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. Boffins, 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 Ill tell you what it is, Rokesmith; Ill answer for you. There are two sides to this matter, and Ill take em separately. The first side is, sheer Insolence. Thats 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. Boffins 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 wasnt 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, dont you let yourself be put out. Ill right you.
But you dont, you dont right me! exclaimed Bella, with great emphasis. You wrong me, wrong me!
Dont you be put out, my dear, complacently retorted Mr. Boffin. Ill bring this young man to book. Now, you Rokesmith! You cant 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. Didnt this young lady tell you so herself?
Did I, Mr. Rokesmith? asked Bella with her face still covered. O say, Mr. Rokesmith! Did I?
Dont be distressed, Miss Wilfer; it matters very little now.
Ah! You cant deny it, though! said Mr. Boffin, with a knowing shake of his head.
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