'My youngest daughter, Lavinia,' said Mrs Wilfer, glad to make a diversion, as that young lady reappeared. 'Mr George Sampson, a friend of the family.'
The friend of the family was in that stage of tender passion which bound him to regard everybody else as the foe of the family. He put the round head of his cane in his mouth, like a stopper, when he sat down. As if he felt himself full to the throat with affronting sentiments. And he eyed the Boffins with implacable eyes.
'If you like to bring your sister with you when you come to stay with us,' said Mrs Boffin, 'of course we shall be glad. The better you please yourself, Miss Bella, the better you'll please us.'
'Oh, my consent is of no consequence at all, I suppose?' cried Miss Lavinia.
'Lavvy,' said her sister, in a low voice, 'have the goodness to be seen and not heard.'
'No, I won't,' replied the sharp Lavinia. 'I'm not a child, to be taken notice of by strangers.'
'You ARE a child.'
'I'm not a child, and I won't be taken notice of. "Bring your sister," indeed!'
'Lavinia!' said Mrs Wilfer. 'Hold! I will not allow you to utter in my presence the absurd suspicion that any strangers--I care not what their names--can patronize my child. Do you dare to suppose, you ridiculous girl, that Mr and Mrs Boffin would enter these doors upon a patronizing errand; or, if they did, would remain within them, only for one single instant, while your mother had the strength yet remaining in her vital frame to request them to depart? You little know your mother if you presume to think so.'
'It's all very fine,' Lavinia began to grumble, when Mrs Wilfer repeated:
'Hold! I will not allow this. Do you not know what is due to guests? Do you not comprehend that in presuming to hint that this lady and gentleman could have any idea of patronizing any member of your family--I care not which--you accuse them of an impertinence little less than insane?'
'Never mind me and Mrs Boffin, ma'am,' said Mr Boffin, smilingly: 'we don't care.'
'Pardon me, but I do,' returned Mrs Wilfer.
Miss Lavinia laughed a short laugh as she muttered, 'Yes, to be sure.'
'And I require my audacious child,' proceeded Mrs Wilfer, with a withering look at her youngest, on whom it had not the slightest effect, 'to please to be just to her sister Bella; to remember that her sister Bella is much sought after; and that when her sister Bella accepts an attention, she considers herself to be conferring qui-i-ite as much honour,'--this with an indignant shiver,--'as she receives.'
But, here Miss Bella repudiated, and said quietly, 'I can speak for myself; you know, ma. You needn't bring ME in, please.'
'And it's all very well aiming at others through convenient me,' said the irrepressible Lavinia, spitefully; 'but I should like to ask George Sampson what he says to it.'
'Mr Sampson,' proclaimed Mrs Wilfer, seeing that young gentleman take his stopper out, and so darkly fixing him with her eyes as that he put it in again: 'Mr Sampson, as a friend of this family and a frequenter of this house, is, I am persuaded, far too well-bred to interpose on such an invitation.'
This exaltation of the young gentleman moved the conscientious Mrs Boffin to repentance for having done him an injustice in her mind, and consequently to saying that she and Mr Boffin would at any time be glad to see him; an attention which he handsomely acknowledged by replying, with his stopper unremoved, 'Much obliged to you, but I'm always engaged, day and night.'
However, Bella compensating for all drawbacks by responding to the advances of the Boffins in an engaging way, that easy pair were on the whole well satisfied, and proposed to the said Bella that as soon as they should be in a condition to receive her in a manner suitable to their desires, Mrs Boffin should return with notice of the fact. This arrangement Mrs Wilfer sanctioned with a stately inclination of her head and wave of her gloves, as who should say, 'Your demerits shall be overlooked, and you shall be mercifully gratified, poor people.'
'By-the-bye, ma'am,' said Mr Boffin, turning back as he was going, 'you have a lodger?'
'A gentleman,' Mrs Wilfer answered, qualifying the low expression, 'undoubtedly occupies our first floor.'
'I may call him Our Mutual Friend,' said Mr Boffin.