Charles Dickens.

The life and adventures of Nicholas Nickelby online

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true," rejoined Mrs. Nickleby. " Some people to be sure are
such — how's your master ? "

Newman darted a meaning glance at Kate, and replied
with a strong emphasis on the last word of his answer, that
Mr. Ralph Nickleby was well, and 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 Noggs,
after having once seen him, and as Kate, attracted by the
singularity of his manner (in which on this occasion, however,
there was something respectful and even delicate, notwith-
standing the abruptness of his speech), looked at him more
closely, she recollected having caught a passing glimpse of
that strange figure before.

"Excuse my curiosity," she said, " but did I not see you in

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the coachyard, on the morning my brother went away to York-
shire ? "

Newman cast a wistful glance on Mrs. Nickleby, and said
"No," most unblushingly.

" No ! " exclaimed Kate, " I should have said so any-

" 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 very, very far from having the appearance of
a gouty subject, and so Kate could not help thinking ; but the
conference was cut short by Mrs. Nickleby's insisting on hav-
ing the door shut, lest Mr. Noggs should take cold, and further
persisting in sending the servant girl for a coach, for fear he
should bring on another attack of his disorder. To both con-
ditions, Newman was compelled to yield. Presently, the coach
ccme ; and, after many sorrowful farewells, and a great deal
of running backwards and forwards across the pavement on
the part of Miss La Creevy, in the course of which the yellow
turban came into violent contact with sundry foot passengers,
it (that is to say the coach, not the turban) went away again,
with the two ladies and their luggage inside ; and Newman,
despite all Mrs. Nickleby's assurances that it would be his
death — on the box beside the driver.

They went into the City, turning down by the river side ;
and, after a long and very slow drive, the streets being crowded
at that hour with vehicles of every kind, stopped in front of a
large old dingy house in Thames Street : the door and windows
of which were so bespattered with mud, that 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 which, by the bye, in
consequence of the dilapidated state of his pockets, he de-
posited everything, and would most likely have carried his
money if he had had any — and the coach being discharged,
he led the way into the interior of the mansion.

Old, and gloomy, and black, in truth it was, and sullen and
dark were the rooms, once so bustling with life and enterprise.
There was a wharf behind, opening on the Thames. An
empty dog-kennel, some bones of animals, fragments of iron
hoops, and staves of old casks, lay strewn about, but no life
was stirring there. It was a picture of cold, silent decay.

" This house depresses and chills one," said Kate, " and
seems as if some blight had fallen on it. If I were supersti-

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tious, I should be almost inclined to believe that some dread-
ful crime had been perpetrated within these old walls, and
that the place had never prospered since. How frowning and
how dark it looks ! "

" Lord, my dear," replied Mrs. Nickleby, " don't talk in
that way, or you'll frighten me to death."

" It is only my foolish fancy, mama," said Kate, forcing a

" Well, then, my love, I wish you would keep your foolish
fancy to yourself, and 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 dog, or a
thousand things — but it always was the way, and was just the
same with your poor dear father. Unless I thought of every-
thing " This was Mrs. Nickleby's usual commencement of

a general lamentation, running through a dozen or so of com-
plicated sentences addressed to nobody in particular, and into
which she now launched until. her breath was exhausted.

Newman appeared not to hear these remarks, but preceded
them to a couple of rooms on the first floor, which some kind
of attempt had been made to render habitable. In one, were
a few chairs, a table, an old hearth-rug, and some faded baize ;
and a fire was ready laid in the grate. In the other, stood an
old tent bedstead, and a few scanty articles of chamber furni-

" Well, my dear," said Mrs. Nickleby, trying to be pleased,
" now isn't this thoughtful and considerate of your uncle ?
Why, we should not have had anything but the bed we bought
yesterday, to lie down upon, if it hadn't been for his thought-
fulness ! "

" Very kind, indeed," replied Kate, looking round.

Newman Noggs did not say that he had hunted up the old
furniture they saw, from attic and celler ; or that he had taken
in the halfpenny-worth of milk for tea that stood upon a
shelf, or filled the rusty kettle on the hob, or collected the
wood chips from the wharf, or begged the coals. But the no-
tion of Ralph Nickleby having directed it to be done, tickled
his fancy so much, that he could not refrain from cracking all
his ten fingers in succession ; at which performance Mrs.
Nickleby was rather startled at first, but supposing it to be in
some remote manner connected with the gout, did not remark

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" We need detain you no. longer, I think," said Kate.
• " Is there nothing I can do ? " asked Newman.

" Nothing, thank you," rejoined Miss Nickleby.

" Perhapr, my dear, Mr. Noggs would like to drink our
healths," said Mrs. Nickleby, fumbling in her reticule for
some small coin.

" I think, mama," said Kate, hesitating and remarking
Newman's averted face, " you would hurt his feelings if you
offered it"

Newman Noggs, bowing to the young lady more like a
gentleman than the miserable wretch he seemed, placed his
hand upon his breast, and, pausing for a moment, with the air
of a man who struggles, to speak but is uncertain what to say,
quitted the room.

As the jarring echoes of the heavy house-door, closing on
its latch, reverberated dismally through the building, Kate felt
half tempted to call him back, and beg him to remain a little
while ; but she was ashamed to own her fears, and Newman
Noggs was on his way homewards.



It was a fortunate circumstance for Miss Fanny Squeers
that 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. Being, how-
ever, of a rather violent and quarrelsome mood in his cups, it
is not impossible that he might have fallen out with her, either
^on this or some imaginary topic, if the young lady had not,
with a foresight and prudence highly commendable, kept a
boy up, on purpose, to bear the first brunt of the good gentle-
man's anger ; which, having vented itself in a variety of kicks
and cuffs, subsided sufficiently to admit of his being per-
suaded to go to bed. Which he did with his boots on, and an
umbrella under his arm.

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The hungry servant attended Miss Squeers in her own
room according to custom, to curl her hair, perform the other
little offices of her toilet, and administer as much flattery as
she could get up, for 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 to-night, miss ! " 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 be-
ing at all surprised at any outbreak of ill-temper on the part
of Miss Squeers. Having a half preception of what had oc-
curred in the course of the evening, she changed her mode of
making herself agreeable, and proceeded on the indirect tack.

" Well, I couldn't help saying, miss, if 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 sighed, and composed herself to listen.

" I know it's very wrong in me to say so, miss," continued
the girl, delighted to see the impression she was making,
44 Miss Price being a friend of your'n, and all ; but she do
dress herself out so, and go on in such a manner to get no-
ticed, that— oh — well, if people only saw themselves ! "

44 What do you mean, Phib ? " asked Miss Squeers, looking
in her own little glass, where, like most of us, she saw — not
herself, but the reflection of some pleasant image in her 9wn
brain. " How you talk ! "

44 Talk, miss ! It's enough to make a Tom cat talk French
grammar, only to see how she tosses her head," replied the

44 She does toss her head," observed Miss Squeers, with an
air of abstraction.

44 So vain, and so very — very plain," said the girl.

44 Poor 'Tilda ! " sighed Miss Squeers, compassionately.

44 And always laying herself out so, to get to be admired,"
pursued the servant. 44 0h, dear! It's positive indelicate."

44 1 can't allow you to talk in that way, Phib," said Miss
Squeers. " Tilda's friends are low people, and if she don't
know any better, it's their fault, and not hers."

44 Well, but you know, miss," said Phoebe, for which name
" Phib " was used as a patronizing abbreviation, " if she was

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only to take copy by a friend — oh ! if she only knew how
wrong she was, and would but set herself right by you, what a
nice young woman she might be in time ! "

" Phib," rejoined Miss Squeers, with a stately air, " it's
not proper for me to hear these comparisons drawn ; they
make 'Tilda look a coarse improper sort of person, and iC
seems unfriendly in me to listen to them. I would rather you
dropped the subject, Phib ; at the same time, I must say, that
if 'Tilda Price would take pattern by somebody — not me par-
ticularly "

" O yes ; you, miss,* interposed Phib.
" Well, me, Phib, if you will have it so," said Miss Squeers.
" I must say, that if she would, she would be all the better for

" So somebody else thinks, or I am much mistaken," said
the girl mysteriously.

" What do you mean ? " demanded Miss Squeers.
" Never mind, miss," replied the girl ; u 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."
" Why, if you will have it, miss, it's this," said the servant
girl. " Mr. John Browdie thinks as you think ; and if he
wasn't too far gone to do it creditable, he'd be very glad to be
off with Miss Price, and on with Miss Squeers."

" Gracious Heavens ! " exclaimed Miss Squeers, clasping
her hands with great dignity. " What is this ? "

"Truth, ma'am, and nothing but truth," replied the artful

" 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
me, whether I Jike it or not, and desert their chosen intendeds
for my sake I "

" Because they can't help it, miss," replied the girl ; " the
reason's plain." (If Miss Squeers were the reason, it 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 well, and 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. No, Phib. Let her have Mr. Browdie. I may pity

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him, poor fellow : but I have a great regard for Tilda, and
only hope she may make a better wife than I think she will."

With this effusion of feeling, Miss Squeers went to bed.

Spite is a little wore! ; but it represents as strange a jumble
of feelings, and compound of discords, as any polysyllable in
the language. Miss Squeers- knew as well in her heart of
hearts, that what the miserable serving girl had said was sheer,
coarse, lying flattery, as did the girl herself; yet the mere
opportunity of venting a little ill-nature against the offending
Miss Price, and affecting to compassionate her weaknesses
and foibles, though only in the presence of a solitary depen-
dant, was almost as great a relief to her spleen as if the whole
had been gospel truth. Nay, more. We have such extraor-
dinary powers of persuasion when they are exerted over our-
selves, that Miss Squeers felt quite high-minded and great
after her noble renunciation of John Browdie's hand, and
looked down upon her rival with a kind of holy calmness and
tranquillity, that had a mighty effect in soothing her ruffled

This happy state of mind had some influence in bringing
about a reconciliation ; for, when a knock came at the front
door next day, and the miller's daughter was announced, Miss
Squeers betook herself to the parlor in a Christian frame of
spirit, perfectly beautiful to behold.

" Well, Fanny," said the miller's daughter, " you see I
have come to see you, although we had some words last

" I pity your bad passions, 'Tilda," replied Miss Squeers ;
" but I bear no malice. I am above it."

" Don't be cross, Fanny," 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 lips, and looking as if nothing in earth, air,
fire, or water, could afford her the slightest gleam of satisfac-

" 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
it did," rejoined her companion. " That's not it."

" Oh ! " said Miss Squeers, relapsing into melancholy.
" Go on."

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After a great deal of wrangling, and saying we would
never see each other any more," continued Miss Price, " we
made it up, and this morning John went and wrote our names
down to be put up, for the first time, next Sunday, so we shall
be married in three weeks, and 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
gall, and the certainty of her not entertaining serious designs
upon Nicholas was the honey. Upon the whole, the sweet
greatly preponderated over tie bitter, so Miss Squeers said
she would get the frock made, and that she hoped 'Tilda might
be happy, though at the same time she didn't know, arid would
not have her build too much upon it, for men were strange
creatures, and a great many married women were very miser-
able, and wished themselves single again with all their hearts ;
to which condolences Miss Squeers added others equally cal-
culated to raise her friend's spirits and promote her cheerful-
ness of mind.

" But come now, Fanny," said Miss Price. " I want to
have a word or two with you about young Mr. Nickleby."

" He is nothing to me," interrupted Miss Squeers, with
hysterical symptoms. " I despise him too much ! "

" Oh, you don't mean that, I am sure ? " replied her friend.
" Confess, Fanny ; don't you like him now ? "

Without returning any direct reply, Miss Squeers, all at
once, fell into a paroxysm of spiteful tears, and exclaimed that
she was a wretched, neglected, miserable, castaway.

" I hate everybody," said Miss Squeers, " and I wish that
everybody was dead — that I do."

" Dear, dear," said Miss Price, quite moved by this avowal
of misanthropical sentiments. "You are not serious, I am

"Yes, I am," rejoined Miss Squeers, tying tight knots in
her pocket-handkerchief, and clenching her teeth. " And I
wish /was dead too. There ! "

" Oh ! you'll think very differently in another five min-
utes," said Matilda. "How much better to take him into
favor again, than to hurt yourself by going on in that way.
Wouldn't it be much nicer, now, to have him all to yourself
on good terms, in a company-keeping, love-making, pleasant
sort of manner ? "

" I don't know but what it would," sobbed Miss Squeers.

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" Oh ! Tilda how could you have acted so mean and dis-
honorable ! I wouldn't have believed it of you, if anybody
had told me."

" Heyday ! " exclaimed Miss Price, giggling. " 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 faces, and it's no more my fault if mine
is a good one than it is other people's fault if theirs is a bad

" Hold your tongue," shrieked Miss Squeers, in her
shrillest tone ; " or you'll make me slap you, 'Tilda, and after-
wards I should be sorry for it ! "

It is needless to say, that, by this time, the temper of each
young lady was in some slight degree affected by the tone of
her conversation, and that a dash of personality was infused
into the altercation, in consequence. Indeed, the quarrel,
from slight beginnings, rose to a considerable height, and was
assuming a very violent complexion, when both parties, fall-
ing into a great passion of tears, exclaimed simultaneously,
that they had never thought of being spoken to in that way :
which explanation, leading to a remonstrance, gradually
brought on an explanation : and the upshot was, that 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 restored, a dialogue natur-
ally ensued upoQ the number and nature of the garments
which would be indispensable for Miss Price's entrance into
the holy state of matrimony, when Miss Squeers clearly showed
that a great many more than the miller could, or would,
afford, were absolutely necessary, and could not decently be
dispensed with. The young lady then, by an easy digression,
led the discourse to her own wardrobe, and after recounting
its principal beauties, at some length, took her friend up stairs
to make inspection thereof. The treasures of two drawers
and a closet having been displayed, and all the smaller articles
tried on, it was time for Miss Price to return home ; and as
she had been in raptures with all the frocks, and had been
stricken quite dumb with admiration of a new pink scarf, Miss
Squeers said in high good humor, that she would walk part of
the way with her, for the pleasure of her company ; and off

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they went together: Miss Squeers dilating, as they walked
along, upon her father's accomplishments, and multiplying
his income by ten, to give her friend some faint notion of the
vast importance and superiority cf her family.

It happened that that particular time, comprising the short
daily interval which was suffered to elapse between what was
pleasantly called the dinner, of Mr. Squeers's pupils, and their
return to the pursuit of useful knowledge, was precisely the
hour when Nicholas was accustomed to issue forth for a
melancholy walk, and to brood, as he sauntered listlessly
through the village, upon his miserable lot. Miss Squeers
knew this, perfectly well, but had perhaps forgotten it, for
when she caught sight of that young gentleman advancing to-
wards them, she evinced many symptoms of surprise and con-
sternation, and assured her friend that she " felt fit to drop
into the earth."

" Shall we turn back, or 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 it, and X will ! "

As Miss Squeers said this, in the tone of one who has
made a high moral resolution, and was, besides, taken with
one or two chokes and catchings of breath, indicative of feel-
ings at a high pressure, her friend made no farther remark,
and they bore straight down upon Nicholas, who, walking with
his eyes bent upon the ground, was not aware of their approach
until they were close upon him,, otherwise he might, perhaps,
have taken shelter himself.

" Good-morning," said Nicholas, bowing and passing by.

" He is going," murmured Miss Squeers. " I shall choke,

" Come back, Mr. Nickleby, do ! " cried Miss Price, affect*
ing alarm at her friend's threat, but really actuated by a mali-
cious wish to hear what Nicholas would say ; " come back,
Mr. Nickleby ! "

Mr. Nickleby came back, and looked as confused as might
be, as he inquired whether the ladies had any commands for

" Don't stop to talk," urged Miss Price, hastily, " but sup-
port her on the other side. How do you feel now, dear ? "

" Better," sighed Miss Squeers, laying a beaver bonnet of
a reddish brown with a green veil attached, on Mr. Nickleby's
shoulder. " This foolish faintness ! "

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" Don't call it foolish, dear," 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 again, without all this
to-do, that ought to be ashamed."

" You are resolved to fix it upon me, I see," said Nicholas,
smiling, " although I told you, last night, it was not my fault."

"There ; he says it was not his fault, my dear," remarked
the wicked Miss Price. " Perhaps you were too jealous, or
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 jesting, for I have no time, and really no
inclination, to be the subject or promoter of mirth just now."

" What do you mean ? " asked Miss Price, affecting amaze-

" Don't ask him, 'Tilda," cried Miss Squeers ; " I forgive

" Dear me," said Nicholas, as 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 bonnet, and 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 you, last night. I
reproach myself, most bitterly, for having been so unfortunate
as to cause the dissension that occurred, although I did so, I
assure you, most unwittingly and heedlessly."

" Well ; that's not all you have got to say surely," ex-
claimed Miss Price as Nicholas paused.

" I fear there is something more," stammered Nicholas
with a half smile, 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 short, does she
think that I am in love with her ? "

" Delightful embarrassment," thought Miss Squeers, " I
have brought him to it, at last. Answer for me, dear," she
whispered to her friend.

" Does she think so ? " rejoined Miss Price ; " of course
she does."

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She does ! '* exclaimed Nicholas with, such energy of
utterance as might have been, for the moment, mistaken for

" 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 delusion, the completest and most

Online LibraryCharles DickensThe life and adventures of Nicholas Nickelby → online text (page 14 of 79)