Our Mutual Friend, by Charles Dickens

Chapter 13

A Solo and a Duett

The wind was blowing so hard when the visitor came out at the shop-door into the darkness and dirt of Limehouse Hole, that it almost blew him in again. Doors were slamming violently, lamps were flickering or blown out, signs were rocking in their frames, the water of the kennels, wind-dispersed, flew about in drops like rain. Indifferent to the weather, and even preferring it to better weather for its clearance of the streets, the man looked about him with a scrutinizing glance. ‘Thus much I know,’ he murmured. ‘I have never been here since that night, and never was here before that night, but thus much I recognize. I wonder which way did we take when we came out of that shop. We turned to the right as I have turned, but I can recall no more. Did we go by this alley? Or down that little lane?’

He tried both, but both confused him equally, and he came straying back to the same spot. ‘I remember there were poles pushed out of upper windows on which clothes were drying, and I remember a low public-house, and the sound flowing down a narrow passage belonging to it of the scraping of a fiddle and the shuffling of feet. But here are all these things in the lane, and here are all these things in the alley. And I have nothing else in my mind but a wall, a dark doorway, a flight of stairs, and a room.’

He tried a new direction, but made nothing of it; walls, dark doorways, flights of stairs and rooms, were too abundant. And, like most people so puzzled, he again and again described a circle, and found himself at the point from which he had begun. ‘This is like what I have read in narratives of escape from prison,’ said he, ‘where the little track of the fugitives in the night always seems to take the shape of the great round world, on which they wander; as if it were a secret law.’

Here he ceased to be the oakum-headed, oakum-whiskered man on whom Miss Pleasant Riderhood had looked, and, allowing for his being still wrapped in a nautical overcoat, became as like that same lost wanted Mr Julius Handford, as never man was like another in this world. In the breast of the coat he stowed the bristling hair and whisker, in a moment, as the favouring wind went with him down a solitary place that it had swept clear of passengers. Yet in that same moment he was the Secretary also, Mr Boffin’s Secretary. For John Rokesmith, too, was as like that same lost wanted Mr Julius Handford as never man was like another in this world.

‘I have no clue to the scene of my death,’ said he. ‘Not that it matters now. But having risked discovery by venturing here at all, I should have been glad to track some part of the way.’ With which singular words he abandoned his search, came up out of Limehouse Hole, and took the way past Limehouse Church. At the great iron gate of the churchyard he stopped and looked in. He looked up at the high tower spectrally resisting the wind, and he looked round at the white tombstones, like enough to the dead in their winding-sheets, and he counted the nine tolls of the clockbell.

‘It is a sensation not experienced by many mortals,’ said he, ‘to be looking into a churchyard on a wild windy night, and to feel that I no more hold a place among the living than these dead do, and even to know that I lie buried somewhere else, as they lie buried here. Nothing uses me to it. A spirit that was once a man could hardly feel stranger or lonelier, going unrecognized among mankind, than I feel.

‘But this is the fanciful side of the situation. It has a real side, so difficult that, though I think of it every day, I never thoroughly think it out. Now, let me determine to think it out as I walk home. I know I evade it, as many men — perhaps most men — do evade thinking their way through their greatest perplexity. I will try to pin myself to mine. Don’t evade it, John Harmon; don’t evade it; think it out!

‘When I came to England, attracted to the country with which I had none but most miserable associations, by the accounts of my fine inheritance that found me abroad, I came back, shrinking from my father’s money, shrinking from my father’s memory, mistrustful of being forced on a mercenary wife, mistrustful of my father’s intention in thrusting that marriage on me, mistrustful that I was already growing avaricious, mistrustful that I was slackening in gratitude to the two dear noble honest friends who had made the only sunlight in my childish life or that of my hearthroken sister. I came back, timid, divided in my mind, afraid of myself and everybody here, knowing of nothing but wretchedness that my father’s wealth had ever brought about. Now, stop, and so far think it out, John Harmon. Is that so? That is exactly so.

‘On board serving as third mate was George Radfoot. I knew nothing of him. His name first became known to me about a week before we sailed, through my being accosted by one of the shipagent’s clerks as “Mr Radfoot.” It was one day when I had gone aboard to look to my preparations, and the clerk, coming behind me as I stood on deck, tapped me on the shoulder, and said, “Mr Rad-foot, look here,” referring to some papers that he had in his hand. And my name first became known to Radfoot, through another clerk within a day or two, and while the ship was yet in port, coming up behind him, tapping him on the shoulder and beginning, “I beg your pardon, Mr Harmon —.” I believe we were alike in bulk and stature but not otherwise, and that we were not strikingly alike, even in those respects, when we were together and could be compared.

‘However, a sociable word or two on these mistakes became an easy introduction between us, and the weather was hot, and he helped me to a cool cabin on deck alongside his own, and his first school had been at Brussels as mine had been, and he had learnt French as I had learnt it, and he had a little history of himself to relate — God only knows how much of it true, and how much of it false — that had its likeness to mine. I had been a seaman too. So we got to be confidential together, and the more easily yet, because he and every one on board had known by general rumour what I was making the voyage to England for. By such degrees and means, he came to the knowledge of my uneasiness of mind, and of its setting at that time in the direction of desiring to see and form some judgment of my allotted wife, before she could possibly know me for myself; also to try Mrs Boffin and give her a glad surprise. So the plot was made out of our getting common sailors’ dresses (as he was able to guide me about London), and throwing ourselves in Bella Wilfer’s neighbourhood, and trying to put ourselves in her way, and doing whatever chance might favour on the spot, and seeing what came of it. If nothing came of it, I should be no worse off, and there would merely be a short delay in my presenting myself to Lightwood. I have all these facts right? Yes. They are all accurately right.

‘His advantage in all this was, that for a time I was to be lost. It might be for a day or for two days, but I must be lost sight of on landing, or there would be recognition, anticipation, and failure. Therefore, I disembarked with my valise in my hand — as Potterson the steward and Mr Jacob Kibble my fellow-passenger afterwards remembered — and waited for him in the dark by that very Limehouse Church which is now behind me.

‘As I had always shunned the port of London, I only knew the church through his pointing out its spire from on board. Perhaps I might recall, if it were any good to try, the way by which I went to it alone from the river; but how we two went from it to Riderhood’s shop, I don’t know — any more than I know what turns we took and doubles we made, after we left it. The way was purposely confused, no doubt.

‘But let me go on thinking the facts out, and avoid confusing them with my speculations. Whether be took me by a straight way or a crooked way, what is that to the purpose now? Steady, John Harmon.

‘When we stopped at Riderhood’s, and he asked that scoundrel a question or two, purporting to refer only to the lodging-houses in which there was accommodation for us, had I the least suspicion of him? None. Certainly none until afterwards when I held the clue. I think he must have got from Riderhood in a paper, the drug, or whatever it was, that afterwards stupefied me, but I am far from sure. All I felt safe in charging on him to-night, was old companionship in villainy between them. Their undisguised intimacy, and the character I now know Riderhood to bear, made that not at all adventurous. But I am not clear about the drug. Thinking out the circumstances on which I found my suspicion, they are only two. One: I remember his changing a small folded paper from one pocket to another, after we came out, which he had not touched before. Two: I now know Riderhood to have been previously taken up for being concerned in the robbery of an unlucky seaman, to whom some such poison had been given.

‘It is my conviction that we cannot have gone a mile from that shop, before we came to the wall, the dark doorway, the flight of stairs, and the room. The night was particularly dark and it rained hard. As I think the circumstances back, I hear the rain splashing on the stone pavement of the passage, whch was not under cover. The room overlooked the river, or a dock, or a creek, and the tide was out. Being possessed of the time down to that point, I know by the hour that it must have been about low water; but while the coffee was getting ready, I drew back the curtain (a dark-brown curtain), and, looking out, knew by the kind of reflection below, of the few neighbouring lights, that they were reflected in tidal mud.

‘He had carried under his arm a canvas bag, containing a suit of his clothes. I had no change of outer clothes with me, as I was to buy slops. “You are very wet, Mr Harmon,”— I can hear him saying —”and I am quite dry under this good waterproof coat. Put on these clothes of mine. You may find on trying them that they will answer your purpose to-morrow, as well as the slops you mean to buy, or better. While you change, I’ll hurry the hot coffee.” When he came back, I had his clothes on, and there was a black man with him, wearing a linen jacket, like a steward, who put the smoking coffee on the table in a tray and never looked at me. I am so far literal and exact? Literal and exact, I am certain.

‘Now, I pass to sick and deranged impressions; they are so strong, that I rely upon them; but there are spaces between them that I know nothing about, and they are not pervaded by any idea of time.

‘I had drank some coffee, when to my sense of sight he began to swell immensely, and something urged me to rush at him. We had a struggle near the door. He got from me, through my not knowing where to strike, in the whirling round of the room, and the flashing of flames of fire between us. I dropped down. Lying helpless on the ground, I was turned over by a foot. I was dragged by the neck into a corner. I heard men speak together. I was turned over by other feet. I saw a figure like myself lying dressed in my clothes on a bed. What might have been, for anything I knew, a silence of days, weeks, months, years, was broken by a violent wrestling of men all over the room. The figure like myself was assailed, and my valise was in its hand. I was trodden upon and fallen over. I heard a noise of blows, and thought it was a wood-cutter cutting down a tree. I could not have said that my name was John Harmon — I could not have thought it — I didn’t know it — but when I heard the blows, I thought of the wood-cutter and his axe, and had some dead idea that I was lying in a forest.

‘This is still correct? Still correct, with the exception that I cannot possibly express it to myself without using the word I. But it was not I. There was no such thing as I, within my knowledge.

‘It was only after a downward slide through something like a tube, and then a great noise and a sparkling and crackling as of fires, that the consciousness came upon me, “This is John Harmon drowning! John Harmon, struggle for your life. John Harmon, call on Heaven and save yourself!” I think I cried it out aloud in a great agony, and then a heavy horrid unintelligible something vanished, and it was I who was struggling there alone in the water.

‘I was very weak and faint, frightfully oppressed with drowsiness, and driving fast with the tide. Looking over the black water, I saw the lights racing past me on the two banks of the river, as if they were eager to be gone and leave me dying in the dark. The tide was running down, but I knew nothing of up or down then. When, guiding myself safely with Heaven’s assistance before the fierce set of the water, I at last caught at a boat moored, one of a tier of boats at a causeway, I was sucked under her, and came up, only just alive, on the other side.

‘Was I long in the water? Long enough to be chilled to the heart, but I don’t know how long. Yet the cold was merciful, for it was the cold night air and the rain that restored me from a swoon on the stones of the causeway. They naturally supposed me to have toppled in, drunk, when I crept to the public-house it belonged to; for I had no notion where I was, and could not articulate — through the poison that had made me insensible having affected my speech — and I supposed the night to be the previous night, as it was still dark and raining. But I had lost twenty-four hours.

‘I have checked the calculation often, and it must have been two nights that I lay recovering in that public-house. Let me see. Yes. I am sure it was while I lay in that bed there, that the thought entered my head of turning the danger I had passed through, to the account of being for some time supposed to have disappeared mysteriously, and of proving Bella. The dread of our being forced on one another, and perpetuating the fate that seemed to have fallen on my father’s riches — the fate that they should lead to nothing but evil — was strong upon the moral timidity that dates from my childhood with my poor sister.

‘As to this hour I cannot understand that side of the river where I recovered the shore, being the opposite side to that on which I was ensnared, I shall never understand it now. Even at this moment, while I leave the river behind me, going home, I cannot conceive that it rolls between me and that spot, or that the sea is where it is. But this is not thinking it out; this is making a leap to the present time.

‘I could not have done it, but for the fortune in the waterproof belt round my body. Not a great fortune, forty and odd pounds for the inheritor of a hundred and odd thousand! But it was enough. Without it I must have disclosed myself. Without it, I could never have gone to that Exchequer Coffee House, or taken Mrs Wilfer’s lodgings.

‘Some twelve days I lived at that hotel, before the night when I saw the corpse of Radfoot at the Police Station. The inexpressible mental horror that I laboured under, as one of the consequences of the poison, makes the interval seem greatly longer, but I know it cannot have been longer. That suffering has gradually weakened and weakened since, and has only come upon me by starts, and I hope I am free from it now; but even now, I have sometimes to think, constrain myself, and stop before speaking, or I could not say the words I want to say.

‘Again I ramble away from thinking it out to the end. It is not so far to the end that I need be tempted to break off. Now, on straight!

‘I examined the newspapers every day for tidings that I was missing, but saw none. Going out that night to walk (for I kept retired while it was light), I found a crowd assembled round a placard posted at Whitehall. It described myself, John Harmon, as found dead and mutilated in the river under circumstances of strong suspicion, described my dress, described the papers in my pockets, and stated where I was lying for recognition. In a wild incautious way I hurried there, and there — with the horror of the death I had escaped, before my eyes in its most appalling shape, added to the inconceivable horror tormenting me at that time when the poisonous stuff was strongest on me — I perceived that Radfoot had been murdered by some unknown hands for the money for which he would have murdered me, and that probably we had both been shot into the river from the same dark place into the same dark tide, when the stream ran deep and strong.

‘That night I almost gave up my mystery, though I suspected no one, could offer no information, knew absolutely nothing save that the murdered man was not I, but Radfoot. Next day while I hesitated, and next day while I hesitated, it seemed as if the whole country were determined to have me dead. The Inquest declared me dead, the Government proclaimed me dead; I could not listen at my fireside for five minutes to the outer noises, but it was borne into my ears that I was dead.

‘So John Harmon died, and Julius Handford disappeared, and John Rokesmith was born. John Rokesmith’s intent to-night has been to repair a wrong that he could never have imagined possible, coming to his ears through the Lightwood talk related to him, and which he is bound by every consideration to remedy. In that intent John Rokesmith will persevere, as his duty is.

‘Now, is it all thought out? All to this time? Nothing omitted? No, nothing. But beyond this time? To think it out through the future, is a harder though a much shorter task than to think it out through the past. John Harmon is dead. Should John Harmon come to life?

‘If yes, why? If no, why?’

‘Take yes, first. To enlighten human Justice concerning the offence of one far beyond it who may have a living mother. To enlighten it with the lights of a stone passage, a flight of stairs, a brown window-curtain, and a black man. To come into possession of my father’s money, and with it sordidly to buy a beautiful creature whom I love — I cannot help it; reason has nothing to do with it; I love her against reason — but who would as soon love me for my own sake, as she would love the beggar at the corner. What a use for the money, and how worthy of its old misuses!

‘Now, take no. The reasons why John Harmon should not come to life. Because he has passively allowed these dear old faithful friends to pass into possession of the property. Because he sees them happy with it, making a good use of it, effacing the old rust and tarnish on the money. Because they have virtually adopted Bella, and will provide for her. Because there is affection enough in her nature, and warmth enough in her heart, to develop into something enduringly good, under favourable conditions. Because her faults have been intensified by her place in my father’s will, and she is already growing better. Because her marriage with John Harmon, after what I have heard from her own lips, would be a shocking mockery, of which both she and I must always be conscious, and which would degrade her in her mind, and me in mine, and each of us in the other’s. Because if John Harmon comes to life and does not marry her, the property falls into the very hands that hold it now.

‘What would I have? Dead, I have found the true friends of my lifetime still as true as tender and as faithful as when I was alive, and making my memory an incentive to good actions done in my name. Dead, I have found them when they might have slighted my name, and passed greedily over my grave to ease and wealth, lingering by the way, like single-hearted children, to recall their love for me when I was a poor frightened child. Dead, I have heard from the woman who would have been my wife if I had lived, the revolting truth that I should have purchased her, caring nothing for me, as a Sultan buys a slave.

‘What would I have? If the dead could know, or do know, how the living use them, who among the hosts of dead has found a more disinterested fidelity on earth than I? Is not that enough for me? If I had come back, these noble creatures would have welcomed me, wept over me, given up everything to me with joy. I did not come back, and they have passed unspoiled into my place. Let them rest in it, and let Bella rest in hers.

‘What course for me then? This. To live the same quiet Secretary life, carefully avoiding chances of recognition, until they shall have become more accustomed to their altered state, and until the great swarm of swindlers under many names shall have found newer prey. By that time, the method I am establishing through all the affairs, and with which I will every day take new pains to make them both familiar, will be, I may hope, a machine in such working order as that they can keep it going. I know I need but ask of their generosity, to have. When the right time comes, I will ask no more than will replace me in my former path of life, and John Rokesmith shall tread it as contentedly as he may. But John Harmon shall come back no more.

‘That I may never, in the days to come afar off, have any weak misgiving that Bella might, in any contingency, have taken me for my own sake if I had plainly asked her, I WILL plainly ask her: proving beyond all question what I already know too well. And now it is all thought out, from the beginning to the end, and my mind is easier.’

So deeply engaged had the living-dead man been, in thus communing with himself, that he had regarded neither the wind nor the way, and had resisted the former instinctively as he had pursued the latter. But being now come into the City, where there was a coach-stand, he stood irresolute whether to go to his lodgings, or to go first to Mr Boffin’s house. He decided to go round by the house, arguing, as he carried his overcoat upon his arm, that it was less likely to attract notice if left there, than if taken to Holloway: both Mrs Wilfer and Miss Lavinia being ravenously curious touching every article of which the lodger stood possessed.

Arriving at the house, he found that Mr and Mrs Boffin were out, but that Miss Wilfer was in the drawing-room. Miss Wilfer had remained at home, in consequence of not feeling very well, and had inquired in the evening if Mr Rokesmith were in his room.

‘Make my compliments to Miss Wilfer, and say I am here now.’

Miss Wilfer’s compliments came down in return, and, if it were not too much trouble, would Mr Rokesmith be so kind as to come up before he went?

It was not too much trouble, and Mr Rokesmith came up.

Oh she looked very pretty, she looked very, very pretty! If the father of the late John Harmon had but left his money unconditionally to his son, and if his son had but lighted on this loveable girl for himself, and had the happiness to make her loving as well as loveable!

‘Dear me! Are you not well, Mr Rokesmith?’

‘Yes, quite well. I was sorry to hear, when I came in, that YOU were not.’

‘A mere nothing. I had a headache — gone now — and was not quite fit for a hot theatre, so I stayed at home. I asked you if you were not well, because you look so white.’

‘Do I? I have had a busy evening.’

She was on a low ottoman before the fire, with a little shining jewel of a table, and her book and her work, beside her. Ah! what a different life the late John Harmon’s, if it had been his happy privilege to take his place upon that ottoman, and draw his arm about that waist, and say, ‘I hope the time has been long without me? What a Home Goddess you look, my darling!’

But, the present John Rokesmith, far removed from the late John Harmon, remained standing at a distance. A little distance in respect of space, but a great distance in respect of separation.

‘Mr Rokesmith,’ said Bella, taking up her work, and inspecting it all round the corners, ‘I wanted to say something to you when I could have the opportunity, as an explanation why I was rude to you the other day. You have no right to think ill of me, sir.’

The sharp little way in which she darted a look at him, half sensitively injured, and half pettishly, would have been very much admired by the late John Harmon.

‘You don’t know how well I think of you, Miss Wilfer.’

‘Truly, you must have a very high opinion of me, Mr Rokesmith, when you believe that in prosperity I neglect and forget my old home.’

‘Do I believe so?’

‘You DID, sir, at any rate,’ returned Bella.

‘I took the liberty of reminding you of a little omission into which you had fallen — insensibly and naturally fallen. It was no more than that.’

‘And I beg leave to ask you, Mr Rokesmith,’ said Bella, ‘why you took that liberty? — I hope there is no offence in the phrase; it is your own, remember.’

‘Because I am truly, deeply, profoundly interested in you, Miss Wilfer. Because I wish to see you always at your best. Because I— shall I go on?’

‘No, sir,’ returned Bella, with a burning face, ‘you have said more than enough. I beg that you will NOT go on. If you have any generosity, any honour, you will say no more.’

The late John Harmon, looking at the proud face with the downcast eyes, and at the quick breathing as it stirred the fall of bright brown hair over the beautiful neck, would probably have remained silent.

‘I wish to speak to you, sir,’ said Bella, ‘once for all, and I don’t know how to do it. I have sat here all this evening, wishing to speak to you, and determining to speak to you, and feeling that I must. I beg for a moment’s time.’

He remained silent, and she remained with her face averted, sometimes making a slight movement as if she would turn and speak. At length she did so.

‘You know how I am situated here, sir, and you know how I am situated at home. I must speak to you for myself, since there is no one about me whom I could ask to do so. It is not generous in you, it is not honourable in you, to conduct yourself towards me as you do.’

‘Is it ungenerous or dishonourable to be devoted to you; fascinated by you?’

‘Preposterous!’ said Bella.

The late John Harmon might have thought it rather a contemptuous and lofty word of repudiation.

‘I now feel obliged to go on,’ pursued the Secretary, ‘though it were only in self-explanation and self-defence. I hope, Miss Wilfer, that it is not unpardonable — even in me — to make an honest declaration of an honest devotion to you.’

‘An honest declaration!’ repeated Bella, with emphasis.

‘Is it otherwise?’

‘I must request, sir,’ said Bella, taking refuge in a touch of timely resentment, ‘that I may not be questioned. You must excuse me if I decline to be cross-examined.’

‘Oh, Miss Wilfer, this is hardly charitable. I ask you nothing but what your own emphasis suggests. However, I waive even that question. But what I have declared, I take my stand by. I cannot recall the avowal of my earnest and deep attachment to you, and I do not recall it.’

‘I reject it, sir,’ said Bella.

‘I should be blind and deaf if I were not prepared for the reply. Forgive my offence, for it carries its punishment with it.’

‘What punishment?’ asked Bella.

‘Is my present endurance none? But excuse me; I did not mean to cross-examine you again.’

‘You take advantage of a hasty word of mine,’ said Bella with a little sting of self-reproach, ‘to make me seem — I don’t know what. I spoke without consideration when I used it. If that was bad, I am sorry; but you repeat it after consideration, and that seems to me to be at least no better. For the rest, I beg it may be understood, Mr Rokesmith, that there is an end of this between us, now and for ever.’

‘Now and for ever,’ he repeated.

‘Yes. I appeal to you, sir,’ proceeded Bella with increasing spirit, ‘not to pursue me. I appeal to you not to take advantage of your position in this house to make my position in it distressing and disagreeable. I appeal to you to discontinue your habit of making your misplaced attentions as plain to Mrs Boffin as to me.’

‘Have I done so?’

‘I should think you have,’ replied Bella. ‘In any case it is not your fault if you have not, Mr Rokesmith.’

‘I hope you are wrong in that impression. I should be very sorry to have justified it. I think I have not. For the future there is no apprehension. It is all over.’

‘I am much relieved to hear it,’ said Bella. ‘I have far other views in life, and why should you waste your own?’

‘Mine!’ said the Secretary. ‘My life!’

His curious tone caused Bella to glance at the curious smile with which he said it. It was gone as he glanced back. ‘Pardon me, Miss Wilfer,’ he proceeded, when their eyes met; ‘you have used some hard words, for which I do not doubt you have a justification in your mind, that I do not understand. Ungenerous and dishonourable. In what?’

‘I would rather not be asked,’ said Bella, haughtily looking down.

‘I would rather not ask, but the question is imposed upon me. Kindly explain; or if not kindly, justly.’

‘Oh, sir!’ said Bella, raising her eyes to his, after a little struggle to forbear, ‘is it generous and honourable to use the power here which your favour with Mr and Mrs Boffin and your ability in your place give you, against me?’

‘Against you?’

‘Is it generous and honourable to form a plan for gradually bringing their influence to bear upon a suit which I have shown you that I do not like, and which I tell you that I utterly reject?’

The late John Harmon could have borne a good deal, but he would have been cut to the heart by such a suspicion as this.

‘Would it be generous and honourable to step into your place — if you did so, for I don’t know that you did, and I hope you did not — anticipating, or knowing beforehand, that I should come here, and designing to take me at this disadvantage?’

‘This mean and cruel disadvantage,’ said the Secretary.

‘Yes,’ assented Bella.

The Secretary kept silence for a little while; then merely said, ‘You are wholly mistaken, Miss Wilfer; wonderfully mistaken. I cannot say, however, that it is your fault. If I deserve better things of you, you do not know it.’

‘At least, sir,’ retorted Bella, with her old indignation rising, ‘you know the history of my being here at all. I have heard Mr Boffin say that you are master of every line and word of that will, as you are master of all his affairs. And was it not enough that I should have been willed away, like a horse, or a dog, or a bird; but must you too begin to dispose of me in your mind, and speculate in me, as soon as I had ceased to be the talk and the laugh of the town? Am I for ever to be made the property of strangers?’

‘Believe me,’ returned the Secretary, ‘you are wonderfully mistaken.’

‘I should be glad to know it,’ answered Bella.

‘I doubt if you ever will. Good-night. Of course I shall be careful to conceal any traces of this interview from Mr and Mrs Boffin, as long as I remain here. Trust me, what you have complained of is at an end for ever.’

‘I am glad I have spoken, then, Mr Rokesmith. It has been painful and difficult, but it is done. If I have hurt you, I hope you will forgive me. I am inexperienced and impetuous, and I have been a little spoilt; but I really am not so bad as I dare say I appear, or as you think me.’

He quitted the room when Bella had said this, relenting in her wilful inconsistent way. Left alone, she threw herself back on her ottoman, and said, ‘I didn’t know the lovely woman was such a Dragon!’ Then, she got up and looked in the glass, and said to her image, ‘You have been positively swelling your features, you little fool!’ Then, she took an impatient walk to the other end of the room and back, and said, ‘I wish Pa was here to have a talk about an avaricious marriage; but he is better away, poor dear, for I know I should pull his hair if he WAS here.’ And then she threw her work away, and threw her book after it, and sat down and hummed a tune, and hummed it out of tune, and quarrelled with it.

And John Rokesmith, what did he?

He went down to his room, and buried John Harmon many additional fathoms deep. He took his hat, and walked out, and, as he went to Holloway or anywhere else — not at all minding where — heaped mounds upon mounds of earth over John Harmon’s grave. His walking did not bring him home until the dawn of day. And so busy had he been all night, piling and piling weights upon weights of earth above John Harmon’s grave, that by that time John Harmon lay buried under a whole Alpine range; and still the Sexton Rokesmith accumulated mountains over him, lightening his labour with the dirge, ‘Cover him, crush him, keep him down!’

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Last updated Friday, March 7, 2014 at 15:30