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Chapter 55


Chapter 5

CONCERNING THE MENDICANT'S BRIDE


The impressive gloom with which Mrs Wilfer received her
husband on his return from the wedding, knocked so hard at the
door of the cherubic conscience, and likewise so impaired the
firmness of the cherubic legs, that the culprit's tottering condition
of mind and body might have roused suspicion in less occupied
persons that the grimly heroic lady, Miss Lavinia, and that
esteemed friend of the family, Mr George Sampson. But, the
attention of all three being fully possessed by the main fact of the
marriage, they had happily none to bestow on the guilty
conspirator; to which fortunate circumstance he owed the escape
for which he was in nowise indebted to himself.

'You do not, R. W.' said Mrs Wilfer from her stately corner,
'inquire for your daughter Bella.'

'To be sure, my dear,' he returned, with a most flagrant assumption
of unconsciousness, 'I did omit it. How--or perhaps I should
rather say where--IS Bella?'

'Not here,' Mrs Wilfer proclaimed, with folded arms.

The cherub faintly muttered something to the abortive effect of 'Oh,
indeed, my dear!'

'Not here,' repeated Mrs Wilfer, in a stern sonorous voice. 'In a
word, R. W., you have no daughter Bella.'

'No daughter Bella, my dear?'

'No. Your daughter Bella,' said Mrs Wilfer, with a lofty air of
never having had the least copartnership in that young lady: of
whom she now made reproachful mention as an article of luxury
which her husband had set up entirely on his own account, and in
direct opposition to her advice: '--your daughter Bella has
bestowed herself upon a Mendicant.'

'Good gracious, my dear!'

'Show your father his daughter Bella's letter, Lavinia,' said Mrs
Wilfer, in her monotonous Act of Parliament tone, and waving her
hand. 'I think your father will admit it to be documentary proof of
what I tell him. I believe your father is acquainted with his
daughter Bella's writing. But I do not know. He may tell you he is
not. Nothing will surprise me.'

'Posted at Greenwich, and dated this morning,' said the
Irrepressible, flouncing at her father in handing him the evidence.
'Hopes Ma won't be angry, but is happily married to Mr John
Rokesmith, and didn't mention it beforehand to avoid words, and
please tell darling you, and love to me, and I should like to know
what you'd have said if any other unmarried member of the family
had done it!'

He read the letter, and faintly exclaimed 'Dear me!'

'You may well say Dear me!' rejoined Mrs Wilfer, in a deep tone.
Upon which encouragement he said it again, though scarcely with
the success he had expected; for the scornful lady then remarked,
with extreme bitterness: 'You said that before.'

'It's very surprising. But I suppose, my dear,' hinted the cherub, as
he folded the letter after a disconcerting silence, 'that we must
make the best of it? Would you object to my pointing out, my
dear, that Mr John Rokesmith is not (so far as I am acquainted
with him), strictly speaking, a Mendicant.'

'Indeed?' returned Mrs Wilfer, with an awful air of politeness.
'Truly so? I was not aware that Mr John Rokesmith was a
gentleman of landed property. But I am much relieved to hear it.'

'I doubt if you HAVE heard it, my dear,' the cherub submitted with
hesitation.

'Thank you,' said Mrs Wilfer. 'I make false statements, it appears?
So be it. If my daughter flies in my face, surely my husband may.
The one thing is not more unnatural than the other. There seems a
fitness in the arrangement. By all means!' Assuming, with a
shiver of resignation, a deadly cheerfulness.

But, here the Irrepressible skirmished into the conflict, dragging
the reluctant form of Mr Sampson after her.

'Ma,' interposed the young lady, 'I must say I think it would be
much better if you would keep to the point, and not hold forth
about people's flying into people's faces, which is nothing more nor
less than impossible nonsense.'

'How!' exclaimed Mrs Wilfer, knitting her dark brows.

'Just im-possible nonsense, Ma,' returned Lavvy, 'and George
Sampson knows it is, as well as I do.'

Mrs Wilfer suddenly becoming petrified, fixed her indignant eyes
upon the wretched George: who, divided between the support due
from him to his love, and the support due from him to his love's
mamma, supported nobody, not even himself.

'The true point is,' pursued Lavinia, 'that Bella has behaved in a
most unsisterly way to me, and might have severely compromised
me with George and with George's family, by making off and
getting married in this very low and disreputable manner--with
some pew-opener or other, I suppose, for a bridesmaid--when she
ought to have confided in me, and ought to have said, "If, Lavvy,
you consider it due to your engagement with George, that you
should countenance the occasion by being present, then Lavvy, I
beg you to BE present, keeping my secret from Ma and Pa." As of
course I should have done.'

'As of course you would have done? Ingrate!' exclaimed Mrs
Wilfer. 'Viper!'

'I say! You know ma'am. Upon my honour you mustn't,' Mr
Sampson remonstrated, shaking his head seriously, 'With the
highest respect for you, ma'am, upon my life you mustn't. No
really, you know. When a man with the feelings of a gentleman
finds himself engaged to a young lady, and it comes (even on the
part of a member of the family) to vipers, you know!--I would
merely put it to your own good feeling, you know,' said Mr
Sampson, in rather lame conclusion.

Mrs Wilfer's baleful stare at the young gentleman in
acknowledgment of his obliging interference was of such a nature
that Miss Lavinia burst into tears, and caught him round the neck
for his protection.

'My own unnatural mother,' screamed the young lady, 'wants to
annihilate George! But you shan't be annihilated, George. I'll die
first!'

Mr Sampson, in the arms of his mistress, still struggled to shake
his head at Mrs Wilfer, and to remark: 'With every sentiment of
respect for you, you know, ma'am--vipers really doesn't do you
credit.'

'You shall not be annihilated, George!' cried Miss Lavinia. 'Ma
shall destroy me first, and then she'll be contented. Oh, oh, oh!
Have I lured George from his happy home to expose him to this!
George, dear, be free! Leave me, ever dearest George, to Ma and to
my fate. Give my love to your aunt, George dear, and implore her
not to curse the viper that has crossed your path and blighted your
existence. Oh, oh, oh!' The young lady who, hysterically speaking,
was only just come of age, and had never gone off yet, here fell into
a highly creditable crisis, which, regarded as a first performance,
was very successful; Mr Sampson, bending over the body
meanwhile, in a state of distraction, which induced him to address
Mrs Wilfer in the inconsistent expressions: 'Demon--with the
highest respect for you--behold your work!'

The cherub stood helplessly rubbing his chin and looking on, but
on the whole was inclined to welcome this diversion as one in
which, by reason of the absorbent properties of hysterics, the
previous question would become absorbed. And so, indeed, it
proved, for the Irrepressible gradually coming to herself; and
asking with wild emotion, 'George dear, are you safe?' and further,
'George love, what has happened? Where is Ma?' Mr Sampson,
with words of comfort, raised her prostrate form, and handed her to
Mrs Wilfer as if the young lady were something in the nature of
refreshments. Mrs Wilfer with dignity partaking of the
refreshments, by kissing her once on the brow (as if accepting an
oyster), Miss Lavvy, tottering, returned to the protection of Mr
Sampson; to whom she said, 'George dear, I am afraid I have been
foolish; but I am still a little weak and giddy; don't let go my hand,
George!' And whom she afterwards greatly agitated at intervals,
by giving utterance, when least expected, to a sound between a sob
and a bottle of soda water, that seemed to rend the bosom of her
frock.

Among the most remarkable effects of this crisis may be
mentioned its having, when peace was restored, an inexplicable
moral influence, of an elevating kind, on Miss Lavinia, Mrs
Wilfer, and Mr George Sampson, from which R. W. was
altogether excluded, as an outsider and non-sympathizer. Miss
Lavinia assumed a modest air of having distinguished herself; Mrs
Wilfer, a serene air of forgiveness and resignation; Mr Sampson,
an air of having been improved and chastened. The influence
pervaded the spirit in which they returned to the previous question.

'George dear,' said Lavvy, with a melancholy smile, 'after what has
passed, I am sure Ma will tell Pa that he may tell Bella we shall all
be glad to see her and her husband.'

Mr Sampson said he was sure of it too; murmuring how eminently
he respected Mrs Wilfer, and ever must, and ever would. Never
more eminently, he added, than after what had passed.

'Far be it from me,' said Mrs Wilfer, making deep proclamation
from her corner, 'to run counter to the feelings of a child of mine,
and of a Youth,' Mr Sampson hardly seemed to like that word,
'who is the object of her maiden preference. I may feel--nay,
know--that I have been deluded and deceived. I may feel--nay,
know--that I have been set aside and passed over. I may feel--nay,
know--that after having so far overcome my repugnance towards
Mr and Mrs Boffin as to receive them under this roof, and to
consent to your daughter Bella's,' here turning to her husband,
'residing under theirs, it were well if your daughter Bella,' again
turning to her husband, 'had profited in a worldly point of view by
a connection so distasteful, so disreputable. I may feel--nay,
know--that in uniting herself to Mr Rokesmith she has united
herself to one who is, in spite of shallow sophistry, a Mendicant.
And I may feel well assured that your daughter Bella,' again
turning to her husband, 'does not exalt her family by becoming a
Mendicant's bride. But I suppress what I feel, and say nothing of
it.'

Mr Sampson murmured that this was the sort of thing you might
expect from one who had ever in her own family been an example
and never an outrage. And ever more so (Mr Sampson added, with
some degree of obscurity,) and never more so, than in and through
what had passed. He must take the liberty of adding, that what
was true of the mother was true of the youngest daughter, and that
he could never forget the touching feelings that the conduct of both
had awakened within him. In conclusion, he did hope that there
wasn't a man with a beating heart who was capable of something
that remained undescribed, in consequence of Miss Lavinia's
stopping him as he reeled in his speech.

'Therefore, R. W.' said Mrs Wilfer, resuming her discourse and
turning to her lord again, 'let your daughter Bella come when she
will, and she will be received. So,' after a short pause, and an air
of having taken medicine in it, 'so will her husband.'

'And I beg, Pa,' said Lavinia, 'that you will not tell Bella what I
have undergone. It can do no good, and it might cause her to
reproach herself.'

'My dearest girl,' urged Mr Sampson, 'she ought to know it.'

'No, George,' said Lavinia, in a tone of resolute self-denial. 'No,
dearest George, let it be buried in oblivion.'

Mr Sampson considered that, 'too noble.'

'Nothing is too noble, dearest George,' returned Lavinia. 'And Pa, I
hope you will be careful not to refer before Bella, if you can help it,
to my engagement to George. It might seem like reminding her of
her having cast herself away. And I hope, Pa, that you will think it
equally right to avoid mentioning George's rising prospects, when
Bella is present. It might seem like taunting her with her own poor
fortunes. Let me ever remember that I am her younger sister, and
ever spare her painful contrasts, which could not but wound her
sharply.'

Mr Sampson expressed his belief that such was the demeanour of
Angels. Miss Lavvy replied with solemnity, 'No, dearest George, I
am but too well aware that I am merely human.'

Mrs Wilfer, for her part, still further improved the occasion by
sitting with her eyes fastened on her husband, like two great black
notes of interrogation, severely inquiring, Are you looking into
your breast? Do you deserve your blessings? Can you lay your
hand upon your heart and say that you are worthy of so hysterical a
daughter? I do not ask you if you are worthy of such a wife--put
Me out of the question--but are you sufficiently conscious of, and
thankful for, the pervading moral grandeur of the family spectacle
on which you are gazing? These inquiries proved very harassing to
R. W. who, besides being a little disturbed by wine, was in
perpetual terror of committing himself by the utterance of stray
words that would betray his guilty foreknowledge. However, the
scene being over, and--all things considered--well over, he sought
refuge in a doze; which gave his lady immense offence.

'Can you think of your daughter Bella, and sleep?' she disdainfully
inquired.

To which he mildly answered, 'Yes, I think I can, my dear.'

'Then,' said Mrs Wilfer, with solemn indignation, 'I would
recommend you, if you have a human feeling, to retire to bed.'

'Thank you, my dear,' he replied; 'I think it IS the best place for
me.' And with these unsympathetic words very gladly withdrew.

Within a few weeks afterwards, the Mendicant's bride (arm-in-arm
with the Mendicant) came to tea, in fulfilment of an engagement
made through her father. And the way in which the Mendicant's
bride dashed at the unassailable position so considerately to be
held by Miss Lavy, and scattered the whole of the works in all
directions in a moment, was triumphant.

'Dearest Ma,' cried Bella, running into the room with a radiant
face, 'how do you do, dearest Ma?' And then embraced her,
joyously. 'And Lavvy darling, how do YOU do, and how's George
Sampson, and how is he getting on, and when are you going to be
married, and how rich are you going to grow? You must tell me
all about it, Lavvy dear, immediately. John, love, kiss Ma and
Lavvy, and then we shall all be at home and comfortable.'

Mrs Wilfer stared, but was helpless. Miss Lavinia stared, but was
helpless. Apparently with no compunction, and assuredly with no
ceremony, Bella tossed her bonnet away, and sat down to make the
tea.

'Dearest Ma and Lavvy, you both take sugar, I know. And Pa (you
good little Pa), you don't take milk. John does. I didn't before I
was married; but I do now, because John does. John dear, did you
kiss Ma and Lavvy? Oh, you did! Quite correct, John dear; but I
didn't see you do it, so I asked. Cut some bread and butter, John;
that's a love. Ma likes it doubled. And now you must tell me,
dearest Ma and Lavvy, upon your words and honours! Didn't you
for a moment--just a moment--think I was a dreadful little wretch
when I wrote to say I had run away?'

Before Mrs Wilfer could wave her gloves, the Mendicant's bride in
her merriest affectionate manner went on again.

'I think it must have made you rather cross, dear Ma and Lavvy,
and I know I deserved that you should be very cross. But you see I
had been such a heedless, heartless creature, and had led you so to
expect that I should marry for money, and so to make sure that I
was incapable of marrying for love, that I thought you couldn't
believe me. Because, you see, you didn't know how much of Good,
Good, Good, I had learnt from John. Well! So I was sly about it,
and ashamed of what you supposed me to be, and fearful that we
couldn't understand one another and might come to words, which
we should all be sorry for afterwards, and so I said to John that if
he liked to take me without any fuss, he might. And as he did like,
I let him. And we were married at Greenwich church in the
presence of nobody--except an unknown individual who dropped
in,' here her eyes sparkled more brightly, 'and half a pensioner.
And now, isn't it nice, dearest Ma and Lavvy, to know that no
words have been said which any of us can be sorry for, and that we
are all the best of friends at the pleasantest of teas!'

Having got up and kissed them again, she slipped back to her chair
(after a loop on the road to squeeze her husband round the neck)
and again went on.

'And now you will naturally want to know, dearest Ma and Lavvy,
how we live, and what we have got to live upon. Well! And so we
live on Blackheath, in the charm--ingest of dolls' houses, de--
lightfully furnished, and we have a clever little servant who is de--
cidedly pretty, and we are economical and orderly, and do
everything by clockwork, and we have a hundred and fifty pounds
a year, and we have all we want, and more. And lastly, if you
would like to know in confidence, as perhaps you may, what is my
opinion of my husband, my opinion is--that I almost love him!'

'And if you would like to know in confidence, as perhaps you may,'
said her husband, smiling, as he stood by her side, without her
having detected his approach, 'my opinion of my wife, my opinion
is--.' But Bella started up, and put her hand upon his lips.

'Stop, Sir! No, John, dear! Seriously! Please not yet a while! I
want to be something so much worthier than the doll in the doll's
house.'

'My darling, are you not?'

'Not half, not a quarter, so much worthier as I hope you may some
day find me! Try me through some reverse, John--try me through
some trial--and tell them after THAT, what you think of me.'

'I will, my Life,' said John. 'I promise it.'

'That's my dear John. And you won't speak a word now; will you?'

'And I won't,' said John, with a very expressive look of admiration
around him, 'speak a word now!'

She laid her laughing cheek upon his breast to thank him, and said,
looking at the rest of them sideways out of her bright eyes: 'I'll go
further, Pa and Ma and Lavvy. John don't suspect it--he has no
idea of it--but I quite love him!'

Even Mrs Wilfer relaxed under the influence of her married
daughter, and seemed in a majestic manner to imply remotely that
if R. W. had been a more deserving object, she too might have
condescended to come down from her pedestal for his beguilement.
Miss Lavinia, on the other hand, had strong doubts of the policy of
the course of treatment, and whether it might not spoil Mr
Sampson, if experimented on in the case of that young gentleman.
R. W. himself was for his part convinced that he was father of one
of the most charming of girls, and that Rokesmith was the most
favoured of men; which opinion, if propounded to him, Rokesmith
would probably not have contested.

The newly-married pair left early, so that they might walk at
leisure to their starting-place from London, for Greenwich. At
first they were very cheerful and talked much; but after a while,
Bella fancied that her husband was turning somewhat thoughtful.
So she asked him:

'John dear, what's the matter?'

'Matter, my love?'

'Won't you tell me,' said Bella, looking up into his face, 'what you
are thinking of?'

'There's not much in the thought, my soul. I was thinking
whether you wouldn't like me to be rich?'

'You rich, John?' repeated Bella, shrinking a little.

'I mean, really rich. Say, as rich as Mr Boffin. You would like
that?'

'I should be almost afraid to try, John dear. Was he much the
better for his wealth? Was I much the better for the little part I
once had in it?'

'But all people are not the worse for riches, my own.'

'Most people?' Bella musingly suggested with raised eyebrows.

'Nor even most people, it may be hoped. If you were rich, for
instance, you would have a great power of doing good to others.'

'Yes, sir, for instance,' Bella playfully rejoined; 'but should I
exercise the power, for instance? And again, sir, for instance;
should I, at the same time, have a great power of doing harm to
myself?'

Laughing and pressing her arm, he retorted: 'But still, again for
instance; would you exercise that power?'

'I don't know,' said Bella, thoughtfully shaking her head. 'I hope
not. I think not. But it's so easy to hope not and think not, without
the riches.'

'Why don't you say, my darling--instead of that phrase--being
poor?' he asked, looking earnestly at her.

'Why don't I say, being poor! Because I am not poor. Dear John,
it's not possible that you suppose I think we are poor?'

'I do, my love.'

'Oh John!'

'Understand me, sweetheart. I know that I am rich beyond all
wealth in having you; but I think OF you, and think FOR you. In
such a dress as you are wearing now, you first charmed me, and in
no dress could you ever look, to my thinking, more graceful or
more beautiful. But you have admired many finer dresses this very
day; and is it not natural that I wish I could give them to you?'

'It's very nice that you should wish it, John. It brings these tears of
grateful pleasure into my eyes, to hear you say so with such
tenderness. But I don't want them.'

'Again,' he pursued, 'we are now walking through the muddy
streets. I love those pretty feet so dearly, that I feel as if I could not
bear the dirt to soil the sole of your shoe. Is it not natural that I
wish you could ride in a carriage?'

'It's very nice,' said Bella, glancing downward at the feet in
question, 'to know that you admire them so much, John dear, and
since you do, I am sorry that these shoes are a full size too large.
But I don't want a carriage, believe me.'

'You would like one if you could have one, Bella?'

'I shouldn't like it for its own sake, half so well as such a wish for
it. Dear John, your wishes are as real to me as the wishes in the
Fairy story, that were all fulfilled as soon as spoken. Wish me
everything that you can wish for the woman you dearly love, and I
have as good as got it, John. I have better than got it, John!'

They were not the less happy for such talk, and home was not the
less home for coming after it. Bella was fast developing a perfect
genius for home. All the loves and graces seemed (her husband
thought) to have taken domestic service with her, and to help her to
make home engaging.

Her married life glided happily on. She was alone all day, for,
after an early breakfast her husband repaired every morning to the
City, and did not return until their late dinner hour. He was 'in a
China house,' he explained to Bella: which she found quite
satisfactory, without pursuing the China house into minuter details
than a wholesale vision of tea, rice, odd-smelling silks, carved
boxes, and tight-eyed people in more than double-soled shoes, with
their pigtails pulling their heads of hair off, painted on transparent
porcelain. She always walked with her husband to the railroad,
and was always there again to meet him; her old coquettish ways a
little sobered down (but not much), and her dress as daintily
managed as if she managed nothing else. But, John gone to
business and Bella returned home, the dress would be laid aside,
trim little wrappers and aprons would be substituted, and Bella,
putting back her hair with both hands, as if she were making the
most business-like arrangements for going dramatically distracted,
would enter on the household affairs of the day. Such weighing
and mixing and chopping and grating, such dusting and washing
and polishing, such snipping and weeding and trowelling and
other small gardening, such making and mending and folding and
airing, such diverse arrangements, and above all such severe study!
For Mrs J. R., who had never been wont to do too much at home as
Miss B. W., was under the constant necessity of referring for
advice and support to a sage volume entitled The Complete British
Family Housewife, which she would sit consulting, with her
elbows on the table and her temples on her hands, like some
perplexed enchantress poring over the Black Art. This, principally
because the Complete British Housewife, however sound a Briton
at heart, was by no means an expert Briton at expressing herself
with clearness in the British tongue, and sometimes might have
issued her directions to equal purpose in the Kamskatchan
language. In any crisis of this nature, Bella would suddenly
exclaim aloud, 'Oh you ridiculous old thing, what do you mean by
that? You must have been drinking!' And having made this
marginal note, would try the Housewife again, with all her dimples
screwed into an expression of profound research.

There was likewise a coolness on the part of the British Housewife,
which Mrs John Rokesmith found highly exasperating. She would
say, 'Take a salamander,' as if a general should command a private
to catch a Tartar. Or, she would casually issue the order, 'Throw in
a handful--' of something entirely unattainable. In these, the
Housewife's most glaring moments of unreason, Bella would shut
her up and knock her on the table, apostrophising her with the
compliment, 'O you ARE a stupid old Donkey! Where am I to get
it, do you think?'

Another branch of study claimed the attention of Mrs John
Rokesmith for a regular period every day. This was the mastering
of the newspaper, so that she might be close up with John on
general topics when John came home. In her desire to be in all
things his companion, she would have set herself with equal zeal
to master Algebra, or Euclid, if he had divided his soul between
her and either. Wonderful was the way in which she would store
up the City Intelligence, and beamingly shed it upon John in the
course of the evening; incidentally mentioning the commodities
that were looking up in the markets, and how much gold had been
taken to the Bank, and trying to look wise and serious over it until
she would laugh at herself most charmingly and would say, kissing
him: 'It all comes of my love, John dear.'

For a City man, John certainly did appear to care as little as might
be for the looking up or looking down of things, as well as for the
gold that got taken to the Bank. But he cared, beyond all
expression, for his wife, as a most precious and sweet commodity
that was always looking up, and that never was worth less than all
the gold in the world. And she, being inspired by her affection,
and having a quick wit and a fine ready instinct, made amazing
progress in her domestic efficiency, though, as an endearing
creature, she made no progress at all. This was her husband's
verdict, and he justified it by telling her that she had begun her
married life as the most endearing creature that could possibly be.

'And you have such a cheerful spirit!' he said, fondly. 'You are like
a bright light in the house.'

'Am I truly, John?'

'Are you truly? Yes, indeed. Only much more, and much better.'

'Do you know, John dear,' said Bella, taking him by a button of his
coat, 'that I sometimes, at odd moments--don't laugh, John,
please.'

Nothing should induce John to do it, when she asked him not to do
it.

'--That I sometimes think, John, I feel a little serious.'

'Are you too much alone, my darling?'

'O dear, no, John! The time is so short that I have not a moment
too much in the week.'

'Why serious, my life, then? When serious?'

'When I laugh, I think,' said Bella, laughing as she laid her head
upon his shoulder. 'You wouldn't believe, sir, that I feel serious
now? But I do.' And she laughed again, and something glistened
in her eyes.

'Would you like to be rich, pet?' he asked her coaxingly.

'Rich, John! How CAN you ask such goose's questions?'

'Do you regret anything, my love?'

'Regret anything? No!' Bella confidently answered. But then,
suddenly changing, she said, between laughing and glistening:
'Oh yes, I do though. I regret Mrs Boffin.'

'I, too, regret that separation very much. But perhaps it is only
temporary. Perhaps things may so fall out, as that you may
sometimes see her again--as that we may sometimes see her again.'
Bella might be very anxious on the subject, but she scarcely
seemed so at the moment. With an absent air, she was
investigating that button on her husband's coat, when Pa came in
to spend the evening.

Pa had his special chair and his special corner reserved for him on
all occasions, and--without disparagement of his domestic joys--
was far happier there, than anywhere. It was always pleasantly
droll to see Pa and Bella together; but on this present evening her
husband thought her more than usually fantastic with him.

'You are a very good little boy,' said Bella, 'to come unexpectedly,
as soon as you could get out of school. And how have they used
you at school to-day, you dear?'

'Well, my pet,' replied the cherub, smiling and rubbing his hands
as she sat him down in his chair, 'I attend two schools. There's the
Mincing Lane establishment, and there's your mother's Academy.
Which might you mean, my dear?'

'Both,' said Bella.

'Both, eh? Why, to say the truth, both have taken a little out of me
to-day, my dear, but that was to be expected. There's no royal road
to learning; and what is life but learning!'

'And what do you do with yourself when you have got your
learning by heart, you silly child?'

'Why then, my dear,' said the cherub, after a little consideration, 'I
suppose I die.'

'You are a very bad boy,' retorted Bella, 'to talk about dismal things
and be out of spirits.'

'My Bella,' rejoined her father, 'I am not out of spirits. I am as gay
as a lark.' Which his face confirmed.

'Then if you are sure and certain it's not you, I suppose it must be
I,' said Bella; 'so I won't do so any more. John dear, we must give
this little fellow his supper, you know.'

'Of course we must, my darling.'

'He has been grubbing and grubbing at school,' said Bella, looking
at her father's hand and lightly slapping it, 'till he's not fit to be
seen. O what a grubby child!'

'Indeed, my dear,' said her father, 'I was going to ask to be allowed
to wash my hands, only you find me out so soon.'

'Come here, sir!' cried Bella, taking him by the front of his coat,
'come here and be washed directly. You are not to be trusted to do
it for yourself. Come here, sir!'

The cherub, to his genial amusement, was accordingly conducted
to a little washing-room, where Bella soaped his face and rubbed
his face, and soaped his hands and rubbed his hands, and splashed
him and rinsed him and towelled him, until he was as red as beet-
root, even to his very ears: 'Now you must be brushed and combed,
sir,' said Bella, busily. 'Hold the light, John. Shut your eyes, sir,
and let me take hold of your chin. Be good directly, and do as you
are told!'

Her father being more than willing to obey, she dressed his hair in
her most elaborate manner, brushing it out straight, parting it,
winding it over her fingers, sticking it up on end, and constantly
falling back on John to get a good look at the effect of it. Who
always received her on his disengaged arm, and detained her,
while the patient cherub stood waiting to be finished.

'There!' said Bella, when she had at last completed the final
touches. 'Now, you are something like a genteel boy! Put your
jacket on, and come and have your supper.'

The cherub investing himself with his coat was led back to his
corner--where, but for having no egotism in his pleasant nature, he
would have answered well enough for that radiant though self-
sufficient boy, Jack Horner--Bella with her own hands laid a cloth
for him, and brought him his supper on a tray. 'Stop a moment,'
said she, 'we must keep his little clothes clean;' and tied a napkin
under his chin, in a very methodical manner.

While he took his supper, Bella sat by him, sometimes
admonishing him to hold his fork by the handle, like a polite child,
and at other times carving for him, or pouring out his drink.
Fantastic as it all was, and accustomed as she ever had been to
make a plaything of her good father, ever delighted that she should
put him to that account, still there was an occasional something on
Bella's part that was new. It could not be said that she was less
playful, whimsical, or natural, than she always had been; but it
seemed, her husband thought, as if there were some rather graver
reason than he had supposed for what she had so lately said, and
as if throughout all this, there were glimpses of an underlying
seriousness.

It was a circumstance in support of this view of the case, that when
she had lighted her father's pipe, and mixed him his glass of grog,
she sat down on a stool between her father and her husband,
leaning her arm upon the latter, and was very quiet. So quiet, that
when her father rose to take his leave, she looked round with a
start, as if she had forgotten his being there.

'You go a little way with Pa, John?'

'Yes, my dear. Do you?'

'I have not written to Lizzie Hexam since I wrote and told her that
I really had a lover--a whole one. I have often thought I would like
to tell her how right she was when she pretended to read in the live
coals that I would go through fire and water for him. I am in the
humour to tell her so to-night, John, and I'll stay at home and do it.'

'You are tired.'

'Not at all tired, John dear, but in the humour to write to Lizzie.
Good night, dear Pa. Good night, you dear, good, gentle Pa!'

Left to herself she sat down to write, and wrote Lizzie a long letter.
She had but completed it and read it over, when her husband came
back. 'You are just in time, sir,' said Bella; 'I am going to give you
your first curtain lecture. It shall be a parlour-curtain lecture. You
shall take this chair of mine when I have folded my letter, and I
will take the stool (though you ought to take it, I can tell you, sir, if
it's the stool of repentance), and you'll soon find yourself taken to
task soundly.'

Her letter folded, sealed, and directed, and her pen wiped, and her
middle finger wiped, and her desk locked up and put away, and
these transactions performed with an air of severe business
sedateness, which the Complete British Housewife might have
assumed, and certainly would not have rounded off and broken
down in with a musical laugh, as Bella did: she placed her
husband in his chair, and placed herself upon her stool.

'Now, sir! To begin at the beginning. What is your name?'

A question more decidedly rushing at the secret he was keeping
from her, could not have astounded him. But he kept his
countenance and his secret, and answered, 'John Rokesmith, my
dear.'

'Good boy! Who gave you that name?'

With a returning suspicion that something might have betrayed
him to her, he answered, interrogatively, 'My godfathers and my
godmothers, dear love?'

'Pretty good!' said Bella. 'Not goodest good, because you hesitate
about it. However, as you know your Catechism fairly, so far, I'll
let you off the rest. Now, I am going to examine you out of my
own head. John dear, why did you go back, this evening, to the
question you once asked me before--would I like to be rich?'

Again, his secret! He looked down at her as she looked up at him,
with her hands folded on his knee, and it was as nearly told as
ever secret was.

Having no reply ready, he could do no better than embrace her.

'In short, dear John,' said Bella, 'this is the topic of my lecture: I
want nothing on earth, and I want you to believe it.'

'If that's all, the lecture may be considered over, for I do.'

'It's not all, John dear,' Bella hesitated. 'It's only Firstly. There's a
dreadful Secondly, and a dreadful Thirdly to come--as I used to say
to myself in sermon-time when I was a very small-sized sinner at
church.'

'Let them come, my dearest.'

'Are you sure, John dear; are you absolutely certain in your
innermost heart of hearts--?'

'Which is not in my keeping,' he rejoined.

'No, John, but the key is.--Are you absolutely certain that down at
the bottom of that heart of hearts, which you have given to me as I
have given mine to you, there is no remembrance that I was once
very mercenary?'

'Why, if there were no remembrance in me of the time you speak
of,' he softly asked her with his lips to hers, 'could I love you quite
as well as I do; could I have in the Calendar of my life the brightest
of its days; could I whenever I look at your dear face, or hear your
dear voice, see and hear my noble champion? It can never have
been that which made you serious, darling?'

'No John, it wasn't that, and still less was it Mrs Boffin, though I
love her. Wait a moment, and I'll go on with the lecture. Give me
a moment, because I like to cry for joy. It's so delicious, John dear,
to cry for joy.'

She did so on his neck, and, still clinging there, laughed a little
when she said, 'I think I am ready now for Thirdly, John.'

'I am ready for Thirdly,' said John, 'whatever it is.'

'I believe, John,' pursued Bella, 'that you believe that I believe--'

'My dear child,' cried her husband gaily, 'what a quantity of
believing!'

'Isn't there?' said Bella, with another laugh. 'I never knew such a
quantity! It's like verbs in an exercise. But I can't get on with less
believing. I'll try again. I believe, dear John, that you believe that
I believe that we have as much money as we require, and that we
want for nothing.'

'It is strictly true, Bella.'

'But if our money should by any means be rendered not so much--if
we had to stint ourselves a little in purchases that we can afford to
make now--would you still have the same confidence in my being
quite contented, John?'

'Precisely the same confidence, my soul.'

'Thank you, John dear, thousands upon thousands of times. And I
may take it for granted, no doubt,' with a little faltering, 'that you
would be quite as contented yourself John? But, yes, I know I
may. For, knowing that I should be so, how surely I may know
that you would be so; you who are so much stronger, and firmer,
and more reasonable and more generous, than I am.'

'Hush!' said her husband, 'I must not hear that. You are all wrong
there, though otherwise as right as can be. And now I am brought
to a little piece of news, my dearest, that I might have told you
earlier in the evening. I have strong reason for confidently
believing that we shall never be in the receipt of a smaller income
than our present income.'

She might have shown herself more interested in the intelligence;
but she had returned to the investigation of the coat-button that had
engaged her attention a few hours before, and scarcely seemed to
heed what he said.

'And now we have got to the bottom of it at last,' cried her
husband, rallying her, 'and this is the thing that made you serious?'

'No dear,' said Bella, twisting the button and shaking her head, 'it
wasn't this.'

'Why then, Lord bless this little wife of mine, there's a Fourthly!'
exclaimed John.

'This worried me a little, and so did Secondly,' said Bella, occupied
with the button, 'but it was quite another sort of seriousness--a
much deeper and quieter sort of seriousness--that I spoke of John
dear.'

As he bent his face to hers, she raised hers to meet it, and laid her
little right hand on his eyes, and kept it there.

'Do you remember, John, on the day we were married, Pa's
speaking of the ships that might be sailing towards us from the
unknown seas?'

'Perfectly, my darling!'

'I think...among them...there is a ship upon the
ocean...bringing...to you and me...a little baby, John.'


Charles Dickens