Our mutual friend, p.27
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       Our Mutual Friend, p.27

           Charles Dickens
 

  Chapter 10

  A SUCCESSOR

  Some of the Reverend Frank Milvey's brethren had found themselvesexceedingly uncomfortable in their minds, because they were required tobury the dead too hopefully. But, the Reverend Frank, inclining to thebelief that they were required to do one or two other things (say out ofnine-and-thirty) calculated to trouble their consciences rather more ifthey would think as much about them, held his peace.

  Indeed, the Reverend Frank Milvey was a forbearing man, who noticed manysad warps and blights in the vineyard wherein he worked, and did notprofess that they made him savagely wise. He only learned that the morehe himself knew, in his little limited human way, the better he coulddistantly imagine what Omniscience might know.

  Wherefore, if the Reverend Frank had had to read the words that troubledsome of his brethren, and profitably touched innumerable hearts, ina worse case than Johnny's, he would have done so out of the pity andhumility of his soul. Reading them over Johnny, he thought of his ownsix children, but not of his poverty, and read them with dimmed eyes.And very seriously did he and his bright little wife, who had beenlistening, look down into the small grave and walk home arm-in-arm.

  There was grief in the aristocratic house, and there was joy in theBower. Mr Wegg argued, if an orphan were wanted, was he not an orphanhimself; and could a better be desired? And why go beating aboutBrentford bushes, seeking orphans forsooth who had established no claimsupon you and made no sacrifices for you, when here was an orphan readyto your hand who had given up in your cause, Miss Elizabeth, MasterGeorge, Aunt Jane, and Uncle Parker?

  Mr Wegg chuckled, consequently, when he heard the tidings. Nay, it wasafterwards affirmed by a witness who shall at present be nameless,that in the seclusion of the Bower he poked out his wooden leg, in thestage-ballet manner, and executed a taunting or triumphant pirouette onthe genuine leg remaining to him.

  John Rokesmith's manner towards Mrs Boffin at this time, was more themanner of a young man towards a mother, than that of a Secretary towardshis employer's wife. It had always been marked by a subdued affectionatedeference that seemed to have sprung up on the very day of hisengagement; whatever was odd in her dress or her ways had seemed to haveno oddity for him; he had sometimes borne a quietly-amused face in hercompany, but still it had seemed as if the pleasure her genial temperand radiant nature yielded him, could have been quite as naturallyexpressed in a tear as in a smile. The completeness of his sympathy withher fancy for having a little John Harmon to protect and rear, hehad shown in every act and word, and now that the kind fancy wasdisappointed, he treated it with a manly tenderness and respect forwhich she could hardly thank him enough.

  'But I do thank you, Mr Rokesmith,' said Mrs Boffin, 'and I thank youmost kindly. You love children.'

  'I hope everybody does.'

  'They ought,' said Mrs Boffin; 'but we don't all of us do what we ought,do us?'

  John Rokesmith replied, 'Some among us supply the short-comings of therest. You have loved children well, Mr Boffin has told me.'

  'Not a bit better than he has, but that's his way; he puts all the goodupon me. You speak rather sadly, Mr Rokesmith.'

  'Do I?'

  'It sounds to me so. Were you one of many children?' He shook his head.

  'An only child?'

  'No there was another. Dead long ago.'

  'Father or mother alive?'

  'Dead.'--

  'And the rest of your relations?'

  'Dead--if I ever had any living. I never heard of any.'

  At this point of the dialogue Bella came in with a light step. Shepaused at the door a moment, hesitating whether to remain or retire;perplexed by finding that she was not observed.

  'Now, don't mind an old lady's talk,' said Mrs Boffin, 'but tell me. Areyou quite sure, Mr Rokesmith, that you have never had a disappointmentin love?'

  'Quite sure. Why do you ask me?'

  'Why, for this reason. Sometimes you have a kind of kept-down mannerwith you, which is not like your age. You can't be thirty?'

  'I am not yet thirty.'

  Deeming it high time to make her presence known, Bella coughed here toattract attention, begged pardon, and said she would go, fearing thatshe interrupted some matter of business.

  'No, don't go,' rejoined Mrs Boffin, 'because we are coming to business,instead of having begun it, and you belong to it as much now, my dearBella, as I do. But I want my Noddy to consult with us. Would somebodybe so good as find my Noddy for me?'

  Rokesmith departed on that errand, and presently returned accompanied byMr Boffin at his jog-trot. Bella felt a little vague trepidation as tothe subject-matter of this same consultation, until Mrs Boffin announcedit.

  'Now, you come and sit by me, my dear,' said that worthy soul, takingher comfortable place on a large ottoman in the centre of the room,and drawing her arm through Bella's; 'and Noddy, you sit here, and MrRokesmith you sit there. Now, you see, what I want to talk about, isthis. Mr and Mrs Milvey have sent me the kindest note possible (whichMr Rokesmith just now read to me out aloud, for I ain't good athandwritings), offering to find me another little child to name andeducate and bring up. Well. This has set me thinking.'

  ('And she is a steam-ingein at it,' murmured Mr Boffin, in an admiringparenthesis, 'when she once begins. It mayn't be so easy to start her;but once started, she's a ingein.')

  '--This has set me thinking, I say,' repeated Mrs Boffin, cordiallybeaming under the influence of her husband's compliment, 'and I havethought two things. First of all, that I have grown timid of revivingJohn Harmon's name. It's an unfortunate name, and I fancy I shouldreproach myself if I gave it to another dear child, and it proved againunlucky.'

  'Now, whether,' said Mr Boffin, gravely propounding a case for hisSecretary's opinion; 'whether one might call that a superstition?'

  'It is a matter of feeling with Mrs Boffin,' said Rokesmith, gently.'The name has always been unfortunate. It has now this new unfortunateassociation connected with it. The name has died out. Why revive it?Might I ask Miss Wilfer what she thinks?'

  'It has not been a fortunate name for me,' said Bella, colouring--'orat least it was not, until it led to my being here--but that is not thepoint in my thoughts. As we had given the name to the poor child, and asthe poor child took so lovingly to me, I think I should feel jealous ofcalling another child by it. I think I should feel as if the name hadbecome endeared to me, and I had no right to use it so.'

  'And that's your opinion?' remarked Mr Boffin, observant of theSecretary's face and again addressing him.

  'I say again, it is a matter of feeling,' returned the Secretary. 'Ithink Miss Wilfer's feeling very womanly and pretty.'

  'Now, give us your opinion, Noddy,' said Mrs Boffin.

  'My opinion, old lady,' returned the Golden Dustman, 'is your opinion.'

  'Then,' said Mrs Boffin, 'we agree not to revive John Harmon's name, butto let it rest in the grave. It is, as Mr Rokesmith says, a matter offeeling, but Lor how many matters ARE matters of feeling! Well; and soI come to the second thing I have thought of. You must know, Bella,my dear, and Mr Rokesmith, that when I first named to my husband mythoughts of adopting a little orphan boy in remembrance of John Harmon,I further named to my husband that it was comforting to think that howthe poor boy would be benefited by John's own money, and protected fromJohn's own forlornness.'

  'Hear, hear!' cried Mr Boffin. 'So she did. Ancoar!'

  'No, not Ancoar, Noddy, my dear,' returned Mrs Boffin, 'because I amgoing to say something else. I meant that, I am sure, as much asI still mean it. But this little death has made me ask myself thequestion, seriously, whether I wasn't too bent upon pleasing myself.Else why did I seek out so much for a pretty child, and a child quite tomy liking? Wanting to do good, why not do it for its own sake, and putmy tastes and likings by?'

  'Perhaps,' said Bella; and perhaps she said it with some littlesensitiveness arising out of those old curious relations of hers towardsthe murdered man; 'perhaps, in reviving the name,
you would not haveliked to give it to a less interesting child than the original. Heinterested you very much.'

  'Well, my dear,' returned Mrs Boffin, giving her a squeeze, 'it's kindof you to find that reason out, and I hope it may have been so, andindeed to a certain extent I believe it was so, but I am afraid not tothe whole extent. However, that don't come in question now, because wehave done with the name.'

  'Laid it up as a remembrance,' suggested Bella, musingly.

  'Much better said, my dear; laid it up as a remembrance. Well then; Ihave been thinking if I take any orphan to provide for, let it not bea pet and a plaything for me, but a creature to be helped for its ownsake.'

  'Not pretty then?' said Bella.

  'No,' returned Mrs Boffin, stoutly.

  'Nor prepossessing then?' said Bella.

  'No,' returned Mrs Boffin. 'Not necessarily so. That's as it may happen.A well-disposed boy comes in my way who may be even a little wanting insuch advantages for getting on in life, but is honest and industriousand requires a helping hand and deserves it. If I am very much inearnest and quite determined to be unselfish, let me take care of HIM.'

  Here the footman whose feelings had been hurt on the former occasion,appeared, and crossing to Rokesmith apologetically announced theobjectionable Sloppy.

  The four members of Council looked at one another, and paused. 'Shall hebe brought here, ma'am?' asked Rokesmith.

  'Yes,' said Mrs Boffin. Whereupon the footman disappeared, reappearedpresenting Sloppy, and retired much disgusted.

  The consideration of Mrs Boffin had clothed Mr Sloppy in a suit ofblack, on which the tailor had received personal directions fromRokesmith to expend the utmost cunning of his art, with a view to theconcealment of the cohering and sustaining buttons. But, so muchmore powerful were the frailties of Sloppy's form than the strongestresources of tailoring science, that he now stood before the Council,a perfect Argus in the way of buttons: shining and winking and gleamingand twinkling out of a hundred of those eyes of bright metal, at thedazzled spectators. The artistic taste of some unknown hatter hadfurnished him with a hatband of wholesale capacity which was flutedbehind, from the crown of his hat to the brim, and terminated in a blackbunch, from which the imagination shrunk discomfited and the reasonrevolted. Some special powers with which his legs were endowed, hadalready hitched up his glossy trousers at the ankles, and bagged them atthe knees; while similar gifts in his arms had raised his coat-sleevesfrom his wrists and accumulated them at his elbows. Thus set forth, withthe additional embellishments of a very little tail to his coat, and ayawning gulf at his waistband, Sloppy stood confessed.

  'And how is Betty, my good fellow?' Mrs Boffin asked him.

  'Thankee, mum,' said Sloppy, 'she do pretty nicely, and sending herdooty and many thanks for the tea and all faviours and wishing to knowthe family's healths.'

  'Have you just come, Sloppy?'

  'Yes, mum.'

  'Then you have not had your dinner yet?'

  'No, mum. But I mean to it. For I ain't forgotten your handsome ordersthat I was never to go away without having had a good 'un off of meatand beer and pudding--no: there was four of 'em, for I reckoned 'emup when I had 'em; meat one, beer two, vegetables three, and which wasfour?--Why, pudding, HE was four!' Here Sloppy threw his head back,opened his mouth wide, and laughed rapturously.

  'How are the two poor little Minders?' asked Mrs Boffin.

  'Striking right out, mum, and coming round beautiful.'

  Mrs Boffin looked on the other three members of Council, and then said,beckoning with her finger:

  'Sloppy.'

  'Yes, mum.'

  'Come forward, Sloppy. Should you like to dine here every day?'

  'Off of all four on 'em, mum? O mum!' Sloppy's feelings obliged him tosqueeze his hat, and contract one leg at the knee.

  'Yes. And should you like to be always taken care of here, if you wereindustrious and deserving?'

  'Oh, mum!--But there's Mrs Higden,' said Sloppy, checking himself in hisraptures, drawing back, and shaking his head with very serious meaning.'There's Mrs Higden. Mrs Higden goes before all. None can ever be betterfriends to me than Mrs Higden's been. And she must be turned for, mustMrs Higden. Where would Mrs Higden be if she warn't turned for!' At themere thought of Mrs Higden in this inconceivable affliction, Mr Sloppy'scountenance became pale, and manifested the most distressful emotions.

  'You are as right as right can be, Sloppy,' said Mrs Boffin 'and far beit from me to tell you otherwise. It shall be seen to. If Betty Higdencan be turned for all the same, you shall come here and be taken care offor life, and be made able to keep her in other ways than the turning.'

  'Even as to that, mum,' answered the ecstatic Sloppy, 'the turning mightbe done in the night, don't you see? I could be here in the day, andturn in the night. I don't want no sleep, I don't. Or even if I any waysshould want a wink or two,' added Sloppy, after a moment's apologeticreflection, 'I could take 'em turning. I've took 'em turning many atime, and enjoyed 'em wonderful!'

  On the grateful impulse of the moment, Mr Sloppy kissed Mrs Boffin'shand, and then detaching himself from that good creature that he mighthave room enough for his feelings, threw back his head, opened his mouthwide, and uttered a dismal howl. It was creditable to his tenderness ofheart, but suggested that he might on occasion give some offence to theneighbours: the rather, as the footman looked in, and begged pardon,finding he was not wanted, but excused himself; on the ground 'that hethought it was Cats.'

 
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