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THE LIFE AND ADVENTURES OF NICHOLAS NICKLEBY
containing a Faithful Account of the FortunesMisfortunes
UprisingsDownfallings and Complete Career of the Nickelby Family


by Charles Dickens


AUTHOR'S PREFACE


This story was begunwithin a few months after the publication of
the completed "Pickwick Papers." There werethena good many cheap
Yorkshire schools in existence. There are very few now.


Of the monstrous neglect of education in Englandand the disregard
of it by the State as a means of forming good or bad citizensand
miserable or happy menprivate schools long afforded a notable
example. Although any man who had proved his unfitness for any other
occupation in lifewas freewithout examination or qualification
to open a school anywhere; although preparation for the functions he
undertookwas required in the surgeon who assisted to bring a boy
into the worldor might one day assistperhapsto send him out of
it; in the chemistthe attorneythe butcherthe bakerthe
candlestick maker; the whole round of crafts and tradesthe
schoolmaster excepted; and although schoolmastersas a racewere
the blockheads and impostors who might naturally be expected to
spring from such a state of thingsand to flourish in it; these
Yorkshire schoolmasters were the lowest and most rotten round in the
whole ladder. Traders in the avariceindifferenceor imbecility of
parentsand the helplessness of children; ignorantsordidbrutal
mento whom few considerate persons would have entrusted the board
and lodging of a horse or a dog; they formed the worthy cornerstone
of a structurewhichfor absurdity and a magnificent high-minded
LAISSEZ-ALLER neglecthas rarely been exceeded in the world.


We hear sometimes of an action for damages against the unqualified
medical practitionerwho has deformed a broken limb in pretending to
heal it. Butwhat of the hundreds of thousands of minds that have
been deformed for ever by the incapable pettifoggers who have
pretended to form them!


I make mention of the raceas of the Yorkshire schoolmastersin the
past tense. Though it has not yet finally disappearedit is
dwindling daily. A long day's work remains to be done about us in
the way of educationHeaven knows; but great improvements and
facilities towards the attainment of a good onehave been furnished
of late years.


I cannot call to mindnowhow I came to hear about Yorkshire
schools when I was a not very robust childsitting in bye-places
near Rochester Castlewith a head full of PARTRIDGESTRAPTOM
PIPESand SANCHO PANZA; but I know that my first impressions of them
were picked up at that timeand that they were somehow or other
connected with a suppurated abscess that some boy had come home with
in consequence of his Yorkshire guidephilosopherand friend
having ripped it open with an inky pen-knife. The impression made



upon mehowever madenever left me. I was always curious about
Yorkshire schools--felllong afterwards and at sundry timesinto
the way of hearing more about them--at lasthaving an audience
resolved to write about them.

With that intent I went down into Yorkshire before I began this book
in very severe winter time which is pretty faithfully described
herein. As I wanted to see a schoolmaster or twoand was forewarned
that those gentlemen mightin their modestybe shy of receiving a
visit from the author of the "Pickwick Papers I consulted with a
professional friend who had a Yorkshire connexion, and with whom I
concerted a pious fraud. He gave me some letters of introduction, in
the name, I think, of my travelling companion; they bore reference to
a supposititious little boy who had been left with a widowed mother
who didn't know what to do with him; the poor lady had thought, as a
means of thawing the tardy compassion of her relations in his behalf,
of sending him to a Yorkshire school; I was the poor lady's friend,
travelling that way; and if the recipient of the letter could inform
me of a school in his neighbourhood, the writer would be very much
obliged.

I went to several places in that part of the country where I
understood the schools to be most plentifully sprinkled, and had no
occasion to deliver a letter until I came to a certain town which
shall be nameless. The person to whom it was addressed, was not at
home; but he came down at night, through the snow, to the inn where I
was staying. It was after dinner; and he needed little persuasion to
sit down by the fire in a warrn corner, and take his share of the
wine that was on the table.

I am afraid he is dead now. I recollect he was a jovial, ruddy,
broad-faced man; that we got acquainted directly; and that we talked
on all kinds of subjects, except the school, which he showed a great
anxiety to avoid. Was there any large school near?" I asked himin
reference to the letter. "Oh yes he said; there was a pratty big
'un." "Was it a good one?" I asked. "Ey!" he saidit was as good
as anoother; that was a' a matther of opinion; and fell to looking
at the firestaring round the roomand whistling a little. On my
reverting to some other topic that we had been discussinghe
recovered immediately; butthough I tried him again and againI
never approached the question of the schooleven if he were in the
middle of a laughwithout observing that his countenance felland
that he became uncomfortable. At lastwhen we had passed a couple
of hours or sovery agreeablyhe suddenly took up his hatand
leaning over the table and looking me full in the facesaidin a
low voice: "WeelMistherwe've been vara pleasant toogatherand
ar'll spak' my moind tiv'ee. Dinnot let the weedur send her lattle
boy to yan o' our school-meastherswhile there's a harse to hoold in
a' Lunnunor a gootther to lie asleep in. Ar wouldn't mak' ill
words amang my neebursand ar speak tiv'ee quiet loike. But I'm
dom'd if ar can gang to bed and not telleefor weedur's sak'to
keep the lattle boy from a' sike scoondrels while there's a harse to
hoold in a' Lunnunor a gootther to lie asleep in!" Repeating these
words with great heartinessand with a solemnity on his jolly face
that made it look twice as large as beforehe shook hands and went
away. I never saw him afterwardsbut I sometimes imagine that I
descry a faint reflection of him in John Browdie.

In reference to these gentryI may here quote a few words from the
original preface to this book.

It has afforded the Author great amusement and satisfaction, during
the progress of this work, to learn, from country friends and from a
variety of ludicrous statements concerning himself in provincial


newspapers, that more than one Yorkshire schoolmaster lays claim to
being the original of Mr. Squeers. One worthy, he has reason to
believe, has actually consulted authorities learned in the law, as to
his having good grounds on which to rest an action for libel;
another, has meditated a journey to London, for the express purpose
of committing an assault and battery on his traducer; a third,
perfectly remembers being waited on, last January twelve-month, by
two gentlemen, one of whom held him in conversation while the other
took his likeness; and, although Mr. Squeers has but one eye, and he
has two, and the published sketch does not resemble him (whoever he
may be) in any other respect, still he and all his friends and
neighbours know at once for whom it is meant, because--the character
is SO like him.

While the Author cannot but feel the full force of the compliment
thus conveyed to himhe ventures to suggest that these contentions
may arise from the factthat Mr. Squeers is the representative of a
classand not of an individual. Where impostureignoranceand
brutal cupidityare the stock in trade of a small body of menand
one is described by these characteristicsall his fellows will
recognise something belonging to themselvesand each will have a
misgiving that the portrait is his own.

'The Author's object in calling public attention to the system would
be very imperfectly fulfilledif he did not state nowin his own
personemphatically and earnestlythat Mr. Squeers and his school
are faint and feeble pictures of an existing realitypurposely
subdued and kept down lest they should be deemed impossible. That
there areupon recordtrials at law in which damages have been
sought as a poor recompense for lasting agonies and disfigurements
inflicted upon children by the treatment of the master in these
placesinvolving such offensive and foul details of neglect
crueltyand diseaseas no writer of fiction would have the boldness
to imagine. And thatsince he has been engaged upon these
Adventureshe has receivedfrom private quarters far beyond the
reach of suspicion or distrustaccounts of atrocitiesin the
perpetration of which upon neglected or repudiated childrenthese
schools have been the main instrumentsvery far exceeding any that
appear in these pages."

This comprises all I need say on the subject; except that if I had
seen occasionI had resolved to reprint a few of these details of
legal proceedingsfrom certain old newspapers.

One other quotation from the same Preface may serve to introduce a
fact that my readers may think curious.

To turn to a more pleasant subject, it may be right to say, that
there ARE two characters in this book which are drawn from life. It
is remarkable that what we call the world, which is so very credulous
in what professes to be true, is most incredulous in what professes
to be imaginary; and that, while, every day in real life, it will
allow in one man no blemishes, and in another no virtues, it will
seldom admit a very strongly-marked character, either good or bad, in
a fictitious narrative, to be within the limits of probability. But
those who take an interest in this tale, will be glad to learn that
the BROTHERS CHEERYBLE live; that their liberal charity, their
singleness of heart, their noble nature, and their unbounded
benevolence, are no creations of the Author's brain; but are
prompting every day (and oftenest by stealth) some munificent and
generous deed in that town of which they are the pride and honour.

If I were to attempt to sum up the thousands of lettersfrom all
sorts of people in all sorts of latitudes and climateswhich this


unlucky paragraph brought down upon meI should get into an
arithmetical difficulty from which I could not easily extricate
myself. Suffice it to saythat I believe the applications for
loansgiftsand offices of profit that I have been requested to
forward to the originals of the BROTHERS CHEERYBLE (with whom I never
interchanged any communication in my life) would have exhausted the
combined patronage of all the Lord Chancellors since the accession of
the House of Brunswickand would have broken the Rest of the Bank of
England.

The Brothers are now dead.

There is only one other pointon which I would desire to offer a
remark. If Nicholas be not always found to be blameless or
agreeablehe is not always intended to appear so. He is a young man
of an impetuous temper and of little or no experience; and I saw no
reason why such a hero should be lifted out of nature.

CHAPTER 1

Introduces all the Rest

There once livedin a sequestered part of the county of Devonshire
one Mr Godfrey Nickleby: a worthy gentlemanwhotaking it into his
head rather late in life that he must get marriedand not being
young enough or rich enough to aspire to the hand of a lady of
fortunehad wedded an old flame out of mere attachmentwho in her
turn had taken him for the same reason. Thus two people who cannot
afford to play cards for moneysometimes sit down to a quiet game
for love.

Some ill-conditioned persons who sneer at the life-matrimonialmay
perhaps suggestin this placethat the good couple would be better
likened to two principals in a sparring matchwhowhen fortune is
low and backers scarcewill chivalrously set tofor the mere
pleasure of the buffeting; and in one respect indeed this comparison
would hold good; foras the adventurous pair of the Fives' Court
will afterwards send round a hatand trust to the bounty of the
lookers-on for the means of regaling themselvesso Mr Godfrey
Nickleby and HIS partnerthe honeymoon being overlooked out
wistfully into the worldrelying in no inconsiderable degree upon
chance for the improvement of their means. Mr Nickleby's incomeat
the period of his marriagefluctuated between sixty and eighty
pounds PER ANNUM.

There are people enough in the worldHeaven knows! and even in
London (where Mr Nickleby dwelt in those days) but few complaints
prevailof the population being scanty. It is extraordinary how
long a man may look among the crowd without discovering the face of
a friendbut it is no less true. Mr Nickleby lookedand looked
till his eyes became sore as his heartbut no friend appeared; and
whengrowing tired of the searchhe turned his eyes homewardhe
saw very little there to relieve his weary vision. A painter who
has gazed too long upon some glaring colourrefreshes his dazzled
sight by looking upon a darker and more sombre tint; but everything
that met Mr Nickleby's gaze wore so black and gloomy a huethat he
would have been beyond description refreshed by the very reverse of
the contrast.


At lengthafter five yearswhen Mrs Nickleby had presented her
husband with a couple of sonsand that embarassed gentleman
impressed with the necessity of making some provision for his
familywas seriously revolving in his mind a little commercial
speculation of insuring his life next quarter-dayand then falling
from the top of the Monument by accidentthere cameone morning
by the general posta black-bordered letter to inform him how his
uncleMr Ralph Nicklebywas deadand had left him the bulk of his
little propertyamounting in all to five thousand pounds sterling.

As the deceased had taken no further notice of his nephew in his
lifetimethan sending to his eldest boy (who had been christened
after himon desperate speculation) a silver spoon in a morocco
casewhichas he had not too much to eat with itseemed a kind of
satire upon his having been born without that useful article of
plate in his mouthMr Godfrey Nickleby couldat firstscarcely
believe the tidings thus conveyed to him. On examinationhowever
they turned out to be strictly correct. The amiable old gentleman
it seemedhad intended to leave the whole to the Royal Humane
Societyand had indeed executed a will to that effect; but the
Institutionhaving been unfortunate enougha few months beforeto
save the life of a poor relation to whom he paid a weekly allowance
of three shillings and sixpencehe hadin a fit of very natural
exasperationrevoked the bequest in a codiciland left it all to
Mr Godfrey Nickleby; with a special mention of his indignationnot
only against the society for saving the poor relation's lifebut
against the poor relation alsofor allowing himself to be saved.

With a portion of this property Mr Godfrey Nickleby purchased a
small farmnear Dawlish in Devonshirewhither he retired with his
wife and two childrento live upon the best interest he could get
for the rest of his moneyand the little produce he could raise
from his land. The two prospered so well together thatwhen he
diedsome fifteen years after this periodand some five after his
wifehe was enabled to leaveto his eldest sonRalphthree
thousand pounds in cashand to his youngest sonNicholasone
thousand and the farmwhich was as small a landed estate as one
would desire to see.

These two brothers had been brought up together in a school at
Exeter; andbeing accustomed to go home once a weekhad often
heardfrom their mother's lipslong accounts of their father's
sufferings in his days of povertyand of their deceased uncle's
importance in his days of affluence: which recitals produced a very
different impression on the two: forwhile the youngerwho was of
a timid and retiring dispositiongleaned from thence nothing but
forewarnings to shun the great world and attach himself to the quiet
routine of a country lifeRalphthe elderdeduced from the oftenrepeated
tale the two great morals that riches are the only true
source of happiness and powerand that it is lawful and just to
compass their acquisition by all means short of felony. 'And'
reasoned Ralph with himself'if no good came of my uncle's money
when he was alivea great deal of good came of it after he was
deadinasmuch as my father has got it nowand is saving it up for
mewhich is a highly virtuous purpose; andgoing back to the old
gentlemangood DID come of it to him toofor he had the pleasure
of thinking of it all his life longand of being envied and courted
by all his family besides.' And Ralph always wound up these mental
soliloquies by arriving at the conclusionthat there was nothing
like money.

Not confining himself to theoryor permitting his faculties to
rusteven at that early agein mere abstract speculationsthis
promising lad commenced usurer on a limited scale at school; putting


out at good interest a small capital of slate-pencil and marbles
and gradually extending his operations until they aspired to the
copper coinage of this realmin which he speculated to considerable
advantage. Nor did he trouble his borrowers with abstract
calculations of figuresor references to ready-reckoners; his
simple rule of interest being all comprised in the one golden
sentence'two-pence for every half-penny' which greatly simplified
the accountsand whichas a familiar preceptmore easily acquired
and retained in the memory than any known rule of arithmeticcannot
be too strongly recommended to the notice of capitalistsboth large
and smalland more especially of money-brokers and billdiscounters.
Indeedto do these gentlemen justicemany of them
are to this day in the frequent habit of adopting itwith eminent
success.

In like mannerdid young Ralph Nickleby avoid all those minute and
intricate calculations of odd dayswhich nobody who has worked sums
in simple-interest can fail to have found most embarrassingby
establishing the one general rule that all sums of principal and
interest should be paid on pocket-money daythat is to sayon
Saturday: and that whether a loan were contracted on the Mondayor
on the Fridaythe amount of interest should bein both casesthe
same. Indeed he arguedand with great show of reasonthat it
ought to be rather more for one day than for fiveinasmuch as the
borrower might in the former case be very fairly presumed to be in
great extremityotherwise he would not borrow at all with such odds
against him. This fact is interestingas illustrating the secret
connection and sympathy which always exist between great minds.
Though Master Ralph Nickleby was not at that time aware of itthe
class of gentlemen before alluded toproceed on just the same
principle in all their transactions.

From what we have said of this young gentlemanand the natural
admiration the reader will immediately conceive of his characterit
may perhaps be inferred that he is to be the hero of the work which
we shall presently begin. To set this point at restfor once and
for everwe hasten to undeceive themand stride to its commencement.

On the death of his fatherRalph Nicklebywho had been some time
before placed in a mercantile house in Londonapplied himself
passionately to his old pursuit of money-gettingin which he
speedily became so buried and absorbedthat he quite forgot his
brother for many years; and ifat timesa recollection of his old
playfellow broke upon him through the haze in which he lived--for
gold conjures up a mist about a manmore destructive of all his old
senses and lulling to his feelings than the fumes of charcoal--it
brought along with it a companion thoughtthat if they were
intimate he would want to borrow money of him. SoMr Ralph Nickleby
shrugged his shouldersand said things were better as they were.

As for Nicholashe lived a single man on the patrimonial estate
until he grew tired of living aloneand then he took to wife the
daughter of a neighbouring gentleman with a dower of one thousand
pounds. This good lady bore him two childrena son and a daughter
and when the son was about nineteenand the daughter fourteenas
near as we can guess--impartial records of young ladies' ages
beingbefore the passing of the new actnowhere preserved in the
registries of this country--Mr Nickleby looked about him for the
means of repairing his capitalnow sadly reduced by this increase
in his familyand the expenses of their education.

'Speculate with it' said Mrs Nickleby.

'Spec--u--latemy dear?' said Mr Nicklebyas though in doubt.


'Why not?' asked Mrs Nickleby.

'Becausemy dearif we SHOULD lose it' rejoined Mr Nicklebywho
was a slow and time-taking speaker'if we SHOULD lose itwe shall
no longer be able to livemy dear.'

'Fiddle' said Mrs Nickleby.

'I am not altogether sure of thatmy dear' said Mr Nickleby.

'There's Nicholas' pursued the lady'quite a young man--it's time
he was in the way of doing something for himself; and Kate toopoor
girlwithout a penny in the world. Think of your brother! Would
he be what he isif he hadn't speculated?'

'That's true' replied Mr Nickleby. 'Very goodmy dear. Yes.
WILL speculatemy dear.'

Speculation is a round game; the players see little or nothing of
their cards at first starting; gains MAY be great--and so may
losses. The run of luck went against Mr Nickleby. A mania
prevaileda bubble burstfour stock-brokers took villa residences
at Florencefour hundred nobodies were ruinedand among them Mr
Nickleby.

'The very house I live in' sighed the poor gentleman'may be taken
from me tomorrow. Not an article of my old furniturebut will be
sold to strangers!'

The last reflection hurt him so muchthat he took at once to his
bed; apparently resolved to keep thatat all events.

'Cheer upsir!' said the apothecary.

'You mustn't let yourself be cast downsir' said the nurse.

'Such things happen every day' remarked the lawyer.

'And it is very sinful to rebel against them' whispered the
clergyman.

'And what no man with a family ought to do' added the neighbours.

Mr Nickleby shook his headand motioning them all out of the room
embraced his wife and childrenand having pressed them by turns to
his languidly beating heartsunk exhausted on his pillow. They
were concerned to find that his reason went astray after this; for
he babbledfor a long timeabout the generosity and goodness of
his brotherand the merry old times when they were at school
together. This fit of wandering pasthe solemnly commended them to
One who never deserted the widow or her fatherless childrenand
smiling gently on themturned upon his faceand observedthat he
thought he could fall asleep.

CHAPTER 2

Of Mr Ralph Nicklebyand his Establishmentsand his Undertakings
and of a great Joint Stock Company of vast national Importance

Mr Ralph Nickleby was notstrictly speakingwhat you would call a


merchantneither was he a bankernor an attorneynor a special
pleadernor a notary. He was certainly not a tradesmanand still
less could he lay any claim to the title of a professional
gentleman; for it would have been impossible to mention any
recognised profession to which he belonged. Neverthelessas he
lived in a spacious house in Golden Squarewhichin addition to a
brass plate upon the street-doorhad another brass plate two sizes
and a half smaller upon the left hand door-postsurrounding a brass
model of an infant's fist grasping a fragment of a skewerand
displaying the word 'Office' it was clear that Mr Ralph Nickleby
didor pretended to dobusiness of some kind; and the factif it
required any further circumstantial evidencewas abundantly
demonstrated by the diurnal attendancebetween the hours of halfpast
nine and fiveof a sallow-faced man in rusty brownwho sat
upon an uncommonly hard stool in a species of butler's pantry at the
end of the passageand always had a pen behind his ear when he
answered the bell.

Although a few members of the graver professions live about Golden
Squareit is not exactly in anybody's way to or from anywhere. It
is one of the squares that have been; a quarter of the town that has
gone down in the worldand taken to letting lodgings. Many of its
first and second floors are letfurnishedto single gentlemen; and
it takes boarders besides. It is a great resort of foreigners. The
dark-complexioned men who wear large ringsand heavy watch-guards
and bushy whiskersand who congregate under the Opera Colonnade
and about the box-office in the seasonbetween four and five in the
afternoonwhen they give away the orders--all live in Golden
Squareor within a street of it. Two or three violins and a wind
instrument from the Opera band reside within its precincts. Its
boarding-houses are musicaland the notes of pianos and harps float
in the evening time round the head of the mournful statuethe
guardian genius of a little wilderness of shrubsin the centre of
the square. On a summer's nightwindows are thrown openand
groups of swarthy moustached men are seen by the passer-bylounging
at the casementsand smoking fearfully. Sounds of gruff voices
practising vocal music invade the evening's silence; and the fumes
of choice tobacco scent the air. Theresnuff and cigarsand
German pipes and flutesand violins and violoncellosdivide the
supremacy between them. It is the region of song and smoke. Street
bands are on their mettle in Golden Square; and itinerant gleesingers
quaver involuntarily as they raise their voices within its
boundaries.

This would not seem a spot very well adapted to the transaction of
business; but Mr Ralph Nickleby had lived therenotwithstanding
for many yearsand uttered no complaint on that score. He knew
nobody round aboutand nobody knew himalthough he enjoyed the
reputation of being immensely rich. The tradesmen held that he was
a sort of lawyerand the other 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 areor need to be.

Mr Ralph Nickleby sat in his private office one morningready
dressed to walk abroad. He wore a bottle-green spencer over a blue
coat; a white waistcoatgrey mixture pantaloonsand Wellington
boots drawn over them. The corner of a small-plaited shirt-frill
struggled outas if insisting to show itselffrom 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-chaincomposed of a
series of plain ringswhich had its beginning at the handle of a
gold repeater in Mr Nickleby's pocketand its termination in two
little keys: one belonging to the watch itselfand 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 wrinklesand in his cold
restless eyewhich seemed to tell of cunning that would announce
itself in spite of him. However this might bethere he was; and as
he was all aloneneither the powdernor the wrinklesnor the
eyeshad the smallest effectgood or badupon anybody just then
and are consequently no business of ours just now.

Mr Nickleby closed an account-book which lay on his deskand
throwing himself back in his chairgazed with an air of abstraction
through the dirty window. Some London houses have a melancholy
little plot of ground behind themusually fenced in by four high
whitewashed wallsand frowned upon by stacks of chimneys: in which
there withers onfrom year to yeara crippled treethat makes a
show of putting forth a few leaves late in autumn when other trees
shed theirsanddrooping in the effortlingers onall crackled
and smoke-driedtill the following seasonwhen it repeats the same
processand perhapsif the weather be particularly genialeven
tempts some rheumatic sparrow to chirrup in its branches. People
sometimes call these dark yards 'gardens'; it is not supposed that
they were ever plantedbut rather that they are pieces of
unreclaimed landwith the withered vegetation of the original
brick-field. No man thinks of walking in this desolate placeor of
turning it to any account. A few hampershalf-a-dozen broken
bottlesand such-like rubbishmay be thrown therewhen the tenant
first moves inbut nothing more; and there they remain until he
goes away again: the damp straw taking just as long to moulder as it
thinks proper: and mingling with the scanty boxand stunted
everbrownsand broken flower-potsthat are scattered mournfully
about--a prey to 'blacks' and dirt.

It was into a place of this kind that Mr Ralph Nickleby gazedas he
sat with his hands in his pockets looking out of the window. He had
fixed his eyes upon a distorted fir treeplanted by some former
tenant in a tub that had once been greenand left thereyears
beforeto rot away piecemeal. There was nothing very inviting in
the objectbut Mr Nickleby was wrapt in a brown studyand sat
contemplating it with far greater attention thanin a more
conscious moodhe would have deigned to bestow upon the rarest
exotic. At lengthhis eyes wandered to a little dirty window on
the leftthrough which the face of the clerk was dimly visible;
that worthy chancing to look uphe beckoned him to attend.

In obedience to this summons the clerk got off the high stool (to
which he had communicated a high polish by countless gettings off
and on)and presented himself in Mr Nickleby's room. He was a tall
man of middle agewith two goggle eyes whereof one was a fixturea
rubicund nosea cadaverous faceand a suit of clothes (if the term
be allowable when they suited him not at all) much the worse for
wearvery much too smalland placed upon such a short allowance of
buttons that it was marvellous how he contrived to keep them on.

'Was that half-past twelveNoggs?' said Mr Nicklebyin a sharp and
grating voice.

'Not more than five-and-twenty minutes by the--' Noggs was going to
add public-house clockbut recollecting himselfsubstituted
'regular time.'

'My watch has stopped' said Mr Nickleby; 'I don't know from what
cause.'

'Not wound up' said Noggs.


'Yes it is' said Mr Nickleby.

'Over-wound then' rejoined Noggs.

'That can't very well be' observed Mr Nickleby.

'Must be' said Noggs.

'Well!' said Mr Nicklebyputting the repeater back in his pocket;
'perhaps it is.'

Noggs gave a peculiar gruntas was his custom at the end of all
disputes with his masterto imply that he (Noggs) triumphed; and
(as he rarely spoke to anybody unless somebody spoke to him) fell
into a grim silenceand rubbed his hands slowly over each other:
cracking the joints of his fingersand squeezing them into all
possible distortions. The incessant performance of this routine on
every occasionand the communication of a fixed and rigid look to
his unaffected eyeso as to make it uniform with the otherand to
render it impossible for anybody to determine where or at what he
was lookingwere two among the numerous peculiarities of Mr Noggs
which struck an inexperienced observer at first sight.

'I am going to the London Tavern this morning' said Mr Nickleby.

'Public meeting?' inquired Noggs.

Mr Nickleby nodded. 'I expect a letter from the solicitor
respecting that mortgage of Ruddle's. If it comes at allit will
be here by the two o'clock delivery. I shall leave the city about
that time and walk to Charing Cross on the left-hand side of the
way; if there are any letterscome and meet meand bring them with
you.'

Noggs nodded; and as he noddedthere came a ring at the office
bell. The master looked up from his papersand the clerk calmly
remained in a stationary position.

'The bell' said Noggsas though in explanation. 'At home?'

'Yes.'

'To anybody?'

'Yes.'

'To the tax-gatherer?'

'No! Let him call again.'

Noggs gave vent to his usual gruntas much as to say 'I thought
so!' andthe ring being repeatedwent to the doorwhence he
presently returnedushering inby the name of Mr Bonneya pale
gentleman in a violent hurrywhowith his hair standing up in
great disorder all over his headand a very narrow white cravat
tied loosely round his throatlooked as if he had been knocked up
in the night and had not dressed himself since.

'My dear Nickleby' said the gentlemantaking off a white hat which
was so full of papers that it would scarcely stick upon his head
'there's not a moment to lose; I have a cab at the door. Sir
Matthew Pupker takes the chairand three members of Parliament are
positively coming. I have seen two of them safely out of bed. The


thirdwho was at Crockford's all nighthas just gone home to put a
clean shirt onand take a bottle or two of soda waterand will
certainly be with usin time to address the meeting. He is a
little excited by last nightbut never mind that; he always speaks
the stronger for it.'

'It seems to promise pretty well' said Mr Ralph Nicklebywhose
deliberate manner was strongly opposed to the vivacity of the other
man of business.

'Pretty well!' echoed Mr Bonney. 'It's the finest idea that was
ever started. "United Metropolitan Improved Hot Muffin and Crumpet
Baking and Punctual Delivery Company. Capitalfive millionsin
five hundred thousand shares of ten pounds each." Why the very name
will get the shares up to a premium in ten days.'

'And when they ARE at a premium' said Mr Ralph Nicklebysmiling.

'When they areyou know what to do with them as well as any man
aliveand how to back quietly out at the right time' said Mr
Bonneyslapping the capitalist familiarly on the shoulder. 'Bythe-
byewhat a VERY remarkable man that clerk of yours is.'

'Yespoor devil!' replied Ralphdrawing on his gloves. 'Though
Newman Noggs kept his horses and hounds once.'

'Ayay?' said the other carelessly.

'Yes' continued Ralph'and not many years ago either; but he
squandered his moneyinvested it anyhowborrowed at interestand
in short made first a thorough fool of himselfand then a beggar.
He took to drinkingand had a touch of paralysisand then came
here to borrow a poundas in his better days I had--'

'Done business with him' said Mr Bonney with a meaning look.

'Just so' replied Ralph; 'I couldn't lend ityou know.'

'Ohof course not.'

'But as I wanted a clerk just thento open the door and so forthI
took him out of charityand he has remained with me ever since. He
is a little madI think' said Mr Nicklebycalling up a charitable
look'but he is useful enoughpoor creature--useful enough.'

The kind-hearted gentleman omitted to add that Newman Noggsbeing
utterly destituteserved him for rather less than the usual wages
of a boy of thirteen; and likewise failed to mention in his hasty
chroniclethat his eccentric taciturnity rendered him an especially
valuable person in a place where much business was doneof which it
was desirable no mention should be made out of doors. The other
gentleman was plainly impatient to be gonehoweverand as they
hurried into the hackney cabriolet immediately afterwardsperhaps
Mr Nickleby forgot to mention circumstances so unimportant.

There was a great bustle in Bishopsgate Street Withinas they drew
upand (it being a windy day) half-a-dozen men were tacking across
the road under a press of paperbearing gigantic announcements that
a Public Meeting would be holden at one o'clock preciselyto take
into consideration the propriety of petitioning Parliament in favour
of the United Metropolitan Improved Hot Muffin and Crumpet Baking
and Punctual Delivery Companycapital five millionsin five
hundred thousand shares of ten pounds each; which sums were duly set
forth in fat black figures of considerable size. Mr Bonney elbowed


his way briskly upstairsreceiving in his progress many low bows
from the waiters who stood on the landings to show the way; and
followed by Mr Nicklebydived into a suite of apartments behind the
great public room: in the second of which was a business-looking
tableand several business-looking people.

'Hear!' cried a gentleman with a double chinas Mr Bonney presented
himself. 'Chairgentlemenchair!'

The new-comers were received with universal approbationand Mr
Bonney bustled up to the top of the tabletook off his hatran his
fingers through his hairand knocked a hackney-coachman's knock on
the table with a little hammer: whereat several gentlemen cried
'Hear!' and nodded slightly to each otheras much as to say what
spirited conduct that was. Just at this momenta waiterfeverish
with agitationtore into the roomand throwing the door open with
a crashshouted 'Sir Matthew Pupker!'

The committee stood up and clapped their hands for joyand while
they were clapping themin came Sir Matthew Pupkerattended by two
live members of Parliamentone Irish and one Scotchall smiling
and bowingand looking so pleasant that it seemed a perfect marvel
how any man could have the heart to vote against them. Sir Matthew
Pupker especiallywho had a little round head with a flaxen wig on
the top of itfell into such a paroxysm of bowsthat the wig
threatened to be jerked offevery instant. When these symptoms had
in some degree subsidedthe gentlemen who were on speaking terms
with Sir Matthew Pupkeror the two other memberscrowded round
them in three little groupsnear one or other of which the
gentlemen who were NOT on speaking terms with Sir Matthew Pupker or
the two other membersstood lingeringand smilingand rubbing
their handsin the desperate hope of something turning up which
might bring them into notice. All this timeSir Matthew Pupker and
the two other members were relating to their separate circles what
the intentions of government wereabout taking up the bill; with a
full account of what the government had said in a whisper the last
time they dined with itand how the government had been observed to
wink when it said so; from which premises they were at no loss to
draw the conclusionthat if the government had one object more at
heart than anotherthat one object was the welfare and advantage of
the United Metropolitan Improved Hot Muffin and Crumpet Baking and
Punctual Delivery Company.

Meanwhileand pending the arrangement of the proceedingsand a
fair division of the speechifyingthe public in the large room were
eyeingby turnsthe empty platformand the ladies in the Music
Gallery. In these amusements the greater portion of them had been
occupied for a couple of hours beforeand as the most agreeable
diversions pall upon the taste on a too protracted enjoyment of
themthe sterner spirits now began to hammer the floor with their
boot-heelsand to express their dissatisfaction by various hoots
and cries. These vocal exertionsemanating from the people who had
been there longestnaturally proceeded from those who were nearest
to the platform and furthest from the policemen in attendancewho
having no great mind to fight their way through the crowdbut
entertaining nevertheless a praiseworthy desire to do something to
quell the disturbanceimmediately began to drag forthby the coat
tails and collarsall the quiet people near the door; at the same
time dealing out various smart and tingling blows with their
truncheonsafter the manner of that ingenious actorMr Punch:
whose brilliant exampleboth in the fashion of his weapons and
their usethis branch of the executive occasionally follows.

Several very exciting skirmishes were in progresswhen a loud shout


attracted the attention even of the belligerentsand then there
poured on to the platformfrom a door at the sidea long line of
gentlemen with their hats offall looking behind themand uttering
vociferous cheers; the cause whereof was sufficiently explained when
Sir Matthew Pupker and the two other real members of Parliament came
to the frontamidst deafening shoutsand testified to each other
in dumb motions that they had never seen such a glorious sight as
thatin the whole course of thier public career.

At lengthand at lastthe assembly left off shoutingbut Sir
Matthew Pupker being voted into the chairthey underwent a relapse
which lasted five minutes. This overSir Matthew Pupker went on to
say what must be his feelings on that great occasionand what must
be that occasion in the eyes of the worldand what must be the
intelligence of his fellow-countrymen before himand what must be
the wealth and respectability of his honourable friends behind him
and lastlywhat must be the importance to the wealththe
happinessthe comfortthe libertythe very existence of a free
and great peopleof such an Institution as the United Metropolitan
Improved Hot Muffin and Crumpet Baking and Punctual Delivery
Company!

Mr Bonney then presented himself to move the first resolution; and
having run his right hand through his hairand planted his leftin
an easy mannerin his ribshe consigned his hat to the care of the
gentleman with the double chin (who acted as a species of bottleholder
to the orators generally)and said he would read to them the
first resolution--'That this meeting views with alarm and
apprehensionthe existing state of the Muffin Trade in this
Metropolis and its neighbourhood; that it considers the Muffin Boys
as at present constitutedwholly underserving the confidence of the
public; and that it deems the whole Muffin system alike prejudicial
to the health and morals of the peopleand subversive of the best
interests of a great commercial and mercantile community.' The
honourable gentleman made a speech which drew tears from the eyes of
the ladiesand awakened the liveliest emotions in every individual
present. He had visited the houses of the poor in the various
districts of Londonand had found them destitute of the slightest
vestige of a muffinwhich there appeared too much reason to believe
some of these indigent persons did not taste from year's end to
year's end. He had found that among muffin-sellers there existed
drunkennessdebaucheryand profligacywhich he attributed to the
debasing nature of their employment as at present exercised; he had
found the same vices among the poorer class of people who ought to
be muffin consumers; and this he attributed to the despair
engendered by their being placed beyond the reach of that nutritious
articlewhich drove them to seek a false stimulant in intoxicating
liquors. He would undertake to prove before a committee of the
House of Commonsthat there existed a combination to keep up the
price of muffinsand to give the bellmen a monopoly; he would prove
it by bellmen at the bar of that House; and he would also prove
that these men corresponded with each other by secret words and
signs as 'Snooks' 'Walker' 'Ferguson' 'Is Murphy right?' and many
others. It was this melancholy state of things that the Company
proposed to correct; firstlyby prohibitingunder heavy penalties
all private muffin trading of every description; secondlyby
themselves supplying the public generallyand the poor at their own
homeswith muffins of first quality at reduced prices. It was with
this object that a bill had been introduced into Parliament by their
patriotic chairman Sir Matthew Pupker; it was this bill that they
had met to support; it was the supporters of this bill who would
confer undying brightness and splendour upon Englandunder the name
of the United Metropolitan Improved Hot Muffin and Crumpet Baking
and Punctual Delivery Company; he would addwith a capital of Five


Millionsin five hundred thousand shares of ten pounds each.

Mr Ralph Nickleby seconded the resolutionand another gentleman
having moved that it be amended by the insertion of the words 'and
crumpet' after the word 'muffin' whenever it occurredit was
carried triumphantly. Only one man in the crowd cried 'No!' and he
was promptly taken into custodyand straightway borne off.

The second resolutionwhich recognised the expediency of
immediately abolishing 'all muffin (or crumpet) sellersall traders
in muffins (or crumpets) of whatsoever descriptionwhether male or
femaleboys or menringing hand-bells or otherwise' was moved by
a grievous gentleman of semi-clerical appearancewho went at once
into such deep patheticsthat he knocked the first speaker clean
out of the course in no time. You might have heard a pin fall--a
pin! a feather--as he described the cruelties inflicted on muffin
boys by their masterswhich he very wisely urged were in themselves
a sufficient reason for the establishment of that inestimable
company. It seemed that the unhappy youths were nightly turned out
into the wet streets at the most inclement periods of the yearto
wander aboutin darkness and rain--or it might be hail or snow--for
hours togetherwithout shelterfoodor warmth; and let the public
never forget upon the latter pointthat while the muffins were
provided with warm clothing and blanketsthe boys were wholly
unprovided forand left to their own miserable resources. (Shame!)
The honourable gentleman related one case of a muffin boywho
having been exposed to this inhuman and barbarous system for no less
than five yearsat length fell a victim to a cold in the head
beneath which he gradually sunk until he fell into a perspiration
and recovered; this he could vouch foron his own authoritybut he
had heard (and he had no reason to doubt the fact) of a still more
heart-rending and appalling circumstance. He had heard of the case
of an orphan muffin boywhohaving been run over by a hackney
carriagehad been removed to the hospitalhad undergone the
amputation of his leg below the kneeand was now actually pursuing
his occupation on crutches. Fountain of justicewere these things
to last!

This was the department of the subject that took the meetingand
this was the style of speaking to enlist their sympathies. The men
shouted; the ladies wept into their pocket-handkerchiefs till they
were moistand waved them till they were dry; the excitement was
tremendous; and Mr Nickleby whispered his friend that the shares
were thenceforth at a premium of five-and-twenty per cent.

The resolution wasof coursecarried with loud acclamationsevery
man holding up both hands in favour of itas he would in his
enthusiasm have held up both legs alsoif he could have
conveniently accomplished it. This donethe draft of the proposed
petition was read at length: and the petition saidas all petitions
DO saythat the petitioners were very humbleand the petitioned
very honourableand the object very virtuous; therefore (said the
petition) the bill ought to be passed into a law at onceto the
everlasting honour and glory of that most honourable and glorious
Commons of England in Parliament assembled.

Thenthe gentleman who had been at Crockford's all nightand who
looked something the worse about the eyes in consequencecame
forward to tell his fellow-countrymen what a speech he meant to make
in favour of that petition whenever it should be presentedand how
desperately he meant to taunt the parliament if they rejected the
bill; and to inform them alsothat he regretted his honourable
friends had not inserted a clause rendering the purchase of muffins
and crumpets compulsory upon all classes of the communitywhich he


--opposing all half-measuresand preferring to go the extreme
animal-- pledged himself to propose and divide uponin committee.
After announcing this determinationthe honourable gentleman grew
jocular; and as patent bootslemon-coloured kid glovesand a fur
coat collarassist jokes materiallythere was immense laughter and
much cheeringand moreover such a brilliant display of ladies'
pocket-handkerchiefsas threw the grievous gentleman quite into the
shade.

And when the petition had been read and was about to be adopted
there came forward the Irish member (who was a young gentleman of
ardent temperament) with such a speech as only an Irish member can
makebreathing the true soul and spirit of poetryand poured forth
with such fervourthat it made one warm to look at him; in the
course whereofhe told them how he would demand the extension of
that great boon to his native country; how he would claim for her
equal rights in the muffin laws as in all other laws; and how he yet
hoped to see the day when crumpets should be toasted in her lowly
cabinsand muffin bells should ring in her rich green valleys.
Andafter himcame the Scotch memberwith various pleasant
allusions to the probable amount of profitswhich increased the
good humour that the poetry had awakened; and all the speeches put
together did exactly what they were intended to doand established
in the hearers' minds that there was no speculation so promisingor
at the same time so praiseworthyas the United Metropolitan
Improved Hot Muffin and Crumpet Baking and Punctual Delivery
Company.

Sothe petition in favour of the bill was agreed uponand the
meeting adjourned with acclamationsand Mr Nickleby and the other
directors went to the office to lunchas they did every day at
half-past one o'clock; and to remunerate themselves for which
trouble(as the company was yet in its infancy) they only charged
three guineas each man for every such attendance.

CHAPTER 3

Mr Ralph Nickleby receives Sad Tidings of his Brotherbut bears up
nobly against the Intelligence communicated to him. The Reader is
informed how he liked Nicholaswho is herein introducedand how
kindly he proposed to make his Fortune at once

Having rendered his zealous assistance towards dispatching the
lunchwith all that promptitude and energy which are among the most
important qualities that men of business can possessMr Ralph
Nickleby took a cordial farewell of his fellow-speculatorsand bent
his steps westward in unwonted good humour. As he passed St Paul's
he stepped aside into a doorway to set his watchand with his hand
on the key and his eye on the cathedral dialwas intent upon so
doingwhen a man suddenly stopped before him. It was Newman Noggs.

'Ah! Newman' said Mr Nicklebylooking up as he pursued his
occupation. 'The letter about the mortgage has comehas it? I
thought it would.'

'Wrong' replied Newman.

'What! and nobody called respecting it?' inquired Mr Nickleby
pausing. Noggs shook his head.

'What HAS comethen?' inquired Mr Nickleby.


'I have' said Newman.

'What else?' demanded the mastersternly.

'This' said Newmandrawing a sealed letter slowly from his pocket.
'Post-markStrandblack waxblack borderwoman's handC. N. in
the corner.'

'Black wax?' said Mr Nicklebyglancing at the letter. 'I know
something of that handtoo. NewmanI shouldn't be surprised if my
brother were dead.'

'I don't think you would' said Newmanquietly.

'Why notsir?' demanded Mr Nickleby.

'You never are surprised' replied Newman'that's all.'

Mr Nickleby snatched the letter from his assistantand fixing a
cold look upon himopenedread itput it in his pocketand
having now hit the time to a secondbegan winding up his watch.

'It is as I expectedNewman' said Mr Nicklebywhile he was thus
engaged. 'He IS dead. Dear me! Wellthat's sudden thing. I
shouldn't have thought itreally.' With these touching expressions
of sorrowMr Nickleby replaced his watch in his fobandfitting
on his gloves to a nicetyturned upon his wayand walked slowly
westward with his hands behind him.

'Children alive?' inquired Noggsstepping up to him.

'Whythat's the very thing' replied Mr Nicklebyas though his
thoughts were about them at that moment. 'They are both alive.'

'Both!' repeated Newman Noggsin a low voice.

'And the widowtoo' added Mr Nickleby'and all three in London
confound them; all three hereNewman.'

Newman fell a little behind his masterand his face was curiously
twisted as by a spasm; but whether of paralysisor griefor inward
laughternobody but himself could possibly explain. The expression
of a man's face is commonly a help to his thoughtsor glossary on
his speech; but the countenance of Newman Noggsin his ordinary
moodswas a problem which no stretch of ingenuity could solve.

'Go home!' said Mr Nicklebyafter they had walked a few paces:
looking round at the clerk as if he were his dog. The words were
scarcely uttered when Newman darted across the roadslunk among the
crowdand disappeared in an instant.

'Reasonablecertainly!' muttered Mr Nickleby to himselfas he
walked on'very reasonable! My brother never did anything for me
and I never expected it; the breath is no sooner out of his body
than I am to be looked toas the support of a great hearty woman
and a grown boy and girl. What are they to me! I never saw them.'

Full of theseand many other reflections of a similar kindMr
Nickleby made the best of his way to the Strandandreferring to
his letter as if to ascertain the number of the house he wanted
stopped at a private door about half-way down that crowded
thoroughfare.


A miniature painter lived therefor there was a large gilt frame
screwed upon the street-doorin which were displayedupon a black
velvet groundtwo portraits of naval dress coats with faces looking
out of themand telescopes attached; one of a young gentleman in a
very vermilion uniformflourishing a sabre; and one of a literary
character with a high foreheada pen and inksix booksand a
curtain. There wasmoreovera touching representation of a young
lady reading a manuscript in an unfathomable forestand a charming
whole length of a large-headed little boysitting on a stool with
his legs fore-shortened to the size of salt-spoons. Besides these
works of artthere were a great many heads of old ladies and
gentlemen smirking at each other out of blue and brown skiesand an
elegantly written card of terms with an embossed border.

Mr Nickleby glanced at these frivolities with great contemptand
gave a double knockwhichhaving been thrice repeatedwas
answered by a servant girl with an uncommonly dirty face.

'Is Mrs Nickleby at homegirl?' demanded Ralph sharply.

'Her name ain't Nickleby' said the girl'La Creevyyou mean.'

Mr Nickleby looked very indignant at the handmaid on being thus
correctedand demanded with much asperity what she meant; which she
was about to statewhen a female voice proceeding from a
perpendicular staircase at the end of the passageinquired who was
wanted.

'Mrs Nickleby' said Ralph.

'It's the second floorHannah' said the same voice; 'what a stupid
thing you are! Is the second floor at home?'

'Somebody went out just nowbut I think it was the attic which had
been a cleaning of himself' replied the girl.

'You had better see' said the invisible female. 'Show the
gentleman where the bell isand tell him he mustn't knock double
knocks for the second floor; I can't allow a knock except when the
bell's brokeand then it must be two single ones.'

'Here' said Ralphwalking in without more parley'I beg your
pardon; is that Mrs La what's-her-name?'

'Creevy--La Creevy' replied the voiceas a yellow headdress bobbed
over the banisters.

'I'll speak to you a momentma'amwith your leave' said Ralph.

The voice replied that the gentleman was to walk up; but he had
walked up before it spokeand stepping into the first floorwas
received by the wearer of the yellow head-dresswho had a gown to
correspondand was of much the same colour herself. Miss La Creevy
was a mincing young lady of fiftyand Miss La Creevy's apartment
was the gilt frame downstairs on a larger scale and something
dirtier.

'Hem!' said Miss La Creevycoughing delicately behind her black
silk mitten. 'A miniatureI presume. A very strongly-marked
countenance for the purposesir. Have you ever sat before?'

'You mistake my purposeI seema'am' replied Mr Nicklebyin his
usual blunt fashion. 'I have no money to throw away on miniatures
ma'amand nobody to give one to (thank God) if I had. Seeing you


on the stairsI wanted to ask a question of youabout some lodgers
here.'

Miss La Creevy coughed once more--this cough was to conceal her
disappointment--and said'Ohindeed!'

'I infer from what you said to your servantthat the floor above
belongs to youma'am' said Mr Nickleby.

Yes it didMiss La Creevy replied. The upper part of the house
belonged to herand as she had no necessity for the second-floor
rooms just thenshe was in the habit of letting them. Indeed
there was a lady from the country and her two children in themat
that present speaking.

'A widowma'am?' said Ralph.

'Yesshe is a widow' replied the lady.

'A POOR widowma'am' said Ralphwith a powerful emphasis on that
little adjective which conveys so much.

'WellI'm afraid she IS poor' rejoined Miss La Creevy.

'I happen to know that she isma'am' said Ralph. 'Nowwhat
business has a poor widow in such a house as thisma'am?'

'Very true' replied Miss La Creevynot at all displeased with this
implied compliment to the apartments. 'Exceedingly true.'

'I know her circumstances intimatelyma'am' said Ralph; 'in fact
I am a relation of the family; and I should recommend you not to
keep them herema'am.'

'I should hopeif there was any incompatibility to meet the
pecuniary obligations' said Miss La Creevy with another cough
'that the lady's family would--'

'No they wouldn'tma'am' interrupted Ralphhastily. 'Don't think
it.'

'If I am to understand that' said Miss La Creevy'the case wears a
very different appearance.'

'You may understand it thenma'am' said Ralph'and make your
arrangements accordingly. I am the familyma'am--at leastI
believe I am the only relation they haveand I think it right that
you should know I can't support them in their extravagances. How
long have they taken these lodgings for?'

'Only from week to week' replied Miss La Creevy. 'Mrs Nickleby
paid the first week in advance.'

'Then you had better get them out at the end of it' said Ralph.
'They can't do better than go back to the countryma'am; they are
in everybody's way here.'

'Certainly' said Miss La Creevyrubbing her hands'if Mrs
Nickleby took the apartments without the means of paying for them
it was very unbecoming a lady.'

'Of course it wasma'am' said Ralph.

'And naturally' continued Miss La Creevy'I who amAT PRESENT-



hem--an unprotected femalecannot afford to lose by the apartments.'

'Of course you can'tma'am' replied Ralph.

'Though at the same time' added Miss La Creevywho was plainly
wavering between her good-nature and her interest'I have nothing
whatever to say against the ladywho is extremely pleasant and
affablethoughpoor thingshe seems terribly low in her spirits;
nor against the young people eitherfor niceror better-behaved
young people cannot be.'

'Very wellma'am' said Ralphturning to the doorfor these
encomiums on poverty irritated him; 'I have done my dutyand
perhaps more than I ought: of course nobody will thank me for saying
what I have.'

'I am sure I am very much obliged to you at leastsir' said Miss
La Creevy in a gracious manner. 'Would you do me the favour to look
at a few specimens of my portrait painting?'

'You're very goodma'am' said Mr Nicklebymaking off with great
speed; 'but as I have a visit to pay upstairsand my time is
preciousI really can't.'

'At any other time when you are passingI shall be most happy'
said Miss La Creevy. 'Perhaps you will have the kindness to take a
card of terms with you? Thank you--good-morning!'

'Good-morningma'am' said Ralphshutting the door abruptly after
him to prevent any further conversation. 'Now for my sister-in-law.
Bah!'

Climbing up another perpendicular flightcomposed with great
mechanical ingenuity of nothing but corner stairsMr Ralph Nickleby
stopped to take breath on the landingwhen he was overtaken by the
handmaidwhom the politeness of Miss La Creevy had dispatched to
announce himand who had apparently been making a variety of
unsuccessful attemptssince their last interviewto wipe her dirty
face cleanupon an apron much dirtier.

'What name?' said the girl.

'Nickleby' replied Ralph.

'Oh! Mrs Nickleby' said the girlthrowing open the door'here's
Mr Nickleby.'

A lady in deep mourning rose as Mr Ralph Nickleby enteredbut
appeared incapable of advancing to meet himand leant upon the arm
of a slight but very beautiful girl of about seventeenwho had been
sitting by her. A youthwho appeared a year or two olderstepped
forward and saluted Ralph as his uncle.

'Oh' growled Ralphwith an ill-favoured frown'you are Nicholas
I suppose?'

'That is my namesir' replied the youth.

'Put my hat down' said Ralphimperiously. 'Wellma'amhow do
you do? You must bear up against sorrowma'am; I always do.'

'Mine was no common loss!' said Mrs Nicklebyapplying her
handkerchief to her eyes.


'It was no UNcommon lossma'am' returned Ralphas he coolly
unbuttoned his spencer. 'Husbands die every dayma'amand wives
too.'

'And brothers alsosir' said Nicholaswith a glance of indignation.

'Yessirand puppiesand pug-dogs likewise' replied his uncle
taking a chair. 'You didn't mention in your letter what my
brother's complaint wasma'am.'

'The doctors could attribute it to no particular disease' said Mrs
Nickleby; shedding tears. 'We have too much reason to fear that he
died of a broken heart.'

'Pooh!' said Ralph'there's no such thing. I can understand a
man's dying of a broken neckor suffering from a broken armor a
broken heador a broken legor a broken nose; but a broken heart!
--nonsenseit's the cant of the day. If a man can't pay his debts
he dies of a broken heartand his widow's a martyr.'

'Some peopleI believehave no hearts to break' observed
Nicholasquietly.

'How old is this boyfor God's sake?' inquired Ralphwheeling back
his chairand surveying his nephew from head to foot with intense
scorn.

'Nicholas is very nearly nineteen' replied the widow.

'Nineteeneh!' said Ralph; 'and what do you mean to do for your
breadsir?'

'Not to live upon my mother' replied Nicholashis heart swelling
as he spoke.

'You'd have little enough to live uponif you did' retorted the
uncleeyeing him contemptuously.

'Whatever it be' said Nicholasflushed with anger'I shall not
look to you to make it more.'

'Nicholasmy dearrecollect yourself' remonstrated Mrs Nickleby.

'Dear Nicholaspray' urged the young lady.

'Hold your tonguesir' said Ralph. 'Upon my word! Fine
beginningsMrs Nickleby--fine beginnings!'

Mrs Nickleby made no other reply than entreating Nicholas by a
gesture to keep silent; and the uncle and nephew looked at each
other for some seconds without speaking. The face of the old man
was sternhard-featuredand forbidding; that of the young one
openhandsomeand ingenuous. The old man's eye was keen with the
twinklings of avarice and cunning; the young man's bright with the
light of intelligence and spirit. His figure was somewhat slight
but manly and well formed; andapart from all the grace of youth
and comelinessthere was an emanation from the warm young heart in
his look and bearing which kept the old man down.

However striking such a contrast as this may be to lookers-onnone
ever feel it with half the keenness or acuteness of perfection with
which it strikes to the very soul of him whose inferiority it marks.
It galled Ralph to the heart's coreand he hated Nicholas from that
hour.


The mutual inspection was at length brought to a close by Ralph
withdrawing his eyeswith a great show of disdainand calling
Nicholas 'a boy.' This word is much used as a term of reproach by
elderly gentlemen towards their juniors: probably with the view of
deluding society into the belief that if they could be young again
they wouldn't on any account.

'Wellma'am' said Ralphimpatiently'the creditors have
administeredyou tell meand there's nothing left for you?'

'Nothing' replied Mrs Nickleby.

'And you spent what little money you hadin coming all the way to
Londonto see what I could do for you?' pursued Ralph.

'I hoped' faltered Mrs Nickleby'that you might have an
opportunity of doing something for your brother's children. It was
his dying wish that I should appeal to you in their behalf.'

'I don't know how it is' muttered Ralphwalking up and down the
room'but whenever a man dies without any property of his ownhe
always seems to think he has a right to dispose of other people's.
What is your daughter fit forma'am?'

'Kate has been well educated' sobbed Mrs Nickleby. 'Tell your
unclemy dearhow far you went in French and extras.'

The poor girl was about to murmur somethingwhen her uncle stopped
hervery unceremoniously.

'We must try and get you apprenticed at some boarding-school' said
Ralph. 'You have not been brought up too delicately for thatI
hope?'

'Noindeeduncle' replied the weeping girl. 'I will try to do
anything that will gain me a home and bread.'

'Wellwell' said Ralpha little softenedeither by his niece's
beauty or her distress (stretch a pointand say the latter). 'You
must try itand if the life is too hardperhaps dressmaking or
tambour-work will come lighter. Have YOU ever done anythingsir?'
(turning to his nephew.)

'No' replied Nicholasbluntly.

'NoI thought not!' said Ralph. 'This is the way my brother
brought up his childrenma'am.'

'Nicholas has not long completed such education as his poor father
could give him' rejoined Mrs Nickleby'and he was thinking of--'

'Of making something of him someday' said Ralph. 'The old story;
always thinkingand never doing. If my brother had been a man of
activity and prudencehe might have left you a rich womanma'am:
and if he had turned his son into the worldas my father turned me
when I wasn't as old as that boy by a year and a halfhe would have
been in a situation to help youinstead of being a burden upon you
and increasing your distress. My brother was a thoughtless
inconsiderate manMrs Nicklebyand nobodyI am surecan have
better reason to feel thatthan you.'

This appeal set the widow upon thinking that perhaps she might have
made a more successful venture with her one thousand poundsand


then she began to reflect what a comfortable sum it would have been
just then; which dismal thoughts made her tears flow fasterand in
the excess of these griefs she (being a well-meaning woman enough
but weak withal) fell first to deploring her hard fateand then to
remarkingwith many sobsthat to be sure she had been a slave to
poor Nicholasand had often told him she might have married better
(as indeed she hadvery often)and that she never knew in his
lifetime how the money wentbut that if he had confided in her they
might all have been better off that day; with other bitter
recollections common to most married ladieseither during their
covertureor afterwardsor at both periods. Mrs Nickleby
concluded by lamenting that the dear departed had never deigned to
profit by her advicesave on one occasion; which was a strictly
veracious statementinasmuch as he had only acted upon it onceand
had ruined himself in consequence.

Mr Ralph Nickleby heard all this with a half-smile; and when the
widow had finishedquietly took up the subject where it had been
left before the above outbreak.

'Are you willing to worksir?' he inquiredfrowning on his nephew.

'Of course I am' replied Nicholas haughtily.

'Then see heresir' said his uncle. 'This caught my eye this
morningand you may thank your stars for it.'

With this exordiumMr Ralph Nickleby took a newspaper from his
pocketand after unfolding itand looking for a short time among
the advertisementsread as follows:

'"EDUCATION.--At Mr Wackford Squeers's AcademyDotheboys Hallat
the delightful village of Dotheboysnear Greta Bridge in Yorkshire
Youth are boardedclothedbookedfurnished with pocket-money
provided with all necessariesinstructed in all languages living
and deadmathematicsorthographygeometryastronomy
trigonometrythe use of the globesalgebrasingle stick (if
required)writingarithmeticfortificationand every other
branch of classical literature. Termstwenty guineas per annum.
No extrasno vacationsand diet unparalleled. Mr Squeers is in
townand attends dailyfrom one till fourat the Saracen's Head
Snow Hill. N.B. An able assistant wanted. Annual salary 5 pounds.
A Master of Arts would be preferred."

'There!' said Ralphfolding the paper again. 'Let him get that
situationand his fortune is made.'

'But he is not a Master of Arts' said Mrs Nickleby.

'That' replied Ralph'thatI thinkcan be got over.'

'But the salary is so smalland it is such a long way offuncle!'
faltered Kate.

'HushKate my dear' interposed Mrs Nickleby; 'your uncle must know
best.'

'I say' repeated Ralphtartly'let him get that situationand
his fortune is made. If he don't like thatlet him get one for
himself. Without friendsmoneyrecommendationor knowledge of
business of any kindlet him find honest employment in London
which will keep him in shoe leatherand I'll give him a thousand
pounds. At least' said Mr Ralph Nicklebychecking himself'I
would if I had it.'


'Poor fellow!' said the young lady. 'Oh! unclemust we be
separated so soon!'

'Don't tease your uncle with questions when he is thinking only for
our goodmy love' said Mrs Nickleby. 'Nicholasmy dearI wish
you would say something.'

'Yesmotheryes' said Nicholaswho had hitherto remained silent
and absorbed in thought. 'If I am fortunate enough to be appointed
to this postsirfor which I am so imperfectly qualifiedwhat
will become of those I leave behind?'

'Your mother and sistersir' replied Ralph'will be provided for
in that case (not otherwise)by meand placed in some sphere of
life in which they will be able to be independent. That will be my
immediate care; they will not remain as they areone week after
your departureI will undertake.'

'Then' said Nicholasstarting gaily upand wringing his uncle's
hand'I am ready to do anything you wish me. Let us try our
fortune with Mr Squeers at once; he can but refuse.'

'He won't do that' said Ralph. 'He will be glad to have you on my
recommendation. Make yourself of use to himand you'll rise to be
a partner in the establishment in no time. Bless meonly think! if
he were to diewhy your fortune's made at once.'

'To be sureI see it all' said poor Nicholasdelighted with a
thousand visionary ideasthat his good spirits and his inexperience
were conjuring up before him. 'Or suppose some young nobleman who
is being educated at the Hallwere to take a fancy to meand get
his father to appoint me his travelling tutor when he leftand when
we come back from the continentprocured me some handsome appointment.
Eh! uncle?'

'Ahto be sure!' sneered Ralph.

'And who knowsbut when he came to see me when I was settled (as he
would of course)he might fall in love with Katewho would be
keeping my houseand--and marry hereh! uncle? Who knows?'

'Whoindeed!' snarled Ralph.

'How happy we should be!' cried Nicholas with enthusiasm. 'The pain
of parting is nothing to the joy of meeting again. Kate will be a
beautiful womanand I so proud to hear them say soand mother so
happy to be with us once againand all these sad times forgotten
and--' The picture was too bright a one to bearand Nicholas
fairly overpowered by itsmiled faintlyand burst into tears.

This simple familyborn and bred in retirementand wholly
unacquainted with what is called the world--a conventional phrase
whichbeing interpretedoften signifieth all the rascals in it-mingled
their tears together at the thought of their first
separation; andthis first gush of feeling overwere proceeding to
dilate with all the buoyancy of untried hope on the bright prospects
before themwhen Mr Ralph Nickleby suggestedthat if they lost
timesome more fortunate candidate might deprive Nicholas of the
stepping-stone to fortune which the advertisement pointed outand
so undermine all their air-built castles. This timely reminder
effectually stopped the conversation. Nicholashaving carefully
copied the address of Mr Squeersthe uncle and nephew issued forth
together in quest of that accomplished gentleman; Nicholas firmly


persuading himself that he had done his relative great injustice in
disliking him at first sight; and Mrs Nickleby being at some pains
to inform her daughter that she was sure he was a much more kindly
disposed person than he seemed; whichMiss Nickleby dutifully
remarkedhe might very easily be.

To tell the truththe good lady's opinion had been not a little
influenced by her brother-in-law's appeal to her better
understandingand his implied compliment to her high deserts; and
although she had dearly loved her husbandand still doted on her
childrenhe had struck so successfully on one of those little
jarring chords in the human heart (Ralph was well acquainted with
its worst weaknessesthough he knew nothing of its best)that she
had already begun seriously to consider herself the amiable and
suffering victim of her late husband's imprudence.

CHAPTER 4

Nicholas and his Uncle (to secure the Fortune without loss of time)
wait upon Mr Wackford Squeersthe Yorkshire Schoolmaster

Snow Hill! What kind of place can the quiet townspeople who see the
words emblazonedin all the legibility of gilt letters and dark
shadingon the north-country coachestake Snow Hill to be? All
people have some undefined and shadowy notion of a place whose name
is frequently before their eyesor often in their ears. What a
vast number of random ideas there must be perpetually floating
aboutregarding this same Snow Hill. The name is such a good one.
Snow Hill--Snow Hill toocoupled with a Saracen's Head: picturing
to us by a double association of ideassomething stern and rugged!
A bleak desolate tract of countryopen to piercing blasts and
fierce wintry storms--a darkcoldgloomy heathlonely by dayand
scarcely to be thought of by honest folks at night--a place which
solitary wayfarers shunand where desperate robbers congregate;-this
or something like thisshould be the prevalent notion of Snow
Hillin those remote and rustic partsthrough which the Saracen's
Headlike some grim apparitionrushes each day and night with
mysterious and ghost-like punctuality; holding its swift and
headlong course in all weathersand seeming to bid defiance to the
very elements themselves.

The reality is rather differentbut by no means to be despised
notwithstanding. Thereat the very core of Londonin the heart of
its business and animationin the midst of a whirl of noise and
motion: stemming as it were the giant currents of life that flow
ceaselessly on from different quartersand meet beneath its walls:
stands Newgate; and in that crowded street on which it frowns so
darkly--within a few feet of the squalid tottering houses--upon the
very spot on which the vendors of soup and fish and damaged fruit
are now plying their trades--scores of human beingsamidst a roar
of sounds to which even the tumult of a great city is as nothing
foursixor eight strong men at a timehave been hurried
violently and swiftly from the worldwhen the scene has been
rendered frightful with excess of human life; when curious eyes have
glared from casement and house-topand wall and pillar; and when
in the mass of white and upturned facesthe dying wretchin his
all-comprehensive look of agonyhas met not one--not one--that bore
the impress of pity or compassion.

Near to the jailand by consequence near to Smithfield alsoand
the Compterand the bustle and noise of the city; and just on that


particular part of Snow Hill where omnibus horses going eastward
seriously think of falling down on purposeand where horses in
hackney cabriolets going westward not unfrequently fall by accident
is the coach-yard of the Saracen's Head Inn; its portal guarded by
two Saracens' heads and shoulderswhich it was once the pride and
glory of the choice spirits of this metropolis to pull down at
nightbut which have for some time remained in undisturbed
tranquillity; possibly because this species of humour is now
confined to St James's parishwhere door knockers are preferred as
being more portableand bell-wires esteemed as convenient
toothpicks. Whether this be the reason or notthere they are
frowning upon you from each side of the gateway. The inn itself
garnished with another Saracen's Headfrowns upon you from the top
of the yard; while from the door of the hind boot of all the red
coaches that are standing thereinthere glares a small Saracen's
Headwith a twin expression to the large Saracens' Heads belowso
that the general appearance of the pile is decidedly of the
Saracenic order.

When you walk up this yardyou will see the booking-office on your
leftand the tower of St Sepulchre's churchdarting abruptly up
into the skyon your rightand a gallery of bedrooms on both
sides. Just before youyou will observe a long window with the
words 'coffee-room' legibly painted above it; and looking out of
that windowyou would have seen in additionif you had gone at the
right timeMr Wackford Squeers with his hands in his pockets.

Mr Squeers's appearance was not prepossessing. He had but one eye
and the popular prejudice runs in favour of two. The eye he had
was unquestionably usefulbut decidedly not ornamental: being of a
greenish greyand in shape resembling the fan-light of a street
door. The blank side of his face was much wrinkled and puckered up
which gave him a very sinister appearanceespecially when he
smiledat which times his expression bordered closely on the
villainous. His hair was very flat and shinysave at the ends
where it was brushed stiffly up from a low protruding forehead
which assorted well with his harsh voice and coarse manner. He was
about two or three and fiftyand a trifle below the middle size; he
wore a white neckerchief with long endsand a suit of scholastic
black; but his coat sleeves being a great deal too longand his
trousers a great deal too shorthe appeared ill at ease in his
clothesand as if he were in a perpetual state of astonishment at
finding himself so respectable.

Mr Squeers was standing in a box by one of the coffee-room fireplaces
fitted with one such table as is usually seen in coffeerooms
and two of extraordinary shapes and dimensions made to suit
the angles of the partition. In a corner of the seatwas a very
small deal trunktied round with a scanty piece of cord; and on the
trunk was perched--his lace-up half-boots and corduroy trousers
dangling in the air--a diminutive boywith his shoulders drawn up
to his earsand his hands planted on his kneeswho glanced timidly
at the schoolmasterfrom time to timewith evident dread and
apprehension.

'Half-past three' muttered Mr Squeersturning from the windowand
looking sulkily at the coffee-room clock. 'There will be nobody
here today.'

Much vexed by this reflectionMr Squeers looked at the little boy
to see whether he was doing anything he could beat him for. As he
happened not to be doing anything at allhe merely boxed his ears
and told him not to do it again.


'At Midsummer' muttered Mr Squeersresuming his complaint'I took
down ten boys; ten twenties is two hundred pound. I go back at
eight o'clock tomorrow morningand have got only three--three
oughts is an ought--three twos is six--sixty pound. What's come of
all the boys? what's parents got in their heads? what does it all
mean?'

Here the little boy on the top of the trunk gave a violent sneeze.

'Halloasir!' growled the schoolmasterturning round. 'What's
thatsir?'

'Nothingplease sir' replied the little boy.

'Nothingsir!' exclaimed Mr Squeers.

'Please sirI sneezed' rejoined the boytrembling till the little
trunk shook under him.

'Oh! sneezeddid you?' retorted Mr Squeers. 'Then what did you say
nothingforsir?'

In default of a better answer to this questionthe little boy
screwed a couple of knuckles into each of his eyes and began to cry
wherefore Mr Squeers knocked him off the trunk with a blow on one
side of the faceand knocked him on again with a blow on the other.

'Wait till I get you down into Yorkshiremy young gentleman' said
Mr Squeers'and then I'll give you the rest. Will you hold that
noisesir?'

'Ye--ye--yes' sobbed the little boyrubbing his face very hard
with the Beggar's Petition in printed calico.

'Then do so at oncesir' said Squeers. 'Do you hear?'

As this admonition was accompanied with a threatening gestureand
uttered with a savage aspectthe little boy rubbed his face harder
as if to keep the tears back; andbeyond alternately sniffing and
chokinggave no further vent to his emotions.

'Mr Squeers' said the waiterlooking in at this juncture; 'here's
a gentleman asking for you at the bar.'

'Show the gentleman inRichard' replied Mr Squeersin a soft
voice. 'Put your handkerchief in your pocketyou little scoundrel
or I'll murder you when the gentleman goes.'

The schoolmaster had scarcely uttered these words in a fierce
whisperwhen the stranger entered. Affecting not to see himMr
Squeers feigned to be intent upon mending a penand offering
benevolent advice to his youthful pupil.

'My dear child' said Mr Squeers'all people have their trials.
This early trial of yours that is fit to make your little heart
burstand your very eyes come out of your head with cryingwhat is
it? Nothing; less than nothing. You are leaving your friendsbut
you will have a father in memy dearand a mother in Mrs Squeers.
At the delightful village of Dotheboysnear Greta Bridge in
Yorkshirewhere youth are boardedclothedbookedwashed
furnished with pocket-moneyprovided with all necessaries--'

'It IS the gentleman' observed the strangerstopping the
schoolmaster in the rehearsal of his advertisement. 'Mr SqueersI


believesir?'

'The samesir' said Mr Squeerswith an assumption of extreme
surprise.

'The gentleman' said the stranger'that advertised in the Times
newspaper?'

'--Morning PostChronicleHeraldand Advertiserregarding the
Academy called Dotheboys Hall at the delightful village of
Dotheboysnear Greta Bridge in Yorkshire' added Mr Squeers. 'You
come on businesssir. I see by my young friends. How do you do
my little gentleman? and how do you dosir?' With this salutation
Mr Squeers patted the heads of two hollow-eyedsmall-boned little
boyswhom the applicant had brought with himand waited for
further communications.

'I am in the oil and colour way. My name is Snawleysir' said the
stranger.

Squeers inclined his head as much as to say'And a remarkably
pretty nametoo.'

The stranger continued. 'I have been thinkingMr Squeersof
placing my two boys at your school.'

'It is not for me to say sosir' replied Mr Squeers'but I don't
think you could possibly do a better thing.'

'Hem!' said the other. 'Twenty pounds per annewumI believeMr
Squeers?'

'Guineas' rejoined the schoolmasterwith a persuasive smile.

'Pounds for twoI thinkMr Squeers' said Mr Snawleysolemnly.

'I don't think it could be donesir' replied Squeersas if he had
never considered the proposition before. 'Let me see; four fives is
twentydouble thatand deduct the--wella pound either way shall
not stand betwixt us. You must recommend me to your connection
sirand make it up that way.'

'They are not great eaters' said Mr Snawley.

'Oh! that doesn't matter at all' replied Squeers. 'We don't
consider the boys' appetites at our establishment.' This was
strictly true; they did not.

'Every wholesome luxurysirthat Yorkshire can afford' continued
Squeers; 'every beautiful moral that Mrs Squeers can instil; every-in
shortevery comfort of a home that a boy could wish forwill be
theirsMr Snawley.'

'I should wish their morals to be particularly attended to' said Mr
Snawley.

'I am glad of thatsir' replied the schoolmasterdrawing himself
up. 'They have come to the right shop for moralssir.'

'You are a moral man yourself' said Mr Snawley.

'I rather believe I amsir' replied Squeers.

'I have the satisfaction to know you aresir' said Mr Snawley. 'I


asked one of your referencesand he said you were pious.'

'WellsirI hope I am a little in that line' replied Squeers.

'I hope I am also' rejoined the other. 'Could I say a few words
with you in the next box?'

'By all means' rejoined Squeers with a grin. 'My dearswill you
speak to your new playfellow a minute or two? That is one of my
boyssir. Belling his name is--a Taunton boy thatsir.'

'Is heindeed?' rejoined Mr Snawleylooking at the poor little
urchin as if he were some extraordinary natural curiosity.

'He goes down with me tomorrowsir' said Squeers. 'That's his
luggage that he is a sitting upon now. Each boy is required to
bringsirtwo suits of clothessix shirtssix pair of stockings
two nightcapstwo pocket-handkerchiefstwo pair of shoestwo
hatsand a razor.'

'A razor!' exclaimed Mr Snawleyas they walked into the next box.
'What for?'

'To shave with' replied Squeersin a slow and measured tone.

There was not much in these three wordsbut there must have been
something in the manner in which they were saidto attract
attention; for the schoolmaster and his companion looked steadily at
each other for a few secondsand then exchanged a very meaning
smile. Snawley was a sleekflat-nosed manclad in sombre
garmentsand long black gaitersand bearing in his countenance an
expression of much mortification and sanctity; sohis smiling
without any obvious reason was the more remarkable.

'Up to what age do you keep boys at your school then?' he asked at
length.

'Just as long as their friends make the quarterly payments to my
agent in townor until such time as they run away' replied
Squeers. 'Let us understand each other; I see we may safely do so.
What are these boys;--natural children?'

'No' rejoined Snawleymeeting the gaze of the schoolmaster's one
eye. 'They ain't.'

'I thought they might be' said Squeerscoolly. 'We have a good
many of them; that boy's one.'

'Him in the next box?' said Snawley.

Squeers nodded in the affirmative; his companion took another peep
at the little boy on the trunkandturning round againlooked as
if he were quite disappointed to see him so much like other boys
and said he should hardly have thought it.

'He is' cried Squeers. 'But about these boys of yours; you wanted
to speak to me?'

'Yes' replied Snawley. 'The fact isI am not their fatherMr
Squeers. I'm only their father-in-law.'

'Oh! Is that it?' said the schoolmaster. 'That explains it at
once. I was wondering what the devil you were going to send them to
Yorkshire for. Ha! ha! OhI understand now.'


'You see I have married the mother' pursued Snawley; 'it's
expensive keeping boys at homeand as she has a little money in her
own rightI am afraid (women are so very foolishMr Squeers) that
she might be led to squander it on themwhich would be their ruin
you know.'

'I see' returned Squeersthrowing himself back in his chairand
waving his hand.

'And this' resumed Snawley'has made me anxious to put them to
some school a good distance offwhere there are no holidays--none
of those ill-judged coming home twice a year that unsettle
children's minds so--and where they may rough it a little--you
comprehend?'

'The payments regularand no questions asked' said Squeers
nodding his head.

'That's itexactly' rejoined the other. 'Morals strictly attended
tothough.'

'Strictly' said Squeers.

'Not too much writing home allowedI suppose?' said the father-inlaw
hesitating.

'Noneexcept a circular at Christmasto say they never were so
happyand hope they may never be sent for' rejoined Squeers.

'Nothing could be better' said the father-in-lawrubbing his
hands.

'Thenas we understand each other' said Squeers'will you allow
me to ask you whether you consider me a highly virtuousexemplary
and well-conducted man in private life; and whetheras a person
whose business it is to take charge of youthyou place the
strongest confidence in my unimpeachable integrityliberality
religious principlesand ability?'

'Certainly I do' replied the father-in-lawreciprocating the
schoolmaster's grin.

'Perhaps you won't object to say thatif I make you a reference?'

'Not the least in the world.'

'That's your sort!' said Squeerstaking up a pen; 'this is doing
businessand that's what I like.'

Having entered Mr Snawley's addressthe schoolmaster had next to
perform the still more agreeable office of entering the receipt of
the first quarter's payment in advancewhich he had scarcely
completedwhen another voice was heard inquiring for Mr Squeers.

'Here he is' replied the schoolmaster; 'what is it?'

'Only a matter of businesssir' said Ralph Nicklebypresenting
himselfclosely followed by Nicholas. 'There was an advertisement
of yours in the papers this morning?'

'There wassir. This wayif you please' said Squeerswho had by
this time got back to the box by the fire-place. 'Won't you be
seated?'


'WhyI think I will' replied Ralphsuiting the action to the
wordand placing his hat on the table before him. 'This is my
nephewsirMr Nicholas Nickleby.'

'How do you dosir?' said Squeers.

Nicholas bowedsaid he was very welland seemed very much
astonished at the outward appearance of the proprietor of Dotheboys
Hall: as indeed he was.

'Perhaps you recollect me?' said Ralphlooking narrowly at the
schoolmaster.

'You paid me a small account at each of my half-yearly visits to
townfor some yearsI thinksir' replied Squeers.

'I did' rejoined Ralph.

'For the parents of a boy named Dorkerwho unfortunately--'

'--unfortunately died at Dotheboys Hall' said Ralphfinishing the
sentence.

'I remember very wellsir' rejoined Squeers. 'Ah! Mrs Squeers
sirwas as partial to that lad as if he had been her own; the
attentionsirthat was bestowed upon that boy in his illness! Dry
toast and warm tea offered him every night and morning when he
couldn't swallow anything--a candle in his bedroom on the very night
he died--the best dictionary sent up for him to lay his head upon--I
don't regret it though. It is a pleasant thing to reflect that one
did one's duty by him.'

Ralph smiledas if he meant anything but smilingand looked round
at the strangers present.

'These are only some pupils of mine' said Wackford Squeers
pointing to the little boy on the trunk and the two little boys on
the floorwho had been staring at each other without uttering a
wordand writhing their bodies into most remarkable contortions
according to the custom of little boys when they first become
acquainted. 'This gentlemansiris a parent who is kind enough to
compliment me upon the course of education adopted at Dotheboys
Hallwhich is situatedsirat the delightful village of
Dotheboysnear Greta Bridge in Yorkshirewhere youth are boarded
clothedbookedwashedfurnished with pocket-money--'

'Yeswe know all about thatsir' interrupted Ralphtestily.
'It's in the advertisement.'

'You are very rightsir; it IS in the advertisement' replied
Squeers.

'And in the matter of fact besides' interrupted Mr Snawley. 'I
feel bound to assure yousirand I am proud to have this
opportunity OF assuring youthat I consider Mr Squeers a gentleman
highly virtuousexemplarywell conductedand--'

'I make no doubt of itsir' interrupted Ralphchecking the
torrent of recommendation; 'no doubt of it at all. Suppose we come
to business?'

'With all my heartsir' rejoined Squeers. '"Never postpone
business is the very first lesson we instil into our commercial


pupils. Master Belling, my dear, always remember that; do you
hear?'

'Yes, sir,' repeated Master Belling.

'He recollects what it is, does he?' said Ralph.

'Tell the gentleman,' said Squeers.

'Never' repeated Master Belling.

'Very good,' said Squeers; 'go on.'

'Never,' repeated Master Belling again.

'Very good indeed,' said Squeers. 'Yes.'

'P,' suggested Nicholas, good-naturedly.

'Perform--business!' said Master Belling. 'Never--perform-business!'


'Very well, sir,' said Squeers, darting a withering look at the
culprit. 'You and I will perform a little business on our private
account by-and-by.'

'And just now,' said Ralph, 'we had better transact our own,
perhaps.'

'If you please,' said Squeers.

'Well,' resumed Ralph, 'it's brief enough; soon broached; and I hope
easily concluded. You have advertised for an able assistant, sir?'

'Precisely so,' said Squeers.

'And you really want one?'

'Certainly,' answered Squeers.

'Here he is!' said Ralph. 'My nephew Nicholas, hot from school,
with everything he learnt there, fermenting in his head, and nothing
fermenting in his pocket, is just the man you want.'

'I am afraid,' said Squeers, perplexed with such an application from
a youth of Nicholas's figure, 'I am afraid the young man won't suit
me.'

'Yes, he will,' said Ralph; 'I know better. Don't be cast down,
sir; you will be teaching all the young noblemen in Dotheboys Hall
in less than a week's time, unless this gentleman is more obstinate
than I take him to be.'

'I fear, sir,' said Nicholas, addressing Mr Squeers, 'that you
object to my youth, and to my not being a Master of Arts?'

'The absence of a college degree IS an objection,' replied Squeers,
looking as grave as he could, and considerably puzzled, no less by
the contrast between the simplicity of the nephew and the worldly
manner of the uncle, than by the incomprehensible allusion to the
young noblemen under his tuition.

'Look here, sir,' said Ralph; 'I'll put this matter in its true
light in two seconds.'


'If you'll have the goodness,' rejoined Squeers.

'This is a boy, or a youth, or a lad, or a young man, or a
hobbledehoy, or whatever you like to call him, of eighteen or
nineteen, or thereabouts,' said Ralph.

'That I see,' observed the schoolmaster.

'So do I,' said Mr Snawley, thinking it as well to back his new
friend occasionally.

'His father is dead, he is wholly ignorant of the world, has no
resources whatever, and wants something to do,' said Ralph. 'I
recommend him to this splendid establishment of yours, as an opening
which will lead him to fortune if he turns it to proper account. Do
you see that?'

'Everybody must see that,' replied Squeers, half imitating the sneer
with which the old gentleman was regarding his unconscious relative.

'I do, of course,' said Nicholas, eagerly.

'He does, of course, you observe,' said Ralph, in the same dry, hard
manner. 'If any caprice of temper should induce him to cast aside
this golden opportunity before he has brought it to perfection, I
consider myself absolved from extending any assistance to his mother
and sister. Look at him, and think of the use he may be to you in
half-a-dozen ways! Now, the question is, whether, for some time to
come at all events, he won't serve your purpose better than twenty
of the kind of people you would get under ordinary circumstances.
Isn't that a question for consideration?'

'Yes, it is,' said Squeers, answering a nod of Ralph's head with a
nod of his own.

'Good,' rejoined Ralph. 'Let me have two words with you.'

The two words were had apart; in a couple of minutes Mr Wackford
Squeers announced that Mr Nicholas Nickleby was, from that moment,
thoroughly nominated to, and installed in, the office of first
assistant master at Dotheboys Hall.

'Your uncle's recommendation has done it, Mr Nickleby,' said
Wackford Squeers.

Nicholas, overjoyed at his success, shook his uncle's hand warmly,
and could almost have worshipped Squeers upon the spot.

'He is an odd-looking man,' thought Nicholas. 'What of that?
Porson was an odd-looking man, and so was Doctor Johnson; all these
bookworms are.'

'At eight o'clock tomorrow morning, Mr Nickleby,' said Squeers, 'the
coach starts. You must be here at a quarter before, as we take
these boys with us.'

'Certainly, sir,' said Nicholas.

'And your fare down, I have paid,' growled Ralph. 'So, you'll have
nothing to do but keep yourself warm.'

Here was another instance of his uncle's generosity! Nicholas felt
his unexpected kindness so much, that he could scarcely find words


to thank him; indeed, he had not found half enough, when they took
leave of the schoolmaster, and emerged from the Saracen's Head
gateway.

'I shall be here in the morning to see you fairly off,' said Ralph.
'No skulking!'

'Thank you, sir,' replied Nicholas; 'I never shall forget this
kindness.'

'Take care you don't,' replied his uncle. 'You had better go home
now, and pack up what you have got to pack. Do you think you could
find your way to Golden Square first?'

'Certainly,' said Nicholas. 'I can easily inquire.'

'Leave these papers with my clerk, then,' said Ralph, producing a
small parcel, 'and tell him to wait till I come home.'

Nicholas cheerfully undertook the errand, and bidding his worthy
uncle an affectionate farewell, which that warm-hearted old
gentleman acknowledged by a growl, hastened away to execute his
commission.

He found Golden Square in due course; Mr Noggs, who had stepped out
for a minute or so to the public-house, was opening the door with a
latch-key, as he reached the steps.

'What's that?' inquired Noggs, pointing to the parcel.

'Papers from my uncle,' replied Nicholas; 'and you're to have the
goodness to wait till he comes home, if you please.'

'Uncle!' cried Noggs.

'Mr Nickleby,' said Nicholas in explanation.

'Come in,' said Newman.

Without another word he led Nicholas into the passage, and thence
into the official pantry at the end of it, where he thrust him into
a chair, and mounting upon his high stool, sat, with his arms
hanging, straight down by his sides, gazing fixedly upon him, as
from a tower of observation.

'There is no answer,' said Nicholas, laying the parcel on a table
beside him.

Newman said nothing, but folding his arms, and thrusting his head
forward so as to obtain a nearer view of Nicholas's face, scanned
his features closely.

'No answer,' said Nicholas, speaking very loud, under the impression
that Newman Noggs was deaf.

Newman placed his hands upon his knees, and, without uttering a
syllable, continued the same close scrutiny of his companion's face.

This was such a very singular proceeding on the part of an utter
stranger, and his appearance was so extremely peculiar, that
Nicholas, who had a sufficiently keen sense of the ridiculous, could
not refrain from breaking into a smile as he inquired whether Mr
Noggs had any commands for him.


Noggs shook his head and sighed; upon which Nicholas rose, and
remarking that he required no rest, bade him good-morning.

It was a great exertion for Newman Noggs, and nobody knows to this
day how he ever came to make it, the other party being wholly
unknown to him, but he drew a long breath and actually said, out
loud, without once stopping, that if the young gentleman did not
object to tell, he should like to know what his uncle was going to
do for him.

Nicholas had not the least objection in the world, but on the
contrary was rather pleased to have an opportunity of talking on the
subject which occupied his thoughts; so, he sat down again, and (his
sanguine imagination warming as he spoke) entered into a fervent and
glowing description of all the honours and advantages to be derived
from his appointment at that seat of learning, Dotheboys Hall.

'But, what's the matter--are you ill?' said Nicholas, suddenly
breaking off, as his companion, after throwing himself into a
variety of uncouth attitudes, thrust his hands under the stool, and
cracked his finger-joints as if he were snapping all the bones in
his hands.

Newman Noggs made no reply, but went on shrugging his shoulders and
cracking his finger-joints; smiling horribly all the time, and
looking steadfastly at nothing, out of the tops of his eyes, in a
most ghastly manner.

At first, Nicholas thought the mysterious man was in a fit, but, on
further consideration, decided that he was in liquor, under which
circumstances he deemed it prudent to make off at once. He looked
back when he had got the street-door open. Newman Noggs was still
indulging in the same extraordinary gestures, and the cracking of
his fingers sounded louder that ever.

CHAPTER 5

Nicholas starts for Yorkshire. Of his Leave-taking and his Fellow-
Travellers, and what befell them on the Road

If tears dropped into a trunk were charms to preserve its owner from
sorrow and misfortune, Nicholas Nickleby would have commenced his
expedition under most happy auspices. There was so much to be done,
and so little time to do it in; so many kind words to be spoken, and
such bitter pain in the hearts in which they rose to impede their
utterance; that the little preparations for his journey were made
mournfully indeed. A hundred things which the anxious care of his
mother and sister deemed indispensable for his comfort, Nicholas
insisted on leaving behind, as they might prove of some after use,
or might be convertible into money if occasion required. A hundred
affectionate contests on such points as these, took place on the sad
night which preceded his departure; and, as the termination of every
angerless dispute brought them nearer and nearer to the close of
their slight preparations, Kate grew busier and busier, and wept
more silently.

The box was packed at last, and then there came supper, with some
little delicacy provided for the occasion, and as a set-off against
the expense of which, Kate and her mother had feigned to dine when
Nicholas was out. The poor lady nearly choked himself by attempting
to partake of it, and almost suffocated himself in affecting a jest


or two, and forcing a melancholy laugh. Thus, they lingered on till
the hour of separating for the night was long past; and then they
found that they might as well have given vent to their real feelings
before, for they could not suppress them, do what they would. So,
they let them have their way, and even that was a relief.

Nicholas slept well till six next morning; dreamed of home, or of
what was home once--no matter which, for things that are changed or
gone will come back as they used to be, thank God! in sleep--and
rose quite brisk and gay. He wrote a few lines in pencil, to say
the goodbye which he was afraid to pronounce himself, and laying
them, with half his scanty stock of money, at his sister's door,
shouldered his box and crept softly downstairs.

'Is that you, Hannah?' cried a voice from Miss La Creevy's sittingroom,
whence shone the light of a feeble candle.

'It is I, Miss La Creevy,' said Nicholas, putting down the box and
looking in.

'Bless us!' exclaimed Miss La Creevy, starting and putting her hand
to her curl-papers. 'You're up very early, Mr Nickleby.'

'So are you,' replied Nicholas.

'It's the fine arts that bring me out of bed, Mr Nickleby,' returned
the lady. 'I'm waiting for the light to carry out an idea.'

Miss La Creevy had got up early to put a fancy nose into a miniature
of an ugly little boy, destined for his grandmother in the country,
who was expected to bequeath him property if he was like the family.

'To carry out an idea,' repeated Miss La Creevy; 'and that's the
great convenience of living in a thoroughfare like the Strand. When
I want a nose or an eye for any particular sitter, I have only to
look out of window and wait till I get one.'

'Does it take long to get a nose, now?' inquired Nicholas, smiling.

'Why, that depends in a great measure on the pattern,' replied Miss
La Creevy. 'Snubs and Romans are plentiful enough, and there are
flats of all sorts and sizes when there's a meeting at Exeter Hall;
but perfect aquilines, I am sorry to say, are scarce, and we
generally use them for uniforms or public characters.'

'Indeed!' said Nicholas. 'If I should meet with any in my travels,
I'll endeavour to sketch them for you.'

'You don't mean to say that you are really going all the way down
into Yorkshire this cold winter's weather, Mr Nickleby?' said Miss
La Creevy. 'I heard something of it last night.'

'I do, indeed,' replied Nicholas. 'Needs must, you know, when
somebody drives. Necessity is my driver, and that is only another
name for the same gentleman.'

'Well, I am very sorry for it; that's all I can say,' said Miss La
Creevy; 'as much on your mother's and sister's account as on yours.
Your sister is a very pretty young lady, Mr Nickleby, and that is an
additional reason why she should have somebody to protect her. I
persuaded her to give me a sitting or two, for the street-door case.
'Ah! she'll make a sweet miniature.' As Miss La Creevy spoke, she
held up an ivory countenance intersected with very perceptible skyblue
veins, and regarded it with so much complacency, that Nicholas


quite envied her.

'If you ever have an opportunity of showing Kate some little
kindness,' said Nicholas, presenting his hand, 'I think you will.'

'Depend upon that,' said the good-natured miniature painter; 'and
God bless you, Mr Nickleby; and I wish you well.'

It was very little that Nicholas knew of the world, but he guessed
enough about its ways to think, that if he gave Miss La Creevy one
little kiss, perhaps she might not be the less kindly disposed
towards those he was leaving behind. So, he gave her three or four
with a kind of jocose gallantry, and Miss La Creevy evinced no
greater symptoms of displeasure than declaring, as she adjusted her
yellow turban, that she had never heard of such a thing, and
couldn't have believed it possible.

Having terminated the unexpected interview in this satisfactory
manner, Nicholas hastily withdrew himself from the house. By the
time he had found a man to carry his box it was only seven o'clock,
so he walked slowly on, a little in advance of the porter, and very
probably with not half as light a heart in his breast as the man
had, although he had no waistcoat to cover it with, and had
evidently, from the appearance of his other garments, been spending
the night in a stable, and taking his breakfast at a pump.

Regarding, with no small curiosity and interest, all the busy
preparations for the coming day which every street and almost every
house displayed; and thinking, now and then, that it seemed rather
hard that so many people of all ranks and stations could earn a
livelihood in London, and that he should be compelled to journey so
far in search of one; Nicholas speedily arrived at the Saracen's
Head, Snow Hill. Having dismissed his attendant, and seen the box
safely deposited in the coach-office, he looked into the coffee-room
in search of Mr Squeers.

He found that learned gentleman sitting at breakfast, with the three
little boys before noticed, and two others who had turned up by some
lucky chance since the interview of the previous day, ranged in a
row on the opposite seat. Mr Squeers had before him a small measure
of coffee, a plate of hot toast, and a cold round of beef; but he
was at that moment intent on preparing breakfast for the little
boys.

'This is twopenn'orth of milk, is it, waiter?' said Mr Squeers,
looking down into a large blue mug, and slanting it gently, so as to
get an accurate view of the quantity of liquid contained in it.

'That's twopenn'orth, sir,' replied the waiter.

'What a rare article milk is, to be sure, in London!' said Mr
Squeers, with a sigh. 'Just fill that mug up with lukewarm water,
William, will you?'

'To the wery top, sir?' inquired the waiter. 'Why, the milk will be
drownded.'

'Never you mind that,' replied Mr Squeers. 'Serve it right for
being so dear. You ordered that thick bread and butter for three,
did you?'

'Coming directly, sir.'

'You needn't hurry yourself,' said Squeers; 'there's plenty of time.


Conquer your passions, boys, and don't be eager after vittles.' As
he uttered this moral precept, Mr Squeers took a large bite out of
the cold beef, and recognised Nicholas.

'Sit down, Mr Nickleby,' said Squeers. 'Here we are, a breakfasting
you see!'

Nicholas did NOT see that anybody was breakfasting, except Mr
Squeers; but he bowed with all becoming reverence, and looked as
cheerful as he could.

'Oh! that's the milk and water, is it, William?' said Squeers.
'Very good; don't forget the bread and butter presently.'

At this fresh mention of the bread and butter, the five little boys
looked very eager, and followed the waiter out, with their eyes;
meanwhile Mr Squeers tasted the milk and water.

'Ah!' said that gentleman, smacking his lips, 'here's richness!
Think of the many beggars and orphans in the streets that would be
glad of this, little boys. A shocking thing hunger, isn't it, Mr
Nickleby?'

'Very shocking, sir,' said Nicholas.

'When I say number one,' pursued Mr Squeers, putting the mug before
the children, 'the boy on the left hand nearest the window may take
a drink; and when I say number two, the boy next him will go in, and
so till we come to number five, which is the last boy. Are you
ready?'

'Yes, sir,' cried all the little boys with great eagerness.

'That's right,' said Squeers, calmly getting on with his breakfast;
'keep ready till I tell you to begin. Subdue your appetites, my
dears, and you've conquered human natur. This is the way we
inculcate strength of mind, Mr Nickleby,' said the schoolmaster,
turning to Nicholas, and speaking with his mouth very full of beef
and toast.

Nicholas murmured something--he knew not what--in reply; and the
little boys, dividing their gaze between the mug, the bread and
butter (which had by this time arrived), and every morsel which Mr
Squeers took into his mouth, remained with strained eyes in torments
of expectation.

'Thank God for a good breakfast,' said Squeers, when he had
finished. 'Number one may take a drink.'

Number one seized the mug ravenously, and had just drunk enough to
make him wish for more, when Mr Squeers gave the signal for number
two, who gave up at the same interesting moment to number three; and
the process was repeated until the milk and water terminated with
number five.

'And now,' said the schoolmaster, dividing the bread and butter for
three into as many portions as there were children, 'you had better
look sharp with your breakfast, for the horn will blow in a minute
or two, and then every boy leaves off.'

Permission being thus given to fall to, the boys began to eat
voraciously, and in desperate haste: while the schoolmaster (who was
in high good humour after his meal) picked his teeth with a fork,
and looked smilingly on. In a very short time, the horn was heard.


'I thought it wouldn't be long,' said Squeers, jumping up and
producing a little basket from under the seat; 'put what you haven't
had time to eat, in here, boys! You'll want it on the road!'

Nicholas was considerably startled by these very economical
arrangements; but he had no time to reflect upon them, for the
little boys had to be got up to the top of the coach, and their
boxes had to be brought out and put in, and Mr Squeers's luggage was
to be seen carefully deposited in the boot, and all these offices
were in his department. He was in the full heat and bustle of
concluding these operations, when his uncle, Mr Ralph Nickleby,
accosted him.

'Oh! here you are, sir!' said Ralph. 'Here are your mother and
sister, sir.'

'Where?' cried Nicholas, looking hastily round.

'Here!' replied his uncle. 'Having too much money and nothing at
all to do with it, they were paying a hackney coach as I came up,
sir.'

'We were afraid of being too late to see him before he went away
from us,' said Mrs Nickleby, embracing her son, heedless of the
unconcerned lookers-on in the coach-yard.

'Very good, ma'am,' returned Ralph, 'you're the best judge of
course. I merely said that you were paying a hackney coach. I
never pay a hackney coach, ma'am; I never hire one. I haven't been
in a hackney coach of my own hiring, for thirty years, and I hope I
shan't be for thirty more, if I live as long.'

'I should never have forgiven myself if I had not seen him,' said
Mrs Nickleby. 'Poor dear boy--going away without his breakfast too,
because he feared to distress us!'

'Mighty fine certainly,' said Ralph, with great testiness. 'When I
first went to business, ma'am, I took a penny loaf and a ha'porth of
milk for my breakfast as I walked to the city every morning; what do
you say to that, ma'am? Breakfast! Bah!'

'Now, Nickleby,' said Squeers, coming up at the moment buttoning his
greatcoat; 'I think you'd better get up behind. I'm afraid of one
of them boys falling off and then there's twenty pound a year gone.'

'Dear Nicholas,' whispered Kate, touching her brother's arm, 'who is
that vulgar man?'

'Eh!' growled Ralph, whose quick ears had caught the inquiry. 'Do
you wish to be introduced to Mr Squeers, my dear?'

'That the schoolmaster! No, uncle. Oh no!' replied Kate, shrinking
back.

'I'm sure I heard you say as much, my dear,' retorted Ralph in his
cold sarcastic manner. 'Mr Squeers, here's my niece: Nicholas's
sister!'

'Very glad to make your acquaintance, miss,' said Squeers, raising
his hat an inch or two. 'I wish Mrs Squeers took gals, and we had
you for a teacher. I don't know, though, whether she mightn't grow
jealous if we had. Ha! ha! ha!'


If the proprietor of Dotheboys Hall could have known what was
passing in his assistant's breast at that moment, he would have
discovered, with some surprise, that he was as near being soundly
pummelled as he had ever been in his life. Kate Nickleby, having a
quicker perception of her brother's emotions, led him gently aside,
and thus prevented Mr Squeers from being impressed with the fact in
a peculiarly disagreeable manner.

'My dear Nicholas,' said the young lady, 'who is this man? What
kind of place can it be that you are going to?'

'I hardly know, Kate,' replied Nicholas, pressing his sister's hand.
'I suppose the Yorkshire folks are rather rough and uncultivated;
that's all.'

'But this person,' urged Kate.

'Is my employer, or master, or whatever the proper name may be,'
replied Nicholas quickly; 'and I was an ass to take his coarseness
ill. They are looking this way, and it is time I was in my place.
Bless you, love, and goodbye! Mother, look forward to our meeting
again someday! Uncle, farewell! Thank you heartily for all you
have done and all you mean to do. Quite ready, sir!'

With these hasty adieux, Nicholas mounted nimbly to his seat, and
waved his hand as gallantly as if his heart went with it.

At this moment, when the coachman and guard were comparing notes for
the last time before starting, on the subject of the way-bill; when
porters were screwing out the last reluctant sixpences, itinerant
newsmen making the last offer of a morning paper, and the horses
giving the last impatient rattle to their harness; Nicholas felt
somebody pulling softly at his leg. He looked down, and there stood
Newman Noggs, who pushed up into his hand a dirty letter.

'What's this?' inquired Nicholas.

'Hush!' rejoined Noggs, pointing to Mr Ralph Nickleby, who was
saying a few earnest words to Squeers, a short distance off: 'Take
it. Read it. Nobody knows. That's all.'

'Stop!' cried Nicholas.

'No,' replied Noggs.

Nicholas cried stop, again, but Newman Noggs was gone.

A minute's bustle, a banging of the coach doors, a swaying of the
vehicle to one side, as the heavy coachman, and still heavier guard,
climbed into their seats; a cry of all right, a few notes from the
horn, a hasty glance of two sorrowful faces below, and the hard
features of Mr Ralph Nickleby--and the coach was gone too, and
rattling over the stones of Smithfield.

The little boys' legs being too short to admit of their feet resting
upon anything as they sat, and the little boys' bodies being
consequently in imminent hazard of being jerked off the coach,
Nicholas had enough to do over the stones to hold them on. Between
the manual exertion and the mental anxiety attendant upon this task,
he was not a little relieved when the coach stopped at the Peacock
at Islington. He was still more relieved when a hearty-looking
gentleman, with a very good-humoured face, and a very fresh colour,
got up behind, and proposed to take the other corner of the seat.


'If we put some of these youngsters in the middle,' said the newcomer,
'they'll be safer in case of their going to sleep; eh?'

'If you'll have the goodness, sir,' replied Squeers, 'that'll be the
very thing. Mr Nickleby, take three of them boys between you and
the gentleman. Belling and the youngest Snawley can sit between me
and the guard. Three children,' said Squeers, explaining to the
stranger, 'books as two.'

'I have not the least objection I am sure,' said the fresh-coloured
gentleman; 'I have a brother who wouldn't object to book his six
children as two at any butcher's or baker's in the kingdom, I dare
say. Far from it.'

'Six children, sir?' exclaimed Squeers.

'Yes, and all boys,' replied the stranger.

'Mr Nickleby,' said Squeers, in great haste, 'catch hold of that
basket. Let me give you a card, sir, of an establishment where
those six boys can be brought up in an enlightened, liberal, and
moral manner, with no mistake at all about it, for twenty guineas a
year each--twenty guineas, sir--or I'd take all the boys together
upon a average right through, and say a hundred pound a year for the
lot.'

'Oh!' said the gentleman, glancing at the card, 'you are the Mr
Squeers mentioned here, I presume?'

'Yes, I am, sir,' replied the worthy pedagogue; 'Mr Wackford Squeers
is my name, and I'm very far from being ashamed of it. These are
some of my boys, sir; that's one of my assistants, sir--Mr Nickleby,
a gentleman's son, amd a good scholar, mathematical, classical, and
commercial. We don't do things by halves at our shop. All manner
of learning my boys take down, sir; the expense is never thought of;
and they get paternal treatment and washing in.'

'Upon my word,' said the gentleman, glancing at Nicholas with a
half-smile, and a more than half expression of surprise, 'these are
advantages indeed.'

'You may say that, sir,' rejoined Squeers, thrusting his hands into
his great-coat pockets. 'The most unexceptionable references are
given and required. I wouldn't take a reference with any boy, that
wasn't responsible for the payment of five pound five a quarter, no,
not if you went down on your knees, and asked me, with the tears
running down your face, to do it.'

'Highly considerate,' said the passenger.

'It's my great aim and end to be considerate, sir,' rejoined
Squeers. 'Snawley, junior, if you don't leave off chattering your
teeth, and shaking with the cold, I'll warm you with a severe
thrashing in about half a minute's time.'

'Sit fast here, genelmen,' said the guard as he clambered up.

'All right behind there, Dick?' cried the coachman.

'All right,' was the reply. 'Off she goes!' And off she did go--if
coaches be feminine--amidst a loud flourish from the guard's horn,
and the calm approval of all the judges of coaches and coach-horses
congregated at the Peacock, but more especially of the helpers, who
stood, with the cloths over their arms, watching the coach till it


disappeared, and then lounged admiringly stablewards, bestowing
various gruff encomiums on the beauty of the turn-out.

When the guard (who was a stout old Yorkshireman) had blown himself
quite out of breath, he put the horn into a little tunnel of a
basket fastened to the coach-side for the purpose, and giving
himself a plentiful shower of blows on the chest and shoulders,
observed it was uncommon cold; after which, he demanded of every
person separately whether he was going right through, and if not,
where he WAS going. Satisfactory replies being made to these
queries, he surmised that the roads were pretty heavy arter that
fall last night, and took the liberty of asking whether any of them
gentlemen carried a snuff-box. It happening that nobody did, he
remarked with a mysterious air that he had heard a medical gentleman
as went down to Grantham last week, say how that snuff-taking was
bad for the eyes; but for his part he had never found it so, and
what he said was, that everybody should speak as they found. Nobody
attempting to controvert this position, he took a small brown-paper
parcel out of his hat, and putting on a pair of horn spectacles (the
writing being crabbed) read the direction half-a-dozen times over;
having done which, he consigned the parcel to its old place, put up
his spectacles again, and stared at everybody in turn. After this,
he took another blow at the horn by way of refreshment; and, having
now exhausted his usual topics of conversation, folded his arms as
well as he could in so many coats, and falling into a solemn
silence, looked carelessly at the familiar objects which met his eye
on every side as the coach rolled on; the only things he seemed to
care for, being horses and droves of cattle, which he scrutinised
with a critical air as they were passed upon the road.

The weather was intensely and bitterly cold; a great deal of snow
fell from time to time; and the wind was intolerably keen. Mr
Squeers got down at almost every stage--to stretch his legs as he
said--and as he always came back from such excursions with a very
red nose, and composed himself to sleep directly, there is reason to
suppose that he derived great benefit from the process. The little
pupils having been stimulated with the remains of their breakfast,
and further invigorated by sundry small cups of a curious cordial
carried by Mr Squeers, which tasted very like toast-and-water put
into a brandy bottle by mistake, went to sleep, woke, shivered, and
cried, as their feelings prompted. Nicholas and the good-tempered
man found so many things to talk about, that between conversing
together, and cheering up the boys, the time passed with them as
rapidly as it could, under such adverse circumstances.

So the day wore on. At Eton Slocomb there was a good coach dinner,
of which the box, the four front outsides, the one inside, Nicholas,
the good-tempered man, and Mr Squeers, partook; while the five
little boys were put to thaw by the fire, and regaled with
sandwiches. A stage or two further on, the lamps were lighted, and
a great to-do occasioned by the taking up, at a roadside inn, of a
very fastidious lady with an infinite variety of cloaks and small
parcels, who loudly lamented, for the behoof of the outsides, the
non-arrival of her own carriage which was to have taken her on, and
made the guard solemnly promise to stop every green chariot he saw
coming; which, as it was a dark night and he was sitting with his
face the other way, that officer undertook, with many fervent
asseverations, to do. Lastly, the fastidious lady, finding there
was a solitary gentleman inside, had a small lamp lighted which she
carried in reticule, and being after much trouble shut in, the
horses were put into a brisk canter and the coach was once more in
rapid motion.

The night and the snow came on together, and dismal enough they


were. There was no sound to be heard but the howling of the wind;
for the noise of the wheels, and the tread of the horses' feet, were
rendered inaudible by the thick coating of snow which covered the
ground, and was fast increasing every moment. The streets of
Stamford were deserted as they passed through the town; and its old
churches rose, frowning and dark, from the whitened ground. Twenty
miles further on, two of the front outside passengers, wisely
availing themselves of their arrival at one of the best inns in
England, turned in, for the night, at the George at Grantham. The
remainder wrapped themselves more closely in their coats and cloaks,
and leaving the light and warmth of the town behind them, pillowed
themselves against the luggage, and prepared, with many halfsuppressed
moans, again to encounter the piercing blast which swept
across the open country.

They were little more than a stage out of Grantham, or about halfway
between it and Newark, when Nicholas, who had been asleep for a
short time, was suddenly roused by a violent jerk which nearly threw
him from his seat. Grasping the rail, he found that the coach had
sunk greatly on one side, though it was still dragged forward by the
horses; and while--confused by their plunging and the loud screams
of the lady inside--he hesitated, for an instant, whether to jump
off or not, the vehicle turned easily over, and relieved him from
all further uncertainty by flinging him into the road.

CHAPTER 6

In which the Occurrence of the Accident mentioned in the last
Chapter, affords an Opportunity to a couple of Gentlemen to tell
Stories against each other

'Wo ho!' cried the guard, on his legs in a minute, and running to
the leaders' heads. 'Is there ony genelmen there as can len' a
hond here? Keep quiet, dang ye! Wo ho!'

'What's the matter?' demanded Nicholas, looking sleepily up.

'Matther mun, matter eneaf for one neight,' replied the guard; 'dang
the wall-eyed bay, he's gane mad wi' glory I think, carse t'coorch
is over. Here, can't ye len' a hond? Dom it, I'd ha' dean it if
all my boans were brokken.'

'Here!' cried Nicholas, staggering to his feet, 'I'm ready. I'm
only a little abroad, that's all.'

'Hoold 'em toight,' cried the guard, 'while ar coot treaces. Hang
on tiv'em sumhoo. Well deane, my lod. That's it. Let'em goa noo.
Dang 'em, they'll gang whoam fast eneaf!'

In truth, the animals were no sooner released than they trotted
back, with much deliberation, to the stable they had just left,
which was distant not a mile behind.

'Can you blo' a harn?' asked the guard, disengaging one of the
coach-lamps.

'I dare say I can,' replied Nicholas.

'Then just blo' away into that 'un as lies on the grund, fit to
wakken the deead, will'ee,' said the man, 'while I stop sum o' this
here squealing inside. Cumin', cumin'. Dean't make that noise,


wooman.'

As the man spoke, he proceeded to wrench open the uppermost door of
the coach, while Nicholas, seizing the horn, awoke the echoes far
and wide with one of the most extraordinary performances on that
instrument ever heard by mortal ears. It had its effect, however,
not only in rousing such of their fall, but in summoning assistance
to their relief; for lights gleamed in the distance, and people were
already astir.

In fact, a man on horseback galloped down, before the passengers
were well collected together; and a careful investigation being
instituted, it appeared that the lady inside had broken her lamp,
and the gentleman his head; that the two front outsides had escaped
with black eyes; the box with a bloody nose; the coachman with a
contusion on the temple; Mr Squeers with a portmanteau bruise on his
back; and the remaining passengers without any injury at all--thanks
to the softness of the snow-drift in which they had been overturned.
These facts were no sooner thoroughly ascertained, than the lady
gave several indications of fainting, but being forewarned that if
she did, she must be carried on some gentleman's shoulders to the
nearest public-house, she prudently thought better of it, and walked
back with the rest.

They found on reaching it, that it was a lonely place with no very
great accommodation in the way of apartments--that portion of its
resources being all comprised in one public room with a sanded
floor, and a chair or two. However, a large faggot and a plentiful
supply of coals being heaped upon the fire, the appearance of things
was not long in mending; and, by the time they had washed off all
effaceable marks of the late accident, the room was warm and light,
which was a most agreeable exchange for the cold and darkness out of
doors.

'Well, Mr Nickleby,' said Squeers, insinuating himself into the
warmest corner, 'you did very right to catch hold of them horses. I
should have done it myself if I had come to in time, but I am very
glad you did it. You did it very well; very well.'

'So well,' said the merry-faced gentleman, who did not seem to
approve very much of the patronising tone adopted by Squeers, 'that
if they had not been firmly checked when they were, you would most
probably have had no brains left to teach with.'

This remark called up a discourse relative to the promptitude
Nicholas had displayed, and he was overwhelmed with compliments and
commendations.

'I am very glad to have escaped, of course,' observed Squeers:
'every man is glad when he escapes from danger; but if any one of my
charges had been hurt--if I had been prevented from restoring any
one of these little boys to his parents whole and sound as I
received him--what would have been my feelings? Why the wheel a-top
of my head would have been far preferable to it.'

'Are they all brothers, sir?' inquired the lady who had carried the
'Davy' or safety-lamp.

'In one sense they are, ma'am,' replied Squeers, diving into his
greatcoat pocket for cards. 'They are all under the same parental
and affectionate treatment. Mrs Squeers and myself are a mother and
father to every one of 'em. Mr Nickleby, hand the lady them cards,
and offer these to the gentleman. Perhaps they might know of some
parents that would be glad to avail themselves of the establishment.'


Expressing himself to this effect, Mr Squeers, who lost no
opportunity of advertising gratuitously, placed his hands upon his
knees, and looked at the pupils with as much benignity as he could
possibly affect, while Nicholas, blushing with shame, handed round
the cards as directed.

'I hope you suffer no inconvenience from the overturn, ma'am?' said
the merry-faced gentleman, addressing the fastidious lady, as though
he were charitably desirous to change the subject.

'No bodily inconvenience,' replied the lady.

'No mental inconvenience, I hope?'

'The subject is a very painful one to my feelings, sir,' replied the
lady with strong emotion; 'and I beg you as a gentleman, not to
refer to it.'

'Dear me,' said the merry-faced gentleman, looking merrier still, 'I
merely intended to inquire--'

'I hope no inquiries will be made,' said the lady, 'or I shall be
compelled to throw myself on the protection of the other gentlemen.
Landlord, pray direct a boy to keep watch outside the door--and if a
green chariot passes in the direction of Grantham, to stop it
instantly.'

The people of the house were evidently overcome by this request, and
when the lady charged the boy to remember, as a means of identifying
the expected green chariot, that it would have a coachman with a
gold-laced hat on the box, and a footman, most probably in silk
stockings, behind, the attentions of the good woman of the inn were
redoubled. Even the box-passenger caught the infection, and growing
wonderfully deferential, immediately inquired whether there was not
very good society in that neighbourhood, to which the lady replied
yes, there was: in a manner which sufficiently implied that she
moved at the very tiptop and summit of it all.

'As the guard has gone on horseback to Grantham to get another
coach,' said the good-tempered gentleman when they had been all
sitting round the fire, for some time, in silence, 'and as he must
be gone a couple of hours at the very least, I propose a bowl of hot
punch. What say you, sir?'

This question was addressed to the broken-headed inside, who was a
man of very genteel appearance, dressed in mourning. He was not
past the middle age, but his hair was grey; it seemed to have been
prematurely turned by care or sorrow. He readily acceded to the
proposal, and appeared to be prepossessed by the frank good-nature
of the individual from whom it emanated.

This latter personage took upon himself the office of tapster when
the punch was ready, and after dispensing it all round, led the
conversation to the antiquities of York, with which both he and the
grey-haired gentleman appeared to be well acquainted. When this
topic flagged, he turned with a smile to the grey-headed gentleman,
and asked if he could sing.

'I cannot indeed,' replied gentleman, smiling in his turn.

'That's a pity,' said the owner of the good-humoured countenance.
'Is there nobody here who can sing a song to lighten the time?'


The passengers, one and all, protested that they could not; that
they wished they could; that they couldn't remember the words of
anything without the book; and so forth.

'Perhaps the lady would not object,' said the president with great
respect, and a merry twinkle in his eye. 'Some little Italian thing
out of the last opera brought out in town, would be most acceptable
I am sure.'

As the lady condescended to make no reply, but tossed her head
contemptuously, and murmured some further expression of surprise
regarding the absence of the green chariot, one or two voices urged
upon the president himself, the propriety of making an attempt for
the general benefit.

'I would if I could,' said he of the good-tempered face; 'for I hold
that in this, as in all other cases where people who are strangers
to each other are thrown unexpectedly together, they should
endeavour to render themselves as pleasant, for the joint sake of
the little community, as possible.'

'I wish the maxim were more generally acted on, in all cases,' said
the grey-headed gentleman.

'I'm glad to hear it,' returned the other. 'Perhaps, as you can't
sing, you'll tell us a story?'

'Nay. I should ask you.'

'After you, I will, with pleasure.'

'Indeed!' said the grey-haired gentleman, smiling, 'Well, let it be
so. I fear the turn of my thoughts is not calculated to lighten the
time you must pass here; but you have brought this upon yourselves,
and shall judge. We were speaking of York Minster just now. My
story shall have some reference to it. Let us call it

THE FIVE SISTERS OF YORK

After a murmur of approbation from the other passengers, during
which the fastidious lady drank a glass of punch unobserved, the
grey-headed gentleman thus went on:

'A great many years ago--for the fifteenth century was scarce two
years old at the time, and King Henry the Fourth sat upon the throne
of England--there dwelt, in the ancient city of York, five maiden
sisters, the subjects of my tale.

'These five sisters were all of surpassing beauty. The eldest was
in her twenty-third year, the second a year younger, the third a
year younger than the second, and the fourth a year younger than the
third. They were tall stately figures, with dark flashing eyes and
hair of jet; dignity and grace were in their every movement; and the
fame of their great beauty had spread through all the country round.

'But, if the four elder sisters were lovely, how beautiful was the
youngest, a fair creature of sixteen! The blushing tints in the
soft bloom on the fruit, or the delicate painting on the flower, are
not more exquisite than was the blending of the rose and lily in her
gentle face, or the deep blue of her eye. The vine, in all its
elegant luxuriance, is not more graceful than were the clusters of
rich brown hair that sported round her brow.


'If we all had hearts like those which beat so lightly in the bosoms
of the young and beautiful, what a heaven this earth would be! If,
while our bodies grow old and withered, our hearts could but retain
their early youth and freshness, of what avail would be our sorrows
and sufferings! But, the faint image of Eden which is stamped upon
them in childhood, chafes and rubs in our rough struggles with the
world, and soon wears away: too often to leave nothing but a
mournful blank remaining.

'The heart of this fair girl bounded with joy and gladness. Devoted
attachment to her sisters, and a fervent love of all beautiful
things in nature, were its pure affections. Her gleesome voice and
merry laugh were the sweetest music of their home. She was its very
light and life. The brightest flowers in the garden were reared by
her; the caged birds sang when they heard her voice, and pined when
they missed its sweetness. Alice, dear Alice; what living thing
within the sphere of her gentle witchery, could fail to love her!

'You may seek in vain, now, for the spot on which these sisters
lived, for their very names have passed away, and dusty antiquaries
tell of them as of a fable. But they dwelt in an old wooden house-old
even in those days--with overhanging gables and balconies of
rudely-carved oak, which stood within a pleasant orchard, and was
surrounded by a rough stone wall, whence a stout archer might have
winged an arrow to St Mary's Abbey. The old abbey flourished then;
and the five sisters, living on its fair domains, paid yearly dues
to the black monks of St Benedict, to which fraternity it belonged.

'It was a bright and sunny morning in the pleasant time of summer,
when one of those black monks emerged from the abbey portal, and
bent his steps towards the house of the fair sisters. Heaven above
was blue, and earth beneath was green; the river glistened like a
path of diamonds in the sun; the birds poured forth their songs from
the shady trees; the lark soared high above the waving corn; and the
deep buzz of insects filled the air. Everything looked gay and
smiling; but the holy man walked gloomily on, with his eyes bent
upon the ground. The beauty of the earth is but a breath, and man
is but a shadow. What sympathy should a holy preacher have with
either?

'With eyes bent upon the ground, then, or only raised enough to
prevent his stumbling over such obstacles as lay in his way, the
religious man moved slowly forward until he reached a small postern
in the wall of the sisters' orchard, through which he passed,
closing it behind him. The noise of soft voices in conversation,
and of merry laughter, fell upon his ears ere he had advanced many
paces; and raising his eyes higher than was his humble wont, he
descried, at no great distance, the five sisters seated on the
grass, with Alice in the centre: all busily plying their customary
task of embroidering.

'Save youfair daughters!" said the friar; and fair in truth they
were. Even a monk might have loved them as choice masterpieces of
his Maker's hand.

'The sisters saluted the holy man with becoming reverenceand the
eldest motioned him to a mossy seat beside them. But the good friar
shook his headand bumped himself down on a very hard stone--at
whichno doubtapproving angels were gratified.

'"Ye were merrydaughters said the monk.

'You know how light of heart sweet Alice is replied the eldest


sister, passing her fingers through the tresses of the smiling girl.

'And what joy and cheerfulness it wakes up within usto see all
nature beaming in brightness and sunshinefather added Alice,
blushing beneath the stern look of the recluse.

'The monk answered not, save by a grave inclination of the head, and
the sisters pursued their task in silence.

'Still wasting the precious hours said the monk at length,
turning to the eldest sister as he spoke, still wasting the
precious hours on this vain trifling. Alasalas! that the few
bubbles on the surface of eternity--all that Heaven wills we should
see of that dark deep stream--should be so lightly scattered!'

'"Father urged the maiden, pausing, as did each of the others, in
her busy task, we have prayed at matinsour daily alms have been
distributed at the gatethe sick peasants have been tended--all
our morning tasks have been performed. I hope our occupation is a
blameless one?'

'"See here said the friar, taking the frame from her hand,
an intricate winding of gaudy colourswithout purpose or object
unless it be that one day it is destined for some vain ornamentto
minister to the pride of your frail and giddy sex. Day after day
has been employed upon this senseless taskand yet it is not half
accomplished. The shade of each departed day falls upon our graves
and the worm exults as he beholds itto know that we are hastening
thither. Daughtersis there no better way to pass the fleeting
hours?"

'The four elder sisters cast down their eyes as if abashed by the
holy man's reproofbut Alice raised hersand bent them mildly on
the friar.

'"Our dear mother said the maiden; Heaven rest her soul!"

'"Amen!" cried the friar in a deep voice.

'"Our dear mother faltered the fair Alice, was living when these
long tasks beganand bade uswhen she should be no moreply them
in all discretion and cheerfulnessin our leisure hours; she said
that if in harmless mirth and maidenly pursuits we passed those
hours togetherthey would prove the happiest and most peaceful of
our livesand that ifin later timeswe went forth into the
worldand mingled with its cares and trials--ifallured by its
temptations and dazzled by its glitterwe ever forgot that love and
duty which should bindin holy tiesthe children of one loved
parent--a glance at the old work of our common girlhood would awaken
good thoughts of bygone daysand soften our hearts to affection and
love."

'"Alice speaks trulyfather said the elder sister, somewhat
proudly. And so saying she resumed her work, as did the others.

'It was a kind of sampler of large size, that each sister had before
her; the device was of a complex and intricate description, and the
pattern and colours of all five were the same. The sisters bent
gracefully over their work; the monk, resting his chin upon his
hands, looked from one to the other in silence.

'How much better he said at length, to shun all such thoughts
and chancesandin the peaceful shelter of the churchdevote your
lives to Heaven! Infancychildhoodthe prime of lifeand old


agewither as rapidly as they crowd upon each other. Think how
human dust rolls onward to the tomband turning your faces steadily
towards that goalavoid the cloud which takes its rise among the
pleasures of the worldand cheats the senses of their votaries.
The veildaughtersthe veil!"

'"Neversisters cried Alice. Barter not the light and air of
heavenand the freshness of earth and all the beautiful things
which breathe upon itfor the cold cloister and the cell. Nature's
own blessings are the proper goods of lifeand we may share them
sinlessly together. To die is our heavy portionbutohlet us
die with life about us; when our cold hearts cease to beatlet warm
hearts be beating near; let our last look be upon the bounds which
God has set to his own bright skiesand not on stone walls and bars
of iron! Dear sisterslet us live and dieif you listin this
green garden's compass; only shun the gloom and sadness of a
cloisterand we shall be happy."

'The tears fell fast from the maiden's eyes as she closed her
impassioned appealand hid her face in the bosom of her sister.

'"Take comfortAlice said the eldest, kissing her fair forehead.
The veil shall never cast its shadow on thy young brow. How say
yousisters? For yourselves you speakand not for Aliceor for
me."

'The sistersas with one accordcried that their lot was cast
togetherand that there were dwellings for peace and virtue beyond
the convent's walls.

'"Father said the eldest lady, rising with dignity, you hear our
final resolve. The same pious care which enriched the abbey of St
Maryand left usorphansto its holy guardianshipdirected that
no constraint should be imposed upon our inclinationsbut that we
should be free to live according to our choice. Let us hear no more
of thiswe pray you. Sistersit is nearly noon. Let us take
shelter until evening!" With a reverence to the friarthe lady rose
and walked towards the househand in hand with Alice; the other
sisters followed.

'The holy manwho had often urged the same point beforebut had
never met with so direct a repulsewalked some little distance
behindwith his eyes bent upon the earthand his lips moving AS IF
in prayer. As the sisters reached the porchhe quickened his pace
and called upon them to stop.

'"Stay!" said the monkraising his right hand in the airand
directing an angry glance by turns at Alice and the eldest sister.
Stay, and hear from me what these recollections are, which you
would cherish above eternity, and awaken--if in mercy they
slumbered--by means of idle toys. The memory of earthly things is
charged, in after life, with bitter disappointment, affliction,
death; with dreary change and wasting sorrow. The time will one day
come, when a glance at those unmeaning baubles will tear open deep
wounds in the hearts of some among you, and strike to your inmost
souls. When that hour arrives--and, mark me, come it will--turn
from the world to which you clung, to the refuge which you spurned.
Find me the cell which shall be colder than the fire of mortals
grows, when dimmed by calamity and trial, and there weep for the
dreams of youth. These things are Heaven's will, not mine,said
the friarsubduing his voice as he looked round upon the shrinking
girls. "The Virgin's blessing be upon youdaughters!"

'With these words he disappeared through the postern; and the


sisters hastening into the house were seen no more that day.

'But nature will smile though priests may frownand next day the
sun shone brightlyand on the nextand the next again. And in the
morning's glareand the evening's soft reposethe five sisters
still walkedor workedor beguiled the time by cheerful
conversationin their quiet orchard.

'Time passed away as a tale that is told; faster indeed than many
tales that are toldof which number I fear this may be one. The
house of the five sisters stood where it didand the same trees
cast their pleasant shade upon the orchard grass. The sisters too
were thereand lovely as at firstbut a change had come over their
dwelling. Sometimesthere was the clash of armourand the
gleaming of the moon on caps of steel; andat othersjaded
coursers were spurred up to the gateand a female form glided
hurriedly forthas if eager to demand tidings of the weary
messenger. A goodly train of knights and ladies lodged one night
within the abbey wallsand next day rode awaywith two of the fair
sisters among them. Thenhorsemen began to come less frequently
and seemed to bring bad tidings when they didand at length they
ceased to come at alland footsore peasants slunk to the gate after
sunsetand did their errand thereby stealth. Oncea vassal was
dispatched in haste to the abbey at dead of nightand when morning
camethere were sounds of woe and wailing in the sisters' house;
and after thisa mournful silence fell upon itand knight or lady
horse or armourwas seen about it no more.

'There was a sullen darkness in the skyand the sun had gone
angrily downtinting the dull clouds with the last traces of his
wrathwhen the same black monk walked slowly onwith folded arms
within a stone's-throw of the abbey. A blight had fallen on the
trees and shrubs; and the windat length beginning to break the
unnatural stillness that had prevailed all daysighed heavily from
time to timeas though foretelling in grief the ravages of the
coming storm. The bat skimmed in fantastic flights through the
heavy airand the ground was alive with crawling thingswhose
instinct brought them forth to swell and fatten in the rain.

'No longer were the friar's eyes directed to the earth; they were
cast abroadand roamed from point to pointas if the gloom and
desolation of the scene found a quick response in his own bosom.
Again he paused near the sisters' houseand again he entered by the
postern.

'But not again did his ear encounter the sound of laughteror his
eyes rest upon the beautiful figures of the five sisters. All was
silent and deserted. The boughs of the trees were bent and broken
and the grass had grown long and rank. No light feet had pressed it
for manymany a day.

'With the indifference or abstraction of one well accustomed to the
changethe monk glided into the houseand entered a lowdark
room. Four sisters sat there. Their black garments made their pale
faces whiter stilland time and sorrow had worked deep ravages.
They were stately yet; but the flush and pride of beauty were gone.

'And Alice--where was she? In Heaven.

'The monk--even the monk--could bear with some grief here; for it
was long since these sisters had metand there were furrows in
their blanched faces which years could never plough. He took his
seat in silenceand motioned them to continue their speech.


'"They are heresisters said the elder lady in a trembling voice.
I have never borne to look upon them sinceand now I blame myself
for my weakness. What is there in her memory that we should dread?
To call up our old days shall be a solemn pleasure yet."

'She glanced at the monk as she spokeandopening a cabinet
brought forth the five frames of workcompleted long before. Her
step was firmbut her hand trembled as she produced the last one;
andwhen the feelings of the other sisters gushed forth at sight of
ither pent-up tears made wayand she sobbed "God bless her!"

'The monk rose and advanced towards them. "It was almost the last
thing she touched in health he said in a low voice.

'It was cried the elder lady, weeping bitterly.

'The monk turned to the second sister.

'The gallant youth who looked into thine eyesand hung upon thy
very breath when first he saw thee intent upon this pastimelies
buried on a plain whereof the turf is red with blood. Rusty
fragments of armouronce brightly burnishedlie rotting on the
groundand are as little distinguishable for hisas are the bones
that crumble in the mould!"

'The lady groanedand wrung her hands.

'"The policy of courts he continued, turning to the two other
sisters, drew ye from your peaceful home to scenes of revelry and
splendour. The same policyand the restless ambition of--proud and
fiery menhave sent ye backwidowed maidensand humbled outcasts.
Do I speak truly?"

'The sobs of the two sisters were their only reply.

'"There is little need said the monk, with a meaning look, to
fritter away the time in gewgaws which shall raise up the pale
ghosts of hopes of early years. Bury themheap penance and
mortification on their headskeep them downand let the convent be
their grave!"

'The sisters asked for three days to deliberate; and feltthat
nightas though the veil were indeed the fitting shroud for their
dead joys. Butmorning came againand though the boughs of the
orchard trees drooped and ran wild upon the groundit was the same
orchard still. The grass was coarse and highbut there was yet the
spot on which they had so often sat togetherwhen change and sorrow
were but names. There was every walk and nook which Alice had made
glad; and in the minster nave was one flat stone beneath which she
slept in peace.

'And could theyremembering how her young heart had sickened at the
thought of cloistered wallslook upon her gravein garbs which
would chill the very ashes within it? Could they bow down in
prayerand when all Heaven turned to hear thembring the dark
shade of sadness on one angel's face? No.

'They sent abroadto artists of great celebrity in those timesand
having obtained the church's sanction to their work of pietycaused
to be executedin five large compartments of richly stained glass
a faithful copy of their old embroidery work. These were fitted
into a large window until that time bare of ornament; and when the
sun shone brightlyas she had so well loved to see itthe familiar
patterns were reflected in their original coloursand throwing a


stream of brilliant light upon the pavementfell warmly on the name
of Alice.

'For many hours in every daythe sisters paced slowly up and down
the naveor knelt by the side of the flat broad stone. Only three
were seen in the customary placeafter many years; then but two
andfor a long time afterwardsbut one solitary female bent with
age. At length she came no moreand the stone bore five plain
Christian names.

'That stone has worn away and been replaced by othersand many
generations have come and gone since then. Time has softened down
the coloursbut the same stream of light still falls upon the
forgotten tombof which no trace remains; andto this daythe
stranger is shown in York Cathedralan old window called the Five
Sisters.'

'That's a melancholy tale' said the merry-faced gentlemanemptying
his glass.

'It is a tale of lifeand life is made up of such sorrows'
returned the othercourteouslybut in a grave and sad tone of
voice.

'There are shades in all good picturesbut there are lights tooif
we choose to contemplate them' said the gentleman with the merry
face. 'The youngest sister in your tale was always light-hearted.'

'And died early' said the othergently.

'She would have died earlierperhapshad she been less happy'
said the first speakerwith much feeling. 'Do you think the
sisters who loved her so wellwould have grieved the less if her
life had been one of gloom and sadness? If anything could soothe
the first sharp pain of a heavy lossit would be--with me--the
reflectionthat those I mournedby being innocently happy here
and loving all about themhad prepared themselves for a purer and
happier world. The sun does not shine upon this fair earth to meet
frowning eyesdepend upon it.'

'I believe you are right' said the gentleman who had told the
story.

'Believe!' retorted the other'can anybody doubt it? Take any
subject of sorrowful regretand see with how much pleasure it is
associated. The recollection of past pleasure may become pain--'

'It does' interposed the other.

'Well; it does. To remember happiness which cannot be restoredis
painbut of a softened kind. Our recollections are unfortunately
mingled with much that we deploreand with many actions which we
bitterly repent; still in the most chequered life I firmly think
there are so many little rays of sunshine to look back uponthat I
do not believe any mortal (unless he had put himself without the
pale of hope) would deliberately drain a goblet of the waters of
Letheif he had it in his power.'

'Possibly you are correct in that belief' said the grey-haired
gentleman after a short reflection. 'I am inclined to think you
are.'

'Whythen' replied the other'the good in this state of existence


preponderates over the badlet miscalled philosophers tell us what
they will. If our affections be triedour affections are our
consolation and comfort; and memoryhowever sadis the best and
purest link between this world and a better. But come! I'll tell
you a story of another kind.'

After a very brief silencethe merry-faced gentleman sent round the
punchand glancing slyly at the fastidious ladywho seemed
desperately apprehensive that he was going to relate something
improperbegan

THE BARON OF GROGZWIG

'The Baron Von Koeldwethoutof Grogzwig in Germanywas as likely a
young baron as you would wish to see. I needn't say that he lived
in a castlebecause that's of course; neither need I say that he
lived in an old castle; for what German baron ever lived in a new
one? There were many strange circumstances connected with this
venerable buildingamong whichnot the least startling and
mysterious werethat when the wind blewit rumbled in the
chimneysor even howled among the trees in the neighbouring forest;
and that when the moon shoneshe found her way through certain
small loopholes in the walland actually made some parts of the
wide halls and galleries quite lightwhile she left others in
gloomy shadow. I believe that one of the baron's ancestorsbeing
short of moneyhad inserted a dagger in a gentleman who called one
night to ask his wayand it WAS supposed that these miraculous
occurrences took place in consequence. And yet I hardly know how
that could have beeneitherbecause the baron's ancestorwho was
an amiable manfelt very sorry afterwards for having been so rash
and laying violent hands upon a quantity of stone and timber which
belonged to a weaker baronbuilt a chapel as an apologyand so
took a receipt from Heavenin full of all demands.

'Talking of the baron's ancestor puts me in mind of the baron's
great claims to respecton the score of his pedigree. I am afraid
to sayI am surehow many ancestors the baron had; but I know that
he had a great many more than any other man of his time; and I only
wish that he had lived in these latter daysthat he might have had
more. It is a very hard thing upon the great men of past centuries
that they should have come into the world so soonbecause a man who
was born three or four hundred years agocannot reasonably be
expected to have had as many relations before himas a man who is
born now. The last manwhoever he is--and he may be a cobbler or
some low vulgar dog for aught we know--will have a longer pedigree
than the greatest nobleman now alive; and I contend that this is not
fair.

'Wellbut the Baron Von Koeldwethout of Grogzwig! He was a fine
swarthy fellowwith dark hair and large moustachioswho rode
a-hunting in clothes of Lincoln greenwith russet boots on his feet
and a bugle slung over his shoulder like the guard of a long stage.
When he blew this buglefour-and-twenty other gentlemen of inferior
rankin Lincoln green a little coarserand russet boots with a
little thicker solesturned out directly: and away galloped the
whole trainwith spears in their hands like lacquered area
railingsto hunt down the boarsor perhaps encounter a bear: in
which latter case the baron killed him firstand greased his
whiskers with him afterwards.

'This was a merry life for the Baron of Grogzwigand a merrier
still for the baron's retainerswho drank Rhine wine every night


till they fell under the tableand then had the bottles on the
floorand called for pipes. Never were such jollyroystering
rollickingmerry-making bladesas the jovial crew of Grogzwig.

'But the pleasures of the tableor the pleasures of under the
tablerequire a little variety; especially when the same five-andtwenty
people sit daily down to the same boardto discuss the same
subjectsand tell the same stories. The baron grew wearyand
wanted excitement. He took to quarrelling with his gentlemenand
tried kicking two or three of them every day after dinner. This was
a pleasant change at first; but it became monotonous after a week or
soand the baron felt quite out of sortsand cast aboutin
despairfor some new amusement.

'One nightafter a day's sport in which he had outdone Nimrod or
Gillingwaterand slaughtered "another fine bear and brought him
home in triumph, the Baron Von Koeldwethout sat moodily at the head
of his table, eyeing the smoky roof of the hall with a discontended
aspect. He swallowed huge bumpers of wine, but the more he
swallowed, the more he frowned. The gentlemen who had been honoured
with the dangerous distinction of sitting on his right and left,
imitated him to a miracle in the drinking, and frowned at each
other.

'I will!" cried the baron suddenlysmiting the table with his
right handand twirling his moustache with his left. "Fill to the
Lady of Grogzwig!"

'The four-and-twenty Lincoln greens turned palewith the exception
of their four-and-twenty noseswhich were unchangeable.

'"I said to the Lady of Grogzwig repeated the baron, looking round
the board.

'To the Lady of Grogzwig!" shouted the Lincoln greens; and down
their four-and-twenty throats went four-and-twenty imperial pints of
such rare old hockthat they smacked their eight-and-forty lips
and winked again.

'"The fair daughter of the Baron Von Swillenhausen said
Koeldwethout, condescending to explain. We will demand her in
marriage of her fatherere the sun goes down tomorrow. If he
refuse our suitwe will cut off his nose."

'A hoarse murmur arose from the company; every man touchedfirst
the hilt of his swordand then the tip of his nosewith appalling
significance.

'What a pleasant thing filial piety is to contemplate! If the
daughter of the Baron Von Swillenhausen had pleaded a preoccupied
heartor fallen at her father's feet and corned them in salt tears
or only fainted awayand complimented the old gentleman in frantic
ejaculationsthe odds are a hundred to one but Swillenhausen Castle
would have been turned out at windowor rather the baron turned out
at windowand the castle demolished. The damsel held her peace
howeverwhen an early messenger bore the request of Von
Koeldwethout next morningand modestly retired to her chamberfrom
the casement of which she watched the coming of the suitor and his
retinue. She was no sooner assured that the horseman with the large
moustachios was her proffered husbandthan she hastened to her
father's presenceand expressed her readiness to sacrifice herself
to secure his peace. The venerable baron caught his child to his
armsand shed a wink of joy.


'There was great feasting at the castlethat day. The four-andtwenty
Lincoln greens of Von Koeldwethout exchanged vows of eternal
friendship with twelve Lincoln greens of Von Swillenhausenand
promised the old baron that they would drink his wine "Till all was
blue"--meaning probably until their whole countenances had acquired
the same tint as their noses. Everybody slapped everybody else's
backwhen the time for parting came; and the Baron Von Koeldwethout
and his followers rode gaily home.

'For six mortal weeksthe bears and boars had a holiday. The
houses of Koeldwethout and Swillenhausen were united; the spears
rusted; and the baron's bugle grew hoarse for lack of blowing.

'Those were great times for the four-and-twenty; butalas! their
high and palmy days had taken boots to themselvesand were already
walking off.

'"My dear said the baroness.

'My love said the baron.

'Those coarsenoisy men--"

'"Whichma'am?" said the baronstarting.

'The baroness pointedfrom the window at which they stoodto the
courtyard beneathwhere the unconscious Lincoln greens were taking
a copious stirrup-cuppreparatory to issuing forth after a boar or
two.

'"My hunting trainma'am said the baron.

'Disband themlove murmured the baroness.

'Disband them!" cried the baronin amazement.

'"To please melove replied the baroness.

'To please the devilma'am answered the baron.

'Whereupon the baroness uttered a great cry, and swooned away at the
baron's feet.

'What could the baron do? He called for the lady's maid, and roared
for the doctor; and then, rushing into the yard, kicked the two
Lincoln greens who were the most used to it, and cursing the others
all round, bade them go--but never mind where. I don't know the
German for it, or I would put it delicately that way.

'It is not for me to say by what means, or by what degrees, some
wives manage to keep down some husbands as they do, although I may
have my private opinion on the subject, and may think that no Member
of Parliament ought to be married, inasmuch as three married members
out of every four, must vote according to their wives' consciences
(if there be such things), and not according to their own. All I
need say, just now, is, that the Baroness Von Koeldwethout somehow
or other acquired great control over the Baron Von Koeldwethout, and
that, little by little, and bit by bit, and day by day, and year by
year, the baron got the worst of some disputed question, or was
slyly unhorsed from some old hobby; and that by the time he was a
fat hearty fellow of forty-eight or thereabouts, he had no feasting,
no revelry, no hunting train, and no hunting--nothing in short that
he liked, or used to have; and that, although he was as fierce as a
lion, and as bold as brass, he was decidedly snubbed and put down,


by his own lady, in his own castle of Grogzwig.

'Nor was this the whole extent of the baron's misfortunes. About a
year after his nuptials, there came into the world a lusty young
baron, in whose honour a great many fireworks were let off, and a
great many dozens of wine drunk; but next year there came a young
baroness, and next year another young baron, and so on, every year,
either a baron or baroness (and one year both together), until the
baron found himself the father of a small family of twelve. Upon
every one of these anniversaries, the venerable Baroness Von
Swillenhausen was nervously sensitive for the well-being of her
child the Baroness Von Koeldwethout; and although it was not found
that the good lady ever did anything material towards contributing
to her child's recovery, still she made it a point of duty to be as
nervous as possible at the castle of Grogzwig, and to divide her
time between moral observations on the baron's housekeeping, and
bewailing the hard lot of her unhappy daughter. And if the Baron of
Grogzwig, a little hurt and irritated at this, took heart, and
ventured to suggest that his wife was at least no worse off than the
wives of other barons, the Baroness Von Swillenhausen begged all
persons to take notice, that nobody but she, sympathised with her
dear daughter's sufferings; upon which, her relations and friends
remarked, that to be sure she did cry a great deal more than her
son-in-law, and that if there were a hard-hearted brute alive, it
was that Baron of Grogzwig.

'The poor baron bore it all as long as he could, and when he could
bear it no longer lost his appetite and his spirits, and sat himself
gloomily and dejectedly down. But there were worse troubles yet in
store for him, and as they came on, his melancholy and sadness
increased. Times changed. He got into debt. The Grogzwig coffers
ran low, though the Swillenhausen family had looked upon them as
inexhaustible; and just when the baroness was on the point of making
a thirteenth addition to the family pedigree, Von Koeldwethout
discovered that he had no means of replenishing them.

'I don't see what is to be done said the baron. I think I'll
kill myself."

'This was a bright idea. The baron took an old hunting-knife from a
cupboard hard byand having sharpened it on his bootmade what
boys call "an offer" at his throat.

'"Hem!" said the baronstopping short. "Perhaps it's not sharp
enough."

'The baron sharpened it againand made another offerwhen his hand
was arrested by a loud screaming among the young barons and
baronesseswho had a nursery in an upstairs tower with iron bars
outside the windowto prevent their tumbling out into the moat.

'"If I had been a bachelor said the baron sighing, I might have
done it fifty times overwithout being interrupted. Hallo! Put a
flask of wine and the largest pipe in the little vaulted room behind
the hall."

'One of the domesticsin a very kind mannerexecuted the baron's
order in the course of half an hour or soand Von Koeldwethout
being apprised thereofstrode to the vaulted roomthe walls of
whichbeing of dark shining woodgleamed in the light of the
blazing logs which were piled upon the hearth. The bottle and pipe
were readyandupon the wholethe place looked very comfortable.

'"Leave the lamp said the baron.


'Anything elsemy lord?" inquired the domestic.

'"The room replied the baron. The domestic obeyed, and the baron
locked the door.

'I'll smoke a last pipe said the baron, and then I'll be off."
Soputting the knife upon the table till he wanted itand tossing
off a goodly measure of winethe Lord of Grogzwig threw himself
back in his chairstretched his legs out before the fireand
puffed away.

'He thought about a great many things--about his present troubles
and past days of bachelorshipand about the Lincoln greenslong
since dispersed up and down the countryno one knew whither: with
the exception of two who had been unfortunately beheadedand four
who had killed themselves with drinking. His mind was running upon
bears and boarswhenin the process of draining his glass to the
bottomhe raised his eyesand sawfor the first time and with
unbounded astonishmentthat he was not alone.

'Nohe was not; foron the opposite side of the firethere sat
with folded arms a wrinkled hideous figurewith deeply sunk and
bloodshot eyesand an immensely long cadaverous faceshadowed by
jagged and matted locks of coarse black hair. He wore a kind of
tunic of a dull bluish colourwhichthe baron observedon
regarding it attentivelywas clasped or ornamented down the front
with coffin handles. His legstoowere encased in coffin plates
as though in armour; and over his left shoulder he wore a short
dusky cloakwhich seemed made of a remnant of some pall. He took
no notice of the baronbut was intently eyeing the fire.

'"Halloa!" said the baronstamping his foot to attract attention.

'"Halloa!" replied the strangermoving his eyes towards the baron
but not his face or himself "What now?"

'"What now!" replied the baronnothing daunted by his hollow voice
and lustreless eyes. "I should ask that question. How did you get
here?"

'"Through the door replied the figure.

'What are you?" says the baron.

'"A man replied the figure.

'I don't believe it says the baron.

'Disbelieve it then says the figure.

'I will rejoined the baron.

'The figure looked at the bold Baron of Grogzwig for some time, and
then said familiarly,

'There's no coming over youI see. I'm not a man!"

'"What are you then?" asked the baron.

'"A genius replied the figure.

'You don't look much like one returned the baron scornfully.


'I am the Genius of Despair and Suicide said the apparition.
Now you know me."

'With these words the apparition turned towards the baronas if
composing himself for a talk--andwhat was very remarkablewas
that he threw his cloak asideand displaying a stakewhich was run
through the centre of his bodypulled it out with a jerkand laid
it on the tableas composedly as if it had been a walking-stick.

'"Now said the figure, glancing at the hunting-knife, are you
ready for me?"

'"Not quite rejoined the baron; I must finish this pipe first."

'"Look sharp then said the figure.

'You seem in a hurry said the baron.

'WhyyesI am answered the figure; they're doing a pretty
brisk business in my wayover in England and France just nowand
my time is a good deal taken up."

'"Do you drink?" said the barontouching the bottle with the bowl
of his pipe.

'"Nine times out of tenand then very hard rejoined the figure,
drily.

'Never in moderation?" asked the baron.

'"Never replied the figure, with a shudder, that breeds
cheerfulness."

'The baron took another look at his new friendwhom he thought an
uncommonly queer customerand at length inquired whether he took
any active part in such little proceedings as that which he had in
contemplation.

'"No replied the figure evasively; but I am always present."

'"Just to see fairI suppose?" said the baron.

'"Just that replied the figure, playing with his stake, and
examining the ferule. Be as quick as you canwill youfor
there's a young gentleman who is afflicted with too much money and
leisure wanting me nowI find."

'"Going to kill himself because he has too much money!" exclaimed
the baronquite tickled. "Ha! ha! that's a good one." (This was
the first time the baron had laughed for many a long day.)

'"I say expostulated the figure, looking very much scared; don't
do that again."

'"Why not?" demanded the baron.

'"Because it gives me pain all over replied the figure. Sigh as
much as you please: that does me good."

'The baron sighed mechanically at the mention of the word; the
figurebrightening up againhanded him the hunting-knife with most
winning politeness.

'"It's not a bad idea though said the baron, feeling the edge of


the weapon; a man killing himself because he has too much money."

'"Pooh!" said the apparitionpetulantlyno better than a man's
killing himself because he has none or little.

'Whether the genius unintentionally committed himself in saying
thisor whether he thought the baron's mind was so thoroughly made
up that it didn't matter what he saidI have no means of knowing.
I only know that the baron stopped his handall of a suddenopened
his eyes wideand looked as if quite a new light had come upon him
for the first time.

'"Whycertainly said Von Koeldwethout, nothing is too bad to be
retrieved."

'"Except empty coffers cried the genius.

'Well; but they may be one day filled again said the baron.

'Scolding wives snarled the genius.

'Oh! They may be made quiet said the baron.

'Thirteen children shouted the genius.

'Can't all go wrongsurely said the baron.

'The genius was evidently growing very savage with the baron, for
holding these opinions all at once; but he tried to laugh it off,
and said if he would let him know when he had left off joking he
should feel obliged to him.

'But I am not joking; I was never farther from it remonstrated
the baron.

'WellI am glad to hear that said the genius, looking very grim,
because a jokewithout any figure of speechIS the death of me.
Come! Quit this dreary world at once."

'"I don't know said the baron, playing with the knife; it's a
dreary one certainlybut I don't think yours is much betterfor
you have not the appearance of being particularly comfortable. That
puts me in mind--what security have Ithat I shall be any the
better for going out of the world after all!" he criedstarting up;
I never thought of that.

'"Dispatch cried the figure, gnashing his teeth.

'Keep off!" said the baron. 'I'll brood over miseries no longer
but put a good face on the matterand try the fresh air and the
bears again; and if that don't doI'll talk to the baroness
soundlyand cut the Von Swillenhausens dead.' With this the baron
fell into his chairand laughed so loud and boisterouslythat the
room rang with it.

'The figure fell back a pace or tworegarding the baron meanwhile
with a look of intense terrorand when he had ceasedcaught up the
stakeplunged it violently into its bodyuttered a frightful howl
and disappeared.

'Von Koeldwethout never saw it again. Having once made up his mind
to actionhe soon brought the baroness and the Von Swillenhausens
to reasonand died many years afterwards: not a rich man that I am
aware ofbut certainly a happy one: leaving behind him a numerous


familywho had been carefully educated in bear and boar-hunting
under his own personal eye. And my advice to all men isthat if
ever they become hipped and melancholy from similar causes (as very
many men do)they look at both sides of the questionapplying a
magnifying-glass to the best one; and if they still feel tempted to
retire without leavethat they smoke a large pipe and drink a full
bottle firstand profit by the laudable example of the Baron of
Grogzwig.'

'The fresh coach is readyladies and gentlemenif you please'
said a new driverlooking in.

This intelligence caused the punch to be finished in a great hurry
and prevented any discussion relative to the last story. Mr Squeers
was observed to draw the grey-headed gentleman on one sideand to
ask a question with great apparent interest; it bore reference to
the Five Sisters of Yorkand wasin factan inquiry whether he
could inform him how much per annum the Yorkshire convents got in
those days with their boarders.

The journey was then resumed. Nicholas fell asleep towards morning
andwhen he awokefoundwith great regretthatduring his nap
both the Baron of Grogzwig and the grey-haired gentleman had got
down and were gone. The day dragged on uncomfortably enough. At
about six o'clock that nighthe and Mr Squeersand the little
boysand their united luggagewere all put down together at the
George and New InnGreta Bridge.

CHAPTER 7

Mr and Mrs Squeers at Home

Mr Squeersbeing safely landedleft Nicholas and the boys standing
with the luggage in the roadto amuse themselves by looking at the
coach as it changed horseswhile he ran into the tavern and went
through the leg-stretching process at the bar. After some minutes
he returnedwith his legs thoroughly stretchedif the hue of his
nose and a short hiccup afforded any criterion; and at the same time
there came out of the yard a rusty pony-chaiseand a cartdriven
by two labouring men.

'Put the boys and the boxes into the cart' said Squeersrubbing
his hands; 'and this young man and me will go on in the chaise. Get
inNickleby.'

Nicholas obeyed. Mr. Squeers with some difficulty inducing the
pony to obey alsothey started offleaving the cart-load of infant
misery to follow at leisure.

'Are you coldNickleby?' inquired Squeersafter they had travelled
some distance in silence.

'RathersirI must say.'

'WellI don't find fault with that' said Squeers; 'it's a long
journey this weather.'

'Is it much farther to Dotheboys Hallsir?' asked Nicholas.

'About three mile from here' replied Squeers. 'But you needn't


call it a Hall down here.'

Nicholas coughedas if he would like to know why.

'The fact isit ain't a Hall' observed Squeers drily.

'Ohindeed!' said Nicholaswhom this piece of intelligence much
astonished.

'No' replied Squeers. 'We call it a Hall up in Londonbecause it
sounds betterbut they don't know it by that name in these parts.
A man may call his house an island if he likes; there's no act of
Parliament against thatI believe?'

'I believe notsir' rejoined Nicholas.

Squeers eyed his companion slylyat the conclusion of this little
dialogueand finding that he had grown thoughtful and appeared in
nowise disposed to volunteer any observationscontented himself
with lashing the pony until they reached their journey's end.

'Jump out' said Squeers. 'Hallo there! Come and put this horse
up. Be quickwill you!'

While the schoolmaster was uttering these and other impatient cries
Nicholas had time to observe that the school was a longcoldlooking
houseone storey highwith a few straggling out-buildings
behindand a barn and stable adjoining. After the lapse of a
minute or twothe noise of somebody unlocking the yard-gate was
heardand presently a tall lean boywith a lantern in his hand
issued forth.

'Is that youSmike?' cried Squeers.

'Yessir' replied the boy.

'Then why the devil didn't you come before?'

'PleasesirI fell asleep over the fire' answered Smikewith
humility.

'Fire! what fire? Where's there a fire?' demanded the schoolmaster
sharply.

'Only in the kitchensir' replied the boy. 'Missus said as I was
sitting upI might go in there for a warm.'

'Your missus is a fool' retorted Squeers. 'You'd have been a
deuced deal more wakeful in the coldI'll engage.'

By this time Mr Squeers had dismounted; and after ordering the boy
to see to the ponyand to take care that he hadn't any more corn
that nighthe told Nicholas to wait at the front-door a minute
while he went round and let him in.

A host of unpleasant misgivingswhich had been crowding upon
Nicholas during the whole journeythronged into his mind with
redoubled force when he was left alone. His great distance from
home and the impossibility of reaching itexcept on footshould he
feel ever so anxious to returnpresented itself to him in most
alarming colours; and as he looked up at the dreary house and dark
windowsand upon the wild country roundcovered with snowhe felt
a depression of heart and spirit which he had never experienced
before.


'Now then!' cried Squeerspoking his head out at the front-door.
'Where are youNickleby?'

'Heresir' replied Nicholas.

'Come inthen' said Squeers 'the wind blows inat this doorfit
to knock a man off his legs.'

Nicholas sighedand hurried in. Mr Squeershaving bolted the door
to keep it shutushered him into a small parlour scantily furnished
with a few chairsa yellow map hung against the walland a couple
of tables; one of which bore some preparations for supper; whileon
the othera tutor's assistanta Murray's grammarhalf-a-dozen
cards of termsand a worn letter directed to Wackford Squeers
Esquirewere arranged in picturesque confusion.

They had not been in this apartment a couple of minuteswhen a
female bounced into the roomandseizing Mr Squeers by the throat
gave him two loud kisses: one close after the otherlike a
postman's knock. The ladywho was of a large raw-boned figurewas
about half a head taller than Mr Squeersand was dressed in a
dimity night-jacket; with her hair in papers; she had also a dirty
nightcap onrelieved by a yellow cotton handkerchief which tied it
under the chin.

'How is my Squeery?' said this lady in a playful mannerand a very
hoarse voice.

'Quite wellmy love' replied Squeers. 'How's the cows?'

'All rightevery one of'em' answered the lady.

'And the pigs?' said Squeers.

'As well as they were when you went away.'

'Come; that's a blessing' said Squeerspulling off his great-coat.
'The boys are all as they wereI suppose?'

'Ohyesthey're well enough' replied Mrs Squeerssnappishly.
'That young Pitcher's had a fever.'

'No!' exclaimed Squeers. 'Damn that boyhe's always at something
of that sort.'

'Never was such a boyI do believe' said Mrs Squeers; 'whatever he
has is always catching too. I say it's obstinacyand nothing shall
ever convince me that it isn't. I'd beat it out of him; and I told
you thatsix months ago.'

'So you didmy love' rejoined Squeers. 'We'll try what can be
done.'

Pending these little endearmentsNicholas had stoodawkwardly
enoughin the middle of the room: not very well knowing whether he
was expected to retire into the passageor to remain where he was.
He was now relieved from his perplexity by Mr Squeers.

'This is the new young manmy dear' said that gentleman.

'Oh' replied Mrs Squeersnodding her head at Nicholasand eyeing
him coldly from top to toe.


'He'll take a meal with us tonight' said Squeers'and go among the
boys tomorrow morning. You can give him a shake-down heretonight
can't you?'

'We must manage it somehow' replied the lady. 'You don't much mind
how you sleepI supposesir?'

Noindeed' replied Nicholas'I am not particular.'

'That's lucky' said Mrs Squeers. And as the lady's humour was
considered to lie chiefly in retortMr Squeers laughed heartily
and seemed to expect that Nicholas should do the same.

After some further conversation between the master and mistress
relative to the success of Mr Squeers's trip and the people who had
paidand the people who had made default in paymenta young
servant girl brought in a Yorkshire pie and some cold beefwhich
being set upon the tablethe boy Smike appeared with a jug of ale.

Mr Squeers was emptying his great-coat pockets of letters to
different boysand other small documentswhich he had brought down
in them. The boy glancedwith an anxious and timid expressionat
the papersas if with a sickly hope that one among them might
relate to him. The look was a very painful oneand went to
Nicholas's heart at once; for it told a long and very sad history.

It induced him to consider the boy more attentivelyand he was
surprised to observe the extraordinary mixture of garments which
formed his dress. Although he could not have been less than
eighteen or nineteen years oldand was tall for that agehe wore a
skeleton suitsuch as is usually put upon very little boysand
whichthough most absurdly short in the arms and legswas quite
wide enough for his attenuated frame. In order that the lower part
of his legs might be in perfect keeping with this singular dresshe
had a very large pair of bootsoriginally made for topswhich
might have been once worn by some stout farmerbut were now too
patched and tattered for a beggar. Heaven knows how long he had
been therebut he still wore the same linen which he had first
taken down; forround his neckwas a tattered child's frillonly
half concealed by a coarseman's neckerchief. He was lame; and as
he feigned to be busy in arranging the tableglanced at the letters
with a look so keenand yet so dispirited and hopelessthat
Nicholas could hardly bear to watch him.

'What are you bothering about thereSmike?' cried Mrs Squeers; 'let
the things alonecan't you?'

'Eh!' said Squeerslooking up. 'Oh! it's youis it?'

'Yessir' replied the youthpressing his hands togetheras
though to controlby forcethe nervous wandering of his fingers.
'Is there--'

'Well!' said Squeers.

'Have you--did anybody--has nothing been heard--about me?'

'Devil a bit' replied Squeers testily.

The lad withdrew his eyesandputting his hand to his facemoved
towards the door.

'Not a word' resumed Squeers'and never will be. Nowthis is a
pretty sort of thingisn't itthat you should have been left here


all these yearsand no money paid after the first six--nor no
notice takennor no clue to be got who you belong to? It's a
pretty sort of thing that I should have to feed a great fellow like
youand never hope to get one penny for itisn't it?'

The boy put his hand to his head as if he were making an effort to
recollect somethingand thenlooking vacantly at his questioner
gradually broke into a smileand limped away.

'I'll tell you whatSqueers' remarked his wife as the door closed
'I think that young chap's turning silly.'

'I hope not' said the schoolmaster; 'for he's a handy fellow out of
doorsand worth his meat and drinkanyway. I should think he'd
have wit enough for us thoughif he was. But come; let's have
supperfor I am hungry and tiredand want to get to bed.'

This reminder brought in an exclusive steak for Mr Squeerswho
speedily proceeded to do it ample justice. Nicholas drew up his
chairbut his appetite was effectually taken away.

'How's the steakSqueers?' said Mrs S.

'Tender as a lamb' replied Squeers. 'Have a bit.'

'I couldn't eat a morsel' replied his wife. 'What'll the young man
takemy dear?'

'Whatever he likes that's present' rejoined Squeersin a most
unusual burst of generosity.

'What do you sayMr Knuckleboy?' inquired Mrs Squeers.

'I'll take a little of the pieif you please' replied Nicholas.
'A very littlefor I'm not hungry.'

Wellit's a pity to cut the pie if you're not hungryisn't it?'
said Mrs Squeers. 'Will you try a bit of the beef?'

'Whatever you please' replied Nicholas abstractedly; 'it's all the
same to me.'

Mrs Squeers looked vastly gracious on receiving this reply; and
nodding to Squeersas much as to say that she was glad to find the
young man knew his stationassisted Nicholas to a slice of meat
with her own fair hands.

'AleSqueery?' inquired the ladywinking and frowning to give him
to understand that the question propoundedwaswhether Nicholas
should have aleand not whether he (Squeers) would take any.

'Certainly' said Squeersre-telegraphing in the same manner. 'A
glassful.'

So Nicholas had a glassfuland being occupied with his own
reflectionsdrank itin happy innocence of all the foregone
proceedings.

'Uncommon juicy steak that' said Squeersas he laid down his knife
and forkafter plying itin silencefor some time.

'It's prime meat' rejoined his lady. 'I bought a good large piece
of it myself on purpose for--'


'For what!' exclaimed Squeers hastily. 'Not for the--'

'Nono; not for them' rejoined Mrs Squeers; 'on purpose for you
against you came home. Lor! you didn't think I could have made such
a mistake as that.'

'Upon my wordmy dearI didn't know what you were going to say'
said Squeerswho had turned pale.

'You needn't make yourself uncomfortable' remarked his wife
laughing heartily. 'To think that I should be such a noddy! Well!'

This part of the conversation was rather unintelligible; but popular
rumour in the neighbourhood asserted that Mr Squeersbeing amiably
opposed to cruelty to animalsnot unfrequently purchased for by
consumption the bodies of horned cattle who had died a natural
death; possibly he was apprehensive of having unintentionally
devoured some choice morsel intended for the young gentlemen.

Supper being overand removed by a small servant girl with a hungry
eyeMrs Squeers retired to lock it upand also to take into safe
custody the clothes of the five boys who had just arrivedand who
were half-way up the troublesome flight of steps which leads to
death's doorin consequence of exposure to the cold. They were
then regaled with a light supper of porridgeand stowed awayside
by sidein a small bedsteadto warm each otherand dream of a
substantial meal with something hot after itif their fancies set
that way: which it is not at all improbable they did.

Mr Squeers treated himself to a stiff tumbler of brandy and water
made on the liberal half-and-half principleallowing for the
dissolution of the sugar; and his amiable helpmate mixed Nicholas
the ghost of a small glassful of the same compound. This doneMr
and Mrs Squeers drew close up to the fireand sitting with their
feet on the fendertalked confidentially in whispers; while
Nicholastaking up the tutor's assistantread the interesting
legends in the miscellaneous questionsand all the figures into the
bargainwith as much thought or consciousness of what he was doing
as if he had been in a magnetic slumber.

At lengthMr Squeers yawned fearfullyand opined that it was high
time to go to bed; upon which signalMrs Squeers and the girl
dragged in a small straw mattress and a couple of blanketsand
arranged them into a couch for Nicholas.

'We'll put you into your regular bedroom tomorrowNickelby' said
Squeers. 'Let me see! Who sleeps in Brooks's's bedmy dear?'

'In Brooks's' said Mrs Squeerspondering. 'There's Jennings
little BolderGraymarshand what's his name.'

'So there is' rejoined Squeers. 'Yes! Brooks is full.'

'Full!' thought Nicholas. 'I should think he was.'

'There's a place somewhereI know' said Squeers; 'but I can't at
this moment call to mind where it is. Howeverwe'll have that all
settled tomorrow. Good-nightNickleby. Seven o'clock in the
morningmind.'

'I shall be readysir' replied Nicholas. 'Good-night.'

'I'll come in myself and show you where the well is' said Squeers.
'You'll always find a little bit of soap in the kitchen window; that


belongs to you.'

Nicholas opened his eyesbut not his mouth; and Squeers was again
going awaywhen he once more turned back.

'I don't knowI am sure' he said'whose towel to put you on; but
if you'll make shift with something tomorrow morningMrs Squeers
will arrange thatin the course of the day. My deardon't
forget.'

'I'll take care' replied Mrs Squeers; 'and mind YOU take care
young manand get first wash. The teacher ought always to have it;
but they get the better of him if they can.'

Mr Squeers then nudged Mrs Squeers to bring away the brandy bottle
lest Nicholas should help himself in the night; and the lady having
seized it with great precipitationthey retired together.

Nicholasbeing left alonetook half-a-dozen turns up and down the
room in a condition of much agitation and excitement; butgrowing
gradually calmersat himself down in a chairand mentally
resolved thatcome what come mighthe would endeavourfor a time
to bear whatever wretchedness might be in store for himand that
remembering the helplessness of his mother and sisterhe would give
his uncle no plea for deserting them in their need. Good
resolutions seldom fail of producing some good effect in the mind
from which they spring. He grew less despondingand--so sanguine
and buoyant is youth--even hoped that affairs at Dotheboys Hall
might yet prove better than they promised.

He was preparing for bedwith something like renewed cheerfulness
when a sealed letter fell from his coat pocket. In the hurry of
leaving Londonit had escaped his attentionand had not occurred
to him sincebut it at once brought back to him the recollection of
the mysterious behaviour of Newman Noggs.

'Dear me!' said Nicholas; 'what an extraordinary hand!'

It was directed to himselfwas written upon very dirty paperand
in such cramped and crippled writing as to be almost illegible.
After great difficulty and much puzzlinghe contrived to read as
follows:--

My dear young Man.

I know the world. Your father did notor he would not have done
me a kindness when there was no hope of return. You do notor you
would not be bound on such a journey.

If ever you want a shelter in London (don't be angry at thisI once
thought I never should)they know where I liveat the sign of the
Crownin Silver StreetGolden Square. It is at the corner of
Silver Street and James Streetwith a bar door both ways. You can
come at night. Oncenobody was ashamed--never mind that. It's all
over.

Excuse errors. I should forget how to wear a whole coat now. I
have forgotten all my old ways. My spelling may have gone with
them.

NEWMAN NOGGS.

P.S. If you should go near Barnard Castlethere is good ale at the
King's Head. Say you know meand I am sure they will not charge

you for it. You may say Mr Noggs therefor I was a gentleman then.
I was indeed.

It may be a very undignified circumstances to recordbut after he
had folded this letter and placed it in his pocket-bookNicholas
Nickleby's eyes were dimmed with a moisture that might have been
taken for tears.

CHAPTER 8

Of the Internal Economy of Dotheboys Hall

A ride of two hundred and odd miles in severe weatheris one of the
best softeners of a hard bed that ingenuity can devise. Perhaps it
is even a sweetener of dreamsfor those which hovered over the
rough couch of Nicholasand whispered their airy nothings in his
earwere of an agreeable and happy kind. He was making his fortune
very fast indeedwhen the faint glimmer of an expiring candle shone
before his eyesand a voice he had no difficulty in recognising as
part and parcel of Mr Squeersadmonished him that it was time to
rise.

'Past sevenNickleby' said Mr Squeers.

'Has morning come already?' asked Nicholassitting up in bed.

'Ah! that has it' replied Squeers'and ready iced too. Now
Nicklebycome; tumble upwill you?'

Nicholas needed no further admonitionbut 'tumbled up' at onceand
proceeded to dress himself by the light of the taperwhich Mr
Squeers carried in his hand.

'Here's a pretty go' said that gentleman; 'the pump's froze.'

'Indeed!' said Nicholasnot much interested in the intelligence.

'Yes' replied Squeers. 'You can't wash yourself this morning.'

'Not wash myself!' exclaimed Nicholas.

'Nonot a bit of it' rejoined Squeers tartly. 'So you must be
content with giving yourself a dry polish till we break the ice in
the welland can get a bucketful out for the boys. Don't stand
staring at mebut do look sharpwill you?'

Offering no further observationNicholas huddled on his clothes.
Squeersmeanwhileopened the shutters and blew the candle out;
when the voice of his amiable consort was heard in the passage
demanding admittance.

'Come inmy love' said Squeers.

Mrs Squeers came instill habited in the primitive night-jacket
which had displayed the symmetry of her figure on the previous
nightand further ornamented with a beaver bonnet of some
antiquitywhich she worewith much ease and lightnesson the top
of the nightcap before mentioned.

'Drat the things' said the ladyopening the cupboard; 'I can't


find the school spoon anywhere.'

'Never mind itmy dear' observed Squeers in a soothing manner;
'it's of no consequence.'

'No consequencewhy how you talk!' retorted Mrs Squeers sharply;
'isn't it brimstone morning?'

'I forgotmy dear' rejoined Squeers; 'yesit certainly is. We
purify the boys' bloods now and thenNickleby.'

'Purify fiddlesticks' ends' said his lady. 'Don't thinkyoung
manthat we go to the expense of flower of brimstone and molasses
just to purify them; because if you think we carry on the business
in that wayyou'll find yourself mistakenand so I tell you
plainly.'

'My dear' said Squeers frowning. 'Hem!'

'Oh! nonsense' rejoined Mrs Squeers. 'If the young man comes to be
a teacher herelet him understandat oncethat we don't want any
foolery about the boys. They have the brimstone and treaclepartly
because if they hadn't something or other in the way of medicine
they'd be always ailing and giving a world of troubleand partly
because it spoils their appetites and comes cheaper than breakfast
and dinner. Soit does them good and us good at the same timeand
that's fair enough I'm sure.'

Having given this explanationMrs Squeers put her head into the
closet and instituted a stricter search after the spoonin which Mr
Squeers assisted. A few words passed between them while they were
thus engagedbut as their voices were partially stifled by the
cupboardall that Nicholas could distinguish wasthat Mr Squeers
said what Mrs Squeers had saidwas injudiciousand that Mrs
Squeers said what Mr Squeers saidwas 'stuff.'

A vast deal of searching and rummaging ensuedand it proving
fruitlessSmike was called inand pushed by Mrs Squeersand boxed
by Mr Squeers; which course of treatment brightening his intellects
enabled him to suggest that possibly Mrs Squeers might have the
spoon in her pocketas indeed turned out to be the case. As Mrs
Squeers had previously protestedhoweverthat she was quite
certain she had not got itSmike received another box on the ear
for presuming to contradict his mistresstogether with a promise of
a sound thrashing if he were not more respectful in future; so that
he took nothing very advantageous by his motion.

'A most invaluable womanthatNickleby' said Squeers when his
consort had hurried awaypushing the drudge before her.

'Indeedsir!' observed Nicholas.

'I don't know her equal' said Squeers; 'I do not know her equal.
That womanNicklebyis always the same--always the same bustling
livelyactivesaving creetur that you see her now.'

Nicholas sighed involuntarily at the thought of the agreeable
domestic prospect thus opened to him; but Squeers wasfortunately
too much occupied with his own reflections to perceive it.

'It's my way to saywhen I am up in London' continued Squeers
'that to them boys she is a mother. But she is more than a mother
to them; ten times more. She does things for them boysNickleby
that I don't believe half the mothers goingwould do for their own


sons.'

'I should think they would notsir' answered Nicholas.

Nowthe fact wasthat both Mr and Mrs Squeers viewed the boys in
the light of their proper and natural enemies; orin other words
they held and considered that their business and profession was to
get as much from every boy as could by possibility be screwed out of
him. On this point they were both agreedand behaved in unison
accordingly. The only difference between them wasthat Mrs Squeers
waged war against the enemy openly and fearlesslyand that Squeers
covered his rascalityeven at homewith a spice of his habitual
deceit; as if he really had a notion of someday or other being able
to take himself inand persuade his own mind that he was a very
good fellow.

'But come' said Squeersinterrupting the progress of some thoughts
to this effect in the mind of his usher'let's go to the
schoolroom; and lend me a hand with my school-coatwill you?'

Nicholas assisted his master to put on an old fustian shootingjacket
which he took down from a peg in the passage; and Squeers
arming himself with his caneled the way across a yardto a door
in the rear of the house.

'There' said the schoolmaster as they stepped in together; 'this is
our shopNickleby!'

It was such a crowded sceneand there were so many objects to
attract attentionthatat firstNicholas stared about himreally
without seeing anything at all. By degreeshoweverthe place
resolved itself into a bare and dirty roomwith a couple of
windowswhereof a tenth part might be of glassthe remainder being
stopped up with old copy-books and paper. There were a couple of
long old rickety deskscut and notchedand inkedand damagedin
every possible way; two or three forms; a detached desk for Squeers;
and another for his assistant. The ceiling was supportedlike that
of a barnby cross-beams and rafters; and the walls were so stained
and discolouredthat it was impossible to tell whether they had
ever been touched with paint or whitewash.

But the pupils--the young noblemen! How the last faint traces of
hopethe remotest glimmering of any good to be derived from his
efforts in this denfaded from the mind of Nicholas as he looked in
dismay around! Pale and haggard faceslank and bony figures
children with the countenances of old mendeformities with irons
upon their limbsboys of stunted growthand others whose long
meagre legs would hardly bear their stooping bodiesall crowded on
the view together; there were the bleared eyethe hare-lipthe
crooked footand every ugliness or distortion that told of
unnatural aversion conceived by parents for their offspringor of
young lives whichfrom the earliest dawn of infancyhad been one
horrible endurance of cruelty and neglect. There were little faces
which should have been handsomedarkened with the scowl of sullen
dogged suffering; there was childhood with the light of its eye
quenchedits beauty goneand its helplessness alone remaining;
there were vicious-faced boysbroodingwith leaden eyeslike
malefactors in a jail; and there were young creatures on whom the
sins of their frail parents had descendedweeping even for the
mercenary nurses they had knownand lonesome even in their
loneliness. With every kindly sympathy and affection blasted in its
birthwith every young and healthy feeling flogged and starved
downwith every revengeful passion that can fester in swollen
heartseating its evil way to their core in silencewhat an


incipient Hell was breeding here!

And yet this scenepainful as it washad its grotesque features
whichin a less interested observer than Nicholasmight have
provoked a smile. Mrs Squeers stood at one of the deskspresiding
over an immense basin of brimstone and treacleof which delicious
compound she administered a large instalment to each boy in
succession: using for the purpose a common wooden spoonwhich might
have been originally manufactured for some gigantic topand which
widened every young gentleman's mouth considerably: they being all
obligedunder heavy corporal penaltiesto take in the whole of the
bowl at a gasp. In another cornerhuddled together for
companionshipwere the little boys who had arrived on the preceding
nightthree of them in very large leather breechesand two in old
trousersa something tighter fit than drawers are usually worn; at
no great distance from these was seated the juvenile son and heir of
Mr Squeers--a striking likeness of his father--kickingwith great
vigourunder the hands of Smikewho was fitting upon him a pair of
new boots that bore a most suspicious resemblance to those which the
least of the little boys had worn on the journey down--as the little
boy himself seemed to thinkfor he was regarding the appropriation
with a look of most rueful amazement. Besides thesethere was a
long row of boys waitingwith countenances of no pleasant
anticipationto be treacled; and another filewho had just escaped
from the inflictionmaking a variety of wry mouths indicative of
anything but satisfaction. The whole were attired in such motley
ill-assortedextraordinary garmentsas would have been
irresistibly ridiculousbut for the foul appearance of dirt
disorderand diseasewith which they were associated.

'Now' said Squeersgiving the desk a great rap with his cane
which made half the little boys nearly jump out of their boots'is
that physicking over?'

'Just over' said Mrs Squeerschoking the last boy in her hurry
and tapping the crown of his head with the wooden spoon to restore
him. 'Hereyou Smike; take away now. Look sharp!'

Smike shuffled out with the basinand Mrs Squeers having called up
a little boy with a curly headand wiped her hands upon ithurried
out after him into a species of wash-housewhere there was a small
fire and a large kettletogether with a number of little wooden
bowls which were arranged upon a board.

Into these bowlsMrs Squeersassisted by the hungry servant
poured a brown compositionwhich looked like diluted pincushions
without the coversand was called porridge. A minute wedge of
brown bread was inserted in each bowland when they had eaten their
porridge by means of the breadthe boys ate the bread itselfand
had finished their breakfast; whereupon Mr Squeers saidin a solemn
voice'For what we have receivedmay the Lord make us truly
thankful!'--and went away to his own.

Nicholas distended his stomach with a bowl of porridgefor much the
same reason which induces some savages to swallow earth--lest they
should be inconveniently hungry when there is nothing to eat.
Having further disposed of a slice of bread and butterallotted to
him in virtue of his officehe sat himself downto wait for
school-time.

He could not but observe how silent and sad the boys all seemed to
be. There was none of the noise and clamour of a schoolroom; none
of its boisterous playor hearty mirth. The children sat crouching
and shivering togetherand seemed to lack the spirit to move about.


The only pupil who evinced the slightest tendency towards locomotion
or playfulness was Master Squeersand as his chief amusement was to
tread upon the other boys' toes in his new bootshis flow of
spirits was rather disagreeable than otherwise.

After some half-hour's delayMr Squeers reappearedand the boys
took their places and their booksof which latter commodity the
average might be about one to eight learners. A few minutes having
elapsedduring which Mr Squeers looked very profoundas if he had
a perfect apprehension of what was inside all the booksand could
say every word of their contents by heart if he only chose to take
the troublethat gentleman called up the first class.

Obedient to this summons there ranged themselves in front of the
schoolmaster's deskhalf-a-dozen scarecrowsout at knees and
elbowsone of whom placed a torn and filthy book beneath his
learned eye.

'This is the first class in English spelling and philosophy
Nickleby' said Squeersbeckoning Nicholas to stand beside him.
'We'll get up a Latin oneand hand that over to you. Nowthen
where's the first boy?'

'Pleasesirhe's cleaning the back-parlour window' said the
temporary head of the philosophical class.

'So he isto be sure' rejoined Squeers. 'We go upon the practical
mode of teachingNickleby; the regular education system. C-l-e-an
cleanverb activeto make brightto scour. W-i-nwind-e-r
derwindera casement. When the boy knows this out of bookhe
goes and does it. It's just the same principle as the use of the
globes. Where's the second boy?'

'Pleasesirhe's weeding the garden' replied a small voice.

'To be sure' said Squeersby no means disconcerted. 'So he is.
B-o-tbott-i-ntinbottinn-e-yneybottinneynoun
substantivea knowledge of plants. When he has learned that
bottinney means a knowledge of plantshe goes and knows 'em.
That's our systemNickleby: what do you think of it?'

'It's very useful oneat any rate' answered Nicholas.

'I believe you' rejoined Squeersnot remarking the emphasis of his
usher. 'Third boywhat's horse?'

'A beastsir' replied the boy.

'So it is' said Squeers. 'Ain't itNickleby?'

'I believe there is no doubt of thatsir' answered Nicholas.

'Of course there isn't' said Squeers. 'A horse is a quadrupedand
quadruped's Latin for beastas everybody that's gone through the
grammar knowsor else where's the use of having grammars at all?'

'Whereindeed!' said Nicholas abstractedly.

'As you're perfect in that' resumed Squeersturning to the boy
'go and look after MY horseand rub him down wellor I'll rub you
down. The rest of the class go and draw water uptill somebody
tells you to leave offfor it's washing-day tomorrowand they want
the coppers filled.'


So sayinghe dismissed the first class to their experiments in
practical philosophyand eyed Nicholas with a lookhalf cunning
and half doubtfulas if he were not altogether certain what he
might think of him by this time.

'That's the way we do itNickleby' he saidafter a pause.

Nicholas shrugged his shoulders in a manner that was scarcely
perceptibleand said he saw it was.

'And a very good way it istoo' said Squeers. 'Nowjust take
them fourteen little boys and hear them some readingbecauseyou
knowyou must begin to be useful. Idling about here won't do.'

Mr Squeers said thisas if it had suddenly occurred to himeither
that he must not say too much to his assistantor that his
assistant did not say enough to him in praise of the establishment.
The children were arranged in a semicircle round the new masterand
he was soon listening to their dulldrawlinghesitating recital of
those stories of engrossing interest which are to be found in the
more antiquated spelling-books.

In this exciting occupationthe morning lagged heavily on. At one
o'clockthe boyshaving previously had their appetites thoroughly
taken away by stir-about and potatoessat down in the kitchen to
some hard salt beefof which Nicholas was graciously permitted to
take his portion to his own solitary deskto eat it there in peace.
After thisthere was another hour of crouching in the schoolroom
and shivering with coldand then school began again.

It was Mr Squeer's custom to call the boys togetherand make a sort
of reportafter every half-yearly visit to the metropolis
regarding the relations and friends he had seenthe news he had
heardthe letters he had brought downthe bills which had been
paidthe accounts which had been left unpaidand so forth. This
solemn proceeding always took place in the afternoon of the day
succeeding his return; perhapsbecause the boys acquired strength
of mind from the suspense of the morningorpossiblybecause Mr
Squeers himself acquired greater sternness and inflexibility from
certain warm potations in which he was wont to indulge after his
early dinner. Be this as it maythe boys were recalled from housewindow
gardenstableand cow-yardand the school were assembled
in full conclavewhen Mr Squeerswith a small bundle of papers in
his handand Mrs S. following with a pair of canesentered the
room and proclaimed silence.

'Let any boy speak a word without leave' said Mr Squeers mildly
'and I'll take the skin off his back.'

This special proclamation had the desired effectand a deathlike
silence immediately prevailedin the midst of which Mr Squeers went
on to say:

'BoysI've been to Londonand have returned to my family and you
as strong and well as ever.'

According to half-yearly customthe boys gave three feeble cheers
at this refreshing intelligence. Such cheers! Sights of extra
strength with the chill on.

'I have seen the parents of some boys' continued Squeersturning
over his papers'and they're so glad to hear how their sons are
getting onthat there's no prospect at all of their going away
which of course is a very pleasant thing to reflect uponfor all


parties.'

Two or three hands went to two or three eyes when Squeers said this
but the greater part of the young gentlemen having no particular
parents to speak ofwere wholly uninterested in the thing one way
or other.

'I have had diappointments to contend against' said Squeers
looking very grim; 'Bolder's father was two pound ten short. Where
is Bolder?'

'Here he isplease sir' rejoined twenty officious voices. Boys
are very like men to be sure.

'Come hereBolder' said Squeers.

An unhealthy-looking boywith warts all over his handsstepped
from his place to the master's deskand raised his eyes imploringly
to Squeers's face; his ownquite white from the rapid beating of
his heart.

'Bolder' said Squeersspeaking very slowlyfor he was
consideringas the saying goeswhere to have him. 'Bolderif you
father thinks that because--whywhat's thissir?'

As Squeers spokehe caught up the boy's hand by the cuff of his
jacketand surveyed it with an edifying aspect of horror and
disgust.

'What do you call thissir?' demanded the schoolmaster
administering a cut with the cane to expedite the reply.

'I can't help itindeedsir' rejoined the boycrying. 'They
will come; it's the dirty work I thinksir--at least I don't know
what it issirbut it's not my fault.'

'Bolder' said Squeerstucking up his wristbandsand moistening
the palm of his right hand to get a good grip of the cane'you're
an incorrigible young scoundreland as the last thrashing did you
no goodwe must see what another will do towards beating it out of
you.'

With thisand wholly disregarding a piteous cry for mercyMr
Squeers fell upon the boy and caned him soundly: not leaving off
indeeduntil his arm was tired out.

'There' said Squeerswhen he had quite done; 'rub away as hard as
you likeyou won't rub that off in a hurry. Oh! you won't hold
that noisewon't you? Put him outSmike.'

The drudge knew better from long experiencethan to hesitate about
obeyingso he bundled the victim out by a side-doorand Mr Squeers
perched himself again on his own stoolsupported by Mrs Squeers
who occupied another at his side.

'Now let us see' said Squeers. 'A letter for Cobbey. Stand up
Cobbey.'

Another boy stood upand eyed the letter very hard while Squeers
made a mental abstract of the same.

'Oh!' said Squeers: 'Cobbey's grandmother is deadand his uncle
John has took to drinkingwhich is all the news his sister sends
except eighteenpencewhich will just pay for that broken square of


glass. Mrs Squeersmy dearwill you take the money?'

The worthy lady pocketed the eighteenpence with a most business-like
airand Squeers passed on to the next boyas coolly as possible.

'Graymarsh' said Squeers'he's the next. Stand upGraymarsh.'

Another boy stood upand the schoolmaster looked over the letter as
before.

'Graymarsh's maternal aunt' said Squeerswhen he had possessed
himself of the contents'is very glad to hear he's so well and
happyand sends her respectful compliments to Mrs Squeersand
thinks she must be an angel. She likewise thinks Mr Squeers is too
good for this world; but hopes he may long be spared to carry on the
business. Would have sent the two pair of stockings as desiredbut
is short of moneyso forwards a tract insteadand hopes Graymarsh
will put his trust in Providence. Hopesabove allthat he will
study in everything to please Mr and Mrs Squeersand look upon them
as his only friends; and that he will love Master Squeers; and not
object to sleeping five in a bedwhich no Christian should. Ah!'
said Squeersfolding it up'a delightful letter. Very affecting
indeed.'

It was affecting in one sensefor Graymarsh's maternal aunt was
strongly supposedby her more intimate friendsto be no other than
his maternal parent; Squeershoweverwithout alluding to this part
of the story (which would have sounded immoral before boys)
proceeded with the business by calling out 'Mobbs' whereupon
another boy roseand Graymarsh resumed his seat.

'Mobbs's step-mother' said Squeers'took to her bed on hearing
that he wouldn't eat fatand has been very ill ever since. She
wishes to knowby an early postwhere he expects to go toif he
quarrels with his vittles; and with what feelings he could turn up
his nose at the cow's-liver brothafter his good master had asked a
blessing on it. This was told her in the London newspapers--not by
Mr Squeersfor he is too kind and too good to set anybody against
anybody--and it has vexed her so muchMobbs can't think. She is
sorry to find he is discontentedwhich is sinful and horridand
hopes Mr Squeers will flog him into a happier state of mind; with
which viewshe has also stopped his halfpenny a week pocket-money
and given a double-bladed knife with a corkscrew in it to the
Missionarieswhich she had bought on purpose for him.'

'A sulky state of feeling' said Squeersafter a terrible pause
during which he had moistened the palm of his right hand again
'won't do. Cheerfulness and contentment must be kept up. Mobbs
come to me!'

Mobbs moved slowly towards the deskrubbing his eyes in
anticipation of good cause for doing so; and he soon afterwards
retired by the side-doorwith as good cause as a boy need have.

Mr Squeers then proceeded to open a miscellaneous collection of
letters; some enclosing moneywhich Mrs Squeers 'took care of;' and
others referring to small articles of apparelas caps and so forth
all of which the same lady stated to be too largeor too smalland
calculated for nobody but young Squeerswho would appear indeed to
have had most accommodating limbssince everything that came into
the school fitted him to a nicety. His headin particularmust
have been singularly elasticfor hats and caps of all dimensions
were alike to him.


This business dispatcheda few slovenly lessons were performedand
Squeers retired to his firesideleaving Nicholas to take care of
the boys in the school-roomwhich was very coldand where a meal of
bread and cheese was served out shortly after dark.

There was a small stove at that corner of the room which was nearest
to the master's deskand by it Nicholas sat downso depressed and
self-degraded by the consciousness of his positionthat if death
could have come upon him at that timehe would have been almost
happy to meet it. The cruelty of which he had been an unwilling
witnessthe coarse and ruffianly behaviour of Squeers even in his
best moodsthe filthy placethe sights and sounds about himall
contributed to this state of feeling; but when he recollected that
being there as an assistanthe actually seemed--no matter what
unhappy train of circumstances had brought him to that pass--to be
the aider and abettor of a system which filled him with honest
disgust and indignationhe loathed himselfand feltfor the
momentas though the mere consciousness of his present situation
mustthrough all time to comeprevent his raising his head again.

Butfor the presenthis resolve was takenand the resolution he
had formed on the preceding night remained undisturbed. He had
written to his mother and sisterannouncing the safe conclusion of
his journeyand saying as little about Dotheboys Halland saying
that little as cheerfullyas he possibly could. He hoped that by
remaining where he washe might do some goodeven there; at all
eventsothers depended too much on his uncle's favourto admit of
his awakening his wrath just then.

One reflection disturbed him far more than any selfish
considerations arising out of his own position. This was the
probable destination of his sister Kate. His uncle had deceived
himand might he not consign her to some miserable place where her
youth and beauty would prove a far greater curse than ugliness and
decrepitude? To a caged manbound hand and footthis was a
terrible idea--but nohe thoughthis mother was by; there was the
portrait-paintertoo--simple enoughbut still living in the world
and of it. He was willing to believe that Ralph Nickleby had
conceived a personal dislike to himself. Having pretty good reason
by this timeto reciprocate ithe had no great difficulty in
arriving at this conclusionand tried to persuade himself that the
feeling extended no farther than between them.

As he was absorbed in these meditationshe all at once encountered
the upturned face of Smikewho was on his knees before the stove
picking a few stray cinders from the hearth and planting them on the
fire. He had paused to steal a look at Nicholasand when he saw
that he was observedshrunk backas if expecting a blow.

'You need not fear me' said Nicholas kindly. 'Are you cold?'

'N-n-o.'

'You are shivering.'

'I am not cold' replied Smike quickly. 'I am used to it.'

There was such an obvious fear of giving offence in his mannerand
he was such a timidbroken-spirited creaturethat Nicholas could
not help exclaiming'Poor fellow!'

If he had struck the drudgehe would have slunk away without a
word. Butnowhe burst into tears.


'Oh dearoh dear!' he criedcovering his face with his cracked and
horny hands. 'My heart will break. It willit will.'

'Hush!' said Nicholaslaying his hand upon his shoulder. 'Be a
man; you are nearly one by yearsGod help you.'

'By years!' cried Smike. 'Oh deardearhow many of them! How
many of them since I was a little childyounger than any that are
here now! Where are they all!'

'Whom do you speak of?' inquired Nicholaswishing to rouse the poor
half-witted creature to reason. 'Tell me.'

'My friends' he replied'myself--my--oh! what sufferings mine have
been!'

'There is always hope' said Nicholas; he knew not what to say.

'No' rejoined the other'no; none for me. Do you remember the boy
that died here?'

'I was not hereyou know' said Nicholas gently; 'but what of him?'

'Why' replied the youthdrawing closer to his questioner's side
'I was with him at nightand when it was all silent he cried no
more for friends he wished to come and sit with himbut began to
see faces round his bed that came from home; he said they smiled
and talked to him; and he died at last lifting his head to kiss
them. Do you hear?'

'Yesyes' rejoined Nicholas.

'What faces will smile on me when I die!' cried his companion
shivering. 'Who will talk to me in those long nights! They cannot
come from home; they would frighten meif they didfor I don't
know what it isand shouldn't know them. Pain and fearpain and
fear for mealive or dead. No hopeno hope!'

The bell rang to bed: and the boysubsiding at the sound into his
usual listless statecrept away as if anxious to avoid notice. It
was with a heavy heart that Nicholas soon afterwards--nonot
retired; there was no retirement there--followed--to his dirty and
crowded dormitory.

CHAPTER 9

Of Miss SqueersMrs SqueersMaster Squeersand Mr Squeers; and of
various Matters and Persons connected no less with the Squeerses
than Nicholas Nickleby

When Mr Squeers left the schoolroom for the nighthe betook
himselfas has been before remarkedto his own firesidewhich was
situated--not in the room in which Nicholas had supped on the night
of his arrivalbut in a smaller apartment in the rear of the
premiseswhere his lady wifehis amiable sonand accomplished
daughterwere in the full enjoyment of each other's society; Mrs
Squeers being engaged in the matronly pursuit of stocking-darning;
and the young lady and gentleman being occupied in the adjustment of
some youthful differencesby means of a pugilistic contest across
the tablewhichon the approach of their honoured parentsubsided
into a noiseless exchange of kicks beneath it.


Andin this placeit may be as well to apprise the readerthat
Miss Fanny Squeers was in her three-and-twentieth year. If there be
any one grace or loveliness inseparable from that particular period
of lifeMiss Squeers may be presumed to have been possessed of it
as there is no reason to suppose that she was a solitary exception
to an universal rule. She was not tall like her motherbut short
like her father; from the former she inherited a voice of harsh
quality; from the latter a remarkable expression of the right eye
something akin to having none at all.

Miss Squeers had been spending a few days with a neighbouring
friendand had only just returned to the parental roof. To this
circumstance may be referredher having heard nothing of Nicholas
until Mr Squeers himself now made him the subject of conversation.

'Wellmy dear' said Squeersdrawing up his chair'what do you
think of him by this time?'

'Think of who?' inquired Mrs Squeers; who (as she often remarked)
was no grammarianthank Heaven.

'Of the young man--the new teacher--who else could I mean?'

'Oh! that Knuckleboy' said Mrs Squeers impatiently. 'I hate him.'

'What do you hate him formy dear?' asked Squeers.

'What's that to you?' retorted Mrs Squeers. 'If I hate himthat's
enoughain't it?'

'Quite enough for himmy dearand a great deal too much I dare
sayif he knew it' replied Squeers in a pacific tone. 'I only ask
from curiositymy dear.'

'Wellthenif you want to know' rejoined Mrs Squeers'I'll tell
you. Because he's a proudhaughtyconsequentialturned-up-nosed
peacock.'

Mrs Squeerswhen excitedwas accustomed to use strong language
andmoreoverto make use of a plurality of epithetssome of which
were of a figurative kindas the word peacockand furthermore the
allusion to Nicholas's nosewhich was not intended to be taken in
its literal sensebut rather to bear a latitude of construction
according to the fancy of the hearers.

Neither were they meant to bear reference to each otherso much as
to the object on whom they were bestowedas will be seen in the
present case: a peacock with a turned-up nose being a novelty in
ornithologyand a thing not commonly seen.

'Hem!' said Squeersas if in mild deprecation of this outbreak.
'He is cheapmy dear; the young man is very cheap.'

'Not a bit of it' retorted Mrs Squeers.

'Five pound a year' said Squeers.

'What of that; it's dear if you don't want himisn't it?' replied
his wife.

'But we DO want him' urged Squeers.

'I don't see that you want him any more than the dead' said Mrs


Squeers. 'Don't tell me. You can put on the cards and in the
advertisementsEducation by Mr Wackford Squeers and able
assistants,without having any assistantscan't you? Isn't it
done every day by all the masters about? I've no patience with
you.'

'Haven't you!' said Squeerssternly. 'Now I'll tell you whatMrs
Squeers. In this matter of having a teacherI'll take my own way
if you please. A slave driver in the West Indies is allowed a man
under himto see that his blacks don't run awayor get up a
rebellion; and I'll have a man under me to do the same with OUR
blackstill such time as little Wackford is able to take charge of
the school.'

'Am I to take care of the school when I grow up a manfather?' said
Wackford juniorsuspendingin the excess of his delighta vicious
kick which he was administering to his sister.

'You aremy son' replied Mr Squeersin a sentimental voice.

'Oh my eyewon't I give it to the boys!' exclaimed the interesting
childgrasping his father's cane. 'Ohfatherwon't I make 'em
squeak again!'

It was a proud moment in Mr Squeers's lifewhen he witnessed that
burst of enthusiasm in his young child's mindand saw in it a
foreshadowing of his future eminence. He pressed a penny into his
handand gave vent to his feelings (as did his exemplary wife
also)in a shout of approving laughter. The infantine appeal to
their common sympathiesat once restored cheerfulness to the
conversationand harmony to the company.

'He's a nasty stuck-up monkeythat's what I consider him' said Mrs
Squeersreverting to Nicholas.

'Supposing he is' said Squeers'he is as well stuck up in our
schoolroom as anywhere elseisn't he?--especially as he don't like
it.'

'Well' observed Mrs Squeers'there's something in that. I hope
it'll bring his pride downand it shall be no fault of mine if it
don't.'

Nowa proud usher in a Yorkshire school was such a very
extraordinary and unaccountable thing to hear of--any usher at all
being a novelty; but a proud onea being of whose existence the
wildest imagination could never have dreamed--that Miss Squeerswho
seldom troubled herself with scholastic mattersinquired with much
curiosity who this Knuckleboy wasthat gave himself such airs.

'Nickleby' said Squeersspelling the name according to some
eccentric system which prevailed in his own mind; 'your mother
always calls things and people by their wrong names.'

'No matter for that' said Mrs Squeers; 'I see them with right eyes
and that's quite enough for me. I watched him when you were laying
on to little Bolder this afternoon. He looked as black as thunder
all the whileandone timestarted up as if he had more than got
it in his mind to make a rush at you. I saw himthough he thought
I didn't.'

'Never mind thatfather' said Miss Squeersas the head of the
family was about to reply. 'Who is the man?'


'Whyyour father has got some nonsense in his head that he's the
son of a poor gentleman that died the other day' said Mrs Squeers.

'The son of a gentleman!'

'Yes; but I don't believe a word of it. If he's a gentleman's son
at allhe's a fondlingthat's my opinion.'

'Mrs Squeers intended to say 'foundling' butas she frequently
remarked when she made any such mistakeit would be all the same a
hundred years hence; with which axiom of philosophyindeedshe was
in the constant habit of consoling the boys when they laboured under
more than ordinary ill-usage.

'He's nothing of the kind' said Squeersin answer to the above
remark'for his father was married to his mother years before he
was bornand she is alive now. If he wasit would be no business
of oursfor we make a very good friend by having him here; and if
he likes to learn the boys anything besides minding themI have no
objection I am sure.'

'I say againI hate him worse than poison' said Mrs Squeers
vehemently.

'If you dislike himmy dear' returned Squeers'I don't know
anybody who can show dislike better than youand of course there's
no occasionwith himto take the trouble to hide it.'

'I don't intend toI assure you' interposed Mrs S.

'That's right' said Squeers; 'and if he has a touch of pride about
himas I think he hasI don't believe there's woman in all England
that can bring anybody's spirit downas quick as you canmy love.'

Mrs Squeers chuckled vastly on the receipt of these flattering
complimentsand saidshe hoped she had tamed a high spirit or two
in her day. It is but due to her character to saythat in
conjunction with her estimable husbandshe had broken many and many
a one.

Miss Fanny Squeers carefully treasured up thisand much more
conversation on the same subjectuntil she retired for the night
when she questioned the hungry servantminutelyregarding the
outward appearance and demeanour of Nicholas; to which queries the
girl returned such enthusiastic repliescoupled with so many
laudatory remarks touching his beautiful dark eyesand his sweet
smileand his straight legs--upon which last-named articles she
laid particular stress; the general run of legs at Dotheboys Hall
being crooked--that Miss Squeers was not long in arriving at the
conclusion that the new usher must be a very remarkable personor
as she herself significantly phrased it'something quite out of the
common.' And so Miss Squeers made up her mind that she would take a
personal observation of Nicholas the very next day.

In pursuance of this designthe young lady watched the opportunity
of her mother being engagedand her father absentand went
accidentally into the schoolroom to get a pen mended: whereseeing
nobody but Nicholas presiding over the boysshe blushed very
deeplyand exhibited great confusion.

'I beg your pardon' faltered Miss Squeers; 'I thought my father
was--or might be--dear mehow very awkward!'

'Mr Squeers is out' said Nicholasby no means overcome by the


apparitionunexpected though it was.

'Do you know will he be longsir?' asked Miss Squeerswith bashful
hesitation.

'He said about an hour' replied Nicholas--politely of coursebut
without any indication of being stricken to the heart by Miss
Squeers's charms.

'I never knew anything happen so cross' exclaimed the young lady.
'Thank you! I am very sorry I intrudedI am sure. If I hadn't
thought my father was hereI wouldn't upon any account have--it is
very provoking--must look so very strange' murmured Miss Squeers
blushing once moreand glancingfrom the pen in her handto
Nicholas at his deskand back again.

'If that is all you want' said Nicholaspointing to the penand
smilingin spite of himselfat the affected embarrassment of the
schoolmaster's daughter'perhaps I can supply his place.'

Miss Squeers glanced at the dooras if dubious of the propriety of
advancing any nearer to an utter stranger; then round the
schoolroomas though in some measure reassured by the presence of
forty boys; and finally sidled up to Nicholas and delivered the pen
into his handwith a most winning mixture of reserve and
condescension.

'Shall it be a hard or a soft nib?' inquired Nicholassmiling to
prevent himself from laughing outright.

'He HAS a beautiful smile' thought Miss Squeers.

'Which did you say?' asked Nicholas.

'Dear meI was thinking of something else for the momentI
declare' replied Miss Squeers. 'Oh! as soft as possibleif you
please.' With which wordsMiss Squeers sighed. It might beto
give Nicholas to understand that her heart was softand that the
pen was wanted to match.

Upon these instructions Nicholas made the pen; when he gave it to
Miss SqueersMiss Squeers dropped it; and when he stooped to pick
it upMiss Squeers stopped alsoand they knocked their heads
together; whereat five-and-twenty little boys laughed aloud: being
positively for the first and only time that half-year.

'Very awkward of me' said Nicholasopening the door for the young
lady's retreat.

'Not at allsir' replied Miss Squeers; 'it was my fault. It was
all my foolish--a--a--good-morning!'

'Goodbye' said Nicholas. 'The next I make for youI hope will be
made less clumsily. Take care! You are biting the nib off now.'

'Really' said Miss Squeers; 'so embarrassing that I scarcely know
what I--very sorry to give you so much trouble.'

'Not the least trouble in the world' replied Nicholasclosing the
schoolroom door.

'I never saw such legs in the whole course of my life!' said Miss
Squeersas she walked away.


In factMiss Squeers was in love with Nicholas Nickleby.

To account for the rapidity with which this young lady had conceived
a passion for Nicholasit may be necessary to statethat the
friend from whom she had so recently returnedwas a miller's
daughter of only eighteenwho had contracted herself unto the son
of a small corn-factorresident in the nearest market town. Miss
Squeers and the miller's daughterbeing fast friendshad
covenanted together some two years beforeaccording to a custom
prevalent among young ladiesthat whoever was first engaged to be
marriedshould straightway confide the mighty secret to the bosom
of the otherbefore communicating it to any living souland
bespeak her as bridesmaid without loss of time; in fulfilment of
which pledge the miller's daughterwhen her engagement was formed
came out expressat eleven o'clock at night as the corn-factor's son
made an offer of his hand and heart at twenty-five minutes past ten
by the Dutch clock in the kitchenand rushed into Miss Squeers's
bedroom with the gratifying intelligence. NowMiss Squeers being
five years olderand out of her teens (which is also a great
matter)hadsincebeen more than commonly anxious to return the
complimentand possess her friend with a similar secret; but
either in consequence of finding it hard to please herselfor
harder still to please anybody elsehad never had an opportunity so
to doinasmuch as she had no such secret to disclose. The little
interview with Nicholas had no sooner passedas above described
howeverthan Miss Squeersputting on her bonnetmade her way
with great precipitationto her friend's houseandupon a solemn
renewal of divers old vows of secrecyrevealed how that she was-not
exactly engagedbut going to be--to a gentleman's son--(none of
your corn-factorsbut a gentleman's son of high descent)--who had
come down as teacher to Dotheboys Hallunder most mysterious and
remarkable circumstances--indeedas Miss Squeers more than once
hinted she had good reason to believeinducedby the fame of her
many charmsto seek her outand woo and win her.

'Isn't it an extraordinary thing?' said Miss Squeersemphasising
the adjective strongly.

'Most extraordinary' replied the friend. 'But what has he said to
you?'

'Don't ask me what he saidmy dear' rejoined Miss Squeers. 'If
you had only seen his looks and smiles! I never was so overcome in
all my life.'

'Did he look in this way?' inquired the miller's daughter
counterfeitingas nearly as she coulda favourite leer of the
corn-factor.

'Very like that--only more genteel' replied Miss Squeers.

'Ah!' said the friend'then he means somethingdepend on it.'

Miss Squeershaving slight misgivings on the subjectwas by no
means ill pleased to be confirmed by a competent authority; and
discoveringon further conversation and comparison of notesa
great many points of resemblance between the behaviour of Nicholas
and that of the corn-factorgrew so exceedingly confidentialthat
she intrusted her friend with a vast number of things Nicholas had
NOT saidwhich were all so very complimentary as to be quite
conclusive. Thenshe dilated on the fearful hardship of having a
father and mother strenuously opposed to her intended husband; on
which unhappy circumstance she dwelt at great length; for the
friend's father and mother were quite agreeable to her being


marriedand the whole courtship was in consequence as flat and
common-place an affair as it was possible to imagine.

'How I should like to see him!' exclaimed the friend.

'So you shall'Tilda' replied Miss Squeers. 'I should consider
myself one of the most ungrateful creatures aliveif I denied you.
I think mother's going away for two days to fetch some boys; and
when she doesI'll ask you and John up to teaand have him to meet
you.'

This was a charming ideaand having fully discussed itthe friends
parted.

It so fell outthat Mrs Squeers's journeyto some distanceto
fetch three new boysand dun the relations of two old ones for the
balance of a small accountwas fixed that very afternoonfor the
next day but one; and on the next day but oneMrs Squeers got up
outside the coachas it stopped to change at Greta Bridgetaking
with her a small bundle containing something in a bottleand some
sandwichesand carrying besides a large white top-coat to wear in
the night-time; with which baggage she went her way.

Whenever such opportunities as these occurredit was Squeers's
custom to drive over to the market townevery eveningon pretence
of urgent businessand stop till ten or eleven o'clock at a tavern
he much affected. As the party was not in his waythereforebut
rather afforded a means of compromise with Miss Squeershe readily
yielded his full assent thereuntoand willingly communicated to
Nicholas that he was expected to take his tea in the parlour that
eveningat five o'clock.

To be sure Miss Squeers was in a desperate flutter as the time
approachedand to be sure she was dressed out to the best
advantage: with her hair--it had more than a tinge of redand she
wore it in a crop--curled in five distinct rowsup to the very top
of her headand arranged dexterously over the doubtful eye; to say
nothing of the blue sash which floated down her backor the worked
apron or the long glovesor the green gauze scarf worn over one
shoulder and under the other; or any of the numerous devices which
were to be as so many arrows to the heart of Nicholas. She had
scarcely completed these arrangements to her entire satisfaction
when the friend arrived with a whity-brown parcel--flat and threecornered--
containing sundry small adornments which were to be put on
upstairsand which the friend put ontalking incessantly. When
Miss Squeers had 'done' the friend's hairthe friend 'did' Miss
Squeers's hairthrowing in some striking improvements in the way of
ringlets down the neck; and thenwhen they were both touched up to
their entire satisfactionthey went downstairs in full state with
the long gloves onall ready for company.

'Where's John'Tilda?' said Miss Squeers.

'Only gone home to clean himself' replied the friend. 'He will be
here by the time the tea's drawn.'

'I do so palpitate' observed Miss Squeers.

'Ah! I know what it is' replied the friend.

'I have not been used to ityou know'Tilda' said Miss Squeers
applying her hand to the left side of her sash.

'You'll soon get the better of itdear' rejoined the friend.


While they were talking thusthe hungry servant brought in the teathings
andsoon afterwardssomebody tapped at the room door.

'There he is!' cried Miss Squeers. 'Oh 'Tilda!'

'Hush!' said 'Tilda. 'Hem! Saycome in.'

'Come in' cried Miss Squeers faintly. And in walked Nicholas.

'Good-evening' said that young gentlemanall unconscious of his
conquest. 'I understood from Mr Squeers that--'

'Oh yes; it's all right' interposed Miss Squeers. 'Father don't
tea with usbut you won't mind thatI dare say.' (This was said
archly.)

Nicholas opened his eyes at thisbut he turned the matter off very
coolly--not caringparticularlyabout anything just then--and went
through the ceremony of introduction to the miller's daughter with
so much gracethat that young lady was lost in admiration.

'We are only waiting for one more gentleman' said Miss Squeers
taking off the teapot lidand looking into see how the tea was
getting on.

It was matter of equal moment to Nicholas whether they were waiting
for one gentleman or twentyso he received the intelligence with
perfect unconcern; andbeing out of spiritsand not seeing any
especial reason why he should make himself agreeablelooked out of
the window and sighed involuntarily.

As luck would have itMiss Squeers's friend was of a playful turn
and hearing Nicholas sighshe took it into her head to rally the
lovers on their lowness of spirits.

'But if it's caused by my being here' said the young lady'don't
mind me a bitfor I'm quite as bad. You may go on just as you would
if you were alone.'

''Tilda' said Miss Squeerscolouring up to the top row of curls
'I am ashamed of you;' and here the two friends burst into a variety
of gigglesand glanced from time to timeover the tops of their
pocket-handkerchiefsat Nicholaswho from a state of unmixed
astonishmentgradually fell into one of irrepressible laughter-occasioned
partly by the bare notion of his being in love with Miss
Squeersand partly by the preposterous appearance and behaviour of
the two girls. These two causes of merrimenttaken together
struck him as being so keenly ridiculousthatdespite his
miserable conditionhe laughed till he was thoroughly exhausted.

'Well' thought Nicholas'as I am hereand seem expectedfor some
reason or otherto be amiableit's of no use looking like a goose.
I may as well accommodate myself to the company.'

We blush to tell it; but his youthful spirits and vivacity getting
for the timethe better of his sad thoughtshe no sooner formed
this resolution than he saluted Miss Squeers and the friend with
great gallantryand drawing a chair to the tea-tablebegan to make
himself more at home than in all probability an usher has ever done
in his employer's house since ushers were first invented.

The ladies were in the full delight of this altered behaviour on the
part of Mr Nicklebywhen the expected swain arrivedwith his hair
very damp from recent washingand a clean shirtwhereof the collar


might have belonged to some giant ancestorformingtogether with
a white waistcoat of similar dimensionsthe chief ornament of his
person.

'WellJohn' said Miss Matilda Price (whichby-the-byewas the
name of the miller's daughter).

'Weel' said John with a grin that even the collar could not
conceal.

'I beg your pardon' interposed Miss Squeershastening to do the
honours. 'Mr Nickleby--Mr John Browdie.'

'Servantsir' said Johnwho was something over six feet high
with a face and body rather above the due proportion than below it.

'Yours to commandsir' replied Nicholasmaking fearful ravages on
the bread and butter.

Mr Browdie was not a gentleman of great conversational powersso he
grinned twice moreand having now bestowed his customary mark of
recognition on every person in companygrinned at nothing in
particularand helped himself to food.

'Old wooman awa'bean't she?' said Mr Browdiewith his mouth full.

Miss Squeers nodded assent.

Mr Browdie gave a grin of special widthas if he thought that
really was something to laugh atand went to work at the bread and
butter with increased vigour. It was quite a sight to behold how he
and Nicholas emptied the plate between them.

'Ye wean't get bread and butther ev'ry neightI expectmun' said
Mr Browdieafter he had sat staring at Nicholas a long time over
the empty plate.

Nicholas bit his lipand colouredbut affected not to hear the
remark.

'Ecod' said Mr Browdielaughing boisterously'they dean't put too
much intiv'em. Ye'll be nowt but skeen and boans if you stop here
long eneaf. Ho! ho! ho!'

'You are facetioussir' said Nicholasscornfully.

'Na; I dean't know' replied Mr Browdie'but t'oother teacher'cod
he wur a learn 'unhe wur.' The recollection of the last teacher's
leanness seemed to afford Mr Browdie the most exquisite delightfor
he laughed until he found it necessary to apply his coat-cuffs to
his eyes.

'I don't know whether your perceptions are quite keen enoughMr
Browdieto enable you to understand that your remarks are
offensive' said Nicholas in a towering passion'but if they are
have the goodness to--'

'If you say another wordJohn' shrieked Miss Pricestopping her
admirer's mouth as he was about to interrupt'only half a word
I'll never forgive youor speak to you again.'

'Weelmy lassI dean't care aboot 'un' said the corn-factor
bestowing a hearty kiss on Miss Matilda; 'let 'un gang onlet 'un
gang on.'


It now became Miss Squeers's turn to intercede with Nicholaswhich
she did with many symptoms of alarm and horror; the effect of the
double intercession wasthat he and John Browdie shook hands across
the table with much gravity; and such was the imposing nature of the
ceremonialthat Miss Squeers was overcome and shed tears.

'What's the matterFanny?' said Miss Price.

'Nothing'Tilda' replied Miss Squeerssobbing.

'There never was any danger' said Miss Price'was thereMr
Nickleby?'

'None at all' replied Nicholas. 'Absurd.'

'That's right' whispered Miss Price'say something kind to her
and she'll soon come round. Here! Shall John and I go into the
little kitchenand come back presently?'

'Not on any account' rejoined Nicholasquite alarmed at the
proposition. 'What on earth should you do that for?'

'Well' said Miss Pricebeckoning him asideand speaking with some
degree of contempt--'you ARE a one to keep company.'

'What do you mean?' said Nicholas; 'I am not a one to keep company
at all--here at all events. I can't make this out.'

'Nonor I neither rejoined Miss Price; 'but men are always
fickle, and always were, and always will be; that I can make out,
very easily.'

'Fickle!' cried Nicholas; 'what do you suppose? You don't mean to
say that you think--'

'Oh no, I think nothing at all,' retorted Miss Price, pettishly.
'Look at her, dressed so beautiful and looking so well--really
ALMOST handsome. I am ashamed at you.'

'My dear girl, what have I got to do with her dressing beautifully
or looking well?' inquired Nicholas.

'Come, don't call me a dear girl,' said Miss Price--smiling a little
though, for she was pretty, and a coquette too in her small way, and
Nicholas was good-looking, and she supposed him the property of
somebody else, which were all reasons why she should be gratified to
think she had made an impression on him,--'or Fanny will be saying
it's my fault. Come; we're going to have a game at cards.'
Pronouncing these last words aloud, she tripped away and rejoined
the big Yorkshireman.

This was wholly unintelligible to Nicholas, who had no other
distinct impression on his mind at the moment, than that Miss
Squeers was an ordinary-looking girl, and her friend Miss Price a
pretty one; but he had not time to enlighten himself by reflection,
for the hearth being by this time swept up, and the candle snuffed,
they sat down to play speculation.

'There are only four of us, 'Tilda,' said Miss Squeers, looking
slyly at Nicholas; 'so we had better go partners, two against two.'

'What do you say, Mr Nickleby?' inquired Miss Price.


'With all the pleasure in life,' replied Nicholas. And so saying,
quite unconscious of his heinous offence, he amalgamated into one
common heap those portions of a Dotheboys Hall card of terms, which
represented his own counters, and those allotted to Miss Price,
respectively.

'Mr Browdie,' said Miss Squeers hysterically, 'shall we make a bank
against them?'

The Yorkshireman assented--apparently quite overwhelmed by the new
usher's impudence--and Miss Squeers darted a spiteful look at her
friend, and giggled convulsively.

The deal fell to Nicholas, and the hand prospered.

'We intend to win everything,' said he.

''Tilda HAS won something she didn't expect, I think, haven't you,
dear?' said Miss Squeers, maliciously.

'Only a dozen and eight, love,' replied Miss Price, affecting to
take the question in a literal sense.

'How dull you are tonight!' sneered Miss Squeers.

'No, indeed,' replied Miss Price, 'I am in excellent spirits. I was
thinking YOU seemed out of sorts.'

'Me!' cried Miss Squeers, biting her lips, and trembling with very
jealousy. 'Oh no!'

'That's well,' remarked Miss Price. 'Your hair's coming out of
curl, dear.'

'Never mind me,' tittered Miss Squeers; 'you had better attend to
your partner.'

'Thank you for reminding her,' said Nicholas. 'So she had.'

The Yorkshireman flattened his nose, once or twice, with his
clenched fist, as if to keep his hand in, till he had an opportunity
of exercising it upon the features of some other gentleman; and Miss
Squeers tossed her head with such indignation, that the gust of wind
raised by the multitudinous curls in motion, nearly blew the candle
out.

'I never had such luck, really,' exclaimed coquettish Miss Price,
after another hand or two. 'It's all along of you, Mr Nickleby, I
think. I should like to have you for a partner always.'

'I wish you had.'

'You'll have a bad wife, though, if you always win at cards,' said
Miss Price.

'Not if your wish is gratified,' replied Nicholas. 'I am sure I
shall have a good one in that case.'

To see how Miss Squeers tossed her head, and the corn-factor
flattened his nose, while this conversation was carrying on! It
would have been worth a small annuity to have beheld that; let alone
Miss Price's evident joy at making them jealous, and Nicholas
Nickleby's happy unconsciousness of making anybody uncomfortable.


'We have all the talking to ourselves, it seems,' said Nicholas,
looking good-humouredly round the table as he took up the cards for
a fresh deal.

'You do it so well,' tittered Miss Squeers, 'that it would be a pity
to interrupt, wouldn't it, Mr Browdie? He! he! he!'

'Nay,' said Nicholas, 'we do it in default of having anybody else to
talk to.'

'We'll talk to you, you know, if you'll say anything,' said Miss
Price.

'Thank you, 'Tilda, dear,' retorted Miss Squeers, majestically.

'Or you can talk to each other, if you don't choose to talk to us,'
said Miss Price, rallying her dear friend. 'John, why don't you say
something?'

'Say summat?' repeated the Yorkshireman.

'Ay, and not sit there so silent and glum.'

'Weel, then!' said the Yorkshireman, striking the table heavily with
his fist, 'what I say's this--Dang my boans and boddy, if I stan'
this ony longer. Do ye gang whoam wi' me, and do yon loight an'
toight young whipster look sharp out for a brokken head, next time
he cums under my hond.'

'Mercy on us, what's all this?' cried Miss Price, in affected
astonishment.

'Cum whoam, tell 'e, cum whoam,' replied the Yorkshireman, sternly.
And as he delivered the reply, Miss Squeers burst into a shower of
tears; arising in part from desperate vexation, and in part from an
impotent desire to lacerate somebody's countenance with her fair
finger-nails.

This state of things had been brought about by divers means and
workings. Miss Squeers had brought it about, by aspiring to the
high state and condition of being matrimonially engaged, without
good grounds for so doing; Miss Price had brought it about, by
indulging in three motives of action: first, a desire to punish her
friend for laying claim to a rivalship in dignity, having no good
title: secondly, the gratification of her own vanity, in receiving
the compliments of a smart young man: and thirdly, a wish to
convince the corn-factor of the great danger he ran, in deferring
the celebration of their expected nuptials; while Nicholas had
brought it about, by half an hour's gaiety and thoughtlessness, and
a very sincere desire to avoid the imputation of inclining at all to
Miss Squeers. So the means employed, and the end produced, were
alike the most natural in the world; for young ladies will look
forward to being married, and will jostle each other in the race to
the altar, and will avail themselves of all opportunities of
displaying their own attractions to the best advantage, down to the
very end of time, as they have done from its beginning.

'Why, and here's Fanny in tears now!' exclaimed Miss Price, as if in
fresh amazement. 'What can be the matter?'

'Oh! you don't know, miss, of course you don't know. Pray don't
trouble yourself to inquire,' said Miss Squeers, producing that
change of countenance which children call making a face.


'Well, I'm sure!' exclaimed Miss Price.

'And who cares whether you are sure or not, ma'am?' retorted Miss
Squeers, making another face.

'You are monstrous polite, ma'am,' said Miss Price.

'I shall not come to you to take lessons in the art, ma'am!'
retorted Miss Squeers.

'You needn't take the trouble to make yourself plainer than you are,
ma'am, however,' rejoined Miss Price, 'because that's quite
unnecessary.'

Miss Squeers, in reply, turned very red, and thanked God that she
hadn't got the bold faces of some people. Miss Price, in rejoinder,
congratulated herself upon not being possessed of the envious
feeling of other people; whereupon Miss Squeers made some general
remark touching the danger of associating with low persons; in which
Miss Price entirely coincided: observing that it was very true
indeed, and she had thought so a long time.

''Tilda,' exclaimed Miss Squeers with dignity, 'I hate you.'

'Ah! There's no love lost between us, I assure you,' said Miss
Price, tying her bonnet strings with a jerk. 'You'll cry your eyes
out, when I'm gone; you know you will.'

'I scorn your words, Minx,' said Miss Squeers.

'You pay me a great compliment when you say so,' answered the
miller's daughter, curtseying very low. 'Wish you a very goodnight,
ma'am, and pleasant dreams attend your sleep!'

With this parting benediction, Miss Price swept from the room,
followed by the huge Yorkshireman, who exchanged with Nicholas, at
parting, that peculiarly expressive scowl with which the cut-andthrust
counts, in melodramatic performances, inform each other they
will meet again.

They were no sooner gone, than Miss Squeers fulfilled the prediction
of her quondam friend by giving vent to a most copious burst of
tears, and uttering various dismal lamentations and incoherent
words. Nicholas stood looking on for a few seconds, rather doubtful
what to do, but feeling uncertain whether the fit would end in his
being embraced, or scratched, and considering that either infliction
would be equally agreeable, he walked off very quietly while Miss
Squeers was moaning in her pocket-handkerchief.

'This is one consequence,' thought Nicholas, when he had groped his
way to the dark sleeping-room, 'of my cursed readiness to adapt
myself to any society in which chance carries me. If I had sat mute
and motionless, as I might have done, this would not have happened.'

He listened for a few minutes, but all was quiet.

'I was glad,' he murmured, 'to grasp at any relief from the sight of
this dreadful place, or the presence of its vile master. I have set
these people by the ears, and made two new enemies, where, Heaven
knows, I needed none. Well, it is a just punishment for having
forgotten, even for an hour, what is around me now!'

So saying, he felt his way among the throng of weary-hearted
sleepers, and crept into his poor bed.


CHAPTER 10

How Mr Ralph Nickleby provided for his Niece and Sister-in-Law

On the second morning after the departure of Nicholas for Yorkshire,
Kate Nickleby sat in a very faded chair raised upon a very dusty
throne in Miss La Creevy's room, giving that lady a sitting for the
portrait upon which she was engaged; and towards the full perfection
of which, Miss La Creevy had had the street-door case brought
upstairs, in order that she might be the better able to infuse into
the counterfeit countenance of Miss Nickleby, a bright salmon fleshtint
which she had originally hit upon while executing the miniature
of a young officer therein contained, and which bright salmon fleshtint
was considered, by Miss La Creevy's chief friends and patrons,
to be quite a novelty in art: as indeed it was.

'I think I have caught it now,' said Miss La Creevy. 'The very
shade! This will be the sweetest portrait I have ever done,
certainly.'

'It will be your genius that makes it so, then, I am sure,' replied
Kate, smiling.

'No, no, I won't allow that, my dear,' rejoined Miss La Creevy.
'It's a very nice subject--a very nice subject, indeed--though, of
course, something depends upon the mode of treatment.'

'And not a little,' observed Kate.

'Why, my dear, you are right there,' said Miss La Creevy, 'in the
main you are right there; though I don't allow that it is of such
very great importance in the present case. Ah! The difficulties of
Art, my dear, are great.'

'They must be, I have no doubt,' said Kate, humouring her goodnatured
little friend.

'They are beyond anything you can form the faintest conception of,'
replied Miss La Creevy. 'What with bringing out eyes with all one's
power, and keeping down noses with all one's force, and adding to
heads, and taking away teeth altogether, you have no idea of the
trouble one little miniature is.'

'The remuneration can scarcely repay you,' said Kate.

'Why, it does not, and that's the truth,' answered Miss La Creevy;
'and then people are so dissatisfied and unreasonable, that, nine
times out of ten, there's no pleasure in painting them. Sometimes
they say, Ohhow very serious you have made me lookMiss La
Creevy!" and at othersLa, Miss La Creevy, how very smirking!
when the very essence of a good portrait isthat it must be either
serious or smirkingor it's no portrait at all.'

'Indeed!' said Katelaughing.

'Certainlymy dear; because the sitters are always either the one
or the other' replied Miss La Creevy. 'Look at the Royal Academy!
All those beautiful shiny portraits of gentlemen in black velvet
waistcoatswith their fists doubled up on round tablesor marble
slabsare seriousyou know; and all the ladies who are playing


with little parasolsor little dogsor little children--it's the
same rule in artonly varying the objects--are smirking. In fact'
said Miss La Creevysinking her voice to a confidential whisper
'there are only two styles of portrait painting; the serious and the
smirk; and we always use the serious for professional people (except
actors sometimes)and the smirk for private ladies and gentlemen
who don't care so much about looking clever.'

Kate seemed highly amused by this informationand Miss La Creevy
went on painting and talkingwith immovable complacency.

'What a number of officers you seem to paint!' said Kateavailing
herself of a pause in the discourseand glancing round the room.

'Number of whatchild?' inquired Miss La Creevylooking up from
her work. 'Character portraitsoh yes--they're not real military
menyou know.'

'No!'

'Bless your heartof course not; only clerks and thatwho hire a
uniform coat to be painted inand send it here in a carpet bag.
Some artists' said Miss La Creevy'keep a red coatand charge
seven-and-sixpence extra for hire and carmine; but I don't do that
myselffor I don't consider it legitimate.'

Drawing herself upas though she plumed herself greatly upon not
resorting to these lures to catch sittersMiss La Creevy applied
herselfmore intentlyto her task: only raising her head
occasionallyto look with unspeakable satisfaction at some touch
she had just put in: and now and then giving Miss Nickleby to
understand what particular feature she was at work uponat the
moment; 'not' she expressly observed'that you should make it up
for paintingmy dearbut because it's our custom sometimes to tell
sitters what part we are uponin order that if there's any
particular expression they want introducedthey may throw it inat
the timeyou know.'

'And when' said Miss La Creevyafter a long silenceto witan
interval of full a minute and a half'when do you expect to see
your uncle again?'

'I scarcely know; I had expected to have seen him before now'
replied Kate. 'Soon I hopefor this state of uncertainty is worse
than anything.'

'I suppose he has moneyhasn't he?' inquired Miss La Creevy.

'He is very richI have heard' rejoined Kate. 'I don't know that
he isbut I believe so.'

'Ahyou may depend upon it he isor he wouldn't be so surly'
remarked Miss La Creevywho was an odd little mixture of shrewdness
and simplicity. 'When a man's a bearhe is generally pretty
independent.'

'His manner is rough' said Kate.

'Rough!' cried Miss La Creevy'a porcupine's a featherbed to him!
I never met with such a cross-grained old savage.'

'It is only his mannerI believe' observed Katetimidly; 'he was
disappointed in early lifeI think I have heardor has had his
temper soured by some calamity. I should be sorry to think ill of


him until I knew he deserved it.'

'Well; that's very right and proper' observed the miniature
painter'and Heaven forbid that I should be the cause of your doing
so! Butnowmightn't hewithout feeling it himselfmake you and
your mama some nice little allowance that would keep you both
comfortable until you were well marriedand be a little fortune to
her afterwards? What would a hundred a year for instancebe to
him?'

'I don't know what it would be to him' said Katewith energy'but
it would be that to me I would rather die than take.'

'Heyday!' cried Miss La Creevy.

'A dependence upon him' said Kate'would embitter my whole life.
I should feel begging a far less degradation.'

'Well!' exclaimed Miss La Creevy. 'This of a relation whom you will
not hear an indifferent person speak ill ofmy dearsounds oddly
enoughI confess.'

'I dare say it does' replied Katespeaking more gently'indeed I
am sure it must. I--I--only mean that with the feelings and
recollection of better times upon meI could not bear to live on
anybody's bounty--not his particularlybut anybody's.'

Miss La Creevy looked slyly at her companionas if she doubted
whether Ralph himself were not the subject of dislikebut seeing
that her young friend was distressedmade no remark.

'I only ask of him' continued Katewhose tears fell while she
spoke'that he will move so little out of his wayin my behalfas
to enable me by his recommendation--only by his recommendation--to
earnliterallymy bread and remain with my mother. Whether we
shall ever taste happiness againdepends upon the fortunes of my
dear brother; but if he will do thisand Nicholas only tells us
that he is well and cheerfulI shall be contented.'

As she ceased to speakthere was a rustling behind the screen which
stood between her and the doorand some person knocked at the
wainscot.'

'Come inwhoever it is!' cried Miss La Creevy.

The person compliedandcoming forward at oncegave to view the
form and features of no less an individual than Mr Ralph Nickleby
himself.

'Your servantladies' said Ralphlooking sharply at them by
turns. 'You were talking so loudthat I was unable to make you
hear.'

When the man of business had a more than commonly vicious snarl
lurking at his hearthe had a trick of almost concealing his eyes
under their thick and protruding browsfor an instantand then
displaying them in their full keenness. As he did so nowand tried
to keep down the smile which parted his thin compressed lipsand
puckered up the bad lines about his mouththey both felt certain
that some partif not the wholeof their recent conversationhad
been overheard.

'I called inon my way upstairsmore than half expecting to find
you here' said Ralphaddressing his nieceand looking


contemptuously at the portrait. 'Is that my niece's portrait
ma'am?'

'Yes it isMr Nickleby' said Miss La Creevywith a very sprightly
air'and between you and me and the postsirit will be a very
nice portrait toothough I say it who am the painter.'

'Don't trouble yourself to show it to mema'am' cried Ralph
moving away'I have no eye for likenesses. Is it nearly finished?'

'Whyyes' replied Miss La Creevyconsidering with the pencil end
of her brush in her mouth. 'Two sittings more will--'

'Have them at oncema'am' said Ralph. 'She'll have no time to
idle over fooleries after tomorrow. Workma'amwork; we must all
work. Have you let your lodgingsma'am?'

'I have not put a bill up yetsir.'

'Put it up at oncema'am; they won't want the rooms after this
weekor if they docan't pay for them. Nowmy dearif you're
readywe'll lose no more time.'

With an assumption of kindness which sat worse upon him even than
his usual mannerMr Ralph Nickleby motioned to the young lady to
precede himand bowing gravely to Miss La Creevyclosed the door
and followed upstairswhere Mrs Nickleby received him with many
expressions of regard. Stopping them somewhat abruptlyRalph waved
his hand with an impatient gestureand proceeded to the object of
his visit.

'I have found a situation for your daughterma'am' said Ralph.

'Well' replied Mrs Nickleby. 'NowI will say that that is only
just what I have expected of you. "Depend upon it I said to Kate,
only yesterday morning at breakfast, that after your uncle has
providedin that most ready mannerfor Nicholashe will not leave
us until he has done at least the same for you." These were my very
wordsas near as I remember. Katemy dearwhy don't you thank
your--'

'Let me proceedma'ampray' said Ralphinterrupting his sisterin-
law in the full torrent of her discourse.

'Katemy lovelet your uncle proceed' said Mrs Nickleby.

'I am most anxious that he shouldmama' rejoined Kate.

'Wellmy dearif you are anxious that he shouldyou had better
allow your uncle to say what he has to saywithout interruption'
observed Mrs Nicklebywith many small nods and frowns. 'Your
uncle's time is very valuablemy dear; and however desirous you may
be--and naturally desirousas I am sure any affectionate relations
who have seen so little of your uncle as we havemust naturally be
to protract the pleasure of having him among usstillwe are
bound not to be selfishbut to take into consideration the
important nature of his occupations in the city.'

'I am very much obliged to youma'am' said Ralph with a scarcely
perceptible sneer. 'An absence of business habits in this family
leadsapparentlyto a great waste of words before business--when
it does come under consideration--is arrived atat all.'

'I fear it is so indeed' replied Mrs Nickleby with a sigh. 'Your


poor brother--'

'My poor brotherma'am' interposed Ralph tartly'had no idea what
business was--was unacquaintedI verily believewith the very
meaning of the word.'

'I fear he was' said Mrs Nicklebywith her handkerchief to her
eyes. 'If it hadn't been for meI don't know what would have
become of him.'

What strange creatures we are! The slight bait so skilfully thrown
out by Ralphon their first interviewwas dangling on the hook
yet. At every small deprivation or discomfort which presented
itself in the course of the four-and-twenty hours to remind her of
her straitened and altered circumstancespeevish visions of her
dower of one thousand pounds had arisen before Mrs Nickleby's mind
untilat lastshe had come to persuade herself that of all her
late husband's creditors she was the worst used and the most to be
pitied. And yetshe had loved him dearly for many yearsand had
no greater share of selfishness than is the usual lot of mortals.
Such is the irritability of sudden poverty. A decent annuity would
have restored her thoughts to their old trainat once.

'Repining is of no usema'am' said Ralph. 'Of all fruitless
errandssending a tear to look after a day that is gone is the most
fruitless.'

'So it is' sobbed Mrs Nickleby. 'So it is.'

'As you feel so keenlyin your own purse and personthe
consequences of inattention to businessma'am' said Ralph'I am
sure you will impress upon your children the necessity of attaching
themselves to it early in life.'

'Of course I must see that' rejoined Mrs Nickleby. 'Sad
experienceyou knowbrother-in-law.--Katemy dearput that down
in the next letter to Nicholasor remind me to do it if I write.'

Ralph paused for a few momentsand seeing that he had now made
pretty sure of the motherin case the daughter objected to his
propositionwent on to say:

'The situation that I have made interest to procurema'amis with
--with a milliner and dressmakerin short.'

'A milliner!' cried Mrs Nickleby.

'A milliner and dressmakerma'am' replied Ralph. 'Dressmakers in
Londonas I need not remind youma'amwho are so well acquainted
with all matters in the ordinary routine of lifemake large
fortuneskeep equipagesand become persons of great wealth and
fortune.'

Nowthe first idea called up in Mrs Nickleby's mind by the words
milliner and dressmaker were connected with certain wicker baskets
lined with black oilskinwhich she remembered to have seen carried
to and fro in the streets; butas Ralph proceededthese
disappearedand were replaced by visions of large houses at the
West endneat private carriagesand a banker's book; all of which
images succeeded each other with such rapiditythat he had no
sooner finished speakingthan she nodded her head and said 'Very
true' with great appearance of satisfaction.

'What your uncle says is very trueKatemy dear' said Mrs


Nickleby. 'I recollect when your poor papa and I came to town after
we were marriedthat a young lady brought me home a chip cottagebonnet
with white and green trimmingand green persian liningin
her own carriagewhich drove up to the door full gallop;--at least
I am not quite certain whether it was her own carriage or a hackney
chariotbut I remember very well that the horse dropped down dead
as he was turning roundand that your poor papa said he hadn't had
any corn for a fortnight.'

This anecdoteso strikingly illustrative of the opulence of
millinerswas not received with any great demonstration of feeling
inasmuch as Kate hung down her head while it was relatingand Ralph
manifested very intelligible symptoms of extreme impatience.

'The lady's name' said Ralphhastily striking in'is Mantalini-Madame
Mantalini. I know her. She lives near Cavendish Square. If
your daughter is disposed to try after the situationI'll take her
there directly.'

'Have you nothing to say to your unclemy love?' inquired Mrs
Nickleby.

'A great deal' replied Kate; 'but not now. I would rather speak to
him when we are alone;--it will save his time if I thank him and say
what I wish to say to himas we walk along.'

With these wordsKate hurried awayto hide the traces of emotion
that were stealing down her faceand to prepare herself for the
walkwhile Mrs Nickleby amused her brother-in-law by giving him
with many tearsa detailed account of the dimensions of a rosewood
cabinet piano they had possessed in their days of affluence
together with a minute description of eight drawing-room chairs
with turned legs and green chintz squabs to match the curtains
which had cost two pounds fifteen shillings apieceand had gone at
the sale for a mere nothing.

These reminiscences were at length cut short by Kate's return in her
walking dresswhen Ralphwho had been fretting and fuming during
the whole time of her absencelost no timeand used very little
ceremonyin descending into the street.

'Now' he saidtaking her arm'walk as fast as you canand you'll
get into the step that you'll have to walk to business withevery
morning.' So sayinghe led Kate offat a good round pacetowards
Cavendish Square.

'I am very much obliged to youuncle' said the young ladyafter
they had hurried on in silence for some time; 'very.'

'I'm glad to hear it' said Ralph. 'I hope you'll do your duty.'

'I will try to pleaseuncle' replied Kate: 'indeed I--'

'Don't begin to cry' growled Ralph; 'I hate crying.'

'It's very foolishI knowuncle' began poor Kate.

'It is' replied Ralphstopping her short'and very affected
besides. Let me see no more of it.'

Perhaps this was not the best way to dry the tears of a young and
sensitive femaleabout to make her first entry on an entirely new
scene of lifeamong cold and uninterested strangers; but it had its
effect notwithstanding. Kate coloured deeplybreathed quickly for


a few momentsand then walked on with a firmer and more determined
step.

It was a curious contrast to see how the timid country girl shrunk
through the crowd that hurried up and down the streetsgiving way
to the press of peopleand clinging closely to Ralph as though she
feared to lose him in the throng; and how the stern and hardfeatured
man of business went doggedly onelbowing the passengers
asideand now and then exchanging a gruff salutation with some
passing acquaintancewho turned to look back upon his pretty
chargewith looks expressive of surpriseand seemed to wonder at
the ill-assorted companionship. Butit would have been a stranger
contrast stillto have read the hearts that were beating side by
side; to have laid bare the gentle innocence of the oneand the
rugged villainy of the other; to have hung upon the guileless
thoughts of the affectionate girland been amazed thatamong all
the wily plots and calculations of the old manthere should not be
one word or figure denoting thought of death or of the grave. But
so it was; and stranger still--though this is a thing of every day-the
warm young heart palpitated with a thousand anxieties and
apprehensionswhile that of the old worldly man lay rusting in its
cellbeating only as a piece of cunning mechanismand yielding no
one throb of hopeor fearor loveor carefor any living thing.

'Uncle' said Katewhen she judged they must be near their
destination'I must ask one question of you. I am to live at
home?'

'At home!' replied Ralph; 'where's that?'

'I mean with my mother--THE WIDOW' said Kate emphatically.

'You will liveto all intents and purposeshere' rejoined Ralph;
'for here you will take your mealsand here you will be from
morning till night--occasionally perhaps till morning again.'

'But at nightI mean' said Kate; 'I cannot leave heruncle. I
must have some place that I can call a home; it will be wherever she
isyou knowand may be a very humble one.'

'May be!' said Ralphwalking fasterin the impatience provoked by
the remark; 'must beyou mean. May be a humble one! Is the girl
mad?'

'The word slipped from my lipsI did not mean it indeed' urged
Kate.

'I hope not' said Ralph.

'But my questionuncle; you have not answered it.'

'WhyI anticipated something of the kind' said Ralph; 'and--though
I object very stronglymind--have provided against it. I spoke of
you as an out-of-door worker; so you will go to this home that may
be humbleevery night.'

There was comfort in this. Kate poured forth many thanks for her
uncle's considerationwhich Ralph received as if he had deserved
them alland they arrived without any further conversation at the
dressmaker's doorwhich displayed a very large platewith Madame
Mantalini's name and occupationand was approached by a handsome
flight of steps. There was a shop to the housebut it was let off
to an importer of otto of roses. Madame Mantalini's shows-rooms
were on the first-floor: a fact which was notified to the nobility


and gentry by the casual exhibitionnear the handsomely curtained
windowsof two or three elegant bonnets of the newest fashionand
some costly garments in the most approved taste.

A liveried footman opened the doorand in reply to Ralph's inquiry
whether Madame Mantalini was at homeushered themthrough a
handsome hall and up a spacious staircaseinto the show saloon
which comprised two spacious drawing-roomsand exhibited an immense
variety of superb dresses and materials for dresses: some arranged
on standsothers laid carelessly on sofasand others again
scattered over the carpethanging on the cheval-glassesor
minglingin some other waywith the rich furniture of various
descriptionswhich was profusely displayed.

They waited here a much longer time than was agreeable to Mr Ralph
Nicklebywho eyed the gaudy frippery about him with very little
concernand was at length about to pull the bellwhen a gentleman
suddenly popped his head into the roomandseeing somebody there
as suddenly popped it out again.

'Here. Hollo!' cried Ralph. 'Who's that?'

At the sound of Ralph's voicethe head reappearedand the mouth
displaying a very long row of very white teethuttered in a mincing
tone the words'Demmit. WhatNickleby! ohdemmit!' Having
uttered which ejaculationsthe gentleman advancedand shook hands
with Ralphwith great warmth. He was dressed in a gorgeous morning
gownwith a waistcoat and Turkish trousers of the same patterna
pink silk neckerchiefand bright green slippersand had a very
copious watch-chain wound round his body. Moreoverhe had whiskers
and a moustacheboth dyed black and gracefully curled.

'Demmityou don't mean to say you want medo youdemmit?' said
this gentlemansmiting Ralph on the shoulder.

'Not yet' said Ralphsarcastically.

'Ha! ha! demmit' cried the gentleman; whenwheeling round to laugh
with greater elegancehe encountered Kate Nicklebywho was
standing near.

'My niece' said Ralph.

'I remember' said the gentlemanstriking his nose with the knuckle
of his forefinger as a chastening for his forgetfulness. 'DemmitI
remember what you come for. Step this wayNickleby; my dearwill
you follow me? Ha! ha! They all follow meNickleby; always did
demmitalways.'

Giving loose to the playfulness of his imaginationafter this
fashionthe gentleman led the way to a private sitting-room on the
second floorscarcely less elegantly furnished than the apartment
belowwhere the presence of a silver coffee-potan egg-shelland
sloppy china for oneseemed to show that he had just breakfasted.

'Sit downmy dear' said the gentleman: first staring Miss Nickleby
out of countenanceand then grinning in delight at the achievement.
'This cursed high room takes one's breath away. These infernal sky
parlours--I'm afraid I must moveNickleby.'

'I wouldby all means' replied Ralphlooking bitterly round.

'What a demd rum fellow you areNickleby' said the gentleman'the
demdestlongest-headedqueerest-tempered old coiner of gold and


silver ever was--demmit.'

Having complimented Ralph to this effectthe gentleman rang the
belland stared at Miss Nickleby until it was answeredwhen he
left off to bid the man desire his mistress to come directly; after
whichhe began againand left off no more until Madame Mantalini
appeared.

The dressmaker was a buxom personhandsomely dressed and rather
good-lookingbut much older than the gentleman in the Turkish
trouserswhom she had wedded some six months before. His name was
originally Muntle; but it had been convertedby an easy transition
into Mantalini: the lady rightly considering that an English
appellation would be of serious injury to the business. He had
married on his whiskers; upon which property he had previously
subsistedin a genteel mannerfor some years; and which he had
recently improvedafter patient cultivation by the addition of a
moustachewhich promised to secure him an easy independence: his
share in the labours of the business being at present confined to
spending the moneyand occasionallywhen that ran shortdriving
to Mr Ralph Nickleby to procure discount--at a percentage--for the
customers' bills.

'My life' said Mr Mantalini'what a demd devil of a time you have
been!'

'I didn't even know Mr Nickleby was heremy love' said Madame
Mantalini.

'Then what a doubly demd infernal rascal that footman must bemy
soul' remonstrated Mr Mantalini.

'My dear' said Madame'that is entirely your fault.'

'My faultmy heart's joy?'

'Certainly' returned the lady; 'what can you expectdearestif
you will not correct the man?'

'Correct the manmy soul's delight!'

'Yes; I am sure he wants speaking tobadly enough' said Madame
pouting.

'Then do not vex itself' said Mr Mantalini; 'he shall be horsewhipped
till he cries out demnebly.' With this promise Mr Mantalini
kissed Madame Mantaliniandafter that performanceMadame
Mantalini pulled Mr Mantalini playfully by the ear: which donethey
descended to business.

'Nowma'am' said Ralphwho had looked onat all thiswith such
scorn as few men can express in looks'this is my niece.'

'Just soMr Nickleby' replied Madame Mantalinisurveying Kate
from head to footand back again. 'Can you speak Frenchchild?'

'Yesma'am' replied Katenot daring to look up; for she felt that
the eyes of the odious man in the dressing-gown were directed
towards her.

'Like a demd native?' asked the husband.

Miss Nickleby offered no reply to this inquirybut turned her back
upon the questioneras if addressing herself to make answer to what


his wife might demand.

'We keep twenty young women constantly employed in the
establishment' said Madame.

'Indeedma'am!' replied Katetimidly.

'Yes; and some of 'em demd handsometoo' said the master.

'Mantalini!' exclaimed his wifein an awful voice.

'My senses' idol!' said Mantalini.

'Do you wish to break my heart?'

'Not for twenty thousand hemispheres populated with--with--with
little ballet-dancers' replied Mantalini in a poetical strain.

'Then you willif you persevere in that mode of speaking' said his
wife. 'What can Mr Nickleby think when he hears you?'

'Oh! Nothingma'amnothing' replied Ralph. 'I know his amiable
natureand yours--mere little remarks that give a zest to your
daily intercourse--lovers' quarrels that add sweetness to those
domestic joys which promise to last so long--that's all; that's
all.'

If an iron door could be supposed to quarrel with its hingesand to
make a firm resolution to open with slow obstinacyand grind them
to powder in the processit would emit a pleasanter sound in so
doingthan did these words in the rough and bitter voice in which
they were uttered by Ralph. Even Mr Mantalini felt their influence
and turning affrighted roundexclaimed: 'What a demd horrid
croaking!'

'You will pay no attentionif you pleaseto what Mr Mantalini
says' observed his wifeaddressing Miss Nickleby.

'I do notma'am' said Katewith quiet contempt.

'Mr Mantalini knows nothing whatever about any of the young women'
continued Madamelooking at her husbandand speaking to Kate. 'If
he has seen any of themhe must have seen them in the streetgoing
toor returning fromtheir workand not here. He was never even
in the room. I do not allow it. What hours of work have you been
accustomed to?'

'I have never yet been accustomed to work at allma'am' replied
Katein a low voice.

'For which reason she'll work all the better now' said Ralph
putting in a wordlest this confession should injure the
negotiation.

'I hope so' returned Madame Mantalini; 'our hours are from nine to
ninewith extra work when we're very full of businessfor which I
allow payment as overtime.'

Kate bowed her headto intimate that she heardand was satisfied.

'Your meals' continued Madame Mantalini'that isdinner and tea
you will take here. I should think your wages would average from
five to seven shillings a week; but I can't give you any certain
information on that pointuntil I see what you can do.'


Kate bowed her head again.

'If you're ready to come' said Madame Mantalini'you had better
begin on Monday morning at nine exactlyand Miss Knag the forewoman
shall then have directions to try you with some easy work at first.
Is there anything moreMr Nickleby?'

'Nothing morema'am' replied Ralphrising.

'Then I believe that's all' said the lady. Having arrived at this
natural conclusionshe looked at the dooras if she wished to be
gonebut hesitated notwithstandingas though unwilling to leave to
Mr Mantalini the sole honour of showing them downstairs. Ralph
relieved her from her perplexity by taking his departure without
delay: Madame Mantalini making many gracious inquiries why he never
came to see them; and Mr Mantalini anathematising the stairs with
great volubility as he followed them downin the hope of inducing
Kate to look round--a hopehoweverwhich was destined to remain
ungratified.

'There!' said Ralph when they got into the street; 'now you're
provided for.'

Kate was about to thank him againbut he stopped her.

'I had some idea' he said'of providing for your mother in a
pleasant part of the country--(he had a presentation to some
almshouses on the borders of Cornwallwhich had occurred to him
more than once)--but as you want to be togetherI must do something
else for her. She has a little money?'

'A very little' replied Kate.

'A little will go a long way if it's used sparingly' said Ralph.
'She must see how long she can make it lastliving rent free. You
leave your lodgings on Saturday?'

'You told us to do souncle.'

'Yes; there is a house empty that belongs to mewhich I can put you
into till it is letand thenif nothing else turns upperhaps I
shall have another. You must live there.'

'Is it far from heresir?' inquired Kate.

'Pretty well' said Ralph; 'in another quarter of the town--at the
East end; but I'll send my clerk down to youat five o'clock on
Saturdayto take you there. Goodbye. You know your way? Straight
on.'

Coldly shaking his niece's handRalph left her at the top of Regent
Streetand turned down a by-thoroughfareintent on schemes of
money-getting. Kate walked sadly back to their lodgings in the
Strand.

CHAPTER 11

Newman Noggs inducts Mrs and Miss Nickleby into their New Dwelling
in the City


Miss Nickleby's reflectionsas she wended her way homewardswere
of that desponding nature which the occurrences of the morning had
been sufficiently calculated to awaken. Her uncle's was not a
manner likely to dispel any doubts or apprehensions she might have
formedin the outsetneither was the glimpse she had had of Madame
Mantalini's establishment by any means encouraging. It was with
many gloomy forebodings and misgivingsthereforethat she looked
forwardwith a heavy heartto the opening of her new career.

If her mother's consolations could have restored her to a pleasanter
and more enviable state of mindthere were abundance of them to
produce the effect. By the time Kate reached homethe good lady
had called to mind two authentic cases of milliners who had been
possessed of considerable propertythough whether they had acquired
it all in businessor had had a capital to start withor had been
lucky and married to advantageshe could not exactly remember.
Howeveras she very logically remarkedthere must have been SOME
young person in that way of business who had made a fortune without
having anything to begin withand that being taken for grantedwhy
should not Kate do the same? Miss La Creevywho was a member of
the little councilventured to insinuate some doubts relative to
the probability of Miss Nickleby's arriving at this happy
consummation in the compass of an ordinary lifetime; but the good
lady set that question entirely at restby informing them that she
had a presentiment on the subject--a species of second-sight with
which she had been in the habit of clenching every argument with the
deceased Mr Nicklebyandin nine cases and three-quarters out of
every tendetermining it the wrong way.

'I am afraid it is an unhealthy occupation' said Miss La Creevy.
'I recollect getting three young milliners to sit to mewhen I
first began to paintand I remember that they were all very pale
and sickly.'

'Oh! that's not a general rule by any means' observed Mrs Nickleby;
'for I rememberas well as if it was only yesterdayemploying one
that I was particularly recommended toto make me a scarlet cloak
at the time when scarlet cloaks were fashionableand she had a very
red face--a very red faceindeed.'

'Perhaps she drank' suggested Miss La Creevy.

'I don't know how that may have been' returned Mrs Nickleby: 'but I
know she had a very red faceso your argument goes for nothing.'

In this mannerand with like powerful reasoningdid the worthy
matron meet every little objection that presented itself to the new
scheme of the morning. Happy Mrs Nickleby! A project had but to be
newand it came home to her mindbrightly varnished and gilded as
a glittering toy.

This question disposed ofKate communicated her uncle's desire
about the empty houseto which Mrs Nickleby assented with equal
readinesscharacteristically remarkingthaton the fine evenings
it would be a pleasant amusement for her to walk to the West end to
fetch her daughter home; and no less characteristically forgetting
that there were such things as wet nights and bad weather to be
encountered in almost every week of the year.

'I shall be sorry--truly sorry to leave youmy kind friend' said
Kateon whom the good feeling of the poor miniature painter had
made a deep impression.

'You shall not shake me offfor all that' replied Miss La Creevy


with as much sprightliness as she could assume. 'I shall see you
very oftenand come and hear how you get on; and ifin all London
or all the wide world besidesthere is no other heart that takes an
interest in your welfarethere will be one little lonely woman that
prays for it night and day.'

With thisthe poor soulwho had a heart big enough for Gogthe
guardian genius of Londonand enough to spare for Magog to boot
after making a great many extraordinary faces which would have
secured her an ample fortunecould she have transferred them to
ivory or canvassat down in a cornerand had what she termed 'a
real good cry.'

But no cryingor talkingor hopingor fearingcould keep off the
dreaded Saturday afternoonor Newman Noggs either; whopunctual to
his timelimped up to the doorand breathed a whiff of cordial gin
through the keyholeexactly as such of the church clocks in the
neighbourhood as agreed among themselves about the timestruck
five. Newman waited for the last strokeand then knocked.

'From Mr Ralph Nickleby' said Newmanannouncing his errandwhen
he got upstairswith all possible brevity.

'We shall be ready directly' said Kate. 'We have not much to
carrybut I fear we must have a coach.'

'I'll get one' replied Newman.

'Indeed you shall not trouble yourself' said Mrs Nickleby.

'I will' said Newman.

'I can't suffer you to think of such a thing' said Mrs Nickleby.

'You can't help it' said Newman.

'Not help it!'

'No; I thought of it as I came along; but didn't get onethinking
you mightn't be ready. I think of a great many things. Nobody can
prevent that.'

'Oh yesI understand youMr Noggs' said Mrs Nickleby. 'Our
thoughts are freeof course. Everybody's thoughts are their own
clearly.'

'They wouldn't beif some people had their way' muttered Newman.

'Wellno more they wouldMr Noggsand that's very true' rejoined
Mrs Nickleby. 'Some people to be sure are such--how's your master?'

Newman darted a meaning glance at Kateand replied with a strong
emphasis on the last word of his answerthat Mr Ralph Nickleby was
welland sent his LOVE.

'I am sure we are very much obliged to him' observed Mrs Nickleby.

'Very' said Newman. 'I'll tell him so.'

It was no very easy matter to mistake Newman Noggsafter having
once seen himand as Kateattracted by the singularity of his
manner (in which on this occasionhoweverthere was something
respectful and even delicatenotwithstanding the abruptness of his
speech)looked at him more closelyshe recollected having caught a


passing glimpse of that strange figure before.

'Excuse my curiosity' she said'but did I not see you in the
coachyardon the morning my brother went away to Yorkshire?'

Newman cast a wistful glance on Mrs Nickleby and said 'No' most
unblushingly.

'No!' exclaimed Kate'I should have said so anywhere.'

'You'd have said wrong' rejoined Newman. 'It's the first time I've
been out for three weeks. I've had the gout.'

Newman was veryvery far from having the appearance of a gouty
subjectand so Kate could not help thinking; but the conference was
cut short by Mrs Nickleby's insisting on having the door shutlest
Mr Noggs should take coldand further persisting in sending the
servant girl for a coachfor fear he should bring on another attack
of his disorder. To both conditionsNewman was compelled to yield.
Presentlythe coach came; andafter many sorrowful farewellsand
a great deal of running backwards and forwards across the pavement
on the part of Miss La Creevyin the course of which the yellow
turban came into violent contact with sundry foot-passengersit
(that is to say the coachnot the turban) went away againwith the
two ladies and their luggage inside; and Newmandespite all Mrs
Nickleby's assurances that it would be his death--on the box beside
the driver.

They went into the cityturning down by the river side; andafter
a long and very slow drivethe streets being crowded at that hour
with vehicles of every kindstopped in front of a large old dingy
house in Thames Street: the door and windows of which were so
bespattered with mudthat it would have appeared to have been
uninhabited for years.

The door of this deserted mansion Newman opened with a key which he
took out of his hat--in whichby-the-byein consequence of the
dilapidated state of his pocketshe deposited everythingand would
most likely have carried his money if he had had any--and the coach
being dischargedhe led the way into the interior of the mansion.

Oldand gloomyand blackin truth it wasand sullen and dark
were the roomsonce so bustling with life and enterprise. There
was a wharf behindopening on the Thames. An empty dog-kennel
some bones of animalsfragments of iron hoopsand staves of old
caskslay strewn aboutbut no life was stirring there. It was a
picture of coldsilent decay.

'This house depresses and chills one' said Kate'and seems as if
some blight had fallen on it. If I were superstitiousI should be
almost inclined to believe that some dreadful crime had been
perpetrated within these old wallsand that the place had never
prospered since. How frowning and how dark it looks!'

'Lordmy dear' replied Mrs Nickleby'don't talk in that wayor
you'll frighten me to death.'

'It is only my foolish fancymama' said Kateforcing a smile.

'Wellthenmy loveI wish you would keep your foolish fancy to
yourselfand not wake up MY foolish fancy to keep it company'
retorted Mrs Nickleby. 'Why didn't you think of all this before-you
are so careless--we might have asked Miss La Creevy to keep us
company or borrowed a dogor a thousand things--but it always was


the wayand was just the same with your poor dear father. Unless I
thought of everything--' This was Mrs Nickleby's usual commencement
of a general lamentationrunning through a dozen or so of
complicated sentences addressed to nobody in particularand into
which she now launched until her breath was exhausted.

Newman appeared not to hear these remarksbut preceded them to a
couple of rooms on the first floorwhich some kind of attempt had
been made to render habitable. In onewere a few chairsa table
an old hearth-rugand some faded baize; and a fire was ready laid
in the grate. In the other stood an old tent bedsteadand a few
scanty articles of chamber furniture.

'Wellmy dear' said Mrs Nicklebytrying to be pleased'now isn't
this thoughtful and considerate of your uncle? Whywe should not
have had anything but the bed we bought yesterdayto lie down upon
if it hadn't been for his thoughtfulness!'

'Very kindindeed' replied Katelooking round.

Newman Noggs did not say that he had hunted up the old furniture
they sawfrom attic and cellar; or that he had taken in the
halfpennyworth of milk for tea that stood upon a shelfor filled
the rusty kettle on the hobor collected the woodchips from the
wharfor begged the coals. But the notion of Ralph Nickleby having
directed it to be donetickled his fancy so muchthat he could not
refrain from cracking all his ten fingers in succession: at which
performance Mrs Nickleby was rather startled at firstbut supposing
it to be in some remote manner connected with the goutdid not
remark upon.

'We need detain you no longerI think' said Kate.

'Is there nothing I can do?' asked Newman.

'Nothingthank you' rejoined Miss Nickleby.

'Perhapsmy dearMr Noggs would like to drink our healths' said
Mrs Nicklebyfumbling in her reticule for some small coin.

'I thinkmama' said Kate hesitatingand remarking Newman's
averted face'you would hurt his feelings if you offered it.'

Newman Noggsbowing to the young lady more like a gentleman than
the miserable wretch he seemedplaced his hand upon his breast
andpausing for a momentwith the air of a man who struggles to
speak but is uncertain what to sayquitted the room.

As the jarring echoes of the heavy house-doorclosing on its latch
reverberated dismally through the buildingKate felt half tempted
to call him backand beg him to remain a little while; but she was
ashamed to own her fearsand Newman Noggs was on his road homewards.

CHAPTER 12

Whereby the Reader will be enabled to trace the further course of
Miss Fanny Squeer's Loveand to ascertain whether it ran smooth or
otherwise.

It was a fortunate circumstance for Miss Fanny Squeersthat when
her worthy papa returned home on the night of the small tea-party


he was what the initiated term 'too far gone' to observe the
numerous tokens of extreme vexation of spirit which were plainly
visible in her countenance. Beinghoweverof a rather violent and
quarrelsome mood in his cupsit is not impossible that he might
have fallen out with hereither on this or some imaginary topicif
the young lady had notwith a foresight and prudence highly
commendablekept a boy upon purposeto bear the first brunt of
the good gentleman's anger; whichhaving vented itself in a variety
of kicks and cuffssubsided sufficiently to admit of his being
persuaded to go to bed. Which he did with his boots onand an
umbrella under his arm.

The hungry servant attended Miss Squeers in her own room according
to customto curl her hairperform the other little offices of her
toiletand administer as much flattery as she could get upfor the
purpose; for Miss Squeers was quite lazy enough (and sufficiently
vain and frivolous withal) to have been a fine lady; and it was only
the arbitrary distinctions of rank and station which prevented her
from being one.

'How lovely your hair do curl tonightmiss!' said the handmaiden.
'I declare if it isn't a pity and a shame to brush it out!'

'Hold your tongue!' replied Miss Squeers wrathfully.

Some considerable experience prevented the girl from being at all
surprised at any outbreak of ill-temper on the part of Miss Squeers.
Having a half-perception of what had occurred in the course of the
eveningshe changed her mode of making herself agreeableand
proceeded on the indirect tack.

'WellI couldn't help sayingmissif you was to kill me for it'
said the attendant'that I never see nobody look so vulgar as Miss
Price this night.'

Miss Squeers sighedand composed herself to listen.

'I know it's very wrong in me to say somiss' continued the girl
delighted to see the impression she was making'Miss Price being a
friend of your'nand all; but she do dress herself out soand go on
in such a manner to get noticedthat--oh--wellif people only saw
themselves!'

'What do you meanPhib?' asked Miss Squeerslooking in her own
little glasswherelike most of usshe saw--not herselfbut the
reflection of some pleasant image in her own brain. 'How you talk!'

'Talkmiss! It's enough to make a Tom cat talk French grammar
only to see how she tosses her head' replied the handmaid.

'She DOES toss her head' observed Miss Squeerswith an air of
abstraction.

'So vainand so very--very plain' said the girl.

'Poor 'Tilda!' sighed Miss Squeerscompassionately.

'And always laying herself out soto get to be admired' pursued
the servant. 'Ohdear! It's positive indelicate.'

'I can't allow you to talk in that wayPhib' said Miss Squeers.
''Tilda's friends are low peopleand if she don't know any better
it's their faultand not hers.'


'Wellbut you knowmiss' said Phoebefor which name 'Phib' was
used as a patronising abbreviation'if she was only to take copy by
a friend--oh! if she only knew how wrong she wasand would but set
herself right by youwhat a nice young woman she might be in time!'

'Phib' rejoined Miss Squeerswith a stately air'it's not proper
for me to hear these comparisons drawn; they make 'Tilda look a
coarse improper sort of personand it seems unfriendly in me to
listen to them. I would rather you dropped the subjectPhib; at
the same timeI must saythat if 'Tilda Price would take pattern
by somebody--not me particularly--'

'Oh yes; youmiss' interposed Phib.

'WellmePhibif you will have it so' said Miss Squeers. 'I
must saythat if she wouldshe would be all the better for it.'

'So somebody else thinksor I am much mistaken' said the girl
mysteriously.

'What do you mean?' demanded Miss Squeers.

'Never mindmiss' replied the girl; 'I know what I know; that's
all.'

'Phib' said Miss Squeers dramatically'I insist upon your
explaining yourself. What is this dark mystery? Speak.'

'Whyif you will have itmissit's this' said the servant girl.
'Mr John Browdie thinks as you think; and if he wasn't too far gone
to do it creditablehe'd be very glad to be off with Miss Price
and on with Miss Squeers.'

'Gracious heavens!' exclaimed Miss Squeersclasping her hands with
great dignity. 'What is this?'

'Truthma'amand nothing but truth' replied the artful Phib.

'What a situation!' cried Miss Squeers; 'on the brink of
unconsciously destroying the peace and happiness of my own 'Tilda.
What is the reason that men fall in love with mewhether I like it
or notand desert their chosen intendeds for my sake?'

'Because they can't help itmiss' replied the girl; 'the reason's
plain.' (If Miss Squeers were the reasonit was very plain.)

'Never let me hear of it again' retorted Miss Squeers. 'Never! Do
you hear? 'Tilda Price has faults--many faults--but I wish her
welland above all I wish her married; for I think it highly
desirable--most desirable from the very nature of her failings--that
she should be married as soon as possible. NoPhib. Let her have
Mr Browdie. I may pity HIMpoor fellow; but I have a great regard
for 'Tildaand only hope she may make a better wife than I think
she will.'

With this effusion of feelingMiss Squeers went to bed.

Spite is a little word; but it represents as strange a jumble of
feelingsand compound of discordsas any polysyllable in the
language. Miss Squeers knew as well in her heart of hearts that
what the miserable serving-girl had said was sheercoarselying
flatteryas did the girl herself; yet the mere opportunity of
venting a little ill-nature against the offending Miss Priceand
affecting to compassionate her weaknesses and foiblesthough only


in the presence of a solitary dependantwas almost as great a
relief to her spleen as if the whole had been gospel truth. Nay
more. We have such extraordinary powers of persuasion when they are
exerted over ourselvesthat Miss Squeers felt quite high-minded and
great after her noble renunciation of John Browdie's handand
looked down upon her rival with a kind of holy calmness and
tranquillitythat had a mighty effect in soothing her ruffled
feelings.

This happy state of mind had some influence in bringing about a
reconciliation; forwhen a knock came at the front-door next day
and the miller's daughter was announcedMiss Squeers betook herself
to the parlour in a Christian frame of spiritperfectly beautiful
to behold.

'WellFanny' said the miller's daughter'you see I have come to
see youalthough we HAD some words last night.'

'I pity your bad passions'Tilda' replied Miss Squeers'but I
bear no malice. I am above it.'

'Don't be crossFanny' said Miss Price. 'I have come to tell you
something that I know will please you.'

'What may that be'Tilda?' demanded Miss Squeers; screwing up her
lipsand looking as if nothing in earthairfireor watercould
afford her the slightest gleam of satisfaction.

'This' rejoined Miss Price. 'After we left here last night John
and I had a dreadful quarrel.'

'That doesn't please me' said Miss Squeers--relaxing into a smile
though.

'Lor! I wouldn't think so bad of you as to suppose it did'
rejoined her companion. 'That's not it.'

'Oh!' said Miss Squeersrelapsing into melancholy. 'Go on.'

'After a great deal of wranglingand saying we would never see each
other any more' continued Miss Price'we made it upand this
morning John went and wrote our names down to be put upfor the
first timenext Sundayso we shall be married in three weeksand
I give you notice to get your frock made.'

There was mingled gall and honey in this intelligence. The prospect
of the friend's being married so soon was the galland the
certainty of her not entertaining serious designs upon Nicholas was
the honey. Upon the wholethe sweet greatly preponderated over the
bitterso Miss Squeers said she would get the frock madeand that
she hoped 'Tilda might be happythough at the same time she didn't
knowand would not have her build too much upon itfor men were
strange creaturesand a great many married women were very
miserableand wished themselves single again with all their hearts;
to which condolences Miss Squeers added others equally calculated to
raise her friend's spirits and promote her cheerfulness of mind.

'But come nowFanny' said Miss Price'I want to have a word or
two with you about young Mr Nickleby.'

'He is nothing to me' interrupted Miss Squeerswith hysterical
symptoms. 'I despise him too much!'

'Ohyou don't mean thatI am sure?' replied her friend. 'Confess


Fanny; don't you like him now?'

Without returning any direct replyMiss Squeersall at oncefell
into a paroxysm of spiteful tearsand exclaimed that she was a
wretchedneglectedmiserable castaway.

'I hate everybody' said Miss Squeers'and I wish that everybody
was dead--that I do.'

'Deardear' said Miss Pricequite moved by this avowal of
misanthropical sentiments. 'You are not seriousI am sure.'

'YesI am' rejoined Miss Squeerstying tight knots in her pockethandkerchief
and clenching her teeth. 'And I wish I was dead too.
There!'

'Oh! you'll think very differently in another five minutes' said
Matilda. 'How much better to take him into favour againthan to
hurt yourself by going on in that way. Wouldn't it be much nicer
nowto have him all to yourself on good termsin a companykeeping
love-makingpleasant sort of manner?'

'I don't know but what it would' sobbed Miss Squeers. 'Oh!
'Tildahow could you have acted so mean and dishonourable! I
wouldn't have believed it of youif anybody had told me.'

'Heyday!' exclaimed Miss Pricegiggling. 'One would suppose I had
been murdering somebody at least.'

'Very nigh as bad' said Miss Squeers passionately.

'And all this because I happen to have enough of good looks to make
people civil to me' cried Miss Price. 'Persons don't make their
own facesand it's no more my fault if mine is a good one than it
is other people's fault if theirs is a bad one.'

'Hold your tongue' shrieked Miss Squeersin her shrillest tone;
'or you'll make me slap you'Tildaand afterwards I should be
sorry for it!'

It is needless to saythatby this timethe temper of each young
lady was in some slight degree affected by the tone of her
conversationand that a dash of personality was infused into the
altercationin consequence. Indeedthe quarrelfrom slight
beginningsrose to a considerable heightand was assuming a very
violent complexionwhen both partiesfalling into a great passion
of tearsexclaimed simultaneouslythat they had never thought of
being spoken to in that way: which exclamationleading to a
remonstrancegradually brought on an explanation: and the upshot
wasthat they fell into each other's arms and vowed eternal
friendship; the occasion in question making the fifty-second time of
repeating the same impressive ceremony within a twelvemonth.

Perfect amicability being thus restoreda dialogue naturally ensued
upon the number and nature of the garments which would be
indispensable for Miss Price's entrance into the holy state of
matrimonywhen Miss Squeers clearly showed that a great many more
than the miller couldor wouldaffordwere absolutely necessary
and could not decently be dispensed with. The young lady thenby
an easy digressionled the discourse to her own wardrobeand after
recounting its principal beauties at some lengthtook her friend
upstairs to make inspection thereof. The treasures of two drawers
and a closet having been displayedand all the smaller articles
tried onit was time for Miss Price to return home; and as she had


been in raptures with all the frocksand had been stricken quite
dumb with admiration of a new pink scarfMiss Squeers said in high
good humourthat she would walk part of the way with herfor the
pleasure of her company; and off they went together: Miss Squeers
dilatingas they walked alongupon her father's accomplishments:
and multiplying his income by tento give her friend some faint
notion of the vast importance and superiority of her family.

It happened that that particular timecomprising the short daily
interval which was suffered to elapse between what was pleasantly
called the dinner of Mr Squeers's pupilsand their return to the
pursuit of useful knowledgewas precisely the hour when Nicholas
was accustomed to issue forth for a melancholy walkand to brood
as he sauntered listlessly through the villageupon his miserable
lot. Miss Squeers knew this perfectly wellbut had perhaps
forgotten itfor when she caught sight of that young gentleman
advancing towards themshe evinced many symptoms of surprise and
consternationand assured her friend that she 'felt fit to drop
into the earth.'

'Shall we turn backor run into a cottage?' asked Miss Price. 'He
don't see us yet.'

'No'Tilda' replied Miss Squeers'it is my duty to go through
with itand I will!'

As Miss Squeers said thisin the tone of one who has made a high
moral resolutionand wasbesidestaken with one or two chokes and
catchings of breathindicative of feelings at a high pressureher
friend made no further remarkand they bore straight down upon
Nicholaswhowalking with his eyes bent upon the groundwas not
aware of their approach until they were close upon him; otherwise
he mightperhapshave taken shelter himself.

'Good-morning' said Nicholasbowing and passing by.

'He is going' murmured Miss Squeers. 'I shall choke'Tilda.'

'Come backMr Nicklebydo!' cried Miss Priceaffecting alarm at
her friend's threatbut really actuated by a malicious wish to hear
what Nicholas would say; 'come backMr Nickleby!'

Mr Nickleby came backand looked as confused as might beas he
inquired whether the ladies had any commands for him.

'Don't stop to talk' urged Miss Pricehastily; 'but support her on
the other side. How do you feel nowdear?'

'Better' sighed Miss Squeerslaying a beaver bonnet of a reddish
brown with a green veil attachedon Mr Nickleby's shoulder. 'This
foolish faintness!'

'Don't call it foolishdear' said Miss Price: her bright eye
dancing with merriment as she saw the perplexity of Nicholas; 'you
have no reason to be ashamed of it. It's those who are too proud to
come round againwithout all this to-dothat ought to be ashamed.'

'You are resolved to fix it upon meI see' said Nicholassmiling
'although I told youlast nightit was not my fault.'

'There; he says it was not his faultmy dear' remarked the wicked
Miss Price. 'Perhaps you were too jealousor too hasty with him?
He says it was not his fault. You hear; I think that's apology
enough.'


'You will not understand me' said Nicholas. 'Pray dispense with
this jestingfor I have no timeand really no inclinationto be
the subject or promoter of mirth just now.'

'What do you mean?' asked Miss Priceaffecting amazement.

'Don't ask him'Tilda' cried Miss Squeers; 'I forgive him.'

'Dear me' said Nicholasas the brown bonnet went down on his
shoulder again'this is more serious than I supposed. Allow me!
Will you have the goodness to hear me speak?'

Here he raised up the brown bonnetand regarding with most
unfeigned astonishment a look of tender reproach from Miss Squeers
shrunk back a few paces to be out of the reach of the fair burden
and went on to say:

'I am very sorry--truly and sincerely sorry--for having been the
cause of any difference among youlast night. I reproach myself
most bitterlyfor having been so unfortunate as to cause the
dissension that occurredalthough I did soI assure youmost
unwittingly and heedlessly.'

'Well; that's not all you have got to say surely' exclaimed Miss
Price as Nicholas paused.

'I fear there is something more' stammered Nicholas with a halfsmile
and looking towards Miss Squeers'it is a most awkward thing
to say--but--the very mention of such a supposition makes one look
like a puppy--still--may I ask if that lady supposes that I
entertain any--in shortdoes she think that I am in love with her?'

'Delightful embarrassment' thought Miss Squeers'I have brought
him to itat last. Answer for medear' she whispered to her
friend.

'Does she think so?' rejoined Miss Price; 'of course she does.'

'She does!' exclaimed Nicholas with such energy of utterance as
might have beenfor the momentmistaken for rapture.

'Certainly' replied Miss Price

'If Mr Nickleby has doubted that'Tilda' said the blushing Miss
Squeers in soft accents'he may set his mind at rest. His
sentiments are recipro--'

'Stop' cried Nicholas hurriedly; 'pray hear me. This is the
grossest and wildest delusionthe completest and most signal
mistakethat ever human being laboured underor committed. I have
scarcely seen the young lady half-a-dozen timesbut if I had seen
her sixty timesor am destined to see her sixty thousandit would
beand will beprecisely the same. I have not one thoughtwish
or hopeconnected with herunless it be--and I say thisnot to
hurt her feelingsbut to impress her with the real state of my own
--unless it be the one objectdear to my heart as life itselfof
being one day able to turn my back upon this accursed placenever
to set foot in it againor think of it--even think of it--but with
loathing and disgust.'

With this particularly plain and straightforward declarationwhich
he made with all the vehemence that his indignant and excited
feelings could bring to bear upon itNicholas waiting to hear no


moreretreated.

But poor Miss Squeers! Her angerrageand vexation; the rapid
succession of bitter and passionate feelings that whirled through
her mind; are not to be described. Refused! refused by a teacher
picked up by advertisementat an annual salary of five pounds
payable at indefinite periodsand 'found' in food and lodging like
the very boys themselves; and this too in the presence of a little
chit of a miller's daughter of eighteenwho was going to be
marriedin three weeks' timeto a man who had gone down on his
very knees to ask her. She could have choked in right good earnest
at the thought of being so humbled.

Butthere was one thing clear in the midst of her mortification;
and that wasthat she hated and detested Nicholas with all the
narrowness of mind and littleness of purpose worthy a descendant of
the house of Squeers. And there was one comfort too; and that was
that every hour in every day she could wound his prideand goad him
with the infliction of some slightor insultor deprivationwhich
could not but have some effect on the most insensible personand
must be acutely felt by one so sensitive as Nicholas. With these
two reflections uppermost in her mindMiss Squeers made the best of
the matter to her friendby observing that Mr Nickleby was such an
odd creatureand of such a violent temperthat she feared she
should be obliged to give him up; and parted from her.

And here it may be remarkedthat Miss Squeershaving bestowed her
affections (or whatever it might be thatin the absence of anything
betterrepresented them) on Nicholas Nicklebyhad never once
seriously contemplated the possibility of his being of a different
opinion from herself in the business. Miss Squeers reasoned that
she was prepossessing and beautifuland that her father was master
and Nicholas manand that her father had saved moneyand Nicholas
had noneall of which seemed to her conclusive arguments why the
young man should feel only too much honoured by her preference. She
had not failed to recollecteitherhow much more agreeable she
could render his situation if she were his friendand how much more
disagreeable if she were his enemy; anddoubtlessmany less
scrupulous young gentlemen than Nicholas would have encouraged her
extravagance had it been only for this very obvious and intelligible
reason. Howeverhe had thought proper to do otherwiseand Miss
Squeers was outrageous.

'Let him see' said the irritated young ladywhen she had regained
her own roomand eased her mind by committing an assault on Phib
'if I don't set mother against him a little more when she comes
back!'

It was scarcely necessary to do thisbut Miss Squeers was as good
as her word; and poor Nicholasin addition to bad fooddirty
lodgingand the being compelled to witness one dull unvarying round
of squalid miserywas treated with every special indignity that
malice could suggestor the most grasping cupidity put upon him.

Nor was this all. There was another and deeper system of annoyance
which made his heart sinkand nearly drove him wildby its
injustice and cruelty.

The wretched creatureSmikesince the night Nicholas had spoken
kindly to him in the schoolroomhad followed him to and frowith
an ever-restless desire to serve or help him; anticipating such
little wants as his humble ability could supplyand content only to
be near him. He would sit beside him for hourslooking patiently
into his face; and a word would brighten up his care-worn visage


and call into it a passing gleameven of happiness. He was an
altered being; he had an object now; and that object wasto show
his attachment to the only person--that person a stranger--who had
treated himnot to say with kindnessbut like a human creature.

Upon this poor beingall the spleen and ill-humour that could not
be vented on Nicholas were unceasingly bestowed. Drudgery would
have been nothing--Smike was well used to that. Buffetings
inflicted without causewould have been equally a matter of course;
for to them also he had served a long and weary apprenticeship; but
it was no sooner observed that he had become attached to Nicholas
than stripes and blowsstripes and blowsmorningnoonand night
were his only portion. Squeers was jealous of the influence which
his man had so soon acquiredand his family hated himand Smike
paid for both. Nicholas saw itand ground his teeth at every
repetition of the savage and cowardly attack.

He had arranged a few regular lessons for the boys; and one night
as he paced up and down the dismal schoolroomhis swollen heart
almost bursting to think that his protection and countenance should
have increased the misery of the wretched being whose peculiar
destitution had awakened his pityhe paused mechanically in a dark
corner where sat the object of his thoughts.

The poor soul was poring hard over a tattered bookwith the traces
of recent tears still upon his face; vainly endeavouring to master
some task which a child of nine years oldpossessed of ordinary
powerscould have conquered with easebut whichto the addled
brain of the crushed boy of nineteenwas a sealed and hopeless
mystery. Yet there he satpatiently conning the page again and
againstimulated by no boyish ambitionfor he was the common jest
and scoff even of the uncouth objects that congregated about him
but inspired by the one eager desire to please his solitary friend.

Nicholas laid his hand upon his shoulder.

'I can't do it' said the dejected creaturelooking up with bitter
disappointment in every feature. 'Nono.'

'Do not try' replied Nicholas.

The boy shook his headand closing the book with a sighlooked
vacantly roundand laid his head upon his arm. He was weeping.

'Do not for God's sake' said Nicholasin an agitated voice; 'I
cannot bear to see you.'

'They are more hard with me than ever' sobbed the boy.

'I know it' rejoined Nicholas. 'They are.'

'But for you' said the outcast'I should die. They would kill me;
they would; I know they would.'

'You will do betterpoor fellow' replied Nicholasshaking his
head mournfully'when I am gone.'

'Gone!' cried the otherlooking intently in his face.

'Softly!' rejoined Nicholas. 'Yes.'

'Are you going?' demanded the boyin an earnest whisper.

'I cannot say' replied Nicholas. 'I was speaking more to my own


thoughtsthan to you.'

'Tell me' said the boy imploringly'oh do tell meWILL you go-WILL
you?'

'I shall be driven to that at last!' said Nicholas. 'The world is
before meafter all.'

'Tell me' urged Smike'is the world as bad and dismal as this
place?'

'Heaven forbid' replied Nicholaspursuing the train of his own
thoughts; 'its hardestcoarsest toilwere happiness to this.'

'Should I ever meet you there?' demanded the boyspeaking with
unusual wildness and volubility.

'Yes' replied Nicholaswilling to soothe him.

'Nono!' said the otherclasping him by the hand. 'Should I-should
I--tell me that again. Say I should be sure to find you.'

'You would' replied Nicholaswith the same humane intention'and
I would help and aid youand not bring fresh sorrow on you as I
have done here.'

The boy caught both the young man's hands passionately in hisand
hugging them to his breastuttered a few broken sounds which were
unintelligible. Squeers entered at the momentand he shrunk back
into his old corner.

CHAPTER 13

Nicholas varies the Monotony of Dothebys Hall by a most vigorous and
remarkable proceedingwhich leads to Consequences of some
Importance

The coldfeeble dawn of a January morning was stealing in at the
windows of the common sleeping-roomwhen Nicholasraising himself
on his armlooked among the prostrate forms which on every side
surrounded himas though in search of some particular object.

It needed a quick eye to detectfrom among the huddled mass of
sleepersthe form of any given individual. As they lay closely
packed togethercoveredfor warmth's sakewith their patched and
ragged clotheslittle could be distinguished but the sharp outlines
of pale facesover which the sombre light shed the same dull heavy
colour; withhere and therea gaunt arm thrust forth: its thinness
hidden by no coveringbut fully exposed to viewin all its
shrunken ugliness. There were some wholying on their backs with
upturned faces and clenched handsjust visible in the leaden light
bore more the aspect of dead bodies than of living creatures; and
there were others coiled up into strange and fantastic postures
such as might have been taken for the uneasy efforts of pain to gain
some temporary reliefrather than the freaks of slumber. A few-and
these were among the youngest of the children--slept peacefully
onwith smiles upon their facesdreaming perhaps of home; but ever
and again a deep and heavy sighbreaking the stillness of the room
announced that some new sleeper had awakened to the misery of
another day; andas morning took the place of nightthe smiles
gradually faded awaywith the friendly darkness which had given


them birth.

Dreams are the bright creatures of poem and legendwho sport on
earth in the night seasonand melt away in the first beam of the
sunwhich lights grim care and stern reality on their daily
pilgrimage through the world.

Nicholas looked upon the sleepers; at firstwith the air of one who
gazes upon a scene whichthough familiar to himhas lost none of
its sorrowful effect in consequence; andafterwardswith a more
intense and searching scrutinyas a man would who missed something
his eye was accustomed to meetand had expected to rest upon. He
was still occupied in this searchand had half risen from his bed
in the eagerness of his questwhen the voice of Squeers was heard
calling from the bottom of the stairs.

'Now then' cried that gentleman'are you going to sleep all day
up there--'

'You lazy hounds?' added Mrs Squeersfinishing the sentenceand
producingat the same timea sharp soundlike that which is
occasioned by the lacing of stays.

'We shall be down directlysir' replied Nicholas.

'Down directly!' said Squeers. 'Ah! you had better be down
directlyor I'll be down upon some of you in less. Where's that
Smike?'

Nicholas looked hurriedly round againbut made no answer.

'Smike!' shouted Squeers.

'Do you want your head broke in a fresh placeSmike?' demanded his
amiable lady in the same key.

Still there was no replyand still Nicholas stared about himas
did the greater part of the boyswho were by this time roused.

'Confound his impudence!' muttered Squeersrapping the stair-rail
impatiently with his cane. 'Nickleby!'

'Wellsir.'

'Send that obstinate scoundrel down; don't you hear me calling?'

'He is not heresir' replied Nicholas.

'Don't tell me a lie' retorted the schoolmaster. 'He is.'

'He is not' retorted Nicholas angrily'don't tell me one.'

'We shall soon see that' said Mr Squeersrushing upstairs. 'I'll
find himI warrant you.'

With which assuranceMr Squeers bounced into the dormitoryand
swinging his cane in the air ready for a blowdarted into the
corner where the lean body of the drudge was usually stretched at
night. The cane descended harmlessly upon the ground. There was
nobody there.

'What does this mean?' said Squeersturning round with a very pale
face. 'Where have you hid him?'


'I have seen nothing of him since last night' replied Nicholas.

'Come' said Squeersevidently frightenedthough he endeavoured to
look otherwise'you won't save him this way. Where is he?'

'At the bottom of the nearest pond for aught I know' rejoined
Nicholas in a low voiceand fixing his eyes full on the master's
face.

'Damn youwhat do you mean by that?' retorted Squeers in great
perturbation. Without waiting for a replyhe inquired of the boys
whether any one among them knew anything of their missing
schoolmate.

There was a general hum of anxious denialin the midst of which
one shrill voice was heard to say (asindeedeverybody thought):

'PleasesirI think Smike's run awaysir.'

'Ha!' cried Squeersturning sharp round. 'Who said that?'

'Tomkinsplease sir' rejoined a chorus of voices. Mr Squeers made
a plunge into the crowdand at one divecaught a very little boy
habited still in his night-gearand the perplexed expression of
whose countenanceas he was brought forwardseemed to intimate
that he was as yet uncertain whether he was about to be punished or
rewarded for the suggestion. He was not long in doubt.

'You think he has run awaydo yousir?' demanded Squeers.

'Yesplease sir' replied the little boy.

'And whatsir' said Squeerscatching the little boy suddenly by
the arms and whisking up his drapery in a most dexterous manner
'what reason have you to suppose that any boy would want to run away
from this establishment? Ehsir?'

The child raised a dismal cryby way of answerand Mr Squeers
throwing himself into the most favourable attitude for exercising
his strengthbeat him until the little urchin in his writhings
actually rolled out of his handswhen he mercifully allowed him to
roll awayas he best could.

'There' said Squeers. 'Now if any other boy thinks Smike has run
awayI shall be glad to have a talk with him.'

There wasof coursea profound silenceduring which Nicholas
showed his disgust as plainly as looks could show it.

'WellNickleby' said Squeerseyeing him maliciously. 'YOU think
he has run awayI suppose?'

'I think it extremely likely' replied Nicholasin a quiet manner.

'Ohyou dodo you?' sneered Squeers. 'Maybe you know he has?'

'I know nothing of the kind.'

'He didn't tell you he was goingI supposedid he?' sneered
Squeers.

'He did not' replied Nicholas; 'I am very glad he did notfor it
would then have been my duty to have warned you in time.'


'Which no doubt you would have been devilish sorry to do' said
Squeers in a taunting fashion.

'I should indeed' replied Nicholas. 'You interpret my feelings
with great accuracy.'

Mrs Squeers had listened to this conversationfrom the bottom of
the stairs; butnow losing all patienceshe hastily assumed her
night-jacketand made her way to the scene of action.

'What's all this here to-do?' said the ladyas the boys fell off
right and leftto save her the trouble of clearing a passage with
her brawny arms. 'What on earth are you a talking to him for
Squeery!'

'Whymy dear' said Squeers'the fact isthat Smike is not to be
found.'

'WellI know that' said the lady'and where's the wonder? If you
get a parcel of proud-stomached teachers that set the young dogs a
rebellingwhat else can you look for? Nowyoung manyou just
have the kindness to take yourself off to the schoolroomand take
the boys off with youand don't you stir out of there till you have
leave given youor you and I may fall out in a way that'll spoil
your beautyhandsome as you think yourselfand so I tell you.'

'Indeed!' said Nicholas.

'Yes; and indeed and indeed againMister Jackanapes' said the
excited lady; 'and I wouldn't keep such as you in the house another
hourif I had my way.'

'Nor would you if I had mine' replied Nicholas. 'Nowboys!'

'Ah! Nowboys' said Mrs Squeersmimickingas nearly as she
couldthe voice and manner of the usher. 'Follow your leader
boysand take pattern by Smike if you dare. See what he'll get for
himselfwhen he is brought back; andmind! I tell you that you
shall have as badand twice as badif you so much as open your
mouths about him.'

'If I catch him' said Squeers'I'll only stop short of flaying him
alive. I give you noticeboys.'

'IF you catch him' retorted Mrs Squeerscontemptuously; 'you are
sure to; you can't help itif you go the right way to work. Come!
Away with you!'

With these wordsMrs Squeers dismissed the boysand after a little
light skirmishing with those in the rear who were pressing forward
to get out of the waybut were detained for a few moments by the
throng in frontsucceeded in clearing the roomwhen she confronted
her spouse alone.

'He is off' said Mrs Squeers. 'The cow-house and stable are locked
upso he can't be there; and he's not downstairs anywherefor the
girl has looked. He must have gone York wayand by a public road
too.'

'Why must he?' inquired Squeers.

'Stupid!' said Mrs Squeers angrily. 'He hadn't any moneyhad he?'

'Never had a penny of his own in his whole lifethat I know of'


replied Squeers.

'To be sure' rejoined Mrs Squeers'and he didn't take anything to
eat with him; that I'll answer for. Ha! ha! ha!'

'Ha! ha! ha!' laughed Squeers.

'Thenof course' said Mrs S.'he must beg his wayand he could
do thatnowherebut on the public road.'

'That's true' exclaimed Squeersclapping his hands.

'True! Yes; but you would never have thought of itfor all that
if I hadn't said so' replied his wife. 'Nowif you take the
chaise and go one roadand I borrow Swallow's chaiseand go the
otherwhat with keeping our eyes openand asking questionsone or
other of us is pretty certain to lay hold of him.'

The worthy lady's plan was adopted and put in execution without a
moment's delay. After a very hasty breakfastand the prosecution
of some inquiries in the villagethe result of which seemed to show
that he was on the right trackSqueers started forth in the ponychaise
intent upon discovery and vengeance. Shortly afterwards
Mrs Squeersarrayed in the white top-coatand tied up in various
shawls and handkerchiefsissued forth in another chaise and another
directiontaking with her a good-sized bludgeonseveral odd pieces
of strong cordand a stout labouring man: all provided and carried
upon the expeditionwith the sole object of assisting in the
captureand (once caught) insuring the safe custody of the
unfortunate Smike.

Nicholas remained behindin a tumult of feelingsensible that
whatever might be the upshot of the boy's flightnothing but
painful and deplorable consequences were likely to ensue from it.
Deathfrom want and exposure to the weatherwas the best that
could be expected from the protracted wandering of so poor and
helpless a creaturealone and unfriendedthrough a country of
which he was wholly ignorant. There was littleperhapsto choose
between this fate and a return to the tender mercies of the
Yorkshire school; but the unhappy being had established a hold upon
his sympathy and compassionwhich made his heart ache at the
prospect of the suffering he was destined to undergo. He lingered
onin restless anxietypicturing a thousand possibilitiesuntil
the evening of next daywhen Squeers returnedaloneand
unsuccessful.

'No news of the scamp!' said the schoolmasterwho had evidently
been stretching his legson the old principlenot a few times
during the journey. 'I'll have consolation for this out of
somebodyNicklebyif Mrs Squeers don't hunt him down; so I give
you warning.'

'It is not in my power to console yousir' said Nicholas. 'It is
nothing to me.'

'Isn't it?' said Squeers in a threatening manner. 'We shall see!'

'We shall' rejoined Nicholas.

'Here's the pony run right off his legsand me obliged to come home
with a hack cobthat'll cost fifteen shillings besides other
expenses' said Squeers; 'who's to pay for thatdo you hear?'

Nicholas shrugged his shoulders and remained silent.


'I'll have it out of somebodyI tell you' said Squeershis usual
harsh crafty manner changed to open bullying 'None of your whining
vapourings hereMr Puppybut be off to your kennelfor it's past
your bedtime! Come! Get out!'

Nicholas bit his lip and knit his hands involuntarilyfor his
fingerends tingled to avenge the insult; but remembering that the
man was drunkand that it could come to little but a noisy brawl
he contented himself with darting a contemptuous look at the tyrant
and walkedas majestically as he couldupstairs: not a little
nettledhoweverto observe that Miss Squeers and Master Squeers
and the servant girlwere enjoying the scene from a snug corner;
the two former indulging in many edifying remarks about the
presumption of poor upstartswhich occasioned a vast deal of
laughterin which even the most miserable of all miserable servant
girls joined: while Nicholasstung to the quickdrew over his head
such bedclothes as he hadand sternly resolved that the outstanding
account between himself and Mr Squeers should be settled rather more
speedily than the latter anticipated.

Another day cameand Nicholas was scarcely awake when he heard the
wheels of a chaise approaching the house. It stopped. The voice of
Mrs Squeers was heardand in exultationordering a glass of
spirits for somebodywhich was in itself a sufficient sign that
something extraordinary had happened. Nicholas hardly dared to look
out of the window; but he did soand the very first object that met
his eyes was the wretched Smike: so bedabbled with mud and rainso
haggard and wornand wildthatbut for his garments being such as
no scarecrow was ever seen to wearhe might have been doubtful
even thenof his identity.

'Lift him out' said Squeersafter he had literally feasted his
eyesin silenceupon the culprit. 'Bring him in; bring him in!'

'Take care' cried Mrs Squeersas her husband proffered his
assistance. 'We tied his legs under the apron and made'em fast to
the chaiseto prevent his giving us the slip again.'

With hands trembling with delightSqueers unloosened the cord; and
Smiketo all appearance more dead than alivewas brought into the
house and securely locked up in a cellaruntil such time as Mr
Squeers should deem it expedient to operate upon himin presence of
the assembled school.

Upon a hasty consideration of the circumstancesit may be matter of
surprise to some personsthat Mr and Mrs Squeers should have taken
so much trouble to repossess themselves of an incumbrance of which
it was their wont to complain so loudly; but their surprise will
cease when they are informed that the manifold services of the
drudgeif performed by anybody elsewould have cost the
establishment some ten or twelve shillings per week in the shape of
wages; and furthermorethat all runaways wereas a matter of
policymade severe examples ofat Dotheboys Hallinasmuch asin
consequence of the limited extent of its attractionsthere was but
little inducementbeyond the powerful impulse of fearfor any
pupilprovided with the usual number of legs and the power of using
themto remain.

The news that Smike had been caught and brought back in triumphran
like wild-fire through the hungry communityand expectation was on
tiptoe all the morning. On tiptoe it was destined to remain
howeveruntil afternoon; when Squeershaving refreshed himself
with his dinnerand further strengthened himself by an extra


libation or somade his appearance (accompanied by his amiable
partner) with a countenance of portentous importand a fearful
instrument of flagellationstrongsupplewax-endedand new--in
shortpurchased that morningexpressly for the occasion.

'Is every boy here?' asked Squeersin a tremendous voice.

Every boy was therebut every boy was afraid to speakso Squeers
glared along the lines to assure himself; and every eye droopedand
every head cowered downas he did so.

'Each boy keep his place' said Squeersadministering his favourite
blow to the deskand regarding with gloomy satisfaction the
universal start which it never failed to occasion. 'Nickleby! to
your desksir.'

It was remarked by more than one small observerthat there was a
very curious and unusual expression in the usher's face; but he took
his seatwithout opening his lips in reply. Squeerscasting a
triumphant glance at his assistant and a look of most comprehensive
despotism on the boysleft the roomand shortly afterwards
returneddragging Smike by the collar--or rather by that fragment
of his jacket which was nearest the place where his collar would
have beenhad he boasted such a decoration.

In any other placethe appearance of the wretchedjaded
spiritless object would have occasioned a murmur of compassion and
remonstrance. It had some effecteven there; for the lookers-on
moved uneasily in their seats; and a few of the boldest ventured to
steal looks at each otherexpressive of indignation and pity.

They were lost on Squeershoweverwhose gaze was fastened on the
luckless Smikeas he inquiredaccording to custom in such cases
whether he had anything to say for himself.

'NothingI suppose?' said Squeerswith a diabolical grin.

Smike glanced roundand his eye restedfor an instanton
Nicholasas if he had expected him to intercede; but his look was
riveted on his desk.

'Have you anything to say?' demanded Squeers again: giving his right
arm two or three flourishes to try its power and suppleness. 'Stand
a little out of the wayMrs Squeersmy dear; I've hardly got room
enough.'

'Spare mesir!' cried Smike.

'Oh! that's allis it?' said Squeers. 'YesI'll flog you within
an inch of your lifeand spare you that.'

'Hahaha' laughed Mrs Squeers'that's a good 'un!'

'I was driven to do it' said Smike faintly; and casting another
imploring look about him.

'Driven to do itwere you?' said Squeers. 'Oh! it wasn't your
fault; it was mineI suppose--eh?'

'A nastyungratefulpig-headedbrutishobstinatesneaking dog'
exclaimed Mrs Squeerstaking Smike's head under her armand
administering a cuff at every epithet; 'what does he mean by that?'

'Stand asidemy dear' replied Squeers. 'We'll try and find out.'


Mrs Squeersbeing out of breath with her exertionscomplied.
Squeers caught the boy firmly in his grip; one desperate cut had
fallen on his body--he was wincing from the lash and uttering a
scream of pain--it was raised againand again about to fall--when
Nicholas Nicklebysuddenly starting upcried 'Stop!' in a voice
that made the rafters ring.

'Who cried stop?' said Squeersturning savagely round.

'I' said Nicholasstepping forward. 'This must not go on.'

'Must not go on!' cried Squeersalmost in a shriek.

'No!' thundered Nicholas.

Aghast and stupefied by the boldness of the interferenceSqueers
released his hold of Smikeandfalling back a pace or twogazed
upon Nicholas with looks that were positively frightful.

'I say must not' repeated Nicholasnothing daunted; 'shall not. I
will prevent it.'

Squeers continued to gaze upon himwith his eyes starting out of
his head; but astonishment had actuallyfor the momentbereft him
of speech.

'You have disregarded all my quiet interference in the miserable
lad's behalf' said Nicholas; 'you have returned no answer to the
letter in which I begged forgiveness for himand offered to be
responsible that he would remain quietly here. Don't blame me for
this public interference. You have brought it upon yourself; not I.'

'Sit downbeggar!' screamed Squeersalmost beside himself with
rageand seizing Smike as he spoke.

'Wretch' rejoined Nicholasfiercely'touch him at your peril! I
will not stand byand see it done. My blood is upand I have the
strength of ten such men as you. Look to yourselffor by Heaven I
will not spare youif you drive me on!'

'Stand back' cried Squeersbrandishing his weapon.

'I have a long series of insults to avenge' said Nicholasflushed
with passion; 'and my indignation is aggravated by the dastardly
cruelties practised on helpless infancy in this foul den. Have a
care; for if you do raise the devil within methe consequences
shall fall heavily upon your own head!'

He had scarcely spokenwhen Squeersin a violent outbreak of
wrathand with a cry like the howl of a wild beastspat upon him
and struck him a blow across the face with his instrument of
torturewhich raised up a bar of livid flesh as it was inflicted.
Smarting with the agony of the blowand concentrating into that one
moment all his feelings of ragescornand indignationNicholas
sprang upon himwrested the weapon from his handand pinning him
by the throatbeat the ruffian till he roared for mercy.

The boys--with the exception of Master Squeerswhocoming to his
father's assistanceharassed the enemy in the rear--moved nothand
or foot; but Mrs Squeerswith many shrieks for aidhung on to the
tail of her partner's coatand endeavoured to drag him from his
infuriated adversary; while Miss Squeerswho had been peeping
through the keyhole in expectation of a very different scenedarted


in at the very beginning of the attackand after launching a shower
of inkstands at the usher's headbeat Nicholas to her heart's content;
animating herselfat every blowwith the recollection of his
having refused her proffered loveand thus imparting additional
strength to an arm which (as she took after her mother in this
respect) wasat no timeone of the weakest.

Nicholasin the full torrent of his violencefelt the blows no
more than if they had been dealt with feathers; butbecoming tired
of the noise and uproarand feeling that his arm grew weak besides
he threw all his remaining strength into half-a-dozen finishing
cutsand flung Squeers from him with all the force he could muster.
The violence of his fall precipitated Mrs Squeers completely over an
adjacent form; and Squeers striking his head against it in his
descentlay at his full length on the groundstunned and
motionless.

Having brought affairs to this happy terminationand ascertained
to his thorough satisfactionthat Squeers was only stunnedand not
dead (upon which point he had had some unpleasant doubts at first)
Nicholas left his family to restore himand retired to consider
what course he had better adopt. He looked anxiously round for
Smikeas he left the roombut he was nowhere to be seen.

After a brief considerationhe packed up a few clothes in a small
leathern valiseandfinding that nobody offered to oppose his
progressmarched boldly out by the front-doorand shortly
afterwardsstruck into the road which led to Greta Bridge.

When he had cooled sufficiently to be enabled to give his present
circumstances some little reflectionthey did not appear in a very
encouraging light; he had only four shillings and a few pence in his
pocketand was something more than two hundred and fifty miles from
Londonwhither he resolved to direct his stepsthat he might
ascertainamong other thingswhat account of the morning's
proceedings Mr Squeers transmitted to his most affectionate uncle.

Lifting up his eyesas he arrived at the conclusion that there was
no remedy for this unfortunate state of thingshe beheld a horseman
coming towards himwhomon nearer approachhe discoveredto his
infinite chagrinto be no other than Mr John Browdiewhoclad in
cords and leather leggingswas urging his animal forward by means
of a thick ash stickwhich seemed to have been recently cut from
some stout sapling.

'I am in no mood for more noise and riot' thought Nicholas'and
yetdo what I willI shall have an altercation with this honest
blockheadand perhaps a blow or two from yonder staff.'

In truththere appeared some reason to expect that such a result
would follow from the encounterfor John Browdie no sooner saw
Nicholas advancingthan he reined in his horse by the footpathand
waited until such time as he should come up; looking meanwhilevery
sternly between the horse's earsat Nicholasas he came on at his
leisure.

'Servantyoung genelman' said John.

'Yours' said Nicholas.

'Weel; we ha' met at last' observed Johnmaking the stirrup ring
under a smart touch of the ash stick.

'Yes' replied Nicholashesitating. 'Come!' he saidfrankly


after a moment's pause'we parted on no very good terms the last
time we met; it was my faultI believe; but I had no intention of
offending youand no idea that I was doing so. I was very sorry
for itafterwards. Will you shake hands?'

'Shake honds!' cried the good-humoured Yorkshireman; 'ah! that I
weel;' at the same timehe bent down from the saddleand gave
Nicholas's fist a huge wrench: 'but wa'at be the matther wi' thy
feacemun? it be all brokken loike.'

'It is a cut' said Nicholasturning scarlet as he spoke--'a blow;
but I returned it to the giverand with good interest too.'

'Noadid 'ee though?' exclaimed John Browdie. 'Well deane! I
loike 'un for thot.'

'The fact is' said Nicholasnot very well knowing how to make the
avowal'the fact isthat I have been ill-treated.'

'Noa!' interposed John Browdiein a tone of compassion; for he was
a giant in strength and statureand Nicholasvery likelyin his
eyesseemed a mere dwarf; 'dean't say thot.'

'YesI have' replied Nicholas'by that man Squeersand I have
beaten him soundlyand am leaving this place in consequence.'

'What!' cried John Browdiewith such an ecstatic shoutthat the
horse quite shied at it. 'Beatten the schoolmeasther! Ho! ho! ho!
Beatten the schoolmeasther! who ever heard o' the loike o' that noo!
Giv' us thee hond ageanyoongster. Beatten the schoolmeasther!
Dang itI loov' thee for't.'

With these expressions of delightJohn Browdie laughed and laughed
again--so loud that the echoesfar and widesent back nothing but
jovial peals of merriment--and shook Nicholas by the hand meanwhile
no less heartily. When his mirth had subsidedhe inquired what
Nicholas meant to do; on his informing himto go straight to
Londonhe shook his head doubtfullyand inquired if he knew how
much the coaches charged to carry passengers so far.

'NoI do not' said Nicholas; 'but it is of no great consequence to
mefor I intend walking.'

'Gang awa' to Lunnun afoot!' cried Johnin amazement.

'Every step of the way' replied Nicholas. 'I should be many steps
further on by this timeand so goodbye!'

'Nay noo' replied the honest countrymanreining in his impatient
horse'stan' stilltellee. Hoo much cash hast thee gotten?'

'Not much' said Nicholascolouring'but I can make it enough.
Where there's a willthere's a wayyou know.'

John Browdie made no verbal answer to this remarkbut putting his
hand in his pocketpulled out an old purse of solid leatherand
insisted that Nicholas should borrow from him whatever he required
for his present necessities.

'Dean't be afeardmun' he said; 'tak' eneaf to carry thee whoam.
Thee'lt pay me yan daya' warrant.'

Nicholas could by no means be prevailed upon to borrow more than a
sovereignwith which loan Mr Browdieafter many entreaties that he


would accept of more (observingwith a touch of Yorkshire caution
that if he didn't spend it allhe could put the surplus bytill he
had an opportunity of remitting it carriage free)was fain to
content himself.

'Tak' that bit o' timber to help thee on wi'mun' he added
pressing his stick on Nicholasand giving his hand another squeeze;
'keep a good heartand bless thee. Beatten the schoolmeasther!
'Cod it's the best thing a've heerd this twonty year!'

So sayingand indulgingwith more delicacy than might have been
expected from himin another series of loud laughsfor the purpose
of avoiding the thanks which Nicholas poured forthJohn Browdie set
spurs to his horseand went off at a smart canter: looking back
from time to timeas Nicholas stood gazing after himand waving
his hand cheerilyas if to encourage him on his way. Nicholas
watched the horse and rider until they disappeared over the brow of
a distant hilland then set forward on his journey.

He did not travel far that afternoonfor by this time it was nearly
darkand there had been a heavy fall of snowwhich not only
rendered the way toilsomebut the track uncertain and difficult to
findafter daylightsave by experienced wayfarers. He laythat
nightat a cottagewhere beds were let at a cheap rate to the more
humble class of travellers; andrising betimes next morningmade
his way before night to Boroughbridge. Passing through that town in
search of some cheap resting-placehe stumbled upon an empty barn
within a couple of hundred yards of the roadside; in a warm corner
of whichhe stretched his weary limbsand soon fell asleep.

When he awoke next morningand tried to recollect his dreamswhich
had been all connected with his recent sojourn at Dotheboys Hallhe
sat uprubbed his eyes and stared--not with the most composed
countenance possible--at some motionless object which seemed to be
stationed within a few yards in front of him.

'Strange!' cried Nicholas; 'can this be some lingering creation of
the visions that have scarcely left me! It cannot be real--and yet
I--I am awake! Smike!'

The form movedroseadvancedand dropped upon its knees at his
feet. It was Smike indeed.

'Why do you kneel to me?' said Nicholashastily raising him.

'To go with you--anywhere--everywhere--to the world's end--to the
churchyard grave' replied Smikeclinging to his hand. 'Let meoh
do let me. You are my home--my kind friend--take me with you
pray.'

'I am a friend who can do little for you' said Nicholaskindly.
'How came you here?'

He had followed himit seemed; had never lost sight of him all the
way; had watched while he sleptand when he halted for refreshment;
and had feared to appear beforelest he should be sent back. He
had not intended to appear nowbut Nicholas had awakened more
suddenly than he looked forand he had had no time to conceal
himself.

'Poor fellow!' said Nicholas'your hard fate denies you any friend
but oneand he is nearly as poor and helpless as yourself.'

'May I--may I go with you?' asked Smiketimidly. 'I will be your


faithful hard-working servantI willindeed. I want no clothes'
added the poor creaturedrawing his rags together; 'these will do
very well. I only want to be near you.'

'And you shall' cried Nicholas. 'And the world shall deal by you
as it does by metill one or both of us shall quit it for a better.
Come!'

With these wordshe strapped his burden on his shouldersand
taking his stick in one handextended the other to his delighted
charge; and so they passed out of the old barntogether.

CHAPTER 14

Having the Misfortune to treat of none but Common Peopleis
necessarily of a Mean and Vulgar Character

In that quarter of London in which Golden Square is situatedthere
is a bygonefadedtumble-down streetwith two irregular rows of
tall meagre houseswhich seem to have stared each other out of
countenance years ago. The very chimneys appear to have grown
dismal and melancholyfrom having had nothing better to look at
than the chimneys over the way. Their tops are batteredand
brokenand blackened with smoke; andhere and theresome taller
stack than the restinclining heavily to one sideand toppling
over the roofseems to mediate taking revenge for half a century's
neglectby crushing the inhabitants of the garrets beneath.

The fowls who peck about the kennelsjerking their bodies hither
and thither with a gait which none but town fowls are ever seen to
adoptand which any country cock or hen would be puzzled to
understandare perfectly in keeping with the crazy habitations of
their owners. Dingyill-plumeddrowsy fluttererssentlike many
of the neighbouring childrento get a livelihood in the streets
they hopfrom stone to stonein forlorn search of some hidden
eatable in the mudand can scarcely raise a crow among them. The
only one with anything approaching to a voiceis an aged bantam at
the baker's; and even he is hoarsein consequence of bad living in
his last place.

To judge from the size of the housesthey have beenat one time
tenanted by persons of better condition than their present
occupants; but they are now let offby the weekin floors or
roomsand every door has almost as many plates or bell-handles as
there are apartments within. The windows arefor the same reason
sufficiently diversified in appearancebeing ornamented with every
variety of common blind and curtain that can easily be imagined;
while every doorway is blocked upand rendered nearly impassable
by a motley collection of children and porter pots of all sizes
from the baby in arms and the half-pint potto the full-grown girl
and half-gallon can.

In the parlour of one of these houseswhich was perhaps a thought
dirtier than any of its neighbours; which exhibited more bellhandles
childrenand porter potsand caught in all its freshness
the first gust of the thick black smoke that poured forthnight and
dayfrom a large brewery hard by; hung a billannouncing that
there was yet one room to let within its wallsthough on what story
the vacant room could be--regard being had to the outward tokens of
many lodgers which the whole front displayedfrom the mangle in the
kitchen window to the flower-pots on the parapet--it would have been


beyond the power of a calculating boy to discover.

The common stairs of this mansion were bare and carpetless; but a
curious visitor who had to climb his way to the topmight have
observed that there were not wanting indications of the progressive
poverty of the inmatesalthough their rooms were shut. Thusthe
first-floor lodgersbeing flush of furniturekept an old mahogany
table--real mahogany--on the landing-place outsidewhich was only
taken inwhen occasion required. On the second storythe spare
furniture dwindled down to a couple of old deal chairsof which
onebelonging to the back-roomwas shorn of a legand bottomless.
The story aboveboasted no greater excess than a worm-eaten washtub;
and the garret landing-place displayed no costlier articles
than two crippled pitchersand some broken blacking-bottles.

It was on this garret landing-place that a hard-featured squarefaced
manelderly and shabbystopped to unlock the door of the
front atticinto whichhaving surmounted the task of turning the
rusty key in its still more rusty wardshe walked with the air of
legal owner.

This person wore a wig of shortcoarsered hairwhich he took off
with his hatand hung upon a nail. Having adopted in its place a
dirty cotton nightcapand groped about in the dark till he found a
remnant of candlehe knocked at the partition which divided the two
garretsand inquiredin a loud voicewhether Mr Noggs had a
light.

The sounds that came back were stifled by the lath and plasterand
it seemed moreover as though the speaker had uttered them from the
interior of a mug or other drinking vessel; but they were in the
voice of Newmanand conveyed a reply in the affirmative.

'A nasty nightMr Noggs!' said the man in the nightcapstepping in
to light his candle.

'Does it rain?' asked Newman.

'Does it?' replied the other pettishly. 'I am wet through.'

'It doesn't take much to wet you and me throughMr Crowl' said
Newmanlaying his hand upon the lappel of his threadbare coat.

'Well; and that makes it the more vexatious' observed Mr Crowlin
the same pettish tone.

Uttering a low querulous growlthe speakerwhose harsh countenance
was the very epitome of selfishnessraked the scanty fire nearly
out of the grateandemptying the glass which Noggs had pushed
towards himinquired where he kept his coals.

Newman Noggs pointed to the bottom of a cupboardand Mr Crowl
seizing the shovelthrew on half the stock: which Noggs very
deliberately took off againwithout saying a word.

'You have not turned savingat this time of dayI hope?' said
Crowl.

Newman pointed to the empty glassas though it were a sufficient
refutation of the chargeand briefly said that he was going
downstairs to supper.

'To the Kenwigses?' asked Crowl.


Newman nodded assent.

'Think of that now!' said Crowl. 'If I didn't--thinking that you
were certain not to gobecause you said you wouldn't--tell Kenwigs
I couldn't comeand make up my mind to spend the evening with you!'

'I was obliged to go' said Newman. 'They would have me.'

'Well; but what's to become of me?' urged the selfish manwho never
thought of anybody else. 'It's all your fault. I'll tell you what
--I'll sit by your fire till you come back again.'

Newman cast a despairing glance at his small store of fuelbutnot
having the courage to say no--a word which in all his life he never
had said at the right timeeither to himself or anyone else--gave
way to the proposed arrangement. Mr Crowl immediately went about
making himself as comfortablewith Newman Nogg's meansas
circumstances would admit of his being made.

The lodgers to whom Crowl had made allusion under the designation of
'the Kenwigses' were the wife and olive branches of one Mr Kenwigs
a turner in ivorywho was looked upon as a person of some
consideration on the premisesinasmuch as he occupied the whole of
the first floorcomprising a suite of two rooms. Mrs Kenwigstoo
was quite a lady in her mannersand of a very genteel family
having an uncle who collected a water-rate; besides which
distinctionthe two eldest of her little girls went twice a week to
a dancing school in the neighbourhoodand had flaxen hairtied
with blue ribbonshanging in luxuriant pigtails down their backs;
and wore little white trousers with frills round the ankles--for all
of which reasonsand many more equally valid but too numerous to
mentionMrs Kenwigs was considered a very desirable person to know
and was the constant theme of all the gossips in the streetand
even three or four doors round the corner at both ends.

It was the anniversary of that happy day on which the Church of
England as by law establishedhad bestowed Mrs Kenwigs upon Mr
Kenwigs; and in grateful commemoration of the sameMrs Kenwigs had
invited a few select friends to cards and a supper in the first
floorand had put on a new gown to receive them in: which gown
being of a flaming colour and made upon a juvenile principlewas so
successful that Mr Kenwigs said the eight years of matrimony and the
five children seemed all a dreamand Mrs Kenwigs younger and more
blooming than on the very first Sunday he had kept company with her.

Beautiful as Mrs Kenwigs looked when she was dressed thoughand so
stately that you would have supposed she had a cook and housemaid at
leastand nothing to do but order them aboutshe had a world of
trouble with the preparations; moreindeedthan shebeing of a
delicate and genteel constitutioncould have sustainedhad not the
pride of housewifery upheld her. At lasthoweverall the things
that had to be got together were got togetherand all the things
that had to be got out of the way were got out of the wayand
everything was readyand the collector himself having promised to
comefortune smiled upon the occasion.

The party was admirably selected. There werefirst of allMr
Kenwigs and Mrs Kenwigsand four olive Kenwigses who sat up to
supper; firstlybecause it was but right that they should have a
treat on such a day; and secondlybecause their going to bedin
presence of the companywould have been inconvenientnot to say
improper. Thenthere was a young lady who had made Mrs Kenwigs's
dressand who--it was the most convenient thing in the world-living
in the two-pair backgave up her bed to the babyand got a


little girl to watch it. Thento match this young ladywas a
young manwho had known Mr Kenwigs when he was a bachelorand was
much esteemed by the ladiesas bearing the reputation of a rake.
To these were added a newly-married couplewho had visited Mr and
Mrs Kenwigs in their courtship; and a sister of Mrs Kenwigs'swho
was quite a beauty; besides whomthere was another young man
supposed to entertain honourable designs upon the lady last
mentioned; and Mr Noggswho was a genteel person to askbecause he
had been a gentleman once. There were also an elderly lady from the
back-parlourand one more young ladywhonext to the collector
perhaps was the great lion of the partybeing the daughter of a
theatrical firemanwho 'went on' in the pantomimeand had the
greatest turn for the stage that was ever knownbeing able to sing
and recite in a manner that brought the tears into Mrs Kenwigs's
eyes. There was only one drawback upon the pleasure of seeing such
friendsand that wasthat the lady in the back-parlourwho was
very fatand turned of sixtycame in a low book-muslin dress and
short kid gloveswhich so exasperated Mrs Kenwigsthat that lady
assured her visitorsin privatethat if it hadn't happened that
the supper was cooking at the back-parlour grate at that momentshe
certainly would have requested its representative to withdraw.

'My dear' said Mr Kenwigs'wouldn't it be better to begin a round
game?'

'Kenwigsmy dear' returned his wife'I am surprised at you.
Would you begin without my uncle?'

'I forgot the collector' said Kenwigs; 'oh nothat would never
do.'

'He's so particular' said Mrs Kenwigsturning to the other married
lady'that if we began without himI should be out of his will for
ever.'

'Dear!' cried the married lady.

'You've no idea what he is' replied Mrs Kenwigs; 'and yet as good a
creature as ever breathed.'

'The kindest-hearted man as ever was' said Kenwigs.

'It goes to his heartI believeto be forced to cut the water off
when the people don't pay' observed the bachelor friendintending
a joke.

'George' said Mr Kenwigssolemnly'none of thatif you please.'

'It was only my joke' said the friendabashed.

'George' rejoined Mr Kenwigs'a joke is a wery good thing--a wery
good thing--but when that joke is made at the expense of Mrs
Kenwigs's feelingsI set my face against it. A man in public life
expects to be sneered at--it is the fault of his elewated
sitiwationand not of himself. Mrs Kenwigs's relation is a public
manand that he knowsGeorgeand that he can bear; but putting
Mrs Kenwigs out of the question (if I COULD put Mrs Kenwigs out of
the question on such an occasion as this)I have the honour to be
connected with the collector by marriage; and I cannot allow these
remarks in my--' Mr Kenwigs was going to say 'house' but he rounded
the sentence with 'apartments'.

At the conclusion of these observationswhich drew forth evidences
of acute feeling from Mrs Kenwigsand had the intended effect of


impressing the company with a deep sense of the collector's dignity
a ring was heard at the bell.

'That's him' whispered Mr Kenwigsgreatly excited. 'Morleenamy
dearrun down and let your uncle inand kiss him directly you get
the door open. Hem! Let's be talking.'

Adopting Mr Kenwigs's suggestionthe company spoke very loudlyto
look easy and unembarrassed; and almost as soon as they had begun to
do soa short old gentleman in drabs and gaiterswith a face that
might have been carved out of LIGNUM VITAEfor anything that
appeared to the contrarywas led playfully in by Miss Morleena
Kenwigsregarding whose uncommon Christian name it may be here
remarked that it had been invented and composed by Mrs Kenwigs
previous to her first lying-infor the special distinction of her
eldest childin case it should prove a daughter.

'OhuncleI am SO glad to see you' said Mrs Kenwigskissing the
collector affectionately on both cheeks. 'So glad!'

'Many happy returns of the daymy dear' replied the collector
returning the compliment.

Nowthis was an interesting thing. Here was a collector of waterrates
without his bookwithout his pen and inkwithout his double
knockwithout his intimidationkissing--actually kissing--an
agreeable femaleand leaving taxessummonsesnotices that he had
calledor announcements that he would never call againfor two
quarters' duewholly out of the question. It was pleasant to see
how the company looked onquite absorbed in the sightand to
behold the nods and winks with which they expressed their
gratification at finding so much humanity in a tax-gatherer.

'Where will you situncle?' said Mrs Kenwigsin the full glow of
family pridewhich the appearance of her distinguished relation
occasioned.

'Anywheresmy dear' said the collector'I am not particular.'

Not particular! What a meek collector! If he had been an author
who knew his placehe couldn't have been more humble.

'Mr Lillyvick' said Kenwigsaddressing the collector'some
friends heresirare very anxious for the honour of--thank you--Mr
and Mrs CutlerMr Lillyvick.'

'Proud to know yousir' said Mr Cutler; 'I've heerd of you very
often.' These were not mere words of ceremony; forMr Cutler
having kept house in Mr Lillyvick's parishhad heard of him very
often indeed. His attention in calling had been quite extraordinary.

'Georgeyou knowI thinkMr Lillyvick' said Kenwigs; 'lady from
downstairs--Mr Lillyvick. Mr Snewkes--Mr Lillyvick. Miss Green--Mr
Lillyvick. Mr Lillyvick--Miss Petowker of the Theatre RoyalDrury
Lane. Very glad to make two public characters acquainted! Mrs
Kenwigsmy dearwill you sort the counters?'

Mrs Kenwigswith the assistance of Newman Noggs(whoas he
performed sundry little acts of kindness for the childrenat all
times and seasonswas humoured in his request to be taken no notice
ofand was merely spoken aboutin a whisperas the decayed
gentleman)did as he was desired; and the greater part of the
guests sat down to speculationwhile Newman himselfMrs Kenwigs
and Miss Petowker of the Theatre Royal Drury Lanelooked after the


supper-table.

While the ladies were thus busying themselvesMr Lillyvick was
intent upon the game in progressand as all should be fish that
comes to a water-collector's netthe dear old gentleman was by no
means scrupulous in appropriating to himself the property of his
neighbourswhichon the contraryhe abstracted whenever an
opportunity presented itselfsmiling good-humouredly all the while
and making so many condescending speeches to the ownersthat they
were delighted with his amiabilityand thought in their hearts that
he deserved to be Chancellor of the Exchequer at least.

After a great deal of troubleand the administration of many slaps
on the head to the infant Kenwigseswhereof two of the most
rebellious were summarily banishedthe cloth was laid with much
eleganceand a pair of boiled fowlsa large piece of porkapplepie
potatoes and greenswere served; at sight of whichthe worthy
Mr Lillyvick vented a great many witticismsand plucked up
amazingly: to the immense delight and satisfaction of the whole body
of admirers.

Very well and very fast the supper went off; no more serious
difficulties occurringthan those which arose from the incessant
demand for clean knives and forks; which made poor Mrs Kenwigs wish
more than oncethat private society adopted the principle of
schoolsand required that every guest should bring his own knife
forkand spoon; which doubtless would be a great accommodation in
many casesand to no one more so than to the lady and gentleman of
the houseespecially if the school principle were carried out to
the full extentand the articles were expectedas a matter of
delicacynot to be taken away again.

Everybody having eaten everythingthe table was cleared in a most
alarming hurryand with great noise; and the spiritswhereat the
eyes of Newman Noggs glistenedbeing arranged in orderwith water
both hot and coldthe party composed themselves for conviviality;
Mr Lillyvick being stationed in a large armchair by the fireside
and the four little Kenwigses disposed on a small form in front of
the company with their flaxen tails towards themand their faces to
the fire; an arrangement which was no sooner perfectedthan Mrs
Kenwigs was overpowered by the feelings of a motherand fell upon
the left shoulder of Mr Kenwigs dissolved in tears.

'They are so beautiful!' said Mrs Kenwigssobbing.

'Ohdear' said all the ladies'so they are! it's very natural you
should feel proud of that; but don't give waydon't.'

'I can--not help itand it don't signify' sobbed Mrs Kenwigs; 'oh!
they're too beautiful to livemuch too beautiful!'

On hearing this alarming presentiment of their being doomed to an
early death in the flower of their infancyall four little girls
raised a hideous cryand burying their heads in their mother's lap
simultaneouslyscreamed until the eight flaxen tails vibrated
again; Mrs Kenwigs meanwhile clasping them alternately to her bosom
with attitudes expressive of distractionwhich Miss Petowker
herself might have copied.

At lengththe anxious mother permitted herself to be soothed into a
more tranquil stateand the little Kenwigsesbeing also composed
were distributed among the companyto prevent the possibility of
Mrs Kenwigs being again overcome by the blaze of their combined
beauty. This donethe ladies and gentlemen united in prophesying


that they would live for manymany yearsand that there was no
occasion at all for Mrs Kenwigs to distress herself; whichin good
truththere did not appear to be; the loveliness of the children by
no means justifying her apprehensions.

'This day eight year' said Mr Kenwigs after a pause. 'Dear me-ah!'


This reflection was echoed by all presentwho said 'Ah!' firstand
'dear me' afterwards.

'I was younger then' tittered Mrs Kenwigs.

'No' said the collector.

'Certainly not' added everybody.

'I remember my niece' said Mr Lillyvicksurveying his audience
with a grave air; 'I remember heron that very afternoonwhen she
first acknowledged to her mother a partiality for Kenwigs.
Mother,she saysI love him.'

'"Adore him I said, uncle,' interposed Mrs Kenwigs.

'Love him I think, my dear,' said the collector, firmly.

'Perhaps you are right, uncle,' replied Mrs Kenwigs, submissively.
'I thought it was adore."'

'"Love my dear,' retorted Mr Lillyvick. 'Mother she says, I
love him!" "What do I hear?" cries her mother; and instantly falls
into strong conwulsions.'

A general exclamation of astonishment burst from the company.

'Into strong conwulsions' repeated Mr Lillyvickregarding them
with a rigid look. 'Kenwigs will excuse my sayingin the presence
of friendsthat there was a very great objection to himon the
ground that he was beneath the familyand would disgrace it. You
rememberKenwigs?'

'Certainly' replied that gentlemanin no way displeased at the
reminiscenceinasmuch as it provedbeyond all doubtwhat a high
family Mrs Kenwigs came of.

'I shared in that feeling' said Mr Lillyvick: 'perhaps it was
natural; perhaps it wasn't.'

A gentle murmur seemed to saythatin one of Mr Lillyvick's
stationthe objection was not only naturalbut highly praiseworthy.

'I came round to him in time' said Mr Lillyvick. 'After they were
marriedand there was no help for itI was one of the first to say
that Kenwigs must be taken notice of. The family DID take notice of
himin consequenceand on my representation; and I am bound to
say--and proud to say--that I have always found him a very honest
well-behaveduprightrespectable sort of man. Kenwigsshake
hands.'

'I am proud to do itsir' said Mr Kenwigs.

'So am IKenwigs' rejoined Mr Lillyvick.

'A very happy life I have led with your niecesir' said Kenwigs.


'It would have been your own fault if you had notsir' remarked Mr
Lillyvick.

'Morleena Kenwigs' cried her motherat this crisismuch affected
'kiss your dear uncle!'

The young lady did as she was requestedand the three other little
girls were successively hoisted up to the collector's countenance
and subjected to the same processwhich was afterwards repeated on
them by the majority of those present.

'Oh dearMrs Kenwigs' said Miss Petowker'while Mr Noggs is
making that punch to drink happy returns indo let Morleena go
through that figure dance before Mr Lillyvick.'

'Nonomy dear' replied Mrs Kenwigs'it will only worry my
uncle.'

'It can't worry himI am sure' said Miss Petowker. 'You will be
very much pleasedwon't yousir?'

'That I am sure I shall' replied the collectorglancing at the
punch-mixer.

'Well thenI'll tell you what' said Mrs Kenwigs'Morleena shall
do the stepsif uncle can persuade Miss Petowker to recite us the
Blood-Drinker's Burialafterwards.'

There was a great clapping of hands and stamping of feetat this
proposition; the subject whereofgently inclined her head several
timesin acknowledgment of the reception.

'You know' said Miss Petowkerreproachfully'that I dislike doing
anything professional in private parties.'

'Ohbut not here!' said Mrs Kenwigs. 'We are all so very friendly
and pleasantthat you might as well be going through it in your own
room; besidesthe occasion--'

'I can't resist that' interrupted Miss Petowker; 'anything in my
humble power I shall be delighted to do.'

Mrs Kenwigs and Miss Petowker had arranged a small PROGRAMME of the
entertainments between themof which this was the prescribed order
but they had settled to have a little pressing on both sides
because it looked more natural. The company being all readyMiss
Petowker hummed a tuneand Morleena danced a dance; having
previously had the soles of her shoes chalkedwith as much care as
if she were going on the tight-rope. It was a very beautiful
figurecomprising a great deal of work for the armsand was
received with unbounded applause.

'If I was blessed with a--a child--' said Miss Petowkerblushing
'of such genius as thatI would have her out at the Opera
instantly.'

Mrs Kenwigs sighedand looked at Mr Kenwigswho shook his head
and observed that he was doubtful about it.

'Kenwigs is afraid' said Mrs K.

'What of?' inquired Miss Petowker'not of her failing?'


'Oh no' replied Mrs Kenwigs'but if she grew up what she is now-only
think of the young dukes and marquises.'

'Very right' said the collector.

'Still' submitted Miss Petowker'if she took a proper pride in
herselfyou know--'

'There's a good deal in that' observed Mrs Kenwigslooking at her
husband.

'I only know--' faltered Miss Petowker--'it may be no rule to be
sure--but I have never found any inconvenience or unpleasantness of
that sort.'

Mr Kenwigswith becoming gallantrysaid that settled the question
at onceand that he would take the subject into his serious
consideration. This being resolved uponMiss Petowker was
entreated to begin the Blood-Drinker's Burial; to which endthat
young lady let down her back hairand taking up her position at the
other end of the roomwith the bachelor friend posted in a corner
to rush out at the cue 'in death expire' and catch her in his arms
when she died raving madwent through the performance with
extraordinary spiritand to the great terror of the little
Kenwigseswho were all but frightened into fits.

The ecstasies consequent upon the effort had not yet subsidedand
Newman (who had not been thoroughly sober at so late an hour for a
long long time) had not yet been able to put in a word of
announcementthat the punch was readywhen a hasty knock was heard
at the room-doorwhich elicited a shriek from Mrs Kenwigswho
immediately divined that the baby had fallen out of bed.

'Who is that?' demanded Mr Kenwigssharply.

'Don't be alarmedit's only me' said Crowllooking inin his
nightcap. 'The baby is very comfortablefor I peeped into the room
as I came downand it's fast asleepand so is the girl; and I
don't think the candle will set fire to the bed-curtainunless a
draught was to get into the room--it's Mr Noggs that's wanted.'

'Me!' cried Newmanmuch astonished.

'Whyit IS a queer hourisn't it?' replied Crowlwho was not best
pleased at the prospect of losing his fire; 'and they are queerlooking
peopletooall covered with rain and mud. Shall I tell
them to go away?'

'No' said Newmanrising. 'People? How many?'

'Two' rejoined Crowl.

'Want me? By name?' asked Newman.

'By name' replied Crowl. 'Mr Newman Noggsas pat as need be.'

Newman reflected for a few secondsand then hurried awaymuttering
that he would be back directly. He was as good as his word; forin
an exceedingly short timehe burst into the roomand seizing
without a word of apology or explanationa lighted candle and
tumbler of hot punch from the tabledarted away like a madman.

'What the deuce is the matter with him?' exclaimed Crowlthrowing
the door open. 'Hark! Is there any noise above?'


The guests rose in great confusionandlooking in each other's
faces with much perplexity and some fearstretched their necks
forwardand listened attentively.

CHAPTER 15

Acquaints the Reader with the Cause and Origin of the Interruption
described in the last Chapterand with some other Matters necessary
to be known

Newman Noggs scrambled in violent haste upstairs with the steaming
beveragewhich he had so unceremoniously snatched from the table of
Mr Kenwigsand indeed from the very grasp of the water-rate
collectorwho was eyeing the contents of the tumblerat the moment
of its unexpected abstractionwith lively marks of pleasure visible
in his countenance. He bore his prize straight to his own backgarret
wherefootsore and nearly shoelesswetdirtyjadedand
disfigured with every mark of fatiguing travelsat Nicholas and
Smikeat once the cause and partner of his toil; both perfectly
worn out by their unwonted and protracted exertion.

Newman's first act was to compel Nicholaswith gentle forceto
swallow half of the punch at a breathnearly boiling as it was; and
his nextto pour the remainder down the throat of Smikewhonever
having tasted anything stronger than aperient medicine in his whole
lifeexhibited various odd manifestations of surprise and delight
during the passage of the liquor down his throatand turned up his
eyes most emphatically when it was all gone.

'You are wet through' said Newmanpassing his hand hastily over
the coat which Nicholas had thrown off; 'and I--I--haven't even a
change' he addedwith a wistful glance at the shabby clothes he
wore himself.

'I have dry clothesor at least such as will serve my turn wellin
my bundle' replied Nicholas. 'If you look so distressed to see me
you will add to the pain I feel alreadyat being compelledfor one
nightto cast myself upon your slender means for aid and shelter.'

Newman did not look the less distressed to hear Nicholas talking in
this strain; butupon his young friend grasping him heartily by the
handand assuring him that nothing but implicit confidence in the
sincerity of his professionsand kindness of feeling towards
himselfwould have induced himon any considerationeven to have
made him acquainted with his arrival in LondonMr Noggs brightened
up againand went about making such arrangements as were in his
power for the comfort of his visitorswith extreme alacrity.

These were simple enough; poor Newman's means halting at a very
considerable distance short of his inclinations; butslight as they
werethey were not made without much bustling and running about.
As Nicholas had husbanded his scanty stock of moneyso well that it
was not yet quite expendeda supper of bread and cheesewith some
cold beef from the cook's shopwas soon placed upon the table; and
these viands being flanked by a bottle of spirits and a pot of
porterthere was no ground for apprehension on the score of hunger
or thirstat all events. Such preparations as Newman had it in his
power to makefor the accommodation of his guests during the night
occupied no very great time in completing; and as he had insisted
as an express preliminarythat Nicholas should change his clothes


and that Smike should invest himself in his solitary coat (which no
entreaties would dissuade him from stripping off for the purpose)
the travellers partook of their frugal farewith more satisfaction
than one of them at least had derived from many a better meal.

They then drew near the firewhich Newman Noggs had made up as well
as he couldafter the inroads of Crowl upon the fuel; and Nicholas
who had hitherto been restrained by the extreme anxiety of his
friend that he should refresh himself after his journeynow pressed
him with earnest questions concerning his mother and sister.

'Well' replied Newmanwith his accustomed taciturnity; 'both
well.'

'They are living in the city still?' inquired Nicholas.

'They are' said Newman.

'And my sister'--added Nicholas. 'Is she still engaged in the
business which she wrote to tell me she thought she should like so
much?'

Newman opened his eyes rather wider than usualbut merely replied
by a gaspwhichaccording to the action of the head that
accompanied itwas interpreted by his friends as meaning yes or no.
In the present instancethe pantomime consisted of a nodand not a
shake; so Nicholas took the answer as a favourable one.

'Now listen to me' said Nicholaslaying his hand on Newman's
shoulder. 'Before I would make an effort to see themI deemed it
expedient to come to youlestby gratifying my own selfish desire
I should inflict an injury upon them which I can never repair. What
has my uncle heard from Yorkshire?'

Newman opened and shut his mouthseveral timesas though he were
trying his utmost to speakbut could make nothing of itand
finally fixed his eyes on Nicholas with a grim and ghastly stare.

'What has he heard?' urged Nicholascolouring. 'You see that I am
prepared to hear the very worst that malice can have suggested. Why
should you conceal it from me? I must know it sooner or later; and
what purpose can be gained by trifling with the matter for a few
minuteswhen half the time would put me in possession of all that
has occurred? Tell me at oncepray.'

'Tomorrow morning' said Newman; 'hear it tomorrow.'

'What purpose would that answer?' urged Nicholas.

'You would sleep the better' replied Newman.

'I should sleep the worse' answered Nicholasimpatiently. 'Sleep!
Exhausted as I amand standing in no common need of restI cannot
hope to close my eyes all nightunless you tell me everything.'

'And if I should tell you everything' said Newmanhesitating.

'Whythen you may rouse my indignation or wound my pride' rejoined
Nicholas; 'but you will not break my rest; for if the scene were
acted over againI could take no other part than I have taken; and
whatever consequences may accrue to myself from itI shall never
regret doing as I have done--neverif I starve or beg in
consequence. What is a little poverty or sufferingto the disgrace
of the basest and most inhuman cowardice! I tell youif I had


stood bytamely and passivelyI should have hated myselfand
merited the contempt of every man in existence. The black-hearted
scoundrel!'

With this gentle allusion to the absent Mr SqueersNicholas
repressed his rising wrathand relating to Newman exactly what had
passed at Dotheboys Hallentreated him to speak out without more
pressing. Thus adjuredMr Noggs tookfrom an old trunka sheet
of paperwhich appeared to have been scrawled over in great haste;
and after sundry extraordinary demonstrations of reluctance
delivered himself in the following terms.

'My dear young manyou mustn't give way to--this sort of thing will
never doyou know--as to getting on in the worldif you take
everybody's part that's ill-treated--Damn itI am proud to hear of
it; and would have done it myself!'

Newman accompanied this very unusual outbreak with a violent blow
upon the tableas ifin the heat of the momenthe had mistaken it
for the chest or ribs of Mr Wackford Squeers. Havingby this open
declaration of his feelingsquite precluded himself from offering
Nicholas any cautious worldly advice (which had been his first
intention)Mr Noggs went straight to the point.

'The day before yesterday' said Newman'your uncle received this
letter. I took a hasty copy of itwhile he was out. Shall I read
it?'

'If you please' replied Nicholas. Newman Noggs accordingly read as
follows:

'DOTHEBOYS HALL
'THURSDAY MORNING.

'SIR

'My pa requests me to write to youthe doctors considering it
doubtful whether he will ever recuvver the use of his legs which
prevents his holding a pen.

'We are in a state of mind beyond everythingand my pa is one mask
of brooses both blue and green likewise two forms are steepled in
his Goar. We were kimpelled to have him carried down into the
kitchen where he now lays. You will judge from this that he has
been brought very low.

'When your nevew that you recommended for a teacher had done this to
my pa and jumped upon his body with his feet and also langwedge
which I will not pollewt my pen with describinghe assaulted my ma
with dreadful violencedashed her to the earthand drove her back
comb several inches into her head. A very little more and it must
have entered her skull. We have a medical certifiket that if it
hadthe tortershell would have affected the brain.

'Me and my brother were then the victims of his feury since which we
have suffered very much which leads us to the arrowing belief that
we have received some injury in our insidesespecially as no marks
of violence are visible externally. I am screaming out loud all the
time I write and so is my brother which takes off my attention
rather and I hope will excuse mistakes.

'The monster having sasiated his thirst for blood ran awaytaking
with him a boy of desperate caracter that he had excited to
rebellyonand a garnet ring belonging to my maand not having been


apprehended by the constables is supposed to have been took up by
some stage-coach. My pa begs that if he comes to you the ring may
be returnedand that you will let the thief and assassin goas if
we prosecuted him he would only be transportedand if he is let go
he is sure to be hung before long which will save us trouble and be
much more satisfactory. Hoping to hear from you when convenient

'I remain
'Yours and cetrer
'FANNY SQUEERS.

'P.S. I pity his ignorance and despise him.'

A profound silence succeeded to the reading of this choice epistle
during which Newman Noggsas he folded it upgazed with a kind of
grotesque pity at the boy of desperate character therein referred
to; whohaving no more distinct perception of the matter in hand
than that he had been the unfortunate cause of heaping trouble and
falsehood upon Nicholassat mute and dispiritedwith a most
woe-begone and heart-stricken look.

'Mr Noggs' said Nicholasafter a few moments' reflection'I must
go out at once.'

'Go out!' cried Newman.

'Yes' said Nicholas'to Golden Square. Nobody who knows me would
believe this story of the ring; but it may suit the purposeor
gratify the hatred of Mr Ralph Nickleby to feign to attach credence
to it. It is due--not to himbut to myself--that I should state
the truth; and moreoverI have a word or two to exchange with him
which will not keep cool.'

'They must' said Newman.

'They must notindeed' rejoined Nicholas firmlyas he prepared to
leave the house.

'Hear me speak' said Newmanplanting himself before his impetuous
young friend. 'He is not there. He is away from town. He will not
be back for three days; and I know that letter will not be answered
before he returns.'

'Are you sure of this?' asked Nicholaschafing violentlyand
pacing the narrow room with rapid strides.

'Quite' rejoined Newman. 'He had hardly read it when he was called
away. Its contents are known to nobody but himself and us.'

'Are you certain?' demanded Nicholasprecipitately; 'not even to my
mother or sister? If I thought that they--I will go there--I must
see them. Which is the way? Where is it?'

'Nowbe advised by me' said Newmanspeaking for the momentin
his earnestnesslike any other man--'make no effort to see even
themtill he comes home. I know the man. Do not seem to have been
tampering with anybody. When he returnsgo straight to himand
speak as boldly as you like. Guessing at the real truthhe knows
it as well as you or I. Trust him for that.'

'You mean well to meand should know him better than I can'
replied Nicholasafter some consideration. 'Well; let it be so.'

Newmanwho had stood during the foregoing conversation with his


back planted against the doorready to oppose any egress from the
apartment by forceif necessaryresumed his seat with much
satisfaction; and as the water in the kettle was by this time
boilingmade a glassful of spirits and water for Nicholasand a
cracked mug-full for the joint accommodation of himself and Smike
of which the two partook in great harmonywhile Nicholasleaning
his head upon his handremained buried in melancholy meditation.

Meanwhilethe company below stairsafter listening attentively and
not hearing any noise which would justify them in interfering for
the gratification of their curiosityreturned to the chamber of the
Kenwigsesand employed themselves in hazarding a great variety of
conjectures relative to the cause of Mr Noggs' sudden disappearance
and detention.

'LorI'll tell you what' said Mrs Kenwigs. 'Suppose it should be
an express sent up to say that his property has all come back
again!'

'Dear me' said Mr Kenwigs; 'it's not impossible. Perhapsin that
casewe'd better send up and ask if he won't take a little more
punch.'

'Kenwigs!' said Mr Lillyvickin a loud voice'I'm surprised at
you.'

'What's the mattersir?' asked Mr Kenwigswith becoming submission
to the collector of water-rates.

'Making such a remark as thatsir' replied Mr Lillyvickangrily.
'He has had punch alreadyhas he notsir? I consider the way in
which that punch was cut offif I may use the expressionhighly
disrespectful to this company; scandalousperfectly scandalous. It
may be the custom to allow such things in this housebut it's not
the kind of behaviour that I've been used to see displayedand so I
don't mind telling youKenwigs. A gentleman has a glass of punch
before him to which he is just about to set his lipswhen another
gentleman comes and collars that glass of punchwithout a "with
your leave"or "by your leave"and carries that glass of punch
away. This may be good manners--I dare say it is--but I don't
understand itthat's all; and what's moreI don't care if I never
do. It's my way to speak my mindKenwigsand that is my mind; and
if you don't like itit's past my regular time for going to bed
and I can find my way home without making it later.'

Here was an untoward event! The collector had sat swelling and
fuming in offended dignity for some minutesand had now fairly
burst out. The great man--the rich relation--the unmarried uncle-who
had it in his power to make Morleena an heiressand the very
baby a legatee--was offended. Gracious Powerswhere was this to
end!

'I am very sorrysir' said Mr Kenwigshumbly.

'Don't tell me you're sorry' retorted Mr Lillyvickwith much
sharpness. 'You should have prevented itthen.'

The company were quite paralysed by this domestic crash. The backparlour
sat with her mouth wide openstaring vacantly at the
collectorin a stupor of dismay; the other guests were scarcely
less overpowered by the great man's irritation. Mr Kenwigsnot
being skilful in such mattersonly fanned the flame in attempting
to extinguish it.


'I didn't think of itI am suresir' said that gentleman. 'I
didn't suppose that such a little thing as a glass of punch would
have put you out of temper.'

'Out of temper! What the devil do you mean by that piece of
impertinenceMr Kenwigs?' said the collector. 'Morleenachild-give
me my hat.'

'Ohyou're not goingMr Lillyvicksir' interposed Miss Petowker
with her most bewitching smile.

But still Mr Lillyvickregardless of the sirencried obdurately
'Morleenamy hat!' upon the fourth repetition of which demandMrs
Kenwigs sunk back in her chairwith a cry that might have softened
a water-buttnot to say a water-collector; while the four little
girls (privately instructed to that effect) clasped their uncle's
drab shorts in their armsand prayed himin imperfect Englishto
remain.

'Why should I stop heremy dears?' said Mr Lillyvick; 'I'm not
wanted here.'

'Ohdo not speak so cruellyuncle' sobbed Mrs Kenwigs'unless
you wish to kill me.'

'I shouldn't wonder if some people were to say I did' replied Mr
Lillyvickglancing angrily at Kenwigs. 'Out of temper!'

'Oh! I cannot bear to see him look soat my husband' cried Mrs
Kenwigs. 'It's so dreadful in families. Oh!'

'Mr Lillyvick' said Kenwigs'I hopefor the sake of your niece
that you won't object to be reconciled.'

The collector's features relaxedas the company added their
entreaties to those of his nephew-in-law. He gave up his hatand
held out his hand.

'ThereKenwigs' said Mr Lillyvick; 'and let me tell youat the
same timeto show you how much out of temper I wasthat if I had
gone away without another wordit would have made no difference
respecting that pound or two which I shall leave among your children
when I die.'

'Morleena Kenwigs' cried her motherin a torrent of affection.
'Go down upon your knees to your dear uncleand beg him to love you
all his life throughfor he's more a angel than a manand I've
always said so.'

Miss Morleena approaching to do homagein compliance with this
injunctionwas summarily caught up and kissed by Mr Lillyvick; and
thereupon Mrs Kenwigs darted forward and kissed the collectorand
an irrepressible murmur of applause broke from the company who had
witnessed his magnanimity.

The worthy gentleman then became once more the life and soul of the
society; being again reinstated in his old post of lionfrom which
high station the temporary distraction of their thoughts had for a
moment dispossessed him. Quadruped lions are said to be savage
only when they are hungry; biped lions are rarely sulky longer than
when their appetite for distinction remains unappeased. Mr
Lillyvick stood higher than ever; for he had shown his power; hinted
at his property and testamentary intentions; gained great credit for
disinterestedness and virtue; andin addition to allwas finally


accommodated with a much larger tumbler of punch than that which
Newman Noggs had so feloniously made off with.

'I say! I beg everybody's pardon for intruding again' said Crowl
looking in at this happy juncture; 'but what a queer business this
isisn't it? Noggs has lived in this housenow going on for five
yearsand nobody has ever been to see him beforewithin the memory
of the oldest inhabitant.'

'It's a strange time of night to be called awaysircertainly'
said the collector; 'and the behaviour of Mr Noggs himselfisto
say the least of itmysterious.'

'Wellso it is' rejoined Growl; 'and I'll tell you what's more--I
think these two geniuseswhoever they arehave run away from
somewhere.'

'What makes you think thatsir?' demanded the collectorwho
seemedby a tacit understandingto have been chosen and elected
mouthpiece to the company. 'You have no reason to suppose that they
have run away from anywhere without paying the rates and taxes due
I hope?'

Mr Crowlwith a look of some contemptwas about to enter a general
protest against the payment of rates or taxesunder any
circumstanceswhen he was checked by a timely whisper from Kenwigs
and several frowns and winks from Mrs K.which providentially
stopped him.

'Why the fact is' said Crowlwho had been listening at Newman's
door with all his might and main; 'the fact isthat they have been
talking so loudthat they quite disturbed me in my roomand so I
couldn't help catching a word hereand a word there; and all I
heardcertainly seemed to refer to their having bolted from some
place or other. I don't wish to alarm Mrs Kenwigs; but I hope they
haven't come from any jail or hospitaland brought away a fever or
some unpleasantness of that sortwhich might be catching for the
children.'

Mrs Kenwigs was so overpowered by this suppositionthat it needed
all the tender attentions of Miss Petowkerof the Theatre Royal
Drury Laneto restore her to anything like a state of calmness; not
to mention the assiduity of Mr Kenwigswho held a fat smellingbottle
to his lady's noseuntil it became matter of some doubt
whether the tears which coursed down her face were the result of
feelings or SAL VOLATILE.

The ladieshaving expressed their sympathysingly and separately
fellaccording to custominto a little chorus of soothing
expressionsamong whichsuch condolences as 'Poor dear!'--'I
should feel just the sameif I was her'--'To be sureit's a very
trying thing'--and 'Nobody but a mother knows what a mother's
feelings is' were among the most prominentand most frequently
repeated. In shortthe opinion of the company was so clearly
manifestedthat Mr Kenwigs was on the point of repairing to Mr
Noggs's roomto demand an explanationand had indeed swallowed a
preparatory glass of punchwith great inflexibility and steadiness
of purposewhen the attention of all present was diverted by a new
and terrible surprise.

This was nothing less than the sudden pouring forth of a rapid
succession of the shrillest and most piercing screamsfrom an upper
story; and to all appearance from the very two-pair backin which
the infant Kenwigs was at that moment enshrined. They were no


sooner audiblethan Mrs Kenwigsopining that a strange cat had
come inand sucked the baby's breath while the girl was asleep
made for the doorwringing her handsand shrieking dismally; to
the great consternation and confusion of the company.

'Mr Kenwigssee what it is; make haste!' cried the sisterlaying
violent hands upon Mrs Kenwigsand holding her back by force. 'Oh
don't twist about sodearor I can never hold you.'

'My babymy blessedblessedblessedblessed baby!' screamed Mrs
Kenwigsmaking every blessed louder than the last. 'My own
darlingsweetinnocent Lillyvick--Oh let me go to him. Let me goo-
o-o!'

Pending the utterance of these frantic criesand the wails and
lamentations of the four little girlsMr Kenwigs rushed upstairs to
the room whence the sounds proceeded; at the door of whichhe
encountered Nicholaswith the child in his armswho darted out
with such violencethat the anxious father was thrown down six
stairsand alighted on the nearest landing-placebefore he had
found time to open his mouth to ask what was the matter.

'Don't be alarmed' cried Nicholasrunning down; 'here it is; it's
all outit's all over; pray compose yourselves; there's no harm
done;' and with theseand a thousand other assuranceshe delivered
the baby (whomin his hurryhe had carried upside down)to Mrs
Kenwigsand ran back to assist Mr Kenwigswho was rubbing his head
very hardand looking much bewildered by his tumble.

Reassured by this cheering intelligencethe company in some degree
recovered from their fearswhich had been productive of some most
singular instances of a total want of presence of mind; thusthe
bachelor friend hadfor a long timesupported in his arms Mrs
Kenwigs's sisterinstead of Mrs Kenwigs; and the worthy Mr
Lillyvick had been actually seenin the perturbation of his
spiritsto kiss Miss Petowker several timesbehind the room-door
as calmly as if nothing distressing were going forward.

'It is a mere nothing' said Nicholasreturning to Mrs Kenwigs;
'the little girlwho was watching the childbeing tired I suppose
fell asleepand set her hair on fire.'

'Oh you malicious little wretch!' cried Mrs Kenwigsimpressively
shaking her forefinger at the small unfortunatewho might be
thirteen years oldand was looking on with a singed head and a
frightened face.

'I heard her cries' continued Nicholas'and ran downin time to
prevent her setting fire to anything else. You may depend upon it
that the child is not hurt; for I took it off the bed myselfand
brought it here to convince you.'

This brief explanation overthe infantwhoas he was christened
after the collector! rejoiced in the names of Lillyvick Kenwigswas
partially suffocated under the caresses of the audienceand
squeezed to his mother's bosomuntil he roared again. The
attention of the company was then directedby a natural transition
to the little girl who had had the audacity to burn her hair off
and whoafter receiving sundry small slaps and pushes from the more
energetic of the ladieswas mercifully sent home: the ninepence
with which she was to have been rewardedbeing escheated to the
Kenwigs family.

'And whatever we are to say to yousir' exclaimed Mrs Kenwigs


addressing young Lillyvick's deliverer'I am sure I don't know.'

'You need say nothing at all' replied Nicholas. 'I have done
nothing to found any very strong claim upon your eloquenceI am
sure.'

'He might have been burnt to deathif it hadn't been for yousir'
simpered Miss Petowker.

'Not very likelyI think' replied Nicholas; 'for there was
abundance of assistance herewhich must have reached him before he
had been in any danger.'

'You will let us drink your healthanyvayssir!' said Mr Kenwigs
motioning towards the table.

'--In my absenceby all means' rejoined Nicholaswith a smile.
'I have had a very fatiguing journeyand should be most indifferent
company--a far greater check upon your merrimentthan a promoter of
iteven if I kept awakewhich I think very doubtful. If you will
allow meI'll return to my friendMr Noggswho went upstairs
againwhen he found nothing serious had occurred. Good-night.'

Excusing himselfin these termsfrom joining in the festivities
Nicholas took a most winning farewell of Mrs Kenwigs and the other
ladiesand retiredafter making a very extraordinary impression
upon the company.

'What a delightful young man!' cried Mrs Kenwigs.

'Uncommon gentlemanlyreally' said Mr Kenwigs. 'Don't you think
soMr Lillyvick?'

'Yes' said the collectorwith a dubious shrug of his shoulders
'He is gentlemanlyvery gentlemanly--in appearance.'

'I hope you don't see anything against himuncle?' inquired Mrs
Kenwigs.

'Nomy dear' replied the collector'no. I trust he may not turn
out--well--no matter--my love to youmy dearand long life to the
baby!'

'Your namesake' said Mrs Kenwigswith a sweet smile.

'And I hope a worthy namesake' observed Mr Kenwigswilling to
propitiate the collector. 'I hope a baby as will never disgrace his
godfatherand as may be consideredin arter yearsof a piece with
the Lillyvicks whose name he bears. I do say--and Mrs Kenwigs is of
the same sentimentand feels it as strong as I do--that I consider
his being called Lillyvick one of the greatest blessings and Honours
of my existence.'

'THE greatest blessingKenwigs' murmured his lady.

'THE greatest blessing' said Mr Kenwigscorrecting himself. 'A
blessing that I hopeone of these daysI may be able to deserve.'

This was a politic stroke of the Kenwigsesbecause it made Mr
Lillyvick the great head and fountain of the baby's importance. The
good gentleman felt the delicacy and dexterity of the touchand at
once proposed the health of the gentlemanname unknownwho had
signalised himselfthat nightby his coolness and alacrity.


'WhoI don't mind saying' observed Mr Lillyvickas a great
concession'is a good-looking young man enoughwith manners that I
hope his character may be equal to.'

'He has a very nice face and stylereally' said Mrs Kenwigs.

'He certainly has' added Miss Petowker. 'There's something in his
appearance quite--deardearwhat's that word again?'

'What word?' inquired Mr Lillyvick.

'Why--dear mehow stupid I am' replied Miss Petowkerhesitating.
'What do you call itwhen Lords break off door-knockers and beat
policemenand play at coaches with other people's moneyand all
that sort of thing?'

'Aristocratic?' suggested the collector.

'Ah! aristocratic' replied Miss Petowker; 'something very
aristocratic about himisn't there?'

The gentleman held their peaceand smiled at each otheras who
should say'Well! there's no accounting for tastes;' but the ladies
resolved unanimously that Nicholas had an aristocratic air; and
nobody caring to dispute the positionit was established
triumphantly.

The punch beingby this timedrunk outand the little Kenwigses
(who had for some time previously held their little eyes open with
their little forefingers) becoming fractiousand requesting rather
urgently to be put to bedthe collector made a move by pulling out
his watchand acquainting the company that it was nigh two o'clock;
whereat some of the guests were surprised and others shockedand
hats and bonnets being groped for under the tablesand in course of
time foundtheir owners went awayafter a vast deal of shaking of
handsand many remarks how they had never spent such a delightful
eveningand how they marvelled to find it so lateexpecting to
have heard that it was half-past ten at the very latestand how
they wished that Mr and Mrs Kenwigs had a wedding-day once a week
and how they wondered by what hidden agency Mrs Kenwigs could
possibly have managed so well; and a great deal more of the same
kind. To all of which flattering expressionsMr and Mrs Kenwigs
repliedby thanking every lady and gentlemanSERIATIMfor the
favour of their companyand hoping they might have enjoyed
themselves only half as well as they said they had.

As to Nicholasquite unconscious of the impression he had produced
he had long since fallen asleepleaving Mr Newman Noggs and Smike
to empty the spirit bottle between them; and this office they
performed with such extreme good-willthat Newman was equally at a
loss to determine whether he himself was quite soberand whether he
had ever seen any gentleman so heavilydrowsilyand completely
intoxicated as his new acquaintance.

CHAPTER 16

Nicholas seeks to employ himself in a New Capacityand being
unsuccessfulaccepts an engagement as Tutor in a Private Family

The first care of Nicholasnext morningwasto look after some
room in whichuntil better times dawned upon himhe could contrive


to existwithout trenching upon the hospitality of Newman Noggs
who would have slept upon the stairs with pleasureso that his
young friend was accommodated.

The vacant apartment to which the bill in the parlour window bore
referenceappearedon inquiryto be a small back-room on the
second floorreclaimed from the leadsand overlooking a sootbespeckled
prospect of tiles and chimney-pots. For the letting of
this portion of the house from week to weekon reasonable terms
the parlour lodger was empowered to treat; he being deputed by the
landlord to dispose of the rooms as they became vacantand to keep
a sharp look-out that the lodgers didn't run away. As a means of
securing the punctual discharge of which last service he was
permitted to live rent-freelest he should at any time be tempted
to run away himself.

Of this chamberNicholas became the tenant; and having hired a few
common articles of furniture from a neighbouring brokerand paid
the first week's hire in advanceout of a small fund raised by the
conversion of some spare clothes into ready moneyhe sat himself
down to ruminate upon his prospectswhichlike the prospect
outside his windowwere sufficiently confined and dingy. As they
by no means improved on better acquaintanceand as familiarity
breeds contempthe resolved to banish them from his thoughts by
dint of hard walking. Sotaking up his hatand leaving poor Smike
to arrange and rearrange the room with as much delight as if it had
been the costliest palacehe betook himself to the streetsand
mingled with the crowd which thronged them.

Although a man may lose a sense of his own importance when he is a
mere unit among a busy throngall utterly regardless of himit by
no means follows that he can dispossess himselfwith equal
facilityof a very strong sense of the importance and magnitude of
his cares. The unhappy state of his own affairs was the one idea
which occupied the brain of Nicholaswalk as fast as he would; and
when he tried to dislodge it by speculating on the situation and
prospects of the people who surrounded himhe caught himselfin a
few secondscontrasting their condition with his ownand gliding
almost imperceptibly back into his old train of thought again.

Occupied in these reflectionsas he was making his way along one of
the great public thoroughfares of Londonhe chanced to raise his
eyes to a blue boardwhereon was inscribedin characters of gold
'General Agency Office; for places and situations of all kinds
inquire within.' It was a shop-frontfitted up with a gauze blind
and an inner door; and in the window hung a long and tempting array
of written placardsannouncing vacant places of every gradefrom a
secretary's to a foot-boy's.

Nicholas haltedinstinctivelybefore this temple of promiseand
ran his eye over the capital-text openings in life which were so
profusely displayed. When he had completed his survey he walked on
a little wayand then backand then on again; at lengthafter
pausing irresolutely several times before the door of the General
Agency Officehe made up his mindand stepped in.

He found himself in a little floor-clothed roomwith a high desk
railed off in one cornerbehind which sat a lean youth with cunning
eyes and a protruding chinwhose performances in capital-text
darkened the window. He had a thick ledger lying open before him
and with the fingers of his right hand inserted between the leaves
and his eyes fixed on a very fat old lady in a mob-cap--evidently
the proprietress of the establishment--who was airing herself at the
fireseemed to be only waiting her directions to refer to some


entries contained within its rusty clasps.

As there was a board outsidewhich acquainted the public that
servants-of-all-work were perpetually in waiting to be hired from
ten till fourNicholas knew at once that some half-dozen strong
young womeneach with pattens and an umbrellawho were sitting
upon a form in one cornerwere in attendance for that purpose:
especially as the poor things looked anxious and weary. He was not
quite so certain of the callings and stations of two smart young
ladies who were in conversation with the fat lady before the fire
until--having sat himself down in a cornerand remarked that he
would wait until the other customers had been served--the fat lady
resumed the dialogue which his entrance had interrupted.

'CookTom' said the fat ladystill airing herself as aforesaid.

'Cook' said Tomturning over some leaves of the ledger. 'Well!'

'Read out an easy place or two' said the fat lady.

'Pick out very light onesif you pleaseyoung man' interposed a
genteel femalein shepherd's-plaid bootswho appeared to be the
client.

'"Mrs Marker' said Tom, reading, 'Russell PlaceRussell Square;
offers eighteen guineas; tea and sugar found. Two in familyand
see very little company. Five servants kept. No man. No
followers."'

'Oh Lor!' tittered the client. 'THAT won't do. Read anotheryoung
manwill you?'

'"Mrs Wrymug' said Tom, 'Pleasant PlaceFinsbury. Wagestwelve
guineas. No teano sugar. Serious family--"'

'Ah! you needn't mind reading that' interrupted the client.

'"Three serious footmen' said Tom, impressively.

'Three? did you say?' asked the client in an altered tone.

'Three serious footmen,' replied Tom. 'Cookhousemaidand
nursemaid; each female servant required to join the Little Bethel
Congregation three times every Sunday--with a serious footman. If
the cook is more serious than the footmanshe will be expected to
improve the footman; if the footman is more serious than the cook
he will be expected to improve the cook."'

'I'll take the address of that place' said the client; 'I don't
know but what it mightn't suit me pretty well.'

'Here's another' remarked Tomturning over the leaves. '"Family
of Mr GallanbileMP. Fifteen guineastea and sugarand servants
allowed to see male cousinsif godly. Note. Cold dinner in the
kitchen on the SabbathMr Gallanbile being devoted to the
Observance question. No victuals whatever cooked on the Lord's Day
with the exception of dinner for Mr and Mrs Gallanbilewhichbeing
a work of piety and necessityis exempted. Mr Gallanbile dines
late on the day of restin order to prevent the sinfulness of the
cook's dressing herself."'

'I don't think that'll answer as well as the other' said the
clientafter a little whispering with her friend. 'I'll take the
other directionif you pleaseyoung man. I can but come back


againif it don't do.'

Tom made out the addressas requestedand the genteel client
having satisfied the fat lady with a small feemeanwhilewent away
accompanied by her friend.

As Nicholas opened his mouthto request the young man to turn to
letter Sand let him know what secretaryships remained undisposed
ofthere came into the office an applicantin whose favour he
immediately retiredand whose appearance both surprised and
interested him.

This was a young lady who could be scarcely eighteenof very slight
and delicate figurebut exquisitely shapedwhowalking timidly up
to the deskmade an inquiryin a very low tone of voicerelative
to some situation as governessor companion to a lady. She raised
her veilfor an instantwhile she preferred the inquiryand
disclosed a countenance of most uncommon beautythough shaded by a
cloud of sadnesswhichin one so youngwas doubly remarkable.
Having received a card of reference to some person on the booksshe
made the usual acknowledgmentand glided away.

She was neatlybut very quietly attired; so much soindeedthat
it seemed as though her dressif it had been worn by one who
imparted fewer graces of her own to itmight have looked poor and
shabby. Her attendant--for she had one--was a red-facedroundeyed
slovenly girlwhofrom a certain roughness about the bare
arms that peeped from under her draggled shawland the half-washedout
traces of smut and blacklead which tattooed her countenancewas
clearly of a kin with the servants-of-all-work on the form: between
whom and herself there had passed various grins and glances
indicative of the freemasonry of the craft.

This girl followed her mistress; andbefore Nicholas had recovered
from the first effects of his surprise and admirationthe young
lady was gone. It is not a matter of such complete and utter
improbability as some sober people may thinkthat he would have
followed them outhad he not been restrained by what passed between
the fat lady and her book-keeper.

'When is she coming againTom?' asked the fat lady.

'Tomorrow morning' replied Tommending his pen.

'Where have you sent her to?' asked the fat lady.

'Mrs Clark's' replied Tom.

'She'll have a nice life of itif she goes there' observed the fat
ladytaking a pinch of snuff from a tin box.

Tom made no other reply than thrusting his tongue into his cheek
and pointing the feather of his pen towards Nicholas--reminders
which elicited from the fat lady an inquiryof 'Nowsirwhat can
we do for YOU?'

Nicholas briefly repliedthat he wanted to know whether there was
any such post to be hadas secretary or amanuensis to a gentleman.

'Any such!' rejoined the mistress; 'a-dozen-such. An't thereTom?'

'I should think so' answered that young gentleman; and as he said
ithe winked towards Nicholaswith a degree of familiarity which
heno doubtintended for a rather flattering complimentbut with


which Nicholas was most ungratefully disgusted.

Upon reference to the bookit appeared that the dozen secretaryships
had dwindled down to one. Mr Gregsburythe great member of
parliamentof Manchester BuildingsWestminsterwanted a
young manto keep his papers and correspondence in order; and
Nicholas was exactly the sort of young man that Mr Gregsbury wanted.

'I don't know what the terms areas he said he'd settle them
himself with the party' observed the fat lady; 'but they must be
pretty good onesbecause he's a member of parliament.'

Inexperienced as he wasNicholas did not feel quite assured of the
force of this reasoningor the justice of this conclusion; but
without troubling himself to question ithe took down the address
and resolved to wait upon Mr Gregsbury without delay.

'I don't know what the number is' said Tom; 'but Manchester
Buildings isn't a large place; and if the worst comes to the worst
it won't take you very long to knock at all the doors on both sides
of the way till you find him out. I saywhat a good-looking gal
that waswasn't she?'

'What girl?' demanded Nicholassternly.

'Oh yes. I know--what galeh?' whispered Tomshutting one eye
and cocking his chin in the air. 'You didn't see heryou didn't--I
saydon't you wish you was mewhen she comes tomorrow morning?'

Nicholas looked at the ugly clerkas if he had a mind to reward his
admiration of the young lady by beating the ledger about his ears
but he refrainedand strode haughtily out of the office; setting at
defiancein his indignationthose ancient laws of chivalrywhich
not only made it proper and lawful for all good knights to hear the
praise of the ladies to whom they were devotedbut rendered it
incumbent upon them to roam about the worldand knock at head all
such matter-of-fact and un-poetical charactersas declined to
exaltabove all the earthdamsels whom they had never chanced to
look upon or hear of--as if that were any excuse!

Thinking no longer of his own misfortunesbut wondering what could
be those of the beautiful girl he had seenNicholaswith many
wrong turnsand many inquiriesand almost as many misdirections
bent his steps towards the place whither he had been directed.

Within the precincts of the ancient city of Westminsterand within
half a quarter of a mile of its ancient sanctuaryis a narrow and
dirty regionthe sanctuary of the smaller members of Parliament in
modern days. It is all comprised in one street of gloomy lodginghouses
from whose windowsin vacation-timethere frown long
melancholy rows of billswhich sayas plainly as did the
countenances of their occupiersranged on ministerial and
opposition benches in the session which slumbers with its fathers
'To Let''To Let'. In busier periods of the year these bills
disappearand the houses swarm with legislators. There are
legislators in the parloursin the first floorin the secondin
the thirdin the garrets; the small apartments reek with the breath
of deputations and delegates. In damp weatherthe place is
rendered closeby the steams of moist acts of parliament and frouzy
petitions; general postmen grow faint as they enter its infected
limitsand shabby figures in quest of franksflit restlessly to
and fro like the troubled ghosts of Complete Letter-writers
departed. This is Manchester Buildings; and hereat all hours of
the nightmay be heard the rattling of latch-keys in their


respective keyholes: with now and then--when a gust of wind sweeping
across the water which washes the Buildings' feetimpels the sound
towards its entrance--the weakshrill voice of some young member
practising tomorrow's speech. All the livelong daythere is a
grinding of organs and clashing and clanging of little boxes of
music; for Manchester Buildings is an eel-potwhich has no outlet
but its awkward mouth--a case-bottle which has no thoroughfareand
a short and narrow neck--and in this respect it may be typical of
the fate of some few among its more adventurous residentswho
after wriggling themselves into Parliament by violent efforts and
contortionsfind that ittoois no thoroughfare for them; that
like Manchester Buildingsit leads to nothing beyond itself; and
that they are fain at last to back outno wiserno richernot one
whit more famousthan they went in.

Into Manchester Buildings Nicholas turnedwith the address of the
great Mr Gregsbury in his hand. As there was a stream of people
pouring into a shabby house not far from the entrancehe waited
until they had made their way inand then making up to the servant
ventured to inquire if he knew where Mr Gregsbury lived.

The servant was a very paleshabby boywho looked as if he had
slept underground from his infancyas very likely he had. 'Mr
Gregsbury?' said he; 'Mr Gregsbury lodges here. It's all right.
Come in!'

Nicholas thought he might as well get in while he couldso in he
walked; and he had no sooner done sothan the boy shut the door
and made off.

This was odd enough: but what was more embarrassing wasthat all
along the passageand all along the narrow stairsblocking up the
windowand making the dark entry darker stillwas a confused crowd
of persons with great importance depicted in their looks; who were
to all appearancewaiting in silent expectation of some coming
event. From time to timeone man would whisper his neighbouror a
little group would whisper togetherand then the whisperers would
nod fiercely to each otheror give their heads a relentless shake
as if they were bent upon doing something very desperateand were
determined not to be put offwhatever happened.

As a few minutes elapsed without anything occurring to explain this
phenomenonand as he felt his own position a peculiarly
uncomfortable oneNicholas was on the point of seeking some
information from the man next himwhen a sudden move was visible on
the stairsand a voice was heard to cry'Nowgentlemanhave the
goodness to walk up!'

So far from walking upthe gentlemen on the stairs began to walk
down with great alacrityand to entreatwith extraordinary
politenessthat the gentlemen nearest the street would go first;
the gentlemen nearest the street retortedwith equal courtesythat
they couldn't think of such a thing on any account; but they did it
without thinking of itinasmuch as the other gentlemen pressing
some half-dozen (among whom was Nicholas) forwardand closing up
behindpushed themnot merely up the stairsbut into the very
sitting-room of Mr Gregsburywhich they were thus compelled to
enter with most unseemly precipitationand without the means of
retreat; the press behind themmore than filling the apartment.

'Gentlemen' said Mr Gregsbury'you are welcome. I am rejoiced to
see you.'

For a gentleman who was rejoiced to see a body of visitorsMr


Gregsbury looked as uncomfortable as might be; but perhaps this was
occasioned by senatorial gravityand a statesmanlike habit of
keeping his feelings under control. He was a toughburlythickheaded
gentlemanwith a loud voicea pompous mannera tolerable
command of sentences with no meaning in themandin shortevery
requisite for a very good member indeed.

'Nowgentlemen' said Mr Gregsburytossing a great bundle of
papers into a wicker basket at his feetand throwing himself back
in his chair with his arms over the elbows'you are dissatisfied
with my conductI see by the newspapers.'

'YesMr Gregsburywe are' said a plump old gentleman in a violent
heatbursting out of the throngand planting himself in the front.

'Do my eyes deceive me' said Mr Gregsburylooking towards the
speaker'or is that my old friend Pugstyles?'

'I am that manand no othersir' replied the plump old gentleman.

'Give me your handmy worthy friend' said Mr Gregsbury.
'Pugstylesmy dear friendI am very sorry to see you here.'

'I am very sorry to be heresir' said Mr Pugstyles; 'but your
conductMr Gregsburyhas rendered this deputation from your
constituents imperatively necessary.'

'My conductPugstyles' said Mr Gregsburylooking round upon the
deputation with gracious magnanimity--'my conduct has beenand ever
will beregulated by a sincere regard for the true and real
interests of this great and happy country. Whether I look at home
or abroad; whether I behold the peaceful industrious communities of
our island home: her rivers covered with steamboatsher roads with
locomotivesher streets with cabsher skies with balloons of a
power and magnitude hitherto unknown in the history of aeronautics
in this or any other nation--I saywhether I look merely at home
orstretching my eyes farthercontemplate the boundless prospect
of conquest and possession--achieved by British perseverance and
British valour--which is outspread before meI clasp my handsand
turning my eyes to the broad expanse above my headexclaimThank
Heaven, I am a Briton!'

The time had beenwhen this burst of enthusiasm would have been
cheered to the very echo; but nowthe deputation received it with
chilling coldness. The general impression seemed to bethat as an
explanation of Mr Gregsbury's political conductit did not enter
quite enough into detail; and one gentleman in the rear did not
scruple to remark aloudthatfor his purposeit savoured rather
too much of a 'gammon' tendency.

'The meaning of that term--gammon' said Mr Gregsbury'is unknown
to me. If it means that I grow a little too fervidor perhaps even
hyperbolicalin extolling my native landI admit the full justice
of the remark. I AM proud of this free and happy country. My form
dilatesmy eye glistensmy breast heavesmy heart swellsmy
bosom burnswhen I call to mind her greatness and her glory.'

'We wishsir' remarked Mr Pugstylescalmly'to ask you a few
questions.'

'If you pleasegentlemen; my time is yours--and my country's--and
my country's--' said Mr Gregsbury.

This permission being concededMr Pugstyles put on his spectacles


and referred to a written paper which he drew from his pocket;
whereupon nearly every other member of the deputation pulled a
written paper from HIS pocketto check Mr Pugstyles offas he read
the questions.

This doneMr Pugstyles proceeded to business.

'Question number one.--Whethersiryou did not give a voluntary
pledge previous to your electionthat in event of your being
returnedyou would immediately put down the practice of coughing
and groaning in the House of Commons. And whether you did not
submit to be coughed and groaned down in the very first debate of
the sessionand have since made no effort to effect a reform in
this respect? Whether you did not also pledge yourself to astonish
the governmentand make them shrink in their shoes? And whether
you have astonished themand made them shrink in their shoesor
not?'

'Go on to the next onemy dear Pugstyles' said Mr Gregsbury.

'Have you any explanation to offer with reference to that question
sir?' asked Mr Pugstyles.

'Certainly not' said Mr Gregsbury.

The members of the deputation looked fiercely at each otherand
afterwards at the member. 'Dear Pugstyles' having taken a very long
stare at Mr Gregsbury over the tops of his spectaclesresumed his
list of inquiries.

'Question number two.--Whethersiryou did not likewise give a
voluntary pledge that you would support your colleague on every
occasion; and whether you did notthe night before lastdesert him
and vote upon the other sidebecause the wife of a leader on that
other side had invited Mrs Gregsbury to an evening party?'

'Go on' said Mr Gregsbury.

'Nothing to say on thateithersir?' asked the spokesman.

'Nothing whatever' replied Mr Gregsbury. The deputationwho had
only seen him at canvassing or election timewere struck dumb by
his coolness. He didn't appear like the same man; then he was all
milk and honey; now he was all starch and vinegar. But men ARE so
different at different times!

'Question number three--and last' said Mr Pugstylesemphatically.
'Whethersiryou did not state upon the hustingsthat it was your
firm and determined intention to oppose everything proposed; to
divide the house upon every questionto move for returns on every
subjectto place a motion on the books every dayandin shortin
your own memorable wordsto play the very devil with everything and
everybody?' With this comprehensive inquiryMr Pugstyles folded up
his list of questionsas did all his backers.

Mr Gregsbury reflectedblew his nosethrew himself further back in
his chaircame forward againleaning his elbows on the tablemade
a triangle with his two thumbs and his two forefingersand tapping
his nose with the apex thereofreplied (smiling as he said it)'I
deny everything.'

At this unexpected answera hoarse murmur arose from the
deputation; and the same gentleman who had expressed an opinion
relative to the gammoning nature of the introductory speechagain


made a monosyllabic demonstrationby growling out 'Resign!' Which
growl being taken up by his fellowsswelled into a very earnest and
general remonstrance.

'I am requestedsirto express a hope' said Mr Pugstyleswith a
distant bow'that on receiving a requisition to that effect from a
great majority of your constituentsyou will not object at once to
resign your seat in favour of some candidate whom they think they
can better trust.'

To thisMr Gregsbury read the following replywhichanticipating
the requesthe had composed in the form of a letterwhereof copies
had been made to send round to the newspapers.

'MY DEAR MR PUGSTYLES

'Next to the welfare of our beloved island--this great and free
and happy countrywhose powers and resources areI sincerely
believeillimitable--I value that noble independence which is
an Englishman's proudest boastand which I fondly hope to bequeath
to my childrenuntarnished and unsullied. Actuated by no personal
motivesbut moved only by high and great constitutional
considerations; which I will not attempt to explainfor they are
really beneath the comprehension of those who have not made
themselves mastersas I haveof the intricate and arduous
study of politics; I would rather keep my seatand intend doing so.

'Will you do me the favour to present my compliments to the
constituent bodyand acquaint them with this circumstance?

'With great esteem
'My dear Mr Pugstyles
'&c.&c.'

'Then you will not resignunder any circumstances?' asked the
spokesman.

Mr Gregsbury smiledand shook his head.

'Thengood-morningsir' said Pugstylesangrily.

'Heaven bless you!' said Mr Gregsbury. And the deputationwith
many growls and scowlsfiled off as quickly as the narrowness of
the staircase would allow of their getting down.

The last man being goneMr Gregsbury rubbed his hands and chuckled
as merry fellows willwhen they think they have said or done a more
than commonly good thing; he was so engrossed in this selfcongratulation
that he did not observe that Nicholas had been left
behind in the shadow of the window-curtainsuntil that young
gentlemanfearing he might otherwise overhear some soliloquy
intended to have no listenerscoughed twice or thriceto attract
the member's notice.

'What's that?' said Mr Gregsburyin sharp accents.

Nicholas stepped forwardand bowed.

'What do you do heresir?' asked Mr Gregsbury; 'a spy upon my
privacy! A concealed voter! You have heard my answersir. Pray
follow the deputation.'

'I should have done soif I had belonged to itbut I do not' said
Nicholas.


'Then how came you heresir?' was the natural inquiry of Mr
GregsburyMP. 'And where the devil have you come fromsir?' was
the question which followed it.

'I brought this card from the General Agency Officesir' said
Nicholas'wishing to offer myself as your secretaryand
understanding that you stood in need of one.'

'That's all you have come foris it?' said Mr Gregsburyeyeing him
in some doubt.

Nicholas replied in the affirmative.

'You have no connection with any of those rascally papers have you?'
said Mr Gregsbury. 'You didn't get into the roomto hear what was
going forwardand put it in printeh?'

'I have no connectionI am sorry to saywith anything at present'
rejoined Nicholas--politely enoughbut quite at his ease.

'Oh!' said Mr Gregsbury. 'How did you find your way up herethen?'

Nicholas related how he had been forced up by the deputation.

'That was the waywas it?' said Mr Gregsbury. 'Sit down.'

Nicholas took a chairand Mr Gregsbury stared at him for a long
timeas if to make certainbefore he asked any further questions
that there were no objections to his outward appearance.

'You want to be my secretarydo you?' he said at length.

'I wish to be employed in that capacitysir' replied Nicholas.

'Well' said Mr Gregsbury; 'now what can you do?'

'I suppose' replied Nicholassmiling'that I can do what usually
falls to the lot of other secretaries.'

'What's that?' inquired Mr Gregsbury.

'What is it?' replied Nicholas.

'Ah! What is it?' retorted the memberlooking shrewdly at him
with his head on one side.

'A secretary's duties are rather difficult to defineperhaps' said
Nicholasconsidering. 'They includeI presumecorrespondence?'

'Good' interposed Mr Gregsbury.

'The arrangement of papers and documents?'

'Very good.'

'Occasionallyperhapsthe writing from your dictation; and
possiblysir' said Nicholaswith a half-smile'the copying of
your speech for some public journalwhen you have made one of more
than usual importance.'

'Certainly' rejoined Mr Gregsbury. 'What else?'

'Really' said Nicholasafter a moment's reflection'I am not


ableat this instantto recapitulate any other duty of a
secretarybeyond the general one of making himself as agreeable and
useful to his employer as he canconsistently with his own
respectabilityand without overstepping that line of duties which
he undertakes to performand which the designation of his office is
usually understood to imply.'

Mr Gregsbury looked fixedly at Nicholas for a short timeand then
glancing warily round the roomsaid in a suppressed voice:

'This is all very wellMr--what is your name?'

'Nickleby.'

'This is all very wellMr Nicklebyand very properso far as it
goes--so far as it goesbut it doesn't go far enough. There are
other dutiesMr Nicklebywhich a secretary to a parliamentary
gentleman must never lose sight of. I should require to be crammed
sir.'

'I beg your pardon' interposed Nicholasdoubtful whether he had
heard aright.

'--To be crammedsir' repeated Mr Gregsbury.

'May I beg your pardon againif I inquire what you meansir?' said
Nicholas.

'My meaningsiris perfectly plain' replied Mr Gregsbury with a
solemn aspect. 'My secretary would have to make himself master of
the foreign policy of the worldas it is mirrored in the
newspapers; to run his eye over all accounts of public meetingsall
leading articlesand accounts of the proceedings of public bodies;
and to make notes of anything which it appeared to him might be made
a point ofin any little speech upon the question of some petition
lying on the tableor anything of that kind. Do you understand?'

'I think I dosir' replied Nicholas.

'Then' said Mr Gregsbury'it would be necessary for him to make
himself acquaintedfrom day to daywith newspaper paragraphs on
passing events; such as "Mysterious disappearanceand supposed
suicide of a potboy or anything of that sort, upon which I might
found a question to the Secretary of State for the Home Department.
Then, he would have to copy the question, and as much as I
remembered of the answer (including a little compliment about
independence and good sense); and to send the manuscript in a frank
to the local paper, with perhaps half-a-dozen lines of leader, to
the effect, that I was always to be found in my place in parliament,
and never shrunk from the responsible and arduous duties, and so
forth. You see?'

Nicholas bowed.

'Besides which,' continued Mr Gregsbury, 'I should expect him, now
and then, to go through a few figures in the printed tables, and to
pick out a few results, so that I might come out pretty well on
timber duty questions, and finance questions, and so on; and I
should like him to get up a few little arguments about the
disastrous effects of a return to cash payments and a metallic
currency, with a touch now and then about the exportation of
bullion, and the Emperor of Russia, and bank notes, and all that
kind of thing, which it's only necessary to talk fluently about,
because nobody understands it. Do you take me?'


'I think I understand,' said Nicholas.

'With regard to such questions as are not political,' continued Mr
Gregsbury, warming; 'and which one can't be expected to care a curse
about, beyond the natural care of not allowing inferior people to be
as well off as ourselves--else where are our privileges?--I should
wish my secretary to get together a few little flourishing speeches,
of a patriotic cast. For instance, if any preposterous bill were
brought forward, for giving poor grubbing devils of authors a right
to their own property, I should like to say, that I for one would
never consent to opposing an insurmountable bar to the diffusion of
literature among THE PEOPLE,--you understand?--that the creations of
the pocket, being man's, might belong to one man, or one family; but
that the creations of the brain, being God's, ought as a matter of
course to belong to the people at large--and if I was pleasantly
disposed, I should like to make a joke about posterity, and say that
those who wrote for posterity should be content to be rewarded by
the approbation OF posterity; it might take with the house, and
could never do me any harm, because posterity can't be expected to
know anything about me or my jokes either--do you see?'

'I see that, sir,' replied Nicholas.

'You must always bear in mind, in such cases as this, where our
interests are not affected,' said Mr Gregsbury, 'to put it very
strong about the people, because it comes out very well at electiontime;
and you could be as funny as you liked about the authors;
because I believe the greater part of them live in lodgings, and are
not voters. This is a hasty outline of the chief things you'd have
to do, except waiting in the lobby every night, in case I forgot
anything, and should want fresh cramming; and, now and then, during
great debates, sitting in the front row of the gallery, and saying
to the people about--'You see that gentleman, with his hand to his
face, and his arm twisted round the pillar--that's Mr Gregsbury--the
celebrated Mr Gregsbury,'--with any other little eulogium that might
strike you at the moment. And for salary,' said Mr Gregsbury,
winding up with great rapidity; for he was out of breath--'and for
salary, I don't mind saying at once in round numbers, to prevent any
dissatisfaction--though it's more than I've been accustomed to give
--fifteen shillings a week, and find yourself. There!'

With this handsome offer, Mr Gregsbury once more threw himself back
in his chair, and looked like a man who had been most profligately
liberal, but is determined not to repent of it notwithstanding.

'Fifteen shillings a week is not much,' said Nicholas, mildly.

'Not much! Fifteen shillings a week not much, young man?' cried Mr
Gregsbury. 'Fifteen shillings a--'

'Pray do not suppose that I quarrel with the sum, sir,' replied
Nicholas; 'for I am not ashamed to confess, that whatever it may be
in itself, to me it is a great deal. But the duties and
responsibilities make the recompense small, and they are so very
heavy that I fear to undertake them.'

'Do you decline to undertake them, sir?' inquired Mr Gregsbury, with
his hand on the bell-rope.

'I fear they are too great for my powers, however good my will may
be, sir,' replied Nicholas.

'That is as much as to say that you had rather not accept the place,


and that you consider fifteen shillings a week too little,' said Mr
Gregsbury, ringing. 'Do you decline it, sir?'

'I have no alternative but to do so,' replied Nicholas.

'Door, Matthews!' said Mr Gregsbury, as the boy appeared.

'I am sorry I have troubled you unnecessarily, sir,' said Nicholas,

'I am sorry you have,' rejoined Mr Gregsbury, turning his back upon
him. 'Door, Matthews!'

'Good-morning, sir,' said Nicholas.

'Door, Matthews!' cried Mr Gregsbury.

The boy beckoned Nicholas, and tumbling lazily downstairs before
him, opened the door, and ushered him into the street. With a sad
and pensive air, he retraced his steps homewards.

Smike had scraped a meal together from the remnant of last night's
supper, and was anxiously awaiting his return. The occurrences of
the morning had not improved Nicholas's appetite, and, by him, the
dinner remained untasted. He was sitting in a thoughtful attitude,
with the plate which the poor fellow had assiduously filled with the
choicest morsels, untouched, by his side, when Newman Noggs looked
into the room.

'Come back?' asked Newman.

'Yes,' replied Nicholas, 'tired to death: and, what is worse, might
have remained at home for all the good I have done.'

'Couldn't expect to do much in one morning,' said Newman.

'Maybe so, but I am sanguine, and did expect,' said Nicholas, 'and
am proportionately disappointed.' Saying which, he gave Newman an
account of his proceedings.

'If I could do anything,' said Nicholas, 'anything, however slight,
until Ralph Nickleby returns, and I have eased my mind by
confronting him, I should feel happier. I should think it no
disgrace to work, Heaven knows. Lying indolently here, like a halftamed
sullen beast, distracts me.'

'I don't know,' said Newman; 'small things offer--they would pay the
rent, and more--but you wouldn't like them; no, you could hardly be
expected to undergo it--no, no.'

'What could I hardly be expected to undergo?' asked Nicholas,
raising his eyes. 'Show me, in this wide waste of London, any
honest means by which I could even defray the weekly hire of this
poor room, and see if I shrink from resorting to them! Undergo! I
have undergone too much, my friend, to feel pride or squeamishness
now. Except--' added Nicholas hastily, after a short silence,
'except such squeamishness as is common honesty, and so much pride
as constitutes self-respect. I see little to choose, between
assistant to a brutal pedagogue, and toad-eater to a mean and
ignorant upstart, be he member or no member.'

'I hardly know whether I should tell you what I heard this morning,
or not,' said Newman.

'Has it reference to what you said just now?' asked Nicholas.


'It has.'

'Then in Heaven's name, my good friend, tell it me,' said Nicholas.
'For God's sake consider my deplorable condition; and, while I
promise to take no step without taking counsel with you, give me, at
least, a vote in my own behalf.'

Moved by this entreaty, Newman stammered forth a variety of most
unaccountable and entangled sentences, the upshot of which was, that
Mrs Kenwigs had examined him, at great length that morning, touching
the origin of his acquaintance with, and the whole life, adventures,
and pedigree of, Nicholas; that Newman had parried these questions
as long as he could, but being, at length, hard pressed and driven
into a corner, had gone so far as to admit, that Nicholas was a
tutor of great accomplishments, involved in some misfortunes which
he was not at liberty to explain, and bearing the name of Johnson.
That Mrs Kenwigs, impelled by gratitude, or ambition, or maternal
pride, or maternal love, or all four powerful motives conjointly,
had taken secret conference with Mr Kenwigs, and had finally
returned to propose that Mr Johnson should instruct the four Miss
Kenwigses in the French language as spoken by natives, at the weekly
stipend of five shillings, current coin of the realm; being at the
rate of one shilling per week, per each Miss Kenwigs, and one
shilling over, until such time as the baby might be able to take it
out in grammar.

'Which, unless I am very much mistaken,' observed Mrs Kenwigs in
making the proposition, 'will not be very long; for such clever
children, Mr Noggs, never were born into this world, I do believe.'

'There,' said Newman, 'that's all. It's beneath you, I know; but I
thought that perhaps you might--'

'Might!' cried Nicholas, with great alacrity; 'of course I shall. I
accept the offer at once. Tell the worthy mother so, without delay,
my dear fellow; and that I am ready to begin whenever she pleases.'

Newman hastened, with joyful steps, to inform Mrs Kenwigs of his
friend's acquiescence, and soon returning, brought back word that
they would be happy to see him in the first floor as soon as
convenient; that Mrs Kenwigs had, upon the instant, sent out to
secure a second-hand French grammar and dialogues, which had long
been fluttering in the sixpenny box at the bookstall round the
corner; and that the family, highly excited at the prospect of this
addition to their gentility, wished the initiatory lesson to come
off immediately.

And here it may be observed, that Nicholas was not, in the ordinary
sense of the word, a young man of high spirit. He would resent an
affront to himself, or interpose to redress a wrong offered to
another, as boldly and freely as any knight that ever set lance in
rest; but he lacked that peculiar excess of coolness and greatminded
selfishness, which invariably distinguish gentlemen of high
spirit. In truth, for our own part, we are disposed to look upon
such gentleman as being rather incumbrances than otherwise in rising
families: happening to be acquainted with several whose spirit
prevents their settling down to any grovelling occupation, and only
displays itself in a tendency to cultivate moustachios, and look
fierce; and although moustachios and ferocity are both very pretty
things in their way, and very much to be commended, we confess to a
desire to see them bred at the owner's proper cost, rather than at
the expense of low-spirited people.


Nicholas, therefore, not being a high-spirited young man according
to common parlance, and deeming it a greater degradation to borrow,
for the supply of his necessities, from Newman Noggs, than to teach
French to the little Kenwigses for five shillings a week, accepted
the offer with the alacrity already described, and betook himself to
the first floor with all convenient speed.

Here, he was received by Mrs Kenwigs with a genteel air, kindly
intended to assure him of her protection and support; and here, too,
he found Mr Lillyvick and Miss Petowker; the four Miss Kenwigses on
their form of audience; and the baby in a dwarf porter's chair with
a deal tray before it, amusing himself with a toy horse without a
head; the said horse being composed of a small wooden cylinder, not
unlike an Italian iron, supported on four crooked pegs, and painted
in ingenious resemblance of red wafers set in blacking.

'How do you do, Mr Johnson?' said Mrs Kenwigs. 'Uncle--Mr Johnson.'

'How do you do, sir?' said Mr Lillyvick--rather sharply; for he had
not known what Nicholas was, on the previous night, and it was
rather an aggravating circumstance if a tax collector had been too
polite to a teacher.

'Mr Johnson is engaged as private master to the children, uncle,'
said Mrs Kenwigs.

'So you said just now, my dear,' replied Mr Lillyvick.

'But I hope,' said Mrs Kenwigs, drawing herself up, 'that that will
not make them proud; but that they will bless their own good
fortune, which has born them superior to common people's children.
Do you hear, Morleena?'

'Yes, ma,' replied Miss Kenwigs.

'And when you go out in the streets, or elsewhere, I desire that you
don't boast of it to the other children,' said Mrs Kenwigs; 'and
that if you must say anything about it, you don't say no more than
We've got a private master comes to teach us at homebut we ain't
proudbecause ma says it's sinful." Do you hearMorleena?'

'Yesma' replied Miss Kenwigs again.

'Then mind you recollectand do as I tell you' said Mrs Kenwigs.
'Shall Mr Johnson beginuncle?'

'I am ready to hearif Mr Johnson is ready to commencemy dear'
said the collectorassuming the air of a profound critic. 'What
sort of language do you consider Frenchsir?'

'How do you mean?' asked Nicholas.

'Do you consider it a good languagesir?' said the collector; 'a
pretty languagea sensible language?'

'A pretty languagecertainly' replied Nicholas; 'and as it has a
name for everythingand admits of elegant conversation about
everythingI presume it is a sensible one.'

'I don't know' said Mr Lillyvickdoubtfully. 'Do you call it a
cheerful languagenow?'

'Yes' replied Nicholas'I should say it wascertainly.'


'It's very much changed since my timethen' said the collector
'very much.'

'Was it a dismal one in your time?' asked Nicholasscarcely able to
repress a smile.

'Very' replied Mr Lillyvickwith some vehemence of manner. 'It's
the war time that I speak of; the last war. It may be a cheerful
language. I should be sorry to contradict anybody; but I can only
say that I've heard the French prisonerswho were nativesand
ought to know how to speak ittalking in such a dismal mannerthat
it made one miserable to hear them. Aythat I havefifty times
sir--fifty times!'

Mr Lillyvick was waxing so crossthat Mrs Kenwigs thought it
expedient to motion to Nicholas not to say anything; and it was not
until Miss Petowker had practised several blandishmentsto soften
the excellent old gentlemanthat he deigned to break silence by
asking

'What's the water in Frenchsir?'

'L'EAU' replied Nicholas.

'Ah!' said Mr Lillyvickshaking his head mournfully'I thought as
much. Loeh? I don't think anything of that language--nothing at
all.'

'I suppose the children may beginuncle?' said Mrs Kenwigs.

'Oh yes; they may beginmy dear' replied the collector
discontentedly. 'I have no wish to prevent them.'

This permission being concededthe four Miss Kenwigses sat in a
rowwith their tails all one wayand Morleena at the top: while
Nicholastaking the bookbegan his preliminary explanations. Miss
Petowker and Mrs Kenwigs looked onin silent admirationbroken
only by the whispered assurances of the latterthat Morleena would
have it all by heart in no time; and Mr Lillyvick regarded the group
with frowning and attentive eyeslying in wait for something upon
which he could open a fresh discussion on the language.

CHAPTER 17

Follows the Fortunes of Miss Nickleby

It was with a heavy heartand many sad forebodings which no effort
could banishthat Kate Nicklebyon the morning appointed for the
commencement of her engagement with Madame Mantalinileft the city
when its clocks yet wanted a quarter of an hour of eightand
threaded her way aloneamid the noise and bustle of the streets
towards the west end of London.

At this early hour many sickly girlswhose businesslike that of
the poor wormis to producewith patient toilthe finery that
bedecks the thoughtless and luxurioustraverse our streetsmaking
towards the scene of their daily labourand catchingas if by
stealthin their hurried walkthe only gasp of wholesome air and
glimpse of sunlight which cheer their monotonous existence during
the long train of hours that make a working day. As she drew nigh
to the more fashionable quarter of the townKate marked many of


this class as they passed byhurrying like herself to their painful
occupationand sawin their unhealthy looks and feeble gaitbut
too clear an evidence that her misgivings were not wholly groundless.

She arrived at Madame Mantalini's some minutes before the appointed
hourand after walking a few times up and downin the hope that
some other female might arrive and spare her the embarrassment of
stating her business to the servantknocked timidly at the door:
whichafter some delaywas opened by the footmanwho had been
putting on his striped jacket as he came upstairsand was now
intent on fastening his apron.

'Is Madame Mantalini in?' faltered Kate.

'Not often out at this timemiss' replied the man in a tone which
rendered "Miss something more offensive than My dear."

'Can I see her?' asked Kate.

'Eh?' replied the manholding the door in his handand honouring
the inquirer with a stare and a broad grin'Lordno.'

'I came by her own appointment' said Kate; 'I am--I am--to be
employed here.'

'Oh! you should have rung the worker's bell' said the footman
touching the handle of one in the door-post. 'Let me seethoughI
forgot--Miss Nicklebyis it?'

'Yes' replied Kate.

'You're to walk upstairs thenplease' said the man. 'Madame
Mantalini wants to see you--this way--take care of these things on
the floor.'

Cautioning herin these termsnot to trip over a heterogeneous
litter of pastry-cook's trayslampswaiters full of glassesand
piles of rout seats which were strewn about the hallplainly
bespeaking a late party on the previous nightthe man led the way
to the second storyand ushered Kate into a back-room
communicating by folding-doors with the apartment in which she had
first seen the mistress of the establishment.

'If you'll wait here a minute' said the man'I'll tell her
presently.' Having made this promise with much affabilityhe
retired and left Kate alone.

There was not much to amuse in the room; of which the most
attractive feature wasa half-length portrait in oilof Mr
Mantaliniwhom the artist had depicted scratching his head in an
easy mannerand thus displaying to advantage a diamond ringthe
gift of Madame Mantalini before her marriage. There washowever
the sound of voices in conversation in the next room; and as the
conversation was loud and the partition thinKate could not help
discovering that they belonged to Mr and Mrs Mantalini.

'If you will be odiouslydemneblyoutrIgeously jealousmy soul'
said Mr Mantalini'you will be very miserable--horrid miserable-demnition
miserable.' And thenthere was a sound as though Mr
Mantalini were sipping his coffee.

'I AM miserable' returned Madame Mantalinievidently pouting.

'Then you are an ungratefulunworthydemd unthankful little


fairy' said Mr Mantalini.

'I am not' returned Madamewith a sob.

'Do not put itself out of humour' said Mr Mantalinibreaking an
egg. 'It is a prettybewitching little demd countenanceand it
should not be out of humourfor it spoils its lovelinessand makes
it cross and gloomy like a frightfulnaughtydemd hobgoblin.'

'I am not to be brought round in that wayalways' rejoined Madame
sulkily.

'It shall be brought round in any way it likes bestand not brought
round at all if it likes that better' retorted Mr Mantaliniwith
his egg-spoon in his mouth.

'It's very easy to talk' said Mrs Mantalini.

'Not so easy when one is eating a demnition egg' replied Mr
Mantalini; 'for the yolk runs down the waistcoatand yolk of egg
does not match any waistcoat but a yellow waistcoatdemmit.'

'You were flirting with her during the whole night' said Madame
Mantaliniapparently desirous to lead the conversation back to the
point from which it had strayed.

'Nonomy life.'

'You were' said Madame; 'I had my eye upon you all the time.'

'Bless the little winking twinkling eye; was it on me all the time!'
cried Mantaliniin a sort of lazy rapture. 'Ohdemmit!'

'And I say once more' resumed Madame'that you ought not to waltz
with anybody but your own wife; and I will not bear itMantalini
if I take poison first.'

'She will not take poison and have horrid painswill she?' said
Mantalini; whoby the altered sound of his voiceseemed to have
moved his chairand taken up his position nearer to his wife. 'She
will not take poisonbecause she had a demd fine husband who might
have married two countesses and a dowager--'

'Two countesses' interposed Madame. 'You told me one before!'

'Two!' cried Mantalini. 'Two demd fine womenreal countesses and
splendid fortunesdemmit.'

'And why didn't you?' asked Madameplayfully.

'Why didn't I!' replied her husband. 'Had I not seenat a morning
concertthe demdest little fascinator in all the worldand while
that little fascinator is my wifemay not all the countesses and
dowagers in England be--'

Mr Mantalini did not finish the sentencebut he gave Madame
Mantalini a very loud kisswhich Madame Mantalini returned; after
whichthere seemed to be some more kissing mixed up with the
progress of the breakfast.

'And what about the cashmy existence's jewel?' said Mantalini
when these endearments ceased. 'How much have we in hand?'

'Very little indeed' replied Madame.


'We must have some more' said Mantalini; 'we must have some
discount out of old Nickleby to carry on the war withdemmit.'

'You can't want any more just now' said Madame coaxingly.

'My life and soul' returned her husband'there is a horse for sale
at Scrubbs'swhich it would be a sin and a crime to lose--goingmy
senses' joyfor nothing.'

'For nothing' cried Madame'I am glad of that.'

'For actually nothing' replied Mantalini. 'A hundred guineas down
will buy him; maneand crestand legsand tailall of the
demdest beauty. I will ride him in the park before the very
chariots of the rejected countesses. The demd old dowager will
faint with grief and rage; the other two will say "He is marriedhe
has made away with himselfit is a demd thingit is all up!" They
will hate each other demneblyand wish you dead and buried. Ha!
ha! Demmit.'

Madame Mantalini's prudenceif she had anywas not proof against
these triumphal pictures; after a little jingling of keysshe
observed that she would see what her desk containedand rising for
that purposeopened the folding-doorand walked into the room
where Kate was seated.

'Dear mechild!' exclaimed Madame Mantalinirecoiling in surprise.
'How came you here?'

'Child!' cried Mantalinihurrying in. 'How came--eh!--oh--demmit
how d'ye do?'

'I have been waitinghere some timema'am' said Kateaddressing
Madame Mantalini. 'The servant must have forgotten to let you know
that I was hereI think.'

'You really must see to that man' said Madameturning to her
husband. 'He forgets everything.'

'I will twist his demd nose off his countenance for leaving such a
very pretty creature all alone by herself' said her husband.

'Mantalini' cried Madame'you forget yourself.'

'I don't forget youmy souland never shalland never can' said
Mantalinikissing his wife's handand grimacing asideto Miss
Nicklebywho turned away.

Appeased by this complimentthe lady of the business took some
papers from her desk which she handed over to Mr Mantaliniwho
received them with great delight. She then requested Kate to follow
herand after several feints on the part of Mr Mantalini to attract
the young lady's attentionthey went away: leaving that gentleman
extended at full length on the sofawith his heels in the air and a
newspaper in his hand.

Madame Mantalini led the way down a flight of stairsand through a
passageto a large room at the back of the premises where were a
number of young women employed in sewingcutting outmaking up
alteringand various other processes known only to those who are
cunning in the arts of millinery and dressmaking. It was a close
room with a skylightand as dull and quiet as a room need be.


On Madame Mantalini calling aloud for Miss Knaga shortbustling
over-dressed femalefull of importancepresented herselfand all
the young ladies suspending their operations for the moment
whispered to each other sundry criticisms upon the make and texture
of Miss Nickleby's dressher complexioncast of featuresand
personal appearancewith as much good breeding as could have been
displayed by the very best society in a crowded ball-room.

'OhMiss Knag' said Madame Mantalini'this is the young person I
spoke to you about.'

Miss Knag bestowed a reverential smile upon Madame Mantaliniwhich
she dexterously transformed into a gracious one for Kateand said
that certainlyalthough it was a great deal of trouble to have
young people who were wholly unused to the businessstillshe was
sure the young person would try to do her best--impressed with which
conviction she (Miss Knag) felt an interest in heralready.

'I think thatfor the present at all eventsit will be better for
Miss Nickleby to come into the show-room with youand try things on
for people' said Madame Mantalini. 'She will not be able for the
present to be of much use in any other way; and her appearance will--'

'Suit very well with mineMadame Mantalini' interrupted Miss Knag.
'So it will; and to be sure I might have known that you would not be
long in finding that out; for you have so much taste in all those
mattersthat reallyas I often say to the young ladiesI do not
know howwhenor whereyou possibly could have acquired all you
know--hem--Miss Nickleby and I are quite a pairMadame Mantalini
only I am a little darker than Miss Nicklebyand--hem--I think my
foot may be a little smaller. Miss NicklebyI am surewill not
be offended at my saying thatwhen she hears that our family always
have been celebrated for small feet ever since--hem--ever since our
family had any feet at allindeedI think. I had an uncle once
Madame Mantaliniwho lived in Cheltenhamand had a most excellent
business as a tobacconist--hem--who had such small feetthat they
were no bigger than those which are usually joined to wooden legs-the
most symmetrical feetMadame Mantalinithat even you can
imagine.'

'They must have had something of the appearance of club feetMiss
Knag' said Madame.

'Well nowthat is so like you' returned Miss Knag'Ha! ha! ha!
Of club feet! Oh very good! As I often remark to the young ladies
Well I must say, and I do not care who knows it, of all the ready
humour--hem--I ever heard anywhere--and I have heard a good deal;
for when my dear brother was alive (I kept house for himMiss
Nickleby)we had to supper once a week two or three young men
highly celebrated in those days for their humourMadame Mantalini-"
Of all the ready humour I say to the young ladies, I ever heard
Madame Mantalini's is the most remarkable--hem. It is so gentleso
sarcasticand yet so good-natured (as I was observing to Miss
Simmonds only this morning)that howor whenor by what means she
acquired itis to me a mystery indeed."'

Here Miss Knag paused to take breathand while she pauses it may be
observed--not that she was marvellously loquacious and marvellously
deferential to Madame Mantalinisince these are facts which require
no comment; but that every now and thenshe was accustomedin the
torrent of her discourseto introduce a loudshrillclear 'hem!'
the import and meaning of whichwas variously interpreted by her
acquaintance; some holding that Miss Knag dealt in exaggerationand
introduced the monosyllable when any fresh invention was in course


of coinage in her brain; othersthat when she wanted a wordshe
threw it in to gain timeand prevent anybody else from striking
into the conversation. It may be further remarkedthat Miss Knag
still aimed at youthalthough she had shot beyond ityears ago;
and that she was weak and vainand one of those people who are best
described by the axiomthat you may trust them as far as you can
see themand no farther.

'You'll take care that Miss Nickleby understands her hoursand so
forth' said Madame Mantalini; 'and so I'll leave her with you.
You'll not forget my directionsMiss Knag?'

Miss Knag of course repliedthat to forget anything Madame
Mantalini had directedwas a moral impossibility; and that lady
dispensing a general good-morning among her assistantssailed away.

'Charming creatureisn't sheMiss Nickleby?' said Miss Knag
rubbing her hands together.

'I have seen very little of her' said Kate. 'I hardly know yet.'

'Have you seen Mr Mantalini?' inquired Miss Knag.

'Yes; I have seen him twice.'

'Isn't HE a charming creature?'

'Indeed he does not strike me as being soby any means' replied
Kate.

'Nomy dear!' cried Miss Knagelevating her hands. 'Whygoodness
gracious mercywhere's your taste? Such a fine tallfullwhiskered
dashing gentlemanly manwith such teeth and hairand-hem--
well nowyou DO astonish me.'

'I dare say I am very foolish' replied Katelaying aside her
bonnet; 'but as my opinion is of very little importance to him or
anyone elseI do not regret having formed itand shall be slow to
change itI think.'

'He is a very fine mandon't you think so?' asked one of the young
ladies.

'Indeed he may befor anything I could say to the contrary'
replied Kate.

'And drives very beautiful horsesdoesn't he?' inquired another.

'I dare say he maybut I never saw them' answered Kate.

'Never saw them!' interposed Miss Knag. 'Ohwell! There it is at
once you know; how can you possibly pronounce an opinion about a
gentleman--hem--if you don't see him as he turns out altogether?'

There was so much of the world--even of the little world of the
country girl--in this idea of the old millinerthat Katewho was
anxiousfor every reasonto change the subjectmade no further
remarkand left Miss Knag in possession of the field.

After a short silenceduring which most of the young people made a
closer inspection of Kate's appearanceand compared notes
respecting itone of them offered to help her off with her shawl
and the offer being acceptedinquired whether she did not find
black very uncomfortable wear.


'I do indeed' replied Katewith a bitter sigh.

'So dusty and hot' observed the same speakeradjusting her dress
for her.

Kate might have saidthat mourning is sometimes the coldest wear
which mortals can assume; that it not only chills the breasts of
those it clothesbut extending its influence to summer friends
freezes up their sources of good-will and kindnessand withering
all the buds of promise they once so liberally put forthleaves
nothing but bared and rotten hearts exposed. There are few who have
lost a friend or relative constituting in life their sole
dependencewho have not keenly felt this chilling influence of
their sable garb. She had felt it acutelyand feeling it at the
momentcould not quite restrain her tears.

'I am very sorry to have wounded you by my thoughtless speech' said
her companion. 'I did not think of it. You are in mourning for
some near relation?'

'For my father' answered Kate.

'For what relationMiss Simmonds?' asked Miss Knagin an audible
voice.

'Her father' replied the other softly.

'Her fathereh?' said Miss Knagwithout the slightest depression
of her voice. 'Ah! A long illnessMiss Simmonds?'

'Hush' replied the girl; 'I don't know.'

'Our misfortune was very sudden' said Kateturning away'or I
might perhapsat a time like thisbe enabled to support it
better.'

There had existed not a little desire in the roomaccording to
invariable customwhen any new 'young person' cameto know who
Kate wasand what she wasand all about her; butalthough it
might have been very naturally increased by her appearance and
emotionthe knowledge that it pained her to be questionedwas
sufficient to repress even this curiosity; and Miss Knagfinding it
hopeless to attempt extracting any further particulars just then
reluctantly commanded silenceand bade the work proceed.

In silencethenthe tasks were plied until half-past onewhen a
baked leg of muttonwith potatoes to correspondwere served in the
kitchen. The meal overand the young ladies having enjoyed the
additional relaxation of washing their handsthe work began again
and was again performed in silenceuntil the noise of carriages
rattling through the streetsand of loud double knocks at doors
gave token that the day's work of the more fortunate members of
society was proceeding in its turn.

One of these double knocks at Madame Mantalini's doorannounced the
equipage of some great lady--or rather rich onefor there is
occasionally a distinction between riches and greatness--who had
come with her daughter to approve of some court-dresses which had
been a long time preparingand upon whom Kate was deputed to wait
accompanied by Miss Knagand officered of course by Madame
Mantalini.

Kate's part in the pageant was humble enoughher duties being


limited to holding articles of costume until Miss Knag was ready to
try them onand now and then tying a stringor fastening a hookand-
eye. She mightnot unreasonablyhave supposed herself beneath
the reach of any arroganceor bad humour; but it happened that the
lady and daughter were both out of temper that dayand the poor
girl came in for her share of their revilings. She was awkward--her
hands were cold--dirty--coarse--she could do nothing right; they
wondered how Madame Mantalini could have such people about her;
requested they might see some other young woman the next time they
came; and so forth.

So common an occurrence would be hardly deserving of mentionbut
for its effect. Kate shed many bitter tears when these people were
goneand feltfor the first timehumbled by her occupation. She
hadit is truequailed at the prospect of drudgery and hard
service; but she had felt no degradation in working for her bread
until she found herself exposed to insolence and pride. Philosophy
would have taught her that the degradation was on the side of those
who had sunk so low as to display such passions habituallyand
without cause: but she was too young for such consolationand her
honest feeling was hurt. May not the complaintthat common people
are above their stationoften take its rise in the fact of UNcommon
people being below theirs?

In such scenes and occupations the time wore on until nine o'clock
when Katejaded and dispirited with the occurrences of the day
hastened from the confinement of the workroomto join her mother at
the street cornerand walk home:--the more sadlyfrom having to
disguise her real feelingsand feign to participate in all the
sanguine visions of her companion.

'Bless my soulKate' said Mrs Nickleby; 'I've been thinking all
day what a delightful thing it would be for Madame Mantalini to take
you into partnership--such a likely thing tooyou know! Whyyour
poor dear papa's cousin's sister-in-law--a Miss Browndock--was taken
into partnership by a lady that kept a school at Hammersmithand
made her fortune in no time at all. I forgetby-the-byewhether
that Miss Browndock was the same lady that got the ten thousand
pounds prize in the lotterybut I think she was; indeednow I come
to think of itI am sure she was. "Mantalini and Nickleby"how
well it would sound!--and if Nicholas has any good fortuneyou
might have Doctor Nicklebythe head-master of Westminster School
living in the same street.'

'Dear Nicholas!' cried Katetaking from her reticule her brother's
letter from Dotheboys Hall. 'In all our misfortuneshow happy it
makes memamato hear he is doing welland to find him writing
in such good spirits! It consoles me for all we may undergoto
think that he is comfortable and happy.'

Poor Kate! she little thought how weak her consolation wasand how
soon she would be undeceived.

CHAPTER 18

Miss Knagafter doting on Kate Nickleby for three whole Daysmakes
up her Mind to hate her for evermore. The Causes which led Miss
Knag to form this Resolution

There are many lives of much painhardshipand sufferingwhich
having no stirring interest for any but those who lead themare


disregarded by persons who do not want thought or feelingbut who
pamper their compassion and need high stimulants to rouse it.

There are not a few among the disciples of charity who requirein
their vocationscarcely less excitement than the votaries of
pleasure in theirs; and hence it is that diseased sympathy and
compassion are every day expended on out-of-the-way objectswhen
only too many demands upon the legitimate exercise of the same
virtues in a healthy stateare constantly within the sight and
hearing of the most unobservant person alive. In shortcharity
must have its romanceas the novelist or playwright must have his.
A thief in fustian is a vulgar characterscarcely to be thought of
by persons of refinement; but dress him in green velvetwith a
high-crowned hatand change the scene of his operationsfrom a
thickly-peopled cityto a mountain roadand you shall find in him
the very soul of poetry and adventure. So it is with the one great
cardinal virtuewhichproperly nourished and exercisedleads to
if it does not necessarily includeall the others. It must have
its romance; and the less of realhardstruggling work-a-day life
there is in that romancethe better.

The life to which poor Kate Nickleby was devotedin consequence of
the unforeseen train of circumstances already developed in this
narrativewas a hard one; but lest the very dulnessunhealthy
confinementand bodily fatiguewhich made up its sum and
substanceshould deprive it of any interest with the mass of the
charitable and sympatheticI would rather keep Miss Nickleby
herself in view just nowthan chill them in the outsetby a minute
and lengthened description of the establishment presided over by
Madame Mantalini.

'WellnowindeedMadame Mantalini' said Miss Knagas Kate was
taking her weary way homewards on the first night of her novitiate;
'that Miss Nickleby is a very creditable young person--a very
creditable young person indeed--hem--upon my wordMadame Mantalini
it does very extraordinary credit even to your discrimination that
you should have found such a very excellentvery well-behaved
very--hem--very unassuming young woman to assist in the fitting on.
I have seen some young women when they had the opportunity of
displaying before their bettersbehave in such a--ohdear--well-but
you're always rightMadame Mantalinialways; and as I very
often tell the young ladieshow you do contrive to be always right
when so many people are so often wrongis to me a mystery indeed.'

'Beyond putting a very excellent client out of humourMiss Nickleby
has not done anything very remarkable today--that I am aware ofat
least' said Madame Mantalini in reply.

'Ohdear!' said Miss Knag; 'but you must allow a great deal for
inexperienceyou know.'

'And youth?' inquired Madame.

'OhI say nothing about thatMadame Mantalini' replied Miss Knag
reddening; 'because if youth were any excuseyou wouldn't have--'

'Quite so good a forewoman as I haveI suppose' suggested Madame.

'WellI never did know anybody like youMadame Mantalini'
rejoined Miss Knag most complacently'and that's the factfor you
know what one's going to saybefore it has time to rise to one's
lips. Ohvery good! Hahaha!'

'For myself' observed Madame Mantaliniglancing with affected


carelessness at her assistantand laughing heartily in her sleeve
'I consider Miss Nickleby the most awkward girl I ever saw in my
life.'

'Poor dear thing' said Miss Knag'it's not her fault. If it was
we might hope to cure it; but as it's her misfortuneMadame
Mantaliniwhy really you knowas the man said about the blind
horsewe ought to respect it.'

'Her uncle told me she had been considered pretty' remarked Madame
Mantalini. 'I think her one of the most ordinary girls I ever met
with.'

'Ordinary!' cried Miss Knag with a countenance beaming delight; 'and
awkward! Wellall I can say isMadame Mantalinithat I quite
love the poor girl; and that if she was twice as indifferentlooking
and twice as awkward as she isI should be only so much
the more her friendand that's the truth of it.'

In factMiss Knag had conceived an incipient affection for Kate
Nicklebyafter witnessing her failure that morningand this short
conversation with her superior increased the favourable
prepossession to a most surprising extent; which was the more
remarkableas when she first scanned that young lady's face and
figureshe had entertained certain inward misgivings that they
would never agree.

'But now' said Miss Knagglancing at the reflection of herself in
a mirror at no great distance'I love her--I quite love her--I
declare I do!'

Of such a highly disinterested quality was this devoted friendship
and so superior was it to the little weaknesses of flattery or illnature
that the kind-hearted Miss Knag candidly informed Kate
Nicklebynext daythat she saw she would never do for the
businessbut that she need not give herself the slightest
uneasiness on this accountfor that she (Miss Knag)by increased
exertions on her own partwould keep her as much as possible in the
backgroundand that all she would have to dowould be to remain
perfectly quiet before companyand to shrink from attracting notice
by every means in her power. This last suggestion was so much in
accordance with the timid girl's own feelings and wishesthat she
readily promised implicit reliance on the excellent spinster's
advice: without questioningor indeed bestowing a moment's
reflection uponthe motives that dictated it.

'I take quite a lively interest in youmy dear soulupon my word'
said Miss Knag; 'a sister's interestactually. It's the most
singular circumstance I ever knew.'

Undoubtedly it was singularthat if Miss Knag did feel a strong
interest in Kate Nicklebyit should not rather have been the
interest of a maiden aunt or grandmother; that being the conclusion
to which the difference in their respective ages would have
naturally tended. But Miss Knag wore clothes of a very youthful
patternand perhaps her feelings took the same shape.

'Bless you!' said Miss Knagbestowing a kiss upon Kate at the
conclusion of the second day's work'how very awkward you have been
all day.'

'I fear your kind and open communicationwhich has rendered me more
painfully conscious of my own defectshas not improved me' sighed
Kate.


'NonoI dare say not' rejoined Miss Knagin a most uncommon
flow of good humour. 'But how much better that you should know it
at firstand so be able to go onstraight and comfortable! Which
way are you walkingmy love?'

'Towards the city' replied Kate.

'The city!' cried Miss Knagregarding herself with great favour in
the glass as she tied her bonnet. 'Goodness gracious me! now do you
really live in the city?'

'Is it so very unusual for anybody to live there?' asked Katehalf
smiling.

'I couldn't have believed it possible that any young woman could
have lived thereunder any circumstances whateverfor three days
together' replied Miss Knag.

'Reduced--I should say poor people' answered Katecorrecting
herself hastilyfor she was afraid of appearing proud'must live
where they can.'

'Ah! very trueso they must; very proper indeed!' rejoined Miss
Knag with that sort of half-sighwhichaccompanied by two or three
slight nods of the headis pity's small change in general society;
'and that's what I very often tell my brotherwhen our servants go
away illone after anotherand he thinks the back-kitchen's rather
too damp for 'em to sleep in. These sort of peopleI tell himare
glad to sleep anywhere! Heaven suits the back to the burden. What
a nice thing it is to think that it should be soisn't it?'

'Very' replied Kate.

'I'll walk with you part of the waymy dear' said Miss Knag'for
you must go very near our house; and as it's quite darkand our
last servant went to the hospital a week agowith St Anthony's fire
in her faceI shall be glad of your company.'

Kate would willingly have excused herself from this flattering
companionship; but Miss Knag having adjusted her bonnet to her
entire satisfactiontook her arm with an air which plainly showed
how much she felt the compliment she was conferringand they were
in the street before she could say another word.

'I fear' said Katehesitating'that mama--my motherI mean--is
waiting for me.'

'You needn't make the least apologymy dear' said Miss Knag
smiling sweetly as she spoke; 'I dare say she is a very respectable
old personand I shall be quite--hem--quite pleased to know her.'

As poor Mrs Nickleby was cooling--not her heels alonebut her limbs
generally at the street cornerKate had no alternative but to make
her known to Miss Knagwhodoing the last new carriage customer at
second-handacknowledged the introduction with condescending
politeness. The three then walked awayarm in arm: with Miss Knag
in the middlein a special state of amiability.

'I have taken such a fancy to your daughterMrs Nicklebyyou can't
think' said Miss Knagafter she had proceeded a little distance in
dignified silence.

'I am delighted to hear it' said Mrs Nickleby; 'though it is


nothing new to methat even strangers should like Kate.'

'Hem!' cried Miss Knag.

'You will like her better when you know how good she is' said Mrs
Nickleby. 'It is a great blessing to mein my misfortunesto have
a childwho knows neither pride nor vanityand whose bringing-up
might very well have excused a little of both at first. You don't
know what it is to lose a husbandMiss Knag.'

As Miss Knag had never yet known what it was to gain oneit
followedvery nearly as a matter of coursethat she didn't know
what it was to lose one; so she saidin some haste'Noindeed I
don't' and said it with an air intending to signify that she should
like to catch herself marrying anybody--nonoshe knew better than
that.

'Kate has improved even in this little timeI have no doubt' said
Mrs Nicklebyglancing proudly at her daughter.

'Oh! of course' said Miss Knag.

'And will improve still more' added Mrs Nickleby.

'That she willI'll be bound' replied Miss Knagsqueezing Kate's
arm in her ownto point the joke.

'She always was clever' said poor Mrs Nicklebybrightening up
'alwaysfrom a baby. I recollect when she was only two years and a
half oldthat a gentleman who used to visit very much at our house
--Mr Watkinsyou knowKatemy dearthat your poor papa went bail
forwho afterwards ran away to the United Statesand sent us a
pair of snow shoeswith such an affectionate letter that it made
your poor dear father cry for a week. You remember the letter? In
which he said that he was very sorry he couldn't repay the fifty
pounds just thenbecause his capital was all out at interestand
he was very busy making his fortunebut that he didn't forget you
were his god-daughterand he should take it very unkind if we
didn't buy you a silver coral and put it down to his old account?
Dear meyesmy dearhow stupid you are! and spoke so
affectionately of the old port wine that he used to drink a bottle
and a half of every time he came. You must rememberKate?'

'Yesyesmama; what of him?'

'Whythat Mr Watkinsmy dear' said Mrs Nickleby slowlyas if she
were making a tremendous effort to recollect something of paramount
importance; 'that Mr Watkins--he wasn't any relationMiss Knag will
understandto the Watkins who kept the Old Boar in the village; bythe-
byeI don't remember whether it was the Old Boar or the George
the Thirdbut it was one of the twoI knowand it's much the
same--that Mr Watkins saidwhen you were only two years and a half
oldthat you were one of the most astonishing children he ever saw.
He did indeedMiss Knagand he wasn't at all fond of childrenand
couldn't have had the slightest motive for doing it. I know it was
he who said sobecause I recollectas well as if it was only
yesterdayhis borrowing twenty pounds of her poor dear papa the
very moment afterwards.'

Having quoted this extraordinary and most disinterested testimony to
her daughter's excellenceMrs Nickleby stopped to breathe; and Miss
Knagfinding that the discourse was turning upon family greatness
lost no time in striking inwith a small reminiscence on her own
account.


'Don't talk of lending moneyMrs Nickleby' said Miss Knag'or
you'll drive me crazyperfectly crazy. My mama--hem--was the most
lovely and beautiful creaturewith the most striking and exquisite
--hem--the most exquisite nose that ever was put upon a human faceI
do believeMrs Nickleby (here Miss Knag rubbed her own nose
sympathetically); the most delightful and accomplished woman
perhapsthat ever was seen; but she had that one failing of lending
moneyand carried it to such an extent that she lent--hem--oh!
thousands of poundsall our little fortunesand what's moreMrs
NicklebyI don't thinkif we were to live till--till--hem--till
the very end of timethat we should ever get them back again. I
don't indeed.'

After concluding this effort of invention without being interrupted
Miss Knag fell into many more recollectionsno less interesting
than truethe full tide of whichMrs Nickleby in vain attempting
to stemat length sailed smoothly down by adding an under-current
of her own recollections; and so both ladies went on talking
together in perfect contentment; the only difference between them
beingthat whereas Miss Knag addressed herself to Kateand talked
very loudMrs Nickleby kept on in one unbroken monotonous flow
perfectly satisfied to be talking and caring very little whether
anybody listened or not.

In this manner they walked onvery amicablyuntil they arrived at
Miss Knag's brother'swho was an ornamental stationer and small
circulating library keeperin a by-street off Tottenham Court Road;
and who let out by the dayweekmonthor yearthe newest old
novelswhereof the titles were displayed in pen-and-ink characters
on a sheet of pasteboardswinging at his door-post. As Miss Knag
happenedat the momentto be in the middle of an account of her
twenty-second offer from a gentleman of large propertyshe insisted
upon their all going in to supper together; and in they went.

'Don't go awayMortimer' said Miss Knag as they entered the shop.
'It's only one of our young ladies and her mother. Mrs and Miss
Nickleby.'

'Ohindeed!' said Mr Mortimer Knag. 'Ah!'

Having given utterance to these ejaculations with a very profound
and thoughtful airMr Knag slowly snuffed two kitchen candles on
the counterand two more in the windowand then snuffed himself
from a box in his waistcoat pocket.

There was something very impressive in the ghostly air with which
all this was done; and as Mr Knag was a tall lank gentleman of
solemn featureswearing spectaclesand garnished with much less
hair than a gentleman bordering on fortyor thereaboutsusually
boastsMrs Nickleby whispered her daughter that she thought he must
be literary.

'Past ten' said Mr Knagconsulting his watch. 'Thomasclose the
warehouse.'

Thomas was a boy nearly half as tall as a shutterand the warehouse
was a shop about the size of three hackney coaches.

'Ah!' said Mr Knag once moreheaving a deep sigh as he restored to
its parent shelf the book he had been reading. 'Well--yes--I
believe supper is readysister.'

With another sigh Mr Knag took up the kitchen candles from the


counterand preceded the ladies with mournful steps to a backparlour
where a charwomanemployed in the absence of the sick
servantand remunerated with certain eighteenpences to be deducted
from her wages duewas putting the supper out.

'Mrs Blockson' said Miss Knagreproachfully'how very often I
have begged you not to come into the room with your bonnet on!'

'I can't help itMiss Knag' said the charwomanbridling up on the
shortest notice. 'There's been a deal o'cleaning to do in this
houseand if you don't like itI must trouble you to look out for
somebody elsefor it don't hardly pay meand that's the truthif
I was to be hung this minute.'

'I don't want any remarks if YOU please' said Miss Knagwith a
strong emphasis on the personal pronoun. 'Is there any fire
downstairs for some hot water presently?'

'No there is notindeedMiss Knag' replied the substitute; 'and
so I won't tell you no stories about it.'

'Then why isn't there?' said Miss Knag.

'Because there arn't no coals left outand if I could make coals I
wouldbut as I can't I won'tand so I make bold to tell youMem'
replied Mrs Blockson.

'Will you hold your tongue--female?' said Mr Mortimer Knagplunging
violently into this dialogue.

'By your leaveMr Knag' retorted the charwomanturning sharp
round. 'I'm only too glad not to speak in this houseexcepting
when and where I'm spoke tosir; and with regard to being a female
sirI should wish to know what you considered yourself?'

'A miserable wretch' exclaimed Mr Knagstriking his forehead. 'A
miserable wretch.'

'I'm very glad to find that you don't call yourself out of your
namesir' said Mrs Blockson; 'and as I had two twin children the
day before yesterday was only seven weeksand my little Charley
fell down a airy and put his elber outlast MondayI shall take it
as a favour if you'll send nine shillingsfor one week's workto
my houseafore the clock strikes ten tomorrow.'

With these parting wordsthe good woman quitted the room with great
ease of mannerleaving the door wide open; Mr Knagat the same
momentflung himself into the 'warehouse' and groaned aloud.

'What is the matter with that gentlemanpray?' inquired Mrs
Nicklebygreatly disturbed by the sound.

'Is he ill?' inquired Katereally alarmed.

'Hush!' replied Miss Knag; 'a most melancholy history. He was once
most devotedly attached to--hem--to Madame Mantalini.'

'Bless me!' exclaimed Mrs Nickleby.

'Yes' continued Miss Knag'and received great encouragement too
and confidently hoped to marry her. He has a most romantic heart
Mrs Nicklebyas indeed--hem--as indeed all our family haveand the
disappointment was a dreadful blow. He is a wonderfully
accomplished man--most extraordinarily accomplished--reads--hem-



reads every novel that comes out; I mean every novel that--hem--that
has any fashion in itof course. The fact isthat he did find so
much in the books he readapplicable to his own misfortunesand
did find himself in every respect so much like the heroes--because
of course he is conscious of his own superiorityas we all areand
very naturally--that he took to scorning everythingand became a
genius; and I am quite sure that he isat this very present moment
writing another book.'

'Another book!' repeated Katefinding that a pause was left for
somebody to say something.

'Yes' said Miss Knagnodding in great triumph; 'another bookin
three volumes post octavo. Of course it's a great advantage to him
in all his little fashionable descriptionsto have the benefit of
my--hem--of my experiencebecauseof coursefew authors who write
about such things can have such opportunities of knowing them as I
have. He's so wrapped up in high lifethat the least allusion to
business or worldly matters--like that woman just nowfor instance-quite
distracts him; butas I often sayI think his disappointment
a great thing for himbecause if he hadn't been disappointed he
couldn't have written about blighted hopes and all that; and the
fact isif it hadn't happened as it hasI don't believe his
genius would ever have come out at all.'

How much more communicative Miss Knag might have become under more
favourable circumstancesit is impossible to divinebut as the
gloomy one was within ear-shotand the fire wanted making upher
disclosures stopped here. To judge from all appearancesand the
difficulty of making the water warmthe last servant could not have
been much accustomed to any other fire than St Anthony's; but a
little brandy and water was made at lastand the guestshaving
been previously regaled with cold leg of mutton and bread and
cheesesoon afterwards took leave; Kate amusing herselfall the
way homewith the recollection of her last glimpse of Mr Mortimer
Knag deeply abstracted in the shop; and Mrs Nickleby by debating
within herself whether the dressmaking firm would ultimately become
'MantaliniKnagand Nickleby'or 'MantaliniNicklebyand Knag'.

At this high pointMiss Knag's friendship remained for three whole
daysmuch to the wonderment of Madame Mantalini's young ladies who
had never beheld such constancy in that quarterbefore; but on the
fourthit received a check no less violent than suddenwhich thus
occurred.

It happened that an old lord of great familywho was going to marry
a young lady of no family in particularcame with the young lady
and the young lady's sisterto witness the ceremony of trying on
two nuptial bonnets which had been ordered the day beforeand
Madame Mantalini announcing the factin a shrill treblethrough
the speaking-pipewhich communicated with the workroomMiss Knag
darted hastily upstairs with a bonnet in each handand presented
herself in the show-roomin a charming state of palpitation
intended to demonstrate her enthusiasm in the cause. The bonnets
were no sooner fairly onthan Miss Knag and Madame Mantalini fell
into convulsions of admiration.

'A most elegant appearance' said Madame Mantalini.

'I never saw anything so exquisite in all my life' said Miss Knag.

Nowthe old lordwho was a VERY old lordsaid nothingbut
mumbled and chuckled in a state of great delightno less with the
nuptial bonnets and their wearersthan with his own address in


getting such a fine woman for his wife; and the young ladywho was
a very lively young ladyseeing the old lord in this rapturous
conditionchased the old lord behind a cheval-glassand then and
there kissed himwhile Madame Mantalini and the other young lady
lookeddiscreetlyanother way.

Butpending the salutationMiss Knagwho was tinged with
curiositystepped accidentally behind the glassand encountered
the lively young lady's eye just at the very moment when she kissed
the old lord; upon which the young ladyin a pouting manner
murmured something about 'an old thing' and 'great impertinence'
and finished by darting a look of displeasure at Miss Knagand
smiling contemptuously.

'Madame Mantalini' said the young lady.

'Ma'am' said Madame Mantalini.

'Pray have up that pretty young creature we saw yesterday.'

'Oh yesdo' said the sister.

'Of all things in the worldMadame Mantalini' said the lord's
intendedthrowing herself languidly on a sofa'I hate being waited
upon by frights or elderly persons. Let me always see that young
creatureI begwhenever I come.'

'By all means' said the old lord; 'the lovely young creatureby
all means.'

'Everybody is talking about her' said the young ladyin the same
careless manner; 'and my lordbeing a great admirer of beautymust
positively see her.'

'She IS universally admired' replied Madame Mantalini. 'Miss Knag
send up Miss Nickleby. You needn't return.'

'I beg your pardonMadame Mantaliniwhat did you say last?' asked
Miss Knagtrembling.

'You needn't return' repeated the superiorsharply. Miss Knag
vanished without another wordand in all reasonable time was
replaced by Katewho took off the new bonnets and put on the old
ones: blushing very much to find that the old lord and the two young
ladies were staring her out of countenance all the time.

'Whyhow you colourchild!' said the lord's chosen bride.

'She is not quite so accustomed to her businessas she will be in a
week or two' interposed Madame Mantalini with a gracious smile.

'I am afraid you have been giving her some of your wicked looksmy
lord' said the intended.

'Nonono' replied the old lord'nonoI'm going to be
marriedand lead a new life. Hahaha! a new lifea new life!
hahaha!'

It was a satisfactory thing to hear that the old gentleman was going
to lead a new lifefor it was pretty evident that his old one would
not last him much longer. The mere exertion of protracted chuckling
reduced him to a fearful ebb of coughing and gasping; it was some
minutes before he could find breath to remark that the girl was too
pretty for a milliner.


'I hope you don't think good looks a disqualification for the
businessmy lord' said Madame Mantalinisimpering.

'Not by any means' replied the old lord'or you would have left it
long ago.'

'You naughty creature' said the lively ladypoking the peer with
her parasol; 'I won't have you talk so. How dare you?'

This playful inquiry was accompanied with another pokeand another
and then the old lord caught the parasoland wouldn't give it up
againwhich induced the other lady to come to the rescueand some
very pretty sportiveness ensued.

'You will see that those little alterations are madeMadame
Mantalini' said the lady. 'Nayyou bad manyou positively shall
go first; I wouldn't leave you behind with that pretty girlnot for
half a second. I know you too well. Janemy dearlet him go
firstand we shall be quite sure of him.'

The old lordevidently much flattered by this suspicionbestowed a
grotesque leer upon Kate as he passed; andreceiving another tap
with the parasol for his wickednesstottered downstairs to the
doorwhere his sprightly body was hoisted into the carriage by two
stout footmen.

'Foh!' said Madame Mantalini'how he ever gets into a carriage
without thinking of a hearseI can't think. Theretake the things
awaymy deartake them away.'

Katewho had remained during the whole scene with her eyes modestly
fixed upon the groundwas only too happy to avail herself of the
permission to retireand hasten joyfully downstairs to Miss Knag's
dominion.

The circumstances of the little kingdom had greatly changed
howeverduring the short period of her absence. In place of Miss
Knag being stationed in her accustomed seatpreserving all the
dignity and greatness of Madame Mantalini's representativethat
worthy soul was reposing on a large boxbathed in tearswhile
three or four of the young ladies in close attendance upon her
together with the presence of hartshornvinegarand other
restorativeswould have borne ample testimonyeven without the
derangement of the head-dress and front row of curlsto her having
fainted desperately.

'Bless me!' said Katestepping hastily forward'what is the
matter?'

This inquiry produced in Miss Knag violent symptoms of a relapse;
and several young ladiesdarting angry looks at Kateapplied more
vinegar and hartshornand said it was 'a shame.'

'What is a shame?' demanded Kate. 'What is the matter? What has
happened? tell me.'

'Matter!' cried Miss Knagcomingall at oncebolt uprightto the
great consternation of the assembled maidens; 'matter! Fie upon
youyou nasty creature!'

'Gracious!' cried Katealmost paralysed by the violence with which
the adjective had been jerked out from between Miss Knag's closed
teeth; 'have I offended you?'


'YOU offended me!' retorted Miss Knag'YOU! a chita childan
upstart nobody! Ohindeed! Haha!'

Nowit was evidentas Miss Knag laughedthat something struck her
as being exceedingly funny; and as the young ladies took their tone
from Miss Knag--she being the chief--they all got up a laugh without
a moment's delayand nodded their heads a littleand smiled
sarcastically to each otheras much as to say how very good that
was!

'Here she is' continued Miss Knaggetting off the boxand
introducing Kate with much ceremony and many low curtseys to the
delighted throng; 'here she is--everybody is talking about her--the
belleladies--the beautythe--ohyou bold-faced thing!'

At this crisisMiss Knag was unable to repress a virtuous shudder
which immediately communicated itself to all the young ladies; after
whichMiss Knag laughedand after thatcried.

'For fifteen years' exclaimed Miss Knagsobbing in a most
affecting manner'for fifteen years have I been the credit and
ornament of this room and the one upstairs. Thank God' said Miss
Knagstamping first her right foot and then her left with
remarkable energy'I have never in all that timetill nowbeen
exposed to the artsthe vile artsof a creaturewho disgraces us
with all her proceedingsand makes proper people blush for
themselves. But I feel itI do feel italthough I am disgusted.'

Miss Knag here relapsed into softnessand the young ladies renewing
their attentionsmurmured that she ought to be superior to such
thingsand that for their part they despised themand considered
them beneath their notice; in witness whereofthey called outmore
emphatically than beforethat it was a shameand that they felt so
angrythey didthey hardly knew what to do with themselves.

'Have I lived to this day to be called a fright!' cried Miss Knag
suddenly becoming convulsiveand making an effort to tear her front
off.

'Oh nono' replied the chorus'pray don't say so; don't now!'

'Have I deserved to be called an elderly person?' screamed Miss
Knagwrestling with the supernumeraries.

'Don't think of such thingsdear' answered the chorus.

'I hate her' cried Miss Knag; 'I detest and hate her. Never let
her speak to me again; never let anybody who is a friend of mine
speak to her; a sluta hussyan impudent artful hussy!' Having
denounced the object of her wrathin these termsMiss Knag
screamed oncehiccuped thricegurgled in her throat several times
slumberedshiveredwokecame tocomposed her head-dressand
declared herself quite well again.

Poor Kate had regarded these proceedingsat firstin perfect
bewilderment. She had then turned red and pale by turnsand once
or twice essayed to speak; butas the true motives of this altered
behaviour developed themselvesshe retired a few pacesand looked
calmly on without deigning a reply. Neverthelessalthough she
walked proudly to her seatand turned her back upon the group of
little satellites who clustered round their ruling planet in the
remotest corner of the roomshe gave wayin secretto some such
bitter tears as would have gladdened Miss Knag's inmost soulif she


could have seen them fall.

CHAPTER 19

Descriptive of a Dinner at Mr Ralph Nickleby'sand of the Manner in
which the Company entertained themselvesbefore Dinnerat Dinner
and after Dinner.

The bile and rancour of the worthy Miss Knag undergoing no
diminution during the remainder of the weekbut rather augmenting
with every successive hour; and the honest ire of all the young
ladies risingor seeming to risein exact proportion to the good
spinster's indignationand both waxing very hot every time Miss
Nickleby was called upstairs; it will be readily imagined that that
young lady's daily life was none of the most cheerful or enviable
kind. She hailed the arrival of Saturday nightas a prisoner would
a few delicious hours' respite from slow and wearing tortureand
felt that the poor pittance for her first week's labour would have
been dearly and hardly earnedhad its amount been trebled.

When she joined her motheras usualat the street cornershe was
not a little surprised to find her in conversation with Mr Ralph
Nickleby; but her surprise was soon redoubledno less by the matter
of their conversationthan by the smoothed and altered manner of Mr
Nickleby himself.

'Ah! my dear!' said Ralph; 'we were at that moment talking about
you.'

'Indeed!' replied Kateshrinkingthough she scarce knew whyfrom
her uncle's cold glistening eye.

'That instant' said Ralph. 'I was coming to call for youmaking
sure to catch you before you left; but your mother and I have been
talking over family affairsand the time has slipped away so
rapidly--'

'Wellnowhasn't it?' interposed Mrs Nicklebyquite insensible to
the sarcastic tone of Ralph's last remark. 'Upon my wordI
couldn't have believed it possiblethat such a--Katemy dear
you're to dine with your uncle at half-past six o'clock tomorrow.'

Triumphing in having been the first to communicate this
extraordinary intelligenceMrs Nickleby nodded and smiled a great
many timesto impress its full magnificence on Kate's wondering
mindand then flew offat an acute angleto a committee of ways
and means.

'Let me see' said the good lady. 'Your black silk frock will be
quite dress enoughmy dearwith that pretty little scarfand a
plain band in your hairand a pair of black silk stock--Dear
dear' cried Mrs Nicklebyflying off at another angle'if I had
but those unfortunate amethysts of mine--you recollect themKate
my love--how they used to sparkleyou know--but your papayour
poor dear papa--ah! there never was anything so cruelly sacrificed
as those jewels werenever!' Overpowered by this agonising thought
Mrs Nickleby shook her headin a melancholy mannerand applied her
handkerchief to her eyes.

I don't want themmamaindeed' said Kate. 'Forget that you ever
had them.'


'LordKatemy dear' rejoined Mrs Nicklebypettishly'how like a
child you talk! Four-and-twenty silver tea-spoonsbrother-in-law
two graviesfour saltsall the amethysts--necklacebroochand
ear-rings--all made away withat the same timeand I saying
almost on my bended kneesto that poor good soulWhy don't you do
something, Nicholas? Why don't you make some arrangement?I am
sure that anybody who was about us at that timewill do me the
justice to ownthat if I said that onceI said it fifty times a
day. Didn't IKatemy dear? Did I ever lose an opportunity of
impressing it on your poor papa?'

'Nonomamanever' replied Kate. And to do Mrs Nickleby
justiceshe never had lost--and to do married ladies as a body
justicethey seldom do lose--any occasion of inculcating similar
golden perceptswhose only blemish isthe slight degree of
vagueness and uncertainty in which they are usually enveloped.

'Ah!' said Mrs Nicklebywith great fervour'if my advice had been
taken at the beginning--WellI have always done MY dutyand that's
some comfort.'

When she had arrived at this reflectionMrs Nickleby sighedrubbed
her handscast up her eyesand finally assumed a look of meek
composure; thus importing that she was a persecuted saintbut that
she wouldn't trouble her hearers by mentioning a circumstance which
must be so obvious to everybody.

'Now' said Ralphwith a smilewhichin common with all other
tokens of emotionseemed to skulk under his facerather than play
boldly over it--'to return to the point from which we have strayed.
I have a little party of--of--gentlemen with whom I am connected in
business just nowat my house tomorrow; and your mother has
promised that you shall keep house for me. I am not much used to
parties; but this is one of businessand such fooleries are an
important part of it sometimes. You don't mind obliging me?'

'Mind!' cried Mrs Nickleby. 'My dear Katewhy--'

'Pray' interrupted Ralphmotioning her to be silent. 'I spoke to
my niece.'

'I shall be very gladof courseuncle' replied Kate; 'but I am
afraid you will find me awkward and embarrassed.'

'Oh no' said Ralph; 'come when you likein a hackney coach--I'll
pay for it. Good-night--a--a--God bless you.'

The blessing seemed to stick in Mr Ralph Nickleby's throatas if it
were not used to the thoroughfareand didn't know the way out. But
it got out somehowthough awkwardly enough; and having disposed of
ithe shook hands with his two relativesand abruptly left them.

'What a very strongly marked countenance your uncle has!' said Mrs
Nicklebyquite struck with his parting look. 'I don't see the
slightest resemblance to his poor brother.'

'Mama!' said Kate reprovingly. 'To think of such a thing!'

'No' said Mrs Nicklebymusing. 'There certainly is none. But
it's a very honest face.'

The worthy matron made this remark with great emphasis and
elocutionas if it comprised no small quantity of ingenuity and


research; andin truthit was not unworthy of being classed among
the extraordinary discoveries of the age. Kate looked up hastily
and as hastily looked down again.

'What has come over youmy dearin the name of goodness?' asked
Mrs Nicklebywhen they had walked onfor some timein silence.

'I was only thinkingmama' answered Kate.

'Thinking!' repeated Mrs Nickleby. 'Ayand indeed plenty to think
abouttoo. Your uncle has taken a strong fancy to youthat's
quite clear; and if some extraordinary good fortune doesn't come to
youafter thisI shall be a little surprisedthat's all.'

With this she launched out into sundry anecdotes of young ladies
who had had thousand-pound notes given them in reticulesby
eccentric uncles; and of young ladies who had accidentally met
amiable gentlemen of enormous wealth at their uncles' housesand
married themafter short but ardent courtships; and Katelistening
first in apathyand afterwards in amusementfeltas they walked
homesomething of her mother's sanguine complexion gradually
awakening in her own bosomand began to think that her prospects
might be brighteningand that better days might be dawning upon
them. Such is hopeHeaven's own gift to struggling mortals;
pervadinglike some subtle essence from the skiesall thingsboth
good and bad; as universal as deathand more infectious than
disease!

The feeble winter's sun--and winter's suns in the city are very
feeble indeed--might have brightened upas he shone through the dim
windows of the large old houseon witnessing the unusual sight
which one half-furnished room displayed. In a gloomy cornerwhere
for yearshad stood a silent dusty pile of merchandisesheltering
its colony of miceand frowninga dull and lifeless massupon the
panelled roomsave whenresponding to the roll of heavy waggons in
the street withoutit quaked with sturdy tremblings and caused the
bright eyes of its tiny citizens to grow brighter still with fear
and struck them motionlesswith attentive ear and palpitating
heartuntil the alarm had passed away--in this dark cornerwas
arrangedwith scrupulous careall Kate's little finery for the
day; each article of dress partaking of that indescribable air of
jauntiness and individuality which empty garments--whether by
associationor that they become mouldedas it wereto the owner's
form--will takein eyes accustomed toor picturingthe wearer's
smartness. In place of a bale of musty goodsthere lay the black
silk dress: the neatest possible figure in itself. The small shoes
with toes delicately turned outstood upon the very pressure of
some old iron weight; and a pile of harsh discoloured leather had
unconsciously given place to the very same little pair of black silk
stockingswhich had been the objects of Mrs Nickleby's peculiar
care. Rats and miceand such small gearhad long ago been
starvedor had emigrated to better quarters: andin their stead
appeared glovesbandsscarfshair-pinsand many other little
devicesalmost as ingenious in their way as rats and mice
themselvesfor the tantalisation of mankind. About and among them
allmoved Kate herselfnot the least beautiful or unwonted relief
to the sternoldgloomy building.

In good timeor in bad timeas the reader likes to take it--for
Mrs Nickleby's impatience went a great deal faster than the clocks
at that end of the townand Kate was dressed to the very last hairpin
a full hour and a half before it was at all necessary to begin
to think about it--in good timeor in bad timethe toilet was
completed; and it being at length the hour agreed upon for starting


the milkman fetched a coach from the nearest standand Katewith
many adieux to her motherand many kind messages to Miss La Creevy
who was to come to teaseated herself in itand went away in
stateif ever anybody went away in state in a hackney coach yet.
And the coachand the coachmanand the horsesrattledand
jangledand whippedand cursedand sworeand tumbled on
togetheruntil they came to Golden Square.

The coachman gave a tremendous double knock at the doorwhich was
opened long before he had doneas quickly as if there had been a
man behind itwith his hand tied to the latch. Katewho had
expected no more uncommon appearance than Newman Noggs in a clean
shirtwas not a little astonished to see that the opener was a man
in handsome liveryand that there were two or three others in the
hall. There was no doubt about its being the right househowever
for there was the name upon the door; so she accepted the laced
coat-sleeve which was tendered herand entering the housewas
ushered upstairsinto a back drawing-roomwhere she was left
alone.

If she had been surprised at the apparition of the footmanshe was
perfectly absorbed in amazement at the richness and splendour of the
furniture. The softest and most elegant carpetsthe most exquisite
picturesthe costliest mirrors; articles of richest ornamentquite
dazzling from their beauty and perplexing from the prodigality with
which they were scattered around; encountered her on every side.
The very staircase nearly down to the hall-doorwas crammed with
beautiful and luxurious thingsas though the house were brimful of
richeswhichwith a very trifling additionwould fairly run over
into the street.

Presentlyshe heard a series of loud double knocks at the streetdoor
and after every knock some new voice in the next room; the
tones of Mr Ralph Nickleby were easily distinguishable at firstbut
by degrees they merged into the general buzz of conversationand
all she could ascertain wasthat there were several gentlemen with
no very musical voiceswho talked very loudlaughed very heartily
and swore more than she would have thought quite necessary. But
this was a question of taste.

At lengththe door openedand Ralph himselfdivested of his
bootsand ceremoniously embellished with black silks and shoes
presented his crafty face.

'I couldn't see you beforemy dear' he saidin a low toneand
pointingas he spoketo the next room. 'I was engaged in
receiving them. Now--shall I take you in?'

'Prayuncle' said Katea little flurriedas people much more
conversant with society often arewhen they are about to enter a
room full of strangersand have had time to think of it previously
'are there any ladies here?'

'No' said Ralphshortly'I don't know any.'

'Must I go in immediately?' asked Katedrawing back a little.

'As you please' said Ralphshrugging his shoulders. 'They are all
comeand dinner will be announced directly afterwards--that's all.'

Kate would have entreated a few minutes' respitebut reflecting
that her uncle might consider the payment of the hackney-coach fare
a sort of bargain for her punctualityshe suffered him to draw her
arm through hisand to lead her away.


Seven or eight gentlemen were standing round the fire when they went
inandas they were talking very loudwere not aware of their
entrance until Mr Ralph Nicklebytouching one on the coat-sleeve
said in a harsh emphatic voiceas if to attract general attention-


'Lord Frederick Verisophtmy nieceMiss Nickleby.'

The group dispersedas if in great surpriseand the gentleman
addressedturning roundexhibited a suit of clothes of the most
superlative cuta pair of whiskers of similar qualitya moustache
a head of hairand a young face.

'Eh!' said the gentleman. 'What--the--deyvle!'

With which broken ejaculationshe fixed his glass in his eyeand
stared at Miss Nickleby in great surprise.

'My niecemy lord' said Ralph.

'Then my ears did not deceive meand it's not wa-a-x work' said
his lordship. 'How de do? I'm very happy.' And then his lordship
turned to another superlative gentlemansomething oldersomething
stoutersomething redder in the faceand something longer upon
townand said in a loud whisper that the girl was 'deyvlish pitty.'

'Introduce meNickleby' said this second gentlemanwho was
lounging with his back to the fireand both elbows on the
chimneypiece.

'Sir Mulberry Hawk' said Ralph.

'Otherwise the most knowing card in the pa-ackMiss Nickleby' said
Lord Frederick Verisopht.

'Don't leave me outNickleby' cried a sharp-faced gentlemanwho
was sitting on a low chair with a high backreading the paper.

'Mr Pyke' said Ralph.

'Nor meNickleby' cried a gentleman with a flushed face and a
flash airfrom the elbow of Sir Mulberry Hawk.

'Mr Pluck' said Ralph. Then wheeling about againtowards a
gentleman with the neck of a stork and the legs of no animal in
particularRalph introduced him as the Honourable Mr Snobb; and a
white-headed person at the table as Colonel Chowser. The colonel
was in conversation with somebodywho appeared to be a make-weight
and was not introduced at all.

There were two circumstances whichin this early stage of the
partystruck home to Kate's bosomand brought the blood tingling
to her face. One was the flippant contempt with which the guests
evidently regarded her uncleand the otherthe easy insolence of
their manner towards herself. That the first symptom was very
likely to lead to the aggravation of the secondit needed no great
penetration to foresee. And here Mr Ralph Nickleby had reckoned
without his host; for however fresh from the country a young lady
(by nature) may beand however unacquainted with conventional
behaviourthe chances arethat she will have quite as strong an
innate sense of the decencies and proprieties of life as if she had
run the gauntlet of a dozen London seasons--possibly a stronger one
for such senses have been known to blunt in this improving process.


When Ralph had completed the ceremonial of introductionhe led his
blushing niece to a seat. As he did sohe glanced warily round as
though to assure himself of the impression which her unlooked-for
appearance had created.

'An unexpected playsureNickleby' said Lord Frederick Verisopht
taking his glass out of his right eyewhere it haduntil nowdone
duty on Kateand fixing it in his leftto bring it to bear on
Ralph.

'Designed to surprise youLord Frederick' said Mr Pluck.

'Not a bad idea' said his lordship'and one that would almost
warrant the addition of an extra two and a half per cent.'

'Nickleby' said Sir Mulberry Hawkin a thick coarse voice'take
the hintand tack it on the other five-and-twentyor whatever it
isand give me half for the advice.'

Sir Mulberry garnished this speech with a hoarse laughand
terminated it with a pleasant oath regarding Mr Nickleby's limbs
whereat Messrs Pyke and Pluck laughed consumedly.

These gentlemen had not yet quite recovered the jestwhen dinner
was announcedand then they were thrown into fresh ecstasies by a
similar cause; for Sir Mulberry Hawkin an excess of humourshot
dexterously past Lord Frederick Verisopht who was about to lead Kate
downstairsand drew her arm through his up to the elbow.

'Nodamn itVerisopht' said Sir Mulberry'fair play's a jewel
and Miss Nickleby and I settled the matter with our eyes ten minutes
ago.'

'Hahaha!' laughed the honourable Mr Snobb'very goodvery
good.'

Rendered additionally witty by this applauseSir Mulberry Hawk
leered upon his friends most facetiouslyand led Kate downstairs
with an air of familiaritywhich roused in her gentle breast such
burning indignationas she felt it almost impossible to repress.
Nor was the intensity of these feelings at all diminishedwhen she
found herself placed at the top of the tablewith Sir Mulberry Hawk
and Lord Frederick Verisopht on either side.

'Ohyou've found your way into our neighbourhoodhave you?' said
Sir Mulberry as his lordship sat down.

'Of course' replied Lord Frederickfixing his eyes on Miss
Nickleby'how can you a-ask me?'

'Wellyou attend to your dinner' said Sir Mulberry'and don't
mind Miss Nickleby and mefor we shall prove very indifferent
companyI dare say.'

'I wish you'd interfere hereNickleby' said Lord Frederick.

'What is the mattermy lord?' demanded Ralph from the bottom of the
tablewhere he was supported by Messrs Pyke and Pluck.

'This fellowHawkis monopolising your niece' said Lord Frederick.

'He has a tolerable share of everything that you lay claim tomy
lord' said Ralph with a sneer.


''Gadso he has' replied the young man; 'deyvle take me if I know
which is master in my househe or I.'

'I know' muttered Ralph.

'I think I shall cut him off with a shilling' said the young
noblemanjocosely.

'Nonocurse it' said Sir Mulberry. 'When you come to the
shilling--the last shilling--I'll cut you fast enough; but till
thenI'll never leave you--you may take your oath of it.'

This sally (which was strictly founded on fact) was received with a
general roarabove whichwas plainly distinguishable the laughter
of Mr Pyke and Mr Pluckwho wereevidentlySir Mulberry's toads
in ordinary. Indeedit was not difficult to seethat the majority
of the company preyed upon the unfortunate young lordwhoweak and
silly as he wasappeared by far the least vicious of the party.
Sir Mulberry Hawk was remarkable for his tact in ruiningby himself
and his creaturesyoung gentlemen of fortune--a genteel and elegant
professionof which he had undoubtedly gained the head. With all
the boldness of an original geniushe had struck out an entirely
new course of treatment quite opposed to the usual method; his
custom beingwhen he had gained the ascendancy over those he took
in handrather to keep them down than to give them their own way;
and to exercise his vivacity upon them openlyand without reserve.
Thushe made them buttsin a double senseand while he emptied
them with great addresscaused them to ring with sundry welladministered
tapsfor the diversion of society.

The dinner was as remarkable for the splendour and completeness of
its appointments as the mansion itselfand the company were
remarkable for doing it ample justicein which respect Messrs Pyke
and Pluck particularly signalised themselves; these two gentlemen
eating of every dishand drinking of every bottlewith a capacity
and perseverance truly astonishing. They were remarkably fresh
toonotwithstanding their great exertions: foron the appearance
of the dessertthey broke out againas if nothing serious had
taken place since breakfast.

'Well' said Lord Fredericksipping his first glass of port'if
this is a discounting dinnerall I have to say isdeyvle take me
if it wouldn't be a good pla-an to get discount every day.'

'You'll have plenty of itin your time' returned Sir Mulberry
Hawk; 'Nickleby will tell you that.'

'What do you sayNickleby?' inquired the young man; 'am I to be a
good customer?'

'It depends entirely on circumstancesmy lord' replied Ralph.

'On your lordship's circumstances' interposed Colonel Chowser of
the Militia--and the race-courses.

The gallant colonel glanced at Messrs Pyke and Pluck as if he
thought they ought to laugh at his joke; but those gentlemenbeing
only engaged to laugh for Sir Mulberry Hawkwereto his signal
discomfitureas grave as a pair of undertakers. To add to his
defeatSir Mulberryconsidering any such efforts an invasion of
his peculiar privilegeeyed the offender steadilythrough his
glassas if astonished at his presumptionand audibly stated his
impression that it was an 'infernal liberty' which being a hint to
Lord Frederickhe put up HIS glassand surveyed the object of


censure as if he were some extraordinary wild animal then exhibiting
for the first time. As a matter of courseMessrs Pyke and Pluck
stared at the individual whom Sir Mulberry Hawk stared at; sothe
poor colonelto hide his confusionwas reduced to the necessity of
holding his port before his right eye and affecting to scrutinise
its colour with the most lively interest.

All this whileKate had sat as silently as she couldscarcely
daring to raise her eyeslest they should encounter the admiring
gaze of Lord Frederick Verisophtorwhat was still more
embarrassingthe bold looks of his friend Sir Mulberry. The latter
gentleman was obliging enough to direct general attention towards
her.

'Here is Miss Nickleby' observed Sir Mulberry'wondering why the
deuce somebody doesn't make love to her.'

'Noindeed' said Katelooking hastily up'I--' and then she
stoppedfeeling it would have been better to have said nothing at
all.

'I'll hold any man fifty pounds' said Sir Mulberry'that Miss
Nickleby can't look in my faceand tell me she wasn't thinking so.'

'Done!' cried the noble gull. 'Within ten minutes.'

'Done!' responded Sir Mulberry. The money was produced on both
sidesand the Honourable Mr Snobb was elected to the double office
of stake-holder and time-keeper.

'Pray' said Katein great confusionwhile these preliminaries
were in course of completion. 'Pray do not make me the subject of
any bets. UncleI cannot really--'

'Why notmy dear?' replied Ralphin whose grating voicehowever
there was an unusual huskinessas though he spoke unwillinglyand
would rather that the proposition had not been broached. 'It is
done in a moment; there is nothing in it. If the gentlemen insist
on it--'

'I don't insist on it' said Sir Mulberrywith a loud laugh. 'That
isI by no means insist upon Miss Nickleby's making the denialfor
if she doesI lose; but I shall be glad to see her bright eyes
especially as she favours the mahogany so much.'

'So she doesand it's too ba-a-d of youMiss Nickleby' said the
noble youth.

'Quite cruel' said Mr Pyke.

'Horrid cruel' said Mr Pluck.

'I don't care if I do lose' said Sir Mulberry; 'for one tolerable
look at Miss Nickleby's eyes is worth double the money.'

'More' said Mr Pyke.

'Far more' said Mr Pluck.

'How goes the enemySnobb?' asked Sir Mulberry Hawk.

'Four minutes gone.'

'Bravo!'


'Won't you ma-ake one effort for meMiss Nickleby?' asked Lord
Frederickafter a short interval.

'You needn't trouble yourself to inquiremy buck' said Sir
Mulberry; 'Miss Nickleby and I understand each other; she declares
on my sideand shows her taste. You haven't a chanceold fellow.
TimeSnobb?'

'Eight minutes gone.'

'Get the money ready' said Sir Mulberry; 'you'll soon hand over.'

'Hahaha!' laughed Mr Pyke.

Mr Pluckwho always came secondand topped his companion if he
couldscreamed outright.

The poor girlwho was so overwhelmed with confusion that she
scarcely knew what she didhad determined to remain perfectly
quiet; but fearing that by so doing she might seem to countenance
Sir Mulberry's boastwhich had been uttered with great coarseness
and vulgarity of mannerraised her eyesand looked him in the
face. There was something so odiousso insolentso repulsive in
the look which met herthatwithout the power to stammer forth a
syllableshe rose and hurried from the room. She restrained her
tears by a great effort until she was alone upstairsand then gave
them vent.

'Capital!' said Sir Mulberry Hawkputting the stakes in his pocket.

'That's a girl of spiritand we'll drink her health.'

It is needless to saythat Pyke and Co. respondedwith great
warmth of mannerto this proposalor that the toast was drunk with
many little insinuations from the firmrelative to the completeness
of Sir Mulberry's conquest. Ralphwhowhile the attention of the
other guests was attracted to the principals in the preceding scene
had eyed them like a wolfappeared to breathe more freely now his
niece was gone; the decanters passing quickly roundhe leaned back
in his chairand turned his eyes from speaker to speakeras they
warmed with winewith looks that seemed to search their heartsand
lay barefor his distempered sportevery idle thought within them.

Meanwhile Kateleft wholly to herselfhadin some degree
recovered her composure. She had learnt from a female attendant
that her uncle wished to see her before she leftand had also
gleaned the satisfactory intelligencethat the gentlemen would take
coffee at table. The prospect of seeing them no morecontributed
greatly to calm her agitationandtaking up a bookshe composed
herself to read.

She started sometimeswhen the sudden opening of the dining-room
door let loose a wild shout of noisy revelryand more than once
rose in great alarmas a fancied footstep on the staircase
impressed her with the fear that some stray member of the party was
returning alone. Nothing occurringhoweverto realise her
apprehensionsshe endeavoured to fix her attention more closely on
her bookin which by degrees she became so much interestedthat
she had read on through several chapters without heed of time or
placewhen she was terrified by suddenly hearing her name
pronounced by a man's voice close at her ear.

The book fell from her hand. Lounging on an ottoman close beside


herwas Sir Mulberry Hawkevidently the worse--if a man be a
ruffian at hearthe is never the better--for wine.

'What a delightful studiousness!' said this accomplished gentleman.
'Was it realnowor only to display the eyelashes?'

Katelooking anxiously towards the doormade no reply.

'I have looked at 'em for five minutes' said Sir Mulberry. 'Upon
my soulthey're perfect. Why did I speakand destroy such a
pretty little picture?'

'Do me the favour to be silent nowsir' replied Kate.

'Nodon't' said Sir Mulberryfolding his crushed hat to lay his
elbow onand bringing himself still closer to the young lady; 'upon
my lifeyou oughtn't to. Such a devoted slave of yoursMiss
Nickleby--it's an infernal thing to treat him so harshlyupon my
soul it is.'

'I wish you to understandsir' said Katetrembling in spite of
herselfbut speaking with great indignation'that your behaviour
offends and disgusts me. If you have a spark of gentlemanly feeling
remainingyou will leave me.'

'Now why' said Sir Mulberry'why will you keep up this appearance
of excessive rigourmy sweet creature? Nowbe more natural--my
dear Miss Nicklebybe more natural--do.'

Kate hastily rose; but as she roseSir Mulberry caught her dress
and forcibly detained her.

'Let me gosir' she criedher heart swelling with anger. 'Do you
hear? Instantly--this moment.'

'Sit downsit down' said Sir Mulberry; 'I want to talk to you.'

'Unhand mesirthis instant' cried Kate.

'Not for the world' rejoined Sir Mulberry. Thus speakinghe
leaned overas if to replace her in her chair; but the young lady
making a violent effort to disengage herselfhe lost his balance
and measured his length upon the ground. As Kate sprung forward to
leave the roomMr Ralph Nickleby appeared in the doorwayand
confronted her.

'What is this?' said Ralph.

'It is thissir' replied Kateviolently agitated: 'that beneath
the roof where Ia helpless girlyour dead brother's childshould
most have found protectionI have been exposed to insult which
should make you shrink to look upon me. Let me pass you.'

Ralph DID shrinkas the indignant girl fixed her kindling eye upon
him; but he did not comply with her injunctionnevertheless: for he
led her to a distant seatand returningand approaching Sir
Mulberry Hawkwho had by this time risenmotioned towards the
door.

'Your way lies theresir' said Ralphin a suppressed voicethat
some devil might have owned with pride.

'What do you mean by that?' demanded his friendfiercely.


The swoln veins stood out like sinews on Ralph's wrinkled forehead
and the nerves about his mouth worked as though some unendurable
emotion wrung them; but he smiled disdainfullyand again pointed to
the door.

'Do you know meyou old madman?' asked Sir Mulberry.

'Well' said Ralph. The fashionable vagabond for the moment quite
quailed under the steady look of the older sinnerand walked
towards the doormuttering as he went.

'You wanted the lorddid you?' he saidstopping short when he
reached the dooras if a new light had broken in upon himand
confronting Ralph again. 'DammeI was in the waywas I?'

Ralph smiled againbut made no answer.

'Who brought him to you first?' pursued Sir Mulberry; 'and how
without mecould you ever have wound him in your net as you have?'

'The net is a large oneand rather full' said Ralph. 'Take care
that it chokes nobody in the meshes.'

'You would sell your flesh and blood for money; yourselfif you
have not already made a bargain with the devil' retorted the other.
'Do you mean to tell me that your pretty niece was not brought here
as a decoy for the drunken boy downstairs?'

Although this hurried dialogue was carried on in a suppressed tone
on both sidesRalph looked involuntarily round to ascertain that
Kate had not moved her position so as to be within hearing. His
adversary saw the advantage he had gainedand followed it up.

'Do you mean to tell me' he asked again'that it is not so? Do
you mean to say that if he had found his way up here instead of me
you wouldn't have been a little more blindand a little more deaf
and a little less flourishingthan you have been? ComeNickleby
answer me that.'

'I tell you this' replied Ralph'that if I brought her hereas a
matter of business--'

'Aythat's the word' interposed Sir Mulberrywith a laugh.
'You're coming to yourself again now.'

'--As a matter of business' pursued Ralphspeaking slowly and
firmlyas a man who has made up his mind to say no more'because I
thought she might make some impression on the silly youth you have
taken in hand and are lending good help to ruinI knew--knowing
him--that it would be long before he outraged her girl's feelings
and that unless he offended by mere puppyism and emptinesshe
wouldwith a little managementrespect the sex and conduct even of
his usurer's niece. But if I thought to draw him on more gently by
this deviceI did not think of subjecting the girl to the
licentiousness and brutality of so old a hand as you. And now we
understand each other.'

'Especially as there was nothing to be got by it--eh?' sneered Sir
Mulberry.

'Exactly so' said Ralph. He had turned awayand looked over his
shoulder to make this last reply. The eyes of the two worthies met
with an expression as if each rascal felt that there was no
disguising himself from the other; and Sir Mulberry Hawk shrugged


his shoulders and walked slowly out.

His friend closed the doorand looked restlessly towards the spot
where his niece still remained in the attitude in which he had left
her. She had flung herself heavily upon the couchand with her
head drooping over the cushionand her face hidden in her hands
seemed to be still weeping in an agony of shame and grief.

Ralph would have walked into any poverty-stricken debtor's house
and pointed him out to a bailiffthough in attendance upon a young
child's death-bedwithout the smallest concernbecause it would
have been a matter quite in the ordinary course of businessand the
man would have been an offender against his only code of morality.
Buthere was a young girlwho had done no wrong save that of
coming into the world alive; who had patiently yielded to all his
wishes; who had tried hard to please him--above allwho didn't owe
him money--and he felt awkward and nervous.

Ralph took a chair at some distance; thenanother chair a little
nearer; thenmoved a little nearer still; thennearer againand
finally sat himself on the same sofaand laid his hand on Kate's
arm.

'Hushmy dear!' he saidas she drew it backand her sobs burst
out afresh. 'Hushhush! Don't mind itnow; don't think of it.'

'Ohfor pity's sakelet me go home' cried Kate. 'Let me leave
this houseand go home.'

'Yesyes' said Ralph. 'You shall. But you must dry your eyes
firstand compose yourself. Let me raise your head. There-there.'


'Ohuncle!' exclaimed Kateclasping her hands. 'What have I done
--what have I done--that you should subject me to this? If I had
wronged you in thoughtor wordor deedit would have been most
cruel to meand the memory of one you must have loved in some old
time; but--'

'Only listen to me for a moment' interrupted Ralphseriously
alarmed by the violence of her emotions. 'I didn't know it would be
so; it was impossible for me to foresee it. I did all I could.-Come
let us walk about. You are faint with the closeness of the
roomand the heat of these lamps. You will be better nowif you
make the slightest effort.'

'I will do anything' replied Kate'if you will only send me home.'

'WellwellI will' said Ralph; 'but you must get back your own
looks; for those you havewill frighten themand nobody must know
of this but you and I. Now let us walk the other way. There. You
look better even now.'

With such encouragements as theseRalph Nickleby walked to and fro
with his niece leaning on his arm; actually trembling beneath her
touch.

In the same mannerwhen he judged it prudent to allow her to
departhe supported her downstairsafter adjusting her shawl and
performing such little officesmost probably for the first time in
his life. Across the halland down the stepsRalph led her too;
nor did he withdraw his hand until she was seated in the coach.

As the door of the vehicle was roughly closeda comb fell from


Kate's hairclose at her uncle's feet; and as he picked it upand
returned it into her handthe light from a neighbouring lamp shone
upon her face. The lock of hair that had escaped and curled loosely
over her browthe traces of tears yet scarcely drythe flushed
cheekthe look of sorrowall fired some dormant train of
recollection in the old man's breast; and the face of his dead
brother seemed present before himwith the very look it bore on
some occasion of boyish griefof which every minutest circumstance
flashed upon his mindwith the distinctness of a scene of
yesterday.

Ralph Nicklebywho was proof against all appeals of blood and
kindred--who was steeled against every tale of sorrow and distress-staggered
while he lookedand went back into his houseas a man
who had seen a spirit from some world beyond the grave.

CHAPTER 20

Wherein Nicholas at length encounters his Uncleto whom he
expresses his Sentiments with much Candour. His Resolution.

Little Miss La Creevy trotted briskly through divers streets at the
west end of the townearly on Monday morning--the day after the
dinner--charged with the important commission of acquainting Madame
Mantalini that Miss Nickleby was too unwell to attend that daybut
hoped to be enabled to resume her duties on the morrow. And as Miss
La Creevy walked alongrevolving in her mind various genteel forms
and elegant turns of expressionwith a view to the selection of the
very best in which to couch her communicationshe cogitated a good
deal upon the probable causes of her young friend's indisposition.

'I don't know what to make of it' said Miss La Creevy. 'Her eyes
were decidedly red last night. She said she had a headache;
headaches don't occasion red eyes. She must have been crying.'

Arriving at this conclusionwhichindeedshe had established to
her perfect satisfaction on the previous eveningMiss La Creevy
went on to consider--as she had done nearly all night--what new
cause of unhappiness her young friend could possibly have had.

'I can't think of anything' said the little portrait painter.
'Nothing at allunless it was the behaviour of that old bear.
Cross to herI suppose? Unpleasant brute!'

Relieved by this expression of opinionalbeit it was vented upon
empty airMiss La Creevy trotted on to Madame Mantalini's; and
being informed that the governing power was not yet out of bed
requested an interview with the second in command; whereupon Miss
Knag appeared.

'So far as I am concerned' said Miss Knagwhen the message had
been deliveredwith many ornaments of speech; 'I could spare Miss
Nickleby for evermore.'

'Ohindeedma'am!' rejoined Miss La Creevyhighly offended.
'Butyou seeyou are not mistress of the businessand therefore
it's of no great consequence.'

'Very goodma'am' said Miss Knag. 'Have you any further commands
for me?'


'NoI have notma'am' rejoined Miss La Creevy.

'Then good-morningma'am' said Miss Knag.

'Good-morning to youma'am; and many obligations for your extreme
politeness and good breeding' rejoined Miss La Creevy.

Thus terminating the interviewduring which both ladies had
trembled very muchand been marvellously polite--certain
indications that they were within an inch of a very desperate
quarrel--Miss La Creevy bounced out of the roomand into the
street.

'I wonder who that is' said the queer little soul. 'A nice person
to knowI should think! I wish I had the painting of her: I'D do
her justice.' Sofeeling quite satisfied that she had said a very
cutting thing at Miss Knag's expenseMiss La Creevy had a hearty
laughand went home to breakfast in great good humour.

Here was one of the advantages of having lived alone so long! The
little bustlingactivecheerful creature existed entirely within
herselftalked to herselfmade a confidante of herselfwas as
sarcastic as she could beon people who offended herby herself;
pleased herselfand did no harm. If she indulged in scandal
nobody's reputation suffered; and if she enjoyed a little bit of
revengeno living soul was one atom the worse. One of the many to
whomfrom straitened circumstancesa consequent inability to form
the associations they would wishand a disinclination to mix with
the society they could obtainLondon is as complete a solitude as
the plains of Syriathe humble artist had pursued her lonelybut
contented way for many years; anduntil the peculiar misfortunes of
the Nickleby family attracted her attentionhad made no friends
though brimful of the friendliest feelings to all mankind. There
are many warm hearts in the same solitary guise as poor little Miss
La Creevy's.

Howeverthat's neither here nor therejust now. She went home to
breakfastand had scarcely caught the full flavour of her first sip
of teawhen the servant announced a gentlemanwhereat Miss La
Creevyat once imagining a new sitter transfixed by admiration at
the street-door casewas in unspeakable consternation at the
presence of the tea-things.

'Heretake 'em away; run with 'em into the bedroom; anywhere' said
Miss La Creevy. 'Deardear; to think that I should be late on this
particular morningof all othersafter being ready for three weeks
by half-past eight o'clockand not a soul coming near the place!'

'Don't let me put you out of the way' said a voice Miss La Creevy
knew. 'I told the servant not to mention my namebecause I wished
to surprise you.'

'Mr Nicholas!' cried Miss La Creevystarting in great astonishment.
'You have not forgotten meI see' replied Nicholasextending his
hand.

'WhyI think I should even have known you if I had met you in the
street' said Miss La Creevywith a smile. 'Hannahanother cup
and saucer. NowI'll tell you whatyoung man; I'll trouble you
not to repeat the impertinence you were guilty ofon the morning
you went away.'

'You would not be very angrywould you?' asked Nicholas.


'Wouldn't I!' said Miss La Creevy. 'You had better try; that's
all!'

Nicholaswith becoming gallantryimmediately took Miss La Creevy
at her wordwho uttered a faint scream and slapped his face; but it
was not a very hard slapand that's the truth.

'I never saw such a rude creature!' exclaimed Miss La Creevy.

'You told me to try' said Nicholas.

'Well; but I was speaking ironically' rejoined Miss La Creevy.

'Oh! that's another thing' said Nicholas; 'you should have told me
thattoo.'

'I dare say you didn't knowindeed!' retorted Miss La Creevy.
'Butnow I look at you againyou seem thinner than when I saw you
lastand your face is haggard and pale. And how come you to have
left Yorkshire?'

She stopped here; for there was so much heart in her altered tone
and mannerthat Nicholas was quite moved.

'I need look somewhat changed' he saidafter a short silence; 'for
I have undergone some sufferingboth of mind and bodysince I left
London. I have been very poortooand have even suffered from
want.'

'Good HeavenMr Nicholas!' exclaimed Miss La Creevy'what are you
telling me?'

'Nothing which need distress you quite so much' answered Nicholas
with a more sprightly air; 'neither did I come here to bewail my
lotbut on matter more to the purpose. I wish to meet my uncle
face to face. I should tell you that first.'

'Then all I have to say about that is' interposed Miss La Creevy
'that I don't envy you your taste; and that sitting in the same room
with his very bootswould put me out of humour for a fortnight.'

'In the main' said Nicholas'there may be no great difference of
opinion between you and meso far; but you will understandthat I
desire to confront himto justify myselfand to cast his duplicity
and malice in his throat.'

'That's quite another matter' rejoined Miss La Creevy. 'Heaven
forgive me; but I shouldn't cry my eyes quite out of my headif
they choked him. Well?'

'To this endI called upon him this morning' said Nicholas. 'He
only returned to town on Saturdayand I knew nothing of his arrival
until late last night.'

'And did you see him?' asked Miss La Creevy.

'No' replied Nicholas. 'He had gone out.'

'Hah!' said Miss La Creevy; 'on some kindcharitable businessI
dare say.'

'I have reason to believe' pursued Nicholas'from what has been
told meby a friend of mine who is acquainted with his movements
that he intends seeing my mother and sister todayand giving them


his version of the occurrences that have befallen me. I will meet
him there.'

'That's right' said Miss La Creevyrubbing her hands. 'And yetI
don't know' she added'there is much to be thought of--others to
be considered.'

'I have considered others' rejoined Nicholas; 'but as honesty and
honour are both at issuenothing shall deter me.'

'You should know best' said Miss La Creevy.

'In this case I hope so' answered Nicholas. 'And all I want you to
do for meisto prepare them for my coming. They think me a long
way offand if I went wholly unexpectedI should frighten them.
If you can spare time to tell them that you have seen meand that I
shall be with them in a quarter of an hour afterwardsyou will do
me a great service.'

'I wish I could do youor any of youa greater' said Miss La
Creevy; 'but the power to serveis as seldom joined with the will
as the will is with the powerI think.'

Talking on very fast and very muchMiss La Creevy finished her
breakfast with great expeditionput away the tea-caddy and hid the
key under the fenderresumed her bonnetandtaking Nicholas's
armsallied forth at once to the city. Nicholas left her near the
door of his mother's houseand promised to return within a quarter
of an hour.

It so chanced that Ralph Nicklebyat length seeing fitfor his own
purposesto communicate the atrocities of which Nicholas had been
guiltyhad (instead of first proceeding to another quarter of the
town on businessas Newman Noggs supposed he would) gone straight
to his sister-in-law. Hencewhen Miss La Creevyadmitted by a
girl who was cleaning the housemade her way to the sitting-room
she found Mrs Nickleby and Kate in tearsand Ralph just concluding
his statement of his nephew's misdemeanours. Kate beckoned her not
to retireand Miss La Creevy took a seat in silence.

'You are here alreadyare youmy gentleman?' thought the little
woman. 'Then he shall announce himselfand see what effect that
has on you.'

'This is pretty' said Ralphfolding up Miss Squeers's note; 'very
pretty. I recommend him--against all my previous convictionfor I
knew he would never do any good--to a man with whombehaving
himself properlyhe might have remainedin comfortfor years.
What is the result? Conduct for which he might hold up his hand at
the Old Bailey.'

'I never will believe it' said Kateindignantly; 'never. It is
some base conspiracywhich carries its own falsehood with it.'

'My dear' said Ralph'you wrong the worthy man. These are not
inventions. The man is assaultedyour brother is not to be found;
this boyof whom they speakgoes with him--rememberremember.'

'It is impossible' said Kate. 'Nicholas!--and a thief too! Mama
how can you sit and hear such statements?'

Poor Mrs Nicklebywho hadat no timebeen remarkable for the
possession of a very clear understandingand who had been reduced
by the late changes in her affairs to a most complicated state of


perplexitymade no other reply to this earnest remonstrance than
exclaiming from behind a mass of pocket-handkerchiefthat she never
could have believed it--thereby most ingeniously leaving her hearers
to suppose that she did believe it.

'It would be my dutyif he came in my wayto deliver him up to
justice' said Ralph'my bounden duty; I should have no other
courseas a man of the world and a man of businessto pursue. And
yet' said Ralphspeaking in a very marked mannerand looking
furtivelybut fixedlyat Kate'and yet I would not. I would
spare the feelings of his--of his sister. And his mother of
course' added Ralphas though by an afterthoughtand with far
less emphasis.

Kate very well understood that this was held out as an additional
inducement to her to preserve the strictest silence regarding the
events of the preceding night. She looked involuntarily towards
Ralph as he ceased to speakbut he had turned his eyes another way
and seemed for the moment quite unconscious of her presence.

'Everything' said Ralphafter a long silencebroken only by Mrs
Nickleby's sobs'everything combines to prove the truth of this
letterif indeed there were any possibility of disputing it. Do
innocent men steal away from the sight of honest folksand skulk in
hiding-placeslike outlaws? Do innocent men inveigle nameless
vagabondsand prowl with them about the country as idle robbers do?
Assaultriottheftwhat do you call these?'

'A lie!' cried a voiceas the door was dashed openand Nicholas
came into the room.

In the first moment of surpriseand possibly of alarmRalph rose
from his seatand fell back a few pacesquite taken off his guard
by this unexpected apparition. In another momenthe stoodfixed
and immovable with folded armsregarding his nephew with a scowl;
while Kate and Miss La Creevy threw themselves between the twoto
prevent the personal violence which the fierce excitement of
Nicholas appeared to threaten.

'Dear Nicholas' cried his sisterclinging to him. 'Be calm
consider--'

'ConsiderKate!' cried Nicholasclasping her hand so tight in
the tumult of his angerthat she could scarcely bear the pain.
'When I consider alland think of what has passedI need be
made of iron to stand before him.'

'Or bronze' said Ralphquietly; 'there is not hardihood enough in
flesh and blood to face it out.'

'Oh deardear!' cried Mrs Nickleby'that things should have come
to such a pass as this!'

'Who speaks in a toneas if I had done wrongand brought disgrace
on them?' said Nicholaslooking round.

'Your mothersir' replied Ralphmotioning towards her.

'Whose ears have been poisoned by you' said Nicholas; 'by you--who
under pretence of deserving the thanks she poured upon youheaped
every insultwrongand indignity upon my head. Youwho sent me
to a den where sordid crueltyworthy of yourselfruns wantonand
youthful misery stalks precocious; where the lightness of childhood
shrinks into the heaviness of ageand its every promise blights


and withers as it grows. I call Heaven to witness' said Nicholas
looking eagerly round'that I have seen all thisand that he knows
it.'

'Refute these calumnies' said Kate'and be more patientso that
you may give them no advantage. Tell us what you really didand
show that they are untrue.'

'Of what do they--or of what does he--accuse me?' said Nicholas.

'Firstof attacking your masterand being within an ace of
qualifying yourself to be tried for murder' interposed Ralph. 'I
speak plainlyyoung manbluster as you will.'

'I interfered' said Nicholas'to save a miserable creature from
the vilest cruelty. In so doingI inflicted such punishment upon a
wretch as he will not readily forgetthough far less than he
deserved from me. If the same scene were renewed before me nowI
would take the same part; but I would strike harder and heavierand
brand him with such marks as he should carry to his gravego to it
when he would.'

'You hear?' said Ralphturning to Mrs Nickleby. 'Penitencethis!'

'Oh dear me!' cried Mrs Nickleby'I don't know what to thinkI
really don't.'

'Do not speak just nowmamaI entreat you' said Kate. 'Dear
NicholasI only tell youthat you may know what wickedness can
promptbut they accuse you of--a ring is missingand they dare to
say that--'

'The woman' said Nicholashaughtily'the wife of the fellow from
whom these charges comedropped--as I suppose--a worthless ring
among some clothes of mineearly in the morning on which I left the
house. At leastI know that she was in the bedroom where they lay
struggling with an unhappy childand that I found it when I opened
my bundle on the road. I returned itat onceby coachand they
have it now.'

'I knewI knew' said Katelooking towards her uncle. 'About this
boylovein whose company they say you left?'

'The boya sillyhelpless creaturefrom brutality and hard usage
is with me now' rejoined Nicholas.

'You hear?' said Ralphappealing to the mother again'everything
provedeven upon his own confession. Do you choose to restore that
boysir?'

'NoI do not' replied Nicholas.

'You do not?' sneered Ralph.

'No' repeated Nicholas'not to the man with whom I found him.
would that I knew on whom he has the claim of birth: I might wring
something from his sense of shameif he were dead to every tie of
nature.'

'Indeed!' said Ralph. 'Nowsirwill you hear a word or two from
me?'

'You can speak when and what you please' replied Nicholas
embracing his sister. 'I take little heed of what you say or


threaten.'

'Mighty wellsir' retorted Ralph; 'but perhaps it may concern
otherswho may think it worth their while to listenand consider
what I tell them. I will address your mothersirwho knows the
world.'

'Ah! and I only too dearly wish I didn't' sobbed Mrs Nickleby.

There really was no necessity for the good lady to be much
distressed upon this particular head; the extent of her worldly
knowledge beingto say the leastvery questionable; and so Ralph
seemed to thinkfor he smiled as she spoke. He then glanced
steadily at her and Nicholas by turnsas he delivered himself in
these words:

'Of what I have doneor what I meant to dofor youma'amand my
nieceI say not one syllable. I held out no promiseand leave you
to judge for yourself. I hold out no threat nowbut I say that
this boyheadstrongwilful and disorderly as he isshould not
have one penny of my moneyor one crust of my breador one grasp
of my handto save him from the loftiest gallows in all Europe. I
will not meet himcome where he comesor hear his name. I will
not help himor those who help him. With a full knowledge of what
he brought upon you by so doinghe has come back in his selfish
slothto be an aggravation of your wantsand a burden upon his
sister's scanty wages. I regret to leave youand more to leave
hernowbut I will not encourage this compound of meanness and
crueltyandas I will not ask you to renounce himI see you no
more.'

If Ralph had not known and felt his power in wounding those he
hatedhis glances at Nicholas would have shown it himin all its
forceas he proceeded in the above address. Innocent as the young
man was of all wrongevery artful insinuation stungevery wellconsidered
sarcasm cut him to the quick; and when Ralph noted his
pale face and quivering liphe hugged himself to mark how well he
had chosen the taunts best calculated to strike deep into a young
and ardent spirit.

'I can't help it' cried Mrs Nickleby. 'I know you have been very
good to usand meant to do a good deal for my dear daughter. I am
quite sure of that; I know you didand it was very kind of you
having her at your house and all--and of course it would have been a
great thing for her and for me too. But I can'tyou knowbrotherin-
lawI can't renounce my own soneven if he has done all you say
he has--it's not possible; I couldn't do it; so we must go to rack
and ruinKatemy dear. I can bear itI dare say.' Pouring forth
these and a perfectly wonderful train of other disjointed
expressions of regretwhich no mortal power but Mrs Nickleby's
could ever have strung togetherthat lady wrung her handsand her
tears fell faster.

'Why do you say "IF Nicholas has done what they say he has mama?'
asked Kate, with honest anger. 'You know he has not.'

'I don't know what to think, one way or other, my dear,' said Mrs
Nickleby; 'Nicholas is so violent, and your uncle has so much
composure, that I can only hear what he says, and not what Nicholas
does. Never mind, don't let us talk any more about it. We can go
to the Workhouse, or the Refuge for the Destitute, or the Magdalen
Hospital, I dare say; and the sooner we go the better.' With this
extraordinary jumble of charitable institutions, Mrs Nickleby again
gave way to her tears.


'Stay,' said Nicholas, as Ralph turned to go. 'You need not leave
this place, sir, for it will be relieved of my presence in one
minute, and it will be long, very long, before I darken these doors
again.'

'Nicholas,' cried Kate, throwing herself on her brother's shoulder,
'do not say so. My dear brother, you will break my heart. Mama,
speak to him. Do not mind her, Nicholas; she does not mean it, you
should know her better. Uncle, somebody, for Heaven's sake speak to
him.'

'I never meant, Kate,' said Nicholas, tenderly, 'I never meant to
stay among you; think better of me than to suppose it possible.
may turn my back on this town a few hours sooner than I intended,
but what of that? We shall not forget each other apart, and better
days will come when we shall part no more. Be a woman, Kate,' he
whispered, proudly, 'and do not make me one, while HE looks on.'

'No, no, I will not,' said Kate, eagerly, 'but you will not leave
us. Oh! think of all the happy days we have had together, before
these terrible misfortunes came upon us; of all the comfort and
happiness of home, and the trials we have to bear now; of our having
no protector under all the slights and wrongs that poverty so much
favours, and you cannot leave us to bear them alone, without one
hand to help us.'

'You will be helped when I am away,' replied Nicholas hurriedly. 'I
am no help to you, no protector; I should bring you nothing but
sorrow, and want, and suffering. My own mother sees it, and her
fondness and fears for you, point to the course that I should take.
And so all good angels bless you, Kate, till I can carry you to some
home of mine, where we may revive the happiness denied to us now,
and talk of these trials as of things gone by. Do not keep me here,
but let me go at once. There. Dear girl--dear girl.'

The grasp which had detained him relaxed, and Kate swooned in his
arms. Nicholas stooped over her for a few seconds, and placing her
gently in a chair, confided her to their honest friend.

'I need not entreat your sympathy,' he said, wringing her hand, 'for
I know your nature. You will never forget them.'

He stepped up to Ralph, who remained in the same attitude which he
had preserved throughout the interview, and moved not a finger.

'Whatever step you take, sir,' he said, in a voice inaudible beyond
themselves, 'I shall keep a strict account of. I leave them to you,
at your desire. There will be a day of reckoning sooner or later,
and it will be a heavy one for you if they are wronged.'

Ralph did not allow a muscle of his face to indicate that he heard
one word of this parting address. He hardly knew that it was
concluded, and Mrs Nickleby had scarcely made up her mind to detain
her son by force if necessary, when Nicholas was gone.

As he hurried through the streets to his obscure lodging, seeking to
keep pace, as it were, with the rapidity of the thoughts which
crowded upon him, many doubts and hesitations arose in his mind, and
almost tempted him to return. But what would they gain by this?
Supposing he were to put Ralph Nickleby at defiance, and were even
fortunate enough to obtain some small employment, his being with
them could only render their present condition worse, and might
greatly impair their future prospects; for his mother had spoken of


some new kindnesses towards Kate which she had not denied. 'No,'
thought Nicholas, 'I have acted for the best.'

But, before he had gone five hundred yards, some other and different
feeling would come upon him, and then he would lag again, and
pulling his hat over his eyes, give way to the melancholy
reflections which pressed thickly upon him. To have committed no
fault, and yet to be so entirely alone in the world; to be separated
from the only persons he loved, and to be proscribed like a
criminal, when six months ago he had been surrounded by every
comfort, and looked up to, as the chief hope of his family--this was
hard to bear. He had not deserved it either. Well, there was
comfort in that; and poor Nicholas would brighten up again, to be
again depressed, as his quickly shifting thoughts presented every
variety of light and shade before him.

Undergoing these alternations of hope and misgiving, which no one,
placed in a situation of ordinary trial, can fail to have
experienced, Nicholas at length reached his poor room, where, no
longer borne up by the excitement which had hitherto sustained him,
but depressed by the revulsion of feeling it left behind, he threw
himself on the bed, and turning his face to the wall, gave free vent
to the emotions he had so long stifled.

He had not heard anybody enter, and was unconscious of the presence
of Smike, until, happening to raise his head, he saw him, standing
at the upper end of the room, looking wistfully towards him. He
withdrew his eyes when he saw that he was observed, and affected to
be busied with some scanty preparations for dinner.

'Well, Smike,' said Nicholas, as cheerfully as he could speak, 'let
me hear what new acquaintances you have made this morning, or what
new wonder you have found out, in the compass of this street and the
next one.'

'No,' said Smike, shaking his head mournfully; 'I must talk of
something else today.'

'Of what you like,' replied Nicholas, good-humouredly.

'Of this,' said Smike. 'I know you are unhappy, and have got into
great trouble by bringing me away. I ought to have known that, and
stopped behind--I would, indeed, if I had thought it then. You-you--
are not rich; you have not enough for yourself, and I should
not be here. You grow,' said the lad, laying his hand timidly on
that of Nicholas, 'you grow thinner every day; your cheek is paler,
and your eye more sunk. Indeed I cannot bear to see you so, and
think how I am burdening you. I tried to go away today, but the
thought of your kind face drew me back. I could not leave you
without a word.' The poor fellow could say no more, for his eyes
filled with tears, and his voice was gone.

'The word which separates us,' said Nicholas, grasping him heartily
by the shoulder, 'shall never be said by me, for you are my only
comfort and stay. I would not lose you now, Smike, for all the
world could give. The thought of you has upheld me through all I
have endured today, and shall, through fifty times such trouble.
Give me your hand. My heart is linked to yours. We will journey
from this place together, before the week is out. What, if I am
steeped in poverty? You lighten it, and we will be poor together.'

CHAPTER 21


Madam Mantalini finds herself in a Situation of some Difficulty, and
Miss Nickleby finds herself in no Situation at all

The agitation she had undergone, rendered Kate Nickleby unable to
resume her duties at the dressmaker's for three days, at the
expiration of which interval she betook herself at the accustomed
hour, and with languid steps, to the temple of fashion where Madame
Mantalini reigned paramount and supreme.

The ill-will of Miss Knag had lost nothing of its virulence in the
interval. The young ladies still scrupulously shrunk from all
companionship with their denounced associate; and when that
exemplary female arrived a few minutes afterwards, she was at no
pains to conceal the displeasure with which she regarded Kate's
return.

'Upon my word!' said Miss Knag, as the satellites flocked round, to
relieve her of her bonnet and shawl; 'I should have thought some
people would have had spirit enough to stop away altogether, when
they know what an incumbrance their presence is to right-minded
persons. But it's a queer world; oh! it's a queer world!'

Miss Knag, having passed this comment on the world, in the tone in
which most people do pass comments on the world when they are out of
temper, that is to say, as if they by no means belonged to it,
concluded by heaving a sigh, wherewith she seemed meekly to
compassionate the wickedness of mankind.

The attendants were not slow to echo the sigh, and Miss Knag was
apparently on the eve of favouring them with some further moral
reflections, when the voice of Madame Mantalini, conveyed through
the speaking-tube, ordered Miss Nickleby upstairs to assist in the
arrangement of the show-room; a distinction which caused Miss Knag
to toss her head so much, and bite her lips so hard, that her powers
of conversation were, for the time, annihilated.

'Well, Miss Nickleby, child,' said Madame Mantalini, when Kate
presented herself; 'are you quite well again?'

'A great deal better, thank you,' replied Kate.

'I wish I could say the same,' remarked Madame Mantalini, seating
herself with an air of weariness.

'Are you ill?' asked Kate. 'I am very sorry for that.'

'Not exactly ill, but worried, child--worried,' rejoined Madame.

'I am still more sorry to hear that,' said Kate, gently. 'Bodily
illness is more easy to bear than mental.'

'Ah! and it's much easier to talk than to bear either,' said Madame,
rubbing her nose with much irritability of manner. 'There, get to
your work, child, and put the things in order, do.'

While Kate was wondering within herself what these symptoms of
unusual vexation portended, Mr Mantalini put the tips of his
whiskers, and, by degrees, his head, through the half-opened door,
and cried in a soft voice-


'Is my life and soul there?'


'No,' replied his wife.

'How can it say so, when it is blooming in the front room like a
little rose in a demnition flower-pot?' urged Mantalini. 'May its
poppet come in and talk?'

'Certainly not,' replied Madame: 'you know I never allow you here.
Go along!'

The poppet, however, encouraged perhaps by the relenting tone of
this reply, ventured to rebel, and, stealing into the room, made
towards Madame Mantalini on tiptoe, blowing her a kiss as he came
along.

'Why will it vex itself, and twist its little face into bewitching
nutcrackers?' said Mantalini, putting his left arm round the waist
of his life and soul, and drawing her towards him with his right.

'Oh! I can't bear you,' replied his wife.

'Not--eh, not bear ME!' exclaimed Mantalini. 'Fibs, fibs. It
couldn't be. There's not a woman alive, that could tell me such a
thing to my face--to my own face.' Mr Mantalini stroked his chin, as
he said this, and glanced complacently at an opposite mirror.

'Such destructive extravagance,' reasoned his wife, in a low tone.

'All in its joy at having gained such a lovely creature, such a
little Venus, such a demd, enchanting, bewitching, engrossing,
captivating little Venus,' said Mantalini.

'See what a situation you have placed me in!' urged Madame.

'No harm will come, no harm shall come, to its own darling,'
rejoined Mr Mantalini. 'It is all over; there will be nothing the
matter; money shall be got in; and if it don't come in fast enough,
old Nickleby shall stump up again, or have his jugular separated if
he dares to vex and hurt the little--'

'Hush!' interposed Madame. 'Don't you see?'

Mr Mantalini, who, in his eagerness to make up matters with his
wife, had overlooked, or feigned to overlook, Miss Nickleby
hitherto, took the hint, and laying his finger on his lip, sunk his
voice still lower. There was, then, a great deal of whispering,
during which Madame Mantalini appeared to make reference, more than
once, to certain debts incurred by Mr Mantalini previous to her
coverture; and also to an unexpected outlay of money in payment of
the aforesaid debts; and furthermore, to certain agreeable
weaknesses on that gentleman's part, such as gaming, wasting,
idling, and a tendency to horse-flesh; each of which matters of
accusation Mr Mantalini disposed of, by one kiss or more, as its
relative importance demanded. The upshot of it all was, that Madame
Mantalini was in raptures with him, and that they went upstairs to
breakfast.

Kate busied herself in what she had to do, and was silently
arranging the various articles of decoration in the best taste she
could display, when she started to hear a strange man's voice in the
room, and started again, to observe, on looking round, that a white
hat, and a red neckerchief, and a broad round face, and a large
head, and part of a green coat were in the room too.

'Don't alarm yourself, miss,' said the proprietor of these


appearances. 'I say; this here's the mantie-making consarn, an't it?'

'Yes,' rejoined Kate, greatly astonished. 'What did you want?'

The stranger answered not; but, first looking back, as though to
beckon to some unseen person outside, came, very deliberately, into
the room, and was closely followed by a little man in brown, very
much the worse for wear, who brought with him a mingled fumigation
of stale tobacco and fresh onions. The clothes of this gentleman
were much bespeckled with flue; and his shoes, stockings, and nether
garments, from his heels to the waist buttons of his coat inclusive,
were profusely embroidered with splashes of mud, caught a fortnight
previously--before the setting-in of the fine weather.

Kate's very natural impression was, that these engaging individuals
had called with the view of possessing themselves, unlawfully, of
any portable articles that chanced to strike their fancy. She did
not attempt to disguise her apprehensions, and made a move towards
the door.

'Wait a minnit,' said the man in the green coat, closing it softly,
and standing with his back against it. 'This is a unpleasant
bisness. Vere's your govvernor?'

'My what--did you say?' asked Kate, trembling; for she thought
'governor' might be slang for watch or money.

'Mister Muntlehiney,' said the man. 'Wot's come on him? Is he at
home?'

'He is above stairs, I believe,' replied Kate, a little reassured by
this inquiry. 'Do you want him?'

'No,' replied the visitor. 'I don't ezactly want him, if it's made
a favour on. You can jist give him that 'ere card, and tell him if
he wants to speak to ME, and save trouble, here I am; that's all.'

With these words, the stranger put a thick square card into Kate's
hand, and, turning to his friend, remarked, with an easy air, 'that
the rooms was a good high pitch;' to which the friend assented,
adding, by way of illustration, 'that there was lots of room for a
little boy to grow up a man in either on 'em, vithout much fear of
his ever bringing his head into contract vith the ceiling.'

After ringing the bell which would summon Madame Mantalini, Kate
glanced at the card, and saw that it displayed the name of 'Scaley,'
together with some other information to which she had not had time
to refer, when her attention was attracted by Mr Scaley himself,
who, walking up to one of the cheval-glasses, gave it a hard poke in
the centre with his stick, as coolly as if it had been made of cast
iron.

'Good plate this here, Tix,' said Mr Scaley to his friend.

'Ah!' rejoined Mr Tix, placing the marks of his four fingers, and a
duplicate impression of his thumb, on a piece of sky-blue silk; 'and
this here article warn't made for nothing, mind you.'

From the silk, Mr Tix transferred his admiration to some elegant
articles of wearing apparel, while Mr Scaley adjusted his neckcloth,
at leisure, before the glass, and afterwards, aided by its
reflection, proceeded to the minute consideration of a pimple on his
chin; in which absorbing occupation he was yet engaged, when Madame
Mantalini, entering the room, uttered an exclamation of surprise


which roused him.

'Oh! Is this the missis?' inquired Scaley.

'It is Madame Mantalini,' said Kate.

'Then,' said Mr Scaley, producing a small document from his pocket
and unfolding it very slowly, 'this is a writ of execution, and if
it's not conwenient to settle we'll go over the house at wunst,
please, and take the inwentory.'

Poor Madame Mantalini wrung her hands for grief, and rung the bell
for her husband; which done, she fell into a chair and a fainting
fit, simultaneously. The professional gentlemen, however, were not
at all discomposed by this event, for Mr Scaley, leaning upon a
stand on which a handsome dress was displayed (so that his shoulders
appeared above it, in nearly the same manner as the shoulders of the
lady for whom it was designed would have done if she had had it on),
pushed his hat on one side and scratched his head with perfect
unconcern, while his friend Mr Tix, taking that opportunity for a
general survey of the apartment preparatory to entering on business,
stood with his inventory-book under his arm and his hat in his hand,
mentally occupied in putting a price upon every object within his
range of vision.

Such was the posture of affairs when Mr Mantalini hurried in; and as
that distinguished specimen had had a pretty extensive intercourse
with Mr Scaley's fraternity in his bachelor days, and was, besides,
very far from being taken by surprise on the present agitating
occasion, he merely shrugged his shoulders, thrust his hands down to
the bottom of his pockets, elevated his eyebrows, whistled a bar or
two, swore an oath or two, and, sitting astride upon a chair, put
the best face upon the matter with great composure and decency.

'What's the demd total?' was the first question he asked.

'Fifteen hundred and twenty-seven pound, four and ninepence
ha'penny,' replied Mr Scaley, without moving a limb.

'The halfpenny be demd,' said Mr Mantalini, impatiently.

'By all means if you vish it,' retorted Mr Scaley; 'and the
ninepence.'

'It don't matter to us if the fifteen hundred and twenty-seven pound
went along with it, that I know on,' observed Mr Tix.

'Not a button,' said Scaley.

'Well,' said the same gentleman, after a pause, 'wot's to be done-anything?
Is it only a small crack, or a out-and-out smash? A
break-up of the constitootion is it?--werry good. Then Mr Tom Tix,
esk-vire, you must inform your angel wife and lovely family as you
won't sleep at home for three nights to come, along of being in
possession here. Wot's the good of the lady a fretting herself?'
continued Mr Scaley, as Madame Mantalini sobbed. 'A good half of
wot's here isn't paid for, I des-say, and wot a consolation oughtn't
that to be to her feelings!'

With these remarks, combining great pleasantry with sound moral
encouragement under difficulties, Mr Scaley proceeded to take the
inventory, in which delicate task he was materially assisted by the
uncommon tact and experience of Mr Tix, the broker.


'My cup of happiness's sweetener,' said Mantalini, approaching his
wife with a penitent air; 'will you listen to me for two minutes?'

'Oh! don't speak to me,' replied his wife, sobbing. 'You have
ruined me, and that's enough.'

Mr Mantalini, who had doubtless well considered his part, no sooner
heard these words pronounced in a tone of grief and severity, than
he recoiled several paces, assumed an expression of consuming mental
agony, rushed headlong from the room, and was, soon afterwards,
heard to slam the door of an upstairs dressing-room with great
violence.

'Miss Nickleby,' cried Madame Mantalini, when this sound met her
ear, 'make haste, for Heaven's sake, he will destroy himself! I
spoke unkindly to him, and he cannot bear it from me. Alfred, my
darling Alfred.'

With such exclamations, she hurried upstairs, followed by Kate who,
although she did not quite participate in the fond wife's
apprehensions, was a little flurried, nevertheless. The dressingroom
door being hastily flung open, Mr Mantalini was disclosed to
view, with his shirt-collar symmetrically thrown back: putting a
fine edge to a breakfast knife by means of his razor strop.

'Ah!' cried Mr Mantalini, 'interrupted!' and whisk went the
breakfast knife into Mr Mantalini's dressing-gown pocket, while Mr
Mantalini's eyes rolled wildly, and his hair floating in wild
disorder, mingled with his whiskers.

'Alfred,' cried his wife, flinging her arms about him, 'I didn't
mean to say it, I didn't mean to say it!'

'Ruined!' cried Mr Mantalini. 'Have I brought ruin upon the best
and purest creature that ever blessed a demnition vagabond! Demmit,
let me go.' At this crisis of his ravings Mr Mantalini made a pluck
at the breakfast knife, and being restrained by his wife's grasp,
attempted to dash his head against the wall--taking very good care
to be at least six feet from it.

'Compose yourself, my own angel,' said Madame. 'It was nobody's
fault; it was mine as much as yours, we shall do very well yet.
Come, Alfred, come.'

Mr Mantalini did not think proper to come to, all at once; but,
after calling several times for poison, and requesting some lady or
gentleman to blow his brains out, gentler feelings came upon him,
and he wept pathetically. In this softened frame of mind he did not
oppose the capture of the knife--which, to tell the truth, he was
rather glad to be rid of, as an inconvenient and dangerous article
for a skirt pocket--and finally he suffered himself to be led away
by his affectionate partner.

After a delay of two or three hours, the young ladies were informed
that their services would be dispensed with until further notice,
and at the expiration of two days, the name of Mantalini appeared in
the list of bankrupts: Miss Nickleby received an intimation per
post, on the same morning, that the business would be, in future,
carried on under the name of Miss Knag, and that her assistance
would no longer be required--a piece of intelligence with which Mrs
Nickleby was no sooner made acquainted, than that good lady declared
she had expected it all along and cited divers unknown occasions on
which she had prophesied to that precise effect.


'And I say again,' remarked Mrs Nickleby (who, it is scarcely
necessary to observe, had never said so before), 'I say again, that
a milliner's and dressmaker's is the very last description of
business, Kate, that you should have thought of attaching yourself
to. I don't make it a reproach to you, my love; but still I will
say, that if you had consulted your own mother--'

'Well, well, mama,' said Kate, mildly: 'what would you recommend
now?'

'Recommend!' cried Mrs Nickleby, 'isn't it obvious, my dear, that of
all occupations in this world for a young lady situated as you are,
that of companion to some amiable lady is the very thing for which
your education, and manners, and personal appearance, and everything
else, exactly qualify you? Did you never hear your poor dear papa
speak of the young lady who was the daughter of the old lady who
boarded in the same house that he boarded in once, when he was a
bachelor--what was her name again? I know it began with a B, and
ended with g, but whether it was Waters or--no, it couldn't have
been that, either; but whatever her name was, don't you know that
that young lady went as companion to a married lady who died soon
afterwards, and that she married the husband, and had one of the
finest little boys that the medical man had ever seen--all within
eighteen months?'

Kate knew, perfectly well, that this torrent of favourable
recollection was occasioned by some opening, real or imaginary,
which her mother had discovered, in the companionship walk of life.
She therefore waited, very patiently, until all reminiscences and
anecdotes, bearing or not bearing upon the subject, had been
exhausted, and at last ventured to inquire what discovery had been
made. The truth then came out. Mrs Nickleby had, that morning, had
a yesterday's newspaper of the very first respectability from the
public-house where the porter came from; and in this yesterday's
newspaper was an advertisement, couched in the purest and most
grammatical English, announcing that a married lady was in want of a
genteel young person as companion, and that the married lady's name
and address were to be known, on application at a certain library at
the west end of the town, therein mentioned.

'And I say,' exclaimed Mrs Nickleby, laying the paper down in
triumph, 'that if your uncle don't object, it's well worth the
trial.'

Kate was too sick at heart, after the rough jostling she had already
had with the world, and really cared too little at the moment what
fate was reserved for her, to make any objection. Mr Ralph Nickleby
offered none, but, on the contrary, highly approved of the
suggestion; neither did he express any great surprise at Madame
Mantalini's sudden failure, indeed it would have been strange if he
had, inasmuch as it had been procured and brought about chiefly by
himself. So, the name and address were obtained without loss of
time, and Miss Nickleby and her mama went off in quest of Mrs
Wititterly, of Cadogan Place, Sloane Street, that same forenoon.

Cadogan Place is the one slight bond that joins two great extremes;
it is the connecting link between the aristocratic pavements of
Belgrave Square, and the barbarism of Chelsea. It is in Sloane
Street, but not of it. The people in Cadogan Place look down upon
Sloane Street, and think Brompton low. They affect fashion too, and
wonder where the New Road is. Not that they claim to be on
precisely the same footing as the high folks of Belgrave Square and
Grosvenor Place, but that they stand, with reference to them, rather
in the light of those illegitimate children of the great who are


content to boast of their connections, although their connections
disavow them. Wearing as much as they can of the airs and
semblances of loftiest rank, the people of Cadogan Place have the
realities of middle station. It is the conductor which communicates
to the inhabitants of regions beyond its limit, the shock of pride
of birth and rank, which it has not within itself, but derives from
a fountain-head beyond; or, like the ligament which unites the
Siamese twins, it contains something of the life and essence of two
distinct bodies, and yet belongs to neither.

Upon this doubtful ground, lived Mrs Wititterly, and at Mrs
Wititterly's door Kate Nickleby knocked with trembling hand. The
door was opened by a big footman with his head floured, or chalked,
or painted in some way (it didn't look genuine powder), and the big
footman, receiving the card of introduction, gave it to a little
page; so little, indeed, that his body would not hold, in ordinary
array, the number of small buttons which are indispensable to a
page's costume, and they were consequently obliged to be stuck on
four abreast. This young gentleman took the card upstairs on a
salver, and pending his return, Kate and her mother were shown into
a dining-room of rather dirty and shabby aspect, and so comfortably
arranged as to be adapted to almost any purpose rather than eating
and drinking.

Now, in the ordinary course of things, and according to all
authentic descriptions of high life, as set forth in books, Mrs
Wititterly ought to have been in her BOUDOIR; but whether it was
that Mr Wititterly was at that moment shaving himself in the BOUDOIR
or what not, certain it is that Mrs Wititterly gave audience in the
drawing-room, where was everything proper and necessary, including
curtains and furniture coverings of a roseate hue, to shed a
delicate bloom on Mrs Wititterly's complexion, and a little dog to
snap at strangers' legs for Mrs Wititterly's amusement, and the
afore-mentioned page, to hand chocolate for Mrs Wititterly's
refreshment.

The lady had an air of sweet insipidity, and a face of engaging
paleness; there was a faded look about her, and about the furniture,
and about the house. She was reclining on a sofa in such a very
unstudied attitude, that she might have been taken for an actress
all ready for the first scene in a ballet, and only waiting for the
drop curtain to go up.

'Place chairs.'

The page placed them.

'Leave the room, Alphonse.'

The page left it; but if ever an Alphonse carried plain Bill in his
face and figure, that page was the boy.

'I have ventured to call, ma'am,' said Kate, after a few seconds of
awkward silence, 'from having seen your advertisement.'

'Yes,' replied Mrs Wititterly, 'one of my people put it in the
paper--Yes.'

'I thought, perhaps,' said Kate, modestly, 'that if you had not
already made a final choice, you would forgive my troubling you with
an application.'

'Yes,' drawled Mrs Wititterly again.


'If you have already made a selection--'

'Oh dear no,' interrupted the lady, 'I am not so easily suited.
really don't know what to say. You have never been a companion
before, have you?'

Mrs Nickleby, who had been eagerly watching her opportunity, came
dexterously in, before Kate could reply. 'Not to any stranger,
ma'am,' said the good lady; 'but she has been a companion to me for
some years. I am her mother, ma'am.'

'Oh!' said Mrs Wititterly, 'I apprehend you.'

'I assure you, ma'am,' said Mrs Nickleby, 'that I very little
thought, at one time, that it would be necessary for my daughter to
go out into the world at all, for her poor dear papa was an
independent gentleman, and would have been at this moment if he had
but listened in time to my constant entreaties and--'

'Dear mama,' said Kate, in a low voice.

'My dear Kate, if you will allow me to speak,' said Mrs Nickleby, 'I
shall take the liberty of explaining to this lady--'

'I think it is almost unnecessary, mama.'

And notwithstanding all the frowns and winks with which Mrs Nickleby
intimated that she was going to say something which would clench the
business at once, Kate maintained her point by an expressive look,
and for once Mrs Nickleby was stopped upon the very brink of an
oration.

'What are your accomplishments?' asked Mrs Wititterly, with her eyes
shut.

Kate blushed as she mentioned her principal acquirements, and Mrs
Nickleby checked them all off, one by one, on her fingers; having
calculated the number before she came out. Luckily the two
calculations agreed, so Mrs Nickleby had no excuse for talking.

'You are a good temper?' asked Mrs Wititterly, opening her eyes for
an instant, and shutting them again.

'I hope so,' rejoined Kate.

'And have a highly respectable reference for everything, have you?'

Kate replied that she had, and laid her uncle's card upon the table.

'Have the goodness to draw your chair a little nearer, and let me
look at you,' said Mrs Wititterly; 'I am so very nearsighted that I
can't quite discern your features.'

Kate complied, though not without some embarrassment, with this
request, and Mrs Wititterly took a languid survey of her
countenance, which lasted some two or three minutes.

'I like your appearance,' said that lady, ringing a little bell.
'Alphonse, request your master to come here.'

The page disappeared on this errand, and after a short interval,
during which not a word was spoken on either side, opened the door
for an important gentleman of about eight-and-thirty, of rather
plebeian countenance, and with a very light head of hair, who leant


over Mrs Wititterly for a little time, and conversed with her in
whispers.

'Oh!' he said, turning round, 'yes. This is a most important
matter. Mrs Wititterly is of a very excitable nature; very
delicate, very fragile; a hothouse plant, an exotic.'

'Oh! Henry, my dear,' interposed Mrs Wititterly.

'You are, my love, you know you are; one breath--' said Mr W.,
blowing an imaginary feather away. 'Pho! you're gone!'

The lady sighed.

'Your soul is too large for your body,' said Mr Wititterly. 'Your
intellect wears you out; all the medical men say so; you know that
there is not a physician who is not proud of being called in to you.
What is their unanimous declaration? My dear doctor said I to
Sir Tumley Snuffim, in this very room, the very last time he came.
My dear doctorwhat is my wife's complaint? Tell me all. I can
bear it. Is it nerves?" "My dear fellow he said, be proud of
that woman; make much of her; she is an ornament to the fashionable
worldand to you. Her complaint is soul. It swellsexpands
dilates--the blood firesthe pulse quickensthe excitement
increases--Whew!"' Here Mr Wititterlywhoin the ardour of his
descriptionhad flourished his right hand to within something less
than an inch of Mrs Nickleby's bonnetdrew it hastily back again
and blew his nose as fiercely as if it had been done by some violent
machinery.

'You make me out worse than I amHenry' said Mrs Wititterlywith
a faint smile.

'I do notJuliaI do not' said Mr W. 'The society in which you
move--necessarily movefrom your stationconnectionand
endowments--is one vortex and whirlpool of the most frightful
excitement. Bless my heart and bodycan I ever forget the night
you danced with the baronet's nephew at the election ballat
Exeter! It was tremendous.'

'I always suffer for these triumphs afterwards' said Mrs
Wititterly.

'And for that very reason' rejoined her husband'you must have a
companionin whom there is great gentlenessgreat sweetness
excessive sympathyand perfect repose.'

Hereboth Mr and Mrs Wititterlywho had talked rather at the
Nicklebys than to each otherleft off speakingand looked at their
two hearerswith an expression of countenance which seemed to say
'What do you think of all this?'

'Mrs Wititterly' said her husbandaddressing himself to Mrs
Nickleby'is sought after and courted by glittering crowds and
brilliant circles. She is excited by the operathe dramathe fine
artsthe--the--the--'

'The nobilitymy love' interposed Mrs Wititterly.

'The nobilityof course' said Mr Wititterly. 'And the military.
She forms and expresses an immense variety of opinions on an immense
variety of subjects. If some people in public life were acquainted
with Mrs Wititterly's real opinion of themthey would not hold
their headsperhapsquite as high as they do.'


'HushHenry' said the lady; 'this is scarcely fair.'

'I mention no namesJulia' replied Mr Wititterly; 'and nobody is
injured. I merely mention the circumstance to show that you are no
ordinary personthat there is a constant friction perpetually going
on between your mind and your body; and that you must be soothed and
tended. Now let me heardispassionately and calmlywhat are this
young lady's qualifications for the office.'

In obedience to this requestthe qualifications were all gone
through againwith the addition of many interruptions and crossquestionings
from Mr Wititterly. It was finally arranged that
inquiries should be madeand a decisive answer addressed to Miss
Nickleby under cover of her unclewithin two days. These
conditions agreed uponthe page showed them down as far as the
staircase window; and the big footmanrelieving guard at that
pointpiloted them in perfect safety to the street-door.

'They are very distinguished peopleevidently' said Mrs Nickleby
as she took her daughter's arm. 'What a superior person Mrs
Wititterly is!'

'Do you think somama?' was all Kate's reply.

'Whywho can help thinking soKatemy love?' rejoined her mother.
'She is pale thoughand looks much exhausted. I hope she may not
be wearing herself outbut I am very much afraid.'

These considerations led the deep-sighted lady into a calculation of
the probable duration of Mrs Wititterly's lifeand the chances of
the disconsolate widower bestowing his hand on her daughter. Before
reaching homeshe had freed Mrs Wititterly's soul from all bodily
restraint; married Kate with great splendour at St George'sHanover
Square; and only left undecided the minor questionwhether a
splendid French-polished mahogany bedstead should be erected for
herself in the two-pair back of the house in Cadogan Placeor in
the three-pair front: between which apartments she could not quite
balance the advantagesand therefore adjusted the question at last
by determining to leave it to the decision of her son-in-law.

The inquiries were made. The answer--not to Kate's very great joy-was
favourable; and at the expiration of a week she betook herself
with all her movables and valuablesto Mrs Wititterly's mansion
where for the present we will leave her.

CHAPTER 22

Nicholasaccompanied by Smikesallies forth to seek his Fortune.
He encounters Mr Vincent Crummles; and who he wasis herein made
manifest

The whole capital which Nicholas found himself entitled toeither
in possessionreversionremainderor expectancyafter paying his
rent and settling with the broker from whom he had hired his poor
furnituredid not exceedby more than a few halfpencethe sum of
twenty shillings. And yet he hailed the morning on which he had
resolved to quit Londonwith a light heartand sprang from his bed
with an elasticity of spirit which is happily the lot of young
personsor the world would never be stocked with old ones.


It was a colddryfoggy morning in early spring. A few meagre
shadows flitted to and fro in the misty streetsand occasionally
there loomed through the dull vapourthe heavy outline of some
hackney coach wending homewardswhichdrawing slowly nearer
rolled jangling byscattering the thin crust of frost from its
whitened roofand soon was lost again in the cloud. At intervals
were heard the tread of slipshod feetand the chilly cry of the
poor sweep as he creptshiveringto his early toil; the heavy
footfall of the official watcher of the nightpacing slowly up and
down and cursing the tardy hours that still intervened between him
and sleep; the rambling of ponderous carts and waggons; the roll of
the lighter vehicles which carried buyers and sellers to the
different markets; the sound of ineffectual knocking at the doors of
heavy sleepers--all these noises fell upon the ear from time to
timebut all seemed muffled by the fogand to be rendered almost
as indistinct to the ear as was every object to the sight. The
sluggish darkness thickened as the day came on; and those who had
the courage to rise and peep at the gloomy street from their
curtained windowscrept back to bed againand coiled themselves up
to sleep.

Before even these indications of approaching morning were rife in
busy LondonNicholas had made his way alone to the cityand stood
beneath the windows of his mother's house. It was dull and bare to
seebut it had light and life for him; for there was at least one
heart within its old walls to which insult or dishonour would bring
the same blood rushingthat flowed in his own veins.

He crossed the roadand raised his eyes to the window of the room
where he knew his sister slept. It was closed and dark. 'Poor
girl' thought Nicholas'she little thinks who lingers here!'

He looked againand feltfor the momentalmost vexed that Kate
was not there to exchange one word at parting. 'Good God!' he
thoughtsuddenly correcting himself'what a boy I am!'

'It is better as it is' said Nicholasafter he had lounged ona
few pacesand returned to the same spot. 'When I left them before
and could have said goodbye a thousand times if I had chosenI
spared them the pain of leave-takingand why not now?' As he spoke
some fancied motion of the curtain almost persuaded himfor the
instantthat Kate was at the windowand by one of those strange
contradictions of feeling which are common to us allhe shrunk
involuntarily into a doorwaythat she might not see him. He smiled
at his own weakness; said 'God bless them!' and walked away with a
lighter step.

Smike was anxiously expecting him when he reached his old lodgings
and so was Newmanwho had expended a day's income in a can of rum
and milk to prepare them for the journey. They had tied up the
luggageSmike shouldered itand away they wentwith Newman Noggs
in company; for he had insisted on walking as far as he could with
themovernight.

'Which way?' asked Newmanwistfully.

'To Kingston first' replied Nicholas.

'And where afterwards?' asked Newman. 'Why won't you tell me?'

'Because I scarcely know myselfgood friend' rejoined Nicholas
laying his hand upon his shoulder; 'and if I didI have neither
plan nor prospect yetand might shift my quarters a hundred times
before you could possibly communicate with me.'


'I am afraid you have some deep scheme in your head' said Newman
doubtfully.

'So deep' replied his young friend'that even I can't fathom it.
Whatever I resolve upondepend upon it I will write you soon.'

'You won't forget?' said Newman.

'I am not very likely to' rejoined Nicholas. 'I have not so many
friends that I shall grow confused among the numberand forget my
best one.'

Occupied in such discoursethey walked on for a couple of hoursas
they might have done for a couple of days if Nicholas had not sat
himself down on a stone by the waysideand resolutely declared his
intention of not moving another step until Newman Noggs turned back.
Having pleaded ineffectually first for another half-mileand
afterwards for another quarterNewman was fain to complyand to
shape his course towards Golden Squareafter interchanging many
hearty and affectionate farewellsand many times turning back to
wave his hat to the two wayfarers when they had become mere specks
in the distance.

'Now listen to meSmike' said Nicholasas they trudged with stout
hearts onwards. 'We are bound for Portsmouth.'

Smike nodded his head and smiledbut expressed no other emotion;
for whether they had been bound for Portsmouth or Port Royal would
have been alike to himso they had been bound together.

'I don't know much of these matters' resumed Nicholas; 'but
Portsmouth is a seaport townand if no other employment is to be
obtainedI should think we might get on board some ship. I am
young and activeand could be useful in many ways. So could you.'

'I hope so' replied Smike. 'When I was at that--you know where I
mean?'

'YesI know' said Nicholas. 'You needn't name the place.'

'Wellwhen I was there' resumed Smike; his eyes sparkling at the
prospect of displaying his abilities; 'I could milk a cowand groom
a horsewith anybody.'

'Ha!' said Nicholasgravely. 'I am afraid they don't keep many
animals of either kind on board shipSmikeand even when they have
horsesthat they are not very particular about rubbing them down;
still you can learn to do something elseyou know. Where there's a
willthere's a way.'

'And I am very willing' said Smikebrightening up again.

'God knows you are' rejoined Nicholas; 'and if you failit shall
go hard but I'll do enough for us both.'

'Do we go all the way today?' asked Smikeafter a short silence.

'That would be too severe a trialeven for your willing legs' said
Nicholaswith a good-humoured smile. 'No. Godalming is some
thirty and odd miles from London--as I found from a map I borrowed-and
I purpose to rest there. We must push on again tomorrowfor we
are not rich enough to loiter. Let me relieve you of that bundle!
Come!'


'Nono' rejoined Smikefalling back a few steps. 'Don't ask me
to give it up to you.'

'Why not?' asked Nicholas.

'Let me do something for youat least' said Smike. 'You will
never let me serve you as I ought. You will never know how I think
day and nightof ways to please you.'

'You are a foolish fellow to say itfor I know it welland see it
or I should be a blind and senseless beast' rejoined Nicholas.
'Let me ask you a question while I think of itand there is no one
by' he addedlooking him steadily in the face. 'Have you a good
memory?'

'I don't know' said Smikeshaking his head sorrowfully. 'I think
I had once; but it's all gone now--all gone.'

'Why do you think you had once?' asked Nicholasturning quickly
upon him as though the answer in some way helped out the purport of
his question.

'Because I could rememberwhen I was a child' said Smike'but
that is veryvery long agoor at least it seems so. I was always
confused and giddy at that place you took me from; and could never
rememberand sometimes couldn't even understandwhat they said to
me. I--let me see--let me see!'

'You are wandering now' said Nicholastouching him on the arm.

'No' replied his companionwith a vacant look 'I was only thinking
how--' He shivered involuntarily as he spoke.

'Think no more of that placefor it is all over' retorted
Nicholasfixing his eyes full upon that of his companionwhich was
fast settling into an unmeaning stupefied gazeonce habitual to
himand common even then. 'What of the first day you went to
Yorkshire?'

'Eh!' cried the lad.

'That was before you began to lose your recollectionyou know'
said Nicholas quietly. 'Was the weather hot or cold?'

'Wet' replied the boy. 'Very wet. I have always saidwhen it has
rained hardthat it was like the night I came: and they used to
crowd round and laugh to see me cry when the rain fell heavily. It
was like a childthey saidand that made me think of it more. I
turned cold all over sometimesfor I could see myself as I was
thencoming in at the very same door.'

'As you were then' repeated Nicholaswith assumed carelessness;
'how was that?'

'Such a little creature' said Smike'that they might have had pity
and mercy upon meonly to remember it.'

'You didn't find your way therealone!' remarked Nicholas.

'No' rejoined Smike'oh no.'

'Who was with you?'


'A man--a darkwithered man. I have heard them say soat the
schooland I remembered that before. I was glad to leave himI
was afraid of him; but they made me more afraid of themand used me
harder too.'

'Look at me' said Nicholaswishing to attract his full attention.
'There; don't turn away. Do you remember no womanno kind woman
who hung over you onceand kissed your lipsand called you her
child?'

'No' said the poor creatureshaking his head'nonever.'

'Nor any house but that house in Yorkshire?'

'No' rejoined the youthwith a melancholy look; 'a room--I
remember I slept in a rooma large lonesome room at the top of a
housewhere there was a trap-door in the ceiling. I have covered
my head with the clothes oftennot to see itfor it frightened me:
a young child with no one near at night: and I used to wonder what
was on the other side. There was a clock tooan old clockin one
corner. I remember that. I have never forgotten that room; for
when I have terrible dreamsit comes backjust as it was. I see
things and people in it that I had never seen thenbut there is the
room just as it used to be; THAT never changes.'

'Will you let me take the bundle now?' asked Nicholasabruptly
changing the theme.

'No' said Smike'no. Comelet us walk on.'

He quickened his pace as he said thisapparently under the
impression that they had been standing still during the whole of the
previous dialogue. Nicholas marked him closelyand every word of
this conversation remained upon his memory.

It wasby this timewithin an hour of noonand although a dense
vapour still enveloped the city they had leftas if the very breath
of its busy people hung over their schemes of gain and profitand
found greater attraction there than in the quiet region abovein
the open country it was clear and fair. Occasionallyin some low
spots they came upon patches of mist which the sun had not yet
driven from their strongholds; but these were soon passedand as
they laboured up the hills beyondit was pleasant to look downand
see how the sluggish mass rolled heavily offbefore the cheering
influence of day. A broadfinehonest sun lighted up the green
pastures and dimpled water with the semblance of summerwhile it
left the travellers all the invigorating freshness of that early
time of year. The ground seemed elastic under their feet; the
sheep-bells were music to their ears; and exhilarated by exercise
and stimulated by hopethey pushed onward with the strength of
lions.

The day wore onand all these bright colours subsidedand assumed
a quieter tintlike young hopes softened down by timeor youthful
features by degrees resolving into the calm and serenity of age.
But they were scarcely less beautiful in their slow declinethan
they had been in their prime; for nature gives to every time and
season some beauties of its own; and from morning to nightas from
the cradle to the graveis but a succession of changes so gentle
and easythat we can scarcely mark their progress.

To Godalming they came at lastand here they bargained for two
humble bedsand slept soundly. In the morning they were astir:
though not quite so early as the sun: and again afoot; if not with


all the freshness of yesterdaystillwith enough of hope and
spirit to bear them cheerily on.

It was a harder day's journey than yesterday'sfor there were long
and weary hills to climb; and in journeysas in lifeit is a great
deal easier to go down hill than up. Howeverthey kept onwith
unabated perseveranceand the hill has not yet lifted its face to
heaven that perseverance will not gain the summit of at last.

They walked upon the rim of the Devil's Punch Bowl; and Smike
listened with greedy interest as Nicholas read the inscription upon
the stone whichreared upon that wild spottells of a murder
committed there by night. The grass on which they stoodhad once
been dyed with gore; and the blood of the murdered man had run down
drop by dropinto the hollow which gives the place its name. 'The
Devil's Bowl' thought Nicholasas he looked into the void'never
held fitter liquor than that!'

Onward they keptwith steady purposeand entered at length upon a
wide and spacious tract of downswith every variety of little hill
and plain to change their verdant surface. Herethere shot up
almost perpendicularlyinto the skya height so steepas to be
hardly accessible to any but the sheep and goats that fed upon its
sidesand therestood a mound of greensloping and tapering off
so delicatelyand merging so gently into the level groundthat you
could scarce define its limits. Hills swelling above each other;
and undulations shapely and uncouthsmooth and ruggedgraceful and
grotesquethrown negligently side by sidebounded the view in each
direction; while frequentlywith unexpected noisethere uprose
from the ground a flight of crowswhocawing and wheeling round
the nearest hillsas if uncertain of their coursesuddenly poised
themselves upon the wing and skimmed down the long vista of some
opening valleywith the speed of light itself.

By degreesthe prospect receded more and more on either handand
as they had been shut out from rich and extensive sceneryso they
emerged once again upon the open country. The knowledge that they
were drawing near their place of destinationgave them fresh
courage to proceed; but the way had been difficultand they had
loitered on the roadand Smike was tired. Thustwilight had
already closed inwhen they turned off the path to the door of a
roadside innyet twelve miles short of Portsmouth.

'Twelve miles' said Nicholasleaning with both hands on his stick
and looking doubtfully at Smike.

'Twelve long miles' repeated the landlord.

'Is it a good road?' inquired Nicholas.

'Very bad' said the landlord. As of coursebeing a landlordhe
would say.

'I want to get on' observed Nicholas. hesitating. 'I scarcely
know what to do.'

'Don't let me influence you' rejoined the landlord. 'I wouldn't go
on if it was me.'

'Wouldn't you?' asked Nicholaswith the same uncertainty.

'Not if I knew when I was well off' said the landlord. And having
said it he pulled up his apronput his hands into his pocketsand
taking a step or two outside the doorlooked down the dark road


with an assumption of great indifference.

A glance at the toil-worn face of Smike determined Nicholasso
without any further consideration he made up his mind to stay where
he was.

The landlord led them into the kitchenand as there was a good fire
he remarked that it was very cold. If there had happened to be a
bad one he would have observed that it was very warm.

'What can you give us for supper?' was Nicholas's natural question.

'Why--what would you like?' was the landlord's no less natural
answer.

Nicholas suggested cold meatbut there was no cold meat--poached
eggsbut there were no eggs--mutton chopsbut there wasn't a
mutton chop within three milesthough there had been more last week
than they knew what to do withand would be an extraordinary supply
the day after tomorrow.

'Then' said Nicholas'I must leave it entirely to youas I would
have doneat firstif you had allowed me.'

'Whythen I'll tell you what' rejoined the landlord. 'There's a
gentleman in the parlour that's ordered a hot beef-steak pudding and
potatoesat nine. There's more of it than he can manageand I
have very little doubt that if I ask leaveyou can sup with him.
I'll do thatin a minute.'

'Nono' said Nicholasdetaining him. 'I would rather not. I--at
least--pshaw! why cannot I speak out? Here; you see that I am
travelling in a very humble mannerand have made my way hither on
foot. It is more than probableI thinkthat the gentleman may not
relish my company; and although I am the dusty figure you seeI am
too proud to thrust myself into his.'

'Lord love you' said the landlord'it's only Mr Crummles; HE isn't
particular.'

'Is he not?' asked Nicholason whose mindto tell the truththe
prospect of the savoury pudding was making some impression.

'Not he' replied the landlord. 'He'll like your way of talkingI
know. But we'll soon see all about that. Just wait a minute.'

The landlord hurried into the parlourwithout staying for further
permissionnor did Nicholas strive to prevent him: wisely
considering that supperunder the circumstanceswas too serious a
matter to be trifled with. It was not long before the host
returnedin a condition of much excitement.

'All right' he said in a low voice. 'I knew he would. You'll see
something rather worth seeingin there. Ecodhow they are a-going
of it!'

There was no time to inquire to what this exclamationwhich was
delivered in a very rapturous tonereferred; for he had already
thrown open the door of the room; into which Nicholasfollowed by
Smike with the bundle on his shoulder (he carried it about with him
as vigilantly as if it had been a sack of gold)straightway
repaired.

Nicholas was prepared for something oddbut not for something quite


so odd as the sight he encountered. At the upper end of the room
were a couple of boysone of them very tall and the other very
shortboth dressed as sailors--or at least as theatrical sailors
with beltsbucklespigtailsand pistols complete--fighting what
is called in play-bills a terrific combatwith two of those short
broad-swords with basket hilts which are commonly used at our minor
theatres. The short boy had gained a great advantage over the tall
boywho was reduced to mortal straitand both were overlooked by a
large heavy manperched against the corner of a tablewho
emphatically adjured them to strike a little more fire out of the
swordsand they couldn't fail to bring the house downon the very
first night.

'Mr Vincent Crummles' said the landlord with an air of great
deference. 'This is the young gentleman.'

Mr Vincent Crummles received Nicholas with an inclination of the
headsomething between the courtesy of a Roman emperor and the nod
of a pot companion; and bade the landlord shut the door and begone.

'There's a picture' said Mr Crummlesmotioning Nicholas not to
advance and spoil it. 'The little 'un has him; if the big 'un
doesn't knock underin three secondshe's a dead man. Do that
againboys.'

The two combatants went to work afreshand chopped away until the
swords emitted a shower of sparks: to the great satisfaction of Mr
Crummleswho appeared to consider this a very great point indeed.
The engagement commenced with about two hundred chops administered
by the short sailor and the tall sailor alternatelywithout
producing any particular resultuntil the short sailor was chopped
down on one knee; but this was nothing to himfor he worked himself
about on the one knee with the assistance of his left handand
fought most desperately until the tall sailor chopped his sword out
of his grasp. Nowthe inference wasthat the short sailor
reduced to this extremitywould give in at once and cry quarter
butinstead of thathe all of a sudden drew a large pistol from
his belt and presented it at the face of the tall sailorwho was so
overcome at this (not expecting it) that he let the short sailor
pick up his sword and begin again. Thenthe chopping recommenced
and a variety of fancy chops were administered on both sides; such
as chops dealt with the left handand under the legand over the
right shoulderand over the left; and when the short sailor made a
vigorous cut at the tall sailor's legswhich would have shaved them
clean off if it had taken effectthe tall sailor jumped over the
short sailor's swordwherefore to balance the matterand make it
all fairthe tall sailor administered the same cutand the short
sailor jumped over HIS sword. After thisthere was a good deal of
dodging aboutand hitching up of the inexpressibles in the absence
of bracesand then the short sailor (who was the moral character
evidentlyfor he always had the best of it) made a violent
demonstration and closed with the tall sailorwhoafter a few
unavailing struggleswent downand expired in great torture as the
short sailor put his foot upon his breastand bored a hole in him
through and through.

'That'll be a double ENCORE if you take careboys' said Mr
Crummles. 'You had better get your wind now and change your
clothes.'

Having addressed these words to the combatantshe saluted Nicholas
who then observed that the face of Mr Crummles was quite
proportionate in size to his body; that he had a very full underlip
a hoarse voiceas though he were in the habit of shouting very


muchand very short black hairshaved off nearly to the crown of
his head--to admit (as he afterwards learnt) of his more easily
wearing character wigs of any shape or pattern.

'What did you think of thatsir?' inquired Mr Crummles.

'Very goodindeed--capital' answered Nicholas.

'You won't see such boys as those very oftenI think' said Mr
Crummles.

Nicholas assented--observing that if they were a little better
match-


'Match!' cried Mr Crummles.

'I mean if they were a little more of a size' said Nicholas
explaining himself.

'Size!' repeated Mr Crummles; 'whyit's the essence of the combat
that there should be a foot or two between them. How are you to get
up the sympathies of the audience in a legitimate mannerif there
isn't a little man contending against a big one?--unless there's at
least five to oneand we haven't hands enough for that business in
our company.'

'I see' replied Nicholas. 'I beg your pardon. That didn't occur
to meI confess.'

'It's the main point' said Mr Crummles. 'I open at Portsmouth the
day after tomorrow. If you're going therelook into the theatre
and see how that'll tell.'

Nicholas promised to do soif he couldand drawing a chair near
the firefell into conversation with the manager at once. He was
very talkative and communicativestimulated perhapsnot only by
his natural dispositionbut by the spirits and water he sipped very
plentifullyor the snuff he took in large quantities from a piece
of whitey-brown paper in his waistcoat pocket. He laid open his
affairs without the smallest reserveand descanted at some length
upon the merits of his companyand the acquirements of his family;
of both of whichthe two broad-sword boys formed an honourable
portion. There was to be a gatheringit seemedof the different
ladies and gentlemen at Portsmouth on the morrowwhither the father
and sons were proceeding (not for the regular seasonbut in the
course of a wandering speculation)after fulfilling an engagement
at Guildford with the greatest applause.

'You are going that way?' asked the manager.

'Ye-yes' said Nicholas. 'YesI am.'

'Do you know the town at all?' inquired the managerwho seemed to
consider himself entitled to the same degree of confidence as he had
himself exhibited.

'No' replied Nicholas.

'Never there?'

'Never.'

Mr Vincent Crummles gave a short dry coughas much as to say'If
you won't be communicativeyou won't;' and took so many pinches of


snuff from the piece of paperone after anotherthat Nicholas
quite wondered where it all went to.

While he was thus engagedMr Crummles lookedfrom time to time
with great interest at Smikewith whom he had appeared considerably
struck from the first. He had now fallen asleepand was nodding in
his chair.

'Excuse my saying so' said the managerleaning over to Nicholas
and sinking his voice'but what a capital countenance your friend
has got!'

'Poor fellow!' said Nicholaswith a half-smile'I wish it were a
little more plumpand less haggard.'

'Plump!' exclaimed the managerquite horrified'you'd spoil it for
ever.'

'Do you think so?'

'Think sosir! Whyas he is now' said the managerstriking his
knee emphatically; 'without a pad upon his bodyand hardly a touch
of paint upon his facehe'd make such an actor for the starved
business as was never seen in this country. Only let him be
tolerably well up in the Apothecary in Romeo and Julietwith the
slightest possible dab of red on the tip of his noseand he'd be
certain of three rounds the moment he put his head out of the
practicable door in the front grooves O.P.'

'You view him with a professional eye' said Nicholaslaughing.

'And well I may' rejoined the manager. 'I never saw a young fellow
so regularly cut out for that linesince I've been in the
profession. And I played the heavy children when I was eighteen
months old.'

The appearance of the beef-steak puddingwhich came in
simultaneously with the junior Vincent Crummlesesturned the
conversation to other mattersand indeedfor a timestopped it
altogether. These two young gentlemen wielded their knives and
forks with scarcely less address than their broad-swordsand as the
whole party were quite as sharp set as either class of weapons
there was no time for talking until the supper had been disposed of.

The Master Crummleses had no sooner swallowed the last procurable
morsel of foodthan they evincedby various half-suppressed yawns
and stretchings of their limbsan obvious inclination to retire for
the nightwhich Smike had betrayed still more strongly: he having
in the course of the mealfallen asleep several times while in the
very act of eating. Nicholas therefore proposed that they should
break up at oncebut the manager would by no means hear of it;
vowing that he had promised himself the pleasure of inviting his new
acquaintance to share a bowl of punchand that if he declinedhe
should deem it very unhandsome behaviour.

'Let them go' said Mr Vincent Crummles'and we'll have it snugly
and cosily together by the fire.'

Nicholas was not much disposed to sleep--being in truth too anxious-so
after a little demurhe accepted the offerand having
exchanged a shake of the hand with the young Crummlesesand the
manager having on his part bestowed a most affectionate benediction
on Smikehe sat himself down opposite to that gentleman by the
fireside to assist in emptying the bowlwhich soon afterwards


appearedsteaming in a manner which was quite exhilarating to
beholdand sending forth a most grateful and inviting fragrance.

Butdespite the punch and the managerwho told a variety of
storiesand smoked tobacco from a pipeand inhaled it in the shape
of snuffwith a most astonishing powerNicholas was absent and
dispirited. His thoughts were in his old homeand when they
reverted to his present conditionthe uncertainty of the morrow
cast a gloom upon himwhich his utmost efforts were unable to
dispel. His attention wandered; although he heard the manager's
voicehe was deaf to what he said; and when Mr Vincent Crummles
concluded the history of some long adventure with a loud laughand
an inquiry what Nicholas would have done under the same
circumstanceshe was obliged to make the best apology in his power
and to confess his entire ignorance of all he had been talking
about.

'Whyso I saw' observed Mr Crummles. 'You're uneasy in your mind.
What's the matter?'

Nicholas could not refrain from smiling at the abruptness of the
question; butthinking it scarcely worth while to parry itowned
that he was under some apprehensions lest he might not succeed in
the object which had brought him to that part of the country.

'And what's that?' asked the manager.

'Getting something to do which will keep me and my poor fellowtraveller
in the common necessaries of life' said Nicholas.
'That's the truth. You guessed it long agoI dare sayso I may as
well have the credit of telling it you with a good grace.'

'What's to be got to do at Portsmouth more than anywhere else?'
asked Mr Vincent Crummlesmelting the sealing-wax on the stem of
his pipe in the candleand rolling it out afresh with his little
finger.

'There are many vessels leaving the portI suppose' replied
Nicholas. 'I shall try for a berth in some ship or other. There is
meat and drink there at all events.'

'Salt meat and new rum; pease-pudding and chaff-biscuits' said the
managertaking a whiff at his pipe to keep it alightand returning
to his work of embellishment.

'One may do worse than that' said Nicholas. 'I can rough itI
believeas well as most young men of my age and previous habits.'

'You need be able to' said the manager'if you go on board ship;
but you won't.'

'Why not?'

'Because there's not a skipper or mate that would think you worth
your saltwhen he could get a practised hand' replied the manager;
'and they as plentiful thereas the oysters in the streets.'

'What do you mean?' asked Nicholasalarmed by this predictionand
the confident tone in which it had been uttered. 'Men are not born
able seamen. They must be rearedI suppose?'

Mr Vincent Crummles nodded his head. 'They must; but not at your
ageor from young gentlemen like you.'


There was a pause. The countenance of Nicholas felland he gazed
ruefully at the fire.

'Does no other profession occur to youwhich a young man of your
figure and address could take up easilyand see the world to
advantage in?' asked the manager.

'No' said Nicholasshaking his head.

'WhythenI'll tell you one' said Mr Crummlesthrowing his pipe
into the fireand raising his voice. 'The stage.'

'The stage!' cried Nicholasin a voice almost as loud.

'The theatrical profession' said Mr Vincent Crummles. 'I am in the
theatrical profession myselfmy wife is in the theatrical
professionmy children are in the theatrical profession. I had a
dog that lived and died in it from a puppy; and my chaise-pony goes
onin Timour the Tartar. I'll bring you outand your friend too.
Say the word. I want a novelty.'

'I don't know anything about it' rejoined Nicholaswhose breath
had been almost taken away by this sudden proposal. 'I never acted
a part in my lifeexcept at school.'

'There's genteel comedy in your walk and mannerjuvenile tragedy in
your eyeand touch-and-go farce in your laugh' said Mr Vincent
Crummles. 'You'll do as well as if you had thought of nothing else
but the lampsfrom your birth downwards.'

Nicholas thought of the small amount of small change that would
remain in his pocket after paying the tavern bill; and he hesitated.

'You can be useful to us in a hundred ways' said Mr Crummles.
'Think what capital bills a man of your education could write for
the shop-windows.'

'WellI think I could manage that department' said Nicholas.

'To be sure you could' replied Mr Crummles. '"For further
particulars see small hand-bills"--we might have half a volume in
every one of 'em. Pieces too; whyyou could write us a piece to
bring out the whole strength of the companywhenever we wanted
one.'

'I am not quite so confident about that' replied Nicholas. 'But I
dare say I could scribble something now and thenthat would suit
you.'

'We'll have a new show-piece out directly' said the manager. 'Let
me see--peculiar resources of this establishment--new and splendid
scenery--you must manage to introduce a real pump and two washingtubs.'


'Into the piece?' said Nicholas.

'Yes' replied the manager. 'I bought 'em cheapat a sale the
other dayand they'll come in admirably. That's the London plan.
They look up some dressesand propertiesand have a piece written
to fit 'em. Most of the theatres keep an author on purpose.'

'Indeed!' cried Nicholas.

'Ohyes' said the manager; 'a common thing. It'll look very well


in the bills in separate lines--Real pump!--Splendid tubs!--Great
attraction! You don't happen to be anything of an artistdo you?'

'That is not one of my accomplishments' rejoined Nicholas.

'Ah! Then it can't be helped' said the manager. 'If you had been
we might have had a large woodcut of the last scene for the posters
showing the whole depth of the stagewith the pump and tubs in the
middle; buthoweverif you're notit can't be helped.'

'What should I get for all this?' inquired Nicholasafter a few
moments' reflection. 'Could I live by it?'

'Live by it!' said the manager. 'Like a prince! With your own
salaryand your friend'sand your writingsyou'd make--ah! you'd
make a pound a week!'

'You don't say so!'

'I do indeedand if we had a run of good housesnearly double the
money.'

Nicholas shrugged his shoulders; but sheer destitution was before
him; and if he could summon fortitude to undergo the extremes of
want and hardshipfor what had he rescued his helpless charge if it
were only to bear as hard a fate as that from which he had wrested
him? It was easy to think of seventy miles as nothingwhen he was
in the same town with the man who had treated him so ill and roused
his bitterest thoughts; but nowit seemed far enough. What if he
went abroadand his mother or Kate were to die the while?

Without more deliberationhe hastily declared that it was a
bargainand gave Mr Vincent Crummles his hand upon it.

CHAPTER 23

Treats of the Company of Mr Vincent Crummlesand of his Affairs
Domestic and Theatrical

As Mr Crummles had a strange four-legged animal in the inn stables
which he called a ponyand a vehicle of unknown designon which he
bestowed the appellation of a four-wheeled phaetonNicholas
proceeded on his journey next morning with greater ease than he had
expected: the manager and himself occupying the front seat: and the
Master Crummleses and Smike being packed together behindin company
with a wicker basket defended from wet by a stout oilskinin which
were the broad-swordspistolspigtailsnautical costumesand
other professional necessaries of the aforesaid young gentlemen.

The pony took his time upon the roadand--possibly in consequence
of his theatrical education--evincedevery now and thena strong
inclination to lie down. HoweverMr Vincent Crummles kept him up
pretty wellby jerking the reinand plying the whip; and when
these means failedand the animal came to a standthe elder Master
Crummles got out and kicked him. By dint of these encouragements
he was persuaded to move from time to timeand they jogged on (as
Mr Crummles truly observed) very comfortably for all parties.

'He's a good pony at bottom' said Mr Crummlesturning to Nicholas.

He might have been at bottombut he certainly was not at top


seeing that his coat was of the roughest and most ill-favoured kind.
SoNicholas merely observed that he shouldn't wonder if he was.

'Many and many is the circuit this pony has gone' said Mr Crummles
flicking him skilfully on the eyelid for old acquaintance' sake.
'He is quite one of us. His mother was on the stage.'

'Was she?' rejoined Nicholas.

'She ate apple-pie at a circus for upwards of fourteen years' said
the manager; 'fired pistolsand went to bed in a nightcap; andin
shorttook the low comedy entirely. His father was a dancer.'

'Was he at all distinguished?'

'Not very' said the manager. 'He was rather a low sort of pony.
The fact ishe had been originally jobbed out by the dayand he
never quite got over his old habits. He was clever in melodrama
toobut too broad--too broad. When the mother diedhe took the
port-wine business.'

'The port-wine business!' cried Nicholas.

'Drinking port-wine with the clown' said the manager; 'but he was
greedyand one night bit off the bowl of the glassand choked
himselfso his vulgarity was the death of him at last.'

The descendant of this ill-starred animal requiring increased
attention from Mr Crummles as he progressed in his day's workthat
gentleman had very little time for conversation. Nicholas was thus
left at leisure to entertain himself with his own thoughtsuntil
they arrived at the drawbridge at Portsmouthwhen Mr Crummles
pulled up.

'We'll get down here' said the manager'and the boys will take him
round to the stableand call at my lodgings with the luggage. You
had better let yours be taken therefor the present.'

Thanking Mr Vincent Crummles for his obliging offerNicholas jumped
outandgiving Smike his armaccompanied the manager up High
Street on their way to the theatre; feeling nervous and
uncomfortable enough at the prospect of an immediate introduction to
a scene so new to him.

They passed a great many billspasted against the walls and
displayed in windowswherein the names of Mr Vincent CrummlesMrs
Vincent CrummlesMaster CrummlesMaster P. Crummlesand Miss
Crummleswere printed in very large lettersand everything else in
very small ones; andturning at length into an entryin which was
a strong smell of orange-peel and lamp-oilwith an under-current of
sawdustgroped their way through a dark passageanddescending a
step or twothreaded a little maze of canvas screens and paint
potsand emerged upon the stage of the Portsmouth Theatre.

'Here we are' said Mr Crummles.

It was not very lightbut Nicholas found himself close to the first
entrance on the prompt sideamong bare wallsdusty scenes
mildewed cloudsheavily daubed draperiesand dirty floors. He
looked about him; ceilingpitboxesgalleryorchestrafittings
and decorations of every kind--all looked coarsecoldgloomyand
wretched.

'Is this a theatre?' whispered Smikein amazement; 'I thought it


was a blaze of light and finery.'

'Whyso it is' replied Nicholashardly less surprised; 'but not
by daySmike--not by day.'

The manager's voice recalled him from a more careful inspection of
the buildingto the opposite side of the prosceniumwhereat a
small mahogany table with rickety legs and of an oblong shapesat a
stoutportly femaleapparently between forty and fiftyin a
tarnished silk cloakwith her bonnet dangling by the strings in her
handand her hair (of which she had a great quantity) braided in a
large festoon over each temple.

'Mr Johnson' said the manager (for Nicholas had given the name
which Newman Noggs had bestowed upon him in his conversation with
Mrs Kenwigs)'let me introduce Mrs Vincent Crummles.'

'I am glad to see yousir' said Mrs Vincent Crummlesin a
sepulchral voice. 'I am very glad to see youand still more happy
to hail you as a promising member of our corps.'

The lady shook Nicholas by the hand as she addressed him in these
terms; he saw it was a large onebut had not expected quite such an
iron grip as that with which she honoured him.

'And this' said the ladycrossing to Smikeas tragic actresses
cross when they obey a stage direction'and this is the other. You
tooare welcomesir.'

'He'll doI thinkmy dear?' said the managertaking a pinch of
snuff.

'He is admirable' replied the lady. 'An acquisition indeed.'

As Mrs Vincent Crummles recrossed back to the tablethere bounded
on to the stage from some mysterious inleta little girl in a dirty
white frock with tucks up to the kneesshort trouserssandaled
shoeswhite spencerpink gauze bonnetgreen veil and curl papers;
who turned a pirouettecut twice in the airturned another
pirouettethenlooking off at the opposite wingshriekedbounded
forward to within six inches of the footlightsand fell into a
beautiful attitude of terroras a shabby gentleman in an old pair
of buff slippers came in at one powerful slideand chattering his
teethfiercely brandished a walking-stick.

'They are going through the Indian Savage and the Maiden' said Mrs
Crummles.

'Oh!' said the manager'the little ballet interlude. Very goodgo
on. A little this wayif you pleaseMr Johnson. That'll do.
Now!'

The manager clapped his hands as a signal to proceedand the
savagebecoming ferociousmade a slide towards the maiden; but the
maiden avoided him in six twirlsand came downat the end of the
last oneupon the very points of her toes. This seemed to make
some impression upon the savage; forafter a little more ferocity
and chasing of the maiden into cornershe began to relentand
stroked his face several times with his right thumb and four
fingersthereby intimating that he was struck with admiration of
the maiden's beauty. Acting upon the impulse of this passionhe
(the savage) began to hit himself severe thumps in the chestand to
exhibit other indications of being desperately in lovewhich being
rather a prosy proceedingwas very likely the cause of the maiden's


falling asleep; whether it was or noasleep she did fallsound as
a churchon a sloping bankand the savage perceiving itleant his
left ear on his left handand nodded sidewaysto intimate to all
whom it might concern that she WAS asleepand no shamming. Being
left to himselfthe savage had a danceall alone. Just as he left
offthe maiden woke uprubbed her eyesgot off the bankand had
a dance all alone too--such a dance that the savage looked on in
ecstasy all the whileand when it was doneplucked from a
neighbouring tree some botanical curiosityresembling a small
pickled cabbageand offered it to the maidenwho at first wouldn't
have itbut on the savage shedding tears relented. Then the savage
jumped for joy; then the maiden jumped for rapture at the sweet
smell of the pickled cabbage. Then the savage and the maiden danced
violently togetherandfinallythe savage dropped down on one
kneeand the maiden stood on one leg upon his other knee; thus
concluding the balletand leaving the spectators in a state of
pleasing uncertaintywhether she would ultimately marry the savage
or return to her friends.

'Very well indeed' said Mr Crummles; 'bravo!'

'Bravo!' cried Nicholasresolved to make the best of everything.
'Beautiful!'

'Thissir' said Mr Vincent Crummlesbringing the maiden forward
'this is the infant phenomenon--Miss Ninetta Crummles.'

'Your daughter?' inquired Nicholas.

'My daughter--my daughter' replied Mr Vincent Crummles; 'the idol
of every place we go intosir. We have had complimentary letters
about this girlsirfrom the nobility and gentry of almost every
town in England.'

'I am not surprised at that' said Nicholas; 'she must be quite a
natural genius.'

'Quite a--!' Mr Crummles stopped: language was not powerful enough
to describe the infant phenomenon. 'I'll tell you whatsir' he
said; 'the talent of this child is not to be imagined. She must be
seensir--seen--to be ever so faintly appreciated. There; go to
your mothermy dear.'

'May I ask how old she is?' inquired Nicholas.

'You maysir' replied Mr Crummleslooking steadily in his
questioner's faceas some men do when they have doubts about being
implicitly believed in what they are going to say. 'She is ten
years of agesir.'

'Not more!'

'Not a day.'

'Dear me!' said Nicholas'it's extraordinary.'

It was; for the infant phenomenonthough of short staturehad a
comparatively aged countenanceand had moreover been precisely the
same age--not perhaps to the full extent of the memory of the oldest
inhabitantbut certainly for five good years. But she had been
kept up late every nightand put upon an unlimited allowance of
gin-and-water from infancyto prevent her growing talland perhaps
this system of training had produced in the infant phenomenon these
additional phenomena.


While this short dialogue was going onthe gentleman who had
enacted the savagecame upwith his walking shoes on his feetand
his slippers in his handto within a few pacesas if desirous to
join in the conversation. Deeming this a good opportunityhe put
in his word.

'Talent theresir!' said the savagenodding towards Miss Crummles.

Nicholas assented.

'Ah!' said the actorsetting his teeth togetherand drawing in his
breath with a hissing sound'she oughtn't to be in the provinces
she oughtn't.'

'What do you mean?' asked the manager.

'I mean to say' replied the otherwarmly'that she is too good
for country boardsand that she ought to be in one of the large
houses in Londonor nowhere; and I tell you morewithout mincing
the matterthat if it wasn't for envy and jealousy in some quarter
that you know ofshe would be. Perhaps you'll introduce me here
Mr Crummles.'

'Mr Folair' said the managerpresenting him to Nicholas.

'Happy to know yousir.' Mr Folair touched the brim of his hat with
his forefingerand then shook hands. 'A recruitsirI
understand?'

'An unworthy one' replied Nicholas.

'Did you ever see such a set-out as that?' whispered the actor
drawing him awayas Crummles left them to speak to his wife.

'As what?'

Mr Folair made a funny face from his pantomime collectionand
pointed over his shoulder.

'You don't mean the infant phenomenon?'

'Infant humbugsir' replied Mr Folair. 'There isn't a female
child of common sharpness in a charity schoolthat couldn't do
better than that. She may thank her stars she was born a manager's
daughter.'

'You seem to take it to heart' observed Nicholaswith a smile.

'Yesby Joveand well I may' said Mr Folairdrawing his arm
through hisand walking him up and down the stage. 'Isn't it
enough to make a man crusty to see that little sprawler put up in
the best business every nightand actually keeping money out of the
houseby being forced down the people's throatswhile other people
are passed over? Isn't it extraordinary to see a man's confounded
family conceit blinding himeven to his own interest? Why I KNOW
of fifteen and sixpence that came to Southampton one night last
monthto see me dance the Highland Fling; and what's the
consequence? I've never been put up in it since--never once--while
the "infant phenomenon" has been grinning through artificial flowers
at five people and a baby in the pitand two boys in the gallery
every night.'

'If I may judge from what I have seen of you' said Nicholas'you


must be a valuable member of the company.'

'Oh!' replied Mr Folairbeating his slippers togetherto knock the
dust out; 'I CAN come it pretty well--nobody betterperhapsin my
own line--but having such business as one gets hereis like putting
lead on one's feet instead of chalkand dancing in fetters without
the credit of it. Holloaold fellowhow are you?'

The gentleman addressed in these latter words was a darkcomplexioned
maninclining indeed to sallowwith long thick black
hairand very evident inclinations (although he was close shaved)
of a stiff beardand whiskers of the same deep shade. His age did
not appear to exceed thirtythough many at first sight would have
considered him much olderas his face was longand very palefrom
the constant application of stage paint. He wore a checked shirt
an old green coat with new gilt buttonsa neckerchief of broad red
and green stripesand full blue trousers; he carriedtooa common
ash walking-stickapparently more for show than useas he
flourished it aboutwith the hooked end downwardsexcept when he
raised it for a few secondsand throwing himself into a fencing
attitudemade a pass or two at the side-scenesor at any other
objectanimate or inanimatethat chanced to afford him a pretty
good mark at the moment.

'WellTommy' said this gentlemanmaking a thrust at his friend
who parried it dexterously with his slipper'what's the news?'

'A new appearancethat's all' replied Mr Folairlooking at
Nicholas.

'Do the honoursTommydo the honours' said the other gentleman
tapping him reproachfully on the crown of the hat with his stick.

'This is Mr Lenvillewho does our first tragedyMr Johnson' said
the pantomimist.

'Except when old bricks and mortar takes it into his head to do it
himselfyou should addTommy' remarked Mr Lenville. 'You know
who bricks and mortar isI supposesir?'

'I do notindeed' replied Nicholas.

'We call Crummles thatbecause his style of acting is rather in the
heavy and ponderous way' said Mr Lenville. 'I mustn't be cracking
jokes thoughfor I've got a part of twelve lengths herewhich I
must be up in tomorrow nightand I haven't had time to look at it
yet; I'm a confounded quick studythat's one comfort.'

Consoling himself with this reflectionMr Lenville drew from his
coat pocket a greasy and crumpled manuscriptandhaving made
another pass at his friendproceeded to walk to and froconning it
to himself and indulging occasionally in such appropriate action as
his imagination and the text suggested.

A pretty general muster of the company had by this time taken place;
for besides Mr Lenville and his friend Tommythere were presenta
slim young gentleman with weak eyeswho played the low-spirited
lovers and sang tenor songsand who had come arm-in-arm with the
comic countryman--a man with a turned-up noselarge mouthbroad
faceand staring eyes. Making himself very amiable to the infant
phenomenonwas an inebriated elderly gentleman in the last depths
of shabbinesswho played the calm and virtuous old men; and paying
especial court to Mrs Crummles was another elderly gentlemana
shade more respectablewho played the irascible old men--those


funny fellows who have nephews in the army and perpetually run about
with thick sticks to compel them to marry heiresses. Besides these
there was a roving-looking person in a rough great-coatwho strode
up and down in front of the lampsflourishing a dress caneand
rattling awayin an undertonewith great vivacity for the
amusement of an ideal audience. He was not quite so young as he had
beenand his figure was rather running to seed; but there was an
air of exaggerated gentility about himwhich bespoke the hero of
swaggering comedy. There wasalsoa little group of three or four
young men with lantern jaws and thick eyebrowswho were conversing
in one corner; but they seemed to be of secondary importanceand
laughed and talked together without attracting any attention.

The ladies were gathered in a little knot by themselves round the
rickety table before mentioned. There was Miss Snevellicci--who
could do anythingfrom a medley dance to Lady Macbethand also
always played some part in blue silk knee-smalls at her benefit-glancing
from the depths of her coal-scuttle straw bonnetat
Nicholasand affecting to be absorbed in the recital of a diverting
story to her friend Miss Ledrookwho had brought her workand was
making up a ruff in the most natural manner possible. There was
Miss Belvawney--who seldom aspired to speaking partsand usually
went on as a page in white silk hoseto stand with one leg bent
and contemplate the audienceor to go in and out after Mr Crummles
in stately tragedy--twisting up the ringlets of the beautiful Miss
Bravassawho had once had her likeness taken 'in character' by an
engraver's apprenticewhereof impressions were hung up for sale in
the pastry-cook's windowand the greengrocer'sand at the
circulating libraryand the box-officewhenever the announce bills
came out for her annual night. There was Mrs Lenvillein a very
limp bonnet and veildecidedly in that way in which she would wish
to be if she truly loved Mr Lenville; there was Miss Gazingiwith
an imitation ermine boa tied in a loose knot round her neck
flogging Mr Crummlesjuniorwith both endsin fun. Lastlythere
was Mrs Grudden in a brown cloth pelisse and a beaver bonnetwho
assisted Mrs Crummles in her domestic affairsand took money at the
doorsand dressed the ladiesand swept the houseand held the
prompt book when everybody else was on for the last sceneand acted
any kind of part on any emergency without ever learning itand was
put down in the bills under my name or names whateverthat occurred
to Mr Crummles as looking well in print.

Mr Folair having obligingly confided these particulars to Nicholas
left him to mingle with his fellows; the work of personal
introduction was completed by Mr Vincent Crummleswho publicly
heralded the new actor as a prodigy of genius and learning.

'I beg your pardon' said Miss Snevelliccisidling towards
Nicholas'but did you ever play at Canterbury?'

'I never did' replied Nicholas.

'I recollect meeting a gentleman at Canterbury' said Miss
Snevellicci'only for a few momentsfor I was leaving the company
as he joined itso like you that I felt almost certain it was the
same.'

'I see you now for the first time' rejoined Nicholas with all due
gallantry. 'I am sure I never saw you before; I couldn't have
forgotten it.'

'OhI'm sure--it's very flattering of you to say so' retorted Miss
Snevellicci with a graceful bend. 'Now I look at you againI see
that the gentleman at Canterbury hadn't the same eyes as you--you'll


think me very foolish for taking notice of such thingswon't you?'

'Not at all' said Nicholas. 'How can I feel otherwise than
flattered by your notice in any way?'

'Oh! you men are such vain creatures!' cried Miss Snevellicci.
Whereuponshe became charmingly confusedandpulling out her
pocket-handkerchief from a faded pink silk reticule with a gilt
claspcalled to Miss Ledrook-


'Ledmy dear' said Miss Snevellicci.

'Wellwhat is the matter?' said Miss Ledrook.

'It's not the same.'

'Not the same what?'

'Canterbury--you know what I mean. Come here! I want to speak to
you.'

But Miss Ledrook wouldn't come to Miss Snevellicciso Miss
Snevellicci was obliged to go to Miss Ledrookwhich she didin a
skipping manner that was quite fascinating; and Miss Ledrook
evidently joked Miss Snevellicci about being struck with Nicholas;
forafter some playful whisperingMiss Snevellicci hit Miss
Ledrook very hard on the backs of her handsand retired upin a
state of pleasing confusion.

'Ladies and gentlemen' said Mr Vincent Crummleswho had been
writing on a piece of paper'we'll call the Mortal Struggle
tomorrow at ten; everybody for the procession. Intrigueand Ways
and Meansyou're all up inso we shall only want one rehearsal.
Everybody at tenif you please.'

'Everybody at ten' repeated Mrs Gruddenlooking about her.

'On Monday morning we shall read a new piece' said Mr Crummles;
'the name's not known yetbut everybody will have a good part. Mr
Johnson will take care of that.'

'Hallo!' said Nicholasstarting. 'I--'

'On Monday morning' repeated Mr Crummlesraising his voiceto
drown the unfortunate Mr Johnson's remonstrance; 'that'll doladies
and gentlemen.'

The ladies and gentlemen required no second notice to quit; andin
a few minutesthe theatre was desertedsave by the Crummles
familyNicholasand Smike.

'Upon my word' said Nicholastaking the manager aside'I don't
think I can be ready by Monday.'

'Poohpooh' replied Mr Crummles.

'But really I can't' returned Nicholas; 'my invention is not
accustomed to these demandsor possibly I might produce--'

'Invention! what the devil's that got to do with it!' cried the
manager hastily.

'Everythingmy dear sir.'


'Nothingmy dear sir' retorted the managerwith evident
impatience. 'Do you understand French?'

'Perfectly well.'

'Very good' said the manageropening the table drawerand giving
a roll of paper from it to Nicholas. 'There! Just turn that into
Englishand put your name on the title-page. Damn me' said Mr
Crummlesangrily'if I haven't often said that I wouldn't have a
man or woman in my company that wasn't master of the languageso
that they might learn it from the originaland play it in English
and save all this trouble and expense.'

Nicholas smiled and pocketed the play.

'What are you going to do about your lodgings?' said Mr Crummles.

Nicholas could not help thinking thatfor the first weekit would
be an uncommon convenience to have a turn-up bedstead in the pit
but he merely remarked that he had not turned his thoughts that way.

'Come home with me then' said Mr Crummles'and my boys shall go
with you after dinnerand show you the most likely place.'

The offer was not to be refused; Nicholas and Mr Crummles gave Mrs
Crummles an arm eachand walked up the street in stately array.
Smikethe boysand the phenomenonwent home by a shorter cutand
Mrs Grudden remained behind to take some cold Irish stew and a pint
of porter in the box-office.

Mrs Crummles trod the pavement as if she were going to immediate
execution with an animating consciousness of innocenceand that
heroic fortitude which virtue alone inspires. Mr Crummleson the
other handassumed the look and gait of a hardened despot; but they
both attracted some notice from many of the passers-byand when
they heard a whisper of 'Mr and Mrs Crummles!' or saw a little boy
run back to stare them in the facethe severe expression of their
countenances relaxedfor they felt it was popularity.

Mr Crummles lived in St Thomas's Streetat the house of one Bulph
a pilotwho sported a boat-green doorwith window-frames of the
same colourand had the little finger of a drowned man on his
parlour mantelshelfwith other maritime and natural curiosities.
He displayed also a brass knockera brass plateand a brass bellhandle
all very bright and shining; and had a mastwith a vane on
the top of itin his back yard.

'You are welcome' said Mrs Crummlesturning round to Nicholas when
they reached the bow-windowed front room on the first floor.

Nicholas bowed his acknowledgmentsand was unfeignedly glad to see
the cloth laid.

'We have but a shoulder of mutton with onion sauce' said Mrs
Crummlesin the same charnel-house voice; 'but such as our dinner
iswe beg you to partake of it.'

'You are very good' replied Nicholas'I shall do it ample
justice.'

'Vincent' said Mrs Crummles'what is the hour?'

'Five minutes past dinner-time' said Mr Crummles.


Mrs Crummles rang the bell. 'Let the mutton and onion sauce
appear.'

The slave who attended upon Mr Bulph's lodgersdisappearedand
after a short interval reappeared with the festive banquet.
Nicholas and the infant phenomenon opposed each other at the
pembroke-tableand Smike and the master Crummleses dined on the
sofa bedstead.

'Are they very theatrical people here?' asked Nicholas.

'No' replied Mr Crummlesshaking his head'far from it--far from
it.'

'I pity them' observed Mrs Crummles.

'So do I' said Nicholas; 'if they have no relish for theatrical
entertainmentsproperly conducted.'

'Then they have nonesir' rejoined Mr Crummles. 'To the infant's
benefitlast yearon which occasion she repeated three of her most
popular charactersand also appeared in the Fairy Porcupineas
originally performed by herthere was a house of no more than four
pound twelve.'

'Is it possible?' cried Nicholas.

'And two pound of that was trustpa' said the phenomenon.

'And two pound of that was trust' repeated Mr Crummles. 'Mrs
Crummles herself has played to mere handfuls.'

'But they are always a taking audienceVincent' said the manager's
wife.

'Most audiences arewhen they have good acting--real good acting-the
regular thing' replied Mr Crummlesforcibly.

'Do you give lessonsma'am?' inquired Nicholas.

'I do' said Mrs Crummles.

'There is no teaching hereI suppose?'

'There has been' said Mrs Crummles. 'I have received pupils here.
I imparted tuition to the daughter of a dealer in ships' provision;
but it afterwards appeared that she was insane when she first came
to me. It was very extraordinary that she should comeunder such
circumstances.'

Not feeling quite so sure of thatNicholas thought it best to hold
his peace.

'Let me see' said the manager cogitating after dinner. 'Would you
like some nice little part with the infant?'

'You are very good' replied Nicholas hastily; 'but I think perhaps
it would be better if I had somebody of my own size at firstin
case I should turn out awkward. I should feel more at home
perhaps.'

'True' said the manager. 'Perhaps you would. And you could play
up to the infantin timeyou know.'


'Certainly' replied Nicholas: devoutly hoping that it would be a
very long time before he was honoured with this distinction.

'Then I'll tell you what we'll do' said Mr Crummles. 'You shall
study Romeo when you've done that piece--don't forget to throw the
pump and tubs in by-the-bye--Juliet Miss Snevellicciold Grudden
the nurse.--Yesthat'll do very well. Rover too;--you might get up
Rover while you were about itand Cassioand Jeremy Diddler. You
can easily knock them off; one part helps the other so much. Here
they arecues and all.'

With these hasty general directions Mr Crummles thrust a number of
little books into the faltering hands of Nicholasand bidding his
eldest son go with him and show where lodgings were to be hadshook
him by the handand wished him good night.

There is no lack of comfortable furnished apartments in Portsmouth
and no difficulty in finding some that are proportionate to very
slender finances; but the former were too goodand the latter too
badand they went into so many housesand came out unsuitedthat
Nicholas seriously began to think he should be obliged to ask
permission to spend the night in the theatreafter all.

Eventuallyhoweverthey stumbled upon two small rooms up three
pair of stairsor rather two pair and a ladderat a tobacconist's
shopon the Common Hard: a dirty street leading down to the
dockyard. These Nicholas engagedonly too happy to have escaped
any request for payment of a week's rent beforehand.

'There! Lay down our personal propertySmike' he saidafter
showing young Crummles downstairs. 'We have fallen upon strange
timesand Heaven only knows the end of them; but I am tired with
the events of these three daysand will postpone reflection till
tomorrow--if I can.'

CHAPTER 24

Of the Great Bespeak for Miss Snevellicciand the first Appearance
of Nicholas upon any Stage

Nicholas was up betimes in the morning; but he had scarcely begun to
dressnotwithstandingwhen he heard footsteps ascending the
stairsand was presently saluted by the voices of Mr Folair the
pantomimistand Mr Lenvillethe tragedian.

'Househousehouse!' cried Mr Folair.

'Whatho! within there" said Mr Lenvillein a deep voice.

'Confound these fellows!' thought Nicholas; 'they have come to
breakfastI suppose. I'll open the door directlyif you'll wait
an instant.'

The gentlemen entreated him not to hurry himself; andto beguile
the intervalhad a fencing bout with their walking-sticks on the
very small landing-place: to the unspeakable discomposure of all the
other lodgers downstairs.

'Herecome in' said Nicholaswhen he had completed his toilet.
'In the name of all that's horribledon't make that noise outside.'


'An uncommon snug little box this' said Mr Lenvillestepping into
the front roomand taking his hat offbefore he could get in at
all. 'Pernicious snug.'

'For a man at all particular in such mattersit might be a trifle
too snug' said Nicholas; 'foralthough it isundoubtedlya great
convenience to be able to reach anything you want from the ceiling
or the flooror either side of the roomwithout having to move
from your chairstill these advantages can only be had in an
apartment of the most limited size.'

'It isn't a bit too confined for a single man' returned Mr
Lenville. 'That reminds me--my wifeMr Johnson--I hope she'll
have some good part in this piece of yours?'

'I glanced at the French copy last night' said Nicholas. 'It looks
very goodI think.'

'What do you mean to do for meold fellow?' asked Mr Lenville
poking the struggling fire with his walking-stickand afterwards
wiping it on the skirt of his coat. 'Anything in the gruff and
grumble way?'

'You turn your wife and child out of doors' said Nicholas; 'andin
a fit of rage and jealousystab your eldest son in the library.'

'Do I though!' exclaimed Mr Lenville. 'That's very good business.'

'After which' said Nicholas'you are troubled with remorse till
the last actand then you make up your mind to destroy yourself.
Butjust as you are raising the pistol to your heada clock
strikes--ten.'

'I see' cried Mr Lenville. 'Very good.'

'You pause' said Nicholas; 'you recollect to have heard a clock
strike ten in your infancy. The pistol falls from your hand--you
are overcome--you burst into tearsand become a virtuous and
exemplary character for ever afterwards.'

'Capital!' said Mr Lenville: 'that's a sure carda sure card. Get
the curtain down with a touch of nature like thatand it'll be a
triumphant success.'

'Is there anything good for me?' inquired Mr Folairanxiously.

'Let me see' said Nicholas. 'You play the faithful and attached
servant; you are turned out of doors with the wife and child.'

'Always coupled with that infernal phenomenon' sighed Mr Folair;
'and we go into poor lodgingswhere I won't take any wagesand
talk sentimentI suppose?'

'Why--yes' replied Nicholas: 'that is the course of the piece.'

'I must have a dance of some kindyou know' said Mr Folair.
'You'll have to introduce one for the phenomenonso you'd better
make a PAS DE DEUXand save time.'

'There's nothing easier than that' said Mr Lenvilleobserving the
disturbed looks of the young dramatist.

'Upon my word I don't see how it's to be done' rejoined Nicholas.


'Whyisn't it obvious?' reasoned Mr Lenville. 'Gadzookswho can
help seeing the way to do it?--you astonish me! You get the
distressed ladyand the little childand the attached servant
into the poor lodgingsdon't you?--Welllook here. The distressed
lady sinks into a chairand buries her face in her pockethandkerchief.
What makes you weep, mama?says the child. "Don't
weepmamaor you'll make me weep too!"--"And me!" says the
favourite servantrubbing his eyes with his arm. "What can we do
to raise your spiritsdear mama?" says the little child. "Ay
what CAN we do?" says the faithful servant. "OhPierre!" says the
distressed lady; "would that I could shake off these painful
thoughts."--"Tryma'amtry says the faithful servant; rouse
yourselfma'am; be amused."--"I will says the lady, I will learn
to suffer with fortitude. Do you remember that dancemy honest
friendwhichin happier daysyou practised with this sweet angel?
It never failed to calm my spirits then. Oh! let me see it once
again before I die!"--There it is--cue for the bandBEFORE I DIE-and
off they go. That's the regular thing; isn't itTommy?'

'That's it' replied Mr Folair. 'The distressed ladyoverpowered
by old recollectionsfaints at the end of the danceand you close
in with a picture.'

Profiting by these and other lessonswhich were the result of the
personal experience of the two actorsNicholas willingly gave them
the best breakfast he couldandwhen he at length got rid of them
applied himself to his task: by no means displeased to find that it
was so much easier than he had at first supposed. He worked very
hard all dayand did not leave his room until the eveningwhen he
went down to the theatrewhither Smike had repaired before him to
go on with another gentleman as a general rebellion.

Here all the people were so much changedthat he scarcely knew
them. False hairfalse colourfalse calvesfalse muscles--they
had become different beings. Mr Lenville was a blooming warrior of
most exquisite proportions; Mr Crummleshis large face shaded by a
profusion of black haira Highland outlaw of most majestic bearing;
one of the old gentlemen a jailerand the other a venerable
patriarch; the comic countrymana fighting-man of great valour
relieved by a touch of humour; each of the Master Crummleses a
prince in his own right; and the low-spirited lovera desponding
captive. There was a gorgeous banquet ready spread for the third
actconsisting of two pasteboard vasesone plate of biscuitsa
black bottleand a vinegar cruet; andin shorteverything was on
a scale of the utmost splendour and preparation.

Nicholas was standing with his back to the curtainnow
contemplating the first scenewhich was a Gothic archwayabout two
feet shorter than Mr Crummlesthrough which that gentleman was to
make his first entranceand now listening to a couple of people who
were cracking nuts in the gallerywondering whether they made the
whole audiencewhen the manager himself walked familiarly up and
accosted him.

'Been in front tonight?' said Mr Crummles.

'No' replied Nicholas'not yet. I am going to see the play.'

'We've had a pretty good Let' said Mr Crummles. 'Four front places
in the centreand the whole of the stage-box.'

'Ohindeed!' said Nicholas; 'a familyI suppose?'

'Yes' replied Mr Crummles'yes. It's an affecting thing. There


are six childrenand they never come unless the phenomenon plays.'

It would have been difficult for any partyfamilyor otherwiseto
have visited the theatre on a night when the phenomenon did NOT
playinasmuch as she always sustained oneand not uncommonly two
or threecharactersevery night; but Nicholassympathising with
the feelings of a fatherrefrained from hinting at this trifling
circumstanceand Mr Crummles continued to talkuninterrupted by
him.

'Six' said that gentleman; 'pa and ma eightaunt ninegoverness
tengrandfather and grandmother twelve. Thenthere's the footman
who stands outsidewith a bag of oranges and a jug of toast-andwater
and sees the play for nothing through the little pane of
glass in the box-door--it's cheap at a guinea; they gain by taking a
box.'

'I wonder you allow so many' observed Nicholas.

'There's no help for it' replied Mr Crummles; 'it's always expected
in the country. If there are six childrensix people come to hold
them in their laps. A family-box carries double always. Ring in
the orchestraGrudden!'

That useful lady did as she was requestedand shortly afterwards
the tuning of three fiddles was heard. Which process having been
protracted as long as it was supposed that the patience of the
audience could possibly bear itwas put a stop to by another jerk
of the bellwhichbeing the signal to begin in earnestset the
orchestra playing a variety of popular airswith involuntary
variations.

If Nicholas had been astonished at the alteration for the better
which the gentlemen displayedthe transformation of the ladies was
still more extraordinary. Whenfrom a snug corner of the manager's
boxhe beheld Miss Snevellicci in all the glories of white muslin
with a golden hemand Mrs Crummles in all the dignity of the
outlaw's wifeand Miss Bravassa in all the sweetness of Miss
Snevellicci's confidential friendand Miss Belvawney in the white
silks of a page doing duty everywhere and swearing to live and die
in the service of everybodyhe could scarcely contain his
admirationwhich testified itself in great applauseand the
closest possible attention to the business of the scene. The plot
was most interesting. It belonged to no particular agepeopleor
countryand was perhaps the more delightful on that accountas
nobody's previous information could afford the remotest glimmering
of what would ever come of it. An outlaw had been very successful
in doing something somewhereand came homein triumphto the
sound of shouts and fiddlesto greet his wife--a lady of masculine
mindwho talked a good deal about her father's boneswhich it
seemed were unburiedthough whether from a peculiar taste on the
part of the old gentleman himselfor the reprehensible neglect of
his relationsdid not appear. This outlaw's wife wassomehow or
othermixed up with a patriarchliving in a castle a long way off
and this patriarch was the father of several of the charactersbut
he didn't exactly know whichand was uncertain whether he had
brought up the right ones in his castleor the wrong ones; he
rather inclined to the latter opinionandbeing uneasyrelieved
his mind with a banquetduring which solemnity somebody in a cloak
said 'Beware!' which somebody was known by nobody (except the
audience) to be the outlaw himselfwho had come therefor reasons
unexplainedbut possibly with an eye to the spoons. There was an
agreeable little surprise in the way of certain love passages
between the desponding captive and Miss Snevellicciand the comic


fighting-man and Miss Bravassa; besides whichMr Lenville had
several very tragic scenes in the darkwhile on throat-cutting
expeditionswhich were all baffled by the skill and bravery of the
comic fighting-man (who overheard whatever was said all through the
piece) and the intrepidity of Miss Snevellicciwho adopted tights
and therein repaired to the prison of her captive loverwith a
small basket of refreshments and a dark lantern. At lastit came
out that the patriarch was the man who had treated the bones of the
outlaw's father-in-law with so much disrespectfor which cause and
reason the outlaw's wife repaired to his castle to kill himand so
got into a dark roomwhereafter a good deal of groping in the
darkeverybody got hold of everybody elseand took them for
somebody besideswhich occasioned a vast quantity of confusion
with some pistollingloss of lifeand torchlight; after whichthe
patriarch came forwardand observingwith a knowing lookthat he
knew all about his children nowand would tell them when they got
insidesaid that there could not be a more appropriate occasion for
marrying the young people than that; and therefore he joined their
handswith the full consent of the indefatigable pagewho (being
the only other person surviving) pointed with his cap into the
cloudsand his right hand to the ground; thereby invoking a
blessing and giving the cue for the curtain to come downwhich it
didamidst general applause.

'What did you think of that?' asked Mr Crummleswhen Nicholas went
round to the stage again. Mr Crummles was very red and hotfor
your outlaws are desperate fellows to shout.

'I think it was very capital indeed' replied Nicholas; 'Miss
Snevellicci in particular was uncommonly good.'

'She's a genius' said Mr Crummles; 'quite a geniusthat girl. Bythe-
byeI've been thinking of bringing out that piece of yours on
her bespeak night.'

'When?' asked Nicholas.

'The night of her bespeak. Her benefit nightwhen her friends and
patrons bespeak the play' said Mr Crummles.

'Oh! I understand' replied Nicholas.

'You see' said Mr. Crummles'it's sure to goon such an
occasionand even if it should not work up quite as well as we
expectwhy it will be her riskyou knowand not ours.'

'Yoursyou mean' said Nicholas.

'I said minedidn't I?' returned Mr Crummles. 'Next Monday week.
What do you say? You'll have done itand are sure to be up in the
lover's partlong before that time.'

'I don't know about "long before' replied Nicholas; 'but BY that
time I think I can undertake to be ready.'

'Very good,' pursued Mr Crummles, 'then we'll call that settled.
Now, I want to ask you something else. There's a little--what shall
I call it?--a little canvassing takes place on these occasions.'

'Among the patrons, I suppose?' said Nicholas.

'Among the patrons; and the fact is, that Snevellicci has had so
many bespeaks in this place, that she wants an attraction. She had
a bespeak when her mother-in-law died, and a bespeak when her uncle


died; and Mrs Crummles and myself have had bespeaks on the
anniversary of the phenomenon's birthday, and our wedding-day, and
occasions of that description, so that, in fact, there's some
difficulty in getting a good one. Now, won't you help this poor
girl, Mr Johnson?' said Crummles, sitting himself down on a drum,
and taking a great pinch of snuff, as he looked him steadily in the
face.

'How do you mean?' rejoined Nicholas.

'Don't you think you could spare half an hour tomorrow morning, to
call with her at the houses of one or two of the principal people?'
murmured the manager in a persuasive tone.

'Oh dear me,' said Nicholas, with an air of very strong objection,
'I shouldn't like to do that.'

'The infant will accompany her,' said Mr Crummles. 'The moment it
was suggested to me, I gave permission for the infant to go. There
will not be the smallest impropriety--Miss Snevellicci, sir, is the
very soul of honour. It would be of material service--the gentleman
from London--author of the new piece--actor in the new piece--first
appearance on any boards--it would lead to a great bespeak, Mr
Johnson.'

'I am very sorry to throw a damp upon the prospects of anybody, and
more especially a lady,' replied Nicholas; 'but really I must
decidedly object to making one of the canvassing party.'

'What does Mr Johnson say, Vincent?' inquired a voice close to his
ear; and, looking round, he found Mrs Crummles and Miss Snevellicci
herself standing behind him.

'He has some objection, my dear,' replied Mr Crummles, looking at
Nicholas.

'Objection!' exclaimed Mrs Crummles. 'Can it be possible?'

'Oh, I hope not!' cried Miss Snevellicci. 'You surely are not so
cruel--oh, dear me!--Well, I--to think of that now, after all one's
looking forward to it!'

'Mr Johnson will not persist, my dear,' said Mrs Crummles. 'Think
better of him than to suppose it. Gallantry, humanity, all the best
feelings of his nature, must be enlisted in this interesting cause.'

'Which moves even a manager,' said Mr Crummles, smiling.

'And a manager's wife,' added Mrs Crummles, in her accustomed
tragedy tones. 'Come, come, you will relent, I know you will.'

'It is not in my nature,' said Nicholas, moved by these appeals, 'to
resist any entreaty, unless it is to do something positively wrong;
and, beyond a feeling of pride, I know nothing which should prevent
my doing this. I know nobody here, and nobody knows me. So be it
then. I yield.'

Miss Snevellicci was at once overwhelmed with blushes and
expressions of gratitude, of which latter commodity neither Mr nor
Mrs Crummles was by any means sparing. It was arranged that
Nicholas should call upon her, at her lodgings, at eleven next
morning, and soon after they parted: he to return home to his
authorship: Miss Snevellicci to dress for the after-piece: and the
disinterested manager and his wife to discuss the probable gains of


the forthcoming bespeak, of which they were to have two-thirds of
the profits by solemn treaty of agreement.

At the stipulated hour next morning, Nicholas repaired to the
lodgings of Miss Snevellicci, which were in a place called Lombard
Street, at the house of a tailor. A strong smell of ironing
pervaded the little passage; and the tailor's daughter, who opened
the door, appeared in that flutter of spirits which is so often
attendant upon the periodical getting up of a family's linen.

'Miss Snevellicci lives here, I believe?' said Nicholas, when the
door was opened.

The tailor's daughter replied in the affirmative.

'Will you have the goodness to let her know that Mr Johnson is
here?' said Nicholas.

'Oh, if you please, you're to come upstairs,' replied the tailor's
daughter, with a smile.

Nicholas followed the young lady, and was shown into a small
apartment on the first floor, communicating with a back-room; in
which, as he judged from a certain half-subdued clinking sound, as
of cups and saucers, Miss Snevellicci was then taking her breakfast
in bed.

'You're to wait, if you please,' said the tailor's daughter, after a
short period of absence, during which the clinking in the back-room
had ceased, and been succeeded by whispering--'She won't be long.'

As she spoke, she pulled up the window-blind, and having by this
means (as she thought) diverted Mr Johnson's attention from the room
to the street, caught up some articles which were airing on the
fender, and had very much the appearance of stockings, and darted
off.

As there were not many objects of interest outside the window,
Nicholas looked about the room with more curiosity than he might
otherwise have bestowed upon it. On the sofa lay an old guitar,
several thumbed pieces of music, and a scattered litter of curlpapers;
together with a confused heap of play-bills, and a pair of
soiled white satin shoes with large blue rosettes. Hanging over the
back of a chair was a half-finished muslin apron with little pockets
ornamented with red ribbons, such as waiting-women wear on the
stage, and (by consequence) are never seen with anywhere else. In
one corner stood the diminutive pair of top-boots in which Miss
Snevellicci was accustomed to enact the little jockey, and, folded
on a chair hard by, was a small parcel, which bore a very suspicious
resemblance to the companion smalls.

But the most interesting object of all was, perhaps, the open
scrapbook, displayed in the midst of some theatrical duodecimos that
were strewn upon the table; and pasted into which scrapbook were
various critical notices of Miss Snevellicci's acting, extracted
from different provincial journals, together with one poetic address
in her honour, commencing-


Sing, God of Love, and tell me in what dearth

Thrice-gifted SNEVELLICCI came on earth,

To thrill us with her smile, her tear, her eye,

Sing, God of Love, and tell me quickly why.


Besides this effusion, there were innumerable complimentary
allusions, also extracted from newspapers, such as--'We observe from
an advertisement in another part of our paper of today, that the
charming and highly-talented Miss Snevellicci takes her benefit on
Wednesday, for which occasion she has put forth a bill of fare that
might kindle exhilaration in the breast of a misanthrope. In the
confidence that our fellow-townsmen have not lost that high
appreciation of public utility and private worth, for which they
have long been so pre-eminently distinguished, we predict that this
charming actress will be greeted with a bumper.' 'To
Correspondents.--J.S. is misinformed when he supposes that the
highly-gifted and beautiful Miss Snevellicci, nightly captivating
all hearts at our pretty and commodious little theatre, is NOT the
same lady to whom the young gentleman of immense fortune, residing
within a hundred miles of the good city of York, lately made
honourable proposals. We have reason to know that Miss Snevellicci
IS the lady who was implicated in that mysterious and romantic
affair, and whose conduct on that occasion did no less honour to her
head and heart, than do her histrionic triumphs to her brilliant
genius.' A copious assortment of such paragraphs as these, with long
bills of benefits all ending with 'Come Early', in large capitals,
formed the principal contents of Miss Snevellicci's scrapbook.

Nicholas had read a great many of these scraps, and was absorbed in
a circumstantial and melancholy account of the train of events which
had led to Miss Snevellicci's spraining her ankle by slipping on a
piece of orange-peel flung by a monster in human form, (so the paper
said,) upon the stage at Winchester,--when that young lady herself,
attired in the coal-scuttle bonnet and walking-dress complete,
tripped into the room, with a thousand apologies for having detained
him so long after the appointed time.

'But really,' said Miss Snevellicci, 'my darling Led, who lives with
me here, was taken so very ill in the night that I thought she would
have expired in my arms.'

'Such a fate is almost to be envied,' returned Nicholas, 'but I am
very sorry to hear it nevertheless.'

'What a creature you are to flatter!' said Miss Snevellicci,
buttoning her glove in much confusion.

'If it be flattery to admire your charms and accomplishments,'
rejoined Nicholas, laying his hand upon the scrapbook, 'you have
better specimens of it here.'

'Oh you cruel creature, to read such things as those! I'm almost
ashamed to look you in the face afterwards, positively I am,' said
Miss Snevellicci, seizing the book and putting it away in a closet.
'How careless of Led! How could she be so naughty!'

'I thought you had kindly left it here, on purpose for me to read,'
said Nicholas. And really it did seem possible.

'I wouldn't have had you see it for the world!' rejoined Miss
Snevellicci. 'I never was so vexed--never! But she is such a
careless thing, there's no trusting her.'

The conversation was here interrupted by the entrance of the
phenomenon, who had discreetly remained in the bedroom up to this
moment, and now presented herself, with much grace and lightness,
bearing in her hand a very little green parasol with a broad fringe
border, and no handle. After a few words of course, they sallied


into the street.

The phenomenon was rather a troublesome companion, for first the
right sandal came down, and then the left, and these mischances
being repaired, one leg of the little white trousers was discovered
to be longer than the other; besides these accidents, the green
parasol was dropped down an iron grating, and only fished up again
with great difficulty and by dint of much exertion. However, it was
impossible to scold her, as she was the manager's daughter, so
Nicholas took it all in perfect good humour, and walked on, with
Miss Snevellicci, arm-in-arm on one side, and the offending infant
on the other.

The first house to which they bent their steps, was situated in a
terrace of respectable appearance. Miss Snevellicci's modest
double-knock was answered by a foot-boy, who, in reply to her
inquiry whether Mrs Curdle was at home, opened his eyes very wide,
grinned very much, and said he didn't know, but he'd inquire. With
this he showed them into a parlour where he kept them waiting, until
the two women-servants had repaired thither, under false pretences,
to see the play-actors; and having compared notes with them in the
passage, and joined in a vast quantity of whispering and giggling,
he at length went upstairs with Miss Snevellicci's name.

Now, Mrs Curdle was supposed, by those who were best informed on
such points, to possess quite the London taste in matters relating
to literature and the drama; and as to Mr Curdle, he had written a
pamphlet of sixty-four pages, post octavo, on the character of the
Nurse's deceased husband in Romeo and Juliet, with an inquiry
whether he really had been a 'merry man' in his lifetime, or whether
it was merely his widow's affectionate partiality that induced her
so to report him. He had likewise proved, that by altering the
received mode of punctuation, any one of Shakespeare's plays could
be made quite different, and the sense completely changed; it is
needless to say, therefore, that he was a great critic, and a very
profound and most original thinker.

'Well, Miss Snevellicci,' said Mrs Curdle, entering the parlour,
'and how do YOU do?'

Miss Snevellicci made a graceful obeisance, and hoped Mrs Curdle was
well, as also Mr Curdle, who at the same time appeared. Mrs Curdle
was dressed in a morning wrapper, with a little cap stuck upon the
top of her head. Mr Curdle wore a loose robe on his back, and his
right forefinger on his forehead after the portraits of Sterne, to
whom somebody or other had once said he bore a striking resemblance.

'I venture to call, for the purpose of asking whether you would put
your name to my bespeak, ma'am,' said Miss Snevellicci, producing
documents.

'Oh! I really don't know what to say,' replied Mrs Curdle. 'It's
not as if the theatre was in its high and palmy days--you needn't
stand, Miss Snevellicci--the drama is gone, perfectly gone.'

'As an exquisite embodiment of the poet's visions, and a realisation
of human intellectuality, gilding with refulgent light our dreamy
moments, and laying open a new and magic world before the mental
eye, the drama is gone, perfectly gone,' said Mr Curdle.

'What man is there, now living, who can present before us all those
changing and prismatic colours with which the character of Hamlet is
invested?' exclaimed Mrs Curdle.


'What man indeed--upon the stage,' said Mr Curdle, with a small
reservation in favour of himself. 'Hamlet! Pooh! ridiculous!
Hamlet is gone, perfectly gone.'

Quite overcome by these dismal reflections, Mr and Mrs Curdle
sighed, and sat for some short time without speaking. At length,
the lady, turning to Miss Snevellicci, inquired what play she
proposed to have.

'Quite a new one,' said Miss Snevellicci, 'of which this gentleman
is the author, and in which he plays; being his first appearance on
any stage. Mr Johnson is the gentleman's name.'

'I hope you have preserved the unities, sir?' said Mr Curdle.

'The original piece is a French one,' said Nicholas. 'There is
abundance of incident, sprightly dialogue, strongly-marked
characters--'

'--All unavailing without a strict observance of the unities, sir,'
returned Mr Curdle. 'The unities of the drama, before everything.'

'Might I ask you,' said Nicholas, hesitating between the respect he
ought to assume, and his love of the whimsical, 'might I ask you
what the unities are?'

Mr Curdle coughed and considered. 'The unities, sir,' he said, 'are
a completeness--a kind of universal dovetailedness with regard to
place and time--a sort of a general oneness, if I may be allowed to
use so strong an expression. I take those to be the dramatic
unities, so far as I have been enabled to bestow attention upon
them, and I have read much upon the subject, and thought much. I
find, running through the performances of this child,' said Mr
Curdle, turning to the phenomenon, 'a unity of feeling, a breadth, a
light and shade, a warmth of colouring, a tone, a harmony, a glow,
an artistical development of original conceptions, which I look for,
in vain, among older performers--I don't know whether I make myself
understood?'

'Perfectly,' replied Nicholas.

'Just so,' said Mr Curdle, pulling up his neckcloth. 'That is my
definition of the unities of the drama.'

Mrs Curdle had sat listening to this lucid explanation with great
complacency. It being finished, she inquired what Mr Curdle
thought, about putting down their names.

'I don't know, my dear; upon my word I don't know,' said Mr Curdle.
'If we do, it must be distinctly understood that we do not pledge
ourselves to the quality of the performances. Let it go forth to
the world, that we do not give THEM the sanction of our names, but
that we confer the distinction merely upon Miss Snevellicci. That
being clearly stated, I take it to be, as it were, a duty, that we
should extend our patronage to a degraded stage, even for the sake
of the associations with which it is entwined. Have you got twoand-
sixpence for half-a-crown, Miss Snevellicci?' said Mr Curdle,
turning over four of those pieces of money.

Miss Snevellicci felt in all the corners of the pink reticule, but
there was nothing in any of them. Nicholas murmured a jest about
his being an author, and thought it best not to go through the form
of feeling in his own pockets at all.


'Let me see,' said Mr Curdle; 'twice four's eight--four shillings
a-piece to the boxes, Miss Snevellicci, is exceedingly dear in the
present state of the drama--three half-crowns is seven-and-six; we
shall not differ about sixpence, I suppose? Sixpence will not part
us, Miss Snevellicci?'

Poor Miss Snevellicci took the three half-crowns, with many smiles
and bends, and Mrs Curdle, adding several supplementary directions
relative to keeping the places for them, and dusting the seat, and
sending two clean bills as soon as they came out, rang the bell, as
a signal for breaking up the conference.

'Odd people those,' said Nicholas, when they got clear of the house.

'I assure you,' said Miss Snevellicci, taking his arm, 'that I think
myself very lucky they did not owe all the money instead of being
sixpence short. Now, if you were to succeed, they would give people
to understand that they had always patronised you; and if you were
to fail, they would have been quite certain of that from the very
beginning.'

At the next house they visited, they were in great glory; for,
there, resided the six children who were so enraptured with the
public actions of the phenomenon, and who, being called down from
the nursery to be treated with a private view of that young lady,
proceeded to poke their fingers into her eyes, and tread upon her
toes, and show her many other little attentions peculiar to their
time of life.

'I shall certainly persuade Mr Borum to take a private box,' said
the lady of the house, after a most gracious reception. 'I shall
only take two of the children, and will make up the rest of the
party, of gentlemen--your admirers, Miss Snevellicci. Augustus, you
naughty boy, leave the little girl alone.'

This was addressed to a young gentleman who was pinching the
phenomenon behind, apparently with a view of ascertaining whether
she was real.

'I am sure you must be very tired,' said the mama, turning to Miss
Snevellicci. 'I cannot think of allowing you to go, without first
taking a glass of wine. Fie, Charlotte, I am ashamed of you! Miss
Lane, my dear, pray see to the children.'

Miss Lane was the governess, and this entreaty was rendered
necessary by the abrupt behaviour of the youngest Miss Borum, who,
having filched the phenomenon's little green parasol, was now
carrying it bodily off, while the distracted infant looked
helplessly on.

'I am sure, where you ever learnt to act as you do,' said goodnatured
Mrs Borum, turning again to Miss Snevellicci, 'I cannot
understand (Emma, don't stare so); laughing in one piece, and crying
in the next, and so natural in all--oh, dear!'

'I am very happy to hear you express so favourable an opinion,' said
Miss Snevellicci. 'It's quite delightful to think you like it.'

'Like it!' cried Mrs Borum. 'Who can help liking it? I would go to
the play, twice a week if I could: I dote upon it--only you're too
affecting sometimes. You do put me in such a state--into such fits
of crying! Goodness gracious me, Miss Lane, how can you let them
torment that poor child so!'


The phenomenon was really in a fair way of being torn limb from
limb; for two strong little boys, one holding on by each of her
hands, were dragging her in different directions as a trial of
strength. However, Miss Lane (who had herself been too much
occupied in contemplating the grown-up actors, to pay the necessary
attention to these proceedings) rescued the unhappy infant at this
juncture, who, being recruited with a glass of wine, was shortly
afterwards taken away by her friends, after sustaining no more
serious damage than a flattening of the pink gauze bonnet, and a
rather extensive creasing of the white frock and trousers.

It was a trying morning; for there were a great many calls to make,
and everybody wanted a different thing. Some wanted tragedies, and
others comedies; some objected to dancing; some wanted scarcely
anything else. Some thought the comic singer decidedly low, and
others hoped he would have more to do than he usually had. Some
people wouldn't promise to go, because other people wouldn't promise
to go; and other people wouldn't go at all, because other people
went. At length, and by little and little, omitting something in
this place, and adding something in that, Miss Snevellicci pledged
herself to a bill of fare which was comprehensive enough, if it had
no other merit (it included among other trifles, four pieces, divers
songs, a few combats, and several dances); and they returned home,
pretty well exhausted with the business of the day.

Nicholas worked away at the piece, which was speedily put into
rehearsal, and then worked away at his own part, which he studied
with great perseverance and acted--as the whole company said--to
perfection. And at length the great day arrived. The crier was
sent round, in the morning, to proclaim the entertainments with the
sound of bell in all the thoroughfares; and extra bills of three
feet long by nine inches wide, were dispersed in all directions,
flung down all the areas, thrust under all the knockers, and
developed in all the shops. They were placarded on all the walls
too, though not with complete success, for an illiterate person
having undertaken this office during the indisposition of the
regular bill-sticker, a part were posted sideways, and the remainder
upside down.

At half-past five, there was a rush of four people to the gallerydoor;
at a quarter before six, there were at least a dozen; at six
o'clock the kicks were terrific; and when the elder Master Crummles
opened the door, he was obliged to run behind it for his life.
Fifteen shillings were taken by Mrs Grudden in the first ten
minutes.

Behind the scenes, the same unwonted excitement prevailed. Miss
Snevellicci was in such a perspiration that the paint would scarcely
stay on her face. Mrs Crummles was so nervous that she could hardly
remember her part. Miss Bravassa's ringlets came out of curl with
the heat and anxiety; even Mr Crummles himself kept peeping through
the hole in the curtain, and running back, every now and then, to
announce that another man had come into the pit.

At last, the orchestra left off, and the curtain rose upon the new
piece. The first scene, in which there was nobody particular,
passed off calmly enough, but when Miss Snevellicci went on in the
second, accompanied by the phenomenon as child, what a roar of
applause broke out! The people in the Borum box rose as one man,
waving their hats and handkerchiefs, and uttering shouts of 'Bravo!'
Mrs Borum and the governess cast wreaths upon the stage, of which,
some fluttered into the lamps, and one crowned the temples of a fat
gentleman in the pit, who, looking eagerly towards the scene,
remained unconscious of the honour; the tailor and his family kicked


at the panels of the upper boxes till they threatened to come out
altogether; the very ginger-beer boy remained transfixed in the
centre of the house; a young officer, supposed to entertain a
passion for Miss Snevellicci, stuck his glass in his eye as though
to hide a tear. Again and again Miss Snevellicci curtseyed lower
and lower, and again and again the applause came down, louder and
louder. At length, when the phenomenon picked up one of the smoking
wreaths and put it on, sideways, over Miss Snevellicci's eye, it
reached its climax, and the play proceeded.

But when Nicholas came on for his crack scene with Mrs Crummles,
what a clapping of hands there was! When Mrs Crummles (who was his
unworthy mother), sneered, and called him 'presumptuous boy,' and he
defied her, what a tumult of applause came on! When he quarrelled
with the other gentleman about the young lady, and producing a case
of pistols, said, that if he WAS a gentleman, he would fight him in
that drawing-room, until the furniture was sprinkled with the blood
of one, if not of two--how boxes, pit, and gallery, joined in one
most vigorous cheer! When he called his mother names, because she
wouldn't give up the young lady's property, and she relenting,
caused him to relent likewise, and fall down on one knee and ask her
blessing, how the ladies in the audience sobbed! When he was hid
behind the curtain in the dark, and the wicked relation poked a
sharp sword in every direction, save where his legs were plainly
visible, what a thrill of anxious fear ran through the house! His
air, his figure, his walk, his look, everything he said or did, was
the subject of commendation. There was a round of applause every
time he spoke. And when, at last, in the pump-and-tub scene, Mrs
Grudden lighted the blue fire, and all the unemployed members of the
company came in, and tumbled down in various directions--not because
that had anything to do with the plot, but in order to finish off
with a tableau--the audience (who had by this time increased
considerably) gave vent to such a shout of enthusiasm as had not
been heard in those walls for many and many a day.

In short, the success both of new piece and new actor was complete,
and when Miss Snevellicci was called for at the end of the play,
Nicholas led her on, and divided the applause.

CHAPTER 25

Concerning a young Lady from London, who joins the Company, and an
elderly Admirer who follows in her Train; with an affecting Ceremony
consequent on their Arrival

The new piece being a decided hit, was announced for every evening
of performance until further notice, and the evenings when the
theatre was closed, were reduced from three in the week to two. Nor
were these the only tokens of extraordinary success; for, on the
succeeding Saturday, Nicholas received, by favour of the
indefatigable Mrs Grudden, no less a sum than thirty shillings;
besides which substantial reward, he enjoyed considerable fame and
honour: having a presentation copy of Mr Curdle's pamphlet forwarded
to the theatre, with that gentleman's own autograph (in itself an
inestimable treasure) on the fly-leaf, accompanied with a note,
containing many expressions of approval, and an unsolicited
assurance that Mr Curdle would be very happy to read Shakespeare to
him for three hours every morning before breakfast during his stay
in the town.

'I've got another novelty, Johnson,' said Mr Crummles one morning in


great glee.

'What's that?' rejoined Nicholas. 'The pony?'

'No, no, we never come to the pony till everything else has failed,'
said Mr Crummles. 'I don't think we shall come to the pony at all,
this season. No, no, not the pony.'

'A boy phenomenon, perhaps?' suggested Nicholas.

'There is only one phenomenon, sir,' replied Mr Crummles
impressively, 'and that's a girl.'

'Very true,' said Nicholas. 'I beg your pardon. Then I don't know
what it is, I am sure.'

'What should you say to a young lady from London?' inquired Mr
Crummles. 'Miss So-and-so, of the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane?'

'I should say she would look very well in the bills,' said Nicholas.

'You're about right there,' said Mr Crummles; 'and if you had said
she would look very well upon the stage too, you wouldn't have been
far out. Look here; what do you think of this?'

With this inquiry Mr Crummles unfolded a red poster, and a blue
poster, and a yellow poster, at the top of each of which public
notification was inscribed in enormous characters--'First appearance
of the unrivalled Miss Petowker of the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane!'

'Dear me!' said Nicholas, 'I know that lady.'

'Then you are acquainted with as much talent as was ever compressed
into one young person's body,' retorted Mr Crummles, rolling up the
bills again; 'that is, talent of a certain sort--of a certain sort.
The Blood Drinker' added Mr Crummles with a prophetic sigh, 'The
Blood Drinker" will die with that girl; and she's the only sylph I
ever sawwho could stand upon one legand play the tambourine on
her other kneeLIKE a sylph.'

'When does she come down?' asked Nicholas.

'We expect her today' replied Mr Crummles. 'She is an old friend
of Mrs Crummles's. Mrs Crummles saw what she could do--always knew
it from the first. She taught herindeednearly all she knows.
Mrs Crummles was the original Blood Drinker.'

'Was sheindeed?'

'Yes. She was obliged to give it up though.'

'Did it disagree with her?' asked Nicholas.

'Not so much with heras with her audiences' replied Mr Crummles.
'Nobody could stand it. It was too tremendous. You don't quite
know what Mrs Crummles is yet.'

Nicholas ventured to insinuate that he thought he did.

'Nonoyou don't' said Mr Crummles; 'you don'tindeed. I don't
and that's a fact. I don't think her country willtill she is
dead. Some new proof of talent bursts from that astonishing woman
every year of her life. Look at her--mother of six children--three
of 'em aliveand all upon the stage!'


'Extraordinary!' cried Nicholas.

'Ah! extraordinary indeed' rejoined Mr Crummlestaking a
complacent pinch of snuffand shaking his head gravely. 'I pledge
you my professional word I didn't even know she could dancetill
her last benefitand then she played Julietand Helen Macgregor
and did the skipping-rope hornpipe between the pieces. The very
first time I saw that admirable womanJohnson' said Mr Crummles
drawing a little nearerand speaking in the tone of confidential
friendship'she stood upon her head on the butt-end of a spear
surrounded with blazing fireworks.'

'You astonish me!' said Nicholas.

'SHE astonished ME!' returned Mr Crummleswith a very serious
countenance. 'Such gracecoupled with such dignity! I adored her
from that moment!'

The arrival of the gifted subject of these remarks put an abrupt
termination to Mr Crummles's eulogium. Almost immediately
afterwardsMaster Percy Crummles entered with a letterwhich had
arrived by the General Postand was directed to his gracious
mother; at sight of the superscription whereofMrs Crummles
exclaimed'From Henrietta PetowkerI do declare!' and instantly
became absorbed in the contents.

'Is it--?' inquired Mr Crummleshesitating.

'Ohyesit's all right' replied Mrs Crummlesanticipating the
question. 'What an excellent thing for herto be sure!'

'It's the best thing altogetherthat I ever heard ofI think'
said Mr Crummles; and then Mr CrummlesMrs Crummlesand Master
Percy Crummlesall fell to laughing violently. Nicholas left them
to enjoy their mirth togetherand walked to his lodgings; wondering
very much what mystery connected with Miss Petowker could provoke
such merrimentand pondering still more on the extreme surprise
with which that lady would regard his sudden enlistment in a
profession of which she was such a distinguished and brilliant
ornament.

Butin this latter respect he was mistaken; for--whether Mr Vincent
Crummles had paved the wayor Miss Petowker had some special reason
for treating him with even more than her usual amiability--their
meeting at the theatre next day was more like that of two dear
friends who had been inseparable from infancythan a recognition
passing between a lady and gentleman who had only met some halfdozen
timesand then by mere chance. NayMiss Petowker even
whispered that she had wholly dropped the Kenwigses in her
conversations with the manager's familyand had represented herself
as having encountered Mr Johnson in the very first and most
fashionable circles; and on Nicholas receiving this intelligence
with unfeigned surpriseshe addedwith a sweet glancethat she
had a claim on his good nature nowand might tax it before long.

Nicholas had the honour of playing in a slight piece with Miss
Petowker that nightand could not but observe that the warmth of
her reception was mainly attributable to a most persevering umbrella
in the upper boxes; he sawtoothat the enchanting actress cast
many sweet looks towards the quarter whence these sounds proceeded;
and that every time she did sothe umbrella broke out afresh.
Oncehe thought that a peculiarly shaped hat in the same corner was
not wholly unknown to him; butbeing occupied with his share of the


stage businesshe bestowed no great attention upon this
circumstanceand it had quite vanished from his memory by the time
he reached home.

He had just sat down to supper with Smikewhen one of the people of
the house came outside the doorand announced that a gentleman
below stairs wished to speak to Mr Johnson.

'Wellif he doesyou must tell him to come up; that's all I know'
replied Nicholas. 'One of our hungry brethrenI supposeSmike.'

His fellow-lodger looked at the cold meat in silent calculation of
the quantity that would be left for dinner next dayand put back a
slice he had cut for himselfin order that the visitor's
encroachments might be less formidable in their effects.

'It is not anybody who has been here before' said Nicholas'for he
is tumbling up every stair. Come income in. In the name of
wonder! Mr Lillyvick?'

It wasindeedthe collector of water-rates whoregarding Nicholas
with a fixed look and immovable countenanceshook hands with most
portentous solemnityand sat himself down in a seat by the chimneycorner.


'Whywhen did you come here?' asked Nicholas.

'This morningsir' replied Mr Lillyvick.

'Oh! I see; then you were at the theatre tonightand it was your
umb--'

'This umbrella' said Mr Lillyvickproducing a fat green cotton one
with a battered ferrule. 'What did you think of that performance?'

'So far as I could judgebeing on the stage' replied Nicholas'I
thought it very agreeable.'

'Agreeable!' cried the collector. 'I mean to saysirthat it was
delicious.'

Mr Lillyvick bent forward to pronounce the last word with greater
emphasis; and having done sodrew himself upand frowned and
nodded a great many times.

'I saydelicious' repeated Mr Lillyvick. 'Absorbingfairy-like
toomultuous' and again Mr Lillyvick drew himself upand again he
frowned and nodded.

'Ah!' said Nicholasa little surprised at these symptoms of
ecstatic approbation. 'Yes--she is a clever girl.'

'She is a divinity' returned Mr Lillyvickgiving a collector's
double knock on the ground with the umbrella before-mentioned. 'I
have known divine actresses before nowsirI used to collect--at
least I used to CALL for--and very often call for--the water-rate at
the house of a divine actresswho lived in my beat for upwards of
four year but never--noneversir of all divine creatures
actresses or no actressesdid I see a diviner one than is Henrietta
Petowker.'

Nicholas had much ado to prevent himself from laughing; not trusting
himself to speakhe merely nodded in accordance with Mr Lillyvick's
nodsand remained silent.


'Let me speak a word with you in private' said Mr Lillyvick.

Nicholas looked good-humouredly at Smikewhotaking the hint
disappeared.

'A bachelor is a miserable wretchsir' said Mr Lillyvick.

'Is he?' asked Nicholas.

'He is' rejoined the collector. 'I have lived in the world for
nigh sixty yearand I ought to know what it is.'

'You OUGHT to knowcertainly' thought Nicholas; 'but whether you
do or notis another question.'

'If a bachelor happens to have saved a little matter of money' said
Mr Lillyvick'his sisters and brothersand nephews and nieces
look TO that moneyand not to him; even ifby being a public
characterhe is the head of the familyoras it may bethe main
from which all the other little branches are turned onthey still
wish him dead all the whileand get low-spirited every time they
see him looking in good healthbecause they want to come into his
little property. You see that?'

'Oh yes' replied Nicholas: 'it's very trueno doubt.'

'The great reason for not being married' resumed Mr Lillyvick'is
the expense; that's what's kept me offor else--Lord!' said Mr
Lillyvicksnapping his fingers'I might have had fifty women.'

'Fine women?' asked Nicholas.

'Fine womensir!' replied the collector; 'ay! not so fine as
Henrietta Petowkerfor she is an uncommon specimenbut such women
as don't fall into every man's wayI can tell you. Now suppose a
man can get a fortune IN a wife instead of with her--eh?'

'Whythenhe's a lucky fellow' replied Nicholas.

'That's what I say' retorted the collectorpatting him benignantly
on the side of the head with his umbrella; 'just what I say.
Henrietta Petowkerthe talented Henrietta Petowker has a fortune in
herselfand I am going to--'

'To make her Mrs Lillyvick?' suggested Nicholas.

'Nosirnot to make her Mrs Lillyvick' replied the collector.
'Actressessiralways keep their maiden names--that's the regular
thing--but I'm going to marry her; and the day after tomorrowtoo.'

'I congratulate yousir' said Nicholas.

'Thank yousir' replied the collectorbuttoning his waistcoat.
'I shall draw her salaryof courseand I hope after all that it's
nearly as cheap to keep two as it is to keep one; that's a
consolation.'

'Surely you don't want any consolation at such a moment?' observed
Nicholas.

'No' replied Mr Lillyvickshaking his head nervously: 'no--of
course not.'


'But how come you both hereif you're going to be marriedMr
Lillyvick?' asked Nicholas.

'Whythat's what I came to explain to you' replied the collector
of water-rate. 'The fact iswe have thought it best to keep it
secret from the family.'

'Family!' said Nicholas. 'What family?'

'The Kenwigses of course' rejoined Mr Lillyvick. 'If my niece and
the children had known a word about it before I came awaythey'd
have gone into fits at my feetand never have come out of 'em till
I took an oath not to marry anybody--or they'd have got out a
commission of lunacyor some dreadful thing' said the collector
quite trembling as he spoke.

'To be sure' said Nicholas. 'Yes; they would have been jealousno
doubt.'

'To prevent which' said Mr Lillyvick'Henrietta Petowker (it was
settled between us) should come down here to her friendsthe
Crummlesesunder pretence of this engagementand I should go down
to Guildford the day beforeand join her on the coach therewhich
I didand we came down from Guildford yesterday together. Nowfor
fear you should be writing to Mr Noggsand might say anything about
uswe have thought it best to let you into the secret. We shall be
married from the Crummleses' lodgingsand shall be delighted to see
you--either before church or at breakfast-timewhich you like. It
won't be expensiveyou know' said the collectorhighly anxious to
prevent any misunderstanding on this point; 'just muffins and
coffeewith perhaps a shrimp or something of that sort for a
relishyou know.'

'YesyesI understand' replied Nicholas. 'OhI shall be most
happy to come; it will give me the greatest pleasure. Where's the
lady stopping--with Mrs Crummles?'

'Whyno' said the collector; 'they couldn't very well dispose of
her at nightand so she is staying with an acquaintance of hers
and another young lady; they both belong to the theatre.'

'Miss SnevellicciI suppose?' said Nicholas.

'Yesthat's the name.'

'And they'll be bridesmaidsI presume?' said Nicholas.

'Why' said the collectorwith a rueful face'they WILL have four
bridesmaids; I'm afraid they'll make it rather theatrical.'

'Oh nonot at all' replied Nicholaswith an awkward attempt to
convert a laugh into a cough. 'Who may the four be? Miss
Snevellicci of course--Miss Ledrook--'

'The--the phenomenon' groaned the collector.

'Haha!' cried Nicholas. 'I beg your pardonI don't know what I'm
laughing at--yesthat'll be very pretty--the phenomenon--who else?'

'Some young woman or other' replied the collectorrising; 'some
other friend of Henrietta Petowker's. Wellyou'll be careful not
to say anything about itwill you?'

'You may safely depend upon me' replied Nicholas. 'Won't you take


anything to eat or drink?'

'No' said the collector; 'I haven't any appetite. I should think
it was a very pleasant lifethe married oneeh?'

'I have not the least doubt of it' rejoined Nicholas.

'Yes' said the collector; 'certainly. Oh yes. No doubt. Good
night.'

With these wordsMr Lillyvickwhose manner had exhibited through
the whole of this interview a most extraordinary compound of
precipitationhesitationconfidence and doubtfondness
misgivingmeannessand self-importanceturned his back upon the
roomand left Nicholas to enjoy a laugh by himself if he felt so
disposed.

Without stopping to inquire whether the intervening day appeared to
Nicholas to consist of the usual number of hours of the ordinary
lengthit may be remarked thatto the parties more directly
interested in the forthcoming ceremonyit passed with great
rapidityinsomuch that when Miss Petowker awoke on the succeeding
morning in the chamber of Miss Snevelliccishe declared that
nothing should ever persuade her that that really was the day which
was to behold a change in her condition.

'I never will believe it' said Miss Petowker; 'I cannot really.
It's of no use talkingI never can make up my mind to go through
with such a trial!'

On hearing thisMiss Snevellicci and Miss Ledrookwho knew
perfectly well that their fair friend's mind had been made up for
three or four yearsat any period of which time she would have
cheerfully undergone the desperate trial now approaching if she
could have found any eligible gentleman disposed for the venture
began to preach comfort and firmnessand to say how very proud she
ought to feel that it was in her power to confer lasting bliss on a
deserving objectand how necessary it was for the happiness of
mankind in general that women should possess fortitude and
resignation on such occasions; and that although for their parts
they held true happiness to consist in a single lifewhich they
would not willingly exchange--nonot for any worldly consideration-still
(thank God)if ever the time SHOULD comethey hoped they
knew their duty too well to repinebut would the rather submit with
meekness and humility of spirit to a fate for which Providence had
clearly designed them with a view to the contentment and reward of
their fellow-creatures.

'I might feel it was a great blow' said Miss Snevellicci'to break
up old associations and what-do-you-callems of that kindbut I
would submitmy dearI would indeed.'

'So would I' said Miss Ledrook; 'I would rather court the yoke than
shun it. I have broken hearts before nowand I'm very sorry for
it: for it's a terrible thing to reflect upon.'

'It is indeed' said Miss Snevellicci. 'Now Ledmy dearwe must
positively get her readyor we shall be too latewe shall indeed.'

This pious reasoningand perhaps the fear of being too late
supported the bride through the ceremony of robingafter which
strong tea and brandy were administered in alternate doses as a
means of strengthening her feeble limbs and causing her to walk
steadier.


'How do you feel nowmy love?' inquired Miss Snevellicci.

'Oh Lillyvick!' cried the bride. 'If you knew what I am undergoing
for you!'

'Of course he knows itloveand will never forget it' said Miss
Ledrook.

'Do you think he won't?' cried Miss Petowkerreally showing great
capability for the stage. 'Ohdo you think he won't? Do you think
Lillyvick will always remember it--alwaysalwaysalways?'

There is no knowing in what this burst of feeling might have ended
if Miss Snevellicci had not at that moment proclaimed the arrival of
the flywhich so astounded the bride that she shook off divers
alarming symptoms which were coming on very strongand running to
the glass adjusted her dressand calmly declared that she was ready
for the sacrifice.

She was accordingly supported into the coachand there 'kept up'
(as Miss Snevellicci said) with perpetual sniffs of SAL VOLATILE and
sips of brandy and other gentle stimulantsuntil they reached the
manager's doorwhich was already opened by the two Master
Crummleseswho wore white cockadesand were decorated with the
choicest and most resplendent waistcoats in the theatrical wardrobe.
By the combined exertions of these young gentlemen and the
bridesmaidsassisted by the coachmanMiss Petowker was at length
supported in a condition of much exhaustion to the first floor
where she no sooner encountered the youthful bridegroom than she
fainted with great decorum.

'Henrietta Petowker!' said the collector; 'cheer upmy lovely one.'

Miss Petowker grasped the collector's handbut emotion choked her
utterance.

'Is the sight of me so dreadfulHenrietta Petowker?' said the
collector.

'Oh nonono' rejoined the bride; 'but all the friends--the
darling friends--of my youthful days--to leave them all--it is such
a shock!'

With such expressions of sorrowMiss Petowker went on to enumerate
the dear friends of her youthful days one by oneand to call upon
such of them as were present to come and embrace her. This done
she remembered that Mrs Crummles had been more than a mother to her
and after thatthat Mr Crummles had been more than a father to her
and after thatthat the Master Crummleses and Miss Ninetta Crummles
had been more than brothers and sisters to her. These various
remembrances being each accompanied with a series of hugsoccupied
a long timeand they were obliged to drive to church very fastfor
fear they should be too late.

The procession consisted of two flys; in the first of which were
Miss Bravassa (the fourth bridesmaid)Mrs Crummlesthe collector
and Mr Folairwho had been chosen as his second on the occasion.
In the other were the brideMr CrummlesMiss SnevellicciMiss
Ledrookand the phenomenon. The costumes were beautiful. The
bridesmaids were quite covered with artificial flowersand the
phenomenonin particularwas rendered almost invisible by the
portable arbour in which she was enshrined. Miss Ledrookwho was
of a romantic turnwore in her breast the miniature of some field



officer unknownwhich she had purchaseda great bargainnot very
long before; the other ladies displayed several dazzling articles of
imitative jewelleryalmost equal to realand Mrs Crummles came out
in a stern and gloomy majestywhich attracted the admiration of all
beholders.

Butperhaps the appearance of Mr Crummles was more striking and
appropriate than that of any member of the party. This gentleman
who personated the bride's fatherhadin pursuance of a happy and
original conception'made up' for the part by arraying himself in a
theatrical wigof a style and pattern commonly known as a brown
Georgeand moreover assuming a snuff-coloured suitof the previous
centurywith grey silk stockingsand buckles to his shoes. The
better to support his assumed character he had determined to be
greatly overcomeandconsequentlywhen they entered the church
the sobs of the affectionate parent were so heart-rending that the
pew-opener suggested the propriety of his retiring to the vestry
and comforting himself with a glass of water before the ceremony
began.

The procession up the aisle was beautiful. The bridewith the four
bridesmaidsforming a group previously arranged and rehearsed; the
collectorfollowed by his secondimitating his walk and gestures
to the indescribable amusement of some theatrical friends in the
gallery; Mr Crummleswith an infirm and feeble gait; Mrs Crummles
advancing with that stage walkwhich consists of a stride and a
stop alternately--it was the completest thing ever witnessed. The
ceremony was very quickly disposed ofand all parties present
having signed the register (for which purposewhen it came to his
turnMr Crummles carefully wiped and put on an immense pair of
spectacles)they went back to breakfast in high spirits. And here
they found Nicholas awaiting their arrival.

'Now then' said Crummleswho had been assisting Mrs Grudden in the
preparationswhich were on a more extensive scale than was quite
agreeable to the collector. 'Breakfastbreakfast.'

No second invitation was required. The company crowded and squeezed
themselves at the table as well as they couldand fell to
immediately: Miss Petowker blushing very much when anybody was
lookingand eating very much when anybody was NOT looking; and Mr
Lillyvick going to work as though with the cool resolvethat since
the good things must be paid for by himhe would leave as little as
possible for the Crummleses to eat up afterwards.

'It's very soon donesirisn't it?' inquired Mr Folair of the
collectorleaning over the table to address him.

'What is soon donesir?' returned Mr Lillyvick.

'The tying up--the fixing oneself with a wife' replied Mr Folair.
'It don't take longdoes it?'

'Nosir' replied Mr Lillyvickcolouring. 'It does not take long.
And what thensir?'

'Oh! nothing' said the actor. 'It don't take a man long to hang
himselfeithereh? haha!'

Mr Lillyvick laid down his knife and forkand looked round the
table with indignant astonishment.

'To hang himself!' repeated Mr Lillyvick.


A profound silence came upon allfor Mr Lillyvick was dignified
beyond expression.

'To hang himself!' cried Mr Lillyvick again. 'Is any parallel
attempted to be drawn in this company between matrimony and
hanging?'

'The nooseyou know' said Mr Folaira little crest-fallen.

'The noosesir?' retorted Mr Lillyvick. 'Does any man dare to
speak to me of a nooseand Henrietta Pe--'

'Lillyvick' suggested Mr Crummles.

'--And Henrietta Lillyvick in the same breath?' said the collector.
'In this housein the presence of Mr and Mrs Crummleswho have
brought up a talented and virtuous familyto be blessings and
phenomenonsand what notare we to hear talk of nooses?'

'Folair' said Mr Crummlesdeeming it a matter of decency to be
affected by this allusion to himself and partner'I'm astonished at
you.'

'What are you going on in this way at me for?' urged the unfortunate
actor. 'What have I done?'

'Donesir!' cried Mr Lillyvick'aimed a blow at the whole framework
of society--'

'And the best and tenderest feelings' added Crummlesrelapsing
into the old man.

'And the highest and most estimable of social ties' said the
collector. 'Noose! As if one was caughttrapped into the married
statepinned by the leginstead of going into it of one's own
accord and glorying in the act!'

'I didn't mean to make it outthat you were caught and trappedand
pinned by the leg' replied the actor. 'I'm sorry for it; I can't
say any more.'

'So you ought to besir' returned Mr Lillyvick; 'and I am glad to
hear that you have enough of feeling left to be so.'

The quarrel appearing to terminate with this replyMrs Lillyvick
considered that the fittest occasion (the attention of the company
being no longer distracted) to burst into tearsand require the
assistance of all four bridesmaidswhich was immediately rendered
though not without some confusionfor the room being small and the
table-cloth longa whole detachment of plates were swept off the
board at the very first move. Regardless of this circumstance
howeverMrs Lillyvick refused to be comforted until the
belligerents had passed their words that the dispute should be
carried no furtherwhichafter a sufficient show of reluctance
they didand from that time Mr Folair sat in moody silence
contenting himself with pinching Nicholas's leg when anything was
saidand so expressing his contempt both for the speaker and the
sentiments to which he gave utterance.

There were a great number of speeches made; some by Nicholasand
some by Crummlesand some by the collector; two by the Master
Crummleses in returning thanks for themselvesand one by the
phenomenon on behalf of the bridesmaidsat which Mrs Crummles shed
tears. There was some singingtoofrom Miss Ledrook and Miss


Bravassaand very likely there might have been moreif the flydriver
who stopped to drive the happy pair to the spot where they
proposed to take steamboat to Rydehad not sent in a peremptory
message intimatingthat if they didn't come directly he should
infallibly demand eighteen-pence over and above his agreement.

This desperate threat effectually broke up the party. After a most
pathetic leave-takingMr Lillyvick and his bride departed for Ryde
where they were to spend the next two days in profound retirement
and whither they were accompanied by the infantwho had been
appointed travelling bridesmaid on Mr Lillyvick's express
stipulation: as the steamboat peopledeceived by her sizewould
(he had previously ascertained) transport her at half-price.

As there was no performance that nightMr Crummles declared his
intention of keeping it up till everything to drink was disposed of;
but Nicholas having to play Romeo for the first time on the ensuing
eveningcontrived to slip away in the midst of a temporary
confusionoccasioned by the unexpected development of strong
symptoms of inebriety in the conduct of Mrs Grudden.

To this act of desertion he was lednot only by his own
inclinationsbut by his anxiety on account of Smikewhohaving to
sustain the character of the Apothecaryhad been as yet wholly
unable to get any more of the part into his head than the general
idea that he was very hungrywhich--perhaps from old recollections-he
had acquired with great aptitude.

'I don't know what's to be doneSmike' said Nicholaslaying down
the book. 'I am afraid you can't learn itmy poor fellow.'

'I am afraid not' said Smikeshaking his head. 'I think if you-but
that would give you so much trouble.'

'What?' inquired Nicholas. 'Never mind me.'

'I think' said Smike'if you were to keep saying it to me in
little bitsover and over againI should be able to recollect it
from hearing you.'

'Do you think so?' exclaimed Nicholas. 'Well said. Let us see who
tires first. Not ISmiketrust me. Now then. Who calls so
loud?"

'"Who calls so loud?"' said Smike.

'"Who calls so loud?"' repeated Nicholas.

'"Who calls so loud?"' cried Smike.

Thus they continued to ask each other who called so loudover and
over again; and when Smike had that by heart Nicholas went to
another sentenceand then to two at a timeand then to threeand
so onuntil at midnight poor Smike found to his unspeakable joy
that he really began to remember something about the text.

Early in the morning they went to it againand Smikerendered more
confident by the progress he had already madegot on faster and
with better heart. As soon as he began to acquire the words pretty
freelyNicholas showed him how he must come in with both hands
spread out upon his stomachand how he must occasionally rub itin
compliance with the established form by which people on the stage
always denote that they want something to eat. After the morning's
rehearsal they went to work againnor did they stopexcept for a


hasty dinneruntil it was time to repair to the theatre at night.

Never had master a more anxioushumbledocile pupil. Never had
pupil a more patientunwearyingconsideratekindhearted master.

As soon as they were dressedand at every interval when he was not
upon the stageNicholas renewed his instructions. They prospered
well. The Romeo was received with hearty plaudits and unbounded
favourand Smike was pronounced unanimouslyalike by audience and
actorsthe very prince and prodigy of Apothecaries.

CHAPTER 26

Is fraught with some Danger to Miss Nickleby's Peace of Mind

The place was a handsome suite of private apartments in Regent
Street; the time was three o'clock in the afternoon to the dull and
ploddingand the first hour of morning to the gay and spirited; the
persons were Lord Frederick Verisophtand his friend Sir Mulberry
Hawk.

These distinguished gentlemen were reclining listlessly on a couple
of sofaswith a table between themon which were scattered in rich
confusion the materials of an untasted breakfast. Newspapers lay
strewn about the roombut theselike the mealwere neglected and
unnoticed; nothoweverbecause any flow of conversation prevented
the attractions of the journals from being called into requestfor
not a word was exchanged between the twonor was any sound uttered
save when onein tossing about to find an easier resting-place for
his aching headuttered an exclamation of impatienceand seemed
for a moment to communicate a new restlessness to his companion.

These appearances would in themselves have furnished a pretty strong
clue to the extent of the debauch of the previous nighteven if
there had not been other indications of the amusements in which it
had been passed. A couple of billiard ballsall mud and dirttwo
battered hatsa champagne bottle with a soiled glove twisted round
the neckto allow of its being grasped more surely in its capacity
of an offensive weapon; a broken cane; a card-case without the top;
an empty purse; a watch-guard snapped asunder; a handful of silver
mingled with fragments of half-smoked cigarsand their stale and
crumbled ashes;--theseand many other tokens of riot and disorder
hinted very intelligibly at the nature of last night's gentlemanly
frolics.

Lord Frederick Verisopht was the first to speak. Dropping his
slippered foot on the groundandyawning heavilyhe struggled
into a sitting postureand turned his dull languid eyes towards his
friendto whom he called in a drowsy voice.

'Hallo!' replied Sir Mulberryturning round.

'Are we going to lie here all da-a-y?' said the lord.

'I don't know that we're fit for anything else' replied Sir
Mulberry; 'yet awhileat least. I haven't a grain of life in me
this morning.'

'Life!' cried Lord Verisopht. 'I feel as if there would be nothing
so snug and comfortable as to die at once.'


'Then why don't you die?' said Sir Mulberry.

With which inquiry he turned his face awayand seemed to occupy
himself in an attempt to fall asleep.

His hopeful fiend and pupil drew a chair to the breakfast-tableand
essayed to eat; butfinding that impossiblelounged to the window
then loitered up and down the room with his hand to his fevered
headand finally threw himself again on his sofaand roused his
friend once more.

'What the devil's the matter?' groaned Sir Mulberrysitting upright
on the couch.

Although Sir Mulberry said this with sufficient ill-humourhe did
not seem to feel himself quite at liberty to remain silent; for
after stretching himself very oftenand declaring with a shiver
that it was 'infernal cold' he made an experiment at the breakfasttable
and proving more successful in it than his less-seasoned
friendremained there.

'Suppose' said Sir Mulberrypausing 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 meI see' replied Sir Mulberry. 'The girlof 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 meanwhen you can--I know as well as
you that if I didyou 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.'

'Nowcurse meif you ain't a realdeyvlishdownrightthoroughpaced
friend' said the young lordon 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 soulHawkshe's a
perfect beauty--a--a picturea statuea--a--upon my soul she is!'

'Well' replied Sir Mulberryshrugging his shoulders and


manifesting an indifferencewhether he felt it or not; 'that's a
matter of taste; if mine doesn't agree with yoursso much the
better.'

'Confound it!' reasoned the lord'you were thick enough with her
that dayanyhow. I could hardly get in a word.'

'Well enough for oncewell enough for once' replied Sir Mulberry;
'but not worth the trouble of being agreeable to again. If you
seriously want to follow up the niecetell the uncle that you must
know where she lives and how she livesand with whomor 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 burningconsumingdragging out a miserable
existence for an a-age!'

'I didn't know itin the first place' answered Sir Mulberry
carelessly; 'and in the secondI didn't believe you were so very
much in earnest.'

Nowthe truth wasthat in the interval which had elapsed since the
dinner at Ralph Nickleby'sSir Mulberry Hawk had been furtively
trying by every means in his power to discover whence Kate had so
suddenly appearedand whither she had disappeared. Unassisted by
Ralphhoweverwith whom he had held no communication since their
angry parting on that occasionall his efforts were wholly
unavailingand 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 leastas the desire of
encountering the usurer's niece againand using his utmost arts to
reduce her prideand revenge himself for her contemptwas
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 viewsince the very circumstance of his having extorted
from Ralph Nickleby his real design in introducing his niece to such
societycoupled with his extreme disinterestedness in communicating
it so freely to his friendcould not but advance his interests in
that quarterand 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 Mulberryand in pursuance of this reasoning he
and his friend soon afterwards repaired to Ralph Nickleby'sthere
to execute a plan of operations concerted by Sir Mulberry himself
avowedly to promote his friend's objectand really to attain his
own.

They found Ralph at homeand alone. As he led them into the
drawing-roomthe recollection of the scene which had taken place
there seemed to occur to himfor he cast a curious look at Sir
Mulberrywho bestowed upon it no other acknowledgment than a
careless smile.

They had a short conference upon some money matters then in
progresswhich were scarcely disposed of when the lordly dupe (in
pursuance of his friend's instructions) requested with some
embarrassment to speak to Ralph alone.

'Aloneeh?' cried Sir Mulberryaffecting surprise. 'Ohvery
good. I'll walk into the next room here. Don't keep me long
that's all.'


So sayingSir Mulberry took up his hatand humming a fragment of a
song disappeared through the door of communication between the two
drawing-roomsand closed it after him.

'Nowmy lord' said Ralph'what is it?'

'Nickleby' said his clientthrowing himself along the sofa on
which he had been previously seatedso as to bring his lips nearer
to the old man's ear'what a pretty creature your niece is!'

'Is shemy lord?' replied Ralph. 'Maybe--maybe--I don't trouble my
head with such matters.'

'You know she's a deyvlish fine girl' said the client. 'You must
know thatNickleby. Comedon't deny that.'

'YesI believe she is considered so' replied Ralph. 'IndeedI
know she is. If I did notyou are an authority on such pointsand
your tastemy lord--on all pointsindeed--is undeniable.'

Nobody but the young man to whom these words were addressed could
have been deaf to the sneering tone in which they were spokenor
blind to the look of contempt by which they were accompanied. But
Lord Frederick Verisopht was bothand took them to be complimentary.

'Well' he said'p'raps you're a little rightand p'raps you're a
little wrong--a little of bothNickleby. I want to know where this
beauty livesthat I may have another peep at herNickleby.'

'Really--' Ralph began in his usual tones.

'Don't talk so loud' cried the otherachieving the great point of
his lesson to a miracle. 'I don't want Hawk to hear.'

'You know he is your rivaldo you?' said Ralphlooking sharply at
him.

'He always isd-a-amn him' replied the client; 'and I want to
steal a march upon him. Hahaha! He'll cut up so rough
Nicklebyat our talking together without him. Where does she live
Nicklebythat's all? Only tell me where she livesNickleby.'

'He bites' thought Ralph. 'He bites.'

'EhNicklebyeh?' pursued the client. 'Where does she live?'

'Reallymy lord' said Ralphrubbing his hands slowly over each
other'I must think before I tell you.'

'Nonot a bit of itNickleby; you mustn't think at all' replied
Verisopht. 'Where is it?'

'No good can come of your knowing' replied Ralph. 'She has been
virtuously and well brought up; to be sure she is handsomepoor
unprotected! Poor girlpoor girl.'

Ralph ran over this brief summary of Kate's condition as if it were
merely passing through his own mindand he had no intention to
speak aloud; but the shrewd sly look which he directed at his
companion as he delivered itgave this poor assumption the lie.

'I tell you I only want to see her' cried his client. 'A ma-an may
look at a pretty woman without harmmayn't he? Nowwhere DOES she


live? You know you're making a fortune out of meNicklebyand
upon my soul nobody shall ever take me to anybody elseif you only
tell me this.'

'As you promise thatmy lord' said Ralphwith feigned reluctance
'and as I am most anxious to oblige youand as there's no harm in
it--no harm--I'll tell you. But you had better keep it to yourself
my lord; strictly to yourself.' Ralph pointed to the adjoining room
as he spokeand nodded expressively.

The young lordfeigning to be equally impressed with the necessity
of this precautionRalph disclosed the present address and
occupation of his nieceobserving that from what he heard of the
family they appeared very ambitious to have distinguished
acquaintancesand that a lord coulddoubtlessintroduce himself
with great easeif he felt disposed.

'Your object being only to see her again' said Ralph'you could
effect it at any time you chose by that means.'

Lord Verisopht acknowledged the hint with a great many squeezes of
Ralph's hardhorny handand whispering that they would now do well
to close the conversationcalled to Sir Mulberry Hawk that he might
come back.

'I thought you had gone to sleep' said Sir Mulberryreappearing
with an ill-tempered air.

'Sorry to detain you' replied the gull; 'but Nickleby has been so
ama-azingly funny that I couldn't tear myself away.'

'Nono' said Ralph; 'it was all his lordship. You know what a
wittyhumorouselegantaccomplished man Lord Frederick is. Mind
the stepmy lord--Sir Mulberrypray give way.'

With such courtesies as theseand many low bowsand the same cold
sneer upon his face all the whileRalph busied himself in showing
his visitors downstairsand otherwise than by the slightest
possible motion about the corners of his mouthreturned no show of
answer to the look of admiration with which Sir Mulberry Hawk seemed
to compliment him on being such an accomplished and most consummate
scoundrel.

There had been a ring at the bell a few minutes beforewhich was
answered by Newman Noggs just as they reached the hall. In the
ordinary course of business Newman would have either admitted the
new-comer in silenceor have requested him or her to stand aside
while the gentlemen passed out. But he no sooner saw who it was
than as if for some private reason of his ownhe boldly departed
from the established custom of Ralph's mansion in business hours
and looking towards the respectable trio who were approachingcried
in a loud and sonorous voice'Mrs Nickleby!'

'Mrs Nickleby!' cried Sir Mulberry Hawkas his friend looked back
and stared him in the face.

It wasindeedthat well-intentioned ladywhohaving received an
offer for the empty house in the city directed to the landlordhad
brought it post-haste to Mr Nickleby without delay.

'Nobody YOU know' said Ralph. 'Step into the officemy--my--dear.
I'll be with you directly.'

'Nobody I know!' cried Sir Mulberry Hawkadvancing to the


astonished lady. 'Is this Mrs Nickleby--the mother of Miss
Nickleby--the delightful creature that I had the happiness of
meeting in this house the very last time I dined here? But no;'
said Sir Mulberrystopping short. 'Noit can't be. There is the
same cast of featuresthe same indescribable air of--But no; no.
This lady is too young for that.'

'I think you can tell the gentlemanbrother-in-lawif it concerns
him to know' said Mrs Nicklebyacknowledging the compliment with a
graceful bend'that Kate Nickleby is my daughter.'

'Her daughtermy lord!' cried Sir Mulberryturning to his friend.
'This lady's daughtermy lord.'

'My lord!' thought Mrs Nickleby. 'WellI never did--'

'Thisthenmy lord' said Sir Mulberry'is the lady to whose
obliging marriage we owe so much happiness. This lady is the mother
of sweet Miss Nickleby. Do you observe the extraordinary likeness
my lord? Nickleby--introduce us.'

Ralph did soin a kind of desperation.

'Upon my soulit's a most delightful thing said Lord Frederick,
pressing forward. 'How de do?'

Mrs Nickleby was too much flurried by these uncommonly kind
salutations, and her regrets at not having on her other bonnet, to
make any immediate reply, so she merely continued to bend and smile,
and betray great agitation.

'A--and how is Miss Nickleby?' said Lord Frederick. 'Well, I hope?'

'She is quite well, I'm obliged to you, my lord,' returned Mrs
Nickleby, recovering. 'Quite well. She wasn't well for some days
after that day she dined here, and I can't help thinking, that she
caught cold in that hackney coach coming home. Hackney coaches, my
lord, are such nasty things, that it's almost better to walk at any
time, for although I believe a hackney coachman can be transported
for life, if he has a broken window, still they are so reckless,
that they nearly all have broken windows. I once had a swelled face
for six weeks, my lord, from riding in a hackney coach--I think it
was a hackney coach,' said Mrs Nickleby reflecting, 'though I'm not
quite certain whether it wasn't a chariot; at all events I know it
was a dark green, with a very long number, beginning with a nought
and ending with a nine--no, beginning with a nine, and ending with a
nought, that was it, and of course the stamp-office people would
know at once whether it was a coach or a chariot if any inquiries
were made there--however that was, there it was with a broken window
and there was I for six weeks with a swelled face--I think that was
the very same hackney coach, that we found out afterwards, had the
top open all the time, and we should never even have known it, if
they hadn't charged us a shilling an hour extra for having it open,
which it seems is the law, or was then, and a most shameful law it
appears to be--I don't understand the subject, but I should say the
Corn Laws could be nothing to THAT act of Parliament.'

Having pretty well run herself out by this time, Mrs Nickleby
stopped as suddenly as she had started off; and repeated that Kate
was quite well. 'Indeed,' said Mrs Nickleby, 'I don't think she
ever was better, since she had the hooping-cough, scarlet-fever, and
measles, all at the same time, and that's the fact.'

'Is that letter for me?' growled Ralph, pointing to the little


packet Mrs Nickleby held in her hand.

'For you, brother-in-law,' replied Mrs Nickleby, 'and I walked all
the way up here on purpose to give it you.'

'All the way up here!' cried Sir Mulberry, seizing upon the chance
of discovering where Mrs Nickleby had come from. 'What a confounded
distance! How far do you call it now?'

'How far do I call it?' said Mrs Nickleby. 'Let me see. It's just
a mile from our door to the Old Bailey.'

'No, no. Not so much as that,' urged Sir Mulberry.

'Oh! It is indeed,' said Mrs Nickleby. 'I appeal to his lordship.'

'I should decidedly say it was a mile,' remarked Lord Frederick,
with a solemn aspect.

'It must be; it can't be a yard less,' said Mrs Nickleby. 'All
down Newgate Street, all down Cheapside, all up Lombard Street, down
Gracechurch Street, and along Thames Street, as far as Spigwiffin's
Wharf. Oh! It's a mile.'

'Yes, on second thoughts I should say it was,' replied Sir Mulberry.
'But you don't surely mean to walk all the way back?'

'Oh, no,' rejoined Mrs Nickleby. 'I shall go back in an omnibus. I
didn't travel about in omnibuses, when my poor dear Nicholas was
alive, brother-in-law. But as it is, you know--'

'Yes, yes,' replied Ralph impatiently, 'and you had better get back
before dark.'

'Thank you, brother-in-law, so I had,' returned Mrs Nickleby. 'I
think I had better say goodbye, at once.'

'Not stop and--rest?' said Ralph, who seldom offered refreshments
unless something was to be got by it.

'Oh dear me no,' returned Mrs Nickleby, glancing at the dial.

'Lord Frederick,' said Sir Mulberry, 'we are going Mrs Nickleby's
way. We'll see her safe to the omnibus?'

'By all means. Ye-es.'

'Oh! I really couldn't think of it!' said Mrs Nickleby.

But Sir Mulberry Hawk and Lord Verisopht were peremptory in their
politeness, and leaving Ralph, who seemed to think, not unwisely,
that he looked less ridiculous as a mere spectator, than he would
have done if he had taken any part in these proceedings, they
quitted the house with Mrs Nickleby between them; that good lady in
a perfect ecstasy of satisfaction, no less with the attentions shown
her by two titled gentlemen, than with the conviction that Kate
might now pick and choose, at least between two large fortunes, and
most unexceptionable husbands.

As she was carried away for the moment by an irresistible train of
thought, all connected with her daughter's future greatness, Sir
Mulberry Hawk and his friend exchanged glances over the top of the
bonnet which the poor lady so much regretted not having left at
home, and proceeded to dilate with great rapture, but much respect


on the manifold perfections of Miss Nickleby.

'What a delight, what a comfort, what a happiness, this amiable
creature must be to you,' said Sir Mulberry, throwing into his voice
an indication of the warmest feeling.

'She is indeed, sir,' replied Mrs Nickleby; 'she is the sweetesttempered,
kindest-hearted creature--and so clever!'

'She looks clayver,' said Lord Verisopht, with the air of a judge of
cleverness.

'I assure you she is, my lord,' returned Mrs Nickleby. 'When she
was at school in Devonshire, she was universally allowed to be
beyond all exception the very cleverest girl there, and there were a
great many very clever ones too, and that's the truth--twenty-five
young ladies, fifty guineas a year without the et-ceteras, both the
Miss Dowdles the most accomplished, elegant, fascinating creatures--
Oh dear me!' said Mrs Nickleby, 'I never shall forget what pleasure
she used to give me and her poor dear papa, when she was at that
school, never--such a delightful letter every half-year, telling us
that she was the first pupil in the whole establishment, and had
made more progress than anybody else! I can scarcely bear to think
of it even now. The girls wrote all the letters themselves,' added
Mrs Nickleby, 'and the writing-master touched them up afterwards
with a magnifying glass and a silver pen; at least I think they
wrote them, though Kate was never quite certain about that, because
she didn't know the handwriting of hers again; but anyway, I know it
was a circular which they all copied, and of course it was a very
gratifying thing--very gratifying.'

With similar recollections Mrs Nickleby beguiled the tediousness of
the way, until they reached the omnibus, which the extreme
politeness of her new friends would not allow them to leave until it
actually started, when they took their hats, as Mrs Nickleby
solemnly assured her hearers on many subsequent occasions,
'completely off,' and kissed their straw-coloured kid gloves till
they were no longer visible.

Mrs Nickleby leant back in the furthest corner of the conveyance,
and, closing her eyes, resigned herself to a host of most pleasing
meditations. Kate had never said a word about having met either of
these gentlemen; 'that,' she thought, 'argues that she is strongly
prepossessed in favour of one of them.' Then the question arose,
which one could it be. The lord was the youngest, and his title was
certainly the grandest; still Kate was not the girl to be swayed by
such considerations as these. 'I will never put any constraint upon
her inclinations,' said Mrs Nickleby to herself; 'but upon my word I
think there's no comparison between his lordship and Sir Mulberry--
Sir Mulberry is such an attentive gentlemanly creature, so much
manner, such a fine man, and has so much to say for himself. I hope
it's Sir Mulberry--I think it must be Sir Mulberry!' And then her
thoughts flew back to her old predictions, and the number of times
she had said, that Kate with no fortune would marry better than
other people's daughters with thousands; and, as she pictured with
the brightness of a mother's fancy all the beauty and grace of the
poor girl who had struggled so cheerfully with her new life of
hardship and trial, her heart grew too full, and the tears trickled
down her face.

Meanwhile, Ralph walked to and fro in his little back-office,
troubled in mind by what had just occurred. To say that Ralph loved
or cared for--in the most ordinary acceptation of those terms--any
one of God's creatures, would be the wildest fiction. Still, there


had somehow stolen upon him from time to time a thought of his niece
which was tinged with compassion and pity; breaking through the dull
cloud of dislike or indifference which darkened men and women in his
eyes, there was, in her case, the faintest gleam of light--a most
feeble and sickly ray at the best of times--but there it was, and it
showed the poor girl in a better and purer aspect than any in which
he had looked on human nature yet.

'I wish,' thought Ralph, 'I had never done this. And yet it will
keep this boy to me, while there is money to be made. Selling a
girl--throwing her in the way of temptation, and insult, and coarse
speech. Nearly two thousand pounds profit from him already though.
Pshaw! match-making mothers do the same thing every day.'

He sat down, and told the chances, for and against, on his fingers.

'If I had not put them in the right track today,' thought Ralph,
'this foolish woman would have done so. Well. If her daughter is
as true to herself as she should be from what I have seen, what harm
ensues? A little teasing, a little humbling, a few tears. Yes,'
said Ralph, aloud, as he locked his iron safe. 'She must take her
chance. She must take her chance.'

CHAPTER 27

Mrs Nickleby becomes acquainted with Messrs Pyke and Pluck, whose
Affection and Interest are beyond all Bounds

Mrs Nickleby had not felt so proud and important for many a day, as
when, on reaching home, she gave herself wholly up to the pleasant
visions which had accompanied her on her way thither. Lady Mulberry
Hawk--that was the prevalent idea. Lady Mulberry Hawk!--On Tuesday
last, at St George's, Hanover Square, by the Right Reverend the
Bishop of Llandaff, Sir Mulberry Hawk, of Mulberry Castle, North
Wales, to Catherine, only daughter of the late Nicholas Nickleby,
Esquire, of Devonshire. 'Upon my word!' cried Mrs Nicholas
Nickleby, 'it sounds very well.'

Having dispatched the ceremony, with its attendant festivities, to
the perfect satisfaction of her own mind, the sanguine mother
pictured to her imagination a long train of honours and distinctions
which could not fail to accompany Kate in her new and brilliant
sphere. She would be presented at court, of course. On the
anniversary of her birthday, which was upon the nineteenth of July
('at ten minutes past three o'clock in the morning,' thought Mrs
Nickleby in a parenthesis, 'for I recollect asking what o'clock it
was'), Sir Mulberry would give a great feast to all his tenants, and
would return them three and a half per cent on the amount of their
last half-year's rent, as would be fully described and recorded in
the fashionable intelligence, to the immeasurable delight and
admiration of all the readers thereof. Kate's picture, too, would
be in at least half-a-dozen of the annuals, and on the opposite page
would appear, in delicate type, 'Lines on contemplating the Portrait
of Lady Mulberry Hawk. By Sir Dingleby Dabber.' Perhaps some one
annual, of more comprehensive design than its fellows, might even
contain a portrait of the mother of Lady Mulberry Hawk, with lines
by the father of Sir Dingleby Dabber. More unlikely things had come
to pass. Less interesting portraits had appeared. As this thought
occurred to the good lady, her countenance unconsciously assumed
that compound expression of simpering and sleepiness which, being
common to all such portraits, is perhaps one reason why they are


always so charming and agreeable.

With such triumphs of aerial architecture did Mrs Nickleby occupy
the whole evening after her accidental introduction to Ralph's
titled friends; and dreams, no less prophetic and equally promising,
haunted her sleep that night. She was preparing for her frugal
dinner next day, still occupied with the same ideas--a little
softened down perhaps by sleep and daylight--when the girl who
attended her, partly for company, and partly to assist in the
household affairs, rushed into the room in unwonted agitation, and
announced that two gentlemen were waiting in the passage for
permission to walk upstairs.

'Bless my heart!' cried Mrs Nickleby, hastily arranging her cap and
front, 'if it should be--dear me, standing in the passage all this
time--why don't you go and ask them to walk up, you stupid thing?'

While the girl was gone on this errand, Mrs Nickleby hastily swept
into a cupboard all vestiges of eating and drinking; which she had
scarcely done, and seated herself with looks as collected as she
could assume, when two gentlemen, both perfect strangers, presented
themselves.

'How do you DO?' said one gentleman, laying great stress on the last
word of the inquiry.

'HOW do you do?' said the other gentleman, altering the emphasis, as
if to give variety to the salutation.

Mrs Nickleby curtseyed and smiled, and curtseyed again, and
remarked, rubbing her hands as she did so, that she hadn't the-really--
the honour to-


'To know us,' said the first gentleman. 'The loss has been ours,
Mrs Nickleby. Has the loss been ours, Pyke?'

'It has, Pluck,' answered the other gentleman.

'We have regretted it very often, I believe, Pyke?' said the first
gentleman.

'Very often, Pluck,' answered the second.

'But now,' said the first gentleman, 'now we have the happiness we
have pined and languished for. Have we pined and languished for
this happiness, Pyke, or have we not?'

'You know we have, Pluck,' said Pyke, reproachfully.

'You hear him, ma'am?' said Mr Pluck, looking round; 'you hear the
unimpeachable testimony of my friend Pyke--that reminds me,-formalities,
formalities, must not be neglected in civilised
society. Pyke--Mrs Nickleby.'

Mr Pyke laid his hand upon his heart, and bowed low.

'Whether I shall introduce myself with the same formality,' said Mr
Pluck--'whether I shall say myself that my name is Pluck, or whether
I shall ask my friend Pyke (who being now regularly introduced, is
competent to the office) to state for me, Mrs Nickleby, that my name
is Pluck; whether I shall claim your acquaintance on the plain
ground of the strong interest I take in your welfare, or whether I
shall make myself known to you as the friend of Sir Mulberry Hawk-these,
Mrs Nickleby, are considerations which I leave to you to


determine.'

'Any friend of Sir Mulberry Hawk's requires no better introduction
to me,' observed Mrs Nickleby, graciously.

'It is delightful to hear you say so,' said Mr Pluck, drawing a
chair close to Mrs Nickleby, and sitting himself down. 'It is
refreshing to know that you hold my excellent friend, Sir Mulberry,
in such high esteem. A word in your ear, Mrs Nickleby. When Sir
Mulberry knows it, he will be a happy man--I say, Mrs Nickleby, a
happy man. Pyke, be seated.'

'MY good opinion,' said Mrs Nickleby, and the poor lady exulted in
the idea that she was marvellously sly,--'my good opinion can be of
very little consequence to a gentleman like Sir Mulberry.'

'Of little consequence!' exclaimed Mr Pluck. 'Pyke, of what
consequence to our friend, Sir Mulberry, is the good opinion of Mrs
Nickleby?'

'Of what consequence?' echoed Pyke.

'Ay,' repeated Pluck; 'is it of the greatest consequence?'

'Of the very greatest consequence,' replied Pyke.

'Mrs Nickleby cannot be ignorant,' said Mr Pluck, 'of the immense
impression which that sweet girl has--'

'Pluck!' said his friend, 'beware!'

'Pyke is right,' muttered Mr Pluck, after a short pause; 'I was not
to mention it. Pyke is very right. Thank you, Pyke.'

'Well now, really,' thought Mrs Nickleby within herself. 'Such
delicacy as that, I never saw!'

Mr Pluck, after feigning to be in a condition of great embarrassment
for some minutes, resumed the conversation by entreating Mrs
Nickleby to take no heed of what he had inadvertently said--to
consider him imprudent, rash, injudicious. The only stipulation he
would make in his own favour was, that she should give him credit
for the best intentions.

'But when,' said Mr Pluck, 'when I see so much sweetness and beauty
on the one hand, and so much ardour and devotion on the other, I-pardon
me, Pyke, I didn't intend to resume that theme. Change the
subject, Pyke.'

'We promised Sir Mulberry and Lord Frederick,' said Pyke, 'that we'd
call this morning and inquire whether you took any cold last night.'

'Not the least in the world last night, sir,' replied Mrs Nickleby,
'with many thanks to his lordship and Sir Mulberry for doing me the
honour to inquire; not the least--which is the more singular, as I
really am very subject to colds, indeed--very subject. I had a cold
once,' said Mrs Nickleby, 'I think it was in the year eighteen
hundred and seventeen; let me see, four and five are nine, and--yes,
eighteen hundred and seventeen, that I thought I never should get
rid of; actually and seriously, that I thought I never should get
rid of. I was only cured at last by a remedy that I don't know
whether you ever happened to hear of, Mr Pluck. You have a gallon
of water as hot as you can possibly bear it, with a pound of salt,
and sixpen'orth of the finest bran, and sit with your head in it for


twenty minutes every night just before going to bed; at least, I
don't mean your head--your feet. It's a most extraordinary cure--a
most extraordinary cure. I used it for the first time, I recollect,
the day after Christmas Day, and by the middle of April following
the cold was gone. It seems quite a miracle when you come to think
of it, for I had it ever since the beginning of September.'

'What an afflicting calamity!' said Mr Pyke.

'Perfectly horrid!' exclaimed Mr Pluck.

'But it's worth the pain of hearing, only to know that Mrs Nickleby
recovered it, isn't it, Pluck?' cried Mr Pyke.

'That is the circumstance which gives it such a thrilling interest,'
replied Mr Pluck.

'But come,' said Pyke, as if suddenly recollecting himself; 'we must
not forget our mission in the pleasure of this interview. We come
on a mission, Mrs Nickleby.'

'On a mission,' exclaimed that good lady, to whose mind a definite
proposal of marriage for Kate at once presented itself in lively
colours.

'From Sir Mulberry,' replied Pyke. 'You must be very dull here.'

'Rather dull, I confess,' said Mrs Nickleby.

'We bring the compliments of Sir Mulberry Hawk, and a thousand
entreaties that you'll take a seat in a private box at the play
tonight,' said Mr Pluck.

'Oh dear!' said Mrs Nickleby, 'I never go out at all, never.'

'And that is the very reason, my dear Mrs Nickleby, why you should
go out tonight,' retorted Mr Pluck. 'Pyke, entreat Mrs Nickleby.'

'Oh, pray do,' said Pyke.

'You positively must,' urged Pluck.

'You are very kind,' said Mrs Nickleby, hesitating; 'but--'

'There's not a but in the case, my dear Mrs Nickleby,' remonstrated
Mr Pluck; 'not such a word in the vocabulary. Your brother-in-law
joins us, Lord Frederick joins us, Sir Mulberry joins us, Pyke joins
us--a refusal is out of the question. Sir Mulberry sends a
carriage for you--twenty minutes before seven to the moment--you'll
not be so cruel as to disappoint the whole party, Mrs Nickleby?'

'You are so very pressing, that I scarcely know what to say,'
replied the worthy lady.

'Say nothing; not a word, not a word, my dearest madam,' urged Mr
Pluck. 'Mrs Nickleby,' said that excellent gentleman, lowering his
voice, 'there is the most trifling, the most excusable breach of
confidence in what I am about to say; and yet if my friend Pyke
there overheard it--such is that man's delicate sense of honour, Mrs
Nickleby--he'd have me out before dinner-time.'

Mrs Nickleby cast an apprehensive glance at the warlike Pyke, who
had walked to the window; and Mr Pluck, squeezing her hand, went on:


'Your daughter has made a conquest--a conquest on which I may
congratulate you. Sir Mulberry, my dear ma'am, Sir Mulberry is her
devoted slave. Hem!'

'Hah!' cried Mr Pyke at this juncture, snatching something from the
chimney-piece with a theatrical air. 'What is this! what do I
behold!'

'What DO you behold, my dear fellow?' asked Mr Pluck.

'It is the face, the countenance, the expression,' cried Mr Pyke,
falling into his chair with a miniature in his hand; 'feebly
portrayed, imperfectly caught, but still THE face, THE countenance,
THE expression.'

'I recognise it at this distance!' exclaimed Mr Pluck in a fit of
enthusiasm. 'Is it not, my dear madam, the faint similitude of--'

'It is my daughter's portrait,' said Mrs Nickleby, with great pride.
And so it was. And little Miss La Creevy had brought it home for
inspection only two nights before.

Mr Pyke no sooner ascertained that he was quite right in his
conjecture, than he launched into the most extravagant encomiums of
the divine original; and in the warmth of his enthusiasm kissed the
picture a thousand times, while Mr Pluck pressed Mrs Nickleby's hand
to his heart, and congratulated her on the possession of such a
daughter, with so much earnestness and affection, that the tears
stood, or seemed to stand, in his eyes. Poor Mrs Nickleby, who had
listened in a state of enviable complacency at first, became at
length quite overpowered by these tokens of regard for, and
attachment to, the family; and even the servant girl, who had peeped
in at the door, remained rooted to the spot in astonishment at the
ecstasies of the two friendly visitors.

By degrees these raptures subsided, and Mrs Nickleby went on to
entertain her guests with a lament over her fallen fortunes, and a
picturesque account of her old house in the country: comprising a
full description of the different apartments, not forgetting the
little store-room, and a lively recollection of how many steps you
went down to get into the garden, and which way you turned when you
came out at the parlour door, and what capital fixtures there were
in the kitchen. This last reflection naturally conducted her into
the wash-house, where she stumbled upon the brewing utensils, among
which she might have wandered for an hour, if the mere mention of
those implements had not, by an association of ideas, instantly
reminded Mr Pyke that he was 'amazing thirsty.'

'And I'll tell you what,' said Mr Pyke; 'if you'll send round to the
public-house for a pot of milk half-and-half, positively and
actually I'll drink it.'

And positively and actually Mr Pyke DID drink it, and Mr Pluck
helped him, while Mrs Nickleby looked on in divided admiration of
the condescension of the two, and the aptitude with which they
accommodated themselves to the pewter-pot; in explanation of which
seeming marvel it may be here observed, that gentlemen who, like
Messrs Pyke and Pluck, live upon their wits (or not so much,
perhaps, upon the presence of their own wits as upon the absence of
wits in other people) are occasionally reduced to very narrow shifts
and straits, and are at such periods accustomed to regale themselves
in a very simple and primitive manner.

'At twenty minutes before seven, then,' said Mr Pyke, rising, 'the


coach will be here. One more look--one little look--at that sweet
face. Ah! here it is. Unmoved, unchanged!' This, by the way, was a
very remarkable circumstance, miniatures being liable to so many
changes of expression--'Oh, Pluck! Pluck!'

Mr Pluck made no other reply than kissing Mrs Nickleby's hand with a
great show of feeling and attachment; Mr Pyke having done the same,
both gentlemen hastily withdrew.

Mrs Nickleby was commonly in the habit of giving herself credit for
a pretty tolerable share of penetration and acuteness, but she had
never felt so satisfied with her own sharp-sightedness as she did
that day. She had found it all out the night before. She had never
seen Sir Mulberry and Kate together--never even heard Sir Mulberry's
name--and yet hadn't she said to herself from the very first, that
she saw how the case stood? and what a triumph it was, for there
was now no doubt about it. If these flattering attentions to
herself were not sufficient proofs, Sir Mulberry's confidential
friend had suffered the secret to escape him in so many words. 'I
am quite in love with that dear Mr Pluck, I declare I am,' said Mrs
Nickleby.

There was one great source of uneasiness in the midst of this good
fortune, and that was the having nobody by, to whom she could
confide it. Once or twice she almost resolved to walk straight to
Miss La Creevy's and tell it all to her. 'But I don't know,'
thought Mrs Nickleby; 'she is a very worthy person, but I am afraid
too much beneath Sir Mulberry's station for us to make a companion
of. Poor thing!' Acting upon this grave consideration she rejected
the idea of taking the little portrait painter into her confidence,
and contented herself with holding out sundry vague and mysterious
hopes of preferment to the servant girl, who received these obscure
hints of dawning greatness with much veneration and respect.

Punctual to its time came the promised vehicle, which was no hackney
coach, but a private chariot, having behind it a footman, whose
legs, although somewhat large for his body, might, as mere abstract
legs, have set themselves up for models at the Royal Academy. It
was quite exhilarating to hear the clash and bustle with which he
banged the door and jumped up behind after Mrs Nickleby was in; and
as that good lady was perfectly unconscious that he applied the
gold-headed end of his long stick to his nose, and so telegraphed
most disrespectfully to the coachman over her very head, she sat in
a state of much stiffness and dignity, not a little proud of her
position.

At the theatre entrance there was more banging and more bustle, and
there were also Messrs Pyke and Pluck waiting to escort her to her
box; and so polite were they, that Mr Pyke threatened with many
oaths to 'smifligate' a very old man with a lantern who accidentally
stumbled in her way--to the great terror of Mrs Nickleby, who,
conjecturing more from Mr Pyke's excitement than any previous
acquaintance with the etymology of the word that smifligation and
bloodshed must be in the main one and the same thing, was alarmed
beyond expression, lest something should occur. Fortunately,
however, Mr Pyke confined himself to mere verbal smifligation, and
they reached their box with no more serious interruption by the way,
than a desire on the part of the same pugnacious gentleman to
'smash' the assistant box-keeper for happening to mistake the
number.

Mrs Nickleby had scarcely been put away behind the curtain of the
box in an armchair, when Sir Mulberry and Lord Verisopht arrived,
arrayed from the crowns of their heads to the tips of their gloves,


and from the tips of their gloves to the toes of their boots, in the
most elegant and costly manner. Sir Mulberry was a little hoarser
than on the previous day, and Lord Verisopht looked rather sleepy
and queer; from which tokens, as well as from the circumstance of
their both being to a trifling extent unsteady upon their legs, Mrs
Nickleby justly concluded that they had taken dinner.

'We have been--we have been--toasting your lovely daughter, Mrs
Nickleby,' whispered Sir Mulberry, sitting down behind her.

'Oh, ho!' thought that knowing lady; 'wine in, truth out.--You are
very kind, Sir Mulberry.'

'No, no upon my soul!' replied Sir Mulberry Hawk. 'It's you that's
kind, upon my soul it is. It was so kind of you to come tonight.'

'So very kind of you to invite me, you mean, Sir Mulberry,' replied
Mrs Nickleby, tossing her head, and looking prodigiously sly.

'I am so anxious to know you, so anxious to cultivate your good
opinion, so desirous that there should be a delicious kind of
harmonious family understanding between us,' said Sir Mulberry,
'that you mustn't think I'm disinterested in what I do. I'm
infernal selfish; I am--upon my soul I am.'

'I am sure you can't be selfish, Sir Mulberry!' replied Mrs
Nickleby. 'You have much too open and generous a countenance for
that.'

'What an extraordinary observer you are!' said Sir Mulberry Hawk.

'Oh no, indeed, I don't see very far into things, Sir Mulberry,'
replied Mrs Nickleby, in a tone of voice which left the baronet to
infer that she saw very far indeed.

'I am quite afraid of you,' said the baronet. 'Upon my soul,'
repeated Sir Mulberry, looking round to his companions; 'I am afraid
of Mrs Nickleby. She is so immensely sharp.'

Messrs Pyke and Pluck shook their heads mysteriously, and observed
together that they had found that out long ago; upon which Mrs
Nickleby tittered, and Sir Mulberry laughed, and Pyke and Pluck
roared.

'But where's my brother-in-law, Sir Mulberry?' inquired Mrs
Nickleby. 'I shouldn't be here without him. I hope he's coming.'

'Pyke,' said Sir Mulberry, taking out his toothpick and lolling back
in his chair, as if he were too lazy to invent a reply to this
question. 'Where's Ralph Nickleby?'

'Pluck,' said Pyke, imitating the baronet's action, and turning the
lie over to his friend, 'where's Ralph Nickleby?'

Mr Pluck was about to return some evasive reply, when the hustle
caused by a party entering the next box seemed to attract the
attention of all four gentlemen, who exchanged glances of much
meaning. The new party beginning to converse together, Sir Mulberry
suddenly assumed the character of a most attentive listener, and
implored his friends not to breathe--not to breathe.

'Why not?' said Mrs Nickleby. 'What is the matter?'

'Hush!' replied Sir Mulberry, laying his hand on her arm. 'Lord


Frederick, do you recognise the tones of that voice?'

'Deyvle take me if I didn't think it was the voice of Miss
Nickleby.'

'Lor, my lord!' cried Miss Nickleby's mama, thrusting her head
round the curtain. 'Why actually--Kate, my dear, Kate.'

'YOU here, mama! Is it possible!'

'Possible, my dear? Yes.'

'Why who--who on earth is that you have with you, mama?' said Kate,
shrinking back as she caught sight of a man smiling and kissing his
hand.

'Who do you suppose, my dear?' replied Mrs Nickleby, bending towards
Mrs Wititterly, and speaking a little louder for that lady's
edification. 'There's Mr Pyke, Mr Pluck, Sir Mulberry Hawk, and
Lord Frederick Verisopht.'

'Gracious Heaven!' thought Kate hurriedly. 'How comes she in such
society?'

Now, Kate thought thus SO hurriedly, and the surprise was so great,
and moreover brought back so forcibly the recollection of what had
passed at Ralph's delectable dinner, that she turned extremely pale
and appeared greatly agitated, which symptoms being observed by Mrs
Nickleby, were at once set down by that acute lady as being caused
and occasioned by violent love. But, although she was in no small
degree delighted by this discovery, which reflected so much credit
on her own quickness of perception, it did not lessen her motherly
anxiety in Kate's behalf; and accordingly, with a vast quantity of
trepidation, she quitted her own box to hasten into that of Mrs
Wititterly. Mrs Wititterly, keenly alive to the glory of having a
lord and a baronet among her visiting acquaintance, lost no time in
signing to Mr Wititterly to open the door, and thus it was that in
less than thirty seconds Mrs Nickleby's party had made an irruption
into Mrs Wititterly's box, which it filled to the very door, there
being in fact only room for Messrs Pyke and Pluck to get in their
heads and waistcoats.

'My dear Kate,' said Mrs Nickleby, kissing her daughter
affectionately. 'How ill you looked a moment ago! You quite
frightened me, I declare!'

'It was mere fancy, mama,--the--the--reflection of the lights
perhaps,' replied Kate, glancing nervously round, and finding it
impossible to whisper any caution or explanation.

'Don't you see Sir Mulberry Hawk, my dear?'

Kate bowed slightly, and biting her lip turned her head towards the
stage.

But Sir Mulberry Hawk was not to be so easily repulsed, for he
advanced with extended hand; and Mrs Nickleby officiously informing
Kate of this circumstance, she was obliged to extend her own. Sir
Mulberry detained it while he murmured a profusion of compliments,
which Kate, remembering what had passed between them, rightly
considered as so many aggravations of the insult he had already put
upon her. Then followed the recognition of Lord Verisopht, and then
the greeting of Mr Pyke, and then that of Mr Pluck, and finally, to
complete the young lady's mortification, she was compelled at Mrs


Wititterly's request to perform the ceremony of introducing the
odious persons, whom she regarded with the utmost indignation and
abhorrence.

'Mrs Wititterly is delighted,' said Mr Wititterly, rubbing his
hands; 'delighted, my lord, I am sure, with this opportunity of
contracting an acquaintance which, I trust, my lord, we shall
improve. Julia, my dear, you must not allow yourself to be too much
excited, you must not. Indeed you must not. Mrs Wititterly is of a
most excitable nature, Sir Mulberry. The snuff of a candle, the
wick of a lamp, the bloom on a peach, the down on a butterfly. You
might blow her away, my lord; you might blow her away.'

Sir Mulberry seemed to think that it would be a great convenience if
the lady could be blown away. He said, however, that the delight
was mutual, and Lord Verisopht added that it was mutual, whereupon
Messrs Pyke and Pluck were heard to murmur from the distance that it
was very mutual indeed.

'I take an interest, my lord,' said Mrs Wititterly, with a faint
smile, 'such an interest in the drama.'

'Ye--es. It's very interesting,' replied Lord Verisopht.

'I'm always ill after Shakespeare,' said Mrs Wititterly. 'I
scarcely exist the next day; I find the reaction so very great after
a tragedy, my lord, and Shakespeare is such a delicious creature.'

'Ye--es!' replied Lord Verisopht. 'He was a clayver man.'

'Do you know, my lord,' said Mrs Wititterly, after a long silence,
'I find I take so much more interest in his plays, after having been
to that dear little dull house he was born in! Were you ever there,
my lord?'

'No, nayver,' replied Verisopht.

'Then really you ought to go, my lord,' returned Mrs Wititterly, in
very languid and drawling accents. 'I don't know how it is, but
after you've seen the place and written your name in the little
book, somehow or other you seem to be inspired; it kindles up quite
a fire within one.'

'Ye--es!' replied Lord Verisopht, 'I shall certainly go there.'

'Julia, my life,' interposed Mr Wititterly, 'you are deceiving his
lordship--unintentionally, my lord, she is deceiving you. It is
your poetical temperament, my dear--your ethereal soul--your fervid
imagination, which throws you into a glow of genius and excitement.
There is nothing in the place, my dear--nothing, nothing.'

'I think there must be something in the place,' said Mrs Nickleby,
who had been listening in silence; 'for, soon after I was married, I
went to Stratford with my poor dear Mr Nickleby, in a post-chaise
from Birmingham--was it a post-chaise though?' said Mrs Nickleby,
considering; 'yes, it must have been a post-chaise, because I
recollect remarking at the time that the driver had a green shade
over his left eye;--in a post-chaise from Birmingham, and after we
had seen Shakespeare's tomb and birthplace, we went back to the inn
there, where we slept that night, and I recollect that all night
long I dreamt of nothing but a black gentleman, at full length, in
plaster-of-Paris, with a lay-down collar tied with two tassels,
leaning against a post and thinking; and when I woke in the morning
and described him to Mr Nickleby, he said it was Shakespeare just as


he had been when he was alive, which was very curious indeed.
Stratford--Stratford,' continued Mrs Nickleby, considering. 'Yes, I
am positive about that, because I recollect I was in the family way
with my son Nicholas at the time, and I had been very much
frightened by an Italian image boy that very morning. In fact, it
was quite a mercy, ma'am,' added Mrs Nickleby, in a whisper to Mrs
Wititterly, 'that my son didn't turn out to be a Shakespeare, and
what a dreadful thing that would have been!'

When Mrs Nickleby had brought this interesting anecdote to a close,
Pyke and Pluck, ever zealous in their patron's cause, proposed the
adjournment of a detachment of the party into the next box; and with
so much skill were the preliminaries adjusted, that Kate, despite
all she could say or do to the contrary, had no alternative but to
suffer herself to be led away by Sir Mulberry Hawk. Her mother and
Mr Pluck accompanied them, but the worthy lady, pluming herself upon
her discretion, took particular care not so much as to look at her
daughter during the whole evening, and to seem wholly absorbed in
the jokes and conversation of Mr Pluck, who, having been appointed
sentry over Mrs Nickleby for that especial purpose, neglected, on
his side, no possible opportunity of engrossing her attention.

Lord Frederick Verisopht remained in the next box to be talked to by
Mrs Wititterly, and Mr Pyke was in attendance to throw in a word or
two when necessary. As to Mr Wititterly, he was sufficiently busy
in the body of the house, informing such of his friends and
acquaintance as happened to be there, that those two gentlemen
upstairs, whom they had seen in conversation with Mrs W., were the
distinguished Lord Frederick Verisopht and his most intimate friend,
the gay Sir Mulberry Hawk--a communication which inflamed several
respectable house-keepers with the utmost jealousy and rage, and
reduced sixteen unmarried daughters to the very brink of despair.

The evening came to an end at last, but Kate had yet to be handed
downstairs by the detested Sir Mulberry; and so skilfully were the
manoeuvres of Messrs Pyke and Pluck conducted, that she and the
baronet were the last of the party, and were even--without an
appearance of effort or design--left at some little distance behind.

'Don't hurry, don't hurry,' said Sir Mulberry, as Kate hastened on,
and attempted to release her arm.

She made no reply, but still pressed forward.

'Nay, then--' coolly observed Sir Mulberry, stopping her outright.

'You had best not seek to detain me, sir!' said Kate, angrily.

'And why not?' retorted Sir Mulberry. 'My dear creature, now why do
you keep up this show of displeasure?'

'SHOW!' repeated Kate, indignantly. 'How dare you presume to speak
to me, sir--to address me--to come into my presence?'

'You look prettier in a passion, Miss Nickleby,' said Sir Mulberry
Hawk, stooping down, the better to see her face.

'I hold you in the bitterest detestation and contempt, sir,' said
Kate. 'If you find any attraction in looks of disgust and aversion,
you--let me rejoin my friends, sir, instantly. Whatever
considerations may have withheld me thus far, I will disregard them
all, and take a course that even YOU might feel, if you do not
immediately suffer me to proceed.'


Sir Mulberry smiled, and still looking in her face and retaining her
arm, walked towards the door.

'If no regard for my sex or helpless situation will induce you to
desist from this coarse and unmanly persecution,' said Kate,
scarcely knowing, in the tumult of her passions, what she said,--'I
have a brother who will resent it dearly, one day.'

'Upon my soul!' exclaimed Sir Mulberry, as though quietly communing
with himself; passing his arm round her waist as he spoke, 'she
looks more beautiful, and I like her better in this mood, than when
her eyes are cast down, and she is in perfect repose!'

How Kate reached the lobby where her friends were waiting she never
knew, but she hurried across it without at all regarding them, and
disengaged herself suddenly from her companion, sprang into the
coach, and throwing herself into its darkest corner burst into
tears.

Messrs Pyke and Pluck, knowing their cue, at once threw the party
into great commotion by shouting for the carriages, and getting up a
violent quarrel with sundry inoffensive bystanders; in the midst of
which tumult they put the affrighted Mrs Nickleby in her chariot,
and having got her safely off, turned their thoughts to Mrs
Wititterly, whose attention also they had now effectually distracted
from the young lady, by throwing her into a state of the utmost
bewilderment and consternation. At length, the conveyance in which
she had come rolled off too with its load, and the four worthies,
being left alone under the portico, enjoyed a hearty laugh together.

'There,' said Sir Mulberry, turning to his noble friend. 'Didn't I
tell you last night that if we could find where they were going by
bribing a servant through my fellow, and then established ourselves
close by with the mother, these people's honour would be our own?
Why here it is, done in four-and-twenty hours.'

'Ye--es,' replied the dupe. 'But I have been tied to the old woman
all ni-ight.'

'Hear him,' said Sir Mulberry, turning to his two friends. 'Hear
this discontented grumbler. Isn't it enough to make a man swear
never to help him in his plots and schemes again? Isn't it an
infernal shame?'

Pyke asked Pluck whether it was not an infernal shame, and Pluck
asked Pyke; but neither answered.

'Isn't it the truth?' demanded Verisopht. 'Wasn't it so?'

'Wasn't it so!' repeated Sir Mulberry. 'How would you have had it?
How could we have got a general invitation at first sight--come when
you like, go when you like, stop as long as you like, do what you
like--if you, the lord, had not made yourself agreeable to the
foolish mistress of the house? Do I care for this girl, except as
your friend? Haven't I been sounding your praises in her ears, and
bearing her pretty sulks and peevishness all night for you? What
sort of stuff do you think I'm made of? Would I do this for every
man? Don't I deserve even gratitude in return?'

'You're a deyvlish good fellow,' said the poor young lord, taking
his friend's arm. 'Upon my life you're a deyvlish good fellow,
Hawk.'

'And I have done right, have I?' demanded Sir Mulberry.


'Quite ri-ght.'

'And like a poor, silly, good-natured, friendly dog as I am, eh?'

'Ye--es, ye--es; like a friend,' replied the other.

'Well then,' replied Sir Mulberry, 'I'm satisfied. And now let's go
and have our revenge on the German baron and the Frenchman, who
cleaned you out so handsomely last night.'

With these words the friendly creature took his companion's arm and
led him away, turning half round as he did so, and bestowing a wink
and a contemptuous smile on Messrs Pyke and Pluck, who, cramming
their handkerchiefs into their mouths to denote their silent
enjoyment of the whole proceedings, followed their patron and his
victim at a little distance.

CHAPTER 28

Miss Nickleby, rendered desperate by the Persecution of Sir Mulberry
Hawk, and the Complicated Difficulties and Distresses which surround
her, appeals, as a last resource, to her Uncle for Protection

The ensuing morning brought reflection with it, as morning usually
does; but widely different was the train of thought it awakened in
the different persons who had been so unexpectedly brought together
on the preceding evening, by the active agency of Messrs Pyke and
Pluck.

The reflections of Sir Mulberry Hawk--if such a term can be applied
to the thoughts of the systematic and calculating man of
dissipation, whose joys, regrets, pains, and pleasures, are all of
self, and who would seem to retain nothing of the intellectual
faculty but the power to debase himself, and to degrade the very
nature whose outward semblance he wears--the reflections of Sir
Mulberry Hawk turned upon Kate Nickleby, and were, in brief, that
she was undoubtedly handsome; that her coyness MUST be easily
conquerable by a man of his address and experience, and that the
pursuit was one which could not fail to redound to his credit, and
greatly to enhance his reputation with the world. And lest this
last consideration--no mean or secondary one with Sir Mulberry-should
sound strangely in the ears of some, let it be remembered
that most men live in a world of their own, and that in that limited
circle alone are they ambitious for distinction and applause. Sir
Mulberry's world was peopled with profligates, and he acted
accordingly.

Thus, cases of injustice, and oppression, and tyranny, and the most
extravagant bigotry, are in constant occurrence among us every day.
It is the custom to trumpet forth much wonder and astonishment at
the chief actors therein setting at defiance so completely the
opinion of the world; but there is no greater fallacy; it is
precisely because they do consult the opinion of their own little
world that such things take place at all, and strike the great world
dumb with amazement.

The reflections of Mrs Nickleby were of the proudest and most
complacent kind; and under the influence of her very agreeable
delusion she straightway sat down and indited a long letter to Kate,
in which she expressed her entire approval of the admirable choice


she had made, and extolled Sir Mulberry to the skies; asserting, for
the more complete satisfaction of her daughter's feelings, that he
was precisely the individual whom she (Mrs Nickleby) would have
chosen for her son-in-law, if she had had the picking and choosing
from all mankind. The good lady then, with the preliminary
observation that she might be fairly supposed not to have lived in
the world so long without knowing its ways, communicated a great
many subtle precepts applicable to the state of courtship, and
confirmed in their wisdom by her own personal experience. Above all
things she commended a strict maidenly reserve, as being not only a
very laudable thing in itself, but as tending materially to
strengthen and increase a lover's ardour. 'And I never,' added Mrs
Nickleby, 'was more delighted in my life than to observe last night,
my dear, that your good sense had already told you this.' With which
sentiment, and various hints of the pleasure she derived from the
knowledge that her daughter inherited so large an instalment of her
own excellent sense and discretion (to nearly the full measure of
which she might hope, with care, to succeed in time), Mrs Nickleby
concluded a very long and rather illegible letter.

Poor Kate was well-nigh distracted on the receipt of four closelywritten
and closely-crossed sides of congratulation on the very
subject which had prevented her closing her eyes all night, and kept
her weeping and watching in her chamber; still worse and more trying
was the necessity of rendering herself agreeable to Mrs Wititterly,
who, being in low spirits after the fatigue of the preceding night,
of course expected her companion (else wherefore had she board and
salary?) to be in the best spirits possible. As to Mr Wititterly,
he went about all day in a tremor of delight at having shaken hands
with a lord, and having actually asked him to come and see him in
his own house. The lord himself, not being troubled to any
inconvenient extent with the power of thinking, regaled himself with
the conversation of Messrs Pyke and Pluck, who sharpened their wit
by a plentiful indulgence in various costly stimulants at his
expense.

It was four in the afternoon--that is, the vulgar afternoon of the
sun and the clock--and Mrs Wititterly reclined, according to custom,
on the drawing-room sofa, while Kate read aloud a new novel in three
volumes, entitled 'The Lady Flabella,' which Alphonse the doubtful
had procured from the library that very morning. And it was a
production admirably suited to a lady labouring under Mrs
Wititterly's complaint, seeing that there was not a line in it, from
beginning to end, which could, by the most remote contingency,
awaken the smallest excitement in any person breathing.

Kate read on.

'Cherizette said the Lady Flabella, inserting her mouse-like feet
in the blue satin slippers, which had unwittingly occasioned the
half-playful half-angry altercation between herself and the youthful
Colonel Befillaire, in the Duke of Mincefenille's SALON DE DANSE on
the previous night. CHERIZETTEMA CHEREDONNEZ-MOI DE L'EAU-DECOLOGNE
S'IL VOUS PLAITMON ENFANT."

'"MERCIE--thank you said the Lady Flabella, as the lively but
devoted Cherizette plentifully besprinkled with the fragrant
compound the Lady Flabella's MOUCHOIR of finest cambric, edged with
richest lace, and emblazoned at the four corners with the Flabella
crest, and gorgeous heraldic bearings of that noble family.
MERCIE--that will do."

'At this instantwhile the Lady Flabella yet inhaled that delicious
fragrance by holding the MOUCHOIR to her exquisitebut


thoughtfully-chiselled nosethe door of the BOUDOIR (artfully
concealed by rich hangings of silken damaskthe hue of Italy's
firmament) was thrown openand with noiseless tread two VALETS-DECHAMBRE
clad in sumptuous liveries of peach-blossom and gold
advanced into the room followed by a page in BAS DE SOIE--silk
stockings--whowhile they remained at some distance making the most
graceful obeisancesadvanced to the feet of his lovely mistress
and dropping on one knee presentedon a golden salver gorgeously
chaseda scented BILLET.

'The Lady Flabellawith an agitation she could not represshastily
tore off the ENVELOPE and broke the scented seal. It WAS from
Befillaire--the youngthe slimthe low-voiced--HER OWN
Befillaire.'

'Ohcharming!' interrupted Kate's patronesswho was sometimes
taken literary. 'Poeticreally. Read that description againMiss
Nickleby.'

Kate complied.

'Sweetindeed!' said Mrs Wititterlywith a sigh. 'So voluptuous
is it not--so soft?'

'YesI think it is' replied Kategently; 'very soft.'

'Close the bookMiss Nickleby' said Mrs Wititterly. 'I can hear
nothing more today; I should be sorry to disturb the impression of
that sweet description. Close the book.'

Kate compliednot unwillingly; andas she did soMrs Wititterly
raising her glass with a languid handremarkedthat she looked
pale.

'It was the fright of that--that noise and confusion last night'
said Kate.

'How very odd!' exclaimed Mrs Wititterlywith a look of surprise.
And certainlywhen one comes to think of itit WAS very odd that
anything should have disturbed a companion. A steam-engineor
other ingenious piece of mechanism out of orderwould have been
nothing to it.

'How did you come to know Lord Frederickand those other delightful
creatureschild?' asked Mrs Wititterlystill eyeing Kate through
her glass.

'I met them at my uncle's' said Katevexed to feel that she was
colouring deeplybut unable to keep down the blood which rushed to
her face whenever she thought of that man.

'Have you known them long?'

'No' rejoined Kate. 'Not long.'

'I was very glad of the opportunity which that respectable person
your mothergave us of being known to them' said Mrs Wititterly
in a lofty manner. 'Some friends of ours were on the very point of
introducing uswhich makes it quite remarkable.'

This was said lest Miss Nickleby should grow conceited on the honour
and dignity of having known four great people (for Pyke and Pluck
were included among the delightful creatures)whom Mrs Wititterly
did not know. But as the circumstance had made no impression one


way or other upon Kate's mindthe force of the observation was
quite lost upon her.

'They asked permission to call' said Mrs Wititterly. 'I gave it
them of course.'

'Do you expect them today?' Kate ventured to inquire.

Mrs Wititterly's answer was lost in the noise of a tremendous
rapping at the street-doorand before it had ceased to vibrate
there drove up a handsome cabrioletout of which leaped Sir
Mulberry Hawk and his friend Lord Verisopht.

'They are here now' said Katerising and hurrying away.

'Miss Nickleby!' cried Mrs Wititterlyperfectly aghast at a
companion's attempting to quit the roomwithout her permission
first had and obtained. 'Pray don't think of going.'

'You are very good!' replied Kate. 'But--'

'For goodness' sakedon't agitate me by making me speak so much'
said Mrs Wititterlywith great sharpness. 'Dear meMiss Nickleby
I beg--'

It was in vain for Kate to protest that she was unwellfor the
footsteps of the knockerswhoever they werewere already on the
stairs. She resumed her seatand had scarcely done sowhen the
doubtful page darted into the room and announcedMr Pykeand Mr
Pluckand Lord Verisophtand Sir Mulberry Hawkall at one burst.

'The most extraordinary thing in the world' said Mr Plucksaluting
both ladies with the utmost cordiality; 'the most extraordinary
thing. As Lord Frederick and Sir Mulberry drove up to the door
Pyke and I had that instant knocked.'

'That instant knocked' said Pyke.

'No matter how you cameso that you are here' said Mrs Wititterly
whoby dint of lying on the same sofa for three years and a half
had got up quite a little pantomime of graceful attitudesand now
threw herself into the most striking of the whole seriesto
astonish the visitors. 'I am delightedI am sure.'

'And how is Miss Nickleby?' said Sir Mulberry Hawkaccosting Kate
in a low voice--not so lowhoweverbut that it reached the ears of
Mrs Wititterly.

'Whyshe complains of suffering from the fright of last night'
said the lady. 'I am sure I don't wonder at itfor my nerves are
quite torn to pieces.'

'And yet you look' observed Sir Mulberryturning round; 'and yet
you look--'

'Beyond everything' said Mr Pykecoming to his patron's
assistance. Of course Mr Pluck said the same.

'I am afraid Sir Mulberry is a flatterermy lord' said Mrs
Wititterlyturning to that young gentlemanwho had been sucking
the head of his cane in silenceand staring at Kate.

'Ohdeyvlish!' replied Verisopht. Having given utterance to which
remarkable sentimenthe occupied himself as before.


'Neither does Miss Nickleby look the worse' said Sir Mulberry
bending his bold gaze upon her. 'She was always handsomebut upon
my soulma'amyou seem to have imparted some of your own good
looks to her besides.'

To judge from the glow which suffused the poor girl's countenance
after this speechMrs Wititterly mightwith some show of reason
have been supposed to have imparted to it some of that artificial
bloom which decorated her own. Mrs Wititterly admittedthough not
with the best grace in the worldthat Kate DID look pretty. She
began to thinktoothat Sir Mulberry was not quite so agreeable a
creature as she had at first supposed him; foralthough a skilful
flatterer is a most delightful companion if you can keep him all to
yourselfhis taste becomes very doubtful when he takes to
complimenting other people.

'Pyke' said the watchful Mr Pluckobserving the effect which the
praise of Miss Nickleby had produced.

'WellPluck' said Pyke.

'Is there anybody' demanded Mr Pluckmysteriously'anybody you
knowthat Mrs Wititterly's profile reminds you of?'

'Reminds me of!' answered Pyke. 'Of course there is.'

'Who do you mean?' said Pluckin the same mysterious manner. 'The

D. of B.?'
'The C. of B.' replied Pykewith the faintest trace of a grin
lingering in his countenance. 'The beautiful sister is the
countess; not the duchess.'

'True' said Pluck'the C. of B. The resemblance is wonderful!'

'Perfectly startling' said Mr Pyke.

Here was a state of things! Mrs Wititterly was declaredupon the
testimony of two veracious and competent witnessesto be the very
picture of a countess! This was one of the consequences of getting
into good society. Whyshe might have moved among grovelling
people for twenty yearsand never heard of it. How could she
indeed? what did THEY know about countesses?

The two gentlemen havingby the greediness with which this little
bait was swallowedtested the extent of Mrs Wititterly's appetite
for adulationproceeded to administer that commodity in very large
dosesthus affording to Sir Mulberry Hawk an opportunity of
pestering Miss Nickleby with questions and remarksto which she was
absolutely obliged to make some reply. MeanwhileLord Verisopht
enjoyed unmolested the full flavour of the gold knob at the top of
his caneas he would have done to the end of the interview if Mr
Wititterly had not come homeand caused the conversation to turn to
his favourite topic.

'My lord' said Mr Wititterly'I am delighted--honoured--proud. Be
seated againmy lordpray. I am proudindeed--most proud.'

It was to the secret annoyance of his wife that Mr Wititterly said
all thisforalthough she was bursting with pride and arrogance
she would have had the illustrious guests believe that their visit
was quite a common occurrenceand that they had lords and baronets
to see them every day in the week. But Mr Wititterly's feelings


were beyond the power of suppression.

'It is an honourindeed!' said Mr Wititterly. 'Juliamy soulyou
will suffer for this tomorrow.'

'Suffer!' cried Lord Verisopht.

'The reactionmy lordthe reaction' said Mr Wititterly. 'This
violent strain upon the nervous system overmy lordwhat ensues?
A sinkinga depressiona lownessa lassitudea debility. My
lordif Sir Tumley Snuffim was to see that delicate creature at
this momenthe would not give a--a--THIS for her life.' In
illustration of which remarkMr Wititterly took a pinch of snuff
from his boxand jerked it lightly into the air as an emblem of
instability.

'Not THAT' said Mr Wititterlylooking about him with a serious
countenance. 'Sir Tumley Snuffim would not give that for Mrs
Wititterly's existence.'

Mr Wititterly told this with a kind of sober exultationas if it
were no trifling distinction for a man to have a wife in such a
desperate stateand Mrs Wititterly sighed and looked onas if she
felt the honourbut had determined to bear it as meekly as might
be.

'Mrs Wititterly' said her husband'is Sir Tumley Snuffim's
favourite patient. I believe I may venture to saythat Mrs
Wititterly is the first person who took the new medicine which is
supposed to have destroyed a family at Kensington Gravel Pits. I
believe she was. If I am wrongJuliamy dearyou will correct
me.'

'I believe I was' said Mrs Wititterlyin a faint voice.

As there appeared to be some doubt in the mind of his patron how he
could best join in this conversationthe indefatigable Mr Pyke
threw himself into the breachandby way of saying something to
the pointinquired--with reference to the aforesaid medicine-whether
it was nice.

'Nosirit was not. It had not even that recommendation' said Mr

W.
'Mrs Wititterly is quite a martyr' observed Pykewith a
complimentary bow.

'I THINK I am' said Mrs Wititterlysmiling.

'I think you aremy dear Julia' replied her husbandin a tone
which seemed to say that he was not vainbut still must insist upon
their privileges. 'If anybodymy lord' added Mr Wititterly
wheeling round to the nobleman'will produce to me a greater martyr
than Mrs Wititterlyall I can say isthat I shall be glad to see
that martyrwhether male or female--that's allmy lord.'

Pyke and Pluck promptly remarked that certainly nothing could be
fairer than that; and the call having been by this time protracted
to a very great lengththey obeyed Sir Mulberry's lookand rose to
go. This brought Sir Mulberry himself and Lord Verisopht on their
legs also. Many protestations of friendshipand expressions
anticipative of the pleasure which must inevitably flow from so
happy an acquaintancewere exchangedand the visitors departed
with renewed assurances that at all times and seasons the mansion of


the Wititterlys would be honoured by receiving them beneath its
roof.

That they came at all times and seasons--that they dined there one
daysupped the nextdined again on the nextand were constantly
to and fro on all--that they made parties to visit public places
and met by accident at lounges--that upon all these occasions Miss
Nickleby was exposed to the constant and unremitting persecution of
Sir Mulberry Hawkwho now began to feel his charactereven in the
estimation of his two dependantsinvolved in the successful
reduction of her pride--that she had no intervals of peace or rest
except at those hours when she could sit in her solitary roomand
weep over the trials of the day--all these were consequences
naturally flowing from the well-laid plans of Sir Mulberryand
their able execution by the auxiliariesPyke and Pluck.

And thus for a fortnight matters went on. That any but the weakest
and silliest of people could have seen in one interview that Lord
Verisophtthough he was a lordand Sir Mulberry Hawkthough he
was a baronetwere not persons accustomed to be the best possible
companionsand were certainly not calculated by habitsmanners
tastesor conversationto shine with any very great lustre in the
society of ladiesneed scarcely be remarked. But with Mrs
Wititterly the two titles were all sufficient; coarseness became
humourvulgarity softened itself down into the most charming
eccentricity; insolence took the guise of an easy absence of
reserveattainable only by those who had had the good fortune to
mix with high folks.

If the mistress put such a construction upon the behaviour of her
new friendswhat could the companion urge against them? If they
accustomed themselves to very little restraint before the lady of
the housewith how much more freedom could they address her paid
dependent! Nor was even this the worst. As the odious Sir Mulberry
Hawk attached himself to Kate with less and less of disguiseMrs
Wititterly began to grow jealous of the superior attractions of Miss
Nickleby. If this feeling had led to her banishment from the
drawing-room when such company was thereKate would have been only
too happy and willing that it should have existedbut unfortunately
for her she possessed that native grace and true gentility of
mannerand those thousand nameless accomplishments which give to
female society its greatest charm; if these be valuable anywhere
they were especially so where the lady of the house was a mere
animated doll. The consequence wasthat Kate had the double
mortification of being an indispensable part of the circle when Sir
Mulberry and his friends were thereand of being exposedon that
very accountto all Mrs Wititterly's ill-humours and caprices when
they were gone. She became utterly and completely miserable.

Mrs Wititterly had never thrown off the mask with regard to Sir
Mulberrybut when she was more than usually out of temper
attributed the circumstanceas ladies sometimes doto nervous
indisposition. Howeveras the dreadful idea that Lord Verisopht
also was somewhat taken with Kateand that sheMrs Wititterlywas
quite a secondary persondawned upon that lady's mind and gradually
developed itselfshe became possessed with a large quantity of
highly proper and most virtuous indignationand felt it her duty
as a married lady and a moral member of societyto mention the
circumstance to 'the young person' without delay.

Accordingly Mrs Wititterly broke ground next morningduring a pause
in the novel-reading.

'Miss Nickleby' said Mrs Wititterly'I wish to speak to you very


gravely. I am sorry to have to do itupon my word I am very sorry
but you leave me no alternativeMiss Nickleby.' Here Mrs Wititterly
tossed her head--not passionatelyonly virtuously--and remarked
with some appearance of excitementthat she feared that palpitation
of the heart was coming on again.

'Your behaviourMiss Nickleby' resumed the lady'is very far from
pleasing me--very far. I am very anxious indeed that you should do
wellbut you may depend upon itMiss Nicklebyyou will notif
you go on as you do.'

'Ma'am!' exclaimed Kateproudly.

'Don't agitate me by speaking in that wayMiss Nicklebydon't'
said Mrs Wititterlywith some violence'or you'll compel me to
ring the bell.'

Kate looked at herbut said nothing.

'You needn't suppose' resumed Mrs Wititterly'that your looking at
me in that wayMiss Nicklebywill prevent my saying what I am
going to saywhich I feel to be a religious duty. You needn't
direct your glances towards me' said Mrs Wititterlywith a sudden
burst of spite; 'I am not Sir Mulberrynonor Lord Frederick
VerisophtMiss Nicklebynor am I Mr Pykenor Mr Pluck either.'

Kate looked at her againbut less steadily than before; and resting
her elbow on the tablecovered her eyes with her hand.

'If such things had been done when I was a young girl' said Mrs
Wititterly (thisby the waymust have been some little time
before)'I don't suppose anybody would have believed it.'

'I don't think they would' murmured Kate. 'I do not think anybody
would believewithout actually knowing itwhat I seem doomed to
undergo!'

'Don't talk to me of being doomed to undergoMiss Nicklebyif you
please' said Mrs Wititterlywith a shrillness of tone quite
surprising in so great an invalid. 'I will not be answeredMiss
Nickleby. I am not accustomed to be answerednor will I permit it
for an instant. Do you hear?' she addedwaiting with some apparent
inconsistency FOR an answer.

'I do hear youma'am' replied Kate'with surprise--with greater
surprise than I can express.'

'I have always considered you a particularly well-behaved young
person for your station in life' said Mrs Wititterly; 'and as you
are a person of healthy appearanceand neat in your dress and so
forthI have taken an interest in youas I do stillconsidering
that I owe a sort of duty to that respectable old femaleyour
mother. For these reasonsMiss NicklebyI must tell you once for
alland begging you to mind what I saythat I must insist upon
your immediately altering your very forward behaviour to the
gentleman who visit at this house. It really is not becoming' said
Mrs Wititterlyclosing her chaste eyes as she spoke; 'it is
improper--quite improper."

'Oh!' cried Katelooking upwards and clasping her hands; 'is not
thisis not thistoo crueltoo hard to bear! Is it not enough
that I should have suffered as I havenight and day; that I should
almost have sunk in my own estimation from very shame of having been
brought into contact with such people; but must I also be exposed to


this unjust and most unfounded charge!'

'You will have the goodness to recollectMiss Nickleby' said Mrs
Wititterly'that when you use such terms as "unjust"and
unfoundedyou charge mein effectwith stating that which is
untrue.'

'I do' said Kate with honest indignation. 'Whether you make this
accusation of yourselfor at the prompting of othersis alike to
me. I say it IS vilelygrosslywilfully untrue. Is it possible!'
cried Kate'that anyone of my own sex can have sat byand not have
seen the misery these men have caused me? Is it possible that you
ma'amcan have been presentand failed to mark the insulting
freedom that their every look bespoke? Is it possible that you can
have avoided seeingthat these libertinesin their utter
disrespect for youand utter disregard of all gentlemanly
behaviourand almost of decencyhave had but one object in
introducing themselves hereand that the furtherance of their
designs upon a friendlesshelpless girlwhowithout this
humiliating confessionmight have hoped to receive from one so much
her senior something like womanly aid and sympathy? I do not--I
cannot believe it!'

If poor Kate had possessed the slightest knowledge of the worldshe
certainly would not have venturedeven in the excitement into which
she had been lashedupon such an injudicious speech as this. Its
effect was precisely what a more experienced observer would have
foreseen. Mrs Wititterly received the attack upon her veracity with
exemplary calmnessand listened with the most heroic fortitude to
Kate's account of her own sufferings. But allusion being made to
her being held in disregard by the gentlemenshe evinced violent
emotionand this blow was no sooner followed up by the remark
concerning her senioritythan she fell back upon the sofauttering
dismal screams.

'What is the matter?' cried Mr Wititterlybouncing into the room.
'Heavenswhat do I see? Julia! Julia! look upmy lifelook up!'

But Julia looked down most perseveringlyand screamed still louder;
so Mr Wititterly rang the belland danced in a frenzied manner
round the sofa on which Mrs Wititterly lay; uttering perpetual cries
for Sir Tumley Snuffimand never once leaving off to ask for any
explanation of the scene before him.

'Run for Sir Tumley' cried Mr Wititterlymenacing the page with
both fists. 'I knew itMiss Nickleby' he saidlooking round with
an air of melancholy triumph'that society has been too much for
her. This is all soulyou knowevery bit of it.' With this
assurance Mr Wititterly took up the prostrate form of Mrs
Wititterlyand carried her bodily off to bed.

Kate waited until Sir Tumley Snuffim had paid his visit and looked
in with a reportthatthrough the special interposition of a
merciful Providence (thus spake Sir Tumley)Mrs Wititterly had gone
to sleep. She then hastily attired herself for walkingand leaving
word that she should return within a couple of hourshurried away
towards her uncle's house.

It had been a good day with Ralph Nickleby--quite a lucky day; and
as he walked to and fro in his little back-room with his hands
clasped behind himadding up in his own mind all the sums that had
beenor would benetted from the business done since morninghis
mouth was drawn into a hard stern smile; while the firmness of the
lines and curves that made it upas well as the cunning glance of


his coldbright eyeseemed to tellthat if any resolution or
cunning would increase the profitsthey would not fail to be
excited for the purpose.

'Very good!' said Ralphin allusionno doubtto some proceeding
of the day. 'He defies the usurerdoes he? Wellwe shall see.
Honesty is the best policy,is it? We'll try that too.'

He stoppedand then walked on again.

'He is content' said Ralphrelaxing into a smile'to set his
known character and conduct against the power of money--drossas he
calls it. Whywhat a dull blockhead this fellow must be! Dross
todross! Who's that?'

'Me' said Newman Noggslooking in. 'Your niece.'

'What of her?' asked Ralph sharply.

'She's here.'

'Here!'

Newman jerked his head towards his little roomto signify that she
was waiting there.

'What does she want?' asked Ralph.

'I don't know' rejoined Newman. 'Shall I ask?' he added quickly.

'No' replied Ralph. 'Show her in! Stay.' He hastily put away a
padlocked cash-box that was on the tableand substituted in its
stead an empty purse. 'There' said Ralph. 'NOW she may come in.'

Newmanwith a grim smile at this manoeuvrebeckoned the young lady
to advanceand having placed a chair for herretired; looking
stealthily over his shoulder at Ralph as he limped slowly out.

'Well' said Ralphroughly enough; but still with something more of
kindness in his manner than he would have exhibited towards anybody
else. 'Wellmy--dear. What now?'

Kate raised her eyeswhich were filled with tears; and with an
effort to master her emotion strove to speakbut in vain. So
drooping her head againshe remained silent. Her face was hidden
from his viewbut Ralph could see that she was weeping.

'I can guess the cause of this!' thought Ralphafter looking at her
for some time in silence. 'I can--I can--guess the cause. Well!
Well!' thought Ralph--for the moment quite disconcertedas he
watched the anguish of his beautiful niece. 'Where is the harm?
only a few tears; and it's an excellent lesson for heran excellent
lesson.'

'What is the matter?' asked Ralphdrawing a chair oppositeand
sitting down.

He was rather taken aback by the sudden firmness with which Kate
looked up and answered him.

'The matter which brings me to yousir' she said'is one which
should call the blood up into your cheeksand make you burn to
hearas it does me to tell. I have been wronged; my feelings have
been outragedinsultedwounded past all healingand by your


friends.'

'Friends!' cried Ralphsternly. 'I have no friendsgirl.'

'By the men I saw herethen' returned Katequickly. 'If they
were no friends of yoursand you knew what they were--ohthe more
shame on youunclefor bringing me among them. To have subjected
me to what I was exposed to herethrough any misplaced confidence
or imperfect knowledge of your guestswould have required some
strong excuse; but if you did it--as I now believe you did--knowing
them wellit was most dastardly and cruel.'

Ralph drew back in utter amazement at this plain speakingand
regarded Kate with the sternest look. But she met his gaze proudly
and firmlyand although her face was very paleit looked more
noble and handsomelighted up as it wasthan it had ever appeared
before.

'There is some of that boy's blood in youI see' said Ralph
speaking in his harshest tonesas something in the flashing eye
reminded him of Nicholas at their last meeting.

'I hope there is!' replied Kate. 'I should be proud to know it. I
am younguncleand all the difficulties and miseries of my
situation have kept it downbut I have been roused today beyond all
enduranceand come what mayI WILL NOTas I am your brother's
childbear these insults longer.'

'What insultsgirl?' demanded Ralphsharply.

'Remember what took place hereand ask yourself' replied Kate
colouring deeply. 'Uncleyou must--I am sure you will--release me
from such vile and degrading companionship as I am exposed to now.
I do not mean' said Katehurrying to the old manand laying her
arm upon his shoulder; 'I do not mean to be angry and violent--I beg
your pardon if I have seemed sodear uncle--but you do not know
what I have sufferedyou do not indeed. You cannot tell what the
heart of a young girl is--I have no right to expect you should; but
when I tell you that I am wretchedand that my heart is breakingI
am sure you will help me. I am sureI am sure you will!'

Ralph looked at her for an instant; then turned away his headand
beat his foot nervously upon the ground.

'I have gone on day after day' said Katebending over himand
timidly placing her little hand in his'in the hope that this
persecution would cease; I have gone on day after daycompelled to
assume the appearance of cheerfulnesswhen I was most unhappy. I
have had no counsellorno adviserno one to protect me. Mama
supposes that these are honourable menrich and distinguishedand
how CAN I--how can I undeceive her--when she is so happy in these
little delusionswhich are the only happiness she has? The lady
with whom you placed meis not the person to whom I could confide
matters of so much delicacyand I have come at last to youthe
only friend I have at hand--almost the only friend I have at all--to
entreat and implore you to assist me.'

'How can I assist youchild?' said Ralphrising from his chair
and pacing up and down the room in his old attitude.

'You have influence with one of these menI KNOW' rejoined Kate
emphatically. 'Would not a word from you induce them to desist from
this unmanly course?'


'No' said Ralphsuddenly turning; 'at least--that--I can't say it
if it would.'

'Can't say it!'

'No' said Ralphcoming to a dead stopand clasping his hands more
tightly behind him. 'I can't say it.'

Kate fell back a step or twoand looked at himas if in doubt
whether she had heard aright.

'We are connected in business' said Ralphpoising himself
alternately on his toes and heelsand looking coolly in his niece's
face'in businessand I can't afford to offend them. What is it
after all? We have all our trialsand this is one of yours. Some
girls would be proud to have such gallants at their feet.'

'Proud!' cried Kate.

'I don't say' rejoined Ralphraising his forefinger'but that you
do right to despise them; noyou show your good sense in thatas
indeed I knew from the first you would. Well. In all other
respects you are comfortably bestowed. It's not much to bear. If
this young lord does dog your footstepsand whisper his drivelling
inanities in your earswhat of it? It's a dishonourable passion.
So be it; it won't last long. Some other novelty will spring up one
dayand you will be released. In the mean time--'

'In the mean time' interrupted Katewith becoming pride and
indignation'I am to be the scorn of my own sexand the toy of the
other; justly condemned by all women of right feelingand despised
by all honest and honourable men; sunken in my own esteemand
degraded in every eye that looks upon me. Nonot if I work my
fingers to the bonenot if I am driven to the roughest and hardest
labour. Do not mistake me. I will not disgrace your
recommendation. I will remain in the house in which it placed me
until I am entitled to leave it by the terms of my engagement;
thoughmindI see these men no more. When I quit itI will hide
myself from them and youandstriving to support my mother by hard
serviceI will liveat leastin peaceand trust in God to help
me.'

With these wordsshe waved her handand quitted the roomleaving
Ralph Nickleby motionless as a statue.

The surprise with which Kateas she closed the room-doorbeheld
close beside itNewman Noggs standing bolt upright in a little
niche in the wall like some scarecrow or Guy Faux laid up in winter
quartersalmost occasioned her to call aloud. ButNewman laying
his finger upon his lipsshe had the presence of mind to refrain.

'Don't' said Newmangliding out of his recessand accompanying
her across the hall. 'Don't crydon't cry.' Two very large tears
by-the-byewere running down Newman's face as he spoke.

'I see how it is' said poor Noggsdrawing from his pocket what
seemed to be a very old dusterand wiping Kate's eyes with itas
gently as if she were an infant. 'You're giving way now. Yesyes
very good; that's rightI like that. It was right not to give way
before him. Yesyes! Hahaha! Ohyes. Poor thing!'

With these disjointed exclamationsNewman wiped his own eyes with
the afore-mentioned dusterandlimping to the street-dooropened
it to let her out.


'Don't cry any more' whispered Newman. 'I shall see you soon. Ha!
ha! ha! And so shall somebody else too. Yesyes. Ho! ho!'

'God bless you' answered Katehurrying out'God bless you.'

'Same to you' rejoined Newmanopening the door again a little way
to say so. 'Hahaha! Ho! ho! ho!'

And Newman Noggs opened the door once again to nod cheerfullyand
laugh--and shut itto shake his head mournfullyand cry.

Ralph remained in the same attitude till he heard the noise of the
closing doorwhen he shrugged his shouldersand after a few turns
about the room--hasty at firstbut gradually becoming sloweras he
relapsed into himself--sat down before his desk.

It is one of those problems of human naturewhich may be noted
downbut not solved;--although Ralph felt no remorse at that moment
for his conduct towards the innocenttrue-hearted girl; although
his libertine clients had done precisely what he had expected
precisely what he most wishedand precisely what would tend most to
his advantagestill he hated them for doing itfrom the very
bottom of his soul.

'Ugh!' said Ralphscowling roundand shaking his clenched hand as
the faces of the two profligates rose up before his mind; 'you shall
pay for this. Oh! you shall pay for this!'

As the usurer turned for consolation to his books and papersa
performance was going on outside his office doorwhich would have
occasioned him no small surpriseif he could by any means have
become acquainted with it.

Newman Noggs was the sole actor. He stood at a little distance from
the doorwith his face towards it; and with the sleeves of his coat
turned back at the wristswas occupied in bestowing the most
vigorousscientificand straightforward blows upon the empty air.

At first sightthis would have appeared merely a wise precaution in
a man of sedentary habitswith the view of opening the chest and
strengthening the muscles of the arms. But the intense eagerness
and joy depicted in the face of Newman Noggswhich was suffused
with perspiration; the surprising energy with which he directed a
constant succession of blows towards a particular panel about five
feet eight from the groundand still worked away in the most
untiring and persevering mannerwould have sufficiently explained
to the attentive observerthat his imagination was thrashingto
within an inch of his lifehis body's most active employerMr
Ralph Nickleby.

CHAPTER 29

Of the Proceedings of Nicholasand certain Internal Divisions in
the Company of Mr Vincent Crummles

The unexpected success and favour with which his experiment at
Portsmouth had been receivedinduced Mr Crummles to prolong his
stay in that town for a fortnight beyond the period he had
originally assigned for the duration of his visitduring which time
Nicholas personated a vast variety of characters with undiminished


successand attracted so many people to the theatre who had never
been seen there beforethat a benefit was considered by the manager
a very promising speculation. Nicholas assenting to the terms
proposedthe benefit was hadand by it he realised no less a sum
than twenty pounds.

Possessed of this unexpected wealthhis first act was to enclose to
honest John Browdie the amount of his friendly loanwhich he
accompanied with many expressions of gratitude and esteemand many
cordial wishes for his matrimonial happiness. To Newman Noggs he
forwarded one half of the sum he had realisedentreating him to
take an opportunity of handing it to Kate in secretand conveying
to her the warmest assurances of his love and affection. He made no
mention of the way in which he had employed himself; merely
informing Newman that a letter addressed to him under his assumed
name at the Post OfficePortsmouthwould readily find himand
entreating that worthy friend to write full particulars of the
situation of his mother and sisterand an account of all the grand
things that Ralph Nickleby had done for them since his departure
from London.

'You are out of spirits' said Smikeon the night after the letter
had been dispatched.

'Not I!' rejoined Nicholaswith assumed gaietyfor the confession
would have made the boy miserable all night; 'I was thinking about
my sisterSmike.'

'Sister!'

'Ay.'

'Is she like you?' inquired Smike.

'Whyso they say' replied Nicholaslaughing'only a great deal
handsomer.'

'She must be VERY beautiful' said Smikeafter thinking a little
while with his hands folded togetherand his eyes bent upon his
friend.

'Anybody who didn't know you as well as I domy dear fellowwould
say you were an accomplished courtier' said Nicholas.

'I don't even know what that is' replied Smikeshaking his head.
'Shall I ever see your sister?'

'To be sure' cried Nicholas; 'we shall all be together one of these
days--when we are richSmike.'

'How is it that youwho are so kind and good to mehave nobody to
be kind to you?' asked Smike. 'I cannot make that out.'

'Whyit is a long story' replied Nicholas'and one you would have
some difficulty in comprehendingI fear. I have an enemy--you
understand what that is?'

'OhyesI understand that' said Smike.

'Wellit is owing to him' returned Nicholas. 'He is richand not
so easily punished as YOUR old enemyMr Squeers. He is my uncle
but he is a villainand has done me wrong.'

'Has he though?' asked Smikebending eagerly forward. 'What is his


name? Tell me his name.'

'Ralph--Ralph Nickleby.'

'Ralph Nickleby' repeated Smike. 'Ralph. I'll get that name by
heart.'

He had muttered it over to himself some twenty timeswhen a loud
knock at the door disturbed him from his occupation. Before he
could open itMr Folairthe pantomimistthrust in his head.

Mr Folair's head was usually decorated with a very round hat
unusually high in the crownand curled up quite tight in the brims.
On the present occasion he wore it very much on one sidewith the
back part forward in consequence of its being the least rusty; round
his neck he wore a flaming red worsted comforterwhereof the
straggling ends peeped out beneath his threadbare Newmarket coat
which was very tight and buttoned all the way up. He carried in his
hand one very dirty gloveand a cheap dress cane with a glass
handle; in shorthis whole appearance was unusually dashingand
demonstrated a far more scrupulous attention to his toilet than he
was in the habit of bestowing upon it.

'Good-eveningsir' said Mr Folairtaking off the tall hatand
running his fingers through his hair. 'I bring a communication.
Hem!'

'From whom and what about?' inquired Nicholas. 'You are unusually
mysterious tonight.'

'Coldperhaps' returned Mr Folair; 'coldperhaps. That is the
fault of my position--not of myselfMr Johnson. My position as a
mutual friend requires itsir.' Mr Folair paused with a most
impressive lookand diving into the hat before noticeddrew from
thence a small piece of whity-brown paper curiously foldedwhence
he brought forth a note which it had served to keep cleanand
handing it over to Nicholassaid-


'Have the goodness to read thatsir.'

Nicholasin a state of much amazementtook the note and broke the
sealglancing at Mr Folair as he did sowhoknitting his brow and
pursing up his mouth with great dignitywas sitting with his eyes
steadily fixed upon the ceiling.

It was directed to blank JohnsonEsq.by favour of Augustus
FolairEsq.; and the astonishment of Nicholas was in no degree
lessenedwhen he found it to be couched in the following laconic
terms:-


Mr Lenville presents his kind regards to Mr Johnson, and will feel
obliged if he will inform him at what hour tomorrow morning it will
be most convenient to him to meet Mr L. at the Theatre, for the
purpose of having his nose pulled in the presence of the company.

Mr Lenville requests Mr Johnson not to neglect making an
appointmentas he has invited two or three professional friends to
witness the ceremonyand cannot disappoint them upon any account
whatever.

PORTSMOUTH, TUESDAY NIGHT.

Indignant as he was at this impertinencethere was something so
exquisitely absurd in such a cartel of defiancethat Nicholas was


obliged to bite his lip and read the note over two or three times
before he could muster sufficient gravity and sternness to address
the hostile messengerwho had not taken his eyes from the ceiling
nor altered the expression of his face in the slightest degree.

'Do you know the contents of this notesir?' he askedat length.

'Yes' rejoined Mr Folairlooking round for an instantand
immediately carrying his eyes back again to the ceiling.

'And how dare you bring it heresir?' asked Nicholastearing it
into very little piecesand jerking it in a shower towards the
messenger. 'Had you no fear of being kicked downstairssir?'

Mr Folair turned his head--now ornamented with several fragments of
the note--towards Nicholasand with the same imperturbable dignity
briefly replied 'No.'

'Then' said Nicholastaking up the tall hat and tossing it towards
the door'you had better follow that article of your dresssiror
you may find yourself very disagreeably deceivedand that within a
dozen seconds.'

'I sayJohnson' remonstrated Mr Folairsuddenly losing all his
dignity'none of thatyou know. No tricks with a gentleman's
wardrobe.'

'Leave the room' returned Nicholas. 'How could you presume to come
here on such an errandyou scoundrel?'

'Pooh! pooh!' said Mr Folairunwinding his comforterand gradually
getting himself out of it. 'There--that's enough.'

'Enough!' cried Nicholasadvancing towards him. 'Take yourself
offsir.'

'Pooh! pooh! I tell you' returned Mr Folairwaving his hand in
deprecation of any further wrath; 'I wasn't in earnest. I only
brought it in joke.'

'You had better be careful how you indulge in such jokes again'
said Nicholas'or you may find an allusion to pulling noses rather
a dangerous reminder for the subject of your facetiousness. Was it
written in joketoopray?'

'Nonothat's the best of it' returned the actor; 'right down
earnest--honour bright.'

Nicholas could not repress a smile at the odd figure before him
whichat all times more calculated to provoke mirth than angerwas
especially so at that momentwhen with one knee upon the groundMr
Folair twirled his old hat round upon his handand affected the
extremest agony lest any of the nap should have been knocked off--an
ornament which it is almost superfluous to sayit had not boasted
for many months.

'Comesir' said Nicholaslaughing in spite of himself. 'Have the
goodness to explain.'

'WhyI'll tell you how it is' said Mr Folairsitting himself down
in a chair with great coolness. 'Since you came here Lenville has
done nothing but second businessandinstead of having a reception
every night as he used to havethey have let him come on as if he
was nobody.'


'What do you mean by a reception?' asked Nicholas.

'Jupiter!' exclaimed Mr Folair'what an unsophisticated shepherd
you areJohnson! Whyapplause from the house when you first come
on. So he has gone on night after nightnever getting a handand
you getting a couple of rounds at leastand sometimes threetill
at length he got quite desperateand had half a mind last night to
play Tybalt with a real swordand pink you--not dangerouslybut
just enough to lay you up for a month or two.'

'Very considerate' remarked Nicholas.

'YesI think it was under the circumstances; his professional
reputation being at stake' said Mr Folairquite seriously. 'But
his heart failed himand he cast about for some other way of
annoying youand making himself popular at the same time--for
that's the point. Notorietynotorietyis the thing. Bless you
if he had pinked you' said Mr Folairstopping to make a
calculation in his mind'it would have been worth--ahit would
have been worth eight or ten shillings a week to him. All the town
would have come to see the actor who nearly killed a man by mistake;
I shouldn't wonder if it had got him an engagement in London.
Howeverhe was obliged to try some other mode of getting popular
and this one occurred to him. It's clever ideareally. If you had
shown the white featherand let him pull your nosehe'd have got
it into the paper; if you had sworn the peace against himit would
have been in the paper tooand he'd have been just as much talked
about as you--don't you see?'

'Ohcertainly' rejoined Nicholas; 'but suppose I were to turn the
tablesand pull HIS nosewhat then? Would that make his fortune?'

'WhyI don't think it would' replied Mr Folairscratching his
head'because there wouldn't be any romance about itand he
wouldn't be favourably known. To tell you the truth thoughhe
didn't calculate much upon thatfor you're always so mild-spoken
and are so popular among the womenthat we didn't suspect you of
showing fight. If you didhoweverhe has a way of getting out of
it easilydepend upon that.'

'Has he?' rejoined Nicholas. 'We will trytomorrow morning. In
the meantimeyou can give whatever account of our interview you
like best. Good-night.'

As Mr Folair was pretty well known among his fellow-actors for a man
who delighted in mischiefand was by no means scrupulousNicholas
had not much doubt but that he had secretly prompted the tragedian
in the course he had takenandmoreoverthat he would have
carried his mission with a very high hand if he had not been
disconcerted by the very unexpected demonstrations with which it had
been received. It was not worth his while to be serious with him
howeverso he dismissed the pantomimistwith a gentle hint that if
he offended again it would be under the penalty of a broken head;
and Mr Folairtaking the caution in exceedingly good partwalked
away to confer with his principaland give such an account of his
proceedings as he might think best calculated to carry on the joke.

He had no doubt reported that Nicholas was in a state of extreme
bodily fear; for when that young gentleman walked with much
deliberation down to the theatre next morning at the usual hourhe
found all the company assembled in evident expectationand Mr
Lenvillewith his severest stage facesitting majestically on a
tablewhistling defiance.


Now the ladies were on the side of Nicholasand the gentlemen
(being jealous) were on the side of the disappointed tragedian; so
that the latter formed a little group about the redoubtable Mr
Lenvilleand the former looked on at a little distance in some
trepidation and anxiety. On Nicholas stopping to salute themMr
Lenville laughed a scornful laughand made some general remark
touching the natural history of puppies.

'Oh!' said Nicholaslooking quietly round'are you there?'

'Slave!' returned Mr Lenvilleflourishing his right armand
approaching Nicholas with a theatrical stride. But somehow he
appeared just at that moment a little startledas if Nicholas did
not look quite so frightened as he had expectedand came all at
once to an awkward haltat which the assembled ladies burst into a
shrill laugh.

'Object of my scorn and hatred!' said Mr Lenville'I hold ye in
contempt.'

Nicholas laughed in very unexpected enjoyment of this performance;
and the ladiesby way of encouragementlaughed louder than before;
whereat Mr Lenville assumed his bitterest smileand expressed his
opinion that they were 'minions'.

'But they shall not protect ye!' said the tragediantaking an
upward look at Nicholasbeginning at his boots and ending at the
crown of his headand then a downward onebeginning at the crown
of his headand ending at his boots--which two looksas everybody
knowsexpress defiance on the stage. 'They shall not protect ye-boy!'


Thus speakingMr Lenville folded his armsand treated Nicholas to
that expression of face with whichin melodramatic performanceshe
was in the habit of regarding the tyrannical kings when they said
'Away with him to the deepest dungeon beneath the castle moat;' and
whichaccompanied with a little jingling of fettershad been known
to produce great effects in its time.

Whether it was the absence of the fetters or notit made no very
deep impression on Mr Lenville's adversaryhoweverbut rather
seemed to increase the good-humour expressed in his countenance; in
which stage of the contestone or two gentlemenwho had come out
expressly to witness the pulling of Nicholas's nosegrew impatient
murmuring that if it were to be done at all it had better be done at
onceand that if Mr Lenville didn't mean to do it he had better say
soand not keep them waiting there. Thus urgedthe tragedian
adjusted the cuff of his right coat sleeve for the performance of
the operationand walked in a very stately manner up to Nicholas
who suffered him to approach to within the requisite distanceand
thenwithout the smallest discomposureknocked him down.

Before the discomfited tragedian could raise his head from the
boardsMrs Lenville (whoas has been before hintedwas in an
interesting state) rushed from the rear rank of ladiesand uttering
a piercing scream threw herself upon the body.

'Do you see thismonster? Do you see THIS?' cried Mr Lenville
sitting upand pointing to his prostrate ladywho was holding him
very tight round the waist.

'Come' said Nicholasnodding his head'apologise for the insolent
note you wrote to me last nightand waste no more time in talking.'


'Never!' cried Mr Lenville.

'Yes--yes--yes!' screamed his wife. 'For my sake--for mine
Lenville--forego all idle formsunless you would see me a blighted
corse at your feet.'

'This is affecting!' said Mr Lenvillelooking round himand
drawing the back of his hand across his eyes. 'The ties of nature
are strong. The weak husband and the father--the father that is yet
to be--relents. I apologise.'

'Humbly and submissively?' said Nicholas.

'Humbly and submissively' returned the tragedianscowling upwards.
'But only to save her--for a time will come--'

'Very good' said Nicholas; 'I hope Mrs Lenville may have a good
one; and when it does comeand you are a fatheryou shall retract
it if you have the courage. There. Be carefulsirto what
lengths your jealousy carries you another time; and be careful
alsobefore you venture too farto ascertain your rival's temper.'
With this parting advice Nicholas picked up Mr Lenville's ash stick
which had flown out of his handand breaking it in halfthrew him
the pieces and withdrewbowing slightly to the spectators as he
walked out.

The profoundest deference was paid to Nicholas that nightand the
people who had been most anxious to have his nose pulled in the
morningembraced occasions of taking him asideand telling him
with great feelinghow very friendly they took it that he should
have treated that Lenville so properlywho was a most unbearable
fellowand on whom they had allby a remarkable coincidenceat
one time or other contemplated the infliction of condign punishment
which they had only been restrained from administering by
considerations of mercy; indeedto judge from the invariable
termination of all these storiesthere never was such a charitable
and kind-hearted set of people as the male members of Mr Crummles's
company.

Nicholas bore his triumphas he had his success in the little world
of the theatrewith the utmost moderation and good humour. The
crestfallen Mr Lenville made an expiring effort to obtain revenge by
sending a boy into the gallery to hissbut he fell a sacrifice to
popular indignationand was promptly turned out without having his
money back.

'WellSmike' said Nicholas when the first piece was overand he
had almost finished dressing to go home'is there any letter yet?'

'Yes' replied Smike'I got this one from the post-office.'

'From Newman Noggs' said Nicholascasting his eye upon the cramped
direction; 'it's no easy matter to make his writing out. Let me
see--let me see.'

By dint of poring over the letter for half an hourhe contrived to
make himself master of the contentswhich were certainly not of a
nature to set his mind at ease. Newman took upon himself to send
back the ten poundsobserving that he had ascertained that neither
Mrs Nickleby nor Kate was in actual want of money at the momentand
that a time might shortly come when Nicholas might want it more. He
entreated him not to be alarmed at what he was about to say;--there
was no bad news--they were in good health--but he thought


circumstances might occuror were occurringwhich would render it
absolutely necessary that Kate should have her brother's protection
and if soNewman saidhe would write to him to that effecteither
by the next post or the next but one.

Nicholas read this passage very oftenand the more he thought of it
the more he began to fear some treachery upon the part of Ralph.
Once or twice he felt tempted to repair to London at all hazards
without an hour's delaybut a little reflection assured him that if
such a step were necessaryNewman would have spoken out and told
him so at once.

'At all events I should prepare them here for the possibility of my
going away suddenly' said Nicholas; 'I should lose no time in doing
that.' As the thought occurred to himhe took up his hat and
hurried to the green-room.

'WellMr Johnson' said Mrs Crummleswho was seated there in full
regal costumewith the phenomenon as the Maiden in her maternal
arms'next week for Rydethen for Winchesterthen for--'

'I have some reason to fear' interrupted Nicholas'that before you
leave here my career with you will have closed.'

'Closed!' cried Mrs Crummlesraising her hands in astonishment.

'Closed!' cried Miss Snevelliccitrembling so much in her tights
that she actually laid her hand upon the shoulder of the manageress
for support.

'Why he don't mean to say he's going!' exclaimed Mrs Gruddenmaking
her way towards Mrs Crummles. 'Hoity toity! Nonsense.'

The phenomenonbeing of an affectionate nature and moreover
excitableraised a loud cryand Miss Belvawney and Miss Bravassa
actually shed tears. Even the male performers stopped in their
conversationand echoed the word 'Going!' although some among them
(and they had been the loudest in their congratulations that day)
winked at each other as though they would not be sorry to lose such
a favoured rival; an opinionindeedwhich the honest Mr Folair
who was ready dressed for the savageopenly stated in so many words
to a demon with whom he was sharing a pot of porter.

Nicholas briefly said that he feared it would be soalthough he
could not yet speak with any degree of certainty; and getting away
as soon as he couldwent home to con Newman's letter once moreand
speculate upon it afresh.

How trifling all that had been occupying his time and thoughts for
many weeks seemed to him during that sleepless nightand how
constantly and incessantly present to his imagination was the one
idea that Kate in the midst of some great trouble and distress might
even then be looking--and vainly too--for him!

CHAPTER 30

Festivities are held in honour of Nicholaswho suddenly withdraws
himself from the Society of Mr Vincent Crummles and his Theatrical
Companions

Mr Vincent Crummles was no sooner acquainted with the public


announcement which Nicholas had made relative to the probability of
his shortly ceasing to be a member of the companythan he evinced
many tokens of grief and consternation; andin the extremity of his
despaireven held out certain vague promises of a speedy
improvement not only in the amount of his regular salarybut also
in the contingent emoluments appertaining to his authorship.
Finding Nicholas bent upon quitting the society--for he had now
determined thateven if no further tidings came from Newmanhe
wouldat all hazardsease his mind by repairing to London and
ascertaining the exact position of his sister--Mr Crummles was fain
to content himself by calculating the chances of his coming back
againand taking prompt and energetic measures to make the most of
him before he went away.

'Let me see' said Mr Crummlestaking off his outlaw's wigthe
better to arrive at a cool-headed view of the whole case. 'Let me
see. This is Wednesday night. We'll have posters out the first
thing in the morningannouncing positively your last appearance for
tomorrow.'

'But perhaps it may not be my last appearanceyou know' said
Nicholas. 'Unless I am summoned awayI should be sorry to
inconvenience you by leaving before the end of the week.'

'So much the better' returned Mr Crummles. 'We can have positively
your last appearanceon Thursday--re-engagement for one night more
on Friday--andyielding to the wishes of numerous influential
patronswho were disappointed in obtaining seatson Saturday.
That ought to bring three very decent houses.'

'Then I am to make three last appearancesam I?' inquired Nicholas
smiling.

'Yes' rejoined the managerscratching his head with an air of some
vexation; 'three is not enoughand it's very bungling and irregular
not to have morebut if we can't help it we can'tso there's no
use in talking. A novelty would be very desirable. You couldn't
sing a comic song on the pony's backcould you?'

'No' replied Nicholas'I couldn't indeed.'

'It has drawn money before now' said Mr Crummleswith a look of
disappointment. 'What do you think of a brilliant display of
fireworks?'

'That it would be rather expensive' replied Nicholasdrily.

'Eighteen-pence would do it' said Mr Crummles. 'You on the top of
a pair of steps with the phenomenon in an attitude; "Farewell!" on a
transparency behind; and nine people at the wings with a squib in
each hand--all the dozen and a half going off at once--it would be
very grand--awful from the frontquite awful.'

As Nicholas appeared by no means impressed with the solemnity of the
proposed effectbuton the contraryreceived the proposition in a
most irreverent mannerand laughed at it very heartilyMr Crummles
abandoned the project in its birthand gloomily observed that they
must make up the best bill they could with combats and hornpipes
and so stick to the legitimate drama.

For the purpose of carrying this object into instant executionthe
manager at once repaired to a small dressing-roomadjacentwhere
Mrs Crummles was then occupied in exchanging the habiliments of a
melodramatic empress for the ordinary attire of matrons in the


nineteenth century. And with the assistance of this ladyand the
accomplished Mrs Grudden (who had quite a genius for making out
billsbeing a great hand at throwing in the notes of admiration
and knowing from long experience exactly where the largest capitals
ought to go)he seriously applied himself to the composition of the
poster.

'Heigho!' sighed Nicholasas he threw himself back in the
prompter's chairafter telegraphing the needful directions to
Smikewho had been playing a meagre tailor in the interludewith
one skirt to his coatand a little pocket-handkerchief with a large
hole in itand a woollen nightcapand a red noseand other
distinctive marks peculiar to tailors on the stage. 'Heigho! I wish
all this were over.'

'OverMr Johnson!' repeated a female voice behind himin a kind of
plaintive surprise.

'It was an ungallant speechcertainly' said Nicholaslooking up
to see who the speaker wasand recognising Miss Snevellicci. 'I
would not have made it if I had known you had been within hearing.'

'What a dear that Mr Digby is!' said Miss Snevelliccias the tailor
went off on the opposite sideat the end of the piecewith great
applause. (Smike's theatrical name was Digby.)

'I'll tell him presentlyfor his gratificationthat you said so'
returned Nicholas.

'Oh you naughty thing!' rejoined Miss Snevellicci. 'I don't know
thoughthat I should much mind HIS knowing my opinion of him; with
some other peopleindeedit might be--' Here Miss Snevellicci
stoppedas though waiting to be questionedbut no questioning
camefor Nicholas was thinking about more serious matters.

'How kind it is of you' resumed Miss Snevellicciafter a short
silence'to sit waiting here for him night after nightnight after
nightno matter how tired you are; and taking so much pains with
himand doing it all with as much delight and readiness as if you
were coining gold by it!'

'He well deserves all the kindness I can show himand a great deal
more' said Nicholas. 'He is the most gratefulsingle-hearted
affectionate creature that ever breathed.'

'So oddtoo' remarked Miss Snevellicci'isn't he?'

'God help himand those who have made him so; he is indeed'
rejoined Nicholasshaking his head.

'He is such a devilish close chap' said Mr Folairwho had come up
a little beforeand now joined in the conversation. 'Nobody can
ever get anything out of him.'

'What SHOULD they get out of him?' asked Nicholasturning round
with some abruptness.

'Zooks! what a fire-eater you areJohnson!' returned Mr Folair
pulling up the heel of his dancing shoe. 'I'm only talking of the
natural curiosity of the people hereto know what he has been about
all his life.'

'Poor fellow! it is pretty plainI should thinkthat he has not
the intellect to have been about anything of much importance to them


or anybody else' said Nicholas.

'Ay' rejoined the actorcontemplating the effect of his face in a
lamp reflector'but that involves the whole questionyou know.'

'What question?' asked Nicholas.

'Whythe who he is and what he isand how you twowho are so
differentcame to be such close companions' replied Mr Folair
delighted with the opportunity of saying something disagreeable.
'That's in everybody's mouth.'

'The "everybody" of the theatreI suppose?' said Nicholas
contemptuously.

'In it and out of it too' replied the actor. 'Whyyou know
Lenville says--'

'I thought I had silenced him effectually' interrupted Nicholas
reddening.

'Perhaps you have' rejoined the immovable Mr Folair; 'if you have
he said this before he was silenced: Lenville says that you're a
regular stick of an actorand that it's only the mystery about you
that has caused you to go down with the people hereand that
Crummles keeps it up for his own sake; though Lenville says he don't
believe there's anything at all in itexcept your having got into a
scrape and run away from somewherefor doing something or other.'

'Oh!' said Nicholasforcing a smile.

'That's a part of what he says' added Mr Folair. 'I mention it as
the friend of both partiesand in strict confidence. I don't agree
with himyou know. He says he takes Digby to be more knave than
fool; and old Fluggerswho does the heavy business you knowHE
says that when he delivered messages at Covent Garden the season
before lastthere used to be a pickpocket hovering about the coachstand
who had exactly the face of Digby; thoughas he very properly
saysDigby may not be the samebut only his brotheror some near
relation.'

'Oh!' cried Nicholas again.

'Yes' said Mr Folairwith undisturbed calmness'that's what they
say. I thought I'd tell youbecause really you ought to know. Oh!
here's this blessed phenomenon at last. Ughyou little imposition
I should like to--quite readymy darling--humbug--Ring upMrs G.
and let the favourite wake 'em.'

Uttering in a loud voice such of the latter allusions as were
complimentary to the unconscious phenomenonand giving the rest in
a confidential 'aside' to NicholasMr Folair followed the ascent of
the curtain with his eyesregarded with a sneer the reception of
Miss Crummles as the Maidenandfalling back a step or two to
advance with the better effectuttered a preliminary howland
'went on' chattering his teeth and brandishing his tin tomahawk as
the Indian Savage.

'So these are some of the stories they invent about usand bandy
from mouth to mouth!' thought Nicholas. 'If a man would commit an
inexpiable offence against any societylarge or smalllet him be
successful. They will forgive him any crime but that.'

'You surely don't mind what that malicious creature saysMr


Johnson?' observed Miss Snevellicci in her most winning tones.

'Not I' replied Nicholas. 'If I were going to remain hereI might
think it worth my while to embroil myself. As it islet them talk
till they are hoarse. But here' added Nicholasas Smike
approached'here comes the subject of a portion of their goodnature
so let he and I say good night together.'

'NoI will not let either of you say anything of the kind'
returned Miss Snevellicci. 'You must come home and see mamawho
only came to Portsmouth todayand is dying to behold you. Ledmy
dearpersuade Mr Johnson.'

'OhI'm sure' returned Miss Ledrookwith considerable vivacity
'if YOU can't persuade him--' Miss Ledrook said no morebut
intimatedby a dexterous playfulnessthat if Miss Snevellicci
couldn't persuade himnobody could.

'Mr and Mrs Lillyvick have taken lodgings in our houseand share
our sitting-room for the present' said Miss Snevellicci. 'Won't
that induce you?'

'Surely' returned Nicholas'I can require no possible inducement
beyond your invitation.'

'Oh no! I dare say' rejoined Miss Snevellicci. And Miss Ledrook
said'Upon my word!' Upon which Miss Snevellicci said that Miss
Ledrook was a giddy thing; and Miss Ledrook said that Miss
Snevellicci needn't colour up quite so much; and Miss Snevellicci
beat Miss Ledrookand Miss Ledrook beat Miss Snevellicci.

'Come' said Miss Ledrook'it's high time we were thereor we
shall have poor Mrs Snevellicci thinking that you have run away with
her daughterMr Johnson; and then we should have a pretty to-do.'

'My dear Led' remonstrated Miss Snevellicci'how you do talk!'

Miss Ledrook made no answerbut taking Smike's arm in hersleft
her friend and Nicholas to follow at their pleasure; which it
pleased themor rather pleased Nicholaswho had no great fancy for
a TETE-A-TETE under the circumstancesto do at once.

There were not wanting matters of conversation when they reached the
streetfor it turned out that Miss Snevellicci had a small basket
to carry homeand Miss Ledrook a small bandboxboth containing
such minor articles of theatrical costume as the lady performers
usually carried to and fro every evening. Nicholas would insist
upon carrying the basketand Miss Snevellicci would insist upon
carrying it herselfwhich gave rise to a strugglein which
Nicholas captured the basket and the bandbox likewise. Then
Nicholas saidthat he wondered what could possibly be inside the
basketand attempted to peep inwhereat Miss Snevellicci screamed
and declared that if she thought he had seenshe was sure she
should faint away. This declaration was followed by a similar
attempt on the bandboxand similar demonstrations on the part of
Miss Ledrookand then both ladies vowed that they wouldn't move a
step further until Nicholas had promised that he wouldn't offer to
peep again. At last Nicholas pledged himself to betray no further
curiosityand they walked on: both ladies giggling very muchand
declaring that they never had seen such a wicked creature in all
their born days--never.

Lightening the way with such pleasantry as thisthey arrived at the
tailor's house in no time; and here they made quite a little party


there being present besides Mr Lillyvick and Mrs Lillyvicknot only
Miss Snevellicci's mamabut her papa also. And an uncommonly fine
man Miss Snevellicci's papa waswith a hook noseand a white
foreheadand curly black hairand high cheek bonesand altogether
quite a handsome faceonly a little pimply as though with drinking.
He had a very broad chest had Miss Snevellicci's papaand he wore a
threadbare blue dress-coat buttoned with gilt buttons tight across
it; and he no sooner saw Nicholas come into the roomthan he
whipped the two forefingers of his right hand in between the two
centre buttonsand sticking his other arm gracefully a-kimbo seemed
to say'Nowhere I ammy buckand what have you got to say to
me?'

Such wasand in such an attitude sat Miss Snevellicci's papawho
had been in the profession ever since he had first played the tenyear-
old imps in the Christmas pantomimes; who could sing a little
dance a littlefence a littleact a littleand do everything a
littlebut not much; who had been sometimes in the balletand
sometimes in the chorusat every theatre in London; who was always
selected in virtue of his figure to play the military visitors and
the speechless noblemen; who always wore a smart dressand came on
arm-in-arm with a smart lady in short petticoats--and always did it
too with such an air that people in the pit had been several times
known to cry out 'Bravo!' under the impression that he was somebody.
Such was Miss Snevellicci's papaupon whom some envious persons
cast the imputation that he occasionally beat Miss Snevellicci's
mamawho was still a dancerwith a neat little figure and some
remains of good looks; and who now satas she danced--being rather
too old for the full glare of the foot-lights--in the background.

To these good people Nicholas was presented with much formality.
The introduction being completedMiss Snevellicci's papa (who was
scented with rum-and-water) said that he was delighted to make the
acquaintance of a gentleman so highly talented; and furthermore
remarkedthat there hadn't been such a hit made--nonot since the
first appearance of his friend Mr Glavormellyat the Coburg.

'You have seen himsir?' said Miss Snevellicci's papa.

'Noreally I never did' replied Nicholas.

'You never saw my friend Glavormellysir!' said Miss Snevellicci's
papa. 'Then you have never seen acting yet. If he had lived--'

'Ohhe is deadis he?' interrupted Nicholas.

'He is' said Mr Snevellicci'but he isn't in Westminster Abbey
more's the shame. He was a--. Wellno matter. He is gone to that
bourne from whence no traveller returns. I hope he is appreciated
THERE.'

So saying Miss Snevellicci's papa rubbed the tip of his nose with a
very yellow silk handkerchiefand gave the company to understand
that these recollections overcame him.

'WellMr Lillyvick' said Nicholas'and how are you?'

'Quite wellsir' replied the collector. 'There is nothing like
the married statesirdepend upon it.'

'Indeed!' said Nicholaslaughing.

'Ah! nothing like itsir' replied Mr Lillyvick solemnly. 'How do
you think' whispered the collectordrawing him aside'how do you


think she looks tonight?'

'As handsome as ever' replied Nicholasglancing at the late Miss
Petowker.

'Whythere's air about hersir' whispered the collector'that I
never saw in anybody. Look at hernow she moves to put the kettle
on. There! Isn't it fascinationsir?'

'You're a lucky man' said Nicholas.

'Hahaha!' rejoined the collector. 'No. Do you think I am
thougheh? Perhaps I may beperhaps I may be. I sayI couldn't
have done much better if I had been a young mancould I? You
couldn't have done much better yourselfcould you--eh--could you?'
With such inquiresand many more suchMr Lillyvick jerked his
elbow into Nicholas's sideand chuckled till his face became quite
purple in the attempt to keep down his satisfaction.

By this time the cloth had been laid under the joint superintendence
of all the ladiesupon two tables put togetherone being high and
narrowand the other low and broad. There were oysters at the top
sausages at the bottoma pair of snuffers in the centreand baked
potatoes wherever it was most convenient to put them. Two
additional chairs were brought in from the bedroom: Miss Snevellicci
sat at the head of the tableand Mr Lillyvick at the foot; and
Nicholas had not only the honour of sitting next Miss Snevellicci
but of having Miss Snevellicci's mama on his right handand Miss
Snevellicci's papa over the way. In shorthe was the hero of the
feast; and when the table was cleared and something warm introduced
Miss Snevellicci's papa got up and proposed his health in a speech
containing such affecting allusions to his coming departurethat
Miss Snevellicci weptand was compelled to retire into the bedroom.

'Hush! Don't take any notice of it' said Miss Ledrookpeeping in
from the bedroom. 'Saywhen she comes backthat she exerts
herself too much.'

Miss Ledrook eked out this speech with so many mysterious nods and
frowns before she shut the door againthat a profound silence came
upon all the companyduring which Miss Snevellicci's papa looked
very big indeed--several sizes larger than life--at everybody in
turnbut particularly at Nicholasand kept on perpetually emptying
his tumbler and filling it againuntil the ladies returned in a
clusterwith Miss Snevellicci among them.

'You needn't alarm yourself a bitMr Snevellicci' said Mrs
Lillyvick. 'She is only a little weak and nervous; she has been so
ever since the morning.'

'Oh' said Mr Snevellicci'that's allis it?'

'Oh yesthat's all. Don't make a fuss about it' cried all the
ladies together.

Now this was not exactly the kind of reply suited to Mr Snevellicci's
importance as a man and a fatherso he picked out the unfortunate
Mrs Snevellicciand asked her what the devil she meant by talking
to him in that way.

'Dear memy dear!' said Mrs Snevellicci.

'Don't call me your dearma'am' said Mr Snevellicci'if you
please.'


'Praypadon't' interposed Miss Snevellicci.

'Don't whatmy child?'

'Talk in that way.'

'Why not?' said Mr Snevellicci. 'I hope you don't suppose there's
anybody here who is to prevent my talking as I like?'

'Nobody wants topa' rejoined his daughter.

'Nobody would if they did want to' said Mr Snevellicci. 'I am not
ashamed of myselfSnevellicci is my name; I'm to be found in Broad
CourtBow Streetwhen I'm in town. If I'm not at homelet any
man ask for me at the stage-door. Dammethey know me at the stagedoor
I suppose. Most men have seen my portrait at the cigar shop
round the corner. I've been mentioned in the newspapers before now
haven't I? Talk! I'll tell you what; if I found out that any man
had been tampering with the affections of my daughterI wouldn't
talk. I'd astonish him without talking; that's my way.'

So sayingMr Snevellicci struck the palm of his left hand three
smart blows with his clenched fist; pulled a phantom nose with his
right thumb and forefingerand swallowed another glassful at a
draught. 'That's my way' repeated Mr Snevellicci.

Most public characters have their failings; and the truth is that Mr
Snevellicci was a little addicted to drinking; orif the whole
truth must be toldthat he was scarcely ever sober. He knew in his
cups three distinct stages of intoxication--the dignified--the
quarrelsome--the amorous. When professionally engaged he never got
beyond the dignified; in private circles he went through all three
passing from one to another with a rapidity of transition often
rather perplexing to those who had not the honour of his
acquaintance.

Thus Mr Snevellicci had no sooner swallowed another glassful than he
smiled upon all present in happy forgetfulness of having exhibited
symptoms of pugnacityand proposed 'The ladies! Bless their
hearts!' in a most vivacious manner.

'I love 'em' said Mr Snevelliccilooking round the table'I love
'emevery one.'

'Not every one' reasoned Mr Lillyvickmildly.

'Yesevery one' repeated Mr Snevellicci.

'That would include the married ladiesyou know' said Mr
Lillyvick.

'I love them toosir' said Mr Snevellicci.

The collector looked into the surrounding faces with an aspect of
grave astonishmentseeming to say'This is a nice man!' and
appeared a little surprised that Mrs Lillyvick's manner yielded no
evidences of horror and indignation.

'One good turn deserves another' said Mr Snevellicci. 'I love them
and they love me.' And as if this avowal were not made in sufficient
disregard and defiance of all moral obligationswhat did Mr
Snevellicci do? He winked--winked openly and undisguisedly; winked
with his right eye--upon Henrietta Lillyvick!


The collector fell back in his chair in the intensity of his
astonishment. If anybody had winked at her as Henrietta Petowker
it would have been indecorous in the last degree; but as Mrs
Lillyvick! While he thought of it in a cold perspirationand
wondered whether it was possible that he could be dreamingMr
Snevellicci repeated the winkand drinking to Mrs Lillyvick in dumb
showactually blew her a kiss! Mr Lillyvick left his chairwalked
straight up to the other end of the tableand fell upon him-literally
fell upon him--instantaneously. Mr Lillyvick was no light
weightand consequently when he fell upon Mr SnevellicciMr
Snevellicci fell under the table. Mr Lillyvick followed himand
the ladies screamed.

'What is the matter with the men! Are they mad?' cried Nicholas
diving under the tabledragging up the collector by main forceand
thrusting himall doubled upinto a chairas if he had been a
stuffed figure. 'What do you mean to do? What do you want to do?
What is the matter with you?'

While Nicholas raised up the collectorSmike had performed the same
office for Mr Snevellicciwho now regarded his late adversary in
tipsy amazement.

'Look heresir' replied Mr Lillyvickpointing to his astonished
wife'here is purity and elegance combinedwhose feelings have
been outraged--violatedsir!'

'Lorwhat nonsense he talks!' exclaimed Mrs Lillyvick in answer to
the inquiring look of Nicholas. 'Nobody has said anything to me.'

'SaidHenrietta!' cried the collector. 'Didn't I see him--' Mr
Lillyvick couldn't bring himself to utter the wordbut he
counterfeited the motion of the eye.

'Well!' cried Mrs Lillyvick. 'Do you suppose nobody is ever to look
at me? A pretty thing to be married indeedif that was law!'

'You didn't mind it?' cried the collector.

'Mind it!' repeated Mrs Lillyvick contemptuously. 'You ought to go
down on your knees and beg everybody's pardonthat you ought.'

'Pardonmy dear?' said the dismayed collector.

'Yesand mine first' replied Mrs Lillyvick. 'Do you suppose I
ain't the best judge of what's proper and what's improper?'

'To be sure' cried all the ladies. 'Do you suppose WE shouldn't be
the first to speakif there was anything that ought to be taken
notice of?'

'Do you suppose THEY don't knowsir?' said Miss Snevellicci's papa
pulling up his collarand muttering something about a punching of
headsand being only withheld by considerations of age. With which
Miss Snevellicci's papa looked steadily and sternly at Mr Lillyvick
for some secondsand then rising deliberately from his chair
kissed the ladies all roundbeginning with Mrs Lillyvick.

The unhappy collector looked piteously at his wifeas if to see
whether there was any one trait of Miss Petowker left in Mrs
Lillyvickand finding too surely that there was notbegged pardon
of all the company with great humilityand sat down such a crestfallen
dispiriteddisenchanted manthat despite all his


selfishness and dotagehe was quite an object of compassion.

Miss Snevellicci's papa being greatly exalted by this triumphand
incontestable proof of his popularity with the fair sexquickly
grew convivialnot to say uproarious; volunteering more than one
song of no inconsiderable lengthand regaling the social circle
between-whiles with recollections of divers splendid women who had
been supposed to entertain a passion for himselfseveral of whom he
toasted by nametaking occasion to remark at the same time that if
he had been a little more alive to his own interesthe might have
been rolling at that moment in his chariot-and-four. These
reminiscences appeared to awaken no very torturing pangs in the
breast of Mrs Snevellicciwho was sufficiently occupied in
descanting to Nicholas upon the manifold accomplishments and merits
of her daughter. Nor was the young lady herself at all behind-hand
in displaying her choicest allurements; but theseheightened as
they were by the artifices of Miss Ledrookhad no effect whatever
in increasing the attentions of Nicholaswhowith the precedent of
Miss Squeers still fresh in his memorysteadily resisted every
fascinationand placed so strict a guard upon his behaviour that
when he had taken his leave the ladies were unanimous in pronouncing
him quite a monster of insensibility.

Next day the posters appeared in due courseand the public were
informedin all the colours of the rainbowand in letters
afflicted with every possible variation of spinal deformityhow
that Mr Johnson would have the honour of making his last appearance
that eveningand how that an early application for places was
requestedin consequence of the extraordinary overflow attendant on
his performances--it being a remarkable fact in theatrical history
but one long since established beyond disputethat it is a hopeless
endeavour to attract people to a theatre unless they can be first
brought to believe that they will never get into it.

Nicholas was somewhat at a losson entering the theatre at night
to account for the unusual perturbation and excitement visible in
the countenances of all the companybut he was not long in doubt as
to the causefor before he could make any inquiry respecting it Mr
Crummles approachedand in an agitated tone of voiceinformed him
that there was a London manager in the boxes.

'It's the phenomenondepend upon itsir' said Crummlesdragging
Nicholas to the little hole in the curtain that he might look
through at the London manager. 'I have not the smallest doubt it's
the fame of the phenomenon--that's the man; him in the great-coat
and no shirt-collar. She shall have ten pound a weekJohnson; she
shall not appear on the London boards for a farthing less. They
shan't engage her eitherunless they engage Mrs Crummles too-twenty
pound a week for the pair; or I'll tell you whatI'll throw
in myself and the two boysand they shall have the family for
thirty. I can't say fairer than that. They must take us allif
none of us will go without the others. That's the way some of the
London people doand it always answers. Thirty pound a week--it's
too cheapJohnson. It's dirt cheap.'

Nicholas repliedthat it certainly was; and Mr Vincent Crummles
taking several huge pinches of snuff to compose his feelings
hurried away to tell Mrs Crummles that he had quite settled the only
terms that could be acceptedand had resolved not to abate one
single farthing.

When everybody was dressed and the curtain went upthe excitement
occasioned by the presence of the London manager increased a
thousand-fold. Everybody happened to know that the London manager


had come down specially to witness his or her own performanceand
all were in a flutter of anxiety and expectation. Some of those who
were not on in the first scenehurried to the wingsand there
stretched their necks to have a peep at him; others stole up into
the two little private boxes over the stage-doorsand from that
position reconnoitred the London manager. Once the London manager
was seen to smile--he smiled at the comic countryman's pretending to
catch a blue-bottlewhile Mrs Crummles was making her greatest
effect. 'Very goodmy fine fellow' said Mr Crummlesshaking his
fist at the comic countryman when he came off'you leave this
company next Saturday night.'

In the same wayeverybody who was on the stage beheld no audience
but one individual; everybody played to the London manager. When Mr
Lenville in a sudden burst of passion called the emperor a
miscreantand then biting his glovesaid'But I must dissemble'
instead of looking gloomily at the boards and so waiting for his
cueas is proper in such caseshe kept his eye fixed upon the
London manager. When Miss Bravassa sang her song at her loverwho
according to custom stood ready to shake hands with her between the
versesthey lookednot at each otherbut at the London manager.
Mr Crummles died point blank at him; and when the two guards came in
to take the body off after a very hard deathit was seen to open
its eyes and glance at the London manager. At length the London
manager was discovered to be asleepand shortly after that he woke
up and went awaywhereupon all the company fell foul of the unhappy
comic countrymandeclaring that his buffoonery was the sole cause;
and Mr Crummles saidthat he had put up with it a long timebut
that he really couldn't stand it any longerand therefore would
feel obliged by his looking out for another engagement.

All this was the occasion of much amusement to Nicholaswhose only
feeling upon the subject was one of sincere satisfaction that the
great man went away before he appeared. He went through his part in
the two last pieces as briskly as he couldand having been received
with unbounded favour and unprecedented applause--so said the bills
for next daywhich had been printed an hour or two before--he took
Smike's arm and walked home to bed.

With the post next morning came a letter from Newman Noggsvery
inkyvery shortvery dirtyvery smalland very mysterious
urging Nicholas to return to London instantly; not to lose an
instant; to be there that night if possible.

'I will' said Nicholas. 'Heaven knows I have remained here for the
bestand sorely against my own will; but even now I may have
dallied too long. What can have happened? Smikemy good fellow
here--take my purse. Put our things togetherand pay what little
debts we owe--quickand we shall be in time for the morning coach.
I will only tell them that we are goingand will return to you
immediately.'

So sayinghe took his hatand hurrying away to the lodgings of Mr
Crummlesapplied his hand to the knocker with such hearty goodwill
that he awakened that gentlemanwho was still in bedand
caused Mr Bulph the pilot to take his morning's pipe very nearly out
of his mouth in the extremity of his surprise.

The door being openedNicholas ran upstairs without any ceremony
and bursting into the darkened sitting-room on the one-pair front
found that the two Master Crummleses had sprung out of the sofabedstead
and were putting on their clothes with great rapidity
under the impression that it was the middle of the nightand the
next house was on fire.


Before he could undeceive themMr Crummles came down in a flannel
gown and nightcap; and to him Nicholas briefly explained that
circumstances had occurred which rendered it necessary for him to
repair to London immediately.

'So goodbye' said Nicholas; 'goodbyegoodbye.'

He was half-way downstairs before Mr Crummles had sufficiently
recovered his surprise to gasp out something about the posters.

'I can't help it' replied Nicholas. 'Set whatever I may have
earned this week against themor if that will not repay yousay at
once what will. Quickquick.'

'We'll cry quits about that' returned Crummles. 'But can't we have
one last night more?'

'Not an hour--not a minute' replied Nicholasimpatiently.

'Won't you stop to say something to Mrs Crummles?' asked the
managerfollowing him down to the door.

'I couldn't stop if it were to prolong my life a score of years'
rejoined Nicholas. 'Heretake my handand with it my hearty
thanks.--Oh! that I should have been fooling here!'

Accompanying these words with an impatient stamp upon the groundhe
tore himself from the manager's detaining graspand darting rapidly
down the street was out of sight in an instant.

'Dear medear me' said Mr Crummleslooking wistfully towards the
point at which he had just disappeared; 'if he only acted like that
what a deal of money he'd draw! He should have kept upon this
circuit; he'd have been very useful to me. But he don't know what's
good for him. He is an impetuous youth. Young men are rashvery
rash.'

Mr Crummles being in a moralising moodmight possibly have
moralised for some minutes longer if he had not mechanically put his
hand towards his waistcoat pocketwhere he was accustomed to keep
his snuff. The absence of any pocket at all in the usual direction
suddenly recalled to his recollection the fact that he had no
waistcoat on; and this leading him to a contemplation of the extreme
scantiness of his attirehe shut the door abruptlyand retired
upstairs with great precipitation.

Smike had made good speed while Nicholas was absentand with his
help everything was soon ready for their departure. They scarcely
stopped to take a morsel of breakfastand in less than half an hour
arrived at the coach-office: quite out of breath with the haste they
had made to reach it in time. There were yet a few minutes to
sparesohaving secured the placesNicholas hurried into a
slopseller's hard byand bought Smike a great-coat. It would
have been rather large for a substantial yeomanbut the shopman
averring (and with considerable truth) that it was a most uncommon
fitNicholas would have purchased it in his impatience if it had
been twice the size.

As they hurried up to the coachwhich was now in the open street
and all ready for startingNicholas was not a little astonished to
find himself suddenly clutched in a close and violent embracewhich
nearly took him off his legs; nor was his amazement at all lessened
by hearing the voice of Mr Crummles exclaim'It is he--my friend


my friend!'

'Bless my heart' cried Nicholasstruggling in the manager's arms
'what are you about?'

The manager made no replybut strained him to his breast again
exclaiming as he did so'Farewellmy noblemy lion-hearted boy!'

In factMr Crummleswho could never lose any opportunity for
professional displayhad turned out for the express purpose of
taking a public farewell of Nicholas; and to render it the more
imposinghe was nowto that young gentleman's most profound
annoyanceinflicting upon him a rapid succession of stage embraces
whichas everybody knowsare performed by the embracer's laying
his or her chin on the shoulder of the object of affectionand
looking over it. This Mr Crummles did in the highest style of
melodramapouring forth at the same time all the most dismal forms
of farewell he could think ofout of the stock pieces. Nor was
this allfor the elder Master Crummles was going through a similar
ceremony with Smike; while Master Percy Crummleswith a very little
second-hand camlet cloakworn theatrically over his left shoulder
stood byin the attitude of an attendant officerwaiting to convey
the two victims to the scaffold.

The lookers-on laughed very heartilyand as it was as well to put a
good face upon the matterNicholas laughed too when he had
succeeded in disengaging himself; and rescuing the astonished Smike
climbed up to the coach roof after himand kissed his hand in
honour of the absent Mrs Crummles as they rolled away.

CHAPTER 31

Of Ralph Nickleby and Newman Noggsand some wise Precautionsthe
success or failure of which will appear in the Sequel

In blissful unconsciousness that his nephew was hastening at the
utmost speed of four good horses towards his sphere of actionand
that every passing minute diminished the distance between them
Ralph Nickleby sat that morning occupied in his customary
avocationsand yet unable to prevent his thoughts wandering from
time to time back to the interview which had taken place between
himself and his niece on the previous day. At such intervalsafter
a few moments of abstractionRalph would mutter some peevish
interjectionand apply himself with renewed steadiness of purpose
to the ledger before himbut again and again the same train of
thought came back despite all his efforts to prevent itconfusing
him in his calculationsand utterly distracting his attention from
the figures over which he bent. At length Ralph laid down his pen
and threw himself back in his chair as though he had made up his
mind to allow the obtrusive current of reflection to take its own
courseandby giving it full scopeto rid himself of it effectually.

'I am not a man to be moved by a pretty face' muttered Ralph
sternly. 'There is a grinning skull beneath itand men like me who
look and work below the surface see thatand not its delicate
covering. And yet I almost like the girlor should if she had been
less proudly and squeamishly brought up. If the boy were drowned or
hangedand the mother deadthis house should be her home. I wish
they werewith all my soul.'

Notwithstanding the deadly hatred which Ralph felt towards Nicholas


and the bitter contempt with which he sneered at poor Mrs Nickleby-notwithstanding
the baseness with which he had behavedand was then
behavingand would behave again if his interest prompted him
towards Kate herself--still there wasstrange though it may seem
something humanising and even gentle in his thoughts at that moment.
He thought of what his home might be if Kate were there; he placed
her in the empty chairlooked upon herheard her speak; he felt
again upon his arm the gentle pressure of the trembling hand; he
strewed his costly rooms with the hundred silent tokens of feminine
presence and occupation; he came back again to the cold fireside and
the silent dreary splendour; and in that one glimpse of a better
natureborn as it was in selfish thoughtsthe rich man felt
himself friendlesschildlessand alone. Goldfor the instant
lost its lustre in his eyesfor there were countless treasures of
the heart which it could never purchase.

A very slight circumstance was sufficient to banish such reflections
from the mind of such a man. As Ralph looked vacantly out across
the yard towards the window of the other officehe became suddenly
aware of the earnest observation of Newman Noggswhowith his red
nose almost touching the glassfeigned to be mending a pen with a
rusty fragment of a knifebut was in reality staring at his
employer with a countenance of the closest and most eager scrutiny.

Ralph exchanged his dreamy posture for his accustomed business
attitude: the face of Newman disappearedand the train of thought
took to flightall simultaneouslyand in an instant.

After a few minutesRalph rang his bell. Newman answered the
summonsand Ralph raised his eyes stealthily to his faceas if he
almost feared to read therea knowledge of his recent thoughts.

There was not the smallest speculationhoweverin the countenance
of Newman Noggs. If it be possible to imagine a manwith two eyes
in his headand both wide openlooking in no direction whatever
and seeing nothingNewman appeared to be that man while Ralph
Nickleby regarded him.

'How now?' growled Ralph.

'Oh!' said Newmanthrowing some intelligence into his eyes all at
onceand dropping them on his master'I thought you rang.' With
which laconic remark Newman turned round and hobbled away.

'Stop!' said Ralph.

Newman stopped; not at all disconcerted.

'I did ring.'

'I knew you did.'

'Then why do you offer to go if you know that?'

'I thought you rang to say you didn't ring" replied Newman. 'You
often do.'

'How dare you pryand peerand stare at mesirrah?' demanded
Ralph.

'Stare!' cried Newman'at YOU! Haha!' which was all the
explanation Newman deigned to offer.

'Be carefulsir' said Ralphlooking steadily at him. 'Let me


have no drunken fooling here. Do you see this parcel?'

'It's big enough' rejoined Newman.

'Carry it into the city; to Crossin Broad Streetand leave it
there--quick. Do you hear?'

Newman gave a dogged kind of nod to express an affirmative reply
andleaving the room for a few secondsreturned with his hat.
Having made various ineffective attempts to fit the parcel (which
was some two feet square) into the crown thereofNewman took it
under his armand after putting on his fingerless gloves with great
precision and nicetykeeping his eyes fixed upon Mr Ralph Nickleby
all the timehe adjusted his hat upon his head with as much care
real or pretendedas if it were a bran-new one of the most
expensive qualityand at last departed on his errand.

He executed his commission with great promptitude and dispatchonly
calling at one public-house for half a minuteand even that might
be said to be in his wayfor he went in at one door and came out at
the other; but as he returned and had got so far homewards as the
StrandNewman began to loiter with the uncertain air of a man who
has not quite made up his mind whether to halt or go straight
forwards. After a very short considerationthe former inclination
prevailedand making towards the point he had had in his mind
Newman knocked a modest double knockor rather a nervous single
oneat Miss La Creevy's door.

It was opened by a strange servanton whom the odd figure of the
visitor did not appear to make the most favourable impression
possibleinasmuch as she no sooner saw him than she very nearly
closed itand placing herself in the narrow gapinquired what he
wanted. But Newman merely uttering the monosyllable 'Noggs' as if
it were some cabalistic wordat sound of which bolts would fly back
and doors openpushed briskly past and gained the door of Miss La
Creevy's sitting-roombefore the astonished servant could offer any
opposition.

'Walk in if you please' said Miss La Creevy in reply to the sound
of Newman's knuckles; and in he walked accordingly.

'Bless us!' cried Miss La Creevystarting as Newman bolted in;
'what did you wantsir?'

'You have forgotten me' said Newmanwith an inclination of the
head. 'I wonder at that. That nobody should remember me who knew
me in other daysis natural enough; but there are few people who
seeing me onceforget me NOW.' He glancedas he spokeat his
shabby clothes and paralytic limband slightly shook his head.

'I did forget youI declare' said Miss La Creevyrising to
receive Newmanwho met her half-way'and I am ashamed of myself
for doing so; for you are a kindgood creatureMr Noggs. Sit down
and tell me all about Miss Nickleby. Poor dear thing! I haven't
seen her for this many a week.'

'How's that?' asked Newman.

'Whythe truth isMr Noggs' said Miss La Creevy'that I have
been out on a visit--the first visit I have made for fifteen years.'

'That is a long time' said Newmansadly.

'So it is a very long time to look back upon in yearsthough


somehow or otherthank Heaventhe solitary days roll away
peacefully and happily enough' replied the miniature painter. 'I
have a brotherMr Noggs--the only relation I have--and all that
time I never saw him once. Not that we ever quarrelledbut he was
apprenticed down in the countryand he got married there; and new
ties and affections springing up about himhe forgot a poor little
woman like meas it was very reasonable he shouldyou know. Don't
suppose that I complain about thatbecause I always said to myself
It is very natural; poor dear John is making his way in the world,
and has a wife to tell his cares and troubles to, and children now
to play about him, so God bless him and them, and send we may all
meet together one day where we shall part no more.But what do you
thinkMr Noggs' said the miniature painterbrightening up and
clapping her hands'of that very same brother coming up to London
at lastand never resting till he found me out; what do you think
of his coming here and sitting down in that very chairand crying
like a child because he was so glad to see me--what do you think of
his insisting on taking me down all the way into the country to his
own house (quite a sumptuous placeMr Noggswith a large garden
and I don't know how many fieldsand a man in livery waiting at
tableand cows and horses and pigs and I don't know what besides)
and making me stay a whole monthand pressing me to stop there all
my life--yesall my life--and so did his wifeand so did the
children--and there were four of themand onethe eldest girl of
allthey--they had named her after me eight good years beforethey
had indeed. I never was so happy; in all my life I never was!' The
worthy soul hid her face in her handkerchiefand sobbed aloud; for
it was the first opportunity she had had of unburdening her heart
and it would have its way.

'But bless my life' said Miss La Creevywiping her eyes after a
short pauseand cramming her handkerchief into her pocket with
great bustle and dispatch; 'what a foolish creature I must seem to
youMr Noggs! I shouldn't have said anything about itonly I
wanted to explain to you how it was I hadn't seen Miss Nickleby.'

'Have you seen the old lady?' asked Newman.

'You mean Mrs Nickleby?' said Miss La Creevy. 'Then I tell you
whatMr Noggsif you want to keep in the good books in that
quarteryou had better not call her the old lady any morefor I
suspect she wouldn't be best pleased to hear you. YesI went there
the night before lastbut she was quite on the high ropes about
somethingand was so grand and mysteriousthat I couldn't make
anything of her: soto tell you the truthI took it into my head
to be grand tooand came away in state. I thought she would have
come round again before thisbut she hasn't been here.'

'About Miss Nickleby--' said Newman.

'Whyshe was here twice while I was away' returned Miss La Creevy.
'I was afraid she mightn't like to have me calling on her among
those great folks in what's-its-name Placeso I thought I'd wait a
day or twoand if I didn't see herwrite.'

'Ah!' exclaimed Newmancracking his fingers.

'HoweverI want to hear all the news about them from you' said
Miss La Creevy. 'How is the old rough and tough monster of Golden
Square? Wellof course; such people always are. I don't mean how
is he in healthbut how is he going on: how is he behaving
himself?'

'Damn him!' cried Newmandashing his cherished hat on the floor;


'like a false hound.'

'GraciousMr Noggsyou quite terrify me!' exclaimed Miss La
Creevyturning pale.

'I should have spoilt his features yesterday afternoon if I could
have afforded it' said Newmanmoving restlessly aboutand shaking
his fist at a portrait of Mr Canning over the mantelpiece. 'I was
very near it. I was obliged to put my hands in my pocketsand keep
'em there very tight. I shall do it some day in that little backparlour
I know I shall. I should have done it before nowif I
hadn't been afraid of making bad worse. I shall double-lock myself
in with him and have it out before I dieI'm quite certain of it.'

'I shall scream if you don't compose yourselfMr Noggs' said Miss
La Creevy; 'I'm sure I shan't be able to help it.'

'Never mind' rejoined Newmandarting violently to and fro. 'He's
coming up tonight: I wrote to tell him. He little thinks I know; he
little thinks I care. Cunning scoundrel! he don't think that. Not
henot he. Never mindI'll thwart him--INewman Noggs. Hoho
the rascal!'

Lashing himself up to an extravagant pitch of furyNewman Noggs
jerked himself about the room with the most eccentric motion ever
beheld in a human being: now sparring at the little miniatures on
the walland now giving himself violent thumps on the headas if
to heighten the delusionuntil he sank down in his former seat
quite breathless and exhausted.

'There' said Newmanpicking up his hat; 'that's done me good. Now
I'm betterand I'll tell you all about it.'

It took some little time to reassure Miss La Creevywho had been
almost frightened out of her senses by this remarkable
demonstration; but that doneNewman faithfully related all that had
passed in the interview between Kate and her uncleprefacing his
narrative with a statement of his previous suspicions on the
subjectand his reasons for forming them; and concluding with a
communication of the step he had taken in secretly writing to
Nicholas.

Though little Miss La Creevy's indignation was not so singularly
displayed as Newman'sit was scarcely inferior in violence and
intensity. Indeedif Ralph Nickleby had happened to make his
appearance in the room at that momentthere is some doubt whether
he would not have found Miss La Creevy a more dangerous opponent
than even Newman Noggs himself.

'God forgive me for saying so' said Miss La Creevyas a wind-up to
all her expressions of anger'but I really feel as if I could stick
this into him with pleasure.'

It was not a very awful weapon that Miss La Creevy heldit being in
fact nothing more nor less than a black-lead pencil; but discovering
her mistakethe little portrait painter exchanged it for a motherof-
pearl fruit knifewherewithin proof of her desperate thoughts
she made a lunge as she spokewhich would have scarcely disturbed
the crumb of a half-quartern loaf.

'She won't stop where she is after tonight' said Newman. 'That's a
comfort.'

'Stop!' cried Miss La Creevy'she should have left thereweeks


ago.'

'--If we had known of this' rejoined Newman. 'But we didn't.
Nobody could properly interfere but her mother or brother. The
mother's weak--poor thing--weak. The dear young man will be here
tonight.'

'Heart alive!' cried Miss La Creevy. 'He will do something
desperateMr Noggsif you tell him all at once.'

Newman left off rubbing his handsand assumed a thoughtful look.

'Depend upon it' said Miss La Creevyearnestly'if you are not
very careful in breaking out the truth to himhe will do some
violence upon his uncle or one of these men that will bring some
terrible calamity upon his own headand grief and sorrow to us
all.'

'I never thought of that' rejoined Newmanhis countenance falling
more and more. 'I came to ask you to receive his sister in case he
brought her herebut--'

'But this is a matter of much greater importance' interrupted Miss
La Creevy; 'that you might have been sure of before you camebut
the end of thisnobody can foreseeunless you are very guarded and
careful.'

'What CAN I do?' cried Newmanscratching his head with an air of
great vexation and perplexity. 'If he was to talk of pistoling 'em
allI should be obliged to sayCertainly--serve 'em right.'

Miss La Creevy could not suppress a small shriek on hearing this
and instantly set about extorting a solemn pledge from Newman that
he would use his utmost endeavours to pacify the wrath of Nicholas;
whichafter some demurwas conceded. They then consulted together
on the safest and surest mode of communicating to him the
circumstances which had rendered his presence necessary.

'He must have time to cool before he can possibly do anything' said
Miss La Creevy. 'That is of the greatest consequence. He must not
be told until late at night.'

'But he'll be in town between six and seven this evening' replied
Newman. 'I can't keep it from him when he asks me.'

'Then you must go outMr Noggs' said Miss La Creevy. 'You can
easily have been kept away by businessand must not return till
nearly midnight.'

'Then he will come straight here' retorted Newman.

'So I suppose' observed Miss La Creevy; 'but he won't find me at
homefor I'll go straight to the city the instant you leave me
make up matters with Mrs Nicklebyand take her away to the theatre
so that he may not even know where his sister lives.'

Upon further discussionthis appeared the safest and most feasible
mode of proceeding that could possibly be adopted. Therefore it was
finally determined that matters should be so arrangedand Newman
after listening to many supplementary cautions and entreatiestook
his leave of Miss La Creevy and trudged back to Golden Square;
ruminating as he went upon a vast number of possibilities and
impossibilities which crowded upon his brainand arose out of the
conversation that had just terminated.


CHAPTER 32

Relating chiefly to some remarkable Conversationand some
remarkable Proceedings to which it gives rise

'London at last!' cried Nicholasthrowing back his greatcoat and
rousing Smike from a long nap. 'It seemed to me as though we should
never reach it.'

'And yet you came along at a tidy pace too' observed the coachman
looking over his shoulder at Nicholas with no very pleasant
expression of countenance.

'AyI know that' was the reply; 'but I have been very anxious to
be at my journey's endand that makes the way seem long.'

'Well' remarked the coachman'if the way seemed long with such
cattle as you've sat behindyou MUST have been most uncommon
anxious;' and so sayinghe let out his whip-lash and touched up a
little boy on the calves of his legs by way of emphasis.

They rattled on through the noisybustlingcrowded street of
Londonnow displaying long double rows of brightly-burning lamps
dotted here and there with the chemists' glaring lightsand
illuminated besides with the brilliant flood that streamed from the
windows of the shopswhere sparkling jewellerysilks and velvets
of the richest coloursthe most inviting delicaciesand most
sumptuous articles of luxurious ornamentsucceeded each other in
rich and glittering profusion. Streams of people apparently without
end poured on and onjostling each other in the crowd and hurrying
forwardscarcely seeming to notice the riches that surrounded them
on every side; while vehicles of all shapes and makesmingled up
together in one moving masslike running waterlent their
ceaseless roar to swell the noise and tumult.

As they dashed by the quickly-changing and ever-varying objectsit
was curious to observe in what a strange procession they passed
before the eye. Emporiums of splendid dressesthe materials
brought from every quarter of the world; tempting stores of
everything to stimulate and pamper the sated appetite and give new
relish to the oft-repeated feast; vessels of burnished gold and
silverwrought into every exquisite form of vaseand dishand
goblet; gunsswordspistolsand patent engines of destruction;
screws and irons for the crookedclothes for the newly-borndrugs
for the sickcoffins for the deadand churchyards for the buried-all
these jumbled each with the other and flocking side by side
seemed to flit by in motley dance like the fantastic groups of the
old Dutch painterand with the same stern moral for the unheeding
restless crowd.

Nor were there wanting objects in the crowd itself to give new point
and purpose to the shifting scene. The rags of the squalid balladsinger
fluttered in the rich light that showed the goldsmith's
treasurespale and pinched-up faces hovered about the windows where
was tempting foodhungry eyes wandered over the profusion guarded
by one thin sheet of brittle glass--an iron wall to them; half-naked
shivering figures stopped to gaze at Chinese shawls and golden
stuffs of India. There was a christening party at the largest
coffin-maker's and a funeral hatchment had stopped some great
improvements in the bravest mansion. Life and death went hand in


hand; wealth and poverty stood side by side; repletion and
starvation laid them down together.

But it was London; and the old country lady insidewho had put her
head out of the coach-window a mile or two this side Kingstonand
cried out to the driver that she was sure he must have passed it and
forgotten to set her downwas satisfied at last.

Nicholas engaged beds for himself and Smike at the inn where the
coach stoppedand repairedwithout the delay of another momentto
the lodgings of Newman Noggs; for his anxiety and impatience had
increased with every succeeding minuteand were almost beyond
control.

There was a fire in Newman's garret; and a candle had been left
burning; the floor was cleanly sweptthe room was as comfortably
arranged as such a room could beand meat and drink were placed in
order upon the table. Everything bespoke the affectionate care and
attention of Newman Noggsbut Newman himself was not there.

'Do you know what time he will be home?' inquired Nicholastapping
at the door of Newman's front neighbour.

'AhMr Johnson!' said Crowlpresenting himself. 'Welcomesir.
How well you're looking! I never could have believed--'

'Pardon me' interposed Nicholas. 'My question--I am extremely
anxious to know.'

'Whyhe has a troublesome affair of business' replied Crowl'and
will not be home before twelve o'clock. He was very unwilling to
goI can tell youbut there was no help for it. Howeverhe left
word that you were to make yourself comfortable till he came back
and that I was to entertain youwhich I shall be very glad to do.'

In proof of his extreme readiness to exert himself for the general
entertainmentMr Crowl drew a chair to the table as he spokeand
helping himself plentifully to the cold meatinvited Nicholas and
Smike to follow his example.

Disappointed and uneasyNicholas could touch no foodsoafter he
had seen Smike comfortably established at the tablehe walked out
(despite a great many dissuasions uttered by Mr Crowl with his mouth
full)and left Smike to detain Newman in case he returned first.

As Miss La Creevy had anticipatedNicholas betook himself straight
to her house. Finding her from homehe debated within himself for
some time whether he should go to his mother's residenceand so
compromise her with Ralph Nickleby. Fully persuadedhoweverthat
Newman would not have solicited him to return unless there was some
strong reason which required his presence at homehe resolved to go
thereand hastened eastwards with all speed.

Mrs Nickleby would not be at homethe girl saiduntil past twelve
or later. She believed Miss Nickleby was wellbut she didn't live
at home nownor did she come home except very seldom. She couldn't
say where she was stoppingbut it was not at Madame Mantalini's.
She was sure of that.

With his heart beating violentlyand apprehending he knew not what
disasterNicholas returned to where he had left Smike. Newman had
not been home. He wouldn't betill twelve o'clock; there was no
chance of it. Was there no possibility of sending to fetch him if
it were only for an instantor forwarding to him one line of


writing to which he might return a verbal reply? That was quite
impracticable. He was not at Golden Squareand probably had been
sent to execute some commission at a distance.

Nicholas tried to remain quietly where he wasbut he felt so
nervous and excited that he could not sit still. He seemed to be
losing time unless he was moving. It was an absurd fancyhe knew
but he was wholly unable to resist it. Sohe took up his hat and
rambled out again.

He strolled westward this timepacing the long streets with hurried
footstepsand agitated by a thousand misgivings and apprehensions
which he could not overcome. He passed into Hyde Parknow silent
and desertedand increased his rate of walking as if in the hope of
leaving his thoughts behind. They crowded upon him more thickly
howevernow there were no passing objects to attract his attention;
and the one idea was always uppermostthat some stroke of illfortune
must have occurred so calamitous in its nature that all were
fearful of disclosing it to him. The old question arose again and
again--What could it be? Nicholas walked till he was wearybut was
not one bit the wiser; and indeed he came out of the Park at last a
great deal more confused and perplexed than when he went in.

He had taken scarcely anything to eat or drink since early in the
morningand felt quite worn out and exhausted. As he returned
languidly towards the point from which he had startedalong one of
the thoroughfares which lie between Park Lane and Bond Streethe
passed a handsome hotelbefore which he stopped mechanically.

'An expensive placeI dare say' thought Nicholas; 'but a pint of
wine and a biscuit are no great debauch wherever they are had. And
yet I don't know.'

He walked on a few stepsbut looking wistfully down the long vista
of gas-lamps before himand thinking how long it would take to
reach the end of it and being besides in that kind of mood in which
a man is most disposed to yield to his first impulse--and being
besidesstrongly attracted to the hotelin part by curiosityand
in part by some odd mixture of feelings which he would have been
troubled to define--Nicholas turned back againand walked into the
coffee-room.

It was very handsomely furnished. The walls were ornamented with
the choicest specimens of French paperenriched with a gilded
cornice of elegant design. The floor was covered with a rich
carpet; and two superb mirrorsone above the chimneypiece and one
at the opposite end of the room reaching from floor to ceiling
multiplied the other beauties and added new ones of their own to
enhance the general effect. There was a rather noisy party of four
gentlemen in a box by the fire-placeand only two other persons
present--both elderly gentlemenand both alone.

Observing all this in the first comprehensive glance with which a
stranger surveys a place that is new to himNicholas sat himself
down in the box next to the noisy partywith his back towards them
and postponing his order for a pint of claret until such time as the
waiter and one of the elderly gentlemen should have settled a
disputed question relative to the price of an item in the bill of
faretook up a newspaper and began to read.

He had not read twenty linesand was in truth himself dozingwhen
he was startled by the mention of his sister's name. 'Little Kate
Nickleby' were the words that caught his ear. He raised his head in
amazementand as he did sosaw by the reflection in the opposite


glassthat two of the party behind him had risen and were standing
before the fire. 'It must have come from one of them' thought
Nicholas. He waited to hear more with a countenance of some
indignationfor the tone of speech had been anything but
respectfuland the appearance of the individual whom he presumed to
have been the speaker was coarse and swaggering.

This person--so Nicholas observed in the same glance at the mirror
which had enabled him to see his face--was standing with his back to
the fire conversing with a younger manwho stood with his back to
the companywore his hatand was adjusting his shirt-collar by the
aid of the glass. They spoke in whispersnow and then bursting
into a loud laughbut Nicholas could catch no repetition of the
wordsnor anything sounding at all like the wordswhich had
attracted his attention.

At length the two resumed their seatsand more wine being ordered
the party grew louder in their mirth. Still there was no reference
made to anybody with whom he was acquaintedand Nicholas became
persuaded that his excited fancy had either imagined the sounds
altogetheror converted some other words into the name which had
been so much in his thoughts.

'It is remarkable too' thought Nicholas: 'if it had been "Kate" or
Kate Nickleby,I should not have been so much surprised: but
little Kate Nickleby!'

The wine coming at the moment prevented his finishing the sentence.
He swallowed a glassful and took up the paper again. At that
instant-


'Little Kate Nickleby!' cried the voice behind him.

'I was right' muttered Nicholas as the paper fell from his hand.
'And it was the man I supposed.'

'As there was a proper objection to drinking her in heel-taps' said
the voice'we'll give her the first glass in the new magnum.
Little Kate Nickleby!'

'Little Kate Nickleby' cried the other three. And the glasses were
set down empty.

Keenly alive to the tone and manner of this slight and careless
mention of his sister's name in a public placeNicholas fired at
once; but he kept himself quiet by a great effortand did not even
turn his head.

'The jade!' said the same voice which had spoken before. 'She's a
true Nickleby--a worthy imitator of her old uncle Ralph--she hangs
back to be more sought after--so does he; nothing to be got out of
Ralph unless you follow him upand then the money comes doubly
welcomeand the bargain doubly hardfor you're impatient and he
isn't. Oh! infernal cunning.'

'Infernal cunning' echoed two voices.

Nicholas was in a perfect agony as the two elderly gentlemen
oppositerose one after the other and went awaylest they should
be the means of his losing one word of what was said. But the
conversation was suspended as they withdrewand resumed with even
greater freedom when they had left the room.

'I am afraid' said the younger gentleman'that the old woman has


grown jea-a-lousand locked her up. Upon my soul it looks like
it.'

'If they quarrel and little Nickleby goes home to her motherso
much the better' said the first. 'I can do anything with the old
lady. She'll believe anything I tell her.'

'Egad that's true' returned the other voice. 'Hahaha! Poor
deyvle!'

The laugh was taken up by the two voices which always came in
togetherand became general at Mrs Nickleby's expense. Nicholas
turned burning hot with ragebut he commanded himself for the
momentand waited to hear more.

What he heard need not be repeated here. Suffice it that as the
wine went round he heard enough to acquaint him with the characters
and designs of those whose conversation he overhead; to possess him
with the full extent of Ralph's villainyand the real reason of his
own presence being required in London. He heard all this and more.
He heard his sister's sufferings deridedand her virtuous conduct
jeered at and brutally misconstrued; he heard her name bandied from
mouth to mouthand herself made the subject of coarse and insolent
wagersfree speechand licentious jesting.

The man who had spoken firstled the conversationand indeed
almost engrossed itbeing only stimulated from time to time by some
slight observation from one or other of his companions. To him then
Nicholas addressed himself when he was sufficiently composed to
stand before the partyand force the words from his parched and
scorching throat.

'Let me have a word with yousir' said Nicholas.

'With mesir?' retorted Sir Mulberry Hawkeyeing him in disdainful
surprise.

'I said with you' replied Nicholasspeaking with great difficulty
for his passion choked him.

'A mysterious strangerupon my soul!' exclaimed Sir Mulberry
raising his wine-glass to his lipsand looking round upon his
friends.

'Will you step apart with me for a few minutesor do you refuse?'
said Nicholas sternly.

Sir Mulberry merely paused in the act of drinkingand bade him
either name his business or leave the table.

Nicholas drew a card from his pocketand threw it before him.

'Theresir' said Nicholas; 'my business you will guess.'

A momentary expression of astonishmentnot unmixed with some
confusionappeared in the face of Sir Mulberry as he read the name;
but he subdued it in an instantand tossing the card to Lord
Verisophtwho sat oppositedrew a toothpick from a glass before
himand very leisurely applied it to his mouth.

'Your name and address?' said Nicholasturning paler as his passion
kindled.

'I shall give you neither' replied Sir Mulberry.


'If there is a gentleman in this party' said Nicholaslooking
round and scarcely able to make his white lips form the words'he
will acquaint me with the name and residence of this man.'

There was a dead silence.

'I am the brother of the young lady who has been the subject of
conversation here' said Nicholas. 'I denounce this person as a
liarand impeach him as a coward. If he has a friend herehe will
save him the disgrace of the paltry attempt to conceal his name--and
utterly useless one--for I will find it outnor leave him until I
have.'

Sir Mulberry looked at him contemptuouslyandaddressing his
companionssaid-


'Let the fellow talkI have nothing serious to say to boys of his
station; and his pretty sister shall save him a broken headif he
talks till midnight.'

'You are a base and spiritless scoundrel!' said Nicholas'and shall
be proclaimed so to the world. I WILL know you; I will follow you
home if you walk the streets till morning.'

Sir Mulberry's hand involuntarily closed upon the decanterand he
seemed for an instant about to launch it at the head of his
challenger. But he only filled his glassand laughed in derision.

Nicholas sat himself downdirectly opposite to the partyand
summoning the waiterpaid his bill.

'Do you know that person's name?' he inquired of the man in an
audible voice; pointing out Sir Mulberry as he put the question.

Sir Mulberry laughed againand the two voices which had always
spoken togetherechoed the laugh; but rather feebly.

'That gentlemansir?' replied the waiterwhono doubtknew his
cueand answered with just as little respectand just as much
impertinence as he could safely show: 'nosirI do notsir.'

'Hereyou sir' cried Sir Mulberryas the man was retiring; 'do
you know THAT person's name?'

'Namesir? Nosir.'

'Then you'll find it there' said Sir Mulberrythrowing Nicholas's
card towards him; 'and when you have made yourself master of itput
that piece of pasteboard in the fire--do you hear me?'

The man grinnedandlooking doubtfully at Nicholascompromised
the matter by sticking the card in the chimney-glass. Having done
thishe retired.

Nicholas folded his armsand biting his lipsat perfectly quiet;
sufficiently expressing by his mannerhowevera firm determination
to carry his threat of following Sir Mulberry homeinto steady
execution.

It was evident from the tone in which the younger member of the
party appeared to remonstrate with his friendthat he objected to
this course of proceedingand urged him to comply with the request
which Nicholas had made. Sir Mulberryhoweverwho was not quite


soberand who was in a sullen and dogged state of obstinacysoon
silenced the representations of his weak young friendand further
seemed--as if to save himself from a repetition of them--to insist
on being left alone. However this might have beenthe young
gentleman and the two who had always spoken togetheractually rose
to go after a short intervaland presently retiredleaving their
friend alone with Nicholas.

It will be very readily supposed that to one in the condition of
Nicholasthe minutes appeared to move with leaden wings indeedand
that their progress did not seem the more rapid from the monotonous
ticking of a French clockor the shrill sound of its little bell
which told the quarters. But there he sat; and in his old seat on
the opposite side of the room reclined Sir Mulberry Hawkwith his
legs upon the cushionand his handkerchief thrown negligently over
his knees: finishing his magnum of claret with the utmost coolness
and indifference.

Thus they remained in perfect silence for upwards of an hour--
Nicholas would have thought for three hours at leastbut that the
little bell had only gone four times. Twice or thrice he looked
angrily and impatiently round; but there was Sir Mulberry in the
same attitudeputting his glass to his lips from time to timeand
looking vacantly at the wallas if he were wholly ignorant of the
presence of any living person.

At length he yawnedstretched himselfand rose; walked coolly to
the glassand having surveyed himself thereinturned round and
honoured Nicholas with a long and contemptuous stare. Nicholas
stared again with right good-will; Sir Mulberry shrugged his
shoulderssmiled slightlyrang the belland ordered the waiter to
help him on with his greatcoat.

The man did soand held the door open.

'Don't wait' said Sir Mulberry; and they were alone again.

Sir Mulberry took several turns up and down the roomwhistling
carelessly all the time; stopped to finish the last glass of claret
which he had poured out a few minutes beforewalked againput on
his hatadjusted it by the glassdrew on his glovesandat last
walked slowly out. Nicholaswho had been fuming and chafing until
he was nearly wilddarted from his seatand followed him: so
closelythat before the door had swung upon its hinges after Sir
Mulberry's passing outthey stood side by side in the street
together.

There was a private cabriolet in waiting; the groom opened the
apronand jumped out to the horse's head.

'Will you make yourself known to me?' asked Nicholas in a suppressed
voice.

'No' replied the other fiercelyand confirming the refusal with an
oath. 'No.'

'If you trust to your horse's speedyou will find yourself
mistaken' said Nicholas. 'I will accompany you. By Heaven I will
if I hang on to the foot-board.'

'You shall be horsewhipped if you do' returned Sir Mulberry.

'You are a villain' said Nicholas.


'You are an errand-boy for aught I know' said Sir Mulberry Hawk.

'I am the son of a country gentleman' returned Nicholas'your
equal in birth and educationand your superior I trust in
everything besides. I tell you againMiss Nickleby is my sister.
Will you or will you not answer for your unmanly and brutal
conduct?'

'To a proper champion--yes. To you--no' returned Sir Mulberry
taking the reins in his hand. 'Stand out of the waydog. William
let go her head.'

'You had better not' cried Nicholasspringing on the step as Sir
Mulberry jumped inand catching at the reins. 'He has no command
over the horsemind. You shall not go--you shall notI swear-till
you have told me who you are.'

The groom hesitatedfor the marewho was a high-spirited animal
and thorough-bredplunged so violently that he could scarcely hold
her.

'Leave goI tell you!' thundered his master.

The man obeyed. The animal reared and plunged as though it would
dash the carriage into a thousand piecesbut Nicholasblind to all
sense of dangerand conscious of nothing but his furystill
maintained his place and his hold upon the reins.

'Will you unclasp your hand?'

'Will you tell me who you are?'

'No!'

'No!'

In less time than the quickest tongue could tell itthese words
were exchangedand Sir Mulberry shortening his whipapplied it
furiously to the head and shoulders of Nicholas. It was broken in
the struggle; Nicholas gained the heavy handleand with it laid
open one side of his antagonist's face from the eye to the lip. He
saw the gash; knew that the mare had darted off at a wild mad
gallop; a hundred lights danced in his eyesand he felt himself
flung violently upon the ground.

He was giddy and sickbut staggered to his feet directlyroused by
the loud shouts of the men who were tearing up the streetand
screaming to those ahead to clear the way. He was conscious of a
torrent of people rushing quickly by--looking upcould discern the
cabriolet whirled along the foot-pavement with frightful rapidity-then
heard a loud crythe smashing of some heavy bodyand the
breaking of glass--and then the crowd closed in in the distanceand
he could see or hear no more.

The general attention had been entirely directed from himself to the
person in the carriageand he was quite alone. Rightly judging
that under such circumstances it would be madness to followhe
turned down a bye-street in search of the nearest coach-stand
finding after a minute or two that he was reeling like a drunken
manand aware for the first time of a stream of blood that was
trickling down his face and breast.


CHAPTER 33

In which Mr Ralph Nickleby is relievedby a very expeditious
Processfrom all Commerce with his Relations

Smike and Newman Noggswho in his impatience had returned home long
before the time agreed uponsat before the firelistening
anxiously to every footstep on the stairsand the slightest sound
that stirred within the housefor the approach of Nicholas. Time
had worn onand it was growing late. He had promised to be back in
an hour; and his prolonged absence began to excite considerable
alarm in the minds of bothas was abundantly testified by the blank
looks they cast upon each other at every new disappointment.

At length a coach was heard to stopand Newman ran out to light
Nicholas up the stairs. Beholding him in the trim described at the
conclusion of the last chapterhe stood aghast in wonder and
consternation.

'Don't be alarmed' said Nicholashurrying him back into the room.
'There is no harm donebeyond what a basin of water can repair.'

'No harm!' cried Newmanpassing his hands hastily over the back and
arms of Nicholasas if to assure himself that he had broken no
bones. 'What have you been doing?'

'I know all' interrupted Nicholas; 'I have heard a partand
guessed the rest. But before I remove one jot of these stainsI
must hear the whole from you. You see I am collected. My
resolution is taken. Nowmy good friendspeak out; for the time
for any palliation or concealment is pastand nothing will avail
Ralph Nickleby now.'

'Your dress is torn in several places; you walk lameand I am sure
you are suffering pain' said Newman. 'Let me see to your hurts
first.'

'I have no hurts to see tobeyond a little soreness and stiffness
that will soon pass off' said Nicholasseating himself with some
difficulty. 'But if I had fractured every limband still preserved
my sensesyou should not bandage one till you had told me what I
have the right to know. Come' said Nicholasgiving his hand to
Noggs. 'You had a sister of your ownyou told me oncewho died
before you fell into misfortune. Now think of herand tell me
Newman.'

'YesI willI will' said Noggs. 'I'll tell you the whole truth.'

Newman did so. Nicholas nodded his head from time to timeas it
corroborated the particulars he had already gleaned; but he fixed
his eyes upon the fireand did not look round once.

His recital endedNewman insisted upon his young friend's stripping
off his coat and allowing whatever injuries he had received to be
properly tended. Nicholasafter some oppositionat length
consentedandwhile some pretty severe bruises on his arms and
shoulders were being rubbed with oil and vinegarand various other
efficacious remedies which Newman borrowed from the different
lodgersrelated in what manner they had been received. The recital
made a strong impression on the warm imagination of Newman; for when
Nicholas came to the violent part of the quarrelhe rubbed so hard
as to occasion him the most exquisite painwhich he would not have
exhibitedhoweverfor the worldit being perfectly clear that


for the momentNewman was operating on Sir Mulberry Hawkand had
quite lost sight of his real patient.

This martyrdom overNicholas arranged with Newman that while he was
otherwise occupied next morningarrangements should be made for his
mother's immediately quitting her present residenceand also for
dispatching Miss La Creevy to break the intelligence to her. He
then wrapped himself in Smike's greatcoatand repaired to the inn
where they were to pass the nightand where (after writing a few
lines to Ralphthe delivery of which was to be intrusted to Newman
next day)he endeavoured to obtain the repose of which he stood so
much in need.

Drunken menthey saymay roll down precipicesand be quite
unconscious of any serious personal inconvenience when their reason
returns. The remark may possibly apply to injuries received in
other kinds of violent excitement: certain it isthat although
Nicholas experienced some pain on first awakening next morninghe
sprung out of bed as the clock struck sevenwith very little
difficultyand was soon as much on the alert as if nothing had
occurred.

Merely looking into Smike's roomand telling him that Newman Noggs
would call for him very shortlyNicholas descended into the street
and calling a hackney coachbade the man drive to Mrs Wititterly's
according to the direction which Newman had given him on the
previous night.

It wanted a quarter to eight when they reached Cadogan Place.
Nicholas began to fear that no one might be stirring at that early
hourwhen he was relieved by the sight of a female servant
employed in cleaning the door-steps. By this functionary he was
referred to the doubtful pagewho appeared with dishevelled hair
and a very warm and glossy faceas of a page who had just got out
of bed.

By this young gentleman he was informed that Miss Nickleby was then
taking her morning's walk in the gardens before the house. On the
question being propounded whether he could go and find herthe page
desponded and thought not; but being stimulated with a shillingthe
page grew sanguine and thought he could.

'Say to Miss Nickleby that her brother is hereand in great haste
to see her' said Nicholas.

The plated buttons disappeared with an alacrity most unusual to
themand Nicholas paced the room in a state of feverish agitation
which made the delay even of a minute insupportable. He soon heard
a light footstep which he well knewand before he could advance to
meet herKate had fallen on his neck and burst into tears.

'My darling girl' said Nicholas as he embraced her. 'How pale you
are!'

'I have been so unhappy heredear brother' sobbed poor Kate; 'so
veryvery miserable. Do not leave me heredear Nicholasor I
shall die of a broken heart.'

'I will leave you nowhere' answered Nicholas--'never againKate'
he criedmoved in spite of himself as he folded her to his heart.
'Tell me that I acted for the best. Tell me that we parted because
I feared to bring misfortune on your head; that it was a trial to me
no less than to yourselfand that if I did wrong it was in
ignorance of the world and unknowingly.'


'Why should I tell you what we know so well?' returned Kate
soothingly. 'Nicholas--dear Nicholas--how can you give way thus?'

'It is such bitter reproach to me to know what you have undergone'
returned her brother; 'to see you so much alteredand yet so kind
and patient--God!' cried Nicholasclenching his fist and suddenly
changing his tone and manner'it sets my whole blood on fire again.
You must leave here with me directly; you should not have slept here
last nightbut that I knew all this too late. To whom can I speak
before we drive away?'

This question was most opportunely putfor at that instant Mr
Wititterly walked inand to him Kate introduced her brotherwho at
once announced his purposeand the impossibility of deferring it.

'The quarter's notice' said Mr Wititterlywith the gravity of a
man on the right side'is not yet half expired. Therefore--'

'Therefore' interposed Nicholas'the quarter's salary must be
lostsir. You will excuse this extreme hastebut circumstances
require that I should immediately remove my sisterand I have not a
moment's time to lose. Whatever she brought here I will send for
if you will allow mein the course of the day.'

Mr Wititterly bowedbut offered no opposition to Kate's immediate
departure; with whichindeedhe was rather gratified than
otherwiseSir Tumley Snuffim having given it as his opinionthat
she rather disagreed with Mrs Wititterly's constitution.

'With regard to the trifle of salary that is due' said Mr
Wititterly'I will'--here he was interrupted by a violent fit of
coughing--'I will--owe it to Miss Nickleby.'

Mr Wititterlyit should be observedwas accustomed to owe small
accountsand to leave them owing. All men have some little
pleasant way of their own; and this was Mr Wititterly's.

'If you please' said Nicholas. And once more offering a hurried
apology for so sudden a departurehe hurried Kate into the vehicle
and bade the man drive with all speed into the city.

To the city they went accordinglywith all the speed the hackney
coach could make; and as the horses happened to live at Whitechapel
and to be in the habit of taking their breakfast therewhen they
breakfasted at allthey performed the journey with greater
expedition than could reasonably have been expected.

Nicholas sent Kate upstairs a few minutes before himthat his
unlooked-for appearance might not alarm his motherand when the way
had been pavedpresented himself with much duty and affection.
Newman had not been idlefor there was a little cart at the door
and the effects were hurrying out already.

NowMrs Nickleby was not the sort of person to be told anything in
a hurryor rather to comprehend anything of peculiar delicacy or
importance on a short notice. Whereforealthough the good lady had
been subjected to a full hour's preparation by little Miss La
Creevyand was now addressed in most lucid terms both by Nicholas
and his sistershe was in a state of singular bewilderment and
confusionand could by no means be made to comprehend the necessity
of such hurried proceedings.

'Why don't you ask your unclemy dear Nicholaswhat he can


possibly mean by it?' said Mrs Nickleby.

'My dear mother' returned Nicholas'the time for talking has gone
by. There is but one step to takeand that is to cast him off with
the scorn and indignation he deserves. Your own honour and good
name demand thatafter the discovery of his vile proceedingsyou
should not be beholden to him one houreven for the shelter of
these bare walls.'

'To be sure' said Mrs Nicklebycrying bitterly'he is a brutea
monster; and the walls are very bareand want painting tooand I
have had this ceiling whitewashed at the expense of eighteen-pence
which is a very distressing thingconsidering that it is so much
gone into your uncle's pocket. I never could have believed it-never.'


'Nor Inor anybody else' said Nicholas.

'Lord bless my life!' exclaimed Mrs Nickleby. 'To think that that
Sir Mulberry Hawk should be such an abandoned wretch as Miss La
Creevy says he isNicholasmy dear; when I was congratulating
myself every day on his being an admirer of our dear Kate'sand
thinking what a thing it would be for the family if he was to become
connected with usand use his interest to get you some profitable
government place. There are very good places to be got about the
courtI know; for a friend of ours (Miss Cropleyat Exetermy
dear Kateyou recollect)he had oneand I know that it was the
chief part of his duty to wear silk stockingsand a bag wig like a
black watch-pocket; and to think that it should come to this after
all--ohdeardearit's enough to kill onethat it is!' With
which expressions of sorrowMrs Nickleby gave fresh vent to her
griefand wept piteously.

As Nicholas and his sister were by this time compelled to
superintend the removal of the few articles of furnitureMiss La
Creevy devoted herself to the consolation of the matronand
observed with great kindness of manner that she must really make an
effortand cheer up.

'Oh I dare sayMiss La Creevy' returned Mrs Nicklebywith a
petulance not unnatural in her unhappy circumstances'it's very
easy to say cheer upbut if you had as many occasions to cheer up
as I have had--and there' said Mrs Nicklebystopping short.
'Think of Mr Pyke and Mr Plucktwo of the most perfect gentlemen
that ever livedwhat am I too say to them--what can I say to them?
Whyif I was to say to themI'm told your friend Sir Mulberry is
a base wretch,they'd laugh at me.'

'They will laugh no more at usI take it' said Nicholas
advancing. 'Comemotherthere is a coach at the doorand until
Mondayat all eventswe will return to our old quarters.'

'--Where everything is readyand a hearty welcome into the
bargain' added Miss La Creevy. 'Nowlet me go with you
downstairs.'

But Mrs Nickleby was not to be so easily movedfor first she
insisted on going upstairs to see that nothing had been leftand
then on going downstairs to see that everything had been taken away;
and when she was getting into the coach she had a vision of a
forgotten coffee-pot on the back-kitchen hoband after she was shut
ina dismal recollection of a green umbrella behind some unknown
door. At last Nicholasin a condition of absolute despairordered
the coachman to drive awayand in the unexpected jerk of a sudden


startingMrs Nickleby lost a shilling among the strawwhich
fortunately confined her attention to the coach until it was too
late to remember anything else.

Having seen everything safely outdischarged the servantand
locked the doorNicholas jumped into a cabriolet and drove to a bye
place near Golden Square where he had appointed to meet Noggs; and
so quickly had everything been donethat it was barely half-past
nine when he reached the place of meeting.

'Here is the letter for Ralph' said Nicholas'and here the key.
When you come to me this eveningnot a word of last night. Ill
news travels fastand they will know it soon enough. Have you
heard if he was much hurt?'

Newman shook his head.

'I will ascertain that myself without loss of time' said Nicholas.

'You had better take some rest' returned Newman. 'You are fevered
and ill.'

Nicholas waved his hand carelesslyand concealing the indisposition
he really feltnow that the excitement which had sustained him was
overtook a hurried farewell of Newman Noggsand left him.

Newman was not three minutes' walk from Golden Squarebut in the
course of that three minutes he took the letter out of his hat and
put it in again twenty times at least. First the frontthen the
backthen the sidesthen the superscriptionthen the sealwere
objects of Newman's admiration. Then he held it at arm's length as
if to take in the whole at one delicious surveyand then he rubbed
his hands in a perfect ecstasy with his commission.

He reached the officehung his hat on its accustomed peglaid the
letter and key upon the deskand waited impatiently until Ralph
Nickleby should appear. After a few minutesthe well-known
creaking of his boots was heard on the stairsand then the bell
rung.

'Has the post come in?'

'No.'

'Any other letters?'

'One.' Newman eyed him closelyand laid it on the desk.

'What's this?' asked Ralphtaking up the key.

'Left with the letter;--a boy brought them--quarter of an hour ago
or less.'

Ralph glanced at the directionopened the letterand read as
follows:-


'You are known to me now. There are no reproaches I could heap upon
your head which would carry with them one thousandth part of the
grovelling shame that this assurance will awaken even in your
breast.

'Your brother's widow and her orphan child spurn the shelter of your
roofand shun you with disgust and loathing. Your kindred renounce
youfor they know no shame but the ties of blood which bind them in


name with you.

'You are an old manand I leave you to the grave. May every
recollection of your life cling to your false heartand cast their
darkness on your death-bed.'

Ralph Nickleby read this letter twiceand frowning heavilyfell
into a fit of musing; the paper fluttered from his hand and dropped
upon the floorbut he clasped his fingersas if he held it still.

Suddenlyhe started from his seatand thrusting it all crumpled
into his pocketturned furiously to Newman Noggsas though to ask
him why he lingered. But Newman stood unmovedwith his back
towards himfollowing upwith the worn and blackened stump of an
old pensome figures in an Interest-table which was pasted against
the walland apparently quite abstracted from every other object.

CHAPTER 34

Wherein Mr Ralph Nickleby is visited by Persons with whom the Reader
has been already made acquainted

'What a demnition long time you have kept me ringing at this
confounded old cracked tea-kettle of a bellevery tinkle of which
is enough to throw a strong man into blue convulsionsupon my life
and souloh demmit'--said Mr Mantalini to Newman Noggsscraping
his bootsas he spokeon Ralph Nickleby's scraper.

'I didn't hear the bell more than once' replied Newman.

'Then you are most immensely and outr-i-geously deaf' said Mr
Mantalini'as deaf as a demnition post.'

Mr Mantalini had got by this time into the passageand was making
his way to the door of Ralph's office with very little ceremony
when Newman interposed his body; and hinting that Mr Nickleby was
unwilling to be disturbedinquired whether the client's business
was of a pressing nature.

'It is most demnebly particular' said Mr Mantalini. 'It is to melt
some scraps of dirty paper into brightshiningchinkingtinkling
demd mint sauce.'

Newman uttered a significant gruntand taking Mr Mantalini's
proffered cardlimped with it into his master's office. As he
thrust his head in at the doorhe saw that Ralph had resumed the
thoughtful posture into which he had fallen after perusing his
nephew's letterand that he seemed to have been reading it again
as he once more held it open in his hand. The glance was but
momentaryfor Ralphbeing disturbedturned to demand the cause of
the interruption.

As Newman stated itthe cause himself swaggered into the roomand
grasping Ralph's horny hand with uncommon affectionvowed that he
had never seen him looking so well in all his life.

'There is quite a bloom upon your demd countenance' said Mr
Mantaliniseating himself unbiddenand arranging his hair and
whiskers. 'You look quite juvenile and jollydemmit!'

'We are alone' returned Ralphtartly. 'What do you want with me?'


'Good!' cried Mr Mantalinidisplaying his teeth. 'What did I want!
Yes. Haha! Very good. WHAT did I want. Haha. Oh dem!'

'What DO you wantman?' demanded Ralphsternly.

'Demnition discount' returned Mr Mantaliniwith a grinand
shaking his head waggishly.

'Money is scarce' said Ralph.

'Demd scarceor I shouldn't want it' interrupted Mr Mantalini.

'The times are badand one scarcely knows whom to trust' continued
Ralph. 'I don't want to do business just nowin fact I would
rather not; but as you are a friend--how many bills have you there?'

'Two' returned Mr Mantalini.

'What is the gross amount?'

'Demd trifling--five-and-seventy.'

'And the dates?'

'Two monthsand four.'

'I'll do them for you--mindfor YOU; I wouldn't for many people-for
five-and-twenty pounds' said Ralphdeliberately.

'Oh demmit!' cried Mr Mantaliniwhose face lengthened considerably
at this handsome proposal.

'Whythat leaves you fifty' retorted Ralph. 'What would you have?
Let me see the names.'

'You are so demd hardNickleby' remonstrated Mr Mantalini.

'Let me see the names' replied Ralphimpatiently extending his
hand for the bills. 'Well! They are not surebut they are safe
enough. Do you consent to the termsand will you take the money?
I don't want you to do so. I would rather you didn't.'

'DemmitNicklebycan't you--' began Mr Mantalini.

'No' replied Ralphinterrupting him. 'I can't. Will you take the
money--downmind; no delayno going into the city and pretending
to negotiate with some other party who has no existenceand never
had. Is it a bargainor is it not?'

Ralph pushed some papers from him as he spokeand carelessly
rattled his cash-boxas though by mere accident. The sound was too
much for Mr Mantalini. He closed the bargain directly it reached
his earsand Ralph told the money out upon the table.

He had scarcely done soand Mr Mantalini had not yet gathered it
all upwhen a ring was heard at the belland immediately
afterwards Newman ushered in no less a person than Madame Mantalini
at sight of whom Mr Mantalini evinced considerable discomposureand
swept the cash into his pocket with remarkable alacrity.

'Ohyou ARE here' said Madame Mantalinitossing her head.

'Yesmy life and soulI am' replied her husbanddropping on his


kneesand pouncing with kitten-like playfulness upon a stray
sovereign. 'I am heremy soul's delightupon Tom Tiddler's ground
picking up the demnition gold and silver.'

'I am ashamed of you' said Madame Mantaliniwith much indignation.

'Ashamed--of MEmy joy? It knows it is talking demd charming
sweetnessbut naughty fibs' returned Mr Mantalini. 'It knows it
is not ashamed of its own popolorum tibby.'

Whatever were the circumstances which had led to such a resultit
certainly appeared as though the popolorum tibby had rather
miscalculatedfor the noncethe extent of his lady's affection.
Madame Mantalini only looked scornful in reply; andturning to
Ralphbegged him to excuse her intrusion.

'Which is entirely attributable' said Madame'to the gross
misconduct and most improper behaviour of Mr Mantalini.'

'Of memy essential juice of pineapple!'

'Of you' returned his wife. 'But I will not allow it. I will not
submit to be ruined by the extravagance and profligacy of any man.
I call Mr Nickleby to witness the course I intend to pursue with
you.'

'Pray don't call me to witness anythingma'am' said Ralph.
'Settle it between yourselvessettle it between yourselves.'

'Nobut I must beg you as a favour' said Madame Mantalini'to
hear me give him notice of what it is my fixed intention to do--my
fixed intentionsir' repeated Madame Mantalinidarting an angry
look at her husband.

'Will she call me "Sir"?' cried Mantalini. 'Me who dote upon her
with the demdest ardour! Shewho coils her fascinations round me
like a pure angelic rattlesnake! It will be all up with my
feelings; she will throw me into a demd state.'

'Don't talk of feelingssir' rejoined Madame Mantaliniseating
herselfand turning her back upon him. 'You don't consider mine.'

'I do not consider yoursmy soul!' exclaimed Mr Mantalini.

'No' replied his wife.

And notwithstanding various blandishments on the part of Mr
MantaliniMadame Mantalini still said noand said it too with such
determined and resolute ill-temperthat Mr Mantalini was clearly
taken aback.

'His extravaganceMr Nickleby' said Madame Mantaliniaddressing
herself to Ralphwho leant against his easy-chair with his hands
behind himand regarded the amiable couple with a smile of the
supremest and most unmitigated contempt--'his extravagance is
beyond all bounds.'

'I should scarcely have supposed it' answered Ralphsarcastically.

'I assure youMr Nicklebyhoweverthat it is' returned Madame
Mantalini. 'It makes me miserable! I am under constant
apprehensionsand in constant difficulty. And even this' said
Madame Mantaliniwiping her eyes'is not the worst. He took some
papers of value out of my desk this morning without asking my


permission.'

Mr Mantalini groaned slightlyand buttoned his trousers pocket.

'I am obliged' continued Madame Mantalini'since our late
misfortunesto pay Miss Knag a great deal of money for having her
name in the businessand I really cannot afford to encourage him in
all his wastefulness. As I have no doubt that he came straight
hereMr Nicklebyto convert the papers I have spoken ofinto
moneyand as you have assisted us very often beforeand are very
much connected with us in this kind of mattersI wish you to know
the determination at which his conduct has compelled me to arrive.'

Mr Mantalini groaned once more from behind his wife's bonnetand
fitting a sovereign into one of his eyeswinked with the other at
Ralph. Having achieved this performance with great dexterityhe
whipped the coin into his pocketand groaned again with increased
penitence.

'I have made up my mind' said Madame Mantalinias tokens of
impatience manifested themselves in Ralph's countenance'to
allowance him.'

'To do thatmy joy?' inquired Mr Mantaliniwho did not seem to
have caught the words.

'To put him' said Madame Mantalinilooking at Ralphand prudently
abstaining from the slightest glance at her husbandlest his many
graces should induce her to falter in her resolution'to put him
upon a fixed allowance; and I say that if he has a hundred and
twenty pounds a year for his clothes and pocket-moneyhe may
consider himself a very fortunate man.'

Mr Mantalini waitedwith much decorumto hear the amount of the
proposed stipendbut when it reached his earshe cast his hat and
cane upon the floorand drawing out his pocket-handkerchiefgave
vent to his feelings in a dismal moan.

'Demnition!' cried Mr Mantalinisuddenly skipping out of his chair
and as suddenly skipping into it againto the great discomposure of
his lady's nerves. 'But no. It is a demd horrid dream. It is not
reality. No!'

Comforting himself with this assuranceMr Mantalini closed his eyes
and waited patiently till such time as he should wake up.

'A very judicious arrangement' observed Ralph with a sneer'if
your husband will keep within itma'am--as no doubt he will.'

'Demmit!' exclaimed Mr Mantaliniopening his eyes at the sound of
Ralph's voice'it is a horrid reality. She is sitting there before
me. There is the graceful outline of her form; it cannot be
mistaken--there is nothing like it. The two countesses had no
outlines at alland the dowager's was a demd outline. Why is she
so excruciatingly beautiful that I cannot be angry with hereven
now?'

'You have brought it upon yourselfAlfred' returned Madame
Mantalini--still reproachfullybut in a softened tone.

'I am a demd villain!' cried Mr Mantalinismiting himself on the
head. 'I will fill my pockets with change for a sovereign in
halfpence and drown myself in the Thames; but I will not be angry
with hereven thenfor I will put a note in the twopenny-post as I


go alongto tell her where the body is. She will be a lovely
widow. I shall be a body. Some handsome women will cry; she will
laugh demnebly.'

'Alfredyou cruelcruel creature' said Madame Mantalinisobbing
at the dreadful picture.

'She calls me cruel--me--me--who for her sake will become a demd
dampmoistunpleasant body!' exclaimed Mr Mantalini.

'You know it almost breaks my hearteven to hear you talk of such a
thing' replied Madame Mantalini.

'Can I live to be mistrusted?' cried her husband. 'Have I cut my
heart into a demd extraordinary number of little piecesand given
them all awayone after anotherto the same little engrossing
demnition captivaterand can I live to be suspected by her?
Demmitno I can't.'

'Ask Mr Nickleby whether the sum I have mentioned is not a proper
one' reasoned Madame Mantalini.

'I don't want any sum' replied her disconsolate husband; 'I shall
require no demd allowance. I will be a body.'

On this repetition of Mr Mantalini's fatal threatMadame Mantalini
wrung her handsand implored the interference of Ralph Nickleby;
and after a great quantity of tears and talkingand several
attempts on the part of Mr Mantalini to reach the doorpreparatory
to straightway committing violence upon himselfthat gentleman was
prevailed uponwith difficultyto promise that he wouldn't be a
body. This great point attainedMadame Mantalini argued the
question of the allowanceand Mr Mantalini did the sametaking
occasion to show that he could live with uncommon satisfaction upon
bread and waterand go clad in ragsbut that he could not support
existence with the additional burden of being mistrusted by the
object of his most devoted and disinterested affection. This
brought fresh tears into Madame Mantalini's eyeswhich having just
begun to open to some few of the demerits of Mr Mantaliniwere only
open a very little wayand could be easily closed again. The
result wasthat without quite giving up the allowance question
Madame Mantalinipostponed its further consideration; and Ralph
sawclearly enoughthat Mr Mantalini had gained a fresh lease of
his easy lifeand thatfor some time longer at all eventshis
degradation and downfall were postponed.

'But it will come soon enough' thought Ralph; 'all love--bah! that
I should use the cant of boys and girls--is fleeting enough; though
that which has its sole root in the admiration of a whiskered face
like that of yonder baboonperhaps lasts the longestas it
originates in the greater blindness and is fed by vanity. Meantime
the fools bring grist to my millso let them live out their day
and the longer it isthe better.'

These agreeable reflections occurred to Ralph Nicklebyas sundry
small caresses and endearmentssupposed to be unseenwere
exchanged between the objects of his thoughts.

'If you have nothing more to saymy dearto Mr Nickleby' said
Madame Mantalini'we will take our leaves. I am sure we have
detained him much too long already.'

Mr Mantalini answeredin the first instanceby tapping Madame
Mantalini several times on the noseand thenby remarking in words


that he had nothing more to say.

'Demmit! I havethough' he added almost immediatelydrawing Ralph
into a corner. 'Here's an affair about your friend Sir Mulberry.
Such a demd extraordinary out-of-the-way kind of thing as never was
--eh?'

'What do you mean?' asked Ralph.

'Don't you knowdemmit?' asked Mr Mantalini.

'I see by the paper that he was thrown from his cabriolet last
nightand severely injuredand that his life is in some danger'
answered Ralph with great composure; 'but I see nothing
extraordinary in that--accidents are not miraculous eventswhen men
live hardand drive after dinner.'

'Whew!' cried Mr Mantalini in a long shrill whistle. 'Then don't
you know how it was?'

'Not unless it was as I have just supposed' replied Ralph
shrugging his shoulders carelesslyas if to give his questioner to
understand that he had no curiosity upon the subject.

'Demmityou amaze me' cried Mantalini.

Ralph shrugged his shoulders againas if it were no great feat to
amaze Mr Mantaliniand cast a wistful glance at the face of Newman
Noggswhich had several times appeared behind a couple of panes of
glass in the room door; it being a part of Newman's dutywhen
unimportant people calledto make various feints of supposing that
the bell had rung for him to show them out: by way of a gentle hint
to such visitors that it was time to go.

'Don't you know' said Mr Mantalinitaking Ralph by the button
'that it wasn't an accident at allbut a demdfurious
manslaughtering attack made upon him by your nephew?'

'What!' snarled Ralphclenching his fists and turning a livid
white.

'DemmitNicklebyyou're as great a tiger as he is' said
Mantalinialarmed at these demonstrations.

'Go on' cried Ralph. 'Tell me what you mean. What is this story?
Who told you? Speak' growled Ralph. 'Do you hear me?'

''GadNickleby' said Mr Mantaliniretreating towards his wife
'what a demneble fierce old evil genius you are! You're enough to
frighten the life and soul out of her little delicious wits--flying
all at once into such a blazingravagingraging passion as never
wasdemmit!'

'Pshaw' rejoined Ralphforcing a smile. 'It is but manner.'

'It is a demd uncomfortableprivate-madhouse-sort of a manner'
said Mr Mantalinipicking up his cane.

Ralph affected to smileand once more inquired from whom Mr
Mantalini had derived his information.

'From Pyke; and a demdfinepleasantgentlemanly dog it is'
replied Mantalini. 'Demnition pleasantand a tip-top sawyer.'


'And what said he?' asked Ralphknitting his brows.

'That it happened this way--that your nephew met him at a
coffeehousefell upon him with the most demneble ferocityfollowed
him to his cabswore he would ride home with himif he rode upon
the horse's back or hooked himself on to the horse's tail; smashed
his countenancewhich is a demd fine countenance in its natural
state; frightened the horsepitched out Sir Mulberry and himself
and--'

'And was killed?' interposed Ralph with gleaming eyes. 'Was he? Is
he dead?'

Mantalini shook his head.

'Ugh' said Ralphturning away. 'Then he has done nothing. Stay'
he addedlooking round again. 'He broke a leg or an armor put
his shoulder outor fractured his collar-boneor ground a rib or
two? His neck was saved for the halterbut he got some painful and
slow-healing injury for his trouble? Did he? You must have heard
thatat least.'

'No' rejoined Mantalinishaking his head again. 'Unless he was
dashed into such little pieces that they blew awayhe wasn't hurt
for he went off as quiet and comfortable as--as--as demnition' said
Mr Mantalinirather at a loss for a simile.

'And what' said Ralphhesitating a little'what was the cause of
quarrel?'

'You are the demdestknowing hand' replied Mr Mantaliniin an
admiring tone'the cunningestrummestsuperlativest old fox--oh
dem!--to pretend now not to know that it was the little bright-eyed
niece--the softestsweetestprettiest--'

'Alfred!' interposed Madame Mantalini.

'She is always right' rejoined Mr Mantalini soothingly'and when
she says it is time to goit is timeand go she shall; and when
she walks along the streets with her own tulipthe women shall say
with envyshe has got a demd fine husband; and the men shall say
with rapturehe has got a demd fine wife; and they shall both be
right and neither wrongupon my life and soul--oh demmit!'

With which remarksand many moreno less intellectual and to the
purposeMr Mantalini kissed the fingers of his gloves to Ralph
Nicklebyand drawing his lady's arm through hisled her mincingly
away.

'Soso' muttered Ralphdropping into his chair; 'this devil is
loose againand thwarting meas he was born to doat every turn.
He told me once there should be a day of reckoning between us
sooner or later. I'll make him a true prophetfor it shall surely
come.'

'Are you at home?' asked Newmansuddenly popping in his head.

'No' replied Ralphwith equal abruptness.

Newman withdrew his headbut thrust it in again.

'You're quite sure you're not at homeare you?' said Newman.

'What does the idiot mean?' cried Ralphtestily.


'He has been waiting nearly ever since they first came inand may
have heard your voice--that's all' said Newmanrubbing his hands.

'Who has?' demanded Ralphwrought by the intelligence he had just
heardand his clerk's provoking coolnessto an intense pitch of
irritation.

The necessity of a reply was superseded by the unlooked-for entrance
of a third party--the individual in question--whobringing his one
eye (for he had but one) to bear on Ralph Nicklebymade a great
many shambling bowsand sat himself down in an armchairwith his
hands on his kneesand his short black trousers drawn up so high in
the legs by the exertion of seating himselfthat they scarcely
reached below the tops of his Wellington boots.'

'Whythis IS a surprise!' said Ralphbending his gaze upon the
visitorand half smiling as he scrutinised him attentively; 'I
should know your faceMr Squeers.'

'Ah!' replied that worthy'and you'd have know'd it bettersirif
it hadn't been for all that I've been a-going through. Just lift
that little boy off the tall stool in the back-officeand tell him
to come in herewill youmy man?' said Squeersaddressing himself
to Newman. 'Ohhe's lifted his-self off. My sonsirlittle
Wackford. What do you think of himsirfor a specimen of the
Dotheboys Hall feeding? Ain't he fit to bust out of his clothes
and start the seamsand make the very buttons fly off with his
fatness? Here's flesh!' cried Squeersturning the boy aboutand
indenting the plumpest parts of his figure with divers pokes and
punchesto the great discomposure of his son and heir. 'Here's
firmnesshere's solidness! Why you can hardly get up enough of him
between your finger and thumb to pinch him anywheres.'

In however good condition Master Squeers might have beenhe
certainly did not present this remarkable compactness of personfor
on his father's closing his finger and thumb in illustration of his
remarkhe uttered a sharp cryand rubbed the place in the most
natural manner possible.

'Well' remarked Squeersa little disconcerted'I had him there;
but that's because we breakfasted early this morningand he hasn't
had his lunch yet. Why you couldn't shut a bit of him in a door
when he's had his dinner. Look at them tearssir' said Squeers
with a triumphant airas Master Wackford wiped his eyes with the
cuff of his jacket'there's oiliness!'

'He looks wellindeed' returned Ralphwhofor some purposes of
his ownseemed desirous to conciliate the schoolmaster. 'But how
is Mrs Squeersand how are you?'

'Mrs Squeerssir' replied the proprietor of Dotheboys'is as she
always is--a mother to them ladsand a blessingand a comfortand
a joy to all them as knows her. One of our boys--gorging his-self
with vittlesand then turning in; that's their way--got a abscess
on him last week. To see how she operated upon him with a pen-knife!
Oh Lor!' said Squeersheaving a sighand nodding his head a great
many times'what a member of society that woman is!'

Mr Squeers indulged in a retrospective lookfor some quarter of a
minuteas if this allusion to his lady's excellences had naturally
led his mind to the peaceful village of Dotheboys near Greta Bridge
in Yorkshire; and then looked at Ralphas if waiting for him to say
something.


'Have you quite recovered that scoundrel's attack?' asked Ralph.

'I've only just done itif I've done it now' replied Squeers. 'I
was one blessed bruisesir' said Squeerstouching first the roots
of his hairand then the toes of his boots'from HERE to THERE.
Vinegar and brown papervinegar and brown paperfrom morning to
night. I suppose there was a matter of half a ream of brown paper
stuck upon mefrom first to last. As I laid all of a heap in our
kitchenplastered all overyou might have thought I was a large
brown-paper parcelchock full of nothing but groans. Did I groan
loudWackfordor did I groan soft?' asked Mr Squeersappealing to
his son.

'Loud' replied Wackford.

'Was the boys sorry to see me in such a dreadful condition
Wackfordor was they glad?' asked Mr Squeersin a sentimental
manner.

'Gl--'

'Eh?' cried Squeersturning sharp round.

'Sorry' rejoined his son.

'Oh!' said Squeerscatching him a smart box on the ear. 'Then take
your hands out of your pocketsand don't stammer when you're asked
a question. Hold your noisesirin a gentleman's officeor I'll
run away from my family and never come back any more; and then what
would become of all them precious and forlorn lads as would be let
loose on the worldwithout their best friend at their elbers?'

'Were you obliged to have medical attendance?' inquired Ralph.

'Aywas I' rejoined Squeers'and a precious bill the medical
attendant brought in too; but I paid it though.'

Ralph elevated his eyebrows in a manner which might be expressive of
either sympathy or astonishment--just as the beholder was pleased to
take it.

'YesI paid itevery farthing' replied Squeerswho seemed to
know the man he had to deal withtoo well to suppose that any
blinking of the question would induce him to subscribe towards the
expenses; 'I wasn't out of pocket by it after alleither.'

'No!' said Ralph.

'Not a halfpenny' replied Squeers. 'The fact iswe have only one
extra with our boysand that is for doctors when required--and not
thenunless we're sure of our customers. Do you see?'

'I understand' said Ralph.

'Very good' rejoined Squeers. 'Thenafter my bill was run upwe
picked out five little boys (sons of small tradesmenas was sure
pay) that had never had the scarlet feverand we sent one to a
cottage where they'd got itand he took itand then we put the
four others to sleep with himand THEY took itand then the doctor
came and attended 'em once all roundand we divided my total among
'emand added it on to their little billsand the parents paid it.
Ha! ha! ha!'


'And a good plan too' said Ralpheyeing the schoolmaster stealthily.

'I believe you' rejoined Squeers. 'We always do it. Whywhen Mrs
Squeers was brought to bed with little Wackford herewe ran the
hooping-cough through half-a-dozen boysand charged her expenses
among 'emmonthly nurse included. Ha! ha! ha!'

Ralph never laughedbut on this occasion he produced the nearest
approach to it that he couldand waiting until Mr Squeers had
enjoyed the professional joke to his heart's contentinquired what
had brought him to town.

'Some bothering law business' replied Squeersscratching his head
'connected with an actionfor what they call neglect of a boy. I
don't know what they would have. He had as good grazingthat boy
hadas there is about us.'

Ralph looked as if he did not quite understand the observation.

'Grazing' said Squeersraising his voiceunder the impression
that as Ralph failed to comprehend himhe must be deaf. 'When a
boy gets weak and ill and don't relish his mealswe give him a
change of diet--turn him outfor an hour or so every dayinto a
neighbour's turnip fieldor sometimesif it's a delicate casea
turnip field and a piece of carrots alternatelyand let him eat as
many as he likes. There an't better land in the country than this
perwerse lad grazed onand yet he goes and catches cold and
indigestion and what notand then his friends brings a lawsuit
against ME! Nowyou'd hardly suppose' added Squeersmoving in
his chair with the impatience of an ill-used man'that people's
ingratitude would carry them quite as far as that; would you?'

'A hard caseindeed' observed Ralph.

'You don't say more than the truth when you say that' replied
Squeers. 'I don't suppose there's a man goingas possesses the
fondness for youth that I do. There's youth to the amount of eight
hundred pound a year at Dotheboys Hall at this present time. I'd
take sixteen hundred pound worth if I could get 'emand be as fond
of every individual twenty pound among 'em as nothing should equal
it!'

'Are you stopping at your old quarters?' asked Ralph.

'Yeswe are at the Saracen' replied Squeers'and as it don't want
very long to the end of the half-yearwe shall continney to stop
there till I've collected the moneyand some new boys tooI hope.
I've brought little Wackford upon purpose to show to parents and
guardians. I shall put him in the advertisementthis time. Look
at that boy--himself a pupil. Why he's a miracle of high feeding
that boy is!'

'I should like to have a word with you' said Ralphwho had both
spoken and listened mechanically for some timeand seemed to have
been thinking.

'As many words as you likesir' rejoined Squeers. 'Wackfordyou
go and play in the back officeand don't move about too much or
you'll get thinand that won't do. You haven't got such a thing as
twopenceMr Nicklebyhave you?' said Squeersrattling a bunch of
keys in his coat pocketand muttering something about its being all
silver.

'I--think I have' said Ralphvery slowlyand producingafter


much rummaging in an old drawera pennya halfpennyand two
farthings.

'Thankee' said Squeersbestowing it upon his son. 'Here! You go
and buy a tart--Mr Nickleby's man will show you where--and mind you
buy a rich one. Pastry' added Squeersclosing the door on Master
Wackford'makes his flesh shine a good dealand parents thinks
that a healthy sign.'

With this explanationand a peculiarly knowing look to eke it out
Mr Squeers moved his chair so as to bring himself opposite to Ralph
Nickleby at no great distance off; and having planted it to his
entire satisfactionsat down.

'Attend to me' said Ralphbending forward a little.

Squeers nodded.

'I am not to suppose' said Ralph'that you are dolt enough to
forgive or forgetvery readilythe violence that was committed
upon youor the exposure which accompanied it?'

'Devil a bit' replied Squeerstartly.

'Or to lose an opportunity of repaying it with interestif you
could get one?' said Ralph.

'Show me oneand try' rejoined Squeers.

'Some such object it wasthat induced you to call on me?' said
Ralphraising his eyes to the schoolmaster's face.

'N-n-noI don't know that' replied Squeers. 'I thought that if it
was in your power to make mebesides the trifle of money you sent
any compensation--'

'Ah!' cried Ralphinterrupting him. 'You needn't go on.'

After a long pauseduring which Ralph appeared absorbed in
contemplationhe again broke silence by asking:

'Who is this boy that he took with him?'

Squeers stated his name.

'Was he young or oldhealthy or sicklytractable or rebellious?
Speak outman' retorted Ralph.

'Whyhe wasn't young' answered Squeers; 'that isnot young for a
boyyou know.'

'That ishe was not a boy at allI suppose?' interrupted Ralph.

'Well' returned Squeersbrisklyas if he felt relieved by the
suggestion'he might have been nigh twenty. He wouldn't seem so
oldthoughto them as didn't know himfor he was a little wanting
here' touching his forehead; 'nobody at homeyou knowif you
knocked ever so often.'

'And you DID knock pretty oftenI dare say?' muttered Ralph.

'Pretty well' returned Squeers with a grin.

'When you wrote to acknowledge the receipt of this trifle of money


as you call it' said Ralph'you told me his friends had deserted
him long agoand that you had not the faintest clue or trace to
tell you who he was. Is that the truth?'

'It isworse luck!' replied Squeersbecoming more and more easy
and familiar in his manneras Ralph pursued his inquiries with the
less reserve. 'It's fourteen years agoby the entry in my book
since a strange man brought him to my placeone autumn nightand
left him there; paying five pound fivefor his first quarter in
advance. He might have been five or six year old at that time--not
more.'

'What more do you know about him?' demanded Ralph.

'Devilish littleI'm sorry to say' replied Squeers. 'The money
was paid for some six or eight yearand then it stopped. He had
given an address in Londonhad this chap; but when it came to the
pointof course nobody knowed anything about him. So I kept the
lad out of--out of--'

'Charity?' suggested Ralph drily.

'Charityto be sure' returned Squeersrubbing his knees'and
when he begins to be useful in a certain sort of waythis young
scoundrel of a Nickleby comes and carries him off. But the most
vexatious and aggeravating part of the whole affair is' said
Squeersdropping his voiceand drawing his chair still closer to
Ralph'that some questions have been asked about him at last--not
of mebutin a roundabout kind of wayof people in our village.
Sothat just when I might have had all arrears paid upperhaps
and perhaps--who knows? such things have happened in our business
before--a present besides for putting him out to a farmeror
sending him to seaso that he might never turn up to disgrace his
parentssupposing him to be a natural boyas many of our boys are
--dammeif that villain of a Nickleby don't collar him in open day
and commit as good as highway robbery upon my pocket.'

'We will both cry quits with him before long' said Ralphlaying
his hand on the arm of the Yorkshire schoolmaster.

'Quits!' echoed Squeers. 'Ah! and I should like to leave a small
balance in his favourto be settled when he can. I only wish Mrs
Squeers could catch hold of him. Bless her heart! She'd murder
himMr Nickleby--she wouldas soon as eat her dinner.'

'We will talk of this again' said Ralph. 'I must have time to
think of it. To wound him through his own affections and fancies--.
If I could strike him through this boy--'

'Strike him how you likesir' interrupted Squeers'only hit him
hard enoughthat's all--and with thatI'll say good-morning.
Here!--just chuck that little boy's hat off that corner pegand
lift him off the stool will you?'

Bawling these requests to Newman NoggsMr Squeers betook himself to
the little back-officeand fitted on his child's hat with parental
anxietywhile Newmanwith his pen behind his earsatstiff and
immovableon his stoolregarding the father and son by turns with
a broad stare.

'He's a fine boyan't he?' said Squeersthrowing his head a little
on one sideand falling back to the deskthe better to estimate
the proportions of little Wackford.


'Very' said Newman.

'Pretty well swelled outan't he?' pursued Squeers. 'He has the
fatness of twenty boyshe has.'

'Ah!' replied Newmansuddenly thrusting his face into that of
Squeers'he has;--the fatness of twenty!--more! He's got it all.
God help that others. Ha! ha! Oh Lord!'

Having uttered these fragmentary observationsNewman dropped upon
his desk and began to write with most marvellous rapidity.

'Whywhat does the man mean?' cried Squeerscolouring. 'Is he
drunk?'

Newman made no reply.

'Is he mad?' said Squeers.

Butstill Newman betrayed no consciousness of any presence save his
own; soMr Squeers comforted himself by saying that he was both
drunk AND mad; andwith this parting observationhe led his
hopeful son away.

In exact proportion as Ralph Nickleby became conscious of a
struggling and lingering regard for Katehad his detestation of
Nicholas augmented. It might bethat to atone for the weakness of
inclining to any one personhe held it necessary to hate some other
more intensely than before; but such had been the course of his
feelings. And nowto be defied and spurnedto be held up to her
in the worst and most repulsive coloursto know that she was taught
to hate and despise him: to feel that there was infection in his
touchand taint in his companionship--to know all thisand to know
that the mover of it all was that same boyish poor relation who had
twitted him in their very first interviewand openly bearded and
braved him sincewrought his quiet and stealthy malignity to such a
pitchthat there was scarcely anything he would not have hazarded
to gratify itif he could have seen his way to some immediate
retaliation.

Butfortunately for NicholasRalph Nickleby did not; and although
he cast about all that dayand kept a corner of his brain working
on the one anxious subject through all the round of schemes and
business that came with itnight found him at laststill harping
on the same themeand still pursuing the same unprofitable
reflections.

'When my brother was such as he' said Ralph'the first comparisons
were drawn between us--always in my disfavour. HE was open
liberalgallantgay; I a crafty hunks of cold and stagnant blood
with no passion but love of savingand no spirit beyond a thirst
for gain. I recollected it well when I first saw this whipster; but
I remember it better now.'

He had been occupied in tearing Nicholas's letter into atoms; and as
he spokehe scattered it in a tiny shower about him.

'Recollections like these' pursued Ralphwith a bitter smile
'flock upon me--when I resign myself to them--in crowdsand from
countless quarters. As a portion of the world affect to despise the
power of moneyI must try and show them what it is.'

And beingby this timein a pleasant frame of mind for slumber
Ralph Nickleby went to bed.


CHAPTER 35

Smike becomes known to Mrs Nickleby and Kate. Nicholas also meets
with new Acquaintances. Brighter Days seem to dawn upon the Family

Having established his mother and sister in the apartments of the
kind-hearted miniature painterand ascertained that Sir Mulberry
Hawk was in no danger of losing his lifeNicholas turned his
thoughts to poor Smikewhoafter breakfasting with Newman Noggs
had remainedin a disconsolate stateat that worthy creature's
lodgingswaitingwith much anxietyfor further intelligence of
his protector.

'As he will be one of our own little householdwherever we liveor
whatever fortune is in reserve for us' thought Nicholas'I must
present the poor fellow in due form. They will be kind to him for
his own sakeand if not (on that account solely) to the full extent
I could wishthey will stretch a pointI am surefor mine.'

Nicholas said 'they'but his misgivings were confined to one
person. He was sure of Katebut he knew his mother's
peculiaritiesand was not quite so certain that Smike would find
favour in the eyes of Mrs Nickleby.

'However' thought Nicholas as he departed on his benevolent errand;
'she cannot fail to become attached to himwhen she knows what a
devoted creature he isand as she must quickly make the discovery
his probation will be a short one.'

'I was afraid' said Smikeoverjoyed to see his friend again'that
you had fallen into some fresh trouble; the time seemed so longat
lastthat I almost feared you were lost.'

'Lost!' replied Nicholas gaily. 'You will not be rid of me so
easilyI promise you. I shall rise to the surface many thousand
times yetand the harder the thrust that pushes me downthe more
quickly I shall reboundSmike. But come; my errand here is to take
you home.'

'Home!' faltered Smikedrawing timidly back.

'Ay' rejoined Nicholastaking his arm. 'Why not?'

'I had such hopes once' said Smike; 'day and nightday and night
for many years. I longed for home till I was wearyand pined away
with griefbut now--'

'And what now?' asked Nicholaslooking kindly in his face. 'What
nowold friend?'

'I could not part from you to go to any home on earth' replied
Smikepressing his hand; 'except oneexcept one. I shall never be
an old man; and if your hand placed me in the graveand I could
thinkbefore I diedthat you would come and look upon it sometimes
with one of your kind smilesand in the summer weatherwhen
everything was alive--not dead like me--I could go to that home
almost without a tear.'

'Why do you talk thuspoor boyif your life is a happy one with
me?' said Nicholas.


'Because I should change; not those about me. And if they forgot
meI should never know it' replied Smike. 'In the churchyard we
are all alikebut here there are none like me. I am a poor
creaturebut I know that.'

'You are a foolishsilly creature' said Nicholas cheerfully. 'If
that is what you meanI grant you that. Whyhere's a dismal face
for ladies' company!--my pretty sister toowhom you have so