Our mutual friend, p.48
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       Our Mutual Friend, p.48
 

           Charles Dickens

  Chapter 15

  THE GOLDEN DUSTMAN AT HIS WORST

  The breakfast table at Mr Boffin's was usually a very pleasant one, andwas always presided over by Bella. As though he began each new day inhis healthy natural character, and some waking hours were necessary tohis relapse into the corrupting influences of his wealth, the face andthe demeanour of the Golden Dustman were generally unclouded at thatmeal. It would have been easy to believe then, that there was no changein him. It was as the day went on that the clouds gathered, and thebrightness of the morning became obscured. One might have said that theshadows of avarice and distrust lengthened as his own shadow lengthened,and that the night closed around him gradually.

  But, one morning long afterwards to be remembered, it was black midnightwith the Golden Dustman when he first appeared. His altered characterhad never been so grossly marked. His bearing towards his Secretary wasso charged with insolent distrust and arrogance, that the latter roseand left the table before breakfast was half done. The look he directedat the Secretary's retiring figure was so cunningly malignant, thatBella would have sat astounded and indignant, even though he had notgone the length of secretly threatening Rokesmith with his clenchedfist as he closed the door. This unlucky morning, of all mornings in theyear, was the morning next after Mr Boffin's interview with Mrs Lammlein her little carriage.

  Bella looked to Mrs Boffin's face for comment on, or explanation of,this stormy humour in her husband, but none was there. An anxious anda distressed observation of her own face was all she could read in it.When they were left alone together--which was not until noon, for MrBoffin sat long in his easy-chair, by turns jogging up and downthe breakfast-room, clenching his fist and muttering--Bella, inconsternation, asked her what had happened, what was wrong? 'I amforbidden to speak to you about it, Bella dear; I mustn't tell you,'was all the answer she could get. And still, whenever, in her wonder anddismay, she raised her eyes to Mrs Boffin's face, she saw in it the sameanxious and distressed observation of her own.

  Oppressed by her sense that trouble was impending, and lost inspeculations why Mrs Boffin should look at her as if she had any part init, Bella found the day long and dreary. It was far on in the afternoonwhen, she being in her own room, a servant brought her a message from MrBoffin begging her to come to his.

  Mrs Boffin was there, seated on a sofa, and Mr Boffin was jogging up anddown. On seeing Bella he stopped, beckoned her to him, and drew her armthrough his. 'Don't be alarmed, my dear,' he said, gently; 'I am notangry with you. Why you actually tremble! Don't be alarmed, Bella mydear. I'll see you righted.'

  'See me righted?' thought Bella. And then repeated aloud in a tone ofastonishment: 'see me righted, sir?'

  'Ay, ay!' said Mr Boffin. 'See you righted. Send Mr Rokesmith here, yousir.'

  Bella would have been lost in perplexity if there had been pauseenough; but the servant found Mr Rokesmith near at hand, and he almostimmediately presented himself.

  'Shut the door, sir!' said Mr Boffin. 'I have got something to say toyou which I fancy you'll not be pleased to hear.'

  'I am sorry to reply, Mr Boffin,' returned the Secretary, as, havingclosed the door, he turned and faced him, 'that I think that verylikely.'

  'What do you mean?' blustered Mr Boffin.

  'I mean that it has become no novelty to me to hear from your lips whatI would rather not hear.'

  'Oh! Perhaps we shall change that,' said Mr Boffin with a threateningroll of his head.

  'I hope so,' returned the Secretary. He was quiet and respectful; butstood, as Bella thought (and was glad to think), on his manhood too.

  'Now, sir,' said Mr Boffin, 'look at this young lady on my arm.'

  Bella involuntarily raising her eyes, when this sudden reference wasmade to herself, met those of Mr Rokesmith. He was pale and seemedagitated. Then her eyes passed on to Mrs Boffin's, and she met the lookagain. In a flash it enlightened her, and she began to understand whatshe had done.

  'I say to you, sir,' Mr Boffin repeated, 'look at this young lady on myarm.'

  'I do so,' returned the Secretary.

  As his glance rested again on Bella for a moment, she thought there wasreproach in it. But it is possible that the reproach was within herself.

  'How dare you, sir,' said Mr Boffin, 'tamper, unknown to me, with thisyoung lady? How dare you come out of your station, and your place in myhouse, to pester this young lady with your impudent addresses?'

  'I must decline to answer questions,' said the Secretary, 'that are sooffensively asked.'

  'You decline to answer?' retorted Mr Boffin. 'You decline to answer,do you? Then I'll tell you what it is, Rokesmith; I'll answer for you.There are two sides to this matter, and I'll take 'em separately. Thefirst side is, sheer Insolence. That's the first side.'

  The Secretary smiled with some bitterness, as though he would have said,'So I see and hear.'

  'It was sheer Insolence in you, I tell you,' said Mr Boffin, 'even tothink of this young lady. This young lady was far above YOU. This younglady was no match for YOU. This young lady was lying in wait (as she wasqualified to do) for money, and you had no money.'

  Bella hung her head and seemed to shrink a little from Mr Boffin'sprotecting arm.

  'What are you, I should like to know,' pursued Mr Boffin, 'that you wereto have the audacity to follow up this young lady? This young lady waslooking about the market for a good bid; she wasn't in it to be snappedup by fellows that had no money to lay out; nothing to buy with.'

  'Oh, Mr Boffin! Mrs Boffin, pray say something for me!' murmured Bella,disengaging her arm, and covering her face with her hands.

  'Old lady,' said Mr Boffin, anticipating his wife, 'you hold yourtongue. Bella, my dear, don't you let yourself be put out. I'll rightyou.'

  'But you don't, you don't right me!' exclaimed Bella, with greatemphasis. 'You wrong me, wrong me!'

  'Don't you be put out, my dear,' complacently retorted Mr Boffin. 'I'llbring this young man to book. Now, you Rokesmith! You can't declineto hear, you know, as well as to answer. You hear me tell you that thefirst side of your conduct was Insolence--Insolence and Presumption.Answer me one thing, if you can. Didn't this young lady tell you soherself?'

  'Did I, Mr Rokesmith?' asked Bella with her face still covered. 'O say,Mr Rokesmith! Did I?'

  'Don't be distressed, Miss Wilfer; it matters very little now.'

  'Ah! You can't deny it, though!' said Mr Boffin, with a knowing shake ofhis head.

  'But I have asked him to forgive me since,' cried Bella; 'and I wouldask him to forgive me now again, upon my knees, if it would spare him!'

  Here Mrs Boffin broke out a-crying.

  'Old lady,' said Mr Boffin, 'stop that noise! Tender-hearted in you,Miss Bella; but I mean to have it out right through with this young man,having got him into a corner. Now, you Rokesmith. I tell you that's oneside of your conduct--Insolence and Presumption. Now, I'm a-coming tothe other, which is much worse. This was a speculation of yours.'

  'I indignantly deny it.'

  'It's of no use your denying it; it doesn't signify a bit whetheryou deny it or not; I've got a head upon my shoulders, and it ain't ababy's. What!' said Mr Boffin, gathering himself together in his mostsuspicious attitude, and wrinkling his face into a very map of curvesand corners. 'Don't I know what grabs are made at a man with money? IfI didn't keep my eyes open, and my pockets buttoned, shouldn't Ibe brought to the workhouse before I knew where I was? Wasn't theexperience of Dancer, and Elwes, and Hopkins, and Blewbury Jones, andever so many more of 'em, similar to mine? Didn't everybody want to makegrabs at what they'd got, and bring 'em to poverty and ruin? Weren'tthey forced to hide everything belonging to 'em, for fear it should besnatched from 'em? Of course they was. I shall be told next that theydidn't know human natur!'

  'They! Poor creatures,' murmured the Secretary.

  'What do you say?' asked Mr Boffin, snapping at him. 'However, youneedn't be at the trouble of repeating it, for it ain't worth hearing,and won't go down wi
th ME. I'm a-going to unfold your plan, before thisyoung lady; I'm a-going to show this young lady the second view of you;and nothing you can say will stave it off. (Now, attend here, Bella, mydear.) Rokesmith, you're a needy chap. You're a chap that I pick up inthe street. Are you, or ain't you?'

  'Go on, Mr Boffin; don't appeal to me.'

  'Not appeal to YOU,' retorted Mr Boffin as if he hadn't done so. 'No,I should hope not! Appealing to YOU, would be rather a rum course. As Iwas saying, you're a needy chap that I pick up in the street. You comeand ask me in the street to take you for a Secretary, and I take you.Very good.'

  'Very bad,' murmured the Secretary.

  'What do you say?' asked Mr Boffin, snapping at him again.

  He returned no answer. Mr Boffin, after eyeing him with a comical lookof discomfited curiosity, was fain to begin afresh.

  'This Rokesmith is a needy young man that I take for my Secretary outof the open street. This Rokesmith gets acquainted with my affairs, andgets to know that I mean to settle a sum of money on this young lady."Oho!" says this Rokesmith;' here Mr Boffin clapped a finger againsthis nose, and tapped it several times with a sneaking air, as embodyingRokesmith confidentially confabulating with his own nose; '"This willbe a good haul; I'll go in for this!" And so this Rokesmith, greedy andhungering, begins a-creeping on his hands and knees towards the money.Not so bad a speculation either: for if this young lady had had lessspirit, or had had less sense, through being at all in the romanticline, by George he might have worked it out and made it pay! Butfortunately she was too many for him, and a pretty figure he cuts nowhe is exposed. There he stands!' said Mr Boffin, addressing Rokesmithhimself with ridiculous inconsistency. 'Look at him!'

  'Your unfortunate suspicions, Mr Boffin--' began the Secretary.

  'Precious unfortunate for you, I can tell you,' said Mr Boffin.

  '--are not to be combated by any one, and I address myself to no suchhopeless task. But I will say a word upon the truth.'

  'Yah! Much you care about the truth,' said Mr Boffin, with a snap of hisfingers.

  'Noddy! My dear love!' expostulated his wife.

  'Old lady,' returned Mr Boffin, 'you keep still. I say to this Rokesmithhere, much he cares about the truth. I tell him again, much he caresabout the truth.'

  'Our connexion being at an end, Mr Boffin,' said the Secretary, 'it canbe of very little moment to me what you say.'

  'Oh! You are knowing enough,' retorted Mr Boffin, with a sly look, 'tohave found out that our connexion's at an end, eh? But you can't getbeforehand with me. Look at this in my hand. This is your pay, on yourdischarge. You can only follow suit. You can't deprive me of the lead.Let's have no pretending that you discharge yourself. I discharge you.'

  'So that I go,' remarked the Secretary, waving the point aside with hishand, 'it is all one to me.'

  'Is it?' said Mr Boffin. 'But it's two to me, let me tell you.Allowing a fellow that's found out, to discharge himself, is one thing;discharging him for insolence and presumption, and likewise for designsupon his master's money, is another. One and one's two; not one. (Oldlady, don't you cut in. You keep still.)'

  'Have you said all you wish to say to me?' demanded the Secretary.

  'I don't know whether I have or not,' answered Mr Boffin. 'It depends.'

  'Perhaps you will consider whether there are any other strongexpressions that you would like to bestow upon me?'

  'I'll consider that,' said Mr Boffin, obstinately, 'at my convenience,and not at yours. You want the last word. It may not be suitable to letyou have it.'

  'Noddy! My dear, dear Noddy! You sound so hard!' cried poor Mrs Boffin,not to be quite repressed.

  'Old lady,' said her husband, but without harshness, 'if you cut in whenrequested not, I'll get a pillow and carry you out of the room upon it.What do you want to say, you Rokesmith?'

  'To you, Mr Boffin, nothing. But to Miss Wilfer and to your good kindwife, a word.'

  'Out with it then,' replied Mr Boffin, 'and cut it short, for we've hadenough of you.'

  'I have borne,' said the Secretary, in a low voice, 'with my falseposition here, that I might not be separated from Miss Wilfer. To benear her, has been a recompense to me from day to day, even for theundeserved treatment I have had here, and for the degraded aspect inwhich she has often seen me. Since Miss Wilfer rejected me, I have neveragain urged my suit, to the best of my belief, with a spoken syllable ora look. But I have never changed in my devotion to her, except--if shewill forgive my saying so--that it is deeper than it was, and betterfounded.'

  'Now, mark this chap's saying Miss Wilfer, when he means L.s.d.!' criedMr Boffin, with a cunning wink. 'Now, mark this chap's making MissWilfer stand for Pounds, Shillings, and Pence!'

  'My feeling for Miss Wilfer,' pursued the Secretary, without deigning tonotice him, 'is not one to be ashamed of. I avow it. I love her. Letme go where I may when I presently leave this house, I shall go into ablank life, leaving her.'

  'Leaving L.s.d. behind me,' said Mr Boffin, by way of commentary, withanother wink.

  'That I am incapable,' the Secretary went on, still without heeding him,'of a mercenary project, or a mercenary thought, in connexion with MissWilfer, is nothing meritorious in me, because any prize that I couldput before my fancy would sink into insignificance beside her. Ifthe greatest wealth or the highest rank were hers, it would only beimportant in my sight as removing her still farther from me, and makingme more hopeless, if that could be. Say,' remarked the Secretary,looking full at his late master, 'say that with a word she could stripMr Boffin of his fortune and take possession of it, she would be of nogreater worth in my eyes than she is.'

  'What do you think by this time, old lady,' asked Mr Boffin, turning tohis wife in a bantering tone, 'about this Rokesmith here, and his caringfor the truth? You needn't say what you think, my dear, because I don'twant you to cut in, but you can think it all the same. As to takingpossession of my property, I warrant you he wouldn't do that himself ifhe could.'

  'No,' returned the Secretary, with another full look.

  'Ha, ha, ha!' laughed Mr Boffin. 'There's nothing like a good 'un whileyou ARE about it.'

  'I have been for a moment,' said the Secretary, turning from him andfalling into his former manner, 'diverted from the little I have to say.My interest in Miss Wilfer began when I first saw her; even began when Ihad only heard of her. It was, in fact, the cause of my throwing myselfin Mr Boffin's way, and entering his service. Miss Wilfer has neverknown this until now. I mention it now, only as a corroboration (thoughI hope it may be needless) of my being free from the sordid designattributed to me.'

  'Now, this is a very artful dog,' said Mr Boffin, with a deep look.'This is a longer-headed schemer than I thought him. See how patientlyand methodically he goes to work. He gets to know about me and myproperty, and about this young lady, and her share in poor young John'sstory, and he puts this and that together, and he says to himself, "I'llget in with Boffin, and I'll get in with this young lady, and I'll work'em both at the same time, and I'll bring my pigs to market somewhere."I hear him say it, bless you! I look at him, now, and I see him say it!'

  Mr Boffin pointed at the culprit, as it were in the act, and huggedhimself in his great penetration.

  'But luckily he hadn't to deal with the people he supposed, Bella, mydear!' said Mr Boffin. 'No! Luckily he had to deal with you, and withme, and with Daniel and Miss Dancer, and with Elwes, and with VultureHopkins, and with Blewbury Jones and all the rest of us, one downt'other come on. And he's beat; that's what he is; regularly beat. Hethought to squeeze money out of us, and he has done for himself instead,Bella my dear!'

  Bella my dear made no response, gave no sign of acquiescence. When shehad first covered her face she had sunk upon a chair with her handsresting on the back of it, and had never moved since. There was a shortsilence at this point, and Mrs Boffin softly rose as if to go to her.But, Mr Boffin stopped her with a gesture, and she obediently sat downagain and stayed where she was.

 
; 'There's your pay, Mister Rokesmith,' said the Golden Dustman,jerking the folded scrap of paper he had in his hand, towards his lateSecretary. 'I dare say you can stoop to pick it up, after what you havestooped to here.'

  'I have stooped to nothing but this,' Rokesmith answered as he took itfrom the ground; 'and this is mine, for I have earned it by the hardestof hard labour.'

  'You're a pretty quick packer, I hope,' said Mr Boffin; 'because thesooner you are gone, bag and baggage, the better for all parties.'

  'You need have no fear of my lingering.'

  'There's just one thing though,' said Mr Boffin, 'that I should like toask you before we come to a good riddance, if it was only to show thisyoung lady how conceited you schemers are, in thinking that nobody findsout how you contradict yourselves.'

  'Ask me anything you wish to ask,' returned Rokesmith, 'but use theexpedition that you recommend.'

  'You pretend to have a mighty admiration for this young lady?' said MrBoffin, laying his hand protectingly on Bella's head without lookingdown at her.

  'I do not pretend.'

  'Oh! Well. You HAVE a mighty admiration for this young lady--since youare so particular?'

  'Yes.'

  'How do you reconcile that, with this young lady's being aweak-spirited, improvident idiot, not knowing what was due to herself,flinging up her money to the church-weathercocks, and racing off at asplitting pace for the workhouse?'

  'I don't understand you.'

  'Don't you? Or won't you? What else could you have made this young ladyout to be, if she had listened to such addresses as yours?'

  'What else, if I had been so happy as to win her affections and possessher heart?'

  'Win her affections,' retorted Mr Boffin, with ineffable contempt,'and possess her heart! Mew says the cat, Quack-quack says the duck,Bow-wow-wow says the dog! Win her affections and possess her heart! Mew,Quack-quack, Bow-wow!'

  John Rokesmith stared at him in his outburst, as if with some faint ideathat he had gone mad.

  'What is due to this young lady,' said Mr Boffin, 'is Money, and thisyoung lady right well knows it.'

  'You slander the young lady.'

  'YOU slander the young lady; you with your affections and hearts andtrumpery,' returned Mr Boffin. 'It's of a piece with the rest of yourbehaviour. I heard of these doings of yours only last night, or youshould have heard of 'em from me, sooner, take your oath of it. I heardof 'em from a lady with as good a headpiece as the best, and she knowsthis young lady, and I know this young lady, and we all three know thatit's Money she makes a stand for--money, money, money--and that you andyour affections and hearts are a Lie, sir!'

  'Mrs Boffin,' said Rokesmith, quietly turning to her, 'for your delicateand unvarying kindness I thank you with the warmest gratitude. Good-bye!Miss Wilfer, good-bye!'

  'And now, my dear,' said Mr Boffin, laying his hand on Bella's headagain, 'you may begin to make yourself quite comfortable, and I hope youfeel that you've been righted.'

  But, Bella was so far from appearing to feel it, that she shrank fromhis hand and from the chair, and, starting up in an incoherent passionof tears, and stretching out her arms, cried, 'O Mr Rokesmith, beforeyou go, if you could but make me poor again! O! Make me poor again,Somebody, I beg and pray, or my heart will break if this goes on! Pa,dear, make me poor again and take me home! I was bad enough there, butI have been so much worse here. Don't give me money, Mr Boffin, I won'thave money. Keep it away from me, and only let me speak to good littlePa, and lay my head upon his shoulder, and tell him all my griefs.Nobody else can understand me, nobody else can comfort me, nobody elseknows how unworthy I am, and yet can love me like a little child. I ambetter with Pa than any one--more innocent, more sorry, more glad!' So,crying out in a wild way that she could not bear this, Bella drooped herhead on Mrs Boffin's ready breast.

  John Rokesmith from his place in the room, and Mr Boffin from his,looked on at her in silence until she was silent herself. Then Mr Boffinobserved in a soothing and comfortable tone, 'There, my dear, there; youare righted now, and it's ALL right. I don't wonder, I'm sure, at yourbeing a little flurried by having a scene with this fellow, but it's allover, my dear, and you're righted, and it's--and it's ALL right!' WhichMr Boffin repeated with a highly satisfied air of completeness andfinality.

  'I hate you!' cried Bella, turning suddenly upon him, with a stamp ofher little foot--'at least, I can't hate you, but I don't like you!'

  'HUL--LO!' exclaimed Mr Boffin in an amazed under-tone.

  'You're a scolding, unjust, abusive, aggravating, bad old creature!'cried Bella. 'I am angry with my ungrateful self for calling you names;but you are, you are; you know you are!'

  Mr Boffin stared here, and stared there, as misdoubting that he must bein some sort of fit.

  'I have heard you with shame,' said Bella. 'With shame for myself, andwith shame for you. You ought to be above the base tale-bearing of atime-serving woman; but you are above nothing now.'

  Mr Boffin, seeming to become convinced that this was a fit, rolled hiseyes and loosened his neckcloth.

  'When I came here, I respected you and honoured you, and I soon lovedyou,' cried Bella. 'And now I can't bear the sight of you. At least, Idon't know that I ought to go so far as that--only you're a--you're aMonster!' Having shot this bolt out with a great expenditure of force,Bella hysterically laughed and cried together.

  'The best wish I can wish you is,' said Bella, returning to the charge,'that you had not one single farthing in the world. If any true friendand well-wisher could make you a bankrupt, you would be a Duck; but as aman of property you are a Demon!'

  After despatching this second bolt with a still greater expenditure offorce, Bella laughed and cried still more.

  'Mr Rokesmith, pray stay one moment. Pray hear one word from me beforeyou go! I am deeply sorry for the reproaches you have borne on myaccount. Out of the depths of my heart I earnestly and truly beg yourpardon.'

  As she stepped towards him, he met her. As she gave him her hand, he putit to his lips, and said, 'God bless you!' No laughing was mixed withBella's crying then; her tears were pure and fervent.

  'There is not an ungenerous word that I have heard addressed toyou--heard with scorn and indignation, Mr Rokesmith--but it has woundedme far more than you, for I have deserved it, and you never have. MrRokesmith, it is to me you owe this perverted account of what passedbetween us that night. I parted with the secret, even while I was angrywith myself for doing so. It was very bad in me, but indeed it was notwicked. I did it in a moment of conceit and folly--one of my many suchmoments--one of my many such hours--years. As I am punished for itseverely, try to forgive it!'

  'I do with all my soul.'

  'Thank you. O thank you! Don't part from me till I have said one otherword, to do you justice. The only fault you can be truly charged with,in having spoken to me as you did that night--with how much delicacyand how much forbearance no one but I can know or be grateful to youfor--is, that you laid yourself open to be slighted by a worldly shallowgirl whose head was turned, and who was quite unable to rise to theworth of what you offered her. Mr Rokesmith, that girl has often seenherself in a pitiful and poor light since, but never in so pitifuland poor a light as now, when the mean tone in which she answeredyou--sordid and vain girl that she was--has been echoed in her ears byMr Boffin.'

  He kissed her hand again.

  'Mr Boffin's speeches were detestable to me, shocking to me,' saidBella, startling that gentleman with another stamp of her littlefoot. 'It is quite true that there was a time, and very lately, when Ideserved to be so "righted," Mr Rokesmith; but I hope that I shall neverdeserve it again!'

  He once more put her hand to his lips, and then relinquished it, andleft the room. Bella was hurrying back to the chair in which she hadhidden her face so long, when, catching sight of Mrs Boffin by theway, she stopped at her. 'He is gone,' sobbed Bella indignantly,despairingly, in fifty ways at once, with her arms round Mrs Boffin'sneck. 'He has been most shamefully abused, and m
ost unjustly and mostbasely driven away, and I am the cause of it!'

  All this time, Mr Boffin had been rolling his eyes over his loosenedneckerchief, as if his fit were still upon him. Appearing now to thinkthat he was coming to, he stared straight before him for a while, tiedhis neckerchief again, took several long inspirations, swallowed severaltimes, and ultimately exclaimed with a deep sigh, as if he felt himselfon the whole better: 'Well!'

  No word, good or bad, did Mrs Boffin say; but she tenderly took care ofBella, and glanced at her husband as if for orders. Mr Boffin, withoutimparting any, took his seat on a chair over against them, and theresat leaning forward, with a fixed countenance, his legs apart, a hand oneach knee, and his elbows squared, until Bella should dry her eyes andraise her head, which in the fulness of time she did.

  'I must go home,' said Bella, rising hurriedly. 'I am very grateful toyou for all you have done for me, but I can't stay here.'

  'My darling girl!' remonstrated Mrs Boffin.

  'No, I can't stay here,' said Bella; 'I can't indeed.--Ugh! you viciousold thing!' (This to Mr Boffin.)

  'Don't be rash, my love,' urged Mrs Boffin. 'Think well of what you do.'

  'Yes, you had better think well,' said Mr Boffin.

  'I shall never more think well of YOU,' cried Bella, cutting himshort, with intense defiance in her expressive little eyebrows, andchampionship of the late Secretary in every dimple. 'No! Never again!Your money has changed you to marble. You are a hard-hearted Miser. Youare worse than Dancer, worse than Hopkins, worse than Blackberry Jones,worse than any of the wretches. And more!' proceeded Bella, breakinginto tears again, 'you were wholly undeserving of the Gentleman you havelost.'

  'Why, you don't mean to say, Miss Bella,' the Golden Dustman slowlyremonstrated, 'that you set up Rokesmith against me?'

  'I do!' said Bella. 'He is worth a Million of you.'

  Very pretty she looked, though very angry, as she made herself astall as she possibly could (which was not extremely tall), and utterlyrenounced her patron with a lofty toss of her rich brown head.

  'I would rather he thought well of me,' said Bella, 'though he swept thestreet for bread, than that you did, though you splashed the mud uponhim from the wheels of a chariot of pure gold.--There!'

  'Well I'm sure!' cried Mr Boffin, staring.

  'And for a long time past, when you have thought you set yourself abovehim, I have only seen you under his feet,' said Bella--'There! Andthroughout I saw in him the master, and I saw in you the man--There! Andwhen you used him shamefully, I took his part and loved him--There! Iboast of it!'

  After which strong avowal Bella underwent reaction, and cried to anyextent, with her face on the back of her chair.

  'Now, look here,' said Mr Boffin, as soon as he could find an openingfor breaking the silence and striking in. 'Give me your attention,Bella. I am not angry.'

  'I AM!' said Bella.

  'I say,' resumed the Golden Dustman, 'I am not angry, and I mean kindlyto you, and I want to overlook this. So you'll stay where you are, andwe'll agree to say no more about it.'

  'No, I can't stay here,' cried Bella, rising hurriedly again; 'I can'tthink of staying here. I must go home for good.'

  'Now, don't be silly,' Mr Boffin reasoned. 'Don't do what you can'tundo; don't do what you're sure to be sorry for.'

  'I shall never be sorry for it,' said Bella; 'and I should always besorry, and should every minute of my life despise myself if I remainedhere after what has happened.'

  'At least, Bella,' argued Mr Boffin, 'let there be no mistake about it.Look before you leap, you know. Stay where you are, and all's well, andall's as it was to be. Go away, and you can never come back.'

  'I know that I can never come back, and that's what I mean,' said Bella.

  'You mustn't expect,' Mr Boffin pursued, 'that I'm a-going to settlemoney on you, if you leave us like this, because I am not. No, Bella! Becareful! Not one brass farthing.'

  'Expect!' said Bella, haughtily. 'Do you think that any power on earthcould make me take it, if you did, sir?'

  But there was Mrs Boffin to part from, and, in the full flush of herdignity, the impressible little soul collapsed again. Down upon herknees before that good woman, she rocked herself upon her breast, andcried, and sobbed, and folded her in her arms with all her might.

  'You're a dear, a dear, the best of dears!' cried Bella. 'You're thebest of human creatures. I can never be thankful enough to you, and Ican never forget you. If I should live to be blind and deaf I know Ishall see and hear you, in my fancy, to the last of my dim old days!'

  Mrs Boffin wept most heartily, and embraced her with all fondness; butsaid not one single word except that she was her dear girl. She saidthat often enough, to be sure, for she said it over and over again; butnot one word else.

  Bella broke from her at length, and was going weeping out of the room,when in her own little queer affectionate way, she half relented towardsMr Boffin.

  'I am very glad,' sobbed Bella, 'that I called you names, sir, becauseyou richly deserved it. But I am very sorry that I called you names,because you used to be so different. Say good-bye!'

  'Good-bye,' said Mr Boffin, shortly.

  'If I knew which of your hands was the least spoilt, I would ask youto let me touch it,' said Bella, 'for the last time. But not because Irepent of what I have said to you. For I don't. It's true!'

  'Try the left hand,' said Mr Boffin, holding it out in a stolid manner;'it's the least used.'

  'You have been wonderfully good and kind to me,' said Bella, 'and I kissit for that. You have been as bad as bad could be to Mr Rokesmith, and Ithrow it away for that. Thank you for myself, and good-bye!'

  'Good-bye,' said Mr Boffin as before.

  Bella caught him round the neck and kissed him, and ran out for ever.

  She ran up-stairs, and sat down on the floor in her own room, and criedabundantly. But the day was declining and she had no time to lose. Sheopened all the places where she kept her dresses; selected only thoseshe had brought with her, leaving all the rest; and made a greatmisshapen bundle of them, to be sent for afterwards.

  'I won't take one of the others,' said Bella, tying the knots of thebundle very tight, in the severity of her resolution. 'I'll leave allthe presents behind, and begin again entirely on my own account.' Thatthe resolution might be thoroughly carried into practice, she evenchanged the dress she wore, for that in which she had come to the grandmansion. Even the bonnet she put on, was the bonnet that had mountedinto the Boffin chariot at Holloway.

  'Now, I am complete,' said Bella. 'It's a little trying, but I havesteeped my eyes in cold water, and I won't cry any more. You have beena pleasant room to me, dear room. Adieu! We shall never see each otheragain.'

  With a parting kiss of her fingers to it, she softly closed the door andwent with a light foot down the great staircase, pausing and listeningas she went, that she might meet none of the household. No one chancedto be about, and she got down to the hall in quiet. The door of the lateSecretary's room stood open. She peeped in as she passed, and divinedfrom the emptiness of his table, and the general appearance of things,that he was already gone. Softly opening the great hall door, andsoftly closing it upon herself, she turned and kissed it on theoutside--insensible old combination of wood and iron that itwas!--before she ran away from the house at a swift pace.

  'That was well done!' panted Bella, slackening in the next street, andsubsiding into a walk. 'If I had left myself any breath to cry with, Ishould have cried again. Now poor dear darling little Pa, you are goingto see your lovely woman unexpectedly.'

 
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