I was to have dined out along with Mrs Merdle. But as I didn't feel inclined for dinner, I let Mrs Merdle go by herself just as we were getting into the carriage, and thought I'd take a stroll instead.'
Would he have tea or coffee? 'No, thank you,' said Mr Merdle. 'I looked in at the Club, and got a bottle of wine.'
At this period of his visit, Mr Merdle took the chair.which Edmund Sparkler had offered him, and which he had hitherto been pushing slowly about before him, like a dull man with a pair of skates on for the first time, who could not make up his mind to start. He now put his hat upon another chair beside him, and, looking down into it as if it were some twenty feet deep, said again: 'You see I thought I'd give you a call.'
'Flattering to us,' said Fanny, 'for you are not a calling man.'
'No--no,' returned Mr Merdle, who was by this time taking himself into custody under both coat-sleeves. 'No, I am not a calling man.'
'You have too much to do for that,' said Fanny. 'Having so much to do, Mr Merdle, loss of appetite is a serious thing with you, and you must have it seen to. You must not be ill.' 'Oh! I am very well,' replied Mr Merdle, after deliberating about it. 'I am as well as I usually am. I am well enough. I am as well as I want to be.'
The master-mind of the age, true to its characteristic of being at all times a mind that had as little as possible to say for itself and great difficulty in saying it, became mute again. Mrs Sparkler began to wonder how long the master-mind meant to stay.
'I was speaking of poor papa when you came in, sir.'
'Aye! Quite a coincidence,' said Mr Merdle.
Fanny did not see that; but felt it incumbent on her to continue talking. 'I was saying,' she pursued, 'that my brother's illness has occasioned a delay in examining and arranging papa's property.'
'Yes,' said Mr Merdle; 'yes. There has been a delay.'
'Not that it is of consequence,' said Fanny.
'Not,' assented Mr Merdle, after having examined the cornice of all that part of the room which was within his range: 'not that it is of any consequence.'
'My only anxiety is,' said Fanny, 'that Mrs General should not get anything.'
'She won't get anything,' said Mr Merdle.
Fanny was delighted to hear him express the opinion. Mr Merdle, after taking another gaze into the depths of his hat as if he thought he saw something at the bottom, rubbed his hair and slowly appended to his last remark the confirmatory words, 'Oh dear no. No. Not she. Not likely.'
As the topic seemed exhausted, and Mr Merdle too, Fanny inquired if he were going to take up Mrs Merdle and the carriage in his way home?
'No,' he answered; 'I shall go by the shortest way, and leave Mrs Merdle to--' here he looked all over the palms of both his hands as if he were telling his own fortune--'to take care of herself. I dare say she'll manage to do it.'
'Probably,' said Fanny.
There was then a long silence; during which, Mrs Sparkler, lying back on her sofa again, shut her eyes and raised her eyebrows in her former retirement from mundane affairs.
'But, however,' said Mr Merdle, 'I am equally detaining you and myself. I thought I'd give you a call, you know.'
'Charmed, I am sure,' said Fanny.
'So I am off,' added Mr Merdle, getting up. 'Could you lend me a penknife?'
It was an odd thing, Fanny smilingly observed, for her who could seldom prevail upon herself even to write a letter, to lend to a man of such vast business as Mr Merdle. 'Isn't it?' Mr Merdle acquiesced; 'but I want one; and I know you have got several little wedding keepsakes about, with scissors and tweezers and such things in them. You shall have it back to-morrow.'
'Edmund,' said Mrs Sparkler, 'open (now, very carefully, I beg and beseech, for you are so very awkward) the mother of pearl box on my little table there, and give Mr Merdle the mother of pearl penknife.'
'Thank you,' said Mr Merdle; 'but if you have got one with a darker handle, I think I should prefer one with a darker handle.'
'Thank you,' said Mr Merdle; 'yes.