`Yes, yes,' said Gride, startled by the fierce tone of the inquiry. `It's here. Dear, dear, what a fiery man you are!'

`Come here,' said Ralph, beckoning to him. `We mustn't make a show of being disturbed. We'll go down arm-in-arm.'

`But you pinch me black and blue,' urged Gride.

Ralph let him go impatiently, and descending the stairs with his usual firm and heavy tread, got into the coach. Arthur Gride followed. After looking doubtfully at Ralph when the man asked where he was to drive, and finding that he remained silent, and expressed no wish upon the subject, Arthur mentioned his own house, and thither they proceeded.

On their way, Ralph sat in the furthest corner with folded arms, and uttered not a word. With his chin sunk upon his breast, and his downcast eyes quite hidden by the contraction of his knotted brows, he might have been asleep for any sign of consciousness he gave until the coach stopped, when he raised his head, and glancing through the window, inquired what place that was.

`My house,' answered the disconsolate Gride, affected perhaps by its loneliness. `Oh dear! my house.'

`True,' said Ralph `I have not observed the way we came. I should like a glass of water. You have that in the house, I suppose?'

`You shall have a glass of--of anything you like,' answered Gride, with a groan. `It's no use knocking, coachman. Ring the bell!'

The man rang, and rang, and rang again; then, knocked until the street re-echoed with the sounds; then, listened at the keyhole of the door. Nobody came. The house was silent as the grave.

`How's this?' said Ralph impatiently.

`Peg is so very deaf,' answered Gride with a look of anxiety and alarm. `Oh dear! Ring again, coachman. She sees the bell.'

Again the man rang and knocked, and knocked and rang again. Some of the neighbours threw up their windows, and called across the street to each other that old Gride's housekeeper must have dropped down dead. Others collected round the coach, and gave vent to various surmises; some held that she had fallen asleep; some, that she had burnt herself to death; some, that she had got drunk; and one very fat man that she had seen something to eat which had frightened her so much (not being used to it) that she had fallen into a fit. This last suggestion particularly delighted the bystanders, who cheered it rather uproariously, and were, with some difficulty, deterred from dropping down the area and breaking open the kitchen door to ascertain the fact. Nor was this all. Rumours having gone abroad that Arthur was to be married that morning, very particular inquiries were made after the bride, who was held by the majority to be disguised in the person of Mr Ralph Nickleby, which gave rise to much jocose indignation at the public appearance of a bride in boots and pantaloons, and called forth a great many hoots and groans. At length, the two moneylenders obtained shelter in a house next door, and, being accommodated with a ladder, clambered over the wall of the back-yard, which was not a high one, and descended in safety on the other side.

`I am almost afraid to go in, I declare,' said Arthur, turning to Ralph when they were alone. `Suppose she should be murdered--lying with her brains knocked out by a poker--eh?'

`Suppose she were,' said Ralph. `I tell you, I wish such things were more common than they are, and more easily done. You may stare and shiver--I do!'

  By PanEris using Melati.

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