But his words came easily, and his voice was agreeable in tone, albeit constrained.
'When I add, I can discern for myself what the general tongue says of you--that you are quite unspoiled by Fortune, and not uplifted--I trust you will not, as a man of an open nature, suspect that I mean to flatter you, but will believe that all I mean is to excuse myself, these being my only excuses for my present intrusion.'
('How much?' thought Mr Boffin. 'It must be coming to money. How much?')
'You will probably change your manner of living, Mr Boffin, in your changed circumstances. You will probably keep a larger house, have many matters to arrange, and be beset by numbers of correspondents. If you would try me as your Secretary--'
'As WHAT?' cried Mr Boffin, with his eyes wide open.
'Well,' said Mr Boffin, under his breath, 'that's a queer thing!'
'Or,' pursued the stranger, wondering at Mr Boffin's wonder, 'if you would try me as your man of business under any name, I know you would find me faithful and grateful, and I hope you would find me useful. You may naturally think that my immediate object is money. Not so, for I would willingly serve you a year--two years-- any term you might appoint--before that should begin to be a consideration between us.'
'Where do you come from?' asked Mr Boffin.
'I come,' returned the other, meeting his eye, 'from many countries.'
Boffin's acquaintances with the names and situations of foreign lands being limited in extent and somewhat confused in quality, he shaped his next question on an elastic model.
'From--any particular place?'
'I have been in many places.'
'What have you been?' asked Mr Boffin.
Here again he made no great advance, for the reply was, 'I have been a student and a traveller.'
'But if it ain't a liberty to plump it out,' said Mr Boffin, 'what do you do for your living?'
'I have mentioned,' returned the other, with another look at him, and a smile, 'what I aspire to do. I have been superseded as to some slight intentions I had, and I may say that I have now to begin life.'
Not very well knowing how to get rid of this applicant, and feeling the more embarrassed because his manner and appearance claimed a delicacy in which the worthy Mr Boffin feared he himself might be deficient, that gentleman glanced into the mouldy little plantation or cat-preserve, of Clifford's Inn, as it was that day, in search of a suggestion. Sparrows were there, cats were there, dry-rot and wet-rot were there, but it was not otherwise a suggestive spot.
'All this time,' said the stranger, producing a little pocket-book and taking out a card, 'I have not mentioned my name. My name is Rokesmith. I lodge at one Mr Wilfer's, at Holloway.'
Mr Boffin stared again.
'Father of Miss Bella Wilfer?' said he.
'My landlord has a daughter named Bella. Yes; no doubt.'
Now, this name had been more or less in Mr Boffin's thoughts all the morning, and for days before; therefore he said:
'That's singular, too!' unconsciously staring again, past all bounds of good manners, with the card in his hand. 'Though, by-the-bye, I suppose it was one of that family that pinted me out?'
'No. I have never been in the streets with one of them.'
'Heard me talked of among 'em, though?'
'No. I occupy my own rooms, and have held scarcely any communication with them.'
'Odder and odder!' said Mr Boffin. 'Well, sir, to tell you the truth, I don't know what to say to you.'
'Say nothing,' returned Mr Rokesmith; 'allow me to call on you in a few days. I am not so unconscionable as to think it likely that you would accept me on trust at first sight, and take me out of the very street. Let me come to you for your further opinion, at your leisure.'
'That's fair, and I don't object,' said Mr Boffin; 'but it must be on condition that it's fully understood that I no more know that I shall ever be in want of any gentleman as Secretary--it WAS Secretary you said; wasn't it?'
Again Mr Boffin's eyes opened wide, and he stared at the applicant from head to foot, repeating 'Queer!--You're sure it was Secretary? Are you?'
'I am sure I said so.'
--'As Secretary,' repeated Mr Boffin, meditating upon the word; 'I no more know that I may ever want a Secretary, or what not, than I do that I shall ever be in want of the man in the moon.