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Charles Dickens > Our Mutual Friend > Book 2 - 10

Our Mutual Friend

Book 2 - 10


Some of the Reverend Frank Milvey's brethren had found
themselves exceedingly uncomfortable in their minds, because
they were required to bury the dead too hopefully. But, the
Reverend Frank, inclining to the belief that they were required to
do one or two other things (say out of nine-and-thirty) calculated
to trouble their consciences rather more if they would think as
much about them, held his peace.

Indeed, the Reverend Frank Milvey was a forbearing man, who
noticed many sad warps and blights in the vineyard wherein he
worked, and did not profess that they made him savagely wise.
He only learned that the more he himself knew, in his little limited
human way, the better he could distantly imagine what
Omniscience might know.

Wherefore, if the Reverend Frank had had to read the words that
troubled some of his brethren, and profitably touched innumerable
hearts, in a worse case than Johnny's, he would have done so out
of the pity and humility of his soul. Reading them over Johnny, he
thought of his own six children, but not of his poverty, and read
them with dimmed eyes. And very seriously did he and his bright
little wife, who had been listening, look down into the small grave
and walk home arm-in-arm.

There was grief in the aristocratic house, and there was joy in the
Bower. Mr Wegg argued, if an orphan were wanted, was he not
an orphan himself; and could a better be desired? And why go
beating about Brentford bushes, seeking orphans forsooth who
had established no claims upon you and made no sacrifices for
you, when here was an orphan ready to your hand who had given
up in your cause, Miss Elizabeth, Master George, Aunt Jane, and
Uncle Parker?

Mr Wegg chuckled, consequently, when he heard the tidings.
Nay, it was afterwards affirmed by a witness who shall at present
be nameless, that in the seclusion of the Bower he poked out his
wooden leg, in the stage-ballet manner, and executed a taunting or
triumphant pirouette on the genuine leg remaining to him.

John Rokesmith's manner towards Mrs Boffin at this time, was
more the manner of a young man towards a mother, than that of a
Secretary towards his employer's wife. It had always been marked
by a subdued affectionate deference that seemed to have sprung
up on the very day of his engagement; whatever was odd in her
dress or her ways had seemed to have no oddity for him; he had
sometimes borne a quietly-amused face in her company, but still it
had seemed as if the pleasure her genial temper and radiant nature
yielded him, could have been quite as naturally expressed in a tear
as in a smile. The completeness of his sympathy with her fancy
for having a little John Harmon to protect and rear, he had shown
in every act and word, and now that the kind fancy was
disappointed, he treated it with a manly tenderness and respect for
which she could hardly thank him enough.

'But I do thank you, Mr Rokesmith,' said Mrs Boffin, 'and I thank
you most kindly. You love children.'

'I hope everybody does.'

'They ought,' said Mrs Boffin; 'but we don't all of us do what we
ought, do us?'

John Rokesmith replied, 'Some among us supply the short-comings
of the rest. You have loved children well, Mr Boffin has told me.'

Not a bit better than he has, but that's his way; he puts all the good
upon me. You speak rather sadly, Mr Rokesmith.'

'Do I?'

'It sounds to me so. Were you one of many children?' He shook
his head.

'An only child?'

'No there was another. Dead long ago.'

'Father or mother alive?'


'And the rest of your relations?'

'Dead--if I ever had any living. I never heard of any.'

At this point of the dialogue Bella came in with a light step. She
paused at the door a moment, hesitating whether to remain or
retire; perplexed by finding that she was not observed.

'Now, don't mind an old lady's talk,' said Mrs Boffin, 'but tell me.
Are you quite sure, Mr Rokesmith, that you have never had a
disappointment in love?'

'Quite sure. Why do you ask me?'

'Why, for this reason. Sometimes you have a kind of kept-down
manner with you, which is not like your age. You can't be thirty?'

'I am not yet thirty.'

Deeming it high time to make her presence known, Bella coughed
here to attract attention, begged pardon, and said she would go,
fearing that she interrupted some matter of business.

'No, don't go,' rejoined Mrs Boffin, 'because we are coming to
business, instead of having begun it, and you belong to it as much
now, my dear Bella, as I do. But I want my Noddy to consult with
us. Would somebody be so good as find my Noddy for me?'

Rokesmith departed on that errand, and presently returned
accompanied by Mr Boffin at his jog-trot. Bella felt a little vague
trepidation as to the subject-matter of this same consultation, until
Mrs Boffin announced it.

'Now, you come and sit by me, my dear,' said that worthy soul,
taking her comfortable place on a large ottoman in the centre of
the room, and drawing her arm through Bella's; 'and Noddy, you
sit here, and Mr Rokesmith you sit there. Now, you see, what I
want to talk about, is this. Mr and Mrs Milvey have sent me the
kindest note possible (which Mr Rokesmith just now read to me
out aloud, for I ain't good at handwritings), offering to find me
another little child to name and educate and bring up. Well. This
has set me thinking.'

('And she is a steam-ingein at it,' murmured Mr Boffin, in an
admiring parenthesis, 'when she once begins. It mayn't be so easy
to start her; but once started, she's a ingein.')

'--This has set me thinking, I say,' repeated Mrs Boffin, cordially
beaming under the influence of her husband's compliment, 'and I
have thought two things. First of all, that I have grown timid of
reviving John Harmon's name. It's an unfortunate name, and I
fancy I should reproach myself if I gave it to another dear child,
and it proved again unlucky.'

'Now, whether,' said Mr Boffin, gravely propounding a case for his
Secretary's opinion; 'whether one might call that a superstition?'

'It is a matter of feeling with Mrs Boffin,' said Rokesmith, gently.
'The name has always been unfortunate. It has now this new
unfortunate association connected with it. The name has died out.
Why revive it? Might I ask Miss Wilfer what she thinks?'

'It has not been a fortunate name for me,' said Bella, colouring--'or
at least it was not, until it led to my being here--but that is not the
point in my thoughts. As we had given the name to the poor child,
and as the poor child took so lovingly to me, I think I should feel
jealous of calling another child by it. I think I should feel as if the
name had become endeared to me, and I had no right to use it so.'

'And that's your opinion?' remarked Mr Boffin, observant of the
Secretary's face and again addressing him.

'I say again, it is a matter of feeling,' returned the Secretary. 'I
think Miss Wilfer's feeling very womanly and pretty.'

'Now, give us your opinion, Noddy,' said Mrs Boffin.

'My opinion, old lady,' returned the Golden Dustman, 'is your

'Then,' said Mrs Boffin, 'we agree not to revive John Harmon's
name, but to let it rest in the grave. It is, as Mr Rokesmith says, a
matter of feeling, but Lor how many matters ARE matters of
feeling! Well; and so I come to the second thing I have thought
of. You must know, Bella, my dear, and Mr Rokesmith, that
when I first named to my husband my thoughts of adopting a little
orphan boy in remembrance of John Harmon, I further named to
my husband that it was comforting to think that how the poor boy
would be benefited by John's own money, and protected from
John's own forlornness.'

'Hear, hear!' cried Mr Boffin. 'So she did. Ancoar!'

'No, not Ancoar, Noddy, my dear,' returned Mrs Boffin, 'because I
am going to say something else. I meant that, I am sure, as I much
as I still mean it. But this little death has made me ask myself the
question, seriously, whether I wasn't too bent upon pleasing
myself. Else why did I seek out so much for a pretty child, and a
child quite to my liking? Wanting to do good, why not do it for its
own sake, and put my tastes and likings by?'

'Perhaps,' said Bella; and perhaps she said it with some little
sensitiveness arising out of those old curious relations of hers
towards the murdered man; 'perhaps, in reviving the name, you
would not have liked to give it to a less interesting child than the
original. He interested you very much.'

'Well, my dear,' returned Mrs Boffin, giving her a squeeze, 'it's
kind of you to find that reason out, and I hope it may have been
so, and indeed to a certain extent I believe it was so, but I am
afraid not to the whole extent. However, that don't come in
question now, because we have done with the name.'

'Laid it up as a remembrance,' suggested Bella, musingly.

'Much better said, my dear; laid it up as a remembrance. Well
then; I have been thinking if I take any orphan to provide for, let it
not be a pet and a plaything for me, but a creature to be helped for
its own sake.'

'Not pretty then?' said Bella.

'No,' returned Mrs Boffin, stoutly.

'Nor prepossessing then?' said Bella.

'No,' returned Mrs Boffin. 'Not necessarily so. That's as it may
happen. A well-disposed boy comes in my way who may be even
a little wanting in such advantages for getting on in life, but is
honest and industrious and requires a helping hand and deserves
it. If I am very much in earnest and quite determined to be
unselfish, let me take care of HIM.'

Here the footman whose feelings had been hurt on the former
occasion, appeared, and crossing to Rokesmith apologetically
announced the objectionable Sloppy.

The four members of Council looked at one another, and paused.
'Shall he be brought here, ma'am?' asked Rokesmith.

'Yes,' said Mrs Boffin. Whereupon the footman disappeared,
reappeared presenting Sloppy, and retired much disgusted.

The consideration of Mrs Boffin had clothed Mr Sloppy in a suit
of black, on which the tailor had received personal directions from
Rokesmith to expend the utmost cunning of his art, with a view to
the concealment of the cohering and sustaining buttons. But, so
much more powerful were the frailties of Sloppy's form than the
strongest resources of tailoring science, that he now stood before
the Council, a perfect Argus in the way of buttons: shining and
winking and gleaming and twinkling out of a hundred of those
eyes of bright metal, at the dazzled spectators. The artistic taste
of some unknown hatter had furnished him with a hatband of
wholesale capacity which was fluted behind, from the crown of
his hat to the brim, and terminated in a black bunch, from which
the imagination shrunk discomfited and the reason revolted. Some
special powers with which his legs were endowed, had already
hitched up his glossy trousers at the ankles, and bagged them at
the knees; while similar gifts in his arms had raised his coat-
sleeves from his wrists and accumulated them at his elbows. Thus
set forth, with the additional embellishments of a very little tail to
his coat, and a yawning gulf at his waistband, Sloppy stood

'And how is Betty, my good fellow?' Mrs Boffin asked him.

'Thankee, mum,' said Sloppy, 'she do pretty nicely, and sending
her dooty and many thanks for the tea and all faviours and
wishing to know the family's healths.'

'Have you just come, Sloppy?'

'Yes, mum.'

'Then you have not had your dinner yet?'

'No, mum. But I mean to it. For I ain't forgotten your handsome
orders that I was never to go away without having had a good 'un
off of meat and beer and pudding--no: there was four of 'em, for I
reckoned 'em up when I had 'em; meat one, beer two, vegetables
three, and which was four?--Why, pudding, HE was four!' Here
Sloppy threw his head back, opened his mouth wide, and laughed

'How are the two poor little Minders?' asked Mrs Boffin.

'Striking right out, mum, and coming round beautiful.'

Mrs Boffin looked on the other three members of Council, and
then said, beckoning with her finger:


'Yes, mum.'

'Come forward, Sloppy. Should you like to dine here every day?'

'Off of all four on 'em, mum? O mum!' Sloppy's feelings obliged
him to squeeze his hat, and contract one leg at the knee.

'Yes. And should you like to be always taken care of here, if you
were industrious and deserving?'

'Oh, mum!--But there's Mrs Higden,' said Sloppy, checking himself
in his raptures, drawing back, and shaking his head with very
serious meaning. 'There's Mrs Higden. Mrs Higden goes before
all. None can ever be better friends to me than Mrs Higden's
been. And she must be turned for, must Mrs Higden. Where
would Mrs Higden be if she warn't turned for!' At the mere
thought of Mrs Higden in this inconceivable affliction, Mr
Sloppy's countenance became pale, and manifested the most
distressful emotions.

'You are as right as right can be, Sloppy,' said Mrs Boffin 'and far
be it from me to tell you otherwise. It shall be seen to. If Betty
Higden can be turned for all the same, you shall come here and be
taken care of for life, and be made able to keep her in other ways
than the turning.'

'Even as to that, mum,' answered the ecstatic Sloppy, 'the turning
might be done in the night, don't you see? I could be here in the
day, and turn in the night. I don't want no sleep, I don't. Or even
if I any ways should want a wink or two,' added Sloppy, after a
moment's apologetic reflection, 'I could take 'em turning. I've took
'em turning many a time, and enjoyed 'em wonderful!'

On the grateful impulse of the moment, Mr Sloppy kissed Mrs
Boffin's hand, and then detaching himself from that good creature
that he might have room enough for his feelings, threw back his
head, opened his mouth wide, and uttered a dismal howl. It was
creditable to his tenderness of heart, but suggested that he might
on occasion give some offence to the neighbours: the rather, as
the footman looked in, and begged pardon, finding he was not
wanted, but excused himself; on the ground 'that he thought it was

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