The Golden Dustman at his Worst

THE breakfast table at Mr. Boffin’s was usually a very pleasant one, and was always presided over by Bella. As though he began each new day in his healthy natural character, and some waking hours were necessary to his relapse into the corrupting influences of his wealth, the face and the demeanour of the Golden Dustman were generally unclouded at that meal. It would have been easy to believe then, that there was no change in him. It was as the day went on that the clouds gathered, and the brightness of the morning became obscured. One might have said that the shadows of avarice and distrust lengthened as his own shadow lengthened, and that the night closed around him gradually.

But, one morning long afterwards to be remembered, it was black midnight with the Golden Dustman when he first appeared. His altered character had never been so grossly marked. His bearing towards his Secretary was so charged with insolent distrust and arrogance, that the latter rose and left the table before breakfast was half done. The look he directed at the Secretary’s retiring figure was so cunningly malignant, that Bella would have sat astounded and indignant, even though he had not gone the length of secretly threatening Rokesmith with his clenched fist as he closed the door. This unlucky morning, of all mornings in the year, was the morning next after Mr. Boffin’s interview with Mrs. Lammle in her little carriage.

Bella looked to Mrs. Boffin’s face for comment on, or explanation of, this stormy humour in her husband, but none was there. An anxious and a distressed observation of her own face was all she could read in it. When they were left alone together — which was not until noon, for Mr. Boffin sat long in his easy- chair, by turns jogging up and down the breakfast-room, clenching his fist and muttering — Bella, in consternation, asked her what had happened, what was wrong? “I am forbidden to speak to you about it, Bella dear; I mustn’t tell you,” was all the answer she could get. And still, whenever, in her wonder and dismay, she raised her eyes to Mrs. Boffin’s face, she saw in it the same anxious and distressed observation of her own.

Oppressed by her sense that trouble was impending, and lost in speculations why Mrs. Boffin should look at her as if she had any part in it, Bella found the day long and dreary. It was far on in the afternoon when, she being in her own room, a servant brought her a message from Mr. Boffin begging her to come to his.

Mrs. Boffin was there, seated on a sofa, and Mr. Boffin was jogging up and down. On seeing Bella he stopped, beckoned her to him, and drew her arm through his. “Don’t be alarmed, my dear,” he said, gently; “I am not angry with you. Why you actually tremble! Don’t be alarmed, Bella my dear. I’ll see you righted.”

“See me righted?” thought Bella. And then repeated aloud in a tone of astonishment: “see me righted, sir?”

“Ay, ay!” said Mr. Boffin. “See you righted. Send Mr. Rokesmith here, you sir.”

Bella would have been lost in perplexity if there had been pause enough; but the servant found Mr. Rokesmith near at hand, and he almost immediately presented himself.

“Shut the door, sir!” said Mr. Boffin. “I have got something to say to you which I fancy you’ll not be pleased to hear.”

“I am sorry to reply, Mr. Boffin,” returned the Secretary, as, having closed the door, he turned and faced him, “that I think that very likely.”

“What do you mean?” blustered Mr. Boffin.

“I mean that it has become no novelty to me to hear from your lips what I would rather not hear.”

“Oh! Perhaps we shall change that,” said Mr. Boffin with a threatening roll of his head.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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