'I'll butt Merdle, if you like; but not my lord.'
Ferdinand laughed, in the midst of his vexation. 'Confound them both!' said he, looking at his watch. 'I want to get away. Why the deuce can't they come together! They both know what they want and mean to do. Look at them!'
They were still looming at opposite ends of the perspective, each with an absurd pretence of not having the other on his mind, which could not have been more transparently ridiculous though his real mind had been chalked on his back. Bishop, who had just now made a third with Bar and Ferdinand, but whose innocence had again cut him out of the subject and washed him in sweet oil, was seen to approach Lord Decimus and glide into conversation.
'I must get Merdle's doctor to catch and secure him, I suppose,' said Ferdinand; 'and then I must lay hold of my illustrious kinsman, and decoy him if I can--drag him if I can't--to the conference.'
'Since you do me the honour,' said Bar, with his slyest smile, to ask for my poor aid, it shall be yours with the greatest pleasure. I don't think this is to be done by one man. But if you will undertake to pen my lord into that furthest drawing-room where he is now so profoundly engaged, I will undertake to bring our dear Merdle into the presence, without the possibility of getting away.'
'Done!' said Ferdinand.
'Done!' said Bar.
Bar was a sight wondrous to behold, and full of matter, when, jauntily waving his double eye-glass by its ribbon, and jauntily drooping to an Universe of jurymen, he, in the most accidental manner ever seen, found himself at Mr Merdle's shoulder, and embraced that opportunity of mentioning a little point to him, on which he particularly wished to be guided by the light of his practical knowledge. (Here he took Mr Merdle's arm and walked him gently away.) A banker, whom we would call A. B., advanced a considerable sum of money, which we would call fifteen thousand pounds, to a client or customer of his, whom he would call P. q. (Here, as they were getting towards Lord Decimus, he held Mr Merdle tight.) As a security for the repayment of this advance to P. Q. whom we would call a widow lady, there were placed in A. B.'s hands the title-deeds of a freehold estate, which we would call Blinkiter Doddles. Now, the point was this. A limited right of felling and lopping in the woods of Blinkiter Doddles, lay in the son of P. Q. then past his majority, and whom we would call X. Y.--but really this was too bad! In the presence of Lord Decimus, to detain the host with chopping our dry chaff of law, was really too bad! Another time! Bar was truly repentant, and would not say another syllable. Would Bishop favour him with half-a-dozen words? (He had now set Mr Merdle down on a couch, side by side with Lord Decimus, and to it they must go, now or never.)
And now the rest of the company, highly excited and interested, always excepting Bishop, who had not the slightest idea that anything was going on, formed in one group round the fire in the next drawing-room, and pretended to be chatting easily on the infinite variety of small topics, while everybody's thoughts and eyes were secretly straying towards the secluded pair. The Chorus were excessively nervous, perhaps as labouring under the dreadful apprehension that some good thing was going to be diverted from them! Bishop alone talked steadily and evenly. He conversed with the great Physician on that relaxation of the throat with which young curates were too frequently afflicted, and on the means of lessening the great prevalence of that disorder in the church. Physician, as a general rule, was of opinion that the best way to avoid it was to know how to read, before you made a profession of reading. Bishop said dubiously, did he really think so? And Physician said, decidedly, yes he did.
Ferdinand, meanwhile, was the only one of the party who skirmished on the outside of the circle; he kept about mid-way between it and the two, as if some sort of surgical operation were being performed by Lord Decimus on Mr Merdle, or by Mr Merdle on Lord Decimus, and his services might at any moment be required as Dresser.