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Chapter 49


Chapter 16

THE FEAST OF THE THREE HOBGOBLINS


The City looked unpromising enough, as Bella made her way
along its gritty streets. Most of its money-mills were slackening
sail, or had left off grinding for the day. The master-millers had
already departed, and the journeymen were departing. There was a
jaded aspect on the business lanes and courts, and the very
pavements had a weary appearance, confused by the tread of a
million of feet. There must be hours of night to temper down the
day's distraction of so feverish a place. As yet the worry of the
newly-stopped whirling and grinding on the part of the money-
mills seemed to linger in the air, and the quiet was more like the
prostration of a spent giant than the repose of one who was
renewing his strength.

If Bella thought, as she glanced at the mighty Bank, how agreeable
it would be to have an hour's gardening there, with a bright copper
shovel, among the money, still she was not in an avaricious vein.
Much improved in that respect, and with certain half-formed
images which had little gold in their composition, dancing before
her bright eyes, she arrived in the drug-flavoured region of
Mincing Lane, with the sensation of having just opened a drawer
in a chemist's shop.

The counting-house of Chicksey, Veneering, and Stobbles was
pointed out by an elderly female accustomed to the care of offices,
who dropped upon Bella out of a public-house, wiping her mouth,
and accounted for its humidity on natural principles well known to
the physical sciences, by explaining that she had looked in at the
door to see what o'clock it was. The counting-house was a wall-
eyed ground floor by a dark gateway, and Bella was considering,
as she approached it, could there be any precedent in the City for
her going in and asking for R. Wilfer, when whom should she see,
sitting at one of the windows with the plate-glass sash raised, but
R. Wilfer himself, preparing to take a slight refection.

On approaching nearer, Bella discerned that the refection had the
appearance of a small cottage-loaf and a pennyworth of milk.
Simultaneously with this discovery on her part, her father
discovered her, and invoked the echoes of Mincing Lane to exclaim
'My gracious me!'

He then came cherubically flying out without a hat, and embraced
her, and handed her in. 'For it's after hours and I am all alone, my
dear,' he explained, 'and am having--as I sometimes do when they
are all gone--a quiet tea.'

Looking round the office, as if her father were a captive and this
his cell, Bella hugged him and choked him to her heart's content.

'I never was so surprised, my dear!' said her father. 'I couldn't
believe my eyes. Upon my life, I thought they had taken to lying!
The idea of your coming down the Lane yourself! Why didn't you
send the footman down the Lane, my dear?'

'I have brought no footman with me, Pa.'

'Oh indeed! But you have brought the elegant turn-out, my love?'

'No, Pa.'

'You never can have walked, my dear?'

'Yes, I have, Pa.'

He looked so very much astonished, that Bella could not make up
her mind to break it to him just yet.

'The consequence is, Pa, that your lovely woman feels a little faint,
and would very much like to share your tea.'

The cottage loaf and the pennyworth of milk had been set forth on
a sheet of paper on the window-seat. The cherubic pocket-knife,
with the first bit of the loaf still on its point, lay beside them where
it had been hastily thrown down. Bella took the bit off, and put it
in her mouth. 'My dear child,' said her father, 'the idea of your
partaking of such lowly fare! But at least you must have your own
loaf and your own penn'orth. One moment, my dear. The Dairy
is just over the way and round the corner.'

Regardless of Bella's dissuasions he ran out, and quickly returned
with the new supply. 'My dear child,' he said, as he spread it on
another piece of paper before her, 'the idea of a splendid--!' and
then looked at her figure, and stopped short.

'What's the matter, Pa?'

'--of a splendid female,' he resumed more slowly, 'putting up with
such accommodation as the present!--Is that a new dress you have
on, my dear?'

'No, Pa, an old one. Don't you remember it?'

'Why, I THOUGHT I remembered it, my dear!'

'You should, for you bought it, Pa.'

'Yes, I THOUGHT I bought it my dear!' said the cherub, giving
himself a little shake, as if to rouse his faculties.

'And have you grown so fickle that you don't like your own taste,
Pa dear?'

'Well, my love,' he returned, swallowing a bit of the cottage loaf
with considerable effort, for it seemed to stick by the way: 'I should
have thought it was hardly sufficiently splendid for existing
circumstances.'

'And so, Pa,' said Bella, moving coaxingly to his side instead of
remaining opposite, 'you sometimes have a quiet tea here all alone?
I am not in the tea's way, if I draw my arm over your shoulder like
this, Pa?'

'Yes, my dear, and no, my dear. Yes to the first question, and
Certainly Not to the second. Respecting the quiet tea, my dear,
why you see the occupations of the day are sometimes a little
wearing; and if there's nothing interposed between the day and
your mother, why SHE is sometimes a little wearing, too.'

'I know, Pa.'

'Yes, my dear. So sometimes I put a quiet tea at the window here,
with a little quiet contemplation of the Lane (which comes
soothing), between the day, and domestic--'

'Bliss,' suggested Bella, sorrowfully.

'And domestic Bliss,' said her father, quite contented to accept the
phrase.

Bella kissed him. 'And it is in this dark dingy place of captivity,
poor dear, that you pass all the hours of your life when you are not
at home?'

'Not at home, or not on the road there, or on the road here, my love.
Yes. You see that little desk in the corner?'

'In the dark corner, furthest both from the light and from the
fireplace? The shabbiest desk of all the desks?'

'Now, does it really strike you in that point of view, my dear?' said
her father, surveying it artistically with his head on one side: 'that's
mine. That's called Rumty's Perch.'

'Whose Perch?' asked Bella with great indignation.

'Rumty's. You see, being rather high and up two steps they call it
a Perch. And they call ME Rumty.'

'How dare they!' exclaimed Bella.

'They're playful, Bella my dear; they're playful. They're more or
less younger than I am, and they're playful. What does it matter?
It might be Surly, or Sulky, or fifty disagreeable things that I really
shouldn't like to be considered. But Rumty! Lor, why not Rumty?'

To inflict a heavy disappointment on this sweet nature, which had
been, through all her caprices, the object of her recognition, love,
and admiration from infancy, Bella felt to be the hardest task of her
hard day. 'I should have done better,' she thought, 'to tell him at
first; I should have done better to tell him just now, when he had
some slight misgiving; he is quite happy again, and I shall make
him wretched.'

He was falling back on his loaf and milk, with the pleasantest
composure, and Bella stealing her arm a little closer about him,
and at the same time sticking up his hair with an irresistible
propensity to play with him founded on the habit of her whole life,
had prepared herself to say: 'Pa dear, don't be cast down, but I
must tell you something disagreeable!' when he interrupted her in
an unlooked-for manner.

'My gracious me!' he exclaimed, invoking the Mincing Lane
echoes as before. 'This is very extraordinary!'

'What is, Pa?'

'Why here's Mr Rokesmith now!'

'No, no, Pa, no,' cried Bella, greatly flurried. 'Surely not.'

'Yes there is! Look here!'

Sooth to say, Mr Rokesmith not only passed the window, but came
into the counting-house. And not only came into the counting-
house, but, finding himself alone there with Bella and her father,
rushed at Bella and caught her in his arms, with the rapturous
words 'My dear, dear girl; my gallant, generous, disinterested,
courageous, noble girl!' And not only that even, (which one might
have thought astonishment enough for one dose), but Bella, after
hanging her head for a moment, lifted it up and laid it on his
breast, as if that were her head's chosen and lasting resting-place!

'I knew you would come to him, and I followed you,' said
Rokesmith. 'My love, my life! You ARE mine?'

To which Bella responded, 'Yes, I AM yours if you think me worth
taking!' And after that, seemed to shrink to next to nothing in the
clasp of his arms, partly because it was such a strong one on his
part, and partly because there was such a yielding to it on hers.

The cherub, whose hair would have done for itself under the
influence of this amazing spectacle, what Bella had just now done
for it, staggered back into the window-seat from which he had
risen, and surveyed the pair with his eyes dilated to their utmost.

'But we must think of dear Pa,' said Bella; 'I haven't told dear Pa;
let us speak to Pa.' Upon which they turned to do so.

'I wish first, my dear,' remarked the cherub faintly, 'that you'd have
the kindness to sprinkle me with a little milk, for I feel as if I was--
Going.'

In fact, the good little fellow had become alarmingly limp, and his
senses seemed to be rapidly escaping, from the knees upward.
Bella sprinkled him with kisses instead of milk, but gave him a
little of that article to drink; and he gradually revived under her
caressing care.

'We'll break it to you gently, dearest Pa,' said Bella.

'My dear,' returned the cherub, looking at them both, 'you broke so
much in the first--Gush, if I may so express myself--that I think I
am equal to a good large breakage now.'

'Mr Wilfer,' said John Rokesmith, excitedly and joyfully, 'Bella
takes me, though I have no fortune, even no present occupation;
nothing but what I can get in the life before us. Bella takes me!'

'Yes, I should rather have inferred, my dear sir,' returned the
cherub feebly, 'that Bella took you, from what I have within these
few minutes remarked.'

'You don't know, Pa,' said Bella, 'how ill I have used him!'

'You don't know, sir,' said Rokesmith, 'what a heart she has!'

'You don't know, Pa,' said Bella, 'what a shocking creature I was
growing, when he saved me from myself!'

'You don't know, sir,' said Rokesmith, 'what a sacrifice she has
made for me!'

'My dear Bella,' replied the cherub, still pathetically scared, 'and
my dear John Rokesmith, if you will allow me so to call you--'

'Yes do, Pa, do!' urged Bella. 'I allow you, and my will is his law.
Isn't it--dear John Rokesmith?'

There was an engaging shyness in Bella, coupled with an engaging
tenderness of love and confidence and pride, in thus first calling
him by name, which made it quite excusable in John Rokesmith to
do what he did. What he did was, once more to give her the
appearance of vanishing as aforesaid.

'I think, my dears,' observed the cherub, 'that if you could make it
convenient to sit one on one side of me, and the other on the other,
we should get on rather more consecutively, and make things
rather plainer. John Rokesmith mentioned, a while ago, that he
had no present occupation.'

'None,' said Rokesmith.

'No, Pa, none,' said Bella.

'From which I argue,' proceeded the cherub, 'that he has left Mr
Boffin?'

'Yes, Pa. And so--'

'Stop a bit, my dear. I wish to lead up to it by degrees. And that
Mr Boffin has not treated him well?'

'Has treated him most shamefully, dear Pa!' cried Bella with a
flashing face.

'Of which,' pursued the cherub, enjoining patience with his hand, 'a
certain mercenary young person distantly related to myself, could
not approve? Am I leading up to it right?'

'Could not approve, sweet Pa,' said Bella, with a tearful laugh and
a joyful kiss.

'Upon which,' pursued the cherub, 'the certain mercenary young
person distantly related to myself, having previously observed and
mentioned to myself that prosperity was spoiling Mr Boffin, felt
that she must not sell her sense of what was right and what was
wrong, and what was true and what was false, and what was just
and what was unjust, for any price that could be paid to her by any
one alive? Am I leading up to it right?'

With another tearful laugh Bella joyfully kissed him again.

'And therefore--and therefore,' the cherub went on in a glowing
voice, as Bella's hand stole gradually up his waistcoat to his neck,
'this mercenary young person distantly related to myself, refused
the price, took off the splendid fashions that were part of it, put on
the comparatively poor dress that I had last given her, and trusting
to my supporting her in what was right, came straight to me. Have
I led up to it?'

Bella's hand was round his neck by this time, and her face was on
it.

'The mercenary young person distantly related to myself,' said her
good father, 'did well! The mercenary young person distantly
related to myself, did not trust to me in vain! I admire this
mercenary young person distantly related to myself, more in this
dress than if she had come to me in China silks, Cashmere shawls,
and Golconda diamonds. I love this young person dearly. I say to
the man of this young person's heart, out of my heart and with all
of it, "My blessing on this engagement betwixt you, and she brings
you a good fortune when she brings you the poverty she has
accepted for your sake and the honest truth's!"'

The stanch little man's voice failed him as he gave John Rokesmith
his hand, and he was silent, bending his face low over his
daughter. But, not for long. He soon looked up, saying in a
sprightly tone:

'And now, my dear child, if you think you can entertain John
Rokesmith for a minute and a half, I'll run over to the Dairy, and
fetch HIM a cottage loaf and a drink of milk, that we may all have
tea together.'

It was, as Bella gaily said, like the supper provided for the three
nursery hobgoblins at their house in the forest, without their
thunderous low growlings of the alarming discovery, 'Somebody's
been drinking MY milk!' It was a delicious repast; by far the most
delicious that Bella, or John Rokesmith, or even R. Wilfer had ever
made. The uncongenial oddity of its surroundings, with the two
brass knobs of the iron safe of Chicksey, Veneering, and Stobbles
staring from a corner, like the eyes of some dull dragon, only made
it the more delightful.

'To think,' said the cherub, looking round the office with
unspeakable enjoyment, 'that anything of a tender nature should
come off here, is what tickles me. To think that ever I should have
seen my Bella folded in the arms of her future husband, HERE,
you know!'

It was not until the cottage loaves and the milk had for some time
disappeared, and the foreshadowings of night were creeping over
Mincing Lane, that the cherub by degrees became a little nervous,
and said to Bella, as he cleared his throat:

'Hem!--Have you thought at all about your mother, my dear?'

'Yes, Pa.'

'And your sister Lavvy, for instance, my dear?'

'Yes, Pa. I think we had better not enter into particulars at home. I
think it will be quite enough to say that I had a difference with Mr
Boffin, and have left for good.'

'John Rokesmith being acquainted with your Ma, my love,' said
her father, after some slight hesitation, 'I need have no delicacy in
hinting before him that you may perhaps find your Ma a little
wearing.'

'A little, patient Pa?' said Bella with a tuneful laugh: the tunefuller
for being so loving in its tone.

'Well! We'll say, strictly in confidence among ourselves, wearing;
we won't qualify it,' the cherub stoutly admitted. 'And your
sister's temper is wearing.'

'I don't mind, Pa.'

'And you must prepare yourself you know, my precious,' said her
father, with much gentleness, 'for our looking very poor and
meagre at home, and being at the best but very uncomfortable,
after Mr Boffin's house.'

'I don't mind, Pa. I could bear much harder trials--for John.'

The closing words were not so softly and blushingly said but that
John heard them, and showed that he heard them by again
assisting Bella to another of those mysterious disappearances.

'Well!' said the cherub gaily, and not expressing disapproval, 'when
you--when you come back from retirement, my love, and reappear
on the surface, I think it will be time to lock up and go.'

If the counting-house of Chicksey, Veneering, and Stobbles had
ever been shut up by three happier people, glad as most people
were to shut it up, they must have been superlatively happy indeed.
But first Bella mounted upon Rumty's Perch, and said, 'Show me
what you do here all day long, dear Pa. Do you write like this?'
laying her round cheek upon her plump left arm, and losing sight
of her pen in waves of hair, in a highly unbusiness-like manner.
Though John Rokesmith seemed to like it.

So, the three hobgoblins, having effaced all traces of their feast,
and swept up the crumbs, came out of Mincing Lane to walk to
Holloway; and if two of the hobgoblins didn't wish the distance
twice as long as it was, the third hobgoblin was much mistaken.
Indeed, that modest spirit deemed himself so much in the way of
their deep enjoyment of the journey, that he apologetically
remarked: 'I think, my dears, I'll take the lead on the other side of
the road, and seem not to belong to you.' Which he did,
cherubically strewing the path with smiles, in the absence of
flowers.

It was almost ten o'clock when they stopped within view of Wilfer
Castle; and then, the spot being quiet and deserted, Bella began a
series of disappearances which threatened to last all night.

'I think, John,' the cherub hinted at last, 'that if you can spare me
the young person distantly related to myself, I'll take her in.'

'I can't spare her,' answered John, 'but I must lend her to you.'--My
Darling!' A word of magic which caused Bella instantly to
disappear again.

'Now, dearest Pa,' said Bella, when she became visible, 'put your
hand in mine, and we'll run home as fast as ever we can run, and
get it over. Now, Pa. Once!--'

'My dear,' the cherub faltered, with something of a craven air, 'I
was going to observe that if your mother--'

'You mustn't hang back, sir, to gain time,' cried Bella, putting out
her right foot; 'do you see that, sir? That's the mark; come up to the
mark, sir. Once! Twice! Three times and away, Pa!' Off she
skimmed, bearing the cherub along, nor ever stopped, nor suffered
him to stop, until she had pulled at the bell. 'Now, dear Pa,' said
Bella, taking him by both ears as if he were a pitcher, and
conveying his face to her rosy lips, 'we are in for it!'

Miss Lavvy came out to open the gate, waited on by that attentive
cavalier and friend of the family, Mr George Sampson. 'Why, it's
never Bella!' exclaimed Miss Lavvy starting back at the sight. And
then bawled, 'Ma! Here's Bella!'

This produced, before they could get into the house, Mrs Wilfer.
Who, standing in the portal, received them with ghostly gloom,
and all her other appliances of ceremony.

'My child is welcome, though unlooked for,' said she, at the time
presenting her cheek as if it were a cool slate for visitors to enrol
themselves upon. 'You too, R. W., are welcome, though late.
Does the male domestic of Mrs Boffin hear me there?' This deep-
toned inquiry was cast forth into the night, for response from the
menial in question.

'There is no one waiting, Ma, dear,' said Bella.

'There is no one waiting?' repeated MrsWilfer in majestic accents.

'No, Ma, dear.'

A dignified shiver pervaded Mrs Wilfer's shoulders and gloves, as
who should say, 'An Enigma!' and then she marched at the head of
the procession to the family keeping-room, where she observed:

'Unless, R. W.': who started on being solemnly turned upon: 'you
have taken the precaution of making some addition to our frugal
supper on your way home, it will prove but a distasteful one to
Bella. Cold neck of mutton and a lettuce can ill compete with the
luxuries of Mr Boffin's board.'

'Pray don't talk like that, Ma dear,' said Bella; 'Mr Boffin's board is
nothing to me.'

But, here Miss Lavinia, who had been intently eyeing Bella's
bonnet, struck in with 'Why, Bella!'

'Yes, Lavvy, I know.'

The Irrepressible lowered her eyes to Bella's dress, and stooped to
look at it, exclaiming again: 'Why, Bella!'

'Yes, Lavvy, I know what I have got on. I was going to tell Ma
when you interrupted. I have left Mr Boffin's house for good, Ma,
and I have come home again.'

Mrs Wilfer spake no word, but, having glared at her offspring for a
minute or two in an awful silence, retired into her corner of state
backward, and sat down: like a frozen article on sale in a Russian
market.

'In short, dear Ma,' said Bella, taking off the depreciated bonnet
and shaking out her hair, 'I have had a very serious difference with
Mr Boffin on the subject of his treatment of a member of his
household, and it's a final difference, and there's an end of all.'

'And I am bound to tell you, my dear,' added R. W., submissively,
'that Bella has acted in a truly brave spirit, and with a truly right
feeling. And therefore I hope, my dear, you'll not allow yourself to
be greatly disappointed.'

'George!' said Miss Lavvy, in a sepulchral, warning voice, founded
on her mother's; 'George Sampson, speak! What did I tell you
about those Boffins?'

Mr Sampson perceiving his frail bark to be labouring among
shoals and breakers, thought it safest not to refer back to any
particular thing that he had been told, lest he should refer back to
the wrong thing. With admirable seamanship he got his bark into
deep water by murmuring 'Yes indeed.'

'Yes! I told George Sampson, as George Sampson tells you, said
Miss Lavvy, 'that those hateful Boffins would pick a quarrel with
Bella, as soon as her novelty had worn off. Have they done it, or
have they not? Was I right, or was I wrong? And what do you say
to us, Bella, of your Boffins now?'

'Lavvy and Ma,' said Bella, 'I say of Mr and Mrs Boffin what I
always have said; and I always shall say of them what I always
have said. But nothing will induce me to quarrel with any one to-
night. I hope you are not sorry to see me, Ma dear,' kissing her;
'and I hope you are not sorry to see me, Lavvy,' kissing her too;
'and as I notice the lettuce Ma mentioned, on the table, I'll make
the salad.'

Bella playfully setting herself about the task, Mrs Wilfer's
impressive countenance followed her with glaring eyes, presenting
a combination of the once popular sign of the Saracen's Head, with
a piece of Dutch clock-work, and suggesting to an imaginative
mind that from the composition of the salad, her daughter might
prudently omit the vinegar. But no word issued from the majestic
matron's lips. And this was more terrific to her husband (as
perhaps she knew) than any flow of eloquence with which she
could have edified the company.

'Now, Ma dear,' said Bella in due course, 'the salad's ready, and it's
past supper-time.'

Mrs Wilfer rose, but remained speechless. 'George!' said Miss
Lavinia in her voice of warning, 'Ma's chair!' Mr Sampson flew to
the excellent lady's back, and followed her up close chair in hand,
as she stalked to the banquet. Arrived at the table, she took her
rigid seat, after favouring Mr Sampson with a glare for himself,
which caused the young gentleman to retire to his place in much
confusion.

The cherub not presuming to address so tremendous an object,
transacted her supper through the agency of a third person, as
'Mutton to your Ma, Bella, my dear'; and 'Lavvy, I dare say your
Ma would take some lettuce if you were to put it on her plate.'
Mrs Wilfer's manner of receiving those viands was marked by
petrified absence of mind; in which state, likewise, she partook of
them, occasionally laying down her knife and fork, as saying
within her own spirit, 'What is this I am doing?' and glaring at one
or other of the party, as if in indignant search of information. A
magnetic result of such glaring was, that the person glared at could
not by any means successfully pretend to he ignorant of the fact:
so that a bystander, without beholding Mrs Wilfer at all, must have
known at whom she was glaring, by seeing her refracted from the
countenance of the beglared one.

Miss Lavinia was extremely affable to Mr Sampson on this special
occasion, and took the opportunity of informing her sister why.

'It was not worth troubling you about, Bella, when you were in a
sphere so far removed from your family as to make it a matter in
which you could be expected to take very little interest,' said
Lavinia with a toss of her chin; 'but George Sampson is paying his
addresses to me.'

Bella was glad to hear it. Mr Sampson became thoughtfully red,
and felt called upon to encircle Miss Lavinia's waist with his arm;
but, encountering a large pin in the young lady's belt, scarified a
finger, uttered a sharp exclamation, and attracted the lightning of
Mrs Wilfer's glare.

'George is getting on very well,' said Miss Lavinia which might
not have been supposed at the moment--'and I dare say we shall be
married, one of these days. I didn't care to mention it when you
were with your Bof--' here Miss Lavinia checked herself in a
bounce, and added more placidly, 'when you were with Mr and
Mrs Boffin; but now I think it sisterly to name the circumstance.'

'Thank you, Lavvy dear. I congratulate you.'

'Thank you, Bella. The truth is, George and I did discuss whether I
should tell you; but I said to George that you wouldn't be much
interested in so paltry an affair, and that it was far more likely you
would rather detach yourself from us altogether, than have him
added to the rest of us.'

'That was a mistake, dear Lavvy,' said Bella.

'It turns out to be,' replied Miss Lavinia; 'but circumstances have
changed, you know, my dear. George is in a new situation, and his
prospects are very good indeed. I shouldn't have had the courage
to tell you so yesterday, when you would have thought his
prospects poor, and not worth notice; but I feel quite bold tonight.'

'When did you begin to feel timid, Lavvy? inquired Bella, with a
smile.

'I didn't say that I ever felt timid, Bella,' replied the Irrepressible.
'But perhaps I might have said, if I had not been restrained by
delicacy towards a sister's feelings, that I have for some time felt
independent; too independent, my dear, to subject myself to have
my intended match (you'll prick yourself again, George) looked
down upon. It is not that I could have blamed you for looking
down upon it, when you were looking up to a rich and great match,
Bella; it is only that I was independent.'

Whether the Irrepressible felt slighted by Bella's declaration that
she would not quarrel, or whether her spitefulness was evoked by
Bella's return to the sphere of Mr George Sampson's courtship, or
whether it was a necessary fillip to her spirits that she should come
into collision with somebody on the present occasion,--anyhow she
made a dash at her stately parent now, with the greatest
impetuosity.

'Ma, pray don't sit staring at me in that intensely aggravating
manner! If you see a black on my nose, tell me so; if you don't,
leave me alone.'

'Do you address Me in those words?' said Mrs Wilfer. 'Do you
presume?'

'Don't talk about presuming, Ma, for goodness' sake. A girl who is
old enough to be engaged, is quite old enough to object to be stared
at as if she was a Clock.'

'Audacious one!' said Mrs Wilfer. 'Your grandmamma, if so
addressed by one of her daughters, at any age, would have insisted
on her retiring to a dark apartment.'

'My grandmamma,' returned Lavvy, folding her arms and leaning
back in her chair, 'wouldn't have sat staring people out of
countenance, I think.'

'She would!' said Mrs Wilfer.

'Then it's a pity she didn't know better,' said Lavvy. 'And if my
grandmamma wasn't in her dotage when she took to insisting on
people's retiring to dark apartments, she ought to have been. A
pretty exhibition my grandmamma must have made of herself! I
wonder whether she ever insisted on people's retiring into the ball
of St Paul's; and if she did, how she got them there!'

'Silence!' proclaimed Mrs Wilfer. 'I command silence!'

'I have not the slightest intention of being silent, Ma,' returned
Lavinia coolly, 'but quite the contrary. I am not going to be eyed as
if I had come from the Boffins, and sit silent under it. I am not
going to have George Sampson eyed as if HE had come from the
Boffins, and sit silent under it. If Pa thinks proper to be eyed as if
HE had come from the Boffins also, well and good. I don't choose
to. And I won't!'

Lavinia's engineering having made this crooked opening at Bella,
Mrs Wilfer strode into it.

'You rebellious spirit! You mutinous child! Tell me this, Lavinia.
If in violation of your mother's sentiments, you had condescended
to allow yourself to be patronized by the Boffins, and if you had
come from those halls of slavery--'

'That's mere nonsense, Ma,' said Lavinia.

'How!' exclaimed Mrs Wilfer, with sublime severity.

'Halls of slavery, Ma, is mere stuff and nonsense,' returned the
unmoved Irrepressible.

'I say, presumptuous child, if you had come from the
neighbourhood of Portland Place, bending under the yoke of
patronage and attended by its domestics in glittering garb to visit
me, do you think my deep-seated feelings could have been
expressed in looks?'

'All I think about it, is,' returned Lavinia, 'that I should wish them
expressed to the right person.'

'And if,' pursued her mother, 'if making light of my warnings that
the face of Mrs Boffin alone was a face teeming with evil, you had
clung to Mrs Boffin instead of to me, and had after all come home
rejected by Mrs Boffin, trampled under foot by Mrs Boffin, and
cast out by Mrs Boffin, do you think my feelings could have been
expressed in looks?'

Lavinia was about replying to her honoured parent that she might
as well have dispensed with her looks altogether then, when Bella
rose and said, 'Good night, dear Ma. I have had a tiring day, and
I'll go to bed.' This broke up the agreeable party. Mr George
Sampson shortly afterwards took his leave, accompanied by Miss
Lavinia with a candle as far as the hall, and without a candle as far
as the garden gate; Mrs Wilfer, washing her hands of the Boffins,
went to bed after the manner of Lady Macbeth; and R. W. was left
alone among the dilapidations of the supper table, in a melancholy
attitude.

But, a light footstep roused him from his meditations, and it was
Bella's. Her pretty hair was hanging all about her, and she had
tripped down softly, brush in hand, and barefoot, to say good-night
to him.

'My dear, you most unquestionably ARE a lovely woman,' said the
cherub, taking up a tress in his hand.

'Look here, sir,' said Bella; 'when your lovely woman marries, you
shall have that piece if you like, and she'll make you a chain of it.
Would you prize that remembrance of the dear creature?'

'Yes, my precious.'

'Then you shall have it if you're good, sir. I am very, very sorry,
dearest Pa, to have brought home all this trouble.'

'My pet,' returned her father, in the simplest good faith, 'don't
make yourself uneasy about that. It really is not worth mentioning,
because things at home would have taken pretty much the same
turn any way. If your mother and sister don't find one subject to
get at times a little wearing on, they find another. We're never out
of a wearing subject, my dear, I assure you. I am afraid you find
your old room with Lavvy, dreadfully inconvenient, Bella?'

'No I don't, Pa; I don't mind. Why don't I mind, do you think, Pa?'

'Well, my child, you used to complain of it when it wasn't such a
contrast as it must be now. Upon my word, I can only answer,
because you are so much improved.'

'No, Pa. Because I am so thankful and so happy!'

Here she choked him until her long hair made him sneeze, and
then she laughed until she made him laugh, and then she choked
him again that they might not be overheard.

'Listen, sir,' said Bella. 'Your lovely woman was told her fortune
to night on her way home. It won't be a large fortune, because if
the lovely woman's Intended gets a certain appointment that he
hopes to get soon, she will marry on a hundred and fifty pounds a
year. But that's at first, and even if it should never be more, the
lovely woman will make it quite enough. But that's not all, sir. In
the fortune there's a certain fair man--a little man, the fortune-teller
said--who, it seems, will always find himself near the lovely
woman, and will always have kept, expressly for him, such a
peaceful corner in the lovely woman's little house as never was.
Tell me the name of that man, sir.'

'Is he a Knave in the pack of cards?' inquired the cherub, with a
twinkle in his eyes.

'Yes!' cried Bella, in high glee, choking him again. 'He's the
Knave of Wilfers! Dear Pa, the lovely woman means to look
forward to this fortune that has been told for her, so delightfully,
and to cause it to make her a much better lovely woman than she
ever has been yet. What the little fair man is expected to do, sir, is
to look forward to it also, by saying to himself when he is in
danger of being over-worried, "I see land at last!"

'I see land at last!' repeated her father.

'There's a dear Knave of Wilfers!' exclaimed Bella; then putting out
her small white bare foot, 'That's the mark, sir. Come to the mark.
Put your boot against it. We keep to it together, mind! Now, sir,
you may kiss the lovely woman before she runs away, so thankful
and so happy. O yes, fair little man, so thankful and so happy!'


Charles Dickens