Charles Dickens.

The life and adventures of Nicholas Nickelby online

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44 As you feel so keenly, in your own purse and person, the
consequences of inattention to business, ma'am," said Ralph,
44 1 am sure you will impress upon your children the necessity
of attaching themselves to it, early in life."

44 Of course I must see that," rejoined Mrs. Nickleby.

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" Sad experience, you know, brother-in-law — . Kate, my dear,
put that down in the next letter to Nicholas, or remind me to
do it if I write."

Ralph paused, for a few moments, and seeing that he had
now made pretty sure of the mother, in case the daughter ob-
jected to his proposition, went on to say :

" The situation that I have made interest to procure, ma'am,
is with — with a milliner and dress-maker, in short"

" A milliner ! " cried Mrs. Nickleby.

" A milliner and dress-maker, ma'am," replied Ralph.
" Dress-makers in London, as I need not remind you, ma'am,
who are so well acquainted with all matters in the ordinary
routine of life, make large fortunes, keep equipages, and be-
come persons of great wealth and fortune."

Now, the first ideas called up in Mrs, Nickleby's mind by
the words milliner and dress-maker were connected with cer-
tain wicker baskets lined with black oil-skin, which she re-
membered to have seen carried to and fro in the streets ; but,
as Ralph proceeded, these disappeared, and were replaced by
visions of large houses at the west end, neat private carriages,
and a banker's book ; all of which images succeeded each
other, with such rapidity, that he had no sooner finished speak-
ing, than she nodded her head and said " Very true," with
great appearance of satisfaction.

" What your uncle says, is very true, Kate, my dear," said
Mrs. Nickleby. " I recollect when your poor papa and I came
to town after we were married, that a young lady brought me
home a chip cottage-bonnet, with white and green trimming,
and green persian lining, in her own carriage, which drove up
to the door full gallop ; — at least, I am not quite certain
whether it was her own carriage or a hackney chariot, but I
remember very well that the horse dropped down dead as he
was turning round, and that your poor papa said he hadn't
had any corn for a fortnight."

This anecdote, so strikingly illustrative of the opulence of
milliners, was not received with any great demonstration of
feeling, inasmuch as Kate hung down her head while it was
relating, and Ralph manifested very intelligible symptoms of
extreme impatience.

"The lady's name," said Ralph, hastily striking in, "is
Mantalini — Madame Mantalini. I know her. She lives near
Cavendish Square. If your daughter is disposed to try after
the situation, I'll take her there, directly."

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" Have you nothing to say to your uncle, my love ? " in-
quired 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 him, as we walk

With these words, Kate hurried away, to hide the traces
of emotion that were stealing down her face, and to prepare
herself for the walk, while Mrs. Nickleby amused her brother-
in-law by giving him, with many tears, a detailed account of
the dimensions of a rosewood cabinet piano they had pos-
sessed in their days of affluence, together with a minute de-
scription of eight drawing-room chairs, with turned legs and
green chintz squabs to match the curtains, which had cost two
pounds fifteen shillings apiece, and had gone at the sale for
a mere -nothing.

These reminiscences were at length cut short by Kate's re-
turn in her walking dress, when Ralph, who had been fretting
and fuming during the whole time of her absence, lost no time,
and used very little ceremony, in descending into the street.

" Now," he said, taking her arm, " walk as fast as you can,
and you'll get into the step that you'll have to walk to business
with every morning." So saying, he led Kate off, at a good
round pace, towards Cavendish Square.

" I am very much obliged to you, uncle," said the young
lady, after they had hurried on in silence for some time;
44 very."

" I'm glad to hear it/' said Ralph. " I hope you'll do
your duty."

" I will try to please, uncle," replied Kate : " indeed

" Don't begin to cry," growled Ralph ; " I hate crying."

" It's very foolish, I know, uncle," began poor Kate.

"It is," replied Ralph, stopping 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 female, about to make her first entry on
an entirely new scene of life, among cold and uninterested
strangers ; but it had its effect notwithstanding. Kate colored
deeply, breathed quickly for a few moments, and 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 streets,

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giving way to the press of people, and clinging closely to
Ralph as though she feared to lose him in the throng ; and
how the stern and hard-featured man of business went dog-
gedly on, elbowing the passengers aside, and now and then ex-
changing a gruff salutation with some passing acquaintance,
who turned to look back upon his pretty charge, with looks ex-
pressive of surprise, and seemed to wonder at the ill-assorted
companionship. But, it would have been a stranger contrast
still, to have read the hearts that were beating side by side ;
to have laid bare the gentle innocence of the one, and the
rugged villainy of the other ; to have hung upon the.guileless
thoughts of the affectionate girl, and been amazed that, among
all the wily plots and calculations of the old man, there 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 apprehensions, while that of the old
worldly man lay rusting in its cell, beating only as a piece of
cunning mechanism, and yielding no one throb of hope, or
fear, or love, or care, for any .living thing.

" Uncle," said Kate, when 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 emphat-

" You will live, to all intents and purposes, here," rejoined
Ralph ; " for here you will take your meals and here you will be
from morning till night — occasionally perhaps till morning

" But at night, I mean," said Kate ; " I cannot leave her,
uncle. I must have some place that I can call a home ; it
will be wherever she is, you know, and may be a very humble

" May be ! " said Ralph, walking faster, in the impatience
provoked by the remark, u must be, you mean. May be a
humble one ! Is the girl mad ? "

" The word slipped from my lips, I did not mean it in-
deed," urged Kate.

" I hope not," said Ralph.

" But my question, uncle ; you have not answered it."

" Why, I anticipated something of the kind," said Ralph ;
" and — though I object very strongly, mincf — have provided

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against it. I spoke of you as an out-of-door worker ; so you
will go to this home that may be humble, every night."

There was comfort in this. Kate poured forth many
thanks for her uncle's consideration, which Ralph received as
if he had deserved them all, and they arrived without any
further conversation at the dress-maker's door, which dis-
played a very large plate, with Madame Mantalini's name
and occupation, and was approached by a handsome flight of
steps. There was a shop to the house, but it was let off to
an importer of otto of roses. Madame Mantalini's show-rooms
were on the first floor : a fact which was notified to the no-
bility and gentry, by the casual exhibition, near the hand-
somely curtained windows, of two or three elegant bonnets of
the newest fashion, and some costly garments in the most
approved taste.

A liveried footman opened the door, and in reply to
Ralph's inquiry whether Madame Mantalini was at home,
ushered them, through a handsome hall and up a spacious
staircase, into the show saloon, which comprised two spacious
drawing-rooms, and exhibited an immense variety of superb
dresses and materials for dresses : some arranged on stands,
others laid carelessly on sofas, and others again, scattered
over the carpet, hanging on the cheval glasses, or mingling,
in some other way, with the rich furniture of various descrip-
tions, which was profusely displayed.

They waited here, a much longer time than was agreeable
to Mr. Ralph Nickleby, who eyed the gaudy frippery about
him with very little concern, and was at length about to pull
the bell, when a gentleman suddenly popped his head into
the room, and, seeing somebody there, as suddenly popped it
out again.

" Here. Hollo ! " cried Ralph. " Who's that ? "

At the sound of Ralph's voice, the head reappeared, and
the mouth, displaying a very long row of very white teeth,
uttered in a mincing tone the words, " Demmit. What, Nick-
leby I oh, demmit ! " Having uttered which ejaculations, the
gentleman advanced, and shook hands with Ralph, with great
warmth. He was dressed in a gorgeous morning gown, with
a waistcoat and Turkish trousers of the same pattern, a pink
silk neckerchief, and bright green slippers, and had a very
copious watch-chain wound round his body. Moreover, he
had whiskers and a moustache, both dyed black and grace-
fully curled.

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" Demmit, you don't mean to say you want me, do you,
demmit ? " said this gentleman, smiting Ralph on the

" Not yet," said Ralph, sarcastically.

" Ha ! ha ! demmit," cried the gentleman ; when, wheeling
round to laugh with greater elegance, he encountered Kate
Nickleby, who was standing near.

" My niece," said Ralph.

" I remember," said the gentleman, striking his nose with
the knuckle of his forefinger as a chastening for his forgetful-
ness. " Demmit, I remember what you come for. Step this
way, Nickleby ; my dear, will you follow me ? Ha ! ha !
They all follow me, Nickleby ; always did, demmit, always."

Giving loose to the playfulness of his imagination, after
this fashion, the gentleman led the way to a private sitting-
room on the second floor, scarcely less elegantly furnished
than the apartment below, where the presence of a silver
coffee-pot, an egg-shell, and sloppy china for one, seemed to
show that he had just breakfasted.

" Sit down, my dear," said the gentleman : first staring
Miss Nickleby out of countenance, and then grinning in
delight at the achievement. "This cursed high room takes
one's breath away. These infernal sky parlors— I'm afraid I
must move, Nickleby."

" I would, by all means," replied Ralph, looking bitterly

" What a demd rum fellow you are, Nickleby," said the
gentleman, " the demdest, longest-headed, queerest-tempered
old coiner of gold and silver ever was — demmit."

Having complimented Ralph to this effect, the gentleman
rang the bell, and stared at Miss Nickleby until it was
answered, when he left off to bid the man desire his mistress
to come directly ; after which, he began again, and left off no
more until Madame Mantalini appeared.

The dress-maker was. a buxom person, handsomely dressed
and rather good looking, but much older than the gentleman
in the Turkish trousers, whom she had wedded some six
months before. His name was originally Muntle ; but it had
been converted, by 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 subsisted,
in a genteel manner, for some years ; and which he had re-

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cently improved, after patient cultivation, by the addition of a
moustache, which promised to secure him an easy independ-
ence : his share in the labors of the business being at present
confined to spending the money, and occasionally, when that
ran short, driving 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 here, my love,"
said Madame Mantalini.

" Then what a doubly demd infernal rascal that footman
must be, my soul," remonstrated Mr. Mantalini.

" My dear," said Madame, " that is entirely your fault."

" My fault, my heart's joy ? "

" Certainly," returned the lady ; " what can you expect,
dearest, if you will not correct the man ? "

" Correct the man, my soul's delight 1 "

" Yes ; I am sure he wants speaking to, badly enough,"
said Madame, pouting.

"Then do not vex itself," said Mr. Mantalini ; "he shall
be horse- whipped till he cries out demnebly." With this
promise Mr. Mantalini kissed Madame Mantalini, and, after
that performance, Madame Mantalini pulled Mr. Mantalini
playfully by the ear : which done, they descended to busi-

" Now, ma'am," said Ralph, who had looked on, at all
this, with such scorn as few men can express in looks, " this
is my niece."

" Just so, Mr. Nickleby," replied Madame Mantalini, sur-
veying Kate from head to foot, and back again. " Can you
speak French, child? "

" Yes, ma'am," replied Kate, not 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 inquiry, but turned
her back upon the questioner, as if addressing herself to make
answer to what his wife might demand.

"We keep twenty young women constantly employed in
the establishment," said Madame.

" Indeed, ma'am ! " replied Kate, timidly.

" Yes ; and some of 'em demd handsome, too," said the

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" Mantalini ! " exclaimed his wife, in 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 poeti-
cal strain.

" Then you will, if you persevere in that mode of speak-
ing," said his wife. " What can Mr. Nickleby think when he
hears you ? "

"Oh! Nothing, ma'am, nothing," replied Ralph. "I
know his amiable nature, and 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
hinges, and to make a firm resolution to open with slow obsti-
nacy, and grind them to powder in the process, it would emit
a pleasanter sound in so doing, then did these words in the
rough and bitter voice in which they were uttered by Ralph.
Even Mr. Mantalini felt their influence, and turning affright-
ed round, exclaimed : " What a demd horrid croaking ! "

" You will pay no attention, if vou please, to what Mr.
Mantalini says," observed his wife, addressing Miss Nickleby.

"I do not, ma'am," said Kate, with quiet contempt.

" Mr. Mantalini knows nothing whatever about any of the
young women," continued Madame, looking at her husband,
and speaking to Kate. " If he has seen any of them, he must
have seen them in the street, going to, or returning from, their
work, and not here. He was never even in the room. I do
not allow it. What hours of work have you been accustomed

" I have never yet been accustomed to work at all, ma'am,"
replied Kate, in a low voice.

" For which reason she'll work all the better now," said
Ralph, putting in a word, lest this confession should injure the

" I hope so," returned Madame Mantalini ; " our hours
are from nine to nine, with extra work when we're very full of
business, for which I allow payment as over-time."

Kate bowed her head, to intimate that she heard, and was

"Your meals," continued Madame Mantalini, "that is,
dinner and tea, you will take here. I should think your wages

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would average from five to seven shillings a week ; but I can't
give you any certain information on that point, until 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 exactly, and
Miss Knag the forewoman shall then have directions to try
you with some easy work at first. Is there anything more,
Mr. Nickleby ? "

" Nothing more, ma'am," replied Ralph, rising.
. " Then I believe that's all," said the lady. Having arrived
at this natural conclusion, she looked at the door, as if she
wished to be gone, but hesitated notwithstanding, as though
unwilling to leave to Mr. Mantalini the sole honor of showing
them down stairs. Ralph relieved her from her perplexity by
taking his departure without delay : Madame Mantalini mak-
ing many gracious inquiries why he never came to see them ;
and Mr. Mantalini anathematizing the stairs with great volu-
bility as he followed them down, in the hope of inducing
Kate to look round, — a hope, however, which was destined to
remain ungratified.

" There ! " said Ralph when they got into the street ;
u now you're provided for." Kate was about to thank him
again, but 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 alms-houses on the borders of Cornwall, which had
occurred to him more than once)*— but as you want to be to-
gether, I 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 last, living
rent free. You leave your lodgings on Saturday ? "

" You told us to do so, uncle."

" Yes ; there is a house empty that belongs to me, which
I can put you into, till it is let, and then, if nothing else turns
up, perhaps I shall have another. You must live there."

" Js it far from here, sir ? " inquired Kate.

"Pretty well," said Ralph; "in another quarter of the
town — at the East end, but I'll send my clerk down to you, at
five o'clock on Saturday, to take you there. Good-by. You
know your way ? Straight on."

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Coldly shaking his niece's hand, Ralph left her at the top
of Regent Street, and turned down a by- thoroughfare, intent
on schemes of money-getting. Kate walked sadly back to
their lodgings in the Strand.



Miss Nickleby's reflections, as she wended her way home-
wards, were 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 formed, in the outset, neither
was the glimpse she had had of Madame Mantalini's establish-
ment, by any means encouraging. It was with many gloomy
forebodings and misgivings, therefore, that she looked for-
ward, with a heavy heart, to the opening of her new career.

If her mother's consolations could have restored her to a
pleasanter and more enviable state of mind, there were abun-
dance of them to produce the effect. By the time Kate
reached home, the good lady had called to mind, two authentic
cases of milliners* who had been possessed of considerable
property, though whether they had acquired it all in business,
or had had a capital to start with, or had been lucky and mar-
ried to advantage, she could not exactly remember. How-
ever, as she very logically remarked, there must have been
some young person in that way of business who had made a
fortune without having anything to begin with, and that being
taken for granted, why should not Kate do the same ? Miss
La Creevy, who was a member of the little council, ventured
to insinuate some doubts relative to the probability of Miss
Nickleby's arriving at this happy consummation in the com-
pass of an ordinary lifetime ; but the good lady set that ques-
tion entirely at rest, by informing them that she had a pre-
sentiment on the subject — a species of second-sight with which
she had been in the habit of clenching every argument with
the deceased Mr. Nickleby, and, in nine cases and three quar-
ters out of every ten, determining in the wrong way. .

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" I am afraid it is an unhealthy occupation," said Miss La
Creevy. " I recollect getting three young milliners to sit to
me, when I first began to paint, and 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 remember, as well as if it was. only
yesterday, employing one that I was particularly recom-
mended to, to make me a scarlet cloak at the time when scar-
let cloaks were fashionable, and she had a very red face — a
very red face, indeed."

" 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 face, so your argu-
ment goes for nothing."

In this manner, and with like powerful reasoning, did 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 new, and it came home to her mind,
brightly varnished and gilded as a glittering toy.

This question disposed of, Kate communicated her uncle's
desire about the empty house, to which Mrs. Nickleby assented
with equal readiness, characteristically remarking, that, on the
fine evenings, it would be a pleasant amusement for her to walk
to the West end to fefch 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 you, my kind friend,"
said Kate, on whom the good feeling of the poor miniature-
painter had made a deep impression.

" You shall not shake me off, for all that," replied Miss La
Creevy, with as much sprightliness as she could assume. " I
shall see you very often, and come and hear how you get on ;
and if, in all London, or all the wide world besides, there is no
other heart that takes an interest in your welfare, there will
be one little lonely woman that prays for it night and day."

With this, the poor soul, who had a heart big enough for
Gog, the guardian genius of London, and enough to spare for
Magog to boot, after making a great many extraordinary faces
which would have secured her an ample fortune, could she
have transferred them to ivory or canvass, sat down in a cor-
ner, and had what she termed " a real good cry."

But no crying, or talking, or hoping, or fearing, could keep

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off the dreaded Saturday afternoon, or Newman Noggs either ;
who, punctual to his time, limped up to the door, and breathed
a whiff of cordial gin through the keyhole, exactly as such of
the church clocks in the neighborhood as agreed among them-
selves about the time, struck five. Newman waited for the
last stroke, and then knocked.

" From Mr. Ralph Nickleby," said Newman, announcing
his errand, when he got up stairs, with all possible brevity.

" We shall be ready directly," said Kate. " We have not
much to carry, but I fear we must have a coach."

" I'll get one," replied Newman.

"Indeed you shall not trouble yourself," said Mrs.

" I will," said Newman.

" I can't suffer you to think of such a thing," said Mrs.

" You can't help it," said Newman.
' "Not help it!"

" No ; I thought of it as I came along ; but didn't get one,
thinking you mightn't be ready. I think of a great many
things. Nobody can prevent that."

" O yes, I understand you, Mr. Noggs," said Mrs. Nickle-
by. " Our thoughts are free, of course. Everybody's thoughts
are their own, clearly."

" They wouldn't be, if some people had their way," mut-
tered Newman.

"Well, no more they would, Mr. Noggs, and that's very

Online LibraryCharles DickensThe life and adventures of Nicholas Nickelby → online text (page 13 of 79)