“I hope so,” returned the Secretary. He was quiet and respectful; but stood, as Bella thought (and was glad to think), on his manhood too.

“Now, sir,” said Mr. Boffin, “look at this young lady on my arm.”

Bella involuntarily raising her eyes, when this sudden reference was made to herself, met those of Mr. Rokesmith. He was pale and seemed agitated. Then her eyes passed on to Mrs. Boffin’s, and she met the look again. In a flash it enlightened her, and she began to understand what she had done.

“I say to you, sir,” Mr. Boffin repeated, “look at this young lady on my arm.”

“I do so,” returned the Secretary.

As his glance rested again on Bella for a moment, she thought there was reproach in it. But it is possible that the reproach was within herself.

“How dare you, sir,” said Mr. Boffin, “tamper, unknown to me, with this young lady? How dare you come out of your station, and your place in my house, to pester this young lady with your impudent addresses?”

“I must decline to answer questions,” said the Secretary, “that are so offensively asked.”

“You decline to answer?” retorted Mr. Boffin. “You decline to answer, do you? Then I’ll tell you what it is, Rokesmith; I’ll answer for you. There are two sides to this matter, and I’ll take ’em separately. The first side is, sheer Insolence. That’s the first side.”

The Secretary smiled with some bitterness, as though he would have said, “So I see and hear.”

“It was sheer Insolence in you, I tell you,” said Mr. Boffin, “even to think of this young lady. This young lady was far above you. This young lady was no match for you. This young lady was lying in wait (as she was qualified to do) for money, and you had no money.”

Bella hung her head and seemed to shrink a little from Mr. Boffin’s protecting arm.

“What are you, I should like to know,” pursued Mr. Boffin, “that you were to have the audacity to follow up this young lady? This young lady was looking about the market for a good bid; she wasn’t in it to be snapped up by fellows that had no money to lay out; nothing to buy with.”

“Oh, Mr. Boffin! Mrs. Boffin, pray say something for me!” murmured Bella, disengaging her arm, and covering her face with her hands.

“Old lady,” said Mr. Boffin, anticipating his wife, “you hold your tongue. Bella, my dear, don’t you let yourself be put out. I’ll right you.”

“But you don’t, you don’t right me!” exclaimed Bella, with great emphasis. “You wrong me, wrong me!”

“Don’t you be put out, my dear,” complacently retorted Mr. Boffin. “I’ll bring this young man to book. Now, you Rokesmith! You can’t decline to hear, you know, as well as to answer. You hear me tell you that the first side of your conduct was Insolence — Insolence and Presumption. Answer me one thing, if you can. Didn’t this young lady tell you so herself?”

“Did I, Mr. Rokesmith?” asked Bella with her face still covered. “O say, Mr. Rokesmith! Did I?”

“Don’t be distressed, Miss Wilfer; it matters very little now.”

“Ah! You can’t deny it, though!” said Mr. Boffin, with a knowing shake of his head.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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