`Then,' said Nicholas, taking up the tall hat and tossing it towards the door, `you had better follow that article of your dress, sir, or you may find yourself very disagreeably deceived, and that within a dozen seconds.'
`I say, Johnson,' remonstrated Mr Folair, suddenly losing all his dignity, `none of that, you know. No tricks with a gentleman's wardrobe.'
`Leave the room,' returned Nicholas. `How could you presume to come here on such an errand, you scoundrel?'
`Pooh! pooh!' said Mr Folair, unwinding his comforter, and gradually getting himself out of it. `There-- that's enough.'
`Enough!' cried Nicholas, advancing towards him. `Take yourself off, sir.'
`Pooh! pooh! I tell you,' returned Mr Folair, waving his hand in deprecation of any further wrath; `I wasn't in earnest. I only brought it in joke.'
`You had better be careful how you indulge in such jokes again,' said Nicholas, `or you may find an allusion to pulling noses rather a dangerous reminder for the subject of your facetiousness. Was it written in joke, too, pray?'
`No, no, that's the best of it,' returned the actor; `right down earnest--honour bright.'
Nicholas could not repress a smile at the odd figure before him, which, at all times more calculated to provoke mirth than anger, was especially so at that moment, when with one knee upon the ground, Mr Folair twirled his old hat round upon his hand, and affected the extremest agony lest any of the nap should have been knocked off--an ornament which it is almost superfluous to say, it had not boasted for many months.
`Come, sir,' said Nicholas, laughing in spite of himself. `Have the goodness to explain.'
`Why, I'll tell you how it is,' said Mr Folair, sitting himself down in a chair with great coolness. `Since you came here Lenville has done nothing but second business, and, instead of having a reception every night as he used to have, they have let him come on as if he was nobody.'
`What do you mean by a reception?' asked Nicholas.
`Jupiter!' exclaimed Mr Folair, `what an unsophisticated shepherd you are, Johnson! Why, applause from the house when you first come on. So he has gone on night after night, never getting a hand, and you getting a couple of rounds at least, and sometimes three, till at length he got quite desperate, and had half a mind last night to play Tybalt with a real sword, and pink you--not dangerously, but just enough to lay you up for a month or two.'
`Very considerate,' remarked Nicholas.
`Yes, I think it was under the circumstances; his professional reputation being at stake,' said Mr Folair, quite seriously. `But his heart failed him, and he cast about for some other way of annoying you, and making himself popular at the same time--for that's the point. Notoriety, notoriety, is the thing. Bless you, if he had pinked you,' said Mr Folair, stopping to make a calculation in his mind, `it would have been worth--ah, it would have been worth eight or ten shillings a week to him. All the town would have come to see the actor who nearly killed a man by mistake; I shouldn't wonder if it had got him an engagement in London. However, he was obliged to try some other mode of getting popular, and this one occurred to him. It's clever idea, really. If you had shown the white feather, and let him pull your nose, he'd have got it into the paper; if you had sworn the peace against him, it would have been in the paper too, and he'd have been just as much talked about as you--don't you see?'
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