A Few Grains Of Pepper

The dolls’ dressmaker went no more to the business-premises of Pubsey and Co. in St Mary Axe, after chance had disclosed to her (as she supposed) the flinty and hypocritical character of Mr Riah. She often moralized over her work on the tricks and the manners of that venerable cheat, but made her little purchases elsewhere, and lived a secluded life. After much consultation with herself, she decided not to put Lizzie Hexam on her guard against the old man, arguing that the disappointment of finding him out would come upon her quite soon enough. Therefore, in her communication with her friend by letter, she was silent on this theme, and principally dilated on the backslidings of her bad child, who every day grew worse and worse.

“You wicked old boy,” Miss Wren would say to him, with a menacing forefinger, “you’ll force me to run away from you, after all, you will; and then you’ll shake to bits, and there’ll be nobody to pick up the pieces!”

At this foreshadowing of a desolate decease, the wicked old boy would whine and whimper, and would sit shaking himself into the lowest of low spirits, until such time as he could shake himself out of the house and shake another threepennyworth into himself. But dead drunk or dead sober (he had come to such a pass that he was least alive in the latter state), it was always on the conscience of the paralytic scarecrow that he had betrayed his sharp parent for sixty threepennyworths of rum, which were all gone, and that her sharpness would infallibly detect his having done it, sooner or later. All things considered therefore, and addition made of the state of his body to the state of his mind, the bed on which Mr Dolls reposed was a bed of roses from which the flowers and leaves had entirely faded, leaving him to lie upon the thorns and stalks.

On a certain day, Miss Wren was alone at her work, with the house-door set open for coolness, and was trolling in a small sweet voice a mournful little song which might have been the song of the doll she was dressing, bemoaning the brittleness and meltability of wax, when whom should she descry standing on the pavement, looking in at her, but Mr Fledgeby.

“I thought it was you?” said Fledgeby, coming up the two steps.

“Did you?” Miss Wren retorted. “And I thought it was you, young man. Quite a coincidence. You’re not mistaken, and I’m not mistaken. How clever we are!”

“Well, and how are you?” said Fledgeby.

“I am pretty much as usual, sir,” replied Miss Wren. “A very unfortunate parent, worried out of my life and senses by a very bad child.”

Fledgeby’s small eyes opened so wide that they might have passed for ordinary-sized eyes, as he stared about him for the very young person whom he supposed to be in question.

“But you’re not a parent,” said Miss Wren, “and consequently it’s of no use talking to you upon a family subject. — To what am I to attribute the honor and favor?”

“To a wish to improve your acquaintance,” Mr Fledgeby replied.

Miss Wren, stopping to bite her thread, looked at him very knowingly.

“We never meet now,” said Fledgeby; “do we?”

“No,” said Miss Wren, chopping off the word.

“So I had a mind,” pursued Fledgeby, “to come and have a talk with you about our dodging friend, the child of Israel.”

“So he gave you my address; did he?” asked Miss Wren.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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