''Twere unjust to visit upon Mr and Mrs Boffin, a calamity which was doubtless a dispensation.' These words were rendered the more effective by a serenely heroic expression of suffering.
'That's fairly meant, I am sure,' remarked the honest Mr Boffin; 'Mrs Boffin and me, ma'am, are plain people, and we don't want to pretend to anything, nor yet to go round and round at anything because there's always a straight way to everything. Consequently, we make this call to say, that we shall be glad to have the honour and pleasure of your daughter's acquaintance, and that we shall be rejoiced if your daughter will come to consider our house in the light of her home equally with this. In short, we want to cheer your daughter, and to give her the opportunity of sharing such pleasures as we are a going to take ourselves. We want to brisk her up, and brisk her about, and give her a change.'
'That's it!' said the open-hearted Mrs Boffin. 'Lor! Let's be comfortable.'
Mrs Wilfer bent her head in a distant manner to her lady visitor, and with majestic monotony replied to the gentleman:
'Pardon me. I have several daughters. Which of my daughters am I to understand is thus favoured by the kind intentions of Mr Boffin and his lady?'
'Don't you see?' the ever-smiling Mrs Boffin put in. 'Naturally, Miss Bella, you know.'
'Oh-h!' said Mrs Wilfer, with a severely unconvinced look. 'My daughter Bella is accessible and shall speak for herself.' Then opening the door a little way, simultaneously with a sound of scuttling outside it, the good lady made the proclamation, 'Send Miss Bella to me!' which proclamation, though grandly formal, and one might almost say heraldic, to hear, was in fact enunciated with her maternal eyes reproachfully glaring on that young lady in the flesh--and in so much of it that she was retiring with difficulty into the small closet under the stairs, apprehensive of the emergence of Mr and Mrs Boffin.
'The avocations of R. W., my husband,' Mrs Wilfer explained, on resuming her seat, 'keep him fully engaged in the City at this time of the day, or he would have had the honour of participating in your reception beneath our humble roof.'
'Very pleasant premises!' said Mr Boffin, cheerfully.
'Pardon me, sir,' returned Mrs Wilfer, correcting him, 'it is the abode of conscious though independent Poverty.'
Finding it rather difficult to pursue the conversation down this road, Mr and Mrs Boffin sat staring at mid-air, and Mrs Wilfer sat silently giving them to understand that every breath she drew required to be drawn with a self-denial rarely paralleled in history, until Miss Bella appeared: whom Mrs Wilfer presented, and to whom she explained the purpose of the visitors.
'I am much obliged to you, I am sure,' said Miss Bella, coldly shaking her curls, 'but I doubt if I have the inclination to go out at all.'
'Bella!' Mrs Wilfer admonished her; 'Bella, you must conquer this.'
'Yes, do what your Ma says, and conquer it, my dear,' urged Mrs Boffin, 'because we shall be so glad to have you, and because you are much too pretty to keep yourself shut up.' With that, the pleasant creature gave her a kiss, and patted her on her dimpled shoulders; Mrs Wilfer sitting stiffly by, like a functionary presiding over an interview previous to an execution.
'We are going to move into a nice house,' said Mrs Boffin, who was woman enough to compromise Mr Boffin on that point, when he couldn't very well contest it; 'and we are going to set up a nice carriage, and we'll go everywhere and see everything. And you mustn't,' seating Bella beside her, and patting her hand, 'you mustn't feel a dislike to us to begin with, because we couldn't help it, you know, my dear.'
With the natural tendency of youth to yield to candour and sweet temper, Miss Bella was so touched by the simplicity of this address that she frankly returned Mrs Boffin's kiss. Not at all to the satisfaction of that good woman of the world, her mother, who sought to hold the advantageous ground of obliging the Boffins instead of being obliged.