“May be, or may not be. If I am a short-tongued fellow, it may amount to the same thing. Now, Lammle, I am never going to answer questions.”

“My dear fellow, it was the simplest question in the world.”

“Never mind. It seemed so, but things are not always what they seem. I saw a man examined as a witness in Westminster Hall. Questions put to him seemed the simplest in the world, but turned out to be anything rather than that, after he had answered ’em. Very well. Then he should have held his tongue. If he had held his tongue he would have kept out of scrapes that he got into.”

“If I had held my tongue, you would never have seen the subject of my question,” remarked Lammle, darkening.

“Now, Lammle,” said Fascination Fledgeby, calmly feeling for his whisker, “it won’t do. I won’t be led on into a discussion. I can’t manage a discussion. But I can manage to hold my tongue.”

“Can?” Mr Lammie fell back upon propitiation. “I should think you could! Why, when these fellows of our acquaintance drink and you drink with them, the more talkative they get, the more silent you get. The more they let out, the more you keep in.”

“I don’t object, Lammle,” returned Fledgeby, with an internal chuckle, “to being understood, though I object to being questioned. That certainly is the way I do it.”

“And when all the rest of us are discussing our ventures, none of us ever know what a single venture of yours is!”

“And none of you ever will from me, Lammle,” replied Fledgeby, with another internal chuckle; “that certainly is the way I do it.”

“Why of course it is, I know!” rejoined Lammle, with a flourish of frankness, and a laugh, and stretching out his hands as if to show the universe a remarkable man in Fledgeby. “If I hadn’t known it of my Fledgeby, should I have proposed our little compact of advantage, to my Fledgeby?”

“Ah!” remarked Fascination, shaking his head slyly. “But I am not to be got at in that way. I am not vain. That sort of vanity don’t pay, Lammle. No, no, no. Compliments only make me hold my tongue the more.”

Alfred Lammle pushed his plate away (no great sacrifice under the circumstances of there being so little in it), thrust his hands in his pockets, leaned back in his chair, and contemplated Fledgeby in silence. Then he slowly released his left hand from its pocket, and made that bush of his whiskers, still contemplating him in silence. Then he slowly broke silence, and slowly said: “What — the — Dev-il is this fellow about this morning?”

“Now, look here, Lammle,” said Fascination Fledgeby, with the meanest of twinkles in his meanest of eyes: which were too near together, by the way: “look here, Lammle; I am very well aware that I didn’t show to advantage last night, and that you and your wife — who, I consider, is a very clever woman and an agreeable woman — did. I am not calculated to show to advantage under that sort of circumstances. I know very well you two did show to advantage, and managed capitally. But don’t you on that account come talking to me as if I was your doll and puppet, because I am not.”

“And all this,” cried Alfred, after studying with a look the meanness that was fain to have the meanest help, and yet was so mean as to turn upon it: “all this because of one simple natural question!”

“You should have waited till I thought proper to say something about it of myself. I don’t like your coming over me with your Georgianas, as if you was her proprietor and mine too.”

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