`Ralph Nickleby,' repeated Smike. `Ralph. I'll get that name by heart.'
He had muttered it over to himself some twenty times, when a loud knock at the door disturbed him from his occupation. Before he could open it, Mr Folair, the pantomimist, thrust in his head.
Mr Folair's head was usually decorated with a very round hat, unusually high in the crown, and curled up quite tight in the brims. On the present occasion he wore it very much on one side, with the back part forward in consequence of its being the least rusty; round his neck he wore a flaming red worsted comforter, whereof the straggling ends peeped out beneath his threadbare Newmarket coat, which was very tight and buttoned all the way up. He carried in his hand one very dirty glove, and a cheap dress cane with a glass handle; in short, his whole appearance was unusually dashing, and demonstrated a far more scrupulous attention to his toilet than he was in the habit of bestowing upon it.
`Good-evening, sir,' said Mr Folair, taking off the tall hat, and running his fingers through his hair. `I bring a communication. Hem!'
`From whom and what about?' inquired Nicholas. `You are unusually mysterious tonight.'
`Cold, perhaps,' returned Mr Folair; `cold, perhaps. That is the fault of my position--not of myself, Mr Johnson. My position as a mutual friend requires it, sir.' Mr Folair paused with a most impressive look, and diving into the hat before noticed, drew from thence a small piece of whity-brown paper curiously folded, whence he brought forth a note which it had served to keep clean, and handing it over to Nicholas, said--
`Have the goodness to read that, sir.'
Nicholas, in a state of much amazement, took the note and broke the seal, glancing at Mr Folair as he did so, who, knitting his brow and pursing up his mouth with great dignity, was sitting with his eyes steadily fixed upon the ceiling.
It was directed to blank Johnson, Esq., by favour of Augustus Folair, Esq.; and the astonishment of Nicholas was in no degree lessened, when he found it to be couched in the following laconic terms--
Mr Lenville presents his kind regards to Mr Johnson, and will feel obliged if he will inform him at what hour tomorrow morning it will be most convenient to him to meet Mr L. at the Theatre, for the purpose of having his nose pulled in the presence of the company.
Mr Lenville requests Mr Johnson not to neglect making an appointment, as he has invited two or three professional friends to witness the ceremony, and cannot disappoint them upon any account whatever. Portsmouth, Tuesday night.
Indignant as he was at this impertinence, there was something so exquisitely absurd in such a cartel of defiance, that Nicholas was obliged to bite his lip and read the note over two or three times before he could muster sufficient gravity and sternness to address the hostile messenger, who had not taken his eyes from the ceiling, nor altered the expression of his face in the slightest degree.
`Do you know the contents of this note, sir?' he asked, at length.
`Yes,' rejoined Mr Folair, looking round for an instant, and immediately carrying his eyes back again to the ceiling.
`And how dare you bring it here, sir?' asked Nicholas, tearing it into very little pieces, and jerking it in a shower towards the messenger. `Had you no fear of being kicked downstairs, sir?'
Mr Folair turned his head--now ornamented with several fragments of the note--towards Nicholas, and with the same imperturbable dignity, briefly replied `No.'
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