"A kiss for the Boofer Lady." — p. 143. In Chapter 9 of Book Two, when John Rokesmith learns that Johnny, Betty Higden's grandchild, is extremely ill, he, the Boffins, and Bella transport the toddler (once they have won Betty over) to the Sick Children's Hospital — but the attending physician tells the Secretary confidentially that they are too late because the boy's illness is already too far advanced. That evening, as Rokesmith watches over him, the little orphan, last of Betty Higden's line, dies, bequeathing the toys that the doting Boffins have bought him to the child in the next bed. His final sentence involves his giving Rokesmith a kiss that he may implant for Johnny on the lips of Bella Wilfer, the "boofer" lady he saw when the Boffin party arrived at Betty's cottage. James Mahoney's twenty-fifth illustration for Dickens's Our Mutual Friend, Household Edition, 1875. Wood-engraving by the Dalziels, 9.2 cm high x 13.3 cm wide.

Passage Realised

So, they kissed him, and left him there, and old Betty was to come back early in the morning, and nobody but Rokesmith knew for certain how that the doctor had said, "This should have been days ago. Too late!"

But, Rokesmith knowing it, and knowing that his bearing it in mind would be acceptable thereafter to that good woman who had been the only light in the childhood of desolate John Harmon dead and gone, resolved that late at night he would go back to the bedside of John Harmon's namesake, and see how it fared with him.

The family whom God had brought together were not all asleep, but were all quiet. From bed to bed, a light womanly tread and a pleasant fresh face passed in the silence of the night. A little head would lift itself up into the softened light here and there, to be kissed as the face went by — for these little patients are very loving — and would then submit itself to be composed to rest again. The mite with the broken leg was restless, and moaned; but after a while turned his face towards Johnny's bed, to fortify himself with a view of the ark, and fell asleep. Over most of the beds, the toys were yet grouped as the children had left them when they last laid themselves down, and, in their innocent grotesqueness and incongruity, they might have stood for the children's dreams.

The doctor came in, too, to see how it fared with Johnny. And he and Rokesmith stood together, looking down with compassion on him.

"What is it, Johnny?" Rokesmith was the questioner, and put an arm round the poor baby as he made a struggle.

"Him!" said the little fellow. "Those!"

The doctor was quick to understand children, and, taking the horse, the ark, the yellow bird, and the man in the Guards, from Johnny's bed, softly placed them on that of his next neighbour, the mite with the broken leg.

With a weary and yet a pleased smile, and with an action as if he stretched his little figure out to rest, the child heaved his body on the sustaining arm, and seeking Rokesmith's face with his lips, said:

"A kiss for the boofer lady."

Having now bequeathed all he had to dispose of, and arranged his affairs in this world, Johnny, thus speaking, left it. — Book Two, "Birds of a Feather," Chapter 9, "In Which the Orphan Makes His Will," p. 144, in the New York edition, at the very close of the chapter.

Scanned image and text by Philip V. Allingham. [You may use this image without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose as long as you (1) credit the person who scanned the image and (2) link your document to this URL.]


The woodcut for Book Two, "Birds of a Feather," Chapter Nine, "In Which the Orphan Makes His Will" (p. 144) complements the narration of the death of Johnny, the orphan whom the Boffins have adopted. Again, the focal character here is John Rokesmith. Whereas the original serial illustrations included the scene in which Betty Higden is nursing her grandchild in her cottage, Our Johnny (Part 8, the monthly number for December 1864), James Mahoney in the 1875 Household Edition volume of Our Mutual Friend realizes the sentimentalized description of the death of the child. Mahoney has reacted against Marcus Stone's serial illustration, which does not necessarily imply that the child is seriously ill. Stone may have felt that illustrating yet another Dickens death-bed scene would be something of a cliche in 1864 as nothing could equal for sheer sentimentality the George Cruikshank illustration At Rest — the 30 January 1841 wood-engraving of Little Nell lying dead in The Old Curiosity Shop.

As the child endeavours to speak, Rokesmith looks Johnny closely in the face in the Mahoney illustration, but does not put his arm around the child, who is hardly a "baby" and does not appear to "struggle." Already, the horse and ark have been deposited, as requested, on the next bed, and now the physician and nurse look on helplessly. An interesting touch is that Mahoney has made "Johnny" (who was to be called "John Harmon") resemble John Rokesmith (i. e., John Harmon's pseudonym) in his facial features. Realistic details that suggest Mahoney may have actually studied such a ward in the Sick Children's Hospital of Great Ormond Street, London (much as it would be an anachronism, for the institution opened in the same year as this volume was published, 1875) are the iron-frame beds with side-railings (seen in the April 1858 Illustrated London News illustration A Hospital Ward), the canopy over the neighbouring bed, and the nurse's uniform, including the distinctive headgear. In terms of composition, Johnny's head is focal point because it is the corner of a triangle formed by the line of the railing and the physician at the foot of the bed, with the doctor's and Rokesmith's heads drawing the eye of the viewer back to the dying child.

Pertinent Illustrations in the original and Diamond Editions, 1864-1867

Left: Marcus Stone's August 1865 illustration of John Rokesmith, R. W., and Bella Wilfer dining at Greenwich, The Wedding Dinner at Greenwich. Right: American Sol Eytinge, Junior's dual character study of the Bella (background) and the thoughtful Secretary, John Harmon (1867). [Click on images to enlarge them.]

Above: Marcus Stone's Part 8 (the monthly number for December 1864) illustration of Betty's nursing her sick grandchild, Our Johnny. [Click on the image to enlarge it.]


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Last modified 17 December 2015