‘I suppose,’ said Dick, ‘that they consult together a good deal, and talk about a great many people—about me for instance, sometimes, eh, Marchioness?’

The Marchioness nodded amazingly.

‘Complimentary?’ said Mr Swiveller.

The Marchioness changed the motion of her head, which had not yet left off nodding, and suddenly began to shake it from side to side with a vehemence which threatened to dislocate her neck.

‘Humph!’ Dick muttered. ‘Would it be any breach of confidence, Marchioness, to relate what they say of the humble individual who has now the honour to—?’

‘Miss Sally says you’re a funny chap,’ replied his friend.

‘Well, Marchioness,’ said Mr Swiveller, ‘that’s not uncomplimentary. Merriment, Marchioness, is not a bad or a degrading quality. Old King Cole was himself a merry old soul, if we may put any faith in the pages of history.’

‘But she says,’ pursued his companion, ‘that you an’t to be trusted.’

‘Why, really Marchioness,’ said Mr Swiveller, thoughtfully, ‘several ladies and gentlemen—not exactly professional persons, but tradespeople, ma’am, tradespeople—have made the same remark. The obscure citizen who keeps the hotel over the way, inclined strongly to that opinion tonight when I ordered him to prepare the banquet. It’s a popular prejudice, Marchioness; and yet I am sure I don’t know why, for I have been trusted in my time to a considerable amount, and I can safely say that I never forsook my trust until it deserted me—never. Mr Brass is of the same opinion, I suppose?’

His friend nodded again, with a cunning look which seemed to hint that Mr Brass held stronger opinions on the subject than his sister; and seeming to recollect herself, added imploringly, ‘But don’t you ever tell upon me, or I shall be beat to death.’

‘Marchioness,’ said Mr Swiveller, rising, ‘the word of a gentleman is as good as his bond—sometimes better; as in the present case, where his bond might prove but a doubtful sort of security. I am your friend, and I hope we shall play many more rubbers together in this same saloon. But, Marchioness,’ added Richard, stopping in his way to the door, and wheeling slowly round upon the small servant, who was following with the candle; ‘it occurs to me that you must be in the constant habit of airing your eye at keyholes, to know all this.’

‘I only wanted,’ replied the trembling Marchioness, ‘to know where the key of the safe was hid; that was all; and I wouldn’t have taken much, if I had found it—only enough to squench my hunger.’

‘You didn’t find it then?’ said Dick. ‘But of course you didn’t, or you’d be plumper. Good-night, Marchioness. Fare thee well, and if for ever, then for ever fare thee well—and put up the chain, Marchioness, in case of accidents.’

With this parting injunction, Mr Swiveller emerged from the house; and feeling that he had by this time taken quite as much to drink as promised to be good for his constitution (purl being a rather strong and heady compound), wisely resolved to betake himself to his lodgings, and to bed at once. Homeward he went therefore; and his apartments (for he still retained the plural fiction) being at no great distance from the office, he was soon seated in his own bed-chamber, where, having pulled off one boot and forgotten the other, he fell into deep cogitation.

‘This Marchioness,’ said Mr Swiveller, folding his arms, ‘is a very extraordinary person—surrounded by mysteries, ignorant of the taste of beer, unacquainted with her own name (which is less remarkable), and taking a limited view of society through the keyholes of doors—can these things be her destiny, or

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