“Chill and bitter,” said Riah, drawing out a handkerchief, and wiping the moisture from his beard and long grey hair as he stood on the verge of the rug, with his eyes on the acceptable fire.

With a plunge of enjoyment, Fledgeby settled himself afresh.

“Any snow, or sleet, or slush, or anything of that sort?” he asked.

“No, sir, no. Not quite so bad as that. The streets are pretty clean.”

“You needn’t brag about it,” returned Fledgeby, disappointed in his desire to heighten the contrast between his bed and the streets. “But you’re always bragging about something. Got the books there?”

“They are here, sir.”

“All right. I’ll turn the general subject over in my mind for a minute or two, and while I’m about it you can empty your bag and get ready for me.”

With another comfortable plunge, Mr. Fledgeby fell asleep again. The old man, having obeyed his directions, sat down on the edge of a chair, and, folding his hands before him, gradually yielded to the influence of the warmth, and dozed. He was roused by Mr. Fledgeby’s appearing erect at the foot of the bed, in Turkish slippers, rose-coloured Turkish trousers (got cheap from somebody who had cheated some other somebody out of them), and a gown and cap to correspond. In that costume he would have left nothing to be desired, if he had been further fitted out with a bottomless chair, a lantern, and a bunch of matches.

“Now, old ’un!” cried Fascination, in his light raillery, “what dodgery are you up to next, sitting there with your eyes shut? You ain’t asleep. Catch a weasel at it, and catch a Jew!”

“Truly, sir, I fear I nodded,” said the old man.

“Not you!” returned Fledgeby, with a cunning look. “A telling move with a good many, I dare say, but it won’t put me off my guard. Not a bad notion though, if you want to look indifferent in driving a bargain. Oh, you are a dodger!”

The old man shook his head, gently repudiating the imputation, and suppressed a sigh, and moved to the table at which Mr. Fledgeby was now pouring out for himself a cup of steaming and fragrant coffee from a pot that had stood ready on the hob. It was an edifying spectacle, the young man in his easy chair taking his coffee, and the old man with his grey head bent, standing awaiting his pleasure.

“Now!” said Fledgeby. “Fork out your balance in hand, and prove by figures how you make it out that it ain’t more. First of all, light that candle.”

Riah obeyed, and then taking a bag from his breast, and referring to the sum in the accounts for which they made him responsible, told it out upon the table. Fledgeby told it again with great care, and rang every sovereign.

“I suppose,” he said, taking one up to eye it closely, “you haven’t been lightening any of these; but it’s a trade of your people’s, you know. You understand what sweating a pound means; don’t you?”

“Much as you do, sir,” returned the old man, with his hands under opposite cuffs of his loose sleeves, as he stood at the table, deferentially observant of the master’s face. “May I take the liberty to say something?”

“You may,” Fledgeby graciously conceded.

“Do you not, sir — without intending it — of a surety without intending it — sometimes mingle the character I fairly earn in your employment, with the character which it is your policy that I should bear?”

  By PanEris using Melati.

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