The Complete Works of



Charles Dickens > Our Mutual Friend > Book 3 - 5

Our Mutual Friend

Book 3 - 5


Were Bella Wilfer's bright and ready little wits at fault, or was the
Golden Dustman passing through the furnace of proof and coming
out dross? Ill news travels fast. We shall know full soon.

On that very night of her return from the Happy Return, something
chanced which Bella closely followed with her eyes and ears.
There was an apartment at the side of the Boffin mansion, known
as Mr Boffin's room. Far less grand than the rest of the house, it
was far more comfortable, being pervaded by a certain air of
homely snugness, which upholstering despotism had banished to
that spot when it inexorably set its face against Mr Boffin's appeals
for mercy in behalf of any other chamber. Thus, although a room
of modest situation--for its windows gave on Silas Wegg's old
corner--and of no pretensions to velvet, satin, or gilding, it had got
itself established in a domestic position analogous to that of an
easy dressing-gown or pair of slippers; and whenever the family
wanted to enjoy a particularly pleasant fireside evening, they
enjoyed it, as an institution that must be, in Mr Boffin's room.

Mr and Mrs Boffin were reported sitting in this room, when Bella
got back. Entering it, she found the Secretary there too; in official
attendance it would appear, for he was standing with some papers
in his hand by a table with shaded candles on it, at which Mr
Boffin was seated thrown back in his easy chair.

'You are busy, sir,' said Bella, hesitating at the door.

'Not at all, my dear, not at all. You're one of ourselves. We never
make company of you. Come in, come in. Here's the old lady in
her usual place.'

Mrs Boffin adding her nod and smile of welcome to Mr Boffin's
words, Bella took her book to a chair in the fireside corner, by Mrs
Boffin's work-table. Mr Boffin's station was on the opposite side.

'Now, Rokesmith,' said the Golden Dustman, so sharply rapping
the table to bespeak his attention as Bella turned the leaves of her
book, that she started; 'where were we?'

'You were saying, sir,' returned the Secretary, with an air of some
reluctance and a glance towards those others who were present,
'that you considered the time had come for fixing my salary.'

'Don't be above calling it wages, man,' said Mr Boffin, testily.
'What the deuce! I never talked of any salary when I was in

'My wages,' said the Secretary, correcting himself.

'Rokesmith, you are not proud, I hope?' observed Mr Boffin, eyeing
him askance.

'I hope not, sir.'

'Because I never was, when I was poor,' said Mr Boffin. 'Poverty
and pride don't go at all well together. Mind that. How can they
go well together? Why it stands to reason. A man, being poor, has
nothing to be proud of. It's nonsense.'

With a slight inclination of his head, and a look of some surprise,
the Secretary seemed to assent by forming the syllables of the word
'nonsense' on his lips.

'Now, concerning these same wages,' said Mr Boffin. 'Sit down.'

The Secretary sat down.

'Why didn't you sit down before?' asked Mr Boffin, distrustfully. 'I
hope that wasn't pride? But about these wages. Now, I've gone
into the matter, and I say two hundred a year. What do you think
of it? Do you think it's enough?'

'Thank you. It is a fair proposal.'

'I don't say, you know,' Mr Boffin stipulated, 'but what it may be
more than enough. And I'll tell you why, Rokesmith. A man of
property, like me, is bound to consider the market-price. At first I
didn't enter into that as much as I might have done; but I've got
acquainted with other men of property since, and I've got
acquainted with the duties of property. I mustn't go putting the
market-price up, because money may happen not to be an object
with me. A sheep is worth so much in the market, and I ought to
give it and no more. A secretary is worth so much in the market,
and I ought to give it and no more. However, I don't mind
stretching a point with you.'

'Mr Boffin, you are very good,' replied the Secretary, with an effort.

'Then we put the figure,' said Mr Boffin, 'at two hundred a year.
Then the figure's disposed of. Now, there must be no
misunderstanding regarding what I buy for two hundred a year. If
I pay for a sheep, I buy it out and out. Similarly, if I pay for a
secretary, I buy HIM out and out.'

'In other words, you purchase my whole time?'

'Certainly I do. Look here,' said Mr Boffin, 'it ain't that I want to
occupy your whole time; you can take up a book for a minute or
two when you've nothing better to do, though I think you'll a'most
always find something useful to do. But I want to keep you in
attendance. It's convenient to have you at all times ready on the
premises. Therefore, betwixt your breakfast and your supper,--on
the premises I expect to find you.'

The Secretary bowed.

'In bygone days, when I was in service myself,' said Mr Boffin, 'I
couldn't go cutting about at my will and pleasure, and you won't
expect to go cutting about at your will and pleasure. You've rather
got into a habit of that, lately; but perhaps it was for want of a right
specification betwixt us. Now, let there be a right specification
betwixt us, and let it be this. If you want leave, ask for it.'

Again the Secretary bowed. His manner was uneasy and
astonished, and showed a sense of humiliation.

'I'll have a bell,' said Mr Boffin, 'hung from this room to yours, and
when I want you, I'll touch it. I don't call to mind that I have
anything more to say at the present moment.'

The Secretary rose, gathered up his papers, and withdrew. Bella's
eyes followed him to the door, lighted on Mr Boffin complacently
thrown back in his easy chair, and drooped over her book.

'I have let that chap, that young man of mine,' said Mr Boffin,
taking a trot up and down the room, get above his work. It won't
do. I must have him down a peg. A man of property owes a duty
to other men of property, and must look sharp after his inferiors.'

Bella felt that Mrs Boffin was not comfortable, and that the eyes of
that good creature sought to discover from her face what attention
she had given to this discourse, and what impression it had made
upon her. For which reason Bella's eyes drooped more engrossedly
over her book, and she turned the page with an air of profound
absorption in it.

'Noddy,' said Mrs Boffin, after thoughtfully pausing in her work.

'My dear,' returned the Golden Dustman, stopping short in his trot.

'Excuse my putting it to you, Noddy, but now really! Haven't you
been a little strict with Mr Rokesmith to-night? Haven't you been
a little--just a little little--not quite like your old self?'

'Why, old woman, I hope so,' returned Mr Boffin, cheerfully, if not

'Hope so, deary?'

'Our old selves wouldn't do here, old lady. Haven't you found that
out yet? Our old selves would be fit for nothing here but to be
robbed and imposed upon. Our old selves weren't people of
fortune; our new selves are; it's a great difference.'

'Ah!' said Mrs Boffin, pausing in her work again, softly to draw a
long breath and to look at the fire. 'A great difference.'

'And we must be up to the difference,' pursued her husband; 'we
must be equal to the change; that's what we must be. We've got to
hold our own now, against everybody (for everybody's hand is
stretched out to be dipped into our pockets), and we have got to
recollect that money makes money, as well as makes everything

'Mentioning recollecting,' said Mrs Boffin, with her work
abandoned, her eyes upon the fire, and her chin upon her hand, 'do
you recollect, Noddy, how you said to Mr Rokesmith when he first
came to see us at the Bower, and you engaged him--how you said
to him that if it had pleased Heaven to send John Harmon to his
fortune safe, we could have been content with the one Mound
which was our legacy, and should never have wanted the rest?'

'Ay, I remember, old lady. But we hadn't tried what it was to have
the rest then. Our new shoes had come home, but we hadn't put
'em on. We're wearing 'em now, we're wearing 'em, and must step
out accordingly.'

Mrs Boffin took up her work again, and plied her needle in silence.

'As to Rokesmith, that young man of mine,' said Mr Boffin,
dropping his voice and glancing towards the door with an
apprehension of being overheard by some eavesdropper there, 'it's
the same with him as with the footmen. I have found out that you
must either scrunch them, or let them scrunch you. If you ain't
imperious with 'em, they won't believe in your being any better
than themselves, if as good, after the stories (lies mostly) that they
have heard of your beginnings. There's nothing betwixt stiffening
yourself up, and throwing yourself away; take my word for that,
old lady.'

Bella ventured for a moment to look stealthily towards him under
her eyelashes, and she saw a dark cloud of suspicion,
covetousness, and conceit, overshadowing the once open face.

'Hows'ever,' said he, 'this isn't entertaining to Miss Bella. Is it,

A deceiving Bella she was, to look at him with that pensively
abstracted air, as if her mind were full of her book, and she had not
heard a single word!

'Hah! Better employed than to attend to it,' said Mr Boffin. 'That's
right, that's right. Especially as you have no call to be told how to
value yourself, my dear.'

Colouring a little under this compliment, Bella returned, 'I hope
sir, you don't think me vain?'

'Not a bit, my dear,' said Mr Boffin. 'But I think it's very creditable
in you, at your age, to be so well up with the pace of the world, and
to know what to go in for. You are right. Go in for money, my
love. Money's the article. You'll make money of your good looks,
and of the money Mrs Boffin and me will have the pleasure of
settling upon you, and you'll live and die rich. That's the state to
live and die in!' said Mr Boffin, in an unctuous manner. R--r--

There was an expression of distress in Mrs Boffin's face, as, after
watching her husband's, she turned to their adopted girl, and said:

'Don't mind him, Bella, my dear.'

'Eh?' cried Mr Boffin. 'What! Not mind him?'

'I don't mean that,' said Mrs Boffin, with a worried look, 'but I
mean, don't believe him to be anything but good and generous,
Bella, because he is the best of men. No, I must say that much,
Noddy. You are always the best of men.'

She made the declaration as if he were objecting to it: which
assuredly he was not in any way.

'And as to you, my dear Bella,' said Mrs Boffin, still with that
distressed expression, 'he is so much attached to you, whatever he
says, that your own father has not a truer interest in you and can
hardly like you better than he does.'

'Says too!' cried Mr Boffin. 'Whatever he says! Why, I say so,
openly. Give me a kiss, my dear child, in saying Good Night, and
let me confirm what my old lady tells you. I am very fond of you,
my dear, and I am entirely of your mind, and you and I will take
care that you shall be rich. These good looks of yours (which you
have some right to be vain of; my dear, though you are not, you
know) are worth money, and you shall make money of 'em. The
money you will have, will be worth money, and you shall make
money of that too. There's a golden ball at your feet. Good night,
my dear.'

Somehow, Bella was not so well pleased with this assurance and
this prospect as she might have been. Somehow, when she put her
arms round Mrs Boffin's neck and said Good Night, she derived a
sense of unworthiness from the still anxious face of that good
woman and her obvious wish to excuse her husband. 'Why, what
need to excuse him?' thought Bella, sitting down in her own room.
'What he said was very sensible, I am sure, and very true, I am
sure. It is only what I often say to myself. Don't I like it then? No,
I don't like it, and, though he is my liberal benefactor, I disparage
him for it. Then pray,' said Bella, sternly putting the question to
herself in the looking-glass as usual, 'what do you mean by this,
you inconsistent little Beast?'

The looking-glass preserving a discreet ministerial silence when
thus called upon for explanation, Bella went to bed with a
weariness upon her spirit which was more than the weariness of
want of sleep. And again in the morning, she looked for the cloud,
and for the deepening of the cloud, upon the Golden Dustman's

She had begun by this time to be his frequent companion in his
morning strolls about the streets, and it was at this time that he
made her a party to his engaging in a curious pursuit. Having been
hard at work in one dull enclosure all his life, he had a child's
delight in looking at shops. It had been one of the first novelties
and pleasures of his freedom, and was equally the delight of his
wife. For many years their only walks in London had been taken
on Sundays when the shops were shut; and when every day in the
week became their holiday, they derived an enjoyment from the
variety and fancy and beauty of the display in the windows, which
seemed incapable of exhaustion. As if the principal streets were a
great Theatre and the play were childishly new to them, Mr and
Mrs Boffin, from the beginning of Bella's intimacy in their house,
had been constantly in the front row, charmed with all they saw
and applauding vigorously. But now, Mr Boffin's interest began to
centre in book-shops; and more than that--for that of itself would
not have been much--in one exceptional kind of book.

'Look in here, my dear,' Mr Boffin would say, checking Bella's arm
at a bookseller's window; 'you can read at sight, and your eyes are
as sharp as they're bright. Now, look well about you, my dear, and
tell me if you see any book about a Miser.'

If Bella saw such a book, Mr Boffin would instantly dart in and
buy it. And still, as if they had not found it, they would seek out
another book-shop, and Mr Boffin would say, 'Now, look well all
round, my dear, for a Life of a Miser, or any book of that sort; any
Lives of odd characters who may have been Misers.'

Bella, thus directed, would examine the window with the greatest
attention, while Mr Boffin would examine her face. The moment
she pointed out any book as being entitled Lives of eccentric
personages, Anecdotes of strange characters, Records of
remarkable individuals, or anything to that purpose, Mr Boffin's
countenance would light up, and he would instantly dart in and
buy it. Size, price, quality, were of no account. Any book that
seemed to promise a chance of miserly biography, Mr Boffin
purchased without a moment's delay and carried home. Happening
to be informed by a bookseller that a portion of the Annual
Register was devoted to 'Characters', Mr Boffin at once bought a
whole set of that ingenious compilation, and began to carry it home
piecemeal, confiding a volume to Bella, and bearing three himself.
The completion of this labour occupied them about a fortnight.
When the task was done, Mr Boffin, with his appetite for Misers
whetted instead of satiated, began to look out again.

It very soon became unnecessary to tell Bella what to look for, and
an understanding was established between her and Mr Boffin that
she was always to look for Lives of Misers. Morning after
morning they roamed about the town together, pursuing this
singular research. Miserly literature not being abundant, the
proportion of failures to successes may have been as a hundred to
one; still Mr Boffin, never wearied, remained as avaricious for
misers as he had been at the first onset. It was curious that Bella
never saw the books about the house, nor did she ever hear from
Mr Boffin one word of reference to their contents. He seemed to
save up his Misers as they had saved up their money. As they had
been greedy for it, and secret about it, and had hidden it, so he was
greedy for them, and secret about them, and hid them. But beyond
all doubt it was to be noticed, and was by Bella very clearly
noticed, that, as he pursued the acquisition of those dismal records
with the ardour of Don Quixote for his books of chivalry, he began
to spend his money with a more sparing hand. And often when he
came out of a shop with some new account of one of those
wretched lunatics, she would almost shrink from the sly dry
chuckle with which he would take her arm again and trot away. It
did not appear that Mrs Boffin knew of this taste. He made no
allusion to it, except in the morning walks when he and Bella were
always alone; and Bella, partly under the impression that he took
her into his confidence by implication, and partly in remembrance
of Mrs Boffin's anxious face that night, held the same reserve.

While these occurrences were in progress, Mrs Lammle made the
discovery that Bella had a fascinating influence over her. The
Lammles, originally presented by the dear Veneerings, visited the
Boffins on all grand occasions, and Mrs Lammle had not
previously found this out; but now the knowledge came upon her
all at once. It was a most extraordinary thing (she said to Mrs
Boffin); she was foolishly susceptible of the power of beauty, but it
wasn't altogether that; she never had been able to resist a natural
grace of manner, but it wasn't altogether that; it was more than
that, and there was no name for the indescribable extent and degree
to which she was captivated by this charming girl.

This charming girl having the words repeated to her by Mrs Boffin
(who was proud of her being admired, and would have done
anything to give her pleasure), naturally recognized in Mrs
Lammle a woman of penetration and taste. Responding to the
sentiments, by being very gracious to Mrs Lammle, she gave that
lady the means of so improving her opportunity, as that the
captivation became reciprocal, though always wearing an
appearance of greater sobriety on Bella's part than on the
enthusiastic Sophronia's. Howbeit, they were so much together
that, for a time, the Boffin chariot held Mrs Lammle oftener than
Mrs Boffin: a preference of which the latter worthy soul was not in
the least jealous, placidly remarking, 'Mrs Lammle is a younger
companion for her than I am, and Lor! she's more fashionable.'

But between Bella Wilfer and Georgiana Podsnap there was this
one difference, among many others, that Bella was in no danger of
being captivated by Alfred. She distrusted and disliked him.
Indeed, her perception was so quick, and her observation so sharp,
that after all she mistrusted his wife too, though with her giddy
vanity and wilfulness she squeezed the mistrust away into a corner
of her mind, and blocked it up there.

Mrs Lammle took the friendliest interest in Bella's making a good
match. Mrs Lammle said, in a sportive way, she really must show
her beautiful Bella what kind of wealthy creatures she and Alfred
had on hand, who would as one man fall at her feet enslaved.
Fitting occasion made, Mrs Lammle accordingly produced the
most passable of those feverish, boastful, and indefinably loose
gentlemen who were always lounging in and out of the City on
questions of the Bourse and Greek and Spanish and India and
Mexican and par and premium and discount and three-quarters and
seven-eighths. Who in their agreeable manner did homage to
Bella as if she were a compound of fine girl, thorough-bred horse,
well-built drag, and remarkable pipe. But without the least effect,
though even Mr Fledgeby's attractions were cast into the scale.

'I fear, Bella dear,' said Mrs Lammle one day in the chariot, 'that
you will be very hard to please.'

'I don't expect to be pleased, dear,' said Bella, with a languid turn
of her eyes.

'Truly, my love,' returned Sophronia, shaking her head, and smiling
her best smile, 'it would not be very easy to find a man worthy of
your attractions.'

'The question is not a man, my dear,' said Bella, coolly, 'but an

'My love,' returned Mrs Lammle, 'your prudence amazes me--
where DID you study life so well!--you are right. In such a case as
yours, the object is a fitting establishment. You could not descend
to an inadequate one from Mr Boffin's house, and even if your
beauty alone could not command it, it is to be assumed that Mr and
Mrs Boffin will--'

'Oh! they have already,' Bella interposed.

'No! Have they really?'

A little vexed by a suspicion that she had spoken precipitately, and
withal a little defiant of her own vexation, Bella determined not to

'That is to say,' she explained, 'they have told me they mean to
portion me as their adopted child, if you mean that. But don't
mention it.'

'Mention it!' replied Mrs Lammle, as if she were full of awakened
feeling at the suggestion of such an impossibility. 'Men-tion it!'

'I don't mind telling you, Mrs Lammle--' Bella began again.

'My love, say Sophronia, or I must not say Bella.'

With a little short, petulant 'Oh!' Bella complied. 'Oh!--Sophronia
then--I don't mind telling you, Sophronia, that I am convinced I
have no heart, as people call it; and that I think that sort of thing is

'Brave girl!' murmured Mrs Lammle.

'And so,' pursued Bella, 'as to seeking to please myself, I don't;
except in the one respect I have mentioned. I am indifferent

'But you can't help pleasing, Bella,' said Mrs Lammle, rallying her
with an arch look and her best smile, 'you can't help making a
proud and an admiring husband. You may not care to please
yourself, and you may not care to please him, but you are not a free
agent as to pleasing: you are forced to do that, in spite of yourself,
my dear; so it may be a question whether you may not as well
please yourself too, if you can.'

Now, the very grossness of this flattery put Bella upon proving that
she actually did please in spite of herself. She had a misgiving that
she was doing wrong--though she had an indistinct foreshadowing
that some harm might come of it thereafter, she little thought what
consequences it would really bring about--but she went on with her

'Don't talk of pleasing in spite of one's self, dear,' said Bella. 'I
have had enough of that.'

'Ay?' cried Mrs Lammle. 'Am I already corroborated, Bella?'

'Never mind, Sophronia, we will not speak of it any more. Don't
ask me about it.'

This plainly meaning Do ask me about it, Mrs Lammle did as she
was requested.

'Tell me, Bella. Come, my dear. What provoking burr has been
inconveniently attracted to the charming skirts, and with difficulty
shaken off?'

'Provoking indeed,' said Bella, 'and no burr to boast of! But don't
ask me.'

'Shall I guess?'

'You would never guess. What would you say to our Secretary?'

'My dear! The hermit Secretary, who creeps up and down the back
stairs, and is never seen!'

'I don't know about his creeping up and down the back stairs,' said
Bella, rather contemptuously, 'further than knowing that he does no
such thing; and as to his never being seen, I should be content
never to have seen him, though he is quite as visible as you are.
But I pleased HIM (for my sins) and he had the presumption to tell
me so.'

'The man never made a declaration to you, my dear Bella!'

'Are you sure of that, Sophronia?' said Bella. 'I am not. In fact, I
am sure of the contrary.'

'The man must be mad,' said Mrs Lammle, with a kind of resignation.

'He appeared to be in his senses,' returned Bella, tossing her head,
'and he had plenty to say for himself. I told him my opinion of his
declaration and his conduct, and dismissed him. Of course this
has all been very inconvenient to me, and very disagreeable. It has
remained a secret, however. That word reminds me to observe,
Sophronia, that I have glided on into telling you the secret, and that
I rely upon you never to mention it.'

'Mention it!' repeated Mrs Lammle with her former feeling. 'Men-
tion it!'

This time Sophronia was so much in earnest that she found it
necessary to bend forward in the carriage and give Bella a kiss. A
Judas order of kiss; for she thought, while she yet pressed Bella's
hand after giving it, 'Upon your own showing, you vain heartless
girl, puffed up by the doting folly of a dustman, I need have no
relenting towards YOU. If my husband, who sends me here,
should form any schemes for making YOU a victim, I should
certainly not cross him again.' In those very same moments, Bella
was thinking, 'Why am I always at war with myself? Why have I
told, as if upon compulsion, what I knew all along I ought to have
withheld? Why am I making a friend of this woman beside me, in
spite of the whispers against her that I hear in my heart?'

As usual, there was no answer in the looking-glass when she got
home and referred these questions to it. Perhaps if she had
consulted some better oracle, the result might have been more
satisfactory; but she did not, and all things consequent marched the
march before them.

On one point connected with the watch she kept on Mr Boffin, she
felt very inquisitive, and that was the question whether the
Secretary watched him too, and followed the sure and steady
change in him, as she did? Her very limited intercourse with Mr
Rokesmith rendered this hard to find out. Their communication
now, at no time extended beyond the preservation of commonplace
appearances before Mr and Mrs Boffin; and if Bella and the
Secretary were ever left alone together by any chance, he
immediately withdrew. She consulted his face when she could do
so covertly, as she worked or read, and could make nothing of it.
He looked subdued; but he had acquired a strong command of
feature, and, whenever Mr Boffin spoke to him in Bella's presence,
or whatever revelation of himself Mr Boffin made, the Secretary's
face changed no more than a wall. A slightly knitted brow, that
expressed nothing but an almost mechanical attention, and a
compression of the mouth, that might have been a guard against a
scornful smile--these she saw from morning to night, from day to
day, from week to week, monotonous, unvarying, set, as in a piece
of sculpture.

The worst of the matter was, that it thus fell out insensibly--and
most provokingly, as Bella complained to herself, in her impetuous
little manner--that her observation of Mr Boffin involved a
continual observation of Mr Rokesmith. 'Won't THAT extract a
look from him?'--'Can it be possible THAT makes no impression
on him?' Such questions Bella would propose to herself, often as
many times in a day as there were hours in it. Impossible to know.
Always the same fixed face.

'Can he be so base as to sell his very nature for two hundred a
year?' Bella would think. And then, 'But why not? It's a mere
question of price with others besides him. I suppose I would sell
mine, if I could get enough for it.' And so she would come round
again to the war with herself.

A kind of illegibility, though a different kind, stole over Mr
Boffin's face. Its old simplicity of expression got masked by a
certain craftiness that assimilated even his good-humour to itself.
His very smile was cunning, as if he had been studying smiles
among the portraits of his misers. Saving an occasional burst of
impatience, or coarse assertion of his mastery, his good-humour
remained to him, but it had now a sordid alloy of distrust; and
though his eyes should twinkle and all his face should laugh, he
would sit holding himself in his own arms, as if he had an
inclination to hoard himself up, and must always grudgingly stand
on the defensive.

What with taking heed of these two faces, and what with feeling
conscious that the stealthy occupation must set some mark on her
own, Bella soon began to think that there was not a candid or a
natural face among them all but Mrs Boffin's. None the less
because it was far less radiant than of yore, faithfully reflecting in
its anxiety and regret every line of change in the Golden

'Rokesmith,' said Mr Boffin one evening when they were all in his
room again, and he and the Secretary had been going over some
accounts, 'I am spending too much money. Or leastways, you are
spending too much for me.'

'You are rich, sir.'

'I am not,' said Mr Boffin.

The sharpness of the retort was next to telling the Secretary that he
lied. But it brought no change of expression into the set face.

'I tell you I am not rich,' repeated Mr Boffin, 'and I won't have it.'

'You are not rich, sir?' repeated the Secretary, in measured words.

'Well,' returned Mr Boffin, 'if I am, that's my business. I am not
going to spend at this rate, to please you, or anybody. You
wouldn't like it, if it was your money.'

'Even in that impossible case, sir, I--'

'Hold your tongue!' said Mr Boffin. 'You oughtn't to like it in any
case. There! I didn't mean to he rude, but you put me out so, and
after all I'm master. I didn't intend to tell you to hold your tongue.
I beg your pardon. Don't hold your tongue. Only, don't contradict.
Did you ever come across the life of Mr Elwes?' referring to his
favourite subject at last.

'The miser?'

'Ah, people called him a miser. People are always calling other
people something. Did you ever read about him?'

'I think so.'

'He never owned to being rich, and yet he might have bought me
twice over. Did you ever hear of Daniel Dancer?'

'Another miser? Yes.'

'He was a good 'un,' said Mr Boffin, 'and he had a sister worthy of
him. They never called themselves rich neither. If they HAD
called themselves rich, most likely they wouldn't have been so.'

'They lived and died very miserably. Did they not, sir?'

'No, I don't know that they did,' said Mr Boffin, curtly.

'Then they are not the Misers I mean. Those abject wretches--'

'Don't call names, Rokesmith,' said Mr Boffin.

'--That exemplary brother and sister--lived and died in the foulest
and filthiest degradation.'

'They pleased themselves,' said Mr Boffin, 'and I suppose they
could have done no more if they had spent their money. But
however, I ain't going to fling mine away. Keep the expenses
down. The fact is, you ain't enough here, Rokesmith. It wants
constant attention in the littlest things. Some of us will be dying in
a workhouse next.'

'As the persons you have cited,' quietly remarked the Secretary,
'thought they would, if I remember, sir.'

'And very creditable in 'em too,' said Mr Boffin. 'Very independent
in 'em! But never mind them just now. Have you given notice to
quit your lodgings?'

'Under your direction, I have, sir.'

'Then I tell you what,' said Mr Boffin; 'pay the quarter's rent--pay
the quarter's rent, it'll be the cheapest thing in the end--and come
here at once, so that you may be always on the spot, day and night,
and keep the expenses down. You'll charge the quarter's rent to
me, and we must try and save it somewhere. You've got some
lovely furniture; haven't you?'

'The furniture in my rooms is my own.'

'Then we shan't have to buy any for you. In case you was to think
it,' said Mr Boffin, with a look of peculiar shrewdness, 'so
honourably independent in you as to make it a relief to your mind,
to make that furniture over to me in the light of a set-off against the
quarter's rent, why ease your mind, ease your mind. I don't ask it,
but I won't stand in your way if you should consider it due to
yourself. As to your room, choose any empty room at the top of the

'Any empty room will do for me,' said the Secretary.

'You can take your pick,' said Mr Boffin, 'and it'll be as good as
eight or ten shillings a week added to your income. I won't deduct
for it; I look to you to make it up handsomely by keeping the
expenses down. Now, if you'll show a light, I'll come to your
office-room and dispose of a letter or two.'

On that clear, generous face of Mrs Boffin's, Bella had seen such
traces of a pang at the heart while this dialogue was being held,
that she had not the courage to turn her eyes to it when they were
left alone. Feigning to be intent on her embroidery, she sat plying
her needle until her busy hand was stopped by Mrs Boffin's hand
being lightly laid upon it. Yielding to the touch, she felt her hand
carried to the good soul's lips, and felt a tear fall on it.

'Oh, my loved husband!' said Mrs Boffin. 'This is hard to see and
hear. But my dear Bella, believe me that in spite of all the change
in him, he is the best of men.'

He came back, at the moment when Bella had taken the hand
comfortingly between her own.

'Eh?' said he, mistrustfully looking in at the door. 'What's she
telling you?'

'She is only praising you, sir,' said Bella.

'Praising me? You are sure? Not blaming me for standing on my
own defence against a crew of plunderers, who could suck me dry
by driblets? Not blaming me for getting a little hoard together?'

He came up to them, and his wife folded her hands upon his
shoulder, and shook her head as she laid it on her hands.

'There, there, there!' urged Mr Boffin, not unkindly. 'Don't take on,
old lady.'

'But I can't bear to see you so, my dear.'

'Nonsense! Recollect we are not our old selves. Recollect, we
must scrunch or be scrunched. Recollect, we must hold our own.
Recollect, money makes money. Don't you be uneasy, Bella, my
child; don't you be doubtful. The more I save, the more you shall

Bella thought it was well for his wife that she was musing with her
affectionate face on his shoulder; for there was a cunning light in
his eyes as he said all this, which seemed to cast a disagreeable
illumination on the change in him, and make it morally uglier.

< Back
Forward >

Index Index

Other Authors Other Authors

Charles Dickens. Copyright © 2022,
Contact the webmaster
Disclaimer here. Privacy Policy here.