'What sort of a fellow IS Our Mutual Friend, now? Do you like him?'
'Mr Rokesmith is very punctual, very quiet, a very eligible inmate.'
'Because,' Mr Boffin explained, 'you must know that I'm not particularly well acquainted with Our Mutual Friend, for I have only seen him once. You give a good account of him. Is he at home?'
'Mr Rokesmith is at home,' said Mrs Wilfer; 'indeed,' pointing through the window, 'there he stands at the garden gate. Waiting for you, perhaps?'
'Perhaps so,' replied Mr Boffin. 'Saw me come in, maybe.'
Bella had closely attended to this short dialogue. Accompanying Mrs Boffin to the gate, she as closely watched what followed.
'How are you, sir, how are you?' said Mr Boffin. 'This is Mrs Boffin. Mr Rokesmith, that I told you of; my dear.'
She gave him good day, and he bestirred himself and helped her to her seat, and the like, with a ready hand.
'Good-bye for the present, Miss Bella,' said Mrs Boffin, calling out a hearty parting. 'We shall meet again soon! And then I hope I shall have my little John Harmon to show you.'
Mr Rokesmith, who was at the wheel adjusting the skirts of her dress, suddenly looked behind him, and around him, and then looked up at her, with a face so pale that Mrs Boffin cried:
'Gracious!' And after a moment, 'What's the matter, sir?'
'How can you show her the Dead?' returned Mr Rokesmith.
'It's only an adopted child. One I have told her of. One I'm going to give the name to!'
'You took me by surprise,' said Mr Rokesmith, 'and it sounded like an omen, that you should speak of showing the Dead to one so young and blooming.'
Now, Bella suspected by this time that Mr Rokesmith admired her. Whether the knowledge (for it was rather that than suspicion) caused her to incline to him a little more, or a little less, than she had done at first; whether it rendered her eager to find out more about him, because she sought to establish reason for her distrust, or because she sought to free him from it; was as yet dark to her own heart. But at most times he occupied a great amount of her attention, and she had set her attention closely on this incident.
That he knew it as well as she, she knew as well as he, when they were left together standing on the path by the garden gate.
'Those are worthy people, Miss Wilfer.'
'Do you know them well?' asked Bella.
He smiled, reproaching her, and she coloured, reproaching herself --both, with the knowledge that she had meant to entrap him into an answer not true--when he said 'I know OF them.'
'Truly, he told us he had seen you but once.'
'Truly, I supposed he did.'
Bella was nervous now, and would have been glad to recall her question.
'You thought it strange that, feeling much interested in you, I should start at what sounded like a proposal to bring you into contact with the murdered man who lies in his grave. I might have known--of course in a moment should have known--that it could not have that meaning. But my interest remains.'
Re-entering the family-room in a meditative state, Miss Bella was received by the irrepressible Lavinia with:
'There, Bella! At last I hope you have got your wishes realized--by your Boffins. You'll be rich enough now--with your Boffins. You can have as much flirting as you like--at your Boffins. But you won't take ME to your Boffins, I can tell you--you and your Boffins too!'
'If,' quoth Mr George Sampson, moodily pulling his stopper out, 'Miss Bella's Mr Boffin comes any more of his nonsense to ME, I only wish him to understand, as betwixt man and man, that he does it at his per--' and was going to say peril; but Miss Lavinia, having no confidence in his mental powers, and feeling his oration to have no definite application to any circumstances, jerked his stopper in again, with a sharpness that made his eyes water.
And now the worthy Mrs Wilfer, having used her youngest daughter as a lay-figure for the edification of these Boffins, became bland to her, and proceeded to develop her last instance of force of character, which was still in reserve.