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Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens

Part 8 out of 21

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'At all events,' observed Fledgeby, with a dry whistle, 'I hope she
ain't bad enough to put any chap up to the fastenings, and get the
premises broken open. You look out. Keep your weather eye
awake and don't make any more acquaintances, however
handsome. Of course you always keep my name to yourself?'

'Sir, assuredly I do.'

'If they ask it, say it's Pubsey, or say it's Co, or say it's anything
you like, but what it is.'

His grateful servant--in whose race gratitude is deep, strong, and
enduring--bowed his head, and actually did now put the hem of
his coat to his lips: though so lightly that the wearer knew nothing
of it.

Thus, Fascination Fledgeby went his way, exulting in the artful
cleverness with which he had turned his thumb down on a Jew,
and the old man went his different way up-stairs. As he mounted,
the call or song began to sound in his ears again, and, looking
above, he saw the face of the little creature looking down out of a
Glory of her long bright radiant hair, and musically repeating to
him, like a vision:

'Come up and be dead! Come up and be dead!'

Chapter 6

A RIDDLE WITHOUT AN ANSWER

Again Mr Mortimer Lightwood and Mr Eugene Wrayburn sat
together in the Temple. This evening, however, they were not
together in the place of business of the eminent solicitor, but in
another dismal set of chambers facing it on the same second-floor;
on whose dungeon-like black outer-door appeared the legend:

PRIVATE

MR EUGENE WRAYBURN

MR MORTIMER LIGHTWOOD

(Mr Lightwood's Offices opposite.)

Appearances indicated that this establishment was a very recent
institution. The white letters of the inscription were extremely
white and extremely strong to the sense of smell, the complexion
of the tables and chairs was (like Lady Tippins's) a little too
blooming to be believed in, and the carpets and floorcloth seemed
to rush at the beholder's face in the unusual prominency of their
patterns. But the Temple, accustomed to tone down both the still
life and the human life that has much to do with it, would soon get
the better of all that.

'Well!' said Eugene, on one side of the fire, 'I feel tolerably
comfortable. I hope the upholsterer may do the same.'

'Why shouldn't he?' asked Lightwood, from the other side of the
fire.

'To be sure,' pursued Eugene, reflecting, 'he is not in the secret of
our pecuniary affairs, so perhaps he may be in an easy frame of
mind.'

'We shall pay him,' said Mortimer.

'Shall we, really?' returned Eugene, indolently surprised. 'You
don't say so!'

'I mean to pay him, Eugene, for my part,' said Mortimer, in a
slightly injured tone.

'Ah! I mean to pay him too,' retorted Eugene. 'But then I mean so
much that I--that I don't mean.'

'Don't mean?'

'So much that I only mean and shall always only mean and nothing
more, my dear Mortimer. It's the same thing.'

His friend, lying back in his easy chair, watched him lying back in
his easy chair, as he stretched out his legs on the hearth-rug, and
said, with the amused look that Eugene Wrayburn could always
awaken in him without seeming to try or care:

'Anyhow, your vagaries have increased the bill.'

'Calls the domestic virtues vagaries!' exclaimed Eugene, raising his
eyes to the ceiling.

'This very complete little kitchen of ours,' said Mortimer, 'in which
nothing will ever be cooked--'

'My dear, dear Mortimer,' returned his friend, lazily lifting his head
a little to look at him, 'how often have I pointed out to you that its
moral influence is the important thing?'

'Its moral influence on this fellow!' exclaimed Lightwood,
laughing.

'Do me the favour,' said Eugene, getting out of his chair with much
gravity, 'to come and inspect that feature of our establishment
which you rashly disparage.' With that, taking up a candle, he
conducted his chum into the fourth room of the set of chambers--a
little narrow room--which was very completely and neatly fitted
as a kitchen. 'See!' said Eugene, 'miniature flour-barrel, rolling-
pin, spice-box, shelf of brown jars, chopping-board, coffee-mill,
dresser elegantly furnished with crockery, saucepans and pans,
roasting jack, a charming kettle, an armoury of dish-covers. The
moral influence of these objects, in forming the domestic virtues,
may have an immense influence upon me; not upon you, for you
are a hopeless case, but upon me. In fact, I have an idea that I
feel the domestic virtues already forming. Do me the favour to
step into my bedroom. Secretaire, you see, and abstruse set of
solid mahogany pigeon-holes, one for every letter of the alphabet.
To what use do I devote them? I receive a bill--say from Jones. I
docket it neatly at the secretaire, JONES, and I put it into
pigeonhole J. It's the next thing to a receipt and is quite as
satisfactory to ME. And I very much wish, Mortimer,' sitting on
his bed, with the air of a philosopher lecturing a disciple, 'that my
example might induce YOU to cultivate habits of punctuality and
method; and, by means of the moral influences with which I have
surrounded you, to encourage the formation of the domestic
virtues.'

Mortimer laughed again, with his usual commentaries of 'How
CAN you be so ridiculous, Eugene!' and 'What an absurd fellow
you are!' but when his laugh was out, there was something serious,
if not anxious, in his face. Despite that pernicious assumption of
lassitude and indifference, which had become his second nature,
he was strongly attached to his friend. He had founded himself
upon Eugene when they were yet boys at school; and at this hour
imitated him no less, admired him no less, loved him no less, than
in those departed days.

'Eugene,' said he, 'if I could find you in earnest for a minute, I
would try to say an earnest word to you.'

'An earnest word?' repeated Eugene. 'The moral influences are
beginning to work. Say on.'

'Well, I will,' returned the other, 'though you are not earnest yet.'

'In this desire for earnestness,' murmured Eugene, with the air of
one who was meditating deeply, 'I trace the happy influences of
the little flour-barrel and the coffee-mill. Gratifying.'

'Eugene,' resumed Mortimer, disregarding the light interruption,
and laying a hand upon Eugene's shoulder, as he, Mortimer, stood
before him seated on his bed, 'you are withholding something from
me.'

Eugene looked at him, but said nothing.

'All this past summer, you have been withholding something from
me. Before we entered on our boating vacation, you were as bent
upon it as I have seen you upon anything since we first rowed
together. But you cared very little for it when it came, often
found it a tie and a drag upon you, and were constantly away.
Now it was well enough half-a-dozen times, a dozen times, twenty
times, to say to me in your own odd manner, which I know so well
and like so much, that your disappearances were precautions
against our boring one another; but of course after a short while I
began to know that they covered something. I don't ask what it is,
as you have not told me; but the fact is so. Say, is it not?'

'I give you my word of honour, Mortimer,' returned Eugene, after
a serious pause of a few moments, 'that I don't know.'

'Don't know, Eugene?'

'Upon my soul, don't know. I know less about myself than about
most people in the world, and I don't know.'

'You have some design in your mind?'

'Have I? I don't think I have.'

'At any rate, you have some subject of interest there which used
not to be there?'

'I really can't say,' replied Eugene, shaking his head blankly, after
pausing again to reconsider. 'At times I have thought yes; at other
times I have thought no. Now, I have been inclined to pursue
such a subject; now I have felt that it was absurd, and that it tired
and embarrassed me. Absolutely, I can't say. Frankly and
faithfully, I would if I could.'

So replying, he clapped a hand, in his turn, on his friend's
shoulder, as he rose from his seat upon the bed, and said:

'You must take your friend as he is. You know what I am, my
dear Mortimer. You know how dreadfully susceptible I am to
boredom. You know that when I became enough of a man to find
myself an embodied conundrum, I bored myself to the last degree
by trying to find out what I meant. You know that at length I gave
it up, and declined to guess any more. Then how can I possibly
give you the answer that I have not discovered? The old nursery
form runs, "Riddle-me-riddle-me-ree, p'raps you can't tell me what
this may be?" My reply runs, "No. Upon my life, I can't."'

So much of what was fantastically true to his own knowledge of
this utterly careless Eugene, mingled with the answer, that
Mortimer could not receive it as a mere evasion. Besides, it was
given with an engaging air of openness, and of special exemption
of the one friend he valued, from his reckless indifference.

'Come, dear boy!' said Eugene. 'Let us try the effect of smoking.
If it enlightens me at all on this question, I will impart
unreservedly.'

They returned to the room they had come from, and, finding it
heated, opened a window. Having lighted their cigars, they leaned
out of this window, smoking, and looking down at the moonlight,
as it shone into the court below.

'No enlightenment,' resumed Eugene, after certain minutes of
silence. 'I feel sincerely apologetic, my dear Mortimer, but
nothing comes.'

'If nothing comes,' returned Mortimer, 'nothing can come from it.
So I shall hope that this may hold good throughout, and that there
may be nothing on foot. Nothing injurious to you, Eugene, or--'

Eugene stayed him for a moment with his hand on his arm, while
he took a piece of earth from an old flowerpot on the window-sill
and dexterously shot it at a little point of light opposite; having
done which to his satisfaction, he said, 'Or?'

'Or injurious to any one else.'

'How,' said Eugene, taking another little piece of earth, and
shooting it with great precision at the former mark, 'how injurious
to any one else?'

'I don't know.'

'And,' said Eugene, taking, as he said the word, another shot, 'to
whom else?'

'I don't know.'

Checking himself with another piece of earth in his hand, Eugene
looked at his friend inquiringly and a little suspiciously. There
was no concealed or half-expressed meaning in his face.

'Two belated wanderers in the mazes of the law,' said Eugene,
attracted by the sound of footsteps, and glancing down as he
spoke, 'stray into the court. They examine the door-posts of
number one, seeking the name they want. Not finding it at
number one, they come to number two. On the hat of wanderer
number two, the shorter one, I drop this pellet. Hitting him on the
hat, I smoke serenely, and become absorbed in contemplation of
the sky.'

Both the wanderers looked up towards the window; but, after
interchanging a mutter or two, soon applied themselves to the
door-posts below. There they seemed to discover what they
wanted, for they disappeared from view by entering at the
doorway. 'When they emerge,' said Eugene, 'you shall see me
bring them both down'; and so prepared two pellets for the
purpose.

He had not reckoned on their seeking his name, or Lightwood's.
But either the one or the other would seem to be in question, for
now there came a knock at the door. 'I am on duty to-night,' said
Mortimer, 'stay you where you are, Eugene.' Requiring no
persuasion, he stayed there, smoking quietly, and not at all curious
to know who knocked, until Mortimer spoke to him from within
the room, and touched him. Then, drawing in his head, he found
the visitors to be young Charley Hexam and the schoolmaster;
both standing facing him, and both recognized at a glance.

'You recollect this young fellow, Eugene?' said Mortimer.

'Let me look at him,' returned Wrayburn, coolly. 'Oh, yes, yes. I
recollect him!'

He had not been about to repeat that former action of taking him
by the chin, but the boy had suspected him of it, and had thrown
up his arm with an angry start. Laughingly, Wrayburn looked to
Lightwood for an explanation of this odd visit.

'He says he has something to say.'

'Surely it must be to you, Mortimer.'

'So I thought, but he says no. He says it is to you.'

'Yes, I do say so,' interposed the boy. 'And I mean to say what I
want to say, too, Mr Eugene Wrayburn!'

Passing him with his eyes as if there were nothing where he stood,
Eugene looked on to Bradley Headstone. With consummate
indolence, he turned to Mortimer, inquiring: 'And who may this
other person be?'

'I am Charles Hexam's friend,' said Bradley; 'I am Charles
Hexam's schoolmaster.'

'My good sir, you should teach your pupils better manners,'
returned Eugene.

Composedly smoking, he leaned an elbow on the chimneypiece, at
the side of the fire, and looked at the schoolmaster. It was a cruel
look, in its cold disdain of him, as a creature of no worth. The
schoolmaster looked at him, and that, too, was a cruel look,
though of the different kind, that it had a raging jealousy and fiery
wrath in it.

Very remarkably, neither Eugene Wrayburn nor Bradley
Headstone looked at all at the boy. Through the ensuing dialogue,
those two, no matter who spoke, or whom was addressed, looked
at each other. There was some secret, sure perception between
them, which set them against one another in all ways.

'In some high respects, Mr Eugene Wrayburn,' said Bradley,
answering him with pale and quivering lips, 'the natural feelings of
my pupils are stronger than my teaching.'

'In most respects, I dare say,' replied Eugene, enjoying his cigar,
'though whether high or low is of no importance. You have my
name very correctly. Pray what is yours?'

'It cannot concern you much to know, but--'

'True,' interposed Eugene, striking sharply and cutting him short at
his mistake, 'it does not concern me at all to know. I can say
Schoolmaster, which is a most respectable title. You are right,
Schoolmaster.'

It was not the dullest part of this goad in its galling of Bradley
Headstone, that he had made it himself in a moment of incautious
anger. He tried to set his lips so as to prevent their quivering, but
they quivered fast.

'Mr Eugene Wrayburn,' said the boy, 'I want a word with you. I
have wanted it so much, that we have looked out your address in
the book, and we have been to your office, and we have come
from your office here.'

'You have given yourself much trouble, Schoolmaster,' observed
Eugene, blowing the feathery ash from his cigar. 'I hope it may
prove remunerative.'

'And I am glad to speak,' pursued the boy, 'in presence of Mr
Lightwood, because it was through Mr Lightwood that you ever
saw my sister.'

For a mere moment, Wrayburn turned his eyes aside from the
schoolmaster to note the effect of the last word on Mortimer, who,
standing on the opposite side of the fire, as soon as the word was
spoken, turned his face towards the fire and looked down into it.

'Similarly, it was through Mr Lightwood that you ever saw her
again, for you were with him on the night when my father was
found, and so I found you with her on the next day. Since then,
you have seen my sister often. You have seen my sister oftener
and oftener. And I want to know why?'

'Was this worth while, Schoolmaster?' murmured Eugene, with the
air of a disinterested adviser. 'So much trouble for nothing? You
should know best, but I think not.'

'I don't know, Mr Wrayburn,' answered Bradley, with his passion
rising, 'why you address me--'

'Don't you? said Eugene. 'Then I won't.'

He said it so tauntingly in his perfect placidity, that the
respectable right-hand clutching the respectable hair-guard of the
respectable watch could have wound it round his throat and
strangled him with it. Not another word did Eugene deem it worth
while to utter, but stood leaning his head upon his hand, smoking,
and looking imperturbably at the chafing Bradley Headstone with
his clutching right-hand, until Bradley was wellnigh mad.

'Mr Wrayburn,' proceeded the boy, 'we not only know this that I
have charged upon you, but we know more. It has not yet come
to my sister's knowledge that we have found it out, but we have.
We had a plan, Mr Headstone and I, for my sister's education, and
for its being advised and overlooked by Mr Headstone, who is a
much more competent authority, whatever you may pretend to
think, as you smoke, than you could produce, if you tried. Then,
what do we find? What do we find, Mr Lightwood? Why, we
find that my sister is already being taught, without our knowing it.
We find that while my sister gives an unwilling and cold ear to our
schemes for her advantage--I, her brother, and Mr Headstone, the
most competent authority, as his certificates would easily prove,
that could be produced--she is wilfully and willingly profiting by
other schemes. Ay, and taking pains, too, for I know what such
pains are. And so does Mr Headstone! Well! Somebody pays for
this, is a thought that naturally occurs to us; who pays? We apply
ourselves to find out, Mr Lightwood, and we find that your friend,
this Mr Eugene Wrayburn, here, pays. Then I ask him what right
has he to do it, and what does he mean by it, and how comes he to
be taking such a liberty without my consent, when I am raising
myself in the scale of society by my own exertions and Mr
Headstone's aid, and have no right to have any darkness cast upon
my prospects, or any imputation upon my respectability, through
my sister?'

The boyish weakness of this speech, combined with its great
selfishness, made it a poor one indeed. And yet Bradley
Headstone, used to the little audience of a school, and unused to
the larger ways of men, showed a kind of exultation in it.

'Now I tell Mr Eugene Wrayburn,' pursued the boy, forced into
the use of the third person by the hopelessness of addressing him
in the first, 'that I object to his having any acquaintance at all with
my sister, and that I request him to drop it altogether. He is not to
take it into his head that I am afraid of my sister's caring for HIM--'

(As the boy sneered, the Master sneered, and Eugene blew off the
feathery ash again.)

--'But I object to it, and that's enough. I am more important to to
my sister than he thinks. As I raise myself, I intend to raise her;
she knows that, and she has to look to me for her prospects. Now
I understand all this very well, and so does Mr Headstone. My
sister is an excellent girl, but she has some romantic notions; not
about such things as your Mr Eugene Wrayburns, but about the
death of my father and other matters of that sort. Mr Wrayburn
encourages those notions to make himself of importance, and so
she thinks she ought to be grateful to him, and perhaps even likes
to be. Now I don't choose her to be grateful to him, or to be
grateful to anybody but me, except Mr Headstone. And I tell Mr
Wrayburn that if he don't take heed of what I say, it will be worse
for her. Let him turn that over in his memory, and make sure of it.
Worse for her!'

A pause ensued, in which the schoolmaster looked very awkward.

'May I suggest, Schoolmaster,' said Eugene, removing his fast-
waning cigar from his lips to glance at it, 'that you can now take
your pupil away.'

'And Mr Lightwood,' added the boy, with a burning face, under
the flaming aggravation of getting no sort of answer or attention, 'I
hope you'll take notice of what I have said to your friend, and of
what your friend has heard me say, word by word, whatever he
pretends to the contrary. You are bound to take notice of it, Mr
Lightwood, for, as I have already mentioned, you first brought
your friend into my sister's company, and but for you we never
should have seen him. Lord knows none of us ever wanted him,
any more than any of us will ever miss him. Now Mr Headstone,
as Mr Eugene Wrayburn has been obliged to hear what I had to
say, and couldn't help himself, and as I have said it out to the last
word, we have done all we wanted to do, and may go.'

'Go down-stairs, and leave me a moment, Hexam,' he returned.
The boy complying with an indignant look and as much noise as
he could make, swung out of the room; and Lightwood went to
the window, and leaned there, looking out.

'You think me of no more value than the dirt under your feet,' said
Bradley to Eugene, speaking in a carefully weighed and measured
tone, or he could not have spoken at all.

'I assure you, Schoolmaster,' replied Eugene, 'I don't think about
you.'

'That's not true,' returned the other; 'you know better.'

'That's coarse,' Eugene retorted; 'but you DON'T know better.'

'Mr Wrayburn, at least I know very well that it would be idle to
set myself against you in insolent words or overbearing manners.
That lad who has just gone out could put you to shame in half-a-
dozen branches of knowledge in half an hour, but you can throw
him aside like an inferior. You can do as much by me, I have no
doubt, beforehand.'

'Possibly,' remarked Eugene.

'But I am more than a lad,' said Bradley, with his clutching hand,
'and I WILL be heard, sir.'

'As a schoolmaster,' said Eugene, 'you are always being heard.
That ought to content you.'

'But it does not content me,' replied the other, white with passion.
'Do you suppose that a man, in forming himself for the duties I
discharge, and in watching and repressing himself daily to
discharge them well, dismisses a man's nature?'

'I suppose you,' said Eugene, 'judging from what I see as I look at
you, to be rather too passionate for a good schoolmaster.' As he
spoke, he tossed away the end of his cigar.

'Passionate with you, sir, I admit I am. Passionate with you, sir, I
respect myself for being. But I have not Devils for my pupils.'

'For your Teachers, I should rather say,' replied Eugene.

'Mr Wrayburn.'

'Schoolmaster.'

'Sir, my name is Bradley Headstone.'

'As you justly said, my good sir, your name cannot concern me.
Now, what more?'

'This more. Oh, what a misfortune is mine,' cried Bradley,
breaking off to wipe the starting perspiration from his face as he
shook from head to foot, 'that I cannot so control myself as to
appear a stronger creature than this, when a man who has not felt
in all his life what I have felt in a day can so command himself!'
He said it in a very agony, and even followed it with an errant
motion of his hands as if he could have torn himself.

Eugene Wrayburn looked on at him, as if he found him beginning
to be rather an entertaining study.

'Mr Wrayburn, I desire to say something to you on my own part.'

'Come, come, Schoolmaster,' returned Eugene, with a languid
approach to impatience as the other again struggled with himself;
'say what you have to say. And let me remind you that the door is
standing open, and your young friend waiting for you on the
stairs.'

'When I accompanied that youth here, sir, I did so with the
purpose of adding, as a man whom you should not be permitted to
put aside, in case you put him aside as a boy, that his instinct is
correct and right.' Thus Bradley Headstone, with great effort and
difficulty.

'Is that all?' asked Eugene.

'No, sir,' said the other, flushed and fierce. 'I strongly support him
in his disapproval of your visits to his sister, and in his objection to
your officiousness--and worse--in what you have taken upon
yourself to do for her.'

'Is THAT all?' asked Eugene.

'No, sir. I determined to tell you that you are not justified in these
proceedings, and that they are injurious to his sister.'

'Are you her schoolmaster as well as her brother's?--Or perhaps
you would like to be?' said Eugene.

It was a stab that the blood followed, in its rush to Bradley
Headstone's face, as swiftly as if it had been dealt with a dagger.
'What do you mean by that?' was as much as he could utter.

'A natural ambition enough,' said Eugene, coolly. Far be it from
me to say otherwise. The sister who is something too much upon
your lips, perhaps--is so very different from all the associations to
which she had been used, and from all the low obscure people
about her, that it is a very natural ambition.'

'Do you throw my obscurity in my teeth, Mr Wrayburn?'

'That can hardly be, for I know nothing concerning it,
Schoolmaster, and seek to know nothing.'

'You reproach me with my origin,' said Bradley Headstone; 'you
cast insinuations at my bringing-up. But I tell you, sir, I have
worked my way onward, out of both and in spite of both, and
have a right to be considered a better man than you, with better
reasons for being proud.'

'How I can reproach you with what is not within my knowledge,
or how I can cast stones that were never in my hand, is a problem
for the ingenuity of a schoolmaster to prove,' returned Eugene. 'Is
THAT all?'

'No, sir. If you suppose that boy--'

'Who really will be tired of waiting,' said Eugene, politely.

'If you suppose that boy to be friendless, Mr Wrayburn, you
deceive yourself. I am his friend, and you shall find me so.'

'And you will find HIM on the stairs,' remarked Eugene.

'You may have promised yourself, sir, that you could do what you
chose here, because you had to deal with a mere boy,
inexperienced, friendless, and unassisted. But I give you warning
that this mean calculation is wrong. You have to do with a man
also. You have to do with me. I will support him, and, if need be,
require reparation for him. My hand and heart are in this cause,
and are open to him.'

'And--quite a coincidence--the door is open,' remarked Eugene.

'I scorn your shifty evasions, and I scorn you,' said the
schoolmaster. 'In the meanness of your nature you revile me with
the meanness of my birth. I hold you in contempt for it. But if
you don't profit by this visit, and act accordingly, you will find me
as bitterly in earnest against you as I could be if I deemed you
worth a second thought on my own account.'

With a consciously bad grace and stiff manner, as Wrayburn
looked so easily and calmly on, he went out with these words, and
the heavy door closed like a furnace-door upon his red and white
heats of rage.

'A curious monomaniac,' said Eugene. 'The man seems to believe
that everybody was acquainted with his mother!'

Mortimer Lightwood being still at the window, to which he had in
delicacy withdrawn, Eugene called to him, and he fell to slowly
pacing the room.

'My dear fellow,' said Eugene, as he lighted another cigar, 'I fear
my unexpected visitors have been troublesome. If as a set-off
(excuse the legal phrase from a barrister-at-law) you would like to
ask Tippins to tea, I pledge myself to make love to her.'

'Eugene, Eugene, Eugene,' replied Mortimer, still pacing the room,
'I am sorry for this. And to think that I have been so blind!'

'How blind, dear boy?' inquired his unmoved friend.

'What were your words that night at the river-side public-house?'
said Lightwood, stopping. 'What was it that you asked me? Did I
feel like a dark combination of traitor and pickpocket when I
thought of that girl?'

'I seem to remember the expression,' said Eugene.

'How do YOU feel when you think of her just now?'

His friend made no direct reply, but observed, after a few whiffs
of his cigar, 'Don't mistake the situation. There is no better girl in
all this London than Lizzie Hexam. There is no better among my
people at home; no better among your people.'

'Granted. What follows?'

'There,' said Eugene, looking after him dubiously as he paced
away to the other end of the room, 'you put me again upon
guessing the riddle that I have given up.'

'Eugene, do you design to capture and desert this girl?'

'My dear fellow, no.'

'Do you design to marry her?'

'My dear fellow, no.'

'Do you design to pursue her?'

'My dear fellow, I don't design anything. I have no design
whatever. I am incapable of designs. If I conceived a design, I
should speedily abandon it, exhausted by the operation.'

'Oh Eugene, Eugene!'

'My dear Mortimer, not that tone of melancholy reproach, I
entreat. What can I do more than tell you all I know, and
acknowledge my ignorance of all I don't know! How does that
little old song go, which, under pretence of being cheerful, is by
far the most lugubrious I ever heard in my life?

"Away with melancholy,
Nor doleful changes ring
On life and human folly,
But merrily merrily sing
Fal la!"

Don't let us sing Fal la, my dear Mortimer (which is comparatively
unmeaning), but let us sing that we give up guessing the riddle
altogether.'

'Are you in communication with this girl, Eugene, and is what
these people say true?'

'I concede both admissions to my honourable and learned friend.'

'Then what is to come of it? What are you doing? Where are you
going?'

'My dear Mortimer, one would think the schoolmaster had left
behind him a catechizing infection. You are ruffled by the want
of another cigar. Take one of these, I entreat. Light it at mine,
which is in perfect order. So! Now do me the justice to observe
that I am doing all I can towards self-improvement, and that you
have a light thrown on those household implements which, when
you only saw them as in a glass darkly, you were hastily--I must
say hastily--inclined to depreciate. Sensible of my deficiencies, I
have surrounded myself with moral influences expressly meant to
promote the formation of the domestic virtues. To those
influences, and to the improving society of my friend from
boyhood, commend me with your best wishes.'

'Ah, Eugene!' said Lightwood, affectionately, now standing near
him, so that they both stood in one little cloud of smoke; 'I would
that you answered my three questions! What is to come of it?
What are you doing? Where are you going?'

'And my dear Mortimer,' returned Eugene, lightly fanning away
the smoke with his hand for the better exposition of his frankness
of face and manner, 'believe me, I would answer them instantly if
I could. But to enable me to do so, I must first have found out the
troublesome conundrum long abandoned. Here it is. Eugene
Wrayburn.' Tapping his forehead and breast. 'Riddle-me, riddle-
me-ree, perhaps you can't tell me what this may be?--No, upon my
life I can't. I give it up!'

Chapter 7

IN WHICH A FRIENDLY MOVE IS ORIGINATED

The arrangement between Mr Boffin and his literary man, Mr
Silas Wegg, so far altered with the altered habits of Mr Boffin's
life, as that the Roman Empire usually declined in the morning
and in the eminently aristocratic family mansion, rather than in the
evening, as of yore, and in Boffin's Bower. There were occasions,
however, when Mr Boffin, seeking a brief refuge from the
blandishments of fashion, would present himself at the Bower
after dark, to anticipate the next sallying forth of Wegg, and
would there, on the old settle, pursue the downward fortunes of
those enervated and corrupted masters of the world who were by
this time on their last legs. If Wegg had been worse paid for his
office, or better qualified to discharge it, he would have
considered these visits complimentary and agreeable; but, holding
the position of a handsomely-remunerated humbug, he resented
them. This was quite according to rule, for the incompetent
servant, by whomsoever employed, is always against his
employer. Even those born governors, noble and right honourable
creatures, who have been the most imbecile in high places, have
uniformly shown themselves the most opposed (sometimes in
belying distrust, sometimes in vapid insolence) to THEIR
employer. What is in such wise true of the public master and
servant, is equally true of the private master and servant all the
world over.

When Mr Silas Wegg did at last obtain free access to 'Our House',
as he had been wont to call the mansion outside which he had sat
shelterless so long, and when he did at last find it in all particulars
as different from his mental plans of it as according to the nature
of things it well could be, that far-seeing and far-reaching
character, by way of asserting himself and making out a case for
compensation, affected to fall into a melancholy strain of musing
over the mournful past; as if the house and he had had a fall in life
together.

'And this, sir,' Silas would say to his patron, sadly nodding his head
and musing, 'was once Our House! This, sir, is the building from
which I have so often seen those great creatures, Miss Elizabeth,
Master George, Aunt Jane, and Uncle Parker'--whose very names
were of his own inventing--'pass and repass! And has it come to
this, indeed! Ah dear me, dear me!'

So tender were his lamentations, that the kindly Mr Boffin was
quite sorry for him, and almost felt mistrustful that in buying the
house he had done him an irreparable injury.

Two or three diplomatic interviews, the result of great subtlety on
Mr Wegg's part, but assuming the mask of careless yielding to a
fortuitous combination of circumstances impelling him towards
Clerkenwell, had enabled him to complete his bargain with Mr
Venus.

'Bring me round to the Bower,' said Silas, when the bargain was
closed, 'next Saturday evening, and if a sociable glass of old
Jamaikey warm should meet your views, I am not the man to
begrudge it.'

'You are aware of my being poor company, sir,' replied Mr Venus,
'but be it so.'

It being so, here is Saturday evening come, and here is Mr Venus
come, and ringing at the Bower-gate.

Mr Wegg opens the gate, descries a sort of brown paper truncheon
under Mr Venus's arm, and remarks, in a dry tone: 'Oh! I thought
perhaps you might have come in a cab.'

'No, Mr Wegg,' replies Venus. 'I am not above a parcel.'

'Above a parcel! No!' says Wegg, with some dissatisfaction. But
does not openly growl, 'a certain sort of parcel might be above
you.'

'Here is your purchase, Mr Wegg,' says Venus, politely handing it
over, 'and I am glad to restore it to the source from whence it--
flowed.'

'Thankee,' says Wegg. 'Now this affair is concluded, I may
mention to you in a friendly way that I've my doubts whether, if I
had consulted a lawyer, you could have kept this article back from
me. I only throw it out as a legal point.'

'Do you think so, Mr Wegg? I bought you in open contract.'

'You can't buy human flesh and blood in this country, sir; not
alive, you can't,' says Wegg, shaking his head. 'Then query, bone?'

'As a legal point?' asks Venus.

'As a legal point.'

'I am not competent to speak upon that, Mr Wegg,' says Venus,
reddening and growing something louder; 'but upon a point of fact
I think myself competent to speak; and as a point of fact I would
have seen you--will you allow me to say, further?'

'I wouldn't say more than further, if I was you,' Mr Wegg suggests,
pacifically.

--'Before I'd have given that packet into your hand without being
paid my price for it. I don't pretend to know how the point of law
may stand, but I'm thoroughly confident upon the point of fact.'

As Mr Venus is irritable (no doubt owing to his disappointment in
love), and as it is not the cue of Mr Wegg to have him out of
temper, the latter gentleman soothingly remarks, 'I only put it as a
little case; I only put it ha'porthetically.'

'Then I'd rather, Mr Wegg, you put it another time, penn'orth-
etically,' is Mr Venus's retort, 'for I tell you candidly I don't like
your little cases.'

Arrived by this time in Mr Wegg's sitting-room, made bright on
the chilly evening by gaslight and fire, Mr Venus softens and
compliments him on his abode; profiting by the occasion to
remind Wegg that he (Venus) told him he had got into a good
thing.

'Tolerable,' Wegg rejoins. 'But bear in mind, Mr Venus, that
there's no gold without its alloy. Mix for yourself and take a seat
in the chimbley-corner. Will you perform upon a pipe, sir?'

'I am but an indifferent performer, sir,' returns the other; 'but I'll
accompany you with a whiff or two at intervals.'

So, Mr Venus mixes, and Wegg mixes; and Mr Venus lights and
puffs, and Wegg lights and puffs.

'And there's alloy even in this metal of yours, Mr Wegg, you was
remarking?'

'Mystery,' returns Wegg. 'I don't like it, Mr Venus. I don't like to
have the life knocked out of former inhabitants of this house, in
the gloomy dark, and not know who did it.'

'Might you have any suspicions, Mr Wegg?'

'No,' returns that gentleman. 'I know who profits by it. But I've
no suspicions.'

Having said which, Mr Wegg smokes and looks at the fire with a
most determined expression of Charity; as if he had caught that
cardinal virtue by the skirts as she felt it her painful duty to depart
from him, and held her by main force.

'Similarly,' resumes Wegg, 'I have observations as I can offer upon
certain points and parties; but I make no objections, Mr Venus.
Here is an immense fortune drops from the clouds upon a person
that shall be nameless. Here is a weekly allowance, with a certain
weight of coals, drops from the clouds upon me. Which of us is
the better man? Not the person that shall be nameless. That's an
observation of mine, but I don't make it an objection. I take my
allowance and my certain weight of coals. He takes his fortune.
That's the way it works.'

'It would be a good thing for me, if I could see things in the calm
light you do, Mr Wegg.'

'Again look here,' pursues Silas, with an oratorical flourish of his
pipe and his wooden leg: the latter having an undignified tendency
to tilt him back in his chair; 'here's another observation, Mr Venus,
unaccompanied with an objection. Him that shall be nameless is
liable to be talked over. He gets talked over. Him that shall be
nameless, having me at his right hand, naturally looking to be
promoted higher, and you may perhaps say meriting to be
promoted higher--'

(Mr Venus murmurs that he does say so.)

'--Him that shall be nameless, under such circumstances passes me
by, and puts a talking-over stranger above my head. Which of us
two is the better man? Which of us two can repeat most poetry?
Which of us two has, in the service of him that shall be nameless,
tackled the Romans, both civil and military, till he has got as
husky as if he'd been weaned and ever since brought up on
sawdust? Not the talking-over stranger. Yet the house is as free
to him as if it was his, and he has his room, and is put upon a
footing, and draws about a thousand a year. I am banished to the
Bower, to be found in it like a piece of furniture whenever
wanted. Merit, therefore, don't win. That's the way it works. I
observe it, because I can't help observing it, being accustomed to
take a powerful sight of notice; but I don't object. Ever here
before, Mr Venus?'

'Not inside the gate, Mr Wegg.'

'You've been as far as the gate then, Mr Venus?'

'Yes, Mr Wegg, and peeped in from curiosity.'

'Did you see anything?'

'Nothing but the dust-yard.'

Mr Wegg rolls his eyes all round the room, in that ever unsatisfied
quest of his, and then rolls his eyes all round Mr Venus; as if
suspicious of his having something about him to be found out.

'And yet, sir,' he pursues, 'being acquainted with old Mr Harmon,
one would have thought it might have been polite in you, too, to
give him a call. And you're naturally of a polite disposition, you
are.' This last clause as a softening compliment to Mr Venus.

'It is true, sir,' replies Venus, winking his weak eyes, and running
his fingers through his dusty shock of hair, 'that I was so, before a
certain observation soured me. You understand to what I allude,
Mr Wegg? To a certain written statement respecting not wishing
to be regarded in a certain light. Since that, all is fled, save gall.'

'Not all,' says Mr Wegg, in a tone of sentimental condolence.

'Yes, sir,' returns Venus, 'all! The world may deem it harsh, but I'd
quite as soon pitch into my best friend as not. Indeed, I'd sooner!'

Involuntarily making a pass with his wooden leg to guard himself
as Mr Venus springs up in the emphasis of this unsociable
declaration, Mr Wegg tilts over on his back, chair and all, and is
rescued by that harmless misanthrope, in a disjointed state and
ruefully rubbing his head.

'Why, you lost your balance, Mr Wegg,' says Venus, handing him
his pipe.

'And about time to do it,' grumbles Silas, 'when a man's visitors,
without a word of notice, conduct themselves with the sudden
wiciousness of Jacks-in-boxes! Don't come flying out of your
chair like that, Mr Venus!'

'I ask your pardon, Mr Wegg. I am so soured.'

'Yes, but hang it,' says Wegg argumentatively, 'a well-governed
mind can be soured sitting! And as to being regarded in lights,
there's bumpey lights as well as bony. IN which,' again rubbing
his head, 'I object to regard myself.'

'I'll bear it in memory, sir.'

'If you'll be so good.' Mr Wegg slowly subdues his ironical tone
and his lingering irritation, and resumes his pipe. 'We were talking
of old Mr Harmon being a friend of yours.'

'Not a friend, Mr Wegg. Only known to speak to, and to have a
little deal with now and then. A very inquisitive character, Mr
Wegg, regarding what was found in the dust. As inquisitive as
secret.'

'Ah! You found him secret?' returns Wegg, with a greedy relish.

'He had always the look of it, and the manner of it.'

'Ah!' with another roll of his eyes. 'As to what was found in the
dust now. Did you ever hear him mention how he found it, my
dear friend? Living on the mysterious premises, one would like to
know. For instance, where he found things? Or, for instance, how
he set about it? Whether he began at the top ot the mounds, or
whether he began at the bottom. Whether he prodded'; Mr
Wegg's pantomime is skilful and expressive here; 'or whether he
scooped? Should you say scooped, my dear Mr Venus; or should
you as a man--say prodded?'

'I should say neither, Mr Wegg.'

'As a fellow-man, Mr Venus--mix again--why neither?'

'Because I suppose, sir, that what was found, was found in the
sorting and sifting. All the mounds are sorted and sifted?'

'You shall see 'em and pass your opinion. Mix again.'

On each occasion of his saying 'mix again', Mr Wegg, with a hop
on his wooden leg, hitches his chair a little nearer; more as if he
were proposing that himself and Mr Venus should mix again, than
that they should replenish their glasses.

'Living (as I said before) on the mysterious premises,' says Wegg
when the other has acted on his hospitable entreaty, 'one likes to
know. Would you be inclined to say now--as a brother--that he
ever hid things in the dust, as well as found 'em?'

'Mr Wegg, on the whole I should say he might.'

Mr Wegg claps on his spectacles, and admiringly surveys Mr
Venus from head to foot.

'As a mortal equally with myself, whose hand I take in mine for
the first time this day, having unaccountably overlooked that act
so full of boundless confidence binding a fellow-creetur TO a
fellow creetur,' says Wegg, holding Mr Venus's palm out, flat and
ready for smiting, and now smiting it; 'as such--and no other--for I
scorn all lowlier ties betwixt myself and the man walking with his
face erect that alone I call my Twin--regarded and regarding in
this trustful bond--what do you think he might have hid?'

'It is but a supposition, Mr Wegg.'

'As a Being with his hand upon his heart,' cries Wegg; and the
apostrophe is not the less impressive for the Being's hand being
actually upon his rum and water; 'put your supposition into
language, and bring it out, Mr Venus!'

'He was the species of old gentleman, sir,' slowly returns that
practical anatomist, after drinking, 'that I should judge likely to
take such opportunities as this place offered, of stowing away
money, valuables, maybe papers.'

'As one that was ever an ornament to human life,' says Mr Wegg,
again holding out Mr Venus's palm as if he were going to tell his
fortune by chiromancy, and holding his own up ready for smiting
it when the time should come; 'as one that the poet might have
had his eye on, in writing the national naval words:

Helm a-weather, now lay her close,
Yard arm and yard arm she lies;
Again, cried I, Mr Venus, give her t'other dose,
Man shrouds and grapple, sir, or she flies!

--that is to say, regarded in the light of true British Oak, for such
you are explain, Mr Venus, the expression "papers"!'

'Seeing that the old gentleman was generally cutting off some near
relation, or blocking out some natural affection,' Mr Venus rejoins,
'he most likely made a good many wills and codicils.'

The palm of Silas Wegg descends with a sounding smack upon the
palm of Venus, and Wegg lavishly exclaims, 'Twin in opinion
equally with feeling! Mix a little more!'

Having now hitched his wooden leg and his chair close in front of
Mr Venus, Mr Wegg rapidly mixes for both, gives his visitor his
glass, touches its rim with the rim of his own, puts his own to his
lips, puts it down, and spreading his hands on his visitor's knees
thus addresses him:

'Mr Venus. It ain't that I object to being passed over for a
stranger, though I regard the stranger as a more than doubtful
customer. It ain't for the sake of making money, though money is
ever welcome. It ain't for myself, though I am not so haughty as
to be above doing myself a good turn. It's for the cause of the
right.'

Mr Venus, passively winking his weak eyes both at once,
demands: 'What is, Mr Wegg?'

'The friendly move, sir, that I now propose. You see the move,
sir?'

'Till you have pointed it out, Mr Wegg, I can't say whether I do or
not.'

'If there IS anything to be found on these premises, let us find it
together. Let us make the friendly move of agreeing to look for it
together. Let us make the friendly move of agreeing to share the
profits of it equally betwixt us. In the cause of the right.' Thus
Silas assuming a noble air.

'Then,' says Mr Venus, looking up, after meditating with his hair
held in his hands, as if he could only fix his attention by fixing his
head; 'if anything was to be unburied from under the dust, it would
be kept a secret by you and me? Would that be it, Mr Wegg?'

'That would depend upon what it was, Mr Venus. Say it was
money, or plate, or jewellery, it would be as much ours as
anybody else's.'

Mr Venus rubs an eyebrow, interrogatively.

'In the cause of the right it would. Because it would be
unknowingly sold with the mounds else, and the buyer would get
what he was never meant to have, and never bought. And what
would that be, Mr Venus, but the cause of the wrong?'

'Say it was papers,' Mr Venus propounds.

'According to what they contained we should offer to dispose of
'em to the parties most interested,' replies Wegg, promptly.

'In the cause of the right, Mr Wegg?'

'Always so, Mr Venus. If the parties should use them in the cause
of the wrong, that would be their act and deed. Mr Venus. I have
an opinion of you, sir, to which it is not easy to give mouth. Since
I called upon you that evening when you were, as I may say,
floating your powerful mind in tea, I have felt that you required to
be roused with an object. In this friendly move, sir, you will have
a glorious object to rouse you.'

Mr Wegg then goes on to enlarge upon what throughout has been
uppermost in his crafty mind:--the qualifications of Mr Venus for
such a search. He expatiates on Mr Venus's patient habits and
delicate manipulation; on his skill in piecing little things together;
on his knowledge of various tissues and textures; on the likelihood
of small indications leading him on to the discovery of great
concealments. 'While as to myself,' says Wegg, 'I am not good at
it. Whether I gave myself up to prodding, or whether I gave
myself up to scooping, I couldn't do it with that delicate touch so
as not to show that I was disturbing the mounds. Quite different
with YOU, going to work (as YOU would) in the light of a fellow-
man, holily pledged in a friendly move to his brother man.' Mr
Wegg next modestly remarks on the want of adaptation in a
wooden leg to ladders and such like airy perches, and also hints at
an inherent tendency in that timber fiction, when called into
action for the purposes of a promenade on an ashey slope, to stick
itself into the yielding foothold, and peg its owner to one spot.
Then, leaving this part of the subject, he remarks on the special
phenomenon that before his installation in the Bower, it was from
Mr Venus that he first heard of the legend of hidden wealth in the
Mounds: 'which', he observes with a vaguely pious air, 'was surely
never meant for nothing.' Lastly, he returns to the cause of the
right, gloomily foreshadowing the possibility of something being
unearthed to criminate Mr Boffin (of whom he once more
candidly admits it cannot be denied that he profits by a murder),
and anticipating his denunciation by the friendly movers to
avenging justice. And this, Mr Wegg expressly points out, not at
all for the sake of the reward--though it would be a want of
principle not to take it.

To all this, Mr Venus, with his shock of dusty hair cocked after
the manner of a terrier's ears, attends profoundly. When Mr
Wegg, having finished, opens his arms wide, as if to show Mr
Venus how bare his breast is, and then folds them pending a reply,
Mr Venus winks at him with both eyes some little time before
speaking.

'I see you have tried it by yourself, Mr Wegg,' he says when he
does speak. 'You have found out the difficulties by experience.'

'No, it can hardly be said that I have tried it,' replies Wegg, a little
dashed by the hint. 'I have just skimmed it. Skimmed it.'

'And found nothing besides the difficulties?'

Wegg shakes his head.

'I scarcely know what to say to this, Mr Wegg,' observes Venus,
after ruminating for a while.

'Say yes,' Wegg naturally urges.

'If I wasn't soured, my answer would be no. But being soured, Mr
Wegg, and driven to reckless madness and desperation, I suppose
it's Yes.'

Wegg joyfully reproduces the two glasses, repeats the ceremony
of clinking their rims, and inwardly drinks with great heartiness to
the health and success in life of the young lady who has reduced
Mr Venus to his present convenient state of mind.

The articles of the friendly move are then severally recited and
agreed upon. They are but secrecy, fidelity, and perseverance.
The Bower to be always free of access to Mr Venus for his
researches, and every precaution to be taken against their
attracting observation in the neighbourhood.

'There's a footstep!' exclaims Venus.

'Where?' cries Wegg, starting.

'Outside. St!'

They are in the act of ratifying the treaty of friendly move, by
shaking hands upon it. They softly break off, light their pipes
which have gone out, and lean back in their chairs. No doubt, a
footstep. It approaches the window, and a hand taps at the glass.
'Come in!' calls Wegg; meaning come round by the door. But the
heavy old-fashioned sash is slowly raised, and a head slowly looks
in out of the dark background of night.

'Pray is Mr Silas Wegg here? Oh! I see him!'

The friendly movers might not have been quite at their ease, even
though the visitor had entered in the usual manner. But, leaning
on the breast-high window, and staring in out of the darkness, they
find the visitor extremely embarrassing. Expecially Mr Venus:
who removes his pipe, draws back his head, and stares at the
starer, as if it were his own Hindoo baby come to fetch him home.

'Good evening, Mr Wegg. The yard gate-lock should be looked
to, if you please; it don't catch.'

'Is it Mr Rokesmith?' falters Wegg.

'It is Mr Rokesmith. Don't let me disturb you. I am not coming in.
I have only a message for you, which I undertook to deliver on my
way home to my lodgings. I was in two minds about coming
beyond the gate without ringing: not knowing but you might have
a dog about.'

'I wish I had,' mutters Wegg, with his back turned as he rose from
his chair. St! Hush! The talking-over stranger, Mr Venus.'

'Is that any one I know?' inquires the staring Secretary.

'No, Mr Rokesmith. Friend of mine. Passing the evening with
me.'

'Oh! I beg his pardon. Mr Boffin wishes you to know that he does
not expect you to stay at home any evening, on the chance of his
coming. It has occurred to him that he may, without intending it,
have been a tie upon you. In future, if he should come without
notice, he will take his chance of finding you, and it will be all the
same to him if he does not. I undertook to tell you on my way.
That's all.'

With that, and 'Good night,' the Secretary lowers the window, and
disappears. They listen, and hear his footsteps go back to the
gate, and hear the gate close after him.

'And for that individual, Mr Venus,' remarks Wegg, when he is
fully gone, 'I have been passed over! Let me ask you what you
think of him?'

Apparently, Mr Venus does not know what to think of him, for he
makes sundry efforts to reply, without delivering himself of any
other articulate utterance than that he has 'a singular look'.

'A double look, you mean, sir,' rejoins Wegg, playing bitterly upon
the word. 'That's HIS look. Any amount of singular look for me,
but not a double look! That's an under-handed mind, sir.'

'Do you say there's something against him?' Venus asks.

'Something against him?' repeats Wegg. 'Something? What would
the relief be to my feelings--as a fellow-man--if I wasn't the slave
of truth, and didn't feel myself compelled to answer, Everything!'

See into what wonderful maudlin refuges, featherless ostriches
plunge their heads! It is such unspeakable moral compensation to
Wegg, to be overcome by the consideration that Mr Rokesmith
has an underhanded mind!

'On this starlight night, Mr Venus,' he remarks, when he is showing
that friendly mover out across the yard, and both are something
the worse for mixing again and again: 'on this starlight night to
think that talking-over strangers, and underhanded minds, can go
walking home under the sky, as if they was all square!'

'The spectacle of those orbs,' says Mr Venus, gazing upward with
his hat tumbling off; 'brings heavy on me her crushing words that
she did not wish to regard herself nor yet to be regarded in that--'

'I know! I know! You needn't repeat 'em,' says Wegg, pressing
his hand. 'But think how those stars steady me in the cause of the
right against some that shall be nameless. It isn't that I bear
malice. But see how they glisten with old remembrances! Old
remembrances of what, sir?'

Mr Venus begins drearily replying, 'Of her words, in her own
handwriting, that she does not wish to regard herself, nor yet--'
when Silas cuts him short with dignity.

'No, sir! Remembrances of Our House, of Master George, of Aunt
Jane, of Uncle Parker, all laid waste! All offered up sacrifices to
the minion of fortune and the worm of the hour!'

Chapter 8

IN WHICH AN INNOCENT ELOPEMENT OCCURS

The minion of fortune and the worm of the hour, or in less cutting
language, Nicodemus Boffin, Esquire, the Golden Dustman, had
become as much at home in his eminently aristocratic family
mansion as he was likely ever to be. He could not but feel that,
like an eminently aristocratic family cheese, it was much too large
for his wants, and bred an infinite amount of parasites; but he was
content to regard this drawback on his property as a sort of
perpetual Legacy Duty. He felt the more resigned to it, forasmuch
as Mrs Boffin enjoyed herself completely, and Miss Bella was
delighted.

That young lady was, no doubt, and acquisition to the Boffins.
She was far too pretty to be unattractive anywhere, and far too
quick of perception to be below the tone of her new career.
Whether it improved her heart might be a matter of taste that was
open to question; but as touching another matter of taste, its
improvement of her appearance and manner, there could be no
question whatever.

And thus it soon came about that Miss Bella began to set Mrs
Boffin right; and even further, that Miss Bella began to feel ill at
ease, and as it were responsible, when she saw Mrs Boffin going
wrong. Not that so sweet a disposition and so sound a nature
could ever go very wrong even among the great visiting authorities
who agreed that the Boffins were 'charmingly vulgar' (which for
certain was not their own case in saying so), but that when she
made a slip on the social ice on which all the children of
Podsnappery, with genteel souls to be saved, are required to skate
in circles, or to slide in long rows, she inevitably tripped Miss
Bella up (so that young lady felt), and caused her to experience
great confusion under the glances of the more skilful performers
engaged in those ice-exercises.

At Miss Bella's time of life it was not to be expected that she
should examine herself very closely on the congruity or stability
of her position in Mr Boffin's house. And as she had never been
sparing of complaints of her old home when she had no other to
compare it with, so there was no novelty of ingratitude or disdain
in her very much preferring her new one.

'An invaluable man is Rokesmith,' said Mr Boffin, after some two
or three months. 'But I can't quite make him out.'

Neither could Bella, so she found the subject rather interesting.

'He takes more care of my affairs, morning, noon, and night,' said
Mr Boffin, 'than fifty other men put together either could or
would; and yet he has ways of his own that are like tying a
scaffolding-pole right across the road, and bringing me up short
when I am almost a-walking arm in arm with him.'

'May I ask how so, sir?' inquired Bella.

'Well, my dear,' said Mr Boffin, 'he won't meet any company here,
but you. When we have visitors, I should wish him to have his
regular place at the table like ourselves; but no, he won't take it.'

'If he considers himself above it,' said Miss Bella, with an airy toss
of her head, 'I should leave him alone.'

'It ain't that, my dear,' replied Mr Boffin, thinking it over. 'He
don't consider himself above it.'

'Perhaps he considers himself beneath it,' suggested Bella. 'If so,
he ought to know best.'

'No, my dear; nor it ain't that, neither. No,' repeated Mr Boffin,
with a shake of his head, after again thinking it over; 'Rokesmith's
a modest man, but he don't consider himself beneath it.'

'Then what does he consider, sir?' asked Bella.

'Dashed if I know!' said Mr Boffin. 'It seemed that first as if it was
only Lightwood that he objected to meet. And now it seems to be
everybody, except you.'

Oho! thought Miss Bella. 'In--deed! That's it, is it!' For Mr
Mortimer Lightwood had dined there two or three times, and she
had met him elsewhere, and he had shown her some attention.
'Rather cool in a Secretary--and Pa's lodger--to make me the
subject of his jealousy!'

That Pa's daughter should be so contemptuous of Pa's lodger was
odd; but there were odder anomalies than that in the mind of the
spoilt girl: spoilt first by poverty, and then by wealth. Be it this
history's part, however, to leave them to unravel themselves.

'A little too much, I think,' Miss Bella reflected scornfully, 'to have
Pa's lodger laying claim to me, and keeping eligible people off! A
little too much, indeed, to have the opportunities opened to me by
Mr and Mrs Boffin, appropriated by a mere Secretary and Pa's
lodger!'

Yet it was not so very long ago that Bella had been fluttered by
the discovery that this same Secretary and lodger seem to like her.
Ah! but the eminently aristocratic mansion and Mrs Boffin's
dressmaker had not come into play then.

In spite of his seemingly retiring manners a very intrusive person,
this Secretary and lodger, in Miss Bella's opinion. Always a light
in his office-room when we came home from the play or Opera,
and he always at the carriage-door to hand us out. Always a
provoking radiance too on Mrs Boffin's face, and an abominably
cheerful reception of him, as if it were possible seriously to
approve what the man had in his mind!

'You never charge me, Miss Wilfer,' said the Secretary,
encountering her by chance alone in the great drawing-room, 'with
commissions for home. I shall always be happy to execute any
commands you may have in that direction.'

'Pray what may you mean, Mr Rokesmith?' inquired Miss Bella,
with languidly drooping eyelids.

'By home? I mean your father's house at Holloway.'

She coloured under the retort--so skilfully thrust, that the words
seemed to be merely a plain answer, given in plain good faith--and
said, rather more emphatically and sharply:

'What commissions and commands are you speaking of?'

'Only little words of remembrance as I assume you sent somehow
or other,' replied the Secretary with his former air. 'It would be a
pleasure to me if you would make me the bearer of them. As you
know, I come and go between the two houses every day.'

'You needn't remind me of that, sir.'

She was too quick in this petulant sally against 'Pa's lodger'; and
she felt that she had been so when she met his quiet look.

'They don't send many--what was your expression?--words of
remembrance to me,' said Bella, making haste to take refuge in ill-
usage.

'They frequently ask me about you, and I give them such slight
intelligence as I can.'

'I hope it's truly given,' exclaimed Bella.

'I hope you cannot doubt it, for it would be very much against
you, if you could.'

'No, I do not doubt it. I deserve the reproach, which is very just
indeed. I beg your pardon, Mr Rokesmith.'

'I should beg you not to do so, but that it shows you to such
admirable advantage,' he replied with earnestness. 'Forgive me; I
could not help saying that. To return to what I have digressed
from, let me add that perhaps they think I report them to you,
deliver little messages, and the like. But I forbear to trouble you,
as you never ask me.'

'I am going, sir,' said Bella, looking at him as if he had reproved
her, 'to see them tomorrow.'

'Is that,' he asked, hesitating, 'said to me, or to them?'

'To which you please.'

'To both? Shall I make it a message?'

'You can if you like, Mr Rokesmith. Message or no message, I am
going to see them tomorrow.'

'Then I will tell them so.'

He lingered a moment, as though to give her the opportunity of
prolonging the conversation if she wished. As she remained silent,
he left her. Two incidents of the little interview were felt by Miss
Bella herself, when alone again, to be very curious. The first was,
that he unquestionably left her with a penitent air upon her, and a
penitent feeling in her heart. The second was, that she had not an
intention or a thought of going home, until she had announced it to
him as a settled design.

'What can I mean by it, or what can he mean by it?' was her
mental inquiry: 'He has no right to any power over me, and how
do I come to mind him when I don't care for him?'

Mrs Boffin, insisting that Bella should make tomorrow's
expedition in the chariot, she went home in great grandeur. Mrs
Wilfer and Miss Lavinia had speculated much on the probabilities
and improbabilities of her coming in this gorgeous state, and, on
beholding the chariot from the window at which they were
secreted to look out for it, agreed that it must be detained at the
door as long as possible, for the mortification and confusion of the
neighbours. Then they repaired to the usual family room, to
receive Miss Bella with a becoming show of indifference.

The family room looked very small and very mean, and the
downward staircase by which it was attained looked very narrow
and very crooked. The little house and all its arrangements were a
poor contrast to the eminently aristocratic dwelling. 'I can hardly
believe, thought Bella, that I ever did endure life in this place!'

Gloomy majesty on the part of Mrs Wilfer, and native pertness on
the part of Lavvy, did not mend the matter. Bella really stood in
natural need of a little help, and she got none.

'This,' said Mrs Wilfer, presenting a cheek to be kissed, as
sympathetic and responsive as the back of the bowl of a spoon, 'is
quite an honour! You will probably find your sister Lavvy grown,
Bella.'

'Ma,' Miss Lavinia interposed, 'there can be no objection to your
being aggravating, because Bella richly deserves it; but I really
must request that you will not drag in such ridiculous nonsense as
my having grown when I am past the growing age.'

'I grew, myself,' Mrs Wilfer sternly proclaimed, 'after I was
married.'

'Very well, Ma,' returned Lavvy, 'then I think you had much better
have left it alone.'

The lofty glare with which the majestic woman received this
answer, might have embarrassed a less pert opponent, but it had
no effect upon Lavinia: who, leaving her parent to the enjoyment
of any amount of glaring at she might deem desirable under the
circumstances, accosted her sister, undismayed.

'I suppose you won't consider yourself quite disgraced, Bella, if I
give you a kiss? Well! And how do you do, Bella? And how are
your Boffins?'

'Peace!' exclaimed Mrs Wilfer. 'Hold! I will not suffer this tone of
levity.'

'My goodness me! How are your Spoffins, then?' said Lavvy,
'since Ma so very much objects to your Boffins.'

'Impertinent girl! Minx!' said Mrs wilfer, with dread severity.

'I don't care whether I am a Minx, or a Sphinx,' returned Lavinia,
coolly, tossing her head; 'it's exactly the same thing to me, and I'd
every bit as soon be one as the other; but I know this--I'll not grow
after I'm married!'

'You will not? YOU will not?' repeated Mrs Wilfer, solemnly.

'No, Ma, I will not. Nothing shall induce me.'

Mrs Wilfer, having waved her gloves, became loftily pathetic.

'But it was to be expected;' thus she spake. 'A child of mine
deserts me for the proud and prosperous, and another child of
mine despises me. It is quite fitting.'

'Ma,' Bella struck in, 'Mr and Mrs Boffin are prosperous, no
doubt; but you have no right to say they are proud. You must
know very well that they are not.'

'In short, Ma,' said Lavvy, bouncing over to the enemy without a
word of notice, you must know very well--or if you don't, more
shame for you!--that Mr and Mrs Boffin are just absolute
perfection.'

'Truly,' returned Mrs Wilfer, courteously receiving the deserter, it
would seem that we are required to think so. And this, Lavinia, is
my reason for objecting to a tone of levity. Mrs Boffin (of whose
physiognomy I can never speak with the composure I would
desire to preserve), and your mother, are not on terms of intimacy.
It is not for a moment to be supposed that she and her husband
dare to presume to speak of this family as the Wilfers. I cannot
therefore condescend to speak of them as the Boffins. No; for
such a tone--call it familiarity, levity, equality, or what you will--
would imply those social interchanges which do not exist. Do I
render myself intelligible?'

Without taking the least notice of this inquiry, albeit delivered in
an imposing and forensic manner, Lavinia reminded her sister,
'After all, you know, Bella, you haven't told us how your
Whatshisnames are.'

'I don't want to speak of them here,' replied Bella, suppressing
indignation, and tapping her foot on the floor. 'They are much too
kind and too good to be drawn into these discussions.'

'Why put it so?' demanded Mrs Wilfer, with biting sarcasm. 'Why
adopt a circuitous form of speech? It is polite and it is obliging;
but why do it? Why not openly say that they are much too kind
and too good for US? We understand the allusion. Why disguise
the phrase?'

'Ma,' said Bella, with one beat of her foot, 'you are enough to
drive a saint mad, and so is Lavvy.'

'Unfortunate Lavvy!' cried Mrs Wilfer, in a tone of commiseration.
'She always comes for it. My poor child!' But Lavvy, with the
suddenness of her former desertion, now bounced over to the other
enemy: very sharply remarking, 'Don't patronize ME, Ma, because
I can take care of myself.'

'I only wonder,' resumed Mrs Wilfer, directing her observations to
her elder daughter, as safer on the whole than her utterly
unmanageable younger, 'that you found time and inclination to
tear yourself from Mr and Mrs Boffin, and come to see us at all. I
only wonder that our claims, contending against the superior
claims of Mr and Mrs Boffin, had any weight. I feel I ought to be
thankful for gaining so much, in competition with Mr and Mrs
Boffin.' (The good lady bitterly emphasized the first letter of the
word Boffin, as if it represented her chief objection to the owners
of that name, and as if she could have born Doffin, Moffin, or
Poffin much better.)

'Ma,' said Bella, angrily, 'you force me to say that I am truly sorry
I did come home, and that I never will come home again, except
when poor dear Pa is here. For, Pa is too magnanimous to feel
envy and spite towards my generous friends, and Pa is delicate
enough and gentle enough to remember the sort of little claim they
thought I had upon them and the unusually trying position in
which, through no act of my own, I had been placed. And I
always did love poor dear Pa better than all the rest of you put
together, and I always do and I always shall!'

Here Bella, deriving no comfort from her charming bonnet and her
elegant dress, burst into tears.

'I think, R.W.,' cried Mrs Wilfer, lifting up her eyes and
apostrophising the air, 'that if you were present, it would be a trial
to your feelings to hear your wife and the mother of your family
depreciated in your name. But Fate has spared you this, R.W.,
whatever it may have thought proper to inflict upon her!'

Here Mrs Wilfer burst into tears.

'I hate the Boffins!' protested Miss Lavinia. I don't care who
objects to their being called the Boffins. I WILL call 'em the
Boffins. The Boffins, the Boffins, the Boffins! And I say they are
mischief-making Boffins, and I say the Boffins have set Bella
against me, and I tell the Boffins to their faces:' which was not
strictly the fact, but the young lady was excited: 'that they are
detestable Boffins, disreputable Boffins, odious Boffins, beastly
Boffins. There!'

Here Miss Lavinia burst into tears.

The front garden-gate clanked, and the Secretary was seen coming
at a brisk pace up the steps. 'Leave Me to open the door to him,'
said Mrs Wilfer, rising with stately resignation as she shook her
head and dried her eyes; 'we have at present no stipendiary girl to
do so. We have nothing to conceal. If he sees these traces of
emotion on our cheeks, let him construe them as he may.'

With those words she stalked out. In a few moments she stalked
in again, proclaiming in her heraldic manner, 'Mr Rokesmith is the
bearer of a packet for Miss Bella Wilfer.'

Mr Rokesmith followed close upon his name, and of course saw
what was amiss. But he discreetly affected to see nothing, and
addressed Miss Bella.

'Mr Boffin intended to have placed this in the carriage for you this
morning. He wished you to have it, as a little keepsake he had
prepared--it is only a purse, Miss Wilfer--but as he was
disappointed in his fancy, I volunteered to come after you with it.'

Bella took it in her hand, and thanked him.

'We have been quarrelling here a little, Mr Rokesmith, but not
more than we used; you know our agreeable ways among
ourselves. You find me just going. Good-bye, mamma. Good-
bye, Lavvy!' and with a kiss for each Miss Bella turned to the
door. The Secretary would have attended her, but Mrs Wilfer
advancing and saying with dignity, 'Pardon me! Permit me to
assert my natural right to escort my child to the equipage which is
in waiting for her,' he begged pardon and gave place. It was a
very magnificent spectacle indeed, too see Mrs Wilfer throw open
the house-door, and loudly demand with extended gloves, 'The
male domestic of Mrs Boffin!' To whom presenting himself, she
delivered the brief but majestic charge, 'Miss Wilfer. Coming out!'
and so delivered her over, like a female Lieutenant of the Tower
relinquishing a State Prisoner. The effect of this ceremonial was
for some quarter of an hour afterwards perfectly paralyzing on the
neighbours, and was much enhanced by the worthy lady airing
herself for that term in a kind of splendidly serene trance on the
top step.

When Bella was seated in the carriage, she opened the little
packet in her hand. It contained a pretty purse, and the purse
contained a bank note for fifty pounds. 'This shall be a joyful
surprise for poor dear Pa,' said Bella, 'and I'll take it myself into
the City!'

As she was uninformed respecting the exact locality of the place
of business of Chicksey Veneering and Stobbles, but knew it to be
near Mincing Lane, she directed herself to be driven to the corner
of that darksome spot. Thence she despatched 'the male domestic
of Mrs Boffin,' in search of the counting-house of Chicksey
Veneering and Stobbles, with a message importing that if R.
Wilfer could come out, there was a lady waiting who would be
glad to speak with him. The delivery of these mysterious words
from the mouth of a footman caused so great an excitement in the
counting-house, that a youthful scout was instantly appointed to
follow Rumty, observe the lady, and come in with his report. Nor
was the agitation by any means diminished, when the scout rushed
back with the intelligence that the lady was 'a slap-up gal in a
bang-up chariot.'

Rumty himself, with his pen behind his ear under his rusty hat,
arrived at the carriage-door in a breathless condition, and had
been fairly lugged into the vehicle by his cravat and embraced
almost unto choking, before he recognized his daughter. 'My dear
child!' he then panted, incoherently. 'Good gracious me! What a
lovely woman you are! I thought you had been unkind and
forgotten your mother and sister.'

'I have just been to see them, Pa dear.'

'Oh! and how--how did you find your mother?' asked R. W.,
dubiously.

'Very disagreeable, Pa, and so was Lavvy.'

'They are sometimes a little liable to it,' observed the patient
cherub; 'but I hope you made allowances, Bella, my dear?'

'No. I was disagreeable too, Pa; we were all of us disagreeable
together. But I want you to come and dine with me somewhere,
Pa.'

'Why, my dear, I have already partaken of a--if one might mention
such an article in this superb chariot--of a--Saveloy,' replied R.
Wilfer, modestly dropping his voice on the word, as he eyed the
canary-coloured fittings.

'Oh! That's nothing, Pa!'

'Truly, it ain't as much as one could sometimes wish it to be, my
dear,' he admitted, drawing his hand across his mouth. 'Still, when
circumstances over which you have no control, interpose
obstacles between yourself and Small Germans, you can't do
better than bring a contented mind to hear on'--again dropping his
voice in deference to the chariot--'Saveloys!'

'You poor good Pa! Pa, do, I beg and pray, get leave for the rest
of the day, and come and pass it with me!'

'Well, my dear, I'll cut back and ask for leave.'

'But before you cut back,' said Bella, who had already taken him
by the chin, pulled his hat off, and begun to stick up his hair in her
old way, 'do say that you are sure I am giddy and inconsiderate,
but have never really slighted you, Pa.'

'My dear, I say it with all my heart. And might I likewise observe,'
her father delicately hinted, with a glance out at window, 'that
perhaps it might he calculated to attract attention, having one's
hair publicly done by a lovely woman in an elegant turn-out in
Fenchurch Street?'

Bella laughed and put on his hat again. But when his boyish
figure bobbed away, its shabbiness and cheerful patience smote
the tears out of her eyes. 'I hate that Secretary for thinking it of
me,' she said to herself, 'and yet it seems half true!'

Back came her father, more like a boy than ever, in his release
from school. 'All right, my dear. Leave given at once. Really
very handsomely done!'

'Now where can we find some quiet place, Pa, in which I can wait
for you while you go on an errand for me, if I send the carriage
away?'

It demanded cogitation. 'You see, my dear,' he explained, 'you
really have become such a very lovely woman, that it ought to he
a very quiet place.' At length he suggested, 'Near the garden up
by the Trinity House on Tower Hill.' So, they were driven there,
and Bella dismissed the chariot; sending a pencilled note by it to
Mrs Boffin, that she was with her father.

'Now, Pa, attend to what I am going to say, and promise and vow
to be obedient.'

'I promise and vow, my dear.'

'You ask no questions. You take this purse; you go to the nearest
place where they keep everything of the very very best, ready
made; you buy and put on, the most beautiful suit of clothes, the
most beautiful hat, and the most beautiful pair of bright boots
(patent leather, Pa, mind!) that are to be got for money; and you
come back to me.'

'But, my dear Bella--'

'Take care, Pa!' pointing her forefinger at him, merrily. 'You have
promised and vowed. It's perjury, you know.'

There was water in the foolish little fellow's eyes, but she kissed
them dry (though her own were wet), and he bobbed away again.
After half an hour, he came back, so brilliantly transformed, that
Bella was obliged to walk round him in ecstatic admiration twenty
times, before she could draw her arm through his, and delightedly
squeeze it.

'Now, Pa,' said Bella, hugging him close, 'take this lovely woman
out to dinner.'

'Where shall we go, my dear?'

'Greenwich!' said Bella, valiantly. 'And be sure you treat this
lovely woman with everything of the best.'

While they were going along to take boat, 'Don't you wish, my
dear,' said R. W., timidly, 'that your mother was here?'

'No, I don't, Pa, for I like to have you all to myself to-day. I was
always your little favourite at home, and you were always mine.
We have run away together often, before now; haven't we, Pa?'

'Ah, to be sure we have! Many a Sunday when your mother was--
was a little liable to it,' repeating his former delicate expression
after pausing to cough.

'Yes, and I am afraid I was seldom or never as good as I ought to
have been, Pa. I made you carry me, over and over again, when
you should have made me walk; and I often drove you in harness,
when you would much rather have sat down and read your news-
paper: didn't I?'

'Sometimes, sometimes. But Lor, what a child you were! What a
companion you were!'

'Companion? That's just what I want to be to-day, Pa.'

'You are safe to succeed, my love. Your brothers and sisters have
all in their turns been companions to me, to a certain extent, but
only to a certain extent. Your mother has, throughout life, been a
companion that any man might--might look up to--and--and
commit the sayings of, to memory--and--form himself upon--if he--'

'If he liked the model?' suggested Bella.

'We-ell, ye-es,' he returned, thinking about it, not quite satisfied
with the phrase: 'or perhaps I might say, if it was in him.
Supposing, for instance, that a man wanted to be always marching,
he would find your mother an inestimable companion. But if he
had any taste for walking, or should wish at any time to break into
a trot, he might sometimes find it a little difficult to keep step with
your mother. Or take it this way, Bella,' he added, after a
moment's reflection; 'Supposing that a man had to go through life,
we won't say with a companion, but we'll say to a tune. Very
good. Supposing that the tune allotted to him was the Dead
March in Saul. Well. It would be a very suitable tune for
particular occasions--none better--but it would be difficult to keep
time with in the ordinary run of domestic transactions. For
instance, if he took his supper after a hard day, to the Dead March
in Saul, his food might be likely to sit heavy on him. Or, if he was
at any time inclined to relieve his mind by singing a comic song or
dancing a hornpipe, and was obliged to do it to the Dead March in
Saul, he might find himself put out in the execution of his lively
intentions.'

'Poor Pa!' thought Bella, as she hung upon his arm.

'Now, what I will say for you, my dear,' the cherub pursued mildly
and without a notion of complaining, 'is, that you are so adaptable.
So adaptable.'

'Indeed I am afraid I have shown a wretched temper, Pa. I am
afraid I have been very complaining, and very capricious. I
seldom or never thought of it before. But when I sat in the
carriage just now and saw you coming along the pavement, I
reproached myself.'

'Not at all, my dear. Don't speak of such a thing.'

A happy and a chatty man was Pa in his new clothes that day.
Take it for all in all, it was perhaps the happiest day he had ever
known in his life; not even excepting that on which his heroic
partner had approached the nuptial altar to the tune of the Dead
March in Saul.

The little expedition down the river was delightful, and the little
room overlooking the river into which they were shown for dinner
was delightful. Everything was delightful. The park was
delightful, the punch was delightful, the dishes of fish were
delightful, the wine was delightful. Bella was more delightful than
any other item in the festival; drawing Pa out in the gayest
manner; making a point of always mentioning herself as the lovely
woman; stimulating Pa to order things, by declaring that the lovely
woman insisted on being treated with them; and in short causing
Pa to be quite enraptured with the consideration that he WAS the
Pa of such a charming daughter.

And then, as they sat looking at the ships and steamboats making
their way to the sea with the tide that was running down, the
lovely woman imagined all sorts of voyages for herself and Pa.
Now, Pa, in the character of owner of a lumbering square-sailed
collier, was tacking away to Newcastle, to fetch black diamonds
to make his fortune with; now, Pa was going to China in that
handsome threemasted ship, to bring home opium, with which he
would for ever cut out Chicksey Veneering and Stobbles, and to
bring home silks and shawls without end for the decoration of his
charming daughter. Now, John Harmon's disastrous fate was all a
dream, and he had come home and found the lovely woman just
the article for him, and the lovely woman had found him just the
article for her, and they were going away on a trip, in their gallant
bark, to look after their vines, with streamers flying at all points, a
band playing on deck and Pa established in the great cabin. Now,
John Harmon was consigned to his grave again, and a merchant of
immense wealth (name unknown) had courted and married the
lovely woman, and he was so enormously rich that everything you
saw upon the river sailing or steaming belonged to him, and he
kept a perfect fleet of yachts for pleasure, and that little impudent
yacht which you saw over there, with the great white sail, was
called The Bella, in honour of his wife, and she held her state
aboard when it pleased her, like a modern Cleopatra. Anon, there
would embark in that troop-ship when she got to Gravesend, a
mighty general, of large property (name also unknown), who
wouldn't hear of going to victory without his wife, and whose wife
was the lovely woman, and she was destined to become the idol of
all the red coats and blue jackets alow and aloft. And then again:
you saw that ship being towed out by a steam-tug? Well! where
did you suppose she was going to? She was going among the coral
reefs and cocoa-nuts and all that sort of thing, and she was
chartered for a fortunate individual of the name of Pa (himself on
board, and much respected by all hands), and she was going, for
his sole profit and advantage, to fetch a cargo of sweet-smelling
woods, the most beautiful that ever were seen, and the most
profitable that ever were heard of; and her cargo would be a great
fortune, as indeed it ought to be: the lovely woman who had
purchased her and fitted her expressly for this voyage, being
married to an Indian Prince, who was a Something-or-Other, and
who wore Cashmere shawls all over himself and diamonds and
emeralds blazing in his turban, and was beautifully coffee-
coloured and excessively devoted, though a little too jealous.
Thus Bella ran on merrily, in a manner perfectly enchanting to Pa,
who was as willing to put his head into the Sultan's tub of water as
the beggar-boys below the window were to put THEIR heads in
the mud.

'I suppose, my dear,' said Pa after dinner, 'we may come to the
conclusion at home, that we have lost you for good?'

Bella shook her head. Didn't know. Couldn't say. All she was
able to report was, that she was most handsomely supplied with
everything she could possibly want, and that whenever she hinted
at leaving Mr and Mrs Boffin, they wouldn't hear of it.

'And now, Pa,' pursued Bella, 'I'll make a confession to you. I am
the most mercenary little wretch that ever lived in the world.'

'I should hardly have thought it of you, my dear,' returned her
father, first glancing at himself; and then at the dessert.

'I understand what you mean, Pa, but it's not that. It's not that I
care for money to keep as money, but I do care so much for what
it will buy!'

'Really I think most of us do,' returned R. W.

'But not to the dreadful extent that I do, Pa. O-o!' cried Bella,
screwing the exclamation out of herself with a twist of her
dimpled chin. 'I AM so mercenary!'

With a wistful glance R. W. said, in default of having anything
better to say: 'About when did you begin to feel it coming on, my
dear?'

'That's it, Pa. That's the terrible part of it. When I was at home,
and only knew what it was to be poor, I grumbled but didn't so
much mind. When I was at home expecting to be rich, I thought
vaguely of all the great things I would do. But when I had been
disappointed of my splendid fortune, and came to see it from day
to day in other hands, and to have before my eyes what it could
really do, then I became the mercenary little wretch I am.'

'It's your fancy, my dear.'

'I can assure you it's nothing of the sort, Pa!' said Bella, nodding at
him, with her very pretty eyebrows raised as high as they would
go, and looking comically frightened. 'It's a fact. I am always
avariciously scheming.'

'Lor! But how?'

'I'll tell you, Pa. I don't mind telling YOU, because we have
always been favourites of each other's, and because you are not
like a Pa, but more like a sort of a younger brother with a dear
venerable chubbiness on him. And besides,' added Bella, laughing
as she pointed a rallying finger at his face, 'because I have got you
in my power. This is a secret expedition. If ever you tell of me,
I'll tell of you. I'll tell Ma that you dined at Greenwich.'

'Well; seriously, my dear,' observed R. W., with some trepidation
of manner, 'it might be as well not to mention it.'

'Aha!' laughed Bella. 'I knew you wouldn't like it, sir! So you
keep my confidence, and I'll keep yours. But betray the lovely
woman, and you shall find her a serpent. Now, you may give me
a kiss, Pa, and I should like to give your hair a turn, because it has
been dreadfully neglected in my absence.'

R. W. submitted his head to the operator, and the operator went
on talking; at the same time putting separate locks of his hair
through a curious process of being smartly rolled over her two
revolving forefingers, which were then suddenly pulled out of it in
opposite lateral directions. On each of these occasions the patient
winced and winked.

'I have made up my mind that I must have money, Pa. I feel that I
can't beg it, borrow it, or steal it; and so I have resolved that I
must marry it.'

R. W. cast up his eyes towards her, as well as he could under the
operating circumstances, and said in a tone of remonstrance, 'My
de-ar Bella!'

'Have resolved, I say, Pa, that to get money I must marry money.
In consequence of which, I am always looking out for money to
captivate.'

'My de-a-r Bella!'

'Yes, Pa, that is the state of the case. If ever there was a
mercenary plotter whose thoughts and designs were always in her
mean occupation, I am the amiable creature. But I don't care. I
hate and detest being poor, and I won't be poor if I can marry
money. Now you are deliciously fluffy, Pa, and in a state to
astonish the waiter and pay the bill.'

'But, my dear Bella, this is quite alarming at your age.'

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