“I don’t say, you know,” Mr. Boffin stipulated, “but what it may be more than enough. And I’ll tell you why, Rokesmith. A man of property, like me, is bound to consider the market-price. At first I didn’t enter into that as much as I might have done; but I’ve got acquainted with other men of property since, and I’ve got acquainted with the duties of property. I mustn’t go putting the market-price up, because money may happen not to be an object with me. A sheep is worth so much in the market, and I ought to give it and no more. A secretary is worth so much in the market, and I ought to give it and no more. However, I don’t mind stretching a point with you.”

“Mr. Boffin, you are very good,” replied the Secretary, with an effort.

“Then we put the figure,” said Mr. Boffin, “at two hundred a year. Then the figure’s disposed of. Now, there must be no misunderstanding regarding what I buy for two hundred a year. If I pay for a sheep, I buy it out and out. Similarly, if I pay for a secretary, I buy him out and out.”

“In other words, you purchase my whole time?”

“Certainly I do. Look here,” said Mr. Boffin, “it ain’t that I want to occupy your whole time; you can take up a book for a minute or two when you’ve nothing better to do, though I think you’ll a’most always find something useful to do. But I want to keep you in attendance. It’s convenient to have you at all times ready on the premises. Therefore, betwixt your breakfast and your supper, — on the premises I expect to find you.”

The Secretary bowed.

“In bygone days, when I was in service myself,” said Mr. Boffin, “I couldn’t go cutting about at my will and pleasure, and you won’t expect to go cutting about at your will and pleasure. You’ve rather got into a habit of that, lately; but perhaps it was for want of a right specification betwixt us. Now, let there be a right specification betwixt us, and let it be this. If you want leave, ask for it.”

Again the Secretary bowed. His manner was uneasy and astonished, and showed a sense of humiliation.

“I’ll have a bell,” said Mr. Boffin, “hung from this room to yours, and when I want you, I’ll touch it. I don’t call to mind that I have anything more to say at the present moment.”

The Secretary rose, gathered up his papers, and withdrew. Bella’s eyes followed him to the door, lighted on Mr. Boffin complacently thrown back in his easy chair, and drooped over her book.

“I have let that chap, that young man of mine,” said Mr. Boffin, taking a trot up and down the room, “get above his work. It won’t do. I must have him down a peg. A man of property owes a duty to other men of property, and must look sharp after his inferiors.”

Bella felt that Mrs. Boffin was not comfortable, and that the eyes of that good creature sought to discover from her face what attention she had given to this discourse, and what impression it had made upon her. For which reason Bella’s eyes drooped more engrossedly over her book, and she turned the page with an air of profound absorption in it.

“Noddy,” said Mrs. Boffin, after thoughtfully pausing in her work.

“My dear,” returned the Golden Dustman, stopping short in his trot.

“Excuse my putting it to you, Noddy, but now really! Haven’t you been a little strict with Mr. Rokesmith to-night? Haven’t you been a little — just a little little — not quite like your old self?”

“Why, old woman, I hope so,” returned Mr. Boffin, cheerfully, if not boastfully.

“Hope so, deary?”

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