“Oh my head!” cried the dolls’ dressmaker, holding it with both her hands, as if it were cracking. “You can’t mean what you say.”

“I can, my little woman,” retorted Fledgeby, “and I do, I assure you.”

This repudiation was not only an act of deliberate policy on Fledgeby’s part, in case of his being surprised by any other caller, but was also a retort upon Miss Wren for her over-sharpness, and a pleasant instance of his humour as regarded the old Jew. “He has got a bad name as an old Jew, and he is paid for the use of it, and I’ll have my money’s worth out of him.” This was Fledgeby’s habitual reflection in the way of business, and it was sharpened just now by the old man’s presuming to have a secret from him: though of the secret itself, as annoying somebody else whom he disliked, he by no means disapproved.

Miss Wren with a fallen countenance sat behind the door looking thoughtfully at the ground, and the long and patient silence had again set in for some time, when the expression of Mr Fledgeby’s face betokened that through the upper portion of the door, which was of glass, he saw some one faltering on the brink of the counting-house. Presently there was a rustle and a tap, and then some more rustling and another tap. Fledgeby taking no notice, the door was at length softly opened, and the dried face of a mild little elderly gentleman looked in.

“Mr. Riah?” said this visitor, very politely.

“I am waiting for him, sir,” returned Mr Fledgeby. “He went out and left me here. I expect him back every minute. Perhaps you had better take a chair.”

The gentleman took a chair, and put his hand to his forehead, as if he were in a melancholy frame of mind. Mr Fledgeby eyed him aside, and seemed to relish his attitude.

“A fine day, sir,” remarked Fledgeby.

The little dried gentleman was so occupied with his own depressed reflections that he did not notice the remark until the sound of Mr Fledgeby’s voice had died out of the counting-house. Then he started, and said: “I beg your pardon, sir. I fear you spoke to me?”

“I said,” remarked Fledgeby, a little louder than before, “it was a fine day.”

“I beg your pardon. I beg your pardon. Yes.”

Again the little dried gentleman put his hand to his forehead, and again Mr Fledgeby seemed to enjoy his doing it. When the gentleman changed his attitude with a sigh, Fledgeby spake with a grin.

“Mr Twemlow, I think?”

The dried gentleman seemed much surprised.

“Had the pleasure of dining with you at Lammle’s,” said Fledgeby. “Even have the honor of being a connexion of yours. An unexpected sort of place this to meet in; but one never knows, when one gets into the City, what people one may knock up against. I hope you have your health, and are enjoying yourself.”

There might have been a touch of impertinence in the last words; on the other hand, it might have been but the native grace of Mr Fledgeby’s manner. Mr Fledgeby sat on a stool with a foot on the rail of another stool, and his hat on. Mr. Twemlow had uncovered on looking in at the door, and remained so.

Now the conscientious Twemlow, knowing what he had done to thwart the gracious Fledgeby, was particularly disconcerted by this encounter. He was as ill at ease as a gentleman well could be. He felt himself bound to conduct himself stiffly towards Fledgeby, and he made him a distant bow. Fledgeby made his small eyes smaller in taking special note of his manner. The dolls’ dressmaker sat in her corner

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