I repress myself and force myself to act a part. It is not in tameness of spirit that I submit. I have a settled purpose.'
'And a good one, I hope,' said Bella.
'And a good one, I hope,' he answered, looking steadily at her.
'Sometimes I have fancied, sir,' said Bella, turning away her eyes, 'that your great regard for Mrs Boffin is a very powerful motive with you.'
'You are right again; it is. I would do anything for her, bear anything for her. There are no words to express how I esteem that good, good woman.'
'As I do too! May I ask you one thing more, Mr Rokesmith?'
'Of course you see that she really suffers, when Mr Boffin shows how he is changing?'
'I see it, every day, as you see it, and am grieved to give her pain.'
'To give her pain?' said Bella, repeating the phrase quickly, with her eyebrows raised.
'I am generally the unfortunate cause of it.'
'Perhaps she says to you, as she often says to me, that he is the best of men, in spite of all.'
'I often overhear her, in her honest and beautiful devotion to him, saying so to you,' returned the Secretary, with the same steady look, 'but I cannot assert that she ever says so to me.'
Bella met the steady look for a moment with a wistful, musing little look of her own, and then, nodding her pretty head several times, like a dimpled philosopher (of the very best school) who was moralizing on Life, heaved a little sigh, and gave up things in general for a bad job, as she had previously been inclined to give up herself.
But, for all that, they had a very pleasant walk. The trees were bare of leaves, and the river was bare of water-lilies; but the sky was not bare of its beautiful blue, and the water reflected it, and a delicious wind ran with the stream, touching the surface crisply. Perhaps the old mirror was never yet made by human hands, which, if all the images it has in its time reflected could pass across its surface again, would fail to reveal some scene of horror or distress. But the great serene mirror of the river seemed as if it might have reproduced all it had ever reflected between those placid banks, and brought nothing to the light save what was peaceful, pastoral, and blooming.
So, they walked, speaking of the newly filled-up grave, and of Johnny, and of many things. So, on their return, they met brisk Mrs Milvey coming to seek them, with the agreeable intelligence that there was no fear for the village children, there being a Christian school in the village, and no worse Judaical interference with it than to plant its garden. So, they got back to the village as Lizzie Hexam was coming from the paper-mill, and Bella detached herself to speak with her in her own home.
'I am afraid it is a poor room for you,' said Lizzie, with a smile of welcome, as she offered the post of honour by the fireside.
'Not so poor as you think, my dear,' returned Bella, 'if you knew all.' Indeed, though attained by some wonderful winding narrow stairs, which seemed to have been erected in a pure white chimney, and though very low in the ceiling, and very rugged in the floor, and rather blinking as to the proportions of its lattice window, it was a pleasanter room than that despised chamber once at home, in which Bella had first bemoaned the miseries of taking lodgers.
The day was closing as the two girls looked at one another by the fireside. The dusky room was lighted by the fire. The grate might have been the old brazier, and the glow might have been the old hollow down by the flare.
'It's quite new to me,' said Lizzie, 'to be visited by a lady so nearly of my own age, and so pretty, as you. It's a pleasure to me to look at you.'
'I have nothing left to begin with,' returned Bella, blushing, 'because I was going to say that it was a pleasure to me to look at you, Lizzie. But we can begin without a beginning, can't we?'
Lizzie took the pretty little hand that was held out in as pretty a little frankness.
'Now, dear,' said Bella, drawing her chair a little nearer, and taking Lizzie's arm as if they were going out for a walk, 'I am commissioned with something to say, and I dare say I shall say it wrong, but I won't if I can help it.