`Saw I was anxious!' muttered Ralph; `they all watch me, now. Where is this person? You did not say I was not down yet, I hope?'

The woman replied that he was in the little office, and that she had said her master was engaged, but she would take the message.

`Well,' said Ralph, `I'll see him. Go you to your kitchen, and keep there. Do you mind me?'

Glad to be released, the woman quickly disappeared. Collecting himself, and assuming as much of his accustomed manner as his utmost resolution could summon, Ralph descended the stairs. After pausing for a few moments, with his hand upon the lock, he entered Newman's room, and confronted Mr Charles Cheeryble.

Of all men alive, this was one of the last he would have wished to meet at any time; but, now that he recognised in him only the patron and protector of Nicholas, he would rather have seen a spectre. One beneficial effect, however, the encounter had upon him. It instantly roused all his dormant energies; rekindled in his breast the passions that, for many years, had found an improving home there; called up all his wrath, hatred, and malice; restored the sneer to his lip, and the scowl to his brow; and made him again, in all outward appearance, the same Ralph Nickleby whom so many had bitter cause to remember.

`Humph!' said Ralph, pausing at the door. `This is an unexpected favour, sir.'

`And an unwelcome one,' said brother Charles; `an unwelcome one, I know.'

`Men say you are truth itself, sir,' replied Ralph. `You speak truth now, at all events, and I'll not contradict you. The favour is, at least, as unwelcome as it is unexpected. I can scarcely say more.'

`Plainly, sir--' began brother Charles.

`Plainly, sir,' interrupted Ralph, `I wish this conference to be a short one, and to end where it begins. I guess the subject upon which you are about to speak, and I'll not hear you. You like plainness, I believe,-- there it is. Here is the door as you see. Our way lies in very different directions. Take yours, I beg of you, and leave me to pursue mine in quiet.'

`In quiet!' repeated brother Charles mildly, and looking at him with more of pity than reproach. `To pursue his way in quiet!'

`You will scarcely remain in my house, I presume, sir, against my will,' said Ralph; `or you can scarcely hope to make an impression upon a man who closes his ears to all that you can say, and is firmly and resolutely determined not to hear you.'

`Mr Nickleby, sir,' returned brother Charles: no less mildly than before, but firmly too: `I come here against my will--sorely and grievously against my will. I have never been in this house before; and, to speak my mind, sir, I don't feel at home or easy in it, and have no wish ever to be here again. You do not guess the subject on which I come to speak to you; you do not indeed. I am sure of that, or your manner would be a very different one.'

Ralph glanced keenly at him, but the clear eye and open countenance of the honest old merchant underwent no change of expression, and met his look without reserve.

`Shall I go on?' said Mr Cheeryble.

`Oh, by all means, if you please,' returned Ralph drily. `Here are walls to speak to, sir, a desk, and two stools--most attentive auditors, and certain not to interrupt you. Go on, I beg; make my house yours, and perhaps by the time I return from my walk, you will have finished what you have to say, and will yield me up possession again.'

  By PanEris using Melati.

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