`Oho!' said Ralph, eyeing him askew. `Jealous too!'

`Dear now see that!' cried Arthur, rubbing his hands and affecting to laugh.

`Why do you make those grimaces, man?' said Ralph; `you are jealous--and with good cause I think.'

`No, no, no,--not with good cause, hey? You don't think with good cause, do you?' cried Arthur, faltering. `Do you though--hey?'

`Why, how stands the fact?' returned Ralph. `Here is an old man about to be forced in marriage upon a girl; and to this old man there comes a handsome young fellow--you said he was handsome, didn't you?'

`No!' snarled Arthur Gride.

`Oh!' rejoined Ralph, `I thought you did. Well! Handsome or not handsome, to this old man there comes a young fellow who casts all manner of fierce defiances in his teeth--gums I should rather say--and tells him in plain terms that his mistress hates him. What does he do that for? Philanthropy's sake?'

`Not for love of the lady,' replied Gride, `for he said that no word of love--his very words--had ever passed between 'em.'

`He said!' repeated Ralph, contemptuously. `But I like him for one thing, and that is, his giving you this fair warning to keep your--what is it?--Tit-tit or dainty chick--which?--under lock and key. Be careful, Gride, be careful. It's a triumph, too, to tear her away from a gallant young rival: a great triumph for an old man! It only remains to keep her safe when you have her--that's all.'

`What a man it is!' cried Arthur Gride, affecting, in the extremity of his torture, to be highly amused. And then he added, anxiously, `Yes; to keep her safe, that's all. And that isn't much, is it?'

`Much!' said Ralph, with a sneer. `Why, everybody knows what easy things to understand and to control, women are. But come, it's very nearly time for you to be made happy. You'll pay the bond now, I suppose, to save us trouble afterwards.'

`Oh what a man you are!' croaked Arthur.

`Why not?' said Ralph. `Nobody will pay you interest for the money, I suppose, between this and twelve o'clock, will they?'

`But nobody would pay you interest for it either, you know,' returned Arthur, leering at Ralph with all the cunning and slyness he could throw into his face.

`Besides which,' said Ralph, suffering his lip to curl into a smile, `you haven't the money about you, and you weren't prepared for this, or you'd have brought it with you; and there's nobody you'd so much like to accommodate as me. I see. We trust each other in about an equal degree. Are you ready?'

Gride, who had done nothing but grin, and nod, and chatter, during this last speech of Ralph's, answered in the affirmative; and, producing from his hat a couple of large white favours, pinned one on his breast, and with considerable difficulty induced his friend to do the like. Thus accoutred, they got into a hired coach which Ralph had in waiting, and drove to the residence of the fair and most wretched bride.

Gride, whose spirits and courage had gradually failed him more and more as they approached nearer and nearer to the house, was utterly dismayed and cowed by the mournful silence which pervaded it. The face of the poor servant girl, the only person they saw, was disfigured with tears and want of sleep. There was nobody to receive or welcome them; and they stole upstairs into the usual sitting-room, more like two burglars than the bridegroom and his friend.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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