Charles Dickens.

The life and adventures of Nicholas Nickelby online

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and ghastly stare.

" What has he heard ? " urged Nicholas, coloring. " You
see that I am prepared to hear the very worst that malice can
have suggested. Why should you conceal it from me ? I
must know it sooner or later ; and what purpose can be gained
by trifling with the matter for a few minutes, when half the
time would put me in possession of all that has occurred ?
Tell me at once, pray."

" To-morrow morning," said Newman ; " hear it to-mor-
row."

" What purpose would that answer ? " urged Nicholas.

" You would sleep the better," replied Newman.
• " I should sleep the worse," answered Nicholas, impa-
tiently. " Sleep ! Exhausted as I am, and standing in no
common need of rest, I cannot hope to close my eyes all night,
unless you tell me everything."

" And if I should tell you everything," said Newman hesi-
tating.

** Why, then you may rouse my indignation or wound my
pride," rejoined Nicholas ; " but you will not break my rest ;
for if the scene were acted over again, I could take no other
part than I have taken ; and whatever consequences may ac-
crue to myself from it, I shall never regret doing as I have
done — never, if I starve or beg in consequence. What is a
little poverty or suffering, to the disgrace of the basest and
most inhuman cowardice ? I tell you, if I had stood by, tamely
and passively, I should have hated myself, and merited the
contempt of every man in existence. The black-hearted
scoundrel ! "

With this gentle allusion to the absent Mr. Squeers,
Nicholas repressed his rising wrath, and relating to Newman
exactly what had passed at Dotheboys Hall, entreated him to
speak out without more pressing. Thus adjured, Mr. Noggs
took, from an old trunk, a sheet of paper, which appeared to
have been scrawled over in great haste; and after sundry



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1 7 8 NICHOLAS NICK LED Y.

extraordinary demonstrations of reluctance, delivered himself
in the following terms.

" My dear young man, you mustn't give way to — this sort
of thing will never do, you know — as to getting on in the
world, S you take everybody's part that's ill-treated — Damn
it, I am proud to hear of it ; and would have done it my-
self ! "

Newman accompanied this very unusual outbreak with a
violent blow upon the table, as if, in the heat of the moment,
he had mistaken it for the chest or ribs of Mr. Wackford
Squeers. Having, by this open declaration of his feelings,
quite precluded himself from offering Nicholas any cautious
worldly advice (which had been his first intention), Mr. Noggs
went straight to the point.

" The day before yesterday," said Newman, " your uncle
received this letter I took a hasty copy of it, while he was
out. Shall I read it ? "

" If you please," replied Nicholas. Newman Noggs ac-
cordingly read as follows :

" Dothcboys Hall,

" Thursday Morning*

" Sir.

" My pa requests me to write to you, the doctors con-
sidering it doubtful whether he will ever recuvver the use of
his legs, which prevents his holding a pen.

" We are in a state of mind beyond everything, and my pa
is one mask of brooses both blue and green likewise two forms
are steepled in his Goar. We were kimpelled to have him
carried down into the kitchen where he now lays. You will
judge from this that he has been brought very low.

" When your nevew that you recommended for a teacher
had done this to my pa and jumped upon his body with his
feet and also langwedge which I will not pollewt my pen with
describing, he assaulted my ma with dreadful violence, dashed
her to the earth, and drove her back comb several inches into
her head. A very little more and it must have entered her
skull. We have a medical certifiket that if it had, the torter-
shell would have affected the brain.

" Me and my brother were then the victims of his feury
since which we have suffered very much which leads us to the
arrowing belief that we have received some injury in our insides,
especially as no marks of violence are visible externally. I am
screaming out loud all the time I write and so is my brother



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NICHOLAS NICKLEBY.



179



which takes off my attention rather and I hope will excuse
mistakes.

"The monster having sasiated his thirst for blood ran
away, taking with him a boy of desperate caracter that he had
excited to rebellyon, and a garnet ring belonging to my ma,
and not having been apprehended by the constables is sup-
posed to have been took up by some stage-coach. My pa begs
that if he comes to you the ring may be returned, and* that
you will let the thief and assassin go, as if we prosecuted him
he would only be transported, and if he is let go he is sure to
be hung before long which will save us trouble and be much
more satisfactory. Hoping to hear from you when conve-
nient.

" I remain

" Yours and cetrer

" Fanny Squeers.

" P.S. I pity his ignorance and despise him."

A profound silence succeeded to the reading of this choice
epistle, during which Newman Noggs, as he folded it up,
gazed with a kind of grotesque pity at the boy of desperate
character therein referred to ; who, having no more distinct
perception of the matter in hand, than that he had been the
unfortunate cause of heaping trouble and falsehood upon Nich-
olas, sat mute and dispirited, with a most woe-begone and
heart-stricken look.

" Mr. Noggs," said Nicholas, after a few moments' reflec-
tion, " I must go out at once."

" Go out ! " cried Newman.

" Yes," said Nicholas, " to Golden Square. Nobody who
knows me would believe this story of the ring ; but it may
suit the purpose, or gratify the hatred of Mr. Ralph Nickleby
to feign to attach credence to it. It is due — not to him, but
to myself — that I should state the truth ; and moreover, I have
a word or two to exchange with him, which will not keep cool."

" They must," said Newman.

" They must not, indeed," rejoined Nicholas firmly, as he
prepared to leave the house.

" Hear me speak," said Newman, planting himself before
his impetuous young friend. " He is not there. He is away
from town. He will not be back for three days ; and I know
that letter will not be answered before he returns."



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,8o NICHOLAS NICKLEB Y.

" Are you sure of this ? " asked Nicholas, chafing violently,
and pacing the narrow room with rapid strides.

"Quite," rejoined Newman. "He had hardly read it
when he was called away. Its contents are known to nobody '
but himself and us."

"Are you certain?" demanded Nicholas, hastily; "not
even to my mother or sister ? If I thought that they — I will go
there — I must see them. Which is the way ? Where is it ? "

" Now, be advised by me," said Newman, speaking for the
moment, in his earnestness, like any other man — " make no
effort to see even them, till he comes home. I know the man.
Do not seem to have been tampering with anybody. When
he returns, go straight to him, and speak as boldly as you like.
Guessing at the real truth, he knows it as well as you or I.
Trust him for that."

" You mean well to me, and should know him better than
I can," replied Nicholas, after some consideration. " Well ;
let it be so."

Newman, who had stood during the foregoing conversation
with his back planted against the door, ready to oppose any
egress from the apartment by force, if necessary, resumed his
seat with much satisfaction ; and as the water in the kettle
was by this time boiling, made a glassful of spirits and water
for Nicholas, and a cracked mug-full for the joint accom-
modation of himself and Smike, of which the two partook
in great harmony, while Nicholas, leaning his head upon his
hand, remained buried in melancholy meditation.

Meanwhile, the company below stairs, after listening atten-
tively and not hearing any noise which would justify them in
interfering for the gratification of their curiosity, returned to
the chamber of the Kenwigses, and employed themselves in
hazarding a great variety of conjectures relative to the cause
of Mr. Noggs's sudden disappearance and detention.

" Lor, I'll tell you what; " said Mrs. Ken wigs. "Suppose
it should be an express sent up to say that his property has all
come back again ? "

" Dear me," said Mr. Kenwigs ; " it's not impossible.
Perhaps, in that case, we'd better send up and ask if he won't
take a little more punch."

" Kenwigs ! " said Mr. Lillyvick, in a loud voice, " I'm
suq r'ied at you."

" What's the matter, sir ? " asked Mr. Kenwigs, with be-
coming submission to the collector of water-rates.



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NICHOLAS NICKLEB Y 1 8 1

"Making such a remark as that, sir," replied Mr. Lillyvick,
angrily. "He has had, punch already, has he not, sir? I
consider the way in which that punch was cut off, if I may use
the expression, highly disrespectful to this company ; scandal-
ous, perfectly scandalous. It may be the custom to allow such
things in this house, but it's not the kind of behavior that I've
been used to see displayed, and so I don't mind telling you,
Kenwigs. A gentleman has a glass of punch before him to
which he is just about to set his lips, when another gentleman
comes and. collars that glass of punch, without a 'with your
leave,' or * by your leave/ and carries that glass of punch
away. This may be good manners — I dare say it is — but I
don't understand it, that's all ; and what's more, I don't care
if I never do. It's my way to speak my mind, Kenwigs, and
that is my mind ; and if you don't like it, it's past my regular
time for going to bed, and I can find my way home without
making it later."

Here was an untoward event ! The collector had sat swel-
ling and fuming in offended dignity for some minutes, and had
now fairly burst out. The great man — the rich relation — the
unmarried uncle — who had it in his power to make Morleena
an heiress, and the very baby a legatee — was offended. Gra-
cious Powers, where was this to end !

" I am very sorry, sir," said Mr. Kenwigs, huimbly.

" Don't tell me you're^ sorry," retorted Mr. Lillyvick,
with much sharpness. "You should have prevented it,
then."

The company were quite paralyzed by this domestic crash.
The back parlor sat with her mouth wide open, staring vacantly
at the collector, in a stupor of dismay ; the other guests were
scarcely less overpowered by the great man's irritation. Mr.
Kenwigs, not being skilful in such matters, only fanned the
flame in attempting to extinguish it.

" I didn't think of it, I am sure, sir," said that gentleman.
" I didn't suppose that such a little thing as a glass of punch
would have put you out of temper."

" Out of temper ! What the devil do you mean by that
piece of impertinence, Mr. Kenwigs ? " said the collector.
" Morleena, child — give me my hat."

" Oh, you're not going, Mr. Lillyvick, sir," interposed Miss
Petowker, with her most bewitching smile.

But still Mr. Lillyvick, regardless of the siren, cried ob-
durately, " Morleena, my hat ! " upon the fourth repetition of

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,82 NICHOLAS NICKLEB Y.

which demand, Mrs. Kenwigs sunk back in her chair, with a
cry that might have softened a water-butt, not to say a water-
collector ; while the four little girls (privately instructed to
that effect) clasped their uncle's drab shorts in their arms, and
prayed him, in imperfect English, to remain.
, " Why should I stop here, my dears ? " said Mr. Lillyvick ;
" I'm not wanted here."

" Oh do not speak so cruelly, uncle," sobbed Mrs. Ken-
wigs, " unless you wish to kill me."

" I shouldn't wonder if some people were to say I did,"
replied Mr. Lillyvick, glancing angrily at Kenwigs. " Out of
temper ! "

" Oh ! I cannot bear to see him look so at my husband,"
cried Mrs. Kenwigs. " It's so dreadful in families. Oh ! "

" Mr. Lillyvick," said Kenwigs, " I hope, for the sake of
your niece, that you won't object to be reconciled."

The collector's features relaxed, as the company added
their entreaties to those of his nephew-in-law. He gave up
his hat, and held out his hand.

" There, Kenwigs," said Mr. Lillyvick ; " and let me tell
you, at the same time, to show you how much out of temper
I was, that if I had gone away without another word, it would
have made no difference respecting that pound or two which
I shall leave among your children when I die."

" Morleena Kenwigs," cried her mother, in a torrent of
affection. " Go down upon your knees to your dear uncle,
and beg him to love you all his life through, for he's more a
angel than a man, and I've always said so."

Miss Morleena approaching to do homage, in compliance
with this injunction, was summarily caught up and kissed by
Mr. Lillyvick ; and thereupon Mrs. Kenwigs darted forward
and kissed the collector, and an irrepressible murmur of ap-
plause broke from the company who had witnessed his mag-
nanimity.

The worthy gentleman then became once more the life and
soul of the society ; being again reinstated in his old post of
lion from which high station the temporary distraction of their
thoughts had for a moment dispossessed him. Quadruped
lions are said to be savage, only when they are hungry ; biped
lions are rarely sulky longer than when their appetite for dis-
tinction remains unappeased. Mr. Lillyvick stood higher than
ever ; for he had shown his power ; hinted at his property and
testamentary intentions ; gained great credit for disinterested-



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NICHOLAS NICKLEB V 1&3

ness and virtue ; and, in addition to all, was finally accom-
modated with a much larger tumbler of punch than that which
Newman Noggs, had so feloniously made off with.

" I say ! 1 beg everybody's pardon for intruding again,"
said Crowl, looking in at this happy juncture ; " but what a
queer business this is, isn't it ? Noggs has lived in this house,
now going on for five years, and nobody has ever been to see
him before, within the memory of the oldest inhabitant"

" It's a strange time of night to be called away, sir, cer-
tainly," said the collector ; " and the behavior of Mr. Noggs
himself, is, to say the least of it, mysterious."

" Well, so it is," rejoined Crowl ; " and Til tell you what's
more — I think these two geniuses, whoever they are, have run
away from somewhere."

" What makes you think that, sir ? " demanded the collector,
who seemed, by a tacit understanding, to have been chosen
and elected mouthpiece to the company. "You have no
reason to suppose that they have run away from anywhere
without paying the rates and taxes due, I hope ? "

Mr. Crowl, with a look of some contempt, was about to
enter a general protest against the payment of rates or taxes,
under any circumstances, when he was checked by a timely
whisper from Kenwigs, and several frowns and winks from
Mrs. K., which providentially stopped him.

" Why the fact is," said Crowl, who had been listening at
Newman's door, with all his might and main ; " the fact is,
that they have been talking so loud, that they quite disturbed
me in my room, and so I couldn't help catching a word here,
and a word there ; and all I heard, certainly seemed to refer
to their having bolted from some place or other. I don't wish
to alarm Mrs. Kenwigs ; but I hope they haven't come from
any jail or hospital, and brought away a fever or some un-
pleasantness of that sort, which might be catching for the
children."

Mrs. Kenwigs was so overpowered by this supposition,
that it needed all the tender attentions of Miss Petowker, of
the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, to restore her to anything like
a state of calmness ; not to mention the assiduity of Mr. Ken-
wigs, who held a fat smelling-bottle to his lady's nose, until it
became matter of some doubt whether the tears which coursed
down her face, were the result of feelings or sal volatile.

The ladies, having expressed their sympathy, singly and
separately, fell, according to custom, into a little chorus of



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1 84 NICHOLAS NICKLEB V.

soothing expressions, among which, such condolences as
" Poor dear ! " — " I should feel just the same, if I was her "
— " To be sure, it's a very trying thing " — and " Nobody but
a mother knows what a mother's feelings is," were among the
most prominent, and most frequently repeated. In short, the
opinion of the company was so clearly manifested, that Mr.
Kenwigs was on the point of repairing to Mr. Noggs's room,
to demand an "explanation, and had indeed swallowed a pre-
paratory glass of punch, with great inflexibility and steadiness
of purpose, when the attention of all present was diverted by
a new and terrible surprise.

This was nothing less than the sudden pouring forth of a
rapid succession of the shrillest and most piercing screams,
from an upper story ; and to all appearance from the very
two-pair back, in which the infant Kenwigs was at that moment
enshrined. They were no sooner audible, than Mrs. Kenwigs,
opining that a strange cat had come in, and sucked the baby's
breath while the girl was asleep, made for the door, wringing
her hands, and shrieking dismally ; to the great consternation
and confusion of the company.

" Mr. Kenwigs, see what it is ; make haste ! " cried the
sister, laying violent hands upon Mrs. Kenwigs, and holding
her back by force. " Oh don't twist about so, dear, or I can
never hold you."

" My baby, my blessed, blessed, blessed, blessed baby ! "
screamed Mrs. Kenwigs, making every blessed louder than
the last. " My own darling, sweet, innocent Lillyvick — Oh
let me go to him. Let me go-0-0-0 ! "

Pending the utterance of these frantic cries, and the wails
and lamentations of the four little girls, Mr. Kenwigs rushed
up stairs to the room whence the sounds proceeded ; at the
door of which, he encountered Nicholas, with the child in his
arms, who darted out with such violence, that the anxious
father was thrown down six stairs, and alighted on the nearest
landing-place, before he had found time to open his mouth to
ask what was the matter.

"Don't be alarmed," cried Nicholas, running down;
" here it is ; it's all out, it's all over ; pray compose yourselves ;
there's no harm done ; " and with these, and a thousand other
assurances, he delivered the baby (whom, in his hurry, he
had carried upside down), to Mrs. Kenwigs, and ran back to
assist Mr. Kenwigs, who was rubbing his head very hard, and
looking much bewildered by his tumble.



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NICHOLAS NICKLEB Y. 185

Reassured by this cheering intelligence, the company in
some degree recovered from their fears, which had been pro-
ductive of some most singular instances of a total want of
presence of mind ; thus, die bachelor friend had, for a long
time, supported in his arms Mrs. Kenwigs's sister, instead of
Mrs. Kenwigs ; and the worthy Mr. Lillyvick had been actually
seen, in the perturbation of his spirits, to kiss Miss Petowker
several times, behind the room door, as calmly as if nothing
distressing were going forward.

" It's a mere nothing," said Nicholas, returning to Mrs.
Kenwigs ; " the little girl, who was watching the child, being
tired I suppose, fell asleep, and set her hair on fire."

"Oh you malicious little wretch!" cried Mrs. Kenwigs,
impressively shaking her forefinger at the small unfortunate,
who might be thirteen years old, and was looking on with a
singed head and a frightened face.

44 1 heard her cries," continued Nicholas, " and ran down,
in time to prevent her setting fire to anything else. You may
depend upon it that the child is not hurt ; for I took it off the
bed myself, and brought it here to convince you."

This brief explanation over, the infant, who, as he was
christened after the collector, rejoiced in the names of Lilly-
vick Kenwigs, was partially suffocated under the caresses of
the audience, and squeezed to his mother's bosom, until he
roared again. The attention of the company was then directed,
by a natural transition, to the little ^irl who had had the
audacity to burn her hair off, and who, after receiving sundry
small slaps and pushes from the more energetic of the ladies,
was mercifully sent home ; the mnepence, with which she was to
have been rewarded, being escheated to the Kenwigs family.

44 And whatever we are to say to you, sir," exclaimed Mrs.
Kenwigs, addressing young Lillyvick's deliverer "lam sure
I don't know."

44 You need say nothing at all," replied Nicholas, " I
have done nothing to found any very strong claim upon your
eloquence, I am sure."

44 He might have been burnt to death, If it hadn't been for
you, sir," simpered Miss Petowker.

44 Not very likely, I think," replied Nicholas ; " for there
was abundance of assistance here, which must have reached
him before he had been in any danger."

44 You will let us drink your health, anyvays, sir 1 " said
Mr. Kenwigs, motioning towards the table.



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^6 NICHOLAS NICKLEB Y.

" — In my absence, by all means," rejoined Nicholas, with
a smile. " I have had a very fatiguing journey, and should
be most indifferent company — a far greater check upon your
merriment, than a promoter, of it, even if I kept awake, which
I think very doubtful. If you will allow me, I'll return to my
friend, Mr. Noggs, who went up stairs again, when he found
nothing serious had occurred. Good-night."

Excusing himself, in these terms, from joining in the fes-
tivities, Nicholas took a most winning farewell of Mrs. Ken-
wigs and the other ladies, and retired, after making a very
extraordinary impression upon the company.

" What a delightful young man ! " cried Mrs. Kenwigs.

"Uncommon gentlemanly, really," said Mr. Kenwigs.
" Don't you think so, Mr. Lillyvick ? "

" Yes," said the collector, with a dubious shrug of his
shoulders. " He is gentlemanly, very gentlemanly — in appear-
ance."

" I hope you don't see anything against him, uncle ? " in-
quired Mrs. Kenwigs.

" No, my dear," replied the collector, "no. I trust he
may not turn out — well — no matter — my love to you, my dear,
and long life to the baby ! "

" Your namesake," said Mrs. Kenwigs, with a sweet smile.

" And I hope a worthy namesake," observed Mr. Kenwigs,
willing to propitiate the collector. " I hope a baby as will
never disgrace his godfather, and as may be considered, in
arter years, of a piece with the Lillyvicks whose name he bears.
I do say — and Mrs. Kenwigs is of the same sentiment, and feels
it as strong as I do — that I consider his being called Lillyvick
one of the greatest blessings and honors of my existence."

" The greatest blessing, Kenwigs," murmured his lady.

" The greatest blessing," said Mr. Kenwigs, correcting
himself. " A blessing that I hope, one of these days, I may
be able to deserve."

This was a politic stroke of the Kenwigses, because it
made Mr. Lillyvick the great head and fountain of the baby's
importance. The good gentleman felt the delicacy and dex-
terity of the touch, and at once proposed the health of the
gentleman, name unknown, who had signalized himself, that
night, by his coolness and alacrity.

" Who, I don't mind saying," observed Mr. Lillyvick, as a
great concession, " is a good-looking young man enough, with
manners that I hope his character may be equal to."



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NICHOLAS NICK'LEB Y. jfy

" He has a very nice face and style, really," said Mrs.
Kenwigs.

** He certainly has," added Miss Petowker. " There's
something in his appearance quite — dear, dear, what's that
word again ? "

" What word ? " inquired Mr. Lillyvick.

" Why — dear me, how stupid I am," replied Miss Petow-
ker, hesitating. " What do you call it, when Lords break off
door-knockers and beat policemen, and play at coaches with
other people's money, and all that sort of thing ? "

" Aristocratic ? " suggested the collector.

" Ah ! aristocratic," replied Miss Petowker ; " something
very aristocratic about him, isn't there ? "

The gentlemen held their peace, and smiled at each other,
as who should say, " Well ! there's no accounting for tastes ; "
but the ladies resolved unanimously that Nicholas had an
aristocratic air ; and nobody caring to dispute the position, it
was established triumphantly.

The punch being, by this time, drunk out, and the little
Kenwigses (who had for some time previously held their little
eyes open with their little fore-fingers) becoming fractious,
and requesting rather urgently to be put to bed, the collector
made a move by pulling out his watch, and acquainting the
company that it was nigh two o'clock ; whereat some of the
guests were surprised and others shocked, and hats and
bonnets being groped for under the tables, and in course of



Online LibraryCharles DickensThe life and adventures of Nicholas Nickelby → online text (page 18 of 79)