(“My dear,” observed her husband in parenthesis, “why not?”)

“The gentleman certainly is a Jew,” said Lizzie, “and the lady, his wife, is a Jewess, and I was first brought to their notice by a Jew. But I think there cannot be kinder people in the world.”

“But suppose they try to convert you!” suggested Mrs. Milvey, bristling in her good little way, as a clergyman’s wife.

“To do what, ma’am?” asked Lizzie, with a modest smile.

“To make you change your religion,” said Mrs. Milvey.

Lizzie shook her head, still smiling. “They have never asked me what my religion is. They asked me what my story was, and I told them. They asked me to be industrious and faithful, and I promised to be so. They most willingly and cheerfully do their duty to all of us who are employed here, and we try to do ours to them. Indeed they do much more than their duty to us, for they are wonderfully mindful of us in many ways.”

“It is easy to see you’re a favourite, my dear,” said little Mrs. Milvey, not quite pleased.

“It would be very ungrateful in me to say I am not,” returned Lizzie, “for I have been already raised to a place of confidence here. But that makes no difference in their following their own religion and leaving all of us to ours. They never talk of theirs to us, and they never talk of ours to us. If I was the last in the mill, it would be just the same. They never asked me what religion that poor thing had followed.”

“My dear,” said Mrs. Milvey, aside to the Reverend Frank, “I wish you would talk to her.”

“My dear,” said the Reverend Frank aside to his good little wife, “I think I will leave it to somebody else. The circumstances are hardly favourable. There are plenty of talkers going about, my love, and she will soon find one.”

While this discourse was interchanging, both Bella and the Secretary observed Lizzie Hexam with great attention. Brought face to face for the first time with the daughter of his supposed murderer, it was natural that John Harmon should have his own secret reasons for a careful scrutiny of her countenance and manner. Bella knew that Lizzie’s father had been falsely accused of the crime which had had so great an influence on her own life and fortunes; and her interest, though it had no secret springs, like that of the Secretary, was equally natural. Both had expected to see something very different from the real Lizzie Hexam, and thus it fell out that she became the unconscious means of bringing them together.

For, when they had walked on with her to the little house in the clean village by the paper-mill, where Lizzie had a lodging with an elderly couple employed in the establishment, and when Mrs. Milvey and Bella had been up to see her room and had come down, the mill bell rang. This called Lizzie away for the time, and left the Secretary and Bella standing rather awkwardly in the small street; Mrs. Milvey being engaged in pursuing the village children, and her investigations whether they were in danger of becoming children of Israel; and the Reverend Frank being engaged — to say the truth — in evading that branch of his spiritual functions, and getting out of sight surreptitiously.

Bella at length said:

“Hadn’t we better talk about the commission we have undertaken, Mr. Rokesmith?”

“By all means,” said the Secretary.

“I suppose,” faltered Bella, “that we are both commissioned, or we shouldn’t both be here?”

“I suppose so,” was the Secretary’s answer.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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