'Suppose,' said Sir Mulberry, pausing with a morsel on the point of his fork, 'suppose we go back to the subject of little Nickleby, eh?'
'Which little Nickleby; the money-lender or the ga-a-l?' asked Lord Verisopht.
'You take me, I see,' replied Sir Mulberry. 'The girl, of course.'
'You promised me you'd find her out,' said Lord Verisopht.
'So I did,' rejoined his friend; 'but I have thought further of the matter since then. You distrust me in the business--you shall find her out yourself.'
'Na-ay,' remonstrated Lord Verisopht.
'But I say yes,' returned his friend. 'You shall find her out yourself. Don't think that I mean, when you can--I know as well as you that if I did, you could never get sight of her without me. No. I say you shall find her out--SHALL--and I'll put you in the way.'
'Now, curse me, if you ain't a real, deyvlish, downright, thorough- paced friend,' said the young lord, on whom this speech had produced a most reviving effect.
'I'll tell you how,' said Sir Mulberry. 'She was at that dinner as a bait for you.'
'No!' cried the young lord. 'What the dey--'
'As a bait for you,' repeated his friend; 'old Nickleby told me so himself.'
'What a fine old cock it is!' exclaimed Lord Verisopht; 'a noble rascal!'
'Yes,' said Sir Mulberry, 'he knew she was a smart little creature--'
'Smart!' interposed the young lord. 'Upon my soul, Hawk, she's a perfect beauty--a--a picture, a statue, a--a--upon my soul she is!'
'Well,' replied Sir Mulberry, shrugging his shoulders and manifesting an indifference, whether he felt it or not; 'that's a matter of taste; if mine doesn't agree with yours, so much the better.'
'Confound it!' reasoned the lord, 'you were thick enough with her that day, anyhow. I could hardly get in a word.'
'Well enough for once, well enough for once,' replied Sir Mulberry; 'but not worth the trouble of being agreeable to again. If you seriously want to follow up the niece, tell the uncle that you must know where she lives and how she lives, and with whom, or you are no longer a customer of his. He'll tell you fast enough.'
'Why didn't you say this before?' asked Lord Verisopht, 'instead of letting me go on burning, consuming, dragging out a miserable existence for an a-age!'
'I didn't know it, in the first place,' answered Sir Mulberry carelessly; 'and in the second, I didn't believe you were so very much in earnest.'
Now, the truth was, that in the interval which had elapsed since the dinner at Ralph Nickleby's, Sir Mulberry Hawk had been furtively trying by every means in his power to discover whence Kate had so suddenly appeared, and whither she had disappeared. Unassisted by Ralph, however, with whom he had held no communication since their angry parting on that occasion, all his efforts were wholly unavailing, and he had therefore arrived at the determination of communicating to the young lord the substance of the admission he had gleaned from that worthy. To this he was impelled by various considerations; among which the certainty of knowing whatever the weak young man knew was decidedly not the least, as the desire of encountering the usurer's niece again, and using his utmost arts to reduce her pride, and revenge himself for her contempt, was uppermost in his thoughts. It was a politic course of proceeding, and one which could not fail to redound to his advantage in every point of view, since the very circumstance of his having extorted from Ralph Nickleby his real design in introducing his niece to such society, coupled with his extreme disinterestedness in communicating it so freely to his friend, could not but advance his interests in that quarter, and greatly facilitate the passage of coin (pretty frequent and speedy already) from the pockets of Lord Frederick Verisopht to those of Sir Mulberry Hawk.
Thus reasoned Sir Mulberry, and in pursuance of this reasoning he and his friend soon afterwards repaired to Ralph Nickleby's, there to execute a plan of operations concerted by Sir Mulberry himself, avowedly to promote his friend's object, and really to attain his own.