffin, addressing Sophronia,
'you have been so kind as to take up my old lady in your own mind,
and to do her the honour of turning the question over whether you
mightn't one of these days have her in charge, like? Whether you
mightn't be a sort of Miss Bella Wilfer to her, and something
more?'

'I should hope,' returned Mrs Lammle, with a scornful look and in
a loud voice, 'that if I were anything to your wife, sir, I could
hardly fail to be something more than Miss Bella Wilfer, as you
call her.'

'What do YOU call her, ma'am?' asked Mr Boffin.

Mrs Lammle disdained to reply, and sat defiantly beating one foot
on the ground.

'Again I think I may say, that's not impossible. Is it, sir?' asked Mr
Boffin, turning to Alfred.

'It is not,' said Alfred, smiling assent as before, 'not impossible.'

'Now,' said Mr Boffin, gently, 'it won't do. I don't wish to say a
single word that might be afrerwards remembered as unpleasant;
but it won't do.'

'Sophronia, my love,' her husband repeated in a bantering manner,
'you hear? It won't do.'

'No,' said Mr Boffin, with his voice still dropped, 'it really won't.
You positively must excuse us. If you'll go your way, we'll go
ours, and so I hope this affair ends to the satisfaction of all parties.'

Mrs Lammle gave him the look of a decidedly dissatisfied party
demanding exemption from the category; but said nothing.

'The best thing we can make of the affair,' said Mr Boffin, 'is a
matter of business, and as a matter of business it's brought to a
conclusion. You have done me a great service, a very great
service, and I have paid for it. Is there any objection to the price?'

Mr and Mrs Lammle looked at one another across the table, but
neither could say that there was. Mr Lammle shrugged his
shoulders, and Mrs Lammle sat rigid.

'Very good,' said Mr Boffin. 'We hope (my old lady and me) that
you'll give us credit for taking the plainest and honestest short-cut
that could be taken under the circumstances. We have talked it
over with a deal of care (my old lady and me), and we have felt
that at all to lead you on, or even at all to let you go on of your own
selves, wouldn't be the right thing. So, I have openly given you to
understand that--' Mr Boffin sought for a new turn of speech, but
could find none so expressive as his former one, repeated in a
confidential tone, '--that it won't do. If I could have put the case
more pleasantly I would; but I hope I haven't put it very
unpleasantly; at all events I haven't meant to. So,' said Mr Boffin,
by way of peroration, 'wishing you well in the way you go, we now
conclude with the observation that perhaps you'll go it.'

Mr Lammle rose with an impudent laugh on his side of the table,
and Mrs Lammle rose with a disdainful frown on hers. At this
moment a hasty foot was heard on the staircase, and Georgiana
Podsnap broke into the room, unannounced and in tears.

'Oh, my dear Sophronia,' cried Georgiana, wringing her hands as
she ran up to embrace her, 'to think that you and Alfred should be
ruined! Oh, my poor dear Sophronia, to think that you should have
had a Sale at your house after all your kindness to me! Oh, Mr and
Mrs Boffin, pray forgive me for this intrusion, but you don't know
how fond I was of Sophronia when Pa wouldn't let me go there any
more, or what I have felt for Sophronia since I heard from Ma of
her having been brought low in the world. You don't, you can't,
you never can, think, how I have lain awake at night and cried for
my good Sophronia, my first and only friend!'

Mrs Lammle's manner changed under the poor silly girl's
embraces, and she turned extremely pale: directing one appealing
look, first to Mrs Boffin, and then to Mr Boffin. Both understood
her instantly, with a more delicate subtlety than much better
educated people, whose perception came less directly from the
heart, could have brought to bear upon the case.

'I haven't a minute,' said poor little Georgiana, 'to stay. I am out
shopping early with Ma, and I said I had a headache and got Ma to
leave me outside in the phaeton, in Piccadilly, and ran round to
Sackville Street, and heard that Sophronia was here, and then Ma
came to see, oh such a dreadful old stony woman from the country
in a turban in Portland Place, and I said I wouldn't go up with Ma
but would drive round and leave cards for the Boffins, which is
taking a liberty with the name; but oh my goodness I am
distracted, and the phaeton's at the door, and what would Pa say if
he knew it!'

'Don't ye be timid, my dear,' said Mrs Boffin. 'You came in to see
us.'

'Oh, no, I didn't,' cried Georgiana. 'It's very impolite, I know, but I
came to see my poor Sophronia, my only friend. Oh! how I felt the
separation, my dear Sophronia, before I knew you were brought
low in the world, and how much more I feel it now!'

There were actually tears in the bold woman's eyes, as the soft-
headed and soft-hearted girl twined her arms about her neck.

'But I've come on business,' said Georgiana, sobbing and drying
her face, and then searching in a little reticule, 'and if I don't
despatch it I shall have come for nothing, and oh good gracious!
what would Pa say if he knew of Sackville Street, and what would
Ma say if she was kept waiting on the doorsteps of that dreadful
turban, and there never were such pawing horses as ours unsettling
my mind every moment more and more when I want more mind
than I have got, by pawing up Mr Boffin's street where they have
no business to be. Oh! where is, where is it? Oh! I can't find it!'
All this time sobbing, and searching in the little reticule.

'What do you miss, my dear?' asked Mr Boffin, stepping forward.

'Oh! it's little enough,' replied Georgiana, 'because Ma always
treats me as if I was in the nursery (I am sure I wish I was!), but I
hardly ever spend it and it has mounted up to fifteen pounds,
Sophronia, and I hope three five-pound notes are better than
nothing, though so little, so little! And now I have found that--oh,
my goodness! there's the other gone next! Oh no, it isn't, here it is!'

With that, always sobbing and searching in the reticule, Georgiana
produced a necklace.

'Ma says chits and jewels have no business together,' pursued
Georgiana, 'and that's the reason why I have no trinkets except this,
but I suppose my aunt Hawkinson was of a different opinion,
because she left me this, though I used to think she might just as
well have buried it, for it's always kept in jewellers' cotton.
However, here it is, I am thankful to say, and of use at last, and
you'll sell it, dear Sophronia, and buy things with it.'

'Give it to me,' said Mr Boffin, gently taking it. 'I'll see that it's
properly disposed of.'

'Oh! are you such a friend of Sophronia's, Mr Boffin?' cried
Georgiana. 'Oh, how good of you! Oh, my gracious! there was
something else, and it's gone out of my head! Oh no, it isn't, I
remember what it was. My grandmamma's property, that'll come
to me when I am of age, Mr Boffin, will be all my own, and neither
Pa nor Ma nor anybody else will have any control over it, and what
I wish to do it so make some of it over somehow to Sophronia and
Alfred, by signing something somewhere that'll prevail on
somebody to advance them something. I want them to have
something handsome to bring them up in the world again. Oh, my
goodness me! Being such a friend of my dear Sophronia's, you
won't refuse me, will you?'

'No, no,' said Mr Boffin, 'it shall be seen to.'

'Oh, thank you, thank you!' cried Georgiana. 'If my maid had a
little note and half a crown, I could run round to the pastrycook's
to sign something, or I could sign something in the Square if
somebody would come and cough for me to let 'em in with the key,
and would bring a pen and ink with 'em and a bit of blotting-paper.
Oh, my gracious! I must tear myself away, or Pa and Ma will both
find out! Dear, dear Sophronia, good, good-bye!'

The credulous little creature again embraced Mrs Lammle most
affectionately, and then held out her hand to Mr Lammle.

'Good-bye, dear Mr Lammle--I mean Alfred. You won't think after
to-day that I have deserted you and Sophronia because you have
been brought low in the world, will you? Oh me! oh me! I have
been crying my eyes out of my head, and Ma will he sure to ask me
what's the matter. Oh, take me down, somebody, please, please,
please!'

Mr Boffin took her down, and saw her driven away, with her poor
little red eyes and weak chin peering over the great apron of the
custard-coloured phaeton, as if she had been ordered to expiate
some childish misdemeanour by going to bed in the daylight, and
were peeping over the counterpane in a miserable flutter of
repentance and low spirits. Returning to the breakfast-room, he
found Mrs Lammle still standing on her side of the table, and Mr
Lammle on his.

'I'll take care,' said Mr Boffin, showing the money and the
necklace, 'that these are soon given back.'

Mrs Lammle had taken up her parasol from a side table, and stood
sketching with it on the pattern of the damask cloth, as she had
sketched on the pattern of Mr Twemlow's papered wall.

'You will not undeceive her I hope, Mr Boffin?' she said, turning
her head towards him, but not her eyes.

'No,' said Mr Boffin.

'I mean, as to the worth and value of her friend,' Mrs Lammle
explained, in a measured voice, and with an emphasis on her last
word.

'No,' he returned. 'I may try to give a hint at her home that she is in
want of kind and careful protection, but I shall say no more than
that to her parents, and I shall say nothing to the young lady
herself.'

'Mr and Mrs Boffin,' said Mrs Lammle, still sketching, and
seeming to bestow great pains upon it, 'there are not many people,
I think, who, under the circumstances, would have been so
considerate and sparing as you have been to me just now. Do you
care to be thanked?'

'Thanks are always worth having,' said Mrs Boffin, in her ready
good nature.

'Then thank you both.'

'Sophronia,' asked her husband, mockingly, 'are you sentimental?'

'Well, well, my good sir,' Mr Boffin interposed, 'it's a very good
thing to think well of another person, and it's a very good thing to
be thought well of BY another person. Mrs Lammle will be none
the worse for it, if she is.'

'Much obliged. But I asked Mrs Lammle if she was.'

She stood sketching on the table-cloth, with her face clouded and
set, and was silent.

'Because,' said Alfred, 'I am disposed to be sentimental myself,
on your appropriation of the jewels and the money, Mr Boffin. As
our little Georgiana said, three five-pound notes are better than
nothing, and if you sell a necklace you can buy things with the
produce.'

'IF you sell it,' was Mr Boffin's comment, as he put it in his pocket.

Alfred followed it with his looks, and also greedily pursued the
notes until they vanished into Mr Boffin's waistcoat pocket. Then
he directed a look, half exasperated and half jeering, at his wife.
She still stood sketching; but, as she sketched, there was a struggle
within her, which found expression in the depth of the few last
lines the parasol point indented into the table-cloth, and then some
tears fell from her eyes.

'Why, confound the woman,' exclaimed Lammle, 'she IS
sentimental!

She walked to the window, flinching under his angry stare, looked
out for a moment, and turned round quite coldly.

'You have had no former cause of complaint on the sentimental
score, Alfred, and you will have none in future. It is not worth
your noticing. We go abroad soon, with the money we have earned
here?'

'You know we do; you know we must.'

'There is no fear of my taking any sentiment with me. I should
soon be eased of it, if I did. But it will be all left behind. It IS all
left behind. Are you ready, Alfred?'

'What the deuce have I been waiting for but you, Sophronia?'

'Let us go then. I am sorry I have delayed our dignified departure.'

She passed out and he followed her. Mr and Mrs Boffin had the
curiosity softly to raise a window and look after them as they went
down the long street. They walked arm-in-arm, showily enough,
but without appearing to interchange a syllable. It might have
been fanciful to suppose that under their outer bearing there was
something of the shamed air of two cheats who were linked
together by concealed handcuffs; but, not so, to suppose that they
were haggardly weary of one another, of themselves, and of all this
world. In turning the street corner they might have turned out of
this world, for anything Mr and Mrs Boffin ever saw of them to the
contrary; for, they set eyes on the Lammles never more.

Chapter 3

THE GOLDEN DUSTMAN SINKS AGAIN

The evening of that day being one of the reading evenings at the
Bower, Mr Boffin kissed Mrs Boffin after a five o'clock dinner,
and trotted out, nursing his big stick in both arms, so that, as of
old, it seemed to be whispering in his ear. He carried so very
attentive an expression on his countenance that it appeared as if the
confidential discourse of the big stick required to be followed
closely. Mr Boffin's face was like the face of a thoughtful listener
to an intricate communication, and, in trotting along, he
occasionally glanced at that companion with the look of a man
who was interposing the remark: 'You don't mean it!'

Mr Boffin and his stick went on alone together, until they arrived
at certain cross-ways where they would be likely to fall in with any
one coming, at about the same time, from Clerkenwell to the
Bower. Here they stopped, and Mr Boffin consulted his watch.

'It wants five minutes, good, to Venus's appointment,' said he. 'I'm
rather early.'

But Venus was a punctual man, and, even as Mr Boffin replaced
his watch in its pocket, was to be descried coming towards him.
He quickened his pace on seeing Mr Boffin already at the place of
meeting, and was soon at his side.

'Thank'ee, Venus,' said Mr Boffin. 'Thank'ee, thank'ee, thank'ee!'

It would not have been very evident why he thanked the anatomist,
but for his furnishing the explanation in what he went on to say.

'All right, Venus, all right. Now, that you've been to see me, and
have consented to keep up the appearance before Wegg of
remaining in it for a time, I have got a sort of a backer. All right,
Venus. Thank'ee, Venus. Thank'ee, thank'ee, thank'ee!'

Mr Venus shook the proffered hand with a modest air, and they
pursued the direction of the Bower.

'Do you think Wegg is likely to drop down upon me to-night,
Venus?' inquired Mr Boffin, wistfully, as they went along.

'I think he is, sir.'

'Have you any particular reason for thinking so, Venus?'

'Well, sir,' returned that personage, 'the fact is, he has given me
another look-in, to make sure of what he calls our stock-in-trade
being correct, and he has mentioned his intention that he was not
to be put off beginning with you the very next time you should
come. And this,' hinted Mr Venus, delicately, 'being the very next
time, you know, sir--'

--'Why, therefore you suppose he'll turn to at the grindstone, eh,
Wegg?' said Mr Boffin.

'Just so, sir.'

Mr Boffin took his nose in his hand, as if it were already
excoriated, and the sparks were beginning to fly out of that feature.
'He's a terrible fellow, Venus; he's an awful fellow. I don't know
how ever I shall go through with it. You must stand by me, Venus
like a good man and true. You'll do all you can to stand by me,
Venus; won't you?'

Mr Venus replied with the assurance that he would; and Mr
Boffin, looking anxious and dispirited, pursued the way in silence
until they rang at the Bower gate. The stumping approach of
Wegg was soon heard behind it, and as it turned upon its hinges he
became visible with his hand on the lock.

'Mr Boffin, sir?' he remarked. 'You're quite a stranger!'

'Yes. I've been otherwise occupied, Wegg.'

'Have you indeed, sir?' returned the literary gentleman, with a
threatening sneer. 'Hah! I've been looking for you, sir, rather what
I may call specially.'

'You don't say so, Wegg?'

'Yes, I do say so, sir. And if you hadn't come round to me tonight,
dash my wig if I wouldn't have come round to you tomorrow.
Now! I tell you!'

'Nothing wrong, I hope, Wegg?'

'Oh no, Mr Boffin,' was the ironical answer. 'Nothing wrong!
What should be wrong in Boffinses Bower! Step in, sir.'

'"If you'll come to the Bower I've shaded for you,
Your bed shan't be roses all spangled with doo:
Will you, will you, will you, will you, come to the Bower?
Oh, won't you, won't you, won't you, won't you, come to the Bower?"'

An unholy glare of contradiction and offence shone in the eyes of
Mr Wegg, as he turned the key on his patron, after ushering him
into the yard with this vocal quotation. Mr Boffin's air was
crestfallen and submissive. Whispered Wegg to Venus, as they
crossed the yard behind him: 'Look at the worm and minion; he's
down in the mouth already.' Whispered Venus to Wegg: 'That's
because I've told him. I've prepared the way for you.'

Mr Boffin, entering the usual chamber, laid his stick upon the
settle usually reserved for him, thrust his hands into his pockets,
and, with his shoulders raised and his hat drooping back upon
them, looking disconsolately at Wegg. 'My friend and partner, Mr
Venus, gives me to understand,' remarked that man of might,
addressing him, 'that you are aware of our power over you. Now,
when you have took your hat off, we'll go into that pint.'

Mr Boffin shook it off with one shake, so that it dropped on the
floor behind him, and remained in his former attitude with his
former rueful look upon him.

'First of all, I'm a-going to call you Boffin, for short,' said Wegg.
'If you don't like it, it's open to you to lump it.'

'I don't mind it, Wegg,' Mr Boffin replied.

'That's lucky for you, Boffin. Now, do you want to be read to?'

'I don't particularly care about it to-night, Wegg.'

'Because if you did want to,' pursued Mr Wegg, the brilliancy of
whose point was dimmed by his having been unexpectedly
answered: 'you wouldn't be. I've been your slave long enough. I'm
not to be trampled under-foot by a dustman any more. With the
single exception of the salary, I renounce the whole and total
sitiwation.'

'Since you say it is to be so, Wegg,' returned Mr Boffin, with
folded hands, 'I suppose it must be.'

'I suppose it must be,' Wegg retorted. 'Next (to clear the ground
before coming to business), you've placed in this yard a skulking, a
sneaking, and a sniffing, menial.'

'He hadn't a cold in his head when I sent him here,' said Mr Boffin.

'Boffin!' retorted Wegg, 'I warn you not to attempt a joke with me!'

Here Mr Venus interposed, and remarked that he conceived Mr
Boffin to have taken the description literally; the rather, forasmuch
as he, Mr Venus, had himself supposed the menial to have
contracted an affliction or a habit of the nose, involving a serious
drawback on the pleasures of social intercourse, until he had
discovered that Mr Wegg's description of him was to be accepted
as merely figurative.

'Anyhow, and every how,' said Wegg, 'he has been planted here,
and he is here. Now, I won't have him here. So I call upon Boffin,
before I say another word, to fetch him in and send him packing to
the right-about.'

The unsuspecting Sloppy was at that moment airing his many
buttons within view of the window. Mr Boffin, after a short
interval of impassive discomfiture, opened the window and
beckoned him to come in.

'I call upon Boffin,' said Wegg, with one arm a-kimbo and his
head on one side, like a bullying counsel pausing for an answer
from a witness, 'to inform that menial that I am Master here!'

In humble obedience, when the button-gleaming Sloppy entered
Mr Boffin said to him: 'Sloppy, my fine fellow, Mr Wegg is Master
here. He doesn't want you, and you are to go from here.'

'For good!' Mr Wegg severely stipulated.

'For good,' said Mr Boffin.

Sloppy stared, with both his eyes and all his buttons, and his
mouth wide open; but was without loss of time escorted forth by
Silas Wegg, pushed out at the yard gate by the shoulders, and
locked out.

'The atomspear,' said Wegg, stumping back into the room again, a
little reddened by his late exertion, 'is now freer for the purposes of
respiration. Mr Venus, sir, take a chair. Boffin, you may sit
down.'

Mr Boffin, still with his hands ruefully stuck in his pockets, sat on
the edge of the settle, shrunk into a small compass, and eyed the
potent Silas with conciliatory looks.

'This gentleman,' said Silas Wegg, pointing out Venus, 'this
gentleman, Boffin, is more milk and watery with you than I'll be.
But he hasn't borne the Roman yoke as I have, nor yet he hasn't
been required to pander to your depraved appetite for miserly
characters.'

'I never meant, my dear Wegg--' Mr Boffin was beginning, when
Silas stopped him.

'Hold your tongue, Boffin! Answer when you're called upon to
answer. You'll find you've got quite enough to do. Now, you're
aware--are you--that you're in possession of property to which
you've no right at all? Are you aware of that?'

'Venus tells me so,' said Mr Boffin, glancing towards him for any
support he could give.

'I tell you so,' returned Silas. 'Now, here's my hat, Boffin, and
here's my walking-stick. Trifle with me, and instead of making a
bargain with you, I'll put on my hat and take up my walking-stick,
and go out, and make a bargain with the rightful owner. Now,
what do you say?'

'I say,' returned Mr Boffin, leaning forward in alarmed appeal,
with his hands on his knees, 'that I am sure I don't want to trifle.
Wegg. I have said so to Venus.'

'You certainly have, sir,' said Venus.

'You're too milk and watery with our friend, you are indeed,'
remonstrated Silas, with a disapproving shake of his wooden head.
Then at once you confess yourself desirous to come to terms, do
you Boffin? Before you answer, keep this hat well in your mind
and also this walking-stick.'

'I am willing, Wegg, to come to terms.'

'Willing won't do, Boffin. I won't take willing. Are you desirous
to come to terms? Do you ask to be allowed as a favour to come to
terms?' Mr Wegg again planted his arm, and put his head on one
side.

'Yes.'

'Yes what?' said the inexorable Wegg: 'I won't take yes. I'll have it
out of you in full, Boffin.'

'Dear me!' cried that unfortunate gentleman. 'I am so worrited! I
ask to be allowed to come to terms, supposing your document is all
correct.'

'Don't you be afraid of that,' said Silas, poking his head at him.
'You shall be satisfied by seeing it. Mr Venus will show it you,
and I'll hold you the while. Then you want to know what the terms
are. Is that about the sum and substance of it? Will you or won't
you answer, Boffin?' For he had paused a moment.

'Dear me!' cried that unfortunate gentleman again, 'I am worrited
to that degree that I'm almost off my head. You hurry me so. Be
so good as name the terms, Wegg.'

'Now, mark, Boffin,' returned Silas: 'Mark 'em well, because
they're the lowest terms and the only terms. You'll throw your
Mound (the little Mound as comes to you any way) into the general
estate, and then you'll divide the whole property into three parts,
and you'll keep one and hand over the others.'

Mr Venus's mouth screwed itself up, as Mr Boffin's face
lengthened itself, Mr Venus not having been prepared for such a
rapacious demand.

'Now, wait a bit, Boffin,' Wegg proceeded, 'there's something
more. You've been a squandering this property--laying some of it
out on yourself. THAT won't do. You've bought a house. You'll
be charged for it.'

'I shall be ruined, Wegg!' Mr Boffin faintly protested.

'Now, wait a bit, Boffin; there's something more. You'll leave me
in sole custody of these Mounds till they're all laid low. If any
waluables should be found in 'em, I'll take care of such waluables.
You'll produce your contract for the sale of the Mounds, that we
may know to a penny what they're worth, and you'll make out
likewise an exact list of all the other property. When the Mounds
is cleared away to the last shovel-full, the final diwision will come
off.'

'Dreadful, dreadful, dreadful! I shall die in a workhouse!' cried the
Golden Dustman, with his hands to his head.

'Now, wait a bit, Boffin; there's something more. You've been
unlawfully ferreting about this yard. You've been seen in the act of
ferreting about this yard. Two pair of eyes at the present moment
brought to bear upon you, have seen you dig up a Dutch bottle.'

'It was mine, Wegg,' protested Mr Boffin. 'I put it there myself.'

'What was in it, Boffin?' inquired Silas.

'Not gold, not silver, not bank notes, not jewels, nothing that you
could turn into money, Wegg; upon my soul!'

'Prepared, Mr Venus,' said Wegg, turning to his partner with a
knowing and superior air, 'for an ewasive answer on the part of our
dusty friend here, I have hit out a little idea which I think will meet
your views. We charge that bottle against our dusty friend at a
thousand pound.'

Mr Boffin drew a deep groan.

'Now, wait a bit, Boffin; there's something more. In your
employment is an under-handed sneak, named Rokesmith. It
won't answer to have HIM about, while this business of ours is
about. He must be discharged.'

'Rokesmith is already discharged,' said Mr Boffin, speaking in a
muffled voice, with his hands before his face, as he rocked himself
on the settle.

'Already discharged, is he?' returned Wegg, surprised. 'Oh! Then,
Boffin, I believe there's nothing more at present.'

The unlucky gentleman continuing to rock himself to and fro, and
to utter an occasional moan, Mr Venus besought him to bear up
against his reverses, and to take time to accustom himself to the
thought of his new position. But, his taking time was exactly the
thing of all others that Silas Wegg could not be induced to hear of.
'Yes or no, and no half measures!' was the motto which that
obdurate person many times repeated; shaking his fist at Mr
Boffin, and pegging his motto into the floor with his wooden leg,
in a threatening and alarming manner.

At length, Mr Boffin entreated to be allowed a quarter of an hour's
grace, and a cooling walk of that duration in the yard. With some
difficulty Mr Wegg granted this great favour, but only on condition
that he accompanied Mr Boffin in his walk, as not knowing what
he might fraudulently unearth if he were left to himself. A more
absurd sight than Mr Boffin in his mental irritation trotting very
nimbly, and Mr Wegg hopping after him with great exertion, eager
to watch the slightest turn of an eyelash, lest it should indicate a
spot rich with some secret, assuredly had never been seen in the
shadow of the Mounds. Mr Wegg was much distressed when the
quarter of an hour expired, and came hopping in, a very bad
second.

'I can't help myself!' cried Mr Boffin, flouncing on the settle in a
forlorn manner, with his hands deep in his pockets, as if his
pockets had sunk. 'What's the good of my pretending to stand out,
when I can't help myself? I must give in to the terms. But I should
like to see the document.'

Wegg, who was all for clinching the nail he had so strongly driven
home, announced that Boffin should see it without an hour's delay.
Taking him into custody for that purpose, or overshadowing him as
if he really were his Evil Genius in visible form, Mr Wegg clapped
Mr Boffin's hat upon the back of his head, and walked him out by
the arm, asserting a proprietorship over his soul and body that was
at once more grim and more ridiculous than anything in Mr
Venus's rare collection. That light-haired gentleman followed
close upon their heels, at least backing up Mr Boffin in a literal
sense, if he had not had recent opportunities of doing so spiritually;
while Mr Boffin, trotting on as hard as he could trot, involved Silas
Wegg in frequent collisions with the public, much as a pre-
occupied blind man's dog may be seen to involve his master.

Thus they reached Mr Venus's establishment, somewhat heated by
the nature of their progress thither. Mr Wegg, especially, was in a
flaming glow, and stood in the little shop, panting and mopping
his head with his pocket-handkerchief, speechless for several
minutes.

Meanwhile, Mr Venus, who had left the duelling frogs to fight it
out in his absence by candlelight for the public delectation, put the
shutters up. When all was snug, and the shop-door fastened, he
said to the perspiring Silas: 'I suppose, Mr Wegg, we may now
produce the paper?'

'Hold on a minute, sir,' replied that discreet character; 'hold on a
minute. Will you obligingly shove that box--which you mentioned
on a former occasion as containing miscellanies--towards me in the
midst of the shop here?'

Mr Venus did as he was asked.

'Very good,' said Silas, looking about: 've--ry good. Will you
hand me that chair, sir, to put a-top of it?'

Venus handed him the chair.

'Now, Boffin,' said Wegg, 'mount up here and take your seat, will
you?'

Mr Boffin, as if he were about to have his portrait painted, or to be
electrified, or to be made a Freemason, or to be placed at any other
solitary disadvantage, ascended the rostrum prepared for him.

'Now, Mr Venus,' said Silas, taking off his coat, 'when I catches
our friend here round the arms and body, and pins him tight to the
back of the chair, you may show him what he wants to see. If
you'll open it and hold it well up in one hand, sir, and a candle in
the other, he can read it charming.'

Mr Boffin seemed rather inclined to object to these precautionary
arrangements, but, being immediately embraced by Wegg,
resigned himself. Venus then produced the document, and Mr
Boffin slowly spelt it out aloud: so very slowly, that Wegg, who
was holding him in the chair with the grip of a wrestler, became
again exceedingly the worse for his exertions. 'Say when you've
put it safe back, Mr Venus,' he uttered with difficulty, 'for the
strain of this is terrimenjious.'

At length the document was restored to its place; and Wegg,
whose uncomfortable attitude had been that of a very persevering
man unsuccessfully attempting to stand upon his head, took a seat
to recover himself. Mr Boffin, for his part, made no attempt to
come down, but remained aloft disconsolate.

'Well, Boffin!' said Wegg, as soon as he was in a condidon to
speak. 'Now, you know.'

'Yes, Wegg,' said Mr Boffin, meekly. 'Now, I know.'

'You have no doubts about it, Boffin.'

'No, Wegg. No, Wegg. None,' was the slow and sad reply.

'Then, take care, you,' said Wegg, 'that you stick to your conditions.
Mr Venus, if on this auspicious occasion, you should happen to
have a drop of anything not quite so mild as tea in the 'ouse, I think
I'd take the friendly liberty of asking you for a specimen of it.'

Mr Venus, reminded of the duties of hospitality, produced some
rum. In answer to the inquiry, 'Will you mix it, Mr Wegg?' that
gentleman pleasantly rejoined, 'I think not, sir. On so auspicious
an occasion, I prefer to take it in the form of a Gum-Tickler.'

Mr Boffin, declining rum, being still elevated on his pedestal, was
in a convenient position to be addressed. Wegg having eyed him
with an impudent air at leisure, addressed him, therefore, while
refreshing himself with his dram.

'Bof--fin!'

'Yes, Wegg,' he answered, coming out of a fit of abstraction, with a
sigh.

'I haven't mentioned one thing, because it's a detail that comes of
course. You must be followed up, you know. You must be kept
under inspection.'

'I don't quite understand,' said Mr Boffin.

'Don't you?' sneered Wegg. 'Where's your wits, Boffin? Till the
Mounds is down and this business completed, you're accountable
for all the property, recollect. Consider yourself accountable to me.
Mr Venus here being too milk and watery with you, I am the boy
for you.'

'I've been a-thinking,' said Mr Boffin, in a tone of despondency,
'that I must keep the knowledge from my old lady.'

'The knowledge of the diwision, d'ye mean?' inquired Wegg,
helping himself to a third Gum-Tickler--for he had already taken a
second.

'Yes. If she was to die first of us two she might then think all her
life, poor thing, that I had got the rest of the fortune still, and was
saving it.'

'I suspect, Boffin,' returned Wegg, shaking his head sagaciously,
and bestowing a wooden wink upon him, 'that you've found out
some account of some old chap, supposed to be a Miser, who got
himself the credit of having much more money than he had.
However, I don't mind.'

'Don't you see, Wegg?' Mr Boffin feelingly represented to him:
'don't you see? My old lady has got so used to the property. It
would be such a hard surprise.'

'I don't see it at all,' blustered Wegg. 'You'll have as much as I
shall. And who are you?'

'But then, again,' Mr Boffin gently represented; 'my old lady has
very upright principles.'

'Who's your old lady,' returned Wegg, 'to set herself up for having
uprighter principles than mine?'

Mr Boffin seemed a little less patient at this point than at any other
of the negotiations. But he commanded himself, and said tamely
enough: 'I think it must be kept from my old lady, Wegg.'

'Well,' said Wegg, contemptuously, though, perhaps, perceiving
some hint of danger otherwise, 'keep it from your old lady. I ain't
going to tell her. I can have you under close inspection without
that. I'm as good a man as you, and better. Ask me to dinner.
Give me the run of your 'ouse. I was good enough for you and your
old lady once, when I helped you out with your weal and hammers.
Was there no Miss Elizabeth, Master George, Aunt Jane, and
Uncle Parker, before YOU two?'

'Gently, Mr Wegg, gently,' Venus urged.

'Milk and water-erily you mean, sir,' he returned, with some little
thickness of speech, in consequence of the Gum-Ticklers having
tickled it. 'I've got him under inspection, and I'll inspect him.

"Along the line the signal ran
England expects as this present man
Will keep Boffin to his duty."

--Boffin, I'll see you home.'

Mr Boffin descended with an air of resignation, and gave himself
up, after taking friendly leave of Mr Venus. Once more, Inspector
and Inspected went through the streets together, and so arrived at
Mr Boffin's door.

But even there, when Mr Boffin had given his keeper good-night,
and had let himself in with his key, and had softly closed the door,
even there and then, the all-powerful Silas must needs claim
another assertion of his newly-asserted power.

'Bof--fin!' he called through the keyhole.

'Yes, Wegg,' was the reply through the same channel.

'Come out. Show yourself again. Let's have another look at you!'
Mr Boffin--ah, how fallen from the high estate of his honest
simplicity!--opened the door and obeyed.

'Go in. You may get to bed now,' said Wegg, with a grin.

The door was hardly closed, when he again called through the
keyhole: 'Bof--fin!'

'Yes, Wegg.'

This time Silas made no reply, but laboured with a will at turning
an imaginary grindstone outside the keyhole, while Mr Boffin
stooped at it within; he then laughed silently, and stumped home.

Chapter 4

A RUNAWAY MATCH

Cherubic Pa arose with as little noise as possible from beside
majestic Ma, one morning early, having a holiday before him. Pa
and the lovely woman had a rather particular appointment to keep.

Yet Pa and the lovely woman were not going out together. Bella
was up before four, but had no bonnet on. She was waiting at the
foot of the stairs--was sitting on the bottom stair, in fact--to receive
Pa when he came down, but her only object seemed to be to get Pa
well out of the house.

'Your breakfast is ready, sir,' whispered Bella, after greeting him
with a hug, 'and all you have to do, is, to eat it up and drink it up,
and escape. How do you feel, Pa?'

'To the best of my judgement, like a housebreaker new to the
business, my dear, who can't make himself quite comfortable till
he is off the premises.'

Bella tucked her arm in his with a merry noiseless laugh, and they
went down to the kitchen on tiptoe; she stopping on every separate
stair to put the tip of her forefinger on her rosy lips, and then lay it
on his lips, according to her favourite petting way of kissing Pa.

'How do YOU feel, my love?' asked R. W., as she gave him his
breakfast.

'I feel as if the Fortune-teller was coming true, dear Pa, and the fair
little man was turning out as was predicted.'

'Ho! Only the fair little man?' said her father.

Bella put another of those finger-seals upon his lips, and then said,
kneeling down by him as he sat at table: 'Now, look here, sir. If
you keep well up to the mark this day, what do you think you
deserve? What did I promise you should have, if you were good,
upon a certain occasion?'

'Upon my word I don't remember, Precious. Yes, I do, though.
Wasn't it one of these beau--tiful tresses?' with his caressing hand
upon her hair.

'Wasn't it, too!' returned Bella, pretending to pout. 'Upon my word!
Do you know, sir, that the Fortune-teller would give five thousand
guineas (if it was quite convenient to him, which it isn't) for the
lovely piece I have cut off for you? You can form no idea, sir, of
the number of times he kissed quite a scrubby little piece--in
comparison--that I cut off for HIM. And he wears it, too, round his
neck, I can tell you! Near his heart!' said Bella, nodding. 'Ah! very
near his heart! However, you have been a good, good boy, and you
are the best of all the dearest boys that ever were, this morning,
and here's the chain I have made of it, Pa, and you must let me put
it round your neck with my own loving hands.'

As Pa bent his head, she cried over him a little, and then said (after
having stopped to dry her eyes on his white waistcoat, the
discovery of which incongruous circumstance made her laugh):
'Now, darling Pa, give me your hands that I may fold them
together, and do you say after me:--My little Bella.'

'My little Bella,' repeated Pa.

'I am very fond of you.'

'I am very fond of you, my darling,' said Pa.

'You mustn't say anything not dictated to you, sir. You daren't do
it in your responses at Church, and you mustn't do it in your
responses out of Church.'

'I withdraw the darling,' said Pa.

'That's a pious boy! Now again:--You were always--'

'You were always,' repeated Pa.

'A vexatious--'

'No you weren't,' said Pa.

'A vexatious (do you hear, sir?), a vexatious, capricious, thankless,
troublesome, Animal; but I hope you'll do better in the time to
come, and I bless you and forgive you!' Here, she quite forgot that
it was Pa's turn to make the responses, and clung to his neck.
'Dear Pa, if you knew how much I think this morning of what you
told me once, about the first time of our seeing old Mr Harmon,
when I stamped and screamed and beat you with my detestable
little bonnet! I feel as if I had been stamping and screaming and
beating you with my hateful little bonnet, ever since I was born,
darling!'

'Nonsense, my love. And as to your bonnets, they have always
been nice bonnets, for they have always become you--or you have
become them; perhaps it was that--at every age.'

'Did I hurt you much, poor little Pa?' asked Bella, laughing
(notwithstanding her repentance), with fantastic pleasure in the
picture, 'when I beat you with my bonnet?'

'No, my child. Wouldn't have hurt a fly!'

'Ay, but I am afraid I shouldn't have beat you at all, unless I had
meant to hurt you,' said Bella. 'Did I pinch your legs, Pa?'

'Not much, my dear; but I think it's almost time I--'

'Oh, yes!' cried Bella. 'If I go on chattering, you'll be taken alive.
Fly, Pa, fly!'

So, they went softly up the kitchen stairs on tiptoe, and Bella with
her light hand softly removed the fastenings of the house door, and
Pa, having received a parting hug, made off. When he had gone a
little way, he looked back. Upon which, Bella set another of those
finger seals upon the air, and thrust out her little foot expressive of
the mark. Pa, in appropriate action, expressed fidelity to the mark,
and made off as fast as he could go.

Bella walked thoughtfully in the garden for an hour and more, and
then, returning to the bedroom where Lavvy the Irrepressible still
slumbered, put on a little bonnet of quiet, but on the whole of sly
appearance, which she had yesterday made. 'I am going for a
walk, Lavvy,' she said, as she stooped down and kissed her. The
Irrepressible, with a bounce in the bed, and a remark that it wasn't
time to get up yet, relapsed into unconsciousness, if she had come
out of it.

Behold Bella tripping along the streets, the dearest girl afoot under
the summer sun! Behold Pa waiting for Bella behind a pump, at
least three miles from the parental roof-tree. Behold Bella and Pa
aboard an early steamboat for Greenwich.

Were they expected at Greenwich? Probably. At least, Mr John
Rokesmith was on the pier looking out, about a couple of hours
before the coaly (but to him gold-dusty) little steamboat got her
steam up in London. Probably. At least, Mr John Rokesmith
seemed perfectly satisfied when he descried them on board.
Probably. At least, Bella no sooner stepped ashore than she took
Mr John Rokesmith's arm, without evincing surprise, and the two
walked away together with an ethereal air of happiness which, as it
were, wafted up from the earth and drew after them a gruff and
glum old pensioner to see it out. Two wooden legs had this gruff
and glum old pensioner, and, a minute before Bella stepped out of
the boat, and drew that confiding little arm of hers through
Rokesmith's, he had had no object in life but tobacco, and not
enough of that. Stranded was Gruff and Glum in a harbour of
everlasting mud, when all in an instant Bella floated him, and
away he went.

Say, cherubic parent taking the lead, in what direction do we steer
first? With some such inquiry in his thoughts, Gruff and Glum,
stricken by so sudden an interest that he perked his neck and
looked over the intervening people, as if he were trying to stand on
tiptoe with his two wooden legs, took an observation of R. W.
There was no 'first' in the case, Gruff and Glum made out; the
cherubic parent was bearing down and crowding on direct for
Greenwich church, to see his relations.

For, Gruff and Glum, though most events acted on him simply as
tobacco-stoppers, pressing down and condensing the quids within
him, might be imagined to trace a family resemblance between the
cherubs in the church architecture, and the cherub in the white
waistcoat. Some remembrance of old Valentines, wherein a
cherub, less appropriately attired for a proverbially uncertain
climate, had been seen conducting lovers to the altar, might have
been fancied to inflame the ardour of his timber toes. Be it as it
might, he gave his moorings the slip, and followed in chase.

The cherub went before, all beaming smiles; Bella and John
Rokesmith followed; Gruff and Glum stuck to them like wax. For
years, the wings of his mind had gone to look after the legs of his
body; but Bella had brought them back for him per steamer, and
they were spread again.

He was a slow sailer on a wind of happiness, but he took a cross
cut for the rendezvous, and pegged away as if he were scoring
furiously at cribbage. When the shadow of the church-porch
swallowed them up, victorious Gruff and Glum likewise presented
himself to be swallowed up. And by this time the cherubic parent
was so fearful of surprise, that, but for the two wooden legs on
which Gruff and Glum was reassuringly mounted, his conscience
might have introduced, in the person of that pensioner, his own
stately lady disguised, arrived at Greenwich in a car and griffins,
like the spiteful Fairy at the christenings of the Princesses, to do
something dreadful to the marriage service. And truly he had a
momentary reason to be pale of face, and to whisper to Bella, 'You
don't think that can be your Ma; do you, my dear?' on account of a
mysterious rustling and a stealthy movement somewhere in the
remote neighbourhood of the organ, though it was gone directly
and was heard no more. Albeit it was heard of afterwards, as will
afterwards be read in this veracious register of marriage.

Who taketh? I, John, and so do I, Bella. Who giveth? I, R. W.
Forasmuch, Gruff and Glum, as John and Bella have consented
together in holy wedlock, you may (in short) consider it done, and
withdraw your two wooden legs from this temple. To the
foregoing purport, the Minister speaking, as directed by the
Rubric, to the People, selectly represented in the present instance
by G. and G. above mentioned.

And now, the church-porch having swallowed up Bella Wilfer for
ever and ever, had it not in its power to relinquish that young
woman, but slid into the happy sunlight, Mrs John Rokesmith
instead. And long on the bright steps stood Gruff and Glum,
looking after the pretty bride, with a narcotic consciousness of
having dreamed a dream.

After which, Bella took out from her pocket a little letter, and read
it aloud to Pa and John; this being a true copy of the same.

'DEAREST MA,

I hope you won't be angry, but I am most happily married to Mr
John Rokesmith, who loves me better than I can ever deserve,
except by loving him with all my heart. I thought it best not to
mention it beforehand, in case it should cause any little difference
at home. Please tell darling Pa. With love to Lavvy,

Ever dearest Ma,
Your affectionate daughter,
BELLA
(P.S.--Rokesmith).'

Then, John Rokesmith put the queen's countenance on the letter--
when had Her Gracious Majesty looked so benign as on that
blessed morning!--and then Bella popped it into the post-office,
and said merrily, 'Now, dearest Pa, you are safe, and will never be
taken alive!'

Pa was, at first, in the stirred depths of his conscience, so far from
sure of being safe yet, that he made out majestic matrons lurking in
ambush among the harmless trees of Greenwich Park, and seemed
to see a stately countenance tied up in a well-known pocket-
handkerchief glooming down at him from a window of the
Observatory, where the Familiars of the Astronomer Royal nightly
outwatch the winking stars. But, the minutes passing on and no
Mrs Wilfer in the flesh appearing, he became more confident, and
so repaired with good heart and appetite to Mr and Mrs John
Rokesmith's cottage on Blackheath, where breakfast was ready.

A modest little cottage but a bright and a fresh, and on the snowy
tablecloth the prettiest of little breakfasts. In waiting, too, like an
attendant summer breeze, a fluttering young damsel, all pink and
ribbons, blushing as if she had been married instead of Bella, and
yet asserting the triumph of her sex over both John and Pa, in an
exulting and exalted flurry: as who should say, 'This is what you
must all come to, gentlemen, when we choose to bring you to
book.' This same young damsel was Bella's serving-maid, and
unto her did deliver a bunch of keys, commanding treasures in the
way of dry-saltery, groceries, jams and pickles, the investigation of
which made pastime after breakfast, when Bella declared that 'Pa
must taste everything, John dear, or it will never be lucky,' and
when Pa had all sorts of things poked into his mouth, and didn't
quite know what to do with them when they were put there.

Then they, all three, out for a charming ride, and for a charming
stroll among heath in bloom, and there behold the identical Gruff
and Glum with his wooden legs horizontally disposed before him,
apparently sitting meditating on the vicissitudes of life! To whom
said Bella, in her light-hearted surprise: 'Oh! How do you do
again? What a dear old pensioner you are!' To which Gruff and
Glum responded that he see her married this morning, my Beauty,
and that if it warn't a liberty he wished her ji and the fairest of fair
wind and weather; further, in a general way requesting to know
what cheer? and scrambling up on his two wooden legs to salute,
hat in hand, ship-shape, with the gallantry of a man-of-warsman
and a heart of oak.

It was a pleasant sight, in the midst of the golden bloom, to see
this salt old Gruff and Glum, waving his shovel hat at Bella, while
his thin white hair flowed free, as if she had once more launched
him into blue water again. 'You are a charming old pensioner,'
said Bella, 'and I am so happy that I wish I could make you happy,
too.' Answered Gruff and Glum, 'Give me leave to kiss your hand,
my Lovely, and it's done!' So it was done to the general
contentment; and if Gruff and Glum didn't in the course of the
afternoon splice the main brace, it was not for want of the means of
inflicting that outrage on the feelings of the Infant Bands of Hope.

But, the marriage dinner was the crowning success, for what had
bride and bridegroom plotted to do, but to have and to hold that
dinner in the very room of the very hotel where Pa and the lovely
woman had once dined together! Bella sat between Pa and John,
and divided her attentions pretty equally, but felt it necessary (in
the waiter's absence before dinner) to remind Pa that she was HIS
lovely woman no longer.

'I am well aware of it, my dear,' returned the cherub, 'and I resign
you willingly.'

'Willingly, sir? You ought to be brokenhearted.'

'So I should be, my dear, if I thought that I was going to lose you.'

'But you know you are not; don't you, poor dear Pa? You know
that you have only made a new relation who will be as fond of you
and as thankful to you--for my sake and your own sake both--as I
am; don't you, dear little Pa? Look here, Pa!' Bella put her finger
on her own lip, and then on Pa's, and then on her own lip again,
and then on her husband's. 'Now, we are a partnership of three,
dear Pa.'

The appearance of dinner here cut Bella short in one of her
disappearances: the more effectually, because it was put on under
the auspices of a solemn gentleman in black clothes and a white
cravat, who looked much more like a clergyman than THE
clergyman, and seemed to have mounted a great deal higher in the
church: not to say, scaled the steeple. This dignitary, conferring in
secrecy with John Rokesmith on the subject of punch and wines,
bent his head as though stooping to the Papistical practice of
receiving auricular confession. Likewise, on John's offering a
suggestion which didn't meet his views, his face became overcast
and reproachful, as enjoining penance.

What a dinner! Specimens of all the fishes that swim in the sea,
surely had swum their way to it, and if samples of the fishes of
divers colours that made a speech in the Arabian Nights (quite a
ministerial explanation in respect of cloudiness), and then jumped
out of the frying-pan, were not to be recognized, it was only
because they had all become of one hue by being cooked in batter
among the whitebait. And the dishes being seasoned with Bliss--
an article which they are sometimes out of, at Greenwich--were of
perfect flavour, and the golden drinks had been bottled in the
golden age and hoarding up their sparkles ever since.

The best of it was, that Bella and John and the cherub had made a
covenant that they would not reveal to mortal eyes any appearance
whatever of being a wedding party. Now, the supervising
dignitary, the Archbishop of Greenwich, knew this as well as if he
had performed the nuptial ceremony. And the loftiness with which
his Grace entered into their confidence without being invited, and
insisted on a show of keeping the waiters out of it, was the
crowning glory of the entertainment.

There was an innocent young waiter of a slender form and with
weakish legs, as yet unversed in the wiles of waiterhood, and but
too evidently of a romantic temperament, and deeply (it were not
too much to add hopelessly) in love with some young female not
aware of his merit. This guileless youth, descrying the position of
affairs, which even his innocence could not mistake, limited his
waiting to languishing admiringly against the sideboard when
Bella didn't want anything, and swooping at her when she did.
Him, his Grace the Archbishop perpetually obstructed, cutting him
out with his elbow in the moment of success, despatching him in
degrading quest of melted butter, and, when by any chance he got
hold of any dish worth having, bereaving him of it, and ordering
him to stand back.

'Pray excuse him, madam,' said the Archbishop in a low stately
voice; 'he is a very young man on liking, and we DON'T like him.'

This induced John Rokesmith to observe--by way of making the
thing more natural--'Bella, my love, this is so much more
successful than any of our past anniversaries, that I think we must
keep our future anniversaries here.'

Whereunto Bella replied, with probably the least successful
attempt at looking matronly that ever was seen: 'Indeed, I think so,
John, dear.'

Here the Archbishop of Greenwich coughed a stately cough to
attract the attention of three of his ministers present, and staring at
them, seemed to say: 'I call upon you by your fealty to believe this!'

With his own hands he afterwards put on the dessert, as remarking
to the three guests, 'The period has now arrived at which we can
dispense with the assistance of those fellows who are not in our
confidence,' and would have retired with complete dignity but for a
daring action issuing from the misguided brain of the young man
on liking. He finding, by ill-fortune, a piece of orange flower
somewhere in the lobbies now approached undetected with the
same in a finger-glass, and placed it on Bella's right hand. The
Archbishop instantly ejected and excommunicated him; but the
thing was done.

'I trust, madam,' said his Grace, returning alone, 'that you will have
the kindness to overlook it, in consideration of its being the act of a
very young man who is merely here on liking, and who will never
answer.'

With that, he solemnly bowed and retired, and they all burst into
laughter, long and merry. 'Disguise is of no use,' said Bella; 'they
all find me out; I think it must be, Pa and John dear, because I look
so happy!'

Her husband feeling it necessary at this point to demand one of
those mysterious disappearances on Bella's part, she dutifully
obeyed; saying in a softened voice from her place of concealment:

'You remember how we talked about the ships that day, Pa?'

'Yes, my dear.'

'Isn't it strange, now, to think that there was no John in all the
ships, Pa?'

'Not at all, my dear.'

'Oh, Pa! Not at all?'

'No, my dear. How can we tell what coming people are aboard the
ships that may be sailing to us now from the unknown seas!'

Bella remaining invisible and silent, her father remained at his
dessert and wine, until he remembered it was time for him to get
home to Holloway. 'Though I positively cannot tear myself away,'
he cherubically added, '--it would be a sin--without drinking to
many, many happy returns of this most happy day.'

'Here! ten thousand times!' cried John. 'I fill my glass and my
precious wife's.'

'Gentlemen,' said the cherub, inaudibly addressing, in his Anglo-
Saxon tendency to throw his feelings into the form of a speech, the
boys down below, who were bidding against each other to put their
heads in the mud for sixpence: 'Gentlemen--and Bella and John--
you will readily suppose that it is not my intention to trouble you
with many observations on the present occasion. You will also at
once infer the nature and even the terms of the toast I am about to
propose on the present occasion. Gentlemen--and Bella and John--
the present occasion is an occasion fraught with feelings that I
cannot trust myself to express. But gentlemen--and Bella and
John--for the part I have had in it, for the confidence you have
placed in me, and for the affectionate good-nature and kindness
with which you have determined not to find me in the way, when I
am well aware that I cannot be otherwise than in it more or less, I
do most heartily thank you. Gentlemen--and Bella and John--my
love to you, and may we meet, as on the present occasion, on many
future occasions; that is to say, gentlemen--and Bella and John--on
many happy returns of the present happy occasion.'

Having thus concluded his address, the amiable cherub embraced
his daughter, and took his flight to the steamboat which was to
convey him to London, and was then lying at the floating pier,
doing its best to bump the same to bits. But, the happy couple
were not going to part with him in that way, and before he had
been on board two minutes, there they were, looking down at him
from the wharf above.

'Pa, dear!' cried Bella, beckoning him with her parasol to approach
the side, and bending gracefully to whisper.

'Yes, my darling.'

'Did I beat you much with that horrid little bonnet, Pa?'

'Nothing to speak of; my dear.'

'Did I pinch your legs, Pa?'

'Only nicely, my pet.'

'You are sure you quite forgive me, Pa? Please, Pa, please, forgive
me quite!' Half laughing at him and half crying to him, Bella
besought him in the prettiest manner; in a manner so engaging and
so playful and so natural, that her cherubic parent made a coaxing
face as if she had never grown up, and said, 'What a silly little
Mouse it is!'

'But you do forgive me that, and everything else; don't you, Pa?'

'Yes, my dearest.'

'And you don't feel solitary or neglected, going away by yourself;
do you, Pa?'

'Lord bless you! No, my Life!'

'Good-bye, dearest Pa. Good-bye!'

'Good-bye, my darling! Take her away, my dear John. Take her home!'

So, she leaning on her husband's arm, they turned homeward by a
rosy path which the gracious sun struck out for them in its setting.
And O there are days in this life, worth life and worth death. And
O what a bright old song it is, that O 'tis love, 'tis love, 'tis love
that makes the world go round!

Chapter 5

CONCERNING THE MENDICANT'S BRIDE

The impressive gloom with which Mrs Wilfer received her
husband on his return from the wedding, knocked so hard at the
door of the cherubic conscience, and likewise so impaired the
firmness of the cherubic legs, that the culprit's tottering condition
of mind and body might have roused suspicion in less occupied
persons that the grimly heroic lady, Miss Lavinia, and that
esteemed friend of the family, Mr George Sampson. But, the
attention of all three being fully possessed by the main fact of the
marriage, they had happily none to bestow on the guilty
conspirator; to which fortunate circumstance he owed the escape
for which he was in nowise indebted to himself.

'You do not, R. W.' said Mrs Wilfer from her stately corner,
'inquire for your daughter Bella.'

'To be sure, my dear,' he returned, with a most flagrant assumption
of unconsciousness, 'I did omit it. How--or perhaps I should
rather say where--IS Bella?'

'Not here,' Mrs Wilfer proclaimed, with folded arms.

The cherub faintly muttered something to the abortive effect of 'Oh,
indeed, my dear!'

'Not here,' repeated Mrs Wilfer, in a stern sonorous voice. 'In a
word, R. W., you have no daughter Bella.'

'No daughter Bella, my dear?'

'No. Your daughter Bella,' said Mrs Wilfer, with a lofty air of
never having had the least copartnership in that young lady: of
whom she now made reproachful mention as an article of luxury
which her husband had set up entirely on his own account, and in
direct opposition to her advice: '--your daughter Bella has
bestowed herself upon a Mendicant.'

'Good gracious, my dear!'

'Show your father his daughter Bella's letter, Lavinia,' said Mrs
Wilfer, in her monotonous Act of Parliament tone, and waving her
hand. 'I think your father will admit it to be documentary proof of
what I tell him. I believe your father is acquainted with his
daughter Bella's writing. But I do not know. He may tell you he is
not. Nothing will surprise me.'

'Posted at Greenwich, and dated this morning,' said the
Irrepressible, flouncing at her father in handing him the evidence.
'Hopes Ma won't be angry, but is happily married to Mr John
Rokesmith, and didn't mention it beforehand to avoid words, and
please tell darling you, and love to me, and I should like to know
what you'd have said if any other unmarried member of the family
had done it!'

He read the letter, and faintly exclaimed 'Dear me!'

'You may well say Dear me!' rejoined Mrs Wilfer, in a deep tone.
Upon which encouragement he said it again, though scarcely with
the success he had expected; for the scornful lady then remarked,
with extreme bitterness: 'You said that before.'

'It's very surprising. But I suppose, my dear,' hinted the cherub, as
he folded the letter after a disconcerting silence, 'that we must
make the best of it? Would you object to my pointing out, my
dear, that Mr John Rokesmith is not (so far as I am acquainted
with him), strictly speaking, a Mendicant.'

'Indeed?' returned Mrs Wilfer, with an awful air of politeness.
'Truly so? I was not aware that Mr John Rokesmith was a
gentleman of landed property. But I am much relieved to hear it.'

'I doubt if you HAVE heard it, my dear,' the cherub submitted with
hesitation.

'Thank you,' said Mrs Wilfer. 'I make false statements, it appears?
So be it. If my daughter flies in my face, surely my husband may.
The one thing is not more unnatural than the other. There seems a
fitness in the arrangement. By all means!' Assuming, with a
shiver of resignation, a deadly cheerfulness.

But, here the Irrepressible skirmished into the conflict, dragging
the reluctant form of Mr Sampson after her.

'Ma,' interposed the young lady, 'I must say I think it would be
much better if you would keep to the point, and not hold forth
about people's flying into people's faces, which is nothing more nor
less than impossible nonsense.'

'How!' exclaimed Mrs Wilfer, knitting her dark brows.

'Just im-possible nonsense, Ma,' returned Lavvy, 'and George
Sampson knows it is, as well as I do.'

Mrs Wilfer suddenly becoming petrified, fixed her indignant eyes
upon the wretched George: who, divided between the support due
from him to his love, and the support due from him to his love's
mamma, supported nobody, not even himself.

'The true point is,' pursued Lavinia, 'that Bella has behaved in a
most unsisterly way to me, and might have severely compromised
me with George and with George's family, by making off and
getting married in this very low and disreputable manner--with
some pew-opener or other, I suppose, for a bridesmaid--when she
ought to have confided in me, and ought to have said, "If, Lavvy,
you consider it due to your engagement with George, that you
should countenance the occasion by being present, then Lavvy, I
beg you to BE present, keeping my secret from Ma and Pa." As of
course I should have done.'

'As of course you would have done? Ingrate!' exclaimed Mrs
Wilfer. 'Viper!'

'I say! You know ma'am. Upon my honour you mustn't,' Mr
Sampson remonstrated, shaking his head seriously, 'With the
highest respect for you, ma'am, upon my life you mustn't. No
really, you know. When a man with the feelings of a gentleman
finds himself engaged to a young lady, and it comes (even on the
part of a member of the family) to vipers, you know!--I would
merely put it to your own good feeling, you know,' said Mr
Sampson, in rather lame conclusion.

Mrs Wilfer's baleful stare at the young gentleman in
acknowledgment of his obliging interference was of such a nature
that Miss Lavinia burst into tears, and caught him round the neck
for his protection.

'My own unnatural mother,' screamed the young lady, 'wants to
annihilate George! But you shan't be annihilated, George. I'll die
first!'

Mr Sampson, in the arms of his mistress, still struggled to shake
his head at Mrs Wilfer, and to remark: 'With every sentiment of
respect for you, you know, ma'am--vipers really doesn't do you
credit.'

'You shall not be annihilated, George!' cried Miss Lavinia. 'Ma
shall destroy me first, and then she'll be contented. Oh, oh, oh!
Have I lured George from his happy home to expose him to this!
George, dear, be free! Leave me, ever dearest George, to Ma and to
my fate. Give my love to your aunt, George dear, and implore her
not to curse the viper that has crossed your path and blighted your
existence. Oh, oh, oh!' The young lady who, hysterically speaking,
was only just come of age, and had never gone off yet, here fell into
a highly creditable crisis, which, regarded as a first performance,
was very successful; Mr Sampson, bending over the body
meanwhile, in a state of distraction, which induced him to address
Mrs Wilfer in the inconsistent expressions: 'Demon--with the
highest respect for you--behold your work!'

The cherub stood helplessly rubbing his chin and looking on, but
on the whole was inclined to welcome this diversion as one in
which, by reason of the absorbent properties of hysterics, the
previous question would become absorbed. And so, indeed, it
proved, for the Irrepressible gradually coming to herself; and
asking with wild emotion, 'George dear, are you safe?' and further,
'George love, what has happened? Where is Ma?' Mr Sampson,
with words of comfort, raised her prostrate form, and handed her to
Mrs Wilfer as if the young lady were something in the nature of
refreshments. Mrs Wilfer with dignity partaking of the
refreshments, by kissing her once on the brow (as if accepting an
oyster), Miss Lavvy, tottering, returned to the protection of Mr
Sampson; to whom she said, 'George dear, I am afraid I have been
foolish; but I am still a little weak and giddy; don't let go my hand,
George!' And whom she afterwards greatly agitated at intervals,
by giving utterance, when least expected, to a sound between a sob
and a bottle of soda water, that seemed to rend the bosom of her
frock.

Among the most remarkable effects of this crisis may be
mentioned its having, when peace was restored, an inexplicable
moral influence, of an elevating kind, on Miss Lavinia, Mrs
Wilfer, and Mr George Sampson, from which R. W. was
altogether excluded, as an outsider and non-sympathizer. Miss
Lavinia assumed a modest air of having distinguished herself; Mrs
Wilfer, a serene air of forgiveness and resignation; Mr Sampson,
an air of having been improved and chastened. The influence
pervaded the spirit in which they returned to the previous question.

'George dear,' said Lavvy, with a melancholy smile, 'after what has
passed, I am sure Ma will tell Pa that he may tell Bella we shall all
be glad to see her and her husband.'

Mr Sampson said he was sure of it too; murmuring how eminently
he respected Mrs Wilfer, and ever must, and ever would. Never
more eminently, he added, than after what had passed.

'Far be it from me,' said Mrs Wilfer, making deep proclamation
from her corner, 'to run counter to the feelings of a child of mine,
and of a Youth,' Mr Sampson hardly seemed to like that word,
'who is the object of her maiden preference. I may feel--nay,
know--that I have been deluded and deceived. I may feel--nay,
know--that I have been set aside and passed over. I may feel--nay,
know--that after having so far overcome my repugnance towards
Mr and Mrs Boffin as to receive them under this roof, and to
consent to your daughter Bella's,' here turning to her husband,
'residing under theirs, it were well if your daughter Bella,' again
turning to her husband, 'had profited in a worldly point of view by
a connection so distasteful, so disreputable. I may feel--nay,
know--that in uniting herself to Mr Rokesmith she has united
herself to one who is, in spite of shallow sophistry, a Mendicant.
And I may feel well assured that your daughter Bella,' again
turning to her husband, 'does not exalt her family by becoming a
Mendicant's bride. But I suppress what I feel, and say nothing of
it.'

Mr Sampson murmured that this was the sort of thing you might
expect from one who had ever in her own family been an example
and never an outrage. And ever more so (Mr Sampson added, with
some degree of obscurity,) and never more so, than in and through
what had passed. He must take the liberty of adding, that what
was true of the mother was true of the youngest daughter, and that
he could never forget the touching feelings that the conduct of both
had awakened within him. In conclusion, he did hope that there
wasn't a man with a beating heart who was capable of something
that remained undescribed, in consequence of Miss Lavinia's
stopping him as he reeled in his speech.

'Therefore, R. W.' said Mrs Wilfer, resuming her discourse and
turning to her lord again, 'let your daughter Bella come when she
will, and she will be received. So,' after a short pause, and an air
of having taken medicine in it, 'so will her husband.'

'And I beg, Pa,' said Lavinia, 'that you will not tell Bella what I
have undergone. It can do no good, and it might cause her to
reproach herself.'

'My dearest girl,' urged Mr Sampson, 'she ought to know it.'

'No, George,' said Lavinia, in a tone of resolute self-denial. 'No,
dearest George, let it be buried in oblivion.'

Mr Sampson considered that, 'too noble.'

'Nothing is too noble, dearest George,' returned Lavinia. 'And Pa, I
hope you will be careful not to refer before Bella, if you can help it,
to my engagement to George. It might seem like reminding her of
her having cast herself away. And I hope, Pa, that you will think it
equally right to avoid mentioning George's rising prospects, when
Bella is present. It might seem like taunting her with her own poor
fortunes. Let me ever remember that I am her younger sister, and
ever spare her painful contrasts, which could not but wound her
sharply.'

Mr Sampson expressed his belief that such was the demeanour of
Angels. Miss Lavvy replied with solemnity, 'No, dearest George, I
am but too well aware that I am merely human.'

Mrs Wilfer, for her part, still further improved the occasion by
sitting with her eyes fastened on her husband, like two great black
notes of interrogation, severely inquiring, Are you looking into
your breast? Do you deserve your blessings? Can you lay your
hand upon your heart and say that you are worthy of so hysterical a
daughter? I do not ask you if you are worthy of such a wife--put
Me out of the question--but are you sufficiently conscious of, and
thankful for, the pervading moral grandeur of the family spectacle
on which you are gazing? These inquiries proved very harassing to
R. W. who, besides being a little disturbed by wine, was in
perpetual terror of committing himself by the utterance of stray
words that would betray his guilty foreknowledge. However, the
scene being over, and--all things considered--well over, he sought
refuge in a doze; which gave his lady immense offence.

'Can you think of your daughter Bella, and sleep?' she disdainfully
inquired.

To which he mildly answered, 'Yes, I think I can, my dear.'

'Then,' said Mrs Wilfer, with solemn indignation, 'I would
recommend you, if you have a human feeling, to retire to bed.'

'Thank you, my dear,' he replied; 'I think it IS the best place for
me.' And with these unsympathetic words very gladly withdrew.

Within a few weeks afterwards, the Mendicant's bride (arm-in-arm
with the Mendicant) came to tea, in fulfilment of an engagement
made through her father. And the way in which the Mendicant's
bride dashed at the unassailable position so considerately to be
held by Miss Lavy, and scattered the whole of the works in all
directions in a moment, was triumphant.

'Dearest Ma,' cried Bella, running into the room with a radiant
face, 'how do you do, dearest Ma?' And then embraced her,
joyously. 'And Lavvy darling, how do YOU do, and how's George
Sampson, and how is he getting on, and when are you going to be
married, and how rich are you going to grow? You must tell me
all about it, Lavvy dear, immediately. John, love, kiss Ma and
Lavvy, and then we shall all be at home and comfortable.'

Mrs Wilfer stared, but was helpless. Miss Lavinia stared, but was
helpless. Apparently with no compunction, and assuredly with no
ceremony, Bella tossed her bonnet away, and sat down to make the
tea.

'Dearest Ma and Lavvy, you both take sugar, I know. And Pa (you
good little Pa), you don't take milk. John does. I didn't before I
was married; but I do now, because John does. John dear, did you
kiss Ma and Lavvy? Oh, you did! Quite correct, John dear; but I
didn't see you do it, so I asked. Cut some bread and butter, John;
that's a love. Ma likes it doubled. And now you must tell me,
dearest Ma and Lavvy, upon your words and honours! Didn't you
for a moment--just a moment--think I was a dreadful little wretch
when I wrote to say I had run away?'

Before Mrs Wilfer could wave her gloves, the Mendicant's bride in
her merriest affectionate manner went on again.

'I think it must have made you rather cross, dear Ma and Lavvy,
and I know I deserved that you should be very cross. But you see I
had been such a heedless, heartless creature, and had led you so to
expect that I should marry for money, and so to make sure that I
was incapable of marrying for love, that I thought you couldn't
believe me. Because, you see, you didn't know how much of Good,
Good, Good, I had learnt from John. Well! So I was sly about it,
and ashamed of what you supposed me to be, and fearful that we
couldn't understand one another and might come to words, which
we should all be sorry for afterwards, and so I said to John that if
he liked to take me without any fuss, he might. And as he did like,
I let him. And we were married at Greenwich church in the
presence of nobody--except an unknown individual who dropped
in,' here her eyes sparkled more brightly, 'and half a pensioner.
And now, isn't it nice, dearest Ma and Lavvy, to know that no
words have been said which any of us can be sorry for, and that we
are all the best of friends at the pleasantest of teas!'

Having got up and kissed them again, she slipped back to her chair
(after a loop on the road to squeeze her husband round the neck)
and again went on.

'And now you will naturally want to know, dearest Ma and Lavvy,
how we live, and what we have got to live upon. Well! And so we
live on Blackheath, in the charm--ingest of dolls' houses, de--
lightfully furnished, and we have a clever little servant who is de--
cidedly pretty, and we are economical and orderly, and do
everything by clockwork, and we have a hundred and fifty pounds
a year, and we have all we want, and more. And lastly, if you
would like to know in confidence, as perhaps you may, what is my
opinion of my husband, my opinion is--that I almost love him!'

'And if you would like to know in confidence, as perhaps you may,'
said her husband, smiling, as he stood by her side, without her
having detected his approach, 'my opinion of my wife, my opinion
is--.' But Bella started up, and put her hand upon his lips.

'Stop, Sir! No, John, dear! Seriously! Please not yet a while! I
want to be something so much worthier than the doll in the doll's
house.'

'My darling, are you not?'

'Not half, not a quarter, so much worthier as I hope you may some
day find me! Try me through some reverse, John--try me through
some trial--and tell them after THAT, what you think of me.'

'I will, my Life,' said John. 'I promise it.'

'That's my dear John. And you won't speak a word now; will you?'

'And I won't,' said John, with a very expressive look of admiration
around him, 'speak a word now!'

She laid her laughing cheek upon his breast to thank him, and said,
looking at the rest of them sideways out of her bright eyes: 'I'll go
further, Pa and Ma and Lavvy. John don't suspect it--he has no
idea of it--but I quite love him!'

Even Mrs Wilfer relaxed under the influence of her married
daughter, and seemed in a majestic manner to imply remotely that
if R. W. had been a more deserving object, she too might have
condescended to come down from her pedestal for his beguilement.
Miss Lavinia, on the other hand, had strong doubts of the policy of
the course of treatment, and whether it might not spoil Mr
Sampson, if experimented on in the case of that young gentleman.
R. W. himself was for his part convinced that he was father of one
of the most charming of girls, and that Rokesmith was the most
favoured of men; which opinion, if propounded to him, Rokesmith
would probably not have contested.

The newly-married pair left early, so that they might walk at
leisure to their starting-place from London, for Greenwich. At
first they were very cheerful and talked much; but after a while,
Bella fancied that her husband was turning somewhat thoughtful.
So she asked him:

'John dear, what's the matter?'

'Matter, my love?'

'Won't you tell me,' said Bella, looking up into his face, 'what you
are thinking of?'

'There's not much in the thought, my soul. I was thinking
whether you wouldn't like me to be rich?'

'You rich, John?' repeated Bella, shrinking a little.

'I mean, really rich. Say, as rich as Mr Boffin. You would like
that?'

'I should be almost afraid to try, John dear. Was he much the
better for his wealth? Was I much the better for the little part I
once had in it?'

'But all people are not the worse for riches, my own.'

'Most people?' Bella musingly suggested with raised eyebrows.

'Nor even most people, it may be hoped. If you were rich, for
instance, you would have a great power of doing good to others.'

'Yes, sir, for instance,' Bella playfully rejoined; 'but should I
exercise the power, for instance? And again, sir, for instance;
should I, at the same time, have a great power of doing harm to
myself?'

Laughing and pressing her arm, he retorted: 'But still, again for
instance; would you exercise that power?'

'I don't know,' said Bella, thoughtfully shaking her head. 'I hope
not. I think not. But it's so easy to hope not and think not, without
the riches.'

'Why don't you say, my darling--instead of that phrase--being
poor?' he asked, looking earnestly at her.

'Why don't I say, being poor! Because I am not poor. Dear John,
it's not possible that you suppose I think we are poor?'

'I do, my love.'

'Oh John!'

'Understand me, sweetheart. I know that I am rich beyond all
wealth in having you; but I think OF you, and think FOR you. In
such a dress as you are wearing now, you first charmed me, and in
no dress could you ever look, to my thinking, more graceful or
more beautiful. But you have admired many finer dresses this very
day; and is it not natural that I wish I could give them to you?'

'It's very nice that you should wish it, John. It brings these tears of
grateful pleasure into my eyes, to hear you say so with such
tenderness. But I don't want them.'

'Again,' he pursued, 'we are now walking through the muddy
streets. I love those pretty feet so dearly, that I feel as if I could not
bear the dirt to soil the sole of your shoe. Is it not natural that I
wish you could ride in a carriage?'

'It's very nice,' said Bella, glancing downward at the feet in
question, 'to know that you admire them so much, John dear, and
since you do, I am sorry that these shoes are a full size too large.
But I don't want a carriage, believe me.'

'You would like one if you could have one, Bella?'

'I shouldn't like it for its own sake, half so well as such a wish for
it. Dear John, your wishes are as real to me as the wishes in the
Fairy story, that were all fulfilled as soon as spoken. Wish me
everything that you can wish for the woman you dearly love, and I
have as good as got it, John. I have better than got it, John!'

They were not the less happy for such talk, and home was not the
less home for coming after it. Bella was fast developing a perfect
genius for home. All the loves and graces seemed (her husband
thought) to have taken domestic service with her, and to help her to
make home engaging.

Her married life glided happily on. She was alone all day, for,
after an early breakfast her husband repaired every morning to the
City, and did not return until their late dinner hour. He was 'in a
China house,' he explained to Bella: which she found quite
satisfactory, without pursuing the China house into minuter details
than a wholesale vision of tea, rice, odd-smelling silks, carved
boxes, and tight-eyed people in more than double-soled shoes, with
their pigtails pulling their heads of hair off, painted on transparent
porcelain. She always walked with her husband to the railroad,
and was always there again to meet him; her old coquettish ways a
little sobered down (but not much), and her dress as daintily
managed as if she managed nothing else. But, John gone to
business and Bella returned home, the dress would be laid aside,
trim little wrappers and aprons would be substituted, and Bella,
putting back her hair with both hands, as if she were making the
most business-like arrangements for going dramatically distracted,
would enter on the household affairs of the day. Such weighing
and mixing and chopping and grating, such dusting and washing
and polishing, such snipping and weeding and trowelling and
other small gardening, such making and mending and folding and
airing, such diverse arrangements, and above all such severe study!
For Mrs J. R., who had never been wont to do too much at home as
Miss B. W., was under the constant necessity of referring for
advice and support to a sage volume entitled The Complete British
Family Housewife, which she would sit consulting, with her
elbows on the table and her temples on her hands, like some
perplexed enchantress poring over the Black Art. This, principally
because the Complete British Housewife, however sound a Briton
at heart, was by no means an expert Briton at expressing herself
with clearness in the British tongue, and sometimes might have
issued her directions to equal purpose in the Kamskatchan
language. In any crisis of this nature, Bella would suddenly
exclaim aloud, 'Oh you ridiculous old thing, what do you mean by
that? You must have been drinking!' And having made this
marginal note, would try the Housewife again, with all her dimples
screwed into an expression of profound research.

There was likewise a coolness on the part of the British Housewife,
which Mrs John Rokesmith found highly exasperating. She would
say, 'Take a salamander,' as if a general should command a private
to catch a Tartar. Or, she would casually issue the order, 'Throw in
a handful--' of something entirely unattainable. In these, the
Housewife's most glaring moments of unreason, Bella would shut
her up and knock her on the table, apostrophising her with the
compliment, 'O you ARE a stupid old Donkey! Where am I to get
it, do you think?'

Another branch of study claimed the attention of Mrs John
Rokesmith for a regular period every day. This was the mastering
of the newspaper, so that she might be close up with John on
general topics when John came home. In her desire to be in all
things his companion, she would have set herself with equal zeal
to master Algebra, or Euclid, if he had divided his soul between
her and either. Wonderful was the way in which she would store
up the City Intelligence, and beamingly shed it upon John in the
course of the evening; incidentally mentioning the commodities
that were looking up in the markets, and how much gold had been
taken to the Bank, and trying to look wise and serious over it until
she would laugh at herself most charmingly and would say, kissing
him: 'It all comes of my love, John dear.'

For a City man, John certainly did appear to care as little as might
be for the looking up or looking down of things, as well as for the
gold that got taken to the Bank. But he cared, beyond all
expression, for his wife, as a most precious and sweet commodity
that was always looking up, and that never was worth less than all
the gold in the world. And she, being inspired by her affection,
and having a quick wit and a fine ready instinct, made amazing
progress in her domestic efficiency, though, as an endearing
creature, she made no progress at all. This was her husband's
verdict, and he justified it by telling her that she had begun her
married life as the most endearing creature that could possibly be.

'And you have such a cheerful spirit!' he said, fondly. 'You are like
a bright light in the house.'

'Am I truly, John?'

'Are you truly? Yes, indeed. Only much more, and much better.'

'Do you know, John dear,' said Bella, taking him by a button of his
coat, 'that I sometimes, at odd moments--don't laugh, John,
please.'

Nothing should induce John to do it, when she asked him not to do
it.

'--That I sometimes think, John, I feel a little serious.'

'Are you too much alone, my darling?'

'O dear, no, John! The time is so short that I have not a moment
too much in the week.'

'Why serious, my life, then? When serious?'

'When I laugh, I think,' said Bella, laughing as she laid her head
upon his shoulder. 'You wouldn't believe, sir, that I feel serious
now? But I do.' And she laughed again, and something glistened
in her eyes.

'Would you like to be rich, pet?' he asked her coaxingly.

'Rich, John! How CAN you ask such goose's questions?'

'Do you regret anything, my love?'

'Regret anything? No!' Bella confidently answered. But then,
suddenly changing, she said, between laughing and glistening:
'Oh yes, I do though. I regret Mrs Boffin.'

'I, too, regret that separation very much. But perhaps it is only
temporary. Perhaps things may so fall out, as that you may
sometimes see her again--as that we may sometimes see her again.'
Bella might be very anxious on the subject, but she scarcely
seemed so at the moment. With an absent air, she was
investigating that button on her husband's coat, when Pa came in
to spend the evening.

Pa had his special chair and his special corner reserved for him on
all occasions, and--without disparagement of his domestic joys--
was far happier there, than anywhere. It was always pleasantly
droll to see Pa and Bella together; but on this present evening her
husband thought her more than usually fantastic with him.

'You are a very good little boy,' said Bella, 'to come unexpectedly,
as soon as you could get out of school. And how have they used
you at school to-day, you dear?'

'Well, my pet,' replied the cherub, smiling and rubbing his hands
as she sat him down in his chair, 'I attend two schools. There's the
Mincing Lane establishment, and there's your mother's Academy.
Which might you mean, my dear?'

'Both,' said Bella.

'Both, eh? Why, to say the truth, both have taken a little out of me
to-day, my dear, but that was to be expected. There's no royal road
to learning; and what is life but learning!'

'And what do you do with yourself when you have got your
learning by heart, you silly child?'

'Why then, my dear,' said the cherub, after a little consideration, 'I
suppose I die.'

'You are a very bad boy,' retorted Bella, 'to talk about dismal things
and be out of spirits.'

'My Bella,' rejoined her father, 'I am not out of spirits. I am as gay
as a lark.' Which his face confirmed.

'Then if you are sure and certain it's not you, I suppose it must be
I,' said Bella; 'so I won't do so any more. John dear, we must give
this little fellow his supper, you know.'

'Of course we must, my darling.'

'He has been grubbing and grubbing at school,' said Bella, looking
at her father's hand and lightly slapping it, 'till he's not fit to be
seen. O what a grubby child!'

'Indeed, my dear,' said her father, 'I was going to ask to be allowed
to wash my hands, only you find me out so soon.'

'Come here, sir!' cried Bella, taking him by the front of his coat,
'come here and be washed directly. You are not to be trusted to do
it for yourself. Come here, sir!'

The cherub, to his genial amusement, was accordingly conducted

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