“No, sir. I expect no one but the present company.”

Mr. Boffin glanced about him, as accepting under that inclusive denomination the French gentleman and the circle in which he didn’t move, and repeated, “The present company.”

“Sir,” said Mr. Venus, “before entering upon business, I shall have to ask you for your word and honor that we are in confidence.”

“Let’s wait a bit and understand what the expression means,” answered Mr. Boffin. “In confidence for how long? In confidence for ever and a day?”

“I take your hint, sir,” said Venus; “you think you might consider the business, when you came to know it, to be of a nature incompatible with confidence on your part?”

“I might,” said Mr. Boffin with a cautious look.

“True, sir. Well, sir,” observed Venus, after clutching at his dusty hair, to brighten his ideas, “let us put it another way. I open the business with you, relying upon your honor not to do anything in it, and not to mention me in it, without my knowledge.”

“That sounds fair,” said Mr. Boffin. “I agree to that.”

“I have your word and honor, sir?”

“My good fellow,” retorted Mr. Boffin, “you have my word; and how you can have that, without my honor too, I don’t know. I’ve sorted a lot of dust in my time, but I never knew the two things go into separate heaps.”

This remark seemed rather to abash Mr. Venus. He hesitated, and said, “Very true, sir;” and again, “Very true, sir,” before resuming the thread of his discourse.

“Mr. Boffin, if I confess to you that I fell into a proposal of which you were the subject, and of which you oughtn’t to have been the subject, you will allow me to mention, and will please take into favourable consideration, that I was in a crushed state of mind at the time.”

The Golden Dustman, with his hands folded on the top of his stout stick, with his chin resting upon them, and with something leering and whimsical in his eyes, gave a nod, and said, “Quite so, Venus.”

“That proposal, sir, was a conspiring breach of your confidence, to such an extent, that I ought at once to have made it known to you. But I didn’t, Mr. Boffin, and I fell into it.”

Without moving eye or finger, Mr. Boffin gave another nod, and placidly repeated, “Quite so, Venus.”

“Not that I was ever hearty in it, sir,” the penitent anatomist went on, “or that I ever viewed myself with anything but reproach for having turned out of the paths of science into the paths of—” he was going to say “villany,” but, unwilling to press too hard upon himself, substituted with great emphasis — “Weggery.”

Placid and whimsical of look as ever, Mr. Boffin answered: “Quite so, Venus.”

“And now, sir,” said Venus, “having prepared your mind in the rough, I will articulate the details.” With which brief professional exordium, he entered on the history of the friendly move, and truly recounted it. One might have thought that it would have extracted some show of surprise or anger, or other emotion, from Mr. Boffin, but it extracted nothing beyond his former comment: “Quite so, Venus.”

“I have astonished you, sir, I believe?” said Mr. Venus, pausing dubiously.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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