Sloppy had gradually expanded with his description into a stare and a vacant grin. He now contracted, being silent, into a half- repressed gush of tears, and, under pretence of being heated, drew the under part of his sleeve across his eyes with a singularly awkward, laborious, and roundabout smear.

“This is unfortunate,” said Rokesmith. “I must go and break it to Mrs Boffin. Stay you here, Sloppy.”

Sloppy stayed there, staring at the pattern of the paper on the wall, until the Secretary and Mrs Boffin came back together. And with Mrs Boffin was a young lady (Miss Bella Wilfer by name) who was better worth staring at, it occurred to Sloppy, than the best of wall-papering.

“Ah, my poor dear pretty little John Harmon!” exclaimed Mrs Boffin.

“Yes mum,” said the sympathetic Sloppy.

“You don’t think he is in a very, very bad way, do you?” asked the pleasant creature with her wholesome cordiality.

Put upon his good faith, and finding it in collision with his inclinations, Sloppy threw back his head and uttered a mellifluous howl, rounded off with a sniff.

“So bad as that!” cried Mrs Boffin. “And Betty Higden not to tell me of it sooner!”

“I think she might have been mistrustful, mum,” answered Sloppy, hesitating.

“Of what, for Heaven’s sake?”

“I think she might have been mistrustful, mum,” returned Sloppy with submission, “of standing in Our Johnny’s light. There’s so much trouble in illness, and so much expense, and she’s seen such a lot of its being objected to.”

“But she never can have thought,” said Mrs Boffin, “that I would grudge the dear child anything?”

“No mum, but she might have thought (as a habit-like) of its standing in Johnny’s light, and might have tried to bring him through it unbeknownst.”

Sloppy knew his ground well. To conceal herself in sickness, like a lower animal; to creep out of sight and coil herself away and die; had become this woman’s instinct. To catch up in her arms the sick child who was dear to her, and hide it as if it were a criminal, and keep off all ministration but such as her own ignorant tenderness and patience could supply, had become this woman’s idea of maternal love, fidelity, and duty. The shameful accounts we read, every week in the Christian year, my lords and gentlemen and honourable boards, the infamous records of small official inhumanity, do not pass by the people as they pass by us. And hence these irrational, blind, and obstinate prejudices, so astonishing to our magnificence, and having no more reason in them — God save the Queen and Con-found their politics — no, than smoke has in coming from fire!

“It’s not a right place for the poor child to stay in,” said Mrs Boffin. “Tell us, dear Mr Rokesmith, what to do for the best.”

He had already thought what to do, and the consultation was very short. He could pave the way, he said, in half an hour, and then they would go down to Brentford. “Pray take me,” said Bella. Therefore a carriage was ordered, of capacity to take them all, and in the meantime Sloppy was regaled, feasting alone in the Secretary’s room, with a complete realization of that fairy vision — meat, beer, vegetables, and pudding. In consequence of which his buttons became more importunate of public notice than before, with the exception of two or three about the region of the waistband, which modestly withdrew into a creasy retirement.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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