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'My dear!' urged Lizzie again.
'Such a shallow, cold, worldly, Limited little brute!' said Bella, bringing out her last adjective with culminating force.
'Do you think,' inquired Lizzie with her quiet smile, the hair being now secured, 'that I don't know better?'
'DO you know better though?' said Bella. 'Do you really believe you know better? Oh, I should be so glad if you did know better, but I am so very much afraid that I must know best!'
Lizzie asked her, laughing outright, whether she ever saw her own face or heard her own voice?
'I suppose so,' returned Bella; 'I look in the glass often enough, and I chatter like a Magpie.'
'I have seen your face, and heard your voice, at any rate,' said Lizzie, 'and they have tempted me to say to you--with a certainty of not going wrong--what I thought I should never say to any one. Does that look ill?'
'No, I hope it doesn't,' pouted Bella, stopping herself in something between a humoured laugh and a humoured sob.
'I used once to see pictures in the fire,' said Lizzie playfully, 'to please my brother. Shall I tell you what I see down there where the fire is glowing?'
They had risen, and were standing on the hearth, the time being come for separating; each had drawn an arm around the other to take leave.
'Shall I tell you,' asked Lizzie, 'what I see down there?'
'Limited little b?' suggested Bella with her eyebrows raised.
'A heart well worth winning, and well won. A heart that, once won, goes through fire and water for the winner, and never changes, and is never daunted.'
'Girl's heart?' asked Bella, with accompanying eyebrows. Lizzie nodded. 'And the figure to which it belongs--'
Is yours,' suggested Bella.
'No. Most clearly and distinctly yours.'
So the interview terminated with pleasant words on both sides, and with many reminders on the part of Bella that they were friends, and pledges that she would soon come down into that part of the country again. There with Lizzie returned to her occupation, and Bella ran over to the little inn to rejoin her company.
'You look rather serious, Miss Wilfer,' was the Secretary's first remark.
'I feel rather serious,' returned Miss Wilfer.
She had nothing else to tell him but that Lizzie Hexam's secret had no reference whatever to the cruel charge, or its withdrawal. Oh yes though! said Bella; she might as well mention one other thing; Lizzie was very desirous to thank her unknown friend who had sent her the written retractation. Was she, indeed? observed the Secretary. Ah! Bella asked him, had he any notion who that unknown friend might be? He had no notion whatever.
They were on the borders of Oxfordshire, so far had poor old Betty Higden strayed. They were to return by the train presently, and, the station being near at hand, the Reverend Frank and Mrs Frank, and Sloppy and Bella and the Secretary, set out to walk to it. Few rustic paths are wide enough for five, and Bella and the Secretary dropped behind.
'Can you believe, Mr Rokesmith,' said Bella, 'that I feel as if whole years had passed since I went into Lizzie Hexam's cottage?'
'We have crowded a good deal into the day,' he returned, 'and you were much affected in the churchyard. You are over-tired.'
'No, I am not at all tired. I have not quite expressed what I mean. I don't mean that I feel as if a great space of time had gone by, but that I feel as if much had happened--to myself, you know.'
'For good, I hope?'
'I hope so,' said Bella.
'You are cold; I felt you tremble. Pray let me put this wrapper of mine about you. May I fold it over this shoulder without injuring your dress? Now, it will be too heavy and too long. Let me carry this end over my arm, as you have no arm to give me.'
Yes she had though. How she got it out, in her muffled state, Heaven knows; but she got it out somehow--there it was--and slipped it through the Secretary's.
'I have had a long and interesting talk with Lizzie, Mr Rokesmith, and she gave me her full confidence.'
'She could not withhold it,' said the Secretary.
'I wonder how you come,' said Bella, stopping short as she glanced at him, 'to say to me just what she said about it!'
'I infer that it must be because I feel just as she felt about it.'
'And how was that, do you mean to say, sir?' asked Bella, moving again.
'That if you were inclined to win her confidence--anybody's confidence--you were sure to do it.'
The railway, at this point, knowingly shutting a green eye and opening a red one, they had to run for it. As Bella could not run easily so wrapped up, the Secretary had to help her. When she took her opposite place in the carriage corner, the brightness in her face was so charming to behold, that on her exclaiming, 'What beautiful stars and what a glorious night!' the Secretary said 'Yes,' but seemed to prefer to see the night and the stars in the light of her lovely little countenance, to looking out of window.
O boofer lady, fascinating boofer lady! If I were but legally executor of Johnny's will! If I had but the right to pay your legacy and to take your receipt!--Something to this purpose surely mingled with the blast of the train as it cleared the stations, all knowingly shutting up their green eyes and opening their red ones when they prepared to let the boofer lady pass.
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Our Mutual Friend -- by Charles DickensBottom Content goes here. Wikipedia content requires these links..... Wikipedia content is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License.