Charles Dickens.

The life and adventures of Nicholas Nickelby online

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" Weel, my lass, I dean't care aboot 'un," said the corn-
factor, bestowing a hearty kiss on Miss Matilda ; " let 'un
gang on, let 'un gang on."

It now became Miss Squeers's turn to intercede with Nich-
olas, which she did with many symptoms of alarm and hor-
ror ; the effect of the double intercession, was, that he and

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John Browdie shook hands across the table with much grav-
ity ; and such was the imposing nature of the ceremonial,
that Miss Squeers was overcome and shed tears.

" What's the matter, Fanny ? " said Miss Price.

" Nothing, Tilda," replied Miss Squeers, sobbing.

" There never was any danger," said Miss Price, " was
there, Mr. Nickleby?"

" None at all," replied Nicholas. " Absurd."

44 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 kitchen, and come back presently ? "

44 Not on any account," rejoined Nicholas, quite alarmed
at the proposition. " What on earth should you do that

"Well," said Miss Price, beckoning him aside, and speak-
ing with some degree of contempt — " you are a one to keep

" 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."

" No, nor 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, pet-
tishly. " Look at her, dressed so beautiful and looking so
well — really almost handsome. I am ashamed at you."

44 My dear girl, what have I got to do with her dressing
beautifully or looking well ? " inquired Nicholas.

44 Come, don't call me a dear girl," said Miss Price — smil-
ing, a little though, for she was pretty, and a coquette too in
her small way, and Nicholas was good-looking, and she sup-
posed 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." Pro-
nouncing these last words aloud, she tripped away and re-
joined 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


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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 amalga-
mated 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 over-
whelmed 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, af-
fecting to take the question in a literal sense.

" How dull you are to-night ! " 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

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."

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" 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. "lam
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 unconscious-
ness of making anybody uncomfortable.

"We have all the talking to ourselves, it seems," said
Nicholas, looking good-humoredly 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 any-
body 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, majes-

"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 af-
fected astonishment.

" Cum whoam, tell'e, cum whoam," replied the Yorkshire-
man, sternly. Ancl 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 matrimo-

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nially 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 cele-
bration of their expected nuptials ; while Nicholas had brought
it about, by half an hour's gayety 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 pro-
duced, 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 f fesh amazement. " What can be the matter ? "

44 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. ^

44 Well, I'm sure ! " exclaimed Miss Price.

" And who cares whether you are sure or not, ma'am ? "
retorted Miss Squeers making another face.

44 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 pos-
sessed 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

44 Ah ! There's no love lost between us, I assure you,"

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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 good-night, 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-and-thrust counts, in melodramatic per-
formances, 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 iew 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 Jiis 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 1 "

So saying, he felt his way among the throng of weary-
hearted sleepers, and crept into his poor bed.

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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 en-
gaged ; and towards the full perfection of which, Miss La
Creevy had had the street-door case brought up-stairs, in
order that she might be the better able to infuse into the
counterfeit countenance of Miss Nickleby, a bright salmon
flesh-tint which "she had originally hit upon while executing
the miniature of a young officer therein contained, and which
bright salmon flesh-tint 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, in-
deed — 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, humoring
her good-natured little friend.

" They are beyond anything you can form the faintest
conception of," replied Miss La Creevy. "What with bring-
ing 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."

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" 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 unrea-
sonable, that, nine times out of ten, there's no pleasure in
painting them. Sometimes they say, ' Oh, how very serious
you have made me look, Miss La Creevy ! ' and at others,
4 La, Miss La^ Creevy, how very smirkfng ! ' when the very
essence of a good portrait is, that it must be either serious or
smirking, or it's no portrait at all."

" Indeed 1 " said Kate, laughing.

" Certainly, my 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 waistcoats, with their fists doubled
up on round tables, or marble slabs, are serious, you know ;
and all the ladies who are playing with little parasols, or little
dogs, or little children — it's the same rule in art, only varying
the objects — are smirking. In fact," said Miss La Creevy,
sinking 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 gentle-
men who don't care so much about looking clever."

Kate seemed highly amused by this information, and Miss
La Creevy went on painting and talking, with immovable

"What a number of officers you seem to paint!" said
Kate, availing herself of a pause in the discourse, and glanc-
ing round the room.

" Number of what, child ? " inquired Miss La Creevy,
looking up from her work. " Character portraits, oh yes — '
they're not real military men, you know."

" No ! "

" Bless your heart, of course not ; only clerks and that,
who hire a uniform coat to be painted in and send it here in
a carpet bag. Some artists," said Miss La Creevy, " keep a
red coat, and charge seven-and-sixpence extra for hire and
carmine ; but I don't do that myself, for I don't consider it

Drawing herself up, as though she plumed herself greatly
upon not resorting to these lures to catch sitters, Miss La
Creevy applied herself, more intently, to her task : only rais-
ing her head occasionally, to look with unspeakable satisfac-

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tion at some touch she had just put in : and now and then
giving Miss Nickleby to understand what particular features
she was at work upon, at the moment ; " not," she expressly
observed, " that you should make it up for painting, my dear,
but because it's our custom sometimes, to tell sitters what
part we are upon, in order that if there's any particular ex-
pression they want introduced, they may throw it in, at the
time, you know."

" And when," said Miss La Creevy, after a long silence,
to wit, an 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 be-
fore now," replied Kate. " Soon I hope, for this state of
uncertainty is worse than anything."

" I suppose he has money, hasn't he ? " inquired Miss La

" He is very rich, I have heard," rejoined Kate. " I don't
know that he is, but I believe so."

" Ah, you may depend upon it he is, or he wouldn't be so
surly," remarked Miss La Creevy, who was an odd little mix-
ture of shrewdness and simplicity. " When a man's a bear,
he is generally pretty independent."

" His manner is rough," said Kate.

" Rough ! " cried Miss La Creevy, " a porcupine's a feather-
bed to him ! I never met with such a cross-grained old sav-

" It is only his manner, I believe," observed Kate, timidly :
" he was disappointed in early life, I think I have heard, or
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 minia-
ture painter, " and Heaven forbid that I should be the cause of
your doing so ! But, now, mightn't he, without feeling it him-
self, make you and your mama some nice little allowance
that would keep you both comfortable until you were well
married, and be a little fortune to her afterwards ? What
would a hundred a year, for instance, be to- • him ? "

" I don't know what it would be to him," said Kate, with
energy, " but it would be that to me I would rather die than

" Heyday ! " cried Miss La Creevy.

"A dependence upon him," said Kate, "would embitter
my whole life. I should feel begging, a far less degradation."

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" Well ! " exclaimed Miss La Creevy. " This of a relation
whom you will not hear an indifferent person speak ill of, my
dear, sounds oddly enough, I confess."

" I dare say it does," replied Kate, speaking more gently,
" indeed I am sure it must . I — I — only mean that with the
feelings and recollection of better times upon me, I could
not bear to live on anybody's bounty — not his particularly,
but anybody's."

Miss La Creevy looked slyly at her companion, as if she
doubted whether Ralph himself were not the subject of xlis-
like, but seeing that her young friend was distressed, made no

" I only ask of him," continued Kate, whose tears fell
while she spoke, " that he will move so little out of his way,
in my behalf, as to enable me by his recommendation— only
by his recommendation — to earn, literally, my bread and
remain with my mother. Whether we shall ever taste happi-
ness again, depends upon the fortunes of my dear brother ;
but if he will do this, and Nicholas only tells us that he is
well and cheerful, I shall be contented."

As she ceased to speak, there was a rustling behind the
screen which stood between her and the door, and some per-
son knocked at the wainscot.

" Come in, whoever it is 1 " cried Miss La Creevy.

The person complied, and, coming forward at once, gave
to view the form and features of no less an individual than
Mr. Ralph Nickleby himself.

" Your servant, ladies," said Ralph, looking sharply at them
by turns. " You were talking so loud, that I was unable to
make you hear."

When the man of business had a more than commonly
vicious snarl lurking at his heart, he had a trick of almost
concealing his eyes under their thick and protruding brows,
for an instant, and then displaying them in their full keenness.
As he did so now, and tried to keep down the smile which
parted his thin compressed lips, and puckered up the bad
lines about his mouth, they both felt certain that some part,
if not the whole, of their recent conversation, had been over-

" I called in, on my way up stairs, more than half expect-
ing to find you here," said Ralph, addressing his niece, and
looking contemptuously at the portrait. " Is that my niece's
portrait, ma'am ? "

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"Yes it is, Mr. Nickleby," said Miss La Creevy, with a
very sprightly air, " and between you and me and the post,
sir, it will be a very nice portrait too, though I say it who am
the painter."

" Don't trouble yourself to show it to me, ma'am," cried
Ralph, moving away, " I have no eye for likenesses. Is it
nearly finished ? "

" Why, yes," replied Miss La Creevy, considering with the
pencil end of her brush in her mouth. " Two sittings more
will^ "

44 Have them at once, ma'am," said Ralph. " She'll have
no time to idle over fooleries after to-morrow. Work, ma'am,
work ; we must all work. Have you let your lodgings,
ma'am ? "

" I have not put a bill up yet, sir."

" Put it up at once, ma'am ; they won't want the rooms
after this week, or if they do, can't pay for them. Now, my
dear, if you're ready, we'll lose no more time."

With an assumption of kindness which sat worse upon
him, even than his usual manner, Mr. Ralph Nickleby mo-
tioned to the young lady to precede him, and bowing gravely
to Miss La Creevy, closed the door and followed up stairs,
where Mrs. Nickleby received him with many expressions of
regard. Stopping them somewhat abruptly, Ralph waived
his hand with an impatient gesture, and proceeded to the ob-
ject of his visit.

" I have found a situation for your daughter, ma'am," said

" Well," replied Mrs. Nickleby. " Now, I will say that
that is only just what I have expected of you. * Depend upon
it, 1 I said to Kate, only yesterday morning at breakfast, * that
after your uncle has provided, in that most ready manner, for
Nicholas, he will not leave us until he has done at least the
same for you.' These were my very words, as near as I re-
member. Kate, my dear, why don't you thank your "

" Let me proceed, ma'am, pray," said Ralph, interrupting
his sister-in-law in the full torrent of her discourse.

u Kate, my love, let your uncle proceed," said Mrs. Nick-

"I am most anxious that he should, mama," rejoined

" Well, my dear, if you are anxious that he should, you
had better allow your uncle to say what he has to say, without

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interruption," observed Mrs. Nickleby, with many small nods
and frowns. " Your uncle's time is very valuable, my dear ;
and however desirous you may be — and naturally desirous, as
I am sure any affectionate relations who have seen so little of
your uncle as we have, must naturally be — to protract the
pleasure of having him among us, still, we are bound not to
be selfish, but to take into consideration the important nature
of his occupations in the city."

" I am very much obliged to you, ma'am," said Ralph with
a scarcely perceptible sneer. " An absence of business hab-
its in this family leads, apparently, to a great waste of words
before business — when it does come under consideration — is
arrived at, at all."

" I fear it is so indeed," replied Mrs. Nickleby with a sigh.
u Your poor brother "

44 My poor brother, ma'am," interposed Ralph tartly, " had
no idea what business was — was unacquainted, I verily be-
lieve, with the very meaning of the word."

44 1 fear he was," said Mrs. Nickleby, with her handker-
chief to her eyes. " If it hadn't been for me, I don't know
what would have become of him."

What strange creatures we are ! The slight bait so skil-
fully thrown out by Ralph, on their first interview, was dang-
ling on the hook yet. At every small deprivation or discom-
fort which presented itself in the course of the four-and-
twenty hours to remind her of her straitened and altered cir-
cumstances, peevish visions of her dower of one thousand
pounds had arisen before Mrs. Nickleby's mind, until, at last,
she 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 yet, she had loved him dearly for many years, and 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 train, at once.

44 Repining is of no use, ma'am," said Ralph. 44 Of all
fruitless errands, sending a tear to look after a day that is
gone, is the most fruitless."

44 So it is," sobbed Mrs. Nickleby. 44 So it is."

Online LibraryCharles DickensThe life and adventures of Nicholas Nickelby → online text (page 12 of 79)