“My darling, it’s almost time you went, but I must ask you to excuse me to him altogether.”

“You never mean, John dear, that you are not going to see him? Why, he knows you have come home. I told him so.”

“That’s a little unfortunate, but it can’t be helped. Unfortunate or fortunate, I positively cannot see him, my love.”

Bella cast about in her mind what could be his reason for this unaccountable behaviour, as she sat on his knee looking at him in astonishment and pouting a little. A weak reason presented itself.

“John dear, you never can be jealous of Mr. Lightwood?”

“Why, my precious child,” returned her husband, laughing outright: “how could I be jealous of him? Why should I be jealous of him?”

“Because, you know, John,” pursued Bella, pouting a little more, “though he did rather admire me once, it was not my fault.”

“It was your fault that I admired you,” returned her husband, with a look of pride in her, “and why not your fault that he admired you? But, I jealous on that account? Why, I must go distracted for life, if I turned jealous of every one who used to find my wife beautiful and winning!”

“I am half angry with you, John dear,” said Bella, laughing a little, “and half pleased with you; because you are such a stupid old fellow, and yet you say nice things, as if you meant them. Don’t be mysterious, sir. What harm do you know of Mr. Lightwood?”

“None, my love.”

“What has he ever done to you, John?”

“He has never done anything to me, my dear. I know no more against him than I know against Mr. Wrayburn; he has never done anything to me; neither has Mr. Wrayburn. And yet I have exactly the same objection to both of them.”

“Oh, John!” retorted Bella, as if she were giving him up for a bad job, as she used to give up herself. “You are nothing better than a sphinx! And a married sphinx isn’t a — isn’t a nice confidential husband,” said Bella, in a tone of injury.

“Bella, my life,” said John Rokesmith, touching her cheek, with a grave smile, as she cast down her eyes and pouted again; “look at me. I want to speak to you.”

“In earnest, Blue Beard of the secret chamber?” asked Bella, clearing her pretty face.

“In earnest. And I confess to the secret chamber. Don’t you remember that you asked me not to declare what I thought of your higher qualities until you had been tried?”

“Yes, John dear. And I fully meant it, and I fully mean it.”

“The time will come, my darling — I am no prophet, but I say so, — when you will be tried. The time will come, I think, when you will undergo a trial through which you will never pass quite triumphantly for me, unless you can put perfect faith in me.”

“Then you may be sure of me, John dear, for I can put perfect faith in you, and I do, and I always, always will. Don’t judge me by a little thing like this, John. In little things, I am a little thing myself — I always was. But in great things, I hope not; I don’t mean to boast, John dear, but I hope not!”

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