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Chapter 25


Chapter 8

IN WHICH AN INNOCENT ELOPEMENT OCCURS


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

'What commissions and commands are you speaking of?'

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

'To which you please.'

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

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

'Then I will tell them so.'

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here Mrs Wilfer burst into tears.

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

Here Miss Lavinia burst into tears.

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

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

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

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

Bella took it in her hand, and thanked him.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

'Oh! That's nothing, Pa!'

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

'I promise and vow, my dear.'

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

'But, my dear Bella--'

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

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

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

'Where shall we go, my dear?'

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

'If he liked the model?' suggested Bella.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

'It's your fancy, my dear.'

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

'Lor! But how?'

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

'My de-a-r Bella!'

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

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

'I told you so, Pa, but you wouldn't believe it,' returned Bella, with
a pleasant childish gravity. 'Isn't it shocking?'

'It would be quite so, if you fully knew what you said, my dear, or
meant it.'

'Well, Pa, I can only tell you that I mean nothing else. Talk to me
of love!' said Bella, contemptuously: though her face and figure
certainly rendered the subject no incongruous one. 'Talk to me of
fiery dragons! But talk to me of poverty and wealth, and there
indeed we touch upon realities.'

'My De-ar, this is becoming Awful--' her father was emphatically
beginning: 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
signified very little! But seeing him look grave and downcast, she
took him round the 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 certain that, whatever mercenary things go on, I shall
always tell you all about them 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,' said Bella, rolling up the purse when they were alone again,
hammering it small with her little fist on the table, and cramming it
into one of the pockets of his new waistcoat, 'is for you, to buy
presents with for them at home, and to pay bills with, and to
divide as you like, and spend exactly as you think proper. Last of
all take notice, Pa, that it's not the fruit of any avaricious scheme.
Perhaps if it was, your little mercenary wretch of a daughter
wouldn't make so free with it!'

After which, she tugged at his coat with both hands, and pulled
him all askew in buttoning that garment over the precious
waistcoat pocket, and then tied her dimples into her bonnet-strings
in a very knowing way, and took him back to London. Arrived at
Mr Boffin's door, she set him with his back against it, tenderly
took him by the ears as convenient handles for her purpose, and
kissed him until he knocked muffled double knocks at the door
with the back of his head. That done, she once more reminded
him of their compact and gaily parted from him.

Not so gaily, however, but that tears filled her eyes as he went
away down 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 the brilliant furniture seemed to stare her out of
countenance as if it insisted on being compared with the dingy
furniture at home. Not so gaily, but that she fell into very low
spirits sitting late in her own room, and very heartily wept, as she
wished, now that the deceased old John Harmon had never made
a will about her, now that the deceased young John Harmon had
lived to marry her. 'Contradictory things to wish,' said Bella, 'but
my life and fortunes are so contradictory altogether that what can
I expect myself to be!'

Charles Dickens