Our mutual friend, p.30
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       Our Mutual Friend, p.30
 

           Charles Dickens

  Chapter 13

  A SOLO AND A DUETT

  The wind was blowing so hard when the visitor came out at the shop-doorinto the darkness and dirt of Limehouse Hole, that it almost blew himin again. Doors were slamming violently, lamps were flickering or blownout, signs were rocking in their frames, the water of the kennels,wind-dispersed, flew about in drops like rain. Indifferent to theweather, and even preferring it to better weather for its clearance ofthe streets, the man looked about him with a scrutinizing glance. 'Thusmuch I know,' he murmured. 'I have never been here since that night, andnever was here before that night, but thus much I recognize. I wonderwhich way did we take when we came out of that shop. We turned to theright as I have turned, but I can recall no more. Did we go by thisalley? Or down that little lane?'

  He tried both, but both confused him equally, and he came strayingback to the same spot. 'I remember there were poles pushed out of upperwindows on which clothes were drying, and I remember a low public-house,and the sound flowing down a narrow passage belonging to it of thescraping of a fiddle and the shuffling of feet. But here are all thesethings in the lane, and here are all these things in the alley. And Ihave nothing else in my mind but a wall, a dark doorway, a flight ofstairs, and a room.'

  He tried a new direction, but made nothing of it; walls, dark doorways,flights of stairs and rooms, were too abundant. And, like most people sopuzzled, he again and again described a circle, and found himself atthe point from which he had begun. 'This is like what I have read innarratives of escape from prison,' said he, 'where the little track ofthe fugitives in the night always seems to take the shape of the greatround world, on which they wander; as if it were a secret law.'

  Here he ceased to be the oakum-headed, oakum-whiskered man on whom MissPleasant Riderhood had looked, and, allowing for his being still wrappedin a nautical overcoat, became as like that same lost wanted Mr JuliusHandford, as never man was like another in this world. In the breast ofthe coat he stowed the bristling hair and whisker, in a moment, as thefavouring wind went with him down a solitary place that it had sweptclear of passengers. Yet in that same moment he was the Secretary also,Mr Boffin's Secretary. For John Rokesmith, too, was as like that samelost wanted Mr Julius Handford as never man was like another in thisworld.

  'I have no clue to the scene of my death,' said he. 'Not that it mattersnow. But having risked discovery by venturing here at all, I should havebeen glad to track some part of the way.' With which singular words heabandoned his search, came up out of Limehouse Hole, and took the waypast Limehouse Church. At the great iron gate of the churchyard hestopped and looked in. He looked up at the high tower spectrallyresisting the wind, and he looked round at the white tombstones, likeenough to the dead in their winding-sheets, and he counted the ninetolls of the clock-bell.

  'It is a sensation not experienced by many mortals,' said he, 'to belooking into a churchyard on a wild windy night, and to feel that I nomore hold a place among the living than these dead do, and even to knowthat I lie buried somewhere else, as they lie buried here. Nothing usesme to it. A spirit that was once a man could hardly feel stranger orlonelier, going unrecognized among mankind, than I feel.

  'But this is the fanciful side of the situation. It has a real side, sodifficult that, though I think of it every day, I never thoroughly thinkit out. Now, let me determine to think it out as I walk home. I knowI evade it, as many men--perhaps most men--do evade thinking their waythrough their greatest perplexity. I will try to pin myself to mine.Don't evade it, John Harmon; don't evade it; think it out!

  'When I came to England, attracted to the country with which I had nonebut most miserable associations, by the accounts of my fine inheritancethat found me abroad, I came back, shrinking from my father's money,shrinking from my father's memory, mistrustful of being forced on amercenary wife, mistrustful of my father's intention in thrusting thatmarriage on me, mistrustful that I was already growing avaricious,mistrustful that I was slackening in gratitude to the two dear noblehonest friends who had made the only sunlight in my childish life orthat of my heartbroken sister. I came back, timid, divided in my mind,afraid of myself and everybody here, knowing of nothing but wretchednessthat my father's wealth had ever brought about. Now, stop, and so farthink it out, John Harmon. Is that so? That is exactly so.

  'On board serving as third mate was George Radfoot. I knew nothing ofhim. His name first became known to me about a week before we sailed,through my being accosted by one of the ship-agent's clerks as"Mr Radfoot." It was one day when I had gone aboard to look to mypreparations, and the clerk, coming behind me as I stood on deck, tappedme on the shoulder, and said, "Mr Rad-foot, look here," referring tosome papers that he had in his hand. And my name first became known toRadfoot, through another clerk within a day or two, and while the shipwas yet in port, coming up behind him, tapping him on the shoulder andbeginning, "I beg your pardon, Mr Harmon--." I believe we were alikein bulk and stature but not otherwise, and that we were not strikinglyalike, even in those respects, when we were together and could becompared.

  'However, a sociable word or two on these mistakes became an easyintroduction between us, and the weather was hot, and he helped me to acool cabin on deck alongside his own, and his first school had been atBrussels as mine had been, and he had learnt French as I had learnt it,and he had a little history of himself to relate--God only knows howmuch of it true, and how much of it false--that had its likeness tomine. I had been a seaman too. So we got to be confidential together,and the more easily yet, because he and every one on board had knownby general rumour what I was making the voyage to England for. By suchdegrees and means, he came to the knowledge of my uneasiness of mind,and of its setting at that time in the direction of desiring to see andform some judgment of my allotted wife, before she could possibly knowme for myself; also to try Mrs Boffin and give her a glad surprise. Sothe plot was made out of our getting common sailors' dresses (as he wasable to guide me about London), and throwing ourselves in Bella Wilfer'sneighbourhood, and trying to put ourselves in her way, and doingwhatever chance might favour on the spot, and seeing what came of it. Ifnothing came of it, I should be no worse off, and there would merelybe a short delay in my presenting myself to Lightwood. I have all thesefacts right? Yes. They are all accurately right.

  'His advantage in all this was, that for a time I was to be lost. Itmight be for a day or for two days, but I must be lost sight of onlanding, or there would be recognition, anticipation, and failure.Therefore, I disembarked with my valise in my hand--as Pottersonthe steward and Mr Jacob Kibble my fellow-passenger afterwardsremembered--and waited for him in the dark by that very Limehouse Churchwhich is now behind me.

  'As I had always shunned the port of London, I only knew the churchthrough his pointing out its spire from on board. Perhaps I mightrecall, if it were any good to try, the way by which I went to it alonefrom the river; but how we two went from it to Riderhood's shop, I don'tknow--any more than I know what turns we took and doubles we made, afterwe left it. The way was purposely confused, no doubt.

  'But let me go on thinking the facts out, and avoid confusing them withmy speculations. Whether he took me by a straight way or a crooked way,what is that to the purpose now? Steady, John Harmon.

  'When we stopped at Riderhood's, and he asked that scoundrel a questionor two, purporting to refer only to the lodging-houses in which therewas accommodation for us, had I the least suspicion of him? None.Certainly none until afterwards when I held the clue. I think he musthave got from Riderhood in a paper, the drug, or whatever it was, thatafterwards stupefied me, but I am far from sure. All I felt safe incharging on him to-night, was old companionship in villainy betweenthem. Their undisguised intimacy, and the character I now know Riderhoodto bear, made that not at all adventurous. But I am not clear about thedrug. Thinking out the circumstances on which I found my suspicion, theyare only two. One: I remember his changing a small folded paper from onepocket to another, after we came out, which he had not touched b
efore.Two: I now know Riderhood to have been previously taken up for beingconcerned in the robbery of an unlucky seaman, to whom some such poisonhad been given.

  'It is my conviction that we cannot have gone a mile from that shop,before we came to the wall, the dark doorway, the flight of stairs, andthe room. The night was particularly dark and it rained hard. As I thinkthe circumstances back, I hear the rain splashing on the stone pavementof the passage, which was not under cover. The room overlooked theriver, or a dock, or a creek, and the tide was out. Being possessed ofthe time down to that point, I know by the hour that it must have beenabout low water; but while the coffee was getting ready, I drew back thecurtain (a dark-brown curtain), and, looking out, knew by the kindof reflection below, of the few neighbouring lights, that they werereflected in tidal mud.

  'He had carried under his arm a canvas bag, containing a suit of hisclothes. I had no change of outer clothes with me, as I was to buyslops. "You are very wet, Mr Harmon,"--I can hear him saying--"and I amquite dry under this good waterproof coat. Put on these clothes ofmine. You may find on trying them that they will answer your purposeto-morrow, as well as the slops you mean to buy, or better. While youchange, I'll hurry the hot coffee." When he came back, I had his clotheson, and there was a black man with him, wearing a linen jacket, likea steward, who put the smoking coffee on the table in a tray and neverlooked at me. I am so far literal and exact? Literal and exact, I amcertain.

  'Now, I pass to sick and deranged impressions; they are so strong, thatI rely upon them; but there are spaces between them that I know nothingabout, and they are not pervaded by any idea of time.

  'I had drank some coffee, when to my sense of sight he began to swellimmensely, and something urged me to rush at him. We had a struggle nearthe door. He got from me, through my not knowing where to strike, in thewhirling round of the room, and the flashing of flames of fire betweenus. I dropped down. Lying helpless on the ground, I was turned over bya foot. I was dragged by the neck into a corner. I heard men speaktogether. I was turned over by other feet. I saw a figure like myselflying dressed in my clothes on a bed. What might have been, for anythingI knew, a silence of days, weeks, months, years, was broken by a violentwrestling of men all over the room. The figure like myself was assailed,and my valise was in its hand. I was trodden upon and fallen over. Iheard a noise of blows, and thought it was a wood-cutter cutting downa tree. I could not have said that my name was John Harmon--I could nothave thought it--I didn't know it--but when I heard the blows, I thoughtof the wood-cutter and his axe, and had some dead idea that I was lyingin a forest.

  'This is still correct? Still correct, with the exception that I cannotpossibly express it to myself without using the word I. But it was notI. There was no such thing as I, within my knowledge.

  'It was only after a downward slide through something like a tube, andthen a great noise and a sparkling and crackling as of fires, that theconsciousness came upon me, "This is John Harmon drowning! John Harmon,struggle for your life. John Harmon, call on Heaven and save yourself!"I think I cried it out aloud in a great agony, and then a heavy horridunintelligible something vanished, and it was I who was struggling therealone in the water.

  'I was very weak and faint, frightfully oppressed with drowsiness, anddriving fast with the tide. Looking over the black water, I saw thelights racing past me on the two banks of the river, as if they wereeager to be gone and leave me dying in the dark. The tide was runningdown, but I knew nothing of up or down then. When, guiding myself safelywith Heaven's assistance before the fierce set of the water, I at lastcaught at a boat moored, one of a tier of boats at a causeway, I wassucked under her, and came up, only just alive, on the other side.

  'Was I long in the water? Long enough to be chilled to the heart, butI don't know how long. Yet the cold was merciful, for it was the coldnight air and the rain that restored me from a swoon on the stones ofthe causeway. They naturally supposed me to have toppled in, drunk, whenI crept to the public-house it belonged to; for I had no notion whereI was, and could not articulate--through the poison that had made meinsensible having affected my speech--and I supposed the night to bethe previous night, as it was still dark and raining. But I had losttwenty-four hours.

  'I have checked the calculation often, and it must have been two nightsthat I lay recovering in that public-house. Let me see. Yes. I am sureit was while I lay in that bed there, that the thought entered my headof turning the danger I had passed through, to the account of beingfor some time supposed to have disappeared mysteriously, and of provingBella. The dread of our being forced on one another, and perpetuatingthe fate that seemed to have fallen on my father's riches--the fate thatthey should lead to nothing but evil--was strong upon the moral timiditythat dates from my childhood with my poor sister.

  'As to this hour I cannot understand that side of the river where Irecovered the shore, being the opposite side to that on which I wasensnared, I shall never understand it now. Even at this moment, while Ileave the river behind me, going home, I cannot conceive that it rollsbetween me and that spot, or that the sea is where it is. But this isnot thinking it out; this is making a leap to the present time.

  'I could not have done it, but for the fortune in the waterproofbelt round my body. Not a great fortune, forty and odd pounds for theinheritor of a hundred and odd thousand! But it was enough. Without it Imust have disclosed myself. Without it, I could never have gone to thatExchequer Coffee House, or taken Mrs Wilfer's lodgings.

  'Some twelve days I lived at that hotel, before the night when I saw thecorpse of Radfoot at the Police Station. The inexpressible mental horrorthat I laboured under, as one of the consequences of the poison, makesthe interval seem greatly longer, but I know it cannot have been longer.That suffering has gradually weakened and weakened since, and has onlycome upon me by starts, and I hope I am free from it now; but even now,I have sometimes to think, constrain myself, and stop before speaking,or I could not say the words I want to say.

  'Again I ramble away from thinking it out to the end. It is not so farto the end that I need be tempted to break off. Now, on straight!

  'I examined the newspapers every day for tidings that I was missing, butsaw none. Going out that night to walk (for I kept retired while it waslight), I found a crowd assembled round a placard posted at Whitehall.It described myself, John Harmon, as found dead and mutilated in theriver under circumstances of strong suspicion, described my dress,described the papers in my pockets, and stated where I was lying forrecognition. In a wild incautious way I hurried there, and there--withthe horror of the death I had escaped, before my eyes in its mostappalling shape, added to the inconceivable horror tormenting me atthat time when the poisonous stuff was strongest on me--I perceived thatRadfoot had been murdered by some unknown hands for the money for whichhe would have murdered me, and that probably we had both been shot intothe river from the same dark place into the same dark tide, when thestream ran deep and strong.

  'That night I almost gave up my mystery, though I suspected no one,could offer no information, knew absolutely nothing save that themurdered man was not I, but Radfoot. Next day while I hesitated, andnext day while I hesitated, it seemed as if the whole country weredetermined to have me dead. The Inquest declared me dead, the Governmentproclaimed me dead; I could not listen at my fireside for five minutesto the outer noises, but it was borne into my ears that I was dead.

  'So John Harmon died, and Julius Handford disappeared, and JohnRokesmith was born. John Rokesmith's intent to-night has been to repaira wrong that he could never have imagined possible, coming to his earsthrough the Lightwood talk related to him, and which he is bound byevery consideration to remedy. In that intent John Rokesmith willpersevere, as his duty is.

  'Now, is it all thought out? All to this time? Nothing omitted? No,nothing. But beyond this time? To think it out through the future, is aharder though a much shorter task than to think it out through the past.John Harmon is dead. Should John Harmon come to life?

  '
If yes, why? If no, why?'

  'Take yes, first. To enlighten human Justice concerning the offence ofone far beyond it who may have a living mother. To enlighten it with thelights of a stone passage, a flight of stairs, a brown window-curtain,and a black man. To come into possession of my father's money, and withit sordidly to buy a beautiful creature whom I love--I cannot help it;reason has nothing to do with it; I love her against reason--but whowould as soon love me for my own sake, as she would love the beggar atthe corner. What a use for the money, and how worthy of its old misuses!

  'Now, take no. The reasons why John Harmon should not come to life.Because he has passively allowed these dear old faithful friends to passinto possession of the property. Because he sees them happy with it,making a good use of it, effacing the old rust and tarnish on the money.Because they have virtually adopted Bella, and will provide for her.Because there is affection enough in her nature, and warmth enough inher heart, to develop into something enduringly good, under favourableconditions. Because her faults have been intensified by her place in myfather's will, and she is already growing better. Because her marriagewith John Harmon, after what I have heard from her own lips, would be ashocking mockery, of which both she and I must always be conscious, andwhich would degrade her in her mind, and me in mine, and each of us inthe other's. Because if John Harmon comes to life and does not marryher, the property falls into the very hands that hold it now.

  'What would I have? Dead, I have found the true friends of my lifetimestill as true as tender and as faithful as when I was alive, and makingmy memory an incentive to good actions done in my name. Dead, I havefound them when they might have slighted my name, and passedgreedily over my grave to ease and wealth, lingering by the way, likesingle-hearted children, to recall their love for me when I was a poorfrightened child. Dead, I have heard from the woman who would have beenmy wife if I had lived, the revolting truth that I should have purchasedher, caring nothing for me, as a Sultan buys a slave.

  'What would I have? If the dead could know, or do know, how the livinguse them, who among the hosts of dead has found a more disinterestedfidelity on earth than I? Is not that enough for me? If I had come back,these noble creatures would have welcomed me, wept over me, given upeverything to me with joy. I did not come back, and they have passedunspoiled into my place. Let them rest in it, and let Bella rest inhers.

  'What course for me then? This. To live the same quiet Secretary life,carefully avoiding chances of recognition, until they shall have becomemore accustomed to their altered state, and until the great swarm ofswindlers under many names shall have found newer prey. By that time,the method I am establishing through all the affairs, and with which Iwill every day take new pains to make them both familiar, will be, I mayhope, a machine in such working order as that they can keep it going.I know I need but ask of their generosity, to have. When the right timecomes, I will ask no more than will replace me in my former path oflife, and John Rokesmith shall tread it as contentedly as he may. ButJohn Harmon shall come back no more.

  'That I may never, in the days to come afar off, have any weak misgivingthat Bella might, in any contingency, have taken me for my own sake ifI had plainly asked her, I WILL plainly ask her: proving beyond allquestion what I already know too well. And now it is all thought out,from the beginning to the end, and my mind is easier.'

  So deeply engaged had the living-dead man been, in thus communing withhimself, that he had regarded neither the wind nor the way, and hadresisted the former instinctively as he had pursued the latter. Butbeing now come into the City, where there was a coach-stand, he stoodirresolute whether to go to his lodgings, or to go first to Mr Boffin'shouse. He decided to go round by the house, arguing, as he carried hisovercoat upon his arm, that it was less likely to attract notice if leftthere, than if taken to Holloway: both Mrs Wilfer and Miss Lavinia beingravenously curious touching every article of which the lodger stoodpossessed.

  Arriving at the house, he found that Mr and Mrs Boffin were out, butthat Miss Wilfer was in the drawing-room. Miss Wilfer had remained athome, in consequence of not feeling very well, and had inquired in theevening if Mr Rokesmith were in his room.

  'Make my compliments to Miss Wilfer, and say I am here now.'

  Miss Wilfer's compliments came down in return, and, if it were not toomuch trouble, would Mr Rokesmith be so kind as to come up before hewent?

  It was not too much trouble, and Mr Rokesmith came up.

  Oh she looked very pretty, she looked very, very pretty! If the fatherof the late John Harmon had but left his money unconditionally to hisson, and if his son had but lighted on this loveable girl for himself,and had the happiness to make her loving as well as loveable!

  'Dear me! Are you not well, Mr Rokesmith?'

  'Yes, quite well. I was sorry to hear, when I came in, that YOU werenot.'

  'A mere nothing. I had a headache--gone now--and was not quite fit fora hot theatre, so I stayed at home. I asked you if you were not well,because you look so white.'

  'Do I? I have had a busy evening.'

  She was on a low ottoman before the fire, with a little shining jewelof a table, and her book and her work, beside her. Ah! what a differentlife the late John Harmon's, if it had been his happy privilege to takehis place upon that ottoman, and draw his arm about that waist, and say,'I hope the time has been long without me? What a Home Goddess you look,my darling!'

  But, the present John Rokesmith, far removed from the late John Harmon,remained standing at a distance. A little distance in respect of space,but a great distance in respect of separation.

  'Mr Rokesmith,' said Bella, taking up her work, and inspecting it allround the corners, 'I wanted to say something to you when I could havethe opportunity, as an explanation why I was rude to you the other day.You have no right to think ill of me, sir.'

  The sharp little way in which she darted a look at him, half sensitivelyinjured, and half pettishly, would have been very much admired by thelate John Harmon.

  'You don't know how well I think of you, Miss Wilfer.'

  'Truly, you must have a very high opinion of me, Mr Rokesmith, when youbelieve that in prosperity I neglect and forget my old home.'

  'Do I believe so?'

  'You DID, sir, at any rate,' returned Bella.

  'I took the liberty of reminding you of a little omission into which youhad fallen--insensibly and naturally fallen. It was no more than that.'

  'And I beg leave to ask you, Mr Rokesmith,' said Bella, 'why you tookthat liberty?--I hope there is no offence in the phrase; it is your own,remember.'

  'Because I am truly, deeply, profoundly interested in you, Miss Wilfer.Because I wish to see you always at your best. Because I--shall I goon?'

  'No, sir,' returned Bella, with a burning face, 'you have said more thanenough. I beg that you will NOT go on. If you have any generosity, anyhonour, you will say no more.'

  The late John Harmon, looking at the proud face with the down-cast eyes,and at the quick breathing as it stirred the fall of bright brown hairover the beautiful neck, would probably have remained silent.

  'I wish to speak to you, sir,' said Bella, 'once for all, and I don'tknow how to do it. I have sat here all this evening, wishing to speak toyou, and determining to speak to you, and feeling that I must. I beg fora moment's time.'

  He remained silent, and she remained with her face averted, sometimesmaking a slight movement as if she would turn and speak. At length shedid so.

  'You know how I am situated here, sir, and you know how I am situatedat home. I must speak to you for myself, since there is no one aboutme whom I could ask to do so. It is not generous in you, it is nothonourable in you, to conduct yourself towards me as you do.'

  'Is it ungenerous or dishonourable to be devoted to you; fascinated byyou?'

  'Preposterous!' said Bella.

  The late John Harmon might have thought it rather a contemptuous andlofty word of repudiation.

  'I now feel obliged to go on,' pursued the Secretary
, 'though it wereonly in self-explanation and self-defence. I hope, Miss Wilfer, thatit is not unpardonable--even in me--to make an honest declaration of anhonest devotion to you.'

  'An honest declaration!' repeated Bella, with emphasis.

  'Is it otherwise?'

  'I must request, sir,' said Bella, taking refuge in a touch of timelyresentment, 'that I may not be questioned. You must excuse me if Idecline to be cross-examined.'

  'Oh, Miss Wilfer, this is hardly charitable. I ask you nothing but whatyour own emphasis suggests. However, I waive even that question. Butwhat I have declared, I take my stand by. I cannot recall the avowal ofmy earnest and deep attachment to you, and I do not recall it.'

  'I reject it, sir,' said Bella.

  'I should be blind and deaf if I were not prepared for the reply.Forgive my offence, for it carries its punishment with it.'

  'What punishment?' asked Bella.

  'Is my present endurance none? But excuse me; I did not mean tocross-examine you again.'

  'You take advantage of a hasty word of mine,' said Bella with a littlesting of self-reproach, 'to make me seem--I don't know what. I spokewithout consideration when I used it. If that was bad, I am sorry; butyou repeat it after consideration, and that seems to me to be at leastno better. For the rest, I beg it may be understood, Mr Rokesmith, thatthere is an end of this between us, now and for ever.'

  'Now and for ever,' he repeated.

  'Yes. I appeal to you, sir,' proceeded Bella with increasing spirit,'not to pursue me. I appeal to you not to take advantage of yourposition in this house to make my position in it distressing anddisagreeable. I appeal to you to discontinue your habit of making yourmisplaced attentions as plain to Mrs Boffin as to me.'

  'Have I done so?'

  'I should think you have,' replied Bella. 'In any case it is not yourfault if you have not, Mr Rokesmith.'

  'I hope you are wrong in that impression. I should be very sorry tohave justified it. I think I have not. For the future there is noapprehension. It is all over.'

  'I am much relieved to hear it,' said Bella. 'I have far other views inlife, and why should you waste your own?'

  'Mine!' said the Secretary. 'My life!'

  His curious tone caused Bella to glance at the curious smile with whichhe said it. It was gone as he glanced back. 'Pardon me, Miss Wilfer,'he proceeded, when their eyes met; 'you have used some hard words, forwhich I do not doubt you have a justification in your mind, that I donot understand. Ungenerous and dishonourable. In what?'

  'I would rather not be asked,' said Bella, haughtily looking down.

  'I would rather not ask, but the question is imposed upon me. Kindlyexplain; or if not kindly, justly.'

  'Oh, sir!' said Bella, raising her eyes to his, after a little struggleto forbear, 'is it generous and honourable to use the power here whichyour favour with Mr and Mrs Boffin and your ability in your place giveyou, against me?'

  'Against you?'

  'Is it generous and honourable to form a plan for gradually bringingtheir influence to bear upon a suit which I have shown you that I do notlike, and which I tell you that I utterly reject?'

  The late John Harmon could have borne a good deal, but he would havebeen cut to the heart by such a suspicion as this.

  'Would it be generous and honourable to step into your place--if you didso, for I don't know that you did, and I hope you did not--anticipating,or knowing beforehand, that I should come here, and designing to take meat this disadvantage?'

  'This mean and cruel disadvantage,' said the Secretary.

  'Yes,' assented Bella.

  The Secretary kept silence for a little while; then merely said, 'Youare wholly mistaken, Miss Wilfer; wonderfully mistaken. I cannot say,however, that it is your fault. If I deserve better things of you, youdo not know it.'

  'At least, sir,' retorted Bella, with her old indignation rising, 'youknow the history of my being here at all. I have heard Mr Boffin saythat you are master of every line and word of that will, as you aremaster of all his affairs. And was it not enough that I should have beenwilled away, like a horse, or a dog, or a bird; but must you too beginto dispose of me in your mind, and speculate in me, as soon as I hadceased to be the talk and the laugh of the town? Am I for ever to bemade the property of strangers?'

  'Believe me,' returned the Secretary, 'you are wonderfully mistaken.'

  'I should be glad to know it,' answered Bella.

  'I doubt if you ever will. Good-night. Of course I shall be careful toconceal any traces of this interview from Mr and Mrs Boffin, as long asI remain here. Trust me, what you have complained of is at an end forever.'

  'I am glad I have spoken, then, Mr Rokesmith. It has been painful anddifficult, but it is done. If I have hurt you, I hope you will forgiveme. I am inexperienced and impetuous, and I have been a little spoilt;but I really am not so bad as I dare say I appear, or as you think me.'

  He quitted the room when Bella had said this, relenting in her wilfulinconsistent way. Left alone, she threw herself back on her ottoman, andsaid, 'I didn't know the lovely woman was such a Dragon!' Then, shegot up and looked in the glass, and said to her image, 'You have beenpositively swelling your features, you little fool!' Then, she took animpatient walk to the other end of the room and back, and said, 'Iwish Pa was here to have a talk about an avaricious marriage; but heis better away, poor dear, for I know I should pull his hair if he WAShere.' And then she threw her work away, and threw her book afterit, and sat down and hummed a tune, and hummed it out of tune, andquarrelled with it.

  And John Rokesmith, what did he?

  He went down to his room, and buried John Harmon many additional fathomsdeep. He took his hat, and walked out, and, as he went to Holloway oranywhere else--not at all minding where--heaped mounds upon mounds ofearth over John Harmon's grave. His walking did not bring him home untilthe dawn of day. And so busy had he been all night, piling and pilingweights upon weights of earth above John Harmon's grave, that by thattime John Harmon lay buried under a whole Alpine range; and still theSexton Rokesmith accumulated mountains over him, lightening his labourwith the dirge, 'Cover him, crush him, keep him down!'

 
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