`But she can earn money herself, Peg,' said Arthur Gride, eagerly watching what effect his communication produced upon the old woman's countenance: `she can draw, paint, work all manner of pretty things for ornamenting stools and chairs: slippers, Peg, watch-guards, hair-chains, and a thousand little dainty trifles that I couldn't give you half the names of. Then she can play the piano, (and, what's more, she's got one), and sing like a little bird. She'll be very cheap to dress and keep, Peg; don't you think she will?'

`If you don't let her make a fool of you, she may,' returned Peg.

`A fool of me!' exclaimed Arthur. `Trust your old master not to be fooled by pretty faces, Peg; no, no, no-- nor by ugly ones neither, Mrs Sliderskew,' he softly added by way of soliloquy.

`You're a saying something you don't want me to hear,' said Peg; `I know you are.'

`Oh dear! the devil's in this woman,' muttered Arthur; adding with an ugly leer, `I said I trusted everything to you, Peg. That was all.'

`You do that, master, and all your cares are over,' said Peg approvingly.

`When I do that, Peg Sliderskew,' thought Arthur Gride, `they will be.'

Although he thought this very distinctly, he durst not move his lips lest the old woman should detect him. He even seemed half afraid that she might have read his thoughts; for he leered coaxingly upon her, as he said aloud--

`Take up all loose stitches in the bottle-green with the best black silk. Have a skein of the best, and some new buttons for the coat, and--this is a good idea, Peg, and one you'll like, I know--as I have never given her anything yet, and girls like such attentions, you shall polish up a sparking necklace that I have got upstairs, and I'll give it her upon the wedding morning--clasp it round her charming little neck myself-- and take it away again next day. He, he, he!--lock it up for her, Peg, and lose it. Who'll be made the fool of there, I wonder, to begin with--eh, Peg?'

Mrs Sliderskew appeared to approve highly of this ingenious scheme, and expressed her satisfaction by various rackings and twitchings of her head and body, which by no means enhanced her charms. These she prolonged until she had hobbled to the door, when she exchanged them for a sour malignant look, and twisting her under-jaw from side to side, muttered hearty curses upon the future Mrs Gride, as she crept slowly down the stairs, and paused for breath at nearly every one.

`She's half a witch, I think,' said Arthur Gride, when he found himself again alone. `But she's very frugal, and she's very deaf. Her living costs me next to nothing; and it's no use her listening at keyholes; for she can't hear. She's a charming woman--for the purpose; a most discreet old housekeeper, and worth her weight in--copper.'

Having extolled the merits of his domestic in these high terms, old Arthur went back to the burden of his song. The suit destined to grace his approaching nuptials being now selected, he replaced the others with no less care than he had displayed in drawing them from the musty nooks where they had silently reposed for many years.

Startled by a ring at the door, he hastily concluded this operation, and locked the press; but there was no need for any particular hurry, as the discreet Peg seldom knew the bell was rung unless she happened to cast her dim eyes upwards, and to see it shaking against the kitchen ceiling. After a short delay, however, Peg tottered in, followed by Newman Noggs.

`Ah! Mr Noggs!' cried Arthur Gride, rubbing his hands. `My good friend, Mr Noggs, what news do you bring for me?'

  By PanEris using Melati.

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