“Father or mother alive?”


“And the rest of your relations?”

“Dead — if I ever had any living. I never heard of any.”

At this point of the dialogue Bella came in with a light step. She paused at the door a moment, hesitating whether to remain or retire; perplexed by finding that she was not observed.

“Now, don’t mind an old lady’s talk,” said Mrs Boffin, “but tell me. Are you quite sure, Mr Rokesmith, that you have never had a disappointment in love?”

“Quite sure. Why do you ask me?”

“Why, for this reason. Sometimes you have a kind of kept-down manner with you, which is not like your age. You can’t be thirty?”

“I am not yet thirty.”

Deeming it high time to make her presence known, Bella coughed here to attract attention, begged pardon, and said she would go, fearing that she interrupted some matter of business.

“No, don’t go,” rejoined Mrs Boffin, “because we are coming to business, instead of having begun it, and you belong to it as much now, my dear Bella, as I do. But I want my Noddy to consult with us. Would somebody be so good as find my Noddy for me?”

Rokesmith departed on that errand, and presently returned accompanied by Mr Boffin at his jog-trot. Bella felt a little vague trepidation as to the subject-matter of this same consultation, until Mrs Boffin announced it.

“Now, you come and sit by me, my dear,” said that worthy soul, taking her comfortable place on a large ottoman in the centre of the room, and drawing her arm through Bella’s; “and Noddy, you sit here, and Mr Rokesmith you sit there. Now, you see, what I want to talk about, is this. Mr and Mrs Milvey have sent me the kindest note possible (which Mr Rokesmith just now read to me out aloud, for I ain’t good at handwritings), offering to find me another little child to name and educate and bring up. Well. This has set me thinking.”

(“And she is a steam-ingein at it,” murmured Mr Boffin, in an admiring parenthesis, “when she once begins. It mayn’t be so easy to start her; but once started, she’s a ingein.”)

“ — This has set me thinking, I say,” repeated Mrs Boffin, cordially beaming under the influence of her husband’s compliment, “and I have thought two things. First of all, that I have grown timid of reviving John Harmon’s name. It’s an unfortunate name, and I fancy I should reproach myself if I gave it to another dear child, and it proved again unlucky.”

“Now, whether,” said Mr Boffin, gravely propounding a case for his Secretary’s opinion; “whether one might call that a superstition?”

“It is a matter of feeling with Mrs Boffin,” said Rokesmith, gently. “The name has always been unfortunate. It has now this new unfortunate association connected with it. The name has died out. Why revive it? Might I ask Miss Wilfer what she thinks?”

“It has not been a fortunate name for me,” said Bella, colouring — “or at least it was not, until it led to my being here — but that is not the point in my thoughts. As we had given the name to the poor child,

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