with an old fashion scarcely ever observed in these days, his grey hair was gathered behind. His nose and chin were sharp and prominent, his jaws had fallen inwards from loss of teeth, his face was shrivelled and yellow, save where the cheeks were streaked with the colour of a dry winter apple; and where his beard had been, there lingered yet a few grey tufts which seemed, like the ragged eyebrows, to denote the badness of the soil from which they sprung. The whole air and attitude of the form was one of stealthy cat-like obsequiousness; the whole expression of the face was concentrated in a wrinkled leer, compounded of cunning, lecherousness, slyness, and avarice.
Such was old Arthur Gride, in whose face there was not a wrinkle, in whose dress there was not one spare fold or plait, but expressed the most covetous and griping penury, and sufficiently indicated his belonging to that class of which Ralph Nickleby was a member. Such was old Arthur Gride, as he sat in a low chair looking up into the face of Ralph Nickleby, who, lounging upon the tall office stool, with his arms upon his knees, looked down into his, -- a match for him on whatever errand he had come.
`And how have you been?' said Gride, feigning great interest in Ralph's state of health. `I haven't seen you for -- oh! not for --'
`Not for a long time,' said Ralph, with a peculiar smile, importing that he very well knew it was not on a mere visit of compliment that his friend had come. `It was a narrow chance that you saw me now, for I had only just come up to the door as you turned the corner.'
`I am very lucky,' observed Gride.
`So men say,' replied Ralph, drily.
The older money-lender wagged his chin and smiled, but he originated no new remark, and they sat for some little time without speaking. Each was looking out to take the other at a disadvantage.
`Come, Gride,' said Ralph, at length; `what's in the wind today?'
`Aha! you're a bold man, Mr Nickleby,' cried the other, apparently very much relieved by Ralph's leading the way to business. `Oh dear, dear, what a bold man you are!'
`Why, you have a sleek and slinking way with you that makes me seem so by contrast,' returned Ralph. `I don't know but that yours may answer better, but I want the patience for it.'
`You were born a genius, Mr Nickleby,' said old Arthur. `Deep, deep, deep. Ah!'
`Deep enough,' retorted Ralph, `to know that I shall need all the depth I have, when men like you begin to compliment. You know I have stood by when you fawned and flattered other people, and I remember pretty well what that always led to.'
`Ha, ha, ha!' rejoined Arthur, rubbing his hands. `So you do, so you do, no doubt. Not a man knows it better. Well, it's a pleasant thing now to think that you remember old times. Oh dear!'
`Now then,' said Ralph, composedly; `what's in the wind, I ask again -- what is it?'
`See that now!' cried the other. `He can't even keep from business while we're chatting over bygones. Oh dear, dear, what a man it is!'
`Which of the bygones do you want to revive?' said Ralph. `One of them, I know, or you wouldn't talk about them.'
`He suspects even me!' cried old Arthur, holding up his hands. `Even me -- oh dear, even me. What a man it is! Ha, ha, ha! What a man it is! Mr Nickleby against all the world -- there's nobody like him. A giant among pigmies -- a giant -- a giant!'
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