Charles Dickens.

The life and adventures of Nicholas Nickelby online

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side, which was situated — not in the room in which Nicholas
had supped on the night of his arrival, but in a smaller depart-
ment in the rear of the premises, where his lady wife, his ami-
able son, and accomplished daughter, were in the full enjoy-
ment 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 differences, by means of pugilistic contests across the
table, which, on the approach of their honored parent, sub-
sided into a noiseless exchange of kicks beneath it.

And, in this place, it may be as well to apprise the reader,
that Miss Fanny Squeers was in her three-and-twentieth yean
If there be any one grace or loveliness inseparable from that
particular period of life, Miss 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 mother, but 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 neigh-
boring friend, and had only just returned to the parental roof.
To this circumstance may be referred, her having heard noth-
ing of Nicholas, until Mr. Squeers himself now made him the
subject of conversation.

"Well, my dear," said Squeers, drawing 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 grammarian, thank Heaven.

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" Of the young man — the new teacher — who else could I

" Oh ! that Knuckleboy," said Mrs. Squeers impatiently.
" I hate him."

" What do you hate him for, my dear ? " asked Squeers.

" What's that to you ? " retorted Mrs. Squeers. " If I hate
him, that's enough ain't it."

" Quite enough for him, my dear, and a great deal too much
I dare say, if he knew it," replied Squeers in a pacific tone. " I
only asked from curiosity, my dear."

" Well, then, if you want to know," rejoined Mrs. Squeers,
" I'll tell you. Because he's a proud, haughty consequential,
turned-up-nosed peacock."

Mrs. Squeers, when excited, was accustomed to use strong
language, and, moreover, to make use of plurality of epithets,
some of which was of a figurative kind, as the word peacock,
and furthermore the allusion to Nicholas's nose, which was not
intended to be taken in its literal sense, but rather to bear a
latitude of construction according to the fancy of the hearers.

Neither were they meant to bear reference to each other,
so much as to the object on whom they were bestowed, as will
be seen in the present case : a peacock with a turned-up-nose
being a novelty in ornithology, and a thing not commonly

" Hem ! " said Squeers, as if in mild deprecation of this
outbreak. " He is cheap, my dear ; the young man is very

" 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 him, isn'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 advertisements, ' Education by Mr. Wack-
ford Squeers and able assistants,' without having any assistants
can't you ? Isn't it done every day by all the masters about ?
I've no patience with you."

" Haven't you ! " said Squeers, sternly. " Now I'll tell you
what Mrs. Squeers. In this matter of having a teacher, I'll
take my own way, if you please. A slave driver in the West
Indies is allowed a man under him, to see that his blacks
don't run away, or get up a rebellion ; and I'll have a man

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under me to do the same with our blacks, till 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 man,
father ? " said Wackford junior, suspending in the excess of
his delight, a vicious kick which he was administering to his

" You are, my son," replied Mr. Squeers in a sentimental

" Oh my eye, won't I give it to the boys I " exclaimed the
interesting child, grasping his father's cane. "Oh, father,
won't I make 'em squeak again ! "

It was a proud moment in Mr. Scjueers's life, when he
witnessed that burst of enthusiasm in his young child's mind,
and saw in it a foreshadowing of his future eminence. He
pressed a penny into his hand, and gave vent to his feelings
(as did his exemplary wife also), in a shout of approving laugh-
ter. The infantine appeal to their common sympathies, at
once restored cheerfulness to the conversation and harmony
to the company.

" He's a nasty stuck-up monkey, that's what I consider
him," said Mrs. Squeers reverting to Nicholas.

" Supposing he is," said Squeers, " he is as well stuck up in
our school-room as anywhere else, isn'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 down, and it shall be no
fault of mine if it don't."

Now, a 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 one, a being' of whose ex-
istence the wildest imagination could never have dreamed —
that Miss Squeers, who seldom troubled herself with scholas-
tic matters, inquired with much curiosity who this Knuckle-
boy was, that gave himself such airs.

" Nickleby," said Squeers, spelling 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 while, and, one time
started up as if he had more than made up his mind to make
a rush at you. / saw him though he thought I didn't"

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" Never mind that, father," said Miss Squeers, as the head
of the family was about to reply. " Who is the man ? "

44 Why, your 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.

44 The son of a gentleman ! "

44 Yes ; but I don't believe a word of it. If he's a gentle-
man's son at all, he's a fondling, that's my opinion."

Mrs. Squeers intended to say " foundling," but, as she fre-
quently remarked when she made any such mistake, it would
be all the same a hundred years hence ; with which axiom of
philosophy, she was in the constant habit of consoling the
boys when they labored under more than ordinary ill usage.

44 He's nothing of the kind," said Squeers, in answer to
the above remark, 44 for his father was married to his mother
years before he was born, and she is alive now. If he was, it
would be no business of ours, for we make a very good friend
by having him here ; and if he likes to learn the boys any-
thing besides minding them, I have no objection I am sure."

" I say again, I hate him worse than poison," said Mrs
Squeers, vehemently.

44 If you dislike him, my dear," returned Squeers, 44 1
don't know anybody who can show dislike better than you,
and of course there's no occasion, with him, to take the trou-
ble to hide it." .

44 1 don't intend to, I assure you," interposed Mrs. S.

44 That's right," said Squeers ; " and if he has a touch of
pride about him, as I think he has, I don't believe there's a
woman in all England that can bring anybody's spirit down,
as quick as you can, my love."

Mrs. Squeers chuckled vastly on the receipt of these com-
pliments, and said, she hoped she had tamed a high spirit or
two, in her day. It is but due to her character to say, that in
conjunction with her estimable husband, she had broken
many and many a one.

Miss Fanny Squeers carefully treasured up this, and much
more conversation on the same subject, until she retired for
the night, when she questioned the hungry servant, minutely,
regarding the outward appearance and demeanor of Nicholas ;
to which queries the girl returned such enthusiastic replies,
coupled with so many laudatory remarks touching his beauti-
ful dark eyes, and his sweet smile, and his straight legs — upon
which last-named articles she laid particular stress ; the gen-

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eral 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 person, or, as she herself
significantly phrased it, " something quite out of the com-
mon." And so Miss Squeers made up her mind that she
would take a personal observation of Nicholas the very next

In pursuance of this design, the young lady watched the
opportunity of her mother being engaged, and her father ab-
sent, and went accidentally into the school-room to get a pen
mended : where, seeing nobody but Nicholas presiding over
the boys, she blushed very deeply, and exhibited great con-

" I beg your pardon," faltered Miss Squeers ; " I thought
my father was — or might be— dear me, how very awkward ! "

" Mr. Squeers is out," said Nicholas, by no means over-
come by the apparition, unexpected though it was.

" Do you know will he be long, sir ? " asked Miss Squeers,
with bashful hesitation.

" He said about an hour," replied Nicholas — politely of
course but 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 intruded, I
am sure. If I hadn't thought my father was here, I wouldn't
upon any account have — it is very provoking — must look so
very strange," murmured Miss Squeers, blushing once more,
and glancing from the pen in her hand, to Nicholas at his
desk, and back again.

" If that is all you want," said Nicholas, pointing to the
pen, and smiling, in spite of himself, at the affected embar-
rassment of the schoolmaster's daughter, "perhaps I can
supply his place."

Miss Squeers glanced at the door, as if dubious of the
propriety of advancing any nearer to an utter stranger ; then
round the school-room, as though in some measure reassured
by the presence of forty boys ; and finally sidled up to
Nicholas and delivered the pen into his hand, with a most
winning mixture of reserve and condescension.

" Shall it be a hard or a soft nib ? " inquired Nicholas,
smiling to prevent himself from laughing outright.

" He has a beautiful smile," thought Miss Squeers.

" Which did you say ? " asked Nicholas.

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" Dear me, I was thinking of something else for the mo-
ment, I declare," replied Miss Squeers — "Oh! as soft as
possible, if you please." With which words Miss Squeers
sighed. It might be to give Nicholas to understand that her
heart was soft, and that the pen was wanted to match.

Upon these instructions Nicholas made the pen ; when he
gave it to Miss Squeers, Mjss Squeers dropped it ; and when
he stooped to pick it up Miss Squeers stooped also, and they
^nocked 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 Nicholas, opening the door
for the young lady's retreat.

** Not at all, sir," replied Miss Squeers ; " it was my fault
It was all my foolish — a — a — good-morning I "

"Good-by," said Nicholas. "The next I make for you
I 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." •

44 Not the least trouble in the world," replied Nicholas,
closing the school-room door.

44 1 never saw such legs in the whole course of my life 1 "
said Miss Squeers, as she walked away.

In fact, Miss Squeers was in love with Nicholas Nickleby.

To account for the rapidity with which this young lady
had conceived a passion for Nicholas, it may be necessary to
state, that the friend from whom she had so recently returned
was a miller's daughter of only eighteen, who had contracted
herself unto the son of a small corn-factor, resident in the
nearest market town. Miss Squeers and the miller's daugh-
ter, being fast friends, had covenanted together some two
years before, according to a custom prevalent among young
ladies, that whoever was first engaged to be married, should
straightway confide the mighty secret to the bosom of the
other, before communicating it to any living soul, and bespeak
her as bridesmaid without loss of time ; in fulfilment of which
pledge the miller's daughter, when her engagement was
formed, came out express, at 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 kitchen,
and rushed into Miss Squeers's bed-room with the gratifying



intelligence. Now, Miss Squeers being five years older, and
out of her teens (which is also a great matter), had, since,
been more than commonly anxious to return the compliment,
and possess her friend with a similar secret ; but, either in
consequence of finding it hard to please herself, or harder
still to please any body else, had never had an opportunity
so to do, inasmuch as she had no such secret to disclose.
The little interview with Nicholas had no sooner passed, as
above described, however, than Miss Squeers, putting oij
her bonnet, made her way, with great precipitation, to her
friend's house, and, upon a solemn renewal of divers old vows
of secrecy, revealed how that she was — not exactly engaged,
but going to be — to a gentleman's son — (none of your corn-
factors, but a gentleman's son of high descent)— who had
come down as teacher to Dotheboys Hall, under most myste-
rious and remarkable circumstances — indeed, as Miss Squeers
more than once hinted she had good reason to believe, in-
duced, by the fame of her many charms, to seek her out, and
woo and win her.

" Isn't it an extraordinary thing ? " said Miss Squeers,
emphasizing ^he adjective strongly.

"Most extraordinary," replied the friend. "But what
has he said to you ? "

" Don't ask me what he said, my 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 daugh-
ter, counterfeiting, as nearly as she could, a favorite leer of
the corn-factor.

" Very like that — only more genteel," replied Miss

" Ah ! " said the friendj, " then he means something,
depend on it."

Miss Squeers, having slight misgivings on the subject,
was by no means ill pleased to be confirmed by a competent
authority; and, discovering, on further conversation and
comparison of notes, a great many points of resemblance
between the behavior of Nicholas, and that of the corn-factor,
grew so exceedingly confidential, that she intrusted her friend
with a vast number of things Nicholas had not said, which
were all so very complimentary as to be quite conclusive.
Then, she dilated on the fearful hardship of having a father
and mother strenuously opposed to her intended husband ;

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on which unhappy circumstances she dwelt at great length ;
for the friend's father and mother were quite agreeable to her
being married, and the whole courtship was in consequence
as flat and common-place an affair as it was possible to

" 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 alive, if
I denied you. I think mother's going away for two days to
fetch some boys ; and when she does, I'll ask you and John
up to tea, and have him to meet you."

This was a charming idea, and having fully discussed it,
the friends parted.

It so fell out, that Mrs. Squeers's journey, to some dis-
tance, to fetch three new boys, and dun the relations of two
old ones for the balance of a small account, was fixed, that
very afternoon, for the next day but one ; and on the next
day but one, Mrs. Squeers got outside the coach, as it stopped
to change at Greta Bridge, taking with her a small bundle
containing something in a bottle, and some sandwiches, and
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 occurred, it was
Squeers's custom to drive over to the market town, every
evening, on pretence of urgent business, and stop till ten or
eleven o'clock at a tavern he much affected. As the party
was not in his way, therefore, but rather afforded a means of
compromise with Miss Squeers, he readily yielded his full
assent thereunto, and willingly communicated to Nicholas
that he was expected to take his tea in the parlor that even-
ing, at five o'clock.

To be sure Miss Squeers was in a desperate flutter as the
time approached, and to be sure she was dressed out to the
best advantage : with her hair — it had more than a tinge of
red, and she wore it in a crop — curled in five distinct rows,
up to the very top of her head, and arranged dexterously over
the doubtful eye ; to say nothing of the blue sash which floated
down her back, or the worked apron, or the long gloves, or
the green 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 whitey-brown parcel — flat and three-

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cornered — containing sundry small adornments which were
to be put on up stairs, and which the friend put on, talking
incessantly. When Miss Squeers had " done" the friend's hair,
the friend " did " Miss Squeers's hair, throwing in some striking
improvements in the way of ringlets down the neck ; and then,
when they were both touched up to their entire satisfaction,
they went down stairs in full state with the long gloves on,
all 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 it, you know, 'Tilda," said Miss
Squeers, applying her hand to the left side of her sash.

" You'll soon get the better of it, dear," rejoined the
friend. While they were talking thus, the hungry servant
brought in the tea things, and, soon afterwards, somebody
tapped at the room door.

" There he is ! " cried Miss Squeers. " Oh Tilda ! "

" Hush ! " said 'Tilda. " Hem ! Say, come in."

" Come in," cried Miss Squeers faintly. And in walked
Nicholas. ♦

".Good evening," said that young gentleman, all uncon-
scious of his conquest. " I understood from Mr. Squeers
that "

" Oh yes ; it's all right," interposed Miss Squeers. " Father
don't tea with us, but you won't mind that, I dare say."
(This was said archly.)

Nicholas opened his eyes at this, but he turned the matter
off very coolly — not caring, particularly, about anything just
then — and went through the ceremony of introduction to the
miller's daughter, with so much grace, that that young lady
was lost in admiration.

" We are only waiting for one more gentleman," said
Miss Squeers, taking off the tea-pot lid, and looking in, to see
how the tea was getting on.

It was matter of equal moment to Nicholas whether they
were waiting for one gentleman or twenty, so he received the
intelligence with perfect unconcern ; and being out of spirits,
and not seeing any especial reason, why he should make him-
self agreeable, looked out of the window and sighed involun-

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As luck would have it, Miss Squeers's friend was of a play-
ful turn, and hearing Nicholas sigh, she 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 bit, for I'm quite as bad. You may go on
just as you would if you were alone."

" Tilda," said Miss Squeers, coloring up to the top row of
curls, " I am ashamed of you ; " and here the two friends
burst into a variety of giggles, and glanced, from time to time,
over the tops of their pocket-handkerchiefs, at Nicholas, who
from a state of unmixed astonishment, gradually fell into one
of irrepressible laughter — occasioned, partly by the bare no-
tion of his being in love with Miss Squeers, and partly by
the preposterous appearance and behaviour of the two girls.
These two causes of merriment, taken together, struck him as
being so keenly ridiculous, that, despite his miserable con-
dition, he laughed till he was thoroughly exhausted.

"Well," thought Nicholas, "as I am here, and seem
expected, for some reason or other, to be amiable, it'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, or a time, the better of his sad thoughts, he no sooner
formed this resolution than he saluted Miss Squeers and
the friend, with great gallantry, and drawing a chair to the
tea-table, began 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. Nickleby, when the expected swain arrived,
with his hair very damp from recent washing, and a clean
shirt, whereof the collar might have belonged to some giant
ancestor, forming, together with a white waistcoat of similar
dimensions, the chief ornament of his person.

" Well, John," said Miss Matilda Price (which, by the bye,
was 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 Squeers, hastening
to do the honors, " Mr. Nickleby — Mr. John Browdie."

" Servant, sir," said John, who was something over six
feet high, with a face and body rather above the due propor-
tion than below it.

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" Yours to command, sir," replied Nicholas, making fear-
ful ravages on the bread and butter.

Mr. Browdie was not a gentleman of great conversational
powers, so he grinned twice more, and having now bestowed
his customary mark of recognition on every person in com-
pany, grinned at -nothing particular, and helped himself to

" Old wooman awa', bean't she ? " said Mr. Browdie, ^Jth
his mouth full.

Miss Squeers nodded assent.

Mr. Browdie gave a grin of special width, as if he thought
that really was something to laugh at, and went to work at
the bread and butter with increased vigor. It was quite a
sight to behold how he and Nicholas emptied the plate be-
tween them.

" Ye wean't get bread and butther ev'ry neight, I expect,
mun," said Mr. Browdie, after he had sat staring at Nicholas
a long time over the empty plate.

Nicholas bit his lip, and colored, but affected not to hear
the remark.

" Ecod," said Mr. Browdie, laughing 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 1 "
" You are facetious, sir," said Nicholas, scornfully.
" Na ; I dean't know," replied Mr. Browdie, " but r/oother
teacher, 'cod he wur a lean 'un, he wur." The recollection of
the last teacher's leanness seemed to afford Mr. Browdie the
most exquisite delight, for he laughed until he found it neces-
sary to apply his coat-cuffs to his eyes.

" I don't know whether your perceptions are quite keen
enough, Mr. Browdie, to 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 word, John," shrieked Miss Price,
stopping her admirer's mouth as he was about to interrupt,
"only half a word, I'll never forgive you, or speak to you

Online LibraryCharles DickensThe life and adventures of Nicholas Nickelby → online text (page 11 of 79)