Our mutual friend, p.25
Our Mutual Friend, p.25Charles Dickens
IN WHICH AN INNOCENT ELOPEMENT OCCURS
The minion of fortune and the worm of the hour, or in less cuttinglanguage, Nicodemus Boffin, Esquire, the Golden Dustman, had becomeas much at home in his eminently aristocratic family mansion as hewas likely ever to be. He could not but feel that, like an eminentlyaristocratic family cheese, it was much too large for his wants, andbred an infinite amount of parasites; but he was content to regard thisdrawback on his property as a sort of perpetual Legacy Duty. He felt themore resigned to it, forasmuch as Mrs Boffin enjoyed herself completely,and Miss Bella was delighted.
That young lady was, no doubt, an acquisition to the Boffins. Shewas far too pretty to be unattractive anywhere, and far too quick ofperception to be below the tone of her new career. Whether it improvedher heart might be a matter of taste that was open to question; but astouching another matter of taste, its improvement of her appearance andmanner, there could be no question whatever.
And thus it soon came about that Miss Bella began to set Mrs Boffinright; and even further, that Miss Bella began to feel ill at ease, andas it were responsible, when she saw Mrs Boffin going wrong. Not that sosweet a disposition and so sound a nature could ever go very wrong evenamong the great visiting authorities who agreed that the Boffins were'charmingly vulgar' (which for certain was not their own case in sayingso), but that when she made a slip on the social ice on which all thechildren of Podsnappery, with genteel souls to be saved, are required toskate in circles, or to slide in long rows, she inevitably tripped MissBella up (so that young lady felt), and caused her to experience greatconfusion under the glances of the more skilful performers engaged inthose ice-exercises.
At Miss Bella's time of life it was not to be expected that she shouldexamine herself very closely on the congruity or stability of herposition in Mr Boffin's house. And as she had never been sparing ofcomplaints 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 muchpreferring her new one.
'An invaluable man is Rokesmith,' said Mr Boffin, after some two orthree 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 MrBoffin, 'than fifty other men put together either could or would; andyet he has ways of his own that are like tying a scaffolding-pole rightacross the road, and bringing me up short when I am almost a-walking armin arm with him.'
'May I ask how so, sir?' inquired Bella.
'Well, my dear,' said Mr Boffin, 'he won't meet any company here, butyou. When we have visitors, I should wish him to have his regular placeat the table like ourselves; but no, he won't take it.'
'If he considers himself above it,' said Miss Bella, with an airy tossof her head, 'I should leave him alone.'
'It ain't that, my dear,' replied Mr Boffin, thinking it over. 'He don'tconsider himself above it.'
'Perhaps he considers himself beneath it,' suggested Bella. 'If so, heought to know best.'
'No, my dear; nor it ain't that, neither. No,' repeated Mr Boffin, witha shake of his head, after again thinking it over; 'Rokesmith's a modestman, 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 at first as if itwas only Lightwood that he objected to meet. And now it seems to beeverybody, except you.'
Oho! thought Miss Bella. 'In--deed! That's it, is it!' For Mr MortimerLightwood had dined there two or three times, and she had met himelsewhere, and he had shown her some attention. 'Rather cool in aSecretary--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, 'tohave 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 Mrand 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 thediscovery that this same Secretary and lodger seem to like her. Ah! butthe eminently aristocratic mansion and Mrs Boffin's dressmaker had notcome into play then.
In spite of his seemingly retiring manners a very intrusive person, thisSecretary and lodger, in Miss Bella's opinion. Always a light in hisoffice-room when we came home from the play or Opera, and he always atthe carriage-door to hand us out. Always a provoking radiance too onMrs Boffin's face, and an abominably cheerful reception of him, as if itwere possible seriously to approve what the man had in his mind!
'You never charge me, Miss Wilfer,' said the Secretary, encountering herby chance alone in the great drawing-room, 'with commissions for home.I shall always be happy to execute any commands you may have in thatdirection.'
'Pray what may you mean, Mr Rokesmith?' inquired Miss Bella, withlanguidly drooping eyelids.
'By home? I mean your father's house at Holloway.'
She coloured under the retort--so skilfully thrust, that the wordsseemed 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 orother,' replied the Secretary with his former air. 'It would be apleasure to me if you would make me the bearer of them. As you know, Icome 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 shefelt that she had been so when she met his quiet look.
'They don't send many--what was your expression?--words of remembranceto me,' said Bella, making haste to take refuge in ill-usage.
'They frequently ask me about you, and I give them such slightintelligence 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, ifyou could.'
'No, I do not doubt it. I deserve the reproach, which is very justindeed. I beg your pardon, Mr Rokesmith.'
'I should beg you not to do so, but that it shows you to such admirableadvantage,' he replied with earnestness. 'Forgive me; I could not helpsaying that. To return to what I have digressed from, let me add thatperhaps they think I report them to you, deliver little messages, andthe 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 tosee them tomorrow.'
'Then I will tell them so.'
He lingered a moment, as though to give her the opportunity ofprolonging the conversation if she wished. As she remained silent, heleft her. Two incidents of the little interview were felt by Miss Bellaherself, when alone again, to be very curious. The first was, that heunquestionably left her with a penitent air upon her, and a penitentfeeling in her heart. The second was, that she had not an intention ora thought of going home, until she had announced it to him as a settleddesign.
'What can I mean by it, or what can he mean by it?' was her mentalinquiry: 'He has no right to any power over me, and how do I come tomind him when I don't care for him?'
Mrs Boffin, insisting that Bella should make tomorrow's expeditionin the chariot, she went home in great grandeur. Mrs Wilfer and MissLavinia had speculated much on the probabilities and improbabilities ofher coming in this gorgeous state, and, on beholding the chariot fromthe window at which they were secreted to look ou
The family room looked very small and very mean, and the downwardstaircase by which it was attained looked very narrow and very crooked.The little house and all its arrangements were a poor contrast to theeminently 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 thepart of Lavvy, did not mend the matter. Bella really stood in naturalneed of a little help, and she got none.
'This,' said Mrs Wilfer, presenting a cheek to be kissed, as sympatheticand 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 beingaggravating, because Bella richly deserves it; but I really must requestthat you will not drag in such ridiculous nonsense as my having grownwhen 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 haveleft 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 uponLavinia: who, leaving her parent to the enjoyment of any amount ofglaring at she might deem desirable under the circumstances, accostedher sister, undismayed.
'I suppose you won't consider yourself quite disgraced, Bella, if I giveyou 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 oflevity.'
'My goodness me! How are your Spoffins, then?' said Lavvy, 'since Ma sovery 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'devery bit as soon be one as the other; but I know this--I'll not growafter 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 mefor the proud and prosperous, and another child of mine despises me. Itis quite fitting.'
'Ma,' Bella struck in, 'Mr and Mrs Boffin are prosperous, no doubt; butyou have no right to say they are proud. You must know very well thatthey are not.'
'In short, Ma,' said Lavvy, bouncing over to the enemy without a wordof notice, 'you must know very well--or if you don't, more shame foryou!--that Mr and Mrs Boffin are just absolute perfection.'
'Truly,' returned Mrs Wilfer, courteously receiving the deserter, 'itwould seem that we are required to think so. And this, Lavinia, ismy reason for objecting to a tone of levity. Mrs Boffin (of whosephysiognomy I can never speak with the composure I would desire topreserve), and your mother, are not on terms of intimacy. It is notfor a moment to be supposed that she and her husband dare to presume tospeak of this family as the Wilfers. I cannot therefore condescend tospeak of them as the Boffins. No; for such a tone--call it familiarity,levity, equality, or what you will--would imply those socialinterchanges which do not exist. Do I render myself intelligible?'
Without taking the least notice of this inquiry, albeit delivered in animposing 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, suppressingindignation, and tapping her foot on the floor. 'They are much too kindand too good to be drawn into these discussions.'
'Why put it so?' demanded Mrs Wilfer, with biting sarcasm. 'Why adopt acircuitous form of speech? It is polite and it is obliging; but why doit? 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 asaint mad, and so is Lavvy.'
'Unfortunate Lavvy!' cried Mrs Wilfer, in a tone of commiseration. 'Shealways comes for it. My poor child!' But Lavvy, with the suddenness ofher former desertion, now bounced over to the other enemy: very sharplyremarking, 'Don't patronize ME, Ma, because I can take care of myself.'
'I only wonder,' resumed Mrs Wilfer, directing her observations to herelder daughter, as safer on the whole than her utterly unmanageableyounger, 'that you found time and inclination to tear yourself fromMr and Mrs Boffin, and come to see us at all. I only wonder that ourclaims, contending against the superior claims of Mr and Mrs Boffin,had any weight. I feel I ought to be thankful for gaining so much, incompetition with Mr and Mrs Boffin.' (The good lady bitterly emphasizedthe first letter of the word Boffin, as if it represented her chiefobjection to the owners of that name, and as if she could have bornDoffin, Moffin, or Poffin much better.)
'Ma,' said Bella, angrily, 'you force me to say that I am truly sorry Idid come home, and that I never will come home again, except when poordear Pa is here. For, Pa is too magnanimous to feel envy and spitetowards my generous friends, and Pa is delicate enough and gentle enoughto remember the sort of little claim they thought I had upon them andthe unusually trying position in which, through no act of my own, I hadbeen placed. And I always did love poor dear Pa better than all the restof you put together, and I always do and I always shall!'
Here Bella, deriving no comfort from her charming bonnet and her elegantdress, burst into tears.
'I think, R.W.,' cried Mrs Wilfer, lifting up her eyes andapostrophising the air, 'that if you were present, it would be atrial to your feelings to hear your wife and the mother of your familydepreciated in your name. But Fate has spared you this, R.W., whateverit 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 objectsto their being called the Boffins. I WILL call 'em the Boffins. TheBoffins, the Boffins, the Boffins! And I say they are mischief-makingBoffins, and I say the Boffins have set Bella against me, and I tell theBoffins to their faces:' which was not strictly the fact, but theyoung lady was excited: 'that they are detestable Boffins, disreputableBoffins, odious Boffins, beastly Boffins. There!'
Here Miss Lavinia burst into tears.
The front garden-gate clanked, and the Secretary was seen coming at abrisk pace up the steps. 'Leave Me to open the door to him,' said MrsWilfer, rising with stately resignation as she shook her head and driedher eyes; 'we have at present no stipendiary girl to do so. We havenothing 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 apacket for Miss Bella Wilfer.'
Mr Rokesmith followed close upon his name, and of course saw what wasamiss. But he discreetly affected to see nothing, and addressed MissBella.
'Mr Boffin intended to have placed this in the carriage for youthis morning. He wished you to have it, as a little keepsake he hadprepared--it is only a purse, Miss Wilfer--but as he was disappointed inhis 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 thanwe used; you know our agreeable ways among ourselves. You find me justgoing. Good-bye, mamma. Good-bye, Lavvy!' and with a kiss for each MissBella turned to the door. The Secretary would have attended her, butMrs Wilfer advancing and saying with dignity, 'Pardon me! Permit me toassert my natural right to escort my child to the equipage which isin waiting for her,' he begged pardon and gave place. It was a verymagnificent spectacle indeed, to
When Bella was seated in the carriage, she opened the little packet inher hand. It contained a pretty purse, and the purse contained a banknote for fifty pounds. 'This shall be a joyful surprise for poor dearPa,' said Bella, 'and I'll take it myself into the City!'
As she was uninformed respecting the exact locality of the place ofbusiness of Chicksey Veneering and Stobbles, but knew it to be nearMincing Lane, she directed herself to be driven to the corner of thatdarksome spot. Thence she despatched 'the male domestic of Mrs Boffin,'in search of the counting-house of Chicksey Veneering and Stobbles, witha message importing that if R. Wilfer could come out, there was a ladywaiting who would be glad to speak with him. The delivery of thesemysterious words from the mouth of a footman caused so great anexcitement in the counting-house, that a youthful scout was instantlyappointed to follow Rumty, observe the lady, and come in with hisreport. Nor was the agitation by any means diminished, when the scoutrushed back with the intelligence that the lady was 'a slap-up gal in abang-up chariot.'
Rumty himself, with his pen behind his ear under his rusty hat, arrivedat the carriage-door in a breathless condition, and had been fairlylugged 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 thoughtyou 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 disagreeabletogether. 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 suchan article in this superb chariot--of a--Saveloy,' replied R. Wilfer,modestly dropping his voice on the word, as he eyed the canary-colouredfittings.
'Oh! That's nothing, Pa!'
'Truly, it ain't as much as one could sometimes wish it to be, mydear,' he admitted, drawing his hand across his mouth. 'Still, whencircumstances over which you have no control, interpose obstaclesbetween yourself and Small Germans, you can't do better than bring acontented mind to hear on'--again dropping his voice in deference to thechariot--'Saveloys!'
'You poor good Pa! Pa, do, I beg and pray, get leave for the rest of theday, 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 thechin, 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 neverreally slighted you, Pa.'
'My dear, I say it with all my heart. And might I likewise observe,' herfather delicately hinted, with a glance out at window, 'that perhapsit might be calculated to attract attention, having one's hair publiclydone by a lovely woman in an elegant turn-out in Fenchurch Street?'
Bella laughed and put on his hat again. But when his boyish figurebobbed away, its shabbiness and cheerful patience smote the tears outof her eyes. 'I hate that Secretary for thinking it of me,' she said toherself, 'and yet it seems half true!'
Back came her father, more like a boy than ever, in his release fromschool. 'All right, my dear. Leave given at once. Really very handsomelydone!'
'Now where can we find some quiet place, Pa, in which I can wait for youwhile you go on an errand for me, if I send the carriage away?'
It demanded cogitation. 'You see, my dear,' he explained, 'you reallyhave become such a very lovely woman, that it ought to be a very quietplace.' At length he suggested, 'Near the garden up by the Trinity Houseon Tower Hill.' So, they were driven there, and Bella dismissed thechariot; sending a pencilled note by it to Mrs Boffin, that she was withher father.
'Now, Pa, attend to what I am going to say, and promise and vow to beobedient.'
'I promise and vow, my dear.'
'You ask no questions. You take this purse; you go to the nearest placewhere they keep everything of the very very best, ready made; you buyand 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 havepromised and vowed. It's perjury, you know.'
There was water in the foolish little fellow's eyes, but she kissed themdry (though her own were wet), and he bobbed away again. After half anhour, he came back, so brilliantly transformed, that Bella was obligedto walk round him in ecstatic admiration twenty times, before she coulddraw her arm through his, and delightedly squeeze it.
'Now, Pa,' said Bella, hugging him close, 'take this lovely woman out todinner.'
'Where shall we go, my dear?'
'Greenwich!' said Bella, valiantly. 'And be sure you treat this lovelywoman 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 wasalways your little favourite at home, and you were always mine. We haverun away together often, before now; haven't we, Pa?'
'Ah, to be sure we have! Many a Sunday when your mother was--was alittle liable to it,' repeating his former delicate expression afterpausing to cough.
'Yes, and I am afraid I was seldom or never as good as I ought to havebeen, Pa. I made you carry me, over and over again, when you shouldhave made me walk; and I often drove you in harness, when you would muchrather have sat down and read your news-paper: didn't I?'
'Sometimes, sometimes. But Lor, what a child you were! What a companionyou 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 allin their turns been companions to me, to a certain extent, but only to acertain extent. Your mother has, throughout life, been a companion thatany man might--might look up to--and--and commit the sayings of, tomemory--and--form himself upon--if he--'
'If he liked the model?' suggested Bella.
'We-ell, ye-es,' he returned, thinking about it, not quite satisfiedwith 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 findyour mother an inestimable companion. But if he had any taste forwalking, or should wish at any time to break into a trot, he mightsometimes 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 acompanion, but we'll say to a tune. Very good. Supposing that the tuneallotted to him was the Dead March in Saul. Well. It would be a verysuitable tune for particular occasions--none better--but it wouldbe difficult to keep time with in the ordinary run of domestictransactions. For instance, if he took his supper after a hard day, tothe 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 acomic song or dancing a hornpipe, and was obliged to do it to the DeadMarch in Saul, he might find himself put out in the execution of hislively intentions.'
'Poor Pa!' thought Bella, as she hung upon his arm.
'Now, what I will say for you, my dear,' the che
'Indeed I am afraid I have shown a wretched temper, Pa. I am afraidI have been very complaining, and very capricious. I seldom or neverthought of it before. But when I sat in the carriage just now and sawyou 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 itfor all in all, it was perhaps the happiest day he had ever known in hislife; not even excepting that on which his heroic partner had approachedthe nuptial altar to the tune of the Dead March in Saul.
The little expedition down the river was delightful, and the littleroom overlooking the river into which they were shown for dinner wasdelightful. Everything was delightful. The park was delightful, thepunch was delightful, the dishes of fish were delightful, the winewas delightful. Bella was more delightful than any other item in thefestival; drawing Pa out in the gayest manner; making a point of alwaysmentioning 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 considerationthat he WAS the Pa of such a charming daughter.
And then, as they sat looking at the ships and steamboats making theirway to the sea with the tide that was running down, the lovely womanimagined all sorts of voyages for herself and Pa. Now, Pa, in thecharacter of owner of a lumbering square-sailed collier, was tackingaway to Newcastle, to fetch black diamonds to make his fortune with;now, Pa was going to China in that handsome threemasted ship, to bringhome opium, with which he would for ever cut out Chicksey Veneeringand Stobbles, and to bring home silks and shawls without end for thedecoration of his charming daughter. Now, John Harmon's disastrous fatewas all a dream, and he had come home and found the lovely woman justthe article for him, and the lovely woman had found him just the articlefor 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 bandplaying on deck and Pa established in the great cabin. Now, John Harmonwas consigned to his grave again, and a merchant of immense wealth(name unknown) had courted and married the lovely woman, and he wasso enormously rich that everything you saw upon the river sailing orsteaming belonged to him, and he kept a perfect fleet of yachts forpleasure, and that little impudent yacht which you saw over there, withthe great white sail, was called The Bella, in honour of his wife, andshe 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, amighty general, of large property (name also unknown), who wouldn'thear of going to victory without his wife, and whose wife was the lovelywoman, and she was destined to become the idol of all the red coats andblue jackets alow and aloft. And then again: you saw that ship beingtowed 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 ofthing, and she was chartered for a fortunate individual of the nameof Pa (himself on board, and much respected by all hands), and shewas going, for his sole profit and advantage, to fetch a cargo ofsweet-smelling woods, the most beautiful that ever were seen, and themost profitable that ever were heard of; and her cargo would be a greatfortune, as indeed it ought to be: the lovely woman who had purchasedher and fitted her expressly for this voyage, being married to an IndianPrince, who was a Something-or-Other, and who wore Cashmere shawls allover himself and diamonds and emeralds blazing in his turban, and wasbeautifully coffee-coloured and excessively devoted, though a little toojealous. Thus Bella ran on merrily, in a manner perfectly enchanting toPa, who was as willing to put his head into the Sultan's tub of water asthe 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 theconclusion at home, that we have lost you for good?'
Bella shook her head. Didn't know. Couldn't say. All she was able toreport was, that she was most handsomely supplied with everything shecould possibly want, and that whenever she hinted at leaving Mr and MrsBoffin, they wouldn't hear of it.
'And now, Pa,' pursued Bella, 'I'll make a confession to you. I am themost 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 carefor 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 dimpledchin. 'I AM so mercenary!'
With a wistful glance R. W. said, in default of having anything betterto 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, andonly 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 thegreat things I would do. But when I had been disappointed of my splendidfortune, and came to see it from day to day in other hands, and to havebefore my eyes what it could really do, then I became the mercenarylittle wretch I am.'
'It's your fancy, my dear.'
'I can assure you it's nothing of the sort, Pa!' said Bella, nodding athim, with her very pretty eyebrows raised as high as they would go, andlooking comically frightened. 'It's a fact. I am always avariciouslyscheming.'
'Lor! But how?'
'I'll tell you, Pa. I don't mind telling YOU, because we have alwaysbeen favourites of each other's, and because you are not like a Pa, butmore like a sort of a younger brother with a dear venerable chubbinesson him. And besides,' added Bella, laughing as she pointed a rallyingfinger at his face, 'because I have got you in my power. This is asecret expedition. If ever you tell of me, I'll tell of you. I'll tellMa that you dined at Greenwich.'
'Well; seriously, my dear,' observed R. W., with some trepidation ofmanner, 'it might be as well not to mention it.'
'Aha!' laughed Bella. 'I knew you wouldn't like it, sir! So you keep myconfidence, and I'll keep yours. But betray the lovely woman, and youshall find her a serpent. Now, you may give me a kiss, Pa, and I shouldlike to give your hair a turn, because it has been dreadfully neglectedin my absence.'
R. W. submitted his head to the operator, and the operator went ontalking; at the same time putting separate locks of his hair througha curious process of being smartly rolled over her two revolvingforefingers, which were then suddenly pulled out of it in oppositelateral directions. On each of these occasions the patient winced andwinked.
'I have made up my mind that I must have money, Pa. I feel that I can'tbeg it, borrow it, or steal it; and so I have resolved that I must marryit.'
R. W. cast up his eyes towards her, as well as he could under theoperating circumstances, and said in a tone of remonstrance, 'My de-arBella!'
'Have resolved, I say, Pa, that to get money I must marry money. Inconsequence 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 mercenaryplotter whose thoughts and designs were always in her mean occupation, Iam the amiable creature. But I don't care. I hate and detest beingpoor, and I won't be poor if I can marry money. Now you are deliciouslyfluffy, Pa, and in a state to astonish the waiter and pay the bill.'
'But, my dear Bella, this is quite alarming at your age.'
'I told you so, Pa, but you wouldn't believe it,' returned Bella, with apleasant childish gravity. 'Isn't it shocking?'
'It would be quite so, if you fully knew what you said, my dear, ormeant it.'
'Well, Pa, I can only tell you that I mean nothing else. Talk to me oflove!' said Bella, contemptuously: though her face and figure certainlyrendered the subject no incongruous one. 'Talk t
'My De-ar, this is becoming Awful--' her father was emphaticallybeginning: when she stopped him.
'Pa, tell me. Did you marry money?'
'You know I didn't, my dear.'
Bella hummed the Dead March in Saul, and said, after all it signifiedvery little! But seeing him look grave and downcast, she took him roundthe neck and kissed him back to cheerfulness again.
'I didn't mean that last touch, Pa; it was only said in joke. Now mind!You are not to tell of me, and I'll not tell of you. And more than that;I promise to have no secrets from you, Pa, and you may make certainthat, whatever mercenary things go on, I shall always tell you all aboutthem in strict confidence.'
Fain to be satisfied with this concession from the lovely woman, R. W.rang the bell, and paid the bill. 'Now, all the rest of this, Pa,' saidBella, rolling up the purse when they were alone again, hammering itsmall with her little fist on the table, and cramming it into one of thepockets of his new waistcoat, 'is for you, to buy presents with for themat home, and to pay bills with, and to divide as you like, and spendexactly as you think proper. Last of all take notice, Pa, that it'snot the fruit of any avaricious scheme. Perhaps if it was, your littlemercenary wretch of a daughter wouldn't make so free with it!'
After which, she tugged at his coat with both hands, and pulled him allaskew in buttoning that garment over the precious waistcoat pocket, andthen tied her dimples into her bonnet-strings in a very knowing way, andtook him back to London. Arrived at Mr Boffin's door, she set him withhis back against it, tenderly took him by the ears as convenient handlesfor her purpose, and kissed him until he knocked muffled double knocksat the door with the back of his head. That done, she once more remindedhim of their compact and gaily parted from him.
Not so gaily, however, but that tears filled her eyes as he went awaydown the dark street. Not so gaily, but that she several times said,'Ah, poor little Pa! Ah, poor dear struggling shabby little Pa!'before she took heart to knock at the door. Not so gaily, but that thebrilliant furniture seemed to stare her out of countenance as if itinsisted on being compared with the dingy furniture at home. Not sogaily, but that she fell into very low spirits sitting late in her ownroom, and very heartily wept, as she wished, now that the deceased oldJohn Harmon had never made a will about her, now that the deceased youngJohn Harmon had lived to marry her. 'Contradictory things to wish,' saidBella, 'but my life and fortunes are so contradictory altogether thatwhat can I expect myself to be!'
Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens / Romance & Love have rating 5 out of 5 / Based on135 votes