Mr Benny laughed. “And yet it would not be so tremendous a guess,— hey?—seeing what friends you two are.”
“It won’t do no harm,” allowed ’Bias after pondering a while, “if you took it to be Cai Hocken; though, mind you, I don’t say as you’re right.”
“That’s understood. . . . Now for the lady’s occupation?”
“Well . . . you might make it farmin’—for the sake of argument.”
“Now I wonder,” thought Mr Benny to himself, “which of these two is lying.” Aloud he began, setting pen to paper and repeating as he wrote, “’Honoured Madam,’—you don’t think that too cold?”
“Why, are you able to start already?” exclaimed ’Bias in unfeigned amazement.
“I like to catch an inspiration as it springs to my brain,” Mr Benny assured him. “We’ll correct as we go on.”
“You’re welcome as blossom, my dear,” said Mrs Bowldler to Fancy Tabb, who had dropped in, as she put it, for a look around. The child was allowed a couple of hours off duty in the afternoon to take a walk and blow away the cobwebs of the Chandler’s gloomy house: her poor shop-drudge of a father having found courage to wring this concession from Mr Rogers for her health’s sake. “You’re welcome as blossom, but you must work for your welcome. Come and help me to cut bread-and-butter. . . . Palmerston! You bring the kettle and pour a little water into the teapots, just to get ’em heated.”
“Company, is it?” asked Fancy, laying aside her cloak.
“Company?” Mrs Bowldler sniffed. “We’ve had enough of company to last us this side of the grave. Ho, I trust the name of company will not be breathed in my hearing for some time to come!”
“What is it, then?”
“Freaks, I hope; maggots, as my poor dear tender mother used to say; and all casting double work on the establishment. We must dine separate, all of a sudden; and now we must have our tea served separate; and from dinner to tea-time sitting in writing, the pair of us, till I wonder it haven’t brought on a rush of blood to our poor heads.”
“Writing?” echoed Fancy. She desisted from spreading the butter and eyed Mrs Bowldler doubtfully, pursing up her lips. “I don’t like the look of that. What are they writing, do you suppose?”
“It don’t become me to guess,” answered Mrs Bowldler. “Belike they’re making their wills and leaving one another the whole of their property.”
“I hope not. They’d make a dreadful mess of it without a lawyer to help.”
“They’re making a dreadful mess on the tablecloth—or, as I should say, on the tablecloths, respectively, as the case may be. Blots. There’s one or two you couldn’t cover with a threepenny bit. Captain Hunken especially; and it cost four-and-ninepence only last July, which makes the heart bleed.”