'Ye-es,' returned Eugene, disparagingly, 'they work; but don't you think they overdo it? They work so much more than they need-- they make so much more than they can eat--they are so incessantly boring and buzzing at their one idea till Death comes upon them-- that don't you think they overdo it? And are human labourers to have no holidays, because of the bees? And am I never to have change of air, because the bees don't? Mr Boffin, I think honey excellent at breakfast; but, regarded in the light of my conventional schoolmaster and moralist, I protest against the tyrannical humbug of your friend the bee. With the highest respect for you.'
'Thankee,' said Mr Boffin. 'Morning, morning!'
But, the worthy Mr Boffin jogged away with a comfortless impression he could have dispensed with, that there was a deal of unsatisfactoriness in the world, besides what he had recalled as appertaining to the Harmon property. And he was still jogging along Fleet Street in this condition of mind, when he became aware that he was closely tracked and observed by a man of genteel appearance.
'Now then?' said Mr Boffin, stopping short, with his meditations brought to an abrupt check, 'what's the next article?'
'I beg your pardon, Mr Boffin.'
'My name too, eh? How did you come by it? I don't know you.'
'No, sir, you don't know me.'
Mr Boffin looked full at the man, and the man looked full at him.
'No,' said Mr Boffin, after a glance at the pavement, as if it were made of faces and he were trying to match the man's, 'I DON'T know you.'
'I am nobody,' said the stranger, 'and not likely to be known; but Mr Boffin's wealth--'
'Oh! that's got about already, has it?' muttered Mr Boffin.
'--And his romantic manner of acquiring it, make him conspicuous. You were pointed out to me the other day.'
'Well,' said Mr Boffin, 'I should say I was a disappintment to you when I WAS pinted out, if your politeness would allow you to confess it, for I am well aware I am not much to look at. What might you want with me? Not in the law, are you?'
'No information to give, for a reward?'
There may have been a momentary mantling in the face of the man as he made the last answer, but it passed directly.
'If I don't mistake, you have followed me from my lawyer's and tried to fix my attention. Say out! Have you? Or haven't you?' demanded Mr Boffin, rather angry.
'Why have you?'
'If you will allow me to walk beside you, Mr Boffin, I will tell you. Would you object to turn aside into this place--I think it is called Clifford's Inn--where we can hear one another better than in the roaring street?'
('Now,' thought Mr Boffin, 'if he proposes a game at skittles, or meets a country gentleman just come into property, or produces any article of jewellery he has found, I'll knock him down!' With this discreet reflection, and carrying his stick in his arms much as Punch carries his, Mr Boffin turned into Clifford's Inn aforesaid.)
'Mr Boffin, I happened to be in Chancery Lane this morning, when I saw you going along before me. I took the liberty of following you, trying to make up my mind to speak to you, till you went into your lawyer's. Then I waited outside till you came out.'
('Don't quite sound like skittles, nor yet country gentleman, nor yet jewellery,' thought Mr Boffin, 'but there's no knowing.')
'I am afraid my object is a bold one, I am afraid it has little of the usual practical world about it, but I venture it. If you ask me, or if you ask yourself--which is more likely--what emboldens me, I answer, I have been strongly assured, that you are a man of rectitude and plain dealing, with the soundest of sound hearts, and that you are blessed in a wife distinguished by the same qualities.'
'Your information is true of Mrs Boffin, anyhow,' was Mr Boffin's answer, as he surveyed his new friend again. There was something repressed in the strange man's manner, and he walked with his eyes on the ground--though conscious, for all that, of Mr Boffin's observation--and he spoke in a subdued voice.