Give a Dog a Bad Name, and Hang Him

FASCINATION FLEDGEBY, left alone in the counting-house, strolled about with his hat on one side, whistling, and investigating the drawers, and prying here and there for any small evidences of his being cheated, but could find none. “Not his merit that he don’t cheat me,” was Mr. Fledgeby’s commentary delivered with a wink, “but my precaution.” He then with a lazy grandeur asserted his rights as lord of Pubsey and Co. by poking his cane at the stools and boxes, and spitting in the fireplace, and so loitered royally to the window and looked out into the narrow street, with his small eyes just peering over the top of Pubsey and Co.’s blind. As a blind in more senses than one, it reminded him that he was alone in the counting-house with the front door open. He was moving away to shut it, lest he should be injudiciously identified with the establishment, when he was stopped by some one coming to the door.

This some one was the dolls’ dressmaker, with a little basket on her arm, and her crutch stick in her hand. Her keen eyes had espied Mr. Fledgeby before Mr. Fledgeby had espied her, and he was paralyzed in his purpose of shutting her out, not so much by her approaching the door, as by her favouring him with a shower of nods, the instant he saw her. This advantage she improved by hobbling up the steps with such despatch that before Mr Fledgeby could take measures for her finding nobody at home, she was face to face with him in the counting-house.

“Hope I see you well, sir,” said Miss Wren. “Mr. Riah in?”

Fledgeby had dropped into a chair, in the attitude of one waiting wearily. “I suppose he will be back soon,” he replied; “he has cut out and left me expecting him back, in an odd way. Haven’t I seen you before?’

“Once before — if you had your eyesight,” replied Miss Wren; the conditional clause in an under-tone.

“When you were carrying on some games up at the top of the house. I remember. How’s your friend?”

“I have more friends than one, sir, I hope,” replied Miss Wren. “Which friend?”

“Never mind,” said Mr Fledgeby, shutting up one eye, “any of your friends, all your friends. Are they pretty tolerable?”

Somewhat confounded, Miss Wren parried the pleasantry, and sat down in a corner behind the door, with her basket in her lap. By-and-by, she said, breaking a long and patient silence:

“I beg your pardon, sir, but I am used to find Mr. Riah at this time, and so I generally come at this time. I only want to buy my poor little two shillings’ worth of waste. Perhaps you’ll kindly let me have it, and I’ll trot off to my work.”

I let you have it?” said Fledgeby, turning his head towards her; for he had been sitting blinking at the light, and feeling his cheek. “Why, you don’t really suppose that I have anything to do with the place, or the business; do you?”

“Suppose?” exclaimed Miss Wren. “He said, that day, you were the master!”

“The old cock in black said? Riah said? Why, he’d say anything.”

“Well; but you said so too,” returned Miss Wren. “Or at least you took on like the master, and didn’t contradict him.”

“One of his dodges,” said Mr Fledgeby, with a cool and contemptuous shrug. “He’s made of dodges. He said to me, ‘Come up to the top of the house, sir, and I’ll show you a handsome girl. But I shall call you the master.’ So I went up to the top of the house and he showed me the handsome girl (very well worth looking at she was), and I was called the master. I don’t know why. I dare say he don’t. He loves a dodge for its own sake; being,” added Mr Fledgeby, after casting about for an expressive phrase, “the dodgerest of all the dodgers.”

  By PanEris using Melati.

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