Charles Dickens.

The life and adventures of Nicholas Nickelby online

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The news that Smike had been caught and brought back
in triumph, ran like wild-fire through the hungry community,
and expectation was on tiptoe all the morning. On tiptoe it was
destined to remain, however, until afternoon ; when Squeers hav-
ing refreshed himself with his dinner, and further strengthened
himself by an extra libation or so, made his appearance (accom-
panied by his amiable partner) with a countenance of porten-
tous import, and a fearful instrument of flagellation, strong,
supple, wax-ended, and new — in short, purchased that morning,
expressly for the occasion.

44 Is every boy here ? " asked Squeers, in a tremendous
voice.

Every boy was there, but every boy was afraid to speak ;
so, Squeers glared along the lines to assure himself ; and every
eye drooped, and every head cowered down, as he did so.

" Each boy keep his place," said Squeers, administering
his favorite blow to the desk, and regarding with gloomy satis-
faction the universal start which it never failed to occasion.
" Nickleby ! to your desk, sir."

It was remarked by more than one small observer, that
there was a very curious and unusual expression in the usher's
face ; but he took his seat, without opening his lips in reply.
Squeers, casting a triumphant glance at his assistant, and a
look of most comprehensive despotism on the boys, left the
room, and shortly afterwards returned, dragging Smike by the
collar — or rather by that fragment of his jacket which was
nearest the place where his collar would have been, had he
boasted such a decoration.

In any other place, the appearance of the wretched, jaded,
spiritless object, would have occasioned a murmur of compas-
sion and remonstrance. It had some effect, even there ; for
the lookers-on moved uneasily in their seats, and a few of the
boldest ventured to steal looks at each other, expressive of in-
dignation and pity.

They were lost on Squeers, however, whose gaze was
fastened on the luckless Smike, as he inquired, according to
custom in such cases, whether he had anything to say for him-
self.

" Nothing, I suppose ? " said Squeers, with a diabolical
grin.

Smike glanced round, and his eye rested for an instant on



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NICHOLAS NICKLEB V. 1 57

Nicholas, as if he had expected him to intercede ; but his look
was riveted on his desk.

44 Have you anything to say ? " demanded Squeers again ;
giving his right arm two or three flourishes to try its power
and suppleness. " Stand a little out of the way. Mrs. Squeers^
my dear ; I've hardly got room enough."

" Spare me, sir I " cried Smike.

" Oh ! that's all, is it ? " said Squeers. " Yes, I'll flog you
within an inch of your life, and spare you that."

" Ha, ha, ha," laughed Mrs. Squeers, ** that's a good 'un ! "

" I was driven to do it," said Smike faintly ; and casting
another imploring look about him.

44 Driven to do it, were you," said Squeers. " Oh ! it wasn't
your fault ; it was mine, I suppose— eh ? "

" A nasty, ungrateful, pig-headed, brutish, obstinate, sneak-
ing dog," exclaimed Mrs. Squeers, taking Smike's head under
her arm, and administering a cuff at every epithet ; what
does he mean by that ? "

44 Stand aside, my dear," replied Squeers. " We'll try and
find out"

Mrs. Squeers being out of breath with her exertions, com-
plied. Squeers caught the boy firmly in his grip ; one des-
perate cut had fallen on his body — he was wincing from the
lash, and uttering a scream of pain — it was raised again, and
again about to fall — when Nicholas Nickleby suddenly start-
ing up, cried " Stop ! " in a voice that made the rafters ring.

" Who cried stop ? " said Squeers turning savagely round.

41 1," said Nicholas, stepping forward. " This must not go
on."

" Must not go on ! " cried Squeers, almost in a shriek.

44 No ! " thundered Nicholas.

Aghast and stupefied by the boldness of the interference,
Squeers released his hold of Smike, and falling back a pace
or two, gazed upon Nicholas with looks that were positively
frightful.

" I say must not," repeated Nicholas, nothing daunted ;
"shall not. I will prevent it."

Squeers continued to gaze upon him, with his eyes starting
out of his head ; but astonishment had actually, for the moment,
bereft him of speech.

" You have disregarded all my quiet interference in the
miserable lad's behalf," said Nicholas; "you have returned
no answer to the letter in which I begged forgiveness for him,



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j 58 NICHOLAS NICKLEB Y.

and offered to be responsible that he would remain quietly
here. Don't blame me for this public interference. You have
brought it upon yourself ; not I."

44 Sit down beggar ! " screamed Squeers, almost beside him-
self with rage, and seizing Smike as he spoke.

" Wretch," rejoined Nicholas fiercely, " touch him at your
peril ! I will not stand by and see it done. My blood is up,
and I have the strength of ten such men as you. Look to your-
self, for by Heaven I will not spare you, if you drive me on 1 "

" Stand back," cried Squeers, brandishing his weapon.

" I have a long series of insults to avenge," said Nicholas,
flushed with passion ; " and my indignation is aggravated by
the dastardly cruelties practised on helpless infancy in this
foul den. Have a care ; for if you do raise the devil within
me, the consequences shall fall heavily upon your own head ! "

He had scarcely spoken, when Squeers, in a violent out-
break of wrath, and with a cry like the howl of a wild beast,
spat upon him, and struck him a blow across the face with his
instrument of torture, which raised up a bar of livid flesh as it
was inflicted. Smarting with the agony of the blow, and con-
centrating into that one moment all his feelings of rage, scorn,
and indignation, Nicholas sprang upon him, wrested the
weapon from his hand, and pinning him by the throat, beat
the ruffian till he roared for mercy.

The boys — with the exception of Master Squeers, who,
coming to his father's assistance, harassed the enemy in the
rear — moved not, hand or foot ; but Mrs. Squeers, with many
shrieks for aid, hung on to the tail of her partner's coat, and
endeavored to drag him from his infuriated adversary ; while
Miss Squeers, who had been peeping through the key-hole in
expectation of a very different scene, darted in at the very
beginning of the attack, and after launching a shower of ink-
stanks at the usher's head, beat Nicholas to her heart's con-
tent : animating herself, at every blow, with the recollection
of his having refused her prof erred love, and thus imparting
additional strength to an arm which (as she took after her
mother in this respect) was, at no time, one of the weakest.

Nicholas, in the full torrent of his violence, felt the blows
no more than if they had been dealt with feathers ; but, be-
coming tired of the noise and uproar, and feeling that his arm
grew weak besides, he threw all his remaining strength into
half-a-dozen finishing cuts, and flung Squeers from him, with
all the force he could muster. The violence of his fall pre-



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NICHOLAS NICKLEBY. I59

cipitated Mrs. Squeers completely over an adjacent form ; and
Squeers striking his head against it in his descent, lay at his
full length on the ground, stunned and motionjess.

Having brought affairs to this happy termination, and
ascertained, to his thorough satisfaction, that Squeers was
only stunned, and not dead (upon which point he had bad
some unpleasant doubts at first), Nicholas left his family to
restore him, and retired to consider what course he had bet-
ter adopt. He looked anxiously round for Smike, as he left
the room, but he was nowhere to be seen.

After a brief consideration, he packed up a few clothes in
a small leathern valise, and, finding that nobody offered to
oppose his progress, marched boldly out by the front door,
and shortly afterwards, struck into the road which led to
Greta Bridge.

When he had cooled, sufficiently to be enabled to give his
present circumstances some little reflection, they did not ap-
pear in a very encouraging light ; he had only four shillings
and a few pence in his pocket, and was something more than
two hundred and fifty miles from London, whither he resolved
to direct his steps, that he might ascertain, among other
things, what account of the morning's proceedings Mr. Squeers
transmitted to his most affectionate uncle.

Lifting up his eyes, as he arrived at the conclusion that
there was no remedy for this unfortunate state of things, he
beheld a horseman coming towards him, whom, on nearer ap-
proach, he discovered, to his infinite chagrin, to be no other
than Mr. John Browdte, who, clad in cords and leatfier leggings,
was urging his animal forward by means of a thick ash stick,
which seemed to have been recently cut from some stout
sapling.

" I am in no mood for more noise and riot," thought
Nicholas, " and yet, do what I will, I shall have an altercation
with this honest blockhead, and perhaps a blow or two from
yonder staff."

In truth there appeared some reason to expect that such
a result would follow from the encounter, for John Browdie
no sooner saw Nicholas advancing, than he reined in his
horse by the footpath, and waited until such time as he should
come up ; looking meanwhile, very sternly between the horse's
ears, at Nicholas, as he came on at his leisure.

" Servant, young genelman," said John.

" Yours," said Nicholas.



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! 60 NICHOLAS NICKLEB Y.

" Weel ; we ha' met at last," observed Jjhn, making the
stirrup ring under a smart touch of the ash stick.

" Yes," replied Nicholas, hesitating. ** Come ! " he said,
frankly, after a moment's pause, ■" we parted on no very good
terms the last time we met ; it was my fault, I believe ; but I
had no intention of offending you, and no idea that I was do-
ing so. I was very sorry for it afterwards. Will vou shake
hands ? "

" Shake hands ! " cried the good-humored Yorkshireman ;
" ah ! that I weel ; " at the same time he bent down from the
saddle, and gave Nicholas's fist a huge wrench ; " but wa'at
be the matther wi* thy feace, mun ? it be all brokken loike."

" It is a cut," said Nicholas, turning scarlet as he spoke,
— " a blow ; but I returned it to the giver, and with good
interest too."

" Noa, did'ee though ? " exclaimed John Browdie. " Well
deane ! I loike 'un for thot."

" The fact is," said Nicholas, not very well knowing how
to make the avowal, " the fact is, that I have been ill-treated."

" Noa ! " interposed John Browdie, in atone of compassion ;
for he was a giant in strength and stature, and Nicholas, very
likely, in his eyes, seemed a mere dwarf ; " dean't say thot"

"Yes, I have," replied Nicholas, "by that man Squeers,
and I have beaten him soundly, and am leaving this place in
consequence."

" What ! " cried John Browdie, with such an ecstatic shout,
that the horse quite shied at it. " Beatten the schoolmeasther !
Ho ! ho ! ho ' Beatten the schoolmeasther ! who ever heard
o* the loike o* that noo ! Giv' us thee hond agean, yongster.
Beatten the schoolmeasther ! Dang it, I loove thee for't"

With these expressions of delight, John Browdie laughed
and laughed again — so loud that the echoes, far and wide,
sent back nothing but jovial peals of merriment — and shook
Nicholas by the hand meanwhile, no less heartily. When his
mirth had subsided, he inquired what Nicholas meant to do ;
on his informing him, to go straight to London, he shook his
head doubtfully, and inquired if he knew how much the
coaches charged, to carry passengers so far.

" No, I do not," said Nicholas ; " but it is of no great
consequence to me, for I intend walking."

" Gang awa' to Lunnun afoot ! " cried John in amazement

" Every step of the way," replied Nicholas. " I should be
many steps further on by this time, and so good-by I "



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NICHOLAS NICKLEB V. 1 6 1

" Nay noo," replied the honest countryman, reining in his
impatient horse, "stan' still, tellee. Hoo much cash hast
thee gotten ? "

" Not much," said Nicholas, coloring, " but I can make it
enough. Where there's a will, there's a way, you know."

John Browdie made no verbal answer to this remark, but
putting his hand in his pocket, pulled out an old purse of
soiled leather, and insisted that Nicholas should borrow from
him whatever he required for his present necessities.

" Dean't be afeard, mun," he said ; " tak' eneaf to carry
thee whoam. Thee'lt pay me yan day, a* warrant."

Nicholas could by no means be prevailed upon to borrow
more than a sovereign, with which loan Mr. Browdie, after
many entreaties that he would accept of more (observing, with
a touch of Yorkshire caution, that if he didn't spend it all, he
could put the surplus by, till he had an opportunity of remit-
ting it carriage free), was fain to content himself.

" Tak* that bit o' timber to help thee on wi' mun," he
added, pressing his stick on Nicholas, and giving his hand an-
other squeeze ; " keep a good heart, and bless thee. Beatten
the schoolmeasther 1 'Cod it's the best thing aVe heerd this
twonty year ! "

So saying, and indulging, with more delicacy than might
have been expected from him, in another series of loud laughs,
for the purpose of avoiding the thanks which Nicholas poured
forth, John Browdie set spurs to his horse, and went off at a
smart canter : looking back, from time to time, as Nicholas
stood gazing after him, and waving his hand cheerily, as if to
encourage rum on his way. Nicholas watched the horse and
rider until they disappeared over the brow of a distant hill,
and then set forward on his journey.

He did not travel far, that afternoon, for by this time it
was nearly dark, and there had been a heavy fall of snow,
which not only rendered the way toils&me, but the track uncer-
tain and difficult to find, after daylight, save by experienced
wayfarers. He lay, that night, at a cottage, where beds were
let at a cheap rate to the more humble class of travellers ;
and, rising betimes next morning, made his way before night
to Boroughbiidge. Passing through that town in search of
some cheap resting-place, he stumbled upon an empty barn
within a couple of hundred yards of the road side ; in a warm
corner of which, he stretched his weary limbs, and soon fell
asleep. n



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1 62 NICHOLAS NICKLEB Y.

When he awoke next morning, and tried to recollect his
dreams, which had been all connected with his recent sojourn
at Dotheboys Hall, he sat up, rubbed his eyes, and stared —
not with the most composed countenance possible — at some
motionless object which seemed to be stationed within a few
yards in front of him.

" Strange ! " cried Nicholas ; " can this be some lingering
creation of the visions that have scarcely left me ! It cannot
be real — and yet I — I am awake ! Smike ! "

The form moved, rose, advanced, and dropped upon its
knees at his feet. It was Smike indeed.

" Why do you kneel to me ? " said Nicholas, hastily rais-
ing him.

" To go with you — anywhere — everywhere — to the world's
end — to the churchyard grave," replied Smike, clinging to his
hand. " Let me, oh do let me. You are my home — my kind
friend — take me with you, pray."

"lama friend who can do little for you," said Nicholas,
kindly. " How came you here ? "

He had followed him, it seemed ; had never lost sight of
him all the way ; had watched while he slept, and when he
halted for refreshment ; and had feared to appear, before,
lest he should be sent back. He had not intended to appear
now, but Nicholas had awakened more suddenly than he
looked for, and he had had no time to conceal himself.

" Poor fellow ! " said Nicholas, " your hard fate denies
you any friend but one, and he is nearly as poor and helpless
as yourself."

" May I — may I go with you ? " asked Smike, timidly.
" I will be your faithful hard-working servant, I will, indeed.
I want no clothes," added the poor creature, drawing his rags
together ; these will do very well. I only want to be near
you."

"And you shall," cried Nicholas. " And the world shall
deal by you as it does by me, till one or both of us shall quit
it for a better. Come ! "

With these words, he strapped his burden on his shoulders,
and, taking his stick in one hand, extended the other to his
delighted charge ; and so they passed out of the old barn,
together.



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NICHOLAS NICKLEB Y. 1 63



CHAPTER XIV.

HAVING THE MISFORTUNE TO TREAT OF NONE BUT COMMON
PEOPLE, IS NECESSARILY OF A MEAN AND VULGAR CHAR-
ACTER.

In that quarter of London in^which Golden Square is sit-
uated, there is a bygone faded, tumble-down street, with two
irregular rows of tall meagre houses, which seem to have
stared each other out of countenance, years ago. The very
chimneys appear to have grown dismal and melancholy, from
having had nothing better to look at, than the chimneys over
the way. Their tops are battered, and broken, and blackened
with smoke ; and, here and there, some taller stack than the
rest, inclining heavily to one side, and toppling over the roof,
seems to meditate taking revenge for half a century's neglect,
by crushing the inhabitants of the garrets beneath.

The fowls who peck about the kennels, jerking their bodies
hither and thither with a gait which none but town fowls are
ever seen to adopt, and which any country cock or hen would
be puzzled to understand, are perfectly in keeping with the
crazy habitations of their owners. Dingy, ill-plumed drowsy
flutterers, sent, like many of the neighboring children, to get
a livelihood in the streets, they hop, from stone to stone, in
forlorn search of some hidden eatable in the mud, and can
scarcely raise a crow among them. The only one with any-
thing approaching to a voice, is an aged bantam at the
baker's ; and even he is hoarse, in consequence of bad living
in his last place.

To judge from the size of the houses, they have been, at
one. time, tenanted by persons of better condition than their
present occupants ; but they are now let off, by the week, in
floors or rooms, and every door has almost as many plates or
bell-handles as there are apartments within. The windows
are, for the same reason, sufficiently diversified in appearance,
being ornamented with every variety of common blind and
curtain that can easily be imagined ; while every doorway is
blocked up, and rendered nearly impassible, by a motley
collection of children and porter pots of all sizes, from the



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1 64 NICHOLAS NICKLEB Y.

baby in arms and the half-pint pot, to the full-grown girl and
half-gallon can.

In the parlor of one of these houses, which was perhaps
a thought dirtier than any of its neighbors ; which exhibited
more bell-handles, children, and porter pots, and caught in all
its freshness the first gust of the thick black smoke that poured
forth, night and day, from a large brewery hard by ; hung a
bill, announcing that there was yet one room to let within its
walls, though on what story the vacant room could be — regard
being had to the outward tokens of many lodgers which the
whole front displayed, from the mangle in the kitchen window
to the flower-pots on the parapet — it would have been beyond
the power of a calculating boy to discover.

The common stairs of this mansion were bare and carpet-
less ; but a curious visitor who had to climb his way to the
top, might have observed that there were not wanting indica-
tions of the progressive poverty of the inmates, although their
rooms were shut Thus, the first-floor lodgers, being flush of
furniture, kept an old mahogany table — real mahogany— on
the landing-place outside, which was only taken in, when
occasion required. On the second story, the spare furniture
dwindled down to a couple of old deal chairs, of which one,
belonging to the back room, was shorn of a leg, and bottom-
less. The story above, boasted no greater excess than a
worm-eaten wash-tub ; and the garret landing-place displayed
no costlier articles than two crippled pitchers, and some broken
blacking-bottles.

It was on this garret landing-place that a hard-featured
square-faced man, elderly and shabby, stopped to unlock the
door of the front attic, into which, having surmounted the task
of turning the rusty key in its still more rusty wards, he walked
with the air of legal owner.

This person wore a wig of short, coarse, red hair, which
he took off with his hat, and hung upon a nail. Having
adopted in its place a dirty cotton nightcap, and groped about
in the dark till he found a remnant of candle, he knocked at
the partition which divided the two garrets, and inquired, in
a loud voice, whether Mr. Noggs had a light.

The sounds that came back, were stifled by the lath and
plaster, and it seemed moreover as though the speaker had
uttered them from the interior of a mug or other drinking
vessel ; but they were in the voice of Newman, and conveyed
a reply in the affirmative.



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NICHOLAS NICKLEBY. 165

" A nasty night, Mr. Noggs ! " said the man in the night-
cap, stepping in to light his candle.

" Does it rain ? " asked Newman.

"Does it?" replied the other pettishly. "I am wet
through."

" It dosen't take much to wet you and me through, Mr.
Crowl," said Newman, laying his hand upon the lappel of his
threadbare coat.

" Well ; and that makes it the more vexatious," observed
Mr. Crowl, in the same pettish tone.

Uttering a low querulous growl, the speaker, whose harsh
countenance was the very epitome of selfishness, raked the
scanty fire nearly out of the grate, and, emptying the glass
which Noggs had pushed towards him, inquired where he kept
his coals.

Newman Noggs pointed to the bottom of a cupboard, and
Mr. Crowl, seizing the shovel, threw on half the stock : which
Noggs very deliberately took off again, without saying a word.

" You have not turned saving, at this time of day, I hope ? "
said Crowl.

Newman pointed to the empty glass, as though it were a
sufficient refutation of the charge, and briefly said that he was
going down stairs to supper.

" To the Kenwigses ? " asked Crowl.

Newman nodded assent.

" Think of that now ! " said Crowl. " If I didn't— think-
ing that you were certain not to go, because you said you
wouldn't — tell Kenwigs I couldn't come, and make up my
mind to spend the evening with you ! "

" I was obliged to go," said Newman. " They would have
me."

" Well ; but what's to become of me ? " urged the selfish
man, who never thought of anybody else. "It's all your
fault. I'll tell you what — I'll sit by your fire till you come
back again."

Newman cast a despairing glance at his small store of fuel,
but, not having the courage to say no — a word which in all
his life he never had said at the right time, either to himself
or any one else — gave way to the proposed arrangement. Mr.
Crowl immediately went about making himself as comfortable,
with Newman Noggs's means, as circumstances would admit
of his being made.

The lodgers to whom Crowl had made allusion under the



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x66 NICHOLAS NICKLEBY.

designation of "the Kenwigses," were the wife and olive
branches of one Mr. Kenwigs, a turner in ivory, who was
looked upon as a person of some consideration on the prem-
ises, inasmuch as he occupied the whole of the first floor,
comprising a suite of two rooms. Mrs. Kenwigs, too, was
quite a lady in her manners, and of a very genteel family,
having an uncle who collected a water-rate ; besides which
distinction, the two eldest of her little girls went twice a week
to a dancing school in the neighborhood, and had flaxen hair,
tied with blue ribands, hanging in luxuriant pigtails down
their backs ; and wore little white trousers with frills round
the ankles for all of which reasons, and many more equally
valid but too numerous to mention, Mrs. Kenwigs was con-
sidered a very desirable person to know, and was the constant
theme of all the gossips in the street, and even three or four
doors round the corner at both ends.

It was the anniversary of that happy day on which the
church of England as by law established, had bestowed Mrs.
Kenwigs upon Mr. Kenwigs ; and in grateful commemoration
of the same, Mrs. Kenwigs had invited a few select friends to
cards and a supper in the first floor, and had put on a new
gown to receive them in: which gown, being of a flaming
color and made upon a juvenile principle, was so successful
that Mr. Kenwigs said the eight years of matrimony and the
five children seemed all a dream, and Mrs. Kenwigs younger



Online LibraryCharles DickensThe life and adventures of Nicholas Nickelby → online text (page 16 of 79)