lonely, when he was a poor child, to be pitied, heart and hand! Too many a time had I seen him in need of being brightened up with a comforting word! Too many and too many a time to be mistaken, when that glimpse of him come at last! No, no! I just makes out to cry, ‘I know you now! You’re John!’ And he catches me as I drops. — So what,” says Mrs. Boffin, breaking off in the rush of her speech to smile most radiantly, “might you think by this time that your husband’s name was, dear?”

“Not,” returned Bella, with quivering lips; “not Harmon? That’s not possible?”

“Don’t tremble. Why not possible, deary, when so many things are possible?” demanded Mrs. Boffin, in a soothing tone.

“He was killed,” gasped Bella.

“Thought to be,” said Mrs. Boffin. “But if ever John Harmon drew the breath of life on earth, that is certainly John Harmon’s arm round your waist now, my pretty. If ever John Harmon had a wife on earth, that wife is certainly you. If ever John Harmon and his wife had a child on earth, that child is certainly this.”

By a master-stroke of secret arrangement, the inexhaustible baby here appeared at the door, suspended in mid-air by invisible agency. Mrs. Boffin, plunging at it, brought it to Bella’s lap, where both Mrs. and Mr. Boffin (as the saying is) “took it out of” the Inexhaustible in a shower of caresses. It was only this timely appearance that kept Bella from swooning. This, and her husband’s earnestness in explaining further to her how it had come to pass that he had been supposed to be slain, and had even been suspected of his own murder; also, how he had put a pious fraud upon her which had preyed upon his mind, as the time for its disclosure approached, lest she might not make full allowance for the object with which it had originated, and in which it had fully developed.

“But bless ye, my beauty!” cried Mrs. Boffin, taking him up short at this point, with another hearty clap of her hands. “It wasn’t John only that was in it. We was all of us in it.”

“I don’t,” said Bella, looking vacantly from one to another, “yet understand — ”

“Of course you don’t, my deary,” exclaimed Mrs. Boffin. “How can you till you’re told! So now I am a going to tell you. So you put your two hands between my two hands again,” cried the comfortable creature, embracing her, “with that blessed little picter lying on your lap, and you shall be told all the story. Now, I’m a going to tell the story. Once, twice, three times, and the horses is off. Here they go! When I cries out that night, ‘I know you now, you’re John!’ — which was my exact words; wasn’t they, John?”

“Your exact words,” said John, laying his hand on hers.

“That’s a very good arrangement,” cried Mrs. Boffin. “Keep it there, John. And as we was all of us in it, Noddy you come and lay yours a top of his, and we won’t break the pile till the story’s done.”

Mr. Boffin hitched up a chair, and added his broad brown right hand to the heap.

“That’s capital!” said Mrs. Boffin, giving it a kiss. “Seems quite a family building; don’t it? But the horses is off. Well! When I cries out that night, ‘I know you now! you’re John!’ John catches of me, it is true; but I ain’t a light weight, bless ye, and he’s forced to let me down. Noddy, he hears a noise, and in he trots, and as soon as I anyways comes to myself I calls to him, ‘Noddy, well I might say as I did say, that night at the Bower, for the Lord be thankful this is John!’ On which he gives a heave, and down he goes likewise, with his head under the writing-table. This brings me round comfortable, and that brings him round comfortable, and then John and him and me we all fall a crying for joy.”

“Yes! They cry for joy, my darling,” her husband struck in. “You understand? These two, whom I come to life to disappoint and dispossess, cry for joy!”

Bella looked at him confusedly, and looked again at Mrs. Boffin’s radiant face.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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