Charles Dickens.

The life and adventures of Nicholas Nickelby online

. (page 17 of 79)
Online LibraryCharles DickensThe life and adventures of Nicholas Nickelby → online text (page 17 of 79)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


and more blooming than on the very first Sunday he had kept
company with her.

Beautiful as Mrs. Kenwigs looked when she was dressed
though, and so stately that you would have supposed she had
a cook and housemaid at least, and nothing to do but order m
them about, she had a world of trouble with the preparations ;
more, indeed, than she, being of a delicate and genteel con-
stitution, could have sustained, had not the pride of housewifery
upheld her. At last, however, all the things that had to be
got together were got together, and all the things that had to
be got out of the way were got out of the way, and everything
was ready, and the collector himself having promised to come,
fortune smiled upon the occasion.

The party was admirably selected. There were, first of
all, Mr. Kenwigs and Mrs. Kenwigs, and four olive Kenwigses
who sat up to supper ; firstly, because it was but right that
they should have a treat on such a day ; and secondly, because
their going to bed, in presence of the company, would have



Digitized by VjOOQIC



NICHOLAS NICKLEB Y. 167

been inconvenient, not to say improper. Then, there was a
young lady who had made Mrs. Kenwigs's dress, and who—
it was the most convenient thing in the world — living in the
two-pair back, gave up her bed to the baby, and got a little
girl to watch it. Then, to match this young lady, was a young
man, who had known Mr. Kenwigs when he was a bachelor,
and was much esteemed by the ladies, as bearing the reputa-
tion of a rake. To these, were added a newly-married couple,
who had visited Mr. and Mrs. Kenwigs in their courtship ;
and a sister of Mrs. Kenwigs's, who was quite a beauty ; be-
sides whom, there was another young man, supposed to enter-
tain honorable designs upon the lady last mentioned ; and
Mr. Noggs, who was a genteel person to ask, because he had
been a gentleman once. There were also an elderly lady from
the back^parlor, and one more young lady, who, next to the
collector, perhaps was the great lion of the party, being the
daughter of a theatrical fireman, who " went on " in the pan-
tonine, and had the greatest turn for the stage that was ever
known, being able to sing and recite in a manner that brought
the tears into Mrs. Kenwigs's eyes. There was only one draw-
back upon the pleasure of seeing such friends, and that was,
that the lady in the back parlor, who was very fat, and turned
of sixty, came in a low book-muslin dress and short kid gloves,
which so exasperated Mrs. Kenwigs, that that lady assured her
visitors, in private, that if it hadn't happened that the supper
was cooking at the back-parlor grate at that moment, she
certainly would have requested its representative to withdraw.

" My dear," said Mr. Kenwigs, " wouldn't it be better to
begin a round game ? "

*' Kenwigs, my dear," returned his wife, "I am surprised
at you. Would you begin without my uncle ? "*"

" I forgot the collector," said Kenwigs ; " oh no, that
would never do."

" He's so particular," said Mrs. Kenwigs, turning to the
other married lady, " that if we began without him, I should
be out of his will for ever."

" Dear ! " cried the married lady.

" You've no idea what he is," replied Mrs. Keifwigs ; " and
yet as good a creature as ever breathed."

" The kindest-hearted man as ever was," said Kenwigs.

" It goes to his heart, I believe, to be forced to cut the
water off, when the people don't pay," observed the bachelor
friend, intending a joke.



Digitized by VjOOQIC



j68 NICHOLAS NICKLEB V.

George," said Mr. Kenwigs, solemnly, " none of that, if
you please."

" It was only my joke," said the friend, abashed.

" George," rejoined Mr. Kenwigs, " a joke is a wery good
thing — a wery good thing — but when that joke is made at the
expense of Mrs. Kenwigs's feelings, I set my face against it
A man in public life expects to be sneered at — it is the fault
of his elewated sitiwation, and not of himself. Mrs. Kenwigs's
relation is a public man, and that he knows, George, and that
he can bear ; but putting Mrs. Kenwigs out of the question
(if I could put Mrs. Kenwigs out of the question on such an
occasion as this), I have the honor to be connected with the
collector by marriage ; and I cannot allow these remarks in
my — " Mr. Kenwigs was going to say "house," but he
rounded the sentence with " apartments." ^

At the conclusion of these observations, which drew forth
evidences of acute feeling from Mrs. Kenwigs, and had the in-
tended effect of impressing the company with a deep sense of
the collector's dignity, a ring was heard at the bell.

" That's him," whispered Mr. Kenwigs, greatly excited,
" Morleena, my dear, run down and let your uncle in, and
kiss him directly you get the door open. Hem ! Let's be
talking."

Adopting Mr. Kenwigs's suggestion, the company spoke
very loudly, to look easy and unembarrassed ; and almost as
soon as they had begun to do so, a short old gentleman in
drabs and gaiters, with a face that might have been carved
out of lignum vita, for anything that appeared to the contrary,
was led playfully in by Miss Morleena Kenwigs, regarding
whose uncommon Christian name it may be here remarked
that it had been invented and composed by Mrs. Kenwigs
previous to her first lying-in, for the special distinction of her
eldest child, in case it should prove a daughter.

" Oh, uncle, Iamw glad to see you," said Mrs. Kenwigs,
kissing the collector affectionately on both cheeks. "So
glad ! "

" Many happy returns of the day, my dear," replied the
collector, feturning the compliment.

Now, this was an interesting thing. Here was a collector
of water-rates, without his book, without his pen and ink,
without his double knock, without his intimidation, kissing —
actually kissing — an agreeable female, and leaving taxes, sum-
monses, notices that he had called, or announcements that he



Digitized by VjOOQIC



NICHOLAS NICKLEB Y. ! 69

would never call again, for two quarters' due, wholly out of
the question. It was pleasant to see how the company looked
on, quite absorbed in the sight, and to behold the nods and
winks with which they expressed their gratification at finding
so much humanity in a tax-gatherer.

" Where will you sit, uncle ? " said Mrs. Kenwigs, in the
full glow of family pride, which the appearance of her distin-
guished relation occasioned.

" Anywheres, my dear," said the collector, " I am not par-
ticular."

Not particular ! What a meek collector. If he had been
an author, who knew his place, he couldn't have been more
humble.

" Mr. Lillyvick," said Kenwigs, addressing the collector,
" some friends here, sir, are very anxious for the honor of —
thank you — Mr. and Mrs. Cutler, Mr. Lillyvick."

" Proud to know you, sir," said Mr. Cutler, " I've heerd of
you very often." These were not mere words of ceremony ;
for, Mr. Cutler, having kept house in Mr. Lillyvick's parish,
had heard of him very often indeed. His attention in calling
had been quite extraordinary.

" George, you know, I think, Mr. Lillyvick," said Ken-
wigs ; " lady from down stairs — Mr. Lillyvick, Mr. Snewkes
— Mr. Lillyvick. Miss Green — Mr. Lillyvick. Mr. Lillyvick
— Miss Petowker, of the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. Very
glad to make two public characters acquainted ! Mrs Ken-
wigs, my dear, will you sort the counters ? "

Mrs. Kenwigs, with the assistance of Newman Noggs,
(who, as he performed sundry little acts of kindness for the
children, at all times and seasons, was humored in his request
to be taken no notice of, and was merely spoken about, in a
whisper, as a decayed gentleman), did as she was desired ;
and the greater part of the guests sat down to speculation,
while Newman himself, Mrs. Kenwigs, and Miss Petowker of
the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, looked after the supper-table.

While the ladies were thus busying themselves, Mr. Lilly-
vick was intent upon the game in progress, and as all should
be fish that comes to a water collector's net, the dear old gen-
tleman was by no means scrupulous in appropriating to him-
self the property of his neighbors, which, on the contrary, he
abstracted whenever an opportunity presented itself, smiling
good-humoredly all the while, and making so many condescend-
ing speeches to the owners, that they were delighted with his



Digitized by VjOOQIC



170



NICHOLAS NICJCLEBY.



amiability, and thought in their hearts that he deserved to be
Chancellor of the Exchequer at least.

After a great deal of trouble, and the administration of
many slaps on the head to the infant Kenwigses, whereof two
of the most rebellious were summarily banished, the cloth was
laid with much elegance, and a pair of boiled fowls, a large
piece of pork, apple-pie, potatoes and greens, were served ; at
sight of which, the worthy Mr. Lillyvick vented a great many
witticisms, and plucked up amazingly : to the immense delight
and satisfaction of the whole body of admirers.

Very well and very fast the supper went off ; no more
serious difficulties occurring, than those which arose from the
incessant demand for clean knives and forks : which made
poor Mrs. Kenwigs wish', more than once, that private society
adopted the principle of schools, and required that every guest
should bring his own knife, fork and spoon ; which doubtless
would be a great accommodation in many cases, and to no one
more so than to the lady and gentleman of the house, espec-
ially if the school principle were carried out to the full extent,
and the articles were expected, as a matter of delicacy, not to
be taken away again.

Everybody having eaten everything, the table was cleared
in a most alarming hurry, and with great noise ; and the
spirits, whereat the eyes of Newman Noggs glistened, being
arranged in order, with water both hot and cold, the party
composed themselves for conviviality ; Mr. Lillyvick being
stationed in a large arm-chair by the fire-side, and the four
little Kenwigses disposed on a small form in front of the com-
pany with their flaxen tails towards them, and their faces to
the fire ; an arrangement which was no sooner perfected, than
Mrs. Kenwigs was overpowered by the feelings* of a mother,
and fell upon the left shoulder of Mr. Kenwigs dissolved in
tears.

" They are so beautiful ! " said Mrs. Kenwigs, sobbing.

" Oh, dear/' said all the ladies, " so they are ! it's very nat-
ural you should feel proud of that ; but don't give way, don't."

" I can — not help it, and it don't signify," sobbed Mrs.
Kenwigs ; " oh ! they're too beautiful to live, much too beau-
tiful ! "

On hearing this alarming presentiment of their being
doomed to an early death in the flower of their infancy, all
four little girls raised a hideous cry, and burying their heads
in their mother's lap simultaneously, screamed until the eight



Digitized by VjOOQIC



Digitized by VjOOQIC



Digitized by VjOOQIC



NICHOLAS NICKLEBY.



171



flaxen tails vibrated again ; Mrs. Kenwigs meanwhile clasping
them alternately to her bosom, with attitudes expressive of
distraction, which Miss Petowker herself might have copiejd.
At length, the anxious mother permitted herself to be
soothed into a more tranquil state, and the little Kenwigses,
being also composed, were distributed among the company,
to prevent the possibility of Mrs. Kenwigs being again over-
come by the blaze of their combined beauty. This done, the
ladies and gentlemen united in prophesying that they would
live for many, many years, and that there was no occasion at
all for Mrs. Kenwigs to distress herself : which, in good truth,
there did not appear to be : the loveliness of the children by
no means justifying her apprehensions.

" This day eight year," said Mr. Kenwigs after a pause.
" Dear me— ah ! "

This reflection was echoed by all present, who said " Ah I "
first, and " dear me," afterwards.

44 1 was younger then," tittered Mrs. Kenwigs.
" No," said the collector.
" Certainly not," added everybody.
" I remember my niece," said Mr. Lillyvick, surveying his
audience with a grave air ; " I remember her, on that very
afternoon, when she first acknowledged to her mother a par-
tiality for Kenwigs. 4 Mother,' she says, * I love him.' "
" * Adore him/ I said, uncle," interposed Mrs. Kenwigs.
" * Love him/ I think, my dear," said the collector firmly.
" Perhaps you are right, uncle," replied Mrs. Kenwigs,
submissively. " I thought it was * adore.' "

44 4 Love,' my dear," retorted Mr. Lillyvick. " 4 Mother/
she says, 4 1 love him ! ' 4 What do I hear ? ' cries her
mother ; and instantly falls into strong conwulsions."

A general exclamation of astonishment burst from the
• company.

44 Into strong conwulsions," repeated Mr. Lillyvick, re-
garding them with a rigid look. 4 * Kenwigs will excuse my
saying, in the presence of friends, that there was a very great
objection to him, on the ground that he was beneath the
family, and would disgrace it. You remember, Kenwigs ? "

44 Certainly," replied that gentleman, in no way displeased
at the reminiscence, inasmuch as it proved, beyond all doubt,
what a high family Mrs. Kenwigs came of.

44 1 shared in that feeling," said Mr. Lillyvick : " perhaps
it was natural : perhaps it wasn't."



Digitized by VjOOQlC



17 2 NICHOLAS NICKLEB K

A gentle murmur seemed to say, that, in one of Mr. Lilly-
vick's station, the objection was not only natural, but highly
praiseworthy.

"I came round to him in time," said Mr. Lillyvick.
" After they were 'married, and there was no help for it, I was
one of the first to say that Kenwigs must be taken notice of.
The family did take notice of him, in consequence, and on my
representation ; and I am bound to say — and proud to say —
that I have always found him a very honest, well-behaved,
upright, respectable sort of a man. Kenwigs, shake hands."

"lam proud to do it, sir," said Mr. Kenwigs.

" So am I, Kenwigs," rejoined Mr. Lillyvick.

" A very happy life I have led with your niece, sir," said
Kenwigs.

" It would have been your own fault if you had not, sir,"
remarked Mr. Lillyvick.

" Morleena Kenwigs," cried her mother, at this crisis,
much affected, " kiss your dear uncle ! "

The young lady did as she was requested, and the three
other little girls were successively hoisted up to the collector's
countenance, and subjected to the same process, which was
afterwards repeated on them by the majority of those
present.

" Oh dear, Mrs. Kenwigs," said Miss Petowker, " while
Mr. Noggs is making that punch to drink happy returns in, do
let Morleena go through that figure dance before Mr. Lilly-
vick."

"No, no, my dear," replied Mrs. Kenwigs, "it will only
worry my uncle."

" It can't worry him, I'm sure," said Miss Petowker.
" You will be very much pleased, won't you, sir ? "

"That I am sure I shall," replied the collector, glancing
at the punch-mixer.

"Well then, I'll tell you what," said Mrs. Kenwigs,
" Morleena shall do the steps, if uncle can persuade Miss
Petowker to recite us the Blood-Drinker's Burial, after*
wards."

There was a great clapping of hands and stamping of feet,
at this proposition ; the subject whereof, gently inclined her
head several times, in acknowledgment of the reception.

" You know," said Miss Petowker, reproachfully, " that I
dislike doing anything professional in private parties."

" Oh, but not here I " said Mrs. Kenwigs. " We are all



Digitized by VjOOQIC



NICHOLAS NICKLEBY. 173

so very friendly and pleasant, that you might as well be going
through it in your own room ; besides, the occasion "

" I can't resist that," interrupted Miss Petowker ; " any-
thing in my humble power I shall be delighted to do."

Mrs. Kenwigs and Miss Petowker had arranged a small
programme of the entertainments between them, of which this
was the prescribed order, but they had settled to have a little
pressing on both sides, because it looked more natural. The
company being all ready, Miss Petowker hummed a tune, and
Morleena danced a dance ; having previously had the soles
of her shoes chalked, with as much care as if she were going
on the tight-rope. It was a very beautiful figure, comprising
a great deal of work for the arms, and was received with
unbounded applause.

" If I was blessed with a — a child — " said Miss Petowker,
blushing, " of such genius as that, I would have her out at the
Opera instantly."

Mrs. Kenwigs sighed, and looked at Mr. Kenwigs, who
shook his head, and observed that he was doubtful about it

" Kenwigs is afraid," said Mrs. K.

" What of ? " inquired Miss Petowker, " not of her fail-
ing?"

" Oh no," replied Mrs. Kenwigs*" but if she grew up what
she is now, — only think of the young dukes and marquises."

44 Very right," said the collector.

44 Still," submitted Miss Petowker, " if she took a proper
pride in herself, you know — "

44 There's a good deal in that," observed Mrs. Kenwigs,
looking at her husband.

" I only know — " faltered Miss Petowker, — " it may be
no rule to be sure — but /have never found any inconvenience
or unpleasantness of that sort."

Mr. Kenwigs, with becoming gallantry, said that settled
the question at once, and that he would take the subject into
his serious consideration. This being resolved upon, Miss
Petowker was entreated to begin the Blood-Drinker's Burial ;
to which end, that young lady let down her back hair, and
taking up her position at the other end of the room, with the
bachelor friend posted in a corner, to rush out at the cue " in
death expire," and catch her in his arms when she died raving
mad, went through the performance with extraordinary spirit,
and to the great terror of the little Kenwigses, who were all
but frightened into fits.



Digitized by VjOOQIC



, 7 4 NICHOLAS NICKLEB Y.

The ecstasies consequent upon the effort had not yet sub-
sided, and Newman (who had not been thoroughly sober at
so late an hour for along|longtime,) had not yet been able to
put in a word of announcement, that the punch was ready,
when a hasty knock was heard at the room-door, which
elicited a shriek from Mrs. Ken wigs, who immediately divined
that the baby had fallen out of bed.

" Who is that ? " demanded Mr. Kenwigs, sharply.

" Don't be alarmed, it's only me," said Crowl, looking in,
in his nightcap. " The baby is very comfortable, for I peeped
into the room as I came down, and it's fast asleep, and so is
the girl ; and I don't think the candle will set fire to the bed-
curtain, unless a draught was to get into the room — it's Mr.
Noggs that's wanted."

" Me ! " cried Newman, much astonished.

" Why, it is a queer hour, isn't it ? " replied Crowl, who
was not best pleased at the prospect of losing his fire ; " and
they are queer-looking people, too, all covered with rain and
mud. Shall I tell them to go away ? "

" No," said Newman, rising. " People ? How many ? "

" Two," rejoined Crowl.

" Want me ? By name ? " asked Newman.

" By name," replied Crowl. " Mr. Newman Noggs, as pat
as need be."

Newman reflected for a few seconds, and then hurried
away, muttering that he would be back directly. He was as
good as his word ; for, in an exceedingly short time, he burst
into the room, and seizing, without a word of apology or ex-
planation, a lighted candle and tumbler of hot punch from the
table, darted away like a madman.

" What the deuce is the matter with him ? " exclaimed Crowl,
throwing the door open. " Hark I Is there any noise
above ? "

The guests rose in great confusion, and, looking in each
other's faces with much perplexity and some fear, stretched
their necks forward, and listened attentively.



Digitized by VjOOQIC



NICHOLAS NICKLEB Y, 175



CHAPTER XV.

ACQUAINTS THE READER WITH THE CAUSE AND ORIGIN OP
THE INTERRUPTION DESCRIBED IN THE LAST CHAPTER,
AND WITH SOME OTHER MATTERS NECESSARY TO BE
KNOWN.

Newman Noggs scrambled in violent haste up stairs with
the steaming beverage, which he had so unceremoniously
snatched from the table of Mr. Kenwigs, and indeed from the
very grasp of the water-rate collector, who was eyeing the con-
tents of the tumbler, at the moment of its unexpected abstrac-
tion, with lively marks of pleasure visible in his countenance.
He bore his prize straight to his own back garret, where,
footsore and nearly shoeless, wet, dirty, jaded, and disfigured
with every mark of fatiguing travel, sat Nicholas, and Smike,
at once the cause and partner of his toil : both perfectly worn
out, by their unwonted and protracted exertion.

Newman's first act was to compel Nicholas, with gentle
force, to swallow half of the punch at a breath, nearly boiling as
it was ; and his next, to pour the remainder down the throat
of Smike, who, never having tasted anything stronger than
aperient medicine in his whole life, exhibited various odd
manifestations of surprise and delight, during the passage of
the liquor down his throat, and turned up his eyes most em-
phatically when it was all gone.

" You are wet through," said Newman, passing his hand
hastily over the coat which Nicholas had thrown off ; " and I
— I — haven't even a change," he added, with a wistful glance
at the shabby clothes he wore himself.

" I have dry clothes, or at least such as will serve my turn
well, in my bundle," replied Nicholas. " If you look so dis-
tressed to see me, you will add to the pain I feel already, at
being compelled, for one night, to cast myself upon your slen-
der means for aid and shelter."

Newman did not look the less distressed to hear Nicholas
talking in this strain ; but, upon his young friend grasping
him heartily by the hand, and assuring him that nothing but
implicit confidence in the sincerity of his professions, and
kindness of feeling towards himself, would have induced him,



Digitized by VjOOQIC



,y6 NICHOLAS NICKLEBY.

on any consideration, even to have made him acquainted with
his arrival in London, Mr. Noggs brightened up again, and
went about making such arrangements as were in his power
for the comfort of his visitors, with extreme alacrity.

These were simple enough ; poor Newman's means halt-
ing at a very considerable distance short of his inclinations ;
but, slight as they were, they were not made without much
bustling and running about. As Nicholas had husbanded his
scanty stock of money so well that it was not yet quite ex-
pended, a supper of bread and cheese, with some cold beef
from the cook's shop, was soon placed upon the table ; and
these viands being flanked by a bottle of spirits and a pot of
porter, there was no ground for apprehension on the score of
hunger or thirst, at all events. Such preparations as New-
man had it in his power to make, for the accommodation of
his guests during the night, occupied no very great time in
completing ; and as he had insisted, as an express prelimi-
nary, that Nicholas should change his clothes, and that Smike
should invest himself in his solitary coat (which no entreaties
would dissuade him from stripping off for the purpose), the
travellers partook of their frugal fare, with more satisfaction
than one of them at least had derived from many a better
meal.

They drew near the fire, which Newman Noggs had made
up as well as he could, after the inroads of Crowl upon the
fuel ; and Nicholas, who had hitherto been restrained by the
extreme anxiety of his friend that he should refresh himself
after his journey, now pressed him with earnest questions con-
cerning his mother and sister.

" Well ; " replied Newman, with his accustomed taciturnity ;
" both well."

" They are living in the city still ? " inquired Nicholas.

" They are," said Newman.

" And my sister " — added Nicholas. " Is she still engaged
in the business which she wrote to tell me she thought she
should like so much ? "

Newman opened his eyes rather wider than usual, but
merely replied by a gasp, which according to the action of the
head that accompanied it, was interpreted by his friends as
meaning yes or no. In the present instance, the pantomime
consisted of a nod, and not a shake ; so Nicholas took the
answer as a favorable one.

" Now listen to me," said Nicholas, laying his hand on



Digitized by VjOOQIC



NICHOLAS NICKLEBY. 1 77

Newman's shoulder. " Before I would make an effort to see
them, I deemed it expedient to come to you, lest, by .gratifying
my own selfish desire, I should inflict an injury upon them
which I can never repair. What has my uncle heard from
Yorkshire?"

Newman opened and shut his mouth, several times, as
though he were trying his utmost to speak, but could make
nothing of it, and finally fixed his eyes on Nicholas with a grim



Online LibraryCharles DickensThe life and adventures of Nicholas Nickelby → online text (page 17 of 79)