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neighbours opined that he was a kind of general agent; both of
which guesses were as correct and definite as guesses about other
people’s affairs usually are, or need to be.

Mr Ralph Nickleby sat in his private office one morning, ready
dressed to walk abroad. He wore a bottle-green spencer over a
blue coat; a white waistcoat, grey mixture pantaloons, and
Wellington boots drawn over them. The corner of a small-plaited
shirt-frill struggled out, as if insisting to show itself, from between
his chin and the top button of his spencer; and the latter garment
was not made low enough to conceal a long gold watch-chain,
composed of a series of plain rings, which had its beginning at the
handle of a gold repeater in Mr Nickleby’s pocket, and its
termination in two little keys: one belonging to the watch itself,
and the other to some patent padlock. He wore a sprinkling of
powder upon his head, as if to make himself look benevolent; but if
that were his purpose, he would perhaps have done better to
powder his countenance also, for there was something in its very
wrinkles, and in his cold restless eye, which seemed to tell of
cunning that would announce itself in spite of him. However this
might be, there he was; and as he was all alone, neither the
powder, nor the wrinkles, nor the eyes, had the smallest effect,
good or bad, upon anybody just then, and are consequently no
business of ours just now.

Mr Nickleby closed an account-book which lay on his desk, and,
throwing himself back in his chair, gazed with an air of abstraction
through the dirty window. Some London houses have a
melancholy little plot of ground behind them, usually fenced in by
four high whitewashed walls, and frowned upon by stacks of
chimneys: in which there withers on, from year to year, a crippled

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