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The Battle of Life. Charles Dickens

′What a defiance!′

′Not so bad a one as it appears, may be,′ said Alfred, shaking hands heartily with the Doctor, and also with Snitchey and Craggs, and then looking round. ′Where are the - Good Heavens!′

With a start, productive for the moment of a closer partnership between Jonathan Snitchey and Thomas Craggs than the subsisting articles of agreement in that wise contemplated, he hastily betook himself to where the sisters stood together, and - however, I needn′t more particularly explain his manner of saluting Marion first, and Grace afterwards, than by hinting that Mr. Craggs may possibly have considered it ′too easy.′

Perhaps to change the subject, Dr. Jeddler made a hasty move towards the breakfast, and they all sat down at table. Grace presided; but so discreetly stationed herself, as to cut off her sister and Alfred from the rest of the company. Snitchey and Craggs sat at opposite corners, with the blue bag between them for safety; the Doctor took his usual position, opposite to Grace. Clemency hovered galvanically about the table, as waitress; and the melancholy Britain, at another and a smaller board, acted as Grand Carver of a round of beef and a ham.

′Meat?′ said Britain, approaching Mr. Snitchey, with the carving knife and fork in his hands, and throwing the question at him like a missile.

′Certainly,′ returned the lawyer.

′Do YOU want any?′ to Craggs.

′Lean and well done,′ replied that gentleman.

Having executed these orders, and moderately supplied the Doctor (he seemed to know that nobody else wanted anything to eat), he lingered as near the Firm as he decently could, watching with an austere eye their disposition of the viands, and but once relaxing the severe expression of his face. This was on the occasion of Mr. Craggs, whose teeth were not of the best, partially choking, when he cried out with great animation, ′I thought he was gone!′

′Now, Alfred,′ said the Doctor, ′for a word or two of business, while we are yet at breakfast.′

′While we are yet at breakfast,′ said Snitchey and Craggs, who seemed to have no present idea of leaving off.

Although Alfred had not been breakfasting, and seemed to have quite enough business on his hands as it was, he respectfully answered:

′If you please, sir.′

′If anything could be serious,′ the Doctor began, ′in such a - ′

′Farce as this, sir,′ hinted Alfred.

′In such a farce as this,′ observed the Doctor, ′it might be this recurrence, on the eve of separation, of a double birthday, which is connected with many associations pleasant to us four, and with the recollection of a long and amicable intercourse. That′s not to the purpose.′

′Ah! yes, yes, Dr. Jeddler,′ said the young man. ′It is to the purpose. Much to the purpose, as my heart bears witness this morning; and as yours does too, I know, if you would let it speak. I leave your house to-day; I cease to be your ward to-day; we part with tender relations stretching far behind us, that never can be exactly renewed, and with others dawning - yet before us,′ he looked down at Marion beside him, ′fraught with such considerations as I must not trust myself to speak of now. Come, come!′ he added, rallying his spirits and the Doctor at once, ′there′s a serious grain in this large foolish dust-heap, Doctor. Let us allow to- day, that there is One.′

′To-day!′ cried the Doctor. ′Hear him! Ha, ha, ha! Of all days in the foolish year.

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